News roundup: part 1 of 2


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Public input on ST3 realignment this week

April 30th is the deadline for the public to comment on Sound Transit’s various options to make up for the current mismatch in projected costs and revenues for ST3. Here’s where we stand:

There is no effect on the Sound Transit 2 projects (Link to Lynnwood, Redmond, and Federal Way) and these are expected to arrive in accordance with current schedules, and roughly 1-2 years after the timeline voters were given in 2008.

Updates to the economic model have reduced the funding gap from $11.5 billion to “only” $7.9 billion. $527m from the first Biden stimulus, plus $4.6 billion more in projected tax revenue is partially offset by $595m more in cost inflation. The NE 130th St Station alone has increased $64m as engineering went from 30 to 60%.

This handy graph shows how other considerations have more than made up for lower tax receipts, and it’s exploding capital costs that have put the project in doubt:

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News roundup: limited edition

Pioneer Square

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Northgate Link opens Oct. 2nd

Airport Link Opening Ceremony (4198862959)

On Friday, Sound Transit announced that Northgate, Roosevelt, and U-District stations will open for service on Saturday, October 2nd. There is no word about any celebration for what, with luck, will be a nice symbol of our emergence from the pandemic. We might not get one, with ST having endured bad-faith critiques about marketing expenses for the U-Link opening, and potential public health restrictions lingering.

It is a cause for celebration. The U-District is an obvious place to put a subway station. Roosevelt is the rare fashionable neighborhood where some growth is legal. Northgate is simultaneously a transportation hub, a blank slate for major redevelopment, and a logical interim terminus for buses coming from further north. Link will provide an alternative to the very worst bit of I-5 congestion, 5 minutes to the U-District and 13 to Westlake.

Better yet, this is the first major Link deliverable from the Sound Transit 2 vote in 2008. It arrives only one year after the proposed date at election time (2020). Combined with East Link 1-2 years late (with City of Bellevue dithering) in 2022 or 2023, and Lynnwood and Federal Way also a year late in 2024, ST2 is going to have an excellent delivery record after weathering an unprecedented recession, far better than Sound Transit 1 and a testament to the abilities of former CEO Joni Earl (2001-2015).

ST3, in year 5, is already in quite a bit of trouble on these terms. Thanks to poor cost estimation, the most likely outcome is some major projects suffering a couple of years delay, and either a large new infusion of cash or the other projects sliding over a decade.

News roundup: fresher air

KCM 4602 (Proterra) at Eastgate P&R

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Delay ST3 parking to save the rest?

Projected years of delay to ST3 projects if parking is the lowest priority (NP = No Parking)

As Sound Transit grapples with escalating costs for ST3, one emerging option focuses on delaying parking construction to prioritize transit. In the past month and a half, we have:

Delaying parking has a number of advantages. It allows ST to complete the “lines on the map” that captivated most voters with the least delay. Parking is an expensive way to acquire riders, averaging $128,000 per net new space in ST3. By comparison, upzoning and selling the land to a market-rate developer adds riders and is revenue positive.

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News roundup: return on investment

Sounder at Lakewood Station

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News roundup: access

Technicolor of a Skagit Transit Bus

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News roundup: vaccine-eligible

Sounder Station - Tukwila

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News roundup: to the scrap heap

King County Metro #3756

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Join the East Link Connections Mobility Board

East Link map with stations

East Link might open in as little as 18 months. Like any rail opening of that magnitude, there are many opportunities to reorganize bus service to reduce redundancy, improve access, and serve new priorities.

Metro and Sound Transit are creating a citizen sounding board for these changes, and they’re paying $50 per hour:

“Are you someone who:

  • Lives, works, and/or travels within Eastside communities? These communities include but are not limited to areas east and south of Kenmore, east of the I-90 and SR 520 bridges, north of east Renton (such as Bellevue, Kirkland and Redmond), and west of Sammamish and Issaquah? Or do you live, work, or travel in Seattle’s Chinatown/International District and/or Judkins Park?
  • Is a transit rider or a potential transit rider?
  • Are able to bring your perspective as an individual, not representing the interests of an organization?
  • Are willing and interested in drawing connections between racial equity, transportation issues, and access to opportunities?”

Apply by the end of this month to participate from April to November 2021. It’d be helpful for some board members to have an appreciation for transit planning principles.

How Metro bills SDOT for service

With Seattle and King County Metro renewing their partnership in the Transportation Benefit District, it’s interesting to track how the cost of service escalates over the years.

