Pellicciotti / Transit Advocates Working to Close the Gap on HB 2123

Will a Federal Way state representative’s bill delay Federal Way Link’s opening date?

House Bill 2123 is on the agenda for action by the House Transportation Committee this afternoon (starting at 1:00), but is not expected to pass out of committee yet. Nor have any committee members offered an amendment to the bill by the deadline to do so in order to be part of this afternoon’s consideration. Friday is the deadline for most bills in that committee that aren’t necessary to the state budget. However, this afternoon is the committee’s last scheduled meeting this week.

Rep. Mike Pellicciotti (D – Federal Way), prime sponsor of HB 2123, indicated by email that work continues on the bill, and he hopes to moved it forward next week, with the bill being considered “necessary to the budget”, meaning it has no deadline except sine die.

Continue reading “Pellicciotti / Transit Advocates Working to Close the Gap on HB 2123”

The Incremental Approach to Free Transit

Photo by Oran

Kamaria Hightower, on Mayor Durkan’s blog:

At the Mayor’s direction, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) will partner with the Seattle Housing Authority (SHA) and King County Metro to provide unlimited ORCA cards to 1,500 low-income Seattle residents. This partnership will leverage Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) investments to create more affordable transportation choices for our communities.


The mayor’s program is yet another expansion for the ORCA Opportunity program. The initial pilot, focused on high school students, was augmented by STBD dollars last summer when Council amended the levy to allow for additional programming. 

Continue reading “The Incremental Approach to Free Transit”

Sizing ST4: Future Rail Expansions Will be Smaller

The northern terminus of the planned Issaquah-South Kirkland line in 2041, and one candidate for a future extension in ST4 (Image by author)

Although we are early in the ST3 program, some observers are already looking forward to extending Link light rail lines into the suburbs and adding more lines in Seattle. The ST3 plan funds several studies of suburban extensions. Current taxes do not support further expansions at the pace of ST3, however. Unless Sound Transit secures another large tax increase, capital spending beyond ST3 will be mostly squeezed out by the costs of managing what has already been built and financing the bonds accumulated in ST3.

The budget for future projects is constrained by Sound Transit’s tax authority. Sound Transit levies nearly all the taxes currently permitted by the Legislature; the only unused authority is a small rental car tax. Any prospect of further authority is hard to forecast. Certainly, it is difficult to imagine today’s Legislature granting more tax authority. Many legislators were unhappy about how the ST3 program far outran the smaller 15-year program they anticipated in 2015, and high car tabs remain unpopular. On the other hand, fifteen years is a long time in politics, and a new generation of legislators in the 2030s may take a sunnier view.

But let’s suppose we are limited by current law, or equivalently that voters resist new taxes. In that scenario, Sound Transit might ask voters in the waning years of the ST3 program to authorize more projects with an extension of current taxes. How much could Sound Transit build with voter approval if they just roll the current law taxes forward indefinitely? Less than you might expect. It turns out that a capital program extended to 2060 would have a run rate perhaps only a third as large as the 2016-2041 program.

Why is this? ST4 will face several constraints that were not present in ST3. Continue reading “Sizing ST4: Future Rail Expansions Will be Smaller”

Metro wants to know how the Emergency Snow Network performed

The Route 90 snow shuttle on Pine Street (Bruce Englehardt)

Metro GM Rob Gannon:

Now that we are getting back to full-strength operations, we know that our snow response is on everyone’s mind. We are reviewing how we can improve our service during snow – and we want to hear from you about your own experience with Metro during this period. Your suggestions and feedback during the storm helped guide our response and communications, but we know we have more to learn from you.

The 60 routes and shuttles that were in service left some areas of King County without transit service (South Park, Renton Highlands, Newcastle and Vashon to name a few). Some of this is unavoidable because of the topography, but, when we can, we will add whatever mobility options resources allow to connect riders to the Emergency Snow Network. We are committed to serving ALL of King County, so we will continue to look for ways to provide alternative transit options for residents in areas where we can’t provide our normal, fixed-route bus service.

This was the first deployment of the Emergency Snow Network and I look forward to a post-mortem from the agency. I’m sure it was a challenging and dynamic environment to provide bus service.

One thing I’d suggest is that the agency consider how reliant riders have become on One Bus Away as a source of information. OBA doesn’t do very well when service is irregular. Which is sort of understandable, but putting up a banner in the app that says “please check the Metro website” that doesn’t include a link to the website is less than ideal.

Leave suggestions at the link or via email. The weather seems to be warming up, but there’s no telling when the next storm will come.

