Thursday, 16 July, 2020

Sound Transit Prepares to Unfreeze Dozens of Halted Projects


More than two dozen Sound Transit projects are stalled out, which is the result of an aggressive conservative fiscal approach that the agency took in light of the pandemic. Projects that were not already under construction or not yet underway in another planning phase, were put on pause. Projects that would otherwise ordinarily move from one major phase gate to another, such as project development to final design, were also held up. At a System Expansion Committee meeting on Thursday, agency staff briefed members of the Sound Transit Board of Directors on the status of these paused projects and the timing for when they might become unpaused.

This comes on the heels of a new “way forward” for realigning the Sound Transit 3 capital expansion program that was agreed upon by the board in late June. Despite earlier indications of a rapid decision-making process on the fate of the program, the interim program realignment process culminated in the board settling on a far less aggressive timeline to develop scenarios and change the timing of projects, and possibly their scope.

Final decisions on how to deal with program realignment are not slated to happen until July 2021 at the earliest. Between now and then, the financial and national political situation should be much clearer. That should help better inform the board on the type of decisions that should be made.

Projects in green (Northgate Link, Lynnwood Link, East Link, Downtown Redmond Link, OMF East, Hilltop Tacoma Link, Federal Way Link Link, Puyallup Access) are currently under construction. All other projects are somewhere else in the project phasing process. (Sound Transit)
Projects in green are currently under construction. All other projects are somewhere else in the project phasing process. (Sound Transit)

Don Billen, Executive Director of Planning, Environment, and Project Development, walked the committee through projects that have been paused at the early planning, final design, or construction major gate phases.

Amtrak Cascades Stuck in Low Gear, Gets New Rolling Stock


Service on the Amtrak Cascades corridor is likely to remain reduced for quite some time. One daily roundtrip between Seattle and Eugene will continue until demand warrants an increase in service, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT). Ridership is down 90% from normal, but part of that is due to significant curtailment of service, and seated capacity has been capped at 50% to reduce the risk of Covid transmission. With only one daily roundtrip, the convenience of riding the rails is greatly reduced even with the guaranteed spaciousness. Compounding this is the fact that all service north of Seattle has been suspended, leaving communities from Edmonds to Bellingham completely out of the picture, as well as Vancouver, British Columbia.

Even if service were restored on the northern portion of the corridor, Canadian authorities have said that Covid cases are just too widespread to keep the border open for general travel. Canada has closed the border until at least August 21st. That stance may not change any time soon since the outbreak is much worse south of the border. British Columbia has only 62 documented cases of Covid per 100,000 people, whereas the rate is 1,060 per 100,000 in the United States at large and 578 per 100,000 in Washington state.

The federal response and communications led by Donald Trump from the White House have been an abject failure on every front. Meanwhile, Republican leaders at home in Washington state have been loudly cheerleading from the sidelines for non-compliance with public health directives and relaxing of public health responses. That anti-public health rhetoric has exacerbated the abysmal spread of Covid, increasing hospitalizations and death of Washingtonians. For his part, Governor Jay Inslee was also slow to require universal face mask wearing in public. The botched Covid response will undoubtedly continue to suppress long-distance mobility and by extension passenger rail ridership and service in the region.

The typical interior of Horizon Series train cars. (WSDOT)
The typical interior of Horizon Series train cars. (WSDOT)

In the interim, there has been a temporary equipment change that may end up in the rotation. Amtrak-owned Horizon Series train cars have been delivered to Seattle, which replace Talgo Series 6 trainsets. As of June, the Talgo Series 6 trainsets have been removed from service in order to comply with recommendations from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)

SDOT Inching Toward West Seattle Bridge Repair Plan

The sun is setting on the West Seattle Bridge. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

Four months into the West Seattle Bridge closure, we do have some answers but plenty of lingering questions, too. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has made progress on temporarily shoring up the bridge and has embarked on stakeholder engagement for mitigation and options for repair or replacement. Multiple task forces have been launched.

Among them, the West Seattle Interagency Task Force prepared an emergency response plan in early May. Scenarios of immediate evacuation, one to five day notice evacuation, and controlled demolition have been planned. These plans would be put into motion based on how and if conditions of the bridge reach critical thresholds.

