Seattle Needs Plan B for Federal Funding

RapidRide E on 3rd Avenue Credit: SounderBruce

The same day the Seattle City Council approved a design for the Roosevelt RapidRide and endorsed plans to seek federal and state funding for the project, councilmembers were given a dismal prediction on the future of federal transportation funding.

“It’s not a great picture,” said Leslie Pollner, a federal lobbyist for the city. She told councilmembers to expect significant cuts by the federal government in domestic spending, including public safety and transportation.  

The Roosevelt RapidRide project is expected to cost $70 million, with the goal of getting half of that funding from federal and state sources, said Councilmember Rob Johnson before the council voted to approve the preferred alternative Monday.

“If we are unsuccessful in securing in that the department will bring back to us a revised proposal,” Johnson added.

The vote committed the city to fully funding the development phase of the project at a cost of $4.3 million.

The Roosevelt RapidRide, estimated to decrease travel times by 20 percent, runs between downtown and the Roosevelt neighborhood via Eastlake and the University District. The project is one of seven RapidRide projects planned in the city in a partnership between the City and King County Metro. A previous STB post by Calvin Tonini describes the latest iteration of the project.

The city plans to apply for federal government dollars through a Small Starts grant program for both the Roosevelt and Madison RapidRide projects.

Continue reading “Seattle Needs Plan B for Federal Funding”

A Do-over for Whom, Tim Eyman?

Another initiative by Tim Eyman

Eighteen years ago, anti-tax activist Tim Eyman decimated funding for public transit with his first $30 car tab initiative, which eliminated the motor vehicle excise tax (MVET).

His latest initiative, I-947, once again proposes to replace the current MVET with a flat $30 car tab fee. The initiative is estimated to cost Sound Transit between $6.9 billion and $8.1 billion. By Permanent Defense’s count, this is Eyman’s sixth attempt to kill funding for transit.

Currently, car owners pay several different fees depending on where they live when renewing vehicle tabs. The Department of Licensing provides a calculator to estimate vehicle tab fees.

  • Everyone in the state pays a standard fee of $38.75 plus a weight fee which helps fund highway maintenance and construction projects, the Washington State Patrol and the Washington State Ferries.
  • Local jurisdictions have the option of charging car owners an additional fee by forming a transportation benefit district. These districts are allowed to collect up to $20 a year without voter approval, or up to $100 if approved by voters. Approximately 50 cities have established transportation benefit districts around the state. Seattle collects an $80 fee to expand bus services and distribute bus passes to middle and high school students through the Youth ORCA program.
  • Car owners living in the Sound Transit taxing district pay an additional fee. With the approval of the ST3 package, the MVET rate increased from 0.3% to 1.1% of the assessed value of the car.

If I-947 passes it would roll back the standard fee to $30 and eliminate all MVET. It would end weight fees imposed by the state government, transportation benefit districts fees and all car tab taxes helping to fund Sound Transit, according to the initiative’s website. Under the initiative, car owners would pay a $30 annual fee. Weight fees and TBDs could be restored by voter approval.

The initiative would also eliminate a 0.3% tax on retail car sales that funds the state’s multimodal account. This account provides grants for regional mobility, rural mobility, special needs, and vanpools.

Although I-947 eliminates the only MVET in the state, it also requires any future MVET to use the Kelley Blue Book value to compute the tax. As Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon explained on STB, this technique cannot be bonded against and effectively rules it out as a funding tool for major capital projects.

Continue reading “A Do-over for Whom, Tim Eyman?”

Eastside Mayors Criticize Bus Restructure Proposal

University Of Washington Link Light Rail Station Image: Lizz Giordano

Eastside mayors want Metro and Sound Transit to relocate bus stops to improve bus-rail transfers before implementing service changes. The proposed restructuring would funnel Eastside bus commuters heading downtown to light rail at the University of Washington Station. That transfer requires riders to cross the busy streets of Montlake Boulevard and/or Pacific Street or use an out of the way walkway to switch between modes of transportation.

“Increasing commute times by 20 minutes while creating more mobility downtown will only incentivize single occupancy vehicles to drive to downtown Seattle rather than stick with public transportation,” wrote the seven Eastside Mayors in a letter to Metro and Sound Transit.

