Photo Tour: Northgate Link, Two Years Out

Northgate Station

It’s been almost a year since our last photographic update of the Northgate Link stations, and a substantial amount of progress has been made. Sound Transit still has its eyes on a September 2021 opening date for the line, but there is plenty of float time to burn while the most challenging construction has wrapped up. A bookie would place good odds on the opening being a few months early to take advantage of the summer break, but it’s still too soon to tell.

The two subterranean stations on the extension have been mostly closed up and are now peering above street level, allowing sidewalk superintendents to rest their necks and enjoy a view of progress that doesn’t require dirty and scratched up windows beyond the noise/dust walls.

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What happens in Chinatown/ID when light rail is under construction?

The International District gate, King Street Station, and Union Station. Credit: Joe Mabel

One of the most contentious aspects of the ST3 Link extensions is the Chinatown/International District (CID) station and alignment debate. In the simple version of the argument, CID activists oppose a 5th Avenue South alignment because of worries that the station will cause interminable construction impacts, and, in doing so, strike a decisive blow of gentrification and displacement.

On the other hand, Sound Transit seems to prefer the 5th Avenue alignment (though they’d never say so explicitly in public), because it will cost much less and be much simpler to engineer.

But Sound Transit has released new information that makes the calculus even more complex. At an overflow neighborhood meeting in Sound Transit headquarters in Union Station, Sound Transit released more detailed information about the construction impacts, and ultimate rider environment, of each station option.

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News Roundup: Boom Times

BoltBus, now serving Everett (Bruce Englehardt)
  • The Seattle Times has a spreadsheet tracking every Transportation-related bill in Olympia
  • A good chunk of the latest proposed highway bill pays for fish culverts. Here’s why
  • WSB has detailed notes from a Sound Transit open house in West Seattle
  • Why Portland shouldn’t be widening freeways
  • Provocative research paper looks at Seattle and contends that gentrification of dense areas paradoxically increases emissions. Upshot seems to be that rich people just consume more stuff.
  • SDOT blog covers the new 5th/6th Avenue busway
  • Updated downtown accessibility map (PDF) now includes elevators in addition to wheelchair routes
  • Europe-Asia long-distance rail networks now connected
  • Pierce Transit’s first BRT line running into opposition from the usual suspects
  • An overview of Lisa Herbold’s anti-displacement bill from SCC Insight
  • BoltBus adds stops in Everett and Tacoma
  • The Interbay Armory site could host a ton of transit-oriented development
  • Boom times for Viaduct-adjacent property
  • Good piece on fares: “I don’t think there’s a magic number [for fares]…Ultimately, building ridership is about more than fares.”
  • The Times ($) looks at upzones coming to Rainier Beach.

This is an open thread.

Why did green legislators vote to spend carbon taxes on highways?

Credit: WSDOT

Green, pro-transit legislators like Senator Rebecca Saldaña (D-37, Seattle) drew criticism from their allies when they voted last week in favor of a committee bill to implement a carbon pricing program—and spend its revenues on emissions-generating highway projects.

However, it’s not that simple, according to Saldaña. She says that voting for highway projects now creates the chance for more state funding of transit projects later.

Saldaña, the vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said on Tuesday that she doesn’t actually support enacting the proposed laws, SBs 5970, 5971 and 5972. Saldaña that she does not expect the bills to get real consideration on the floor, much less pass.

“Right now, there’s just no way if it came to the floor in the condition it is, there’s just no way I could support it,” Saldaña said.

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Metro Adds Hours, But Tunnel Closure Swallows Them

The 6th Avenue bus lane, ready to debut later this month (Bruce Englehardt)

Orange and white Rider Alert signs are sprouting around the city like early March crocuses, which must mean it’s time for another Metro service change. Not so long ago, we dreaded these. Now we look forward to them. We’ve now had four years of improvements without any significant pain, as a combination of continued sales tax revenue growth and Seattle Proposition 1 investments have allowed the agency to address urgent needs and boost service levels throughout its network.

This service change, which starts Saturday, March 23, is a little different. The local economic music has not yet stopped, so Metro is still adding hours. But, this time, riders won’t be seeing commensurate network improvements.

