In our society today, music can be something that is both unifying and divisive, a medium of artistic expression subjectively absorbed by each one of us differently. When it comes to listening to music, particularly aboard transit, general etiquette tells us that that it belongs in our own ears– hence, earphones are always a rule of thumb, as codified in Metro’s code of passenger conduct. After all, it’s irritating to be forced to listen to someone else’s playlist during your 7am commute, especially when that someone doesn’t share your taste in music.
Live music, however, seems to incite a different response. Of course, I’m not referring to that passenger humming loudly under their breath or singing along with their iPod out of tune. I’m talking about planned or even unplanned events, where a group of people will bust out an impromptu jam session, and to everyone’s pleasant surprise, they may sound pretty good. We’ve already seen some manifestation of this on Link when Hollow Earth Radio organized live music performances on several train trips last year.
This old well-known video from Paris shows the a cappella group Naturally 7 performing such an impromptu piece, clearly staged and planned beforehand but not seemingly publicized to general public. While the performance is well received by the vast majority of the subway riders by the end of the video, you can’t help but notice the man in black who has his back turned toward the group, clearly uninterested or perhaps irritated by such a disruption in his commute.
As transit riders, it’s inevitable that we’ll find ourselves empathizing either with the applauding crowd or the man in black. Of course, sometimes it depends on our mood. One bad day at work might warrant a nice undisturbed commute home, whereas a good day might warmly receive such end-of-the-day festivities. Other times, if the performance is outstanding, a bad day might be turned around, and few of us can complain about that.
On the whole, it seems that music in public spaces, particularly aboard transit, can be edifying, with a select few who will beg to differ. It would be interesting the hear your opinions on this, though– are musical performances on transit something to be cherished or disdained?
After expiring over 1,000 days ago, Congress has finally passed a new surface transportation bill. The bill revises federal highway funding streams but does little to change the status qou for transit, maintaining current funding levels. At the beginning hopes were high that a new surface transportation bill would be a bold and progressive vision to build a transportation system for the 21st century. That didn’t happen. The final bill does little to lead the nation in the direction we need to go. The only real win is that the bill isn’t worse than the existing bill. Streetblogs reports:
The best thing one can say about the bill issued by the conference committee last night is that it doesn’t include that draconian measure. But it sure doesn’t do anything to move transit forward in this country.
The bill maintains current funding levels at a time when more Americans are turning to transit but cities can barely maintain their existing services. Ridership has been growing steadily for countless economic and social reasons. But transit agency budgets haven’t grown with it, and Congress, with this bill, is surrendering its chance to help struggling cities and move toward a future where Americans have more transportation options.
The New Starts grant program for transit agencies is maintained. New Starts funding helps build new rail lines and busways. This is where the money to expand transit systems comes from, and it stays flat in this bill. A new subcategory of New Starts will help agencies maintain their existing stock of buses, trains, track, and other capital assets, as long as a 10 percent capacity increase will result from the investment, so there will be some added flexibility in the new bill. But that’s hardly what you’d call progress in an era of rising gas prices and intensifying demand for walkable, transit-oriented places.
On Tuesday, a commenter listed whether a bus stops at “stabtastic” 3rd and Pike as one reason to drive. Having recently reviewed some Seattle crime data, this seems like it might be more a case of trusting feelings and media more than data. Yes, 3rd and Pike doesn’t “feel” safe. But downtown actually is quite safe. Let’s start with this Trulia heat map of crime:
Reports out of Washington from last night and this morning indicate that the conference committee, the group that works to reconcile differences between House and Senate bills, has agreed to a final bill that will almost certainly pass. Transportation Issues Daily reports:
Senate and House negotiators and leadership reached a deal Wednesday. The conference report was expected to be filed by midnight (ET) Wednesday, but it wasn’t.
The vote will occur by the end of the week, probably Saturday. Members will be anxious to start their July 4 in-state work period and will be in no mood to work through the weekend. Of course it take only one Senator’s objection to slow the action in that Chamber, so it make take a bit longer to clear the Senate. But the bill is still expected to pass before SAFETEA-LU expires at midnight Friday.
