Monday, 20 January, 2020

Holiday Video: The Lost Neighborhood Under Central Park

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Central Park is world renowned and beloved by many, but it has a shrouded history marked by elitism and racism. In this video, Vox uncovers a small piece of the pre-park history in Seneca Village.

Sunday Video: Disney Transport Is Huge, But Is It Any Good?

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Walt Disney World has a massive transit system that actually has ridership approaching some major American public transit counterparts. But is it any good?

What We’re Reading: PDX Fourplexes, Idaho Stop, and Ridership Rebounding

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The waiting hall at Los Angeles Union Station.
The waiting hall at Los Angeles Union Station.

Florida rail expansion: Virgin Trains USA is already installing new tracks as Orlando International Airport as part of their mid-Florida expansion.

Goodbye archives: The national archives facility in Seattle could be closing.

Clearing the trail: King County wants property owners along Lake Sammamish to remove their structures from the East Lake Sammamish Trail right-of-way ($).

PDX fourplexes: Sightline highlights why Portland legalizing more fourplexes would be a big deal.

A hindrance?: Pierce County has been landbanking property in Downtown Tacoma, but it may be hindering investment and time to divest ($).

Deadly smoke: A new study indicates that Washingtonians are more likely to die during smoky wildfire events.

Revamping Union Station: Union Station in the national capital will get a big revamp, but does it come with too much parking?

Research Triangle rail: Could commuter rail come to Raleigh-Durham?

Speeding up shelter: A California bill would allow homeless shelter projects to skip environmental review.

Linkage fee vote: San Francisco voters will get to weigh in on a commercial linkage fee.

Will they act?: Will Washington help raise more revenue to address the homelessness crisis?

Idaho Stop: The Washington State Legislature appears poised to tackle legalization of the Idaho Stop, which would allow people biking to treat stop signs as yields.

Clean cut: Clean energy tax breaks don’t make it into the national budget.

Hydrogen: Can hydrogen make a comeback?

Operator shortage: The Bay Area is dealing with a severe transit operator shortage, which is leading to many cancelled and reduced services.

Pedestrian-oriented street: Houston isn’t known for its walking and biking culture, but it plans to deliver big improvements for a downtown pedestrian-oriented street.

Bleeding cash: Why do micromobility companies keep losing money?

Baltimore: Harborplace was supposed to turn Baltimore around, but what happened?

Hill projects: Capitol Hill Housing eyes a mass timber affordable housing project on E Union St and substantial public art pieces are set to feature prominently in Midtown Square.

Canal houses: How have Amsterdam’s canal houses remained for over 300 years?

Ridership rebounding: What’s behind the recent gains in public transportation in America?

Gun shy: Washingtonians want stricter gun laws, but will the state legislature deliver?

Under investigation: The national Opportunity Zone program is under investigation by the Treasury.

Austin’s in for transit: Austin has a massive transit package coming together and that voter will likely weigh in on this fall.

Missing middle catching fire: A missing middle housing act has been filed in the Nebraska State Legislature.

Sound Transit Weighs Fare Reform and New Name for University Street Station

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Pioneer Square Station platform from the mezzanine level.
Pioneer Square Station.

It was a busy week at Sound Transit headquarters. Agency staff briefed regional policymakers on a range of topics from Connect 2020 progress to equitable transit-oriented development, but perhaps most interesting was station renaming and an update on the fare enforcement policy evaluation process. The Sound Transit Board of Directors’ Rider Experience and Operations and Executive Committees convened on Thursday to receive the marathon of reports and took action to move forward with renaming University Street Station.

Renaming University Street Station

As has been widely discussed in the past year, University Street Station (USS) is in need of a new name to reduce confusion with two other “university” stations in the light rail system. Sound Transit inherited US from King County Metro which had owned and operated the underground station exclusively for buses nearly two decades until Link light rail service was introduced in 2009.

