Books on the Bus Talks Mount Rainier

This is short notice, but if your evening is open tonight, head on down to the Central Library for Transportation Choices Coalition’s quarterly Books on the Bus event.  Nature enthusiasts will enjoy this quarter’s selection: The Measure of a Mountain by Bruce Barcott– a book which is essentially part-memoir part-account of Barcott’s explorations of Mount Rainier.

Barcott himself will be at the event, so even if you didn’t read the book, you’ll have the chance to learn more about it and what Books on the Bus is all about.  The event will be held from 7:00 to 8:30pm tonight (8/1) in the Microsoft Auditorium of Seattle Central Library.

Evaluating the Mayoral Candidates on Metro

By now, it’s pretty clear that there are only four legitimate contenders vying to move on to the general election for the mayoral race. While we’re generally familiar with a lot of their broad-brush positions on transit, attitudes on more specific issues, like Metro funding, have remained somewhat of a mystery. Luckily, Thanh Tan at the Seattle Times has compiled a nice table which summarizes how the candidates stack up against each other on addressing the Metro deficit.

The answers are all strung together from minute-long responses in a KCTS debate (11:46-20:45), so I’d be hesitant to assess any of the candidates solely on the basis of their responses here. Although most of them are rhetorically supportive of transit anyway, what matters are the positions that set a candidate apart from the standard pro-transit boilerplate answers.

Interestingly enough, McGinn and Steinbrueck were probably the most unified in their remarks. Both shared similar attitudes on the necessity of new revenue and the impact of transit cuts. They were also equally vague about the specifics on new revenue, though Steinbrueck seemed much more willing to directly blame the Legislature for Metro’s woes.

Murray, unsurprisingly, was quick to deflect blame away from Olympia and seemed much more optimistic about a near-term solution for Metro. Given the hardline stance from Senate Republicans toward transit, I’m sure Murray knows what’s realistic and what’s not, so it wouldn’t surprise me if he were simply using his optimism as a campaign tactic.

Bruce Harrell veered away from the Metro shortfall completely and instead spent his time talking about the failed 2011 Prop. 1 measure. The $60 VLF wouldn’t have purchased any service hours for Metro anyway, so I’m unsure what Harrell was hoping to accomplish with his tangent. Nonetheless, any non-mention of Metro’s shortfall could be an ominous indication as to where his priorities would lie as mayor.

What’s in Store For Tukwila Station & RapidRide F

Tukwila Station site plan

Last month, Sound Transit broke ground on a long-awaited permanent Sounder station at Tukwila. Currently, the temporary station makes for a pitiful stop for Amtrak riders and the thousand or so commuters who make connections to nearby worksites.  The project will construct permanent platforms, rebuild the park-and-ride, and create a new bus loop. Coupled with the impending F Line implementation and lot of surrounding greenfield, an optimist might envision bright TOD prospects in the station area’s future.

Among the many improvements:

The new facility, with a total budget of $46 million, will include two 600-foot-long platforms, two new passenger shelters, improvements to the underpass connecting the two platforms, and a bus transit area supporting better access to King County Metro Transit services, including the future Rapid Ride F line. Parking for transit users will nearly double from 208 to 390 stalls, and a plaza, improved walkways and lighting will offer better pedestrian access to the station. The facility will also house four electrical charging stations, and bicycle storage will increase from 27 to 76 spaces.

The F Line (faint red) won't be able to continue west along Strander until Segment 2b is funded by Tukwila
The F Line (faint red) won’t be able to continue west along Strander until Segment 2b is funded by Tukwila (click to enlarge)

By my reading of the Tukwila Station and RapidRide plans, it sounds like the F Line will be coming off of the SW 27th/Strander Blvd extension, into the station via a new access road, dropping off at the bus loop, and circulating back to Strander via the West Valley Highway. According to some Metro planners I talked to, it’s not really being considered a deviation for the time being since the Renton-funded segment of the 27th/Strander project won’t connect all the way to the West Valley Highway.

