dxʷləšucid signs

Some time ago I contemplated whether our buses—wherever they are on Coast Salish lands—would bear place names in dxʷləšucid (Lushootseed), the language of indigenous Coast Salish peoples from Nisqually all the way to Skagit. It was early winter of 2018 when I began packing for my trip to the Samoa archipelago. Something caught the corner of my eye outside the faculty offices of the UW Anthropology department: the Burke Waterlines Map. I perused the map, pinned to the bulletin board unfolded, and, curious as to where the Lushootseed place names belonged on the map, began to piece together village by village, water site to water site, into my head already deeply colonized by the more familiar English place names I was taught to know, love and sometimes hate.

What if public transportation can bear these place names?

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The Downtown Seattle Association wants to re-imagine Third Avenue

In 2009 the City of Seattle commissioned a study that called Third Avenue “uninviting, unattractive and generally a dreadful place to walk, shop or wait for a bus.”  In 2014 Metro commissioned a design study on ways to fix the street.  That led to the Third Avenue Transit Improvements Project, and will eventually result in a much-needed transit-only signal at Third and Denny.  

Yet, after all these studies, few would consider the street to be substantially transformed.  

Over the same timeframe, more buses have been added.  In 2010 2011, Routes 15 and 18 (now RapidRide C/D), along with all the West Seattle routes, were moved from First to Third to accommodate Viaduct construction.  Then in 2016 the Seattle TBD added funding for more service on all bus routes, including many on Third. Finally, earlier this year the bus tunnel closed and a whole bunch of buses moved upstairs.

There are advantages to this consolidation.  Buses can be given priority right-of-way, off-board payment systems can be installed and transfers can be streamlined in much the same way that certain hub airports get bigger and bigger over time: more destinations lure more riders, which in turn justify more destinations.

But there are downsides as well: the street can become unpleasant, overcrowded, and choked with diesel fumes. And if Third is perceived as a bad place for business, merchants on other streets will fight against a busway on their street, leaving Third even more crowded. 

According to the Downtown Seattle Association, the latest group to try and “fix” Third Avenue, the sheer number of buses and lack of sidewalk space creates an uninviting environment. Their recently-released vision plan for the street imagines wider sidewalks, a much-improved pedestrian experience, and a more efficient deployment of buses through the corridor.  

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News roundup: it’s just talk

King County Metro
Busologist/Flickr

This is an open thread.

Next train signs are finally here

After years of protests that it couldn’t be done, and six years of study and work, Sound Transit has finally found a way to put next train arrival times on the existing message boards at stations that opened in 2009. Capitol Hill and UW Station opened with this capability in 2016. Between Angle Lake and Westlake, arrival times rapidly rotate with other messages. Riders need wait no more than a few seconds to get the key info.

The picture above is on the mezzanine level. There is a similar sign on the tunnel entrance, a good indicator on whether or not to hustle. At the platform level, the signs only display the relevant direction (see below).

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Seattle: It’s time to start work on ST4

by SEATTLE SUBWAY

#ST4Seattle Map by Oran

People love riding Link. The more Sound Transit builds, the more Seattle votes with our feet. But planning and building expansions can take decades. It’s clear that we need Link expansion beyond what is currently planned, and our rapidly growing city and the burgeoning climate crisis demand we take action without delay. That’s why it’s time for Seattle to start working on ST4, the next round of Link rail expansion.

Looking ahead to the completion of ST3’s Seattle expansions in 2035, we see a city that has made huge strides building high quality transit but still lacks a comprehensive subway system. It’s a system that will still have frustrating gaps, lacking stations in our densest residential neighborhoods like Belltown and First Hill.  We must think bigger and bring service to the entire city. A true Seattle Subway means being able to catch a train in Georgetown, Wallingford, or White Center and take a ride to Lake City, Crown Hill, or Fremont. ST3 is a huge step forward, but it falls well short of the vision of ST Complete, the vision of a Seattle fully connected by high-quality transit. 

Seattle can’t afford to wait; it is imperative that we take charge of our future. Seattle is adding more residents than all King County suburbs combined. Our next expansion vote should come in 2024, on the heels of the opening of major expansions to Northgate, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way, and Lynnwood. More people than ever will be riding Link. More people than ever will be asking: Why can’t we have Link in our neighborhood? We must be ready with the best possible answer: You can.

