This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Thus sayeth the P-I:

A team of engineers has been asked to determine in the next month whether that kind of tunnel technology could be used to replace the Seattle segment of the state Route 520 corridor — to the delight of many.

I mean, I appreciate the thoroughness of the investigation, but, but… a tunnel? Lake Washington is 200 ft in the middle, are you really gonna bore under it? Don’t get me wrong, I watch Modern Marvels, I love that crazy engineering stuff, but, but… a tunnel?!

Apparently it could also be an immersed tube design, where you build pre-fab tubes and sink them (as opposed to tunneling under rock). I imagine that gets tricky with an uneven lake bed. Anyway… it’s an interesting development.

Update: Via madisonian in the comments and KUOW this morning, I realized that they’re just talking about sinking the West end of the span, around Husky Stadium, NOT the entire bridge.

Canada Line!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Canada Line, from Vancouver Airport to downtown Vancouver, opens in 2009, just in time for the 2010 Olympics (and just like our own Link light rail).

This movie showing all the major stops and what’s around them, is pretty neat. It’s interesting to see how they market rail on that side of the border (“a different kind of car!”).

If anyone has good construction photos, let me know!

Update: And the blogosphere comes through once again. Thanks to Ben @ STB for the link!

Digging into the King 5 Prop 1 Poll

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

King5 and SurveyUSA have releasedthe results of a poll on Proposition 1. The results show voters are roughly split 30%”Yes,” 32% “No,” and a whopping 37% “Undecided.”

A couple of interesting nuggets from the poll itself:

  • Liberals are 2-to-1 in favor
  • Support is even across all three counties
  • Generation Y (the only voting generation who has a reasonable chance of commuting on light rail to the Eastside in their working lives) is in favor of the measure by 22 points.
  • Meanwhile, the boomers are against it by 15 points
  • People who have already voted are 3-to-2 in favor (a miniscule sample size, admittedly)
  • Sound Transit is viewed more favorably than WSDOT

(Via CIS)

Common Sense

When I write about rail, I’m often addressing an audience that has some root assumptions in common with me. I consider many of these assumptions to be common sense, but without having addressed them, I suppose it’s not reasonable to base arguments on them. With that in mind, what is it, what are the fundamentals upon which I base my interest in building rail mass transit – and my assertion that it should be your interest too?
First, a little about cities. Reading Jane Jacobs made me rethink the hazy mental distinction I had between towns and cities – and all the other forms and structures of urban settlement. She hits the root of the problem by addressing what causes cities to form: work. The jobs that create value and growth in our society are mostly those that take several types of simpler work, like making fasteners, and combine them into larger, more complex, as Jacobs says “new” work – like making a bicycle from parts. That bicycle is not only a new industry in itself, but it forces the evolution of all the simpler “old” work it’s based upon – as the final product is refined, its components are altered. Jacobs talks about cities as centers of new work – and towns and suburbs as places old work is pushed out to, effectively the support structures for new work.
Density, in cities, is how that old work is pushed outward. Innovation is generated by high density, as people are exposed to a high number and variety of new ideas. This innovation is what brings us higher quality of life. As new ideas become new businesses and create demand for space, the supporting work that is established but no longer growing so quickly ends up moving out of the core. This work moves to areas where real estate is cheaper, and fresh ideas are no longer needed for competitive innovation. These are the suburbs, and even rural towns.
This is where transportation comes into play. Since the late 1800s, we had street railways operating privately (and profitably). But starting in the beginning of this century, well before the federal fuel tax, the federal government started investing in roadways. As this was the largest part of the cost of using motor vehicles, the marginal cost for individual users dropped immensely when these new roadways opened – and when local and state governments started investing, individual vehicle ownership and maintenance became competitive with the cost of using the railways, simply because so much of the cost became tax-based. Governments could also use eminent domain to acquire property, so they weren’t paying the real estate costs of passenger rail companies. Combined with the 1887 Interstate Commerce Act’s strong regulation of railroads, the passenger railroads could no longer profit, and were easily competed into bankruptcy.

