The Peak Oil Post

Considering how important peak oil is to our society and our future, I’m constantly amazed at how few people have heard of it, much less understand it.  I’m no expert on the subject, and most of the information in this piece comes from the Internet – I won’t even bother to reference much, you can get it all from Wikipedia.  But I thought a brief summary of the issues involved might raise the level of debate when the issue comes up.

What is peak oil?
Hubbert curve, WikipediaPeak oil is simply the point at which petroleum production is at its historical and future maximum. It is not an end to oil production, only a point in time when the market changes dramatically. In fact, it’s roughly the point at which half of all oil that will ever be extracted has been extracted. The consumption of oil has increased almost continuously from the day a use for it was discovered, and at the point of peak oil this will have to change. [Read more...]

520 Bridge Renderings

WSDOT has released some renderings of the 520 replacement bridge. Oddly, they all seem to show few or no cars on the bridge. I really want to know what you think, so please put your opinions in the comments.
A view of the sentinel from the bicycle/pedestrian path, at night
[Read more...]

Link North Corridor Stations

by MIKE ORR

Sound Transit is deciding where to put light rail stations between Northgate and Lynnwood and held a series of open houses on the subject this month. Although many here were upset that ST chose I-5 rather than Aurora for the line, we need to make sure it’s the best I-5 line possible, and each station has different potential for serving people and improving mobility.

The current proposal at right shows six potential stations, two with wiggle room: 125th-130th, 145th-155th, 185th, Mountlake Terrace Transit Center, 220th SW, and Lynnwood Transit Center. Last year’s Alternatives Analysis had only 145th, 185th, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood. The other two locations have been added based on citizen feedback. (Documents and maps are in the extensive North Corridor library.)

At March 17th open house in Edmonds, ST reps Roger Iwata and Matt Sheldon said that ST has no fixed number of stations in mind; it depends on whether all the stations are cost-effective. 130th and 145th are rather close for two stations but 125th and 185th are probably too far apart. This means a 125th or 130th station could push the 145th station north to 155th. The budget at this point is elastic enough to support all six stations if necessary, though further engineering may show otherwise. If the cost estimates indicate ST can’t afford all the worthwhile stations, it may have to defer one without abandoning it entirely.

Each King County station is 1/2 mile from either Aurora Ave N or 15th Ave NE (whichever is closer), and 3/4 mile from the other avenue. Here are some thoughts about each station, based on my walking and bus tour of the station areas: [Read more...]

Action Alert: Transit Funding in the Senate

[List of Senators deleted upon request of Futurewise]

Over a week ago almost 100 organizations, including this one, signed a letter to Governor Gregoire urging her to sign the bill that given voters the option to preserve or restore the level of transit service in their communities.

Before that, though, the final (House) version of SB 6582 has to make it back through the Senate, which according to Futurewise is where it’s most at risk.

Let your Senator know what you think.

News Roundup: Two of Three

zargoman/flickr

This an open thread.

Parking is Hard to Find when Parking is Free

On Tuesday, I was correctly admonished for not providing data in an opinion piece where I criticized another opinion piece for not having data.  Sorry about that.  As penance, here’s some data about the neighborhoods that have recently increased paid parking hours from 6pm to 8pm.

SDOT published a very detailed report (34MB PDF) from two large parking surveys.  The first was performed in November 2010, before rates were increased.  The second was performed in June of 2011, after rates increased.  The report was intended to show the effect of this rate increase, but I’m more interested in the shape of the curves to see if charging for parking after 6pm could be beneficial.  Of course the real useful data, comparing parking rates and turnover before and after the longer parking hours were implemented isn’t available yet.

Let’s start with Capitol Hill, the area discussed in the original Times piece:

Capitol Hill Weekday Parking, SDOT

[Read more...]

