Another Look at the Stimulus

I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and writing about what’s wrong with the stimulus package and it’s really easy to critisize a bill that tries really hard to please everyone. But looking at the stimulus from a different perspective, in 2007, the Federal Government spent $2,730 billion (more was spent in 2008), of which $8.875 billion when to the FTA and was spent on transit. So about 1/3 of one percent of the total budget went to transit. With this stimulus package, $825 billion (or $550 billion if you think tax credits aren’t spending) will be spent in total, and $9 billion will go to transit. That’s nearly 1.1%. So compared to most government spending, this stimulus is very transit heavy. And $2.1 billion for New Starts is about 50% more than a typical year’s worth of spending.
Still, even conservatives agree that tax cuts are crappy stimulus and the stimulus will not keep cities from cutting service or raising fares. Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has authored an amendment to the bill to authorize more funding for transit, so it’s not too late to email your congressional delegation and tell them you want to see more transit in the final draft of the stimulus bill. Especially Patty Murray, who’s in the Senate commitee looking at the bill right now.

A couple of videos below the fold.
Continue reading “Another Look at the Stimulus”

Seattle’s First Car

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Was apparently electric. And was driven all the way from Chicago in 1900. This appears to be a photograph of its arrival, and the HistoryLink article is here.

(update) Oops. I was wrong about the picture. That’s the Shawmut, the winner of the AYP race nine years later.

Amtrak Cascades News

774,421 trips were taken on Cascades in 2008,  up more than 14% last year compared to 2007, and 2007 itself was a record year . This is by far the biggest year-over-year increase for Cascades, and is all the more remarkable when considering that no new runs were added last year.
The second graph shows the quarterly data for 2008, and you can see that the third quarter was when ridership was up the most over 2007. This seems to correspond to the rise-up in gasoline prices, but the return to levels similar to 2007 in the fourth quarter may not be explanable solely by the late year slide in gas prices. In December, we had snowpacolypse, and there was another snow day in November, both storms shut down service for some period. In a way, it’s impressive that ridership was up at all in Q4, when you consider that service was out for nearly two weeks.

 Apparently in an attempt to boost ridership further, WSDOT – which funds most Cascades service – is applying for some of the Amtrak money that Congress approved last summer.  You can see the list of projects here . If you look at the projects in the list, most of the money would go toward adding third main lines in typically congested places along the route, in an attempt to ease competition between freight and Amtrak. Noticeably absent from the list is the Pt. Defiance bypass.

Here are the WSDOT reports the two graphs came from:

IBM Congestion Pricing Commercial

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This has been around for a few weeks, but is still worth linking to:

(via TOW)

I’d love to see this in the US, and hopefully some city will get its act together and implement it. I’m not super-optimistic, though, both because of different attitudes toward privacy in the States, and the attitude that all car-transit should be magically free. But things could change!

Week in Review

Seattle Traffic
Seattle Traffic, from Oran via the STB flickr pool.

Last week, we welcomed a new president, but there was a fair bit of transportation news as well.

Transport for London Safety Videos

I reckon you have seen this one:

I’m not sure whether you’ve seen this:

I’ve seen a couple of pretty close between Link trains and both cars and pedestrians during testing the last few months, and I wonder if Sound Transit shouldn’t try a similar campaign for Link in the areas where the train has at-grade crossings. Maybe not with moonwalking bears on Youtube, but “It’s easy to miss what you aren’t looking for…” with a picture of train. What do you think?

Governor Gregoire, Tear Down this Viaduct

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The plan is set. In a few years, the tunnel will be under construction. Assuming we can dig really deep for funding, around 2018 the state will have a new car bypass past Seattle. After that, the viaduct will be taken down. Many dislike this decision. I agree. And Dan Bertolet at hugeasscity has put into words exactly why this is such a terrible idea.

So what do we do about it? The die is cast, the decision is made. But wait, that’s a long time from now. What if we can convince Seattle and our state that the Viaduct isn’t needed. San Francisco did this with the Embarcadero – they tore it down with the plan of building a tunnel, but then things worked out so well they decided not to build a tunnel.

My proposal: Let’s tear the Viaduct down now. If we can build enough support, couldn’t we convince the city or state to close the Viaduct? It is terribly unsafe, after all. Yes, there will be many complaints about slowing down traffic, but we can make the argument that it’s only a short-term decision. We’ll have a tunnel soon, don’t worry.

