River-Oriented Transit

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Matt Rosenberg at Cascadia Prospectus has a good post laying out the challenges and potential benefits of developing passenger ferry service along the Willamette River in Portland. The basic challenges, though, are universal. The Willamette is nice in that it’s a navigable, North-South river that basically follows the major interstates through the region (or vice-versa). Seattle’s lakes and sounds follow more irregular trajectories.

Nonetheless, the challenges are similar. Money quote:

Getting to and from the dock at each end has to be convenient and quick, or the premise can’t go much further than a seasonal novelty. Marketing campaigns would need to highlight the “portal to portal” time advantage for specific foot ferry routes versus driving and other transit modes, as well. Softer sell “enjoy the ride – skip the traffic” pitches have value, but can only gain traction if travel time comparisons work.

Additionally, the more daily commerce that can be situated in proximity to foot ferry transit nodes – grocery stores, dry cleaners, even day care centers and schools – the greater the appeal.

Thus we see the challenge of going back to the water for our transit needs. In the last 100 years, we’ve begun build away from the water. The downtowns of our newer cities — Bellevue, Kent, etc. — are built near highways. And with good reason: hugging the coast like the Sounder/BNSF does between Everett in Tacoma makes for a long and winding route.

Thumbs Up for 3rd Ave

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

the P-I opines:

While this will produce slightly more bus traffic along Third, it’ll alleviate some of the congestion elsewhere, which, especially during evening peak hours, can turn into a hot, crawling mess. While the mayor’s at it, we recommend banning cars from Pike Place, the perpetually gummed up cobblestone street running in front of Pike Place Market, making an exception for delivery trucks.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Seattle Times‘ Bob Young was on KUOW’s Weekday this morning, discussing all things Port-related. He suggested that, although its true that the Port is no longer interested in owning Boeing Field (which it would get in exchange for the BNSF corridor), it might still be interested in managing the airport.

Also, Young noted that the Port commissioners’ pushback against the deal may have been motivated in part by a desire to push back against Ron Sims, who’s been giving them a hard time over the Lora Lake Apartments, low income housing that the Port wants demolished in advance of the third runway at Sea-Tac.

Sims seems to enjoy sparring with the Port. Two years ago, they fought over Southwest Airlines at Boeing Field and the implications for light rail at Sea-Tac.

Freight Mobility

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

A tax on shipping containers seems like an eminently reasonable way to pay for improvements to freight mobility, but apparently the Port of Seattle, the industry, and the Governor all disagree.

David Schaefer, spokesman for the Port of Seattle, said the unfunded rail projects are extremely important to the port.

“Freight projects are a big deal for us,” he said. “We’ve built the maritime infrastructure here for our port, and we have the capacity in our harbor to do double what we do now in terms of containers. We need to be sure we can get them in and out of Seattle.”

He said the port was one of the many voices against the shipping-container tax because it believed the tax would put it at a competitive disadvantage with other U.S. ports.

In other words, “it will hurt the port if we don’t get these new projects, but it will also hurt the port if we have to pay for them.”

I realize that the Ports of Tacoma, Portland, and Vancouver, WA, are all competing for the business. But the Port of Seattle’s in a pretty sweet position overall: it’s the fourth largest container port in America, and the 20th largest in the world. It takes a full day less to get here from China than it does to get to Long Beach, CA.

If these projects are really that important to the Port and its customers, aren’t they worth funding? It’s not like they’re being asked to foot the whole bill. For example, the tax would cover just $94M of the SR509 expansion, which is a billion-dollar project overall.

Complete Streets

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

USA Today explores the idea:

Fourteen states, six counties, 10 regional governments and 52 cities have complete streets policies, according to the National Complete Streets Coalition. In Illinois, a complete streets bill awaits the governor’s signature. In California, a bill passed one house.

Massachusetts and at least 11 cities — including Seattle, Honolulu, Chicago, Salt Lake City, Madison, Wis., and Jackson, Miss. — have approved complete streets policies since last year, the coalition says.

Some states, such as Oregon and Florida, have had the equivalent of complete streets policies for years, but the “overarching concept jelled just in the last few years,” coalition coordinator Barbara McCann says.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, plans to sponsor a federal complete streets bill, spokeswoman Jennifer Mullen says.

It’s interesting that it seems to be gaining support higher up than the local level. This is good, I guess, because streets tend to overlap jurisdictions. Even in Seattle, though, bike lanes can get nixed if there’s even a hint of local opposition.

The Honor System

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I have to admit, this shocks me, and makes me very happy:

Over the past year, Metro has conducted random fare inspections on MetroRail and found that 99 percent of its patrons are paying the full fare. In other words, only 1 percent of rail riders violate Metro’s fare rules.

This rather remarkable stat-istic was further validated June 27 when Metro police “blitzed” the rail line with 20 officers inspecting fares over a 20 hour period. Roughly 25,000 riders were checked. Of that number, only 282 had to be issued fines up to $200 or given a warning for failure to pay.

I know that Europe relies heavily on the honor system, but this is the first I’ve heard of a U.S. transit system using it so successfully. If it can work in Texas…

Oh yeah, and if you build it…

On an average weekday, the 7.5 mile Red Line carries between 40,000 and 50,000 area residents and visitors. This outstanding usage was not projected until the year 2020. For special events, like the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, single-day ridership has exceeded 64,000. These numbers add up to the indisputable fact that Houston’s rail line is easy to use and has earned the distinction of being the most successful light-rail line ever built in the United States.

3rd Ave to Remain Tranist Only

As Andrew mentioned in an earlier post, Mayor Greg Nickels made an official announcement on Friday that 3rd Avenue will in fact remain a transit only corridor according to the Seattle PI.

Eighteen Metro bus routes, now above ground, will reroute to the tunnel
when it reopens, but 22 others will move to Third Avenue from First, Second and
Fourth avenues, theoretically freeing up space on those streets. That means
overall bus traffic will increase on Third once the tunnel reopens.

“By shifting … buses onto Third, the buses will move more quickly and
there’ll be less disruption to traffic,”

This is good that the city is making transit priority. Especially since the people have become accustomed to having that restriction on 3rd Ave, the September shakeup should be really noticeable for downtown traffic.

Rails for Trails Falls Through?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Big day for transit news, I guess. The Port of Seattle is no longer interested in King County Airport. This is a big blow for Ron Sims, who now needs to find another way to pay for the BNSF rail corridor. The deal had been conceived by Sims and the old Port director, Mic Dinsmore, but his replacement has other ideas:

The Sims-Dinsmore deal drew fire from county council members who regard Boeing Field as an asset far more valuable than a recreational trail and who also are worried that the port would be less sensitive than the county to community fears about jet noise at the airport.

Port commissioners raised concerns about the actual value of the 77-year-old airport and the potential liability its owner would bear for the costs of cleaning up PCB contamination of a spur of the Duwamish River just across East Marginal Way from the property.

However, on the plus side:

[Port Executive Director Tay] Yoshitani told the Rotary Club the port also supports public ownership of the BNSF corridor — and is “willing to put significant dollars toward such a purchase.”

$103 million is a lot of money. There are only a few agencies that can swallow that: the Port of Seattle, Sound Transit, and the State of Washington (incl. WSDOT). I can’t think of any others with sufficient budgets. Maybe a collaboration between the Port and Sound Transit? Maybe ST could spend a few million less on glass walls and come up with the scratch? Just askin’….

Third Avenue

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Bus-only 4-eva, says the Mayor:

“With tunnel work coming to an end, this is a tremendous opportunity to improve transit service downtown and help people get where they are going quickly and efficiently,” Mayor Greg Nickels said in a prepared statement Friday.

Bus-only downtown streets are a feature of many American cities, including Denver, Portland, and Philly. Unfortunately, businesses on those streets tend to suffer when cars don’t come down there any more. At least, that seemed to be the effect in Philly when I lived there.

