Durkan, Herbold criticize Chinatown, Delridge plans

If Bellevue is Brooklyn, does that make West Seattle New Jersey? Credit: Joe Mabel

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and other Seattle elected officials sharply questioned Sound Transit officials at a public meeting about the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions yesterday.

Sound Transit convened the meetings to address the Chinatown/International District (CID) and Delridge stations. The agency probably hoped to lower heat on simmering discontent about the Seattle extensions’ most controversial segments.

Instead, residents of both neighborhoods offered more criticism—and demonstrated that they are organizing and have the ears of elected officials. In public comments, CID residents and activists continued to voice concerns about construction impacts on the neighborhood’s businesses and unique culture. Delridge residents objected to proposed residential demolitions, and accused Sound Transit of lowballing the number of households who would be displaced by Link construction.

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News Roundup: Small Tunnel

Zack Heistand (Flickr)

This is an open thread

Sound Transit slowly backs away from union fight

Union shop. Credit: Atomic Taco

Yesterday’s Sound Transit Board meeting featured lots of talk about bus drivers and Rob Johnson.

Board members, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, and union officers praised the heroism of Metro bus operator Eric Stark, who delivered dozens of passengers to safety after a gunman opened fire on Stark’s bus and general traffic on Lake City Way on Wednesday. The gunman murdered two people, and wounded another person in addition to Stark.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said that she met Stark and his wife, Kim, who is also a Metro driver, at Harborview. Durkan said that Stark is “doing well and recovering,” and lauded his “heroism and selflessness.” Durkan also revealed that the other wounded person is a 2nd grade public school teacher.

“I think most of us here take transit frequently, and we know that we have tremendous employees who serve the public every single day. They do little acts of heroism all the time. There are times when people devalue public service, and the value of public employees, but that guy saved people’s lives yesterday,” said Board member Claudia Balducci.

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Tough Baseball Season Ahead for Transit Riders

So much good stuff in this Mike Lindblom piece on First Avenue buses (including the title!) in the Times:

The C Line is the busiest of 12 former Alaskan Way Viaduct routes that serve nearly 30,000 passengers from West Seattle, White Center or Burien. They moved last month to the Highway 99 tunnel’s new stadium-area interchange when the viaduct closed for good.

The buses eventually will get bus lanes on waterfront Alaskan Way, but this year they’re detouring on First Avenue through the historic Pioneer Square district.

Read the whole thing. It’s gonna be a tough year for buses using the interim 1st Avenue pathway until Alaskan Way opens. Lindblom explains the ins and outs and alternatives incredibly well.

However, I would suggest to Mayor Durkan that this framing is, er… not helpful:

“Big events are nothing new, and they’re nothing new for big cities anywhere in America,” [Durkan] said. When there’s a game during rush hour, that’s the time to stay downtown, have dinner and not be in a hurry to go home, she said.

I love me a good happy hour, but as the mayor surely knows, many bus riders have to pick a kid up from day care or head out to a second job or any number of things that make it hard to just chill out downtown until 7pm or later.

The 35th Disaster: How the City Should Learn from Metro

The roundly panned plan for the most critical segment of 35th. Rendering by SDOT.

On Tuesday, SDOT announced an ugly split-the-baby solution to community deadlock over the planned redesign of 35th Ave NE, the central neighborhood arterial of Wedgwood and Bryant. The solution seems custom-designed to upset everyone in the debate, sacrificing both the bike lanes recommended in the city’s own Bike Master Plan and the street parking that was the central focus of opponents’ demands. Instead, drivers get a two-way turn lane for most of the corridor and freeway-style 12-foot general purpose lanes.

The new design for 35th, with its wider lanes, additional passing opportunities, and inevitably higher speeds, is a serious threat to the safety of people outside cars. But the point of this post is not to re-litigate 35th, but to suggest a way for the city to avoid this sort of worst-case outcome in future projects. In short, to have any chance of meeting its own Vision Zero goals, the city must establish legally binding guidelines for the redesign of all arterial corridors, and then direct professional staff to follow them when it is time to design individual projects. And there is a very good local example of how to do exactly that: King County Metro. The details, along with some history, are below the jump.

