The congestion pricing report

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.

Stockholm Cordon Toll (Tage Olson, via SDOT)

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.
Continue reading “The congestion pricing report” | 41 comments

How’s One Center City doing?

RapidRides on 2nd Avenue

If you’re like me, you’ve lost track of all the near-term projects that were supposed to get downtown through a period with multiple disruptive construction projects. It doesn’t help that there’s a near-term set of improvements and other longer-range plans that one can confuse.

Luckily, the City Council mandated that SDOT provide a quarterly report on how the near-term OCC stuff is doing. Here’s a summary of the bus stuff:

  • 5th/6th bus lanes: two blocks on 5th and eight on 6th, done and on-budget.
  • Montlake Triangle: shorter walking distances, a short bus lane, and better turns for buses: on schedule for September. UPDATE: Metro says they’re not going to have buses using these till March 2020.
  • a one-block 4th bus lane and one queue jump: delayed from March to June due to building construction; added savings will get us another queue jump.
  • 2nd/4th signal improvements to speed up buses: done and on-budget.
  • 3rd Ave ORCA Readers/All-door boarding: a year late (to March 2020) and $3m overbudget. “Metro and the design consultant were not familiar with SDOT’s sidewalk restoration standards.” They’re using hand-scanners for now, and savings elsewhere will cover the budget gap.
  • Bigger bus stops and rider environment improvements in Chinatown and Pioneer Square: on track for this September.

On the bike front, all three of the big downtown projects — PBLs on Pike/Pine and 4th, plus the 2nd Ave Extension bike lane — are either behind schedule or threatening to become so.

There are plenty of pedestrian and other programs as well, which you can read about in the report.

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Metro Needs Your Help Toppling Other Metros

(Right picture courtesy of Daniel Schwen/Wikimedia Commons)

For the past two weeks, the American Planning Association has been running a Transit Bracket Challenge, pitting the largest transit agencies in the U.S. against each other in a popularity contest. King County Metro has so far quashed its competition, namely San Francisco’s Muni and the Maryland Transit Administration, leaving us as the sole West Coast representative.

Metro’s winning form has seemingly come teetering to a crawl and is in danger of halting entirely, thanks to its semifinal opponent: the Chicago Transit Authority.

As of writing (near midnight), Metro sits at 44.4%, while Chicago is pulling in 55.6%. Over 17,600 people have already voted in the Metro-CTA matchup, which is more than double the tally for the cross-town MTA-NJ Transit fixture in the other semifinal.

While Metro may not have the history and prestige found in each wooden tie and platform board on the ‘L’, we do punch above our weight in terms of bus ridership. Average weekday ridership on CTA buses is around 765,000, for a metro area of 9.5 million, while Metro carries 402,000 in a metro area half the size of Chicagoland.

And while they may have beat us to the punch in introducing electric battery buses, we’ve still got our reliable old trolleybus system to fall back on while we catch up in battery bus deployment. Our buses are also more frequent, more reliable, and are as busy as it gets in terms of American transit. Plus, we have a dog that regularly rides by herself.

You can vote here. The poll closes on Sunday and you can vote multiple times from multiple devices. The final round starts on Monday and will conclude on Sunday, June 9. The winning agency earns bragging rights at inter-city conferences, while voters can exercise their civic pride in time for the start of Ride Transit Month.

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The Bellevue Transportation Commission is stalling on downtown bicycle lanes

Main St in Bellevue, where a bike lane is being considered (Image: Dan Ryan)

By BRAD HAVERSTEIN

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?

Continue reading “The Bellevue Transportation Commission is stalling on downtown bicycle lanes” | 18 comments

News Roundup: Hiring

A Sound Transit Tacoma Link Car at Union Station Head On
Avgeek Joe/Flickr

This is an open thread.

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Thinking outside the car

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.

Continue reading “Thinking outside the car” | 42 comments

How Seattle can shape an equitable congestion pricing plan

Traffic on Stewart Street (Sounder Bruce – Flickr)

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:

Continue reading “How Seattle can shape an equitable congestion pricing plan” | 63 comments

What makes a train safe?

Cascades at Kelso (WSDOT Photo)

Mike Lindblom, The Seattle Times:

More than 50 Talgo railcars that have served the Amtrak Cascades line since 1998 will be replaced “as soon as possible,” the state announced Wednesday, a day after the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said the lightweight vehicles didn’t adequately shield passengers in the 2017 fatal Amtrak crash near DuPont.