Making it bus-only during rush hour, but open other times during the day, as the Mayor’s decided to do, seems to be the right compromise. The signage will have to get better, though, now that it’s a permanent thing.

Two-Car Trains

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Pretty little things, ain’t they? One of the pluses of not implementing rail in 1968 when we had the opportunity, is that instead of having ugly, heavy rail like SF and DC, we’re getting some good-looking, svelte light rail. The minus, of course, is that it’s 40 years late. :)

More here.

Airport Station = Expensive!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

We learned back in March that the Airport Link station was going to cost about twice what Sound Transit had estimated. After receiving just one bid from Mowat, the agency went back to the drawing boards.

Now, in the interest of keeping things moving, Mowat has been contracted to build the basic parts of the structure, while ST redesigns the rest:

In hopes of putting a costly airport light-rail station back on track, Sound Transit’s governing board Thursday approved a $35.8 million deal for Mowat Construction to begin work this fall.

Back in March, Mowat was the sole bidder — at $95.3 million, or $43.5 million above the agency’s estimate of $51.8 million. In response, Sound Transit has broken the project into multiple parts. Mowat will sign a reduced contract to build the station’s concrete structure and tracks. Several details, such as glass walls and pedestrian bridges, will be redesigned to save money.

Hmm… $35.8M to build the “structure and tracks.” That sure sounds like the bulk of the work. Does that mean the “glass walls and pedestrian bridges” were going to cost $95.3M minus $35.8M, or $59.5 million?

Queen Anne Getting on the Bus

I found these cool advertising posters all over Lower Queen Anne (Uptown) recently, and thought at first that it was SDOT getting people to consider riding the bus. However, I did a little research and apparently there is a contest/pledge involved with this. Upon signing up for this you will receive 10 Metro tickets and some other goodies. This is put on by In Motion who has teamed up with SDOT, King County Metro, Uptown Alliance, The Greater Queen Anne Chamber of Commerce and Uptown merchants. Apparently there are prizes that you can win during your pledge of riding the bus, carpooling, walking, or biking. Plus as an added bonus if you are caught wearing your In Motion pin, you could win instantly. Sounds like a good deal to me, although I typically am not lucky in these types of situations. There are a few kickers however, you must live or work in Queen Anne specifically in the 98109 or 98119 zip codes (Sad times for me), own a car (you got to have something to reduce), and you must be 16. I think this is a cool way to get people to try making a commitment and potentially making it fun and enjoyable. It also helps get people that typically would be single occupants in one vehicle off the road. Of course, getting them on is one thing, keeping them on is another. Perhaps they will see the benefits outweigh the negatives. Also, if you like me, are kinda bummed out that it isn’t in your neighborhood, apparently it will make its rounds, next up is South Lake Union in the fall. It will be difficult when light rail gets here as it is hard to rhyme, although Get on the Train Jane, sounds cool? Perhaps this is why I don’t come up with these slogans! Is anyone participating in the In Motion contest? I’d be interested to see how much it increases ridership. Sorry for sub par pic, it was foggy, I didn’t want people to think I was too nerdy so I snapped and walked away.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Cascadia Prospectus uses a blog post about to the Port of Vancouver to launch into an extended tangent against the “putative progressives” who are opposed to alternative fuels and, by proxy, their tendency to encourage suburban sprawl. He writes:

For its part, “sprawl” is a somewhat loaded concept, reducing to a disease-like term the proclivity of actors in the free market to decide where to live based on laws of supply, demand and consequent household costs.

Just as people cannot be hectored into pricey and pinched urban townhomes merely to suit the objectives of planners and environmentalists, they cannot be browbeaten into taking mass transit. It will work for some on a daily basis, but not for many others, based on their daily travel patterns.

This is an idea you hear a lot from anti-transit people. Sprawl is the product of (presumably rational) “actors in the free market” while dense neighborhoods are the product of “hectoring planners and environmentalists.” In short, sprawl = freedom, density = communism.

