@ West Seattle Transportation Coalition: SDOT’s new transit director isn’t just about buses

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

The Seattle Department of Transportation‘s new Transit Division isn’t just about buses, its new leader told the West Seattle Transportation Coalition.

It’s about many aspects of getting around the city, Paulo Nunes-Ueno told the WSTC in his guest appearance during their monthly meeting Thursday night – more aspects that were mentioned in the announcement of his hiring back in December.

With the new division’s deputy director Bill Bryant, formerly of Metro, at his side, Nunes-Ueno told WSTC their division’s work is about transit and mobility, including parking, streetcars, bike-share and car-share operations, all part of “building a transportation network.”

One key focus, he promised, would be reliability. Toward that point, he said, they’re doing a study on “all-door boarding,” to show that it can “reduce the dwell time” – how long a bus has to be stopped while passengers get on and off.

His appearance was billed in part as a chance to hear more about what our area is going to get from Proposition 1, the voter-approved measure to raise money to pay the county to increase in-city bus service, via a tenth-of-a-percent sales-tax increase that starts next month and a $60 car-tab fee that will start being charged with June renewals. Nunes-Ueno talked about the vision of the bus network in two parts – 10 minutes and 15 minutes, depending on how close bus service is to where you are. He said 26 percent of the city is in the “10-minute network,” and the Prop 1 funding will bring that to 43 percent; within 10 years, they expect to increase it to 75 percent, but that will take more “investments,” capital as well as service, he noted.

In June, Bryant added, the RapidRide C Line will be boosted to as much as a 6-minute frequency in peak hours, because of the Prop 1 funding.

Asked about the status of transit prioritization at signals in West Seattle used by the C Line, Bryant said it’s mostly in place. He added that it’s taking a while to finish because the city “is on the cutting edge … we’re really inventing some of this stuff.”

Nunes-Ueno said they need to gather lots of performance data to work toward “an always on-time bus corridor,” and that’s being ramped up too.

WSTC’s Joe Szilagyi asked if the West Seattle Bridge corridor could be the first that SDOT focuses on in terms of changes and tweaks to improve service – Nunes-Ueno said they had more work to do “to build out what that concept is” in terms of corridor intervention, first.

Szilagyi then asked about a dedicated lane to get the C Line from “roughly The Junction” eastward and whether that could be done “without sacrificing bike facilities,” for example. Bryant cautioned that the process for a major change like that isn’t simple – he recalled “the process we went through just to get the (existing) bus lane on Avalon. … that was quite a process” because of concerns over parking restrictions 6 am-10 am. (Here’s one of our stories from late 2010.) He said that access improvement overall is among “the kind of things we’re working on.”

So if the bridge configuration isn’t changing – at least for now – what happens when there are more C Line buses on the bridge starting in June? asked WSTC’s Deb Barker.

The added service won’t be enough to worsen the logjam, the SDOT reps insisted. “Keeping this massive investment functioning … is clearly in the city’s best interest. … We’re putting a lot more buses out there (10 percent overall) but it’s not enough to create a drastic difference in bus congestion.”

What about enforcing the bus-only use of the bus lane? Ticketing was promised, though Nunes-Ueno acknowledged there’s no coordinated enforcement currently, though it’s known to work in other jurisdictions (he mentioned high fines back east for “blocking the box”).

Back to which routes are getting extra service and who will be making sure it really does result in improvements, Bryant pointed out that the contracts were just finalized by city and county elected officials within the past couple weeks (WSB coverage here), and reminded the group that Seattle is now putting together a Transit Advisory Board. Comments and questions like the WSTC meeting discussion “are part of making the system work … putting the performance element of the system in place,” Nunes-Ueno observed.

Down the line, the question also would include, the possibility of buying even more service and how that might work. With the four-month-or-so lead time needed for changing Metro schedules, transportation adviser Chris Arkills from King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s office added from the sidelines, there wasn’t time for public input as to these first rounds of service additions, but for the future, he is hopeful there will be.

Asked how Seattleites will know which buses they paid for with the extra $, Nunes-Ueno said there wouldn’t be any markings on the buses themselves – they’re just part of Metro’s fleet – but he mused that maybe timetables will feature an “added squiggle.” Bryant points out that the city has purchased service before, though not in this volume.

