Rest in peace, waterfront streetcar?

www.city-data.com

While I’m busy bashing King County today…

Commenter Shotsix asked about the Waterfront Streetcar today. It’s something I’ve been wondering about myself, as it was a nice way to get down to the waterfront on a partially separated right-of-way. My brother-in-law is considering switching to transit to get to work and asked me about it. So I did a little Googling:

It looks like the Streetcar is dead. UPDATE: No it’s not. See below.

What drives me nuts about this is the lack of priorities. The city decides to build a sculpture park, and they have to move the streetcar barn. That’s fine, but a jurisdiction that actually prioritized transit would get the replacement facility constructed first, or at least finalize the plans for that replacement.

With typical skill, our fearless leaders had no such plan. Instead, their vague notions of a replacement got mired in Seattle process, and it’s taken so long they’d now rather wait to restore service until the viaduct replacement is done in the year 2175.

Meanwhile, its replacement, bus route 99, has one-fifteenth the ridership that the streetcar had. (scroll to near the bottom on the link).

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter “Pantograph Trolleypole”, who pointed out a summer post from this very same blog (D’oh!).

That gave me some new search terms, which pointed me to this newer (Jan 2007) article, which suggests that the trolley will return in 2009. Damn you Google!

Of course, that could still be a very short run indeed. If the viaduct rebuild is chosen, the new viaduct would swallow up the streetcar line. I’m no civil engineer, but I suspect the retrofit and surface/transit options could leave the streetcar unharmed.

UPDATE 2: Commenter Brian Bundridge, piling on, gives a more precise date of Summer 2009, just in time for light rail. Mea culpa, mea culpa!

But I don’t want to lose the larger point. Sculpture parks are not high on any citizen’s priority list. Regardless, to get one, they tore down part of our transit infrastructure with no replacement and no firm plan for one in place. These are not the actions of a leadership focused on transportation issues. The fact that they haven’t even started building the barn yet is outrageous.

Time to Expand Sounder?

With talks of the Lakewood line coming online in late 2011, there has been some surface talks among the public of – what’s next? The final three mainline stations will be Lakewood, South Tacoma for the South corridor and Mukilteo for the North corridor but should Sound Transit look further? With Roads and Transit behind us and King County being tax happy, would the public even want additional train service or improves?

With the North corridor ridership less than 53,000 a year it’s time to look at ways to improve this service to make it more viable and attractive to those coming from Everett and Marysville. Could a train leave Stanwood, a future Amtrak station set to open in November 2008? Could we gather additional funding for parking garages at Everett, Mukilteo, and a permanent station and garage improve the overall ridership?

I can only think of two locations that could support having a commuter rail station for the North corridor; Galar Street/Interbay also known as lower Magnolia area and Alaskan Way/Broad Street as a walk-on/off only station. The Galar Street option would have Amgen, Seattle-PI and Louis Dreyfus employees not to mention employees of Pier 90/91. The Streetcar if extended to the future cruise ship terminal at Pier 90/91 it too could use this station. The Broad Street would not have any parking available. It has been too densely developed to allow a parking garage but it does have easy access to many Belltown businesses and quick access to the Seattle Center.

For the South Corridor, a station at Lakeland Hills/South Auburn would be an excellent medium. There is a good amount of users between the Auburn/Sumner corridor that would use a medium station. Many folks use Auburn from Sumner because there is no additional parking available. The Lakeland Hills station would be located at Lake Tapps Pkwy & East Valley Hwy E and could have a parking facility for at least 500 cars easing the load at Auburn while reducing the need of having an additional garage which may end up being needed in the future anyways. I’m not sure of BNSF’s exact plan for triple tracking between Tukwila and Sumner or if that will even happen at all but I can tell that it will be double track from Sumner to Tacoma as Sumner and Puyallup stations does not have provisions to accommodate a third mainline.

It’s all just an idea, but I could foresee the additional stations and parking garages much welcomed to commuters and those that wish to try out Sounder without having to worry about parking on the street or a business’ parking lot that doesn’t allow Sounder use. How would we fund it is really the question?

Sound Transit vs City of Tacoma….Sounder to nowhere?

