ST3: Bus Rapid Transit on I-405

I-405 BRT Corridor Options

There has long been a regional consensus that I-405 Bus Rapid Transit would be a part of the ST3 program. But that general agreement has hidden a fuzziness about the form it would take. The December 4 workshop saw a range of options presented. The studies make a compelling case for a low-cost version of I-405 BRT, but complicate the case for doing much more. The eye-popping conclusion is that a range of investment levels between $340 million and $2.3 billion all produce the same ridership.

Staff presented “low capital” and “intensive capital” representative models. In between are a long list of a la carte options. There are two alternatives for a southern terminus; one at Angle Lake, the other at Burien TC. The “low capital” model leans heavily on existing infrastructure, and is less ambitious than any of the options examined in the previous set of studies in 2014.

Low Capital BRT

Staff analysis helpfully breaks out cost and performance by segment. Segment A, Lynnwood TC to Bellevue TC, is the most productive with up to 10,000 riders, about 60% of all the ridership on the BRT. 10 of the 19 miles are served via general purpose lanes on I-5 and I-405 (other than limited shoulder-running southbound on I-405). Only the portion between Brickyard and Bellevue can be served via HOT lanesSegment B, Bellevue to Renton, runs entirely in HOT lanes, but achieves fewer than 1,500 riders. That would include a deferred project to build HOV direct access ramps at N 8th St in Renton.

Beyond Renton, there is little new investment. Segment C, Renton to Tukwila International Boulevard Link Station, would run in HOT lanes on I-405 and general purpose lanes on SR 518, achieving a respectable 3,500 riders with little cost other than vehicles. From TIBS, the service could continue to Angle Lake via BAT lanes on SR 99 (Segment D1), or to Burien Transit Center via general purpose lanes on SR 518 (Segment D2).

The total capital cost under $350 million is modest for the ridership, mostly because the highway infrastructure is largely existing or funded through WSDOT. 28% of the cost is for parking.ST3_i405BRT_Elements2

Intensive Capital BRT

The ‘intensive capital’ option adds several stations and upgrades others. It eliminates much of the interaction with general purpose lanes via added ramps in the north and BAT lanes in the south.

Continue reading “ST3: Bus Rapid Transit on I-405”

Kirkland’s BRT Design

CKC_BRT2
Kirkland’s preferred option for BRT on the Cross-Kirkland Corridor

Last August, Sound Transit selected a Project Priority List to proceed to the next level of study for the ST3 ballot measure. Since then, the agency has been working with other stakeholders to evaluate potential projects. The City of Kirkland, having successfully advocated for a Bus Rapid Transit option on the Eastside Rail Corridor (ERC), has worked with consultants to develop a more comprehensive vision for that service. The first details of their work were shared at a City Council meeting last week. The City is also working with agencies on light rail and I-405 BRT options.

Kirkland is balancing several policy goals. The City is pro-transit, and understands that BRT on the Eastside Rail Corridor offers far better connections to Kirkland’s growing neighborhoods than the alternatives. But the corridor is also a well-loved place to walk and bike. With rails being removed to the north and south of Kirkland, the ERC is shortly anticipated to be a high demand bike corridor with the highest demand through urban neighborhoods in Kirkland and Bellevue. Walk and bike uses would benefit in obvious ways from integration with accessible transit. To these ends, Kirkland is eager to see a transit infrastructure that mostly hugs the eastern side of the corridor, maximizing the space available to trail users and preserving views to the west. Sound Transit originally anticipated transit would follow the legacy rail-bed down the center of the corridor, more closely encroaching on the trail which would be correspondingly pushed toward the edge of the corridor.

The Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan envisions trails and transit uses sharing the right-of-way.
The Cross-Kirkland Corridor Master Plan has walk, bike, and transit uses sharing the right-of-way.

Kirkland bought a 5 3/4 mile section of the Eastside Rail Corridor in April 2012, known locally as the Cross-Kirkland Corridor (CKC). In 2014, the City removed tracks and built a crushed-gravel interim trail along the former rail-bed. The City’s master plan for the Corridor envisions the interim trail eventually being replaced by paved permanent trails alongside transit, with a primary trail mostly following the center of the corridor, and a lower-speed pedestrian-only trail on busier segments. Sound Transit retains an easement on the Corridor for high-capacity transit, as do some other utilities. However, it is unclear whether Sound Transit (as easement holder) or the City (as corridor owner) governs the placement of transit within the corridor. In September, Kirkland contracted with consultants on pre-design of compatible transit infrastructure, seeking to demonstrate to both Sound Transit and other stakeholders that a balanced design is possible.

What they came up with was an engineering design that increased the space for trails at what appears to be reasonable capital cost. Preliminary concept design also looked at pinch points on the corridor in Kirkland and Bellevue. They developed engineering concept solutions through all of the tight areas that do not adversely impact the trail.

Continue reading “Kirkland’s BRT Design”

North by Northwest 64: Update on Paine Field…

Here in Nikon D5300 Minature Mode is Historic Flight Foundation at 10 AM On Paine Field Aviation Day at 10 AM
My aerial photo: Here in Nikon D5300 Miniature Mode is Historic Flight Foundation at 10 AM On Paine Field Aviation Day at 10 AM^

Figure since many of you in the Seattle Transit Blog comments have some concerns about future Paine Field transit service and in particular light rail… let me give you some updates:

  • Beacon Publishing is doing a survey on transportation with emphasis on the proposed Paine Field passenger terminal.  Some would say supporting a commercial terminal at Paine Field means supporting light rail to Paine Field…
  • Today, and I’m sure this will be covered more thoroughly on Page One, Sound Transit has a new website for ST3.  One part is a survey on what projects for ST3.  If you have an agenda you want to accomplish or help accomplish*… vote and ditto at the upcoming meetings where other local transit agencies will also participate such as the 18 June meeting at Everett Station which I will attend.
  • The Everett Herald kindly posted an update on conversations the Future of Flight and Community Transit are having about weekend transit service to Future of Flight as an initial hydration to the transit desert.  As I said to the Everett Herald, “The Future of Flight deserves a fair slice of service and this is a significant step in that direction.”  I don’t think light rail is that “fair slice of service” any longer but feel the Future of Flight, the #1 tourism destination for Snohomish County with 777.8 daily visitors – many of which international who rely on mass transit back home – needs a “fair slice of service”.  Another option I am now proposing is for that “fair slice of service” being an express bus route from Seaway Transit Center at the east end of the Boeing Paine Field campus to Future of Flight and then Community Transit Route 113…

There you go.

