Prop 1 ST2 in November?

Could ST2.1 just be the original ST2? In this piece by the DJC, the suggestion is yes.

Light rail extensions to Tacoma and Lynnwood are back on the table after the Sound Transit board in a surprise move voted yesterday to include the transit portion of Proposition 1 as one of three options for a package that could go on the November ballot.
Sound Transit has been drafting two stripped-down versions of the transit portion of Proposition 1, which was defeated by voters last November. Both versions would be a lot cheaper and take less time to build.
But neither of them included light rail to Snohomish County, and yesterday Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon asked the board to put last year’s plan back into contention.
The stripped-down plans “leave North King County with no fast, reliable connections to Seattle,” Lynnwood City Council President Loren Simmonds said in public testimony.

Holy crap. So my post this morning could be a real question for the board. Not everyone on the board is happy with the idea though:

King County Council President Julia Patterson said the two new draft plans, which rely on a major increase in Sounder commuter rail service between Seattle and Tacoma, are contingent on getting an agreement with BNSF Railway that is far from assured.
“Shouldn’t we have another plan waiting in the wings?” Patterson asked.
But only one board member — Everett councilmember Paul Roberts — voted against proceeding.
“There are too many unanswered questions,” Roberts said. “I feel we’re running down the street trying to get dressed.”

ST2.1 or ST2?

Which do you prefer?

ST2.1 doesn’t have nearly as much light rail, in the .5% scenario only as far as Northgate, Highline Community College and Overlake Transit Center/Microsoft and in the .4% only to Northgate, 200 St Des Moines and Overlake Hospital. But it does build it much faster, that last projects would open in 2020.

So which do you prefer? More light rail or sooner light rail? Sounder and express bus or light rail to Tacoma?

Known Unknowns

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Odd comment from Paula Hammond:

State Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond, a board member, said there are many big unanswered questions that most likely won’t be known in the next six to eight weeks, such as the cost of putting light rail on I-90 and the effect it will have by taking away traffic lanes. She said the new plan might be too hurried.

Really? Sound Transit doesn’t know the “cost of putting light rail on I-90 and the effect it will have by taking away traffic lanes?” How could that be? Didn’t they figure that out in advance of Prop. 1? What could she possibly mean by this?

Here are roughly 400 documents on Sound Transit’s site about light rail and I-90. Here‘s one, co-authored by Hammond’s own WSDOT, showing that the lane changes will actually improve mobility by providing all-day HOV access in both directions.

I have to think this quote was taken out of context.

ST 2.1

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Daijimin and Goldy have both posted the draft plans for Sound Transit’s 2008 ballot initiative. They’re still debating between a 0.4% and 0.5% sales tax, the latter would get light rail to Microsoft, among other improvements. Both would be complete by 2020 apparently, which is interesting, considering last year’s initiative wouldn’t have reached Microsoft until 2027.

Larry Lange notes that Sound Transit is going to do some public outreach on both possible packages to get some feedback before deciding which one, if any, to put on the ballot.

One hopes the public outreach process is a little more rigorous and comprehensive than the web survey Sound Transit did earlier, which was probably skewed towards pro-transit folks like me.

ST Draft Plan Summary for 2008

Update: I had a bad version of the draft package.

Here are images of a summary draft plan for 2008, which summaries a .5% plan and a .4% plan. For Seattle, the difference seems to be extending the streetcar from John to Aloha on Broadway, which seems like a tiny difference for .1%. On the Eastside, though, .1% is the difference between Bellevue and Microsoft, which I think is well worth it. I’d guess there’s other money going to something else. What’s interesting is that ST would move about 302,000-309,000 people per day with $700-800 million total operating costs from 2008 to 2020, while King County Metro moves less than that number each day with operating costs of about $500 million per year.

Congestion Pricing Would Unclog Roads

The Puget Sound Regional Council released a study called “Traffic Choices” that shows that congestion pricing could alleviate traffic congestion. My question is, they needed a $3.1 million study to show that? It’s pretty obvious that if you start charging $13.41 people to drive to work, they’ll decide to drive less.

What’s also obvious to me, but apparently not to most other liberal environmentalists in this region, is that the moment you start this tolling scheme on existing roads, Tim Eyman passes an initiative repealing the laws, and a brand new wave of anti-tolling, anti-congestion pricing politicians sweep into office and undo the whole bloody thing.

