Metro Gets First 40-Foot New Flyer Battery Bus, Ambitious on Zero-Emissions Fleet

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A New Flyer 40-foot battery-electric bus in King County Metro livery. (Credit: King County)

King County Metro has received its first 40-foot battery-electric New Flyer bus. The agency has already taken possession of 60-foot articulated variants from the company. Metro says that the new 40-foot buses are capable of carrying 35 passengers and running 220 miles on a single charge.

King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski hailed the latest zero-emissions development and said he’s looking forward to further progress. “I’m excited to continue the implementation of our zero-emission bus plan. It’s taken a lot of thoughtful work from a lot of participants over several years and I am confident that it is the right way to go,” he said. “It sets us up well for significant federal dollars to help bring the vision to fruition. I also firmly believe that it will help us present an attractive plan to further fund Metro Connects to the voters in the near future. Voters want zero-emission buses and I believe [they] will be more inclined to fund a plan that is based upon this technology.”

In a video, Metro showed off the new bus and highlighted some changes that passengers may notice. “There’s a minor seating change at the rear that should decrease boarding and deboarding time, where we’ve shifted some of the seats so that they’re actually aisle-facing to allow some more standing room and easier boarding and deboarding for passengers as on and off the bus,” said Will Haber, a vehicle procurement administrator for Metro. Haber also said that the first bus will go through a thorough testing process and item checklist to make sure it’s sound for general use next year.

The initial 40-foot battery-electric New Flyer bus is part of a 40-vehicle order. Deliveries will be happening from this fall through early next year. This is part of a larger set of orders that Metro has with New Flyer, which is expected to deliver many more battery-electric buses. The first 40 of the 60-foot articulated variant started arriving in April.

Metro says that the battery-electric buses will be charged at the South Base where pantographs and plug-in stations are to be located. Those should come online later this fall. As for charging facilities in the field, Metro told The Urbanist that they “will evaluate the merits of building charging stations in the field.” Should they offer improved “resiliency and operational flexibility,” the agency may install them in the future.

SDOT Proposes Assembling Funds to Get Closer to Move Seattle Levy’s Multimodal Promises

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Street sign reading SODO Trail
An extension of the SODO trail is included in the list of proposed projects to be built using new and unspent revenues to bolster Move Seattle levy targets. (Photo by Rachael Ludwick)

When voters approved Seattle’s nine-year transportation levy in 2015, they were choosing whether the city should invest in a very specific list of transportation projects, from street repaving to protected bike lanes to blocks of new sidewalks. That suite of projects has evolved over the past six years, with higher-than-expected costs and federal grants that failed to materialize impacting how close to achieving those promises the City expects it will get. In 2018, the Durkan administration completed a full re-examination of the levy’s portfolio, resulting in scaled-back targets in many programs. Additional impacts to city revenue sources from Covid-19 in 2020 also had repercussions on the levy’s portfolio.

For many months now, the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee has been working with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) on a set of criteria for updating that portfolio: looking at which categories are projected to come in with fewer deliverables than were promised, and how any added projects would be prioritized if funds became available. Last week, SDOT presented an initial proposal to that committee for utilizing an array of funding sources, some guaranteed and some less-than-certain, to bolster levy goals. When the Mayor’s 2022 proposed budget came out, it didn’t contain any proposals to significantly increase levy deliverables: this proposal here gets much closer.

The criteria that the committee settled upon were: prioritizing projects that “advance opportunities in BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] communities and minimize harm,” further citywide goals around Vision Zero, climate, equity, and asset management, and are able to be completed by the end of the levy in 2024.

The project list that has resulted includes a major repaving project on a RapidRide corridor, 19 blocks of new permanent sidewalks, 22 blocks of sidewalk repair, and several key bike projects that would fill in gaps in the city’s bike network. The RapidRide corridor is 15th Avenue NW, which carries RapidRide D. Also, Route 40 briefly uses 15th Avenue NW (but not the segment getting repaved) before it turns into Holman Road and had been a RapidRide+ corridor in the original Move Seattle plan before being scaled back to lesser improvements. Design work would also be completed on a few other bike projects that could be ready to go if Seattle were to pass a new transportation levy.

