Riders Still Haunted by Remnants of the 7pm Rule

Photo by Oran

When Metro’s 7pm back-door policy went away, it roused many a cheer among the pro-transit community, which has long advocated for the efficiency and safety of two-door operation. ¬†Not only did the rule disappear from the Metro operator handbook, but the webpage for instructing beginning riders even states that “passengers are permitted to exit via the rear door at all times except in the Ride Free Area between 7 p.m. – 6 a.m…”

While many of us believed that the policy was officially rescinded, I was surprised to learn that that is technically not the case, according to a tweet from Metro, stating that back-door exit after 7pm is now at the driver’s discretion:

If the official policy is wish-washy enough to be determined at an operator’s whim, I think it sets annoyingly bad precedent for operations policy in general. ¬†If customers are taught¬†and¬†permitted to use the rear door after 7pm and then told otherwise when trying to do so, it not only undermines Metro’s relations with the public, but it also makes the bus-riding experience¬†unreliable and unpredictable.

It’s a travesty there can’t be stronger consistency in the system with a rule as basic as the 7pm one. ¬†Not only do riders want to be assured that they can consistently use the same door over and over again, the very tenets of Metro’s new service guidelines also call for maximizing operational efficiency, something that can be achieved if every operator adheres to the same rules.

Mullally Northgate Rezone Advances

Northgate Zoning (light yellow, SF; light brown, LR; dark brown, MR; orange NC; red, commercial)

On Friday the Times reported that the Mullally family and affordable housing advocates, who appealed the DPDs proposed rezone, have negotiated a settlement that would require a minimum of 66 affordable units (50% Area Median Income, AMI) in any new development and then an additional 10% of housing units above 660 to be affordable. With this agreement the rezone from MR to NC3-85 will move forward to the city council. This is the only parcel along Northgate Way in the Northgate Urban Center that currently is not zoned NC. From the Times:

With an agreement in place, the advocate groups plan to support the rezoning plan, which will be considered by a city hearing examiner and eventually go before the City Council.

John Mullally, managing member of the family-owned business, called the agreement unprecedented.

“This will provide predictability and certainty if and when it is developed,” Mullally said. “It is really a win for everybody.”

Council Hearing Tonight: Living Buildings and Livable Neighborhoods

Here‚Äôs an extended quote from ‚ÄúAnon,‚ÄĚ posted here on Seattle Transit Blog on my Fourth of July post:

Ballard was being inundated with a bunch of boring, boxy condos, that really took away from the uniqueness of Ballard. While we don‚Äôt hate progress, we also wonder why progress can‚Äôt at least look good. It seems like the city just rubber stamps the ugliest designs, the developer comes in, builds and runs and ‚Äúwe the people‚ÄĚ are left with the ugly monstrosities

It‚Äôs a comment I have read again, and again in my posts about density. Another version of it goes, ‚ÄúI‚Äôm not against density I just hate bad design.‚ÄĚ But there‚Äôs a solution for Anon and others who want great design and density.

Tonight the Seattle City Council is considering an extension and modification of it’s Living Building Pilot Program, a program designed to incentivize better buildings by granting some departures from Seattle’s land use code. All the projects have to go through the design review process (hardly a rubber stamp) and the program limits participants to 12 over the life of the program. The program is set to expire this year and make changes to allow more flexibility for developers.

More below the jump.

Continue reading “Council Hearing Tonight: Living Buildings and Livable Neighborhoods”

Public Policy & the Commuting Experience

Photo by punkrawker4783

For many people who elect not to use transit, it seems like one of the prevailing rationales for not doing so is the value of personal space, something that automobiles undoubtedly offer that transit cannot. ¬†Within the confines of one’s own car, eating, listening to music without the use of earphones, smoking, talking to oneself, singing, etc. are all permissible. Transit users may begrudge the inability to carry out these same privileges, but we still like to respond in kind.

The advantage for transit riders, of course, is that someone else is steering behind the wheel, which removes a heavy burden of responsibility off each passenger’s shoulders. ¬†For one, texting and reading while driving is absolutely disallowed by law. ¬†Neither can a driver apply makeup or play solitaire without the risk of crashing, or a tremendous fine at the very least. ¬†Aboard a bus or train, however, you are liberty to pursue such comforts.

