A Trip Around the Gadgetbahn Loop

Modern HSR in Japan

Now that it’s been a few hours, I want to add to Andrew’s post this morning.

Hyperloop suffers from many of the same problems that the monorail did when first proposed. The monorail backers also originally claimed that they would save money by being elevated, only buying land for the pylons. As they found out, people won’t just sell you air rights! And ANY landowner stonewalling would impact the project. He doesn’t get eminent domain, and that alone could kill the project, because dozens or hundreds wouldn’t want it on their property. Even with eminent domain, the land alone could be higher than his claimed total cost. Even the concrete pylons could be that much, not even counting the guideway!

Also like the initial monorail plan, there are no safety mechanisms to speak of. It’s not just the spacing that’s less than half of what it would need to be for an emergency stop, but where’s emergency egress? What happens if the system breaks down and the tube, baking in California sun, starts to heat up? How is it ventilated in an emergency, how does it repressurize, and how do people get down if they’re in a random place in the middle of CA? Answering these questions is difficult and largely not attempted. The monorail would have needed a walkway and regular staircases.

Here’s the kicker, though – Andrew pointed out the low capacity, less than a third of HSR. Even start with Musk’s extremely low-balled estimates – once you make him pay for the land he’d need, or you limit the system to headways where an accident wouldn’t kill the passengers in the next two trains, or you consider the real cost of concrete pylons for an earthquake prone area, this would easily become more expensive per passenger than CAHSR.

This is typical gadgetbahn. Like all gadgetbahn, it’s being presented as an alternative to a real project, diluting support for the real project and turning the burden of proof on its head. Like all gadgetbahn, it requires new technology, so it “could work if we would just try it!” And like all gadgetbahn, a set of its supporters, blinded by technolust and frustrated with reality, will clamor for that test track, often while attacking the real project. This is the beginning of what happened here with the monorail. The hyperloop idea will peel off some of CAHSR’s support, putting HSR at more risk when it’s one of the best ways to build a better future that’s accessible to people who can’t afford $100,000 cars. Fortunately, it’s not getting traction.

It’s possible Musk is simply being foolish, but it’s worth pointing out thaf his supercharger network, where he offers free lifetime charging to Tesla owners, is most developed in California along the CAHSR route. If HSR gains a foothold in CA, he stands to lose a lot of customers – not just there, but across the country, if a national HSR network spreads. Just as other car companies did in the past, it makes sense for him to find ways to dilute support for HSR.

Loopy Transportation Ideas

Elon Musk* of PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX fame has finally published details of his Hyperloop (large PDF) idea, a couple of months after Musk described the idea as a “cross between a Concorde and a railgun and an air hockey table”. The idea is somewhere between amazing and ridiculous, which means it may or may not be genius. The basic premise is you build an elevated tube with lower pressure inside and shot pods that levitate on an air cushion for friction-less travel. With this technology, top speeds are supposed to reach 760 mph and shortening travel time between Los Angeles and San Francisco to 35 minutes at supposedly a fraction of the cost of high speed rail: $6 billion for Hyper Loop between the cities v $53 billion for HSR. Robert Cruickshank at California High Speed Rail Blog has cautious optimism.

It seems the media is pretty credulous and not great at judging the technical merits of the proposal. I’m not qualified to do so, either, so I’ve outsourced my analysis to those who may know more. The Washington Posts’s Wonkblog argues the Hyperloop is likely more expensive than Elon Musk has assumed:

What’s more, California’s high-speed rail project has had to grapple with the high costs of acquiring more than 1,100 parcels of land, often from farmers resistant to sell. The Hyperloop would try to minimize this problem by propping the whole system up on pylons, shrinking its footprint, but it can’t escape the land problem entirely. As Alexis Madrigal points out, Musk’s proposal seems to assume it’s possible to buy up tens of thousands of acres in California for a mere $1 billion. That’s awfully optimistic.

Note that the California HSR project has paid out nearly $700 million just in legal challenges.

