ReachNow’s Launch Falls Short

[Clarification: the post states that carsharing vehicles have “the right to park…in any legal parking spot at no charge”. While users do not pay for street parking at the point of use, the city does charge a flat annual fee of $1,730 per vehicle, amounts are adjusted annually based upon actual usage, and such fees are built into member pricing. – Zach]

Back in 2013, when Daimler launched its Car2Go carsharing service in Seattle, I lamented the fact that the Car2Go service area (the boundaries where cars can be parked and left for the next customer) stopped short of serving West and Southeast Seattle—two areas with diverse populations and, tellingly, more lower-income people than the Central and North Seattle neighborhoods Car2Go did serve first. At the time, I expressed some incredulity that Car2Go considered neighborhoods like Mount Baker and Columbia City “new and developing areas,” which struck (and strikes) me as code for “places that aren’t mostly white yet.”


Car2Go eventually expanded its service, and in 2015, the city adopted legislation that increased the number of “free-floating car share” permits that also required all new carsharing services to expand their service areas to include the entire city within two years. The implication was clear: If the city is going to give your members the right to park your cars in any legal parking spot at no charge [see note above], you have to serve the entire city, even the parts that may be less white—and less lucrative.

BMW’s new ReachNow service launch shows the wisdom of that rule. ReachNow, which costs 49 cents a minute (to Car2Go’s $0.41), has an initial service area virtually identical to Car2Go’s, excluding all of West Seattle and Southeast Seattle and stopping just a couple of blocks south of I-90, at S Lander St.  ReachNow has two years to expand its service area to include the whole city.

Continue reading “ReachNow’s Launch Falls Short”

Republican Anti-Tolling Bill has One Democratic Sponsor: Bellevue’s Sen. Habib

Screen Shot 2016-01-14 at 7.56.07 PM

A Republican bill to eliminate two of the four express toll lanes on I-405; eliminate tolls in the evening and early morning hours; and get rid of all HOT lanes on 405 in two years if they fail to maintain a speed of 45 mph 90 percent of the time, has a single, somewhat surprising Democratic sponsor: Sen. Cyrus Habib (D-48), a Bellevue resident who also happens to be running for lieutenant governor.

Habib (who prefaced his email response, “I was wondering when I would be asked about that!”) says he’s backing the bill because his “district is directly affected, and so I decided it was important for me to have a seat at the table as we take a look at what works and doesn’t work with the current express tolling dynamic there.

“I likely wouldn’t vote for the bill in its current form, but I do think we need to revisit how the program is being implemented. I hear more about this from my constituents than any other issue,” Habib says.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Andy Hill (R-45) in the senate and Rep. Mark Harmsworth (R-11) in the house, was introduced in response to a rash of complaints by 405 drivers about the amount solo drivers must pay to use the HOV lanes (up to $10 at peak hours), and about the perception that the lanes haven’t reduced congestion on the freeway.

“[HOT lanes are] not working; anybody who drives that corridor will tell you that,” Hill told the Senate transportation committee at a hearing for the bill yesterday. “People are very, very upset. They are experiencing increased congestion, despite what any stats might say.”

About those stats: As Josh reported yesterday on PubliCola, according to data collected by WSDOT, travel times on 405 have gone down, on average, 14 minutes for express-lane users, and 7 minutes for general-purpose lane drivers, since the lanes opened last September. Much as Hill may scoff at “stats,” and much as his house cohort Helmsworth may have testified yesterday about the “thousands and thousands” of complaints he said he has personally read about traffic on 405, it’s always helpful to remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. And the data, if it’s correct, says the lanes are doing what they’re supposed to do.

However, Habib says his constituents complain about another impact of the tolls: They’re regressive. “The absence of light rail and inadequate state of bus rapid transit has made it, combined with the 520 toll, financially difficult for the working poor and students, who have the least flexibility and resources,” he says. Habib says he’d like to explore the idea of converting one of the two existing HOT lanes to HOV-transit lanes “to give the program a chance to first develop on one lane. Express tolling without increased transit is regressive.”

Of course, WSDOT’s original proposal was to give drivers two years to get used to the new HOV lanes; if the bill Habib has signed on to were to pass in any form (its path to a hearing and vote seems far shakier in the house), it would upend that schedule and render HOT lanes on 405 an incomplete experiment.

New TCC Director: “For Our Movement to Succeed, We Need to Build Power.”


At a few minutes after eight on election night, November 3, Shafali Ranganathan, deputy director at Transportation Choices Coalition, was a bundle of nerves. Standing behind a pool table set up with computers and a projector in an upstairs room at the Belltown Pub, Ranganathan and about 100 supporters of Move Seattle, the biggest transportation levy in Seattle history, had their eyes glued to the screen at the back of the room, where TCC staffer Carla Chavez was updating the “results” page on King County Elections’ website every few seconds. 0.00. 0.00. 0.00.

