The Awfulness of Mt. Baker Station

Google Maps

I pass through the Mt. Baker transit hub, using just about every mode, perhaps a dozen times a week. With all this exposure, I often think I’ve fully cataloged its faults, only to stumble upon whole new layers of design flaw.  At the moment, ST doesn’t plan very many more elevated stations, but perhaps exploring these flaws will spread a few lessons.

As always, these flaws are not the result of incompetence or malice of individuals, but instead very real technical, legal, political, and/or fiscal constraints. I’ve footnoted a brief explanation of why many of these flaws exist, courtesy of ST spokesman Bruce Gray. These explanations in no way diminish the ongoing inconvenience for riders.

Minimal Intermodal Interface Continue reading “The Awfulness of Mt. Baker Station”

Reminder: Utility Vs Fun

London Eye Twilight April 2006 via Wikimedia Commons

Don’t forget that tomorrow during lunch Jarrett Walker and Darrin Nordahl will be debating their opposing views of what transit needs to do to attract more riders. If you’re not able to make it to the lunch event, there will also be a debate at Town Hall tomorrow night as well starting at 7:30. Get tickets for that event here.

Personally I’m confused why this is even debatable as ferris wheels are fun but they don’t get you anywhere, just like driving isn’t fun, at least for most people, but can get you just about anywhere. Last time I checked most cities weren’t overrun with ferris wheels, if you get my drift. Regardless, it should be a fun a lively debate. Details below the jump. Continue reading “Reminder: Utility Vs Fun”

Sales Tax Exemptions are Subsidies


A recent comment thread had the familiar, tiresome morality play about subsidies to drivers and transit.  I think the use of “you are subsidized” as a moral critique is totally bankrupt, but nevertheless there appears to be genuine confusion about the sales tax exemption for gasoline and why that’s a subsidy, displayed by people I have every reason to believe are asking in good faith.

The general sales tax levied on most retail goods is not levied on gasoline. This exemption, according to a 2008 Dept. of Revenue report, amounts to an annual revenue loss of $500m to the State and a further $156m per year to local governments (previous post on this subject). Obviously, the precise value moves around with the price and consumption rate of gas, but in any case this is functionally equivalent to the state writing checks to lower the price of gas.

Instead, the state levies a per-gallon gasoline tax of 37.5 cents per gallon, on top of 18.4 cents per gallon by the Federal Government. Although the state portion is roughly equivalent in magnitude to the sales tax, according to the 18th amendment to the state constitution, it must be used solely for “highway purposes.”

This is a crucial distinction. For most other industries, the products are taxed and the revenues flow into the general fund to support education, public safety, and whatnot. For drivers, the revenues must be used to support driving by providing roads that are (mostly) free at the point of use. This is not a neutral treatment of driving, any more than dedicating all taxes on nails to hammer subsidies would be neutral treatment of the hammer industry.

It’s true that gasoline is hardly the only item that is subsidized through the tax code. The list of exemptions is hundreds of pages long, and government applies more traditional subsidies to things like education and transit. There’s even a non-crazy social justice case to be made for a gas exemption, although like the food exemption we’d be better off repealing it and focusing the revenue on targeted assistance to the poor. But anti-transit folks should drop the martyrdom complex that they’re honorably paying their own way while a bunch of parasitic transit riders leech off of them.

PSRC Wants Your Bike Data

PSRC wants to know where and why Puget Sound bicyclists ride, and they have partnered with Bay Area smartphone app Cycle Tracks to allow bicyclists to record their trips and share their data directly with PSRC. The data will help prioritize present and future investments in bicycle infrastructure and will improve the ability of planners to model cycling demand variables such as slope, arterial speed, presence or absence of bike lanes, etc…

Cyclists may start using the app anytime, while PSRC will begin collecting data on May 1.  The app is available only for iPhone (download) and Android (download).  The app asks for your age, email, gender, home/work/school ZIP, and cycling frequency, but all of these inputs are voluntary.  For the purpose of grouping trips by user, the app does require your Unique Device Identifier, but this data will not be shared.

I have been testing out the app for the past week, and it has a generally pleasant user interface and its basic functions work well.  Trips are saved by date and trip purpose, all trips are mapped, and average speed is given. Other apps such as SpeedTracker provide more information, such as color-coding your map by speed so you can see your bottlenecks. There are some unfortunate quirks, such as the app only being able to run on an active (though dimmed) screen (i.e. you can’t press the top button on an iPhone or this will stop the trip from being recorded)  Using CycleTracks on my 13-mile bike commute drains about 35% of the battery.

