Photo by litlnemo

Apparently something happened this week besides Seattle being hit with a snowstorm. We postponed a couple of pretty decent policy posts to give wall-to-wall coverage of the storm, and you’ll probably see those next week:

  • Yonah Freemark reports that the transit federal tax subsidy, set to fall below the subsidy for parking, is on the agenda to be restored to the same level during the lame duck session.
  • Lessons of the snowstorm from an operator; video of buses on snowy hills.
  • Young punk blogger has an op-ed in the Seattle Times. From the comment thread you wouldn’t be able to figure out the actual subject.
  • Metro has to use some articulated buses, even in the snow. Not mentioned: they have to be hybrids in the DSTT, and almost all of those are artics.
  • Complaints about Metro’s information in the storm.
  • Building up Pioneer Square. Bertolet tackles Sodo’s zoning; I could stand about a dozen more posts from him on tradeoffs between upzones and incentive zoning.
  • Person killed by Amtrak train in Tukwila.
  • Congestion metrics are broken.
  • Convertible parking.
  • The urbanist generation gap.

This is an open thread.

81 Replies to “News Roundup: Life Goes On”

  1. I think it’s a shame, though predictable, that Sherwin’s article became a light-rail bashing exercise.

    1. Aye. Although it does give you a good example of the Times’ audience which explains their leanings a bit.

    2. Who cares what the Times’ commenters have to say. It’s always the same ten people recycling the same old arguments. And the majority of them don’t even live in Seattle. I don’t think that the Times’ comment section is an accurate cross-section of Seattle residents, so I usually don’t even bother reading it any more.

      1. I used to be a frequent poster on misc.transport.urban-transit

        Oh those were the days (segue into All in the Family theme).

        Listen all the young transport bloggers…

        When you can remember riding the buses when brand new that were replaced by the buses now being retired, you know its time to sit in the easy chair next to the fireplace and sip hot cocoa, whilst looking back upon past memories, and how much better the world was in the 1990’s.

        This happens to me when I hear old Collective Soul or Nirvana songs.

        Olympia, WA

      2. If the Times commenters were an accurate cross section of the readership, then Dino Rossi would have won by a landslide. People who comment there are the ones most upset by what ever the writer is saying. Well, sort of, many appear not to have read the op-ed. In any case I don’t think they are an accurate picture of the Time’s readership or the opinion of the majority of the people in the Seattle area.

      1. You came off a kinda dim, Jim. You were challenging some folks to identify the “Cost” and “Benefit” of BRT, but you would not, or could not, do the same for light rail.

        What is the likely tax cost going to be for ST’s capital projects? I read the taxes for the $8 billion of bonds will need to be collected through 2052. Does that equate to about $85 billion in taxing to secure $8 billion in bonds? That’s a big “cost”, right Jim?

    3. It was a predictable response from the usual suspects. Hey, I stayed out of it.

      One interesting thread in the whole mess was the bit about the unconstitutionality of the ST governing board. It’s the opposite side to Martin’s posting about how great everything has been. I’m not a lawyer so I can’t speak to the validity of the argument, but since there hasn’t been a challenge in the courts and there are plenty of ST detractors with money, I figure it’s not valid but then I didn’t see the Metro governance as being unconstitutional either.

      One does have to wonder if there are more than a few paid “real americans” on that board, as the seem to have a lot of time to post.

      1. How is ST’s governing board structure different from that of a Public Transportation Benefit Area like Community Transit and Pierce Transit, which existed since the 1970s? As far as I know, their board and CEO aren’t elected either.

      2. Here is the bit of the thread that was interesting to me:

        “The Real Me”
        Sound Transit now is unconstitutional. The reasons for that are different than the reasons that caused old-Metro to be deemed unconstitutional in 1990.

        Old-Metro was unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment because it had an elective board but the “one-person one-vote” rule was not followed.

        Sound Transit is unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment to the federal constitution as well, but for a different reasons. ST fails the test the US Supreme Court set out in Sailors v. Kent Bd. of Education, 387 U.S. 105, 87 S. Ct. 1549, 18 L. Ed. 2d 650 (1967).” That US Supreme Court opinion is here: The problem is ST’s got an appointive board, but its powers are not limited to “perform[ing] essentially administrative functions”. Instead, ST’s appointees engage in a range of activities that are “legislative in the classical sense”.

