This is what I call an alternatives analysis:

133 Replies to “Sunday Open Thread: Detroit Rail City”

  1. I was hoping that I could have a few questions answered by someone that’s been on one of the Amtrak Cascades affected by the mudslides.

    If you had a ticket for a train that had been completely canceled by a mudslide, did you receive a prompt refund or did you have to contact Amtrak for a refund or a ticket date change?And if you were switched over to the buses, was Amtrak’s communication about it readily available and easy to understand? (i.e., did you get an email notifying you.) And if you paid for a business class ticket, did you receive a refund for that portion or was something else done?

    1. I cancelled my ticket about 10 minutes before the bus was scheduled to depart at the ticket desk because I was able to hitch a ride with a friend. It’s quick and easy. You can also easily refund your extras like the bike charge, business class, etc but you have to request it.

      As for email notifications, surprisingly no. I didn’t find out I was riding a bus until I arrived at the station and picked up my ticket.

    2. Based on a myriad of different sources and having worked in IT on the mainframe side years ago, I’ll see if I can help.

      If you had a ticket for a train that had been completely canceled by a mudslide, did you receive a prompt refund or did you have to contact Amtrak for a refund or a ticket date change?

      Amtrak won’t automatically do anything, other than a phone notification. At the point of cancellation, they don’t know if the person travelling wants to go on a different day, or get their money back. So, yes, you have to contact Amtrak and let them know what you want to do .

      And if you were switched over to the buses, was Amtrak’s communication about it readily available and easy to understand?(i.e., did you get an email notifying you.)

      I had the opportunity to listen to one of the automated phone calls the Amtrak system sends out when these things happen. Best way I can describe it would be “an audio version of a ransom note”. One of those pieced together sentences, but in audio format. Stephen Hawking’s voice is a pleasant melody in comparison.

      The Amtrak system, from what I’ve read in IT trade articles, is basically the same core system they used when Amtrak was born. Probably written in IBM’s BAL for the 360/370 series mainframes. The website and the somewhat graphical user interfaces the ticket agents use is basically of the ‘screen scraper’ variety of interaction.

      email? Good luck. Although that article did say that given its age, and almost physical separation from the Internet, it’s virtually hacker-proof. Who would bother?

      It’s a kludge, but it’s a working kludge. Given Amtrak’s funding, it’s better to not try to fix something that, at its core, ain’t broken. Kinda like an old Chevy.

      And if you paid for a business class ticket, did you receive a refund for that portion or was something else done?

      Generally, the added charges that show up on the tickets under ACCOM (Accomodation) default to not refund (Business Class on the Cascades, and Sleeper Car bedrooms on the long distance trains), but work as an exchange for a ticket for another day. Amtrak tickets are like the old airline tickets. The printed ticket is like cash, so they have value and can be traded in on future trips. If you want to get a refund on the whole ticket when Amtrak cancels on you, then the ticket agent can override the ‘exchange’ portion to do a refund.

      Hope this helped

  2. Cute video. But given the suddenly draconian political climate in Michigan with its Governor demanding dictatorial powers to dissolve municipal entities and cancel any contracts, I don’t see projects like this going forward anytime soon.

  3. On another note. I witnessed a bizarre incident last night at the Columbia City Link Station. I was driving(!?!) home and was eastbound on Alaska and waiting at the light. I observed a car smash into the north end of the station. It hit some barrier, then it backed up and then entered the station tracks. About that time, I was moving through the intersection and then dialing 911. Reported what I saw. Transit police called me back 1/2 hour later for more info.

    1. Ah, drunk drivers.

      If only we had a comprehensive transit system that ran through the night. Maybe there would be fewer of them on the road.

  4. I’ve been grumbling about parking fees at park & rides all week. From a recent STB post: “In addition to a capital cost of around $1m [to provide for paid parking], the break-even point for [parking] enforcement came out to as much as $3 per space, effectively doubling overall rider costs in a way unlikely to be subsidized by employers.”

    $3 per space? For a packed medium sized park & ride of 500 spaces, you could collect $1,500 in a single day. You could easily pay somebody to walk around the lot to collect fares for that kind of money.

    I’m sure that Diamond Parking would charge far less than $3 in management fees for a parking lot. Even at only $1 per space management fee, I’d seriously start thinking about dusting off my business degree and starting a management company. Do the math folks, that’s $120,000 per year, after assuming only 48 weeks of M-F coverage to allow for holidays, to manage a 500 stall parking lot. Pretty good money, especially if you consider that it would only require 4-8 hours of actual management time per day.

    Can Sound Transit and Metro not outsource this non-core function? They already outsource security, why not parking enforcement?

    Also, who says employers need to subsidize parking? Give folks passes as they do now and let commuters decide whether they really need to pay for parking or if they could ride a bike, carpool, or take a local bus to the transit center.

    1. King County Parks charges a $1 at Marymoor and does just fine. Either ST is fabricating the number (because they’re afraid it will cut into ridership numbers) or they are just incapable or running anything efficiently. What if a model is adopted like San Francisco where all fines collected go directly to the transit agency?

      1. To be fair, the quote did say, “enforcement came out to *as much as* $3 per space”. That said, the era of free parking at overcrowded park & rides needs to come to an end. A natural place to start would be Mercer Island Park & Ride – It’s brand new and its 447 stalls are hopelessly overcrowded. A $2-$3 parking fee during peak times would enable users to rely on parking there any time during the day. (If not, push the price higher).

        Study ridership before and after the change, survey folks, etc… And please, sub-contract out the parking management, Ok? I believe transit is a public good and worthy of government money but I don’t feel Sound Transit needs to reinvent the parking lot management wheel.

    2. $3 per space, $360,000 per year in enforcement costs seems absolutely ridiculous to me. A paid attendant sitting there 8 hours a day Monday-Friday would cost a 10th of that. And electronic parking meters like the city of Seattle uses, with a couple of quick sweeps in the middle of the day would cost even less, once the up-front cost of the installation is paid for.