Don’t Sign the Monorail Petition

Although it’s natural to get excited about any proposal to run grade-separated transit between Ballard and West Seattle, the monorail proposal Oran described this morning is not one worth supporting. First of all, the proposal is deeply flawed for all the reasons our commenters are slaughtering it. Supporting a plan that subsequently collapses merely reduces faith that this city can ever resolve its transportation problems.

Signing a petition isn’t even useful as “a statement” that people demand rapid transit in this corridor. By going for a ballot measure without really laying the groundwork, CenTran is working at cross purposes with the Seattle Subway organization, which in my opinion has a much, much more feasible approach to making something really good happen. Moreover, Seattle Subway actually understands what makes a transit system work, which is not a line with downtown parking garages, zero transfer points to Link, and PRT.

There is a very low signature threshold for this type of initiative – only 3600. Please don’t help bring about a vote that will end up giving transit a black eye, and sabotage carefully developed efforts to build a system of which we can be proud. I’m happy for there to be yet another movement that’s building enthusiasm for transit, but sending them to the ballot in August is premature and counterproductive.

In Depth on Northgate Parking, Part 2

North Link Open House

North Link Open House

This is the second of two posts on this subject; you can read the first one here

In the previous post, I discussed the difficult problem Sound Transit will face in providing the legally required compensation for lost parking on the Northgate Mall property during construction. In this post, I’ll discuss the two other issues in play.

Long Term Park & Ride Capacity Loss

As is well known by now, the North Link ROD stipulates 1:1 replacement of all P&R capacity permanently displaced, and this fact has dominated most of the previous coverage of this subject, including mine. In learning more, I’m increasingly convinced this is perhaps the least vexing of the problems that faces those of us who don’t want publicly-financed garages at Northgate. Let’s look at this in more detail.

First, the 1:1 stipulation does not require that the current total capacity of roughly 1,500 stalls be maintained indefinitely into the future, and even if the language of the ROD did not change, it could perhaps be skirted by simply reducing total P&R capacity independent of the North Link project.

More importantly, the ROD dates from 2006, before the 2008 ST2 ballot measure, so the ROD actually refers to the original ”North Link” project that extended as far as Brooklyn Station and was subsequently extended to Northgate with the passage of ST2. There would be a compelling case to go back to the FTA and argue that circumstances have changed since the signing of the ROD, and that the language of the ROD no longer aligns with local policy as applied to the extended project. The biggest hurdle would be getting a majority of the ST board to agree, which isn’t a vote I’d care to wager on either way.

More after the jump. [Read more...]

CenTran Proposes a Ballard-West Seattle Monorail

Monorail crossing ship canal

Visualization of Ballard Ship Canal monorail crossing (CenTran)

[See update at the end of this post. -Ed.]

On the 50th anniversary of the Seattle Center Monorail, a new group called the Century Transportation Authority (CenTran) is making an attempt at building a Ballard to West Seattle monorail line by forming a city transportation authority and building on the work done by its predecessor Seattle Popular Monorail Authority (SPMA). According to a press release from the group’s founder, Elizabeth Campbell, published on the West Seattle Blog, 3,600 signatures are required to put the authority’s creation to a public vote in August 2012. CenTran does not yet have a financing plan but aims to create one that is “up-to-date” and “viable”. It is working with the city’s high capacity transit planning effort. It estimates the line will be in operation by December 2018.

CenTran is also seeking to fill positions on its board. Among current members of its interim board are Elizabeth Campbell, known for advocating a Viaduct rebuild and Paul Toliver, a former Metro Transit director and SPMA board member.

The proposed line will be fully grade separated, 16 miles long with 18 stations and cost $1.4 to $2 billion. The alignment resembles the cancelled Green Line with several key differences. The line would run along 24th Ave NW or 15th Ave NW from Crown Hill through central Ballard. Then it will cross the Ship Canal in a new transit/pedestrian drawbridge next to the Ballard Bridge. Instead of going through downtown on 2nd Avenue, the line will run along Alaskan Way on the waterfront. A personal rapid transit (PRT) system will provide circulation from waterfront monorail stations to downtown destinations. From the waterfront, it proceeds to 1st Ave S by the stadiums and over the Duwamish on the West Seattle Bridge, continuing on an alignment similar to the original Green Line to Morgan Junction, with an extension to High Point and Westwood Village.