But this is obviously not the case, as Matt eloquently argued here on this blog. Suburban sprawl was not handed down from upon high by God and Adam Smith, as some free-marketeers would have you believe. The Federal Highway Administration is one of the biggest corporate subsidies ever conceived. And it’s $30B budget doesn’t even include the billions more spent by states, cities, and counties.

Sprawl is a choice that we made, collectively, in the 1950s. And it was a smart choice at the time! FDR had just inked a deal with the Saudis to keep the black gold pumping, there was a ton of land outside of the cities to develop, and there were so few people with cars that congestion and traffic were almost nonexistant. Given those conditions, it made a lot of sense to re-build our society based on the automobile (let’s bracket, for now, the pernicious efforts of the auto companies to buy up and dismantle the streetcar lines, another way in which the car has robbed us of choices).

But we’ve learned a lot since then. We’ve learned that auto-dependent lifestyles have a cost: wars in the Middle East, greenhouse gasses, time stuck in traffic, loss of rural land, and an obesity epidemic. Those first two can be reduced by switching to alt fuels, but the last three cannot. So just as we made a collective choice to standardize on the automobile 50 years ago, we can make a different choice today.

Or better yet, we can make a lot of choices: we can build roads, trains, bus lanes, bike paths, sidewalks, and ferry lines. And down the road, jetpacks and hovercrafts, anyone? The more the merrier. Let’s have true choice. Not the illusion of choice.

BRT in the East Bay

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Alameda County (Oakland and Berkeley, CA) is looking at BRT. On the plus side, they can get the whole 16 miles up and running in 4 years for just $400M ($25M/mile is dirt cheap for a transit project). The downside is that, to make it work, to make it truly BRT, you need a dedicated lane, meaning you’d have to remove a general purpose lane.

The key point of controversy is the same thing that makes BRT so effective – the dedicated lane. Telegraph Avenue and East 14th would both lose a lane for car traffic in each direction. Congestion on both streets has grown increasingly frustrating in recent years for both automobile drivers and bus riders. With buses stuck in unpredictable traffic, their average speed has declined 10 miles per hour over the past 10 years. Opponents of the project claim the loss of a lane will make traffic unbearable, while proponents note that the increased speed and reliability of the bus will finally create a viable alternative to private car travel. The Draft EIR found that the removal of a lane would not significantly increase congestion, since the new bus is expected to take a significant number of drivers off the road.

And this is where it starts to fall apart. Grade-separated transit (light rail, monorail, subway, etc.) creates brand-new rights-of-way. Buses, usually, do not. They have to either (a) share with cars, which reduces their speed, or (b) build exlusive new rights-of-way, which makes them nearly as expensive as light rail.

Alameda County is trying an option (c), which is to steal lanes from general traffic. As you can see, it isn’t going over too well, no matter that the EIR finds otherwise. Taking lanes is never an easy sell.

But the fissure here is useful in illumnating the various sides of the debate. As Rob Johnson (whom I assume is the same Rob Johnson from Transportation Choices Coalition) wrote in a comment at the bottom of this too-clever-by-half Crosscut article,

It seems as though all light rail critics in this region are quick to support bus service when comparing the two, but their support dissapears when it’s actually time [to] fight for more bus service increases.

They’re all for more bus service, but only when it’s a matter of trying to deflect attention away from rail.

Commuters From Hell

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This, friends, is what we have to look forward to when we finally get light rail built. Enjoy!

Seriously, though, I think more jostling around with other people will be good for our collective souls.

