News roundup: delayed

Free transit this weekend, new ORCA on Monday

King County Metro:

The current ORCA website will be permanently shut down at 11:59 p.m. tonight, Thursday, May 12, and will transition to the new site on May 16.  Customers can still add cash to their cards at vending machines, customer service locations and participating retailers.

In order to transition to the new ORCA system, fares will not be collected between 3 a.m. Saturday, May 14, and 2:59 a.m. Monday, May 16, on most area transit systems.

Ride your heart out.

SDOT shuffles the scooter & bike share mix

Ethan Bergerson, SDOT blog:

After careful review, we selected three scooter companies to receive operation permits for 2022–2023: LimeLINK (by Superpedestrian), and Bird. In addition to scooters, riders continue to have the option of renting shared bicycles from Lime and Veo.

In addition to welcoming back Lime and LINK (by Superpedestrian), we are excited to welcome Bird. Bird operates in over 400 cities and has a demonstrated commitment to safety and sustainability. They will bring their newest third generation of scooters to Seattle, which offers a safer ride and longer battery life than their earlier models.

It wasn’t that long ago that bike share seemed to be on the way out in favor of scooters.

Sound Transit’s CEO search

Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times:

Above all, the position “requires incredible soft skills,” the search firm, CPS-HR of Sacramento, heard from staff and interest groups. “Most often, we heard about the need to listen,” a report said.

While relevant to any top executive, the feedback reflects worries by the board about reliving Rogoff’s first year, when colleagues complained to the human resources department about his abrasive manner. Rogoff apologized, narrowly escaped being fired, and completed executive coaching.

“I think it’s a great callout. A leader does need to have soft skills and we certainly need that in a CEO,” said board Chair Kent Keel, a council member from University Place near Tacoma. Keel mentioned a distinction between hard-charging “East Coast” and a subtler “West Coast” public agency culture.

Are we building consensus or are we building public transit?

Soft skills are fine, if what Keel means balancing stakeholder interests while building useful and usable transit projects. If he means the Seattle Process on steroids, that’s deeply concerning. The primary goal is to provide excellent and useful transit, not simply appease the squeakiest wheels, who often times don’t actually care about great rider experiences.

There is simply no transit agency in America attempting to build anything as ambitious as ST3 (arguably excepting Los Angeles?). The agency probably needs to look overseas, to Europe or Asia, where complicated transit projects actually get built in a reasonable frame for a reasonable budget.

Portland’s driving dilemma

The New York Times recently ran an excellent feature on Portland’s efforts to curb emissions while still building highways:

But despite Portland’s efforts, the number of cars and trucks on its roads has kept rising as the city and its suburbs have grown — along with tailpipe pollution that is warming the planet. While Portland has set ambitious climate goals, the city is not on track to meet its targets, largely because emissions from transportation remain stubbornly high.

Now the city faces a fresh challenge: To deal with traffic jams, state officials want to expand several major highways around Portland. Critics say that will only increase pollution from cars and trucks at a time when emissions need to fall, and fast.

The overall contours will be quite familiar to Seattle residents, but the chart comparing Portland and Seattle-area emissions per capita is quite an eye-popper.

San Francisco’s Van Ness BRT

The ROI on bus lanes is remarkable:

Another benefit of the lanes is a more consistent trip time for riders. Travel-time variability decreased by up to 26% northbound and 55% southbound, according to the data. And the lanes appear to have encouraged more people to take the bus, with ridership increasing 13% in the first week the Bus Rapid Transit lanes were in service, a pattern that has remained consistent in the following weeks, Tumlin said.

Eliminating cash fares

Erica has an excellent overview of Metro’s latest report on the possibility:

In a recent report on the future of Metro’s fare system, the agency outlined its plans for smoothing the transition to eliminating cash fares, which—according to Metro—will make boarding faster, ease conflicts between riders and drivers, and eliminate the need to periodically repair Metro’s 1,509 on-board fareboxes, which are a decades-old model that is no longer being produced. Replacing fareboxes with new ones that accommodate cash payments would cost around $29 million, Metro estimates—a substantial cost for a system that is still recovering from the pandemic. Cash riders also have to pay a second fare to transfer to Sound Transit trains and buses, a problem that will only become more acute as Metro terminates more routes at light rail stations.

The flip side is access: many people simply don’t have ORCA cards. It would be impossible to even contemplate until next-gen ORCA is more widespread. Getting ORCA cards into more pockets is always a good thing, and if this facilitates wider distribution of ORCA LIFT and other similar low-income programs, all the better.

