Fife, Pedestrian Paradise?

Nice place for a stroll. Credit: Google

At the last Sound Transit Board meeting, on April 25, WSDOT head and Sound Transit Board member Roger Millar caught my attention when he mentioned the potential of East Tacoma or Fife stations as something other than freeway-limited park and ride stops.

Millar proposed making the East Tacoma station the end of a bike trail connecting Link to Puyallup—and the raised the possibility of transforming the area into a walking and biking hub. Millar even suggested that funds or planning resources from the Gateway Project, a highway expansion megaproject, might be available to build the trail.

Some background: the walksheds of the potential Fife and East Tacoma sites are mainly industrial or low-rise commercial, though there are residential areas that are a bikeable distance away. Several major highways intersect with I-5 in the area, and the Port of Tacoma’s truck freight enters and exits the highway system there. So, as anyone who’s traveled on I-5 knows, Fife and East Tacoma are constantly congested already. (And the widening probably won’t make a big difference.) In short, it’s not the most pedestrian- or bike-friendly area. (Frank covered the Level 2 Tacoma Dome extension options in more detail when they were released in April.)

Hearing the head of WSDOT—an agency that is heavily focused on building and maintaining highways—propose an urbanist-flavored mobility solution was very encouraging.

“The distance from the City of Puyallup to Fife—it’s five, six miles—which, on a bicycle, particularly on flat terrain like that is nothing. And the opportunity to create a whole new travelshed is something that we’re excited about. …We are looking at alignments that might work as part of our Gateway Project,” Millar said, citing the work of Pierce County elected officials for bringing the issue to his attention. “At the very least, maybe we could minimize the number of park and ride spaces we need to have for people coming in from Puyallup, because they can get on their bikes and ride.”

Sound Transit’s project lead, Curvie Hawkins, said the agency is open to the idea, but was understandably cautious about committing to anything.

“We have a river we have to get over between Fife and East Tacoma,” Hawkins said. “So we have thought about ways to incorporate multiple modes in our design, and [be] able to make that connection work. I can’t tell you we’re going to build a multimodal bridge at this time, but to respond to your question, we’re thinking about it.”

Millar (who has a strong transit background) pressed Hawkins further, raising the possibility of reimagining the Tacoma and Fife station areas as walkable, bikeable urban villages.

“That’s good news, and I’m not hoping for the Tilikum Crossing—but, y’know, that wouldn’t be bad—over the [Puyallup] River there,” Millar said. “But the other direction, we need to think about active transportation accesses from those stations to the Port of Tacoma. Is there conversation going on about bicycle and walking connections, transit shuttle connections, those kinds of things? …I have this vision of longshoremen on scooters.”

Hawkins again hedged, saying that planning was early, but Sound Transit is working closely with the Port of Tacoma and Pierce Transit.

After the exchange, Fife Mayor and Board member Kim Roscoe added her support for Millar’s multimodal ambitions.

“I really appreciate you pulling this up to top of mind for us,” Roscoe said, turning to Millar. “I share the strong sentiment on keeping a focus on bike and pedestrian access.”

In earlier iterations of Link planning, particularly in suburban and industrial areas like the stations in question, multimodal access has seemed like an afterthought. It’s refreshing to see leaders outside of Seattle working to leverage Link as a catalyst for green, human-scale transportation.

Next gen ORCA cards to roll out by 2023, in more retail locations

Washed. Credit: Wikipedia

The next generation of ORCA cards should be available by 2023 at the latest, according to the contract transit agencies will execute with the company selected to roll out the card with retailers.

The Sound Transit Board signed off on a contract with Ready Credit Corporation at a meeting on April 25. A memo summarizing the contract said that “actual distribution of smart cards” will “begin toward the end of the third year or in the fourth year of the contract,” making winter 2022 the earliest new ORCA cards could be available in stores and vending machines.

Sound Transit already approved the vendor that will create the system architecture, cards, and readers needed for the system, or the back of house, as a restaurant might put it. The Ready Credit contract is for front of house: vending machines and contracts with retailers.

This contract will allow for a significant, positive change in the way people will actually buy and reload ORCA cards. Cards should be available in more locations than they are today.

Continue reading “Next gen ORCA cards to roll out by 2023, in more retail locations”

Elected Officials Ask for More Light Rail EIS Options, Reject Movable Ballard Bridge

Never again. Credit: Wikipedia

Seattle and King County elected officials have asked Sound Transit to remove a moved bridge in Ballard from future Link plans. They also urged Sound Transit to ditch the elevated “Orange Line” alignment in West Seattle, which would require large numbers of homes to be demolished.

