Our Priorities For Jay Inslee

Governor-Elect Inslee

Following on my personal values and vision of a better future, and our first overall call on Governor-elect Inslee to lead with his own environmental values, here is our view of the top priorities for improving our transportation system to become more sustainable:

  • First and foremost, Inslee should hire a director for the state Department of Transportation who will put climate change reduction first, not highway expansion. The head of DOT has many roles, including a seat on the Sound Transit board. We need a transportation leader who will think long term and progressively, someone like New York City’s Janette Sadik-Khan. SDOT director Peter Hahn might be a good choice here, or Sound Transit’s Ric Ilgenfritz – not a politician, but a professional with good political understanding and a willingness to push the envelope. We have state law already requiring emissions reduction – we need a leader to demand it. There are almost always better options on the table than what DOT chooses now.
  • He should ensure Amtrak Cascades operations are safely funded, and use this opportunity to make service better. Let’s pick a seat on our smartphone when we buy a ticket, not get one assigned in a long line before boarding. Let’s better fund King Street Station’s progress and make it a great regional hub. Let’s push hard on the capital improvements that will get the service running more often and faster – improvements that have already led to hundreds of millions in federal funding, and would win us more.
  • He should ask for the development of a real rail plan for the state – with true high speed rail for the Seattle-Portland corridor, and with possibilities to connect cities outside Puget Sound with service too. What would it take to actually run electric rail in the Northwest? We need to know so we can fight for it. 110mph diesel trains aren’t good enough for our future.
  • He should push to require local comprehensive plans actually meet climate reduction targets. Cities and counties shouldn’t be allowed to build more suburban subdivisions unless they’re reducing those emissions somewhere else. California already does this. Our local emissions need to trend down, not up.
  • He should champion serious local funding options for cities and transit agencies. With the right tools, every local bus in Seattle could be electrified, Sound Transit could build a rail network between major centers that really is better than driving, and other cities could have a robust discussion about building climate neutral transit systems. We need help doing that with direct grants, too – just like the state of Oregon helps Portland.
  • He should ensure Metro has enough revenue to continue functioning, without requiring a public vote. Don’t waste activists’ time for months fighting a campaign when we should be basebuilding and creating support for a better future.
  • He should ensure bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is built into *any* highway replacement or repair project. If we rebuild a highway, we must provide a usable bike path and connections to neighborhoods. No shirking – it needs to be for the entire length of the project. If there’s a hill involved, “we’ll skip that part” isn’t good enough – build trampes.
  • Finally, many of these projects should be paid for through systemwide tolling on state highways, and a commitment to allowing cities to toll our arterials. Demand management directly reduces emissions and should be used today in places where transit options are available.

All of these things should be achievable with our new legislature, if we engage solidly as supporters. They all match the strong environmental values Jay Inslee has shown in his time in Congress. And we need all of them if we’re going to slow today’s march to a largely uninhabitable planet. If we want our children to be able to lead happy, successful lives, we need to accomplish these tasks.

About Ben Schiendelman

Ben Schiendelman joined in 2007 to better consolidate news and information about our upcoming transit expansions, and to build a better base to further grow our system. He previously wrote the blog Higher Frequency, and worked on the 2008 Mass Transit Now campaign. Ben refuses to own a driver's license.




Comments

  1. I’m not in Seattle or even Washington, but in Louisville, Kentucky. We are, admittedly 20 years behind the rest of the world. But what’s exciting is to see where leaders are willing to be pioneers and set examples for us to follow. Most of those priorities Ben listed are too far off for us to even think about here. We’re actually in the midst of expanding our waterfront freeway. Insane, I know. And we have no urban mass transit, only buses, mostly old ones that don’t run frequent enough. Let’s just not talk about bikes.

    So yeah, Gov. Inslee, adopt these noble priorities so Washington kids can “lead happy, successful lives.” But also so Washington can continue being a role model for the rest of us. We’ll be watching!

  2. Quasimodal says:

    I just curious when I see the word “we” instead of “I”. Are these points that the STB has somehow adopted?

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      I’m still waiting to hear back from a couple of members of the editorial board (the post has been sitting since Friday and we can’t really delay), but it is intended to be a full STB thing. These are things everyone supports, and they’re realistic if we fight for them. Probably not all in one session, but certainly over Jay’s first term.

      • “Electric railroading” between Seattle and Portland is a pipe dream unless you also are proposing an independent right of way all the way from the Nisqually River Bridge to 39th Street in Vancouver. It makes no sense to hang wire over the BNSF right of way for slightly more than two dozen trains a day (which assumes bi-diretional hourly service from 7 AM to 7 PM (departures).

        And “no” every bus in Seattle can not “be electrified”. Certainly more can and kudos to whoever makes it work. What in the world do you want to do to downtown? Trollies are great for air quality but they have a really hard time passing one another — even with batteries since they have to re-sling the poles after the pass. And you can be double darn betcha that Magnolia, Laurelhurst, Green Lake Way, Wedgewood and Broadmoor are not going to allow overhead wires. For heaven’s sake, the folks along the outer end of the 14 are agitating to tear the wire down.

        Why I have no idea; I’d much rather hear the “sing” of overhead and whisper of the Trolleys than the roar of diesels, but not everyone agrees.

        Ben, 80% of your ideas are spot on, but the other 20% are impractical at best and ideological at worst.

