Transit and land use in Seattle’s ‘Green New Deal’ resolution

Seattle City Council blog:

Selected highlights of the Resolution include making Seattle climate pollution-free by 2030; prioritizing public investments in neighborhoods that have historically been underinvested in and disproportionately burdened by environmental hazards and other injustices; exploring the creation of Free, Prior, and Informed consent policies with federally recognized tribal nations; and, creating a fund and establish dedicated revenue sources for achieving the Green New Deal that will be used to make investments in communities, along with an associated accountability body.

This is a non-binding resolution, of course, so it’s easy to throw the kitchen sink at it. But it moves the needle on an issue that is very much in need of needle mobility.

Here are some of the transit and land use components. (Note this is the draft text that’s on the city’s website. SCC Insight posted an updated copy with some changes but I don’t see a final version).

Continue reading “Transit and land use in Seattle’s ‘Green New Deal’ resolution”

MASS transportation package kicks off at City Hall tomorrow

MASS Coalition:

The MASS Transportation Package is a proposal from the MASS Coalition to make walking, rolling, biking, and using transit in Seattle safer and more accessible. It’s not a comprehensive vision for transportation in Seattle, but it is a set of projects and policies we believe the City can advance rapidly in 2019. The package includes long overdue policy reforms and investments in sidewalks, bus lanes, and bike paths that our growing city needs.

The first piece of legislation is focused on bike safety and complete streets. Upcoming pieces will include bus priority. This Friday at 2pm there will be a special session of the Council’s Sustainability & Transportation Committee to discuss it.

Learn how to take action and RSVP on Facebook.

Metro looking at South King restructures to complement RapidRide I

Metro is looking for your feedback on RapidRide I, a major investment in South King mobility that will provide frequent service between Renton, Kent and Auburn. See our previous coverage here.

At over 15 miles in length, the I line will beat out the E for the title of longest RapidRide line. It’ll also probably be the one that passes by the most farmland. For now, anyway. The Kent Valley has seen rapid suburbanization in recent years, and the arrival of frequent, all-day transit service is welcome.

Meanwhile, Metro is taking advantage of this increased increased frequency to restructure some routes in South King. One of the most significant changes would create a mini-grid around Kent Station with some through-routed buses to provide greater connectivity.

A map of proposed bus service in Kent.

Both surveys (RapidRide, S. King Restructures) close on August 25. I’m not a frequent South King transit rider so tell us what else is interesting.

Sound Transit wants feedback on station access funds

Holgate Street Crossing

Sound Transit:

Approved by voters in 2016, the Sound Transit 3 System Plan included a $100 million System Access Fund. This year, the Sound Transit Board wants your input as it considers how to award up to $50 million of the System Access Fund for projects to improve rider connections in each of Sound Transit’s five subareas.

The online open house ends August 23. Be sure to read this piece from Erica on the politics, which includes this money quote:

In other words: Cities that have made an effort to improve safety, access, and housing opportunities around light rail stations in advance should get priority for their projects.

Makes sense! While it’s regrettable that cities have to do a Hunger Games-style competition for projects that provide basic pedestrian and bicycle access to transit stations, the real problem is that these municipalities too often choose to site their train stations in out-of-the-way spots where there are no businesses to “impact” or NIMBYs to complain. The resulting poor pedestrian access is entirely predictable.

Montlake exit’s temporary bus lane is closing


[C]rews will restripe the westbound SR 520 off-ramp to Montlake and remove the ramp’s temporary bus-only lane that currently allows buses to bypass general-purpose vehicles to reach Montlake Boulevard. The bus lane was temporarily put in place last October, with a plan to close it in March for the Montlake Project construction. Recognizing the value that the temporary lane provided to transit, WSDOT worked with the contractor to keep the lane open as long as possible without affecting construction.

At the request of several Eastside cities, WSDOT looked at ways to preserve the bus lane, but none were deemed viable. It’s frustrating to see it go, but the project was a good reminder that agencies and concerned commuters can work together to make short-term improvements.