Overall, this app represents a nice chance for cyclists to allow their own travel preferences to directly impact how planners understand cycling.  An app FAQ is here, and questions can be referred to Peter Schmiedeskamp,

Metro Planning Route 120 Changes


Metro’s  gradual effort to speed up its principal routes comes to Burien and SW Seattle:

With more than 7,000 boardings a day, the Route 120 is one of Metro’s 10 busiest bus routes. Metro has received a state grant to improve the speed and reliability of the route, and has several changes planned that will be rolled out in coordination with the cities of Burien. They include:

•  Reduce the number of closely spaced bus stops to help buses move faster and operate on a more reliable schedule;  [see below]
•  Improve features at bus stops, such as installing new shelters and benches;
•  Add a northbound bus lane and bike lanes on Delridge Way Southwest; [diagram (pdf) here]
•  Install a “bus bulb” sidewalk extension for faster boarding at 26th Avenue Southwest and Southwest Barton Street; and
•  Install transit signal priority at many traffic signals between the Burien Transit Center and the West Seattle Bridge.

The open house will be held:

Tuesday, April 24 from 5:30-7:30 p.m.
Youngstown Cultural Arts Center
4408 Delridge Way SW, Seattle

You can also learn more about the project and comment online. The deadline for comments is Friday, April 27.

If you have questions about the open house or project, please contact DeAnna Martin, community relations planner at (206) 263-9768 or by email.

The change would occur around the new year. This page has much more information about the change.

Of the 89 stops between S Spokane St and Burien TC, about 21 would disappear, but they’d still be less than a quarter mile apart. About 17% of riders in that segment would have their stop disappear or move. The stop changes will also affect routes 125, 128, 22, 85, 133, and 560.

See also Bruce’s analysis of ridership patterns on this route.

TIB Parking Map

Via John Niles, a map of vehicle registrations of cars parked in the Tukwila/International Blvd lot:

Sound Transit confirmed that it took this data on a single day — January 10th — sometime between 9am and 3pm.

I find the distribution of this somewhat surprising. Beyond the outliers (Mercer Island?) that are presumably using this as airport parking, it’s revealing to see the large numbers coming over from Renton and Kent, site of Sounder service that is in many ways superior. Is this an artifact of parking shortages at Sounder, or of the advantages of Link over Sounder in terms of span of service, frequency, and destinations?

Amtrak Cascades Integrated Passenger Rail Corridor

Reflections by Rich Murphy

Washington and Oregon recently announced a new partnership that will develop a plan for managing passenger rail services between Eugene, Oregon and Vancouver, B.C., as a single corridor, rather than two separate corridors as today. Transportation officials in Washington and Oregon signed an agreement that begins the ground work for faster, reliable, and more frequent Amtrak Cascades service.

What does this mean for passengers? Right now, little will change on the ground, but cost management, productivity, capital planning, and scheduling will be under a single office. John Sibold is the new Cascade Corridor director. Sibold has been the Rail and Marine director at the Washington State Department of Transportation since August and will focus on improving the reliability of passenger-rail service and managing the state’s freight lines.

Plenty more information after the jump!
Continue reading “Amtrak Cascades Integrated Passenger Rail Corridor”

News Roundup: Mayors


This is an open thread.

Roosevelt 60% Design Open House


South Entry Perspective View - 12th Ave NE looking Northwest

On Wednesday Sound Transit hosted the Roosevelt Station 60% Design public meeting at Roosevelt High School. The purpose of the meeting was to show the updated plans for Roosevelt station, present the concepts for the exterior and interior art programs, and get feedback from the community. For those who aren’t familiar with Roosevelt Station, it is part of the North Link project, scheduled to open in 2021 and add 62,000 daily boardings to Link in 2030 (of which 8,000 are expected at Roosevelt).

The station design has undergone significant changes since the initial 30% design concept, which was presented at the first open house. The large glass structures from that design have been scaled back significantly to much more modest forms, though there is still a significant emphasis on the use of glass to promote natural light. Rather than the large lobbies seen in the early concepts, there are now smaller lobbies with covered “porch” areas just outside the entrances. These areas will include bike racks for riders who prefer not to use the lockers or bike cage that will be provided in the bike storage area just off of 66th Street.

Combination of South Entry and North Entry plan views

Another significant change to the design is the increase in size of the plaza on the corner of 66th Street and 12th Avenue NE. This space was created by shifting the escalators in the North Entry further to the north. The plaza will include some “informal seating” on small walls and blocks, and is adjacent to the bike storage area as well as a covered waiting area (the curb in this area will be a 3 minute loading zone). Parking along 12th Ave was also removed and replaced with a “green edge” and wider sidewalks. The sidewalks meander slightly, which the architect says helps to lessen the slope of the hill along the station to improve ADA access. Continue reading “Roosevelt 60% Design Open House”

OneBusAway Data Accuracy Matters

OneBusAway app screenshot

OneBusAway has become a useful tool to many transit riders but recently the arrival predictions have become more erratic and unreliable since Metro’s program to equip its bus fleet with GPS began. Eastside buses like the 255 have been giving wild estimates like 100+ minute delays or fluctuating between schedule data only and real-time data. And there was a case where the next Route 26 bus was predicted to be over five hours away. Incorrect information is worse than no information since repeated mistakes eventually undermine people’s confidence in real-time information. At the very least it is good for nothing; at the worst it could mislead and create trouble for those who trust it. OneBusAway is only as good as the data provided by the transit agencies.

