King County Metro has begun preliminary design for RapidRide K connecting Totem Lake, Kirkland, Bellevue and Eastgate. Some details emerged in a pair of recent briefings in Kirkland and Bellevue.
The line is anticipated to open in 2025. As mapped in Metro Connects, the long range plan for expanding Metro service, the K Line would replace portions of route 255 from Totem Lake to the South Kirkland Park & Ride, current routes 234 and 235 between South Kirkland and the Bellevue Transit Center, and Route 271 between Bellevue Transit Center and Eastgate.
Just in time for you to vote on gutting it via I-976, the Seattle Transportation Benefit District issued its fourth Annual Report on what it’s doing with your $60 vehicle license fee and 0.1% sales tax. It’s long but there are lots of pretty graphs. Some takeaways:
More bus service
The percentage of households within a 10-minute walk of “very frequent transit” has grown from 25% to 70% since 2015, well on the way to the 2025 goal of 72%. (More housing construction in frequent transit corridors, as well as U-Link and its associated restructure, have also undoubtedly helped).
Impressively, a sixth of households can walk to 2 or 3 very frequent routes, and 12.8% can walk to four or more. From five very frequent routes in 2015, Seattle is now up to eleven. It’s not hard to see how Seattle has bucked national ridership trends.
As the first stage of the project to connect the East Link track to the existing line, Sound Transit planned three weekend closures to build a temporary center platform at Pioneer Square. ST needs it to continue operations during a 10-week project to actually build the track switch, from January to March 2020.
The second of these weekend closures finished the platform, so that ST could cancel the third closure yesterday. The closure would have been November 9-10.
Each closure involved a bus bridge serving stations from Sodo to Capitol Hill. Usually a feature of unplanned service disruptions, the bridge will return for three complete closures next year. They were supposed to run in pairs every 7 minutes.
I had bus alternatives (and, in one pinch, a car) and didn’t miss Link much on a quiet weekend. How did others think ST and Metro did with the bridge? How was signage, frequency, crowding, and reliability?
On average, workers living in the City of Seattle have access to 382,000 jobs within a 45-minute walk, e-bike/e-scooter, or transit commute, versus 283,000 jobs within a 45-minute commute from home by walk or transit only. This increase is equivalent to making 35 percent more jobs reachable without lengthening commutes or adding cars to the road.
The report details how e-bikes and scooters can help solve last mile problems, effectively extending transit’s reach. This has always been the scooter boosters’ main argument but now we have it quantified and localized within Seattle. The increase in accessible jobs is dramatic in some cases:
Yesterday, the Sound Transit Board adopted a final set of options for the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for Link extensions to Ballard and West Seattle. After a contentious discussion that frequently focused on cost challenges, the Board voted down a Pigeon Point tunnel in West Seattle. Options for a central Ballard station at 20th Ave NW were not included in the DEIS either. Lacking support among board members, the central Ballard station was hardly discussed and it was not voted on.
Two options were added to the DEIS. As expected, the Board approved adding an alternative elevated alignment in the Yancy/Andover corridor area of West Seattle. That would reduce the number of homes to be taken for construction, but also shifts the Delridge station north with inferior station access.
This afternoon, the Sound Transit Board will finalize the list of options to be examined in the Link Extensions Draft EIS for West Seattle and Ballard. A motion on the agenda adds just one more option in West Seattle to a initial list of alternatives adopted in May. Several other alternatives that were recently studied would not proceed any further. These include the Pigeon Point Tunnel in West Seattle and all of the options to locate a Ballard station near 20th Ave NW.
Let’s recap how we reached this point. Sound Transit has been analyzing options for the Seattle ST3 lines since 2017. In May, the Board made a selection from those alternatives to be considered in the draft Environmental Impact Statement. In response to input received during the scoping period, the Board also directed staff to examine a half dozen other options that might also be added to the EIS. An initial analysis on those options was completed last month. With that information in hand, the Board now has to lock down the final list of options to go through the EIS process.
