Equitable Growth Dialogues: Friday, Saturday

"H.O.U.S.E.S" - University of Michigan

Great City is hosting several unique events Friday and Saturday that we really should have publicized earlier. On Friday the four finalist teams of ULI’s Gerald D. Hines Student Urban Design competition, which involved designing a TOD node around Link’s Mount Baker Station, will give their final presentations. Go here to see proposals from the four finalist teams.

Additionally on Saturday Great City is hosting three breakout sessions that will focus on the convergence of development and social equity, specifically in the context of Southeast Seattle. The full agenda is below the jump. Registration for Saturday is free but requested.

From Great Cities website:


Please join Great City and a roster of fantastic organizations on Friday, April 1 and Saturday, April 2 for the Equitable Growth Dialogues, a series of probing community conversations concerning regional growth, urban development and entrenched inequalities in Southeast Seattle. Through a series of focused, frank exchanges, the Equitable Growth Dialogues are intended to help build bridges between environmentalists, urbanists and social justice advocates. We believe that now more than ever these sometimes disparate constituencies need to find a shared agenda built on common interests and values. We invite you to participate as your schedule allows.  Daycare, translation and lunch will be provided on April 2.

Download our brochure Equitable Growth Brochure.

This work is generously supported by the Bullitt Foundation.

More details after the jump. Continue reading “Equitable Growth Dialogues: Friday, Saturday”

ORCA, Meet Compass

Photo by Oran

Today Vancouver BC’s TransLink announced the name of its new smartcard, Compass.  Currently using magstripe tickets and passes (for bus) and proof-of-payment (SkyTrain and B-Line buses), by 2013 TransLink will transition to universal adoption of the Compass card.  TransLink has chosen Cubic/IBM to provide the smartcard technology, the same company used by many agencies worldwide, including the Bay Area’s Clipper and London’s Oyster.  (Cubic recently bought out ERG, the supplier for ORCA.)

This $170 million project will reduce fare evasion on SkyTrain and the B-Lines (which, unlike the privately-operated Canada Line, are rarely fare-checked) and provide heaps of ridership data to TransLink for use in planning service improvements and future fare policy.  TransLink will continue to use its impressive network of small retail outlets and pharmacies to provide fare products.

Relative to our experience with ORCA, TransLink has many strategic advantages that should provide them a smoother transition than we have experienced.  Without a ride-free area to overcome and with no shared bus/rail operations, faregates can be installed at all rail stations.  Further, its integrated governance structure should allow it to avoid the interagency administrative nightmare that ORCA has produced in our region.  TransLink owns the primary bus/seabus operator (Coast Mountain) and the SkyTrain operator (BC Rapid Transit Company), directly operates the West Coast Express commuter rail, and owns but contracts out operations of the Canada Line (ProTrans).  Revenue sharing issues might arise with the West Vancouver routes – independently owned and operated since 1912 – but given that routes and fares have long been integrated, any issues should be minimal.

Given intense crowding and peoples’ continued expectation for 3-door boarding, I hope that Compass readers will be installed at all doors on the 97 and 99 B-Lines.

As an unrelated postscript, while researching this post I came across a sentence that made me wince:  “TransLink’s diversified funding portfolio gives TransLink greater certainty regarding annual funding levels and enables us to plan for the long term.”   While no North American agency has had an easy few years, take this chart as food for thought.

Chart by the Author

News Round Up: Tunnel Madness

TBM Breakthrough
TBM Breakthrough, photo by flickr user Fríða mín

Decision Making

We all make decisions about what transportation mode to use. For most of us, these choices don’t change very often – we have routines and have thoroughly explored our options. But we do still make them – if we change jobs, if we move, if a new light rail line opens.

These decisions, like most, are largely cost-benefit: What’s the cost of busing to a suburban job and losing flexibility? How much would I save on parking if I bought a bus pass instead? They’re often complex, trying to balance everyday needs with exceptions while trying to predict future changes.

Most of us are here because we want to see those costs and benefits change: Some directly for ourselves – we want to be able to use transit, walk, or cycle more easily. Some more indirectly – we want to see lower carbon emissions per capita, or the political and social changes that come with more dense neighborhoods.

