The Case for Tolling I-90

Photo by Joshua Putnam

Though we’ve agreed that it’s premature to make any kind of definitive conclusion on long-term travel trends post-tolling, one thing is clear– I-90 has begun to adopt 520’s notorious congestion, something that was, of course, to be expected.  However, with the R8A Two-Way Transit & HOV project still incomplete and both directions on I-90 competing for the peak, 520 defectors have worsened an already fragile situation.

My bus, for example, has been slowed three times in the PM peak direction express lanes for the first time in recent memory.  While the delay only adds up to a couple of minutes for me, the real losers are those using transit in the reverse-peak direction: eastbound in the morning and westbound in the afternoon, which currently has a measly transit mode share simply because the incentives to drive in that direction are far too great.

Of course, tolling just one segment over Lake Washington ignores the fact that both bridge corridors should be considered as part of a cross-lake system.  This is a good financial argument for the State to make, too, because there won’t be enough toll revenue from 520 alone to finance the entirety of the bridge replacement.  Though currently prohibited by State law, tolling I-90 to offset the funding shortfall can be allowed under an exemption granted by the Legislature.

The discussion around I-90 tolls hasn’t only been constrained to politicians, planners, and transit bloggers.  Shortly after the 520 tolls commenced, an anonymous citizen started a Toll I-90 effort with an advocacy webpage and even merchandise to boot.  Whether or not the State can muster up the political will to follow through, however, is a much different story.

News Roundup: Shrinking

This is an open thread.

Sightline: Your Wheels, on the Bus

Little Niece in pram in bus in Copenhagen (Storebukkebruse via Flickr)

Yesterday, Alyse Nelson over at Sightline had a great post about how public transit systems in the US and abroad accommodate (or don’t) parents with strollers. While I have about zero experience with parenting, I have actually though about this a fair deal since one of my best friends while living in Stockholm was preparing to have a kid and stroller shopping, which are also called “prams” especially the old and large styles, became a running joke of ours. The sight of parents pushing huge prams around European cities, especially northern European cities is so utterly normal you don’t even think twice about it. In some ways the social norm of using large, unfoldable strollers in addition to good accommodations of transit, especially buses, make transit use easier than driving for parents with strollers, a dynamic which is reversed here.

An excerpt of Alyse’s piece below the jump: Continue reading “Sightline: Your Wheels, on the Bus”

New CT Schedule Information

 In February Community Transit will execute a substantial service reorganization coupled with a 20% reduction in hours, making the total decline 37% since 2008. As usual, they have an clear and graphically appealing website that goes through all the changes, and the schedules themselves are available as well.

The area maps are exceptional, with different colors for Swift, Commuter routes, and everything else.

The Governor’s Proposal

Page 3 of this document provides important details that I haven’t seen reported elsewhere. There’s relief for Metro and other transit agencies in addition to a whole lot of highway maintenance spending.

The spending will go on:

»»  State operations and maintenance to maintain 90 percent of state highway pavement in fair or good condition, operate ferry service and preserve bridges to avoid weight or traffic limitations – $2.67 billion
»» Grant funding for cities and counties to address critical pavement and bridge structure needs – $310 million
»» Grant funding for transit to mitigate potential service cuts to passengers that would affect their ability to get to work, school and other destinations – $150 million
»» Stormwater retrofit projects to prevent polluted stormwater from reaching Puget Sound – $250 million
»» Washington State Patrol to prevent the elimination of up to 12 percent of the trooper workforce that keeps our highways safe – $200 million
»» Passenger rail to help operate service on Amtrak trains – $100 million

And the one new, big chunk of revenue authority:

»» Either allow local governments the option, through councilmatic approval, to impose a 1 percent increase in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, with proceeds to be dedicated to local road and transit needs, or allow transportation benefit districts the option, through councilmatic approval, to adopt up to a $40 vehicle license fee for local road and transit needs.

Other revenue sources, mainly fees, are listed at the end of the post. Reaction after the jump.

Continue reading “The Governor’s Proposal”

Martin on KUOW

[UPDATE: Here’s the audio. I should have said that Rep. Armstrong said a lot of good things in his segment, although I took issue with an implication that was telling but that he probably didn’t even intend.]

