Lakewood Putting the Screws to Sound Transit

Art at Lakewood station
The News Tribune is calling out the City of Lakewood for renegging on a deal the city had with Sound Transit whereby the Lakewood would patrol and maintain the new train and bus station in Lakewood. The station opened last week but the Sounder service won’t reach Lakewood for at least another two years and – according to the News Tribune – Lakewood has decided they won’t pay for the patrols after all. The News Tribune’s editors put it better than I ever could:

Sound Transit has lived up to its end of the bargain … The agency also agreed to add millions of dollars to the project’s cost by agreeing to build a multi-story parking garage instead of a much cheaper surface lot.

That garage won’t be sitting empty until Sounder arrives in 2011 or 2012. Sound Transit is adding express bus service to the Tacoma Dome Station where passengers can catch Sounder trains, as well as 20 trips to an existing route between Lakewood and Seattle. Those services begin Sunday.

Lakewood is gaining a transportation hub at a critical time when commuters hit by high gas prices are taking a new look at mass transit. The key to getting people on buses – and eventually trains – is providing easy connections. Lakewood Station fits that bill.

Beacon Hill Elevators May Delay Link Opening

The Daily Journal of Commerce is reporting that an issue with the elevators in the Beacon Hill station could delay the opening of Central Link next year. As you may know, the Beacon Hill station is located 160 below ground -about 16 stories – and high-speed elevators are supposed to move riders between the surface and the platform. The Beacon Hill tunnel has been the cause numerous schedule problems and delays and the elevators are just the lastest. According to the DJC:

The four high-speed elevators that will take passengers from the surface down to the station platform in 20 seconds are still being built in other parts of the country. They may not be installed until next March, even in the best-case scenario.

Sound Transit says the trains can still begin running on time.

Sound Transit has been pressuring its Beacon Hill contractor, Obayashi, to get Kone to move faster. But over the summer, Obayashi told Sound Transit that the elevators wouldn’t be done until July 29, 2009, according to a letter from Richard Capka, the Beacon Hill project’s resident engineer for Sound Transit.

The trains are supposed to begin rolling between Seattle and Tukwila in July of 2009.

“This schedule is totally unacceptable to Sound Transit,” Capka wrote in the letter to Obayashi project manager Masaki Omote.

Kone will have to bring in extra crews working overtime to get the elevators installed on time, Link director Ahmad Fazel said yesterday

I’ve got my fingers crossed this will not be a huge problem.

Mayors Vs “No” Team

Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels and Bellevue Mayor Grant Degginger will debate No on Prop 1’s Michael Ennis and Dick Paylor at the Bellevue Hilton Tomorrow at 7:30. This should be so much fun. I don’t know Ennis or Paylor, but Nickels and Degginger are both awesome, and if Ennis and Paylor are up to the task it will be a great show. If not, it’ll likely end up a bunch of bad numbers, misinformation and circular logic from the No camp.

Time: September 23rd, 7:30 am
Place: Bellevue Hilton, Salon C, 300 112th Avenue NE Bellevue

Voter Registration

I saw this on the Slog, and thought it important enough to forward:

Since 2006, Washington’s Republican Secretary of State has canceled more than 450,000 voter registrations in an effort to “clean up” the voter rolls. Sure, many are duplicate registrations or persons who moved out of state. But many are persons who think they’re properly registered and intend to vote in November. I personally know people this has happened to!

It doesn’t take much to get removed from the voter rolls. You may have been removed if, for example:

(1) you haven’t voted in a long time,
(2) your signature on your absentee ballot envelope wasn’t deemed a match with the signature on your registration card, or
(3) your absentee ballot was returned by the post office (the post office doesn’t forward ballots to your new address).

Everyone should check to make sure you are currently registered at your current address. You can do this online, and in most cases you can update your registration online. But you must make any changes by October 4!

Please take a minute to check your registration by clicking here.

Please forward this message to your friends and family! Everyone should check their registration before October 4!


This is one of several reasons I’m a big fan of voting in person whenever possible, but that’s a subject for another day.  Anyway, check it out, because I think Prop. 1 is going to be a close contest.

Times Fact-Checking

The Times has a big piece this morning on the Mass Transit Now’s campaign’s efforts to mobilize Obama voters.  As a partisan of one side, I obviously wish they had printed more rebuttals to the statements of the other side.  At the same time, I think it’s better for the transparency of the issues to express the cost of the measure it terms of the average person or household, so I applaud them for that.  And I’m glad to see them linking.

However, there are two factual errors, one trivial, and one fairly important.

The trivial one is that Ben is not the founder of this blog, Andrew is.  Perhaps Ben is hogging the glory, but I suspect Mike Lindblom didn’t bother to ask the question. [UPDATE: This has been fixed online.]

More importantly, the plan summary says that Prop. 1 will add 100,000 hours of bus service, starting next year.  That’s unclearly stated, since there will be 100,000 hours added immediately, and even more added later.  This isn’t the Transit Now service drip-feed we’re used to, and it’s an important point given the criticism that this package doesn’t do enough right away.

