News Roundup: Intercity Rail Under Threat

One of three Capitol Hill bike boxes, photo courtesy Capitol Hill Seattle

This is an open thread.

About Martin H. Duke

Martin joined the blog in Fall 2007 and became Editor-in-Chief in 2009. He is originally from suburban DC, but has lived in the Greater Seattle area since 1997. He resides with his family in Columbia City and works as a software engineer in Lower Queen Anne.


  1. Has the STB thought about getting behind the push for safe routes to school in the city of Seattle? The council is looking like it wants to scuttle any and all bike or pedestrian-related elements from its budget while they give themselves the authority to raise money for the DBT… this seems like a skewed sense of priority.

    • I wouldn’t say they’re going to scuttle any bike/ped improvements, but the climate is difficult. Feet First will be at the remaining Budget hearings to continue to advocate for $$ for pedestrians, which obviously includes Safe Routes funding. We continue to lobby Council as well.

  2. Alex Francis Burchard says:

    So in the same way when there is a service disruption in Seattle on Link, ST says take a bus, When there is a service disruption in Chicago, CTA says take a train.

    And in another thought, get used to random temporary interruptions. They happen alll the timeeeee in other places. I can look at a train schedule while standing on the subway platform and see that three trains in a row on the schedule never show, the one scheduled to be fourth comes screaming by at 55 in express mode, only then (20-30 mins later) do I get to jump on a train with about a half a million other people (no breathing room whatsoever, sometimes no room to hold on even) And they never even think about informing passengers what is going on with the rail system here.

    That happens at LEAST once a month

  3. Andrew Smith says:

    “This guy (Mayor McGinn) doesn’t have a clue how to run a city. ”

    First time I’ve ever agreed with Kemper Freeman.

    • Funny, I never thought of that, but you are right. It’s the first time I’ve ever agreed with KF too.

      But I doubt the Mayor is going to get what he is proposing. The Council will set him straight.

    • Mike Bjork says:

      I sure miss ol’ Greg Nickels these days. It was so wonderful to see some serious a** kicking and name taking from ANY gov’t agency in the Puget Sound region. But he *sob* upset too many people with his meanness, he wasn’t *cry* nice! I sure hope the green-o Seattle liberals are happy with the [ad-hominem] mayor they elected.

      • I mean my god! The Seattle Weekly or some rag compared him to a Chicago gangster politician! The nerve! :-)

    • I beg to disagree, if off street parking can charge $5/hr, then on street parking can easily charge $4. Kemper Freeman is wrong here. All McGinn is doing is reflecting current market rates. All you Ann Ryan fans should be proud. In fact the meters should be adjusted to rise as parking fills up. The last parking space could easily go for $10/hr and each meter could keep track of how much parking has been sold and for how long, lowering rates as a block empties out, raising them as it fills.

      As for Bellevue’s “free parking” It isn’t free at all. It’s reflected in the store/sq rates and passed on to the consumers. Kemper would be more honest if he said “Shop Bellevue, pay for parking when you buy a pair of pants!”

      • Well, at Bellevue Square the signs say that parking is “complimentary”.

      • Parking is not free in Bellevue. What we really have is a private garage that some use a public one…

        There is not really much street parking…

      • Andrew Smith says:

        I don’t agree with Kemper on the issue, I just agree that McGinn doesn’t know how to run a city.

      • johnmocha says:

        Last I checked prices were the same in Nordstorms Bellevue as they were in Nordstroms Seattle. If that’s the case it is not passed on to the consumers but rather reflected in better health of the business due to increased consumer purchases that allows the store to amortize the cost of parking.

      • Fred Meyer (before it was bought by Kroger) explicitly equalized its prices across Washington and Oregon. Maybe Nordstrom’s does the same.

      • Before or after sales tax? Which wouldn’t matter for groceries, of course.

      • @aw: before sales tax. The price on the price tag.

  4. Mike Bjork says:

    Why is the parking thing such a big deal? Private downtown lots charge anywhere from $5-$30 an hour; varying greatly depending on the season. Seems logical for the City-O-Seattle to bring prices more line with private lots as they’re offering a publically subsidized product. Why isn’t anyone complaining that private lots greatly vary (aka gouge) *their* rates based on demand? Why can’t the city compete either? Yeah it kinda blows for businesses, but life isn’t fair for everyone.

