Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel to go rail-only on March 23; CID single tracking coming in 2020

Credit: Atomic Taco

At the Sound Transit Board’s executive committee today, ST CEO Peter Rogoff said that Sound Transit will be the sole operator in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) starting March 23, 2019, as King County Metro vacates the tunnel. 

Rogoff also announced that ST will run trains in both directions on a single track for a yet to be determined part of 2020, as part of East Link construction.

ST spokesperson Geoff Patrick said that six minute peak headways will remain the same after ST takes over the tunnel, but the trains will “actually be able to meet them.”

At present, bus-related impediments, like onboarding and payment, prevent ST from meeting ideal reliability standards in the tunnel. After the changeover, trains will be able to operate at higher speeds between stations, with less time spent idling between stations or lingering at the platform.

Patrick said that “there’s no way to finish construction” without the single-tracking, which will be located just south of the Chinatown/International District station. Switches will be installed in the tunnel guideway, to connect East Link’s ramp—which previously carried Eastside-bound buses into the DSTT—to the existing rail network.

ST will have to increase headways and reduce train speeds to complete the connection. 

Patrick said that ST staff are still planning the construction work, and will announce firmer plans in January.

Sound Transit CEO promises improved escalators for downtown tunnel, plus more security (Part 2 of 2)

This is the second of two Q&As drawing from Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff’s interview with STB. 

This post has been edited for length and clarity. Find Part One here, and an unedited transcript of the conversation here.

STB: How is the takeover of the Downtown Transit Tunnel going, and what are the plans for implementing the changeover?

Rogoff: We are in careful and ongoing conversations with King County Metro. One of the things that we are most interested in doing and will be launching is an overall condition assessment, so we have a full, eyes wide open understanding of the condition of the asset that we’re taking ownership of.

Continue reading “Sound Transit CEO promises improved escalators for downtown tunnel, plus more security (Part 2 of 2)”

Sound Transit CEO optimistic about third-party funding, expedited permits for Link from City of Seattle (Part 1 of 2)

Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff
Credit: Joe Kunzler

Last week, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff sat down for a wide-ranging interview with STB. We’re posting the first part of that conversation today.

This post has been edited for length and clarity. We’ll post an unedited transcript of Rogoff’s remarks with Part 2.

STB: Executive Somers and some other folks from Snohomish and Pierce Counties have raised concerns about the price tag of the Seattle extensions.

How are discussions going amongst the Board, and with yourself and other staff? How are you making sure Seattle gets the best project, but also meeting those needs?

Rogoff: We’ve always said for places like Lynnwood and Federal Way, the issue isn’t going to be if we’re going to build out there—or the same is true for Snohomish and Tacoma—it’s going to be when.

If our finances don’t hold together, it causes us to push projects out, at greater cost, while congestion only worsens. That’s obviously a scenario we want to avoid, whether it’s because of the loss of federal funds, or MVET tax revenues, or a very deep recession.

Continue reading “Sound Transit CEO optimistic about third-party funding, expedited permits for Link from City of Seattle (Part 1 of 2)”

Mayor’s office nearing SDOT director hire, appoints ST3 point person

Credit: Bruce Engelhardt

Mayor Jenny Durkan retained Anne Fennessy, of public affairs firm Cocker Fennessy, to represent the City of Seattle in planning for the final alignment of ST3’s West Seattle and Ballard Link segments. Durkan’s office also told STB that the search for a new, permanent SDOT director is “underway,” started “earlier this fall,” and that the hire should be announced soon.

