A Photo Tour of Link Construction

Recently STB write Bruce Nourish and I had an opportunity to check out the new Link extensions from the air. Enjoy the photos!

Northgate Link Extension

We begin at Northgate Station; these photos were shot just prior to the opening of the extension:

Northgate Station & Northgate Mall
Looking north at Northgate Station. Northgate Mall is the large cluster of properties in the center of the photo. On the far left, the alignment under construction can be seen running along the northbound lanes of I-5

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Community Transit builds new connections at Northgate

Incoming 2011 New Flyer Industries XD40 to Ash Way Park & Ride On A Damp Day - Widescreen

With Northgate Link opening in less than a week, Community Transit will begin a fundamental, multi-year transformation from providing a blend of long-haul commuter and local service to a refreshed agency focused on fast and frequent transit operations primarily within Snohomish County. CT’s initial phase of reworking existing commuter routes will take advantage of Link Light Rail’s new Northgate terminus and large transit center to greatly enhance where Community Transit riders can travel. Starting Monday, October 4th, CT will truncate all University District-bound service, known as the 800-series routes, to end at Northgate Station. This resolves serious issues of speed and reliability caused by regional congestion and massively improves transit connectivity between Snohomish County and Link Light Rail.

Let’s acknowledge that riders transferring at Northgate Station will lose their one-seat ride to the University District. Many of us will be losing our one-seat ride on October 2nd, myself included. While inconvenient, that’s by design as we to move towards utilizing Link as an alternative to the redundant bus routes operating in heavy north-south regional congestion, and it’s important to recognize the greater benefits of this strategy.

Currently, congestion between Seattle and Lynnwood forces transit agencies to burn valuable service hours by padding revenue and non-revenue (deadheading) schedules to realistically schedule buses accounting for slow travel times. While buses sit in congestion, the total number of trips each bus can complete in a day is limited while riders have to deal with unreliable and unpredictable service, leading to an inefficient use of transit agency and taxpayer resources. Would people rather have an unpredictable one-seat ride with longer waits between buses, or a more predictable two-seat ride with frequent service? The agency has chosen the latter for us, and we’ll learn to appreciate it.

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Ready the ballot box: Seattle wants Northgate-style light rail expansion citywide

Ready the Ballot Box: Seattle Wants Northgate-Style Light Rail Expansion Citywide

On Oct 2nd, thousands of Seattlites will flood three new light rail stations as the Northgate Link extension opens. While Seattleites will be excited about the new stations, almost everyone in the city seems to agree that neither Northgate Link nor the West Seattle and Ballard Link extensions funded by Sound Transit 3 (ST3)  are enough Link expansion  for the City. 

A recent Change Research poll of likely Seattle voters found overwhelming support for an expanded Link: 76% would support a new transit funding measure to expand Link light rail, including 48% who ‘Strongly Support’ the measure.The most confident supporters of Link expansion could almost carry the ballot box on their own. 

The poll reveals that 18-34 year olds support expansion at a whopping 90% (with 66% indicating strong support).  Their monumental 90% support speaks to a clear fact: despite Seattle’s increasingly pro-transit voting history, we’ll be even more pro-transit in the future.  And it’s not just younger people who support Link expansion; voters ages 65 and over came in at 71% support.  In fact, of the 20 demographic groups evaluated by Change Research, only Seattle’s very small population of Republican voters registered net opposition to a new funding measure for Link expansion.

The evidence confirms what many of us have known for years: Seattle needs a citywide plan for high quality rail expansion and, though ST3 is a start, the system we’ll have once ST3 is done is a long way from “done” for Seattle. Seattleites are on board for good reason: Post ST3 nearly 60% of the densest neighborhoods will remain outside the reach of light rail and neither the City nor Sound Transit currently have a plan to resolve that.

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To save transit, tell the story

Image of a darkened stage with a folk band of six with various stringed instruments and 2 clog dancers.

Public transit is shortchanged. Where’s the news in that? If you follow this blog you know, and you have the numbers to back you up. Public transit in the United States is underfunded. And what’s with the folk band? Where’s the bus, the train, the ferry, the beautiful route map? The graph? Was the wrong image downloaded? Where’s transit?

Standing on the stage. In 2014, Poetry on Buses, a collaboration of King County Metro and 4Culture, was awarded the #2 spot in the Top 10 Collaborations of Art, Music and Local Businesses judged by DO206, the Seattle Chapter of DOSTUFF. This is an image from the Poetry on Buses kick-off event that year. I was there. That evening The Moore Theater rocked with music and the spoken word. It was the first year the annual project really reflected Metro’s riders with poems in English, Spanish, Vietnamese, Russian and Somali, the five most spoken languages in King County. Metro transit riders, some of whom had never written poetry before but coached in workshops put on all over the county, proudly read their poems with family and friends filling the theater to capacity. It was a brilliant, powerful night.

