If You Build It, They Will Come

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Portland, OR Edition:

The Overlook, a 30-unit condominium complex at 3990 N. Interstate Ave., is the first along the MAX yellow line to develop with the so-called smart growth ideas in mind.

The concept aims to reduce urban sprawl and preserve the environment by putting people in dense developments that are close to retail services, parks and public transportation. The city of Portland is rezoning Interstate Avenue to emphasize similar buildings.

The tone of the article is a bit odd… is “smart growth” really such a new idea in Portland? I realize they caveat it as “first along the yellow line,” but still… weird. But maybe I don’t understand Portland as well as I think I do.

Streetcar Quote of the Day

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

From Paul @ HA:

The trip has been compared by the ever cynical press to “riding on air,” and at $1.50 per 1.3 miles (unclear whether 1 ticket gets you both ways) it’s only slightly more expensive than jet travel.

Deadline Near on Eastide Rail Deal

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Port and the County have until the end of the year to buy the Eastside rail line from BNSF. Apparently they’re making good enough progress that Ron Sims has backed down on his ultimatum. Either that, or he’s realized he’s run out of cards.

The bottom line is that the Port wants to buy the corridor, and they have the money and the votes to do so. The point of contention among the commissioners is what to do with the tracks. But here’s soemthing that should give everyone pause:

When the three-way agreement among the port, the county and BNSF Railway was made public Nov. 2, the deal’s announcement included the stipulation that BNSF would remove the single track from a little-used section of line between Woodinville and Gene Coulon Memorial Beach Park in Renton. That section would be leased to the county, which would lay the trail on top of the rail bed after BNSF had cleaned up any contaminated soil.

You can see why Sims doesn’t want to keep the tracks in place. Having the County on the hook for any soil contamination would not be fun for anyone (assuming there is actually contamination). Better to let BNSF clean it up before the public takes ownership, even if that means taking out the tracks.

Finally, I think you have trust the transit agencies here. If they don’t think there’s the ridership to support transit, they’re probably right, and it’s going to be an uphill battle to do it without their support. There are just too many moving parts (literally!). Remember the last time some folks tried to do an end-run around the transit planners?

Update: Link fixed.

Transit Maps of the World


I picked up this book over the weekend. I didn’t even know it existed until I saw it in Kinokuniya and bought it on the spot.

The book is awesome and fun to look at. Martin, Nick, Ben and I met with Andrew on Saturday at Columbia City Ale House for the city’s best fish tacos, beers and transit talk and I think that we all got a kick out of the book. A couple of disappointing things:

  • For Seattle it lists the monorail, and says that light rail is proposed.
  • It only shows the Metro map for Tokyo, which gives a false impression since those stations are less than half of the total train stations in Tokyo, and it also only shows BART/Cal Train for SF instead of showing Muni.
  • It doesn’t have a map for Yokohama, Portland or Vancouver.

Small gripes, the book is great.

South Lake Union Trolley – The Song!

That’s right.. first the T-Shirts by KaPow! Coffee 2 doors down from the Streetcar Operations and Maintenance Facility and now a local country singer came up with the song for the new Streetcar line in Seattle

http://blog.seattlepi.nwsource.com/thebigblog/archives/127380.asp :D

Major Paving Complete for Sea-Tac’s Third Runway

Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, December 10, 2007 – Major paving of the third runway at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport is now complete. This visual milestone is an opportunity for area media to take aerial shots of the new runway, which is scheduled to begin operations in November of 2008.

The major paving completion includes the main 150-foot wide, 17-inch think runway that stretches 8,500 feet long. Additional hand paving of the aprons and connections to the adjoining taxiways and construction of asphalt shoulders are still to be completed, along with painting, FAA certifications, signage and other preparations.

— Source: Port of Seattle

Northwest Airlines Announces New Non-Stop Service from Seattle-Tacoma International Airport to London Heathrow

Fourth new international service added this year

The Port of Seattle and Northwest Airlines today announced the start of new international daily non-stop service between Seattle and London, to begin June 1st. Northwest Airlines is one of the largest airlines in the world; together with its partners, the airline provides service to more than 1,000 cities in 160 countries on six continents.

“We are very excited to announce additional non-stop service to London,” said John Creighton, Port of Seattle Commission president. “International routes offer increased trade, travel, and tourism to and from their destinations – so this is good news to our entire region.”

The announcement was made at a press conference today in the Sea-Tac Airport Conference Center. This is the fourth new international route announcement for Sea-Tac Airport this year. This brings the total number of non-stop European destinations from Sea-Tac to six: Air France to Paris; British Airways to London; Lufthansa to Frankfurt; Northwest Airlines to Amsterdam and London; and SAS to Copenhagen. Other international service from Sea-Tac includes six airlines with non-stop service to Asia, two to Mexico, and four to Canada.

Source: The Port of Seattle

I, For One, Welcome Our New Streetcar Overlords

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

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Vulcan welcomes the Streetcar! I guess they’d better. After all, they paid for the darn thing.

Meanwhile, the Times puts the Streetcar in the context of the last South Lake Union streetcar, built in 1890. Reading the article, a lightbulb finally went off in my head about why this thing, which I’ve been ambivalent about and which seems at first glance like an overpriced toy, actually matters:

The streetcar is meant to attract tourists, serve the cancer center, and help a new wave of office workers run errands downtown. For some, it will be a connection to express commuter buses or future regional light rail, at Westlake Center. Tracks run along the edge of Lake Union Park, which is being expanded and rebuilt with the idea that it will become a popular destination.

