Curitiba BRT (wikipedia)

Mayoral candidate Peter Steinbrueck had an interesting quote in the Times ($) last week in an question about the maintenance backlog:

The current mayor is talking about an almost three-quarter-billion-dollar bridge over the ship canal — new infrastructure — to serve light rail that we have no funding for. I think basic infrastructure has to come first.The most striking advances globally have not been subways or rail systems but bus rapid transit, rubber-tired rail. It’s much less expensive. It’s faster to implement. It has dedicated lanes so it’s not stalled in traffic. It’s been transformative in places like Mexico City and Brazil.

Pro-rail Steinbrueck skeptics will read the last paragraph as a dog whistle to the BRT “advocates” whose first priority is to fund transit as little as possible. On the other hand, as a context-free statement it’s entirely accurate. I asked Mr. Steinbrueck if there were any policy implications from this quote.

Q: In other forums, you’ve stated your support for light rail and the streetcar network. I find it difficult to square these statements. I’d like it if you could clarify (1) as a potential ST board member, your support for a large new light rail package [Sound Transit 3] as soon as Olympia authorizes the revenue, as opposed to one focused on buses; and (2) your relative spending priorities among (a) basic maintenance, (b) bus corridor capital improvements from the transit master plan, and (c) the streetcar routes from the TMP.

A: What our city and region (we are all in this together) need most is a seamless inter-modal system including ped (the first form!) and bike, transit, street cars, BRT, and yes light rail and heavy rail. Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages… We need light rail ( I was an early supporter in 1990’s) , especially for the regional corridors and should be planning Link 3 for the next generation and beyond. Land use (housing affordability, location, compactness and travel distances to regional and local transit)  must also be considered as important part of the solution.

I don’t think Mr. Steinbrueck took my invitation to state clear policy priorities for city spending, which perhaps isn’t a surprise mid-campaign, but he re-iterated his support for ST3. Readers can draw their own conclusions.

Full text of his response after the jump.

To be clear, my position on transportation alternatives hasn’t changed:  I support urban mobility in all forms that are practical, fundable and cost effective, and achievable,  to reduce  our dependency on cars. And ultimately to reduce VMT, improve quality of life, health, walkability and help to save the planet. I have been researching the greening of urban transportation for over a decade, and examined systems and technologies in U.S. and all over the world. What our city and region (we are all in this together) need most is a seamless inter-modal system including ped (the first form!) and bike, transit, street cars, BRT, and yes light rail and heavy rail. Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages.The inherent disadvantages of  rail are lack of funding; the cost per mile to construct; difficulty and high cost of acquiring fixed right of way in already congested corridors, and time it take to plan and construct (typical in for region a decade or more for a short line of track). That being said, we need light rail ( I was an early supporter in 1990’s) , especially for the regional corridors and should be planning Link 3 for the next generation and beyond. Land use (housing affordablity, location, compactness and travel distances to regional and local transit)  must also be considered as important part of the solution.

The best way to predict the future is to plan it!

148 Replies to “Steinbrueck on Transit”

  1. especially for the regional corridors

    This is Ed Murray’s blind spot all over again.

    Why do candidates for mayor of Seattle not understand that residents of the city (i.e., voters for the mayor of Seattle) want to be able to move around quickly and frequently within the city, not to commute from suburban P&Rs into downtown?

    I just don’t get it. This is talk I’d expect from a Bellevue legislator, not someone who lives in Pioneer Square.

    1. Because Seattle isn’t the only city in the region, and there are a TON of workers who commute from the north, ease, south, and, to a lesser extent, the west. The number of people who live in Seattle is less than the number of people who don’t live in Seattle. Basically, Seattle isn’t the only city in the Seattle area. If you do live in downtown, you already get a one-seat ride to almost anywhere anyway.

      1. The commuters from other cities don’t vote for mayor of Seattle. Yet both Steinbrueck and Ed Murray, as candidates for mayor of Seattle, seem to be hell-bent on putting their interests first. It’s a real head-scratcher for me.

      2. We used to live outside of Seattle. Most of our friends live outside of Seattle. My wife and I work outside of Seattle.

        90% of our trips are still within Seattle. We already have lines going out to the suburbs. We’re actually building MORE capacity than they warrant right now while at the same time our city buses are SRO and stuck in traffic. We need our mayoral candidates to be focused ON SEATTLE TRANSIT.

      3. “The city really only exists between N 80th and the ID. IMHO.”

        I guess you’ll behind McGinn’s impeachment then, since he lives north of 85th ;-D

      4. I am fully behind removing McGinn — one way or another.

        But given a choice of Steinbrueck or McGinn, I would stick with McGinn. At least McGinn won’t actually do anything….

      5. Seattle has plenty of residents who vote in Seattle but work elsewhere… ever notice the backups eastbound on I-90 in the mornings? Or 520? Or the existing ridership of commuter buses out of Seattle, not just into it?

        Seattle also has many businesses domiciled in the city whose workforces come from surrounding cities, and many of the owners and managers of those businesses vote in Seattle and contribute to Seattle campaigns.

        Seattle’s port traffic is often bottlenecked behind single occupant vehicles… plenty of owners and employees in port-related industries see personal advantages to getting those drivers out of the way of truck freight.

      6. What “Seattleite” said. People from the suburbs, honestly, need to be able to get around Seattle too!

        That’s one thing about a city. In the suburb, you can drive to your park-and-ride, and then take the train into the city, but what if your workplace or entertainment location isn’t in the part of the city the train goes to? Then you’re probably going to switch to driving the whole way. People from the suburbs benefit from within-city transit TOO.

      7. One of the rare instances I have to agree with Nathanael. I almost won’t go into Seattle if I have to drive. I can drive. We have two cars. But Seattle streets and traffic suck; and that’s a good thing! FWIW, I’m almost as adamant about not frequenting DT Bellevue. Suck ass traffic and the City’s answer of “more lanes” and Kemper’s solution of “more parking” just pushes me more toward the “just don’t go there” paradigm. Maybe it doesn’t matter that DT Bellevue is so crowded that “nobody goes there anymore” but it seems rather short sighted to limit your audience to the availability of free parking spaces. I mean, what exactly are the clientele you’re catering to that are too cheap to pay to park? I guess if I understood that I’d be rich too.

    2. It would be nice to have mayoral candidates that also didn’t view the city as existing only between NE 85th to SODO. Sidewalks on major arterials is something I can behind, and no, don’t point to “Master Plans” which lack funding. Or how about investing in Lake City Way, which the Pierre family is finally doing…

      1. Is the Pierre family getting out of the car business? The last two “coffee talks” I’ve read about (but couldn’t attend, sadly) showed virtually every Pierre-owned parcel as up for redevelopment. The transit and walkability creations, supposedly done by actual residents drawing on actual paper, were amazing. I want to lock in a 10-year lease just to be able to afford to still live here after it’s all done.

        It is a bit odd to finally have moved to Seattle and then realize how little of Seattle most people think of as “Seattle.” If it’s not Capitol Hill, CBD, Belltown, Magnolia, Fremont, or Ballard, it doesn’t count, except maybe to Mayor McGinn who is apparently trying to court voters outside those areas.

      2. Not odd at all! Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, way more than most — and that’s how people think of and identify with the city.

      3. “Seattle is a city of neighborhoods, way more than most — and that’s how people think of and identify with the city.”

