What Worries Me

I-90 Crossing (Sound Transit)

[UPDATE: See excerpt of Board selection rules at the bottom.]

In our Greg Nickels endorsement, we alluded to the possibility of some sort of Sound Transit crisis in the future, the idea being that we would have wanted Nickels in a position of power should that happen.  Now, with Nickels out and either McGinn or Mallahan receiving an automatic virtually assured seat on the Sound Transit board when they take office, it’s important to recognize why establishment support for ST is necessary.

Although it’s the opinion of this blog that Sound Transit is a very well-run public agency, there are three basic things that could cause serious problems for the buildout:

  1. The Economy. Sound Transit got a AAA credit rating by being conservative about allocating its revenue streams.  That said, a weak recovery in sales tax revenue would put further pressure on the agency’s budget, and Japan-style stagnation could make it very hard to achieve all the Sound Transit 2 objectives.
  2. Tunneling. Sound Transit’s sole tunneling experience — through Beacon Hill — was not a happy one.  They were on schedule, barely, despite a huge amount of padding in the plan.  It may have been a problem with that particular contractor, but it bears watching as they begin a much larger tunneling project to Roosevelt, and possibly under Bellevue.
  3. Political Risk. We’ve covered this a lot before, but there are still powerful interests not at all pleased with having to give up the express lanes on I-90, or that seek to extract transit funding for use on state road projects.  Moreover, there are still plenty of people who self-identify as transit advocates who think that reorganizing transit agencies is a good idea.  This kind of maneuver, which has support in the legislature, would wreak havoc on ongoing projects.

There’s no reason to be overly alarmed about any of these potential problems, because they haven’t yet materialized.  And, of course, all large infrastructure projects have risk.  Nevertheless, it would be a mistake to assume that we can doze off until 2016 without making sure that the right leadership and the right politicians are in place.

Because there’s some confusion on this in the comments, the relevant Sound Transit Board selection policies are below the jump. Continue reading “What Worries Me”

For Sale: Slightly Used Tunnel Boring Machine

It looks as though the Beacon Hill tunnel borer has been recently listed on a web site I never knew existed: TBM Exchange International is apparently your one stop shop for old tunnel borers and all the equipment that goes with them. $300,000 and it’s yours! (h/t to Erik Griswold)

I also had a friend from Portland in town yesterday to try the light rail, and as a cyclist who rides MAX, she had some comments about our bike racks. She likes them better! On the MAX, bikes are hung parallel with the direction the vehicle goes (to our perpendicular). When the MAX goes around a corner, the bikes often swing into the doors, and people standing near the doors – but our bikes are separated from standing passengers, and because the front wheel is up against a metal bar, they seem to swing a lot less than bikes on MAX.

This is an open thread.

Nickels Concedes Primary; McGinn and Mallahan Advance

Wikimedia Commons
Mayor Greg Nickels (wikimedia)

Publicola reports that Seattle mayor Greg Nickels has conceded in the primary election, with a generous and humble concession speech. Great City Initiative founder Mike McGinn and T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan will advance to the general in November.

Nickels leaves behind a very strong legacy on transit, and particularly rail. He worked hard to get our light rail built. Last year, against headwinds, he secured a spot for ST2 on the ballot. Without support from his Department of Transportation, a First Hill streetcar may not have been part of those plans. He built the South Lake Union streetcar, a starter line showing that the city can build its own transit infrastructure quickly and on budget. South Lake Union itself is a neighborhood that over the coming decades will see density and strong growth, largely thanks to Nickels. We honor his service to this city.

Mallahan has not offered great encouragement regarding his views on transit. His answers, so far, have been vague and not meaningful. We need to hear why he’s good on transit and land use. Without specificity, we can only assume the worst.

Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn. Photo by flickr user justsmartdesign.
Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn. Photo by flickr user justsmartdesign.

McGinn is an environmentalist through and through. We have no doubt in his commitment to bike improvements, pedestrian investments, and bus amenities. He opposes the SR-99 tunnel, saying we don’t need it. But he’s soft on additional rail expansion until Metro fixes its problems and the state offers new funding. Neither will happen soon, while a near-term investment in rail is a catalyst for the dense land use he recognizes is necessary.