The Mayors want bus stops relocated to be adjacent to the light rail station and mobility improvements through the Montlake Hub. STB’s own Adam Parast showed one way to accomplish this in 2015 (pictured below).

“Sound Transit is supportive of improvements to the transfer environment at UW. King County Metro owns the bus shelters, and they are in active conversations about this with the City of Seattle and UW,” wrote Rachelle Cunningham, a spokesperson for Sound Transit in an email.

Metro estimates transfers currently take anywhere from 6-11 minutes, depending on direction and time of travel.

“The service concepts we’ve introduced would increase frequency on many Eastside routes, which would help reduce the time that riders would have to wait at the stop,” wrote Scott Gutierrez, a spokesperson for Metro in an email.

He said Metro is considering a range of changes, including relocation of stops, extending bus shelters, providing off-board payment and improving signage.

Continue reading “Eastside Mayors Criticize Bus Restructure Proposal”

Learning from Pronto’s Failure

Unlocking a Spin bike Image: Lizz Giordano

Two new bike shares will soon be rolling into town, participating in a pilot program with the city. Trying to succeed where Pronto failed, Spin and LimeBike have adopted a dockless system allowing riders to park just about anywhere. Bikes with the dockless system are self-locking: not even a bike rack or pole is necessary to secure bikes.

Both companies pointed to the limitations of bike share programs that rely on docking stations to secure bikes when asked why they think their bike share will succeed where Pronto failed.

“Spin is a lot more accessible and affordable than previous bike share programs,” said Randy Tovar, a market launcher with Spin.

Dockless models can serve a larger portion of the city and scale up much faster than systems that use docking stations, he added.

Image: Lizz Giordano LimeBike

“Pronto never got as broad as it should have,” said Gabriel Scheer, a bike commuter and director of strategic partnerships for LimeBike. He said many neighborhoods lacking Pronto docking stations made it inconvenient for riders to use the system.

With the dockless system, riders will no longer have to search for a nearby station at the end of rides to lock bikes, eliminating the geographical limitations Pronto faced.

“I’d love to see someone ride to Portland,” Scheer said. Spin was more cautious when asked how far riders could take the bikes, saying the bike share program was permitted by only the City of Seattle. But nothing will stop riders from leaving the city, except maybe cost. 

Both companies charge $1 for a thirty-minute ride.

Setting itself apart, LimeBike, designed for specifically for Seattle, will give riders eight speeds to tackle the city’s hilly terrain, rather than Spin’s three.

“We had to go bigger,”  Scheer said, “The bike was built for Seattle’s hills.”

Continue reading “Learning from Pronto’s Failure”

SR520 Route Restructure Open House

Eastside bus riders, feeling the slow-down from traffic congestion, have already begun taking advantage of the quick ride the Link Light Rail offers, transferring to the train at the University Washington Station to head downtown.

“It’s just six minutes from UW to Westlake on the train,” said Ted Day, a transit planner for King County Metro, during an open house presentation on June 19 near the UW Station. “That’s incredible. There’s no other way you can do that, except in the air, and I don’t know many people who own helicopters.”

“People are already adapting, getting on the Link at the UW Station to come downtown,” he added.

King County Metro and Sound Transit, preparing for increased congestion on Seattle’s streets on top of the closure of the Downtown Transit Tunnel to buses, are planning a major restructuring of Eastside bus routes for 2018.

This is the first restructuring of Eastside buses to facilitate better connections to light rail, the transit agencies plan to funnel downtown-bound Eastside bus riders to the UW Station. The restructuring would then free up buses that would have been entangled in downtown traffic, allowing the agencies to expand services to new areas and increase the frequency of buses throughout the day.

Three options were presented:

  • No change to service
  • “Frequency focus”: Redirect all routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland
  • “Connections focus”: Redirect some routes to the UW light rail station with new service to South Lake Union, Children’s Hospital and South Kirkland

The June 19 meeting was sparsely attended with most participants wandering in after seeing signs posted for the event. For many attendees of the open house, either alternative option would improve their commute due to the expanded services to SLU and north of the University. The main difference between the two plans is with option b buses would be more frequent while option c allows for better connections for new service areas.