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Seattle District 2 candidate ratings

District 2 has seven candidates for an open seat on the Seattle City Council. While none of them are uniformly outstanding on transit and land use issues, some are much better than others. As a reminder, here’s our rating system.

Excellent

The two candidates in this tier share a lot of common ground. They are both for safer streets, more housing types in single family zones, and prioritizing transit. In both cases, concern about displacement veers into unproductively demonizing developers. We would not characterize them as transit wonks, and there are occasional positions we don’t like in their policy mix. But we believe the impact of either overall would be strongly positive.

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Sunday Open Thread: District 4 MASS Forum

The Moving All Seattle Sustainably Coalition held a candidate forum for the Seattle City Council’s 4th District on May 30, 2019. Rooted in Rights made the video, and provided a transcript.

Candidates attending included, from left to right:

We posted the videos and discussed the races for Districts 2 and 3 previously.

This is an open thread.

About our 2019 endorsements

Endorsements for city council races are starting to trickle in, and we are hard at work on ours as well.

With regards to the City Council, we have many, many candidates who are seeking their first office. This new council will see many important issues over the next few years. Some that are top of mind for us include:

  • Lifting the apartment ban on the majority of Seattle’s residential land
  • Keeping large housing projects from getting bogged down in NIMBY complaints
  • Staying strong on bike and bus priority in the face of parochial (or mayoral) pressure
  • Increasing funding for buses, either through a renewed Seattle TBD or another measure, hopefully in a way that helps get buses out of traffic

Unlike previous cycles, rather than select a single candidate we will rate candidates as “Excellent”, “Good”, “Fair,” or “Poor” based on their estimated policy impact, positive or negative, on transit and land use progress in Seattle. As most candidates in city council races don’t have any legislative or political experience, we’ll rely what’s in their platform and what they’ve said at various debates.

Here’s how we define those terms. This is evolving so we reserve the right to be inconsistent, but we’ll do our best to explain our thinking.

  • Excellent candidates are ones who have a passion for transit-related issues and the desire to spend political capital making our issues their issues. It’s one thing to call for the elimination of single-family zoning in a debate, it’s quite another to craft the policy and push it over the finish line.
  • Good candidates are ones we mostly agree with on issues but we either have some reservations or we don’t think that transit is a particular focus or passion.
  • Fair candidates we may disagree with on one or two major things and are at best a continuation of the status quo on the council.
  • Poor candidates are unqualified or hold many positions we actively disagree with.

The first round will come shortly. For city council, we’ll be offering ratings in Districts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Lisa Herbold in D1 hasn’t drawn any pro-transit/pro-density opposition, so we’ll save our ink.

In the meantime, let us know in the comments if there are any suburban races we should be thinking about.

The editorial board consists of Martin Duke, Brent White, and Frank Chiachiere

News Roundup: War on Vacancy

KCM New Flyer DE60LFR 6964
Wings777/Flickr

Sound Transit shows off new Siemens light rail vehicles

Link LRV 202, the first of the Siemens S70 fleet

The long-awaited second generation of Link light rail trains has arrived at Sound Transit’s OMF in SoDo. The Siemens-built S70 car was put on display for local media on Wednesday, giving a small look into the future of our light rail system.

The display car, number 202, is the first of 152 Siemens light rail vehicles that were ordered by Sound Transit in 2016 for use on the ST2 extensions (including those that rolled over into ST3), covering Northgate Link, East Link, Lynnwood Link, and Federal Way Link. The $624.5 million contract covers all 152 vehicles, which are being manufactured and tested by Siemens in Sacramento, California. The ST3 extensions beyond 2025 will be served by a third generation that will require a new bidding process, and potentially more design changes if necessary.

Sound Transit expects to receive one to three vehicles per month through the end of the order in 2024, with many cars slated to also fill the under-construction OMF East in Bellevue. Following a few months of testing and commissioning, the first of the new Siemens cars will enter service in early 2020. Northgate Link will require 40 cars, while East Link will take up 112; both sets will be shared with the Lynnwood and Federal Way extensions.

