Thursday, 21 November, 2019

Video: Nathan Vass Author Reading and Q&A

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I love doing these things. Click here for the video—stories from the road, Tom and I on the book, and plenty of Q&A from a lively and inquisitive audience! Enjoy!

The Real Election Loser Was the Environment

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North Sounder train chugging along Puget Sound. (Photo courtesy of Sound Transit)


Now that the 2019 Washington State elections are mostly decided, I’ve been reflecting on who won and lost. A lot of candidates lost. Some would say that Big Business, transportation, and poor people lost. Affirmative Action lost. But to me, the biggest loser might have been the most important out of all of them: the environment. 

Tim Eyman’s passing of Initiative 976 will greatly impact transportation and low-income and transit dependent individuals, but let’s just focus on the environmental impact it will have for this thought. Barring judicial intervention, transportation projects all over the state will now have to be delayed, find funding from other sources, or get cut all together with a projected $4 billion hole into funding. If projects such as light rail get delayed or cut all together, then people will be forced to continue using their personal vehicles for transportation, which has been proven to be a negative effect on the environment. We need more light rail so we can start getting more people out of their vehicles, especially in busy Seattle where the population keeps ballooning and doesn’t look to slow down any time soon. 

Cities all over the state will likely see bus service hours cut, and Seattle alone might see as much as 175,000 annual bus service hours cut. Again, this effects low-income individuals who might not have other transportation options, and it will likely force others to go back into their cars instead of taking the bus. We need more bus service to battle climate change, especially with plans of getting more electric buses into service in Washington State. 

Warren Wants to Eliminate 40,000 Road Deaths, Stranger Reporter Hates It

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A crash delays the First Hill Streetcar.

Sunday was World Day of Remembrance of Traffic Crash Victims and Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts) paid her respects with a tweet.

“Traffic violence kills thousands and injures even more Americans every year. On World Day of Remembrance for Traffic Crash Victims, I’m sending my love to the families and friends of those who have lost loved ones. It’s time to #EndTrafficViolence,” Sen. Warren tweeted.

Katie Herzog, a reporter with The Stranger specializing in contrarian takes capriciously piercing Seattle’s liberal bubble, paid her respects by savaging Warren for daring to care about this issue.

“For a moment, this tweet reminded me of someone suffering from memory issues,” Herzog wrote. “Perhaps she forgot the word ‘accident’ and her brain settled on ‘violence’ instead. But, it turns out, that the term ‘traffic violence’ was not made up by whoever or whatever runs the candidate’s Twitter.”

More than 40,000 people died in crashes on American roads last year for the third straight year. Herzog didn’t mention that. And increasingly it is people outside cars who are paying the price; pedestrian deaths are climbing at the fastest rate. Road deaths outnumber gun deaths, and that’s including suicides, which make up the majority of gun deaths. Herzog hasn’t written a think piece about how gun violence is wimpy liberal snowflake language to my knowledge.

“Apparently there’s been an effort to rebrand car accidents as ‘traffic violence’ going back at least a few years,” she added, before giving us a brief book report on safety advocacy. Herzog’s brief tourist trip into safety advocacy led her to advocates like Tom Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog and Angie Schmitt, who is writing a book on the pedestrian safety crisis.

Schmitt came to town in October and previewed her book for Seattle safe streets advocates. Bear in mind Herzog’s foray into road safety didn’t get this deep, but high among Schmitt’s suggestions to lower road deaths was for the federal government to embrace Vision Zero (as pledges to eliminate road deaths by a certain year are called) and make it a top priority. This model bore fruit in France, and Sen. Warren’s tweet suggests she is open to something like that–and she is currently polling second behind former Vice President Joe Biden for the Democratic presidential nomination. It’s OK that advocates are excited about this, and personally I think it will help a presidential candidate more than hurt her to lead on this issue.

Ultimately, Herzog comes nearly full circle after her book report and grants we need better language around car crashes, but she still insists it’s bad politics, although it’s not clear why. She likes her politics cynical and lowest common denominator it seems.

Midweek Video: The Gun Solution We’re Not Talking About

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What is the difference between gun licensing and background checks? And which performs better in reducing gun violence?

Following the Money: The Case of Prop CC and I-976

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The Sound Transit Link light rail station under construction at Overlake in Bellevue, WA. Link light rail expansion funding is directly threatened by the recent statewide passage of Initiative I-976, although lawsuits testing the constitutionality of the measure are already set in motion. (Credit Sound Transit)

It is often said in American society that money talks, and this statement often seems doubly true when applied to politics. So what does it mean, then, when big campaign spending is defeated in the political arena? The failure of 2019’s two most expensive ballot measures, Initiative 976 in Washington State and Proposition CC in Colorado, to either preserve or increase funding for transportation raises questions about how to succeed in convincing voters that investment in transportation, particularly funding earmarked toward mass transit and active transportation, is worth the expense.

