This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Speaking of D.C., it looks like “big train” is actually going to become a legitimate lobby. The winds are blowing for more infrastructure investment here in the U.S. Paul Krugman recently argued that it would make sense as part of a financial stimulus package. Plus you’ve got the 5-year federal transportation spending bill up for renewal in 2009.

All of it adds up to a potential big boon for transit and infrastructure.

Mixed Use vs. Height Limits

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I was going to wade in to the political blogosphere debate on D.C.’s building height limit, but I’m glad I waited for Ezra Klein to post this email from a reader, saying the focus on the height limit is misguided, and that D.C. should focus on more pressing issues. His second issue is particularly interesting:

(2) Single-use zoning currently chokes development in more than half of the city. A lot of prime real estate around the Red and Green lines goes wasted because developers aren’t allowed to build even a 10-story office/retail building, let alone a skyscraper.

Seattle’s pretty good about mixed use zoning, and we sort of take it for granted. It’s much more restricted in places like L.A. and D.C., and it makes transit-oriented development much harder.

As to the building height issue, I have to agree with the reader that it’s sort of a red herring in D.C. It’s just not that big a city to have a big downtown. Some folks think the height limit contributes to D.C.’s european feel, but it’s worth remembering that even Paris has downtown skyscrapers, they’re just in a part of the city that no tourists hang out in. But of course, Paris has 10 million residents. D.C. has about half a million.

Stanwood to get Amtrak stop

The Everett Herald has an excellent story regarding the upcoming Stanwood Amtrak Station.

Ben and myself had a great e-mail debate regarding future commuter rail service and a post should be coming soon from the both of us regarding extending Sounder to Stanwood, it’s complications and the battles it would take to bring Stanwood and Marysville onto the map.


Sometimes thinking about transit in our area, I have these little wishes. Not big dreams, like a fully grade-separated rail system through the city, which I think about all the time. I mean small ones that would make the daily rider’s life just a bit easier.

One I’ve been thinking about is an underground passage from King Street station to the International District Tunnel station. Currently, to get from the ID station to King Street or vice-versa means surfacing crossing Fourth Avenue and descending again to the other station. It would definitely improve access to the two stations to have a walkway from King Street station to the ID tunnel station, and it would keep a lot of people from getting rained on. Unfortunately, there’s an underground parking lot for the offices in the complex on 4th and King in the way, so it probably won’t ever happen. But I can wish for it.

Are there any little things you wish were different about our transit system? Something small that would make your commute, shopping trips or entertainment options more accessible? If so, please leave it in the comments.

Seattle Times and Prop 1

The Seattle Times has a big piece today featuring some comments from our very own Big Media Ben.  The accompanying graphic is truly a work of art, that really strips out all the misleading aggregate numbers and breaks down what goes where.

If I have to quibble, I’d like to have seen some sort of reference to sub-area equity, because I think the misperception that each sub-area’s money is going to fund somebody else is both common and cynically exploited by anti-transit opponents.  After all, the individual sub-area revenues and budgets are broken out here (Page A-5).  As an undecided Pierce County voter, for instance, I’d probably be interested in exactly what the project did for me and my neighbors, and making sure it wasn’t a scam causing me to fund a bunch of hippies on Capitol Hill.

All in all, however, bravo.

I-90 HOV Lanes

A little over a week ago, WSDOT and Sound Transit completed Phase I of the I-90 Two-way HOV project.  The project is going to add a single HOV lane in each direction on the main roadways of I-90, between I-405 and I-5.

Phase I completed this widening from I-405 to the Mercer Island Park & Ride on the Westbound side, including a new HOV off-ramp.  As the afternoon reverse commute is the worst of all the I-90 commute permutations, this I-90 reverse commuter applauds the completion of this project almost a year head of schedule.

Unfortunately, Phases 2 (eastbound on the same stretch) and 3 (the main span of the bridge) aren’t funded for completion, unless, of course, Proposition 1 passes, which fully funds the lanes to free up the center Express lanes for light rail, which will carry several times as many people as the existing lanes would.