Reactions on neighborhood blogs in West Seattle and Ballard were mixed, with some expressing support and some thinking of it as an early April Fools joke. CenTran must apply lessons learned from the failure of the original monorail project if it is going to succeed at its goals. I do not know whether this group will work with other community advocacy efforts to build more rail in Seattle like Seattle Subway and the Ballard Spur. [UPDATE: Seattle Subway's Ben Schiendelman confirms that this group has not contacted his movement, which now includes the Ballard Spur group.]

Full disclosure: I turned down a request from Campbell to hire me to produce maps for an undisclosed project (which might not be related to the monorail proposal) in September 2011. I also volunteered my time to design Seattle Subway’s map.

In-depth on Northgate Parking, Part 1

Over the last year or so, we’ve covered the parking situation in the Northgate station area as it has evolved, consistently advocating against the use of scarce transit dollars to build parking in urban areas. Unfortunately, the situation is becoming more complex, not less, as time goes on and more details come to light, and in a pair of posts, I’m going to examine all the issues and possible solutions I’m aware of in depth. There are three distinct problems Sound Transit must address, and a handful of solutions, most of which involve ST building a parking garage and some (rather tenuous) ones which don’t.

First, let’s take a look at all 1,500 or so parking stalls currently provided, by public agencies, to transit users in the Northgate area. Below is a map of the area (from the recent Capital Committee presentation), showing the location and capacity of these lots, followed by a table summarizing all the information related to capacity and displacement, both at the height of construction and at the completion of the project; I’ll talk about the “private uses” section of the table later.

Current Northgate P&R Lots (ST Capital Committee Presentation)

Current Northgate P&R Lots (ST Capital Committee Presentation)

Type Sharing Public P&R
Capacity
Temporary
Displacement
Permanent
Displacement
WSDOT Surface Exclusive 139 139 0
Metro West Parcel Surface Exclusive 289 289 117
Metro East Parcel Surface Exclusive 464 0 0
Thornton Place Garage Shared 350 0 0
Northgate Mall Garage Garage Shared 280 0 0
Parking loss for private uses (not shown on map)
Northgate Mall 451 62
Strip Mall * 11 2

[Read more...]

DSTT Should Use a Proof-Of-Payment Fare System

Proof-of-Payment sign for Link by Oran

As Bruce wrote yesterday Metro will be holding its first public meeting related to elimination of the Ride Free Area (RFA) this Thursday from 4:00 -6:30 at Union Station.

Operational Problems of the DSTT

We have written fairly extensively on this operational impacts of this change. A study done by Metro shows that the operations in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) would see significant and unacceptable negative speed and reliability impacts from elimination of the RFA. The report concluded that none of the operational improvements suggested can fully close the gap between the current peak usage and the reduced peak capacity.

Additional, travel time data I obtained from Metro shows that travel time speed and reliability in the tunnel has progressively deteriorated since it reopened for joint operation with Link in 2007. This trend has been most prevalent in PM peak hours, which will also be the most negatively impacted by a pay-as-you-enter fare policy. My purely personal experience indicates that speed and reliability have further deteriorated since this data was collected in Spring 2010.

The existing speed and reliability in the DSTT, in my opinion, is already too poor, and further deterioration is completely unacceptable for riders and is a waste of Metro and Sound Transit resources.

[Read more...]

Dear Seattle Restaurants: You’re Doing it Wrong

Seattle parking meter, SDOT

When I read the headline “Parking fees drive diners away” in Seattle’s largest car-loving paper, I expected some sort of evidence to back this claim up. But it turned out to be an opinion piece without adding any facts to the debate. Skimming past the usual logical but flawed argument of higher parking rates = fewer customers, I came to the final argument. That employees are having to pay more for street parking.