12 blocks of Beacon Avenue and 7 blocks of Greenwood Ave N would get new sidewalks at a combined cost of $6.6 million. Sidewalk safety repair gets $6.5 million to deal with 22 blocks. Protected bike lanes on Georgetown to Downtown route, Beacon Avenue S, Alaskan Way, and 11th/12th Ave would be added. There's a 0.4-mile SODO Trail extension and 0.4-mile Little Brook Neighborhood Greenway as well. Arterial Major Maintenance gets $7.5 million to deal with about 8 lane miles. 15th Avenue NW (a RapidRide corridor) would get $10.70 million for repaving.
New sidewalks, bike lane projects, and sidewalk and street repair projects are proposed before 2024 under this new plan. (City of Seattle)

In addition to the bike facilities listed here, SDOT also proposes to build 8 miles of new neighborhood greenways using funds from school zone speed cameras. They also propose using some additional camera money to pay for additional Safe Routes to Schools projects that aren’t greenways. That proposal for approximately $10 million in camera revenue is dependent on the city installing new cameras and those cameras generating the revenue that the city expects to see from them.

Midweek Video: The Surprising Way Small Towns Are Disappearing

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Dave Amos discusses small towns in America and the surprising way many are disappearing.

Seattle Subway Urges Lawmakers to Adopt Rail Funding Fix

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A photo of a light rail train on an elevated rail line.
A Northgate Link light rail train arriving. (Credit: Ryan Packer)

The excitement that the recent Northgate Link opening generated provided a vivid example of Seattle residents’ desire to be better connected by rail. This enthusiasm is backed up by a recent poll which found three quarters of participating Seattle voters would support a new funding measure to expand light rail to more Seattle neighborhoods.

Taken together, one might assume that Seattle voters are destined to see a new Sound Transit light rail funding measure on the ballot in the near future. There is, however, a catch. Even if Seattle residents are willing to pay for more light rail, current rules in place prevent that from happening. Funding for Link light is up to the approval of voters across its taxing district, which spans from north of Everett to south of Tacoma.

Seattle Subway, a nonprofit advocacy group, wants to see those rules changed so that Seattle residents can decide if they want to embark on their own Sound Transit 4 campaign further expanding light rail throughout the city. They launched a letter-writing campaign that already has more than 8,000 signatures.

“The response to light rail is strong,” said Jonathan Hopkins, Executive Director of Seattle Subway. “People are really eager not to be left out.”

Seattle Subway's Seattle map include extensions of Ballard Link to Lake City, West Seattle Link to the airport and Renton, a new Metro 8, and the Aurora Line.
Seattle Subway’s Seattle vision map indicates places where updated station interchanges must be designed. (Seattle Subway)

However, the reality is that current Sound Transit 3 (ST3) expansion plans leave out over 60% of Seattle’s densest and most populated neighborhoods, a situation Seattle Subway finds unacceptable. “The vision for grade separated transit for the city needs to be bigger because the population is bigger and the growth is faster. ST3 is really building out Forward Thrust, a plan created when Seattle was shrinking and our planet didn’t have a climate emergency,” Hopkins said.

The map for ST3 expansion does bear a striking similarity to the transit map put forth in the failed Forward Thrust bond measures of 1968 and 1970. If voters in Seattle (and Bellevue, too) had had their way, the rail system would already be transporting riders across the Seattle metro area today; however, lack of support from suburban and rural areas of King County dropped the overall margin in favor to 50.2%, falling short of the 60% necessary to pass the Forward Thrust transit bond measures.

Seattle Times Rescinds Kathy Lambert Endorsement Over Racist Mailer

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On October 6th, news spread of Kathy Lambert's racist attack mailer against her opponent Sarah Perry. (Photo courtesy of Kirkland Reporter)

The King County Council could get a shakeup this election, and those odds went up last week as Republican incumbent Kathy Lambert lost her Seattle Times endorsement after sending out a racist mailer. The ad depicted her opponent, Sarah Perry, as a marionette doll controlled on puppet strings by County Councilmember Girmay Zahilay, the only Black member on County Council. Vice President Kamala Harris, Senator Bernie Sanders, and Seattle City Councilmember Kshama Sawant are also pictured at the puppet-master level.

Not aiming for subtlety, the headline of the ad reads, “Sarah Perry would be a SOCIALIST on the Eastside pushing their agenda.” A quote bubble from Perry’s mouth says “Don’t investigate many crimes” and text states “Sarah Perry is backed by Seattle socialist leader Girmay Zahilay who wants to defund the police.”

