Seattle Subway is an all-volunteer, grassroots organization dedicated to promoting high quality transit for Seattle and the Puget Sound Region on the fastest possible timeline. Posts are generally written by the Seattle Subway Communications Team. Seattle Subway is a Washington State nonprofit corporation, pending application as a 501(C)(4).
As we noted last week, this bill will give Seattle the tools we need to solve a lot of problems. The most exciting part: HB 1304 can help address Link expansion timelines and create a system that serves the entire city. We need your help to advance the bill out of the Local Government committee.
Regarding the ST3 budget gap, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff wrote earlier this week, “Succeeding now requires us to come together to overcome lower revenue projections and higher cost estimates.” We agree with Sound Transit that time is of the essence. To fill the budget gap caused by COVID, we truly need partnership at every level of government—city, region, state, and federal—working together.
[UPDATE: The hearing has been moved to February 9th. There is no updated link at this time.]
We’re very excited to announce HB 1304, a bill to enable local rapid transit funding, is now live with its first hearing scheduled on Wednesday, February 3rd 9th at 10 am. This bill will give Seattle the tools we need to build a citywide, high quality transit system the right way. The system the city has dreamed of ever since the Bogue plan was presented in 1911.
Sound Transit recently delivered some disappointing news about their estimates for ST3 project costs. When paired with decreased revenue due to Covid-19, the projected 50% increase to Ballard and West Seattle cost estimates present a gloomy outlook for the projects. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but it’s still possible for Sound Transit to deliver the high quality system voters approved. Transit improvements are still essential to our city and these projects must be delivered. We need to look hard at a combination of new funding sources and value engineering to get this plan back on the right track. However, making major decisions about the quality, scope, and schedule of ST3 this year is a mistake with long reaching consequences.
The underlying reasons to build transit in Seattle haven’t changed. Seattleites still want fast, reliable, convenient, low-carbon ways to get around the city. Voters have repeatedly reaffirmed their desire to make progress on transit — including November’s vote that passed by over 60 points in the middle of a pandemic. Seattleites believe in a post- pandemic future, and we need to make sure Sound Transit delivers the progress they demand.
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about whether transit will thrive post-pandemic have been floating around. In our long term view, the human tendency to gather and the need for urban mobility has not gone away. While the pandemic has paused life for a while, and Zoom has made working from afar possible, none of that has changed human nature, or radically affected the tools we need to combat climate change.
Our species still requires connection. If history is any indicator, post-pandemic we will still have social events, shop in urban villages, and cluster where other people are. We will do these things because we are hardwired to value them. Not only does human nature point to this need for cities, climate science demands we double down on them. Don’t just take my word for it—let’s dive into a city doing it right.
The (thankfully) ex-First Lady likes to say “Be Best.” On transportation, we just say “Be Paris.”
Last Friday, the Seattle City Council Transportation committee met and passed an initial round of amendments to a proposed Transportation Benefits District (TBD) on to full council. The last amendment, to increase the funding from 0.1% to 0.2% sales tax, was proposed by CM Tammy Morales and eventually withdrawn so that council could have more time to consider and get feedback from their constituents.
Though we agree with the concerns voiced in council that adding a regressive sales tax is not ideal, the proposed plan would cut TBD service funding by 75%: a far more regressive outcome. This funding is needed to maintain bus service that an increasing number of Seattlites will depend on just as we try to recover from a recession that is hitting people with lower incomes the hardest.
This change means replacing the $60 Vehicle Licensing Fee (VLF) from 2014’s TBD with a 0.1% sales tax, which will still represent a tax cut for households with lower incomes who own a car. A household would have to spend $60,000, not including rent or groceries, to match the VLF for one car. For lower income households that already fully rely on transit, cutting service could be devastating.
Full council is meeting next Monday, 7/27, to finalize the package that will appear on the ballot. Please join us in letting the City Council and The Mayor know that you support the full .2% TBD and emergency funding for transit next year using this quick form.
The most progressive change we can make to the proposed Seattle Transportation Benefit District (TBD) is to make it larger. Even if we focus on funding transit service as we urged last week, the initial proposal of a .1% sales tax with nothing to replace the current $60 Vehicle Licensing Fee will mean big transit cuts. Those cuts won’t be academic, they will mean cutting critical service just when many Seattleites will need it the most.
