Obama, Harper Announce Massive New Security Agreement

Photo by Flickr User Aaverage Joe

President Obama and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper have announced a sweeping new security agreement.  The agreement will expand the NEXUS program, increase the number of American security officials working in Canada, and dramatically streamline border procedures to improve the throughput of cargo.

Relevant to STB is that this agreement will end the duplicative border inspection for southbound Cascades trains.  By the end of 2012, all customs and immigration will take place in Vancouver’s Pacific Central Station.  This will save 10-25 minutes per trip and harmonize northbound and southbound running times to 4 hours.  Mike Lindblom has the full scoop.

I definitely cheer the streamlining of rail (and air) service, and indeed also to improving trade (some estimate that up to 1% of Canadian GDP is lost to bureaucratic redundancy at the border).  But these efficiencies were only possible via a Canadian capitulation to American security standards and policies, which in a post-Patriot Act era are already excessively heavy handed.  Far more information will be shared between the two governments, the practical result of which is far greater American access to information on Canadian citizens.  I am quite sympathetic to the fears – of eroded national sovereignty and lost civil liberties – that many of my Canadian friends have expressed.

North Corridor Update

Thursday Sound Transit’s capital committee endorsed the I-5 light rail alignment for the North corridor transit project. The 3% engineering study completed last month showed when comparing the  I-5 alignment to the SR-99 alignment, the I-5 alignment was quicker, cheaper and had more ridership. Next week, the full board will vote to move forward with the single alignment.

Metric I-5 SR-99
Travel time (segment end-to-end) 14 mins 18 mins
Ridership (daily) 52,000 48,000
Travel time savings 4.6 million 3.8 million
Cost $1.4~$1.6 billion $2~$2.3 billion
Annual Operating Costs $11 million $14.6 million

More below the fold. Continue reading “North Corridor Update”

News Roundup: Causing Trouble

Photo by zargoman

This is an open thread.

“Unfortunate Accident”

This morning a cyclist was struck and killed in Kirkland at NE 124th St and 132nd Ave in the Totem Lake area of Kirkland. The driver of the vehicle that stuck him has been arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence. The Seattle Bike Blog has more details.

This is close to my work and where I lived in high school and I have biked this road many times, mostly on the sidewalk because I find this road particularly unsafe even with bike lanes. For some context this is the only connection between the Burke Gilman trail and Kirkland between NE 145th and NE 85th St (roughly the distance from UW to Northgate), so its more heavily used than many people might expect. NE 145th and NE 85th are also fairly indirect and don’t have any bicycle facilities either.  While I don’t know where the cyclist was going it is fairly common for cyclist to use Slater Ave and NE 116th west of 132nd Ave since they have bike lanes and NE 124th doesn’t and NE 124th has very high vehicle volumes. I think it is also worth noting that last year a cyclist was killed on NE Juanita Dr which is the other commonly used route from Kirkland to access the Burke Gilman trail.

The only thing I have to say besides my condolences to the family and friends of the victim is actually a request. Don’t use the word “accident” when you really mean “collision”. Accident implies lack of fault, randomness and inability to control, when all collisions are in fact someones fault. To call something a “unfortunate accident” as the police officer quoited in the story did, takes the underlying message to a whole new level, ie “there was nothing that could have been done to prevent this collision and we should just get used to cyclist getting killed on our roadways.”

As a society, we need to be crystal clear about what are preventable road fatalities and injuries. To call collisions an accident validates and reaffirms a culture of irresponsibility and unaccountability, and that is the last thing our roads need.

Tonight: Northgate Station Area Community Design Study

King County Metro 75 in Northgate TC
Photo by Flikr user mSeattle

Tonight, from 6:00 to 8:30 PM, Seattle DPD is hosting a public open house for the design study of the Northgate station area. This project is focused on what the city can do to help create a vibrant, dense, welcoming and sustainable urban neighborhood centered on the future Northgate light rail station, with good bus, bike and pedestrian connections to the surrounding neighborhoods. STB has previously covered these DPD meetings and ST’s station design open houses.

