Bad Winter Weather

Snow in Seattle 002

Update: Track which buses are under re-routes on the Metro website.

Cold weather and snow are likely coming, and it is very likely to effect commutes tomorrow. Alerts and advice below the fold.

Metro has the following warning about the cold weather:

King County Metro Transit is planning on chaining most of its buses for the Wednesday morning commute, and warns bus riders that service could be delayed by the weather conditions throughout the day – particularly in outlying areas of East and Southeast King County.

Continue reading “Bad Winter Weather”

News Roundup

Obama’s Stimulus Plan May Need a Roads Diet

A lot of people have been saying that there is too much emphasis on “roads and bridges” in Obama’s infrastructure stimulus talk. I basically agree, though  we haven’t seen the actual plan yet, so the talk may be premature. Still, we already know that mass transit spending is one of the best ways to provide economic stimulus. Now, I want to show you that our roads don’t need that much more investment, according to two major transportation infrastructure studies of the last few years. Both studies have urged for more transit investment.
Continue reading “Obama’s Stimulus Plan May Need a Roads Diet”


About a week ago, Brad at Seattlest posted accusations of improper sales tax collections aimed at Sound Transit and the state DOR.  Because we make a good-faith effort to bring information potentially embarassing to ST out into the open to be examined, we linked to it and said that if he had his facts straight it was a good point, and went on to put a loose upper bound on the damage if he was correct.

But now Brad has wildly mischaracterized that post as “agreeing” with him, and somehow this paragraph of mine:

That comes out to about $62 million, but that assumes that those relatively rural areas have the same median income as the area as a whole; assumes residents do no shopping in the district proper; and ignores inflation over the past decade.  I think it’s safe to say that the total impact is something substantially less than that figure, so loose talk about “hundreds of millions” is probably not correct.

turned into this on Brad’s new post:

STB has calculated that people living in the non-RTA areas could have been incorrectly overcharged by over $60 million in sales tax for their personal purchases since the creation of the district in the mid-’90s.

No nuance, no mention of the fact that it’s probably a gross overestimate, etc.  That’s an incredibly misleading portrayal of my conclusions.

I’m not sure what kind of agenda Brad’s pushing, but if I hadn’t made it clear enough:

I hereby disassociate from all the conclusions he makes in both his posts.  To the extent that I speak for STB, I do so on its behalf as well. I have no idea if Brad’s initial accusations are correct or not.

UPDATE: Seattlest has registered my objections on the main post.  I thank them for their prompt action.  As for our “disinterest” in further exploration of the issue, if more facts come to light we’ll continue to post on the subject.

South Bellevue

Andrew’s already pointed to all the great new information on East Link, but I’d just like to come out against the “B7” (I-405) alignment in South Bellevue.  There’s going to be a lot of fear of traffic, noise, and disruption among residents living near the existing S. Bellevue Park and Ride.  The path of least resistance, certainly, will be to shove the line out to the highway.  That’s a bad idea for several reasons:

  • Ridership projections and cost per rider are worse by a factor of 5.
  • The bus connections for I-90 routes will be much better along Bellevue Way.  When there’s an accident on I-90, it’ll be great to have an efficient way to connect to the train from Eastgate or Issaquah.  Depending on how the travel times work out, it may very well be that it makes more sense to terminate the 554 at South Bellevue.  In any case, a stop near Wilburton won’t be nearly as efficient, not least because of how hard it is to get on I-405 from I-90.
  • The road disruption won’t be all that bad.  MLK, which was a massive job, finished up in less than two years in front of my development.  Traffic flowed pretty well throughout that time.
  • In the long run, being close to the light rail will increase property values in that neighborhood.
  • It’s true that it might attract more traffic, but any amenity that makes a neighborhood a better place increases traffic.  At least light rail provides an alternative to sitting in that traffic.
  • Link is really, really quiet.

Not only do I think the residents are operating from a misperception of their self-interest, but when you consider the broader region, the B7 alternative is by far the worst.

