Category: Issues

WSTC Statement: Move West Seattle First.

West Seattle Transportation Coalition – Move West Seattle First.

For Immediate Release

June 11, 2015

West Seattle has been working to resolve its transportation challenges for 125 years. We initiated Puget Sound’s first ferry service in 1888 and we built America’s first municipally funded commuter rail system in 1906. Today, that extensive rail line is gone, replaced by inadequate bus service and single lane choke points that hamper the mobility of our 100,000 citizens.

Seattle has not supported or expanded our historically great transportation ideas. Thanks to the lags and half measures the city has offered over the years, there’s widespread perception here that West Seattle and its transportation issues are not, and never have been priorities for the City of Seattle.

Bridge rebuild, 1983

Bridge rebuild, 1983

It took the City five years to re-build the South Park Bridge after significant lobbying efforts of citizens, six years to rebuild Seattle’s Spokane St. bridge after a freighter rammed the old one in 1978, and decades to re-start the seasonal cross bay West Seattle Water Taxi to downtown. After significant citizens efforts and pressure, the City is finally addressing safety and speeding issues on SW Roxbury Street and 35th Ave SW.

As our Peninsula population increases, traffic increases and further chokes ingress-egress. Our two bridges are gridlocked for hours every day now — with 93,000 vehicles crossing West Seattle’s high bridge, and 13,000 crossing the low bridge. Together, these bridges are Seattle’s busiest, non-freeway traffic corridor, carrying more human and freight volume than any other city bridge. By the time Move Seattle expires, West Seattle’s population in our Alaska Junction and Triangle areas alone will grow to equal or surpass that of Ballard.

Move Seattle fails to address West Seattle’s key issue — getting into and out of the peninsula, safely and efficiently. While the WSTC appreciates and supports the proposals West Seattle pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure improvements, we ask the Mayor and City Council to support and clearly define Council Member Tom Rasmussen’s amendment to Move Seattle. We would like the levy to:

  • Provide a fully funded, integrated, West Seattle Peninsula ingress-egress plan with a scope of work, timeline, and funding source. Its structure should be fully compatible with conversion to a future Sound Transit dedicated right-of-way, Light Rail or Bus Rapid Transit system.

In Sound Transit polling, more than 94% of West Seattle residents supported a dedicated solution for the people living in District 1. Currently, all of West Seattle’s transportation hopes and dreams seem to be bolted to the forthcoming Sound Transit 3 (ST3) proposal. Meaning, West Seattle’s transportation fate is now in the hands of Olympia legislators, the Sound Transit Tri-County Board, and competition from regional and local interests who also need ST3 resources.

West Seattle Bridge, 2010.

West Seattle Bridge, 2010.

Meanwhile, the clock is ticking down for West Seattle as our population and development density increase, and the Port gears up with planned expansions on Terminal 5, where freight and industrial growth will further choke traffic flows to SR 99, I-5, I-90, Marginal and Alaskan Ways. It’s a perfect storm of adverse effects on our situation.

West Seattle and South Park need a solution today. We cannot wait for some future, theoretical ST3 or ST4 package. We expect our leaders and elected officials to do whatever it takes to move the people of District 1 now.

For media inquiries, please contact Amanda Kay Helmick at (206) 708-5617.

The West Seattle Transportation Coalition

How is that bus cost effective?

Sometimes we see comments and questions along the lines of, “How is that bus profitable? No one is on it. The last time I rode it, it only had two people on the bus coming into West Seattle.” Someone asked this about the #50 today. Here is the KC Metro route page for the #50:

We’ll run you through a typical bus line here, and why it’s not a problem to see it empty–sometimes. This will make sense by the end.

Route 50

Route 50

It goes from Othello Station on in southeast Seattle to Seward Park, to Columbia City, to the VA hospital on Beacon Hill, to the SODO Busway & S Lander (by Amazon), to the West Seattle Bridge, to the Alaska Junction here in West Seattle, to 61st Ave SW & Alki Ave SW (the beach in Alki), and then back again. It hits, basically, several business districts, a hospital, two major recreation destinations in the city (that cater more to locals versus “outside” tourists–how many out of towners will you see at Alki or Seward versus Pike Place Market? We’re not exactly a beach destination for tourists).