Pedestrian Observations, a urbanism blog written by a mathematician hassome interesting analysis:

The [Hyperloop] that is as expensive as California HSR and takes as long door-to-door is also very low-capacity. The capsules are inexplicably very short, with 28 passengers per capsule. The proposed headway is 30 seconds, for 3,360 passengers per direction per hour. A freeway lane can do better: about 2,000 vehicles, with an average intercity car occupancy of 2. HSR can do 12,000 passengers per direction per hour: 12 trains per hour is possible, and each train can easily fit 1,000 people (the Tokaido Shinkansen tops at 14 tph and 1,323 passengers per train).

Some people even say the Hyperloop is a ploy to sabotage the California HSR project. Musk has himself said:

“When the California ‘high speed’ rail was approved, I was quite disappointed, as I know many others were too,” Musk wrote in his overview of Hyperloop plans. “How could it be that the home of Silicon Valley and JPL (NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory) — doing incredible things like indexing all the world’s knowledge and putting rovers on Mars — would build a bullet train that is both one of the most expensive per mile and one of the slowest in the world?”

I’m skeptical about the price tag, and a bit worried that it would not be as comfortable as it first appears. But you never know. Musk as innovated in private space travel and electric cars, both areas I would have never guess he would have been successful. Maybe he’s the right person to disrupt intercity travel?

What are your thoughts on the hyperloop?

* Full disclosure: I worked for Musk at PayPal in the early 2000s.

Wednesday: Uptown-Belltown Trolleybus Wire Open House

Uptown-Belltown: Inbound New Routing
Uptown-Belltown: Inbound New Routing

On Wednesday, from 4-6PM, at Urban Oasis Cafe (1st Ave & Broad), the Seattle Department of Transportation is hosting an open house to obtain public feedback on the Uptown-Belltown Electric Transit Improvements. This proposal would do two things:

  • Add trolleybus wire on Denny to put the inbound Queen Anne trolleybuses on the same path as diesel coaches, speeding inbound trips by, on average, two minutes each.
  • Move the Denny & Warren stop a block and a half east, to a location with a better, wider sidewalk, where a higher-quality stop and shelter will be installed.

In addition, not shown on the map above, is that the current eastbound 8 stop at Denny & Broad will be deleted, which will give eastbound Route 8 an improved stop spacing in this area, and a corresponding speed boost.

This improvement complements another which SDOT and Metro have recent made in the vicinity, namely striping an outbound BAT lane and closing a bus stop on Broad Street. SDOT continues to study the possibility of a transit-actuated signal for outbound buses at 3rd & Denny, which would allow buses to avoid the Broad Street jog altogether.

I’ve reported on and cheered for this project from its incipience, making this perhaps the most-written-about three blocks of potential trolleybus wire on earth. Finally, about 15 months after I heard of the project, SDOT has a design ready to be taken to the public, with the improvements scheduled to be in place for the Spring 2014 service change. If you ride trolleybuses in Queen Anne or Belltown, you should show up to the open house to support this project.

News Roundup: The Cure

Seattle Police Gillig bus (zargoman/Flickr)

This is an open thread.

New Bus Bulb Coming to 15th & Leary

Route 40 passing Peddler Brewing
Route 40 passing Peddler Brewing

Recently, I found out that SDOT and Metro are planning to install a bus bulb on the northwest corner of 15th Ave NW & Leary Way (outside Peddler Brewing), to make Routes 40 and 61 function more effectively for riders. I spoke to Bill Bryant, SDOT’s Transit Program Manager to get more details.

Tell me about what SDOT’s planning at 15th & Leary, and why?

SDOT and Metro jointly developed the plan to add a bus bulb at the new westbound bus stop as part of our ongoing efforts to identify and address transit needs. When Route 40 was designed and the stop was planned, SDOT and Metro suspected that it would become a significant transfer point and ridership generator, but wanted to verify that before investing time and money in improvements.

