Seattle Times Rips I-985

While we often disagree with the Times regarding their opinions on expanding light rail, we have give them credit for rightly opposing I-985. Like nearly every newspaper across the state, they have endorsed voting no on I-985. But they’ve gone further and have written another article echoing their no vote which list of ten reasons to vote against the measure. I’ll re-print them here in full:

No. 1 — I-985 would reduce safety. Local communities have installed red-light cameras at dangerous intersections to prevent car crashes with pedestrians and other vehicles. This initiative forces local communities to give camera revenues to the state. Result: Most cities will yank the cameras, so more accidents.

No. 2 — The initiative could cost the state millions of dollars in federal funds, according to a letter from federal transportation officials.

No. 3 — I-985 will increase congestion as the plan dumps too many single-occupancy vehicle cars into HOV lanes during nonpeak hours — peak hours are defined unrealistically as 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Result: More vehicles in HOV lanes, for example, westbound Highway 520; slower travel time; people give up the bus; more congestion.

No. 4 — I-985 robs sales tax revenues on vehicles in Eastern Washington and gives the revenues to the Puget Sound area for traffic relief.

No. 5 — I-985 kills plans for paying for a new Highway 520 bridge. Complicated language supposedly prevents tolling on Interstate 90 to pay for Highway 520. Too many cars will be diverted to I-90 and there will be insufficient revenue to pay for a new bridge.

No. 6 — Traffic congestion relief is best left to the experts.

No. 7 — I-985 zaps the general fund to pay for congestion relief. Result: Further cuts in education and health care.

No. 8 — I-985 allows the state to interfere with local communities’ public-safety decisions.

No. 9 — Direct-access ramps built along Interstates 5, 90 and 405 currently allow buses and car pools to enter and exit the freeway from HOV lanes. Those projects obtained federal approval on condition they not be open to general traffic. Result: The ramps would be closed during the time HOV lanes are open to general-purpose traffic.

No. 10 — The initiative is several subjects wrapped in one. It is headed for court, thus wasting precious time for moving forward with regional transportation improvements.

If you still haven’t voted yet, please read our endorsements to see who is supportive of transit and which measures are most important to our transit future.

World’s Best Commutes

Forbes has a list of the cities with the best commutes. The list:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Tokyo
  3. Chennai (formerly Madras)
  4. Dakar
  5. Osaka
  6. London
  7. Beijing
  8. Mumbai (formerly Bombay)
  9. Krakow
  10. Berlin

It’s worth noting that every city on the list has a developed public transit system other than Dakar, where a large portion of workers walk or bike. Also interesting, not a single American city makes the list. Here’s the article. I’ve been to every city on the list other than Krakow.

When was the last time you were stuck in gridlock at 5am?

At the recent debate between Kemper Freeman and Mayor Greg Nickels at the UW, Freeman accidentally seconded the argument for more mass transit: It helps rush hour commuters.

The opposition has no alternative plan, and they don’t even understand the problem. Don’t let them ruin the region’s future. Vote YES on Sound Transit Proposition 1 November 4th (it will be at the bottom of your ballot – don’t be confused by your local city prop 1)! You can read our full list of endorsements here.

Even though the election is just days away, there’s still lots to do. Talk to all your friends, coworkers, and random strangers (girls love it when you talk about trains) and make sure they understand how important this proposition is. As always, visit the official ‘yes’ campaign website at for more information.

Even Conservatives Don’t Like I-985

Even though I-985 might not be a “liberal” cause, conservatives don’t like I-985 either.

To this link from the previous post, I’m not hugely surprised that I-985 polls best in the greater Seattle area relative to the rest of the state: it was written by Tim Eyman, and even though it’s good for no one, the taken money goes disproportionately to the Puget Sound area.


Prop. 1 opponent Mark Baerwaldt takes credit here on page 1 for killing the monorail, and on page 2 takes credit for helping create the monorail.

