Jim Ellis On Sunday

I know I am super late on this, but this part made me cry so I had this in “saved draft” stage until five minutes ago:

He goes back to the 1968 transit vote that was part of another Ellis legacy, Forward Thrust, and one of his bitterest losses.

“We were ahead in the polls, right up to the last three weeks,” he said. “Then, some very clever ads came out, and one day General Motors showed up with a large trailer-truck. It had a huge window and inside was a chrome-plated jet engine, and the sign said something like, ‘This is the engine of the future. It will make buses faster than trains!’

“No one would ever put a jet engine in a bus, but people didn’t know that and we slowly lost the vote for transit. That was in 1968. If the people had voted for it — eventually it would have been 80 percent paid by the federal government — the system would have been finished in 1985, at three times the size of the one before voters this November. And the last payment for it would have been in 2008.”

Ellis believes this year’s transit-and-roads package should pass. He has seen it all: the bickering, the fighting, the turf, the mental gymnastics of a region emerging from a small town to a roaring city.

“The city has to come around to this,” he said. “Seattle is now the best it has ever been; just look at the vitality of downtown. But if Seattle pauses, it will decline and another city will come along to take its place.”

And later: “Seattle is so ideally positioned for the future,” he said. “The waterfront should be a wonderful attraction. Great cities do not have their streets destroyed by vehicles. I know that the local Sierra Club is against the November vote. I’m ashamed of them, and it will come back to haunt them.”

Seoul Unveils Water Taxis

Seoul, South Korea is unveiling water taxis starting Thursday! The fee is about $5 ~ $60 depending on distance. The catch is the seven-person taxis will depart only if all seats are full. Otherwise, the passengers in the boat have to pay for the empty seats. Also, none of the subway stops are right next to the water, so there’s no quick change between different modes.

Still cool!

Selling Congestion Pricing

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

CIS is thinking about how to message congestion pricing to road warriors. All the ideas he puts forward are intersting jujitsu moves — designed to use free-marketers own strengths against them.

Let me suggest another, that might be even simpler: congestion pricing is a use tax. Conservatives like use taxes. Many, for example, expect bus tickets to cover 100% of the cost of the bus (ignoring the fact that bus service has positive externalities that justify the taxpayer subsity). The common refrain I often hear is, “I’m never going to ride the bus, so why should I pay for it?”

Well, that argument cuts both ways. Congestion pricing simply lines up the supply and the demand to make you pay for what you use, as I’ve written before.

Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt in full swing in the anti-prop 1 camp

First the fear:

Increased density. Displacement and interruption of businesses. Low incomes. High unemployment rates. Increased noise. Visual Blight. Crime. Will the Martin Luther King Way south neighborhood follow suit and show a resemblance to neighborhoods near Portland’s MAX line? Will crime statistics be far behind?

I thought most people considered increased density a good thing. But high unemployment caused by light rail? Crime caused by light rail? Are you kidding me? I barely even know how to respond to that argument. Light Rail will only increase access to jobs in the city’s core and the University District (the two highest employment centers in Seattle), and having tons of people walking around a neighborhood shouldn’t increase crime. The worst neighborhoods for crime in Seattle are those most isolated. Sure more people means more crime in total, but not on average. The argument is ridiculous.

Next the uncertainty, from John Niles of CETA

Do we want to double the bet on Sound Transit when the 1996 Sound Move Plan is reported in the most recent Sound Transit progress report to be only 50% complete? Is Prop 1 really just a bail out to cover the Sound Transit overruns that are supposedly old news? That would explain the seeming desperation to get Prop 1 passed and double transportation sales taxes beginning in 2008.

See the 50% completion number with your own eyes by clicking on the link at the top of the web page http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/promises-v

Yikes! There’s a lot of misinformation there. But the answer is no and no. John Niles and his friends at CETA are desperate to destroy Sound Transit, and Prop. 1 is their best chance for it. These guys spent years and tons of money to try to obstruct the process, get Sound Transit shut down, and get the car-tabs revenue taken away so they can come back and say “Look at all the trouble Sound Transit is having”. In reality, the trouble ended five years ago after the courts ruled Sound Transit should be allowed to stay and the car tab revenue with them.

Finally the doubt, from Erica “No Mind to Make Up” Barnett:

Prognostications about the future are just that—predictions that may or may not come true. It’s interesting to me that TCC and other environmental groups that support roads and transit assume nothing is set in stone about the roads side of the package (“Sure, we’re voting for roads, but only because we’ll take them out later!”) but are absolutely 100% rock-solid certain that Sound Transit will never be back on the ballot if this fails. Seems like serious cognitive dissonance to me.

