Who to Vote For

King County ballot drop box.
King County ballot drop box.

Ballots for the August 18th 19th primary are due next Tuesday, so be certain to mark your ballot up soon. Seattle Transit Blog has endorsed the following candidates:

These are the best candidates for Seattle’s transit future. Consider giving them your vote.

The Tunnel Debate Isn’t Over

Viaduct photo from the Seattle P-I
Viaduct photo from the Seattle P-I

Something that has frustrated me recently is the theme I hear from some politicians and commenters who say that the debate over the SR-99 tunnel replacement for the Viaduct is over. After all, our leaders decided back in January that we’d have a tunnel. This continued bickering is just another example of the Seattle Process.

When “bickering” reaches the point of a serious primary challenge, though, that means the debate isn’t over. Far from it.

When McGinn came to the blog meet-up last week, I was moved by some of his populist appeals. Politicians don’t tell us when the debate is over. They don’t threaten to withhold state money to get their way. They don’t move the city in a direction that we don’t want them to. That’s not their job. We don’t answer to them, they answer to us. I’ll admit, McGinn’s stump speech struck a chord with me.

It’s true that transit advocates should worry gravely about McGinn’s misplaced softness on rail transit (he’s wrong, it can’t wait). And it’s true that opposing a tunnel doesn’t mean that McGinn will be a functional mayor. We can argue his candidacy, but we can’t argue that he has renewed discussion about the tunnel and whether it’s really the agreement that Seattle should be a party to. How can one see an image like this and think the debate’s over?

The McGinn Response

[UPDATE 2: I received a link to this WSDOT document (pdf-see bottom of Page 3), which clearly depicts a highway with extensive bridge crossings.  Perhaps not an “elevated viaduct”, but I believe McGinn’s point about not having so many crossings stands.]

Viaduct day continues on STB.  This is getting really interesting.

mcginn Mike McGinn emailed me with the details of his plan, which is different from the WSDOT surface/transit plan.  Key points:

  • Halting the work on the viaduct between  Holgate Street and Royal Brougham.  [UPDATE: However, as commenter AGH points out, the current WSDOT plan is for this to be surface roadway.  See also UPDATE 2 above.]
  • Considerably more spending on buses and mitigation.
  • Zeroing out the First Avenue Streetcar.
  • $75m from making cheaper choices on city streets.
  • The plan apparently does not include $500m for the Western Avenue couplet, although I have an email in to McGinn to confirm this.

The chart really lays out the differences more clearly, and is consistent with its own assumptions about what the State is willing to pay for.  If I read it correctly, the $300m Port of Seattle contribution would no longer be necessary.

Also from the email:

The biggest savings is, of course, not spending 1.9 billion (plus) on the deep bore tunnel.  But without a tunnel, we can reduce other costs on the Moving Forward projects.

Given the Metro funding crisis, I also don’t see financing a 1st Avenue Streetcar at this time.  I see streetcar expansion and light rail expansion in the city as desirable when we improve transportation financing regionally and statewide.

Columbia City Station Guide


by AMBER CAMPBELL, editor, Rainier Valley Post

[Ed. Note: Cross-posted at RVP.  We know you’re looking for excuses to ride Link, so here’s something for you to do.  Previously: the Mt. Baker Walking Tour.]

clockColumbia City – a historic community tracing back to 1889 – was a separate city until Seattle annexed it in 1907. Now it’s the gem of the Rainier Valley with improvements that have given the district a turn-of-the-century look while creating even more hometown appeal.

For the station hugger, Rainier Vista neighbor and Seattle Transit Blog editor Martin Duke recommends the pan-Asian fast-food joint Maki & Yaki – just one-third of a mile north of the the Columbia City station on Martin Luther King Jr. Way. “It’s really inexpensive with a broad selection,” he said.

Indeed, Maki & Yaki serves teriyaki (beef, chicken and pork), sweet & sour chicken and pork, short ribs, some seafood plates and assorted sushi rolls, all in a bright, clean setting for less than $10 a plate.

Meanwhile, the urban explorer will want to head two long blocks east on South Edmunds Street from the station to the historic Columbia City business district on Rainier Avenue South, which boasts an eclectic mix of retailers, restaurants and entertainment options.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Columbia City Station Guide”

Dueling SR99 Plans


[UPDATE 2: Apparently the McGinn plan is not exactly the WSDOT surface/transit plan.]

