Controlled Chaos

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This is wild:

Like countless other communities, this western German town lived for years with a miserable traffic problem. Each day, thousands of cars and big trucks barreled along the two-lane main street, forcing pedestrians and cyclists to scamper for their lives.

The usual remedies – from safety crossings to speed traps – did no good. So the citizens of Bohmte decided to take a big risk. Since September, they’ve been tearing up the sidewalks, removing curbs and erasing street markers as part of a radical plan to abandon nearly all traffic regulations and force people to rely on common sense and courtesy instead.

This contrarian approach to traffic management, known as shared space, is gaining a foothold in Europe. Towns in the Netherlands, Denmark, Britain and Belgium have tossed out their traffic lights and stop signs in a bid to reclaim their streets for everyone.

If you’ve ever travelled in the third world, you know this is basically how the streets work. It’s chaos, but it works. People adapt to it pretty quickly. And when a car hits a bicycle, the driver gets out and basically throws wads of cash at the injured bicyclist until he stops screaming. It’s nuts.

I’m pretty skeptical that something like this could work in the U.S. After one accident there would be intense commmunity pressure to put up new signs “in memory of little Timmy” or whatever, the local media would pounce on the transpo agency for failing to “do something” and we’d be right back where we started.

Still, it’s interesting.

One-Party Rule

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It’s interesting to think about the idea of one-party Democratic rule in Washington State in the context of transportation planning. As Republicans fade away from the Puget Sound region, the Puget Sound becomes more of a force in Olympica than ever. So it seems to make even less sense to carve out a separate mini-state for transportation planning and funding.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Little Bavaria is getting an Amtrak stop:

Leavenworth, about 20 miles west of Wenatchee on U.S. Route 2, has raised more than $700,000 in local, state and federal funds to build the Icicle Station train stop, said City Councilman and Mayor-elect Rob Eaton, who has championed the project for at least five years.

The federal dollars are a relatively small amount of money that will “have a significant impact on our community and an economic impact on the entire valley,”

Buses over Streetcars

Erica Barnett points out that the FTA seems to be implementing rules that push for buses over streetcars because the “densification” element would be removed from the cost-effectiveness criteria. This would likely remove some of the funding that we used here to build our streetcar line.

Erica is incorrect that this could remove funding for light-rail or heavy rail rapid transit lines. This would be a HUGE worry for University Link that has not yet been approved for federal funding. The good news is that the “densification” factor is not necessary for that project, since the cost-benefit for that project is time of commute and number of commuters.

We have little to worry for the moment about federal funding for light rail.

Port in a Storm

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

While I’ve been out of town, I missed the brou-ha-ha with the Port of Seattle audit. Certainly the fact that the Port’s employees refused to sign statements as to the veracity of the findings is troubling. And the fact that they stymied the auditor at every turn should likewise give us pause. It’s the kind of behavior we’ve come to expect from the Bush Administration.

Once again, this is why creating a regional transportation authority is a bad idea. Such an agency would be like the Port on steroids. And then we’d have to elect George Mitchell as State Auditor.

Making Rail Transit Effective – Parking

I noticed one thing that tends to keep ridership down in Rail applications. Lack of parking seems to be the killer of applications. To get people to use the service, they need a place to park their vehicles. I’m not saying every station needs a huge garage but it helps quite a bit though.

In the Pacific Northwest, Sounder could continue growing it’s ridership at all of it’s stations if it had additional parking structures. Auburn, Kent are both very much at capacity while Puyallup, Sumner, and Tukwila does not have parking garages available. King Street Station in Seattle also does not have a parking option.

There is no “easy” solution but would charging for parking be an option for most commuters? Maybe, but in order to increase ridership, we can not have cars fill up neighborhoods and communities.

Do any of you have suggestions on what could be done to improve ridership?

Seattle Can Learn From Other Cities on the Viaduct

This isn’t really transit related, but when thinking of a replacement to the viaduct, it’s important to think back the the Embarcadero Waterfront Freeway in San Francisco that was destroyed and not replaced, and also to think about the Big Dig in Boston that replaced the elevated I-93 with a tunnel with an astounding final cost of $14.8 billion.

The contrasts are pretty big. Both had the side effect of freeing their waterfronts from separation with the city and from shadows and noise. But San Francisco’s Embarcadero Freeway carried up to 110,000 cars daily the same high-end as the viaduct and without it, supply shortage shifted demand to alternate routes and means of transportation along their waterfront.

