Light Rail Noise

Some Tukwila residents are complaining about high noise levels from the elevated Light Rail tracks.  The KOMO report seems to indicate that Sound Transit is going to mitigate it with either a sound wall or by soundproofing homes.

Oran recently took some video that might be useful for people to understand the noise levels on MLK, as compared to the general din of traffic.  As someone who lives a couple of blocks away from MLK, the noise is distinctive from the traffic noise, if not noticeably louder.

Certainly the bell is the part that’s most distinctive:

Pierce Transit Service Cuts

The 212A, by raggiesoft

"The 212A", by raggiesoft

Pierce Transit’s July 12 service change (pdf) includes an overall 5% cut in service.  According to the News Tribune, that’s 33,000 service hours and about 300,000 boardings.  As one might expect, it’s due to a $10m revenue shortfall out of a $121m budget.

Apparently, the agency has decided to cut low-productivity routes, even though that cuts off some people from bus service entirely.  King County, fraught with subarea resentment, is still agonizing over that value judgment.

Pierce Transit has also worked all the cost-cutting gimmicks, like layoffs, dipped into reserves, and increased fares by a quarter.  Interestingly, their farebox recovery is only 13%, well below King County’s.

State Stimulus Spending Stiffed Transit

We’re very fortunate that Congress funneled some of the ARRA (stimulus) funds directly to the PSRC, because Olympia was (and is) a black hole for transit.

We knew that state funding of transit is well below par in Washington, but a new report from Smart Growth America about the flexible portion of each state’s transportation stimulus funding laid out just how reactionary the legislature’s position is.  No surprise here, but our state put exactly zero into public transportation,and 4% into bicycle and pedestrian projects.  As Erica C. Barnett points out, 16 states beat us in the former category and 21 in the latter.

As the Transportation Choices press release observes, the road money wasn’t even spent well: 29% went to new highway construction, rather than clearing the sizable maintenance backlog on the state’s roads.  This kind of project does little for driver safety and simply encourages sprawl, as well as being less job-intensive than regular maintenance.

City Passes 600,000

japan may 1375

Seattle at an Angle, photo by author

This is a bit wonky and not quite transit related: but here’s an update on the march toward density in our area. According to the state Office of Financial Management (via the P-I), Seattle’s population grew 1.6% from April 2008 to April 2009, reaching 602,000 people. The state overall grew 1.2% to 6,668,200 and King County grew 1.3% to 1,909,300 (1% outside of Seattle). The state’s population growth has slowed from 1.9% to 1.2%, but Seattle’s growth has grown during that period from 1.1% to 1.6%. Why has Seattle’s population grown faster than the state at large and King County? Housing growth. King County added about 10,500 housing units from 2008 to 2009, while Seattle alone added nearly 6,000. Future growth in housing stock will likely slow over the coming years due to the housing bubble bursting,  however there’s still fair amount of housing construction underway right now and the city’s growth will likely continue over the next twelve to eighteen months.

Growth management finally seems to be working: unincorporated King County only gained 2,030 people, or 0.59% from 2008 to 2009. This is offset by annexations of unincorporated areas. Still, main urban areas are accounting for much of the state’s growth. From 1999 to 2009, Seattle’s population grew 38,624 in total, a 6.9% uptick with no annexations. Bellevue grew by 10,773 people to 120,600, a 9.8% increase with 2,747 (2.7%) coming from annexations. Tacoma and Spokane have both crossed 200,000 this decade, with reaching 203,400 and 205,500, respectively.

I should caution that these are official approximations, and could end up looking very different from the official census that will be taken in 2010. The OFM creates these approximations from data such as driver’s licence filings, school enrollments and voter registrations.

Car Turns in Front of Link Train

Stopped at Othello, by Steven De Vight

"Stopped at Othello", by Steven De Vight

Shortly after 5pm today, a car traveling on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South made an illegal turn against a red light and was hit by a passing Link Light Rail train. The driver of the car sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was transported to the hospital. We’re awaiting word about the train’s condition, but hopefully any damage was minor and it’ll be out looking beautiful on July 18th in just 18 days.