This location is a great example of where a bus bulb can provide multiple benefits. Bus bulbs or islands are most suitable for locations with full-time parking and one or more of the following conditions:

  • General purpose traffic occasionally or regularly delays buses trying to re-enter traffic.
  • Shelter(s) or other upgrades are needed.
  • Ridership is moderate to high.
  • Sidewalk/bus stop area is in poor condition.
  • Sidewalk/bus stop area is crowded.
  • Little prospect exists that there will be a future need for removal of street parking.

More after the jump. Continue reading “New Bus Bulb Coming to 15th & Leary”

Sound Transit Mobile Vending Review

20130722_185459Since May, mobile ORCA vendors have visited farmers markets in Kent and Auburn, with announced visits to senior centers and other venues as well. Jim Hammond, ST customer outreach manager, expounded that ST first thought of reaching out to customers who may not go online ordinarily. Consequently, the ST mobile vending currently targets youth, seniors, and those eligible for reduced rates. On August 5th I tagged along with Sound Transit’s mobile ORCA vending booth at the Mariners game.

“We’re at baby steps here,” Hammond said. “We’ll experiment and learn how to improve protocols.”

He proffered an example: ST could streamline the process of getting an ORCA card, perhaps separating payments and registration, or whatever other options make sense. He emphasized that the mobile vending is in an experimental stage, open for tinkering.

The setup consists of a table spread with ST schedules, promotional materials, general paraphernalia, and the actual station, pictured above. (The artwork is temporary, according to Carol Masnik, ST marketing specialist.) The station’s functional pieces are a laptop, scanner, credit card reader, and Evolis card printer.

You have several options at the station. You can check balance and add value to your card (hence the credit card reader), or obtain a senior, reduced rate, or youth card, per the focus on those least likely to obtain the standard adult ORCA card online. The card reader only produces senior cards (since senior cards are printed with rider name), with the youth cards pre-printed, as they are indistinguishable from adult ORCAs.

Continue reading “Sound Transit Mobile Vending Review”

Lynnwood Extension Draft EIS


King County Alternatives
King County Alternatives

[UPDATE: C segment cost figures corrected Sept. 30th.]

ST will hold open houses on the new draft EIS for the Lynnwood Link extension between August 14th and 22nd in Mountlake Terrace, Northgate, Lynnwood, and Shoreline. The DEIS has six alternatives for King County: three with stations at 130th+155th+185th, two with stations at 130th+145th+185th, and two with stations at 145th+185th, all along I-5. South Snohomish County has four alternatives: three with a single station at Mountlake Terrace TC, and one with a second station at 220th St SW. Lynnwood has three alternatives, each putting the station on a different side of the transit center. (Executive Summary, pp. 8-15) The low estimate for the cheapest combination is $1.23 billion; the high estimate for the most expensive combination is $1.74 billion. (pp. 23-26) So let’s look at it in terms of which alternatives are minimally acceptable, which ones add substantial benefit for passengers arriving by foot or bus, and which ones don’t add enough benefit to justify their costs.

A 130th station is an absolute necessity, to give Lake City meaningful access to Link. Lake City is the largest existing urban village north of Northgate, and one of the most affordable. So imagine a pedestrian at 125th & Lake City Way. For her, a 130th station would be a short bus ride away, and faster than the buses slogging through Northgate traffic. A 145th station would be beyond walking distance, and the indirect bus ride would negate much of Link’s advantage. A 130th station would also facilitate an east-west bus on 125th/130th. If this were a reorganized 75, it would give northwest Seattle, Lake City, and Sand Point easy access to Link and to each other. Currently it takes a whopping 45 minutes to get from Magnuson Park to Aurora Avenue.

The most economical King County alternatives — surprisingly — include 130th station.* That’s a relief to transit fans who were worried they’d have to fight for the station over its cost. Alternative A5 has stations at 130th + 155th + 185th. Alternative A10 has stations at 130th + 145th +185th. The 130th and 185th stations would be at-grade, while 145th/155th would be elevated. The “at-grade” segments would pass under cross streets like the freeway does, mostly in retained cut-fill trenches.** Alternatives A7 and A11 are similar but have fully elevated stations and more overall elevation, at a cost of $90-120 million more. I don’t think elevation is necessary here because there are no intersections to eliminate or spectacular views to see.

