Hutchison on Transportation

Susan Hutchison (Wikimedia Commons)
Susan Hutchison (Wikimedia Commons)

Andrew Villenueve, over at the Northwest Progressive Institute Blog, did us all the public service of transcribing King County Executive Candidate Susan Hutchinson’s remarks at a candidate forum in North Bend last month.  Money quote:

The Regional Transportation Commission that was set up by the governor with a bipartisan leadership – Norm Rice and John Stanton – presented a two… uh, a… a study… and, I’ve read it, it’s about a half an inch thick. And in it, after they conducted their study, they made this recommendation, that all of our transportation agencies needed to fall under one authority.

That information then went back to Olympia… and no one did a thing. Nothing has changed.

The 120-page 2006 PSRTC report is not the arch-conservative document it’s often made out to be, as it comes out pretty strongly in favor of congestion pricing and higher taxes.  However, Hutchison is referring to its prescription to form a 15-person permanent commission, 60% elected, that would control all road and transit revenue and expenditure, as well as land-use decisions, in a four-county area.  The 6 appointees would be appointed by the governor, and could not be a serving elected official.  This report, obviously, was one inspiration for the infamous 2007 roads-and-transit ballot measure that failed, largely due to that very linkage.  At any rate, this kind of reorganization is well beyond the powers of the King County Executive.

We’ve said bad things about governance reform in the past, and will do so again in the near future.

On another note, Hutchison’s website contains this under the subject of “Transportation”.

Traffic congestion robs King County residents of valuable time with their families every day. Susan will quickly implement simple changes to encourage transit ridership, such as expanded GPS-based bus tracking and a color-route system so public transportation is more accessible and user-friendly for visitors, commuters, and every day travel.

Metro, as many of you know, is already planning to institute full scale GPS tracking in 2010.  The Hutchinson campaign did not reply to an email asking for details on these two items, as well as for confirmation of the quote above.

Full text of the question and response after the jump.  And please, let’s keep the comments oriented towards transportation and land use. Continue reading “Hutchison on Transportation”

2 Days

Sound Transit 2 will extend light rail to Lynnwood, Redmond, and Federal Way, making Link a 2-county system.  The first attempt at an extension failed 2 years ago.

U-Link will add 2 stops.

There will be 2 days of free rides before revenue service on Monday.

This is an open thread.

Train Schedules for your phone!

Sounder at King Street Station by Brian Bundridge
Sounder at King Street Station by Brian Bundridge

Are you a busy person and on the run, trying to get to the train station before that last one leaves? Never miss a train again with TrainLogic! TrainLogic has a mobile application for Blackberry or any java enabled phone for cheap! The application is subscription based at $7.50 for six months. During the six months, application updates and any schedule changes and modifications are included in the cost. I requested the Amtrak Cascades to be added to their schedules and they did it in just a few days! Excellent and friendly customer service.

The schedules available for our region;

Sound Transit Sounder Commuter Rail and Tacoma Link
Amtrak Cascades
Portland MAX (All Lines), Streetcar, and WES

I have been using the app on my Blackberry 8330 and will be testing it on the Blackberry Tour (Verizon Wireless) when I receive the device. The application itself has been great and uses very little memory. If you are on the run and need to know when that next train is, this app is definitely the one for you! If you need a schedule added for your region, simply e-mail them and they’ll gladly add it to their list.

Continue reading “Train Schedules for your phone!”

Metro Receives Stimulus Funds for New Buses

Orion VII bus from Daimler Buses (manufacturer photo)
Orion VII bus from Daimler Buses (manufacturer photo)

King County Metro Transit announced today that it will be purchasing 93 new buses from Daimler Buses through a $46 million grant awarded under the American Recovery & Reinvestment Act. King County Metro originally requested funds for 60 new buses but lower costs than expected allowed them to get 33 more. The agreement includes options to purchase 400 more buses in addition to the initial 93 buses over 5 years. Metro said they expect to see the first prototype delivered in about a year and the rest of the ordered buses delivered in early 2011.