The best photos are available at the Rainier Valley Post.

This incident comes one day after we reported about John Niles’ suggestion that Sound Transit be liable for all car vs. train incidents, even in cases like this when the driver made an illegal turn.

[UPDATE: John Niles, in the thread below, points out that he never uses the word "liable," and is instead using "chargeable" as a way of saying Sound Transit could have prevented it.  There's a strong tone implying negligence in the piece, however, so readers can be the judge. -Editor]

Despite who’s at fault, the city is looking for ways to make the area safer. Earlier today before this accident, KIRO posted a story about merchants who are opposed to the installation new barriers designed to prevent car/train collisions, claiming they would hurt business. According to the story, a few business owners are threatening to block the track on opening day in protest. Seattle Transit Blog would like to remind our readers that standing on any railway, regardless of political motivation, is a very bad idea, and that your chances of successfully stopping a 2-car train are very low.

Also tonight in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, home to many STBers, a family crossing the street was hit by a car. There aren’t a lot of details about this incident yet, but Capitol Hill Seattle reports that at least three people (two of them young children) were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and Seattle Police arrested the driver at the scene. Hopefully everyone injured will recover quickly. To John: should these children be responsible for the driver’s legal fees? Or maybe the city for not grade separating all the crosswalks?

Sound Transit has lots of information about staying safe around Link on their website, including a guide for drivers.

Take Sounder to the Sounders!

City of Destiny by Brian Bundridge

City of Destiny by Brian Bundridge

Great news for the upcoming Sounders FC vs Chelsea game on July 18th, on top of Link’s grand opening, Sound Transit will be running 2 Sounder trains between Seattle and Tacoma and 1 train between Seattle and Everett!

The Tacoma trains will leave at 9:30 and 9:45am and arrive in Seattle at 10:30 and 10:45 respectively. Both trains will be making all stops.

The Everett train will leave at 10:00am and arrive in Seattle at 11:00am and will be making all stops.

As always, trains will depart 30 minutes after the end of the event from King Street Station.

For more information, check out Sound Transit’s special events

Add: I want to add and stress the crossings in SODO will be VERY busy between Link, Sounder, and Amtrak trains arriving and departing. Use extra caution when crossing over the railroad tracks, especially at Royal Brougham where there is construction for a new overpass.

The Perfect Storm: 520 Tolling

SR-520 Tolling Options

SR-520 Tolling Options

On 10/10/10, WSDOT will be the first state DOT in the country to toll a existing facility that is currently untolled. A few months ago the state legislature passed ESHB 2211, authorizing the tolling of SR-520. The writing has been on the wall for a while, but still the fact that it passed is no less amazing. For comparison’s sake, not even NYC has stepped up to toll previously untolled bridges or tunnels into Manhattan. Toll on SR-520 has significant, and I believe overlooked implications for tolling in our region.


WSDOT in partnership with KC Metro and PSCR won USDOT funding, and due to the Legislature’s actions will receive a $154 million dollar Urban Partnership grant. The Urban Partnership program aims to reduce congestion through the four T’s:

  • Transit ($41 million for buses and P&R expansion, $27 million or ferries)
  • Tolling ($63 million for installation and construction of tolling system)
  • Technology ($23 million for ATMS)
  • Telecommuting ($0, build off of existing TDM program)

During the 2008 legislative session, the state tasked the partner agencies to go out to the public, propose tolling options, and report back. The work, documented here, surprisingly showed that 60% of those questioned (statistically significant phone interview) support tolling SR-520 to pay for a new bridge. This support went up when respondents were told that tolls would be collected electronically and that it would reduce congestion on the bridge. A majority of users also supported tolling I-90, however I-90 users strongly disapproved. Stated differently, a majority of users support tolling existing cross-lake travel on multiple facilities to pay for a new bridge with zero new general purpose capacity. Almost feels like the outer limits right?


