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.
Some fixes to transit delays are expensive, or require taking on entrenched interests, but others do not. Here are two easy wins in the southern part of I-405.
On SR-167 northbound, the HOV/toll lane on the left-hand side turns into a regular lane shortly after S. 180th street. This is quite early to end this lane, as traffic is bad on weekday mornings. While the left lane needs to be available for left turns at S. Grady Way beyond I-405, solo drivers don’t need two miles of space to merge into the left lane. The HOV/Toll lane should extend at least as far as the I-405 HOV direct access ramp (anything less is completely inexcusable and reduces the value of that direct access ramp), so HOV vehicles can continue through to I-405 without hitting a patch of SOV traffic. This would improve reliability on routes 566 and 567.
On eastbound N Southport Drive at I-405 (shown above), the on-ramp to I-405 north has two lanes, a regular lane with a meter, and an HOV lane that bypasses the meter. During rush-hour, the queue behind the meter often extends beyond the length of the HOV meter bypass lane, forcing buses and HOVs to wait behind a long line of cars for a while (sometimes as much as 10 minutes or more), before they can skip the bottleneck.
OneBusAway is an integrated, open-source suite of software components that provides real-time and schedule information for public transit, supported by a nonprofit organization that is responsive to the needs of transit agencies and the riders. It is also an important alternative to the surveillance capitalism business model for providing such information. In this post, I will argue that King County Metro, Sound Transit, and other regional agencies should embrace it more fully, in particular by giving an official status to the OneBusAway apps rather than regarding them as just one of many “third-party” apps.
Regarding surveillance capitalism: a large portion of the software side of the global information technology infrastructure, including web search, email, social media, and much more, is often provided free to the end users, although the corporations that provide this, for example Google and Facebook, are often enormously profitable. The business model for this involves customized advertising and sometimes behavior manipulation, powered by intensive gathering and cross-correlation of detailed personal information. These companies provide some great products and services that are free to the end users. But surveillance capitalism has a dark side as well, with negative impacts for privacy, autonomy, human dignity, and democracy. The term comes from Shoshana Zuboff – please see her recent book The Age of Surveillance Capitalism: The Fight for a Human Future at the New Frontier of Power, or a recent interview.
Accurate and convenient schedule and real-time transit information, particularly when available to riders on apps on mobile devices, is an important part of making transit satisfying and easy to use. Much of this information is provided via a surveillance capitalism business model, for example via Google maps. Another source of information is via apps provided by venture-capital funded startups, for example Transit App or Moovit – it seems safe to assume that these, too, have an eventual goal of participating in the surveillance capitalism business model. (Venture capitalists seem unlikely to invest tens of millions of dollars in for-profit corporations just because they want the world to have better transit information.) OneBusAway provides an important nonprofit alternative.
Any regular transit rider coming home from Bellevue, in a bus, in an HOV lane on I-405 southbound, knows well the feeling of moving 0-5 mph. Granted, it’s not always like this. There are certainly some days where it zips by traffic at nearly 60, while some other days it takes over 20 minutes just to get to I-90.
While unreliable HOV travel times are already quite frustrating, very often traffic flow in the HOV lane ends up being as bad or worse than in the general purpose lanes! Why is this tolerated by WSDOT, when the whole point of an HOV lane is to flow faster as an incentive for people to carpool or take transit? Why would anyone want to do this if they are just going to get stuck in the same traffic as if they drove alone?
I-405 south of Bellevue is getting the same type of express-toll lanes as to the north, but not until 2024. You would think that making the current HOV lanes HOV3+ would be a natural precursor to the eventual ETL extension, but WSDOT would not agree.
But how many service hours might be saved if HOV3+ were in place on I-405, in particular from Renton to Bellevue? In this calculation, I’ll assume that traffic in the HOV3+ lanes always moves at 45 miles per hour or better. That is the standard which WSDOT attempts to maintain for the express-toll lanes generally, and is also the point at which WSDOT says it will consider upgrading HOV2+ lanes to HOV3+ (though clearly that doesn’t seem to mean anything in practice).
