Questions for Car2Go CEO Nick Cole

Car2Go Staging in SODO
Car2Go Staging in SODO. Photo by AtomicTaco.

Unless you’ve been out of town or hiding under a rock for the last month or so, you’ve almost certainly seen or heard of Car2Go, a new (to Seattle) car-sharing service that’s optimized for short, one-directional, spontaneous trips, with parking available in most of the city’s on-street parking stalls. While we mostly write about transit, car sharing, along with walking, biking, shuttles, taxis and ridesharing, is a component of a sustainable transportation system for a 21st-century city, especially for a not-particularly-dense young city like Seattle.

I was thus very pleased to hear about Car2Go’s arrival in Seattle, and even more pleased when the company offered me the opportunity to sit down with CEO Nick Cole, to discuss Car2Go’s vision for Seattle, and how Car2Go has worked alongside public transportation in other cities. STB readers are a generally very well informed and alternative transportation-minded bunch, and I’m sure you have a lots of good questions among you that I would not think of myself, so if you have ideas for questions, throw them out here in the comments, and I’ll take note of them.

In addition, feel free to discuss Seattle car sharing generally in this thread.

Placemaking & Seattle

Eric Becker, the filmmaker behind the Stone 34 video mentioned last year, released a video of architects, developers and others talking about South Lake Union and its potential futures. The video is called “Placemaking & Seattle”. It’s curious to me when people spend so much time debating heights, parking and floor-area-ratios, so little time is spent on form, function and character. It’s a video worth watching.

Placemaking & Seattle from eric becker on Vimeo.

Introducing Seattle Transit Hikers


Hoh Rain Forest (Wikimedia)

Over the years, the Seattle Transit Blog has done several posts on hiking Puget Sound by bus. Some of the amazing hiking trips posted on the blog include Point RobertsWallace FallsShaw Island and Friday Harbor, and the Olympic mountains. There have even been several links posted offering suggestions for transit hikes across the greater Seattle area.

As I read through the amazing list of Seattle transit hikes, one of the problems that always bugged me was how to actually go out and do them. After all, for people that aren’t used to riding transit, or aren’t used to riding transit except to work and back, taking a bus to a remote trailhead you have never been to before without a car can seem downright scary. I can still recall my first bus trip to Tiger Mountain and how, halfway through the hike, I suddenly felt cut off from civilization because I didn’t have a car parked at the trailhead, even though the bus ran every half hour and I had hours to get back before the last one.

Thinking about this, I decided that the best way to get new users to overcome the inevitable anxiety of bus hiking for the first time is to do so in the context of a group. Since all the Seattle hiking groups I know about drive or carpool to trailheads, I decided to create my own meetup group that would focus on transit-accessible hikes which would allow the group to ride the bus together to and from trailheads. The group is called the Seattle Transit Hikers and our first meetup is scheduled for January 6, when we will hike from the UW campus to downtown Seattle.

I plan to lead a hike with this group every 2-3 weeks, during which, we will explore the numerous transit-accessible trails in the region. Some of the destinations I have in mind for the coming months include Discovery Park, Carkeek Park, St. Edwards State Park, Couger, Squak, and Tiger Mountain, as well as numerous trails through the city of Bellevue. If there is interest, I may also consider some more ambitious trips, such as Mt. Si, Anacortes, perhaps even an overnight camping trip on Whidbey Island.

I am also looking for volunteers to lead hikes so I don’t have to lead them all. If any of you are interested, please let me know. The group already more than I ever expected – 62 members signed up in just 3 days! I think it’s going to be a great success.

Gas Tax is Still the Best


When we go on and on about using the gas tax more as a funding source, a common refrain is that gasoline usage is on the decline anyway. Fear of raising the gas tax has encouraged those hungry for road funding to push a Vehicle Miles Traveled tax instead.

I really don’t understand the problem a VMT tax solves that wouldn’t also solved by simply raising the gas tax. It’s true that gasoline tax increases are unpopular, but that’s because it makes driving more expensive, not due to the specifics of the funding mechanism. Meanwhile, VMT taxes require a whole new collection bureaucracy that envisions tracking everyone’s movements. I am by no means a privacy absolutist, but that seems to be a more laborious path to funding, not an easier one.

Moreover, we often hear that a carbon tax is the best way to mitigate our impact on the climate, but is unfortunately not viable at this time. Here in Washington, we’re fortunate in that gasoline is about 25% of our total emissions, meaning that the lowly gas tax is one of the best substitutes, and so viable that it’s already in place. If gasoline usage declines, that’s a great thing and a reason to keep jacking up the tax. If it essentially disappears, that would be a great problem to have.

Finally, there’s no real reason that steep gas tax increases must be spent on environmentally problematic highways. Alex Broner found $70m per year in Seattle alone; I found $165m per year statewide in Federal money that could be shifted to transit. Best of all, simply repealing the sales tax exemption for gasoline would have produced $500m a year to the state and $156m to local governments in 2008.

All told that’s close to a billion dollars a year, in a non-exhaustive list, in ways to tax pollution and use the revenue for less environmentally destructive purposes. Now obviously I’d be thrilled if that were all used to preserve and improve our transit service. But even if that were used to reduce other taxes, especially sales and payroll taxes, it would be good for both the environment and economy. I’m gratified to see that gas tax is at the center of most proposals to raise transportation revenue this session, even if many of the spending proposals are not ones I’d support.

