Two Holiday Essays

Greenwich Village Street Scene (wikimedia)

Two posts about urban planning and design for the holiday:

First, Vancouver, BC planner Larry Beasley gave a talk in the DC area and afterwards had a chat with the Greater Greater Washington folks.  He shares how Vancouver made sure that its high-rises made positive contributions to the urban fabric, although he’s not exactly for tall buildings everywhere.  My favorite quote:  “Government has to be an ally of the architect against all the other things that homogenize design.”

Second, a very thoughtful essay in The Atlantic on urban ideals, change, and gentrification. The Manhattan neighborhood that Jane Jacobs immortalized was not timeless, but in fact a snapshot of an area in the midst of the gentrification process.

I’m still digesting these and have nothing to say or add. Now go out and do something worthwhile on this Memorial Day; a whole bunch of people suffered and died to give you the chance.

Sound Transit June 2010 Service Change

[UPDATE: ST planner Jim Moore explains about the 522:

When originally written, the routing change was the fact that we returned to the express lanes.  Later on, we revised the routing in the SODO area to eliminate right turns from westbound Holgate Street to northbound SODO Busway.]

The new ST schedule book, effective June 12, is out.  Aside from “minor schedule adjustments”, there are new trips on the 535 and 577, ne2 Saturday service for the 578, and fewer on the 586, 590, 592, and 593.

The booklet claims new routing for the 522 but looking at old and new maps I can’t figure out what the change is.

ST Express Fares Up Tuesday

ST Express Proposed Changes
Proposed changes to ST Express bus fare.

As previously reported, Sound Transit’s Express bus fares are going up at the beginning of next month.  The one-zone fare is rising from $1.50 to $2.00, catching up with Metro’s fare escalation.  The Senior one-zone fare is also going up from 50 cents to 75 cents.  This is part of a two-stage fare simplification as depicted above.

More significantly, the concept of a “two-zone fare” now only applies to the fare zones within King County.  Any trip that crosses a County Line is an “multi-county” fare, effectively the old three-zone fare ($3.50).  For adults going Pierce-South King, Snohomish-North King, or Snohomish-East King, this amounts to a 50 cent increase; it’s also an increase for youth and seniors making similar trips.

One big winner from this change is Community Transit, whose South County-King County commuter fare is $3.50 for adults. Already $1.00 over the competing ST fare, CT felt it couldn’t increase commuter fares in the latest round of budget cuts.  With the gap back to 50 cents and on its way to zero, they may feel able to do so in the future.  Raising commuter fares is a (relatively) progressive move, as these riders are more likely to be well-off.

All local fares for CT are also going up Tuesday, from $1.50/$1.00/$0.50 for adult/youth/senior to $1.75/$1.25/$0.75.

These changes are of course driven by revenue shortfalls, but they are also steps towards the fare synchronization that many riders are interested in seeing.  On the other hand, advocates of more distance-based fares will be disappointed.

The Socioeconomic Implications of Tolling the Bridges

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

As readers of this blog probably know, starting next year, WSDOT will begin collecting tolls on the SR-520 floating bridge to start to collect money for the eventual rebuild.

I personally believe this is something of a sleeper issue in the region. I’m not sure how many commuters have fully internalized this fact, and I’m anticipating a bit of a public sh*tstorm as people slowly realize that this is going to affect them. I’m happy to be wrong on that! Just my gut feeling. [Personally, of course, I support the tolls.]

Be that as it may, tolling will reshape our regional landscape in ways we haven’t yet anticipated. As it is, the lake creates a psychological barrier that makes everything seem further away than it really is. Bellevue is about as far away from downtown Seattle as Ballard as the crow flies, yet Bellevue seems much farther. Tolls on the bridges will increase this sense of distance, by adding another barrier to crossing the lake.*

In what other ways might tolls affect the region? Seattle Bubble speculates about whether it will change real estate patterns, as people seek to move closer to their employers:

What if we make a more extreme assumption about the cost of tolling to a daily exurban freeway commuter? Let’s say the new everywhere tolls add $20 a day to their commute costs. That’s about $400 a month, which is approximately equivilent to $80,000 in purchase power at 5% interest. Now we’re talking. That’s more than the difference between the median prices of Marysville and Shoreline.

