Us, Them, Right, and Wrong: How Do We Win?

Single Family Onslought

Does the way we organize our politics and government in Seattle and in our region have any effect on transit and land use? Does the structure of our political institutions result in bad outcomes for transit-oriented development, for example? Would changing that system result in better or worse outcomes? That’s the question we should talk about more actively at urbanist and transit advocacy events, like tomorrow night’s City Builders. Does getting better transit and land use require fundamentally changing the way we organize government and elections?

Since my post at Publicola last week a number of different perspectives and thoughts have appeared in my in-box and in the comments. Here’s a cross section of those perspectives.

Change would make things worse.

This view is best articulated by Frank at Orphan Road, who suggests that tinkering with the way we elect the Seattle City Council could make land use and transit worse. He drills into district elections, suggesting that doing things that way would ensure NIMBY dominance, by giving neighborhood ne’er do wells elected office.

Change would make things better.

There is an odd assortment of bedfellows here. Councilmember Mike O’Brien has been exploring the idea of publicly financed elections, and John Fox has been suggesting district elections. Some commenters in other posts have offered ideas about ways to rig the voting system using proportional voting systems to get better outcomes. The problem is that the outcome of these changes is uncertain.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Us, Them, Right, and Wrong: How Do We Win?”

Metro Service Change Today

Photo by Atomic Taco

Although the ones later this year are a much bigger deal, there are a few changes that begin today:

  • Route 149 changes to new DART Route 907
  • Some Route 186 trips change to new DART Route 915
  • Route 251 changes to new DART Route 931

Metro hopes the DART conversions will save a little money and are appropriate for the demand. The complete list of altered routes is 149, 186, 221, 224, 240, 251, 910, and 917, and new routes 907, 915, and 931.

Pierce Transit changes over tomorrow, Community Transit has a major change starting Monday, and of course Monday is Presidents’ Day.

Bellevue Transit Master Plan Getting Started

City of Bellevue

Not to be confused with Bellevue’s Transportation Facilities Plan, or Seattle’s TMP, Bellevue is gathering initial input for its Transit Master Plan process. Their first step is to get ideas from this survey, open to anyone who spends time in Bellevue, transit user or not. You might win a gift certificate to one of Bellevue’s fine restaurants.

Critical issues to be addressed include:

  • Identifying the city’s most important transit corridors that carry high ridership today, as well as potential new ridership markets that will emerge as Bellevue grows in jobs and new residents;
  • Integrating transit capital facilities and services with walking and biking infrastructure, and using transit to make great places;
  • Enhancing bus transit performance through roadway investments such as traffic signal priority; and
  • Coordinating with Metro and Sound Transit to create a seamless, fully integrated, and user friendly network of transit services.

This is a good opportunity for me to bring up potential improvements around Bellevue College, a smallish capital project with huge payoffs in bus efficiency.

Another Update on Route 2

Another update just came in from Metro Deputy GM Manager of Services Development Victor Obeso:

The proposals Metro presented for feedback were designed to improve the efficiency of our service to serve more people to more places. Talking with you and others helps us understand how existing service is an important part of your lives and neighborhoods. When proposals include long established high ridership routes within a diverse and multifaceted setting, public outreach helps Metro weigh technical considerations with human factors.

We have received valuable feedback. We’ve heard that there are factors that deserve further review, analysis and understanding. As a result, Metro has decided to postpone the route 2, 4 and 27 proposals. Issues were raised of coverage and traffic congestion on Madison Street, and more information about the unique travel needs of those that live and work in the area is needed. For now, we are not proposing to change existing routing of this set of routes. Instead, we are proposing to just make small adjustments to the frequency and running hours of routes 4 and 27 consistent with demand.

Backing off the changes Route 2 and 4, by necessity, returns the Queen Anne-Madrona corridor more or less to its current structure, complete with the 4’s vestigial tail to Judkins Park. This is an extremely regrettable decision that abandons one of the most promising, pro-rider parts of the Fall restructure.

Parties and the Urban Agenda

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Is Seattle’s political process the root cause of NIMBYism?

Roger Valdez seems to think it might be.  He really likes Matt Yglesias’ post about a David Schleicher paper.  Schleicher argues that the absence of political parties in largely Democratic cities results in lower density: because city council members don’t have a party to be loyal to, they never have to take uncomfortable votes that would result in the greater good even at some personal cost to their re-election.  The result is that NIMBYism rules.

