This is an open thread.

110 Replies to “News Roundup: Comes Out Swinging”

  1. If you click on the Vancouver BC/Corbu story, there’s a link on the right side to “A bicycle ride through Vancouver in 1974” that is wonderful. The closing frame of the video compares the number of VW Beetles to SUVs (71:0). I wasn’t paying close attention, but I only remember seeing one bus.

  2. Regarding fares, I’m skeptical about full implications of the idea of using fares to regulate passenger quality. In present economy, none of us know when our income is going to drop below the point where the author of the study cited will consider our presence aboard transit undesirable.

    I wonder if same reasoning could be applied to streets and sidewalks? Maybe answer to quality-of-life problems in general might be to start charging fares for walking and driving as well?

    For present discussion, especially regarding upcoming end of the Ride Free Area and most especially the idea of using bus fareboxes in the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel, could we agree that first requirement of a fare system should be that it not interfere with the efficient operation of transit itself?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Free fares on Sound Transit trains would be a smart move. As it is, we are subsidizing each ride to the tune of 95% already — worst in the nation:

      Another report, this one from the Office of the Legislative Auditor, compared the efficiency of the Twin Cities LRT to systems in other cities. And, you’ll be happy to know that we ranked fourth on subsidy per passenger. That is to say, only three other cities, Denver (98 cents), Portland ($1.35) and San Diego (82 cents) spent less than our $1.44. Pittsburgh paid the highest subsidy, $5.22. Fares provided 38 percent of the cost in the Twin Cities. Only Denver and San Diego did better, and fares in Seattle covered only 5 percent of outlays.


      Might as well go all in, and make it a 100% taxpayer subsidy, right?

      1. Warren I don’t know where they got their numbers from. From the 2010 ST Fare Revenue Report (http://bit.ly/KXTJOH).

        2010 farebox recovery
        ST Express 22%
        Sounder 23%
        Link 21%

      2. “Might as well go all in, and make it a 100% taxpayer subsidy, right?”

        Wrong. This spproach tries to make up for lost fare revenue the way Lucy tried to make a profit off of her cookie baking, for which she was charging less than the costs of the ingredients.

        When Ricky asked, “How are you going to make a profit?”, Lucy answered “Volume!”

      3. @ ABP — The problem with the numbers you use is they fail to account for the capital costs and the the financing costs of the funds used to pay those capital costs.

        @ Brent — Sound Transit isn’t trying to make a profit. Fare revenue is too low to amount to anything. Fare revenue is not needed for any of the ST2 projects OR operations. Might as well eliminate fares and get that low ridership number up to a respectable level!

      4. ST does not subsidize at the levels you claim.

        Whatever your point is, you are not going to be taken very seriously when you just make things up to support your arguments instead of using real facts and data.

      5. @ lazarus — Re-read my post, I put a link to my source in it (that isn’t my “5%” number, it came from a MN government source).

      6. @Warren Okay but when was the last time you ever heard someone talk about the capital cost of their drive to work, or walk to school? Unless you’re on a toll facility most people would say both trips are free when it comes to capital costs.

      7. Warren, if you had bothered to actually read the report in question and its appendix, which is where the 5% figure is located, you’ll note that the data is for 2008, before Central Link was even open. This means the data is only for Tacoma Link, which is free (so no farebox recovery), and probably the SLUT, which was in its first year of operation in 2008. The rail data in that report for Seattle is essentially useless.

      8. Look, that story says Pittsburgh pays the highest light rail subsidy at $5.22 per boarding, right? Ok, JUST in operations costs the taxpayer subsidy figure here is $5.50 per boarding on LINK (79% of the Q1 2012 cost per boarding amount of $7). Why are those operations costs so much higher here than elsewhere?

        That’s not even including the local tax subsidy for the capital costs and the financing of the capital costs.

        Contrary to what somebody above suggests, the taxpayer subsidy of Sound Transit’s light rail capital and financing costs IS relevant. That is because unlike in many other metro areas new local taxes targeting people are used for those costs.

        I stand by my original suggestion. So little farebox revenue is collected compared to the huge costs (capital, financing, and operations) that the taxpayers here who are paying through the nose for this vanity project should get to ride it for free. Make the touristas pay of course, but locals should get a free ride. Sound Transit doesn’t need fare revenue for any of the ST2 projects’ costs or operations costs.

      9. What’s your position on “locals should ride free”, lazarus and ABP?

      10. So Warren, what’s your subsidy per drive? Including the cost of the roads you drive on, and the financing cost of those roads, it’s probably something like 99%, right? So why not make it free and give away free gas?

        More seriously, there is an argument for free transit, but it fails, because if transit is free, HUGE numbers of people want to ride it ALL the time, and they can’t all be accomodated. (Apparently Tacoma Link is the exception, but look at the ridership numbers when NM RailRunner was free.) In contrast, charge a small fee and you can get ridership down to below crush-load noumbers.

