Weekend Open Thread

This is new to me, but as Dan Savage likes to say, the internet is a race and you won.

As you might guess, this group is from South Seattle, although they’ve been picked up by a major record label.  And apparently in a couple of weeks they’re playing at Neumo’s.

PSRC Wants Public Comment on Stimulus Funds

Unlike the state legislature, which decided which projects to fund behind closed doors, the PSRC (explanation of who that is here) wants you to have a chance to comment on the projects that will get stimulus money. Here’s the comment form. The comment form also has a map of the highway projects – but not the transit projects – that the PSRC would give stimulus money to. Here’s the list of highway projects for the $78 million the PSRC will spend on them, and here’s the list of FTA projects for the $138 million the PSRC gets there.

LINK Station Spacing

All forms of transportation can be characterized in two dimensions. The first, accessibility is a measure how easily it is to join and leave that particular facility. The second dimension is speed of travel on that facility. These two dimensions are inversely related. As accessibility increases speed decreases and vice versa. Streets are a perfect everyday examples. Local streets are slow but offer very high accessibility, while freeways have very low accessibility but very high speed.

So how accessible is LINK for pedestrians compared to other mass transit systems in the Northwest? Well, not very, especially compared to Portland. Station spacing is an important measure of how dense of a network a transit system has. The ideal station spacing for pedestrian access and continuous linear TOD is roughly two times what an average pedestrian would walk, so roughly ~.5 mile to ~1 mile. Now look again. Magically MAX and Skytrain fall into that range. Both the Expo and Millenium lines hover perfectly in the range, while MAX jumps around a bit more because of variation in land use patterns and geography. So, coincidence or planning?

Northwest Mass Transit Systems

Northwest Mass Transit Spacing

So what happened to LINK, why is it so off the mark? Well for starters we have weird geography which has forced our growth pattern into a long and narrow shape. This necessitates a long central line of ~55 miles, Everett to Tacoma. This length forces planners to reduce accessibility to increase speed to a competitive level. In comparison the 2nd longest line is MAX’s Blue line at 33 miles. Another double whammy is money. Sound Transit is a three county regional transit provider who’s mission is to build a regional transit system. Subarea equity has forced Sound Transit to build out rather than fill in Seattle proper with highly accessible mass transit. Yet another reason is that we are late to the game. MAX and Skytrain were built to influence growth patters. They were design to maximize accessibility, area coverage, and TOD opportunities. Now LINK is trying to follow growth not shape it.

So before I close I do want to point out one jem in the ruff, East LINK. After removing the distance inured by Lake Washington, East LINK looks like it will be the poster child of the entire system when it comes to walkable, TOD communities. It is hovering just above the walkable range, and because of the S shape of the probable alignment these distances are actually much shorter. In addition to that the City of Bellevue has made Seattle’s zoning department look childish in its attempt to up-zone station areas.

Below the fold is another graph showing how LINK, Skytrain and MAX stacks up against mass transit systems around the world.
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Density Around Light Rail Stations (Again)

The intersection of MLK and Rainier Avenue, Seattle

Rainier and MLK, photo by rutlo

The state TOD bill is still making its way through Olympia, and I’ve been thinking a lot about development around Central Link stations. The one that always springs to mind is Mount Baker station, at the intersection of Rainier and MLK. Clair Enlow, a who writes a regular “design perspectives” column in the DJC, has written a great piece on HB 1490, and has a terrific description of the area around the station:

The intersection of McClellan Street and Rainier Avenue is straight out of the late auto age, where cars take precedence over pedestrians.
There’s a gas station, an auto supply store with parking, a big apron of parking for a drugstore-grocery and the back wall of a big-box hardware store. At a bus stop nearby, passengers wait for a Metro bus to fight its way through the heavy traffic on Rainier.

But the future is rising just beyond the auto supply and tire stores. The glass and steel vision that is Mount Baker Station now stands below the arc of the light rail platform, which swings around from Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and disappears into the Beacon Hill Tunnel.

More Enlow and my thoughts below the fold.
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Meet-up Report

I understand photos will show up in the Flickr pool shortly, but the meet-up last night exceeded our expectations.

Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl, along with media relations specialist Geoff Patrick, showed up early on.  Ms. Earl gave a short talk and then answered some questions from the crowd before she caught her Sounder train home.

After the group dined on a surprisingly delicious dinner from our host, the Ocean City restaurant, King County Councilmember Larry Phillips, who’s also a member of the Sound Transit board and a candidate for King County Executive, also shared his thoughts and then answered questions for 45 minutes (!).

I’d like to thank the restaurant, our extremely gracious speakers, and our guests, who kept their questions intelligent and civil.  It wouldn’t have been nearly as great of a night had about 25 of our readers not trudged to the International District on a Wednesday night.

Some of the things we learned are going to dribble out over the next week or so as posts, but I think we’ve energized Larry Phillips to look into the asymmetry between Metro’s policies for cutting and adding bus service.  If nothing else, I think that makes the evening a success.

Ah, snow.

I woke up with a lovely start to see snow. It was predicted but the white stuff finally fell this morning.

From Kent up to Seattle, we only had a minor dusting of the evil powder but from Mercer Island into Bellevue, they got 2-6 inches of snow.

Needless to say, I give major kudos to my driver of the 550 who ALMOST made it to Bellevue Transit Center. The last hill defeated her. Conveniently for me though, it was a simply walk across the street to the Expedia building.

How was your commute?

P.S. Those of you that were waiting for a 550 Westbound bus. I’ve only seen 4 buses go West since I boarded my 550 at 6:50am. If they are on reroute, it would be safe to assume that they are stuck and out of commission. The 100+ people at South Bellevue P&R, PTO is your friend.

Reminder: Meet-Up Tonight

Link Door

IMPORTANT UPDATE: Thanks to a schedule conflict for one of our special guests, they will be leaving  by 6:30.  Contrary to our previous posting, arrival close to 6pm is encouraged.  However, we’ll still do the rest around 7:30.  We apologize for the late notice.

Registration is closed, but this is a reminder that our meet-up today is in the private room at Ocean City in the ID, at 609 S Weller St. The doors will open at 6 pm, and the event will begin at 7:30 pm and will go to about 9 pm.

The restaurant is across the street from Uwajimaya, and one block east of the International District Tunnel station.

I look forward to seeing you there!

How Phoenix Made Light Rail A Big Deal

Valley Metro light rail

Phoenix Light Rail, by stevevance

In the second of the series about the Phoenix light rail opening (you can read the first here), I’m going to look at how Phoenix promoted its light rail opening, and what Seattle can learn from their experience in time to make our Light Rail line’s July openning a big deal.

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Best Headline of 2009

Looking at a Sound Transit Police Car

Photo by Oran

I know it’s only February, but this will be best transit headline of the year “Lawsuit blames Sound Transit for exploding toilet“.

State Stimulus List

Here’s a doc with the state’s stimulus list for their highway money, and here’s a map (links via Publicola).  The list is all bad, and there’s not even a single project in Seattle, home to 10% of the state’s population and 30% of the state’s jobs. Nice work, Olympia!

I can’t say I expected anything different.

Bellevue City Council Chooses Bellevue Way

bellevue

Bellevue's prefered alignment

Update: Thanks to Bernie in the comments, we have the map and the details of what the Bellevue City Council wants. It differences quite a bit from what Sound Transit has put in the draft EIS.

Original Post: The Times is reporting that the Bellevue City Council has choosen the Bellevue Way alignment as their preference for East Link through South Bellevue (back story here). The Sound Transit board has the final say, though I have a hunch they will go along with Bellevue Way, which seems obviously better than the I-405 alignment to me. The council also picked a prefered route through Downtown Bellevue and Bel-Red.

It looks like the preferred route through South Bellevue is a modified B3, and the preferred route through downtown Bellevue is C2T. The modifed route was not studied as part of the East Link draft Environmental Impact Statement, and there’s no word on whether Sound Transit would build that route. Their prefered Bel-Red route is the D route, and was decided last week. C2T may be Bellevue’s prefered route, but they are going to have to pay for the tunnel themselves: there’s no money in the East Link plan currently for a tunnel alignment there, and the tunnel is about $700 million more than a surface alternative.