Proposition 1 and the Economy

The No Campaign has opportunistically argued that the state of the economy makes it the wrong time to be raising taxes.  The Yes campaign has engaged this argument on its own turf by pointing out the stimulative effects of new construction.

What all the short-term positioning about the recession misses is that this is a 15-year plus project.  Regardless of whether the vote happens during a boom or during a depression, we’re going to pass through several business cycles before ST2 is completed.  There will be times the sales tax is a brake on an overheating economy, and other times construction jobs are a needed safety net in a down year.  Similarly, there will also be times the sales tax isn’t particularly helpful, and the rail building makes it more expensive to complete other construction projects.  I point this out not as a particularly pro-Prop. 1 assertion, but as a criticism of this entire line of argument.

The argument for more rail is clearer in the longer term.  Cost-benefit analysis, supposedly beloved of No campaigners, is fiendishly difficult to do in this context.  When you consider the benefits of a functioning rail line, you have to consider the net reduction in carbon dioxide emissions.  That’s an enormously complicated evaluation, and that’s before you attempt to attach a cash value to those reductions.  Put 10 climate economists in a room and you’ll get 10 different opinions on how to value a reduction in CO2.

And that’s a tiny part of the overall computation.  You also have the jobs attracted to the region by a better infrastructure, the efficiency gains when more jobs are reachable from a home thanks to reliable transport, positioning for potential petroleum shortages, improvement to public health from walkable neighborhoods and less pollution, reduced operating costs compared to buses, etc.

All the things mentioned above are benefits that continue essentially forever, while the tax to enable it (minus a continuing operating subsidy — perhaps a 0.1% sales tax) will wind up in a matter of decades.  As someone constitutionally inclined to spend a little now to save a lot in the future, that seems like a winner to me.

Alternately, I can personalize it.  Is this improvement to my ability to get around worth $5.75 a month to me or not?  I don’t know where I’ll be living and working in 2023, nor where my son (17 in 2023) will be living and working soon afterwards, but if it’s in the Seattle area I know I’d like to have an option that makes ever-increasing gridlock and ever-increasing fuel prices irrelevant to my — and his — travels.  I’m a saver for the future by nature, so I’ll vote YES and donate to the campaign.  What about you?

Fare Increases and Oil Prices

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Martin at STB notes that Metro’s going to put off the fare increases they were talking about a few months ago.

It seems pretty clear to me the delay is being driven by the rather sudden drop in fuel prices we’ve seen over the last couple of months. The average cost for a gallon of gas on the West Coast peaked at $4.28 in July, according to the DOE, and is now sitting at about $3.37. Oil futures have dropped in half from their high this summer, on fear of a slowing economy.

It seems pretty clear that oil prices will rise again. Demand is still bumping up against available supply, and the market panic has probably panicked a bit more than is rational. Now would probably be a good time for Metro to lock in “cheap” gas at current prices, or face an even worse shortage down the road.

Transit Now Website Updated

Metro has vastly improved and updated the information on their Transit Now website, which specifies what they’ve delivered under the program.  It also provides target dates for each of the BRT RapidRide lines:

  • A Line—Tukwila to Federal Way on Pacific Highway S (State Route 99) (scheduled to launch in 2010)
  • B Line—Bellevue to Redmond on NE Eighth Street and 156th Avenue NE via Crossroads and Overlake (2011)
  • C Line—West Seattle to downtown Seattle using Fauntleroy Way SW, California Avenue SW, and State Route 99 (2011)
  • D Line—Ballard to Uptown and downtown Seattle along 15th Avenue NW (possible alternate routing along 24th Avenue NW) (2012)
  • E Line—Aurora Avenue N (State Route 99) between Shoreline and downtown Seattle (2013)

“Transit Now” is, of course, not to be confused with “Mass Transit Now,” the Yes-on-Prop-1 campaign.

Apparently, the King County Council gives final approval to the A line’s routing in 2009.  Given that the proposed routing exactly tracks where Sound Transit 2 light rail will go, I hope it’s not too late to make intelligent changes in the event Proposition 1 passes next month.

It’s odd to me that they would go with the “A” line first given the uncertainty around light rail.  I tend to interpret this as some sort of passive-aggressive move by Ron Sims, but perhaps that’s too paranoid.

We’ve talked about RapidRide extensively here, here, here, here, and here.

Thanks to tipper Oran.

Prop 1 Endorsement

The P-I’s Prop 1 endorsement focuses on the job creation aspect of the bill, though they note they “support the expansion of Sound Transit for many reasons”. According to the P-I, Sound Transit expansion “is a critical public works project” and “would create at least 66,000 direct and indirect jobs,” noting the figure could be conservative.

I think that’s a good reason to vote for the bill, and so does Paul Krugman, this year’s winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics*, who says:

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.

Vote yes, it’s good for the economy.

*Okay, okay, I realize it’s technically “The Sveriges Riksbank Prize in Economic Sciences in Memory of Alfred Nobel” but nobody says that.

No Metro Fare Increase Next Month

Late this summer there was talk of a November 25-cent fare increase, to be followed by another quarter in 2010.  I’ve been holding off on ordering my November pass until the Council resolved the issue.

As it’s getting late, I sent an email to (STB-approved) King County Councilmember Dow Constantine, who had this to say:

There will be a fare increase, but not in November. We are in the budget process right now (through late November) and are scrubbing the Metro budget for further savings. We will probably approve a fare hike in conjunction with the budget. Such an increase would likely take effect some time in early 2009.

So there you go.  Feel free to order a pass now.

Seattle P-I Endorses Proposition 1

The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, one Seattle’s dailies, has endorsed Proposition 1.  Prop. 1, as you probably know, adds 36 miles of light rail, increases bus service immediately in 2009, and expands Sounder by 65%.  The P-I endorsement focuses exclusively on job creation — perhaps a good selling point for the Yes campaign — to focus on now that the economy has turned south.

All things being equal, we’d support the expansion of Sound Transit for many reasons. This metropolitan area is underserved by buses, trains and other alternatives to the car with a single driver. We could make the case on transportation grounds, the environment or even pocketbook issues such as the cost of filling a gas tank.

But all things are not equal. Not now. Those were arguments for ordinary times; we are entering a period of extraordinary economic uncertainty. The first priority in this economy must be the creation of good-paying jobs and voting yes on Proposition 1 will do just that.


Rail, unlike bus systems, opens up all sorts of additional development opportunities (that’s another way of saying, “Yes, even more jobs”). Portland’s experience is that $6 billion in development occurred within walking distance of MAX light rail stations since 1980. There are similar findings in Dallas and San Diego, where property values around the light rail stations jumped by double-digits.

Sound Transit is a critical public works project. A one-half cent boost in the sales tax seems a reasonable price to pay for so many new jobs

Read the full endorsement online. It’s unclear when this will appear in print — perhaps Sunday since I doubt they’d publish their endorsement on a Saturday.

I Voted Today

…and it felt great.

I got my ballot last night, and I sat down and filled it out right away. I filled it out starting from the bottom, starting from Proposition 1.

This isn’t a sounding board for my political preferences, but I’m excited about this election. If anyone else has gotten your ballots and filled in the bubble for Proposition 1, sound off here!

Edit: Of course I voted for Prop 1! I just mean I’m not going to tell you to vote for Peter Goldmark, John Ladenburg, I-1000, and I-1029, and against I-985 and ‘non-partisan’ county offices, like I did… :)

Love it or Leave it?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’ve now heard two people threaten to leave Seattle if ST2 doesn’t pass. I certainly understand the frustration, but is this a logical choice?

Despite the popular sentiment about what a given project would do for your commute, using personal benefits as a factor in transportation planning seems like a terrible way to decide things. Let’s assume you live in Lynnwood, right next to the possible future station. The station won’t be available to you until 2023. That’s 15 years out. I don’t know about you but I’m not sure where I’ll be living in 5 years, let alone 15. I’m sure you don’t know where you’ll be working in 15 years. And even if you don’t move and don’t change jobs, you’ll be living your life for 15 years in a way that would otherwise cause you to move?