New ORCA app and website coming next month

MyORCA.com:

Beginning in May 2022, the new myORCA mobile app and website will make paying for transit rides in the Puget Sound region faster and easier.

Later in 2022, we’re adding more retail locations where you can buy and reload ORCA cards and launching a new card design.

MyORCA replaces the aging orcacard.com and orcacard.biz sites, which was never really usable on mobile phones (and barely usable on desktops). It will include exciting new features like instant fare uploading. There will be a virtual open house on May 4 to learn more.

It’s the first milestone for the next-generation ORCA system. Previous coverage of next-generation ORCA here and here.

Local agencies lift mask requirements

After a somewhat confused day of messaging, all local transit agencies jointly lifted their mask requirements after a federal judge knocked down the CDC’s rule. David Kroman in the Times:

Immediately after the Monday ruling, Seattle-area agencies largely kept their current policies in place, albeit without strong enforcement mechanisms. By late Monday and early Tuesday, however, that shifted.

Eight Seattle-area transit agencies — Community TransitEverett TransitKing County MetroKitsap TransitPierce TransitSeattle Department of Transportation, Seattle Center Monorail and Sound Transit — said in a joint statement Tuesday that masks are now optional.

The rule was set to expire on May 3. The administration may appeal.

Put First Hill back on the table?

As Sound Transit has moved the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) through the EIS process, several challenges have emerged, with early concerns focused on the Ballard and West Seattle termini. These are nowhere near solved, but a compromise alignment seems within reach.

The middle of the line is another question: serious disruption in Chinatown / ID, deep stations with poor transfers, and some really complicated maneuvering and bridging required in SODO to add a second set of tracks that isn’t strictly necessary. Meanwhile, the only palatable option in CID, a shallow 4th Avenue station, adds $500M to the project budget and has some nasty impacts.

So, since it’s Saturday and we’re waiting for the EIS comment period to close, let us indulge ourselves in an alternative alignment through downtown that avoids some of these problems.

Continue reading “Put First Hill back on the table?”

Diagramming station depths

Sound transit has a blog post up that pairs well with our recent discussions of transfers and deep stations:

As people have begun to study the recently published Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS), some have wondered about the depths of the stations and what the rider experience would be like to access the platforms and transfer between lines.

There are several factors in the Downtown segment that influence the depths of the tunnel stations.

In addition to physical considerations like existing terrain, soil properties, and existing underground infrastructure or building foundations, geometric design constraints imposed by the depths of adjacent stations also may determine how deep underground a station must be built.

Click through for a visual comparison of the station depths. You can see that a “shallow” station on 4th in the CD would be deeper than Capitol Hill, for example. Or that a deep station in the CID would require an even deeper Midtown one.

Regarding Midtown, one interesting idea that’s stuck with me is, given the steepness of the hill, a street-level entrance on 2nd & Madison, with a long pedestrian tunnel, could connect directly to a 5th & Madison station that would otherwise be only accessible by elevator.

No good options in CID

Lizz Giordano, South Seattle Emerald:

The CID is preparing for a messy buildout for the West Seattle-Ballard Light Rail Extension that will run a second set of tracks through the neighborhood. After weighing options studied in a newly released planning document, many in the CID say the choice is clear: lay tracks under 4th Avenue to avoid taking land from the Chinatown Historic District.

The existing light rail line, with its 19 stations including the existing one in the CID, began operating in 2009 and now runs from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to Northgate. For the new extensions, Sound Transit is considering building the CID station below 4th or 5th Avenues, just south of Jackson Street not far from the existing light rail station. Only the route along 4th Avenue bypasses the neighborhood, preserving buildings in the CID. 

Sound Transit sill has fourth options for Chinatown / International District (CID). 4th or 5th Avenues, deep or shallow stations. None of them are great. Deep stations have crappy transfers to the existing CID station. Shallow stations are very disruptive, as the article suggests. 4th Avenue adds half a billion in costs (roughly the cost of a West Seattle tunnel). could displace Metro’s Ryerson Base, and would make Stadium Station permanently inaccessible for riders coming North from Tacoma / Ranier Valley. Here are the gory details from the Draft EIS:

Chinatown residents have a strong case that 5th Avenue would be devastating to the neighborhood, and the result would only be marginally beneficial for a neighborhood that already has excellent transit access. While shallow stations are disruptive, deep stations completely fail to offer acceptable transfer options between the 1 Line and the 3 Line. If I were Mayor Harrell, newly installed on the Sound Transit board, I’d be prodding city and ST staff for more creative options here.