The problem with King County Metro’s real-time data is a complex one. It involves the combination of two vehicle location systems (the old odometer based system and the new GPS based system) and the translation of data from those systems into a format that OneBusAway understands. I asked OneBusAway’s S. Morris Rose whether the problems would go away once all of Metro’s buses are fitted with GPS. Rose told me that they now think the problem is related to the GPS-equipped buses. Rather than wait for the GPS transition to be completed, work is underway to address the problem with meetings between OneBusAway and Metro engineers. Given their limited resources, I hope that is a sign that Metro is taking data accuracy seriously; if not they really must, because customer trust is hard to win back once it is broken.

A Tax on the Poor, Benefiting the Rich

Matthew Yglesias, joining Publicola in responding to a recent Seattle Times editorial, pointed out on Tuesday that:


parking mandates are a regressive subsidy. The 16 percent of Seattle households with no car are a disproportionately low-income slice of the city’s population.

Let’s expand on that a bit.  I think it’s fairly clear that the main beneficiaries of parking minimums are those with more vehicles, which would tend to be citizens with a higher income.  On the other side of the equation, who do these minimums harm?  I would group the carless as either urban types that don’t care to drive, the elderly or disabled that can’t drive, or the poor that can’t afford to drive.  Yet these groups are currently being forced to pay higher rents, to make sure if they do ever buy a car they will be less likely to use up “free” street parking.
Continue reading “A Tax on the Poor, Benefiting the Rich”

SB 6582 Appears Dead

Sen. Haugen

Senate Bill 6582, which made it all the way through both houses and a conference committee, is now likely to never get final approval from the Senate, reports Jerry Cornfield. As is so often the case, it’s been blocked by Senate Transportation Chair, Mary Margaret Haugen (D-Camano Island):

Rep. Marko Liias, D-Edmonds, [in the House version of the bill] proposed allowing counties to charge residents an excise tax of 1 percent on the value of their vehicles with the approval of voters. And if a county chose not to do this, a transit agency would be allowed to seek voter approval of a half-percent MVET of those living within the boundaries of their district…

Haugen didn’t like this idea. She preferred only transportation benefit districts be able to impose an MVET. Her opposition didn’t soften and by March 23 — the 12th day of the month long special session — Haugen forecast its fate.

“In my mind, I don’t see how we can move it,” she said.

The bill originally passed the Senate by a 1-vote margin, so there may be other Senators with veto power that aren’t speaking up.

Given successful public votes, the bill would have restored Community Transit’s mid-decade level of service and prevented deep Metro service cuts after the CRC authority runs out in 2013.

Improving Link Ridership


John Niles and I definitely disagree about the significance of current Link ridership to the project as a whole, but I’m for adding more people and this is a constructive question:

If Sound Transit were to have an incremental 50 million dollars (pick a number) to invest in either (1) additional parking at Tukwila Station or S 200th Station, or (2) TOD at any light rail stations of its choosing from Husky Stadium to S 200th, which investment would provide the largest increase in light rail ridership?

Follow-up question, which investment would most meet the intent of regional public policy?

Additional follow-up question, which investment would be best for the sustainability of the region and the planet?

and in a later comment:

I’m pretty sure that providing as much parking as possible at Tukwila or the new S 200th station with giant promotion of its availability would drive up Central Link ridership more than anything else Sound Transit could do. But let’s discuss if that’s the right thing to do.

The shame of it is that Sound Transit itself has little power to do anything at this point. There were multiple decisions in the period 1995-2005 that could have dramatically improved 2012 ridership1, but now most of the power lies with Metro and the City of Seattle. Continue reading “Improving Link Ridership”

The Ama

Please, put down your drink.  Then read Michael van Baker’s post about gondolas.  It is hilarious yet intelligent, stringing history together with current events to come up with a possible future.  It’s genius.  I don’t love the recent criticism that Amazon isn’t philanthropic enough – that’s their business, and I believe that social services should be provided by the government.  That said, the Seattle Center to SLU to Capitol Hill line likely benefits Amazon more than any one entity.  And considering how slow our tax-averse state is to build infrastructure, a helping hand from the private sector would be appreciated. 

I wonder if stringing a fiber optic line on the thing would be useful.

