Wednesday, January 23, 2019

Elected Leadership Group Winnows Down Sound Transit Level 3 Alternatives


The West Seattle and Ballard light rail extensions are proceeding through an early planning effort to determine a preferred alternative to be further analyzed under environmental review. In October, the Elected Leadership Group (ELG) winnowed down several segment alternatives by corridor extension to be further analyzed before a final preferred alternative is chosen.

West Seattle and Duwamish

Recommendations by the ELG for the West Seattle / Duwamish segment. (Sound Transit)
Recommendations by the ELG for the West Seattle / Duwamish segment. (Sound Transit)

In making recommendations for the West Seattle and Duwamish segment, the ELG decided that all of the non-ST3 Representative Project alternatives, with the exception of the Golf Course / Alaska Junction / Tunnel alternative, should be eliminated from further consideration.

The decision is curious given that the Golf Course / Alaska Junction / Tunnel alternative is a full $700 million more expensive than ST3 Representative Project alternative but is estimated to net 500 fewer daily passengers (10,700 versus 11,200). The ELG recommended, however, that Sound Transit staff proceed with further refinements in the Golf Course / Alaska Junction / Tunnel alternative by exploring a more northern crossing of the Duwamish River and possible station locations in the Junction at 41st Ave SW and 42nd Ave SW.

The cost and ridership differentials from the remaining studied options is as follows:

  • ST3 Representative Project. 11,200 daily passengers.
  • Golf Course / Alaska Junction / Tunnel. 10,700 daily passengers and $700 million over the ST3 Representative Project.


Recommendations by the ELG for the SoDo segment. (Sound Transit)
Recommendations by the ELG for the SoDo segment. (Sound Transit)

The ELG decided to carry forward the Surface E-3 and Massachusetts Tunnel Portal alternatives for further review. The Occidental Ave S alternative, which would have allowed for a potential station to serve the commercial corridor along 1st Ave S and nearby industrial areas, was eliminated. This is presumably due to opposition from the Port of Seattle wanting to preserve port activities at all costs, even if the risks are negligible and far outweighed by accessibility benefits to port workers and local businesses. In the Level 3 analysis, Sound Transit will consider shifting existing and new SODO stations closer to S Lander St.

The cost and ridership differentials from the remaining studied options is as follows:

  • ST3 Representative Project. 35,900 daily passengers.
  • Surface E-3. 35,900 daily passengers and $400 million under the ST3 Representative Project.
  • Massachusetts Tunnel Portal. 35,900 daily passengers and $200 million under the ST3 Representative Project.

Chinatown-International District

Recommendations by the ELG for the Chinatown-International District segment. (Sound Transit)
Recommendations by the ELG for the Chinatown-International District segment. (Sound Transit)

For Chinatown-International District, the ELG pushed four of the five alternatives to ST3 Representative Project alternative forward for further review. Making the cut were: 5th Ave S Bored Tunnel (Massachusetts Tunnel Portal), 5th Ave S Mined Tunnel, 4th Ave S Mined Tunnel, and 4th Ave S Cut-and-Cover Tunnel. The alternative for the Surface E-3 cut-and-cover tunnel on 5th Ave S was eliminated from further analysis.

The segment in Chinatown-International District is deeply difficult because any construction will likely heavily impact the local community and existing transit connections, such as electrified bus routes and the streetcar. This is something that Sound Transit will need to be sensitive to, regardless of the final alignment. There is also significant interest in reactivating Union Station, building connections to King Street Station and light rail platforms, and impacts to the Ryerson bus base. Cut-and-cover and tunneled options all present different problems and impacts that will need to be mitigated.

The ridership and cost differentials (inclusive of corresponding SoDo segment) from the remaining studied options is as follows:

  • ST3 Representative Project. 35,900 daily passengers.
  • 5th Ave S Bored Tunnel (Massachusetts Tunnel Portal). 35,900 daily passengers and $200 million under the ST3 Representative Project.
  • 5th Ave S Mined Tunnel. 39,500 daily passengers and about the same cost as the ST3 Representative Project.
  • 4th Ave S Mined Tunnel. 35,300 daily passengers and $500 million over the ST3 Representative Project.
  • 4th Ave S Cut-and-Cover Tunnel. 35,300 daily passengers and $600 million over the ST3 Representative Project.

