2017 Legislative Session Recap


Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon

The 2017 legislative session was a difficult, defensive session for transit. None of the Legislature’s transit advocates expected this after the unequivocal mandate for Sound Transit 3 in November 2016, but the combination of MVET sticker shock and inaccurate vehicle valuations forced us into difficult positions as we fought to fulfill the promise of a regional transit system. The battles often felt like losses at the time. But thanks to the intransigence of Senate Republicans dead-set on damaging Sound Transit, and the end of wasteful sales tax exemptions, we ended the session with more funding for core transit services, not less.


The debate over Sound Transit’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) authority was one of the most challenging parts of the session. Our exceptionally difficult vote disappointed many transit advocates back home. But by constraining that inevitable debate to a rational but hard bottom line, we managed to end the session with more wins for transit than losses.

The House passed HB 2201, which required that Sound Transit revise its MVET collections to reflect the vehicle values adopted by the 2006 Legislature (RCW 82.44.035), instead of the earlier valuation table from the 2015 transportation package. HB 2201 passed the House twice in a bipartisan 64-33 vote, including a “yes” vote from every legislator who represents the Sound Transit district.

The Republican Senate passed SB 5839. Rather than use RCW 82.44.035, it required the lower of either Kelley Blue Book values or the National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) values. The catch is that a government agency cannot issue bonds against a revenue stream that is determined by a private party. The House bill used RCW 82.44.035 so it could still be bonded against – and the Senate used proprietary valuation schedules because Sound Transit couldn’t bond against these streams, impairing project delivery. Their bill also cut Sound Transit’s MVET authority from 1.1% (up from 0.3% before ST3) to 0.5%. This expressly sought to overturn the will of 717,000 voters in central Puget Sound, 54% of the total, by forcing drastically lower revenues and making the completion of the regional transit system impossible. This bill passed three times in a strictly partisan 25-24 vote. It only passed because of overwhelming support from eastern Washington Republicans whose constituents were unaffected by the ST3 MVET.

We supported the House Bill for these reasons:

1. Even representing a district that overwhelmingly supported ST3 (59%) and will enjoy one of ST3’s marquee projects, I heard from a huge number of constituents alarmed by their new car tab fees. Some of this was sticker shock, but many had legitimate concerns when they received a car tab bill and saw that their car’s assessed value was unambiguously more than they knew it to be worth. Many House Democrats were concerned about this as a fairness issue. It is not accurate that legislators were unaware of the different valuation tables (indeed, even the Republican Senate defeated Sen. Ericksen’s amendment to the 2015 transportation package to reject the valuation table that Sound Transit ended up using). However, I was surprised by the vehemence with which my constituents rebelled against the higher valuation table in the law.

2. The lost revenue for Sound Transit from HB 2201 was estimated at about $78m per year. The lost revenue from SB 5839 would have been roughly ten times that. It was clear to pro-transit House Democrats that a bill without our support had the potential to contain a greater revenue loss than HB 2201. We made sure, in supporting the bill, that HB 2201 was a take-it- or-leave- it offer. The House would reject any bill that lowered the MVET rate below the voter-approved rate, required a valuation table that precluded selling bonds, or that cut revenue below what HB 2201 did. The House adhered to that promise, which wasn’t enough for the Senate.

3. The other condition of our support was to prioritize the completion of the regional light rail system. Legislators from end-of- the-line districts like me, including members from Tacoma, Everett, Ballard, and Kirkland, wanted to do everything possible to ensure that the MVET bill did not impede the completion of light rail promised to our districts in ST3. So we included a provision requiring that if Sound Transit had to cut any projects as a result of their decreased MVET authority, light rail projects would be cut last, and parking projects would be cut first. None of us were thrilled with this prioritization, because there are worthwhile parking projects in the package. However, the priority for us is the completion of the regional light rail system.

Continue reading “2017 Legislative Session Recap”

Something’s Different Here: Seattle Companies Note Job Growth Requires Great Transit

by Jonathan Hopkins

As readers of the blog are likely aware, transit usage in the Seattle area is booming. The greater Seattle metropolitan area had the highest transit ridership growth in the country last year, and is one of just six major U.S. urban areas where transit ridership increased in 2016. Some of this growth can be attributed to voter-approved service and infrastructure expansions. Others, to be sure, will point to our breakneck population and jobs growth. But these two facts alone probably don’t fully explain how, since 2010, downtown Seattle has added 45,000 new jobs but only 2,255 new solo car commuters. Overall, seventy percent of our job growth (over 31,000 trips) was absorbed by transit.

When Zach Shaner wrote that transit is saving downtown, he was right, and our business community knows it. Therefore, to thank riders and celebrate June as Ride Transit month, nine Challenge Seattle member companies donated over $22,000 in prizes to our first-ever Puget Sound Prize Patrol. Challenge Seattle’s CEO, former governor Christine Gregoire, noted that “Challenge Seattle companies are proud to support this effort to highlight how critical high transit ridership is to easing congestion and improving our region’s quality of life.”

These gratis prizes compliments of Alaska Airlines, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (in partnership with Bike Works), Boeing, Chateau Ste Michelle, Costco, Nordstrom, Puget Sound Energy, Starbucks, and Zillow Group allowed us to do something groundbreaking aboard transit. Instead of riders having their heads down, focused on their phones, they instead had their “best transit ride ever.” They weren’t riding in isolation, using transit as a utility. They were part of community, and shared together a sense of ownership over their daily choices to protect our environment and its economy. We hope it’s a meaningful message that lasts.