Rumor has it I’ll be part of a panel discussing the Governor’s transportation proposal on The Conversation with Ross Reynolds on KUOW at around 12:20 today. Listen here.

Link to Federal Way

Federal Way City Hall (wikimedia)

In last weekend’s post I said that Link could only get built beyond the Federal Way city limit by cancelling all other South King projects. That statement was a failure of imagination. There are ways to do it, although I think they’re all unpalatable and we’d be better off just waiting for ST3:

  • Delay. Sound Transit could restore the revenue target by collecting taxes for longer, and pushing back completion accordingly. Given the steep drop in projected subarea revenues, it would probably be a significant delay. Meanwhile, delaying construction also pushes back retirement on the bonds, pushing back the entire ST3 timetable.
  • Run at-grade. While saving money, this has obvious drawbacks with respect to operating speed and interaction with traffic.
  • Local match. Just as Bellevue did, cities along the line could find ways to chip in.
  • Eliminate a station. There are only three, and S. 200th is already in final design. But if reaching Federal Way suddenly became a primary objective, cutting Kent/Des Moines Road could save some money.

For the record, although South Link should hardly be the highest priority in the region, I don’t share the apparent anger of some commenters that it’s being built. No system is ever designed in a purely optimal fashion, and over time patterns adjust to accommodate built infrastructure. If South King (and Pierce) leaders want it built there, then by all means build it there, and it will do some good where it lies.

The Governor’s Transportation Proposal

Gov. Christine Gregoire

[Update 9:37am: We’re hearing that a smaller $5 billion package might be unveiled instead, with a larger share dedicated to road operations and maintenance as well as some county authority for local transit funding.  We won’t know for sure if this is the case until the Governor actually delivers her speech.]

In her annual State of the State address this morning, Governor Gregoire is expected to propose a rather bold statewide transportation package– $21 billion in total, purported to cover roads, ferries, and transit. With the gas tax revenues largely dried up and new funding needed, much would seem to hinge on a vote to the people, at least as current prospects stand. And with a significant emphasis on road expansion, it’s less than clear how voters might react any differently than they did, say, to Roads and Transit (RTID) in 2007.

The real loser in this package would be transit.  Of the $21 billion under a likely scenario, only around $2.5 billion would be siphoned into “direct” transit investments– less than one-seventh of the whole pie.  While the Governor is expected urge lawmakers to approve new “funding options” for local agencies, that will likely come in the form of self-taxing authority instead of direct help. The hint of such a proposal is already drawing ire from transit opponents (acting on misguided principles, to be sure).

It’s hard to see this as anything but a giant statewide manifestation of the RTID vote.  Many of the projects proposed under such a package would certainly accelerate sprawl and run counter to the Governor’s own pledge to reduce greenhouse emissions in half by 2050.  And the measly acknowledgment of transit would do little to assuage our financial woes let alone provide a solid footing for strong capital investment in the long-run.

DC: Banking and Bikesharing

Capital Bikeshare Kiosk

The transition of fare payment on public transit systems away from cash and towards digital payment methods always brings up issues of access for individuals who don’t have access to bank accounts, the internet or both. The typical solution to this problem, excluding some developing countries and the most developed countries,  is to work with private companies like grocery stores and corner stores to create locations in which fare media can be purchased or recharged using cash. While this works for transit, it doesn’t work for bike sharing which require collateral to ensure that bikes are returned.

DC is trying solve this problem in an interesting way, that if it works could both increase use of Capital Bikeshare, bring “unbanked” people into the system, and provided an extremely low cost means of transportation to those that likely need it the most. Atlantic cities reports, after the jump.

Continue reading “DC: Banking and Bikesharing”

Tolling and Revealed Preferences

Time and Cost (

It’s a bit of a customer service cliche to say that your time is valuable. It’s instructive when people reveal just how valuable it is, and the new tolls are 520 are an excellent case study.

If the traffic maps are any indication, quite a few drivers are looking at a situation like the one at right (generated by this) and choosing to take I-90.  It is a bit cheaper, but anyone that makes this decision is valuing their time at $2.38 an hour.

Of course, the value of one’s time varies from day to day, and many people are making their decision without the tradeoffs displayed quite so clearly. However, lost in complaining about the tolls and their supposed inequity is the simple fact is that travelers have a new transportation choice. If they’re in a hurry (like most freight presumably is), there’s now a fast way across the lake. If they’re not in a hurry, they can still be thrifty.