Both driving and taking transit have their respective benefits, and ultimately I think it’s rather pointless to quibble about the two, especially when it comes to matters dictated by policy. ¬†The privilege to text, smoke, read, or sing aloud are all self-centered benefits that are more about the individualized commuting experience. ¬†There are, however, much greater considerations that should be the focal point of public policy, like regional mobility, modal choice, etc.

If everyone elects to enjoy the aforementioned individualized benefits of driving, it impacts mobility and health in the entire region by clogging up roads and polluting the air. ¬†This is no different than the argument that Roger made on Wednesday— pursuit of individual interests can absolutely detriment the interests of the community, largely because we’re dealing with the dimension of space in matters of transportation and land use.

I think when it comes to public policy, whether it’s a transit expansion package at the ballot or a service restructure, the most important consideration is how that policy will impact everyone. ¬†When we start talking about the things that drivers and riders get to do and experience, it devolves the discussion into a meaningless debate about individual privileges, when community and regional well-being should the biggest concern.

Breaking: CA State Senate Approves High-Speed Rail

Earlier today, the California Senate approved funding for the State’s high-speed rail (HSR) system by a razor thin margin of 21 to 16, the bare minimum necessary, paving the way for bond sales that will help finance the project. Obviously, the vote carries major implications for other states looking to build HSR, and demonstrates the intricate steps that state governments need to take in securing financing at both local and federal levels.

There’s much more coverage on this over at the California High Speed Rail blog. You can also follow the conversation on Twitter via the #CAHSR hashtag, and read commentary from both sides of the debate.

Another Weekend of Transit and Traffic Disruptions

It probably won’t be as bad as the weekend of the 22nd, where the Rock’n’Roll marathon closed much of downtown Seattle, but this weekend promises to be another mess. Three construction projects will close major roadways in the city, disrupting traffic and surface transit alike; a couple of smaller events in the city and region will also impact transit. Mike Lindblom’s¬†Times¬†piece¬†has the details on the construction, but here’s the transit highlights:

  • Aurora Ave closed at 85th St, to rebuild the intersection. Route 358 will obviously be affected by this, but Metro has not posted the detour information yet (they say they are working on it) and see the comments for a link to the detour information.¬†The official car detour is Holman or I-5, but I suspect lots of drivers will try to use Greenwood, impacting¬†Route 5.
  • Mercer I-5 ramps closed¬†as part of the seemingly-interminable Mercer Corridor Project. As Lindblom notes, weekend Mercer ramp closures typically turn Denny into a parking lot, making the weekend¬†Route¬†8¬†as hopelessly slow and unreliable as on the weekday. This also tends to impact southbound Dexter (and therefore¬†Routes 28/23 and 26/124) as cars back up trying to get onto Denny. In addition,¬†the 70 and 7x (local) routes will be rerouted from Fairview to Eastlake¬†(Saturday daytime 7x expresses will not be rerouted).
  • Another Mercer switcheroo takes effect on Route 17:¬†currently, northbound route 17 detours from Westlake onto 9th Ave near Mercer; that detour will be reversed through the end of September, with southbound 17 detouring from 9th to Westlake, and the northbound resuming its regular alignment.
  • Routes 16 and 44 will be detoured up to 50th street at various times of day on Saturday due to the¬†Wallingford Kid’s Parade.
  • A bunch of routes serving Renton will be detoured on¬†Sunday¬†due to the¬†Renton Car Show.
  • Spokane St widening:¬†As far as I can tell, the Spokane St Viaduct project work won’t be directly disruptive to transit, but wait for Metro to update the Alert Center to confirm this.
  • Northbound SODO busway closure¬†continues until the 16th.

As always, plan ahead, check the Alert Center, and expect delays. I’ll update this post once Metro tells me they’ve fully updated the Alert Center.

UPDATE: Metro has updated the Alert Center.