Most Employers Get It

Continue reading “Something’s Different Here: Seattle Companies Note Job Growth Requires Great Transit”

Redmond Revisited?

By Josh Benaloh

Proposed Redmond Link Extension refinements released at May 17, 2017 open house in Redmond

Last week I read with great interest Dan Ryan’s excellent post on the proposed refinements to the Redmond Link Extension that is expected to begin service in 2024. As a resident of Redmond and former chair of Sound Transit’s Citizen Oversight Panel, I have followed this process intently for more than a decade. The process has been open, and every step along the way has been reasonable and justifiable; but it may be a good time to take a step back and consider whether we’ve landed in the best place.

The 2011 Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) considered several possible light rail alignments through downtown Redmond including the E2 preferred alignment (shown above) and the E4 alignment (shown below).

E4 alignment from 2011 Environmental Impact Statement

These two alignments take very different paths through Redmond. The E2 travels from Overlake along SR-520 to Southeast Redmond and then hooks back along the BNSF railway corridor to a terminus in downtown Redmond. The E4 departs SR-520 much earlier—west of the Sammamish River – goes directly to downtown Redmond and then follows the BNSF corridor in the opposite direction to a terminus in Southeast Redmond.

Alignment History

In 2006, while the EIS process was underway, Redmond endorsed the E2 alignment as the only way to reach the Redmond Transit Center (RTC). By the time the EIS was complete in 2011, Redmond and Sound Transit had abandoned the goal of reaching the RTC because it would have added at least $100-200 million to the cost. However, a “preferred” version of the E2 route was selected – largely because it came closer to the RTC than any of the alternatives.

Last month, Redmond and Sound Transit presented a set of proposed refinements which improve E2 further by moving the Downtown Redmond Station location and elevating a portion of the alignment. While these refinements are very reasonable, it is interesting to note that the newly proposed station locations precisely coincide with those considered in the E4 alignment.

An Objective Comparison

So, given that the refined E2 now reaches exactly the same station locations as the original E4, it is appropriate to compare the two options.

Continue reading “Redmond Revisited?”

Republicans Set Hearings on Own Incompetence


In a shocking investigation into their own inability to read legislation, Senator O’Ban and Washington Senate Republicans have taken a bold step into the unknown. How much incompetence are they willing to admit in their quest for Seattle Times headlines? Apparently quite a lot.

Sound Transit has been entirely transparent in their requests for a funding source to the legislature and to voters: This is well established.

The state legislature set both the rate and method of motor vehicle depreciation, which did not change in ST3. If these state legislators would like to change what the voters approved, they must replace any transit funding they are cutting. Senator O’Ban’s investigation into the bill he voted for is an act of bad faith. Bad faith, because they are abandoning a bipartisan deal to allow regional voters to tax themselves to fund transit in exchange for highways in far flung parts of Washington State. Bad faith, because they are trying to override the will of voters who expect Sound Transit to deliver the light rail promised in ST3.

Why are they doing this? They are desperate, as the party of Trump, to make this a campaign issue and maintain control of the state senate after an upcoming special election in the 45th district. Seattle Subway recommends a campaign donation to Democratic candidate Manka Dhingra in their honor.

Holding the Line for Transit

By Transportation Choices Coalition

The 2017 Legislative Session has been incredibly challenging for Sound Transit. On the heels of the passage of Sound Transit 3 in November, the agency has had to defend a host of bills designed to dismantle the voter approved plan and change its governance structure. Last Friday, the Senate passed ESB 5893 which slashes Sound Transit’s Motor Vehicle Excise Tax authority from 1.1% to 0.5% among other things. TCC opposed that bill.

TCC Executive Director Shefali Ranganathan

In the House, legislators are considering a relatively more modest proposal, HB 2201 which will create a $780M direct revenue gap in the Sound Transit 3 finance plan or an estimated $2.3B impact once you factor in higher borrowing costs. This bill was passed by the House Transportation Committee and seems well on its way to approval by the House as chronicled by the blog here.

Let’s recap for a quick moment how we got to this point. In 2015, as part of a deal on the Connecting Washington Transportation package, the Legislature granted Sound Transit the taxing authority to seek voter approval for a transit expansion plan. At the same time, it voted to approve an increase in the gas tax to fund road projects without requiring a public vote. It was a deal that advocates including Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) made for a chance to complete the high capacity transit system that has eluded us for nearly 60 years.

Fast forward to 2016, hundreds of meetings and tens of thousands of public comments later, the agency put forth a $54B transit expansion plan the details of which has been discussed in great depth on this blog.  A grueling six-month campaign ensued and despite the best efforts of the opposition spearheaded by the Seattle Times, voters approved the plan by nearly 54%. The Puget Sound region finally embraced its transit destiny. Or so we thought.

As 2017 kicked in, higher MVET renewals started appearing in mailboxes, a media feeding frenzy ensued, and anti-transit legislators seized the opportunity to attack the voter-approved plan and the agency. TCC which led a broad coalition of business, labor, transportation, environmental and social justice advocates to pass the ST3 responded with a broad strategy which included an on-the-ground staff presence in Olympia, a joint coalition letter signed by 26 business, labor and community groups, and thousands of emails and petitions to legislators urging a measured approach that does not derail projects.

Yet here we are, battling bills that jeopardize projects, in the name of tax payer relief.

TCC cannot support HB 2201 as it is currently proposed. We appreciate the need to address tax payer fairness and find reasonable solutions that do not impact voter-approved projects.  We suggested improvements to the legislation to address tax fairness for working families while keeping voter-approved projects on track including:

  1. The reimbursement or credit should only be provided to cars valued at or below $30,000, providing relief to middle and low-income families who need it the most.
  2. Find solutions to reduce the $780 million revenue gap created by this bill, either by limiting the tax adjustment to working families or other policy options that address the loss of revenue to Sound Transit.

