Passenger Ferries

I guess I’m not the only one fantasizing about them.

When it comes to mass transit, Puget Sound’s new selling point is that open water requires no expensive workers to design, build, pave, stripe or repeatedly patch its surface.

“The route is free,” said King County Councilman Dow Constantine at a “mosquito fleet” forum last week at Salty’s on Alki.

What’s the expression about free lunches? I have to say that ferries are vastly preferrable to buses or shuttles, and if they ever bring back the UW-Kirkland Ferry, I will take it every day.

Pat Murray shows Sound Transit the Money!

I know that’s a lame title for this post, but I’m in Sweden (that’s a Stockholm metro station on the left), where things are a little behind the times in the American pop culture department, but way ahead in terms of congestion pricing (the photo in that article is hella not from Stockholm, btw), and transit (exactly 100 metro stations in a city of 760,000 and a region of 1.9 million, who says transit can’t work in low density?).

Anyway, it seems that Patty Murray has come through for Light Rail in the region.

Sound Transit today lauded Washington Sen. Patty Murray for her efforts to include $30 million for Sound Transit’s University Link light rail project in a key Senate funding bill.

“Our Senator comes through again,” said Sound Transit Board Chairman and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “When commuters jump on the quick, quiet and efficient U-Link, they should thank Patty Murray.”

The funding bill also includes a $70 million installment of Sound Transit’s $500 million full funding grant agreement for the initial Link light rail segment from downtown Seattle to Tukwila that is more than 70 percent complete. The line from downtown to Tukwila is scheduled to open for service in July, 2009, with the final leg from Tukwila into Sea-Tac International Airport to open by December, 2009.

More on Passenger Ferries

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Passenger-ferry maddness continues, with talk of catamarans:

The passenger-only boats Washington State Ferries used to operate were criticized for damage their wakes caused to private property along the shorelines where they operated, especially in narrow passages. So designers of a new passenger-only ferry are determining how to minimize the ferries’ wake while maintaining reasonable speeds.

Designers have been working on a hydrofoil catamaran that could carry 149 passengers at a cruising speed of about 35 knots. It would be partially lifted from the water on a submerged wing that could increase speed, said Matt Mullett of All American Marine Inc., a boatbuilding company in Bellingham. The company builds aluminum boats for whale watching, ocean research and passenger transport among the Hawaiian Islands.

Catamarans ride on two parallel hulls. With less water resistance, they use 44 percent less fuel than monohulls and create smaller wakes, Mullett said.

Design of a new Puget Sound passenger-only vessel is expected by the end of this year, said Phil Osborne of Kitsap Transit and Pacific International Engineering.

35 knots! That’s almost three times the speed of the current ferries. Not too bad.

I love the idea of making use of the water again as one giant freeway around Puget Sound. Might as well turn our liabilities into assets. I can think of two main problems with the passenger ferries. First, with the exception of Downtown Seattle and maybe UW, your final destination is rarely within walking distance of the ferry dock. That means transfering to a bus or train, which adds considerably to the total travel time. Then there’s the labor issue. Ferries require dock workers to tie them up, collect tickets, etc. I’d be interested to see how it fares against other forms of mass transit in that regard.

Still, 35 knots is about 40mph, if my calculations are correct. Meaning that a catamaran ferry could potentially make it from Everett to Seattle in half the time it takes the Sounder train to make the same trip.

Gas usage in Washington is lowest since 1968

An article today in the Seattle PI shows that gas use in Washington State is the lowest it has been in more than three decades. This is great! However there is still work to be done. Our neighbors to the north are using 2.8 gallons of gas per week per capita less than Washingtonians. Looking at the largest cities in these perspective regions (Seattle and Vancouver), this is possible because the densities of the two cities are very different. Vancouver is a little more than double the density of Seattle at 13,602.6/sq. mi. which would require less gasoline usage to get to and from the city. Seattle having a much larger metropolitan population means we are more spread out creating demand for more gasoline. However I think this article compliments Andrew’s nice blogs on Density and the string of density related articles coming from the PI lately.