The Walk Bike Ride Challenge

The City of Seattle is once again promoting its Walk Bike Ride (WBR) challenge this summer, offering the potential to win prizes and incentives for those who convert at least two weekly auto trips to walking, bicycling, or riding transit. ¬†The more trips of the latter modes that are reported, the higher an individual’s chances are of winning. ¬†The prizes aren’t just toys and trinkets; some of them are actually pretty good, according to the City:

  • An electric bike from Electric Bikes Northwest
  • An overnight stay at Pan Pacific Hotel in South Lake Union
  • A Zipcar 1-year membership & 5+ hours of driving credit
  • $100 Nordstrom gift card (courtesy of Commute Seattle)
  • $100 REI gift card
  • $100 farmers‚Äô market gift card (accepted at seven farmers‚Äô markets)

While you’re only eligible to be entered into the drawing for the first two rounds, the idea of the initiative is to help choice drivers become choice pedestrians, bicyclists, or transit users, thus breaking the my-car-is-the-only-ideal-candidate-for-intra-city-mobility mold. ¬†Many of you are already WBR’ing so you’d be remiss not to sign up. ¬†Upon registering, you’ll get access to a report calendar and trip chart, so you can see how you’re faring compared to others.

Another fun element to the WBR challenge is inter-neighorhood competition, in which various communities can compete against each other in reducing as many aggregate vehicle trips as possible.  Last year, Ballard took the crown with Wallingford/Fremont and Greenwood/Phinney as runners-up.  Although some neighborhoods have a natural advantage, those without should be compelled to compete that much harder.

Rethinking the ‘Subsidy’ Debate

Photo by Oran

Last month, Josh Barro at the conservative-leaning Washington Examiner wrote a critique of transit advocates’ lamentations that road subsidies are often overlooked, arguing that land use, not auto investment, should be the target of disdain. ¬†Barro’s underlying point is absolutely correct, even if his slant isn’t very favorable to our cause. ¬†The second sentence in this quote, in particular, is a point that we’ve beat to death on this blog.

That’s because the real culprit keeping Americans away from mass transit and inside cars isn’t subsidies; it’s planning and zoning. Cities impose barriers to density that limit the number of housing units and offices that can be located near buses and trains, which reduces mass-transit usage.

I won’t even deny Barro’s argument that if you eliminated all transportation subsidies tomorrow, cars would probably win out. ¬†However, I think this is all moot if you don’t consider the context of transportation and land use subsidies, which have historically favored automobiles by a large margin. ¬†There was a significant amount of post-war growth attributable to government mandates– highways, sprawl, single-use zoning, to name a few.

The important thing to remember is that because of this massive infusion of subsidies, we built our cities around the car, sprouting land uses that effectively put transit at a cruel disadvantage.  This inequity persists todayРclear evidence that the pace of land use changes are monumentally slower than the speed at which we implement transportation investments.  As a result, it would be difficult for transit to catch up, even if we matched the real value of historical subsidies for automobiles.

I think there’s something to be said about demand here. ¬†Tract developers and highway advocates say people want single-family low-density living environments, as if there’s pure market demand for it. ¬†However, much of this demand is latent, having no basis for existence had the government not meddled in suburbanization and land use affairs as a matter of public policy.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to find anything that hasn’t been subsidized in one way or another. ¬†But for transit to be a winning battle, I think our focus should be less about how much money taxpayers fork over, and more about the benefits–enhanced mobility, transportation choice, economic development, etc.– the things that people really care about.

News Roundup: Unorthodox Tactics

Photo courtesy zargoman

This is an open thread.

Leave Me Alone! Individualism and Sustainability

Life, Liberty and being Left Alone

A typical trope often heard between the explosions of fireworks on July 4th is about the Declaration of Independence and its  hallowing of the rights of the individual over and against excessive government.

In a 2008 article about the death of Edith Macefield, the woman who resisted developer’s attempts to buy her home leaving it surrounded by a Trader Joes and a gym, Knute Berger pays homage to Macefield as a martyr for individualism saying:

People like Edith Macefield who want to live quiet lives and be left alone are now the equivalent of squatters ‚ÄĒ they occupy space that has a destiny, a “highest and best use” that doesn’t include people who want to live their lives in peace.

Berger elevates Macefield to mythical status, along with the idea that the individual, not the community, is the unit of measurement we should use to judge progress.¬† Berger suggests that the choice is being more sustainable by building dense and livable city on the one hand, or our individual rights‚ÄĒour freedom‚ÄĒon the other. Berger says,

Steamrollering over [Macefield] is justified by the notion that we’re fulfilling our civic mission to create a denser, more urban city so that we won’t pave all of nature. The Edith Macefield’s are seen as standing in the way of progress.

The lone individual hunkers down in their castle while the communitarian menace surrounds them with condominiums, transit and Trader Joe’s.¬† Most Seattlites probably wouldn’t identify with libertarians or people who live on acres of land and drive Hummers or own lots of guns.