      11. Ah. And Warren, why operations costs are high: because the system is small.

        Even in operations costs, trains have large economies of scale. Operations cost “per rider” will drop both as ridership rises, and also as the route gets longer (up to a point).

        Pittsburgh has a low ridership problem due to the city losing population for several decades (sigh).

      12. Operations cost “per rider” will drop both as ridership rises, and also as the route gets longer (up to a point).

        The flaw with your argument is that Sound Transit’s exceedingly high light rail operations costs are not due to low ridership or short routes. We know that by comparing it to the peers in a way that is independent of ridership and route length.

        The latest National Transportation Database data for TriMet shows an operating cost figures for light rail in the greater Portland area the “Operating Expense Per Revenue Vehicle Hour” is $188.

        In contrast, the comparable figure in the 2011 NTD Database data for Sound Transit is $302.

        Those spreadsheets are here:

        Care to try explaining that bad discrepancy? I chalk it up to bad management. What’s your explanation?

    2. The federal government agrees that you can’t use fares to regulate passenger quality. Transit agencies have to go to great lengths to demonstrate that their practices are non-discriminatory, or they could lose federal funding.

      It’s a shame Title VI hasn’t been used to go after federally-funded highway projects that discriminate against the poor and minorities (and most of them probably do).

      On the topic of fares and September 29, the two rays of hope I’ve gotten from Metro are that (1) the results of the Saars pilot project (free ORCA with the purchase of $5 of fare product) could expand to other retail outlets, and maybe become indefinite in length; and (2) the potential sites for new ORCA vending machines have not been decided — meaning they could still be placed around downtown, near where they are most needed in the near future.

      On (1), I have no idea what results would trigger expansion of the project. The two results I suspect they are looking for are ongoing use of the Saars cards once they are purchased, and lack of political blowback for providing ORCA cards for free. A few notes to your county council member and executive might help convince them to expand the project.

      There is a much longer list of small projects Metro has done to promote ORCA, though few of them will have much impact on what happens September 29.

      One point on which we haven’t been entirely rebuffed, or stalled by a year-long study to assemble information that can assembled in one week, is the possibility of banning cash boardings in the tunnel. This may seem impossible without ORCA being fully free to obtain (or at least being free with a minimum fare purchase), but LA Metro is making an interesting gamble. They are requiring Transit Access Pass (their contactless smart card) use to enter two of their subway lines. The interesting legal precedent here is that TAP costs $1, and you have to get one before you’d be able to use either of these lines. That $1 could have huge legal implications due to Title VI, or it might turn out not to. But I’ve asked Metro to watch what happens, and be prepared to follow suit in the DSTT.

      Several of the other bus agencies that still charge for their card have cash fare disincentives, and few of them still have paper transfers. I won’t go into the list here. Suffice it to say that making ORCA free is not a pre-requisite to eliminating paper transfers or incentivizing ORCA use on a per-ride basis.

      At any rate, I think our best hope for salvaging the RFA transition is to get ORCA available for free somewhere downtown, with a minimum fare purchase, for a limited time (which would become a rather long time, probably, as demonstrated with the free Clipper cards); and to convince Metro and ST to ban cash payment at front doors in the tunnel. More specifically, we need to convince Metro, and ST will probably follow suit. Note that this does not interfere with the public messaging that boarding will always be at the front door. ;) Also, it doesn’t mandate purchasing ORCA. One could ride a surface bus for a short distance, get a paper transfer, and then bring the transfer down to the tunnel to hop on board.

      1. Apparently LA is planning to make the TAP card purchaseable at all subway stations. Without doing this, they’d face massive turnstile jumping.

    3. Not to mention the fact that the author’s definition of “problem riders” includes “[t]ransit riders who would have otherwise walked, carpooled, or ridden bicycles, but choose transit because it is free.” If cheap or free transit makes life a bit easier for would-be cyclist, pedestrians, or carpoolers, what is that problem?

      I am sympathetic to the argument that people tend not to value things that are given away for free, and so a system-wide free transit system might be more susceptible to vandalism. But I have huge problems with the report breaking users into “choice” and “problem” passengers, and even bigger problems with how those categories are defined.

      That report looks at a handful of brief attempts to implement system-wide free transit over thirty years ago, and makes the sweeping conclusion that “it is nearly certain that fare-free implementation would not be appropriate for larger transit systems.” The agencies that made those attempts appear to have been totally unprepared for the increase in ridership and ill-equipped to handle it. The report makes no attempt to think creatively about ways the agencies could have better prepared for their experiments (e.g., slowly ramping down the fares while ramping up the service) or could have tried to solve some of the problems that arose. It just assumes that it is a bad idea because “vagrants” will scare off “choice riders.”

      I’d love to see a more thoughtful and detailed analysis of this issue. It may well be that system-wide free transit doesn’t work in big cities, but that report certainly doesn’t convince me one way or another.

      1. If cheap or free transit makes life a bit easier for would-be cyclist, pedestrians, or carpoolers, what is that problem?