Boston, on the other hand, has wasted $14.8 billion digging a tremendous tunnel. Granted, I-93 is more important to Boston than the Viaduct is to Seattle or the Embarcadero Freeway ever was to San Francisco, but it’s worth noting how huge projects like this can balloon out of control and cost a fortune, when they may not even be necessary in the first place, as the Embarcadero Freeway shows.

These things always get me thinking, how much transit can you buy with $14.8 billion? About 36% more than all that was in Prop. 1.

Bellevue – Snohomish Commuter Rail

As many of us think of the possibilities, the downfalls, the errors, the facts, the costs, the myths, of having some sort of commuter rail on the East Side, most tend to look at the walking distance from it’s biggest stop, NE 8th in Bellevue.

What most of these people who are out against the commuter rail option doesn’t like that it won’t be “new” and it wouldn’t be “their” idea. Along comes a private investor, Thomas Payne, widely known for his ups in Canada and his downs in Tacoma with Golden Pacific Railroad and the Reading 2100 4-8-4 Steam Locomotive.

What needs to be mentioned are the people who take Sounder and arrive at King Street Station typically use another method of transportation to get to their office such as buses, taxi, or employee shuttles. The distance from King Street Station to Mid-Downtown is equal to that of NE 8th to Downtown Bellevue, it is easily fixable with transit but the major difference is walking over I-405. A solution would be to instate two feeder buses that would run to various locations within Bellevue. The buses would return to the load/unload zone along NE 8th to await the next train.

While the projected ridership numbers are low, the realistic number could be far greater. This has happened to just about every commuter rail system that has been launched to date. As the system expands to more destinations, more trains are added, more people will come. The possibility of a train or two that originates from Everett Station to Bellevue would take off not only cars off the road but also free up crowded buses. If the service is branched outward to Monroe or even Sultan/Goldbar would greatly improve ridership relieving congestion off SR 522 and Hwy 2.

Ultimately though, this private commuter service will face one thing that people in this region don’t like and don’t want to see or hear about – another transportation entity. Unless the fare structure is some how integrated with the region system, it will have a very rough time gaining it’s ridership on the point of a new carrier but if ST did come in and take over, that would open it’s options to have trains depart Tacoma to Tukwila then over to the Eastside Line but that enters a new problem entirely….

Renton does not want a commuter train running up and down and has been fighting All Aboard Washington tooth and nail to make sure it doesn’t happen. While the the City of Renton did pay for the new bridges between the Seattle/Tacoma Mainline and Renton Boeing for the Next Generation 737’s it still does not want to see an alternative transportation mode simply because it’s “loud”. To Date, the City of Renton is the only City that wishes not to have the system. The City of Snohomish, Woodinville, Maltby, Kirkland, Bellevue, Redmond all are in strong support of having commuter rail to help relieve congestion. Maybe it could stop at The Landing in Renton so they don’t have to worry about the train.

There won’t be a return of the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train since the Columbia Winery is moving to Sunnyside, Washington. The Dinner train was the only thing readily supporting the winery at it’s location as the vineyards and such are in Sunnyside.

Could Freight Service be restore as well? It’s really hard to say what exactly will happen but I can see a court battle sooner than later….

Central Link Light Rail Update – 12-26-2007

Construction is coming nicely along with the OCS (Overhead Contact System) in place from Tukwila International Blvd Station to I-5/SR 599 and Mlk Way/Boeing Access Rd to Raymond Street. The bridge linking Tukwila Station over SR 518 to the Airport is complete and ribbon rail is along side of the new Airport Expressway that is currently being welded.

First Up, Mt. Baker Station

Looking the other way at Mlk Way

Redevelopment along Mlk Way and the Route 42

Columbia City Station @ Alaska Street

Othello Station

Henderson Street Station

The recently completed elevated section of Boeing Access Road.

Tukwila International Blvd Station

I’ll have to take some time out this weekend and explore the Airport Segment more in-depth. Not any places I would recommend stopping at near the Airport where you can get photos of the construction though it may be a thought to take the bus to the terminal and walk up to the top of the parking garage and shoot down towards the alignment. I’m sure you can get a good vantage point of the Expressway and might be able to see the Tukwila Station as well.

Everett Streetcar Pros and Cons

A finally, something we can compare systems too!