I can’t overstate how significant I think this will be for tolling in the central Puget Sounds. SR-520 is at the focal point of forces that until now have not come together. In my opinion this will set a precedent, serving as a perfect example of the benefits of tolls while hinting at how system wide tolling might become a reality. [Read more...]

CETA Jumps the Shark

From the Flickr Pool

From the Flickr Pool

UPDATE: John Niles, in a later comment days later, points out that he never uses the word “liable,” and is instead using “chargeable” as a way of saying Sound Transit could have prevented it.  There’s a strong tone implying negligence in the piece, however, so readers can be the judge.

John Niles and the Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives think Sound Transit should be liable for all car vs. train collisions, regardless of whether the driver is at fault, because they didn’t grade separate the entire line.  I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to apply that sort of standard to any other transportation project of any kind, anywhere, and see where it gets you.

I get that Niles and CETA don’t think that light rail is worth the investment; that’s a value judgment that I don’t agree with, but whatever.  But this kind of spiteful maneuver — arguing that the buildout wasn’t expensive enough, and trying to make it even more expensive by adding liability — is utterly contrary to their entire history of complaints about the project, and makes a mockery of any claim that they’re just trying to make transit work as effectively as possible.

I look forward to Niles and CETA pushing for various local tax initiatives to make sure that all other lines in the region are grade separated, and vigorously fighting NIMBYs opposed to elevated segments in neighborhood meetings.

20 Days

Link at Night, by Steven De Vight

"Link at Night", by Steven De Vight

In 2020, Sound Transit is projected to open light rail service to Northgate, Downtown Bellevue, and Highline Community College.

The elevators in the Beacon Hill Station are supposed to take 20 seconds to travel between the platform and the surface.

Link will operate 20 hours a day every day but Sunday.

Some random flotsam from the internet:

Could AIG Have Impacted DC Metro Maintenance?

Site of the accident

Site of the accident

Last October, we discussed the fact that AIG’s failure cost some transit systems huge amounts of money. In agreements between transit agencies and banks, the banks would purchase transit vehicles, and the agencies would pay regularly in lease agreements. AIG insured the transit agencies’ payments – so when they failed, some of these banks used a clause in their contract to ask for immediate payment of the full vehicle costs.

In March, PBS quoted Carol Kissal of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on the potential of these payments: “So this would mean, you know, no maintenance on track, delay, cuts in service. Repairs would go to the wayside.” It’s unclear if any payments to banks have been made as a result of AIG’s insolvency, but there is a question here – could last week’s accident be an indirect effect of our financial system’s mess?

The NTSB has said a test train at the location of the stopped train last week wasn’t detected by the automatic train control system. It’s not clear yet that maintenance money was an issue here, but it’s clear WMATA doesn’t have the money they need to keep running at their current capacity – they say they need $12 billion over the next ten years for maintenance, and they have nowhere near that available.

In good news for us, Sound Transit plans for operations and maintenance somewhat indefinitely. Part of the funding for Sound Transit 2 is operations and maintenance money, and even if we didn’t expand our system again in several decades, when the Sound Transit 2 taxes were rolled back, the Sound Move portion would continue to fund maintenance for Link.

22 Days

Municipal Street Railway Opening, Ballard Bridge, 1918, c/o Seattle Municipal Archives

Municipal Street Railway Opening, Ballard Bridge, 1918, c/o Seattle Municipal Archives

In 1922, GM President Alfred P. Sloan established a unit to investigate replacing streetcars nationwide with GM-manufactured buses, cars and trucks – GM was losing tens of millions at the time and felt this was the only way to expand their market. The same year, Electro-Motive Engineering Company was founded, which later became GM’s division for the manufacture of locomotives – including those used on Sounder today.