After I-976 passed last year it took away the city’s ability to include a Vehicle Licensing Fee as part of the new TBD. This would mean about a 50% cut to the TBD funding in normal times, but in the post Covid-19 recession, the cuts are much bigger. Sales tax receipts have fallen off a cliff and the recovery could be slow. We should be looking to use all the funding available in the TBD, the full .2% sales tax, so that we can return service after as the recession wanes – but we should also be looking for emergency funding for next year.
Though sales tax is a regressive funding source, it’s far better than cutting the transit people will increasingly rely on. This recession is hitting people who were already struggling to afford Seattle the hardest. About 19% of Seattle households don’t own a car and that number will almost certainly rise – cars are expensive. Inaction means forcing people on a tight budget to buy a car or continue to maintain a car because transit doesn’t serve their needs.
Metro should also be looking to structure service to match the demand that exists rather than demand that used to exist. Focus funding on supporting people trying to get to jobs that don’t conform to 9-5 schedules downtown. Transit needs to be flexible and support people’s individual economic recoveries.
We have to think about this in post Covid-19 terms. This is a ballot measure for November with funding that won’t start until April of 2021. As the pandemic fades and more people have to rely on transit, demand will go up sharply. Our transit agencies will need to be responsive and meet that demand where it is – and have the funding to back it up.
We should also be looking to improve transit funding for the future. The legislature has the power to enact progressive options for future transit funding packages. A future TBD should be at the King County level and use a progressive funding source. That work needs to start now so that we’re not having this same conversation again in a few years.
There is a Seattle City Council meeting on the proposed Transit Benefit District this morning at 10 am. Please join us in urging the council to be bold and save our transit by:
Increasing funding as much as possible (both .2% sales tax and emergency 2021 funding);
Focusing funding on Transit Service; and
Structure transit service to better serve the needs of people who are transit dependent
This week, a new proposal for a Seattle Transit Benefit District (TBD) was released by the mayor’s office. As presented, it’s about half the size of the 2014’s wildly successful TBD that contributed to our US leading ridership growth. Putting aside our desire for a larger measure, we have major concerns about what was included in this initial proposal. The primary focus of this transit service measure has to be funding transit service.
We take issue with the capital spending in this proposal. “Transit Infrastructure & Maintenance” somehow includes fixing potholes. Major sources of road funding are restricted and can’t be used for transit so we have to guard what precious available transit funding we have against becoming another bucket for road maintenance funding. We also question the other fuzzy goals of the capital section. We already funded signal priority and spot improvements with Move Seattle, though these are generally good goals, being general just isn’t good enough when funds are this tight.
This measure has to be about emergency funding for transit service. We can make this measure better by moving the money allocated to capital to transit service. That change would increase annual service funding by 52% vs the proposed plan.
While we would have preferred a larger measure to build on what the 2014 TBD accomplished and provide more service for essential workers, we understand that it’s a difficult time for people and a regressive tax is a hard pill to swallow. We think funding transit service with a regressive tax is progressive on balance, but know that the politics are difficult right now. As we come out of this uneven recession more people will have to rely on transit, cars are expensive and bills related to cars can be a lead weight on the finances of someone who is already struggling.
This measure can be a lifeline for people. It can fund critical transit that will help people get through this difficult time. Including funding for West Seattle, Low Income Fares, and fares for students are all good decisions and work towards that goal. We have to be smart about how we allocate funds in this new reality, and the proposed capital funding just doesn’t meet the current need.
Please join us in testifying to council the need to remove the capital funding from this proposed measure and use that funding for vital transit service. You can sign up to testify tomorrow, 7/10/20, starting at 8 am.
For the next ten weeks, Link riders will have to contend with infrequent trains, a forced transfer in Pioneer Square, and weekend closures to prepare for Northgate and East Link Expansions. These delays and closures could have been avoided by building for future expansion originally rather than planning and authorizing the system piecemeal. This time, the costs and impacts of the rework are relatively minor, but the consequences of this approach will be severe for future expansions unless the course is corrected.
