RTID Minus Cross Base?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Erica Barnett reports that the RTID will go through without the Cross Base Highway, which environmentalists oppose. It’s a risky move, since Pierce County exec (and current Sound Transit chair) John Ladenburg really wants the highway and has said he’ll fight the ballot measure if the Cross Base is eliminated. It’s hard to see how having the chair of Sound Transit actively working against the organization would be a good thing for anyone. But maybe he’ll realize he’s outgunned and move on.

It would be a huge coup for environmentalists if the highway doesn’t make the final cut.

Near Collision!! (Not)

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

KPRC Houston has some footage of light rail trains nearly colliding. Well, not really. One train got switched onto the opposite tracks, meaning that it could have potentially collided with an oncoming train. The operator halted the train in time.

Just FYI, you can expect these sorts of quasi-hysterical reports once Link Light Rail opens in Seattle: “passengers scared,” “investigation ordered,” “transit official to resign,” etc., etc. Of course, tens of thousands of people actually die in car crashes every year, so keep it in perspective.

Train collisions are dramatic, and one can blame them on some mythical, distant bureaucracy, whereas car crashes are just deadly and are usually the fault of regular citizens.

Spare the Air Days

In the Bay Area they have something called “Spare the Air Days“. Basically, on days when the air quality is poor (when the “Air Quality Index” goes above 100) most rides on transit in the Bay Area are free. These days are meant to encourage transit and have a pretty strong lingering effect; when I used to take Caltrain, the train was more full all summer starting on the first Spare the Air Day and ending sometime around the end of summer (October or November in San Francisco). Actually, Caltrain seemed to be constantly increasing its ridership as gasoline became more expensive.

Anyway, I think this idea would work in Seattle, make transit free on a few weekdays in the summer, and you’ll find people will want to take transit all day long. I wonder how much it would cost Sound Transit and Metro to implement this kind of system. I’ll make sure to ask in my next meeting.

Anti-Transit Piece in the P-I

Here it is. I was going to write something about how bad the calculations are, but I came in this morning and Carless in Seattle had this fabulous take-down. Excerpt:

OK, so to keep traffic as bad as it is now, we’ll need to add 687 miles of new lanes at a cost of $361.69 per family. That’s a big tax increase being proposed by an organization with otherwise impeccable conservative credentials.

Needless to say, read the whole thing.

More Capitol Hill Station

In the post I mentioned before, Frank at Ophran Road wrote “I guess I didn’t realize that the station is going to take over the lots on both sides of Denny Way”. Not just Denny Way, but on both sides of Broadway. Yeah it’s going to be huge underground. If you look at the image above, the blue part is the platform and the red parts are entrances. Yellow is what is being destroyed for the creation of the tunnel. The red section on the left side is the old Chang’s Mongolian Grill and the red section on the top is about where the print shop and Twice Sold Tales are. The bottom right red spot is where the Godfather’s Pizza was back in the day but nothing is there at the moment. Now, if we could just get rid of that blasted Jack in the Box, we’d have something going.
How about a six-story building with a the food court on the ground floor, Karaoke Box/izakaya thing on the second floor, a pool hall on the third floor, an independent multiplex cinema on top three floors and underground parking. Anyone want to invest with me? Better ideas for what to put there?

Take It To The Bridge

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

(with apologies to James Brown)

More TransitNow changes are coming this weekend, including more service in South King County. We’re also getting the Fremont Bridge back: bus service there will also resume on Saturday.

The Environmental Impact of Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Yes, Virginia, even rail has environmental impacts, especially rail tracks that were built a hundred years ago along pristine Puget Sound shoreline:

Many environmentalists call the BNSF Railway, built on 26 miles of beachfront between Seattle and Everett, one of the worst environmental problems for Snohomish County’s shoreline.

The railroad creates what amounts to a wall between the land and the shore. It hampers beach access, disrupts salmon creeks and prevents sediment from eroding down to the beach, starving beaches of sand and gravel, they say.

Now, efforts are under way to restore pockets of shoreline along the railroad line. Some planners and environmentalists have hailed the restoration projects — including opening up creek mouths, nourishing beaches with sand, and restoring tidal marshes — as pilots for a future approach to a healthier shoreline.

Of course, as the article notes, the tracks aren’t going anywhere. in fact, Sound Transit is widening the right-of-way in some places to allow for more Sounder trains. But they’re also opening up creeks and doing lots of other environmental mitigation to try and revitalize the corridor to the extent that they can.

