Contributor Dan Ryan joined the blog in 2015 after several guest posts. He grew up in Ireland, and has lived on the Eastside for 15 years. Dan is a recovering economist with a day job in telecommunications. Apart from transit, Dan frequently writes about suburban land use issues.
Now that Redmond Link has officially broken ground, significant construction will be beginning in the Spring along the 3.4 mile extension from Redmond Technology Station to Downtown Redmond. Two new stations will be added in Downtown Redmond and just across the freeway at Southeast Redmond. The station designs are making their way through design review. The scope of the review is limited and most structural elements of the line are excluded. But it is an opportunity for the rest of us to see what the stations will look like.
The downtown Redmond station is an elevated structure in the Redmond Central Connector corridor (once part of a spur line from the Eastside Rail Corridor) and spans 166th Ave NE. There will be bus stops on either side of the station along Cleveland St and NE 76th St. The station will have entrances on either side of 166th and will parallel the Redmond Connector trail which is being relocated very slightly to the north.
At Thursday’s System Expansion Committee meeting, staff shared options for opening the NE 130th Link station ahead of the currently scheduled 2031 date. An early opening will be less expensive in capital dollars and avoid rider disruptions later. But the earlier expenditure has some modest impacts for Sound Transit’s indebtedness at an arguably sensitive time for other projects.
Three options are now on the table. The default is to proceed with the ST3 plan to build an infill station in 2031 after Lynnwood Link has opened in 2024. Seattle would prefer to build the station concurrently with the Lynnwood line and have the station open by 2025. Staff offered a third partial build option which would build just enough of the station to avoid the worst construction impacts, but defer other construction until later so the station opens years after Lynnwood Link.
Metro is considering a program of income-based fares that would fully subsidize fares for riders with very low incomes. A public launch is targeted for July 2020.
The program would expand on the current ORCA Lift which offers 50% discounts across local agencies to those with incomes below 200% of the federal poverty level. Currently, that cutoff is $24,980 for a single person or $51,500 for a family of four. The expanded program is expected to include unlimited fare-free travel for those with incomes below 80% of the federal poverty level. This cutoff would be $9,992 for a single person or $20,600 for a family of four. (updated for an error in the original calculation).
On the eve of the new year, it’s time to review the old. In 2019, we dove deeper into ST3 planning. Transit advocates mused on ST4. As the year drew to a close, we also contended with a possible reduction in funding for already approved projects and current bus service in Seattle.
In descending order, our most read posts of the year are:
It’s time to start work on ST4 by Seattle Subway (June 25). Seattle Subway would like you to support a 2024 ballot measure for more rail in Seattle. “Traffic is over – if you want it”.
Build the Aurora Line by Seattle Subway (August 27). Where would those new rail lines go? Seattle Subway and Ryan DiRaimo make the case for an ST4 Aurora Ave line.
ORCA Pod Welcomes Monorail by Brent White (March 11). Despite our past urging, the Seattle monorail had too long remained outside the Orca family. No more. The change took effect in October.
Metro has revealed their preferred alignment for RapidRide K in Kirkland. The service will operate between Downtown and Totem Lake via NE 85th and 124th Ave NE on Rose Hill. In South Kirkland, it will follow 6th St and 108th Ave. The decision has implications for several other routes which will be moved or shortened.
The service, scheduled to open in 2025 will connect Totem Lake to Eastgate via downtown Kirkland and Bellevue.
Within Kirkland, there were two pairs of alternatives to consider. In North Kirkland, the 2016 Metro Connects long range plan would have routed the RapidRide along Market St (alternative A1). Metro instead has selected an alignment connecting downtown to the Stride BRT station on 85th, then to Totem Lake Transit Center via 124th Ave (alternative A2). The A2 alternative avoids overlap with Metro 255 service on Market St north of downtown Kirkland in the Metro Connects plan. That step would surely have been very unpopular with riders.
But there’s a less celebrated narrative in more recent data. Most of the progress this decade was before 2015. Light rail ridership was lower last quarter than a year ago. Bus ridership has been moving sideways since 2016. Despite large investments in off-peak service hours, non-work trips by transit aren’t growing. Where transit ridership is growing, it’s not always keeping pace with population growth.
The decline in Link ridership last quarter wasn’t large, just -0.6% vs Q3 2018, but is still remarkable only three years after opening several new stations in a fast-growing city. Ridership for the year to date is a massive 12% below the Sound Transit budget plan, as an expected boost to rail ridership after removing buses from the tunnel failed to materialize.
