Let’s Build Rail to West Seattle (Option A6)

Let’s get this on the table right up front: West Seattle should receive a light rail line in the next Sound Transit funding package (ST3). STB has covered this issue before with articles about possibilities, options presented, and even the hazards of regionalism. What might actually be included in the next regional package, and how does the study presentation impact the ST board’s decision? We think that a better presentation of the information contained within this study would serve the Sound Transit board and West Seattle well when it comes time to select corridors for ST3. As currently presented, the study makes the West Seattle line appear less cost effective than it should be. Seattle Subway has some suggestions to improve this.

As others have noted, this study is comprehensive to the point of being difficult to comprehend, and contains routes and options that cost more than $8 billion and are well beyond what the region will build in near future. We have two main requests to help make this information easier to understand and analyze.

1.  Option “A6”

Map by Oran.
Map by Oran.

Continue reading “Let’s Build Rail to West Seattle (Option A6)”

ST Population Projections Much Too Low in LRP Studies

Ballard Seafood Fest (wikimedia)

The population projections in the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study (table 3-4) are very low and the methodology Sound Transit uses to create these projections should be updated. In the past the media has criticized ST for projections that seemed overly optimistic, but then proved valid post-recession. Sound Transit should avoid over-correcting by using excessively conservative estimates now. Beyond helping to decide which routes to build, the estimates will communicate a potential project’s value to stakeholders and make a case for funding to the federal government.

We were shocked to see that ST was using 29,580 for Ballard’s 2010 population, with expected growth by 2035 of 14% for a total of 33,820. We asked Sound Transit to explain why both numbers were so low. Their explanation was based on an area defined by the Ballard Existing Conditions Report:

The Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study used a definition of Ballard which covers the area from 8th NW to 32nd NW, the Ship Canal to NW 85th. This includes all of census tracts 30, 32 and 47 and approximately 80% of census tracts 31 and 32 (which extend west to Shilshole Bay). The total population of the five complete census tracts in the 2010 census was 32,502; the 29,580 number reflects the reduction of the western portions of census tracts 31 and 32.

The area covered is where all the growth in Ballard has occurred in the past and is occurring now. Additionally, nearly all of the larger development since 2010 has been apartments; there are currently only two condominium buildings under construction. This makes the comparison pretty easy. We asked the apartment market experts at Dupre & Scott if they had numbers for Ballard since 2010. For this example, to be conservative we assumed anything built 2009 or before was 100% absorbed and anything built in 2010 was 50% absorbed when the census was taken at the end of that year. We will also assume apartment occupancy of 1.8 people per rental unit and 2.3 people per sold unit per the census numbers for Seattle.

Here is what Dupre & Scott sent us:

Ballard Development

Continue reading “ST Population Projections Much Too Low in LRP Studies”

Let’s Build a Sand Point Crossing! (Option “SP1”)

Purple Line From Ballard to MSFT
Seattle is defined by its waterways. Seattle congestion is defined by its water crossings. Focusing on existing crossings of Lake Washington may have unnecessarily constrained Sound Transit’s study of the best northerly route across the lake.

Their options to get from UW to Kirkland on to Redmond are on pages 3-9 of the Central and East HCT Corridor Study. Each of the options presented misses opportunities to connect major population and employment centers and contains enormous challenges, such as a new bridge crossing of the Montlake Cut.

STB previously covered many of the problems with a 520 light rail crossing. Using 520 forces ST to double back on the west side of the bridge and deliver riders to the east side far from good transit destinations. Below, we will focus on what we want Sound Transit to study, why we want it, and why you should join us in supporting it.

The Sand Point Crossing (Option “SP1”) Continue reading “Let’s Build a Sand Point Crossing! (Option “SP1”)”

To Build a Seattle Subway We Must Restore Stable Bus Funding.

Seattle Subway Logo

Seattle Subway’s focus is and has always been on rail, its right there in our name. Our mission is to fight for high-quality, fast, grade-separated, automated transit and to advocate that Seattle build it as soon as possible. For that reason, it may come as a surprise to some that Seattle Subway endorses and fully supports Move King County Now – the campaign to pass King County Proposition 1 – which will stop bus cuts as high as 17% and fund much needed (and too long deferred) maintenance on King County roads.