Participants were asked to rank the options, the most popular was option b, focusing on increasing frequency of buses. Riders acknowledged that transferring to link when heading downtown will eventually be faster than traveling by bus.

Jonathan Dubman, a transit rider who has advocated for better bus-rail connections at the UW Station, wants to see the transfer experience improved.

Continue reading “SR520 Route Restructure Open House”

Seattle Booms On

New housing on Seattle’s Dexter Avenue.

Seattle’s growth is still accelerating. Census estimates released yesterday show almost 21 thousand new residents in Seattle in the year ended July 2016. With 704 thousand residents, Seattle is once again the nation’s fastest growing city with 3.1% annual growth.

We’ve become accustomed to fast growth, averaging 15 thousand new residents in Seattle annually between 2010 and 2015. So it’s impressive how Seattle has stepped up its game to add even more residents. As Gene Balk observed yesterday, Seattle is only the second top 50 city to grow more than 3% in one year this decade (the other was Austin in 2012). 3% growth in a mature city is a big deal.

Demand for urban living is strong, as evidenced by high prices for homes in walkable neighborhoods all over the US. But most cities have a hard time delivering those homes. Curbs on urban growth push many involuntarily to the suburbs, and most metropolitan areas are still becoming more suburban. More so than any large American metropolitan area, Seattle has densified as it has grown.

Seattle accounted for a massive 58% of all King County growth in 2016. Seattle’s acceleration was matched by a slowing of growth in many King County suburban cities. Total growth in King County in 2016 was about the same as 2015. A few cities on the central Eastside performed well. Bellevue (+1.3%), Redmond (+3.2%), and Issaquah (+3.6%) all showed healthy growth rates. But the rest of King County had its weakest growth since the recession, and expanded just 0.8%. Continue reading “Seattle Booms On”

Pronto vs Biketown: The Northwest Bike Share Showdown

bike-wars

I recently had the opportunity to check out Portland’s new-launched bike share system, Biketown. While the bikes are similar, the rest of the system is quite different and there are many things Seattle could learn while mulling Pronto’s expansion. I joined Pronto earlier this year and use it several times a week. The two systems are similar but have one very distinct and important difference.

Biketown is operated by Social Bicycles, who operate bikes share systems in 25 other cities in 3 countries. Unlike Pronto’s system operated by Motivate, Biketown does not require users to return bikes to specific stations. At the end of the trip, riders can simply lock up the bike to any public bicycle rack, albeit for a $2 fee. Rescuing a bike from a non-Biketown rack will net the next rider a $1 credit. Riders locking bikes up to racks outside the home area are hit with a $20 fee. By not forcing riders to start and end their trips at specific stations this effectively solves the full or “dead” docks that Pronto users experience. It also enables an additional layer of convenience.I recently had the opportunity to check out Portland’s new-launched bike share system, Biketown. While the bikes are similar, the rest of the system is quite different and there are many things Seattle could learn while mulling Pronto’s expansion. I joined Pronto earlier this year and use it several times a week. The two systems are similar but have one very distinct and important difference.

Pricing

Pronto Biketown
Single ride N/A $2.50
24 hours $8 $12
3 days $16 N/A
Annual $95.40* $144

*$85 if paid up front.
Pronto’s prices do not include sales tax.

All Biketown plans include a set number of minutes per day with overage at 10¢ per minute. Pronto’s prices are capped per-trip (45 minutes for annual members, 30 minutes all others) with overage at $2.00 for the first 30 minutes and $5 for each additional 30 minutes. Each Pronto trip comes with unlimited trips, so you could theoretically keep a bike for 24 hours straight for just $8 if you made sure to visit a dock every 30 minutes.

Signups

Biketown has a mobile app and riders can sign up for any plan through the app. I attempted to do this but the Android app simply displayed an empty screen so I was unable to complete registration through the app and had to do so through the mobile-friendly website. Riders can also purchase any plan at stations that have a kiosk (about half of them). Pronto sells 24-Hour and 3-Day Passes only at stations. Annual passes are only sold online. Pronto does not have a mobile app, but directs to third-party apps that show bike/dock status.

Stations

I won’t pretend to be an expert on Portland’s geography, but with a semi free-floating system the station siting is less important. With Pronto, I often find that bikes are a few blocks away from my origin or destination. Pronto’s station footprint is large enough that it is useful for many short trips in and near Downtown but small enough to not be useful for a majority of Seattle.

