Mayor Jenny Durkan delivers the budget
Yesterday Mayor Durkan announced her 2019-2020 budget proposal, to be presented to the City Council, which will have an opportunity to weigh in. In the context of an overall effort to control spending city-wide, the SDOT budget increases by $128m over 2018 levels.

Here are some transit highlights:

  • The Streetcar lives! The budget includes $9m for streetcar support, and while it goes out of the way to say the Mayor has “not reached a final decision” about the Center City Connector, it doesn’t de-fund it, either
  • $1m to continue studying congestion pricing, including an equity analysis
  • $4m for ORCA Opportunity, a.k.a. free ORCA for high-schoolers, which now serves 15,000 people
  • $2.4m to support ST3, including Graham Street station design. Since 130th St appears to be moving forward, it’s good to see Graham Street get some love, too
  • Funding for “micro transit” with a goal to “increase mobility in areas where there are service gaps.” That seems similar to the last-mile connectors SDOT proposed back in June, somewhat controversially. We’ll see if this scaled-back version of the idea survives council.
  • 100k in new bus service hours, which is part of the 177,000 in new hours Metro announced this week.  This should get us even closer to the 2025 goal of 72% of the city living near frequent transit
  • Automated enforcement of bus lanes, currently “not permitted under state law,” will get added to the city’s legislative priorities. Read our interview with Mark Hallenbeck on the subject.

Read more on the Mayor’s blog or view the budget in all its glory here.  Read more from The Seattle Times, Erica C. Barnett, and SCC Insight.  And call out any other interesting bits in the comments.

38 Replies to “Streetcar Survives in Mayor Durkan’s First Budget”

  1. Any clue which routes will benefit from the 100k new bus service hours, or whether the benefits will be spread throughout the day vs. just rush hour?

    1. Just realized that with the viaduct closing, a good portion of the 100k new hours is going to have to get sunk into the West Seattle buses, just to maintain their existing schedule through all the extra traffic. So, the amount of actual new service the 100k hours will buy might be a lot less than we think.

      1. Yep. That 100k of new hours is a nothing burger. We have the viaduct closure and generally worsening congestion (not so much DT, but certainly county wide).

        And don’t forget buses come out of the DSTT this spring. When that happens the rail component will get even more efficient, but the former tunnel routes will get somewhat less efficient.

        So ,ya, we could add 100k hours and find ourselves right back where we started with the bus system. This is why at some point we. We’d to start moving towards more rail and fewer commuter type buses.

      2. Errr….

        “This is why at some point we need to start moving towards more rail and fewer commuter type buses.”

        Darn small keyboards.

      3. I’m not a fan of the 99 tunnel, but why do you think the West Seattle buses will be slower after the viaduct is gone? Currently the C line has to merge back into SOV lanes on 99 near the stadiums and gets stuck in the construction bottleneck. After the reconstruction it will have bus-only lanes all the way to 3rd Ave on the new Alaskan Way. It should help the SOV lanes on 99 move faster since there will be no downtown exits to slow down traffic.

      4. We’re talking about the period before the bus lanes on Alaskan Way exist. The Viaduct demolition isn’t going to be a fast process, and the reroutes are quite out of the way.

      5. We discussed it at some point. In the first phase the buses will be on 4th for a few weeks. In the second phase they’ll be on 1st for some nine months. The first phase was supposed to start last week but it’s been postponed to I think early next year.

      6. Yeah, it is really a temporary mess, but a lot of the messes are temporary. The buses get kicked out early, just because folks thought it was essential to have a bigger convention center, and to have it now. Eventually the buses were supposed to get kicked out anyway, but only when when the trains pretty much replaced them (although I think there was going to be temporary pain for East Side riders regardless).

        Anyway, I thought the SR 99 tunnel project had some money for transit mitigation? I know it wasn’t as much as if they went with the surface option, but I thought there was some money for buses that have a harder time getting downtown.

  2. $1 million for equity analysis?

    Transportation will never solve or even mitigate the major equity issues caused by our regressive tax structure, lack of affordable housing, and structural deficiencies in our public schools and health care.

    We need to separate equity from transportation as it’s not cost effective to implement, typically requires significant levels of enforcement (also expense), and does nothing to address the actual underlying issues.

    1. Well said. A standard economic analysis is all that’s needed here- to illustrate the costs for various users under different scenarios. No need to add another layer of cost, especially at $1m. Equity efforts are by and large political. This is just another way to grease the wheels and get buy in.

