In the time since my post on Tuesday – where I asked how Olympia decided which projects to fund – I believe I have come to understand WSDOT’s funding guidelines:
This is an open thread.
In the time since my post on Tuesday – where I asked how Olympia decided which projects to fund – I believe I have come to understand WSDOT’s funding guidelines:
This is an open thread.
Sometime last week, Seattle chalked up another tiny victory in the endless war against slow, unreliable transit. Yesterday evening, I noticed that SDOT had finally replaced the unnecessary crossbucks for the long abandoned and disconnected Bardahl industrial spur on 14th Ave NW at Leary. No longer will Route 40 drivers risk severe punishment if they fail to stop and look for a train that will never appear, sometimes missing the light as they do. I’m told that railroad bureaucracy is the worst kind of bureaucracy, so to the staff who worked to made this happen — thank you very much.
In the blogosphere we’re sometimes accused of hyperbole but this is not one of those cases. Many of the same people who turned out to try to kill Capitol Hill TOD and were outvoted by a margin of 2:1 because of broad and unusually representative community turnout at the TOD meeting, turned out unchecked to yesterday’s midday Apodment brownbag.
The city council’s transportation committee just held a group therapy session for opponents of micro-housing, or “aPodments,” who showed up in overwhelming numbers, rhetorical pitchforks in hand, to a “brown bag” discussion this afternoon to express their opposition to the affordable developments, which consist of small units arranged around shared kitchens. (We toured Capitol Hill’s Alturra aPodments last month.)
The battle lines on the council itself were clear in today’s meeting, where council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen—the council’s resident microhousing skeptic—spent much of the time before public comment asking representatives from the city’s Department of Planning and Development and Office of Housing rhetorical questions that had the effect of making aPodments look bad.
For instance: Rasmussen, who is almost certainly well-versed in the design guidelines that govern aPodments, asked DPD’s Mike Podowski whether an aPodment with 56 bedrooms would be subject to design review. Podowski responded that in most cases, it would not, but that of 48 microhousing developments the city has approved, “about half a dozen did go through design review.”
Rasmussen likened the new micro-apartment buildings to the single-room occupancy hotels of the 1970s, two of which burned down, killing dozens of residents. “Is our code up to date” to handle micro-apartments?, Rasmussen asked.
Podowski noted that the fire code has been updated since the 1970s (largely in response to the SRO fires), that the buildings have all the required sprinklers, and that the fire marshall has signed off on the floor plans. Incidentally. by Rasmussen’s logic, the city should ban all dorms and hotels.
And one woman testified that aPodments would quickly be overrun by mold, “meth addicts,” “wild parties,” people with “mental illness,” and men who will terrorize “our daughters.” (Then, in a classic case of concern trolling, she worried that microhousing residents wouldn’t be able to cook decent food, because they’d have filthy shared kitchens and in-unit microwaves that wouldn’t “even be big enough for a Hungry Man dinner.”)
Full coverage here.
We’ve written before about SDOT’s long-running efforts to improve transit speed and reliability, and the rider experience, at heavily-used stops on key corridors, by constructing sidewalk extensions (or transit islands) to improve bus speed and reliability, reconstructing the sidewalks at and around the stops to improve pavement quality and accessibility, and installing or upgrading shelters. For maximum efficiency and effect, these small projects have often been combined with Metro stop consolidations (e.g. Market, Rainier) or SDOT repaving projects (e.g. Dexter, 85th, Northgate).
Soon, riders will reap further rewards from this low-profile but important work: 25 new real-time arrival signs on the Jackson/Rainier and Market/45th corridors. SDOT is currently working on the 13 signs on Jackson/Rainier, and will install the Market/45th signs as funding permits.