Once Tukwila gathers enough funding to complete its segment of the roadway extension, however, the routing becomes unnecessarily circuitous, at least during non-Sounder hours when there won’t be a train or bus to connect to, nor any nearby destinations to serve. A deviation is more tolerable in the peak when the benefit for connecting riders will outweigh the cost for through-riders. However, I suspect Metro wants to avoid having multiple route patterns for a frequent branded service like RapidRide.

The Beauty of car2go Parkspots & Transit

Parkspots outside Olympic Village Canada Line station in Vancouver
Parkspots outside Olympic Village Canada Line station in Vancouver

One of the things that makes car sharing so advantageous is its ability to be seamlessly part of a car-free individual’s multimodal network. If transit doesn’t run at a certain time or doesn’t serve a certain place, car share can be used to fill those gaps, particularly when walking or biking aren’t feasible.  car2go parkspots are a perfect example of this: designated spaces reserved only for car2go vehicles which are located at strategic points across a city, like hospitals, transit stations, etc.

car2go Vancouver has this down already– I was pleasantly surprised to discover a few parkspots outside the Olympic Village Canada Line station while waiting for a bus to Granville Island last week.  At hours when connecting bus service isn’t available, car2go would be a great alternative.  In addition to Olympic Village, car2go also leases spaces in a private lot right outside Broadway-City Hall and provides nearly 60 other parkspots across the Vancouver home area.

Seattle, on the other hand, has zero parkspots in its home area.  Whether that’s a byproduct of car2go Seattle’s relative newness or some other constraint, I’m not entirely sure.  At any rate, implementing parkspots would seem to be the next logical step of investment for the company, especially given the recent expansion of the home area, which now includes Mount Baker and Columbia City stations.

[UPDATE: Some of our more attentive commenters point out that Seattle and Vancouver have considerably different parking rules, hence the reason for parkspots in the latter.  While I’m not suggesting a city-wide implementation, I think parkspots could be useful in Link station areas and other major transit hubs, where the whole point of RPZs is to discourage hide-and-riders.]

Bad Policy is Bad Policy

With the demise of the State transportation package and local options along with it, transit agencies and advocates are now scrambling for a last-ditch effort to procure some kind of revenue before Metro cuts kick in next year.  I’m not entirely hopeful that this will happen, largely because the root problem is Olympia itself.  I’m in agreement with Matt on this, but there’s one talking point coming from Senator Rodney Tom which I think is particularly startling:

[Tom] insists that any new tax for Metro be tied to a state plan, rather than letting pro-transit, pro-tax King County voters go it alone.

“If you don’t link them, what happens is, once the transit crowd gets what they consider they want, the road package gets torpedoed, and vice versa,” he said.

Setting aside the clear snarkiness in that statement, this is bad policy for bad reasons, plain and simple.  The thinly veiled implication here is that the highway lobby needs the support of the “transit crowd,” or else road expansion measures would never pass.  It’s nothing more than a form of logrolling, bribery, and political maneuvering.  We saw it when Olympia demanded the marriage of roads and transit in the 2007 Prop. 1 measure, and we saw it again with the House transportation bill this time around.

What I find interesting is that by Tom’s own admission, separating roads and transit should be good policy.  If the “road package gets torpedoed,” that means that people don’t want more roads because they don’t want more roads, not because they don’t want transit.  Conversely, we’ve seen people vote for transit-only measures (ST2, Transit Now, etc.) because of the transit, and not because there were roads in the package to entice them.

Curtis King Wants Sales Tax for Transit, Not MVETs

Senator Curtis King (Yakima)

Yesterday, Senate Transportation Committee Chair Curtis King unveiled his own transportation proposal to compete with the bill that’s currently being tossed around in the House.  The House bill, HB 1954, would allow King County to raise a 1.5% MVET– 60% for Metro, 40% for roads– but only by voter approval.  The gripe of many on this blog is that the provisions for transit are welded to a massively disproportional allocation to new roads, which has put many transit advocates in a quandary.

