Mercer Island sues Sound Transit, this time over buses

ST Express 554 and King County Metro 204 buses at Mercer Island stop / photo by SounderBruce

As reported by the Mercer Island Reporter Thursday, the Mercer Island City Council is again preparing to sue Sound Transit.

In an open letter, the City Council contends:

It is essential for all Islanders to understand that the Bus/Rail Interchange, as currently proposed by Sound Transit, is in breach of the 2017 Settlement Agreement between Sound Transit and the City with the potential to adversely impact traffic patterns and public safety for all of our residents. We have notified Sound Transit numerous times that its current plan, which includes new curb cuts to accommodate bus layovers along North Mercer Way, fails to meet the terms of the Settlement Agreement which explicitly forbade these features. We have also voiced concerns over future operations that this plan enables, including the high volume of bicycles and pedestrians that will be expected to mix with cars and buses adjacent to the busy Park & Ride location once East Link light Rail is operational. Despite the City’s reasonable objections and requests for essential information, Sound Transit has repeatedly ignored our concerns and insisted on unilaterally implementing its design plans.

However, the purported ban on curb cuts [They seem to be referring to bus pull-outs, not ADA wheelchair cuts in sidewalks at intersections.] along North Mercer Way is not in the settlement.

Sound Transit is expected to seek final construction permits for work around the station in September. The Mercer Island City Council is likely to oppose the permits unless the new lawsuit is settled. Delaying the permits could hold up the opening of East Link. But in order to delay the permits, the City would have to prove that Sound Transit has broken the terms of the settlement.

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Face mask dispensers

Face mask dispenser on TriMet MAX train

As observant reader Brian Bradford brought to our attention, TriMet is installing metal face mask dispensers on their buses, streetcars, and trains. Thanks, Brian!

Mask dispensers have also been installed in transit vehicles by:

Various agencies have also installed hand sanitizer dispensers.

South King County route restructure to break up high-performing 180

King County Metro is preparing to roll out its South King County route restructure on September 19, as party of its semi-annual regular service change (not to be confused with the ad hoc changes that have been rolled out on short notice all spring and summer). Martin reported on the semi-final proposal back in March.

Meanwhile, Metro recently listed the 10 most ridership-resilient (the ratio of 2020 ridership to 2019 ridership) routes. Route 180 is king at an amazing 74% of ridership retained.

The next three are routes that may be picking up the slack from the Link Light Rail infrequency that also goes away on September 19. Route 7 has retained 66% of its ridership, followed by the A line with 62% and route 106 with 58%. Route 36 comes in seventh at 47%.

On September 18, route 180 will ride into the sunset as the reigning resilience champion, to be replaced by new routes 161, 160, and 184.

As route restructures go, this one is pretty radical. Thirteen routes (158, 159, 164, 166, 169, 180, 186, 192, 908, 910, 913, 916, and 952) will be removed. Five new routes will be rolled out.

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A way to restore Link frequency and save money

UW Station, 8 LRVs, 0 passengers (during Connect 2020) / photo by wings777

Link Light Rail has become little more than an exercise in keeping a transit line running during the pandemic. Although it is one of the safest transit options in town due to social distancing, because of dramatically low ridership and the ability to choose different cars, it has nevertheless become nearly useless for getting its passengers somewhere in a decent amount of time. Frequency matters.

An obvious part of the problem is that even while Link ridership has dropped 90%, SeaTac Airport ridership plummeted 95%. The climate activist in me says that is a good problem to have, just not for the reasons I hoped.

Currently, Link runs every 20 minutes each direction during the day on weekdays and every 30 minutes on weekends. If you want to know when to be there to catch it, you have to have a smart phone, have looked up online or printed out or memorized the schedule, or have printed out Alex’s table. The schedules showing at the stations are what would have been if not for COVID-19.

Sound Transit has published its preliminary planned schedule (or at least weekday frequencies) for the service change that takes effect and runs from September 19, 2020 to March 19, 2021. Link is slated to run every 8 minutes during peak, every 15 minutes mid-day, and every 30 minutes in the evening. Planned weekend infrequency has not yet been published.

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Give operators more tools to enforce mask-wearing

Since my last fit-throwing over passengers not wearing face coverings on buses, I’ve seen noticeable improvement in passengers having masks. Now, we need to figure out how to get them to put the masks on, over their mouth and nose, before they board the bus, and how to get them to keep the masks on.

Bus operators have some power over the ship they captain. One is the power of the voice, as in, to play PSAs, which is mostly done inside the bus, but can also be done over the exterior loudspeaker.

Another power is the power of the door. Operators control them, at least since Metro abandoned the experiment of allowing riders to open rear doors by pushing on them, while the bus is stopped.

A third power is the power of the gas pedal and the brake. Operators decide whether to stop when someone is waiting to board.

Used in combination, these tools could save many riders’ (and maybe a few operators’) lives.

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I rode several bus routes over the weekend to check out how well riders were taking to the new state edict to wear a face covering in public.

As expected, close to half the riders did not have masks at all. A program to distribute free masks would help a lot, in that regard. Thank you, City of Renton, for taking the lead!

The more infuriating behavior, though, was the significant number of riders who had masks on, but were not wearing them over their mouth and nose. They just had them on over their chin, as if getting some fresh air in a place where they didn’t feel the need to wear them properly.

Inside, where the air recirculates, is actually where you most need to wear a mask, to protect the other people in that place from you. Being asymptomatic does not mean you don’t have the virus.

If you are on a bus, and you do not have a mask on, then you are a threat to the health and safety of everyone else on the bus. Pulling your mask down to expose your nose and mouth makes you as dangerous as all the maskless riders.

Do I need to remind y’all that hundreds of thousands of people have died from the virus?

