‘Open items’ — First Hill Streetcar hits more delays

IMG_7702-600x400The cynics in the CHS audience may have nailed it. The long-delayed First Hill Streetcar may not begin service until 2016.

KING 5, reporting on Tuesday’s City Council transportation committee meeting, says Seattle Department of Transportation director Scott Kubly acknowledged that the system faces further delays:

Kubly says a problem with the propulsion system caused the first delays, and testing revealed “water damage in the inverters” for all seven cars. He says they’ve undergone 250 miles of testing, and six of the seven cars are currently in the area. However, one of the cars’ inverters had to be sent back to Switzerland for maintenance. There has also been a problem with a software glitch.

In a briefing provided to the committee, SDOT said testing is not complete and various “open items” remain to be solved before service begins on the ten-stop, 2.5-mile streetcar line from S Jackson and Occidental to Broadway and Denny Way:

  • The manufacturer has completed dynamic acceptance testing on cars 1, 3 and 5 and plans to complete this for cars 2 and 4 by the end of next week. SDOT/Metro also completed traction power integrated tests last week.
  • Completion/acceptance of Car 6 is uncertain due to need for repair of water-damaged inverters
  • Various “open items” remain even on cars that have completed dynamic testing, ranging from installation of informational graphics and loading route information to the passenger information system, to correcting important features that are not functioning as required by Metro

Screen Shot 2015-09-22 at 5.27.54 PMIn August after SDOT still had not identified a start date for the line originally planned to begin service in 2014, CHS polled readers on their predictions for when the streetcar would begin carrying passengers on Broadway. The overwhelming top pick? “2016” — UPDATE: Details on the changing timelines over the years — a range from 2012 to 2016, then 2013, then 2014 —  are below in comments.

Construction on the rails and the line’s accompanying bikeway have been complete since late 2014 and the streets impacted by the construction have seen all of the work and changes but few of the intended benefits of the new transit option.

Issues around the trolleys manufactured by Inekon have lead to delays and contractual financial penalties that have reached $750,000 for the Czech firm. The unique power system being deployed in the First Hill line has been a big issue. Heading from Pioneer Square to Broadway, the First Hill Streetcar will operate on electrical power provided by a single overhead wire “which receives electricity provided by four traction power substations strategically located along the 2.5 mile route.” On the return trip downhill, new hybrid batteries will provide the streetcars power “generated through its regenerative braking along the inbound route, much of it downhill.”

When service begins, the new streetcars will arrive at the 10 stops every 10 to 15 minutes from 5 AM to 1 AM Monday to Saturday and 10 AM to 8 PM on Sundays and holidays. The trains will share traffic lanes with motor vehicles. The streetcar’s current northern terminus will deliver riders to Broadway and Denny — across the street from future light rail service at Capitol Hill Station. Planning to extend the streetcar and its accompanying bikeway north on Broadway to Roy by 2017 is also underway.

A race, of sorts is shaping up, Capitol Hill Station and the 3.1-mile light rail extension connecting downtown to Husky Stadium via Broadway is set to open in early 2016. Will the Sound Transit-financed, SDOT-built $132 million First Hill Streetcar to meet it?

UPDATE: A statement on the delay from Mayor Ed Murray has been posted to the Seattle Transit Blog:

I share the public’s frustration that the First Hill streetcar has yet to enter service. We continue to focus on fixing the problems this administration inherited. SDOT renegotiated the penalties for late delivery to make the delays more painful for the manufacturer, which now owes the City nearly $800,000 for failure to meet deadlines. This delay is unacceptable. If these higher penalties are not successful in motivating the contractor to complete its work, we will be forced to consider other alternatives.

Metro’s ‘next generation’ of Capitol Hill-friendly electric trolleys ready to roll


Hill-friendly and relatively clean and quiet, electric trolleys are important workhorses in Seattle’s commute. Starting this week, Metro’s ancient fleet will begin a two-year rollout of replacement trolleys.

The first five of 174 replacement trolley buses go into service Wednesday with the remaining trolleys “phased in over the next two years.”

Metro says the new trolley buses will use up to 30% less electricity than the current fleet “and will significantly reduce operating costs.”