Any silver lining that exists in the House bill is vanquished by the Senate proposal, which contains no state money for transit, pedestrians, or cyclists.  And instead of allowing the more sustainable and progressive MVET to fund local transit, Sen. King is proposing to raise the sales tax ceiling from 0.9% to 1.2%.  In a perfect world, the 0.3% increase is probably enough to plug Metro’s budget hole of $60 million/year.  That perfect world, however, would have to be immune to recessions and have no poor people in it.

The reality, of course, is that shifting primarily to sales tax for revenue is partly the reason why we got into this mess in the first place.  Social justice advocates should also cringe at the proposal, which effectively increases the tax burden on the poor.   As the Senate transportation package is coming from a staunch transit opponent, I see little reason for transit advocates to take this proposal seriously.

A First Look at South Bellevue East Link Stations

South Bellevue neighborhood context plan.
South Bellevue neighborhood context plan (click to enlarge).

The public got a chance to see the long-awaited first renderings of the South Bellevue and East Main Link stations at Sound Transit’s third final design open house last week.  With the alignment decision settled, planners are considering a series of design improvements– bicycle/pedestrian access, station architecture, site planning, etc.  As with the other East Link stations, station naming will also be a part of this process.

Although no one expects South Bellevue to transform into some greenfield TOD hub, there is a lot of room for improvement when it comes to station access.  ST is meeting basic expectations by rebuilding sidewalks and preserving the multi-use trail along Bellevue Way.  One opportunity far too potent to pass up, however, is greatly expanding the station walkshed by improving neighborhood connections, something that’s been a pet cause of mine for some time now.

Continue reading “A First Look at South Bellevue East Link Stations”

Obama’s Nominee for Next USDOT Secretary

Anthony Foxx, via City of Charlotte

Late last month, President Obama nominated Charlotte mayor Anthony Foxx to fill the void that will be created by retiring Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.  First, I think it’s appropriate to give credit where it’s due.  Although Secretary LaHood wasn’t the perfect progressive pro-transit stalwart, he was still a staunch advocate of transportation choices and likely instrumental in preventing MAP-21 from turning into the transit disaster it could have become.

Moving on, however, I think it’s safe to say that few out there would make a better successor than Foxx.  During his tenure as mayor of Charlotte, Foxx has been an outspoken proponent of expanding the LYNX light rail system, building a new streetcar line, and focusing development and planning efforts in downtown Charlotte.  It’s a track record that closely aligns with STB values.

Lastly, any reasonable transit advocate will probably appreciate the comments that Foxx made at his confirmation hearing on Thursday:

Foxx, who grew up in poverty in Charlotte, recalled riding the bus to get to his first job at a local museum when he was 12 years old.

“The Number 6 connected me to the larger world of opportunity, and I truly believe, whether it is a bus route, a road, a train, a plane or a ship, our transportation system at its best connects people to jobs and a better quality of life,” Foxx he told senators.

East Link Station Access and Names in Downtown Bellevue

East Link map, via Sound Transit

In yesterday’s open thread, commenter and long-time reader Mike Orr pointed out two surveys that Sound Transit is using to solicit input on East Link final design for the downtown Bellevue segment.  One survey is a fairly straightforward multiple-choice form for station naming options, while the other wants slightly more comprehensive input on station access, specifically for pedestrians,  bicycles, and transit.  Responses and comments are due by the end of tomorrow so be sure not to dilly dally.

The station-naming form gives a few predetermined choices for the three “downtown” segment stations: East Main, Bellevue TC, and Hospital Station.  Respondents also have the option of submitting names of their own, although I’d guess that option is probably abused more often than Sound Transit would like.  While I don’t exactly get riled up about station names, I tend to lean toward those that incorporate cross-streets, which help give some reference to the grid.

When it comes to pedestrian and bike access, I’m not sure there’s much more that can be done aside from what’s already being considered in the Bellevue’s Downtown Transportation Plan update.  Obviously, bike facilities are severely lacking downtown so there’s a lot of progress to be made on that front.  The most feasible improvements for pedestrian access, on the other hand, are likely going to be mid-block crossings, through-block connections, more pedestrian-friendly signals, and other stuff that will help break up the grid a bit.