For Snohomish commuters, Community Transit also has a survey email riders@commtrans.org.

Record Link ridership in 2018

In 2018, Sound Transit continued to avoid the national decline in transit ridership, according to the agency’s latest service numbers.

Link light rail’s ridership grew a solid 6.1% in 2018, with 24,416,411 boardings.

Continue reading “Record Link ridership in 2018”

Metro Starts Planning RapidRide I

King County Metro 180 at Burien TC
King County Metro 180 at Burien TC

Metro kicks off planning for RapidRide I this week with a presentation to the Renton City Council. The line (#1033 in the long-range plan) will be a hybrid of routes 169 and 180, connecting Auburn, Kent and Renton.  

Like other RapidRide lines, the route will travel on local arterials.  It will integrate with ST3’s 405 BRT project.  Metro estimates 6,000 daily riders, roughly in line with the Eastside’s RapidRide B. The agency will apply for federal funds to augment a substantial $120M capital investment. For perspective, that’s roughly the budget for RapidRide G, which is less than one fifth the length but projected to have at least double the ridership.

Metro appears determined to continue the letter scheme, even though “I” is so easily confused with “1” (although I guess it’s unlikely anyone will board an Auburn-Renton bus when they want to go between Downtown Seattle and Queen Anne).  LA Metro, by contrast, will reportedly skip over some letters for its rail lines to avoid similar confusion.  

Plans call for a much-needed re-evaluation of existing bus service in the area in conjunction with the new line.  Design and outreach will happen this year and next, and service will launch in 2023. 

Update 12:36pm: in the comments, a link from AlexKven to Brent’s 2017 argument for extending the 169 to Rainier Beach. I don’t think it’s essential that every RR line include a Link transfer, but if it can be done in a revenue-neutral way this makes sense.

New ST Funding Reduction Bill About to Be Fast-Tracked

A new bill that will reduce Sound Transit’s motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) funding stream will be introduced Monday, heard in the House Transportation Committee at 1:30 pm Tuesday afternoon, and is expected to be voted out of committee by Friday’s cut-off.

Rep. Mike Pellicciotti

House Bill 2123, by Rep. Mike Pellicciotti (D – Federal Way) would implement a market-value adjustment program on Sound Transit’s portion of MVET payments, starting in 2020.

The bill is sponsored by 30 House Democrats, including 9 of the 17 Democratic members of the House Transportation Committee.

Eight who represent portions of Seattle are on the sponsor list, including:

  • Committee 2nd Vice Chair Javier Valdez
  • Steve Bergquist
  • Lauren Davis
  • Zach Hudgins
  • Eric Pettigrew
  • Jerry Pollett
  • Cindy Ryu
  • Sharon Tomiko Santos

The other 8 sponsors on the committee are:

  • 2nd Vice Chair Vandana Slatter (Bellevue)
  • Pellicciotti
  • Debra Entenman (Kent)
  • Shelley Kloba (Kirkland)
  • John Lovick (Mill Creek)
  • Jared Mead (Mill Creek)
  • Lillian Ortiz-Self (Mukilteo)
  • Bill Ramos (Issaquah)

Since the bill is just being introduced, sponsors have the option of submitting a card to pull their name from the sponsor list by the end of business Monday. You can look up your two representatives and contact them through the district-finder tool. Olympia office phone numbers are all listed at the members’ list page.

Continue reading “New ST Funding Reduction Bill About to Be Fast-Tracked”

News Roundup: Long Distance

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Getting ready for the all-train tunnel

ST 132 at Pioneer Square Station - Seattle, WA
Last days

At a press conference yesterday, Metro, Sound Transit, and SDOT released their initial plans for the post-bus tunnel era. On March 23, Sound Transit will be the sole operator of transit service in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), and will run only Link light rail trains through it.

Metro and Sound Transit buses that ran through the tunnel will now run on surface streets. According to Metro, 830 daily trips will move from the tunnel to the streets. Those trips will still enjoy their own right of way through most of downtown, though the impact to reliability remains to be seen.

Some Metro routes, including workhorses like the 40 and 120, will add additional trips thanks to funds from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD). We’ll cover the changes to those routes, and a systemwide service restructure, in a later post.

Link riders will experience several major changes. Link will become more reliable and frequent, with consistent, six-minute headways. Seven routes, including Sound Transit’s high-ridership Route 550, will move from the tunnel to the surface.

Continue reading “Getting ready for the all-train tunnel”

Head of Metro security charged with rape, human trafficking

On Tuesday, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) arrested King County Metro’s head of security, Mark L. Norton, on human trafficking and rape charges. Norton has worked for Metro since July 2010.

In charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, KCSO Detective Luke Hillman alleged that Norton repeatedly raped a young woman in his employ when she was a minor, then coerced her into prostitution after she turned 18.

“The suspect’s grooming began when he was in his 30’s and the victim was a teenager and was babysitting for the suspect’s children,” KCSO Sergeant Ryan Abbott wrote in a separate, Wednesday release. “After persuading the victim to engage in sex acts with him, the suspect had the victim move in with him. Eventually the suspect operated as a pimp and pressured the victim to engage in prostitution on numerous occasions throughout Seattle, Lynnwood and Everett. The suspect arranged the prostitution online and kept the money brought by people wanting to have sex with the victim.”

According to Metro spokesperson Torie Rynning, Norton has been placed on unpaid leave and may be terminated.

“We are shocked and deeply disturbed to learn of the allegations and are cooperating with investigators,” Rynning wrote in a statement. “While in custody, this employee will be on unpaid leave, and we are exploring avenues to take immediate steps regarding this employee’s ongoing employment. Meanwhile, we are conducting our own administrative investigation to determine if any additional or unrelated code of conduct violations may have occurred.”

We asked Metro whether their background check picked up any prior malfeasance by Norton when he was hired.

“Metro currently conducts extensive background checks for sensitive personnel positions, including this position,” Rynning wrote. “We are reviewing our procedures to determine if additional screens are needed, however it is not clear that this activity would have been caught with additional screening.”

Balducci working on countywide transit funding package

King County Battery Bus Announcement
Claudia Balducci

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci has started work on a potential countywide, dedicated transit funding package to augment or replace the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD.) That tax package, which is comprised of a sales tax increase and car tab fee, is set to expire at the end of 2020.

Balducci says that the funding would be spent on implementing the ambitious Metro Connects program, the long-range plan that the agency and Council released in 2017.

“There’s a lot of stuff in Metro Connects that a lot of communities want, that will help with their transportation needs and their economic development and growth plans,” Balducci says. “But we haven’t identified the funding to serve all of that yet.”

Continue reading “Balducci working on countywide transit funding package”

Affordable Housing Legislation Nearing the Home Stretch

New housing on Seattle’s Dexter Ave.

The long-studied Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) is moving to the top of the Seattle City Council’s agenda. MHA requires new multifamily construction to pay include on-site affordable housing or pay into a housing fund. (Single-family construction is exempt, because reasons.)

Former Mosqueda staffer Mike Maddux had a great analysis of each of the amendments and how each of the council members approached the task differently when it came to their particular district:

So here we are with a series of amendments, most of which would limit the ability of MHA specifically, and affordable home development broadly, to be successful, but in different ways. I’ve broken these out into the District 1 amendments, the District 6 amendments, the Historic District carve-outs, and some miscellaneous amendments. Of note: District 3 managed to get away with no amendments for limiting growth, and District 7 no amendments at all. Essentially these two areas are taking growth (and happen to be the most expensive areas to build).

Kevin Schofield has a solid rundown of the political battle lines:

In each case, the Council member representing that district went to bat for the reduction: Herbold for West Seattle Junction and Morgan Junction, Harrell for Beacon Hill, Johnson for Roosevelt and Wallingford, and O’Brien for Crown Hill. But on the flip side, the two city-wide Council members, Mosqueda and Gonzalez, held firm in their desire to maximize the upzones wherever possible and resist reductions. Council member Juarez joined them in the resistance; Baghsaw was conspicuously silent on the matter, and Sawant was absent from the meeting.

Both are worth reading if you want to understand where things stand. With Bagshaw and nominally pro-density Sawant as the swing votes, it’s possible all these amendments get voted down next week.

It’s not the most novel piece of analysis to add that MHA is both necessary and insufficient. It’s hugely regrettable that Mayor Murray dropped single-family zones so early on. It’s puzzling that three lame-duck council members are being so hostile to zoning changes. Furthermore, it’s terrible policy that the EIS is a one-way ratchet: in the bizarro world of our state environmental policy, up-zoning causes impacts but downzoning causes none.

There will be a public hearing this Thursday at 5:30pm at City Hall with a vote likely for Monday the 25th. You can also contact the council and let them know your thoughts.

ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner

We’re finally here:  ST3 Planning level 3 is where we cut everything but two options and send those on for an environmental impact study. Those options will include a high end options that relies on local funding an an affordable option that doesn’t.  At this point, our primary concern is with the low end options. There is a conversation to be had in the future about whether spending $1.9B on high end ST3 options makes sense and where the money will come from, but that’s a topic for another day.