We need to hear from McGinn that he won’t oppose the First Hill streetcar funded by Sound Transit, and that he will support the acceleration of construction proposed by Seattle’s Department of Transportation. We want a re-evaluation — or change of heart — and the 1st Ave streetcar. Streetcars are not for every location, and one can argue that the SLUT wasn’t an appropriate first line, but these two lines are smart investments. The city can’t wait for Metro to fix its house and we certainly cannot wait for the state to move away from highway funding before investing in more-efficient, higher-capacity, and greener rail transit. We are impressed by McGinn’s commitment to buses, bikes, and feet, but we want to see something on rail.

We should make one thing clear: this isn’t about a mode fetish or being rail fans just to be rail fans. There are real, demonstrable reasons to favor an investment in rail over other new transit spending. We haven’t been in campaign mode for rail recently — hey, we won ST2 and we had a mayor who supported a series of streetcar lines, so why bother?  But things have changed, and we’re going to have to prove to our readers and the incoming establishment that streetcars and light rail are a smart use of taxpayer dollars. We’re going to spend some time in the coming months reaching out to both mayoral candidates as well as the city council candidates, and hopefully we’ll give their supporters and all other voters the facts necessary to get commitments on rail.

The Triplett Metro Plan (II)

Kurt Triplett
Kurt Triplett

Note: The first installment in this series is here.  Part III here.

To cover the 4-year, $501m gap between Metro’s planned service level and projected revenue, County Executive Kurt Triplett has proposed a nine-point plan.  This post will cover the first three of those items.

$36m in savings comes from deferring planned Transit Now service increases.  RapidRide and Service partnership programs have matching funds that the County won’t pass up, but the “high capacity corridor” and “developing area” improvements that haven’t already been introduced are on the chopping block.  More information here.

Interestingly, this approach effectively negates the 20/40/40 balance of TransitNow in the short term.  Three of the five RapidRide lines are in Seattle, and they were meant to be balanced by the high capacity and developing area service.  (Service partnerships were never subject to the rule.)

Triplett seemed genuinely surprised when I asked why the 83,o00 service hours already implemented under the high capacity and developing area programs weren’t in line for their own 9% cut.  It may be a simple oversight, one that could save Metro about 7,500 annual service hours.

The second item is reduced capital expenditures, mainly through fewer bus purchases.  There have been rumors that this meant fewer trolley buses, since they’re more expensive.  When I asked Triplett this, he said that he’s “not proposing to make that switch” and that we have “3 years to make that decision” because the current trolleys have that much life left.  The $83m in savings over four years comes from buying about 200 fewer buses, thanks to less planned service.  There are also some cuts in things like bus mobility improvements and passenger facilities.

The third item, worth $27m through 2013, is a 10% cut in “complementary programs”.  This includes things like marketing, customer information, landscaping, cleaning, security, and support for special events.

I also asked Triplett what this meant for “station” and “enhanced” bus stops in the RapidRide program.  It’s not well understood that only a fraction of RapidRide stops will have off-board payment, next arrival message boards, and so on.  Further cuts to these amenities would make RapidRide little more than a frequent express bus with a new paint job and fare inspectors.  Triplett insisted that “our default is no,” but that “we’ve been asked by [citizens] to take another look at that.”  So for now, no cuts to RapidRide amenities, but that’s subject to change.

That covers the $146m of the $501m budget gap.  In the next installment, we’ll tackle property taxes, reserves, and the fleet replacement fund.

Walkscore and Home Values

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Pretty neat to see this study, showing that a home’s Walk Score is correlated with a higher value. Depending on the city, one’s home can be worth almost $3,000 more for every Walk Score point. In Seattle, it’s $1,413.

Matt Yglesias comments, “though Walk Score is a fun tool, the methodology is far from perfect, and you would almost certainly see a stronger walkability/value correlation if you had a better metric for walkability.”

That’s true. Walk Score’s laughably wrong about some things (the bodega around the corner from my house is not a “grocery store”), but it’s a great idea that can only be made greater.

New “How to Use Metro” Video

[UPDATE: Thanks to some feedback in the comments below, the video is new and improved.  I’ve embedded the new version; the old version is still available here.]