      • BNSF has considered full electrification of their system for freight purposes. They decided it wasn’t worth it “at current oil prices”.

        At some point it will be worth it. In the meantime, they would probably accept any wires which were paid for by “someone else”, provided the wires cleared their high-and-wide loads. Whether it makes sense for taxpayers to pay for it is another matter — in the broad scheme of things, however, if we didn’t have this division between ‘private company’ and ‘public government’, there are enough freight + passenger trains to make it clearly worthwhile.

  3. I know there has been talk of a national infrastructure bank (or something like that) that would provide low-cost loans to agencies and municipalities to speed up big transportation projects. Has anything like this been proposed at the state level? I vaguely recall talk of a State Bank or something like that. Is it being talked about? What is the current political climate regarding this?

    What about city-wide LIDs to provide new revenue options for municipalities to make infrastructure investments? I guess that is effectively property tax…

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      Yes to both. I’m covering the first under just saying we need direct state help, a la Oregon for Portland. And local options can come in many forms. We can levy property taxes already, to some extent. We really need tolling revenue and a British Columbia style carbon tax at this point.

  4. Jim Cusick says:

    “Let’s pick a seat on our smartphone when we buy a ticket, not get one assigned in a long line before boarding.”

    It would a far better use of funds to forget this one. Why pour money down the black hole of IT Development when it can better used for equipment procurement/maintenance/refurbishment?

    The seat assignment issue is such a minor thing, except to us transportation wonks on this board.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      It’s actually a huge deal for riders. You have to show up 30-45 minutes early and stand in line to get a decent seat at Portland and Seattle. We’re all used to picking a seat online to fly. I don’t care if it’s on your smartphone or just “aisle or window” when you buy your ticket (I’m not falling into an IT trap, just making a suggestion) – but shuffling slowly through the station as staff hand you stickers makes the trip take much longer for riders in our largest stations, and we need to solve it.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says:

        The ridiculous thing is that seats don’t even need to be assigned. Riders need to be directed to certain cars, but an exact seat assignment isn’t necessary. This problem could be very easy to fix, without devoting a tremendous amount of IT infrastructure or state money to the problem.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        I think Amtrak likes to assign seats to ensure people aren’t paying for a trip from Seattle to Olympia and staying on to Portland.

      • There are no assigned seats whatsoever on Acela — with 50 times our rider volumes now and forever — nor on any other state-sponsored, Cascades-style short-haul corridors.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        “Riders need to be directed to certain cars, but an exact seat assignment isn’t necessary. This problem could be very easy to fix,”

        That sounds workable.

        It becomes a question of customer service for the groups of people who like to sit together, and if they get there sooner than later, then they’ll get the choice.

        Maybe just a little more detail in that the ’4 seats together at the table’ or the ones facing each other could be what people have to ‘sign up for’ at the check in point, and off limits to anyone who hasn’t.

        But letting people assign their own seats programmatically is a waste of effort, both IT development-wise, and how people would use it.

      • Thank you, Jim.

        Seattle. Reinventing wheels since 1850.

      • Cascades is the only Amtrak line I’ve seen seat assignments handled in this way, I think it’s pretty strange.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        If we can go without assigned seating, that’s just fine. The issue I have is the 30-45 minute line.

        I think it would be really cool if we could talk about achieving the meat of these policies rather than focusing our energy on nitpicking one possible way of solving one of them. :)

      • At NY Penn Station, where 85% of the train turns over, you need to show your ticket to get down the escalator.

        Hundreds of people board via a single line. It takes all of 5-10 minutes.

        With Cascades volumes, this would take 30 seconds.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        d.p., that sounds great! Apparently I should not have made a suggestion at all, and just said we should fix the horrible assigned seating line. :)

      • On the Pacific Surfliner, which is the second most popular Amtrak route after the NE Corridor, there is no assigned or reserved seating for coach. At smaller stations you could show up minutes before the train arrives. Even at the busy stations like LA or San Diego, people get on fairly quickly. It’s as easy as Sounder. I ridden it over a dozen times this year and it was never a problem for me.

        As for groups, there are seats designated for groups of 3-4 people facing a table. And the disabled/elderly have reserved seats in the lower deck. The conductor enforces that. If you want a reserved seat, pay extra for Business Class. You don’t even need to make a reservation or pay extra to bring a bike on board.

        So Cascades is weird. Maybe it’s a lack of capacity. Add more cars and more trips!

      • It’s quite clear that no other Amtrak routes anywhere waste time with seating assignments. Some assign specific *cars* to specific destinations, but that’s it

        Cascades was open seating too, the first time (2006? 2007?) I used it. I was shocked when the slow seating process suddenly appeared (2008? 2009?) and assumed it was a bad idea handed down from above. So the I was doubly shocked the next time I used the Northeast Corridor and realized Cascades was alone in this development.

        Years later, we’re still following our worst practices, and no one even seems to know who instigated it or why it continues. It’s just inertia, like Metro.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        It could be because the trains are so full?

      • Compared to the Northeast Corridor? Um, no.

      • Thank you Ben for your advocacy on this. I’d like to choose my own seat online, many thanks. Last August the seat-assignment thing completely fell flat on its face when one gent from Olympia and I were assigned the same seats.

        Wouldn’t happen w/ computerized seat assignment.

        Thanks again Ben!