Here’s what we do know. The Keystone XL language and the coal ash provisions are out, in exchange for keeping some of the project streamlining provisions. The bill continues to October 2014, a year later than everyone expected. That’s an election year, so maybe this deal is a positive foreshadowing for the next bill. Funding levels are basically flat with current levels.
Distillation of the bill (in full here, 91 page “summary” here) are only now trickling out but streetsblog is reporting that dedicated funding for pedestrian and bike projects through the Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality program, (CMAQ) has been folded into a larger funding bucket called “Transportation Alternatives”. Safe Routes to School and Recreational Trails programs have also been folded into this larger funding bucket. Streetsblog reports:
In the transportation bill agreed to yesterday by Barbara Boxer, John Mica, and other Congressional leaders, the program that allocates federal transportation dollars to local street safety projects like bike lanes, sidewalks and crosswalks has morphed into a much more general fund for anything that can be considered an air quality improvement strategy. States have great leeway to shift funds around, and bike/ped projects will have to compete with road projects and much more.
The “Transportation Alternatives” section of the bill says it reduces total funding to 2009 levels for the Transportation Enhancements program for each state. But Caron Whitaker at America Bikes tells Streetsblog that’s actually an error in the bill. In reality, she said in an email, “The funding goes from 1.2 billion in FY 2011 to 700 – 750 million under TA.” That’s a drop of up to 42 percent.
Consolation of federal funding, called “streamlining” has been in the cards for many years, with 100+ federal funding streams being consolidated down to a handful of funding streams targeted directly at priorities such as safety or maintenance. From a high level policy perspective I think most people agree this is a good thing, although in practices this will obviously make groups that will get less funding frustrated.
We’ll provide more updates and details as they come.
A few months ago, I opined about the nuanced exaggerations the media sometimes resorts to when it comes to linking where crime occurs and geographically proximate “factors” like transit, which I argued is often used as a scapegoat. My own quick and dirty analysis revealed that criminal activity aboard transit largely reflects existing patterns in the neighborhoods where said crimes occur.
The Chicago Tribune completed a much more in-depth analysis for the Windy City over a two-year period, examining the types and locations of crimes that were occurring within the CTA system. While there’s some jabbering about anecdotal experiences and riders’ own perceptions of crime, the underlying findings largely mirror my own:
The geographic examination of city data from 2009 through June 13 of this year demonstrates that crime patterns on the CTA closely mirror Chicago’s demographics, in terms of population density and income disparities (emphasis mine).
I still think the way police captain Lemmer frames “safe” and “unsafe” stations is a little off. There’s really no such thing as an “unsafe” station, except those that are purposefully built to be unsafe. Safety, at least as it relates to crime, or the illusion of it merely reflects the goings-on in the surrounding environment. Whether a crime takes place on a subway platform or on the street below has little to do with the station itself. Similarly, the article’s headline: “Analysis reveals hot spots for CTA-related crimes” is also misleading in this regard.
Ultimately, I think the analysis only adds to evidence that crime is a structural problem. Unfortunately, the way we segregate policing by jurisdiction (i.e., Metro Police will respond to a crime on a bus, while Seattle PD will respond to a crime on the street) seems to uphold faulty notions about transit or even the people who use it. If anything, we should use transit as a tool to combat crime, building vibrant community spaces that attract the attention the eyes of all its users.
A month ago, I wrote about options that would help make a parking garage at Northgate more acceptable – pricing the parking, funding a pedestrian bridge, and splitting up the parcel so that not all of the park and ride area was a single structure, helping bring needed variety to the station area.
Most of these things are now within reach. Sound Transit reached out to the community and listened to their concerns. Councilmember Conlin has proposed matching funds for a pedestrian bridge across I-5. The parcel is to be split into four sections. We just don’t know about pricing, which is a contentious issue that Sound Transit staff have expressed interest in pursuing many times – pressure is building in the right direction, but it’s possible that because of adjacent free mall parking, this can’t be the place to start.
Remember that this is about fairness. 92% of Northgate station users will be coming on foot, by bike, and on transit – but the original concepts would have spent far more on a parking garage for only 8% of users than on everyone else combined. That can now be rectified with only a little more work on our part.