That bus runs 36 times per day, from 5:14am to 11:04pm, and each “run” takes about an hour. It takes on average around 8 to 11 minutes to go from location to location. The #50 averages about 2200 “riders” per day from Monday to Friday. Assuming each of the 36 individual runs had an even share of the riders that means each run would be carrying 61 passengers in total. That means at each stop, somewhere between 4 to 9 people are boarding the #50.

They usually use a bus with a capacity of 30 people to operate the #50. Not every single person is going to ride all the way from Othello to Alki or from Alki to Othello each time, of course. Some get on; some get off. But, we’re averaging per run double the physical capacity of the bus, so far.

There’s another consideration, as well: the route 50 directly connects West Seattle and other neighborhoods to the Light Rail to SeaTac Airport.

Realistically, the 5am bus and the 11pm bus aren’t going to have as many people on it. The buses between 7am-830am and 430pm-6pm are going to have the bulk of the riders, because that’s the case for many bus lines. On many of the runs, you’ll have the #50 at capacity or very crowded, but again, not for every stop. This is just how a bus line works. The route overall does fine for it’s usage, and the off hours buses serve the public good by letting people ride. While there may only be 5 people getting onto the 5:14am bus at Alki, that’s fine. By the time the bus has gotten to the VA hospital, that run in costs to Metro is likely already paid for, even if there are less people on it.

If the route wasn’t cost effective, and wasn’t in an area that requires additional services (per King County laws) Metro would contract the service and shift that budget somewhere else. Why do we know that? Remember that the #21 used to drive deeply into Arbor Heights, where now it only gets the 21 express commuter service. The justification that was given by Metro was that not enough riders rode the #21 deep enough into Arbor Heights past the commuting hours to justify all day service. Metro has no money to waste running empty buses to nowhere. If a route survived the 2012 cuts, it’s got people riding on it and that route is needed.

Questions about the incident today disrupting traffic on the SR99 Viaduct and future mitigation of such issues city-wide

This morning just after 6:00 AM, a van spun out and hit the guard rail on the northbound lane and crashed. It took the City of Seattle nearly two hours to get this cleared up. Multiple reports came in from hundreds of people of traffic backed up in every direction, from the stadiums back to the middle of West Seattle, all the way south past the 1st Avenue South Bridge. In short, it was a completely non-managed fiasco, and it was over the past several weeks at least the fifth time there was a major commuter transportation disruption for the West Seattle peninsula, between accidents and mistakes by government agencies. Reports across the news media and in various comment sections (and SDOT web cams) showed backups and damage from the event continuing well past 10:00 AM.

We saw nearly four hours of systemic disruption from a single crashed van that merely needed to be towed. On a weekday, there is no excuse for why the city could not get this cleared swiftly. The crash took place, as the crow flies, less than a half mile from Seattle’s City Hall and mere blocks from downtown. If we cannot service a critical north-south commuter corridor in the heart of our urban core for hours, things need to be addressed and remediated from a very high level.

In light of this, the West Seattle Transportation Coalition mailed this morning to City of Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn; Mayor-elect Ed Murray; Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the City Council’s Transportation Committee; and DeAnna Martin, Community Relations Planner from King County Metro. We asked them the following five questions:


We are mailing in regards to the events today on the Viaduct which affected all commutes from West Seattle and points south. This was today’s event:

We have had now, approximately, four out of the last six commute days with extraordinary events and anger is clearly beginning to boil over with the public over the ongoing nature of these issues and  our limited, declining transportation options in West Seattle.

In order for us to transmit an explanation to our very large membership of up to 68,000 individuals, could the following be answered?

1. Why did it take two hours for a tow truck to clear an accident from the northbound viaduct this morning, when the accident happened at the height of rush hour?

