Community Meetings

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Nice to see, via hugeasscity, a “virtual online meeting” being hosted by the Seattle Planning Commission.

Hugeasscity notes, correctly, that such town-hall-type meetings are (often) “boring,” and it’s nice to be able to do one in your spare time without having to traipse to the local gym or community center and sit on uncomfortable chairs for two hours.

Interestingly, this “virtual meeting” is not really a meeting at all, but rather a fairly straightforward online survey. I guess they thought they could get more attention by calling it a “virtual meeting.”

However, this does raise the question: why aren’t there more actual virtual meetings on government websites? If the planning commission wanted to actually host a community meeting (instead of a survey), they could have put the video up on their site and put up a normal blog comments section to accompany it. My guess is that that would never fly, though. Governments are deathly afraid of putting user-generated content on their site (no comments allowed on the White House blog and YouTube channel, for example).

But why not? Anyone can stand up at a government-sponsored community meeting and spew all sorts of B.S. Often those meetings are transcribed, and the comments are put up on the web. What’s the difference between that and just letting citizens comment (publicly) directly on the site? If someone’s crazy and easily dismissed, it’s obvious, just as it is in the real world.

Light Rail Noise

Some Tukwila residents are complaining about high noise levels from the elevated Light Rail tracks.  The KOMO report seems to indicate that Sound Transit is going to mitigate it with either a sound wall or by soundproofing homes.

Oran recently took some video that might be useful for people to understand the noise levels on MLK, as compared to the general din of traffic.  As someone who lives a couple of blocks away from MLK, the noise is distinctive from the traffic noise, if not noticeably louder.

Certainly the bell is the part that’s most distinctive:

Pierce Transit Service Cuts

The 212A, by raggiesoft
"The 212A", by raggiesoft

Pierce Transit’s July 12 service change (pdf) includes an overall 5% cut in service.  According to the News Tribune, that’s 33,000 service hours and about 300,000 boardings.  As one might expect, it’s due to a $10m revenue shortfall out of a $121m budget.

Apparently, the agency has decided to cut low-productivity routes, even though that cuts off some people from bus service entirely.  King County, fraught with subarea resentment, is still agonizing over that value judgment.

Pierce Transit has also worked all the cost-cutting gimmicks, like layoffs, dipped into reserves, and increased fares by a quarter.  Interestingly, their farebox recovery is only 13%, well below King County’s.

State Stimulus Spending Stiffed Transit

www.amtrakcascades.com
www.amtrakcascades.com

We’re very fortunate that Congress funneled some of the ARRA (stimulus) funds directly to the PSRC, because Olympia was (and is) a black hole for transit.

We knew that state funding of transit is well below par in Washington, but a new report from Smart Growth America about the flexible portion of each state’s transportation stimulus funding laid out just how reactionary the legislature’s position is.  No surprise here, but our state put exactly zero into public transportation,and 4% into bicycle and pedestrian projects.  As Erica C. Barnett points out, 16 states beat us in the former category and 21 in the latter.

As the Transportation Choices press release observes, the road money wasn’t even spent well: 29% went to new highway construction, rather than clearing the sizable maintenance backlog on the state’s roads.  This kind of project does little for driver safety and simply encourages sprawl, as well as being less job-intensive than regular maintenance.

City Passes 600,000

japan may 1375
Seattle at an Angle, photo by author

This is a bit wonky and not quite transit related: but here’s an update on the march toward density in our area. According to the state Office of Financial Management (via the P-I), Seattle’s population grew 1.6% from April 2008 to April 2009, reaching 602,000 people. The state overall grew 1.2% to 6,668,200 and King County grew 1.3% to 1,909,300 (1% outside of Seattle). The state’s population growth has slowed from 1.9% to 1.2%, but Seattle’s growth has grown during that period from 1.1% to 1.6%. Why has Seattle’s population grown faster than the state at large and King County? Housing growth. King County added about 10,500 housing units from 2008 to 2009, while Seattle alone added nearly 6,000. Future growth in housing stock will likely slow over the coming years due to the housing bubble bursting,  however there’s still fair amount of housing construction underway right now and the city’s growth will likely continue over the next twelve to eighteen months.

Growth management finally seems to be working: unincorporated King County only gained 2,030 people, or 0.59% from 2008 to 2009. This is offset by annexations of unincorporated areas. Still, main urban areas are accounting for much of the state’s growth. From 1999 to 2009, Seattle’s population grew 38,624 in total, a 6.9% uptick with no annexations. Bellevue grew by 10,773 people to 120,600, a 9.8% increase with 2,747 (2.7%) coming from annexations. Tacoma and Spokane have both crossed 200,000 this decade, with reaching 203,400 and 205,500, respectively.

I should caution that these are official approximations, and could end up looking very different from the official census that will be taken in 2010. The OFM creates these approximations from data such as driver’s licence filings, school enrollments and voter registrations.

Car Turns in Front of Link Train

Stopped at Othello, by Steven De Vight
"Stopped at Othello", by Steven De Vight

Shortly after 5pm today, a car traveling on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South made an illegal turn against a red light and was hit by a passing Link Light Rail train. The driver of the car sustained non-life-threatening injuries and was transported to the hospital. We’re awaiting word about the train’s condition, but hopefully any damage was minor and it’ll be out looking beautiful on July 18th in just 18 days.

The best photos are available at the Rainier Valley Post.

This incident comes one day after we reported about John Niles’ suggestion that Sound Transit be liable for all car vs. train incidents, even in cases like this when the driver made an illegal turn.

[UPDATE: John Niles, in the thread below, points out that he never uses the word “liable,” and is instead using “chargeable” as a way of saying Sound Transit could have prevented it.  There’s a strong tone implying negligence in the piece, however, so readers can be the judge. –Editor]

Despite who’s at fault, the city is looking for ways to make the area safer. Earlier today before this accident, KIRO posted a story about merchants who are opposed to the installation new barriers designed to prevent car/train collisions, claiming they would hurt business. According to the story, a few business owners are threatening to block the track on opening day in protest. Seattle Transit Blog would like to remind our readers that standing on any railway, regardless of political motivation, is a very bad idea, and that your chances of successfully stopping a 2-car train are very low.

Also tonight in the Capitol Hill neighborhood, home to many STBers, a family crossing the street was hit by a car. There aren’t a lot of details about this incident yet, but Capitol Hill Seattle reports that at least three people (two of them young children) were transported to the hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and Seattle Police arrested the driver at the scene. Hopefully everyone injured will recover quickly. To John: should these children be responsible for the driver’s legal fees? Or maybe the city for not grade separating all the crosswalks?

Sound Transit has lots of information about staying safe around Link on their website, including a guide for drivers.

Belltown Park – That Was Fast

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Belltown Park idea that was being considered last month is a go. It opens next year. Sweet.

There are some typically moronic comments in the P-I’s comments section about the park, but one of them does get at an actually useful point:

This is so stupid. Belltown already has a park. The city government and police failed to enforce the law there, so they basically hijacked the park for the exclusive use of dog owners.

So now we have to have another “park”, which the police aren’t going to be able to handle (as usual), and which polluting, oblivious dog owners are just going to use for another doggy poop and pee area.

For this new park to avoid the fate of the previous Belltown park, work will have to be done to amp up the retail and street life there:


View Larger Map

Still, I’m optimistic. Belltown is a successful example of urban density in some ways and a complete disaster in others. Hopefully this will be more of the former.

Take Sounder to the Sounders!

City of Destiny by Brian Bundridge
City of Destiny by Brian Bundridge

Great news for the upcoming Sounders FC vs Chelsea game on July 18th, on top of Link’s grand opening, Sound Transit will be running 2 Sounder trains between Seattle and Tacoma and 1 train between Seattle and Everett!

The Tacoma trains will leave at 9:30 and 9:45am and arrive in Seattle at 10:30 and 10:45 respectively. Both trains will be making all stops.

The Everett train will leave at 10:00am and arrive in Seattle at 11:00am and will be making all stops.

As always, trains will depart 30 minutes after the end of the event from King Street Station.

For more information, check out Sound Transit’s special events

Add: I want to add and stress the crossings in SODO will be VERY busy between Link, Sounder, and Amtrak trains arriving and departing. Use extra caution when crossing over the railroad tracks, especially at Royal Brougham where there is construction for a new overpass.