Metro bills SDOT based on actual expenses; SDOT pays an estimated cost and the the agencies reconcile the difference at the end of each year. There are three pieces to the City’s total bill:

  1. The actual cost of driving, maintaining, and fueling the buses;
  2. Amortization and depreciation of the buses themselves; and
  3. a credit for fares, based on the systemwide farebox recovery ratio.

Metro’s Jeff Switzer was able to give me the figures for 2019. They break down like this:

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News roundup: why transit is expensive

Sound Transit Link About to Leave Mount Baker Station

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Metro unveils new service criteria

150 to Seattle off I-5

After an eventful 2020, Metro has been taking a look at how it prioritizes routes. As first reported by Stephen Fesler, On January 27th it briefed King County’s Mobility and Environment committee on its progress and revealed a bit about the staff’s thinking.

It appears Metro’s top two investment priorities will remain reducing crowding and improving reliability.

The current service guidelines describe how the third priority works: each corridor has a score based on the corridor’s ridership potential (“corridor productivity”, 50%), service to low income and minority neighborhoods (“social equity”, 25%), and connecting key nodes in the county (“geographic value”, 25%). The point total puts the corridor into one of four frequency levels. Metro invests in the list of routes that fall below these target levels, not in order of combined score, but instead first the highest geographic values, followed by the highest corridor productivities, and then the remainder that presumably had high social equity scores.

Finally, routes that carry lots of rides per hour and/or passenger-miles per mile get whatever new money remains.

This system is quite subtle, but broadly speaking routes with high residential and job density but lowish frequency are likely to dominate the list, but of those the ones in sparsely-served areas are likely to be boosted first.

What might change?

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News roundup: not nearly enough

Intercity Transit Route 13 at the WA ST Legislature Bus Stop

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Bill would increase housing supply, needs your help

Washington State Capitol Legislative Building.jpg
CC BY-SA 3.0, Link

[UPDATE: Sources say HB1157 will be ruled “necessary to implement the budget,” which gives it some more time to live. But it still needs your help!]

Two companion bills, HB 1157 and SB 5390, would create incentives for local government to allow more housing, but at least one of them must emerge from its committee Monday (Finance and Ways and Means, respectively) to succeed in this session.

Both versions of the bill have a bipartisan group of sponsors. In the Senate, it’s Liias (D-Edmonds), Gildon (R-Puyallup), Nguyen (D-West Seattle), and Saldana (D-Rainier Valley). In the House, there are 18 sponsors from urban, suburban, and exurban districts, including Fitzgibbon, Harris-Talley, Hackney, Walen, and Ryu from Seattle and its inner suburbs. Thank your district’s delegation for its sponsorship!

The bill would allow cities or counties to create “real estate excise tax density incentive zones” where they get a portion of the REET proceeds. To qualify, the zone must allow “Single-family detached dwellings at a net density of at least six dwelling units per acre [1], duplexes, triplexes, fourplexes, townhomes, accessory dwelling units, and courtyard apartments.” To qualify, cities and counties cannot allow the units to be short-term rentals for more than 30 days per year.

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New OneBusAway for iOS

There’s nothing that quite matches this community’s interests like open software in the service of transit. In a recent blog post, OneBusAway for Apple iOS maintainer Aaron Brethorst says that a complete rewrite of the software is ready for beta testing.

For most of you, know that beta testing will expose you to some bugs but help make the final product better.

For those of you who spend your lives gluing bits of software together, know that this new version is built on the ‘OBAKit’ library, which makes it much easier to build other real-time transit applications. There are certainly lots of rural transit agencies that don’t have the resources to deploy things of this nature, and this makes it easier for developers to apply their skills to help those in need.

HB 1304: the solution to the next problem

HB1304, which would allow existing monorail taxing authority to be used for light rail, happened to show signs of life at just about the time that ST3 projects sank into serious financial trouble. Inevitably, these two subjects have merged in the discourse. That’s unfortunate, because the bill is best thought of as solving a long-term structural problem rather than a current revenue shortfall. Transit advocates should seize the opportunity to clear this legislative veto point and then argue about how to use it.

The vision in 1994 (Link)

The design of Sound Transit is driven by the “spine” between Tacoma and Everett. The basic narrative is that local leaders in Pierce and Snohomish Counties thought, and continue to think, that light rail is important to the economic development of their core cities and convinced the legislature to authorize an agency large enough to take their interests into account. And so supermajorities in Seattle offset skepticism in outlying areas to allow each subarea to fund its stated priorities.

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