Unfortunately, there isn’t much traction to move these changes forward.

Let us pause for a moment to consider the irony – the most progressive taxing source available to pay for transit, the MVET, is being undermined in the name of fairness in a state that has the most unfair tax system in the nation (Seattle Times $). That a measure approved by 700K residents which took three years and an incredibly robust public dialog to shape, can be so easily be scuttled by so few.

It will be easy to point fingers and assign partisan blame. Instead I encourage you to consider the following – transit is under attack at the federal and state level. Transit funding is being politicized for bigger battle – the control of the State Legislature. We should be careful to separate the policies from the politics. Voters want more light rail to more places. It is why ST3 passed last year. Now more than ever transit advocates and our broader coalition will need to stick together to defend our gains at the ballot. I urge you to join us in our fight by signing up for updates and opportunities to engage with your elected  representatives to hold the line on transit.

Action Alert: Ask Governor Inslee to Veto Transit Cuts

Governor Inslee at U-Link Opening. Photo by Joshua Trujillo, seattlepi.com.


Democrats in the Washington State House have passed a bill out of committee that will cut $2.3 billion dollars from the voter approved Sound Transit 3 (ST3) package. Following a well worn Democratic strategy of caving to the slightest pressure from the right, this signals that Democrats intend to pass the bill out of the State House. The bill will then be sent to the Senate where it will be further degraded (the Senate version cuts $6 Billion in transit) and then sent to the Governor.

In passing this bill, Democrats seem to give in to magical thinking:  “While this would reduce a stream of revenue on which Sound Transit depends for future expansions, Democrats said it won’t impair the transit agency’s ability to carry out the $54 billion worth of projects in the Sound Transit 3 plan as promised.”  This is an entirely unsupported statement.  Overriding the will of the voters and cutting transit funding will, in 100% of cases, lead to less transit and to transit built more slowly.

House Democrats now appear to be a lost cause.  Let Governor Jay Inslee know that this attempt to override voters is entirely unacceptable. Puget Sound voters were clear in their support of transit expansion. Further, making changes after the vote is an act of bad faith in regards to the state transportation bill passed in 2015. ST3 funding was a hard fought win for the Puget Sound Region in that negotiation – which also funds billions in highway expansion without any public vote.

Transit has a sad history in this state and tends to be the focus of constant second guessing and lack of investment. Washington is dead last in transit funding at the state level and has the most regressive taxes in the country.

Here the issues intersect:  The most progressive funding source in our state is being attacked in an effort to cut transit funding.

At the same time Democrats in Olympia are pushing cuts to local funding, Trump and Republicans are pushing for billions of dollars of cuts to ST2 and ST3 projects at the Federal level.

Governor Inslee:  This is an opportunity to be on the right side of history and support a better, more environmentally responsible future for our state.  Please veto this bill.

Contact Governor Inslee here and let him know you support a veto by emailing him, faxing him at 360-753-4110, or calling his office at 360-902-4111.

Sound Transit’s Governance is Key to Its Success

Crowded Link Train in August 2016 (Flickr – SounderBruce)

By Marilyn Strickland and Rob Johnson

Sound Transit’s current governance framework – based on the appointment of elected officials from county and city governments who have huge stakes in making regional transit work – is a huge part of the agency’s success. Unfortunately, this framework is currently under threat; the proposed SB-5001 would replace these structural incentives for success and unity with representatives from 11 Balkanized districts chosen through direct elections.

Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland
Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4)

We believe it’s critically important to have locally elected representatives serving on the Sound Transit Board. There is a nexus between local government, regional government, and having a regional transportation system that benefits all of us, from Tacoma to Everett.

This level of connectivity and regional integration ultimately ensures we get projects that are built faster, cheaper, and that benefit not just the districts we represent, but the entire region. And that’s not only good governance, it just makes sense.

Here are eight reasons the governance structure for Sound Transit proposed in SB-5001 would hurt regional progress toward achieving a 116-mile light rail system that reaches Tacoma, Everett, Downtown Redmond, West Seattle, Ballard, South Kirkland and Issaquah:

  1. As elected officials serving on the Sound Transit board, we hold a body of knowledge that allows us to make transit decisions with the awareness of how it impacts land use, housing, and economic development. These big transit investments we make involve so much more than just moving people from point A to point B; we need board members with comprehensive knowledge and the new proposed governance structure puts this at risk.
  1. The new structure would likely result in higher costs for taxpayers. For example, Sound Transit has a track record of obtaining highly rated bonds with low interest rates. Bond rating agencies look at stability of revenues and stability of leadership. Moving away from our current structure of elected officials with finite terms and extensive knowledge would put us at risk for receiving lower rated bonds – the burden of which would be felt by taxpayers.
  1. As elected officials, we are good partners with Sound Transit and we pave the way for projects to happen more quickly. For example, we are able to have the necessary conversations at the city level to expedite permitting processes. By removing elected officials from the board, the proposed governance structure would likely result in projects that are built more slowly, and thus, at higher cost.
  1. Sound Transit has passed 22 consecutive clean audits. Having locally elected representation with accountability to our voters plays a big role in this impressive track record; changing the governance structure puts that at risk.
  1. As with all projects, big or small, sometimes things don’t go the way they should. The ability for a mayor serving as a board member from one jurisdiction to speak to his or her counterpart in another jurisdiction gives us the ability to address issues more quickly and keep projects closer to schedule. The proposed governance structure would hinder this effectiveness.
  1. Utilizing the professional expertise of in-house city staff helps us as elected officials make better, more informed decisions as Sound Transit board members. This would be lost with the new governance structure.
  1. As elected officials, we are regional colleagues and bring these good working relationships to the Sound Transit boardroom. The new governance structure would negatively impact the current camaraderie and institutional knowledge that facilitates efficiency.
  1. Lastly, and very simply put, changing the governance structure in the middle of very complex projects that are underway creates a high degree of instability and risk.

