Lynnwood Link 60% Design

Aerial view of NE 145th Street Station (Sound Transit)

Lynnwood Link, which we last saw in 30% design last November, has now reached 60% design. An open house for 145th and 185th Stations was held on May 24. Mountlake Terrace Station will have an open house June 28th, and Lynnwood Station sometime in the fall.  Travel times from Lynnwood are featured on the project page: 20 minutes to UW, 28 minutes to downtown, 60 minutes to Sea-Tac airport, and 60 minutes to Overlake Transit Center. The rest of this article will focus on 145th and 185th Stations.

ST has a new kind of online open house site at lynnwoodlink.participate.online. Each page has renderings above and a comment form below so you can refer to the information as you type. There’s a row of circles below the image; be sure to click all the circles to page through all the renderings. The comment period will be open through the Lynnwood open house. Unfortunately the site doesn’t have all the information that was on the slides and posters in the Shoreline open house. That should be motivation to attend future open houses.

145th Station still has the bus turnaround loop at 148th. My biggest concern is there’s only one lane into the station for both buses and cars. Both will turn left into the station and then on for a half-block before they separate, buses to the turnaround, cars to the garage, and other cars to a separate turnaround to drop people off. I’m concerned about cars getting in the way of buses there, and wondering if they need separate lanes. However, more lanes means more asphalt and ugliness.

Aerial view of NE 185th Street Station (Sound Transit)

Continue reading “Lynnwood Link 60% Design”

Portland Trip Report

I visited Portland last week and checked out the current state of transit and the city. Lines used: MAX Blue and Green; streetcar North-South and A Loop; bus 8 and 14; aerial tram. I’ll describe the transit trips first and then circle back to other impressions. Thanks to Glenn and Poncho for ideas on what to do during my trip.

I took Amtrak Cascades down Saturday morning. The train was 100% full on a three-day weekend. We walked to Powell’s bookstore (15 min) for a Portland map, then took a streetcar to the South Waterfront. The fare is $5 for a day pass on all MAX/bus/streetcar. At the South Waterfront we took the aerial tram ($4.50 round trip), which goes up a steep wooded hill to a hospital complex on top. Just before the upper terminal it stopped and wouldn’t move. The station was just one tram length in front of us but no way to get to it; we’re a hundred feet in the air.  I pondered how they’d evacuate us if they couldn’t get it moving. Far below was a multistory parking garage but it was offset from us so you couldn’t run a ladder from its roof; you’d have to start from the wooded ground next to it. I don’t know if such an extremely long ladder exists. But after twenty minutes they fixed it and we were able to get into the station. Going back we waited awhile with no tram in sight, and there was maybe a tramful of people before us, and I was afraid it might get stuck again for longer. So we took a bus down instead. The #8 runs every 15 minutes, and it’s actually a short distance to downtown, and a one-seat ride to the Lloyd District where my hotel was.

That evening I took another streetcar from the Lloyd District to Hawthorne Street, and walked to the Bagdad Theater (2 miles). By then it was 10pm and I didn’t know how frequent the north-south buses were so I took the 14 Hawthorne bus back downtown and transfered to MAX. On the following days I took MAX west to Hillsboro and east to Gresham, and walked twice across the Burnside Bridge.

SOUTH WATERFRONT IMPRESSIONS: Portland’s streetcars are much more useful than Seattle’s because they pass many downtown destinations. But they’re as damned slow as the SLUT, stopping every block for a light, with no signal priority. The South Waterfront is a narrow strip sandwiched between the river and a freeway. Portland demolished one freeway but its four remaining freeways cast severe scars in the middle of the city. There’s a cycletrack in the narrow strip but it hardly compensates how the freeway slices the area into almost nothing. But there’s a food truck pod next to the streetcar stop, and its six vendors blow the pants off Seattle’s food trucks: I had an excellent pulled pork sandwich and Japanese ramen. Later I learned there’s an great science museum there but by that time I was gone. The aerial tram goes up to a multi-hospital complex built on top of the hill with skywalks, which reminds me of the research complex on the moon in “The Multiplex Man”.

LLOYD/HAWTHORNE IMPRESSIONS: MLK and Grand Avenues are four-lane one-way streets with an Aurora feel. Hawthorne Street has an eclectic bunch of things that feels like a lower-key University Way, with a lot of pre-WWII buildings and a few nightclubs. Industrial, commercial, apartments, and single-family houses mix randomly in both areas as if zoning doesn’t exist. But everything is short, 1-2 stories. MLK and Grand have vast infill potential for housing and TOD if it’s wanted someday.

