No King County transit ballot measure this year

KCM Route 193 at Tukwila Park and Ride (image: Matthew Bates)

King County voters will not be asked to vote on a Metro funding measure in August after all. In a statement on Monday afternoon, Claudia Balducci announced the decision not to proceed with the countywide measure. This seems to clear the way for Seattle to run a replacement of the expiring taxes for their transportation benefit district in August.

Had the corona virus crisis not intervened, King County was expected to finalize a measure this month funding the service currently paid for by the Seattle TBD and increasing service elsewhere in the County by perhaps 450,000 hours annually (equivalent to just under 10% of total current Metro hours). The King County measure would also have funded a low income free fares program that is already scheduled to launch in June, and might have funded electrification at some bases.

The proposal had obvious challenges. Transit measures are risky with county voters even in a better environment. A loss at the ballot box in August would have meant existing Seattle taxes expiring in December, and it probably would not have been possible to run a replacement Seattle measure before the Spring. A November Seattle measure would have been awkward because it could only be filed before the day of the August election.

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Connect 2020 not done yet

SounderBruce / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)

Sound Transit, yesterday:

Work to complete the construction joining new light rail to the Eastside into the existing system, known as Connect 2020, will require additional time to complete due to issues identified over the weekend. On Monday morning Link light rail will continue to operate every 15 minutes and on one track in the downtown tunnel stations.

While completing final systems testing for the project, insufficient electrical resistance readings were discovered over a segment of newly installed track. The site of the problem has now been identified, and Sound Transit is working with its contractor to solve it.

Once repairs are complete, there will be another yet-to-be-determined closure of downtown Seattle stations in order to re-test and certify the new tracks. 

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Community Transit proposes new corridors and additional peak trips

Route 107, one of several slated for peak-hour upgrades

Community Transit has released a set of proposed route changes for southern Snohomish County that would take effect in September 2020 and March 2021. These changes are a continuation of other small tweaks to the route network that are meant to prepare local connections for the arrival of Lynnwood Link in 2024, which will involve a massive commuter route restructure and a new bus rapid transit line.

Public comment on these proposed service changes can be made via email, phone, social media posts, or at a hearing set for April 2 (barring a COVID-19 cancellation). Community Transit will also have a live Facebook webcast on March 24 to take questions from the public.

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News roundup: left for dead

Spokane’s new BRT buses ( https://www.citylinespokane.com/ )

This is an open thread.

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Bus lane cams finally pass the legislature

Heidi Groover, The Seattle Times:

The bill would allow a pilot program for the new cameras, to run through mid-2023. Seattle could use the cameras to detect drivers who stop in an intersection or crosswalk, drive in a transit-only lane or stop or travel in a restricted lane.

The cameras would be allowed in limited locations in and near downtown and on arterials that connect to certain roads into downtown. That would include the West Seattle Bridge, Aurora Avenue and Avalon Way, Fitzgibbon said. Cameras for enforcement of crosswalks and intersections will only be allowed at 20 intersections “where the city would most like to address safety concerns,” according to the bill.

See our previous coverage.

It’s amazing that it took so long and that the legislature felt the need to put so many restrictions on the city, but kudos to the legislators and advocates who got this one over the finish line. Here are links to Rep. Fitzgibbon’s house bill and Sen. Liias’ Senate version so you can see the sponsors and the roll call votes.

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South King County changes to finalize this spring

Way back in August, Frank told you about a raft of service changes that would accompany RapidRide I (Renton/Auburn). Although RapidRide will open in 2023, the Metro network revision will happen in September.

The status quo

The current Renton/Kent/Auburn corridor is far from the frequent grid ideal. There are two frequent routes. The 150 goes west from downtown Kent, then turns north on 68th Ave up to Tukwila and on to Seattle, The 169 goes east from Kent, then uses 104th and 108th Avenues before arriving in Renton.

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Teleworking, solo driving rise in latest Commute Seattle report, transit use drops

Commute Seattle has released their 2019 mode split survey, and it shows a slightly higher percentage of single occupancy vehicle (SOV) drivers compared to last year, while remote work increased substantially, despite the fact that the survey was conducted well in advance of the 2020 Coronavirus semi-quarantine or Connect 2020. Transit use unfortunately decreased for the first time, on a percentage basis.