For transit users (on 520) this is an unqualified win, and it would be an even broader transit win if I-90 were tolled too.

One More Point About Balance

One more thing about this morning’s audit post: I should clarify that I think “balance” in journalism is overrated. I think it’s most important to engage with the strongest, most truthful arguments on both sides, which is different from getting one quote per faction. In our better moments it’s what we try to do here, albeit imperfectly. Nevertheless, if the Times is going to attempt balance, they should do it right.

Sound Transit’s Upcoming Audit

A few thoughts about the upcoming Sound Transit audit:

State Auditor Brian Sonntag
  • I look forward to it. Sound Transit has a very strong track record with audits. At worst the auditor identifies something ST could do better, which is a win for everyone.
  • I don’t understand what’s so sinister about the truncated plan for Link in South King County. When ST formulated ST2, South King was supposed to collect about $2.7 billion*. Two years later it was projected to be about $850m less. Meanwhile, the Link segment that reaches Federal Way was to cost between $376 and $432m (2007 $) and the whole segment below S. 200th between $700 and $800m (2007 $). If we pay less in taxes, we’re going to get less rail.
  • I don’t blame Federal Way Mayor Skip Priest for being grumpy that rail isn’t going to reach his city this time around, but his resentment isn’t used constructively.  If he thinks South King should cancel essentially all other ST projects in the subarea — which is what it would take (Page A-13) — to get Link to Federal Way, then he can take that up with his fellow mayors and the South King ST Board reps. If he thinks the South King pie should be bigger, that’s an issue for the State Legislature. Insinuating the funds are somehow being mismanaged doesn’t help either cause.
  • Meanwhile, Federal Way is paying for far more than “not getting light rail.” For starters, Federal Way enjoys extensive ST Express service that’s worth around $3m a year. Secondly, most of the rest of their contribution is going to planning and construction of the line that has to be built if Link is ever to get to Federal Way.
  • Lastly, I generally like Mike Lindblom’s reporting but I’m irritated that the Times article quotes rabidly anti-transit think tank guy Mike Ennis and “balances” it with agency spokesman Geoff Patrick, who is fairly constrained in the kind of thing he can say. It’s not as if there aren’t well-known pro-transit organizations and politicians that could more forcefully address Ennis’s heroic attempts to construe everything in the worst possible way.

* Unless otherwise noted, all figures are in year of expenditure dollars.

Wallace Attempting to Stack Bellevue Planning Council

Earlier this week, Bellevue City Councilmember Kevin Wallace presented a motion to appoint Aaron Laing to the city’s Planning Commission. This is a typical Wallace move, trying to advance an agenda against East Link without proper debate.

Laing was a Kemper/Wallace-backed city council candidate who lost to pro-East Link councilmember John Stokes. While the appointment was delayed a week, the B7 supporters on the council still have a majority and can stack the Planning Commission with members who aren’t friendly to transit-oriented development. The Seattle Times reports:

The dispute ended with the council deciding to wait a week before voting on Councilmember Kevin Wallace’s motion to appoint Aaron Laing, who lost to Stokes by 51 votes in a hand recount.

No one challenged the qualifications of Laing, a land-use attorney, who received campaign contributions from Wallace, his father, Bob Wallace, and Bellevue Square developer Kemper Freeman.

But Councilmember Claudia Balducci, who asked for the delay, said it appeared Wallace had circumvented standard appointment procedures in order to install a “hand-picked” candidate.

The city’s seven planning commissioners advise the City Council on land-use and development policy.

Council liaisons’ recommendations for appointments to boards and commissions are typically noncontroversial actions and accepted by the full council without debate. (The mayor, by law, makes the appointments, but by tradition the council is first asked to concur.)

On Tuesday, Balducci said Wallace departed from the usual procedure by closing the door to new applications before the announced Jan. 6 deadline, interviewing candidates in one-on-one phone conversations instead of inviting other evaluators to face-to-face interviews, and not providing the council with all candidates’ applications.

Balducci said Laing was “an excellent candidate.” But, she said, “It starts to look like maybe we waited for our preferred applicant to apply and then shut off the process, made a few phone calls and decided whom to appoint. That’s the appearance and that’s my concern.”

