Seattle Times Rips I-985

While we often disagree with the Times regarding their opinions on expanding light rail, we have give them credit for rightly opposing I-985. Like nearly every newspaper across the state, they have endorsed voting no on I-985. But they’ve gone further and have written another article echoing their no vote which list of ten reasons to vote against the measure. I’ll re-print them here in full:

No. 1 — I-985 would reduce safety. Local communities have installed red-light cameras at dangerous intersections to prevent car crashes with pedestrians and other vehicles. This initiative forces local communities to give camera revenues to the state. Result: Most cities will yank the cameras, so more accidents.

No. 2 — The initiative could cost the state millions of dollars in federal funds, according to a letter from federal transportation officials.

No. 3 — I-985 will increase congestion as the plan dumps too many single-occupancy vehicle cars into HOV lanes during nonpeak hours — peak hours are defined unrealistically as 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. Result: More vehicles in HOV lanes, for example, westbound Highway 520; slower travel time; people give up the bus; more congestion.

No. 4 — I-985 robs sales tax revenues on vehicles in Eastern Washington and gives the revenues to the Puget Sound area for traffic relief.

No. 5 — I-985 kills plans for paying for a new Highway 520 bridge. Complicated language supposedly prevents tolling on Interstate 90 to pay for Highway 520. Too many cars will be diverted to I-90 and there will be insufficient revenue to pay for a new bridge.

No. 6 — Traffic congestion relief is best left to the experts.

No. 7 — I-985 zaps the general fund to pay for congestion relief. Result: Further cuts in education and health care.

No. 8 — I-985 allows the state to interfere with local communities’ public-safety decisions.

No. 9 — Direct-access ramps built along Interstates 5, 90 and 405 currently allow buses and car pools to enter and exit the freeway from HOV lanes. Those projects obtained federal approval on condition they not be open to general traffic. Result: The ramps would be closed during the time HOV lanes are open to general-purpose traffic.

No. 10 — The initiative is several subjects wrapped in one. It is headed for court, thus wasting precious time for moving forward with regional transportation improvements.

If you still haven’t voted yet, please read our endorsements to see who is supportive of transit and which measures are most important to our transit future.

World’s Best Commutes

Forbes has a list of the cities with the best commutes. The list:

  1. Hong Kong
  2. Tokyo
  3. Chennai (formerly Madras)
  4. Dakar
  5. Osaka
  6. London
  7. Beijing
  8. Mumbai (formerly Bombay)
  9. Krakow
  10. Berlin

It’s worth noting that every city on the list has a developed public transit system other than Dakar, where a large portion of workers walk or bike. Also interesting, not a single American city makes the list. Here’s the article. I’ve been to every city on the list other than Krakow.

Freedom and Roads

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In the article I linked below, Texas Gov. Rick Perry said, “this is the sound of freedom we hear,” referring to the massive 18-lane highway below him.

But of course, roads are the farthest thing from freedom. They’re massive social engineering projects that tell people where to go and where not to go. The U.S. Highway System offers no more “freedom” than the average Habitrail offers your pet hamster.

This becomes very clear when watching this time lapse video of a Toronto intersection (via Streetsblog):

Scramble from Sam Javanrouh on Vimeo.

The people, the cars, the buses: they’re all moving where they’re told, when they’re told. The system isn’t as apparent when you’re sitting behind the wheel, but it’s there all the same, whether you’re on the road, on foot, or on a train. There are small differences, to be sure, in when you can leave, how long it takes to get there, etc. But they’re small when you consider the controls imposed by the overall system.

The Metaphysics of Earmarks

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Several bloggers are noting the opening of the 18-lane Katy Freeway in Texas, which will feature tolls, HOV lanes, and probably enough poured concrete to blot out the sun, but no fixed rail transit.

According to Rep. John Culberson, that’s a feature, not a bug. Hilarious contradictions ensue:

Culberson said the job was completed in five years and four months, compared to a likely 10 years or more with conventional funding.

“And without a single federal earmark,” he added.

But Culberson, whose ability to get federal dollars was crucial to the widening project, pledged not to give up a single freeway lane for Metro rail.

Apparently earmarks are a bad thing, but having a congressmen set aside money from the federal budget to build an infrastructure project in his home district is a good thing. The difference between the two eludes me. But then, that’s why they pay Culbertson the big bucks.

When was the last time you were stuck in gridlock at 5am?

At the recent debate between Kemper Freeman and Mayor Greg Nickels at the UW, Freeman accidentally seconded the argument for more mass transit: It helps rush hour commuters.

The opposition has no alternative plan, and they don’t even understand the problem. Don’t let them ruin the region’s future. Vote YES on Sound Transit Proposition 1 November 4th (it will be at the bottom of your ballot – don’t be confused by your local city prop 1)! You can read our full list of endorsements here.

Even though the election is just days away, there’s still lots to do. Talk to all your friends, coworkers, and random strangers (girls love it when you talk about trains) and make sure they understand how important this proposition is. As always, visit the official ‘yes’ campaign website at for more information.

Metro Priorities

Andrew commented recently on how Metro’s budget shortfall may threaten RapidRide, and that sparked a little bus-vs.-rail war in the comments (perhaps anticipating the Seattle Times’s inflammatory headline this morning).  Although there’s a lot of anti-BRT schadenfreude on this blog, the core assertion is relatively mild: that rail is vastly superior on certain corridors.  Everyone here agrees that buses have a place.  On top of that, we’ll have a long wait for a comprehensive rail system even under very positive assumptions.  As a result, it’s proper to have BRT along some corridors that, in a perfect world, would be rail.

That said, I’d like to step beyond that skirmish and say that I think the implication that RapidRide is threatened by its own shortcomings is not the right way to think about what Metro is trying to do.  Transit Now didn’t create a new agency to run RapidRide.  Rather, it was an increase in Metro’s generic funding level, tied to a bunch of promises of what they would do with the additional funding.

As we all know, a variety of factors have conspired to wreck the budget projections that underpinned Transit Now.  That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that RapidRide is in trouble.

Rather, Metro faces a general budget shortfall that’s going to have to be made up with some combination of revenue increases and service cuts.  Because we live in the real world, the King County Council is going to pick from a menu of bad options by picking the most politically palatable ones, with a bit of actual technical analysis perhaps thrown in.

If you’re like me, you recently received a big Transit Now brochure in your mailbox.  It’s clear that Metro has politically doubled down on RapidRide, which makes it harder for the Council to axe such a prominent promise.  Beyond that, I can’t really say if the budget shortfall is likely to hit RapidRide or something less visible.

Instead of wringing our hands about RapidRide, the useful contribution is to be active in letting the Council know what your priorities are.  Is RapidRide more important to you than some other bus service in your neighborhood?  Would you rather see fares shoot up by 50 or 75 cents rather than see any service cuts?  Let your councilmember know!

What’s not constructive is the statement “Please cut a service that doesn’t affect me to preserve that which I use.”  For example, if you live and work in Seattle, “abolish 20/40/40!” isn’t useful.  The service increases that it creates weren’t designed to serve you, so you’re not really making any tradeoffs when you oppose buses to North Bend.  Similarly, Metro has capped out its revenue authority, so asking the County for higher sales taxes isn’t really helpful.

Personally, I’m in favor of steep fare increases to preserve all the service promises.  But what are you willing to give up in the new economic climate?  Less service, different service, or higher fares?  Property taxes?  Cuts to other (specific) parts of the county budget?  Share your opinion in the comments.

The Seattle Times Can’t Handle Simple Math

Want to know why rail is better than anything else we can put on the table? This is why.

90-95% of the light rail we’re building (by cost) is King County. The only exception are the stations in Snohomish, which will account for a very small portion of overall ridership anyway.

Sound Transit will collect 0.9% sales tax in King County if Prop 1 passes. Metro already collects 0.9% sales tax.

With the same amount of money, in 2030, Sound Transit’s light rail will carry more passengers and more passenger miles than Metro will – and then when the Prop 1 sales tax is rolled back, Sound Transit’s light rail will carry more people for half the money. ST would only collect 0.4% sales tax, but still carry more people than Metro with their 0.9% – and carry more every year.

There’s no contest here. Running buses in our main corridors is like using payday loans. This Seattle Times article is bogus – ignoring the simple, main point. We made this mistake 40 years ago. It would be dumb to make it again.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’m wary of jinxing the election by talking about the Obama presidency a week before the election, but I have to pass on this nugget from one of Marc Ambinder’s readers:

One name I keep hearing from the DC transportation world for Sec. of Transportation is Oregon Congressman Earl Blumenauer. He was an early Obama endorser and has done a lot of work on metropolitan transportation issues and infrastructure financing. His name was also discussed for this post in 2004, as I remember.

It makes me giddy. Read Blumenauer’s bill from this past congressional session to see why.

King Street Station Clock

And a quick closeup of the King Street Station clock

This is a really great article about the King Street Station Clock, which works again finally. Also, the annoying antenna from the photo has been removed.

And from the comments:

Now I know when I have to run the last couple of blocks to catch the
Sounder! Thanks for donating your time and efforts into repairing a great Seattle rail landmark. We’re one step closer to having a grand rail station.

Does anyone know what the status of the big clock at Westlake station is?

Sounder North commuters may see small delays

I was asked via e-mail from Jessica Myers of Everett; What is going on near the big rail yard in Ballard and why does the train go so slow?

To answer, BNSF and Sound Transit are working on upgrading the track between Galar Street and the Ballard bridge which will add an additional main track between these locations. This is one of several double track projects on the Seattle – Everett corridor which will speed up trains, reduce wait times for freight trains, and increase overall capacity. The rail yard in question is Interbay, which is actually located in the Magnolia neighborhood.

The reason for the slowing can vary depending on the work going on. There could have been new rail/ballast laid down which requires a certain amount of trains to pass over before the maximum authorized speed can be met or it could be a slow order to protect workers and equipment.