      1. You forget the profit factor that these companies charge… Look at other outsourcing contracts and you’ll sometimes find that they are not really a bargain for the public. Either in increased fees over what the government might charge and the lower wages that private companies might pay but at no lower net cost to the government.

      2. There’s any number of ways to do it and it probably depends on the P&R (i.e. garage vs. open lot). But if you just start at $1/day and rely primarily on the honor system what’s to lose? The vast majority are going to pay, as they do at Marymoor, because they appreciate the service being provided and want to ensure it is funded.

    3. Charging for parking in order to enable some vacant spaces is much, much cheaper than trying to fulfill the demand for free parking.

    1. I found it particularly interesting how the SF ETBs and historic streetcars share overhead wire. Also ETBs can easily pass each other on Market St.

      Muni also used the Clipper (formerly TransLink) smart cards a little different than KC Metro. Buses are proof of payment system and there are readers at both doors of buses. The weirdest part to me was that you can pay cash onboard Muni Metro light rail to a farebox in the front of the first car and get a paper transfer from the train operator!

    1. Yes they were running. They were stopped and for the first time ever all the trains in Toko were shutdown as a precaution for after shocks (many greater than 6) and to allow time to inspect for damage. People were up all night trying to find alternate routes home or stuck at the office. The electrical infrastructure was also hit hard making it difficult to assure the trains could keep running. As far as I’ve heard the only train lost was a local passenger train running on a coastal route.

    2. I’m not sure if they were high-speed trains, but

      Despite minimal damage to Tokyo, the capital city that is the economic heart of Asia, the city was paralyzed by idled transit and sporadic telecommunications. Authorities said contact had been lost with four trains traveling along the northeastern coast.

      I had heard another report that some folks had been rescued from a stranded train. After the quake, train service in Tokyo was suspended, including Shinkansen. There must have been several running at the time of the earthquake.

      1. The link AW posted at 5:08 does not seem to be working for a picture of a train station any more. You have a working link to that picture?

      2. I can’t can’t find that photo elsewhere right now. Click on the MSNBC link, then on the Day 3 link and advance to slide six.

    3. I was riding on a conventional train on an elevated section of track outside Tokyo when an earthquake hit. The train came to a controlled stop (not emergency braking, but normal braking.) There was some mild swaying but the structure was clearly designed to withstand an earthquake. The only announcements were in Japanese, but fellow passengers noticed that I am gaijin and translated for me. The announcement was that there had been an earthquake and that the train would be stopped while the tracks were checked. After about 20 minutes the train resumed service.

      All the Shinkansen lines have been built in the last 50 years and are designed with earthquakes in mind. I am sure they will remain out of service until the structural integrity has been checked. There would have been reports had there been any crashes or accidents, so I believe all the trains probably were able to safely stop.

      1. It’s safe to say that while these lines are designed with Earthquakes in mind, a 9.0 is a massive quake, and that there will likely be a lot of repairs needed – especially for higher speeds. I read somewhere this was the worst quake Japan has endured for over 140 years.

      1. Where would you rather be in an earthquake or tsunami: in a high-speed train? or in a jetliner at 25,000 feet?

      2. Keep in mind that there has never been a fatality on the Shinkansen due to a derailment or crash (one person died when a door closed on them). In fact, despite having been operational for almost 50 years there has only been one derailment, in 2004 during an earthquake, in which no one was injured. So, I’d feel safer in an earthquake on a high-speed train than I would in most buildings.

      3. Bernie: Is there a possibility of a tsunami in Lake Washington? I honestly have no idea. Normally, I associate a tsunami with an ocean — not a lake. And if there is the possibility of a tsunami in Lake Washington caused by an earthquake, most of the floating parts of the bridges are over deep water, and my impression of tsunamis is that they are barely noticeable over deep water, but become extremely dangerous as they hit the shallow water along shores, and continue inland. If that is true, then the floating parts of the bridges might not be affected much at all. And the ends of the bridges are pretty high above the shoreline.

        So, in short, are you actually speaking about the Lake Washington floating bridges, and do you have any idea if they are actually in any danger from tsunamis on Lake Washington? Are tusnamis even possible on Lake Washington?

      4. You are forgetting about Washington’s floating bridge on Hood Canal. You remember, the one we just replaced just half of because it was newer since the other half was replace the last time it sank. A tsunami in Lake Washington is very possible. An earthquake could cause an underwater slide. There is a deep crater at the west end of the 520 bridge. It could also be triggered by a landslide slide in Medina or near Saint Edwards. Or simply by an uplift of the lake bed. A large tsunami could very well inundate the ship canal. Remember the Corp of Engineers lowered the lake 30′ when they built the locks. In Japan a 30′ wave travelled 6 miles inland. If you’ve ever been on a boat between I-90 and 520 you’d know how the waves bounce back and forth off the bridges and double when adding and have the opposite effect when subtractive. Wave action near the bridges is intense with even a moderate windstorm.

      5. I’d rather be on the ground. Like ericn said the system’s safety track record has been nearly flawless. No one has ever been killed on those trains from an earthquake, even in this disaster. Much of the Shinkansen track structure is on viaducts and in tunnels.

        However, in this area they put rail in the most of vulnerable places: right on the shoreline of Puget Sound and in the Kent & Puyallup valleys. Tsunamis, land/mudslides, lahars, earthquakes, etc. I’m not very confident in the system over here. That changes things. They can’t even prevent mudslides from stopping service.

      6. “In Japan a 30′ wave travelled 6 miles inland.”

        That was from the Pacfic Ocean. Lake Washington does not exactly compare to the Pacific Ocean, does it?

      7. Bernie: Lake Washington was lowered by nine feet, not thirty. It was taken to the same level as Lake Union, not all the way down to sea level.

      8. 9′ feet is probably the correct number. That just means the backwash up the previous Black River and through the ship canal will be even more severe.