He can’t make up his mind, but he’s heavily involved in the decisions on transportation in our area. With leaders like this, no wonder we have gridlock, both figuratively and literally.

Metro Priorities

Andrew commented recently on how Metro’s budget shortfall may threaten RapidRide, and that sparked a little bus-vs.-rail war in the comments (perhaps anticipating the Seattle Times’s inflammatory headline this morning).  Although there’s a lot of anti-BRT schadenfreude on this blog, the core assertion is relatively mild: that rail is vastly superior on certain corridors.  Everyone here agrees that buses have a place.  On top of that, we’ll have a long wait for a comprehensive rail system even under very positive assumptions.  As a result, it’s proper to have BRT along some corridors that, in a perfect world, would be rail.

That said, I’d like to step beyond that skirmish and say that I think the implication that RapidRide is threatened by its own shortcomings is not the right way to think about what Metro is trying to do.  Transit Now didn’t create a new agency to run RapidRide.  Rather, it was an increase in Metro’s generic funding level, tied to a bunch of promises of what they would do with the additional funding.

As we all know, a variety of factors have conspired to wreck the budget projections that underpinned Transit Now.  That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that RapidRide is in trouble.

Rather, Metro faces a general budget shortfall that’s going to have to be made up with some combination of revenue increases and service cuts.  Because we live in the real world, the King County Council is going to pick from a menu of bad options by picking the most politically palatable ones, with a bit of actual technical analysis perhaps thrown in.

If you’re like me, you recently received a big Transit Now brochure in your mailbox.  It’s clear that Metro has politically doubled down on RapidRide, which makes it harder for the Council to axe such a prominent promise.  Beyond that, I can’t really say if the budget shortfall is likely to hit RapidRide or something less visible.

Instead of wringing our hands about RapidRide, the useful contribution is to be active in letting the Council know what your priorities are.  Is RapidRide more important to you than some other bus service in your neighborhood?  Would you rather see fares shoot up by 50 or 75 cents rather than see any service cuts?  Let your councilmember know!

What’s not constructive is the statement “Please cut a service that doesn’t affect me to preserve that which I use.”  For example, if you live and work in Seattle, “abolish 20/40/40!” isn’t useful.  The service increases that it creates weren’t designed to serve you, so you’re not really making any tradeoffs when you oppose buses to North Bend.  Similarly, Metro has capped out its revenue authority, so asking the County for higher sales taxes isn’t really helpful.

Personally, I’m in favor of steep fare increases to preserve all the service promises.  But what are you willing to give up in the new economic climate?  Less service, different service, or higher fares?  Property taxes?  Cuts to other (specific) parts of the county budget?  Share your opinion in the comments.

The Seattle Times Can’t Handle Simple Math

Want to know why rail is better than anything else we can put on the table? This is why.

90-95% of the light rail we’re building (by cost) is King County. The only exception are the stations in Snohomish, which will account for a very small portion of overall ridership anyway.

Sound Transit will collect 0.9% sales tax in King County if Prop 1 passes. Metro already collects 0.9% sales tax.

With the same amount of money, in 2030, Sound Transit’s light rail will carry more passengers and more passenger miles than Metro will – and then when the Prop 1 sales tax is rolled back, Sound Transit’s light rail will carry more people for half the money. ST would only collect 0.4% sales tax, but still carry more people than Metro with their 0.9% – and carry more every year.

There’s no contest here. Running buses in our main corridors is like using payday loans. This Seattle Times article is bogus – ignoring the simple, main point. We made this mistake 40 years ago. It would be dumb to make it again.

BRT v Rail in the Times

Mike Lindblom has a BRT v Rail piece today in the Seattle Times. A different perspective from my posts, that’s for sure.

Light Rail Shade?

In Arizona, their transit agencies ensuring people there’s enough shade at their light rail stations. Kind of an opposite problem to our transit systems.

Also on Phoenix, drivers there are having a little trouble getting used to light rail. Thanks to Andrew for the links.