Bikes

Both systems use bikes with a step through frame (AKA “girl” bikes). This makes it for riders of all heights easy to start the right way. Both bikes are built with internal hubs. Most bike riders will be familiar with the more popular derailleur design for shifting gears where a chain slides on to differently sized sprockets. In stark contrast internal hubs allow the bike to be shifted while stopped and generally can’t be shifted while pedaling. Shifting is accomplished by twisting a grip on the handlebar near the rider’s thumb. Pronto’s bikes use a 7 speed hub connected to a chain (with a chain guard) whereas Biketown uses an 8 speed hub with a shaft drive. I sometimes experience issues with slipping gears on Pronto, but this wasn’t (yet) an issue on Biketown’s two month old bikes.

I’d need to see the spec sheets or ride both bikes on the same terrain to be certain, but my anecdotal observations were than the first 7 gears had nearly the same ratios. This means that Biketown’s eighth gear is meant for higher speeds on nearly flat terrain. I’d prefer to trade this for a lower gear at the opposite end.

Both feature a front basket. The Biketown basket is larger and fully enclosed and is great for hauling small items whereas the Pronto basket is U shaped with a bungee cord and better for hauling larger items (such as a yoga mat). Both have built-in front and rear lights that turn on automatically. The handlebars on the Biketown bikes feel very narrow; I imagine that those with broad shoulders will be riding with their elbows pressed in to their sides. I found the rubber grips on Biketown’s brake levers to be a nice touch.

Helmets

Unlike King County’s all-ages helmet law, Oregon’s law stipulates that riders 16 and over are not required to wear a helmet. Thus, Biketown encourages the use of but does not offer helmet rentals. Pronto charges $2 for helmet rental except for annual members for which it is free. Helmets are available at every station.

Rental Experience

With Biketown, all interaction takes place on the bike’s built in computer which sits over the rear wheel. Riders can start a trip by entering their 6 digit account number followed by a 4 digit rider-assigned PIN.

With Pronto, 24 hour and 3 day pass holders need to swipe their credit card at the station’s kiosk and then enter a four digit bicycle number to check out a bike. Strangely, this option is not available for annual members, necessitating the use of a Pronto-provided keyfob in order to check out a bike. Non-annual members can purchase a keyfob for $2.50 and enjoy similar convenience.

Biketown also provides a RFID card for annual members and sells them to non-annual members. Checking out a bike still requires entering a PIN, essentially trading the convenience of not having to memorize and type a 6 digit number for yet another card in the rider’s wallet. The account number can also be viewed through the mobile app.

Starting a Pronto trip with a Pronto keyfob usually takes under 5 seconds. Biketown’s on-board computers are laggy and it takes approximately one second to enter each number. Additionally, the displays have poor contrast and I found it to be difficult to read even in the shade. Docking is similar; Pronto trips end nearly instantaneously after rolling the bike in to the dock, whereas Biketown requires sliding the U lock in to place before the trip completes (but requires no other user interaction).

Having a built-in lock is a huge benefit for Biketown. Any trip that requires a stop between stations is easy—riders can simply lock the bike up with the lock they undid to begin the trip. With Pronto, a similar feat would require riders to bring their own lock with them or ensure all their destinations are near Pronto stations. Coupled with Pronto’s small footprint, this has made some trips so inconvenient to the point where I consider them impossible.

After a trip, Pronto members can log in to an online portal to see their rental history which shows the start and end stations as well as start/end times and duration down to the second. The Biketown app and website show all that plus a GPS trail of the trip.

Despite only using the system for a day, I see tremendous advantages in a semi free-floating system compared to Pronto’s forced station-to-station system. While I would definitely welcome the addition of electric pedal assist, I feel that a more successful system could be realized by placing bikes in places where people can access them.

Photos:
Biketown bikes photo by the author.
Pronto at Capitol Hill Station by SounderBruce CC BY-SA on Flickr

Our Improbable Growth Targets

Regional projections indicate a sharp slowing in Seattle and Bellevue, while Tacoma and Everett accelerate.
Regional projections indicate a sharp slowing of growth in Seattle and Bellevue, while Tacoma and Everett accelerate (year 2000 population=100%).