Before Link opened in July of 2009, Sound Transit closed the tunnel to install tracks, power, and systems in preparation for bus/train operations. Plans were considered for expansions to Northgate and east to Bellevue, but the ballot measure to authorize that expansion, ST2, didn’t pass until November of 2008. Not enough time to plan and execute changes to future-proof the tunnel for expansion.
Seattle voters couldn’t be more clear: They demand better transit and they are willing to fund it. Tim Eyman’s I-976 was demolished in Seattle, losing by over 3-1. This follows huge victories in Seattle for transit in 2014 (Seattle TBD), 2015 (Move Seattle), and 2016 (ST3.)
Despite repeated and very clear messages from Seattle voters, Washington State dedicates virtually zero funding to transit. Worse, the State doesn’t properly enable us to fund our own transit.
Since ST3 passed in 2016, most of the debate in the state legislature has centered on various schemes to cut MVET funding, when it should have been centered on finding better ways to fund transit. Voters in the Sound Transit district proved that by voting no on 976 by nearly the same margin they voted yes on ST3 in 2016. That result was in spite of an off year election which meant low turnout which typically trends conservative in most of the district.
Aurora represents an incredible opportunity for transit expansion. The four urban villages north of the ship canal carry a massive capacity for recently upzoned density. The huge lots of big box stores that dot the landscape are a prime target for Transit Oriented Development. Grade separated transit will allow the street to feature wider sidewalks and fewer lanes. The Aurora that can be is a place the Aurora that is wouldn’t even recognize.
Transit on the Aurora corridor is already a huge success. Aurora carries over 32,500 daily riders in packed buses, including the E line, the busiest bus in the state. It’s clear that even more people will choose transit when we add the speed, reliability, and comfort of Link to the equation.
People love riding Link. The more Sound Transit builds, the more Seattle votes with our feet. But planning and building expansions can take decades. It’s clear that we need Link expansion beyond what is currently planned, and our rapidly growing city and the burgeoning climate crisis demand we take action without delay. That’s why it’s time for Seattle to start working on ST4, the next round of Link rail expansion.
Looking ahead to the completion of ST3’s Seattle expansions in 2035, we see a city that has made huge strides building high quality transit but still lacks a comprehensive subway system. It’s a system that will still have frustrating gaps, lacking stations in our densest residential neighborhoods like Belltown and First Hill. We must think bigger and bring service to the entire city. A true Seattle Subway means being able to catch a train in Georgetown, Wallingford, or White Center and take a ride to Lake City, Crown Hill, or Fremont. ST3 is a huge step forward, but it falls well short of the vision of ST Complete, the vision of a Seattle fully connected by high-quality transit.
Seattle can’t afford to wait; it is imperative that we take charge of our future. Seattle is adding more residents than all King County suburbs combined. Our next expansion vote should come in 2024, on the heels of the opening of major expansions to Northgate, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way, and Lynnwood. More people than ever will be riding Link. More people than ever will be asking: Why can’t we have Link in our neighborhood? We must be ready with the best possible answer: You can.
In our last post we asked the Sound Transit Board to focus on elevated West Seattle options for ST3. A tunnel would lessen impacts but $700 Million in Seattle transit funding is far better spent on transit expansion. The focus for the ST3 planning process should therefore be to craft the best possible elevated option.
There are two elevated options presented by Sound Transit:
The representative alignment on Fauntleroy with a station to the east if the Junction and tail tracks nearly reaching the junction.
An elevated alignment that curves through the neighborhood north of Fauntleroy in order to orient the station north/south on 41st.
Both options will score high on reliability and, with details done right, high on accessibility.
Unfortunately, the first option has a fatal flaw on expandability. Expansion to the south would require crossing California for elevated tracks continuing south on a street to the west. Per Sound Transit, the line would then need to cut back across California at some point to continue south. The property impacts are big enough to make this extremely unlikely. The Junction stop would become the permanent end of the line.
The second option orients the station north/south on 41st (good) but instead of being on an arterial, cuts through the neighborhood at an angle which requires the line to impact the most existing housing of all the proposed alignments. Though we prioritize transit and future transit riders above all other concerns – we can understand why people would not be excited about this option.
With those things in mind, we’d like to put forth a third, “mix and match,” alignment that addresses the weaknesses of both options.