Transit-wise, however, the great shame with the NE 6th station is that it negates all the benefits of great bus-rail transfers that the old C11A surface design made possible.  Also terrible is the fact that on-street bus stops along NE 6th Street are pretty much infeasible, thanks to the steep grade and the fact that station entrances will be on opposing sides of the block anyway.  Although I’ve been rather partial to the idea of decentralizing Bellevue TC bus service in the past, the new station design makes planning bus-rail interface a few degrees more challenging.

News Roundup: Phased Out

Photo by KurtClark

This is an open thread.

The Theater of Last Tuesday’s Public Hearing

Last Tuesday's hearing at Union Station, photo courtesy Washington Bus.
Last Tuesday’s hearing at Union Station, photo courtesy Washington Bus.

Anyone who attended last Tuesday’s public hearing witnessed hundreds rallying to save Metro from imminent, draconian cuts.  It reminded me of a similar hearing two years ago, when a few swing votes on the King County Council were persuaded to approve the $20 Congestion Relief Charge, staving off the cuts that we again have to face.  But despite a much more difficult path this time around, many of the efforts to save Metro again amount to mere theater, acts that could easily be falling on deaf ears.

Unlike the successful 2011 effort, King County’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee and County Council are nothing more than the middlemen this time around.  Neither body will be able to do squat.  Like many other local jurisdictions in the Puget Sound area, they’ve openly lobbied for local transit funding options to no avail during the regular State legislative session.

But regardless of what’s happening in Olympia, a show of enormous local support from multiple sides might provide some semblance of comfort to the thousands who rely on Metro.  It has certainly been sold that way– large pro-transit signs were prevalent at the hearing, as if county lawmakers were the ones who had the power to save Metro.

Continue reading “The Theater of Last Tuesday’s Public Hearing”

Upcoming East Link Final Design Open Houses

Now that Sound Transit has cleared the hurdle of finalizing the entire East Link alignment, the next step is chugging through final design of the project.  There will be an open house for the downtown Bellevue segment this Thursday, May 16th from 5 to 7pm at Bellevue City Hall, and another for South Bellevue on May 30th at the Bellevue Hilton.  The Bel-Red open house was held in early April prior to adoption of the final alignment, since none of the cost savings options applied to the Bel-Red segment.

The final design process allows Sound Transit to advance specific design elements for the alignment– we’ll likely get glimpses of some architectural renderings as well as site plans of the stations.  Station naming will also be finalized, in line with public input and other Board-endorsed guidelines.

A New Sounder Station Outside Downtown Puyallup?

A Shaw Road station between Puyallup and Sumner
A Shaw Road station between Puyallup and Sumner

One of the stranger proposals that came out of last month’s joint meetings between Sound Transit and Puyallup was the idea of a new “transit station” on Shaw Road, just less than two miles east of downtown.  Although I’m still trying to figure out what “transit station” actually means, it sounds like Puyallup officials are referring to a brand new Sounder station– which would mean new platforms and presumably new parking.

So far, the Puyallup City Council hasn’t bought into proposals for more parking at the existing station or anything that would put more pressure on the downtown core.  According to the Puyallup Patch, many on the council have warmed up to the idea of a new station, an idea which Sound Transit has balked at:

Most on the Puyallup City Council agreed with the idea that adding more pressure on the historic downtown core is not a feasible option and that a Sound Transit center on Shaw Road could help ease traffic, for both Puyallup and Sumner.

During a joint planning meeting on April 30, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl said that a full service station at Shaw Road isn’t possible and is “a much more expensive scenario” than Sound Transit can commit to.

While I’m no railroad expert, I’d suspect that BNSF and the FRA wouldn’t be too pleased with a new mainline station, especially given the already short distance between Puyallup and Sumner.  I’m also wary of the bad precedent this could set– a new Shaw Road station planned solely for park-and-ride customers would be the first not to serve a downtown core or activity center.  That’s hardly the kind of regional planning investment we want to be making.

Public Hearing Tomorrow on E, F Lines, I-90, and More

Funky new shuttle proposed for the Snoqualmie Valley.
Funky new shuttle proposed for the Snoqualmie Valley.

