Transit Cameras may have Helped Catch Justin Ferrari’s Murderer

Bus CCTV, Oran Viriyincy

Transit cameras have been reported as playing a major part in catching Ferrari’s alleged murderer.  Seattle Times:

Witnesses described the shooter’s attire and detectives pored over surveillance footage from Metro buses and located their suspect on video. They were then able to show the suspect’s photo around and come up with a name, said one source with knowledge of the investigation.

Although Seattle has no stationary public crime cameras and police aren’t allowed by law to to use red light cameras to help solve crimes, there are a large number of cameras on King County buses.

Ferrari was shot while driving in the Central District on May 24.  He is said to have been active on this blog.

Update 7/20:

I’ve since learned that Justin was a frequent reader, and commented under the user name justinf.  Here are search results of all of his comments at STB.  From what I’ve read he was intelligent, interesting, and knew his buses well.

Update 7/21:

More details have come out on how the alleged murderer was located and arrested.

High Parking Demand is Good


There are two fundamental ways of thinking about parking and car access. One view, understandably common among local businesspeople, is concern that some new activity will reduce the abundance of free public parking. It’s an entirely reasonable attitude for incumbent business owners to take.

What’s harder to understand is how higher demand for parking is against the interests of the city at large, but Councilmember Tom Rasmussen feels that way about the arena, possibly after listening to those incumbent business interests:

Add the arena into the mix, Rasmussen says, and the parking crush is only going to get worse. “Any major attraction that’s going to draw people is going to have an impact on parking further north” of the arena, which would be in SoDo. “People may come early, they may dine and give themselves 45 minutes to walk to the arena. There isn’t a lot of capacity.”

Follow this argument to its logical conclusion, and the City Council should actively militate against attractions in Seattle. The various venues and festivals at Seattle Center make parking much harder in Uptown and Belltown. UW makes parking much more difficult in the University District. Like any other activity that draws people, a new arena will make parking either more scarce or more expensive. That’s a vibrant city, not a problem to be averted.

There are plenty of reasons to be upset about the arena, but more competition for parking is one of those “concerns” that we should toss in the trash bin.

Call for Endorsements

Although ballots are already in the mail, we’re just now getting around to starting our endorsement process. As usual, if there are any races with three or more candidates (outside of Seattle legislative districts) where we should know about a particularly strong urbanist candidate, please drop a comment to that effect.

T4WA to Governor: Don’t Ignore Peds, Bikes, and Transit

Although MAP-21, the reauthorization of the federal transportation bill, doesn’t paint the prettiest picture for sustainable transportation modes, the ball is now squarely in the State’s court to do more for walking, bicycling, and transit.  So far, the Legislature has proven absolutely inept in delivering any kind of substantive support; luckily, allocation of federal funding through MAP-21 is still up in the air.

The Transportation 4 Washington (T4WA) campaign is responding en masse, pressuring Governor Gregoire to fairly allocate the dollars so that ped/bike/transit isn’t left with the short end of the stick while a lopsided amount is spent on roads.  The Governor is currently forming a stakeholder advisory group and expected to make a decision on the allocation of the funds by the first of September.

As part of its advocacy efforts, T4WA is soliciting thousands of petition signatures to deliver to Olympia prior to the September 1 deadline.  Additionally, the campaign is also looking at gathering a thousand “photo-petitions,” which will portray the many faces of transit and ped/bike supporters.  T4WA will host a press conference in mid-August to present the petitions to the Governor.

While there’s not much help coming out of both Olympia and the other Washington these days, T4WA’s advocacy effort allows us to make the most out of MAP-21.  If you want to take part, click here to sign the petition.  Those interested in getting in submitting photo-petitions can also print out T4WA’s ‘I<3PedBikeTransit’ sign (PDF) to pose with (or create their own), and send the pictures along to Brock Howell, the campaign’s field director, at

Short Film Highlights Green Building Project in Fremont

I’ve already written here at Seattle Transit Blog and at Seattle’s Land Use Code about the proposed extension and modification of Seattle’s Living Building Program.

