Sinkhole!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Speaking of infrastructure upgrades, here’s an interesting nugget from today’s Times article:

The pipe that broke was installed in 1912, Mickelson said. The oldest pipe in the system was installed in 1898.

He said the break may have been the result of a flaw in the pipe that finally gave way. It’s going to be difficult to replace because it’s under the bridge and has a bend in it, he said.

John Hutchins, with Harbor Consulting Company, inspected the pipe today and said, “My best guess, it was an old pipe and it just washed out and broke.”

On Naming Stations

I like how Sound Transit has decided to give the stations names that describe the neighborhood instead of names of streets as has been done in some places. I guess you can only confuse one California or Western station with another if you, you know, actually have more than one line (we don’t have any yet). But if we ever do get that first line we might get a second…

Congestion Pricing

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Danny Westneat flags Ron Sims’ latest big idea:

The idea is to turn all our freeways into payways.

There’s nothing new about tolls. But Sims is not talking about a couple of bucks for crossing a bridge. It’s a plan to toll most every mile of every major state and federal highway from Everett to south of Tacoma.

It’s just a concept, Sims says, but here’s how it could work. We’d all have computer chips in our cars to record time of day and lane miles traveled on Interstates 5, 405 and 90 (out to Issaquah), as well as parts of highways 99, 167, 509, 518 and 520. The gist is you’d pay $2 for a short rush-hour commute, with a max of $4 to $8 for longer drives, such as from Bothell to Tacoma. It’d be $1 for driving around in the middle of the night.

Westneat like the idea, but says that tolls are “political suicide.” He writes, “If there’s anything that’ll get the local blood boiling as much as that income tax, Sims has found it.”

I’m not so sure. If you assume that by “local blood” he means the conservative, anti-tax folks who by and large oppose the income tax, he’s mistaken. Pay-for-what-you-use has a lot of support among conservatives, because it involves no redistribution. It’s also insanely market friendly: when something gets more scarce (freeway capacity during rush hour), the price goes up. It’s Econ 101.

For example, here’s Stefan Sharkansky of the conservative blog Sound Politics writing two weeks ago:

Nobody should be forced to pay for infrastructure he considers to be foolishly cost-ineffective and/or environmentally immoral. Nobody should have their desired solution held hostage for the other. Roads should be paid for only by those who want and use them. Likewise with light rail.

Let all highway construction and improvements be paid for through tolls, and let all light rail be financed 100% through the farebox.

Sometimes it really is that simple.

Sounds like an endorsement to me!

More Wi-Fi for Buses!

I am really late on this, but Metro has rolled out Wi-Fi to more buses in the Seattle Area. The 255, 644, 197 and selected trips on the 952 have Wi-Fi. Sound Transit has Wi-Fi on the selected 545 and the Everett-Seattle Sounder Commuter rail. The 545 is my route so I am really happy about the service.

Metro has teamed up with Sprint Cellular and Junxion, Inc., a Seattle-based mobile connection provider, to offer Wi-Fi service on 48 buses serving the four transit routes. (Wi-Fi service on the Route 952 will be limited to the last trip in the morning and afternoon.) The Junxion boxes have been outfitted with a cellular air card allowing passengers to use their laptop computers or Wi-Fi-enabled devices to access the Internet.

The Wi-Fi is basically like mobile phone wi-fi, so it switches towers as you travel. This works fine for surfing the web or checking email, because these protocols are stateless, meaning the data is transmitted and the connection is terminated. It doesn’t work as well for something that requires a persistant connection, such as remote desktop or ssh, but you’re on the bus what can you expect! And only geeks like me use those things anyway.

Good work Metro and Sound Transit, Wi-Fi is great and I wish you would roll it out to every bus.

P-I advocates for Transit

Yesterday the P-I told us it was important to for the State to find a Transportation Department head from out-of-state.

Washington needs a transportation department that puts mass transit, the environment and the public interest ahead of building more car capacity…

With you on that one, PI! They also stressed the important of bringing in a Gregoire crony, a la George Bush, to run the department.

Transportation still needs the benefit of an outsider, who will continue to shake things up. Particularly with a strong governor, it would be too easy for an insider to tell her all is fine.

Today the PI tells us how much they like the idea of a mosquito fleet of passenger-only ferries, and how better to sell the fleet to tax-payers.

King County Council’s plan to take over the Vashon foot-passenger ferries and downtown water taxi … sorry, can’t resist … floats our boat…
As far as funding goes, we’re not against some funds coming from property taxes — after all, everyone in the region, even those who don’t use ferries and water taxis, will benefit from living in a place with good public transportation. We do believe, however, that relying solely on property taxes for funding the ferries and future water taxis is folly.

More Park & Ride Parking at Northgate Starting Tomorrow

Starting Tomorrow, May 2nd, Metro will open it’s portion of the parking at Northgate’s new garage. According to metro’s website:

Metro’s spaces are located on floors 1 and 2. They are marked “Reserved for Park-and-Ride Customers Monday through Friday.” … With the new spaces in the garage, Metro will now have more than 900 parking stalls available for transit customers using the Northgate Transit Center.