[UPDATE: As commenter Chris points out (and confirmed in the report), the $200m in savings on Moving Forward is actually due to putting less money into the Battery St. tunnel and the viaduct North of Lenora St.  Most or all of this money would have to be put back in for the Surface/Transit option.  This reduces the Surface/Transit option savings to roughly $100m-300m plus overruns.  We’re still peeling the onion.]

I just chatted with Kadeena Lenz of WSDOT, who pointed me to this report (pdf).  The Moving Forward project cost has dropped from $1.1 billion to $900m due to some unanticipated savings from not having to redo the Battery Street tunnel; of that, $300m is supposed to come from the Port of Seattle, and $600m from the State.

McGinn doesn’t include port contributions in the budget, so I think it’s fair to score this as a $600m $800m shortfall in his budget plans, not $1.1 billion.  (Split the difference!).  To get his surface/transit plan, delete the $1.9 billion tunnel from the chart above, add $553m for I-5 improvements, about $170m for transit, and about $200m more for local roads.  Then remove $400m in tolling, and you get a little under $600m $800m not covered by the State, the feds, or the Port of Seattle.

Oddly, aside from the moving forward issue, McGinn’s cost estimates for surface/transit are about $175m higher than Nickels, so you can give him credit for that difference if you like.  It also has to be said that the cost overrun risk is lower for surface/transit than the tunnel.

The bottom line: assuming the State and Port are willing to spend $2.7 billion no matter what, surface/transit is cheaper for the City and County by $300m-$500m $100m-$300m, but it isn’t free.

McGinn Responds on Viaduct

Mike McGinn has a response to the yesterday’s Nickels challenge.  He identifies the funding sources and sketches out a $2.4 billion budget for surface/transit that fits the revenue.  That’s more than you can say for the deep-bore tunnel, which is currently roughly $1 billion short in identified sources.

The Nickels campaign identified the surface/transit total cost as $3.5 billion.  Looking at the chart, it appears the key discrepancy is that Nickels includes $1.1 billion for “Moving forward” projects (the work already underway on the North and South ends.)

It’ll take some more digging to resolve the discrepancy.

Head Tax Brown Bag

A day after the City’s Metro service cut meeting, the Great City Initiative (founded by someone named Mike McGinn) is hosting a brown bag on the proposed repeal of the head tax.

I’m of two minds about this issue.  On the one hand, even if revenues are coming in ahead of schedule, there’s no shortage of need for small-bore projects like sidewalks.  On the other hand, I agree with Tim Burgess that a higher parking tax is a much more transparent and lightweight way to discourage SOV driving into downtown.  Retailers, of course, might feel differently.  Anyway, as long as the parking tax increases in line with the head tax reduction, I feel no particular attachment to that revenue source.

I wish somebody would get me a job downtown so that I could attend some of these.  Press release below the jump. Continue reading “Head Tax Brown Bag”

Second Train to Canada Starts Next Wednesday Thursday!

Amtrak Cascades #513 departing Seattle by Brian Bundridge
Amtrak Cascades #517 departing Seattle by Brian Bundridge

[Update 2 from Brian Bundridge: The Amtrak Reservations System now has the train available, starting August 20, 2009. The trip is slated to be 8 hours and 15 minutes to cover the 320 mile distance with a cost between $48 to $65 one way between Vancouver, B.C. and Portland, Oregon]

[Update from Brian Bundridge: The Amtrak Reservations System curently does not show the additional train in the computers yet. This should be fixed sometime this week.]

WSDOT reports that the second Amtrak Cascades round trip to Vancouver BC, extending the existing round trip that currently terminates in Bellingham, will begin service on Wednesday the 19th. The new service is expected to maintain the existing schedules, with a Vancouver morning departure at 6:40, and an evening arrival at 10:45.

For people like me who enjoy spending a weekend in Vancouver, this will make a Friday departure from Seattle feasible for an extra night. This is the first through service between Portland and Vancouver since 1979, when the Amtrak Pacific International left Vancouver at 11:25 am and arrived in Portland at 8:25 pm. This is also the first change to Seattle-Vancouver service since the current round trip started fifteen years ago.

At the moment, this train is only a pilot project. Service will only last until after the Olympics and Paralympic Games this winter. This would be a great time to talk to your state representatives and senators about fighting to keep this service operating!

