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Point of View

January 2012 - Issue No. 37


Belated Happy New Year! This is my first newsletter of 2012 and even before the year is well underway Seattle was hit by a fairly significant snow and ice storm.

In this Point of View, I will discuss early information on the Seattle Department of Transportations 2012 snow response, and also the upcoming Metro Bus service revisions and our progress on making Third Avenue safer and cleaner.

Tom Rasmussen
Seattle City Councilmember
Chair, Transportation Committee

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Big Changes Coming for Seattle Bus Riders in September


Recently Metro Transit announced changes to several Seattle bus routes beginning in the fall. My office is receiving the most calls and e-mails about planned changes to the Route 2 which serves the Central District through Downtown to Queen Anne Hill), Route 27 (Downtown to Central District and Leschi), the Waterfront Trolley replacement Route 99, and restructuring of several routes serving West Seattle and Ballard upon launch of RapidRide C line in West Seattle and D line to Ballard and Crown Hill both of which enter service September 30. (Details on all the proposed changes can be found here.)

While many of the route changes are due to the beginning of RapidRide service, Metro is also basing the changes on new service guidelines adopted by the County Council last year. The new guidelines aim to increase Metro's efficiency and provide more frequent and reliable service on the routes with the highest ridership.

The price paid for providing higher frequency and dependability on crowded routes that are now standing room only will mean that less used routes will be truncated or rerouted and more riders will be required to transfer to get to their ultimate destinations. Also, some neighborhoods with routes that have low ridership may lose much of their non-peak hour service, freeing up service hours to be reallocated to corridors where the buses today are filled beyond capacity.

While the City of Seattle and the City Council do not have the authority to approve or reject the route changes, I will provide Metro management and the King County Council with my comments and recommendations to ensure the final plan adopted by the County Council does not leave Seattle riders, especially seniors and people with disabilities, stranded at the curb.

Metro is listening and they will come back with an updated proposal by early February. Details will be posted here. They will then host another round of open houses to gather additional public input. Go to Metro's online calendar for a list of dates and locations for those workshops. I have requested Metro Transit management to present the updated plan to the City Council at a full Council Briefing on Tuesday, February 22, at 9:30am in Council Chambers. You can view that briefing either live or via archived video at the Seattle Channel.

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A More Effective Response to the Snows of Seattle


While Seattle has had worse snowstorms, the multiple snow and ice storms between January 12 -17 were a real test of the City's Winter Weather Readiness and Response Plan. That plan was put into place following the Snowcopalypse of December 2008. The plan includes implementing national best practices, use of more effective de-icing practices; improvements to the City's snowplow fleet, including GPS tracking of all vehicles and improved central dispatch; a revised chain of command and training of staff; better communication systems across departments including with King County Metro Transit; and adoption of performance measures to allow us to understand where we succeeded and where we need to improve in responding to each storm.

Recently I asked for comments from the public on how the City performed during this snow storm. Generally, people gave the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) good reviews for an effective response on clearing primary arterials and communicating information about road and weather conditions.

I am hearing concerns about the City's plans for missed recycling and garbage collection services. If conditions allow, SPU will attempt to catch up the next day but if residential street conditions are slow to improve, households can place extra trash or recycling at the curb without additional charge. Updates are provided at SPU's website or by calling 206-684-3000.

In a follow-up discussion at the January 24 Transportation Committee meeting (discussion begins at 69:30 on video) SDOT Street Maintenance division director, Steve Pratt, provided some interesting statistics about the response and costs of the response:

  • The immediate Snow Response started the day before the first snow on Saturday, January 14 and ended round-the-clock operations on Friday January 20 as temperatures rose and stayed above 40 degrees
  • 30 City snowplows were in near round-the-clock operation and cleared 946 lane miles within the City
  • 55,000 gallons of salt brine and 3300 tons of rock salt helped keep the streets clear of ice
  • The response cost $1.35 million, $604,000 for labor costs, the rest for materials and vehicle operations
  • Roughly $800,000 remains in the City's snow response budget for 2012. The City's $44 million Emergency Response Fund would be tapped if more snowstorms would cause the city to exceed this budget.

A final report will be presented to the City Council on the performance of all City departments by the end of February.

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Progress on Making Third Avenue Safer and Cleaner

Third Avenue

For the past year, I have been working to improve the City's efforts to keep Third Avenue between Pike and Pine Streets and First Avenue and Westlake Center cleaner and more attractive. Cleanscapes volunteered to provide enhanced cleaning last year. Their work ended in December.

During our 2012 budget deliberations I led the Council in adding funds for cleaning this area by maintenance crews at same level of service provided by Cleanscapes. The Council also requested the Mayor to create a task force to develop and recommend strategies to improve the appearance and to increase safety for people in this area. Multiple City departments, Metro Transit, residents, business representatives, non-profit service providers, and other stakeholders will be included in the Task Force.

The task force will propose strategies with the following goals:

  1. Improve signage, lighting and/or other physical changes to improve visitors' feelings of safety and security;
  2. Identify and implement effective means of policing the corridor particularly in hotspots such as Third and Lenora and Third between Pike and Pine;
  3. Integrate well-maintained transit waiting areas into the streetscape in a manner that serves transit operations and improves perceptions of public safety and security, while maintaining pedestrian access to neighboring businesses;
  4. Engage adjacent building owners/businesses to coordinate and improve street edges and improve stewardship of sidewalks, building entrances and retail fronts;
  5. Expand existing efforts to remove trash and clean sidewalks on a daily basis;
  6. Promote increased and more vibrant retail activity;
  7. Continue coordination with King County to mitigate the impact of the elimination of the Ride Free Area (scheduled for October 2012), both with regard to concerns about social equity and impacts on transit operations; and
  8. Engage low-income housing operators and social service providers in their efforts to maintain security and livability near their entrances.

I have asked that previous good ideas and studies be used as a starting point for designing this new coordinated plan so that we are not starting from zero. The initial organizing work is occurring now. The City Council will receive a briefing on the work of the Task Force at the end of March.

I welcome your comments on how this vital commuting, commercial and residential street is functioning today and what we can do to make it better.

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