Light rail riders, here is what you’ll be fighting for: ST3 plan approved for ballot

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

West Seattle by 2030. Ballard by 2035. The updated — and modestly sped up — proposal for Sound Transit 3 was approved by the agency’s board Thursday afternoon. Prepare for a fight as the $54 billion plan goes to the ballot in November.

CHS wrote about the initial ST3 proposal when it was released in March with a package to build 62 miles of light rail lines north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond and Issaquah, plus the highly anticipated lines to West Seattle and Ballard, and a second downtown transit tunnel. Continue reading

As ridership booms, economic impact of light rail on Capitol Hill a guessing game

South Wall, Broadway/Denny Entrance: Link Light Rail Capitol Hill Station

Screen Shot 2016-06-13 at 4.40.20 PMSome numbers around light rail on Capitol Hill are clear. According to Sound Transit’s latest service report, April light rail boardings are up nearly 80% compared to April 2015 thanks to the opening of UW Station and Capitol Hill Station. If you’re looking for signs of a likely Capitol Hill effect, while weekday ridership is up 78%, and Sunday has climbed around 64%, Saturday boardings have leapt 108%. Since the Capitol Hill light rail station opened in late March, ridership has exceeded expectations. Adding to the hype have been reported anecdotes from Capitol Hill businesses who said they had seen a spike in customer traffic due to the new station. Ridership is booming. Is it possible to empirically measure light rail-related economic activity on Capitol Hill?

Both the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce and the city’s Office of Economic Development — the two entities that would have the best sense of how to approach such a question — say that while it is possible, it is far too early to tell and the methods of measuring are limited. There are also other variables to consider, such as general population growth on the Hill.

“While we’re optimistic Link Light Rail will have a positive impact on Capitol Hill’s economy, at this point, it is too soon to draw a conclusion until we have data to evaluate,” OED’s Economic Intelligence Advisor, John Crawford-Gallagher, tells CHS.

“There’s not [any substantial evidence] yet mainly because the window time has been so short,” said the Chamber’s Sierra Hansen. “Right now the quickest way to get some hard numbers is to partner with some businesses on Broadway to tell us how they’re doing.” Continue reading

Sound Transit to spend $1.8M on Seattle Times, TV/radio, CHS advertising

Sound Transit blew out the stops with a weekend of parties celebrating the launch of its new $1.9 billion — under budget, ahead of schedule — light rail extension and UW and Capitol Hill stations. There was the giant party for VIPs and dignitaries. And a giant party on Capitol Hill and at Husky Stadium to celebrate the first passengers on the new line.

Now, at the prodding of an anti-Sound Transit group, the Seattle Times is making a big stink about the $858,379 price tag for the Capitol Hill party and the launch festivities:

In all, taxpayers spent $858,379 for Sound Transit’s March 19 grand-opening party for the Capitol Hill and UW stations. It was a big celebration. Some 30,000 people boarded trains there, to see how the UW connection could help them beat gridlock. Most of the money went to planning or logistics: crowd management ($209,436); police overtime ($29,520); and event management ($260,200), which included planning over the course of a year. An additional $130,198 was spent for an ad campaign on radio, the Web, print, billboards, movie screens and gas pumps.

Later in the article, the Times includes a nod to the huge early success for the new line. But it also tries to compare the Sound Transit parties to the WSDOT grand opening of the new 520 which, according to the Times, used corporate sponsorships to fund much of its celebrations. The Times ignores any costs involved in pitching, signing, and executing those sponsorship deals.

The newspaper also ignores its own part in the promotional costs of Sound Transit. According to the agency’s approved 2016 budget, the Times and all the TV and radio stations jumping on the party story will collect $1.8 million from Sound Transit this year. CHS will get a puny — but well-spent! — chunk of that.

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Later this year, voters will decide on the $50 billion Sound Transit package. It’s a critical moment for Sound Transit — and, maybe, “the most important decision our generation will be asked to make.” Given the circumstances and the opportunity to showcase its achievements and win tons of free press, maybe Sound Transit should have spent even more on the party.

Another bug for the First Hill Streetcar as technical issues obscure ridership count

Beset by manufacturing problems and delayed launch dates, the First Hill Streetcar continues to face technical difficulties in its fourth month of operation.

The latest complication has prevented the Seattle Department of Transportation from tracking daily ridership on the 10 stop streetcar line. According to an SDOT spokesperson, the streetcar’s automated passenger counters are collecting data, but there is no way for the department to access it — the information is not making its way to the software system set up to read it.

