Major climate bills face Monday committee deadline

Monday, March 2, is the deadline for bills to get out of fiscal and transportation committees in Olympia. A slew of bills important to fighting the climate catastrophe, as well as clearing cheaters out of transit lanes, are up against this wall.

Both the House and Senate version of the bill to allow automated camera enforcement of some transit-only lanes have passed out of their original chamber. Bizarrely, both are having trouble getting out of the transportation committees in their second chamber. HB 1793 is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Transportation Committee Monday. SB 5789 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Transportation Committee today. Each has to get out of committee Monday.

Of much larger concern to those who want to see humanity survive the impending climate catastrophe, bills to require cars to emit less CO2, fuels to be less polluting, and to set an overall limit on the state’s emissions in line with 2018 science, are also having trouble getting to the floor of their second chambers. I covered these bills in a little more detail recently.

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AAA is bringing car sharing back to Seattle

GIG vehicles (via company blog)

Monica Nickelsburg, Geekwire:

AAA is expanding its GIG Car Share service beyond the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle. GIG will begin rolling out cars in Seattle this April and its full fleet of 250 Toyota Priuses will be deployed in the city by May.

Small Toyota Prius C cars seem like a much more sensible choice for car sharing than full-size German sedans and SUVs. Perhaps that will hopefully give GIG a better shot at amortizing the costs.

That said, a “full fleet” 250 cars is not that many (Car2Go and ShareNow had 750 each), so it’ll be interesting to see how GIG keeps them in use and not semi-abandoned in the far-reaches of the city, while maintaining equity.

Three fundamental challenges to the car share model remain: (1) Uber/Lyft are underpriced, (2) the addressable market is small, and (3) finding a parking spot at your destination is annoying. In addition, the bifurcated Seattle market presents a particular challenge: if you live in an urban village, you likely have good transit service already. If you live outside an urban village, parking is abundant and easy so why bother?

To be sure, GIG can make progress on some of these (apparently they have dedicated parking at BART stations), but others require a rethink from a city level.

(Oh, and don’t take the cars out of cell phone range).

Now is the time to regionalize transit funding

by Kelsey Mesher

Atomic Taco / Flickr

A countywide 2020 transportation measure would help address affordability, growth and mobility needs — and maintain Seattle’s current level of service.

With one of the largest and most progressive electorates expected to turn out this year, 2020 presents an opportunity to address our region’s largest challenges, including transportation. On Wednesday, February 26, the King County Council kicked off its first public discussion of going to the ballot to ask voters to support a countywide Transportation Benefit District, which could raise as much as $160 million annually for bus service, programs and improvements through a 0.2% increase in sales tax.

We have seen the successes of transit investment through Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District. In the last two years alone, Seattle has increased TBD-funded Metro service by 36%. As a result, more than 7 in 10 residents live within a 10-minute walk of very frequent bus service. While transit ridership has declined in cities across the country, Seattle has bucked the trends – increasing transit ridership and kept drive alone commute rates at bay. The City has also used TBD funds to support access and affordability programs, providing free transit for students and some residents of low-income housing.

Metro’s long range plan, Metro Connects, outlines how we can achieve outcomes like these throughout King County, which is why Transportation Choices Coalition strongly supports taking a countywide approach to funding transit. The alternative is continuing with a “pay-to-play” system where the most well-resourced cities, like Seattle (or potentially Bellevue or Redmond, should they choose to run their own measures), receive a higher level of service, creating a two-tiered transit system.

We are all well aware of the needs:

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Metro sees higher costs, greater funding needs, in long range plan

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

Metro Connects is King County Metro’s long range plan. Developed in 2016, it lays out a 25 year vision for the evolution of the Metro network. The plan envisioned a 70% increase in Metro bus service hours by 2040 over 2015 levels. In recent months, Metro has been updating their analysis of how much the plan would cost to implement, and delivered an initial update to the Regional Transit Committee last week. The analysis has already identified billions of dollars in additional costs over the projection in 2016.

