News Roundup: Caps for Slats

White. Photo by Oran.
  • Spokane Transit mulling a 7% service cut in 2011. There’s no talk of new taxes yet, but they’re at 0.6% so there’s room for that.
  • Seattle parking tax going up 2.5 points to 12.5%, Transportation Benefit District formed with $20 vehicle license fee is likely. Mayor McGinn to ask for more transportation taxes but the council probably won’t go for them.
  • The Mayors of Seattle and Portland will be at a Worldchanging event on October 1 to “dialogue about the Cascade Region’s most pressing issues,” with a focus on climate neutral growth.
  • Sounder’s 10 year anniversary was yesterday.
  • Peak West Seattle Water Taxi service to be year-round.
  • Some in Fauntleroy haggling over RapidRide C details, after complaining that bus improvements would impede traffic.
  • The OneBusAway iPhone App has been updated.
  • Use the Internet more, and cars less.
  • Virginia man murdered after he got a speed bump installed on his street.
  • Not really transit-related, but this map of race and population in Seattle is really interesting. See also this map of tourists vs. locals. The author’s photostream does have some good transit content, and will wre ck your productivity.
  • Beer bottle caps for Slats.

This is an open thread.

Seattle Chooses Highline Designer for Waterfront

The city has chosen james corner field operations (sic) to design Seattle’s new waterfront, reports PubliCola.

New York City-based field operations was widely seen as the flashier of the two leading contenders for the contract to overhaul more than 20 acres of waterfront space when the Alaskan Way Viaduct comes down […]

During his public presentation last week, Corner—a native of Manchester—said he wanted to integrate the waterfront’s “gritty” industrial feel into his waterfront design. “We found the work James Corner did to be compelling and relevant to the waterfront,” said SDOT central waterfront project manager Steve Pearce.

JCFO is probably best known for designing New York City’s Highline, and has a history of delivering beautiful and innovative urban park projects. We hope they do something great with the waterfront once the Viaduct is torn down.

We continue to question how an unactivated section of town is going to be activated by just a park. Jane Jacobs, author of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, wrote in the early sixties that urban parks that aren’t surrounded by diverse uses will inevitably have problems; they are “volatile places.” A park along the waterfront may face these problems if the only commercial activity along its edges are daytime tourist traps — every Cal Anderson needs its Capitol Hill, after all. PubliCola asked about commercial development, and the response isn’t great:

Asked whether the city’s current waterfront “guiding principles”—which say that city-owned land that will be opened up on the waterfront must remain public—will inhibit development (and effectively force the design team to propose a linear park), DPD director Diane Sugimura said, “That’s one of the challenges: How do you make this a real urban area for all the people of the city … and something that’s not just a big park.” However, Sugimura said, “At this point we’re not looking at private development per se,” although the waterfront design could include things like pavilions with restaurants inside.

Perhaps a pavilion for all the quality restaurants that want to sit on city-owned property? Right.

Unless the city, and JCFO, recognizes that people must live, work, and play on the waterfront for it to really click, the waterfront will no doubt be visually impressive but still fall short.

Metro Construction Reroutes in 2011

Photo by Erubisu SEA

Although details will have to wait until staff are done with the October 2 service change, Metro is going to change service in Sodo and downtown for several years, until the viaduct sorts itself out, and various other construction projects happen:

Desmond said the construction projects are expected to be disruptive for all traffic, including buses. Although the road closures and construction projects will be phased over many years, Metro thinks it is best for bus riders if their routes change as few times as possible.

With that in mind, starting next February Metro will divert much of its downtown service away from First Avenue between Edgar Martinez Drive and Broad Street. Most of these bus routes will move to Third Avenue. It will also result in some changes for bus travel on Second and Fourth avenues, as some routes are moved there to accommodate the bus changes on First and Third.