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.
The city of Kirkland recently launched a Safe and Active Transportation survey. The survey is the first chance for public engagement as the city works to rewrite its Active Transportation Plan, which lays out Kirkland’s strategy for moving cyclists and pedestrians through the city.
The last time the city updated its Active Transportation Plan (ATP) was in 2009. The 2009 ATP was a big step forward for the time, but best practices for bicycle infrastructure have changed dramatically over the past 10 years and the city’s policies are badly in need of a rewrite. In particular, the 2009 plan focused on the needs of “strong and fearless” cyclists, often missing the perspectives of people who are not comfortable riding in traffic or taking the lane.
Take, for example, this quote from Defining a Network section of the 2009 ATP, which explicitly states that bicycle lanes are only needed on high-traffic streets.
Bicycle lanes are generally suggested when auto volume exceeds 5,000 vehicles per day. Therefore, some segments of the bicycle network do not need bicycle lanes to adequately support bicycle travel.
This might sound about right for the spandex-clad street warrior who can consistently maintain 12-15 mph. But if you are a child trying to get to school or a casual cyclist on a comfort bike, a two-lane street with no shoulder may be an insurmountable barrier, especially if it goes uphill as many of Kirkland’s neighborhood streets do. In 2015, Kirkland recognized the need for traffic calming on even low-traffic streets by funding its first two neighborhood greenways. It’s time for the rest of the city’s bike plan to catch up.
Since 2014, the City of Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District (STBD) has consistently funded transportation improvements across the city, such as more frequent Metro buses, subsidized ORCA cards for income-qualifying residents, and pre-paid ORCA cards for Seattle Public School high schoolers. Seattle voters approved the STBD through a 0.1% sales tax increase and a $60 annual Vehicle Licensing Fee (VLF), also known as car tab, for citizens who can afford it (the city runs a VLF rebate program for income-eligible motorists). We aren’t alone– about 60 other communities across the state fund their TBDs by one or both of these sources, improving vehicle, bus, ferry, and rail access across Washington.
When the program began in 2014, only 25% of Seattle households lived within a 10-minute walk of 10-minute or better all-day service. The original goal was for over half of all households to be served at that level by 2020. Through the STBD, the city met that goal in 2016, and continues to improve: today, 71% of households in the city enjoy frequent, reliable transportation access. The STBD directly added 6,780 weekly bus trips to Seattle residents, mitigating overcrowding, expanding access, and creating opportunity for Seattleites across the city.
Investments from STBD benefit all areas of Seattle, including neighborhoods the city has designated as having low access to economic opportunity. Access to transportation has been found to be a crucial factor in upwards social mobility. Historically underserved populations, such as Southeast, Southwest, and far North Seattle, have benefited directly from faster, more frequent service (e.g., Metro bus routes 106, 120, and the E line), and multimodal street improvements. STBD also funds the ORCA Lift program and saved Metro’s 24-hour Night Owl service from being permanently cut.
Ed. Note: As always, guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the STB editorial board.
The City of Seattle may reverse its longstanding position regarding the Montlake Bridge, a major transit corridor leading to the University of Washington Station. A resolution is before the Seattle City Council that reverses the traditionally skeptical posture of the city towards adding lanes, advocating not just bike and pedestrian upgrades (which have wide support), but also, new vehicular lanes across the Montlake Cut. These lanes would carry not just buses, but other “high-occupancy” vehicles as well such as carpools and rideshares. This is a huge departure from the city’s position as of 2015:
Consistent with Resolution 31411, the City continues to support the position that improvements made by a second Montlake bascule bridge are unlikely to yield the benefits that justify the cost and environmental impact of a bridge…
Resolution 31611, section 2, adopted unanimously in 2015
A bridge big enough to carry three northbound lanes, to the east of the current bridge, which the state would build with this new direction from the city, would likely require on the order of $100 million of public funds, based on prior WSDOT estimates – state funds already lined up. Free money for public infrastructure – something for transit, bikes – what’s not to like?
