Balducci working on countywide transit funding package

King County Battery Bus Announcement
Claudia Balducci

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci has started work on a potential countywide, dedicated transit funding package to augment or replace the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD.) That tax package, which is comprised of a sales tax increase and car tab fee, is set to expire at the end of 2020.

Balducci says that the funding would be spent on implementing the ambitious Metro Connects program, the long-range plan that the agency and Council released in 2017.

“There’s a lot of stuff in Metro Connects that a lot of communities want, that will help with their transportation needs and their economic development and growth plans,” Balducci says. “But we haven’t identified the funding to serve all of that yet.”

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Trump Couldn’t Stop Border Commuters

President Donald Trump said that there’s a crisis at the United States-Mexico border that only a brand-new wall can fix, and he shut down the U.S. government to make that wall real.

When I visited the existing wall’s busy crossing, the San Ysidro Land Port of Entry, on January 5, near the start of the government shutdown, I didn’t see much of a crisis.

What I did see was Mexican commuters crossing the border and getting on one of the country’s busiest rail lines, like they have every day since 1981.

San Diego is a twin city. As you probably know, Tijuana, a Mexican city of 1.6 million residents, is close by. You may not know that TJ, as San Diegans call their Mexican neighbor, is a short Trolley ride away. The Trolley’s Blue Line terminates at the border fence. You can see it from the platform.

That makes the Blue Line something more than your ordinary light rail line. The Blue Line stop at the San Ysidro Port of Entry is the only fixed passenger rail service at an international border in North America. Other systems run close to a border, like Buffalo’s light rail and the streetcars in Detroit and El Paso, but they aren’t essential features of those places.

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The Port of Seattle is ready to fight about light rail—or possibly pay for it

Terminal 5 of the Port of Seattle. Credit: Port of Seattle

The West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions have to cross the Duwamish River and Salmon Bay. Building a bridge or tunnel across water in an urban environment is hard enough in the first place. The fact that the mouth of the Duwamish and Salmon Bay are two of Puget Sound’s busiest commercial waterways make it much harder.

In a 2018 open letter, Port executives requested Sound Transit not build lines that would harm operations or force business relocations at Fisherman’s Terminal on Salmon Bay. On the Duwamish, they demanded Sound Transit not impede operations at container Terminals 5 and 18.

“I’m deeply, deeply committed to the success of light rail in the city and the region,” said Port Commissioner Stephanie Bowman, adding that one of the reasons she bought her current home on Beacon Hill was its easy access to Link. “I wanted to be part of the Port’s conversation in making sure that the alignments going forward are best for transit, and also work for the Port.”

Bowman is the Port’s point person with Sound Transit. She’s a member of the Elected Leadership Group, which has a semi-official role in Link planning.

“The most important thing is to not have freight blocked and have people in single occupancy vehicles,” Bowman said. “You want to get as many people onto transit as possible. That’s what helps move freight throughout the region.”

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Single tracking, mid-line transfer for 10 weeks in 2020

Pioneer Square Station

Before East Link comes online in 2023, the extension’s track has to be connected to the existing light rail network just south of the Chinatown/International District (CID) station. Sound Transit will close existing portions of both north and southbound track for 10 weeks in early 2020 to make the connection, according to plans released yesterday.

Service will continue during construction, with the exception of three total closures during one weekend each in January, February, and March, but it will not be fun.

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Metro: Buses on snow routes “until further notice”

Route 255 Snow Shuttle
A bus with chains in a 2012 storm (Photo by Oran).

Metro switched all bus service to snow routes by Monday afternoon. As of 2:30 on Monday, the agency planned to keep running snow routes “until further notice,” according to spokesperson Jeff Switzer.

A live-updated list of each route’s status is available on Metro’s website, MetroWinter.com.

“We made the decision to go on snow routes based on current conditions,” Switzer said. “Based on how conditions change over time, you may start to see certain routes get peeled off of snow routes as weather conditions permit. That’s going to be made on a case-by-case basis, until we really see a good melt.”

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Tunnels, deep stations for West Seattle-Ballard line could add $2B

The Level 3 end-to-end alternatives. Click to enlarge. Credit: Sound Transit

At a Stakeholder Advisory Group meeting last night, Sound Transit released its first cost estimates and evaluations for the three proposed Level 3 alignments of the West Seattle-Ballard Link extension. Agency staff presented cost estimates and “mix and match” opportunities, both of which advisory group members and elected officials requested in earlier meetings.

Sound Transit project lead Cathal Ridge took pains to emphasize the cost estimates are very preliminary.

“This is a very high level evaluation that I’m giving to you,” Ridge told the stakeholder group. “I’m not trying to capture everything that’s in the analysis, I’m just trying to give you some high points to think about.”

Below, all the figures amount to estimates of the cost that an additional funding source would have to account for in addition to existing ST3 funds. Individual items add up to the total cost of the end-to-end alignments.

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Rogoff scolds Kent about OMF zoning

Is it gentrification if they’re putting in a rail yard?
Credit: Dick’s

At yesterday’s Board meeting, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff confronted a growing backlash against a potential operations and maintenance facility (OMF) site in Kent.

Rogoff detailed Sound Transit’s efforts to prevent a backlash, and also presented questionable legal analysis about the threat of a lawsuit against Sound Transit over the issue.

As Bruce wrote yesterday, the Kent City Council rezoned one of the candidate sites, which presently holds a Dick’s and Lowe’s, in an attempt to forestall further consideration of the site for OMF. Kent councilmembers have also expressed concerns that some sites could limit the TOD potential of future Link stations.

Rogoff said that the agency is far from a decision on a final site, and hasn’t ruled out any of the contenders.

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Carpocalypse Day 8: “Avoid driving alone”

Carpocalypse hero Darryl Butler. Credit: Jeff Switzer/Metro

In a Carpocalypse update yesterday, King County Executive Dow Constantine and other officials said again that the traffic crunch has gone as well as they could have hoped. They again encouraged commuters to continue using transit and avoid driving during the viaduct closure, and warned drivers to stay off the road.

“While we’ve survived the first week and a half, the marathon is not over,” said Metro’s Terry White. “Marathons are quite long and have their ups and downs. It’s a little too early for us to celebrate and say we have won.”

White again declined to say definitively whether Metro’s systemwide ridership has gone up. However, there are a few indications that it has. All of the below figures were current through yesterday morning

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The Downtown Streetcar is Alive

But it needs more funding

Streetcars on Jackson. Credit: Bruce qu

Mayor Jenny Durkan announced yesterday that the 1st Avenue streetcar will go ahead, if the city can secure $88m in new funding. In a release, the mayor offered her most enthusiastic endorsement of the Center City Connector to date:

“We have the opportunity to create a downtown with fewer cars and where residents, workers, and visitors can walk, bike, and take transit,” Durkan wrote. “A unified streetcar route provides a unique opportunity to build on our investments for the next generation.”

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Metro: Monday morning’s commute “fairly smooth”

A dispatcher at Metro’s Transit Control Center. Credit: Peter Johnson

King County officials, including Executive Dow Constantine, were cautiously optimistic on the first day of the Squeeze.

In a press conference yesterday afternoon at Metro’s Operations Center, Constantine and Metro officials said that Monday morning’s commute had gone as well as they’d hoped, but reiterated that commuters should pad their schedules by 30 to 60 minutes if possible.

“This morning was our first true test of these commute conditions,” said Metro’s deputy manager for operations, Terry White. “As we expected—or hoped—it went fairly smoothly.”

According to White, southbound Aurora Avenue was the most extreme bottleneck. Near Denny, Highway 99 now narrows to one lane, trapping high-ridership bus routes like the E Line and 5 in a long queue.

White said that the agency was prepared to adjust operations as needed—and quickly, if need be:

“The control center is adept at adjusting and calling the audibles that make the service actually work, and become as reliable as we expect.”

Metro has arranged to place 20 coaches on standby for the duration of the Highway 99 closure. According to White, Metro used those coaches for 23 trips, mainly on the E Line and 120, and carried about 350 riders.

White said that Metro can add or move stops “fairly quickly,” but added that “how we get that information out and communicated to customers is equally important. That’s the piece where we’ve got to make sure we’ve informed our customers of where we are. It doesn’t do us any good if we move a bus and nobody’s there.”

Constantine repeatedly encouraged West Seattle commuters to take advantage of expanded Water Taxi service. Constantine said that the Water Taxi carried more than 1,300 passengers this morning, three times more people than on January 13, 2018. Constantine also said that most taxi sailings were about half full; he spent the morning at the West Seattle dock.

“It was cold, and it was dark, but I’m here to report people were upbeat,” Constantine said. “They were eager after all the months and years of talk to get on with this. There’s no doubt that commute times will have lengthened today, and people’s patience will be stretched.”

