Transit Briefs: Sound Transit, WMATA

Written by Marybeth Luczak, Executive Editor
Sound Transit’s proposed 7.1-mile extension from downtown Seattle to Ballard includes nine new stations between the Chinatown-International District and Market Street and a new rail-only tunnel through downtown Seattle.

Sound Transit’s proposed 7.1-mile extension from downtown Seattle to Ballard includes nine new stations between the Chinatown-International District and Market Street and a new rail-only tunnel through downtown Seattle.

Seattle’s Sound Transit identifies the preferred alternative for the Ballard Link light rail extension and will conduct Rainier Valley safety improvements in partnership with the city’s transportation department using a $2 million Strengthening Mobility and Revolutionizing Transportation (SMART) grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT). Also, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority’s (WMATA) police department launches a Body-Worn Camera Program.

The Sound Transit Board on March 23 identified a preferred alternative for the light rail route and station locations for the Ballard Link Extension. The proposed 7.1-mile extension from downtown Seattle to Ballard includes nine new stations between the Chinatown-International District and Market Street and a new rail-only tunnel through downtown Seattle (see map below). The Board “weighed community priorities, regional needs, input from agencies and the city of Seattle, analysis of alternatives included in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), and results of further studies and engagement directed by the Board in July 2022,” Sound Transit reported on March 24.

The preferred alternative includes stations South and North of the CID and shifts the Midtown Station to the location North of CID, according to the agency. The Board also directed that the CID 4th Avenue Shallower option be carried forward for additional environmental review.

The Board did not modify the previously identified preferred alternative for the Denny Station located on Westlake in the Draft EIS alternative, Sound Transit reported, but it “directed staff to also carry forward the Denny Station on Terry (i.e., South Lake Union Mix and Match) alternative as part of ongoing environmental review and to further clarify the technical, financial, schedule and risk implications of both alternatives.”

Stations at Westlake, South Lake Union, Seattle Center, Smith Cove, Interbay and Ballard were confirmed based on recommendations forwarded from the System Expansion Committee on March 9.

“Acknowledging that south downtown would benefit from Union Station activation and Jackson Hub improvements regardless of the location of the CID station, the Board directed staff to work with the city of Seattle, King County, and other potential partners to clarify the potential scope and schedule of such improvements as well as funding and partnership opportunities; and to conduct further community engagement,” Sound Transit reported. “The Board specified that the scope of the improvements should extend beyond the CID to the abutting stations and transfer points to improve accessibility.”

The Sound Transit Board will make a final decision on routes, stations and the project to be built after the Final EIS is issued in late 2023, according to the agency.

Sound Transit on March 24 also reported that the USDOT awarded the agency, in partnership with the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), a $2 million SMART grant to improve safety along the Link light rail corridor in the Rainier Valley.

The project, called Rainier Valley Safe, will evaluate a series of technologies to improve community safety and reduce the risk of collisions along Martin Luther King Jr Way South. One technology, based on real-time video analytics and using artificial intelligence, would allow safety messages to be broadcast in real-time to bicyclists and pedestrians, connected vehicles, warning devices, and advanced transportation controllers, according to Sound Transit.

“Battery backup systems installed for the traffic signals will keep people walking, rolling, biking, driving, and riding Link light rail moving safely through the intersections during power outages,” the agency reported. “Advanced pedestrian signals will be installed to provide touchless activation of the pedestrian signals. This technology will provide enhanced mobility features for people with disabilities to cross at intersections, including the ability to transmit push button locations to people’s handheld devices and wirelessly activate push button signals.”

The pilot phase of this project will provide insights on possible technologies Sound Transit and SDOT can implement on a broader scale and important data that can be used to inform further safety enhancements throughout the Rainier Valley.

Sound Transit reported that it is already planning and implementing a number of safety mitigations through the Rainier Valley. Last fall, it launched a pilot testing the efficacy of increased warning bells on light rail vehicles. Current and future projects include planning to install pavement markings this year and installing warning signs with dynamic messaging at signalized intersections alerting pedestrians to look both ways at crossings.

In related developments, the Connecticut Department of Transportation will use a $2 million SMART grant to begin developing a unified, statewide public transit information system for mobile devices, and the Massachusetts Department of Transportation will receive a nearly $2 million SMART grant to improve rail safety, efficiency and climate resilience by using drones and sensors to monitor and analyze railroad infrastructure threatened by ground water variability in Cape Cod, Mass.

WMATA’s Metro Transit Police Department (MTPD) on March 24 reported the launch of its Body-Worn Camera Program, which will train and equip all officers, sergeants and lieutenants to begin carrying cameras in the coming months.

“There are many documented benefits of law enforcement using body-worn cameras, including case studies nationally and internationally, that link body-worn cameras to reductions in crime, police-generated incidents, and assaults on police officers,” said the transit authority, which noted that body-worn cameras will supplement the more than 20,000 cameras it has throughout the rail, bus and paratransit system.

“The body-worn camera is a device with internal memory for storage of recorded audio and video,” according to WMATA. “The cameras will be attached to the outer garments of MTPD officers to capture a forward-facing view. Video and audio recording can then be initiated by the officer at any time and includes a prerecording feature. At the start of any recording, MTPD officers will be required to inform individuals that the audio and video of the situation is being recorded by the officer’s body-worn camera.”

MTPD will roll out the program in stages, beginning this month with a group of about 24 highly trained officers in the Special Response Team and Tactical Operations Unit. Following the initial deployment, body-worn cameras will be put into use at each of the three MTPD districts, with an estimated 315 officers trained and equipped by the end of the summer.

According to WMATA, a new MTPD policy has been established to ensure recordings, investigations and retention of records are conducted in accordance with best practices. The MTPD’s Community Services Bureau will begin working to ensure that riders are educated and informed around the deployment, protocols and use of body-worn cameras. Relevant information is slated to be distributed throughout the community by officers, as well as using WMATA’s social media channels, website and customer emails.

“At Metro [WMATA], we are committed to the safety and security of our customers, our employees, and our officers,” MTPD Chief Michael Anzallo said. “I am confident that the new body-worn camera program will continue to build trust and confidence in the department’s work. The research, data, and feedback we’ve gathered from similar programs in the region have provided us with important insights that will strengthen the rollout of this important safety tool and enhance the overall success of our program.”

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