The culprit is the closure of the downtown transit tunnel to buses, driven by the construction of the Washington State Convention Center Addition and the resulting loss of the northern tunnel entrance at the former Convention Place Station. A majority of the additional hours in this service change are dedicated to adding running time to tunnel routes, which is needed because their trips on downtown surface streets will be slower than trips through the tunnel. (Trips through the tunnel on Link trains, however, should be faster and more reliable with the buses gone.)

Another significant change triggered by the tunnel closure is the opening of a new northbound bus pathway through downtown. While the existing three southbound pathways (Third, Second, and Fifth Avenues) had sufficient capacity to absorb the buses displaced by the tunnel, there were only two existing northbound pathways (Third and Fourth Avenues), and they lack capacity to absorb more buses. In response, SDOT and Metro have created a third northbound pathway, using a bus-only contraflow lane on Fifth Avenue south of Marion and middle bus lanes on Sixth Avenue north of Marion. Those who have suffered through the Howell Street bus lane may be skeptical of the Sixth Avenue lanes; it remains to be seen how they will perform. The new pathway will host one all-day route, the 255 to Kirkland, and a number of peak-hour routes to North King County and the northern Eastside.

Also in an effort to improve bus capacity further, all-door boarding with off-bus ORCA card readers will be available at all stops on Third Avenue downtown.

In addition to these major changes, there are a few network improvements. See the details below the jump.

Continue reading “Metro Adds Hours, But Tunnel Closure Swallows Them”

Bus lane enforcement / pedestrian safety bill may fail

As we mentioned yesterday, HB 1793, a bill that would authorize automatic cameras to prevent bus lane cheating and blocking the box, is in danger of failing.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, Seattle), would allow Seattle to install cameras that would take photos of a violator’s license plate when a driver blocks an intersection or crosswalk, or illegally uses a bus lane.

Transportation Choices Coalition issued an action alert to its social media and email followers, asking supporters “to stand up for safe streets and transit reliability” by sending a comment to legislators.

The concerns about disproportionality have it backwards. Traffic stops by police create the opportunity for discrimination, and are more dangerous to everyone involved. Indeed, traffic stops during peak hour, when most of the cheating occurs, end up gumming up traffic worse.

You can also call the toll free Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 to voice your opinion, or call your representatives’ offices directly after looking up their Olympia office phone numbers here. The calls will get faster attention than emails. Doing both says you care. The cut-off for getting non-budgetary House bills out of the House is 5:00 this afternoon.

You can watch the House proceedings on TVW, and follow the details online.

Brent White contributed to this post.

Two Key Climate & Transit Bills Face Wednesday Deadline

Update: Engrossed Second Substitute House Bill 1110 passed 53-43-0-2 this evening after 9 amendments and hours of debate. It now goes to the Senate, where it faces an even tougher audience.

5:00 Wednesday is the deadline for bills to get voted out of their original chamber.

Second Substitute House Bill 1110, which would bring Washington up to speed with California and Oregon on fuel pollution standards to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, is still sitting on the floor calendar. Even though the bill won’t get Washington’s climate emissions headed downward by the 2020 deadline set by many scientists, every bit helps.

SHB 1793, the surviving bill to allow Seattle to use automated camera enforcement for its bus lanes, is also still on the floor calendar. The bill would allow Seattle to use the cameras for other neat purposes too, like fining box blockers, crosswalk blockers, and emergency vehicle blockers.

These bills might not come to a vote at all if representatives don’t hear from their constituents that the bills are important.

You can look up your legislators’ contact information here.

ORCA Pod Welcomes Monorail

The monorail in the 1962 World’s Fair Credit: Seattle Municipal Archives

At its March meeting Monday, the Regional Fare Coordination Committee, a.k.a. ORCA Joint Board, unanimously approved an agreement that would allow the Seattle Center Monorail to start accepting ORCA payments.

The estimated start date for ORCA on the monorail is Metro’s September service change. In the meantime, the monorail has started accepting debit/credit card payment.

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Inflation on Transit Projects

Representative Alignment, which this estimate refers to (Sound Transit)

Graham Johnson’s KIRO report on ST3 cost escalation was notable for its literate discussion of inflation adjustment:

Sound Transit says the estimate in ST3 was $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars, which the agency considers equivalent to $6.8 billion in 2018 dollars. The newest estimate is $7.5 billion in 2018 dollars.

First of all, good for both ST and Johnson that they took the care to compute and report this. Although the real increases here are indeed a story, revising an estimate from 2014 to 2018 dollars is no news at all. That context is usually sorely lacking in stories about increasing costs.