The Uptown-Belltown Transit Improvement Project

King County Metro 24 on Denny Way
Eastbound stop at Denny & Warren

Last week, I got a tip about a great new minor-capital transit improvement project that Seattle DOT is undertaking in the Belltown-Uptown area, specifically at the interface between Uptown (aka Lower Queen Anne) and Belltown. This project has only just formally begun, and doesn’t yet have a page on SDOT’s website, but I spoke to SDOT’s Bill Bryant to get a preview of the details. As a regular Queen Anne/Ballard bus rider, I’m very excited at the improvement this is going to make to those routes, including (although, unfortunately, not in time for) Metro’s soon-to-be launched RapidRide D Line.

First, it’s necessary to understand the tangled mess of streets and bus routes that exist in the north end of Belltown. Denny Way, running east-west, forms an edge between two differently-aligned street grids: the Belltown grid, oriented northwest-southeast, and the Queen Anne grid, oriented north-south. Uptown has two viable arterial streets for north-south transit service, which function as a couplet, and cut through its commercial and historic core: Queen Anne Ave N, which connects to Western Ave in Belltown, carries southbound traffic; and 1st Ave N connects to 1st Ave, and carries northbound traffic. In addition, local routes to Ballard service Uptown on the way to Ballard, while routes to Magnolia (and express routes to Ballard) sidestep the heart of Uptown, and serve Western Ave north of Denny.

South of Denny Way, things start to get really confusing. After the jump, a map.

Continue reading “The Uptown-Belltown Transit Improvement Project”

The Rise of the Suburban Mega-Landlord

Foreclosure by AKZO on Flickr

In The Rent is too Damn High, reviewed by Andrew here, Yglesias argues that single-family homes are typically owned, not rented, because the costs of managing the property make it inefficient to do so. And indeed, it’s cheaper to be a landlord for a multi-family building, since much of the infrastructure and common space is shared by multiple tenants.

Nonetheless, the wave of foreclosures in America over the last few years has led to a wave of investment companies scooping up distressed homes and turning them into rental properties:

With home prices down more than a third from their peak and the market swamped with foreclosures, large investors are salivating at the opportunity to buy perhaps thousands of homes at deep discounts and fill them with tenants. Nobody has ever tried this on such a large scale, and critics worry these new investors could face big challenges managing large portfolios of dispersed rental houses. Typically, landlords tend to be individuals or small firms that own just a handful of homes.

It’s possible that single-family housing has gotten so cheap – and other investment opportunities have gotten so scarce – that this new wave of investors will actually make a profit. It’s also possible that advances in technology, like the ability to remotely monitor houses or dispatch plumbers, have fundamentally changed the economics of landlording.

More interesting, though, is the question of how this new industry will make its mark on suburbia. Defenders of the home mortgage tax deduction often claim that homeowners are better stewards of their property and more invested in their community than renters. But surely large-scale landlords managing an investment portfolio have interests as well, and unlike single-family homeowners, they’ll be able to dedicate significant resources to lobbying.

Unlike suburban developers, who close the sale and are gone, suburban landlords will need to make money from their neighborhoods over time. They’ll also need to attract a different clientele than the typical urban renter, probably a family (multi-generational?) that can fill a 2600 sq ft house. Will they advocate for more density in the ‘burbs, so as to lower maintenance costs? Or perhaps less density, so as to keep rents high? More parks? Better schools? More highways?  If this new business model proves successful (and that’s a big if) it could fundamentally change the landscape (both political and actual) of suburban America.

Jarrett Walker and Darrin Nordahl at Town Hall

Coming up, on the evening of April 18th, Town Hall Seattle is hosting a debate between two well-known transit authors:

Authors Darrin Nordahl and Jarrett Walker discuss public transit from two different ends of the bus route: technical simplicity—and fun. Most everyone agrees that public transit is a powerful tool for addressing a range of urban problems, but while Walker, author of Human Transit, believes that transit can be simple if we focus on the underlying geometry that all transit technologies share, Nordahl, author of My Kind of Transit, argues that when public transit is an enjoyable experience, tourists and commuters alike will willingly hand in their keys.

Regular readers won’t be surprised at all to learn that I am completely in the tank for Walker in this debate, as I am in most. In fact, almost everything I’ve written here on STB has been dedicated to the proposition that a simple, high-quality all-day bus network designed to maximize frequency, directness, and reliability would serve the city far, far better than what we have today. Two of the County’s best bus routes, the 358 and 120, were created out of mediocre services in a restructure process that was predicated on exactly the same ideas. And besides, what could possibly be more fun and enjoyable than travelling on the 358?

Sadly, my travel plans don’t permit me to attend, but I would commend this debate to the attention of anybody who takes an interest in promoting transit use, which is, I presume, all of you. STB is a co-sponsor of this event, for which space is limited.