      • Seattle and Portland are the only stations where they assign seats (they may also do this at the other terminal stations but I’ve never ridden from Eugene or Vancouver BC). At all the other stations you just get on and sometimes you are directed to a certain car based on your destination. An Amtrak staffer then comes through and checks tickets. They note peoples destinations and put in on the slip of paper above the seat. Why they need to assign seats in Seattle and Portland I’m not sure but it sure wastes a lot of time.

      • Good point, Cuyahoga. That makes Seattle and Portland the only two train stations in the entire United States that do this.

        Seriously, y’alls. No wheel reinvention is needed here. Show up, show your ticket, find yourself a seat.

    • Matt the Engineer says:

      It not a minor thing when you’ve bought your ticket online, then have to wait in a long, slow line to get a paper ticket. Trains are already much easier than planes, but the easier we make them the more people will switch.

      • Research. It’s what’s for breakfast.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        Why assign your own seats?

        Even Southwest Airlines had to go to staggered boarding to stem the trampling deaths.. (obvious exaggeration).

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        There’s nothing “research” can do to eliminate that line, d.p. – riders believe they need to arrive early (and are told to) in a way that causes their trip time to be unnecessarily longer.

      • What part of “no assigned seating” is so confusing?

        Acela does it. Show up, ticket in hand, and walk on.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        We need to get info from that Brian Bundridge guy… he seems to have the inside line on these things Amtrak and Sounder-wise.

        Maybe there is something the conductors have to keep track of to have it work this way.

        For all we know, it could be written in to the “Seattle must have PROCESS” clause for anyone conducting business here.

      • Well, you know, the hills and the soil and the

      • You do know you can get an e-Ticket now, either print at home, or show on your smartphone. Nice thing is, one barcode covers your whole trip, and everyone in it.

        If you really have an issue with the line, then go Business class. You have a choice, and of course that convenience comes with a price.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says:

        If business class passengers want an assigned seat–fine–give them an assigned seat, but coach class seats should be assigned on a first come, first served basis. With 5 or 6 cars dedicated to Portland passengers (from Seattle) there should be plenty of seats to satisfy most passengers’ preferences.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Eeek. Are people on a transit blog really arguing against trying to solve a problem that leaves a hundred or more people standing in line for half an hour when they board a train?

        Do you want more Amtrak Cascades funding? More daily round trips? Faster and more reliable service? I want those things, and I feel like all of us do. Am I right?

        If I am, this is the last thing to get caught up on. All I’m saying is that there are aspects of riding the train right now that are poor experiences. Let’s fix those things. I don’t really care how we get there, but nobody in WSDOT who has the power to change anything is paying attention to comments on this post down a rabbit hole about how to assign seats.

        Let’s get out of this hole. Let’s talk about how to get to real improvements in our transportation system. People who don’t have to wait in line to get a seat assignment will be happier asking for more service. I think we can all agree on that, and move on to a more productive discussion.

      • All I’m saying Ben, is don’t waste IT money on it.

      • I almost always fly Southwest. Having people get a place in line by when they check in helped Southwest become the most on-time airline. Since then, the remote check-in may have degraded this performance, but I don’t have data. Place-in-line assignment is cheap and easy technology, allowing passengers to go sit down and relax while they are waiting.

        The other thing about pre-assigned vs. scramble seating is this: These systems are generally not set up to inform the chooser of whether the person in the next seat is male or female. When I board a bus or train, I consider it a basic courtesy to allow women to sit next to women, and vice versa, as well as to allow families to sit together, which sometimes involves trading seats. Pre-assigned can lead to a really uncomfortable trip.

      • I’ve spent chunks of the last two winters in India.

        My first thought while going through all the tergiversations involved in getting onto Amtrak Cascades is: Why is Indian Railways 20 years ahead of us?

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        FBD – because we have yet to organize to demand better.

        It’s really important that we don’t fight over minutia.

      • Most rail systems in the First World have systems where your ticket entitles you to ride the train and take whatever seat is available, if any. And if you want the added assurance of a seat, you can pay extra for a seat reservation.

        And in none of these countries–Japan, Germany, UK, France, etc.– would you be asked to queue up for a half hour to get on the train. You’d just show up and get on the train.

        I rode the Cascades last year from Portland to Seattle and had no idea why Amtrak was making it so complex and annoying to get on the frickin’ train. As others have noted, why even think about spending hundreds of millions of dollars to improve the tracks to gain a travel time improvement of 30 minutes when you can fix the ticketing issues for a tiny fraction of that and have the same effect?

      • Again, this is not Amtrak’s doing.

        This is pure PNW genius.

      • “Again, this is not Amtrak’s doing.”

        You know this how? Amtrak runs the service, they’re obviously involved.

      • Oh, yeesh.

        Because they don’t do it anywhere else. And there’s absolutely no reason they would propose to do it here.

        This is some Washington/Oregon bureaucrat’s brain fart at work. Clearly.

      • Sort of like how 3-minute minimum headways in the DSTT are a “USDOT requirement”, Zed?

        Or how not opening the back door on Metro buses used to be an “ADA safety issue”.

        Amazing how people on this blog are always trying to generalize/nationalize our totally home-grown worst practices.

        Research, people.

      • Fiddler on the Roof, Act 1, First song.

  5. Jeff Schultz says:

    Where do I start? I think this dream needs some reality.