I’ve been told that the service expansion plan will be out before the election, and we’ll let you know as soon as it’s released.  But for reference, assuming each round trip takes two bus operating hours, 100,000 bus hours gets you almost 6 additional round trips for every ST Express route in the system, 365 days a year, and 8 round trips if you add it on weekdays only.   That’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, but it means a lot more to most people than 100,000 hours.

[If you’re coming here for the first time via the Seattle Times, welcome!  To find out a bit more about who we are and what we do here, this post is both short and very useful.]

In Context of The Future

When I talk about transportation, I keep coming back to one overarching theme. People will ask me what I think of biofuels, or a new bus route, or I’ll end up talking to someone about density or the design of a building, and they all fit together. What will keep working – what will still be here – in fifty years? In two hundred? In a thousand? Where can we make decisions now that will save the next generations from some of the disasters we’ve wrought? How can we build cities that will be adaptable – but not too adaptable, as we don’t want them reconfigured on a whim?

Sure, oil is a little cheaper this month. There’s still a finite amount of it, and it’s still more trouble than it’s worth in the long run. We need a future in which the vast majority of our trips by number are on foot, and by mile are on transit. That means a very dense core – not necessarily 40 stories, maybe just 6 or 8, but completely full of storefronts, restaurants, bars, clubs, kiosks, schools, everything that people do. I’m here on this blog because cars simply aren’t a part of that core equation, and transit is. Density caps out way too low with cars – wide streets and parking garages dampen livability dramatically, the more dense you get the more car infrastructure you need, pushing density down again. The train just needs a tube through the middle, even your platforms can be filled with people doing more than just going from A to B.

Regardless of what seems most cost effective this year or next, or what people seem to ‘want’ or what kind of houses people are buying right now – what matters is not now. Sure, more buses are great. Spending a lot on a short term fix when you don’t have a long term plan isn’t. What matters is what our infrastructure and urban layout looks like in twenty or fifty years when fuel simply isn’t available for working class Americans. You can’t build those solutions in a single regional transit package – but you can take a step, and you can start calling in the state government and federal government to help once you have something they can help fund.

I guess I’m just trying to remind you that this isn’t all we get. Proposition 1 is fantastic – it’s a good blend of today and tomorrow – but there will be more, and soon. The city wants more streetcar lines soon. The state wants to improve Cascades service between a lot of our major cities and towns – they want to buy trains and keep upgrading the track. The FTA and Amtrak stand to benefit greatly from Obama and Biden. We can work to strengthen our urban growth boundary. There are all these things that are worth fighting for, and I see a lot of fighting about piddly little things that work themselves out or are an annoyance at worst.

Want to solve something? Get newsstands and food vendors in the transit tunnel after Link opens. Build mixed use next to a train station. Help convince the city to refuse permits for concrete walls abutting sidewalks. Those things will matter in fifty years.

Air France Trains

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Air France is starting a high-speed train service to compete with the successful TGV:

To hear Air France tell it, they don’t really have a choice but to collaborate with the enemy. “Limiting our activity to aircraft operations and ignoring market trends constitutes a risk,” Air France CEO Jean-Cyril Spinetta said at a shareholder meeting in July. “We have reached the logical conclusion that we need to seriously examine the possibility for Air France to operate trains under the Air France brand to several destinations in partnership with a rail service provider.”

They’ll compete with Eurostar and SNCF.

More Sounder Trains Coming

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Starting Monday, there are a couple of extra trains going back and forth between Tacoma and Seattle. New schedule here. Interesting nugget from the press release:

Today, more than 10,500 riders board Sounder trains on a typical weekday, which is nearly equal to the number of Sounder riders that boarded on the first weekday day of I-5 construction and lane closures in August 2007.

News Round Up

Everett Freeway station

  • The new $31.2 million center-freeway station in South Everett looks amazing (see photo above). Sound Transit built it. The new station will save buses from having to merge from the left lane to the exit, and then from the right lane into the carpool-lane, and also has 400 parking spots. Nice, though of course 400 spots seems to low, we should be building 1000-spot park-and-rides.
  • Thanks to a $2.2 million FTA grant, Metro and Sound Transit are adding 12 more hybrid buses to the fleet. The difference in fuel use between hybrids and normal diesel buses isn’t huge, but the operation costs are in total much less.
  • The P-I editorial board is praising metro for honoring its promise to more service from Transit Now. I second that, it’s great to see KC Metro find creative ways to fund its operations. Hopefully if we get a more more transit-friendly administration, we can see the agencies get some help.
  • Metrolink in the LA area is putting in safety controls in wake of last weeks horrific train crash. According to the News Tribune article, Sound Transit and BNSF have no plans to put in so-called “positive train controls” on the Sounder lines.
  • Lakewood Sounder stations opens Saturday. The opening ceremony is Saturday, Sept. 20, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. at 11424 Pacific Highway SW Lakewood, WA.