I think it’s important to recognize that an individual’s decisions about what mode to use are almost entirely a product of their environment. We all have preferences about what we want – a downtown condo and a subway, a rural house with a sports car – and these are equally valid desires. We each value our desired lifestyle differently – some people are willing to pay more than others toward their preferences – but for the most part, we are maximizers, looking for the best deal possible.

This is where public policy comes in. Public money spent on infrastructure has for centuries changed the costs and benefits for an individual when making their transportation choices. So much, in fact, that today ‘transportation choice’ is practically a code phrase for ‘not a car’, when only a hundred years ago road trips didn’t even exist – much less international flights.

The transportation and land use policy changes you’ll hear wonks and ideologues like us suggest are about changing those costs and benefits. The single largest reason these are so hard to change is that people everywhere around us have made future plans assuming the status quo. These can be as simple as “I plan to drive to work tomorrow” and as complex as “I plan to vote to expand this highway because I was elected largely due to contributions from employees of a labor union that does most of its work on highway projects.”

There’s a huge range in the relative difficulty of changing a transportation decision. On one end someone just might not know they can get a transit pass from their employer. On the other end, you might have to run challengers against entrenched politicians to stop a project. So the decisions we often make as activists are about the cost effectiveness not of transportation choices, but of our activism choices.

Activists like us can’t build a lot more transit right now. Link expansion is under construction, and getting significantly more means going to the legislature. Transportation for Washington is pushing bills to provide better local transit funding, mostly for bus agencies, but we won’t have a big opportunity to build rail for at least a few years, until today’s budget issues are worked out.

In the meantime, we can set up for the future: push to allow more development around transit, and to remove parking minimums. We’d let the market do our work for us – people who move into new buildings without parking are natural transit users, just like the vast majority of Capitol Hill voters who supported Sound Transit expansion. This is our low hanging fruit that makes the decision not to drive that much easier.

Early Study Findings Show Good News for Trolleys

Trolleybuses returning to Atlantic Base, by Oran

Early results from Metro’s trolleybus replacement study bear good news for retaining electric trolley technology.  According to a news release issued yesterday, trolleybuses would have the least environmental impact and the greatest degree of cost-effectivness overall:

The initial findings of an evaluation of options for replacing Metro Transit’s aging trolley bus fleet suggest that when all factors are considered – including available funding – new electric trolley buses would be the most cost-effective replacement with the least environmental impacts, according to King County Executive Dow Constantine.

“The initial findings of this study appear to confirm my own belief that electric trolley buses are the best vehicles for moving riders in dense urban environments,” said Executive Constantine. “As the study shows, they are clean, quiet, and the modern trolleys can be very cost-effective to operate over their lifetime.”

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Early Study Findings Show Good News for Trolleys”

A Different Way to Tax Parking

Northgate in the 1950s (historylink.org)

I haven’t said much about the attempt in Olympia to pit Seattle’s parking tax against the U-Pass program because I have no independent way to evaluate the claim that the current tax threatens the program. Feel free to convince me in the comments.

Meanwhile, PubliCola reports on Senators White, Murray, Nelson, Kohl-Welles, and Kline (all from Seattle) introducing another awesome bill with no chance this session:

The bill… would allow Seattle to impose a fee on every non-city-owned commercial parking stall in the city. The per-stall fee would apply not just to commercial (paid) parking lots but to free lots like those at Northgate. A per-stall fee would cost the UW less than the commercial parking tax, but would almost certainly be opposed by businesses whose parking is currently free.

SB 5910 calls into relief the incentives that current parking policy creates. There’s nearly no impediment to providing free parking, especially once it’s been built. But if a property owner is interested in operating a smaller lot that requires demand management through pricing, he or she is subjected to the hassle involved in collecting a tax for the city.

Can Rail Cause Sprawl?

DC Streets Blog recently asked the question: Can Transit Expansion Produce Sprawl Like Highways Do? The question was also brought up years ago during Roads and Transit debate on the original Sound Transit expansion plan. More recently, the Obama Administration’s High Speed Rail plans have brought the question along with them, this time as to whether high speed rail would cause sprawl.

