Broadway Extension Open House Debrief


Central Part

Last night, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) held an open house for the Broadway Streetcar. The project would extend the First Hill Streetcar to the north by an additional half mile, adding 2-3 new stops. It would also extend the Broadway cycletrack along the same route.

Much of the information about the project was repeated from previous open houses, but there were a few new tidbits of information:

  • The proposed terminus at E Prospect St will have a center lane platform, rather than a curbside platform supporting bidirectional traffic. Previous renderings showed a single lane extending past E Roy St riding in the shoulder.
  • The turn-around track will be placed in a center lane on 10th Ave E past E Prospect St, similar to the final stop on the SLU Streetcar.
  • North of E Roy St, the cycle track will split into two individual protected bike lanes, one on each side of the street.
  • North of the E Prospect St terminus, the bicycle lanes will revert to sharrows. The width of the center platform at E Prospect St precludes any protected bicycle lanes through that stretch.

For streetcar riders, the center platform will be a nicer experience than a one-sided terminus. Yet the width of the new design effectively precludes any protected bicycle lanes between E Roy St and E Prospect St. Many people would like to see a continuous cycletrack between Yesler Way and E Roanoke St. But unless the E Prospect St terminus is redesigned yet again, the new design makes the Broadway Streetcar (or at least its extension from E Roy St to E Prospect St) considerably less desirable for them.

Cross Sections

Full Size

Terminus Options

Event Reminder: Broadway Streetcar Extension Open House


Broadway Streetcar ExtensionTonight from 6pm to 8pm there will be an open house for the Broadway Streetcar extension at Lowell Elementary. This will be an opportunity for the community to review the progress on the design and funding options for the extension. The Broadway extension will expand the First Hill Streetcar from its current terminus near Seattle Central Community College to at least Roy Street and potentially as far north as Prospect Street near Volunteer Park. Design of the final alignment is anticipated to be completed later this year.

Besides simply delivering a streetcar extension, SDOT will extend the Broadway Bikeway (a bi-directional cycletrack) parallel to the streetcar extension. For this reason bicycle advocates have also taken some in this project. Details about the selected track alignments and cycletrack will be presented along with funding options for the construction. Staff who are working on this project will also be on hand to answer questions that community members might have about the project.

We encourage our readers who have a interest in the streetcar, the cycletrack, or related developments to stop by this open house and find out more. And then afterward, drop by Roy Street Coffee & Tea (a 3-block walk) to meet up with other members of The Urbanist.

Broadway Streetcar Open House
Tuesday, June 17, 2014
6pm to 8 pm
Lowell Elementary Cafeteria
1058 E Mercer St

WSDOT’s Repair Plan for Bertha


Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) and their contractor Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP) went on a media blitz yesterday to explain their plans and progress to fix Bertha. If you’re not familiar with the saga, the short version is this: WSDOT launched the project 6 months delayed, their contractor busted the tunnel boring machine, then “fixed” it, then really busted it, and now they have a plan to really fix it this time–albeit over one year later.

Above is one of three videos that WSDOT pushed out yesterday on their effort to fix Bertha. The video gives a simplistic overview of how WSDOT will have STP dig the vertical shaft, remove and replace the TBM’s cutter head, and get Bertha moving again. WSDOT also posted videos the launch pit and the underground walls of the pit. And last night, they issued the following statement:

STP’s work plan, which is illustrated in a new animation, contains four major repair and enhancement elements:

  • Replacing the damaged seal system with a more robust system
  • Replacing the main bearing
  • Installing enhanced monitoring systems
  • Adding steel to strengthen the machine and accommodate the new seal system

Other major enhancements of the work plan include:

  • Widening the openings at the center of the cutterhead
  • Improving the soil conditioning injection system
  • Installing bit- and wear-resistant steel on the cutterhead
  • Extending the length of the agitator arms in the mixing chamber

“We are committed to the success of this project,” said Seattle Tunnel Partners Project Manager Chris Dixon. “We’re confident these repairs and enhancements will enable this machine to successfully tunnel beneath downtown Seattle. We won’t resume tunneling until we’re certain Bertha is up to the task.”

