Photo by Oran

This is an open thread.

84 Replies to “News Roundup: Pierce Transit Armageddon”

  1. Saying the streetcar system is 127 years old is a bit disingenuous isn’t it? Especially since most of the lines have already been ripped out and replaced by buses/electric coaches, and the only remaining revenue streetcar serves an outlying area of the city.

    1. SLU is hardly an outlying area anymore. It’s home to the headquarters of one of our city’s largest employers.

      People need to get over their hatred of Vulcan and realize that SLU has been more or less a raging success.

      1. Why, exactly, should we get over out hatred of Vulcan? Destroyer of the old Cascade neighborhood. At a cost of $53 million and more, SLUT is hardly a raging success. It is slower than the bus. It only goes a mile or so.

        What is wrong with the good old Metro bus? When needed, it is far more cost-effective to simply upgrade the frequency of service on a bus route than to build another capital-intensive inflexible new project. SLUT also took several years to plan, design and implement. Improved bus service would have taken only a few months.

      2. In this case, one letter makes all the difference. Kyle said that South Lake Union (the revitalized neighborhood) has been a raging success, and I think that point is inarguable. Did the streetcar have anything to do with it? I’m not sure, and honestly, I don’t really care that much.

        I’m curious to hear how you think Vulcan “destroyed” the Cascade/SLU neighborhood. As I see it, an “outlying area of the city” was transformed into a vibrant commercial neighborhood, and one of the most desirable parts of the city to live and/or work in (as judging from rents). If that’s wrong, then I don’t want to be right.

      3. Light rail in any shape seems to have a tendancy to turn higher density, lower rent areas into trendy higher density and higher rent areas. Some of that of course is major re-devlopement projects (tied in with the lines construction) such as the bulk of SLU, and the Pearl Dist. in Portland, however others like some of the devlopement along the SLU line, and some Tacoma LINK are a result of the line being there and open for business. Its kinda too bad as often these lower rent former industrial districts are home to intresting small businesses that have a hard time finding a good affordable location otherwise.

      4. We’re already seeing Link making the areas around the line (and not just the stations) more dense with multi-story housing. It may be a little more expensive, but the cost of living is lower once you factor in the ability to not have to own a car. This trivial detail gets overlooked when JF cries Chicken Little about how high-capacity transit destroys neighborhoods.

        There’s also the detail that most of today’s low-rent housing was once someone’s high-rent or high-mortgage housing. If you don’t build housing in the first place, then that tends to reduce the future supply of low-rent housing.

      5. @mike draper, I don’t disagree that Vulcan did some illegal things in South Lake Union in order to get old housing condemned, and the City turned a blind eye.

        But to say that bus service can be planned in a few months and the routes are flexible is pure fantasy. There are dozens of posters here who could give you horror stories about Newton’s First Law of Bus Routes. Basically, most of the bus lines that replaced streetcar lines when they were torn out decades ago are nearly identical to those streetcar lines today. They just lack the streetcars and track now. That was a far greater crime than anything Paul Allen has done.

        The newer streetcars are capable of going faster than the old ones, of course, but that depends a lot on the willingness of the City to give them dedicated lanes and signal priority. They also have higher capacity. If you’ve been on one of the downtown buses lately during commuter hours, you’ve seen that we desperatly need higher capacity on most of our downtown routes. Just adding more buses won’t do it, as they end up bunching together, with one half-empty bus trailing a crushloaded bus. The vehicles themselves need to be higher capacity, and we can’t make the buses much longer than they already are.

      6. Heh, I almost choked when I read “Improved bus service would have taken only a few months.” Do you any idea how much work has gone into trying to get improved bus service in SLU? Obviously if someone just wrote a check for millions of dollars they could buy hours on existing routes (like Seattle Children’s does with the 75) but that’s not likely to happen. Remember, Metro is *cutting* service not looking for places to add service hours.

      7. Somebody did write a check for the 8. Some of the peak-hour runs are due to Transit Now, and they may also be paying for the 15-minute frequency mid-days and Saturdays.

        I was one of those who was anti-SLU because of Paul Allen, and I now see that’s the wrong approach. The question is whether it sufficiently benefits the city, regardless of whether Allen wants it. My score: SLU highrises, yes. SLUT, debatable but OK. Commons park, yes but it’s too late. Stadium, no. EMP and SFM, no.

  2. Make a bee line to the B Line this weekend as it’s a ride-free weekend! All rides are free on RapidRide B this Saturday and Sunday.