Then in 2015, light rail was extended north of the Montlake Cut on the footsteps of the University of Washington campus. Naturally, the station there became “University of Washington Station.” When the Light rail system expands again in 2021, one of the new stations on Central Link will be “U District Station”. Sound Transit tried to reduce confusion with the “U” in the name, but everyone knows it as the “University District”. Thus, a change of names is warranted to achieve the stated objectives of the system station naming policy.

The future graphic for Central Link as the Northgate Link light rail extension comes online in 2021. (Sound Transit)
The future graphic for Central Link as the Northgate Link light rail extension comes online in 2021. (Sound Transit)

In the fall, Sound Transit surveyed the public on six shortlisted station names, which included the Arts District, Benaroya Hall, Downtown Arts District, Midtown, Seneca Street, and Symphony. These naming options were chosen because they reflect different attributes of the area, such as literal adjacent street, the city symphony hall and artistic venues, and geography. Over 14,000 people participated in the station naming contest, which led to a very narrow plurality victory for Symphony Station.

I-405 Stride Update Could Shave Another 13 Minutes Off Morning Bus Commutes

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The arrival of Stride, Sound Transit’s bus rapid transit (BRT) brand, on I-405 is still four years away, but recent project refinements could mean even speedier trips for riders travelling between Lynnwood and Bellevue. The transit agency published another online open house last week highlighting the progress. The proposed changes could wind up saving riders an extra 13 minutes during the morning peak hours compared to the proposal early last year which had already identified four minutes in savings over the baseline representative project.

Travel time savings come from the use of inline BRT stations built into the highway median. This is made possible by an I-405 highway expansion project that the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is pursuing and for which funding was secured from the Washington State Legislature last year. Highway expansion from SR-527 to SR-522 will mean the addition of one express toll lane (ETL) in each direction at a cost of $600 million.

Travel times on Stride are expected to be much better for bus riders on I-405 in 2025 than today. (Sound Transit)
Travel times on Stride are expected to be much better for bus riders on I-405 in 2025 than today. (Sound Transit)

Cumulatively as part of the Stride program, riders travelling from Lynnwood to Bellevue in the morning peak hours could save 19 to 24 minutes in travel time compared to trips today. Likewise, riders from Burien to Bellevue are projected to save 13 to 17 minutes in the morning peak. Riders will also benefit from higher quality buses and stations as well as more frequent buses, which are anticipated to come every 10 minutes during peak hours and every 15 minutes in the off-peak. Span of service is also expected to be 19 hours a day on weekdays and Saturdays and 17 hours on Sundays.

Setting aside the obvious and substantially negative environmental, social, and land use implications from highway expansion on I-405, the WSDOT project will allow Sound Transit to piggyback by installing inline bus stations at Canyon Park, UW Bothell/Cascadia College, and Brickyard rather than exiting and reentering the highway at traditional off- and on-ramps. Totem Lake/Kingsgate already has inline bus stops accessible from the existing ETLs and NE 85th St had already been planned for inline bus stops as part of the interchange reconstruction.

Tax Amazon and Fund Social Housing, Sawant Urges at Inaugural Rally

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Washington Hall was filled to the brim with Sawant supporters. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
Washington Hall was filled to the brim with supporters of Councilmember Kshama Sawant and the Tax Amazon movement. (Photo by author)

Washington Hall has packed on Monday for Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s swearing in and rally to tax big business to fund social housing. Hundreds looked on as a diverse group of left-wing leaders voiced their support for progressive taxation and Councilmember Sawant’s vision for sustainably-built publicly-owned housing.

“I think we should consider a tax that would raise to at least $200 million to $500 million annually with no sunset clause,” Sawant said, surrounded by posters with rallying cries such as “Tax Amazon” or “Build City Owned Housing”.

A four-page handout distributed at the door sketched out how that vision could become a reality. A tax raising $200 million to $500 million annually would be several times greater than the employee hours tax (a.k.a. head tax) passed and repealed in 2018. That tax would have raised upwards of $250 million in the five years before it hit the sunset clause Mayor Jenny Durkan fought to add. Exactly how to calibrate the new big business tax, the housing plan, and the strategy to pass it is still being hashed out, with advocates gathering for a Tax Amazon action conference on Saturday January 25th to kickstart the process.