      9. However, in this area they put rail in the most of vulnerable places: right on the shoreline of Puget Sound and in the Kent & Puyallup valleys. Tsunamis, land/mudslides, lahars, earthquakes, etc. I’m not very confident in the system over here. That changes things. They can’t even prevent mudslides from stopping service.

        There’s an old civil-engineer’s axiom: “Given enough money and concrete, anything is possible!”

        The current rail lines follow a water-level route, because that’s the path of least resistance. Nature has already provided the level grade.

        Fixing the whole mudslide issue is a matter of political will, and funding improvements that would cost a fraction of what we do for some of our lightly travelled roads.

      10. With the floating bridges, I’d be more concerned about the direct effects of the earthquake than any tsunami. As WSDOT showed in their simulation, it’s likely that the columns supporting the high-rise structures at the ends of the bridge would fail and collapse. The floating section would be marooned.

  5. How are the streetcar switches controlled? Does the driver operate them? Are they automatic? Are they controlled from a central office?

    1. Automatic. They have had problems with the switch at the north end, also. I remember when the SLUT first opened that one evening they stationed a man at that switch to manually force it into the correct position with a long pry bar every time a streetcar came by, because the switch was getting stuck in the wrong position.

      What I wonder about is why the streecar traveled so far past the switch before it stopped. Was the operator not paying attention, or what? You would think that if the emergency breaks had been applied as soon as the front wheels went the wrong direction, that the trolley would have stopped a lot sooner than it did. Has there been any report on this incident yet, regarding the operator’s reponse to it? And what damage did the streetcar sustain, if any? What is being done to make sure this does not happen again?

  6. I just spent a couple of days in Portland and had some thoughts about some things Seattle could learn. I know this is not new ground, but I definitely had some “a-ha” moments…

    First of all, Portland has a much more consistent urban fabric. Despite Seattle having a more “big city” feel downtown and more dense districts overall, it feels patchwork compared to Portland’s consistent, walkable grid. Seattle is more a city of nodes with dead zones in between, while Portland – even some of the lower density eastern sections – is consistently human scale, pedestrian friendly, and connected.

    Which brings me to my next point- Portland has much more seamless transitions between neighborhoods. This is particularly true in the inner neighborhoods. Old Town/Downtown/The Pearl/Burnside/21st & 23rd/even East Burnside all flow into each other, the way urban neighborhoods should. In Seattle, Downtown/Capitol Hill/Queen Anne/South Lake Union, etc. do not have the same effect.

    Now, it’s been beat into the ground how Portland’s smaller blockers, bigger sidewalks, and better bike lanes are an advantage, but walking around it strikes me just how true this is.

    We walked from 21/23rd down to Burnside, then over to downtown, and it struck me as a a mini-version of walking down Queen Anne (or 1st Ave N) to 1st Ave and walking downtown. But all the factors I mentioned above come into play and it made it a much more pedestrian-friendly, frankly interesting experience. Everything flows better, the blocks and lots are smaller, the sidewalks more accessible, the development more consistent, neighborhood transitions more seamless. As a tangent, I’d also add that I enjoyed that on Burnside and other core downtown streets, there are still old taverns and places with character. Downtown Seattle is far more filled with pretentiously upscale, overly-polished restaurants/lounges.

    Anyway, I think all of these factors play a key role in why Portland has been able to develop a more usable and comprehensive transit system (I know, the numbers say otherwise, but much of outer-outer Portland is very low density and skews the numbers.)

    I love living in Seattle and prefer it to Portland in many ways. It’s more cosmopolitan, more diverse, has more of a “big city” feel, has denser districts further out, feels less one-dimensional culturally, a more robust economy, has greater natural beauty IMO. But there is a lot to learn from Portland, clearly. Anyway, those are my random open thread thoughts, for better or worse…

    1. How much of the difference is due to topography? Isn’t Portland flatter with fewer barriers? Having I-5 wall off our downtown with a steep hill doesn’t help.

      1. Portland does have very different topography to us – it is only limited in its expansion by not being able to grow northwards. Washington State (and especially Vancouver!) would have something to say on that one!

        However, because of its ability to grow east, west and south, every time I travel through PDX on the CoastStarlight, I am always struck at how big Portland seems and how industrial compared to Seattle.

        Go Sounders! as to the rest of the rivalry we have with the City of Roses!

      2. Portland is more integrated but I’m not sure there’s much we can do about that. It’s not just the fact that Seattle has hills, but as Jarrett Walker points out, Seattle is the only city with neighborhood centers on the tops of hills. The hills can be annoying but to many people they’re part of the city’s charm and a way to get exercise. Likewise, we can’t shrink the blocks or create a “park blocks” boulevard downtown. (Although we could if Ravenna Blvd were downtown.)

        On the other hand, I think Seattle has more jobs downtown than any city in the northwest, and three large tech companies (including Amazon) are now taking up more space. Downtown-centrism is the easiest for transit to provide, and “Center City” (as one of the city’s plans calls the area between Mercer and King) is poised to get the bulk of Seattle’s population growth in the next two decades (secondarily Northgate). We do need to provide more transit to the neighborhoods and peripheral employment centers, but we won’t have to do as radical a restructuring as cities where almost all the jobs have moved away from downtown.

      3. It’s really not about topography. It’s about the tangible psychological effects of scale. This directly relates to something I’ve wanted to illustrate on an open thread for a while. Greg et al, please scroll down…

      4. Having more jobs downtown than any other city in the northwest isn’t saying much when you consider the competition…

        More interesting is the discussion about providing more transit service to outlying job centers. I’ve seen this idea floating around before, and I’m always a bit puzzled. Where are these places? Of the big job centers (other than Downtown/SLU/First Hill) that I know of, three (Overlake, Bellevue, UW) are slated to get Link; and Boeing in Georgetown seems to have decent commuter bus service, at least. What are the big ones I’m missing?

      5. Mike,

        San Francisco has steep hills and neighborhoods on top of hills (just like Seattle), but is a much more integrated, walkable city. I dont think the hills are an excuse.