While mass transit is becoming more widely available and building restrictions have forced more dense development, the gradual decrease — starting in 1999 — seems to also be tied to the increase in gas prices, said Clark Williams-Derry, the Sightline research director of the Cascadia Scorecard 2007 report released in June”.
This is key to building a well-oiled transportation system. Density places more people at the doorstep of transit. If available, people will forget they ever depended on cars.
The lower rate of consumption is partly because of decade-old development rules focused on creating “compact, complete communities,” said Peter Ladner… “.
I think our development is starting to head in this direction as well, take for instance Kent. The development of Kent Station has made living in Kent and the commuting much easier. If we can start making the cities we have more dense, and develop them around a reasonable transportation system, this will make for a better environment overall.

Transit Wrap-up

I’m in Sweden on Holiday at the moment, so here’s a brief transit news round-up:

On Saturday the P-I talked about free transit service. Apparently, Island Transit is free, and the P-I wondered if it would work here. I doubt it. The demand would go up, mostly from kids and the homeless, which would make the bus worse for commuters and actually make transit less popular.

SFist asked a bus driver what they hated most. I know that’s San Francisco, but the list is still relevant here. Except:

-Money. Please, people, please: If you’re paying cash, get it out of your purse/backpack/pocket/shoe before you climb the stairs. It’s beyond annoying to see someone talking on a cellphone, carrying a purse or backpack that could easily hold the Grand Canyon, spending five minutes leaning on the fare box, blocking everyone else’s efforts to get on the bus, counting out pennies from the nether reaches of their bag.

Orphan Road noticed they’ve already started building University Station.

Viaduct Repairs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Not much new in this piece on Viaduct repairs. The 6-part temporary fix will start this year with electrical work. The Belltown community seems to be rallying around opposition to new ventilation systems in the Battery Street Tunnel, something I don’t have much of an opinion on.

Still looks like the timeline is conveniently set up to avoid actually closing the viaduct before we have to make a decision.

If You Build It, They Will Come

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Denver Edition:

DENVER – The regional transit system is moving 34 light rail cars to the popular southeast light rail line.

RTD says Monday through Friday, an average of 61,000 people combined ride the central, southwest and southeast light rail lines. RTD says of that, an average of 34,000 are riding the southeast light rail line.

The southeast line connects north Denver to Park Meadows in the south and Aurora in the east.

“It is very popular because of the fact you have all those people coming in from the outskirts coming in to use the light rail,” RTD Spokesperson Daria Serna said.

Of course, Seattle is totally unlike Denver. Denver is a Western city surrounded by mountains. It can’t work here. Let’s just build lots of roads!

Transit in Snohomish County

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Lots of good stuff in this HeraldNet op-ed: on the increase in transit use up North:

Community Transit’s next big project is its Swift bus rapid transit service, slated to begin operation in 2009. The new route will run 17 miles along Highway 99 between Everett and Aurora Village, with 15 stops in each direction. Some 1.5 million people use the existing bus routes on that corridor, and the frequency and efficiency of the Swift system should further increase those numbers.

15 stops over 17 miles. That’s how you do BRT! With a connection at Aurora Village to Metro’s RapidRide, you’ve got a pretty nice commute down Hwy 99. Assuming, of course, that the bus-only lanes are all up and running (a project that WSDOT is working on). By 2009, transit options along the Aurora corridor will be much, much better.

Complementing that, you’ve got an increase in Sounder rail:

Through May, Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter rail line had made 1,315 total trips this year. Sound Transit plans to increase the number of weekday round trips between Everett and Seattle from four to eight next year, and to add a new stop in Mukilteo. (It currently stops in Edmonds.)

Four to Eight? I see two round-trips on Sounder’s site, plus two Amtrak trips. Either way, it’s a good development. Still, one hour from Everett to Seattle on Sounder is a bit long, and presumably the trip will get even longer when the Mukilteo stop is added in. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with sharing the BNSF tracks. And certiainly an hour from Everett to Seattle is actually quicker than driving most days. Still, if there’s a chance that you can do it in 30 minutes by car every now and then, many people will still opt to drive. That’s just how the human brain works.

“Light Rail Mafia”

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It exists, if this Cato Institute study is to be believed. Shocking!

The idea that Portland is an “unlivable,” and “unaffordable” city is pretty absurd on its face. It’s still the least-expensive major city on the West Coast, and often ranks as one of the most livable cities in America. Such is the grasp of Portland’s nefarious light-rail mafia, I suppose, that they can supress housing prices and buy off news media. Truly nefarous stuff.