To track the status of the West Seattle Bridge, SDOT completed the installation of a monitoring system in mid-May. Motion sensors, crack monitors, and cameras will afford SDOT real-time information on the progression of the cracking, and bridge reaction to environmental changes and repair measures. Ultimately, the system will guide SDOT on the technical feasibility of repair or replacement.

SDOT has also installed an installation monitoring system and non-destructive testing on the Low Bridge, which parallels the “High-Rise” bridge via Spokane Street. While the natural cracking on the Low Bridge isn’t of imminent risk, repair work has been fast tracked just in case–this secondary bridge has taken on new importance and strain without the main artery carrying its traffic load. Proactive maintenance and repairs have also been done, and carbon fiber wrapping is being planned for the coming years.

Ongoing is stabilization work on the West Seattle High-Rise Bridge. Started in late June, hole drilling and then work platform installation will continue through late July. Then, initial carbon fiber wrapping will likely begin in late July. This initial wrapping will take around 10 weeks, a week or two of initial post-tensioning strand installation will follow. After that, engineers will release Pier 18, which is sunken and suspected as a primary source of the rapid cracking, and wrapping and post-tensioning installation will continue to shore up the bridge.

Example of a carbon fiber reinforced polymers supported bridge. (Courtesy of Seattle Department of Transportation.)

Stabilization work is necessary for work on either repairing or demolishing the West Seattle Bridge. That being said, in the West Seattle Bridge Community Task Force’s (CTF) June 24th meeting, Matthew Donahue of the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) reiterated that in all of TAB and SDOT’s investigative work so far they found that the bridge could be repaired–although it’s unclear how much it would cost.

Two New Panels

The two aforementioned panels are new additions to the West Seattle Bridge project, since we last covered the topic. Both panels were formed by SDOT.

The Technical Advisory Board is consisted of independent experts in currently relevant fields, note that a transportation planner is absence from the panel’s current membership. They provide input and guidance on key decisions and documents. The TAB is currently working on a cost-benefit analysis with SDOT and are still collecting information to evaluate the tradeoffs between repair and replacement.

House Bill Proposes $205 Billion for High-Speed Rail as Part of Economic Recovery

A bill to fund the rollout of high-speed rail across America was recently introduced in the House of Representatives. The proposed policies would get the economy back on track by investing $205 billion over five years, creating jobs, competition in transportation, and giving Americans cleaner, faster, more reliable commutes. Join Cascadia Rail’s letter writing campaign and take two minutes to tell your elected officials to support the bill.

Representative Seth Moulton (D-Massachusetts) authored the bill and released a white paper on funding the rollout of National High Speed Rail, a bold vision for economic recovery as Americans look to get back to work. His proposal melds the economic recovery successes of Works Progress Administration, which employed more than 8.5 million out-of-work Americans who built 650,000 miles of highways and roads following the Great Depression, and President Eisenhower’s Federal Aid Highway Act, which led to the construction and funding of our Interstate Highway System.

As legislators look for solutions to remedy the economic hardship resulting from the Covid-19 pandemic, Moulton said the time is right for a robust plan to expedite high-speed rail. Over five years, fast trains would be funded in our country’s megaregions, connecting clusters of dense cities within 750 miles of each other.

Job Creation

Moulton’s proposal would create up to 1.16 million jobs annually for the 34 projects identified throughout the United States. In Texas, where Texas Central Railway (TCR) is building a high-speed rail system between Houston and Dallas, expected job creation nears 41,000. In the Pacific Northwest, 200,000 jobs will be created with the Cascadia High Speed Rail project. In addition to skilled labor needed for construction, operations, and maintenance, transit-oriented development will bring employment opportunities in other sectors. According to Moulton’s proposal, “for every direct job in the railway supply sector, 4.2 jobs are supported in other industries,” which would create positions for another 4.87 million people.