      1. You need to look at equity prior to implementing congestion pricing- if only to help withstand legal challenges.

        If congestion pricing is implemented, a major complaint will be that lower income workers have already been forced to commute from father away, and now will be hit but an additional tax in the form of congestion pricing. And this is a fair criticism.

        So the equity analysis is to try and head off this criticism in a way that might buy some additional support (depending on implementation) and stand up to legal scrutiny. This is the same reason you see environmental impact studies, so that the city can win (or avoid) legal challenges by specific interest groups. This way you avoid the cost and embarrassment of being sued 40M for spot zoning a music venue.

      2. “This is the same reason you see environmental impact studies, so that the city can win (or avoid) legal challenges by specific interest groups. ”

        This sounds like the same justification for the Burke Gilman Trail EIS..and the city is still stuck in expensive legal challenges with specific interest groups.

        EIS and equity analysis does nothing to mitigate against legal challenges or political influences by special interest groups.

      3. We can’t do anything about the regressive tax structure or structural deficiencies until we can convince the rest of Washigton to elect legislators who will change it. We have only a few of those legislators in our districts. In the meantime we can either do nothing or try to mitigate what we can.Real people are suffering so I’m not OK with doing nothing.

    2. “$1 million for equity analysis?”

      No, $1 million to continue studying congestion pricing, *including* an equity analysis. I guarantee you the equity portion of that budget is nowhere near a million dollars. The equity concerns surrounding congestion pricing are entirely legitimate, and need to be addressed.

  3. It’d also be nice to get some automatic enforcement of the “Left/Right only, except Transit and Bike” intersections along Bell St. and the various Greenways around Seattle, which are constantly and blatantly ignored.

    1. I agree. If we’re going to have an automated enforcement legislative priority, I think it should include bus lanes, block the box enforcement, and left/right restrictions like those on Bell St.

      1. Yes, absolutely. These are all a lot more clear cut than BAT lanes. BAT lanes (as the interview in that link showed) are more of a grey area, because it isn’t always clear how long a car can be in it when turning right. But illegal right turns or using a transit lane is illegal 100% of the time, and like running a red light, should be enforced automatically (with the option to appeal).

    2. In addition, I’d like to see enforcement for busses blocking intersections and running red lights. When busses block intersections, it hurts all vehicles on the road, including other busses.

      1. Rather than ticketing buses, maybe those intersections need some sort of bus priority. Buses tend to block intersections because they wouldn’t get through otherwise.

      2. Devil’s advocate here. $9M for “streetcar support” is still a far cry from the amount needed to get it done. Does it even cover the costs directly related to delaying the construction? Would it cover construction costs over the first year if the streetcar ultimately got the go-ahead in the coming months? Basically, is the level of funding consistent with “assuming it is a go?”

      3. @B The $9 million increase in the budget for the Streetcar Dept is for operations of the existing FH and SLU lines. For further information, read pages 389-395 in the proposed budget report.

      4. Rapid, you’re both right and understating what’s needed. We’re going to need a lot of city arterials to go just abut car-less at certain times of the day, for anything to move at all.

        Henry, if a single bus gets ticketed, so should Metro Instruction Department. Because this isn’t a character issue. It’s a new driving skill that every body has to learn. But like RapidRide just said, we’re going to have to learn a lot more transit operations than we’ve eve had to before.


  4. “Sarge.” “Southeasterner:”

    “Equity efforts are by and large political. This is just another way to grease the wheels and get buy in.”

    “EIS and equity analysis does nothing to mitigate against legal challenges or political influences by special interest groups.”

    Agree that transit has a lot better uses for a million dollars than another study. Like buying paint to reserve existing general use lanes for transit? And re-setting traffic signals to give buses priority?

    And other wheel greasers (is that railroad equipment or bus?) to save enough operating hours that we can afford the (yawn) “equity” the lack of which just put Donald Trump in office?

    But worst of all is our system’s cowardly denial that “buy in” be reserved to forces that can “buy out” anybody in their way too well-placed to be forced to suffer those tacky streetcar bells across from their magnificent sculpture park!

    That Alex Tsimmerman fellow is generally spot-on. So if he is correct that the Sound Transit Board are all billionaire fascists, we shall have no funding problems at all!

    In view of how much it’ll save us in formal attire that Sheriff’s Deputies’ uniforms are already black, there should easily be funds available available for those amusing little brass skulls and crossbones for their hats. The Manifesto Cafe half a block from the MLK streetcar line can already do them in latte foam. Which reminds me:

    Alitalia should be landing as we speak. So it’s time to go downstairs and get onto LINK to go pick up Benito at the airport. Cheerio and Arrivederci old chaps.