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The regional revenue proposal for Metro

Metro buses in Bellevue (image: SounderBruce)

King County is contemplating a 0.2% sales tax increase that would replace the expiring Seattle TBD taxes and raise a total of $160 million annually for Metro. The package under discussion would extend the service hours funded by Seattle’s 2014 levy, currently about 350,000 hours annually in Seattle. It would add new funding for 450,000 to 550,000 hours elsewhere in the County.

The planned August 4 ballot measure must be filed by May 8. Effectively, the deadline for a King County decision is much sooner. Seattle is not yet on board and wants to see the County proposal this month so the city has time to deliberate whether to support the County measure or pursue their own. A series of meetings up through March 23 are scheduled to finalize the County’s proposal.

Metro is funded by a 0.9% countywide sales tax. Since 2014, this has been supplemented by a $60 vehicle license fee and 0.1% sales tax in Seattle. Those will expire at the end of December. I-976 removed the city’s authority for the vehicle license fee, but the tax continues to be collected while litigation is ongoing. With Seattle paying higher taxes than the suburbs, service became correspondingly more Seattle-centric. Suburban leaders want a countywide tax that extends the improvements in Seattle service levels since 2014 and ‘levels up’ the transit service outside the city.

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Transit agencies respond to COVID-19 novel coronavirus

COVID-19 under an electron microscope (NIAID/National Institute of Health)

Last updated: March 20, 2020

As you may have heard, there is an ongoing outbreak of COVID-19 novel coronavirus, a new strain of virus that is able to be transmitted from person to person. Several major employers have activated work-from-home policies and several large events have been cancelled and postponed.

For those who need to still get around, the transit agencies of the Puget Sound region have been responding to COVID-19 with new cleaning strategies, which we will summarize and update below.

In general, most agencies are encouraging riders to do the following:

  • Avoid public places and mass gatherings when sick
  • Avoid public places if at a high risk of infection (pregnant persons, over age 60, having an underlying health condition, having a weakened immune system)
  • Cover your mouth when coughing and sneezing
  • Wash hands frequently for 20 seconds
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Maintain a “social distance” of 6 feet between strangers
  • Telecommute if possible or avoid unnecessary trips

There are several websites with more information on preventative measures and information about COVID-19: Washington State Dept. of Health, King County/Seattle Health, Snohomish Health District, Tacoma/Pierce County Health Dept.

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SDOT plans Route 40 improvements

It’s hard to believe that Route 40, now the most obvious way to move between Ballard, Fremont, and South Lake Union, didn’t exist only a few years ago. It’s younger than STB, and yet it’s hard to imagine transit travel in that corner of the city without it. It draws 13,000 riders a day while being late on 20% of trips across the entire day.

Well now, it’s the 40’s turn to get the Move Seattle treatment. The objective is to cut peak travel time by 5 to 10% with priority treatments, which would make the route take about the same amount of time all day. The project is supposed to complete in 2024.

There are no details on specific projects, except that they’re focusing on pretty obvious chokepoints: SLU, Fremont, Ballard, etc. (see below) For now, Metro is asking you to take the survey and/or drop in at one of their open houses:

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News roundup: reduced fare

SounderBruce/wikimedia

This is an open thread.

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The case of the missing Montlake queue jump

Google Street View from 2017 and 2019. It’s like that Megatouch game they had at all the bars back before everyone got cell phones.

Like many cross-lake commuters, I often find myself waiting for a connection on the Montlake Boulevard concrete island where Eastbound SR-520 buses pick up before traversing the lake. My favorite activity while stranded on this island is to refresh One Bus Away and watch the bus schedules go to hell as the U-district jams up in the morning. When I tire of that, my second favorite activity is to glare at the single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) who are banned from turning right but do so anyway.

The intersection is designed so that cars entering 520 use a slip lane behind the bus stop, leaving only buses and HOVs to approach the light at the stop and turn right onto an HOV-only lane on the freeway onramp. It’s a clever design that essentially creates a bus queue jump without needing a separate turn pocket, but it only works if SOVs aren’t allowed to turn right at the light.

Except, it turns out they are now. Kinda.

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Route 44 improvements are refined at 30% design

At a presentation (PDF) to the Transit Advisory Board, Seattle DOT identified a list of Route 44 improvements that would be carried into 30% design. It’s encouraging to see that most of the big stuff, like the bus (BAT) lanes and signal priority, advanced.