The stop locations slated for real-time signs are as follows:
To give a sense of what these things (and public works generally) cost, from the numbers SDOT gave me, a three-line realtime sign and a pole to mount it on costs just over $6,500 — not including installation or setup. These signs require a fiber drop to be in place to deliver data, so their installation must almost always be preceded by a complete rebuild of the stop. A stop reconstruction, including a fiber drop but minus the cost of poles, shelter and furniture, is roughly $100,000 (if it’s not included in a larger paving project, in which case it’s effectively free).
More after the jump. Continue reading “SDOT Getting Crazy with the RTIS”
Growing up in the United Kingdom, a country with passenger trains radiating from or converging on the capital every 30 minutes or better in all directions until late in the evening, I’ve never quite been able to wrap my head around the American conversation about intercity rail. There seem to be essentially two camps, the conservative “Amtrak is a money-losing boondoggle, sell it off stat”, and the “Every train is sacred” liberal camp fighting to preserve what we have today; Eric Jaffe’s post today over at Atlantic Cities was an effort in the latter camp. Alas, I can find no organized group of people saying, “Let’s figure out what works and what doesn’t, double down on what does and abandon what doesn’t”.
Some basic geometric facts: Intercity rail in the UK works because of the 63 million people in the country, 53 million of them live in England, an area about 16% smaller than the US state of Georgia, or 30% smaller than Washington, which has less than 7 million; most of the rest live in a small belt of Scotland or a pocket of Wales. There are therefore nearly an order of magnitude more people within a distance of each other that can be traveled by rail in a time competitive with flying.
Only two places in the US offer this kind of aggregate mega-regional density, which is essential to sustain a network of intercity trains at a reasonable level of public subsidy: the North East Corridor, possibly extended west out to Chicago; and the coast of California from San Francisco to San Diego. In other places, individual city pairs could make sense (e.g. Portland – Seattle), but those will always be A-B(-C) lines, not part of the network where you can travel widely.
For a direct critique of Jaffe’s piece, I can do no better than Jarrett Walker, from the comments of that post:
My understanding is that the real reason to run the long-haul trains at taxpayer expense is to touch enough states that most of Congress can feel good about Amtrak in general. The other arguments presented here sound largely rhetorical. Ridership may be rising but it’s a long way from profitable or even a reasonably level of subsidy per passenger. “National rail network” sounds like rhetoric without content. Rail is optimal for particular distances. Europe has lots of great rail services, but still, if you’re going 2000 miles within Europe, and you’re not a tourist or time-rich wanderer, you’re definitely going to fly.
Australia has a “national rail network” made of long-haul trains traversing comparably vast distances. But they’re run by the private sector with fares set to ensure profit based on an explicitly tourist intent. Australians think of them (accurately) as beloved tourist trains that everyone must ride once in their lives, not as a “national rail network”. Australia is too big for rail networks to be national, and so are the US and Canada.
It may be that by touching so much of the country, the long-hauls are playing a crucial role in maintaining national support for Amtrak, both in Congress and among the population. But if we over-hype them we just sow confusion about what really successful rail lines look like. If some segments of long-hauls show so much ridership that they need more local frequency (e.g. Minneapolis-Milwaukee-Chicago), then target those corridors for more frequent shorter-haul trains. But I’m puzzled by what national interest is being served in one train a day for Fargo, ND, passing through between 2:00 and 4:00 AM. States and compacts of neighboring states must be the leaders on intercity rail, because they exist at the scale where rail can actually succeed.
Ultimately, you’re either into transit advocacy as a workable alternative to car ownership for working adults who can’t spend three days to get from Seattle to Phoenix, or you’re into it because “Yay, trains!” I’m in the former camp.
Over the last few months there has been a lot of talk about micro-housing. In most, if not all, the discussions I’ve had with friends, neighbors and acquaintances one common theme has emerged, personal experience. Whether it’s now or decades ago, many people have needed this type of housing sometime in their life.
Whether they are a transplants from Idaho trying to start a new life, an SU college student trying to make ends meet, a gay non-profit worker than wants to live close his friends in a community he feels safe and accepted in, or someone that simply would rather spend money on something besides space and furniture he doesn’t need, everyone has a reason why these types of housing meet their needs. No one is forced into them.