“Electric trolleys are ideal for moving people in dense urban environments, making up 12% of our fleet but carrying 20% of our weekday riders,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in an announcement of the rollout. “And they emit zero emissions. By running trolleys instead of diesel-hybrid buses over the next five years, we are keeping 42,000 metric tons of greenhouse-gas emissions out of our air.” Continue reading

Sound Transit seeks feedback on light rail to West Seattle, Ballard… and beyond

Screen Shot 2015-07-06 at 9.28.17 PMSound Transit 3, a “sales-tax, car-tab tax, and property-tax increases”-powered $15 billion package of projects for the agency to take on once its currently planned investments are complete in 2023, will go to the ballot in 2016. Right now, Sound Transit wants your help shaping the package:

The Sound Transit Board needs your help to determine which projects should be included in the ballot measure. The Board will also consider the findings of technical analysis about each project, feedback from the public and key stakeholders, and project cost considerations. The Board is made up of 17 elected officials throughout the Puget Sound region and the Secretary of the Washington State Department of Transportation. It is scheduled to release a draft plan for system expansion in early 2016 for public review and comment before advancing a final ballot measure for public vote in late 2016 or afterward.

Sound Transit is conducting a survey through Wednesday, July 9th collecting feedback on 39 alternatives on a “draft priority projects” list including multiple variants of light rail options connecting to Ballard and West Seattle. You can learn more about ST3 and take the survey here.

The Madison Bus Rapid Transit project is also included in the draft list.CHS reported on SDOT’s Madison BRT planning here. We’ll have to follow up to find out how the new Sound Transit package funding would mesh with the current planning process.

The survey provides the opportunity to weigh in on the individual importance of each of the draft items on the project list and also provide “top 3″ rankings for the regions Sound Transit serves. It also includes question #8 which seems to inform as much as it queries:

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Sound Transit’s Capitol Hill light rail project, meanwhile, is on pace to begin service by early 2016. Isn’t that? a) awesome b) totally awesome or c) all of the above

Sound Transit selects Pride flag as Capitol Hill Station icon


20150630_SignageThough it will be rendered only in blue and white, Sound Transit has selected a symbol of Gay Pride as the legally required identification icon for Broadways opening-soon Capitol Hill Station.

“Pictograms, as part of our overall general signage program, are not produced in color,” colorful Sound Transit spokesperson Bruce Gray regretfully informed CHS.

The new symbol was spotted by eagle-eyed @gordonwerner in Sound Transit’s latest project update newsletter. Sound Transit also announced that the Seattle-side line of light rail will be known as the Red Line while Eastside extensions will be known as the Blue Line.

The Pride-based icon was selected as part of a design and community feedback process designed to “create pictograms to identify Sound Transit Link light rail stations” that “serve as a tool to easily differentiate stations.” “This is important for non-English speaking audiences, particularly those that do not use a Roman alphabet,” a report on the process reads.

It’s choice comes in a summer of revival for the rainbow flag on Capitol Hill. While the flag continues as a ubiquitous symbol around the neighborhood every June for Pride, the addition of 11 rainbow crosswalks in Pike/Pine has represented a small restoration, for some, of the neighborhood’s eroding LGBTQ identity. For others, it’s a groovy photo op. You might expect a similar response for the Capitol Hill Station icon — though we wouldn’t mind holding the license for the branded blue Pride flag merchandise.

Art inside the station will be, well, kinda gay, too, with war+love machine Jet Kiss (Image: CHS)

Art inside the station will be, well, kinda gay, too, with war+love machine Jet Kiss (Image: CHS)

Continue reading

Sound Transit announces U-Link extension passes first phase of testing — and takes you on a video ride beneath Capitol Hill

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Sound Transit officials have announced that an important “first phase” of testing on the University Link light rail extension connecting downtown to Montlake via Capitol Hill Station is complete. And they included this groovy video view from the operator’s cab to show you how it feels to zoom through the twin tunnels at speeds up to 55 MPH.