—FOOTNOTES—

^Yes, I write long photo titles :-).  I also wanted an aerial photo that showed more than the Future of Flight.  Below Historic Flight Foundation/HFF will be a major park & ride in a few years.
*Help accomplish like light rail to Ballard, I just expect support for more, better bus service to all Paine Field tenants in return from you commentors.

North by Northwest View 17: A Rider’s Suboptimum Experience on Sounder North…

A Sounder North Train Pulls Into Mukilteo Station... In Kodachrome

My photo: A Sounder North Train Pulls Into Mukilteo Station… In Kodachrome

Introduction

I’ve decided to divided this write-up into three sections: The trip home, the Sound Transit response, suggested rider experience improvements and concluding thoughts.  With that, here goes.

The Trip Home

Recently, I was in Mukilteo combining a fact-finding mission with business travel and got to as part of that fact-finding mission interview Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson.  As part of that fact-finding mission, I took Sounder North to Mukilteo Station from Everett Station and then erred doing the same going back.  However, I did get this nice photo of almost 70 cars in the Mukilteo Station parking lot:

Mukilteo Station at 4:23 PM, 8 May 2015

Problem is, I was a bit early to the first 4:47 PM train but had to wait until (according to my camera) 5:18 PM for my train to Everett – a full 31 minutes late.  I also had to relieve me behind the bush as there was no public restroom – an act degrading to my dignity and possibly to Mukilteo residents’ dignity as well.  Between me with a simple LG 500G Tracfone and a lady crossing the train tracks with a smartphone we were unable to check the Sound Transit website because our phones would be unable to handle the Sound Transit website – too much data or something.

          [For those on e-mail subscription like I, I’ve decided to insert a jump point here so if you want to read the rest of the story – just click the header.  Or if you’re at the full size page read on.]

Continue reading “North by Northwest View 17: A Rider’s Suboptimum Experience on Sounder North…”

WPC: “Sound Transit officials may not need any tax increase to build more light rail”

Folks, if there’s any truth in this Washington Policy Center op-ed, I think we need to discuss a potential option if we do not get ST3.  Most of us here are not too keen on extending the spine to Everett with an expensive Paine Field detour of questionable value when a better bus network & a vastly improved marketing campaign would work wonders.  Almost all of us here are of the view that Ballard needs a light rail spur.

So when I came across these Washington Policy Center allegations, I had to share so we could discuss this:

Sound Transit officials may not need any tax increase to build more light rail.  How?  Because of the revenue that is hidden in the way Sound Transit officials calculate their future borrowing costs.

Sound Transit officials’ most recently adopted financial plan through 2023 assumes they will borrow $7.3 billion at a 5.75% interest rate, paid off over 30 years.  Their interest rate cost assumption is high, especially since they are actually issuing debt now at far-lower interest rates.

In 2012 Sound Transit officials borrowed $216 million at a rate of only 2.62%, less than half of what they assume as their future interest rate cost.  Just a few months ago, they borrowed $1.3 billion as a federal TIFIA loan at a 2.38% interest rate.  The TIFIA loan can be paid off over 40 years, and the first payment isn’t due until 2028!  Today, Sound Transit could borrow money for 30 years at fixed interest rates between 2% to 3% (or at lower variable rates), about half of its current budget assumption.

So what does this mean?

If Sound Transit officials simply changed their financial plan to assume a more-realistic 3% interest rate, they could borrow an additional $2.2 billion without raising regressive taxes and keep their debt payments the same.   That is enough public money to build light rail to downtown Redmond (approximately $800 million) and build much of the line from Ballard to U.W. (approximately $1.7 billion) without raising regressive tax rates at all.

Sound Transit’s financial report shows the agency thinks it can only borrow $7.3 billion at current tax rates, when they may actually be able to borrow closer to $9.4 billion without raising taxes.  This is not fair to the taxpayers.

We agree with using conservative estimates and careful budgeting by public agencies, but in this case, the interest rate estimates Sound Transit officials are using are extreme, and come at the expense of the taxpayers.

I am of the view we do need these projects as a state.  I am also of the view we need to force Snohomish County to come to reality about their transit situation.  I am finally unqualified to speak of transit needs between Tacoma & Seattle – I will leave that to the comment threads.  But this is something we in the STB community need to discuss and have a no-new-taxes contingency plan ready to unite behind and present to Sound Transit’s Board if necessary either if the legislature nips ST3 in the bud or the voters reject ST3.

One last thing: If you have evidence the above WPC op-ed is untrue, present it.  Otherwise…

The Shoreline Rule

Screen shot 2015-04-18 at 7.28.28 PM

Last Wednesday, I gave up.

I paid a $124 fine for a ticket I did not believe I deserved, a ticket from a Sound Transit fare enforcement officer who at first told me I would only receive a warning, after fully intending to challenge the ticket in court.

What changed my mind? In the end, I just couldn’t stomach the Shoreline Rule, which says that, in order to challenge a ticket from Sound Transit or King County Metro, no matter where that ticket was issued, you have to travel all the way to King County District Court in Shoreline. If you live in Shoreline or far north Seattle, bully for you. If you have a car, more power. But if you’re transit-dependent like I am, and live in any other part of the county (I’m in Southeast Seattle, which is hardly the hinterlands), your only option is to get a ride from a friend (good luck doing that on a weekday at 10am), or take the bus.

