How to park at Northgate Station

Something else debuted this month alongside three new Link stations. Can you guess what it was? No? Surprise: it was Sound Transit’s first parking garage inside the Seattle city limits.

Woo-hoo?

Now, the official position of Seattle Transit Blog is that building parking garages near train stations is generally not the best use of taxpayer money (sometime obscenely wasteful, in fact). But of course Sound Transit, the board, and probably a healthy chunk of the electorate disagrees with us here, so ST continues to build parking garages, making gradual steps to even charge for their usage.

So ideally you should walk, bike, bus or roll to the station. But let’s say you’ve decided to take a car, because, say, an unscrupulous real estate agent sold you a house with “close to light rail” in the description when in fact the nearest station was 40 minutes away via an infrequent bus line.

Whatever your reasons, you’ll find several parking garages and lots in the immediate vicinity of the station.

  • The Metro Park & Ride (one corner of which is slated to become affordable housing, after much back and forth)
  • Thornton Place (the movie theater)
  • Northgate Mall (first two levels)
  • And a brand new Sound Transit-built garage, which we have written about going back nearly a decade.

Most of the lots are free to park. Just don’t park in mall parking. The exception is Sound Transit’s, which charges $15 but only on the top floor, attempting to ensure at least some weekday availability for commuters.

Speaking of which, there’s something humorous (to me, at least) about the signage, which refers to all riders as “commuters.” Sound Transit’s singular focus on work trips as the main reason one might ride public transit trickles all the way down to the wayfinding department, apparently.

When I visited, during a Husky game, one of the Northgate lots was selling Husky game parking. Maybe car-storage next to a train station is worth paying for after all?

Eastside’s exclusionary community council is on the ballot

The Houghton Community Council, which controls land use and other policies for a large chunk of central Kirkland, is up for renewal in November. We wrote about the HCC (and its sibling, the East Bellevue Community Council) back in 2017, when it was working to water down mixed-use development near the Google campus:

The Kirkland City Council has yet to review the proposal, but can only rubber stamp it (a first study session is scheduled for Tuesday). The undersized zoning changes are the creation of the Houghton Community Council (HCC). The HCC has veto power over land use changes in most of Kirkland south of 68th St, and will block any Kirkland Council action that differs from their proposal.

Community Councils (“municipal corporations” in state law) were authorized by the Legislature in 1967 to ease annexation into larger cities, and were generally viewed as transitional arrangements. There were never many, and most were dissolved over time even though state law does not require a sunset. Just two remain. The Houghton Council dates to the annexation of the city of Houghton to Kirkland in 1968. 

It’s worth emphasizing that these CC’s aren’t like the informal advisory boards that exist in Seattle. They have real power, and the ~10,000 residents of Houghton vote every four years to retain that power, inequitable as it may be. This time around, there’s an active campaign against renewal. From the “No on 1” website:

Continue reading “Eastside’s exclusionary community council is on the ballot”

Sound Transit begins new fare ambassador pilot

Sound Transit:

The Fare Ambassador Pilot Program grew out of passenger feedback and community engagement that expressed discomfort with fare enforcement officers who resemble law enforcement. In response, Fare Ambassadors wear bright yellow caps, and carry yellow messenger bags that make them easy to recognize. Their focus is on passenger education and customer service rather than enforcement, with particular emphasis on how to purchase ORCA cards and passes and how income-eligible passengers can obtain ORCA LIFT cards.

“We want all passengers to feel comfortable asking Fare Ambassadors for assistance, whether they need help getting to their destination, or they’re having trouble purchasing fare,” said Sound Transit Chief Passenger Experience and Innovation Officer Russ Arnold. “Fare Ambassadors are here to provide help.”

Riders can expect to see the yellow caps starting this week. Read our previous coverage of fare enforcement here.

News Roundup: coming back

This is an open thread

Know any good writers?

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, contact@seattletransitblog.com.

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!

Link frequencies will increase on June 12

Sound Transit:

Good news, Link riders: light rail frequency will increase starting June 12. 

Link will run every eight minutes during peak hours and every 10 minutes during midday and weekends to help passengers get where they want to go – and return to their normal routines. 

During late evenings, Link will run every 15 minutes.

Currently, Link runs every 12 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes during off-peak hours, with frequency every 30 minutes in late evenings.

One more step towards normal.

Smith cove ferry service?

The Port of Seattle:

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.

No routes are proposed, so it’s hard to say what the value would be here, especially once the Link station opens at Smith Cove (express to Alki?) But it’s impressive that they found a possible ferry location that was ignored by the 2008 passenger ferry study, the 2015 passenger ferry study, and the 2020 passenger ferry study.

Legislature passes a carbon cap

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.

MASS statement on the Seattle VLF

From our partners at Move All Seattle Sustainably:

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.

ST board members want more time for realignment

Letter from Claudia Balducci, Dow Constantine and Jenny Durkan to the Sound Transit board:

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.

On (ware)housing in Mt. Baker

Accessible Mt. Baker Plan (SDOT)

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 few other 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.

Route 40 online open house

Metro:

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’ ambitious electrification goals

Seattle’s Clean Transportation Electrification Blueprint (via the Seattle Times):

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.

Sounds great! Also perhaps a bit ambitious for an administration that kills bike lanes and prioritizes car traffic at the hint of neighborhood opposition. Or a city council that hemmed and hawed last year about whether to add an additional five-hundredths of a percent to a sales tax for transit.

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.

However, Metro is scaling back it’s electrification and expansion plans, so the city may have a problem securing the copious bus service this plan assumes.

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.

Denny Way & 3rd Ave bus improvements…finally

Denny Way at 3rd Ave (Google Maps)

From the SDOT blog:

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.