Having the BNSF line where it is is a net positive. Otherwise you’d have to run it along the I-5 corridor, which would be ridiculously expensive, if it was even possible. BNSF’s presence also takes a lot of trucks off the roads.

Sounder, on the other hand, has its limits. It’s a relatively cheap way to build transit — the tracks are already there, you just have to operate the trains. But it’s limited to a few runs a day since it shares right-of-way with Amtrak and BNSF. Once Light Rail goes all the way from Everett to Tacoma, it will be interesting to see how successful Sounder is. Certainly for folks in Edmonds, Kent, and Auburn, Sounder will continue to be important, but Link Light Rail, running every 10 minutes or so, will be increasingly appealing even for medium distance (i.e. Everett-Seattle) travel.

Fun With Dollar Signs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

KNDO/KNDU, the Tri-Cities NBC affiliate, is running this wonderful bit on their site. As any savvy restaurant-goer knows, more dollar signs means it’s MORE EXPEN$$$IVE!

Seattle-are voters facing $$$38 billion roads-transit decision
Associated Press – May 30, 2007 1:25 PM ET

Corrected Version

SEATTLE (AP) – The Regional Transportation Investment District is expected tomorrow to approve a $$15 billion tax request to voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

If approved in November, the regional taxes would help pay for projects like a new four billion dollar Highway 520 floating bridge over Lake Washington. Tolls will be part of the funding package, and planners say the toll could be $$6 round trip by 2018 when the new span could be finished.

The road proposal would be paired with a $$23 billion plan to expand Sound Transit to Tacoma, Bellevue and nearly to Everett.

Both multi-billion dollar proposals must be approved to take effect.

Of course, they don’t even bother to explain that that $$$38B [sic] includes 30 years of finance charges, which, as we’ve noted before, is incredibly misleading.

On the plus side, at least it’s the corrected version. I’d hate to see what the uncorrected version looked like. My guess? It had more dollar signs!

Capitol Hill Station

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Reading about the businesses on Capitol Hill that will be displaced by the Sound Transit station made me want to take a look at the designs for the station itself. I guess I didn’t realize that the station is going to take over the lots on both sides of Denny Way.

This cross-section sort of gives you an idea of how expansive the underground station will be.

Of course, that makes perfect sense — it should be about as big as any of the downtown transit tunnel stations, except without the extra space for buses, of course:

One More Reason Sound Transit’s Rail Costs More than Vancouver

The PI ran an article a couple of days ago about the new subway station on Capitol Hill misplacing some businesses. The article focuses on Cafe Vivace in particular but I know that Everyday Music is also closing. Vivace is staying in the neighborhood but who knows about Everyday Music. This post at Orphan Road gives an idea of how expansive the station will be.

Hey, but at least Sound Transit is paying some money for displacement, unlike Vancouver’s Skytrain. According to this article, the construction of Vancouver’s new Canada line is harming a lot of businesses in its wake.

Petri winces at the notion that $1.3 million is much help. “Look at Seattle,” he says. “They know what help is.”

But Seattle apparently took a much more proactive approach to making sure businesses had a chance to survive the loss of traffic and that the area retained its character.

Seattle created the Ranier Valley Community Development Fund (CDF). The fund’s website said it would provide a source of investment that was concerned with the area’s well-being, its cultural diversity, livability and sustainability. Its aim was to strengthen and preserve the community, “not only by investing in tangible assets such as businesses and facilities, but also by building networks of relationships and trust that would allow the community to participate in determining their future well being.”

In 2006, The Beacon Hill News and South District Journal reported that the fund was succeeding. It had approved $7.5 million in mitigation funds” to help affected businesses through loans. In the beginning of the project, the fund had identified 274 businesses along the corridor. Of those, 230 still remained.

“Businesses that stayed were eligible for $30,000 payments, while those that relocated could receive $50,000,” the newspaper wrote. “Exceptional hardships entitled businesses to an additional $20,000,” said CDF director Jamie Garcia. Garcia said he expected the Seattle city council to approve an additional $50 million to pull the area through to completion of the line.

It’s not often someone says “look at Seattle” when it comes to transit successes. The article also highlights the differences between cut-and-cover and bored tunnels. Cut-and-cover is much cheaper, but is much more disruptive to neighborhoods:

The line will be the third in Vancouver and will connect downtown Vancouver to Richmond and the international airport. In the beginning of the project, merchants were told that construction would move quickly from block to block and sidewalk access would be maintained. That was when public consultations led merchants to believe that construction would be bored tunnel. But when SNL-Lavalin got the contract to do the construction, the project shifted to the cheaper, more disruptive method of cut and cover.