Commute Seattle’s 2021 mode survey

Madeline Feig, Commute Seattle blog:

However, the pandemic significantly altered travel behavior, and this year’s data broke from these historic trends. Comparing 2019 to 2021, the share of remote work among all Downtown commuter modes increased by 36 percentage points, to 43.3% of all surveyed trips. The percentage of transit trips, once at an eight-year high, dropped from nearly 50% to 18%. Walk/bike and rideshare trips decreased slightly, while the percentage of those driving alone to work remained flat.

The chart above puts in context what I think we all know anecdotally to be true: working from home soared, while transit use cratered.

Seeing these numbers and reading about more employees opting to work from home, I began to worry about the future of the ORCA Business Passport program, which sustains so much of transit agencies’ revenue. So I phoned Madeline Feig to ask whether commuter benefit programs were at risk of being slashed.

Feig noted that Seattle’s Commuter Benefit Ordinance, which went into effect just about the time Covid started showing up in the US, requires “businesses with 20 or more employees… to offer their employees the opportunity to make a monthly pre-tax payroll deduction for transit or vanpool expenses.” For many businesses, especially small ones, offering an ORCA card is the simplest way of complying with the law. No complicated reimbursement forms required.

WA Dems propose a $16B transpo package

I-405 near Canyon Park. Photo by SounderBruce

Marko Liias:

OLYMPIA – On Tuesday, Senate and House Transportation Committee Chairs Sen. Marko Liias, D – Everett, and Rep. Jake Fey, D – Tacoma, unveiled Senate Bills 5974 and 5975 and House Bills 2118 and 2119 — Move Ahead Washington — a 16-year transportation proposal for Washington state.

The $16 billion package provides historic funding for preserving our infrastructure, combating climate change by reducing emissions, expanding safe, affordable transit options, and addressing harm caused in communities of color from our existing transportation system.

There are technically two distinct bills here being yoked together. One would direct about $5B collected via the Climate Commitment Act towards transit and multimodal projects. This represents an unprecedented investment in transit from a state government that has traditionally left such things up to local jurisdictions. It includes operating funds, free youth passes and a down payment on some unspecified high-speed rail projects.

The second would take $11B from various sources (notably NOT a new gas tax) and direct it towards (mostly) highway projects, including a significant amount of highway widening.

Full lists of projects and revenue sources here. More coverage from the Times.

Real-time info will get better next year

Zee Shaner, writing on the Sound Transit blog:

Shortly after the Northgate, Roosevelt and U District stations opened in October, riders quickly noticed that next train information had disappeared from 1 Line platform digital signs. Passengers wondered why it was ‘broken’ and when we could ‘get it working again’.  

We want to clarify that the system is working just as it always has, but we made the deliberate decision to turn it off until its replacement arrives in the spring.   

Why would we turn it off? 

A well-written piece that answers a lot of questions readers have been asking on Twitter and here on the comment threads.

Inslee’s housing and climate proposals

From the Governor’s blog:

Gov. Jay Inslee’s 2022 supplemental budget proposes significant funding to reduce poverty, increase housing and resources for homeless individuals, expand K-12 learning supports, invest in clean transportation and green economy, decarbonize buildings, and protect salmon habitat.

The governor released his budget in Olympia on Thursday and was joined by David Schumacher, director of the state Office of Financial Management. The full budget presentation followed three events earlier in the week, with new salmon investmentsclimate strategy investments and homelessness funding.

The climate strategy includes lots of electrical decarbonization efforts, including a $1,000 tax credit rebate for e-bikes, and up to $7,500 for electric cars. There’s also an unspecified investment in “clean bus technology, and improvements to transit, bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure.”

On the housing front, there’s $800M to build new affordable housing and help people stay in their homes, and, of note to our readers, a proposal to legalize “missing middle” housing types:

Inslee is proposing a change to statewide policy that would allow for creation of a greater variety of “middle housing” types such as duplexes and townhomes in areas within a half mile of major transit stops in large cities. This change will also allow duplexes in most areas of large and mid-size cities. The state will provide technical assistance, including developing a model ordinance, to help cities implement these new measures.

One can dream that eventually “housing” and “climate” will cease to be discrete initiatives in the minds of our politicians (and voters). But good stuff nonetheless. On to the legislature.

More reporting and commentary: Seattle Times, Publicola, The Urbanist.