An Open Letter to New London

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Dear New London,

I know we’ve just met, and I’m leaving in a few days.  But I find criticism is easiest to take from strangers.  Let me be honest – you’re not living up to your potential.  You were built with all of the right elements.  You have narrow streets, a well planned downtown, wonderful history, narrow storefronts, beautiful buildings (ok, a few too many giant churches for your own good, but not the worst flaw to have), you’ve got a nice train station, a waterfront view, and you’re a major ferry stop.   But it’s clear you’ve let yourself go.

Don’t get me wrong – I know it’s not your fault.  You saw all of the other towns growing and getting rich.  However, say it with me, you’re not Mystic and you’ll never be Mystic.  It’s just impossible to compete with an 80’s movie starring Julia Roberts and a waterfront that isn’t cut off by a train.  But Mystic is shallow anyway, with it’s giant parking lot for the tour buses and its Disneyland-like renovated homes and sailboats.

I know you saw Mystic and believed all you needed was a giant parking structure of your own, and to widen your streets, and to tear down all of those buildings that weren’t so pretty and put in more parking.  But you were so close to perfect.  Now instead of beautiful old shops that are walkable, pedestrians can’t carry a conversation over the 30mph traffic flying by.  And parking lots have eaten up most of your downtown.  And instead of revising your zoning to let infill bring new buildings with new people to shop at your downtown you kept your old zoning rules.  Then you let in that condo where the first two floors are parking lots.  And to bring in some cash you were desperate for you let that developer put in that block wide concrete office building in the middle of downtown without any retail – just blank walls.

I hope you didn’t really think you’d lure drivers out of their cars by adding big parking lots.  How did that work out for you?   Did you intend to have your main street filled with porn shops and bars?  Are those new streetlight banners helping?  How about the security cameras?

But it’s not too late, New London.  Sure you’ll never approach the beauty of your namesake in my lifetime or perhaps a dozen lifetimes, but with a bit of work you can be a thriving city again.  Start with a serious road diet.  Yes, people want to cut through your downtown to get to the freeway, but that doesn’t help you at all.  I’ll let you keep that parking structure for now, but replace that block wide and five block long parking strip with human scale retail and housing.  Change your zoning just outside downtown to let homes be built close to one another and end your parking requirements.  Up your height maximums to four stories – you don’t have to be a suburb if you start acting like a city.

I wish you luck.  Call me if you find the willpower to change.


P.S.  Ok, I took another trip to your city, and I have to give you some credit.  State Street looks reasonably nice.  It’s 2-way with slow moving traffic, which has resulted in some nice shops.  I also realized that you’ve suffered from the same state-inflicted torture as other cities, as the nearby freeway and bridge most likely created your perceived need of wider roads downtown.  But I urge you: ignore this freeway.  Put your road on a diet and don’t fast-track potential visitors right through your downtown.

(sorry about the off-topic post, but it shouldn’t be too hard to find parallel arguments about Seattle)

2nd Cascades Train to Vancouver B.C. Canceled

Pacific Central Station in Vancouver – Photo by Discovery Institute

The extension of Amtrak trains 513/516 to Vancouver B.C. will end on October 31st, indefinitely truncating the trains back to Bellingham. The Canadian Border Services Agency was unwilling to relent upon their demand for roughly $550,000USD in annual border clearance fees, and neither WSDOT nor Amtrak is willing to pay the fee.  WSDOT issued a press release criticizing the decision and has urged CBSA to reconsider.  The Bellingham Herald reports that the B.C. government wished to see the trains continue without a fee but was overruled by CBSA on fiscal grounds.  Approximately 73 people per day rode 513/516 between Vancouver and points south over the life of the extension, with the Olympics and the summer months averaging roughly 100 per day.

More after the jump…

Continue reading “2nd Cascades Train to Vancouver B.C. Canceled”

Waterfront Presentations Online

If three hours is too much for you, you can peruse the PowerPoint here, although the slides are professional enough to be hard to follow by themselves.

The City of Seattle will announce the lead designer this morning at 11:00.

