Choice riders, and not

Where transit boardings have fallen the most (blue) vs the routes with the least ridership loss (yellow) (image: King County Metro)

There were many interesting themes in the recent struggle over a legislative “striker” trying to keep North Seattle service hours from moving south. But one of the interesting threads is a shift of emphasis in transit activism from quantitative ridership metrics towards economic and racial equity.

In public comment to the King County Council, Disability Rights Washington’s Anna Zivarts proposed a fairly extreme version of this trend, which deserves to be quoted in full:

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Agency virus cases spiking

Heidi Groover has an important article today ($) about rising caseloads among transit staff:

At King County Metro, employees have reported 20 positive tests from the start of this month to Nov. 21. That’s up from six in October and about five or fewer per month throughout the summer.

CT and PT are seeing similar rises, while ST has not. While these figures include operators and non-customer facing staff, and sample sizes are small, the exclusion of office-worker-heavy ST suggests this might be more than the generalized increase in regional caseloads. But it’s impossible to know.

Fortunately, there have been no local operator fatalities since June.

Figures indicate that only 83% to 85% of Metro riders are wearing masks. Please note that wearing a mask is more about protecting those around you than yourself. This is not about exercising your freedom to assess your own risks; it is about basic consideration for others.

News roundup: Happy Thanksgiving

Tuesday Afternoon Bike Ride: Spirit of Kingston

This is an open thread.

New Lime/Jump trip data

Friend-of-STB Jonathan Hopkins of Lime tweeted six weeks of Lime Scooter and E-Bike Data:

Note that there are four times as many Jump bikes as scooters at this time. Hopkins remarks that they have about the same number of rides over this period, implying scooters have considerably more rides per vehicle.

It’s interesting that Jump is more prevalent on the outskirts. It’s not clear if this is more about where the scooters are available, or where the long-haul trips (where the bikes are more attractive) are. Indeed, Hopkins says the average bike trip is 47.8% longer.

Sound Transit expects better revenue recovery, but still lengthy project delays

The latest financial plan anticipates a moderate recession scenario requiring a four year average delay to future projects (image: Sound Transit).

Sound Transit’s latest financial plan is much more optimistic about a recovery in tax revenues than forecasts of a few months ago. But predictions of project delays have not improved so much. The more favorable revenue outlook is offset by operating cost pressures. Ahead of the ST3 realignment decisions next summer, staff are still talking in terms of a four to six year delay in projects depending on how revenue forecasts evolve.

As economic activity declined sharply in the early months of the COVID pandemic, Sound Transit hypothesized it might be in for an $8 billion to $12 billion reduction in tax revenues through 2041. That would translate to an average five-year delay in all projects not already in construction.

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Elevators & escalators add $500 million to Sound Transit’s 20 year plan

This DSTT escalator broke when misaligned steps crashed into the comb segments (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit is preparing a multi-year effort to replace aged escalators in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Poor conditions in the DSTT and escalator reliability problems at UW station have prompted an extensive evaluation of Sound Transit’s planning for vertical conveyances. The latest financial plan adds $555 million to State of Good Repair, anticipating more robust expenditures on maintaining and replacing this equipment through 2041.

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To solve the housing crisis, build more housing

Microsoft Köln, RheinauArtOffice, Rheinauhafen Köln-3603

Before (lightly) criticizing Microsoft’s specific choices, it is important to say that their investment in local affordable housing is generous, one that their investors would probably not prefer, and that we are fortunate that that a global company is directing a disproportionate amount of its surplus to its home county.

With a total $750m commitment to the cause, the latest $65m allocation includes

$40 million into a fund operated by Urban Housing Ventures, a privately funded company focused on creating affordable apartments. UHV will use the funds to reduce the rent for 40% of units in three apartment buildings to middle-income levels.

UHV says the novel model allows investors such as itself to purchase apartment buildings and then lower the rents on some of the units without losing financial viability. The reduced rent allows buildings to operate at lower vacancy and turnover rates, offsetting some of the costs of converting the units, according to UHV.

Monica Nickelsburg, Geekwire
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New details on Ballard-West Seattle link stations

14th Avenue in Ballard

Sound Transit has another online open house up, now with more details on station locations and elevation. We’ve covered the alignment alternatives in previous posts, so let’s focus on the stations. Two notes to start with: first, if you like mezzanines, you are in for a treat! Second, opening dates are pushed out past 2035 due to COVID, though that could slip further pending reprioritization discussions at the board level.

Links go directly to station images or pages where appropriate.

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SDOT will repair the West Seattle Bridge

SDOT blog:

Today, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced that she has instructed the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to restore travel across the Duwamish by repairing the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. SDOT has nearly completed Phase I of this two-part repair process, as the stabilization work concludes in December. She also directed SDOT to continue early design work for an eventual replacement of the bridge.

“Fast, cheap, good: pick two” is the old project management saw and the city appears to have chosen “fast and cheap.” The bridge could be open just around the time (2022) a COVID-19 vaccine is widely distributed and “normal” commute patterns reassert themselves.