    Lets face it, 110 mph is just fine for a top speed in the PNW. What it needed is frequency, with modest speed improvements. You will NEVER get the environmental approvals to build a new line with OCS in my lifetime. It was hard enough to get it done on the East coast with the NEC. You have no idea how difficult this will be and the resources needed to make it happen. Lets focus on getting done what is acheivable, rather than planning for a new separate High Speed Route that won’t get funded and will cost a lot more than incrementally improving the existing route. Once Amtrak Cascades service hits 12 round trips per day and 3 million riders per year with 2 1/2 hour trip times between SEA and PDX and it has been clearly demonstrated how the service is an important part of hte transportation system, then the dialog for a new rail line could begin. Otherwise, you are just wasting everyone’s time and energy. Can/should Jay Inslee focus on a new high speed line? No, I don’t think so, and I would wager he would agree with me. Lets be practical, and build the plans we already have for Amtrak Cascades, not change focus to something else.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      I think you may have skipped something I said, because it sounds like we agree: “Let’s push hard on the capital improvements that will get the service running more often and faster – improvements that have already led to hundreds of millions in federal funding, and would win us more.”

      Amtrak Cascades will never hit 12 round trips per day and a 2.5 hour trip time with what we’re doing now. Because that’s all we ask for, we’re left every year with a compromise position – a “well, we can always work on that long range plan more next year”.

      When we ask for more, when we fight for more, the compromise position becomes “well, let’s start by funding the current plan” – and it actually gets funded, rather than chipped away at, because the vision goes farther than that. It redefines the 12 round trips as a step, rather than an end goal.

      The dialog for a new rail line is right here. It’s already begun. To build ridership for it, we need to do exactly as you say and I say, and fight for the current plan to be implemented. Seeing that plan as a stepping stone, a future local service, is the most effective way to get there.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says:

        Electrification of the Cascades line would be nice for the environment but it’s unlikely that it would pass any benefit/cost analysis in the near future. What is needed is a more efficient diesel locomotive for 110 mph corridor services. Most of Amtrak’s diesels are derived from freight locomotive designs because there hasn’t been a market for passenger corridor diesel locomotives in decades. As more non-electrified 110 mph corridors are opened it may be possible that a manufacturer will show some interest in building an efficient diesel locomotive for those services. Airlines use different airplanes for different routes, Amtrak doesn’t have that flexibility; they are using 747s for every route.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        So basically, we need to do the right things to get that 110mph service implemented – which is primarily achievable by pushing harder than that. :)

      • The Talgos really are quite efficient.

        That’s why Cascades is a whole hour faster SEA-PDX than the Coast Starlight, and already quite competitive with driving.

        It’s also — unlike Acela — competitive on price. You don’t want to destroy that competitiveness for the sake of shaving a mere 15 off of travel time. Especially when the real problem is limited schedule, not speed.

        More frequency, yes. Overreaching expenditures, no.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        d.p., arguing for a high speed rail plan that really gets us high speed rail helps make the argument for the mid-level expenditures that get us to that 110mph, high reliability service.

        Is there some way I can help you spend more time advocating *for* things?

      • No, it really doesn’t. It distracts from what is really needed and wears thin people’s patience.

        What is your evidence that “demanding the stars” will win you the moon?

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        D.p., I don’t see anyone asking for the moon at all. Asking for real high speed rail just led you to support improving Amtrak Cascades. It works. :)

      • Ben, you would be correct to suggest that transit projects in the United States suffer from “middle ground” bias, by which a “compromise” is invariably proposed to split the difference between the appropriate/needed project and no project at all. The result is invariably sub-par and ineffective: Propose BRT, get RapidRide. Propose an overdue subway network; get one line with 3 miles between the stations.

        By contrast, the rest of the world* identifies the correct project, vets the correct project, builds the correct project, and winds up with the correct result.

        But the solution is not to try to compensate by asking for the ridiulous in the vague hope of winding up with the acceptable. The PNW does not and will not need a built-from-scratch bullet-train ROW. That is never going to happen — it is truly, honestly not needed — and claiming otherwise harms your credibility.

        The solution is the right project for the right circumstances, and building a culture that won’t accept the wrong project in its stead. You can’t do that with fiction.

        *(excepting the UK outside London, which suffers from essentially the same political foibles and downgraded results as we do)

      • Jeff Schultz says:

        Ben,

        That was the same arguement in 1992 for the Amtrak Cascades program. WSDOT did a study, and we got an intercity rail program. The long range Amtrak Cascades plan is the way forward. Unfortunately, the ARRA project only gets us a bit closer…

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      Jeff, in the last 20 years, Puget Sound has grown quite a bit. We now have a major mass transit system coming online that directly feeds our main station in Seattle, and there’s direct access in Portland, too. We have much more expensive gas, and shifting demographics. Potential ridership is much higher. Just like the city updates its comprehensive and neighborhood plans periodically, the Amtrak Cascades plan should also see a major update, with a high speed rail option studied to find out whether it would be more cost effective now.

      • How much could Amtrak Cascades be sped up with some simple stop consolidation. Like say don’t stop anywhere with a metro population of less than 80,000?

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Not much. A few minutes at most. But then you’d lose a lot of political support for the service – legislators who will vote to fund it today would not vote to fund it tomorrow.

        An approach that would speed things up considerably would be to improve it enough that we can run some express trains that *don’t* stop at smaller stations. That’s something WSDOT has considered and we should push on for sure, but it won’t save us much time until we have faster tracks.