TCC, and others who had worked for months on Move Seattle, considered the measure a tough sell, and many told me they expected to end the night several points in the red. As if to emphasize that point, many in the room had been in the process of getting loaded since earlier that afternoon. But Ranganathan was the quiet, focused center of the room, and when the results came in–57 to 43–the 5-foot-tall deputy director issued a surprisingly fierce roar of victory, then quickly composed herself and went off to face the cameras.

Another winner that night was Rob Johnson, TCC director, Ranganathan’s boss, and, as of next January, council member for Northeast Seattle’s District 4. After the election, I called Ranganathan one of the major victors that Tuesday night, not only because her group prevailed on Move Seattle (a victory that can only help the Sound Transit 3 ballot measure in 2016), but because the win solidified her position as the “heir apparent” to Johnson at TCC.

On November 12, TCC announced that Ranganathan would be the group’s new director. A few days later, I sat down with her to find out what the leadership change will mean for the group, how TCC plans to shift its focus in the future, and what it means when a mainstream transportation organization is run almost entirely by women and people of color.

Erica C. Barnett [ECB]: Rob has been at TCC for more than a decade, and has obviously made his imprint on the organization. How will the organization change under your leadership, in terms of strategy or mission?

Continue reading “New TCC Director: “For Our Movement to Succeed, We Need to Build Power.””

Say Goodbye (Sort of) to the Shoreline Rule

Welcome to Shoreline.

A few months back, I wrote, with much exasperation, about an irritating quirk of King County Metro policy I dubbed the “Shoreline Rule”–the requirement that, without exception, all Metro riders who want to contest a transit infraction drive or, more likely, take the bus all the way to King County District Court in Shoreline. I ended up paying a $124 fine for a ticket I believed should have been a warning, because I didn’t want to take a day off work and because I had the money and privilege to do so. Many others, of course, aren’t so fortunate.

Had I chosen to take the bus to Shoreline, Metro’s Trip Planner tells me the trip would have taken me about an hour and a half on four buses each way. For King County Council member Dave Upthegrove, the trip time from the bus stop a block from his house in Des Moines to Shoreline remains unknown–because, he says, “When I entered my home address and Shoreline District Court into Trip Planner, I got an error message that said, ‘Cannot compute due to more than three hours in transit.’

“I’m not that far out” in King County,” Upthegrove continues. “Imagine all the people in Auburn and Covington. You get out there and it’s a fairly transit-dependent population. The people who can’t pay their bus fare can’t rely on the bus.”

This week, Upthegrove introduced a motion that will amend the Shoreline Rule, eventually, to allow juvenile violators to go to court in Burien, instead of schlepping to Shoreline. According to King County Council staff, 72 percent of juvenile violations occur in South Seattle or South King County, so the Burien relocation makes sense. (Upthegrove’s legislation also recommended ending the practice of treating fare evasion and failure to pay tickets as a criminal infraction; adults can still be charged with a misdemeanor for failure to pay or show up in court.) If the county executive’s office develops the legislation and the council passes it on schedule, the Shoreline Rule, for the 200 or so kids who receive fare evasion tickets each year, will be history sometime in 2016. fare

Continue reading “Say Goodbye (Sort of) to the Shoreline Rule”

Still Not Registered to Vote? It’s Not Too Late!

If you still aren’t registered to vote, it’s not too late, but you’ll need to hustle–today is the last day to register to vote in the November 3 election.

It’s a great time to get involved by voting in your local elections. In Seattle, this is the first outing for district elections, which means all nine council seats are up for grabs. The critically important Move Seattle ballot measure, which would add seven new RapidRide routes, implement the Bicycle Master Plan, partially fund the deferred Graham Street light rail station and the Northgate pedestrian bridge, and build sidewalks across the city, is on the ballot. So is Initiative 122, which would change the way we fund elections by funding “democracy vouchers” for every citizen to donate real money to the candidates of their choice, and place new restrictions on campaign donations. And Tim Eyman’s latest power grab, Initiative 1366, is waiting for your “no” vote.

In other words, what are you waiting for? Go out, register, and weigh in on the local issues and candidates on the ballot in Seattle and other local elections. And once you’re registered, check out our endorsements for Seattle races, suburban races, and local transit measures. Ballots must be postmarked or delivered to an official drop box or van by 8pm on Tuesday, November 3.

