District 2 has seven candidates for an open seat on the Seattle City Council. While none of them are uniformly outstanding on transit and land use issues, some are much better than others. As a reminder, here’s our rating system.
The two candidates in this tier share a lot of common ground. They are both for safer streets, more housing types in single family zones, and prioritizing transit. In both cases, concern about displacement veers into unproductively demonizing developers. We would not characterize them as transit wonks, and there are occasional positions we don’t like in their policy mix. But we believe the impact of either overall would be strongly positive.
Endorsements for city council races are starting to trickle in, and we are hard at work on ours as well.
With regards to the City Council, we have many, many candidates who are seeking their first office. This new council will see many important issues over the next few years. Some that are top of mind for us include:
Lifting the apartment ban on the majority of Seattle’s residential land
Keeping large housing projects from getting bogged down in NIMBY complaints
Staying strong on bike and bus priority in the face of parochial (or mayoral) pressure
Increasing funding for buses, either through a renewed Seattle TBD or another measure, hopefully in a way that helps get buses out of traffic
Unlike previous cycles, rather than select a single candidate we will rate candidates as “Excellent”, “Good”, “Fair,” or “Poor” based on their estimated policy impact, positive or negative, on transit and land use progress in Seattle. As most candidates in city council races don’t have any legislative or political experience, we’ll rely what’s in their platform and what they’ve said at various debates.
Here’s how we define those terms. This is evolving so we reserve the right to be inconsistent, but we’ll do our best to explain our thinking.
Excellent candidates are ones who have a passion for transit-related issues and the desire to spend political capital making our issues their issues. It’s one thing to call for the elimination of single-family zoning in a debate, it’s quite another to craft the policy and push it over the finish line.
Good candidates are ones we mostly agree with on issues but we either have some reservations or we don’t think that transit is a particular focus or passion.
Fair candidates we may disagree with on one or two major things and are at best a continuation of the status quo on the council.
Poor candidates are unqualified or hold many positions we actively disagree with.
The first round will come shortly. For city council, we’ll be offering ratings in Districts 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7. Lisa Herbold in D1 hasn’t drawn any pro-transit/pro-density opposition, so we’ll save our ink.
In the meantime, let us know in the comments if there are any suburban races we should be thinking about.
The editorial board consists of Martin Duke, Brent White, and Frank Chiachiere
The long-awaited second generation of Link light rail trains has arrived at Sound Transit’s OMF in SoDo. The Siemens-built S70 car was put on display for local media on Wednesday, giving a small look into the future of our light rail system.
The display car, number 202, is the first of 152 Siemens light rail vehicles that were ordered by Sound Transit in 2016 for use on the ST2 extensions (including those that rolled over into ST3), covering Northgate Link, East Link, Lynnwood Link, and Federal Way Link. The $624.5 million contract covers all 152 vehicles, which are being manufactured and tested by Siemens in Sacramento, California. The ST3 extensions beyond 2025 will be served by a third generation that will require a new bidding process, and potentially more design changes if necessary.
Sound Transit expects to receive one to three vehicles per month through the end of the order in 2024, with many cars slated to also fill the under-construction OMF East in Bellevue. Following a few months of testing and commissioning, the first of the new Siemens cars will enter service in early 2020. Northgate Link will require 40 cars, while East Link will take up 112; both sets will be shared with the Lynnwood and Federal Way extensions.
The new Siemens cars will run in separate trainsets from the old Kinikisharyo cars, which will be pulled from service and trucked to Bellevue while undergoing minor software change to prepare them for East Link service, namely adding a new speed setting for the Bel-Red section’s 25 mph limit. Yes, this means that four-car train service will have to wait a bit longer, perhaps until the in-service testing for Northgate Link begins in late 2020.
I recently returned from a week-long trip to three of Canada’s great cities, of which two have already been covered by previous Transit Report Cards (Vancouver and Montreal). While I may return to write about the latter, which has since undergone some significant changes in wayfinding, today’s transit report is focused on the third and final stop on my journey: Ottawa, the national capital.
Ottawa’s transit system has some interesting quirks, namely its reliance on an extensive system of dedicated busways (named the Transitway) and its impending switch to light rail in the coming weeks. Some of its quirks are quite familiar to those of us in the Puget Sound region, as shown below, but I think there are some good lessons that can be learned from the system that OCTranspo (the city’s transit operator) has developed.
Trillium Line (diesel light rail) – Bayview to Greensboro
Various Transitway routes – Fallowfield to Downtown to Blair
Earlier this year, the King County Council ordered a review of funding options for Metro Connects. This Wednesday, the Regional Transit Committee receives a status update on the effort. It considers a $220 million increase in annual funding for Metro, enough to get Metro to its long-range service goals.
Metro Connects is Metro’s long range plan, designed to integrate with Sound Transit expansion through 2040 and to meet the transit needs of city and County comprehensive plans. The Metro Connects plan, adopted in 2015, envisions a 70% increase in Metro bus service hours by 2040 over 2015 levels. That would increase transit ridership to 1 million daily boardings, and enable frequent service within 1/2 mile for 73% of county residents.