As we continued to build roads, we were no longer constrained by the profitability of transportation – arguably a good thing – but no balance was struck between cost and reduction of overcrowding, and the effects of enabling easy, cheap travel far from the city core were not understood. With major investment in interstate highways in 1956, the federal government’s investment policies created what we now call sprawl. Huge tracts of concrete were laid through city cores using eminent domain and without regard for social impact – because this work predated the Civil Rights Act, it largely impacted previously redlined minority areas.
These blanket investment policies resulted in only one transportation system surviving to serve most of the US – roads and highways, with the automobile upon them. Because competition was effectively eliminated – our roads and highways are now established and maintained to a basic level of service regardless of any market forces – the only places where the political will exists for mass transit are the very cores of cities. The false discussion frame that roads and highways “pay for themselves” has supplanted understanding: different amounts and locations of roadways have different costs, and would have to be priced differently from each other, and paid for at the time for any competition to exist – not to mention that the differing levels of infrastructure investment between roads and rails would have to be evened out first as well.
Wide roadways actually don’t compete well in the dense, innovative cores. Complete congestion occurs at a relatively low vehicle density – something that happens quickly in the cities with such high levels of US automobile ownership, a result of our nearly monomodal transportation system. While city centers can still grow, the curve of density from the center to the edge of an urban area becomes very flat – the overall effectiveness of the region drops as traffic comes to a standstill. We’re seeing this in Seattle today – we’ve really been seeing it for decades, but it’s finally beginning to threaten our prosperity. City streets can’t easily get wider when there are tall buildings in the way.

Rail is much more efficient. We knew this a hundred years ago – it was profitable and functioning well after private automobile ownership became available. While some roads can be profitable, this is only in limited circumstance – a toll road fed by many public roads benefits from those public roads and would not be profitable without them. Rail uses less space per person moved, important because urban real estate is generally the largest cost in a system, and can scale to far greater capacity than a roadway because it never sees human-induced congestion: the stop and go “traffic waves” caused by our individual decision making on the roadway. It also doesn’t have the hidden space requirement of parking – with a car-only infrastructure, income separation occurs partly because the real estate-based cost of private parking has the effect of pricing poorer workers out of the core, or making them depend on unreliable bus transit that has to share congestion with cars.
When I talk about how rail is necessary, it’s coming from an understanding that the fact that we *don’t* have rail now is a usurpation of the natural economic forces in the city, and that it’s slowing our innovation and our prosperity by flattening the density curve that provides those things. It costs much more to provide capacity into the city on roadways, and it costs more to provide infrastructure to the lower density, larger area that results from our congestion. Consider the cost of adding four or five lanes each way to Interstate 5 all the way through Seattle to the cost of building light rail: the former would likely be $50 billion or more in pure construction and right of way acquisition costs through the city, plus more necessary space for parking, not to mention all the new off-highway capacity that would be needed to serve all those cars – and all the travel on it during the weekdays would be congested immediately. The rail, on the other hand, taken in the same corridor with similar capacity, no requirement for parking, and consistent travel times, will cost less than $10 billion in the same year’s dollars.
The rail is obviously the more cost-effective option. Arguments that we “don’t have” those densities are already wrong, and will only become more wrong as we grow – and as fuel prices continue to increase. Common sense tells us we need more efficient ways of moving people to continue to compete in a global economy – and that’s what we’re doing.

Conveyor belts costs more than Light Rail station at Sea-tac

So George Bush put in some post-9/11 baggage conveyor requirements. Well Sea-Tac’s implementation is now more than $90 million over budget on what was supposed to be a $139 million dollar project.

The cost of the light rail station at Sea-Tac? $95 million. I know, apples and oranges but my point is just that transit is a lot cheaper than the rest of the crap the government spends money on.

Parking on Arterials

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I don’t agree with much of what Richard Morin writes for Crosscut but he sure is right about parking on arterial streets. I’m baffled by the fact that some of our arterials still allow parking — North 50th St through Wallingford comes to mind — either all day or outside of “rush hour” which is such a quaint notion in today’s economy as to be useless. There’s nothing quite like tooling along in the right-hand lane only to see a parked car right in front of you!

New Streetcar Website

I have been away for a great deal of time, but I noticed upon my return that the South Lake Union Streetcar has a new website with new some helpful information. I see people are sponsoring stops. Great for revenue! My hopes are that they will put all Seattle streetcar information on that website (http://www.seattlestreetcar.com/). I didn’t see anything regarding the Waterfront Streetcar or Capitol Hill streetcar. Check it out though it will be operating soon!

The Viaduct and Prop. 1

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Larry Lange, in a great roundup of Proposition 1, highlights some viaduct goodness in the package:

Seattle stands to get $323 million in regional money if Proposition 1 passes to finance about 90 percent of three major road improvement projects on Mercer, and South Lander and Spokane streets. Those routes could handle traffic during the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and ultimately facilitate a surface-street replacement.