Dembowski: Transit Access to Magnuson Metro Meeting “Pretty Good”

Magnuson Park – SDOT Photo
Magnuson Park – SDOT Photo

As we reported this morning, Tuesday night the King County Council TrEE Committee and chair Rod Dembowski will host the only public hearing outside of work hours on a proposed Metro transit restructure that could dramatically increase access to frequent transit service in Northeast Seattle and Capitol Hill. The restructure is a set of significant (and controversial) bus service changes that would kick in when the U Link light rail station opens in 2016.

Dembowski has suggested making no changes to the system until Northgate Link opens in 2021, an option that would miss the opportunity to profoundly improve mobility in Northeast Seattle and update a bus network that provides infrequent, daytime-only rides between just two locations, downtown and the University of Washington. 


Unfortunately, those most likely to advocate for improvements to the network are also the least able to attend tomorrow’s hearing. Per Dembowski, the hearing is being held at the Mountaineers Club out in Magnuson Park– a venue that’s about as transit-inaccessible as Seattle gets. It is true that, as Dembowski, noted during a burst of defensive tweets on Friday, three bus lines–the 30, 74, and 75–stop in front of the Mountaineers. However, those lines stop running from downtown to Sand Point around 6:30, and only the 75 (which runs every half-hour) will be running when the meeting lets out some time after 9. According to Metro’s trip planner, my own ride to Sand Point would take 75 minutes, and my trip back home would be 90 minutes. I’m quite sure that for those who don’t rely on transit (such as, well, Dembowski) the trip will be significantly shorter.

This matters because if transit riders don’t show up in sufficient numbers tomorrow, Dembowski and his allies on the council will have fodder to go back to Metro and say the public opposes the changes.

I asked Dembowski–who also suggested that people who can’t make the hours-long round trip to testify simply comment online instead–why he chose such a remote location. He claimed he tried to line up other venues–including Roosevelt High School, whose staff was on strike when the council was scheduling the hearing, as well as the University and Ravenna Community Centers–but couldn’t find a place big enough to accommodate what he anticipates will be a crowd of hundreds. And, he said, this is a special discretionary committee meeting that he didn’t have to schedule in the first place.

“The only reason this meeting is happening is that I wanted to make sure we met in the community for a nighttime meeting. I was open to more than one hearing, but to get the council members together in the time frame Metro wants is tough,” Dembowski said.

“If you could find a better spot I’d do another meeting. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s pretty good–it’s a block off the Burke-Gilman Trail for thaose that are going to bike, it’s on a major arterial, it’s easy to find. Not everyone is 25 years old and really mobile.”

Dembowski also defended his comment that people who couldn’t make the meeting should just comment online. Denying that council members are swayed any more by public, in-person testimony than impersonal emails from faceless constituents, Dembowski said that, if anything, online commenters “have more power” because they reach all nine council members, who will all vote on the final proposal.”I want to take all of the views into consideration and not be swayed by the loudest voices,” Dembowski said.

Incidentally, on Monday afternoon, Metro announced it was adding bus trips and a shuttle to get transit riders to and from the meeting. I have a call out to Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer to find out if this is the first time Metro has extended service to provide access to a particular public meeting.

TONIGHT: Show Your Support for HALA

If you live in Seattle, I strongly encourage11225268_10205677861000609_2067042418042894472_n you to show up and listen or comment at tonight’s city council hearing on the Housing Affordability and Livability Committee’s recommendations, which have come under attack from single-family protectionists. Tonight’s public hearing will help the council decide which of the 65 recommendations to set in motion. It will take turnout, support, and continued pressure from urbanists like you and me to ensure they make the right decision and keep the most critical elements of HALA intact.

Iterations of the term “urbanist” have been hotly debated recently (I prefer “reality-based urbanist” myself), but the bottom line is that we all want to ensure that everyone in Seattle–not just wealthy single-family homeowners, not just Amazonian imports, not just those who got here first, but everyone–can live in safe, affordable housing in the city.

This fight is critical, because the council is under tremendous pressure to abandon the very recommendations that will have the most positive impact on affordability. Mayor Ed Murray and several key council members have already abandoned a major, symbolically important HALA recommendation, which would have allowed a greater diversity of housing types (such as duplexes and townhomes) in the 65 percent of Seattle’s land mass that’s currently reserved exclusively for detached single-family homes. Murray, along with council president Tim Burgess and council land-use committee chair Mike O’Brien, walked back their support for that recommendation after angry property owners and neighborhood activists flooded city inboxes with letters of protest and crowded council meetings to voice their complaints about the changes.

