South Bellevue garage to open in September

South Bellevue garage facade and station. Image: Sound Transit

As the Sound Transit 3 news gets worse and worse, Sound Transit 2 continues a stream of good news as the bulk of the projects converge on opening. Today, we found out the South Bellevue parking garage will open in September, which restores the spaces for route 550 and 241 riders, and then some. This may be as much as two years before the Link line itself.

The garage has 1,500 spaces.

This publication is not a big fan of parking garages. But if there’s anywhere in the Link system there ought to be a garage, it’s here: hemmed in by a wetland and a neighborhood that won’t countenance upzoning (also up a steep hill), this station exists because it is on the way to downtown Bellevue, sits at an elbow in the line that allows it to draw from a wide swath of the Eastside, and proximity to two interstates.

Sound Transit committee gets a closer look at West Seattle & Ballard cost increases

Sound Transit’s System Expansion Committee heard a deeper dive on the recent increase in costs for Seattle Link projects at their meeting Thursday. A long list of revisions to property costs and construction plans contributed to a more than $4 billion increase in the overall cost of the project just since last year.

The incremental cost of tunnel alternatives, however, are now much closer to elevated alternatives, though only because the representative elevated alternatives are so much more expensive. Board members gave no hint of how they would respond to the affordability gap on the project, though there was enthusiasm for adding tunnels as they would not make the needed delays so much greater.

In 2019 dollar terms, the West Seattle-Ballard Link Extension (WSBLE) had an estimated capital cost of $7.1 billion in the ST3 plan. By 2019, that had been revised upwards to $7.9 billion, reflecting some mix of the preferred alternative choices made by the Board and underlying inflation in costs. The most recent estimates, with the benefit of more detailed investigation since the Board selected preferred alternatives for the EIS, raises this to a range of $12.1 billion to $12.6 billion. The lower number is for an elevated Fauntleroy terminus in West Seattle, the higher for an elevated station on 41st/42nd in West Seattle.

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Help guide Metro’s return to service

Orange Shoes and Shorts

As the County returns to full economic life, Metro is ramping up service. In keeping with their normal service reorganization procedure, there will be a citizen advisory board:

We are looking for participants for a workshop to provide input on how we prioritize what service to restore. 

Participants will: 

·         Attend a virtual workshop in the first two weeks of February 2021 to review Metro’s response to the COVID outbreak, 

·         Help Metro planning staff evaluate what types of service are most important to communities, 

·         Be compensated for their time and participation, and 

·         Be accommodated through interpretation and ADA access, as needed.  

If you are interested in this opportunity to participate in Metro’s planning, please respond to by January 21, 2021.

Longtime readers know I did one of these boards back in 2008 (unfortunately for me, well before one got paid to do so). It was an interesting window into the many considerations planners actually balance, as well as an education into what ordinary people in your community really think.

As always, I think people with a solid grasp of planning principles and a system view can be a useful corrective to narrower interests, as long they are willing to listen, open-minded, and empathetic.

News roundup: resuming

King County Metro

This is an open thread.

West Seattle camera enforcement coming this week

SDOT blog:

Beginning today, January 11, 2021, the automated photo enforcement system on the Spokane St Swing Bridge (low bridge) will turn on, and unauthorized low bridge users will be subject to a $75 citation for every trip across the low bridge

To keep the low bridge clear for emergency vehicles – as well as transit and heavy freight – we’re saying, “don’t go low.” Instead, please use alternate routes when traveling to and from West Seattle by car. We will be monitoring low bridge traffic volumes in early 2021, and the data from January and future months will inform whether we can expand access. See our webpage for more details. 

West Seattle folks – let us know in the comments if anything’s improved.

West Seattle-Ballard Link costs revised more than $4 billion higher

This potential station site in West Seattle was a strip mall when the ST3 plan estimates were being developed. (image: Sound Transit)

Sound Transit has revealed sharply higher capital cost estimates for several ST3 projects that are in development but not yet baselined (i.e. the Board has not yet selected the alternative to be built or finalized the cost and schedule estimates). The worst news is in Seattle. The West Seattle to Ballard Link extension (WSBLE) is now expected to come in at $12.1 to $12.6 billion for the preferred elevated alignments, $5.0 to $5.5 billion higher than projected in ST3 (all 2019 $). $4 billion of that cost increase has emerged in just the last year as the initial alternatives selected for the EIS have been fleshed out.

