Seattle Subway August 2021 Primary Endorsements

Our August 2021 Primary endorsements are finally ready! Just in time, with ballots dropping today. We tried to gather as much information as we could by hosting forums (Position 9 & Mayoral), sending out questionnaires (City & County), and keeping in mind track records and our prior meetings with candidates during our constant advocacy work. We endorsed the following candidates who will appear on your August 3rd Primary ballot because we felt they rose above the rest when we simplified things and asked ourselves: who are the one or two very best candidates for transit in each race? Endorsements here don’t necessarily mean other candidates aren’t strong in their own right, but we felt they had further to go to become our best transit champions. Don’t forget to mail your ballot before August 3rd or drop your ballot in a dropbox before 8:00pm on August 3rd. We will also update these endorsements for the General Election in November.

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YOUTUBE LIVE FEED 7pm: Seattle Subway / STB Citywide City Council Position 9 Forum

YouTube Live available above. Also streaming on Seattle Subway’s profiles on:
Twitter at:  https://twitter.com/SeattleSubway/
Facebook at: https://facebook.com/SeattleSubway/

REGISTER TO ATTEND via Zoom TONIGHT: bit.ly/SeaSubCouncil

Starts between 7pm and 7:15pm due to the candidates having an earlier commitment.

With ST3 realignment looming, BRT and Center City Connector projects at stake, and an entire post-pandemic transit recovery to manage, NEW Seattle leadership from upcoming 2021 Mayoral and City Council elections MUST deliver on critical transit investments for us to reach our 2030 climate change benchmarks, escape traffic misery, and equitably serve all people.

In response, Seattle Subway is co-hosting two virtual rapid transit forums with Seattle Transit Blog. Our second forum will be for the Position 9 City Council race, to understand the stances of candidates for citywide council position 9 on a wide range of mass transit-related issues:

Seattle Subway Position 9 Forum, moderated by Michelle Baruchman

TONIGHT, Wednesday, July 7, 2021
The forum begins at 7:00pm and as late as 7:15pm due to the candidates having an earlier commitment
The forum ends by 8:15pm

REGISTER to attend via Zoom: bit.ly/SeaSubCouncil

See you TONIGHT at the (virtual) forum!

Position 9 City Council Forum Tonight

Candidates (left to right): Brianna Thomas, Nikkita Oliver, and Sara Nelson.

FORUM TONIGHT! REGISTER NOW TO ATTEND VIA ZOOM

With ST3 realignment looming, BRT and Center City Connector projects at stake, and an entire post-pandemic transit recovery to manage, NEW Seattle leadership from upcoming 2021 Mayoral and City Council elections MUST deliver on critical transit investments for us to reach our 2030 climate change benchmarks, escape traffic misery, and equitably serve all people.

In response, Seattle Subway is co-hosting two virtual rapid transit forums with Seattle Transit Blog. Our second forum will be for the Position 9 City Council race, to understand the stances of candidates for citywide council position 9 on a wide range of mass transit-related issues:

🚃 Seattle Subway Position 9 Forum, moderated by Michelle Baruchman

TONIGHT, Wednesday, July 7, 2021
The forum begins at 7:00pm and as late as 7:15pm due to the candidates having an earlier commitment
The forum ends by 8:15pm

REGISTER for Zoom information: bit.ly/SeaSubCouncil

See you at the (virtual) forum!

YouTube LIVE FEED: STB’s & Seattle Subway’s Mayoral Forum

By SEATTLE SUBWAY

YouTube Live available above. Also streaming on Seattle Subway’s profiles on:
Twitter at:  https://twitter.com/SeattleSubway/
Facebook at: https://facebook.com/SeattleSubway/

REGISTER TO ATTEND via Zoom at 7pm TONIGHT on Zoom: bit.ly/SeaSubMayoral

With ST3 realignment looming, BRT and Center City Connector projects at stake, and an entire post-pandemic transit recovery to manage, NEW Seattle leadership from upcoming 2021 Mayoral election MUST deliver on critical transit investments for us to reach our 2030 climate change benchmarks, escape traffic misery, and equitably serve all people with public transit.

Continue reading “YouTube LIVE FEED: STB’s & Seattle Subway’s Mayoral Forum”

Please Tell Council: Don’t Leave Us Behind!

This map shows all the lines that will become infeasible if Seattle City Council doesn’t ensure the City has a clear vision for a future where we are fully connected by light rail. (Seattle Subway)

Seattle could have a complete Seattle Subway network, but only if the City of Seattle has a plan to champion that future. Currently, Seattle is marching into the future without a plan for a fully connected city. Even when ST3 is complete, nearly 60% of Seattle’s built-up areas will still not be served by light rail. If Seattle City Council doesn’t act now, many of these areas will never be served. Decisions are being made now—without the Council’s conscious input—that may forever preclude parts of our city from ever being added to the light rail network. This includes corridors as obvious as Aurora or a replacement for the forever-late King County Metro route 8.