To me it’s a simple question: should we support the continuation of a program that incentivizes the development of buildings that are much more sustainable and better designed than required by the regular code. I think it’s an easy “yes!” And I am not alone in my support.

A local film maker, Eric Becker, has completed a short film about the second project proposed under the City’s program. Here it is:

Stone 34 | Skanska from eric becker on Vimeo.

It’s a very powerful film, and not just because I’m in it. Are we finally ready to stop talking and start doing on developing better buildings? This project, Stone34, is a great start.

Councilmembers need to hear what you think.

The Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee will meet to vote on the proposed changes, on Wednesday, July 25th at 9:30am in Council Chambers. Land Use Committee members are Richard Conlin, Chair (206-684-8805); Tim Burgess, Vice Chair (206-684-8806); Mike O’Brien(206-684-8800), Sally Clark (206-684-8802). Speakers are advised to arrive early to get signed up.

News Roundup: Around the Globe

Photo courtesy planet_lb

This is an open thread.

Ten Keys on New Federal Transportation Law

Transportation For America has a fairly depressing list of “ten key things to know about the new transportation law”.

  1. Incentivizing costly new construction, making repair optional.
  2. Steps toward accountability for performance, but few teeth.
  3. A false promise of “flexibility”.
  4. Less money, but more local control, to make streets safer for all users.
  5. Continued funding of transit “New Starts” projects
  6. More capacity to borrow, but less to innovate.
  7. Transit stays in the trust fund, with more accountability for repair and safety.
  8. Multiple changes to environmental and citizen review, with unpredictable impact.
  9. For rural communities, a seat at the table and a focus on the most dangerous roads.
  10. Tolling for new interstate lanes and HOV sleight-of-hand, and an emphasis on public-private partnerships.

It’s not all bad, but it’s a lot of bad, and I’ll leave it to T4A to fill you in on the details.

Government by Crowdsourcing: SDOT’s Blog

Zach had a post up yesterday that should be embarrassing to government employees at many levels.  I’d like to offer those in power a solution that seems to work very well, and might provide a low-cost, almost foolproof way of identifying these problems in the future: listen to your customers.  Though there are various ways to accomplish this, my absolute favorite method is used by Seattle’s Department of Transportation.

SDOT has a blog, and on that blog there is a page set up just to listen to the public.  On this page a person can comment, and generally within a few days an SDOT representative comments back.  The responses are simple and courteous, but almost always describe what branch of SDOT the problem is being reported to and how a problem is being solved.  There’s also a page to report potholes, and they’re usually fixed within a day or two of reporting them.

Imagine if this process existed for King County Metro – it seems highly unlikely those announcements would continue for a year.  I’d actually love to see this throughout government.

King Street Station Work Coming Along

Hearkening to a past of glory, photo via SDOT

For anyone not keeping an eye on SDOT’s Flickr page, there are some remarkable photos of ongoing construction progress on King Street Station, which is currently undergoing extensive seismic and restoration work.  As a bonus, there are even historic photos of what once was.  The waiting area for Amtrak passengers has been temporarily relocated to a narrow corridor under the west canopy outside of the station.  Meanwhile, select demolition and seismic retrofits continue in the main waiting room, which will undoubtedly be the centerpiece of the station interior, upon completion.

Aside from restoration work itself, I think the biggest problem still haunting the station is its integration into the King Street hub, of which only so much can be solved by wayfinding.  While we can imagine ways for grandiose improvement without so much as a penny to fund them, the need still persists and will continue to do so as we build up our local, regional, and interstate rail networks into the future.

Passengers Have a Basic Right to Correct Information

“Route 42 will no longer serve this stop. Route 48 will continue to serve this stop as usual.” “Route 48 will no longer serve this stop. Route 42 will continue to serve this stop as usual.” (Photo by Oran)

In the past week I have witnessed 2 groups of transit passengers grow bewildered, frustrated, and then angry when attempting to make a simple trip. Their mistake? Listening to and/or reading official information, information that in each case was incorrect. The first case involved 4 persons wanting to get from the Paramount Theatre to the Airport. Incorrectly going down to Convention Place, they might have noticed their error if not for the following 3 announcements [paraphrased from memory], made at very frequent intervals:

  • “Please stand back and allow other passengers to exit the train before boarding; thank you for riding Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail.”
  • “Please stand behind the yellow, textured strips until the train comes to a complete stop.”
  • “Proof of payment is required prior to boarding Link Light Rail. Tickets may be purchased from the Ticket Vending Machines on the upper level.”