Update 11:40: Via SDOT’s Twitter feed “We are pleased to announce James Corner Field Operations as the lead designer for Seattle’s Central Waterfront. ” Their presentation here.

New TOD in the Valley

Detail of Oran's frequent service map. Colored Lines have <= 15 minute headways, light gray are worse or peak-only

One reason I moved to the Rainier Valley was the promise that it would eventually become a dense and walkable neighborhood, so I was gratified to read that the economy has turned around enough to get some of these projects started again:

But demand for apartments is rising across the region — rents are up, vacancies down — and new construction is starting to look more attractive to developers.

The neighborhoods around the Mount Baker, Columbia City and Othello light-rail stations offer an added lure to prospective tenants: the possibility of a quick, carless, cheaper commute.

We get a fair amount of mail criticizing projects in the Southeast for not fitting an ideal notion of TOD, in particular by having too much parking. Although I’m often irritated by insufficiently dense uses and the zoning restrictions that continue to drive them, I think it’s best to be relaxed about the former problem.* First of all, there are far too many empty pits by rail stations to complain that the people aren’t being packed in densely enough.

More importantly, I don’t think the current configuration of service along MLK really encourages people with an option to go car free. There isn’t a ton of activity and housing along MLK itself, so both the Rainier Avenue and Beacon Avenues are important as places for MLK residents to go to and for MLK businesses to draw from.

A quick glance at Oran’s (unfinished) frequent service map shows why this requires parking in the near future. With a few partial exceptions, no choice riders are going to travel by bus from arbitrary points on MLK to arbitrary points on Beacon or Rainier, and vice versa. There are simply too few frequent East/West routes and too many transfers. I don’t think it’s an accident that a project in Mt. Baker — where everything meets and these problems are mitigated — is the one place where a parking-free building is going in.

* To be clear, we should absolutely be upset when regulations require more parking than the market demands, but relaxed when developers, at this stage, choose to build parking due to demand.

Love this commute tool

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Google map based tool that uses census data to graph commutes.  One large flaw is that it assumes everyone drives, but overall it’s awesome.  Oh, and for some reason they chose not to support Internet Explorer (?!).

Play with this a while and all kinds of interesting trends pop out.  Compare “from” data in any Seattle zip code (try 98001) with a suburban zip code (try Bothell 98011),  and you’ll see a short commute with fat lines compared to a very wide range of commutes with spindly spider web lines throughout the region.

Via HumanTransit

Downtown Tacoma Paid Parking Begins Today

Photo by Zach

For the first time since 1976, today the City of Tacoma begins charging for parking in the downtown core.  The city will charge an introductory rate of 75¢/hour with a 2-hour maximum, a fee significantly lower than either Seattle ($2.50) or Portland ($1.60). In addition, today the city introduces a 90-minute buffer zone adjacent to the paid parking area in which parking will remain free but will for the first time be subject to time limitations.

Rates will be effective 8a-6p Monday through Saturday, with Sundays and designated holidays free, and Tacoma will use the same coin/card meters used by the City of Seattle.  Sources at the City of Tacoma admit that the 75¢ rate will not cover administrative costs, making it likely that rates will rise once drivers have adapted to the new scenario and the city analyzes ongoing parking availability.

The change is expected to to increase parking availability in the core, markedly increase parking demand at Tacoma Dome Station (which for now will remain free parking), and boost ridership on Tacoma Link.

Extend Link Hours

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This morning I planned on taking transit to the airport, my normal means of getting there.  But it turns out that Sunday morning service is terrible.  Searching at 5am for ways of getting to the airport, I found there was a bus at 4:10, and the next one wasn’t until 6:10.  “That’s fine” I say “I’ll just take a taxi to the bus tunnel”.  But then I look up Link hours, and they don’t start running until 6:20.  So a $45 taxi to the airport it is.

When I arrive at the airport, the drop-off area is packed.  We have to wait several minutes in the line to drop off along with countless other taxis.  I ask the driver about this, and he says it’s the same every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday at this time when the cruise ships are in town, and continues until at least 8am.