Late Nights on Light Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

With Phoenix just 99 days away from opening its light rail line, local scenesters are lobbying the city’s metro agency to keep the trains going later at night on the weekends. Currently, planned operating hours are 4:45am – 12 midnight.

In case you’re wondering, Seattle’s light rail will be a bit more night owl-friendly, running until 1am every night. I belive this is about when BART stops running, incidentally.

One of the great things about rail, of course, is that it has relatively low operating costs once you build it, so extending the hours shouldn’t be that big of a deal. It’s running on electricity that’s basically free (water still flows over Ross Dam at night, but the electricity it produces often goes to waste because demand is so low).

Of course, those late night drunk trains aren’t always fun. I’ve ridden the train known as the “vomit comet” more times than I’d care to admit, and it’s incredibly annoying. Still, it beats everyone getting into their cars at 2am by a long shot.

Prop 1

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

ST2.1 is doing pretty darn well in the polls. On the other hand, oil is down to $90/barrel, down from a peak of $140 or so. Will cheap gas take some of the urgency away from mass transit? I don’t think so. People have internalized expensive gas, and it will take a while before they internalize anything else.

News Roundup

In today’s P-I, Water Taxi ridership is up 9 percent.  That’s actually small potatoes compared to other transit ridership increases, but good for the water taxi.  There are only so many ways out of West Seattle, so adding another one is a big deal.

And if you have the dead-tree edition of the P-I, open it to page 2 of the local section and take a careful look at the photo caption.  You won’t be disappointed.

How to Learn to Drive Trains

Slate’s Jacob Leibenluft has an “explanation” about how locomotive engineers get in the position to drive trains.

They pass knowledge and skills tests. The government doesn’t issue laminated driver’s licenses to locomotive engineers; instead, each railroad must determine its own procedure for certifying the engineers in accordance with these federal rules. Since most engineers start out as conductors, they begin their training with a decent knowledge about railroad safety. Federal law requires that new engineers take classes on the basics of how a train operates and spend a “significant portion of time”—usually more than 120 hours—behind the controls of a locomotive while under supervision. In addition, prospective engineers are screened to make sure their vision and hearing is in order and that they don’t have a substance-abuse problem.

Now I’m curious how Link drivers learn – the photo above is a link driver, not a heavy rail driver. I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Biden Promises Us The Good Stuff

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This is what I like to hear:

Across the aisle, a Newark-bound passenger Chrissy Dumbert took in the commotion and observed, “This is the craziest train ride I’ve ever been on.”

In the next car, Biden told another passenger that “If we get elected, it will be the most train-friendly administration ever.”

Like I said

Transit Police Cars

So the King County Transit Police are being rebranded with a new color scheme.  I don’t recall ever seeing one of these cars, but it may be because there wasn’t a unique color scheme, so bravo.

However, I’m only being slightly facetious when I wonder why the Transit Police have cars at all.  If Transit Police generally used the bus to get around, it would slow down response times but also would certainly boost the sense of security and incidence of low-level problems across the system.  That’s the kind of thing that makes many people afraid to ride the 7 at night.

I live in the Rainier Valley, so I’ve ridden my share of sketchy bus routes.  If I’ve ever shared a bus with transit cops, I didn’t notice.

New Service Starting Next Week


This Times article has the details here.

• In Kent, Metro’s new Route 157 will operate at peak times from the Lake Meridian Park-and-Ride, East Hill, and across the Green River Valley to Interstate 5 and downtown Seattle.

• Metro’s new Route 215 will run at peak times through North Bend, Snoqualmie, Snoqualmie Ridge, the Issaquah Transit Center, and the Eastgate Park-and-Ride en route to Seattle.

• More buses will run on Seattle routes 3, 4, 10, 11, 12, 14, 26, 28, 41, 44 and 46; Eastside routes 209, 230, 253, 269 and 929; and South King County routes 143, 153, 164 and 915.

• One round-trip Sounder train will be added between Tacoma and Seattle, and one reverse-commute train, for a total eight round-trips a day for the south line. Sounder’s north line will add one round-trip train from Everett to Seattle.

• Sound Transit’s new Route 599 will go from Lakewood to Tacoma, to fill a void because Sounder service has been delayed until 2012. Several trips will be added on Route 522 from Woodinville to Seattle, and Route 590 from Tacoma to Seattle.

• Community Transit in Snohomish County will add trips on its 200, 201 and 202 lines from Arlington to Everett and Lynnwood.

Consequences of BRT

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Take away street parking, and businesses in the Bronx get salty. This highlights a big difference between Seattle and New York. In Seattle, there would have been a lengthy comment period, and ample time for the businesses to kill the BRT route before it ever got off the ground. Overall, community input is a positive thing for urban development, but we have to acknowledge that it imposes certain costs.

More importantly, these costs to local businesses tend to be ignored by BRT advocates who claim that bus is “cheaper” than rail.