Earlier this month the Transit Riders Union (TRU) launched a new campaign called ORCA for All.
You could categorize a lot of the campaigns TRU has run over the years under the theme “ORCA for All.” From the push for a low-income reduced fare that became the ORCA LIFT program, to expanding and improving the Human Services Bus Ticket program, to supporting Rainier Beach High School students fighting for free transit passes, to pressuring the University of Washington — our city’s second-largest employer — to step up and fully subsidize transit for all UW employees, expanding access to public transit has been one of our core issues for years.
This fall we’re continuing ongoing advocacy for a transit pass program to serve the lowest-income riders — people who can’t afford ORCA LIFT — and also to reform the way our transit agencies respond to fare evasion. But the centerpiece of ORCA for All is something new: We want more employers, especially larger employers that can more easily absorb the costs, to subsidize transit passes for their workers.
A few months ago, I shared with Seattle Transit Blog readers a side project of mine—the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker. This quickly became much bigger than I ever expected it to, with several local news outlets picking up the story, including the Seattle Times.
It became very clear to me that we all need better transit data, and that I’m well-equipped to help with that. Today, I want to share with you what I’ve been up to since then, and where I’m going next.
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.
It’s Friday, the end of the work week, and all everyone wants to do is get home as quickly as possible. For the transit rider, it is time to enter the arena of unknown bus reliability. Will my bus come? Will it be on time? How bad will traffic be? We have all mentally asked these questions, but some have to ask them more than others.
Today we will look at the 5 buses that have the worst afternoon reliability in the Metro system and consider what can be done to improve them. These routes are generally low ridership and wouldn’t merit much capital investment, so we’ll focus on quick fixes where appropriate. Conveniently, each one of our tardy routes is from a different portion of the county. (On time data is from the King County Metro 2018 System Evaluation. )
At 5 p.m. two Fridays ago I made the grave mistake a getting on a West Seattle bus at the 3rd & Pike Street stop. See, I had to retrieve a child from summer camp by 6 p.m. As the bus crawled along the Columbia Street and 1st Avenue South “temporary 2019” routing, the minutes ticked away rapidly, and at 5:52 p.m. the bus was reaching the 1st & Dearborn stop, still in downtown Seattle.
To routinely spend one hour traversing downtown Seattle is not functional bus service, full stop; especially in a City where more downtown workers arrive by bus than any other mode. The Seattle DOT needs to significantly improve the transit pathway, or King County Metro needs to change the routing for Burien and West Seattle Metro bus routes that use Highway 99.
King County Council will vote on a Park and Ride permit program next week.
by HESTER SEREBRIN, VICKY CLARKE, ALEX BRENNAN, and TIM GOULD
In Seattle, many of us are privileged with easy access to great bus service at any time of day. But the regional reality is pretty different for most folks. Until we are able to fund and build out King County Metro’s long-range plan, which will connect many more neighborhoods to frequent, high-capacity transit via a short walk or bike ride, lots of residents have to rely on driving to a Park and Ride as part of their daily trip.
With increased growth and demand in our region, many of these lots are filling up fast, creating crowding on earlier transit trips, and leaving little to no parking for workers without the flexibility in their schedules to race for one of the limited spaces early each morning. Rather than building more parking lots, parking permits can help manage available space at Park and Rides, encourage carpooling, and create reliability for those who need it.
Next Tuesday, July 16, the King County Council Mobility and Environment committee will vote on a parking permit resolution to offer reserved solo driver parking permits for King County Park and Ride facilities. Join TCC and partners on July 16 at 1:30 pm to testify and show your support for smarter parking management.
This Park and Ride resolution is similar to the policy the Sound Transit Board of Directors approved last year; applications for solo driver permits, including discounted permits for ORCA LIFT riders, are now available for Sound Transit Park and Ride facilities in Northgate, Auburn, Puyallup, Edmonds, and Mukilteo.