Pierce Transit Cutting Staff

Pierce Transit
Pierce Transit is going to layoff 32 workers, and eliminate 32 open positions. Pierce Transit employs about 1,000, so that’s a pretty siginificant work-force reduction, but not massive.

King Street Station Clock

And a quick closeup of the King Street Station clock

This is a really great article about the King Street Station Clock, which works again finally. Also, the annoying antenna from the photo has been removed.

And from the comments:

Now I know when I have to run the last couple of blocks to catch the
Sounder! Thanks for donating your time and efforts into repairing a great Seattle rail landmark. We’re one step closer to having a grand rail station.

Does anyone know what the status of the big clock at Westlake station is?

Prop 1 still up in polling

At the bottom here, though I wouldn’t call Prop. 1 a “liberal” cause.

Sounder North commuters may see small delays

I was asked via e-mail from Jessica Myers of Everett; What is going on near the big rail yard in Ballard and why does the train go so slow?

To answer, BNSF and Sound Transit are working on upgrading the track between Galar Street and the Ballard bridge which will add an additional main track between these locations. This is one of several double track projects on the Seattle – Everett corridor which will speed up trains, reduce wait times for freight trains, and increase overall capacity. The rail yard in question is Interbay, which is actually located in the Magnolia neighborhood.

The reason for the slowing can vary depending on the work going on. There could have been new rail/ballast laid down which requires a certain amount of trains to pass over before the maximum authorized speed can be met or it could be a slow order to protect workers and equipment.

After Interbay, the next location for the work will be Edmonds, including the new station and a new main track. After Edmonds, MP27-28 will begin on adding a new main track there. At Everett Jct., which will be the final piece of work which will reconfigure the cross overs, making it faster and safer to go up to the high line or continue onto the low line.

Have any other heavy rail questions? Feel free to ask!

“Traffic Calming”

Erica Barnett introduces me to the concept of “traffic calming”, in a post about negative side-effects of I-985:

Traffic light synchronization seems like a good idea, and in many cases, it is—for example, on busy, congested downtown streets in big cities like Seattle. But in other cases, it makes no sense whatsoever. Many small towns, for example, deliberately de-synchronize their lights (a strategy also known as “traffic calming”) to discourage drivers from using their main drag as a highway.

That’s pretty interesting. I do look forward to the “smarter synchronization” that will be part of Rapid Ride: synchronization for buses only. Looks like one more aspect of BRT that Eyman is trying to kill. I-985 is definitely the enemy of public transit.

Train Safety Effort

The News Tribune has a special report about train safety campaigns, noting that at least 58 people have died on railroad tracks in Pierce during and South King County since 1998. Train safety is a serious issue, when I took Caltrain everyday to work from San Francisco down to San Jose, it seemed that about once a month someone was killed on the Caltrain tracks. The deaths, whether they were suicides or not must have had huge effects on the families of those killed.

I wish there would be similar campaigns for both cars and bicycles. The article mentions that someone is hit by a train every 115 minutes somewhere in the US, though I couldn’t find how many of those people are killed. Highway fatalities are 94% of transportation deaths, 42,116 people were killed in car accidents in 2006 and car-related deaths are the number one killer of people under 45 in our region. Those numbers are scary, and bicycling is barely safer than driving.

A lot can be done to make sure that all modes of transportation are safe, because currently, they really are not as safe as they ought to be. This campaign to make trains safer is awesome, and I wish campaigns to make the other modes of transportation safer would also make the news.

AIG’s troubles hurt transit systems, including Metro

Update, see below
I never expected the financial crisis to have such a direct impact on transit, but according to the Washington Post, transit agencies could be forced to come up with billions in cash due to AIG’s failure and take-over by the fed. Apparently, some transit agencies are leasing equipment from banks, and AIG has been providing insurance that the agencies will make their payments. AIG’s takeover triggered a clause in the contracts that allows the banks who own the leases to demand immediate repayment, and many of them need the money to stay solvent due to the credit crunch. Double-Whammy. Weak, and AIG spent how much on lavish parties and excutive retreats?