    OR, we get rid of on street parking for moving people in buses, trains, bikes, and cars, then leave the private businesses to manage parking lots. Free market solution!

    On another note, those bike boxes are pretty slick! It’ll be nice to see more around the city.

    • Jeffrey J. Early says:

      Actually, raising parking rates isn’t necessarily bad for businesses and could in fact be good for businesses. When parking rates are too low people let their cars sit for longer in these cheap spots, often in front of retail stores. With higher rates you can get higher car turnover, which means higher customer turnover.

    • Where have you seen $30 per hour parking downtown?

    • johnmocha says:

      It’s a big deal because parking rates are a deciding factor in whether those with an option – typically retail consumers – go to Seattle or elsewhere. I haven’t seen a study but I would bet that the vast majority of those selecting private lots have either business or a job downtown and are probably subsidized or reimbursed.

      • I never count on street parking being available when driving downtown, I end up in a parking garage 90% of the time. Which means I pay much more than $2 an hour.

    • just leave the street parking alone, people will deal. when there is a limited supply of parking there are two choices, 1, free (and hard to find) or 2, paid/relatively expensive (and easy to find). apparently people prefer the choice of free/cheap parking to easy available parking. i personally dont care which one it is, as long as downtown stays healthy.

      • So you don’t care that people are mindlessly looping around downtown—creating congestion in the process—in order to save a few bucks for parking?

        The city should definitely raise rates to the market value in order to increase revenue and stop subsidizing driving. Plus, if the price equals the market rate it will be easy to find street parking all the time.

  5. Mercedes taking orders for hydrogen fuel cell cars

    The monthly lease price may be $600 to $800 including fuel, Sascha Simon, director of advanced product planning for the automakers sales U.S. unit, said today in an interview. The leases are being limited to drivers in Los Angeles and the San Francisco area because of the restricted availability of hydrogen fuel.

    India’s largest car company invests in hydrogen innovator, Sun Catalytix

    Nocera’s research has focused on designing a catalyst made of inexpensive materials to break off hydrogen from water. Sun Catalytix envisions distributed energy where hydrogen is created by splitting water at people’s homes and fed into fuel cells to make electricity

    • Batteries… That’s the problem being addressed here. They are just using fuel cells as batteries.

      Also it doesn’t fix the problem of hydrogen storage. Large compressors are needed to make this work to run cars.

      • Air Products Makes Compression-less Retail Hydrogen Fueling Station a Reality

        LEHIGH VALLEY, Pa., Sept. 20 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Air Products (NYSE: APD) research in hydrogen storage has led to a “compression-less hydrogen fueling station” featuring specialized composite cylinders. This composite storage advancement, developed through joint work and an exclusive supply agreement with Structural Composites Industries, LLC (SCI), significantly lowers the cost of dispensing gaseous hydrogen and fueling station infrastructure by eliminating the need for on-site hydrogen compression. Air Products will launch its first retail compression-less station in 2010 at a location to be announced as part of its California initiative.

      • It will be cool if it works. Hydrogen burns very cleanly. However the current source of hydrogen gas has been from Natural gas. So we have a ways to go here.

  6. Major transit project in New York/New Jersey cancelled in order to send money to road repairs:

    There’s some controversy even among transit supporters as to whether this was a good project, though most would probably like some variation of more transit tunnels under the Hudson. But for those who think Seattle is unique in having a process causing us to spend a ton of time and money studying something before canceling it: this project was in the works for 20 years, and nearly $600 million has been spent already.

  7. David Seater says:

    Many of the recent Rider Alerts for Link have mentioned “mechanical issues,” like this one from this morning:
    “Due to a mechanical issue, a southbound train by passed Tukwila and Rainier Beach Sations. We apologize for the inconvenience.”

    Does anyone know what these mechanical issues are? Particularly ones that would cause a train to miss two stations…

  8. On the first blurb… GOOD. The only reason most of these states got any money was to buy their Senators vote. Better the dollars be spent on high density, high ridership routes that have better fairbox recovery. The closer Amtrak gets to behaving like a business the less dependent it will be on the fickle whims of Congress.