Tomorrow, the Sound Transit board will consider a better deal for users of Northgate station: 25% contribution to the pedestrian bridge (up to $5 million). $5 million in matching funds for city access improvements, like sidewalks and bike lanes. And, sadly, still $12 million for a parking garage, but only 450 stalls, not the original likely 900. It’s still less than half the money to serve more than 90% of the people – but it’s a better deal than was originally likely.
To help out, go here! Cascade has set up a great way for you to let Sound Transit know you support a better deal. Remember, if we say “yes, you moved in the right direction, and we agree with that,” they will be more receptive to public opinion next time. This part is just as important as demanding change in the first place.
The rents for this Capitol Hill project were likely decided a long time ago
I have been working with a team that just submitted an application for funding from the Housing Trust Fund this week, and two things came up. First, our market study confirmed pretty much what real estate people have been saying a lot lately, apartment vacancies are down and prices are going up. That’s a trend that will continue for the next few years.
Second, monthly prices for rental housing—rent as it is more commonly called—are based the costs of construction and debt, and what the market will bear. The determination of how much a particular unit will rent for is made at the pro forma stage not after construction. Often in the public discourse about housing price and affordability the discussion proceeds as if developers build their projects then see what they can “get” for the units. Generally speaking, that isn’t how it works.
Why do these things matter when we talk about affordability of housing near transit or anywhere? Because the way we think about housing price should affect the interventions we make to affect it. That is, if we think housing prices are too high then how we change those prices requires understanding about where prices come from.
The first point is that housing price is affected by supply and demand. There is a stubborn resistance in some quarters to this basic economic principle rooted in culture and politics. Housing, some people argue, is different than anything else. Loosening regulation to allow more housing construction might lead to more developer profit, lower quality housing, and a windfall for the industry at the expense of renters.
But this perception—that allowing more housing construction will hurt renters—just isn’t true. Here’s a paragraph from the latest story highlighting real estate market studies that confirm the important relationship between supply and demand:
The Seattle and Bellevue downtown markets experienced sharper vacancy declines and stronger rent increases than the average. Seattle’s vacancy rate fell 0.74 percentage points to 4.8 percent this quarter, and Bellevue’s rate fell 0.35 percentage points to 4.09 percent, according to Apartment Insights. Both areas saw rent increases above $100 a month.
There you have it, when vacancy rates drop rents go up, a point repeated in market study after market study. It isn’t a radical concept, and it should lead to an easing of regulation to allow for more apartments to be built in Seattle, not less. (more…)
Imagine stumbling across 363,000 tons worth of concrete pontoons in the free section of Craig’s List. Would you build a floating island? A massive version of Stonehenge? Perhaps stack them on top of each other for a 33 story condo complex?
Well this is your chance to show off your idea for what our state should do with these massive blocks of concrete. Come up with a brilliant idea, create a shiny and compelling poster to describe it, and you might win $3,000. Head over to RETHINK REUSE for details.
Now that Pierce Transit has voted to reduce its service area, transit advocates in Pierce County are kicking off the campaign to win that service back after last year’s defeat. The kickoff meeting is Thursday from 5-8pm at The Hub (203 Tacoma Ave. S., Tacoma). Details via the kick-off Facebook event page :
Please Join Mayor Marilyn Strickland, Pierce County Council member Tim Farrell, Pierce County Council member Rick Talbert, Tacoma Council member Jake Fey, Gig Harbor Council member Derek Young, Puyallup City Council member Steve Vermillion, Tacoma School Board member Karen Vialle as well as many more elected leaders, community leaders, riders and residents to kick off a critical campaign to Restore Transit NOW in Pierce County!
We have lived far to[o] long with the devastating cuts and its time we bring back the buses!
“Competitiveness” is commonly used when we want to describe how transit matches up with other modes, particularly the automobile. The value of transit competitiveness can be quantified in different ways, but travel time is most often used as the proxy, at least in the simplest terms of discussing how transit competes. If a rider expends 10 minutes traveling between Point A and Point B aboard transit versus 12 minutes driving, we like to say that transit is competitive in that instance.
