Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family on Capitol Hill and works as a software engineering manager downtown. Key Routes: Link, 49, 10, 60, 9
The Tacoma Dome Link Extension (TDLE) delivers rail from Federal Way to the Tacoma Dome, not to be confused with the “Tacoma Link” streetcar running today. It will offer a 35 minute ride from the Tacoma Dome to Seatac in 2030, compared to 37 to 74 minutes, less frequently and reliably, scheduled on ST 574 in 2020.
Last week’s board meeting provided a progress update (video, at the 2:00:00 mark). The last glimpse was a July 2019 motion to reduce the options under consideration. As the Draft EIS grinds on, ST has revised and refined these options.
The track is all elevated  except for a few sections along I-5. While track alignments are often what cities care about, because of “impacts,” I’ll focus on the station locations, as that’s what will affect riders most. Moving south from the Federal Way TC:
SDOT’s got a new survey out about light rail to West Seattle and Ballard. It’s different than the usual fare with a bunch of alternatives on a map. Instead, it’s a high-level questionnaire about principles.
It asks respondents to rate 20 different values as “important” or “not important”. These values are sorted into bins called “dependable transit”, “vibrant communities”, “climate action”, and “equity”.
I’ve sometimes argued that the system doesn’t value enough simply running the trains frequently, rapidly, reliably, and directly to the activity centers. Instead, the agency ends up mitigating “impacts” instead. Well, if you agree with me, or don’t, this is the chance to have your say. All of these the values are great (except, of course, plazas), but please resist the temptation to list everything as “extremely important”, and instead help the agency set priorities among things that have tradeoffs.
There’s also some demographic information you should fill out, although the survey software is too buggy to allow you to choose more than one race.
Metro ridership is holding roughly steady at about 100,000 boardings per weekday, or about 75% off 2019 levels. After last week’s restoration of some mid-day trips on some routes that are still relatively popular, Metro is sending out 6 more buses at night on the 7, A, and E to thin the crowds on those routes.
Previous trends continue: the ridership drops are most severe during peak commute hours, while routes and times dominated by “essential” workers and the transit-dependent have smaller falls.
In response to “crowding” (by current standards) on some routes, Metro is restoring some trips this week on weekdays from 10am to 5pm:
Based on operator availability, we are dedicating roughly 15 additional buses starting today to six routes where coaches are either reaching capacity or passing up customers to maintain social distancing guidelines. These high-demand routes include:
The buses have been added on weekdays between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., as that period has the highest ridership and most reports of pass-ups.
Metro continues to demonstrate operational flexibility that some observers, including me, thought was not in its nature. Other than the D, these are among the routes that have seen the smallest ridership drops, presumably because of transit-dependent riders and “essential” but not virtualizable jobs.
Last week Metro also released ridership numbers for the week ending May 1. Overall weekday boardings are at 105,000, or a 75% decrease from 2019. Not surprisingly, the drop is deepest in the weekday peaks, with late-night and weekend ridership declining much more gently. Meanwhile, bus service has dropped only 27%, meaning the average bus has almost three times fewer riders.
We just got the annual report, but now there’s an update for SDOT’s 1st quarter projects (full report here). Covid-19 looms over everything, but the agency spent only about 2/3 of its budget mostly because of more quotidian delays: weather, permitting, and finding unexpected stuff underground.
There’s tons of data on safety, sidewalks, bike improvements, and so on, but let’s cut straight to the transit.
The big corridor projects are divided into “Vision Zero” (safety) projects, “Transit-Plus” speed and reliability improvements, Rapid Ride, and the Burke Gilman Missing Link. You may recall that in 2019 none of the two transit categories had started digging yet. That’s still the case, but RapidRide H (Delridge) is accepting bids and expects to accept a bit this quarter. RapidRide G has completed design and is now dancing with the FTA.
Beyond transit, Missing Link construction started.
SDOT’s highly successful transit spot improvements program was right on schedule, finishing 5 projects this quarter out of 20 planned for 2020. They were:
8th Ave/James St rear door pad
24th Ave E/E Dearborn St curb restrictions at bus zone
Lenora St, between 4th-6th Ave RapidRide bus zone improvement
Airport Way S/S Royal Brougham, intersection improvement
15th Ave NW/NW 65th St bus zone safety improvement
The City also broke ground on the Northgate pedestrian bridge, and the Lander Street overpass continues to rise.
The plan is still to start construction on RR G and H this year, though obviously the pandemic has unpredicable impacts.
The most expensive of these is Auburn Station, which is now to cost $120m in year of expenditure (YOE) dollars for 675 spaces (555 net new). Generous assumptions about inflation  make this $107m in current dollars. If this money were instead spread over 30 years for bus routes to Sounder, it would allow 10 additional buses to serve the Auburn area during Sounder operating times . A similar, though slightly less dramatic, story plays out at the other stations. The potential of these buses to improve several different outcomes is an exercise for the reader.
In my earlier days, this would be an occasion to slam the stupidity of the people in the charge. But in my thirteenth year of doing this, I know that things like this happen because of incentives:
Sound Transit 3, from its inception, has been a compromise between various regional interests. With likely economic trouble and a failed bridge to West Seattle, some people are interested in reopening the bargain.
Some of these people never liked taxes for transit in the first place, and seek a rhetorical opening for a redo. Others sincerely want good transit outcomes, and think that a retry might improve those outcomes. Still others are broadly supportive of Sound Transit but see an opportunity to address other priorities.
There isn’t much to say about people who don’t think transit is important, except that other parties should pay attention to who their friends are. Some people helping to tear down today’s plan won’t be there to build the next one.
A lifetime ago, King County floated a countywide 0.2% sales tax increase for the August ballot, to replace Seattle’s expiring Transportation Benefit District (TBD) and expand its benefits to rest of the county. Weeks later, King County Transportation Chair Claudia Balducci had to shelve it as the virus ate everything.
The last day to file a measure for the November election is August 4th. To make that date, committee work would have to start no later than mid-July. It’s worthless to speculate about conditions in mid-July, but it’s also not hard to imagine how a measure would be both compelling and plausible.
The policy case for raising transit spending is strong independent of economic conditions. With strong growth, the robust transit network we don’t yet have countywide is critical to building environmentally sensible living and travel patterns. Seattle’s TBD has dramatically improved the accessibility of frequent transit while frequent suburban lines are scarce. Conversely, when sales taxes implode, transit becomes even harder to use.