The Fate of Washington State Highway 304

Aerial photo of West and Eastbound WSF Bremerton ferries crossing
Aerial view of Highway 304 between Seattle and Bremerton
Image from Wikipedia

[UPDATE: An earlier version of this article claimed that WSDOT has purchased no new ferries for a decade. There have been four.]

The Washington State Ferry Service (WSF) is in the news. And not in a good way. After 70 years of steady, dependable service, it is falling apart. Out of the blue, we are lead to believe. But the falling apart has everything to do with that 70 years of steady, dependable service.

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A Photo Tour of Link Construction

Recently STB writer Bruce Nourish and I had an opportunity to check out the new Link extensions from the air. Enjoy the photos!

Northgate Link Extension

We begin at Northgate Station; these photos were shot just prior to the opening of the extension:

Northgate Station & Northgate Mall
Looking north at Northgate Station. Northgate Mall is the large cluster of properties in the center of the photo. On the far left, the alignment under construction can be seen running along the northbound lanes of I-5

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Improving East Link connections in Issaquah and Newcastle

With the East Link Connections survey wrapping up Monday, it’s a good time to make suggestions if you haven’t already. The process of restructuring is about tradeoffs, and in any result, there will be both winners and losers. While no plan is perfect, I have two ideas for how I think the plan can be improved to further expand and speed up access to Link in the south and east study areas. One of them is in Newcastle and Renton, around routes 240 and 114, the latter of which is proposed to be deleted. The other is in Issaquah, around routes 215 and 269.

King County Metro 1998-1999 New Flyer D60HF 2399
Route 114, set to be deleted with the opening of East Link (image: Shane Ramkissoon on Flickr)
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News roundup: August highlights

LB Bryce/Flickr

One day I’ll catch up to the present…

This is an open thread.


A libertarian case for robust transit investment


Seattle Transit Blog is officially a non-partisan publication, but it’s no secret that our favored policy positions tend to align with those on the progressive left. As someone with a libertarian streak, I want to make the case that pro-transit libertarianism has a strong ideological foundation, and in so doing, disabuse anyone of the notion that progressives monopolize the transit advocacy space.

Several years ago, I interviewed Bill Lind for a short piece on the conservative case for rail transit. Lind was a shining light among transportation thinkers, but he – like many fellow conservatives – disdained bus transit in favor of rail. Nonetheless, I found his insight to be refreshing among a cohort that has historically fought against transit.

Unfortunately, Lind’s views are largely a minority in the modern Republican and Libertarian Parties. Although ambivalence around transit is fairly pervasive at the federal level, local Republicans have historically lobbied hard against regional transit spending and initiatives.

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Seattle Subway 2021 General Election Endorsements

Link Light Rail Train heading to the SODO Station Credit: Lizz Giordano

We are excited to share our endorsements for the 2021 general election! 

Our picks are based on hearing from candidates at our June forums (Seattle City Council Position 9 & Mayor of Seattle), in questionnaires sent in May (City, County and Port), and keeping in mind track records and our prior meetings with candidates during our constant advocacy work. We endorsed the following candidates who will appear on your November 2nd ballot. Don’t forget to mail your ballot or drop your ballot in a dropbox before 8:00pm on Tuesday, November 2. 

Summary of General Election Endorsements:

Seattle Mayor:  M. Lorena Gonzȧlez 

Seattle City Council, Citywide, Position 8:  Teresa Mosqueda

Seattle City Council, Citywide, Position 9:  Nikkita Oliver 

King County Executive: Dow Constantine 

Port of Seattle Commission, Position 1: Ryan Calkins

Port of Seattle Commission, Position 3: Hamdi Mohamed

Port of Seattle Commission, Position 4: Toshiko Grace Hasegawa

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Eastside’s exclusionary community council is on the ballot

The Houghton Community Council, which controls land use and other policies for a large chunk of central Kirkland, is up for renewal in November. We wrote about the HCC (and its sibling, the East Bellevue Community Council) back in 2017, when it was working to water down mixed-use development near the Google campus:

The Kirkland City Council has yet to review the proposal, but can only rubber stamp it (a first study session is scheduled for Tuesday). The undersized zoning changes are the creation of the Houghton Community Council (HCC). The HCC has veto power over land use changes in most of Kirkland south of 68th St, and will block any Kirkland Council action that differs from their proposal.