      6. SLU is separated from downtown by the street grid change at Denny Way and the lack of urbanity in the Denny Triangle. Queen Anne is separated by having a different fabric from “Uptown” or Downtown.

        But there are isolated cases of consistent urban fabric across neighborhoods in Seattle; Capitol Hill/First Hill, for example. And what’s the southern border of Belltown?

      7. San Francisco has parks on the top of the steepest hills. Most neighborhood centers are in valleys. That’s the difference. In San Fransisco you have a few people going to the parks, and a lot of people going up-and-down-up-and-down residential hills like Divisadero, but you don’t have the bulk of the neighborhood going to the top of a hill to access its businesses, or most neighborhood residents going down the hill to work and back up in the evening.

      8. Mike – re: San Francisco, you are way off base

        Chinatown is on a slope and North beach is essentially on a hilltop. Walking up Haight to Haight-Ashbury from Marker it s steep hill. Bernal Heights is on a steep hill. Fillmore/Pacific Heights is on a hill. Nob Hill and Russian Hill are both at the top of steep hills, etc, etc. San Francisco’s hilltops are typically urban neighborhoods (with the exception of Twin Peaks). I would say it’s a hillier city than Seattle, and commercial centers are very much at the top and on the slopes of its hills.

        Yet it’s much more integrated and walkable.

    2. And to add one more point – your discussion of commercial centers speaks exactly to what the OP was saying. Seattle is a city of commercial nodes, while San Francisco is a city of continuous urban development. Yes, there are areas of concentrated activity in SF, but they are not nodes. Most in-between areas have commercial establishments scattered throughout (corner stores, bars, etc.) and pedestrian infrastructure is remarkably consistant. The urban fabric in SF is light years ahead of Seattle. And even Portland, a generally less urban city than Seattle, has a more consistant urban fabric. What Seattle needs to do is improve pedestrian infrastructure and change zoning (where possible) between urban villages.

  7. Does anyone know when the groundbreaking is for the First Hill Streetcar? Isn’t it this Spring?

  8. Couple questions about the Detroit streetcar video:

    1. Based on vehicular and pedestrian traffic visible in the video, what difference does it make where they put the tracks, right lane, center, or sidewalk?

    2. Can a carline sustain itself with a ridership of one very unlikely-looking rapper?

    3. Current economic and political situation is nothing new. For at least thirty years, the condition of the city of Detroit has been Hurricane Katrina without the water. Does anybody have any serious idea of how to give that place an economy to justify a van service, let alone streetcars?

    Just curious.

    Mark Dublin

    1. 1. Right-lane transit is subject to cars crossing for right turns. Compare the HOV lanes on I-5 which are on the left, with 520 which is on the right. The buses have to yield to cars crossing the lane to exit.

      2. The unlikely-looking rapper may go down better in Detroit. In any case, he’s right that the train will go faster if it’s in the center and if the stops are every ten blocks rather than four blocks, and that will attract riders.

      3. If they’re building it, the economy must be good enough. In any case, it’ll give people one less reason to avoid Detroit.

    2. Come on, Mark! Have you ever heard anything more amazing than “Yo! We need to submit comments on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement!?”


      On the stop-spacing issue: It looks like either plan involves mile-plus stop spacing north of Grand. Meanwhile, the plan advocated in the video has only 3 stops between I-94 and downtown, maintaining the approx. 1 mile intervals all the way through Midtown. (By contrast, the 4-block option is just under 2,000 feet on this segment.)

      Let’s be honest: the gentrification of Midtown Detroit is a good thing. Detroit is so depopulated that no one will be “pushed out” by such a process.

      Let’s be even more honest: none of us would ever, in a million years, walk a mile from a light rail station at night in Detroit!

      Could it be that our friendly white rapper above is actually a shill for suburban interests who want the fastest possible commute and could give a damn about the route along the way?

      Center-running, but with more stations. It’s the obvious choice.Word!

      1. If your model is that the light rail isn’t useful unless it goes right to your door, you may as well not even bother building it, as it will only be useful for a tiny portion of trips.

        While walking a mile at night in Detroit today may seem like a dangerous proposition, it is important to remember that a rail line is a long-term investment and just because there’s high crime in an area today doesn’t mean there will always be. In fact, the increase walking that will occur as a result of people taking the train can help, along with gentrification and better police patrols to make people feel safe.

        The fact is, transit and walking work together, as it is not possible to build any reasonably efficient transit system that doesn’t require some walking, unless the only trips you care about are park-and-rides to a small list of specific destinations.

        Finally, it should be noted that a 1-mile interval between stops means each point along the route is a most 1/2 mile, not 1 mile away from the nearest stop. So, the increased spacing is not nearly as bad as it may seem, assuming the sidewalks are reasonably walkable.

      2. The optimal stop spacing for local service is usually no more than 1/2 mile, except in major activity areas where you might want more stops to relieve platform overcrowding. Note that RapidRide’s target platform spacing is 1/2 mile, as is the First Hill streetcar’s. (Metro amusingly claims to target 1/4 mile for other local services).

        If you live right on the line, of course, you’ll never walk more than half the stop distance. But most people don’t. If you live 1/2 mile back from a 1-mile-spaced line, you’re most likely going walking a mile (because of the street grid) — 20 minutes, as most adults walk it. That’s pushing what people will tolerate. Add more time for kids, hills, walk signals, old people etc., and you’re making the walk so long that you’ll either lose riders or have to provide paratransit.

        Walking is important, and obviously goes hand in hand with transit. But if you’re going to space stops much more than 1/2 mile, you might as well make it 1.5 miles and provide local service to bridge the gap, like Link does in the RV.

      3. Advocates for excessive stop spacing:

        “We know people hate riding the slow, slow bus. We need to make the train as fast as humanly possible, to demonstrate the contrast between our expensive new investment and the slow, slow bus.

        Person whose destination is right along the route, yet a significant distance from any stop:

        “But I can’t actually get there on the expensive new train.”

