This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Nice post from daijamin at STB interviewing SDOT’s project manager for the streetcar, Ethan Melone. I’m particularly intrigued by the idea of running the line up Westlake, through Fremont and into Ballard via Leary.

My big concern with the streetcar, other than the obvious stuck-in-traffic issues, has been crossing the ship canal. It seems to me you’ve got two big problems there: (1) having to wait while the bridge goes up, and (2) getting stuck in the traffic jam that results from the bridge going up.

The Fremont Bridge alignment has a lot of advantages over Ballard Bridge (notably the fact that it would serve Fremont!). But two big disadvantages are the congested intersections on either side of the Fremont Bridge.

Now, obviously it would be cool if the streetcar tunneled under the canal, or rose over it at such height as to avoid a drawbridge (a la the Monorail). But both of those options strike me as expensive and unlikely.

So why not build two single-lane, streetcar-only drawbridges on either side of the Fremont Bridge? The streetcar would get its own right-of-way, and could queue right up to the bridge, avoiding the backup of cars, and also avoid the tangle of intersections on either side of the Bridge. Something like this:


Now, I realize I’ve drawn one of those lines right through the Adobe campus. And for all I know two single-lane drawbridges are more expensive than tunneling under the canal. But I doubt it.

Anyway, consider this just some Friday night fantasy-mapping for your consideration. Thoughts?


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The new Golf diesel-hybrid. Greener than the Prius. Not on sale in the U.S. yet, though.

Innovations like this make me even more convinced that high gas prices are not enough to dissuate the majority of us from our SOV lifestyles. You could trade in a 22mpg Ford for one of these Golfs, and gas would have to hit $11/gallon before you started feeling it in the wallet.

To take this one step further, I’m generally concerned with the idea of guilting or shaming people into density: “get rid of your house in the suburbs or the polar bears will die and the ice caps will melt!.” People are psychologically and developmentally attuned to reject those sorts of arguments.

Transit-oriented lifestyles can (and should) be spun positively:

  • Nightlife is cool.
  • Walking to the grocery store and not having to circle for parking is cool!
  • Being able to walk home or take the bus home drunk from the bar is really cool!!
  • Being assured that your teenage kids aren’t driving around drunk is extra super cool!!!
  • Being home in time to help your kids do their homework and not just tuck them in to bed is ZOMG the coolest thing ever!!!!
  • Etc…

You catch more flies with honey, right?

I’m not trying to discount the role of public policy here. Clearly I support policies like denser zoning, mixed use, carbon-sensitive zoning, etc. But the point is that you build support for those sorts of things by making the lifestyles associated with them attractive and compelling.

Fares go up tomorrow

Metro fares are going up 25 cents tomorrow, so remember to bring those extra quarters.

UPDATE 12:29 PM: Via Seattlest:

According to the Metro rep we just got on the phone, you can either keep the old pass and pay an extra quarter each time you get on, or go down to the Second and Jackson office (201 S. Jackson) to pay the difference. (You’ll get a new pass.) Lucky holders of a three-month pass for the months January, February and March will not be liable for that extra quarter until their passes run out.

Parking Becoming Ever Harder in the City…

It looks like the City plans to install new parking meters around different neighborhoods, which I can only guess is a good thing. They seem to be going to neighborhoods which hadn’t had meters before, which also is a good thing.

This year, the city will look at parking in West Seattle Junction, upper Queen Anne, the Denny Triangle, Fremont, the triangle bordered by Denny, Broad and Aurora, and the Pike-Pine neighborhood in Capitol Hill.

In 2009, the city will study the rest of Capitol Hill, Madison Valley and First Hill, and in 2010, Morgan Junction, Ballard again, Wallingford, Madison Park and Greenwood/Phinney Ridge.

Many of the neighborhoods Snyder is visiting also are expecting better public bus service in the next few years, a result of the Transit Now initiative passed in 2006. West Seattle residents are expecting express bus service to downtown and upper Queen Anne, and more frequent bus service downtown later this year.

As HugeAssCity points out, in some neighborhoods gridlock is going to become endemic, and the only way out is transit use. Removing parking is another way to encourage people to ride transit.

The worry is, of course, that people in the City will decide to drive to work elsewhere, and that people who currently work in the City will choose jobs in the suburbs. But with gas prices the way they are, I am not too worried.

And the NIMBY of the Century Award Goes to….

That’s Will from Horse’s Ass’s photo, which was taken next to the piroshky spot on Broadway which will be Capitol Hill station, a subway station for Link Light Rail.

This is the text:


Wow. And I thought transit was about moving people around…

Sea-Tac Station Update


If you haven’t been following, Sound Transit originally estimated it would cost $53 million for the Sea-Tac Airport station. The lowest bid came in around $93 million, but with negotiations they were able to get a bid around $73 million. Thanks to the P-I, we now learn what caused the Sea-Tac station to be cheaper.