Seattle is an interesting case, since we’ve actually had two competing, but informal, movements in Greater Seattle and Lesser Seattle since at least the 1960s. You could see these two interests morphing into two distinct parties, if there was some reward for doing so.

That said, while I’m compelled by the thesis, I’m not sure Seattle is the best example of Schleicher’s argument.  He writes:

Individual legislators frequently face prisoner’s dilemmas, preferring the achievement of citywide goals like increasing the housing supply to universally restrictive policies, but preferring restrictions on new development in their districts regardless of what happens elsewhere. [Emphasis added]

Trouble is, Seattle doesn’t have districts at the city council level. If you read Schleicher’s paper, that really is the thrust of his argument: district-centered provincialism is the root cause of NIMBYism.  Here in Seattle we have a different dichotomy, one you might call “neighborhoods” vs. “downtown”  (and I use quotes because I’m using the terms quite loosely).

The “neighborhoods” are where the people live, where NIMBYism is more prevalent, and where the votes are. “Downtown” is where you get the reelection money needed to run a city-wide campaign.  Seattle’s council members aren’t torn between constituents and political party, they’re torn between constituents and their donors.

Ironically, the easiest way to reduce the influence of money in our council elections is to go back to the district system, which might actually result in more NIMBYism if Schleicher’s theory is correct.

Remembering A Bygone Era of Architectural Glory

Last week, the New York Times penned a rather fascinating piece on New York’s Pennsylvania Station– no, not the architectural masterpiece that was once the city’s crown jewel, but the modernist hellhole that sits there now, buried under the bowels of Madison Square Garden.  While the city has been trounced with guilt, grievances, and lamentations since the demolition of old Penn Station, a decades-long plan to evoke the neoclassical grandeur of Penn has been in the works for some time now.

The Moynihan plan, as it’s known, would convert the adjacent post office to a new rail terminal.  Yet the plan is not without its drawbacks:

 It’s true that the Moynihan plan will eventually improve a few access routes to subways and commuter trains. But it will add no new tracks and have limited effect on the congestion and misery of Penn Station. New tracks aside, the challenge is at the bare minimum to bring light and air into this underground purgatory and, beyond that, to create for millions of people a new space worthy of New York, a civic hub in the spirit of the great demolished one, more attuned to the city’s aspirations and democratic ideals.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Remembering A Bygone Era of Architectural Glory”

Metro News Roundup: Route 2, Delridge and More

Metro wire crews at work at 5th & Virginia
Metro wire crews at work at 5th & Virginia

King County Metro has been a hive of activity this week. Without further ado, here’s the news:

Contrary to widespread reports, the status of Route 2 has not changed. Yesterday, in widely-circulated emails and reports on Capitol Hill Seattle and Central District News (presumably from the same source), it was claimed that the current proposal of splitting Route 2 had been taken off the table. This is simply false. All options for Route 2 remain on the table, including the current proposal, a return to current conditions throughout the Queen Anne-Madrona corridor, or some possible alternative that maintains the current alignment of the 2S while still streamlining service in the rest of the corridor. (Since the publication of this post, Metro has released a statement saying that the Route 2 changes have, indeed, been taken off the table. We regret the error.)

Feedback from Ballard, West Seattle and Delridge. In an effort to get a sense of what non-STBers think of these changes and promote STB to a wider audience, I attended Metro’s open houses this week. Of the attendees in the Ballard, many seemed to be from North Beach, Blue Ridge and West Magnolia, areas where all-day service is being cut or restructured to (effectively) require a transfer to get downtown. West Seattle was relatively quiet, with the excellent suggestion of scheduling the 128 and 20 to provide a timed transfer for Admiral District riders losing the 55 being all that stands out in my mind.

Weak sauce in Delridge. At the Delridge open house, local transit advocates complained vigorously — and, in my view, absolutely correctly — that North Delridge has been shorted in the Fall restructure proposals, with most of the new service proposed for their neighborhood abandoned in favor of maintaining service in much less productive areas, on top of the 125 being cut on weekends. Delridge is a growing, top-performing corridor with lots of transit-dependent riders; in a rational transit planning universe, it would have been the southwest Seattle RapidRide route. Instead, that area will arguably be worse off after the Fall 2012 restructure than today.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Metro News Roundup: Route 2, Delridge and More”

News Roundup: No Chance

Photo by Zargoman

This is an open thread.