Last week, we reported on the under-performing Ride2 services in West Seattle and Eastgate which have experienced low ridership and outsized costs per rider. Yesterday, Metro announced they were ending both pilots effective December 20. (The news was first reported by West Seattle Blog).
The Ride2 services were created as one year pilots, and the end comes as the West Seattle version reaches that milestone. Eastgate, which experienced a change of provider from Ford subsidiary Chariot to Hopelink in February, ran for 14 months.
There were some interesting new details on how the services performed from Metro. Over seven thousand users had downloaded the phone app, though fewer than 15% had used the service within the last month as customer interest failed to develop.
King County has piloted several on-demand services that connect people with transit hubs. The services address first/last mile access issues up to three miles around transit centers. Recent data indicates that Via continues to perform well in the Rainier Valley with growing ridership and progressively declining average costs. Meanwhile, the Ride2 services in West Seattle and Bellevue have seen stubbornly low ridership and higher per-rider costs.
“Via to Transit” launched in April as a partnership with on-demand transportation provider Via. The service mostly operates in the Rainier Valley connecting riders to light rail service at Mount Baker, Columbia City, Othello, and Rainier Beach. A more limited version is available in Tukwila. Early results were promising and have gotten appreciably better as the program reached the six-month mark. Via now serves almost four riders per hour at a cost per rider just over $10. That’s above the average of Metro services, but is declining as ridership scales. It rates well against the coverage routes that are the more immediate alternative.
Ride2 launched in October 2018 around the Eastgate P&R in partnership with Chariot, a Ford subsidiary that withdrew from the market earlier this year. Operations transitioned to Hopelink in February after Ford quit the business. It now serves just over two riders per hour at a high $35 cost per rider. On the bright side, it has displaced driving, with a majority of riders surveyed saying they used to drive to either the transit center or their final destination. Service levels are also high with an average wait time under five minutes vs a program target of ten minutes.
Implementation of I-976 has been put on hold temporarily pending the outcome of the coalition lawsuit in King County Superior Court. In a decision delivered this morning, Judge Marshall Ferguson also indicated that the plaintiffs are likely to succeed on the merits of the case.
The ruling details testimony about the damage that would ensue if a temporary injunction were not in place. Metro would need to reduce transit service by 110,000 service hours (at an annualized rate) in March and would not be able to restore that service until September. Metro would permanently lose $2 million in grants tied to the amount of service. The City of Seattle would lose $2.68 million in vehicle license fee just in December if I-976 took effect on December 5. Cuts to the multimodal account would follow shortly, likely including critical programs relied on by special needs transit-dependent taxpayers including one of the plaintiffs.
The Sound Transit Board had its first opportunity to review the results of I-976 at Thursday’s meeting. While expressing confidence they would not be forced to reduce the MVET, and also outlining the litigation strategy they intend to pursue, the Board also heard how an immediate stop to MVET revenues would result in a five year delay to future projects.
I-976 appears to have been rejected by about 53% of voters within the Sound Transit district. That’s close to the 54% yes vote on ST3, although it conceals a widening gap in voter preferences within the district. That gap was on display yesterday too, with Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier arguing Sound Transit should accept the will of statewide voters including two-thirds of those in Pierce County. Nevertheless, it’s enough for most Board members who are ready to recognize a mandate of voters in the Sound Transit area to push ahead with projects and continue collecting the MVET if possible.
In October, WSDOT awarded the contract for the widening of I-405 between Bellevue and Renton. With significant construction beginning in the Spring, that kicks off construction on the first capital elements of I-405 BRT South. Meanwhile, WSDOT and Sound Transit have been making complementary investments along the corridor that continue to raise expectations for the success of the BRT. Recent briefings in Renton and Bellevue bring us up to speed on how the project is developing.
In 2019, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 5825, making permanent the toll authorization for I-405 and SR 167 (and authorizing tolling for the Gateway facility in Pierce and South King County). The legislation also redefined I-405 and SR 167 as a single corridor with one account for toll revenue. Bonding was authorized for ETL toll revenues. The effect is to accelerate projects along the corridor. Most consequential for transit users is the second express lane north of Bothell which will enable dramatically faster bus operations in that area once combined with a Sound Transit project to add direct access lanes to Brickyard.
Several improvements to Link station signage are in development. Numbered exit signs will be piloted at downtown Seattle stations next week, and other enhancements will be rolled out with system expansions in future years. The changes were introduced at a meeting of the System Expansion Committee on Thursday as the Committee approved a contract for sign services. At the same meeting, CEO Peter Rogoff indicated Sound Transit would drop the term “Red Line” and perhaps color-coded lines generally.
