Sunday Open Thread

A lot of people seem to want GM to start building light rail cars.  Personally, I’d prefer transit agencies to buy cars that are efficient, reasonably priced, and pleasant to ride in.  When it comes to building cars, which they’ve done for a hundred years, GM’s record is a bit spotty on these characteristics, so I’m not terribly optimistic about a foray into rail.   For destroying streetcar lines and defeating rail initiatives, though, they’re your company.

As the title says, it’s an open thread.

Greenwashing: You’re kidding me.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In this month’s Performance Bicycles catalog there’s a bicycle jersey made of petroleum products with an overweight character symbolizing a non-recyclable petroleum product that’s a key component to internal combustion vehicles, responsible for most of the greenhouse gas emissions in our region. But he’s touching a plant, so I guess that makes it green. I’m sure the type of person that bicycles in Seattle will pay $85 for that.

More On Circulators

Artwork by Oran, of course
Artwork by Oran, of course

Last month, in one of several posts on Southeast Seattle service changes, I mentioned Metro’s attitude towards frequent rider requests for a local circulator:

Furthermore, after to talking to some of the Metro planning staff, it’s an article of faith in some quarters there that “circulators don’t work.”

My throwaway remark prompted a comment from Jarrett, linking to his extended response on his blog, “Human Transit”.  He critiqued my circulator concept as a way of debunking the entire idea of circulators. In his comment thread a bunch of Metro commenters form an amen corner, pretty much proving the limited point I made above.

Jarrett’s piece, all the way from Australia, is eloquent and informative. Some key grafs: Continue reading “More On Circulators”

49 Days

Beacon Hill light rail station, closer to completion
Beacon Hill Station at the surface, photo by flickr user litlnemo

Beacon Hill Station’s platforms are 49 meters underground, or 160 feet. That’s pretty deep, and it gives some idea of why the station construction has taken so long. I’ve been trying to get into that tunnel for years now, but I’ve got just 7 weeks to go in any case.

In 1949 two big transit-related legal rulings came down from the courts. In the first, the sentence came down in the Great American Streetcar Scandal. Each of the defending companies in the United States v National City Lines was fined $5,000 and each director was fined $1. In the second, United States v Capital Transit Co., the Supreme Court strengthened the Federal Government’s right to regulate and effect public transit under the Constitution’s Interstate commerce clause. These powers eventually enabled the creation of the Federal Transit Administration.

50 Days

Beacon Hill Tunnel Construction, photo by Ryan Healy

50,000 cubic yards of Earth was removed from under Beacon Hill for each of the two Beacon Hill tunnels. A similar amount of Earth was removed for the Beacon Hill station. That subway section is one mile long, so you could imagine how much soil will be removed from underneath Seattle for the 6+ mile subway from (almost) Westlake to (almost) Northgate.

Here are a couple more 50s. Forward Thrust got 50.8% of the vote in 1968, but 60% was needed to pass. 1950 was the year of the last Kirkland-Madison Park Car Ferry ran. The last passenger-only ferry on that run was a year later and thus ended all ferry service on Lake Washington.

One more random thought: is model train collecting much more popular than I know? I don’t collect them myself (I did collect guitars for a while, but Tamami has made me get rid of many of them), but it’s hugely surprising to me that the Mariners are giving away 20,000 model train cars as a gameday promotion.

Now This is a System Map

Greater Tokyo Railway Network
Map by flickr user Kzaral

This is a fairly complete – to my knowledge – map of the passenger rail network in Tokyo and its suburbs.
Here is pdf map of made by someone else that includes Tokyo and its suburbs, but not the its suburbs’ suburbs. I’ve been looking for a map like this for a long time, since there are more than a dozen train operators in the Tokyo area, and most system maps in Tokyo draw either just the center city subway network or just the map of a specific private rail operator’s network. There are several hundred stations on the map, and it shows the passenger rail network of an area about 1/3 bigger than King County (8,500 km² including water) where about 35 million people live (that’s about 20 times the population of King County). No wonder Tokyo gets away with a small highway system.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Kery Murakami reports:

If it’s seemed darker getting around Seattle, it’s been in part because more streetlights have been out, as I reported in a story back when I worked at the P-I.

Nickels announced today that he’s proposing that $2.1 million authorized in this year’s City Light budget be spent earlier to let crews catch up with the backlog of all the burned out lights on the streets.

Speeding up streetlight repairs? Must be an election year.

51 Days

According to this post on light rail on Good Magazine’s blog, Manhattan residents first voted to fund the Second Avenue Subway in 1951. They even mention East Link!