STP will provide WSDOT with additional supporting information about rebuilding the machine in the coming months, in accordance with the design-build contract, to demonstrate how the repairs will meet the contract’s performance and technical requirements, including:

  • An analysis demonstrating that the machine’s structure can withstand all loads from the surrounding ground and its own operation
  • Seal design details and background calculations
  • Design of revised conditioner injection systems and cutterhead openings
  • Updated operations plan including enhanced instrumentation and monitoring for key machine components

It probably comes as no surprise to many, but we strongly oppose the SR 99 tunneling project. Not because we don’t like tunnels, but because there’s a lot to lose. We have no doubt that WSDOT is committed to completing the project–at this point, it has to at any and all costs. But that means that we are making serious trades in order to accommodate a project that we just don’t need. And here’s why:

Unfortunately, WSDOT is literally toying with people’s lives, raiding very scarce transportation dollars, and making a skeptical electorate even more skeptical of state government. If it were up to us, we’d kill the project right now and use the monies saved on 21st Century transportation system instead.

Ambitious Training


Ambitious training–Sound Transit is doing just that and in spades. With the unfurling of the Draft Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (DSEIS) last week, ST’s leadership has given us urban/transit nerds a taste of what may be proposed in a future ST3 package.

2005 Current Plan Alternative

2005 LRPTo the right, we see the 2005 Current Plan Alternative map for light rail and high capacity transit (HCT) with the alignments outlined below.

Light Rail

Potential light rail corridors in the Current Plan Alternative.

A. Tacoma to Federal Way

B. Burien to Renton

C. Bellevue to Issaquah along I-901

D. Renton to Lynnwood along I-405

E. Renton to Woodinville along Eastside Rail Corridor

F. Downtown Seattle to Ballard1

G. Ballard to University of Washington1

H. Lynnwood to Everett

HCT (mode not specified)

K. University of Washington to Redmond via SR-5201

L. Northgate to Bothell on SR-522

1Portions of these corridors could be constructed in tunnels.

We’ve known for some time about most of these corridors, but what we didn’t know before was that some corridors could be constructed by tunnel. In the 2005 LRP, there was no mention of that potential. This gives further credence to the hopes that Downtown to Ballard and Ballard to the U District will in part, if not wholly, be achieved via tunneling. NW Seattle needs another route across the ship canal. And not just any new route, but one that is quick and hassle-free. Everyone in North Seattle can agree that going east-west, west-east is a pain considering the distance and inevitable congestion. Light rail in a tunnel mitigates both of these current pains.

Sunday Video: Fifth & Columbia


A fascinating look at the change in Seattle’s skyline and the future Fifth & Columbia project (due in 2016).

What We’re Reading: World Cup Madness

World Cup 2014 by torbakhopper on Flickr.
World Cup 2014 by torbakhopper on Flickr.

Politics might define urbanism: This week, Pew Research found that there is severe political divide amongst those who choose to live in big cities, suburbs, small towns, and rural areas. Density, which continues to be the preference as the country grows, is the real adversary for conservatives. Of course, this also means the political polarization is growing even more rapidly.

McCleary is no joke: The Washington State Supreme Court is not happy with the Republican caucus, which has continued to fail at meeting the demands of the Court to fund education first. Even with increasing state revenues, the next biennium will see a massive gap between basic needs for regular programs and the required increase in funding public schools.

World Cup madness: Architecture is part of World Cup heritage, and Dezeen gives us the skinny on all the stadiums. Google will let you take a Street View into them, so you don’t have to miss out. Most World Cup soccer players play in European leagues. NASA shows us a night map of all the World Cup cities lit up. And there’s plenty of places to watch World Cup action over the next month!