        Advocates for excessive stop spacing:

        Why don’t you just take the bus?

        [Forehead slaps abound.]

    3. woodward is also a really wide street. plus you can easily get away with reducing the lanes on streets in detroit since there is so little traffic now. and seattle of all places knows about running streetcar tracks in the right lanes as far bike issues. center of the street is where the tracks belong.

  9. Speaking of Detroit, why does that Chrysler ad so disdainfully proclaim that Detroit is “certainly no one’s emerald city”? I know we are probably looked down upon by those to whom this macho type of ad would appeal to, but I didn’t really think we were that much in the national consciousness anyway. Maybe we are a stand-in for San Francisco, because it doesn’t have a good nickname (or the code would be too clear)? I guess we can’t really complain about being proclaimed the anti-Detroit.

    1. I took it as a jab at Mulally who you remeber jumped ship from Boeing to take over as CEO at Ford.

    2. I think the agency that created the Chrysler spot is from Portland. I thought that was the beast ad of the Superbowl.

    3. I think you guys might be taking this a little too personally. Outside of the immediate region NO ONE knows that ‘Emerald City’ is a nickname for Seattle. Ask anyone what ‘Emerald City’ refers to and 99 out of a hundred will say ‘Where the Wizard of Oz lives.’

      Most likely it is a reference to that Emerald City. A magical place where everything is perfect and all your wishes will be granted if only you ask.

      At least that’s how I take the commercial. While I am knowledgeable of the nickname, not having grown up here I didn’t even make the connection until this very thread.

      1. While a lot of people would certainly have thought of Oz, I think the Emerald City nickname is pretty well known. Google brings up articles and headlines from papers as diverse and nationally-read as the LA Times, New York Times, Washington Post, and USA Today using the nickname to refer to Seattle.

        As for my take, I took it more to be a reference to the fact that—as illustrated in the commercial—Detroit is nothing but steel & concrete. No one thinks of trees, parks, or greenery when they hear the word “Detroit”. I definitely didn’t pick up on any of NJL’s homophobic undertones.

      2. I still think it was a cleaver jab at Mulally and Ford. But then that’s what cleaver advertising is all about!

  10. Hey everybody. I have started a hobby in making animated GIFS of bus headsigns, specializing in the Vultron Trans-Dot signs found on Metro’s old MAN’s and Bredas (pre-2004). Here are some GIFs I made.

    Route 102 (Southbound)
    RapidRide A Line (Southbound)

    What do you guys think?

    BTW: Does anyone know how to abbreviate “Tukwila Link Station” in 13 characters or less (including spaces)?

    1. How about “Tukwila Link”?

      I wish ST found a non-scrolling way to identify the Link trains. In most cases the word “station” is completely unnecessary on the sign.

      Airport or Seatac Airport should fit
      Mt Baker should fit
      Seattle Westlake might fit, or else alternate the two words

    1. From that photograph it looks like whoever welded that base on only made one pass. Personally I’d have put at least three passes on something like that, but in all fairness I do tend of overbuild things.

  11. I just got another mudslide alert from Sound Transit for the northern line. Is there anything anyone can do over the summer to prepare for the 2011/2012 mudslide season. Are these slides all happening at the same location on the track? If so, then the answer would seem easier than not.

    I also think that the 48 hour rule has to be changed.

    I was bussed recently between Kelso and Portland on the Coast Starlight. The train could proceed normally but what was frustrating to me, was having to take five heavy bags off the train and drag them back on again at Portland. I only just made the ‘all-aboard’ announcement. Had I been able to leave my bags on the train, I probably could have made dinner too!

    1. The 48 hour rule is ugly. After reading more on it, I’m not sure it needs to be totally removed, but something should be changed.

      The freight trains they run during that 48 hour period are not running full speed. The first train through the area goes something like 3 MPH, with someone watching the hillside for further slides. Each subsequent train picks up the speed slightly, with the area monitored as the trains pass.

      I’m not sure putting passenger trains back on the line immediately, only to have them crawl through the slide area at drastically reduced speeds, is a winning scenario.

  12. I’ve been wanting to post this handy comparative-density illustration for a while. Busy open-thread day today, so it seems like a good time:

    [If someone is able to “hide” the lengthy Google Maps links, it would be much appreciated! Even better, is there any way I can hyperlink within text myself in the future?]

    This is for all who reflexively proclaim the need for “more open space!” any time Seattle tenuously nudges itself toward “density.”

    Here’s Boston, at approx. 1 inch = 100 feet:
    Google Maps link

    Paris, at approx. 1 inch = 100 feet:
    Google Maps link

    Now here’s Pioneer Square — Seattle’s physically densest area inasmuch as all its buildings come directly to the lot line — at approx. 1 inch = 100 feet:
    Google Maps link

    Shocking and palpable discrepancy, right?

    Here’s the takeaway:

    1. Seattle, even at its densest, is not dense. The same amount of area that encompasses, in dense cities, a dozen blocks and hundreds of buildings, will here contain 4 blocks and a couple dozen building.

    2. Walking a few blocks in Seattle can feel far because, compared to walking a few blocks elsewhere, it is far. The result is fewer amenities within easy walking distance, leading to fewer pedestrians out accessing them, leading to less comfortable pedestrian space, leading to further reduced demand, leading to even fewer amenities. It’s a vicious cycle.

    3. No matter how you slice it, wide streets and wide sidewalks are open space, because they inherently shrink the available space for “stuff” to inhabit. You can have your wide rights-of-way, or you can have your pocket parks and plazas, but if you advocate density, you really can’t have both!

    1. d.p. Please use the standard HTML ‘a’ tags to create a hyperlink. Like this:

      ‘a href=”insert URL”‘link text’/a’

      Replace the single quotation marks with the usual brackets like when bolding text.

      1. I assume that’s really only necessary for really long URLs.

        And could a moderator edit those links to get the display width down to something reasonable?