Last week’s apparent passage of I-976 has given rise to a fair amount of commentary affirming that voters were sending a message, and disagreeing about what they are saying. One could focus on the statewide rejection of taxes on cars, narrow support for car tabs in the three counties served by Sound Transit, a probable positive vote within the Sound Transit RTA, the clearly positive vote in King County, or the massive rejection of Sound Transit taxes in Pierce County.
Precinct data is clarifying. It’s unfortunately not yet available in Pierce County. However, current precinct data is available for Snohomish County and first night detail is available for King County. Clear patterns are evident among the cities where I-976 over- and under-performed relative to the 2016 ST3 vote.
The I-976 vote polarized voters within the RTA along geographic lines more than ST3. Seattle voters, already most likely to favor taxes for transit, opposed I-976 by yet larger margins than in 2016. The suburbs to the north and south with the lowest pro-ST3 votes became more adamantly opposed with huge majorities against the MVET. The divided response from voters calls into question the marquee Sound Transit projects extending rail far to the north and south.
Last night’s returns indicate I-976 is likely to pass. The next step is likely a court challenge, or several. What if the initiative is sustained? Let’s look ahead at the implications for Sound Transit.
If Sound Transit is forced to stop collecting the MVET, that reduces 2021-2041 revenues by $6.9 billion, or 12.3% of what was previously estimated. (Sound Transit mostly relies on sales taxes with a smaller contribution from property tax).
The impact of losing the MVET revenues is multiplied because it is front-loaded. The MVET is 18% of tax revenues through 2028, and just under 10% thereafter. That’s because the 0.3% Sound Move MVET must end in 2028 as a result of a previous Eyman initiative. When that happens, the 0.8% ST3 MVET would have moved to the lower 2005 car valuation schedule reducing those revenues about 30%.
Last we heard, just a few weeks ago, Sound Transit’s draft service plan was to discontinue ST 541 (Overlake – University District), along with ST 540 (Kirkland – University District). This week, the Rider Experience Committee is set to reconsider that plan. Up to ten one-way trips will remain on ST 541. That’s significantly less than the 20 round trips currently provided, but it indicates some rethinking of service changes on SR 520 in response to rider feedback.
The staff memo points to recent growth in ridership on ST routes over SR 520, including 541 and 542. There’s also a nod to rider input during public involvement about capacity concerns on the remaining 542 trips. Average weekday ridership on ST 541 this Spring was 873.
There now commences a period of monitoring ridership shifts on all of these services. The ten remaining trips on ST 541 will be evaluated prior to each service change. Route 544 operate for at least 24 months so that the market can develop and the full ridership potential can be evaluated. After two years, it too may be adjusted based on performance.
King County Metro has begun preliminary design for RapidRide K connecting Totem Lake, Kirkland, Bellevue and Eastgate. Some details emerged in a pair of recent briefings in Kirkland and Bellevue.
The line is anticipated to open in 2025. As mapped in Metro Connects, the long range plan for expanding Metro service, the K Line would replace portions of route 255 from Totem Lake to the South Kirkland Park & Ride, current routes 234 and 235 between South Kirkland and the Bellevue Transit Center, and Route 271 between Bellevue Transit Center and Eastgate.
Yesterday, the Sound Transit Board adopted a final set of options for the draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) for Link extensions to Ballard and West Seattle. After a contentious discussion that frequently focused on cost challenges, the Board voted down a Pigeon Point tunnel in West Seattle. Options for a central Ballard station at 20th Ave NW were not included in the DEIS either. Lacking support among board members, the central Ballard station was hardly discussed and it was not voted on.
Two options were added to the DEIS. As expected, the Board approved adding an alternative elevated alignment in the Yancy/Andover corridor area of West Seattle. That would reduce the number of homes to be taken for construction, but also shifts the Delridge station north with inferior station access.
This afternoon, the Sound Transit Board will finalize the list of options to be examined in the Link Extensions Draft EIS for West Seattle and Ballard. A motion on the agenda adds just one more option in West Seattle to a initial list of alternatives adopted in May. Several other alternatives that were recently studied would not proceed any further. These include the Pigeon Point Tunnel in West Seattle and all of the options to locate a Ballard station near 20th Ave NW.
Let’s recap how we reached this point. Sound Transit has been analyzing options for the Seattle ST3 lines since 2017. In May, the Board made a selection from those alternatives to be considered in the draft Environmental Impact Statement. In response to input received during the scoping period, the Board also directed staff to examine a half dozen other options that might also be added to the EIS. An initial analysis on those options was completed last month. With that information in hand, the Board now has to lock down the final list of options to go through the EIS process.