The Perfect Storm: 520 Tolling

SR-520 Tolling Options
SR-520 Tolling Options

On 10/10/10, WSDOT will be the first state DOT in the country to toll a existing facility that is currently untolled. A few months ago the state legislature passed ESHB 2211, authorizing the tolling of SR-520. The writing has been on the wall for a while, but still the fact that it passed is no less amazing. For comparison’s sake, not even NYC has stepped up to toll previously untolled bridges or tunnels into Manhattan. Toll on SR-520 has significant, and I believe overlooked implications for tolling in our region.

Background

WSDOT in partnership with KC Metro and PSCR won USDOT funding, and due to the Legislature’s actions will receive a $154 million dollar Urban Partnership grant. The Urban Partnership program aims to reduce congestion through the four T’s:

  • Transit ($41 million for buses and P&R expansion, $27 million or ferries)
  • Tolling ($63 million for installation and construction of tolling system)
  • Technology ($23 million for ATMS)
  • Telecommuting ($0, build off of existing TDM program)

During the 2008 legislative session, the state tasked the partner agencies to go out to the public, propose tolling options, and report back. The work, documented here, surprisingly showed that 60% of those questioned (statistically significant phone interview) support tolling SR-520 to pay for a new bridge. This support went up when respondents were told that tolls would be collected electronically and that it would reduce congestion on the bridge. A majority of users also supported tolling I-90, however I-90 users strongly disapproved. Stated differently, a majority of users support tolling existing cross-lake travel on multiple facilities to pay for a new bridge with zero new general purpose capacity. Almost feels like the outer limits right?

Implications

I can’t overstate how significant I think this will be for tolling in the central Puget Sounds. SR-520 is at the focal point of forces that until now have not come together. In my opinion this will set a precedent, serving as a perfect example of the benefits of tolls while hinting at how system wide tolling might become a reality. Continue reading “The Perfect Storm: 520 Tolling”

CETA Jumps the Shark

From the Flickr Pool
From the Flickr Pool

UPDATE: John Niles, in a later comment days later, points out that he never uses the word “liable,” and is instead using “chargeable” as a way of saying Sound Transit could have prevented it.  There’s a strong tone implying negligence in the piece, however, so readers can be the judge.

John Niles and the Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives think Sound Transit should be liable for all car vs. train collisions, regardless of whether the driver is at fault, because they didn’t grade separate the entire line.  I’ll leave it as an exercise for the reader to apply that sort of standard to any other transportation project of any kind, anywhere, and see where it gets you.

I get that Niles and CETA don’t think that light rail is worth the investment; that’s a value judgment that I don’t agree with, but whatever.  But this kind of spiteful maneuver — arguing that the buildout wasn’t expensive enough, and trying to make it even more expensive by adding liability — is utterly contrary to their entire history of complaints about the project, and makes a mockery of any claim that they’re just trying to make transit work as effectively as possible.

I look forward to Niles and CETA pushing for various local tax initiatives to make sure that all other lines in the region are grade separated, and vigorously fighting NIMBYs opposed to elevated segments in neighborhood meetings.

20 Days

Link at Night, by Steven De Vight
"Link at Night", by Steven De Vight

In 2020, Sound Transit is projected to open light rail service to Northgate, Downtown Bellevue, and Highline Community College.

The elevators in the Beacon Hill Station are supposed to take 20 seconds to travel between the platform and the surface.

Link will operate 20 hours a day every day but Sunday.

Some random flotsam from the internet:

Delaying The Transpo Bill

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

An interesting disagreement has broken out between The Obama Administration and Congress over the next transportation bill. The 5-year bill is due for reauthorization in September. Obama (and Secretary LaHood) want to extend it 18 months, presumably to take a more comprehensive look after the elections. We discussed this on my weekly podcast, for anyone who’s interested.

Congressional Leaders on the transpo committee — Democrat Jim Oberstar and Republican John Mica (a rare pro-rail Republican) — don’t want to wait.

We don’t know exactly why the administration is keen to wait. All they’ve said is that they want to take a more comprehensive look at the bill in 18 months time.

18 months, of course, takes us to December 2010, which is conveniently right after the 2010 midterm elections, which might make it politically easier to raise the gas tax. Theoretically, the economy should have picked up some steam by then, so the idea of raising taxes could be more palatable.