The testing of “new power, safety, train control and communications systems in most of the 3.1 miles of tunnels between Westlake Station in downtown Seattle and the University of Washington” involves coordinating the newly installed equipment with the system’s existing infrastructure. The work is part of phases of testing that will continue through the summer and will grow to include Sound Transit’s working fleet of trains. “(W)hen final phases of testing beginning this fall, all trains that operate during normal service hours will continue on to Capitol Hill and UW Station before returning south,” the announcement on the completion of the first phase of testing reads. The full announcement is below.

CHS took you inside for a first look at Capitol Hill Station as work continues to have the new extension ready for service by early 2016. You can also join CHS on a walk through the light rail tunnels here. Meanwhile at the surface, the process to develop the land around Capitol Hill Station with a mix of market-rate and affordable apartments, commercial space, and community space is underway.

Sound Transit completes first phase of University Link testing

New video from operator’s cab previews fast and frequent service that starts in early 2016

Sound Transit contractors have completed initial work to integrate and test University Link light rail signal and power systems as part of the push to open the extension in early 2016. Continue reading

Council’s Licata proposes adding parking tax, development fees to property tax levy for $930 million transportation plan

LevyMapFINAL-400x518A new proposal would allow Seattle to build a $930 million war chest to fund transportation projects across the city but would pay for more than a third of the total with a mix of an increased commercial parking tax, an employee tax, transportation-related fees on developments, and a smaller, $600 million property tax levy.

The proposal from City Council member Nick Licata was released Tuesday in advance of a public hearing on Mayor Ed Murray’s Move Seattle Levy, a proposed $930 million in transportation funding planned to be powered fully by property taxes.

Licata said his new plan should reduce the burden on “those on fixed and low incomes” and, he said, give the transportation levy its best shot at being approved by voters this fall.

“I believe we need to consider the size of the levy, and examine alternative funding sources, in an effort to reach the $930 million goal,” Licata said about the new proposal. “We should also consider the risk that a large levy might be less likely to pass, and consider the potential consequences.”

The Urbanist blog looked at how the two proposals would stack up:

Today’s median housing price is $450,000, which would translate to a 2016 tax bill for the average homeowner of $176 under Licata’s levy plan versus $277 under the Mayor’s. Homeowners of median valued units will pay $136 in the current year for the soon-to-expire Bridging the Gap levy.

In a statement, the Downtown Business Association called Licata’s plan “the wrong message to send to employers that are looking to create jobs in Seattle and those that are already here,” KING TV reported.

Capitol Hill 2035 — Seattle’s next 20-year plan

The most interesting parts of the planning are the facts, figures, and datasets used to create the forecasts and predictions. Here's  a look at various predicted metrics for the four alternatives under consideration in the Seattle 2035 plan. The full report is at the end of this post.

The most interesting parts of the planning are the facts, figures, and datasets used to create the forecasts and predictions. Here’s a look at various predicted metrics for the four alternatives under consideration in the Seattle 2035 plan. The full report is at the end of this post.

The report is also full of tables and figures illustrating how Central Seattle neighborhoods stack up with the rest of the city

The report is also full of tables and figures illustrating how Central Seattle neighborhoods stack up with the rest of the city

If CHS understands the way this works correctly, back in 1995, City of Seattle planners predicted $15 cocktails, drones, the demolition of Piecora’s, and Anarchists. And they did nothing to stop it. The good news is there is a chance to help influence the next 20-year plan and what place Capitol Hill, First Hill, and the Central District play in Seattle 2035… and beyond.

If you’d like the “too long, didn’t skim” version, ready about Alternative 2 which is forecast to create the most new housing and jobs for Capitol Hill out of the four models under consideration. Meanwhile, housing affordability is brought up as a problem under all of the options, but for different reasons. Alternative 2 would likely lead to lots of new, tall buildings. These tend to be expensive to build, and end up with higher rents and higher priced condos. Alternatives 3 and 4, which spread the development to more areas, could see people who currently live near light rail stations (in particular lower-income people in south Seattle) displaced as their neighborhoods are rebuilt with shiny, new buildings. The proposal recommends developing “strategies” to help lessen the problem.

Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 2.23.13 PM Screen Shot 2015-05-31 at 2.22.10 PMLast fall, CHS reported on some of the growth analysis underway as the city drafts a re-written Comprehensive Plan, the document that will shape growth and development through 2035. City planner expect there will be 70,000 new housing units over that time (housing 120,000 people) and 115,000 new jobs.