I believe that most of the city supports the principles behind the HALA proposals, even if they aren’t familiar with the details, for one simple reason: they provide more affordable housing. Mandatory inclusionary zoning, which would require developers to build affordable housing on site in exchange for the right to build more densely, combined with a new linkage fee on commercial development, would provide 6,000 units of set-aside affordable housing. Other key measures in HALA would expand the boundaries of urban villages to reflect current and future walkability and transit access, increasing supply and limiting the growth of housing costs (which is true no matter how much some progressives insist that supply and demand does not exist).

The opposition to HALA, which has described population growth as a cancer and have suggested single-family homeowners and neighborhood activists should “take back Seattle,” is organized, motivated, and can turn out plenty of people with the means and time to attend midday hearings when most of us are working. Nighttime meetings like this are an ideal opportunity for HALA supporters to show that we, too, deserve a voice at City Hall and in the future of our city.

O’Brien Amendment Sidesteps HALA to Add Months to Small Projects

Image via Division Ave blog.

Last week, after residents in his new council district protested a new live-work development in Ballard, city council member Mike O’Brien took the unusual step of slipping a new design review mandate into an otherwise standard-issue omnibus cleanup bill. The change O’Brien made would require design review–a process that can add more than a year to a project timeline–when the combined development proposals on two adjacent lots exceed the maximum for a single lot according to the city’s design review standards. In low-rise zones, which is where the change is targeted, that means that two adjacent lots under development can’t exceed eight units total. That design-review trigger applies even if two adjacent lots are being developed by different builders; more than eight, and you’re looking at an automatic, time-consuming design review.

The amendment, which O’Brien acknowledges was unorthodox, was intended to address developments like the controversial townhouses going in at 71st and Division in Ballard, where six live/work units will replace a single-family home that sat astride two historic lots; in that case, the developer took advantage of an old lot line that hadn’t been used in decades to build three units per lot.

But the change will have sweeping implications for development potential on smaller lots across the city. O’Brien says the new requirement is “intended to address instances where a developer in a low-rise or neighborhood commercial zone will break a project up into a couple of different projects to avoid going through design review.” O’Brien acknowledges that the city already has plans to overhaul the design review process next year, but says that in the meantime, “we’re going to continue to set rules that are going to allow more and more people to live in Seattle, but there’s got to be an expectation that when we set those rules, they are going to be followed.”

Bruce Harrell, who proposed an unsuccessful amendment stripping the design review changes from the omnibus bill, said at last week’s meeting that although “Council Member O’Brien and the [Planning, Land Use, and Sustainability] committee had some good intentions in mind to protect neighbors from developers circumventing the system and using what could be called loopholes and that kind of thing … I just think it’s a little dangerous to do a one-off in the omnibus legislation,” especially when the HALA committee already plans to take up design review next year.

Continue reading “O’Brien Amendment Sidesteps HALA to Add Months to Small Projects”

Council Endorsement Outtakes, Part 2

This is the second in a two-part series. Part 1 is available here.

Seattle Transit Blog interviewed 18 of the 47 candidates running for Seattle City Council in the seven newly created council districts and two citywide seats before making our endorsements last week. The Board chose candidates who were most closely aligned with its core principles, which include support for thoughtful transit investment, spending on key bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, density and transit-oriented development, and concentration of resources into high-quality corridors. They also gave points to candidates who shared our skepticism of taxes on development and policy that promotes auto-oriented lifestyles. They did not interview candidates who they knew did not share these values, or in their view didn’t have a genuine chance to win, because they didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.

But what if the endorsement doesn’t tell you enough about why they endorsed a certain candidate, supported another more tepidly, or declined to back some candidates with generally progressive values? As I participated in the interviews as an advisor to the Board, I’m posting a few outtakes from our interviews to help guide you in your voting decision, or just entertain you if you’ve already voted and want to confirm you done right.

District 5 

Sandy Brown

On Move Seattle’s funding for sidewalks

There’s less than five percent of our sidewalk needs that are met in Move Seattle. If that’s what we’re going to do for the next nine years, then it’s disappointing. We’ve got to find solutions that include pedestrian infrastructure. We need sidewalks in Broadview. We need sidewalks in Haller Lake. We need sidewalks in North Maple Leaf. We need sidewalks in Lake City. And we’re still a long way from that.

There is a mixed backing for sidewalks in Seattle–that’s one reason I have felt that [a local improvement district] program [Ed: A hyperlocal tax to pay for sidewalks] could be good. We may not get them in every single street, but they should be included in arterials for our master plan.

On the density proposals in HALA

I think [the upzones] will be very unpopular with traditional Seattle, but it’s the way we have to go. If we set up Seattle in such way that every person gets a couple of parking spots per residence, then they’re going to believe they need to drive those cars everywhere. The idea that we could emphasize transit but then still make it easy and inexpensive to have a car–it doesn’t make sense. We don’t want to coerce people into transit, but we have to help people get used to the idea that transit is now the basic way to get around in Seattle. That’s what our future is.