A hallmark of local government is our ability to be close to our constituents and respond accordingly with more and better infrastructure. Last year, as plans for ST3 were getting finalized, the message we heard from constituents loud and clear was “do more – and do it faster.” We’ve proven time and again that we can deliver on those requests, and to get people out of traffic and connected to their communities.

Marilyn Strickland is the current Mayor of Tacoma. Rob Johnson is the Seattle City Councilmember for District 4. Both are Sound Transit Board members. 

Volunteer Opportunity: Seattle Subway Political Director

Seattle Subway’s political director, Jonathan Hopkins, is moving on to be the Executive Director of Commute Seattle. We’re sad to see him go, he has done a plainly incredible job for Seattle Subway and our region and will be very much missed — all of the congrats to Jonathan on his new role!

He leaves big shoes to fill but a big opportunity for someone who wants to get involved in transit advocacy in our region.

The Seattle Subway Political Director is a central role to our organization. This person is the face of Seattle Subway. This means regular contact with Sound Transit and other government agencies, local politicians and media (print, online, radio and TV).

Duties include but aren’t limited to:

  • Attending monthly board meetings (remotely if necessary).
  • Regular appearances at volunteer events.
  • Maintaining relationships with regional institutions, agencies, politicos and other stakeholders.

We are looking for someone who is excited about what is happening with transit in our city, has excellent communications skills and a passion to get involved. Backgrounds in communications, media relations, political outreach, non-profit work and transit advocacy are all big pluses.

Seattle Subway is an all volunteer organization. If you are interested in joining our team – email contact@SeattleSubway.org

ACTION ALERT: Last Day to Improve Link Service

Seattle Subway Logo

Comments on Sound Transit’s 2017 Service Implementation Plan are due TODAY. Sound Transit staff will then process the comments and submit the service plan to the Board later this month. Send an email to the board emailtheboard@soundtransit.org and to service planning fastride@soundtransit.org now.

For maximum effect we suggest you keep your comments short and sweet. Here are what we consider the most important issues for 2017 service:

  1. Run ‘inverted peak‘ everyday. Until the new trains arrive in 2019 (we’ll have more later on how we can improve them) Sound Transit currently doesn’t have the fleet to run all 3 car trainsets. However they can run 3 car all day and then have the peak trains be two cars. Sound Transit already does this on special event days, but record setting ridership means they should operate this way everyday.
  2. Longer peak periods, especially in the morning.
  3. Later weekend service, including Sundays (Airport). With Link now connecting the two most popular nightlife destinations and serving the University late night service, especially on the weekends is needed. SeaTac/Airport station is currently serving double its projected ridership and it will only grow. Currently the last train to downtown and the UW leaves the airport at 11:19 p.m. This is unacceptable.

ST3 combined with ST2 and Sound Move means Sound Transit is building our region a world class subway system. They should start operating it like one.

What’s Next for Seattle Subway

SounderBruce (Flickr)
SounderBruce (Flickr)


Unless you have been living under an automobile for the last nine days you are probably aware that last Tuesday, ST3 passed.  It’s been a long, winding road to get here, and we have yet to summit the mountaintop, but at the moment the view is great.  ST3 is a huge win, but it is just the next step in moving towards Seattle Subway’s ultimate goal (hint: It’s our name.) There is still a lot of work to do to make sure ST3 is as big and awesome as it can be, arrives as quickly as possible, and that Sound Transit deliver the high quality service in the process.  

Our hopes for getting lines like Ballard-UW and Alaska Junction-Burien as part of ST3 have always hinged on additional federal funding.  We will set that aside for now as the future of funding transit at the federal level is now extremely murky.  On the positive side – the federal process is so extensive that the incoming administration could be long gone before it matters for ST3 projects.  

There are still three ways we know of to very significantly speed up the timelines for ST3 projects, and this is where our attention will be focused:

1) Vote in 2018 to fund ST3 fully through bonds. This vote would NOT  propose any new taxes or extend existing ST3 taxes. Instead, it will essentially ask voters “Do you want it faster?” By allowing Sound Transit to bond against future tax collection for 100% of project cost, it would speed up project timelines by years. Such a vote requires 60% approval, but we expect that “years faster for the same money” is a winning proposition.
Continue reading “What’s Next for Seattle Subway”

Uber Invests In the Future, Endorses ST3



“Double down on cars and buses.” That has essentially been the “No” campaign’s position in opposition to Sound Transit 3’s mix of light rail, commuter rail and BRT. Despite the likelihood of 800,000 more residents here by 2040, the opposition assumes, without showing their math, that self-driving cars can make rail obsolete within 20 years. Though experts say it’s too soon to tell how autonomous vehicles will impact traffic flow and volumes, transit opponents promise us that autonomous Ubers are going to fix everything by themselves, perhaps combined with buses stuck in traffic next to them.