The initial ideas were just “concepts” so while we shouldn’t expect everything to advance through the design phase. At the same time, death-by-1000-cuts is usually how these projects die. So what got cut?

One somewhat major idea was a set of left turn restrictions, which would have presumably made buses go faster. The second was an interesting idea to close off Wallingford Ave N at 45th, and create a mini park, which was pretty neat but which I’m sure raised the eyebrows of Wallingford QFC shopper-drivers.

Probably not happening

SDOT project manager Janet Mayer told me that the concepts were for reasons including “public feedback, infeasibility, lack of transit benefit, or lack of support from SDOT Traffic Operations or partner agencies.”

She did add that stop removals at I-5 will “most likely” be implemented by Metro as part of a restructure and that the reroute to 43rd in the U-district is underway right now as part of the trolley project there.

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Major climate bills face Monday committee deadline

Monday, March 2, is the deadline for bills to get out of fiscal and transportation committees in Olympia. A slew of bills important to fighting the climate catastrophe, as well as clearing cheaters out of transit lanes, are up against this wall.

Both the House and Senate version of the bill to allow automated camera enforcement of some transit-only lanes have passed out of their original chamber. Bizarrely, both are having trouble getting out of the transportation committees in their second chamber. HB 1793 is scheduled for a vote in the Senate Transportation Committee Monday. SB 5789 is scheduled for a hearing in the House Transportation Committee today. Each has to get out of committee Monday.

Of much larger concern to those who want to see humanity survive the impending climate catastrophe, bills to require cars to emit less CO2, fuels to be less polluting, and to set an overall limit on the state’s emissions in line with 2018 science, are also having trouble getting to the floor of their second chambers. I covered these bills in a little more detail recently.

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AAA is bringing car sharing back to Seattle

GIG vehicles (via company blog)

Monica Nickelsburg, Geekwire:

AAA is expanding its GIG Car Share service beyond the San Francisco Bay Area to Seattle. GIG will begin rolling out cars in Seattle this April and its full fleet of 250 Toyota Priuses will be deployed in the city by May.

Small Toyota Prius C cars seem like a much more sensible choice for car sharing than full-size German sedans and SUVs. Perhaps that will hopefully give GIG a better shot at amortizing the costs.

That said, a “full fleet” 250 cars is not that many (Car2Go and ShareNow had 750 each), so it’ll be interesting to see how GIG keeps them in use and not semi-abandoned in the far-reaches of the city, while maintaining equity.

Three fundamental challenges to the car share model remain: (1) Uber/Lyft are underpriced, (2) the addressable market is small, and (3) finding a parking spot at your destination is annoying. In addition, the bifurcated Seattle market presents a particular challenge: if you live in an urban village, you likely have good transit service already. If you live outside an urban village, parking is abundant and easy so why bother?

To be sure, GIG can make progress on some of these (apparently they have dedicated parking at BART stations), but others require a rethink from a city level.

(Oh, and don’t take the cars out of cell phone range).

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Now is the time to regionalize transit funding

by Kelsey Mesher

Atomic Taco / Flickr

A countywide 2020 transportation measure would help address affordability, growth and mobility needs — and maintain Seattle’s current level of service.

With one of the largest and most progressive electorates expected to turn out this year, 2020 presents an opportunity to address our region’s largest challenges, including transportation. On Wednesday, February 26, the King County Council kicked off its first public discussion of going to the ballot to ask voters to support a countywide Transportation Benefit District, which could raise as much as $160 million annually for bus service, programs and improvements through a 0.2% increase in sales tax.

We have seen the successes of transit investment through Seattle’s Transportation Benefit District. In the last two years alone, Seattle has increased TBD-funded Metro service by 36%. As a result, more than 7 in 10 residents live within a 10-minute walk of very frequent bus service. While transit ridership has declined in cities across the country, Seattle has bucked the trends – increasing transit ridership and kept drive alone commute rates at bay. The City has also used TBD funds to support access and affordability programs, providing free transit for students and some residents of low-income housing.

Metro’s long range plan, Metro Connects, outlines how we can achieve outcomes like these throughout King County, which is why Transportation Choices Coalition strongly supports taking a countywide approach to funding transit. The alternative is continuing with a “pay-to-play” system where the most well-resourced cities, like Seattle (or potentially Bellevue or Redmond, should they choose to run their own measures), receive a higher level of service, creating a two-tiered transit system.

We are all well aware of the needs:

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