        The problem is that if there are a lot of these people, it can greatly increase ridership, which can cause crowding and delays with all these people getting on and off the bus.

        I’ll use my college campus as an example. Being in a college town, most of the buses in the city ran through campus. Many of the stops on campus would have buses going through once every 5 minutes or so from one route or another. All the students had “free” bus passes funded through their mandatory student fees. As a result, lots of students would regularly ride buses two or three stops to their next class, even if they could walk the distance in ten minutes.

        As you might expect, all the routes slowed to a crawl when going through the campus, with a dozen people getting on and off at every stop. If the fare was even just a quarter, most of these short-distance riders would have walked instead. This would allow people riding to campus from across town (or just going from one side of town to the other without visiting campus at all) to get to their destinations faster and more comfortably.

        Making the bus available for perfectly walkable trips isn’t necessarily a problem overall. It makes things more convenient for some, while making things less convenient for others. Which group’s convenience is more important? That’s not always a simple question to answer, but I would generally err on the side of making life simpler for people who use the bus as an alternative to a car rather than as an alternative to walking.

      2. Yeah, I realize that there are trade-offs. And I get that, all other things being equal, we will get more societal benefit from convincing a driver to take the bus than convincing a pedestrian or bicyclist to do the same. I was just trying to point out how ridiculous it is that the report lumps bicyclists, pedestrians, and carpoolers in the same “problem rider” list as “riders who enter the system for the purpose of joy riding, vandalism, and harassment of transit riders and employees.” The point is to help people get where they are going to go efficiently. It may be that bringing a bunch of new riders into a system makes it slower for the current riders. But, on the other hand, it may be that the new riders can justify more frequent service, which benefits everyone. How those considerations balance out would seem to vary on a case-by-case basis. But that report doesn’t acknowledge any of the complexities — it just concludes flat-out, with “near certainty”, that free transit won’t work on a large-scale. Again, that might well be the case, but I’d like to actually see a rigorous analysis.

  3. While I don’t doubt many of the conclusions in the fare-free study are correct, it’s largely based on the study of only three large cities who experimented with this for just a year. That’s hardly enough experience to declare this kind of experiment should never be tried again.

    The house candidate who is advocating for Metro to be a ride-free system, also advocates for a $15/hour minimum wage. I was shocked to read she has a PhD in economics.

    1. I think that fact that not a single medium or large transit system in the world, (including communist and socialist countries), has free transit is evidence enough. If it did work there would be at least a few places that have it.

      Fare free systems work well in some limited situations but I think focusing on increasing accessibility to those that really can’t afford transit, and investing in increased speed and reliability is the only real sustainable way to grow transit ridership.

      1. ” If it did work there would be at least a few places that have it.” But if nobody has it, how does anyone know it doesn’t work? It seems more likely that nobody has it because everyone is afraid it won’t work, which is a much different argument.

      2. @Matt Yes there are places that are fare free. Island County is a local example. Night ride for UW is another example. As the report says, and experience proves, small or closed communities can have successful fare free systems, but all experiments in a larger scale fare free system have failed.

      3. @Adam See the discussion below. There just haven’t been many large scale experiments.

      4. Let’s be clear on the public-service purpose of fares: *congestion management*. Just like road tolls.

        Given a given service level, fares need to be high enough to prevent overcrowding and keep things moving.

        If you’ve got a small community, you can have zero fare and not overfill your buses. If you’ve got anything decent-sized, you have to charge something — as noted above, even a quarter can make the difference from “totally overcrowded” to “just fine”.

  4. As far as I can tell there has been one medium sized city in the US that has gone fare free, Austin Texas in 1989-90. They experienced a 75% increase in ridership along with an increase in security problems. It is hard to see how this evidence supports the conclusion that fare free systems simply do not work in larger cities.

    1. I was in Austin then. Increased demand did not lead to more service. Indeed, some liberal politicians even went after Capital Metro’s tax revenue stream to divert to other purposes, and eventually succeeded.

      The free fare experiment didn’t lead to a better bus system. It led to loss of support in the general non-riding public to fund the system.

      1. The opponents of fare free systems are always categorical about how much of a failure it would be. But when you look at the evidence there is actually very little and it is quite mixed. The lack of political will and public support in Austin 20 years ago doesn’t seem to me to be enough to declare the idea a categorical failure.

      2. @Jeff I think the fact that there isn’t a single large system that is fare free says a lot about the real world viability of the idea. The lack of a fare free system is an indication in its self.

      3. But not a strong one. There were no wheeled suitcases until there were, despite it being a trivial design modification. Cities follow other cities, and it’s tough to be the first at anything.

      4. @Matt A simple design change to a suitcase in no way has any relationship to the complex political, behavioral and social interactions that a fare system has.

      5. Sure. But it’s tough to find a good analogy. Because almost nobody’s tried a certain thing doesn’t make it a bad idea.