Can rail cause sprawl? Answer below the fold.
Continue reading “Can Rail Cause Sprawl?”

Stop Announcements

This is starting to make its way out of RapidRide into the rest of the fleet. The description for this video says it was filmed on coaches 2554 and 2556, both serving route 177.

This is part of Metro’s ongoing rollout of GPS on all 1400 buses, which started last fall and Metro tells me should be complete in about 18 months.

Where are the Link Schedules?

I am disappointed to see the continuing absence of detailed Central Link service information from Sound Transit publications and its website. Also, schedule information was removed from OneBusAway and replaced with headway information*, a decision that the agency made a few months ago.

While Link provides very frequent service by Seattle standards (and that is a pretty low standard, in context of big city transit systems), it is not frequent enough to completely disregard a schedule that lists specific departure times. The Transit Capacity and Quality of Service Manual, considers service headways less than 15 minutes as “frequent service”. It states that between 10 and 14 minute headways, passengers do consult schedules to minimize their wait time. Any headway below 10 minutes, most people don’t bother with schedules, since the waiting time is minimal and is often assumed to be half the headway on average. This statement is supported by empirical research by Bowman and Turnquist and seems to make “common sense.”

Knowing the time a train is scheduled to depart, is necessary in planning trips that involve transfers to other services be it a bus, Sounder or ferry, especially to services that are not frequent. Trip Planner does this for us automatically but not everyone has access to it, some prefer manually planning, and some just want to know the departure time of a specific train. If Trip Planner has the information, why can’t we all easily see that information?

More after the jump. Continue reading “Where are the Link Schedules?”

APTA Youth Summit

We are passing this American Public Transportation Association (APTA) announcement along to our young readers. Looks like an amazing opportunity.

This June, APTA will host its second youth summit—Generation Green on Board: A Youth Summit To Advance Public Transportation—and APTA needs your help attracting student  applicants.

Students from across the country who will be high school juniors and seniors in the 2011 -2012 school year will come together June 26-30 in Washington, DC to learn how public transportation helps build vibrant communities and improves the environment. The summit will also expose participants to transit career opportunities.

The all-expenses-paid opportunity includes these highlights:

• Experience five days in the Nation’s Capital
• Learn about the benefits of public transportation and how transit is helping shape a brighter future
• Meet lawmakers and congressional leaders
• Participate in hands-on local transit tours
• Discover the wide range of exciting career paths within the transit industry

APTA member organizations are asked to work with local schools and encourage students in their communities to apply for this unique experience.

A program overview and application are available at http://apta.com/youthsummit or you may contact Cheryl Pyatt at cpyatt@apta.com with questions.


Reduced PT Service Now Through June 11th

Photo by Atomic Taco

Apparently, repairs to the CNG fueling station will be measured in months, not weeks:

Since February 28th, a fire in our Compressed Natural Gas fueling station has limited the number of buses we can put into service each day. We are now learning that repairs will take several months and that we will be unable to return to regular service levels. As a result, we are operating Emergency Reduced Service through June 11th.

The brochure lays out the route-by-route impacts.

Large, temporary transit disruptions are terrible for many people’s lives, but in this case the cuts are coming anyway so it’s tempting to say people might as well adapt now. On the other hand, current reduced service operates under unique constraints and is likely quite different from the eventual shape of service.

TCC: Transportation Budget Analysis and Rundown

Transportation Choices Coalition (TCC) has a good analysis of all three of the proposed transportation budgets on their blog and copied below. Since the release of the House’s budget earlier this week $4 million dollars in funds for Sound Transit’s Lakewood to Tacoma Sounder vehicle project have been added back (out of $4.5 million dollars). This project was not initially included in the Regional Mobility Grant despite being one the top ranking projects. This amendment was proposed by Rep. Upthegrove and approved by Transportation Committee Chair Rep. Clibborn, is noteworthy and promising. The proposed budget also funds $5.2 of the $8 million dollars requested by ST for the S. 200th Link extension.

There are a lot of moving pieces right now with the transportation budgets in the Legislature.  Here is a comprehensive rundown [as of mid-day 3/24] of what is going on with the three transportation budgets (House, Senate, and Gov.), differences between then, and where we stand.