Of course, using travel time alone is probably a poor way of describing the breadth of how transit competes. Cost, comfort, reliability, etc. are all variables that should be taken into account. As such, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) does have what’s called a Transit Competitiveness Index– a composite index that takes into account a multitude of factors in quantifying how transit competes with automobiles for any given origin or destination in the region.
At any rate, the problem with using competitiveness as a measuring stick of success is that it’s constructed on the basis of a singular rider experience, instead of an entire population, which is what transit is designed for. If we try to minimize the travel time for that rider between A and B, it’s probably at the expense of the riders who live in between those two points. Similarly, if we try to maximize comfort for each individual passenger aboard a transit vehicle by providing cushy armchairs, it means less people can get on that vehicle.
I think that where applicable, transit competitiveness can be appropriately used as a marketing tool, but it shouldn’t be the be-all end-all of how we plan our network. Ultimately, people care less about lining up their mode choices side by side and judiciously selecting the most optimal one, and more about whether or not transit can meet their needs. As long as that criteria is fulfilled, then our primary concern should be maximizing it for as many people as possible.
Starting today, the curb lane between the Dexter off-ramp and Mercer on Aurora Avenue southbound will be converted to a BAT (business access and transit-only) lane. Unlike some other BAT lanes in the city, the right-turn and transit-only designation applies all day and night, which means single-occupant drivers can get dinged for a citation if caught traveling in the lane, even at 2 in the morning. The conversion helps pave the way for the E Line in 2013 while also acting as mitigation for upcoming roadwork.
King County Metro Transit will be starting RapidRide E Line service on Aurora Avenue North in 2013, but the lane will be designated earlier to keep buses moving during several ongoing construction projects. Metro carries almost 30,000 passengers a day on the Aurora corridor, which helps significantly reduce the number of cars on the road.
Two upcoming projects are the City’s Mercer West Project and the WSDOT’s Route 99 Tunnel Project. Traffic congestion is expected to increase on southbound Aurora when lanes are temporarily closed for these projects and optimizing transit travel will provide commuters with a better option for avoiding possible delays.
Transportation Issues Daily is reporting this morning that it looks as if a reauthorization bill will be ready by the July 1st deadline.
It sounds like nearly all transportation-related issues are resolved, but details are nearly impossible to come by. There are rumors the mega-projects program (PNRS) and other freight provisions will be scrapped. There’s also a rumored deal involving keeping the Keystone XL provision in exchange for keeping the Senate’s project streamlining provisions.
By the end of the week, Senate Majority Leader Reid and House Speaker Boehner were optimistic that a bill could be passed before July 1 (details in The Hill’s story). Senator Boxer and Representative Mica issued this statement: “The conferees have moved forward toward a bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a highway reauthorization bill. Both House and Senate conferees will continue work with a goal of completing a package” before July 1.
As more details or revelations emerge over the week we’ll make sure to share.
[UPDATE 11:41] Larry Ehl of Transportation Issues Daily adds, “I neglected to add that there are rumors the transit provisions are agreed to. Other than funding level for New Starts, I don’t recall there being any transit provisions that were particularly divisive. Excluding Amtrak/passenger rail, of course.”
A hot local debate is about whether or not a basketball and hockey arena is a worthwhile project, and if the proposed site is the correct one. (My take: the public contribution here is below the going rate, and I’d like to see the NBA here; Sodo is the right neighborhood, but there are much better sites within Sodo). What there isn’t any disagreement about is that the proposed deal is a public subsidy to prospective basketball and hockey franchises.
The structure of the deal, on which see Goldy’s exceptional two-partseries, is this. There is no diversion of funds from the current budget per se. Instead, most of the taxes levied on arena activity are dedicated to paying off bonds on that arena. The deal involves the credit of municipal government and there are numerous second-order effects, but in the broadest sense the government’s fiscal position should remain unchanged.
Whether or not you think this is a good deal, this arrangement should sound familiar. Although the structure of the taxes is somewhat different, this strongly resembles the arrangement the state’s motorists enjoy. Rather than levy sales tax on gasoline like on almost any other good, the state levies a separate, roughly equivalent tax that is dedicated to highway purposes. And yet people are arguing with my contention that this is a sweetheart deal for drivers.