Sound Transit’s crown jewel is making a lot of business owners in Tacoma red in the face this week. The future extension that will run from Freighthouse Square to Lakewood using the old Tacoma Eastern tracks towards Fort Lewis. The problem? The 1.2 mile missing link that needs to be built from Freighthouse Square/D Street to M Street would eliminate 7 business along the planned route, all located on Pacific Avenue. Businesses want more time on selecting a route hoping it would save their company and hope a petition will delay the project another 2-3 years in hopes for a new, less disruptive design that wouldn’t ‘separate” the district from Downtown Tacoma. Sound Transit isn’t having any of that with a decision to come next month (Meeting with the latest design is November 15 at Freighthouse Square) which the project already 6 years behind schedule.

Read more on the Tacoma News Tribune – Stop or go for Dome District

Foot Ferries

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

King County’s ferry fleet got the green light yesterday:

Under the plan, the county is to spend about $18 million the first year to pay for the Vashon ferry and the Elliott Bay Water Taxi, as well as five demonstration routes: Kirkland, South Puget Sound, Kenmore, Shilshole and Renton. The plan doesn’t identify where the ferries would run, but the assumption is the Kirkland ferry, for example, would go to the University of Washington.

Vashon is an easy one. The state killed the passenger ferry there a few years ago, so it’s a known route. Also, it’s not like Vashon island residents have the option of not taking a ferry to get to Seattle (though this one will be twice as fast). The real test will be in the routes that compete directly with overland roads.

I’m all about finding new rights-of way, but I’m a little skeptical of the system, since you can’t build ferry terminals near residential population centers. Sure, a few people live right on Shilshole Bay or along the Des Moines waterfront, but most of these riders will have to get to the passenger terminal via another form of transportation. Either you build huge park-and-ride garages on the waterfront (doubtful!) or people have to take the bus and transfer, at which point you might as well have taken the bus the whole way (in many cases).

One real winner, though, could be bike riders. You can easily imagine a bike rider zipping down to the West Seattle or Kirkland waterfront and tossing his/her bike on the ferry or locking it up at the terminal. Ballard-to-downtown bikers also could benefit from a route that allows them to avoid the dangerous and bike-hostile Ballard Bridge/15th Ave. NW route.

Priority: Everything but Transit

We’ve spent the last week or so agonizing over how to get the $1.2 billion in 2006 dollars to extend light rail to Northgate by 2018. We’ve spilled many electrons trying to figure out what taxing district is optimal, how the legal arrangements work out, etc.

Well, the King County Council just raised taxes without a public vote yesterday, and if you multiply the projected yearly income by the 10 years it would take to get to Northgate, you get no less than $1.1 billion. That’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, ignoring inflation (although tax receipts inflate too), but also ignoring the fact that we could pay it off over a longer period of time, and the likelihood that the Federal government would chip in.

Remember this when we’re told there’s no money to get to Northgate (or repair crumbling bridges).

Ron Sims’ swing from champion for transportation to head of the mass transit enemies list is truly startling. Could a Republican County Exec be any worse?

Hey Olympia, Bring Back TIF!!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In thinking about the viaduct, I realized that one way to finance at least part of a surface-street alternative would be through tax-increment financing, or TIF.

TIF is used in almost every state in the union to finance local infrastructure projects, except Washington, where it’s illegal. The legislature keeps trying to bring it back, but they keep running into a number of statutory and constitutional hurdles, the biggest of which is I-747, the Tim Eyman initiative that caps property tax increases at 1%/year.

“Overall, the biggest wrench thrown into the gears here is I-747,” says King County assessor Scott Noble.

If I-747 sounds familiar, that’s because a court threw it out last week as unconstitutional. The Governor and the Democratic state legislature, inexplicably weak-kneed at the prospect of confronting Eyman, has vowed to implement the 1% cap anyway.

I think it’s ridiculous that the legislature allows themselves to be strongarmed like this (it encourages irresponsible initiatives, like this year’s I-960), but if they’re going to do it, they might as well get something in exchange. They ought to make an exception for TIF in the process of instituting the 1% cap. Even if 747 isn’t the only thing standing in the way of TIF (there are a few other significant barriers), it could provide a political opportunity to get it back on the agenda.

Transit Round-Up

Will at Horse’s Ass does not like passender ferries. Goldy, much like me, is sure that the roads agenda is going through anyway. Thanks a lot Sierra Club!