        Deciding how much tax to impose, how long the taxes will be imposed (via the bond sale contract security terms) and how much long term debt to incur are legislative actions in the classical sense. Deciding where train lines will run, trumping local governments’ land use plans, spending over one billion of dollars per year as they see fit, wielding condemnation powers (ST owns hundreds of properties it used those powers to acquire), creating by its own resolutions civil infractions and fines for them, the power to employ statutory law enforcement officers to the same extent cities can, the power to create subsidiary municipal corporations, choosing how to spend over one billion dollars of public money annually – those all legislative in the classical sense.

        ST2 (the 2008 local law) is unconstitutional as well, under Article I sec. I of the state constitution. That’s because under it people have no ability to exert any power over the management or policies of ST by political means.

        Note: I’m not a lawyer and I don’t even pretend to be one. “The Real Me” can’t be that real if he won’t use his own name.

        And my take on this, is that if this was actually true, Kemper Freeman and his lawyers would have tried to challenge this in court. He’s got enough money to run the lawsuit.

      3. Oh The Real Me: He’s the one who accuses John Niles, Kemper Freeman, Phil Talmadge, et al, of being “ST’s chosen enemies”, in other words, puppets who do not seriously pose a threat to ST’s agenda and were chosen to give the appearance that ST has some opposition for balance.

  2. I love the “How did you get to LIGHT RAIL, by using your CAR!” guy. Um, last I checked I walked. And last I checked I walked to Pike Place Market, Westlake Center, Pacific Place, Seattle Center, SoDo and Capitol Hill. I took light rail to Beacon Hill, Columbia City.

    I’ve had no problem toodling around sans car amidst hundreds of thousands of people.

    My commute home, on foot and more than a mile, was less than 30 minutes when all those cars were taking up to 8 hours to get home.

    Woe is me and my sustainable lifestyle.

  3. Nothing to do with any of the articles posted, but since this is an open thread:

    Is there any Real Estate agent or firm that focuses on TOD? Recent developments mean that we might can buy a buy a place back in Seattle sooner than expected but I will have very limited time to check them out before I deploy in March. Since I have the opportunity I’d like to buy why the prices are cheap and before I go so my wife can leave this sh*thole town and go back home while I’m overseas. We will most likely only have a couple of weekends to look at housing before I go (although I don’t have to buy then, my wife has full power of attorney while I’m gone) so don’t want to waste any of it looking at crap we don’t want.

    1. And I’m gonna blame the lack of an edit feature for the typos and grammatical errors. It has nothing to do with the fact that I got off early and am a six pack into the Thanksgiving Holiday.

    1. It took me like three months of reading Transit Blog before I realized it wasn’t a model or manufacturer (like Breda or Gillig) called Arctic. The brain just keeps inserting that extra ‘c’ because that’s what it expects.

  4. Not mentioned: the hybrids (in the DSTT or not) are all artics.

    There’s one non-artic hybrid, but it’s a prototype and probably does not have Hush mode.

    1. It doesn’t have HUSH mode and the rest of the 7000’s won’t. From my understanding the HUSH mode is an exclusive to the Allison Company and New Flyer.

  5. The Metro data used by OneBusAway comes from transponders that send a signal whenever a bus passes, Thielke said.

    She got it backwards. The bus itself sends in its odometer reading; approximately every 90 seconds. The odometer readings are augmented by small beacons. The bus passes by the beacon and then knows exactly where it is. The odometer just says it’s 4,000 feet from the beginning of the route; after passing the beacon it knows it’s 50 feet from 125th and Lake City Way.

    1. That must work great, until your waiting on a bus with a screwed up odometer. Some of the 3600’s I’ve driven, the odometer’s tenth-mile just rolls over and over. Not accurate at all.

  6. Thanks for the open thread, Martin. It gives me the chance to say something somebody needs to, if nobody else has.

    LINK Light Rail gave a stellar performance. The bus drivers of every agency on the road Monday night deserved the chance to do the same.

    Every one of them, and every one of the passengers trapped aboard their buses are owed some major public recognition just for being where they were, and showing as much ability, grace, and perseverence under unforgiveable conditions.

