How to Fix ST3 so Seattle Will Vote For It

stc__complete-v7_seattleSEATTLE SUBWAY

When most Seattleites saw the draft ST3 plan that Sound Transit released on Thursday, they were taken aback. 22 years to get to Ballard with a long section at-grade? 15 years to get to West Seattle? None of the other extensions we need? Seattleites were expecting more out of a $50 Billion dollar regional plan. Upon further review of the draft ST3 plan, however, Seattle Subway believes that we’re really not that far away from a plan Seattleites can get behind.

Here is how to fix it:

1.  Expedite the construction of light rail in Seattle.

The biggest criticism of the proposed package that we’ve heard from Seattle voters and our supporters is the glacial pace of construction to Ballard and West Seattle.  Sound Transit must do everything it can to expedite the construction of light rail in Seattle, including the elimination of projects that do not contribute the same benefits to mobility in Seattle.  The line to Ballard is the single best project in the package, by every possible metric (Ridership per dollar?  Check.  Potential for Transit Oriented Development?  Check.  Potential for federal funding?  Check.).  Seattle voters will not support a package unless they will live to ride the rail.

2.  Make Ballard to Downtown fully grade separated.

Once light rail is constructed at-grade, our city will be stuck with a flawed system, forever. Delays from our existing stretch of at-grade rail ripple throughout the system and limit the future  capacity of rail through the Rainier Valley.  All new light rail must be constructed with grade separation. This line, in particular, needs to be built to the highest quality possible. The high range ridership estimate for Ballard to downtown is 145,000 riders per day, which would mean:
-Ballard to Downtown’s daily ridership will be greater than the entire population of Bellevue.
-Ballard to Downtown’s daily ridership will be equivalent to the entire Portland MAX system.

3.  Provide complete funding of an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the extensions from Ballard to UW and from West Seattle to Burien, and add both lines as “provisional projects” if additional funding becomes available.  
Continue reading “How to Fix ST3 so Seattle Will Vote For It”

Light Rail: A Long and Winding Road

by GREG NICKELS

There are those who believe the debate over light rail in Seattle began in November, 1851 with the landing of the Denny party at Alki. Seattle Mayor Bertha Knight Landes (1926 – 1928) created a committee of businessmen to  study rapid transit. However, most point to the defeat of the 1968 and 1970 Forward Thrust bond issues as the time when mass transit became political road-kill for a generation. Seattle’s federal match went to Atlanta to build MARTA.

How far we have come. Since 2009 thirteen stations have served thousands of passengers every day (currently over 36,000 boardings a day), and we’re just getting started!  This week we celebrate the completion of stations on Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium, and soon, South 200th. This second round of station openings is a game changer. A person on Capitol Hill will be able to get to the University or Downtown in five minutes by light rail! A UW student can live in Des Moines and get to the University on LINK.

As the Sound Move package essentially completes its mission this year, I’d like to share one perspective on the prickly history of our region’s debate, its starts and stops, and the challenge of building consensus on our path to light rail.

bassett_lr_planning4I got involved in 1988, co-sponsoring an advisory ballot asking King County voters whether to build a light rail system to open in 2000. Nearly 70% said yes and it broke the political logjam.

After several more years of planning and the creation of the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority in 1993, the first vote to fund Mass Transit in 25 years was scheduled for a March 14, 1995 special election. In addition to Commuter Rail, the RTA plan contained a surface light rail system connecting Tacoma to Seattle, north to Lynnwood and east across Lake Washington on I-90 to Bellevue and Redmond.

That measure went down to defeat and history repeated itself – mass transit once again was treated by many politicians in Olympia and the region as political road kill.

Despite a close outcome, the votes were not evenly distributed. Seattle overwhelmingly passed the measure – but the rest of King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties voted no. Some say that Prohibition would have polled better than the RTA did in Everett. Politically it was necessary to show broad support, not just from a Seattle-dominated electorate.

Continue reading “Light Rail: A Long and Winding Road”

Action Alert: Kirkland City Council to Vote to Oppose Light Rail This Evening

Seattle Subway LogoSEATTLE SUBWAY

Tonight the Kirkland City Council is planning on voting to ratify a letter that, among other things, contains the following statement.

“If light rail on the Cross Kirkland Corridor is included in the ST3 package, Kirkland would have to oppose the ballot measure.”

The Council’s opposition to light rail is a tactic to try and force Bus Rapid Transit, which is extremely unpopular among Eastsiders. To be be fair the situation isn’t helped by early Sound Transit Study work that Seattle Subway has been trying to improve since 2014. Yesterday Zach took it a step further and suggested an incredible Eastside network, which should be the starting point for any Eastside transit discussion moving forward. This is what the City Council should focus on implementing.

However, due to their opposition to light rail and pressure from anti-transit homeowners near the Cross Kirkland Corridor (CKC) the Kirkland City Council is planning ask Sound Transit to spend $250 million on trail improvements while completely punting on transit until ST4.

Let’s be clear, there will be no ST4. Once the spine is completed, there will be no major projects left for the suburban subareas. This is the last regional package from Sound Transit as we know it.

