Under pressure from Kirkland, Metro to drop proposal for RapidRide to Redmond

RapidRide in Bellevue (image: Shane in the City/flickr)

Earlier this year, Metro started planning for the Kirkland-Bellevue-Eastgate RapidRide, set to open in 2025. An early question was where to locate the northern terminus. Metro’s Long Range Plan developed in 2016 includes a representative alignment connecting downtown Kirkland to Totem Lake via Market St. Since then, the North Eastside Mobility Plan (NEMP) outreach revealed a stronger demand for east-west connections. As a result, the March 2020 service change will create a new Metro 250 route with Bellevue-Kirkland buses continuing to Redmond.

Metro’s preliminary analysis appears to have suggested Redmond would be a better end point for RapidRide, a finding consistent with the recent analysis for the North Eastside restructure. After urging from the City of Kirkland, however, they are ending work on the Redmond alternative and focusing only on options serving Totem Lake.

At a meeting of Kirkland’s Transportation Commission last Wednesday, Metro staff conceded there were “some advantages” to the Redmond connection. The materials shared include a list of technical analysis criteria without detailing how any of the alternatives performed. The Redmond endpoint, they said, would be further studied only if it provided “distinct advantages”. In the end, Metro argues that the “overall difference between options is not large enough to warrant shifting from Metro Connects terminus in Totem Lake”.

The upshot is no further staff work on the Redmond RapidRide option. When Metro engages with the community this fall, bus riders will be asked to consider only alternative paths to Totem Lake. Ironically, the intent to avoid duplication with Metro 255 means riders on Market St and Juanita risk losing direct service to Seattle if an overlapping path is chosen.

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Seattle District 7 candidate ratings

District 7 includes downtown, Queen Anne, and Magnolia. Though there’s higher population density in downtown and Belltown, the more suburban enclaves tend to punch above their weight in off-year elections. This may explain why many candidates in this district appear skeptical of density and in favor of an expensive Magnolia Bridge replacement.

Excellent

Michael George

Michael George is a professional transportation and housing planner who has been involved in planning Link, RapidRide, and every ST TOD project. He is the only D7 candidate who supports congestion pricing, red light cameras, and the streetcar. However, like most candidates he supports replacing the Magnolia Bridge and is less than full-throated in supporting duplexes and triplexes in single-family zones.

Good

Naveed Jamali‘s transportation platform reads almost like an STB blog post (except for the opposition to red light cams). He upbraids the City on taking away funding for pedestrian and bike infrastructure improvements. While he has a great platform and an admirable record of military service, we’d like to see a longer record in local politics or policy chops on local issues.

Fair

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Seattle District 6 candidate ratings

District 6 is Northwest Seattle. Besides the coming light rail station in Ballard, the Burke-Gillman Missing Link looms large over this election. Read Seattle Bike Blog for a deeper discussion of these candidates and the Missing Link.

Excellent

Dan Strauss

Dan Strauss is a cyclist who wants to create a network of bus lanes and protected bike lanes. He is more moderate on opening up more housing options, but better than most of the rest in this NIMBY-leaning field. He has worked in politics for a decade (most recently as an aide to Sally Bagshaw) and therefore understands the system. He prefers to build the Missing Link on Leary Way (see above).

Melissa Hall is another density advocate who defines livability through a walkability and equity lens. She wants to apply that equity lens to how public space is divvied up among transit modes. She cites STB’s David Lawson as an influence on transportation issues, which is a very good sign. She’s worked as both a land use attorney and a planner, which is great preparation for issues facing the council. Hall opposes congestion pricing, but she is one of the few candidates who wants to stop talking and build the missing link.

Good

Jay Fathi is a physician who wants to build Ballard Link faster, invest more in public transit, build more housing so people don’t have to commute as far, and decarbonize our transportation system. He’s in favor of congestion pricing and wants to convert single family zones to “residential zones” to allow more housing types. He’s noncommittal on the Missing Link and is light on political experience.

Ed Pottharst is a bicyclist and long-time City employee who advocates for congestion pricing and offers the idea of free transit passes and income-basing the congestion charges as mitigation. He supports the Shilshole Ave option for the Missing Link, more bike lanes including on 8th Ave NW, and restructuring bus routes to better feed light rail and connect urban villages to each other more frequently. We have concerns about his work on the Phinney Neighborhood Association during its fight to stop more apartments from being built in the neighborhood (see our update here).

Terry Rice is a manager at a small tourism company and a critic of NIMBYism and Seattle’s racist land-use history. He has the right ideas (aside from opposition to congestion pricing), but is short on specifics and experience.