Walkable Neighborhoods

Walking around Pike Place Market (by Greekafella- Wikipedia)

I found an interesting site the other night that rates your neighborhood in terms of walkability. The website Walkscore will search a specific address or whole zip code and based on their algorithm will calculate how walkable your area is. Things that influence scores are being in an area with a center or main street, being close to parks, restaurants, grocery stores, and many other things people go to. In my curiosity I then plugged in my address here in Seattle and it scored a 63 out of 100. I then plugged in every address I could think of. My hometown of Boise sadly was 0. I would have suspected as much though, Boise being extremely car-centric and very spread out. I read their website which basically describes the importance of walkability and they mention transit being important for walkable neighborhoods, however, they don’t use transit in their algorithm which they state is a flaw. Perhaps I would receive a 75-80 I am close to 4 bus lines. They show the importance of transit friendly, dense neighborhoods that help create happy neighborhoods and thriving businesses with plenty of foot traffic to keep them busy. Walking promotes social interaction, reduces C02, and helps promote good health in general. I realize this may be a utopia, but I think it is definitely able to be done. Interestingly, where I work in South Lake Union scored in the high 80’s if I remember correctly (I plugged a lot of addresses) I wonder if the streetcar shoots that up higher to 100 perhaps with a new algorithm? How does your neighborhood score? What might make it higher?

Tukwila Station Resembling Jet City

We are approaching July 2009 (I know we have a while yet), for me personally it couldn’t come fast enough. Certainly you don’t want to wish your life away, but I am really excited for Link. The Seattle Times had a nice article today describing the design of the Tukwila light rail station, which I thought was really cool. The V shape apparently is supposed to represent where the two wings meet the fuselage of a real jet. I have a hard time seeing this, but hey, what a unique way to represent Jet City! I admit, some art I just don’t see! In my fascination with the work of Sound Transit, I didn’t realize this station was the only one with a park and ride facility. I thought at first that it was in a weird spot, but after seeing the graphics on this article, I am convinced otherwise, it actually will be in a good spot for commuters. One reason to check the link is there are lots of pictures of the station, which is nice, because everytime I pass by I am always preoccupied on the bus getting my stuff/luggage ready to enter/leave SeaTac. Being on the freeway makes it hard to stop and look as well! I hear there are some awesome views off the platforms of the Tukwila station too. Pretty cool bonus for the commuter! However the real tingly feeling will come when you wisk by the traffic on I-5 as you cross over the freeway!

Tukwila Station

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

You know, when I first saw the plans for the Tukwila Station, I thought it was a little overblown. After all, it’s only going to be the end of the line for about 6 months until the Airport Link opens. After that, what’s the purpose of having such an extensive station?

But, of course, there is a purpose. It’s the only station in the line that’s designed as a park-and-ride:

This is the line’s only planned park-and-ride station, with 600 spaces, plus lanes for buses, shuttle vans, and “kiss-and-ride” users dropped off there. Unlike most other stations, which are designed to encourage walk-up use, the Tukwila Station could lure motorists off the highways.

To be sure, the 2,600 daily boardings dwarfs the 14,000 daily boardings projected for Capitol Hill. It seems like it would be better for a park-and-ride station to be right off of I-5 instead of International Blvd. But I guess that’s where it’s got to be.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Everett Herald tries to make the case that the Roads and Transit package will go down this Fall because (a) it’s too expensive, and (b) it’s not sexy enough. I’m not kidding about that last one:

“Emotion, emotion, emotion – capture it and you can win at the polls,” said Jami Warner, a public relations expert and campaign consultant from Sacramento, Calif.

The problem is that the so-called Roads and Transit tax proposal is boring – and expensive.

Bring sexy back! Personally, I think voters are ready to pull the lever for anything — anything — that will get concrete pouring.

I’m also skeptical of the article’s heavy reliance on Tim Eyman to prove the thing is dead, saying that Eyman has “been able to gauge the voters’ mood in the past, winning seven out of nine times he’s pitched initiatives since 1998.”

Isn’t more plausible that Eyman is not some magical svengali of the electorate, but rather just an anti-tax crusader whose goals happened to align with the anti-government mood of the 1990s? In the past few years, his initiatives have even failed to qualify for the ballot.

Hybrid Light Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Sacramento’s Regional Transit is experimenting with the idea that two great things go great together: hybrid technology and light rail.

It turns out that regenerative braking, the technology used in hybrid cars, can be deployed to trains, too: as the train brakes, it charges special capacitors that are then used to get the train up to speed as it leaves the station.