“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to grow, it’s how we’re going to grow.”

“It’s not a matter of if we’re going to grow, it’s how we’re going to grow,” said Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas at Wednesday’s May 27 public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the process. “Where do we want to channel that growth?”

To understand the possible changes, it’s best to understand how things work now. The city is divided up into different areas, and growth is channeled, in different amounts, into these villages.

There are six Urban Centers: Downtown, First/Capitol Hill, South Lake Union, Uptown (you might call it Lower Queen Anne), University District and Northgate. The first four of these are next to each other, creating what looks on a map like one big Urban Center.

Then there are Hub Urban Villages: Ballard, Bitter Lake, Fremont, Lake City, West Seattle Junction and Mount Baker.

Finally, there 18 Residential Urban Villages such as 23rd and Union-Jackson, Madison-Miller, Eastlake, Green Lake, Othello, Wallingford and Columbia City.

Other parts of town are either industrial, like the ports or Interbay, or none of the above, just low-density residential — the north part of Capitol Hill, Montlake or Phinney Ridge, for example.

Under the current plan, most of the growth is channeled to the Urban Centers (keep in mind, Capitol Hill is considered an urban Center) while a lot of the residential goes to the Hub villages and residential villages.

Seattle is considering four different options going forward, each of which mean a very different feel for the city as a whole, and for the Hill.

The City has identified four alternatives for consideration in this EIS. The alternatives assume the same level of total growth, but evaluate differing levels of growth emphases that may occur in various areas of the city, and with differing levels of resulting land use intensities. Each alternative emphasizes different patterns of projected future growth amount and intensity among the urban centers, urban villages and transit-related areas.

Alternative 1, Continue Current Trends (No Action), would plan for a continuation of current growth policies associated with the Urban Village Strategy along with a continuation of assumed trends that distribute growth among all of the urban centers and urban villages.

Alternative 2, Guide Growth to Urban Centers, prioritizes greater growth concentrations into the six existing urban centers—Downtown, First/Capitol Hill, University District, Northgate, South Lake Union and Uptown.

The emphasis in alternatives 3 and 4 is on providing opportunity for more housing and employment growth in areas closest to existing and planned transit service. Specifically:

Alternative 3, Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Light Rail, prioritizes greater growth concentrations around existing and planned light rail transit stations.

Alternative 4, Guide Growth to Urban Villages near Transit, prioritizes greater growth concentrations around light rail stations and in specific areas along priority bus transit routes. The boundaries of the existing urban villages would remain unchanged under both alterna- tives 1 and 2. alternatives 3 and 4 would result in expansions to some urban village bound- aries and the designation of one new urban village (at NE 130th Street/Interstate 5) in order to encompass a 10-minute walkshed around existing/planned future light rail stations and priority transit routes.

Alternative 1 means to basically keep doing what we have been doing. Under this scenario, the Urban Centers get 42% of the new housing and 61% of the new jobs. Continue reading

Civic Notes | June Seattle bus service expansion, parks smoking ban, arts space forum

“The 47 bus is coming back to Capitol Hill! ” (Image: @janeofearth via Twitter)

With consistently warm and sunny days upon us, it’s time to get out and enjoy the city. Here are a few civic issues that may affect your outings in one way or another.

  • Expanded bus service begins: The Rt. 47 bus is coming back. Thanks to Seattle residents who voted to fund Metro last year and the agency’s regular summer route changes, the Capitol Hill to downtown line and a bunch of other routes will be reinstated or expanded starting in June. Last year’s Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1 asked Seattle voters if they wanted to buy back sliced Metro services in Seattle and improve existing routes with a $60 annual vehicle license fee and .1% sales tax hike. The measure is expected generate around $45 million annually.

    “The voters of Seattle are funding the largest increase in Metro service in our city in 40 years,” said Mayor Ed Murray in a statement. City funding will help improve Capitol Hill routes 10, 49, and 60 among others. Check here for a full list of route improvements.