Fair

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News Roundup: Eastrail

Photo via King County Parks on Twitter
  • Two big proposals from the Mayor on affordable housing: MFTE reform and more permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness
  • The King County Council approves paid spots at some popular park-and-rides
  • Sound Transit starts construction on the innovative I-90 light rail tracks
  • Not good: injuries and collisions on Seattle streets are at a nine-year high
  • Self-driving cars are really hard, but self-driving minibuses are on the march. What was that about autonomy killing transit again?
  • TRU’s Katie Wilson on Seattle’s need for a transportation revolution to tackle climate and what we can do to get one
  • Introducing “Eastrail
  • Protected intersections. You love to see a cryptic Dongho Chang tweet spur an entire Times article.
  • The “interim” 1st Ave re-route for West Seattle buses continues to be terrible
  • Metro adds paid parking permits for some popular park-and-rides
  • Bill Savage reminds us that elevated trains are beautiful (and cost effective!)
  • Metro and SDOT will be at Capitol Hill-area farmers markets this weekend to talk RapidRide G
  • New bus stops for the reconstructed “Borealis Avenue” at Denny Way

The next 10 years for Link

Tracks and catenary supports for the Blue Line on Mercer Island

In case you haven’t heard, Link celebrated its tenth birthday last week, bringing back memories of the long-past era of 2009. Since the first trains left Mount Baker Station on the morning of July 18, 2009, Link has carried over 125 million passenger trips and has become the single busiest transit corridor in the state. For all the milestones and achievements of the past ten years, Link is saving its grandest leaps forward for the upcoming decade.

When we arrive at Link’s 20th birthday in 2029, light rail ridership will have shattered several times over and reached well over 280,000 daily trips—surpassing almost every light rail system in the United States. Trains will whisk away riders from 44 stations, from Lynnwood to Federal Way and from Redmond to downtown Seattle, popping out of the Northgate tunnel every three minutes, alternating between red and blue.

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Metro tweaks the 41 & 271 as “Seattle Squeeze” gets real

Montlake Triangle improvements under construction (Photo by the author)

Metro is continuing to adjust routes and frequencies with the closure of the bus tunnel and, more recently, the Montlake freeway ramps.

Route 41, one of few routes with over 10,000 daily riders, was moved to surface streets and has been stuck using the punctuality-melting Stewart Street I-5 offramp ever since. In an effort to amputate the leg and save the patient, Metro has opted to send the 41 into downtown via Union Street starting July 27. This will eliminate stops at 7th & Stewart and 3rd and Pine in the southbound direction only – northbound is unchanged. Folks will have a longer walk in the AM (or a transfer) but should see a more reliable ride. The agency thinks it’s worth the tradeoff:

Metro’s planning and service quality teams surveyed riders and bus drivers and showed them the benefits and tradeoffs of the Union Street routing. A large majority (79 percent of riders surveyed and 94 percent of Route 41 bus drivers) supported having the faster travel times and better reliability with having to potentially travel farther between the new bus stops and their destination.

Route 271, the cross-lake superstar with over 5,000 daily riders, has only gotten more critical recently. Riders appear to be opting for Link-271 as an alternative to the 550, which is on long-term reroute as part of East Link construction. As of July 18 the 271 added 7 additional trips, 4 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, to relieve the associated crowding.

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Mercer Island bus-rail connection still in flux

Transit integration at Mercer Island continues to move forward, but rough water appears to be on the horizon. When we last checked in, Sound Transit and King County Metro had presented three infrastructure options, the Limited, Improved, and Optimal Configurations, which could facilitate 12, 16, or 20 buses per hour, respectively. Since that time, the Mercer Island City Council has identified additional concerns and discussed the Interchange again with City staff on July 16, 2019.

Mercer Island Station construction, June 2019. Sound Transit photo, via Facebook.

One of the significant factors is that King County Metro was not a party to the Settlement Agreement that ended litigation and other Link-related disputes between Sound Transit and the City. However Metro’s “concurrence” is required for the Transit Interchange, and the Settlement Agreement allows for changes to the Transit Interchange to achieve that concurrence. As previously reported, Metro identified issues with the Transit Interchange as described in the Settlement Agreement and proposed changes that would allow Metro to concur. Notably, new information presented to the City Council included a letter from King County Metro to Sound Transit (page 16 of the linked PDF) stating that Metro cannot concur with the Limited Configuration (e.g. the configuration explicitly described by the Settlement Agreement, with a capacity of up to 12 buses per hour) because that configuration does not allow appropriate layovers and pickup/dropoff locations.