That’ll be enough for now, but maybe more will be needed when the Light Rail gets finished.

First Hill Streetcar

Today is Streetcar day here at STB. I read this article from Friday about the Streetcar up to Aloha, then browsed over to CHS where he suggested I write about it. Unfortunately, my grandmother died over the weekend and her funeral was yesterday, but I guess better late than never.

For background, the Link Rail was originally going to include a stop in First Hill, but due to technical reasons, this had to be dropped, and a streetcar from the ID to Capitol Hill through First Hill was proposed. The route (map to the left) will take advantage of the proposed Jackson street extension (map to the right) to the existing Benson Line to cross I-5, where it would go up 12th Street, the up Boren and connect to Broadway. The First/Capitol Hill Streetcar had its plan extended to Aloha street from where it was going to end at East John Street. According to the analysis by Sound Transit, this adds an extra 500 round-trips a day to the 3000 they were already expecting for the East John terminus.

They were looking at about $117.3 – $134.9 million for the East John Street terminus, and according to the email I got back from Sound Transit, extending it to East John adds about $12 million to the final price tag, and extends construction another month. Six blocks a month seems like a bad deal to me, as Portland was able to build one block every three days when they built Max, but everything seems to be slower in Seattle.

George Benson line is a streetcar but…


…not a modern one. Sure it’s cute, and it goes under the Viaduct and they extended it to go to the International District (all the way to King Street Station), but it’s not modern, and doesn’t attract the ridership that would be useful because:

a) It doesn’t go far enough. It basically serves the waterfront and that’s it. It would have to go to at least the Seattle Center to actually be useful.

b) It is rickety and slow. It’s more of a tourist attraction than a useful transit scheme.

I think the streetcar’s usefulness is exhibited by how empty it is everytime I ride on it. For contrast, the Elliot Bay Water Taxi has been packed each time I have been on it.
c) It doesn’t serve a corridor that is populated by businesses or inhabited by people. If it actually went through Belltown, it’d be a different story, but as it is now, it’s only useful for going to the waterfront.

Speaking of the Viaduct…


I know, I am as tired of this topic as you are, but something still needs to be done. Steinbrueck, who has staked his political career on removing the viaduct without creating a new one, has drawn up a plan for a Surface/Transit option. I like the idea of surface/transit, especially since the consensus is that fewer cars drive on SR-99 immediately north and south of the viaduct, which means that people basically use it because it is there, and might not otherwise. The problem I have is with the type of transit they are talking about: buses.

Buses suck compared to trains (I do ride the 545 everyday, so I appreciate the buses). They are noisy, smelly (if they use cardon-based fuels), have bumpy rides, and are at the mercy of traffic. Underground or Elevated trains are immune to traffic, are quiet, are sleak, and have much lower operating costs once built. Even streetcars are better than buses: smoother rides, and some ability to control traffic with special signals. The South Lake Union (can someone come up with a better name for this neighborhood already?) street car will cost only $50.5 million to build, and another $100 million to get it up to the U-District. I think the city should consider this approach, because eventually extending the car down to West Seattle or up to Queen Anne and possibly to Fremont will be relatively easy, or even just linking it with the Lake Union Car might be a real possibility.

Something to think about.

Bay Area Commute After Collaspe: Relatively Painless


Sunday Night I mentioned the collaspe of one of the feeder-bridges onto the Bay Bridge between the East Bay and the City of San Francisco. Well it seems the commute Monday hasn’t been as bad as people had expected, though the traffic problems could continue for months. Dan Savage thinks this is enough evidence to support tearing down the viaduct, because people, er adjust or something. I actually made a case for this sort of viaduct planning vis-a-vis the Loma Prieta Quake in a letter to the PI four months ago (first one of the page).

I actually see it as a reason to support more off-grade trains. BARTs value has been clearly shown as an alternative to driving through horrible traffic. Apparently ferry service was also increased four-fold, showing just another way that public transport system can be used to ease traffic.

Here’s video of the blast that caused the crash:

Foot Ferries?

The PI today ran a story about the possible rebirth of passenger-only ferries in the Sound and even Lake Washington. Apparently the success of the Elliot Bay Water Taxi, the coming traffic hell, and the development of Puget Sounds westside has people thinking back to the days of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. Also, the state would like to get out of the business of running passenger-ferries, and King County Metro or Sound Transit would take up running the ferries.

Some words of caution from me: (1) The Water Taxi works because it runs in the summer when it is most fun to take a ferry, (2) all transit projects lose money and passenger ferries would be no exception, (3) if 520 is so dangerous during a windstorm, imagine a passenger-ferry on Lake Washington.

All in all it’s a fine plan, but I think the focus should remain on off-grade trains.