Durkan spokesperson Chelsea Kellogg says that the search is similarly to the recruitment of new City Light CEO Debra Smith, who was hired in April:

“National search conducted, employee review panel interviews candidates, senior leadership from other departments interview candidates. The Search Committee then reviews candidates resumes and interviews the candidates which has already taken place. The next step is interviews with the Mayor, which are happening this month.” Continue reading “Mayor’s office nearing SDOT director hire, appoints ST3 point person”

Mayor Jenny Durkan still hasn’t appointed an SDOT director, and doesn’t seem to be looking for one

Credit: Peter Lewis

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is going through a tough couple of years, and it doesn’t have a permanent leader.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office has not made any indication that they are searching for a permanent SDOT director, though the administration has been in office for a year. Durkan’s staff did not respond to repeated questions from STB, starting on November 27, asking whether an SDOT director recruitment process was under way.

The agency has had trouble completing the large capital projects it has asked to deliver. The First Hill streetcar opened several years late after delays from the vehicle manufacturer. The downtown Center City Connector streetcar has been delayed indefinitely, albeit due to interference from Durkan.

More worryingly, SDOT has not delivered on the ambitious bike and bus projects promised in the Move Seattle levy, as Frank wrote yesterday. Move Seattle promised seven RapidRide bus lines on major corridors. Now, SDOT can only deliver four, and those projects are each delayed by at least a year. Madison BRT, which was supposed to be up and running next year, will instead launch in 2022. Continue reading “Mayor Jenny Durkan still hasn’t appointed an SDOT director, and doesn’t seem to be looking for one”

RapidRide H plans take shape

Credit: Oran Viriyincy

RapidRide H, the new line that will replace Metro Route 120 in downtown, Delridge, White Center, and Burien, will feature 0.3 mile stop frequency and new bus lanes, according to the latest designs. SDOT and Metro plan to finish design in spring  summer 2019, and open bidding for the project by the end of the year, with the goal of opening in 2021.

Metro’s Jerry Roberson and SDOT’s CJ Holt presented the 10 percent plans for the H line to the City of Seattle’s Transit Advisory Board on Wednesday. They also commented on preliminary RapidRide plans for the Rainier Valley/Route 7 corridor.

The H line will serve a heavily transit-dependent, highly diverse area, and will make an essential connection to the Link system at the Delridge stop. Burien, White Center, and the south end of West Seattle won’t see Link service until a future Sound Transit package, if ever. Continue reading “RapidRide H plans take shape”

Sound Transit reports continued Link ridership growth

Credit: Oran Viriyincy

Sound Transit’s latest quarterly service report, released on November 15, shows continued growth in Link ridership. In Quarter 3 (Q3), Link enjoyed 8.2 percent more weekday boardings than in Q3 of 2017, or 81,022 boardings on a typical weekday.

Sounder (+2.5 percent) and paratransit (+6.6 percent) also experienced ridership growth compared to Q3 2017. ST Express bus ridership decreased slightly (-1.7 percent), while Tacoma Link streetcar service declined significantly (-15.4 percent) against Q3 2017’s ridership figures. Continue reading “Sound Transit reports continued Link ridership growth”

Uber launches new semi-dockless ebike share

A Jump bike. Credit: Jump

On Monday, Uber  joined the Seattle dockless bike share game, with Jump-branded red ebikes. The initial service will feature 300 bikes in a limited service area, “then incrementally ramp up the number of bikes over the coming weeks and months,” according to a release.

The rollout service area is limited to central Seattle, Ballard, Fremont, the University District, Capitol Hill, and parts of the Central District. The bikes will cost $1.00 to unlock, and $0.10 per minute during the ride. A launch promotion gives each user five 30 rides for free through December 12. A $5 per month, unlimited ride subscription model will also be available for low-income riders.

Continue reading “Uber launches new semi-dockless ebike share”

Rogoff’s contract is renewed, but opposition to Seattle Link spending continues to form

A Tacoma Link streetcar. Credit: Oran Viriyincy.

At the Sound Transit board meeting on Thursday, the board voted to extend CEO Peter Rogoff’s contract and give him an 11 percent raise. Rogoff will earn $365,000 per year, until the contract ends in January 2022.

The vote was nearly unanimous. The lone vote against was by Pierce County Executive Bruce Dammeier, who aired out a number of objections to Sound Transit’s recent work.

“I am very concerned that our processes right now for West Seattle are going to add perhaps another $700 million to that project,” Dammier said. “I’m very concerned that the expectations in the Ballard area could add as much as another $500 million to it.”

Continue reading “Rogoff’s contract is renewed, but opposition to Seattle Link spending continues to form”

How transit agencies are reforming fare enforcement (Part 3 of 3)

This post is part two of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part One, Part Two

After the release of the King County Auditor’s report, Metro revised its fare enforcement policies over the summer. Elected officials, including Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, have asked Sound Transit to consider similar changes.

Metro’s new policy, which was developed in consultation with social justice and transit groups including the Transit Riders’ Union, Puget Sound Sage, the Seattle/King County Coalition on Homelessness, Transportation Choices Coalition, and OneAmerica, makes significant changes to the penalties of fare enforcement infractions, according to a King County press release:

Under the new program, infractions for second violations initially would be set at $50 or lower.  Fines paid within 30 days could be further reduced by half.

Customers could resolve fare infractions through non-monetary options, such as:

  • Performing community service at a nonprofit organization
  • If eligible, enrolling into the ORCA LIFT reduced-fare program

Individuals who do not resolve their infraction within 90 days and are ticketed again for riding without valid proof of payment would be suspended from Metro service for 30 days.

Jessica Ramirez of Puget Sound Sage gives the county credit for its proactive approach with fare enforcement. Ramirez and other people involved in the discussions say that county officials took social justice issues seriously while drafting the new policy.

“They have done such an amazing job at adapting the language and policy that we’ve championed,” Ramirez says. Continue reading “How transit agencies are reforming fare enforcement (Part 3 of 3)”

Fare enforcement brings policing onto transit (Part 2 of 3)

A King County Sheriff transit vehicle. Credit: Joe Kunzler.

This post is part two of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part One, Part Three

Fare enforcement is a step removed from policing, and so it can brush against the twin controversies of American policing: racial bias and use of force.

In one 2017 incident, rider Devin Glaser saw fare enforcement officers detain two boys of color, whom he estimated to be about 10 years old. Glaser suspected racial bias was the reason for the stop, and the inappropriate behavior of the officers.

Glaser reported the incident to Seattle City Councilmember Rob Johnson and King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove, who both sit on the Sound Transit Board. The board members asked Sound Transit staff to review the incident.

Rhonda Carter, Sound Transit’s chief of staff, summarized the security camera footage of the incident in a letter to Upthegrove and Johnson. Carter concluded that the officers acted wrongly:

Continue reading “Fare enforcement brings policing onto transit (Part 2 of 3)”

How fare enforcement stops can compound poverty and homelessness

Fare enforcers boarding a RapidRide bus in Downtown Seattle (photo by Bruce Englehardt)

This post is part one of a three post series on fare enforcement on Seattle area transit. Links: Part Two, Part Three

Patrick Burke got on a RapidRide E bus at Third and Pike one evening with a transfer in his backpack. At least, he thought it was in his backpack, until he tried to get it out for a fare enforcement check. Usually, Burke puts his transfers in the same pocket in his bag. This time, it wasn’t in the usual place.

Burke had seen the fare enforcement officers (FEOs) get on at the next stop, and started digging around in his other pockets for the slip of paper when they started checking passengers for proof of payment. When one of the officers got to Burke, he still hadn’t found it. Burke was still searching for the ticket when the other officer completed his check of the rest of the bus. The second officer approached Burke and his partner.

“He comes to the back [of the bus] and gets this immediate attitude,” Burke says. “Saying I was wasting their time, and that I was playing games with them. And I said, ‘No, sir, I was just looking for my transfer.’ I even pointed at the pocket. ‘I typically have it in this pocket but I just got back from a very document-heavy meeting, and I just misplaced it. I’m looking for it.’”