Goran out, Joncas in: SDOT Interim Director, Goran Sparrman, has decided to remove his name from the hat for SDOT Director. He’s not sure what his future will hold, but he will continue to lead the department until the Mayor nominates a new Director. Meanwhile, Mayor Ed Murray has picked Kate Joncas, former Downtown Seattle Association President, as his Deputy Mayor.

This week in transit: SDOT will hold a meeting on the Broadway extension of the streetcar, CHS provides the background (and here’s some history on the old streetcar). Seattle Transit Blog argues for better ways to increase farebox recovery and reduce costs. King County Executive Dow Constantine issues an executive order for Metro to better integrate with Sound Transit for efficiencies. City Lab talks about making transit more like public utilities while also asking what future suburban cities with transit will look like. Link Light Rail keeps breaking records with no signs of stopping.

Bay Area nonsense: A week later, people are still lamenting the San Francisco veto vote on taller buildings.

Development and speculation: The H.W. Baker Linen Supply Co. building on E Pike and 11th Ave gets picked up by a local developer (don’t worry, the building is staying). Swedish Hospital is planning a significant expansion at its Cherry Hill campus. Canterbury Ale House makes its comeback. Trinity Lutheran College in downtown Everett chooses microhousing and private management company for it. The developer for the Rainier Square project makes the case for their preferred alternative (Design Review available online). Capitol Hill has plenty of utility capacity for development. Sightline Daily argues that speculation could be nipped in the bud while development and reuse of property could boom in cities if we changed our property tax system. And a new website offers developers a way to find distressed and available properties ready for redevelopment.

Berlin repurposes its old airport: It’s not often that you take a major airport and simply decide to turn it into a park, but that’s exactly what Berlin has done. There aren’t many bells and whistles to the new grounds, but people like it.

The kids: For the longest time, cities have been experiencing the dwindling of kids, it was all for the yuppies and dincs. But Seattle has bucked the trend and is seeing explosive growth in the children as a percent of population.

Protect the bikes: If you’re under age 24, you’re almost absolutely guaranteed to support protected bike lanes. San Antonio goes nuclear and plans to removes its best cycle lanes in the city, even its local newspaper decries the shortsighted act. Next City explores protected bike lanes in depth in 5 cities with 17k cyclists and 20k drivers. Head injuries are down in bikeshare cities, and as we already knew, helmets don’t increase safety. Floating transit stops are actually quite good for cyclists.

Bugs and climate change: Sweden wants to save its bugs and offers a new way to do that–in massive biodomes that the public can also patronize. Our world maps might need to change, not because of political boundary changes, but because the ice is melting so fast. And this comic puts climate change in simple terms.

Undriving: Carsharing is weaning people off of owning a car and driving. SDOT is looking at changes to parking rates this fall, and some the options are quite dynamic.

Dow Constantine Issues Executive Order: We Need Full Integration of Bus and Rail

Link and 255 in Pioneer Square by Oran Viriyincy on Flickr.

Dow Constantine is on fire. The King County Executive, first elected in 2009, made the headlines on Tuesday for vetoing Councilmember Rod Dembowski’s proposal to defer King County Metro’s impending service cuts. Now, Constantine has signed an executive order calling for Metro and Sound Transit to deeply integrate their operations and planning.

The executive order is surprisingly readable. But for those of you who don’t read legal documents for fun, here’s a high-level summary of what’s going on and why this matters for transit users.

Dow Constantine has a mission. Faced with a problem like Metro’s financial crisis, many executives would be happy to postpone cuts until after their reelection. Constantine is not one of them. Between his veto on Tuesday and this executive order, it’s becoming clear that Constantine is searching for a permanent solution—a comprehensive strategy that will break the vicious cycle of Metro crises once and for all. As the head of King County (of which Metro is a division) and the chair of Sound Transit’s Board of Directors, Constantine arguably has the most influence on transit policy of any politician in the Seattle area. Transit riders have a powerful ally.