After Interbay, the next location for the work will be Edmonds, including the new station and a new main track. After Edmonds, MP27-28 will begin on adding a new main track there. At Everett Jct., which will be the final piece of work which will reconfigure the cross overs, making it faster and safer to go up to the high line or continue onto the low line.

Have any other heavy rail questions? Feel free to ask!

Prop. 1 Is Good For You

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The latest from the campaign:

Seattle—Across the region, business, labor and opinion leaders are urging greater investment in our transportation system by passing Proposition 1.

These leaders understand the nexus between economic development and transit expansion. Proposition 1 funds more buses, adds more commuter rail, and builds 36 miles of light rail. While our polls have been very positive, the numbers bump higher when people hear the price. For a 5/10 of one percent sales tax increase, we get a 100-year mass transit system, a boost in economic development, and good jobs that will plow investment back into our community.

Here’s what people are saying:

“As a region and state, we are entering a very troubled period when many companies here face serious challenges. At such times, the need to invest in our infrastructure, create jobs, and plan for our region’s economic recovery and long-term competitiveness is more important than ever.”
-Tayloe Washburn, chair, Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce

“Construction represents 6 percent of the state’s workforce but 16 percent of the economy. The jobs created by Proposition 1 will grow the state’s middle class and put us back on the road to economic recovery.”
-Daren Konopaski, business manager, International Union of Operating Engineers, Local 302

“Our ability to grow and thrive as an urban center is linked to accessibility. We approached this decision asking, ‘What’s best for Downtown Bellevue?’ Connecting downtown with the region through safe and reliable mass transit is essential to our community’s future success.”
-Jill Ostrem, chair, Bellevue Downtown Association

“Proposition 1 is a key part of dealing with gridlock and traffic. It will be an economic stimulus providing good paying jobs, and boosting the economy.”
-Mike Sells, Secretary-Treasurer of the Snohomish County Labor Council

“The first priority in this economy must be the creation of good-paying jobs and voting yes on Proposition 1 will do just that. Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels said the project would create at least 66,000 direct and indirect jobs. But that figure could be conservative. The U.S. Department of Transportation estimates that 47,500 jobs are created for every billion dollars invested in transportation projects.”
-Seattle Post Intelligencer editorial board, Oct. 17, 2008

“And this is also a good time to engage in some serious infrastructure spending, which the country badly needs in any case. The usual argument against public works as economic stimulus is that they take too long: by the time you get around to repairing that bridge and upgrading that rail line, the slump is over and the stimulus isn’t needed. Well, that argument has no force now, since the chances that this slump will be over anytime soon are virtually nil. So let’s get those projects rolling.”
-Paul Krugman, columnist, New York Times, Oct. 16, 2008

For more information:
International Union of Operating Engineers: 206-251-5399
Bellevue Downtown Association, Patrick Bannon, 425-453-3113
Snohomish County Labor Council: 425-259-7922
Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, Christina Donegan: 206-389-7241

“Traffic Calming”

Erica Barnett introduces me to the concept of “traffic calming”, in a post about negative side-effects of I-985:

Traffic light synchronization seems like a good idea, and in many cases, it is—for example, on busy, congested downtown streets in big cities like Seattle. But in other cases, it makes no sense whatsoever. Many small towns, for example, deliberately de-synchronize their lights (a strategy also known as “traffic calming”) to discourage drivers from using their main drag as a highway.

That’s pretty interesting. I do look forward to the “smarter synchronization” that will be part of Rapid Ride: synchronization for buses only. Looks like one more aspect of BRT that Eyman is trying to kill. I-985 is definitely the enemy of public transit.

Docklands Light Rail and Mall

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Dockland Light Rail and Mall

I read the strangers coverage of last week’s debate between crazy Kemper and the Mayor and it prompted me to post this picture from London. 20 years ago this area was an industrial wasteland and now it is the financial hub of the UK. And guess what it is served by a light rail system. You can see it right outside the door (it is red).

So see Kemper you can make money off of transit. Lots of money. I bet the average income of everyone is this photo is significantly higher than Bellevue Square.

Train Safety Effort

The News Tribune has a special report about train safety campaigns, noting that at least 58 people have died on railroad tracks in Pierce during and South King County since 1998. Train safety is a serious issue, when I took Caltrain everyday to work from San Francisco down to San Jose, it seemed that about once a month someone was killed on the Caltrain tracks. The deaths, whether they were suicides or not must have had huge effects on the families of those killed.

I wish there would be similar campaigns for both cars and bicycles. The article mentions that someone is hit by a train every 115 minutes somewhere in the US, though I couldn’t find how many of those people are killed. Highway fatalities are 94% of transportation deaths, 42,116 people were killed in car accidents in 2006 and car-related deaths are the number one killer of people under 45 in our region. Those numbers are scary, and bicycling is barely safer than driving.

A lot can be done to make sure that all modes of transportation are safe, because currently, they really are not as safe as they ought to be. This campaign to make trains safer is awesome, and I wish campaigns to make the other modes of transportation safer would also make the news.