Monday, September 24, 2018

Streetcar Review Confirms Robust Ridership Projections, Durkan Continues Delay

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The long-awaited consultant report on the Center City Connector is finally out, and while sticker shock has been dominating the headlines, the case for building the streetcar extension remains strong. That may be why Mayor Jenny Durkan chose to release the initial summary of the report on a Friday afternoon before Labor Day. The report largely confirms ridership forecasts and predicts the streetcar may even turn a profit after the first initial investment is made.

The four key option paths that the KPMG report will evaluate. (KMPG / City of Seattle)

The mayor tapped KPMG, one of the Big Four accounting firms, for the review, though the firm does not specialize in transportation consulting. The initial summary does shed some light on financials and ridership, although high-level recommendations are still being hashed out. The report also outlines four options that the city could consider, including proceeding with the baseline build plan, a modified demand-driven operating plan that would still involve the baseline build plan, a status quo no build plan, and a no build plan that reduces streetcar service.

A comparison of the primary options being consider. (City of Seattle)

KPMG estimates year-five ridership will range from 18,700 to 22,000 daily weekday passengers (based on their 5.83 million to 6.86 million annual rides). The initial numbers are slightly less vigorous than original projections by the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) several years ago, which suggested 20,000 weekday passengers initially. The report projects about 16,600 to 19,500 weekday riders in year one, based on its range of 5.17 million to 6.08 million first-year trips. The longer-range projections suggest ridership demand will gradually pick up in the years ahead. 22,000 weekday riders would put streetcar ahead of even the busiest bus line in Seattle, which is the RapidRide E at 17,000 weekday riders on a 12.5-mile corridor. Unlike typical ridership estimates, however, the report uses a very narrow projection window through 2026 (most models look out twenty years).*

Your Voice, Your Choice Wraps Up Second Year with 51 Project Selections

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The Seattle Department of Neighborhoods has wrapped up a second year of its citywide participatory voting program, Your Voice Your Choice (YVYC), to select projects with a street or park focus to receive community funding. Formerly the funding had been allocated by the department’s District Neighborhood Councils under a program called Neighborhood Park and Streets Fund. The removal of city funding from those neighborhood councils in order to reallocate community engagement dollars to more inclusive strategies prompted a shift to citywide Summer voting.

What We’re Reading: Save The Whales, Pre-Fab Bus Islands, and Land Use Politics

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Not voter-approved: In Phoenix, the city council appears intent on stealing light rail money for road projects instead.

Save the whales: The effort to remove dams from rivers grows as the orca population in Puget Sound suffers.

Reject crony capitalism: Voters could end up voting on a proposal to decided whether or not the Mariners’ should get an unearned $180 million handout from taxpayers ($).

Still growing: Ridership on Sound Transit continues to rise, in large part due to light rail.

EEO: Employers apparently are discriminating based upon prospective employees’ commutes.

Lights out: Bed Bath & Beyond is pulling out of Downtown Seattle ($) despite massive spikes in population growth nearby and its central location.

Pipeline stalled: Canada’s push to expand an oil pipeline through British Columbia is stalled after a court order.

Pre-fab bus islands: Portland’s transportation is testing out pre-fabricated bus islands with bike lanes to see how they function at stops.

Going empty: Gas stations in Seattle are dwindling in number as the city grows.

We’re No. 3: Seattle is now the third most expensive place for housing in the country ($).

Transit increases safety: According to the data, transit is the best tool for reducing traffic deaths.

The new YT: Yesler Terrace’s park is now open, but where have original families gone after all of the construction in the community ($)?

House the people: One way to reduce displacement is to build more housing.

Frequency and coverage is freedom: How America killed public transit.

Land use politics: How land use regulations drive urban areas left of center.

A piece of the puzzle: How backyard cottages could help reduce homelessness in Seattle.

Sunday Video: China Is Erasing Its Border With Hong Kong

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In this video, Vox looks into the “changing” borders of Hong Kong, a megacity that forms a portion of China but is distinctly independent from China. Those lines appear to be beginning to blur however. What does that mean for the people who live in Hong Kong?

Hard Right to Happy

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​It’s a waxing gibbous tonight, yellow, a sense of possibilities from high overhead. I’m done for the night– or almost done, seconds away from putting it in park and shutting off the lights, ready for the sound of the motor cutting into silence, the way the bus seems surprised you’d ever want to shut it down.

I turn the double-length articulated coach onto its lane assignment, the last turn of the night, and why not do it with a little pizzazz, keeping alive the freshness that got me through the day? I even have an audience. There’s a colleague, walking the walk of having completed the day. She’s coming from one of the buses parked up ahead, further up the line.

Even if you’re the last coach to park on a lane, there’s still enough room to square it off perfectly, so you’re not bleeding over the striping with your back tires. Go a little too deep, as deep as you can before you start the turn, hard right, then you overcorrect left after you’re a little too far right, the bus changing its mind, and you’re thinking about your middle wheel and turntable now, taking your time. You’ve got the real estate on your left side to reposition the front, and here’s the back wheel sliding in perfectly, straight as an arrow on the last second. Not half bad, you say to yourself, allowing yourself a little hop off the front step, the skip that wants to tap your heels together.