Alon Levy has a blistering response to the NTSB recommendation that is well worth reading in full:

[T]he Talgos on their own, with a typical European locomotive, would not have derailed. Moreover, after the derailment, they stayed upright, unlike the Amtrak coaches in Philadelphia or the Metro-North ones in New York. The reason people died is that the train fell from a bridge. As far as factors that are controllable by the coach builder go, the Talgos performed well.

[…]

So why is the NTSB so dead set against them? In three words: not invented here. The Talgos were designed and built in Europe. They are designed around European ideas of crash avoidance. Trains here have buff strength requirements too (and are too heavy as a result), but they’re much laxer than those of last generation’s American regulations, because at the end of the day lighter trains are no less safe than American tanks on rails. Lighter trains, designed to brake more quickly and not to derail in the first place, underlie the superior train safety of Europe to that of the United States – and Europe is downright dangerous compared with Japan, whose ultralight trains kill passengers in crashes at maybe 1/15th the per-passenger-km rate of American ones.

Replacing all 4 Series VI train sets would cost about $100M, according to the Times piece.  WSDOT doesn’t have to follow the NTSB recommendation, but it seems like they want to.

Continue reading “What makes a train safe?”

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News Roundup: Hat Trick

5th & Marion (SDOT)

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Reevaluating Woodinville BRT

Woodinville
Woodinville (Image: SounderBruce)

Work has begun on SR 522 BRT, with the first BAT lanes in Bothell coming online in late 2020, and Sound Transit’s Stride BRT service opening in 2024. Although phase 1 design recently concluded and the project is now entering the Conceptual Engineering and Environmental process, planners continue to evaluate how to serve the low-ridership Woodinville segment.

The BRT extends from the Shoreline Link rail station along NE 145th where Sound Transit will add bus queue bypasses and signal priority for transit at key intersections. On SR 522, the patchwork of existing BAT (business access & transit) lanes will be filled in to create an uninterrupted lane for transit from 145th to Bothell. In Bothell, the BRT is likely to operate on downtown streets, serving UW Bothell and connecting to I-405 BRT at NE 195th St.

Beyond that, there is a 3.5-mile segment to the Woodinville Park & Ride where the planned service is more basic. The ST3 plan does not fund any capital improvements east of I-405 and the buses operate in general purpose freeway lanes on I-405 and SR 522. The 10-minute headways west of I-405 drop to every 20 minutes into Woodinville.

Expectations for ridership on the Woodinville segment are low. Sound Transit models suggest 8,800 daily boardings on the BRT in 2042, of which just 100 are at the Woodinville stop.

SR 522 BRT
SR 522 BRT, with exclusive ROW in blue and purple. Woodinville segment in green. (image: Sound Transit, click to enlarge)

Continue reading “Reevaluating Woodinville BRT”

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7 Takeaways from the Point Defiance NTSB Hearing

Schematic of the 2017 crash site (NTSB)

The National Transportation Safety Board held a hearing yesterday on the fatal December 2017 Amtrak derailment on the Point Defiance Bypass. The Seattle Times, Trains, and Curbed have reports. Here are a few takeaways, after watching the briefing:

Responsibility for safety was diffused, but the buck stops with Sound Transit. Amtrak, the Federal Railroad Administration, Sound Transit, WSDOT… with so many agencies involved, lines of accountability were unclear. Amtrak’s role, in particular, is ambiguous – the company owns neither the tracks nor the trains, but as the nation’s passenger rail operator it is supposed to oversee pre-revenue testing and certify the plans.  In the end, the investigators made one thing clear: “Sound Transit had the ultimate responsibility to ensure that that project, the point defiance bypass, was safe and ready for revenue operations.” Additionally, investigators called out ST, which owns the tracks as the “host railroad,” for providing insufficient signage and schedules for the bypass.

There was a general lack of training. The crew lacked familiarity with the Siemens Charger and didn’t know what to do when the “overspeed” warnings started going off (which was actually a separate issue from the failure to see the curve). Neither the conductor nor the engineer had enough time with this route and this locomotive.

“Everyone hated that curve,” the engineer told investigators. The curve was extra sharp connecting the bypass to the main line. The Wall Street Journal reported after the crash that the bypass project was value-engineered to save money, resulting in a sharper-than-ideal curve.