Here is a chart depicting the major differences between the three proposed budget (numbers are in millions unless otherwise noted) is below.

The following comments will in included in TCC’s testimony on the Senate Budget, which will be heard at 3:30 this afternoon.

More after the jump. Continue reading “TCC: Transportation Budget Analysis and Rundown”

Eastside Service Revisions, Round 3


After another round of comments, Metro staff has finalized its recommendation for changes to Eastside bus service centered around RapidRide B opening on October 1st.

The recommendations go to the County Council for approval, which is not a mere formality. The relevant committee is holding a public hearing on April 12th, 6pm, at the Mercer Island Community Center, where riders are invited to make comments. Also, there’s an email option, probably less effective than showing up.

Here are the changes from the previous proposal:

  • Revised Route 222 would be renumbered as Route 241
  • The revised western section of Route 230 would be renumbered as Route 235
  • Revised Route 233 would be renumbered as Route 226
  • Route 240 would serve the South Bellevue Park-and-Ride, Bellevue Way SE, and 112th Avenue SE rather than SE 36th Street, the Eastgate Park-and-Ride, Richards Road, and 112th Avenue SE. [Metro apparently went with Bellevue’s recommendation on this subject].
  • Revised Route 249 would run on NE 29th Place between 148th Avenue NE and NE 24th Street instead of through the intersection of 148th Avenue NE and NE 24th Street.

See also this informative service frequency chart. The B line, 255, 271, 545, and 550 will constitute the frequent (15 min. mid-day) service network, with the 245 only a few trips short. Many more maps and other details are available at the project website.

Urban Maps for Geeks

Screenshot from the New York Times

I thought I’d pass along a data reference tool that I’ve found very useful in understanding our city and region.  A few months ago the New York Times launched a project called Mapping America – Every City, Every Block.  The maps use data from the 2009 American Community Survey to display basic population data (density, race/ethnicity, income, education etc…) but they are especially useful in their use of automatic scaling; the maps adjusts your viewing for either census tract or county depending on your level of zoom.

It’s always nice to have a reliable and easy-to-read data source to use in urban research.  Enjoy!

The Viaduct Replacement in One Easy Chart


I wouldn’t expect someone who wants to build everything — highways, transit, etc., to have much of a problem with the deep bore tunnel. I certainly wouldn’t expect a pro-highway, anti-transit person to like surface/transit. What less understandable is people that think the marginal dollar is better spent on transit, including the vast majority of the people hanging around here, are at the same time surprised that STB would take a strong position in favor of surface/transit/I-5.

I’ve tried several times to break down the numbers in different ways, but I think those articles may be a bit hard to follow. I think the chart below really lays it out. It shows what the money is being spent on in the deep-bore tunnel, four-lane rebuild, and surface/transit/I-5 options that were in play in late 2008 and early 2009 when Governor Gregoire, Executive Sims, and Mayor Nickels reached their agreement. For clarity, I’ll leave out the $1.1 billion in “Moving Forward” projects, mainly the highway through Sodo, that are uncontroversial and apply to any option.  S/T/I-5 has the most transit and the least highway.

All figures in millions

“Other” includes the seawall, mitigation, the park, and so on.

In the current debate, spending $1.2 billion on highways and hundreds of millions of more on city streets is viewed as irretrievably hostile to drivers.

Once again, I have to point out that of the $2.4 billion in gas tax money committed to this project, $1.1 billion is going to the aforementioned moving forward projects, and all the plans have well over $1 billion in highway projects, so it’s simply not true that the bulk of the gas tax money couldn’t be used for the other options.

Lastly, a word about our continuing coverage of this issue. STB staff are encouraged to write about whatever interests them, within reason. This debate has been prominent for a while, which creates interest. Second, the level of public discourse has been exceptionally poor, filled with distortions, fearmongering, tangents, and lots of misconceptions; I think articles not afraid to get into the numbers and bring the subject back to first principles are a useful corrective. Third, the tunnel is very likely to happen given its very strong support at all levels of government and divided public opinion. The Protect Seattle Now initiative is a necessary but not sufficient step, but the most important task is to convince people there are better options.

* The $190 million in transit capital for DBT isn’t going to materialize. It’s really “$0.”

