Frank Chiachiere came of age riding transit on the East Coast, and has lived in Seattle for nearly 20 years. In 2007 he started the local transit blog Orphan Road, and began writing for STB in 2012. By day, he works as a digital product designer.
As you may have noticed, August was extra quiet here at STB. This is the result of combination of factors hitting all at once, including some of our contributors moving on to other priorities.
But September is here, Northgate Link is less than 30 days away, and we’re back, or at least we aim to be. But we need your help. If you have ever thought “hey, it might be interesting to write something for STB,” now is the time! Drop us an email, firstname.lastname@example.org.
PS: to clarify, we’re mostly interested right now in volunteer / unpaid submissions, although we are ramping up our ability to offer paid freelance assignments as well. More to say on that in the future!
SDOT and Metro gave a presentation (PDF) to the Transit Advisory Board this week after this month’s online open house. According to the presentation, the planning phase is wrapping up and we’ll start design soon. Good to see so many of the ideas from last year’s work still on the agenda.
Sound off in the comments if you spot any important changes.
The Port of Seattle Commission approved funds for a Pier 86 Public Fishing Pier restoration study, in partnership with Expedia Group and the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife. The Cost and Feasibility study will allow the Port and its partners to determine the technical requirements and potential costs of construction of rebuilding the public fishing pier at Pier 86 with a “ferry float” to support commuter service to the Expedia Campus and surrounding area.
Joe O’Sullivan, at The Seattle Times, on the state’s first carbon cap-and-trade system:
SB 5126 creates a system to cap carbon pollution and greenhouse gas emissions and sets specific limits for individual businesses, according to a news statement. Those businesses would have to then purchase credits for allowed emissions.
Businesses emitting fewer greenhouse gases than the credits allotted them could then sell their credits to businesses that aren’t reducing emissions as quickly, according to the statement. The overall pool of carbon credits are to be gradually reduced by 2050, in order to hit a goal of net-zero emissions.
The money collected by the state would go toward, among other things, projects intended to reduce emissions from transportation and increase resiliency to climate change.
That can presumably include transit projects, though the word “transit” doesn’t appear in the legislative analysis. The Senate’s cap-and-trade proposal beat out the House’s proposed carbon tax.
The Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) Coalition urges the Seattle City Council to follow the outreach process it mandated when passing a $20 vehicle license fee (VLF) in November 2020. The Seattle Department of Transportation engaged stakeholders and struck a careful balance in its spending proposal that incorporated the City’s stated priorities of safety, climate action, mobility justice, and equity. SDOT’s proposal would invest 73% of the VLF on walking, rolling, and biking, while spending 24% on bridge maintenance.
The SDOT proposal is very reasonable and balanced. Council ought to propose bridge maintenance as part of the next capital levy in 2024. Doug Trumm at The Urbanist has some good suggestions on what such a plan might look like.
One year ago, in 2020, the problem the Board was tasked to address stemmed from a massive revenue shortfall due to a pandemic-induced recession; now, the overwhelming problem is unforeseen cost increases. With this change, we may need to reevaluate our approach. Are the assumptions that led to cost increases in the evaluated projects likely to lead to increases in the remaining realignment portfolio? What has been the average cost increase in recent projects? How should the agency approach a cost-related gap differently than a revenue-related gap?
The concern is that projects will get unnecessarily delayed while the tax revenue shortfalls end up being less severe than expected. I see where they’re coming from, but it’s hard to see how more delay gets projects delivered more quickly.
Reading between the lines, and judging by the signatories, the letter seems like an effort to keep the board from prematurely punting Ballard and West Seattle too far out into the future. Especially since the second downtown tunnel – another priority shared by this trio – fares well in most phasing scenarios.
My idiosyncratic habit of scanning the Daily Journal of Commerce headlines paid off this week when I noticed a piece by Brian Miller about plans to replace The Rainier Valley Lowe’s with an Amazon warehouse and shared it on Twitter. It caught my eye as I’ve been a frequent shopper at that Lowe’s since before Central Link opened, and not a visit went by without me lamenting that the former Sick’s Stadium site could be put to better use.
Turns out it a fewother people shared my lament. A few thoughts…
First, it’s interesting to go back and re-read some of the contemporaneous accounts of the debate over the re-zone of that area in 2014. While the city wanted to make the area into a houing-and-jobs hub, many people wanted to preserve their local hardware store, which to its credit had been a long-time presence in the Rainier Valley at a time when many national chains had stayed away. Opponents of the plan wanted “NO REZONE / Jobs NOT Apts.” Mission accomplished I guess?
Second, Bruce Harrell, then about to become a candidate in the new District 2 and now running for mayor, cast the lone vote of dissent. Per Erica Barnett’s reporting at the time, Harrell argued, “The prudent decision would be to do nothing and continue with the dialogue. We don’t have any developers knocking on the door and saying, we need to have the heights lifted.” Mike O’Brien hoped it would become a university campus.
Third, we all need to think harder about the future of retail and what it means for urban spaces. People keep buying stuff from Amazon and so Amazon will need more distribution centers closer to where the people are. This isn’t just a Seattle problem. It’s good to have these distribution sites close to people. It’s bad that Seattle’s zoning means that a relatively small sliver of city land has to do all the work of multifamily housing and industry. How might these distribution centers be made to work better in an urban campus?
Finally, city hall ought to do some soul searching. The fact that no housing developer outbid the warehouse for the land is revealing. How much can we squeeze developers in exchange for affordable housing? Are we confident we’ve set the MHA dials correctly, especially in a world of more remote work? Do we want to encourage housing near transit or are we so confident that it will happen that we can extract concessions from it? And how much should we rely on payments from a few big projects to meet our affordable housing goals? I wish I were as confident as some about the answers to these questions. But maybe, just maybe, it isn’t the best idea to pin all our housing hopes on a few large lots while continuing to outlaw apartment buildings in two thirds of the city.