I do like the sound of this:

Over 30 years, the report estimates, tolls could generate $87 billion in today’s dollars. The fairness of any regional road-tolling scheme would depend to a great extent on how those dollars are spent, Kitchen says.

The study confirms higher-income people — people who could most afford the tolls — would benefit most if regionwide road pricing were adopted for real. As for the less affluent, “they’re worse off unless you do something beneficial with that [toll] revenue,” Kitchen says.

It could be used for road improvements, or better transit service. Or it could allow policymakers to roll back other taxes, perhaps the gas tax or vehicle-excise taxes.

$87 billion is a lot of rail, but I doubt we’ll ever get 30 years of this sort of tolling. Congestion pricing is a great idea in theory, but in practice it’s going to push new development annd businesses far out into areas where the congestion pricing isn’t in effect, and it’ll be political suicide for whoever implements the plan unless alternatives are built long before the plan is put in place.

Let’s stick to realistic things we can do now, like build light rail to the Eastside, Northgate and Kent.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This quote from Sen. Jim Horn is priceless:

And any proposal would encounter stiff opposition from people like former state Sen. Jim Horn, R-Mercer Island, a longtime toll skeptic. He says regionwide tolling is really about “rationing your roadways and harming your quality of life.”

Sen. Horn then announced his proposal to widen I-405 to infinity lanes in each direction.

WPC Study Rebutted

The Washington Policy Center, a right-wing think-tank, issued a “study” entitled “The Facts on Light Rail: A Comparative Analysis of Light Rail Systems in Six West Coast Cities”. It’s the standard anti-rail stuff: it’s expensive, no one rides it, and buses would do a better job.

Michael Setty at has written a convincing rebuttal to the methods, arguments and facts of the study. For example, WPC uses San Francisco to talk about how expensive transit is, but fails to mention that one third of all commute trips in the three counties served by BART and Muni are taken on transit. Setty also shows that LRT is cheaper per passenger mile (38¢) than buses (55¢), in direct contrast to WPC’s claim that buses are 12% cheaper to operate.

A particularly money passage in the Setty piece:

WPC also claims that LRT does not reduce congestion or auto usage. However, according to Bailey, Linda, Mokhtarian, Patricia L. PhD, and Little, Andrew. The Broader Connection between Public Transportation, Energy Conservation and Greenhouse Gas Reduction. February 2008. ICF International., transit reduces urban travel by 102 billion annual vehicle miles traveled (VMT) in U.S. urban areas, or about 6% of total urban VMT and two VMT for every urban passenger mile traveled on transit. About half of this impact is due to rail, which reduces travel by up to 10.9 daily VMT per household within 0.75 miles of a rail transit stop. This mitigates probably hundreds of billions in new roads otherwise “needed” without transit.

Applying this two for one reduction in VMT compared to daily transit passenger miles, five of the six West Coast LRT systems (excluding San Jose) are suppressing approximately 1.75 billion annual VMT, saving direct expenditures for auto trips of roughly $850 million based on the 2007 IRS Standard Mileage rates for business purposes, e.g., $0.485 per mile driven. This savings offsets net operating subsidies of about $304 million for the five LRT systems, plus an estimated annualized capital expense of $400-$450 million for the roughly $7.5 billion invested in West Coast LRT except for Santa Clara–e.g., assuming current 30-year U.S. Treasuries rates of 4.35%, and an annual set-asides to fund future replacements (actually provided by Federal formula funding).
These estimates do not include any allowance for reducing parking expenditures by the private sector, the increased value of land next to LRT stations, reduced travel times for transit dependents in some cases, and precluded expenditures for additional urban roadway capacity needed. In all corridors served by LRT, roadways already exist, usually freeways.

One of the main criticisms of transit is that it accounts for so few “trips”, as measured in vehicle miles travelled. But transit reduces the overall number of miles travelled, not just by car but by all means. So a simple usage metric is over counting the people who live in Spanaway and commute to Redmond, and dramtically over-counting those who live in Ballard and work in First Hill.

It’s great stuff, and the best smack-down of the standard anti-transit arguments I’ve read in a long time.