    2. As a longtime resident pointed out to me, the whole “being a urban city” thing is new to Seattle. Before Microsoft, there was basically just Boeing and the Port here. 65% of our land is zoned single-family, and someone mentioned on STB that in the 80s there was a successful effort to limit building height downtown (now repealed.) Setting aside why this might be, it seems to me that until recently, urban living has mostly been the domain of professionals with heaps of money, or poor people living in slums without any real options. That Seattle didn’t have that large white-collar workforce is my hypothesis about why our density is relatively low, and much of our density is quite new.

      The best city I can think to compare Seattle to, although I realize it will be useless to most readers here, is Sheffield: a small blue collar city whose industries collapsed in the early 80s and has since rebounded as a knowledge economy city.

      1. Before Microsoft, there was basically just Boeing and the Port here

        Although Seattle was grossly dependent on the fate of Boeing, there was they UW and the med center. Numerous spin offs from UW had created a strong medical industry with companies like ATL and Physio Control. Retail, Nordstom and Eddie Bauer; Banking, WaMu and SeaFirst plus offices for national investment firms. Ship building used to be strong which I’d consider different than “the Port” as I would Alaska Airlines and UPS. And while not in Seattle (neither is MicroSoft) there was PacCar and Weyerhaeuser.

      2. Right, but the local footprint of most of those places was not large. I would consider WaMu and the UW (and co) the only really high-profile high-wage white-collar job generators. (I am not saying that other jobs are unimportant; I do believe that those are the kind of jobs that generate density, and my interest here is in the question of why Seattle is less dense than other cities that predate WWII.)

      3. In it’s day SeaFirst was every bit as big as WaMu (they built the “box the Space Needle came in). But the reason Seattle is less dense than other cities that predate WWII is that most of Seattle development is post automobile. Seattle has always had plenty of white collar jobs. Unlike steel mills or high volume production like cars the ratio of engineers for things like ships and airplanes is pretty high as is the required skill level of the workers (machinist rather than assembly line). The medical service and research jobs bolstered that. Trade and finance brought plenty of wealth along with those longshoremen jobs. Seattle’s economy has always been a high value added proposition.

      4. Please note that my Google-Mapped example is post-fire yet pre-automobile Pioneer Square. Still lacks the sort of critical density that developers had the foresight to maintain in early Portland and post-quake San Francisco.

        This city has seemingly always gotten walkability wrong.

      5. (Portland, or course, benefits from the small-block phenomenon. SF has the same big blocks we do, but without the excessive sidewalk/right-of-way widths between each and every one. That wasted “open space” adds up, and it makes a huge difference!)

    3. I’m not sure who you’re arguing with here but saying Seattle has “always” gotten walkability wrong seems a bit extreme. I find the city surprisingly walkable given the topography – especially when compared to most other American cities.

      1. d.p. tends to make statements as absolute as possible when it comes to the state of things in Seattle in general and Seattle-area transit in particular. Based on d.p.’s past comments it is safe to say that d.p. feels that KCM & ST do absolutely nothing right and have, in fact, created the most poorly-planned transit system in the galaxy. Furthermore, they have done it in the most poorly planned urban environment ever devised by mankind. So if you sense some extremism, you’re not the only one.

        I’ve criticized d.p. for the tone of his/her comments in the past. That criticism was dismissed (not surprisingly).

      2. Kevin, the “more open space” meme has occasionally invaded Seattle Transit Blog. I wished to illustrate why our very grid already mandates more open space than any walkable city should desire.

        Brett, I can’t help but notice that you have been unable to factually negate anything I said.

      3. Also, Brett, it’s not like I think we’re Phoenix.

        But at least Phoenix knows it’s a no-density, petroleum-dependent, sprawling hellhole.

        My problems with Seattle tend to stem from its glaring delusions about itself, and from the crimes against logic (“We need more open space!”) that result.

        Look at the Google Maps, and repeat after me: This. City. Is. Not. Dense.

      4. d.p., I never said I disagreed with your points, only the way you paint the picture. You’re correct, Seattle is not as dense as Boston or Manhattan. It has wider streets and sidewalks than Portland and our setbacks are bigger than other cities.

        I love density – I wish Seattle were more dense. I wish my neighborhood (North Beacon Hill) were 10-20x as dense, at least around the light rail station. I think density is the only sustainable way of living on this planet, and I support increased density.

        I’m not the only commenter who has sensed the extreme tone of your comments. My feedback to you is to make your arguments constructively without defaulting to absolute statements and insinuations of ineptness or stupidity. There is more than one way (your way) to do things.

    4. Don’t take it out on the sidewalks. :) Wide sidewalks are pedestrian friendly and encourage more pedestrians. If you’ve ever walked down University Way on a moderately crowded day, you know it needs all the sidewalk space. Ditto for downtown (e.g., Pine Street). The bus bulbs at Pine & Summit actually made the sidewalk too narrow for the neighborhood; I regularly have to walk on the side or around the bike rack when just two people are walking the other way.

      The one place I’ve seen where the sidewalks are excessively wide is Dearborn Street. That automobile hellhole and former I-90 exit is never going to get more than a trickle of pedestrians, so why have sidewalks as wide as downtown?

      1. >Wide sidewalks are pedestrian friendly…

        …to a point. Although you’d be surprised how many pedestrians can navigate medium-width sidewalks (not to mention much-tighter-than-the-DSTT subway platforms) once they gain the skill to do so.

        The problem is that in Seattle we have the same wide boulevards and wide sidewalks on essentially every block of the urban core or of a neighborhood center. There’s zero differentiation between major streets, minor streets, and side streets (the way European cities have) until you get out to the single-family-zoned areas (and even the “one lane” streets there are quite wide, with parking on both sides and significant lot setbacks).

        So you might fill up the sidewalk with people on Pine or 1st, but there’s a ton of dead space flanking Cherry or 4th.

        All that sidewalk space adds up. Again, look at the links. 4 blocks of Pioneer Square = 12 blocks of Paris. The difference in scale is massive. There’s simply less stuff in that space, and therefore fewer people to fill those cherished sidewalks.