Meanwhile, the Prosperity Partnership sees the potential for a flourishing Eastside arts movement, as Eastsiders balk at driving to Seattle for culture:

…because there isn’t a fully vital arts community yet on the eastside, economic theory would tell us that folks would be willing to invest in the short term to build that infrastructure if it saves them money in the long term.

Interesting! Only time will tell, as they say, but I’d wager that we’re in for a big change. I wouldn’t be surprised to see new talk of splitting up King County in two, an idea that has resurfaced from time to time.

*Of course, bus commuters won’t be affected by the tolls directly, except in the sense that the buses will become more reliable as traffic abates.

Nickerson Road Diet Support Group

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Even before SDOT announced their intent to put Nickerson St. on a road diet, a pro-roads group gathered support from Magnolia and Queen Anne to try and kill it, forming a “15th Ave W coalition” whose believes “any proposal that reduces the carrying capacity of Nickerson [for trucks and automobiles] is unacceptable.”  Through luck and great work on SDOT’s part, a study has been released showing how wonderful the road diet there has been, mostly keeping vehicle capacity while strongly decreasing accidents and increasing bike flow.

A new group has been formed to support the Nickerson road diet.  If this is something you’d like to fight for, join the google group here.  (and yes, it’s sad that we have to fight for every mile of minor bike and pedestrian improvement in our city)

PT Tomorrow, Round 2

"Growth" Plan (Pierce Transit)

Based on the first round of public input, Pierce Transit has refined their future service concepts. A very nice website compares the current system with what it will look like after the coming budget cuts.  A third map depicts the route structure if the sales tax increases from 0.6% to the maximum 0.9%, allowing not only preservation of service, but actually a little bit of growth.

Also, to build on a recent theme, lots and lots of system maps!

Tacoma Tomorrow has the public meeting times and promises analysis in the near future.

Senate Mulls Transit Operating Subsidy

Sen. Chris Dodd (D-CT) (Wikimedia)

Historically, the federal government tends to directly subsidize transit capital expenditure, not operating expenditure.  However, with operating budgets collapsing nationwide, Chris Dodd and seven other Senators have proposed a $2 billion fund to help transit agencies through their current revenue trough.  Local reaction here (summary: Yipee!).

It’s important to understand that this is an “authorization”, not an “appropriation”, so even if this measure passes lawmakers would have to add it to an appropriations bill sometime in the next 16 months.  This comment covers how the money would be distributed; since I’m entirely ignorant of the relevant statutes I’ll just say that strictly according to King County’s population, Metro would be in line for $12m.  That’s perhaps a quarter of the deficit in 2012, so it’s nice, but hardly solves the problem even in the short term.

How and When Link Reliability Will Improve

Sounders fans at ID/Chinatown Station, by Oran

Earlier this week I had a chance to sit down with Ron Tober, deputy chief executive of Sound Transit, to talk about Link reliability. Tober has extensive bus and rail experience – he oversaw the startup of Charlotte’s LYNX system, once headed up King County Metro, and has experience in several other cities.

On time performance has been much better in the last month than it was in the first quarter. Tober showed me more recent data – without weekend and night maintenance, trains have been on schedule about 90% of the time, and headway reliability has been well over 90%.

For now, though, that’s about all we’re going to get, and Sound Transit can’t do too much about it, largely because of the downtown tunnel.  More after the jump. Continue reading “How and When Link Reliability Will Improve”

Property Tax Proposal would Cut Metro Revenue

Photo by Erubisu SEA

Shortly before the County Council’s failure to approve Executive Constantine’s sales tax increase for the sheriff’s office, the four (technically non-partisan) Republican members of the Council proposed an alternate plan to provide that revenue by redirecting property tax flows.

This is not to be confused with the “Democratic” property tax plan that failed yesterday.  Instea,d this plan would eliminate $10m in annual funding from the only recently instituted ferry and transit property tax, at a time when Metro is trying to find a way to plug a $50m-ish hole before the bottom falls out in 2012.

