"Personalized Rapid Transport"

Apparently the United Arab Emirates plans to build a “carbon-neutral city“, with all the kind of stuff you imagine would be involved.

Interestingly, residents are supposed to be no more than 200m away from a Personalized Rapid Transport station, which is the system where people get into their own little pods and whiz around the track to their destination.

I hesitated to post this because PRT is a refuge for many light rail opponents, who are nominally pro-transit but oppose any plan that actually emerges from the political sausage-making process because it uses the wrong technology, or goes to the wrong neighborhood, or is paid for by the wrong tax, or is coupled with the wrong roads, etc. ….

Still, overall the city is a project that I hope is successful, for obvious reasons.

Credit Where Due

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Richard Morrill’s piece in Crosscut is pretty good, and he’s on the right track. But I think he fails — as many other anti-transit folks do — to address the need for rapid transit within the city of Seattle.

But while Morrill and others argue that not everyone wants to live in dense urban centers, the fact is that the residential population of the urban core is skyrocketing. We’re building thousands of new apartments and condos between Lake Union and SODO, and the existing street grid and bus networks simply won’t be able to move these people around.

This comes via Mike at CIS, and I basically agree with his analysis.

My Kingdom for a Bridge

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The final price tag for the Tacoma Narrows Bridge is $735 million, $114M under budget. The new Evergreen Point bridge will cost almost six times that much. Now, clearly all bridges are not created equal, but surely this disparity warrants further investigation. How did this project go so well?

Certainly one advantage was the design-build contract with Kiewit and Bechtel, which shaved two years off the process and committed the contractors to delivering a new bridge at a fixed cost.

However, the cost doesn’t include finance charges. The legislature floated an $800M bond, and we’ll be paying that off over the next 23 years — plus interest — with tolls. By contrast, a good chunk of the $4.4B cost of the new 520 bridge is the finance charges. If the proposed Lake Washington tolls do bring in the $2B or so that WSDOT expects they will, then the real cost of the 520 bridge is more like $2.4B, if we’re comparing apples to apples (or bridges to bridges).

Nonetheless, even with Frank Chopp’s last-minute effort to re-do the finance plan (which either saved us money or cost us money, it’s not entirely clear to me) the Tacoma Narrows Bridge seems to be a runaway transporation success story in a region with too few of those.

New 520 Finance Plan

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This is the plan for tolling the 520 and I-90 bridges, with scenarios including pre-construction tolling (i.e. tolling the existing bridge between 2009 and 2018).

Here it Comes

After talking to some people, I’ve discovered that last year’s governance reform bill (SB 5803) — which I linked to here — was reintroduced only as a part of standard Senate procedure, and indeed was killed only a few days later.

The bill that Josh Feit was talking about, SB 6772, is being introduced to the Senate today. Its sponsors are Sen. Haugen (D-Camano Island) and Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue/Redmond).

I may not have time to really study it till tonight, so as promised I’m going to refrain from shooting off at the mouth about it.

UPDATE 11:36 AM: Carless in Seattle has read the bill, and is mainly indifferent to it. His analysis is good, though.

Governance is About Letting the State Off the Hook

Mary Margaret Haugen’s (D-Camano Island) bill that she is bringing forward would disolve RTID and wrap Sound Transit into a bigger “roads and transit” organization. Didn’t we just see this play out to a disaster? I’ve spoken before about how a partially elected board is more likely to cause problems than an appointed board (Haugen’s plan includes 7 elected officials and three appointed officials), and Martin has asked why reform when nothing really seems wrong?

I was asking Ben why a Senator from Camano Island and Senator Marr (the likely co-sponsor) from Spokane care so much about roads and transit in Puget Sound. The answer is simple: the state does not want to pay for the roads in our area that are in bad shape. They want the local voters to have to tax themselves for the fixes, and let the state off the hook. Haugen doesn’t care either way whether we build more roads or more rail, as long as the state doesn’t have to pay for fixing the Alaskan Way Viaduct or the Evergreen Point floating bridge.

This is reprehensible. Even if you are pro-roads and anti-transit, you can’t want to let the state off the hook for its own roads, while we build roads with our gas tax for the rest of the state. SR-520, SR-99 and SR-167 are the state’s responbility. This P-I piece about the bill explains her motivation clearly:

“We (the state) cannot fully fund everything that is needed across the state,” she said.