    Former President Clinton has probably worn out apologies as a tool of public policy. But the entire region deserves an accounting for what happened to the part of the transportation system that spent Monday night standing still.

    And a lot of action to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Monday night, coupled with two nights personally at the wheel of needlessly stalled buses over thirteen years of transit driving, show me it doesn’t have to.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Unless and until this area is willing to spend millions on the type of infrastructure (fleets of trucks and plows; silos full of sand and salt) used back east and in the midwest where winter weather is a given and actually a seasonal expectation (vs the crapshoot we have here), we will have 24 hour apocalyptic conditions when it snows.

      In this region it simply doesn’t make sense to maintain all that stuff for what may or may not happen at all in a given year. Add to that the fact that folks don’t even want to pay an extra nickle for a can of pop and the money isn’t there anyway.

      Want an “accounting” for what happened? It isn’t incompetence, it’s just circumstance. We don’t have hundreds of trucks and other equipment needed to deal with these weather events – and despite the inconvenience, it happens so rarely it wouldn’t be worth it.

    1. I think the TSA has finally pushed too far. It’s been 9 years now and people are starting to see through the security theater.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if the enhanced security got toned down in airports, and would be very surprised if it went any further.

  7. Dan Bertolet wasn’t talking about SODO (south OF downtown), he was talkin about the South Downtown rezone, encompassing Pioneer Square and the International District.

    1. Imagine what the International District will be like once the First Hill Streetcar is built in a couple years. If I could buy one of those empty storefronts on Jackson St. right now, I would do it in a heartbeat. If you have an idea of an Asian related business, grab one of these storefronts now because they won’t be available come 2013.

      1. Yeah it’ll be great! I just hope that the upzoning and development of the neighborhood won’t raise rents and property values to the extent that it pushes out the vibrant community there. It’s a tough balance to make.

      2. Given the incredibly complex land ownership in much of the ID, I wouldn’t be too concerned about mammoth changes in the short term. And the beauty is that there is still an abundance of small retail spaces in the older buildings west of I-5! It’s the stuff going up the hill toward 12th that seems most likely to get redeveloped first.

  8. In a story posted a while ago, someone alluded to off-the-record concerns at ST about tax revenue being so low as to endanger or delay East Link and North Link. More generally, an update to the “Threats to Rail Completion” blog post would be interesting.

    1. ST talked about it at the north corridor meeting. North Link (UW – Northgate) is delayed by a year to 2021. South Link (SeaTac – 272nd) has the biggest shortfall, and it may be shortened, delayed, cancelled, have stations deferred, or replaced by a non-LR (e.g., bus) system. The North Corridor (Northgate – Lynnwood) is also short on funds but I don’t think it’s as drastic as the south. But they did forewarn that it may be shortened or delayed too, and of course the EIS they’re preparing is mode neutral so it’ll consider BRT too. Nothing has been decided yet; they’re just starting to explore options. They’re also considering advancing the S 200 St station to 2016, separating it from the South Link opening. I don’t remember anything specific about East Link. I think its revenues are lower than North Link but higher than South Link.

      ST did say its highest priority is to complete projects that are under construction or in late planning, meaning University Link and North Link. The other segments are still undergoing route selection so they’re more likely to be delayed.

      1. Thanks, that’s good info. How come different segments are funded differently?

        Also, I’m new to Seattle, and I’m wondering if there are any good local advocacy groups for public transit, or things I can do do myself?

  9. What I really find funny about all those “I love my car / you need a car to get around Seattle” folks:

    I’ve been here since 2000. I’ve lived in Seattle (on-campus UW student), Federal Way, Renton, and now own a house in Bellevue. I’ve been wheelchair bound since 1999 and while sure a car can be adapted to I can physically drive even though I can’t use my legs, I have yet to own a vehicle. I was in a manual wheelchair for years until I got my motorized scooter just before Central Link opened (I still keep my manual around for emergencies).

    After all this time, I will still happily catch a bus or train and wouldn’t be caught driving a modified car

    1. (my comment is a reply to all the light rail bashers in the Times comment section – yes there’s a reason you don’t find me commenting directly on the article)

  10. I would like to give kudos to Commmunity Transit for their excellent, up-to-date rider alert emails and messages. They have done a great job of keeping commuters up to date.

