Link coronavirus cheat sheet

If you are a (responsible, of course) user of public transportation, there’s a good chance that you’re eagerly awaiting the day that Link will once again run at frequent service levels. In the meantime, you might (perhaps after missing a train one day) have made sure to download the massive PDF Link schedule to your phone to make sure you aren’t left waiting on an platform with other people for up to 30 minutes longer than necessary. In any case, even a less-frequently-running Link Light Rail has a schedule that stretches on and on, despite mostly repeating at 20 and 30 minute intervals. Disappointingly, you won’t find the right schedule on OneBusAway either, so you settle for the endless grid of numbers.

Since an endless grid of numbers is hard to navigate (especially when you’re in a hurry), I’ve put together a more compact schedule. Arrival times are shown for six stops (both termini, and both the start and end of the downtown and Rainier Valley parts of Link). The arrival times of the first and last few trains are shown in detail. In between, it just shows what minute of every hour you need to be there to catch the train (with a +1 to indicate a trip extending into the next hour):

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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.  

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News roundup: do better

King County Metro 2015 New Flyer XDE35 3713
Zach Heistand/Flickr

This is an open thread.

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Sound Transit & other agencies in push for federal assistance

Sound Transit and King County Metro, along with agencies in other major cities, are making a concerted effort for more federal assistance in the upcoming COVID-19 relief package. Yesterday, the leaders of 27 major agencies joined in calling for up to $36 billion in aid for transit to cover COVID-related expenses and replacing depleted local tax revenues in 2020 and 2021.

Transit operators face a variety of needs. For legacy systems, decreased farebox revenues have put extraordinary pressure on operations while costs related to COVID mitigation have increased. For newer systems that are growing, the recession will reduce local tax revenues for years, imperiling expansion timelines.

While King County Metro is reducing operations, Sound Transit is facing a delay to planned rail and BRT extensions. Current operations are a relative small part of the Sound Transit budget, but the long-term loss of sales tax revenues combines with statutory limits on debt to put the current planned system expansion timeline out of reach.

Among the various assistance measures being debated, the most valuable to Sound Transit could increase the federal share of existing Full Funding Grant Agreements (FFGA) by 30%. A similar provision is in the Investing in America Act recently passed by the House.

In the current FFGAs, Lynnwood Link received a federal match of 36% or $1.17 billion. Federal Way Link received a 25% match for $790 million. A 30% increment to those FFGAs would mean $1.9 billion of additional federal support for Sound Transit.

Continue reading “Sound Transit & other agencies in push for federal assistance” | 20 comments

Maximizing ridership is easy

There’s a certain thread of argument in transit advocacy that is frustrating because it is totally factually accurate, and yet completely misses the point. The latest example is this report on American light rail by the right-leaning Manhattan Institute, called The Economics of Urban Light Rail: A Guide for Planners and Citizens.

America has way fewer light rail boardings per route-mile than Europe and Canada. However, Seattle does well, one of only 5 in the US to have more than 3,000. No surprise: the strongest indicators of success are frequency and density around stations, two standards Link currently meets.

Continue reading “Maximizing ridership is easy” | 56 comments

SDOT making it easier for businesses set up shop outdoors

On the first day of summer, I complained that the City hadn’t opened more streets to pedestrians, specifically in high-density commercial districts, to allow for more outdoor social distancing and commercial activity. I figure I should follow up to note that the day after my post went live SDOT announced it was opening up several more Stay Healthy Streets, including Bell St. in Belltown.

Then, a few days later, SDOT announced an expanded street use permit system for businesses to use for outdoor retail and restaurant activity. SDOT is streamlining the permitting process for these applications: instead of the usual 2-week public comment, businesses can open right away and inform their neighbors that they’re doing so. Businesses can set up in the sidewalk if right-of-way is sufficient or in a parking space.

These are all great ideas. I’d still love to see entire streets closed off for both public gathering and retailing in some of our commercial neighborhoods. I can name at least a dozen blocks in Seattle’s urban villages and downtown that could easily support outdoor street life if permitted.

Check out the twitter threads below from the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board meeting where these plans were presented last week if you want to learn more, and thanks to SDOT for getting this program up and running before the July 4 weekend.

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Metro asks to defer driver raises

Mike Lindblom and Heidi Groover report ($) that King County Executive Dow Constantine wants to reopen February’s collective bargaining agreement that grants ATU-587 raises of 3% the next two years and 4% in 2022-23.

The Union has good reason to consider it. With revenues collapsing and service cuts coming in September, layoffs appear inevitable. Lower pay would mean more service, and thus more jobs. This would incidentally be better for riders.