In my district, there’s a multifamily building that’s going in on Fremont Avenue in north Greenlake with no parking. The neighbors are up in arms, but it’s only three blocks from the E Line. Now, the challenge is there isn’t a great grocery store for about eight blocks from there. We have to make sure that there are necessities that are within walking or biking distance, and that’s not always the case.

Mercedes Elizalde (endorsed)

On why transit service should precede anticipated density

Continue reading “Council Endorsement Outtakes, Part 2”

Council Endorsement Outtakes Part 1

Seattle Transit Blog interviewed 18 of the 47 candidates running for Seattle City Council in the seven newly created council districts and two citywide seats before making our endorsements last week. The Board chose candidates who were most closely aligned with its core principles, which include support for thoughtful transit investment, spending on key bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, density and transit-oriented development, and concentration of resources into high-quality corridors. They also gave points to candidates who shared our skepticism of taxes on development and policy that promotes auto-oriented lifestyles. They did not interview candidates who they knew did not share these values, or in their view didn’t have a genuine chance to win, because they didn’t want to waste anyone’s time.

But what if the endorsement doesn’t tell you enough about why they endorsed a certain candidate, supported another more tepidly, or declined to back some candidates with generally progressive values? As I participated in the interviews as an advisor to the Board, I’m posting a few outtakes from our interviews to help guide you in your voting decision, or just entertain you if you’ve already voted and want to confirm you done right.

District 1 (West Seattle)

Brianna Thomas

On her top priorities for funding bus service under last year’s Seattle Proposition 1

In this order, I’ve got to go: Congestion at peak hours. I live in West Seattle. There is one way in, there is one way out, so that’s got to be the first thing I tackle. And then after that, it would have to be just in-district mobility. We’ve got the 22 bus route, which is my bus route [and] the bane of my existence. It comes once an hour, it stops at 8:17 or something ridiculous, and it’s at the bottom of a giant hill. So this is the bus route that I am most invested in. Then, after that the 37 down around Alki. … I would like a bus that goes across the West Seattle Bridge to Beacon Hill. And this is completely selfish, because I have a godbaby over there and it takes me forever to get to his cute face.

On parking minimums

I’m content with rolling them back as long as we’ve got matching infrastructure to go with it in a timely, and I do mean timely, manner.

Next to my apartment building, there are 28 units going in with seven parking spots, and everyone is just like, there’s no way only a quarter of these people are going to have cars. It’s impossible. In District 1, like in South Park, for instance, you’ve kind of got to have a car to get to the grocery store, your job, the bank, the post office. Until we pump up the jam on providing services to these pockets of neighborhoods, it’s impossible to make the argument not to have a car.

Continue reading “Council Endorsement Outtakes Part 1”

Draft Affordable Housing Recommendations: Far Beyond “Abolish Single-Family Zoning”

No longer sacred? Image via Wikimedia Commons.
No longer sacred? Image via Wikimedia Commons.

This afternoon, Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat had an excellent, but inartfully headlined, scoop: Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda committee (HALA–rhymes with balla) could, according to a draft plan leaked to Westneat, recommend doing away with the label “single-family zoning” and replacing it with the more inclusive “low-density residential zone,” which would allow more flexibility to build backyard cottages, duplexes, and other very low-density (but not exclusive single-family) housing types.

The new designation, even if it’s limited to a pilot project, as the draft suggests, would be a stunning rebuke to the supposed sanctity of single-family zoning, which applies to an astonishing 65 percent of all the land in Seattle.

The recommendation seems almost designed to fan the flames of single-family protectionism (ten bucks says the leaker was a disgruntled HALA member who believes he or she benefits from those protections), and Westneat (or his editor) didn’t do urbanists any favors by reporting on the proposal under the inflammatory headline, “Get rid of single-family zoning in Seattle, housing task force says in draft report.” (That headline has since been changed to “Drop single-family zoning, housing panel considers.” By tomorrow it may be “Housing panel considers change,” but the 500-plus unhinged comments on Westneat’s piece suggest the damage is already done.)

Those who believe it’s their God-given right to own a four-bedroom house on a 5,000-square-foot lot and never have to cross paths with a single apartment dweller on their route from house to two-car garage to office tend to see any incursion on that right (including a rule change that allows them to build an apartment for Grandma) as an assault on their way of life.