I think the public meetings are going to have a lot of this NIMBY sentiment, so I hope Sound Transit comes armed with data about property values, a sound recording of an operating LINK train, and some other examples of why residents’ worst fears are unfounded.   If you live or work nearby, they also probably won’t mind your support.

Raise the Gas Tax Now

Since the breathless predictions I linked to this summer apparently aren’t going to happen, I was going to write a piece on how it’s a great time to raise the gas tax.  However, Michael Kinsley has covered all the main political points in Time, while  Mike Lillis in The Washington Independent goes a little deeper into the economics, for those of you so inclined.

All I can add is that this is equally good advice at the state level.  Kinsley’s right that there’s no reason, in principle, to object to the gas tax unless your policy goal is to maximize gasoline consumption.  In any other case, the state could take the money to cut other taxes or subsidize whoever it is you think is being hurt by this proposal.

UPDATE: Of course, here in this state our wonderful state constitution restricts our ability to offset the impact of tax increases by forcing it to all be spent on roads.   There’s another thing Olympia could fix if they weren’t obsessed with asphault.

Snow on Santa’s Lights Tour

After Santa's Lights Tour

Hi, my name is Oran. You have probably seen my work featured on STB numerous times. I would like to thank Andrew for giving me the opportunity to do “media blogging” for STB. Basically, I will post a photo or design with a caption. Let us know how you like it. Here’s the caption for the photo above:

“This is Seattle Transit System coach 724, a GM ‘New Look’ bus from 1968, at the end of MEHVA‘s annual Santa’s Lights Tour of stunning holiday light displays around Seattle. Snow began falling before we took off and Santa (yes Santa!) told us this was the first time it snowed on the tour in 20 years. It was an enjoyable ride and I highly recommend it but I cannot guarantee snow on that night next year. “

East Link Thoughts

Sound Transit has released its draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) for East Link, here’s an executive summary (9.6 MB pdf). The study compares the impacts, costs and benefits of different routings, as well as the impacts, costs and benefits of elevated, at-grade and underground rights of way. There’s also an interactive map on the Sound Transit site, where you can see the different alignments. Worth checking out, I promise.

From the press release:

The Sound Transit Board is expected to identify a preferred alternative next spring and staff would then complete the final environmental impact statement to be published in 2010. A final decision on the project would be made in 2010 after the Final EIS is published.

Public comment on the current alternatives will play an important factor in the Board’s identification of a preferred alternative…

The public comment period runs from Dec. 12 – Feb. 25, 2009.

My thoughts, as well as times and locations of public meetings below the fold.

Continue reading “East Link Thoughts”

Weekend Tax Rumors

We’re late on this, but Seattlest contributor Brad took the recent Department of Licensing MVET goof to its logical conclusion and pointed out that there’s probably been a hiccup in sales tax collection as well, one that potentially dwarfs the $3 million involved in the MVET program.  Assuming his facts are right, it’s a good point, but one that probably doesn’t have a lot of practical implications.

The only thing I have to add is that there are 95,000 vehicle owners affected by the MVET, which is probably roughly the number of adults in the affected areas.  A 0.4% sales tax figures to cost the median adult about $55 a year and has been collected for 12 years.  That comes out to about $62 million, but that assumes that those relatively rural areas have the same median income as the area as a whole; assumes residents do no shopping in the district proper; and ignores inflation over the past decade.  I think it’s safe to say that the total impact is something substantially less than that figure, so loose talk about “hundreds of millions” is probably not correct.

Given these uncertainties, and other practical difficulties Brad himself points out, I don’t see a practical remedy as simple as that for MVET.  I think sloppy state agencies deserve scolding, as well as legislators who made the district boundary as complicated as possible.  But a figure in the low tens of millions of dollars is serious money, enough to do a freeway ramp or other practical project.  I’d rather use that money to build a project they participated in the vote for than attempt to reconstruct 12 years of purchase records.

But, of course, I would say that.

Photo, taken somewhere East of Sammamish, by Panoramio contributor franklin18136.