Both a pay freeze and layoffs are, of course, at the expense of people so recently hailed as heroes for risking themselves in the pandemic, with two fatalities and numerous drivers infected. ATU 587 argues, correctly, that if Metro exhausts its rainy day fund, CARES Act funding, and Seattle passes a TBD extension, it can kick the can down the road past the end of the CBA.

That might store up trouble for later. But stalling actually worked in the great recession, when various minor efficiencies (and a steep fare increase) more or less kept service cuts at bay until the accelerating economy made them unnecessary.

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Decisions later this year on delayed projects

Projects in active construction (in green) have been prioritized while Sound Transit reprioritizes its longer term program (slide: Sound Transit)

With a comprehensive realignment of capital projects delayed until July 2021, Sound Transit turned its attention yesterday to current projects where advances through project stage gates have been on hold since March. The Board must decide in coming months how to proceed on many of these projects in 2021 pending decisions on the broader program.

Earlier this year, the Board decided to pause advancing projects not in construction. That meant planning and design could continue, but projects could not advance into project development, final design, or construction. Some of the largest ST3 projects are still too far away to be affected by a near-term pause, but the staff presentation detailed more than a dozen where some work or stage gate decisions are being delayed.

Projects affected by the pause include several in early development. These include Sounder platform extensions on the south line. Those platforms were to be extended to accommodate 10-car trains by 2028. An operations and maintenance facility for Everett Link was to have started work later this year. Environmental work on Sounder access projects has been delayed. These include parking in Edmonds and Mukilteo which are not being moved to environmental review. Contracts have been negotiated at South Tacoma and Lakewood station, but not brought to the Board. In North Sammamish, a 200-car park-and-ride is on hold. The bus on shoulder program has been screened to a short list of possible projects, but paused further development.

Continue reading “Decisions later this year on delayed projects” | 46 comments

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.

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HALA, zoning and racism five years later

Seattle triplex
A neighborhood-destroying triplex

Five years ago this month city released the Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda recommendations, a.k.a. the HALA report, aimed at making Seattle more affordable and, well, livable.  Thanks to lots of work from the mayor(s) and council, many of the 65 recommendations have since become law, including marquee items like Mandatory Housing Affordability (MHA) and ADU reform. Alan Durning, a committee member, wrote an excellent summary of the whole effort back in February. 

One big change that many housing advocates still see as a missed opportunity is the recommendation to end the ban on duplexes and triplexes that currently blocks affordable housing on 2/3 of the city’s land. 

You may recall that the report included language alluding to the “racist” history of single-family zones.  Someone on the commission leaked a draft to the Times, and when the commission didn’t have their story straight, it became a controversy and then-mayor Murray jettisoned the proposal to save the rest of the HALA work. 

2015 was also the first year of district-based elections and many assumed that neighborhood groups would run the table (in fact the districts were drawn specifically to make that happen).  Best not to poke the bear, some reasoned.

Since the report was released, much has changed in terms of both the local political landscape and national trends around zoning law.

Continue reading “HALA, zoning and racism five years later” | 57 comments

News roundup: moving up

Save our Metro!
Oran Viriyincy/Flickr (2011)

This is an open thread.

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Durkan, SDOT propose a smaller Transportation Benefit District for this fall’s ballot

Mayor Durkan and Seattle DOT today proposed a 6-year renewal for the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (TBD), which would go before the voter this fall. Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who chairs the transportation committee, will bring it before the City Council for approval, ending months of speculation about the fate of city bus service.

The slimmed-down TBD, which we previewed last week, TBD would fund about 50,000 service hours in years 1-4, rising to 80,000 in years 5 and 6, presumably as the economy improves. That’s far less than the 350,000 hours the TBD currently purchases, but SDOT hopes that it’s enough to maintain the baseline 15-minute network throughout the city.

Continue reading “Durkan, SDOT propose a smaller Transportation Benefit District for this fall’s ballot” | 53 comments

WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK

I rode several bus routes over the weekend to check out how well riders were taking to the new state edict to wear a face covering in public.

As expected, close to half the riders did not have masks at all. A program to distribute free masks would help a lot, in that regard. Thank you, City of Renton, for taking the lead!

The more infuriating behavior, though, was the significant number of riders who had masks on, but were not wearing them over their mouth and nose. They just had them on over their chin, as if getting some fresh air in a place where they didn’t feel the need to wear them properly.

Inside, where the air recirculates, is actually where you most need to wear a mask, to protect the other people in that place from you. Being asymptomatic does not mean you don’t have the virus.

