Time to open more streets

The city’s Stay Healthy Streets are an innovative, low-cost way to increase people space by bootstrapping on the existing greenways network. Kudos to the Mayor and SDOT for a creative solution. But as businesses start to re-open, we’ll need a much more aggressive approach, one that goes beyond the low-density residential areas and into commercial districts: sidewalk cafes, pedestrian-only zones and more.  

Summer starts next week, so the time is now. As the mayor herself said in the aforelinked post, this is a marathon, not a sprint. We have a long summer and fall ahead.

From Boston to Bothell, other cities are taking initiative:

Meanwhile, across the country traffic is starting to creep back up.  

Continue reading “Time to open more streets”

Mt. Baker laundry site to become affordable housing

Mt. Baker Station with former UW laundry facility in the background (Apple Maps)

Seattle Office of Housing (PDF):

Three parcels totaling 3.79 acres of land and more than 179,000 square feet, opposite the Mount Baker Link light rail station.

Transformative opportunity to develop affordable housing, ground floor early learning, and open space near high capacity transit.

The laundry facility, next to Mt. Baker Station, was one factor in the suboptimal placement of Mt. Baker station itself, as we noted in 2012.  The neighborhood went through a controversial rezoning process in 2014. 

In 2018, the UW made the contentious decision to close the facility and eliminate 100 jobs. Laundry services were awarded to a private contractor.

Last year, the legislature passed a law allowing UW to transfer the property to Seattle for affordable housing.  Also last year, as part of the MHA rezone, the site was rezoned for up to 95 feet. 

The ever-present allure of capital funds

West Seattle Bridge construction, 1981

The simplicity of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) is a big part of its appeal: two straightforward taxes used to purchase Metro service hours. Back when it was first proposed, then-councilmember Nick Licata insisted that the money not go to what he considered wasteful capital projects (a.k.a. streetcars).

But several years ago, with Metro unable to sell as many hours as Seattle wanted to buy, City Council added some flexibility to allow for some of the money to be diverted to capital expenses. With bus hours exhausted, we and other advocates generally supported this idea. After all, capital spent to get buses out of traffic, either via queue jumps, dedicated lanes or signal timing fixes typically pays for itself many times over in reduced operating costs.

Now, with transit demand in a slump, that capital carve out could fund… the West Seattle Bridge?

It’s just a single offhand comment, so I wouldn’t read too much into it, but it reminds us that dedicated pots of transit money are in short supply right now and with ridership down, politicians may be eager to raid the kitty for other, tangentially related projects.

To be clear, the West Seattle Bridge will cost on the order of half a billion dollars to fix, and the TBD only brings in $50m/year. A diminished TBD (sans car tabs) might bring in half that, as Dan recently noted.

Still, the city doesn’t have any clear path to getting the money for the West Seattle Bridge or the Magnolia Bridge (or any of the other structurally deficient bridges for that matter). Whether it’s the STBD or Sound Transit funds, that money will have to be guarded vigilantly.

Metro considering reservations for late-night trips

king county metro 2015 New Flyer XT60 4504 in Night owl Rt.7

To support social distancing guidelines, King County Metro is considering a reservation system so that riders don’t get passed up on late-night routes (1 am to 5 am), according to an agency survey.

Today, drivers are authorized to pass up riders at the stop once the number of passengers reaches 12 (for 40-foot buses) or 18 people (60-foot). This is an inconvenience during the day, but it’s much worse at night, when buses come even more infrequently. Having to wait for another night owl bus an hour later can mean the difference between getting to work on time and not.

For years, night owl service was all but unusable. Several years ago, however, thanks in part to increased funding from the city, Metro revamped late night routes and created a useful, if limited network based on the most frequent routes.

Comment on the survey by May 31.

With Uber’s investment, Lime is getting back into the local bike share game

A Jump bike. Credit: Jump

CNBC:

Uber Technologies CEO Dara Khosrowshahi outside the New York Stock Exchange ahead of the company’s IPO, May 10, 2019.

Uber is leading a $170 million investment round in Lime, the electric scooter and bike rental company announced Thursday.

Bain Capital Ventures, Alphabet and separately its venture capital arm GV are also participating in the financing round, Lime said.

Under the deal, Uber will transfer its own electric bike and scooter division called Jump to Lime and the companies will further integrate their apps. Lime global head of operations and strategy Wayne Ting will become CEO of Lime while outgoing CEO Brad Bao will become chairman.

Lime had recently suspended bike operations here in Seattle and was in the process of switching to a scooter-only offering once the city’s scooter pilot was in place. Lime’s valuation has dropped by 80%, according to The Information ($).

