Fantasies of a Dilettante Grocer

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I see the old Dilettante Chocolate space on 23rd and Cherry is available for rent, at a very reasonable price!   In some alternative universe, I’d love to buy it and open up a sweet Jane Jacobs-inspired corner grocery store there.  

Alas, I know nothing about the corner grocery business (except for what stories I heard about my grandfather’s corner store back in New York), and I’d imagine the regulations and such involved are pretty foreboding.  

Perhaps some other dilettante will read this post and be inspired to give it a shot.

Infrastructure Banks

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

 I agree with Andrew that a national infrastructure bank would be a good idea.  President Obama’s mentioned it on several occasions, but I believe the idea goes back to the 2007 Dodd-Hagel bill to create such an entity.  Also see this prescient Bob Herbert column from just over a year ago.

Ideally, the bank would have two qualities: (1) it would be able to lend directly to agencies, instead of having to filter the money through state governments where potential shenanigans could occur, and (2) the formulas used for calculating the funds would take into account the impacts of transit-oriented development, land use patterns, have a long-term time horizon, etc.  

New ST Bus Service

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

 Press release here.  Lots of good stuff.  Heartening to see a transit agency adding service while so many others are shriveling up and cutting back.

Note that these are not the planned ST2 improvements, those will come in the spring.

Shake-up Weekend!

With the transition of new schedules and routes, comes new drivers on routes they may have never encountered before. Some are slow learners and others are fast. On Monday, if you notice something amidst with your driver, make sure to give him/her a hand! They will be grateful that a regular on the route is helping them out and getting everyone home safely.

As a side note, today, one heck of a bus driver is switching from the MT 158 Express to the ST 564. Henry is probably one of the most exceptional drivers you could want. Warm bus, very smooth driving, and everyone, driver and passengers, are extremely friendly with each other. It is a seldom moment that makes me happy to ride Metro. His attitude on the job always rocked. When he announced that today was his last day, there was a loud groan of sorrow. When the bus pulled off, EVERYONE that got off the bus was waving. If anyone deserves a driver of the year award, it would most definitely be him.

Great job Henry!

Mark Your Calendars

Our next meet-up will be the evening of Wednesday, February 25 at 6pm, in Seattle’s International District.

This won’t be like our previous meetups, where we just sit around and drink beer, although I’m sure there will be plenty of that.  I promise you the new and improved version will be something you won’t want to miss.

Details to follow in the next few days, but save the date.

South Lake Union Streetcar To Get Slower

SLUT, by Flickr contributor Bejan
"SLUT", by Flickr contributor Bejan

Buried in Wednesday’s P-I article about the Mercer Street rebuild:

The revised Mercer design also eliminates traffic signal priority for the South Lake Union streetcars. Instead of getting an automatic green light at intersections, the streetcars will stop with the rest of traffic, which is expected to add several minutes to streetcar schedules.

I’ve never been terribly energized about the Streetcar, because in terms of speed and capacity it offers only marginal improvements over RapidRide.  Similarly, the Mercer redo is, to the extent I’ve been paying attention, a relatively harmless revision of a pretty poorly designed corridor.

Nevertheless, if we’re going to pour a lot of money into the streetcar — which we should — and try to get people out of their cars, it would make sense to prioritize the transit, not the cars, even if it means the light is a few seconds shorter.  A longer green light to cross the river of cars on Mercer would, of course, also help pedestrians and bicyclists.

SDOT did not reply to an email opportunity to comment.

Lost and Found

Lost and found
Photo by Lodigs

Monday I almost forgot my bike on the bus’s bike rack. It was the first time I’d ever taken a bike on the bus – I usually plan on living close to the stops, but I had to run some errands – and I made the rookie mistake of exiting through the rear doors. I had to chase the bus two blocks and not Seattle blocks either: big, long, suburban, Redmond super-blocks, and luckily there was a big, long, suburban, Redmond super-red-light where I could catch back up.  Now I know to come to the front and tell the driver I need my bike before de-bussing.

It got me thinking of all the things I’ve lost on buses and trains over the years; this is not a list I’m proud of. I can remember four cell phones on three continents: one (my first!) on the 43, one on the 540, one on the Denentoshi Sen, which I recovered, and one on the Hammersmith and City line. I’ll never forget the two backpacks: one on the 48 on my way to Washington Middle School back during the school bus drivers’ strike and one on the Toyoko line which I recovered by calling my roommate and letting him know to get on that same train on it’s way back from Yokohama. Then there’s the odds and ends: a wallet once on the 44, a cheesecake once on the Shinkansen from Fukuoka to Hiroshima, and a digital camera on the ICE from Hamberg to Amsterdam just this summer. You’d think I’d have the hang of this by now… I’m sort of proud of myself that with four years of riding BART, Muni, and Caltrain every day I never lost anything.

So obviously I’m more absent-minded than most. But I’m not alone, otherwise transit organizations wouldn’t have pages on their website like this Metro Lost and Found page, this Metro Bike Lost and Found Page, this Sound Transit page, this Pierce Transit Page, this Pierce Transit comment, or this ferries page about how to recover lost items. So what have you lost on transit? Did you get it back? If so, how?

Vancouver SkyTrain new scheme

I just happened to come across the Buzzer Blog, Translink’s transit blog. During my time exploring the blog, I found some new vehicles for SkyTrain!

The new Mark II cars are the same as the older Mark II vehicles but with some new, not yet announced features. These new vehicles (Bombardier) are not the same as the new vehicles (Hyundai Rotem) for the Canada Line. For more information on the new SkyTrain equipment, check out this link.

For those that are interested in the new metro line for Vancouver BC, check out Skyscraper City for the latest news on the project.