The news was delivered to the Sound Transit Executive Committee earlier today, and further detailed in a memo released after the meeting. Cumulatively, the cost estimate increases across all projects run to $7.9 billion in 2019 dollars. That would be about $12 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars on current project schedules, though those schedules will be inevitably extended.

If realized, such costs would make it very difficult for Sound Transit to complete Link extensions to both West Seattle and Ballard anywhere close to the ST3 timeframe, even if Seattle forgoes more expensive tunneling and other options that could add up to $1.7 billion more to the price tag (though the relative cost of below-ground vs above-ground shifts in favor of tunnels as above-ground land acquisition becomes more expensive).

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News roundup: about right

waiting for the bus

This is an open thread.

What’s the point of RapidRide?

RapidRide R Concept via Metro

Ashley Archibald reports some locals aren’t so sad Metro is shelving RapidRide R (Rainier):

Much of the Rainier Valley community “doesn’t really want the RapidRide R,” Kidde [of Rainier Valley Greenways] said, adding that they don’t like the reduction in the number of stops, the removal of the Prentice loop at the south end of the route nor the RapidRide-style fare enforcement where officers check payment on the bus. Advocates fear that the new fare enforcement will result in disproportionate enforcement against people of color.

Important source material includes longtime 7 driver Nathan Vass’ essay opposing the R line. It has some valuable firsthand testimony and some ideas I completely agree with. It also has not a lot of data and a weird assertion that RapidRide “counts as gentrification.”

Notably, Metro is going ahead with the BAT lanes, probably the most important substantive improvement. But really, what is RapidRide?

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What to watch for: 2021

Northgate Station

2020 was not… great, but 2021 will be a major year for transit openings and restructuring:

Most read & commented STB posts of 2020

Sound Transit - Central Link Light Rail
In 2020, Pioneer Square Station got a center platform, sort of. (photo credit: Busologist)

As this tumultuous year comes to a close, it’s time to look back on what the year has brought us. It all started with Connect/2020, which now feels like a distant memory. From there, we saw COVID-19 spread throughout the world and into our communities, with major repercussions on all aspects of life in 2020 and beyond.

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News roundup: testing

M/V Evergreen State waiting off Fauntleroy

This is an open thread.

Feds sending relief to local transit agencies


This makes new bill more responsive to the specific budget problems each agency is facing due to COVID. Many regions underfunded in the CARES Act (like New York and Seattle) are now in line to receive proportionally more from this package. Others received aid greater than 75% of their operating costs in the CARES Act, so they would not get additional funds through this bill. Many fall in between, with grants that bring them up to the 75% cap.

Yonah Freemark has more estimates on Twitter:

The bulk of the funds will presumably go to Metro and Sound Transit.

ST suspends fare enforcement another year

Sound Transit Fare Enforcement...

In addition to formally approving lower concession fares for Sounder, last week the Sound Transit board approved a fare enforcement pilot which would replace fare enforcement security contractors with Sound Transit staff “fare ambassadors” with different uniforms and an emphasis on rider education and de-escalation. As part of the pilot, there will be no citations in 2021.

The board is pushing the clearly reluctant CEO, Peter Rogoff, to severely weaken the threat of getting caught. The “Fare Enforcement Action Plan,” a guideline for what the Board expects from staff in 2022, envisions no law enforcement involvement in pure payment disputes, more warnings, and a lower fine.

The big question, of course, is if lax enforcement eventually leads to much less observance by the fare-paying public. Letting the poorest riders keep their $1.50 will not make a real difference in Sound Transit’s finances, but broader indifference to fares (which some activists ultimately want) definitely would.

An alternative to Link station pictograms

As Link’s map expands, the already detailed pictograms will become less legible.

Each Link light rail station has a pictogram as a secondary identifier intended for people with limited English language proficiency. However well intentioned, the pictograms are poorly implemented and lack a logical system underlying their construction.

The last time we wrote about pictograms was five years ago when Sound Transit unveiled the pictograms for U-Link and Northgate Link. With nineteen new Link stations projected to open in 2023 and 2024, it is near time to evaluate whether they are fulfilling their purpose and whether other methods are more accessible to all users.

One alternative is station numbering. Each station is assigned a short code consisting of a symbol representing the line and a number representing the station. Countries like China, Japan, South Korea, Singapore, and Thailand use it for aiding visitors unfamiliar with local names and the non-Latin alphabet.

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