After the Viaduct is gone we’ll be able to see if it really affects the city, and to what extent. If it grinds things to a halt, then we’ll have a new way through soon enough. But if not… we could save $4 billion to be used on something more useful.

Transit Reading List Bleg*

A Rainbow Of Books
A Rainbow of Books by flickr user Dawn Endico

At the end of February I’ll be heading to Japan for a couple of months – introducing the baby to her Japanese family – and I am likely to spend most of that time in a suburban town outside of Tokyo. I’ll have the usual stuff to keep me busy, jogging, a little baby, trips into the city and the rest, but travelling around the country out because of the baby, plus I’ve seen a lot of it already. So I reckon I’m going to have to kick my reading up a notch or two to keep from getting too bored. I can speak Japanese, but trying to read book in Japanese would be a futile exercise and my past experience – I lived in Tokyo for a year and a half during college – has been that English books tend to be expensive there, so I’ve got to get them before I leave.

Here’s the list of non-fiction books I’ve acquired and will bring with me:

This list is pretty short. I’ve ramped up to  a book or two a week these days, and I imagine I can do twenty to twenty-five in the eight weeks I’ll be over there, plus two for the flights there and back. My rule is that I alternate reading fiction and non-fiction, so I really ought to have at least eight or nine more non-fiction books to bring over. Any recommendations? I’m particularly interested in books on transportation, transit or urban planning. I’m less interested in the sort of Geography of Nowhere books that are only condemnations of cars – I already know that story, and it’s kind of depressing – but if someone has a recommendation for a book that has convincing ideas about how to improve and promote sustainability and walkability in suburban neighborhoods that would especially welcome.

* blog + beg = bleg.

More RapidRide Details

The P-I sang the praises of RapidRide today, and we at STB are in agreement that more bus service is a great thing:

The service will feature much more frequent buses, new stations and higher-tech pay systems on five corridors with high-capacity, low-emission hybrid vehicles by 2013.

But what about those “higher-tech pay systems?”

On the RapidRide maps for A (Pacific Highway South), B (Bellevue-Overlake), C (West Seattle), and D (Ballard), there are symbols for both “RapidRide station stops” and “other RapidRide stops.”  It turns out that the “other” category contains two types of stop: “standard” and “enhanced”.  The features of each stop type are as follows:

  • Standard stops will have a lighted bus pole, bench, and RapidRide marker.
  • Enhanced stops will add pedestrian lighting, a bike rack, trash can, and a small lighted shelter.
  • The “station stops” will have larger shelters, newspaper boxes, a real-time arrival information board, and possibly a “fare transaction processor.”

Stop type is assigned by projected ridership.  Please note that off-board payment machines are a pilot project on the A line, opening in 2009, and further deployment depends on the results of that project and available funding. These machines will accept a “tap in” from ORCA cards but are not currently intended to accept cash.

Equally interesting is what the relatively sparse distribution of off-board payment machines implies about how payment will work.  I spoke with a Metro representative who explained it all to me.  Basically, RapidRide is going to use fare inspectors to check for ORCA cards or paper Metro transfers.

As the transit agencies are getting rid of all fare media except cash, paper transfers, and ORCA cards, there are four relevant fare scenarios:

  1. If you have a valid paper transfer, you may board at any door; the transfer serves as proof of payment.  Note that these paper transfers will not be honored on LINK light rail, where you’ll need an ORCA card to get credit for your previous fare.
  2. If you have only cash, you must board at the front and pay the driver, who will always give you a paper transfer that serves as proof of payment.
  3. If you have an ORCA card at a stop that does not have off-board payment, you must board at the front and “tap in” just as you would on any other Metro bus.
  4. ORCA card holders at a station with off-board payment can tap in at the stop and then board any door.

Metro has not yet developed their ride-free-zone policy for RapidRide, which in any case won’t come into play until the C line comes online in 2011.

Those are the (provisional) facts; discussion below the jump.
Continue reading “More RapidRide Details”

News Round-Up

rainier station
Schematic for the Rainier Station on I-90, from CH2MHill

So much news, so little time.