Recent Census data showed another year of strong growth in Seattle and Bellevue. Everett and Tacoma grew more slowly. This raised a familiar question: why are regional plans so out of step with recent experience? Seattle grew 2 1/2 times faster than either Everett or Tacoma in the last five years. Bellevue and other cities on the Central Eastside are also developing quickly. What would cause a reversal of these trends so that Tacoma and Everett can grow into their ambitious 2040 goals?

Regional growth plans are a mix of forecasting and policy-making. The State Office of Financial Management produces state and county forecasts. OFM population forecasts determine targets for housing growth, which are apportioned between cities by PSRC and county planning processes. In each county, the largest ‘Metropolitan’ cities (Seattle, Bellevue, Tacoma and Everett) are allocated a portion of the anticipated growth. Other cities are allocated lesser shares of expected growth, as are unincorporated areas within the Urban Growth Area (UGA). Few unincorporated urban areas remain within King County, but many fast-growing suburbs in Pierce and Snohomish are unincorporated. Lower targets are set for rural areas outside the urban boundary.

The median housing target sets the floor for zoned capacity. Cities and Counties must zone for sufficient developable capacity. Some cities zone for greater capacity than required; others do the minimum to stay in compliance. Much planned development is within Regional Growth Centers.

Benchmarking recent data against the PSRC’s Land Use Vision puts the forecasts in context.

Pierce and Snohomish Counties have grown faster than King for decades. But King County recovered more quickly from the recession. Maybe it’s premature to conclude the ‘normal’ suburban growth norm won’t reassert itself. But other center cities in the US are also outpacing their suburbs. If the flight to the suburbs is really over, should we expect King to lag its neighbors in the future?

State forecasts are for Pierce and Snohomish County to outpace King, in a reversion to historical trends of faster growth in the suburbs
State forecasts are for Pierce and Snohomish County to outpace King, in a reversion to historical norms of faster growth in the suburbs.

King County, having recently outpaced forecasts with urban-focused growth, is expected to revert to the mean. Some of the reversion is just bureaucratic inertia as complex multi-jurisdictional planning processes play catch-up. The 2040 forecast implies a slowdown across King County with just 0.55% average growth over the next 25 years. That compares unfavorably to the 1.85% average countywide, and 2.4% in Seattle, observed over the last five years. This slow pace would restore the past balance between the counties.

Growth is to slow slightly in Pierce and Snohomish, but will outpace King County. Pierce and Snohomish planners are predicting dramatic changes in how their counties grow.

Continue reading “Our Improbable Growth Targets”

Another Year of Rapid Growth

Seattle and Bellevue continue to outpace regional growth targets
Seattle and Bellevue continue to outpace regional growth targets

Last week, the US Census Bureau released 2015 population estimates by city. To nobody’s surprise, Seattle continues to grow rapidly, having added 15,300 more residents in the year ending June 2015. Seattle has grown by 74,000 residents (12.1%) in just five years. Seattle, for the third year in a row, is among the five fastest growing cities in the nation. Seattle, with 684,000 residents last year, is now the 18th largest city, overtaking El Paso and Detroit.

Seattle’s growth was 44% of the 34,800 residents added in King County in 2015, or 41% of the 179,400 added in King County since 2010.

Among cities larger than 50 thousand population, only Bellevue (+2.4%) and Marysville (+2.5%) grew faster than Seattle (+2.3%) last year. None have grown faster than Seattle over five years. (A few smaller exurban communities have posted higher growth rates).

Bellevue added 3,200 residents in 2015, bolstering its role as a major employment center for the Eastside. Tacoma added 3,300. Everett added 1,200. Nine other cities added over 1,000 residents, including Issaquah which saw a 5.8% growth spurt and almost 2,000 new residents.

Renton, growing more slowly, nevertheless saw its population exceed 100,000, becoming the sixth city in the region to reach this milestone.