        We’ve talked about failed U.S. pedestrian-zone schemes before, right? Among the primary reasons they failed is that (unlike the successful examples in the tightest streets of older European cities), the American attemps so diffused the pedestrians that were present that the spaces seemed empty and dead (even if they weren’t), and therefore undesirable places to be. Sidewalks, on a smaller scale, are no different. Make them a little tighter and they’re actually more exciting places to be, not less.

      2. For clarity: …(even if they weren’t inherently)…

        Also, specifically regarding your Ave example: You might be surprised to know that University Way has among the skinniest sidewalks of any street in the U-District (and possibly in the city). It not only manages, it bustles!

  13. A comment and two questions:

    I rode RapidRide A from TIBS to FWTC today. The new busses are functionally and aesthetically very pleasing, inside and out. The seats, the extra holding rails and standing straps (although those are probably more useful on city busses), the extra door and the automatic stop announcements worked perfectly and are all excellent improvements versus regular busses that should be made universal. The new shelters look spiffy although some were rather small. The bus was maybe a little louder than the MCI I rode back on, but definitely quieter than a DE60 and way less than a Gillig. I also encountered fare inspectors for the first time in seven months of riding Metro — and everyone had paid!

    Not so hot were the lack of signal priority turning left out of TIBS (that seems a no-brainer), the delay to load and strap in a manual wheelchair (which can really only be “fixed” with rail, and the lack or ORCA readers and real-time info at TIBS. Off-board payment is still a dream at this point, but that would upgrade this “very good” experience to “excellent.”

    Incidentally, ST’s 2011 Service Implementation Plan calls for the introduction of off-board payment on the 550 and the 511 in the coming years (no specific dates) to make those busses more “rail like” in the lead-up to them being replaced by rail.

    So now, two questions:

    On the way back on Link, I saw a bus I couldn’t identify in South Base. It was 40′ long, had Metro colors and said “hybrid-electric” near the roof. Metro has no DE40LFs, so could it be one of those new Gillig hybrids?

    Next, anyone have any suggestions for things (no necessarily transit related) to do in Tacoma this Friday. I am spending a day there.

    1. What you saw is the first of 93 Orion VII NG buses Metro ordered in 2009. I’ve heard they’ll be on the streets in the coming months.

      Search this blog for the story I wrote about them.

    2. The smootheness of trains isn’t the only way transit agencies are attempting to eliminate the wheelchair strap-in time.

      Ride SWIFT, and check out the nets. Wheelchairs are supposed to ride backwards, unstrapped, and be caught by the nets when the bus decelerates. (I’m not sure what the designers thought would happen when the bus accelerates.)

      Because of the questionable engineering and having to ride backwards, I’ve been wondering what any wheelchair riders who have ridden SWIFT have thought of the experience.

      I’m sure there are other cutting-edge approaches to eliminating wheelchair strapping time.

      1. True, I saw the big flame war about that during the Vancouver trolleybus evaluation thread. You can never totally eliminate the slower boarding of a chair with a bus though; you’ll always have to kneel, deploy the ramp, and wait for the person to take the correct place. If everything goes perfectly, you’ll be able to keep the time penalty down below a minute.

      2. Nope, they specifically chose not to try and do that. Bus suspensions are much more flexy than rail, so the ride height may vary an inch or more, depending on how the bus is loaded; and driving within half an inch of the platform every time (without driving reaaally slowly) would require superhuman precision from the drivers, so you can never guarantee ramp-free loading. Better just to suck up the time penalty.

      3. The stopping force is usually stronger than the forward acceleration force, plus the bus frequently makes unexpected stops or breaking (like cars/peds/bikes cutting in front of the bus, red lights, etc.).

        What Swift did is nothing ground breaking, many other transit agencies have implemented it.

        You could design buses to have level boarding like the ones in Curitiba or Bogota but that’ll cost too much.

      4. To expand on what Oran says about the stopping force being “usually” stronger than the acceleration force…

        Acceleration forces in the bus are not very severe. A 21 ton DE60LFR still only has 330 hp pushing it; with a Horsepower-to-weight ratio that low, it’s impossible to create significant g-forces on acceleration. So long as the wheelchair’s brakes are set, the driver can slam the accelerator to the floor without having the chair slide, even on a wet floor.

        It’s similar to what a lot of folks do when loading a car onto a flatbed trailer. Many people only chain the car to the rear of the trailer so it doesn’t come flying into the back of the tow vehicle if you slam on the brakes. You’re not likely to be able to accelerate fast enough to make it slide the other way. And a pickup truck towing a car has a much higher HP/weight ratio than a 60′ bus.

        Cornering forces are another matter altogether. That’s what I’d be worried about in an unstrapped wheelchair (and why I always chain both ends of a trailered vehicle). But operators are very conscious of their cornering speeds already – having everyone’s purses and backpacks slide off of the seat will happen long before a wheelchair starts sliding into the isle.

      5. Thanks for the responses.

        One more dumb corollary question: Is it safe for wheelchair passengers to ride facing forward, with the nets in front of them?

      6. They are not nets. It is called a padded backrest or back panel. And I think those kind of things you ask of resemble air bags in functionality.

        Sideway forces from cornering is a concern. That’s why they add a vertical stanchion (TransLink) and/or flip-down arm rest (Swift) that prevents tipping sideways.

        I recommend reading TCRP Synthesis 50 for all the details. It sums up the state of the practice in North America and provides a lot of background info.

    3. Some ST express routes could handle fare inspection by stationing inspection teams at major stops (and thereby improve security at those stops, which was a bigger problem cited in the Line A survey than security on the bus was).

      Combine that with three-door buses (but with more seats instead of standing area), and several minutes of boarding/deboarding time could be saved on each route.

      Is ST considering purchasing or leasing three-door buses for the routes they wish to be more “rail-like”?

      Also, is ST no longer buying/leasing buses with steps and lifts? I was told that was the case for Metro. I see fewer and fewer of them around.