        I’ve only heard Seattleites who happen to live in single-family neighborhoods say this. The Texans move up here for the natural beauty, the high quality of life, and the cooler weather. They have no idea what they’re moving to is a city of neighborhood associations not wanting them to move here.

      4. If there were a “like” button here, I would like Brent’s comment 1000 times.

      5. I feel like West Seattle especially gets the short end of the stick. It seems to be the red-headed stepchild of Seattle neighborhoods, to the point where I’d be reluctant to move there due to lack of good corridors to get to the rest of the city.

      6. West Seattle is often over looked, true, but South Seattle is redheaded twin of West Seattle, all too often the Downtown and the North end look to it as a place to cut costs and add things the north end doesn’t want in their backyard

    3. Two reasons:

      1) Lots of people commute from Seattle to suburban locations. Look at 520 or I-90 in the morning. There is just about as many people heading out of town as heading in. In some cases (like I-90) the system only benefits the suburban resident trying to get into Seattle. In other words, the transit and car pool express lanes go the wrong way. It is especially irritating if you end up taking a suburban job (e. g. in Factoria) only to realize that the only way to get to work in a reasonable amount of time is to drive.

      2) The businesses of Seattle depend on Seattle and suburban workers. If there was no good way to get downtown, then Amazon would be in a lot of trouble right now. I know businesses in Fremont that struggle to hold onto some of their workers because of commuting issues. It is these types of businesses that really need good transportation systems that connect the various areas. Even if you don’t care about the businesses, remember that our tax base is heavily dependent on their success.

      For the most part, this simply means improving the transportation system in Seattle. For example, if you built a subway system from the UW to Ballard and it included a Fremont stop, then we really don’t need to do anything (for Fremont) in the suburbs. North Link and East Link (along with the existing Link) will do the job.

      But part of a Seattle leader’s job is to critique the entire system from a Seattle perspective. This means suggesting stops that would benefit a Seattle resident. For example, adding a stop at Factoria instead of South Bellevue Park and Ride. There is a trade-off here, and it involves the give and take of politics. We might want to argue for a stop over there, but not if it upsets the east side politicians. We may need their vote when it comes time to adding the necessary additions to the Seattle system (like a bridge over I-5 at Northgate, a stop at 130th NE, etc.).

      All in all, though, this is another vague response from another candidate for mayor. All of these folks just assume that McGinn is horribly unpopular, and that being an alternative is sufficient. There is no reason to be specific about proposals, or specific about priorities, or give examples of what he likes or dislikes. Just blather on about how much he likes streetcars, and BRT, and light rail, and puppies …

      1. 2) The businesses of Seattle depend on Seattle and suburban workers.

        Which is exactly why those workers need to be able to get to employment centers in Seattle other than downtown, such as Fremont, Capitol Hill, First Hill, Interbay, and Ballard, without tacking a 20- or 30-minute bus ride onto their commute to downtown. Among Seattle employment centers, the “regional” corridors the mostly suburban ST board is focused on improve mobility only to downtown, UW, Northgate, and a small (if vital) piece of Capitol Hill.

        Just blather on about how much he likes streetcars, and BRT, and light rail, and puppies

        I’d honestly be fine if Steinbrueck were doing that. Burgess was doing that rather skillfully before he dropped out, and I didn’t complain too loudly. But Steinbrueck is not doing that. Instead, he’s saying rather specifically that grade-separated rail is for trips to and from the suburbs and that trips within the city are best served by grade-separated BRT unicorns buses and streetcars in mixed traffic.

      2. I missed the particulars of his argument. You are right. If he is focused on getting suburban folks to downtown faster, then he is wasting his time (as a Seattle representative).

      3. I pretty much agree with your point about Fremont. The biggest transportation problem of Fremont and Ballard is that they’re poorly connected to the regional transit system; while they’re close enough to downtown (and, in Fremont’s case, the U District) for regular buses to be acceptable for trips straight there, if that’s the first leg of a longer trip, forget about it — you need better speed and reliability to make longer trips than any in-traffic transit system can provide.

        But the Factoria thing… dude, a train does not make geography irrelevant. Factoria is not on the way to downtown Bellevue, and it’s not close or important enough to deviate that much, at such expense (UW and Cap Hill are important enough to deviate that much on the way to Northgate). It’s directly analogous to the situation with Southcenter and the airport, in that it’s unfortunate we can’t go to both, but we really can’t serve both well. With Southcenter there’s an interesting case we should have gone to Southcenter instead of the airport. That isn’t the case with Factoria. Downtown Bellevue is the important destination.

        Factoria is more closely aligned with the I-90 corridor (from Seattle to Issaquah), and we need to do some work to improve transit service and development patterns along there, for sure. We should strive to have simple, legible, all-day service that goes between all the significant destinations along the way without looping around mall access roads.

      4. There is obviously a trade-off, but I think a station at Factoria makes more sense for the following reasons:

        There is nothing at the South Bellevue Park and Ride but a parking lot. There is a park on one side and lots of houses on the other. This suggests that this neighborhood will remain sparsely populated.

        Factoria has big buildings and big parking lots. As it stands now, it has more big buildings than most of the stops along East Link. Because of the parking lots, it could easily add a lot more big buildings (similar to how downtown Bellevue grew).

        It is also close to Eastgate, and the roads between them are straightforward and free of obstacles (unlike the roads between Factoria and the South Bellevue Park and Ride). This means that a bus serving Eastgate from Factoria is much faster and easier than a bus serving Factoria (or Eastgate) from the South Bellevue Park and Ride.

        The only negative is that this has to backtrack ever so slightly to serve the other areas (such as the next stop at 112th and South Main). This might add some time, but after looking at it, I don’t think it would. I’m basing my assessment on the interactive map (, and the schematic drawing ( I think it wouldn’t add much time because:

        1) The plan now calls for a fair amount of zig-zagging after the Park and Ride.

        2) Much of the route from the South Bellevue station to the next stop is via surface streets. My guess is that the train will go fairly slow through here. A train that stopped at Factoria could piggy back on 405 (just as the train piggy backs on I-90 much of the way).

        3) The train makes a sharp turn to get to South Bellevue transit station (off of I-90). It makes this turn a ways before the actual station, which means the turn itself will add time. A Factoria station would require a similar turn (almost the exact same curve) but the station would be closer to the curve, thus having less of an impact (since the train will be going slow through there anyway).

        Keep in mind, I’m not anti park and ride. I think they serve a useful purpose. I just think we can do better than to have Link skip by an area of dense office buildings to serve a park and ride. If we want a park and ride to serve East Link, I could easily see replacing the 112th and South Main spot (which doesn’t do much for me) with a spot to the east of 405 (or right next to it). Such a Park and Ride would attract more people than a South Bellevue Park and Ride, since the area to the east of 405 is a lot bigger than the area to the Southwest (which is almost a peninsula). Even if it isn’t a Park and Ride, it could be a transit station to serve the folks on the east side of 405 (and more easily shuttle people from different park and rides). As it is, I don’t think the South Bellevue Park and Ride is very convenient for that many people.

        To be honest, I didn’t follow the plans for the East Link. I imagine there were costs involved as well as lot of horse trading that resulted in the current plans. But I can’t help but think that lots of people will soon wonder why the train goes along Bellevue Way and 112th (on the surface) instead of serving Factoria and then going on 405 to downtown Bellevue. More to the point, lots of people from Seattle will continue to endure a poor commute to Factoria when it could have been avoided with a little modification.