WPC Fights Rail In Vancouver

Kemper Freeman is fighting light rail in Vancouver. Well, not himself, but by proxy with Michael Ennis at the Washington Policy Center doing the dirty work. Kemper’s a big donnor to WPC (Jon DeVore at HA has some details on where WPC gets its money, and how they spend it). Some in Clark county way to extend Portland’s Max across the Columbia to Vancouver. Mike Ennis’s opinion piece in the Columbian is so full of absurdities as to almost be hilarious.

Light rail does not reduce traffic congestion. In 2005, light-rail systems on the West Coast served only about 2 percent of the work force in their service areas. On average, these systems only remove between 0.39 percent and 1.1 percent of cars from the roadway.

As I’ve said a million times at this blog, the goal is to move people, not cars. I don’t really care whether cars disappear from the road. As people move here (and Portland/Vancouver), there will always be more cars.

Light rail is expensive and it requires significant public assistance. On average, West Coast light-rail systems need taxpayer subsidies to pay for 73 percent of operations and 100 percent of capital improvements every year.

Yeah and roads make tons of money, that’s why we have such an easy time replacing the Viaduct and the 520 bridge. So do buses, those things are cash cows! I wonder what the figure is for the BRT that Ennis loves so much?

Light rail is far less efficient than a bus system. Attracting a new rider to light rail costs 16 to 47 times as much as attracting a new rider to a traditional bus system. And when accounting for passenger demand, West Coast light rail is 12 percent more expensive to operate than bus service.

Sure the capital costs of rail are large compared to buses, so it’s not surprising that rail costs more to “attract a rider”, but that statistic is massively misleading. And the 12% figure is not only wrong, it ignores the fact that advertising revenues are 15~25% of operating costs for rail systems, while just 10% for bus systems.

Just to get an idea of what kind of guy Ennis is, check out this post from the WPC blog:

On this Earth Day, I’m reminded of the push for highly dense, urban centers by incorporating transit oriented development (TODs). The idea is to build residential and commercial development along a railway or transit station. Through public subsidies and tax breaks, TODs typically require government manipulation of the market to attract the new community. Some also result in high vacancy rates and empty businesses because of the unnatural market.

Here is Thailand’s version of a TOD:

I wish I could make this stuff up.

Wire-free weekends

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It looks like we run diesel busses on the weekend in case construction might occur, cutting power. A group has formed to move a diesel bus route away from their street. Of course that just moves the problem around.

Why are we abandoning our bus trolley system every weekend in response to an infrequent and avoidable problem? Here’s an idea: Maybe we should put trolley power on two circuits where this occurs.

A Tale of Two Streets

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Neat interactive feature from the Seattle Times on development around MLK light-rail stations.

It will be interesting to watch how MLK evolves differently than Rainier Avenue going forward. The two streets parallel each other, of course, but Rainier was developed auto-centrically, with the big Lowe’s and QFC stores with their massive parking lots out front. MLK was largely undeveloped in recent years, and so now it’s going to get re-developed in a transit-friendly way. Let’s check back in 20 years and see how different the two thoroughfares are. I think you can guess which one I think will succeed.


Uh, Density?

Crosscut recently posted an essay by former WSDOT secretary Doug McDonald lamenting the fact that, seven years into our growth management plan, the core cities aren’t keeping up with the share of population growth they’re supposed to absorb, leaving the excess to places like Snoqualmie:

In King County, in the most recent years, only five percent or less of the new housing units are springing up outside the urban growth boundaries. But in Snohomish County, since 2000, the share of new housing units outside the urban growth boundaries has steadily increased. In Kitsap County, the number of new housing units outside the Urban Growth Area in recent years has bounced from year to year between 40 percent and 60 percent. In Pierce County, recent information shows that 20 percent of the new housing units are now arising outside the urban growth boundaries. Another telling indicator is that for Pierce County as a whole, growth in the unincorporated areas — some inside and some outside the urban growth boundaries — accounted for almost six out of 10 new residents in the entire county!