Stokes said he, too, was concerned about how planning commissioners are appointed. “They’re either to be appointed by the liaison with just a rubber stamp or we should have a process,” he said.

Wallace said Thursday he shortened and streamlined the evaluation process because city staff “were urging me to get it done. … As far as I knew, everything was according to Hoyle.”

Concerns expressed by council members Balducci, Stokes and John Chelminiak represented “circus-act ambush attacks,” Wallace said. Balducci’s motion to delay the appointment for a week passed 5-2, with Wallace and Jennifer Robertson voting no.

Transportation Advocacy Day is January 31st


If there’s some way you’d like to improve transit, odds are it will take money. Anything that requires revenue involves going through the State Legislature.

Transportation Choices Coalition is one of the few lobbying organizations dedicated to making the transit pie bigger, and they organize a “Transportation Advocacy Day” each year where average citizens go down to Olympia to explain why transit is important to them.

Register here to reserve a spot.

What About Rainier Station?

Rainier Station Walkshed (Oran)

Roosevelt station planning has received enormous media attention, but I haven’t heard any mention of another station opening in a center-city neighborhood only a couple of years later: Rainier.

Rainier Station lies in the middle of the wide I-90 roadway, and the environmental conditions there will probably never allow it to be another Belltown or Capitol Hill. A large amount of the area within the golden quarter-mile and half-mile radii is taken up by the freeway and its onramps and offramps.

All the same, the station will have entrances on both the Rainier Avenue and 23rd Avenue corridors, featuring extensive bus service. Note that only about four blocks of Rainier from between Dearborn St. through Downtown Columbia City will be more than a half mile from Link. There’s an opportunity for a continuous, dense, interconnected corridor with absolutely incredible transit service. Continue reading “What About Rainier Station?”

News Roundup: Globetrotting

Photo by lamarjspurgle

This is an open thread.

ORCA’s Next Phase Begins

ORCA Is Your Transfer. Photo by the author.

The ORCA regional fare coordination system has reached Full System Acceptance, meaning it is now ready for changes and additions. The ORCA card is now used by 3 out of every 5 transit riders in the Puget Sound region daily. According to Community Transit’s blog, “additions to the system can be made, whether it be new agencies coming on board, new products offered or new functionality for the ORCA cards.”

The Joint Board, which is composed of executives from the seven transit agencies participating in ORCA, will begin to look at possible changes and additions to the system. Feedback from the recently conducted customer survey is likely to be the starting point for discussion. They have seen preliminary results and are interested in the public’s response. The next ORCA Joint Board meeting will be held next Monday, January 9, from 10:30 am to noon in King Street Center’s 8th floor conference center. It is a public meeting so they will take comments from the public at the beginning of the meeting.

Other than improving the website, there are no specific changes or additions to functionality that I have been able to gather from transit officials but there is a new way for agencies to join the ORCA system. Sound Transit’s Geoff Patrick explains:

The Joint Board has approved an ‘Affiliates’ option where another agency can come in under the sponsorship of a current ORCA agency. We currently have the Port of Kingston, sponsored by Kitsap Transit. Intercity Transit is considering becoming an Affiliate, sponsored by Pierce Transit.

I’ve obtained the latest statistics on the ORCA system which will be presented and discussed in a future post.

International Free Transit Day, Popular Everywhere But Here

Westlake Station after the New Year, photo by Oran

Last Saturday evening, many cities around the world celebrated International Free Transit Day, a day when riders were allowed to board transit services for either a portion or entirety of the day without paying a dime (okay, Chicagoans did have to fork over a penny.  Here in Seattle, however, these festivities went largely unheard of, and transit users continued quietly paying their fare.  I’m talking, of course, about New Year’s Eve, when billions of late-night revelers worldwide were out and about well past midnight, and many in no state to drive.

International Free Transit Day isn’t exactly a recognized holiday– it’s more of an acknowledgement on the part of transit agencies that thousands, sometimes millions, of people will be out on New Year’s Eve needing some form of transportation, whether it’s because of large-scale events that need high-capacity transportation for crowd control or because of the countless many who will be celebrating through drink but most certainly not drive.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “International Free Transit Day, Popular Everywhere But Here”