Lambert’s critics quickly seized on the mailer and noted it was odd to single out two Black leaders, Kshama Sawant, and Sanders, a Jewish Democratic Socialist. The puppet strings trope managed to hit anti-Semitic themes in the process of loudly blowing an anti-Black racist dogwhistle.

“Councilmember Kathy Lambert sent the mailer below to thousands in her district. Given that every police-related policy I’ve supported has had majority Council approval, I wonder why she singled out and used her only Black colleague’s face for fear mongering on the East Side,” Councilmember Zahilay said in a tweeted statement. “Some might say it’s because I endorsed her Democratic opponent. Actually, six of Councilmember Lambert’s colleagues endorsed her opponent. And yet, of those six, it’s only my face in a big red bow tie and my name in red boogie man letters that she chose to distribute to thousands of voters.”

All six Democratic members of the County Council issued a joint letter condemning the attack. “Planning, authorizing and mailing a communication like this betrays ignorance at best, deep seated racism at worst,” they wrote. Additionally, the King County Council voted Tuesday to remove Lambert from her committee leadership roles, Erica Barnett reported. King County Executive Dow Constantine also condemned the “hyper partisan dog whistle attack.”

Perry is a Democrat, but she has not advocated for defunding the police, as Lambert’s claim strongly suggests. Apparently, the Seattle Times reached out to Lambert to explain her decision but she failed to do so, as David Gutman reported Thursday. In fact, Lambert doubled down in the immediate aftermath.

“Girmay is the only socialist on the county council and Sarah has chosen to campaign with him,” Lambert wrote in a statement to the Seattle Times. “They share policies that will bring more homelessness and crime to the Eastside. Sarah is the person campaigning with a socialist. They know the voters don’t want socialism on the eastside which is why they are making these outrageous statements.”

Hence, the Seattle Times Editorial Board pulled its Lambert endorsement on Thursday and endorsed Perry.

“This racist, antisemitic sexism, it has no place here,” Perry told the Seattle Times. “That hyperpartisan tone is not in keeping with our Eastside values, it is a national Trump kind of thing.”

Perhaps realizing she had blundered, Lambert reversed course and fired the political consultant that made the ad, seeking to distance herself from the controversy. However, unlike most negative attack mailers, this one came directly from her campaign rather than a political action committee (PAC) running an independent expenditure. That makes it harder for Lambert to separate herself for the decision to mail out a misleading and racist mailer across the 3rd District, which spans from Issaquah, Sammamish, and east Redmond to the eastern edge of King County.

Port of Seattle Commission Taps Brakes on Arrivals Drive Expansion

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A photo shows an roadway leading to an airport terminal. Colors are used to identify where the roadway will be expanded.
An aerial view of the proposed Arrivals Drive expansion project.

The Port of Seattle’s plan to significantly expand the capacity of the main arrivals drive at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport (Sea-Tac) hit a speedbump in late September as most of the members of the Port of Seattle Commission voted to postpone a decision to move forward with design work for the project. Planned to open in 2025 if the current schedule is adhered to, the project would add two lanes to the main segment of Arrivals Drive, bringing the total number of lanes to six, and realign the other roads like Departures Drive to accommodate the widening.

A majority of the Commission expressed frustration with the fact that the Port doesn’t seem to have a very well-developed plan to reduce the percentage of trips to the airport that are made by single-occupancy vehicles and rideshares even as it moves forward with a plan to expand capacity of one of the airport’s key roadways.

Four of the five members of the Port of Seattle Commission voted to delay a formal vote on whether to approve spending an additional $6.9 million to continue design work to their November 9 meeting. That allocation would come after an authorization of $8 million in 2019 to get the project to 30%. The only member to vote against the delay was Commissioner Sam Cho, who also works at Lyft and who had recused himself from a discussion on surface transportation earlier this year because of that fact. Back in 2019, before Cho had joined the Commission, the other four Commissioners had been unanimous in approving the project to move forward with initial design work. But that was also before the project’s estimated cost went up from $50 million to nearly $80 million.

Perversely, the Port of Seattle is touting the expansion of one of the main roadways at Sea-Tac as supporting the mission of the Port to be the “greenest and most energy efficient Port in North America.”