Ellis has played a vital role in shaping our region’s heritage, from the cleanup of Lake Washington in the 1950s to the formation of Metro and founding of “Forward Thrust,” a series of bold bond measures in 1968 that created the Kingdome, parks and trails, public swimming pools, fire departments, sewage districts, neighborhood improvement, arterial highways and a youth service center. In the 1980s, he led efforts to develop the convention center in downtown Seattle. By the 1990s, Ellis was still active, helping to create the Mountains to Sound Greenway.
“I don’t like the ‘I’ word,” he says emphatically throughout our two-hour visit. All those efforts “were very much a committee thing. It’s fascinating to see how everything we’ve undertaken, when we had far-sided leadership — and were willing to pay for the bill — has met expectations and is serving us well today.”
In a metropolitan area, or in a very large city that encompasses a wide range of economic activity, a high median income is a badge of honor. It usually involves some combination of an educated populace, vibrant research institutions, policies that help entrepreneurs, and high quality of life.
For a city, like Sammamish ($), that is a small part of a larger area, it means something slightly different. Policies in Sammamish are not creating high-paying jobs in Puget Sound; instead, they are skimming off the cream of that growth through exclusionary zoning.
Sammamish residents don’t have higher-paying jobs due to the business environment there. It’s because the zoning is designed to ban any home that a person in a less remunerative profession could afford, or any features that are attractive to most young people starting out in their careers.
This isn’t to slag on the personal choices of Sammamish residents: a place without poor people is likely to have less violent crime and schools with higher test scores. It’s a practical choice, if not an idealistic or commendable one. And if the merely affluent cutting themselves off from the poor is less than ideal, the plutocratic communities designed to ensure low property tax rates ($) that don’t pay for anyone else’s services are an inequality Chernobyl.
If County and State leaders are interested in doing something about inequality without entering the choppy waters of an income tax, they could do worse than forcing the annexation of these wealthy enclaves into larger neighboring cities, and shifting more of the tax burden from the local level to higher ones that make it harder to opt out of providing services for society.
These are STB’s endorsements for the November 2019 general election. The sections are listed in rough order of importance. As always, we base these endorsements solely on our assessment of their ability to improve transit and land use.
The latest Tim Eyman initiative would dramatically reduce the amount of money available for transit. Proponents like to claim transit is inefficient relative to their platonic ideal, but offer no explanation on how drastic cuts will produce better outcomes instead of more suffering for riders.
King County Council
While Seattle Council gets most of the attention, King County government is the level with the most impact on both Metro and Sound Transit.
District 2: Neither candidate responded to a request for an interview. As both candidates admit to similar policy views, in the absence of further questions we are unable to discern a relevant difference on transit.
District 4 is blessed with two strongly pro-transit candidates, so we interviewed them both. Abigail Doerr has dedicated her career to improving the transit system, will bring fresh ideas to problems, and make transit a priority. We especially liked her system view of how to improve transit: more off-peak trips and east/west connections. She has firm command of the need to meet King County’s growth targets with new housing. While we think Doerr is the best candidate to make transit better, the incumbent, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, is doing a fine job.
District 6: Claudia Balducci is the most sophisticated transit expert on the Council. Her opponent has spent over a decade running against East Link.
District 8: Joe McDermott is a solid transit supporter who engages on these issues. His opponent is not a serious candidate.
Sound Transit is in the process of reviewing its fare enforcement policies, per a presentation last Thursday.
However, the single most impactful element of that process is still not on their radar. Sound Transit fare enforcement officers are directed to warn, and then fine (after repeat infractions) passengers who possess passes that cover the highest possible cost of a train trip for their payer category, or have tapped on to other services within the previous two hours that have at least as high a fare as the highest Link fare for their payer category, if the passenger failed to tap on for the ride.
Section 4.0 of Sound Transit’s Standard Operating Procedure for Fare Enforcement states:
This includes students who have received “free” passes from their school district. Students who got free passes from Seattle Public Schools who mess up once on tapping will be subject to the same treatment that students who tried to ride for free the first day of school before getting their passes issued. According to ST policy, it doesn’t matter that they have clear-and-obvious evidence with them that the trip is pre-paid.