Now it appears that Lime bikes will be back and Uber’s JUMP brand will be disappearing. I think most people agreed that the JUMP bike experience was superior (I know I felt that way), so it’s good to read that Lime’s new CEO agrees.

Despite a huge drop in bookings due to the coronavirus, Uber still has $10B in cash on hand to try and be the last one standing in the shared economy business: the company is reportedly looking at taking over Grubhub as well.

Meanwhile, Lime is optimistic about post-COVID prospects:

[CEO Wayne] Ting’s bet is that people are going to emerge from the pandemic wanting more socially distanced transit options, like bikes and scooters, instead of opting for crowded transit options, a stance echoed by rival Bird.

Already in some of its restarted cities, like Berlin and Columbus, Ohio, Lime is seeing average trip fares go up as people ride scooters for longer distances. Seoul is back to nearly all-time highs, Ting said.

Miss your favorite bus or train? Get a sticker!

With Puget Sound transit ridership down to a trickle, no doubt many of you are missing your favorite bus or train route. Cheer yourself up with a Transit Supply sticker pack! All the local agencies are represented here in adorable sticker form.

Transit Supply is the brain child of Chris Arvin, a San Francisco-based designer. He creates stickers, t-shirts and more to celebrate transit agencies in other cities including Boston, San Francisco and LA. Arvin started selling unofficial transit merchandise about a year ago, he told me. “There can be a lot of negativity around public transit, but so many people love it, and for them, transit is part of what makes up their community,” he said.

For Arvin, it’s all about bringing people joy. “When someone tags me in a selfie excited that their items arrived, or when I hear a story about strangers connecting over transit because of my merch, it makes me excited to expand and bring that to more cities.”

He says Seattle has been a popular request and there will be more coming in the future. “You’ve certainly got a lot of transit fans out there!” he noted.

Yep. And until we can all get back on our buses and trains, stickers will have to do.

A sheet costs $5.95 and can be ordered online.

Property tax exemptions

Edith Macefield stayed in her home

The Seattle Times editorial board recently performed a rare bit of service journalism:

Fortunately, limited-income seniors, disabled homeowners and veterans are getting a break, with a more generous property-tax exemption taking effect this year. This change is past due and needs to be communicated broadly, so everyone eligible is aware of the opportunity.

This is happening because of a legislative change last year. Instead of a fixed $40,000 income limit for participants, the program is now indexed to counties’ median income every five years. If median incomes rise, more people will be eligible for tax exemptions.

In King County, this raised the threshold to $58,423 this year. Income limits are rising in 13 of the state’s 39 counties. In Snohomish County, the level is now $55,473, in Pierce it’s $45,708 and Kitsap’s is $48,574. Seniors are defined as those 61 and older.

The changes increased the number of eligible property owners in King County from an estimated 37,000 to around 80,000. Yet only 16,000 currently take advantage of the program.

In other words, only 20% of eligible seniors, disabled homeowners and veterans are getting tax breaks available to them

Taxing property is the closest thing we have to a wealth tax in the U.S. unless or until Sen. Warren gets her way. More property taxes and fewer sales taxes would make Washington State’s tax mix more progressive. As a bonus, it turns out that land taxes are another way to encourage efficient use of a limited resource and help create walkable communities.

And yet, the proverbial fixed-income senior is often used as an argument against raising property taxes. Few people I speak with about this are aware that the exemption exists, let alone that it’s increased. So let’s get the word out, especially now that people may be more income constrained due to the coronavirus-induced recession.

New Sound Transit naming scheme favors numbers over colors

Example of how the “1” line could look

Last fall, Sound Transit announced a new naming scheme, and then quickly backtracked after community criticism over the term “red line.” Various schemes have been proposed in the meantime, including here on our site. Yesterday ST unveiled the revised scheme to the public.

STB alum Zach Shaner explains the changes on the Sound Transit blog:

Why are we doing this? Since 2012 our plan had been to switch to line color names for our light rail lines. In fall 2019 we began using the Red Line for Link and the Orange Line for Tacoma Link, and we planned to launch East Link as part of a new Blue Line in 2023.

The community quickly told us that our use of Red Line was insensitive to the history of redlining in our region. From the 1930s–1970s, banks and insurance companies routinely denied loans or insurance to people of color based on where they lived, concentrating people of color in certain neighborhoods and prohibiting them from other neighborhoods. Redlining perpetuated poverty and denied people of color the ability to build and pass down wealth. 

Though dozens of agencies worldwide use a Red Line in their systems, we agree that in English and in North America, the term Red Line unavoidably carries the weight of that racist legacy. We can do without it, so we will.

