Seven considerations for a TBD that’s still TBD

Rainy Third Avenue with lots of buses
Third Avenue in 2018-appropriate weather. Photo by Wings777.

The Seattle Transportation Benefit District (TBD) expires in 2021.   It’s an open question as to whether Seattle will go it alone or try to partner with the county on a joint measure (previous county measure failed in 2014, which led to the TBD’s creation).

To date, no decision has been made. Regardless, another ballot measure is a given at this point. Here are a few ways to think about the state of play for our next ballot measure, whenever it arrives.


The most obvious question for a future TBD is what area it will cover: Seattle or all of King County.  A county-wide TBD makes logical sense, since it mirrors Metro’s operational area. As of February, the County council was still considering it.

For Seattle, though, the bus service provided by the current TBD is more critical than ever, while county voters have been less willing to fund buses lately (we’ll get to that in a minute). So while having one bus system with two different fundings levels is problematic, it’s better than not having the additional service in Seattle at all.

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Link Transit expanding

Link Transit’s electric bus in Wenatchee (SounderBruce/Wikimedia Commons)

In a ballot measure that escaped our notice, on August 6 voters in Chelan and Douglas Counties approved a two-phase sales tax increase (by 12 points) to fund a service expansion. The first 0.1% will come into effect in January 2020, and the second in 2022. The current rate is 0.4% out of a possible 0.9%.

Link Transit

Next July, the agency promises increases in Saturday service. If they are able to fill open positions, Link will also start running service on Sundays. For urbanite tourists, Sunday service opens up a wealth of possibilities to get around the area after traveling to Wenatchee without a car, which is not difficult.

You can find more details about Link Transit’s plan for the next few years here.

Link is Getting Colorful

Sound Transit’s Service Line colors

Get ready to hear more colors attached to the word Link more regularly. Sound Transit is expanding use of color designations for Link light rail lines beginning in this month’s service change. As seen in its September 2019 schedule book and system map, Central Link (UW-Angle Lake) becomes the Red Line, East Link becomes the Blue Line, and Tacoma Link becomes the Orange Line.

ST has been gradually rolling out the color names in its ST2/ST3 project communications since their introduction in 2015. Up to now, the public did not know which color Tacoma Link would receive, if at all, given its differences to Central Link. However, ST left a hint in its September 2016 system map by changing Tacoma Link’s line color from purple to orange at the same time Central Link got its current shade of red. The Orange Line moniker appeared publicly as early as this past July. Eagle-eyed reader Al S. noticed the change in ST’s System Expansion Communications style guide and Tacoma Link expansion project materials.

What colors can we look forward to in ST3? Green and purple have been designated as line colors in ST’s style guide. Based on current project maps and service plan, we can infer that the Ballard Link extension is the Green Line and South Kirkland-Issaquah Link is the Purple Line. Stride, ST’s BRT brand, is represented by gold. How each Stride line will be identified has not yet been revealed.

Sound Transit’s Link light rail won’t be the only system in the region to use line colors. Community Transit’s Swift BRT already has its own rainbow of colors in use and in the works. In a statement previously made to STB, the two agencies “felt that the two modes were distinct enough to not be easily confused.” How passengers will react to that remains to be seen.

News Roundup: a new name

This is an open thread.

Lynnwood Link officially breaks ground

Sound Transit officials and local elected leaders breaking ground at Lynnwood City Center Station (photo by author)

On Tuesday, Sound Transit and local elected officials broke ground on the first inter-county light rail project to be built in Washington state: Lynnwood Link. Although visible construction on Lynnwood Link has been underway for months, the final contracts and funding agreements were only recently approved by Sound Transit and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

Lynnwood Link will extend light rail service on the Red and Blue lines by 8.5 miles along Interstate 5, passing through Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace before terminating at Lynnwood Transit Center, the main bus hub in South Snohomish County. Community Transit is planning a massive truncation of its commuter routes to feed into light rail trains, taking advantage of the more reliable travel times to reinvest service hours into expanded local routes. Several bus rapid transit routes, including the Stride network and the Swift Blue and Orange lines, will intersect with Link at stations built along the Lynnwood corridor.

The project was approved as part of ST2 in 2008 and is the final light rail project from the program, discounting projects that were absorbed into ST3 like the extensions to Federal Way and Downtown Redmond. It was originally anticipated to begin service in 2023, but was pushed back by six months into 2024 because of design changes and cost overruns brought on by the local construction boom. The current project budget is $2.9 billion, of which 40 percent will be paid through a $1.17 billion full funding grant agreement with the FTA that was signed late last year.

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Downtown Kirkland to be an urban center

Short video from City of Kirkland explaining the Urban Center designation to citizens. (source: City of Kirkland)

Downtown Kirkland is likely to be designated as an Urban Center early next year. On Tuesday evening, the City Council is expected to approve applications to King County and the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC). If approved, it will be the region’s 30th regional growth center. 

The proposed “Greater Downtown Kirkland Urban Center” encompasses the central business district, the I-405 BRT station at NE 85th and the Rose Hill Business District just beyond, the Sixth Street corridor including Google, and the northern half of the Houghton-Everest neighborhood center. Also included to form a contiguous and regularly shaped center are some more residential areas around downtown with mostly higher density residential uses.

Land use within the proposed Urban Center in Kirkland (image: City of Kirkland, click to enlarge map)

The proposed center is home to over 6,700 residents and more than 17,000 jobs. Those include three of the top five employers in Kirkland. The center is expected to add another 9,000 jobs and to double in population by 2035.

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ShareNow corner cases

Earlier this month, ShareNow announced a tiered pricing model where drives that left a car outside an inner “Zone A” would incur a $4.95 surcharge, and drives that brought cars back into Zone A would receive a credit of “up to” $4.95.

A spokesperson from ShareNow confirmed that the latter phrasing simply meant that the credit cannot exceed the actual cost of the trip. That is, a $3.00 ride from Zone B to Zone A would receive a credit of $3.

For many regular commuters between Zones A and B, then, this should turn out to be a wash. But the coarseness of this price signal has created some odd boundary conditions. A person that is a $3 ride away from a Link station in the boundary will continually incur $4.95 charges out and only $3 credits in.

These second-order details will get swamped by larger arguments about equity and economic sustainability, but I suspect they may also result in some unintended consequences. A simple tweak to the policy — limiting the surcharge to 100% of the cost of the trip — would remove this problem.