I mean, how dare those HALA hippies point out the historical fact that single-family zoning was originally designed to keep minorities and poor people out? Don’t they know that exclusive areas for wealthy white homeowners is just the natural order of things? The draft report begs to differ:

Continue reading “Draft Affordable Housing Recommendations: Far Beyond “Abolish Single-Family Zoning””

Licata’s Move Seattle Alternative Isn’t Progressive

nl1City Council member Nick Licata, who’s retiring after his term ends at the end of this year, would like his legacy to include amending Move Seattle, Mayor Ed Murray’s proposed $930 million transportation levy, to be smaller and less dependent on regressive property taxes.

Arguing that voters are approaching tax fatigue and that his alternative is more progressive than the mayor’s proposed property-tax levy, Licata has introduced amendments that would reduce the overall package by $100 million and cut the levy itself to $600 million, with the $230 million difference paid for through the commercial parking tax (which would increase from 12.5 to 17.5 percent) and an annual employee hours tax, paid by businesses, of $18 per employee.

He also proposed an amendment explicitly barring SDOT from spending any Move Seattle Money on streetcars, and another requiring the department to file annual reports showing how they’d spent levy dollars each year.

The cuts and substitutions, Licata said during a briefing on Move Seattle last Tuesday, would reduce the size of the average homeowner’s annual property tax bill to $179 in the first year, compared to the Murray option’s $275. It would also reshuffle the tax burden to employers in a way that appeals to the economic-lefty crowd (the bigger the company, the more it would pay), and to drivers in a way that appeals to the transportation-lefty crowd (drivers would pay more to maintain the roads they use).

Dig about an inch under the surface, however, and the Licata amendments are far less progressive—in both the economic and the political sense—than they appear.

Let’s start with that streetcar amendment. It reads, in its entirety, “None of the Levy Proceeds may be used to build or operate streetcars.” In other words (as an increasingly agitated SDOT director Scott Kubly pointed out last week), no matter how circumstances may change, or how priorities may evolve, or how much outside funding may become available, not a dime of the Move Seattle money could be used on streetcars for the nine-year duration of the levy.

This is no small prohibition.  Currently, Kubly noted, the city is finishing up the First Hill streetcar and may want to extend its northern terminus to Aloha in the future. Under the Licata amendment, the city would have no “flexibility to use the funds [for] the streetcar to have better access to light rail.” With per-mile ridership projected at about double what Link light rail is currently carrying, Kubly said, “This is a real transportation option. It’s not a toy.”

msLicata, a frequent rail opponent during his 18 years on the council, noted that Move Seattle currently includes no explicit references to streetcar, making it only logical to make the prohibition official. “This simply memorializes what was seen as the intent from the mayor,” Licata said. After a test back-and-forth with Kubly about whether the streetcar was or was not inherently a boondoggle, Licata concluded with a pretty cheap shot—”This is new information, that the levy’s intent is to build and operate a streetcar”—to which Kubly responded tersely, “That’s a mischaracterization of what I said.”

Although the Licata streetcar prohibition seems unlikely to pass, it did give Licata a chance to throw shade at rail investments, and on the mayor’s transit-oriented development agenda more broadly. Fixed rail is generally seen as more conducive to TOD (because a transit system that stays in place can be the foundation of a stable community in ways that buses can’t), but it’s also associated with gentrification and extra cost. Hence the tension.

In comparison, the parking and “head tax” should be no-brainers, right? Both are progressive—the former in the sense that it discourages driving by making it more expensive, the latter because big corporations pay more because they have more employees. Unfortunately, neither case is that clear-cut.

To start with the head tax: The trouble isn’t that employers pay it (Licata’s argument that it will “help shift the burden away from homeowners and renters” and onto big businesses is compelling). The problem is that in the service of making the tax more “user-friendly” and easier to implement (last time, businesses complained that the tax required too much paperwork), the Licata amendment eliminates the very provisions that made it progressive (in the environmental sense) in the first place—exemptions for employers who encouraged their workers to find another way to work besides driving alone. It was those exemptions that employers found onerous—as Licata noted, “80 percent of their complaints were about paperwork”—so Licata simply eliminated them. In the form Licata proposes, the tax would be easier for employers and give them no incentive to invest in alternatives to single-occupancy car commuting.


Although the commercial parking tax avoids this problem (there’s a direct nexus, or linkage if you will, between driving and paying to park your car), increasing the city’s already-controversial 12.5 percent parking tax by 40 percent is inherently regressive (in the economic sense). Because the tax is the same whether you’re driving a 1990s Honda or a late-model Jaguar, lower-income drivers will be hit hardest by the tax. Even if you believe, as I do, that it’s generally good policy to discourage driving and encourage alternatives, it’s undeniable that flat taxes, like the sales tax, hit poor people the hardest.