The Overhead wire has a round-up of the Democratic Presidential candidates’ positions on transit. The Third Rail (a heavy-rail alernative to the Overhead wire? A grade-separated transit blog?) had a round up from about six ago, and even had one for Microsoft’s bus system is doing okay, but it doesn’t seem to have made my 545 ride any less crowded. Anyone else see a difference on the 545?

Did I miss anything? Post it in the comments!

520 vs. the Viaduct

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The state is scrambling to come up with the $4.4B it needs to replace the Evergreen Point Bridge (a.k.a. the 520 bridge). The RTID would have contributed $1B and a patchwork of funds including tolls would have covered the difference.

Now here come the Viaduct retrofit folks, arguing that the $2.3B that the state’s already earmarked for that project could be used for the 520, and we can retrofit the viaduct for a mere $1.3B or so.

WSDOT looked at the retrofit (.pdf) and pegged it at $2.3B, not including the cost of replacing the waterfront seawall. They wisely nixed the idea.

The idea of using viaduct money is a compelling one, though. Perhaps WSDOT will look again at the surface/transit option. Though it might cost as much as $2.1B (including the seawall), it could be partially paid for by the city. Mayor Nickels has previously suggested that the city would kick in up to $750M for a tunnel, between a local improvement district and having Seattle City Light pay for the relocation of utility lines.

Add to that the $200M you save by not rebuilding the viaduct, and bingo, you’re at $950M, just $50M shy of what Prop. 1 would have raised for the 520 bridge. Even if the city balks at coughing up the the full $750M, we’re still in the ballpark.

Pierce County, We Need to Talk

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Hey Pierce,

Umm… so, here’s the thing. Let me start out by saying I really like you as a friend. Seriously. And it’s been great being your neighbor for the last 100 years. I really mean that.

But ever since we got engaged by Sound Move in ’95, and married by RTID in ’03, well… I’ve been having second thoughts. It seems like we just don’t have a lot of the same interests anymore.

For instance, I want to build light rail to Redmond and Northgate… and even maybe West Seattle, Ballard, and Federal Way. You’ve got your Tacoma link, sure, but you really don’t seem interested in light rail from Tacoma to Sea-Tac.

Oh yeah… Sea-Tac. She’ll always be our child, and we’ve raised her well. But once the Central Link opens in 2009, well… she’s going to grow a lot closer to me than she is to you. You can still visit her on the weekends, though.

I guess what I’m saying is that I kinda want to build a lot of trains, and right now, because of Sound Transit funding rules, the more trains I want to build the more you have to build, too. And you just don’t seem interested.

So… I think we need to spend some time apart. I’m not saying we can’t get back together again, I just think maybe I’m going through a selfish phase right now. I need to focus on me for a while. I hope you understand.

Yours,

King County

You’ve got to give us a why, Bill!

He wants to disband Sound Transit, and he’s not the only person who wants that.

Disband Sound Transit. One less duplicative bureaucracy to fund and maintain. Finish King County’s light rail — since so much money has been sunk into it already we might as well go ahead and finish the thing, then operate it as a laboratory and concrete example of what not to do next time, should the region ever venture into rail again. Then turn it over to Metro. Give the Tacoma light rail segment to Pierce Transit.

Turn the Sounder commuter trains — which always made far more sense than light rail since the rights of way already exist and they move people between towns, a major source of congestion — over to Amtrak and/or the Washington State Department of Transportation (Amtrak already provides contract commuter service in California, Maryland, Virginia and Connecticut, contracts with the state of Washington for support of the Cascades service and provides maintenance services for Sounder). And turn express-bus service over to Metro, Pierce Transit and Community Transit, which should have been running it anyway.

It’s a list of action items without any reason. Why does he want to disband Sound Transit? Because it’s duplicative? What is agency is it duplicating exactly? Because “Metro, Pierce Transit and Community Transit” should have been running it anyway?

He ends with ‘Ban from regional transportation planning anyone who has uttered, or even thought, the phrase, “We’ve got to get people out of their cars.”‘ Yikes.

There’s nothing of substance here, but it’s worth noting that Virgin is not alone in his thinking, and we need to be vigilent against those trying to destroy our transit agencies.

Bill Virgin = Comic Relief

After reading this P-I Columnist thoughts on Prop 1, I think I honestly needed my ribs to be replaced from laughing so hard. First of all, I do admire him for some suggestions, such as replacing the 520 and Alaskan Way Viaduct but then he goes on to say to Disband Sound Transit and letting the regional transit agencies take over…. Sure, that’ll be fine in dandy to replace 500+ Sound Transit buses, give Sounder over to Amtrak and/or BNSF or another private venture and give Link over to King County.