Personally, I care about micro-housing because for 7 years I lived in less desirable alternatives to it. In 2008 I was kicked out of the room I rented in a Capitol Hill townhouse for speaking up about tenant law violations, only to find out a year later from the Secret Service that my landlord committed identify fraud on multiple residents after me. Before that I lived in the house pictured above, which was chronically cold in the winter because it cost too much to heat in the winter. The house before that was even worse, shared with nine roommates; I could often see my breath in the morning. The kitchen, which didn’t have a dishwasher, was a smelly mess most of the time. Micro-housing would have much better met my needs, but it wasn’t available then.
Expanding professionally managed, newly-built micro-housing meets these needs and provides a much needed alternative to the sometimes poorly managed, sub-standard, unhealthy or illegal housing that up until now has been the only option for many people who have needed affordable housing.
What are your stories of how micro-housing adds an additional housing choice that either meets or could have meet your housing needs?
P.S. Today at City Hall starting at 11:30 the city will be hosting a brown bag on micro-housing.If you support this affordable housing choice attend and show your support because there will be lots of people that don’t.
Last week SDOT posted some nice construction photos of King Street Station’s progress, and thought the progress was coming along nicely. But yesterday SDOT put these photos on the KSS project’s facebook page, and well, all I can say is a lot can change in a single week.
The grand opening of the main waiting room is April 24th:
YOU ARE CORDIALLY INVITED TO ATTEND
the Grand Reopening of
King Street Station’s Main Waiting Room
Wednesday, April 24, 11:00 a.m. to 11:45 a.m.
Main Waiting Room, King Street Station, South King Street and Third Avenue South
Remarks by Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn and other distinguished guests
Please let us know if you plan to attend by
Academic papers, specifically. A few have crossed my desk that I think are worth sharing.
This paper, using a field study from King County, finds the correlation between parking use and a 100 different factors including pricing, supply, transit access and more:
The parking utilization data was correlated with the 100 factors. Independent variable relationships were assessed for their predictive powers using linear regression methods. The results showed a clearly evident and statistically relevant variation in land use to multifamily residential parking utilization. A similar relationship existed between multifamily residential parking utilization and transit access. The relationship between the price of parking and parking utilization showed utilization declining as the percentage of parking cost to rent increased. The overall findings indicate that walk and transit access to trip destinations, block size, population and job density influence parking utilization, in some cases by as much as 50 percent. Most important, the research demonstrates that higher supply of parking appears to consistently correlate with greater parking demand. By verifying intuitive perceptions with data and fact, this research provides a new tool for use in considering the proper provision of parking.
Emphasis added. As I’ve said before, simply the existence of parking is the single most important factor in determining whether people will drive or not. So newer, bigger buildings with more parking are less green that smaller, older ones with no parking.
In this paper Michael L Anderson uses econometric models and real life data to show that transit reduces congestion by a much larger amount than previous estimates have shown:
Public transit accounts for only 1% of U.S. passenger miles traveled but nevertheless attracts strong public support. Using a simple choice model, we predict that transit riders are likely to be individuals who commute along routes with the most severe roadway delays. These individuals’ choices thus have very high marginal impacts on congestion. We test this prediction with data from a sudden strike in 2003 by Los Angeles transit workers. Estimating a regression discontinuity design, we find that average highway delay increases 47% when transit service ceases. This effect is consistent with our model’s predictions and many times larger than earlier estimates, which have generally concluded that public transit provides minimal congestion relief. We find that the net benefits of transit systems appear to be much larger than previously believed.
This has always made sense to me, because transit tends to be most highly used to go to and from places that are the most congested.
More below the fold.
