As ST3 goes through a mountain of process to get to a preferred alternative, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend: The stakeholders who are getting their way are focused on how they will be impacted rather than what is best for riders. It should go without saying that the whole point of expanding Link is to serve future riders, their needs should be the first and last consideration before any route is chosen.
As we’ve mentioned before, this is the point in the process where a balance has to be struck between costs and benefits. There is limited budget and it’s highly unlikely that additional funding is coming from any level of government. On the off chance more funding comes through, the preferred alternative should include higher priced options where they have an impact, but in general it’s time to be realistic.
Sound Transit recently released the level three alternatives, which is a mashup of the options that made it through the SAG and ELG along with the Representative Alignment (RA). It looks like most of the higher cost options are lumped into Alternative 1 (A1), and a mix of lower cost options into Alternative 2 (A2).
The Seattle Transportation Benefit District, a 6-year levy to fund additional bus service in the city, is approaching middle age. According to the city’s latest annual report, the district is coming to terms with its advancing years in the way most of us do: making incremental improvements, adapting to a changing economic realities, and trying to leave a legacy for the next generation.
Passed in 2014 at the nadir of Metro’s finances as a last-ditch effort to avoid service cuts, the levy is now being used to improve service and fulfill the city’s goal of having 75% of households living within 10-minute or better transit service (which the city defines as an average of 10 minutes between 6am and 7pm). This year, with a labor shortage limiting Metro’s ability to get more vehicles on the road, the Seattle City Council amended the levy to include capital expenditures and subsidized ORCA cards for students. Continue reading “STBD Year 3: Continued Progress, Shifting Priorities”
Lynnwood Link is inching closer and closer to a firm date for the start of construction, thanks to the submission of the project’s full-funding grant agreement (FFGA) by the FTA lat week. The agreement has been held in limbo by the FTA for several months, but lobbying by Sound Transit and the state’s congressional delegation proved to be successful in pressuring the FTA to fork over federal funds.
Before the full $1.2 billion in funding can be accepted by Sound Transit, the grant application has to be reviewed for a 30-day period by Congress before the agreement is signed and executed. If no major objections are raised, then the signing of the final agreement will release $200 million in immediate funding that Sound Transit was appropriated from the Capital Investment Grants program. The agreement also comes with $658 million in TIFIA loans that were promised two years ago.
Last week was surprisingly interesting for passenger rail news. Alon Levy writes that the Federal Railroad Administration has finally published its new rules for train procurement, allowing US transit agencies to buy lighter, cheaper, European-style train sets for operation on American freight railways.
Long-time readers will know we got excited when these rules were first proposed nearly five years ago, and then we got excited again two years ago when it looked the rules were actually going to happen and now we’re excited a third time that they’ve finally been published. Future Sounder and Amtrak Cascades trains could take advantage of these new regs next time rolling stock needs to be ordered.
Meanwhile, the private company that runs Florida’s Brightline and the LA-Vegas announced that it will be operating as “Virgin Trains US” and is planning an initial public offering. These two services are likely to be the first privately-run high speed rail in the US.
Sandy Johnston summarized the interesting nuggets from the IPO prospectus on Twitter. The company expects that the Virgin brand will help it offer tourist packages on both routes (a planned stop at Disneyworld will certainly help), suggesting a different and less price-sensitive potential passenger base than other domestic rail systems.
While Virgin Trains says it won’t compete with any intercity Amtrak service in the US, could we speculate that they might someday bid to take over the Cascades contract from Amtrak? If the goal is to serve the tourist market, perhaps a station at Smith Cove or Broad street to facilitate cruise ship transfers?
On a less speculative note, if you are interested in the future of intercity rail, consider taking WSDOT’s recent survey.
Thank you to every last person that played a role in this campaign – big or small. It is a honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve my community. I am thrilled to be your next State Senator in Washington’s 30th Legislative District. pic.twitter.com/wbZtLFOPff
Sen. Maralyn Chase (D – Edmonds, 21st District), who lost over 2-1 to Shoreline Deputy Mayor Jesse Salomon (D). Chase campaigned against ST3. Salomon made his support for light rail one of the talking points. Salomon was endorsed by STB.
Sen. Mark Miloscia (R – Federal Way, 30th District), who has for many years complained about Sound Transit not getting light rail to downtown Federal Way faster, while opposing the funding to get light rail to downtown Federal Way. STB endorsed his opponent, Federal Way Schools Board President Claire Wilson (D).
Sen. Joe Fain (R – Auburn, 47th District) who was actually one of the more left-of-moderate Republicans, and somewhat a fan of light rail, if not car tabs. Other unrelated accusations ($) probably had a larger impact on the outcome. Fain lost to Mona Das (D – Covington).