Downtown / South Lake Union / Uptown

Recommendations by the ELG for the Downtown, South Lake Union, and Uptown segment. (Sound Transit)
Recommendations by the ELG for the Downtown, South Lake Union, and Uptown segment. (Sound Transit)

Two alternatives to the ST3 Representative Project were carried forward for the Downtown segment: 5th / Harrison and 5th / Terry / Roy / Mercer. The ELG suggested some refinements to the alternatives with a Seattle Center station near Republican Street for the the 5th / Harrison alternative and a 6th Avenue route through Downtown Seattle for part of the 5th / Terry / Roy / Mercer option.

The cost and ridership differentials from the remaining studied options is as follows:

  • ST3 Representative Project. 167,800 daily passengers.
  • 5th / Harrison. 163,300 daily passengers and $200 million over the ST3 Representative Project.
  • 5th / Terry / Roy / Mercer. 176,700 daily passengers and $200 million over the ST3 Representative Project.

If the latter alternative is chosen, Sound Transit could still maximize total ridership for minimal cost differential to the 5th / Harrison alternative.

Interbay and Ballard

Recommendations by the ELG for the Interbay and Ballard segment. (Sound Transit)
Recommendations by the ELG for the Interbay and Ballard segment. (Sound Transit)

In Interbay and Ballard, the ELG tossed out five alternatives leaving only the Central Interbay / Fixed Bridge / 14th and Armory Way / Tunnel / 14th alternatives and the ST Representative Project alternative. For the tunnel alternative, the ELG directed Sound Transit staff to consider how that alternative might better support 15th Ave NW and the heart of the neighborhood.

The cost and ridership differentials from the remaining studied options is as follows:

  • ST3 Representative Project. 17,200 daily passengers.
  • Central Interbay / Fixed Bridge / 14th. 15,400 daily passengers and $200 million over the ST3 Representative Project.
  • Armory Way / Tunnel / 14th. 16,400 daily passengers and $300 million over the ST3 Representative Project.

The two alternatives are considered higher performing than the alignments not carried forward, but their primary drawback is that they are further from Old Ballard. Nevertheless, this could be rectified through further refinement or present an opportunity to consider future land use changes east of 15th Ave NW to complement a station.

Next Steps

Sound Transit will further refine the alternatives to provide further discussion as the transit agency seeks to select a preferred option. Three full corridor options have been released based upon the ELG feedback, which will be the subject of an upcoming article. Sound Transit will also soon provide an update on the remaining options.

King County Metro Releases 2018 System Evaluation


King County Metro recently received approval of its annual system evaluation. The 2018 report highlights where Metro needs to make investments to meet the Service Guidelines. There are three levels of priority that the Service Guidelines establish for investment:

  • Crowding (Priority 1);
  • Reliability (Priority 2); and
  • Service growth (Priority 3).

Metro cannot always meet the Service Guidelines due to various factors, such as available funding and equipment. The latter issue is increasingly becoming a challenge for the transit agency as bus bases become full. Last year, Metro had to turn down about 100,000 annual services hours that Seattle had requested due to lack of available buses and operators.

Priority 1: Crowding

On the overcrowding list, Metro has identified 18 routes that need investment. This is 14 more than the previous year. Seven routes were pushed off the list due to investments implemented last year.

To identify routes meeting this standard, Metro has two criteria:

  • The average maximum load of a bus is more than the crowding threshold for the type of bus; and
  • The average passenger load is more than the number of seats for 20 consecutive minutes.

The following routes need investment to reduce crowding:

Overcrowded routes needing additiona investment. (King County)

A total of 15,300 annual service hours were invested last year to address crowding. Metro still needs to invest another 7,800 annual service hours to deal with the current demands of overcrowding, but it is not clear how much capacity there is to knock off the full amount crowding demands given equipment constraints.

Call to Action: Protect Elders Being Evicted into Homelessness

Eloise Nicholson tells her story of living at Halcyon, “The prospect of losing our homes is devastating; It’s like someone came and robbed my life.” (Seattle Channel)

Last Friday, Councilmember Kshama Sawant hosted a hearing that featured several residents facing eviction, telling their stories. Testimony was powerful, moving, and conveyed the sense of love these neighbors have for each other. One woman who was formerly homeless held up photos from her garden and mentioned she provides vegetables for her neighbors who cannot make it to the market. 