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Is Link light rail seeing more service interruptions?

Credit: Sound Transit

Two years ago I wrote a piece about the frequency and duration of Link service interruptions (blockages, accidents, power outages, etc). Given the recent, high-profile service meltdown on June 12, it makes sense to revisit the issue. How often do interruptions occur? How long do they last? Have they become more frequent or longer in duration over the last two years? I parsed several hundred email alerts from Sound Transit to find out!

I measured interruptions starting in December 2015, when I started subscribing to the Sound Transit rider alert emails. From then up to June 28, 2019, I count 144 separate incidents*. That’s roughly one interruption every nine days and is the same rate I estimated in my 2017 piece. Counting the number of interruptions in 30 day intervals confirms that the base rate of these incidents has been quite stable, in a statistical sense.

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North Eastside buses will be restructured in March 2020

Metro 255 exits the South Kirkland Park & Ride (Image credit: Shane in the City)

On July 10, the King County Council formally approved March 2020 service changes for Metro. The service change implements the North Eastside Mobility Project with extensive changes to service in the Kirkland area. The service change had passed unanimously out of the Council’s Mobility & Environment Committee on July 2.

Kirkland’s peak commuter services are mostly unchanged, but nearly every all-day route will see changes. The service change adds five new routes, deletes eight, and changes two others. Nearly 20,000 riders a day are on existing routes affected by the changes.

The network map in this area has seen few changes in two decades. Recent ridership declines on many routes, despite significant growth, suggest a revitalization of the network was overdue. The restructure comes after several earlier efforts fell through. In 2015, Metro developed a plan to restructure service around the opening of UW and Capitol Hill rail stations, but the SR 520 portion of that plan was withdrawn early in the process. In 2017, the expected closure of the Downtown Seattle Transit tunnel (DSTT) to buses prompted another look at SR 520 service. Redmond, perhaps looking to another restructure after Redmond Link opens, balked and the scope was narrowed to include only Kirkland.

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Sunday Open Thread: Seattle District 6 MASS Forum

The Moving All Seattle Sustainably Coalition, the Housing Development Consortium, and Tech 4 Housing recently held a forum for candidates for Seattle City Council District 6. Rooted in Rights produced the video and has provided a transcript.

Participating candidates included, from left to right:

This is an open thread.

Seattle District 5 candidate ratings

The STB Editorial Board had less information to work with in District 5 than in the five races where the Move All Seattle Sustainable Coalition held forums. But between Councilmember Deborah Juarez’ record, and what the other candidates had to say, we had more than enough to see the clear differences.

Excellent

Debora Juarez

City Councilmember Debora Juarez has been a dependable vote for much of what we like, while representing a not-particularly-urban district. In the face of the usual pitchforks, she has stood her ground on HALA and parking minimum reductions. She also stood firm on 130th St Station, negotiating deftly with a skeptical Sound Transit Board. Our most significant disagreement with her is her lack of enthusiasm for protected bike lanes.

Fair

Mark Mendez‘ contribution to climate action is that he wants to incentivize widespread installation of solar panels. He wants to connect more bus routes to the new light rail stations. He also wants safer streets, but says little about bike safety. Mendez’ prose on housing ignores current policy debates but talks up partnerships between for-profit and not-for-profit orgs, with emphasis on preserving existing housing stock.

John Lombard is awful on land-use. He hides his bitterness toward HALA behind process concerns. He wants to put onerous restrictions on ADUs. He is, however, a fan of protected bike lanes, and recently attended the Ride for Safe Streets.

Poor

Ann Davison-Sattler‘s first priority would be to “put neighborhoods first”. The only new housing she talks about is “FEMA-style relief shelters”. Her website says nothing about transportation.

The Seattle Transit Blog Editorial Board currently consists of Martin Duke, Frank Chiachiere, and Brent White.

News roundup: attention-grabbing

Incoming New Flyer Industries XDE60 of King County Metro in the Rain
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

Happy 10th birthday, Link!

Just before the ribbon-cutting

Ten years ago today, some 45,000 riders boarded Link light rail for the first time and celebrated a new era in Seattle’s transit history: the long-awaited start to a real rail transit system.

STB was there to cover every angle of the opening weekend (and the first days in revenue service), which are chronicled in loving detail with posts every few hours. There was number counting, a short postmortem, and plenty of photos and comments. There were also dozens of tweets on opening day, with thoughts ranging from porta-potty cleanliness to the fact that three-car trains were there to take passengers that day.