Well, Uber came out with a surprising statement a week ago Monday:

Uber is dedicated to the future of cities—to making transportation reliable everywhere, for everyone. What we provide will just get us part of the way there, though. To fully realize the vision, we need strong partners among transit agencies and local governments. This is why we are urging voters to support Proposition 1. [emphases ours]

Uber joined the ranks of Amazon, Alaska Airlines, Microsoft, Vulcan, Costco, Expedia, and other companies proclaiming ST3 as critical to our region’s future. But Uber’s endorsement particularly stands out. As the undisputed market leader of app-based ride hailing, the company set aside its own non-endorsement traditions to support the nation’s largest transit-only measure. It was the first prominent and explicit political recognition by Uber that ride hailing apps and transit need each other. But you are likely to see opponents continue to make magical claims that the company itself no longer supports.

The statement aligns Uber and Sound Transit’s objectives, both seeking to “reduce congestion and pollution by moving more people with fewer cars, and provide better mobility options for all people living in the region.” In Seattle, facets of mobility and affordability account for 6 of the top 12 issues on people’s minds, according to an open ended question posed by Strategies 360 earlier this year.

Continue reading “Uber Invests In the Future, Endorses ST3”

Why Seattle Should Vote Yes on ST3



A lot of the discussion of Sound Transit 3 (ST3) – the transportation expansion package you’ll see on your November Ballot – has centered around regional mobility. ST3 will deliver a lot of value for the region, but what Seattle is getting can sometimes get lost in discussions about Everett and Tacoma.  Seattle is only paying for Seattle projects, so let’s look at what Seattle gets.

What is in a number? In the case of the $54 billion price tag for ST3, quite a lot: Inflation, federal funding, fares, and extending existing taxes that already don’t sunset for 1-2 decades. Breaking it down to new taxes in 2016 dollars for Seattle – ST3 is approximately $4 billion in Seattle, spread out over 25 years. That is still a lot of money, but ST3 brings massive value.

What do we get for that $4B?

Ballard to Downtown
The proposed Green Line isn’t just about Ballard. It will give Queen Anne and South Lake Union the downtown connection they need. It will connect Northwest Seattle to the Rainier Valley for the first time. Compared to RapidRide, it will be three times faster, far more reliable, and more frequent. In the 35 minutes it takes RapidRide D to get from Market Street to Pioneer Square, a Green Line train will already be in Rainier Beach. Repeat this to yourself a few times: vote yes, and once it opens you’ll never get stuck in traffic again.

The Green Line will be a blockbuster for ridership, with a high-end estimate of 144,000 rides every day. That is more rides than the population of Bellevue and higher ridership than the entire 60 mile Portland MAX system. It connects growing neighborhoods where people live and work with truly world-class transit. A new downtown tunnel will connect South Lake Union, Denny Triangle, Lower Queen Anne, Madison Street, and the International District. The elevated extension to Ballard will serve up to 10,000 Expedia employees in Interbay, East Magnolia/West Queen Anne, and of course, fast-growing Ballard itself. This line will mean a 14 minute trip from Ballard to Westlake or 11 minutes from Ballard to  South Lake Union—every time. Continue reading “Why Seattle Should Vote Yes on ST3”

How ST3 Helps Fight Climate Change


Vlad Gutman-Britten
Vlad Gutman-Britten

Over the coming several years, more than half of Washington’s emissions will come from the transportation sector. If we don’t act now, Puget Sound’s booming population will mean more people will clog our roads—cars will spend more time idling in traffic, dirtying our air not just with dangerous greenhouse gases but also other pollutants that contribute to asthma and other lung disease.

Tackling climate change is about so much more than cleaner cars and efficient lightbulbs. We must identify different ways of moving people around. In Puget Sound, even with a multitude of races on the ballot this November, passing Sound Transit  Proposition 1 is the single most important vote we can cast to fight climate change.

If it passes, it will stand alongside Los Angeles as among the most ambitious and comprehensive mass transit packages in the country. It means that commuters from Everett to Tacoma can choose a fast and reliable light rail system with zero tailpipe emissions over crawling on I-5. It means a more connected Seattle, so that trips to West Seattle and Ballard no longer mean hopping into a more expensive and higher polluting rideshare vehicle. Taken together, it will cut over 360 million vehicle miles per year, and the entire Sound Transit system will save 800,000 tons of annual carbon emissions—equal to burning 89 million gallons of gas.

Solving for climate change requires solutions at the scale of the problem. So rather than seeking merely to expand transit options, Sound Transit  Proposition 1 thinks bigger. As we develop greater rail and bus access, Sound Transit will also facilitate expansion of affordable and market-rate housing in areas adjacent to the growing system. This will be a game changer for how busy working families, people with disabilities, and seniors experience the system and afford our region. Studies show that families in auto-dependent areas spend 25% of their household income on transportation. In places with robust transit systems, that total falls to just 9%.

This kind of transit-oriented development doesn’t just reduce vehicle miles traveled, it can help eliminate the need for a car entirely. The American Public Transportation Association estimates that families that rely on transit, only possible with a comprehensive system, will save over $10,000 a year in fuel and other costs. This is a clear win for our climate, and it ensures that low-income communities can thrive in the heart of our region.

Environmental advocates often argue that the transition to a clean economy will contribute to broadly shared prosperity, supporting more jobs than our fossil fuel economy does. Investments in public transit are a centerpiece of that transition—Sound Transit Proposition 1 will create nearly 80,000 direct jobs  and contribute an additional 144,000 indirect ones. For comparison, the fossil fuel sector in Washington employs less than 12,000 people.

