PSRC assigns federal funds to Link and four BRT projects

Boarding Swift and RapidRide buses. Credit: Atomic Taco

On Thursday, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) Transportation Policy Board (TPB) recommended that five transit projects receive additional Federal Transportation Administration (FTA) funding in 2021-22.

The projects were part of a larger disbursement of federal transportation funds, including highway funding, which must be approved in a meeting of the PSRC’s Executive Board on July 26. Area agencies submitted proposals for a competitive bid process earlier this year.

PSRC staff selected the five projects from that group of proposals, and created an additional list of projects, including Rainier RapidRide and Colman Dock, that could receive funding should additional federal funds become available.

Three of the five projects did not get as much funding as they initially requested. Four of the five projects are for BRT, and East Link also got a boost. According to PSRC spokesperson Rick Olson, that’s because the funding competition was remarkably popular. Bidding agencies worked together to make sure that funding dollars could be used to the furthest possible extent.

“The projects that got less funding than requested this round voluntarily took cuts in order to get more projects funded,” Olson says. “We had far more funding requested than was available.”

Link in Redmond

The segment of East Link between Microsoft and downtown Redmond gets $7 million towards the Microsoft and Redmond stations and the guideway between them. According to Sound Transit’s presentation to the PSRC on the project, the Redmond funds will also be applied towards a cycle track near the downtown Redmond station, a bike and pedestrian bridge over Bear Creek, and several trail connections.

Community Transit’s Swift Orange line

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Fate of Center City Connector depends on Mayor’s delayed consultant report

The First Hill Streetcar under construction in 2013. Credit: Gordon Werner

The Center City Connector, a streetcar on First Avenue with dedicated right of way, has an uncertain fate. Mayor Jenny Durkan halted construction of the streetcar at the end of March and ordered a project review by consulting and auditing firm KPMG. When Durkan first halted construction on the streetcar, transit advocates speculated that the pause and assessment might be a pretext for canceling the project. The delay in the report has deepened that impression.

Durkan’s office promised to make the report “available no later than June 19,” but, though a version of the report has been delivered, it has not been made public. According to Durkan’s staff, and a June 29 project update on an SDOT website, Durkan was “verbally briefed” on the project on June 19.

However, the mayor “asked for a further analysis on technical assumptions, ridership projections, operations and capital costs, and funding options, as well as more detailed information regarding additional alternatives for providing transit connections moving forward.” The review of KPMG’s findings will be conducted by city agencies including the City Budget Office, SDOT, Seattle City Light, and Seattle Public Utilities.

While the contents of the report remains unknown to the public, members of the transit policy community, who did not wish to be identified, believe that the report contains ridership projections higher than the estimates that accompanied the design stage of the CCC. 

The review of the KPMG report will “verify updated ridership projections, material costs and labor, utility relocations and project timelines for a series of options to ensure the final report is accurate for taxpayers.” Sources believe the motivation behind the second round of auditing is to find policy reasons to cancel the project. When asked for an update on Durkan’s decision, the mayor’s staff directed STB to the June 29 statement.

If the project is cancelled, more than the 1st Avenue streetcar might be in jeopardy. Members of the transit community and the city’s D.C. lobbyist worry that turning down federal money for the streetcar could endanger federal funding for other regional transit projects.

Even if the streetcar is not built, the city will still have spent a substantial amount of money. The city has already paid for some utility work and is already on the hook for a total of $90 million of contracts, including an SDOT contract to purchase vehicles. Ironically, if the mayor chooses to cancel the project because of cost, a large amount money will have been spent for nothing.

Study: Uber Can Boost Transit Ridership, But It Increases Congestion

By Hipsta.space [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)], from Wikimedia Commons
According to a University of Toronto paper published in June, the growth of Uber has increased transit ridership in cities across the United States, with some caveats.

The conclusions of the paper support the premise behind last-mile pilot projects on Mercer Island and in Pierce County, and backs up Lyft’s strategy to integrate ride hailing with public transit. It also validates certain parts of Mayor Jenny Durkan’s controversial proposal to reappropriate Seattle Transportation Benefit District funds towards last mile service at Rainier Valley Link stations.

The paper posits that “Uber reduces transit ridership in smaller MSAs [Metropolitan Statistical Areas] while increasing ridership in larger cities.” The paper also finds that Uber has a greater ridership effect on rail lines and in wealthier areas.

In cities with a robust transit network, Uber is more likely to become a viable last-mile option. In that context, Uber can and does amplify the marginal value of reserving exclusive right of way for transit, as “results suggest that Uber reduced commute times for public transit users while increasing congestion.”

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What’s in the One Center City Action Plan

Credit: Bruce Englehardt.

The One Center City (OCC) Advisory Group, tasked with developing a plan to increase mobility in central Seattle during the impending period of maximum constraint, released its recommendations for near term capital projects in June. The plan must still be approved by the Seattle City Council and other stakeholders.

Early discussions proposed transformational changes downtown and large-scale bus service restructuring, neither of which materialized in the final list of projects and improvements.

The OCC group was formed in order to proactively keep megaproject-related pain to a minimum over the course of 2019-21. During that time, Highway 99 will move from the viaduct to the new deep-bore tunnel, the Washington State Convention Center expansion will close critical parts of the grid, a critical bridge in South Lake Union will be closed and rebuilt, and the transit tunnel will close to buses forever.

5th and 6th Avenue northbound lanes; 4th and 2nd Avenue improvements

The most significant changes that the OCC group endorsed are northbound transit-only lanes on 5th and 6th Avenues. Some Metro routes will move to those streets from 4th, while Community Transit and Sound Transit buses would remain in their original configuration.