This kind of open-format meeting connects neighbors, current business owners, city and transit planners, and potential future residents; it’s a great way to interact with and influence the thinking of these stakeholders, and it’s precisely the kind of dialogue that needs to happen to avoid another Roosevelt debacle. I will be there, and I encourage STB readers to join me.

UPDATE: And if I weren’t going to Northgate tonight, I’d be at the Wallingford Neighborhood Greenway meeting.

SR520 Tolling to Begin December 29th


Yep, 22 days from now. Really.

Big win for the 255, 271, 542, and 545, loss for the 550 and 554.

How to get ready:

  • Get your pass, install and activate it before tolling starts
  • Make sure all account information is up to date, including credit card or bank information
  • Make sure license plate(s) are correctly listed on your account

Where to get a pass and open an account:

To prepare for the anticipated high volumes of customers registering and activating accounts this month, WSDOT has extended call center hours and hired extra customer service staff. Customers can purchase the popular sticker passes at Costco, Safeway, Fred Meyer and QFC and activate them online.

Waterfront Streetcar Data

Photo by MSPdude

Since there’s a sizable contingent of readers interested in fighting over the Waterfront Streetcar, STB alum Brian Bundridge sends along information on how the waterfront streetcar turned into bus route 99, which I should caution isn’t quite directly comparable:

Waterfront Streetcar. From Metro’s reporting to the National Transit Database. 2005 expenses probably include line shutdown costs.

2002 2003 2004 2005
Passenger Trips 367,276 403,590 398,580 374,327
Operating Expense $1,373,224 $1,421,503 $1,426,751 $2,071,123

Route 99 Bus. Estimated from route performance data, extrapolated from Fall service data.

2006 2007 2008 2009 2010
Rides 255,372 data unavailable 245,728 203,395 251,825
Platform Hours 11,815 data unavailable 10,818 10,808 10,583
Operating Expense $1,060,160 data unavailable $1,063,544 $1,080,704 $1,070,523

Hello rail bias! Comparisons are somewhat imprecise, but the streetcar had a lower cost per rider ($3.60 vs. $4.47, excepting 2005), even before considering that it generated fare revenue (which the free bus did not). Bringing it back, of course, would require capital expenditure as well.

Thanks to Metro Data Analyst Katie Chalmers, who gathered the data for Brian. A larger excerpt of her comments are below the jump.

Continue reading “Waterfront Streetcar Data”

The Denny Dilemma

In Seattle we tend to like alliterative self-effacement.  Since we already have the Mercer Mess, let’s talk a little about the Denny Dilemma (disaster? debacle? despair?)  Pick your favorite ‘D’.

Guerilla Signage Spotted at Fairview/Denny in November 2011 – Photo by the Author

Route 8 provides critically important mobility.  A rare non-CBD/crosstown trunk route in central Seattle, it connects Uptown, Cascade/SLU, Capitol Hill, Madison Valley, the Central District, and the Rainier Valley.  Especially on its east-west segment, perhaps no route better exemplifies our city’s stated goal of connecting dense urban villages.

The 8 is also one of our least reliable routes, frequently subject to severe delays and bunching, a problem especially severe eastbound in the PM peak. Though Route 8 is a local route its reliability problems are almost entirely due to I-5.  I-5’s construction cut off Capitol Hill from Cascade and Uptown, funneling all traffic onto Denny, whereas in the downtown core the grid was better preserved via Madison, Seneca, Pike, Pine, and Olive.  If topography and local access problems weren’t enough, the only ramp onto I-5 southbound between Mercer St and Spring St is at Yale Ave, a two-block length section of street that serves exclusively to queue cars seeking to get from Denny to I-5 southbound.  Backups routinely stretch over a mile, all the way back to Seattle Center.  Eastbound #8s that depart their Lower Queen Anne terminus on time can be up to 30 minutes late reaching Capitol Hill, just over a mile east!

In an era of austerity, fixing Route 8 is no easy task. Denny is very narrow – limited to 2 lanes in each direction except for a turning lane at Fairview Ave – and there is very little room to widen it.  HOV/BAT lanes would reduce general-purpose vehicle capacity (slightly more than) 50%, and they would do little for transit anyway as eastbound Route 8 must stay in the I-5 access lane in order to serve its stops at Dexter, Westlake, Fairview, and Stewart.   So what can we do with a severe problem and very little money to fix it?