She’s caught up to where I am now, and we finish out our walk back to the Base together.
“Nathan!”
“Hey!”
“Were you just drivin’ that 7?”
“You know it! Such a great night.” I change my voice halfway through, realizing I probably sound like I’m bragging. I’m just happy; the exhilaration of a completed shift.
She says, “when did you start driving that thing?”
Pause. Putting it together. “I first did the 7 in, ’09.”
“And you just stick to it, huh?”
“Well you know you just find something you like and you kind of get in a rut, you know? In a good way.”
“I know tha’s right,” she grins, with a smile that stops you from calling her middle-aged. “That’s how I am with the E. People look at me–”
“Me too! I love the E!”
“And I have a great time out there!”

A Walkable Aurora Avenue

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You’ve driven down Aurora, but have you ever walked it? Chances are, you haven’t. And nobody would blame you. The street is not designed for you to give it a stroll. The sidewalks are narrow and are often interrupted by utility poles. Over a mile of Aurora is without a sidewalk. If you live in Shoreline or Tukwila, you benefit from an adequately planned and pedestrian oriented design. That’s because those cities have chosen to prioritize Aurora not only as a vehicle mover, but for people and livability. Cross the city line of N 145th St and enter Shoreline–a parallel universe with an adequately planned, pedestrian safe, tree-lined street. South of Boeing Field is Tukwila where the medians are planted, lined with trees, and street improvements provide a relief to the high-speed traffic. In both those cases improvements to Highway 99 have resulted in changes to the tenor of people’s lives along it.

Above: Tukwila’s tree lined Highway 99. (via Google Maps); Below: Shoreline’s version of Aurora at N 152nd St. (Image from City of Shoreline)
Above: Tukwila’s tree lined Highway 99. (via Google Maps); Below: Shoreline’s version of Aurora at N 152nd St. (Image from City of Shoreline)

In Seattle, that’s a different story. Aurora is treated as a back alley, an afterthought, an unsafe stretch with a history of crime and pedestrian collisions. Aurora Avenue is a state highway. That means Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) owns all lanes which move vehicle traffic. Your local jurisdiction, in this case, Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), owns the medians and sidewalks. These could be planted, tree-lined, and visually appealing areas of the city as people, cars, and packed RapidRide E Line buses pass by. But in this case, SDOT ignores pedestrians on Aurora, leaving it a highway relic unsafe to anyone outside of a car and fostering the neglect and lifestyles typical of back alleys.

Transit App Upgrades To 5.0

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Transit App users will find that the aptly named mobile navigation app has graduated to version 5.0. The milestone version is noticeably different from its predecessors. One of the chief changes is in the search functionality which is simpler, more intuitive, and faster than before. The app developers have also reduced the need to jump between screens for trip planning information through targeted consolidation of information. In short, the update is heavily focused on streamlining various functions for users.

Predictive journeys and simpler search

Note the green search bar in the center of the app. (Transit App)

One of the obvious changes that users will notice is the search functionality, which has been placed near the nearby routes pane. This removes the search bar from the top of the main screen. A green search bar function is now supposed to be predictive offering a one-tap capability on the right of the search bar to take you to a usual destination, including saved favorites. Alternatively, users can type in their destination in search bar or simply pan on the map to their desired destination. Panning to a destination will turn the search bar purple and users can tap on it determine the best options in the trip planning screen.

Either scenario will instantly provide a trip time estimate in the search bar without having to see actual route options. A thing to note about this feature is that it always assumes transit trip times, not alternatives like walking, biking, or ride-hailing which are shown in trip planning screen. So it will provide a quick overview on what to expect without getting to far into the trip planning process.

Tacoma: Public Space and Public Life

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The Broadway Plaza

In my last installment, I pointed out the importance of sidewalks—that they exist and that they are continuous—both because they provide an opportunity for residents and visitors alike to get to know a city, and because they ensure that people who don’t or can’t drive get to where they need or want to be safely. But it’s also true that sidewalks have become a sort of dumping ground (literally and figuratively) for people in cities in which other iterations of public space have gone away.

Writing for City Lab, Laura Bliss makes the case that one reason sidewalks have become a convenient metaphor for what either ails or is working in US cities is because sidewalks are the little bit of public space that remains where all else is privatized. Where roads used to and could accommodate all sorts of mobility, now they prioritize private vehicles. Green spaces and plazas seem indulgent and not seen as assets in locales where housing is scarce or real estate is expensive; where there once might have been a park, now there’s parking, or another mixed-used development. Parks, without a tax-base willing to build or maintain them, fall into disuse or misuse: bathrooms are closed, fences go up, and then local residents complain about the homeless and unsheltered who occupy them.

In effect, there are simply fewer and fewer places for people to just be, writes Bliss.

As such, the sidewalk becomes a little bit of everything for everybody: people walk, jog, and stroll on it, sure, wait for the bus on it; in the absence of park benches, people will likely sit on it, too. A lack of bike lanes combined with high speed limits on roads also bring some cyclists onto the sidewalk; a dearth of public toilets is, likely, why some people conduct their business on the sidewalk. Where there are few if any shelters, the sidewalk provides some a place to sleep.

What’s so good about public space anyway? In an era where city planning has largely favored the whims and will of developers, this questions doesn’t seem as impertinent as it might have been in times before ours.