The Orion VII buses will feature a modern look, low floors, air conditioning, and hybrid-electric technology which reduces fuel consumption, noise and emissions. They will replace Metro’s aging fleet of 40-foot Gilligs, which will be 14 years old when the new buses arrive. That’s two years longer than the expected life span of a transit bus. The Gilligs that Metro currently has are high floor and don’t have air conditioning. Over 700 hybrid-electric Orion VIIs are currently in service in New York City, Toronto, and San Francisco.

Via Capitol Hill Seattle blog, NWCN

Transportation 2040: Be Bold

Transportation 2040 Alternative Costs
Transportation 2040 Alternative Costs

Transportation 2040, the update to Destination 2030, is a major decision point for the region. We have a choice to boldly move forward to reduce congestion, better fund transportation, and reduce CO2 or we can shy away from controversy and choose a business as usual alternative that hardly fixes these issues.

PSRC has been working for over two years on this update and it is currently soliciting public feedback on five different proposal alternatives. PSRC uses a scenario based planning process that emphasizes how a particular policy objective or decision will affect the region. These alternatives often fill out the full array of possible policy directions and are compared to a single “baseline” which includes current conditions plus funded projects (Nickel, TPA, ST2, RapidRide, Swift). I began to outline the alternatives myself, but I think these slides from a PRSC presentation to the Quality Growth Alliance will give you a better overview. I have included key slides but it is probably best if you download the presentation here. If you would like to learn more about the alternatives read the 42 page Plan Alternative Chapter (5.9 MBs) or the 38 page Executive Summary (16 MBs).

PSRC titles the alternatives one through five as follows.

  • Alternative 1: Emphasize the Efficiency of the Existing System: This assumes limited new transportation funding. It emphasizes system and demand management through great ITS and HOT lane tolling. ($165 Billion)
  • Alternative 2: Emphasize Roadway and Transit Capacity Expansion: This is the business as usual alternative (i.e. Destination 2030) and essentially is a capacity improvement alternative. ($201 Billion)
  • Alternative 3: Toll Revenues Expand Capacity and Improve Efficiency: This alternative is where we are currently. All major freeway improvements will be tolled for management and funding purposes. ($188 Billion)
  • Alternative 4: Combine Traditional Revenues and Tolls to Maximize Efficiency: This alternative explores the use of freeway wide tolling, traditional revenue sources, and strategic capacity expansions. It includes high bus service increases and ST3 level rail investments. ($192 Billion)
  • Alternative 5: Reduce Emissions with Limited Highway Investments and Regional Tolling: This alternative uses system wide tolling to manage demand and invests extensively in transit and non-motorized transportation. It is the only alternative that attempts to reduce CO2 emissions. ($196 Billion)

Continue reading “Transportation 2040: Be Bold”

3 Days

Inaugural Ride Ticket, by Atomic Taco
Inaugural Ride Ticket, by Atomic Taco

Once the Seatac station opens, there will be 3 elevated stations in the system.

The mean time between adjacent stations is about 3 minutes.

$2.50 is the maximum fare on Link (rounded to $3).

Sound Transit is a 3-county agency.

The Seattle City Council wants to open the First Hill Streetcar in 3 years – by 2012.

This is an open thread.

Aubrey Cohen FTW

Aubrey Cohen (Facebook)
Aubrey Cohen (Facebook)

Go and read Aubrey Cohen’s piece in the P-I on density and NIMBYs in Seattle, itself a response to this East Bay Express column that’s been been circulating around in the internet recently.  Cohen:

My response was that most area residents already had internalized the lesson the event seemed intended to impart: that growing up makes more sense than growing out. The problem was that there was always a reason why their neighborhood wasn’t the appropriate place for more development.

That’s what makes examining local races so difficult.  Everyone is for density and opposed to sprawl, but what varies (and what really matters) is how much they prioritize density over all the other interests.

At one extreme, you can put essentially no restriction on densification and get a lot of it, but then you have little affordable housing (in the short term), overburdened infrastructure, and fewer amenities like parks and parking.  On the other hand, load the responsibility for that on developers and you get less development, and shift those infrastructure costs out to the periphery.