Hard Numbers on the Viaduct


There’s a whole McGinn-Nickels spat right now over the deep-bore tunnel, one that has a few more hard numbers than usual.  Dominic Holden at Slog has the best rundown of those numbers.

To summarize, Nickels has numbers showing that the surface/transit option costs the City $936m — slightly more than the deep-bore tunnel ($930m plus overruns), because the State would reduce its contribution in accordance with the $700m difference in cost.*

McGinn has the beginnings of a good response here, but its validity depends on three ultimately empirical questions**:

1. To what extent can State gas tax money be diverted to those $936m in costs under the Constitution?

2. Is the “City pays for overruns” thing enforceable or not?  I haven’t heard a legal opinion from anyone without a direct stake in the viaduct fight.

3. Could McGinn negotiate a better deal with the State?

Perhaps a legal mind better than mine can answer the first two of these questions. Kerry Murakami of the Post-Globe attempts to answer the third by asking some State legislators.

*Partly because the anticipated $400m from tolling would evaporate.

**Assuming the Nickels numbers aren’t shown to be inaccurate.

Council Reacts to Triplett Bus Plan

Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

There were two press releases from the County Council about Executive Triplett’s Metro budget proposal:

  • First, Julia Patterson, who was one backer of the “Council Plan” last week, criticized the Triplett plan for not doing enough to cut waste and therefore triggering more bus service cuts than necessary, as well as cutting too deeply into Metro’s operating reserve.
  • Second, Councilmember and Executive Candidate Dow Constantine also criticized the plan for cutting too deeply, while otherwise stressing his common ground with Triplett.

The rhetoric about cutting waste is premature prior to the report on the September 1 audit.  However, there are very real differences between the Triplett and Council plans, listed below the fold:

Continue reading “Council Reacts to Triplett Bus Plan”

Metro Cuts Brown Bag is Wednesday

UPDATE: I’m told it’ll be Triplett attending, but not Constantine.

I really wish I could make this, but the City of Seattle is hosting a brown bag meeting at noon, August 12, at Seattle City Hall.  Many key players will be there.

It’s unclear to me if they’re going to introduce anything that we haven’t covered already, but if anyone has the time to attend we’d appreciate a report in the comments, or you could even email us a guest report!

On Wednesday, Aug. 12 join Seattle City Council’s Transportation Committee for a special noontime session.

The format is designed to engage decision-makers and stakeholders in a frank conversation about looming Metro budget shortfalls and what they may mean to Seattle transit riders.

The discussion will include members of the city’s Transportation Committee, King County Council Chair Dow Constantine, Metro General Manger Kevin Desmond, as well representatives from the Downtown Seattle Association, Transportation Choices Coalition and city neighborhoods. Acting King County Executive Kurt Triplett is also invited.

Attendees will hear a presentation of proposed changes in service by Metro transit and a discussion by the panel participants, followed by audience questions.

Who:            Seattle City Council Transportation Committee
What:           Brown Bag meeting on Metro service cuts
When :          Wednesday, Aug. 12, 2009 – 12 noon
Where:          City Hall, 600 Fourth Avenue – Council Chambers, Floor 2

Bike Share Expo Today, Tomorrow

BIXI by ChristineTran
BIXI by ChristineTran

Bike sharing is slowly coming to North America, and King County is kicking off the conversation in Seattle with a Expo today at the SLU Discovery Center (10am to 6pm) and tomorrow at Redmond Town Center (noon to 8pm). DC had the first bike sharing system in North America, but it failed to deliver due to a small and dispersed bike station network. This summer Montreal unveiled the first real bike share system in North America. Called Bixi, the system has 3,000 bikes and 300 stations. Bixi is similar to Paris’ Velib and other bike share systems in many ways. Hallmarks of the most successful systems are:

  • Electronic, subscription based systems that make riders accountable for bicycles while they are checked out (see Copenhagen’s city bike program for why)
  • Fare structures that encourage short rentals and thus high turnover (rentals shorter than 30 minutes are typically free)
  • A large, dense network of biking sharing stations (Paris’ stations are spaced at internals of 1000 ft)
  • Privately operated by advertising companies that are given adverting monopolies in the city (two big companies are Clear Channel and JCDecaux)
  • Unique, well maintained and theft determent bikes (Bixi won several design competitions for their bikes)
  • Real time management of the number of bikes at each station (from personal experience I know Barcelona does this very poorly while Paris does much better)
  • Implementation accompanied by significant investment in bicycle network infrastructure

Metro has already sent out a Request For Information so hopefully this event won’t just be a tease and something will come of it. Stop by today or tomorrow and check it out.