I assume that his data is correct, and agree that it’s a big concern. Befitting a former WSDOT (i.e., “Pavement Inc.”) chief, he completely misdiagnoses the problem:

What will be necessary to turn the tide against, well, the spread of sprawl across the region? Better urban public schools! Higher-quality and lower-cost housing in the cities, especially housing that will make all kinds of families with children eager to live in city neighborhoods! Friendlier, convenient main street shopping for shoppers of all incomes! Good streets and sidewalks, safe bike lanes, and enjoyable parks for people of all ages! For all the citizens of the entire region, these needs in the cities now are front and center as the essential, critical measures of “green.”

The underlying assumption is that we can’t find enough people to buy housing in Seattle, so we have to create more incentives for people to do so. That is, of course, nonsense: over the past decade demand has exceeded supply, and in fact developers can’t build enough units to satisfy market demand. Why is that? Because of zoning restrictions, design review boards, and NIMBYism, not because Seattle is such a rotten place to live. If you want more households in Seattle, you have to increase the number of homes, and there’s no place to put up vast new tracts of single-family housing.

Because this is Crosscut, there’s a gratuitous swipe at Light Rail:

Has anyone not yet noticed that it’s standing-room-only on principal bus routes all over the very areas where better transit services can help attract new residents? What is so hard about the obvious fact that today we must take the path of securing the Vision 2040 goals by radical, imaginative, and cost-effective improvements in bus and van services to strengthen the entire network of public transportation? Can we see the numbers, please, for our public transportation alternatives, including innovative bus and van transit services and modern park-and-ride centers, as compared to just a few light rail stops? It’s time to take action, guided by real data, to deliver transportation solutions to help hundreds of thousands of people move more easily and inexpensively everywhere in the designated growth centers.

Again, Mr. McDonald assumes that the problem is that no one wants to live in Seattle, rather than supporting transit options that support density. As we’ve reviewed time and time again, the permanence of rail attracts transit-oriented development in a way that non-capital-intensive buses never can. And since rail can carry more people than buses, the sheer number of people you can fit in a space is larger.

I’m not sure how he plans to improve bus service where articulated buses already run every 5 minutes or so during peak hours. Maybe he would take away general purpose traffic lanes on arterials, but that would be pretty unprecedented for a WSDOT guy. What he needs is a larger vehicle that can run with shorter headways, i.e., light rail. But I guess his “real data’ doesn’t support that.

The Times on Rossi’s Plan

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Good for the Times calling B.S. on Rossi’s transportation “plan.” Rossi’s basically regurgitated the WSDOT to-do list (“we should totally replace the viaduct and 520!” Um..yeah, ya think??) and added some wacky ideas to it that don’t pass the straight face test.

And yet, he’s running neck-and-neck with Gregoire. Oy.

Crossing the Road

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One piece of a transit-friendly city that is often neglected is the experience of walking. Shifting from a world of driving to a world of public transportation usually includes more foot travel. This can be an enjoyable leg (heh) of a journey or a drawn out burden depending on many factors from storefronts to weather to incline. The issue I’d like to focus on here is the interface between foot traffic and car traffic.

A bit over a year ago I left a job across the water for a job in Seattle. Something I’ve noticed since more often becoming a pedestrian is how car-centric our city is. Other than a small handful of areas that value people – the Pike Street Market area being the only one that springs to mind – intersections seem to be designed to let the most cars through as quickly as possible.

Let’s take a few examples. Walk to 6th between Union and University. Someone’s gone through the trouble of installing a mid-block crosswalk and light for the high amount foot traffic coming from a hotel. Great. But when you push the button, you’ll find that you can stand there for a good 2 minutes before it will give you a walk signal – even if there are no cars. Walk a half block south. That intersection is just as cruel – rarely backed up with cars, but always backed up with people. Walk another block south – here’s a crosswalk most try to avoid, as it’s an offramp from a freeway and if you want to cross you’d better have a book handy.

This post isn’t just about my pet-peeve intersections – there are many. It’s the planning that sits behind it. Clearly somone put thought into intersection rules, and have decided that cars should have priority. What would our city be like if the bias went the other way?

If I were king, here’s how I’d run things. If you push a button, the light immediately turns yellow, then red, and the little green walking man appears. To keep things fair, this won’t happen again in this direction for another 2 minutes no matter how often you press the button. I’d make high-ped-traffic areas completely car free. I’d banish high-volume streets to the outskirts of the city. I’d add pedestrian and bike overpasses near freeway on/off ramps – if I was feeling nice and allowing them at all.