A simple and cheap idea after the jump… Continue reading “The Denny Dilemma”

City, Sound Transit Working Together to Plan Rail

83 years later...

In a move that earns Mayor McGinn credit for successful inter-agency planning, Sound Transit and City of Seattle are finally working together to start studying high capacity transit through downtown and to Ballard – the first steps toward any new rail.

Ballard to downtown is in both the draft Seattle Transit Master Plan and Sound Transit’s long range plan, and voters funded planning in this corridor in Sound Transit 2 in 2008. Working together here prevents some duplication of work between the city and Sound Transit, and helps them determine which agency should build in the corridor, what kind of rail they want to build, and what corridor it should be built in.

This isn’t just a streetcar study – because the FTA has provided funding, it will study a range of modes. It will likely show a preference for streetcar in the downtown portion, as there would be a cost savings from leveraging the investments we already have in South Lake Union and that we’re making on First Hill, but it will be more open-ended for a Ballard to downtown connection; the FTA requires a full alternatives analysis with more range than the work done in the Transit Master Plan.

That’s actually where we come in. Once the money is committed, lobbying the city to ask that this be higher capacity rather than low can have an impact. The monorail project found that grade separated transit had fantastic ridership potential between Ballard and downtown, and we’ve only grown since then – both in population and in congestion. We should be involved – the city has to consider not just what provides the most bang for the buck today, but what we’ll need in 50 years.

There is some criticism of this plan. Some voiced concerns about the impact of Seattle going to ballot alone, as Sound Transit ballot measures need city voters to make up for majority anti-transit votes in some suburbs. But with Sound Transit unlikely to go back to ballot before 2016 or even later, it’s unlikely that the city and ST would go to ballot close together – and as Sound Transit and the monorail showed, Seattle is more than willing to go to ballot several times to build a comprehensive system. Some also worried that this would leave the city competing with ST for federal funds. But ST, Seattle and King County compete for federal funds regularly, and that’s OK – the feds fund the most effective projects, helping guide our choices of what to invest in, and frankly, giving us more chances as a region to win funding. Having one local agency lose out to another is much better than losing out to another state.

For a subway line, this is a great first step. Any modern data in this corridor is better than no data, and identifying the differences between transit via South Lake Union and Fremont vs Belltown and Lower Queen Anne is important to deciding where Sound Transit puts their investments in ST3. The key is to ask for something that will pass at the ballot – which is all about how excited voters will be for a commute better than what they have today.

Thoughts About Density

seattle from smith tower (with needle)
The Dexter Horton building in the foreground, with the skyscrapers in the background. Photo by Jason Brackins

I have two thoughts about density I’d like to share, both more responses than anything* to ideas that I hear and read repeated frequently. I have made both of these points a few times in round-about ways in various posts and in the comments, but I would like to write a first-class post about them this time. The first point is a response to the oft-repeated notion that tall buildings and density are essentially the same thing, and the second is a response to the idea that what’s good for developers is perforce good for density and/or urbanism. Both below the fold.

Continue reading “Thoughts About Density”

Editorial: King County, Be Bold

Oran’s Map of West Seattle Revisions

Three and a half months ago, the Metropolitan King County Council, in a bipartisan effort, came together to pass via supermajority the $20 Congestion Reduction Charge. This two-year car tab fee is designed as a stopgap funding measure to prevent drastic cuts to Metro bus service while the agency restructures itself to become leaner and more efficient, and the legislature can arrange a stable long-term funding source.

While the vote to establish the fee was not unanimous, the dissenters did so only on a question of process. The principles espoused in King County Metro’s Strategic Plan for Public Transportation, incorporated into the CRC ordinance, received the strong, public endorsement of every single member of the Council, along with Executive Constantine and Metro GM Desmond. King County has thus publicly committed itself at every level to make the bus system more cost-effective and ridership-oriented. Without that promise, the CRC’s stopgap funding would not have been forthcoming, and without the fulfillment of that promise, we can expect no further help from the legislature.