Not Quite There

NE 40th Bike LaneAs some of you may know it has been over a year since SDOT and the city council approved the Bicycle Master Plan. SDOT has done a great job and spent millions of dollars (via bridging the gap) to implement the plan. Recently SDOT released a progress report highlighting a lot of the work that they have already done, and plan to do over the next year.

Some of the highlights are 56 miles of new bicycle lanes and sharrows, 15 miles of signed bicycle routes, and most recently on-street bicycle parking.

As a daily bicyclist I see the benefits every day but at the same time I see things like this. On and off over the past months few months the bike lane that I use every day has been blocked by shipping containers. Now this isn’t the end of the world but to me it is still very symbolic of how bicyclist and bicycle facilities are view. They are seen as amenities, not essential infrastructure. With that attitude bicycling will not become more prevalent.

To add to the irony of all this, SDOT and the DPD are hosting a presentation, Bicycling: A Sustainable Choice by the director of Copenhagen’s DOT this Friday. Copenhagen is the standard barer of bicycling in Europe and makes Portland’s bicycle infrastructure look modest at best, not to mention how it makes ours look.

As an aside I’m a new contributor to STB. I’m currently working on a masters degree in transportation engineering at UW and I formerly blogged over at OrphanRoad.

Meet-up: Minor Schedule Change

The doors still open at 6, but the program doesn’t start till 7:30, so no need to rush to make it there by 7.

News Round-Up: VMT Tax

10th & Commerce

10th and Commerce, photo by raggiesoft.

  • The time-lapse video of one of the walkways going in at Sea-Tac is pretty cool.
  • Puyallup wants BRT. I wish people pushing for a particular form of transportation – including those pushing my favorite, light rail – would not say their system reduces congestion, as Puyallup spokeswoman Glenda Carino did. With the exception of some sort of tolling, congestion pricing or otherwise, nothing really reduces congestion. This BRT will just provide a nice alternative to a lot of people. Go for it, Puyallup!
  • The National Journal has some experts discussing the merits of the VMT tax idea John mentioned last week.
  • The Transport Politic had a great piece on the VMT tax, showing that the gas tax as currently collected is broken because: 1) the tax doesn’t rise with inflation, 2) people are driving less and c) people are driving more fuel efficient cars. Highly recommended that you read the whole thing.
  • WSDOT is holding a preliminary open house about the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement Tunnel tonight.

    West Seattle
    5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
    Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2009
    Madison Middle School
    3429 45th Ave. SW, Seattle
    Served by King County Metro bus routes 51, 55, 56, 57, 128

  • We’ll never know whether John McCain would make a good president or not, I bet he would have been fine overall. But from the standpoint of this blog’s topic, surely it’s better that we didn’t elect the guy who doesn’t know the difference between high speed rail and light rail.

South Bellevue Battle Heating Up

South Bellevue Construction - August 2008

I-405 in South Bellevue, photo by WSDOT

In a story that should surprise no one, some residents in South Bellevue are fighting to push East Link from the Bellevue Way alignment to the I-405 alignment. You can see the two alignments here. What is surprising is just how hard they are fighting: the Surrey Downs Community Club has had an East Link comittee for two years, and every East Link open house or Bellevue city council meeting on Eastlink is full of those folks.

The mean spirited part of me almost wants the alignment to be on Bellevue Way just to spite them, but even warming that part of my cold heart, it’s difficult to argue that the Bellevue way alignment isn’t the right one. The South Bellevue park-and-ride already a has 519 stall park-and-ride facility with bike racks and bike lockers, and has good connections with buses travelling on I-90. As the Times article points out, the I-405 alignment would put a station on 118th St, which is a two-lane street. Not just that, but the daily ridership of Eastlink with the 405 alignment would get 1,000 riders fewer a day than East Link with the Bellevue Way alignment. It’d be a shame if the NIMBYs got their way on this one.

