Link Light-Rail Testing Update

62 days left until you can get to South 154th
62 days left until you can get to South 154th

As some of you are well aware of, starting today, Sound Transit will be ramping up to mock scheduled runs. This is the some of the most important testing for Sound Transit as they confirm what they can and can not run in terms of frequency.

What to expect today:

Trains will be testing from Stadium (Royal Brougham) to South 154th Station between 6am and 6pm. Trains will vary from single car trains to the full 4 car long trains. Trains will be running in the Beacon Hill Tunnel as well! After rush hour, testing will be expanded within the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel (DSTT) between 9am and 3pm. This will be ramped up in late June.

Seattle DOT will also be along the MLK segment to examine the timing between the trains and lights due to frequent complaints. I can attest that some signals definitely needs to be tweaked, which is what this testing is all about.

Several of us STB’ers will also be at International District Station to get the first train going into the tunnel around 8:45am. We will get on the next bus following the train to Westlake Station. We will have a review of how the trains and buses interact with each other.

What to do:

BE SAFE! Stop, Look, and LISTEN. Light Rail vehicles are extremely quiet. When trains are coming into each station, they will sound their bell to alert pedestrians and will also sound the bell to alert when they are departing.

Take pictures and send it over to us!

There is only 62 days remaining until opening day! Let’s make sure that we get the word out for people to be safe.

Amtrak Customs Hold-up Temporarily Disappearing

Amtrak 90253 Pacific Central Vancouver BC 2005_0112
An Amtrak Cascades train in customs quarantine at Pacific Central Station in Vancouver, photo by Stephen Rees

Amtrak Cascades has wanted to run another daily train from Seattle to Vancouver, but Canada’s customs agency has been asking Amtrak Cascades to cover the costs of Canadian customs service on the new run – around $1,500 a day – and Cascades doesn’t have the money. Because that money isn’t budgeted, the new service has been delayed. Thankfully, the Canadian Government’s hold-up has continued to get press from our northern neighbours (that’s the way they spell it, anyway), and the hold-up is going to go away, though only briefly ” before, during and for a short time after” Vancouver’s 2010  Olympic games. Here’s Jon Ferry in the Province (H/T to Lloyd):

Responding to increasing pressure, however, federal Public Safety Minister Peter Van Loan has finally agreed to waive the customs cash grab “immediately before, during and for a short time after the 2010 Winter Games.” The only problem is the extra trains are needed right now for what will undoubtedly be a critical summer tourist season.

[Discovery Institute’s Cascadia Center Director Bruce] Agnew points to a Washington state Department of Transportation study showing that Amtrak passengers currently spend nearly $16 million Cdn a year in the Vancouver area. With a second train on the Vancouver-Seattle run, that could soar to as much as $49 million.

Saying they plan to temporarily waive the border fee may be a way for the Canadian Federal Government to save face and pray for a successful Olympic Games despite the worst economy in generations, but I’d take the Canadian Government’s position at face value. Anyone who dreams about Vancouver-Seattle-Portland high speed rail needs to pay attention to this topic: the US Federal Government is going to take a look at this customs issue before to making any long-term investments in high speed rail on Amtrak Cascades. If the Canadian government isn’t willing to chip in $1,500 a day – at most $547,500 a year – to make a second daily run possible, what hope is there of several daily runs, or anywhere near enough runs to make an investment by the federal government on this side of the border worthwhile?

This hard-line stance may have earned political points in Canada during the Bush administration, but I can’t imagine this is popular today. I’d hate it if Ottawa’s stinginess over just the customs fees on a second run jeopardized our chance of regional high speed rail. Come on, Ottawa, the train is going to get you guys millions in tourist dollars and you only have to pay the customs fees. Get on the ball.

The Northwest’s First Cycletrack

Two weeks ago, while in Vancouver BC for a Institute of Transportation Engineers conference, I was lucky enough to go on a technical tour of the Carrall Street Greenway. Carrall Street is located in East Downtown (which is the only land connection between Downtown and the rest of Vancouver) and has the Northwest’s first cycletrack. The project’s main goal is to complete downtown Vancouver’s seawall loop path, which is a shared use path that rings downtown. Another goal is economic development. East Downtown is Vancouver’s (and BC’s?) poorest district and has significant drug problems (while on the tour, I saw people on the street shooting up; no joke).  Needless to say, the city is hoping that by developing this path, thousands of cyclists will pass through the neighborhood, improving conditions. Go here for detailed drawings and plans.



Continue reading “The Northwest’s First Cycletrack”

Final Decision on SE Seattle Nears

I don’t have a lot of time to expound on this right now, but the King County Council is set, on Monday, to approve a set of bus route adjustments in Southeast Seattle and Southwest King County.

The full text of the changes is here.  The key change from the Metro staff recommendation seems to be a partial restoration of Route 42.  It will run from Pioneer Square to Columbia City via MLK, instead of from Belltown to Rainier View; will run only 8am to 6pm; and will be at one-hour frequency.  This service is apparently paid for by ditching the idea of improving peak-hour service on Route 9.

This alteration will provide the direct connection from Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) to downtown that they so loudly clamored to maintain, while minimizing the additional costs to Metro.  Furthermore, it provides a little more East-West connectivity to Columbia City station, something that suffers a bit from planned cutbacks on the 39.

It also looks like the RapidRide A Line is slipping to June 2010, and the Southern half of the 174 will survive until then.

I’m on vacation with very short-lived internet access, and have probably missed some important things.  Feel free to peruse the report yourself and point out other changes from the staff recommendation in the comments.

UPDATE: The plan described above was passed on May 18 with a 9-0 vote.

News Round-Up: 63 days

Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, Courtesy Sound Transit
Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station, Courtesy Sound Transit

In 1963, Seattle Transit received an order of 100 buses, and was finally able to provide bus service to the parts of the city north of 85th st. Dozens of what are now Metro routes serving the north end were born that year. Since these were diesel coaches and not the electric trolley coaches of the older routes, they cost much more to operate and 1963 was the last year that Seattle Transit made a profit.

1963 is also the year the Evergreen Point floating bridge opened.

  • Sound Transit broke ground on a new “freeway station” in I-5 in Mountlake Terrace. Buses couldn’t really serve Mountlake Terrace Park-and-Ride because they would need to merge across several lanes of traffic, and the freeway stop lets buses pick up riders without ever merging a single lane. Cool stuff. Both Community Transit buses and Sound Transit buses will sue use the station.
  • The PSRC wants public input on the list of “contingency” transportation projects (pdf link). Funding for these projects would become available if other Puget Sound area projects don’t start within the necessary time frame, come in under budget, or if money from other regions wind’s up in our area because those regions don’t have enough “shovel ready” projects. You can comment by emailing
  • Cascade Bicycle club has released its bicycle report card for Seattle since May is Bike to Work Month. The grades are better than I would have thought: it’s a lot of B’s and C’s.
  • To those disappointed by the amount of transit-oriented-development in the Rainier Valley (I think there’s actually been a fair amount, but it’s all been public-private partnerships), remember that Brooklyn and the Bronx got all that dense development after the subway opened, not in anticipation of its opening. The line doesn’t open for another 63 days. I do agree with Dan Bertolet’s description of what’s needed to make TOD happen. I think it’s ultimately going to matter whether the city puts in place the zoning that makes responsible TOD possible – four stories isn’t enough potential to make good projects pencil out. And an up-zone is needed not just in the immediate station area, but in an walkable circle around the stations.
  • William Hudnut of the Urban Land Institute says the US needs a “Marshall Plan” for infrastucture. I 100% agree.

Bicycle Culture

Copenhagen – City of Cyclists from Colville Andersen on Vimeo.

Bicycle culture and the bicycle are two sides of the same coin. During my travels, I have come to realize that one of the best indications of how a culture views bicycling is through bicycles themselves. In places with a strong bicycle culture, the bicycle becomes ubiquitous, cheap and utilitarian. Bicycles in these cultures can be characterized as single, three or eight speed bicycles, with baskets, heavy duty rear racks (think bikepooling), child seats, fenders, front and back lights (sans battery), large profile tires, an upright riding posture, etc. All these things are a physical manifestation of how people view and use bicycles. Fewer gears show they ride slower and shorter distances. Baskets and racks show they carry everyday things. Mud flaps show they ride in the rain or snow. Front and back lights, well duh. Same goes for child seats. Bicycles are as much a part of their daily life as cars are here, and are designed accordingly.

Continue reading “Bicycle Culture”

How Many Days? 64!