  • The Central District News went to a Rainier Station open house and has some new  information about the station. It’s great to see that the station will have entrances on 23rd Ave as well as Rainier. Here’s an aerial shot of the place the station will occupy. It doesn’t look like a particularly pedestrian friendly place from either direction, but it is built in the middle of an interstate, so can be expected?
  • California Governor Arnorld Swarznegger is calling on President Obama to allow states to regulate automobile emmisions. Former President Bush wouldn’t let California regulate fuel economy standards for new cars above and beyond the fuel standards impossed by the Federal Enivornmental Protection Agency. President Obama has said he will look into overturning the Bush administration’s decision.
  • Obama’s pick for Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, has passed Senate Committee hearings and appears a lock to get confirmed for the post this week, with a full Senate vote likely Friday.
  • Matt Ygkesias points out that much of money the highways in the stimulus bill won’t be spent in the next two years. That’s not as big a deal for as the lack of transit funding.
  • There’s an open house for Tukwila Sounder Station on January 29, 2009 from 4:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m at the Embassy Suites in Tukwila.
  • The state has sold two passenger-only ferries to the Golden Gate Transportation District for $4 million. The proceeds will likely go to fund the King County Ferry District, which will take over the State’s passenger Ferry service from Seattle to Vashon, and will eventually operate passenger-only ferries to other locations. The Ferry District gets most its funding from a property tax imposed by the County Council near the end of 2007.

Quick Stimulus Update

Update: Josh Feit has the scoop from Rep Rick Larsen (D-WA) on what Washington would be getting in the House Stimulus plan:

The House legislation includes the following funding for Washington state:

  • $847,078,890 in total funding to modernize Washington state infrastructure
  • $529,547,455 for highways, roads and bridges
  • $216,584,501 to construct and maintain public transit
  • $100,946,934 for wastewater treatment to provide clean water

29% of our state’s transportation cash going to transit is a bit better than the national break down, and the total number is a bit more than we had been hearing Washington would get.  I wonder how much of the transit cash will be “construct” and how much will be “maintain”.

Orignial post from here:

Streetblog (via Slog) wonders why the Obama Administration pulled the plug on transit funding in the stimulus package, and TPM’s Elana Schor got the answer from Rep. James Oberstar (via Yglesias):

The reason for the reduction in overall funding — we took money out of Amtrak and out of aviation; we took money out of the Corps of Engineers, reduced the water infrastructure program, the drinking water and the wastewater treatment facilities and sewer lines, reduced that from $14 billion to roughly $9 billion — was the tax cut initiative that had to be paid for in some way by keeping the entire package in the range of $850 billion.

Oh well. At least Obama’s closing Gitmo.

Clean Air and Lifespan

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Cleaner air over the past two decades has allowed Americans to live an average of 21 weeks longer. In areas such as New York that have dramatically changed air quality this has gone up to 43 weeks longer.

Of course, we also know the cancer rates along freeways and highways are dramatically worse than elsewhere in Seattle.

The relevancy to this blog is left as an exercise for the reader.

One Agency to Rule Them All

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I have to say I’ve got nothing inherently against the idea of a regional superagency, as they’re now contemplating in Boston.  My beef with "Sound Transportation" here in WA is that it’s always been a stalking horse for Olympia to dilute Sound Transit’s power.  It always comes down to two things: accountability and finance.  That is, who calls the shots and who pays the bills.  Often there’s an overlap between these two, but not always.  

For example, if you have a regional entity, and its governing board is structured in such a way that the suburbs get a disproportionally large amount of seats, or the tax dollars come primarily from the suburbs, you’re going to get things like Metro’s 40-40-20 rule. In such cases, transit funding will suffer.  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  It’s all about how you structure it.  

Boeing Access Road (deferred)

Boeing Access Road
Boeing Access Road, by Oran in the STB flickr pool

The awesome photo on the right by Oran shows where Link crosses over the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) tracks that Sounder and Amtrak run on. At that spot was planned a transfer station between northbound Sounder riders to Link on their way to Sea-Tac, the Boeing Access Road station. Apparently, BNSF needs the space for freight operations there, and there wasn’t a spot for a passenger platform. Without a Sounder Transfer, ridership wouldn’t have been been high enough to make the station worth the cost of construction and so it was deferred.

A while back the Port of Seattle and King County were coming close to an agreement in which the Port would have bought the BNSF Eastside rail line, and traded it to the County with some cash for Boeing Field. There has been talk of operating commercial flights out of Boeing Field. Although the County-Port deal has been shelved, if  commercial flights ever make their way to Boeing Field, we’d probably see a BAR station. This is speculation, but Sound Transit is probably keeping its powder dry for just such a possibility.