As for 145th vs 155th station, I have no strong opinion. 145th has more potential for development because it’s already a highway, so NIMBYs have less standing to object. The main advantage of 155th is it’s closer to the Safeway-Sears cluster at 155th & Aurora, but it’s still not close. It’s a 15-minute walk away, and I don’t see a major increase in pedestrians unless Shoreline turns 155th & Aurora into another Lake City and upzones the connecting street. More after the jump.

Continue reading “Lynnwood Extension Draft EIS”

Bus-Involved Shooting Outside Benaroya Hall

A Metro bus driver has non-life-threatening injuries after a shooting in downtown Seattle. 3rd Avenue is a mess, and will likely be for some time — use Link or avoid downtown if you can (tunnel buses are running on the surface, per Metro). If you’re in the area, let readers know in the comments what’s happening.

UPDATE: SPD Blotter has more details. Expected traffic impacts per SPD:

UPDATE 2: Metro finally tweeted something at noon, link has SPD update with more details:

UPDATE 3 (1:53pm, Martin): Fifth Avenue Seattle has a pretty good roundup of eyewitness accounts.

UPDATE 4: Seattle Times has a full narrative and background on the shooter.

Waterfront Transit Update

When the Viaduct comes down and Alaskan Way is finally rebuilt as an epic, 9-lane boulevard, West Seattle buses will enter and exit downtown on Alaskan Way via Columbia Street.  As Bruce reported at the time, SDOT hadn’t committed to dedicated lanes along the waterfront for buses, leaving open the possibility that buses (including RapidRide) could get stuck in ferry traffic.

Fortunately, the latest documents from Waterfront Seattle seem to indicate (and a follow-up call with Waterfront Seattle confirmed) that Metro will in fact be getting dedicated lanes as far north as Columbia St.

“The proposed Alaskan Way roadway configuration provides an all-day transit priority lane northbound along Alaskan Way to Columbia Street and southbound along Alaskan Way between Columbia Street and Yesler Way,” according to a report posted on the website.

The report also contains a deep analysis of “local transit” along the waterfront, a.k.a. the old Waterfront Streetcar, mothballed several years ago when the development of the SAM Sculpture Park necessitated demolition of the streetcar’s maintenance shed.   The report lays out the pros and cons of re-instating the old George Benson streetcar, or replacing it with either a bus or a “modern” streetcar like the ones that ply South Lake Union (and soon, First Hill).  The dedicated tracks you see in the photo above are already gone, and the tracks in Pioneer Square are substandard and would have to be replaced as well.

While the historic streetcar had a certain kitsch appeal and made sense for moving tourists from Pioneer Square to the Waterfront and back, this corridor seems unlikely to be a significant transit corridor for locals.  However, a modern streetcar could, according to the study, make use of the new Charles Street facility being built for the First Hill Streetcar (with a $3-10 million expansion), while a historic streetcar would necessitate a new barn “located under Elliott Way” and costing “between $16.9 to $23.4 million.”

Special Sounder Service to Puyallup Fair

Puyallup Station – Photo by Sound Transit

Want to get a glimpse of what all-day, weekend Sounder service looks like?  On Saturday, September 14, and again on September 21, Sound Transit will provide special Sounder service to/from the Puyallup Fair. Free shuttles will connect Puyallup Station to the fair.

Two trainsets will provide 7 total round trips:

  • 1 round trip from Everett to Seattle
  • 3 round trips from Seattle to Lakewood
  • 3 round trips from Puyallup to Lakewood

Several aspects of this special service are new and exciting. Service from Everett through to Lakewood will be offered (albeit with a cross-platform transfer at King Street), the span of service will be an impressive 9am-10pm, and trips will be distributed relatively evenly throughout the day, offering many opportunities for bi-directional travel all along the route. This will be the first time, for instance, that Seattle or Snohomish County riders will be able to make a roundtrip to South Tacoma or Lakewood in the same day.