Don’t blame the county or Sound Transit. Both agencies told me they have nothing to do with the Shoreline Rule. Blame, instead, King County District Court Presiding Judge Donna Tucker, who signs the General Administration Orders (most recently in March of this year) directing where various case types are adjudicated, and whether the court can hear challenges in more than one location.

“State law says the county district court handles our fare enforcement,” says ST spokesman Geoff Patrick. “We don’t have the ability to tell them what to do. It’s their decision.” King County’s Rochelle Ogershok confirms the same is true at King County.

Continue reading “The Shoreline Rule”

North by Northwest View 15: HEY SEATTLE LEGISLATORS, NORTH BY NORTHWESTERS COUNTING ON YOU TOO…

First, these are my personal views after spending several hours doing other work to calm down after reading some hand-wringing over ST3.   After reading the hand-wringing and hearing the gawdawful sissy excuse-making below from The Stranger, one must wonder if Seattle legislators have the right guts & glory to get ST3’s flag on the hill so voters can decide without a Drill Sergeant giving them discipline & focus:

In an April 1 meeting, Ric Ilgenfritz, Sound Transit’s Executive Director of Planning, Environment and Project Development, issued a warning to a group of a transit advocates: “If one person gets pissed off, this whole thing can crash.”

Well, here’s one person who’s already pissed off: Representative Reuven Carlyle, the Democrat whose district covers downtown Seattle, Queen Anne, Magnolia, and Ballard.

“I’m pretty sure that as much as we’re committed as a delegation and a region to being 110 percent supportive of Sound Transit, [ST3] didn’t come down from Mount Sinai written in stone,” Carlyle told me yesterday, his voice cracking at times with almost Biblical anger. “Just because they want it doesn’t, in and of itself, make it religiously pure.”

“They’re asking for taxing authority that comes out of our pocket,” Carlyle adds. “Of course they would like it. I would like ice cream as well.”

Carlyle’s beef with ST3 is that it relies, in part, on what he says is the state’s portion of property tax authority, which he believes the state needs in order to properly fund education. In other words, he fears we’re about to sacrifice education funding on the altar of improved mass transit.

Sound Transit has requested a property tax of up to 25 cents per $1,000 property value to fund ST3. “That $0.25 is ‘in the gap,'” Carlyle explains, “meaning it effectively uses the state’s portion of the property tax.”

. . .

“Reuven’s concerns are legitimate,” says Farrell (D-North Seattle), “and are something that are shared, as we’re trying to figure out the McCleary [education funding] issue.”

It’s up to the Seattle delegation to play hardball, she argues, against the Republicans, who are pitting transportation against education. “My constituents care about trains and they care about education,” she says. “In an ideal world, we’re not having these debates next to each other.”

Newsflash: Rep. Carlyle with much business experience (i.e. he can actually make a decision and I wish he’d have spoken up last year) might actually have a point and I would encourage you to read the whole article before passing judgement on his concerns.  I’m sure in the next 24 hours oh… the Washington Policy Center Transportation Pundit that I’ve helpfully passed the link to, the Seattle Transit Blog main page, and G*d knows who else is going to pounce on this as an excuse to kill ST3.

Now our supposedly reliable ally Rep. Farrell who according to her bio is, “an attorney with a focus on mediation, and her past professional experience includes working as the Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition, an organization dedicated to expanding bus, rail, bicycle and pedestrian transportation options. Her biggest accomplishment – bringing together transit and road advocates in support of transportation initiatives that secured billions in transit funding – is also a top priority in Olympia” is seemingly about to drop out of the ST3 fight.  Oh and smearing Republicans is a) really ignorant and b) a really quick way to get ST3 killed – we North by Northwesters are fighting hard just to save a basic bus inter-county connector route with bipartisan opposition both behind us and in front of us.

Hey Representative Farrell: It’s not Republicans who are pitting transportation against education and it’s bipartisan Senate negotiating team who put on the table 10 cents per $1,000 of assessed value property tax increase for Sound Transit.  It’s Sound Transit knowing voters might get nervous at using other taxation authority decided to request 25 cents per $1,000 of property value.  Furthermore, I agree that;

Screwing around with ST3 risks scuttling its chances altogether, according to Transportation Choices Policy Director Andrew Austin. “The Sound Transit board asked for this suite of taxes for a reason,” he says, “and removing one of the three legs of this funding proposal could jeopardize ST3 both politically and financially.”

So Rep. Farrell, got anything to say for yourself?  Personally, I hope you tonight get yourself in a quiet room, pull yourself together via mediation as I have, apologize to Republicans – especially the Republicans who’ve compromised to get ST3 this far & who’ve carried the torch for transit like me, and bounce back realizing ST3 is imperfect but one of the big things we need for Seattle, Paine Field and a few other under served areas.  It’s beyond time to fall in, salute and get ready for one last gallant rush up Curtis Hill on the Yakima Firing Range in a somewhat cynical political version of “the King of the Hill” playground game to raise the ST3 flag like in another playground game called “Capture the Flag”.  HOO-RAH and fall in!

Oh and you guys wanna fiddle with the tax code – put it to voters in 2016 as an initiative and maybe many if not most of us writing & reading at STB will vote for it :-).  We just don’t have time for Tax Policy 101 at the 2 minute warning here.  Just get ST3 on the ballot and learn next time, the appropriate time to speak up to fix a major project proposal is when the proposals are being drafted and put through committee – as I very much spoke up last year.  Not when we’ve got to get a transportation package out of the State House, reconcile with the State Senate, then have the two chambers vote on reconciliation, then get the Governor’s signature and then off to the 2016 campaign – all within the next two weeks.  A lot is riding on ST3 and that transportation package, please keep this in mind.


Again, these are my personal views.  I’m rather strident in them not just because of the Paine Field angle – that I’m willing to compromise on, but because we need to replace Sounder North with something safer & better, we need a state transportation package, Snohomish County needs light rail at least to Lynnwood – preferably Everett, and I’m convinced we need Seattle to have east-west subways.  We North by Northwesters also desperately, oh so desperately need congestion relief – and that’s mass transit where 1% of the vehicles take 25% of the commuters off of I-5!!!