Why Park and Ride Permits?
Park and Ride lots are convenient transfer areas that make transit more accessible for people who do not live near a bus or light rail route. Until we have a more robust transit network, Park and Rides are one tool to relieve congestion and promote the use of public transportation. All riders and taxpayers pay hidden costs for expensive parking infrastructure, and building more parking will only occupy land that can be used to build housing near high-frequency transit. Parking permits can help manage parking demand and curb the need to build endless parking lots. Without parking fees, parking costs impact all users, including those arriving by foot, bike, or bus, while only benefiting those who drive.
Some time ago I contemplated whether our buses—wherever they are on Coast Salish lands—would bear place names in dxʷləšucid (Lushootseed), the language of indigenous Coast Salish peoples from Nisqually all the way to Skagit. It was early winter of 2018 when I began packing for my trip to the Samoa archipelago. Something caught the corner of my eye outside the faculty offices of the UW Anthropology department: the Burke Waterlines Map. I perused the map, pinned to the bulletin board unfolded, and, curious as to where the Lushootseed place names belonged on the map, began to piece together village by village, water site to water site, into my head already deeply colonized by the more familiar English place names I was taught to know, love and sometimes hate.
What if public transportation can bear these place names?
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.
Bellevue may have decided to make the 108th Ave NE bike lane it built last year permanent, but when it comes to expanding the city’s downtown cycling network the Bellevue Transportation Commission seems to be at odds with City Council. On May 23rd the Commission split 3-3 over whether to add bicycle lanes along two blocks of Main ST between Bellevue Way and 108th Ave NE, despite the fact that City Council strongly supports the project. Following the split, the Commission voted to delay further discussion, but did not choose a specific date to revisit the plan, leaving it unclear how the process will move forward.
This is the second time that the Commission has punted consideration of extending Bellevue’s downtown bicycle network. City staff first proposed the Main ST project at the Commission’s March 28th meeting, but the issue was tabled after the Commission’s 4-2 vote to retain the existing protected bicycle lanes on 108th Ave NE.
The decision to delay comes after Commission Chair Lei Wu has received specific instructions from Bellevue City Council to evaluate options for Main ST and choose an alternative. At a May 13th study session the full Council discussed the proposal with Wu and expressed unanimous support for moving forward with an east-west bicycle facility. Since City Council strongly supports piloting more bicycle lanes, why is the Transportation Commission dithering on its responsibility?
by JOSHUA NEWMAN, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 4
Once upon a time, it was easy to get around Seattle. Hop in the car and in 15 minutes, you were downtown; and outside of downtown, parking was easy. At least, that’s how many long-time residents remember Seattle. Congestion was infrequent and parking was plentiful.
So today’s congestion feel like dramatic change; a rupture from the Seattle people fell in love with. But people all over the world want a safe, prosperous place to live, and Seattle has offered that. After 40 years of stable population size, Seattle has grown 30%, by 167,000 people, since 2000. We all need to move around the city, and because every level of government has subsidized car use, most people assume they will get around by car.
This assumption carries heavy costs. In 2000, the annual cost to own a car was $7,160 (2018 dollars). It’s now $8,175. A community designed around cars is a community that chains its residents to a large financial liability. This burden falls most heavily on working families, who are forced into long commutes. Meanwhile, our businesses struggle to move freight, transit riders wait for car-clogged intersections, and potential bike riders stay away in fear.
The more expensive burden – which bears repeating – is to our climate. The human species has never, in our entire existence, lived on Earth when the atmospheric carbon content was as high as it is now: 415 ppm. Seattle’s own carbon emissions continue growing, and we won’t stop that with our current incremental approach.
STB readers know it doesn’t have to be this way. We can simultaneously unlock congestion, improve equity, and address climate change locally by making it easy to get around Seattle without a car.