Fast forward to a month ago, when Metro released the Fall 2012 restructure concept. This proposal is one of the boldest Metro has ever made public, and represents a distinct break from the downtown-oriented legacy network, towards one built on a modern understanding of what makes for cost-effective and well-used bus routes: connecting dense urban centers with frequent, direct and reliable trunk routes, and providing excellent commuter service to neighborhoods without enough ridership to justify all-day service.

Inevitably, these things come at a cost. Some riders will be inconvenienced by having to walk further to get to their stop or having to transfer; some neighborhoods will lose midday service; a very small fraction of the population will lose access to transit altogether. Those riders affected have genuine complaints, for which the public service change process provides a valuable opportunity to explain to Metro staff how their ideas may play out on the ground. But there are voices not heard at public hearings: those of the thousands of riders who will benefit greatly from the changes; and those of every King County resident whose tax dollars will go much further towards improved mobility, emissions reduction, and congestion mitigation.

Seattle Transit Blog believes it is now time for King County Metro to uphold its end of the bargain, by moving ahead boldly with a restructure comparable in scope to the conceptual proposal; if this restructure were to become the mere substitution of RapidRide C and D for Routes 54 and 15, it would be a failure. Leadership means steering organizations through difficult and unpopular decisions for the greater good. Metro staff have publicly shown us how our bus system can be improved: we look now to Metro management, the Executive, and the Council to provide the leadership to make it a reality.

Who Subsidizes Whom


There was a brief skirmish in the Seattle Subway comments about whether the Eastside subsidizes Seattle’s transit service or the reverse. And this is normally a case where we’d bring some facts and settle this. And in fact John worked this out years ago. But I have to say I don’t care.

There seems to be a deep human need to convince oneself that one’s group is paying for everyone else and everyone else is a leech. The problem is how you draw the lines of your survey makes all the difference.

First of all, Eastsiders commonly use Seattle’s infrastructure, and the reverse is certainly true as well.

Secondly, if we expand the boundary from transit to transportation, clearly there’s more need for transit in the urban core and roads elsewhere. It’s entirely natural that in each case the transfers would move in opposite directions.

Moreover, why stop with transportation? Why just local spending? Throw in other budget items, state and federal funding, and more indirect influences like tax subsidies and regulatory preferences, and you have a hopeless tangle of cross-flows. It’s because we’re a single metropolis with an integrated economy and this provincialism gets us nowhere. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Who Subsidizes Whom”

WPC’s Misguided Transportation Principles

Photo by raggiesoft

We’ve written many a time on the misguided fluff coming from Michael Ennis, Washington Policy Center’s (WPC) Transportation Director, both for his abrasive attitude toward transit and unwavering support for automobile dominance.  Despite repeated rebuttals, however, it seems like WPC’s ideology continually creeps into its legislative advocacy regarding transportation, sometimes even in contrast to to the think-tank’s free-market platform.

The most recent example is Ennis’ analysis of the Voice of Washington survey results and subsequent recommendation principles for the upcoming Legislative session.

Lacking public support for a gas tax increase may spell trouble for policymakers who want a transportation package in 2012 during a presidential election year. Given the current economic climate and combined with the Governor’s new statewide sales tax proposal for general government (probably with a vote in April), a transportation tax package in November now seems less likely.

Ennis knows that any increase in the gas tax is tied down by a lot of political baggage so it’s pretty convenient for him to cherry-pick this one single finding to argue against any kind of transportation package.  What he ignores is the broad support for more other funding options (PDF) and user-based charges, like the vehicle emissions fee, electric vehicle license fee, and variable tolling.

It really depends on what comes out of the upcoming legislative session, but it’s premature to suggest that touching the gas tax is the only option up for consideration.  While a tax increase and/or elimination of the sales tax exemption has been a point of support on this blog, we’ve still been receptive to other viable options, highlighted in the work (PDF) done by the Connecting WA Task Force.  More below the jump.

Continue reading “WPC’s Misguided Transportation Principles”

ORCA Fund Transfers and Customer Service


Photo by Oran

I recently bent my $3.50 PugetPass ORCA accidentally near the chip in the corner and it caused my card to become non-functional whenever I tried to tap. I have another card linked to my ORCA account, so I called Metro Transit to see if I could transfer my PugetPass to my working reserve ORCA.

The Metro tele-agent explained that the transfer of the PugetPass to my working reserve ORCA was possible, but that in order for the PugetPass to transfer, staff would have to receive approval from managers and that the queue was so long that it would take 6-8 days. To move faster, I could just go to one of the Metro sales offices in Seattle. I told the agent to go ahead and cancel the non-functional card and put in the request for the transfer despite not fancying the one-week wait.

The following day I rang up Pierce Transit to see if I could get a different outcome, preferably an expedited transfer. No such luck, same one-week plus response. I then tried Metro a second time, but interestingly, the tele-agent said that my PugetPass ORCA was still active and no request had been filed. The agent also gave the same one-week plus response.

I hitched a ride to Metro’s King Street Center—this is where things start getting interesting and murky. The sales agent said that Metro had no such policy/ability to transfer a PugetPass from one card to another under a linked account. This could only be done by issuing a new ORCA altogether. (The same would go for moving E-purse funds as I found out.) The agent also explained that all of the tele-agents were wrong and that they have routinely made promises that are not possible with the ORCA system.

What this meant for me is bruised patience and forfeiting $5 more for a new ORCA card and 3 hours of my time just to get my PugetPass back.

Here are my takeaways:

  • The waters are still murky on who is right about fare product transfer on same account registered cards from a damaged one to a reserve card.
  • The inconsistency is incredibly trying and disenchanting to the patron because a lack of confidence quickly builds up.
  • If the type of transfer as described above is in fact possible, there is little reason why a transfer cannot be done over the phone considerably faster. It should be within 24 hours, not a week or more; otherwise, what is the point of having a monthly PugetPass?
  • The ORCA website should be amended to accommodate such fare product transfers to be processed without having to issue new cards. Patrons do not need to have more ORCAs; card proliferation is cumbersome and a needless expense in time and money.

PSU Transportation Seminar

Archived Video Stream Player

STB readers are a pretty detail oriented and inquisitive bunch so it surpised me to find out that many people in Seattle don’t know about the Portland State University Transportation Seminar. It is probably the best source for academic level presentations about transportation issues. Think of them as the TED talks of the transportation world.

The presentations, part of a lecture series offered through the Center for Transportation Studies, are given by researchers, international experts and practitioners alike and cover many topics in the transportation-land use world including some obscure but never the less interesting research. The class is primarily for graduation students in transportation engineering, urban planning, and public administration tracks so the presenters assume a good understanding of the fundamentals of transportation and land use, perfect for STB readers.

Presentations from this quarter can be viewed here. Archived presentations are organized by date and topic. There are too many video for me to highlight now. If people would like me to post specific video to prompt discussion I’m open to the idea.

Personal Aside: Since I’m plugging PSU I feel I would be remiss if I did not also put in a plug for programs at my alma mater, UW which are similar, for those looking to pursuing a career in transportation. Both Sherwin Lee and myself did our undergraduate degrees in Community, Environment and Planning within the College of the Built Environment, and Oran Viriyincy and myself did a our masters in Transportation Engineering in the Civil and Environmental Engineering department, which has an amazing foreign exchange study program, the Valle Exchange, which I was also lucky enough to do.

News Roundup: Struggles and Sacrifice

Photo by zargoman

  • Car tab fees more progressive than you think.
  • News flash: someone sacrifices their own well-being in the service of a greater cause.
  • Puyallup struggles with Sounder Parking. For all of the people who say it costs them 40 minutes  a day, I really have to ask if their time wouldn’t be worth $4 or $5 a day in parking fees.
  • Finishing touches on the First Hill Streetcar design.
  • Kitsap’s new fast ferry.
  • TCC previews their legislative agenda tomorrow at lunch.
  • Stokes leads Laing in Bellevue City Council race by 51 votes; will trigger a recount. Also in that link: DBT operations buildings are massively anti-pedestrian.
  • This leads me to believe the desire for historic preservation has gone too far.
  • Behind the scenes” at the Bellevue East Link deal.
  • There’s a new $3 bus between Yakima and Ellensburg, eight round trips a day.

This is an open thread.