News Roundup: Bills Slogging Along


This is an open thread.

Transit Hikes: Point Roberts

Lily Point Marine Park, Point Roberts – Photo by Flickr User Loutron Glouton

I’ve always been drawn to geopolitical oddities.  Humans frequently draw straight, arbitrary lines and the terrain makes a mockery of it, such as Minnesota’s Northwest Angle or the Kentucky Bend.  Other examples, such as the bizarre Dutch town of Baarle-Nassau, are so anachronistic that you can almost imagine medieval barons drunkenly gambling away their various land holdings parcel by parcel.

Washington is home to one of the stranger examples in the United States, Point Roberts, a ‘practical exclave’ on the tip of the Tsawwassen Peninsula just south of the Vancouver suburb of Delta.  Jutting just past the 49th parallel makes it part of the United States, one of (I believe) only two settlements in the western U.S. accessible by land only via Canada (the other is the tiny hamlet of Hyder, Alaska).

Point Roberts also makes a great day trip or short overnight visit, and it’s easily accessible via transit.  When I lived in Vancouver BC I visited twice, each time spending a lazy half-day circumnavigating the peninsula on foot.

The easiest way to get to Point Roberts car-free from Seattle is as follows:

  • Take the first Quick Coach of the day from the Seattle Center Best Western (200 Taylor Ave North) to Bridgeport Station on the Canada Line.  The trip takes 3 hours and costs $51 round-trip.
  • Transfer to TransLink Route 601 (map) to South Delta.  The ride takes 50 minutes and costs $3.75.
  • From the corner of 54th St and 2nd Ave, walk 3/4 of a mile to the border crossing.  Present your passport and be on your way.
  • Either stay overnight, or catch the last Quick Coach back to Seattle.
Here’s a overview map:

The transit connections are easy.  TransLink #601 runs every half hour 7 days per week until 10pm, and the border crossing is open 24/7/365.  Anchoring your trip at Bridgeport Station also gives you the option to explore Vancouver’s rail transit with ease.  Taking Amtrak Cascades is also possible for longer stays but will take roughly twice as long and require three transfers to reach Point Roberts (Amtrak–>SkyTrain–>Canada Line–>601).

Land use here is very similar to the San Juan Islands;  thick (and brushy) second-growth forests, pockets of old growth, quiet and narrow roads, scattered homes of widely varying quality, a small grocery store, and a high-end marina on the southwestern tip.  A leisurely 3-mile walk will bring you to the steep cliffs of Lily Point, where on clear days you will have expansive views of Boundary Bay and Mt Baker.  Hike down from the bluff to the beach at low tide and you may spot Purple Sea Stars, and you’ll have a chance to see the pilings remaining in the beach from the old Alaska Packers Cannery.  By no means a wilderness adventure, Point Roberts is merely a chance see American gas priced in litres, to set foot in an accident of geography, to pass through a comically excessive border patrol checkpoint, and to walk a few miles on quiet roads for the sheer pleasure of it.

Previous Transit Hikes:

Shaw Island and Friday Harbor

Wallace Falls

Deception Pass/Whidbey Island Loop

DBT Tolling Projections Drop

Rebar in SR99 Construction (WSDOT)

PubliCola reports that projected revenue from Deep-Bore Tunnel tolling has dropped from $400m to $200m over the life of the project, and WSDOT hopes to make up the difference by allocating some recent highway fund distributions from the Federal Government.

WSDOT goes on to blame various ways in which the recession affects tolling income. Although some tunnel opponents will no doubt smell a conspiracy, I’m prepared to give WSDOT the same courtesy I did Sound Transit, and accept their excuse as plausible.

However, there’s an interesting asymmetry in the way our system – local, state, and federal – treats road and transit projects. When ST gets in a revenue bind, the question is what they’re going to cut: what stations won’t get built, how many years to delay completion, and so on. When a highway project runs into trouble, it’s all about where they can scrape together more cash to finish the full scope on schedule.

Put an Arena Somewhere Else

A bad idea for transit and land use.

Whether or not Seattle might get an NBA team now is a decision that might be left in fate’s hands, but regardless of the prospects, building a new arena in SODO to accommodate both an NBA and NHL carries huge implications.  The partnership that was brokered between a private hedge fund manager and the City would essentially site the arena directly south of the Safeco Field parking garage, making a kind of chain of sports complexes from north to south.  Although there’s a bit of a populist flair in marketing a mega-sports district, I think there’s plenty not to like in this proposal planning-wise.