    1. Finally Sam says something sensible. I’ll be at Bellevue TC at 10am Saturday unless we decide on another time.

    1. It’s not clear whether Martin was talking about all airport subsidies, or just this one, but I see no particular public interest in subsidizing direct flights from LA to Spokane. Maybe if we were talking about maintaining some lifeline service from some region in the middle of nowhere to one or two big cities, it would make sense, but Spokane has ample market-rate flights to Seattle and presumably other places.

    2. I won’t make a blanket statement that the Essential Air Service is bad, but there are a lot of subsidized routes that are very poorly patronized and have non-subsidized alternatives in close proximity.

    3. I’ll say it. It seems to me like a dumb idea to subsidize airplane travel. If people can’t afford to fly planes from small cities, take a Greyhound. Or move to a big city. Or stay home. Why exactly are my tax dollars flying you around the country?

      1. Because we closed the train stations in many of those cities, promising that air travel would be an effective alternative. And it may take twelve hours to reach a major airport by Greyhound.

        “Once Upon a Town: The Miracle of the North Platte Canteen” by Bob Greene talks about one episode in North Platte, Nebraska. To digress a bit, during WWII the townspeople volunteered to greet the soldiers on troop trains as they rode to the front, and give them refreshments. (There were no disposable cups in those days, so the conductors brought back the dirty dishes via another train.) Each train stopped for only five minutes or so, but the warm hospitality made such an impression on nervous soldiers that some of them remembered it years later. Anyway, passenger trains to North Platte later ended and the station was closed. The federal government promised that air travel would replace it, and there would be daily or hourly (I forget which) flights to Los Angeles. Needles to say, this was wildly optimistic and the government eventually realized it wasn’t feasable to have that many flights to small towns. As of 2003 when Greene wrote the book, there was only one flight a week. The trains are still gone, and I think Greyhound goes through in the middle of the night but I’m not sure if it stops.

      2. Agreed with both of you, Matt and Mike…. I’m in a small town in upstate NY with “essential air service”. Why? Because (drumroll) we lost all our train service in the 1960s.

        Now, since we’ve been growing, some of the roads in and out of town are starting to get dangerously congested. There used to be railroad lines directly paralleling those roads…. but in an act of stupidity, none of them were saved. The only existing railroad line into town goes the ‘wrong way’, heading in one of the least popular directions, because it’s designed for slow freight. Of course, our local roads are getting clogged too. Boy, wouldn’t it be nice if the *streetcar system* hadn’t been ripped out? And so on…

    4. I would hope that those in Washington DC and others who oppose subsidizing Amtrak would realize how much we subsidize air travel and roads. Train travel was private and profitable until feds decided to spend trillions on freeways. Lets keep all modes of transpiration. With good infrastructure, people have demonstrated that they support transit, light rail and Amtrak.

    5. It’s a long term investment.

      Seattle region has been played out.

      It can’t grown any more without further degredation of its lifestyle ending up turning into something where people will flee from.

      Inland Washington, however, is ripe for growth and offers many more opportunities for sold middle class jobs and reasonably priced housing.

      As someone who has visited Tri-Cities are are amenities like a 35 mile network of flat bicycle paths that are matchless.

      It’s time we stopped trying to beat a dead horse and come up with ever more expensive solutions to “fix” Seattle, and instead, moved on to greener pastures.

      Go East, young lady and young man.

      1. Heehee, mark Bailo’s words people: “Seattle’s played out, the future is Yakima”!

        Plennnnty of room for vast parking lots!

      2. Be sure to invite us to your housewarming when you move to eastern Washington. But we’ll have to rent a charter van unless Greyhound goes there.

      3. I’m afraid that the Tri-Cities exist mainly because of massive government investment, without which they’d be more like…Yakima.

        To the earlier poster lamenting the rise in rents that increased economic activity has generated in South Lake Union, and the resultant loss of small start up businesses and other marginal economic activities that rely on cheap rent…don’t worry.

        Rent is cheap in Kent.

  3. Subsidizing air travel to/and from Spokane Geiger Field Int’l Airport (GEG) under the Small Communities Air Service Development Program doesn’t strike me as silly.

    GEG is the largest airport in the Inland Northwest. There is no reasonable alternative for people to drive to. If the second-busiest destination (Los Angeles) can’t be attractive enough for airlines to serve without a kickstart grant subsidy from Uncle Sam, I say it’s money well spent.

    Where these programs waste money is when they subsidize flights to and from small airports that are within a 90 minute or two hour drive from a major hub airport. Brett Snyder at crankyflier.com reported recently that the subsidy to Rockford, Ill. was a total waste of money because it’s a 90 minute drive from Chicago O’Hare.

    If this money was being used to stimulate service at Bellingham International Airport or Olympia Regional Airport (both within a 90 minute drive of SeaTac) I would agree that it is silly.