Indeed. Improving east-west connecitons south of downtown will make it easier to move people and freight without the viaduct. Additionally, adding lanes to I-405 will help realize one of my own little surface-transit ideas: routing Everett-to-Tacoma through traffic onto 405, freeing up capacity on I-5 to handle the viaduct-free future.

Either way, passing Prop. 1 will make a surface-transit replacement for the viaduct far easier.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

morganb, writing in the comments, makes what is, I think, a relatively common observation:

So, while I believe that the imperative to act is more urgent than some do, I really think that focusing on this moment in time as our only opportunity prevents us from looking into the future. Politics on transportation and on the environment are in flux right now, and we need to preserve our capacity to adjust as the times change.

Even if we pass Prop. 1, we can still adjust our priorities down the road, as public sentiment in the 3-county region moves more towards morganb’s perspective. Construction isn’t set to begin on many of these projects (light rail and highways) until 2018 or later. And heck, if we can stop construction on the monorail mere months before it starts, surely we can stop construction on anything, right?

For example, Salt Lake City recently announced that the extension of their light rail network, originally planned for 2030, would be open by 2012. How? They were able to pass a referendum to generate extra cash. We could easily do the same thing here, should we decide to plow more money into light rail and less into road building. But first we have to have the framework in place, and that’s what Prop 1 provides.

Prop. 1

Prop. 1 is a vote about a lot of different things. It’s a vote about 50 miles of rail, and $7 billion or so of new roads, replacements for existing roads, and improvements for existing roads. To me it’s more than that, it’s also a vote on the sort of city we want to live in, what life is going to be like in Seattle in 50 years, and whether Seattle can finally move out of the sort of transportation “Groundhog’s Day” (as the PI put it) and become a city that actually gets things done rather than just talking about the perfect plan for generations.

One thing it’s not, or shouldn’t be: It’s not a vote about global warming or about greenhouse gases. According to Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry, the roads portion, RTID, could increase carbon emissions by as much as 15 million tons over 50 years. That’s an average of 300,000 tons per year. Currently, the US outputs 6394.5 million tons per year (a “metric” tonne is 110.25 English “tons”). Even if that were not to increase (it will), that means represents less than one half of one one hundredth of one percent of the US’s total greenhouse emissions. Or put another way, that means it’s less than four tenths of one percent of what our region does in greenhouse emissions (our region is about 1.25% of the nation’s population and pollutes slightly more than the average per person). For comparison, Sea-Tac airport is about 7% of our region’s greenhouse emissions, and adding a third runway ought to increase greenhouse emissions by about 50% there. That’d be about 3.5% of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions meaning the third runaway at Sea-Tac is an entire order of magnitude more greenhouse gas emissions than all the roads in RTID. According to David Suzuki, Erica Barnett’s trips to Texas at Atlanta by plane are as bad as driving a hummer there and back the whole distance. So we shouldn’t stop light-rail and all the good it will provide for a few tenth’s of a percent increase in greenhouse gases.

The arguments against ST2 have been made for generations. Look at the image to the left, it has the arguments against Forward Thrust 40 years ago. “Seattle doesn’t have the population density.” “It would be well to see how the controversial Bay Area Rapid Transit turns out” (Really well by the way with lots of expansion plans). “I feel the transit plan would saddle the people with an extremely high debt for 40 years” (the bonds would have been paid off this year) “His plea is for buses is dedicated highway lanes”. Isn’t that John Niles argument as well?

The fact is, that BRT has been tried here in the bus tunnel, at a cost the same as subway, but far worse for ridership. It has been tried in highway lanes in Los Angeles where there were huge cost overruns, making it almost as expensive as a subway line, and it even had collisions at the rate of one per week. So BRT is a red herring, and not a workable solution. We need to put it to bed.

Why are we still having this conversation after 40 years? Because Seattle is stuck in the ideas phase and can’t get past it, can’t put rubber to the road (or steel to the rails as it were) and get things done. Maybe our motto should be “don’t just do something, stand there!”

Seattle P-I: Let’s Get It Started In Here!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Well said:

We bear the burden of hitting those people with a few awful truths:

1) Roads can be used for mass-transit vehicles. They’re called buses. And while this package isn’t aimed at improving bus service in a big way, it will have an impact. Roads — along with sidewalks and bike paths — are needed, and until those personal jet packs promised to us by sci-fi writers are delivered, we are bound to them.