Here’s how WaPo describes the deals :

In a once-common practice that the IRS has ended, many transit agencies entered into arrangements in which they sold equipment such as rail cars to banks. The banks then turned around and leased the equipment back to the transit agencies.

Both sides benefited. The transit agencies were given a large sum of money up front, which could pay for various infrastructure upgrades. And the banks were able to rely on frequent lease payments while also writing off taxes on the depreciating property.

The deals were approved by the Federal Transit Administration, which promoted the lease agreements, transit agency officials said.

AIG, which collected fees paid by Metro and other transit agencies, guaranteed that lease payments to the banks would be made on time. But AIG’s financial problems have triggered a clause that allows the banks to demand their money all at once.

More than 30 agencies have entered into the deals, including King County Metro, though I don’t know exactly how big the problem with Metro is. I’ll get back to as soon as I know.

The metro mentioned in the article is DC Metro, sorry if that is confusing. But KC Metro is affected, according to this site, as is Sound Transit.

Update 2:
According to Rochelle Ogershok at KC Metro, Metro no longer has any of those AIG deals, which is very welcome news. I was worried about nothing.

News Roundup

The SR 167 high-occupancy toll (HOT) lane, the P-I reports, is collecting about $25,000 a month from a $1 average toll.  I don’t know how applicable these results are to future congestion pricing projects, but $25K a month doesn’t seem like the big bucks various transportation constituencies have been hoping for.

The article says engineers hope that volume will roughly sextuple in four years, which would start to get us into serious money.

In other news, the Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration announced that passing I-985 could threaten millions of dollars of federal funding.  Given that this comes from a Bush administration whose pro-transit record isn’t exactly spotless, it just goes to show how reckless and extreme this initiative is.

The Totem Lake Transit Center opens today.  As some one who used to live near there, I can testify that it’s a traditionally underserved area.  Bravo.

Re: Rapid Ride Buses May Not Materialize

I want to clarify a bit what I was trying to say, and what I was not trying to say, in my last post.

  1. It’s a bad thing Rapid Ride won’t materialize. I couldn’t state this any more strongly. We need as much transit as we can get; our buses are currently packed to the gills. Just because I prefer rail over BRT doesn’t mean I’m against BRT, I just prefer rail to BRT. In my last post, I was trying to point out that I think it’s a bit telling that we never seem to get that cheap BRT that we are promised by the anti-rail crowd. That doesn’t mean I would prefer these bus projects cancelled.
  2. If we could get more bus service in any form, that would be a net good thing.I ride a bus to work every day and it’s great. It comes a few blocks from my house, and drops me off right in front of my office. In order to provide service like that, the bus has to stop a couple dozen times between my house and my office. That’s what buses do really well: providing local service. Rail can’t do that level of local service very well. It’s a good thing we aren’t asking it to.
  3. Saying buses are cheaper than rail in the long run is a misleading argument.We’ve discussed this ad nauseam at this blog, see here, here, here and here. The two sentence version: Buses are suited for one sort of transit, rail for another. BRT is trying to get buses to do the type of service rail is best suited for, which never seems to really work. The most common anti-rail argument is that investment in rail is regrettable because we can get BRT to do the same thing for less money.
    But the very crux of the argument is dishonest, because no one has ever seen this BRT that can do what rail does. We’ve seen BRT that can’t do what rail does, Boston’s Silver Line and LA’s Orange Line. And we have seen BRT that costs almost as much as rail (see the Silver Line). But we’ve never seen BRT that can do what rail does.
  4. I don’t think light rail is cheap, I think light rail is cheaper than the alternatives.Roads are very expensive. Adding one lane to I-405 from Lynnwood to Renton will have cost about $11 billion. Adding a lane to I-5 just in the city limits of Seattle would be more than $25 billion. The Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement will be about $4 billion or more, and the 520 bridge will be about the same. Each of those cost considerably more money per mile than light rail does, with the viaduct and 520 bridge each more than a billion dollars per mile. None of these will move as many people as light rail would.
    Light Rail is cheaper to operate per passenger miles than buses are, which is why you want riders going long distances to do so on rail. HOV-lane BRT around here is not going to work if I-985 passes. Even if I-985 fails, congestion and fuel will continue to eat into bus funding, making buses ever more expensive to operate per passenger mile. This is why buses are better suited for local access than rail, and rail is better suited for longer distances than buses are. Investment in light rail will pay off spectacularly, because we’ll be able to put buses that are used for long-haul service back to where they are effective, into shorter local service. Once riders get on rail, the become much cheaper per over the distance, we save money, and can improve service. Light rail isn’t cheap if you have no buses, and buses aren’t cheap if they are asked to do what rail should be doing.