Portland’s MAX happens to have 64 stations, according to several disreputable online sources. I’m dragging a group of people down there this weekend, partly to show off Amtrak Cascades and partly because I’ve got withdrawal symptoms from not enough Powell’s. I’ve got some idea of what we’re going to do, but do you have any suggestions?

During my daily numerological battle to find something appropriate, I ran across the 1999 plan for light rail from then-mayor Paul Schell and Ron Sims. Are they really responsible for adding 12 grade crossings in the Rainier Valley? It looks like a lot of this wasn’t implemented, like a ‘shell’ station at Broadway and Roy, or a station at Graham. It sure does look like MLK is now supposed to be a “Great Boulevard”, though. Check it out, it’s short, with bullet points.

The East Link Preferred Alignment, Live And In Color

East Link Preferred Alignment (click for full size)

Here you have it, folks. With the small changes noted, this is what East Link will look like. Click for the big version.

Please Note: There is no money for section E. Money Bellevue might find for section C will not make section E affordable – that’s the city’s choice to fund their own tunnel, and has no bearing on Sound Transit’s budget. Also note that section D ends smack in the middle of Microsoft campus, at Overlake Transit Center.

Now we await the state’s dangerous game on I-90.

Update: Andrew Austin liveblogged the ST board meeting on the TCC blog. The state seems pretty obsessed with protecting the direct access from I-90 HOV to Bellevue Way. You’ve gotta love those “House Transportation Chair’s District” priorities.

Tune in to the Board Meeting at 1:30!

Today’s Sound Transit board meeting should prove to be reasonably exciting. They’ll be addressing the motion to move forward with East Link alternatives, and I expect there will be amendments. I may not be able to watch most of it, so I’m relying on you to tell me if anybody throws punches. Maybe there will be yelling!

Is anyone going to watch? It’ll be the same as usual:

65 Days

The Kinkisharyo light rail vehicles we’ve purchased for Link have a top speed of 65mph. Now, they won’t run over 55mph in actual service, but I bet some operators will edge 60 on the way down the hill from Tukwila…

Proposition 1 should also increase transit use in the region by 65%. I think that’s by 2030. We should build more than that.

BRT in Curitiba

From Streetfilms come another example of a working BRT implementation, this time from Curitiba in southern Brazil.

Other than the clearly indicated tube stations, the thing that struck me the most in this video is how little congestion there seems to be on the roads the buses drive down. We’ll find out here how well BRT works on super-congested roadways very soon when Community Transit’s Swift opens this year and Metro’s Rapid Ride opens next year.

Infrastructure and Stimulus

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Eric at The Prosperity Blog talks stimulus:

The greatest part about the New Deal is the incredible infrastructure that it built which, for better and for worse, we still rely on today. Think about it. The roads and bridges and dams and park trails that you’re using were crafted by a bunch of people almost 80 years ago. In some ways, hallelujah for the Great Recession, because how else were we going to get money to rebuild all of this crumbling infrastructure, much less build the new infrastructure of the 21st century, like broadband, smart grid and energy efficient offices and homes.

I think that’s basically right, although I’m adopting a wait-and-see approach to the rural broadband and smart grid initiatives. But the larger point is that infrastructure investments not only pay dividends for generations, they create new economic possibilities by reducing the distance between people. For thousands of years, cities and settlements clustered near rivers, then, more recently, railroads and highways. Infrastructure facilitates trade, commerce, culture… and community.

Let’s Do This Right

Tomorrow, the Sound Transit board will make their determination of which East Link alignment options to move forward for further study.

But before we discuss that, I have a little “Overheard in Seattle” moment to share, and a response. At the Bellevue and Olive 545 stop one morning, a discussion was overheard about how this blog is too Eastside-oriented. I can see where this criticism comes from, but I think it’s misguided.

Transit in Seattle is solid. We have the political will to build more, and there’s a lot of room to grow around future stations. Link is already on its way from city limit to city limit. We have a streetcar plan. Ballard and West Seattle mass transit is just a matter of time.

The suburbs are where the problems are. Most of the region’s residents live outside the city, but a lot of our jobs are inside it. Commuting isn’t something that we can just change – you can’t just bulldoze everything low density, all you can do is stop building farther out and start filling in the gaps. Those commute trips are the ones that have no options, that we need to make reliable. As a result, that’s where a lot of the news is.

So today, some thoughts on Bellevue.

Continue reading “Let’s Do This Right”

Nate Silver: The End of Car Culture

Seattle Freeway Park Inside Fountain Crashing Sounds
Freeway Park, photo by Ken McCown

Nate Silver, who John previously mentioned here, has a wonderful article in Esquire about the decline in driving across America. A brief excerpt:

In January, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration, Americans drove a collective 222 billion miles. That’s a lot of time spent behind the wheel — enough to make roughly eight hundred round-trips to Mars. It translates to about 727 miles traveled for every man, woman, and child in the country. But that figure was down about 4 percent from January 2008, when Americans averaged 757 miles of car travel per person. And this was no aberration: January 2009 was the fifteenth consecutive month in which the average American drove less than he had a year earlier.

It’s a good piece and there’s a good discussion at Nate Silver’s website Five Thirty Eight. This decline is caused in part by the rise of the cost of driving (and falling real incomes), and in part by increased urbanization and better access to transit. It’s a bit depressing to think that transit agencies could cut service just when America’s car and oil dependencies are starting to ebb.

I think it’s worth considering the 28% percent fewer (according to WSDOT) car trips that would be taken with a surface option to replace to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Would those vehicle miles traveled just disappear anyway? Looks like it, probably don’t need the highway then.

Carless Suburbs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Everyone’s talking about this NYT piece on the almost-carfree German suburb of Vauban. It’s a great article, and worth reading. I want to specifically call out this section:

Vauban, the site of a former Nazi army base, was occupied by the French Army from the end of World War II until the reunification of Germany two decades ago. Because it was planned as a base, the grid was never meant to accommodate private car use: the “roads” were narrow passageways between barracks.

The original buildings have long since been torn down. The stylish row houses that replaced them are buildings of four or five stories, designed to reduce heat loss and maximize energy efficiency, and trimmed with exotic woods and elaborate balconies; free-standing homes are forbidden.

This give me two thoughts. First, the built environment really does stay with us for a long time. It’s much easier to reorient existing street grids to carless living — even if they’re from abandoned army bases — than to adapt new ones.

Second thought: is this a possible future for Sand Point?

News Round-Up: 66 days

Tacoma Link
Tacoma Link, photo by Oran

Tacoma Link and SLU cars are 66 feet long (Link LRT cars will be 90 feet). 1966 was also the year of an infamous New York City Transit strike.

  • Bellevue’s Mayor, Grant Degginger, really wants a tunnel. Everyone but Microsoft seems to agree, but there’s not enough money, the cheapest tunnel is about $500 million more than the available funding. If Bellevue plans on relying entirely on federal funding and value engineering the rest of the line, they are probably going to wind up short. It’s going to need some local funding in Bellevue.
  • West Coast High Speed Rail? Maybe, but at 1,500 miles and $45 million a mile, it’s little more than a pipe dream.
  • Variable speed limits are coming to I-5 in South Seattle, as they are on I-90.
  • The federal transportation bill might be pushed back to 2010, rather than come in this year. If it includes more transit or better smart-road funding, I’d happily wait.

Car Free Suburb

Freiburg-im-Brisgau  - Quartier Vauban : commerces et immeuble
Vauban, Germany: but where are the cars? photo by adeupa de Brest

This New York Times article describes a place that I had thought only existed in wild fantasies: a modern suburb with few cars.

Vaubhan, Germany – Residents of this upscale community are suburban pioneers, going where few soccer moms or commuting executives have ever gone before: they have given up their cars.

Street parking, driveways and home garages are generally forbidden in this experimental new district on the outskirts of Freiburg, near the French and Swiss borders. Vauban’s streets are completely “car-free” — except the main thoroughfare, where the tram to downtown Freiburg runs, and a few streets on one edge of the community. Car ownership is allowed, but there are only two places to park — large garages at the edge of the development, where a car-owner buys a space, for $40,000, along with a home.

As a result, 70 percent of Vauban’s families do not own cars, and 57 percent sold a car to move here. “When I had a car I was always tense. I’m much happier this way,” said Heidrun Walter, a media trainer and mother of two, as she walked verdant streets where the swish of bicycles and the chatter of wandering children drown out the occasional distant motor.

Amazing, I highly recommend you read the whole thing. From the look of this photo spread by Adeupa de Brest, it does seem like Vauban is much more dense than most American cities, but from a bit high up, it seems a plenty verdant and suburban.