King County Metro and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) have been working in partnership on the Route 40 Transit-Plus Multimodal Corridor Project. The goal of the project is to reduce bus travel times by 5-10% during peak periods, improve transit service reliability, and make it safer and easier to access transit.
Lots of Red paint in Fremont and along Westlake Ave, which will benefit not just the 40 but also the 31, 32 and 62. A few rechannelizations on Leary and a Northbound-only bus lane on Leary and Holman to help reliability in the PM peak (where most of the reliability issues occur).
Also welcome is a Southbound bus lane on N 36th in Fremont which could act as a queue jump, moving the bus to the front of the line when the bridge is up.
Drop-in session today at noon if you want to learn more and comment. Be sure to take the survey and let them know you support all this good stuff.
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.
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.
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.
The 3rd Ave and Denny Way Signal Improvements Project will be modifying signals, updating existing trolley poles, and reconstruct the triangular block of 3rd Ave, Broad St, and Denny Way to improve transit operation and reliability in this part of downtown.
Thus the beginning of the end for one of the longer-running minor subplots here on STB. Thanks to Move Seattle levy funds, Belltown-Queen Anne buses will get their own signal and have a more direct, reliable path across Denny Way.
You can read our exhaustive coverage going back nearly nine years: 2012, 2013, (2013 again), 2014.
Beginning today, January 11, 2021, the automated photo enforcement system on the Spokane St Swing Bridge (low bridge) will turn on, and unauthorized low bridge users will be subject to a $75 citation for every trip across the low bridge.
To keep the low bridge clear for emergency vehicles – as well as transit and heavy freight – we’re saying, “don’t go low.” Instead, please use alternate routes when traveling to and from West Seattle by car. We will be monitoring low bridge traffic volumes in early 2021, and the data from January and future months will inform whether we can expand access. See our webpage for more details.
West Seattle folks – let us know in the comments if anything’s improved.
This makes new bill more responsive to the specific budget problems each agency is facing due to COVID. Many regions underfunded in the CARES Act (like New York and Seattle) are now in line to receive proportionally more from this package. Others received aid greater than 75% of their operating costs in the CARES Act, so they would not get additional funds through this bill. Many fall in between, with grants that bring them up to the 75% cap.
Yonah Freemark has more estimates on Twitter:
The bulk of the funds will presumably go to Metro and Sound Transit.
New vaccines put hope on the horizon, but we are in for tough months ahead and an even tougher recovery.
As mayor approaching the last year of my term, that meant a choice. I can spend the next year campaigning to keep this job or I can focus all my energy on doing the job — a job that will face all the similar difficulties of 2020.
There was only one right choice for our city: doing the job. Next year will be consequential to our recovery and the trajectory of our city.
Durkan’s term will be no doubt remembered for this summer’s protests — her announcement comes the same day that a federal Judge held the Seattle PD in contempt for its use of tear gas — as well as the fights with City Council over Amazon and the head tax.
But the mayor also had a knack for bold chin-stroking pronouncements, like congestion pricing and the 15-minute city, that made for good headlines but were never truly operationalized (though there’s still a year to make good on them!).
The 2021 race should be interesting, to say the least. It seems likely that more than one Seattle City Council member will try for the big chair, along with the usual cast of first-time contenders and maybe even some old names getting back in the ring.
Sound Transit has another online open house up, now with more details on station locations and elevation. We’ve covered the alignment alternatives in previous posts, so let’s focus on the stations. Two notes to start with: first, if you like mezzanines, you are in for a treat! Second, opening dates are pushed out past 2035 due to COVID, though that could slip further pending reprioritization discussions at the board level.
Links go directly to station images or pages where appropriate.
Today, Mayor Jenny A. Durkan announced that she has instructed the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to restore travel across the Duwamish by repairing the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. SDOT has nearly completed Phase I of this two-part repair process, as the stabilization work concludes in December. She also directed SDOT to continue early design work for an eventual replacement of the bridge.
“Fast, cheap, good: pick two” is the old project management saw and the city appears to have chosen “fast and cheap.” The bridge could be open just around the time (2022) a COVID-19 vaccine is widely distributed and “normal” commute patterns reassert themselves.
Neither Sound Transit nor the city seemed super keen on a joint car-rail bridge, which could have put the light rail schedule at risk. So the options came down to a 1-for-1 replacement or a repair.
Kicking the can down the road and waiting to see what happens in a post-COVID world makes some sense, but won’t come without a cost. A replacement would have been eligible for outside funding, while repairs will likely have to come out of the city’s general maintenance funds, which are already stretched, or via a car tab fee, taking money that used to be earmarked for transit.
Many walking, biking and transit investments promised by the 2015 Move Seattle Levy vote face delays and cuts while major high-dollar car-centric projects got priority. Perhaps we need to rethink how we fund these projects in our city. And we also need to go a lot bigger. The Move Seattle Levy is set to expire at the end of 2024, the first time the 9-year levy renewal pattern will fall on a very-high-turnout Presidential election year.
I think this is right, and it’s also the story of Sound Transit. Recall that the original ST2 was a a combined “roads and transit” measure that flopped in 2007, only to come back as a transit-only package and win handily in 2008.
Give Seattle specific transit projects to vote on and they will generally say yes. Heck, even the Monorail needed five tries to finally lose at the polls.
ST3’s finances and COVID delays mean it’s unlikely we’ll see a regional ST4 package in 2024, but Seattle can absolutely be thinking about an ambitious capital project in that timeline, perhaps something from Seattle Subway’s list.