Rep. Paul Graves ( R – Fall City, 5th District), a supporter of Sound Transit generally, but also non-shrill supporter of car tab changes. Graves lost to Lisa Callan (D – Issaquah Highlands).
Rep. Mark Harmsworth (R – Mill Creak, 44th District), Ranking Minority Member of the House Transportation Committee, was one of the most vocal critics of ST and car tabs. He lost to Jared Mead (D – Mill Creek).
Rep. Mark Hargrove (R – Covington , 47th District), Assistant Ranking Minority Member on the House Transportation Committee, has been a rather snarky critic of Sound Transit. Hargrove lost to Debra Entenman (D – Kent). The defeat of the two Republican Transportation leaders gives the caucus a chance to modernize their thinking on transportation issues.
Sound Transit’s latest quarterly service report, released on November 15, shows continued growth in Link ridership. In Quarter 3 (Q3), Link enjoyed 8.2 percent more weekday boardings than in Q3 of 2017, or 81,022 boardings on a typical weekday.
Kitsap Transit showed off its newest fast ferry, MV Finest, as part of Monday’s pre-launch celebrations for the Kingston–Seattle fast ferry route. The ferry will begin regular weekday service on November 26 and run six round-trips between Pier 52 in Downtown Seattle and Kingston on the Kitsap Peninsula, taking approximately 40 minutes. This is a massive improvement compared to the 1.5 hours it takes for a Kingston resident today via the car ferry to Edmonds and a transfer to either Sounder or an express bus. The debut of the fast ferry may open up the relatively quiet hamlet of Kingston (pop. 2,099 in 2010) to further growth as a more accessible bedroom community for Seattle workers.
The Kingston fast ferry is the second of three routes connecting Seattle to various points on the Kitsap Peninsula, all funded by a sales tax increase that was approved by voters in 2016. The Bremerton fast ferry, which uses the high-tech Rich Passage 1 catamaran, debuted in July 2017 and has run into occasional fleet hiccups, necessitating the use of a backup vessel. For the Kingston route, Kitsap Transit has leased the MV Melissa Ann, formerly part of an older Bremerton fast ferry trial and the King County Water Taxi system, to serve as a backup to the Finest. The Southworth route is planed to debut before 2020 using a newly-built vessel, bypassing the slow “Southworth Triangle” car ferry and an equally-slow trip on the RapidRide C Line through West Seattle.
On Monday, Uber joined the Seattle dockless bike share game, with Jump-branded red ebikes. The initial service will feature 300 bikes in a limited service area, “then incrementally ramp up the number of bikes over the coming weeks and months,” according to a release.
The rollout service area is limited to central Seattle, Ballard, Fremont, the University District, Capitol Hill, and parts of the Central District. The bikes will cost $1.00 to unlock, and $0.10 per minute during the ride. A launch promotion gives each user five 30 rides for free through December 12. A $5 per month, unlimited ride subscription model will also be available for low-income riders.
Sound Transit’s latest batch of options for Ballard and West Seattle kills off many variants, but controversies remain. The options are grouped into three concepts, although ST is free to choose bits from each alternative. All we have is maps, but that won’t stop us from having a detailed look.
The “representative alignment,” which voters approved in 2016, remains in play. It’s a pretty good alignment if you don’t mind elevated track, with stations on both ends in the sky. There are nits to pick. Alaska Junction station points west, which doesn’t help a future extension to Burien. Delridge is a bit far north, putting more industrial land in the walkshed and lengthening the bus ride for most people. Midtown is under 5th rather than 6th, reducing the combined system walkshed. The new Westlake is under 6th, worsening the transfer with the existing one.
At the Sound Transit board meeting on Thursday, the board voted to extend CEO Peter Rogoff’s contract and give him an 11 percent raise. Rogoff will earn $365,000 per year, until the contract ends in January 2022.
The vote was nearly unanimous. The lone vote against was by Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, who aired out a number of objections to Sound Transit’s recent work.
“I am very concerned that our processes right now for West Seattle are going to add perhaps another $700 million to that project,” Dammier said. “I’m very concerned that the expectations in the Ballard area could add as much as another $500 million to it.”
This post is part two of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part One, Part Two
After the release of the King County Auditor’s report, Metro revised its fare enforcement policies over the summer. Elected officials, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, have asked Sound Transit to consider similar changes.