When the method was revealed in winter of 2005, one city councillor accused RAV backers of pulling a “bait and switch” on citizens who would feel the impact.
Today, the tunneling is at the core of the sense of betrayal that shrouds the business closures, Petri said. It’s taken far longer than many business owners say they were led to expect. It has snarled traffic and forced many smaller businesses to close as walk-in and drive-by customers have dwindled.

So it seems Sound Transit is a better community citizen than Vancouver’s rail company, and that is a bit of consolation for the longer time frame.

RTID did have a plan for 520, Viaduct is expensive

Read about the 520 plan here. It’s what they told me earlier this month, but I didn’t completely believe them. It’s basically a lot of tolls and the expectation that the viaduct won’t use much of the state’s special project money.

On the subject of the viaduct, you probably have already heard that Seattle’s Council approved $8.1 million for the study of a surface/transit option. Hopefully Light Rail could be part of the surface transit option, since the cost of a light rail system around there through West Seattle could be comparable to the difference in cost of the surface transit from the rebuild. The difference from the tunnel could pay for a new subway practically .

Project Cost (in millions)
Tunnel $3,600 to $4,100
Rebuild $3,200 to $3,500
Surface Roads ~$1,600
East Link Light Rail to Downtown Bellevue $1,465.2 to $1,684.9
Light Rail from University of Washington to Northgate* $1,126.6 to $1,239.3

*Includes about 3 miles of cut-and-cover bored subway.

If they can build rail from Seattle to Bellevue for less than $2 billion and imagine what they can do with the difference from the surface roads improvments and either the tunnel or the rebuild. They could connect light rail from Burien to West Seattle to Sodo and build a subway through Belltown to Seattle Center and maybe even connect rail through Ballard for the $3.5 potential difference between a tunnel and surface roads. I bet that plus the roads option would get more total people through than either the rebuild or the tunnel, and with the state’s new definition of capacity, that’s what should be done.

Update: someone wanted links to the numbers, so here they are for Sound Transit. Click on the project and a pdf will open with the cost estimate. For the Viaduct, I got the numbers from Wikipedia.

King County Ferry District

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I just noticed that King County last month created a ferry district, which will allow it to explore more passenger-only ferries. The county’s main passenger ferry, the Elliot Bay water taxi, could be run year-round with the new district. Additionally, other routes connecting, say UW with Kirkland, or West Seattle with Tacoma, are also going to be explored.

All this water makes building roads and trains expensive. Why not turn our transportation liability into an asset? Ferries are easy to set up: you buy a boat, build a dock, and you’re done. The downside is that there’s a lot of time lost in the modal transfer. Unless you live right near the water, you have to first take a bus or drive to the dock, then wait for the ferry, etc. But for some routes — like Kirkland-to-UW, or say Gasworks-Park-to-South-Lake-Union — it could make sense.

Update: The UW Daily has more on the potential UW-Kirkland ferry route.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Highline Times channels the ghost of Sprio Agnew to editorialize in favor of november’s RTID. Money quote:

Unfortunately, the uneasy coalition of roads and transit proponents is threatening to come unraveled.

The roads crowd thinks it is weighted too much toward transit while the Greenies think highways get an unfair advantage.

The measure is expensive and does not solve all our long-delayed transportation problems.

But voters should reject the nattering nabobs of negativism, as a disgraced former vice president put it, and consider the measure carefully before November.

(not to be confused with this great Queen Anne bar)

Surface-Transit Gains Momentum

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Erica Barnett reports that the Surface-Transit option has just been “officially endorsed” by the City Council, which just approved spending $8.1M to formally study it:

The council approved the measure unanimously–a seismic shift from the days when only Peter Steinbrueck supported the surface/transit proposal, and a sign that the council is taking seriously last March’s “no/no” vote on two new waterfront freeway options.

“[The plan] focuses our energies on the substance of the solution rather than design of the solution, which is what got us sidetracked” previously, council president Nick Licata said. Licata, once the council’s staunchest supporter of rebuilding the viaduct, cosponsored the resolution.

You can view the surface-transit option in our new “Hot Docs” section.

Update: The P-I provides some more context: the report will be done by July 2008.

Seattle Urban Mobility Plan

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Peter Steinbrueck’s $8.1M urban mobility study for replacing the Alaskan Way Viadcut. This is the closest thing to a formal study of the so-called “surface-transit option.”

Juggling Numbers on SR 520 Replacement

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The P-I has a vague and rather uninformative article on a new financing scheme for replacing the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge (a.k.a. the 520 bridge). Fortunately, Mike Lindblom at the Times is much more detailed:

The latest strategy improves on earlier versions by slashing a potential $340 million in construction taxes and financing costs for a possible $4.4 billion, six-lane span across Lake Washington.