Every resident mentioned they had been told this was going to be their forever home; the last home they would ever live in. You could hear a deep sense of betrayal in their voices. One resident, Eloise Nicholson said: “I bought my home in Halcyon Park in 2003, 15 years ago. This is a caring community; We look out for each other.” Many speakers mentioned that they do not drive. One speaker mentioned that this was a dense, walkable community with access to good bus routes. Mobile homes are an example of affordable, missing middle housing.

In the 1990s, there were six mobile home parks in this area of North Seattle. Today, only two remain. Halcyon mobile home park is an 85-home, two-acre park in North Seattle by Aurora Avenue and N 125th St. It is a 55 and older, low-income close-knit community. Many of the community members have serious health issues and their neighbors provide emotional and physical support.

Washington State Ferries Ridership Hits A 16-Year High


Washington State Ferries (WSF) had another gangbuster ridership year in 2018. Ferries saw their highest ridership since 2002, which plunged after that year due to service cuts as part of the fallout from Tim Eyman’s $30 car tab campaign. Fortunately, the ferry system has shored up, seeing buoying ridership that topped 24,687,038. That translates to a 0.9% increase in passengers year-over-year, slightly less than the year prior.

“Our ridership is up 10% from five years ago and it’s forecast to grow another 30% to all-time highs over the next 20 years,” said WSF Assistant Secretary Amy Scarton. “In order to support this projected demand with reliable service, our recently released 2040 Long Range Plan calls for 16 new vessels by 2040.”

In 2017, WSF saw similar ridership growth with more than 255,000 additional passengers over 2016, a 1.0% rise. WSF carried 24,460,045 passengers in 2017.

Ridership by route in 2018. (WSF)
Ridership by route in 2018. (WSF)

Last year, walk-on passenger ridership grew by 1.2% to 7,262,396. This was particularly pronounced on several routes around Seattle. The Fauntleroy-Southworth route saw walk-on passengers jump by 14.5% while the Southworth-Vashon walk-on passenger volume grew by 13.4%. The Seattle-Bremerton route also saw a 5.6%, even as high-speed foot ferries by Kitsap Transit have been launched on the same corridor.

Sound Transit Unveils I-405 BRT Station Refinements, Seeks Feedback on Access Improvement


Sound Transit has launched another round of open houses for the I-405 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) project to get feedback on station access improvements. The transit agency has also unveiled station refinements, providing more detail on what types of roadway, transit priority, and bus stop improvements might be made. The online open house will be open for comment through February 14th.


Sound Transit plans to operate the I-405 BRT corridor from Lynnwood Transit Center (referred to as “Lynnwood City Center” in planning documents) to Burien Transit Center as two separate lines, meeting in the middle at Bellevue Transit Center. The I-405 BRT is expected to go into service sometime in 2024. A total of 11 BRT stations will be served along the corridor, essentially at locations currently served by ST Express Routes 535 and 560.

The BRT corridor will provide connections to other high-capacity transit options, including ones that the transit agency will open in the next few years:

  • Link light rail at Lynnwood, Bellevue, and Federal Way; and
  • BRT at Bellevue, Burien, Tukwila, Renton, Lynnwood, and Bothell–the latter of which will feature a Sound Transit SR-522 BRT line in 2024, too.
Yellow lines indicate Sound Transit's planned BRT corridors. (Sound Transit)
Yellow lines indicate Sound Transit’s planned BRT corridors. (Sound Transit)

Sound Transit hopes to provide a reliable and fast bus experience by taking advantage of more direct highway access and managed lanes. In cooperation with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT), the transit agency has been coordinating on the kinds of facilities that should be implemented on I-405 to keep buses moving quickly.

Sunday Video: Transit-Oriented Runner


Local transit advocate and runner, Laura Goodfellow, talks to Streetfilms about her passion for transit-oriented running in Seattle. She also talks about the transit-oriented running community and the relationship of running to safer streets and transit mobility.

What We’re Reading: Climate Emergency, Nudge Choices, and Biking Boom


Climate emergency: The city council in Vancouver, British Columbia has declared a ‘climate emergency’, which will free up city staff to come up proposals to address the problem.

Not welcome here: Kent passed an emergency zoning change to preempt a Sound Transit operations and maintenance facility from being located in the city’s Midway mixed-use district near future light rail stations.

Focus on safety: Research indicates that transit agencies need to focus on safety issues for women because those issues are holding them back from using transit.