Continue reading “From the Papers”
Nearly everything about the way transportation issues are decided in Olympia puzzles me. In King County — and Seattle in particular — voters have fairly consistently shown support for transit in general and fixed-guide-way transit in particular, going back as far as Forward Thrust* in 1968. However, Olympia pays for nearly no transit here, and recently hasn’t done much to give Seattle, Bellevue or King County realistic means to expand transit. Meanwhile in Clark County, it seems voters and a number of elected officials don’t want light rail to be a part of the Columbia River crossing project, but Olympia putting $450 million into and has fought vigorously for $850 million in federal transit (FTA New Starts) money for the project.
That’s more federal money than any transit project in the history of the state has received, including U-Link and Central Link. I understand that the FTA New Starts money is needed to help complete the automobile part of the bridge, but still it’s confusing to me that the state leadership in the Olympia has put so much energy into transit projects with so little support and so much opposition, but have done so little in our area where help isn’t just wanted but needed.
*Forward Thrust failed at the polls because it required a 60% super majority to pass, but had majority support at 50.8%.
The Greenwood corridor, extending from Fremont to Shoreline Community College via Fremont Ave, Phinney Ave and Greenwood Ave, is one of Metro’s core North Seattle routes, but it has a raft of problems. Stops on the local Route 5 are spaced too close — far too close on the section south of 80th St; almost all the stops are out-of-lane stops, which, along with the busy traffic, often causes delays pulling back out; there are too many different service patterns; and the bus spends about a mile in the area between Fremont and the Zoo threading its way along slow, narrow, twisty streets. In this post, I want to talk about the last problem, but I’ll have more to say on those others in future.
As far as I can tell, from looking back at old maps like this one from 1914, public transit heading north out of Fremont has always followed the alignment of the current Route 5: north on Fremont Ave; west on 43rd; north on Phinney, through the wiggles of the 19th-century street grid at 46th and 50th. Generally, neighborhoods in Seattle grew up around streetcars, so absent natural or political obstacles, the rails were generally laid out in pretty straight lines. Guy Phinney’s enormous personal estate, which is now Woodland Park Zoo, would have presented an insurmountable obstacle at 50th St, but the curious question of why the men who laid out this line chose to jog over on 43rd rather than stay as straight as possible may be lost to time.
Regardless, time has not been kind to the 43rd/Phinney alignment. One of the terrible legacies of the 1940’s streetcar removal was the way the roads were paved when the tracks were abandoned: the rail ballast and ties were buried in place, poured over with concrete. This turns out to make a terrible road foundation, and the thin, poorly-supported layer of concrete on top is brittle, cracking when subjected to heavy loads like modern buses. Many streetcar roads went on to become heavily-trafficked arterial streets, and have been repaved properly and given traffic signals at intersections, but Phinney is not one of them, presumably because the vast majority of car drivers recognize that Fremont Ave, 50th St and 46th St are more direct ways to get anywhere than Phinney and 43rd. Finally, Phinney and 43rd are unusually narrow for streetcar streets, being only a little wider than the adjacent neighborhood streets.
More after the jump. Continue reading “Improving Route 5: North Fremont”
Above you see a photo of one of those little connectivity improvements that will only get attention at STB. Although it’s not terribly clear from the photo, this stop is a couple of blocks west of Sodo station, dramatically improving the connection between Link trains coming from Seatac and Route 21 buses headed toward West Seattle. According to Metro, this stop opened on March 2nd because of “customer complaints that the distance was too far between the previous stop at SB 4th Ave S & S Walker St and the next stop at SB 1st Ave S & S Lander St.” Those complaints were absolutely correct.
This is not one of those walk-across-the-room transfers — in fact, it’s not even close — but it makes this transfer at least plausible. It’s a negligible-cost solution to a real problem, and kudos to Metro for getting it done.
Here’s a stat that’s making the rounds, thanks to the good folks over at Commute Seattle: Seattle has the lowest percentage of commuters who drive alone of all cities without a “robust subway system.”