Transit, for one, gets a good shaft considering the fact that the nearest two stations, SODO and Stadium, are well out of walking distance for many people, at 0.7 miles a piece.  For the huge crowds that a major-league event might draw, you could argue that fans are more willing to bear the brunt of the walk especially given the relatively high costs of event parking.  But consider this– just as many Seahawks fans use Stadium Station to get to CenturyLink Field (despite International District’s closer proximity), a great deal of transit-riding NBA fans would do the same, and have to traverse through WSDOT’s monstrous new SR-519 ramps, scant pedestrian facilities, and a cruddy street grid to get to the arena.

For land use, the implications are even greater.  The revitalization argument is a bit of a two-edged sword– as event-based destinations, sports complexes alone don’t make for good urban amenities, especially since non-use most of the time creates large dead zones with little to no activity.  Seeing as our existing professional sports arenas and stadiums are no exceptions to this even now, stringing them together would add little value and only help reinforce bad segregation-based planning principles from the past.

For the City to hedge its bets on a bunch of cheap land is probably a poor investment decision that especially doesn’t further the cause of promoting density, transit, and the great neighborhoods that should go hand in hand.  As vital as sports are to Seattle’s cultural fabric, planning for their facilities are almost always a one-sided affair with limited appeal to the city as a whole.  If we want great civic life to come first, however, we should treat our sports complexes not as event destinations, but amenities within our urban landscape.  This proposal falls well short of that.

Metro Loses In Court Again

As mentioned in Thursday’s news roundup,  Metro lost a case in the Court of Appeals last week in Knappett v. King County Metro Transit, in which Mr. Knappett “sued King County (Metro) to recover damages for injuries that he sustained after slipping while exiting a county-operated bus on a rainy day.” A report from an earlier iteration of the lawsuit, resulting in a $1.3m award, is attached above.

Metro spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok was unable to confirm the size of the award after appeal, but she did remark that Metro was “obviously disappointed” in the verdict. They “have not yet made the decision to petition for review.” She added that the “buses and steps are safe” and that the entry to buses is “industry standard and perfectly safe.”

Let Density Be Density

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

If I could simplify what Martin’s saying here, it would be to say, “let density be density” (with apologies to Ronald Reagan). Dense development is good on it’s own. Locally owned businesses can also be good, but one doesn’t require the other.

As an example, I’d point to the area around the Columbia Heights Metro Station in Washington DC. It’s a walkable, urban paradise compared to almost any transit station in Seattle (outside of downtown) and yet it manages to feature a Target, a Best Buy, and more.

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Kent Midway TOD Rezone

Image courtesy City of Kent - Highline CC Campus is at right

Late last year the City of Kent approved a huge TOD rezone at the future Kent-Des Moines Road Station, close to Highline Community College:

The Kent City Council has approved zoning regulations and design guidelines in place for when light rail is scheduled to come to town by 2023 along Pacific Highway South on the West Hill…

The Midway area stretches for 3 1/2 miles between South 216th Street and South 272nd Street along Pacific Highway South…

The city will allow building heights from 55 to 200 feet, which is about 16 stories tall. City officials want to encourage developers to build up rather than the construction of more strip malls.

You can read all about this rezone in item 8B in the agenda packet available here, especially Exhibit A, starting on page 406.  The revised zoning code starts around page 500.  It envisions three new Midway zoning designations: MCT-1, with 80% lot coverage and 5 story/55 ft heights; MCT-2, with 100% max site coverage, and 16 story/200 ft heights; and MCR, with 80% coverage and 200 ft heights. Height limits are shorter at the edges.

Multifamily parking requirements dropped from a status quo of 1.8-2 spaces per unit (1 per unit for efficiencies) to 0.75 in these zones; the current RV parking requirement would be waived entirely.

It’s a common argument that it doesn’t make much sense to build high-capacity transit way out into the suburbs when so many close-in neighborhoods remain underserved. While this has a a lot of merit, suburbs that are willing to think this big can create actual destination stations that make all-day service worthwhile, especially when Seattle is fighting trench warfare over the difference between 40 and 65 feet.

Enough about zones; much more about station location and old-school stakeholder feedback after the jump.

Continue reading “Kent Midway TOD Rezone”

Sound Transit Q4 2011 Ridership Report

Tacoma Link at Night – Photo by Oran

Sound Transit just released its Q4 2011 Ridership Report, an encouraging trinity of big ridership gains, increased punctuality, and reduced (though still high) costs.