So the Kirkland Compromise of punting on transit until the next regional vote is no compromise, it is capitulation.

If you live, work or play on the Eastside, please show up and let the Kirkland City Council know you want a rail extension in ST3.

Kirkland City Council Meeting
Tuesday 3/15, 7:30 PM
Peter Kirk Room
123 Fifth Avenue
Kirkland, Washington 98033

Show up and be heard – the fate of ST3 could hang in the balance. If you can’t make it, please send email comments to and the Kirkland City Council and to the entire Sound Transit Board, or email Eastside Boardmembers Balducci, Butler, and Marchione. Tell them you want new rail connectivity to Kirkland, and that you don’t want intra-Eastside politics to jeopardize Link to Everett, Tacoma, Ballard, West Seattle, or a second Downtown Transit Tunnel.

In a Big ST3 Package, a Ballard-UW Line is Essential

BY SEATTLE SUBWAY

SounderBruce (Flickr)
Standing Room Only Route 44 – SounderBruce (Flickr)

The Sound Transit Board is now seriously considering a larger package for the next big regional transit expansion, ST3. Our understanding is that the most likely timeline for the finance plan is at least 25 years, up from 15 years. This means at least an 84% increase in funding for North King projects. Considering the increased scope of the package, it’s essential that a Ballard to University District (Ballard/UW) line be included in ST3 – for reasons that go well beyond the line’s end points.

Seattle Subway wrote about Ballard/UW in June of 2014 in response to the first round of ST3 study work. In response Sound Transit improved their station locations, however, their analysis still lowballs the performance of the line by treating it as a standalone segment. Ballard/UW must be looked at both as an extension of Ballard-Downtown and in the context of the transit restructures it could enable.

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If a Downtown to Ballard line turned east at Market Street and continued to UW, it would have several advantages including:

  • 14 Minutes from Upper Fremont to Downtown and 16 Minutes from Wallingford to Downtown, both of which are highly competitive with the E-Line and Route 16 (62).
  • Remove virtually all buses from crossing the Aurora bridge, a significant safety and traffic improvement. Currently over 550 buses cross every day.
  • The ability to remove most buses from the Aurora corridor south of 46th, which has a limited walkshed, overly narrow lanes, antiquated infrastructure, and heavy traffic.
  • Relieve pressure on downtown surface streets while still serving the same trips more reliably.
  • A single line reduces costs by not requiring an inefficient standalone maintenance yard.
  • A single Ballard station can adequately serve both Downtown and crosstown lines.

The importance of the bus transfer for transit users along the Aurora and Greenwood Avenue North corridor cannot be overstated. These areas have high concentrations of people who are transit dependent and adding this fast connection to the regional system will greatly improve the rider experience and reliability for the tens of thousands of E-Line and Route 44 riders.

Ballard/UW has many other advantages that have been well documented on this blog, for example, traveling from Ballard to the University District in 7 minutes across a 3.5 mile stretch that is already one of the most congested corridors in Seattle and one of the least likely to see substantial surface improvements due to severe right of way limitations.  

Sound Transit has long assumed ST3 would have lines to Ballard and the West Seattle junction via Downtown Seattle, back before the likely package size was increased by 84%. An increase this large means that both Ballard/UW and an extension from West Seattle Junction to Burien must be included in the ST3 package for the November ballot. The board has the tools it needs to achieve this goal and the city needs both lines.  

The region needs the Ballard/UW line to ensure that the positive energy of a broad coalition around ST3 continues. More than 200,000 people live in Seattle Districts 4 and 6 close to a proposed station in the Ballard/UW corridor. Add in improved transit access to the regional system via transfers for a large portion of the 30,700 people who ride the Aurora bridge buses every day and it becomes clear that we can’t leave this line out of ST3.

In short, Ballard/UW votes and gets people excited to make ST3 happen. If you think the Ballard to UW line is essential, as we do, it’s now or never. Speak up or prepare for this essential transit infrastructure to be punted for another generation or more.  

Ballard/UW crosses districts represented by ST board member/city councilmember Rob Johnson (Rob.Johnson@Seattle.gov) and city councilmember Mike O’Brien (Mike.Obrien@Seattle.gov), whom we are sure would like to know about their constituents’ support for this extension. Also, EmailTheBoard@SoundTransit.org and let them all know how you feel.

ACTION ALERT: Time to Start Pushing HALA Through

by RENEE STATON

Line5452 - Flickr - NOAA Photo Library
Wikimedia
2016 started with a new, energetic Seattle City Council focused on implementing the Grand Bargain and other recommendations in Mayor Murray’s Housing Affordability and Liveability Agenda (“HALA”). The new year appears to have also renewed efforts by those who oppose the HALA recommendations.

Last Wednesday, anti-HALA organizers Greg Hill and Catherine Weatbrook presented their perspective on HALA to an estimated 150 people gathered for a Wallingford Community Council meeting. No City of Seattle presenters were invited to speak, though Councilmember Rob Johnson (District 4) attended and listened to the presentation and public comment. Unfortunately, people who went with an open mind to learn more likely walked out of the Wallingford meeting equipped with one-sided, misleading information.

