Sherwin joined the blog in 2009 after a brief stint writing independently as a community blogger with the Seattle P-I. He moved out east in 2013, splitting time between Chicago and Boston before returning to the Seattle area in 2019. He works as a data scientist by day and lives in Bellevue with his wife and two kids.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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
Implement the E Line
Delete the 358
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Before we let this fine weekend fade to black, I want to remind everyone that Monday is Bus Driver Appreciation Day. We’ve mentioned this holiday— yes, I’m calling it a holiday– quite a few times in previous years. But it’s a day that’s very easy to overlook, especially since bus drivers can often be seen as just mechanical extensions of the bus itself. The reality, of course, is that our transit drivers are human, and as much as we complain about operator wages, slow drivers, mean drivers, etc., these folks are just other people trying to make a living.
It is true that no two transit operators are the same. They all have varying degrees of personality and operating prowess, so it’s very possible to find an operator who seems like the nicest person on the planet, but also just about the slowest driver ever. Conversely, there are drivers with little interest in customer service, but lots of interest in getting to their layover as quickly as possible. While yes, it is very important to maintain and enforce operating standards, it’s very easy to take our frustrations out on drivers when those standards aren’t met, despite the grueling responsibilities they have daily.
Instead of dwelling on negative feedback, the best thing we can do as riders is to focus on positive feedback and augment it when we see great things happening, while still remaining appreciative of each and every drivers’ work. For example, operators are often complimented more for their customer skills than they are for their ability to run on time. So when you encounter an operator doing the right thing, particularly displaying an uncanny ability to stay on schedule, submit a commendation! You’ll only be creating a positive feedback loop that will help even more drivers do the right thing.
So on Monday, and everyday, for that matter, appreciate your drivers. And for those that go the extra distance, be sure to let them know.
After a number of you took issue with the exclusivity of Bellevue’s focus groups for its Downtown Livability Initiative, the City responded by adding a new session geared at downtown employees. While the addition doesn’t make the target audience entirely exhaustive of everyone who will be affected by the plan, it is a big step toward including many who spend a lot of time in downtown Bellevue but don’t necessarily live there.
The new focus group will be held from 4pm to 6pm next Tuesday, March 19th, at Bellevue City Hall. There’s only one other focus group (for residents) left for tomorrow evening, so if you’re interested in attending, be sure to RSVP at DowntownLivability@bellevuewa.gov. Again, the City is more concerned with taking your input than it is which group you end up attending, so if you don’t fit in either remaining category (resident or employee), it’s really not a big deal.
With each passing day, the proposed transportation package from the House Democrats is looking more and more like the Roads & Transit measure that failed in 2007. Both may go down in history as unique proposals that united both pro-transit and pro-road forces in opposition. Anti-tax forces haven’t been giving the package any love either– Monday’s Elway Poll made it clear that the general public isn’t interested in paying higher gas tax and car-tab fees.
While any opposition to such a highway-centric package sounds good, it’s important to not take away too much from the poll. It’s a no-brainer that no one actually likes paying more taxes. But if you associate a benefit to the cost of tax increases, people tend to have a stronger willingness to yield. Of course, that depends on what those benefits actually are and how you frame the question.
Let’s take a look at the Elway’s poll question (.pdf). The wording leads by outlining the package’s potential benefits, and asks the respondent to prioritize accordingly:
The legislature is looking at some potential transportation improvements. Of course, transportation projects are expensive and take a long time to complete. So the question is where to spend taxpayer dollars. I am going to read a list of projects that could be included in this package. As you think about the state transportation system over the next 10 years, tell me whether you think each project should be a Top priority for state government, a High priority, Low or a Not a priority for state government:
Expand major highways around the state to reduce commuter congestion and increase freight mobility
Provide money to the state ferry system to upgrade and maintain the system and keep fares down
Repair and maintenance of existing roads and bridges
With big plans in the works for its downtown, Bellevue is recruiting intensely into the public realm for those interested in having a say on the City’s Downtown Livability Initiative. First, a few words about the project. With the exception of the downtown subarea plan, Bellevue has never really had a concerted downtown planning effort on this scale. That’s why this project is significant– it would run the gamut of all downtown planning issues, from rezoning to street food.
Here’s where people like you come in. To solicit input, the City is hosting seven different focus groups (see .pdf), each one targeted at a specific stakeholder group (see below). Don’t panic if you don’t fit into any of the categories– if you’re truly passionate about the future of downtown Bellevue, then you probably belong in the “visionaries” category:
The meetings will include a brief presentation on the Downtown Livability Initiative, followed by small group, facilitated discussion. Discussion topics will include design, amenities and transportation issues. Feedback from these focus groups will help shape potential changes to the Land Use Code for downtown Bellevue.
Participants are encouraged to attend the meeting that best fits their stakeholder group, but are welcome to attend any meeting that is convenient. Meetings will be in room 1E-108.
· Architects and planners, Tuesday, March 5, 2-4 p.m.
· Property owners and developers, Wednesday, March 6, 8:30-10:30 a.m.
· Brokers, Wednesday, March 6, 4-6 p.m.
· Large companies and retailers, Thursday, March 7, 2-4 p.m.
· Former Downtown Plan Advisory Body members, Friday, March 8, 8:30-10:30 a.m.
· Institutions and visionaries, Monday, March 11, 8:30-10:30 a.m.
· Residents, Tuesday, March 12, 6:30-8:30 p.m.
To make an RSVP, shoot an email to DowntownLivability@bellevuewa.gov. If you’re unable to attend but still want to pitch in two cents, thoughts can still be emailed in. The City will also report on its progress at an open house later this year. More on the project, including existing plans, maps, and data, can be found here.