    That being said, I think Sound Transit’s response in the same area has been subpar. I’m also signed up for their rider alerts, but consistently it has been the CT alerts that provided information on ST routes that ST did not send out alerts for until several hours later. CT was proactive, and sent rush hour route information alerts by 2 or 3pm. Sound Transit sent their updates at 6pm, after the commute was half-over (or would have been, if everyone wasn’t stuck on the buses).

  11. “Not mentioned: they have to be hybrids in the DSTT, and almost all of those are artics.”

    C’mon, the MAN Americanas used to go in the tunnel when the Bredas were being, well, Bredas.

    What’s a bit of diseasel particulates among friends?

    1. It’s not about the diesel fumes….well it kinda is, but the real reason is the 800MHz radio. All hybrid tunnel coaches have an 800MHz radio(located just over the driver left shoulder) and when in the tunnel, buses are under the control of Link Control Center(LCC) and not the regular Metro control center. Only hybrid coaches have the radio and the radio is required for travel through the tunnel.

  12. The most annoying thing this week for me is that I have been waiting for a package from FedEx since Monday (its down in their DC in Auburn ), and yet the UPS truck and mailman have driven by my house every day…

    1. That place isn’t to far from me. I could go down there and UPS it to you and you’d probably have it faster. UPS is only doing Air on Friday though.

  13. Regarding converted parking garages, this was envisioned in “The Lathe of Heaven”, a 1970s sci-fi novel by Ursula LeGuin. In the first part of the book the protagonist’s girlfriend works in a parking garage that has been converted to law offices because Portland is crowded and the world population is extremely high. But his dreams change reality, and in a later segment the population is lower, he has a large apartment, and she no longer works in the garage. “Who the hell works in a converted parking garage anyway?”

  14. “Not mentioned: they have to be hybrids in the DSTT, and almost all of those are artics”

    At this point, Metro only has one Hybrid, Coach 9200, that is not an artic. As far as I know, that bus does not have Hush mode and thus, is not allowed to travel in the DSTT. I don’t believe the Orion Hybrids will have a hush mode option.

    1. Metro ran regular 40ft Gilligs in the tunnel during the last Snowpocalypse when the artics were parked. It was not pleasant with noxious fumes and overcrowded buses.

    2. Hush mode is specific to Allison’s parallel drive. Aren’t the Orions being ordered with a different transmission and different type of hybrid technology?

      I did not know that 9200 (Sound Transit New Flyer DE40LF assigned to King County–usually runs on 560/1 or 560/2) doesn’t have hush mode, though I can’t say I’m surprised either.

  15. Due to popular demand, I rode Link light rail from Westlake to SeaTac and back late this morning. I-5 was clear, and traffic moving faster than Link, as usual. Not many passengers on my Link trains.

    The link cars were really COLD. The buses I rode to and from downtown were much, much warmer inside than the Link cars. Are link cars not capable of being warm when the outside temp is in the 20’s? Or, does ST just not like to use the heaters to their fullest?

    And the city streets of downtown Seattle were clear of snow, and buses were moving normally, even with chains on.

    A couple pictures and one short video at:

    1. Norman,

      Popular Demand was that you would have had the where-with-all to post a video, and make your comments…


      But that would require some critical thinking, Copernicus.

      1. No. That would have required trying to get down to a Link station from the top of Queen Anne Hill during a snow storm.

        In a snow storm, light rail is utterly useless to anyone who is not close enough to a station to get there in reasonable safety. And, since in a snowstorm, schools, and many businesses are closed, and many flights canceled, in a snowstorm there is not much reason to go anywhere, on light rail or any other mode, is there?

        Or does that take too much critical thinking for you?

      2. I have to admit that the bold makes this thread ever so slightly more amusing. :)

        Norman, I don’t think anyone here actually thinks that you needed to go out in the snowstorm just to prove yourself wrong. As everyone’s been saying, the best and safest thing to do during the storm was to stay inside.

        But, at the same time, it is kind of silly to hear you talking about how traffic is moving faster than Link now that the roads are clear. Like it or not, some people did need to travel during the storm — many of them between downtown and the airport — and Link was the only reliable way to make that trip. There is ample YouTube evidence both of the storm’s paralyzing effect on I-5 and local arterials, for both cars and buses, and of its complete lack of effect on Link.

        You’re absolutely correct that Link is only currently useful for people whose travel coincided with the corridor that’s currently built. But to me, that means that we should be building lots and lots more, not that there’s anything wrong with what we had. If North Link was finished, and if there was a “West Link” that connected Ballard to downtown via Uptown, Queen Anne, and Fremont, then a huge extra segment of the population (you included) would have been able to travel during the storm.

      3. There’s something wrong when someone who lives on the Eastside was able to get to a Link station in Downtown and get home safely while someone who lives on Queen Anne complains how hard it is and never even tried.

      4. Oran, and how were you able to get to a Link station downtown from the east side during a snowstorm? Not on light rail, obviously. So, the fact that you could get from the east side to downtown Seattle in a snow storm says to me that it is possible to get around our area in a snow storm on modes other than trains.


    2. Perhaps you should have noted the number of the cold Link train you rode, so it could be reported to Sound Transit for having poorly-functioning heat. The Link trains I rode this week were all warm and comfortable.

      1. 109A and 106B have both been documented for weak or inoperative floor heaters multiple times by this operator and some of my passengers had the misfortune of riding in a cold LRV during this artic blast. I have not had a train where the floor heaters are out on both halves of the car yet so if it seems cold where you are (and you are not near a door) then try the other end.

      2. I was on 109, and the floor heater was not working at all. My feet were freezing, as were my ears until I put my stocking cap back on.

      3. Actually, looking at the photo I took on my trip to SeaTac, you can see that that Link car was 129A. The heater was not working in that car, and it was very cold. You can see the woman in the blue coat bundled up with her collar turned up, trying to stay warm.

        So, I guess ST should add car 129A to its list of Link cars with non-functioning heaters.

  16. Why would I have wanted to travel during a snowstorm? And, to where? To “explore Columbia City”? lol

    Why is it silly to talk about traffic when roads are clear? Roads in our area are clear of snow and ice about 353 days every year. What is silly is talking about traffic during weather conditions that exist almost never in our area.

    During the one or two days per year when snow and ice make travel difficult in the Seattle area, intelligent people stay home. In case you are a newcomer to our area, I’m happy to let you know that the events of the past couple days are not typical in Seattle in any way. Normal low temperature in Seattle in November is well above freezing. The past couple of days were either all-time record lows or nearly all-time record low temperatures for those dates. Last winter there was not a single day of snow-caused travel problems. That happens more often than not in Seattle winters. Seattle is not Minneapolis, Chicago, or New York City, where weather like this is common. The next few days the high temps are supposed to be in the 40’s and the lows in the mid thirties. That is normal for Seattle winters.

    And exactly how much tax revenue do you want to spend to expand these little trains? Particularly when King County is reducing the number of sheriffs, the state is eliminating thousands from its basic health plan, and the city of Seattle had to cut its budget by about $60 million, while ST is collecting around $700 million this year alone?

    So, if you don’t think that $700 million or so per year (and increasing every year) in tax collections by Sound Transit is enough, then how much are you proposing?

    1. I don’t dispute that this kind of weather is rare for Seattle, and I’m certainly not suggesting that this weather is anything other than a peripheral justification for Link.

      What I am saying is this. You’ve surely noticed that many people on this blog have been commending Link’s performance during the storm. During weather conditions that paralyzed I-5, Link continued operating without incident. That’s a fact, and there’s evidence to prove it.

      You can argue all you want about whether this fact is useful or important in any way. But when you imply that you rode Link in “storm conditions” and watched traffic move faster on I-5, I claim that you’re being disingenuous. The real storm conditions were on Monday and Tuesday. There was no “popular demand” for you to ride Link today.

      1. The segment where Norman sees traffic moving faster than Link is one where traffic on I-5 has a faster speed limit (60) than Link does (50 or 55, I forget). So, duh, it’s going to go faster (people speed, too) unless there is a backup. There often IS a backup there, but when volumes are lower — as they were this week, even though the freeway had been cleared — people will be going faster than Link through that segment if they are at the speed limit or speeding. This is not news to anyone.

        Link’s value is not that it goes faster than cars through that segment, but that it reliably goes that speed, while cars and buses are more frequently tied up in traffic.

        I agree, he’s being disingenuous.