Right now we need to make sure the affordable options that we send through are acceptable in case additional local funding never comes.  Building on our central concepts of Reliability, Expandability, and Accessibility along with our Level 2 feedback and plea to put riders first, here is what we’re focused on now by station:

Ballard

Though we’ve heard ST staff say many times that the options are mix and match, we don’t get the impression they mean it when it comes to the Ballard station location.  As we (and others) have said many times a 14th NW station and a drawbridge are both unacceptable.  A drawbridge is an unacceptable reliability compromise for the future or our system.  A station on 14th NW simply doesn’t serve riders west of 15th or transfers well.  A station on 15th NW with entrances on both sides of the street does.

A 14th high bridge crossing with a station on 15th is our minimal expectation for an affordable option.  While it’s not impossible to see local funding via the port come through for a tunnel to Ballard, as the current options stand, the 15th Ave NW tunnel station the only option we can support.  

Continue reading “ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner”

More Bus Cancellations, Fewer Bus Lanes, Because Presidents’ Day

Credit: George H. W. Bush Presidential Library & Museum

Just when you thought it was safe to depend on apps that use the regular schedule to tell you when your bus is scheduled to come, a holiday that many don’t pay attention to is upon us. Yes, it is … (checks calendar) … Presidents’ Day!

Most King County Metro routes will be running on their regular weekday schedule. A bunch will have specified runs cancelled: 102, 111, 114, 121, 122, 123, 125, 143, 157, 167, 168, 169, 177, 179, 186, 187, 192, 197, 212, 214, 218, 219, 232, 243, 244, 249, 252, 255, 257, 269, 271, 277, 303, 311, 312, 342, 907, and 931. Cancelled trips show with an “H” or “D” in the timetables.

A few Metro routes will not be running at all today: 201, 237, 304, 308, 316, 330, 355, 661, and 930.

Sounder and all ST Express routes will operate on their normal weekday schedules, while Link Light Rail will operate every 10 minutes all day until late in the evening, but with 3-car trains, and Tacoma Link operates on its Sunday schedule, running every 24 minutes from 9:48 am to 5:48 pm (which you have to go to the printed schedule to figure out).

More agencies after the jump…

Continue reading “More Bus Cancellations, Fewer Bus Lanes, Because Presidents’ Day”

Trump Couldn’t Stop Border Commuters

President Donald Trump said that there’s a crisis at the United States-Mexico border that only a brand-new wall can fix, and he shut down the U.S. government to make that wall real.

When I visited the existing wall’s busy crossing, the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry, on January 5, near the start of the government shutdown, I didn’t see much of a crisis.

What I did see was Mexican commuters crossing the border and getting on one of the country’s busiest rail lines, like they have every day since 1981.

San Diego is a twin city. As you probably know, Tijuana, a Mexican city of 1.6 million residents, is close by. You may not know that TJ, as San Diegans call their Mexican neighbor, is a short Trolley ride away. The Trolley’s Blue Line terminates at the border fence. You can see it from the platform.

That makes the Blue Line something more than your ordinary light rail line. The Blue Line stop at the San Ysidro Port of Entry is the only fixed passenger rail service at an international border in North America. Other systems run close to a border, like Buffalo’s light rail and the streetcars in Detroit and El Paso, but they aren’t essential features of those places.

Continue reading “Trump Couldn’t Stop Border Commuters”

Can we replace cross-country air with rail travel? Yes, we can!

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced the Green New Deal, critics jumped on it immediately – it can’t be done, it’s too expensive, etc. I want to debunk one of these critiques, and that is that carbon-intensive air travel cannot be replaced with (eventually green) electricity-powered rail travel.

People often cite the size of the country and large distances between cities as the number one reason. The story goes, we used to have regional and cross-country rail, but now we have cars and planes and the former were rendered obsolete. A lot of people have covered why regional transport (think up to 200 miles), now covered by car as flying is not economical, can be effectively replaced by high-speed rail. The definition of high-speed rail requires a speed of at least 125 mph and if sustained, this provides much faster travel than by car (not to mention that it is congestion-free) and a comparable total travel time to air.

But, what about cross-country? Surely this is the domain of air travel given the vastness of the country? Let’s calculate some travel times from our corner here in Seattle (good for accounting for the longest flights possible).

Continue reading “Can we replace cross-country air with rail travel? Yes, we can!”

News Roundup: Exceeding Expectations

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