In both cases, the side of the campaign aimed that preserving or increasing funding for transportation was soundly defeated despite having raised millions of dollars more in revenue than their opposition, creating a notable trend in an election year where more conservative-leaning metro areas like Houston and Phoenix gained national attention when voters approved plans to expand light rail in both cities.

However, a different post-election narrative emerged from Washington State and Colorado, both states known for their natural beauty and liberal-leaning metro areas. In Washington State, Tim Eyman-sponsored I-976, passed with 53% approval, despite warnings from local officials about how capping car tab fees at $30 could have potentially devastating impacts on the state’s transportation system, including Sound Transit’s Link light rail expansion in King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties.

Initiative 976 has carried 52.97% of the vote statewide, but lost in six counties: King, Whatcom, Thurston, Jefferson, Island, and San Juan. (Credit: Washington Secretary of State, November 2019 General Election Results)
Initiative 976 has carried 52.97% of the vote statewide, but lost in six counties: King, Whatcom, Thurston, Jefferson, Island, and San Juan. (Credit: Washington Secretary of State, November 2019 General Election Results)

Funding for transportation expenses fared no better in Colorado where 53% of voters opposed Prop CC, which would have retained revenue normally refunded to taxpayers and invested those funds in education and transportation improvements. Like I-976, Prop CC had strong endorsements from high ranking government officials, including Governor Jared Polis, who in an editorial for the Denver Post wrote that funding from the measure would allow the state to take “real steps to manage growth better and to keep Colorado affordable.”

Pierce County Poised to Be First to Designate Countywide Centers in Puget Sound

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Pierce County could be the first county to implement a local option under the Regional Centers Framework, an arm of the Regional Growth Strategy in the regional long-range plan known as VISION 2040. Authorized by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) last year, the updated Regional Centers Framework allows counties to designate Countywide Centers. Ordinance No. 2019-70s approved by the Pierce County Council last week begins a 180-day process that could conclude with the establishment of 14 Countywide Centers and companion updates to the countywide planning policies on Regional Centers. Kitsap County may also be hot on the heels of Pierce County where a similar proposal is currently under consideration.

Where Regional Centers are currently designated by the Puget Sound Regional Council. (Puget Sound Regional Council)
Where Regional Centers are currently designated by the Puget Sound Regional Council. (Puget Sound Regional Council)

Right now, Pierce County’s Comprehensive Plan only identifies five Regional Growth Centers and two Manufacturing/Industrial Centers while acknowledging that jurisdictions may recognize Centers of Local Importance. The Comprehensive Plan also identifies several candidate Regional Growth Centers and Manufacturing/Industrial Centers. The update would formally acknowledge the elevation of three Centers by the PSRC in addition to the 14 new Countywide Centers.

Regional Centers in Pierce County

 Existing Comprehensive Plan DesignationsProposed Comprehensive Plan Designations
Designated Centers
Regional Growth Centers- Tacoma Central Business District
- Tacoma Mall
- Lakewood
- Puyallup Downtown
- Puyallup South Hill
- Tacoma Central Business District
- Tacoma Mall
- Lakewood
- Puyallup Downtown
- Puyallup South Hill
- University Place
Manufacturing/Industrial Centers- Frederickson
- Port of Tacoma
- Frederickson
- Port of Tacoma
- Sumner/Pacific
Candidate Centers
Regional Growth Centers- University Place
- None
Manufacturing /Industrial Centers- South Tacoma
- Sumner/Pacific
- South Tacoma

While Countywide Centers recognized by the PSRC come in two flavors, the initial batch proposed for designation in Pierce County are only planned to be Countywide Growth Centers, which are generally meant for residential, commercial, and mixed-use activities. Counties are also allowed to designate Countywide Industrial Centers. Pierce County would acknowledge this in its comprehensive plan, leaving the door open for such future designations should local jurisdictions come forward with supportable designation applications meeting established criteria.

Route 44 Upgrade Pursues Elusive High-Quality Crosstown Service

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Route 44 heads through downtown Ballard on Market Street on a fall evening. (Photo by Doug Trumm))
Route 44 heads through downtown Ballard on Market Street on a fall evening. (Photo by author)

Route 44 is a workhorse, but it’s far from a racehorse. 9,300 daily riders pack themselves into the lumbering beast of burden and suffer the route’s sluggish pace and unreliability. Running east-west 5.3 miles across town from Husky Stadium to the Chittenden Locks, the Route 44 is a vital lifeline between the University District and Ballard. At three drop-in sessions this week, riders will give feedback on plans to improve service in 2023.