Of course, these announcements are completely inaccurate in every respect. These passengers were left to deduce for themselves, against all evidence to the contrary, that there are indeed no trains at Convention Place, there are no textured yellow strips to stand behind, and there are no Ticket Vending Machines on the upper level. I noticed their dilemma as they panicked at failing to find the non-existent TVMs, and finally I was able to direct them 4 blocks west to Westlake.

In the second case, last Tuesday I was waiting for the 5:39pm northbound Sounder from Tukwila to Seattle. Sound Transit recently switched the platform assignments on afternoon Sounder trains, and the afternoon trains now generally stop at the opposite platform. (ST has been good about publicizing this). However, Amtrak Cascades train 509 (Seattle to Eugene) arrives in Tukwila at 5:42pm. As my northbound train was arriving on the southbound platform, about 10 passengers waiting for Amtrak started to question on which platform their train might arrive. One rider noticed a green railroad signal heading south from the northbound platform, and he and a couple of his friends started sprinting down the ramp to change platforms, while a family of 4 stayed put on the southbound platform because of a sign reading, “Amtrak Cascades Service Begins on June 1, 2001. Trains South to Portland will board this platform.” I don’t know how their story ended, or if everyone got on their train, but again they were left to panic, run, and make quick decisions because information was either missing, outdated, or incorrect.

Other anecdotes abound. Last week I saw a passenger waiting at 26th/McClellan waiting for a #38 bus that no longer exists but still has a signed stop. The “42 to Rainier View” sign graced the I-90 freeway station long after LINK opened. Multiple maps downtown still point unsuspecting tourists to the defunct Waterfront Streetcar. The SLU streetcar maps abound in errors, showing the 74 bus on Westlake Ave, and listing both the 174 and 194 (not to mention grammatical oddities at streetcar stations, such as the lovely “Arriving in Now”).

This is inexcusable. While mistakes are to be expected, especially with quickly changing rider alerts, many of the above examples have been in place for years. There is no excuse for having an Amtrak sign that speaks to us, in the present tense, from 2001. In the case of Convention Place, it cannot be the case that we have no choice but to announce services that do not exist, every other minute for years, just because the same information happens to be valid somewhere else (the rest of the Transit Tunnel).

Passengers have a basic right to coherent, usable, correct information. Because people instinctively trust authority, especially in relatively benign information environments such as transit, saying something incorrect is far worse than saying nothing at all.

How Do We Build Skinny Storefronts?

Commercial space from Mt. Baker Lofts. Notice it could be three small, deep shops with narrow storefronts.

A recent article from the other Washington touched on a conflict in the urban retail world: shoppers want small independent stores, and creditors want to fund big chains.  This is apparent when you look at almost any urban retail space built in the past few decades.  You’ll see shallow stores with wide storefronts designed to make sure you don’t miss the store’s presence.  But walk through any old section of town and you’ll see skinny storefronts and deep stores designed to fit the maximum number of shops on one street.

What does this do to the pedestrian experience?  Walking past 10′ to 20′ storefronts means you pass a new store every few seconds, and constantly have something to look at.  Because stores are smaller rents can be much lower, allowing more independent stores.  The sheer number of storefronts you pass on a typical trip means you have much more variety in shopping options.

In short, the old style is a hands-down win for pedestrians.  Everyone knows this – that’s one reason old retail areas in cities and towns across America have far more character than the new ones.  But they just don’t build them like they used to.

So how do we return to the skinny storefront days?  We could simply legislate it (new buildings shall have storefronts with a maximum width of…), or encourage it (height bonuses?).  I’m not sure just refusing to tear down old buildings is the best solution, but that’s an option too.  Any other ideas?

Tiny Houses or Big Supply

It’s Ikea’s quote not mine.