News Round Up

48 near UW Campus Pkwy

Photo by Oran

  • The Seattle Weekly’s blog has a photo of a chandelier going up in Mt Baker station. I still haven’t been inside that station.
  • I agree with the first letter
    here
    for the most part, that basically density requirements around transit stations make much more sense in Seattle than in Sumner and I’m not really sure density requirements around Sounder stations make sense at all. Sumner, for example, has 8,500 people in 6.7 square miles. That’s less than two people per acre net density. Even if you get a net density of 10 in the half-mile radius around the station there, you add 5,000 people to that city, more than 50% of its current population. Does anyone believe that all of those people would take one of the eight daily Sounder runs? Thankfully that requirement got striped out of HB 1490, it really only made sense in Seattle where zoning was that high anyway.
    The second letter there is good for a laugh.
  • We now know the name of the bus driver arrested for selling drugs on the number 42 bus, Ricky Beavers. He’s out on $50,000 bail, and I think I know where the money came from.
  • I think my coverage of the stimulus has been much better than Mike Lindblom‘s, if I do say so myself, and I don’t mean that as a complement to myself. That Times piece is nothing more than paraphrasal of the PSRC’s press release. No wonder the Times is running out of money and the P-I is ceasing print production.

February Passes Good Through Early March

img_0085

I went into Bartell Drugs Sunday night to buy some bus tickets (a book of $1.75 tickets at $21) and found an announcement indicating that the March PugetPasses were having some manufacturing issues. The local transit agencies will be accepting February PugetPasses into March. You find more information on Metro’s website.

And yes, most of our media relations with Metro are done in the form of announcements posted at Bartell Drugs.

Did You Know?

Did you know that Seattle had a large part in making bike racks on the front of buses standard nationwide? Well now you do.

(Thanks to ECB from the Slog.)

Murray is Right: Toll Both

This is a few days old, but in the State House a bill is has been proposed that would charge tolls on only SR-520 to help fund the new bridge. Judy Clibborn (D-Mercer Island), who introduced the bill, is wrong on this policy. Ed Murray (D-Seattle) is right: We need to toll both the SR-520 and I-90 bridges.

We do not want to force traffic across just the I-90 span, which is a possibility with tolls across only SR-520, and we will not be able to raise enough money without tolling both spans. No one likes spending money, but building cross-lake spans is very expensive. And tolling isn’t just a fee: it’s a tool to reduce congestion at peak hours.

LaHood Proposes Taxing VMT, Admin. Backs Away

Obama’s Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood opened up the possibility of taxing drivers by vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in the future rather than taxing drivers at the gas pump. Taxing by VMT is a pretty progressive idea, though it would require a large investment in GPS trackers and other technology. A progressive suggestion like that from LaHood — and a recognition of the failure of the gas tax to sustain our highway investments — is encouraging, no? Well, within hours a spokesman for the Department of Transportation — LaHood’s employee — and the White House distanced themselves from LaHood’s remarks: “It is not and will not be the policy of the Obama administration,” said Robert Gibbs, the White House Press Secretary.

Of course that same link has other statements worth considering. “Most transportation experts see a vehicle miles traveled tax as a long-term solution[.]” “The gap between money raised by the gas tax and the cost of maintaining the nation’s highway system and expanding it to accommodate population growth is forecast to continue to widen.” “A blue-ribbon national transportation commission is expected to release a report next week recommending a VMT [tax].”

A VMT tax would be a sort of radical change — one that could require millions of cars to be retrofitted — with privacy implications, but how can we fund our surface transporation infrastructure without a radical change?

I think most environmentalists would prefer a VMT tax, but some have made the point that a VMT tax would charge the same regardless of how much gasoline a car burns. That is true, and perhaps a VMT tax should be in addition to the gas tax (perhaps a lower gas tax). But a gas tax isn’t just a free to use gas, it’s a fee to use our public roads. Having electric or hybrid cars pay for their share of the transportation grid makes sense. Charging additional VMT taxes on heavy trucks that damage the roads more — well, that makes sense too. But charging a gas tax on one hand, and mandating that cars use less gas on the other — that’s good for the earth but a very bad way to fund roads and transit.

The Obama administration would do well to listen to its Secretary of Transportation and not rule out possible solutions years too early.