Regular commuter fares will apply from King and Pierce county stations. For Snohomish County riders, special discounts will be offered that roughly equate to a free transfer at King Street ($4.50 from Everett to Puyallup, and $4.25 from Mukilteo/Edmonds to Puyallup). It’s unclear what the fare would be for someone traveling from Snohomish County to points south of Seattle other than Puyallup.

Here is the full schedule:

Sounder to the Puyallup Fair

Metro’s Special Event Coach Assignments

Route 8 at Denny & Stewart.
Route 8 at Denny & Stewart. Photo by Oran.

Summer is the season for big Seattle Center events, and that means serious road congestion in the vicinity, and high demand on transit routes that provide access to the Center. A few Sundays ago, a friend of mine was returning from Pride, and attempted to use Route 8 to go east towards Capitol Hill. On Sundays, the 8 runs every 30 minutes, and on weekends, Metro always seems to assign 40′ standard coaches to the 8, rather than the 60′ articulated coaches seen during the week. Unsurprisingly, the bus was completely swamped, and most people gave up and started walking.

On event days, Metro habitually substitutes 60′ coaches for 40′ coaches on other diesel routes (e.g. 24, 32) which serve Seattle Center, but not the 8. While the substitution of 60′ coaches will not save a route that is totally overwhelmed by a brief spike in demand, it does significantly improve capacity at a cost that is slight compared to alternative options, such as running event shuttles or overload trips. Naturally, I wanted to know why Metro wasn’t operating 60′ coaches on the 8 during Pride weekend, and earlier this week, I got the answer.

More after the jump. Continue reading “Metro’s Special Event Coach Assignments”

News Roundup: The Problem with Banks

Sound Transit

This is an open thread.

July’s King County Regional Transit Meeting

The King County Regional Transit Meeting at Shoreline on July 17 was poorly attended, with most attendees either media or staff. This was a shame, since the proceedings were quite interesting. The primary and possibly most far-reaching announcements directly involved park and ride planning; and a possibility that public input regarding Metro service cuts would essentially not play much of a role.

Park and Ride Planning Coordination

King County transit is pushing to plan park and rides regionally. Multiple agencies, including Metro, and Sound Transit, will conduct a study on access to transit, including park and rides. After the work plan is formulated, a King County executive will transmit it to convene a series of regional conversations.

A worthy question regarding this laudable regional coordination is which group could spearhead such an initiative. There were hints throughout a following conversation that the lead agency could be the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), as they have ties to Sound Transit already, and often handle multi-jurisdictional efforts.

John Resha, principal legislative analyst for King County, spoke to the council regarding park and ride planning changes. He pointed out that the problem of coordinating park and rides is not meant to be solved solely by Metro, but by the Department of Transportation, individual cities, and more. To that end, the work plan will be sent over by the end of 2013, to all the parties listed above, “to ensure a robust look at it”.

Resha stated five items the work plan will reflect, all of which a new ordinance will also cover:

1: The role of park and rides and transit infrastructure.

2: Shifts and changes in transit technology, or basically best practices for options other than additional parking spaces.

3: Options for regional needs reporting and funding access to transit; regional coordination, in brief. (“Right now we don’t plan as a region for things like park and rides,” Resha said.)

4: Model policy language, so all the jurisdictions are equally represented and in Resha’s words “come from the same place”.

5: Any potential updates to the strategic plan and guidelines.

On page 11 of the RTC packet, the new ordinance is reproduced in full. The committee passed the motion to strike the old and bring in the new ordinance, and also revised the title amendment based on the changes.

Continue reading “July’s King County Regional Transit Meeting”

Metro’s New Beta Trip Planner: Try It

Most of us have had to rely on King County Metro’s trip planner at some point, particularly when traveling to parts of the county we don’t know well.  It works, most of the time, but isn’t always fun to use.  Results come in a stark, dated-looking text format that requires a lot of interpretation.  Control over itineraries is limited, and transfers are only skeletally explained — you are mostly on your own figuring out how to get from one leg to the next.  As Google and other transit agencies have steadily improved trip planning tools, Metro’s planner has been showing its age.  Experienced transit riders will often recommend using Sound Transit’s trip planner or Google Maps transit directions instead..