The Metro Connects plan was, by design, an unconstrained and unfunded vision of the future network to meet the needs of 2040. Baseline expectations for tax and fare revenue indicated enough funding for just 30% of the additional capital costs and 50% of the extra service hours originally identified. Early goals including RapidRide expansion have been scaled back. The initial plan was to open 13 new lines by 2024. In 2018, that was reduced to just 7 lines by 2027.

A report last June found Metro could reach its 2040 targets with a renewal of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (about $54 million annually) and another $220 million in county funding. A county ballot proposition is being considered for this August, but it will likely be sized at no more than $160 million including replacement of the Seattle levy. That can only be a down payment toward the 2040 targets. Last week’s update to Metro Connects’ costs push those goals further out of reach.

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News roundup: zero fare

This is an open thread.

Major Monorail upgrades to open alongside new Arena

Westlake Monorail station, 1962

At a press conference his morning, NHL Seattle, Seattle Monorail Services, and several public- and private-sector partners will announce a major package of upgrades to the Seattle monorail, along with a program to provide subsidized public transit access to NHL events. These improvements will dramatically improve the peak capacity of the monorail system, and improve the rider experience at all times. Along with other local media, STB was given a preview of these improvements.

The big ticket item in this package is a major upgrade to the Westlake terminal. Perhaps the best way to introduce this upgrade is to discuss what once was. As pictured above, the original 1962 downtown station was built over public right of way, and included a platform area that amounted to maybe half a city block. This capacious facility, plus the fact that people in 1960 were less capacious than today, allowed the cars to approach their design capacity of 450 persons on each trip, and in turn to carry about 45,000 riders daily during the World’s Fair.

In the 1980s, the Monorail was saved from likely demolition by Councilmember George Benson, who arranged for today’s station to be shoehorned into the side of the redevelopment we now call Westlake Center. This station suffers from a number of compromises: it’s cramped, access is poor, ticketing is slow, only one train can operate from the station at once, and only four of each train’s eight doors can be used for loading. Barely adequate for today’s tourist traffic on a busy summer day, the Westlake terminal was identified by Via in a 2018 study as the primary obstacle to the Monorail once again serving as a true high capacity transit service.

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Vandalism in Beacon Hill tunnel

Beacon Hill Station

Last week, vandals dealt Link riders, already idling thanks to Connect2020 service reductions, a further blow by vandalizing the Beacon Hill tunnel. From Monday through Thursday Wednesday, trains had to single track between Mt. Baker and Sodo, where they could split into Northbound and Southbound platforms before going right back to single-tracking all the way to Pioneer Square. Needless to say, this piled on yet more delays.

On Monday morning, a person entered a tunnel cross-passage, opened a standpipe valve, flooded critical electrical components and disabled the emergency ventilation fan.

Sound Transit

Fire codes disallow use of the northbound tunnel under these conditions. We are fortunate that this part of the system has lots of crossover tracks to minimize the stretch where trains in both directions must share track.

The cross-passage has to remain unlocked in case of an emergency forcing evacuation of one of the tunnels. However, ST’s John Gallagher says ST is ” looking at ways to make sure that the risk of vandalism is minimized” in the future.

SPD is investigating the incident. I have an email out to them.

Kitsap Transit expands Bremerton-Seattle fast ferry service

M/V Reliance, one of Kitsap Transit’s fast ferries (photo by author)

Beginning on Monday, Kitsap Transit will be expanding its Bremerton–Seattle fast ferry service to 24 daily sailings on weekdays. The arrival of a new vessel on the route during peak trips will allow for a frequency boost to 30-45 minutes and non-reserved sailings.

The Rich Passage 1, which launched the fast ferry service in 2017, will remain on its normal schedule. The new trips will be operated on one of the two new catamarans that Kitsap Transit acquired last year: M/V Reliance and Lady Swift. All three boats can carry 118 passengers and take about 30 minutes to make the full sailing from Bremerton to Pier 50 in Seattle.