Yet another bus-related topic: Bryant said that the policies that led to the northbound California/Fauntleroy RapidRide stop that is considered something of a boondoggle near Morgan Junction have changed, so you won’t see a stop like that again, in the far side of intersection, just one lane per direction. So can it be changed? he was asked. Answer was basically, no, there aren’t many options. All-door boarding is already used at most RR stops, it was noted, so that won’t help – what about card readers on buses? it was asked. Costs money, Arkills pointed out, then adding that perhaps a person with a portable ORCA reader at “really busy stops” during peak hours could be an option. Nunes-Ueno acknowledged studying other transit agencies’ policies/procedures could help.

Asked about fare evasion, Arkills pointed out the fine is $124, so knowing that fare-enforcement officers are present on occasion is believed to be a notable deterrent.

WSTC co-founder Amanda Kay Helmick brought up the Westwood transit hub, saying she lives just a few minutes away, and while the convenience is great, they’ve been seeing “a disconnect” in the support from Metro for safety issues and others. She mentioned the campaign to finally get Metro to invest in some lighting and other improvements. “My biggest complaint is that it’s a two-zone fare to go from White Center (blocks away) to Westwood Village, which is incredibly unfair. … What can SDOT do to support pedestrian access to the transit hub since there’s none?” Nunes-Ueno suggests a field trip would be great. (He’s new, but Westwood-Roxhill-Arbor Heights Community Council organized one more than a year ago – here’s our coverage.)

WSTC’s Marty Westerman brought up the city policy allowing developments to be built with little or no offstreet parking if they are considered to be close to “frequent transit.” Nunes-Ueno said, “It’s a very careful balance we need to strike and there will be decisions to make – there are places we will need to remove curbside parking in order to make a bus lane.” He also mentioned areas where “parking is oversubscribed because it’s not being managed” – and if that parking is not being charged for, “then we’re not doing right by that business district either.” Westerman pressed the question of whether parking would be required where it seems to be needed, but Nunes-Ueno’s reply was basically “no.” — “As we’re building out the frequent transit network, we would like to lower the burden on developers (regarding requiring parking) … to create less car dependency and increase the affordability of housing.”

“That’s fantasyland thinking,” countered Westerman, saying that car ownership isn’t going away. Nelson also challenged the suggestion that people don’t have cars and could take buses to businesses.

WSTC’s Michael Taylor-Judd changed the topic at that point, asking about bus-service addition that would be not just commuter focused – saying routes like 120 or 128 aren’t especially commuter-focused but are standing room only, becuase there’s a “desperate need” for people to take buses to shopping or entertainment, “but we don’t have a system that has that mindset.” Might SDOT in the future make a service purchase that would look different from what Metro would do – with that in mind? Nunes-Ueno acknowledged that there’s an opportunity to “think more creatively.” Regarding encouraging more people to use transit now that there’ll be more of it, he also said there’ll be a “Try Transit Month” type of promotion ahead.

There was a brief mention of the yet-to-come Sound Transit 3 proposal – with hopes high in West Seattle that this area will be proposed for light rail. The SDOT guests acknowledged that crafting and attention are required “to make sure that we in Seattle are getting our fair share of that.”

Also discussed at WSTC:

WEST SEATTLE CIRCULATOR BUS? WSTC members have long been developing the concept to pitch for this. Board member Marty Westerman led the discussion, explaining circulators would be designed to connect with existing Metro routes, traveling east-west paths inbetween the primarily north-south bus routes through West Seattle. It’s envisioned as a jitney-style service, with buses not even as big as the Access ones currently used. Who would fund and operating this? That’s down the line. If you’re interested in working on it, contact WSTC.

LOW-BRIDGE VESSEL-OPENING ALERTS: Westerman’s also been spearheading this and said that the plan for “two hours’ warning before bridge opening” is getting closer. The alerts, he said, will be available via Twitter (where currently bridge openings are only announced as they happen – you can follow @SDOTBridges to see how that works).

FAUNTLEROY WALKING TOUR FOLLOWUP: The Fauntleroy Community Association recently took Councilmember Tom Rasmussen and others on a tour of transportation trouble spots in Fauntleroy; Westerman said one commitment is for more crossing safety along Fauntleroy Way by Lincoln Park, including adding a safety improvement at SW Rose, a crossing point into the heart of the park. He said a safety feature will be in the works for Marine View Drive/Roxbury as well.

ANNOUNCEMENTS: The 35th SW safety project meeting dates March 10 and 12, announced here last week, were mentioned … Plus an FYI: WSTC is forming a Legislative Agenda Committee.