In other areas, the officials mostly declined to endorse other specific choices in the planning effort. Instead, at the final Elected Leadership Group (ELG) meeting for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions, elected officials preferred a full Environmental Impact Study (EIS) of nearly all the alignments currently under consideration. Comments by business and community groups from Ballard, West Seattle, and Chinatown-International District (ID) generally advocated for the same process.

Sound Transit asked elected officials to endorse specific alignments in the hope of speeding the EIS process and picking a preferred alignment early. Agency CEO Peter Rogoff and project director Cathal Ridge both emphasized in prepared remarks that selecting a preferred alignment would not actually lock the agency into building the chosen project. Continue reading “Elected Officials Ask for More Light Rail EIS Options, Reject Movable Ballard Bridge”

Elevated Light Rail Could Limit Housing Development in West Seattle

The Junction station of the Yellow line would replace a block ripe for upzoning. Credit: Sound Transit

Elevated light rail alignments in West Seattle have a unique problem. Unlike any other part of the system so far, they run through a built-up, residential area. Planned or existing lines are lie mostly in existing right-of-way, or tunnel into their own.

Sound Transit has had to demolish some housing for other projects, mainly at the periphery of neighborhoods. But one of the proposed elevated West Seattle lines, the Yellow/West Seattle Elevated line, would require bulldozing unprecedented parts of two built-up neighborhoods: Youngstown (the northern end of the Delridge area) and the Junction.

Residents have taken notice, forming the East Alaska Junction Neighborhood Coalition (EAJNC), a community group whose site says they “support and look forward to the arrival of a new Link Light rail extension in our area but have concerns about the proposed plans.” Continue reading “Elevated Light Rail Could Limit Housing Development in West Seattle”

Broad Support for West Seattle and Salmon Bay Light Rail Tunnels

Troubled bridge over waters. Credit: King County

Letters from businesses, government agencies, and community groups show a citywide desire for the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions to be almost entirely tunnels.

Troublingly for Sound Transit, businesses on the Duwamish Waterway made conflicting demands about where to build the bridge that will cross the river mouth, which means a costly legal fight to acquire right of way is likely.

The letters indicate that the ST3 project could be headed towards a higher cost than planned.

That cost could come from several scenarios that would drive expensive litigation and mitigation. The first is a contentious Duwamish crossing, with legal and condemnation battles fought against the Port, maritime businesses, and industrial concerns. The second is a similar fight over land and right of way with neighborhood groups and residents, if their tunneling preferences are ignored.

On the third hand, if the agency does follow public opinion and put trains underground, engineering costs could spike dramatically. In that scenario, Sound Transit would need to either find new sources of revenue (such as the City of Seattle or the Port), find significant cost savings (as occurred with U-Link), or some combination of both. 

Follow these links for letters from stakeholders in businesses, government, and community groups. View a table here of various interests’ positions on specific elements of proposed alignments. Continue reading “Broad Support for West Seattle and Salmon Bay Light Rail Tunnels”

A Safer 4th & Jackson and an “Iconic” Union Station

Aerial view of the Jackson Hub. Credit: Bruce Engelhardt

Crossing 4th and 2nd Avenues South at their intersections with Jackson Street is a harrowing experience. The intersection is wide—four busy lanes plus a little extra—and the signal is short. Crossing the both intersections on the same signal cycle is hard, unless you’re jogging.

That intersection is right in the middle of one of the busiest transit hubs in the city. Metro, Community Transit, Sound Transit, the Seattle Streetcar, Amtrak, Bolt Bus: thousands riders transfer between modes every day in the area immediately surrounding the vast intersection. King Street and Union Stations, much-used, legacy railroad buildings, loom over an environment dominated by cars.

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With Seattle winning the War on Cars, the fight spreads to the ‘burbs

Opening new fronts. Credit: Joe Kunzler.

When it comes to commuting, we may be winning the War on Cars in Seattle proper, but pretty much everyone else in the Puget Sound region is still driving to their free parking at work every day.

According to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), 63 percent of commuters drive to work alone. The figure comes from the PSRC’s recently released 2017 Household Travel Survey, the latest in a series of biannual studies of travel behavior in King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap Counties.

But the story is very different in Seattle proper. According to the survey’s study of general-purpose travel in the city, transit is the most popular motorized mode, with a 25 percent share. Walking is the most popular mode, with a 34 percent share, with 2% of respondents primarily biking.

