The Weekly’s Rick Anderson Doesn’t Get it

Rick Anderson over at the Seattle Weekly blog wrote an absolutely ridiculous post. Normally, I am not one to call out people by name and launch direct assaults but I feel that this post is inexcusable given the analysis made elsewhere recently. I will discuss Rick Anderson’s post in parts:

You knew we were back in monorail wonderland along about the end of July when the Times reported Sound Transit’s November bus-rail expansion measure would cost $17.9 billion and the P-I reported it would cost $22.8 billion.

Absolutely ridiculous. the $17.9 billion number doesn’t include debt servicing, the $22.8 billion number does. It’s just different accounting metrics. They’re effectively the same cost. The papers do agree on the cost — both numbers come from Sound Transit, in fact. This will come up again later.

Now we have the $17.9 billion to $22.8 billion 2008 Prop 1. Or is it the $107.3 billion Prop 1? That’s the estimate of transportation planner and Sound Transit critic Jim MacIsaac. As the P-I reports today:

[P-I Quote]Bureaucrats hate it when you bring up real costs – the interest-weighted money it takes to finance construction.

Andersons defintion of “real costs”? That’d be the $22.8b number. Not the $107b number.

The $107b is a fabrication and has nothing to do with interest and everything to do with claims that the average Seattlite makes and spends tens of thousands more than reality, that the tax lasts 15 years longer than reality, and that Sound Move costs are somehow under Prop. 1. The $107b number says that Prop. 1 costs $52b even if it’s not passed. Ridiculous.

It tends to double and triple the price tag presented to taxpayers. Officials dismiss it with the argument that when you buy a house you don’t include interest in the price, either.

Nope. Debt servicing, or “interest,” takes a $17.9b number and makes it $22.8b. No doubling or tripling. That’s the difference — the Times doesn’t include “interest,” the P-I does. And by “interest,” we/Anderson mean/s debt servicing.

Typical of Nickels, ST and others pushing rail expansion – which most of us back – they’ll paint over reality rather than present us an honestly detailed picture.

Support rail expansion? Right. Listen, ST’s numbers are open to analysis. The Seattle P-I did analysis, and both The Stranger and this blog conclude that Sound Transit uses sound assumptions while the oppositon wildly inflates the “typical” family’s spending and arbitrarily assumes the tax lasts 15 years longer than planned. (A question never asked: Why 15 years longer than planned? Why not one more year? Why not three?)

Bottom line: MacIsaac’s projections are likely more practical than ST’s – the ballot measure does not specifically mention a tax time-out down the road.

It’s more practical to assume that the average family spends $50,000 on sales taxable items — things that aren’t food, rent, mortgage, gas? It’s more practical to assume that Sound Transit will break the law and extend the tax 30 years past construction? It’s more practical to say that Prop. 1 costs $52b even if it isn’t passed? It’s more practical to say that an anti-rail, anti-transit think tank is delivering fair numbers?

I think it’s practical to say that Rick Anderson didn’t read this blog, read The Stranger, or read The Seattle P-I and base his statements in any of the discussions of the day. He took the “No” campaign’s numbers at face value — even though their face value of Prop. 1 is nearly half ($55b vs. $107b) in the very P-I article that Anderson cites. (The $107b number includes $55b for mass transit expansion and $52b for Sound Move costs that will happen regardless of Prop. 1 passing — both $55b and $52b are wrong numbers.)

I can already hear the official excuse, come 2038, when the project is, cough, completely paid for: “Sorry, the tax will continue. Ha ha. They probably just said that to get the thing approved.”

Well, that’s a possibility but I think ST has learned from its mistakes and plans very conservatively. Still, assuming a 15 year increase in length is a bit much — that’d mean a bigger screw-up than Sound Move before 2001, which is a pretty tough accomplishment.

What I believe is more likely is that we vote in 8 or 12 or 16 years to extend the tax to continue expanding Link. But seriously, if the Link expansion is over-budget or over-schedule, does that mean we should just cancel the project — even if it’s 95% done? 99% done? I think the point is that voters who pass Prop. 1 are passing the idea that they want mass transit to Lynnwood, Federal Way, and Bellevue — not the exact cost of- $17.9b or $22.8b or $55b or $107b. And Sound Transit’s number — $125 per household – is easily verifible: take the median income in the region, take the average amount of money someone with that income typically spends on sales taxable items, and you get $125.

Instead of looking at this logic, the Weekly took the lazy route and took a political campaign’s numbers at face value. The reasoning is inexcusable. The laziness is baffling. The conclusion is a joke. Rick Anderson: You didn’t do your job

(I am not unbiased on this matter. Besides writing for this blog and advocating for transit expansion in general, I am an unpaid volunteer for the Mass Transit Now campaign supporting Proposition 1.)

BNSF selects GNP/Ballard to serve Snohomish County shippers

Thanks to tipper Jason Hill regarding the selection for freight service on the Eastside Rail Corridor:

The Port of Seattle announced today that it will begin negotiations with GNP/Ballard for freight service operation on the northern portion of the Eastside rail corridor. GNP/Ballard, a partnership between Byron Cole, who operates the Ballard Terminal and Meeker Southern Railroad, and Tom Payne, owner of GNP Railway, will pay the Port for use of the land, which runs from Snohomish and Woodinville.

The Port of Seattle is acquiring the corridor from BNSF, who selected the short line operator. Any contract between the Port and GNP/Ballard will not be finalized until the transfer of the corridor is complete.

The Port is acquiring the corridor from BNSF for $107 million. King County will contribute $2 million toward the purchase price in return for an easement for trail development on the southern segment of the corridor. The Surface Transportation Board is expected to grant approval in the fall of this year. The Port will then begin a public process to gain input on how King County citizens would like to see the rail corridor used.

Find more information about the Port’s purchase of the corridor or the public process that will follow on the Eastside Rail Corridor Web site.

Barnett on the P-I piece

Erica C. Barnett is considerably less impressed with Larry Lange’s P-I piece than I was.

When I read articles at 6:30 am, I promise to read them once more, after coffee, before commenting.  She makes some solid criticisms, in particular that the No campaign’s criticism that ST’s median income uses the wrong denominator is completely innumerate.

I still think Lange did a pretty even-handed job.  It’s clear that he asked ST to respond to the No campaign’s claims, and they covered most of the main points.  But extended analysis just pokes more and more holes in these tired arguments and scare tactics.

The “Megaduct”

Via Crosscut, State House Speaker Frank Chopp has gone public with his high-concept viaduct replacement: an enclosed highway with shops underneath and a park on top.  No cost figures yet, but I’m sure hundreds of millions would be conservative.

I’m not prepared to comment on the merits of this project, were it free.  But, I really have to ask the residents of the 43rd district: is this who you want to represent you in the House?  Is this really the biggest problem the city has?  The biggest transportation problem, even?

If you’re a light rail fan, with this kind of money you could massively accelerate opening day.  Or, you could get a pretty good start on Ballard/West Seattle.  Even if ST2 goes down, you could probably get to Northgate with this cash.

If you don’t like trains, you could pretty much solve Metro’s operating and funding problems in the city for a decade or so.  But instead, Frank Chopp is using his limited ability to push for his district’s interests by pushing a pet road project.

New York Snobs vs. Google Transit

The New York Times wonders: if Google Transit makes the subway system decipherable,

what is left for New Yorkers to lord over people who live someplace else?

I never really found it all that hard to figure out.  It’s a pretty feeble article, but there’s an interesting comparison of the various trip planners available there.

Locally, I find trip planner’s assumptions to be pretty simplistic, and their alternative routes generally entirely useless (why yes!  I could get off two stops earlier and walk the rest of the way!).  The Google Transit interface is neater.  Nothing, though, really compares with just figuring it out yourself with a good system map and buses running frequently enough that the schedule doesn’t matter.

What does Prop. 1 cost?

In light of today’s P-I article, I want to talk about the total cost of Proposition 1 and how the “No” campaign is being misleading on this subject. I agree with an earlier blog entry in that this total cost figure isn’t completely meaningful to voters, while the $69 cost per year figure is. I also agree that this is not the most important fact to voters, and the more time we spend arguing about the cost is less we spend boosting the plan.

However, most of us are pretty wonky – so let’s destroy this $107b number that the “No” campaign parades about with the help of the P-I.

Background: YOE vs. Constant Dollars
Last year, the Seattle P-I published an article discussing the “real” cost of Roads & Transit, the failed 2007’s measure to expand light rail and build new roads. It cost $18 billion in 2006 dollars and $47 billion when you factor in inflation and interest on loans. The $18b number would be “constant” dollars and the $47b would be “year-of-expenditure” (YOE) dollars. $18b in 2006 dollars is the effectively the same as $47b in YOE dollars (note: I am glossing over debt servicing and loan interest, both of which can be thought of conceptually as inflation).

YOE dollars have a lot of problems. For us in the here and now, it is simply not possible for us to comprehend the meaning of $10 in 2057 dollars. Whereas we all know that $10 today is a few boxes of cereal, or three gallons of milks/gas, or an entire day of parking at a downtown mall, or one hour of work at McDonald’s. Using some online calculators, we can see that $10 today will probably be somewhere around $39.50 in 2057 — nearly quadruple the number, but the same purchasing power.

So, the fault with YOE dollars is that at the starting point, they give the public a false conception of the price. They give managers at your company a false sense of the actual value of something. Most engineering projects do not use YOE dollars internally, because it is meaningless.

“Constant” dollars have their own problems, however. After a project is completed, “constant” dollars nearly always give the sense to the public that a project was over-budget. This is, in fact, why mass transit projects are — across the country — considered to be risky investments that always go over-budget. (Locally, Sound Transit and the monorail solidified this idea on their own — don’t get me wrong.)

(Read on to see how the media and Proposition 1 change things…)

Continue reading “What does Prop. 1 cost?”

Big Article in the P-I

I understand John is putting together a mega-post on this subject, but Larry Lange in the P-I has really written a tour de force here, that carefully explains all the assumptions that go into the  conflicting cost numbers for Prop 1.  Every citizen in the district would be smarter for having read it.  In particular, I applaud his emphasis on per-adult and per-household numbers rather than raw totals, as that’s a number that means something to real people in the real world.

I would have liked to see a remark that some of the program costs are covered not by local taxes but federal dollars, but that’s a minor quibble.

While the Mass Transit Now campaign is holding its own on this argument, this is not favorable terrain for them.  The campaign really has to grab the narrative and focus more on benefits, rather than costs.   No one votes for a program because it costs less than other people say it does; they vote for it because they like the benefits it’s going to bring to them and people they know.

Service Frequency and Capacity on Link

I want to absolutely dispel the misconceptions some seem to have about Link’s capacity. In fact, I want to challenge the assumptions that go along with it being labeled “light rail” at all. While there are no hard and fast distinctions between light rail, heavy rail, and other terms such as “metro”, they each carry with them our personal experience and prejudices. 

When I think of light rail, I tend to think of two car trains, often in street right of way. There are a lot of examples of this. Portland is limited to two car trains, and runs in the street in downtown. Salt Lake City is similar, I believe, and Phoenix looks like it has only one car platforms! Denver has been two car for a long time, and is now changing that. These systems carry a lot of people – but nowhere near as many as, say, a Paris metro line.

Different parts of Link will have different needs, but all parts of Link will be able to accomodate four car trains. Each car has 74 seats, with a comfortable capacity of double that, and a maximum capacity of 200. When we start running, we won’t be filling that up – we’ll start with two car trains, and add more as they get full.

At first, Central Link will run as often as every six minutes during peak times – so with two car trains, that’s 400 per train times ten trains an hour, or 4000 people per hour per direction (pphpd). That’s more than most bus lines do in a day – in an hour. That’s the maximum capacity of many light rail systems, in total.

This is where Link is just a little different.

When University Link opens, we’ll already need three car trains during some times of day – and we’ll likely run them more often between downtown and the UW, maybe four minutes instead of six. Three car trains every four minutes takes that 4,000 pphpd and kicks it up to 600 per train, 15 trains per hour – or 9,000 pphpd. There are very few light rail systems that can do that – but quite a few metros start there in capacity.

So how about ST2? Initially, Link will run in a few overlapping segments, for service as often as every three minutes downtown. By then we’ll be at four car trains quite a bit of the day – so 800, 20 times an hour, 16,000 pphpd. That’s not light rail territory.

In ST3, with extensions to Everett, Tacoma, and Redmond, the main line will cap out at service every two minutes – but there are other changes that can be made to increase capacity even a little farther. With just the trains we have, that’s 800 people on 30 trains an hour, or 24,000 pphpd. We can also later use cars with cabs at one end instead of both*, so we don’t have a bunch of cabs in the middle of the train taking up space. That could get that 800 up to 850 or 900, and if we went a bit further and used a single vehicle the full 120m length of the platforms, it could look more like 1000 or even 1200. You can do other things, too, like taking out some seats for more standing room as they do in Japan, although I can’t imagine we ever will on this line.

These are not light rail numbers. They’re not full metro numbers – our platforms are only half as long as many New York City subway platforms – but we’re also not going to be the Big Apple anytime soon. 24,000pphpd could serve this city for a hundred years – and it’s well over light rail volumes – so I like to call Link a light metro.

By the way, just to compare – a lane of highway typically carries about 2000-2200 vehicles per hour, each with some average a bit over 1 person. 1.2 is a typical estimate during commute times. Building this system is the equivalent of getting a long term benefit of twenty more lanes of highway from Northgate to downtown (ten each way), and a bit less than that in the outskirts (just because we won’t run trains at these frequencies all the way to Redmond and Lynnwood – there isn’t demand).

The next time I hear “we should have built a subway”, I am going to link that person to this post. We’re pretty much getting one – it’s more than enough to meet our needs for a century in the corridors where we’re building it.

*These are little ASCII trains to show what I mentioned above. The dashes each represent roughly 50 people, and the angled brackets are cabs. The square brackets are cabless ends. The first one is what we can do with the trains we have. The second is how Portland is getting a bit more space, third is what we could do with trains like Dallas (DART), and fourth is what’s possible with the line we’re building, if we need more capacity in 70 or 80 years.

MS Connector Growing Some, Shrinking a Bit

Microsoft Connector
Microsoft is adding new routes throughout the Eastside and other suburbs, and cutting service a bit for the Ballard Route. I’ve only taken the Connector a few times, and I have mixed feelings about it. The buses are nice and comfortable, not very crowded and have wi-fi. But the reservation system is cumbersome, the buses are rarely on time, and I always seem to fall asleep on them.

Have any of you taken the Connector? What are your feelings about it, whether you’ve taken it or not?

Prop 1 Debate

The first Prop. 1 debate was Tuesday in Bellevue. Both the P-I and the Times wrote about the debate. I don’t really have much to add, just that it’s interesting to contrast the coverage from the P-I with that from the Times.

Did anyone go?

The P-I notes when the next two debates are:

At least two more debates between the two sides are scheduled: Oct. 9 before the Seattle P-I’s editorial board and Oct. 16 at CityClub in Seattle.

Five New Ferries coming soon; Pierce County allows extended lease

Washington State DOT Ferries Division has came to a decision regarding replacing the aging ferries and solve the Port Townsend – Keystone issue. DOT has also added 3 new 144-car ferries to the plan as well.

The plan and time-line as it stands now will be 2 Island Home type ferries . These ferries will have the capacity to hold 64 vehicles and a capacity of 600-700 passengers. The time-line is the first vessel will be ready in April 2010 and Fall 2010. The 2008 Transportation Budget (ESHB 2878) provides $84.5 million to construct new vessels for the Port Townsend/Keystone route.

Meanwhile the 144-car ferry will be based off the popular Issaquah class boats. These 3 new vessel will mean the retirement of the 1947 60-car Rhododendron and the 1954 87-car Evergreen State. These boats will be in service Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012 respectively.

Funding for the 144-car ferries was originally approved by the Legislature in 2003, and $30.2 million has already been spent on design, engineering and procurement.

The currently projected design-build contract price is between $60 and $80 million for each ferry. The actual total contract price will depend on the contractor’s price proposal and the results of the price negotiations required by SHB 2378.

The 2008 supplemental budget provides funding for the purchase of up to three 144-car vessels. The total project cost is $283.2 million and the 2007-09 planned expenditure is $49.7 million.

And finally, Pierce County is allowing WSDOT the continued use of the Steilacoom II on the Port Townsend – Keystone route with a lease extension until August 2009.

M Street to D Street Connection News

It appears per the WSDOT website that the M Street to D Street connector also known as the Point Defiance Bypass for Sounder and Amtrak trains is currently under funded by as much as $14.9 million dollars. It is currently unknown what may be cut in the project itself or if the City of Tacoma or Lakewood would fork over the extra money to supplement the lack of funding.

This project delays multiple projects such as;

Extending Sounder to South Tacoma and Lakewood stations which just opened this past weekend.

Adding an additional 2 Amtrak Cascades trains between Seattle and Portland (after 3 other projects are installed as well, not just the sole reasoning for delay)

A trip reduction for the Amtrak Cascades service between Seattle and Portland that could save almost 6 minutes.

For more information, check out the WSDOT Folio of the project or the main project page.

Renovation at King Street Station begins

Renovation of the historic King Street Station began this week with work beginning immediately on the roof to stop the leaks which have pledged the ailing station for years. The $26.2 million dollar project is scheduled to be completed in 2011 with a bigger waiting room, improved heater and air conditioning, new ticket counter, new baggage claim area, flooring, and much much more. Already the Compass room at the main entrance has been renovated but that work stopped earlier last year while the City of Seattle and BNSF Railway worked on a deal regarding the station.

For more information on the project, check out the City of Seattle’s King Street Station page. While the last update was July 15th, 2008, I’m sure they’ll start working on the page as work ramps up further.

September Sounder Train Update: Observation

I stopped by King Street Station last night to see how full the new trains were and I’m happy to report that a huge chunk of the new trains were full with the first 4 trains being standing room only. The new 6:30pm train was about 40% full.

The reverse commute trains maybe had 20-30 passengers at best – Some work needs to be done to get the word out about the reverse trains to pick the ridership up.

Everett trains were running at 3 cars except for one which had 2 engines and 2 cars and for the most part full.

The Seahawks train last weekend which had 6 cars did not go as smoothly as Sound Transit had hoped – the platforms for Everett – Seattle are only good for 5 cars except for Edmonds and Seattle which both can fit a 8 or 9 car train.

The ‘Pro-Bus’ ETA is Anything But.

For a group that comes out against any transit measure, anytime, anywhere – the ETA sure gets a pass from the P-I. In yesterday’s debate, Dick Paylor of the ETA was on the ‘stop anything’ side, and apparently the P-I has taken at face value the group’s claim that they’re in support of buses!

So, exactly which buses? They sure weren’t in support of Transit Now – even though RapidRide is exactly the kind of service they claim to want. They still claim that Proposition 1 is some absurdly high percentage light rail – I keep hearing 99%, or 95%, depending on which opponent is talking. So where does this come from?

Opponents, however, said the system would make little difference despite its large capacity. Dick Paylor of the pro-bus Eastside Transportation Association said more people could be carried at less cost on an expanded bus system than on light rail. (emphasis mine)

I suspect, in fact, that the ETA has never been in favor of any transit service, except strictly in theory. Once there’s a cost, that’s another story.

I think what’s interesting here is that they talk about the free market – that people should ‘be able to choose’ their mode of transportation. That’s fine – before the federal government started contributing to highways, we were traveling on rail. If they still want that now, maybe they should come out against projects like the 405 expansion – as it’s not paid for by toll revenue, it’s paid for by everyone in the state. Not just those who ‘choose’ to drive on it.

More Bus Service Nobody Was Expecting?

Several bus routes in Seattle are seeing more service, funded by the city! I had no idea this was coming, except that Eric seems to have his finger on the pulse of city projects, and sent an email about it. I have no idea where he found it.

The Bridging the Gap measure passed in 2006 funds projects all over town – and apparently, adds 20,000 hours of bus service this year, starting last weekend, improving the 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 14, 26, 28 and 44. This will increase next year, with 25,000 more service hours. It sounds like that would be a continuation of the 20,000 with an additional 25,000 on top of that, but I’m not entirely sure. All this service will continue until the end of 2015 – and as we get University Link shortly thereafter, Metro will have more Seattle funding to dole out by then.

Just more kudos for Greg Nickels, paying attention to transportation on all fronts. You can read the press release here.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


Nice piece on the Prop. 1 campaign’s efforts to ride the Obama wave in the Times, with shout-outs to the boys at STB. Also some national recognition from Matt Yglesias.

Not to be a pain in the ass, but the Times’ accompanying graph has a small error in it. Husky Stadium is part of the blue, University Link extension, not the red, Prop. 1 extension. The map has Brooklyn Station labeled as “Husky Stadium.”

Best comment, from Yglesias’ post:

Sandra Says:
September 22nd, 2008 at 2:46 pm

Re: prop1

Although I no longer live in Seattle I do remember a model very much like this at the Seattle World’s Fair 46 years ago.
The centerpiece was the monorail that was to be expanded to include all communities around Lake Washington.

When I go home to visit I always think of that grand plan while sitting in gridlocked traffice.

Hope they get to it this time around.

Me too, Sandra. Me too.