Community Councils (“municipal corporations” in state law) were authorized by the Legislature in 1967 to ease annexation into larger cities, and were generally viewed as transitional arrangements. There were never many, and most were dissolved over time even though state law does not require a sunset. Just two remain. The Houghton Council dates to the annexation of the city of Houghton to Kirkland in 1968. 

It’s worth emphasizing that these CC’s aren’t like the informal advisory boards that exist in Seattle. They have real power, and the ~10,000 residents of Houghton vote every four years to retain that power, inequitable as it may be. This time around, there’s an active campaign against renewal. From the “No on 1” website:

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Fixing ST’s costs requires a legislative agenda

Washington State Capitol

Sound Transit 3’s cost explosion has forced the politicians in charge to make tough decisions that displease constituents. In the ‘realignment’ endgame, Mayor Durkan produced a “cost savings amendment” to create regular reports about costs, hire outside consultants, and tell the Board “where any delays in these pre-construction activities are likely to trigger a delay in the final delivery date of any project” (see page 7 of this).

The last bit is especially rich from a Mayor whose office ignored Sound Transit’s pleas to quickly produce a single preferred alternative from West Seattle to Ballard, instead blowing it up into dozens of combinations (still unresolved) and picking entirely new fights like a very deep station under Chinatown that raises costs and worsens transit outcomes. Indeed, the City is still pining for an added revenue options to chase its dream of a tunnel to West Seattle, that, again, raises costs and does not improve transit outcomes — unless process mismanagement has erased the cost difference.

I have no doubt that a project spending over $54 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars will have some suboptimal line items a consultant can flag. With luck, that consultant might even pay for itself. But the effort to close the budget gap by eliminating waste, fraud, and abuse isn’t nearly ambitious enough. The real savings is in treating Sound Transit like a transit project instead of a vessel for a series of community objectives. A change in mindset from relevant leaders would be useful, but ultimately legislation in Olympia is necessary.

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An encore for Symphony station at University Street

Sign marking entrance to University Street Station. Electronic sign displaying University Street name.

Sound Transit is once again considering Symphony as the new name for University Street Station in downtown Seattle. This is intended to reduce confusion with two other Link stations in the University District and University of Washington campus. This time, renaming will be done in conjunction with East Link extension work to minimize costs, about $800,000.

Last year, ST’s Board decided to rename University Street station to Union Street/Symphony only to pause the renaming two weeks later. The new name was to be implemented for Northgate Link’s opening. Board members had second thoughts and the public questioned the compromise name, an attempt to save the expense of changing the USS internal station code while satisfying the public’s preference.

In the meantime, Sound Transit is mitigating the customer experience issues through improved maps and announcements. On the new Siemens trains, an optional “stay on the train for University of Washington campus” announcement can be played. New Link 1 Line maps in stations and onboard trains more clearly indicate downtown Seattle stations and UW campus stations.


Open things when they’re ready

Curt Milton/Flickr

[UPDATE: the John Lewis Bridge was a hypothetical example, but SDOT would like me to say that it was a minor miracle it opened as soon as it did. Point taken.]

When U-Link opened in 2016, trains operated after a 9am opening ceremony and about $858,000 in additional festivities. This of course brought out the bad-faith complaints ($) from anti-transit people pretending not to understand marketing. But they did us a favor: Sound Transit should just operate things when they’re complete.