Continue reading “With Seattle winning the War on Cars, the fight spreads to the ‘burbs”

Durkan Requests More Light Rail Options in Chinatown-ID and West Seattle

Credit: ZhangZhou

Mayor Jenny Durkan wants Sound Transit to study more alignments in the West Seattle and Ballard extensions.

The City asked for “additional study, problem solving, and refinements in West Seattle, Chinatown/International District, SODO, and mid-town segments” in a letter to Sound Transit signed by Sam Zimbabwe, the new director of SDOT.

Chinatown/International District (CID) residents have organized against a 5th Avenue South alignment, and West Seattle residents, particularly Youngstown residents, object to the amount of housing that would need to be demolished to build alignments that are currently under consideration.

The City blessed the results of the process so far in other parts of the line, writing that “in contrast, Sound Transit should feel confident that the final alignment selected in Ballard, Interbay, Uptown, and South Lake Union will be within the possibilities represented by the two Level 3 alternatives.”

Sound Transit structured the current outreach and design process to limit the amount of options submitted in the draft Environmental Impact Study (EIS) process, with the goal of opening Link lines as soon as possible.

Anne Fennessy, the City’s ST3 point person and a close ally of the Mayor, says that Durkan doesn’t want to delay project delivery, despite the request for more options. Fennessy said the Mayor has convened a multi-agency working group to expedite permitting and cut red tape on the City side.

Continue reading “Durkan Requests More Light Rail Options in Chinatown-ID and West Seattle”

Sound Transit rethinking fare enforcement

Credit: Oran Viriyincy

Sound Transit is pushing ahead with fare enforcement reform. At last week’s Board meeting, CEO Peter Rogoff announced that the agency has formed a working group that will study changes to the existing fare enforcement process. He updated a Board committee on the goals of the working group in comments at a meeting yesterday.

“[We] convene[d] a cross-functional group to review the agency’s approach to fare enforcement, and evaluate opportunities to further enhance our program with an emphasis on our core values of customer focus, safety, inclusion, and respect,” Rogoff said on Thursday, at a meeting of the Board’s operations and rider experience committee.

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Durkan, Herbold criticize Chinatown, Delridge plans

If Bellevue is Brooklyn, does that make West Seattle New Jersey? Credit: Joe Mabel

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and other Seattle elected officials sharply questioned Sound Transit officials at a public meeting about the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions yesterday.

Sound Transit convened the meetings to address the Chinatown/International District (CID) and Delridge stations. The agency probably hoped to lower heat on simmering discontent about the Seattle extensions’ most controversial segments.

Instead, residents of both neighborhoods offered more criticism—and demonstrated that they are organizing and have the ears of elected officials. In public comments, CID residents and activists continued to voice concerns about construction impacts on the neighborhood’s businesses and unique culture. Delridge residents objected to proposed residential demolitions, and accused Sound Transit of lowballing the number of households who would be displaced by Link construction.

Continue reading “Durkan, Herbold criticize Chinatown, Delridge plans”

Sound Transit slowly backs away from union fight

Union shop. Credit: Atomic Taco

Yesterday’s Sound Transit Board meeting featured lots of talk about bus drivers and Rob Johnson.

Board members, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, and union officers praised the heroism of Metro bus operator Eric Stark, who delivered dozens of passengers to safety after a gunman opened fire on Stark’s bus and general traffic on Lake City Way on Wednesday. The gunman murdered two people, and wounded another person in addition to Stark.

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan said that she met Stark and his wife, Kim, who is also a Metro driver, at Harborview. Durkan said that Stark is “doing well and recovering,” and lauded his “heroism and selflessness.” Durkan also revealed that the other wounded person is a 2nd grade public school teacher.

“I think most of us here take transit frequently, and we know that we have tremendous employees who serve the public every single day. They do little acts of heroism all the time. There are times when people devalue public service, and the value of public employees, but that guy saved people’s lives yesterday,” said Board member Claudia Balducci.

Continue reading “Sound Transit slowly backs away from union fight”

The Many Tradeoffs of Each Delridge Station Site

Credit: Sound Transit

Each of the three potential Delridge Link station sites has substantial tradeoffs, including varying amounts of resident displacement and housing demolition.

Like the Chinatown/International District (CID) station, the Delridge station is controversial. Each station has drawn the attention of Seattle elected officials, who will dig into both stations at a special meeting on March 29. Unlike the CID station, Sound Transit seems agnostic about its preferences for the station. Each has its own technical and political problems.