If done right, congestion pricing can reduce pollution and improve mobility.
by HESTER SEREBRIN, Policy Director, Transportation Choices Coalition
Seattle has a traffic problem. According to the 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, Seattle is the 6th most congested city in the country, robbing people who drive 138 hours and nearly $2,000 annually.
Congestion also contributes to our climate crisis, with 66% of Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from road transportation. Commutes will only get longer and pollution worse as our city grows unless we take decisive action. Cities across the world, facing similar dilemmas, are considering congestion pricing, the only proven tool to reduce congestion. Pricing is also a tool that can be used to achieve other outcomes like mitigating local air and water pollution, and creating progressive revenue structures to support healthier and safer mobility options. While cordon pricing, charging people to drive to or within a downtown area, is the most well-known form of congestion pricing, pricing is flexible and we can find a structure that best meets our goals.
Last Thursday, the City of Seattle released a congestion pricing phase one report that provides case studies and potential pricing tools to inform Seattle’s policy development and engagement process as we explore congestion pricing. The report evaluates a variety of possible pricing scenarios based on criteria related to equity, climate and health, traffic congestion, and implementation, and outlines a process for engaging with stakeholders to ensure benefits accrue to communities who need them most. We all now have an opportunity to help shape a progressive plan that is still in the early stages of policy development.
Transportation Choices Coalition is working to bring more and better transportation choices to Washington State, improving access and mobility for all. As the report identifies, our current transportation system is inequitable, drawing from regressive revenue sources, struggling to provide affordable and reliable options to those pushed out by growth, and creating poor air quality disproportionately in communities of color. We believe that if done right, congestion pricing has the ability to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and generate progressive revenue to reinvest in a robust transportation system. There are understandable concerns that a poorly planned pricing system could hurt low-income communities and communities of color, and our priority is to develop a congestion pricing policy rooted in equity.
Here’s what we want to see next from Seattle’s congestion pricing process:
Mayor Durkan recently announced that Seattle will be looking into how to safely welcome scooter share.
Scooters arrived in Portland, Oregon, for a pilot program last summer, and hoo-boy did they get talked about around that city. And ridden. And dumped in the Willamette River (there was a website tracking how many: 6 at one count) — oh, in portable toilets, too. But mostly ridden. They are super fun, fast enough to contribute as a transportation option, and they’re convenient to grab-and-go.
Swap out “the Willamette River” with one of our own local bodies of water, and pretty much everything written above could have been said (probably was said) during the roll-out of our Seattle bike share program a couple years ago. But when it comes to safety, scooters are different, and Seattle will need the right regulations for a scooter share program to work well. The scooters in Portland are surprisingly fast: a person standing three inches above the pavement scooting through a busy city at 15-mph is more eyebrow-raising to witness in person than to read about in print, I assure you. Additionally, there seem to be a lot of crashes — a couple per week involving cars in the first two weeks of the program. Just applying what we’ve learned here in Seattle from bike share — and copy-pasting those newly-crafted bike share regulations over to a scooter share program — won’t be adequate.
Working down in Portland for a couple months during their initial pilot, I was able to witness and experience the roll-out of their scooter-share program (the scooters then disappeared from Portland, and just recently returned for a second pilot), and I believe scooters can work well in Seattle. But a few changes to how they’re regulated in Portland would vastly improve safety (for scooter riders and pedestrians), as well as improve the likelihood that the public embraces scooters instead of rejects them. And the importance of the latter can’t be overstated: a Google News search of “e scooters” will provide you with headline after headline describing citizen outrage or cities struggling to effectively regulate, and in the case of Paris, deciding last week to ban them [ed note: Paris banned scooters on sidewalks, not entirely]. Most importantly, Seattle must start with regulations that are consistent with human behavior. In Portland, the rules around helmets and sidewalks don’t match people’s actual behavior, making almost every scooter rider a law-breaker. Since the 15 mph governed scooter speed is based on the assumption that no one will ride on the sidewalk and everyone will wear a helmet, there is a mis-match between intended and actual behavior that leads to serious safety problems. Here are some lessons and proposals for us in Seattle: