Drumbeats of War in the South Sound

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

You think we get emotional about transit on this blog? Well, consider the Puyallup commuter who will give up his park and ride spot when you pry it from his cold, dead hands:

The Puyallup Main Street Association and the local Chamber of Commerce want the city to turn part of a lot it leases to Sound Transit into public parking again.

That would amount to about 45 parking spots. The city leases 153 spots to Sound Transit in two lots within a few blocks of the Puyallup station, amounting to about 30 percent of the parking Sound Transit owns and leases downtown.

But commuters who use the lot at 155 Second St. S.E. warn that Sounder riders need all the parking the city provides and more. More than 850 people board the trains to Seattle and Tacoma every morning, according to Sound Transit statistics.

“That lot is totally filled by a quarter after 6 a.m.,” said Mitchell Hinds, a South Hill resident who commutes every day using the Puyallup station. “If they take away this parking lot, there’s going to be a war.

What’s remarkable is just how quickly people adapt to transportation and how quickly it becomes indespensible. For all the talk about how hard it is to get people to change their behavior, here we have a fight brewing about a parking lot and a train station that didn’t exist 8 years ago.

And of course, we see the attendant issues of expanding commuter rail and not having the right kind of feeder lines into downtown Puyallup to make it easy for people to use public transit to get to the station.

Streetcars are a great idea

The P-I has summary of the city’s streetcar plans. The lines proposed (quoted from the article):

  • A 3.5-mile line to the University District from Westlake Center, extending the South Lake Union line northeast via Eastlake Avenue East, the University Bridge, Northeast Campus Parkway and up University Way to Northeast 50th Street. Estimated cost: $179 million in 2010 dollars, or $50 million-plus per mile.

    The city estimates it could carry up to 3.1 million riders per year. Major costs include reinforcing the University Bridge and reinforcing or replacing a span on Fairview Avenue that crosses a corner of Lake Union.

    The 1.3-mile South Lake Union line, opened last year, cost $40 million per mile of track and is projected to carry about 330,000 annually. Since Dec. 12, its first day open, 200,000 have ridden the line.

  • A four-mile line through downtown on First Avenue, connecting the King Street Station area and extending north to Seattle Center. Estimated cost: $180 million, roughly $45 million per mile. Ridership is estimated at up to 4.9 million annually.
  • A 4.4-mile line from Westlake Center to Fremont and Ballard, extending along the west side of Lake Union, across the Fremont Bridge and up Leary Way Northwest to 22nd Avenue Northwest and Northwest Market Street. Estimated cost: $130 million, roughly $29 million per mile, with up to 2.7 million riders per year.
  • A 2.8-mile line from Pioneer Square to First Hill and Capitol Hill, extending up South Jackson Street from Fifth Avenue east to Boren Avenue and Broadway, as far north as East Aloha Street. Estimated cost: $110 million, or about $39 million per mile. This line was part of a transportation ballot measure rejected by voters last fall but could be included in another Sound Transit expansion proposal if one is put to a vote.

The biggest challenge is obviously funding, and as the article mentions public-private partnerships would likely be needed. Some on the City Council are against spending on the Streetcar without proof of results. This is ridiculous to me, I think we can already call the SLU street car a massive successful from a least development standpoint. Millions of square feet of office space are being build around the SLU streetcar, the Amazon buildings by themselves are some 2 million square feet, with 1918 Eighth Ave, 818 Stewart the West 8th building and the office portion of the Enzo nearly another two million combined. The other Vulcan SLU properties combine to reach almost another million square feet. All of these are within just two blocks of the streetcar. Each million square feet of office space generally counts for about 4,000 office workers, so those offices could be 20,000 desks and jobs. That’s not even including the massive residential developments happening.

Obviously, all of that cannot be attributed to the streetcar, but some of it can be. I am sure the city would not have agreed to the taller buildings for Amazon had it not been for the streetcar. The heights along the other routes aren’t high enough to allow for the kind of density in the Denny Triangle and SLU, but some major developments are going on in the Westlake area that the Fremont proposal would serve.

So I’m definitely for extending the SLU line to the UW, that seems like a no-brainer. The others also seem like a good idea, though I wish the First Avenue line would be a proper subway, and would go up to at least Uptown around the Seattle Center. A 1st Ave streetcar might ruin the chance of that ever happening, and might especially keep a 1st Ave subway from getting federal funding.

Update I originally wrote the 1st Ave Streetcar would cost $180 per mile, it would instead cost $180 for four miles. I have removed the offending text, thanks Brad for pointing it out.

How Seattle Housing Gets Expensive

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Neighbors complain that 190 parking stalls is not enough for a 160-unit apartment building. I imagine the meeting going something like, “so dig deeper! And don’t even think about recouping some of those extra costs by making the building bigger… it’s too big already!!”

40th and Stone is a pretty ped-friendly and transit-friendly spot. I’d be very surprised if the majority of apartment dwellers needed more than 0 or 1 cars.

New Streetcar Routes

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ann Butler has the scoop on the plan for 5 new streetcar lines that SDOT willl propose to Council tomorrow. It’s a bit different from the various plans we’ve bandied about here, but it shares some commonalities, including the route to Ballard via Westlake-Fremont-Leary.

None of the routes will mimic the Monorail’s Green Line from Ballard to West Seattle, for various reasons that Butler mentions. Funding is, of course, still up in the air.

I’m very curious how successful the Streetcar will be on crowded, narrow streets with lots of on-street parking, like 1st Avenue in Belltown, Eastlake Ave E, and Broadway. It’s a very different proposition than the relatively quiet Westlake Ave.

Replacing Big Car Trips With Little Skinny Car Trips.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Depending on the season, the weather, and my mood I carpool, take a bus, pedal, drive, walk, or ride a scooter to get around. Although I’d love to be able to use public transportation or my own motive power to travel everywhere, it’s nice to have the option of using fast personal transportation. However, millions of people choosing the convenience of a car has led to our current oil and environmental situation.

I’d like to recommend a partial, temporary, imperfect, yet practical solution: the scooter. Sure, I only get to drive mine four months out of the year. Yes, I can only fit two people and perhaps 3 bags of groceries. But these are really the only two compromises compared to a car. The benefits include:

* 100+ mpg
* much faster in city streets in traffic
* easy to find parking
* you travel outside, in contact with your environment
* you can park around 4 of them per parking spot
* garages downtown charge you as little as $4/day

If small personal vehicles were used more often for short trips, this could save quite a bit of fuel, parking, and traffic. It’s no replacement for a good transit system, but it’s nice to have something to get around in until we get build one. It looks like the council is interested in doing something to help scooterists out, but it’s at the early stages at best. Seattle would be doing itself a favor by making the city a bit more scooter friendly.

Did I mention they get over 100 mpg?

Transit Governance in Philly

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Philadelphia Inquirer takes a look at the board of directors that run SEPTA, their city’s transit agency, and how the relationship between the city and the regional authority is changing:

Geopolitics is always a driving force on the board. SEPTA’s board makeup gives the four Republican-dominated suburban counties more clout than Democrat-dominated Philadelphia, although the city provides most of the riders and most of the local subsidy.

So the relationships between the board members and their sponsors are key.

Two members represent each of Philadelphia, Bucks, Chester, Delaware and Montgomery Counties. The governor has one appointee, as do the Republican and Democratic leaders in the state House and Senate.

The board has no representative of the transit-riding public, although SEPTA gets about 40 percent of its operating budget from fares.

Unlike Sound Transit, the regional leaders appoint someone to the board, rather than serving on the board itself. I’m not sure if one is better than the other, but it’s an interesting distinction. As for the political makeup, I have to wonder how that will shift given that Democrats swept the 2006 congressional races in Philly’s suburbs, and if that will impact the agency going forward.

Oh, and 40 percent farebox recovery is pretty damn impressive.

HOT Lanes in Action

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Larry Lange has been providing tons of live updates on how the new HOT lanes are working on SR 167 this morning. The toll seems to have peaked at $2.25, far less than the $9 or so that was being bandied about as a worst case scenario.

KUOW this morning said that drivers were being ticketed for violations, which surprises me a bit. You’d think there would be a grace period to educate commuters (who obviously don’t all obsessively read transpo blogs). But maybe the media got that wrong.

Books on the Bus

The Seattle Library Blog has a list of books that were spotted on buses last week. I noticed most of the books were fiction, which I’ve found myself reading more and more often too. Back when I lived in SF and had a long train ride to San Jose, I would read only non-fiction books because I could make quite a lot of progress in the hour trip. Now with my 25~40 bus ride, it’s hard to really get through a long non-fiction book, and I find myself reading almost entirely novels.

Space may also be a factor, the bus generally has less elbow room than the train had, and novels are smaller usually than non-fiction.

So, do you read on the bus? If so, what do you read? If not, how do you pass the time? I’d be especially interested to know whether there’s more non-fiction on Sounder as a test of my theory.

Precursor to Congestion Pricing Started

Anyone been on the “HOT” lanes on 167 yet? A friend snaped these pictures northbound from Auburn Friday.

It’ll be interesting to see how they are used, and whether other HOV lanes will become HOT lanes. The first ones to spring to mind are those on 520 and 405.

NYC Subway Maps

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Matt Yglesias points to two altnerative takes on the NYC subway map, which you can find here and here. The first — used by the MTA until 1972 — sacrifices geographical consistency for cleanness of lines, and so makes for a very useful subway map but doesn’t map to the real world above ground very well. The second is a nicer hybrid of the current version and the more abstracted original.

It goes to show that maps are very context dependent: you reall have to think about what your overall goals are for disseminating the information. If you want people to be able to find their way once they get out of the subway station — or get a sense of how far they have to walk once they emerge — that puts different constraints on the design.

Ride the Obama Train

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

For hard-core rail advocates, there was never a better candidate in the 2008 presidential race than Bill Richardson, who not only talked the talk as a presidential candidate, but also walked the walk by launching a passenger rail service in Albuquerque when he was governor of New Mexico.

But now that Richardson’s gone, we rail junkies will have to get our fix from Barack Obama, who’s the only candidate left who’s still interested in rail transit as a way to reduce our dependence on oil.


Pt. Townsend Passenger Ferry

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Pt. Townsent chamber has a fever*, and the only cure is more passenger ferry:

The $100,000 the chamber is willing to chip in was initially earmarked to help fund passenger-only ferry service during the Hood Canal Bridge closure, scheduled for spring 2009. Caldwell, however, said the service could start much earlier and become permanent if a private boat operator can forge agreements with local merchants and if the city or the state is willing to match the chamber’s contribution.

Companies that might be interested in operating the service include Port Townsend’s Puget Sound Express and Clipper Navigation, the company that operates the high-speed Victoria Clipper between Seattle and Vancouver Island.

“We can start this service long before the bridge closes,” Caldwell said. “There is a boat available now.”

*See here if you don’t get the reference.

Nearby Supermarkets?

I just read this incredibly depressing article in the PI about the neighborhoods in Seattle where carless people cannot find groceries without serious effort. The story chronicles a 55-year-old Delridge resident who needs a bus and some serious walking to get groceries. I’ve always lived pretty near to at least one supermarket (I have one two blocks away now), but where my mother lives, off Greenlake, the nearest supermarkets are several miles away.

What neighborhoods are lacking nearby supermarkets? Obviously the Meridian/Tangletown neighborhood, and I know most of Downtown is missing supermarkets, though one store is coming to the Financial District and a Trader Joe’s supposedly is coming to a Belltown/Denny Triangle development in a few years, though I can’t comfirm this. I also can imagine that most far-off neighborhoods in the far north and south are missing supermarkets. I’d love to live in a city where no matter where you lived, it’d be easy to walk to get necessities. Can you walk to a grocery store from your house?


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

When you’re building a new BART station from the ground up, you might as well build transit-oriented development around it, affordable housing and all:

Housing on both sides of the station will be located within a quarter mile — or 10-minute walk — of Safeway, Target and Stoneridge mall. The developer may also consider establishing a Flexcar program on-site, to allow residents to rent vehicles.

The two-story BART station building will be constructed in the I-580 median and will connect via pedestrian bridges over the freeway to the mixed use projects in Pleasanton and Dublin.

Four-story parking garages for BART patrons will also be constructed on each of the Pleasanton and Dublin station-area properties.

Garages, eh? Shh…don’t tell the Sierra Club!

I kid. Seriously, though, this sounds pretty cool. Too many BART stations are surrounded by freeways and parking lots and other trappings of suburbia. Nice to see that they can adapt.

Dulles Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Some very encouraging findings (.pdf) from a survey of DC-area residents on expanding Metro to Dulles Airport. 93% of Northern Virginians support it. And check out some of the details:

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You can’t get that kind of consensus in Seattle on the weather, let alone a transit project.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

What’s interesting about the article linked below is that it was written before the revitalization of America’s downtowns and the drop in urban crime in places like New York. From the standpoint of the late 1980s — Times Square had yet to be Disney-ified, Baltimore’s retro-downtown ballpark at Camden Yards hadn’t opened yet — things must have looked pretty bleak from the urban planner’s point of view (Joel Garreau’s Edge City came out in 1992).

All of which is to say that I think things are actually better right now. We’ve learned a lot in the past 20 years about the problems with sprawl — traffic, environmental stress, global warming, oil wars — and were slowly adjusting livnig and working patterns to adapt.