Federal Funding

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Kevin Drum links approvingly to this idea from Ed Glaeser:

DE-FEDERALIZE TRANSPORT SPENDING: Most forms of transport infrastructure overwhelmingly serve the residents of a single state. Yet the federal government has played an outsized role in funding transportation for 50 years. Whenever the person paying isn’t the person who benefits, there will always be a push for more largesse and little check on spending efficiency. Would Detroit’s People Mover have ever been built if the people of Detroit had to pay for it? We should move toward a system in which states and localities take more responsibility for the infrastructure that serves their citizens.

I don’t necessarily have a problem with this, but if I were ever to agree to something like it, I’d have to extract some pretty serious concessions in return.  You’d have to radically strengthen metropolitan areas to control their own destiny, such as dedicated revenue sources, even if said metro crossed one or more state lines.  Metros should also be able to extract and keep some of the value that their ports provide to more inland areas.  Oh, and there should definitely be a higher gas tax, and more tolling.  And metros should be able to opt out of excessive Federal Railroad Administration requirements and “buy American” provisions that make trains so damn expensive in the U.S.

Glaeser’s bit about PPPs, on the other hand, needs more work:

This system has three big advantages. The private sector may be most cost-effective at construction and maintenance. The project only goes forward if private investors anticipate significant toll revenue. The private operator has every incentive to keep up maintenance, because it can only recoup costs if people keep driving the roads. There are also challenges involved in managing private concessions, as California’s experience with State Road 91illustrates, but these hurdles should be surmountable, especially if we have enough regulation to keep private roads and bridges safe. [Emphasis added]

Umm… no.  People will keep driving the road because it’s the only way to get from point A to point B.  That’s the whole point of a monopoly, and that’s why roads are typically public goods.

ORCA February 2012 Report

37% of ORCA sales from vending machines occurred at Westlake Station

On Monday, the ORCA Joint Board met for its monthly meeting to discuss the regional fare collection system’s technical, operational, and policy issues. There were a lot of things discussed which I have omitted for this report since I didn’t find them too interesting for the general public.

After a late start due to a special press conference on federal transit funding (which STB received very late notice of and no one made it there), the meeting started with one public comment, probably the first ever to the Joint Board. Deborah Seymour, a resident of Belltown, commented on the triple-fold increase in senior pass prices, the loss of the annual pass and resulting inconvenience of having to buy a new pass every month. King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond responded that the King County Council made the decision to increase fares and pass prices. Seymour had written to Councilmember Larry Phillips but didn’t receive a response. Desmond suggested she try the e-purse which may cost less than a pass depending on how often she rides and requires a single load for a year’s worth of rides.

Vix, the system vendor, reported that the migration of operations from Cubic in California is now complete. Cubic bought the US assets of ERG (now Vix) related to the Bay Area’s TransLink (now Clipper) Card project, some of which were shared with Seattle’s. All of ORCA’s operations are now in Seattle, fully under Vix’s control. This means better communication and support on the vendor’s part. For example, on-board card readers and driver display units (DDU) at the new Seattle-based workshop are now repaired in 2 days compared to 9 days from a year ago, on average.

On the ORCA Vision, key questions are how to fund additional work and how to move towards new technology. Desmond said Metro has hired the IBI Group to write a white paper to figure out “what would it take [for Metro] to go cashless?” The paper would answer what sort of policy, equipment, and direction they need to move towards a cashless system. Phase II of the work would be to write a business plan to place a dollar figure on potential changes for a budget request this summer. Work on the white paper is almost finished and is expected to be presented to the Joint Board in April.

The next Joint Board meeting is on March 12, 10:30 am at King Street Center 8th floor Conference Center.

Update on new work, ORCA statistics, and ORCA’s annual budget are below the jump. Continue reading “ORCA February 2012 Report”

Meet the Artist Event for Brooklyn Station

Ghost Billboard
Ghost Billboard by Lead Pencil Studio, near the Canadian border. Photo by flickr user MightyMoss

Sound Transit is holding a “meet the artist” event Friday for Lead Pencil Studio, the team selected to provide public art for the Brooklyn station.