Continue reading “Another Year of Rapid Growth”

Hack The Commute Winner

wikimedia

Last Wednesday night the City of Seattle and it sponsors held the Hack the Commute Championship Round to determine the winner of the contest which began last month. The panel of judges was comprised of Microsoft Executive Vice President for Corporate Strategy and Planning Kurt DelBene, Google Transit Engineer Brian Ferris, City of Seattle Deputy Mayor of Operations Kate Joncas, SDOT Director Scott Kubly, and Commute Seattle Executive Director Jessica Szelag. Three finalists presented:

Slugg

Slugg is an app to help people create informal on demand carpools. Slugg is very similar to the practice of slugging but with one key difference: users will only be matched with other users that are employed by the same company. Those seeking rides simply open the app and will be presented with a list of those offering rides, and a countdown until the driver is planning on leaving.

Hackcessible – Access Map

Access Map is a web-based map that helps those with mobility issues find routes throughout Seattle. The data, which comes from a variety of sources, includes grade (elevation change) information, the location of curb ramps, public elevators, construction projects, and bus stops. In the future, Access Map hopes to crowdsource some of their data, and also wants to share the data to help the city find problem places or identify the most accessible places of the city.

Work Orbit

Work Orbit is a web-based commute planning tool targeted at newcomers to Seattle. Users input their work address and can view walk sheds, bike sheds, and bus sheds of commutes that are 20, 40, or 60 minutes away. The tool also includes data from Zillow to help users get a feel for various neighborhoods that are within the commute range of their work. Work Orbit also plans to integrate overlays with Pronto! stations as well as existing and future Link stations.

…and the winner is: Hackcessible

The team members will walk away with a prize package and will continue to refine their app. Here’s to hoping the city will provide ongoing support for the project, which seems likely given the city’s commitment to open data. Mayor Ed Murray noted that he was just as excited to meet OneBusAway creator Brian Ferris as he was meeting Russell Wilson.

Timing out Ballard to Issaquah via Sand Point

View post on imgur.com

A couple of days ago there was a great deal of discussion about the merits and costs of a Sand Point crossing. There are two things that a study would find out that everybody would like to know; the monetary cost of the crossing and the potential ridership over the connection. Unfortunately I can’t give any insight into those things. What I can to do is provide some tangible benefits based on travel time using Seattle Subway’s previous posts about the Crossing, Ballard Spur and Better Eastside rail.

Continue reading “Timing out Ballard to Issaquah via Sand Point”

Demographics and Land Use

Orting, Pierce County, WA (Bing Maps)

Mark Hinshaw in Crosscut provides yet another entry in the exurbs-are-dying genre.  A few years ago, I wrote two posts reacting to previous articles in this thread. There have been others over the years, most notably this Freakonomics roundtable.

For me, though, Matt Yglesias applies the critical sober analysis:

Rising gas prices and various other considerations have prompted this increased round of speculation on whether the suburbanization of America will reverse, but the right answer needs to take into account the fact that what policy choices we make will have a strong impact on the course of the future.

Here’s the money graf:

It’s totally plausible that we’ll respond to high energy prices by keeping our transportation spending priorities similar, while incumbent homeowners in-or-near walkable places respond to increased demand by enacting tight development restrictions in order to maintain artificial scarcity of housing stock and maximize the value of their homes. A similar overall proportion of the population would live in the suburbs, but the urban/suburban socioeconomic mix would continue shifting (“demographic inversion”) and overall quality of life will be hampered. Alternatively, we could alter our land use rules to facilitate the construction of denser areas and shift transportation spending priorities. That would slow sprawl, encourage inner suburbs to become less “suburban,” and a shift of the population base toward the cities. That would also be the more prosperity-friendly solution (not because cities are awesome, but because it’s more economically efficient to allocate resources in a manner less constrained by arbitrary regulatory barriers) and I hope it’s the solution we adopt, but whether or not we do it is totally uncertain.

The only thing I have to add is that the population of most metro areas will continue to grow.  So in his first scenario, where we keep the statutory status quo, you might see demographic inversion, but over an increasingly sprawling area.  Homes in Seattle and Bellevue become more unaffordable than they already are.  As you get to current outer suburbs and exurbs, incomes steadily decline, until you reach towns that currently haven’t been absorbed into the metropolis yet.  These towns would grow up to be sprawling exurbs, with the added problem of being of a lower socioeconomic stratum than that currently associated with exurbs.

In the second scenario, increased density moderates prices in the core, creating a mix of housing prices throughout the metro region.  Furthermore, since growth is directed inward, the geographic metro region has roughly the same limits it has today.