If the Legislature agrees, the “Regional Transportation Investment District” would fund several highway projects using high-rated, low-interest state bonds, for a potential savings of $200 million. And it might save an additional $140 million in sales taxes — paid on construction materials and other items — if the state funnels that money back into the RTID.

Even after those steps, questions remain about whether the funding plan is solid.

Today’s announcement says that tolling, previously assumed to raise $700 million, might bring in as much as $1.2 billion, without a real plan on the table yet. And, the group assumes Highway 520 can use money from a future cash pool worth $600 million to $1 billion, but that pool must be shared with the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Another $1.1 billion hinges on whether voters pass the regional ballot measure.

So, with some simple changes to the arithmetic, the bridge is suddenly fully funded! Does that seem a bit dodgy to anyone? Sounds like the planners want to kick the can down the road, figuring that if they can paper over the financing for now, it’ll just mean that we have to go with a cheaper option down the road.

With Transit’s Help, Condo-zone Leaving City Center

Today PI ran an article about condo developments outside the city center in neighborhoods like Phinney Ridge, Wedgwood and Columbia City.

[Condo Marketer Bryon Ziegler] expects condos in Wedgwood and Phinney Ridge, and other neighborhoods farther from downtown increasingly will draw single parents, young families and move-down buyers, particularly after the start of light-rail service in 2009.

Light rail already is helping spur development in Columbia City, which has an increasingly fashionable commercial strip and will have a Sound Transit [Light-Rail] stop. Developers recently proposed two condo projects there, promising lower prices than downtown or Ballard condos.

Dense development is more affordable than single-family housing, and transit allows for more density and more affordability because transit enables car-free living.

Light Rail’s Moment

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It’s not just Seattle. Light Rail is having a moment in the sun right now. People like the flexibility if offers. Unlike heavy rail, which requires either a diesel locomotive or a dangerous high-voltage third rail, light rail can wind through neighborhoods relatively easily. Light Rail systems are about to come online in Phoenix and Minneapolis. Dallas and Denver also have relatively new systems on line, as do many other cities around the world.

But all forms of transit seem to be having a renaissance these days:

But during the last 10 years a transit renaissance has blossomed in many parts of the country. According to the American Public Transportation Association, public transit use has risen 30 percent since 1995, more than double the U.S. population’s 12 percent growth and higher than the 24 percent increase in vehicular travel during that period.

In 2006, the association said, 10.1 billion passengers boarded local public transportation, the first time that number topped 10 billion in 49 years.
A significant part of that growth has involved light rail, a transit category covering modern streetcars, trolleys, and ‘heritage’ trolleys.

Last year, light rail had the highest-percentage increase of all transit modes, enjoying a 5.6 percent ridership boost.

And remember — gas prices in 1995 were what, $1/gallon or so? It seems like transit use has nowhere to go but up.

Richardson is Pro-Transit

This post over at NPI’s blog about New Mexico Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson’s stop in Seattle has this nice nugget:

Transportation policy came up later during our discussion, and as Richardson began talking about mass transit, I asked him whether he would be willing to help out the Puget Sound with federal money for Link light rail.

Q: Would your administration grant a lot of money to metropolitan areas to build new and expand existing electric transit systems?

A: Yes! There is a highway bill that a President has. It’s the biggest pork in any bill. And it’s billions of dollars. When I was in Congress, it was $120 billion. We did it every three years. It’s gone up. And that’s money that goes straight to states. I would be a partner. I would say to Seattle: we will have some joint bonding. We will put in a certain amount if you do this and you build smart growth communities, [implement] sensible land use policies, and you commit to light rail instead of just expanding existing highways.

Richardson also pledged to keep Amtrak going and concluded by saying that he would be “a President with a national transportation policy: focused on light rail, bullet trains, more efficient transportation.”

Richardson’s answers on transportation left me satisfied but wondering about the other candidates. Transportation is not an important issue nationally – presidential candidates don’t spend much time talking about it – but it is a huge issue at the state level, and particularly here in Washington, where our infrastructure is aging and in need of new investment.

His point is pretty well thought-out. The joint-bonding would help speed up development since we know that all Sound Transit needs to complete its project faster is more of its money upfront. It can only issue five-year bonds, which means that it can only spend five years’ worth of income at a time. If the feds would joint issue the bonds, the bonds could be for 30 years with a much lower interest rate which would dramatically speed up the projects and actually make them cheaper.