Now back in 2014 we could be forgiven if we didn’t believe in the power of poetry. But in 2021 a young woman with a glorious red headband and bright yellow coat believed otherwise. Amanda Gorman reminded us we are a storytelling people.

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Eastside transit restructure kicks off

“Restructure” and “transfer” are hot transit words in the Pacific Northwest, with all eyes focused on Northgate Link opening October 2nd. A new Link extension comes with a significant restructure for transit services provided by Community Transit, Sound Transit, and King County Metro.

During these exciting times for regional transit, Sound Transit and Metro have begun their public-facing process of restructuring routes and creating new transfers between East Link and Redmond Link (E&R Link) when they come into service in 2023 and 2024, respectively. The very first public survey, available here, primes our communities in determining what our future transit network looks like for years to come.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seattle Subway Position 9 Forum, moderated by Michelle Baruchman

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

REGISTER to attend via Zoom: bit.ly/SeaSubCouncil

See you TONIGHT at the (virtual) forum!

Position 9 City Council Forum Tonight

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

FORUM TONIGHT! REGISTER NOW TO ATTEND VIA ZOOM

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

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

🚃 Seattle Subway Position 9 Forum, moderated by Michelle Baruchman

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

REGISTER for Zoom information: bit.ly/SeaSubCouncil

See you at the (virtual) forum!

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

By SEATTLE SUBWAY

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

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

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

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

Please Tell Council: Don’t Leave Us Behind!

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

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

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

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

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

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

As we noted last week, this bill will give Seattle the tools we need to solve a lot of problems. The most exciting part: HB 1304 can help address Link expansion timelines and create a system that serves the entire city. We need your help to advance the bill out of the Local Government committee.

Regarding the ST3 budget gap, Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff wrote earlier this week, “Succeeding now requires us to come together to overcome lower revenue projections and higher cost estimates.” We agree with Sound Transit that time is of the essence. To fill the budget gap caused by COVID, we truly need partnership at every level of government—city, region, state, and federal—working together. 

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Realignment will simultaneously pursue expanded funding while focusing on challenges and opportunities to reduce costs

by PETER ROGOFF, SOUND TRANSIT CEO

8th Avenue W concept for Mariner Station (Makers/Snohomish County)

Completing critical transit investments that regional voters approved in 2016 will not only enhance our mobility, but increase our communities’ economic prosperity, environmental sustainability and social equity. Succeeding now requires us to come together to overcome lower revenue projections and higher cost estimates.

As an agency and region, we find ourselves whiplashed by a unique recession that has decimated revenue sources such as sales taxes, but without slowing our red hot property and construction markets. Other capital programs in rapidly growing regions are also experiencing this double bind that is beyond anything we’ve seen before.

Projects already under construction, including light rail extensions to Lynnwood, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way and Tacoma’s Hilltop neighborhood, are continuing unabated toward on-schedule openings. Of the eight major projects we currently have under construction, seven are either on or ahead of schedule and on or below budget. We are now just months away from opening Link to Northgate, and in the next four years, we will almost triple our light rail system from 22 to 62 miles.

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The Next Big Step for a Seattle Subway

Part 3 of a three-part series

Seattle Subway goes to the Legislature.

[UPDATE: The hearing has been moved to February 9th. There is no updated link at this time.]

We’re very excited to announce HB 1304, a bill to enable local rapid transit funding, is now live with its first hearing scheduled on Wednesday, February 3rd 9th at 10 am. This bill will give Seattle the tools we need to build a citywide, high quality transit system the right way. The system the city has dreamed of ever since the Bogue plan was presented in 1911.

HB 1304 will help us solve a lot of problems:

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

How to deliver ST3 in Seattle

Part 2 of a series

Sound Transit recently delivered some disappointing news about their estimates for ST3 project costs. When paired with decreased revenue due to Covid-19, the projected 50% increase to Ballard and West Seattle cost estimates present a gloomy outlook for the projects. There is a lot of hard work ahead, but it’s still possible for Sound Transit to deliver the high quality system voters approved. Transit improvements are still essential to our city and these projects must be delivered. We need to look hard at a combination of new funding sources and value engineering to get this plan back on the right track. However, making major decisions about the quality, scope, and schedule of ST3 this year is a mistake with long reaching consequences.