Metro’s current funding isn’t enough to reach this goal. Tax and fare revenue grow naturally over time as the economy and population expand, but only by enough to cover 30% of the additional capital costs and 50% of the extra service hours identified. The under-funding of Metro Connects has already led to the deferral of several RapidRide Lines that were hoped to open by 2025. That gap would widen if the Seattle Proposition 1 is not renewed in 2020. The Seattle TBD pays for about 10% of current service hours.
It appears Seattle may finally allow various types of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADU) in most of the city. These units generally provide inexpensive rental opportunities, but are frequently illegal to build.
For a summary of where we stand today, you can’t do much better than the City’s onepager. (A somewhat longer summary is here.) The changes are projected to add over 2,000 new rental units over the regulatory status quo through 2027 and reduce the number of single-family teardowns by almost a quarter.
The proposed legislation would make changes to regulations governing ADUs; the changes include: allowing two ADUs on a lot, removing the existing off-street parking and owner-occupancy requirements for ADUs, introducing a Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limit for single-family lots, increasing the maximum household size for lots that have two ADUs, and other changes to the size and location development standards regulating DADUs.
There are 11 amendments under consideration. Probably the most impactful ones are CM Herbold’s separate proposals to ban short-term rentals in ADUs authorized by the bill, for obvious reasons, and restoring a milder form of the owner-occupancy requirement. Applicants would have to lived there for a year before applying, though they would not have to remain there to rent out this space. This amendment is meant to limit “speculation.”
The two material objections to more ADUs are (1) more competition for publicly provided parking spaces, and (2) the possibility of poorer people living in the neighborhood. As neither is particularly attractive as a public policy principle, we instead hear process objections (the subject of the recently dismissed lawsuit) and concerns about neighborhood “character” and aesthetics.
Although I personally find single-family homes bigger than about 3,000 square feet aesthetically displeasing, in principle I’m not a fan of simply banning them. However, if new restrictions neutralize the “character” objection, it’s a compromise I can live with to get more units per acre. If this compromise also incentivizes making large units easily divisible into separate rental units, so much the better.
The Sustainability and Transportation Committee will discuss the legislation on June 18th and may vote on it then.
There are two possible futures for Cascade rail
service. Are they mutually exclusive?
It’s been a whiplash-inducing year for intercity passenger rail in the US. The “Green New Deal” suggests the possibility of sweeping high speed investments at the same time as California’s project is retrenching. Colorado, a growing Western state where the population is similarly concentrated along a single north-south interstate, is starting to think about intercity passenger rail service. And here in Washington, Governor Inslee continues to move forward a high-speed rail business plan and the legislature continues to dribble out funds to study it, while at the same time WSDOT picks up the pieces from the DuPont crash.
watchers, though, know there’s another, older plan for upgrading interstate
rail service. Released in 2007, the Long
Range Plan for Amtrak Cascades was created to guide Cascades development
through 2023. According to WSDOT’s Janet
Malkin, this plan is very much alive and we should expect an update by the end
of the year.
The Long Range Plan (LRP), which we’ve covered previously, envisions a Seattle-Portland running time of 2.5 hours, down from nearly 3.5 today, and 14 daily departures. Seattle-Vancouver would similarly be about 2.5 hours and have 4 trains/day. It proposes dozens of projects, including double and triple tracking, high-speed bypasses, and new high-speed track. Trains would still be diesel, and have a top speed of 110mph.
The 2007 publication of the LRP was fortuitous. Just two years later, the world would be mired in recession and the Obama administration, in search of signature high-speed rail stimulus projects, would eventually steer $800M in federal funds to Washington State rail. Thanks to the LRP, the state had a bunch of off-the-shelf projects to submit. After governors in Florida and Wisconsin rejected the money, Washington ended up with a windfall. 20 projects were funded, including the purchase of new locomotives and a rehab of King Street Station.
With the Point
Defiance Bypass now complete,
the stimulus projects are officially over (though work continues on mudslide mitigation
and a new Ballard ship canal crossing). It’s time to think about what’s next: Should
the state choose going forward: incrementally update the existing rail
corridor, or build an entirely new one, as the Governor’s HSR plan envisions? Do we even need to choose?
The Moving All Seattle Sustainably Coalition held its forum for Seattle District 2 city council candidates on May 28, 2019. Rooted in Rights made the video. Go to their website if the above video doesn’t work on your platform. Rooted in Rights also provided a transcript for the forum.
Candidates attending included, from left to right:
Advocates in King County say they have raised concerns about Access for more than a decade, but it wasn’t until 2015 that the county began planning for an audit of the service, said Deputy King County Auditor Ben Thompson.
Among them: limited payment options; lack of outreach to low-income populations, communities of color and people with limited English proficiency; inadequate oversight over contractors and ineffective punishments for poor service; excessively long trips and frequently late or early arrivals.
Paratransit service is mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act. Like many federal mandates, it comes without much funding, making it susceptible to budget cuts when downturns hit. Furthermore, King County ordinances mandate that the service go above and beyond the ADA minimum.