      5. RossB, your estimate of how big a transit draw Factoria is are wildly off the mark. Bellevue, the principal destination of the line, currently fills up one frequent bus line from Seattle (the 550) beyond capacity; does a decent job of keeping another one (the 271) busy; and serves as one end of a third major corridor within the Eastside (RR B). There is *no* demand like that to Factoria. It attracts a scattering of peak-hour riders from Seattle and Bellevue, and only trivial ridership on any other route or at any other time, provided that you don’t count Newport HS — which won’t be attracting any riders from Seattle.

        And the price to serve Factoria with a Bellevue line would be major. Any useful Factoria stop will be south of I-90, which will require a deviation to the south before turning back to the north. And I-405 is significantly further east and less direct (which you can’t really tell in a car, but you can tell in a train) than the planned routing. An I-405 alignment without Factoria was considered and rejected partly because travel time would be too high. Also, the Bellevue route will not have at-grade crossings for the most part, and so will likely be able to travel at 50 mph most of the way. It’s best to serve Bellevue as fast as possible.

        Factoria would be a very natural first stop on an Eastgate-Issaquah line, without any of the compromises inherent in diverting a Bellevue line, and when the Issaquah line is built that is when Factoria should get a stop.

      6. There is nothing at the South Bellevue Park and Ride but a parking lot. There is a park on one side and lots of houses on the other. This suggests that this neighborhood will remain sparsely populated.

        Ya think? Torturing East Link to reach this “special place” is one of a litany of reasons the whole project has just become a complete farce. BTW, you paint a rosy picture. There’s not “lots of houses” on one side; there’s a major arterial cut into a cliff and what you euphemistically call a “Park” is actually a nature preserve which is a nice way to say swamp. If the P&R didn’t already exist there is no way in hell an EIS would be approved to build one. And the much vaunted transfer potential is a crock too. What transfers can be done there are better achieved using M.I. P&R.

      7. Ouch Bernie, that’s going to leave a mark.
        I’m sure the handfull of home owners on the hill above the P&R, overlooking the slough think better of their location.
        As for the hordes of transferees from Eastgate, Factoria, and Issaquah, I’m just certain they’re going to love listening to the birds singing while they line up for a train arriving in just 8 more minutes – thinking there bus would have been in Seattle by then.
        David L just loves to impose his ‘feed the beast’ train at any cost to other riders or contortion of simple logic.

      8. Bernie, I’m sure people transferring to get from Factoria to Bellevue will be thrilled to hear that you want them to go on and off Mercer Island first, and it just makes so much sense to send every single South Bellevue local bus across the bridge as well.

        mic, until there is an Issaquah line, I’m pretty sure the big I-90 commuter buses (212, 214, 218, probably 216) will continue running. Only off-peak riders and riders of lines that don’t currently have the ridership to justify going all the way to Seattle would be transferring.

      9. Going from Factoria to DT Bellevue you shouldn’t have to go to S. Bellevue P&R or M.I. Eastgate is the major transit hub for Factoria. From there you should have direct connections to DT Bellevue which is part of what they tried to fix in the last reroute. Buses that do exit I-90 for Swamp & Ride are going to continue to BTC so a transfer has little to no benefit. The only rational for East Link exiting the I-90 corridor at Bellevue way would have been if it had followed Bellevue Way all the way into DT Bellevue. But it’s going to hug the swamp instead. Just one more way the project has become a modern day Tower of Babel.

      10. You are underestimating the potential for a more reliable Link connection with Downtown, grade separated for it’s entire length, to actually pull riders away from buses. Short of Seattle instituting a congestion fee, I don’t see how you get more buses through downtown.

        I’ve already seen passengers using the 550 to get to Rainier Ave to avoid waiting on the surface – I can only imagine that practice would dramatically increase once buses are kicked out of the tunnel. Given the choice of a reliable train to South Bellevue with a transfer to a bus vs a bus stuck in traffic on 2nd Ave, I know what I’d choose.

      11. There’s one other good thing about the P&R: it has prevented a block-sized parking garage from being built next to the transit center downtown, unlike Burien and Renton and (future) Lynnwood. That was pretty much accidental because the P&R was built when downtown Bellevue didn’t have any highrises generating lots of inbound traffic, but it has made downtown Bellevue more pedestrian-friendly than it would have otherwise been.

      12. Velo, transfering to Link to get DT makes sense; at M.I. P&R. Really, if you’re on I-90 WB it takes just as much time to get to S. Bellevue as it does to get to M.I. You can check driving directions on Google or look at the bus schedules. M.I. wins because it’s that much closer to your destination plus congestion on Bellevue Way is only going to get worse, much worse, over time. It’s much easier to improve dedicated bus/HOV ROW to M.I. and of course there’s actual development potential that doesn’t exist at Swamp & Ride.

    4. As much as box-dwellers like to believe otherwise, Seattle is not an island, and cannot subsist solely on itself. It must be accessible to the external terra incognita (Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma, etc.) in order to have the necessary vigor to maintain a metropolitan center.

      TL;DR: Seattle ignores the suburbs at its peril.

      1. We are not ignoring the suburbs. We are already funding one major project in each suburban direction. Meanwhile, we’re funding nothing at all in any Seattle corridor except the Link one.

      2. No offense, but if the city of Everett turned into a pumpkin tomorrow, I’m not sure anyone else in the region would even notice. It’s small, it’s fringe, it’s lost in the ex-industrial era. It’s gradually dying.

        Say what you will about Boeing, but that’s not in Everett and has little functional relationship to any part of Everett that the hypothetical train would serve, or that you claim we “ignore at our peril”.

        Anyway, you lost me at the pejorative “box-dwellers”. Your suburban paradise is impossible to serve well with trains, which is why our grand “regional rail” scheme has fuck-all for ridership estimates.

        We ignore building stuff that no one will use at our peril?

      3. Okay, correction: Boeing HQ is just barely within Everett city limits, with the airfield located beyond the border.

        Still doesn’t mean a single Boeing employee will ever want/need/be able to access the dumb regional train, or that dead downtown Everett has any use trains as frequent as those in central Chicago.

  2. I’m tired of Steinbrueck’s whining already. Who says we don’t have funding for LR in Seattle? That is what ST3 (with sub-area equity) would be all about.

    Leaders don’t whine about what they can’t do, they go out and find a way to do. That is what Nickels did after R+T got trashed at the polls, and the result is ST2.

    Does anyone miss Nickels yet?

    And Steinbrueck is fundamentally wrong about the cost of LR. LR is actually cheaper than BRT after O&M costs are included.

    1. BRT is cheaper if those building the BRT are being paid Mexican and Brazilian wages, and the land value is comparable to Ciudad Mexico or Sao Paulo. Or is he confusing RapidRide with BRT?

      Also, has anyone asked Peter lately if he sticks by his adherence to building height limits for the entire city?

    2. And, of course, with BRT, his quote against rail still applies: “difficulty and high cost of acquiring fixed right of way in already congested corridors”

  3. Pic from Curitiba is worth a lot in this discussion.

    Notice that Curitiba, like most of the world’s cities outside of the hills of Portugal, is wider and flatter than Seattle. And notice also how much space this facility takes up. And how much pavement has to be maintained under the weight of those buses.

    Possibly because of soils and weather, this region seems to have a very hard time keeping anything paved smoothly for very long. I-5 between Lynnwood and Northgate doesn’t permit reading aboard a bus. Would like to question the candidate on his minimal ride quality standards.