For the HALA recommendations to pass, urbanists need to provide the other side of that conversation over the next two years. HALA and the Grand Bargain represent the best opportunity Seattle has for achieving greater housing affordability in one of the fastest growing U.S. cities. The HALA policy recommendations will produce and preserve a record number of income-restricted units in Seattle, will accommodate projected population growth without sacrificing affordability, and will leverage our significant public investments in light rail and bus transit by providing households of all incomes a place to live within easy access to jobs and schools.

That process kicks off at a city-wide event tomorrow. Those who want to see HALA recommendations implemented should attend tomorrow’s meeting and stay vocal and engaged in the months ahead. It will be a long process, and supporters need to remain visible in their support. Some of the HALA recommendations, especially those that involve zoning changes or that impact parking, are controversial. Opponents are well organized and it will be extremely important for pro-housing urbanists who support these changes to attend meetings, to speak at them, and to write the Mayor and Council expressing support. Organizing in support of HALA is essential if we want to keep our city great and ensure that Seattle stays affordable and accessible for our children, baristas, teachers, and newcomers to our city.

Important upcoming ways to show your support for HALA and housing affordability in Seattle:

Seattle at Work: Housing Affordability & Livability Agenda
Tuesday, January 26, 2016, 5:00 – 7:00 PM
Seattle City Hall, 600 4th Ave, Bertha Knight Landes Room
https://www.facebook.com/events/1116203131753630/

Telephone Town Halls with Mayor Ed Murray
Mayor Murray will host three Telephone Town Halls. Call-in numbers and additional details will be updated as announced.
North, January 31st 4-5 pm
Central, February 2nd 6-7pm
South, February 4th 6-7pm

Writing to Mayor Ed Murray and Seattle City Council
Send a quick note to council@seattle.gov and seattleatwork@seattle.gov to let them know that you support housing policies and programs that give more opportunities for people of all walks of life to live and work in Seattle. Tell them that you support the HALA recommendations and want to see them implemented in your own neighborhood and citywide.

Renee Staton lives in Seattle’s Pinehurst neighborhood where she has organized on issues related to land use, transportation, affordable housing and parks.

Achieving a Robust Transit Solution in ST3

BY SEATTLE SUBWAY

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Seattle Subway has submitted comments related to the Sound Transit 3 comment period that ends today for organizations and local governments.  As a signatory to the Transit Access Stakeholders letter to the ST board, Seattle Subway strongly supports the principles endorsed by this broad cross-section of community organizations.

As the Sound Transit Board develops a system plan over the coming months, we want to detail certain actions and choices that will be critical to fulfilling these broadly-supported goals.

Our additional recommendations to the board are as follows:

1. Seattle Subway supports Regional Operations Option 3:  A new Downtown Seattle light rail tunnel with a new operating plan to support regional transit capacity.

2. Provide a light rail connection between Totem Lake, Kirkland, Bellevue and Eastgate in ST3. Unlike E-03, this connection must provide stops in downtown Bellevue without requiring downtown users to transfer at Wilburton Station.

3. Include contingency lines in ST3. Our well-run transit agency can deliver projects under budget. We have seen this during the construction of University Link and further such opportunities are likely to arise even after we put a robust plan to voters. Good project management, along with local, state and federal grant funding over the course of the program can be used to build a more comprehensive system. Contingency lines could make the following possible if additional funding becomes available:

Continue reading “Achieving a Robust Transit Solution in ST3”

Metro Responds to Our Capitol Hill Restructure Article

STB has a longstanding policy to print unedited responses to our articles by agency officials. Metro’s Deputy General Manager Victor Obeso submitted this response to Zach’s Tuesday piece entitled “Metro Cancels Capitol Hill Restructure“. 

BY VICTOR OBESO

Photo of Metro Director of Service Development Victor Obeso
Metro Deputy General Manager Victor Obeso

Metro hasn’t canceled the Capitol Hill restructure. Riders will see more frequent and reliable bus service integrated with rail service when ULink launches in 2016.

Metro did have to pull back on the proposal to move Route 11 to John/Thomas, intended to help Capitol Hill riders have better east-west service. As part of our regular planning routine to test that bus turns can be made, we tested the turns between Madison and 19th and determined that changes to roadway channelization would be necessary to enable the right turn from Madison to 19th. SDOT rejected Metro’s rechannelization proposal. As a result, Route 11 will still take riders downtown on its current path. Metro heard a wide array of comments on changing or keeping the path of the Route 11.

Not being able to change the path of Route 11 doesn’t diminish the other key changes with real benefits for riders: Better frequency and better reliability on Capitol Hill.

  • Buses will be coming to Capitol Hill Station every 12 minutes North-South and East-West during the mid-day, and every 10-15 minutes during the peaks.
  • We will be splitting Routes 8 and 48 to improve their reliability. (Unlike the Alternative 2 network)
  • Riders will see added service on Routes 8, 12, 48 and 49.
  • Routes 8, 9, 49, 60 and the Streetcar all go past and serve Capitol Hill station with frequent service.
  • More frequent evening trips on Route 8 will be funded by keeping Route 11 on its current, more direct path.