An illustration of the many different industries that will see job creation if investment in high-speed rail is made. (American High Speed Rail)
An illustration of the many different industries that will see job creation if investment in high-speed rail is made. (American High Speed Rail)

Good for Business

High-speed rail is a bipartisan win for both Democrats seeking new infrastructure and Republicans seeking private sector investment. Moulton’s bill includes incentives for an additional $38 billion in investments from the business community, such as lifting the cap on private activity bonds from $15 billion to $30 billion. Microsoft’s investment in the Cascadia project was highlighted as one of the partnership models. 

Seattle Will Defund Police, But By How Much?

A view the Seattle Police East Precinct Station during the Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP). Photo by author.

Mayor Durkan and Police Chief Carmen Best remain at odds with the City Council over reducing the police budget.

The Capitol Hill Organized Protest (CHOP) is now only a memory, but public discourse around defunding the Seattle Police Department (SPD) remains in the spotlight as sharp divisions persist between Seattle City Council and Mayor Jenny Durkan, who continue to present different positions on defunding SPD.

Both have pledged to decrease SPD’s budget and shift certain services, such as 911 dispatch, out of the police department’s control; however, the City Council has been much more bullish about defunding the police, with a veto-proof majority of seven out of nine Seattle City Council members voicing support for activists calls to reduce the SPD budget by half this year–only Councilmembers Debora Juarez and Alex Pedersen are holdouts against the 50% call. In contrast, Mayor Durkan has not backed down from her initial proposal to reduce SPD’s budget by about 5% for the remainder of the year, and she recently laid out a plan to reduce SPD’s budget by $78 million, or about 20%, in 2021.

During a press conference in which Mayor Durkan was visibly upset over councilmembers’ declaration of support for a 50% budget reduction, Durkan accused the councilmembers of advocating for “blunt budgets cuts” without having engaged in the necessary data collection, analysis, and preparation to transition to a new “model in policing.”

Mayor Jenny Durkan outlined her plan to reduce the Seattle Police Department’s budget by $78 million in 2021 during a press conference. Credit: Seattle Channel

“You can’t govern by Twitter or bumper sticker. Community safety is too important,” said Mayor Durkan, who also criticized the council members for not engaging in discussion with Seattle Police Chief Carmen Best before declaring support for activists’ demands.

Chief Best, a thirty-year veteran of the SPD, has been outspoken about her opposition to defunding the police department. “It is reckless to advocate for this type of cut that has been proposed by the City Council especially with no time or plan to have a realistic alternative response in place,” Best said. “Let me be clear. I will not choose to fire officers. But if they leave me in this circumstance I will have no other choice.”

However, the some members of the City Council, including Councilmember Dan Strauss (D-6) were quick to rebuke the Mayor’s criticism that the Council was moving forward with defunding the police without engaging in planning beforehand.

Credit: Councilmember Dan Strauss Twitter

“We are clearly defining where these cuts are coming from so we are not taking a percentage off the top of the budget,” Strauss said in a video statement released on Twitter. “We need and we are using a scalpel, not an axe, to change how we provide public safety.”

What We’re Reading: Re-inventing the Mall, Re-envisioning Streets, and River Cleanup


Washington eviction wave: A large wave of evictions are likely in much of Washington next month if existing state moratoriums expire.

Pipes blocked: Two major pipeline projects in America have been blocked.

Dining piazzas: New York City is creating “piazzas” for outdoor dining on city streets in the age of Covid.

Re-inventing the mall: Bloomberg CityLab looks at how malls are converting space into housing and mixed-use.

Subdividing commercial space: How could subdividing commercial spaces help cities?

Quick-build bus lanes: Washington, D.C. is rolling out quick-build bus lanes in response to Covid.

Right-to-purchase policy: San Francisco is trialing a “right-to-purchase” law that empowers existing renters to collectively purchase buildings put to sale first in an effort to lower gentrification displacement.

Free transit: A proposed federal program could pilot free local transit programs.

Facilitate street vendors: Streetsblog USA highlights why street vendors must be a part of our post-quarantine streets.

Affordable Singapore: Singapore has a very robust affordable, public housing program, but how does it also have one of the highest housing ownership rates?

Decongestion pricing pilot: Los Angeles is going to pilot decongestion pricing on freeways during peak hours beginning in 2021.