Paradoxically, though, if the economy picks up, the price of gas will pick up with it. It’s already back to $2.65/gal nationwide, and over $3/gal here on the West Coast. By 2010, we could be back to $4 territory, as increasing demand pushes up against supply. I’m skeptical that Congress will be able to find that exact sweet spot, when the economy has improved enough to make raising taxes possible, but hasn’t improved so much that the price of gas makes raising the gas tax in particular politically feasible.

One final point on this: the U.S. government is now the majority shareholder of General Motors. GM is pinning its comeback on the electric Chevy Volt. The easiest and most effective way to sell the Volt is through high gas prices. If you’re Obama, and you want to sell thousands of Volts, there’s really only one way to make that happen: higher gas prices.

Update:The Transport Politic notes that, according to Sen. Boxer, the new bill is probably DOA in the Senate anyway.

What It’s Come To

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I understand that it’s really hard to rent apartments or sell condos in this market, but has it really come to this?

IMG_0289.jpg

This is the ad for the Chloe Apartments at 14th & Union. Chloe is a dog. QED, you should rent this apartment. Or something.

Actually, I think it’s more like, “rent this apartment or the puppy gets it.”

Could AIG Have Impacted DC Metro Maintenance?

Site of the accident
Site of the accident

Last October, we discussed the fact that AIG’s failure cost some transit systems huge amounts of money. In agreements between transit agencies and banks, the banks would purchase transit vehicles, and the agencies would pay regularly in lease agreements. AIG insured the transit agencies’ payments – so when they failed, some of these banks used a clause in their contract to ask for immediate payment of the full vehicle costs.

In March, PBS quoted Carol Kissal of the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority on the potential of these payments: “So this would mean, you know, no maintenance on track, delay, cuts in service. Repairs would go to the wayside.” It’s unclear if any payments to banks have been made as a result of AIG’s insolvency, but there is a question here – could last week’s accident be an indirect effect of our financial system’s mess?

The NTSB has said a test train at the location of the stopped train last week wasn’t detected by the automatic train control system. It’s not clear yet that maintenance money was an issue here, but it’s clear WMATA doesn’t have the money they need to keep running at their current capacity – they say they need $12 billion over the next ten years for maintenance, and they have nowhere near that available.

In good news for us, Sound Transit plans for operations and maintenance somewhat indefinitely. Part of the funding for Sound Transit 2 is operations and maintenance money, and even if we didn’t expand our system again in several decades, when the Sound Transit 2 taxes were rolled back, the Sound Move portion would continue to fund maintenance for Link.

22 Days

Municipal Street Railway Opening, Ballard Bridge, 1918, c/o Seattle Municipal Archives
Municipal Street Railway Opening, Ballard Bridge, 1918, c/o Seattle Municipal Archives

In 1922, GM President Alfred P. Sloan established a unit to investigate replacing streetcars nationwide with GM-manufactured buses, cars and trucks – GM was losing tens of millions at the time and felt this was the only way to expand their market. The same year, Electro-Motive Engineering Company was founded, which later became GM’s division for the manufacture of locomotives – including those used on Sounder today.

Some news items from the last few days:

  • Construction on Second Ave. in Downtown Seattle is rearranging many bus stops there.
  • There’s a serious effort to turn all but one lane of Bell St. into a linear park.
  • LA broke ground on their BRT Orange Line extension.
  • There’s a meeting in Tacoma tonight about extending Sounder to Lakewood, specifically on some crossings in the Dome district.  Opponents demand a more expensive bridge option that  preserves parking.  (H/T: Douglas)
  • Photographer Joseph Songco, who is chronicling the “path of destruction” of light rail construction, is part of the free Artopia exhibition, Saturday, in Georgetown.  Via Damon Agnos at Seattle Weekly.   Preview Songco’s work here.
  • Mayor Nickels has proposed that, effective January 1st, the $25-per-employee head tax be repealed.  It generates about $4.7m per year for roads and sidewalks, including transit-friendly road improvements, although it had not been allocated to any particular project.