If you are on a bus, and you do not have a mask on, then you are a threat to the health and safety of everyone else on the bus. Pulling your mask down to expose your nose and mouth makes you as dangerous as all the maskless riders.

Do I need to remind y’all that hundreds of thousands of people have died from the virus?

Another infuriating behavior is when riders wait until they sit down to put their mask on, or take it off as they get ready to leave the bus. When you are standing over other riders is actually when you are the greatest threat to them, as the water droplets from your breath rain down upon the people you walk by.

So, please, oh please. Don’t risk the lives of your fellow riders. WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK. If you are waiting for the bus and see it approaching, make sure your mask is up over your nose and mouth. Expect some drivers to pass you by if you don’t have your mask on properly.

Then keep your mask on properly while you are boarding, while on board, while you are deboarding, while around other people at the bus stop, and anywhere, inside or outside, where there are one or more people around you.

Don’t be a killer. WEAR YOUR DAMN MASK.

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All news is bad news

West Seattle - east side of California Ave looking north, south of The Junction 01

Last month’s Times story that rents are dropping in West Seattle ($) since the bridge closed spurs two thoughts.

There’s something honorable about journalism that always tries to find the person who is hurt in any change to the status quo, so that readers can understand the human costs. But there’s also something perverse about spending years lamenting the “crisis” in housing affordability, and then went rent falls, centering the losses of the poor, poor landlords.

“In my 30 years of owning buildings, I’ve never experienced what I’m experiencing in West Seattle,” said landlord Morris Groberman, who owns four buildings in West Seattle and several dozen other apartments across the region. “It’s absolutely bleak.”

Relatedly, the easiest way to keep rent affordable and avoid “gentrification” is to not improve the neighborhood. A place with good transportation options, good schools, good jobs, and minimal crime is going to attract newcomers in a context of overall population growth. To avoid the tragedy of displacing people already there, there will either have to be deteriorating conditions or more housing. Personally, I prefer the latter.

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A smaller Seattle TBD for the November ballot

The Seattle TBD funds more frequent service on Metro 120 (image: Zach Heistand)

A reduced Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), extending the existing 0.1% sales tax but not replacing the lost vehicle licence fee revenues, appears headed to the November ballot. If approved, it will fund youth ORCA and low income programs at existing levels. But Seattle will purchase much less bus service than in previous years, and much of that will be directed to West Seattle while the West Seattle Bridge remains out of service.

The plan to take a measure to the November ballot was announced by Council Transportation Committee Chair Alex Pedersen at a Council meeting on Monday. Existing taxes expire in December, and a November ballot measure must be filed by August 4. Further details are expected within the next few days, and may be refined further by the Council, but the broad strokes spending plan has become clearer. Either a four- or six-year renewal is possible, perhaps because some favor a revived countywide measure in 2024.

Continue reading “A smaller Seattle TBD for the November ballot” | 97 comments

News roundup: TV star

Life in downtown Seattle is slowed down with many businesses still closed due to Covid 19 shutdown.
PatricksMercy/Flickr

This is an open thread.

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East-West Rail study: small project, small impact

Study corridor in Yellow.

A state study of passenger rail service via Stampede Pass (report, slides) reveals options that are relatively inexpensive but also not ambitious enough to provide competitive options between cities.

The most expansive option would run Spokane to Seattle with a running time of 8:35 (!). As with any indirect route, it mostly has to be about travel between the intermediate cities, not the endpoints: indeed, travel within the Yakima valley comprises much of the ridership. If this route were operating twice a day in a Covid-free 2020, it would draw 205,000 annual riders – or about a quarter of what Amtrak Cascades serves in a typical year with more trains serving bigger population centers. 97% of these riders would not go east of Pasco.

This line would cost $137m in new stations and track improvements, $253m for trainsets, and a net annual operating subsidy of $23m. Shortening the line or running once a day has the impacts you might expect. However, a Pasco terminus (running time: 6:05), while not a cheaper capital project, hits a sweet spot by lowering operating costs without much loss of riders.

These are not huge numbers as capital projects go, and surveys indicate significant local interest in trying out this service. Nevertheless, the travel times are not competitive with driving. Trains have advantages over intercity buses, but such an extreme time penalty suggests Washington either expand those buses or consider a much more ambitious rail program to achieve higher operating speeds.

Last year’s transportation appropriations bill funded the $250,000 study. Today, only the Empire Builder connects Spokane with both Seattle and Portland (7.5 hours), but only once a day and not scheduled for the convenience of Seattle-Spokane passengers. Zach and Bruce Nourish wrote up the potential of this corridor 4 years ago.

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