But for some, individuality still means the right to a single family home, a car and place to park it. It is easy to mythologize these versions of our rights in the gauzy veil of the “good old days,” and dream of a time when there weren’t so many damn people around here. Individual rights can become code in land use debates for favoring convenience over the larger good, the maintenance of the status quo over change.

Seattle still finds itself in the middle of an age old American struggle between our “civic duty” and our desire, as Berger so aptly puts it, to be left the hell alone.

Today we celebrate one of the greatest documents of individualism of all time, the Declaration of Independence. Some would interpret the Declaration as the ultimate “leave me alone” document of the last 300 years, written by colonists wanting to be free of their Big Brother, the British Empire.

As Americans, and Seattlites it can be tempting to see Macefield’s stand as somehow heroic or a kind of martyrdom to individuality in the face of change.¬†But the first words of our written Constitution,¬† imperfect as¬†it may be,¬†are plural: “We the people.

Digging bunkers in Ballard won’t help us address the pressing environmental and economic problems we face.  We have to tap into that other strain of American idealism represented by figures like John Adams, Henry Clay and Daniel Webster who are often marginalized by our worship of Thomas Jefferson. Clay developed the American System, a comprehensive, government driven expansion of infrastructure that built a transportation system for the United States in its early years.

Individual expression is important, but so is our civic duty to others and we should articulate this aspect of American tradition more clearly in our language when we talk to people about growth and sustainability.  American tradition includes the common cause, and supporting each other in times of change and challenge. Building better cities in our region, funding transit, and planning for sustainable growth will mean thinking big and beyond the principled stand of lone individuals protecting their rights.

This post is adapted from a post than originally ran a few years ago on Great City’s blog.

Independence Day Service Alert

Photo courtesy Wikimedia

Independence Day is quickly approaching, which means that area transit agencies will be running Sunday schedules throughout the region. ¬†As usual, this is bad news for our Snohomish County readers, as Sunday service translates into no service. ¬†The same goes for Kitsap Transit. ¬†For everyone else (see links below), we haven’t heard of any planned special event service, which will make tomorrow no different than an ordinary Sunday, service-wise. Unfortunately, this means that peak Independence Day activities will be picking up just as service levels begin tapering off.

Family 4th at Lake Union even echoes this lamentation (emphasis mine):

Buses will be running on a reduced holiday schedule, limiting the number of buses operating, scheduled stops, and amount of guests they can accommodate after the fireworks. All guests arriving to the park by bus are encouraged to prepare an alternate method of return transportation.

As I’ve already editorialized, I’m of the opinion that July 4th is one of those holidays where not only extra service is warranted, but free service** as well, as we’ll have thousands upon thousands of revelers crushloading the limited service we do have running.

If you’re weighing your options, Link will be making its last southbound run from Westlake at 11:37pm, which should be enough time for Lake Union revelers to get to the station (viewing from the south end of the lake is encouraged!). For everyone else, prepare for long waits and lengthy walks.

*Links: King County Metro, Sound Transit, Pierce Transit, Intercity Transit, Everett Transit

**Everett Transit will be the only agency to go fare-free tomorrow.

The Power of Land Use Rules

Required minimimum yards for SFH

As I walk through a typical neighborhood I’m amazed at the conspicuous consumption that American front yards represent.¬† Considering front yards are rarely used for anything other than displaying gardening skill, and considering that a home is the most expensive purchase most of us will ever make, and further considering that much of the value of an urban house comes from the land that home sits on, it seems like an ostentatious display of wealth.¬†

Of course, this excess isn’t necessarily something we chose.¬† In Seattle, as with most towns and cities, it’s required by law.¬† In Seattle, your house built in a Single Family House (SFH) zone is requied to have a minimum of a 20′ deep front yard.¬† This is likely a very old law or standard, as my 110 year old house was built with a 20′ front yard.

What if Seattle did things differently?¬† What if 110+ years ago we looked around at these displays of wealth and instead of deciding a front yard is something everyone should be required to have, we decided to write our codes such as to minimize front yards?¬† What would the city be like today? Continue reading “The Power of Land Use Rules”

Affordable Apartments

Land Use Sign. Photo borrowed from Maple Leaf Life Blog.