Seattle Streetcar Departing Broadway & Marion Street Station in Kodachrome...
For now, the department has a few other ways to measure things. In March, SDOT calculated 50,159 rides from ORCA Card taps — roughly 1,618 rides per day. But even with a complete daily count, it would be unclear how ridership was meeting expectations. It turns out, SDOT has no projections for how the streetcar should have performed that month. In fact, SDOT’s only ridership forecast or goals come from a 2010 Sound Transit study (PDF) that projected ridership would reach 3,000 to 3,500 daily passengers by 2030.

The 2.5-mile line connecting Pioneer Square, the International District, First Hill, and Capitol Hill began its service in January with free rides and little fanfare.

The Seattle Transit Blog, meanwhile, reports on progress for the City Center Connector portion of the city’s planned streetcar network while also casting a skeptical eye on the lack of visibility for the First Hill line.

To help expose the streetcar to more riders, SDOT has teamed up with neighborhood organizations to offer free rides during three Thursdays in May. Continue reading

‘High 50s’ — First ridership estimates show light rail boosted to new level by UW, Capitol Hill Stations


(Image: Sound Transit)

(Image: Sound Transit)

By our count, the anecdotes of excitement around the opening of Capitol Hill Station and the U-Link light rail extension are off the charts. By the first solid ridership counts, that excitement is fully justified.

Sound Transit announced this week that its first estimates for U-Link ridership have set new records for Seattle subway traffic:

Average weekday Link ridership is settling into the high 50s range in the few weeks since UW returned from spring break and our partners at King County Metro implemented a major restructure of their Northeast Seattle bus service to integrate with U Link. That’s a roughly 66% increase over the 35,000 average weekday ridership before U Link opened. Sound Transit estimated average weekday ridership of 51,800 for the year.

Sound Transit said Friday, April 8th marked a new highpoint for its light rail service with more than 72,000 estimated riders. An estimated 71,500 rode the train on February 5, 2014 to be part of the Seahawks Super Bowl victory parade. You can credit the Mariners home opener and Emerald City Comicon for the new record, by the way. Continue reading

State of King County: ST3 ‘the most important decision our generation will be asked to make’


(Image: King County)

King County Executive Dow Constantine dedicated his 2016 State of the County speech Monday afternoon to the area’s economic growth and opportunity to invest heavily in public transit.

“A generation ago, during the Boeing Bust, voters rejected the rapid transit portion of Forward Thrust,” the executive said. “We’ve been paying the price ever since. But today, the state of the county is strong—strong enough to give our children the choice to get out of their cars, to get out of traffic, and to get onto a transportation system that serves the needs of this century, not the last. ST3 represents an ambitious vision.”

Last week, officials rolled out the initial proposals for Sound Transit 3, a $50 billion spending package that includes proposals for a second downtown transit tunnel, light rail to West Seattle by 2033, and another line to Ballard by 2038. The long timelines and emphasis on delivering service to less populated areas like DuPont while not having a plan for brining light rail to neighborhoods like Wallingford have drawn criticism of the proposals as well as the expected backlash against another levy for property owners.

“This is the most important decision our generation will be asked to make,” Constantine , who also serves as board chair for Sound Transit, said Monday.

You can read the full speech here.

CHS Pics | This week in… Capitol Hill Station GRAND OPENING pictures

Dancing to the music

We’ll take one more week away from our regularly scheduled broadcast of some of the best shots from the CHS Flickr pool to bring you some of the best pool photos of the opening of Capitol Hill Station and UW Station. Last week, we looked at our favorite images of the construction of the station from the pool’s submissions over the past years. Thanks for sharing the great pictures.

Pet the Helmets!

Continue reading

Petition calls for extending light rail service after bars close  

UW Station (Image: CHS)

UW Station (Image: CHS)

Seattle’s appetite for light rail is virtually insatiable at the moment. Sound Transit announced its plans for a $50 billion light rail expansion over 25 years and more rush-hour trains starting next week. Still, transit riders want more.

As the light rail line heads into its first full weekend serving the nightlife hubs of around Capitol Hill and University of Washington, a campaign is underway to get Sound Transit to extend its late night hours to safely shuttle crowds back home.

A petition is calling on the Sound Transit board to extend Link light rail service by nine hours a week to 2:30 AM on Fridays and Saturdays and to 1:30 AM on other days. More than 2,000 people have signed the petition in three days. Currently, the last southbound Link train leaves Capitol Hill Station at 12:38 AM. The last northbound train leaves Capitol Hill at 12:46 AM.

Matthew Powell, who created the petition, said light rail’s current closing times rob bar crowds and late night workers from a safe and easy option of getting home. “There were a lot of people who expected to be open later,” Powell said. “It has really limited the ability to maximize the benefit.”