The fight against climate change isn’t just about averting disaster. It’s about cheaper living, cleaner air, and wasting less time in traffic. Vote YES on Sound Transit Proposition 1.

Vlad Gutman-Britten is the Washington Director of Climate Solutions

ST3 is a Go!

stc__complete-v12_full_artboardSEATTLE SUBWAY

Seattle Subway was formed just over 4 years ago with a simple goal: Speed up high quality rail investment in Seattle. Today, the Puget Sound region took a momentous step towards that goal when the Sound Transit Board approved the ST3 plan that will be on the ballot in November. The planning process has been long and sometimes contentious, but the final product is very much worthy of your vote.

The light rail extensions alone are expected to carry 243,000-307,000 people a day including a 7 mile Ballard/Lower Queen Anne/South Lake Union/Downtown line that will carry more riders each day than the entire 60 mile Portland MAX system. West Seattle riders will enjoy a 12 minute trip from the Junction to International District station that never gets stuck in bridge traffic. The plan has a a lot more good news for every part of our region.

Nearly all of our criticisms of the draft plan have been addressed in the final plan:  

  • It will be built faster
    Timelines are sped up by 3 years on most projects via tweaks to the finance plan. We have noted that they can be sped up 3 more years by cities choosing to expedite public process prior to the vote. Projects can be expedited even further after the vote by changes to the bond coverage rules or by additional federal/state funding.  
  • ST3 rail will be 100% grade separated
    We fought long and hard for this win. Grade separation for rail is a founding Seattle Subway principle and the speed/reliability/capacity benefits of this choice will be enjoyed for generations to come.  
  • Provisional/EIS
    This is a very big deal. Though they are not called out as “provisional“, we have been assured that additional extensions can be built as part of ST3 if more funding from Federal, State or local sources can be identified, if projects come in under budget, or if the bonding coverage rules change. Currently, the funding assumptions for ST3 are: 11% from the Federal government, 0% from the State government, and 0% from additional local funding mechanisms. Essentially any funding mechanism other than additional tax receipts. What does it mean? Though all the dotted extensions we show are unlikely to be built, they could be. Smaller gains could mean significant improvements to the plan via single station extensions such as Fremont/Zoo/Aurora and Westwood Village, or additional study work that could save 6+ years off future project delivery.
  • 130th Street Station will be built
    This gives a solid timeline for greatly improved transfer opportunity for Lake City bus riders than 145th and is a prime location for TOD/affordable housing per the Seattle 2035 plan.

Seattle Subway always focuses on the light rail part of the investment, but it’s worth noting there is something for nearly everyone in this plan. ST3 will also include major expansions of Sounder, Tacoma Link Extensions, and 405 BRT to serve Burien to Lynnwood via the Eastside. Seattle Transit Blog will have full coverage of the plan’s details tomorrow morning.

Over the past four years, Seattle Subway has spoken to thousands of people at hundreds of community events and hundreds of thousands on our social channels. The biggest criticism we’ve heard from nearly everyone is that rail can’t get to more people, faster. ST3 is a giant leap towards that goal for our region. We want to thank the Sound Transit Board for their hard work balancing competing priorities to put together a very good plan and to Sound Transit staff for their tireless work behind the scenes.

Seattle Subway is excited to fight for the passage of ST3 and to one day enjoy a city that no longer lacks this essential transportation infrastructure. Today, we have a plan ready for a vote in November that will overturn a century of false starts in Seattle.

For both ourselves and for future generations –the answer is clear: YES on ST3.  

Action Alert – Last Push for Provisional Extensions


Last week Seattle Subway wrote about the importance of future proofing ST3 by including provisional projects in the plan. A provisional project is a project approved by the board and voters, but doesn’t have any budget. This would mean voters approve projects now and when funds become available they can immediately be used towards those projects without issue.

Between Federal or State grants, local funds or increased ST revenues from growth, or savings (U Link was $200 million under budget) there is a high likelihood that additional funds could become available in the next 25 years. We need to be able to take advantage of this and move as quickly as possible towards building out our system. Our region is a hundred years behind already, we can’t afford to wait longer.

Thank you to Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy for beginning the exploration of how to include Provisional projects in each Sound Transit Subarea for inclusion in the Sound Transit 3 plan at last week’s Board Meeting. (1:38 mark)

Thanks also to Seattle Councilmember Rob Johnson for working on this.

We are so close to pushing this over the finish line. Tomorrow is where the final draft of ST3 will be hammered out. Please EmailTheBoard@soundtransit.org and tell them you want provisional projects in each Subarea included in Sound Transit 3’s plan!

How to Improve Access to Capitol Hill Station


This article is cross-posted from Central Seattle Greenways.

On February 29, 2016, Central Seattle Greenways volunteers and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways staff met at Capitol Hill Station to conduct an accessibility audit of the station area. We focused on three priorities: safety of street crossings, obstructions in crosswalks and along sidewalks, and sidewalk capacity. The station is expected to serve 14,000 riders every day in 2030, making safety and accessibility of the entrances a significant priority.

The map below shows the audit area. Intersections that were assessed are circled, and station entrances are marked with stars. Specifically, the intersections were: Broadway E & E John St / E Olive Way, Broadway E & E Denny Way, Broadway Ave E & E Thomas St, Harvard Ave E & E Olive Way, and 10th Ave E & E John St.

Assessed intersections are circled in red, station entrances are marked with green stars.
Assessed intersections are circled in red, station entrances are marked with green stars.