    But because GEG is the only airport with mainline jet service for residents of almost half of our state, and 1/3 of Idaho, I think it is money well spent.

    1. But residents can already fly to LA, albeit with a connecting flight. All this does is cut a few hours off the trip, which seems like a waste to me.

      Especially considering they had direct service to LA from 2004-2008, but the market didn’t support it.

    2. “If the second-busiest destination (Los Angeles) can’t be attractive enough for airlines to serve without a kickstart grant subsidy from Uncle Sam,” I say that city probably doesn’t need to be flying directly to Los Angeles.

    3. +1 to Mark and Matt. The point of subsidizing air travel isn’t to preserve one-seat trips (heh), it’s to provide lifeline service to geographical regions that would otherwise be isolated from the rest of the country. Like you said, Spokane meets the geographical criterion, but definitely not the underserved one.

      1. But at the same time, I think it’s a modest amount of money to develop a market between a city that serves as the focal point for a large geographical area and Southern California. Removing the need to transit Seattle or PDX saves easily 3+ hours each way and the risks associated with flight connections e.g. getting bumped, forced stay over night, or 10+ hour layovers. Further, people from places like Tri-Cities, or Yakima as well as Northern Idaho and Western Montana can now choose to transit through GEG instead of having to fly to Seattle or PDX. Commerce is further developed in the region because of the better connection.

      2. it’s a modest amount of money

        There’s the root problem with federal spending. Since they don’t have to balance the budget “modest” amounts get spread out by by virtually every member of congress to “reward” their constituency. Billion here, a billion there, pretty soon, you’re talking real money.

      1. forgot to mention …

        they have dug a combined 6,065 ft of a total of 30,418 ft … or about 20% of the total distance

      2. Easier than granite (but you can’t make a nifty new island like they did in Montreal with the excavated material) but could be plagued with random annoyances in the lake and stream (Kitsap, Lawton, Esperance formations) and glacial (Vashon till) debris.

      3. Easier than granite (but you can’t make a nifty new island like they did in Montreal with the excavated material)

        Screw the island… fill in Lake Washington! ;)

      4. Curious about what the expected vs typical daily progress is for the three TBMs. I read on ST’s Facebook site that Brenda was stopped for a bit to get the conveyer system running. Hopefully the jet grouting work at the Paramount site will make drilling under I5 go smoothly. I live near the Capitol Hill station, and occasionally take the chance to get a cup of coffee at Peets and watch the dump trucks haul away the spoils. Gratifying to watch.

        It’s amazing to me these TBMs can be guided underground for over a mile to precisely the right breakthrough spot. I know they have guidance technology, but the level of precision they have to achieve is astounding. They can’t afford to miss their target by too much, can they? I wonder how tunnelers did it before the advent of GPS and digital computers?

      5. Random piece of trivia on granite vs. dirt: The beautiful stone sidings of original City College of New York buildings came from the spoils of the NYC subway tunnel under Washington Heights.

      6. Surveying is a very interesting topic. Underground tunnelling is done with “dead reckoning” techniques, measuring distances and angles.

        GPS hasn’t helped much with underground tunnelling; the key development, I believe, is actually lasers, which allow for really exactly straight lines to be measured really exactly.

    1. Kudos to the construction team for tunneling safely under the canal! That had to be the most nerve-racking segment of the entire ST2 project list.

  4. I just read the Waterfront Streetcar reactivation study and I believe whoever prepared the report left something out–

    The sensors for the four grade crossings north of Bell Street need to be adjusted. Last time I rode the streetcar, operators had to stop and wait for the gates to lower before proceeding through the crossing.

    I don’t know how the sensors would be adjusted but it might add to the reactivation cost.

    1. That’s good news about Vashon. Years ago in the Bay Area my wife would commute via a ferry that she’d need to show up half an hour early for, or she’d be so far back in line that she’d have to wait an hour for the next one. It didn’t take long until she started taking another way to work.

  5. The city hasn’t updated the King Street Station page since August 1st. Is the project on hiatus? I want this to get done already and there’s no reason to take a break unless they’re waiting to access more funds.

    1. Actually, I’ve noticed something odd about big projects in the transportation sector; the websites tend to not be updated *when construction is busiest*. Look at the North Carolina High Speed Rail pages, which were updated frequently *until* they got a huge wad of ARRA money, and have hardly been updated at all since then, while they’ve been doing immense amounts of work.

      So not updating the page *could* be a sign of delay, but it *could also* be a sign that everyone’s been roped into helping with management of the actual project, and nobody can spare any time for informational updates.