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Bus-involved Shooting in NE Seattle

Two people were killed when a gunman opened fire in NE Seattle tonight. Our thoughts are with the victims’ families. Thanks to the quick-thinking bus driver who managed to drive passengers to safety.

West Seattle and Burien Routes Add Stops in Pioneer Square

1st & King SB With the Spring 2019 service change, routes 21X, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, and C Line began serving two stops on 1st Ave. This will be the first time this century that [ed: some of these] southwest Seattle routes will connect directly to Pioneer Square. Both stops are centered on King Street, albeit at the furthest end of the intersection, with the northbound stop closer to Jackson and the southbound stop nearly at Dearborn.

The two stops add an important connection to routes that previously used the viaduct’s Columbia and Seneca ramps, making them an anomaly amongst the rest of the downtown routes as they did not serve any stops in or near Pioneer Square or the International District. With the viaduct out of commission, routes have been traveling along 1st Avenue South making a quick jog on Dearborn to access the new ramps to SR-99. Continue reading “West Seattle and Burien Routes Add Stops in Pioneer Square”

Transit Integration at Mercer Island

Sound Transit and King County Metro provided an update to the Mercer Island City Council on East Link’s construction progress on Tuesday, March 19.  The presentation also included information about the future Mercer Island Transit Interchange, which is the new name for the project formerly known colloquially as the bus intercept.

The general concept remains generally similar as previously reported, but at this time Sound Transit and Metro, in coordination with the City of Mercer Island, have made some refinements and identified options for Mercer Island to consider.

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A Better Elevated Option in West Seattle

In our last post we asked the Sound Transit Board to focus on elevated West Seattle options for ST3.  A tunnel would lessen impacts but $700 Million in Seattle transit funding is far better spent on transit expansion. The focus for the ST3 planning process should therefore be to craft the best possible elevated option.

There are two elevated options presented by Sound Transit:  

  1. The representative alignment on Fauntleroy with a station to the east if the Junction and tail tracks nearly reaching the junction.
  1. An elevated alignment that curves through the neighborhood north of Fauntleroy in order to orient the station north/south on 41st.
Elevated options shown in red and orange

Both options will score high on reliability and, with details done right, high on accessibility.  

Unfortunately, the first option has a fatal flaw on expandability. Expansion to the south would require crossing California for elevated tracks continuing south on a street to the west. Per Sound Transit, the line would then need to cut back across California at some point to continue south. The property impacts are big enough to make this extremely unlikely. The Junction stop would become the permanent end of the line.  

The second option orients the station north/south on 41st (good) but instead of being on an arterial, cuts through the neighborhood at an angle which requires the line to impact the most existing housing of all the proposed alignments. Though we prioritize transit and future transit riders above all other concerns – we can understand why people would not be excited about this option.

With those things in mind, we’d like to put forth a third, “mix and match,” alignment that addresses the weaknesses of both options.

The new elevated option would follow the Fauntleroy alignment to Alaska  but take a sharp turn onto 41st. Though sharp turns are generally not ideal, they are part systems worldwide (check out the NYC Subway south of Central Park) and one right next to a station where the train will already be moving slowly will have minimal impacts on operations.  

We need to think about the future when making an investment of this scale. Looking at the Sound Transit’s HCT study work, an elevated line to the south of The Junction is likely to be a better investment in terms of capital cost per weekday rider than the line to The Junction itself.  It would be an entirely separate process, but see C5 (pages 10-11) in the HCT study for a sense of what that extension could be and how it would perform.

It is our strong opinion that funding a West Seattle tunnel is both a poor use of transit funding and, to put it bluntly, not going to happen. It’s time to look past that distraction and find an elevated option that works for West Seattle transit riders – both now and in the future.

You have until April 2nd to comment on the ST3 level 3 options online. Join us in urging the Sound Transit board to advance an elevated West Seattle option designed for future expansion.  

Seattle Squeeze Open Thread

How’s the first PM commute with buses on surface streets?