Metro’s new policy, which was developed in consultation with social justice and transit groups including the Transit Riders’ Union, Puget Sound Sage, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Transportation Choices Coalition, and OneAmerica, makes significant changes to the penalties of fare enforcement infractions, according to a King County press release:
Under the new program, infractions for second violations initially would be set at $50 or lower. Fines paid within 30 days could be further reduced by half.
Customers could resolve fare infractions through non-monetary options, such as:
Performing community service at a nonprofit organization
If eligible, enrolling into the ORCA LIFT reduced-fare program
Individuals who do not resolve their infraction within 90 days and are ticketed again for riding without valid proof of payment would be suspended from Metro service for 30 days.
Jessica Ramirez of Puget Sound Sage gives the county credit for its proactive approach with fare enforcement. Ramirez and other people involved in the discussions say that county officials took social justice issues seriously while drafting the new policy.
The Snohomish County government has started early scoping for the seven stations on the Everett Link Extension, which is scheduled to open in 2036. An online open house and survey is open until the end of the month to collect feedback on potential station locations near the current Ash Way and Mariner park and rides in northern Lynnwood and southern Everett. The survey will inform the county’s recommendations to Sound Transit when it begins the official scoping process in 2020.
The open house follows an earlier survey that was conducted over the summer and gathered general suggestions on an interactive map, similar to those used recently for ST3 projects in Seattle and Tacoma. Of 114 map comments collected, the top-ranking answers wished to address affordable housing, at-grade crossings, public amenities, and alternate routes over I-5 for cyclists, pedestrians, and buses to and from the stations.
A set of three concepts for each station were generated by the county based on the suggestions and criteria accounting for design constraints, future connections to the Swift Green and Orange lines, bicycle and pedestrian accessibility, and TOD opportunities. The TOD scoring assumes that mixed-use development of buildings ranging from three to ten stories would be programmed within the half-mile walkshed of each potential station site.
This post is part two of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part One, Part Three
Fare enforcement is a step removed from policing, and so it can brush against the twin controversies of American policing: racial bias and use of force.
In one 2017 incident, rider Devin Glaser saw fare enforcement officers detain two boys of color, whom he estimated to be about 10 years old. Glaser suspected racial bias was the reason for the stop, and the inappropriate behavior of the officers.
Glaser reported the incident to Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson and King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who both sit on the Sound Transit Board. The board members asked Sound Transit staff to review the incident.
Rhonda Carter, Sound Transit’s chief of staff, summarized the security camera footage of the incident in a letter to Upthegrove and Johnson. Carter concluded that the officers acted wrongly:
[UPDATE: To be clear, ST is not dismissing Sounder ridership. The author is.] One unexpected contention point in the ST3 plan is the precise location of Chinatown Station. The reference alignment places the station under 5th Avenue, steps from the existing station. However, Chinatown business that have already suffered through streetcar construction have no interest in disrupting business access yet again, although in the long run the neighborhood would presumably benefit from a closer station. SDOT thinks a 4th Avenue alignment may fund some work they already do there. Sound Transit, reasonably, is most focused on the easiest and cheapest way to complete the project. As usual, no stakeholder is primarily interested in the convenience of future riders.
This convenience matters: seamless transfers encourage ridership, and thousands of people will be switching between Link lines at this station every day. Indeed, this will happen as early as 2023 when East Link opens, but Sound Transit has already added an unnecessary escalator and flight of stairs (or two slow elevators) to that transfer experience to avoid a minor capital project.
Another consideration is Sounder, though about an order of magnitude smaller in ridership than Link by the time ST3 opens. Amtrak is probably another order of magnitude below that. But what is the right answer for riders? Sound Transit has four concepts for how these transfers might work: under 4th or 5th Avenue, either cut-and-cover or mined.
The 5th Avenue cut-and-cover station (above) creates more disruption for the neighborhood than the mined option, but it drops riders much closer to the surface. Northbound and southbound riders at the new station would be the same distance from the old station, though the lower one would have a longer ride to the surface. Sounder transfers are not a priority in this alignment. ST says the upper platform would be the northbound line, because it “best facilitates northbound-to-northbound transfers between the West Seattle-Everett line and the Ballard-Tacoma line, which is generally expected to be the highest volume transfer during the highly-concentrated AM peak period.”
ST fears that a side-by-side alignment, given the constraints of foundations under 5th, might not have the needed platform capacity.
The mined station (at right) plunges riders about 200 feet below the road, but construction would be less visible on the surface. This is deeper than Beacon Hill and much deeper than UW, implying elevator-only service. This may not be suitable for a high-ridership station. Transferring riders wouldn’t have to go all the way to the surface, although the complexities of emptying half of a crowded elevator are probably worse than simply taking it to the surface.