Councilmember Sawant won re-election with four points to spare after Amazon’s $1.5 million attempt to buy the election fizzled and the two-term socialist staged a dramatic comeback in late returns. Seattle’s now senior-most councilmember was officially sworn in at City Hall on January 6th alongside her colleagues, where she gave a relatively short speech. Sawant saved the fireworks for her rally this week, and the crowd gathered in Central District maintained a high level of energy for two hours of speeches. (Watch the Seattle Channel video online.)

“For us, the working people and the majority struggling in our city, it is not about revenge. It’s about our right to our city,” Councilmember Sawant said. “It’s about our region facing the worst affordable housing and homelessness crisis in the country, with an estimated 156,000 affordable homes needed just to address today’s needs.”

The 156,000 affordable homes figure comes from Regional Affordable Housing Task Force’s Final Report and Recommendations from December 2018. If the affordable housing crisis didn’t seem looming enough, Councilmember Sawant also tied it to the rapidly-worsening climate crisis.

“It’s about the climate crisis and the complete failure of capitalism and its representatives in the political establishment to taking any serious steps to avoid catastrophe,” Sawant continued. “We need to tax big business to fund a major expansion of social housing–publicly-owned, high-quality, affordable, green, and energy-efficient homes for working people built by union labor. Social housing is a lynchpin of winning a Green New Deal for Seattle.”

Midweek Video: Seesaws In The Middle Of NYC’s Broadway

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Streetfilms shows Manhattan’s Broadway continues to evolve as a people place. It now features people riding seesaws in the middle of the street instead of idling cars.

Washington State Ferries Blames Snopocalypse for 3.2% Drop in 2019 Ridership

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Washington State Ferries (WSF) saw ridership fall in 2019 after reaching a 16-year high the year prior. Ridership dropped an astounding 3.2% or 802,249 rides to 23,884,789, nearly wiping out two years of gains. WSF blamed the ridership decline on wintery weather last year. Ridership was down a third during the month of February, the agency reported, with some days managing only 10,000 riders when the daily average would typically range from 50,000 to 60,000 riders. But other factors may have played a role in the ridership decline, too, such as major construction at terminals and increasingly competitive passenger-only ferry service operated by other agencies.

The difficulties of last winter cannot be underscored, as many will remember not-so-fondly as Snopocalypse 2019. People across the Central Puget Sound were holed up in their homes for days due to snow and ice. The weather disrupted transit of all varieties, leading to King County Metro launching its trimmed down Emergency Snow Network (ESN) and eventually promising institution of free fares when the ESN is activated. For WSF, first quarter results showed ridership declined 5.8% from the same time in 2018 while the fourth quarter was only down 1.6%, partially affirming WSF’s excuse for ridership decline.

“Following all that snow, we reevaluated our storm plan to provide appropriate service that matches demand,” said WSF Assistant Secretary Amy Scarton. “We recently released new severe weather schedules that align with other reduced transit. We’ll let our customers know if and when we switch over to them through our ferry alerts and social media channels.”

Kitsap Transit has also likely cut into WSF ridership due to its newish passenger-only fast ferries. The agency launched two routes in 2018 operating between Bremerton and Seattle and Kingston and Seattle. The Bremerton route directly competes with WSF’s fourth busiest route.

WSF ridership numbers on the Seattle-Bremerton route showed a 15% year-over-year decline or 432,770 fewer rides. The decline was even more pronounced for walk-on passengers, falling 18.4% or 339,960 rides. In September, the Puget Sound Regional Council reported that Kitsap Transit ferries grew by 24% year-over-year–about 110,000 additional rides. Whether or not full-year numbers for Kitsap Transit’s Seattle-Bremerton route make up most of the difference is still not yet clear, but the mid-year year-over-year increase strongly suggests that it is possible.

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