All of our transportation modes are subsidized, and it’s not crazy to think that driving should be as well. It’s also entirely coherent to favor a benefit for the wide base of drivers but not the National Basketball Association. However, there’s no free market transportation mode that’s getting unfairly dinged by mass transit subsidies.
This little YouTube gem is a 1950s time capsule in more ways than I can count, and surely in still more ways that I’m missing; but in particular, I feel it is the distilled essence of a certain generation’s negative view of cities and urban life. I don’t mean this disdainfully, and, of course, to impute any opinion to an entire generation of people is to grossly over-generalize and over-simplify. Subject to those caveats, I think anyone who’s been to lots of public events relating to transit or urbanism will have observed the same rough correlation between age and opinions on such matters as I have.
It’s easy for those of us who live in dense, walkable, clean, almost absurdly safe neighborhoods, to forget that cities in the decades prior to this film were in fact dirty, dangerous, cacophonous, claustrophobic places where I, for one, would not have wanted to live; and so there is much truth in this cartoon. Mass media reflects and amplifies popular opinion, itself grounded in commonplace experiences of life, here boiled down to cartoon form, but it also shapes opinion. Did the people who designed and built freeways in the 1950s and 60s regard this film as an indictment of urban life, or a cautionary tale about urban sprawl destroying the bucolic idyll it sets out to make available to the masses?
I’m fascinated by this intersection of policy and culture. People my age and younger grew up in youth culture where the “thoughtful” content was (and is) steeped in a rejection of the reigning oil- and plastic-based throw-away consumerism. Films like Wall·E* and The Lorax are virtually undisguised send-ups of those aspects of contemporary society, boiled down to a seemingly-innocuous cartoon form. How will those films affect the beliefs of the people who grow up watching them? Is the widespread abandonment of walkable urban life a historical aberration, or is it the new normal (at least until we are forced by external constraints to abandon the abandonment)? What will be the strange zeitgeist artefact, the Little House, of 2072?
This is an open thread.
* Funnily enough, I saw Wall·E in a drive-in theater.
Over the last day or two it looks as if congress has finally started to make progress on a transportation re-authorization bill. However, it looks like Republicans are trying to strip dedicated safety funding from the bill. Please call and share immediately as this is rapidly unfolding. Information via TCC below:
Because you live in Washington, you have a very important chance to help in an urgent way today.
The House and Senate are on the cusp of finally striking a deal on the transportation bill. We’ve heard alarming news that some of the good provisions we’ve fought hard for that would make everyone safer, give us more transportation options and repair our roads, bridges and transit systems could be sacrificed to get a deal done.
More than 680 people have died while walking on STATE roads since 2000. Yet Congress is considering scrapping the funding that helps communities make their streets safer.
Your Senators are in a unique position to influence the deal, and they need to stand up now and refuse to see these good pieces of the bill discarded in favor of just getting a deal done. But time is short – they’re working right now to hammer out the details and strike a deal by early next week.
Hi, my name is [NAME] and I’m calling from [PLACE]. I’m calling to ask [SENATOR] to stand up for three important provisions in the transportation bill being negotiated right now.
1) Please preserve the Cardin-Cochran provisions and dedicated funding in MAP-21 that provide grants to communities to make walking and biking safer and prevent hundreds or thousands more preventable deaths. More than 680 pedestrians have died on Washington’s roads in the last ten years – this small bit of money provided in the Senate bill could help save very real lives.
2) Please defend and preserve the Senate’s strong plan to make sure we repair our roads and bridges. With more than 391 structurally deficient bridges in Washington, we need the focus on repair to help reduce this backlog.
3) Please ensure that our local public transportation systems are allowed to use some of their federal money to keep their buses and trains rolling during the recession. We need more affordable ways to get around during these hard times, not fewer.
Thank them for their time, and after you hang up the phone, please forward this email to all of your friends who live in your state. Time is extremely short and there’s great pressure to strip out these critical provisions in the bill just to get a deal done.