North by Northwest 48: As Sounder Northline (aka North Sounder, Sounder North) Is Stood Down…

Looking at the Sounder North Without My Polarity Filter
My Sounder Northline Photo From A Drier, Safer Time…

Imperative to review the new Sound Transit protocol on what Sound Transit is now calling “Sounder Northline”:

The most important slide is Slide #5, where in the slide notes of the original PowerPoint, it’s noted:

Our new protocol to determine if North Sounder service should be operated following heavy rainfall involves the following actions:

1.Sound Transit staff examines the data published by the USGS on a daily basis that charts the 3 and 15-day cumulative precipitation threshold, rainfall intensity/duration threshold, and a soil saturation index to determine the likelihood of a slide.

2.Staff also reviews weather forecasts to determine if additional rainfall is expected and discusses actual slope conditions reported through BNSF field observations.

3.If the slide probability appears high, Sound Transit managers and senior management staff after conferring with BNSF and other partner agencies, determine whether service should be operated and make a recommendation to Sound Transit executive staff members for a final  “go” or “no-go” decision. 

Since implementation of the ST protocol, staff has acted on the daily monitoring of slide probability data on 2 occasions.   

The first involved Sounder North trains scheduled to operate special event service to the Seahawk game on Sunday, December 28.  Due to a forecast of significant rain and the nature of the service, a decision was made on Friday, December 26 to cancel the service.  A Friday decision allowed customers ample time to find alternative transportation. It also allowed our partner bus agencies enough time to add additional weekend service, something that would have been much more difficult to do on short notice, especially on a weekend.  In this case, a blocking slide did occur on Sunday morning just prior to what would have been the train departure time. 

The second occasion occurred on Sunday, January 4.  Rain began early Saturday and significant rain was forecast for the area overnight and into Sunday.  As it turned out, actual rainfall levels were much lower than forecasted and the USGS slide indicators did not rise to the level anticipated.  A decision was made to operate on Monday morning and to reassess mid-day for Tuesday operation.  Rainfall levels in the Everett area continued to be lower than anticipated and Sounder North service continued as scheduled for the remainder of the week.  A slide fence was tripped during the Monday evening service but it was minor in nature and no other slide activity occurred.

Some Northline… it’s good however that safety is a growing priority – not statistics.  Ditto with Amtrak Cascades’ concurrent cancellations.  The question is should Sound Transit continue this service…


Special thanks to Sound Transit Paralegal Q’Deene Nagasawa for getting this PowerPoint to me.

Sounder North’s New Slide Prevention Protocol

Sounder North in the Rain in "Kodachrome"

The Sound Transit Board received a presentation from Martin Young, Sounder Commuter Rail Operations Manager of the new protocol to cancel Sounder North service.  Deputy CEO Mike Harbor explains that a small slide that blocked a Sounder North train inspired the briefing. Video is 78:35 into this link.  Below are the slides for you to browse through.

Sounder Cancellation Protocol 2015-01-22 Presentation

After going through the slides, Sound Transit’s spokeswoman Kimberly M. Reason explained the three USGS predictive tools are “rainfall, rainfall intensity and soil saturation” (see here), but also that “Sound Transit uses weather forecast data and information on field conditions to inform service decisions.”  Although Sound Transit attempts to make a decision “the afternoon before the day of service”, there is no firm deadline to make a decision before — or during — a Sounder North run.

Continue reading “Sounder North’s New Slide Prevention Protocol”

North by Northwest View 007 – License to Kill Sounder North?

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Sounder at Everett Station

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My photo of Sounder North at Everett Station

These are not the views of Seattle Transit Blog, rather the Page Two Writer.

I used to ride Sounder North until very recently, when I just decided free WiFi, the thrill of riding the rails and the gratification of riding grade-separated mass transit of Sounder North was not worth my life after reading of a slide one week ago that, “came down in front of a Sounder train heading into Everett. Mud slid onto the tracks immediately in front of the train, which came to an emergency stop in the shallow mud and vegetation.” I also think Sounder North is not just unsafe but also illegal.

Sounder North illegal? Yes, as RCW 81.104.120 allows Sound Transit to provide commuter rail service only when “costs per mile, including costs of trackage, equipment, maintenance, operations, and administration are equal to or less than comparable bus…”

Rail is wonderful – it’s grade-separated, which means that there’s little to no congestion. But rail also costs more than a bus. In fact, the Sound Transit Citizen Oversight Panel found the cost of Sounder North six times more expensive than moving by bus in a 2012 report. However, the Third Quarter 2014 Sound Transit ridership report says ST Express Bus for that quarter is $6.22, versus $11.32 per Sounder North & Sounder South rider – perhaps because the easements bought from BNSF are not calculated. Still.

Furthermore, according to that same report, Sounder North was getting only 245,025 riders from three quarters of 2014 service. The original 1994 Commuter Rail Status report (page 13 of the PDF) projected 1,168,000 annual passengers in 2010 to make Sounder North pencil out and legal. Sound Transit is nowhere near that 2010 goal in late 2014.

Two years ago, the lovely Meg Coyle of KING 5 anchored a stern news report that the Citizens’ Oversight Panel recommended Sounder North be more cost-effective or stood down:

One would also add the sensitive matter of Sounder North’s proclivity to slide disruptions. Perhaps this explains why ridership is low. But also the slide disruptions race genuine moral questions. When seconds count, first responders are minutes away. Each Sounder North car can take over 130 passengers – so even at 33% use, that’s more lives at risk than lost from the 2014 Oso mudslide. Per car. In places along the tracks from Everett to Seattle, there are no roads for ambulances and the like to race to – which means that rescue swimmers by helicopter and boat would be necessary to help good Samaritans pulling Sounder North users out of Puget Sound. Granted, NAS Whidbey Island only has one SAR helicopter on strip alert (with another two for backup) that requires base commander permission to launch– and the Snohomish County Sheriff has a donation-supported Helicopter Rescue Team using an upgraded Huey. Both units performed beautifully during the Skagit River bridge collapse and the Oso landslide – but did not have to deal with hundreds in a life-threatening situation.