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Seattle District 4 candidate ratings

Voters in District 4 are spoiled for choice. Almost all of these candidates might win our sole endorsement if in certain other districts. In this race, it’s almost a given to support more transit, bike lanes, and upzoning single family neighborhoods. To be excellent in this race, candidates have to show both relevant political experience and a commitment to transit and land use in particular.

Excellent

Cathy Tuttle

Cathy Tuttle has decades of experience managing the planning and successful construction of public works projects. After her city career, she founded and directed Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, who we can thank for the 20 mph speed limit on most streets.

She proposes to institute “climate notes”, similar to fiscal notes, analyzing the climate impact of every proposed city project. She is a housing construction hawk, including her call to re-legalize micro-housing. She wants more dedicated bus lanes and 24-hour bus service, and is as unsympathetic to a “windshield perspective” as can be.

Shaun Scott

Shaun Scott is a socialist with a streak of transit geekdom — see his 4-part series on Forward Thrust last year. We think he could help bring the social justice coalition in this city to prioritize things like upzones and bus lanes.

Joshua Newman

Joshua Newman is a former president of Seattle Subway. As one might expect, his platform emphasizes the bus priority and upzones at the core of our agenda for the city. We trust him more than any other candidate to resist neighborhood interests that oppose these measures. His favored revenue source is a higher downtown parking tax, which is about as good as it gets. Furthermore, Seattle Subway (unlike STB) does real retail politics, a useful training ground for the act of building support in the real world.

Emily Myers

Emily Myers is a scientist who is emphasizing climate change in her campaign. She was one of the architects of the City’s “Green New Deal” and has built an impressive array of endorsements, so she’ll hit the ground running.

She wants progressively-structured congestion pricing to fund transit. She wants to expedite ST3 and ST4. She also wants to complete the Bicycle Master Plan, using data to prioritize which arterials need protected bike lanes most urgently.

Good

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Clarification: Lime Prices

Last week we discussed Limebike raising its prices to 30 cents per minute. Numerous people have, using their apps, since reported a 25-cent rate. A spokesperson for Lime explains that As we enter the busy summer travel months, we’ve adjusted our pricing in some markets to ensure that our service is reliable and that we can continue to offer excellent operational support where riders demand it most.” Lime did not explain if our commenter’s experience may have been a poorly timed encounter with congestion pricing or some other sort of trial.

Although company statements and materials are cagey about rates, anecdotal evidence from the app suggests that the typical rate is now 25 cents per minute. Though now a 67% increase over earlier in the year instead of 100%, I believe the rest of the analysis in that post stands.

State Transportation Commission proposes low-income pilot project for Washington State Ferries, surcharge to build electric ferry

Colman Ferry Dock renovation, March 2018, photo by SounderBruce

After a series of community meetings the Washington State Transportation Commission (WSTC) and its “Ferry Advisory Committee – Tarriff” (FAC-T) hold every two years, the WSTC is proposing a schedule of fare changes. Various options were presented to the WSTC at its June meeting, before the Commission settled on its proposal to go to the final round of public input.

The main fare policy changes include:

  • 2.5% fare increases for vehicles on October 1, 2019 and May 1, 2020
  • 2% fare increases for passengers on those same dates
  • a separate 25-cent increase to the “capital surcharge” (which is already 25 cents) on May 1, 2020, dedicated to building a new hybrid diesel/electric ferry. That surcharge increase will be roughly 12 cents for senior, disability, and youth fares.
  • increased penalties for reservation no-shows starting October 1, 2019
  • a 3-year pilot project for accepting payment using WSDOT’s Good-to-Go Pass
  • a 3-year pilot project for a low-income fare category.
Continue reading “State Transportation Commission proposes low-income pilot project for Washington State Ferries, surcharge to build electric ferry”

The business case for high speed rail

High speed trains in Tokyo (Image credit: Flickr/tokyoform)

In 2017, WSDOT published a feasibility study of high-speed rail (HSR) in the Vancouver-Seattle-Portland corridor. It estimated a $25-42 billion capital cost for a rail line that would carry about 5,000 riders a day in 2035 and would just cover operation costs by sometime in the 2040s. This hardly appeared promising, but was enough to prompt a trickle of funds from the Legislature and regional partners for a “business case” study.

We have obtained a copy of the business case study which WSDOT will send to the Legislature this month. How does it advance our knowledge beyond what we learned in 2017?

In broad terms, the financial outlook for high-speed rail in this study looks a lot like the numbers presented two years ago. The business case doesn’t attempt to revisit the capital cost estimates of the earlier study. Ridership is somewhat better, but break-even on operating costs remains somewhere in the 2040s.

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