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Metro seeks feedback for RapidRide R, to replace Route 7

RapidRide R concept via Metro

Metro has a new online open house up for Ranier Avenue RapidRide, now known as RapidRide R. The standard RapidRide treatment of off-board payment, new bus shelters and stop consolidation are being proposed. Additionally, the new route would extend the trolley wire to terminate the line at Rainier Beach Link Station, an improvement we suggested in 2014.

You can also view feedback from the last open house, which we wrote about here.

Note that this is an open house for Rainier RapidRide, which opens in 2024. In the interim, SDOT is paving the way (literally) with a Vision Zero and a bus corridor improvement project, which will wrap up in 2022.

Several stops would be consolidated, meaning an average of 3.3 stops per mile instead of just over 4 today, if my napkin math is right. That’s still well below the 1-2 stops per mile of the fastest BRT systems, but appropriate given the ridership characteristics of the 7 today.

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News roundup: not be a mess

Sound Transit Double Deckers

This is an open thread.

How Connect2020 trains might have been more frequent

Gateway to SODO
Dave Honan/Flickr

Back during my first round of gripes about rider-unfriendly choices for the Connect2020 construction delays, I suggested that Sound Transit might have run trains more frequently outside the downtown transit tunnel. At the time, ST said that this would likely result in significant train bunching. After further discussions, they appear to have backed off this objection in favor of other ones, which readers can judge for themselves.

But first, let’s show how the right plan would minimize train bunching. While there is (infamously) no fixed schedule, the current operational model for Central Link trains is something like this:

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Community Transit studies connections from Swift to Link at 185th Street Station

The Swift Blue Line on a snowy day

Community Transit’s Swift Blue Line, the most popular bus route in Snohomish County, is being extended south from Aurora Village to meet Link light rail at Shoreline North/NE 185th Station in 2024. The agency is proposing three routing options for the extension, as well as potential changes to service that would take effect at the same time. While the extension itself is exciting news, the service change concepts are worth discussing, ranging from rearranging stations to introducing short-turn trips.

Routing options for the Swift Blue Line extension (Community Transit)

The three routing options all begin around Aurora Village at Aurora Avenue and 200th Street, and proceed south and east to Shoreline North/NE 185th Station. Alternatives A and C would skip the current terminal at Aurora Village, opting for a set of bus stops on Aurora Avenue, and continue down the street to another stop at North 192nd Street that serves the Shoreline Park and Ride. From there, Alternative A takes the direct route east from Aurora to the station on Northeast 185th Street, while Alternative C turns east at Northeast 175th Street and north onto 5th Avenue Northeast to complete a “hook” with no additional stops.

Alternative B would continue to use the current stop at the transit center and turn south on Meridian Avenue until it reaches Northeast 185th Street. Meridian is a fairly quiet residential street with two lanes and on-street parking, and would not likely run into unfavorable traffic.

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Sound Transit presents initial fare enforcement report

Proof of payment sticker at a train station
Credit: Oran Viriyincy

Link’s 2009 opening inaugurated the proof-of-payment system and introduced the Puget Sound to the concept of the Fare Enforcement Officer.  Over the last decade, as POP and FEOs have expanded to RapidRide and Link’s ridership has exploded, FEOs have come under much scrutiny. Following King County Metro’s 2018 examination of fare policy, Sound Transit has spent much of 2019 doing its own investigation.

Last week, Sound Transit staff presented a preliminary report on fare enforcement to the board’s executive committee.  Over the past year, the staff have been collecting feedback using three methods: a self-selected online survey, a series of rider surveys, and focus groups designed to seek out underrepresented communities.  The committee seemed receptive to major changes, and seemingly no one wanted to defend the current system of one warning then $124 fine.  (At least you don’t have to go to Shoreline any more to pay it.)

The report showed, unsurprisingly, those most likely to be unable to provide proof of payment tended to have incomes below $50,000/year. More surprisingly, the vast majority of those surveyed – even those who didn’t have a fare – said the FEOs were “professional” and “approached every rider near me.”  This contrasts with some of the community focus group findings, where “participants perceived fare enforcement as being racially biased and targeting youth.”

The main reasons for not paying fares, across income groups, however, have more to do with the complexities of the ORCA system than malicious intent.