Vital minutes would pass for those heroes to get on scene while folks in business attire would be drowning and/or have the onset of hypothermia. As somebody who’s been in the backcountry and worked on a farm in the elements who has experienced the cold, hypothermia is a serious matter. Just reading the Wikipedia entry on hypothermia from water immersion should get your attention. The first two minutes truly matter and the first 15-30 minutes are when folks live or die after getting plunged into Puget Sound – so if lots of people can’t swim in business attire to shore and try to dry off until ample First Responders arrive… they could very likely die.

However, as you may have noticed from the agenda, Sound Transit’s monthly Board meeting will not address this issue. So I called King County Executive Dow Constantine’s Communications Office today and was politely told negotiations are underway to schedule a Sound Transit Board discussion about Sounder North as Executive Constantine’s been clear: “The board’s first concern is safety. In light of this incident, and service interruptions during past winters, I plan to ask the board to discuss rainy-season operational challenges.”

One would hope soon as every time a Sounder North races around slopes still waiting for stabilization efforts to complete… a dangerous roulette is underway. Not to mention the expensive matter of noncompliance with RCW 81.104.120 intended to protect scarce transit dollars.  For those reasons of safety and illegality, it’s time the Sound Transit Board seriously recalculated whether to proceed with Sounder North operations.

Ultimately, in the final analysis: How long does the Sound Transit Board want to wait until several hundred Sounder North passengers end up in Puget Sound from a mudslide and we have a mass casualty incident for no good reason with RCW 81.104.120 to cite to eliminate the risk? Who wants to be the transit advocate or likable politician to explain that to the next of kin and a class action litigator?  Especially when bus rapid transit/BRT would resolve the transit needs Sounder North has meagerly addressed with minimal risk to human life and be in compliance with state law.

If you want to make your views known to the Sound Transit B0ard – EmailTheBoard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-orgNow is the time…


Special thanks to John Niles of Public Interest Transportation Forum, Bob Pishue of the Washington Policy Center and Frank Abe of King County Executive Dow Constantine for your invaluable help in stitching this together.

North by Northwest View 06 – Comment Letter to Sound Transit Board, RE: Sounder North

Sounder North in the Rain in "Kodachrome"

My iPod Touch snap postprocessed to emulate Kodachrome, “Sounder North in the Rain in “Kodachrome”

Below is the body of my comments to the Sound Transit Board & King County Executive Dow Constantine, cc’ing the main Sound Transit e-mail addy & Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson regarding the ongoing Sounder North slide situation.  Figured I’d post here as an editorial.


Dear Sound Transit Board;

I am the statistical outlier who has been boarding Sounder North at Mukilteo Station to get to Everett Station in recent months.  I am relieved that King County Executive Dow Constantine promised in the Seattle Times that he would raise at the monthly Sound Transit Board meeting a better Sounder North safety policy.

I’m not so sure I’d get to comment on the matter orally so sending this e-mail of support for a Sounder North safety policy of… shutting Sounder North down if there has been serious rainfall in the previous 12 hours before a run.  I’m asking you do what your Interim CEO Mike Harbour wants which is, according to The Seattle Times, “if the weather and monitoring devices indicate a high risk” to send a blast e-mail as you do so helpfully :-) & put signs up at the stations of Sounder North cancellation.

I’m also going to ask that you please require ALL Sound Transit employees on Sounder North undergo lifeguard training as soon as possible – just Sounder North.  This is so in the event a Sounder North ends up in Puget Sound somebody can help pull folks back to shore until First Responders can arrive because when seconds count, First Responders are minutes away.

On a personal level, I don’t want to have to tell my Sedro-Woolley mother at 1900 Hours/7 PM from my cellular that somehow her son’s on a train and I knew the train was becoming unreliable if not unsafe until May but I took Sounder North anyway knowing I’d either be stuck behind a slide or taking some of Puget Sound home with me.  As such, I will be going back to Everett from the Future of Flight – where I do professional aviation photography and help the organization out via Everett Transit Route 70 at 84TH ST SW & 44TH AVE W, then Everett Transit Route 18 from the Mukilteo Ferry Terminal to make my Everett Station connection to Skagit Transit 90X and home.  My point is this: I really like the reliability, comfort and WiFi of Sounder North.  However I’m not exactly too gung ho about riding the rails against unstable slopes for WiFi.

Perhaps, if I may submit some business advice, it would be best to stand Sounder North down until slopes are reinforced or until May.  Or perhaps as one internet commenter on the Seattle Times story thought up:

There is another route for the Sounder, abit more expensive, and that is up the old North Interurban. It is a much better route in that it accommodates a much higher population density. But, because past politicians allowed it to be fragmented, reacquiring the land by Lake Ballenger and north of Alderwood Mall will be expensive. But it also gives a direct passenger rail access to Shoreline and Lynnwood…

Just something to consider, although I’m pretty confident my contact Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson would have an acutely different opinion.

Ultimately, I’m asking the Sound Transit Board to please prioritize rider safety over ridership statistics.  If that means a new express bus service to these four communities – I’m okay with that grudgingly.  If that means making Sounder North seasonal away from the wet season until safety measures are installed, okay.  But please put safety first and fiscal responsibility a close second – normally the two don’t contradict.


I got a thoughtful response from EmailTheBoard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org pledging:

Thank you for your message to the Sound Transit Board. Your email is being distributed to all boardmembers for review, and will be responded to within three business days.

Thank you,

Sound Transit Board Administration

If true, and I have no reason to believe otherwise, I much appreciate.