Our reasoning is twofold:

1)  Though Seattle Subway focuses on building high capacity trunk lines for our transit system, at this time buses are a critical component of the transportation infrastructure that helps keep our economy competitive, our city livable and charts the path for future subway lines. Here are more details on what is at stake for Seattle. Demand for buses is at an all time high and is rising as Seattle urbanizes. Cutting bus service now is exactly what we should not be doing.

2)  Proposition 1 must pass in order to clear the way for Sound Transit 3 (ST3) in 2016. Sound Transit needs additional funding authority from the state in order to run a ballot measure. Preserving bus service will be Seattle’s top legislative priority until the funding gap is closed. Therefore — passing this measure clears the way to make Sound Transit 3 the top local priority when state lawmakers go back to table to work on a transportation package.

Off cycle ballot measures tend to bring out more conservative voters in greater numbers as a percentage of the voting population (because more progressive voters tend to skip these votes.)  To win, we need to get everyone who supports transit, our economy, and the environment to vote. Many people don’t realize this vote is coming — we have to change that. We need you to join us in getting the word out! (sign up to volunteer here)

As part of our support on April 2nd from 5:30-7:30pm Seattle Subway is co-hosting a fundraiser at Hattie’s Hat in Ballard with Seattle Transit Blog* and Council Member Mike O’Brien. We hope you can make it and help us save our bus service and build a Seattle Subway.  Details/RSVP here.

*This will be an official Seattle Transit Blog meetup.

Seattle Subway’s 2014 Volunteer Kickoff Party!

Seattle Subway Foundation

Fado Irish Pub, Thursday, 2/27/14, 5:30pm to 7:30pm

Hello, Seattle Transit Blog readers!

Seattle Subway is excited to begin another year of outreach and education. This year we’re starting off with a volunteer meetup at Fado Irish Pub, tomorrow, 2/27, from 5:30-7:30pm. There will be food and drink (for the first 40) provided by us to thank last year’s volunteers and welcome new volunteers who share our vision of fast reliable transit connecting our neighborhoods.

Fado Irish Pub & Restaurant is located at 801 1st Ave, Seattle, WA 98104, on the corner of 1st Avenue and Columbia Street, within 3 blocks of the Pioneer Square Link Station’s north entrance.

We have an exciting agenda this year:

  • Support the Move King County Now campaign’s efforts to save King County Metro from severe cuts. Subways take time to build, we need frequent bus service in the meantime.
  • Continue our educational outreach on the benefits of constructing an automated subway to every neighborhood in Seattle and to communities throughout the region.
  • This year we’ll have a chance to comment on the results of the Level 2 Analysis of the Ballard to Downtown corridor as well as Level 1 Analysis of the Ballard to U-District corridor and the Downtown to West Seattle corridor.  Translation – We  have a chance to influence what Sound Transit is going to build!
  • [Insert your agenda item here] We’ll have a board up where YOU can tell us your thoughts on what we should work on this year.

This is going to be a great year, hope to see you at Fado!  RSVP here.

Seattle Subway’s Comment on the Ballard to Downtown Level 2 Analysis

Tomorrow is the last day to submit online on this latest phase of the Ballard Study.  If you haven’t submitted comment, please do so.  If you don’t send a letter, please take the time to fill out the online survey.

Seattle Subway Logo

To: Mr. Ryan Bianchi

Re:  Ballard Transit Expansion Study

The leadership and volunteers of Seattle Subway would like to thank Sound Transit and the City of Seattle for partnering to take the first steps towards bringing rail to Ballard. The Ballard to Downtown corridor is a key regional corridor that deserves fast, reliable service and connections, and we are excited to see that three of the five options in the Ballard-to-Downtown Transit Study include grade-separated service from Downtown Seattle to Market Street. Specifically, we have the following observations of and recommendations for the proposed grade-separated segments studied so far:

  • Grade-separation. Alternatives A, B, and D are grade separated and will provide a faster alternative to driving in traffic between Ballard and Downtown Seattle. Regarding the at grade sections included in option B north of Market street: We want to urge Sound Transit to not intermingle at grade sections into a line that would function best as 100% grade separated. The at grade sections would hamper the speed and reliability of the entire line and would preclude the option to select better rail technology, specifically both driverless technology and the fastest possible technology. Seattle Subway recognizes that Crown Hill may not be currently considered for grade separation. However, we urge Sound Transit to consider the system-wide impacts of at-grade alignment well into the future.
  • Operable Bridges. While options A and B consider operable bridges, none of the options studied include bridges that would be likely to open more than a few times a week. Seattle Subway urges Sound Transit to study the highest possible vessel clearance for bridges in order to minimize delays.
  • Future Connectivity. In all options, Seattle Subway hopes to see designs that are compatible with and connect to the studies currently underway for UW-to-Ballard and for Downtown-to-West Seattle. Furthermore, in order to accommodate the growth coming to Seattle and to get the most out of public investments, we believe it will be critical to design any downtown tunnel with the ability to split and connect to an additional line entering and exiting downtown in the future.