Black and white drawing of a roadway expansion with segments labelled
The nearly $80 million Widen Arrivals Drive project would add two lanes to the existing four to a major segment of the primary arrivals road at Sea-Tac. (Port of Seattle)

Toilet Deserts Remain Despite Sound Transit’s Renewed Restroom Policy

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A photo showing doors for restrooms at a light rail station.
Passenger restrooms on the mezzanine level at Northgate Station. (Credit: The Urbanist)

More passenger restrooms are ahead in Sound Transit’s ever-growing system. However, a recommended policy update would discourage them from becoming a universal and easily accessible feature at light rail stations because of stringent criteria.

Under the policy, 16 transit facilities throughout Sound Transit’s network could have passenger restrooms by 2024. Only an additional two stations would benefit from passenger restrooms in the following two decades, leaving wide swaths of the light rail system without any facilities.

On Thursday, some boardmembers expressed concern with the proposed restroom policy for these very reasons.

Recommended restroom policy disregards passenger experience

Agency staff are proposing new passenger restroom policies going forward, which would severely limit the number of new restrooms at transit facilities. The policy has been justified by citing projected operational costs and cherry-picking peer North American transit agencies.

In speaking with transit agencies from the likes of Portland, Los Angeles, Toronto, and Miami, Sound Transit suggested that four key themes had come out of those discussions, which included that:

  • Restrooms are for passengers only;
  • Restrooms are only at major transit hubs;
  • Restrooms are located within fare-paid zones; and
  • Restrooms are locked, but can be used if specifically requested.

Sound Transit also cited average yearly costs per passenger restroom at $322,174 for cleaning, security, and maintenance. With nine passenger restrooms in the system today, the annual cost is $2.9 million. The recommended policy, however, would mean more locations and annual costs would rise to $4.5 million with 14 passenger restrooms and $5.2 million with 16 passenger restrooms.

Symphony Station May Debut in 2023 Amid Other Proposed Sound Transit Naming Policy Changes

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University Street Station with a light rail vehicle arriving at the south platform. (Credit: Photo by the author)

Along with a slate of proposed changes to systemwide station, line, and facility naming policies, Sound Transit is proposing to rename University Street Station to Symphony Station. The name change could come as soon as 2023 as part of the East Link light rail extension opening. Other recommended policy changes would chart a course for future naming processes within the agency’s transit system, too.

An embarrassing debacle leads to a better outcome

The agency had planned to rename the station before the pandemic after seeking public feedback on alternatives to the easily confusing University Street Station name — there’s also University of Washington and U (University) District stations in the system. Support split closely between Symphony Station (24.89%) and Benaroya Hall (24.50%).

However, the agency proposed a modified alternative for renaming as Union Street/Symphony Station. This was meant to avoid spending a significant sum of money to change a supposedly necessary three-letter back-of-house code (“USS” for “University Street Station”). The agency’s board supported the change initially despite wide public criticism that the revised station name would add yet another level of confusion: despite the name, no station entrance is located on Union Street, making it geographically wrong and continuing rather than ending the naming debacle.

Only a month later, at the behest of Councilmember Balducci, the board voted to halt the name change and push the agency to rethink its station naming policy — a cause we supported.

So, now the board is faced with the choice of again renaming University Street Station. This time, the agency is recommending that the name change to Symphony Station in keeping with recommended station naming policies. The change would come as soon as 2023 as part of the East Link extension project, since system signage and other agency materials will need to be updated anyway. This would eliminate costs related to public-facing materials. However, the agency says that the change would still cost $800,000 to revise the back-of-house and other internal materials, such as training manuals.

The committee was supportive of the recommended renaming and a final decision will come at the full board meeting later this month.

A station line diagram above a Link light rail door shows the existing name for University Street Station, but Downtown Seattle is indicated below to add a bit of clarity.
Station line diagrams onboard trains highlight Downtown Seattle and University of Washington Campus stations separately. (Credit: Photo by author)

For now, Sound Transit has implemented several strategies to reduce confusion at no significant cost. Announcements onboard trains now advise passengers to stay onboard for the University of Washington Campus if that’s their destination and signage with line diagrams now highlight the University of Washington Campus and Downtown Seattle stations separately.