Overall, we received mixed feedback from Capitol Hill riders and from surrounding neighborhoods on more aggressive restructuring concepts. There was no consensus throughout the process and we attempted to balance a number of competing objectives.

We’ll be monitoring travel patterns after ULink launches and look for opportunities for further changes, including participating in SDOT’s Madison BRT efforts. We’ve been working with SDOT on making many transit improvements we need across the city and they continue to be a key partner in working to make March changes a success.

We continue to plan jointly with Sound Transit so bus transfers work easily for riders. Each new station gives us an opportunity to learn from our past and make the system work better, and this is a responsibility we take seriously.

Metro and Sound Transit continue to chart a shared path forward, with integrated long-range planning, coordinated bus-rail connections, ORCA Lift coordination and open data sharing – examples of joint transit systems we successfully operate every day. Metro will continue to roll out bold restructures to better integrate rail and buses as ST2 projects come on line.  Sometimes public resistance, council opposition, or decisions on city street operations cause us to go back to the drawing board.  We will continue to look at changes to the Capitol Hill service network in the coming years.

ST3 – Once in a Lifetime

by SEATTLE SUBWAY

ST3 is a once in a lifetime opportunity.  

Let’s make it great!

As you sit in a car or bus stuck in ever-worsening traffic in our region, do you ever imagine what our region would be like if we had approved Forward Thrust in 1968 or 1970—a system that would have been completed in the 1980s?

There is an equally important opportunity in front of the ST board starting on Dec 4th. We are not talking about just getting rail to Everett & Tacoma, or just West Seattle to Ballard. We are talking about a complete system in one vote.

Due to a unique convergence of factors, the Sound Transit board has a rare opportunity to do just that. They have the ability to connect our entire region and provide the Puget Sound with a much more complete solution to our transit troubles than they envisioned 3 years ago when they commenced planning for ST3.

Changing Times

During the height of the recession, when the board decided that ST should plan for a possible 2016 ballot measure, the choice seemed bullish. It is a bullish decision no longer. Our region is among the fastest growing in the country. Seattle alone added 58,000 people within its borders from 2010 to 2014. Traffic delays have increased up to 290% in some areas since 2010. We suffer from a challenge of abundance—unemployment in most large cities in our metro area is only in the 3-4% range and hiring doesn’t look to be slowing down.

Option that solves more problems

With our rapid growth in population and jobs, should we be content with a limited, recession-era plan to grow our rail system? What if we could do more while spending money more responsibly on a clear, long-term path to a complete transit system in just one vote? And what if that complete plan would cost us the same amount per year as the smaller, recession era version? The basic concept is this: Sound Transit puts forth a ballot measure that has more projects with more time to pay for them and more time to construct them. By planning and building a system instead of multiple votes for a few lines at a time, we have the ability to think and act strategically, save staff time and set ourselves up for more federal funds.

Continue reading “ST3 – Once in a Lifetime”

Correcting the Record on Single-Family Upzones

by LISA HERBOLD

Lisa Herbold

Seattle Transit Blog editor Martin H. Duke misrepresented my position when he wrote on Saturday:

Council Candidate Lisa Herbold argues that flexibility in single­-family zones will threaten displacement from affordable single-family homes.

Click through to the article in the link above, and you will see that my position relates not to opposing “flexibility,” but to rezoning existing single­-family zones without including a companion housing preservation strategy. When we talk about “flexibility” within single-­family zones, we are not referring to rezones; rather we are referring to expansion of the current DADU program and allowing backyard cottages in existing single-­family zones, which I support. “Flexibility in single-­family” zones presupposes the retention, not the elimination, of the single­-family zone.

So now that we’ve got the definitions straight, on to the rest of the article, which says:

But current law doesn’t prevent a landlord from renovating or rebuilding a single­family home to be more valuable and displacing the tenant. When this redevelopment occurs, the only difference between the law allowing a triplex and demanding a single home is that it forces two additional households out of Seattle.

It’s true that current law doesn’t prevent rebuilding or renovating a single­-family structure that displaces the tenant when a new single family structure is built. But it is not a good comparison because it ignores how upzones create incentives for redevelopment. Hopefully it is understood that the frequency of tenants being displaced after a renovation or rebuilding of a single-family home in single-family zones is less than the frequency of displacement from redevelopment that occurs when the value of property is increased after an upzone. It is that frequency of displacement that makes this a pressing issue when contemplating the upzone of approximately 138,000 single family homes, about 36,000 of them home to renter households.

Finally, the mischaracterization of my position and argument against it ends with this sentence:

Continue reading “Correcting the Record on Single-Family Upzones”

ST3 Should Include BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor

By Jay Arnold

Kirkland Councilmember Jay Arnold (King County photo)
Kirkland Councilmember Jay Arnold (King County photo)

Later this afternoon, the Sound Transit Board will begin to define the ST3 package by determining their priority project list (PPL). As the project list gets narrowed, Sound Transit board members have an opportunity to be responsive to feedback from open houses and community outreach, provide meaningful transportation options for areas of dramatic growth, and create an ST3 package that has the best chance to be successful at the ballot in 2016.