CITY COUNCIL CANDIDATES: Tom Koch, District 1 candidate, and John Persak, at-large candidate from Georgetown, were among visiting attendees. Both were given a few minutes to speak. First, Koch, who said he’d been involved in land use for 29 years. “(Land use projects) are by their nature complex,” he noted, saying it can take 10 years for a project to go from idea to reality. “What I think I can bring to this campaign is a different approach to land use … I am very frustrated with the way things are going. I think we are missing the boat on longterm sustainability and fairness. Government is about making balanced choices … from my perspective .. this is incredibly one-sided, and unnecessarily.” He said the state authorized communities to impose impact fees going back as far as 1990, and some areas “have taken these steps to mitigate for parks, transit, etc. … (Seattle) hasn’t done that.” He said the city could have collected “half a billion dollars” in such fees by now. He said the city had just taken a “open the spigot and everything will be OK” perspective, which he called “ridiculous.” Seattle residents are not getting affordable housing, not getting “the funds necessary (for) public transit,” and instead is having to pay levies for the latter. “We can do a much better job,” he insisted. *Other candidates at the meeting, we should

Persak also was invited to speak, saying he’s running for at-large Position #8. He said he’s a former West Seattle resident and has been paying attention for a long time to what’s happening here. Transportation is a major issue for him, he said. “Grade separation really has to play out,” he said, regarding West Seattle-specific issues – with the hills and water, ‘we have to go over or we have to go under.” But, he said, that’s going to be expensive. He said he supports spending what it takes to finish the Bicycle Master Plan (projects) to facilitate a “clean, healthy method of transportation.” He said he wants to know what will be in the forthcoming transportation levy for “alternative modes of transportation so that those who want to get out of their cars, can.”

Two other council candidates who were at the meeting but not officially on the agenda for campaign presentations, WSTC co-founder Amanda Kay Helmick and regular attendee/participant Chas Redmond.

NEXT CANDIDATE FORUM: WSTC board member Michael Taylor-Judd reminded the group at that point that the next District 1 forum, co-sponsored by Visualize Increased Engagement in West Seattle (VIEWS) and the Senior Center of West Seattle, is planned at the center on Saturday, March 14th, starting with an optional breakfast (for a fee) at 9 am, forum around 10 am.

7 Replies to "@ West Seattle Transportation Coalition: SDOT's new transit director isn't just about buses"

  • Rave March 2, 2015 (6:29 am)

    Does anyone know where we can find info about the next candidate forum event on the 14th, which candidates are there, how much breakfast? Format?With that many it makes more sense to do it in two seperate forums.

    • WSB March 2, 2015 (7:17 am)

      The only thing the organizers have posted online, as far as I know, is the Facebook invite: https://www.facebook.com/events/1553642014895977
      I don’t think I’ve ever seen anyone break up a group of candidates for one office a la “OK, here are five this Saturday and four next Saturday.” It just isn’t a side-by-side comparison, among other things (and getting people to turn out for one event is hard enough – we are so grateful to everyone who made time to come to the one we had a month ago – let alone two). There is precedent for a big slate – remember two years ago, when there were eight candidates for mayor in the early going? Three political groups including the 34th District Democrats presented a forum in April 2013 at the Georgetown campus of South Seattle College – here’s our coverage with video: https://westseattleblog.com/2013/04/149756/https://westseattleblog.com/2013/04/149756/

  • Rave March 2, 2015 (8:48 am)

    You’re right, just feel it’s not much time. Thanks for the FB link looks like 5 of the candidates are going. Wish it were on a weeknight not sure I want to sacrifice my Saturday with kids this early. After all, there could be two or three more candidates by mid may! Thanks for the information.

  • KT March 2, 2015 (9:30 am)

    “As we’re building out the frequent transit network, we would like to lower the burden on developers (regarding requiring parking) … to create less car dependency and increase the affordability of housing.”

    Oh, the horror of the burden on the poor developers! Yes, we must help them. And if you really believe you are going to create less car dependence and make housing affordable then I suggest you stop by my house tonight when the tooth fairy is expected to make a visit.

  • sam-c March 2, 2015 (12:17 pm)

    I am curious what the “120 isn’t commuter-focused” is supposed to mean? Is he saying that it is busy ALL the times (not just commuter-time), or does he think that people who take 120 downtown aren’t going downtown for work?

  • jwright March 2, 2015 (4:06 pm)

    sam-c, are they mutually exclusive?

  • VieWS March 2, 2015 (4:13 pm)

    We’re looking to get the agenda updated this week and final confirmations from candidates. There will be time for good questions and some “lightning round” answers from District 1 folks, as well as an opportunity for citywide candidates to deliver a quick introduction.
    Sorry to those who can’t manage a weekend morning… but with so many forums typically scheduled on weeknights when folks can’t stop by after work or bring along the family, we thought we’d offer an opportunity at a different time with some food available.

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