If you’ve got thoughts about Sounder North, you just might want to send EmailTheBoard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org your thoughts.  Here’s why:

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is Sound Transit’s board chairman, said Friday he’ll bring up landslide matters at a transit-board meeting.

“The board’s first concern is safety. In light of this incident, and service interruptions during past winters, I plan to ask the board to discuss rainy-season operational challenges,” Constantine said in a statement.

Folks if you oppose Sounder North, if you support Sounder North, or if you just support reforming Sounder North chime in at EmailTheBoard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org .

North by Northwest 37 – Sound Transit Deputy CEO Puts the Sounder North Situation in Stark Relief

Sounder North in the Rain in "Kodachrome" - Horizontal Perspective

Very recent iPod Touch snap of mine of a Sounder North approaching Mukilteo Station

Quoting verbatim the Sound Transit Deputy CEO Mike Harbour in his weekly Sound Transit CEO Report which anybody can subscribe HERE:

Mudslides and Seahawks

Unfortunately, mudslides continue to be an issue on our Sounder north line. On Wednesday evening, a slide came down in front of a Sounder train heading into Everett. Mud slid onto the tracks immediately in front of the train, which came to an emergency stop in the shallow mud and vegetation. There were no injuries or damage to the train equipment. The train waited about an hour while inspectors evaluated the conditions. Then the train proceeded slowly to Everett Station, pushing the debris off the tracks.

The slide knocked out north line service the rest of the week and we decided to cancel the Seahawks train that was scheduled to run this Sunday between Everett and Seattle. The forecast for new storms was making more slides likely and we didn’t want riders to be stranded trying to get back home. And then another slide hit this morning near Edmonds. The Sounder Seahawks trains on the south line between Lakewood and Seattle will run Sunday as planned.

We appreciate the patience of our riders when slides occur. Fortunately, during the shutdowns we are able to provide direct bus service from the train stations into Seattle and back.

The slide Wednesday was about a mile south of Everett and was the third in the Everett area this season. This part of the corridor is one of six project areas identified for the federally funded slope mitigation efforts underway by the state Department of Transportation and the BNSF Railway Company. Two slope mitigation projects near Edmonds and Mukilteo were completed in March and design on the remaining four is complete. The state DOT, BNSF and the City of Everett are discussing when to begin construction on the third project. Meanwhile, the state DOT is awaiting additional funding to begin construction on the remaining three projects.

The Seattle Times just posted a news story on the latest ongoing incident.  In it, they note Sound Transit is discussing the acute possibility of preemptively cancelling Sounder North services.  For a controversial, underperforming Sound Transit run it’s a lose-lose situation.  However, the greater loss would always be a Sounder train in Puget Sound for as King County Executive Dow Constantine aptly put it:

King County Executive Dow Constantine, who is Sound Transit’s board chairman, said Friday he’ll bring up landslide matters at a transit-board meeting.

“The board’s first concern is safety. In light of this incident, and service interruptions during past winters, I plan to ask the board to discuss rainy-season operational challenges,” Constantine said in a statement.

For those STB Readers like Mayor Jennifer Gregerson of Mukilteo that would like to have input – the next Sound Transit Board Meeting is December 18, 2014, 1:30 pm – 4:00 pm, Union Station, Ruth Fisher Boardroom, 401 S. Jackson St., Seattle, WA.  You can also e-mail the Sound Transit Board at emailtheboard-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org and EmailAllBoardMembers-AT-soundtransit-DOT-org regarding King County Exec Dow Constantine’s efforts on Sounder North safety, which is probably best since “Public comment is permitted only on items that are on the Board/Committee meeting agenda for final action, unless the Chair announces that comments will be taken on other items” according to the Sound Transit website.


PROGRAMMING NOTE: Expect a full editorial on this to drop late Saturday evening.  Let’s just say since Wednesday’s slide was at a slope to get maintenance next year, I’ll be making some firm comments as they’ll also be my comment letter to Sound Transit.  I was going to do one on airports & land use, but that isn’t so timely now…

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”

North by Northwest 30: Mukilteo’s New Transit Terminal by 2020?

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Washington State Ferries Simulation of New Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal

Mukilteo by 2020, assuming the state funds the second and last phase of the actual $129 million construction, will have a new multimodal transit terminal that’ll be a net gain.  For one, Mukilteo’s waterfront will no longer have unsightly abandoned US Air Force fuel tanks and the pier they were on that served Paine Field (aka KPAE) when Paine Field was a US Army Air Corps & US Air Force base defending the Pacific Northwest & training WWII P-38 Lightning & P-39 Aircobra pilots.  Mukilteo will also happily lose “four percent of the remaining creosote-treated timber piles in Puget Sound” (SOURCE) on its shoreline.  The Mukilteo waterfront will also no longer have a significant walk between the Sounder North platform and either the State Ferry Terminal or the bus stop.  With Mukilteo-Clinton being the busiest Washington State Ferries (WSF) ferry run in sheer demand with over 2 million vehicles per year & almost 4 million total riders per year, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) decided the time was right to start replacing a seismically deficient & disruptive WSF terminal with something out of the 21st Century that is environmentally friendly.

I decided to write about this project because as my Flickr followers or browsers of the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Pool may have noticed, I use when able Sounder North to make connections between Everett Station & Mukilteo – mostly in the late afternoons.  Not too happy about the bad connections that a 1,850 foot walk entails as per page 6 of this PDF discussing Multimodal Connections.  In fact, here’s the existing terminal status quo versus the changes that will happen if Phase II, the actual building of the new Mukilteo terminal occur:

ST to WSF passenger building Bus to WSF passenger building Bus to ST
Existing terminal* 1,730 190 1,850
Project (New terminal)* 745 225 970

*Distance in Feet

So I decided to reach out to Laura LaBissoniere Miller, a WSDOT communications consultant who according to her bio, “supports a range of public involvement programs, specializing in implementing community engagement for NEPA/SEPA environmental review processes. … A skilled communicator, Laura also handles citizen correspondence for some of the most controversial projects.”  Having worked with her on this report, tend to concur.