Since 2014, the City of Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District (STBD) has consistently funded transportation improvements across the city, such as more frequent Metro buses, subsidized ORCA cards for income-qualifying residents, and pre-paid ORCA cards for Seattle Public School high schoolers. Seattle voters approved the STBD through a 0.1% sales tax increase and a $60 annual Vehicle Licensing Fee (VLF), also known as car tab, for citizens who can afford it (the city runs a VLF rebate program for income-eligible motorists). We aren’t alone– about 60 other communities across the state fund their TBDs by one or both of these sources, improving vehicle, bus, ferry, and rail access across Washington.
When the program began in 2014, only 25% of Seattle households lived within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better all-day service. The original goal was for over half of all households to be served at that level by 2020. Through the STBD, the city met that goal in 2016, and continues to improve: today, 71% of households in the city enjoy frequent, reliable transportation access. The STBD directly added 6,780 weekly bus trips to Seattle residents, mitigating overcrowding, expanding access, and creating opportunity for Seattleites across the city.
Investments from STBD benefit all areas of Seattle, including neighborhoods the city has designated as having low access to economic opportunity. Access to transportation has been found to be a crucial factor in upwards social mobility. Historically underserved populations, such as Southeast, Southwest, and far North Seattle, have benefited directly from faster, more frequent service (e.g., Metro bus routes 106, 120, and the E line), and multimodal street improvements. STBD also funds the ORCA Lift program and saved Metro’s 24-hour Night Owl service from being permanently cut.
We are hours from finishing up our general election endorsements. If there are races other than I-976, King County, and Seattle Council with strongly pro-transit candidates we should be paying attention to, please mention it in the comments.
Sounder trains will serve both the Sounders’ playoff match Saturday and the Seahawks’ game Sunday.
Relatedly, the Link Light Rail Red Line will also be open the full length of the line this weekend, before the bus bridge replaces Link service between SODO Station and Capitol Hill Station the following weekend and two weekends after that.
The Urbanist has published its 2019 general election endorsements. Long-time urbanista journalist Erica Barnett has also interviewed all city council candidates willing to talk with her. Ballots and slick ads abusing the popular term “accountability” hit mailboxes this week.
In case you missed it, The Strangerendorsed Kshama Sawant, not Egan Orion, whose campaign paid for a wrap-around ad over the real cover designed to make it appear that The Stranger had endorsed him. Drama at The Stranger.
ST Express 550, connecting Bellevue to Seattle, is the highest ridership bus in the Sound Transit Express system. In the last two years, it has shed more than one third of its ridership. Issaquah-Seattle route ST 554, also operating on I-90, has seen ridership decline 14% over the same period.
Recently, a Sound Transit Committee received an analysis that explores the reasons why. It’s unlikely very much of the lost ridership could have been avoided. It’s nevertheless concerning because the I-90 express routes ought to be building a market for transit ahead of Blue Line trains running to Bellevue in 2023 and Redmond in 2024.
ST 550 has become progressively more difficult for riders to access as several major stops have closed. The South Bellevue P&R closed in June 2017 for East Link construction with a loss of 519 parking stalls. That was followed by the closure of Convention Place Station in July 2018 and Rainier Freeway Station in September 2018. However, the greatest loss of ridership came with the closing of the downtown transit tunnel to buses in March 2019. On average, Metro and Sound Transit routes formerly in the tunnel have seen 20% ridership losses since March.
With Lynnwood Link construction underway, Community Transit has less than five years to prepare for major changes to Snohomish County’s transit landscape. The draft of their latest six-year transit development plan is out for public comment and describes some of the upcoming challenges and priorities for the agency up to the 2024 restructure.
Last year, Community Transit buses and vanpools provided 10.6 million boardings, averaging just under 37,500 on weekdays for fixed-route buses. The agency expects this figure to grow to 14.4 million passenger trips by 2024 with the implementation of more frequent service and the opening of the next Swift line. Community Transit scheduled 412,364 total service hours in 2018, and is expected to use 566,864 by 2024 after several service expansions.