News Roundup: Eastrail

Photo via King County Parks on Twitter
  • Two big proposals from the Mayor on affordable housing: MFTE reform and more permanent housing for people experiencing homelessness
  • The King County Council approves paid spots at some popular park-and-rides
  • Sound Transit starts construction on the innovative I-90 light rail tracks
  • Not good: injuries and collisions on Seattle streets are at a nine-year high
  • Self-driving cars are really hard, but self-driving minibuses are on the march. What was that about autonomy killing transit again?
  • TRU’s Katie Wilson on Seattle’s need for a transportation revolution to tackle climate and what we can do to get one
  • Introducing “Eastrail
  • Protected intersections. You love to see a cryptic Dongho Chang tweet spur an entire Times article.
  • The “interim” 1st Ave re-route for West Seattle buses continues to be terrible
  • Metro adds paid parking permits for some popular park-and-rides
  • Bill Savage reminds us that elevated trains are beautiful (and cost effective!)
  • Metro and SDOT will be at Capitol Hill-area farmers markets this weekend to talk RapidRide G
  • New bus stops for the reconstructed “Borealis Avenue” at Denny Way

Metro tweaks the 41 & 271 as “Seattle Squeeze” gets real

Montlake Triangle improvements under construction (Photo by the author)

Metro is continuing to adjust routes and frequencies with the closure of the bus tunnel and, more recently, the Montlake freeway ramps.

Route 41, one of few routes with over 10,000 daily riders, was moved to surface streets and has been stuck using the punctuality-melting Stewart Street I-5 offramp ever since. In an effort to amputate the leg and save the patient, Metro has opted to send the 41 into downtown via Union Street starting July 27. This will eliminate stops at 7th & Stewart and 3rd and Pine in the southbound direction only – northbound is unchanged. Folks will have a longer walk in the AM (or a transfer) but should see a more reliable ride. The agency thinks it’s worth the tradeoff:

Metro’s planning and service quality teams surveyed riders and bus drivers and showed them the benefits and tradeoffs of the Union Street routing. A large majority (79 percent of riders surveyed and 94 percent of Route 41 bus drivers) supported having the faster travel times and better reliability with having to potentially travel farther between the new bus stops and their destination.

Route 271, the cross-lake superstar with over 5,000 daily riders, has only gotten more critical recently. Riders appear to be opting for Link-271 as an alternative to the 550, which is on long-term reroute as part of East Link construction. As of July 18 the 271 added 7 additional trips, 4 in the morning and 3 in the afternoon, to relieve the associated crowding.

Continue reading “Metro tweaks the 41 & 271 as “Seattle Squeeze” gets real”

On transit priority to Expedia

Photo by Martin H. Duke

Danny Westneat, in a very good Seattle Times column last week, tears into the hypocrisy of parking being built at downtown and SLU corporate campuses, particularly Expedia:

This two-step between quietly nodding to our car-focused reality while espousing the greenest dreams perfectly captures what passes for transportation planning in the Emerald City.

We wish you wouldn’t drive, the government announces. But we know you’re gonna, the private market whispers in echo.

In fact the market is so certain you’ll drive that it’s building more space for your cars at this new high-tech campus than will fit in the garage at the Mariners’ stadium.

1000% agree. Developers are building a ton of new garages but no new road capacity. It’s worse than pointless. Seattle does have regulations that attempt to curb the amount of parking constructed in high-transit neighborhoods, but they’re not aggressive enough.

Later in the column, though, Westneat laments the lack of transit options to Expedia:

My view is that Seattle desperately needs more mass transit faster, to give better alternatives to all this driving. I’m a longtime fan of forcing this change sooner by turning some car lanes over to true mass transit, such as buses or light rail (not piddly stuff like the streetcar).

Yes, it’s true the train to Expedia is 16 years away. But it’s important to note that Expedia does have a very frequent bus: the D line. There’s also the 19/24/33 on Elliott. Unfortunately, both corridors have only intermittent transit priority. The D Line needs exclusive lanes through Uptown, and/or an Express variant, and the others need full-time bi-directional bus lanes all the way from Interbay to Denny Way.

The column prompted me to reach out to SDOT, where I learned that D Line and Elliott Avenue improvements are being studied this year as part of the ST3-funded “quick wins” (remember those? Still coming!) for Ballard and West Seattle. When Expedia first announced their move in 2015, SDOT also told us that they would consider off-peak bus priority on Elliott. As far as I can tell from Google Street View, nothing has changed since 2015: it’s still peak-only BAT lanes that end well short of Denny. If we want to make a dent in driving, we have to do more, and it’s disappointing that so little progress has been made in the four years since the Expedia announcement.

(In fairness, I’ll take a mulligan on this one as well: when I listed places to add bus lanes last fall, Elliott didn’t make the cut. I mistakenly assumed it was already a done deal.)

If SDOT does come back next year with a proposal for improving bus service on Elliott and in Uptown, there will no doubt be opposition from local businesses in those corridors. When that happens, it will be helpful to have Seattle Times opinion columnists, and not just us lowly bloggers, pushing back.