Seattle’s been successful in luring commuters out of their cars for several reasons: our highways are packed, downtown parking is expensive, the Flex Pass program has been really successful, and we’ve built a lot of HOV lanes. Add to that the now-abandoned 40-40-20 rule, which ensured that a lot of commuter service got built out in the ‘burbs, and you have the situation we’re in now: commuter service is amazing. Really top notch. We have one-seat rides into downtown from as far away as North Bend. Getting downtown by bus from Northgate (8.2 miles) is often faster than coming in from Madrona (2.5 miles). It’s what you’d expect given a transit agency whose political support base extends from Puget Sound to Snoqualmie Pass, compounded by the land use patterns of the greater Seattle area.
One one hand, that’s great! Getting workers to their jobs in the region’s employment centers by bus is fantastic. It takes cars off the roads during rush hour and reduces the need for parking. But providing John Q. Office Worker with a one-seat ride to downtown during rush hour is just one of many use cases for a transit system. Many people rely on the bus for all-day transportation to doctor’s appointments, school, and entertainment. These types of trips don’t happen during rush hour and they don’t happen between the ‘burbs and downtown.
In a world of unlimited resources, we’d improve these all-day trips by amping up the number of one-seat rides between various neighborhoods. Delridge to Kirkland every 10 minutes! In the real world, the world where Metro on the brink of another huge service reduction, we have to make choices. One choice that Metro is starting to make – wisely, in my view – is to expand all-day service by relying more on transfers. If we move to a grid system, we can greatly expand the frequency and reach of the network without increasing costs. The downside is that you’ll have to transfer more often.
The challenge is that most bus transfers currently suck. Continue reading “In Praise of Transfers”
In case you were overwhelmed by the information in Sherwin’s wonderful post about remaining East Link design decisions, at the end he discussed the choices for placing Downtown Bellevue’s station. Because this is one of those 100-year decisions that may be made over relatively piddling amounts of money, I want to call further attention to last year’s (rare) unsigned STB editorial advocating for an underground station.
If anything, the difference has become even more pronounced. The latest design makes the underground station shallower and shifts the entrance west –reducing the travel time to almost everything of interest in Bellevue. Zero crossing of public streets between the Transit Center and the station is the difference between making this another Mt. Baker and a design that observes the best principles of transfers.
Downtown Bellevue is the most important station of the entire project and deserves to be done right. That costs money, of course: perhaps the Bellevue City Council is motivated to fund the right thing for future stakeholders in the city. If not, Sherwin outlined several other options for savings that are in Sound Transit’s power; other alternatives would be some delay in completion of the line, or perhaps sacrificing some park-and-ride spaces. All of these would cause pain in one way or another, but Downtown Bellevue is worth it.
As we previously mentioned, this week the Mayor proposed a supplemental transportation budget to balance car, pedestrian, bicycle, and transit needs using the $11.75 million in savings from the Spokane Street Viaduct project. Bruce’s piece this morning showcases one of the great transit options this planning work could help build.
Unfortunately, the Seattle Times, with guest Sally Clark, has continued its campaign against any transit the Mayor proposes. Let’s have a look at their reaction to the supplemental budget ($).
On the high capacity transit studies, we begin with:
“Déjà vu,” said council President Sally Clark. “It seems like we just discussed this.”
In fact, we did just discuss this. In the first paragraph of Council’s Statement of Legislative Intent with 2013 Transit Master Plan implementation, they said:
It is also the Council’s intent that SDOT continue planning for the High Capacity Transit (HCT) corridors identified in the TMP, including the Eastlake corridor, in a timely manner so that Seattle can meet longer-term growth in transit demand. Following the City Budget Office 1stQuarter update of revenue projections and upon review of the 1stQuarter Supplemental Budget, Council will examine prospects to move up the Eastlake HCT corridor planning to begin in 2013.