Unveiling the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker

As a transit fan and lover of maps, I’ve always been captivated by the screens in control rooms that show the status of every vehicle in service.
Those maps inspired me to use the real-time data provided by transit agencies to create one of my own. Before long, a simple set of pins on a map spiraled into a comprehensive “bird’s-eye view” of the entire transit system.

Today I’m releasing it as the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker. Every in-service vehicle (that actively reports data) will appear on the map for eight area transit agencies, including King County Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit. Each vehicle has also been matched to its make and model information, and icons can be filtered by these parameters and more. Check out the full set of features and future plans after the jump.

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News Roundup: Still Building

This is an open thread.

The Tunnel is Now a Fare-Paid Zone

With buses leaving the tunnel Saturday, there is no particular reason to be on the platform without a paid fare. Therefore, Sound Transit will consider the platform a fare-paid zone beginning Saturday.

“ORCA readers will be removed later, during the rollout of Next Gen ORCA,” said ST’S Kimberly Reason.

As trains get ever more crowded, the platform will become the most practical place to enforce fares at certain times of day.

The Many Tradeoffs of Each Delridge Station Site

Credit: Sound Transit

Each of the three potential Delridge Link station sites has substantial tradeoffs, including varying amounts of resident displacement and housing demolition.

Like the Chinatown/International District (CID) station, the Delridge station is controversial. Each station has drawn the attention of Seattle elected officials, who will dig into both stations at a special meeting on March 29. Unlike the CID station, Sound Transit seems agnostic about its preferences for the station. Each has its own technical and political problems.

Beyond housing, another crucial concern is bus integration. Delridge Way SW carries Metro’s Route 120, one of the highest-ridership routes in the regional bus network. It will soon be replaced by the RapidRide H line. That upgrade could follow the welcome precedent of other RapidRide lines and boost ridership over previous bus service.

When Link comes online, Metro could (and probably should) choose to restructure the H to terminate in Delridge, and usher Downtown-bound riders onto Link. All that means the Delridge station is a vital bus-to-Link transfer site. It’s where riders from points as far south as South Park and White Center will access the Link system.

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MASS: Extend 3rd Ave Bus Lanes to Denny Way

Buses and one car on 3rd
3rd Avenue. That car’s not helping, is it?

New letter today from the multimodal MASS Coalition, of which STB is a member:

On Saturday, buses will permanently move out of the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) leading to 830 new bus trips on already crowded surface streets in Downtown Seattle. The city has made important improvements with the new 5th/6th Avenue bus lanes and implementation of all door boarding on 3rd Avenue. But given the need to further prioritize transit, today the MASS Coalition is calling on the City to extend bus priority on 3rd Avenue from Stewart Street to Denny Way. It works well south of Stewart, and should be extended the length of downtown.

We called for bus lanes on 3rd last fall and with the buses coming out of the tunnel it’s a great time to make another push. 3rd Avenue is an intensely busy bus corridor. The city would deem it unacceptable if tens of thousands of train riders were slowed by cars every day. The same reasoning ought to apply to bus riders.

A Better Ballard Option for Link

by Dale Menchhofer

Overview of the better Ballard option

tl;dr: This post proposes a new option for the Interbay – Ballard segment of the West Seattle – Ballard light rail project that is measurably and significantly better than any of the remaining official options. The major components are (1) an aerial bridge over the BNSF rail yard, (2) an optional station at Fisherman’s Terminal, (3) a shorter tunnel under Salmon Bay, and (4) a station at 20th Ave NW and NW Market St.

This option has the highest possible value—retaining the high quality of a tunnel, but with significantly higher ridership, and at a competitive cost. In fact, it has a lower capital cost per rider than any of the official options. It has opportunities to turn Port of Seattle and BNSF into 3rd party funding sources, instead of potential adversaries. In spite of its superior characteristics, the only hope it has of becoming the preferred alignment is if enough of you support it in ‘scoping’ comments submitted to Sound Transit. Find handy links to do that at the end of the post. 

Intro: why this option is optimal

The best possible ridership puts the station location in the center of the urban village, at 20th Avenue and Market Street. This location is closest to all of the current density, and closest to potential future development.