Metro officials said that systemwide bus ridership figures for the morning were not available. In a separate conversation about ridership, Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer explained that a more detailed view of Carpocalpyse Metro ridership will only be available in retrospect. Switzer said that, given Metro’s already-strong ridership growth and the unusual circumstances of the Squeeze, making meaningful comparisons to past ridership was difficult.

White and Constantine seemed pleased with the morning’s results, but they were worried about backsliding.

“Monday, Tuesday, we anticipated that there would be a lot of folks who held back,” White said. “Going forward, we think that can flip. We’re gonna be here for some weeks. So we need to be diligent and careful that we don’t react too quickly to what we think is happening in the moment.”

Constantine was blunter.

“People plan, or they get up really early, or they work from home, and then after a couple days they don’t see things being too bad, and they all pile back in their cars,” Constantine said. “Please don’t do that.”

Federal government shutdown adds uncertainty to ST3 planning

Waiting for the phone to ring

Sound Transit officials are the latest group to be hurt by the ongoing federal government shutdown—the Federal Transit Authority isn’t returning their calls. As a result, the agency’s environmental review process for the West Seattle-Ballard Link line could be delayed.

The shutdown, engineered by President Donald Trump, has required Federal Transit Agency (FTA) employees to go on furlough, according to Sound Transit officials. Sound Transit can’t proceed in the environmental review process—which is supposed to start with a 30 day public comment period in February—without FTA participation.

“We hope it will be in February, but we can’t give you a specific date yet, because we have to talk to the federal government, and they won’t return our calls,” said Sound Transit project lead Cathal Ridge, adding later that FTA officials have been furloughed due to the ongoing government shutdown.

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Metro’s $89.5 million, 20 year plan to expand bus bases

Downtown, Link, South Base
South Base in Tukwila by Atomic Taco on Flickr

In recent years, Metro has said two problems prevent it from delivering asked-for levels of service: insufficient staffing and limited space in bus bases. According to Metro spokesperson Jeff Switzer, Metro has caught up with staffing demand (“Now Hiring” notices on vehicles notwithstanding) and will be able to keep pace. The main challenge now is basing.

As ridership has grown in recent years, Metro has struggled to meet the level of service it’s been asked to provide. Earlier this year, for example, the City of Seattle reappropriated bus service funding to projects including year-round free transit passes for public school students, because Metro couldn’t provide all the service Seattle was paying for.

In an interview with STB, Metro’s director of capital projects, Diane Carlson, and capital projects managing supervisor, Jeff Arbuckle, explained Metro’s plan to meet the basing needs of a growing vehicle fleet through 2030. Metro also provided STB with a planning document laying out the program.

The planning document does not include project costs. However, related requests in King County Executive Dow Constantine’s proposed 2019-20 budget, from September 2018, would add up to about $89.5 million in capital projects for the overall basing plan.

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Seattle’s most dangerous roads

Credit: WSDOT

Good news: traffic deaths in Seattle were down significantly in 2018, according to SDOT according to the latest available data from SDOT. But we’re still far from Vision Zero.

Please note that collision data for 2018 is incomplete, as reporting is still in progress. The data in this story was released on December 19, 2018 and downloaded on December 25, 2018. The City’s internal data collection is ongoing. 

Ten people were killed in collisions this last year, down from 19 the previous year, the 2010s annual average of 19, and a decade-high 27 in 2016.

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Who’s Supposed to Fix the Escalators?

Out of service escalators at Westlake Station.
Credit: Bruce Englehardt

When Sound Transit takes over the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) later this year, it will take over the DSTT’s escalators. It’s not yet clear whether Sound Transit will be responsible for making them work better.

Sound Transit has had some trouble with escalators. Dramatic system failures crippled Sound Transit’s Capitol Hill and Husky Stadium stations in recent years. Sound Transit has also managed chronic, extended escalator and elevator outages in older Link stations, to the frustration of riders with disabilities. King County Metro, which presently operates the DSTT, has also had escalator struggles.

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Why doesn’t Inslee’s “clean transportation” plan include transit?

Credit: Joe A. Kunzler

The failure of I-1631 has allowed Governor Jay Inslee to continue an annual tradition: he announced another climate action plan to great fanfare.

The plan leaves plenty to be desired. The package’s proposed $129 million in “clean transportation” funding doesn’t invest in any land-based, local transit.

