Property tax exemptions

Edith Macefield stayed in her home

The Seattle Times editorial board recently performed a rare bit of service journalism:

Fortunately, limited-income seniors, disabled homeowners and veterans are getting a break, with a more generous property-tax exemption taking effect this year. This change is past due and needs to be communicated broadly, so everyone eligible is aware of the opportunity.

This is happening because of a legislative change last year. Instead of a fixed $40,000 income limit for participants, the program is now indexed to counties’ median income every five years. If median incomes rise, more people will be eligible for tax exemptions.

In King County, this raised the threshold to $58,423 this year. Income limits are rising in 13 of the state’s 39 counties. In Snohomish County, the level is now $55,473, in Pierce it’s $45,708 and Kitsap’s is $48,574. Seniors are defined as those 61 and older.

The changes increased the number of eligible property owners in King County from an estimated 37,000 to around 80,000. Yet only 16,000 currently take advantage of the program.

In other words, only 20% of eligible seniors, disabled homeowners and veterans are getting tax breaks available to them

Taxing property is the closest thing we have to a wealth tax in the U.S. unless or until Sen. Warren gets her way. More property taxes and fewer sales taxes would make Washington State’s tax mix more progressive. As a bonus, it turns out that land taxes are another way to encourage efficient use of a limited resource and help create walkable communities.

And yet, the proverbial fixed-income senior is often used as an argument against raising property taxes. Few people I speak with about this are aware that the exemption exists, let alone that it’s increased. So let’s get the word out, especially now that people may be more income constrained due to the coronavirus-induced recession.

New Sound Transit naming scheme favors numbers over colors

Example of how the “1” line could look

Last fall, Sound Transit announced a new naming scheme, and then quickly backtracked after community criticism over the term “red line.” Various schemes have been proposed in the meantime, including here on our site. Yesterday ST unveiled the revised scheme to the public.

STB alum Zach Shaner explains the changes on the Sound Transit blog:

Why are we doing this? Since 2012 our plan had been to switch to line color names for our light rail lines. In fall 2019 we began using the Red Line for Link and the Orange Line for Tacoma Link, and we planned to launch East Link as part of a new Blue Line in 2023.

The community quickly told us that our use of Red Line was insensitive to the history of redlining in our region. From the 1930s–1970s, banks and insurance companies routinely denied loans or insurance to people of color based on where they lived, concentrating people of color in certain neighborhoods and prohibiting them from other neighborhoods. Redlining perpetuated poverty and denied people of color the ability to build and pass down wealth. 

Though dozens of agencies worldwide use a Red Line in their systems, we agree that in English and in North America, the term Red Line unavoidably carries the weight of that racist legacy. We can do without it, so we will.

The agency also provided a detailed FAQ that tries to anticipate many objections and give people some more context. It emphasizes how the agency worked to avoid overlap with other systems like the letter-based RapidRide and Snohomish County’s color-coded Swift BRT.

Now that every agency has created its own naming scheme that doesn’t infringe on the others, maybe the next step could be to integrate them a little better, so that a rider might understand the whole system without having to know which specific taxing authority funds the service.


Snohomish County express buses to be more frequent under Northgate truncation plan

Double talls on the Stewart offramp
Double-decker buses on the Stewart Street offramp from Interstate 5

A few months ago, we mentioned that Community Transit was considering a truncation for many of its commuter routes to Northgate Station in 2021 to re-use bus hours for frequency. The second phase proposal for the restructure was presented to the CT Board on Thursday and is now available for online public comments.

The changes are tentatively scheduled for Fall 2021 and would largely be budget-neutral, using the reallocation of service hours to boost frequency on commuter routes. The 800-series routes serving the University District, along with most of the ST Express routes, would be truncated at Northgate Station. The 400-series routes and ST Route 510 would continue to serve Downtown Seattle via the express lanes. Each of the proposed changes will be described after the jump.

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News roundup: by reservation only

King County Metro

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What does COVID-19 mean for density?