Editorial: Fares, ORCA, and Low-Income Residents

Photo by Oran

One of the serious limits to fare increases is the impact on low-income people. Indeed, the current system for selling bus tickets to social service agencies will inevitably miss needy portions of the population. If the ticket program were ever radically expanded you’d almost certainly see a secondary market develop, as tickets are about as traceable as cash.

As a poverty-fighting measure, however, low Metro fares are a blunt instrument. First of all, they threaten the service that low-income people depend on. Secondly, a significant portion of the savings are recouped by middle-class commuters, employers (through transit subsidies), and the federal government (passes bought through employers are usually done pre-tax). More after the jump.

Continue reading “Editorial: Fares, ORCA, and Low-Income Residents”

Rethinking Station Access (II)

Detail of the Bicycling Guide Map. Blue and Green indicate sharrows or better for bikes.

The philosophy behind the plans for Link stations in the Rainier Valley was that people would take “alternate” transportation — buses, bikes, and feet — to get to the train.  A couple of weeks ago, we looked how the bus side of that plan was working out.  Today, walking and biking:

Walking

Sound Transit invested a lot in improving sidewalks, along MLK in particular. However, MLK is a relatively undeveloped, low-density corridor by Seattle standards, and the density was further reduced by eminent-domain seizures for construction staging areas.  The walkshed, measured in people, is simply not that large.  West of the line, the steep and heavily wooded side of Beacon Hill further restricts the accessible area.

If walk-up ridership is to significantly improve, the most important thing is to upzone and aggressively encourage dense development, although sidewalk improvements are urgent in the places where they are needed.

Bicycling

Sound Transit was sure to put bicycle racks at each station, and more importantly trains are well designed to accommodate bikes.  However, the failure to put any sort of bike infrastructure on MLK itself  — just rebuilt for the train — is a huge failing.  A quick glance at the latest Seattle Bicycling Guide Map (pdf) shows the pitiful bike infrastructure around most stations.

Beacon Hill is served by sharrows, and Rainier Beach has an actual bike lane (thick blue) and bike trail (green) approaching it.  For the other three Valley stations, there are oh-so-inviting “unmarked, un-signed connectors” (yellow lines) in the rough vicinity of the station.  There isn’t even a signed bicycle route (dotted black line) that takes you directly to any of the five stations in the Southeast.

Building along the relatively sparse MLK corridor, with little to no parking, was a conscious decision to trade lots of ridership now for the promise of a more development, and therefore, more ridership, in the future. While that decision is defensible, it makes it all the more imperative that the City make minor improvements in pedestrian and bike access, as well as doing whatever is necessary to bring about the development that was the purpose of the routing in the first place.

News Roundup: Double-Speak

Photo by Atomic Taco

This is an open thread.

Slog: Cap Hill Fights for Design on Aloha Extension

Slog has an interesting report on the Capitol Hill Community Council and its fight for the city to fund a study an extension of the First Hill Streetcar north to Aloha:

“If we’re going to build it, let’s build it right,” says Tony Russo, who designed the Capitol Hill Community Council’s kickass Broadway streetcar proposal, and has lobbied the city hard to extend the streetcar to the end of Broadway Avenue. “We need cycletracks and the extension, and we need them both now.” The Capitol Hill Community Council has been fighting to get an Aloha Street extension back on Seattle Department of Transportation’s agenda since it was cut due to the project’s budget constraints. An Aloha extension would cost an estimated $20 million dollars to build.

However, the Capitol Hill Community Council says this $20 million dollars isn’t pressing—the city has several years to come up with the money while it works on the main leg of the streetcar, and, as Russo put it, “Obama’s throwing money at streetcars right now.” Their concern is funding the $750,000 preliminary engineering study and environmental review, which they say needs to be completed by June of this year when SDOT and Sound Transit finalize contract agreements for the streetcar line. Currently, the scope of the contract is written to terminate construction of the streetcar at Broadway and East John Street, at the light rail station.

The report goes on to say that SDOT doesn’t believe that there is any deadline for preliminary engineering, which is consistent with my reporting. The issue is probably better explained as follows: Right now, Sound Transit doesn’t provide any funding to do preliminary engineering on an Ahola extension, and it would be easier to study the extension at the same time we plan the current streetcar plan. (Similar to how East Link is planning a connection between Overlake and downtown Redmond, even though it will probably be many years before that segment begins construction.)