I am very much pro-bus, which is why I take the bus to work everyday when I could drive, thank you very much. However, I do have a problem with the Doug MacDonald, et al. argument that, every thing being equal, buses can do what light rail can do cheaper. It’s a dishonest argument, and the first bit of proof that BRT is not cheap is provided by the fact that we don’t seem to be able to get any cheap BRT.

The only people I can imagine who would be happy that Rapid Ride might not arrive are the anti-everything set, who claim to be in support of BRT, but, of course, were against the vote that was supposed to fund Rapid Ride to begin with. They might be happy because they can continue to make the the argument that  BRT will be cheaper than rail, and instead of having an example to compare light rail to, they can continue to compare Link to BRT systems in far away places like Lima, Peru and Bogotá, Colombia. They know full well that BRT can’t do what light rail can, and they can remain against any form of transit that actually works.

Rapid Ride Buses May Not Materialize

I have been saying this for a while, but it looks like Metro is finally being honest that the increased bus service, called Rapid Ride, promised as part of the sales tax increase voters approved in 2006 may never arrive. From the DJC (behind paywall):

King County’s RapidRide express buses, which are due on the streets starting in 2010, may never materialize.
Even if the county’s transit division solves its current $83 million budget crisis, by 2010 it will need an extra $60 million per year to run the transit division and county officials do not know now where that additional money will come from.
“After 2010 we have a significant budget gap and we have to figure out a solution,” transit division manager Kevin Desmond told King County’s regional transportation committee last month. “A way to save money would be to reduce service.”

Right now, King County’s transit division is $83 million in the red. To help plug the gap, County Executive Ron Sims is proposing to raise Metro bus fares by 50 cents next February. Earlier this year, Metro raised bus fares 25 cents.
Sims also says Metro should increase bus advertising, cut $65 million in capital projects, sell or lease some land and use up its budget reserves.
High fuel prices and low sales tax revenues have played havoc with Metro’s budget. 

The anti-light rail mantra is always that buses are cheaper than light rail. How can they honestly make this claim? Metro increased its share of the sales tax by 10% to .9% and is unable to increase service by the same amount because buses are becoming ever more expensive. The “buses are cheaper” argument is as bankrupt as Metro.

Sure the price of oil is down this month, but it’s still a whole lot higher than it was ten years ago, and it will be still higher in 10 years. Congestion continues to get worse, and with it, buses are ever more expensive to operate. If I-985 passes, HOV lanes will only be available for a short part of the day, and only about half of the dialy commute. With that BRT is impossible. 

Light Rail doesn’t compete with cars in traffic. Light Rail doesn’t run on fossil fuels. Light Rail can carry far more people for far cheaper after it’s constructed. Light Rail really ought to be the future of public transit in our region.

Capitol Hill Station Fighter Jets

According to the artist, Mike Ross, no one cares anymore, and no one is bothering to protest the jets. I’m glad that no one is protesting them, and I still like them quite a bit. Via here.