The rest of the passengers got off the bus at the next stop, leaving Burke alone with the fare enforcement officers and driver. Burke still hadn’t found the transfer a few stops later.

“They were starting to get puffy chest, and I didn’t understand what was going on. They started to say that, if I didn’t start cooperating with them, that they would have to call the sheriff.” Continue reading “How fare enforcement stops can compound poverty and homelessness”

After I-1631 fails, climate action is getting kicked back to Olympia

Credit: State of Washington

This post comments on vote totals as of 11 AM on November 7.

I-1631 failed. That’s a blow in the political fight against climate change. It doesn’t have to be a fatal one.

I-1631 gained a larger Yes margin than I-732, as of this morning. That’s remarkable, considering the amount of resources oil companies burned to defeat I-1631: the Yes campaign was outspent by about 2:1, as of today. I-732 did not face a coordinated No campaign. Given the stiffer opposition, any gains have to be considered a positive.

The gain is encouraging because I-1631 was a new concept: it engaged directly with the pocketbook and social justice issues that result from economic transition away from the fossil fuel economy. Explaining those issues, especially the pocketbook issues, will take time. “Green collar economics” isn’t new, but it also hasn’t caught fire. Making it a popular, winning issue will take further time, activism, and influence. Making a negative, status-quo case based on rising gas prices and bureaucratic overreach is much easier.

So it’s heartening that in the movement-building context, I-1631 presents some political gains. I-1631 engaged and activated a liberal base coalition that climate and environmental groups have struggled to work with in the past, such as activists of color and organized labor.

But a loss is a loss. I-1631 was, from the start, a tough fit for Washington, considering the state’s hostility to taxation. As of 11 AM on November 7, I-1634, the food and beverage tax ban, is passing at a similar margin to I-1631’s failure. It’s part of a long history: a recent high-earners income tax was DOA at the ballot box. State schools remain underfunded. Tim Eyman has had a long career. Washington does not like taxes (though not for no reason.) That’s old news for anyone who watches state politics.

So’s this: Washington was unable to make significant a progressive change because its liberal and progressive elected leadership lacks the necessary whatever—courage, wherewithal, organization—to take it to the house. In this case, the stymied change is the failure of Governor Jay Inslee and the Democratic legislature to make any progress on a climate change bill, despite multiple attempts.

You could write the same thing about public schools, gun control, an income tax, criminal justice reform, legalizing cannabis, or public transportation. Those are all issues that should be addressed by the legislature, but at best wind up at the ballot box.

Governor Inslee has long made the environment and climate change his signature issue, and his inability to shepherd a climate change bill through the legislature is an indictment of his leadership and effectiveness. He’s had more than one term—and a session with his party in control of both chambers—to take climate action, but didn’t.

Democrats seem likely to expand their majorities in the legislature. Maybe they will use them to take a bold step against climate change. If history is any guide, they won’t.

Snohomish officials: Seattle needs to rein in potential light rail spending

Sounder at Everett Station. Credit: Bruce Engelhardt.

In an interview with STB Wednesday, Snohomish County Executive and Sound Transit board chair Dave Somers said that West Seattle and Ballard stakeholders have to rein in their ambitions for the new line unless they can come up with more funding.

“We are going to be ever vigilant that costs are kept in control,” Somers said. “Those of us that are out in the distant future for delivery, and at the end of the system, are going to bear all the risk of cost overruns or overspending.”

Continue reading “Snohomish officials: Seattle needs to rein in potential light rail spending”

Sound Transit revenues are up—but so are costs

Good riddance. Credit: Sound Transit

The Sound Transit board kicked off the agency’s 2019 budget process yesterday with a presentation from Sound Transit’s CFO, Tracy Butler. The big takeaway: in keeping with recent trends, projected costs will be larger than expected—but so will revenues.

The board also voted to start contract extension negotiations with CEO Peter Rogoff, after some critical words from Pierce County board members.

