Spare the Air Days


In the Bay Area they have something called “Spare the Air Days“. Basically, on days when the air quality is poor (when the “Air Quality Index” goes above 100) most rides on transit in the Bay Area are free. These days are meant to encourage transit and have a pretty strong lingering effect; when I used to take Caltrain, the train was more full all summer starting on the first Spare the Air Day and ending sometime around the end of summer (October or November in San Francisco). Actually, Caltrain seemed to be constantly increasing its ridership as gasoline became more expensive.

Anyway, I think this idea would work in Seattle, make transit free on a few weekdays in the summer, and you’ll find people will want to take transit all day long. I wonder how much it would cost Sound Transit and Metro to implement this kind of system. I’ll make sure to ask in my next meeting.

Anti-Transit Piece in the P-I

Here it is. I was going to write something about how bad the calculations are, but I came in this morning and Carless in Seattle had this fabulous take-down. Excerpt:

OK, so to keep traffic as bad as it is now, we’ll need to add 687 miles of new lanes at a cost of $361.69 per family. That’s a big tax increase being proposed by an organization with otherwise impeccable conservative credentials.

Needless to say, read the whole thing.

Metro Route Updates June 2

Metro Transit is updating its schedule for the summer starting June 2nd. New timetables have been on buses for the last week, and starting today, the website will have those updates as well.

This Times piece sums up the major changes that are part of “Transit Now”.

More Capitol Hill Station

In the post I mentioned before, Frank at Ophran Road wrote “I guess I didn’t realize that the station is going to take over the lots on both sides of Denny Way”. Not just Denny Way, but on both sides of Broadway. Yeah it’s going to be huge underground. If you look at the image above, the blue part is the platform and the red parts are entrances. Yellow is what is being destroyed for the creation of the tunnel. The red section on the left side is the old Chang’s Mongolian Grill and the red section on the top is about where the print shop and Twice Sold Tales are. The bottom right red spot is where the Godfather’s Pizza was back in the day but nothing is there at the moment. Now, if we could just get rid of that blasted Jack in the Box, we’d have something going.
How about a six-story building with a the food court on the ground floor, Karaoke Box/izakaya thing on the second floor, a pool hall on the third floor, an independent multiplex cinema on top three floors and underground parking. Anyone want to invest with me? Better ideas for what to put there?

One More Reason Sound Transit’s Rail Costs More than Vancouver

The PI ran an article a couple of days ago about the new subway station on Capitol Hill misplacing some businesses. The article focuses on Cafe Vivace in particular but I know that Everyday Music is also closing. Vivace is staying in the neighborhood but who knows about Everyday Music. This post at Orphan Road gives an idea of how expansive the station will be.

Hey, but at least Sound Transit is paying some money for displacement, unlike Vancouver’s Skytrain. According to this article, the construction of Vancouver’s new Canada line is harming a lot of businesses in its wake.


Petri winces at the notion that $1.3 million is much help. “Look at Seattle,” he says. “They know what help is.”

But Seattle apparently took a much more proactive approach to making sure businesses had a chance to survive the loss of traffic and that the area retained its character.

Seattle created the Ranier Valley Community Development Fund (CDF). The fund’s website said it would provide a source of investment that was concerned with the area’s well-being, its cultural diversity, livability and sustainability. Its aim was to strengthen and preserve the community, “not only by investing in tangible assets such as businesses and facilities, but also by building networks of relationships and trust that would allow the community to participate in determining their future well being.”

In 2006, The Beacon Hill News and South District Journal reported that the fund was succeeding. It had approved $7.5 million in mitigation funds” to help affected businesses through loans. In the beginning of the project, the fund had identified 274 businesses along the corridor. Of those, 230 still remained.

“Businesses that stayed were eligible for $30,000 payments, while those that relocated could receive $50,000,” the newspaper wrote. “Exceptional hardships entitled businesses to an additional $20,000,” said CDF director Jamie Garcia. Garcia said he expected the Seattle city council to approve an additional $50 million to pull the area through to completion of the line.

It’s not often someone says “look at Seattle” when it comes to transit successes. The article also highlights the differences between cut-and-cover and bored tunnels. Cut-and-cover is much cheaper, but is much more disruptive to neighborhoods:

The line will be the third in Vancouver and will connect downtown Vancouver to Richmond and the international airport. In the beginning of the project, merchants were told that construction would move quickly from block to block and sidewalk access would be maintained. That was when public consultations led merchants to believe that construction would be bored tunnel. But when SNL-Lavalin got the contract to do the construction, the project shifted to the cheaper, more disruptive method of cut and cover.