    Notice also that for all that even though those triple-artics can carry a lot of people- I’m pretty sure that in Brazil, most passengers stand, very close together- buses still can’t be easily coupled. At 60mph, a four-bus platoon would need a third of a mile of linear lane-space.

    Would also ask Peter if he’d be willing to start his program with an announced determination to remove street parking,legislate transit-only lanes, and establish signal pre-emption on the arterials we already have. And stand his ground against the political forces that consistently defeat such efforts.

    In other words, let’s get the discussion of bus transit to where the rubber meets the road. Especially on top of pavement and in place of private cars.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Yes, the picture of BRT in Curitiba is worth very much in this discussion.

      Curitiba’s system is hugely effective and popular among residents, including some friends of mine that live there. Effective, well designed BRT needs it’s own right of way, meaning separate roadways, not just bus-only lanes, in addition to train-like signal preference complete with crossbucks in some cases, and that requires lots of space. So it works great in these places like Brazil and Mexico because the government has little problem with taking over and demolishing huge swaths of buildings and neighborhoods, something that our government would no longer ever do.

      For Steinbrueck to say that he has “been researching the greening of urban transportation for over a decade, and examined systems and technologies in U.S. and all over the world” and has come to the conclusion that Seattle’s transit needs will be solved by BRT is evidence that he is mildly delusional.

      Oh yes, and these BRT systems get absolutely packed. Why? Because the great majority of people literally cannot afford cars, and there is no other effective way to move those distances safely (bike is incredibly dangerous to ride on these streets). If that was the case here in Seattle, we’d have ridership estimates to have justified buying a full light rail infrastructure years and years ago, but we put our money into freeways and highways, which are increasingly more and more for wealthier people.

      1. And Curitiba is currently debating whether to switch to LR.

        It is more than a little bit illuminating that the city that is held up most by BRT proponents as having successful BRT is also contemplating switching away from BRT.

      2. If the cost savings of BRT are supposed to be that they use existing infrastructure,(since dedicated infrastructure has the same cost issues as LRT,) do you realize that the footprint of the station in the picture is essentially the whole width of MLKing Way?

        If we can accomplish this with the Rogoff Paint Can method, I’m all for it !!!

    2. “Possibly because of soils and weather, this region seems to have a very hard time keeping anything paved smoothly for very long.”

      Most of Seattle’s troubles with pavement quality have more to do with crappy subgrade. When SDOT rebuilds streets the pavement stays in much better shape – I’m not talking overlays – I’m referring to areas like Dearborn, 15th in the UW, and other examples where all the old cobblestones/brick/poorly constructed streetcar tracks were finally pulled out. NW Market, East of 15th just before going up the hill, was rebuilt over a decade ago. That pavement is in excellent shape. Trouble is, it was also bloody expensive to rebuild properly.

      1. Yup, this. Keep in mind a lot of areas were originally swamp and are on unstable fill. A lot of the roughness is also due to a simple lack of funds for maintenance — much of the roughness on I-5 is due to concrete slabs that have worn unevenly or tilted, creating bumps at the expansion joints. These need grinding or replacement. It’s not *nearly* as much of a challenge to keep roads here in good shape as it is in the Midwest, where the frost heaves them up every year.

  4. BRT is a good idea when you have room, but how would it happen here? You’d either have to take lanes (political suicide) or raze thousands of buildings (not exactly popular either). If you elevate it, it’s as expensive as Light Rail.

    It seems what he’s saying is Light Rail for the suburbs, and buses in the city. That’s completely backwards, IMO.

    1. The issue of dedicated ROW is the main one. I am curious what the cost of the of the ROW is compared to the capital equipment and such. I do see that if you invest in ROW first and then maybe move from buses to rail later, but again you have to the separated lanes first…

      1. One problem with that approach is that you’d have to shut down the BRT line while you install rail. Sort of like closing the DSTT to get it ready for Link.

        There’s probably enough demand on LA’s Orange Line to justify rail, but they’ll have a hard time shutting it down to do a conversion.

      2. “One problem with that approach is that you’d have to shut down the BRT line while you install rail. ”
        A problem which Ottawa is dealing with *right now*. And which Seattle dealt with once already with the “bus tunnel”! Seriously, guys, learn from history…

        Another problem: grade separation for buses has to be A LOT WIDER than grade separation for trains. It’s more expensive to build, more expensive to maintain, and more obtrusive and obnoxious to the locals. If you’re going to grade-separate, there’s a lot of benefit to doing 100% rail.

        And of course rail doesn’t need to be 100% grade-separated either, as Link should prove.

    2. Especially going from downtown to north of the cut. The main arterial roads (Elliot/15th, Westlake, Eastlake) exist because they were the only places you could shove a road between all the hills. Good luck finding room for an separated BRT through route.

      You’re pretty much stuck with grade separated, at which point, it may as well be rail.

  5. How do the safety records of grade-non-separated BRT and grade-non-separated trains compare?

    I suspect Peter is not talking about grade-separated BRT. If he is at least talking about dedicated lanes, I’d like to know where those will be, and how he plans to overcome NIMBY resistance without other politicians lining up to overthrow him, touting their opposition to densification and their “support” for BRT over rail.

    1. His other comments on neighborhood topics and land use suggest strongly that he has no wish to overcome NIMBY resistance, which implies that his idea of BRT is RapidRide, empty words above about dedicated lanes notwithstanding.

      If we can’t even overcome enough NIMBY resistance to eliminate on-street parking along 15th Ave NW and Aurora — major streets without much residential frontage that carry two of our three “BRT” corridors — then there is no hope anywhere else.

      1. We and Peter may be talking past each other. We’re talking universalism, and he may be talking about existentialism.

        Each RapidRide route has a dedicated lane for at least some small portion of the route. Check. Ergo, it is BRT.

      2. Steinbrueck is trying to assume control of Emmett Watson’s Lesser Seattle movement , if you can call it that. Basically appealing to the “Keep out the Californicators” sentiment amongst the old time residents.

      3. The younger crowd has matured more to a “Keep out the Southern Californicators” after seeing what they did with Bellevue and the rest of the Eastside.

      4. Brent: The funny thing is that the ability to have partial grade separation for cheap is one of the few true technological advantages of BRT.

        Everyone is quick to point at RapidRide, but the fact is that Seattle has had a highly successful deployment of BRT ever since the DSTT opened in 1990. The tunnel allows buses to bypass traffic for the busiest part of their route, but to take advantage of roads with less congestion (or more capacity) outside of downtown. The only real problem with the tunnel is that it doesn’t go far enough, and so it only helps the subset of routes which can take full advantage of the grade separation (e.g. peak-only routes that use I-5 to the north, or all-day routes that use I-90 or the SODO busway).

        But, of course, this only makes sense if you have real grade separation through all of the congested areas. And in practice, Seattle has a lot of congestion outside of downtown. That’s why we need real, fully-grade-separated service.

        Just once, I’d like to see a candidate propose BRT somewhere that it could actually make sense, like a bus tunnel for downtown Bellevue (in addition to East Link, of course). It’s hard to take BRT advocates seriously when they only bring it up as a cheap alternative to something else that’s being proposed.

      5. Blaming Californians is so ridiculous when the local population has been busy doing the same things they accuse Californians of.

      6. “Blaming Californians is so ridiculous when the local population has been busy doing the same things they accuse Californians of.”