The new elevated option would follow the Fauntleroy alignment to Alaska but take a sharp turn onto 41st. Though sharp turns are generally not ideal, they are part systems worldwide (check out the NYC Subway south of Central Park) and one right next to a station where the train will already be moving slowly will have minimal impacts on operations.
We need to think about the future when making an investment of this scale. Looking at the Sound Transit’s HCT study work, an elevated line to the south of The Junction is likely to be a better investment in terms of capital cost per weekday rider than the line to The Junction itself. It would be an entirely separate process, but see C5 (pages 10-11) in the HCT study for a sense of what that extension could be and how it would perform.
It is our strong opinion that funding a West Seattle tunnel is both a poor use of transit funding and, to put it bluntly, not going to happen. It’s time to look past that distraction and find an elevated option that works for West Seattle transit riders – both now and in the future.
You have until April 2nd to comment on the ST3 level 3 options online. Join us in urging the Sound Transit board to advance an elevated West Seattle option designed for future expansion.
We’re finally here: ST3 Planning level 3 is where we cut everything but two options and send those on for an environmental impact study. Those options will include a high end options that relies on local funding an an affordable option that doesn’t. At this point, our primary concern is with the low end options. There is a conversation to be had in the future about whether spending $1.9B on high end ST3 options makes sense and where the money will come from, but that’s a topic for another day.
Though we’ve heard ST staff say many times that the options are mix and match, we don’t get the impression they mean it when it comes to the Ballard station location. As we (and others) have said many times a 14th NW station and a drawbridge are both unacceptable. A drawbridge is an unacceptable reliability compromise for the future or our system. A station on 14th NW simply doesn’t serve riders west of 15th or transfers well. A station on 15th NW with entrances on both sides of the street does.
A 14th high bridge crossing with a station on 15th is our minimal expectation for an affordable option. While it’s not impossible to see local funding via the port come through for a tunnel to Ballard, as the current options stand, the 15th Ave NW tunnel station the only option we can support.
As ST3 goes through a mountain of process to get to a preferred alternative, we’ve noticed a disturbing trend: The stakeholders who are getting their way are focused on how they will be impacted rather than what is best for riders. It should go without saying that the whole point of expanding Link is to serve future riders, their needs should be the first and last consideration before any route is chosen.
As we’ve mentioned before, this is the point in the process where a balance has to be struck between costs and benefits. There is limited budget and it’s highly unlikely that additional funding is coming from any level of government. On the off chance more funding comes through, the preferred alternative should include higher priced options where they have an impact, but in general it’s time to be realistic.
Sound Transit recently released the level three alternatives, which is a mashup of the options that made it through the SAG and ELG along with the Representative Alignment (RA). It looks like most of the higher cost options are lumped into Alternative 1 (A1), and a mix of lower cost options into Alternative 2 (A2).
Sound Transit is currently gathering public input on the ST3 Level 2 Planning options they presented a few weeks ago. As we noted early this year, this is an opportunity to make light rail exceptional and the difference is all in the details. At this phase it’s time to apply the concepts of reliability, expandability, and accessibility and make some choices.
This week Sound Transit is kicking off ST3 planning for the Ballard and West Seattle Link extensions with community meetings in West Seattle, Ballard, and Downtown Seattle. The basic alignments have been chosen, but there are still a lot of big decisions to be made before Sound Transit selects the preferred alignment for each segment.
The difference between a good system and a great system is all about making the right choices at this phase. Here is what Seattle Subway is focused on:
When building out a multi-billion dollar system, the worst thing we can do is make planning decisions that damage people’s trust in the system. A great system gets you from point A to point B in about the same amount of time, every time. It gives the system a huge advantage over unreliable and frustrating traffic.
Two features in the draft plan jump out as a cause for concern:
The Ballard Drawbridge
As we noted in an earlier post, a drawbridge that can hold up trains or get stuck is a feature we shouldn’t be considering for our massive investment. A high static bridge or a tunnel are both better options. A high bridge would be amazing to ride and would not increase costs of the project. A tunnel would have fewer construction impacts and would facilitate a slightly better station location, but would cost $600M more.
Royal Brougham Grade Crossing
The draft plan adds an additional at-grade crossing at Royal Brougham near Stadium Station. The combined frequency of current and future 4-car trains will create a dangerous situation where cars will be more likely to “risk it” to get through the intersection. Crashes will potentially shut down the entire system for hours at a time. Either Royal Brougham needs to be vacated for auto traffic or Link needs to be elevated at that point. This needs to be decided in advance.