It’s unclear how much of that $10m would fall on Metro, but it’s enough money to fund about 80,000 hours of service, or almost 11 buses running 20 hours a day, 365 days a year. Reagan Dunn, who was joined by the rest of the Eastside delegation (Jane Hague, Kathy Lambert) and Pete von Reichbauer of Federal Way, said “Voters are demanding that government prioritize vital services while respecting the pain felt by working families across King County.”

Larry Phillips (Ballard) was quick with an opposing press release, pointing out the urban-rural valence:

“Public safety is important, but cutting away vital quality of life services like transit and parks isn’t the way to pay for it,” said Phillips. “In my Seattle district, employees and employers rely on transit for getting to work, while the Sheriff’s deputies they would have to pay for under this proposal only patrol unincorporated areas outside cities. This makes no sense for them.”

If these four leaders find another Councilmember to support the measure, the proposal would go to the ballot in November.

Rossi to Challenge Sen. Murray, Transit Supporter

Dino Rossi, a Republican, has entered the federal Senate primary as a challenge to Senator Patty Murray (Democrat). He is the biggest threat to Murray’s re-election.

Sen. Murray has been a long-time champion of transit funding throughout the state, securing federal earmarks for Central Link, University Link, and many other projects. She’s also helped on the margins when important. She is chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation, and her ability to direct dollars to good projects in our state has been invaluable. Without her help in the early part of the last decade, Link light rail might have crumbled.

Rossi ran for governor in both 2004 and 2008. During his 2008 campaign he had anti-transit policies such as raiding Sound Transit’s Eastside “surplus” funds to spend on highway expansion — money that was necessary to fund East Link — and to open HOV lanes to all traffic outside of “peak hours.” Of course, “peak” is subjective depending on the roadway, and buses need those HOV lanes clear to operate efficiency.

Readers will not have to wait until October to infer our endorsement.

News Roundup: Maple Red

"Post Sounders game crowd", by Oran

This is an open thread.

Mercer Bids Come in 23% Under Budget

The Mercer corridor plan. Image from SDOT.

In more city street news, the city sends word that work on the project to address the so-called “Mercer Mess” has had its first major bid come in under-budget. The project will convert both Mercer and Valley in South Lake Union into a two-way boulevards.

Gary Merlino Construction Company, the apparent low bidder on the east phase of the Mercer Corridor Improvements Project, submitted a proposal that came in at about $47,850,000, well under the engineer’s estimate. Overall, there is a bid savings of approximately 23 percent on demolition and construction from earlier estimates, which the project relied on as part of its funding plan. The city is further reviewing the bids for completeness and responsiveness.

Another illustration that the major project bid environment is very favorable right now, which could affect transit projects such as University Link and the First Hill Streetcar.

Stone Way Road Diet Successful

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

A press release from SDOT shows that reducing the number of traffic lanes on Stone Way has been a success all around. You’ll recall that when the restriping was proposed 4 years ago, property owners on the street freaked out that there wouldn’t be enough room for traffic if the street went from 4 lanes to 3.  Needless to say, those fears haven’t come to pass:

  • Motor vehicles now travel at speeds nearer the legal limit;
  • Total collisions dropped 14 percent with injury collisions down 33 percent;
  • Pedestrian collisions declined significantly;
  • Bike trips increased 35 percent but collisions per bicycle trip have declined; and
  • Volumes show the roadway still easily accommodates motor vehicle traffic.

Full report here (pdf).

Suburban Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Perhaps contra serial catowner’s previous post, here’s an interesting theory about why rail construction these days is so suburb-heavy:

While local politics surely plays a role, in recent years getting money for new rail projects has required being able to show that the project will result in reduced travel time. Since reduced travel time requires some sort of grade separation, in a dense urban area this entails either subway, elevated, or massive eminent domain. All of those options are too expensive, so reduced travel time on a route requires finding a relatively non dense area with significant distance between stops. So the trains go to the burbs. That isn’t necessarily bad, and I’d say it’s good to the extent that land use rules around the routes change (too often they don’t), but it’s part of the reasons why new transit systems have a heavy suburban component.

We’re moving away from that standard at DOT under LaHood, but it’s how things have been.