The building still will look basically the same as planned, Lewis said, but cost savings were made by reducing the size of the building’s internal structural supports, narrowing the roof width, reducing the amount of glass and eliminating an enclosure for an emergency-access stairway.

Well the station is getting smaller, but that doesn’t meant the transit-oriented development is. Sea-Tac is planning an entertainment district around the station, according to the Puget Sound Business Journal.

The city of SeaTac said it plans to create an “entertainment district” in the south Seattle suburb that would include retail, dining and entertainment facets.

The city has hired Heartland LLC, a Seattle real estate consultant, to devise a strategy for the district. The area that SeaTac officials have targeted is around the Seattle-Tacoma International Airport Sound Transit light rail station now under construction at International Boulevard and South 176th Street, which is scheduled to open at the end of next year.

Hm… I wonder what district Sea-Tac is planning around the $413 million parking structure? My guess? Nothing at all.

Streetcar Answers

photo from Caseysail, on the STB flickr pool

Tuesday I asked for streetcar questions, now I have the answers via Ethan Melone, SDOT’s project manager for the Seattle streetcar.

STB What sort of in-street configurations are being studied? In San Francisco, they run streetcars in the street like the SLU car in some places, in dedicated right-of-way in others, and in subways in some sections. I am sure a subway is out of Seattle’s price range, what sort of in-street configurations are being studied? Could any have their own right of way?

EM We are generally looking at in-street configurations, not separate rights-of-way. As noted, some cities have “hybrid” light rail systems that operate primarily in their own right of way, but on streets in some neighborhoods. It is also possible to consider a “hybrid” streetcar system, which would operate mostly in-street, but with some separate rights-of-way. We have not ruled out that possibility, but most of the corridors we are looking at would work well with in-street configurations. In-street configurations are generally less expensive and do more to connect passengers with the urban environment. We are also looking at left-lane alignments and other options to address concerns about conflicts between cycling and tracks.

STB One of the major concerns with the proposed study was that an at-grade West Seattle-Ballard line would be built in lieu of a faster light-rail system. Some of those fears would be allayed with a more rapid streetcar alignment like San Francisco’s. What is the ultimate purpose of that potential line?

EM We agree that the speed and reliability that a streetcar could offer needs to be compared against rapid bus and light rail alternatives for longer corridors such as West Seattle and Ballard. It is possible that one or both of these corridors would be best served by a “hybrid” configuration such as San Francisco’s MUNI system, or by bus rapid transit. For the Ballard corridor, we are also looking at alternative routing to take advantage of the relatively free-flowing Westlake Avenue N and Leary Way.

STB Would the streetcar lines be constructed one at a time? If so, is there any idea which line/lines are likely to be constructed first? Also, when is the earliest a new streetcar line/extension would be ready for use?

EM We envision the streetcar lines would be built in phases, although simultaneous construction of more than one line would be feasible if funding were available. One of the major objectives of the study that is now underway is to identify the “most promising” route or routes to be built first. We anticipate that the “most promising” routes would be those that have the best combination of ridership potential, economic development potential, ease of construction, and funding opportunities.

STB Do you have any updates on the Waterfront Line #99? We miss it.

EM King County Metro is continuing to work with a private developer on a joint-use project for a new maintenance facility in Pioneer Square that would allow the Waterfront line to resume service. However, there is no development agreement in place yet.

STB Why are there no cameras on the streetcars like there are on buses?

EM The streetcars are wired for CCTV and we intend to add the cameras as funding becomes available.

STB Are you working with the police to prevent parked vehicles blocking the line?

EM We have asked SPD Parking Enforcement to give special attention to parking along the streetcar line. We have experienced very few blocking incidents to date, and the handful that have occurred have mostly related to emergency vehicle response, or construction equipment.

STB Are there plans to avoid the troubles the trains have been having with cars?

EM The two incidents with cars involved illegal traffic movements by the motor vehicles–running a red light, and making a right turn from the left travel lane. They do not seem to result from cars lacking awareness of the streetcars. However, we do plan to experiment with converting some of the exterior lights on the streetcars to strobe lights to increase driver awareness.

STB What should a cyclist biking on the street (between the rails, on the nice new smooth concrete) do when a streetcar comes behind then in the same lane?

EM A cyclist “taking a lane” that is a streetcar lane should follow the same traffic rules that would normally apply to “taking the lane.” The streetcar operators are required to follow all traffic rules, as well as Metro’s Standard Operating Procedures, which include lower speed limits than the general posted limit. Cycling in the streetcar lane in front of a streetcar should not present any issues different from cycling in front of other traffic, as long as the cyclist feels comfortable with the maneuvers necessary to cross the tracks at a 90 degree angle when they leave the trackway.

STB Thanks Ethan for the answers!