      1. I can’t cite chapter and verse, but I believe both Metro and ST are going all low-floor, except for ST’s MCI long-haul routes. Maybe even those will go to Enviro-400 low-floor double deckers, eventually.

        I don’t think three doors is as big of a win for ST’s express routes as it is for Line A. Typical pattern for ST is to load up lots of people in one place, drive for miles, then drop them all off, versus urban routes where people are loading and unloading all the time. I suspect the extra door also adds quite a bit to the purchase price; off-board payment is lower-hanging fruit.

    4. Those would be the 7000 series Orion Happy Bus.

      There’s some more sitting in a back lot on MLK next to Starline Coaches. The operators are already being trained how to operate them.

  14. Transport Politic on this line:

    Personally I think Detroit is a gonner without RADICAL changes (I’m talking about leveling large swaths of the city) that are damn near politically impossible. As such this is just pouring money down the drain, money that could be spent in cities that a) are actually growing b) are putting up their own money to build transit.

    1. It’s not an expensive subway, and they’re repurposing existing car lanes rather than building new ROW, so it’s not that expensive. And the days of the fedgov paying 90% of capital projects is over, so the feds aren’t putting that much into it. Indeed, it looks like several foundations with an interest in revitalizing Detroit are putting in some of the money.

      The main issue seems to be vacating the empty parts of the city, which has been discussed for years. The main problem there is that a few remaining residents don’t want to move. Some just want to see the better housing before they’ll believe it, others are sentimentally attached to their land. I think this problem will eventually solve itself, either in some grand bargain or coercion. In the meantime, it’s not a reason to avoid building one rail line and trying to make the city more walkable.

      The other thing with new multistory housing in an inexpensive city: it may still be too expensive for poor residents to afford without subsidies, but the fact that the units will be much cheaper than they are in other cities (especially high-priced Seattle), means that the total size of the subsidies will be smaller on a nationwide scale. So it’ll be easier for the govt or foundations to provide those subsidies. And if the subsidies contribute to building a walkable city, so much the better.

  15. A bit of a slant, but it looks like it was put out by a group who favors trains down the middle. Of course here it would be no trains at all (Aka Sane Transit; et all.) Whatever happend to those guys? I remember they did a parade of dump drucks down MLK many years ago to protest LINK running on the surface (enough dump trucks and trailers for a 4 car train IIRC). I do like how they used music and legos of all things to communicate their side of it, in a way to attract people to their cause. Usually people dont get excited about DEIS’s unless you are opposed to the project.

    1. Seattle’s isn’t even in the same class. A tsunami of any decent size would make matchsticks out of our wooden seawall and peers. That said, downtown’s lamented grade provides much better protection against a tsunami, if you have enough warning to get everyone west of 1st up east of 1st. West of 1st it could be ugly.

      1. The Duwamish won’t be so lucky. Lake Washington used to drain out at Renton via the Black River. A tsunami would reverse that flow sending a wave back up through Renton to meet somewhere with the wave flowing in through the Ship Canal. It would probably roll down the Samammish Slew and wipe out Woodinville and Redmond. On the outflow the locks will fail and Lake Washington will drop 20-30 feet.

      2. The worse hit area would be Harbor Island and the Port of Seattle. It’s built on fill and is barely above sea level. It also has a bunch of tank farms. A Seattle fault quake would cause liquefaction of the island and a tsunami would swamp it.

        Look at what happened to Kobe, our sister city, when they got hit by a quake. They suffered massive damage. Their port, once one of the world’s busiest, never recovered.

      3. a Seattle fault-originated Tsunami, which is really the only type that would hit us.

        Why would Puget Sound be immune to a tsunami caused by a large quake off the coast of Washington, Alaska or Russia? Or for that matter the Southern Whidbey fault.

      4. “Why would Puget Sound be immune to a tsunami caused by a large quake off the coast of Washington, Alaska or Russia?”

        Because the Olympic Peninsula and Vancouver Island are in the way? Any tsunami would have to go through the strait of Juan de Fuca, then would spread out into the sound. That would lower the amplitude of the inital wave. Get worried if the event causing the wave is very close, or if it happens in such a place that the waves are focused on an area of shoreline.

      5. True energy would be dissipated for any tsunami coming in from the Pacific but it also gets concentrated by the fact that Admiralty Inlet is much narrower than the Strait of Juan de Fuca. And it would be further increased in height by the shallow water from the entrance to the Ship Canal out to West Point. I didn’t know there is a Juan de Fuca Plate. Look at the number of seismic events off the north west coast of Vancouver Island. Of course in the “big one” back in 1700 Japan was harder hit than Puget Sound.

    2. Those aren’t the same seawalls. They built those specifically for the purpose of tsunami protection. Seattle’s was built to fill in the shoreline.

  16. I can honestly say, I didn’t understand the full benefit afforded by center running rail until I saw this video.

  17. What would be the cost of re-doing the SLUT to be center-running (where it isn’t already), before it gets extended, and built right the second time?

    1. That would be pretty ridiculous to re-build it. The fact that a good chunk runs on Terry and some of it near Lake Union Park is traffic-separated takes care of many problems–really just the Westlake portion gets stuck sometimes. The main thing would be to make sure that the extension to the U District runs in the center of Fairview and Eastlake. The extension to Fremont could run in the center of Westlake, although I was walking along there the other day and noticed there is tons of parking on the east side of Westlake that could probably be converted to rail along the side of the street.

      1. The Westlake parking lot is the former Interurban route. There’s one part where the sidewalk goes through a small “forest” and you can see the old track exposed. I don’t remember exactly where it is, somewhere in the northern half, maybe between Crockett and Newton.

      2. It makes some sense to have a train run in the outer lane *if* there are no right turns across that lane, and emergency vehicles have somewhere else to pull over. If the parking goes away, and Westlake becomes a streetcar/boardwalk/veloway, then yeah, center stations wouldn’t be necessary. I get a bad feeling the businesses won’t see the advantages of doing this, though.

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