      • Re: Amtrak Cascades stop consolidation- probably safe, now, to eliminate the Stanwood stop.

      • Jeff Schultz says:

        Amtrak Cascades long range plan was done in 2006. WSDOT is now updating the rail plan. Funding for capital and operations is the key issue, not more planning studies. The bottom line is this: More Amtrak Cascades service is what the corridor needs. Frequency is key, not high speeds. How many flights does Horizon have between PDX and SEA? Hourly? One we get frequency, it will capture significant market share.

      • with a high speed rail option studied to find out whether it would be more cost effective now.

        The answer is that it is not.

        The entire Pacific Northwest has barely 10 million people living in it.

        The Northeast megalopolis (50 million) and California (38 million) we are not.

        And the de novo HSR projects in those places need some serious work before they (hopefully) pencil out. There is no hope for such a thing being “cost effective” here.

    • The one thing about the US’s vision for High Speed Rail, is that it has to be a totally dedicated and seperated system. In Europe (Germany, and Swizerland I can speak for) Line segments were improved gradually, and eventually supplemented with dedicated high speed portions. The systems connect, and the trains often switch on and off of the high speed sections according to their schedule. Theres no reason this cant be done in the US. Why rebuild expensive track into downtowns when the the train can travel at 125 for most of its journey, only slowing at its stops and terminals.

      • American railroads are predominantly freight, which is one of the things this country does more efficiently than Europe. But the tradeoff is we have these slow freight trains in the way of high speed rail. And the railroads, which make their profit on freight, don’t want to spend billions of dollars upgrading their tracks beyond what commodity freight needs or is willing to pay for. We don’t want to damage the freight network because switching all that freight to trucks would be the opposite of climate protection and oil conservation, not to mention road congestion.

        So to have high-speed rail, in most places you need new separate tracks. Since you need new tracks anyway, you might as well build the speed you ultimately want the first time, rather than building it medium speed and then replacing it all in a couple decades.

      • “American railroads are predominantly freight, which is one of the things this country does more efficiently than Europe.”

        But Russia does freight just as efficiently as the US. And it still has effective passenger trains.

        They do separate slow freight from fast freight, though. That’s something you have to do. To put it simply: Container trains are pretty compatible with passenger trains. Coal trains aren’t.

        Here in upstate NY, and in fact in most of the country east of the Mississippi, the good passenger routes (existing and proposed) are used primarily for container trains or at least for merchandise trains, and furthermore there are multiple fallow rights-of-way and secondary routes. The objections of the freight companies are spurious, and may best be considered to be cultural or attitudinal.

        In the Pacific Northwest, in contrast, you actually have a conflict, because you have a whole lot of slow bulk traffic (coal, grain, lumber), and you’ve got basically zero redundant lines (especially with the Eastside rail line removed).

  6. Then create a Department of Climate Change.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      We already have a department of ecology. It doesn’t get to influence transportation decisions – but it’s the transportation decisions that are highly impactful of our ecology. We need to be holistic, not compartmentalized.

  7. CharlotteRoyal says:

    So I have a few issues with a few of the complaints brought forward.

    Secretary of Transportation being a career politician, not a professional, not working with ST. Really? While I understand the direction of STB, I think Ben should do a little research on Paula Hammond, PE. She’s worked her way up through the agency, and while I’d call her a career bureaucrat, I wouldn’t call her a career politician as Ben as asserting. The Secretary of Transportation has to represent interests of ALL resident of Washington, not just those in the Puget Sound area, and that has been one of my biggest complaints here.

    The region’s desire for high speed rail will forever be crimped by one major issue. At-grade crossings. In Germany, France, and Belgium, you’ll be hard pressed to find at-grade crossings at any of the high-speed routes or routes where ICE, TGV, or Thalys trains are present. The only one I can think of is in Ruedesheim, Germany, where the gates come down about 2-5 minutes before the train arrives halting traffic and causing significant congestion through the town. Can you imagine the Green River Valley every time a train passed through? The area would look terrible. The cost to replace at-grade crossings with over/underpasses is far too expensive for local agencies and BNSF.

    Bicycle lanes should be carefully thought out. Sharrows contradict state law for motorcyclists like myself. RCW 46.61.608 states that I’m not permitted to overtake vehicles travelling in the same lane. RCW 46.04.670 states that bicycles are considered vehicles as the travel on a pubic roadway. Sharrows advocate illegal overtaking of bicycles in the same lane. When I approached the City of Seattle regarding sharrows, I was pushed to another bureaucrat in Olympia and I haven’t heard anything in about a month. …as I would have figured. Additionally, bicyclists rarely stay within their required lanes. Many times, as a driver, I find bicyclists in the roadway marked for cars, while the bicycle lane is vacant. I wonder if the bicycle lane should just be a motorcycle lane to allow scooters and motorcyclists to bypass congestion at signals. After all, the symbol is ambiguous.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      Paula Hammond leads the AASHTO climate change committee – but never talks about climate change. Food will be impossible to grow in Eastern Washington long before sea level rise threatens Puget Sound. She does not make choices that are good for our future.

      I’d like to actually have a plan, where we find out how much it would cost to build lines without at-grade crossings! Germany, France and Belgium build new lines to separate service. We have barely considered that.

      Bicycle lanes are much better than sharrows – it’s a straw man to talk about sharrows on state highways. We typically see the state build separated bicycle paths. Those are safe, and good for motorcyclists too. We need more of them so that we *don’t* have sharrow issues.