When New York first conceived of a subway — also around 1890, as it happens — it was because downtown needed to grow. You had lower Manhattan teeming with people, but farms and estates just a mile or two to the North. Why? There was no practical way to get up there and back in a reasonable amount of time. The Subway was, on a micro-level, the inner-city equivalent of the Trans-Continental Railway: it opened the frontier (i.e. Midtown Manhattan) to development.

While the parallels are obviously inexact, it seems that we’re seeing a similar trend here in Seattle 100 years later. Downtown is finally growing too big to walk from one end to the other in a reasonable amount of time. The streetcar opens the frontier.

Of course, streetcars still get stuck in traffic. But I don’t honestly see any other option for the city right now. People feel burned after the monorail, and it’s going to be a long time before we see another form of rapid transit to connect downtown and its immediately adjoining neighborhoods (Ballard, Queen Anne, West Seattle, etc.).

Ripping up Eastlake Avenue and other streets and removing parking spaces to extend the tracks up to the U. District will be controversial and difficult. But it may also be our only option. There are underutilized streets in the grid, and a well-designed streeetcar, with its own lanes and traffic signal priority, could actually work out pretty well for us.

Are Subways the New Urban Status Symbols?


Business Week asks the question. They mention the obvious reasons: crowding, energy costs, and standard of living. But they also point out that some “big city glamour” is involved in building transit, and that even places like Charlotte, Phoenix and Los Angeles are building Subways.

Except Seattle is special… But not as special as Rennes, France a city of 212,000 with density similar to Seattle’s and a full-fledged subway line.

If Rennes can build a subway, why can’t Seattle?

Five more Streetcars?


Here’s a Times article about more street car lines in the future. These conversations should be no big surprise to anyone here, since the city commissioned one study a few years ago.

Anyway this study was done by the UW Urban Planning department and paid for by the Urban League of Metropolitan Seattle. Their study shows that the neighborhoods with streetcars will develop quickly, and create a more permanent and fixed development.

Personally I love the idea of a Capitol Hill-Queen Anne line running along Denny. I worry about building one to West Seattle, however, because that would lower the inertia to build a proper rapid transit line out there.

What do you think?

Edmonds Station holiday open house:

On Saturday, Edmonds Amtrak Station has their annual holiday open house. If you’re interested in chatting with Sounder staff and learning about next year’s service improvements, or learning about the history of the Great Northern railroad that originally turned Seattle into a boom town, I recommend it! It’ll run from 9am-3pm.

The old freight half of the station was converted some years ago into a railroad club’s model train layout, complete with little towns and such. I don’t know if someone will be there, but during open houses they usually run model trains and talk about the history of the state.

If You Build It, They Will Come

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Norfolk, VA edition:

Developers of three projects – Wachovia Center, Belmont at Freemason apartments and a Residence Inn – said the city’s starter light rail influenced their business decisions. Having modern transit within a short walking distance delivers a steady stream of potential customers and provides an alternative to driving for residents and workers, they said.

Wachovia Center is a 22-story tower and apartment building that will include office, retail and residential space on Monticello Avenue.

“The fact that there will be a light rail stop right out the front door of our project was a key part of why we selected that site,” said Thomas G. Johnson III, vice president of sales and development for Nusbaum Realty, the project developer.

LID vs. TIF

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

EvergreenRailfan asked in the comments section here what the difference was between Tax increment financing (which is illegal in WA) and Local Improvement Districts (which funds the SLU streetcar). There’s a clear answer in the .pdf I linked to in my previous streetcar post:

Tax increment financing approaches (TIFs) are similar to LIDs in that they define areas within which private property owners will benefit from future infrastructure improvements. In the case of LIDs, the private sector is assessed a direct tax to support the development of the new infrastructure. In the case of TIFs, the public sector is able to increase its borrowing powers on the basis of the added tax revenues that can be anticipated as a result of the improvements.

So TIF is the government saying, “we’re going to make captial improvements in this area, the property values will rise because of that, and so we can float a bond to pay for the improvements and pay it off as the higher tax revenue come in.” LID says “we’re going to make improvements by taxing the residents of this area directly, but they also will probably see their property values rise, which will make the tax more palatable to them.”

TIF doesn’t require you to actually levy a tax on the land owners, but it assumes the city will have more revenue down the road because property values go up. So it’s riskier. But it doesn’t require you to have an existing tax base in the area you’re going to improve. This is why it’s probably used most often with eminent domain cases, where the government is coming in and condemning a whole bunch of land for a big project.

More Streetcars

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

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Two UW Profs have produced a study for 5 potential extensions to the Seattle Streetcar network, the Seattle Times reports. The study considers several financing options, from sales taxes to LIDs to dedicated parking fees, and posit the above routes and alignments “for exploration and comparative purposes only.”

We do know that people are more likely to ride streetcars than buses, but who will the ridership be for this downtown-centric line? Is it intended for commuters who work downtown and live there? Or is it rather for people running around within downtown, either tourists or workers who have multiple meetings or destinations? I’m curious.

Anyway, maps are fun, so dig in if you’re curious. The full report (.pdf) is here.

X Prize

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

My last post on fuel efficiency generated quite the comment thread. If you didn’t like Aptera’s 300 mpg car, here are a few of the other contenders vying for the Automotive X Prize — $10 million for a car that gets at least 100mpg. There are some great looking cars there. I have no idea if any are production-ready. Gasoline will need to get way, way more expensive before people start using these things, though.