That being said, our work is far from over. As 2016 approaches, Seattle Subway realizes the next step towards building a high-quality subway system is preparing a great ballot measure. After Sound Transit completes its long range plan update, it will have an arsenal of studies at its disposal including Ballard-to-Downtown as well as other studies currently underway from Downtown to West Seattle, and from Ballard to the UW. This will give Sound Transit the tools to compose a package for the voters that balances geographic equity with the expense of building fast, reliable infrastructure that does not get stuck in traffic, and we urge the agency to use these studies to tailor the ballot measure to best fit each neighborhood and lay the groundwork for a system that will serve Seattle and the region for the next one-hundred years.

While Seattle Subway envisions high quality rail built to every neighborhood in Seattle, we realize that finite resources mean there will be difficult choices and tradeoffs. In a future package we hope to see as much of our vision funded for construction as possible, however we realize the scope of that package will depend on the availability of state and federal funding. Thus, we encourage Sound Transit to set aside money in that package for planning and design in all of the remaining Seattle-area corridors so that design decisions captured in the Long Range Plan don’t preclude the eventual build out of the rest of the system. Furthermore, we want to stress that tradeoffs should not include at-grade alignments as cost-saving measures. For example, a cost-saving measure for Alternative D (from Level 2 analysis) would not be Option 5 (from Level 1 analysis) – it would be an updated version of Alternative A or B  (from Level 2 analysis). Lastly, as Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan studies continue, we encourage the agency to build early community support by promoting their efforts specifically to those neighborhoods where rail is being studied, such as West Seattle and communities along the 45th Street corridor.

Again, we write in support of the work Sound Transit has done for Seattle and the region. We are passionate fans who urge Sound Transit to build a system designed from the beginning to serve every neighborhood so that we can realize our shared vision:  A city and region fully connected by fast, reliable high capacity transit.

Thank You,

Seattle Subway

To keep updated on all that Seattle Subway is doing, and for information about volunteering, please join our mailing list!

Seattle Subway is an all-volunteer organization that advocates for grade-separated rail transit in Seattle.

Seattle Subway’s Thoughts on Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan

Our Vision has been well publicized so Seattle Subway focused on three other areas in our public comment letter:

Seattle Subway Logo

To: Sound Transit’s Board and the entire Sound Transit staff

Re: We need fast, reliable, transit that is both economically sustainable and designed for future expansion.

Seattle Subway is thrilled to see that Sound Transit has begun the study work for ST3 corridors – which, within Seattle, include Ballard to Downtown, Downtown to West Seattle, and Ballard to the U-District – and that Sound Transit is aiming to run a 2016 ballot measure. Congratulations are also in order for U-Link, which is on track to be both under budget and ahead of schedule. We are writing this public comment letter for Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan Update to urge Sound Transit to: (1) use driverless technology for all new rail lines, (2) design and construct all future rail lines prioritizing further expansion and (3) select the fastest possible rail vehicle technology.

1. Use driverless technology for all new rail lines

Funding for operations is critical to the economic health of any transit system and the direct Return on Investment (ROI) case for rail projects. The former is demonstrated by the current funding shortfall for King County Metro’s operations. Though the subsidy for each ride on Link will be far lower when U-Link opens, current fares pay for less than 30% of total operating cost per trip. The driverless system in Vancouver, BC covers its entire operating budget via fares; possible due to their low cost per trip. In 2011, Vancouver’s driverless system’s operating expense per trip was $1.97. Using Vancouver’s 2011 expenses per trip, Sound Transit’s revenue per trip in 2011 of $2.05 would have covered operating expenses completely. Such driverless systems convey three immense benefits: 1. Massive savings to taxpayers through faster ROI on rail system investment; 2. A more flexible system, which does not incur cost penalties to run a 1-car train every 2.5 minutes instead of a 4-car train every 10 minutes; and 3. Permanently removing partisan politics as a threat to funding operations of new rail lines.

Continue reading “Seattle Subway’s Thoughts on Sound Transit’s Long Range Plan”