If it wasn’t for Sound Transit, there would not be this additional transportation infrastructure that we now have thanks to Sound Transit because King County, Pierce County, and Snohomish Counties couldn’t get off their asses to develop an extensive transportation plan.

We now have an agency that while not near the size of King County Metro Transit but is already at 35+ million passengers in it’s short life span. I don’t see Sound Transit going anywhere anytime soon and with their recent credit approvals. We need to stop looking at Sound Transit who said one thing in 1996 and changed it in 2001 because of increased costs because every other country happens to be developing at a faster rate that the United States is….It is not Sound Transit’s fault for raising fuel costs, concrete costs, steel costs.

If anything, all of our networks need to be under ONE name instead of 4 different agencies (Community, King, Pierce, ST) I would personally would not mind the new Puget Pass/Orca Pass to include the Washington State Ferry System (foot and passenger) on top of all of our other systems. I also wouldn’t mind the Monorail under King County Metro but that would never happen.

So yes, we have a lot of ideas, plans, thoughts, how we would love to get rid of Sound Transit but without ST, we wouldn’t be where we are at today without them and for that, can not thank this agency enough. Central Link Light-Rail is coming to Seattle in 2009, South Lake Union Streetcar in December, Community Transit’s Swift BRT in 2009 and King County Metro’s RapidRide BRT in 2010 and the 2003 Legislative Transportation Funding Package, Nickel fund, and the 2005 Transportation Partnership Funding Package are well under way all over our State to get our roads improved and in a State of Good Repair.

Give it time for everything to come together and you’ll see that our tax money is going to something good but you all need to realize that it takes time to build up the funds to get our roads repaved, repaired, to get our transportation in a condition that meets our needs, and most importantly, keeps our strong employers in our region. Without a effective transportation system, Seattle and the Puget Sound region will fail to be a world leader in trade and our economy.

Gregorie tells Microsoft that replacing 520 still a priority

In the seemingly endless debate of the 520 bridge and highway improvements, it seems the State is going to branch off from RTID and move forward with the project set to start construction in 2012.

A question I’m sure some will raise is where is the money going to come from?? That is what I would like to know. I’m actually quite glad this is going to happen though. This might free up some funds to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/339358_bridge13.html

“Last week … the voters said no to Proposition 1, and when they did, I don’t believe that they said no to us having a responsibility to replace the 520 bridge,” Gregoire said. “The replacement of the 520 bridge is essential for Microsoft for it to be able to get its employees, for it to be able to do its business in an efficiently, effectively, safe way …I intend to provide for Microsoft what it needs to continue to grow and be literally the largest corporate campus in the world.”

I do understand the Governors distress about the 520 bridge. Thousands of Microsoft employees cross over both directions each weekday, for meetings, lunch, etc. Not all Microsoft employees have the ability to tele-communicate. For our region to risk loosing Microsoft because we couldn’t get our act together is out of the question and we need to provide a solution to not only 520 but also I-405, SR-167, and the Issaquah-Hobart Road, a popular alternative that is heavily congested now.

Train Wreck

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Eric Earling, proving once again that he’s the only interesting writer over at Sound Politics, has a very smart post on why things got to be the way they are:

The whole reason the RTID came into being is because Olympia refused to find a way to foot the bill for the road improvements this region so desperately needs. Once state government punted to the locals, the County Councils of King, Pierce, and Snohomish were able to cobble together a compromise that began to address the stunning backlog of overdue projects. That’s why Prop 1 was so amazingly large to begin with.

Yet, we have the Joni Balter’s of the world proclaiming the package just needs to be smaller. The problem is that the measure was so large to begin with because people like Balter have spent years saying “let’s slow down and talk about it some more until we feel comfortable about this.” As delightful as that Seattle-way of doing business is, at some point somebody has to start making tough decisions and living with the consequences.

Read the whole thing.

Getting Rail to the Ballot

There’s a lot of talk about getting some light rail to the ballot next year. As Daimajin points out, I’m not sure that it’s within Sound Transit’s authority to propose that some portion of the ST district be taxed to fund a particular project. Any lawyers out there that can clarify the limits of Sound Transit’s charter?

It’s evident that asking the three-county district to vote on a Northgate extension alone is dead-on-arrival. Another possibility is to revisit the bus/rail extension option that was briefly considered by the board for this year’s ballot, which would have involved only a 0.3% sales tax increase. Although that option was savaged during the comment period in favor of more aggressive rail construction, the kind of person who comments at that stage in the process is likely a wee bit more energized about transit than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear if that option has enough in it for Snohomish County. Snohomish representatives on the Sound Transit board were quite adamant that getting to Northgate did not adequately serve their constituents, to the point of fighting the idea of “loaning” subarea funds to complete the Northgate line. I found this to be shortsighted, but is probably reasonably reflective of the attitude of voters there.

The other alternative, of course, is to abandon going to the whole district altogether, and do a Seattle-only or King-County-only vote. Legally, I’m not sure how this would work out: would the City just deliver a lump of money to Sound Transit? Set up a separate authority to complete the work? Again, calling all the lawyers…

No doubt we can count on the Sierra Club to produce the initiative it looks like we’ll need…

Bad News

So I asked Ric Ilgenfritz, Chief Communications Officer for Sound Transit, on Goldy’s radio show, about the possibility of a Seattle-only ballot initiative for extending rail to Northgate. Seattle Times ‘perhaps’ endorsed this idea as well in a massively pro-roads editorial today. Sadly, Ric said that Sound Transit would be unable to bring this to ballot, so we may have to start reading into an initiative for our Northgate trips…

Start lobbying your city council members…

Where People Voted Yes and What That Might Mean

The Seattle Times has article of how prop 1 fared around each district. I’m not suprised that it faired so poorly in places like West Seattle or Sammamish where not much if anything was being built. But I am suprised it did badly in places like Federal Way and Auburn, where both rail and roads were planned. What this says about how a transit-only vote would fare, we have to wait and see.

My concern is, if we bring a transit-only vote next year to the whole RTA district and it doesn’t pass, it will kill rail transit for decades. So will it pass? It’s not obvious either way. I don’t want to argue about the sampling accuracy of the Sierra Club’s poll any more, since I’ve already upset a bunch of people, but we can agree on this from the poll: clearly, the transit was more important than the roads for single-issue ‘yes’ voters. They asked the question “What was the main reason why you voted yes? Because of the road projects, or the transit projects, or both?” and 35% said transit, only (!!!) 11% because of the road projects, but 54% because of both the transit and road projects. Now, the question they didn’t ask to the “both” pollees was “if a transit-only package were on the ballot would you have voted ‘yes’?”

On the other hand, taxes were the major problem for ‘no’-voters.

Still 35% is encouraging, and if even Prop. 1 with roads passed in the 43rd, let’s bring a transit-only ballot to at least Seattle in 2008 to extend the thing to Northgate. We’ll get a huge progressive turnout for the presidential race, and that would be sure to pass.

What do you guys think?

King County City Council backs tax and bus fare increase for 2008

There are some good things about this and then there are some bad. I won’t get into totally but I don’t want my tax to be increased to pay for somebody who will keep going back to rehab (Read: Lindsay Lohan) when there are more important things our tax dollars can go toward, like fixing First Avenue South between Royal Brougham and Spokane Street or all of Spokane Street from Airport Way to the lower West Seattle Bridge.

Secondly, it’s about time the Council agrees to increase Metro Transit fares by 25 cents. The last increase was in 2001 and even with this increase, we are still one of the lowest fare transit agency in the Country. This additional funding will cover increase fuel and operating costs. Personally I hoped it would have been 50 cents. The way fuel is going, the extra buffer would be welcomed.

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/transportation/338897_county09.html

On May 16th, 2007, New Flyer of America procurement for up to a total of 715 60-foot articulated buses from King County Metro (KCM) in Seattle, WA. This order includes a firm order for 22 hybrids with options for up to 493 diesel or hybrid buses for KCM and 200 assignable options for a total value of up to US $514 million, which was included in the order backlog reported in New Flyer’s 2007 First Quarter Financial Report.

This order does not include the New Flyer DE60LF-BRT buses that Metro Transit will be ordering for RapidRide. Community Transit has ordered 15 of these buses with an option for 34 more.

In 2003, Metro and Sound Transit ordered 213 New Flyer DE60LF 60-foot Articulated Hybrid buses powered by CAT Diesel and Allison Hybrid Drive.