News roundup: return on investment

Sounder at Lakewood Station

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Patty Murray is seeking $1.9 billion for Sound Transit

U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington), along with six other senate Democrats, introduced a bill Thursday that would boost funding for Sound Transit as reported by The Seattle Times. The bill would partially offset the financial effect of the COVID-19 pandemic by providing an additional 30% of the cost of the Federal Way and Lynnwood Link extensions, adding up to about $1.9 billion for Sound Transit. Though both projects are on track to open in 2024, the financial boost would have a significant impact on the $11.5 billion affordability gap that is the primary cause of the realignment process that Sound Transit is undergoing. Getting nearly $2 billion from the federal government on its own would put Sound Transit about halfway to the $4 billion “additional capacity” options in its illustrative scenarios for alignment.

Being a senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Murray has a lot of influence in this area. Though the standalone bill is unlikely to get 60 votes in the senate, the provisions of this bill could be included in the next budget reconciliation bill as it is budget-related.

A true Seattle Subway requires a citywide plan for the future

House Bill 1304 for grade-separated transit is now unlikely to pass this year and its last hope is a long shot: inclusion in a larger transportation package. As a reminder, the bill updates the antiquated language in the CTA law so it can be used for rail expansion now. Though we’re disappointed that HB 1304 didn’t pass on its own this year, it’s not uncommon for a bill to take multiple years and we’re really thankful for the work done by the bill’s sponsors and the many people who voiced their support and gave testimony. We’ll be headed back to the legislature next year.

That said, when one door closes another one opens. The Seattle Department of Transportation will send the Seattle City Council a proposed plan for what should be funded by a new $20 Vehicle licensing fee. This is an excellent opportunity to fund an updated Seattle Transit Master Plan that includes a roadmap for a future citywide Link rail system. This is work that, almost incredibly, has never been done for Link expansion in Seattle.

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News roundup: access

Technicolor of a Skagit Transit Bus

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Seattle’ ambitious electrification goals

Seattle’s Clean Transportation Electrification Blueprint (via the Seattle Times):

Seattle will lead the transition to an electrified economy, supplying residents with clean electricity via a reliable, carbon free electric grid. In this fossil-fuel free future, the air is clean. People will take electric buses, ferries, or light rail to work, shopping and other destinations. A robust bike lane network will make it easy for Seattleites to leave cars behind and use bikes, e-scooters, and e-cargo bikes or walk. Ships at port are plugged in, every package delivered to your doorstep comes on an electric van, truck or e-bike. Silent, clean, electric trash and utility trucks will service neighborhoods.

Sounds great! Also perhaps a bit ambitious for an administration that kills bike lanes and prioritizes car traffic at the hint of neighborhood opposition. Or a city council that hemmed and hawed last year about whether to add an additional five-hundredths of a percent to a sales tax for transit.

Congestion pricing, once the mayor’s big idea for mode shift, has been relegated to a sentence or two. Overall the thinking in the report is more in line with the current Democratic Party approach, which has de-emphasized painful tax schemes (less necessary in a world of cheap money) and prioritized the so-called troika of “standards, investments, and justice.”

In the spirit of justice, the report welcomingly acknowledges that the city’s past focus on EV charging infrastructure was inequitable and that the community preferred electric public transit to electrifying private infrastructure.

However, Metro is scaling back it’s electrification and expansion plans, so the city may have a problem securing the copious bus service this plan assumes.

And yet! And yet! The Biden administration is handing out billions to transit agencies. A national infrastructure bill is on the horizon. The politics of climate change are shifting. The Seattle electorate is changing. We’ll have a new mayor next year. And whatever shortcomings this “blueprint” has, it’s a more ambitious decarbonization initiative than has been proposed by any other U.S. city.