While the Seattle Streetcar is running and the Everett Streetcar is under consideration, there are already many advantages the Everett Streetcar will have over it’s Seattle Counterpart.

Everett Pros –

The selected routing will go through the heart of Downtown Everett which is undergoing major redevelopment.

The Waterfront, Downtown, and Riverfront redevelopments with a Streetcar would enhance the idea of not needing a car to do your shopping or simple commuting. This would not only help local businesses but also encourage people to walk or bike more thus fighting obesity that our region is known for.

The Streetcar routing would stop at 2 community campuses, Everett Community College and Everett Station Community College and would also stop at Everett High School.

Streetcar would stop within walking distance of the Everett Events Center, home of the Everett Silvertips (Hockey) and Everett Memorial Stadium, home of the Everett Aquasox (Baseball)

The ability to expand to outlaying neighbors with minimal disruption if using the 3 blocks, 3 weeks method.

Businesses and Residences WANT THE STREETCAR

Everett Cons

Cost – But not really as much as you would think after it is broken down. It is really the initial cost for the maintenance facility, hiring technicians/maintenance personal, 3-5 Streetcars, construction, right-of-way, training, stations that all come with the initial 1.3 mile segment. You get all of that for $54 Million dollars. Another 3-5 miles of line, stations, construction, right-of-way, etc is only an additional $77 million.

Effectiveness. Does Everett really need a Streetcar?

Moving onward –

Everett couldn’t be in a better position than it is in right now with this information. Not only can it connect it’s largest transit hub to commuter rail (Sounder), intercity rail and long distance rail (Amtrak), this would encourage more developers who look for Cities doing rail projects to come in and have their buildings in a prime location.

Everett is doing something that Seattle and Tacoma needs to look at and hopefully it will be built to show that the Streetcar does indeed prove it’s worth in redevelopment, just like Portland. More on this later

Everett Streetcar – $131 Million

A recent study of the proposed Everett Streetcar reached a new point with cost estimates released but already touted a high caliber system, if the University of Washington Everett Campus is built. The Streetcar would connect the new Riverfront development, including a possible UW Everett Campus at Everett Station.

Everett Station is home to the Everett Transit Customer Service Center as well as WorkSource, WorkForce, The University Center and Espresso Americano. Amtrak to Seattle, Chicago, and Vancouver, BC, Greyhound, Northwest Trailways, Skagit Transit, Island Transit, Sound Transit bus and Commuter Rail to Seattle and Community Transit also provide service from Everett Station.

The system is broken down into 4 segments, Segment A – Riverfront to Everett Station which would be the initial segment came in at $54 million dollars, $2 million more than the South Lake Union Streetcar. Everett Station is also the recommended site for the future UW Everett Campus. Riverfront is also undergoing a huge transformation of new housing, retail, and commercial use. BNSF Railway played a huge roll in this transformation by relocation a rail line used to get into Delta yard was recently finished.

Segment B would continue from Everett Station to Downtown via Smith Avenue, Wall Street, and Hewitt Avenue. Downtown Everett is slowly becoming a mini-Bellevue with smaller tech businesses moving in to get away from the crowded Bellevue, Kirkland, Seattle, Tukwila region. A lot of new retail, restaurants, cafes and commericial businesses have gone in in recent years and would benefit greatly from the Streetcars presence.

Segment C would continue from Downtown/Hewitt Avenue to the Marina on 10th, a location where new housing, retail and commercial is to be developed. This would also serve the Everett Naval Base and ferry service to Hat Island.

Segment D would depart from Downtown to Everett Community College via Colby Avenue.

The problem now is funding; including Inekon-Trio Streetcars (same as Seattle, Tacoma, Portland, Washington, DC, and Toronto), maintenance facility, add about 3 miles of north and south spurs, right-of-way, vehicle and maintenance costs and the price tag swells to more than $131 million. That isn’t including the $6 million to $9 million a year to operate the Streetcar.

Streetcars are better than buses because they attract up to 60 percent more riders, seem to encourage quality urban development and open door for creative funding strategies, Brennan said.

Portland, for example, has seen more than $3 billion in development along its streetcar line since it opened in 2001, including about 6,000 residential units and 4 million square feet of commercial space, according to the Nelson-Nygaard study.

The city also paid for 30 percent of its capital costs with bonds that will be paid back from revenue collected in a special taxing district, which charges a variable fee to property owners in a three block radius of the route.