        I am personally not endorsing it, I am just letting folks know about the legacy of folks like Emmett Watson, and his self-proclaimed heir, Knute Berger on local politics.

        Moving here in ’91, I remember how some folks were actually hostile that I was from “out of state”. This town was and can still be quite provincial…

      7. As I recall moving here in the late 80’s, people from the east coast, particularly new yorkers, got the same “love” as the californians.

  6. The inherent disadvantages of rail are lack of funding; the cost per mile to construct; difficulty and high cost of acquiring fixed right of way in already congested corridors, and time it take to plan and construct (typical in for region a decade or more for a short line of track).

    Ughh. I’m tired of hearing Mr. Steinbrueck (and others) talk about the expense of rail and then pitch BRT. BRT that is effective (what is pictured, not fake BRT like Rabid Ride) requires either new dedicated ROW (same $ as rail) or taking ROW away from existing general purpose lanes (political $$). If you’re going to build BRT in new ROW, you might as well build rail.

    1. Okay, how about pitching a different rail line, just not this one? Nor the next proposal, nor the one after that, and so on? Only support the proposals that have no governmental entity willing to build them. Throw in some foul language every fourth sentence, and speak of any agency that drew up a plan as having broken promises for not selecting that plan.

      1. If you’re referring to me, I am effusively in favor of any transit project that will achieve actual transportation benefits. Unfortunately, that does not mean 72-mile rail spines that hardly anyone can access except from a park-and-ride, or pretty fantasy maps that take new multi-billion-dollar lake crossings as a given, or streetcars crawling through downtown at the pace of a horse and buggy.

        It’s not my fault if Washington State is populated with and run people who seem pathologically averse to understanding even the basics of what works in transit, with the result that Official Projects offered by People In Charge almost universally yield sub-par results. (Heck, the Low Income committee you’ve covered and supported is about to endorse keeping cash fares and paper transfers forever, are they not?)

        My frustrations, expressed on this blog, are not about letting the perfect being the enemy of the good. They are about learning to distinguish the good from the terrible and pointless, and not wasting gobs of time and energy on the latter. I don’t understand what could be so objectionable about that.

        Also, in what world does “You voted for a subway that fully covered the central urbanized area, but here’s a dumb streetcar instead”, or “We just spent billions digging a non-stop tunnel under Capitol Hill and oh, BTW, we just cut its promised capacity by 33%”, or “ST2 included funding for a study of east-west and north-south rapid transit options to Ballard, but here’s a cheap-out streetcar proposal instead” not constitute a broken promise?

  7. Discussions that start with statements like “I have been researching the greening of urban transportation for over a decade and hey have you heard of this magical place called Curitiba?” tend to suggest the same level of credibility as if someone said “I have been practicing law for over a decade and I just discovered these fascinating places called ‘courts’.”

    1. Well he is in the Seattle mode, a lot of wonderful talking, some hand-wringing and then punting to the neighborhood groups for “input” and “consensus building”…

      1. Ah yes, you can’t be mayor of Seattle if you don’t have a plan to single handedly save the planet. Garbage trains be damned, Seattle is “sustainable”. More streetcars from Czechoslovakia, that’s the answer.

      2. If it had followed some serious, visionary, hard-nosed proposal (like “We are going to retrofit every single building in all of Seattle to the PassivHaus standard, and we’re going to fund it with bonding and taxes, no matter how much it costs”), I would accept “…and help to save the planet.”

        When it follows vague bullshit, on the other hand…

  8. I appreciate this post and I appreciate the work done by the writer in getting candidates to talk about transit issues. I’m afraid that unless specific questions are asked, you will get vague answers. Unfortunately, I think it is difficult to ask those types of questions and expect good answers, since the response is often (and should be) “it depends”. For example, most of us probably support light rail on a grade separated line (like Seattle Subway). But we all know this is expensive. So, we can’t expect all of it to be built very soon. So, maybe before we build a line that parallels Aurora (a worthy goal) we should use BRT to achieve similar results. But details matter (like serving Fremont). Likewise, the thing I hear more than anything about our public transportation system is that it does the little things poorly. It is hard to fashion this criticism into a question (or series of questions). It would be great if a candidate came out and said all these things (you have given them every opportunity) but I doubt they will.

    On the other hand, I can imagine some very straightforward questions that can be asked about zoning. For example:

    1) Do you think parking requirements should be eliminated for buildings throughout Seattle? If not everywhere, where would you support the elimination of the requirement? If you want to continue the parking requirements, how do you propose mitigating the effect that the parking requirements have on renters? Do you think that is sufficient?

    2) Do you support Apodments? Do you think they are appropriate in certain areas? Do you think that zoning should be based on the height, width and quality of the building, rather than the number of units? If not, why not — doesn’t that simply add to rental costs and how do you propose mitigating the effect it has on renters?

    As you can tell, I’m tired of these candidates pretending to be good bleeding heart liberals when they ignore (or are ridiculously ignorant) of the effects that zoning has on rental prices. You can’t have it both ways. Maybe we need to restrict zoning to preserve the look (and parking spaces) of Seattle, but don’t pretend that it doesn’t make things harder on working class people.

      1. Then that is his answer. Let him avoid the question or try and change the subject. I know STB is not a news organization, but we could pretend to be a reporter and ask tough questions instead of simply asking for a generic statement, which usually consists of candidates saying “I like streetcars and light rail and BRT and better buses, and puppies, I especially like puppies”.

        If he skirts the questions I listed, then it means a lot more than if he gives a generic answer to a generic question. I would love to hear from the other candidates, so see if any of them give better answers to those questions. As it is, we are left trying to read the tea leaves on these boring, meaningless statements.

      2. Even the “rail and buses and streetcars and puppies” answers give you obvious clues if you read them carefully. And there are two obvious clues here: 1) the special love lavished on BRT (coupled with the hilariously inapposite examples), and 2) the caveat about real rail that it is for “regional” (i.e., not in-city) corridors.

        His answer is not what any of us want to hear, but it is useful.

      3. His answers are pretty clear, once you figure out what the code is. Steinbrueck is going to try to prevent any rail construction, and he’s going to try to prevent any bus lanes made the cheap way, with paint, by taking away driving or parking lanes, and he’s generally going to do his best to sabotage public transit.

        Whether he is doing this out of ignorance (perfectly likely) or malice, I do not know, but it doesn’t seem to matter.

  9. Mentioning BRT in Curitiba and Mexico City shows how dumb Peter Steinbreuck is about transportation. Curitiba built BRT first and the city came later for the most part. BRT in Seattle requires taking lanes from cars and giving buses priority. Metro had to fight for the limited priority Rapid Ride got from the city. A real question to ask mayoral candidates is how much priority they believe transit should get. BRT in Mexico City is a nice amenity, but needs to be put in context. Mexico City is flat and huge. BRT was built on secondary arterials in a grid pattern, something we are short of here. And, oh yeah, Mexico City already has the Metro built in 1968 for the Olympics. It carries over 1.5 BILLION people a year with 125 miles of track and almost 200 stations. Something else we don’t have…

    1. Yes, but you can’t have subways in places with earthquakes. At least according to the insistent person on RapidRide the other day — who, thanks to the King County All Opinions Are Created Equal Act of 1986, gets to have an equal say in the process.

      1. “King County All Opinions Are Created Equal Act of 1986”

        I thought that was covered in the “We Are All Snowflakes” city-wide referendum of 1992?