The whole subject of purity tests for “true” environmentalists is of limited use and should be ridiculed in its own post, but suffice it to say that someone who isn’t willing to sacrifice some of their other interests for environmental reasons isn’t communicating very much with the “environmentalist” tag.  For instance, I’d be inclined to live in a dense, transit-oriented neighborhood even if it were environmentally neutral, so doing so doesn’t, in itself, make me much of an environmentalist.  Similarly, supporting environmental measures as long as they only impact “greedy corporations,” or some other neighborhood, or don’t alter the affordable housing stock at all, is the cheapest form of advocacy.

Seriously, go and read Cohen’s whole piece.

Cottage Amnesty

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I know of at least one “garage” that was built really as a residence with an obligatory garage door to satisfy the code officials that it wasn’t a backyard cottage. I’m sure there are many more in this city of high land prices and single family houses. I’d love to see the owner be able to remove the garage door and build a wall (losing much less heat), add a number and a mailbox, and stop hiding his backyard residents. Now that backyard cottages are being considered, maybe the city could allow these cottages to be brought under the new code. If nothing else, it would give us an idea of how many of these things really exist in our city.

News Roundup: 4 Days

BeaconHillsation!, by litlnemo
"BeaconHillsation!", by litlnemo

Once U-Link construction gets a little further along, Link will accommodate 4-car trains, carrying up to 800 people each.

The are four stations in the Downtown Seattle tunnel.

The local media is in overdrive:

  • KING 5 news reports Sound Transit is scrambling to finish testing and get the elevators and escalators certified by the State.  On three separate occasions in the report, Mt. Baker Station is inexplicably identified as “Rainier Station.”  ST is confident they’ll finish on time.
  • The Sunday Seattle Times had a fantastic introductory graphic.  Use it to explain Link to your grandparents.
  • Mayor Nickels takes ownership of the Link project, for better or worse.
  • Lindblom has a nice capsule history of rail in Seattle.
  • The Times also looks at some public art at the stations.
  • It turns out that elevated section in Tukwila is too loud.  Sound Transit’s going to fix it.
  • The cities of Tukwila and Seatac start to realize they have a big asset there.  Better late than never, Tukwila.
  • The US High Speed Rail Association launches a website.
  • The Tahoe Regional Transit Agency asks STB readers to provide feedback on their new website.  Please send comments and suggestions to

Environmentalism and NIMBY-ism

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Aubrey Cohen at the Seattle P-I lets loose on urban NIMBYs. It’s a good piece, and while I have no doubt that the NIMBYs will come out and vilify him, they should re-read the piece first. It’s actually quite moderate and constructive. As I wrote recently, many folks that you’d normally consider left-center liberals (and who would certainly think of themselves as environmentalists) are passionate defenders of suburban, car-centric lifestyles.

The challenge is that re-shaping the built environment is exceedingly difficult. Much more difficult than starting from scratch. The much-loved car-free city of Vauban is car-free largely because it was built that way 60 years ago. Which is why Cohen writes:

It’s a lot less trouble to allow different types of development where there aren’t already neighbors, which is why it’s easier to build small-lot cottages in Issaquah than in Seattle.

Without condemning entire city blocks, it’s hard to reshape the landscape. And when large lots do become available (Northgate, Dearborn), they tend to be developed by a single developer, which often leads to a certain monotony. I don’t know how you untie this knot. Backyard cottages, which Cohen mentions, are a pretty neat trick, but probably not sufficient on their own.

Finally, I’ll also note that I enjoyed the tone of the article, which was a pseudo op-ed, presumably a new degree of stylistic latitude afforded by being a web-only paper. If the paper is still going to have straight news, though, it might be worth clearly labeling separately from “opinion.” If they want to mesh them, that’s totally fine (and very bloggy of them), but they need to be consistent about it.

Want to Ride Link First?

Sound Transit has posted work on the light rail launch Twitter feed that it’ll be giving away 100 tickets to the inaugural ride of Link light rail Saturday morning:

Get a Link Inaugural Ride Ticket! Be @ Union Station (401 S Jackson St) Tomorrow 10am–1pm. 1st 100 people there will get tickets. #lightrail

If you can manage to be one of the first 100 people to claim a ticket, you’ll be able to beat the large crowds and get a guaranteed spot on the very first Link light rail service hour.