It’s not the first time Sound Transit has been approached about extending late night service. The regional transit agency has a page to explain how crews have a small window to do required daily maintenance on the tracks. Still, late night service is not completely out of the question. Continue reading

Sound Transit 3: Big, long, Ballard by 2038

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

2016_0324_ST3_DraftPlan_BoardhandoutIt’s finally here: the Sound Transit 3 draft proposal (PDF) for how to extend and complete the agency’s regional light rail network, a $50 billion package which will be put before voters in the fall of this year. Seattle’s transit wonks will be tearing every piece of the proposal apart in the coming days, weeks, and months, but for now, here are the basics.

It’s big. Really big. As local transit advocates had hoped in the build up to yesterday’s unveiling, Sound Transit decided to go all-in with package to build out light rail lines north to Everett, south to Tacoma, east to Redmond and Issaquah, and highly anticipated lines to West Seattle and Ballard.

And it’s long. Really long. Timelines call light rail to West Seattle in 2033 — and then, five years, later, light rail to Ballard.

The plans will require digging a new transit tunnel under downtown and a total of 108 miles of new light rail track.

Screen Shot 2016-03-25 at 6.45.47 AM

There’s no “Metro 8 Subway,” a proposed line running between south lake union and the future Judkins Park station in the Central District (mimicking the Metro 8 bus route); an unlikely investment—it wasn’t even a candidate project or potential investment study—that Seattle subway had been pushing for.

In addition to the new light rail lines, the package also includes a variety of bus and bus rapid transit (BRT) projects—BRT lines on I-405 and SR 522, capital improvements to Metro’s existing C and D Rapid Ride lines, and potentially using highway shoulders for buses during peak congestion hours on the likes of I-5 and I-405—as well as three studies of potential future investment including light rail lines from Ballard to the University District, West Seattle to Burien, and further north to Everett Community college. The Seattle Transit Blog has a detailed, full run-down here on the package and all its non-light rail elements, like Sound Transit’s proposed utilization of their surplus property for transit-oriented, affordable housing development.

The Madison Bus Rapid Transit project, by the way, won’t be part of ST3’s funding — the city will now have to turn to the feds or beg from the state legislature to power that plan to overhaul Madison from downtown to the Central District. Continue reading

Capitol Hill Station’s 57K start: Sound Transit to add more trains

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

The light rail system that runs through Seattle typically carries around 35,000 riders every weekday. Monday and Tuesday, Sound Transit says it saw half as many more get on the train following the weekend opening of University Link and Capitol Hill Station. And with spring break at UW and Seattle Central in finals mode, there might be even more demand to come.

Sound Transit said this Monday’s trains carried around 47,000 riders while Tuesday’s numbers hit a whopping 57,000. Saturday’s grand opening day of free rides, meanwhile, generated 67,000 boardings – “easily the system’s single biggest ridership day since we had about 71,000 during the Super Bowl parade celebration in February, 2014,” Sound Transit said.

Starting next week with the Monday morning rush, Sound Transit said it will introduce more three-car trains into the mix to better serve commuters:

These numbers are especially encouraging considering UW is on spring break and Seattle Central Community College is in exams week when there are many fewer students at the Capitol Hill campus. And King County Metro’s major NE Seattle bus restructure to provide frequent connections to and from University of Washington Station doesn’t begin until this coming Saturday.

With that in mind, Sound Transit has decided to add additional rail cars on the line during peak hours beginning next Monday. Starting on Monday, riders can expect to see a mix of two and three-car trains during the morning and evening rush hours. While the additional service will help alleviate crowding on some trains, riders should remember to move to the ends and center of light rail cars to make room for others getting on at the next station, put bags under seats and take off backpacks while on crowded trains.

The Metro update begins Saturday. CHS outlined the changes for Capitol Hill service here.

Though it only has a few days worth or ridership totals to work with, Sound Transit is moving quickly to keep the good vibes flowing around the extended system. Thursday, the agency is expected to announce details of the routes proposed for its next round of funding, Sound Transit 3.

The first weekday service at Capitol Hill Station definitely attracted explorers but it was also clearly a facility kicked into full work-day motion. CHS visited to talk with commuters on their first day using the new station and found a similar theme: the search for a lower-stress commute.

The Seattle Times also reports: “public-education ads and train announcements are coming. Put your backpack under your seat or between your legs. Don’t block the doorways. Move to the ends of the trains.”

By 2030, around 14,000 Capitol Hill riders are expected to board the light rail trains each day. However, Sound Transit tells CHS that a revised projection would show even more usage as the system improvements in Sound Transit 2 were not factored into the original estimates. Sound Transit says that from 2015-2017, light rail’s average weekday ridership is projected to increase by about 26,000 boardings.