    • I disagree. Both the Ohio and Wisconsin projects return intercity rail to cities that haven’t seen it in decades. In the case of Wisconsin, it’s extending the already successful Hiawatha route. In Ohio, the connection between Cleveland and Cincinati adds to the connectivity of the Amtrak network and enables trips that couldn’t easily be taken before.

      It’s also important to support highly dense an already successful rail service as in California and the NEC, along with state-supported and developing corridors as in Washington, Illinois, Virginia and North Carolina. The passenger rail system is a network, and improving service on the branches will help demand on the parts in between.

      • So let’s make it $3 for the first hour and $6 for every hour after that.

        I know plenty of people that will drive to the UW and utilize street parking so they can attend lecture and then drive home after.

      • I don’t think you are considering the potential speed of HSR.

        If you look at what the Chinese and Japanese are doing with Maglev, you can see we will soon have 300, 400, maybe 500 mph trains…the speed of an airliner.

        At even 300 mph, the Seattle to Portland trip becomes the same as the 35 minute trip from SeaTac to Downtown!!

        With reasonable costs (and a Cascade tunnel) you could live on a farm in Yakima, and commute a few days a week to Redmond in half and hour.

        The life changing nature of HSR becomes very real when you project out say 10 years that will is being demoed and implemented right now!

      • China and Japan have central governments that see commuter rail as vital to commerce, and fund the lines’ construction for that reason. In Seattle we have to beg every single tax dollar just to build Link and Sounder, and both of them are being built out slower than expected due to inadequate revenue. So where will the billions for HSR come from? In the meantime, a moderately better Cascades is a plus. And if you are independently wealthy, please do build the HSR lines to Portland, Yakima, and Spokane. I’ll ride them.

        I’m wishing I had $10 billion to donate to Sound Transit to get Link built out now and the fantasy lines implemented.

    • I agree with Anc, and disagree with Aw. HSR is unlike the telephone network or the road network – it’s not necessary to interlink every city and town into some vast interconnected national HSR network. All you need for good, cost effective HSR is for it to interconnect two economically inter-dependent metropolis, and interconnected with good local transit at each end (so riders don’t feel the need for a car at their temprorary destination). The Portland-Seattle-BC corridor fits the bill very well. Every time I take the Cascades route, the train is full or nearly full. So, I am convinced that getting the service to match or better the time of an I-5 car trip will result in filling many times the current volume (4 trains per day).

      I’m not saying it couldn’t work in Ohio or Wisconsin. But if the residents of those states don’t really want HSR, then we as a country are much better off not diluting the HSR investment and instead concentrating the investment on those HSR corridors (like WA state) that definitely will work well. It’d be better to have a small number of very cost effective HSR linked city pairs, than to have a large number of very sub-par (on international level) not-really-high-speed-at-all routes that won’t be cost-effective because they’re honestly not competitive with car/plane at sub-par speeds.

      • The midwest could be a good area for HSR. It’s relatively uncrowded outside the cities, with long, straight, flat rail corridors. There are significant concentrated centers of population at distances appropriate for HSR. The thing that it needs to get there is building a rail culture, like we have been here. Building more state-supported conventional service will help to get it to the point where HSR can be successful.

        With Chicago as the hub, higher speed lines to Detroit, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, St. Louis and the Twin Cities, Amtrak’s current services are a lot more attractive, although they really need multiple daily frequencies to work well.

        The problem is, with the way things stand currently, the states have to be supportive of the effort. Wisconsin has been in the past, but if Walker gets into the governor’s mansion, who knows.

      • Alex Francis Burchard says:

        The midwest in general to my experience and based on the news I read is fairly pro-HSR at the moment, everyone I know is JAZZED about the St. Louis Line being built, and I know polls in Chicagoland have been indicating that people no longer want freeways expanded, they want train lines extended first. I think these gubernatorial candidates are going against popular opinion in the area when they go against HSR, and that they will not be elected on that part of their campaigns.

      • I don’t know what’s wrong with Ohio. The state has higher population density than France — it *could* be building TGVs. But it’s not.

        Wisconsin? Well, the Madison-Milwuakee plan is eminently logical and absolutely the right thing to do. We’ll see whether yahoos vote Scott “I let the city buildings in Milwaukee crumble until hunks of them fell on people’s heads” Walker into office. He would most certainly kill any good project.

  9. Wow, Kemper is praising Seattle.

    “Seattle is one of those super-regional cities like New York, Chicago, L.A. or San Francisco.”