      6. Jeff, the problem was not opposition to fares being free. The problem was that there was no substitute funding stream.

        Propose other funding sources, and get them passed, and then we have something to talk about.

      7. @Matt My point is this issue isn’t a technical or design issues, its a social, political and behavioral issue.

        @Brent Very good point. Then the question becomes, do you want a faster and more frequent bus or do you want a free bus? That’s the correct question.

      8. This is a technical and design issue with extreme social, political and behavioral ramifications.

      9. There are no gondolas operating as public transportation in the US. Adam might argue that this is proof that they couldn’t be successful but I wouldn’t make that claim.

      10. From my own upper middle class perspective the choice is clear. A more expensive bus with better service and few drunks would obviously be better for me personally. From the perspective of of other people in society I would guess the answer might be different.

      11. @Kittens My point is for a rolling suitecase the design is what makes it successful. For a fare system social, political and behavioral factors are what makes it a success or failure.

        @Jeff Please don’t put words in my mouth.

        @Jeff and @Matt First off there are aerial trams in service in the US. Second, what makes a gondola a success or not when it comes to transportation utility (merit of idea) is its technical aspect, not some social or behavioral factor. Third fare free systems do work, but only in certain circumstances just like gondolas. So just like there are no gondolas that are built on flat land with no obstruction, there are no examples of large fare free systems. There are niche solutions that don’t apply broadly.

      12. The improved quality of experience for the luggage transportation model is what makes the rolling suitcase successful. It was a small engineering change (add casters) to a physical system (luggage) with social and behavioral consequences, and it took decades for fashion and culture to catch up.

        A fare-free system is similar: a small engineering change (removal of fareboxes) from a physical system (transit buses) could have sweeping positive social, political and behavioral consequences.


        Enough semantics; we both understand each other, I think. The point I’m making is that, as a designer, “there are no wheels on luggage, therefore I shouldn’t try to market wheeled luggage” helps no one and results in less convenient travel throughout the world.

      13. So free doesn’t work because of social and political factors, except in the case of gondolas and circulators, based on few experiments 30 years ago? Again, I see this as a weak argument.

        There are technical reasons why a free bus system would work, depending on what we mean by work. Increased ridership and faster boarding, for two. True, the obstacles are social and political, but that certainly applies to gondolas as well (they’ll look into my yard! nobody else is doing it, so it must just be for ski lifts! transit studies don’t typically include them. etc.).

      14. @Kitten Yeah I think we do get each other. But please let me just make it 100% clear what I think about fare free systems.

        I said, “Good intentions, but this simply doesn’t work for large transit systems.” Large is the key word. I never said that fare free systems don’t work, I said they don’t work for large systems. There are lots of examples in the US and around the world where transit systems are fare free. That we all agree on. My point is the fact that this trend has not extended to large transit systems despite success for small systems is an implicit indication that they don’t work for large systems.

        So extending the bag analogy. Rolling suitcases work for large bags, but have you ever seen a purse with wheels? No of course not. I’m saying the fact you don’t see it, even when lots of other bags have wheels, shows that the idea doesn’t work in that context. Same thing with fare systems.

      15. I think the key with small systems that are fare free is they would collect so little in fares that it doesn’t contribute in any meaningful way toward the operational subside. Small systems have an inherently high percentage of fixed cost. But back out 20% of KC Metro’s operations budget and you’re starting to talk real money.

      16. @Matt Sorry for the disrespect I showed to the Mountain Village gondola. None was intended.

        @Adam I think the real reason that few people try a large fare free system is because they are expensive. For Metro you would need to start with $100 million in new revenue. Then you would probably need another $20 million or so to deal with the added demand. Toss in another $10 million for additional security and it is quite expensive. But that is about a 33% increase in operating expenses. If you could replicate Austin’s 75% increase in ridership and have the extra security keep crime and hassles down then I think it might be a wise move. As Link has plenty of surplus capacity and abundant security I think it would be a great place to give it a try.

      17. jeff: the problem is that Link is not expected to have “lots of excess capacity” once U-Link opens. Fares are an important tool for managing congestion.

      18. Anyone on this thread who is saying that Metro should be fare-free: Think about all the times that you’ve ridden on a crush-loaded bus or train, here or elsewhere. Now, imagine if there were no fares.

        Fare free transit has been tried. Given a large enough city and a useful enough transit system, it always fails.

        I think it would be totally reasonable to make most of Metro’s East King and South Kind services free, especially off-peak — they’re virtually unused as is. But a bus like the 3/4? You’d have people hanging off the sides.

  5. Hydrogen fuel cells to hit showrooms by 2013

    Toronto, Canada — June 7, 2012 — Hydrogen fuel cell cars will be hitting dealer showrooms sooner than expected. The news was announced at the World Hydrogen Energy Conference in Toronto. Representatives from Daimler AG, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota displayed some of their new fuel cell cars at the conference, and some have announced the delivery to showrooms as early as 2013, two years earlier than originally planned.