WEST SIDE IMPRESSIONS: the only other time I’ve taken MAX to the west side was in 1998 just after it was built, when it only went to Beaverton. What I remember was the train leaving stations and waiting for a light at level crossings, and surrounded by empty fields. I’m happy to report it has gotten much better: the train doesn’t slow down at crossings except right in downtown Portland and Hillsboro. Westbound it goes through a tunnel, then alongside a freeway, then another tunnel, then its own right of way with only a half dozen crossings. Beaverton has a lot of car dealerships, but then there’s lots of TOD in western Beaverton and Hillsboro. We went straight to Hillsboro center, which I thought Glenn said was a TOD showcase, but it’s mostly pre-WWII two-story buildings with a 9-5 schedule like downtown Kent. Finding nothing for lunch, we went back to Orenco Station to a French patisserie we’d seen. Here is exemplary TOD: multistory mixed-use buildings, a wide pedestrian plaza, and an excellent French sandwich. And the address is Beaverton, not Hillsboro. As we took the train back east, we saw much more TOD in Beaverton that we hadn’t noticed before; it’s mostly on the north side of the train. We alighted at Washington Park and went to the zoo. I wanted to go to the Japanese Garden but was told it’s a 2 1/2 mile walk or a 20-minute shuttle away so we deferred it.

EAST SIDE IMPRESSIONS: The Blue Line runs alongside a freeway from the Lloyd District to 90th Street, then in the center of Burnside Street to central Gresham, then in its own right of way in Gresham. Burnside Street is like Seattle’s MLK but with two car lanes instead of four. The other thing is it’s mostly single-family houses, with just a few two-story apartment buildings. So the two commercial areas of Portland and Gresham are connected by several miles of single-family neighborhoods.

BURNSIDE BRIDGE: The bridge is from the same era and construction type as Seattle’s University Bridge. It’s much bigger since it has several car lanes and a longer distance. The sidewalks are wide and comfortable. The bridge goes in one swoop over Naito Parkway, the Willammette River, a freeway, railroad tracks, and two small streets before landing at MLK Avenue. In the middle is stairs down to the East Bank Espalande, a walkway along the water  which has part of it separated from the shore, like the breakwater at Shileshole Marina but only a couple feet from the shore.

Returning home Wednesday evening, the Cascades train was pretty empty. Fewer people than a Greyhound busload got on in Porland, and my car had only ten people. More people got on later. My southbound train had been state of the art, with electric outlets between the seats and USB-charging outlets. My northbound train had worn vinyl seats like a 1960s automobile, but it did have a few electric outlets around. I timed Auburn to King Street with my stopwatch and it was a blazing 20 minutes. The total time from Portland was 3 hours 25 minutes, which was 15 minutes shorter than scheduled.

The most interesting thing about Portland’s transit is the number of destinations the Blue Line and the streetcars connect. The one Blue Line has Hillsboro, the Tualatin nature park (which we didn’t have time to visit), the Orenco patisserie, Washington Park, downtown, our Lloyd District hotel, and theoretical (if we lived there) Beaverton jobs. It reminds me of what some people say about Seattle’s route 2: everything they need is along it.

North Everett Walk

[I wrote this article last summer and left it for a few days to mature — and forgot to publish it. So the short-term construction projects are doubtless finished and businesses may have changed, but the long-term transit and urban issues remain.]

On Friday, August 7th I took a walk around north Everett. I’d heard it has an old residential area northwest of downtown, more walkable than Broadway’s miles of strip malls and large-lot houses. Studying the map I decided to focus on Colby Avenue, which has buses both north and south of downtown so it must be an interesting street. My colleague who had grown up in northwest Everett confirmed this, saying Colby Avenue was a good place to start. There are two circulator bus routes through the area, Everett Transit 4 and 5, which run the same loop in opposite directions from different starting points. But they’re hourly weekdays and not at all weekends, and I’d originally planned the trip for a weekend. But I had a few hours free Friday afternoon so I decided to do it then.

My journey started at the Ash Way Park & Ride. This is the part of Snohomish County with the most frequent bus service, with both the 201/202 and 512 running every 15 minutes to Everett and Lynnwood. A 202 came one minute later. It runs on I-5 between 128th and  41st Streets. The freeway was solidly packed and crawling the entire way, at 2:30pm. No HOV lane anywhere here. If BRT between Lynnwood and Everett ever happens, they’ll need to build an HOV lane from scratch. Fortunately I was not in any hurry so I just read my book.

Everett Station is where the express buses, Swift, and the 4/5 all meet. Downtown is one one Swift station away away but I decided to walk. That took 12 minutes uphill. At the end was the Snohomish County Campus, a county-government complex with a pedestrianized block in the middle and a nice view. Downtown Everett is basically five east-west streets: Pacific, Wall, Hewett, California, and Everett. These crosses Wetmore Avenue, which is the one place in Everett I’ve been to more than once: an MMA school called Charlie’s Combat Club and the nearby National Guard armory. So I walked a few blocks up and down Wetmore looking for the school but I couldn’t find it! Later I learned it had moved. So I continued west to find Colby Avenue, and it was just one block west of Wetmore, right in the middle of downtown.