The underlying reasons to build transit in Seattle haven’t changed. Seattleites still want fast, reliable, convenient, low-carbon ways to get around the city. Voters have repeatedly reaffirmed their desire to make progress on transit — including November’s vote that passed by over 60 points in the middle of a pandemic. Seattleites believe in a post- pandemic future, and we need to make sure Sound Transit delivers the progress they demand.

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

The case for transit: 2021 edition

Part 1 of a series

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

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, questions about whether transit will thrive post-pandemic have been floating around. In our long term view, the human tendency to gather and the need for urban mobility has not gone away. While the pandemic has paused life for a while, and Zoom has made working from afar possible, none of that has changed human nature, or radically affected the tools we need to combat climate change.

Our species still requires connection. If history is any indicator, post-pandemic we will still have social events, shop in urban villages, and cluster where other people are. We will do these things because we are hardwired to value them. Not only does human nature point to this need for cities, climate science demands we double down on them. Don’t just take my word for it—let’s dive into a city doing it right.

The (thankfully) ex-First Lady likes to say “Be Best.” On transportation, we just say “Be Paris.”

Continue reading “The case for transit: 2021 edition”

How important is Link to the network?

Souls Boarding & Deboarding at International District Station

Like many transit agencies, Sound Transit predicts a constrained financial future and has cut transit service. Under Sound Transit’s initial 2021 Service Plan, Link would have continued its current operational pattern of 8 minute peak frequencies—stepping down to 15 minute and 30 minute frequencies—through 2021. In that document, the agency blames reduced peak hour demand for this proposal. Sound Transit has since backed away from this plan after collecting feedback. Nevertheless, a sole focus on reduced demand ignores the other consequences of infrequent service on Link. These consequences are not abstract; they are quantifiable. Ignoring them significantly and disproportionately reduces the value of the Link in Seattle. We should expect more effort to analyze the consequences of these reductions in much greater detail.

While ridership-based measurements, like Sound Transit’s citation of peak hour demand, are pervasive, they are quite limited. They are subject to errors and bias from sampling. More concerning, they tightly couple observed demand for transit with actual desire for transit. In doing so, they assert that demand for a transit route is a consequence of the area the route serves. They fail to consider that the underlying quality of transit service also drives use. Ridership-based measurements are logical to use when adding service: a crowded bus is a clear sign that more capacity is warranted. When used in reverse, they create cycles where low ridership drives a reduction in frequencies, making transit less practical and dissuading potential riders further. In reality, adoption of transit depends on both the needs of people served by transit and the qualities of the transit network that serves them. Unfortunately Sound Transit’s explanation of its service reductions only guesses at the future of the former while saying nothing of the latter.

Continue reading “How important is Link to the network?”

Metro celebrates an all-hybrid/electric fleet

A 30′ Gillig Phantom seen on route 331 in 2009, photo by the author

On Friday Metro celebrated the retirement of the last diesel bus—part of the fleet dubbed “the 1100s”. Metro’s fleet is now comprised only of diesel-electric hybrids, battery-powered buses, and electric trolleys. To celebrate, a “Gold Tire” retirement ceremony was held to recognize the last bus, which will be preserved by the Metro Employee Historic Vehicle Association (MEHVA) which you might be able to ride some day.

The ceremony comes several months after the last trip operated by an 1100 series bus, which last saw service in late March 2020, when route 200 was suspended. The first of the 1100s entered service in 1999. A more recent addition–the D40LF or “3600s” made by New Flyer, were added to the fleet in 2003 and last saw service in April 2020.

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The ferries and Reconnect West Seattle

by ADAM SCHECHTER

Souls Waiting to Board the West Seattle Water Taxi 27 Sept 2019

SDOT’s plan for replacing 4,800 cars per hour that used the West Seattle Bridge at peak includes 950 more people per hour using waterborne transit. Once Covid has receded to the point that most people are returning to work, how feasible is this?

The draft SDOT framework requires “options to increase capacity for waterborne transit.” The regular West Seattle Water Taxi boat (Doc Maynard) holds 270 passengers. It generally takes 35-40 minutes to do a round trip, meaning the best case capacity is about 400 people per hour in one direction.

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Action Alert: Tell Council to Save Transit Funding

Nose Of A 2018 New Flyer Industries XDE60

Last Friday, the Seattle City Council Transportation committee met and passed an initial round of amendments to a proposed Transportation Benefits District (TBD) on to full council.  The last amendment, to increase the funding from 0.1% to 0.2% sales tax, was proposed by CM Tammy Morales and eventually withdrawn so that council could have more time to consider and get feedback from their constituents. 

Though we agree with the concerns voiced in council that adding a regressive sales tax is not ideal, the proposed plan would cut TBD service funding by 75%: a far more regressive outcome.  This funding is needed to maintain bus service that an increasing number of Seattlites will depend on just as we try to recover from a recession that is hitting people with lower incomes the hardest.  