Kirkland is in the middle of this dramatic growth. With over 82,000 residents, we are a smart-growth city that has already planned for transit-oriented development. Over the past decade, we have zoned for dense commercial and residential development, and are now seeing explosive growth with thousands of new multi-family units in the pipeline and thousands of new high-tech jobs in our downtown and Totem Lake urban center. Now, we need the transit.

Sound Transit’s draft priority project list (updated 6/9)  includes bus rapid transit (BRT) from Lynnwood to SeaTac along the I-405 corridor. This recognizes the need to connect cities among the Eastside and provides nearby access to East Link rail in Bellevue. The BRT leverages expansion of HOV/managed access lanes on I-405, direct access ramps in Renton, Bellevue and Kirkland, and existing park and rides adjacent to I-405. In Kirkland, Sound Transit envisions park & ride expansion and potential garage construction at Houghton Park & Ride, Kirkland downtown and Totem Lake.

The I-405 BRT line can be vastly improved by taking advantage of opportunities to eliminate the car-dependent focus for the last mile. Instead of just connecting cities on a map, Sound Transit should connect places using the Eastside Rail Corridor and allow more riders to get directly to their destinations.

In Kirkland, Bus Rapid Transit along the corridor would:

Continue reading “ST3 Should Include BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor”

Seattle Should Demand High-Quality Rail

SEATTLE SUBWAY

Martin recently pointed out that having strong local constituents who care about transit is critically important to getting the most out of Sound Transit investments. We strongly agree. That is why we were encouraged by the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) recommendations for the next Sound Transit ballot measure (ST3). The SDOT recommendations get a whole lot right: Emphasizing the necessity of multiple underground stops in the downtown core, identifying the need for expansion east of Ballard and recognizing the need to serve both the Denny Triangle and South Lake Union as best as possible with the line to Ballard.

In addition to all that SDOT got right, we think there two important further improvements:

  1. downtownsplitSDOT identifies the likely best single line to serve the northern part of the Seattle core but this is an unnecessary constraint. SDOT’s suggestion leaves the second densest neighborhood in Washington State (Belltown) without a stop and serves South Lake Union (SLU) poorly. We should be looking to serve every dense core neighborhood with subway service.
    It is possible to achieve this by branching the system at Belltown as shown on our map. This branching and transfer location has several advantages to the SDOT recommendation:

    • Serves Belltown, Denny Triangle and SLU well while only adding a quarter mile of tunnel and one station.
    • A split service plan where West Seattle trains terminate in SLU and Ballard trains terminate south of the stadiums would add very frequent service through downtown Seattle where we know there will be a future capacity issue. It would allow different service frequencies to match potentially uneven north line/south line demand.
    • Transferring at Belltown will be a direct, center platform transfer and will take pressure off Westlake, which will be an even more crowded station in the future.
    • It may be possible to reuse the soon to be vacated Battery street tunnel for significant cost savings and easier construction.
  2. SDOT suggested further study of an at-grade option in addition to the publicly-preferred grade separated approach. The critical question here is performance. Grade separation improves the speed and reliability of not just the one line, but the entire system and grade separation’s advantages will be amplified as the system grows. We are not building a system for the next 10 years, we are building a system that will serve Seattle’s transit needs for a century or more. It’s important that studies consider the long-term constraints of the Interbay corridor that will be heavily used by freight, general purpose traffic, and alternative modes for generations. A system hobbled by unnecessary speed constraints, reliability issues caused by collisions at intersections, and inability to increase capacity due to limited headways does not meet our long-term needs as a city. As one of just two lines that crosses the Ship Canal, designing in unnecessary performance constraints will therefore risk losing the support of both advocates and voters.

Now is not the time to be considering compromises, particularly not for Seattle – the most critical transit market in the region. As we pointed out in our Sound Transit Complete article, the next Sound Transit package will be scaled to public demand. If we ask for more, it can be more. We look forward to working with Sound Transit, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and Seattle’s many pro-transit constituents to make sure that the next Sound Transit ballot measure is a plan that is very much worth voting for.

Build Real BRT for West Seattle

by ROSS BLEAKNEY

[This seems a good a time as any to remind everyone that guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of STB staff or the editorial board – Ed.]

What exactly is Bus Rapid Transit (or BRT)? Perhaps, like the Supreme Court said about “pornography”, you know it when you see it. If the Wikipedia definition of BRT is any guide, I haven’t seen it in Seattle. To quote their definition, “To be considered BRT, buses should operate for a significant part of their journey within a fully dedicated right of way (busway) to avoid traffic congestion”. RapidRide is not BRT, falling well short by ITDP standards.

But we can certainly build a real BRT system for West Seattle that has almost every advantage of what we call “light rail” (mostly grade separated, off-board fare collection, station platforms level with the bus floor, priority at intersections, etc.). Unlike the light rail concepts being offered by Sound Transit, BRT to West Seattle would allow riders from all the key corridors of West Seattle (California, Fauntleroy, 35th, Admiral/Alki and Delridge) to enjoy a fast and frequent ride to downtown without having to transfer.

The Challenges of Serving West Seattle with Transit

West Seattle is a fairly large area, separated from the rest of Seattle by the Duwamish River. If you look at a census map of West Seattle, there are a few pockets of scattered density, but nothing over 25,000 people per square mile. The more densely populated areas are not in a line, either, making it all but impossible to connect the area with one rail line. A light rail line that serves the Junction is likely to miss Admiral, Alki and the Delridge corridor. A rail line on Delridge would miss Admiral, Alki, California, Fauntleroy and 35th.

Link to West Seattle would be expensive. It would have to traverse low-ridership Sodo and Harbor Island, cross water and rugged terrain. Martin Duke estimated the cost of getting to the junction at $2 – 2.5 billion, not including a downtown tunnel.

The city is unlikely to build parking around the stations, meaning that most riders would walk to the station or arrive by bus.  A comparison of population density and the proposed set of stations shows that no set of West Seattle stations will be within walking distance of a majority of potential riders. For light rail to be successful, a vast majority of riders would have to arrive to the station by bus.

Transferring from to bus to train incurs a transfer penalty: exiting the bus, walking to the station, getting to the platform, and waiting for a train (Sound Transit suggests headways of ten minutes). In most of Seattle, the train makes up for that penalty by using its dedicated right of way to outrun buses mired on surface streets. In West Seattle, however, there is easy access to a high-speed freeway if agencies execute several relatively low-cost infrastructure projects. For most riders on West Seattle’s major bus corridors, this would result in a faster trip to and through downtown than with light rail.

Continue reading “Build Real BRT for West Seattle”

A Transportation Solution for Today and Tomorrow

by SEATTLE SUBWAY

What we could have if we decide we want it.
What we could have if we decide we want it.

Last week, the State Legislature finally approved funding authority for Sound Transit to move forward with their next phase of expansion. This was a hard-won fight, fraught with unpleasant and ill-conceived tradeoffs forced by our state’s political geography, but those compromises have been made. Now is the time to make sure they were worth it.

Sound Transit planners have been pitching a Sound Transit 3 (ST3) ballot proposal for high capacity transit funded by as much as $15 billion in taxes over 15 years. While this would build many badly needed projects, it would be only an incremental addition to a patchwork system that is not growing fast enough to meet the needs of our booming cities.

We propose a single 2016 ballot measure that includes the Sound Transit 3 funding and authorizes the continued collection of Sound Move (the 1996 vote) and Sound Transit 2 (the 2008 vote) taxes past their current end date. This would be enough funding to plan, design and build a complete regional system. Planning for a system and not just a series of lines is how Washington D.C. planned and built their Metro system, and how Phoenix is looking to plan and build theirs. In early planning, Sound Transit has chosen to only collect construction money over a set period of time, but that is a choice. We could choose a different path forward.

It sounds like a dream, but it’s very real.

Taxes would be held in line with what is being planned for ST3 by spreading the cost to the electorate over a longer time period and continuing to collect Sound Move and ST2 taxes until the larger system is complete. Instead of just ST3’s likely projects the voters can authorize ST3 and ST4. After a November, 2016 ballot measure passes, Sound Transit could continue to expand the system as bonding capacity becomes available without raising tax rates in the future or going back to the polls. Sound Transit’s legal staff is already looking into how to write a ballot measure to achieve this if we can convince the Board to pursue this long-term, visionary path.

The effect of pursuing the bigger package would be transformational: Experienced planning staff could move seamlessly from one project to the next, capital equipment like tunneling machines could be reused, and contractors could bid for multiple sequential projects in order to lower costs. Sound Transit could break the cycle of authorizing the few projects that can be built in the next 15 years and then devoting substantial energy to prepare for another vote in 8-12 years.

The details of our vision map are debatable, but not our message: The region needs to plan, decide, and vote on a complete transportation solution in 2016.

Continue reading “A Transportation Solution for Today and Tomorrow”

Seattle Subway’s Recommendations for the Sound Transit 3 Survey

SeattleVisionSEATTLE SUBWAY

Last Thursday, Sound Transit unveiled a new website about future rail expansion in the region. It’s pretty slick; if you haven’t seen it yet, it worth checking out. At the same time they also opened a survey, asking what people would like to see in a future ballot measure: http://soundtransit3.org/survey

While the survey has its flaws (why do we have to support parking garages to support sidewalks and bike trails?), it’s a great way to let the agency and Sound Transit Board know what you want to see on the ballot next year. If you haven’t filled it out yet, here are Seattle Subway’s suggestions.

First off, these types of surveys have a hard time capturing nuance. If you want to have an effect, you need to push at the extremes. Rate outcomes that you don’t like very low (1) and ones that you do very high (5).

Our recommendations:

1. We recommend rating all the Seattle options that say “at-grade” a 1 and all the Seattle options that say “elevated/tunnel” a 5.

2. Top 3 projects.  Here are the four best options (pick 3.)

These projects are the best bang for the buck while avoiding unacceptable compromises.

3. Missing projects that need to be studied.

  • A Metro route 8 Subway from Belltown to South Lake Union/Denny to Capitol Hill to the Central District/23rd corridor. This is an extremely high demand corridor that has never been studied by Sound Transit before. It would add the dense, high demand, locations of South Lake Union, Denny Triangle, Capitol Hill, and the Central District to the system.   This line is the missing link that would, with other investments (Madison BRT, First Hill Streetcar, SLU Streetcar), give the densest neighborhoods in Seattle an integrated transit network.
  • A bypass line to the airport via Georgetown to speed up service to downtown Seattle for South King and Pierce extensions and speed up airport service. In addition to adding Georgetown and South Park to our regional system, this line serves a very important function as a bypass of the slow section through the Rainier Valley.  We estimate a time savings on this bypass line versus the Rainier line of 12-15 minutes per trip.  This matters some for airport trips but is extremely meaningful for trips from South King and Pierce. Without this bypass light rail will be painfully slow for commuter trips to downtown Seattle.
  • An Issaquah to Kirkland line that connects in South Bellevue to improve transfers and access to transit supportive destinations.  The only studied Kirkland to Issaquah line slows transfers to Downtown Seattle and direct service to Downtown Bellevue.  We wrote an article here on this subject last year.
  • A line that extends from Ballard to Crown Hill, Greenwood, North Seattle, Lake City and out to Bothell.  This line was identified in the transit master plan and would connect areas that are currently dense and may be upzoned in the Seattle 2035 plan.  The connection at Aurora would allow direct connections for buses traveling south to fast, reliable, transit.

This is the just the beginning of the process, not the end, but we need come out strong and get it started on the right track.

WSDOT Ferry Reliability

by ZACH STEDNICK and MICHAEL LOGSDON

When WSDOT ferries make the news, the press seems to focus on fiscal issues, rather than the logistical aspects of the ferry system. We wanted to remedy that and answer the question – are ferries generally on time?

We filed a Public Records Request with WSDOT and here we present findings for on-time rates for calendar year 2014, with a focus on the difference between actual and scheduled departure times. For simplicity this analysis only considers Puget Sound region ferry routes (i.e. non-San Juan Islands routes). Also, because WSDOT runs a holiday schedule on most Federal holidays, we specifically accounted for those dates.

Overall we find WSDOT Puget Sound region ferries to be very reliable. Over approximately 133,000 sailings throughout 2014, the average departure occurred 2.8 minutes after the scheduled departure.

Figure 1. Click to Enlarge.
Figure 1. Click to Enlarge.

Continue reading “WSDOT Ferry Reliability”

Redmond Transit Planning Workshop

Transit Network Design Course (Jarrett Walker + Associates)

by CITY OF REDMOND

Are you a resident, employee, or frequent traveler in Redmond? Would you like to help plan the future of transit in the city?

The City of Redmond, with Jarrett Walker + Associates, is hosting an interactive transit planning workshop on Saturday June 13th to explore service planning scenarios and help establish community priorities as Redmond develops its Transit Strategic Plan. The results from this workshop will help define coverage areas and high frequency corridors, which in turn will guide speed and reliability capital planning.

The workshop will take the form of a game in which participants allocate limited amounts of transit service on boards representing cities with realistic but simplified geographies, including Redmond. No transit or transportation planning experience is required. Players must work within real-world constraints to accomplish various transportation goals. The game portion of the event will be followed by a discussion and voting exercise (using handheld clickers) where participants can weigh in the priorities that will guide the Transit Strategic Plan.

Space is limited. If you are interested or have questions please contact Patrick McGrath at pbmcgrath@redmond.gov or 425-556-2870 to reserve your place. The workshop will be held at Redmond City Hall (steps from a 545/542 stop and blocks from the Redmond Transit Center) on Saturday June 13th from 9AM-3PM. Lunch will be provided.

We’re Just Getting Started

by RIC ILGENFRITZ, Executive Director of Planning, Environmental and Project Development, Sound Transit

Ric Ilgenfritz - Executive Director, Department of Planning, Environment and Project Development Sound Transit
Ric Ilgenfritz – Executive Director, Department of Planning, Environment and Project Development Sound Transit
Last week Martin Duke posed the question of whether Seattle Transit Blog readers should be concerned about conceptual scenarios surfaced by Sound Transit staff to start a conversation about Sound Transit 3. He and the STB team have graciously offered us space here to answer that question.

First and foremost, the answer is no, you shouldn’t be concerned. Why? Because this is just the beginning of a year-long process of engaging the public, analyzing project and service ideas and supporting the Board of Directors in crafting a new system plan.

We are literally just getting started. The field is wide open for considering a full range of possibilities for investment that could be included in ST3. We are about one month away from launching a public process to engage everyone about what should be included.

Boardmembers have spent the past few months advocating in Olympia for legislation to provide high-capacity transit revenue authority. Legislators across the region and state are making encouraging progress toward a transportation package that includes the $15 billion in new revenue authority. We should all feel encouraged by that.

More recently, the Board has started discussing the key criteria the want to use in considering and shaping a new system plan. Some key themes have started to emerge from those discussions. For example, the Board has said it wants to make good on the promise of completing the regional spine connecting the area’s major cities, and also serve other areas of high demand for mass transit. Seattle-area members of the Board have emphasized the agency must focus on how to reach both Ballard and West Seattle as part of ST3.