Third and Pine (Oran, Flickr)

We like to style ourselves a pro-transit blog but I think it’s more accurate to say that we’re actually pro-density. Among density’s chief benefits is the ability to capture efficiencies from people living close together. Yet under COVID-19 guidelines, we’re being taught to live the opposite: socially distance, keep six feet apart from one another, and do our best to stay home and away from enclosed indoor spaces.

Some are using the crisis to make the argument that contagion is a major downside to dense urban living – they point to New York City and chalk up the high rates of infection to its population density. Yet while major metropolises have been the ones headlining daily news coverage on the virus, its spread has been anything but localized. There are now COVID-19 cases in the majority of counties in the US.

I’m not arguing that density should be tossed out as a key epidemiological factor in the coronavirus’s spread – I think it’s clear that being in crowded quarters almost certainly increases the susceptibility of infection. But there are serious fallacies in interpreting “social distancing” as “we shouldn’t live in cities,” as I outline below.

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Move Seattle’s 2019 Annual Report

As the 9 year, $900m Move Seattle levy nears its halfway mark this year, it’s a good time to take stock of what small projects are already done, and if the big-ticket items are on track. SDOT’s Annual Report provides some clues.


The 2018 Levy Assessment recalibrated SDOT’s objectives given spiraling costs and the $300m Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) lawsuit ($). SDOT met or exceeded 30 of the 32 targets it set at the beginning of the year.

Through 2019, SDOT had spent $324m in Move Seattle funds to match another $321m from other sources for those projects. Spending remains under budget, partly because most construction work is happening later than planned.

SDOT listed its 2019 highlights as:

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New round of service cuts announced for Sound Transit and Pierce Transit

Link light rail will be reduced to 20-minute frequencies

Last updated: April 7, 2020.

Beginning on Monday, Sound Transit and Pierce Transit will be among the agencies to cut back their service further in response to low ridership, staffing shortages, and cost-saving measures. King County Metro is bucking the trend by restoring some of its service that was cut in the initial reductions last week, primarily trips for essential trips.

This rundown of affected services will be updated throughout the week as other announcements come in. All agencies in the ORCA system have stopped collecting fares except for Washington State Ferries, and most are requiring riders to use the rear door(s) if they are able to.

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CARES Act grants $521 million in relief funds for local agencies

Busier times on 3rd Avenue, taken in November

On Thursday, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) announced their appropriations for $25 billion in national transit relief funding from the CARES Act, which was passed by Congress a week ago. The relief package includes $521 million in funding for transit agencies in the Seattle area, as well as an additional $133 million for other agencies and cities in Washington state. The relief funds are meant to primarily cover operating costs, especially as agencies have suspended their fare collection and are anticipating a significant drop in sales tax revenue.

The FTA has also announced that all operating expenses incurred beginning on January 20, 2020, are eligible for relief funds or support. These funds will be available to any urban or rural agency that applies directly to the FTA for aid. The share in the current appropriation will be distributed without the need for local matching funds under the normal formula programs (5307 for urbanized areas and 5311 for rural areas).

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ST3 BRT projects delayed

Branding for the Stride buses on I-405 and SR 522 (image: Sound Transit)

Bus Rapid Transit on I-405 and SR 522 is likely to be delayed. Only the Burien to Bellevue service is now expected to open on time in 2024. Expectations for service on the northern part of I-405 and SR 522 have slipped into 2025.

The delays were first publicly shared at last Thursday’s Sound Transit Board meeting. (though implicit in the latest financial plan from last Fall where 2024 BRT ridership expectations were dramatically lowered).

In Bothell, Sound Transit intends to open a bus base by 2023. The update to the Board flags some issues with permitting and right of way acquisition. If the base can open by 2023, however, that will open the way to an on-time start of service on south I-405 between Bellevue and Burien in 2024. Other construction on south I-405 is mostly being conducted as part of WSDOT’s expansion of express toll lanes in the area and is on schedule. Sound Transit is in final design for the in-line stop at NE 44th in Renton and was about to start construction before the COVID-19 delays intervened. Pre-construction work is underway at the planned transit center in South Renton.

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News roundup: finally

Sound Transit Express

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