    Mark Dublin

  5. I wish the city of Seattle’s finance group would prepare their bi-annual budgets so that they include the prior year ACTUALS in the department detail. Snohomish County does it this way and it provides a far more meaningful report without having to refer to the CAFR (or whatever Seattle calls their annual financial reports).

  6. Does Metro have the operational resources to add 100k additional service hours in Seattle over the next two years? I had the impression that a shortage of drivers and O&M space constrained Metro service expansion in the short-to-medium term.

    1. It’s unclear but the fact that it was included in the King County’s budget indicates that it’s committed to trying. At worst we’ll probably get some of the service, which is better than none of the service. Metro is already evaluating several sites for a new base, which it will need anyway for its own long-range plan. I don’t know how close it is to making a selection.

    2. That’s my question too. We already have money we want to throw at them, but can’t. It’s plausible they could catch up on drivers (but i doubt it), but rolling stock?

    3. We have been adding service for some time now ( so while hiring isn’t as fast as we want, it is still going on. In other words, I think we’ll be able to spend it, even if we can’t spend it as fast as want.

      My guess is a lot depends on the nature of the service. More rush hour service is very expensive, and usually requires hiring new drivers (even if they are part time) and buying new buses (I’m guessing). But more midday service might only require paying a part time (rush hour only) driver to work a few more hours (something they might welcome).

      1. ” But more midday service might only require paying a part time (rush hour only) driver to work a few more hours (something they might welcome).”

        Absolutely true – but if rush hour service gets the priority, the result may very well be a few extra rush hour trips and no more midday trips.

        Adding more padding time to the rush hour schedules to compensate for worse traffic is generally a high priority because, if you don’t it, you end up cutting trips that are already quite full, and risk leaving people behind.

        I really hope the entire 100k hours doesn’t end up getting sunk into rush-hour schedule padding, with no actual new trips. But, with the viaduct gone, and every West Seattle->downtown bus needing more hours to run the current schedule, it’s going to be tough.

      2. And peak service is the most visible service that affects the most people, and what they think their transit taxes should be going to.

    4. This is pretty much going to be my standard answer about capacity from here on: only way to move passengers in vehicles at closer quarters than we ever have before.

      Reason I wouldn’t fight to keep buses in the Tunnel was that for entire lifetime of the DSTT, the company must have wasted money in the millions because it didn’t feel like making the effort to do any coordination at all.

      Which has showed ever fewer signs of changing as some really constrained times approach. Soon as any bus cleared the Tunnel, its performance on the street would’ve helped plug train service to same speed as trapped buses.

      For the first time since electric rail transit began, transit needs to gain the skill and authority that most European systems have had to know for a hundred years. Luckily Gothenburg and Oslo know a lot we have to learn.

      Easy Icelandair flight into the middle of what we need expert help to save us from. Important, though. It’s paid vacation for the Scandinavians, not consulting.


  7. I think there’s a misinterpretation here in the comment section about the “$9 million for streetcar support” phrasing used in the OP’s post above. Other than $500k, this has nothing to do with the CCC project and its anticipated capital costs. This amount is almost entirely dedicated to the operations budgets for the current FH and SLU lines.

    From the relevant section of the proposed budget report:

    “The budget includes $500,000 of one-time Commercial Parking Tax (10%) that will be
    used either to work toward implementation of the connector or to evaluate and initiate design of transit alternatives for this corridor. SDOT’s CIP anticipates capital funding in later years, in the form of long-term debt, for either the Center City Connector or a transit alternative in the same corridor.”

    “At the same time, the 2019-2020 Proposed Budget addresses the long-standing shortfall in funding for operations of the two existing streetcar lines. King County Metro operates the streetcar lines on behalf of the City. The County keeps most of the fare revenues collected and the City pays the County the difference between estimated costs and estimated fare revenues. During 2018, a reconciliation process revealed a gap between the estimated and actual operating costs and revenues. The proposed budget includes funding to pay Metro for the projected
    difference. In 2019, the City will make a one-time payment consisting of $5.1 million Commercial Parking Tax (CPT) (10%) for the 2017 and 2018 funding gap. In addition, the proposed budget includes an ongoing increase of $4 million; during 2019, $2.4 million is street use fees and $1.6 million is CPT 10%.”

    I suggest reading the relevant sections starting on page 389.

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