The Board also wants to emphasize some other key priorities that have received a lot of attention in recent years as we’ve worked on ST2: system integration, multi-modal access to station areas, catalyzing density, social equity, and long term operational efficiency. And, the Board made clear they want us to lay the groundwork for ST4 while planning ST3.

That brings me to the question: what are the conceptual scenarios all about? First, let me say they are most assuredly not proposed system plans.

Continue reading “We’re Just Getting Started”

Sound Transit study: New bus/rail tunnel required

WSTT Initial Service Pattern
Map by Oran Viriyincy
by SEATTLE SUBWAY
As reported yesterday by the Urbanist, Sound Transit recently released the results of their downtown transit capacity report:
The study, entitled Downtown Seattle Transit Capacity White Paper, forecasts a daily transit capacity shortfall of 5,000-8,000 trips in Downtown Seattle by 2035. This shortfall persists even after building the Center City Connector and a Ballard-to-West Seattle High Capacity Transit (HCT) line. The findings come at an important time for regional transit, just ahead of a potential 2016 ballot measure that could fund significant capital investments in transit projects. Overall, the study indicates an urgent need to expand downtown transit capacity.

Check out the Urbanist’s in-depth analysis, or read the study yourself. The data is clear. Regional mobility requires a new bus/rail tunnel downtown.

We’ve been saying this for a while and we’re glad Sound Transit has shared the data proving it.

Action Alert: Full funding for Sound Transit

Seattle Subway LogoSEATTLE SUBWAY
Seattle Subway has learned that ESSB 5988 which authorizes transportation projects and a funding source for Sound Transit’s next big regional transit package (ST3) may make it out of committee this week and come to a vote on the House floor.

It is also our understanding that the Seattle delegation is not fully committed to pushing for $15B in funding authority for ST3. In order for Seattle to get the number and quality of projects we so desperately need, Sound Transit must have the full $15B they asked for.

You can find out who represents you here.   http://app.leg.wa.gov/DistrictFinder/

Please email (or better yet, call) your Representatives TODAY to tell them you want the full $15B funding for ST3 so we can continue to build the Seattle Subway.

15 Minutes or Better

By NEIL GREENBERG

Hello Seattle!

Neil from Detroit here. I am working on a project that you all may find appealing. It has a Seattle connection. More importantly, is has broad relevance for the entire public transit space.

The effort is called 15 Minutes or Better. It’s a series of short videos to highlight the fundamentals of effective public transit: coverage, connectivity, speed, span, frequency, accessibility.

To longtime transit enthusiasts, these elements are painfully obvious. Today, thanks to increased academic interest and a chatty internet, more and more people are describing themselves as transit enthusiasts. It’s a positive phenomenon – we need all the support we can get.

However, many newcomers are overlooking the core ingredients of effective transit. Essential service attributes are regularly dismissed as “too technical” – while the conversation drifts toward trendy sub-topics of transit: policy, technology, private financing, real estate development.

Those are all worthwhile matters. Taken alone, though, none can significantly improve the full experience of using transit. As such, 15 Minutes or Better intends to give proper due to the meat-and-potatoes of transit service. We’ll address each “technical” component in a fun, engaging and decidedly non-technical way. In so doing, we’ll equip the growing ranks of transit enthusiasts with a more thorough, more powerful understanding of the issue.

The project starts in Detroit because our transit conversation is astoundingly incomplete. Despite well-documented deficiencies with our transit service, the official discussion is revolving around secondary themes. We talk of apps and websites and TOD and attracting millennials – while practically ignoring route coverage and service levels. We know that other cities have effective transit systems, but we’ve failed to identify – or even ask – what makes those systems effective.

So we’re hitting the road. We are travelling to multiple US cities – including Seattle – to showcase effective transit service in its natural, everyday habitat. In each city, we’ll walk the viewer through an actual transit trip and point out what is working. The message is clear: the elements of quality transit service should not be taken for granted. If you want to improve transit in your city – Detroit or elsewhere – insist on this element!

In Seattle, our particular element-of-focus is connectivity – how transit can downplay political boundaries to link logical destinations. For example, we may start at the Tacoma Dome and travel to UW. Anyone can see why this trip makes sense: a big population center to a big university. In too many other places, transit couldn’t connect these dots because they’re in different counties. But Puget Sound gets it right. Let’s bring that to light – and set it as a precedent for all metropolitan areas.

And – you had to see this coming – 15 Minutes or Better will cost us to produce. We’ve figured about $45,000 to film, edit and compile the whole video series. We are attempting to raise $15,000 of that through crowdfunding – check out the campaign, along with the trailer, at patronicity.com/15mob. Our first target audience is Detroit. Beyond the Motor City, our findings can help inform the national dialogue. We want to ensure that the transit conversation doesn’t forget to talk about transit.

We’d love your support – a small contribution, ideas for local transit highlights, even your knowledge on-camera as a “local host”. If you have any questions, please contact me directly.

Thank you!