The agency also provided a detailed FAQ that tries to anticipate many objections and give people some more context. It emphasizes how the agency worked to avoid overlap with other systems like the letter-based RapidRide and Snohomish County’s color-coded Swift BRT.

Now that every agency has created its own naming scheme that doesn’t infringe on the others, maybe the next step could be to integrate them a little better, so that a rider might understand the whole system without having to know which specific taxing authority funds the service.

 

Transit app estimates local transit ridership decline

The people behind Transit, one of the more popular trip planning apps, have put together an estimate on how Covid-19 has affected every transit agency they track. Here are the figures for the Puget Sound.

The company says that the percentage declines are approximated based on previous years’ app usage, since they don’t have actual ridership data. Since these are all percentage declines against “normal”, you don’t see the typical weekend drop-offs. Still, some trends are obvious, such as the probably-shoulda-been-canceled Sounders home game on March 1.

Metro has also updated its own ridership measures, showing a continued decline over the month. There are now an average of 150,000 weekday riders, down from 400,000.

In related news, here is a big list of all local agencies, including many community-based shuttle services, that have had service impacts as a result of Covid-19.

Update 8:55am: Metro has an online tool for you to check whether or not a specific trip is cancelled.

Bus lane cams finally pass the legislature

Heidi Groover, The Seattle Times:

The bill would allow a pilot program for the new cameras, to run through mid-2023. Seattle could use the cameras to detect drivers who stop in an intersection or crosswalk, drive in a transit-only lane or stop or travel in a restricted lane.

The cameras would be allowed in limited locations in and near downtown and on arterials that connect to certain roads into downtown. That would include the West Seattle Bridge, Aurora Avenue and Avalon Way, Fitzgibbon said. Cameras for enforcement of crosswalks and intersections will only be allowed at 20 intersections “where the city would most like to address safety concerns,” according to the bill.

See our previous coverage.

It’s amazing that it took so long and that the legislature felt the need to put so many restrictions on the city, but kudos to the legislators and advocates who got this one over the finish line. Here are links to Rep. Fitzgibbon’s house bill and Sen. Liias’ Senate version so you can see the sponsors and the roll call votes.

Teleworking, solo driving rise in latest Commute Seattle report, transit use drops

Commute Seattle has released their 2019 mode split survey, and it shows a slightly higher percentage of single occupancy vehicle (SOV) drivers compared to last year, while remote work increased substantially, despite the fact that the survey was conducted well in advance of the 2020 Coronavirus semi-quarantine or Connect 2020. Transit use unfortunately decreased for the first time, on a percentage basis.

Continue reading “Teleworking, solo driving rise in latest Commute Seattle report, transit use drops”

The case of the missing Montlake queue jump

Google Street View from 2017 and 2019. It’s like that Megatouch game they had at all the bars back before everyone got cell phones.

Like many cross-lake commuters, I often find myself waiting for a connection on the Montlake Boulevard concrete island where Eastbound SR-520 buses pick up before traversing the lake. My favorite activity while stranded on this island is to refresh One Bus Away and watch the bus schedules go to hell as the U-district jams up in the morning. When I tire of that, my second favorite activity is to glare at the single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) who are banned from turning right but do so anyway.

The intersection is designed so that cars entering 520 use a slip lane behind the bus stop, leaving only buses and HOVs to approach the light at the stop and turn right onto an HOV-only lane on the freeway onramp. It’s a clever design that essentially creates a bus queue jump without needing a separate turn pocket, but it only works if SOVs aren’t allowed to turn right at the light.

Except, it turns out they are now. Kinda.

Continue reading “The case of the missing Montlake queue jump”

Route 44 improvements are refined heading into 30% design

At a presentation (PDF) to the Transit Advisory Board, Seattle DOT identified a list of Route 44 improvements that would be carried into 30% design. It’s encouraging to see that most of the big stuff, like the bus (BAT) lanes and signal priority, advanced.

The initial ideas were just “concepts” so while we shouldn’t expect everything to advance through the design phase. At the same time, death-by-1000-cuts is usually how these projects die. So what got cut?

One somewhat major idea was a set of left turn restrictions, which would have presumably made buses go faster. The second was an interesting idea to close off Wallingford Ave N at 45th, and create a mini park, which was pretty neat but which I’m sure raised the eyebrows of Wallingford QFC shopper-drivers.

Probably not happening

SDOT project manager Janet Mayer told me that the concepts were for reasons including “public feedback, infeasibility, lack of transit benefit, or lack of support from SDOT Traffic Operations or partner agencies.”

She did add that stop removals at I-5 will “most likely” be implemented by Metro as part of a restructure and that the reroute to 43rd in the U-district is underway right now as part of the trolley project there.