Proposals on the Hill: More design details emerge about microhousing and hotel development proposals on Capitol Hill.

Free the transit: Paris will provide free transit and bikeshare to kids.

Forsaking Americans: Trump’s government shutdown is beginning to cause all manner of pain and chaos for cities across the country in providing services.

Nudge choices: CityLab explains what cities like Los Angeles may be getting wrong about transit.

King County climate action: A proposal in King County would put the breaks on any gas pipeline expansion and other major fossil fuel infrastructure.

Forsaking low-income individuals: Many low-income renters are facing eviction due to the Trump government shutdown.

PDX likes e-scooters: Portland has released a final report on e-scooters and hopes to bring them back in the spring.

Value feedback: Why do cities discount public input in expanding bikeshare systems?

Kshama running again: Councilmember Kshama Sawant is definitely running for reelection in District 3.

Not so fast: The Federal Railroad Administration will revise speed regulations for railways, but will it actually increase speeds ($)?

Danish eco gamble: Denmark wants to build eco-friendly urban islands in Copenhagen, but will that pay off from a resiliency standpoint?

Hogan’s MTA: Baltimore’s botched bus reboot is unsurprisingly having terrible ridership results.

Biking boom: With the SR-99 viaduct closed, biking has increased significantly overnight.

It’s a subsidy: Call a stadium subsidy whatever you want, but it’s still a subsidy.

Map of the Week: Portland’s TriMet has published a stylized system map that uses the same design approach as Washington, D.C.’s WMATA subway map.

Mayor Durkan Backs Streetcar, Pledges to Seek Funding Solution with Council

The First HIll Streetcar terminates at Occidental Avenue, at least until the Connector is completed. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Yesterday Mayor Jenny Durkan released the long-awaited engineering review of the Center City Connector streetcar project and announced she was supporting the project. The Mayor pledged she’d work with the Seattle City Council to find funding to close the budget shortfall, estimated at $65 million for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) portion.

“[W]e will make historic investments in building a city of the future, like our new waterfront park, a new convention center, and a reborn Seattle Center Arena,” Mayor Durkan said in a statement. “As we reconnect downtown with our new Waterfront for All, we have the opportunity to create a downtown with fewer cars and where residents, workers, and visitors can walk, bike, and take transit. A unified streetcar route provides a unique opportunity to build on our investments for the next generation.”

While finding $65 million additional dollars and securing the $75 million in grants from a reticent Federal Transit Administration (FTA) remain major hurdles for the project, the Mayor’s endorsement represents the clearing of another hurdle–10 months of review in the making.

However, the finish line has been pushed farther out to 2025–five years later than the original 2020 target and much later than the 2021 target that still had seemed possible when Durkan announced she was halting the shovel-ready project to do an independent review. That review, conducted by KPMG, confirmed robust ridership projections, but spurred an engineering review, contracted to Parsons Brinckerhoff, and released yesterday (executive summary of vehicle/project interface and capital and operating cost update). The review showed even higher first-year ridership of 7.1 million, which works out to about 23,000 average weekday boardings.

Overrun Double Standard: Viaduct vs Streetcar

The Center City Connector budget is now being billed at $285 million, although $78 million of that is underground water and utility work that would need to happen eventually anyway. For perspective, that means the entire streetcar budget is still less than just the cost overrun of the SR-99 viaduct replacement project, tallied at $223 million as the megaproject has ballooned past $4 billion in all. Will leaders be as steadfast through streetcar project snags as they were during the saga of the SR-99 tunnel?

Murray’s Many Mistakes

Mayor Durkan criticized her predecessor for poor management of the project saying the Murray administration had relied on guesstimates and insinuating the project had been rushed. She portrayed those mistakes as setting the project on a collision course with the FTA.

“We wouldn’t have had the delay if they’d done proper planning and had used proper controls on this project, period,” Mayor Durkan said in an interview with David Gutman. “I don’t want to call it back of the envelope, but it was a heck of a lot closer to a guesstimate than responsible budgeting.”

Trump’s FTA Gumming Up the Works

Reading between the lines, the Trump’s FTA has also been throwing wrenches in the project. The Trump administration has been requiring the projects prove they have all other funding secured before dispersing federal grants. This sets a very challenging bar for cash-strapped transit agencies, while favoring highway-building state transportation departments, which tend to have much greater resources at their disposals.