      2. Heh, yeah, I love that argument. Tunnels actually perform pretty well in earthquakes because they move with the ground, instead of suffering the upside-down-pendulum effect that elevated structures do. BART doesn’t seem to have had problems with their tunnels, even the underwater ones.

      3. Tunnels perform better in earthquakes than do elevated structures. In fact, they perform darn well in earthquakes.

      4. d.p. that is the best comment I’ve read in a long time. Unfortunately, also true. Any idiot’s input counts around here, unless of course it’s about a sports stadium.

      5. A lot of the arguments revolve around the idea that Seattle is somehow different, e.g., “tunnels here will be unsafe because the soil is unstable.” Ignoring the fact that a lot of the Bay Area is on unstable fill, too.

      6. Mexico City is a drained lakebed. The ground is soft and wet. And sinking.

        You pretty much don’t want to be anywhere in that city when a big one hits, except in a seismically-engineered office tower or in the subway.

      7. If I’m not mistaken, most of Tokyo is also on reclaimed land. With near-weekly earthquakes. And the most-used subway in the world. Where do people get such gobs of misinformation?

  10. Regarding specific questions:

    “Do you support including light rail to Ballard and West Seattle in ST3?”

    If the answer is no or a bunch of qualified squishy language about regionalism… well, next candidate please.

    I hate to be such a transit simpleton, but that’s really the beginning of the discussion for me about whether I can support a mayoral candidate. Even though McGinn’s record is not perfect, nobody’s gotten over the very first threshold for me to think about supporting anybody else.

    1. ” Even though McGinn’s record is not perfect, nobody’s gotten over the very first threshold for me to think about supporting anybody else.”

      Is Stan Lippman running ;-)

    2. Unfortunately, McGinn seems equally incapable of distinguishing streetcars from stuff that actually works, and is a little too taken with the recent low-speed, low-frequency, low-span, low-connectivity developments in our sibling to the south.

      Aside from (perhaps) Kate Martin, there really isn’t a candidate who appears ready, willing, and able to go to bat for what Seattle desperately needs.

      1. While McGinn doesn’t share your patholigical hatred of streetcars, he most definitely supports grade seperated rail as well.

        He went to the Sound Transit Board and pushed for Jump Start and a 2016 ST3 vote. Without McGinn our HCT studies to West Seattle, Ballard Downtown and Ballard to the U-District wouldn’t start until early next decade, with a likely 2024 vote.

      2. Whoops, sorry.

        I recalled her Metro tax proposal as suggesting someone who was at least thinking critically (and in specifics) about our transit conundrums. But I just poked around her website, and some of the rest of her platform is batshit.

        I guess we don’t even have a well-informed protest candidate to choose.

      3. @Seattlite – There’s a Ballard – U District study? Where? I’ve never heard of it!

      4. Okay then… so it’s got the same status as the Ballard-Downtown study, even though there’s been so much more talk about the latter. Good to know; I hope it brings forth good things.

      5. Not remotely the same status, William. The Interbay light rail and a Westlake streetcar are receiving the full routing/planning/detailing/costing diligence, the east-west corridor is just one of half a dozen possible future “consolidated corridors” that have tentatively been contracted for initial study in the most broad and vague way possible.

        It’s the difference between completing the first draft of a novel and writing an outline on a napkin.

        Furthermore, the Ballard-Wallingford-UW corridor has been contractually unified with a study of transit to Kirkland, Redmond, and Issaquah, for reasons that have never been successfully explained and would likely prove brain-implodingly stupid if they were.

        I-90 rail barely penciled out cost-wise; a redundant second crossing never will in a million years. This key urban corridor shouldn’t be shackled to an untenable suburban project, not even for contracting purposes. Never mind that it dilutes and delays the targeted study of Ballard-UW that was explicitly approved in ST2.

    3. How about,
      “Please list the neighborhoods inside the Seattle city limits to which you support building light rail in ST3.”
      That will make the tradeoffs even more obvious, and if some candidate thinks he has an excellent reason why the Central District or Fremont is more important, then he can say it.

    4. Even though McGinn’s record is not perfect, nobody’s gotten over the very first threshold for me to think about supporting anybody else.

      Yeah, a year ago I would have said my chances of voting for someone other than McGinn were probably slightly over 50%; now they’re well South of 10%. And My assessment of McGinn has not changed in any notable way.

    5. “Do you support including light rail to Ballard and West Seattle in ST3?”

      wish we had a like button, that is one of the litmus tests for my vote.

  11. Do not trust Steinbrueck on this. He has been playing this game all year long. At forums he spends his time emphasizing BRT. He nods at light rail so that he doesn’t overtly piss off us transit advocates, but his audience at the NIMBY types who think rail is not worth spending any money on and that BRT is the better solution.

    Most transit advocates do not see a contest between BRT and LRT and instead see them correctly as tools in the toolbox to be used when and where appropriate. That isn’t Steinbrueck’s approach. He would be a disaster for rail and transit overall in Seattle if he got elected mayor.

    1. At forums he spends his time emphasizing BRT.


      And just remember that the constituency to which he emphasizes BRT, and the votes of which he is seeking right now, would throw a huge fit if anyone actually built BRT rather than RapidRide. Also remember that most of the difference between RapidRide and actual BRT would consist of some street parking removed to make way for dedicated bus lanes. Those facts considered together are very informative.

      1. Like Aurora for instance. It’s ironic that the “suburb” Shoreline did it right but Seattle couldn’t bring itself to eliminate street parking. If the businesses need parking oh so much, why can’t the city try to site a few off-street parking lots to replace the street parking?

      2. One of the differences between RapidRide and actual BRT is the removal of street parking for bus lanes. The other big one is that real BRT wouldn’t go to LQA and downtown Seattle without grade separation.

    2. +1. Actually, +1E6.

      Steinbrueck would be a disaster for transit in this city — a giant step backwards.

      1. “a giant step backwards.”

        some folks would love go there ( I am not one of those )

    3. I wonder if he would support the Madison BRT as currently envisioned – dedicated lanes over 1st hill with 5 minute headways? Is that something he would make happen? Because if he supports BRT for in-city transit, that’s something it would be only natural for him to back.

  12. Worth pointing out that Steinbrueck says we should have:

    1) Dedicated BRT lanes (cool!) and
    2) NO new expensive, $750 million (?) Ship Canal crossing.

    So, I guess he supports taking the Ballard Bridge down to one lane of general traffic in each direction to make way for BRT. Boy, the NIMBYs will be pissed when they find this out!

    1. The *most* the new crossing could cost would be $250 million. He’s including the entire potential cost of rapid streetcar from SLU to Ballard in that number. It’s nonsense.

      1. Agreed on the cost nonsense. But the term “rapid streetcar” is nonsense too.

      2. An actual “rapid streetcar” is one which has exclusive lanes, and crossing gates at cross streets — in other words, it’s like Link on MLK. Light rail.

      3. The TMP’s definition of “rapid streetcar” is modeled after a european tram. If these are actually implemented as described it would be an awesome system.

      4. Lack Thereof: My first experience living without a car was in Heidelberg. I’d love it if we could just graft their Strassenbahn system onto our city.

        One of the reason I am pro streetcar is that I believe it will be easier to get transit lanes that already have rails in them than starting off whole cloth. Incrementalism has it’s place.

      5. Heidelberg is a town of 150,000 people, with a rigid urban boundaries barely three miles across at their furthest extent, beyond which is hinterland. In fact, there are districts of unpopulated farmland even within the urban boundary.