It was now 4pm. I turned north on Colby, and saw a diner and tried to go in but it was closed. Next door is a sandwich shop, the Strawberry Patch Cafe, so I went in there. It was about to close too but the owner offered to serve me anyway. I ordered a salad and chatted with the owner. She had just bought the restaurant three weeks ago, and lives in Rainier Valley. I asked why she chose Everett to buy a restaurant. She said it was a place she could afford. I said central Everett will probably grow in the next two decades and she might see gradually-increasing business. I asked if everything downtown closes by 5pm. She said it does. I asked if there were any areas that are open later; she said a couple bars. Then I continued north on Colby for my walk, thinking about what it would be like to live there without a car.

The downtown part of Colby Street is a mix of everyday and not-so-everyday shops. The street and sidewalks are wide, as if it used to have a streetcar, and the space had been filled in with diagonal parking because what else could you do with it? Later I googled, and the Interurban terminated at Colby & Pacific. The part of Colby is south of where I was, but still the street is that wide. As I continued north, at Everett Avenue the street turned residential. There’s one apartment complex a block north of the cafe, but the rest is houses. Everett High School is on both sides of the street. At 19th Street the center lane turns into a tree-lined median.

Many of the houses are from the 1905s-1910s; they look exactly like the houses on 16th Ave NE in the U-District and 16th Ave E on Capitol Hill. Front porches, bay windows, a certain kind of wood architecture, and no garages or driveways. There are a few 1960s or newer houses with 2-car garages. Then came Providence Medical Center. At 10th Street it started going downhill, and it looked like things were just going to get more isolated, so I turned west. Central and north Everett is a narrow penninsula hilltop going down on three sides, like the top of Beacon Hill but wider.

I continued west three blocks to the last street above the cliff, Grand Avenue. Beyond that is the railroad track and Marine View Drive. All the residential streets are very wide, and the houses have deep setbacks like in Magnolia. You could fit another full-sized row of houses in the front yards and sidewalks. The empty space bothers me because it makes walking distances longer. In San Francisco the back yards are deep and narrow like this, and people have large gardens. But when setbacks are in the front, they tend to be plain lawns that are rarely used so I don’t see the point. Several streets and sidewalks were closed; the city is apparently resurfacing several of northwest Everett’s streets at the same time.

I went south on Grand until the large mansions got to be too much; I wanted to see ordinary-sized houses. So I turned east to Rucker Avenue. All these residential streets are wide for some reason. At 18th Street I saw a linear park, so I went back to Grand Avenue. Finally a good view of the water. The navy base is right below, with a football field next to it. The base consists of several buildings clustered around a turnaround street. That makes it look like — believe it or not — a casino resort.

The impression I got from northwest Everett is, if you want to live there without a car, there are a lot of houses and a few apartments within a  20-minute walk of the downtown Swift station. With a bicycle you could get to pretty much everywhere in Everett. I like the houses on Colby Avenue, both the 1910s and the mid-century ones. The houses further west are too large for my taste. And I don’t like the wide streets and setbacks. But the area is walkable and has a complete street grid, and people with kids would appreciate the high school (which I saw) and the elementary school (which is just beyond where I went). I didn’t see many people: downtown there was one military-looking dude, but everyone in the northwest area was middle-aged or older.

I went back to Rucker Ave and continued south until downtown started again. I passed the library and a bar called Prohibition. I went east on Hewitt looking for the Swift station, then got out the bus schedule and saw it’s two blocks south, at Pacific & Colby. (The Interurban terminus, remember.) I didn’t want to sit in freeway traffic again or look at a freeway, and I wanted to see what’s in the neighborhood’s transit circle, so I took Swift south to Aurora Village, which took 50 minutes. The most plentiful thing along the way is car dealerships. Can that many dealerships really stay in business? It looks like more than Auburn or Bellevue have. Snohomish County residents certainly don’t have to worry about not having enough cars to choose from. I wonder how many people take Swift to the car dealerships. At Aurora Village I stopped at Costco which is next to the transit center, and then took the E to Seattle. When I got downtown it was 8:30pm, and it was a slight culture shock to see so many pedestrians, twenty on one block. And that’s my northwest Everett trip.

Roosevelt HCT is Underway

SDOT_Roosevelt_HCT_OpenHouse_Boards_FINAL-11a
Click to Enlarge

SDOT has started work on its second HCT corridor, “Roosevelt to Downtown”. It’s one of three HCT corridors in Seattle’s Transit Master Plan (TMP) adopted in 2012. The other two HCT corridors are Madison BRT, which is in design, and Ballard to Downtown, which was part of a joint light rail/streetcar study done by Sound Transit. The TMP also has fifteen Priority Bus Corridors, of which 23rd Avenue is about to start construction. The goal of the current Roosevelt study is to identify a “locally preferred alternative” mode and route by November. This summer SDOT will choose two alternatives and analyze them in detail.