The reason I’m a supporter of ST2 has nothing to do with my life. If I wanted only to experience a good transit system, I’d move to New York or the other Washington. Why I support ST2 has more to do with a beneficent feeling about how a city should work. We know we’re running out of oil. We know that it’s a waste of human life for millions of people to sit in gridlocked freeways. We know that cities with fewer cars are more enjoyable places to live and work. We know that efficient transportation systems increase quality of life.

I live here because I like Seattle. I’m voting for ST2 because as much as I like Seattle, it could be better.

Morgantown PRT

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Somehow in my past posts on Personal Rapid Transit systems, I’d overlooked the one that’s been running in Morgantown, WV for 30 years. Weird.

Serial Catowner mentioned it in one of the comments to a previous PRT post, but I hadn’t looked it up until Autopia mentioned it today.

Generally, I think this stuff is a boondoggle for city-wide adoption, but in specific settings with specific needs (such as Heathrow Airport, or a small Appalachian college town with a campus separated by a steep hill), it might make sense.

Parking Ruins Everything

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

…to borrow a line from Atrios.

Here’s a study comparing driving habits in two outer-borough neighborhoods in New York City: Park Slope and Jackson Heights. The Slopers drive less. Why? It might be because they don’t have guaranteed parking in front of their house:

despite Park Slope having higher car ownership, Jackson Heights residents are 45 percent more likely to drive to work in the Manhattan Central Business District and 28 percent more likely to commute by car in general.

Prop. 1 Must Pass

David Brewster at Crosscut discusses the possibility of Prop 1 failing and that means for Sound Transit, Light Rail and the future of transportation in our region. His analysis is pretty much spot-on. Focusing on Sound Transit and Light Rail, I see there being four options if Prop 1 fails to pass, depending on the degree of the failure and whether road warriors like Rossi take over Olympia:

  1. Prop. 1 fails big, and Sound Transit is dismantled by the road warriors in the legistlature and the Governor’s Mansion. Metro gets some of Sound Transit’s taxing authority and runs our only rail line, which doesn’t get expanded, not even to Husky Stadium. Sound Transit’s remaining taxing authority goes to a “roads agency”.
  2. Same as option 1, except Sound Transit’s remaining taxing authority goes to Metro for more buses, expecially BRT.
  3. Prop. 1 fails by a smaller margin, Sound Transit is rolled into a roads-and-transit agency by either a Norm Rice-John Stanton Initiative, or by the road warriors. This roads and transit agency, probably doesn’t expand rail past Husky Stadium. The rest of the money goes to roads and BRT.
  4. Same as option 3, except Nickels gets a Seattle only-measure to expand rail to Northgate.

None of these are pretty. Even the last option is very dark compared to what we have on offer this election, would take a massive political will to get accomplished and doesn’t leave much room for the expansion of light rail in any future scenarios. I don’t really see any other way we’ll get more rail in our region if Prop. 1 fails.

The other smart point Brewster makes is that I-985 is going to make congestion much worse for buses, and make BRT a much worse option. But if Sound Transit is destroyed, as it is in all scenarios above, we’ll never have another. If we want transit that works at all, especially in light of I-985’s potential destructive elements, we really need to get light rail.

If Prop 1 passes, here are the options:

  1. Prop. 1 passes by a very narrow margin. A Rice-Stanton intiative or road warriors in Olympia create a long fight over governance reform and the projects from Prop 1.
  2. Prop. 1 passes by a large margin, Sound Transit lives on into the future bringing us rail for all time.

Even option 1 above puts the road-warriors in the worse position, and makes it very hard for them to dismantle rail.

If we want rail to be part of the transportation conversation in Puget Sound, we have to pass Mass Transit Now. There are plenty of volunteer opportunities in the campaign if you want to get involved, email: Rebecca@masstransitnow.org.

(H/T to Matt @ OR).

Swiss Train Map

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This map, showing the position of trains in and out of Zurich, is very cool. But what’s even cooler is the “disclaimer”:

The current view is based on the Swiss traintimetable, and does not yet show the actual GPS-positions of the trains. But, as Swiss trains are almost always on time, most of the time the position is accurate.

I’m jealous on multiple levels.