The new Siemens cars will run in separate trainsets from the old Kinikisharyo cars, which will be pulled from service and trucked to Bellevue while undergoing minor software change to prepare them for East Link service, namely adding a new speed setting for the Bel-Red section’s 25 mph limit. Yes, this means that four-car train service will have to wait a bit longer, perhaps until the in-service testing for Northgate Link begins in late 2020.

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Transit Report Card: Ottawa

Gattineau and Ottawa buses crossing the Rideau Canal

I recently returned from a week-long trip to three of Canada’s great cities, of which two have already been covered by previous Transit Report Cards (Vancouver and Montreal). While I may return to write about the latter, which has since undergone some significant changes in wayfinding, today’s transit report is focused on the third and final stop on my journey: Ottawa, the national capital.

Ottawa’s transit system has some interesting quirks, namely its reliance on an extensive system of dedicated busways (named the Transitway) and its impending switch to light rail in the coming weeks. Some of its quirks are quite familiar to those of us in the Puget Sound region, as shown below, but I think there are some good lessons that can be learned from the system that OCTranspo (the city’s transit operator) has developed.

Segments ridden:

  • Trillium Line (diesel light rail) – Bayview to Greensboro
  • Various Transitway routes – Fallowfield to Downtown to Blair
  • Route 18 – Downtown to Byward Market
  • Route 44 – Downtown to Hull (Gatineau)
  • Route 101 – Hurdman to The Glebe
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A funding plan for Metro Connects comes into view

The projected funding would add a million Metro service hours by 2030 and place the agency on a trajectory for further expansion (Image: King County)

Earlier this year, the King County Council ordered a review of funding options for Metro Connects. This Wednesday, the Regional Transit Committee receives a status update on the effort. It considers a $220 million increase in annual funding for Metro, enough to get Metro to its long-range service goals.

Metro Connects is Metro’s long range plan, designed to integrate with Sound Transit expansion through 2040 and to meet the transit needs of city and County comprehensive plans. The Metro Connects plan, adopted in 2015, envisions a 70% increase in Metro bus service hours by 2040 over 2015 levels. That would increase transit ridership to 1 million daily boardings, and enable frequent service within 1/2 mile for 73% of county residents.

Metro’s current funding isn’t enough to reach this goal. Tax and fare revenue grow naturally over time as the economy and population expand, but only by enough to cover 30% of the additional capital costs and 50% of the extra service hours identified. The under-funding of Metro Connects has already led to the deferral of several RapidRide Lines that were hoped to open by 2025. That gap would widen if the Seattle Proposition 1 is not renewed in 2020. The Seattle TBD pays for about 10% of current service hours.

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ADU legislation moves along, with new wrinkles

An Accessory Dwelling Unit (City of San Gabriel)

It appears Seattle may finally allow various types of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) in most of the city. These units generally provide inexpensive rental opportunities, but are frequently illegal to build.

For a summary of where we stand today, you can’t do much better than the City’s onepager. (A somewhat longer summary is here.) The changes are projected to add over 2,000 new rental units over the regulatory status quo through 2027 and reduce the number of single-family teardowns by almost a quarter.

The proposed legislation would make changes to regulations governing ADUs; the changes include: allowing two ADUs on a lot, removing the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs, introducing a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limit for single-family lots, increasing the maximum household size for lots that have two ADUs, and other changes to the size and location development standards regulating DADUs.

page 1, Council Staff Report

There are 11 amendments under consideration. Probably the most impactful ones are CM Herbold’s separate proposals to ban short-term rentals in ADUs authorized by the bill, for obvious reasons, and restoring a milder form of the owner-occupancy requirement. Applicants would have to lived there for a year before applying, though they would not have to remain there to rent out this space. This amendment is meant to limit “speculation.”

The two material objections to more ADUs are (1) more competition for publicly provided parking spaces, and (2) the possibility of poorer people living in the neighborhood. As neither is particularly attractive as a public policy principle, we instead hear process objections (the subject of the recently dismissed lawsuit) and concerns about neighborhood “character” and aesthetics.

Although I personally find single-family homes bigger than about 3,000 square feet aesthetically displeasing, in principle I’m not a fan of simply banning them. However, if new restrictions neutralize the “character” objection, it’s a compromise I can live with to get more units per acre. If this compromise also incentivizes making large units easily divisible into separate rental units, so much the better.