Can’t? Geoff Simpson says a penny-per-gallon increase in the gas tax statewide would pay for all the state’s transportation problems. That may be optimistic, but it can’t be hugely off. If not a penny, then a nickel.

This is ridiculous. If Ed Murray, Frank Chopp, Judy Clibborn, and the rest of the region’s legistlators care about their districts, they would fight for to force the state to repair and improve the roads that the state owns.

More Governance

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

While I’m sympathetic to SC’s idea that a regional trasnportation authority would aid in planning, I think it’s still an open question as to whether it would make it any easier to raise money for Puget Sound transportation projects, which is really its main purpose, according to the Rice-Stanton commission report.

After all, voters in the RTID district, who would make up the bulk of the RTC’s population, just recently voted down the $17B Prop. 1. Simply redrawing the map around these people doesn’t get you the $62B you need to complete our backlog of infrastructure projects.

But more importantly, I’m not convinced that the people within this mythical “region” we call Puget Sound actually view themselves as such. Shawn Bunney, for example, is mighty pissed that Pierce County tax dollars are flowing to Seattle. Why the hostility, if we’re truly one region? It’s not just the “Cascade Curtain” that divides us. There seems to be a Lake Washington Curtain, a Duwamish Curtain, a Sea-Tac Curtain, etc.

Update: Josh Feit has more good questions.

What Gives On Governance? Geoff Simpson, others

Here’s a great opinion piece in the PI from Geoff Simpson (D-Covington) about our regional transportation woes and the crock that “governance reform” is. Simpson also minces no words saying that that effort is solely about finding money for roads instead of transit.

Simpson rightly points out that voters are not going to like congestion pricing when they figure out what it means: basically paying for driving. I promise if any elected official implements congestion pricing on a large scale, he/she will be voted out of office and be replaced by a officer whose entire platform is getting rid of congestion pricing. As he says, increasing the gas tax is a much better way of tackling the issue of paying for roads.

On the so-called “governance reform” side of things, there seem to be some mixed messages about the efforts of transit-haters. Josh Feit is convinced Mary Haugen is pushing that bill through the legistlature, and Ed Murray says the bill is dead. I hope Ed Murray is the correct one.
Update: It looks like Josh was right.

BART Widget

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

As a result of dropping differential equations this quarter I decided to start a 10 credit independent study on transit information usability for my urban planning minor. I started doing some preliminary research tonight and stumbled upon the most amazing widget I have seen (http://worrydream.com/bartwidget/).

This widget plans your trip in an easy to understand manner. Just drag and drop your starting and ending locations. It tell you where to transfer and how much the trip will cost. It will even set off an alarm to let you know when you should leave. Its elegant and easy to use. Sorry PC, it only works on macs.

For the past months I have been really interested in how transit information affect a users understand of the service. Transit information ranges from cheap and easy things like adding “frequent service” or approximate headways to bus schedules, to expensive things like implement system wide Nextbus service like what MUNI did.

I’m doing primary research for the next month or so. If you have any information that you think might be useful please let me know.

PS Now that I know how to post on here expect to hear from me more often.


Gregiore’s Climate Action Plan: Where’s the rail?

I’m late posting this, because after my last Global Warming post, my cred might seem suspect. But Gregoire’s plan seems even more suspect. Fast action for climate change, huh? Where’s the rail then? Diesel buses sitting in congestion aren’t going to get us back to 1990 levels very quickly. Light rail could help.

What’s Gregoire’s plan? Uh, it’s shared rides. I’m all for that, but if you’re talking about climate change in a region where most of the electricity comes from zero-emission hydro, you had better start talking about rail, because transportation is the majority of the GHG emissions here.

This is a serious issue. Look at what Jon Talton about Seattle’s future, in particular, how lack of transit could break Seattle over the next 30 years:

Muro also looked at his hometown and worries about innovation and productivity growth. According to Brookings data, productivity per job has been weak since the 2001 crash. “Are you keeping up with Helsinki, Frankfurt and Barcelona, your real competitors? It’s a tough game now.”