Our comment thread had a spirited discussion as to what inflation measure the estimate used. ST’s Scott Thompson verified for STB that they used “Construction Cost Index for construction estimates, Right of Way index for real estate, and the Consumer Price Index for soft costs.” This seems reasonable enough. But there are at least three different ways one can deflate rising costs, and they serve different purposes.

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Activists rip City’s Vision Zero progress

Vision Zero activist Andrew Kidde. Credit: Peter Johnson

At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, transportation and safe streets activists pointedly criticized the City’s slow pace in implementing its Vision Zero plan. They argued that the City’s progress on pedestrian and bicycle improvements lagged far behind road projects.

At the same meeting, SDOT presented data indicating traffic deaths went down in 2018. According to that data, collisions killed 14 people. (We covered an earlier version of that data in January.) In public comments before the meeting, activists said that the data set was not complete, and left out additional fatalities.

“I’m sort of at the end of my line making excuses for the City,” said Gordon Padelford, director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, in remarks focused on a Vision Zero-related rechannelization project on Rainier Avenue South. “This is something we just need to get done. If this were a giant convention center, or a new arena, it would have been done years ago. When we want to, as a city, we can get heaven and Earth to get these important priorities built. What are we doing for Southeast Seattle?”

Biker and climate activist Andrew Kidde, a Rainier Valley resident, explained his frustration with Vision Zero progress. Kidde has worked on climate issues for some time, but said in public comments that the death of his friend, Alex Hayden, galvanized him to work on green transportation and safe streets. Hayden was hit and killed by a car on Rainier just outside city limits.

“I just feel like it’s time for the City to do what they have the drawings to do—rechannelize to three lanes, put in a whole lot of intersection improvements—and I just don’t know what’s going on. What’s the hitch?” Kidde said, in a follow-up interview after his public comments.

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Rainier Avenue Bus Lane Advances

In 2017 and 2018, the Move Seattle project looked at options for reallocating the five lane widths of Rainier Avenue from Kenny to Henderson St, to improve safety and speed up buses. The safest and most climate-friendly strategy would have deployed two general purpose lanes, two bus lanes, and a two-way cycle track. But given the desire for at least some parking, and turning lanes at intersections, this was never an option. Instead, SDOT asked the community if they preferred a bus lane or a protected cycle track in this corridor

Outreach in 2017 didn’t indicate an overwhelming preference. In-person feedback was about 4:3 in favor of the bus lane. Online comments from the most relevant zip code where also slightly pro-bus lane, while Seattle-wide online comments were about 4:3 in favor of the bike lane. Interestingly, there was a form-letter campaign from the Cascade Bicycle Club for the bike lane option, presumably also reflected in the online response. Separately, the online responses had a wildly disproportionate racial composition for the Rainier Valley. Drivers heavily preferred the bus lane.

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News Roundup: Upset

Community Transit 2017 Alexander Dennis Enviro 500 17855
Zach Heistand/Flickr

This is an open thread.


Graham Johnson, KIRO:

Sound Transit says the estimate in ST3 was $5.8 billion in 2014 dollars, which the agency considers equivalent to $6.8 billion in 2018 dollars. The newest estimate is $7.5 billion in 2018 dollars.

That could rise even more, between about $500 million and $2 billion, if Sound Transit decides to enhance the routes beyond the basic alignment approved by voters.

“Tunnels are really more expensive, said Cathal Ridge, Sound Transit’s Executive Corridor Director for West Seattle and Ballard.

The costs of the representative alignment are creeping up.

The accompanying video segment is excellent as well. The content won’t be surprising to anyone who reads this blog, but it’s really well put together and does a good job of explaining the high-level tradeoffs.

Watching it I was struck by how far we’ve come as a region: zero minutes of airtime are given to light rail opponents. Everyone interviewed supports the project. 10 years ago this same piece would have had at least one person talking about how buses are better and light rail is a waste of money.

See also: Seattle Magazine touting the best neighborhoods near light rail. Remember when the Freeman-backed Bellevue City Council fought like hell to keep Link away? You don’t hear much about that anymore.