We identified several common problems at the intersections and the sidewalks connecting them:

  • Obstructions (poles, hydrants) in or very near curb ramps
  • Obstructions (poles, signal cabinets, A-boards) blocking painted crosswalks
  • Ramps misaligned on opposite sides of a crosswalk
  • Ramps turned at an angle to the crosswalk
  • Drivers making dangerous turns through occupied crosswalks
  • Difficult crossings of John (at 10th) and Olive (at Harvard)
  • Sidewalks narrowed by obstructions (trash cans, newspaper boxes, A-boards, shelters)

Easy Wins – Quick, low cost solutions:

Continue reading “How to Improve Access to Capitol Hill Station”

Provisionals for All: ST3 Must Plan for the Future

Provisionals-v2_Full ArtboardBY SEATTLE SUBWAY

As regional stakeholders continue to work on the inevitable push and pull of budgeting for a massive transit expansion, we want to make sure that a huge improvement to the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) system plan isn’t overlooked: designation of “provisional projects.” Adding provisional projects will cost next to nothing to implement while adding the potential for ST3 to accomplish a lot more. A provisional project is a project that, if funding becomes available, can be built as part of the ST3 plan without an additional vote.  Without a provisional designation, a project cannot be built without further voter approval. 

The draft plan for ST3 provides voter authority for “provisional projects” if additional funding becomes available in the twenty-five year duration of ST3. Each of the five Sound Transit subareas should have one or more projects ready to go if additional funding becomes available

  • North King – Ballard to UW
  • South King – West Seattle to Burien
  • East King – Bellevue to Kirkland 
  • Snohomish County – Spine to Paine Field Connector
  • Pierce County – Tacoma Mall Extension

Sound Transit knows that each of these projects has merit now, but is waiting on a future ballot measure to pay for them. But there are many ways that funding could become available, before the next vote. These include:

  • An Increase in Federal Funding
    ST currently assumes the federal government will only contribute 11-13% of capital costs but changes in federal budget can happen quickly. When the San Francisco metro area began building BART in 1966, the federal government only funded 20% of the capital costs. Just 6 years later, the federal government generously offered to foot 75% of the bill for Seattle’s Forward Thrust–money that went to Atlanta’s MARTA instead due to insufficient voter appetites in the Puget Sound. In 1974, federal statute increased that matching level to 80%. As America urbanizes, we have an opportunity–with sufficient Congressional and Presidential leadership–to move past the 11-13% federal funding level and ensure our slowest projects are still delivered within 15-18 years. With the presidential candidates talking about increases in infrastructure spending, this is not an impossible dream.
  • An Increase in State Funding
    The Seattle Metro area (King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties comprise 52% of state residents, 62% of state tax revenue, and produce 71% of the state’s economic output. As we go, so goes the state.
  • Projects coming in under budget
    Who builds transit projects 10% under budget? We do, with more savings expected on Angle Lake, opening later this year.
  • Higher than expected tax revenues
    Provisional lines can be built if our economy fares better than the cautious growth projected by Sound Transit. Small differences in growth rates can make a big difference over 25 years.

This year alone, Sound Transit light rail projects will come in $240M (10%) under budget and receive $600M in unexpected federal grants. Our economy is booming, and twenty-five years of growth could add hundreds of millions of additional funding to ST budgets. Let’s authorize engineering and construction of “provisional projects” now, to maximize the benefits of any savings on other projects.

West Seattle Junction to Burien, Ballard to UW, Kirkland to Bellevue, Paine Field Connector, and Tacoma Mall must be designated as “provisional projects” when the Board votes in June. 

TCC, Feet First, and Cascade’s Letter on the Waterfront Alternatives

Tiffany Von Arnim (Flickr)
Tiffany Von Arnim (Flickr)


Together, we believe that a waterfront rebuilt post­viaduct is an opportunity to shape the city into a more sustainable, safe, vibrant, accessible, and connected destination for people of all ages and abilities.

While we stand by our original comments on the previously published DEIS, we would like to respond to new information in the SDEIS. Our earlier comments commended the City for its work towards the creation of new public space and easy walking and biking access between downtown and the waterfront. At the same time, we collectively urged the City to maximize transit reliability along the southern portion of Alaskan Way while exploring ways to reduce the excessive number of lanes in this area, helping provide a safe and pleasant experiences for people walking and biking.

Although initial analysis in the DEIS projects less congestion on the newly designed Alaskan Way corridor, research suggests that expanding the number lanes on Alaskan Way could inherently stimulate travel demand, resulting in the same amount of congestion. We understand your model forecasts demand and travel time, suggesting additional lanes to theoretically improve congestion. However, widening roads typically leads to immediate growth of vehicle miles traveled on a corridor. This induced demand has the potential to negate all planned benefits of additional roadway capacity, which eventually will not accommodate the entirety of predicted increased travel demand. We cannot build our way out of congestion. Instead, the city should build for the waterfront experience we want today, investing in proven travel demand management initiatives to increase the number of people who take the bus, walk, and bike. We again urge the City to use multimodal LOS standards to measure the success of a corridor, prioritizing the movement of people and goods instead of only the movement of vehicles alone.

The SDEIS presents a new alternative for the southern portion of Alaskan Way Corridor that reduces pedestrian crossing distances at several crosswalks. While we appreciate the City’s responsiveness to requests to reduce right­of­way width and improve nonmotorized connections between downtown and the waterfront, we are disappointed that this alternative sacrificed transit reliability to do so.

