TriMet souring on parking garages

Eastgate Park & Ride (ECTran71/wikimedia)

Michael Andersen has the news:

Rahmani said last week (speaking only for himself) that TriMet’s staff members are making the case for surface lots instead of multi-level garages at several stations along the new rail line through Portland, Tigard, and Tualatin, except at the end of the line near Bridgeport Mall. Their theory is that transit funding is better spent elsewhere and the surface lots would preserve the option of adding housing later.

While this isn’t abandoning parking altogether, sticking with surface lots both saves money and, as they point out, makes development easier later. The article cites lots of King County Metro work indicating that park-and-rides are less efficient at creating riders than other programs.

I’ve heard numbers all over the place, but here they claim $52,000 per garage space and $18,000 per surface space, plus $1 per space per day to operate. And all that’s before taking into account the carbon impact.

Assuming 2 rides/weekday/space, and given ST’s 3.6% bond rate, my back-of-the envelope math suggests a cost per ride of about $6 for a garage space and about $2.30 for a surface one if we evaluate the investment over 30 years. Although that doesn’t take into account the land that, if developed, would otherwise generate ridership organically, it isn’t clearly worse than some other access options like the Via Shuttle, currently clocking in at $13 a ride. But nothing beats reliable feeder bus service, bike and pedestrian improvements, and especially dense development. The last, when market-rate, actually has a negative net cost, which is hard to beat.

News Roundup: Only a Trickle


This is an open thread.

The scooters are coming… eventually

Scooters in Baltimore. Photo by Elvert Barnes on Flickr.

Mayor Jenny Durkan, writing at GeekWire:

We can bring scooters to Seattle with a thoughtful, well-planned pilot. In the coming weeks, we will begin drafting the next iteration of the bike share permit that will be approved by Council this fall. In conjunction, we will be working to stand up a scooter share permit pilot. This will allow the City to take a holistic approach to micro-mobility management.

We will focus on four non-negotiable principles: safety, fairness to riders, protection of taxpayers through full indemnification, and equity. While some companies may see these requirements as too restrictive, they are too important not to fight for.

To give you a sense of the mayor’s priorities, he word “thoughtful” appears four times in the piece and “safety” appears nine. Read the accompanying article in GeekWire for more details.

Continue reading “The scooters are coming… eventually”

Levy Spending is Slowly Ramping Up

Bike lanes on NE 65th St
Roosevelt Bus Lanes at 65th St (SDOT)

After a bumpy start, the Move Seattle levy is slowly starting to spend significant funds, SDOT staff told the Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee on Tuesday.

The meeting began with advocates from the MASS coalition giving testimony on the need for prioritizing buses in a time of climate crisis.  Committee Chair Mike O’Brien agreed, noting that if the city is going to ask people to ride transit, it ought to be reliable and convenient.

SDOT staff presented the quarterly oversight report, which includes a status update on dozens of levy-funded projects.  Spending has been lagging for several years now, due to a combination of factors, including an uncertain federal funding environment, difficulty hiring construction firms in this white-hot labor market, Mayor Durkan’s 2018 “reset,” and a surprisingly cold and snowy winter.  Indeed, money is being shoveled out the door even slower than SDOT had forecasted just six months ago:

Still, despite the snow and the Seattle Squeeze, this was the busiest Q1 to date in terms of project spending:

Staff were generally optimistic, pointing out that the Lander St. Overpass project is now $20M under its $130M budget.  On the other hand, contracting issues are causing challenges with the Northgate pedestrian bridge project (though the project as a whole hasn’t yet been delayed).

We’ll get more updates on the multimodal corridors, including RapidRide improvements, later this year.  Most corridor work will be in concert with Metro (e.g. RapidRidge G & H), though on Rainier Avenue multimodal updates will arrive in 2022, before RapidRide bows in 2024.

Finally, later this year SDOT also plans to identify a potential new location for the Mt. Baker transit center as part of the Accessible Mt. Baker project, which will be a welcome improvement.

Is Via Coverage Service?

In last week’s article on Via, I was pleasantly surprised by a projected cost per rider of $16, and early results suggesting a rate of $13. This rate is certainly not as good as the best bus routes, but competitive with some less effective ones and way better than other services like paratransit. Classifying Via as “coverage service,” I proclaimed the results “decent.”

Some commenters pointed out, rightly, that I stretched the meaning of “coverage” service. The term is usually understood to mean service to an area not dense enough to serve efficiently, for the sole purpose of providing some connectivity for those that needed it. That is not what is happening here. Indeed, most Southeast Seattle residents can walk to at least one of multiple north-south frequent transit corridors in a fairly narrow space, and at its widest point route 50 provides a connection to all 4.