Tomorrow afternoon, the King County Transportation, Environment and Economy Committee (TEEC) will host a fairly important public hearing on a whole bunch of proposed Metro service changes for Fall of this year and a few upcoming ones next year.  While this isn’t going to be the palooza that preceded the massive Fall 2012 shakeup, there are some fairly significant countywide service proposals on the docket, including implementation of the E and F Lines, I-90 revisions, and the Snoqualmie Valley alternative service delivery project– Bruce has covered just about all of these.

Here’s the rough breakdown of routes that the TEEC will take public comment on:

Fall 2013

  • South King revisions:
    • Convert the 155 to DART service
    • Revise the routing of the 909 DART to better serve Renton Technical College and Renton Housing Authority
    • Extend the 140 to serve the Landing, presumably to build up the market for the F Line
  • Snoqualmie Valley alternative service delivery:
    • Convert the 209 into a peak-only route
    • Implement a new 208 between North Bend and Issaquah
    • Shorten the 224 to operate only between Duvall and Redmond
    • Implement a new Snoqualmie Intra-Valley shuttle
    • Shorten the 311 to operate only between Seattle and Woodinville
  • I-90 corridor improvements:
    • Reroute the 210 to serve Eastgate P&R
    • Delete the 211’s South Bellevue P&R deviation (wahoo!)
    • Delete the 215’s Issaquah TC deviation
    • Revise the 216 routing to serve Issaquah Highlands instead of North Issaquah

Spring 2014

  • Implement the E Line
    • Delete the 358

Summer 2014

  • Implement the F Line
    • Delete the 140
    • Delete the 110

The public hearing will be held tomorrow, April 30th from 4pm to 5pm at the King County Council Chambers.  There will also be an open house preceding the hearing at 3:30pm, where you can get a detailed description of each proposed change.  The TEEC will pass on its recommendations to the full county council, which is expected to vote on the changes in May.

Puyallup Mulling Sounder Station Improvements

Photo by DWHonan

Over the last couple of weeks, the Puyallup City Council has been in talks with Sound Transit over potential access improvements to Puyallup Station.  Like many of its South Line counterparts, the station is heavily auto-oriented despite being situated in a fairly quaint and walkable downtown. As a result, growth in Sounder ridership has greatly increased the pressure on nearby commuter lots, all of which are already at-capacity on the weekdays.

At the same time, the November failure of Pierce Transit’s Prop. 1 and the recent curtailing of local transit service have continued to dwindle multimodal access options.  Many commuters are now relying on the Red Lot, a secondary lot on the Puyallup Fairgrounds, which is served by PT Sounder feeder routes 400 and 495.

Continue reading “Puyallup Mulling Sounder Station Improvements”

Bellevue Makes its Cost Savings Picks

The Bellevue city council ultimately opted for the NE 6th station.
The Bellevue city council ultimately opted for the NE 6th station.

Last night, the Bellevue city council slogged through what may be its last big East Link planning decision ever, and ended at a unanimous endorsement of its preferred cost savings options.  Before I get to exactly which specific picks the council made, it’s worth mentioning that this is effectively only a recommendation and isn’t a binding action.  The final alignment decision still rests in the hands of the Sound Transit Board, which is expected to vote on the matter this coming Thursday.

Ultimately, the council approved three major alignment segments:

  • Retained cut alignment side-running along Bellevue Way with no savings.  A cheaper alternative would have brought the alignment to at-grade, added a new HOV lane, and pushed the entire roadway west.  This was ultimately canned after residents balked.
  • Road-over-rail crossing of 112th Ave SE and an at-grade crossing of SE 4th limited to emergency vehicle access only.  The SE 4th crossing saves in the neighborhood of $2 to $4 million.
  • Open downtown station at NE 6th, producing $19 to $33 million in savings.  We’ve opposed this option since its conception and our stance hasn’t changed.  Although I’ll give ST and Bellevue staff credit for doing their best to improve the design, the station remains hugely inferior to its 110th Ave counterpart, for all the reasons Martin alluded to last week.  As a concession to picking the NE 6th station, the council did approve an amendment which would authorize spending $5 million of the savings to improve the walkway between the station and the transit center.