The hope is that the 4th Avenue buses will benefit from a lower volume of bus traffic. SDOT would also invest in queue jumping and signal priority for buses on both 2nd and 4th. However, since overall traffic on all downtown streets is expected to increase during the period of maximum constraint, the gains for 4th Avenue buses might be marginal.

The OCC group punted on major proposals

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Puget Sound region added most U.S. transit boardings in 2016-17

Rush hour buses on 3rd Avenue. Credit: Bruce Englehardt.

The Puget Sound region’s transit investments are paying off. In recent years, ridership has grown faster in the Seattle region than anywhere else in the United States, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC.)

That trend is true over the long term, as total ridership in the Puget Sound region has grown by 19 percent since 2010. That growth is larger than any U.S. peer city’s over the same timeframe. In the short term, Puget Sound transit agencies saw a larger absolute increase in boardings—5,108,582—than any other urban area in the United States during 2016-2017.

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Sound Transit to use PTC on all Sounder trips by December

Sounder South at Safeco Field. Credit: Andy Tucker

Sound Transit will implement positive train control (PTC) on all Sounder trips by the end of 2018, according to Sound Transit Director of Systems Engineering Peter Brown.

In a presentation to the Sound Transit board on Thursday, Brown summarized the progress of PTC implementation. In 2008, the federal government mandated that all commuter rail systems implement PTC on all trips by 2020, and show progress on implementation by the end of 2018. Sound Transit expects to beat the deadline by two years.

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City Council votes to reject private bus service, reallocate Transportation Benefit District funding

The City Council voted yesterday afternoon to kill a controversial private bus pilot program proposed by Mayor Jenny Durkan. The pilot was opposed by unions and transit advocates, who mounted a last-minute advocacy push to defeat the program over the past two weeks.

The bill will also, as Martin reported, reappropriate unused Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) funds for bus service improvements, and provide ORCA cards to Seattle primary and secondary students. Durkan is expected to sign the ordinance.

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Suburban construction freezes can kill density—or create it

New multifamily construction in Sammamish. Courtesy Sky Sammamish.

The Puget Sound region’s extreme growth hasn’t gone over well with some residents. (To put it mildly.) That backlash has caused some frustrating policy snags, like the lawsuit that has placed Seattle’s MHA upzones on hold.

But construction in Seattle continued on plenty of multifamily projects. That hasn’t always been the case in the rest of King County. In recent years, several suburban cities, including Issaquah, Sammamish, and Federal Way, halted construction on new projects by enacting construction moratoria.

Under the Growth Management Act, a city can pause work on any or all kinds of new projects by enacting a construction moratorium. The power is broad, but not unlimited. A city has to cite specific detrimental impacts caused by new construction, and use the period of the moratorium to enact code changes that address the problem. A moratorium only lasts six months at a time, but can be renewed indefinitely. Issaquah, for example, renewed its moratorium three times before letting it expire earlier this year.

You might think that those laws are the product of NIMBYism. In some cases, that’s true. But the reality is more complicated.

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King County restarting Northgate TOD project over City Council objections

A map of the site from the original RFP’s fact sheet. Courtesy Metro.

In a surprise move earlier this month, King County officials decided to restart the process that could eventually construct hundreds of affordable housing units within walking distance of the Northgate Station.

The decision will likely delay construction of an eventual dense, mixed-use transit oriented development project. The revamped process could yield hundreds more units of housing, including additional affordable housing.

Why King County cancelled the RFP

Metro, which owns the parcel that will eventually become the site of the TOD project, cancelled a request for proposals on June 5. Two companies, Lake Union Partners and Stellar Holdings, answered the original RFP. The developers did not respond to requests for comment.

In a notice sent to the bidders, and in subsequent public comments, county officials explained that they cancelled the RFP to incorporate new and anticipated changes to laws governing the RFP process.

A new state law, which came into effect June 7, allows local governments to give surplus property to developers for free, as long as the property will be used to house families who earn 80 percent or less of the locally adjusted area median income.

Meanwhile, the Seattle City Council is considering whether to upzone the Northgate TOD plot. As Bruce pointed out, an upzone could make Northgate a major urban center.

Northgate Station under construction from the TOD site. Courtesy Sound Transit.

Diane Carlson, Metro’s Director of Capital Projects, was involved in the decision to cancel the initial RFP. Carlson says that the county wants to take advantage of the statutory changes because of the site’s potential.

“We’ve given [ourselves] an opportunity to potentially create more housing on that site, and we want to take advantage of that,” Carlson says.

What might go into a new RFP

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Lyft and Uber Tackling Last-Mile Problems

Lyft geolocation
Geolocation around Westlake station. Courtesy of Todd Kelsay.

The latest update to Lyft’s app will include a trip planning feature designed to encourage passengers to consider combining rideshare or carpool with transit, walking, and bikeshare. The move comes as part of a large push by the ride hailing company and its arch-rival, Uber, to try and capture a share of the first mile/last mile market. The service will go live by the end of June.

Lyft has won contracts with agencies around the country to provide final mile service, and recently launched pilot final mile programs on Mercer Island and in Pierce County. Eventually, ride hailing services could reduce the need for park and ride spaces.

“If we can get more people to solve the first and last mile problem with rideshare, that’s good for us. Ultimately, if that gets more people on light rail, or taking buses, that’s good for the environment, and that’s what we’re about,” says Todd Kelsay, Lyft’s general manager for the Pacific Northwest.

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