Yesler Terrace

When I was thinking about transit-oriented development (TOD), I hadn’t really thought of First Hill as the place for it. Today, the Seattle Housing Authority, released news (behind paywall) about a massive development effort for the Yesler Terrace project on the south side of First Hill. From the DJC article:

The Seattle Housing Authority has released a conceptual plan for redeveloping the Yesler Terrace housing project on First Hill that calls for up to 5,000 new housing units and 1.5 million square feet of office space and 250,000 square feet of retail. Between five and eight acres would become parks and open space.

Currently Yesler Terrace has 561 units. The project would start in around 2011 and finish by 2026.

The site is about four blocks east of the Pioneer Square station, and the probable First Hill Streetcar route up Boren passes through the site. See a map below the fold. Now obviously, the transit isn’t the main reason that this redevelopment project is going here, but it’s a huge part of why the project can be so big. Continue reading “Yesler Terrace”

Paula Hammond: State Can’t Pay For Transit

This quote from state Secretary of Transportation Paula Hammond, as noted by Zach in the comments has me a little worried:

But state Transportation Secretary Paula Hammond said the state money can’t be used for increases in Metro bus service that are part of the surface-transit package, because the state constitution requires gas taxes to go toward highways.

“There’s been no decision on, if transit service is part of the package, how that gets paid for,” she said.

That’s pretty worrying.

Link Light-Rail Update

Here is a visual update to Link Light-Rail for 12-11-08

Link is testing between South 154th Street Station and Othello Street station. Yesterday, I was passed by a 4 car set at 55mph (I was doing 25mph on I-5) The train-sets are now being stored at South 154th Street Station if you are looking for them.

Wire is mostly completed from Walden Street to Beacon Hill Tunnel. Wire is done inside of both Beacon Hill tunnels. Wire is not complete from the O&M to Beacon Hill Tunnel but the equipment is there and awaiting the crews that are finishing up at Walden Street.

All of the MLK Way stations appear to be visibly clear of construction equipment and the scissor lifts are also gone. Mt. Baker and Sea-Tac Airport stations are the last to be finished. The status of Beacon Hill station is unknown.

Rail is all the way into Sea-Tac Airport Station and the end of track. OCS installation and traction power station installation will be the last of “initial” segment.

Track speed from Tukwila Station to Sea-Tac Airport will be 35 to 55mph, speed through Beacon Hill Tunnel will be 55mph.

Spring 2009 will introduce full line testing from Westlake Station to S 154th Street. This testing will be at various times throughout the day as they ramp up to scheduled operation testing to opening day. Testing is also to get people used to seeing the trains interacting with buses in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) Testing to Sea-Tac Airport will at various times, mostly at night, starting in late Summer to Fall 2009.

That’s all for now! Less than 8 months until Opening Day!


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Via The Overhead Wire, here’s Seattle’s list of “shovel-ready” projects that could theoretically be part of an infrastructure stimulus bill next year, as compiled by the US Conference of Mayors. There are a couple of Amtrak projects in there of interest to us, but most of the big job-creators are road projects. Not bad road projects, though! Good ones, like:

  • building transit lanes on Aurora Ave N
  • transit lanes on Greenwood Ave N
  • the Mercer corridor project
  • replacing widening the Spokane St. Viaduct (which is essential to the surface/transit viaduct replacement)
  • improving the Burke-Gilman trail

I wish we could be like progressive Salt Lake City and be for asking money to fund “five different light rail projects,” but hey, we’ll take what we can get.

Speaking of the Mercer project, Jan Drago and Nick Licata were on Weekday recently debating it. Licata opposes what he calls the gold-plated fix supported by the Mayor, Vulcan, and the majority of council. But he never put a price tag on a cheaper solution. He said we could have bike lanes, improved traffic times, and even straighten out the curves a bit for much less than the $200M the project would cost, but he never gave a number.

More Transit Lanes

Lost in the general transit-palooza of the viaduct options is this little paragraph under surface/transit:

Examples of other surface street changes include new transit lanes on Madison, Stewart, Olive and Howell streets, among others, and converting Third Avenue to transit-only all day in downtown.