This is exactly the time that the Council asked to review bringing this transit planning work to 2013 – and now there’s extra money to do just that. Perhaps Clark, busy in her role as Council President, simply forgot that her legislative body asked for this? Continue reading “A Fact Check on Sally Clark”
As SDOT and Sound Transit have begun to study the possibilities for improving transit between downtown Seattle and Ballard, the idea of a new Ship Canal crossing in the vicinity of Fremont has lately been discussed extensively but informally in transit circles. That discussion became a little more public on Wednesday, when the Mayor’s office, along with transit, freight and bicycle advocates, held a press conference asking the City Council to fund a proposed study of the idea. The concept has been around for a while, making its most recent public debut in the 2012 update of the Transit Master Plan.
Like several of the capital projects in the TMP, the Ship Canal crossing idea seems rather obviously inspired by our neighbors to the south, in Portland. As part of the the MAX Orange Line, TriMet is currently constructing a crossing of the Willamette river that will carry light rail trains, buses, emergency vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians, and (eventually) streetcars. Perhaps for that reason, most thought and discussion of a crossing (including mine) defaulted to the assumption that it would be a transit, pedestrian and bike crossing, west of the current Fremont Bridge. Then, late last year, someone relayed to me a better idea that, once I heard it, seemed absurdly obvious and considerably superior.
It begins with the quite pedestrian observation that minimizing travel distances is much more important for people walking and biking than any other mode. Asking someone to take a quarter- or half-mile detour in a car just means they would have to watch the world scroll by for an extra minute or two, but asking someone to walk that distance is maybe five to ten minutes of their time. As almost all transit riders are also pedestrians when they’re getting to or from the service, it’s thus much more important for transit to directly access the heart of ridership centers and transfer points than for cars; and similarly for bicyclists.
The chronically congested Fremont Bridge is perfectly located to maximize access to Fremont, and to minimize travel distances between almost any point on the west or south side of Lake Union and any point north or northwest of the lake (without building an extremely long bridge). Perhaps rather than looking to take transit, bikes and pedestrians out of Fremont, we should be looking to prioritize them on the Fremont Bridge, and find a way to get the cars out of Fremont. We could turn the original idea on its head: build a new road bridge west of Fremont (complete with excellent bike and pedestrian infrastructure) and reconfigure the Fremont Bridge to primarily move people, not cars.
The map and diagram above, by Oran, illustrate one possible implementation of this idea. After the jump, I’ll discuss all the components in detail.
This is an open thread.
By the end of April, an important milestone in the East Link saga will be complete. If all goes to plan, the Sound Transit Board will adopt its preferred cost savings options in Bellevue, and effectively finalize the alignment. The cost savings work, which hopes to find savings to fund a downtown tunnel, will be one of the last major steps in the project prior to final design. At this point, many see the cost savings ideas more as give-and-take concessions rather than the intense tug-of-wars over the alignment that took place in 2011 and prior.
Last week, Sound Transit hosted an open house with an update on the work, which included new cost estimates, concept sketches (.pdf), and environmental findings that were adopted as part of a SEPA addendum to the Final EIS. According to ST spokesperson Geoff Patrick, there haven’t been any ground-breaking developments since the last update, although sentiment from various groups has solidified either for or against certain cost savings options.
For those with kids who are looking for a reason to take Link down to the Rainier Valley, here’s a great (and cheap!) Wednesday night out with the family.
Start off with a Link ride down to Columbia City Station, then make the short walk to Rainier Ave and the historic heart of Columbia City.
There between Edmunds and Angeline you’ll find the recently opened Ark Lodge Cinemas in the old Columbia City Cinema space. Every Wednesday the first showing of the evening is a ‘Stroller Park Wednesday’ show:
We dim the lights half way so it’s not pitch black and we turn the sound down. Children 3 and under are free.
Keep your tickets because it is good for half off an appetizer at Rookies just a little south on Ferdinand. It’s very family friendly, and combined with Wednesdays all-day happy hour its a very reasonably priced dinner out.
Finish up with some classic arcade games and ice-cream at Full Tilt and you’ve got quite the evening out with the family!