Expediting transit projects: Ontario has passed an expedited planning, design, and construction law for transit that will particularly aid Toronto subway expansion.

Re-envisioning streets: What could Manhattan be like if cars were largely banned from streets ($)?

Lidding Richmond: Richmond, Virginia is planning to build a highway lid over I-95 with a mix of uses to reconnect neighborhoods.

Shortcomings: NYC Streetsblog highlights how open streets aren’t working for everyone.

Not resilient: Why is the sales tax devastating to cities that heavily rely upon it as a funding source?

Don’t be Sweden: Sweden’s approach to dealing with Covid is a cautionary tale ($).

Modular housing: San Francisco is using a new model of modular housing for permanent supportive housing ($) that is faster and cheaper to construct.

Suspended raised: Pay raises for King County transit operators could be cut to save jobs and service ($).

Long-term housing: Lisbon has a plan to reclaiming affordable housing from Airbnb.

River cleanup: A Port of Seattle project to build a new park has begun on the banks of the Duwamish River.

Negligent planning: Most highway projects appear to fail to account for the effects of induced demand in the planning process.

Rise of the bus: Ridership on buses in New York City is higher than subway ridership for the first time ($).

Zoning debate: Chuck Marohn makes a conservative case for abolishing single-family zoning.

Consolidate: With the impacts of Covid being widely felt in the San Francisco Bay Area, there is a renewed effort to consolidate the dozens of transit agencies.

The Urbanist’s 2020 Primary Endorsements

Washington State Capitol Building in Olympia. (Credit: Washington State)

Every year The Urbanist Elections Committee analyzes candidates in the Puget Sound Region to help inform your voting decisions. Our process starts with crafting questionnaires that cut to the heart of urbanist issues pertinent to each level of government. After sending out to candidates and doing some deadline reminders, we finally dig into the responses in preparation for interviews. 

Between issuing our questionnaires and hosting interviews, Minneapolis police murdered George Floyd, sparking nationwide protests that have continued ever since. Ongoing brazen police brutality in response to those protests has sparked yet more protests and made police abolition a mainstream campaign topic for perhaps the first time ever. Diverting half of Seattle Police Department’s funding to community-led health and public safety programs became a mainstream position within the space of a few weeks. Anti-racist books like Ijeoma Oluo’s “So You Wanna Talk About Race” and Robin Diangelo’s “White Fragility” jumped to the top of bestseller lists. In short, the dynamics of the election had shifted significantly, and we set out to ask every candidate we interviewed how they were responding.

The pandemic pushed us to host our candidate interviews via video conference this year instead of in person. After nearly 12 hours of Zooming, our fact-finding mission was complete. We stewed on the information a few days before retreating to a local park to bellow at each other from a social distance and hash out our differences, finally zeroing in on our endorsements. We’re enthusiastic about our endorsed slate of candidates and excited about what they can achieve in office. 

Primaries are an opportunity to vote with your heart–so read below to see who captured our hearts in each dynamic local race and who inspires us to stay engaged in the work of making a better world. Don’t forget to return your ballot by August 4th. Postage is prepaid.

Below are our endorsements. The questionnaire responses are compiled at the bottom of the endorsement write-ups and we’ll also be posting standalone versions for each candidate for easier perusal and sharing.

LD37-2: Kirsten Harris-Talley

Of the dozens of candidates we interviewed for state legislative seats this cycle–and certainly among the non-incumbents, who as a rule tended to speak in hopeful generalities rather than hard-learned specifics–Kirsten Harris-Talley was among the most impressive. That’s lucky for the residents of the 37th legislative district, but also unfortunate since they have to choose between her and another strong candidate in Chukundi Salisbury (and, at the time of our interview, a third strong candidate in Andrea Caupain).

Salisbury, a long-time activist and City of Seattle employee, spoke passionately, pointedly, and groundedly about the challenges he and his neighbors face. We believe he would bring a much-needed dose of community organizing to the legislature. Caupain showed a knack for clear concise answers that cut to the point. We’d love to see both of their names again. 