        If you “grafted their Strassenbahn system onto our city”, it would barely reach barely reach beyond downtown-First Hill-LQA, and it would be pretty much useless for people trying to get across our vastly larger city.

        Matt, I’m as much of a proponent of “Europe does urbanism right; let’s copy it as much as possible” as you are. That doesn’t mean we can overrule utterly distinct fact patterns. You can’t expect what works in tiny German burgs to scale to Seattle any more than you can expect it to scale to Frankfurt.

        Prague is a European city in which I’ve spent more time than any other. It has a similar inner-metropolitan population to Seattle’s — roughly 2.5 million — though their 2.5 million are exponentially more compact than ours.

        There is only one outcome of the Soviet era for which Prague residents are universally and unequivocally thankful, and that is the Metro system that has wholly supplanted the trams for trips of any significant distance. The trams are still busy, mind you, but merely as feeders and connectors. Short hops. Really short ones.

        Nobody in Prague uses trams for distances that some Seattle mayors think we should be using them. They understand that it would be slow, stupid, arduous, and wasteful to do so.

        Best I can tell, Gothenburg is the largest European city relying exclusively on what people are here describing as “rapid trams”. Tiny compared to us, Gothenburg has only 550,000 in its (again, quite compact) inner-metropolitan area, and 950,000 including the furthest ex-urban outposts and intentionally-remote “new towns” (i.e. banlieues).

        Nevertheless, the Gothenburg tram system has only been able to remotely do its job thanks to key grade separations and a widespread lane exclusivity that isn’t even remotely on the table when someone in Seattle uses the words “rapid streetcar”.

        And guess what? Gothenburg is finally building a downtown tunnel! Because the Portland-style downtown slog has long been the system’s Achilles’ heal, and everybody knows it.

        In short, those who propose grafting “rapid streetcars” as onto a large city anywhere as a scalable mass-transit solution are not responding to European precedents, but denying them!

      6. Sorry for the many typos; the coffee isn’t working right today.

        Matt, you’re a smart guy, and I don’t think you possess the reason-averse “build all the things!” syndrome that Ben has caught.

        Please further research the above comparisons, and take them to heart. I believe that your enthusiasm for unworkable, unscalable proposals will dissipate.

    1. Nowhere credible, methinks. For reference, SDOT says that all 62 Seattle bridges that are past their design life have a replacement cost of $1.4 billion.

    2. He’s using one of the floated numbers for the cost of the entire rapid streetcar line from SLU to Ballard on a new bridge.

  13. True BRT either requires subway-level costs (see: our bus tunnel), or taking a vast amount of lanes from cars (good luck with that) and still some significant investment.

    Check out my review of Jakarta’s BRT system. It is not pretty and doesn’t get you close to where you want to go. But it was cheap, and their traffic was terrible anyway, and they have highways criss-crossing their city that could easily be converted to BRT (using concrete dividers).

    Also, it’s driven up car ownership.

    Ok, this isn’t a general bash-BRT thread, but I want to make sure Steinbrueck really understands what he’s pushing.

    1. Ok, this isn’t a general bash-BRT thread, but I want to make sure Steinbrueck really understands what he’s pushing.

      There are two ways to interpret his comments.

      One way is that he’s dangerously uninformed. He thinks Curitiba is proof that BRT is better than rail. He thinks that the ship canal bridge would cost $750 million.

      The other way is that he wants to turn Seattle into something like Ecotopia [review by Jarrett Walker], where the transit looks like this:

      Scattered here and there are large, conical-roofed pavilions, with a kiosk at the center selling papers, comic books, magazines, fruit juices, and snacks. … The pavilions turn out to be stops on the minibus system, and people wait there out of the rain. These buses are … battery-driven contraptions, resembling the antique cable cars that San Franciscans were once so fond of. They are driverless, and are steered and stopped by an electronic gadget that follows wires buried in the street. (A safety bumper stops them in case someone fails to get out of the way.) … To enable people to get off quickly, during the 15 seconds the bus stops, the floor is only a few inches above ground level … These buses creep along at about 10 miles an hour, but they come every 5 minutes or so.

      What I hear in Steinbrueck’s comments is more of the latter. I hear someone who has read Jane Jacobs, and understands how it can be better to improve what we have than to start over. He sees Vulcan moving in to redevelop Cascade/SLU, and sees it as precisely the kind of “urban renewal” that destroyed Boston’s West End and almost destroyed the Pike Place Market.

      The funny thing is, Jane Jacobs is still right. One of the things that Jacobs most railed against was the size and scale of modern development. These days, almost every new development seems to take up an entire block, if not more. Developers have to add in fake “variations” (cf. virtually every big building built in Seattle in the last 10 years), to make up for the lack of natural variations you would see between smaller buildings.

      The difference is that Jacobs wanted to enable gradual change, by building a financial and legal system which made it possible to build small buildings. Steinbrueck appears to be more interested in stopping the things he perceives as bad, without providing a compelling alternative framework.

      Most of all, I don’t feel like Steinbrueck fully appreciates the scale of Seattle. We’re just not a small city anymore. No one is going to build a new 4-story building in Pioneer Square. And our urban center/village boundaries are ludicrously small; the Phinney/Greenwood “urban village” is less than a block wide.

      If we disallow any new development in “traditionally single-family neighborhoods”, and you also place heavy restrictions on the small fraction of the city’s land area which is inside an urban village, then we’re effectively stopping Seattle from growing effectively. It’s not enough for a candidate to say that they’re pro-growth; they need to show, through their actions and policy proposals, that they understand how to make that growth work. And I don’t think Steinbrueck passes that test.

      1. Jacobs was living in a city — New York — which routinely built narrow 20-story buildings on tiny, tiny fragments of a block. Steinbrueck doesn’t seem to understand that.

    2. When a politician says “BRT is much less expensive than rail” and “BRT will have dedicated lanes”, I’d like to tell them, “Actually, BRT with dedicated lanes approaches the cost of rail. What would you do in that case, build rail or not build anything?”

      Also, some corridors have absolutely no room for dedicated lanes. There’s no space for an east-west line between N 50th and the Ship Canal. Market Street has only three lanes in the diagonal section, and 40th has two lanes. If you take either of those there’ll be no place for cars. If you take the Burke-Gilman trail, then peds and bicyclists will lose their only trail. Only 50th has enough room and little enough congestion, but it has no way down west Phinney Ridge.

      1. The bigger problem with 50th is that it isn’t where people want to be! If every single person who gets off a bus line needs to walk 0.3 miles to the south, then you’re doing something wrong.

        This is the same reason that Metro will never move buses from the Ave to Roosevelt. To a first approximation, everyone wants to go to the Ave. The slight deviation is worth it, because it benefits just about everyone.

      2. Also, some corridors have absolutely no room for dedicated lanes. There’s no space for an east-west line between N 50th and the Ship Canal.

        The diagonal section of Market is not where the congestion is.

        If we had 1) bus lanes from Aurora to I-5 and 2) aggressive TSP, we’d have most of the benefits of BRT throughout the 44 corridor. And the only reason we don’t have the bus lanes is because of religious devotion to onstreet parking in every possible place.

      3. And Wallingford has an off-street parking lot, it’s just more expensive than street parking. :)

      4. Mike Orr: it’s also worth noting that the room needed for dedicated bus lanes is WIDER than the room needed for rail tracks (because trains stay on their tracks).