The name of the game is “better.” In the press release accompanying his order, Constantine called on Metro and Sound Transit to improve and innovate:

Long term, our transportation future requires both adequate revenue and continuous innovation to expand service. This initiative advances the innovation half of that equation.

There are people who claim that Metro doesn’t need any more money and that all of their woes stem from mismanagement. There are other people who claim that more money will solve all of Metro’s problems. Constantine is taking a more pragmatic approach. Last month, he announced a program for cities to buy more bus service, while his latest proposal focuses on getting more value from the money we’re already spending. This multifaceted strategy is likely to produce better results than pursuing either angle without the other.

Metro’s reduction proposal may change significantly. Constantine explicitly calls on to Metro to “fully utilize the significantly greater operating speeds, reliability and capacity of RapidRide and Link light rail investments.” While this might sound like fluff, it’s actually a really big deal. Back when the Central Link light rail line was being planned, most observers assumed that Metro would modify buses like the 101 and 150, removing their freeway segments and sending them to light rail stations. Instead, Metro left these buses unchanged.

Constantine has given Metro an ultimatum to start rebuilding its network around Link, even if it means that Metro loses some ridership to Sound Transit. He has asked Sound Transit and Metro to publish an integration report by September. The report will discuss the upcoming service reductions as well as the opening of University Link in 2016. The report will be too late to affect the first phase of cuts, but we can assume that it will have a lot to say about the other three phases.

The future is bright. In his executive order, Constantine calls on Metro and Sound Transit to use the savings from bus/rail integration to improve bus service in places without rail stations, and to coordinate planning with the state highway department. These are common-sense reforms that the transit community has been requesting for years. But they are also acts of hope, not desperation. Constantine sees a future where Seattle has truly world-class transit. He’s not content to preserve Metro and Sound Transit’s current service level; he wants to make them much, much better. That’s a vision that we can get behind.

Sound Transit Releases Preliminary Report on Ballard-UW-520 Rail


Ballard to U-District Alternatives Map

On June 5, Sound Transit released a preliminary report on the Central and East HCT (High Capacity Transit) Corridor Study. The report studies three new HCT corridors: University District-Kirkland-Redmond, Ballard-University District, and Kirkland-Bellevue-Issaquah. The overall thrust of the document is to connect Ballard to the U-District and to use 520 to connect to one of many different locations on the Eastside. The corridor study also includes a few options for reaching Issaquah and the Issaquah Highlands.

For the Ballard to U-District corridor (starting from page 10), three different alignments and a mix of modes are considered, including rapid transit (BRT), at-grade streetcar, full light rail subway, and a combination of streetcar and elevated. (The rail options are collectively called light rail transit, or LRT.) A few key points that stand out here are:

  • All of the streetcar routes run along Leary Way, with one route taking a detour up Stone Way to Wallingford.
  • The subway route (A3) is the fastest route. It sails from Ballard to the U-District in a mere 6-9 minutes, only stopping in Wallingford (at Stone Way) along the way.
  • Both BRT routes stay clear of the popular N 45th Street. Only the rail routes provide central Wallingford with a stop.
  • The only route that serves both Fremont and Wallingford is the streetcar-elevated hybrid.

Though some of these routes skip Fremont, it’s worth noting that the most popular alignment for the Ballard to Downtown corridor would give Fremont a prominent stop.

The A3 subway route stands out as the top contender for solving North Seattle’s east-west transit problem. It’s not much more expensive than the other rail options, and it could give a stellar 6-minute commute time from Ballard to the U-District, which is generally not possible with any mode (transit, bicycle or car) today.

On page 4, the study looks at the options for serving UW Station and the U-District (page 4). This part is a little confusing, because it appears that Sound Transit is suggesting that the UW and U-District need more high capacity transit than they’re already getting with U-Link and North Link. In fact, the goal here is to connect the Ballard to U-District line with the route crossing the 520 bridge.