    I wouldn’t put it in the top tier with those cities.

    “It’s the regional center of everything for them, the center of commerce for any category you can think of: a ball game, the best lawyer, health care, the biggest banks, the distribution center for products.”

    Um, aren’t most cities like this?

    Although he may have made a faux pas:

    “What makes Seattle good is not those 600, 000 people who live there. It’s those 8-10 million people who come to Seattle multiple times a year for all kinds of things and all kinds of reasons, who drive the economy of that city.”

    Did Kemper really mean to say that the people who visit Seattle are better than the people who live there? Or was it just accidental wording?

    “This guy (Mayor McGinn) doesn’t have a clue how to run a city.”

    Thank you, Mr Freeman, I’m glad you live outside the city limits.

    “So with projections indicating that even 30 years from now, most trips to Seattle will still be by automobile”

    It’s hard to imagine that oil won’t be expensive by then, or that there won’t be an environmentalist backlash against shale oil. (Alberta is actually planning to install nuclear plants to provide enough energy to extract the oil from the shale.)

    • johnmocha says:

      Detroit didn’t get to its current state overnight. McGinn would be wise to listen to business interests as folks like Kemper will be happy to benefit from his missteps and put us the road to become Detroit #2.

      • Yeah, charging an extra buck for parking is going to make all of our industry vanish, just like in Detroit.

      • Sherwin Lee says:

        John, you might want to go back to those history journals and see the real reason behind Detroit’s fall. You’ll be surprised to learn it had nothing to do with increased parking rates. In fact, Detroit has always had bountiful parking.

      • Detroit #2? Is this Bailo under another name? Even if Seattle’s population were declining (it’s actually increasing), it’s not going to drop by half or three-quarters.

    • The PSRC numbers don’t really account for peak oil very well.

  10. So how far will Olympia’s transit center be from the Amtrak station? (And potential Sounder station.)

    • It’s being expanded in-place, so 8.4mi, 20 min. driving, 32 min. by bus.

    • I can see the Olympia Station becomes greater than King. Olympia doesn’t have as many water boundaries as Seattle, so expansion is easier.

      The best place to build a coastal hub would be Centralia.

      • Centennial station is at the edge of a wetland, and it’s essentially in the middle of nowhere. It’s not going to get expanded.

        Everett, Auburn, Vancouver or Portland would be better places for a passenger rail hub since they all serve east-west lines in addition to the north-south line. Unless you think the next big rail destination is in Grays Harbor County.

      • I’d like to see more East-West service too. I feel like I should be able to go from Seattle to Pasco without going through Portland!

      • To get to Pasco from Seattle without going through Portland, try #8 to Spokane, #27 to Pasco.

      • Centralia? Yep, there certainly aren’t many people in the way there….

      • alexjonlin says:

        He’s right, though, it would be great to have a new Amtrak line across Stampede Pass down through Yakima and the Tri-Cities and back up to Spokane. It’d be awesome to have a train get to/leave Spokane at a more reasonable hour than like 1am, too!

  11. downintacoma says:

    Calling OneBusAway users out there….have you noticed that it’s been acting funny/not working at all this week? Anyone have any news?

  12. Since this is an open thread, I have a couple of questions from posters here who may be ablet to give some answers:

    1) What is the first impression of Rapid Ride A in its first few days of revenue service? Is it faster than the bus route it replaced? Are people paying off-board? How is boarding working? etc.

    2) Likewise, is ST running 1-car Link trains in the evenings now? If so, how is that working? Are the one-car trains “crowded”, or what? Any other problems? Did they operate 2-car trains Tuesday evening for the Sounders game?

    • 2: I was on a two car train after the Sounders game. Comfortably crowded – standing room but not crushed. The award ceremony probably helped space out departures a bit. It was southbound and I was surprised that most got on at Stadium and not the ID.

    • “What is the first impression of Rapid Ride A in its first few days of revenue service?”

      They have almost caught up to what the standard for bus service has been in European cities for the past 20 years.

      “Is it faster than the bus route it replaced?”

      No, because they haven’t implemented transit signal priority yet.

      “Are people paying off-board?”

      No, because most of the ORCA readers are not hooked up yet.

      “How is boarding working?”

      Same as on any Metro route, slow and cumbersome.