When the method was revealed in winter of 2005, one city councillor accused RAV backers of pulling a “bait and switch” on citizens who would feel the impact.
Today, the tunneling is at the core of the sense of betrayal that shrouds the business closures, Petri said. It’s taken far longer than many business owners say they were led to expect. It has snarled traffic and forced many smaller businesses to close as walk-in and drive-by customers have dwindled.

So it seems Sound Transit is a better community citizen than Vancouver’s rail company, and that is a bit of consolation for the longer time frame.

RTID did have a plan for 520, Viaduct is expensive


Read about the 520 plan here. It’s what they told me earlier this month, but I didn’t completely believe them. It’s basically a lot of tolls and the expectation that the viaduct won’t use much of the state’s special project money.

On the subject of the viaduct, you probably have already heard that Seattle’s Council approved $8.1 million for the study of a surface/transit option. Hopefully Light Rail could be part of the surface transit option, since the cost of a light rail system around there through West Seattle could be comparable to the difference in cost of the surface transit from the rebuild. The difference from the tunnel could pay for a new subway practically .

Project Cost (in millions)
Tunnel $3,600 to $4,100
Rebuild $3,200 to $3,500
Surface Roads ~$1,600
East Link Light Rail to Downtown Bellevue $1,465.2 to $1,684.9
Light Rail from University of Washington to Northgate* $1,126.6 to $1,239.3


*Includes about 3 miles of cut-and-cover bored subway.

If they can build rail from Seattle to Bellevue for less than $2 billion and imagine what they can do with the difference from the surface roads improvments and either the tunnel or the rebuild. They could connect light rail from Burien to West Seattle to Sodo and build a subway through Belltown to Seattle Center and maybe even connect rail through Ballard for the $3.5 potential difference between a tunnel and surface roads. I bet that plus the roads option would get more total people through than either the rebuild or the tunnel, and with the state’s new definition of capacity, that’s what should be done.

Update: someone wanted links to the numbers, so here they are for Sound Transit. Click on the project and a pdf will open with the cost estimate. For the Viaduct, I got the numbers from Wikipedia.

With Transit’s Help, Condo-zone Leaving City Center

Today PI ran an article about condo developments outside the city center in neighborhoods like Phinney Ridge, Wedgwood and Columbia City.

[Condo Marketer Bryon Ziegler] expects condos in Wedgwood and Phinney Ridge, and other neighborhoods farther from downtown increasingly will draw single parents, young families and move-down buyers, particularly after the start of light-rail service in 2009.

Light rail already is helping spur development in Columbia City, which has an increasingly fashionable commercial strip and will have a Sound Transit [Light-Rail] stop. Developers recently proposed two condo projects there, promising lower prices than downtown or Ballard condos.

Dense development is more affordable than single-family housing, and transit allows for more density and more affordability because transit enables car-free living.

Richardson is Pro-Transit

This post over at NPI’s blog about New Mexico Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson’s stop in Seattle has this nice nugget:

Transportation policy came up later during our discussion, and as Richardson began talking about mass transit, I asked him whether he would be willing to help out the Puget Sound with federal money for Link light rail.
Q: Would your administration grant a lot of money to metropolitan areas to build new and expand existing electric transit systems?

A: Yes! There is a highway bill that a President has. It’s the biggest pork in any bill. And it’s billions of dollars. When I was in Congress, it was $120 billion. We did it every three years. It’s gone up. And that’s money that goes straight to states. I would be a partner. I would say to Seattle: we will have some joint bonding. We will put in a certain amount if you do this and you build smart growth communities, [implement] sensible land use policies, and you commit to light rail instead of just expanding existing highways.

Richardson also pledged to keep Amtrak going and concluded by saying that he would be “a President with a national transportation policy: focused on light rail, bullet trains, more efficient transportation.”

Richardson’s answers on transportation left me satisfied but wondering about the other candidates. Transportation is not an important issue nationally – presidential candidates don’t spend much time talking about it – but it is a huge issue at the state level, and particularly here in Washington, where our infrastructure is aging and in need of new investment.

His point is pretty well thought-out. The joint-bonding would help speed up development since we know that all Sound Transit needs to complete its project faster is more of its money upfront. It can only issue five-year bonds, which means that it can only spend five years’ worth of income at a time. If the feds would joint issue the bonds, the bonds could be for 30 years with a much lower interest rate which would dramatically speed up the projects and actually make them cheaper.

What Ever Happened To ORCA?

Remember ORCA? It stands for One Regional Card for All (I think the namers were LOTR fans), and was a test of a regional smart card that would work on seven transit systems: King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit Route, Kitsap Transit, Washington State Ferries, and Pierce transit. I never heard anything about it again after that, so I asked the ORCA team, but they never responded.

Does anyone know anything about it?