However, while most everyone has a connection point into the system, there is likely unmet demand for access to Light Rail. The lack of east/west connectivity is by now a Seattle cliché. Along MLK, the 106 has theoretical 15 minute headways, though often worse. Service is excellent in the Rainier Corridor, but for the most part users there that want to get to Link face a very long ride to a poor transfer at Mt. Baker. As elsewhere in Seattle, topology sometimes cuts off otherwise obvious routes. Broadly speaking, Rainier Valley residents lack a short hop to rapid transit that is tantalizingly close.

This is not an accident: through two separate restructures since Link opened, providing access to it has not been a priority. Each time, existing riders demanding their one-seat rides downtown had their way. In the first restructure, service hours went to improving connections to and through the Central District and West Seattle, as well as the Streetcar, rather than within Southeast Seattle. And that’s fine, though it does leave an unmet demand.

Via critics are right, though, that the optimal way to provide this connectivity would likely be through fixed bus routes. Unfortunately, Metro can’t run more buses at peak times today. Even if existing routes downtown must remain at current frequencies, there are plenty of good targets for additional investment: more buses on the 50, 60, 106, and 107. Better yet, entirely new concepts to plug some of the Link access gaps (some old brainstorms here and here) are much more palatable as an add-on to the existing network than as a substitute.

When Metro’s new bus base capacity comes online, we can have an interesting discussion about Via, the Transportation Benefit District, and new and improved routes in the Southeast. But until then, Via is probably the best option in this area.

Testify for Faster Buses at City Council Tomorrow

Via Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS):

We think the City needs to be more ambitious about prioritizing public transit on our roads. Buses carrying scores of riders shouldn’t get stuck behind a sea of single-occupancy vehicles! Last December MASS published a vision for bus priority in Seattle, including 20 stretches where we think dedicated lanes and/or signal priority can speed the trips of many thousands of people.

The City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee will meet tomorrow at 2pm to discuss RapidRide progress. Testify or learn more about how to support this effort at the link.

Sustainability & Transportation Committee
Seattle City Hall
Tuesday May 7, 2-3pm

Last urbanist withdraws from D1 race

Jesse Greene

As the candidate filing deadline approaches next week, the only urbanist-y candidate running for Seattle City Council District 1 (West Seattle and South Park) has withdrawn.

Jesse Greene was cognizant that the housing crisis is at least partially a supply-side problem, a position that rankles neighborhood activists. He submitted his withdrawal papers last week, leaving a hole in the race. But he also endorsed fellow challenger Phil Tavel.

Freshman incumbent Lisa Herbold has been strong on supporting lower transit fares; but also opposed to relaxing mandatory parking requirements($) in new buildings; generally opposed to upzones, eventually bartering her vote for the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda upzones in urban areas of the city to reduce their scale, including around the future Alaska Junction Station($); and has championed spending hundreds of millions of dollars to bury West Seattle Link without any realistic funding source.

All of the candidates in the race pledged to follow the campaign spending limits in the city’s Democracy Voucher program, but only Herbold has qualified for vouchers as of publication time.

The remaining three challengers include:

  • Brendan Kolding, who opposes upzones before light rail expands, and even then still wants to have mandated car parking in all buildings regardless of their proximity to frequent transit.
  • Isaiah Willoughby, whose superpower is invisibility on the campaign trail.
  • Phil Tavel, who was involved in SCALE, the neighborhood activist group that tried to stall HALA urban-area upzones and Mandatory Housing Affordability requirements in court.

Fife, Pedestrian Paradise?

Nice place for a stroll. Credit: Google

At the last Sound Transit Board meeting, on April 25, WSDOT head and Sound Transit Board member Roger Millar caught my attention when he mentioned the potential of East Tacoma or Fife stations as something other than freeway-limited park and ride stops.

Millar proposed making the East Tacoma station the end of a bike trail connecting Link to Puyallup—and the raised the possibility of transforming the area into a walking and biking hub. Millar even suggested that funds or planning resources from the Gateway Project, a highway expansion megaproject, might be available to build the trail.

Some background: the walksheds of the potential Fife and East Tacoma sites are mainly industrial or low-rise commercial, though there are residential areas that are a bikeable distance away. Several major highways intersect with I-5 in the area, and the Port of Tacoma’s truck freight enters and exits the highway system there. So, as anyone who’s traveled on I-5 knows, Fife and East Tacoma are constantly congested already. (And the widening probably won’t make a big difference.) In short, it’s not the most pedestrian- or bike-friendly area. (Frank covered the Level 2 Tacoma Dome extension options in more detail when they were released in April.)

Hearing the head of WSDOT—an agency that is heavily focused on building and maintaining highways—propose an urbanist-flavored mobility solution was very encouraging.