This is a big, big deal.  As the endless streetcar comment threads attest, transit in its own right-of-way is the difference between a miserable trip and one that beats driving.

In the longer run, this’ll make it a lot easier for people to take transit to the Capitol Hill light rail station, too.

If Third Avenue is to become a transit mall, surely there isn’t a need for four lanes.  Two in each direction and a center lane for passing should be adequate.  I’ll leave it to the urban design folks to dream up things to do with that space, though I imagine a separated bike lane is pretty high up on the list.

Assuming the Governor picks this option…

Viaduct Choices Winnowed; Include Central Streecar

viaductThe Times reports (via Orphan Road) that the city, county, and state have narrowed the Viaduct down to two hybrid choices:

  1. Surface/Transit in the form of dual three-lane one-way streets (the so-called couplet) on Alaskan Way/Western.
  2. Elevated Highway in the form of two separated spans that allow commuters to bypass downtown.

You can view the plans online at WSDOT’s website. (Thanks for the online transparency WSDOT, it’s greatly appreciated!)

Both options include I-5 and transit improvements, however the exact series of improvements is very much subject to change since funding beyond the state’s $2.8 billion has yet to be identified (the surface/transit option ranges from $3.1-3.5b and the elevated option ranges from $3.2b-3.8b the West Seattle Blog reports). Mayor Nickels and King County Executive Sims have both favored a surface/transit option over an elevated highway in the past, and they must now bring the state along.

Both plans include encouraging news for transit. Each include the Central Streetcar along 1st Avenue, new bus lanes in the city, and a new RapidRide BRT route from Delridge to Downtown. The Surface/Transit option includes a RapidRide route along Lake City Way, but both plans seem to have a strong investment in transit capital improvements. Surface/Transit funds about $206m more transit improvements, though, with more trolley wires being installed and additional bus service hours. Here’s the transit section of the Surface/Transit’s overview document (pdf):

Transit improvements include more all-day service than the elevated hybrid scenario. This would include increased service on Metro’s RapidRide routes for Ballard/Uptown, Aurora Avenue and West Seattle and new RapidRide routes on Delridge Way and Lake City Way. The waterfront streetcar would be replaced with a new First Avenue line between King Street and Seattle Center. Park and rides would be expanded in Burien, White Center and Shoreline. The Rapid Trolleybus Network would be expanded with new connections such as Madison Park to Colman Dock, Queen Anne to Capitol Hill, and Beacon Hill to Capitol Hill. Moderate investment would be made in other express and local routes in Seattle.

Apparently The Seattle Process is facing some difficulty at completely ruining the timeline for this decision further: last-minute additions by Chopp and downtown business owners have both been outright rejected from consideration, and tunneling indeed proved too costly to pursue. By the way, the Surface/Transit couplet gives us a 104 feet of open space on the waterfront.

Almost a Done Deal

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I almost want to say Boo Ya but I won’t because there is one last alternative to the surface transit alternative. I really commend the state for throwing out all of the alternatives that should obviously not be advanced. Chopp’s alternative didn’t solve any problems (and just created more), and no matter how nice the tunnel sounds there simply is no money for it and if there is no money it will not happen. So the state made the hard choices and threw them out as it should have.

I would like to point out how the so called “grand compromise” was simply a political stunt by those that don’t want a surface alternative. They knew they had lost so they tried to circumvent the process at the last minute. The state rightly shut them down before they could even get momentum.

We should know what the governors choice is by the end of the year. I would be shocked if it isn’t the surface alternative. Now the major choices will be where transit money is spent and where is comes from.

Tipping Point

A month or so ago, I couldn’t help but feel that our nation was approaching a sort of transportation tipping point, where the momentum was finally moving in the direction of re-envisioning person transportation from meaning just cars and airplanes. It was hard not to, with most transit measures passing nationwide, and the California High Speed Rail Proposition passing as well. I was worried a bit, though, with the House passing a $14 billion bailout that our leaders weren’t necessarily paying attention. The Senate seems to be set to stall the bill, but probably not because they feel the changing winds.
Continue reading “Tipping Point”