For those who must drive, the additional two hours of paid parking require them to spend another $6 to $8 per shift. This amount is not trivial to our employees.

Let me be very clear: street parking in retail areas is not for workers. It is not for residents. It is for retail customers.  If your business relies on a substantial amount of business from people that drive, parking space that’s less than a block from your business is very valuable resource. The greater number of people you can get in and out of that space within a day will directly translate into more business for you. Having your employees parking in those spaces the entire time they’re working in your restaurant is a terrible idea. Charging for parking encourages people to move their cars quickly. Charging more than private lots encourages people to park in private lots if they need to park for a long amount of time. If your employees are encouraged to switch to a private lot, this is good for your business.

Ride Free Area Elimination Open House

Pedestrians Crossing 3rd& Pike

Pedestrians Crossing 3rd & Pike. Photo by Oran.

King County Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit and the City of Seattle are hosting an open house on Thursday, 4:00-6:30 PM, at Union Station, to discuss their plans for the elimination of the Ride Free Area and obtain feedback from the community. Done right, RFA elimination could boost Metro’s revenue, reduce casual fare evasion, and eliminate Metro’s arcane “when to pay” and “where to exit” rules. Done wrong, RFA elimination could make buses even slower and less reliable on the surface through the CBD, and dramatically reduce the peak capacity of the downtown transit tunnel.

Metro has studied RFA elimination extensively, but it remains to be seen whether the agency has the time and money to get this right by September. In addition, as I’ve pointed out before in comments, one way to mitigate bus congestion downtown is to run fewer buses downtown, by requiring riders on underutilized radial routes to transfer to frequent, high-performing trunk routes, thereby ensuring that every bus entering or leaving downtown is a full bus. What we’ve seen so far in this respect with the Fall restructure process is not encouraging.

UPDATE: Metro’s Linda T. notes that if you can’t make the meeting, you can also provide feedback and learn more at this page on the Metro site.

Transit agencies and city host open house on elimination of
Ride Free Area in downtown Seattle

Metro also moving to pay-on-entry system countywide in September

The Ride Free Area for buses in downtown Seattle is scheduled to be eliminated on Sept. 29, 2012. At the same time, riders will begin paying when entering the bus for all trips.

These changes will help King County Metro Transit save money and preserve bus service. Sound Transit and Community Transit are also preparing to act on similar changes for their bus operations in King County.

The three agencies and the city of Seattle are hosting an open house to update the community and get feedback:

Thursday, March 29
4-6:30 p.m.
Union Station Great Hall
401 S. Jackson St., Seattle

Metro is currently working with Sound Transit, Community Transit, and Seattle on an implementation plan for the Ride Free Area changes. This includes options to address transportation needs of low or no-income people who use the Ride Free Area to travel to essential services in the downtown area.

The Sound Transit Board is scheduled to vote in June on charging fares for ST Express bus trips within the downtown area, consistent with current policy for Link light rail.

More Slides and Video about Northgate

North Link Capital Committee Presentation

North Link Capital Committee Presentation (March 8th)

As a followup to last week’s post with the presentation from the North Link Open House, click the image above to see the slides from the presentation that Sound Transit staff gave to the ST Capital Committee earlier this month, covering similar information but in more detail; tomorrow, I’ll have a post discussing the parking issues at Northgate at length. Below is is a video shown in the public meeting, that gives a sense of the broad outlines of the construction process and the finished product.


Sunday Open Thread: Oil Prices

428981_2890451017390_1143672441_43527293_114450089_nThis is an open thread.

A Shallower Bellevue Station

Mike Lindblom has a good scoop about a new design option for Link in Downtown Bellevue. It’s about saving some money.