For last weekend’s big event, die-hards showed up for the first 4:51am departure before any formal event. At a more reasonable hour, the U-District business community did a great job of providing all the lookie-loos like me something to do. And it was fine.

More than that, transit’s purpose, to give people better alternatives, was fulfilled that much faster. Certainly, someone had an easier commute or airport trip because the train didn’t wait a few hours for a ribbon cutting.

This lesson is more broadly applicable: certainly the John Lewis Bridge, if SDOT had opened it a few days early, would have improved access to the Northgate Transit Center that was already there, instead of waiting for the ribbon cutting Saturday. So why not open it?

I’ll take it even further: whenever East Link is ready, they should start operating it. Perhaps Metro will have the flexibility to implement a service change at that date instead of their usual, collectively bargained changeover, or not. But even if the supporting bus service has to follow a bit later, fast high-capacity transit to the Eastside can start helping people immediately.


Some people to thank


Saturday’s Link opening was the largest product of 2008’s Sound Transit 2 vote to date. In the 15-year package envisioned at ballot time, Northgate opened about a year late, Lynnwood and North Federal Way are scheduled to do the same, and East Link will lag by no more than two years. Given a Great Recession and Bellevue’s wrangling over the route through downtown, that’s an astonishing record unlikely to be matched by Sound Transit 3 or other large American transit projects.

As someone who got his start in transit advocacy around the time of ST2, on Saturday my thoughts turned to many of the friends and STB colleagues I met at that time. Thousands of people made Saturday happen, activists and politicians and staff and (obviously) building trades. But my thoughts also turned to the two people that, in my opinion, are most to thank for the new reality that arrived on Saturday.

The first is Joni Earl, who as CEO through 2016 got Sound Transit to a place where it could even contemplate a Sound Transit 2, and later took those projects through some of the most risk-laden stretches. The second is former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels, who in the aftermath of the failed 2007 vote bashed heads together to go again in 2008, and then worked hard to pass it.

I was glad to see that both were able to be at the VIP function October 1st. I can only imagine the quiet pride and satisfaction they deservedly feel.


The ribbon is cut for Northgate Link

Local leaders, including King County Executive Dow Constantine, Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, ST Board Chair Kent Keel, and Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff, participated in a ribbon cutting for Northgate Link
Sound Transit Board Chair Kent Keel cuts the ribbon for Northgate Link

On the eve of Northgate Link’s grand opening, a ceremony and preview ride kicks off a month-long celebration of the Puget Sound region’s latest expansion of rapid transit, this time 4.3 miles north to 3 new stations in the U District, Roosevelt, and Northgate. For a summary of the speeches, read STB’s live coverage of the ceremony on Twitter. On opening day Saturday, various community organizations have prepared events and activities at each station beginning at 10 am.

At Northgate Station, there will be a grand opening ceremony for the John Lewis Memorial Bridge, a pedestrian and bicycle bridge spanning I-5 to North Seattle College from 10 am to noon. For Roosevelt Station, the Roosevelt Neighborhood Association has organized an opening celebration with live music & dancing and food trucks from 10 am to 4 pm at 12th Ave NE & NE 66th St between the station entrances. The U District Station opening festival runs from 10 am to 8 pm and features a $3 food walk, live entertainment, activities for kids, and a beer garden. Sound Transit has exhibits explaining design features and public art along with photo/selfie spots at all three stations that will be up throughout October.

Decades in the making, the Northgate extension to the Link 1 Line, formerly Central Link, will transform travel within North Seattle and beyond by providing a fast, frequent, and reliable transit artery that combined with frequent buses forms a network that expands access to work, education, and leisure opportunities. Metro and Sound Transit bus service in north Seattle as well as ST and Community Transit service from Snohomish County has been restructured to take advantage of Link’s strengths.

The first train departs Northgate for Angle Lake at 4:51 am. At 5:01 am, the first train to Northgate arrives from SODO. Trains will run every 10 minutes for most of the day, every 8 during peak, and every 12-15 in the early and late hours.

