Morning Fizz

Burgers, Bike Bail Out, and Bus Rapid Transit at City Hall

City council puts cheery spin on transit hurdles and troubles.

By Josh Feit February 2, 2016

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1. The city council unanimously approved moving forward with a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) plan for Madison Street yesterday; the city is seeking a federal grant for the $120 million project. The 2.1-mile east-west plan from 23rd Avenue to the downtown Colman dock features a dedicated bus lane and six-minute headways.

Introducing the legislation yesterday, council transportation chair Mike O’Brien did reference “hurdles,” but there was no discussion of how serious those (literal) hurdles are: There are five parking garage entrances and/or driveways between First and Ninth on Madison (along with three turn lanes) and six garage entrances or driveways on Spring (where the eastbound route runs downtown) along with three turn lanes.

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So, while the SDOT consultant study says, “Exclusive running way for transit is a core component of the project, providing a high level of operational reliability and a transit travel time that is highly competitive with auto travel,” there was no mention of the car traffic that will occupy the lanes.

2. Speaking of transit troubles. The two transit nerds on the city council, former Sierra Club leader and daily bike commuter Mike O’Brien (chair of the transportation committee) and former Transportation Choices Coalition director and bus commuter Rob Johnson (chair of the land use committee) had different reactions to the news that Seattle’s bike share program, Pronto, is in trouble and needs the city to bail it out.

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The Seattle Department of Transportation is asking the city to buy Pronto’s assets for $1.4 million. The bike share program is currently owned by a nonprofit, but with low ridership—on average since its kickoff in October 2014 each bike in the 50-station, 500-bike fleet is being used once a day—the network is in danger of going belly up. (Successful systems in cities like DC get four to five rides per bike per day.)

The council approved SDOT’s request for $5 million to fund Pronto in last year’s budget, but that money was supposed to be coupled with a $10 million federal grant; the $15 million was supposed to expand the network—scaling to size is the only way city bike share systems are sustainable SDOT director Scott Kubly says. But that grant—which was also supposed to add electric bikes to the fleet (an apparent key in steep Seattle)—didn’t come through.

SDOT is making its pitch to O’Brien’s committee today for the $1.4 million lifeline (Kubly is a bike share true believer having set up successful systems in Chicago and Washington, DC) and they’re supposed to come back in the spring with a spending plan for how the remaining $3.6 million can get the program back on track.

O’Brien, who told me “they have some work to do,” was frustrated with Pronto’s lackluster performance and said after yesterday’s council meeting: “We can’t have them asking us for money every year.”

Johnson was more sanguine. When I ran into him outside city hall yesterday afternoon as he was on his way to catch the 76 on Third, he said enthusiastically “Let’s do it!” when asked what he thought about the Pronto bail out.

I will say, when I questioned SDOT’s $5 million budget request last October (at the time Kubly cited Pronto’s “pretty good” two to three rides per day in the summer months) his plan relied on scaling up and going electric to “flatten out” the city, something that doesn’t seem doable now without the federal money he was counting on then.  

3. Yesterday,  I noted that Lorena González had endorsed state senator Pramila Jayapal (D-37, Southeast Seattle) in Jayapal's run for U.S. representative Jim McDermott's (D-WA, 7) seat; the endorsement stood out to me because González had already endorsed Jayapal's opponent, state representative Brady Walkinshaw (D-43, Capitol Hill). Walkinshaw contacted me later that day to make it clear that it was a dual endorsement, and González was still in his corner too.

However,  Jayapal reached out as well, and pointed out that her González nod came with an effusive letter, which among other things, said "I will fight to get her elected this November!"

4. In honor of Dick's Drive-In legend and cofounder Dick Spady, who died on January 10, the city council declared yesterday Dick Spady Day. Lefty council member Lisa Herbold, who bought the council a batch of Dick's milk shakes to mark the occasion, made a point of noting that Spady paid high wages and gave his part-time employees full time health care benefits.

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