The boldest new concept would abandon the 2011 proposal to excavate a huge underground station downtown, perhaps 70 feet deep with a mezzanine, beneath the intersection of Northeast Fourth Street and 110th Avenue Northeast. Instead, Sound Transit would look at a shallower Bellevue Transit Center Station for the East Link route.

Builders could exploit the slope that descends from the financial district to Interstate 405 — where tracks are supposed to emerge from the tunnel anyway, then become elevated near Meydenbauer Center. One layout involves a so-called “diagonal” station that cuts the corner where there’s now a City Hall parking garage and vacant King County land. The second concept is oriented east-west along Northeast Sixth Street.

Engineers are also looking at ways to save money at the 110th Avenue Northeast location by making the station shallower or narrower.

If you’re a bit confused, the article has a useful diagram.

I have mixed feelings about this concept. First of all, broadly speaking I’m not a fan of ST’s station designs, or the DSTT stations they inherited.  I have significant complaints about 8 of the 13 existing stations*, even only considering things that wouldn’t have taken much money to get right. Anything that brings the platform closer to the surface makes the train that much closer to everything in every direction, simultaneously. That it saves money is gravy, so three cheers for shallower stations.

Moving it a half-block or block eastward, however, starts to move it further away from the downtown core that it already skirts the edge of, and towards the interstate that we know is the death of walksheds. Here’s hoping that they make it shallower, but keep it as far west as possible.

* In case you’re wondering, I have no major problem with Chinatown, Beacon Hill, Columbia City, Othello, and Seatac. The rest have significant usability flaws.

Inslee’s Statement on McKenna’s East Link Opposition

This afternoon gubernatorial candidate Jay Inslee,  King County Executive Dow Constantine, and Bellevue City Council member Claudia Balducci held a press conference to respond to WA Attorney General and gubernatorial candidate Rob McKenna’s comments reiterating his opposition to both the East Link project and to the existence of Sound Transit.

Inslee’s remarks are embedded above.  Balducci’s introductory remarks are here, and Constantine’s remarks are here.

The Parking Minimum in Seattle

Steven De Vight/Flickr

There is a remarkable front-page piece in the Times today rather unsubtly titled “Parking around Seattle may get worse as city planners favor transit.” My first thought was Seattle was taking away street parking for transit lanes (Ha!) but in fact it’s just eliminating parking minimums in certain areas.

I was all set to write a takedown but Erica Barnett at PubliCola seems to have covered the main points. Apparently a top-down command-and-control economy is the only way to save local business, especially since local auto shops are worthy of protection but “developers” are something to be fought.

Like many political issues, I think this gets rather unfortunately wrapped up in identity politics. Urbanists try to discourage driving, partly for environmental reasons, partly for aesthetic ones, and partly because car dependence is simply unworkable at a certain level of density. Admittedly, among some there’s an added sense of “screw’em if they refuse to stop driving.” The other side opposes these measures, thanks to a combination of fear of losing their current quasi-free, low-effort car access, the abrasion of the less tactful urbanist edge, and a general sense that their lifestyle is being labeled as immoral.  That said, the impact is likely to be either beneficial or small. Either people will switch from driving, in which case we’ve just created affordable housing with few negative externalities, or people won’t, in which case the market will demand parking in accordance with the old minimum.

Anyhow, I think moral condemnation of people’s choices isn’t helpful. Except for those of us who are simply too poor to consume anything, most of us have at least some indulgences that have significant environmental consequences. Some of us drive the SUV when there’s a suitable express bus, some of us eat lots of meat, and some of us fly all over the place for leisure. I’ve been searching for a syntax that says “it would be good public policy to stop encouraging people to do these things” without the added connotation of “people who do that thing are morally wrong.”