How much people spend for housing—rent or mortgage payments—drives much of the discussion about density in Seattle. Housing price is quantifiable, while affordability is a qualitative relationship to price. Measuring whether the price is too big can be a challenge. And how small is too small for a house? San Francisco and New York are exploring opening up their land use code to allow for tiny apartments of 150 square feet.

Interestingly, Seattle already allows for micro or efficiency apartments. The problem of course in all three cities is housing supply. What accounts for big housing prices? The facts point to an increase in demand for apartments in big, dense cities, with supply lagging behind that demand. San Francisco’s vacancy rate is essentially zero, while Seattle’s is at about 4.8 percent.  And in spite of price controls, San Francisco’s housing prices are still insurmountable for many people who want to live in the city. Here’s a quote from the sponsor of the proposal, Scott Wiener:

“We have a housing shortage in San Francisco,” Wiener said. “It’s a densely populated city where a lot of people want to come, and we have to add to our housing supply in a smart way.”

Continue reading “Tiny Houses or Big Supply”

You Can’t Get There From Here

Labor Access Rate, Brookings

One convenient feature of having a strong central city is that it allows a region to build a good transit system. The unfortunate trend in the past few decades to move jobs into the suburbs has seriously degraded this transit potential.

Brookings released data this week detailing both how accessable jobs are via transit, and the share of working-age residents that can access these jobs within 90 minutes using transit. In Seattle (pdf), we do quite well in terms of serving jobs with transit. In fact, we’re #3 in the nation, with 99.3% of all jobs accessable by transit in our region – and a full 100% accessable by transit in our cities.

However, those rosy numbers don’t show the full picture. It’s not important that you can get to your job from somewhere, you want to reach it from your home. This number shrinks all the way down to 30.8%, 26th in the nation, and represents the percent of the metropolitin population can reach a typical job within 90 minutes using transit.

Why is there such a strong difference between these numbers? Because a hub-and-spoke model transit system requires a long journey often in the wrong direction to go from two points that aren’t near the hub. If you live in a suburb and you work in a different suburb, there is likely no easy transit access between your work and your home.  An efficient region would have most jobs in a central city, and our region has lost this transit efficiency as jobs have grown in the suburbs.

Mt. Baker Lofts Goes to Design Review

Artspace Mt. Baker Lofts
Mt. Baker Lofts – SMR Architects

The DJC (subscription required) reported yesterday on the pending design review for Artspace’s proposed lofts at Mt. Baker Station.  You can read more about the proposal on Artspace’s website.  Martin wrote about “the awfulness of Mt. Baker Station” a few months back, and I highly recommend his post for an overview of this transit-oriented disaster. Martin posits that development might be the solution.  If that’s the case, the Artspace project — which was announced back in 2010 — might be a step in the right direction.  On the plus side:

Mt. Baker Station Lofts has been tasked with jumpstarting an urban village in the Rainier Valley, in part by transforming a car-oriented environment into a walk, bike, ride neighborhood. The project will have ample bicycle storage and a reserved car-share parking space in lieu of an automobile parking lot.

57 lofts won’t change the world, but it’s a start.  Unfortunately, opportunities for further development in the immediate vicinity of the station are rather limited.

Seattle DPD has the full PDF of the project proposal.   If anyone was at the meeting, share your comments below.


Route 16, in the gridlock of Mercer St

See that bus back there? It’s the 16, and it goes to Wallingford by way of Aurora, but it makes a detour by the Seattle Center for no reason that anyone at Metro has ever been able to adequately explain to me.

See that traffic? This section of Mercer looks like this most days during rush hour, and it’s going to look like this, probably through 2017.

What is this bus doing on Mercer? It doesn’t have to be here. It could get on Aurora just like Route 5. How bad does it have to get before Metro acknowledges this makes no sense and fixes it?

News Roundup: Not Immune

Photo by Atomic Taco

This is an open thread.