Courtesy of Margitte Kristjansson, the UW has a new video out showing incoming students how to use Metro:

If you’re trying to break someone in who’s reasonably internet-savvy, this might be a good approach.  The companion website is here.

Letter from SDOT

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I wrote an e-mail to the mayor about the comment here from [Seattle Greg]. It was a way to save the waterfront streetcar during the viaduct mess and a suggestion of bringing it north to the cruise ships.

The response I received from SDOT is below. A few interesting and depressing points:
1. Clearly they don’t intend to ever bring back to the waterfront streetcar. This is especially a shame, as 1st is so much less scenic than the waterfront.
2. Even with the tunnel option they’re planning on making Alaskan essentially into a highway. Ew.

It seems we’re missing an opportunity here. With the viaduct gone we could have a path-separated right of way for a streetcar. Instead we’re putting one stuck in 1st Avenue baseball traffic. Smart, Seattle.

Thank you for your recent message to Mayor Greg Nickels regarding the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar line.

The Alaskan Way needs to be replaced. Early in 2009, Governor Christine Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, and Mayor Greg Nickels recommended replacement of the structure with a Bored Tunnel. More information about this project can be found at the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) website at http://www.wsdot.wa.gov/projects/Viaduct/. The Bored Tunnel solution includes not only the roadway, but also transit and street improvements to complement the tunnel and maintain an acceptable level of mobility through the area.

As part of the Alaskan Way Viaduct Seawall Replacement (AWVSP), Alaskan Way will be rebuilt, necessitating the removal of existing streetcar tracks and overhead wire. Seawall construction, viaduct demolition, and construction of surface street and promenade improvements would intermittently interrupt waterfront streetcar operations between 2012 and 2018, making it an unattractive transit option for this program. However, a program of surface street and transit improvements is proposed as part of the AWVSRP, including a new streetcar line on First Avenue, funded by the City of Seattle. The new streetcar line would run parallel to the waterfront and provide convenient waterfront connections at several locations including Yesler Way, the Marion Street Pedestrian Bridge to Washington State Ferries, Harbor Steps, the Pike Place Market Hillclimb, the Bell Street Pedestrian Bridge connection to Bell Harbor Conference Center and the Port of Seattle Cruise Ship Terminal, and the Olympic Sculpture Park at Broad Street.

This new line will also provide significantly expanded connections, including service to Seattle Center, and will connect with other streetcar service such as the existing South Lake Union Line and the First Hill Line recently funded by Sound Transit. In addition, this line will provide further transit connections to Metro bus service, Sounder Commuter Rail, Link Light Rail, and the Monorail. The First Avenue Streetcar is planned to provide a much higher level of service than was available on the Waterfront Streetcar line, with streetcars arriving as frequently as every 7.5 minutes as compared with 20 minutes between trains on the Waterfront Streetcar line.

The Alaskan Way Viaduct solution of a bored tunnel was designed to respond to the variety of stakeholders who have an interest in this pathway. This includes transit riders, drivers, businesses, environmentalists and freight operators, among many others. Moving streetcar service to First Avenue will allow transit in the area to be improved and it will also allow Alaskan Way street and signal design to prioritize through movement for freight and vehicle trips that are not served by the new bored tunnel for State Route 99, while also reserving a significant portion of the right-of-way for a promenade green space.

Thank you again for your email. If you have further questions or comments, please contact Ethan Melone, SDOT Rail Transit Manager, at (206) 684-8066 or ethan(dot)melone(at)seattle.(dot)gov [editor: e-mail changed to avoid spambots].


Grace Crunican, Director
Seattle Department of Transportation

The Triplett Metro Plan (I)

Double 194, by Atomic Taco
"Double 194", by Atomic Taco

Note: See also Part II of this series.

Last Wednesday’s Metro brown bag was attended by frequent STB commenter Mickymse, who graciously took some notes and collected the materials for us.  Of most interest was the added detail on Executive Triplett’s plan to close the Metro budget gap, contained in Metro GM Kevin Desmond’s presentation (pdf).

There isn’t much we didn’t already know, but the chart below itemizes Triplett’s 9-point plan.  Sorry for the lousy image quality.