    1. Not gonna happen. This is just a diversion to distract people from battery-electric cars like the Tesla Model S which are already available and shipping.

  6. Self-driving cars head down Spanish motorway

    Volvo Car Corporation’s project manager, Linda Wahlstrom, was filmed driving one of the cars in the convoy as the system instructed her to lift her feet from the pedals and then remove her hands from the wheel.

    As the car sped along the highway at 85 kph (53 mph), she leafed through a magazine.

    “It is quite funny to see the passing vehicles. They are quite surprised seeing me not driving the car but reading a magazine,” Wahlstrom said.


    1. I’ve fallen asleep driving down a (very straight) midwestern highway late at night, without hitting anything or slowing down. Until they actually see how these self-driving cars interact with heavy traffic and what impacts they cause, I won’t be holding my breadth.

      I’m much more interested in the many new safety technologies that are coming out now in new models. They allow folks to drive their car, while helping them avoid hitting or being hit by other cars.

      1. Already plenty of documented testing of the Google car in heavy traffic. Seemed to do just fine. Obviously, lots of testing still to be done and I’m sure there are plenty of improvements still to be made. But this stuff is seriously way cool and will be a profound disruptive change in how we use cars and roads and transit.

        I could envision fleets of these cars being strategically placed in various neighborhoods based on intelligence about where demand is. Cars can come to your home and wisk you to the nearest or preferred frequent transit line such as Link. That would eliminate the problems people have in accessing those trunks with the limited frequency bus runs. It would greatly curtail the need for parking structures and public parking spaces. It would increase the utilization of cars from 9% per day to over 50% per day reducing the total number of cars required and thus saving in energy and carbon foot print. They would hardly ever get stuck in traffic. Traffic accidents would likely decrease with the adoption of these vehicles.

      2. It will have at least one nasty crash, guaranteed, and then it will be banned.

        Yes, it will still be a dozen times better than human drivers. But people demand *perfection* from robots. Someone will take their robot car out in the fog, at night, on a bumper-to-bumper expressway, through road construction, with bald tires, and it will crash, and people will blame the robot.

        I wish I weren’t so pessimistic about this, but that’s what history tells us happens.

      3. We might get them legalized for traffic of 20 mph or less, because nobody cares about crashes at that speed.

    2. Google’s Revolutionary Self-Driving Car
      People have no idea how game-changing Google’s breakthrough truly is.

      I predict that at some point in the future, nobody will drive cars. We’ll get into these things and program (or tell) the car where we want to go. Fleets of cars could actually be shared the way limousines are shared. You could have your car drop you off at the airport and go home, then return to pick you up at a later date.

      The ramifications of this are enormous. It affects parking and its infrastructure. Instead of parking so you can run into the bakery, the car will drop you off and circle the block. You’d really never have to park again. And while it may seem to be a recipe for congestion, just imagine a world full of Zipcars that you get in and out on a whim.


      1. Nice idea, but again, people won’t accept them. They will be banned.

        If people were ready to accept self-driving cars, you could run Link driverless *right now, today*. You can’t get permission to do that. Therefore, you won’t get permission for self-driving cars.

        You might get it temporarily, but one little problem and the cars will be banned.

      2. My feel for how autonomous cars will become accepted is by graduallly taking over functions that humans once did. Like cruise oontrol, ABS, collision avoidance, parallel parking, etc. Or furtther in the past, fuel mix, ignition advance, shifting… Eventually the driver will become a spectator. From there it’s a short step to removing the human from the loop.

  7. I’m still trying to understand when it is and isn’t appropriate to label someone a NIMBY. Let me see if I have this right. When someone is against something being in their neighborhood that you are for, they are a NIMBY. But when someone is against something being built in their neighborhood that you are also against, they aren’t a NIMBY. Do I have that right?

    1. No, you’ve got it wrong. NIMBY implies that the person is actually for something they just want the negative aspect of it to be someone elses problem. A waste transfer station is a prime example. Everyone wants the trash picked up but nobody wants the transfer station next door. Jails are another good example. Even sports fields because of the highrise light standards and late evening traffic and noise. If you’re against something on principle, Nike site for example, or you just don’t believe it’s a legitimate use of public funds, say stadium for pro sports, you’re not a NIMBY to oppose it regardless of where it’s sited. The third catagory is often the “stealth NIMBY”. This is someone who supports the idea and perhaps even wants to use it but comes up with all sorts of reasons why it’s better in someone else’s back yard; ridership, cost, neighborhood character, etc.

      1. I know people can give me an example of STB labeling a neighborhood NIMBYS when STB agrees with the project the neighborhood disagrees with (Surrey Downs), but can anyone give me an example of STB labeling a neighborhood NIMBYS when STB disagrees with the project the neighborhood also disagrees with?

      1. I understand all that, but I also notice a pattern of who gets the NIMBY label and who doesn’t. If a community complains about a project that STB agrees with, they are called NIMBYS. But if a community complains about a project that STB doesn’t agree with, they aren’t called NIMBYS.