2. If this was a situation where no third party tow truck was available in a timely fashion, what is the city willing and prepared to do to ensure that there will be one available in an extremely timely and highly efficient fashion going forward?

3. If this was a situation where the tow truck itself had to “fight” its way through the traffic jam itself, is there a protocol for SPD to escort safely the tow truck from the opposite direction to quickly and efficiently clear the scene?

4. If there is no such protocol as described in question #3, why not, and what steps are required for this to happen in all future incidents?

5. What sort of immediate communication was issued to Metro drivers ordering them to re-route and bypass the Viaduct, and what time was that done?

We look forward to a prompt answer to each question and steps taken to permanently ameliorate the process for these events. Seattle–not just West Seattle–has a number of critical transportation choke points in our various bridges. There must be a clear, defined, ruthlessly enforced and funded process for addressing these issues as they arise. Failure to do so and failure to address this would be unacceptable for the following reasons:

  •     It transfers tremendous personal costs in both lost time and lost money to commuters.
  •     It transfers directly financial costs in income lost for hourly employees, particularly low-income and working class employees, and those reliant upon child care.
  •     It passes tremendous costs forward and onto employers and businesses in terms of lost productivity, sales, and revenue.
  •     It allows for massive systemic disruption of our entire transportation and mass transit infrastructure, inconveniencing and passing those costs to citizens and employers across the city. As, in this case, Rapid Ride C from West Seattle is delayed for two hours, so is every Rapid Ride D that services north of the Ship Canal.

All this completely unnecessary disruption and harm to tens of thousands, for want of a single tow truck.

Thank you for your continued service and partnership.

We plan on following up on this and pursuing it until we have answers to each of the five questions in full, and until all five answers are publicized here. After the levels of raw frustration and anger we saw displayed today, the neglect in planning for West Seattle’s peninsula and residents in transportation matters has gone well past the point of reasonable patience on our part. There is no legitimate reason for us to have to wait any further for solutions.

If you would like to help us work on these issues, please check our page on volunteering, or you can simply “Like” us on Facebook here to keep updated.

West Seattle appears to support Light Rail!

Areas under review by Sound Transit for Light Rail.

Areas under review by Sound Transit for Light Rail.

There seems to be a strong hunger in West Seattle for Light Rail expansion to, and through, West Seattle.

On November 21, members of the West Seattle Transportation Coalition attended an information hearing held by Sound Transit about the revision process for their long-range plan. Prior to this, virtually all the feedback we have heard either through the WSTC or through our various West Seattle community groups was overwhelmingly in support of and in favor of expanding Light Rail to West Seattle.

At least one community group which has endorsed the WSTC (Westwood/Roxhill/Arbor Heights Community Council) had conducted a Facebook survey of their membership to see if they favored Light Rail. The public results as of November 26 are 24-0-1 in favor of Light Rail to West Seattle (using a Yes-No-Maybe format). That is for one sample a 96% approval rate. While at the event, Sound Transit spokespeople told the WSTC that of all the West Seattle resident responses they have received in their survey that ended on November 25, the approval rate was at 94% as of November 21.

In response to this, the WSTC has drafted and sent the following letter of support to the Sound Transit comment feedback process on November 25, based on this apparently unambiguous overall support for Light Rail in our community:


Why is our Metro service facing a 27% cut in 2014?

In case you could not find a clear and simple answer of why King County Metro may be facing 17% cuts in 2014, and why West Seattle is facing a 27% cut, we wanted to explain. There are various moving pieces here. This will explain them all, and then tie them together as it’s explained.

Home rule: Washington is not a “home rule” state, broadly. In some states, local counties (like King County) and municipalities (like Seattle) can do various things on their own to raise tax revenue without involving their state. For example, a county or city may be able to either legislatively (through their county or city council) or through a ballot measure raise a tax. We can do that here–but for almost every situation, we need the permission of the State Legislature in Olympia to do it. The process is: Olympia says, “King County, you have permission to either create Tax ABC,” which is rare, or they will say, “King County, you have our permission to ask your voters if you can create Tax XYZ,” which is far more common.

