News roundup: fully subsidized

  • Seattle Times‘ Mike Lindblom has a long dive into light rail crashes on MLK. It’s too in-depth to summarize but well worth reading.
  • Meanwhile, Times Columnist Naomi Ishaka argues for more gates in the Rainier Valley to protect pedestrians
  • U-PASS is now fully-subsidized for all UW employees. Good on TRU for organizing around this effort
  • The Urbanist: Sound Transit opening back up the idea of skipping Paine Field to get to Everett on time
  • PubliCola: Josh Feit looks at ways to get small employers on board with transit passes

News roundup: cracked up

Transit ridership is slowly recovering

From the Sound Transit ridership dashboard

Last month, Metro reported an average weekday ridership exceeding 200,000 boardings. This is a mark that hasn’t been seen since the pandemic started, with the exception of last October (which typically represents the peak month of ridership in a year). More encouraging is that year-over-year growth is currently sitting at about 40%, which certainly trends with the lifting of pandemic restrictions.

Sound Transit has also clawed back much of its lost ridership, sitting just shy of 100,000 daily boardings in April. Central Link ridership is back to a respectable 66,000 boardings, although it’s unreasonable to make comparisons to pre-pandemic levels with the Northgate extension having opened just last Fall.

There’s some discussion about the effect of high gas prices on ridership recovery. From a recent KOMO article:

“If it gets up to like $7 a gallon I don’t know what I’m gonna do,” said Apollo Rising, Seattle driver. “I’m probably gonna use the bus a lot more.”

“We hear it sometimes on social media that people are choosing transit because of the cost,” said Sean Hawks, spokesman for King County Metro. “It’s $2.75 for a bus fare but even less expensive fare if you’re a senior, youth or have a disability or have a lower income.”

Many remember the summer of 2008, when drivers fleeing gas prices helped boost transit ridership to what were then record-levels. My suspicion is that we’re not seeing exactly the same effect now largely since many workers are still working from home.

As I stated last month, crossing arbitrary thresholds can provide feel-good moments but they should not be the barometer we use to gauge system health in a post-pandemic world.

Sound Transit’s new CEO: Julie Timm

Sound Transit:

Timm is currently CEO of Greater Richmond Transit Company, where her more than 400 employees operate successful regional bus routes serving the Richmond, Virginia area. Timm is known as a highly collaborative leader who forges strong relationships with community groups and partners, and for building an agency culture focused on dedication to public service and equity. 

From 2016 through 2019 Timm served as Chief Development Officer for WeGo Public Transit in Nashville, Tennessee. Her efforts included directing development activities and agency staff across functions including engineering, outreach, customer care, planning, grants, marketing, communications, service quality and Innovation. She oversaw the implementation of major regional capital projects associated with the more than $6 billion nMotion Strategy that the Nashville region adopted in 2016.

We wish her the best of luck.

New ST3 International District Station options face stiff resistance

Photo by SolDuc Photography / Flickr

Since Sound Transit released the DEIS for the new West Seattle-Ballard extension, stakeholders have been poring over the findings and submitting their comments. One major group of stakeholders is the Chinatown-International District (CID) neighborhood, which recently came out in full force either against the 5th Avenue alternative or against all options entirely.

Mike Lindblom has a detailed scoop:

Neighborhood advocates insist the station must go a block farther west, under Fourth Avenue South near South King Street, with the highways and sports stadiums. That would lessen the impact on an area that’s been sacrificed for generations to regional construction. 
. . .
But choosing Fourth Avenue possibly creates a traffic nightmare, because builders would demolish and replace the six-lane elevated street. In that scenario, about 15,000 daily car and bus trips, and stadium surge traffic, must be detoured during six years of partial road closures, compared to only 5,000 on Fifth for a 2½-year closure.

Total construction time on Fourth Avenue is estimated at nine to 11 years, a couple of years longer than Fifth.

It’s important to remember that while Sound Transit has not yet identified a preferred alternative for this segment, it finds itself in the usual quagmire of picking and choosing between neighborhood impacts, ridership, and cost. The 5th Avenue option certainly has superior neighborhood and transfer access, but construction would come at a great cost to the CID.

Back in April, Seattle Subway endorsed an even-shallower version of the 4th Avenue shallow option (CID-1a). Their proposal would effectively be at-grade, flush with the BNSF tracks and the 4th Avenue viaduct rebuilt over it. It’s not clear how compatible this super-shallow option would be with the deep Midtown Station profiles that are currently on the table.

While not without its own problems, a 4th Avenue alternative does open creative possibilities for re-doing the entire King Street Station-IDS hub, which is currently a patchwork of office buildings, limited walkways, and pedestrian-unfriendly 4th Avenue. A lid over the BNSF/Sounder tracks and repurposing Union Station are some of the ideas worth considering.

Link work to impact service through early next year

Peter Lewis / Flickr

Sound Transit is marketing a slate of service impacts from 2-Line (East Link) construction and 1-Line maintenance as a “Future Ready” program. Starting next month and stretching into Q1 of 2023, existing 1-Line service will undergo intermittent periods of reduced longer headways and shuttle service. From the press release:

Time periodsTravel impact
Monday, July 11 to Sunday, July 24Monday, Aug. 22 to Sunday, Sept. 4In order to replace tile at the Columbia City Station, train frequencies will be reduced to 20 minutes in each direction during all operating hours during the closure of one track, requiring all trains to use a single track between Mount Baker and Tukwila.
Friday, Oct. 21 to Sunday, Oct. 23Friday, Nov. 11 to Sunday, Nov. 13As a result of work on the overhead catenary system in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), train frequencies will be reduced to 20 minutes in each direction until 11 p.m. From 11 p.m. until end of revenue service, a Link bus shuttle will be available to connect passengers between Capitol Hill Station and SODO Station.
A period of five days in late Q3 2022In order to repair and replace the overhead catenary system, Link will be shut down between Rainier Beach and Tukwila International Blvd. stations with a Link bus shuttle connecting passengers between these two stations.
A period of at least three weeks in Q4 2022Trains will be single tracked through the DSTT and train frequencies will be reduced to 20 minutes.
Q1 2023This work is needed to complete connections between the current 1-Line service and new 2-Line tracks that will link riders to the Eastside. Impacts are still to be determined.

Some of the work is par-for-the-course as it concerns completing connections to the 2-Line, which will branch off of the main trunk south of International District Station. Some other work is a bit more puzzling: the replacement of platform tiles at Columbia City, for example, demands a closer look as to whether this was a contractor misstep or some other root cause.

While this is all happening, Sound Transit is also continuing to work on escalator replacement in the DSTT. This is a long time coming and a big source of consternation, as our friends at The Urbanist point out.