Continue reading “7 Takeaways from the Point Defiance NTSB Hearing”

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City Council Candidate Forums

It’s candidate forum time! Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) is hosting events for City Council districts 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7. Tom at Seattle Bike Blog has the dates along with a good summary of what’s at stake:

In some ways, this is harder than passing grand measures because it requires getting dirty and working through the finer details of compromise and change that our city needs if we are going to continue shifting more and more trips to biking, walking and transit. Neighborhood streets need to change. The amount of housing, especially near frequent transit service, needs to grow. Economic, racial and disability barriers need to be torn down. None of this work will be easy, and we will need a Council that is ready to hold the mayor accountable for completing this work.

See also Patrick Taylor, The Urbanist:

The vision involves welcoming new people throughout our city (even in single-family zones) while building more affordable housing so those who are here are not pushed out. In this reality, climate change is real and demands action to re-envision our city and prioritize pedestrians, people biking, transit, and our Vision Zero goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030.

There are a whopping 57 candidates for council this year, according to Erica C. Barnett, who’ll be helping to host the MASS forums along. You can find Facebook links to the forums on the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways Facebook page.

We’ll be doing endorsements again this year. As always, let us know in the comments if there are candidates we should be keeping an eye on or specific criteria to consider.

Update: here’s a list with dates and locations, via TCC< since some have asked.

District 6 Candidate Forum
Tuesday, May 21, 5:30-7:30pm
Phinney Neighborhood Association, 6532 Phinney Ave N.

District 3 Candidate Forum
Thursday, May 23, 7:00-8:30pm
Washington State Labor Council, 321 16th Ave S.

District 2 Candidate Forum
Tuesday, May 28, 6:00-7:30pm
New Holly Gathering Hall, 7054 32nd Ave S.

District 7 Candidate Forum
Wednesday, May 29, 6:00-8:00pm
SEIU 775 Auditorium, 215 Columbia St.

District 4 Candidate Forum
Thursday, May 30, 5:30-7:30pm
Cascade Bicycle Club, 7787 62nd Ave NE.

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Three sites remain for a south light rail maintenance base

aerial view of 344th & I-5 in Federal Way
Aerial view of a potential OMF site at S 344th St in Federal Way. I-5 and the old Weyerhauser campus are in the background (Google)

The Sound Transit board will likely vote on Thursday not to include a controversial Federal Way Kent site on its short list for a South Sound maintenance base.  The system expansion committee voted unanimously on May 9 to remove the site, which hosts several auto-oriented retail businesses including a newly-opened Dick’s Drive-In.  It was controversial not only because of the popular fast food chain, but because it would have limited transit-oriented development (TOD) opportunities within the walk shed of a future Link station at Highline Community College.

We wrote about the site and the challenges of another controversial site, the nearby Midway landfill, back in January.  Since then, ST has been narrowing sites for consideration.  The Kent Reporter, which has had excellent coverage of the maintenance base issue, notes that we’re down to three sites:

  • Midway Landfill, west of Interstate 5, which has been closed since the 1980s and is owned by Seattle Public Utilities. Estimated cost: $1.3 billion
  • South 336th Street near I-5, which is the location of the Christian Faith Center church in Federal Way. Estimated cost: $750 million
  • South 344th Street near I-5, which is an industrial area in Federal Way, includes several businesses: Garage Town, which offers private custom storage facility; an RV storage facility; and Ellenos Yogurt Factory. Estimated cost: $800 million

At the time of the 2016 ballot, ST has assumed that the OMF would be located “in the Federal Way to Tacoma corridor.”  Last spring, however, the agency came to realize that the facility would be needed in service by 2026 in order to be ready for the West Seattle link extension, per Scott Thompson, a ST spokesperson.  That means placing it further north, either within the Federal Way extension (opening 2024) or very close by, in such a way as to “avoid pre-determining the location of the South Federal Way station.”

The decision to remove the Dick’s site was a good one. While it’s hard to imagine a more anti-TOD business than a drive in restaurant, politics makes strange bedfellows. If the presence of Dick’s today makes it easier to protect a future TOD development site down the road, so be it.

Of the sites remaining, Midway is estimated to cost half a billion more than the other two sites (for context, a West Seattle tunnel is pegged at $700m). While it may seem convenient to raid ST’s bank account to pay for toxic clean up (as Federal Way’s mayor has suggested), surely that money could be used more wisely for actual transit. I’m no expert on brownfield redevelopment, but reading the EPA’s Superfund page about the landfill makes me want to think twice about locating an employment center there.