      2. @Sam: I notice a pattern that you like to reason from the converse.

        If the Northgate folk were saying, “We want and need parking garages, but build them somewhere else,” they’d be NIMBYs. Instead they’re saying, “We don’t need a parking garage.”

        Now, of course, people don’t speak with one voice. Surely there are people in Surrey Downs with ideological objections to Link, and surely there are people in Northgate with NIMBY objections to a garage — who want a garage built, but in Jackson Park or something.

        Bailo, for example, doesn’t like density for ideological reasons. He doesn’t just want density excluded from Kent, but from everywhere. Kemper Freeman’s objections to transit have been at least partially ideological. I think these non-NIMBY objections have generally been treated accurately here.

      3. Northgate is a specialized situation in a specialized time.

        Because for a while it will be a terminus, the local neighbors are probably more worried that having a free parking garage will intercept commuters who would normally continued on to Seattle and paid higher prices. These commuters will not only park at Northgate but spill into their roads and streets every morning and evening.

        My argument is simply I see no need to design things in a centralized fashion. If you have transit, then you don’t need centralized density…because you can have items of interest, like an NBA basketball stadium…at any point along the transit system (assuming sufficient reliability and speed).

        What we have in this region is the worst of all worlds.

        A very high cost light rail system, that has taken 20 years to build and which is little beyond a starter system, and a circumscribed set of powers that be that want to cram everything into 3 square miles of downtown Seattle.

        So, it’s not designed to optimize and spread traffic and transit as it should, but to concentrate and create very high priced zones that everyone has to pile into.

      4. Kemper Freeman is definitely not a NIMBY. He’s just an anti-rail ideologue.

      5. Sam,

        The only examples I can think of where STB has consistently labeled a community as NIMBYs are examples such as Roosevelt, where the community group explicitly asks for a change to be made anywhere but their own neighborhood. For example, the RNA’s plan specifically called for density to be added to the area abutting the I-5 bridge, whereas the same group had earlier advocated for the Link stop to be built closer to the neighborhood center (65th and Roosevelt). The “NIMBYness” was in saying, “yes, we like density, but not around us”.

        The other major example is Surrey Downs. Few people in that debate (Kemper Freeman excepted) argued against East Link entirely; instead, everyone argued that East Link is just dandy, except it should be built somewhere that isn’t where they are.

        I’m not aware of an example where STB has labeled anyone as a NIMBY simply for opposing a project. I’d be interested to hear a counterexample.

  8. In the article on “Jane Jacobs style density”, there was a comment posted from a “Ned Jacobs” (Jane’s son) who had this to say about her her views in subsequent decades. The comment is worth referencing in its entirety.

    About a decade after the 1961 publication of The Death and Life of Great American Cities, Jane Jacobs began to rethink her conclusions in regard to density—not the general principle that sufficient but uncrowded population density is needed to produce vibrant city life—but in regard to her estimates of dwelling units per acre (DUA).

    This revision was in part the result of moving to Toronto’s Annex in 1968. The Annex is a large district, bounded by Bloor Street on the south, Dupont (north), Bathurst Street (west) and Avenue Road (east). It was developed in the early 20th century as a streetcar suburb, with detached and semi-detached brick houses, mostly three storeys in height. Over time, a few low-rise apartment buildings were added, and starting in the late 1960s, several moderate highrises (ca 15-storeys) with large setbacks, mostly on or around Spadina Road. Many of the old houses have a secondary suite, or are entirely apartments (think Kitsilano). Starting in the 1970s, due to Jane’s influence, low rise non-destructive infill was added to several large lots and to replace homes that had been demolished for cut-and-cover construction of the Bloor subway (when the Spadina Line was tunneled, a heritage house was repurposed to serve as a station).

    I don’t know what the density of the Annex was, or is at present, but I am sure it is far less than 100 DUA. Yet Jane saw that it supports a vibrant, walkable community, with a wide range of shops and services, as well as rapid transit. While its moderate density would not be appropriate for many downtown areas, the Annex, and many similar neighbourhoods in Toronto, Vancouver (e.g. Grandview, Kits, Mount Pleasant), and other cities, are by no means destined to become “grey areas” or “nothing but trouble.” In fact, if consistent with other key principles imparted in The Death and Life (e.g. small blocks, mixed uses, aged buildings) they can complement the more heavily built up core areas in a variety of ways. For example, downtown residents enjoy visiting low-density Riley Park (where I live, and of which Jane thought highly), not only for the second hand stores, antique shops, galleries and cafes, but the neighbourhood’s “small town” feel.
    In several discussions I had with Jane, ca 2000, she allowed that in 1960 she had overestimated the densities needed for city districts to be successful. She asserted that density is only one of several key attributes, which in various permutations affect the economic and social functioning of city neighbourhoods, and over-reliance on rules of thumb (e.g. 100 DUA) is problematic in planning. While neighbourhoods need diversity in various forms, diversity between neighbourhoods—including differences in character, uses and density—help create better cities. Although in 1960 she had admittedly overestimated the densities needed for successful city neighbourhoods, in the same chapter—“The need for concentration”—from which Gordon Price quotes, she included this caveat:

    “The ‘in-between’ densities extend upward to the point, by definition, at which genuine city life can start flourishing and its constructive forces go to work. This point varies. It varies in different cities, and it varies within the same city depending on how much help the dwellings are getting from other primary uses, and from users attracted to liveliness or uniqueness from outside the district.”