Senate Transportation Budget Released

Following the release of the House’s transportation budget on Monday, the Senate released their budget yesterday. The Tacoma News Tribune has a good summary:

Outside of the ferry system (more on that below), the two proposals are fairly similar, reflecting a lack of money to pursue many new projects beyond those already in the pipeline.

Both budgets restore cuts [$20 million dollars] Gov. Chris Gregoire would have made to transit agency grants. Locally, the program would spend $3.5 million on a Hawks Prairie park-and-ride project and $3 million on the planned commuter rail connection to Lakewood. The Senate version also would provide $701,000 for Pierce Transit to improve bus access in Parkland.

There are now three very different proposals for increasing ferry fares. Senators said their plan assumes approval of a 25-cent surcharge on each ferry fare, but otherwise it wouldn’t increase fares more than the 2.5 percent hike already approved.

The House budget doesn’t include the surcharge but would raise fares 7.5 percent instead of 2.5 percent. Gov. Chris Gregoire’s proposal would change the increase to 10 percent, while adding a different surcharge that would vary based on fuel prices.

The big take away of all three budgets is that transportation funding is essentially in a holding mode. Uncompleted projects identified under the Transportation Partnership and Nickle Package are being pushed out because there simply isn’t enough money for them. Most funds from those packages are already spoken for and are now going to pay off bonds over the next 25 years.

News Round-Up: Turned Away

Trains du Pilate
Pilatus Railway, photo by flicker user trams aux fils

As always, this is an open thread.

House Releases Biennial Budget

Yesterday House transportation leaders released their 2011-2013 biennial budget. From their press release.

The $8.9 billion transportation budget proposal for the 2011-13 biennium takes a multi-modal approach to planning for future needs with investments in highways, ferries, commercial and passenger rail, transit, and bicycle and pedestrian improvements. More than 43,000 jobs are expected to be created or sustained through the budget’s $4.9 billion capital construction plan.


Taking into account the diversity of transportation preferences across the state, the budget makes significant multi-modal investments, including $402 million for passenger rail, $237 for ferry terminals and vessels, $88 million for urban and rural transit, $44 million for freight rail and $11 million for the Safe Routes to School and bicycle-pedestrian safety programs.

The Times is reporting, as many have been expecting, that the state legislature is looking to next year for new transportation revenue.

State legislators will neither cut nor add big highway projects this year, but voters can expect a mix of road and transit taxes on the ballot in 2012, the House Transportation Committee chairwoman said Monday.

Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said she wants lawmakers to suggest the “bare bones” of the 2012 package by the end of this spring session.

At least four factors explain the push for new taxes:

• In the past decade, the number of miles driven has flattened, while cars are more fuel-efficient, so gas-tax income is forecast to gradually decline.

• Lawmakers overpromised what the 2003-05 gas and car-tab revenues could deliver, so more cash is needed for postponed projects such as the redecking of Interstate 5 in Seattle.

• Demand still exists for new routes, such as extensions of Highway 167 serving the Port of Tacoma, that stalled when voters rejected the 2007 Roads and Transit measure.

• Finally, transit boosters are frustrated by sales-tax losses that are forcing bus agencies to freeze or cut service — and some would like to hasten new rail and bus-rapid transit.

The Senate should be releasing it’s budget later today.

The Low Hanging Fruit of Public Buildings

Seattle City Hall (wikimedia)

Possibly the easiest way to improve land use is to repeal legal restrictions that prevent profit-maximizing developers from also doing desirable, urbanist designs. Parking minima are an obvious example of this.

What’s harder is encouraging good design when it’s not the profit-maximizing choice. Pedestrians suffer blank walls presented to the street all the time. There’s a solid case that narrow storefronts breed better walkable neighborhoods because it encourages diverse, low-capital startups and means that all that much more variety is within walking districts. However, wider storefronts are common in new construction.

It’s a genuinely difficult problem to encourage this kind of thing while not driving away the development the region so badly needs. However, there is no excuse for public buildings to suffer from these problems. Although costs matter, these buildings are hardly oriented towards maximizing the revenue they generate. More after the jump.

Continue reading “The Low Hanging Fruit of Public Buildings”