2) For those who think this package is too expensive now, we promise, if you find yourself reading a similar endorsement 20 years from now (and this being Seattle, that is a distinct possibility), the cost of construction, materials, labor and reconfiguring the city’s infrastructure will be considerably higher. Speaking of the future …

3) It is coming, regardless of how you vote for this proposition.

You could vote no and leave us in the transportation “Groundhog’s Day” situation we’re in. Or you could vote yes — and we implore you to — and free this region from its gridlocked thinking.

Chart Shows light rail times, not bus times

In his “Prop. 1 no cure for commute”, Gregory Roberts has a chart that shows the wrong times. The bottom bar is actually Light Rail times, not bus times.

The article is mildly well reasoned for a local paper piece on Prop. 1 with sections like this:

Light rail’s biggest payoff will come at rush hour, Patrick said. Sound Transit projects that in 2030, its light rail trains will carry 8,800 people per hour across the Ship Canal during peak commuting times, compared to the 14,000 now crossing the canal on Interstate 5. It would be nearly impossible, Patrick said, to match light rail’s added capacity in that corridor by other means.

It does still quote Nutty John Niles, who is the world’s largest blowhard. And the piece still has a bunch of misleading numbers (in addition to the crap chart already mentioned).

The region’s drivers collectively lose about 260,000 hours per workday to traffic delays, compared with travel at the speed limit, according to a recent state transportation audit. If the Nov. 6 ballot proposal fails, that is expected to increase to more than 600,000 hours per day over 20 years. But even if Proposition 1 passes, the total is still expected to nearly double, to more than 500,000 hours.

Uh, we are expecting a huge increase in population over the time period. So how much of that above figure is simply caused by increased population? What is the per capita number hours lost number? I am sure it’ll be a lot less than doubled, probably an increase of barely over 10~15%. The per person number is what people care about. I don’t care how long other people sit in traffic, I want my commute shorter.

I guess they have removed the chart from the online edition, though you can still see it in the morning edition.

Seattle is a great place to own commercial real estate, except it lacks transit

According to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute, Seattle is one of the nations best five markets for commercial real-estate. Basically, more real estate professionals nation wide rank Seattle as a “buy” than any other markets. Must be why I can see 12 cranes from Melrose street looking over South Lake Union (and that’s just SLU, there’s more in downtown, Belltown, First Hill and even Queen Anne). The report did mention transportation as a major problem for , the DJC explicitly mentions transit, but the P-I version only mentions “transportation”.

We can only continue growing this way if we improve our infrastructure. Thanks to Ryan for the link!

More good news for Sound Transit

Sound Transit has enjoyed a AAA bond rating from Standard and Poor’s for some time, but Moody’s just announced that they’ve uprated the agency from AA3 to AA2. All the As mean “good”.

This really just means that their bonds are considered more reliable by investors – something that’s going to matter a lot as the credit crunch continues!

A Necessary Municipality

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Seattle Weekly‘s Mike Seely offers a smart way to think about Sound Transit:

In this day and age, commuter rail agencies should be viewed in the same light as sewer, police, roads and power authorities. We need them, and we should give them the money they need to get things done. Sound Transit, for all its faults, should be permitted to carry out its mission to the fullest. If they screw up, hold them accountable via personnel and structural changes, but don’t cut them off at the knees.

Sound Transit was created just 10 years ago by a vote, so its somewhat logical to think we can just end it by a vote, like the Monorail. I’m reminded of Bill Cosby’s stand-up routine about how the way his father viewed the father-son relationship (“I brought you into this world, boy, I can take you out, too!”). But that’s not a viable, responsible way to run a municipality.

Westneat: ST2 better deal than I-405 widening

Of course, I could have told you that. Highways are bad for communities, bad for the environment, destroy sensible urban planning, dangerous, and create a bizarre and cold culture (I’ve never met a friend or a date on a highway, while I have met many on buses and trains). But Westneat puts it into a different perspective:

Here is a tale of two local megaprojects.

Both cost $11 billion. Both take 20 years to build. Both will help people move around the region. The first I’ll call Project A. It is widely praised, considered a no-brainer. Now and then an environmentalist squawks about it, but nobody listens.