MTSG Blog: Hiking Boots on the Bus

The Mountains to Sound Greenway (MTSG) blogs has a great post written by Gordon Padelford showing which Seattle parks are adjacent, 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile away from Metro bus service. A great summer resource for bus and sun loving Seattleites. Fully post and table here:

Everyone knows The Mountains to Sound Greenway has some of the best hiking trails in this area. A rainy day hike to Granite Lakes a couple of weekends ago was no exception. With abundant hiking in the nearby Alpine Lakes Wilderness (the closest wilderness area to any major metropolitan area in the country!), it can be easy to overlook the wonderful trails in our neighborhood parks. Even the smallest urban trails can be places to get away from the hustle and bustle of daily life for reflection! Some of them, like the Mercer Slough Heritage Trail, can give us a peek into our history. Others, such as Seward Park’s interior trails, are wooded enough that we can immerse ourselves in nature, forgetting the city is nearby.

How can those who choose not to, or can’t afford to, own a car get to these urban oases? Walking and biking are excellent options depending on your physical ability level and your proximity to the park. As far as transit is concerned, at least in the City of Seattle (we were asked by SDOT –see The Process* below for more information), trails are very well served by transit.

In Seattle there are 47 trails within a ½ mile of transit, 40 within a ¼ mile, and 34 that are adjacent! For more information see table 1. For suggestions including hikes outside of Seattle accessible by bus see Seattle Metro Bus Hiking. Happy hiking!

List here.

Metro Proposes Making the E Line Slower

One of the more painful parts of being a transit advocate in Seattle is watching King County Metro — carefully, deliberately — load, aim, and shoot itself in the foot. Over and over again. This time, Metro is proposing to add two more stops to the E Line, as part of its final legislative package to the King County Council; a package which, once enacted, will enshrine the alignment and stops of the E Line in law. The two stops are among those currently served by the 358, on Aurora Ave at 80th St and Lynn St. If adopted, this change will further reduce the speed and reliability of a route which already has entirely too many stops and not enough bus lanes to be anything remotely resembling “rail on wheels“, as FTA Administrator Rogoff recently described RapidRide (presumably to a chorus of tittering laughter).

No, the smart thing — for both riders and taxpayers — would have been to go to the council with a package that removed the two superflous stops at 90th and 100th St, which would have given RapidRide E a fairly consistent stop spacing of roughly half a mile in the populated areas between Belltown and Shoreline. (The stop situation in Shoreline is even worse, but the City of Shoreline is the main culprit there — those stops were retained at the city’s request). That half-mile stop spacing is exactly what’s called for Metro’s Service Guidelines (page SG-13, #6), and that standard exists for a reason: transit that stops less is a faster and more reliable way to get around the city; and if the overall quality of the service (safety, speed, reliability, frequency) is high enough, riders are willing to walk further to the stops. Adding the 80th St stop will just compound the error of maintaining the stops at 90th and 100th.

The Lynn St stop, while not violating the half-mile standard, is just as bad as 80th, but in a different way. Looking at the ridership chart I compiled for my post on the origins of our current Aurora service, the current 358 stops on Lynn and Crockett stand out as having paltry ridership. This isn’t surprising when you consider that this stretch of Aurora is basically an unpopulated wasteland dug into the side of a hill. (There are lots of apartments on the east side of Aurora, but those buildings almost all face Dexter, which is an altogether nicer place to catch a bus); moreover, those stops are already very well served by Routes 5 and 16. Far more riders will lose out, and far more transit riders will be lost, due to the delay of making this stop, than will gain or be gained due to its presence.

It’s particularly galling to read about changes like this when other cities are using the idea of Bus Rapid Transit as more than just an way to get the FTA to pay for new buses. For example, San Francisco is moving ahead on the Geary and Van Ness BRT projects, projects which represent a plausible attempt to raise bus service on those streets to the level of SF Muni’s rail lines* — at a fraction of the cost. I realize those projects have budgets that are an order of magnitude larger than RapidRide, and I don’t fault Metro for not having the money to execute such ambitious plans, nor for not having all the money expected from the passage of Transit Now. I do fault Metro (and the King County Council) for lacking the gumption to make zero-capital-cost improvements to the design of their bus network that would drive ridership and reduce operating costs.

* I’m aware, by the way, that Muni has plenty of dysfunction of its own, and its rail lines aren’t exactly paragons of transit excellence.