We believe that the Alaskan Way Corridor should provide safe, reliable, comfortable, and pleasant transportation options for all users. Crossings in this area should be designed to encourage easy travel between the newly developed waterfront and Pioneer Square, one of the fastest growing neighborhoods in Seattle. At the same time, the limited road space that we have should be allocated to modes that move the most people in the most efficient way possible, helping the City meet its climate and sustainability goals. Rather than analyze two alternatives that pit transit against walking and biking, we urge the City to develop an alternative that maintains transit priority and commits to Vision Zero safety standards.

Continue reading “TCC, Feet First, and Cascade’s Letter on the Waterfront Alternatives”

The Southeast Seattle Bus Restructure Responds to Community Input

By King County Councilmembers Joe McDermott and Larry Gossett

County Councilmember Joe McDermott
County Councilmember Joe McDermott

King County aims to deliver public transportation that grows access to jobs and education. Transit transforms communities and economies, helps address inequity, and plays a role in mitigating displacement. As STB has covered, the County Council is currently considering multiple changes to the bus network which includes enhanced service to South Seattle neighborhoods and South King County communities. We are both very supportive of transforming the network to better work for our communities and to protect cultural anchors, businesses and institutions as we grow and change.

King County is changing. We are quickly growing and demographics are shifting. Gentrification is occurring in South Seattle and the suburbanization of poverty to South King County is evident. King County is working in partnership with the City of Seattle to make sure our bus system is adapting to increased and changing needs.

County Councilmember Larry Gossett
County Councilmember Larry Gossett

A significant amount of public input shaped this service change. The new network is a result of years of community engagement. The engagement included a community advisory group, online surveys, community meetings, and input from thousands of impacted residents. The input received from the community was received and the routes were analyzed using Metro service guidelines. The result of all this work was passed out of committee Tuesday and will be considered by Full Council on May 16th. Before the Full Council, we will advocate for its passage.

This restructure proposal addresses long standing community concerns and meets Metro’s service guidelines. It fills gaps in service from Southeast Seattle, Renton and Tukwila to Downtown Seattle. It eliminates low-performing service. The Rainier Valley will enjoy enhanced, frequent service along MLK Jr. Way South, Rainier Avenue South, and South Jackson Street to the International District. Georgetown will receive a net increase of trips to and from Georgetown while maintaining connections provided by the current Route 106 with service improvements to the 124 and extension of the route 107 into Beacon Hill. Proposed improved weekday and Saturday service, Route 124 will operate on an even schedule and common pathway, with trips arriving about every 15 minutes throughout the day.  Added service frequency on Route 124 will not only benefit Georgetown but also double the service between Georgetown and Tukwila, including the E Marginal Way S corridor with improved access to employment and education sites and connections with other transit service and Link at the Tukwila Station.

Since 2009, and discussion around the elimination of the bus route 42, Asian Counseling Referral Service (ACRS) and the Filipino Community Center along with other community groups and organizers have worked with Metro to provide excellent transit service to Southeast Seattle. This spring, Puget Sound Sage and Got Green published Our People, Our Planet, Our Power—Community Led Research in South Seattle. The report was a culmination of nine months of research and outreach in South Seattle/King County. They interviewed 175 residents and engaged 30 organizations that work in the communities. When asked about community concerns, the lack of public transportation and affordable housing were two of the top three concerns. Increasing bus service in South Seattle and South King County is crucial. Rainier Valley residents use bus service more than higher earner areas of the County. Increasing service provides more direct access to jobs and education, but is also helps root current community members, cultural anchors, businesses and institutions. We have heard for years from impacted communities about the cultural neighborhoods and institutions that need more bus service. Now, we are responding to these concerns.

King County Councilmember Joe McDermott is the chair of the Metropolitan King County Council. He represents West Seattle, Vashon and Maury Islands, Burien and parts of Tukwila on Capitol Hill on the County Council. King County Councilmember Larry Gossett represents the Central Area, Beacon Hill, the Rainer Valley, Skyway and parts of North Seattle and Capitol Hill.

Progressive Nonprofit Coalition Submits ST3 Comments

Pete Lorimer (Flickr)
Pete Lorimer (Flickr)

The following ST3 comment letter (PDF) was submitted by a coalition of 10 local progressive nonprofits. 

Dear Sound Transit Board Members,

Thank you for the opportunity to comment on the Sound Transit 3 (ST3) system plan and policies. The Transit Access Stakeholder group is a growing coalition of organizations that strongly supports connecting the Puget Sound region through affordable, reliable, and sustainable transit. Together, we represent environmental, land use, active transportation, social justice, affordable housing, and transit stakeholders, with thousands of members in the central Puget Sound region. We look forward to mobilizing our memberships in support of a Sound Transit 3 system plan that is consistent with the following framework:

Bring light rail to more neighborhoods sooner. Sound Transit should work with individual jurisdictions to find ways to shorten planning processes or identify more funding in order for more communities to have access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable transportation as soon as possible. Our coalition welcomes the opportunity to support you in these efforts.

Increase investments in local transit, walking and biking access to high capacity transit. Demonstrate regional leadership by providing funding to cities to build safe, inviting, and convenient access with appropriate wayfinding, lighting, safety, and other universal design standards within a half mile minimum walkshed of stations. Investments in local transit, walking, and biking access are an affordable, effective, and sustainable way to attract riders.

Focus parking investments on cost-effective, flexible, and priced solutions. We urge Sound Transit to conduct a comprehensive needs assessment for all planned parking facilities to ensure that investments are socially equitable, reflect demand, and accommodate changes in density that will occur around station areas as land use zoning and development changes over time. Parking should be priced, with revenues reinvested to improve connections for people travelling to that station on foot, bike, or transit.

Continue reading “Progressive Nonprofit Coalition Submits ST3 Comments”