Currently, 57% of Seattle’s urban villages will NOT be served by the ST3 light rail plan. One would think that all of those neighborhoods could just be added later, but for ST3 planning reasons, they likely will not be unless we determine now what our future system should look like. The reason lies in the details of how Sound Transit plans extensions (or—more charitably—is forced to plan by state law and the FTA).

Sound Transit only plans exactly what voters voted for. In 2016, voters approved light rail from downtown to Ballard, for example. No aspect of that authorization included future compatibility so that some day, an Aurora Line could be added. However, any look at the pre-pandemic Rapid Ride E-Line would tell you that we are already past due for light rail on that corridor.

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A true Seattle Subway requires a citywide plan for the future

House Bill 1304 for grade-separated transit is now unlikely to pass this year and its last hope is a long shot: inclusion in a larger transportation package. As a reminder, the bill updates the antiquated language in the CTA law so it can be used for rail expansion now. Though we’re disappointed that HB 1304 didn’t pass on its own this year, it’s not uncommon for a bill to take multiple years and we’re really thankful for the work done by the bill’s sponsors and the many people who voiced their support and gave testimony. We’ll be headed back to the legislature next year.

That said, when one door closes another one opens. The Seattle Department of Transportation will send the Seattle City Council a proposed plan for what should be funded by a new $20 Vehicle licensing fee. This is an excellent opportunity to fund an updated Seattle Transit Master Plan that includes a roadmap for a future citywide Link rail system. This is work that, almost incredibly, has never been done for Link expansion in Seattle.

Continue reading “A true Seattle Subway requires a citywide plan for the future”

ACTION ALERT: Traffic is over… if you TESTIFY for it

The first hearing for House Bill 1304 for grade-separated transportation was moved to Tuesday, February 9th, at 10 am. Register now for Seattle Subway’s pre-testimony seminar scheduled for Monday, February 8th, at 6 pm.

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. 

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The Next Big Step for a Seattle Subway

Part 3 of a three-part series

Seattle Subway goes to the Legislature.

[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.

HB 1304 will help us solve a lot of problems:

Continue reading “The Next Big Step for a Seattle Subway”

How to deliver ST3 in Seattle

Part 2 of a series

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.

Seattle voter support for transit is steadily increasing with every vote
Continue reading “How to deliver ST3 in Seattle”

The case for transit: 2021 edition

Part 1 of a series

Paris, the City of Lights…and Transit and Urban Form! (Credit: Alissa Smith, Hope College)

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.”

Continue reading “The case for transit: 2021 edition”

Action Alert: Tell Council to Save Transit Funding

Nose Of A 2018 New Flyer Industries XDE60

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.

Action Alert: Save Transit, Fully Fund the TBD

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:

  1. Increasing funding as much as possible (both .2% sales tax and emergency 2021 funding); 
  2. Focusing funding on Transit Service; and
  3. Structure transit service to better serve the needs of people who are transit dependent

The Transportation Committee meets at this morning at 10 am (7/17/20.)  You can share your thoughts by email or sign up to testify here.  

Use the Seattle TBD to fund transit service

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.

Let’s turn those orange bars blue

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.

Seattle Subway: the danger of tunnel vision

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.

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Seattle legislators: fund transit now

This is a very clear statement.  h/t Jason Weill

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.

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Seattle Subway: Build the Aurora Line

Aurora Line conceptual rendering (source: Seattle Subway)

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.

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Seattle Subway: It’s time to start work on ST4

#ST4Seattle Map by Oran

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.

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A Better Elevated Option in West Seattle

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:  

  1. The representative alignment on Fauntleroy with a station to the east if the Junction and tail tracks nearly reaching the junction.
  1. An elevated alignment that curves through the neighborhood north of Fauntleroy in order to orient the station north/south on 41st.
Elevated options shown in red and orange

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.  

ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner

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.

Right now we need to make sure the affordable options that we send through are acceptable in case additional local funding never comes.  Building on our central concepts of Reliability, Expandability, and Accessibility along with our Level 2 feedback and plea to put riders first, here is what we’re focused on now by station:

Ballard

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.  

Continue reading “ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner”

ST3 Plan Needs to Put Riders First

Alternatives A1 & A2 (Sound Transit)

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).

At this stage we’re hoping to bid farewell to the RA.  It was a good place to start, but doesn’t have any features that are worth preserving. We’ll focus on the good parts of A1 and A2 and what needs attention/improvement.
Continue reading “ST3 Plan Needs to Put Riders First”