We may spend millions of dollars on making our transit systems a few minutes faster, just to have to wait for cars once we step off the train. I know the drivers out there will feel this is unfair, but then they’re in warm weather-proof pods and are probably too distracted with their coffee and radio to notice anyway.

ST 109 in testing

After re-reading what I wrote, I must have been on my last legs of sleep. I don’t even remember posting this last night!

Here are 3 pictures from April 21, 2008 test runs of Sound Transit 109 running on the test segment between Royal Brougham and the Operations and Maintenance Facility.

To clarify, from the prior grammar issue, ST 101 has a little over 4000 miles since it first started testing early last year. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) requires a burn-in session of each vehicle, the first three of which are typically the test beds for adjustments. ST 101 needed 2500 miles, ST102 needed 1500 miles, ST 103 needed 1250 miles. Each vehicle after ST104 needs only 750 miles and can be broken in from any order or fashion (meaning they can be in multiple consist and the miles would still count as a burn-in as) as long as the controls, braking, etc all work as normal.

Hopefully that clears up the initial confusion and I apologize for the terrible and confusing post. Tiredness does that =P

First picture is the exhaust mod on the ST coach – Does anybody know what this is? It was much quieter that is for sure!

ST 109 stopped at Lander Station

ST 109 coming off the elevated

ST 109 crossing Lander Street

GNP and Eastside Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Everett Herald is intrigued:

GNP has put together what appears to be a solid business plan that includes paying for upgrading the existing tracks; constructing bare-bones passenger stations in Snohomish, Maltby, Woodinville, Kirkland and Bellevue; building a paved pedestrian/bike trail alongside, and running six trains south in the morning and six more north in the afternoon. Payne says he could have trains, with used locomotives pulling double-decker passenger cars, running as soon as next year. Acting alone, the public sector can only dream about moving that quickly.

Speaking of quick, the ride from Snohomish to Bellevue would take just 32 minutes. Try doing that in your car during rush hour.

Raise My Gas Prices!

Matt Yglesias has been on a great pro-transit, pro-density kick recently, and today is no exception. Here, he’s quoting Virginia Postrel:

It’s infuriating how all three presidential candidates prattle on about the need to fight global warming while also complaining about the high price of gasoline. The candidates treat CO2 emissions as a social issue like gay marriage, with no economic ramifications. In the real world, barring a massive buildup of nuclear plants, reducing carbon dioxide emissions means consuming less energy and that means raising prices a lot, either directly with a tax or indirectly with a cap-and-trade permitting system.

She’s right, of course, that there’s more than a bit of cognitive dissonance involved in simultaneously thinking that Global Warming is a Serious Problem and that gas prices are too high. I often worry that it’s because people assume that the goals can be met by just doing a few things at the margins and soaking a couple of big producers, rather than making fundamental changes to their own way of life.

In other posts, Yglesias has pointed out that the action that often has to be taken is fundamentally deregulatory: by reducing parking and zoning restrictions, you get enough dense development to meet the demand. In that spirit, I think stuff like Seattle easing the review process for developers is a good thing.

Earth Day Press Conference: Go to the Ballot!

Today at 11, there will be a press conference at Union Station.

A coalition of environmental and labor groups, including the Sierra Club, wants to see a Sound Transit plan on the ballot this year — as long as the plan meets certain conditions.

In a press conference slated for Earth Day, April 22, the ad hoc coalition will issue “a strong call to the Sound Transit board saying ‘go to the ballot in 2008,'” said Shefali Ranganathan, director of education and outreach at the Transportation Choices Coalition, one of the members of the broader coalition.

In addition to the Sierra Club, the coalition includes the Transportation Choices Coalition, Cascade Bicycle Club, Tahoma Audubon, Roosevelt Neighborhood Association, Futurewise, Amalgamated Transit Union 587, Environment Washington, Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Tacoma Streetcar, Fuse and WashPIRG.

Roosevelt Neighborhood Association? A neighborhood that wants light rail? What is happening to to our city? Sierra Club pleading Sound Transit to go to the ballot?

Next Transit Meet-up

Our next transit meet-up will be Friday, May 9 at 7:30pm. We’re doing something different and having it in Pioneer Square.

Collins Pub
526 2nd Ave

We’ll be in the back of the pub, as always.