Fortunately, there seems like an obvious solution. The site at 344th & I-5 scores the best on Sound Transit’s scorecard (see p. 53 of this technical analysis).  A collection of low slung auto-oriented buildings across the street from a Walmart, it’s far enough from a station not to interfere with future TOD opportunities.  And the price is right, too.

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Interstate 5 Turns 50 and Shows Its Age

Downtown Seattle and the newly-built Interstate 5, as seen in 1966 (Seattle Municipal Archives)

On May 14, 1969, the final section of Interstate 5 opened between Everett and Marysville, forever changing life in the Puget Sound region and completing a new road link to Vancouver, British Columbia. The last of some 276 miles of concrete and asphalt that had been laid down in sections for twenty years had opened up a new frontier for sprawling communities and left U.S. Highway 99 behind to decline.

Now, at over a half-century old, I-5 is something of a necessary evil in eyes of many who live here. Its use of left-hand exits causes traffic to weave and jam, the use of reversible express lanes creates a bottleneck for reverse commuters, and it creates a visual, auditory, and olfactory barrier between the neighborhoods it slices through. But it is also the backbone of the state’s freight movements and our regional express bus system, which is among the best in the nation.

At 50 years of age, I-5 is now chronically congested, seismically vulnerable, and has maintenance issues that often require emergency repairs during the middle of rush hour. The I-5 Systems Partnership was formed by local governments to study near-term solutions and develop a master plan for the 107-mile central corridor, which stretches from Tumwater to Marysville and includes 60 percent of the state’s population (some 4.3 million people, of whom 3.3 million are licensed drivers).

Last month, the I-5 Systems Partnership published its draft call to action, highlighting several proposed solutions to patch and repair our way out of traffic and misery, rather than endlessly expanding the freeway. The report estimates that $5.1 billion would be needed by 2040 to maintain the freeway and its bridges while also upgrading seismically-vulnerable structures and fix pavement issues. With the vast majority of gas tax revenues needed to pay off debt service for other projects, other funding sources will have to be found, such as a congestion charge or per-mile fees.

Continue reading “Interstate 5 Turns 50 and Shows Its Age”

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Give your opinion on Accessible Mt. Baker

Longtime readers know that the Mt. Baker Station area, full of design flaws since Link opened, has long had a plan to improve vehicle flow through it. While there have been some incremental improvements in the transfer between train and bus, the “bowtie” plan might have made a bigger dent in some problematic transit vehicle movements.

After facing some local business opposition, the effort morphed into Accessible Mt. Baker in 2015. The most interesting idea was moving the poorly placed Mt. Baker transit center to provide better transfers. And after a modal plan in 2016, the program has been sitting there since.

Anyhow, there’s another community survey out there, with a deadline of May 20th. This area is an important transit hub, but has to contend with a high volume of vehicles. Pro-transit turnout would be helpful.

The diagram below shows what the plan would mean for bus transfers. Instead of navigating the transit center and dropping off riders to cross Rainier and take an indirect route to the station entrance, many buses would instead circle the station itself and provide an optimal transfer experience. The 7 and 9 would keep their current excellent southbound transfer point, and the northbound stop would have a much more favorable location nearer the entrance.

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News Roundup: Preferred Alternative

East Link over I-405, May 2019 (SounderBruce/wikimedia)

  • Sound Transit committee proposes a “preferred alternative” for Ballard West Seattle, punts difficult decisions at West Seattle Junction, Ballard, Chinatown. The full board is next. WSB has a great summary of some of the friction between those worried about “impacts” and those trying to get it done.
  • Tariffs make ORCA more expensive, agencies eating the increase.
  • ECB curbs your enthusiasm about Mayor Durkan’s scooter announcement.
  • Oversight committee officially requests funding for more of the Move Seattle bike plan.
  • Disability-rights group unhappy with some Portland scooter rules.
  • Link has an uncanny ability to have maintenance problems just as I-5 disintegrates.
  • Kiewit will build Link to Federal Way.
  • Woodinville looking at a “connector bus” to get people to BRT.
  • Olympia did something about housing supply this session – perhaps most notably, many upzones can no longer be challenged in the courts under “environmental” laws.
  • Judge tosses lawsuit ($) against accessory dwelling units and mother-in-law apartments, full speed ahead!
  • PSRC says transit boardings up about 1% last year, tops in the nation among big metro areas. It’s driven mostly by increasing train ridership, still a small fraction of all trips.

This is an open thread.

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