Metro has been working on this problem for some time, and now we can see the fruits of the agency’s labor.   A beta version of an all-new trip planner is live.  The new planner includes live maps based on the Google Maps engine; much more detailed directions; and lots of reference material.  More screenshots and details follow below the jump, but the verdict is: Metro’s back in business. The new planner could use some refinement (as expected for a beta product), but it is once again competitive with the alternatives, and even occasional transit users shouldn’t hesitate to try it out now.  It also includes goodies not strictly related to trip planning which may be even better than the trip planner itself; as we will see, it may be a more useful reference tool than the normal Metro site.

Default View
The default view in the new trip planner

Continue reading “Metro’s New Beta Trip Planner: Try It”

SDOT Moving Forward on 23rd Ave Bus Improvements


Proposed 23rd Ave Cross Section
Proposed 23rd Ave Cross Section

On June 29th, at Garfield Community Center, SDOT presented their revised plan for 23rd Avenue, from John to Rainier. The project scope originally ended at Jackson but will now run to Rainier, taking into account the coming Link station at I-90.

Responding to community comments from the previous presentation in March, SDOT’s revised plan features transit- and pedestrian-friendly features:

  • A 3-lane alignment for the majority of the corridor, from Madison south to Rainier. Wider sidewalks, a completely reconstructed street (similar to what was done in the U District to the Ave, i.e. down to the dirt). 4-lane intersection profile at 23rd & Madison and potentially at 23rd & Jackson as well. The 4-lane profile is necessary due to traffic and turning volumes at Madison (and potentially at Jackson). This, combined with very narrow widths on portions of 23rd, preclude a cycletrack on the corridor.
  • $2 million for pole installation for future full corridor electrification of the #48 from the U District to Mt. Baker Station. SDOT is designing the electrification project. Metro and SDOT have been collaborating on funding for construction. Long-time followers of 23rd know that the two missing segments on 23rd are between John and Jefferson, and Dearborn and Hill.
  • SDOT and Metro will implement traffic signal priority for the #48. Stops will continue to be in-lane.

Read more about the project, including where to send comments, on SDOT’s project page for 23rd.

John Stewart is a transit advocate and Central District resident.

2013 Primary Election Night Open Thread

You’re bound to have some thoughts on the preliminary election results, so we’ve created an open thread for your commenting leisure. The results from the first drop will be posted to King County Elections’ website at 8:15pm tonight, and we’ll update this thread with the results when it happens. Keep in mind, however, that there are many more ballots left to count, so the closest races likely won’t see clear top-two winners for several more days.

UPDATE 8:22pm- The first drop is in! (only results for endorsed races included):

Seattle Mayor

  • Ed Murray: 30.24%/28,248 votes
  • Mike McGinn: 27.15%/25,364 votes
  • Peter Steinbrueck: 16.26%/15,189 votes
  • Bruce Harrell: 15.48%/14,458 votes

Other races below the jump.

Continue reading “2013 Primary Election Night Open Thread”

Link Excuse of the Week: Dark Lodge in Columbia City

PosterTuesday August 13th at 9:15 pm Ark Lodge Cinemas in Columbia City will have a late night showing of the 1979 Transportation and Urban Street Life documentary The Warriors.  Tickets will be $10.

The Ark Lodge is easy to get to.  From Columbia City Station walk east to Rainier.  The theater is there between Edmunds and Angeline (in the old Columbia City Cinema space).

I fly out of town early on the 14th so won’t be able to make it, but I suggest showing up early and eating/hanging out at Rookies a block south and around the corner on Ferdinand.  Save your reciept for a free popcorn at the theater.

See past Link Excuses of the Week here.  To stay informed of future Dark Lodge showings like their Facebook page.