How that game will be influenced by Seattle’s “way” may be another question. It’s not just that Portland builds popular light rail while Seattle dithers and argues or that leaders were apparently reluctant to rock the boat at the Port of Seattle.

It’s that top-drawer competitors such as Singapore and Ireland are fast, efficient and agile in drawing capital, building infrastructure and embracing the next waves of wealth-creation.

So it’s more than just, climate change, it’s a question of our future prosperity. What kind of city will this be in 50 years? Are we really better situated than climate-change-averse cities like Phoenix and Dallas? For all Seattle’s “green” cred, I see a lot of enviro-mind people driving SOVs (and SUVs) each day.

What do you think? Am I off base? Is Gregoire right on this and I’m wrong? Let me know in the comments, and let Gregoire know that light rail needs to be a part of any climate change solution in our area.

Update: There’s a meeting of the Climate Advisory Team in Olympia on Friday starting at 8:30 am in that is open to the public. There will be a public comment period mid-morning. If you care about rail, will be in Olympia mid-morning Friday with nothing to do, go there and make your voice heard.

Free rides end for Streetcar; reality begans

Photo by Dan DeLong / P-I

As many as four times a day, riders have complained that the ticket-dispensing machines wouldn’t take dollar bills.

Melone said the problem is in the machines’ hardware and software and that streetcar manufacturer Inekon, based in the Czech Republic, is working to fix it.

The timing of the machines also was changed so it can take single bills; eventually they’ll be fixed to take two $1 bills consecutively, but in the meantime, “we’re discouraging people from feeding two consecutive bills. … We will modify that so that can be done,” Melone said.


Sound Transit in Danger of Disbandment – ACT NOW!!

There has been a lot of commotion regarding disbanding Sound Transit that the news hasn’t brought up as of late.

The following blogs have information in regards to this troubling news.

Seattle Transit – http://seatrans.blogspot.com/ (Battle Stations, Everyone)

Carless in Seattle – http://blog.carlessinseattle.us/ (Worrying hints from Olympia)

The Stranger Slog – http://slog.thestranger.com/2008/01/resolved_sound_transit_dissolved

If this bill gets signed, I will vote for anybody else but Gregorie, she will lose the election to Rossi, one way or another.

If this is their way to ensure that Sound Transit doesn’t come to a vote in November 2008, this is as low as they could possibly go. Btw, This would STOP the University Link from being built if this is approved.

Battle Stations, Everyone

2 UPDATES BELOW — Keep Scrolling.

We’ve been warning you for quite some time now about governance reform, most recently here.

Well, Josh Feit reports that the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Haugen of Camano Island, has written a bill that dissolves Sound Transit and replaces it with an elected board.

As he points out, this threatens the $750 million grant that University Link depends on.

I believe this is the bill. I haven’t had time yet to fully digest it, but Section 310 is the one that deals with Sound Transit and incorporates it into the new organization, which would pretty much hire all of Sound Transit’s old employees and assume its responsibilities.

Here’s the procedural history of the bill. I see that other sponsors include Ed Murray of Capitol Hill and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Belltown, Queen Anne, and Ballard. Why Sen. Murray wants to mess with an organization building light rail through the heart of his district is beyond me.

Anyway, it’s time that we mobilize to make sure this thing is dead, dead, dead. Briefly, why it’s a horrible idea:

(1) Sound Transit consistently passes audits with flying colors. Special-purpose organizations with directly elected boards (Port of Seattle, Seattle Monorail Project, Seattle School Board) have a recent history of graft and incompetence. Why would we seek to replicate that governance model here?

(2) The Sound Transit board is filled with politicians dedicated to delivering real rapid transit. Lord knows who could get on an elected board with a few bucks from Kemper Freeman and the road lobby. Tim Eyman, everyone? I’m not a lawyer, but if I read Sec. 305(2) correctly, a new transit plan will require unanimous approval by the commission to be put before the voters, meaning one commissioner elected by people in Monroe can stop the entire region in its tracks.

(3) This creates some risk for the University Link federal funding agreement.

(4) The “Regional Transportation Commission” has a dual focus of roads and transit. Haven’t we been through this already?