Beyond housing, another crucial concern is bus integration. Delridge Way SW carries Metro’s Route 120, one of the highest-ridership routes in the regional bus network. It will soon be replaced by the RapidRide H line. That upgrade could follow the welcome precedent of other RapidRide lines and boost ridership over previous bus service.

When Link comes online, Metro could (and probably should) choose to restructure the H to terminate in Delridge, and usher Downtown-bound riders onto Link. All that means the Delridge station is a vital bus-to-Link transfer site. It’s where riders from points as far south as South Park and White Center will access the Link system.

Continue reading “The Many Tradeoffs of Each Delridge Station Site”

What happens in Chinatown/ID when light rail is under construction?

The International District gate, King Street Station, and Union Station. Credit: Joe Mabel

One of the most contentious aspects of the ST3 Link extensions is the Chinatown/International District (CID) station and alignment debate. In the simple version of the argument, CID activists oppose a 5th Avenue South alignment because of worries that the station will cause interminable construction impacts, and, in doing so, strike a decisive blow of gentrification and displacement.

On the other hand, Sound Transit seems to prefer the 5th Avenue alignment (though they’d never say so explicitly in public), because it will cost much less and be much simpler to engineer.

But Sound Transit has released new information that makes the calculus even more complex. At an overflow neighborhood meeting in Sound Transit headquarters in Union Station, Sound Transit released more detailed information about the construction impacts, and ultimate rider environment, of each station option.

Continue reading “What happens in Chinatown/ID when light rail is under construction?”

Why did green legislators vote to spend carbon taxes on highways?

Credit: WSDOT

Green, pro-transit legislators like Senator Rebecca Saldaña (D-37, Seattle) drew criticism from their allies when they voted last week in favor of a committee bill to implement a carbon pricing program—and spend its revenues on emissions-generating highway projects.

However, it’s not that simple, according to Saldaña. She says that voting for highway projects now creates the chance for more state funding of transit projects later.

Saldaña, the vice chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, said on Tuesday that she doesn’t actually support enacting the proposed laws, SBs 5970, 5971 and 5972. Saldaña that she does not expect the bills to get real consideration on the floor, much less pass.

“Right now, there’s just no way if it came to the floor in the condition it is, there’s just no way I could support it,” Saldaña said.

Continue reading “Why did green legislators vote to spend carbon taxes on highways?”

Bus lane enforcement / pedestrian safety bill may fail

As we mentioned yesterday, HB 1793, a bill that would authorize automatic cameras to prevent bus lane cheating and blocking the box, is in danger of failing.

The bill, sponsored by Representative Joe Fitzgibbon (D-34, Seattle), would allow Seattle to install cameras that would take photos of a violator’s license plate when a driver blocks an intersection or crosswalk, or illegally uses a bus lane.

Transportation Choices Coalition issued an action alert to its social media and email followers, asking supporters “to stand up for safe streets and transit reliability” by sending a comment to legislators.

The concerns about disproportionality have it backwards. Traffic stops by police create the opportunity for discrimination, and are more dangerous to everyone involved. Indeed, traffic stops during peak hour, when most of the cheating occurs, end up gumming up traffic worse.

You can also call the toll free Legislative Hotline at 1-800-562-6000 to voice your opinion, or call your representatives’ offices directly after looking up their Olympia office phone numbers here. The calls will get faster attention than emails. Doing both says you care. The cut-off for getting non-budgetary House bills out of the House is 5:00 this afternoon.

You can watch the House proceedings on TVW, and follow the details online.

Brent White contributed to this post.

Activists rip City’s Vision Zero progress

Vision Zero activist Andrew Kidde. Credit: Peter Johnson

At a City Council meeting on Tuesday, transportation and safe streets activists pointedly criticized the City’s slow pace in implementing its Vision Zero plan. They argued that the City’s progress on pedestrian and bicycle improvements lagged far behind road projects.

At the same meeting, SDOT presented data indicating traffic deaths went down in 2018. According to that data, collisions killed 14 people. (We covered an earlier version of that data in January.) In public comments before the meeting, activists said that the data set was not complete, and left out additional fatalities.

“I’m sort of at the end of my line making excuses for the City,” said Gordon Padelford, director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, in remarks focused on a Vision Zero-related rechannelization project on Rainier Avenue South. “This is something we just need to get done. If this were a giant convention center, or a new arena, it would have been done years ago. When we want to, as a city, we can get heaven and Earth to get these important priorities built. What are we doing for Southeast Seattle?”