Sound Transit is currently developing a consulting contract to oversee the process for selection of West Seattle and Ballard route alignments as part of Sound Transit 3 (ST3) light rail expansion. They’ve concluded that by selecting a preferred alternative prior to the technical work of the Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), they are able to simplify the study work and thus reduce the total planning time by as much as a year and a half. This means that a preferred alternative will be selected for these lines by the end of 2018.
After discussion and a vote of our board, in order to further our founding goal of building a subway system that is rapid, reliable, frequent, convenient, and useful to all, Seattle Subway is officially taking the following key positions regarding a preferred alternative for the Ballard to West Seattle corridor:
We are concerned that drawbridges, regardless of frequency of openings, pose significant operational challenges. Not only would drawbridges open and delay trains (trains which will run very frequently in the future), but drawbridges may not close. That failure would cause catastrophic delays throughout the system. Therefore, Seattle Subway will only support a high static bridge or a tunnel across Salmon Bay and the Duwamish Waterway.
Expansions from Ballard — northward to Crown Hill and eastward to the University District — are included in Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan. Seattle Subway’s position is that any proposed design solutions must include the potential to expand north and east, such as a wye junction. We will only support designs that provide for in-station transfers at the Market Street station and seamless system expansion beyond Ballard that doesn’t compromise future transit service.
Likewise, an expansion from West Seattle to Burien is included in Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan. Sound Transit must design light rail to avoid a dead end in West Seattle and allow for future expansion that doesn’t interrupt transit service.
With optimum efficiency in mind, any new additions to Sound Transit’s ST3 network must be designed to accommodate 90-second headways. Stations and track alignments must be 100% grade-separated from traffic with no rail-level crossings for passengers.
It is becoming clearer that Sound Transit 3 (ST3) will not provide Seattle (‘North King’) with the approximately $7B needed to fund a true subway from Ballard to West Seattle. At currently proposed ST3 funding levels – $11B in the Senate and $15B in the House for all regional projects– Seattle’s shortfall could be roughly $2-4B. This presents a dilemma: should we build the high quality segments we can afford (and risk alienating the neighborhoods we pass over), or give in to the political temptation to dilute the quality of the lines (surface running, stub lines, etc) to serve more neighborhoods at once? At Seattle Subway we believe we cannot let today’s funding constraints forever dampen the quality of our transit service. So what investments could we make with an ST3-sized budget that would provide high quality (and highly upgradeable) transit?
There is a single project that rises above all the others: The Westside Transit Tunnel (WSTT). For general readers who have heard of Ballard to West Seattle rail for years, proposing a new bus tunnel may seem to come out of nowhere. But let us show you why this is so important for ST3.
What is it?
The WSTT is a new rail convertible bus tunnel through downtown designed to serve Ballard, West Seattle, the Aurora corridor, and South and East King County. The route and features you see in our diagram did not come out of thin air, but are a combination of routing seen in Sound Transit’s Ballard to Downtown Corridor Study and the Downtown portion of the West Seattle & Burien (“South King County”) Corridor Study. We took these studies and enhanced them with a couple of our own ideas: the addition of a Battery Street fork to serve Aurora and bus improvements to the Spokane Street Viaduct to create a direct connection to the E3 busway and improve the connection to West Seattle.
Just like the current Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, the WSTT will start with bus service and switch to rail over time as we expand our subway system. This new bus tunnel would have two important features from opening day: 1) tracks and power systems for rail and 2) separate stubs and portals for rail expansions. This project is a major step in the building of a true Seattle Subway. Continue reading “Westside Seattle Transit Tunnel: An Introduction”
Still wondering if transit advocacy can have an actual impact on public policy? Last Thursday, when the Sound Transit board voted to adopt the new Long Range Plan the answer was made crystal clear: transit advocacy works.
Proof that our voices were heard came in the form of Sound Transit Long Range Plan Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement Final (SEIS) which individually responded to the hundreds of stakeholder, organization, and reader comments to the SEIS, and included a section with summary responses, the majority of which are directed at issues that were brought up by both Seattle Subway and, via our guest posts, readers of Seattle Transit Blog.