In wonderful news for riders, the agency plans to replace the Husky Stadium station’s much maligned escalators.

Continue reading “Sound Transit revenues are up—but so are costs”

Out-of-state oil companies spending more than $25 million against I-1631

Credit: BP

Oil companies, including BP and Koch Industries, have continued to pour money into the campaign against I-1631. As of October 22, oil and fossil fuel companies had contributed more than $25 million to the industry PAC opposing I-1631, the initiative that would create a carbon tax and spend the receipts on renewable energy and climate change mitigation. Most of that money—$25,179,028.93, to be exact—has come from out of state companies. Washington fossil fuel companies have contributed $561,031.31, or about 2 percent of the fossil fuel industry’s spending on the race.

The largest out-of-state contributors to the No on I-1631 campaign are:

  • BP America, $9,596,031.40
  • Phillips 66, $7,201,186.54
  • Andeavor, $4,362,827.17
  • American Fuel and Petrochemical Manufacturers, $1,000,000.00
  • Valero, $995,000.00
  • Koch Industries, $550,000.00
  • Chevron, $500,000.00

The No campaign has also drawn support from the in-state agriculture (potato and fruit grower PACs) and concrete industries.

Meanwhile, the Yes campaign has raised $13 million, and its message prominently mentions oil companies’ spending.

The Yes campaign’s leading donors are:

  • The Nature Conservancy, $1,550,000.00
  • League of Conservation Voters, $1,400,000.00
  • Bill Gates, $1,000,000.00
  • Michael Bloomberg, $1,000,000.00
  • Chris Stolte, $500,000.00
  • Sarah Merner, $500,000.00
  • Action Now Initiative LLC, $500,000.00
  • Craig McKibben, $500,000.00

The Yes campaign has (unsurprisingly) drawn the support of most of the state’s environmental groups. The Washington State Labor Council, the state branch of the AFL-CIO, also kicked in $125,000.00. Microsoft contributed $50,000.00.

Would backyard cottages make parking in Seattle harder?

Off-street parking. Credit: Atomic Taco

The city’s released its final environmental impact statement (EIS) for accessory dwelling units (ADUs)/backyard cottages last week. Other sites in the urbanist blogosphere analyzed the entire document.

This post focuses on the EIS’s study of parking impacts in particular, since worries about street parking availability are a common anti-density talking point.

So: would the ADU proposal make parking on a side street difficult in Maple Leaf or Magnolia?

No.

In fact, not all that much would change (which is a point worth discussing on its own.) In its analysis of the preferred alternative, the plan that would create the most capacity for ADUs, the City projects that only 300 ADUs would be built. That’s about 10 percent of the 3,007 parcels that would be eligible for ADU construction—which itself is a very small slice of the 138,531 parcels in single family-zoned areas across the city.

Analysis of one of the two proposals that would eliminate the requirement that any ADU have a complementary off-street parking spot says that the City “do[es] not expect increased parking demand resulting from ADU production to exceed existing on-street parking availability under typical conditions.” The preferred alternative would create parking impacts that “would be very similar to, but slightly greater than, those described under Alternative 2 due to slightly higher ADU production.”

The EIS concludes that implementing the ADU plan will make only marginal changes to the single family-zoned parking supply, which is already robust. The EIS’s study of street parking supply, which used data collected from 2016-18, concludes that 56 percent of parking in single family zones is in use on a weekday.

That figure may actually overstate demands on the parking supply. Two of the four study areas are located in areas with high parking demand. The southeast study location is between the northeast edge of Columbia City’s business district and Genesee Park. The southwest study area surrounds the West Seattle Junction.

In short, existing evidence suggests that ADUs will not noticeably change the amount of parking available in Seattle’s single family neighborhoods.

ST Level 3 Recommendations, Criticism of Chinatown Plans

Union Station from 5th Avenue South. Credit: Bruce Engelhardt.