The Downtown Seattle Association wants to re-imagine Third Avenue

In 2009 the City of Seattle commissioned a study that called Third Avenue “uninviting, unattractive and generally a dreadful place to walk, shop or wait for a bus.”  In 2014 Metro commissioned a design study on ways to fix the street.  That led to the Third Avenue Transit Improvements Project, and will eventually result in a much-needed transit-only signal at Third and Denny.  

Yet, after all these studies, few would consider the street to be substantially transformed.  

Over the same timeframe, more buses have been added.  In 2010 2011, Routes 15 and 18 (now RapidRide C/D), along with all the West Seattle routes, were moved from First to Third to accommodate Viaduct construction.  Then in 2016 the Seattle TBD added funding for more service on all bus routes, including many on Third. Finally, earlier this year the bus tunnel closed and a whole bunch of buses moved upstairs.

There are advantages to this consolidation.  Buses can be given priority right-of-way, off-board payment systems can be installed and transfers can be streamlined in much the same way that certain hub airports get bigger and bigger over time: more destinations lure more riders, which in turn justify more destinations.

But there are downsides as well: the street can become unpleasant, overcrowded, and choked with diesel fumes. And if Third is perceived as a bad place for business, merchants on other streets will fight against a busway on their street, leaving Third even more crowded. 

According to the Downtown Seattle Association, the latest group to try and “fix” Third Avenue, the sheer number of buses and lack of sidewalk space creates an uninviting environment. Their recently-released vision plan for the street imagines wider sidewalks, a much-improved pedestrian experience, and a more efficient deployment of buses through the corridor.  

Continue reading “The Downtown Seattle Association wants to re-imagine Third Avenue”

Which Way for Washington’s Intercity Rail Program?


There are two possible futures for Cascade rail service. Are they mutually exclusive?

It’s been a whiplash-inducing year for intercity passenger rail in the US.  The “Green New Deal” suggests the possibility of sweeping high speed investments at the same time as California’s project is retrenching.  Colorado, a growing Western state where the population is similarly concentrated along a single north-south interstate, is starting to think about intercity passenger rail service.   And here in Washington, Governor Inslee continues to move forward a high-speed rail business plan and the legislature continues to dribble out funds to study it, while at the same time WSDOT picks up the pieces from the DuPont crash.

Long-time Cascades watchers, though, know there’s another, older plan for upgrading interstate rail service. Released in 2007, the Long Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades was created to guide Cascades development through 2023.  According to WSDOT’s Janet Malkin, this plan is very much alive and we should expect an update by the end of the year.

The Long Range Plan (LRP), which we’ve covered previously, envisions a Seattle-Portland running time of 2.5 hours, down from nearly 3.5 today, and 14 daily departures. Seattle-Vancouver would similarly be about 2.5 hours and have 4 trains/day.  It proposes dozens of projects, including double and triple tracking, high-speed bypasses, and new high-speed track.  Trains would still be diesel, and have a top speed of 110mph.

Future travel times from the 2007 Long Range Plan

The 2007 publication of the LRP was fortuitous.  Just two years later, the world would be mired in recession and the Obama administration, in search of signature high-speed rail stimulus projects, would eventually steer $800M in federal funds to Washington State rail.  Thanks to the LRP, the state had a bunch of off-the-shelf projects to submit.  After governors in Florida and Wisconsin rejected the money, Washington ended up with a windfall. 20 projects were funded, including the purchase of new locomotives and a rehab of King Street Station.

With the Point Defiance Bypass now complete, the stimulus projects are officially over (though work continues on mudslide mitigation and a new Ballard ship canal crossing).   It’s time to think about what’s next: Should the state choose going forward: incrementally update the existing rail corridor, or build an entirely new one, as the Governor’s HSR plan envisions?  Do we even need to choose?

Continue reading “Which Way for Washington’s Intercity Rail Program?”

A new contract for Metro’s Access program

Metro Access Van (Credit: King County)

Michelle Baruchman in The Seattle Times, on Metro’s new 5-year contract with MV Transportation to provide Access service:

Advocates in King County say they have raised concerns about Access for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the county began planning for an audit of the service, said Deputy King County Auditor Ben Thompson.

In June 2017, the county Auditor’s Office released a report that laid bare issues that contributed to low ridership and costly services.

Among them: limited payment options; lack of outreach to low-income populations, communities of color and people with limited English proficiency; inadequate oversight over contractors and ineffective punishments for poor service; excessively long trips and frequently late or early arrivals.