Of course, if I were to start a transit-oriented mafia, I’d surely start with roads, not rail, since road construction offers far more poured concrete in which to make the bodies of my enemies disappear. But that’s just me.

P.S.: … and that Measure 37 that Cato cites as evidence that “Portland–area residents have expressed their opposition to these plans”? Yeah, it’s on it’s way to being repealed.

Light Rail in Charlotte

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

If you haven’t been following the saga (and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be!), the city of Charlotte, NC, is building a light rail system, and, in a tactic surely appropriated from Seattle, some residents there have gotten a vote on the ballot to recall the whole thing, despite the fact that construction is well underway.

Here’s one op-ed arguing why that would be a bad idea:

Maybe the guys who want to scrap Charlotte’s light-rail system didn’t read the Observer’s “Our Energy Future” series. Maybe they forget that independence requires sacrifice on the part of all Americans, not just by those in our armed forces. Or maybe they’ve forgotten the Great Oil Crisis of 1973.

That was the year yours truly and a lot of other commuters learned to ride our public transportation system, then known as buses. We had fooled ourselves into thinking that gas-guzzling sedans and station wagons meant true independence. Suddenly some Middle Eastern politicians who didn’t like our support of Israel put a halt to that illusion. Their oil export embargo hit this nation’s consumers virtually overnight.

Sure, things like the strategic petroleum reserve have softened the potential effects of an embargo, but they’re still there: we’re importing far more oil now than we were 30 years ago, both in relative and absolute terms. Light rail’s not the only answer, but it’s part of it.

Free Rides

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Larry Lange looks at free bus service in the P-I, and finds it’s not all it’s cracked up to be:

“A fare-free policy might be appropriate for smaller transit systems in smaller communities, but is ill-advised for larger transit systems in major urban areas,” a 2003 University of South Florida study concluded. It said fare-free service increases maintenance and labor costs and in some cases led to criminal activity that “drove away existing riders.”

In other words, if you want something to have value, you have to make people pay for it, even if it’s just a token amount. it is interesting, though, that Metro estimates that collection costs account for 10% of their budget. Given that the farebox only brings in 15% or so of total revenue, that’s nearly a wasy.

Neighborhoods and Transit in the PI

The PI has a bunch of articles today about Density, Transit and Neighborhoods all over the city. The series is in response to the Mayor asking Neighborhood groups to update their plans to accommodate more growth. The last plans were written ten years ago.

I always think of the “neighborhoods” movement being a gigantic NIMBYism front that fights all growth, but the articles show that it isn’t that that way everywhere, and that some neighborhoods are working to preserve their character whilst growing.

There’s one about the South End, Rainier Valley in particular, where residents mistrust the city government and are unhappy with the way development has been going. A lot of this has been the traffic nightmare brought by light rail construction, which is almost over. There’s this quote from Jim Diers, former director of Seattle’s Department of Neighborhoods

“During the neighborhood planning process, there was not one neighborhood, including those in Southeast Seattle, that fought growth targets.”

But people get their backs up when they are told how to grow and have no say in neighborhood planning, Diers said, noting that many residents were caught off-guard by the proposal.

There’s an entire article about Diers, who was the first Department of Neighborhoods head, served under Royer, Rice and Schell but was fired when Nickels came into office. He claims that the neighborhood movement has been weakened by Nickels, and that Seattle is getting away from a model that is being copied around the world. He takes the classic NIMBY stance.

There’s an article about Beacon Hill, where the growth plan adopted 10 years ago worked well, but people there are scrambling to ensure the development around Beacon Hill Station is in tune with neighborhood goals. Then there’s Roosevelt, where the Neighborhood Council tries to place nice with the city in order to get their vision for their neighborhood straightened out. With the Roosevelt Station planned, it will certainly become and even more dense neighborhood, and by playing nice instead of obstinate, they were able to convince Sound Transit that they needed a tunnel instead of overground. Finally, there’s this piece about Madison Park, where the rich residents feel that a neighborhood plan might be the only protection against rampant development.