In a meeting last Friday, Seattle and King County elected officials rejected the most expensive West Seattle Link alignment, endorsed a tunnel under the Lake Washington Ship Canal from Interbay to Ballard, and urged Sound Transit to significantly revamp plans for the Chinatown/International District (CID) station.

The rejection of CID plans, so far the most controversial of the ongoing process, came after pointed criticism from Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan and members of the Seattle City Council.

The October 5 meeting marked the end of the Level 2 analysis for the new Seattle Link extensions, meaning the advisory group process is two thirds finished. The group of elected officials voted on the recommendations of the stakeholder advisory groups that have met throughout 2018.

The endorsements are strictly advisory, but are intended to guide the planning work of Sound Transit’s project staff. The votes don’t carry the force of law: the Sound Transit board will ultimately decide whether to approve or reject the results of the months long advisory process in 2019. In the meantime, agency staff will study the elected official-endorsed alignments further, and present more developed Level 3 plans to the advisory groups.

Seattle & King County criticize Chinatown plans

In pointed comments, several Seattle officials, King County Executive Dow Constantine, and County Councilmember Joe McDermott reiterated a growing consensus against a 5th Avenue South alignment. CID and Pioneer Square leaders have rallied against a 5th Avenue line. Continue reading “ST Level 3 Recommendations, Criticism of Chinatown Plans”

Port Opposes Movable Ballard bridge, Occidental Alignment

In a letter addressed to elected officials, Port of Seattle Executive Director Stephen Metruck and Northwest Seaport Alliance CEO John Wolfe announced that the Port opposes both a movable Ship Canal bridge, and an Occidental Avenue alignment for the West Seattle extension.

Ship Canal and Duwamish crossings

The Harbor Island container terminal. Credit: Shane in the City.

“Moveable bridges across the ship canal should be eliminated as alternatives as they will not work for transit and could impede maritime mobility,” the cosigned letter says. The letter aligns the port with transit advocates who oppose a movable Ballard bridge, citing reliability and travel time concerns.

The Port cautiously endorsed building “a 15th Avenue-aligned Tunnel under Fishermen’s Terminal,” as long as ST does not build a ventilator shaft in a shipyard named Fishing Vessel Owners (FVO.) According to the Port, FVO has operated from its current site for 99 years.

The Port also opposes aerial crossings through Fisherman’s Terminal “because of impacts to terminal operations and repercussions of the fishing industry. [sic]” The leaders also argued against aligning the extension on 20th Avenue West.

The leaders also asked Sound Transit to “evaluate” a Duwamish crossing to the south of the West Seattle Bridge, at the “far southern tip of Harbor Island,” in the hope that the agency can find “ways to further reduce impacts to existing businesses.” The Port categorically opposes building the line to the north of the West Seattle Bridge.

Sodo alignments

The Port leaders also argued for abandoning the Occidental Avenue concept, which could serve the stadium district and the growing retail strip on 1st Avenue South: Continue reading “Port Opposes Movable Ballard bridge, Occidental Alignment”

How West Seattle Buses Will Run While the Viaduct is Closed

Click to Enlarge

Metro’s head of service development, Bill Bryant, told STB about Metro’s provisional plans for West Seattle bus operations when the viaduct closes later this year, during the 3-6 week period when the SR 99 tunnel has not yet opened. These changes are not permanent. Metro will revise service again when SR 99 is back in operation through central Seattle.

Bryant also provided STB with two maps of the intended route changes. Those maps, and the below plans, were shared with and created with input from SDOT and WSDOT.

One map shows operations downtown, which may have another revision; the other shows operations in Sodo, which are unlikely to change. Bryant emphasized that any part of the plans could change, especially if operations create unforeseen challenges.

“[The map] is subject to change,” Bryant said. “Metro is working hard to be flexible, and we might need to change the routing during the actual closure as well.”

Here are the important points, from a rider’s perspective:

Continue reading “How West Seattle Buses Will Run While the Viaduct is Closed”