  6. No mention of the brand new OneBusAway display in the Macy’s window at 3rd & Pine?

    Sadly, SDOT in its press release and Publicola in its story both imply that people need smartphones to access OBA otherwise. The poster next to the display also only gives the OBA URL, not the phone number or text-message number. While probably not a large percentage of Metro’s customer base has smart phones, I’d wager a quite sizable portion has more basic cell phones that are perfectly sufficient for getting real-time arrival information from OBA via SMS text message or plain ol’ touch tones.

    Some folks will surely see the display and look up onebusaway.org when they get home and discover how useful it is even though they don’t have mobile internet devices. But I suspect far more, even those with cell phones, will just think “Well, that’s nice. Pity it’s just at this stop.” Seems like a missed golden opportunity.

  7. I was riding my bus home tonight after work, and I got to thinking, how did bus stop requests work before the stop pull-cords?

      1. Back in the very early days of streetcars, from what I’ve read, it was a lot like taxis; when you got on, you told the driver where you were getting off. As numbers of people per car increased, the “next stop please” procedure took over, and then the pull cords were added in the late 19th century.

    1. According to the New York Times, the cords were “first used on trolleys as far back as the late 19th century [presumably attached to actual bells] and incorporated by their gas-powered competition from the start.” The story is about the return of the cord, which apparently left the Big Apple in ’92 only to return two years ago, the interceding years being filled with people pressing down on that much-less-satisfying yellow tape.

      Did Metro go through a yellow-tape phase?

      1. Metro did indeed go through a yellow-tape phase. Back in the mid to late 70s when Metro bought the first fleet of diesel AM General buses they had the yellow tape.

        As I recall the tape was eventually replaced by the cords.

  8. I observed that materials for the escalator overhaul at Westlake Station appear to have arrived. Hopefully they’ll get started soon.

  9. I tracked down the Texas Transportation Institute study and what it mainly says is the overly dense and/or large urban areas tend to create the worst traffic.

    Now, this then is seized by transitistas as an argument for some big new expensive system…however, note that these big cities already have some of the most extensive mass transit systems in the world! And yet they have traffic. All this says is people want personal transit.

    And conversely, small manageable sized cities have very low traffic problems.

    So the study could point to a new answer — don’t grow or densify your cities too much! If you want to do social engineering, that is it — keep cities small and manageable (the Sante Fe-ing — and yes, I replied to that blog post as well).

    So, the other article about subsidizing Inland Washington airports make sense. Aeropolises will be the future cities. And to the extent that Eastern Washington can make an end run down to California and avoid Seattle and it’s taxaous libs…more power to ’em!

    1. (feigns shock) Dense cities have traffic?! Clearly we all need to live in the middle of nowhere, reached only by government subsidised high-carbon air travel. Because we wouldn’t want traffic.

      Or, you know, we can stop letting cars run our lives, and live close enough to work to walk or bike and take traffic-separated transit.

    2. Yeah, those “taxaous” (????) libs…with their damn taxes…being spent on stuff like, uh, AIR TRAVEL SUBSIDIES????

      Gimme gimme gimme, mine mine mine! Keep goverment out of our air travel subsidies!

  10. Is it my imagination or did the leg/knee room on ST coaches become much less? Experienced this on the 554 today both going and coming.

  11. the streetcars had a significant gap between 1940 and the start of the George Benson waterfront line, that itself was killed by SAM.

  12. NWCN had a story about the tree removal going on now in Portland to make way for the “Milwaukie Road”. They failed to mention the tree planting associated with the project. Early construction work begins on Portland-Milwaukie Light Rail Project:

    up to 830 trees will be removed for the project, and approximately 2,000 trees will be planted.

    The (wishful) thinking that bus service hours can be reinstated and fund light rail expansion is a bit more up in the air.

  13. Altair’s new series hydraulic hybrid bus unveiled:

    Normally, the figure of 6.9 mpg wouldn’t get many people’s hearts racing. But this number, achieved by Altair ProductDesign’s new BUSolutions prototype, is fairly stunning. Doing real-world testing of the LCO-140H bus over downtown, commuter and arterial routes, the bus achieved a 6.9 mpg average. Compare that with 3.3 mpg for a same-class diesel bus going through the identical testing, and the number begins to impress.

  14. Robert Laughlin’s “Powering the Future” :

    Laughlin (who has been called a climate change skeptic lately) is not denying global warming or its consequences here; it’s just that he thinks that it’s sort of beside the point when it comes to thinking about future energy, which will be mainly dictated by economics and prices more than anything else.

    The scarey thing is he’s probably right!

    1. Ugh. Yeah, I concluded that our governments are, on the whole, too head-in-the-sand to deal with global warming.

      Luckily the price trend means renewables will destroy oil quickly and will destroy coal within 20 years.

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