Continue reading “The Triplett Metro Plan (I)”

OneBusAway Needs Feedback

OneBusAway Homepage

OneBusAway, or OBA for those that like acronyms, is looking for feedback about their service. They have created a web survey that can be accessed here. It took me less than 10 minutes to complete and I wrote a lot so it will take less time for most people. Those who take the survey will also be eligible to win a $25 dollar iTunes gift certificate.

Besides the money this is also a chance for you help OBA quantify the benefits that real-time transit information provides. Remember OBA was created and developed for free by Phd students at UW so the least you can do to support OBA is take the survey.

Constantine, O’Brien Hang On; Nickels Could Lose Bid

Mike O'Brien and Mike McGinn at the last Seattle Transit Blog meet-up.
Mike O'Brien and Mike McGinn

Update at 4:49pm: Today’s drop has Mallahan showing significant gains, and Nickels falling behind further.

Yesterday’s primary election had its first drop of ballot totals late last night and — while it’s still too early to call the races — we’re seeing some encouraging news.

On the city council front, Mike O’Brien and Jessie Israel — two candidates our editorial board endorsed — are looking solid to advance to the general in their respective races. Dow Constantine seems likely to move on to the general for the King County Executive race. We endorsed both Constantine and Phillips for the primary. Phillips ran a strong campaign and he’ll continue to be an ally on the county council.

On the mayoral front, Greg Nickels is a close third behind Mike McGinn and Joe Mallahan. The delta is just hundreds of votes, and up to half of the votes have yet to be counted. Right now it’s not clear who will advance to the primary. (This blog’s editorial board endorsed Nickels for the primary.)

You can see the first drop’s totals at Publicola. The next drop is schedule for 4:30pm this afternoon.

Link’s Finishing Touches

Next train sign at Tukwila station. Photo by Oran.
Next train sign at Tukwila station. Photo by Oran.

Yesterday marked the end of Link light rail’s first month in service. Congrats to Sound Transit for a relatively smooth roll-out. One of the more interesting parts of this first month is seeing the finish touches still being put on the line.

  • To the right is one of two “Next Train” signs installed at the Tukwila station after opening. One of the signs illuminates depending on which platform the northbound train will be arriving at. This crossover weirdness at the Tukwila stop will no longer be necessary when the Airport station opens later this year.
  • The buses connecting the Tukwila station to SeaTac Airport have finally been branded with Sound Transit logos and have “Link Light Rail – Airport Connector” signs painted on the sides. Hopefully this will make for clearer transfers to and from the airport. Thanks to Gordon Werner for the note.
  • The lights change color depending on elevator availability. Picture from litlnemo.
    The lights change color depending on elevator availability. Picture from litlnemo.

    The Beacon Hill Station continues to get even cooler. New colorful lights were installed on August 10 (see right). The lights change color depending on the availability of each elevator below.

  • We’ve heard of various ticket-vending machine improvements: Stability fixes in the software, shade guards so the machines don’t overheat, and the removal of a redundant confirmation screen.
  • Of course, not everything is peachy. We’ve heard of some tracks getting wobbly, though it’s unclear if the fault lies in the tracks, the vehicles themselves, or something else entirely.

What goodies will the second month of Link service bring us?

Swift BRT Update

Transit dignitaries break ground for BRT terminal
The obligatory VIPs shoveling dirt photo

On Monday, there was a groundbreaking ceremony at Everett Station for the northern terminal of Community Transit’s Swift BRT line. Everett Transit Director Tom Hingson, Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor, Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson, and Stan Suchan from WSDOT’s Office of Transit Mobility spoke at the ceremony.

Hingson spoke of the partnership between Everett Transit and Community Transit to streamline and reduce duplication of service on the SR 99 corridor. The increased service will provide traffic relief for everyone, including freight truck drivers, Hingson said. He also acknowledged engineering consultants, Perteet and IBI Group, among others, for their continual collaboration with the agencies during the design of Swift.

Eleanor was proud to say that Swift, to be Washington’s first BRT line, took only 4 years to get from concept to reality. Swift will begin service on November 30, 2009. She noted that the brand design (name, logo, etc.) was done in-house by Community Transit’s marketing department. She also announced that the project is coming in under budget at $29.5 million, down from the estimated $32 million, thanks to lower construction costs. The Everett terminal is located just south of the current bus loop, next to the pedestrian bridge to the east parking lot across the tracks, on city property that was designated for parking.