Wednesday Transportation Round-up

Photo from the STB flickr pool.

Lane Closures on I-90

A four month lane closure on I-90 has begun. The closure is so Sound Transit and WSDOT can add 24 hour HOV lanes on the bridge. This is getting things one step closer to eventually running light rail in the current express lanes on that bridge, as the bridge was originally intended for.

Photo emailed to me, photographer unknown.

Take the Survey

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I took the Sound Transit survey, and you should, too. I’m not sure what kind of feedback they get from these things. It would seem to bias a certain kind of person to fill it out.

Nonetheless, ST needs ammo when it goes to the legislature, and this sorta stuff really helps.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Martin says that Portland MAX is not teh awesome!

It’s a fair point. The MAX was build more like a streetcar downtown, which is problematic for longer distances. On the other hand, Seattle’s LINK will have some of the same problems. Only the New York City Subway, with its local and express lines, really avoids this (separating longer-haul commuter rail from the subway helps, too) That was some might fine foresight, those NYCers had.

More ERG Love (Not Really)

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

ERG, the company that some have blamed for the delay in the ORCA card, is being criticized for similar delays in delivering the Bay Area’s TransLink card:

Shortly after the announcement in Australia, [BART controller-treasurer] Schroeder sent an e-mail to Bay Area transportation agency officials overseeing the TransLink project, urging them to cut their losses with ERG and “prepare to take whatever legal means are necessary to deal with the inevitable lawsuits that ERG will file.”

The Bay Area-wide launch of TransLink is now set for 2010.

The deadlines keep being extended because of various software problems, hardware glitches and concerns raised by participating agency officials who want to make sure they will get the revenue they’re owed from TransLink transactions.

Getting officials in the various agencies – each with their own administrators and governing boards – to work together has not been easy, given their desire to make sure they won’t be short-changed.

Getting the mechanics and the incentives aligned for these kind of projects is never simple, but a pattern seems to be developing here. I’m sure serial catowner will use this opportunity explain to me why this is yet another reason we need regional transportation governance. I think it would be a pretty plausible case to make.

HOT Lanes

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I found myself on SR 167 last week and I saw the HOT lane equipment being installed. I’m pretty curious to see how this project works out. It’s pretty hard to jump into the HOV lane as a single passenger, but it’s pretty easy to do it when it’s an HOT lane. Who’s to say you didn’t pay to get in?

Portland MAX

Last weekend, I took the Portland MAX. I fully realize that I am the last man in a 1,000-mile radius to do this, so I’m not looking for props. Still, I’m surprised to say I’m not all that impressed.

Before I go any further, I should concede that at least Portland has a system. Their dedicated right-of-way system vastly outshines our (small) grab bag of monorails, bus tunnels, and bus ways. So for now, advantage Portland.

In a few years, though, our system is going to be a substantially better design than theirs. Consider:

  1. Because the stops have to fit in a city block, the trains are only 2 cars long, so the capacity sucks.
  2. It’s at-grade just about everywhere, including downtown. Pedestrians are everywhere, making speeds crappy. The stops are too close together, too.
  3. Almost all of the line is along the freeway. So much for TOD!

If you look at Sound Transit’s track in the Rainier Valley, it’s much less inviting to pedestrians because it sits in the middle of a boulevard. The crossings are limited so that stations can be four cars long, and the only stretches of the ST2 that have stops along the freeway are Northgate to Lynnwood and I-90 across Lake Washington.

The MAX strikes me as rail-on-the-cheap. There is no less expensive way to build a dedicated-right-of-way system than to do it at-grade and use freeway rights-of-way, although this compromises its capacity, operating speed, and ability to promote long-term ridership through transit oriented development. If Sound Transit delivers on its promises, it’ll be worth the wait.

Inside-out Cities

There’s a great new article in The Atlantic about the trend towards urban living and the likelihood of exurbs becoming low-income neighborhoods. The takeaway is that if you own property in a place like Marysville or Black Diamond, you should sell.

I’m not the best person to critique the article, because it entirely reinforces my prejudices, but I’ve always thought that the hollowing out of our inner cities has been a peculiarly American product of mid-20th-century racism and the breakdown in law enforcement in the 1960s. As those causes recede, we’ll probably end up with a more European-style configuration where the rich people live in the city center and the poor are warehoused out on the fringes.

But today the pendulum is swinging back toward urban living, and there are many reasons to believe this swing will continue. As it does, many low-density suburbs and McMansion subdivisions, including some that are lovely and affluent today, may become what inner cities became in the 1960s and ’70s—slums characterized by poverty, crime, and decay…

The experience of cities during the 1950s through the ’80s suggests that the fate of many single-family homes on the metropolitan fringes will be resale, at rock-bottom prices, to lower-income families—and in all likelihood, eventual conversion to apartments.