News roundup: vaccine-eligible

Sounder Station - Tukwila

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Metro’s March 2021 service change makes minor adjustments

RapidRide A Line to FWTC Test Coach
The RapidRide A-Line, which is getting an evening frequency boost (photo: Atomic Taco)

In the final twice-a-year planned service change before the Northgate Link restructure transforms north Seattle bus service this fall, King County Metro is keeping it simple and not making many substantial changes to the bus network. Certain routes are gaining or losing a handful of trips, and bus bay assignments at Auburn Station are changing. There are no routes that are fully suspended making the jump to fully or partially restored, as the long road to recovery is just beginning. The changes take effect on Saturday, March 20, 2021.

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News roundup: to the scrap heap

King County Metro #3756

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Join the East Link Connections Mobility Board

East Link map with stations

East Link might open in as little as 18 months. Like any rail opening of that magnitude, there are many opportunities to reorganize bus service to reduce redundancy, improve access, and serve new priorities.

Metro and Sound Transit are creating a citizen sounding board for these changes, and they’re paying $50 per hour:

“Are you someone who:

  • Lives, works, and/or travels within Eastside communities? These communities include but are not limited to areas east and south of Kenmore, east of the I-90 and SR 520 bridges, north of east Renton (such as Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond), and west of Sammamish and Issaquah? Or do you live, work, or travel in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District and/or Judkins Park?
  • Is a transit rider or a potential transit rider?
  • Are able to bring your perspective as an individual, not representing the interests of an organization?
  • Are willing and interested in drawing connections between racial equity, transportation issues, and access to opportunities?”

Apply by the end of this month to participate from April to November 2021. It’d be helpful for some board members to have an appreciation for transit planning principles.

SR 520 bus service when the bridge is closed

Rendering of the future Montlake lid over SR 520 (image: WSDOT)

This weekend, there is a full closure of the SR 520 bridge over Lake Washington. Closures of the bridge in at least one direction is going to be a somewhat common occurrence for the next few years as WSDOT works on their Montlake lid project, which will ultimately improve bus service from the eastside to UW, and get buses out of the general purpose westbound off-ramp that often gets backed up with traffic.

All buses that use the bridge are going to be rerouted from Friday, March 5th at 11:00 p.m. through Monday, March 8th at 5:00 a.m. Routes that are affected include Sound Transit routes 542 and 545, and King County Metro routes 255 and 271. Stops that are missed include the Evergreen Point and Yarrow Point freeway stations, and local stops in Medina that are west of 100th Ave NE. Aside from those missed stops, the reroutes are configured to serve the same stops in the same order that it would normally, just with some significant delay due to the fact that buses have to divert to I-90.

While this configuration is optimal for reducing confusion and making sure service operates as normally as possible, it does lead to some highly inefficient operation for routes that go to the U-District. Routes 255, 271, and 542 westbound detour south to I-90, travel west toward downtown Seattle, but continue back north without stopping in downtown, and take SR 520 eastbound, then continues as normal on Montlake Blvd E. This is particularly awkward for route 255, as last year its southern terminus shifted form downtown to the U-district to expand service. However, when the bridge is closed, the situation is completely different in a couple of ways.

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How Metro bills SDOT for service

With Seattle and King County Metro renewing their partnership in the Transportation Benefit District, it’s interesting to track how the cost of service escalates over the years.

Metro bills SDOT based on actual expenses; SDOT pays an estimated cost and the the agencies reconcile the difference at the end of each year. There are three pieces to the City’s total bill:

  1. The actual cost of driving, maintaining, and fueling the buses;
  2. Amortization and depreciation of the buses themselves; and
  3. a credit for fares, based on the systemwide farebox recovery ratio.

Metro’s Jeff Switzer was able to give me the figures for 2019. They break down like this:

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News roundup: why transit is expensive

Sound Transit Link About to Leave Mount Baker Station

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Sound Transit eyes phasing of ST3 projects

The Sound Transit Board on Thursday received several illustrative scenarios for prioritizing ST3 projects through the realignment required this summer because of tax shortfalls and cost overruns. The scenarios bookend the range of possibilities with delays on individual projects ranging from 1 to 14 years.

Among the scenarios is a phasing approach which would keep delays on the highest priority projects within the range of 2 to 4 years. Due to subarea constraints on Board action, some variation of the phasing approach seems the most likely to emerge from the realignment process.

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