For instance when asked about putting TransitScreen into the new terminal after this great Frank Chiachiere post Laura promised, “it’s certainly something the design team, Sound Transit and Community Transit can look into. Thank you for the suggestion! ”  Considering Sounder North, multiple Community Transit & Everett Transit routes and a very-high-demand Washington State Ferries run all will be serving this terminal… hope TransitScreen happens.  Especially if perhaps somebody waiting on a bus can walk off the ferry or Sounder North could dive into the terminal, pick up something from concessions and/or use the restroom and make their connection…

As part of my Paine Field commutes these days involves the bus stop along the Mukilteo waterfront, also was happy to hear buses would have their own lanes through to the Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal.  Currently buses have to make a turnaround right in the thick of the WSF terminal traffic flow.

Noting heated waiting for bus passengers

One thing also noticeable in reviewing the voluminous documentation of the project library is that the new terminal will provide a covered, heated place with restrooms for transit users to make our connections in health & frankly basic human dignity.  The below is the current status quo as I pictured around 5:30 PM 10 November 2014:

2014-11-10 Mukilteo Transit Experience

If you browse through the pictures, you’ll notice some construction in the background.  It’s the expansion of the Mukilteo terminal for Sounder North which according to the Sound Transit website, “includes a second platform on the south side of the tracks, a pedestrian bridge over the tracks connecting the two platforms, permanent passenger shelters and public art”.  Sharon Salyer, an Everett Herald Writer noted in her write-up the project is costing $11 million dollars and, “Currently 280 people board the train at Mukilteo Station each day, part of the 1,100 passengers traveling between Seattle’s King Street Station and Edmonds, Mukilteo and Everett.”  A review of the WSDOT project library notes the plan is to design multiple walking paths for Sounder North users to/from the Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal.

Ultimately, if the state legislature can please fund the construction of the actual Mukilteo Multimodal Terminal – it’ll greatly improve the transit connections from here to/from Whidbey (assuming Island Transit financial condition doesn’t further worsen) but also Everett to the north and Mukilteo, Lynnwood plus Seattle & points further south.  The Puget Sound environment will also be greatly improved by the removal of harmful abandoned docks & petroleum infrastructure along the Mukilteo waterfront, and ST3 can help provide even more high quality transit connections to this new transit hub. Plus with much improved transit service to Paine Field, this terminal could be a great hub for transit connections to the many tenants

North by Northwest View 02: Why Should Washington State Legislative Republicans Back Transit

https://www.flickr.com/photos/aidaneus/8178821710

Aidan Wakely-Mulroney Photo – “The Washington State Capitol; Olympia, Washington”

Voters tonight decided to keep a divided State Legislature for a multitude of reasons. But those reasons aren’t the purview of Seattle Transit Blog/STB.

The problem for us at STB is now we need to make the case to Republicans why Republicans’ self-interest is in supporting transit.  So here goes from the STB Republican-in-Chief:

Argument For 1: Republicans should realize transit is fiscally conservative versus building more highways that encourage sprawl that will require more of the following:

  • First Responders
  • Public utlilities – water, sewer, the like.
  • Public schools
  • Even more roads
  • More support staff

All of this will require more government which will require more taxes. Transit instead works to create density to protect scarce taxes – all of which confiscated from hard-working taxpayers for public services.

Argument For 2: Transit enables the disabled who cannot drive a place in our society. Instead of having disabled folks dependent on relatives or welfare, transit is an important means to a J-O-B, to community and to life.

After all, do you want an Aspergian with 1.5 good eyes and PTSD behind the wheel and running somebody over? If so, you’re certainly NOT pro-life. Transit is therefore vital to folks like I.

Argument For 3: Transit is good for the economy. Transit allows tourists to not have to rent a car or hail a cab to visit a community. Transit also pivots spending away from the automobile towards other forms of spending such as food, lodging, clothing and the like.

Argument For 4: Transit also can provide congestion relief when done correctly. Transit allows families to own only one or no car instead of two – therefore providing congestion relief. Transit allows folks to take up much less space on a road going to work than a Single Occupancy Vehicle/SOV. Transit also when serving areas of high residential density, high commercial density (malls, museums, etc) plus job creators (Paine Field, downtowns) does excellent congestion relief by taking many cars off of the road.

Argument For 5: Transit support will translate into votes with more Millennials using transit. According to a Rockefeller Foundation study, “Almost two-thirds of Millennials (64%) say that the expense of owning a car is a major reason they want be less reliant on one, including 77% of Millennials who earn less than $30,000 a year.” Furthermore from the same source, “Almost all Millennials (91%) also believe that investing in quality public transportation systems creates more jobs and improves the economy.”

Realtor.org – no progressive website – recently wrote,

Cars are a hassle. In 2008, only 31 percent of 16-year-olds and 77 percent of 19-year-olds had a driver’s license — numbers dramatically lower than the 1978 numbers of 50 percent and 92 percent, respectively, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Even as millennials age, they’re driving less than prior generations. In 1995, 20.8 percent of autos were driven by 21-30-year-olds, according to the Federal Highway Administration’s 2010 Household Travel Survey. By 2009, that number had dropped to 13.7 percent.

“For baby boomers, owning a car was a coming-of-age, life-stage thing,” explains Rebecca Ryan, founder of Next Generation Consulting in Madison, Wis. “The coming-of-age toy for the next generation is the smart phone.”

Several factors contribute to millennials’ negative perceptions of cars. “One is the expense,” says Ryan. “Millennials are the most unemployed generation, and their college debt compared to that of their baby boomer counterparts is exponentially higher. Millennials also believe cars are ecobombs — that they’re inheriting a planet that’s totally messed up, and they don’t want to contribute to it. The final kiss of death for cars? You can’t text and drive. All these things together create a perfect storm against cars.”