However, Seattle’s Department of Transportation can’t study the Aloha extension without money to do so. It would make sense to ask ST to provide the funding for planning the extension since the streetcar budget is scheduled to come in millions under budget and the Mayor has said a top priority should be extending the line to serve north Broadway.  And if ST doesn’t give the city the opportunity, then the city could lose out on federal money since the extension won’t be “shovel-ready” for a future round of streetcar funding.

That’s the larger point: if ST doesn’t step up to the plate soon, no one will and the Aloha extension will most likely have to be entirely funded locally rather than with federal aid. And that means that the relatively cheap extension is unlikely to be built soon.

R8A Stage 2 Groundbreaking Wednesday

soundtransit.org

If you want to be the cool kid at Wednesday night’s meetup, you can attend the groundbreaking for Stage 2 of the I-90 two-way HOV project at 1 pm that afternoon, at the Mercer Island Boat Launch (3600 E. Mercer Way).  This project replaces the HOV express lanes in the center roadway so that light rail can be built there.  In the view of reverse commuters like me, it also improves on them by providing a carpool lane in both directions at all times of day.

The community built around STB should be proud of this particular event, as your emails were an important element of the campaign to prevent the legislature from defunding this project in 2009.

Bellevue to Discuss ST’s B2M Recommendation Monday

The C9T tunnel with the B2 and B3 connectors.

Two nights ago, we told you that the Sound Transit Capital Committee chose to pursue a recommendation of B2 modified alignment for East Link’s South Bellevue segment, and C9T for the downtown segment.  Those who have not followed our coverage on East Link closely may not be familiar with B2, which had been forgotten until recent.  The route, shown in the map at right, is similar to B3 but avoids the unnecessary curve away from the Surrey Downs neighborhood.  Trains would instead run straight up Bellevue and 112th Ave before entering the downtown segment.  The modifications are mostly regarding guideway type (at-grade, elevated, etc.) and side-running segments along 112th.

We have a few commenters who were present at the Capital Committee meeting.  Bob Bengford graciously brought back his own report:

While Claudia [Balducci] walked cautiously about Bellevue City Council’s 4-3 majority preference on the B routes, there appeared to be general consensus that South Bellevue Park and Ride was a critical stop along the route and needed to be on the alignment – both in terms of accessibility for park and ride users, but perhaps more importantly, for the great connectivity with other bus routes. We heard that Mercer Island’s council had sent a letter expressing their concerns over impacts to their park and ride should South Bellevue be excluded on the Eastlink Route.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Bellevue to Discuss ST’s B2M Recommendation Monday”

Yesterday’s Comment of the Day: the DBT and 520

Commenter cjh has a fair point:

[STB is] willing to go to the barricades to fight and delay other “done deals” (e.g. the execrable Alaskan Way Viaduct tunnel plan), which delays will cost hundreds of millions of dollars. However, they will accept the decision of the powers that be in this case because it is agreeable to their pre-existing position…

For the record, I think the deep-bore tunnel is very likely to happen, given its deep political support.  If anything kills it, it’s likely to be the design spiraling out of control, or some sort of Brightwater-style engineering catastrophe.  Given the fact that there is, in my view, a superior surface/transit option, that also happens to cost considerably less, I’ll take my opportunities to point out that I think that the project is, at its core, unnecessary, and the highly questionable specifics of the viaduct deal.

I also think the current WSDOT plan for 520  is likely to proceed with at most mild alterations to the West side.  I think some simple changes, mentioned repeatedly, could greatly improve transit access.  On the other hand, the larger changes that Mayor McGinn has implied aren’t tied to any specific plan for the bridge.

That’s not a shot at the Mayor, who’s been in office for just over 3 months, has few planning resources, and whose first task is to blow up the coalition that has coalesced around the current plan.  At different times, though, he’s hinted at light rail on the bridge immediately, tracks laid in the lanes, structural changes  to allow for rail, and reduction of the Portage Bay crossing to four lanes.  More after the jump.

Continue reading “Yesterday’s Comment of the Day: the DBT and 520”