Neither Sound Transit nor the city seemed super keen on a joint car-rail bridge, which could have put the light rail schedule at risk. So the options came down to a 1-for-1 replacement or a repair.

Kicking the can down the road and waiting to see what happens in a post-COVID world makes some sense, but won’t come without a cost. A replacement would have been eligible for outside funding, while repairs will likely have to come out of the city’s general maintenance funds, which are already stretched, or via a car tab fee, taking money that used to be earmarked for transit.

News roundup: reopening

Jefferson Car Barn-1941

This is an open thread.

Link service levels at risk when Northgate opens as LRVs delayed

New Siemens S700 railcar alongside older Kinkisharyo model at the OMF-E in Bellevue (image: Sound Transit)

{Sound Transit contacted us to clarify that they will be able to support 8 minute peak headways with 30+ qualified vehicles in Fall 2021 if the recovery schedule proceeds as planned. Clarifications in text below with new commentary in bold.}

Sound Transit has contracted to acquire 152 new light rail vehicles to support network expansions through 2024. Of those, 40 were to have been available ahead of the opening of Northgate Link in Fall 2021. must be available to enable the planned 8-minute headways to Northgate opening Fall 2021. Just 12 are mainline-ready at this time. That number is expected to rise to over 30 before Northgate opens, less than planned but enough to operate 8 minute service if no further delays are encountered. ,still 10 vehicles short of what is needed.

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Brickyard BRT station could bridge both sides of 405

The Brickyard in-line station would lie approximately between the sign span on the left and the bus on the right.

The future Brickyard Stride BRT station in the median of I-405 could provide access to more than just its namesake park & ride lot. Instead of crossing only halfway from the parking lot, WSDOT’s latest concept now has a footbridge extending across the entire freeway, creating a new non-motorized crossing as a shorter alternative to the busy NE 160th St overpass.

The east entrance at 116th Ave NE & NE 155th St puts more of the Queensgate/Kingsgate neighborhood within walking distance to the station and creates a new gateway to the Tolt Pipeline regional trail. The west entrance at the Brickyard Park & Ride is in a more central location, making it more convenient for people parking in the southern lot.

As a former regular user of the Brickyard station, the lack of a bridge to the east side was glaring when I first saw the early concept in 2019. I gave my feedback during the open house in February this year and it is nice to see the project continually refined even as it faces delays.

This latest concept comes from plans included with environmental review documents prepared by Sound Transit for the I-405 BRT project in September. Let’s look at the details.

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News roundup: getting going

Incoming Colourful SWIFT BRT Blue Line

This is an open thread.

KC Council quarrels over Metro service guidelines

As Metro applies its new, equity-focused framework, some North King representatives have questions

Northgate Station

Beginning last year, Metro developed a “mobility framework” that expressed the values that would guide service allocation. Alongside technocratic measures like ridership potential, the new framework considers notions of economic and racial equity to correct longtime disparities in investment. An “equity cabinet” of representatives of various disadvantaged groups would shepherd the production of derived documents like the service guidelines.

Those derived documents don’t exist yet, but the framework clearly points to substantially more investment in places like South King County. And here the framework collides with the ongoing North Link bus restructures. Specifically, the 47,000 hours that used to operate Route 41 between Northgate and Downtown, now entirely obviated by North Link.

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The next transit measure

The future Northgate Link Station under construction Image: Lizz Giordano

Tom Fucoloro, Seattle Bike Blog:

Many walking, biking and transit investments promised by the 2015 Move Seattle Levy vote face delays and cuts while major high-dollar car-centric projects got priority. Perhaps we need to rethink how we fund these projects in our city. And we also need to go a lot bigger. The Move Seattle Levy is set to expire at the end of 2024, the first time the 9-year levy renewal pattern will fall on a very-high-turnout Presidential election year.

I think this is right, and it’s also the story of Sound Transit. Recall that the original ST2 was a a combined “roads and transit” measure that flopped in 2007, only to come back as a transit-only package and win handily in 2008.

Give Seattle specific transit projects to vote on and they will generally say yes. Heck, even the Monorail needed five tries to finally lose at the polls.

ST3’s finances and COVID delays mean it’s unlikely we’ll see a regional ST4 package in 2024, but Seattle can absolutely be thinking about an ambitious capital project in that timeline, perhaps something from Seattle Subway’s list.

ST considering more changes to fares, fare enforcement

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At its October 22 meeting, the Sound Transit Board heard proposals to reduce concession fares for Sounder and reduce the law enforcement footprint in fare enforcement.

In community discussions about fare enforcement, ST has heard four main things:

  • fares are confusing;
  • the law enforcement character of enforcement causes “discomfort;”
  • fares are a hardship for some; and
  • riders appreciate a security presence.

In response to this feedback, and broad board settlement to meet the moment in decriminalization, ST is launching a “fare engagement ambassador” pilot program. These ambassadors will be agency employees rather than private security contractors. They will have new, less threatening uniforms, more emphasis on education and warnings, and less on infractions. Ambassadors will only call law enforcement for “other aggravating factors.”

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