Greg Nickels for Mayor

Wikimedia Commons
Mayor Greg Nickels (wikimedia)

All serious Seattle candidates say they’ll fight for transit, but Mayor Greg Nickels has an especially sterling record on this score.  On the most important issue facing this region — whether or not to build rail — Nickels has been on the right side of the argument, and in the cockpit of many of the key decisions.  As Sound Transit enters another decade of crucial and complex projects, we want his voice to maintain the region’s focus on our ultimate goals.

As Mayor, one’s ability to impact transit operations is limited.  However, Nickels has a solid record of finding ways to make a difference and to deliver.  Through the Bridging the Gap levy, Nickels funded bus lanes, bicycle lanes, and partnered with Metro to get additional bus service outside the 20/40/40 framework.  Nickels also put his political capital on the line for the Streetcar network — one that we support, and one that continues to be controversial.

We’re also pleased with the Mayor’s general willingness to overcome “neighborhood activists” to provide the livable density that is both an environmental imperative and critical to a livable, vibrant city.  In liberal Seattle, associating oneself with the interests of Paul Allen can be risky, but we’re very excited about the path that South Lake Union has taken under the Mayor’s leadership.

Most important, however, is the Mayor’s instrumental leadership of Sound Transit.  As Chair of the Sound Transit Board, Nickels was the critical player in getting Sound Transit 2 on the ballot in 2008, a move that looks even better in hindsight than it did then.  It is his legacy.

That’s not to say that we have no disagreements with Nickels.  In particular, we think he gave in too easily to other interests on both the Waterfront Streetcar and the deep-bore tunnel.  We are especially concerned that enormous expenditure on the tunnel could crowd out the city’s other transportation priorities.  But these concerns are balanced against a long record of leadership and results on our regional priorities.

We should also say a few good words about Mike McGinn.  Mr. McGinn’s passion to build  light rail at all costs is not quite that of Nickels, but his stance on the issues matches ours nearly perfectly.  Indeed, if there were no incumbent in this race, McGinn would be a strong contender for our endorsement.   However, given an incumbent with a strong record on the issues and a history of cutting through Seattle process to achieve results, substantial agreement is not enough to win our endorsement.

Our editorial board is Martin H. Duke, Ben Schiendelman, and John Jensen, with valued input from the rest of the staff. Read our Seattle City Council endorsements and our King County Executive endorsements.  This concludes STB’s series of endorsements.

Conservatives and Transit

As conservative as it gets (wikimedia)
As conservative as it gets (wikimedia)

One reason I try to steer this blog into a fairly narrow focus on transit and land-use is that there’s no fundamental reason that pro-transit views have to go along with progressive ones, and I’d like to keep the pro-transit tent as big as possible.  Although I’m pretty sure the whole staff is left of center to varying degrees and we all voted for Obama, there’s no reason to start going off on pro-lifers or whatever and alienating people that might just be interested in a decent alternative to congestion.

Additionally, I find it fairly perverse and frustrating that land use, parking, and zoning is one area where the conservative/libertarian ideology seems not to follow through.  Given that these issues tend to tear apart progressives, allies on the right would be useful in bringing about positive local change.

This is all a roundabout way of introducing a not-especially-new Infrastructurist interview with pro-transit conservative William Lind.  In the interview, Lind brings hundreds of words with serious intellectual firepower, and doesn’t once mention global warming or other environmental issues that dominate the discourse in the Seattle echo-chamber.  It’s a useful reminder that there’s a whole arsenal of arguments out there that doesn’t require one to evaluate dueling climate models, ones that might win votes in the future.

Lind also has a book out on the subject with the late Paul Weyrich.

Metro Rider Survey

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Metro Someone* appears to be conducting a “quick and dirty” survey on the Ride Free Area. It appeared in a Google ad in my Gmail.

Check it out.

This could be part of Metro’s effort to close its budget gap by extracting more money from Seattle for the RFA.

* Not Metro, apparently.

Constantine or Phillips for County Executive

Larry Phillips
Larry Phillips

Unlike most elections, we have an excellent choice of candidates in the King County Executive race.  A strongly pro-transit voter could feel good about supporting a few different candidates if the voter felt strongly about some other aspect of the candidate’s platform or personality.