  • Parks smoking ban: The Seattle Board of Parks Commissioners approved a tobacco smoking ban (PDF) on Thursday in all Seattle public parks. The ban goes into effect July 1st. On Capitol Hill, where parks serve as the de facto backyard for many renters and homeless people, the ban has been met with considerable opposition. Homeless advocates and other groups managed to get commissioners to drop a $27 fine for violating the ban. Instead, those caught smoking in a park will be met with warnings which could lead to an arrest.

    (Image: Seattle Office of Arts and culture)

    (Image: Seattle Office of Arts and culture)

  • Arts space forum: How can Seattle maintain and expand space for artistic endeavors amid a boom of development activity? It’s a question the city’s Office of Arts & Culture has been trying to find some answers to, and will present some of those findings during a free half-day forum on June 1st. Squared Feet: What’s Next will feature presentations from arts groups and ask participants to vote for an arts project the city should fund. You can learn more at Square Feet 2015 | Where Next?. CHS was there for the first Squared Feet forum in 2013.

First look: inside Capitol Hill Station

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

(Images: Alex Garland for CHS)

With a message one Sound Transit official was so proud of he repeated it twice, King County Executive Dow Constantine and Seattle Mayor Ed Murray led a media tour Tuesday morning of the “ahead of schedule and under budget” U-Link subway line’s Capitol Hill Station.

“When U-Link opens early next year it will transform how people get around this city,” Constantine said before getting to the heart of the matter — a public push to pass the state transportation budget in Olympia including a fully-funded Sound Transit 3 package.

Mayor Murray echoed the call to Olympia before heading underground below Broadway. “Tens of thousands of people will use this as a way to commute to work,” Murray said, “to enjoy life when they’re not working. It’s going to make a difference.”

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Tuesday’s tour was the first public opportunity to see inside the $110 million station that stretches from John to Denny below two acres of Broadway just northwest of Cal Anderson Park. Later this summer, Sound Transit says it will begin “pre-revenue testing” on the twin tracks between downtown and Montlake via Capitol Hill. Starting around August, every train will continue from Westlake tunnel to put the system fully through its paces. Passengers, of course, will need to get off the train before it continues all the way to UW station.
Continue reading

More transit prep on Broadway: If you spot ‘smoke,’ don’t worry — Capitol Hill Station airflow test


A cutaway view from the north of Capitol Hill Station's main entrance at Broadway and John (Image: Sound Transit)

A cutaway view from the north of Capitol Hill Station’s main entrance at Broadway and John (Image: Sound Transit)

If you see smoke Friday night coming from the under construction Capitol Hill Station, you can probably relax. Sound Transit says contractors will be conducting tests of the station’s “airflow”

Friday, May 22, from 4:30 p.m. – 10 p.m. Sound Transit’s contractors at both the Capitol Hill and University of Washington Stations will perform airflow tests in the University Link tunnels. Nearby residents and passersby may notice artificial smoke (a dense vapor produced by a fog machine) exiting vent shafts at the station sites. Additional airflow tests will also be performed on May 30-31 and June 6-7 during daytime hours.

If this were an actual emergency, never fear — Capitol Hill’s Fire Station 25 is home to Seattle’s only special tunnel firefighting machine.

(Image: CHS)

(Image: CHS)

The work is part of preparations through the rest of 2015 to open Capitol Hill Station and the U-Link light rail extension connecting downtown to Montlake by way of Broadway.

You can get a sneak peek here of the UW station and a look here at what it’s like inside the 3.1 mile tunnels. Riders will descend around 90 feet via escalators and elevators to reach the Capitol Hill Station platform, according to Sound Transit diagrams. In addition to the main entrance near Broadway and John, the station will also be accessed by an entrance near Denny on the west side of Broadway and a third entrance on the south end of the site. By 2030, about 14,000 Capitol Hill riders are expected to board the light rail trains each day.

Above ground, the process to develop the sites around the Broadway light rail site with a mix of affordable and market-rate apartments, a community plaza, and commercial space — including a home being planned for a new grocery store — is underway and planners are adjusting bus routes in anticipation of the new transit service coming online. Meanwhile, the surface level streetcar has begun testing on Broadway with hopes of opening the service to riders later this summer.

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