Project B is the object of much ridicule. It is called a waste, a boondoggle. A P-I columnist dubbed it an “8-foot-tall steaming pile of elephant dung.” Another P-I column said the pile is 10 feet high.

So what would Project A and Project B actually do? Both would transport people along a corridor. So how many people would each move?

Project A, the no-brainer, will carry an additional 110,000 people daily over its 30 miles by the year 2030, according to its planners.

Project B, the wasteful one, will carry an additional 180,000 people per day over its 50 miles by the year 2030.

So … the boondoggle will transport more people? For the same construction cost?

So it goes in the upside-down world of our transportation debate, circa 2007.

Project A is the widening of the Eastside’s Interstate 405. The plan is to spend $10.9 billion (in 2002 dollars) laying four new freeway lanes and a bus rapid-transit route.

When done, the road will be 67 percent wider and carry 110,000 more trips than now. In some parts it will flow more freely. In others — such as the evening rush hour between Bellevue and Renton — it will be as jammed as it is today. (All this is from the state’s studies.)

Project B is Sound Transit’s light-rail plan. For $10.2 billion (in 2006 dollars), it would extend rail north to Lynnwood, east to Bellevue and south to Tacoma. The whole system, including the line being built now, is projected to carry 300,000 riders daily by 2030.

Yet this is the plan that people are saying is ludicrous.

Prop. 1 Round-Up

Here is quick summary of various prop. 1 news.

I am not the only person who thinks the Times’ using congestion reduction as the sole criteria for judging transportation projects is ridiculous. Here’s Goldy on the Times position on Prop. 1. I think I already posted it, but it’s good for a second read. Dan Savage agrees with him. Erica C. Barnett says they should read their own paper, because a million or so more people will move here by the time the work in Prop. 1 is finished, so traffic will suck no matter what.

Also, the Portland comparison the Times has made fails flat. Josh Feit doesn’t like the lazy logic, and shows that Max light rail ridership has grown faster than car travel or population growth. There’s plenty of evidence for this (scroll down). Lucky dogs, Portland got 75% of it’s light rail paid for by the feds. We’ll be lucky to get about 25%. I guess we missed the bus train on that sort of chance. We are getting a better system than them though. Finally, Josh Feit comes back with the facts that show that Portland did not reject light rail three times, but rather voted for it three times.

Of course, the Times keeps piling on the anti-Prop. 1 nonsense on. That crappy article has extensive quotes by Kemper “Japanese interment made my daddy rich” Freeman. And it includes this:

The Eastside rail line would be part of a 50-mile expansion of light rail, including extensions to Lynnwood and Tacoma. The line over Lake Washington would bring trains holding up to 600 people, stopping at each station about every nine minutes during rush hour, according to Sound Transit.

Westbound passengers could stay on the train to head north to Lynnwood or switch trains at the Seattle transit tunnel to go south to Tacoma or Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. About 45,000 people a day would ride the Eastside line by 2030, officials say.

Some of the biggest concerns from Eastside residents are about where the line would go, though Sound Transit wouldn’t pick a route until late next year. This is especially true south of downtown Bellevue, where the trains would run past the Mercer Slough Nature Park and possibly near homes.

Some residents there are opposing Proposition 1, in part, they say, because the trains could block car traffic and require the removal of scores of homes.

Proposition 1 also is raising tensions between some Bellevue and Redmond leaders. The Bellevue City Council has pushed Sound Transit to study a tunnel through downtown Bellevue, but the tunnel would cost an extra $500 million, raising the cost of an Eastside rail line to about $3.5 billion.

Jesus christ. They found the one important guy in Downtown Bellevue who doesn’t want the rail, and have been interviewing him for ages. According to the polls 81% of Eastsiders want the rail part of the package.

Anyway, the P-I has continued it’s parade of “dinosaurs against the future” with this op-ed by George Kargianis and Phil Talmadge. I guess Talmadge is only like 65, but Kargianis passed the bar in Washington in 1953 (more than fifty years ago!) meaning he’s pushing 80. Of course these guys think something about global warming and BRT. Whatever. People past retirement shouldn’t even be allowed to vote on bills that have 30 year spans. Speaking of dinosaurs, Ted Van Dyk responded to his own piece here (scroll down).

O. Casey Corr at crosscut discusses what might happen if Prop. 1 fails. I don’t even want to think about that, so I won’t talk about it here.

Make sure you guys vote November 6th! You have no right to complain if you don’t exercise this right.