Bus lanes stay intact in RapidRide H 30% design

Route 120 in RapidRide Branding by Zach Heistand on Flickr

SDOT and Metro are still hoping for a 2021 opening date for RapidRide H in Delridge, but some potential utility work could delay things until 2022, according to a presentation (PDF, video) to the city’s Sustainability Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

Staff seemed hopeful, however, that an agreement with Seattle Public Utilities to move the stormwater facilities off of Delridge Way could let the project proceed as planned.

Otherwise, the 30% design is looking good for transit, though not much has changed from the 10% design in December. Proposed improvements include:

  • 1.5 miles of 24/7 bus lanes
  • 1.2 miles of peak-only bus lanes
  • 13 station pairs being updated with RapidRide branding as well as bus bulbs
  • Signal priority and two queue jumps

(Since this was a City of Seattle presentation, it was focused on the city’s side of the route. Burien will be seeing improvements as well.)

As usual, the messy tradeoff between bikes, buses, and on-street parking leads to some compromises. Parking will be removed in some areas, especially where SDOT is adding both bus and bike lanes. There will be some protected bike lanes and some diversion to neighborhood greenways on either side of Delridge. The (generally high quality) greenways themselves will be improved.

SDOT is responding to the community’s desire to extend the northbound bus lane further south, to reduce delays in the AM peak. We’ll know more at 60% design (this would be a good thing to advocate for if you go to one of the spring design presentations).

Finally, SDOT is interested in working with Sound Transit to coordinate capital improvements with a future Delridge link station, though it’s still very early in the ST planning process.

The long, narrow nature of the corridor and lack of major cross-streets means that there’s real potential for speed and reliability improvements with dedicated lanes, in-lane stops, and queue jumps.

The next round of outreach will happen this spring, with a goal of construction in 2020 and opening in 2021. Route 120 is the 10th busiest in the system, with 9,000 daily riders. The $70M project budget includes paving and stormwater as well as the bus & bike infrastructure.

Tactical Transit Lanes

3rd Ave / photo by Zach Heistand

Laura Bliss, at Citylab, on “Tactical Transit Lanes”:

After all, the reason that more buses don’t have their own lanes has little to do with engineering. Setting up a special space for buses usually means taking it away from private vehicles and parking spots, and people literally get murdered for that. Less extreme, car commuters and their elected officials—a group that sometimes includes the very decision-makers who may ultimately decide the fate of a bus-lane proposal—often fiercely resist projects that threaten their existing vehicle space.

Which is why small-scale pilots can be useful. “They’re a great way to demonstrate the value of transit priority and engage those who benefit most—transit riders,” Matute said in an email.

On way to think of a “tactical” bus lane is as part of an inverted planning process: instead of doing a bunch of outreach and having to fight against the status quo, a transit agency can change the facts on the ground with a quick bus lane pilot, in some cases using nothing more than traffic cones.  Suddenly the bus riders who are benefiting from the change form a powerful new constituency for making the lane permanent.  A new status quo is born.  

Bliss references a UCLA best practices guide on TTLs, which includes some examples from around the country.  The study distinguishes “tactical” bus lanes from a more “strategic” BRT-style projects that involve more capital spending and land use coordination.  Everett, MA and Cambridge, MA stand out as being true “tactical” efforts, where the cones went up literally overnight

Including Seattle’s 3rd Avenue in the study was a bit of a head scratcher, though.  We’ve been lumbering towards making 3rd Avenue car free for literally decades. It’s not as though Seattle has a shortage of TTLs to talk about, either.  The post-Ducks-accident lane on Aurora, for example, or the Montlake offramp.  Reading through the full study I get the impression that Seattle’s pretty good compared to peer cities but could always be better.

27 Multi-Modal/Climate Bills Survive Transportation Committees

Northgate Link Construction
Northgate Link, which will relieve I-5 of tens of thousands of peak commuters, but is nevertheless not considered a “highway purpose”. A little negotiation on a bipartisan Constitutional Amendment could fix that.
Credit: Atomic Taco

Friday was the deadline for bills in Olympia to get out of the fiscal committees. Now, all the survivors have to get through their chamber’s Rules Committee, and get passed on 2nd/3rd reading on their chamber’s floor, by 5 pm on Wednesday, March 13.

The extremely user-friendly state legislative website lists bills that have made it out of each committee.

Among the 50 bills that got voted out of the House Transportation Committee, 13 substantially impact transit, bikes, and pedestrians:

Continue reading “27 Multi-Modal/Climate Bills Survive Transportation Committees”