Even without another airport or basketball arena, the site has allure for arm-chair transit planners. Not only does it provide access to a fairly large employer and the Museum of Flight, but it also provides an access point for Tukwila Metro buses in a stretch where those are scarce. Furthermore, with a higher level of investment, and a change of heart by BNSF, you could construct a tri-modal terminal where express buses, LINK, and commuter rail all converge to allow easy transfers between them, and possibly eliminate the need for buses to head into Downtown Seattle. And it would put a Link station within walking distance of my favorite diner in our region, and a man can dream, right?

If you live in South County, would you transfer from Sounder at a Boeing Access Road station on your way to Seatac? If you live in South Seattle, Renton or Tukwila how miserable would you be if jetliner takeoffs and landings at Boeing Field increased four or five fold?

DJC on East Link Alignments

A fully built-out Eastlink
A fully built-out Eastlink

The Daily Journal of Commerce brings up most of the interesting questions floating around the Eastlink project:

Will the trains share the HOV ramps on the Seattle side of I-90 with buses? Should there be a footbridge at the Mercer Island station? How much will the Washington State Department of Transportation charge Sound Transit to lease the center roadway of the I-90 bridge? … Once the trains get to downtown Bellevue, will they go into a tunnel as the city of Bellevue prefers? “It’s a very attractive option,” said Sound Transit board member Julia Patterson. … But Sound Transit does not have the money to build a tunnel, only an elevated structure or an at-grade alignment. A tunnel that is partly cut-and-cover and partly mined under Bellevue Way and Northeast Sixth Street, with three stations, would bust Sound Transit’s budget by almost $1 billion. “The city of Bellevue knows that,” (Sound Transit CEO Joni) Earl told the board last week.

Should be interesting to see how this all works out. I hadn’t ever even thought of the I-90 lease question, and the tunnel question is going to be one to watch.

Public Hearing dates below the fold.

Continue reading “DJC on East Link Alignments”

UW Station Artist Meet-and-Greet, East Link Open House

Tonight, 7pm-9pm at the Museum of History and Industry‘s McCurdy Gallery there’s a meet-and-greet with Leo Saul Berk, who will be designing art for the UW station. As a UW alum, I am very glad that Sound Transit picked a UW graduate for the project. Sorry I couldn’t find a legal picture to use for the post.

I think I’m going to go for a few minutes to look at the designs, anyone else?

Also right now (4-7pm), at the Old Redmond Schoolhouse Community Center, in Redmond, there’s an East Link Open House.

First Details on Ballard RapidRide

[UPDATE: What I should have pointed out is that it’s actually the city — through Bridging the Gap funds — that’s deciding where to put these BAT lanes and other road improvements.  In classic Puget Sound disconnected decision-making, that may not be where Metro ends up deciding to put the bus line.]

Metro just released the first detailed information on the RapidRide D Line, running from Downtown Seattle to Ballard and scheduled to open in 2012.

They’re looking at both 15th and  24th Avenue routings in Ballard, and are open to suggestions on what to do north of 85th Street.  The comment deadline is February 25.

The corridor not chosen will get more 15/15X or 18/18X service, whichever is applicable.

Key Features:

  • 10 minute headways before 7 pm, 15 minutes till 10pm, less afterwards.
  • Off-board payment to speed stops.
  • Road improvements, such as bus bulbs, transit signal priority, and business access and transit (BAT) lanes.

Given that 15th Avenue is slated to have road improvements and 24th isn’t, the former seems like a no-brainer to me.

We’ve covered the A, B, and C lines extensively in the past, which cover Pacific Highway South, NE 8th St in Bellevue, and West Seattle.   The E line, which we don’t know much about, will go up Aurora.

The other big BRT project is Community Transit’s Swift, which I discussed here.  More recently, Brian checked up on Swift.

News Roundup

Pierce Transit #409
Pierce Transit #409

Some news today besides the inauguration:

  • Sumner gets a new bus route (409) serving its Sounder station on February 9.  There will be no stops; riders can board the bus at the point of their choosing.  It’s nice to see that the budget crisis hasn’t put every transit agency in a defensive crouch.
  • More tolling is being considered on both SR 167 and the SR 99 tunnel.
  • The infrastructure lobby is disappointed in the composition of the stimulus proposals.
  • Congress may bribe you to get rid of your gas guzzler and replace it with an efficient car or transit pass.
  • New Yorkers dream of a transit-heavy stimulus.

(H/Ts: Andrew, Monica)