The Seattle Times has an article up about some concerns surrounding potential redevelopment of 8.4 acres of cheap apartments near Northgate. These “concern” pieces seem to usually go one of two ways: a sad story about the loss of low-income garden homes or a story about how new development is going to destroy the community (often the reason cited is traffic). This article is a bit better, but I am still absolutely certain it’s not asking the right questions. Here’s the gist:

But a proposal to rezone the land is being opposed by advocates who fear the loss of the existing 207 apartments that are home to many low-income and immigrant families.

But the Mullally family, which owns the Northgate Apartments, has applied for neighborhood commercial zoning that doesn’t require any replacement of the existing apartments.

I suggest you read the article, my comments below the fold.
Continue reading “Affordable Apartments”

The Transport Politic: More Reauthorization Details

The Transport Politic has a great summary of the new surface transportation bill, touching both on details of the bill but also some of the policy questions that it did not address. Excerpt with relation to transit below:

In terms of funding for mass transit, the bill offers $8.478 billion in FY 2013, rising to $8.595 billion in FY 2014, both on par with existing funding levels, adjusted for inflation. Programs designed to distribute funds by formula remain the largest percentage of the bill and grow similarly, accounting for about $6.5 billion in spending in both years, mostly to pay for the purchase of new buses and the reconstruction of facilities (such as through State of Good Repair grants). The capital investment program, however, has been cut by about $50 million and is stuck at $1.91 billion in both years. This funding provides for the Small Start and New Start programs, which provide the grant funding for new rail and bus corridors.

Despite the lack of increase in funding for those capital expansion programs, a close examination of the bill shows that it offers a number of interesting changes in the way this money is to be allocated to transit agencies:

  • The New Starts program, in the past reserved to new rail or bus lines operating in dedicated rights-of-way in new corridors, will be expanded to include ‚ÄúCore Capacity Improvement Projects‚ÄĚ that significantly improving existing infrastructure while increasing capacity on the existing line by 10% or more.
  • Bus rapid transit projects will be classified and funded in the following two ways:
    • Corridor-Based BRT will lack a separate right of way. As the bill describes, however, these BRT programs will involve¬†‚ÄĚa¬†substantial investment in a defined corridor as demonstrated by¬†features that emulate the services provided by rail‚Ķ including defined stations;¬†traffic signal priority for public transportation vehicles; short¬†headway bidirectional services for a substantial part of weekdays and weekend days.‚ÄĚ
    • Fixed Guideway BRT, on the other hand, means a bus-based project that includes all of the features of the Corridor-Based BRT, plus ‚Äúthe majority of the project operates in a¬†separated right-of-way dedicated for public transportation¬†use during peak periods.‚ÄĚ The law includes the provision that the federal government will provide 80% funding for up to three such projects each fiscal year. This is an excellent opportunity for cities that want to invest in a big and serious BRT program to set their ideas into action, with limited local support needed. I hope they‚Äôre paying attention.
  • The federal government will provide expedited review for fixed guideway projects under two circumstances: New Start projects whose budget is less than $100 million in total; and projects designed by transit agencies that have recently completed similar projects that have achieved or surpassed expected budget, cost, and ridership measures.
  • The Secretary of Transportation will be able to increase the federal share for a capital expansion project if ‚Äúthe net capital project cost‚Ķ is not more than 10 percent higher‚ÄĚ and ridership estimates are ‚Äúnot less than 90 percent‚ÄĚ of the estimates at the time the project was approved into the engineering phase of the review process.

The bill expands the TIFIA reduced cost loan program to $1 billion a year (from just over $100 million) and increases the maximum federal share from 33% to 49%, both important advances for cities that promise to dedicate future tax or toll revenues to pay for transportation improvement programs. Essentially, the federal government is increasing the ability of local governments to take advantage of lower federal borrowing costs. In Los Angeles, which has promoted the program heavily under the name ‚ÄúAmerica Fast Forward,‚ÄĚ TIFIA loans will¬†allow for the completion of such projects as L.A.‚Äôs Westside Subway.

MAP-21 does allow small transit agencies ‚ÄĒ those with 100 buses used in the peak ‚ÄĒ to receive operating assistance (currently only capital expenditures are covered by federal transit funding). Though this provision isn‚Äôt the kind of large increase in operations support that might be beneficial to cash-starved agencies that are expanding their systems while firing bus drivers, it raises the question of whether large transit agencies could split themselves into smaller operating entities to receive federal operating support via a loophole in the law.