This option uses the shortest tunnel possible for crossing the ship canal of any practical location. It is about 10-12 % shorter than the 14th or 15th Avenue tunnel options. It is 28% shorter than the “BNSF West/20th Tunnel” option rejected in Level 1 scoping. The shorter the tunnel, the less costly the option. The limiting factors preventing the tunnel from being even shorter are (1) a maximum 5% grade and (2) allowance of 25 feet between the top of the tunnel and the bottom of the ship canal. 

In order to reach the shortest possible tunnel, it is necessary to bridge over the BNSF rail yard. I acknowledge that would generally be unwise, but in a later section, I explain why this route is different; why it is uniquely feasible.

There is no practical route using a high fixed bridge to reach a station on 20th Avenue, because of impacts on the legally protected Ballard Landmark District. A tunnel is the only way to do it that does not sacrifice quality.

This option has two additional advantages. It has a net reduction in properties taken, thereby reducing cost further. By eliminating a curve, the Interbay station can actually be at Dravus Street, a better location.

Continue reading “A Better Ballard Option for Link”

This Weekend: Last Ride on a Tunnel Bus, First Ride on the Green Line

A Breda dual-mode bus at University Street Station, seen in 1994 (Photo by Steve Morgan/Wikimedia Commons)

Two of our most anticipated events of the year are coming up this weekend, providing Seattleites with a chance to celebrate transit and the start of spring. In the wee hours of Saturday morning, the final bus will run through the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel before it is handed over to Link light rail trains for good. Just under 36 hours later, the first buses will travel on the Swift Green Line in Snohomish County, bringing frequent service to a new airport and several suburban activity centers.

The celebrations begin at 11 p.m. on Friday, March 22 at the plaza atop International District/Chinatown Station, with photos and autographs available for members of the public. MEHVA, the historic bus society run by Metro employees, will drive a 1990s Breda dual-mode bus through the tunnel, one of 236 coaches built specifically for the transit tunnel before being converted for trolleybus use in the mid-2000s and retired in 2016. This particular Breda coach was preserved before the conversion and retains all of its original features, including the suburban-style seating with ample legroom.

The Breda bus will begin the last run through the tunnel with a northbound trip departing International District/Chinatown Station at 12:45 a.m. The bus will run through the tunnel and turn around at Convention Place before it heads back southbound and terminates at International District/Chinatown Station. There will be a few in-service trips on Routes 41 and 550 in the hour before the final departure, so keen busfans may also want to ride them as well before catching a Night Owl surface bus or finding another way to backtrack to the International District.

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Private operators for some 520 routes?

92nd/Yarrow Point Freeway Station Platform

Great scoop from Mike Lindblom and Daniel Beekman in the Times:

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff is considering hiring private contractors to drive four Sound Transit Express routes between the Eastside and Seattle, prompting quick outrage from labor leaders who called the move a threat to existing union jobs.

A few quick thoughts. First, it’s amazing that once-beleaguered Metro is now the belle of the ball: everyone wants to buy bus service these days. Unfortunately for the agency their base capacity planning has not kept up. The proposal to haul coaches up to Kirkland every morning from a far-flung base doesn’t seem like a great idea, but Metro has limited supply and two customers (Sound Transit and SDOT) showing up with bags of cash so it’s not surprising they’re setting the terms and charging full price.

Second, I’ve seen people conflate this at times, but “private” does not automatically equal “nonunion.” As the Times article notes, Sound Transit contracts to Community Transit for some service, and CT in turn subcontracts to First Transit (using union drivers) for some routes.  The City of Seattle proposed using private shuttles recently, but the city council shot down the idea. 

Third, it would be a surprise if the winning bid ended up being a nonunion private company, as the ST board is full of elected officials who need union support. That said, the agency is always under the gun to spend taxpayer dollars wisely, so a little due diligence, even if it comes to nothing, might help on the political front. 

Finally, if Sound Transit does indeed have cash to throw around at buses, how about increasing the frequency of the 550, which currently goes to a sad 30 minutes after 7:30pm every day (and all day Sunday).  Trains with 10-minute (or better) headways will start running that route in just a couple of years, doesn’t it warrant more than half-hourly service today? Or consider the 512, which will (eventually) become a train as well? Is half-hourly on Sundays really the best we can do?