Some news items from the last few days:

  • Construction on Second Ave. in Downtown Seattle is rearranging many bus stops there.
  • There’s a serious effort to turn all but one lane of Bell St. into a linear park.
  • LA broke ground on their BRT Orange Line extension.
  • There’s a meeting in Tacoma tonight about extending Sounder to Lakewood, specifically on some crossings in the Dome district.  Opponents demand a more expensive bridge option that  preserves parking.  (H/T: Douglas)
  • Photographer Joseph Songco, who is chronicling the “path of destruction” of light rail construction, is part of the free Artopia exhibition, Saturday, in Georgetown.  Via Damon Agnos at Seattle Weekly.   Preview Songco’s work here.
  • Mayor Nickels has proposed that, effective January 1st, the $25-per-employee head tax be repealed.  It generates about $4.7m per year for roads and sidewalks, including transit-friendly road improvements, although it had not been allocated to any particular project.

Although driving jobs out of Seattle to less transit-friendly places is always a problem, there are two things to really like about this tax.  First, it is waived for any employee that doesn’t drive alone to work, discouraging the commute mode that generates the most external costs.  Secondly,while it may be true that higher-than-expected parking tax revenues offset the revenue loss, there’s a huge sidewalk backlog in North Seattle that could use that money.  Seattle is the level of government where generic transportation funds are most likely to be spent progressively, and it’s a shame to take money out of this fund.

Editorial: Why Not Electric Cars?


Fancy, But Unaffordable

I hear a lot about electric cars. There’s the Tesla Roadster already, little “neighborhood electric vehicles,” and a lot of “soons,” like Aptera. With those in mind, why even write a transit blog? What’s the point, technology is advancing so fast, we’re all going to have cheap electric sports cars as they’re mass produced, right?

Simply put: I doubt it.

I’m not going to get into the urban planning issues here, and I’ll just point out quickly that we aren’t presented with anything like the full costs of cars today: in everything from the real estate costs of the land reserved for parking, to the funding of our highways (and most of it wasn’t gas taxes, something we’ll write more about later), to the innumerable environmental and health costs.

What I’m interested in is helping dispel the idea that affordable electric cars are around the corner. I’ll keep it short. [Read more...]

Route 7 Stop Consolidation

Photo by Oran

Photo by Oran

Metro is gathering comments on the Route 7 stop consolidation. To accelerate the crawl that is Route 7, at all times of day, Metro wants to cut from 107 stops to 76.  Route 7 will otherwise be untouched by the sweeping Southeast Seattle service change.

They’re collecting comments through the end of July and seem to be targeting the September service change.  It’s a change long overdue.

What other routes could use a stop diet?

Art Brut Loves Public Transportation

European indie rockers Art Brut don’t live in the fast lane, because they take the train. Check out this fun song sent in by reader Josh Mahar. We need more indie rockers singing about transit!

Some fun riffs on how transit is often slower than driving. But hey, I like browsing the Internet with my phone while busing to work. What do you do when you’re riding?

Good and Bad: Point Defiance Bypass Gets $6 Million, but FlexPerks Amtrak Discount Cancelled

Transportation Choices Coalition’s blog has noticed a motion (PDF) for the next Sound Transit board meeting about Point Defiance Bypass. Apparently, WSDOT and Sound Transit jointly applied for a $6 million federal grant to help fund work to extend Sounder to Lakewood. The project is still short quite a bit, but this gets them closer.

Update: I wonder if we’ve written about this before. I don’t see anything about it, but it looks like this has been expected for a while.

In less pleasant news, we’ve learned that the FlexPerks program no longer offers a 15% discount on Amtrak Cascades travel for U-Pass and FlexPass holders. The program offically ended at the end of the year, but the coupon code continued working through the end of March. According to Metro, their reduced staffing no longer allows them to administer the program, and they let it quietly die.

Guest Post Series: Rough Seas, But Finally Righted

by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board

Probably Central Link O&M Groundbreaking

Probably Central Link O&M Groundbreaking

After the passage of Sound Move on November 5, 1996 it was time to get to work. The RTA needed to ramp up from a 22 person planning staff to an entity capable of building a multi-billion dollar capital program and operating multiple modes of transit service. This is a step virtually every new transit agency struggles with and leads to a phenomenon known as “growing pains”!