We endorse Harris-Talley in this race because, despite the many strengths and successes of her competitors, she brings together the full package. Harris-Talley, currently the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington and briefly an appointed Seattle City Councilmember (after Tim Burgess stepped down to be fill-in mayor in 2017), has powerful ties to community organizations, deep experience making change within organizations, and practical political experience to boot. We can thank her for playing a critical role in securing progressive payroll taxation that was passed this month. Her combination of grassroots values, legislative polish, and leadership experience make her the clear choice in a strong and crowded field.

If elected, we look forward to working with Harris-Talley as she centers communities like hers in the fight to reverse the cycle of segregation, disinvestment, gentrification, and unaffordable housing that is challenging many Washington cities. As she put it, the 37th district “is in so many ways ground zero for all these intersecting issues.” We endorse her support of statewide right-to-return policies for displaced residents, her advocacy for tenants rights and protections, and of course for new, low-carbon social housing across Washington. Vote Harris-Talley.

LD43-1: Nicole Macri

Incumbent badass Nicole Macri is essentially running unopposed, so this vote is really a no-brainer. Macri has sponsored a bevy of health-related bills aimed at rectifying inequities and protecting the vulnerable–not to mention sponsored several high profile attempts at serious land use reform. Macri introduced multiple bills to repeal the ban on rent control, and has committed to clean fuels as a necessity in the next transportation package. She takes a balanced rather than ideological approach, consistently links climate change, health, land use, livability, and transportation, and she brings a clear-eyed compassion that humbles us. Vote Macri.

LD43-2: Sherae Lascelles

The 43rd legistlative district exemplifies Seattle’s ongoing housing crisis and rapid gentrification–the wealth inequality is jarringly visible. Frank Chopp has represented the district since the 1980s, including a long stint as House Speaker Chopp. He’s been a consistent advocate for affordable housing funding and can rattle off the projects he helped build. But is he still the best person to represent the district in 2020?

Sherae Lascelles changed our minds. Not often do we come across a candidate that has shown effective political action, radical compassion and fierce ingenuity while in a state of constant precarity. When they see a need, they go straight to those affected, down to even producing what’s needed–forming an intuition that focuses on results and community care.

A strong believer in the harm reduction model, Lascelles has led multiple mutual aide organizations that put the Black femme and queer experience on the forefront. They founded People of Color Sex Worker Outreach Project and the Green Light Project to provide cash, sanitary supplies and material requests to sex workers. Because of their advocacy and lived experience, Lascelles is acutely aware of and actively combats inaccessible barriers to entry, a facet of policymaking and everyday life even our most progressive Democrats fail to address.

Lascelles speaks glowingly of the walkable, bodega-saturated lifestyle dense cities like New York foster, and they live in the University District because it offers that. It’s clear they’re an urbanist and understand the importance of transit and density. More than that, they’re precisely the kind of urbanist that can attract new folks and break the movement out of the White male-dominated technocratic rut that can be its stumbling block. Vote Lascelles.

Monthly Meetup: The Urbanist to Host Katie Wilson of Transit Riders Union on July 14th


Please join us July 14th from 6:15pm to 7:30pm for our monthly online meetup featuring Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders Union! The call opens at 6:15pm with the speaker starting at 6:30pm. Zoom call information below.

The Transit Riders Union is a democratic organization of working and poor people—including students, seniors, and people with disabilities—taking control over their own lives, and building up the power they need to change society for the good of humanity and of the planet. They fight to preserve, expand, and improve the public transportation system in Seattle and beyond, so that every human being has access to safe, affordable, and reliable public transit. They have been at the forefront of the progressive politics in our region, fighting for affordable transit, the elimination of life changing criminal charges due to transit fares, and a more just funding system for all our government.

Their General Secretary, Katie Wilson, will be joining us to talk about the future of transit and transit funding in our region, progressive taxation, the politics of our city and taking your questions.

This monthly social event is free, all ages, and open to everyone. Call in if you want to meet other people who care about our city, network, or hear from an inspirational speaker. Below will be details for joining via video or phone. The line opens a 6:15pm for networking and discussion and the speaker starts at 6:30pm. We hope you can join us!

Zoom link:

Join Zoom Meeting
Meeting ID: 838 0697 9668
Password: 011669
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