      1. Nice article, indeed.

        It does seem that the

        small blocks, mixed uses, aged buildings

        are the crucial part.

    1. The whole argument about density misses the point when you just talk about DUA. The population is the density, not the number of housing units. If you have smaller units, you are more likely to have a lower population density. Back in the day, suburbs were denser because families were much larger.

      My little slice of Seattle is very dense because of the large number of 3 story walkups that are mainly 1 bedroom apartments. About half are probably occupied by couples, with a few babies added in.

    2. With all due respect to Jane Jacobs–and I respect her work a lot– I wouldn’t read much more into this than the observation that different levels of density can work in different situations.

      It’s worth remembering that JJ’s original observations on Greenwich Village were in the context of the height of postwar “urban renewal” efforts, when neighborhoods like hers– and Montlake, South Lake Union and the Central District — were seen as not worth saving, areas that would be greatly improved by replacing them with freeways. In an era when density was seen as an affliction all by itself, Jacobs described what worked about her neighborhood and how it worked.

      To her New York and Toronto observations, I’d add the notes of James Howard Kunstler, who often refers to the American small town as a template for urban density. Taken together, these all show how urban density can be made to work in a variety of different ways for different situations.

    1. The design open house sessions are to generate public comment and to explore cost saving design ideas. What the Times article fails to mention is that both of the NE 6th options eliminate the station access on 110th south of NE 4th. I think that makes it a non-starter. Many people have indicated a strong preference to keep that in the final design. Any substantial negative impact on ridership or operations disqualifies the cost savings from being applied to the City contingency of $60M. There’s certainly no benefit to the rider experience with the elevated station and at best it’s a wash with respect to access to the TC or anywhere else for that matter. My comment sticky at the open house said don’t bother advancing either design as it negates the benefit of the tunnel and can be achieved for hundreds of millions of dollars less by simply going elevated on 112th. If I were a skeptic I’d say that’s the only reason one of these options is being pushed forward.

      1. Well that’s good to hear. The article really seemed to emphasise that and I was very concerned it was a serious alternative all of a sudden.

  9. i love the idea of taking the Kingston foot ferry for a spin on a Saturday, but i note that it has a four hour turnaround. can anyone report on what is accessible on the Kingston end without a car?

    1. Ice cream, limited restaurants and antique stores. Lots and lots of ferry traffic every half hour. Taking the WSF back to Edmonds is free. From there I’m not sure how long it would take via transit to get back DT on a Saturday.

      1. Had to use CommunityTransit’s trip planner because they apparently don’t share their schedule data with Google or Microsoft. But there is a CT bus from near the ferry terminal to the Lynnwood Transit Center where you can catch a Sound Transit 511 to Seattle if that is your destination.

    2. And a little park, and boats. I could imagine spending 4 hours your first time there, if you take your time and have a slow lunch.

  10. I’ve never had the chance to take one of CT’s double-decker buses because I’m usually working when they’re running. Can anyone suggest a near-guaranteed or guaranteed trip on one from downtown Seattle? Where do I need to get on at to ensure a top-level seat? It’d be fun to come back on one too, but not required.

    1. I would imagine that if you catch one of the routes with the Double-talls on 4th near Jackson St. then you’d be sure to get a seat up top … don’t know how you’d get back home though (as in what route to take back)

    2. Check out the right side of this page.

      The 402 goes to Lynnwood TC, and from there you can catch the 511 to DT Seattle, Jackson Park, or the U District if that’s where you’re headed, but no double-deckers there.

      The 405 ends near a Swift stop, so if you live near the 358 you can go home by that route.

      From the 410 you’re probably going to be walking a while, or making multiple transfers just to get downtown.

      The 413 stops at Mountlake Terrace, and you can get a southbound 511 from there. It continues to Swamp Creek, and you can walk to Lynnwood TC or Swift from there if you like walking a lot.

      The 415 stops at both Mountlake Terrace and Ash Way P&R, both places you can catch a 511.

      The 417 goes through Lynnwood TC and stops near a couple of Swift stations.

      The 421 and 425 each have Lynnwood TC stops.

      1. So… yeah. What I’d do is write down a list of where to get off each route and how to get home. Then during the evening rush go stand some place where lots of these routes pick up, close to the beginning of the route, and get on the first one that comes by with a double-decker.