For those who have not yet a chance to visit the stations, here are our first impressions from the preview ride. UPDATE: Photos from the event and more are on Flickr. Share yours in the comments below.

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East Link restructure in the I-90 corridor and east subarea

Proposed changes in the east and I-90 corridor area (image: Sound Transit). Click to see more detail.

In the East Link restructure online open house, the entire restructure proposal is broken up into five sections: North, Central, South, East, and Seattle. We’ve covered the south subarea previously. The east subarea covers Issaquah, Sammamish, Preston, Snoqualmie, and North Bend, but also throws in Mercer Island as part of the I-90 corridor (but omits Eastgate and Factoria, which are part of the central subarea). I’m also including the Seattle subarea since it includes only one minor change to route 8 in the vicinity of I-90. Like other areas, there are some route reconfigurations, but these changes don’t seem as significant as in other areas, with local service on the main routes 204, 208, and 269 looking largely the same as today. But the changes are nonetheless dramatic, with all service east of Lake Sammamish being extended along I-90 to either Merce Island or Bellevue, and reducing the two-hour headways seen on today’s route 208. So let’s jump in!

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East Link restructure: Bothell, Duvall, Kirkland, Redmond, Woodinville

Map showing proposed changes to specific routes in the Kenmore, Bothell, Woodinville, Duvall, Kirkland, Redmond areas to connect with Link light rail
Map of proposed bus route changes in the north Eastside area

Although the north Eastside’s primary regional transit corridors are I-405 and SR 522, which have their own Stride bus rapid transit projects in the works, Metro identified several opportunities to optimize service in this area when the Link 2 Line to Redmond Technology (Overlake) opens in 2023 and extends to downtown Redmond in 2024.

Woodinville, Duvall, and Redmond Ridge will be one bus away all-day from Link. Peak-only service to Seattle will make stops in South Lake Union and no longer travel on local streets in Kingsgate. Peak-only service to Bellevue and Overlake is replaced by all-day service to Link.

That’s the gist of Metro’s proposal in this part of the Eastside. You can reference a map of current Eastside service with the proposal map above. Here are the details:

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News roundup: July highlights


Some things we didn’t mention over July:

This is an open trhread.


Community Transit builds new connections at Northgate

Incoming 2011 New Flyer Industries XD40 to Ash Way Park & Ride On A Damp Day - Widescreen

With Northgate Link opening in less than a week, Community Transit will begin a fundamental, multi-year transformation from providing a blend of long-haul commuter and local service to a refreshed agency focused on fast and frequent transit operations primarily within Snohomish County. CT’s initial phase of reworking existing commuter routes will take advantage of Link Light Rail’s new Northgate terminus and large transit center to greatly enhance where Community Transit riders can travel. Starting Monday, October 4th, CT will truncate all University District-bound service, known as the 800-series routes, to end at Northgate Station. This resolves serious issues of speed and reliability caused by regional congestion and massively improves transit connectivity between Snohomish County and Link Light Rail.

Let’s acknowledge that riders transferring at Northgate Station will lose their one-seat ride to the University District. Many of us will be losing our one-seat ride on October 2nd, myself included. While inconvenient, that’s by design as we to move towards utilizing Link as an alternative to the redundant bus routes operating in heavy north-south regional congestion, and it’s important to recognize the greater benefits of this strategy.

Currently, congestion between Seattle and Lynnwood forces transit agencies to burn valuable service hours by padding revenue and non-revenue (deadheading) schedules to realistically schedule buses accounting for slow travel times. While buses sit in congestion, the total number of trips each bus can complete in a day is limited while riders have to deal with unreliable and unpredictable service, leading to an inefficient use of transit agency and taxpayer resources. Would people rather have an unpredictable one-seat ride with longer waits between buses, or a more predictable two-seat ride with frequent service? The agency has chosen the latter for us, and we’ll learn to appreciate it.

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