ST Express:  Ridership is up 13% on weekdays and 10% overall, with average weekday boardings of 48,094.  Strong growth on Snohomish County routes is likely due both to ST absorbing riders affected by cuts at Community Transit and the completion of Mountlake Terrace Transit center in March 2011.  Ridership is up 20% on #510, 28% on #511, 44% on #513, 20% on #532, and 7% on #535.  Other routes saw healthy increases of 4-15%, the only exceptions being ridership losses on #560 (-10%) and #566 (-11%).  Cost per boarding declined from $7.48 to $7.04.  On-time performance increased from 87% to 88%.

Sounder:  South Sounder ridership is up an impressive 22%, and North Sounder is up 15% (though it must be noted that 22% of total North Sounder boardings were on Special Event service).  Overall weekday ridership is up 27%, with average weekday boardings again exceeding 10,000.  Cost per boarding declined from $13.74 to $12.71, with an on-time performance of 97%.

Central Link:  Ridership is up by 12%, with average weekday boardings of 24,070, though ridership is still 24% below budgeted estimates.  Cost per boarding declined from $6.78 to $6.29, and on-time performance improved dramatically, from 81% to 87%.

Tacoma Link:  Ridership is up by 20%, on-time performance is 99.9%, and cost per boarding declined from $3.93 to $3.59.

Districts, Density and Development

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Roger Valdez doesn’t want to debate anymore, he wants to win.  Apparently it’s Scarface, final scene, f**king bazookas under each arm, “say hello to my little friend.”

Okay then! In the interest of being solutions-oriented, let me offer something positive.

Compared to, say, most of Europe, Seattle falls short when it comes to building dense, transit-oriented development. Compared to most of America, though, I’d say we’re doing pretty darn well. But I get it, it’s not good enough. We can do better.

At the 30,000-foot level, Roger’s question is about power and influence: how does density win? How does it beat the other guys: the NIMBYs. Well, basically you either out-organize them or out-fundraise them. Liberals often think politics is a battle of ideas, when it’s usually a battle of interests. If you want your interests to beat out the other guys’ interests, you either need more money, better organization, or both. Having good ideas is important, but it’s a second-order importance. Ideas help you raise money and organize. But you still have to raise money and organize.

So, how do we get there?

Organizing in favor of change is always harder than organizing against it. People come out of the woodwork to oppose something, whether it’s to protest the Iraq War or changes to the Route 2, more often than they come out in favor of something new. But people do come out to celebrate the new, if they sense possibility and excitement around it. Witness the crazy crowds that surrounded the opening days of the Seattle Streetcar and Link. Positive, change-oriented agendas can have their own power, but they have to be specific, tangible, and actionable. Think Obama 2008: Change = Hope = Vote for This Dude. End of story.

For density advocates, raising money is in some ways the easier task. There are plenty of organizations – from developers to construction firms to trade unions – that benefit from urban development. But that money comes with strings attached. These folks are often just as happy to build sprawl. More happy, in fact, since it often requires less onerous soil remediation and environmental permitting. Also, the amount of money that can be made from infill development is proportional to the restrictions on said developments. If it became easier to build in the city, then building in the city would by definition be less profitable. I think pro-density folks often think that developers are their friends. In truth, it’s often a marriage of convenience.

I’m afraid there are no magic solutions here. “Politics is a long and slow boring of hard boards,” as Max Weber said. But I do think the broad outlines are right: a coalition needs to form — call it a political party or not — that has the power to change policy and can back it up with money and votes. It needs to be difficult for a politician to defy this coalition. From time to time, the coalition will do things that individual members disagree with, and these members need to find a way to support the coalition and not let the perfect be the enemy of the good. This is often a very difficult task for some, who may immediately defect if the percentage of funding for their favorite pet transportation mode isn’t exactly what they wanted.

Finally, the only way for such a coalition to survive this inevitable infighting is to have a common creed, a similar worldview. This worldview needs to be broad enough to be inclusive, but specific enough to actually mean something. Part of it is about climate change, but I’m pretty sure if we converted our entire auto fleet to zero emissions overnight, many of us would still be urbanists. Part of it is about the economic benefits of urbanization. Part of it is about limiting sprawl. And part of it’s purely romantic. It’s decidedly not about mode choice or fantasy maps (sadly!).

One last thing, as I approach the 700-word mark. I think the pieces of this coalition already exist, and great organizations like Sightline and Transportation Choices are absolutely leaders in it. It’s really a matter of finding the common thread and pulling it all together.