Twitter fans should follow us at @seatransitblog.

Link TV Spot

Here’s the new ad Sound Transit is running on TV this week for the opening of Link.

I think it’s awesome, though it could have been more effective to show link zipping by stuck traffic on I-5 or something similar. What do you think?

Call for Endorsements

STB is going to tackle its primary election endorsements over the next few weeks.  This is your chance to influence that process.

Feel free to link to anything we should know about a candidate we like (or don’t like) in the comments.  Here are the things not to do:

  • Address an issue other than transit or land use.
  • Reference a candidate for King County Exec or Seattle Mayor.  We’re tracking those races, thanks.
  • Link to anything from Publicola.  That’s required reading at STB HQ, so we’re already well aware of it.


Five more days…

Okay, four years ago, but its all I can find.
Okay, four years ago, but it's all I can find.

All that’s left is a work week.

Five years ago, all this construction was just getting started. I remember driving south with my friend Andy Walker to watch SoDo and Stadium stations go up next to the busway, see the piles driven for the operations base, round holes start to appear in the ground near International Boulevard.

At that point, we didn’t even know where the stations were going to be until we saw them start to take shape. As MLK was replaced, the trip through the valley was a little different every weekend, crossing temporary bits of asphalt here and there to avoid flattened dirt and eventually drive on new concrete slabs. The track went in last – long before that, we figured out where the platforms would be from the wide, empty spaces between the new road.

Tukwila was the most interesting part for a long time. The big supporting columns went up first, tubes sticking out of the ground with crosspieces – one for the platform, one for the mezzanine. Then bits of trackway were stuck between them, steel beams holding up segments to be tensioned together. Finally the gantry arrived in pieces, stacked up yellow frames in the dirt becoming a giant crane destined to walk from pylon to pylon all the way to I-5.

Five years ago, I had just come back from Japan, I had seen what was possible, seen livable cities where transit was absolutely key, and the timing just happened to be perfect – as I returned, we were just beginning.

Five more days and things will start to change.

Re: Opening Day

Two brief items to add to Ben’s excellent write-up:

  1. If you’re actually trying to get anywhere with Link on opening weekend, give yourself plenty of time.  I’ve heard estimated waits as high as 4 hours, mainly based on the experience Phoenix had with their opening.  The Link shadow bus may actually be a great way to get around.
  2. Be warned that the operating hours are 10am-8pm on Saturday at 10am-6pm on Sunday.  If you’re looking to do a proper pub crawl, as I’ve heard from many people, I suggest you wait until after the 20th, when the usual 1am closing begins.

One Week From Now: Opening Day

A week from today, I bet most of us are going to be somewhere along the length of Link – some of us riding it for the first time, some watching others get their first experience, some volunteering. Behind all that, Sound Transit will be dealing with the largest event they’ve ever organized.

To begin I want to note – Sound Transit has enough vehicles for regular service, not an all-out attack like opening day is likely to be. Trains will be running every few minutes – likely a two-car train every few minutes in each direction – but wait times to ride are expected to be long. As I understand it, trains will be running as often as possible, not just every 7-8 minutes.

Waitng will be fairly organized – not everyone will simply pile onto the platform. Sound Transit will be actively managing the number of people on each train on opening day, and will only allow those who are getting on the next train onto a platform at any given time. It’s probably going to be hot. Bring water, wear a wide-brim hat, wear sunscreen. Sound Transit will have stations so you can refill your water bottle, too.

It sounds like there should be entertainment at most stations. A full list is available from Sound Transit here (PDF), but I’m pretty sure if you just off the train, you’ll find something interesting. I’d recommend avoiding Stadium Station midday, as the Sounders play Chelsea on Saturday, and it’s likely to be a madhouse. Portable toilets will be available at all stations on opening weekend – normally public restrooms are not provided at Link stations.