More after the jump, with some tidbits I learned. Continue reading “Swift BRT Update”

Just Vote Already


If I read my Slog correctly, this election will be decided entirely by elderly women in Medina.  If you’d like to have your voice heard as well, this is the last day to have your ballot postmarked in time.  So mail it in.  Obviously, you shouldn’t just drop it in a mailbox without making sure that it’s going to be emptied sometime today.

Even better, go the extra mile and drop it off in person at one of many conveniently located drop boxes.  It saves you the stamp, too!  [UPDATE: There are locations very near Pioneer Square (500 4th Ave) and Othello (3815 Othello St) stations, if you need a Link excuse.]

And of course, you should also read our endorsements before you vote.  Our county exec roundup is also a good read.  And you can share how you voted here if you like.

Fareless Square in Portland to be Rail-Only

The Portland Mercury reports that the Fareless Square in Portland is no longer going to cover buses. To get a free trip in Downtown Portland, you’ll have to ride on the Portland Streetcar or a MAX line. Fair inspections on these rail lines is more common, leading to less evasion.

“When Fareless Square was started some 34 years ago, it was a bus-only system. We now have four MAX lines that will serve this area once mall service begins,” says Mary Fetsch, TriMet’s spokesperson.

While eliminating free bus service from downtown saves only $800,000, TriMet expects to see improvements in bus efficiency and a reduction in bus fare-related evasion. TriMet is counting on this projected savings to help close its $3.5 million budget gap.

Yikes. Just a $3.5 million budget gap? Meanwhile, in our region we’re having our own talks about the Ride Free Area and whether Seattle pays its “fare” share.

You can get more information on TriMet’s change, which take effect next year, on the agency’s website.

A Journey from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. on Transit

New Flyer trolleybuses in Vancouver rush hour traffic
New Flyer trolleybuses in Vancouver rush hour traffic

It’s the perfect occasion for a transit adventure to Vancouver, B.C. The brand new Canada Line opens today at 1 pm for free rides until 9 pm. If you’re feeling adventurous and have the time, it is possible to travel from Seattle to Vancouver on public transit by making a series of transfers and some walking or cycling across the border. The journey costs $12 and takes at least 7.5 hours. Back in March, wanting to do a transit field trip up north, I decided to try the schedule on Evan Siroky’s Regional Transit Transfers page. The following (after the jump) is an account of my experience with lots of pictures!

Continue reading “A Journey from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C. on Transit”

News Roundup: Unit Faulty

Photo from ECB at Publicola.
Photo from ECB at Publicola.

Nickels and Sound Transit 2

As expected, our endorsement of Greg Nickels generated a lot of good discussion. Reasonable transit advocates can disagree on the best pick for Mayor, and they certainly have.

The only thing I’d like to add is to correct a false impression. Some people believe that the credit everyone gives to Nickels for getting light rail built is basically a function of him endorsing a few measures and being in the vicinity when the key decisions were made.   In fact, it’s much more significant than that.

Back in July 2008, we covered extensively the battle to get ST2 back to the ballot.  It basically came down to a number of fence sitters waiting for all the other fence-sitters to commit.  The key swing vote was Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon, who was holding out for rail to cross the county line, which required North King funds that Seattle would probably prefer to spend elsewhere.  Crosscut did some excellent reporting at the time about the key deal between Nickels and Reardon that got it done.  The tone of the piece is also a useful reminder of an atmosphere where further ST expansion seemed much less inevitable than it does today.

The other crucial Nickels contribution that year was in the conduct of the campaign itself.  In contrast to the big-money Roads and Transit campaign of 2007, donors were stingy in 2008.  Several STBers participated heavily in the 2008 yes campaign, and those that were there know that several Nickels staffers were given leave to run the campaign and do most of the work for it.

And of course, as late as November 1, 2008, the polling was pretty ambiguous as to whether or not Prop 1 was going to pass.  Prop 1 was far from a slam dunk, and Team Nickels is what got it on the ballot and put it over the top.