Although driving jobs out of Seattle to less transit-friendly places is always a problem, there are two things to really like about this tax.  First, it is waived for any employee that doesn’t drive alone to work, discouraging the commute mode that generates the most external costs.  Secondly,while it may be true that higher-than-expected parking tax revenues offset the revenue loss, there’s a huge sidewalk backlog in North Seattle that could use that money.  Seattle is the level of government where generic transportation funds are most likely to be spent progressively, and it’s a shame to take money out of this fund.

Editorial: Why Not Electric Cars?

tesla_small
Fancy, But Unaffordable

I hear a lot about electric cars. There’s the Tesla Roadster already, little “neighborhood electric vehicles,” and a lot of “soons,” like Aptera. With those in mind, why even write a transit blog? What’s the point, technology is advancing so fast, we’re all going to have cheap electric sports cars as they’re mass produced, right?

Simply put: I doubt it.

I’m not going to get into the urban planning issues here, and I’ll just point out quickly that we aren’t presented with anything like the full costs of cars today: in everything from the real estate costs of the land reserved for parking, to the funding of our highways (and most of it wasn’t gas taxes, something we’ll write more about later), to the innumerable environmental and health costs.

What I’m interested in is helping dispel the idea that affordable electric cars are around the corner. I’ll keep it short. Continue reading “Editorial: Why Not Electric Cars?”

Route 7 Stop Consolidation

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

Metro is gathering comments on the Route 7 stop consolidation. To accelerate the crawl that is Route 7, at all times of day, Metro wants to cut from 107 stops to 76.  Route 7 will otherwise be untouched by the sweeping Southeast Seattle service change.

They’re collecting comments through the end of July and seem to be targeting the September service change.  It’s a change long overdue.

What other routes could use a stop diet?

Life and Death on 23rd Ave

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’ve recently moved back to the CD after a few years away, and I’m riding on 23rd Avenue more, both in my car and on the bus. 23rd has been beaten up pretty badly by the buses over the years (buses distribute all their weight to a few points of contact with the road, and thus tend to beat up the street worse than cars). As you can see, the city recently made the outer lanes concrete instead of asphalt to help ameliorate this:


View Larger Map

(Incidentally, this is a nice example of why we need to look at transportation holistically — the buses are running on SDOT’s right-of-way, but SDOT needs to spend extra to maintain the road so buses can use it. We’re all in this together, in other words.)

Still, 23rd is kind of a mess. As hugeasscity recently pointed out, the right-of-way is way too narrow for a 4-lane street. It should be like MLK Way, with one lane in each direction and a center turn lane. the nice thing about Central Seattle is that, Rainier aside, it’s actually a very nice grid layout, meaning that traffic can very efficiently re-flow to other N-S arterials: 12th, 14th, MLK, 31st, etc.

[Yes, it would be slower on 23rd, but that’s not a bad thing. I have to sheepishly admit that I often drive a few MPH over the speed limit on 23rd, and judging by the speed indicator signs set up there, I’m not the only one.]

A narrower 23rd with wider sidewalks would be a huge boon to the pedestrian life in the are (as hugeasscity notes). It would probably make it more attractive for someone to buy the old Philly’s Steak building , or for someone to open up a corner grocer at 23rd and Cherry, either of which would be great for street life.

Art Brut Loves Public Transportation

European indie rockers Art Brut don’t live in the fast lane, because they take the train. Check out this fun song sent in by reader Josh Mahar. We need more indie rockers singing about transit!

Some fun riffs on how transit is often slower than driving. But hey, I like browsing the Internet with my phone while busing to work. What do you do when you’re riding?

Good and Bad: Point Defiance Bypass Gets $6 Million, but FlexPerks Amtrak Discount Cancelled

Transportation Choices Coalition’s blog has noticed a motion (PDF) for the next Sound Transit board meeting about Point Defiance Bypass. Apparently, WSDOT and Sound Transit jointly applied for a $6 million federal grant to help fund work to extend Sounder to Lakewood. The project is still short quite a bit, but this gets them closer.

Update: I wonder if we’ve written about this before. I don’t see anything about it, but it looks like this has been expected for a while.

In less pleasant news, we’ve learned that the FlexPerks program no longer offers a 15% discount on Amtrak Cascades travel for U-Pass and FlexPass holders. The program offically ended at the end of the year, but the coupon code continued working through the end of March. According to Metro, their reduced staffing no longer allows them to administer the program, and they let it quietly die.