        Accordingly, if there’s narrow right-of-way, you might be able to fit a dedicated railroad track in, but unable to fit bus lanes.

    3. Do you have any actual evidence that it’s the BRT that has driven car ownership up and not the fact that Indonesians are better off than they used to be?

      1. Sure. From the article:

        “Carmakers say they are simply meeting increasing demand from customers choosing to use private conveyances because of the poor state of public transport and overall traffic management.”

        I would bet the carmakers know their market more than anyone, but they certainly could be wrong.

  14. I really dont trust this guy with transit or any city growth issues, he seems holden to NIMBY crowds first and second. His idea of city growth is to set Seattle in amber and let sprawl happen. BTR is not a solution in the city.

  15. “set Seattle in amber” Ha! love it.

    Seriously though, Seattle is going to have to go it alone if they expect an additional transit tunnel through downtown to serve Ballard, Magnolia, Fremont, Queen Anne, Sodo, W. Seattle, Burien and Des Moines…

    We can’t rely on Sound Transit and it’s “sub area equity” for future grade separated transit.

    1. We can work to insure that sub-area equity is included in ST3.

      And if it isn’t included we can vote “No” and wait for a better deal.

      Many/Most of our suburban friends will vote “No” anyhow based on their fear of Seattle taking “their” taxes, or out of fear of taxes themselves.

      So it really comes down to how Seattle votes.

      1. Why should a future transit tunnel downtown rely on sound transits three county sub area equity policy? Especially if it is built to only serve the city of Seattle? Seattle needs to go it alone to solve it’s unique in city transit needs. Seattle will tax itself. This does not mean that ST cant use the tunnel it just means that Seattle can’t rely on ST’s way of getting $$$….

      2. While it can be said that such a tunnel primarily benefits the citizens of Seattle, this system will benefit all riders throughout the system that want to get to those parts of Seattle without driving (or driving into city). If your in Lynnwood and want to get to Ballard, this tunnel will help you. If you’re in Redmond and want to get to Alki, this tunnel will help you. Capice?

  16. “BRT creep” Is the term coined by Dan Malouff to describe the sadly familiar process by which “BRT” is reduced in quality through a series of incremental compromises which in combination make for a system which is not particularly rapid, frequent, or convenient.

    Unlike Dan, I do not believe this process makes rail “inherently” better. If our political leaders are willing to fight FOR BRT features such as transit lanes, off bus fare payment, reasonable stop spacing, etc, then we will get these features, if not, then we won’t.

    To paraphrase John F. Kennedy: way too many politicians wish to use BRT for what it can do for them: they wish to use it as a cudgel to beat back rail. Instead they should be asking what they can do for BRT: how can they make BRT serve more trips for more people faster and better? Unless and until a politician starts talking about the BRT features they WANT, be very suspicious: they might not be a BRT supporter, they might be a BRT creep.

    1. Agreed. “BRT” is an overused term. True BRT like all separated transit costs billions, not the millions that Metro has invested in it’s rapid ride.

      1. Hi Fil, I disagree with the “billions” price tag being REQUIRED for high quality BRT, though it certainly helps. Having a grade separated right of way is always preferable, but it is still possible to run fast, efficient and frequent service without it.

        Link in South East Seattle is an example of that: vehicles have dedicated lanes with signal priority and off vehicle fare payment. One could construct a very similar running way for buses on any street that’s wide enough and be able to run very fast and efficient service.

        This is why I’m suspicious of “BRT proponents” who are not vocal about improving rapidride. Here we have part of a BRT system which could with a little more investment be improved to full BRT. Which of our so called “BRT Proponents” are advocating for this? I’m sure some are, and I support them in this, but the ones who are not need to be looked at with skepticism by the pro-transit community.

      2. @Alex: You can’t do that on just any street. Link can run fast because it’s on a section of MLK that’s not only wide but also has few cross streets and we were willing to limit locations of street crossings. But you can only really do that in the gaps in the urban fabric. The most important and heavily used parts of an urban rapid transit system are in places where you can’t really do this. There’s a pretty hard limit to how fast buses can run on the surface with lots of intersections… 3rd Ave in downtown Seattle, a four lane road with essentially no significant private car use, is about as good as it gets. And that’s when you’re going straight. If you have to turn a bunch of times it’s much worse, and our street network (along with some routing decisions) imposes lots of turns on some routes.

        There are unquestionably improvements that could be made to RR without grade separation. Some parts of the system need all-day bus lanes. Others need TSP. But in some of the most important places there’s a limit to how fast and reliable your service can be without flying over the intersections.

      3. Sorry Alex, but SE Seattle is an example of how NOT to do Light Rail. There have been numerous accidents along that alignment, some with fatalities. Trains are often delayed by signals and it is constrained to following the street speed limit (35 mph) when it is designed to do 55 mph thus adding several minutes for passengers travelling longer distances.

        I can’t imagine BRT with signal priority approaching anything acceptable as a robust and viable alternative to fully dedicated right of way or using a car in most use cases.

        I view SE Seattle as an experiment and it was our starter line. Lets learn the lessons from it and never ever do at grade non-separated “rapid transit” again.

      4. “SE Seattle is an example of how NOT to do Light Rail. There have been numerous accidents along that alignment, some with fatalities.”

        I wish the cost comparisons in the alternatives analyses included a component for the delays, costs, and human suffering of inevitable at-grade collisions, and the human-mobility impact of running trains at 30 mph instead of 55. Then people would see that the cost of a tunnel is not that much more than the complete cost of an at-grade alignment.

      5. 90% of our MLK issues could be dealt with by:

        #1 – crossing gates
        #2 – Left-turn photo enforcement

        Add those two cheap features and it becomes a decent approximation of a fully grade separated line.

    2. Which is exactly why alleged BRT, i.e., Rapid Ride was given to West Seattle and Ballard: Because the political will wasn’t there to fight for rail nor any sort of grade separated public transporation so they were given the political sop of Rapid Ride to shut them up and give the impression that their transportation problems were solved.

  17. Oh, God, not the BRT garbage again.

    Curitiba BRT cost as much to build as light rail. It took up more space and required a larger right-of-way than light rail.

    It was cheaper to operate because *labor is cheap* in Curitiba, so a bazillion bus drivers was cheaper than a signal system. Labor is not cheap in the US, so in the US a similar system would be more expensive to operate than light rail.

    Finally, Curitiba has declared that their BRT is overloaded and they are building rail.

    Still, we have idiots like Steinbrueck. promoting “bus rapid transit”, which would better be called “Busted Ruined transit”.

    Steinbrueck would screw up the next 20 years of Seattle transit planning, just as Curitiba-worshipper Zev Yaroslavsky helped screw up 20 years of Los Angeles transit planning.

    There’s nothing wrong with “better buses”, like they have in London. Bus lanes, made with paint, or put in with colored asphalt/concrete during a road reconstrution: great! Enforcing the bus lanes: better! Having decent bus stops: Great! Sensible stop spacing: great! None of this is “rapid transit” nor should it pretend to be.

    And none of this justifies spending amounts of money which could buy you a train line, in order to get a bus. Curitiba has already figured out that this was a mistake. Maybe eventually US cities will figure it out too.

    1. For reference, Chicago is actually talking about painting bus lanes on existing roads. This is a good thing. It’s no substitute for Rapid Transit, which means RAIL, of course.

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