Nevertheless, we’ve chartered ourselves to consider the transit and land use portfolio of the candidates, and in our judgment Dow Constantine and Larry Phillips are the best of the group. Each candidate deserves your consideration.

Dow Constantine (Seattle Weekly)
Dow Constantine (Seattle Weekly)

Phillips and Constantine have been steadfast supporters of Sound Transit.  Although there’s no immediate political action on Sound Transit on the horizon, we should see the groundwork for the Sound Transit 3 package form over the coming years.  Further, it’s reasonable to expect some sort of crisis in the next few.  In that event, we want an uncompromising friend of ST in the critical County Executive spot.

On Metro, Phillips has presented the most detailed plan to address Metro’s funding gap, though it is much the same as every credible plan to fix Metro’s problems. Constantine is deeply involved in addressing the Metro crisis through his chairmanship of the Regional Transit Committee. Constantine and Phillips have equally good judgment and candor to address Metro’s budget.

Both candidates represent Seattle on the King County Council and understand that cutting the highest demand routes makes no sense. Constantine received a degree in Urban Planning from UW and shows unique honesty when he says that Eastside commuter rail along the BNSF corridor is not going to happen. Phillips has a well-organized, strong campaign and when he met with us it became clear that he’s a true transit wonk.

Though he doesn’t haven’t as solid of a pro-Sound Transit record as his peers, Ross Hunter has very interesting ideas about tying bus service to density and has been critical in getting more funding authority for Metro in the legislature.

Nevertheless, we’re more impressed by Constantine and Phillips’s credentials than the others. Vote Dow Constantine or Larry Phillips for King County Executive.  We hoped to endorse a single candidate, but the differences on transit between the two are simply too insignificant to make a meaningful distinction.

Our editorial board is Martin H. Duke, Ben Schiendelman, and John Jensen, with valued input from the rest of the staff. Read our Seattle City Council endorsements.

STB Meet-Up Features McGinn, O’Brien, Beer

Some of the crowd watches candidates speak.
Some of the crowd watches candidates speak.

If you didn’t happen to make it to our blog meet-up last night at the Columbia City Alehouse, you missed out. First of all, going to a bar in Columbia City is a great excuse to ride our light rail line. Second, you missed great presentations from various politicos.

First up was Dow Constantine’s chief of staff, Chris Arkills. Dow’s running for Executive of King County and had planned to attend our meet-up, but the League of Women Voters failed to consult us when scheduling their candidate forum… So, instead, Dow sent a trusted adviser (and a fan of the blog) our way to talk about the West Seattle Water Taxi, Metro’s funding gap, and light rail. We’ll be endorsing for the executive race tomorrow.

Next up is Mike O’Brien, who’s running for Seattle city council, position 8. Just yesterday, we endorsed O’Brien and it was great to hear him speak. He is a very charismatic vote for land use, density, and transit. He speaks in depth about improving bus service in particular but within the confines of the abilities of the council job. Our one reservation was his hesitance to support streetcar expansion — he said he’d generally err on the side of more bus hours. For a corridor like 1st Ave in Seattle, this blog has maintained that a streetcar simply provides more efficient and better service than a bus where the density supports it. 1st Ave has that density, and we hope O’Brien comes around at least on this proposed line. O’Brien passion against the tunnel is unparalleled — well, except for one other guy…

Mike O'Brien and Mike McGinn
Mike O'Brien and Mike McGinn

Last up was Mike McGinn, candidate for Mayor of Seattle. He spoke defiantly and eloquently against the SR-99 tunnel and pledged to prevent the tunnel from being built in this city. Obviously a proponent of the surface/transit option, McGinn used various questions to draw attention back to the tunnel and the resources it’ll require to build. Within a few minutes, the tunnel was compared to the monorail, Hillary Clinton, and RTID. Like O’Brien, McGinn has qualms about streetcar expansion and particularly finding a funding source for it. However, on most issues and especially land use, McGinn was convincing and earnest. We’ll be endorsing a candidate for Mayor on Monday.

After a lengthy Q&A, the Transportation Choice Coalition pub crawl met up with us and brought Jesse Israel along. We endorsed Israel for Seattle city council as well, and go to hear more of her thoughts. (She’s definitely a streetcar supporter!)

For a bit more depth, you can follow our Twittering of the meet-up. Thanks to all of you who showed up, especially the politicos who gave us their time.