When Tacoma replaced an existing bus line with streetcars, it saw a 500 percent spike in ridership, Everett’s consultant said.

While some stakeholders and city officials are gung-ho about the prospect, it’s not yet clear to what extent property owners along the proposed routes are willing to chip in for the steep initial cost of a streetcar system.

We shall see.

More can be read at the Everett Herald Online

Horizon Air vs Amtrak Cascades! Read on…

I received an interesting message on just how long it took 2 of my friends to get to Portland. Cindy took Amtrak since she hates traveling by plane and Jeff took Horizon Air from Seattle to Portland cause he thinks the all of the problems with the trainset will eventually just fall apart. They both agreed to meet at the Starbucks on Broadway and Morrison. Walking distance from Portland Max or the Portland Streetcar. Neither one had checked baggage this time.

Let’s start off with Jeff’s story. His flight was scheduled to depart at 7:30am. He took Shuttle Express from Kirkland around 4:00am after I gave him a heads up to Airport Construction for the light-rail and new expressway. He ended up waiting only 5 minutes for traffic at the unloading zone. The problem was the line for security which was 2 1/2 hours for the puddle jumper 50 minute flight to PDX. His plane left 43 minutes late due to terminal congestion and excessive planes on taxiway according to the pilot he had a bottle of water and you guessed it… peanuts. On approach to PDX, thanks to strong crosswinds forced them to go around which added another 10-15 minutes. When they finally landed, a hard one at that, they were stuck another 10 minutes for their gate to clear up for another late plane that was supposed to be long, long gone. He walked to the Portland MAX to Downtown Portland for a 40 minute ride to meet the misses.

Cost: $107.74 after taxes round trip

4am Departure
Shuttle Express 30 minutes 4:30
Unload delay 4:35
Security 2 1/2 hours 7:05
Onboard the plane at 7:25
Flight Delay 43 minutes – 8:18
Flight Delay 10 minutes – 8:28
Flight Delay 10 minutes – 8:38
Max to Downtown 40 minutes – 9:18

Total time: 5 hours, 18 minutes…for a 50 minute flight….

Onward to Cindy – She opted to sleep in after Jeff took off, her daughter was going to drive her to King Street Station. They left their house at 7:00am arrived at the station at around 7:15am and the train was just pulling into the station. Normally they would load Business Class passengers first but because of the time constraint, they loaded all at once and departed at 7:36am, nearly sold out as she described it. The bistro car opened up just before Tacoma where she got coffee, sausage egg and cheese sandwich, they played A Christmas Story on the monitors. The only delay was 5 minutes while waiting for the Vancouver Rail bridge to close. They arrived into Portland at 11:09am, 9 minutes late. She walked 3 blocks from Union Station to the Portland Streetcar. She got lucky as the car was just a few blocks down dealing with a truck that was trying to pull out of a tight space or something otherwise it would have been a 20 minute wait for the next one and could have walked it in that time. She got off the streetcar and walked 3 blocks to meet Jeff and continue the shopping.

$66 after tax

Delayed Departure: 6 minutes
Delay Bridge – 5 minutes – 11 minutes total delay
Schedule padding – Unknown – Arrived 9 minutes late

Total time 3 hours 39 minutes…scheduled 3 hours 30 minutes

While this isn’t one of those great “Trains are better than Planes, blah blah” postings, I do find it incredible that it took damn near 6 hours for a 50 minute flight once you add everything in. Even the drive time added to Cindy’s trip would have only bumped it up another 15 minutes.

Myself, I look forward to the day that we get semi high speed rail here and bump the scheduled time to less than 2 hours and 30 minutes between Seattle and Portland. Sure it might not be a while but it is coming, when the government gets off it’s rear here and get serious about it like California. The question is, would us in the corridor (Eugene to Vancouver, BC) take the train more… WSDOT says it could do less than 5 hours between Portland, Oregon and Vancouver, BC in it’s high speed rail draft….2016-2020 should be interesting.

New Monorails Coming!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

to Disneyland:

The ride started in 1959 as part of Disneyland’s first expansion and the current cars have carted visitors around the Disney area since 1987. For three years, Disney Imagineers have been working on the upgrades that will roll out through the summer.
“I think we’re always looking for ways to update and refresh classic attractions,” said Scot Drake, the monorail lead designer. “This is definitely an iconic attraction.”
The biggest change is the look of the train: The first electric cars have blue glass and red stripes that change color in the sunlight. The next two cars will be blue with purple glass and orange with blue glass.