But don’t panic, Bellevue residents:

Of course, not all suburbs will suffer this fate. Those that are affluent and relatively close to central cities—especially those along rail lines—are likely to remain in high demand. Some, especially those that offer a thriving, walkable urban core, may find that even the large-lot, residential-only neighborhoods around that core increase in value. Single-family homes next to the downtowns of Redmond, Washington; Evanston, Illinois; and Birmingham, Michigan, for example, are likely to hold their values just fine.

A little further out, though, oy:

But much of the future decline is likely to occur on the fringes, in towns far away from the central city, not served by rail transit, and lacking any real core. In other words, some of the worst problems are likely to be seen in some of the country’s more recently developed areas—and not only those inhabited by subprime-mortgage borrowers. Many of these areas will become magnets for poverty, crime, and social dysfunction.

This has implications for transit planning. For one thing, effective high-capacity transit is a crucial amenity in those dense urban centers; to not have one is a debit against the city’s quality of life in the same way that a giant chemical plant in the middle of downtown would be. Additionally, the people that will absolutely require transit — who are now the urban poor — may become the “periphery poor,” creating new challenges for transit planners. So perhaps those long-haul transit services, so derided by The Stranger and West Seattlites, may be serving the strongest future markets for transit.

BTW, Seattlest beat me to posting about this by quite a bit.

Eight Lane 520?

The Seattle Times just seems continually behind the, er, times. First, they ran an editorial for Haugen’s 6772 super-agency bill the day after it failed to escape from committee (lost the link sorry). Now, after the Seattle PI reports they are finishing up on the bridge plans and only working on Montlake section, and the Times Editorial Board come out with this argument for an eight-lane 520 bridge:

But for the 21st century, six lanes is small. A six-lane bridge will be full at rush hour, right from the start. The new bridge will have to charge tolls, and not only for finance but to limit demand — that is, to price the bridge out of reach of people who can’t or won’t have $6, or whatever the toll is.

Uh, I am pretty sure that six-lanes will be huge for the 21st century. If they did build an eight-lane bridge, will it might not be full, the highways on either side would be, as would the on-ramps. That road’s capacity would no longer be determined by the bridge, but rather by the ability to get people on to it. And do we really want an eight-lane highway through Portage Bay?

The Seattle Times is stuck in 1965 thinking.

Eastside Rail

So now that the Eastside rail has carried its final freight train, and the debate over Eastside rail is picking up, we add a new voice to the fray, Mark Gardner over at Whacky Nation.

But do the math. It’s scary even if the project would only cost the intitial $107 million capital expense plus $10 million (highly suspect) in operating costs every three years. But, I’ll use their numbers to be fair. And I’ll suppose two trains would support 200 commuters a day. Over a twenty-one year period, subtracting out weekends and a week’s worth of holidays, I pencil out the daily tax-payer subsidy to be $180. Yes, divide the costs by the passenger trips and the taxpayer is paying $180 a day per commuter so that a bunch of choo-choo loving liberals can have their toy.

I’m sure he’s wrong on about the ridership. You’d see a lot more than 200 people on each train, probably at least 500, especially by twenty-one years from now. On the other hand, he’s not counting the cost of acquiring the rails, which I guess is the same whether a train runs there or not.

Though at what ridership would you need to justify the capital cost? The $4.4 billion 520 replacement will carry at least 115,000 cars, and thus at least 57,500 commuters, each day. At that price it pencils out to $14 a commuter. U-Link will carry 90,000 riders at $1.75 billion, or about $4 per rider. Central Link’s cost is about $7. Cost effectiveness is an important argument for transit, and that’s one of the reasons Link Light rail is a no-brainer.

Eastside rail doesn’t seem to be nearly as much a slam dunk as the last two, but with a large enough base it could pencil out to be as effective as the 520 bridge at least.

Federal Funds

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

For all the sins of the Bush Administration, this is the transit-fan equivalent of killing puppies for sport:

The bulk of funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund comes from the 18.4 cents-per-gallon federal gasoline tax. But revenues from the tax have flattened out, likely because people are driving less due to the price of gas and because cars have become more fuel efficient in the 14 years since the federal gas tax was last increased.

White House budget officials said the Highway Trust Fund will have a roughly $3 billion surplus in the current fiscal year. But by the end of fiscal 2009 it will be running a $3.9 billion deficit.

“There are challenges,” said Christin Baker, a spokeswoman for the federal Office of Management and Budget, which writes the president’s annual budget proposal. “We can’t spend what we don’t have.”

When Congress proposed raising the federal gasoline tax by 4 cents per gallon several years ago, President Bush threatened a veto and urged lawmakers to curb spending.

In its latest budget proposal, the administration suggested as a temporary solution that money from the federal mass transit trust fund account, which is running a surplus, be transferred to the highway account to cover the anticipated shortage.