My understanding is that, at the low point, there were just a half-dozen Metro employees overseeing what was one of the largest contracts in King County, down from more than triple that before the financial crisis.
This new contract will take some of the customer service aspects back in-house, meaning Metro should be more responsive to problems.
The original genius (or sin, if you prefer) of the legislation that created Sound Transit was that it yoked together the region’s high capacity transit needs. The suburbs and the cities had to work together to get what they wanted, or no one would get anything, like a municipal prisoner’s dilemma.
The West Seattle – Ballard link extension (“WSBLE” in Sound Transit’s lingo) is pushing that 25-year-old decision to its limits. Pierce and Snohomish County reps want WSBLE to be fast and cheap, lest it jeopardize the extensions to Tacoma and Everett (to some of them, WSBLE it isn’t part of the “spine,” so the whole thing is a kind of agency scope creep anyway). Seattle reps, meanwhile, are hearing an earful from their voters and maritime interests about elevated alignments at the termini. These reps also know that without the votes from Seattle’s west side neighborhoods, there might not have been enough support to get ST3 over the finish line to begin with, and certainly not enough money to support Snohomish’s speculative and expensive detour to Paine Field.
The congestion pricing study attempted to apply objective criteria to various options. Regardless of the policy merits, it’s a good bet that the choice will be the one with a political coalition to pass it. Who wins and who loses from such a plan?
For bus riders, pricing is overwhelmingly positive. Fewer cars means buses will be faster, and usually the fee is used to add transit. Perhaps the only downside is more crowded vehicles.
For bicyclists and pedestrians, it’s unclear. The zone would have lower car volumes but higher speeds. But if many people are diverted to bikes, numbers increase safety.
That’s a good chunk of who’s going downtown, but the attitudes of drivers are going to be important. For pricing to work, someone has to be deterred off the road, and those people aren’t going to be happy with the deterrence.
The draft ST3 plan in March 2016 extended rail beyond Lynnwood in two steps. The first, in 2036, would bring service to North Lynnwood, serving stations at West Alderwood Mall, Ash Way, and Mariner. The second, in 2041, extended around the SW Everett Industrial Center (Paine Field) and north to Everett Station.
When the plan was finalized two months later, the extensions were combined so the Paine Field and Everett stations would open served five years earlier. It was a telling decision that all the extra financial resources of the final plan were put into the northern segment. This looks like an error. While all parts of Everett Link have their value, the immediate rider needs are mostly between Lynnwood and Mariner.
Rearranging the Snohomish subarea resources could still open those stations by about 2030. The trade-off is that accelerating some capital spending generally means delays elsewhere. This may mean a later opening of service to Paine Field and Everett where the need for light rail is less urgent.
Famously, Snohomish County has bad traffic, the worst in the nation by some measures. A significant part of this stems from the booming bedroom communities from which thousands commute daily to Seattle. Almost as many Snohomish residents work in King County (145,000) as in Snohomish (158,000). For those who use transit, Lynnwood Link will deliver faster and more reliable travel times. It could serve these riders even more efficiently with more stations a little further north to intercept buses from across the County.
Wherever long escalators are required to travel between the train platform and street level, redundant escalators should be provided. This could have been accomplished with a single bank of at least four escalators, or two banks of at least three escalators, etc. With a bank of four escalators, one escalator being out of service would be a minor inconvenience at worst. Even with half the escalators out of service, access to and from the station could be maintained …
Beyond the number of escalators at each station, there is also the issue of the escalators themselves. Broken escalators have been a near-constant bane to riders using the Capitol Hill and UW stations since their opening in 2016, to the point that Sound Transit is already planning to replace all 13 escalators at UW less than four years after that station’s completion.
But Sound Transit apparently felt differently back when planning the Capitol Hill and UW stations. According to a source familiar with the design process who declined to be named for this article, Sound Transit insisted on specifying medium-duty “better” escalators at these stations as a cost-saving measure, and then cobbled together a myriad series of customizations to bring them up to heavy-duty standards. As we now know, the reliability of these Frankenstein escalators hasn’t exactly been stellar, and Sound Transit will soon spend a fortune to replace them with more robust, off-the-shelf models. Some old adage comes to mind about how it’s better to do something right the first time than to do it over again.
Seattle’s Congestion Pricing Report looked at ten different schemes that could reduce the volume of cars in congested areas, from variations on a toll, to bans on non-electric or non-autonomous vehicles, to allowing only certain license plate numbers on a given day.
After considering environmental impacts, congestion reduction, equity, and feasibility, SDOT ended up with four alternatives:
Cordon Pricing, which charges drivers for crossing a boundary into a sensitive area (like Stockholm);
Area Pricing, which adds a fee for driving around within the cordon in addition to the boundary toll (like London);
Fleet Pricing, which tolls a particular type of vehicle fleet, like commercial vehicles, or taxis and taxi-like services (like New York is planning); and
a “Road Usage Charge” that ” restrict[s] access to a zone to vehicles enrolled in a RUC program that levies a per-mile charge,” kinda like the WSDOT pilot for a vehicle-miles-traveled (VMT) tax.