We have a Democratic super-majority in Olympia — it’s unbelievable we have to fight off our state government like this. If Governor Gregoire signs this bill, I will vote for Rossi this fall, simply so that the Democrats come up with a leader that is merely neutral to transit, instead of actively hostile. If this passes, there isn’t anything left for Dino Rossi to screw up.

Contact your legislators.

UPDATE: Sen. Murray has once again placed a thoughtful response in the comments. The bill I cited is now dead as of today, assuming that’s what a “Senate Rules ‘X’ File” means.

It’s not clear to me how that relates to the Haugen proposal that Josh Feit mentioned. Remain vigilant, but I don’t see it listed anywhere under Sen. Haugen’s sponsored bills.

UPDATE 2 (1/21/08): Sen. Kohl-Welles also replies in the comments, reaffirming her support for transit.

I firmly believe that the Seattle delegation considers themselves pro-transit and pro-rail. To be anything else would be both foolish and politically suicidal. However, to this layman it appears that their names keep on ending up on bills that we here at STB consider to be hostile to Sound Transit, and therefore hostile to rapid construction of new rail capacity. This probably has something to do with the proverbial sausage-making in Olympia, but it’d be nice if for once the maneuvering was over providing funds to accelerate or extend projects, rather than coming up with cheap administrative fixes that can be manipulated by the road-building lobby.

However, I promise to do a bit more homework on these bills. No more flying off the handle at Josh Feit rumor-mill posts. I owe that to the readers if I ask you to contact your legislators.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Noted without comment:

Light rail might be best travel option
01/17/2008 09:52 AM
By: Johnell Johnson

CHARLOTTE — The wintry mix might be causing some delays and closings, but not where the light rail is concerned. It was running smoothly Thursday morning.

On its Web site, the Charlotte Area Transit System says it is running on an inclement weather plan for the buses, but the light rail has been moving on schedule, running about every seven minutes.

The light rail has 15 stations and runs adjacent to South Boulevard from uptown Charlotte to Interstate 485 in Pineville. It is a preferred option if you have to travel into uptown or along its route because roads are still slick and traffic is moving slower than usual.

RTC Cometh

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Says Josh Feit. If it comes, he notes, there goes the federal grant for University Link:

Here’s one major problem with this approach right off the bat: $750 million.

The feds, at the behest of U.S. Senator Patty Murray’s appropriations sub-committee on transportation, are prepared to sign off on $750 million this summer to get Sound Transit from downtown to the U District. That’s 43% of the $1.7 billion segment. If Sound Transit goes away that money is gone. That means light rail is dead.

I imagine the new entity could re-apply for the money, but it wouldn’t have ST’s strack record with the feds. You can mock ST for being late to deliver the Central Link, or for its early missteps, but the fact is it has a very high municipal rating and has won the trust of the feds. Building that expertise takes years, and it could all go away when the agency is gutted and folded into a larger Regional Transportation Commission.

Don’t believe me? Ask FEMA how life has been under the Department of Homeland Security. Or better yet, ask the residents of New Orleans.

The really farcical part is that the RTC’s whole purpose is to raise more money for regional transit projects. Wouldn’t it be ironic if its first order of business — or rather, its very creation — threw $750M out the window?

And by “ironic,” I mean “an utterly sad indictment of our state and local leadership.”

Update: Martin at STB has more, including what we can and should do about it.

The City Council wants status reports on the transportation projects in Old Town

The City of Mukilteo seems to keep getting put on the side burner for it’s State Projects….

The biggest questions regarding Mukilteo’s waterfront hinge on the plans for a new ferry terminal — a project considered by city officials to be the lynchpin for future development on the waterfront.

Construction on the Mukilteo ferry terminal was expected to start this year and cost up to $156 million. The state already had secured $148 million in state and federal funding.

However, the discovery of the remains of an American Indian village where the terminal was planned and other complications have delayed the project until at least 2011. The new terminal is now expected to cost as much as $310 million.

It’s a shame that projects of this much importance keeps getting held back. A new ferry terminal with easy connections to Sounder Commuter Rail to Everett or Seattle. With all of these delays, it also delays the future for the Old Town of Mukilteo which has plans of redevelopment focusing around the new ferry terminal and Sounder station.

More can be read thanks to the Everett Herald.