Data from the rider survey

There are several features of the current system that make it customer-hostile: the 24 hour delay before fares are loaded on your card, the lack of a customer service office in Westlake, the lack of ticket machines in general. These and many more are detailed in the report, along with some sensible reforms like re-prioritizing FEOs to focus on customer service or not doing enforcement on the first day of school. `

The committee wanted more data and more understanding of the current fines: how many are collected, how much money is spent in the court system, and more. As always, though, there’s a tradeoff between moving quickly and being thorough. We’ll see how quickly the agency moves to make changes.

The entire report is available online; the 4-page executive summary is a concise overview of the methods and findings if you’re interested in learning more. If you have feedback for the agency, they will be hosting a public meeting, sponsored by Transit Riders Union and others, at El Centro in Beacon Hill next Wednesday February 19th.

NE 130th station advances

Preliminary design of NE 130th station (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee unanimously approved a motion on Thursday to advance work on a Link station at NE 130th. If adopted by the full Board later this month, as seems likely, Sound Transit will proceed with design work and the first of the construction required to avoid serious disruptions to riders if the station were built entirely after Lynnwood Link has opened.

The motion defers to next year a second decision: whether to continue toward an early partial build or early full build. The early partial build would construct enough of the station to avoid an extended window of single-tracking trains through the construction zone after 2024, but would open the station for service much later. The early full build would complete the station so it could open in 2025 soon after the rest of the line.

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News roundup: in the right building

University of Washington Station

This is an open thread.

What do we name the different Link lines?

A few months ago, Sound Transit backtracked on their decision to name the different Link lines after colors (e.g. Red Line, Blue Line, etc.). This was a wise move for several reasons, among them the history of red-lining in housing, the difficulty of explaining what “red” is to non-English speakers, and potential difficulties for colorblind users.

While Sound Transit have already committed to changing the naming scheme, they have yet to announce what that scheme will be. While many different name examples abound in transit systems around the world, I will contest that naming our rail lines “L-number” (e.g. L1, L2, etc.) is the best for a number of reasons, including local and international consistency, ease of explanation to new users, and simplicity.

Six possible line designators, chosen to be maximally colorblind safe.

Today, our bus-heavy system already uses numbers (the 8) and letters (RapidRide E), meaning any name will need to distinguish itself from those. Since our rail system is regularly referred to as Link Light Rail, naming Link lines L1, L2, and so on will make it easy for users to know that they need a train, not a bus, in a manner consistent with local standards. Additionally, many systems around the world use a similar naming scheme – Barcelona, Munich, Mexico City, Bilbao, and many more cities use a similar pattern. Copying their consensus will make life easier for visitors used to other systems.

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Columbia Street busway opens Feb. 22 with stops for ferry riders

Buses only sign on Columbia Street (SDOT)

On February 22, twelve routes from West Seattle and Burien will begin using the new Columbia Street transit “pathway” to reach Downtown Seattle. These routes (RapidRide C Line, 21X, 37, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125) carry a combined 26,000 daily riders and continue south via Alaskan Way to State Route 99.

In the year since the viaduct was permanently closed, these routes have shifted between two corridors through Pioneer Square and the stadiums, but they will now have a permanent home on the waterfront. A new set of bus stops on Columbia Street to the east of Alaskan Way will be served by all twelve routes, restoring much-needed year-round bus access to the Colman Dock ferry terminal that has been absent for several years.

Changes to lanes on Columbia Street (SDOT)

The pathway has a set of continuous bus lanes in each direction and non-bus lanes for westbound traffic. There will be several points where turning traffic will be forced to merge through the westbound bus lane to reach marked turn lanes, but eastbound bus lane should remain unimpeded. The street has been entirely rebuilt by SDOT with concrete pavement and improved underground utilities to serve the waterfront redevelopment project.

Bus lane painting and other late-stage work began on Monday and is set to be completed within a week depending on the weather. The city plans to open a set of bus-only lanes on Alaskan Way between Columbia Street and South King Street by late 2021, while the waterfront promenade is still scheduled to be finished in 2024.