  11. Random question, what is the reason debit cards can’t be used for fare payment on Metro buses? Take too long to process? Transaction charges too high? Something else?

    1. One you’d need the data connection to verify a PIN and account balance. ORCA readers don’t communicate with the mother ship until they are back at Moon Base. Two, KC Metro would have to eat the transaction fee or tack on a surcharge of at least 25 cents which would mean hardly anyone would use it.

      1. There are new disruptive solutions coming online that could sidestep traditional card processing costs. Stay tuned…

      2. That would be good. Card processing costs are the case of a duopoly milking its position for money. It’s a natural monopoly, but it’s one which can be broken with fairly low capital investment, so I’d expect it to be broken sooner or later by a lower-cost alternative.

    2. Check out Utah Transit Authority’s system for accepting most major debit and credit cards. For the most part, they require an off-tap to get a refund from the maximum distance-based fare.

      They don’t have a transit smart card for the general public, but they do have various specialty cards. This means a large segment of the public is left out of electronic payment.

      Also, passes are separate media, since they can’t be put on a debit/credit card.

  12. Apparently, the south branch of Chicago’s Red Line is so deteriorated that they decided the best way to fix it is to shut it down for 5 months.


    1. My Drunk Transit System. Step 1: Maintain yo shit.

      The Green Line, west and south branches, were shut down for over two years for rebuilding in the ’90s. Fortunately the Green Line has lots of parallel alternatives, and now provides an alternative to the south branch of the Red Line.

      1. This article points out the disconnect between CTA and Metra as a limiting factor in Chicago transit. The relationship between the transit agencies in greater Chicago is, as I understand it, far more dysfunctional than Seattle’s “agency soup”. Metra operates an excellent commuter rail service to the suburbs, but where it has urban service its riders really suffer due to total lack of agency cooperation.

      2. Unbelievably dysfunctional. CTA, Metra, and Pace, despite being forced to work together by the order of the state legislature, *really don’t want to*.

        To be fair, LIRR, Metro-North, and NYC Transit don’t cooperate very well either. But Metra and CTA are extraordinary in making no attempts whatsoever to coordinate, and even building conflicting projects which make it harder to get between the two systems.

      3. Our agencies here aren’t doing any better in coordinating their efforts either. Indeed, you see in many subtle ways how KCMetro tries to keep people on one seat rides to downtown instead of putting them on Link. And it appears that this behavior may be being driving by economic necessities to preserve fare revenue. e.g. if trip doesn’t include Link segment KCM keeps all the fare.

  13. So going from link to link on the CRC topic, I eventually got to this:

    “Oregon has gone from spending 1 percent of gas taxes on debt service to 28 percent,” Cortright wrote. “Washington will shortly be spending a stupendous 67 percent of its revenue on debt service. At the same time, revenues are declining. This system is broken and unsustainable.”


    That can’t be right can it?

    1. I know that was a hot topic at Transportation Lobby Day in Olympia both last year and this year. Legislators could do more shot term if they bonded revenue, but it means less available future revenue for projects because the revenue is dedicated to debt service. I hadn’t heard that percentage, but it matches with what WSDOT folks were saying.

    2. I think their decimal point is off. From the 2005-2007 biennial budget the debt was $411 million out of a total WSDOT budget of $6.3 billion. That works out to 6.5% being spent on debt service. That’s still pretty high but not unsustainable.

  14. ORCA will not be accepted on the Saturday SoundRunner trips. Why? They don’t have to recognize transfers, and they are already set up for weekday ORCA acceptance.

  15. Can someone help me with this question: Since it would take a decision by all seven agencies participating in ORCA (ST, Metro, CT, ET, KT, PT, and WSF) to eliminate the ORCA fee, which agencies are opposed to eliminating the fee?

  16. Took LINK from TIB to Westlake last night around 3pm and back around 9:45pm.

    Interesting but it seems like the nature of the south Seattle stations is gradually changing. Rather than stopping at empty stations with the door opening into the void of night, people were actually getting on and off. And by people I mean regular folks, not just thugs and bums.

    So, maybe transit is doing its job in reforming the area. It would be interesting to know what the destinations of those people were…are they buying into the whole New Seattle of high rise apartments, or just wandering back into the neighborhoods of houses.

    1. Probably a mix.

      I’ve found that nice “urban villages” around rail, in most of the cities I’ve visited, usually have some high-rise apartments over commercial areas surrounding the “central street” of the district and then fade out into rowhouses and then detached houses pretty quickly as you walk a few blocks away.

      If that’s what’s happening to MLK Blvd, everyone involved will be happy about it.

  17. ST may elevate the road instead of the tracks.

    Gee, I wish I’d thought of that ;-)

    I wonder if going under the roadway has been looked at. Even if it requires building an overpass that might be cheaper. You only have to span the width of two tracks which can be done with prestress concrete beams, you know exactly how high it needs to be for the trains and the tracks will already be in a trench.

    Here we are in the 11th hour and just starting to study the obvious.

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