Seven weeks and two days until Central Link, and seven years and (okay, maybe) two months until University Link…

Time to Re-Think Zoning

University District - Seattle
U-District, photo by Brewbooks

Dan Savage points to this Atrios post contrasting today’s urban zoning and the buildings that currently exist in urban neighborhoods:

One thing I mention frequently but which some seem not to believe is that just about everywhere in this country it would be illegal to build the kind of dense residential urban neighborhoods one associates with, well, urban living. My block, a completely typical South Philly block (not my block, but similar), could not be built today without an unlikely to receive zoning waiver. Most units on my block, and in my area generally, do not have dedicated off street parking. Any new development – say, a new block of rowhouses – with 5 units or more requires dedicated parking for each unit. Parking takes up space, requiring more land which increases (sic) the cost/sq. ft, and reduces, all things equal, residential density.

I mentioned this idea briefly my post about Bellevue’s plans for transit oriented development in the Bel-Red neighborhood. I live in the U-District and my home has a perfect 100 walkscore. Most of the myriad of small businesses and apartments that make the neighborhood walkable are in old buildings that could never be built under today’s zoning: retail without parking isn’t allowed, and neither are tall, affordable and parkingless apartment buildings. These requirements existing in what is probably the residential neighborhood that is best served by transit in the state.

North of 50th street a lot of townhomes have been built recently (south of 50th st the zoning is NC-65, or six stories, north of 50th it’s L3, or townhome zoning), and all have parking, most in the ugly mini-cul-de-sac formation that is so despised. The nicer designs have the cul-de-sac facing the alley instead of the street, but it doesn’t do much for affordability.  On Roosevelt and 55th, a ten-unit student-priced housing development is going through with five parking spaces, and a zoning exception was required to allow less than the usual ten parking spots. In fifteen years that development will be walking distance to two light rail stations. How many of the residents will need cars or even be able to afford them? Parking requirements and height restrictions need to be re-thought, especially in dense neighborhoods that already have many buildings that without parking and others taller than the height restrictions.

Capitol Hill Recycling

Cap Hill Demo 4
Demolition, photo by flickr user subsetsum (Wil Taylor). Taken April 18th.

The demolition of the buildings on Broadway and John (and Broadway and Denny) is now complete. Sound Transit made a goal of recycling many of the building materials from the buildings, which seemed like it would be easy since most of the buildings were relatively old and thus had valuable fixtures and old-growth timbering. In this week’s CEO Corner, Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl catalogues some highlights of the 2,890 tons of materials that were salvaged from the demolition site:

• 224 doors • 180 cabinets
• 18 restaurant booths • 50 light fixtures
• 29 ranges • 31 refrigerators
• 13 claw foot tubs • 21 sinks and toilets
• 60 radiator fins • 121 feet of wrought iron railing
• 90 feet of wood railing • Hundreds of feet of trim and molding
• 3500 square feet of fir flooring • 500 square feet of tin ceiling panels

I supposed that’s pretty good. 2,890 tons sounds like really a lot, and obviously that list isn’t complete, but I’d bet there were more than 13 claw-foot bathtubs and a lot more than 50 light fixtures. I supposed the building owners might have ripped out some of the most obviously valuable items, but I just have this sad feeling that more could have been saved. Maybe I’m asking for too much – I know I have a real softspot in my heart for old buildings and their fixtures – and I suppose I should be impressed with Sound Transit for saving anything.

The Domestic Rail Industry

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Michael Dukakis (yes, he) makes the case for reviving it:

If you were in Obama’s position, how would you do that?
The first thing you do is give the automobile makers a $5 billion contract to manufacture transit equipment. This would be far more stimulative, plus you’d get something for it. And then you distribute the equipment to transit systems all over the country. Let’s see if we can’t get them to make a streetcar. I mean, if you can make a bus, why not a streetcar? There are 100 cities in this country that want to do light rail–that’s a market for you. Did I ever tell you the story about Jack Welch and me?

No, please do.
This is after the Cold War. GE was closing some plants. I said, “Instead of closing these plants, why not get into the transit business? As governor, I’m spending hundreds of millions on transit equipment and I’m not buying a stick of it in this country.” I’ll never forget it. He said, “I’m a railroad guy”–his father was a conductor on the Boston & Maine railroad–”I love trains, but we go where the money is. As long as this country is spending billions on missiles, we’ll make missiles. When–and if–they decide to spend billions on rail, we’ll start making transit again.” So here we are. We have an administration that seems to want to do it. We have a Congress that’s strongly rail supportive. I think this might well be a time to act. And I’m serious about these bus contracts* for Detroit. Why not?