      • “Bicycle lanes are much better than sharrows – it’s a straw man to talk about sharrows on state highways. We typically see the state build separated bicycle paths. Those are safe, and good for motorcyclists too. We need more of them so that we *don’t* have sharrow issues.”

        I respectfully disagree. On city streets, sharrows are much, much better. Bicycle lanes compel bicyclists to ride in the Zone of Death right next to parked cars whose doors can unexpectedly open at any moment. If streets were striped with comparably dangerous lanes for motorists, motorist groups would have been up in arms over it decades ago (and ended the careers of the bureaucrats responsible for them).

        Bicycle lanes are primarily for the benefit of motorists — not bikes. They force bicyclists to get out of the way of cars, at their own undue risk.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Whoa there. I agree on city streets! The state doesn’t build any. I’m sorry, I should have reclarified the context. Inslee doesn’t have much impact on city streets. :)

      • On state highways, where there are no parked cars, and where cars are really going fast, I agree: bicycle lanes can be of use. Better yet, separate bicycle paths. A bicycle lane next to a motor vehicle lane on a highway tends to accumulate debris from the motor vehicle lane(s).

        I’ll revise my original assertion and lanes can in some cases be of benefit (or at least no net harm) to bicyclists on city streets, too, in certain cases. Such as steep uphill climbs where no cyclist is likely to be going at any appreciable speed anyhow, or if there’s bicycle lanes like Eugene, OR has on some of their one-way couplets: no parking at all on the side of the street with the bike lane; the bike lane is just a narrow curb lane.

      • Quasimodal says:

        Your concern with the Secretary of Transportation is over bike lanes and sharrows? Or her statements about climate change? I think you are the ultimate ideologue.

        The current secretary is an engineer who’s tried to lead her department into multimodalism and a philosophy called Moving Washington that only builds capacity strategically when efficiency and demand management measures have been used to full advantage. If you want outcomes, you need to tap someone who understands how to implement them. There are tons of people who are in favor of your policy preferences, but only a fraction have a clue about how to make them happen.

        Remember also that the Transportation Department is not the decision-maker for new transportation projects or initiatives – the legislature has taken over that role. If you want a different investment direction, that’s where you need to look.

      • CharlotteRoyal says:

        Paula Hammond has got a lot of fires to put out right now. My thought right now is that AASHTO is probably NOT at the top of her list. …given the recent 520 problems and the WSF investigations.

        Secondly, with high-speed rail, you will run into the same issue that you currently run into with Central Link and with any major highway project. Noise. Watch any high-speed rail video and the train makes a significant amount of noise as it whizzes by. In addition, you will run into the NIMBY-ists that feel that the “new alignment” will devalue their property. In cases like the SR 704 project through JBLM, environmentalists may find some random rodent called the Mazama Pocket Gopher that will hold up the project in the courts with various lawsuits. We’ve seen it done time and time again.

        Finally, what is the benefit/cost ratio of replacing all those bridges just for high speed rail? What is the benefit for the entire region? Aside from projects recently constructed in a certain State Senator’s district, most projects were developed with a benefit/cost ratio. I’m thinking that it won’t B/C very well. …even though it sounds very novel.

        As for the sharrows and bike lanes… The problem is, Ben, groups like Cascade have made my work difficult because they are pushing for the sharrows in hopes of making motorists “more aware” of bicyclists. Problem is, drivers are becoming more preoccupied with GPS units, satellite radios, iPhones and other gadgets in their cars than driving. Bicyclists aggressive zigzag through traffic. …and then you have frustrated drivers on both sides. While wider bike lanes, bike lane buffers and separate bike facilities are preferred, the right of way is more often than not too expensive to obtain.

    • Outside of a few highways there are no required lanes for bicyclists in the state of Washington. Given how poorly designed some bike lanes are that is a good thing.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Whoa there. So an imperfect solution that we can fight to improve is worse than no solution at all? I want to make things better, not wave my hand at the current state of affairs.

      • @Ben: What jeff is saying is that on normal city streets cyclists aren’t required to ride in a bike lane (or in line with sharrows), we have the right to use the general-purpose lanes as they see fit, and that it’s good we have this right. He’s responding to Charlotte’s complaint of seeing cyclists out of the bike lane.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        Oooh, I see Al. Thanks. :)

  8. Finding a way to secure more passenger rail slots for the Seattle/Tacoma/Olympia corridor seems like a priority. Include the Eastside Rail Corridor in that network. Get enough service operating and maybe we can electrify these corridors. Doesn’t need to be a separate corridor to electrify; see NEC.

    Maybe a day comes when Cascades will want dual mode locomotives. An incremental approach toward electrifying Cascades.

    • Since Ricky Lee Byars pulled his brace of SD45′s out in front of the Congressional, freight has been running on the NEC between New York and Perryville only at night; it does run between Perryville and Baltimore through the day because NS has no other entry to the port and there are three or four tracks everywhere south of the Susquehanna River Bridge.

      BNSF is not going to cram all its freights on the Northwest Main Line between the hours of 10 PM and 6 AM.

      • Thank you, Anandakos–my main point was that OCS (the overhead wire, folks) does not prevent freight from using electrified track.

      • There is no problem with electrification per se.

        There is a problem, mentioned above: BNSF has a lot of slow bulk and specialty trains to run, and sharing track between slow bulk trains and fast passenger trains does not work well.