Rails and Trails

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Seattle Times is making sense:

Those pesky rails. Do they stay or go? Did the defeat of Proposition 1, the mondo transportation plan, stir a pulse in Sound Transit to look at the corridor for high-speed transit? All the dismissed questions are in play again.

One element must be unchanged: dual use. Save a rare, north-south route to move people in the future. Protecting transit options does not preclude recreational options.

Streetcars, Ferries, and Light-Rail

Ridership on the Streetcar still seems to be very strong. I can see the Streetcar improving once the new Lake Union Park is finished and easy transportation to the Summer Concert Series

I’ve been keeping an eye out for possible locations for the King County Passenger Ferry system along the South Lake Union area and noted a couple of good locations in easy walking distance to the Streetcar. Remember, there is a small Lake Union Water Taxi service already though it is currently not running this time of year.

I also took a look at the current ballasted trail that runs from South Lake Union Park to Fremont and believe it could be a great route for a Streetcar, grade separated on top of that, to serve the Fremont community. This would need 4 additional Streetcars and serve could allow every 10-15 minutes. The problem would be the lack of space at the current Seattle Streetcar maintenance facility which would allow 6 cars at the facility (4 outside, 2 indoor)

Also, looking at how Portland did some of their design towards South Waterfront, a line out to the University of Washington could be built easily but then comes the issue of parking. A bicycle lane can easily be installed but the displaced vehicles which most are residential would need to find a new location to park. I don’t see a simple or easy decision to this but it’s comforting to know that the idea would work. A fun fact – the Inkeon-Trio Streetcars can do 55mph but are all governed at 35mph, the maximum speed limit. The biggest question would be where to terminate the line? For example from Eastlake Ave to NE Campus Pkwy. Turn South onto University Way Ne to NE Pacific and terminate at Montlake Blvd. The other alternative to turn North onto Brooklyn Ave to Cowen Park @ Ne Ravenna Blvd. Either route will require 3 additional Streetcars but if both routes were selected, the system would need 2-3 more. More on this later

Also in the news is to keep an eye out on the testing segment between the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and the Operations and Maintenance Facility. Sound Transit is in the process of testing 4 car trainsets, a very cool site to see! The tunnel boring machine is stopped for a week for the Holidays and should pop out the first or second week in January.

And finally, wire is strung from Tukwila International BLVD station to SR 599 and MLK Way/Boeing Access Road to Alaska Street. Crews were welding rail at the Airport segment this afternoon when I drove by.

That’s all on this front. I won’t be posting until after the Holidays. I wish everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Years. Please, please be safe out on the roads on New Years.

3 minutes

Yesterday the US Congress approved $88.6 million for ULink and Central link. This is slightly less than the $94 million mentioned before for 2008, though the difference is all coming out of ULink, which means that we probably will still get all the money in total, it might just take longer.

In the press release I received it had this quote:

The project connects the three largest urban centers in the region: downtown Seattle, Capitol Hill and the University District. It will offer much faster travel times for transit passengers than buses. Light rail will carry passengers from downtown to the University in 9 minutes instead of 25 and to Capitol Hill in 6 minutes instead of 14. Trips between Capitol Hill and the University District will take 3 minutes instead of 22. Riders will also enjoy reliable service no matter how bad the weather or traffic congestion.

Three minutes!

Update: Added the press release.

There a few things to read into this, since the Feds have already given Sound Transit $20mn before the finally grant decision on University Link. First, it looks like University Link is going forward regardless of the death of Prop. 1. This shows that Ted Van Dyk and his “Battle of Stalingrad” quote were wrong, that ST will be able to complete that segment regardless of whatelse happens. 3.15 miles more subway for Seattle!

Also, it shows just how badly we need real, rapid transit here. This got the highest possible rating, and just two stations adds 70,000 riders to the line. This is basically the cheapest transportation project attempted in recent memory in this area. At fully one-tenth the cost of widening I-405, this will add more than more than 25% as much people-moving capacity..


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ugh. Here come the governor and the legislature to take Sound Transit out behind the barn and shoot it.

This is why I supported Prop. 1.

Anyway, getting rid of sub-area equity it not the worst idea. Either we’re one region or we’re not. We can’t have it both ways.

(via STB)