The first session is today (November 19th) at the UW Bookstore in the U District from 2pm to 3:30pm. The second is tomorrow in Leif Erikson Hall from 6pm to 7:30pm, and the third is Thursday, November 21st at Wallingford Community Senior Service Center.

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says it will consider the following upgrades to the corridor:

  • Dedicated bus lanes and queue jumps;
  • Signal upgrades (e.g., transit signal priority);
  • Road channelization changes and/or turn restrictions; and
  • Safety, pedestrian access, and intersection improvements.

The Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) coalition is pushing the City to add dedicated bus lanes along key Route 44 stretches in the U District and Ballard. The U District bus lanes will become even more important as a surge of light rail riders arrive in 2021 with the opening of U District Station. A more north-south-oriented city, Seattle doesn’t have many frequent crosstown bus routes, and the ones it does have are plagued by congestion and reliability issues (cough: Route 8). With smart upgrades, Route 44 could be the exception and show that Seattle can excel at crosstown bus service.

MASS Coalition is pushing for bus lanes for the Route 44 throughout the University District. Red line indicates a NE 45th Street bus lane from Latona Ave NE to 15th Ave NE, and a 15th Avenue NE bus lane from NE 45th St south to NE Pacific St. (Google Map overlay by author)
The MASS Coalition is pushing for bus lanes for the Route 44 throughout the University District. Red line indicates a NE 45th St bus lane from Latona Ave NE to 15th Ave NE, and a 15th Ave NE bus lane from NE 45th St south to NE Pacific St. See MASS’s list of high priority bus lanes here. (Google Map overlay by author)

What is not being considered at this time is RapidRide branding, which includes red upgraded articulated buses, red upgraded bus stops, and off-board payment. The City promised a full “RapidRide+” upgrade of Route 44 with the Move Seattle Levy, which passed in 2015 with 58.7% of the vote. Seven new RapidRide corridors were pledged in all. But as for keeping that promise, a number of obstacles emerged.

A brief trip down nightmare lane

After Move Seattle passed, construction costs continued to escalate rapidly in red-hot Seattle, Donald Trump got elected and gutted federal transit grant programs, and then-Mayor Ed Murray spent 2017 battling back against multiple allegations of sexual abuse before resigning in September 2017 after the fifth claim surfaced.

This set up the year of four SDOT heads in 2018, as newly elected Mayor Jenny Durkan pushed out Scott Kubly without a replacement director ready–and she went through two interim directors before finally selecting Sam Zimbabwe to fill the role at the end of the tumultuous year. Without permanent leadership, the transportation agency struggled to build momentum in 2018–more often backtracking or delaying.

Intercity Transit Considering Going Fare-Free in Thurston County

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The new and improved Olympia Transit Center is expected to open soon. (Credit: Intercity Transit)
The new and improved Olympia Transit Center is expected to open soon. (Credit: Intercity Transit)

A fare-free system could be headed to Thurston County. Intercity Transit will consider a demonstration project for a five-year fare-free bus network, which could be implemented as soon as January 1, 2020. Going fare-free will not result in any service reductions, and the agency thinks it may come out ahead in the long turn. The Intercity Transit Board will hold a public hearing on the issue this Wednesday (November 20th) and consider approval at a December 4th meeting.

Fare-transit has been a growing issue nationally and abroad as communities tackle income inequality, air pollution, and congestion. Estonia recently implemented a nationwide fare-free transit program. Paris made transit fare-free to youth this fall. Kansas City could America’s first major city to have a full transit system fare-free.

“[The community wants] us to move more people more quickly and reduce congestion. Frankly, zero-fare is probably the least expensive and most efficient way we can accomplish those goals.”

Ann Freeman-Manzanares, General Manager of Intercity Transit

Examples of fare-free transit in the Central Puget Sound region are fairly narrow. However, Sound Transit currently operates the Tacoma Link streetcar fare-free–charging a fare would likely substantially reduce ridership. That line, however, will see fares introduced once the line is extended in 2022. Island Transit also operates fare-free transit across its entire system. Washington State Ferries also technically provides fare-free rides for walk-on passengers depending upon direction, but ultimately roundtrip rides incur a fare.

Intercity Transit’s farebox recovery in recent years has been in the 6% to 7% range, but sales tax and grants cover the bulk of system operations, maintenance, and administration. Proposition 1, which voters passed last year, increased the sales tax within the county’s public transportation benefit area, allowing the transit agency to progressively improve service. One of those improvements came last Monday with the launch of a new frequent bus route called The One, which also benefits from a new bus lane, queue jump, and expanded transit center in downtown Olympia.

The One runs frequently across Olympia with a limited number of stops and ample of connections to other bus routes. (Intercity Transit)
The One runs frequently across Olympia with a limited number of stops and ample of connections to other bus routes. (Intercity Transit)