I mostly agree with Atrios here, but I would add another layer to it. Metro areas themselves look vastly different than they did a few decades ago. In 1960, King County had twice the population of Seattle. In 2010, it has almost 4 times the population. The suburbs, especially here out West, have just grown exponentially in recent years while urban populations have remained constant. On the East Coast, many cities — like Atrios’ native Philly — have lost population. So of course the politics and balance of power is going to have an affect.

That said, I do think he has a compelling point: reduced travel time is easier to achieve in the ‘burbs. Combine that with the fact that transit projects can only get 20% of their funding from the feds, and you have a recipe for suburban-focused rail.

Stone Way Road Diet Improved Safety, says City

Yesterday, the city sent out a press release showing that the Stone Way “road diet” has improved safety on the street. The so-called diet converted the north Seattle street from a four lane road into one that has two lanes, a center turn lane, and bicycle lanes. Publicola summarizes the press release:

• The percentage of drivers exceeding the 30 mph speed limit on Stone Way by 10 mph or more dropped about 75 percent—from about 4 percent to about 1 percent. A pedestrian struck at 20 mph, according to studies cited in SDOT’s report, has an 85 percent chance of survival, compared to only 15 percent for a pedestrian struck at [a higher speed].

• While car traffic on Stone Way decreased 6 percent after the road was rechannelized, bike traffic increased a whopping 35 percent, with bike traffic representing around 15 percent of rush-hour trips on the road.

Traffic on neighborhood streets did not increase, as some neighborhood residents feared; instead, it actually declined substantially, with traffic volumes as much as 49 percent lower on streets parallel to Stone Way. Only two parallel street segments showed any increase—one, Woodland Park Ave. N. at N. 42nd St., climbing by 2 percent (three cars) at morning rush hour, and the other, Woodland Park Ave. N. at N. 50th St., increasing by 27 percent (12 cars) at morning rush hour.

• Collisions between cars and cars, bikes, and pedestrians declined dramatically—14 percent—after the new bike lane and sharrow were introduced. And collisions causing injuries fell even further—33 percent. Finally, car collisions with pedestrians declined even more dramatically —fully 80 percent.

Notably, while local businesses predicted endless traffic on the corridor, the city says that “volumes show the roadway still easily accommodates motor vehicle traffic.”

Ride Free Area Future in Doubt?

Last week, the Seattle PI reported that Downtown Seattle’s Ride Free Area may not last:

Seattle’s downtown Ride Free Area is again under the microscope as transit officials examine how much it contributes to a multi-million-dollar problem with fare evasion. King County Metro Transit officials also have sat down with city officials to revisit an outdated agreement under which Seattle pays to offset fares that would otherwise be collected inside the zone.

“That may lead us to determine to abandon the ride free zone, but that’s many months away from now,” Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond told the county’s Regional Transit Committee Wednesday.

The discussion stems from a recent Metro Transit study showing the agency loses about $3.2 million per year from non-paying riders, or about $62,000 per week. That accounts for an estimated 53,000 riders who don’t pay each week and 35,000 who only pay partial fares. Altogether, that’s just under 5 percent of ridership.

I wrote in January of 2009 that if we eventually moved to heavy ORCA adoption, eliminating the Ride Free Area might make sense… maybe. Budget considerations may alter that judgment slightly, but for all the confusion and possible fare avoidance the RFA may cause, it also helps to ensure that buses move through downtown smoother and have lower dwell times. But Link light rail isn’t free downtown and a peer city — Portland — recently eliminated free bus rides in its downtown.

Of course, Desmond’s comments may be a thinly-veiled call to the Seattle City Council: contribute more to Metro for the Ride Free Area. Seattle pays about $400,000 a year for the Ride Free Area, based on a “methodology in place since 1989 to estimate the difference between the value of the fares Metro would collect if a fare was charged for trips within downtown Seattle and the operating cost savings Metro experiences due to the faster travel times through the CBD,” according to Metro. The 1998 agreement between the city and Metro indexes the payment to inflation, but with “ridership increases over the past few years – combined with 2009 and 2010 fare increases – the difference between fare collections and cost savings in the RFA is increasing much faster than inflation.”