Another infuriating behavior is when riders wait until they sit down to put their mask on, or take it off as they get ready to leave the bus. When you are standing over other riders is actually when you are the greatest threat to them, as the water droplets from your breath rain down upon the people you walk by.

So, please, oh please. Don’t risk the lives of your fellow riders. WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK. If you are waiting for the bus and see it approaching, make sure your mask is up over your nose and mouth. Expect some drivers to pass you by if you don’t have your mask on properly.

Then keep your mask on properly while you are boarding, while on board, while you are deboarding, while around other people at the bus stop, and anywhere, inside or outside, where there are one or more people around you.

Don’t be a killer. WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK.

Face mask laws coming

The Port of Seattle became the first governmental entity in the region to roll out a face mask requirement for everyone in public areas on Port property Saturday. SeaTac Airport is included in that mandate. On Friday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan announced that an ordinance was in the works that would at least cover retail spaces open to the public in Seattle. A number of stores in Seattle, including Costco, already require such masks in order to be in the store.

King County Metro does not require the wearing of face masks while on board, but strongly urges customers to wear them.

At least eight states require the wearing of a face mask in public. This is not new legal territory, as several states had similar mandates on the books during the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu pandemic.

While face masks are helpful to protect people around the wearer from getting the virus from the wearer, they are no substitute for a medical grade face mask if the goal is to protect the wearer from getting the virus. Regardless, they are believed to have helped slow the spread of the virus in areas where wearing them in public has been encouraged.

RIP, Samina Hameed

On Thursday, King County Metro operator Samina Hameed passed away after contracting COVID-19. She had driven for Metro since 2017. Her husband is also a Metro operator.

Hameed is the first Metro employee to succumb to the virus.

STB wishes to express our deepest condolences to the family.

She joins Scott Ryan, a Community Transit operator, and Esther Bryant-Kyles, a Washington State Ferries employee, among the transit workers claimed by the virus.

An open letter from concerned Metro operators was sent to the King County Council on April 7, nine days before Hameed’s passing. Metro responded to the letter on April 8.

Other states issue stay-at-home orders while transit gets less-social-distancy here

Coronavirus image from wikicommons

Update: Governor Jay Inslee issued a “Stay home, stay health” order, with a list of essential workers who are exempt, Monday afternoon.

It may seem like an Age ago, but it has been less than two weeks since the United Nations’ World Health Organization declared covid-19 to be a pandemic.

By the end of last week, local transit agencies had made their first move to implement social distance orders — that is, that people should stay at least 6 feet away from each other — by enabling rear door entrance and egress on all buses, and reducing contacts via fare equipment, both achieved by sacrificing any further fare collection until further notice. Only riders with mobility aids or otherwise needing to use the ramp will be permitted to use the front door.

In an act of unfortunately poor timing, significant service reductions are being implemented starting today, even before we get to see what fare freedom does for transit ridership. The end result is that social distance on buses may be much less this week than last week.

We also don’t know what ridership would have been like on Link if ST went back to the old pre-Connect-2020 schedule, which actually had a schedule. At publication time, ST has not provided a Link schedule to us for this week’s service change, but merely indicated that headway would be 14 minutes.

In another case of unfortunately poor timing, riders from freshly-truncated Metro route 255 will now be expected to transfer at UW Station, or increase crowding on other downtown-bound buses.

In one piece of good news, Metro has improved its text-for-departures program to remove cancelled runs. Text your bus stop ID # to 62550 to find out when the next bus will arrive.

Let’s crowdsource. Are your buses and trains more or less crowded than less week? Are you able to maintain social distance (6 feet) from other passengers while on transit, and while waiting for transit? Have you switched to other routes or other modes that allow you to maintain social distance? Are you prepared to bunker down at home for the next several months or maybe more than a year?

It’s beginning to look a lot like curfew

While Washington State was the earliest and hardest hit by covid-19, other states have jumped to higher levels of mandated social distancing faster.

By the end of this past weekend, the governors of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Illinois, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Ohio had all issued stay-at-home orders for their population not involved in essential jobs. Update: The governors of Colorado, Guam, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oregon, Puerto Rico, Rhode Island, US Virgin Islands, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia, and Wisconsin have also now issued or announced they will issue stay-at-home orders for all residents in their state who don’t have essential jobs.

Each of these states have treated transit as an essential service. However, falling ridership and added expenses for cleansing against covid-19 have created a financial emergency for transit agencies, and so emergency service reductions have become the standard practice. Moreover, New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority and many other transit agencies are begging the federal government for a bailout.

The City of Wuhan, where the outbreak started, actually shut transit and most other modes of transportation down for several weeks, in order to get the virus under control. With the rest of the world treating the virus less seriously, their sacrifice might have been in vain.

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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Climate bills in Olympia: what’s moving, what’s delayed

Update: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon updated the status of three of these bills in the Comments.

Rep. Vandana Slatter

A key bill to reset the state’s anthropogenic carbon dioxide emissions reductions schedule to a more ambitious pace recommended by the State Department of Ecology, House Bill 2311, by Rep. Vandana Slatter (D – Bellevue) is running up against a deadline to get out of the House Appropriations Committee.

The bill would set deadlines for reducing the state government’s and overall carbon dioxide emissions, culminating in a 2050 deadline for carbon neutrality, with carbon sequestration taken into account.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change issued a stark report in 2018 calling for such a rapid emissions reduction. Achieving worldwide reduction goals will, as a matter of political reality, require those states and nations that can reduce emissions faster to do so. A similar bill failed last year, putting even Washington State behind the scientists’ called-for schedule.

The deadline to get out of committee is Tuesday, and the bill has already been pulled from the committee’s action lists twice.

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