Biker and climate activist Andrew Kidde, a Rainier Valley resident, explained his frustration with Vision Zero progress. Kidde has worked on climate issues for some time, but said in public comments that the death of his friend, Alex Hayden, galvanized him to work on green transportation and safe streets. Hayden was hit and killed by a car on Rainier just outside city limits.

“I just feel like it’s time for the City to do what they have the drawings to do—rechannelize to three lanes, put in a whole lot of intersection improvements—and I just don’t know what’s going on. What’s the hitch?” Kidde said, in a follow-up interview after his public comments.

Continue reading “Activists rip City’s Vision Zero progress”

Durkan asks FTA for Chinatown/International District comment extension

4th and 5th Avenues South in Chinatown. Credit: Bruce Engelhardt.

Yesterday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan petitioned the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to extend the environmental impact statement (EIS) scoping period for the West Seattle-Ballard Link extension by 15 days, in order to solicit more comment on the planned second Chinatown/International District (CID) station.

Durkan’s request is a result of lobbying from CID community leaders. Under present plans, the EIS scoping period will end on March 18.

“We are supportive of the request by residents, civic, and business leaders of the Chinatown-International District and Pioneer Square neighborhoods for a scoping extension for gathering comments for the [West Seattle-Ballard] project,” Durkan wrote in a letter to the FTA’s regional administrator, Linda Gehrke.

Continue reading “Durkan asks FTA for Chinatown/International District comment extension”

Record Link ridership in 2018

In 2018, Sound Transit continued to avoid the national decline in transit ridership, according to the agency’s latest service numbers.

Link light rail’s ridership grew a solid 6.1% in 2018, with 24,416,411 boardings.

Continue reading “Record Link ridership in 2018”

Getting ready for the all-train tunnel

ST 132 at Pioneer Square Station - Seattle, WA
Last days

At a press conference yesterday, Metro, Sound Transit, and SDOT released their initial plans for the post-bus tunnel era. On March 23, Sound Transit will be the sole operator of transit service in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT), and will run only Link light rail trains through it.

Metro and Sound Transit buses that ran through the tunnel will now run on surface streets. According to Metro, 830 daily trips will move from the tunnel to the streets. Those trips will still enjoy their own right of way through most of downtown, though the impact to reliability remains to be seen.

Some Metro routes, including workhorses like the 40 and 120, will add additional trips thanks to funds from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD). We’ll cover the changes to those routes, and a systemwide service restructure, in a later post.

Link riders will experience several major changes. Link will become more reliable and frequent, with consistent, six-minute headways. Seven routes, including Sound Transit’s high-ridership Route 550, will move from the tunnel to the surface.

Continue reading “Getting ready for the all-train tunnel”

Head of Metro security charged with rape, human trafficking

On Tuesday, the King County Sheriff’s Office (KCSO) arrested King County Metro’s head of security, Mark L. Norton, on human trafficking and rape charges. Norton has worked for Metro since July 2010.

In charges filed in Snohomish County Superior Court, KCSO Detective Luke Hillman alleged that Norton repeatedly raped a young woman in his employ when she was a minor, then coerced her into prostitution after she turned 18.

“The suspect’s grooming began when he was in his 30’s and the victim was a teenager and was babysitting for the suspect’s children,” KCSO Sergeant Ryan Abbott wrote in a separate, Wednesday release. “After persuading the victim to engage in sex acts with him, the suspect had the victim move in with him. Eventually the suspect operated as a pimp and pressured the victim to engage in prostitution on numerous occasions throughout Seattle, Lynnwood and Everett. The suspect arranged the prostitution online and kept the money brought by people wanting to have sex with the victim.”

According to Metro spokesperson Torie Rynning, Norton has been placed on unpaid leave and may be terminated.

“We are shocked and deeply disturbed to learn of the allegations and are cooperating with investigators,” Rynning wrote in a statement. “While in custody, this employee will be on unpaid leave, and we are exploring avenues to take immediate steps regarding this employee’s ongoing employment. Meanwhile, we are conducting our own administrative investigation to determine if any additional or unrelated code of conduct violations may have occurred.”

We asked Metro whether their background check picked up any prior malfeasance by Norton when he was hired.

“Metro currently conducts extensive background checks for sensitive personnel positions, including this position,” Rynning wrote. “We are reviewing our procedures to determine if additional screens are needed, however it is not clear that this activity would have been caught with additional screening.”