Seattle’s decision-makers will soon be considering a $1 billion proposal to improve the city’s transit service. Due to be delivered to the City Council next March, the 20-year Transit Master Plan (TMP) reflects Mayor Mike McGinn’s vision of extending rail transit to city neighborhoods.
For a better part of a year the Seattle Department of Transportation, with the help of its consultant Nelson-Nygaard, has been developing the TMP. A first draft, presented to a City Council committee on Sept. 27, is available for public review until the end of the year when a revised plan will be prepared.
A serious effort was made to get citizen input through community forums, focus groups, interviews, and online surveys. But the resulting TMP takes a problematic approach to improving transit in the city.
By embracing rail as the chief answer to our mobility and accessibility problems, and by allocating the lion’s share of the budget — $750 million — to rail, the TMP either glosses over or misses entirely some important options and issues. The current draft:
- Makes no attempt to analyze, test, and compare with rail, less costly alternatives such as measures that manage travel demand.
- Ignores the city’s large backlog of transportation and other capital projects.
- Lacks a realistic assessment of available funding, whether local, state, or federal.
- Doesn’t acknowledge changes in personal vehicle technology that are already occurring and will grow considerably in the next two decades.
- Assumes, incorrectly, that the performance of new transit can be predicted with certainty.
The plan proposes development of two new rail transit (rapid streetcar) corridors. One rail line would start in North Ballard and pass through Fremont on its way to Downtown. It would initially use the Fremont Bridge, but at some later time a new high-level bridge crossing the Ship Canal may be needed to avoid delays from bridge openings. Planning and design of the 7-mile line would begin in 2013, and construction would commence in 2017.
Construction of a second 6-mile rail line would follow in 2024, connecting the Roosevelt and University Districts to Downtown. Both lines would essentially be designed to fill a niche between the South Lake Union Streetcar and Link Light Rail in terms of speed and passenger capacity.
The phasing schedule for the plan suggests an early order of business is completion of a center city streetcar network that would connect the South Lake Union and First Hill streetcars (being developed by Sound Transit) and link Downtown with adjacent neighborhoods, including construction of a 2-mile branch to Lower Queen Anne starting in 2015. But defeat of Proposition 1, the car-tab measure, may push back that date since it contained $18 million for planning and design of the connector.
Sixteen corridors have been identified for enhanced (priority) bus service. Frequency and capacity would be increased, and rider information and bus stop access would be improved. One corridor would have bus rapid transit (BRT) service, which has the operating characteristics of the rapid streetcar but is rubber-tired. The BRT line would originate on Capital Hill and run 2 miles down Madison Street to Coleman Dock on the waterfront. It was chosen since the steep grade effectively precludes rail.
The TMP includes measures that would enhance both the existing city’s bus-trolley system operated by Metro and service provided by other transit operators in the city: Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and Sound Transit.
A number of incentive and regulatory methods are mentioned that could be employed to encourage more transit usage and less auto usage. These incentives, that have proven to be effective in other cities, fall into the general category of Transportation Demand Management (TDM). Examples include employer-assisted measures: bus pass and vanpool subsidies, private shuttles, a guaranteed ride home for people working late hours, and parking cash-out. Cash-out involves a payment equivalent to the cost of employer-subsidized parking. The money can be used by the employee for transit and other non-SOV modes.
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