Moreover, a large increase in the parking tax for Move Seattle would tie up transportation funding capacity that could be used for other purposes in the future, such as in-city bus service. That’s one reason Transportation Choice Coalition program director Shefali Ranganathan said her group opposed using the tax to replace part of the proposed levy, because “there may be other uses” for the tax.

Finally, Licata’s proposal relies on the notion that voters are afflicted with “tax fatigue” and may balk at a $930 million but have no problem with a $600 million alternative. The consequences “if the public believes this is too large a bite of the apple,” Licata said, could be dire. First, the levy would have to wait at least two years, since the housing levy is up for renewal in 2016. In the meantime, SDOT would have to lay off a quarter of its staff and stop doing many of its core functions, Licata said. And that’s assuming another levy would pass in 2017. In other words, disaster.

Instead, Licata said last week, “Maybe the best approach is doing this [amended version] now to get the levy to pass at a smaller level. .. The goal here is to provide the best transportation package we can afford, and one that we are fairly certain the voters will vote for.”

The tax fatigue prediction will be familiar to anyone who reads the Seattle Times‘ editorial page–stretch the voters to their breaking point and eventually they’ll snap. With the exception of 2014’s county-wide Proposition 1, that alarmist prediction has never come true. In Seattle, there are approximately zero people who will vote against a $930 million package because of “tax fatigue” who will suddenly vote for it at $600  million. To the contrary, a smaller package does less for fewer parts of the city, meaning that fewer people will see value in voting for it.

Ultimately, a levy, or taxing package, will live or die based on whether voters think it’s worth the money, and whether it will help them get from Point A to Point B. Council members should scrutinize the details of the proposal, but squeezing it down to less than what we need and shrinking its impact on property owners out of fear that they’ll vote against it if they aren’t properly pandered to is a strategy for failure.

Does Roderick’s 10,000-Foot Transit Plan Have Wings?

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City council candidate John Roderick, one of two leading contenders to take on council member Tim Burgess in citywide Position 8 in the November general election (the other is tenants advocate Jon Grant), recently unveiled the centerpiece of his transportation plan.

No, not funiculars or gondolas or any of the other far-fetched (supporters would say far-sighted) ideas you’ll hear him expound about at forums. What Roderick, along with Alon Bassok, a less-viable candidate in the other citywide position, is proposing is something he calls “neighborhood rail.” The idea is to build a system of short-line rail connections between neighborhoods in the north, south, and west sectors of Seattle that operate largely independent of each other, using existing bus and rail lines to connect people over water crossings. The streetcars would not cross the ship canal, saving enough money in bridge and tunnel construction to bring the price down, in Roderick and Bassock’s estimation, to $1 billion for 75 to 100 miles of streetcar rail. After the system is built, ongoing maintenance would be funded by an employee hours tax, known derisively as a head tax.

The idea would be to supplement regional systems like Sound Transit with a city-only rail system that serves “people who live and work in our great city,” according to the text of the proposal—emphasis on and. “This would be a transit network for people who live in the city,” Roderick says, and it would be paid for entirely by city dwellers. The idea is similar in principle to former mayor Mike McGinn’s plan to build a go-it-alone rail system, which would also have been funded by city-only taxes. That shouldn’t be too surprising—Roderick says McGinn, who has endorsed him, was one of his advisors on the plan.

After looking over the three-page, 10,000-foot-level proposal, I had so, so many questions. Among them: Was $1 billion just a nice, round number, or does Roderick think the city can actually build 100 miles of rail for $10 million a mile? Does he consider regionalism a bad thing? Is this proposal, which would require a significant increase in property taxes (Roderick and Bassock estimate around $200 per year for the average household), a whack at Mayor Ed Murray’s $930 million Move Seattle property tax proposal? And how does he expect to afford the kind of right-of-way that would be necessary to give each streetcar “its own lane, priority at traffic signals, and … complete separat[ion] from traffic”?

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Seattle’s Parking Proposals are Reality-Size

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City council member Tom Rasmussen stopped by the council’s planning and land use committee this week to express his view that the city’s new parking recommendations—which would, among other things, continue to allow new developments to be built sans parking, while encouraging alternatives to driving such as carsharing, biking, and riding transit—might violate the city’s Comprehensive Plan.

The recommendations (all meeting materials available here) were based on a survey of 219 newly reviewed or permitted residential developments in parts of Seattle where no parking is required, which found that three-quarters of developers are choosing to build parking anyway, despite the fact that parking adds between $20,000 and $50,000 per space to the cost of new developments (or about $500 a month per unit in rent) and reduces the total number of units that can fit in a development. The market, not the government, determines whether a developer chooses to build parking.

The developments with parking comprised 16,600 units; only 2,400 units in the survey will have no parking, mostly in places with easy access to frequent transit such as Capitol Hill, the Central District, Ballard, and the U District. The rest will average 0.55 spaces per unit.