This change means replacing the $60 Vehicle Licensing Fee (VLF) from 2014’s TBD with a 0.1% sales tax, which will still represent a tax cut for households with lower incomes who own a car.  A household would have to spend $60,000, not including rent or groceries, to match the VLF for one car. For lower income households that already fully rely on transit, cutting service could be devastating.

Full council is meeting next Monday, 7/27, to finalize the package that will appear on the ballot.  Please join us in letting the City Council and The Mayor know that you support the full .2% TBD and emergency funding for transit next year using this quick form.

Action Alert: Save Transit, Fully Fund the TBD

The most progressive change we can make to the proposed Seattle Transportation Benefit District (TBD) is to make it larger.  Even if we focus on funding transit service as we urged last week, the initial proposal of a .1% sales tax with nothing to replace the current $60 Vehicle Licensing Fee will mean big transit cuts.  Those cuts won’t be academic, they will mean cutting critical service just when many Seattleites will need it the most.

After I-976 passed last year it took away the city’s ability to include a Vehicle Licensing Fee as part of the new TBD.  This would mean about a 50% cut to the TBD funding in normal times, but in the post Covid-19 recession, the cuts are much bigger.  Sales tax receipts have fallen off a cliff and the recovery could be slow.  We should be looking to use all the funding available in the TBD, the full .2% sales tax, so that we can return service after as the recession wanes – but we should also be looking for emergency funding for next year.  

Though sales tax is a regressive funding source, it’s far better than cutting the transit people will increasingly rely on. This recession is hitting people who were already struggling to afford Seattle the hardest. About 19% of Seattle households don’t own a car and that number will almost certainly rise – cars are expensive.  Inaction means forcing people on a tight budget to buy a car or continue to maintain a car because transit doesn’t serve their needs.  

Metro should also be looking to structure service to match the demand that exists rather than demand that used to exist.  Focus funding on supporting people trying to get to jobs that don’t conform to 9-5 schedules downtown.  Transit needs to be flexible and support people’s individual economic recoveries.

We have to think about this in post Covid-19 terms.  This is a ballot measure for November with funding that won’t start until April of 2021.  As the pandemic fades and more people have to rely on transit, demand will go up sharply.  Our transit agencies will need to be responsive and meet that demand where it is – and have the funding to back it up.  

We should also be looking to improve transit funding for the future.  The legislature has the power to enact progressive options for future transit funding packages. A future TBD should be at the King County level and use a progressive funding source.  That work needs to start now so that we’re not having this same conversation again in a few years.

There is a Seattle City Council meeting on the proposed Transit Benefit District this morning at 10 am.  Please join us in urging the council to be bold and save our transit by:

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

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

Use the Seattle TBD to fund transit service

This week, a new proposal for a Seattle Transit Benefit District (TBD) was released by the mayor’s office.  As presented, it’s about half the size of the 2014’s wildly successful TBD that contributed to our US leading ridership growth.  Putting aside our desire for a larger measure, we have major concerns about what was included in this initial proposal.  The primary focus of this transit service measure has to be funding transit service.

Let’s turn those orange bars blue

We take issue with the capital spending in this proposal.  “Transit Infrastructure & Maintenance” somehow includes fixing potholes.  Major sources of road funding are restricted and can’t be used for transit so we have to guard what precious available transit funding we have against becoming another bucket for road maintenance funding.  We also question the other fuzzy goals of the capital section.  We already funded signal priority and spot improvements with Move Seattle, though these are generally good goals, being general just isn’t good enough when funds are this tight.

This measure has to be about emergency funding for transit service. We can make this measure better by moving the money allocated to capital to transit service.  That change would increase annual service funding by 52% vs the proposed plan.

While we would have preferred a larger measure to build on what the 2014 TBD accomplished and provide more service for essential workers, we understand that it’s a difficult time for people and a regressive tax is a hard pill to swallow.  We think funding transit service with a regressive tax is progressive on balance, but know that the politics are difficult right now.  As we come out of this uneven recession more people will have to rely on transit, cars are expensive and bills related to cars can be a lead weight on the finances of someone who is already struggling.

This measure can be a lifeline for people.  It can fund critical transit that will help people get through this difficult time.  Including funding for West Seattle, Low Income Fares, and fares for students are all good decisions and work towards that goal. We have to be smart about how we allocate funds in this new reality, and the proposed capital funding just doesn’t meet the current need.

Please join us in testifying to council the need to remove the capital funding from this proposed measure and use that funding for vital transit service.  You can sign up to testify tomorrow, 7/10/20, starting at 8 am.