SDOT held open houses last week to present their initial work and ask for comments. The initial alternative has a downtown rectangle (5th and Boren Avenues, Stewart and Virginia Streets), then goes north on Fairview Avenue N, Eastlake Avenue E, Roosevelt -11th-12th, NE 80th Street, and 5th Avenue NE to the Northgate transit center. Readers will recognize this as route 70 south of the Ship Canal and route 66 north of it. A “South Alternative” follows the SLU Streetcar’s routing from Valley Street on south. Most of the work done so far focuses on the corridor’s existing conditions and expected growth; i.e., the context for the line.

SDOT is heavily leaning toward BRT rather than rapid streetcar for this corridor; they said most of their results are pointing in that direction. One of the posters showed a chart of the unique advantages of BRT vs streetcars: BRT came out ahead in 8 of 11 metrics.

SDOT_Roosevelt_HCT_OpenHouse_Boards_FINAL-09

Continue reading “Roosevelt HCT is Underway”

Boeing Access Road Station

The deferred Boeing Access Road Station got a new sign of life when Tukwila Mayor Jim Haggerton told the Kent Reporter:

Haggerton wants the Sound Transit to “undefer” its plans for a light-rail station in Tukwila at the Boeing Access Road. He argues the station is needed to serve the Museum of Flight, Boeing Field and Boeing facilities, Aviation High School and potential new job-generating developments in north Tukwila.

The Reporter’s Dean Radford goes on to discuss other transit projects and transit-oriented development in Tukwila. Now that BAR Station is getting some official support, let’s review the other issues surrounding the station.

First, what would it take to build it? The ST Board would have to approve it and find a funding source. The article mentions ST3. The initial ST3 studies for South King contemplated extending Link to Federal Way and a separate Burien-Renton line. South King can’t afford both of those, and it’s interesting that Haggerton didn’t even mention the Burien-Renton line. He may have found the study’s projections to be expensive and underperforming. A BAR station would be much less expensive, and could possibly be squeezed into ST3, especially if Tukwila helped to fund it.

Second, a sketch of potential bus routes. Radford says Haggerton is lobbying to extend RapidRide A to BAR Station. That would serve Tukwila Village, a transit-oriented neigborhood proposed for South 144th Street. If the A is extended, it would make sense to truncate the 124 at the same station. The 124 goes north to downtown Seattle, serving the Museum of Flight, Boeing jobs, and Aviation High School. Three more of Haggerton’s priorities are checked off.

But what about Southcenter? The 150 goes from Kent to Southcenter to downtown passing very near BAR Station. Metro has so far been unwilling to truncate it at Rainier Beach Station. Would Tukwila support truncating it at BAR Station? Southcenter-Westlake travel time on the 150 is 38 minutes at 5pm, 31 minutes at 9pm. Transferring to Link would take around 45 minutes (10 minutes bus, 30 minutes train, 5 minutes transfer). Aleksandra Culver has outlined how Metro could improve South King County’s network by extending the 164 and 180 to Rainier Beach Station to replace the 150.  This could be modified to BAR Station, and would give 10-minute combined frequency between Kent Station and BAR. Note that the 150’s advantage is wiped out if you transfer to another bus downtown, because Link can take you closer to many other destinations and avoids the downtown traffic.

Looking east, the 101 could also terminate at BAR Station. Its travel time to downtown is 45 minutes at 5pm, 35 minutes at 9pm. Link would be around 55 minutes (20 minutes bus, 30 minutes train, 5 minutes transfer). Again Aleks has outlined how two local routes to Rainier Beach Station could replace the 101 with combined 10-minute service. However, only one of the routes goes near BAR Station, so it would require additional service hours to achieve 10-minute frequency.

Third, the BNSF track. Link crosses Sounder at BAR, so previous clamors for a station have emphasized the possibility of a Link-Sounder transfer. But Tukwila Station is so close, and Tukwila has put money into that station, so I don’t think a BAR Sounder station is feasible. Plus, who would transfer there? If you’re on Sounder going to downtown or beyond, it’s faster to remain on Sounder to downtown. If you’re going to the airport, you can take an east-west bus. Only if you’re going to Rainier Valley would transferring be useful, and not many people go from Sounder’s area to Rainier Valley.

Fourth, the station area. It’s a highway/railroad interchange with nothing in walking distance, and no place to build anything. It’s a 7-minute walk from the BNSF crossing to East Marginal Way. But if we forego a Link-Sounder transfer, then we could move the station to East Marginal Way. That would at least give it a walkshed. It would make it harder for the 101 to reach it though, and increase backtracking on Renton-Seattle trips.

Finally, the station name. “Boeing Access Road Station” is a bad name. One, Boeing is a corporation. Two, “access road” is car-centric. If we didn’t have freeways we wouldn’t need access roads. Moscow has a metro station “Shosse Entuziastov” (Highway of the Enthusiasts), but in that case it’s a real highway that goes somewhere. Boeing Access Road is just a connector stub between three highways. So is there something else we can call the station?

These are the issues I see if the station is revived. If I’ve left anything out, please note it in the comments.

City Country Fingers

A Pattern Language by Christopher Alexander (1977) is one of the seminal works in modern urbanism. It describes “patterns”, or recurring problems in land use, and how to address them in a pedestrian-friendly and community-building manner.

However, some of the patterns seem decidedly odd. #3, “City Country Fingers”, suggests making urban districts a mile wide maximum — like “fingers” from downtown — and between them have fingers of countryside a minimum mile wide. These would contain working farms. The urban fingers could be several miles long, but not wide. This pattern would completely replace low-density suburbs and rarely-used ornamental yards, although it would be implemented incrementally. A transit line (subway) would run down the middle of each urban finger, and there would also be an arterial road for deliveries and such.

The idea is that all city-dwellers would be within a 10-minute walk of both the countryside and the transit line. The other urban streets would be all small, short, pedestrian-friendly grids. The country cross-streets (from one urban finger to the next) would be a mile apart. While this may connote “superblocks”, it would be farms and forest in the block, not big-box stores. The spacing of the country streets is based on the minimum size of a viable farm. “Since 90 percent of all farms are still 500 acres or less and there is no respectable evidence that the giant farm is more efficient, these fingers of farmland need be no more more than 1 mile wide.” (1965 reference)  There would be a “right to walk” across private countryside, similar to the UK, as long as you don’t disturb crops or livestock. Other patterns discuss putting urban neighborhoods in hills and farmland in valleys, and converting existing farms and parks to farm/parks.

What do you guys think of this?

It’s an intriguing idea, although utopian. Still, a new town or a rapidly-growing town could set its master plan this way. I worry that it’s a complete remake of the landscape based on an untested idea. That’s what Le Corbusier did in his 1922 plan for Paris: replace the central city with identical tower-in-the-park skyscrapers spaced widely apart, with open space and highways in between. The 20th century implemented this in modified form with many unanticipated consequences. As Wytold Rybczynski said, “The towers in the park were most often realized as towers in the parking lot.” (Makeshift Metropolis, 2010)  Any other so massive remake would have massive unintended consequences too.

Still, the idea is intriguing. It would give people easy access to nature, and a more significant nature than underused yards and parks. It would help the urban food supply and sustainability. It would make all urban districts walkable and transit-based. The fingers of countryside sound nonsense at first, but might they be feasable? There’s no reason Chicago “has” to spread in all directions in an undifferentiated spread of city. One mile is wide enough for a thriving urban district, and it’s about the size of each of Chicago’s neighborhoods. So what’s wrong with countryside between the neighborhoods? You just need frequent transit between them.

Applying this to Seattle is more difficult because of our narrow penninsula shapes, and hills and waterway barriers. In some places a mile-wide urban district would leave only half a mile for countryside on one side. But we could modify it, or apply it mostly to the suburban areas (which are less constrained). Or follow the “urban neighborhoods on hills” patterns, which is how many of our urban neighborhoods already are. In that case, Rainier Valley and SODO and downtown Renton would become farmland, which would good for flood control anyway. Of course there would be practical issues: displacement, economics, rebuilding housing and workplaces. But as an ideal, or implemented incrementally where feasable, what do you think?

Snoqualmie Valley Bus Trip

On Friday I did my long-desired Snoqualmie Valley bus trip. I took the 554 to Issaquah, 208 to Snoqualmie, SVT (Snoqualmie Valley Transit) shuttle to Duvall, 224 to Redmond, and 545 back to Seattle. I wanted to see what’s there in rural east King County and which trails I might want to hike later. The SVT runs only weekdays so I had to take a day off work for it. I couldn’t decide whether to go to North Bend and backtrack to Snoqualmie, or to skip North Bend for another trip. I made a table of possible schedules both with and without North Bend. It turned out there were only three choices: 8:07am-12:49pm (Snoqualmie only), 8:07am-2:19pm (same start time but later SVT), and 10:30am-4:10pm. I threw out a 6am trip as too early, and later trips would put me in Redmond after dark. I chose the earliest trip.

At 8:07am I took the 554 from downtown Seattle and arrived at Issaquah City Hall around 8:45am. The 208 would come 35 minutes later and stop two blocks south. A railroad trail (Rainier Blvd) connects the bus stops and runs north-south through the city. The 208 stop was nicely visible, and next to it was a signboard of Issaquah trails. I followed the trail north a few blocks and found the old train station and telegraph office. A sign said passenger trains served Issaquah from 1885 to 1922, and freight rail until 1996. A supermarket is one block west of the 554 stop.

The 208 went east at 9:30am. At the High Point freeway stop, one backpacker got off and I saw six cars parked at the intersection; there’s apparently a trail there. The bus continued to Snoqualmie Ridge, which is three exurban villages in a row. The bus goes through one of them, like the 168 through Timberlane. They all look New Urbanist correct, with a “Main Street” shopping district, no setbacks, row houses, and dozens of cookie-cutter Craftsman houses.

I decided to skip North Bend so I got off at the main Snoqualmie stop, which is next to a railroad museum. Except there’s construction so the stop is closed. The SVT would come in 20 minutes, if it was running today. Otherwise the westbound 208 would come in 40 minutes. It was 9:56am and only one business was open, a cafe. I walked along the railroad museum veranda and looked in the windows. It was closed but the restrooms were open. I came back to the main road and saw a van turning a block away. I was afraid I’d missed the valley shuttle, and I wasn’t sure where it would stop with the construction, and the map is not very exact. So I walked toward the westbound 208 stop. The shuttle circled back and stopped at the Metro stop. I was a block away and waved to it and ran to it. It waited for me.

SVT has two routes, the Valley Shuttle which goes from North Bend to Duvall approximately every 1 1/2 hours, and an unscheduled hourly circulator within North Bend and Snoqualmie. The fare is $1, or free if you’re transferring to/from Metro, but I put in $2 as a donation. I was the only passenger. I asked how many passengers normally ride, and he said an average of 8.

The 208 comes east on Snoqualmie Parkway and turns south on Railroad Ave (the main street). If you turn north instead you get to Snoqualmie Falls, a 10-minute walk according to Google Maps. The shuttle stops there, but we went past it to Fall City, which has a roundabout, a river through the middle of town, and four people fishing. The bus waits for five minutes at the library. I don’t know if it always does that or it’s just ahead of schedule. Then it’s on to Carnation. Between the towns is farmland.

At the south end of Carnation is Remlinger Farms, with a sign saying “1/2 mile east. Holiday pies. Farm restaurant. etc.” There’s not much to say about Carnation: some houses, that’s it. The shuttle turns up another highway to Duvall. This part of the shuttle route is trip is less interesting, a road through the woods. It’s a 2-lane highway without shoulders, which is kind of unsettling.

Duvall is the largest town. It looks like “suburbia under construction”; i.e., pockets of suburbia. A Safeway plaza here, a strip mall there, but one block away are farms. This end of the shuttle route has a timed transfer to/from Metro. Normally it’d be a 15 minute wait but the shuttle was 10 minutes early. Around the bus stop is a supermarket/restaurant/retail plaza. A block downhill is a grand entrance to the Snoqualmie Valley trail and river, another unused train depot, restrooms, a park. and the Duvall police station.

The 224 came at 11:25, and went on two more scary narrow 2-lane highways of nothingness. Then it turned onto Novelty Hill Road, with semi-rural 50-year-old houses, and then into Redmond Ridge. Redmond Ridge is another exurban village, much larger than the others I’d seen. It has a sixish-story senior housing complex, Main Street without setbacks, scores of row houses and cookie-cutter Craftsmans (Craftsmen?), three (count ’em, three) roundabouts, etc. Two people get on in western Redmond Ridge, and the bus turns back onto Novelty Hill Road, which again has 50-year-old houses as if the clock has turned back. Then it’s Bear Creek, the exurban shopping center, and downtown Redmond. I have only nine minutes until the 545 comes so I don’t walk two blocks west to the downtown park and Sammamish River trail which I’d seen before. The 545 comes at 12:09pm and I take it to Seattle. I get off at the Montlake freeway station, and take the 43 home.

The total trip time is 4 1/2 hours. It would have taken an hour or two longer if I’d chosen the later options, but on the other hand I’d have more time to go to Snoqualmie Falls or North Bend. The cost was within my $2.50 monthly pass (except the SVT donation). Without the pass it probably would have been $7 ORCA or $11.50 cash.

Passenger counts on the buses: 10 people on the 554. 8 people on the 204 (one deboarding at High Point). 1 person (me) on the SVT. 3 people on the 224 (2 boarded in western Redmond Ridge). 39 people on the 545 (many of them boarding at Overlake TC or the 40th freeway stop). Of course, remember it was a semi-holiday, and the first segments were in the morning and in the reverse-commute direction.

Save the Restructures!

3rd and Pine

Metro’s now-defunct cut proposals included some restructures that are worth implementing on their own merits. They aren’t scheduled because the County Council never approved them, but at the same time the council didn’t reject them specifically — it just rejected the cuts as a whole. So Metro could still propose the restructures again. It should go ahead with the good changes, while leaving the bad ones in the dustbin.

Here are the cut proposals again:  Feb 2015 revision 2 (10 MB), original proposals (25 MB). Both are ZIP files containing PDFs. (These aren’t the entire cuts, just the routes I downloaded at the time.)

Very Good Restructures:

Queen Anne. The strongest of all, Route 2N is consolidated into the 13, and 4N is consolidated into 3N. Both 13 and 3N terminate at Seattle Pacific University. This gives two frequent routes on upper Queen Anne Avenue, the center of the urban village. It fixes the schizophrenic pattern of two half-hourly routes six blocks apart, and two routes that go downtown on opposite sides of the street. The losers would be those near 6th Ave W, but they would have a flat six-minute walk to the 13, and they’d still have the 29 peak hours. Metro has tried to do this change twice now, the first time in 2012, so Metro thinks it’s a strong alternative.

Central District and First Hill. The 4S would be consolidated into the 3S, and the 2S would move to Madison from Seneca. The 4S is redundant with other routes on the same street and nearby, and is slower than those other routes. The 3S serves an otherwise-unserved part of the Central District, so it’s a good route to make frequent. Moving the 2 to Madison would, along with the 12, give full-time frequent service on Madison. I’m not wedded on Madison vs Seneca, but I want both routes on the same street to make the corridor more usable. Metro has also tried to do this change twice now.

Continue reading “Save the Restructures!”

ST3 Funding Options

Potential ST3 Revenue Sources
Revenue Options for a “Large” ST3 package

Sound Transit held a board workshop on Thursday to begin considering financing options for ST3, the draft update to its Long Range Plan (LRP), and the timeline to a potential ST3 vote in 2016. This article covers the funding aspect (slides here) and timeline because that’s where most of the new information was. The LRP will follow in a later post. The 3 1/2 hour workshop consisted of the ST board and staff who did all the talking, and some forty observers including people from Metro and your reporter.

ST’s current state-granted taxing authority is 0.9% sales tax, 0.8% rental car tax, 0.8% restricted MVET (Motor-Vehicle Excise Tax), and an employer tax ($2.5000/ employee / month). Of these ST is currently maxed out on the sales tax and rental car tax. The MVET can only be used to pay existing bonds and expires in 2028. ST has never collected the employer tax so it’s an unused capacity. When ST2 construction ends in 2023 it will free up $1 billion, mostly in the Pierce and Snohomish subareas.

The staff presented three potential levels for ST3. The lowest level (“ST2a”) stays within the existing taxing authority and could complete planning and engineering of the “Spine” (meaning the Everett, Tacoma, and Redmond Link extensions) — but not construction. The middle level (“Incremental”) would require more taxing authority from the legislature and could construct one or two of the “best-performing” light rail segments (which ones were left unspecified). The highest level (“Large”) would be a similar size as ST1 and ST2 and require $15 billion in new taxes.

The board seems to be leaning toward the Large option. One board member cited deep public hunger in both Seattle and the suburbs for high-capacity transit (HCT). Another said a larger package would have a better chance of being approved by the legislature and by voters. A third said the board’s consensus seems to be for a “bold” legislative proposal, “more than we need”. The staff are assuming a Large proposal for planning, and the board can scale it back if it decides to go smaller. Mayor Murray emphasized the importance of clarifying their legislative ask and making sure any ST3 package goes big.

The presentation listed ten revenue sources used by other North American transit agencies: sales tax, rental car tax, payroll tax, MVET, car sales tax, car fuel tax, parking tax, utility bill levy, toll revenue, or property tax. Staff chose three of these for comparison and presented tax rates based on the use of one, two or all three sources. The three slides above show the results of this analysis. Of course these could be mixed and matched to balance the revenue among two or three sources.

Staff identified reliance on a single revenue source as potentially problematic because it would increase sales tax above 10% or hit constitutional property tax limits in King County. Property tax is also harder to bond against. Staff also noted that property tax is the least objectionable revenue source, as determined by rider surveys. Using this as guidance, Sound Transit staff will be developing a legislative agenda including adequate revenue capacity for any of these scenarios.

One board member suggested the staff consider additional funding sources such as LIDs (local improvement districts), the TIF model (taxing the added real-estate value of being near HCT), partnerships with companies benefiting from the service, and federal and state grants.

The potential timeline for a 2016 vote and subsequent ST3 construction is as follows:

Continue reading “ST3 Funding Options”

Thoughts on Pronto

Pronto bikeshare has been open for two days now, and so far I’ve just been watching it and deciding how much to use it. I knew it was coming to town but I never expected a station practically at my front door (Bellevue & Pine). So I have a convenient station, hooray. But when I look at other nearby stations I could ride to, they’re the same trips that have the most frequent bus service. So why bother? It’s more likely to attract people who don’t like buses than me with a bus pass. Especially if I’d have to pay $10 a day when I’d only use it once or twice that day. What I’d more use it for is longer trips that require a bus transfer, but the one I’d most frequently do is to Children’s hospital and back, and that’s beyond the 30-minute limit so I’d have to pay $2 extra per trip (even if I had an annual pass). Again no thanks, at least more than occasionally. I suppose I could “transfer bikes” along the way to get another 30 minutes, if it let me.

But another more promising use occurred to me this afternoon. When University Link opens I’ll be halfway between two Link stations, and Convention Place Station will close soon after.  I’ve been wondering what to then, whether to stay where I am or move closer to a Link station. Some people point out that if Link had stations at Bellevue, 15th, 23rd, and Montlake, it could completely replace the 43. But it won’t. Normally now when I go to Westlake I take a Pine Street bus, or if I’m too impatient I walk. But with Pronto I could take a bike down to the Link station.

And that may become one of Pronto’s most widespread uses, to extend the reach of Link stations and fill in the “missing” stations. Some would say, “That’s nice, but they should have put in those extra Link stations in the first place.” But a bikeshare station costs 1/1000 as much as an underground Link station, and nobody has said where the money for those stations would have come from or how we would have gotten voters to approve them. People are more willing to vote for more stations now that Link is open, than they were beforehand. That’s the tradeoff of being the first line. But in any case, Pronto could end up being a way to fill in for those stations, if it eventually adds bike stations in those areas.

American Nations

I just finished reading “American Nations” by Colin Woordard, about the history and dynamics of regional conflicts in the US. It goes a long way toward explaining the debates on infrastructure needs vs low-tax ideology, and many other fiscal and social issues. (It was indirectly linked in one of the recent comments; I can’t find the link now but the topic is related to ST3 and the statewide case for it.) The reason I’m writing this is Woodard makes a strong case that this polarization goes back 400 years so it’s not likely to be resolved in the next 100. My first reaction was, this is depressing. My second reaction was, what are we going to do about it?

Woodard says that the US is divided not into north and south, but into ten different regional “nations” influenced by their earliest settlers. (The eleventh exists only in Canada, and it’s not Quebec but Nunavut.) Others have written similarly — notably Joel Garreau and James Webb — but only Woodard has fully traced the historical context: why they differ and how they originated. “The South” is four nations: Deep South, Tidewater (Virginia), Greater Appalachia, and New France (New Orleans). “The blue states” are four nations: Yankeedom, New Netherland (New York), the Midlands, and The Left Coast (western Washington south to Monterey, California, and north to Juneau, Alaska). The other two nations are nonaligned: The Far West (the Inland Empire and Rockies), and El Norte (southwest). Each of these nations has a unique set of values, which sometimes overlap other nations but sometimes oppose them. This causes alliances to change depending on what the current critical issues are. All presidential and congressional elections in the past hundred years have come down to these factors. Four of the nations are based on settlers from different parts of England: the Puritans (Yankeedom), country aristocrats (Tidewater), Barbados aristocrats (Deep South), and the Scots-Irish (Greater Appalachia).

The starkest difference is the opposing views of Yankeedom and the Deep South. Both are expansionary ideologies: one to enlighten the country with education, equality, and public works; the other to maintain their aristocratic hierarchy and transferring wealth to the rich. Tidewater slavery started with indentured servants both black and white; it was the Deep South that imported an “industrial” slave system from Barbados and was racist at its core; and it was New Netherland which spearheaded the slave trade. New Netherland was the most diverse and tolerant and urban — which Woodward says is why New York City is so big and diverse — but paradoxically it sometime supported slavery and the south when it was good for business, all the way up to the late 20th century. Greater Appalachia fought for the Union but is currently allied with the south. The Left Coast where we live is primarily Yankee-influenced but with additional environmentalism and individualism. The Far West was not really established until WWII: three nations tried to settle it but failed due to its arid climate. Its main influences are large industries (railroads, mining) and federal largesse (military bases, infrastructure, public lands). It’s currently allied with the south because it supports low taxes, low regulation, and continued federal subsidies (paradox alert). El Norte is still undecided; it hasn’t committed to any of the alliances yet.

Washington State is split between the Left Coast mindset and the Far West mindset. This reflects the legislature’s votes on Metro funding, as the “Statewide” article above shows. Eastern Washington wants low taxes and high subsidies, while pretending it’s the one subsidizing the west. Seattle wants a complete transit network and is willing to pay the necessary taxes for it. Pugetopolis is mostly on board with this (as long as it doesn’t involve $40+ car tabs). The rest of western Washington is sympathetic to some of the Far West positions.

So what do we do? Woodard makes a depressing case that these mindsets are not going to change this century. At the state level I don’t think we can do much: the anti-transit legislators have a narrow majority and safe districts, and the Pugetopolis leaders have already sent united messages to Olympia asking for transit-tax authority. So it mainly depends on changing one or two legislators, convinving a few others, or getting Mayor Murray to show us his “state coalition building” skills. At the federal level it makes me wonder if we should let the south secede after all. Woodard’s last chapters make a case that either splitting or autonomous regions may be inevitable, because it’s impossible to have low taxes/regulation/infrastructure and high taxes/regulation/infrastructure in the same place simultaneously. So the only solution may be autonomous regions with different laws and no cross-subsidies. That doesn’t necessarily mean ten regions: it may be two or three or four. And if the Far West becomes one of them, then western and eastern Washington may part ways.