I understand the desire to minimize costs by keeping the hours of service to those that are well used.  But that’s a whole lot of taxi trips that probably wouldn’t happen if we extended Link at least an hour on Sunday mornings.

Bellevue Councilman John Chelminiak Attacked By Bear

John Chelminiak, photo from City of Bellevue

KOMO news is reporting that Bellevue city councilmember John Chelminiak was attacked by a bear in Chelan County:

The Wenatchee World reports that John Chelminiak was walking his dogs at his vacation home near Lake Wenatchee when he was attacked. He was first taken to Central Washington Hospital in Wenatchee for puncture wounds to his face and head, but was soon taken to Harborview so he could be treated by doctors who specialize in reconstructive surgery. Chelminiak’s family said in a statement that he is currently in stable condition.

Chelminiak is one of the three Bellevue city councilmembers that support Sound Transit’s B2M alignment.  We wish him a full and speedy recovery.

Weather Report

Image from Slog

Weather expert Cliff Mass prognosticates, with some lighthearted political advice:

It also turns out that there is a greater probability of lowland snow west of the Cascades during La Nina years. Now, if Seattle’s Mayor McGinn knows whats good for him he would be sharpening those snow plow blades, securing lots of sand and SALT, establishing rational plans for plowing the city, and telling all snow plow operators to avoid his neighborhood. We lost one Mayor to snowappocalypse [sic], two would be an embarrassment. I offered to build a SNOWWATCH web page for the city…no bites yet.

If you’re a renter, it might be a good year to seek some housing near either a freeway station or light rail station, or at least on flat ground. The switch heaters that went in this spring, combined with running trains all night to prevent accumulation, should keep the trains running in the event of another snowpocalypse.

On the other hand, Metro put a lot of energy into revising their snow procedures, so perhaps we’ll all be alright.

Ferry Panel Suggests Cyclists Disembark Last

Darrel Bryan (Clipper Vacations CEO and PVA Chairman) with Governor Gregoire, David Mosely, and Paula Hammond -- WSDOT Photo

On September 9th the Passenger Vessel Association released its recommendations report for improved operations on Washington State Ferries.  Governor Gregoire had requested that the panel conduct an informal audit and make preliminary suggestions.  While many of the suggestions are sensible, such as replacing in-state bidding for capital projects with national bids, they also included a frustrating suggestion for cyclists.  From page 88 of the report:

The Panel recommends that vehicles be unloaded ahead of bikes.
Safety is of the paramount importance with efficiency second. The Panel recommends that a trial project be undertaken to change the loading/unloading sequence with bicycles being loaded last and unloaded last. This allows better separation of vehicles and bicycles and gives the Mate more control over the space allocated to bikes. Bikes are also slower than cars and can slow the disembarkation of those they are in front of. By holding back bikes, it also avoids the need for bicyclists to move through the car deck with their bikes in order to get to the front of the vessel. By off loading after the vehicles, bikes will not be sharing the road at the same time as the disembarking vehicles, allowing for a margin of safety.

Forcing cyclists to wait an extra 10 minutes would significantly disincentivize the mode when foot passengers and vehicles would remain able to disembark immediately. Would Metro buses at Fauntleroy or Vashon wait the extra time in order to accommodate cyclists? Would the extra waiting time cause Bainbridge cyclists to switch to walking or driving? Beyond these inconveniences, cyclists would have to be on the vehicle deck breathing poorly-ventilated exhaust, posing a significant health risk and significantly diminishing the rider experience. For these and many other reasons, let’s hope that this is one suggestion they ignore.

Transit Union President: Cut Bus Service for Driver Pay

"Dispatch: Where drivers get their assignments." Photo by Oran.

From the excellent Lindblom piece in last week’s Times about the Union’s contract negotiations with King County Metro:

[Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 president Paul] Bachtel said Metro isn’t like United Airlines, which needed wage concessions to stay in business. “They [drivers] don’t expect to give up wages, benefits, working conditions, when the transit agency could cut some of its services, and not take away pay.”