This weekend’s weather forecast is for rain, and the weekend transit and traffic forecast is for a giant mess in Seattle. Three big events — the Rock’n'Roll Marathon, Capitol Hill Pride Festival, and Seattle Pride Parade — will compound ongoing construction reroutes in the city. If the weather were better, this would be the perfect weekend to shun motorized transportation and bike and walk everywhere.
The official Metro Commute blog has a good summary of the events, times, impact and links to further information; but note that SDOT has cancelled the scheduled reconstruction of the 85th & Aurora intersection. Metro’s authoritative Transit Alerts page correctly reflects this cancellation. If you plan to use transit virtually anywhere in the city this weekend, the Transit Alerts for your route(s) are required reading. Plan ahead and expect delays.
If you’re like me and haven’t been able to attend one of the Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) public meetings or you’re just a procrastinator, July 3rd is your deadline to submit a comment for the initial round of public outreach. SDOT has built a very handy online mapping tool which allows you to show them exactly where and what kind of bicycle infrastructure you would like to see. You can also take a survey and submit written comments here. A few of my comments or questions that immediately come to mind:
Report bike lanes mileage and sharrows mileage separately in progress reports. Do not group together.
Clearly define the appropriate roles which all bicycle facility types play in the larger bicycle network.
Set explicit restrictions on when sharrows can be used. Develop a process and tool set to work around tough locations and corridors. Sharrows are not a replacement for bike lanes or other higher quality facilities.
Clarify the role of neighborhood greenways with relation to local circulation vs citywide travel.
Define how the grassroots neighborhood greenways groups will be involved in planning into the future.
Increase emphasis on the “8-80″ network, focusing not just on neighborhood greenways but also cycle tracks and buffered bike lanes.
Increase emphasis on center city bicycle facilities, especially cycle tracks, along the most heavily used corridors. Pike/Pine for example.
Prioritize investment in bicycle facilities in areas where demand is highest.
Increase emphasis on access to RapidRide and Link stations. More closely tie bicycle and transit planning especially in areas with terrain challenges.
Review signal timing on arterials heavily use by cyclists and see if revisions can be made to improve transit and bicycle speeds. I’m thinking specifically of 7th Ave in the Denny Triangle.
A few months ago, I wrote about the Southend Transit Pathways project, Metro’s effort to decide the alignment of the currently-Viaduct-running West Seattle and Burien routes, once the Alaskan Way Viaduct is shut down in 2015. That process has moved steadily along, and of the four options I discussed, Metro has eliminated one, modified another and is now soliciting public feedback via an online survey on the resulting options. To avoid needless repetition, I’ll assume you’ve read that previous post, so head on over and do so if you haven’t, or refresh your memory if you need to.
The main change is the elimination of Pathway 4B, which used 4th Ave S, Edgar Martinez Dr, 1st Ave S and the Spokane St Viaduct to access the West Seattle Bridge; Metro tells me this was due to speed and reliability concerns, and that doesn’t surprise me at all. It also appears that Pathway 5A, the alignment most similar to today’s Viaduct routing, has been modified from a couplet on Marion and Columbia to be two-way on Columbia, a modification that implies a switch to two-way traffic on Columbia.
To represent the two Pioneer Square pathways, the survey shows a map of Pathway 3A, which uses a Main/Washington couplet to connect from SR99 to the 3rd Ave transit spine “likely using bus-only lanes”; but the text also notes the possibility of using Main St in both directions. Asked if Metro had a preference between the two, I was told “Metro’s preference is for a two-way Main Street, and we are continuing to discuss that with Pioneer Square stakeholders.” My question about commitments from SDOT about transit priority were referred to SDOT, and I have an email in to them for comment.
I’ve personally been a unabashed fan of the two-way Main St alignment from the start, as it maintains the integrity of the 3rd Ave transit spine as far south as possible, serves the heart of Pioneer Square, avoids ferry queueing traffic, avoids creating a couplet, provides the best overall regional transit connectivity, and seems to me to hold out the strongest possibility of workable bus priority treatments, such as peak-period restrictions on car traffic on Main St, just as 3rd Ave now enjoys. But this isn’t just about what I think! This is about what you think, so you should go and take the survey. Metro is particularly interested in the opinions of regular riders of the West Seattle and Burien routes.