The Sustainability and Transportation Committee will discuss the legislation on June 18th and may vote on it then.

Sunday Open Thread: Seattle District 3 MASS forum

The Moving All Seattle Sustainably Coalition held a candidate forum for the Seattle City Council’s 3rd District on May 29, 2019. Rooted in Rights made the video, and provided a transcript.

Candidates attending included, from left to right:

The forum for District 2 was posted on Thursday.

This is an open thread.

Which Way for Washington’s Intercity Rail Program?

Wikimedia

There are two possible futures for Cascade rail service. Are they mutually exclusive?

It’s been a whiplash-inducing year for intercity passenger rail in the US.  The “Green New Deal” suggests the possibility of sweeping high speed investments at the same time as California’s project is retrenching.  Colorado, a growing Western state where the population is similarly concentrated along a single north-south interstate, is starting to think about intercity passenger rail service.   And here in Washington, Governor Inslee continues to move forward a high-speed rail business plan and the legislature continues to dribble out funds to study it, while at the same time WSDOT picks up the pieces from the DuPont crash.

Long-time Cascades watchers, though, know there’s another, older plan for upgrading interstate rail service. Released in 2007, the Long Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades was created to guide Cascades development through 2023.  According to WSDOT’s Janet Malkin, this plan is very much alive and we should expect an update by the end of the year.

The Long Range Plan (LRP), which we’ve covered previously, envisions a Seattle-Portland running time of 2.5 hours, down from nearly 3.5 today, and 14 daily departures. Seattle-Vancouver would similarly be about 2.5 hours and have 4 trains/day.  It proposes dozens of projects, including double and triple tracking, high-speed bypasses, and new high-speed track.  Trains would still be diesel, and have a top speed of 110mph.

Future travel times from the 2007 Long Range Plan

The 2007 publication of the LRP was fortuitous.  Just two years later, the world would be mired in recession and the Obama administration, in search of signature high-speed rail stimulus projects, would eventually steer $800M in federal funds to Washington State rail.  Thanks to the LRP, the state had a bunch of off-the-shelf projects to submit.  After governors in Florida and Wisconsin rejected the money, Washington ended up with a windfall. 20 projects were funded, including the purchase of new locomotives and a rehab of King Street Station.

With the Point Defiance Bypass now complete, the stimulus projects are officially over (though work continues on mudslide mitigation and a new Ballard ship canal crossing).   It’s time to think about what’s next: Should the state choose going forward: incrementally update the existing rail corridor, or build an entirely new one, as the Governor’s HSR plan envisions?  Do we even need to choose?

Continue reading “Which Way for Washington’s Intercity Rail Program?”

Seattle District 2 MASS forum

The Moving All Seattle Sustainably Coalition held its forum for Seattle District 2 city council candidates on May 28, 2019. Rooted in Rights made the video. Go to their website if the above video doesn’t work on your platform. Rooted in Rights also provided a transcript for the forum.

Candidates attending included, from left to right:

This is not an open thread. You will have the opportunity to discuss the other races in future posts.

News roundup: starting to arrive

CommunistSquared /Wikimedia Commons

This is an open thread.

A new contract for Metro’s Access program

Metro Access Van (Credit: King County)

Michelle Baruchman in The Seattle Times, on Metro’s new 5-year contract with MV Transportation to provide Access service:

Advocates in King County say they have raised concerns about Access for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the county began planning for an audit of the service, said Deputy King County Auditor Ben Thompson.

In June 2017, the county Auditor’s Office released a report that laid bare issues that contributed to low ridership and costly services.

Among them: limited payment options; lack of outreach to low-income populations, communities of color and people with limited English proficiency; inadequate oversight over contractors and ineffective punishments for poor service; excessively long trips and frequently late or early arrivals.

Paratransit service is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Like many federal mandates, it comes without much funding, making it susceptible to budget cuts when downturns hit. Furthermore, King County ordinances mandate that the service go above and beyond the ADA minimum.

My understanding is that, at the low point, there were just a half-dozen Metro employees overseeing what was one of the largest contracts in King County, down from more than triple that before the financial crisis.

This new contract will take some of the customer service aspects back in-house, meaning Metro should be more responsive to problems.