It should be noted that the issue really up for discussion isn’t outright wage cuts, but rather keeping minimum “cost-of-living” raises of 3% even when there is nearly no inflation, nor meaningful movement of the consumer price index, due to the recession. In other words, it’s expected that the cost-of-living will not increase much in coming years but the union president wants so-called “cost-of-living” increases — automatic pay raises — while tax revenues remain flat. It’s the union’s right to ask, but certainly the county has an obligation to get a good deal for the public. That’s balance is reflected in the spirit of the quote above: the ATU is asking for pay increases at the high cost of reduced bus service.

It’s about here in the discussion where we would usually choose our loyalties based on the question “Are bus drivers overpaid?” Or, are they paid too little? I don’t like to answer such leading questions, but a first answer has to be, “compared to what?” Do we look at peer agencies? Do we ask ourselves what a living wage is? And does a “living wage” include a house and a stay-at-home spouse? Or is renting an apartment still “living?” Those are complicated questions that no one, including me, is suited to answer for any other. I’m unprepared to make a value judgment about who “deserves” what pay. Most of us know, of course, that pay is earned; its first-order approximation is probably opportunity cost [1].

Continued after the jump…

Continue reading “Transit Union President: Cut Bus Service for Driver Pay”

Updated Comments System

A small technical note: we’ve switched our comments systems to WordPress’ default threaded comments system, after a long time of using a plug-in.

We’re experimenting with the exact look of the comments, as well as the depth of threading we want to support. The goals are to make comments easier to follow and read.

Any suggestions in the comments are welcome.

Edit: Commenter may have to refresh the comments page a few times to see the appropriate styling.

Park City

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Seattle Commons

Seattle Commons, Courtesy UW's HIT Lab

One last comment about this post on STB: it seems to have generated quite a comment thread discussing Seattle’s parks and whether or not we have any “real” urban parks.

There’s a lot of discussion in the thread about whether Seattle in fact has any urban parks, what counts as an urban park, etc. etc.  The various merits of Chicago’s Millennium Park and Seattle’s Discovery Park are discussed, along with ample digressions regarding their proximity to the city center.

I think what people are groping for here is a the idea of a park where many of the city’s residents can walk out of their apartments and go for a long walk or jog.  That’s what makes urban parks so special, that cognitive dissonance.  One minute, you’re in a multi-story residential apartment building, the next, you’re lost in a jungle for a while.  Sure, you can drive from your 1950s rambler in Crown Hill to Discovery Park, but you don’t get quite the same cognitive dissonance.  And you don’t get the same energy of all these other people enjoying the park with you.

Seattle will never have a large, forested urban park that’s walking distance from downtown.  That ship has sailed.  We had one last chance in 1995 with the Seattle Commons, and we voted it down.  C’est la vie. The closest thing we have that fits the leave-your-apartment-and-go-for-a-jog criteria is Myrtle Edwards (Capitol Hill parks are too small for jogging, and there aren’t enough apartments near the other parks to really qualify).

However, Seattle does have plenty of great parks, it’s just that few of them were constructed in that particular 19th Century era of Olmstead “City Beautiful” parks, where you try to showcase nature but at the same time tame it.  For example, we have Green Lake, with more and more apartments being constructed around it all the time.  Visit Green Lake on a nice summer day (remember those?) and it truly does have the energy of an urban park.  It seems far from downtown now, but in 50 years it will be less so.  We also have real urban parks that aren’t very big, like Cal Anderson.  You can’t jog there, but it does have the energy of a city park.  The more we try and enjoy the parks we have for what they are, the happier we’ll be.

News Roundup: Now Within Federal Limits

"RapidRide Shelter with a View", by Atomic Taco

So much stuff this week, some of these really deserved posts…

Much more after the jump… Continue reading “News Roundup: Now Within Federal Limits”