Transit Quote of the Week

Of course, you might argue that adding highway lanes are never free, since they add to our reliance on automobiles. That’s valid, but it’s worth noting that widening 405 is a pretty mild step compared with building 49 miles of light rail. There’s no real radical road package to oppose here, like, for example, a new I-605 cutting through the Cascade foothills. It’s all pretty basic stuff. By voting “no” on this package, transit supporters would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. (Emphasis added)

From Orphan Road.

RTID is a compromise

Josh Feit of The Stranger has a very kooky argument against the RTID. Something about net-present value and inflation and loans that basically falls apart when serious thought is put to it. He complains:

However, I am not able to stomach $6.7 billion or $14 billion on roads—roads— when I was told by everyone in town that $3 billion or $11 billion was too much for mass transit.

As Frank over at Orphan Road pointed out, the $14 billion figure is for roads all over the tri-county area. The $11 billion figure is for one line in the city. Comparing the two is virtually meaningless. And if you don’t drive a car, then you won’t even pay much for RTID because it is mostly paid for by MVET ($80 per $10,000 assessed value), with only a .1% increase in sales tax. It’s not much money, $10 for every $10,000 spent.

He also hammers on about the “carbon footprint” of the RTID which is a strawman argument. Here’s a reductio ad absurdum about the carbon footprint argument. Suppose you oppose anything that will increase “carbon footprints” (like roads), and support anything with the potential to reduce it. Then you should oppose RTID because it will increase the “carbon footprint” of the region, and you should support ST2 because it could decrease the “carbon footprint”. But you should also support destroying I-5 because that would decrease the “carbon footprint” of the region. So let’s destroy all roads and outlaw gas and we can live like cavemen with no carbon footprint but the wood we burn to cook our food.

Look, I’m an environmentalist, I’m not gung-ho about RTID, I don’t like the cross-base highway, and most of the projects won’t have much positive effect for me at all. The only one that would have any effect on me, replacing 520, isn’t even completely funded in the proposal. However it is a pill I’m willing to swallow if I am going to be able to take a train to see my little brother in the UD, or to buy some shoes downtown. We can’t sit and wait for the perfect propsal that pleases everyone, we have to accept what will make the best compromise and move forward from there.

Sound Transit Board Adopts ST2 Plan

Today Sound Transit’s board unanimously adopted the ST2 plan that will go to the ballot this November. From the press release:

Sound Transit 2’s light rail expansions build on the light rail in Sound Transit’s first phase, including the line between downtown Seattle and the airport that will open in 2009; the University of Washington extension that Sound Transit is working to start building as soon as 2008; and the Tacoma Link system that is operating today.

The Sound Transit 2 Plan adds service northward from the University of Washington to Northgate, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and the 164th Street/Ash Way area of Snohomish County. To the south the system would extend through Des Moines, Federal Way and Fife to the Tacoma Dome, connecting with the existing Tacoma Link light rail system. A long-awaited light rail extension across Lake Washington would serve Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond’s Overlake/Microsoft area.

Check out the finalized plan that will go on the ballot. I am definitely voting for it, even if I’m not a fan of the RTID piece. We’ll never get a sent a transit package that will make everyone happy, and the more ballots we pass, the more we show those who can do something that we want more transit.

Light Rail!

This pic of the light rail running through the International District Station has got me really excited. Thanks Andrew!

Today is Drive Nice Day!

Today is Drive Nice Day! The goal is for no traffic accidents in King County. Do your part! Either drive nicely, or get off the road entirely and take transit.

Learn how to drive nice at I am Seattle Traffic.org.

Transit News Roundup

The PI endorsed the surface and transit option … well the study of it at least. In this op-ed piece, the paper “strong encourages” the council to “approve the $8 million study”. They also seem to support amendments to the proposal that would keep improvements that would lead to replacement from being started.

They also sort of come out against the streetcar, saying that its usefulness is suspect and that funding it will get in the way of expanding bus service in the city. I agree that the city can’t afford to lose any bus improvements, but the street car could become part of a larger network of cars that will cross the city and improve mobility dramatically. San Francisco’s Muni cars are a huge part of it’s transportation system, though I have to concede in some places they resemble Link more than the streetcars Seattle is building.

King-5 had a piece about how transit ridership is up. All the major transportation agencies in the region have seen year-over-year increases of about 8-10%.

Metro Transit

- Boardings were up 8.9 percent in April 2007 compared to April 2006, translating to about 30,000 more weekday riders.

Pierce Transit

- Boardings were up 8.7 percent in April 2007 compared to April 2006.

Sound Transit

- Bus boardings were up 10 percent overall in April 2007 compared to April 2006.

- Sounder commuter train boardings were up 27 percent in the same period.

Community Transit – … double digit increases in April 2007 compared to April 2006. That’s similar to the jump from the same time last year.