Ribbon cutting should be at Mount Baker Station at 10 am, and the inaugural ride should start there, for those who have tickets. Rumor has it that a giveaway might be what’s going on @ST_TravelLight on twitter. That’s also who you want to follow for opening day news.

Note that if you take the train to a new station and don’t want to wait in line for hours to get home, there will be free shuttles from Sound Transit from station to station, as well as your usual Metro service, which won’t be free.

Any questions about opening day? Only a week to go! And this is an open thread.

The Cost of Congestion

Felix Salmon introduces Charles Komanoff’s work on the external cost of congestion in Manhattan:

Komanoff calculates (check out the “Value of Time” tab) that the average vehicle has 1.97 people in it, and that the average value of an hour of saved vehicle time south of 60th Street in Manhattan on a weekday is $48.89. Which means, basically, that driving a car into Manhattan on a weekday causes about $160 of negative externalities to everybody else.

Note that this cost is for congestion only and doesn’t consider pollution, public health, oil dependence, etc.

Of course, Seattle is far from a clone of Lower Manhattan, and you should be wary of studies that try to compute the monetary value of wasted time.  It’s not $160, but it’s not zero either, and people who claim their drive isn’t subsidized should recognize that.

Via Yglesias, who nationalizes the argument a bit:

If we implemented congestion pricing in those metropolitan areas suffering from chronic congestion and then gathered up all the revenue and lit it on fire, we would swiftly find ourselves living in a more prosperous society. And if we gathered up the revenue and did something else with it, we’d be even better off.

Also check out Komanoff’s report, “Subsidies for Traffic.” (pdf)

Amtrak Cascades News-Roundup

GPS on the Cascades by Brian Bundridge
GPS on the Cascades by Brian Bundridge

There is a lot of reasons to be excited if your an Amtrak Cascades customer. Several key improvements have been completed and announced this past week. The heated debate over the second Amtrak Cascades train to Vancouver BC has been temporarily settled and will start service August 17, 2009, at least that is what is notated in the Amtrak system. This will be an extension (not a new service as the CSBA likes to think it is…) of the existing Amtrak Trains #513/516 which currently terminates in Bellingham.  The Northbound train will arrive after 10pm and the Southbound will depart around 6am.

This will be the first Portland to Vancouver BC train for the Cascades system with the full journey taking slightly over 8 hours with a 15 minute layover in Seattle either direction for crew change. If the Federal Stimulus funding is allocated this run will be completed in less than 6 hours.

Starting July 25, 2009, the Talgo will also return to Amtrak Trains #510/517. These trains have been substituted for nearly 3 years as trains are going through their mid-life refurbishment. These included new paint, new leather seating in coach and business class, new A/V systems, improved air brake system, improved restrooms, and minor changes to the Bistro car. The Superliner coaches in use now will be returned to Amtrak and used elsewhere in the system.

The BNSF Commuter Construction crews are nearly finished with the Interbay rail yard project. This project when completed will fully double track the corridor between Pier 70 in Downtown Seattle to North Magnolia, near the Ballard Bridge. This will bridge the gap of single track along the Amtrak and Sounder corridors to just 2.7 miles of remaining single track. Those locations are Edmonds and Mukilteo.

The new Blaine Customs Facility has started construction. This facility will add 2 to 3 new tracks which will end the common 30 to 70 minute waits for passenger trains at the border. This is expected to be completed April 2010.

In Everett, the new PA Jct realignment and new yard tracks have also entered the construction phase. This project when it is completed also in April 2010 will shave almost 6 minutes off the schedule, raising the speed from 10mph to 60mph.

Stanwood Station and the siding extension is moving along swiftly and is on schedule to open in November 2009. BNSF however is short $1 million dollars to extend Mt. Vernon siding which is a prerequisite for stopping at Stanwood Station.

Currently, there is no estimated time for construction for the new Amtrak Coach Yard in Seattle but I have tentatively heard December 2009 start and completion in March 2011.

King Street Station exterior is about 90% complete with brick clean up and more clock work to finish up. The project is slated to be completed in September 2009. Interior work can not start until the City of Seattle completes the sewer treatment facility next door to KSS.