The biggest news for us in these responses to our comments is an about-face on policies related to driverless trains, a pillar of what Seattle Subway advocates for since our inception three years ago. We support driverless trains because they can lead to a self-sustaining operating system (as in Vancouver), which frees up money for even more transit. Until this response, Sound Transit solidly refused to study the technology, publicly declaring they would not consider driverless trains. However, their latest response says that driverless trains can be considered as long as it does not interline with the spine section or have at-grade sections. We continue to remain confident in the value of driverless trains (we’re getting close to the era of driverless cars, after all!) and believe that by the time an interlining opportunity comes up, Sound Transit’s perception will likely change.
Many of you echoed our championing of building out West Seattle and the Ballard Spur. The Sound Transit responses to West Seattle and Ballard were similar: they will not make routing decisions until the next phase (system planning) which is resource-constrained. Our contention is that the data given to the Sound Transit Board during system planning must contain ideal options in order to be considered, which is exactly why we began to give detailed feedback at this stage. We will continue to monitor the situation and will give feedback as opportunities arise during the system planning phase.
The response to our Better Eastside Rail article was similar to West Seattle and the Ballard Spur: specific routing decisions will be made as part of the system planning process. However, we break the Eastside out separate from West Seattle and Ballard because we think Eastside options need further development. Due to the scale of the rework needed to bring good study options to the table, we have concerns about timing. Any options presented to the Board should be worth voting for in the ST3 package. Remember, the Eastside voted for ST2, but heavily against King County Proposition 1.
A surprising number of you (60) echoed our thoughts about the PSRC population numbers. Initially our stance didn’t seen to be well received, but people in a position to fix the problem read it and the point was well taken. Sound Transit’s response consisted of a mostly technical explanation of the model that objectively doesn’t work and concludes with discussion of making changes to the model used for ST3. However, since we wrote this article, we have met with PSRC staff and had some very productive discussions. Matthew Johnson will publish a more in-depth PSRC article soon, but the bottom-line issue appears to be related to the way population models treat designated regional growth centers (Ballard isn’t one). Despite the appearance of doubletalk, we do think ST and the PSRC are aware of the issue and are dedicated to making sure they get the best numbers possible in the version of these estimates that really matter—the ones that determine funding priorities and the service plan for ST3.
The majority of comments related to a new corridor urged Sound Transit to study a new crossing of Lake Washington between Sand Point and Kirkland. In many cases, specific station locations and routes were suggested. In addition, commenters felt that Sound Transit should analyze a floating rail bridge, floating tunnel, and suspension bridge from Sand Point to Kirkland to supplement the analysis in the UW to Kirkland to Redmond portion of the Central and East HCT Corridor Study.
First off, thanks to everyone that took the effort to tell ST what you thought. Secondly, thanks to Mayor Murray and CM O’Brien for listening and submitting the Sand Point Crossing (Corridor 14 – UW to Sand Point to Kirkland to Redmond) for inclusion in the Long Range Plan.
That said, late yesterday afternoon Seattle Subway learned that at this Thursday’s Executive Committee meeting, there will be a move to remove Corridor 14 from the LRP. Unfortunately, after all the work people put in to get Sand Point into the Long Range Plan, it could be removed with no guarantees that it will be studied in the future. In fact Sound Transit’s own Draft EIS explicitly excluded it from further study as part of S.R. 520 corridor studies. The fact that it is the single most asked for corridor and being targeted for removal does not bode well for it’s inclusion in future studies. Thursday isn’t the last chance to save the Sand Point Crossing study, there will a full board meeting on the 18th. However as they will be voting on an already prepared plan at that time, Thursday is our best chance. [Edit] Clarification: On Thursday 12/4 the Executive Committee will consider amendments to the LRP. On 12/18 the Board will vote on the amendments.
It is Seattle Subway’s stance that not only does a Sand Point Crossing deserve study, but that people will understandably call into question the entire Long Range Plan outreach process if the most asked for new corridor is removed for political reasons. What is the point of people participating in the process if the board is going to throw out the most asked for consideration?
Please reach out to the Sound Transit Board and tell them (again!) that you want the Sand Point Crossing to stay in the Long Range Plan! Click here to email the board.