North Sounder Mudslides Breaking Record

Photo by WSDOT (2008 mudslide)

After a brief respite where the trains actually ran yesterday morning, Sounder is yet again grounded through the weekend. The Jan. 3rd morning trips were the first North Sounder runs since December 17th, according to spokeswoman Kimberly Reason.

The previous seasonal record was 70 canceled trips in the winter of 2010-2011. This winter we’ve annihilated that mark, with 122 canceled trips and more than 2 months to go. It’s not your imagination; it really is worse than usual.

Note: Between writing and “publication” of this post, the Times printed similar information and much more.

Jarrett Walker Offering Network Design Course in Portland

Scene from a previous course.
From a previous course. Photo JW+A.

I started reading Jarrett Walker’s book, Human Transit, the day it became available on Kindle, and sat down a few weeks later to write a review for the blog. Unfortunately, the review I wanted to write, “This book distills every sensible thought I’ve ever had or heard about transit down to a slim, cogent and enjoyable volume, which you should purchase and read immediately”, was too short for a blog post, and trying to drag it out longer just turned it into the kind of gushing, fanboy-istic prose I cannot bear to either read or write.

Fortunately for me, Walker recently announced a nearby session of his transit planning workshop, Transit Network Design: An Interactive Short Course, thereby providing me the opportunity to plug both the course and the book at sufficient length. Offered under the banner of his professional consultancy, Jarrett Walker + Associates, this course “is designed to give anyone a grasp of how network design works, so that they can form more confident and resilient opinions about transit proposals”. It’s offered in Portland, on February 7th and 8th and the cost is $395 per person, with some discounts available.

Its audience is specifically not limited to transit planners, but is “for people who interact with transit planning in their work but don’t do it themselves — including land use planners, urban designers, developers, traffic engineers, sustainability advocates, transit employees of all kinds, and people who work on transportation or urban policy generally. Advocates who want to be more realistic and effective will also find the course valuable, especially as a companion to my book Human Transit.”

I hope to attend, and encourage everyone else who takes an interest in transit to do so, if you can afford it, or you can get your employer to pay for it.

Fremont Needs Attention From SDOT and Metro

Route 40 inbound in Downtown Fremont, swinging wide of parked cars.
Route 40 in Downtown Fremont

Downtown Fremont is a busy place for transit. The Fremont Bridge is the gateway to much of north-central and northwest Seattle, and Fremont itself is a bustling urban village which attracts excellent ridership throughout the day. With about 16 buses per hour in the peak, 12 per hour midday, and 8 per hour in the evening, it’s a place where prioritizing transit over parking doesn’t require justification based on future demand — it’s already overdue.

Fremont Crappy Map
Yellow is bus zone, red is parking/loading zone.

The essence of the problem is shown in the photo above and map at right. There are two bus zones on Fremont Ave, just north of 34th, with parking immediately to the north of them. The zones are roughly 80′ long, enough for a 60′ articulated coach, but barely enough for two standard 40′ coaches. Parking is prohibited in the peak period, peak direction only (AM southbound, PM northbound), but at all other times, there is parking in the northbound direction, and drop-off/daytime loading zones in the southbound direction. I work in Fremont, and I’ve had plenty of opportunity to observe how these parking spots affect bus and traffic operations.

Northbound buses, when they try to pull out of that stop, are trapped by traffic behind the parked cars, usually for at least one signal cycle. Southbound buses have to swing wide of the parked cars, into the center lane, and then turn sharply in to the zone. Drivers are almost never able to bring their buses perfectly into the zone during weekday traffic. Artics in particular usually end up with their back end blocking at least one lane, and the back door several feet away from the curb. Drivers often won’t open the rear door in this case, which makes for very long dwell times at this extremely busy stop. When multiple buses try to serve either of these stops at once, it’s a giant mess. None of these problems occur at times when the relevant parking is prohibited.

For the sake of a few parking spaces, thousands of transit riders per day are suffering significant delays, and in the case of the southbound loading zones, this is spilling over to directly impact general traffic. Taking away parking has some costs, real and political, but in this case, the problems caused by these few parking spaces are vastly out of proportion to any benefit they could plausibly be claimed to provide. The obvious conclusion is that Seattle needs to take away these parking spaces and extend the bus zones.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Fremont Needs Attention From SDOT and Metro”

Transitfanning in the Far East

Seoul Metro, photo by Flickr user happyfiles

Being accustomed to sub-par transit and an auto-centric North American lifestyle can give way to extreme geekery when visiting other developed nations with old, dense, transit-rich cities.  I’ll have that opportunity over the next three weeks when I pay a visit to South Korea and Taiwan (the place of my family origin).  Once developing countries, both nations have become known for advancements in industry and technology on top of centuries-old cultures.

Many STB writers and readers who have experienced urban life in East Asia have pointed to these places as the sources of their love for cities and transit.  For those who have visited South Korea and Taiwan, in particular, any transit or planning-related sightseeing tips will be valuable in helping make this trip decidedly “academic.”  To be more specific, the bulk of my time will be spent in the Seoul and Taipei metropolitan areas, home to old urban cores and extensive rapid transit networks.

Going off our Transit Report Card series, I’ll debrief my observations and findings upon returning back to the States at the end of the month.

In Case You Missed It

Atomic Taco/Flickr

If you’ve been away from the Internet this holiday, here’s what you’ve missed on STB:

What to Watch For in 2013

Tukwila Station (Sound Transit)

2013 is going to be a relatively light year in terms of actual service delivery, although of course planning and construction will be continuing full steam.