        This is probably why the Cascades long-range plan includes a third “passenger main” track along nearly the entire distance from Vancouver, WA to Seattle, WA with the exception of the Pt. Defiance Bypass. Passenger trains would still have to enter the freight tracks in order to pass each other.

        Now, regarding new build, the assessment in the Cascades long-range plan was that the BNSF route is really nearly as good as you can do from Lacey to Vancouver, WA for speeds up to 125 mph (IIRC) — and so carving a new route just wasn’t worth it, as compared to putting a third and fourth track in the same ROW. This assessment was made decades ago, of course.

        The benefit of going really really fast was assessed but the conclusion was that once the trip was faster than driving or flying, the benefit of going even faster was minimal.

  9. Ah yes, and thank you for your post, Ben.

  10. I want to sign a petition FOR this… as long as any tax increase or tolling goes to voters directly – NOT thru Lieyman.

    Congrats Ben on your team winning.

    • Ben Schiendelman says:

      I don’t think tax increases or tolling would go to voters. That’s why we have representative government – because we don’t do a very good job of cost/benefit en masse.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        “I don’t think tax increases or tolling would go to voters. That’s why we have representative government “

        If you had to explain it to the voters, it would clear up things in their minds as to what the cost vs. the benefit is.

        Transit measures go through it, so should road measures.

        It would answer at least one thing:
        Was it Roads or Transit that sunk the first PROP 1,
        the Roads & Transit measure.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        The answer to that question came in 2008, when a huge proportion of voters approved transit.

      • Ben;

        #1 Any tax increase will go to voters, period. It’s a matter of framing the debate before Lieyman does at this point and forming the winning coalition to keep that framing together to protect the people that need transit the most. Remember I-912 in 2005 and 2010′s tax increase initiatives?

        #2. I agree people are willing to vote for transit measures when there is a sudden shock increase in gas prices plus possibly a charismatic progressive lefty at the top of the ticket – such as the case w/ the victories in 2008.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        @Ben Schiendelman

        “The answer to that question came in 2008, when a huge proportion of voters approved transit.”

        Not in the minds of the Highway supporters.

        Transit advocates believe that, but it’s time for ‘Road Improvement’ justification via a robust public discussion over a ballot initiative.

  11. Here is another priority. Take steps to purchase railroad rights of way for future passenger service. Two critical ones: the alternate international corridor along the Sumas-Sedro Woolley Pacific Division, and the Woodinville Subdivision from Woodinville to Snohomish.

    Also get some service running on the Eastside Rail Line before it gets gobbled up as parkway trail segments.

    • The Eastside rail line is a useful trail today. It doesn’t make sense to say some hypothetical need for passenger rail there in the future, which we have no money to pay for anyway, trumps the trail. To say otherwise is to claim that non-motorized transportation somehow doesn’t count as real transportation.

      • Hypothetical need? That is an very useful passenger rail or transit right-of-way today. All for non motorized transport, but just consider the volume comparison between passenger transportation and non-motorized in the corridor. Tens of thousands of riders on transit/passenger rail.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        Nobody who wants a rail line is saying that a trail isn’t needed. In fact, rail advocates are advocating for both a rail line and a trail.

        Why do trail advocates want to get rid of the tracks is a more pertinent question.

        The tracks exist, save for the part WSDOT ripped out in the name of highway expansion at the [former] Wilburton tunnel, and should rightfully put the tracks back at gas tax expense.

        Just don’t tear the track up on the rest of the line.

        Oh, and you need to detail your statement “It doesn’t make sense to say some hypothetical need for passenger rail there in the future, ” with some better analysis.

        The PSRC and Sound Transit found that passenger rail on this line is a very viable investment.

      • Ben Schiendelman says:

        I can answer that. The study work done on the rails say they aren’t useful. It doesn’t really matter that we have any more of them than the part Sound Transit already purchased. There’s no increase in cost to later transit by ripping out the current rails because we’d do that anyway if we put anything in.

      • Jim Cusick says:

        We’re talking politics, here Ben.

        Answer this: Why is Sound Transit not using the Interurban Trail ROW through Shoreline?

        We know damn well once the track gets ripped up, around here, they don’t come back.

        That line doesn’t need to brought up to South Sounder standards right away. Freight deliveries that Eastside Freight RR wants to make can be done with minimal track rehabilitation.

        And trail construction (along side the railbed) can be done at the same time.

      • Jim has it right. Not just in Puget Sound, but anywhere: rip the tracks up, and trains are gone forever from the right-of-way. All rail and railbed needs rehab/replacement from time to tome. That’s not a huge investment. But remove the tracks, and people think the trains were never there. Might as well try to run freight along the Burke Gilman Trail.

      • No. What you are proposing is to essentially hold up all non-motorized uses of the corridor indefinitely until we can find the money to build a rail line and a trail there simultaneously. Do it your way and no one will ever be able to use that line as a trail in the next 50 years. Just build the trail now and people can start using the trail now.

        The costs of turning the eastside rail corridor into a viable rail line would be enormous. To start, you’d have to completely rip out and replace all the track, including rebuilding all the bridges. Then, you’d have to pay for trains to actually run on the thing. Then you’ve got the problem that the eastside rail corridor, at it stands today, is single track. This means you could only run trains in one direction at a time, which essentially limits the usage of the tracks to Boeing commuters working in Renton, and nobody else. Yes, you could, in theory, widen the corridor to get two tracks, but then you’d have to spend billions of dollars more in right-of-way purchases, and billions more if you still wanted room for a trail along side of the train tracks. The cost is so high, it is obvious that it is not going to be worth it in the foreseeable future. We should just stop worrying about it and build the trail today.