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A separate survey, King County’s “Right-Sized Parking” study, found that in Seattle, about 35 percent of parking spaces in multifamily buildings go unused, becoming, in planning committee chair Mike O’Brien’s words, “a wasted resource.”

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The Shoreline Rule

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Last Wednesday, I gave up.

I paid a $124 fine for a ticket I did not believe I deserved, a ticket from a Sound Transit fare enforcement officer who at first told me I would only receive a warning, after fully intending to challenge the ticket in court.

What changed my mind? In the end, I just couldn’t stomach the Shoreline Rule, which says that, in order to challenge a ticket from Sound Transit or King County Metro, no matter where that ticket was issued, you have to travel all the way to King County District Court in Shoreline. If you live in Shoreline or far north Seattle, bully for you. If you have a car, more power. But if you’re transit-dependent like I am, and live in any other part of the county (I’m in Southeast Seattle, which is hardly the hinterlands), your only option is to get a ride from a friend (good luck doing that on a weekday at 10am), or take the bus.

Don’t blame the county or Sound Transit. Both agencies told me they have nothing to do with the Shoreline Rule. Blame, instead, King County District Court Presiding Judge Donna Tucker, who signs the General Administration Orders (most recently in March of this year) directing where various case types are adjudicated, and whether the court can hear challenges in more than one location.

“State law says the county district court handles our fare enforcement,” says ST spokesman Geoff Patrick. “We don’t have the ability to tell them what to do. It’s their decision.” King County’s Rochelle Ogershok confirms the same is true at King County.

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A Belated, but Welcome, Proposal to Fix the Mount Baker Mess

Image via SDOT.
Image via SDOT.

Last Thursday, SDOT’s Accessible Mount Baker project manager Michael James—a youthful guy with an indifferently tucked shirt and an eager smile, presented an intriguing, but still unfunded, proposal to improve the transit, bike, and pedestrian connections around and between the Mount Baker light rail station on the west side of MLK and the Mount Baker Transit Center on the east side of Rainier.

The meeting, held in the windowless Kings Hall building behind the station, turned out a few dozen committed residents for tortilla wraps, a mixed-fruit platter, and a detailed discussion of what the station area might look like in the hands of SDOT’s “Accessible Mount Baker” team.

Although the city hasn’t identified any specific funding source for the project, expected to take up to a year to build, James said it was consistent with SDOT director Scott Kubly’s vision for spending the money raised by the Move Seattle levy, an ambitious $900 million proposal that will, if voters approve it in November, be roughly twice the size of the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy it would replace.

Like Martin, I can attest that the Mount Baker rail station and the flat concrete expanse of the Mount Baker Transit Center across the street are underdeveloped, poorly connected, and confusing even to a longtime transit rider like myself.

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SDOT Will Finally Make Rainier Safer

The 7 & Mount Rainier

Photo by Oran

Walking up Rainier Ave. S toward the Columbia School for a community meeting on SDOT’s latest Rainier Avenue safety proposal last Thursday night, I was struck once again by what a dangerous and inconvenient street Rainier is for pretty much anyone who isn’t driving a car. Once upon a time I biked to work on Rainier almost daily, a practice that prompted City Council member and fellow cyclist Sally Clark to write a blog post, titled “Hey, Erica,” suggesting three circuitous but very helpful safer routes from Columbia City to downtown. In 2008, the council quietly shelved a proposal to reduce Rainier from four or five lanes to three, including a turning lane, at a time when the street had nearly 30 times as many crashes, per rider, as the Burke-Gilman Trail. (In 2006, the city’s updated bike master plan acknowledged that “improvement [was] needed” on Rainier, but proposed no actual improvements.)

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Photo via SDOT

After years of Band-Aid upgrades to nonmotorized street users’ safety – a pedestrian-activated crossing here, a safety-promoting yard sign there – it looks like the city is getting serious about safety on at least a portion of this fast-moving, accident-prone urban highway.

On Thursday, as part of Mayor Ed Murray’s “Vision Zero” transportation strategy (the zero refers to traffic deaths and serious injuries), SDOT staff presented three scenarios for reducing speeds and improving safety on Rainier. Notably, all three included rechannelization, or a “road diet.” Perhaps it’s a testament to Murray’s coalition-centric leadership style, or a reflection of his predecessor Mike McGinn’s more contentious reputation. Perhaps it’s changing attitudes and the shift away from driving alone. Whatever the reason, what was once unthinkable (a road diet? On Rainier?) is now Plan A, Plan B, and Plan C. After years of indecision from SDOT, it finally appears there’s no turning back.

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