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Downtown mobility in the Carpocalypse

TOO MANY CARS IN A BUS ONLY LANE

In an extended press conference about the Seattle Squeeze on Thursday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, WSDOT, SDOT, and Metro laid out their plans to mitigate the planned mobility crisis.

It’s a mixed bag. The coordinated government effort does include some promising transit benefits, but doesn’t go as far as it could—by the agencies’ own admission.

The officials—WSDOT’s David Sowers, SDOT’s Heather Marx, and Metro’s Bill Bryant—presented a long list of changes to downtown mobility, organized into three categories:

  • Planned changes;
  • “Initial response,” which would be implemented if the initial plan doesn’t do enough;
  • A set of worst-case-scenario options, blandly titled “secondary responses”

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Durkan names “multimodal kind of guy” Sam Zimbabwe SDOT director

Mayor Jenny Durkan and new SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe. Credit: Peter Johnson

In a press conference yesterday, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan named Washington, D.C. District Department of Transportation (DDOT) official Sam Zimbabwe the new Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT).

When Zimbabwe is confirmed by the Council—Durkan said she expects him to start work in “early January”—he will be SDOT’s first permanent director in a year. The mayor described Zimbabwe as a proven manager of capital projects, who will manage SDOT effectively after years of dysfunction. 

Durkan also laid out an ambitious “unified vision” for multimodal transportation and a dense, transit-oriented built environment, and called transportation the “backbone of equity,” striking back against urbanist critiques of her administration.

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Yup, tons of Californians moved to Seattle

That U.S. Census Bureau data says so probably doesn’t surprise you.

I-5 traffic

However, the data pokes holes in the narrative that Silicon Valley transplants are the main reason for the Puget Sound’s explosive growth in population—and housing costs.

More of the out-of-state newcomers to King County from 2012-16 were from California than the rest of the top five states combined. Eight of the twenty out of state counties that sent the most people to Seattle are in California.

However, more of the people new to King County were nearby already. Most of the people who moved to King County in the same period already lived in Washington, and the Puget Sound region itself. Together, Pierce and Snohomish Counties sent more people to King County than California.

Also, Southern California sent more new residents to King County than the Bay Area, and Los Angeles by itself sent nearly as much. The five Bay Area counties (San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda, San Mateo, and Contra Costa) sent 5,158 people. Los Angeles County sent 4,550. The Southern California counties (Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange, and San Bernardino) sent 8,542.

The Census Bureau estimates that 143,088 total new residents moved to King County between 2012 and 2016. That number combines people moving from foreign countries, people moving from other U.S. states, and Washington itself.

The data comes from U.S. Census Bureau figures compiled from 2012-16’s American Community Survey (ACS) statistics, which estimate county-to-county migration in each county in the United States. These figures measure only in-migration—the number of people who moved to King County—not net migration, which would account for the combined in- and out-migration.

Metro boosting Water Taxi service during viaduct closure

Credit: Bruce Engelhardt

Add another workaround to the list of fixes for the Period of Maximum Constraint Seattle Squeeze Carpocalypse: King County is increasing the number of Water Taxi ferry sailings between West Seattle and Downtown.

The Water Taxi is adding an additional vessel starting on January 14, which will allow the following service improvements between then and March 27:

  • Ferries will run the 10 minute route with 20 minute headways, instead of the present 35 minutes
  • The number of peak sailings will double from six to twelve
  • New, hourly off-peak, midday sailings will run between 11:25 AM and 3 PM

King County’s release also mentions “additional parking available on Harbor Ave SW, SW Bronson Way, and Pier 2 with free shuttle connector,” and “no charge for bikes onboard, additional bike parking available at Seacrest Park.”

Metro will set up additional last mile service to get passengers on board the new boat. As Bruce wrote on Tuesday, Metro is rolling out app-dispatched Ride2 shuttle service to the West Seattle dock, along with additional bus service on Routes 773 and 775 from the Junction and Admiral District/Alki, respectively.

The Water Taxi will undoubtedly be a more reliable, and likely faster, mode than the bus. As Metro head of service development Bill Bryant told STB in October, travel times for the Sodo segment of West Seattle buses is likely to increase by 50 to 100 percent.

Find maps for 773 and 775 buses and Ride2 here, plus timetables for the buses.

Learn more about Metro’s revised bus service plan for the Viaduct closure here.

We’ll create a more comprehensive post rounding up all updated Downtown transit service on the eve of the Carpocalypse.