The original genius (or sin, if you prefer) of the legislation that created Sound Transit was that it yoked together the region’s high capacity transit needs. The suburbs and the cities had to work together to get what they wanted, or no one would get anything, like a municipal prisoner’s dilemma.
The West Seattle – Ballard link extension (“WSBLE” in Sound Transit’s lingo) is pushing that 25-year-old decision to its limits. Pierce and Snohomish County reps want WSBLE to be fast and cheap, lest it jeopardize the extensions to Tacoma and Everett (to some of them, WSBLE it isn’t part of the “spine,” so the whole thing is a kind of agency scope creep anyway). Seattle reps, meanwhile, are hearing an earful from their voters and maritime interests about elevated alignments at the termini. These reps also know that without the votes from Seattle’s west side neighborhoods, there might not have been enough support to get ST3 over the finish line to begin with, and certainly not enough money to support Snohomish’s speculative and expensive detour to Paine Field.
The congestion pricing study attempted to apply objective criteria to various options. Regardless of the policy merits, it’s a good bet that the choice will be the one with a political coalition to pass it. Who wins and who loses from such a plan?
For bus riders, pricing is overwhelmingly positive. Fewer cars means buses will be faster, and usually the fee is used to add transit. Perhaps the only downside is more crowded vehicles.
For bicyclists and pedestrians, it’s unclear. The zone would have lower car volumes but higher speeds. But if many people are diverted to bikes, numbers increase safety.
That’s a good chunk of who’s going downtown, but the attitudes of drivers are going to be important. For pricing to work, someone has to be deterred off the road, and those people aren’t going to be happy with the deterrence.
The draft ST3 plan in March 2016 extended rail beyond Lynnwood in two steps. The first, in 2036, would bring service to North Lynnwood, serving stations at West Alderwood Mall, Ash Way, and Mariner. The second, in 2041, extended around the SW Everett Industrial Center (Paine Field) and north to Everett Station.
When the plan was finalized two months later, the extensions were combined so the Paine Field and Everett stations would open five years earlier. It was a telling decision that all the extra financial resources of the final plan were put into the northern segment. This looks like an error. While all parts of Everett Link have their value, the immediate rider needs are mostly between Lynnwood and Mariner.
Wherever long escalators are required to travel between the train platform and street level, redundant escalators should be provided. This could have been accomplished with a single bank of at least four escalators, or two banks of at least three escalators, etc. With a bank of four escalators, one escalator being out of service would be a minor inconvenience at worst. Even with half the escalators out of service, access to and from the station could be maintained …
Beyond the number of escalators at each station, there is also the issue of the escalators themselves. Broken escalators have been a near-constant bane to riders using the Capitol Hill and UW stations since their opening in 2016, to the point that Sound Transit is already planning to replace all 13 escalators at UW less than four years after that station’s completion.
But Sound Transit apparently felt differently back when planning the Capitol Hill and UW stations. According to a source familiar with the design process who declined to be named for this article, Sound Transit insisted on specifying medium-duty “better” escalators at these stations as a cost-saving measure, and then cobbled together a myriad series of customizations to bring them up to heavy-duty standards. As we now know, the reliability of these Frankenstein escalators hasn’t exactly been stellar, and Sound Transit will soon spend a fortune to replace them with more robust, off-the-shelf models. Some old adage comes to mind about how it’s better to do something right the first time than to do it over again.
Seattle’s Congestion Pricing Report looked at ten different schemes that could reduce the volume of cars in congested areas, from variations on a toll, to bans on non-electric or non-autonomous vehicles, to allowing only certain license plate numbers on a given day.
After considering environmental impacts, congestion reduction, equity, and feasibility, SDOT ended up with four alternatives:
Cordon Pricing, which charges drivers for crossing a boundary into a sensitive area (like Stockholm);
Area Pricing, which adds a fee for driving around within the cordon in addition to the boundary toll (like London);
Fleet Pricing, which tolls a particular type of vehicle fleet, like commercial vehicles, or taxis and taxi-like services (like New York is planning); and
a “Road Usage Charge” that ” restrict[s] access to a zone to vehicles enrolled in a RUC program that levies a per-mile charge,” kinda like the WSDOT pilot for a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax.
If you’re like me, you’ve lost track of all the near-term projects that were supposed to get downtown through a period with multiple disruptive construction projects. It doesn’t help that there’s a near-term set of improvements and other longer-range plans that one can confuse.
Luckily, the City Council mandated that SDOT provide a quarterly report on how the near-term OCC stuff is doing. Here’s a summary of the bus stuff:
5th/6th bus lanes: two blocks on 5th and eight on 6th, done and on-budget.
Montlake Triangle: shorter walking distances, a short bus lane, and better turns for buses: on schedule for September. UPDATE: Metro says they’re not going to have buses using these till March 2020.
a one-block 4th bus lane and one queue jump: delayed from March to June due to building construction; added savings will get us another queue jump.
2nd/4th signal improvements to speed up buses: done and on-budget.
3rd Ave ORCA Readers/All-door boarding: a year late (to March 2020) and $3m overbudget. “Metro and the design consultant were not familiar with SDOT’s sidewalk restoration standards.” They’re using hand-scanners for now, and savings elsewhere will cover the budget gap.
Bigger bus stops and rider environment improvements in Chinatown and Pioneer Square: on track for this September.
On the bike front, all three of the big downtown projects — PBLs on Pike/Pine and 4th, plus the 2nd Ave Extension bike lane — are either behind schedule or threatening to become so.
There are plenty of pedestrian and other programs as well, which you can read about in the report.
For the past two weeks, the American Planning Association has been running a Transit Bracket Challenge, pitting the largest transit agencies in the U.S. against each other in a popularity contest. King County Metro has so far quashed its competition, namely San Francisco’s Muni and the Maryland Transit Administration, leaving us as the sole West Coast representative.
Metro’s winning form has seemingly come teetering to a crawl and is in danger of halting entirely, thanks to its semifinal opponent: the Chicago Transit Authority.
As of writing (near midnight), Metro sits at 44.4%, while Chicago is pulling in 55.6%. Over 17,600 people have already voted in the Metro-CTA matchup, which is more than double the tally for the cross-town MTA-NJ Transit fixture in the other semifinal.
While Metro may not have the history and prestige found in each wooden tie and platform board on the ‘L’, we do punch above our weight in terms of bus ridership. Average weekday ridership on CTA buses is around 765,000, for a metro area of 9.5 million, while Metro carries 402,000 in a metro area half the size of Chicagoland.
And while they may have beat us to the punch in introducing electric battery buses, we’ve still got our reliable old trolleybus system to fall back on while we catch up in battery bus deployment. Our buses are also more frequent, more reliable, and are as busy as it gets in terms of American transit. Plus, we have a dog that regularly rides by herself.
You can vote here. The poll closes on Sunday and you can vote multiple times from multiple devices. The final round starts on Monday and will conclude on Sunday, June 9. The winning agency earns bragging rights at inter-city conferences, while voters can exercise their civic pride in time for the start of Ride Transit Month.