Way to pick quotes to paint a specific picture! There is a pretty good chance that the so-called “cross-base highway” will not get built because there is no finally plan for that road. Some of what is in RTID, like the two-lane addition to I-405 and SR-520 assume that WSDOT will cough up money, and that we don’t know for sure. And Erica is forgetting that Ed Murray and others in the state legistlature have forced them onto the ballot this year for the exact reason that they don’t want to have to run their campaigns the same election year as the transit vote. We’ll see whether Sound Transit comes back on the ballot if Prop. 1 doesn’t pass, but I can assure you it will not come back on the ballot next year.

Jim Ellis

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Seattle’s ur-planner, age 86, reflects:

He goes back to the 1968 transit vote that was part of another Ellis legacy, Forward Thrust, and one of his bitterest losses.

“We were ahead in the polls, right up to the last three weeks,” he said. “Then, some very clever ads came out, and one day General Motors showed up with a large trailer-truck. It had a huge window and inside was a chrome-plated jet engine, and the sign said something like, ‘This is the engine of the future. It will make buses faster than trains!’

“No one would ever put a jet engine in a bus, but people didn’t know that and we slowly lost the vote for transit. That was in 1968. If the people had voted for it — eventually it would have been 80 percent paid by the federal government — the system would have been finished in 1985, at three times the size of the one before voters this November. And the last payment for it would have been in 2008.”

P-I endores Prop 1

The better of the two dailies has endorsed Prop 1 in this rather guarded editorial:

For those who want more mass transit but no new roads, we hear you. We also empathize with those who fret about the sales tax increases, car tabs and the potential for light rail extensions and roads proposed by the package to cost closer to $160 billion. In an ideal world, Prop. 1 would be split into two separate questions, not one.

But, here’s the thing: It’s not so bad that we’d toss the baby (transit) out with the bathwater (roads). We’re already invested in light rail, and we can’t wait for the 2009 (that will be on time, right Sound Transit?) opening of the stretch connecting Sea-Tac Airport to the University of Washington.

That’s my feeling basically. ST2 includes hugely important rail infrastructure, and RTID includes a few bad projects (405) and a few really desparately needed ones (South Park Bridge). I think on the whole, it’s far more good than bad.

Eastside Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

With all this Prop. 1 hubub, let’s not forget that there’s still a set of tracks over on the Eastside that, last time we checked, Ron Sims was still committed to turning into a transit corridor.

Eastside Rail Now! has some great photos along the route if you’re interested in getting a better feel for it.

Starting from Scratch

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

David Goldstein makes a good point:

Indeed, if there is a lesson to be learned from this performance audit, and the parallel histories of both Sound Transit and the Seattle Monorail Project, it is the inherent danger of starting large transportation agencies from scratch… which ironically, is exactly what we’ll eventually be forced to do should voters reject Proposition 1.

This is in context of Sound Transit’s mismanagement in the 1990s, and I think it’s exactly right. It takes a long time for an agency to build up competencies and get good at what it does. It has to develop an instiutional culture, a repository of what works/what doesn’t, and lots of expertise.

In the waning days of the Seattle Monorail Project, the board fired in-way-above-his-head PR guy Joel Horn and brought in John Haley, a veteran of Boston’s transit agencies. Erica Barnett reported at the time:

Cleve Stockmeyer, the board’s other elected member, voted for Horn’s raise but now says hiring the onetime Paul Schell treasurer was “a mistake,” something he says he recognized after seeing John Haley, the interim executive director hired by the board in August. Haley, unlike Horn, has 30 years’ experience working for transportation agencies.

Bringing in Haley was the right move, probably 3 years too late. But just because Haley knew Boston, doesn’t mean he knows Seattle, 3,000 miles away on the other end of I-90. Each city has its own peculiar culture, and grafting a transit system onto it is never easy. You can’t fake that knowledge, it just takes time.

Update: Props to Joseph Turner and the Tacoma News-Tribune for being the only major daily in the region to get the gist of the Sound Transit audit: “Sound Transit’s first stab at building a multibillion-dollar light-rail system was a real mess for the first five years, but the agency got much better as time went on.”


A Feature, Not a Bug?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


Voters’ in northern King County will receive a supplemental edition of their state and local Voters’ Pamphlet this weekend. Edition 18 was printed and mailed without the Sound Transit & RTID Proposition No. 1 pro and con statements page. The error occurred during the printing process and was discovered yesterday, after edition 18 was mailed to households in Bothell, Kenmore, Kirkland, Woodinville, and Redmond. Voters will receive their supplemental pamphlet before absentee ballots are mailed.

Noted without comment.

Sound Transit Wasted Tenths… TENTHS! (of a percent)

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Last week I argued that oversight and accountability was coming to Sound Transit and RTID, in the form of the state auditor’s office.

Well, the report is out:

A review of the regional transit agency’s 11-year history identified about $5 million in “unnecessary expenses and fines” and said the agency hadn’t sufficiently controlled expenses. It also said Sound Transit improved its construction management techniques in the past five years.