Density’s Golden Rule: Yield Unto Others

Fancy Ambulance: A mode nobody wants to use

The Seattle Department of Transportation posted a reminder on its blog about letting buses go first, a good idea but also mandated by law. Buses should go first—but who or what comes before buses, and whom should bus drivers be “letting go first?” The answer is pretty obvious, bikes and pedestrians. But in practice, sometimes, it feels like bus drivers could use a reminder of this. Fortunately, giving pedestrians the right of way is also written down in the Seattle Municipal Code and Washington Administrative code as well. The bottom line is that with more people in the city, everyone needs to be on the look out for everyone else if we’re going to make this density thing work.

Awhile back on Seattle’s Land Use Code, I wrote a response to Dan Bertolet’s posting of a video about riding bikes (or not riding bikes) called “Why People Don’t Ride Bikes.” Bike posts always generate a lot of hullabaloo for some reason from both cyclists and drivers irritated with cyclists. I felt a little left out being a pedestrian. I gave up my bike riding because I found that the distances I was commuting were too short for riding a bike. It took less time to get from point A to point B on foot than it took suiting up for the rain, unlocking and locking the bike, and, as Dan pointed out, it seemed like I was risking my life to get to work.

I wrote a response that included a video as well. I took some phone video of running through Capitol Hill in which I braved people blowing crosswalks, had to run around cars and trucks parking on the sidewalk, and a series of other horrors. My point was to argue for an explicit hierarchy for modes of transit. This isn’t anything really new, but our laws and codes tend to put a lot of weight on protecting cars from people rather than the other way around.

[Read more...]

Editorial: We Can Do Better Than Another Parking Garage

by RENEE STATON with the STB Editorial Board

Sound Transit

Wednesday night at the Link Northgate station meeting, Ron Endlich of Sound Transit told the audience that they plan to weigh all the options to mitigate lost parking during and after construction at Northgate station. I, others who live in the Northgate area, and the Seattle Transit Blog editorial board urge Sound Transit to invest in a pedestrian bridge over I-5 and in increased local transit service – not a new parking garage in the middle of a Seattle urban center.

Currently, there are 1,522 Park and Ride stalls at Northgate.  428 of these stalls will be displaced during station construction, but the new station will permanently eliminate only 117 stalls. Sound Transit is currently bound by the Federal Transit Administration to replace those 117 spaces. Sound Transit could seek an exemption from the FTA – with abundant private parking and the potential for Metro to re-purpose much of their Northgate-Downtown service to feed into the station, we don’t feel forging ahead with parking replacement is a good use of transit dollars.

Instead of a parking garage, Sound Transit has other options on the table:

  1. A pedestrian and bike bridge over I-5 between the station area and North Seattle Community College (NSCC). This would provide station access for students, open up further parking options, and bring Licton Springs residents to the station. It is our preferred choice.
  2. Temporary or permanent bus service improvements, which could help guide Metro’s service hours once the station opens.
  3. Leasing additional Park and Ride stalls from adjacent property owners.

Northgate is an urban center.  While it has been auto-oriented in the past, its future can be brighter.  The Northgate Stakeholders Group and other discussions about the future of Northgate have focused on increasing the walkability and bikeabilty of the urban center.

Northgate neighbors have long asked for a bridge over I-5 connecting the transit center with NSCC and Licton Springs. King County Metro research has shown that many Licton Springs neighbors choose to drive to the Park and Ride rather than walk, as the distance around I-5 is long and transit connections are poor. Simply adding a bridge will decrease the number of residents driving to the station and increase transportation options to NSCC. In addition, at $16-20 million, the bridge should be cheaper than a parking garage, freeing up money to improve sidewalks around the station.

Scarce transit dollars would be better spent on pedestrian access that connects the Northgate community and that promotes active modes of transportation. With new parks, better sidewalks and crossings, library and community center investments, improvements to zoning and ironically, removal of parking minimums, we have already started down the right path. Building a parking garage on scarce station-adjacent land commits Northgate to a continued focus on cars and takes away space to grow an urban center.  We can do better for Northgate, and we can do better for our investment in mass transit in Seattle.