Paratransit service is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Like many federal mandates, it comes without much funding, making it susceptible to budget cuts when downturns hit. Furthermore, King County ordinances mandate that the service go above and beyond the ADA minimum.

My understanding is that, at the low point, there were just a half-dozen Metro employees overseeing what was one of the largest contracts in King County, down from more than triple that before the financial crisis.

This new contract will take some of the customer service aspects back in-house, meaning Metro should be more responsive to problems.

West Seattle – Ballard Link staggers towards the EIS

The original genius (or sin, if you prefer) of the legislation that created Sound Transit was that it yoked together the region’s high capacity transit needs. The suburbs and the cities had to work together to get what they wanted, or no one would get anything, like a municipal prisoner’s dilemma.

The West Seattle – Ballard link extension (“WSBLE” in Sound Transit’s lingo) is pushing that 25-year-old decision to its limits.  Pierce and Snohomish County reps want WSBLE to be fast and cheap, lest it jeopardize the extensions to Tacoma and Everett (to some of them, WSBLE it isn’t part of the “spine,” so the whole thing is a kind of agency scope creep anyway).  Seattle reps, meanwhile, are hearing an earful from their voters and maritime interests about elevated alignments at the termini.  These reps also know that without the votes from Seattle’s west side neighborhoods, there might not have been enough support to get ST3 over the finish line to begin with, and certainly not enough money to support Snohomish’s speculative and expensive detour to Paine Field.

Like I said, yoked.

Continue reading “West Seattle – Ballard Link staggers towards the EIS”

What makes a train safe?

Cascades at Kelso (WSDOT Photo)

Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times:

More than 50 Talgo railcars that have served the Amtrak Cascades line since 1998 will be replaced “as soon as possible,” the state announced Wednesday, a day after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the lightweight vehicles didn’t adequately shield passengers in the 2017 fatal Amtrak crash near DuPont.

Alon Levy has a blistering response to the NTSB recommendation that is well worth reading in full:

[T]he Talgos on their own, with a typical European locomotive, would not have derailed. Moreover, after the derailment, they stayed upright, unlike the Amtrak coaches in Philadelphia or the Metro-North ones in New York. The reason people died is that the train fell from a bridge. As far as factors that are controllable by the coach builder go, the Talgos performed well.


So why is the NTSB so dead set against them? In three words: not invented here. The Talgos were designed and built in Europe. They are designed around European ideas of crash avoidance. Trains here have buff strength requirements too (and are too heavy as a result), but they’re much laxer than those of last generation’s American regulations, because at the end of the day lighter trains are no less safe than American tanks on rails. Lighter trains, designed to brake more quickly and not to derail in the first place, underlie the superior train safety of Europe to that of the United States – and Europe is downright dangerous compared with Japan, whose ultralight trains kill passengers in crashes at maybe 1/15th the per-passenger-km rate of American ones.

Replacing all 4 Series VI train sets would cost about $100M, according to the Times piece.  WSDOT doesn’t have to follow the NTSB recommendation, but it seems like they want to.

Continue reading “What makes a train safe?”

News Roundup: Hat Trick

5th & Marion (SDOT)

7 Takeaways from the Point Defiance NTSB Hearing

Schematic of the 2017 crash site (NTSB)

The National Transportation Safety Board held a hearing yesterday on the fatal December 2017 Amtrak derailment on the Point Defiance Bypass. The Seattle Times, Trains, and Curbed have reports. Here are a few takeaways, after watching the briefing:

Responsibility for safety was diffused, but the buck stops with Sound Transit. Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, Sound Transit, WSDOT… with so many agencies involved, lines of accountability were unclear. Amtrak’s role, in particular, is ambiguous – the company owns neither the tracks nor the trains, but as the nation’s passenger rail operator it is supposed to oversee pre-revenue testing and certify the plans.  In the end, the investigators made one thing clear: “Sound Transit had the ultimate responsibility to ensure that that project, the point defiance bypass, was safe and ready for revenue operations.” Additionally, investigators called out ST, which owns the tracks as the “host railroad,” for providing insufficient signage and schedules for the bypass.

There was a general lack of training. The crew lacked familiarity with the Siemens Charger and didn’t know what to do when the “overspeed” warnings started going off (which was actually a separate issue from the failure to see the curve). Neither the conductor nor the engineer had enough time with this route and this locomotive.

“Everyone hated that curve,” the engineer told investigators. The curve was extra sharp connecting the bypass to the main line. The Wall Street Journal reported after the crash that the bypass project was value-engineered to save money, resulting in a sharper-than-ideal curve.

Continue reading “7 Takeaways from the Point Defiance NTSB Hearing”