“The distance from the City of Puyallup to Fife—it’s five, six miles—which, on a bicycle, particularly on flat terrain like that is nothing. And the opportunity to create a whole new travelshed is something that we’re excited about. …We are looking at alignments that might work as part of our Gateway Project,” Millar said, citing the work of Pierce County elected officials for bringing the issue to his attention. “At the very least, maybe we could minimize the number of park and ride spaces we need to have for people coming in from Puyallup, because they can get on their bikes and ride.”

Sound Transit’s project lead, Curvie Hawkins, said the agency is open to the idea, but was understandably cautious about committing to anything.

“We have a river we have to get over between Fife and East Tacoma,” Hawkins said. “So we have thought about ways to incorporate multiple modes in our design, and [be] able to make that connection work. I can’t tell you we’re going to build a multimodal bridge at this time, but to respond to your question, we’re thinking about it.”

Millar (who has a strong transit background) pressed Hawkins further, raising the possibility of reimagining the Tacoma and Fife station areas as walkable, bikeable urban villages.

“That’s good news, and I’m not hoping for the Tilikum Crossing—but, y’know, that wouldn’t be bad—over the [Puyallup] River there,” Millar said. “But the other direction, we need to think about active transportation accesses from those stations to the Port of Tacoma. Is there conversation going on about bicycle and walking connections, transit shuttle connections, those kinds of things? …I have this vision of longshoremen on scooters.”

Hawkins again hedged, saying that planning was early, but Sound Transit is working closely with the Port of Tacoma and Pierce Transit.

After the exchange, Fife Mayor and Board member Kim Roscoe added her support for Millar’s multimodal ambitions.

“I really appreciate you pulling this up to top of mind for us,” Roscoe said, turning to Millar. “I share the strong sentiment on keeping a focus on bike and pedestrian access.”

In earlier iterations of Link planning, particularly in suburban and industrial areas like the stations in question, multimodal access has seemed like an afterthought. It’s refreshing to see leaders outside of Seattle working to leverage Link as a catalyst for green, human-scale transportation.

News Roundup: Brighter

Newer LED lighting on the right (Sound Transit)

This is an open thread.

Sound Transit + Metro Continue Rail Partnership, Bus Plans Still in the Works

Link Morning Commuters at Westlake. Image by Oran.

From the agencies’ joint press release:

“This agreement sets the stage for continuing Sound Transit’s fruitful partnership with Metro as Link continues to serve more riders,” said Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff. “We appreciate Metro’s readiness to partner with Sound Transit by controlling some costs immediately while pursuing further efficiencies going forward. The professionalism and commitment of Metro’s operators and leadership will continue helping to expand Link’s success in giving riders an alternative to ever-worsening traffic jams.”

A show of public hand-holding and kum-ba-yah singing caps a contentious month between the two agencies, as Sound Transit floated, then rescinded, a proposal to add supplemental bus service from private contractors.

Continue reading “Sound Transit + Metro Continue Rail Partnership, Bus Plans Still in the Works”

Early Via shuttle results are decent

Via service area in the rainier valley

Express an interest in transit at just about any cocktail party in the Rainier Valley, and you’ll hear how what Sound Transit really needs to do is provide a shuttle to get people to the stations. Inevitably, people are proposing a solution to their specific problem without much awareness of scale or efficiency. Much like park-and-ride spaces, shuttles are probably more effective at allowing people to conceive a way to use light rail than actually providing that access at scale. On the other hand, Metro and ST seem to have worked their way into a contract that projects a pretty good yield from what some might call coverage service.

The Federal Transit Administration is willing to give shuttles a shot, possibly anticipating that autonomous vehicles will eventually transform the economics. Metro and Sound Transit won $350,000 from FTA in a research project combined with LA Metro. This sum, combined with $100,000 each from Metro and ST, would have funded a peak-only shuttle at a couple of Seattle stations and Tukwila International Blvd, according to Project Manager Casey Gifford of Metro.

Enter Seattle, with Transportation Benefit District funds that Metro doesn’t have the capacity to serve with more buses. Its $2.7m contribution dramatically expanded the concept to include four Seattle stations and service over the full span of Link operations. Tukwila, which didn’t top it up, is only available from 6-9am and 3:30-6:30pm.

For the next 12 months or so, riders traveling between a Link Station and the areas shown above can use an app or phone number to summon a minivan operated by Via. They can pay for the ride just like any Metro bus, except for cash: an ORCA that fully transfers to Link, or a Transit GO ticket that doesn’t. Although this payment scheme will shift some more ORCA revenue from ST to Metro, only the small amount of Transit GO tickets (and additional volume) would put more fare revenue into the system as a whole.

Continue reading “Early Via shuttle results are decent”