        You are also underestimating the ridership potential of a high quality multi-use trail. The Sammamish River Trail easily carries more people between Redmond and Woodinville than the transit system does, which serves that pair of destinations extremely poorly. Whenever I travel from Redmond to Woodinville or even Bothell/Kenmore, I don’t give the bus any serious consideration because it’s way too slow and circuitous – the Samamish River Trail is much faster than more direct, plus I don’t have to wait.

        Build a similar-quality trail between Woodinville and Kirkland and you would likely find similar results. Riding a bike means you can travel whenever you want with zero wait time. Put trains there instead and you’re left with half-hourly headways during rush hour, in one direction only, with no service at any other times.

      • Hi asdf, and thanks for the discussion. Responses:

        “What you are proposing is to essentially hold up all non-motorized uses of the corridor indefinitely until we can find the money to build a rail line and a trail there simultaneously. Do it your way and no one will ever be able to use that line as a trail in the next 50 years. Just build the trail now and people can start using the trail now.”

        I am saying don’t remove the rails. Do some rail & trail design work, see how and where they both fit. Then build the trail, in a way that does not preclude effective rail.

        “The costs of turning the eastside rail corridor into a viable rail line would be enormous. To start, you’d have to completely rip out and replace all the track, including rebuilding all the bridges. Then, you’d have to pay for trains to actually run on the thing. Then you’ve got the problem that the eastside rail corridor, at it stands today, is single track.”

        Track rehab is not a big deal. Bridges and crossings are doable, too. In Massachusetts, we secured TIGER funding to rebuild 3 railroad bridges. Because the design work was advanced, construction started right away. Was actually the first TIGER project completed in the country.

        Single track segments are fine, as long as you have double track segments also. The Eastside Rail ROW has segments with plenty of space for double track. LA’s busiest commuter rail line (San Bernardino) has extensive single track.

        “You are also underestimating the ridership potential of a high quality multi-use trail. The Sammamish River Trail easily carries more people between Redmond and Woodinville than the transit system does, which serves that pair of destinations extremely poorly.”

        Minimal bus service in that corridor.

        “Build a similar-quality trail between Woodinville and Kirkland and you would likely find similar results. Riding a bike means you can travel whenever you want with zero wait time. Put trains there instead and you’re left with half-hourly headways during rush hour, in one direction only, with no service at any other times.”

        Rail and trail. Trail has more flexibility for where it fits. Between urban centers like Bellevue, Kirkland and Renton, you want rail. ROW with minimal freight gives flexibility for frequent and all-day service. If electrified, the railroad can act like rail transit.

        Cheers.

    • The Sumas line is in danger? Why? Surely BNSF doesn’t like having to run freights along the base of Chuckanut Mountain. Isn’t Sumas their primary interchange with CP?

    • The eastside rail line has a problem: it just misses all the places you’d actually want to take a train to. Transit works on walkshed, and the eastside corridor doesn’t have it. On the other hand, a bikeshed is much larger, so it would be reasonably useful as a bike path.

      The other segments you mentioned run through the middle of nowhere and are completely irrelevant for passenger rail — everyone that wants to go from Woodinville to Snohomish can drive, passenger rail service is for carrying large numbers of people.

      • Seems to me that Bellevue is emerging as a potential commuter rail destination, and it will have the Link connection. Downtown Kirland is close. If you could get the slots, what about Renton to Seattle?

        Yes the walking connection is important. Worth noting that the LA Green Line LRT carries close to 50,000 daily riders with weak walk sheds (and strong intermodal connections).

      • The inland rail corridor to BC looks more promising for high speed rail than the coastal route. It misses Bellingham, but is strong on the BC side. Good corridor for Seattle to Vancouver travel.

      • @Al Dimond

        “The eastside rail line has a problem: it just misses all the places you’d actually want to take a train to.

        So does the almost $1 Billion BRT system that the I405 Corridor Program chose back in 2000 as part of the Preferred Alternative,

        Which, by the way, includes adding 4 more GP lanes to I-405.

        Do you know the ridership numbers the PSRC/ST analysis came up with?

  12. One correction: you state “He should ensure Metro has enough revenue to continue functioning, without requiring a public vote. Don’t waste activists’ time for months fighting a campaign when we should be basebuilding and creating support for a better future.”

    I think this line should be amended to read all PTBAs (and whatever metro is). I think we are headed for a disaster, the likes of which have not been seen since these agencys were formed in the 70s.

    • I think all municipalities, PBTA’s and politicians should be unshackled from vigorously campaigning in favor of transit ballot measures. It is not enough to put a fact sheet out and hope the public gets it.

  13. What dialect was this comment in? Perhaps if they wish to learn English they sould start with newspapers. They’re only written at a 5th grade level.

  14. Perhaps he meant to post it on another site.

    In any case, I read paper magazines and books because I spend enough time staring at a computer screen and want to give my eyes a rest from the backlight. Although somebody gave me an e-reader for my birthday with an e-ink screen, which is supposedly better for the eyes, so I might put the Seattle Times on it.

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