In total, the cost savings don’t even end up anywhere close to the $60 million target the City was hoping to reach, which leaves anywhere from $23 to $39 million unaccounted for.  The remaining difference will ultimately have to be paid out in cash in order for Bellevue to fund its share of the downtown tunnel.

The next best thing for transit advocates to do is to make your opinion known at the Sound Transit Board meeting this coming Thursday, at which point the Board will likely seal East Link’s fate before launching the project into final design.  The meeting will be held from 1:30-4pm in the Ruth Fisher Board Room at Union Station.  Public comments are solicited near the beginning so it’s important to show up on time if you plan on testifying.

Decision on East Link Cost Savings Nears

New concept sketch for the NE 6th downtown station
New concept sketch for the NE 6th downtown station

By the end of April, an important milestone in the East Link saga will be complete.  If all goes to plan, the Sound Transit Board will adopt its preferred cost savings options in Bellevue, and effectively finalize the alignment.  The cost savings work, which hopes to find savings to fund a downtown tunnel, will be one of the last major steps in the project prior to final design.  At this point, many see the cost savings ideas more as give-and-take concessions rather than the intense tug-of-wars over the alignment that took place in 2011 and prior.

Last week, Sound Transit hosted an open house with an update on the work, which included new cost estimates, concept sketches (.pdf), and environmental findings that were adopted as part of a SEPA addendum to the Final EIS.  According to ST spokesperson Geoff Patrick, there haven’t been any ground-breaking developments since the last update, although sentiment from various groups has solidified either for or against certain cost savings options.

Continue reading “Decision on East Link Cost Savings Nears”

Sound Transit Kicks Off East Link Final Design

120th Station area
120th Station area

Last Thursday evening, over a hundred community members showed up to attend Sound Transit’s kick-off open house for East Link final design, beginning with the Bel-Red corridor segment.  The project is nearing the 60% design mark, at which point specific design elements for stations, trackways, etc. will be refined and new cost estimates modeled.  Thursday’s open house zeroed in on Bel-Red and East Link’s integration into the City of Bellevue’s vision for the neighborhood.

The Bel-Red corridor redevelopment has been a major planning initiative in Bellevue for quite some time now.  The area is expected to add 5,000 new housing units and 10,000 new employees over the next two decades.  In response, the City is upgrading the infrastructure, with a network of rebuilt streets and a new grid with East Link at the centerpiece.  Let’s take a look at the designs of the two stations, which have already progressed quite a bit.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Kicks Off East Link Final Design”

Mid-Line Operator Reliefs

Photo by zargoman

The other day, I was taking a 554 back to the Eastside when I discovered that I was onboard one of those pesky early afternoon trips with a mid-line operator relief at Mercer Island.  Judging from my past experiences with that trip, I wasn’t too bothered– for the most part, East Base operators are pretty good at switching in and out while the bus is still service.  This time around, however, the relief operator was nowhere in sight, ruffling more than a few passengers’ feathers.

While the relief operator did end up arriving about 5 minutes later, my experience exposed a rather significant disadvantage with having drivers relieve each other mid-line.  Though I don’t think instances of missing operators are too common, mid-line reliefs can be wildly unpredictable.  Sometimes, drivers will exchange keys and go.  Other times, they might strike up some chit-chat first.  And there are those occasional instances when a relief operator is nowhere to be found, keeping the driver on the clock and passengers on the bus longer than expected.

When operator work is scheduled and runcutted, relief points are worked in for maximum efficiency from a labor standpoint.  That, of course, can sometimes conflict with the system efficiency of in-service routes.  A poorly scheduled PM peak road relief on 3rd & Pike, for example, could easily logjam the Third Ave corridor, impacting buses going to and from places all over the region.  Of course, the best places and times to sneak in operator reliefs are those with little or no impact on revenue service, i.e., route terminals or during pulses at major transit centers.

Although I certainly don’t dispute that maximizing labor and wage efficiencies are vital scheduling considerations, I think keeping our transit vehicles operating free and undistracted should be priority number one, even if it means eliminating mid-line operator reliefs entirely.