      • Sherwin Lee says:

        Its travel time varies now. It can be considerably faster than the 174, or it can take roughly the same amount of time.

    • I took a train from Sea-Tac to Westlake around 11:30 pm on Tuesday. All trains I saw were running with 2-cars.

  13. Bike boxes, yawn. I just stopped alongside the rightmost car, or between the two rightmost cars if the right one is turning right. Then when the light turns green, move next to the crosswalk to avoid slowing down the cars when they move. There’s no safety issue because the cars are either stopped or moving slowly.

    My main concern is whether drivers will know what the green box means. I didn’t until this post. A bike lane is familiar, but a bike box isn’t.

    • Sherwin Lee says:

      It’s odd that these new ones on Madison are different than the one installed earlier at 12th and Pine. They don’t have the thick white line (whatever you call it), clearly indicating that no vehicle is to pass beyond that point.

      • Jason Mitchell says:

        Stop line, I believe.

      • There is spraypaint on the pavement that may indicate where a stop line is supposed to be installed (the sawteeth). You can see where the stop line used to be, and clearly it needs to be replaced, since in this picture there’s no stop line for either lane. Perhaps the photo was taken before the box was officially complete? Or if SDOT did forget to install the stop line, someone should let them know.

    • There are huge safety issues with your technique—it isn’t called the Red Light of Death for nothing. And personally this is why I don’t like bike boxes: they encourage cyclists to pass cars on the right (to get to the bike box), rather than get in line behind stopped cars. This invites doorings and getting hit by drivers who turn right without checking for cyclists. And passing on the right puts you in the blind spot, so even if a driver checks for you, you might still get hit.

      As for whether or not drivers will know what they mean, it’s my understanding that they’re accompanied by signage.

    • I pretty much agree with you Mike but then it’s extremely rare that there are even two bikes stopped at a light on the eastside routes I use (except for Cascade rides or teams out training and that’s a whole different issue). I can see where in Seattle they could be useful. One thing to keep in mind is that “off the line” an average bike will be through or mostly through an intersection faster than the typical driver. After two or three car lengths though the speed advantage goes back to the cars. So, if you don’t pass on the right and work your way up to the front you’re going to be getting passed by a line of cars as you approach the intersection. That makes you more vunerable to a “right hook”. You can’t rely on drivers using their blinkers but you can actually “read” a car and driver and have a pretty good idea of who’s turning right even when they don’t signal. Staying out of blind spots is important if traffic is moving. Some drivers are “over polite” and see you in the passenger mirror and slow down expecting you to pass. With these types I try to move over into the traffic lane (hard when the following driver is tailgating) so that they see me in the rear view mirror.

    • I’d stop farther forward than that picture, so my body is in-line with the driver or a little in front. And I’m already in front of him before he starts moving. And I look to see if he’s turning right. If he suddenly turns right without warning, well he shouldn’t.

      I haven’t ridden since late 2003 so this is a little old. But even in Seattle there was rarely another bicyclist at the same intersection. Although now I’m seeing five or six bicyclists at once at Pine & Melrose around 8:30-9am. I’m not sure if bicycling has increased dramatically with the street improvements or if I just never saw it before because I wasn’t walking to Convention Place at that time.

    • PS STB got a pic of the signage at the 12th & Pine bike box. I assume similar is going in at Madison, etc.

  14. Speaking of half-empty transit vehicles, I took the 150 tonight at 10:14pm from University to Kent Station…the thing was rattling around like a tin can there were so few people.

    It wasn’t unpleasant, as typically a mix of noisy street kids and thugs pour on and off the bus all the way home.

    But seriously, where’d everyone go?!?!

    • Alex Francis Burchard says:

      10:14 PM being the key part of that statement. There are few people out and about in the city that late.

      • Yes, but I ride this bus at least 6 times a year (for the six concerts in the Bravo series) and have been doing so for the past 5 years.

        What I’m telling you is that ridership went from a 3/4 full bus, to what were about 7 people total (including the passed out cyclist sleeping on the front 3-seat bench).

    • This may just be the particular day.

  15. Transport for London is speaking to its counterparts in America, Australia and Europe over proposals to harmonise ticketing systems.

    Under the plans it would be possible to wave a specially designed credit or debit card at a reader to use the local transport network, using technology known as “contactless payment”.

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