I love Jack Welch’s response there. No illusions about the invisible hand of the market. GE exists to build whatever the government decides it wants.

What is the state of the domestic passenger rail industry? I know there’s United Streetcar (which basically exists to bring Skoda’s European designs in line with “Buy American” laws) and the ill-fated Colorado Railcar . GE is building some hybrid diesels for freight, but that’s about all I can think of.

Quiet Pavement

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

If you’ve been wondering about that “quiet pavement test section” on I-5 in Lynwood, wonder no more. The results are in. It’s not any quieter. Oh, and it falls apart.

52 Days

Jim Ellis and Ben Schiendelman

In 1952, a “Home Rule” King County Charter (the County Charter is the equivalent of the county constitution) was on the ballot. The King County Government was still using the original territorial charter established in 1852, and some leaders wanted a modern charter that reflected the realities of the 1950s: a large county with a mostly-urban population. The charter included a seven-member non-partisan county council and a non-partisan county executive, rather than the three county commissioners at the time. On top of the county council provisions, the idea of building a modern rapid transit system was one of the major motivations, along with a parks agency, a water treatment agency and a planning agency.

Jim Ellis (pictured) led the charter-writing effort, so it’s no surprise it included a mass transit plan. Ellis has now fought for transit in our region for more than fifty five years. More on Ellis here, here and here. I rode Link with him last year, and his vision for our region is finally becoming a reality: the 1952 Charter failed by a 2-1 margin, but since then nearly every other provision in the charter has passed. In 1958, a county wastewater treatment agency was created. In 1968, the county adopted a council and executive system, and the positions were made non-partisan last year. In 1973, Metro Transit was created to provide county buses. King County Parks were created in 1974. In 1994 Sound Transit was created to provide regional mass (and rapid) transit, and light rail opens in 52 days. If we had only listened to Ellis earlier we might be a lot better off today.

Another 52: Sound Transit is targeting 52% farebox recovery for Central Link.

News Round-Up: HSR

Tempe Light Rail Bridge
Tempe Light Rail Bridge, photo by rail life.
  • Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) is serious about competing for the $8 billion in High Speed Rail (HSR) stimulus money. The USDOT is going to complete an initial “application guidance” with instructions on how states can apply for HSR money by June 17th. There’s also a $1 billion per year HSR grant program whose application procedures were published May 18th, with WSDOT scheduled to supply an application and a final application by August 18th. Funded projects will by announced by February 17th 2010. There’s a stakeholder meeting scheduled for May 27th, where WSDOT will outline it’s plan for acquiring funding for HSR. We’ll keep you posted.
  • Pressure is mounting – this time from the Vancouver Sun – north of the border for the Canadian government to chip in border services for a second daily Amtrak Cascades run to from Seattle Vancouver BC. Previous posts on this topic here, here and here. Via the P-I.
  • NPI’s Andrew Villeneuve shares his thoughts on Link’s coming opening.
  • Here’s an easy (but expensive?) way to increase bike ridership in Seattle. H/T to Lloyd.
  • This is a great idea for a bus stop. H/T to Oran.
  • The Tempe Town Lake LRT bridge looks great during the day (see above) but even better at night.

53 days

Alaskan Way Viaduct under construction, 1952
Alaskan Way Viaduct Construction, Seattle Municipal Archives

When the 15-year light rail plan in 2008’s ST2 is finished in 2023 (fingers crossed), Sound Transit will have built 53 miles of Light Rail. We’ll have come a long way in less than 30 years.

Today Sound Transit also provides express bus service to 53 cities in the central Puget Sound, which doesn’t mean all that much, considering if you drew the lines differently the number could change dramatically. However, 53 cities does give a little bit of an idea of how hard it can be to get things down around here. Consider just how many “cities” are around here when the Governor tries to explain her veto of potential transit funding from last week.

Also, the Alaskan Way Viaduct opened in 1953. It will be torn down by probably 2016 and replaced with a cars-only tunnel under downtown.

54 days

Link Light Rail Testing Announcement, video by Oran
1996’s Sound Move passed with a 54% vote share. Sound Move was the vote that funded the “Regional Transit Agency” for the Central Puget Sound, aka Sound Transit. This year, Link Light Rail in 54 days!

The Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) was created in 1954. Since then, the PSRC has informed many regional transportation and land use decisions, including the Forward Thrust and Link. Recently the PSRC distributed local transportation stimulus funds.