      2. I never said I rode Link during a snow storm. I even showed pictures which showed clearly that is was not snowing, and that the roads were clear less than 48 hours after the major traffic problems occurred.

    2. Now, leaving aside the weather question, how much money do I want to spend? Well, for one, there’s over $4 billion scheduled to be spent on a deep-bore tunnel, and I would love to see that money spent on transit infrastructure instead.

      But in general, I tend to think that the richer Washingtonians (and I include myself in this group) could afford to pay a bit more. I left a state with a 5.3% income tax, and I would be happy to pay the same here. (Note: The reason I left was that I found a job here, and the reason I took a job here was that I specifically wanted to see what it was like living on the west coast. I would have had no problem finding a job in Boston or NYC, and I certainly didn’t choose where to live based on the tax rates.)

      The problem isn’t that trains are out-competing health and safety, it’s that we don’t have enough revenue for anything that we want to do.

      1. If we ever get an income tax in WA there are a lot more important things to spend it on than more tiny trains.

        Forget about raising taxes. Would you be willing to pay the actual cost of your trips on transit? Even just the operating cost, let alone the construction cost?

        Would you pay $15 or so to ride Link from Seattle to SeaTac, for example? Or $10 every time you ride a bus?

        The deep bore tunnel itself is under $2 billion. It will cost per mile close to what U-Link is costing. But a lot more people will use the bored tunnel than will use U-Link.

        Still, I consider the deep-bored tunnel to be a stupid waste of money. They should just reinforce or rebuild the viaduct instead — a lot more capacity for a lot less money.

    3. [off-topic]

      I don’t blame you for staying in, Norman. You stay in until you feel comfortable. That’s what’s most important. There’s nothing that can’t wait until it gets warmer.

  17. One other thing that should be mentioned about the traffic havoc on Tuesday afternoon and evening is that SDOT fell down on the job. Not only was the weather extremely unusual for our area, but SDOT utterly failed in its feeble attempts to keep any roads clear.

    In particular, they should never allow the Alaskan Way viaduct, The West Seattle Bridge or the 1st Ave. S. bridge to close due to weather. Never. I heard that all three of these elevated roadways were closed Monday pm. This is completely unacceptable.

    SR99, or Aurora Ave N., down to Seattle, across the viaduct then over the 1st Ave S. bridge is very heavily traveled and is my main route for going from Seattle to SeaTac airport. This is easily the most important route that SDOT is responsible for (I assume WSDOT is reponsible for I-5). When the viaduct and 1st Ave S. bridge were both closed to traffic Monday pm, that forced all that traffic to try to get onto I-5 to go south. Which, along with terrible conditions on I-5, led to the traffic disaster heading south.

    This did not have to happen. It should have been possible to keep the viaduct, W. Seattle Bridge and 1st Ave. S. bridge all open during this entire weather event. This was a failure of SDOT — not an unavoidable occurrence. Apparently, SDOT thought that just putting down some salt brine on these elevated roadways before the snow hit would keep them open all day. Obviously, they were wrong. If we ever get an event similar to this one, SDOT must do whatever it takes to keep the SR99/509 route to SeaTac open continuously, as well as the W. Seattle bridge.

    What happened to traffic Monday pm did not need to happen. Much of it was due to incompetence of SDOT. So, it is not accurate to imply that highways can never work in a snow event like we just had — they can. But it takes some competence from the agencies that are charge of keeping roadways passable in bad weather.

    1. Oh, I hear ya, Norman. It’s sure not like the old days, is it? That darn SDOT. They’ve just gotten lazy, that’s what it is. I blame the unions.

  18. What I don’t get is why ST canceled the 532 instead of the 535. I think they should have tried to keep the bus all the way to Everett running and it duplicates the 535 south of Lynnwood. They also canceled one of the Seattle to Everett buses too so people trying to get to the eastside from points north were virtually stranded.

    1. For anybody who rides a bike regularly this seems like a “well, duh!” moment.

      I wonder how many collisions could be avoided if cyclists used bright lights, even in daytime, and high visibility clothing. When I’m out with my Dinotte lights I see many cars that start to pull out of driveways or start a left cross only to STOP when they are confronted by my headlight. I just purchased one of their 140L tailights and wonder if it might cut down on close passes and right hooks. Every little bit helps, I suppose.

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