The Board began to make dozens of decisions (PDF), from rebranding the agency as “Sound Transit” to vehicle purchases to route decisions. Environmental Impact Statements were begun, policies were developed, fares with other transit agencies were “integrated”, ground was broken and hearings were held.

In September 1997 the first Regional Express bus service began, in June 1998 I led the Board’s effort to identify Union Station as Sound Transit’s permanent headquarters and Sounder commuter rail between Tacoma and Seattle debuted in September, 2000. Tacoma’s Link streetcar began service in August, 2003.

Due to its size, federal funding and all new right-of-way; the most complicated aspect of the program was Link Light Rail. A very difficult period began toward the end of 2000 as tensions mounted and the Board ordered a halt to negotiations over a contract to build a very long, deep light rail tunnel under Portage Bay. The Board was concerned that the cost and risk of the proposed contract was unacceptably high and a reassessment was in order. This led to staff changes (Joni Earl became Executive Director) and eventually a reengineering of the project (splitting it into the initial Airport segment and the University segment extension) to reduce the risks.

Extraordinary political drama ensued including the last minute signing of a Full Funding Grant Agreement (FFGA) on the final evening of the Clinton administration and light rail becoming the focus of the very close 2001 Seattle Mayor’s race. But the Board persevered, Joni restored confidence in the agency and eventually the project was back on track. In fact in February, 2003 Link’s initial segment received the highest rating of any project in the nation from the Federal Transit Administration. This was repeated recently with the University Link extension. Ground was finally broken for the initial Link light rail segment on November 8, 2003.

A Little Less Anonymous

Some biographical information about us can now be found here.  This page will be is linked in the sidebar.

25 Days: Following Congress

LINK O&M Facility

LINK O&M Facility

The Operations and Maintenance Facility is 25 acres.

The initial segment is 25 km long.  How’s that for mixing metric and imperial units?

The entire 775-page Oberstar transportation bill is now available for download.  It’s not clear if anyone here is going to take up the mission to follow this closely, because there’s excellent coverage at Streetsblog Capitol Hill, the transport politic, and Transportation for America.

There’s also some sort of Metro train collision on DC’s Red Line. Details are sketchy at this point.

Update 4:46pm. Four Nine dead.  Apparently one train rear ended another.  The pictures are horrible, in a “how could this have only killed four nine people?” kind of way.

In other news, 8 people were killed by cars in the New York area just last week.  Of course, that’s not going to be picked up by the national media because it’s a totally unremarkable event.

Metro Presents Service Cut Planning Strategies

Photo by Oran

Photo by Oran

On May 20, Metro staff made yet another presentation to the King County Council Regional Transit Committee, fleshing out alternative strategies for service cuts. The slideshow is available online. (ppt)

Metro presented two service cut strategies to build on the six they presented in April (pdf). One is a “refined” option that emphasizes high-demand corridors and eliminates routes to many low-ridership areas, tweaking a previous proposal of this type.  The other is a kind of blanket cut, the “blended” option, which hits peak and off-peak service proportionally. Both envision cuts to each subarea in proportion to that subarea’s current allocation, in accordance with Metro policy.

The refined plan sees annual ridership drop from 109.7 to 95.2 million, a drop of 15.5 million, while eliminating 104 routes. The blended plan sees a drop of 20.5 million annual passengers and only eliminates 40 routes.  Details below the jump.

[Read more...]

27 Days

When Sound Transit 2 is completed in 2023, it will have been 27 years since the Sound Move vote in 1996.  That’s about 2 miles of light rail a year.

The 2007 Proposition 1 package proposed completion by 2027.  After its failure, Sound Transit came back with a plan that built less faster.

Happy Solstice!  And Happy Father’s Day!