Getting the word out

This morning at Renton Transit Center, Sound Transit was getting the word out about upcoming bus and Sounder changes. A gentleman boarded the bus after everyone was on (standing room only after the wheelchairs), made a brief announcement to everyone of the upcoming change, and left some papers in front of the bus with all of the details. He asked us to be proactive and voice “your” opinion and left with a cheerful “Have a great morning”. It took all of 30 seconds and he was off to do the same for the ST 560 that arrived behind us. Another person was across the street doing the same for the Southbound buses.

I couldn’t help but smile and pondered if Metro could get the word out such as this. While Sound Transit does have a smaller number of buses, they manage to get somebody in person to get the word out with.  ST just earned major kudos from me and a quite a few other riders since by the time we reached Bellevue Transit Center, all of the papers were gone.

I know that every once in a while, Metro does a PA communication where somebody just advises riders to go to Metro’s Website about the upcoming changes. If the speakers are low on the coach though, you’re not going to hear it.

All in All…Good move ST, good move.

London Can’t Handle Snow Either

No Tube Service
Tube Closures, photo by Glenn Harper

This week’s snow storm in South England happens about once every 18 years. It’s expected to drop up to 8 inches, and currently it’s bringing London to its knees. Interestingly, they seem cheerful about it. During our once every 18 or 20 years snow storm, it brought Seattle to our knees but the grousing when on for weeks. Snow certainly did not bring out the best in us. If London can handle a brief shutdown due to snow and be happy, can’t we?
Continue reading “London Can’t Handle Snow Either”

News Round Up: Recession

Tacoma Link at 17th & Pacific
Tacoma Link, photo by Siobhán2009
  • Curb Bulbs are becoming a sticking point in the Mercer Street fix design. Without the curb bulbs, Mercer Street could be seven lanes instead of six, which a lot of truck drivers want.
  •  This Wired piece notes the budget short falls facing transit agencies across country are not being noticed by Congress. The Stimulus package includes help for state budgets and money for transit capital projects, but no money to keep transit service from being cut.
  • According to Forbes, Seattle has the 5th most improved commute. My commute definitely feels improved over the past year or so, but I wonder how much of that is related to the downturn in employment.
  • American Progress says Seattle is one of the best cities in the US to live without a car, along with San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, Boston, DC, Philly and New York. I lived the first twenty or so years of my life in Seattle without a car, and I can attest that it can be pretty easy, but it depends where you live (I grew up on Capitol Hill and in Wallingford).

Inside Transportation

King County DOT has a program entitled “Inside Transportation” on the King County TV station (Channel 22 on my cable). It airs Tuesday at 5 p.m., and on Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 9:30 p.m., and Sundays at 6 p.m. You know that I’m a serious transportation nerd because I’m planning to watch this on the Seattle Channel. (Gimme a break, the baby won’t sleep)

H/T to Gordon Werner.

Senate Stimulus Update

The Murray-Feinstein amendment to the Senate Stimulus bill failed 58-39. Because of Senate rules, the Amendment needed 60 votes to pass without a “budget point of order”. Two Republicans voted yes, Kit Bond (R-MO) and Arlen Specter (R-PA), and one Democrat voted no, Mary Landrieu (D-LA).  Senators Judd Gregg (R-NH) and Edward Kennedy (D-MA) didn’t vote because they were not present.

The next chance to beef up the transit portion of the bill is a Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sponsored-amendment that increases transit funding to close to the House amount.

Infrastructure Investment Bank

European Investment Bank
The European Investment Bank HQ in Luxembourg, by flickr user Cédric Puisney

Zach in the comments linked to this article from the Independent that mentioned the Obama Administration was looking into creating an EU-style bank for infrastructure development. I mentioned the idea briefly in this news round-up. The bank the idea is being modeled off of, the European Investment Bank, borrows money from capital markets and lends that money to development projects that further the EU’s long-term goals. The bank the Obama administration is investigating creating would have $60 billion to lend to infrastructure building projects.

The more I think about this, the better an idea it seems. The value in this system for agencies building infrastructure projects is that the Federal Government can borrow money much more cheaply than the agencies can. Even with a AAA rating, the interest rate Sound Transit can issue bonds at is usually 1% higher than the rate the US Treasury issues T-Bills at. Data for AAA municipal bonds from here, and for T-Bills from here.

The lower interest rate means lower payments, and it’s basically free money. Outside of the money it costs to operate the bank, lending money to agencies at the rate the Treasury borrows money won’t cost the Federal Government anything. In this $435 million worth of bonds issued in 2005, Sound Transit could have saved over $100 million in interest over the life of the bonds. This would basically be free money for the transit agencies, with one small exception.

The Treasury borrows money more cheaply because they are essentially guaranteed not to default on their debt, and while rare, other public agencies can default. A famous local example is the Washington Public Power Supply System which defaulted on $2.25 billion in 1982. The capital markets know this, and because of this they charge these agencies more interest. If the Federal Government became the lender to these agencies, when they default, it’d be the US tax payers stuck footing the bill. I don’t think this would be a huge problem, since the US tax payer is on the hook every time a bank or automaker runs into financial trouble, though politically this could be trouble for such a program.

Other snag in the implementation is that the European Investment Bank borrows money like a AAA rated government agency, which happens to be the same rate Sound Transit borrows at today. For Sound Transit to save money on a bank program like this, the program would have to be implemented so that the bank would borrow money at the same rate as the Treasury does. Even at the AAA rate, the program would still be very helpful for agencies that don’t have such a high credit rating, like Sound Transit before 2007.

It’s an interesting idea, and it could be a way that the Federal Government can provide a lot of financial help to agencies building infrastructure with very little cost to the taxpayer.