I can keep citing sources from Google or Yahoo or Bing upon request – that transit is an important part of winning the millennial demographic just now doing this thing called voting. Not sign-waving, not Tea Partying, not public comment sorties; but actual voting that wins elections. So unless Republicans find joy only pontificiating in the minority instead of governing in the majority; it’s time Republicans started supporting enthusiastically transit.

Argument For 6: Transit is a means of letting suburbs and cities exercise local control over transportation options. We just saw tonight Seattle vote to tax itself more to fund transit – that’s only proper, with the regressive tax code we have in this state it’s only right to have a public vote on taxes and support transit. It’s also only right for those of us who are conservative to champion local control and let local people decide what’s right for them through local governance. Republicans aren’t supposed to be the party of big mandates but the exact opposite – and as such unless we have some reforms we on the Right would be able to impose to make Sound Transit more awesome, then let the voters decide on ST3 for local control’s sake.

It’s also worth noting ST3 is necessary in the eyes of the City of Everett, Snohomish County, and the Puget Sound Regional Council for starters with more to come. All those local government folks have hit “a critical level of frustration” – and if we Republicans are truly pro-local control as we distrust Big Government, then it’s time to support the local government folks in the trenches.

That said the way Scott Dudley representing the largest city on Whidbey Island has stepped up and taken the fight to save Island Transit on is how Republicans could tackle transit. We show that we’re the ones who will be fiscally responsible, use transit as an economic growth tool and grow transit in a fiscally sustainable way. We’ve seen the progressive alternative with Island Transit – and its incompetence.

Ultimately, I’d rather see a Republican positive plan to reform transit than the obstructionist approach we’ve seen in recent state legislative sessions. If not, this whiff of power Republicans have gotten in recent years is going to slip away…

Sound Transit Board to Vote Thursday on P&R Parking Permits

Tukwila Int'l Blvd. Station
Tukwila International Boulevard Station, by l0st2

Paid P&R parking is getting its nose under the tent at Sound Transit.

In its meeting last Thursday, the Operations and Administration Committee of the ST Board voted to recommend that the full Board approve a parking pilot program. The Board is expected to vote in favor at its Thursday meeting. The pilot is described in this draft board motion which was attached to the agenda for the committee meeting.

By far the most noteworthy component of the pilot program is paid parking permits, which would guarantee parking availability at high-demand P&R lots to permit holders, even if they arrive later in the morning. This is a first in the Puget Sound area. ST would initially reserve 20% of the spaces at the following four ST-operated P&R facilities for permit holders:

  • Tukwila International Boulevard Station
  • Issaquah Transit Center
  • Sumner Station
  • Mukilteo Station

This is fantastic news. Details below the jump.
Continue reading “Sound Transit Board to Vote Thursday on P&R Parking Permits”

Kirkland Transit Center Reopens

The new Kirkland Transit Center on Friday

[Correction: route 255 and 540 continue to serve 6th St and will not serve State St]

Today, the new Kirkland Transit Center reopens to transit service. The twenty-two year old on-street transit center was upgraded to improve transit operations and create a pedestrian-friendly environment in the heart of Downtown Kirkland. New passenger shelters, lighting, and an in-pavement flashing crosswalk improve the safety and comfort of users. A green trellis and public plaza welcomes people to the downtown park. There is new sheltered bicycle parking next to the library. The street was completely rebuilt with a landscaped median and 10-inch thick concrete pavement over a 6-inch subgrade to withstand heavy bus loads. More photos of the transit center can be viewed here.

Bus routes 255 and 540 Express return to their original routing along State Street and will no longer continue to serve 6th St S between the transit center and NE 68th St in Houghton.

The project has a budget of $13.3 million and is one of the last bus capital improvements in the 1996 Sound Move program. Construction started in October 2009. At an open house meeting during construction, I asked Sound Transit about the cost breakdown and I checked the figures in the budget. Roughly speaking, $8.5 million was budgeted for civil construction work, $2.6 million for the environmental review (EIS), engineering design and specification, just under $1 million for permits and overhead, with the remaining million for contingency. Some might wonder why it cost so much. The transit center project worked in conjunction with a King County wastewater pump station upgrade project. That project required digging up the entire street to install a new sewer main. I have a call in to Sound Transit to see whether the stated cost includes the wastewater and excavation component.

An interesting tidbit: did you know that the Eastside Interceptor, the main pipe that collects wastewater on the Eastside follows the length of the BNSF east side rail corridor? The wastewater gets treated in Renton.

What’s Next for the Tacoma Streetcar??

Link at Convention Center – Tacoma, WA by Dave Honan
Link at Convention Center – Tacoma, WA by Dave Honan

TCC will be talking Tacoma Streetcar:

How much rail can $80 million buy? What’s the difference between streetcars and light rail? What are the benefits of rail?

For the event’s location and directions, Click Here.

Officials from Sound Transit, the City of Tacoma, and the Transportation Choices Coalition are holding a public forum on Friday, July 23rd to discuss the future of Tacoma Link, expansion plans for Tacoma Link, and streetcars in general. Various officials will be present to answer any and all questions.

What: Tacoma Streetcar Friday Forum
When: Friday, July 23, 12:00pm – 1:30pm
Where: University of Washington Tacoma, Garretson Woodruff Pratt Building, Tacoma Room (Room 320)


New proposal to keep North Link extension underground

Alternative North Link Portal Location. photo courtesy of Mai Ling via Maple Leaf Life

According to Mai Ling of Maple Leaf Life, Sound Transit unveiled an alternative to the North Link light rail line extension at the recent public meeting at Roosevelt High School:

University Link Deputy Project Director Ron Endlich introduced a new proposal to keep the light rail line underneath Interstate 5 farther than the current proposal, which has the trains beginning their rise to freeway level starting at Northeast 75th Street. Under the new proposal, they would rise above ground en route to the Northgate station starting at Northeast 85th Street…

“This will improve our overall construction schedule,” Endlich said. “We believe it will also have a lower net cost to taxpayers under this approach.”… According to a flier from the meeting, the proposal is expected to save $5 million to $10 million.