  • Short version: We need permission from people in other counties to raise taxes on ourselves.

Tim Eyman: Eyman is a conservative activist who has created various anti-tax and anti-government measures using our ballot and initiative system over the years. Some of his measures that have passed have over the years stripped King County Metro and similar public services (Eyman has testified in public on his opposition to public bus systems) of their funding sources. Historically, they used things like MVET (motor vehicle excise tax) and fees on license plate renewals. Due to some ballot measures issued through Eyman’s work, these agencies were forced to use regressive taxes such as sales taxes instead. With the recession that ran from 2008-2011 and being forced into worse economic models due to outside interference, these agencies lost massive funding and issued massive cuts. It also forced agencies like Metro to delay on some other funding rather than cut more service earlier. All of that has come home to roost now. This article on Seattle Transit Blog, here, explains the Metro financial situation in great detail.

  • Short version: Eyman initiatives combined with being forced to fund Metro via sales tax gutted it’s cash flow and reserves.

The Majority Coalition Caucus: first, please read the Wikipedia article on this subject, here. For a less objective but more detailed political overview of this, please read “The Four Horsemen of the Buspocalypse,” on the Stranger. Warning: it’s The Stranger, so there is lots of swearing. Essentially, four key Washington State Senators here in King County are holding up passage of a transportation package that would allow King County to fund itself. They are:

  • Steve Litzow (E-mail, phone: (360) 786-7641), R-41st (Mercer Island-Bellevue-Newcastle)
  • Andy Hill (E-mail, phone: 360-786-7672), R-45th (Finn Hill, Cottage Lake, parts of Redmond, Kirkland, Duvall, Sammamish)
  • Joe Fain (E-mail, phone: 360-786-7692), R-47th (Auburn-Covington-East Hill)
  • Rodney Tom (E-mail, phone: 360-786-7694) , D-48th (Medina-Redmond-Kirkland-Bellevue)

They each have various political reasons that they are doing this. Depending on who you speak to, you’ll hear a variety of different theories and explanations: Ideological opposition to public transit; fear of Tea Party challengers; intending to pass the transit funding legislation but “holding a gun to its head” in exchange for other concessions. In the end, all that matters is that for us, in King County, it’s creating massive unnecessary, unwanted, and unhelpful upheaval and uncertainty. Governor Inslee is calling a special session in roughly 48 hours to work on this problem.

  • Short version: Four state senators from our area are threatening us with up to 17% cuts to King County Metro.

The extra 10% in cuts for West Seattle: West Seattle, ever since the SR-99/Viaduct/Deep Bore Tunnel construction programs began, has been receiving an additional injection of money from the State of Washington to King County Metro. This money is specifically only for extra bus service to and from West Seattle. Without this extra service, from all of the state-sponsored construction that is in our path, our commutes to and from downtown could be as much as 30 minutes longer each way. The construction projects and tunnel–as originally legislated from Olympia–were supposed to be done in the Summer of 2014. Currently, the best guess is sometime in 2017 to 2018. However, that extra money, to keep us from being effectively trapped in our peninsula? It expires in that original legislation in seven months. This is why West Seattle is getting 27% in cuts, while the rest of King County will only get 17% in cuts. The West Seattle Transportation Coalition and some members of the City of Seattle Council are working on this problem. Even if the King County level 17% cuts are completely mitigated and stopped, right now West Seattle alone will still get a 10% cut.

  • Short version: Unless the Governor or the Legislature does something, West Seattle gets a double-barrel of cuts compared to everyone else, because of the State not keeping their commitment to us.

What can I do to help?

  • Contact the four Senators: Click on the links above for each of the four State Senators and mail them.
  • Have someone in their areas contact them: Even better, do you know anyone that lives in those districts and areas of theirs? Can you get them to call or mail those four? Representatives will take feedback from their own constituents far more seriously than feedback from people in other areas.
  • Join the WSTC: You can also join the West Seattle Transportation Coalition as a volunteer or by endorsing us.
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