The agency disputed parts of the report, but agreed with most of it.

Millions! Of course, when taxpayer dollars are concerned, waste is certainly problematic, but let’s put it into context:

[Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray ] said the $5 million in extra fines and expenses amount to less than two-tenths of 1 percent of the $2.6 billion construction cost of the initial rail system.

“To say you could have another 0.2 of a percent speaks to how effective and efficient things are running around here right now since we made the overhaul” of the agency, he said.

This is not, in other words, Iraq, where billions of dollars manage to vanish into the eternal desert sands.

Gas Tax Shortfall

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Here’s something ironic: the increase in gas prices this year is causing a projected shortfall in gas tax revenue. Why? People are using less gas.

Actually, that’s not ironic at all — it’s exactly what you’d expect: supply and demand. It is, however, instructive in the over-reliance on a single source of revenue to fund transportation. It also highlights just how divergent gasoline consumption and road use are becoming.

Back, say, 50 years ago, when all the jobs were in the cities, every household had one car, and all those cars were basically interchangeable Fords and Chevys that all got roughly the same gas mileage, the gas tax would have been a fairly equitable and reliable way to fund road construction and maintenance.

Today, however, the picture is different, and only getting more so. With hydrogen, biofuels, and ultra-efficient electric cars on the horizon, consumption of gasoline will soon cease to be a useful predictor of road use.

Which leads us to other types of “use” taxes, such as static (i.e. toolbooth-based) or dynamic (radio transponder) tolling. Sen. Ed Murray elaborates:

“Almost worldwide after the end of World War II, gas tax was a way that transportation was funded. We are now moving into a period of time where we have to explore what is going to … replace the gas tax,” he said.

Murray, D-Seattle, said the state needs to look at tolls to fill the gap but added, “That’s going to be a long debate.”

It’s a debate well worth having.

The Liberation of Ron Sims

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

We want our politicians to not be beholden to “special interests” or what have you, but we also need them to be accountable — to have a fear in their hearts that if they don’t listen to their voters, they could be out of a job. It’s a two-way street.

I mentioned last Friday, in discussing Ron Sims’ decision to not support Prop. 1, that Sims seemed liberated by the fact that he’s been effectively shut out of higher office. But liberation can turn to be a double-edged sword (to butcher yet another ying-yang metaphor!).

Yesterday, Danny Westneat took that sentement to its logical conclusion, saying that Sims should resign if his heart isn’t in it anymore.

Prop. 1 and Global Warming

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Trying to contain the fallout from Ron Sims’ decision last week not to support Prop. 1, Governor Gregoire says:

“Maybe (the measure) isn’t perfect. … I don’t care if it’s not perfect, we have got to move forward. And the last thing we need is to have the 1.2 million (people) that are coming into the Puget Sound area over the next decade, and leave the status quo. Want to talk global warming? That is a disaster.”

It’s a clever move, trying to pivot off of global warming, which, as Josh Feit argued, was the “one cogent moment” of Sims’ editorial.

But I think we need to step back for a moment and acknowledge that there are limits to what highway planning can and cannot do to halt global warming. The single largest cause of global warming is the burning of coal for electricity. Car and light truck emissions are just 20% of the total. More controversially, gridlock, too contributes to global warming. And though I’m not naive enough to believe that simply adding more lanes will end gridlock, adding HOV capacity to the 520 bridge will do far more good than harm in that regard.

(To be fair, transportation — including planes — accounts for over half the CO2 emissions in the Northwest specifically, but (a), that’s only because we get much of our electricity from hydro, and (b) because CO2 is only one of the gases that contribute to global warming)

So while I completely agree that denser, transit-oriented urban development is one key component to reversing climate change, it’s not the only one. Increasing fuel efficiency, reducing the use of coal-fired electricity plants, and somehow figuring out how to stop cows from passing gas are just three things that would do more to stop global warming than whether or not we pass Prop. 1 this November.

The Sierra Club and Ron Sims (both of whom I admire) would like to make this vote a referendum on global warming. It’s just not that simple.

A Different Take

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Knute Berger, ever the contrarian, has a weekend essay in Crosscut arguing that, hey, we’re actually moving forward on this whole infrastructure-upgrade-thing that blogs like this one have been so obsessed with, so, you know… let’s give ourselves some credit.

And he’s right. We are moving forward, and that’s one reason why I wanted to start this website. There’s just so much going on to talk about and document.

Anyway, the article’s alright, but you should definitely take the time to scroll down through the comments, where Berger and R&T proponent Sandeep Kaushik get into it over Ron Sims, congestion pricing, and more. I’d give a link, but Crosscut‘s funky content management system doesn’t seem to provide permalinks to comments.