Chains, Big-Box Stores, and Urbanism

Northgate North Shopping Center (

Two recent stories in the national media illustrated why I think it’s important to separate the push for density, which solves or mitigates a whole series of objective social problems, from the aesthetic distaste for bix box stores and chain restaurants.

First, the Atlantic takes the angle that in-city big-box stores reduce driving:

The researchers then took this data on the frequency, length and type of trips people were making and calculated monthly vehicle-miles-traveled estimates before and after the Target. Before, residents were driving about 97 miles a month for their cleaning supplies, patio items and such. After, that number dropped to 79.6 miles. The frequency of shopping trips to downtown Davis didn’t change much, suggesting the new Target was siphoning more business from far-flung big boxes than local downtown stores.

This result is consistent with my anecdotal experience — sometimes, the easiest thing to do is go to Target, even if it’s farther away — but I’d also suggest that big box stores, while not meeting the narrow-storefront nirvana of urbanists, need not be the pedestrian-hostile sea of parking we experience every day.

Consider the Northgate North complex that is, well, north of Northgate Mall, which consists of three big box stores (and several others) stacked on top of each other in one city block. I would never suggest this is ideal urbanism. The free parking garage isn’t great, the transit access is barely adequate, and it’s hardly a pedestrian paradise. Nevertheless, it’s a compact form for three big-box stores, and vastly superior to what you’d find from those exact same chains near Southcenter.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Chains, Big-Box Stores, and Urbanism”

Light Rail Excuse of the Week

The shawarma

In the middle of winter most neighborhoods don’t have major activities to pull you in, but snow (which is rumored for the weekend) may shut down everything but Link. If you’re looking for something new to do as an excuse to ride Link, Bananas Grill, just north of Columbia City station, offers low-priced Mediterranean food. The ambience is fast food but it’s got a bit more of a halal focus than a typical Greek place. I’ve eaten there several times and find the Chicken Shawarma particularly tasty.

4556 MLK, about a block north of the station. Free wi-fi. Open every day.

News Roundup: Mayoral Revolt

This is an open thread.

Tis the Season …. for Mudslides

Photo by WSDOT (2008 mudslide)

The Washington State Department of Transportation has some good news for the rail corridors plagued with mudslides, but the project won’t be finished until late 2015.

Early Wednesday morning, a mudslide between Mukilteo and Everett, caused cancellation of Sounder and Amtrak Cascades service for 48 hours*. WSDOT’s $16.1m Corridor Reliability Slide Management Project will review problematic locations and reduce mudslides along the route.

In 2011, over 100 Sounder and Amtrak trains were cancelled due to mudslides. While this project will not eliminate all mudslide dangers, it is a step in the right direction to minimize service disruptions. Anytime a mudslide occurs, BNSF Railway (owner of the tracks in our region) imposes a 48-hour restriction on passenger trains. WSDOT and BNSF are working together to reduce and/or eliminate this rule, depending on the severity of the slide.

This is positive and much needed relief on what plagues on-time performance and reliability of our trains.

*Empire Builder service will be truncated in Everett and passengers bused to Edmonds and Seattle. Eastbound passengers will be bused to Everett and board the train there.

Senate May Define BRT Upwards

Erubisu 27/Flickr

Both houses of Congress continue to struggle with the new transportation bill as they enter a one-week recess. Speaker John Boehner has delayed the justifiably maligned House bill, allegedly because it doesn’t have the votes.

Over on the Senate side, in a flurry of parliamentary maneuvering that I don’t really understand, Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) on Friday offered amendment 1730 to the much better Senate Bill, S.1813. The amendment is not yet in the bill, much less law, but it does have this interesting provision:

 (2) BUS RAPID TRANSIT SYSTEM.–The term `bus rapid transit system’ means a bus transit system–

`(A) in which the majority of each line operates in a separated right-of-way dedicated for public transportation use during peak periods; and

`(B) that includes features that emulate the services provided by rail fixed guideway public transportation systems, including–

“(i) defined stations;

“(ii) traffic signal priority for public transportation vehicles;

“(iii) short headway bidirectional services for a substantial part of weekdays and weekend days; and

“(iv) any other features the Secretary may determine are necessary to produce high-quality public transportation services that emulate the services provided by rail fixed guideway public transportation systems.

STB obtained an email to other transit operators from Metro Director of Service Development Victor Obeso, excerpted below the jump:

Continue reading “Senate May Define BRT Upwards”

First Hill Streetcar Open Houses

Seattle streetcar at Pacific Place Station
Photo by flickr user sillygwailo

SDOT is holding two open houses for the First Hill Streetcar project that begins construction in April:

Tuesday, February 28
5:00 – 8:00 p.m.
Union Station – Ruth Fisher Boardroom
401 South Jackson Street
Seattle, WA 98104

Getting There:
The main entrance is on Jackson Street between Fourth and Fifth avenues. The location is transit accessible. On- and off-street parking is available nearby.

Wednesday, March 7
4:00 – 7:00 p.m.
Silver Cloud Hotel
The Broadway Room
1100 Broadway
Seattle, WA 98122

Getting There:
The main entrance is on Broadway between E Madison Street and E Union Street. The location is transit accessible. On- and off-street parking is available nearby. Limited free parking at Silver Cloud Hotel.

Questions? or (206) 257-2121

Mukilteo Station Open House Tomorrow

Mukilteo Station (Sound Transit)

They’re trying to figure out ways to improve station access:

February 22, 2012
5:00 pm – 8:00 pm

Join us to see what we have learned about how riders get to and from Mukilteo Station and share your thoughts on future access improvements.

Rosehill Community Center
304 Lincoln Avenue
Mukilteo, WA 98275

The Sounder Station Access Study is a product of ST2. From the press release:

Potential station improvements that could be funded include more parking, enhanced connections for pedestrians and bicycle users, and new bus facilities…

For the convenience of Mukilteo residents, the event is being held in conjunction with Washington State Ferries and the Federal Transit Administration’s public hearing on the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Mukilteo Multimodal project.

ST Board to Consider Facility and Link System Naming Policy

Red Line was Central Link, Blue Line was East Link (mockup by author)

We could soon be riding the Red Line instead of Central Link and talk about the Lynnwood Extension instead of the North Corridor HCT Project beginning in 2014. An update to the policy for naming Sound Transit facilities and Link lines is up for consideration at the Sound Transit Board’s February 23rd meeting.

Link lines would be named by color and destination at the end of the line. For example, the north-south Central Link line would be called the Link Red Line (Westlake or SeaTac/Airport). Supposedly, Tacoma Link would also get a color. Staff recommendation and rider feedback would help establish a color scheme. The naming structure would apply to projects in the early planning phase. Examples of US cities that name their rail lines after colors include Boston, Washington, Chicago, Portland, and Los Angeles.

The criteria for naming stations and other facilities would be updated to add “Avoid similar names or words in existing facility names”. I’m thinking that we may not see Brooklyn Station renamed to University District Station as there is already a University Street Station. We might not see a Husky Stadium Station either, since there’s already a Stadium Station.

There will be a three-phase process for determining the permanent name of a station. First, staff will develop potential names based on the criteria. Then the public will be asked for input around the 30% design process. Finally, at Phase Gate 5 or around 60% design, the Board will have final authority in naming stations.

Salvaging Minor Improvements for Queen Anne

Current Queen Anne Service Map
Current Queen Anne Service Map, by Oran

With Friday’s unfortunate announcement that Routes 2 and 4 will be remain largely unchanged, we’ve lost one of the best parts of the Fall 2012 restructure, with anything beyond “small adjustments to the frequency and running hours” on the 4 ruled out. As I pointed out months ago, the eight-terminal network that now serves Queen Anne to Madrona is intrinsically less efficient and comprehensible than the three terminal network that was proposed; with restoration of the 4, most or all of that is probably lost.

While it’s all water under the bridge now, it’s worth noting that Metro had an unpublished draft plan that would have kept the crosstown Route 2 on Seneca (with a one-seat ride to the Seattle Center) while still improving Route 13 to all-day frequent service and providing service every 5-8 minutes during the weekday from Downtown to First Hill (it would also have raised the south part of the 2 to frequent service on weekday evenings). The thousands of people who use those buses daily — far, far more than who use the tails of the 4 — who will pack onto overloaded buses on James St or suffer the woefully inadequate service on Queen Anne Ave to Seattle Pacific are the real (but evidently unpersuasive) human cost of inertia.

Nonetheless, there are a couple of minor changes that would noticeably improve Queen Anne service, cost nothing overall, qualify under the rubric of “small adjustments … to running hours”, and upset almost no-one, thus fitting quite well with what’s left of the Fall proposal.

Continue reading “Salvaging Minor Improvements for Queen Anne”