It’s a great series that gives a good idea about what the neighborhood movement can and can’t do, and even gives clues on how to get involved. I get involved in my neighborhood meetings (I went to the Capitol Hill station meeting), and I encourage everyone else to do so if they are interested and have the time.

University Link: That Was Fast!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Just a month after the UW and Sound Transit closed a deal on light rail, the first construction crews have arrived at Husky Stadium to start preliminary work:

Sound Transit (ST) contractors recently began drilling 180-foot-deep holes in two Husky Stadium parking lots as part of the research phase for an underground light rail system, ST and UW officials said.

When they finish, operators from the two drilling rigs will have drilled about 20 holes in the E11, E12 and C12 parking lots. Drilling is estimated to wrap up during the first or second week of July.

The light rail, called U-Link, will run 3.15 miles through Capitol Hill to downtown Seattle. Most of this drilling research is for the train station, which will be built at the same level as the rail itself, about 100 feet underground.

Heavy construction will begin in late ’08 or early ’09.

Revenue from Ads Should at Least Equal Advertising Expenditures

Sorry to go back to the issue of ads on the bus, since we’ve just about beat that one to death, but when asking Sound Transit how much they spend on advertising I go this response:

The American Public Transit Association recommends transit agencies devote between one and four percent of their operating costs to marketing. Sound Transit is well within that guideline.

Overall ridership on Sound Transit services rose 8 percent between 1st quarter 2006 and 1st quarter 2007. An annual public opinion poll conducted by Sound Transit in fall of 2006 also showed approval rating for the agency had risen significantly from 45 percent in 2003 to 65 percent in 2006. Brand recognition is up to 85 percent. We believe much of this is attributable to effective advertising.

Well if they’re going to spend 1~4% of their budget on ads, I think they should try to recoup 1~4% of their budget from advertising.

Waterfront Streetcar coming back?

So I was in the grocery store yesterday and I somehow always get stuck in the magazine section reading various magazines of interest. One I tend to pick up a lot is Seattle Metropolitan, it has some good stuff on Seattle, although, this month there was an article on the beloved Waterfront Streetcar. The article talked about the history of streetcars in Seattle, which I might add was quite rich, I never knew Seattle was such a streetcar oriented city. Like anything though, if you saturate it with enough politics things can be taken away in an instant. Which several times over again has happened to Seattle. Some might say it was another tourist oriented development by Seattle, although I know many businesses along Pioneer Square would surely love to have the streetcar back in a heartbeat. One part I found particularly interesting in this article, there are a couple shops in Pioneer Square that are closing (11 to be exact) and it was implied that they are closing because the loss of the streetcar means a loss in revenue (30-40% to be exact). Whereas on the flip side, the new South Lake Union Streetcar is causing a stir as well. Christine Lea who is the Vice President of the Cascade Neighborhood Association notes that businesses are starting to flee the SLU area due to the development of the Streetcar. Hmm… I do know since I have worked in SLU for a couple years now, I have seen a lot more going in than going out. I think the streetcar is going to do a lot more than people think! I am betting businesses will thrive much like they did in the Pearl District in Portland. Finally, Seattle got some promising news the City Council approved Greg Smith’s proposal for three extra floors on his Occidental Park Project and the trolley barn was a go again! This is great news! Let’s make it happen Seattle, with some extensions it can be a great opportunity!

Seattle’s "Green Cred" without Proper Rapid Transit

Today the PI has an opinion piece about Seattle’s green cred is a mirage without better public transportation:

Seattleites tout a good green game, but fall a little short.

Aside from Central Park, the Metropolitan Museum of Art and pizza by the slice, what I miss most about New York City is the efficient and reliable subway system, capable of transporting millions of people to work every day. At night, it would take me less than 15 minutes to travel north from 14th Street to my apartment in the low 80s with a subway transfer in between. In fact, subways were such a pervasive part of my life that in nine-plus years I never drove, not even once.

My pharmacist husband, meanwhile, has relied on subways his entire life. Raised in Queens, he attended the prestigious Bronx High School of Science, graduated from Long Island University in Brooklyn and owned a pharmacy in Greenwich Village. A devotee of the N Train, at 43 years old, he just got his driver’s license in anticipation of our big move west.

Well, 20% of Seattlites do bus to work, but the point remains that we need better public transportation to coax more people out of their cars.