February 17, 2012
6:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Henry Art Gallery auditorium
University of Washington
15th Ave NE and NE Campus Pkwy

Continue reading “Meet the Artist Event for Brooklyn Station”

WSDOT Plans Would Displace Seattle Passenger Ferries

King County Water Taxi by Flikr user paulkimo90
King County Water Taxi by Flikr user paulkimo90

Yesterday, the Transportation Choices Coalition (and the Kitsap Sun the day before) wrote about a most unfortunate component of WSDOT’s plans to upgrade and retrofit Colman Dock. From TCC:

 WSDOT is undergoing a process to plan for the replacement of the Colman ferry terminal.  We fully support preservation projects and our state’s ferry system, but the current replacement project will eliminate the existing passenger ferry dock, which will threaten the King County water taxi and other passenger ferry services in and out of Downtown Seattle.

In addition to the Vashon Island and West Seattle water taxis, the Sun notes that, within the next few years, there will most likely be three cross-Sound public agencies operating passenger ferries to Colman Dock, from Port Townsend, Kingston and Bremerton. After 2015, where those services will dock, and how the money will be found to construct or upgrade such a dock, is not at all clear.

Continue reading “WSDOT Plans Would Displace Seattle Passenger Ferries”

Federal Way’s Bus Service

Federal Way City Hall (wikimedia)

The Federal Way Mirror reports that unnamed city officials are dissatisfied with ST bus service to their city:

City officials have expressed concerns about overcrowded buses, especially the ST Express Route 577 to Seattle. Commuters fill those buses at peak morning times, standing in line before sunrise, often waiting through one or two boardings before scoring a seat.

The chutzpah of this complaint is breathtaking. The 574, 577, and 578 all serve Federal Way* and cost ST a total of $12m a year. Federal Way politicians were last heard complaining that their city was paying in $13.5m a year in taxes “to not get rail”. Their legislative strategy consists of adding administrative overhead costs to ST and withdrawing from the district, which would solve the problem of overcrowded buses by eliminating them altogether, and keep light rail as far from Federal Way as ever.

* The 577 is almost exclusively for the benefit of Federal Way; the 574 and 578 have shared benefits.

Baumol Follow-up: Automated Trains

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In my post on Baumol’s Cost Disease and transit, I laid out four options for how transit will have to adapt over time:

  • Buses need to get bigger and carry more people per driver (i.e. turn into trains)
  • Fares have to continue to go up faster than the rate of inflation
  • Public subsidy has to rise, also faster than the rate of inflation
  • Buses need to get faster – do the same route in less time (while not losing any passengers)
I neglected to mention a fifth possibility (related to the first): automated trains like the ones in SeaTac Airport or Vancouver’s SkyTrain.  This is a perfect Baumol-style productivity upgrade for a transit system to keep pace with rising living costs.

Heavy Rail Update

Photo by Altafest

It’s been a long time since I have done one of these updates but there has been plenty of work going on in our region. With the increase of rail traffic between Seattle and Portland, passenger train reliability has taken a noticeable hit. So what’s going been going on?

1. Recovery from the snow and ice storm added several slow orders. The on-time performance of most trains have mostly recovered and repairs along the BNSF Seattle Subdivision, Scenic Subdivision and Bellingham Subdivision are completed. Snow, ice, mudslides, downed trees, a small sink hole, and heavy wash from the Puget Sound all took its toll on the right of way. With these problems now fixed, track maintenance has ramped up. Those that ride Sounder and Amtrak should notice several pieces of Maintenance of Way equipment working between Tukwila and Tacoma for a tie replacement project and a rather rocky, rough ride on the corridor as the work progresses.

More below the jump:

Continue reading “Heavy Rail Update”

Puget Sound Transit Agencies Explain Impacts of Transportation Package

Continuing their ideological attack on government spending, the GOP-controlled United State House over the last week has now decided to target dedicated transit funding. Streetsblog Capitol Hill has had up-to-date coverage of the events over the last week or so, as the house has blazed through the legislative process. Larry Ehl report that congress has now cleared 9 out of the 10 procedural hurdles it needed to pass a transportation authorization bill.

In response to the radical policy change proposed by the house, a broad spectrum of group have come together in opposition and area transit agencies are getting into it as well. Please add your voice by taking action through the APTA.

Below the jump is a joint press release from Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit and Kitsap Transit:

Continue reading “Puget Sound Transit Agencies Explain Impacts of Transportation Package”