Apparently, gas prices, traffic fatigue and new employment is the cause. But as more people take transit, the demand for more transit will grow, and the political movement behind building more will grow.

Finally USA today discussed the 100 million more people who will live in America by 2040 (a couple million of which will live in the Seattle region), and how transit projects are being approved all over the country.

Shilshole to Downtown Ferry?

Everybody loves the Elliot Bay Water Taxi. This Ballard News Tribune piece about transportation brings up the possibility of a Ballard to Downtown Ferry.

A new King County Ferry District ordinance, passed recently by the Metropolitan King County Council, could potentially fund a feasibility study for a passenger-only ferry route from Shilshole to downtown Seattle. The district could also support the operation of Vashon-Seattle ferries and year-round Elliott Bay Water Taxi service.

Funding to study the Shilshole Ferry idea could be included in that plan, he said.

That study would raise many questions about how the route might operate, such as dock site, customer market, operating issues and parking.

The piece also mentions the idea of a Sounder stop in Ballard, which would likely slow down the trip to and from Everett but would probably add a lot of numbers to the route. It wouldn’t be that expensive either since the line goes through Ballard already.

Gasoline Sales Tax for Transit?

Great idea. (via Orphan Road).

What Seattle Gets out of ST2

Over at Slog, people were upset with the “Cross-base Highway” included in the RTID plan that goes to the ballot with Sound Transit’s ST2 package. One major complaint was that RTID does almost nothing for Seattle, and that ST2 does a smaller portion for the city than ST1 one did, and Seattlites should vote against it. If you look at Sound Transit’s ST2 page, Seattle is getting a lot out of that transit package (more on that below).

As for RTID, it is true that only three projects take place within the city limits. The first is the widening of Mercer street near I-5. The second are a bunch of improvements in the southern industrial area of the city, which includes a transit-only ramp off I-5 at South Industrial Way. The last is an replacement for 520 which is partially funded by RTID. The 520 replacement is as useful for the Eastside as it is for Seattle, so that only counts for half a project for the city. The industrial improvements are mostly for freight and shipping, which benefits the whole region (there’s no Port of Kirkland, for example). So Seattle is definitely getting the short end of the stick in terms of RTID spending. For $5 billion in spending, less than half-a-billion is going to Seattle-only projects, and about $1.1 billion is going to half-Seattle, half-Eastside project.

Sound Transit will benefit Seattle much more than RTID. There will be two more subway stations added to the north end of the Link Rail, where it extends past Montlake/University of Washington. The 43rd & Brooklyn Station will be especially useful. This part of ST2 alone will cost $1.126 billion to $1.239 billion. Then, there will be a Northgate elevated station and a station on 145th at the city limits. This adds another $300 million or so, though it will be as useful for Shoreline as it is for Seattle.

For the East Link, there will be an at-grade station on Rainer and about 23rd Ave. That won’t be incredibly useful since that area is mostly well-served by the “Central Link” that already goes through the South End, but it definitely will get a lot of use, possibly even just from Amazon employees coming from the Eastside. Also, the East Link in general will help Seattlites who are commuting East (like me), and Eastsiders who commute into the city. Plus it will be paid entirely out of the Eastside’s Sound Transit money. Finally, there will be the First Hill street car. This costs $150 million and will greatly expand the “network effect” of the Capitol Hill station.

In addition there is an $8 million study of a Burien-West Seattle-Downtown rail (that’s technically getting paid partially out of the South King County budget), and a $5 million study of a Downtown-Ballard-Wallingford-UW line. That’s the one which would have made my childhood growing up in Wallingford/Green Lake so much different. I think that red line in the image actually goes right through the house I grew up in. Finally, there’s a $5 million study of HCT across 520. Let’s hope these don’t take until 2050 or something.

So, RTID is not a good deal for Seattle. But Sound Transit is a great deal for Seattle, so it’s a trade-off. Since ST2 is paid for by a .5% sales tax increase and RTID is paid for by a .1% sales tax increase and a $80 per $10,000 assessed value MVET, if you don’t own a car, you won’t pay much for RTID. At least that makes its payment scheme more fair than any other highway project ever attempted in this state. My only complaint about ST2 is the time frames discussed. 2027 to Overlake TC? Will I still make that commute in 20 years?

Tourist Attraction Vs. Mass Transit

Is Knute Berger really comparing Vegas’s tourist mover to the Green Line? Get over it, Knute, your side won already! Talk about beating a dead horse…

Link Rail Assembly


Here’s a nice article about the assembly of the Link Rail Cars in Everett in one of Boeing’s huge barns. At the end of the article is a nice list of facts about the rail cars, including the fact that if ST2 passes 188 more cars will be added to the 35 in the original order and the 27 for the University Link. That’s about 250 cars!

Thanks to Andrew for the tip and the second photo below: