All Door Boarding Please

All-Door Boarding Please

  • Google unveils its own driverless car prototype. More importantly, what does this move say about the path, business model and eventual role of a driverless car future?
  • Is it worse that I ignored a PR email we got about this “solar roadway” business as a late April fools joke, or that they raised $1.5 million in crowdsource funding?
  • Seattle is the fastest growing big city in the US. Remember this is a good thing. For the first time in 100 years Seattle is growing faster than the suburbs.
  • Amazon is the poster child of the tech sector’s return to the city.
  • Joel Connelly argues for more diversity on the Seattle City Council in the name of pragmatism. We’ll see what district elections do on that front.
  • Portland food-cart pods on private parking lots are getting displaced($) due to new development on those parking lots. Meanwhile Seattle’s food-cart scene is in my opinion still struggling. I honestly wonder why?
  • The Downtown Seattle Association’s Jon Scholes argues against development fees and an employer head tax to save Metro service.
  • Kevin Desmond, King County Metro’s general manager, thinks any long-term funding solution for Metro needs to be regional.
  • A new report, Older, Smaller, Betterput some numbers behind the ideas espoused by Jane Jacobs, which I believe are generally well accepted. My question is do the finding of this report provide transferable lessons to areas without the historic building stock, and if so how?
  • Eight finalist developers identified for the Capitol Hill light rail station TOD project.
  • King Street Station has room for several office and retail tenants.
  • Seattle Department of Transportation is adding 5 speed-enforcement cameras near schools.
  • Man faces more than 16 years in jail after stealing 4.3 miles of copper wire, the largest in state history,  from Sound Transit Link’s light rail system. Here’s our original report.
  • Massimo Vignelli, a seminal figure in minimal graphic design including the MTA’s 1972 subway map, dies at the age of 83.

This is an open thread.

97 Replies to “News Roundup: Future, Here We Come”

  1. Food carts displaced! What will they ever do to survive? Oh right, just roll over to another empty parking lot…

  2. RE: Food trucks

    Stupid Seattle rules aside, it doesn’t help when the typical food truck is charging $6 for a grilled cheese, $9 for a burger or $11 for a sandwich. Especially downtown. Gourmet might have been the wrong direction to focus on. At least SD and PDX have good + cheap food truck options.

      1. I had always heard that Portland had some regulation that somehow benefits them to provide $5 meals. I hadn’t heard the exact mechanism (reduced taxes? free rent?). Of course, I just searched for it and can’t find anything.

        Assuming that information is wrong and not knowing anything about the details, I’d guess it must be a barrier to entry. Either our regulations are too burdensome (requiring expensive consultants or capital to get started), or the cost difference between a truck and a stand or cart. If a license was easy to get, regulations were low (i.e. performance* based instead of prescriptive) and all you needed was little more than a card table and some food, I’d guess the market would be flooded and prices would be amazingly cheap.

        * this is critical. all of those stories you heard in the ’80s about $200 government hammers came from prescriptive requirements. set a standard that tests the end results, not one that specifies every step you have to take to get there.

      2. Prices are based on demand/willingness-to-pay by the consumer, not necessarily costs. The problem is that enough people are willing to pay $10 for the food truck “experience”…

    1. This right here.

      When you have the choice of a sit down restaurant or a food truck (at the same cost), the food trucks will win solely due to convenience, which is creating an artificial demand for the high end trucks.

      While they do exist in Seattle, I’d like to see more of Portland’s cheaper, grittier trucks up here. A few low cost Thai, Vietnamese or deep fried goodness trucks would really shake up the food truck circuit.

      But yeah, first the stupid rules need to be expunged.

    2. Some reasons for those $9 burgers and $11 sandwiches:
      *a new food truck can cost upwards of $100,000 to buy and stock–there are plenty of brick and mortar restaurants for sale on Craiglist for less than that amount;
      *in addition to the cost of the truck, it’s necessary to rent and maintain a Health Department approved commissary space to clean utensils, stock inventory and prepare supplies;
      *I doubt that most food trucks get better than 10mpg, so the trip to and from the commissary with stops to pick up supplies can be very expensive;
      *food trucks have a very short window to sell their products–basically lunch time on weekdays–with a brick and mortar business it’s possible to sell 7 days a week/3 meals a day;
      *Portland’s food trucks are mostly concentrated in one location with tables close by, Seattle’s are spread out around downtown with no adjacent seating areas. I think the Portland concept works better than Seattle’s because people can just go to the cart area and make an impulse choice based on what smells good, what cart has the shortest line, what others people in the group are wanting. In Seattle, you can’t make the impulsive, last second decision about what you want.

      1. San Diego has tons of mobile food trucks that made far longer journeys yet were much cheaper. Everyone has to play by the same health rules, so that’s a wash. To counter the cost claims, Forbes has an article that claiming the truck is cheaper to open than a brick & mortar store:

        Maybe if they weren’t selling lamb burgers with gyre cheese and a cilantro aioli. Or some really specific Jewish food (two potato pancakes with meat in the middle for $10!? That pissed me off). Or strangely fancy BBQ. Or grilled cheese with 7 different kinds of expensive cheese on expensive bread. Or poutine with all over-the-top ingredients. Oh, and all of this is organic, free-range, and/or locally produced.

      2. There are a couple of food trucks available on Craigslist Seattle right now: $99,500 and $89,500. You would be able to find some low-end restaurant spaces available for less than that.

      3. Portland’s food trucks are mostly concentrated in one location with tables close by, Seattle’s are spread out around downtown with no adjacent seating areas

        Portland’s food trucks that drive around are expensive too. The cheap ones I know of are semi-permanent fixtures in cart pods and are really more like a permanent outdoor market. Take a look at “a la Carts” on SE 50th just south of Division for a typical example.

      4. They’re chasing affluent buyers because it’s a higher profit margin, and there are enough affluent buyers that they can get away from it.

        Also, food in general is more expensive in the northwest because it’s the furthest from California and the Midwest where most of it comes from.

      5. Some of it may be distance to growing areas. The farm fields along the Puyallup River are largely industrial now, with a very few hanging on still and probably not going to last much longer. Farming areas around Olympia that I know of appear to be either fallow or being used by a few horse hobbyists. Sprawl has overtaken much of the rest.

        In the Willamette and Tualatin river valleys there is still a fair amount of edible food crop cultivation (true, much has been turned over to grass seed growing for golf courses and so on, and the occasional shopping mall). We aren’t all that far from the Hood River Valley, or Yakima either.

        However, some of it also has to do with sheer demand. There are a few restaurants in Portland that are popular enough that there is a line on weekend evenings or a special event. The half hour line at 9 am on a Sunday morning at Portage Bay Café in South Lake Union? That would be unheard of here at any establishment at that time of day on Sunday, with the possible exception of Voodoo Doughnuts (and they have created a first order tourist trap by becoming infamous). The every table is occupied environment at Le Toulouse Petit in south Queen Anne at similar times? Pretty much unthinkable here. Alexa’s Garden Café on the north side of Ballard is in the middle of freaking nowhere (OK, was: they changed the way things were being done in the Ballard location and have changed names) and you needed to wait in line 20 minutes on a Sunday morning, or make a reservation? Nobody in Portland would have that type of customer level if they were in a similar location in the Portland area.

        With that level of demand for restaurant food, an establishment can charge a lot more and still survive.

    3. Many of you complain regressive taxes hurt the poor. If you care about the poor so much, why don’t you patronize restaurants that pay property taxes instead of food trucks that don’t?

      1. A food truck would likely be considered commercial property and be taxed as such.

      2. Sam, Washington state has a personal property tax and food truck owners pay a percentage of their value each year to the state.

      3. In addition to property taxes, the food trucks will pay commercial rates to license their vehicles, they will have to pay health permit fees for both the truck and commissary. Food trucks also have to have an agreement with a nearby business that allows the food truck workers access to a restroom.

      4. Look at the food trucks this way, Sam: Marketing for every “brick and mortar” restaurant in every category of cuisine.

        Nature’s own survival mechanism: the sense of smell is so critical that olifactory receptors are among chief nerve cells that will regrow after an injury.

        I challenge anybody to be able to walk past the smell of curry or grilled meat, for instance, and not have the information etched into the subliminal part of their brains that controls drooling kick in at the sight of corresponding restaurant sign.

        In these latitudes- well, note that in every Indian movie, a happy ending is always greeted with the whole town dancing in the rain and singing.

        When either, due to climate change, Seattle develops the climate of Kerala State, or due to psilocybin in the reservoir, Ballard reacts same way to as a Tamil movie cast to weather…indoor restaurants will have cause to worry.


    4. Agree 100%. Why would I pay sit down prices for a food truck item? It boggles my mind when I see it every day at lunch downtown. Food trucks are appealing for inexpensive food on the go, not “gourmet” overpriced food.

    5. Portland included. I have no interest in standing in the wind and rain eating my food when I can go to a restaurant with full service for the same price and usually better quality. The other part of me says that if their costs are lower than they need to pass at least some of that on.

      I can go to a taco truck and eat for $5. If I go to any truck run by a white person (or asian) the price is $10 for the same amount of food.

  3. Joel seems to be arguing that having Kshama Sawant on the city council has reduced its diversity. Maybe what he is arguing is that we need more Cathy Allen recruits on the council — people of high integrity like Jim Comption. Don’t do it, Joel. Don’t sell your soul.

    I think Joel is an okay sports writer. If he wants a political career, that’s where he should hide out.

  4. For ST3, do we vote on how to raise the funds, or are the voters told which line they are voting for. E.g., will voters know they are voting for option A,B, D or a Ballard-UW spur? (I was living in the DC area when ST2 was passed.)

    1. The way it worked for ST2 was that the ST board decided on the funding package and a set of projects it thought could be done with that level of funding. Subsequently, there weren’t enough sales tax receipts to support all the projects on the original timeline. To fix that they slowed down some projects and deferred the South Link extension to Federal Way. They did get some unexpected help from federal grants that allowed them to advance some projects.

      ST2 went to the ballot two times, first in 2007 as the roads and transit measure. That failed and in 2008 it was back on the ballot in a transit-only measure. I’m not sure if the set of projects changed between the two.

    2. ST1 was also like that. Look at it this way. The reason there was a vote is that enough people think it’s necessary to put transit taxes to a vote. (Unlike road taxes, but that’s another story.) The reason the ballot measure listed specific lines is that enough people think it’s necessary to know what lines they’ll get. Now that ST has established a precedent of listing lines in its ballot measures, it’s unlikely to stop doing so even if allowed, because the public has come to expect the list.

      But on the other hand, the list is not as specific as it could be. The Seattle monorail measures listed specific streets and stations that it must have. That was seen as a mistake because it limited the agency’s ability to choose the best alignment and stations after further engineering results were, and after more extensive discussions with the neighborhoods and cities. So ST has avoided that. That’s why with north Link, we knew it would have stations somewhere in Capitol Hill, the U-District, Northgate, and Lynnwood, but the exact stations and alignment were subject to further study. And with East Link, we knew it would have stations in Mercer Island and downtown Bellevue, but the exact alignment and stations were decided later.

      Metro does not list specific routes in its ballot measures because its costs are an order of magnitude lower, and it has hundreds of routes, and flexibility is more critical for bus routes. Only certain projects like RapidRide’s five lines have ever been specifically listed. Instead it asks for “service hours (for a subarea or underserved corridors)”, or “trolley replacement funds”, or something like that.

      1. IMHO if it were possible to not list specific routes or to at least generalize it as much as possible, it would be best. Otherwise we run the risk as the system expands to have areas that already have rail to think “well, I don’t need a Lake City/West Seattle/Issaquah/whatever line, I already have my (Ballard/U District/Bellevue/wherever) line. Not gonna get my vote!”

        Yes, there will be many who see the usefulness of having different areas open up to them via an expanded rail network, but there will be quite a few who are of the IGMFU (I Got Mine, F….) variety. If you don’t believe that, you’ve never heard someone argue against school levies by stating that they don’t have kids or that their kids are grown.

        This is one of the huge reasons that voting on a common good such as infrastructure is asinine. People in Bellevue may vote for an eastside line but find a line to West Seattle or Lake City useless, and vice-versa. (Frankly, the same goes for roads–put 405 expansion or the cross-base freeway up for a vote in Seattle and see how well it polls.)

      2. They don’t vote line by line. They vote for a group of projects in all subareas. Subarea equity requires a common tax rate across all subareas, and the revenue on one subarea benefitting that subarea. So all subareas get their highest-priority projects.

        Seattle could actually take that “I’ve got mine” attitude because ST2 Link will go all the way through the city. If we’re willing to write off the west half of the city (“Sorry, not as much ridership as the east half, take a bus to Link”), we could just stop now. But ultimately I think Seattle would be better off with more lines, and if Everett and Tacoma are willing to pay for extensions, let them. South King, Pierce, and Snohomish don’t think they have “theirs” yet. East King it’s more debatable, how much the subarea overall wants a Kirkland line or Issaquah line. Kirkland and Issaquah want them, but does everyone else?

      3. All true, Mike–but the risk being run since all subareas vote at once for the entire package being presented is that the majority of voters in non-Seattle subareas (and even within Seattle) will decide that a) they no longer see a need for additional transit funding because the system (line, route, combination thereof, whatever) that serves their own need already exists, or b) they see no need for additional transit funding because the package being presented does not appear useful to them.

        Voters in “b” will always be with us and the task there is to minimize their numbers. Voters in “a” are the risk I speak of. In combination with the “b” voters they could provide the critical mass that would doom further transit packages. If the funding mechanism provided for separation of results for the various subareas–i.e. even if ST3 failed regionally, if North King voted yes, the revenue collection would go into effect in North King for projects in North King–it might be okay. That’s not what we have, though, and I fear that the “hell no!” voters combined with the “don’t need any more, I have service” voters may lead to failure of additional transit levies.

  5. Passengers hated that Italian dude’s subway maps. People were confused by them. The only positive thing that was said about them was by design freaks who thought the maps were pretty and sleek. NYC got rid of them after a few years.

  6. The proposed King County ordinance package regarding the Metro service cuts reveals some interesting financial information about Metro’s operations. The direct cost to operate the different buses is listed:

    Small Bus $94.89
    40’Diesel/Hybrid $97.20
    60’Diesel/Hybrid $112.07
    60’Hybrid BRT $102.20
    40’Trolley $90.08
    60’Trolley $100.04
    DART $94.64
    The largest component of the cost is labor, comprising 70% of the direct cost. What’s obvious from the list is that it doesn’t save much money by downsizing the type of coach used. Replacing a 40′ Diesel with a DART van only saves $2.56/hour.

    Another interesting stat–in 2014, the average fare paid is $1.14. In 2015, Metro expects that the average fare paid will be $1.22. I assume that means that Metro is collecting $1.14 in farebox revenue for every ride, which means that a lot people are currently making transfers or getting good usage from their ORCA cards.

    1. Or that UW, Microsoft et al who offer employees free passes are getting exceptionally good deals, or that the ORCA distribution model is flawed, or that many passengers are able to take advantage of concessionary fares [child, disabled, senior], or that there’s a tremendous amount of fare evasion.

      Most likely all of the above. Another possibility is that either the numerator or the denominator isn’t quite what we think it is, or that one or both is just flat out wrong [although it’s hard to imagine that Metro doesn’t know how much Money it actuallly collected to fairly high precision].

      1. The UW doesn’t offer free passes. It offers greatly discounted passes, but then the UW pays for a ton of Metro’s funding.

        Microsoft offers free passes but then they run their own–efficient–bus service as well.

      2. Which is great if you’re an FTE, a 9-5 worker, and have a boss or the seniority to work “Connector hours”. In my building, it’s fairly easy to tell who the Senior and Principal folks are. They commonly have papers on their door or their Lync message that says “Here are my hours for the most recent Connector schedule revision: arrive at office @ 9:30am from 8:43am Connector, depart from office @ 4:45pm to catch 5:15pm Connector.”

        On the other hand, the free-to-the-user ORCA card is very nice and far more useful for people who will actually _use_ transit. Plus, every badge holder gets one, not just Blues.

      3. @lakecityrider, I don’t know what team you work on but that doesn’t sound like any team I know at Microsoft. I don’t know anyone who posts a schedule on their door. We just come to work, do our jobs and go home. A bunch of very junior people on my team ride the Connector.

        I spent a year as a contractor and yes, it sucks in many ways. Lots of people don’t even acknowledge you as a person. But there’s a solution: interview and get hired.

      4. But there’s a solution: interview and get hired.

        Just like the solution to being poor is to just get a better-paying job, right? And the solution to being homeless is to just save up money and rent an apartment.

      5. I don’t see how having Connectors ‘helps’ the existing bus system. I can see how it’s good for reducing road congestion, but if anything, it allows people to retreat into the walk + Uber lifestyle of not sharing spaces with people possibly different from them, e.g. taking public buses.

      6. @z7, not only does the Connector reduce road congestion, but it helps enable a car-free or car-lite lifestyle. Even the suburban routes have some benefit, if they enable a family to downsize to one car from two. I would say that’s the principle benefit of public transit, and Connectors do help with it.

    2. One thing often not talked about when discussing labor component of operational costs are that it is much more than the cost of the driver, it’s all the support staff behind the driver including supervisors,dispatchers, maintenance, tow operators, security, and of course executives. I’d like to see the focus shift away from drivers when labor costs are talked about.

      1. True, but at ~$30 and hour plus benefits, it’s difficult to imagine that drivers account for meaningfully less than $50 per hour. Furthermore, these are only supposed to be the direct operational costs, so they almost certainly don’t include executive pay, and quite possibly don’t include security either.

    3. To get a better idea of the costs, it is best to go to the Federal Transit Administration database. Their costs list have both lines for cost per hour and cost per mile. From those numbers, for example, the cost per hour of the trolley coaches is less than the diesel buses, but the cost per passenger mile is higher. This implies to me that the trolley coaches accumulate a lot of their supposed extra cost due to sitting in traffic for longer periods, as they are mostly on crowded city routes where the diesel buses are a much broader mix.

      1. You’ve just identified the reason why cost-per-mile metrics (or ridership per mile, or much of anything per mile other than travel time) aren’t very useful and shouldn’t be taken seriously. They penalize the core service of the network and reward commuter service to sprawl.

    4. I wonder what the comparitive cost would look like if everyone (including Metro) had to pay for dumping their exhaust into the atmosphere. Would it make any difference?

      Why are the Hybrid BRT buses about 10% less expensive to run than the Hybrid/Disel 60 footers? Is it just that they are newer? Or is something else going on?

      1. It would make a lot of difference. It would make light rail and streetcars more cost-effective, and most of the remaining routes would become trolleybuses. The ones left would be odd or little-used routes like the 27, or those with forced freeway segments or going far into the suburbs like the 150.

      2. Sorry Mike, I was asking a more specific question: I was mostly interested in the compartive costs of Metro’s current fleet.

      3. I think the difference is 1) age and 2) mechanicals. More than half of Metro’s non-BRT artic hybrids are 2003-2004 models, which had the first generation of Allison’s hybrid system incorporating a Caterpillar C9 engine that is widely known as a fuel-inefficient dog. The second batch from 2007-2008 replaced that C9 with a more efficient Cummins ISL, but otherwise kept the same hybrid system. The last batch of hybrids built in 2012 (including both the BRT models and the non-BRT “6900” coaches) have an updated hybrid system which is stingier on fuel. In addition to those mechanical differences, maintenance is substantially cheaper on new coaches.

      4. Glenn, the way the subsides work now if you install solar you get to use the power and get paid for it. One of the engineers at work went all out and spent 100k on a system. The way it works the payments to him balance out the financing cost of the system. It’s a stupid waste of government money but a super geek neat-o system. Buying solar, in any form is the most expensive “renewable” option for PSE. My neighbor runs a solar energy business. When I was looking at solar panels he told me flat out they don’t make sense. His big ticket item is solar water heating for swimming pools. That totally makes sense and almost pencils out even if there were no subsidies. Well… actually it would more than pencil out if we didn’t heavily subsidize the oil and gas industry :-(

  7. DOE supports hydrogen cars with $7 million for longer driving ranges

    California continues to be a veritable Ground Zero for US hydrogen fuel-cell vehicle advancement. Earlier this month, the first group of Hyundai Tucson Fuel Cell vehicles were shipped into the Port of Los Angeles.

    And this spring, Cal State Los Angeles received a new hydrogen refueling station. Only one of the country’s 11 publicly accessible hydrogen refueling stations is outside of California. And the California Energy Commission recently awarded a $27.6-million grant to FirstElement Fuel Inc. to build a network of 19 hydrogen stations throughout the state.

    1. So, what is the most common method used to make hydrogen for commercial use?

      1. Depends. Certain natural gas deposits are also heavy in hydrogen. Synthesizing oil products from methane makes a certain amount of it.

        However, I would expect that electrolysis would be pretty extensively used. Put two electrodes in water and at a high enough voltage hydrogen forms on the + electrode.

        During the Arab oil embargo the Department of Energy published a how-to brochure on how to build a hydrogen powered vehicle in your garage, complete with home water electrolysis system. Our library in Oregon City used to have a copy. There has to be someone in Seattle that still has a copy around somewhere.

      2. My understanding is that the majority of commercially produced hydrogen is produced by steam refoming of natural gas or methane. That is to say using a process that consumes fossil fuels and water, and produces carbon dioxide as a waste product.

      3. William gets the gold star. The process that is being planned for mass production of hydrogen cars will in fact use Natural Gas primarily because there is already a massive infrastructure to deliver it near demand centers. The hydrogen would be generated at fill up stations on demand using commercial natural gas. And it requires another energy source to convert it. I’ve read that electrolysis is not particularly efficient for producing large quantities of H.

        And yes, I’ve read the Hydrogen Economy and while it is a fascinating book, I feel his conclusions are a bit “dated”.

        My conclusions:

        Hydrogen is a dangerous fuel requiring very exacting safety protocols to maintain safety. It behaves differently than the fuels we’re used.

        Hydrogen in large quantities will require a fossil fuel to convert.

        Hydrogen from a solar source could be interesting. It would have to be measured against the efficiency penalty for converting back and forth.

        I think the way forward is ubiquitous solar and wind power combined with storage solutions. We have the opportunity to turn almost any exterior surface into a solar array. We have hundreds of thousands of miles of roads, parking lots, irrigation canals, that are potential places where photovoltaics can be place on or over.

        I just returned from Palm Springs where I observed hundreds and hundreds of wind power (actually about 3200) turbines generating over 600MW of power. This is enough to power something like 1.9 million homes. There is space in the entire Coachella Valley for thousands and thousands more wind turbines.

      4. If they could convince the city it is a good idea, the ferry terminal and the stadiums could each have dozens of the smaller, less obtrusive wind turbines put on top of them. I’m thinking of the type they put on top of the Twelve West building in downtown Portland.
        (from the web page

        The Port of Seattle could have quite a few of them as well, on top of each of the big lamp posts. These don’t require the huge foundations of the massive structures seen in eastern Oregon and Washington.

        Downtown Seattle definitely has some significant wind energy potential. It isn’t necessarily felt that well at ground level all the time but add a little elevation such as the top rows of either stadium and the wind energy isn’t too bad at all.

      5. Photovoltaic systens are great for a satellite. They’re OK for charging battery back-up for things like cell towers. Other than those sort of applications it’s a loser. The cost, relatively short life span and environmental costs of manufacture and disposal make it a no go. Wind can do maybe 10-20% but it has environmental negatives too. Bird populations take a hit. They are a major blight where ever they’re located, etc. Storage of energy from sources like wind is an interesting problem. Best use I’ve seen so far is either pumped hydro or what the Germans are doing with hydrogen by supplementing the natural gas infrastructure. Hydrogen in small quantities does a great job of burning right along side the methane. There’s no reason to burn pure hydrogen and using it for fuel cells just flies in the face of physics. You’d have to have an over supply of fuel for all grid generation plants before anyone with half a brain would consider it for mobile use.

      6. I just read this post at the Hydrogen Education Foundation:

        Did you know that when making hydrogen from natural gas, the well-to-wheels GHGs are at least 55% less compared to gasoline through a combustion engine, and about 40% less than that of gasoline through a hybrid engine? Of course, making hydrogen from renewable energy is even better.

        Get more facts at:

      7. “Photovoltaic systens are great for a satellite”

        Photovoltaic systems are great for my house. My electric bill last month was $0. The system is a year old, built to last 20-30 more, and will have paid for itself six years from now.

        Ignore all the bafflegab; just put panels on your roof, the sooner the better. They’re cheap, getting cheaper, and totally do the job, even here in cloudy Seattle.

      8. Looked hard at solar panels for the house. Even with the government subsides to purchase and then rebate money for every kW produced it’s pay back period was about 7 years. And that was a near ideal site with steep roof and clear southern exposure. The panels may last 20+ years but the rest of the electronics won’t and inverters are expensive. Then you get the joy of getting up on the roof and cleaning the pollen off. A much much less expensive and more efficient system is to use passive solar for space heating and hot water. If solar panels were so great they’d be ubiquitous without the need for any government subsides. It’s not like any of it is new technology. Slightly improved yes but it’s not significantly different than it was 20 years ago.

      9. Looked hard at solar panels for the house. Even with the government subsides to purchase and then rebate money for every kW produced it’s pay back period was about 7 years. And that was a near ideal site with steep roof and clear southern exposure. The panels may last 20+ years but the rest of the electronics won’t and inverters are expensive.

        Solar is actually a really good generation method, and the power output is at its highest when the demand it at its highest, so the fact that it goes away at night really isn’t an issue. Solar has really worked well in Germany to supplement the larger power plants on the grid.

        The problem that we have in this country is that the typical policies for promoting solar basically put the costs of ownership on a homeowner, while providing the utility cheaper power than they would need to pay on the open market during the peak demand period.

        Among other changes, one of the most important things we need to do to change this is to make it so that power companies have to pay a homeowner the instantaneous rate at the time their solar panels are generating. If the power company would have had to pay $0.20 per kwh to replace that solar energy with power on the open electricity market during the peak demand period during the day, then that is the rate they should pay the solar panel owner. Instead, most power companies pay a pittance bulk rate. My understanding is that one of the reasons solar panels have become so popular in Germany is that the law requires that power companies pay the open market rate, and during the day (when the panels are generating power) that can be as high as several times the standard residential rate. If that were to happen here, the economics become much different for solar power.

        Since Seattle City Light is, after all, part of the city government, it could institute this policy on its own. At the very least, this would keep the money it must pay on the open electricity market anyway in the Seattle area.

  8. 1. Kevin, A strong Central Puget Sound Region needs a strong City of Seattle- both economically and for the example.

    2. Re: Jane Jacobs: The job now is to build new buildings that will still be cherished after a century. And the economy that made these neighborhoods produce wealth, not decorate it. First step is mentality that designs for forever- not next quarter.

    3. Joel, and anybody else who thinks modern liberalism in Seattle or anywhere else in America is even liberal, let alone left-wing: you’re an an idiot. Or know no history- same result.

    “I would make it impossible for the covetous and avaricious to utterly impoverish the poor. The rich can take care of themselves.”

    ST 594 to Tacoma, IT 600-series to Olympia, Sylvester Park stop. Dare any Seattle politician to quote the plaque on Governor John Rankin Rogers’ statue for a platform plank.
    And Rogers lived long before the Industrial Workers of the World got going.

    Because the rest of Joel’s point is dead spot on about the Seattle City Council and the politics called now called liberal in general: few if any ever made their living running a machine.

    And only partly because a whole series of policies enacted these last forty years- with few liberals objecting- saw to it that the average American doesn’t have any machines to run.

    A fifteen dollar an hour minimum wage isn’t liberal. A labor union movement with the muscle to negotiate thirty with pensions and benefits like Management-that’s liberal. Left-wing starts with an entire corporate world made up of cooperatives managed by their own workers.

    Somebody on the Seattle City Council that doesn’t turn pale green over paragraph above? THAT’s Diversity.

    Mark Dublin

  9. I want to see how well everyone knows their transit system. When you’re at this bus stop north of downtown, across the street, from left to right, you’ll see an pizza place, a smoke shop, a boutique, an Indian restaurant, a Greek restaurant, a cafe, and a former video rental store. What bus stop are you at?

    1. That stop is for Rapid Ride D, next to the intersection of Queen Anne Ave. and Mercer in Lower Queen Anne. Used to live there…

    2. Arrrrgh! I feel so old now. Pagliacci’s has been there for like ages, and the Mecca’s been there forever-forever. But I think that the smoke shop used to be Underdog(?) Records, and another, very good record store before that. The Indian restaurant was… a World Wraps, I think. Blockbuster is now a new pet supply store. Turning around, Sorry Charlie’s is now a sports bar. Times change, but Kidd Valley still sorta looks like it’s trapped in the ’80s.

      Personally, I think that bus stop is one of the most functional transfer spots around (yay! 32). And it suits the character of that part of the neighborhood. It almost seems like 6 blocks of the Ave crunched together.

      I still miss Vince’s, though.

      1. Ahem, the Pagliacci’s on Queen Anne is a newcomer. In the early 80s Pagliacci’s was a U-District restaurant. I don’t remember if it was on Broadway then. But the Uptown one opened in the 90s. Then the past ten years it’s been agressively expanding to all sorts of unlikely places, like Rudy’s barbership.

      2. @Matt the Engineer
        Is it just me or do we already have enough drug stores?

      3. There’s one across the intersection. It seems like there’s some sort of drug store war going on right now. And as large chains it’s not even good for competition – it’s not like selection or price is different between drug stores. At least the coffee shop wars brought slightly different flavored coffee across the street from each other.

  10. I was reading over the information about the new day pass. It says that if you buy a day pass, it becomes active the next time you tap the card.

    Have any of you attempted to use the day pass? If so, how long does it take from the time you purchase the day pass on the web site for it to become active on the card? Is it the 24-48 hours you need for regular cash transactions?

    1. Unfortunately, the pricing is set up so that you have to do a rather excessive amount of travel for the day pass to end up cheaper than just using cash or E-purse.

      1. I agree completely.

        However, even if I wanted to use the day pass, it looks like it would be very cumbersome to do so. If it takes 24-48 hours to process as do other web transactions, then I would want to buy one when I am still here in Portland. However, I wouldn’t want it to become active on the first tap up there, as that would activate it for a day that would only be a partial day.

        So, it looks like the only way to really use it without having that happen would be to have it loaded by TVM on the day of use, which means I would either have to pay cash to get to a place that has a TVM, or be very selective about where to spend the night (which I can’t be because I get free housing at a friends place when I visit up there) so I could be near a TVM before starting my trip.

        If I could do the web transaction the night before then it wouldn’t be a problem though.

      2. Mostly agreed, although it’s not quite true that it’s difficult to find situations . I live less than 10 miles from downtown Seattle in King County, but once the September cuts go into effect, the peak one way cash fare from my house to downtown Seattle will be $5.00. So the cash fare for my current daily commute will be $10.00. Of course, in practice, I just use a monthly pass on my Orca (that I pay for with pre tax money)

      3. Way back when, Metro sold a 3-day visitors pass that had a calendar on it. You scratched off the three consecutive days you wanted to use it (like a scratch ticket) so these could easily be bought ahead of time. Toronto still sells a similar day pass with the scratch ticket material on it.

        I’m not a programmer but it seems like it would be easy to be able to allow you to pick the date you wanted your day pass to be active when you bought/loaded it at the TVM or online. No more than say 15-30 days in advance just so they don’t have to store that info for long periods of time.

      4. @William: That can only possibly be true with cash, not e-purse, and if you’re going to get a day pass on ORCA you can use e-purse just as easily.

        Meanwhile there are German cities that collect fares faster than we do here without any electronic fare media.

      5. @Al of course it’s true only with cash, but the asdf’s claim was that “you have to do a rather excessive amount of travel for the day pass to end up cheaper than just using cash or E-purse.” [empahasis mine] Which is needless hyperbole.

    1. They have stuff like that all over Puget Sound already. You can see them from a few of the ferries if you know what you are looking for. The more wealthy residents along the water use those to get to their docks from houses high on the hills.

      The company that makes them (I think they are in Bellingham?) should go into the transit market. It would be a lot better than that mess they have made of trying to create their own in New York.

  11. > For the first time in 100 years Seattle is growing faster than the suburbs.

    This is a fun soundbite, but I suspect it’s highly misleading for the period before WW2. First, remember that growth north of 85th street would have been non Seattle growth. Second, was the growth elsewhere in King county meanigfully suburban, or just non-Seattle urban?

    1. I have no idea how the data was compiled and if it takes these changes into account. I’ve never worked with that old of census data so I have no idea…

      As for suburban vs. non-Seattle urban I can pretty affirmatively say that pre-1990 a vast majority of the growth outside of Seattle was firmly suburban in nature. If I can remember correctly, while at UW in my geographic statistics class I used building age data and a statistical test of geographic distribution patterns to show that from the 1950s to 1990s growth was occurring in a similar pattern. That patterns broke down after the 1990s. My hypothesis was because of the GMA and the beginning of the urbanization of suburban areas.

      1. But before WWII, is there any meaningful sense that growth in say Kent would have been suburban?

    2. The first post-WWII urban development was in Kirkland in the 80s, those waterfront condos around downtown. Then Bellevue followed in the 90s with highrises downtown, and Bellevue Square expanded substantially.

      1. Mike, Bellevue highrises were built starting in the 80s. Skyline Tower and several other buildings were built then. Bellevue Square was also expanded early in the 80s, The newer JC Peeny’s was built then and the first parking structures went in.

  12. In Seattle and Washington, D.C., streets with a combination of small, old, and new buildings have a significantly higher proportion of non-chain restaurants and retailers than areas with new, bigger buildings.

    How about ones with only older buildings…and few to no skyscrapers.

    1. The problem isn’t so much skyscrapers as large-footprint buildings. In this region we argue about 85- and 125-foot zoning; many buildings taller than that were built long before footprints really started to grow.

      Today there are a huge number of factors that cause building footprints to be larger than they were 100 years ago. Construction technology for large buildings has improved and become cheaper; ventilation and lighting is better, eliminating the need for courtyards; wealth is more concentrated and large projects easier to coordinate. Meanwhile the skilled labor needed to build great human-scale buildings is scarcer; code calls for elevators that can’t be consolidated among small buildings, and parking that it sometimes doesn’t allow to be consolidated; cities are reluctant to add the public streets and alleys that allow small individual buildings to share vehicle access.

      But I think the really big thing is that when older buildings were designed, pedestrian access was the lifeblood of businesses, and today it’s a mere amenity. Building age in Seattle, SF, and DC (the cities studied) correlates strongly with the importance of walkability at time of construction. What about new buildings built in places that still have a critical pedestrian mass? You’d have to look beyond car-dominated US cities and European cities where old cores don’t get lots of new buildings, to Asia. The trends behind large buildings are just as strong in many Asian cities as here, sometimes stronger. But where pedestrian access is still the lifeblood and code isn’t actively in the way, a street with new and even large buildings can be great.

      Though in places like North Rainier I think the city ought to build a local street and alley network that allows smaller buildings to work, we obviously can’t give up on everything new just because some of the buildings will be large. There’s this trend in Seattle to vary facades, so big buildings look like small ones from a distance. But, of course, we really need to focus on making them work like smaller ones from up close.

      1. 100 years ago the people living in those “dense walkable cities” were probably poor immigrants, forced to be there.

        The wealthy were already in the suburbs and beyond, except for the extremely wealthy who owned the block sized mansions of upper Manhattan, or the large frame houses atop Capitol Hill.

        Are we mixing a historically inaccurate nostalgia for a time that was not as well loved as some may imagine?

        Perhaps it is time to stop building based on the sight in the rear view mirror and to examine the technologies, and lifestyles, as they are lived today…and to build to those.

  13. So San Francisco has exactly the same kind of bus system as Seattle (except S.F. Seems to be WAY better), so why can’t we follow Muni and allow all-door boarding like they do?

    1. All door boarding is a complete cluster. Did you already forget about the free ride zone days?

      Enter the front, exit the back. Far more efficient.

      1. Far more efficient…that no one ever does. The percentage of people I’ve seen do this has dropped a lot lately, even on Sound Transit buses where people used to have it together. I still see people march from the far back of the bus to exit at the front door (no, they don’t have bikes) then turn around and walk towards the rear of the bus when outside of it. This boggles my mind. I want to enter front/exit back but I’m usually sitting at the front of the bus and when the forward 2/3rds of passengers push to the front door, well…

      2. All-door boarding in the RFA worked fine — it was actually faster at heavily used downtown stops than everyone boarding at the front is today, just not by as much as some people thought it might be (hence the afternoon-peak DSTT boarding agents). It also works fine in SF today, at RapidRide stations, many POP bus systems throughout the world, and most rail systems in the world (naturally the Seattle Center Monorail is a counterexample).

        Where the old system failed was on crowded buses outside of downtown. Having to push all the way to the front through narrow, crowded aisles slowed down buses, and as importantly, was so unpleasant (as was being pushed around by others) that it made the whole trip feel twice as long. That was caused by single-door exiting, not all-door boarding, and isn’t any more of a problem in SF (or on RapidRide, or on the various POP bus systems) than it is on Seattle’s pay-at-the-front buses.

  14. I’ve been noticing the very-wide right of ways in Ballard’s residential neighborhoods recently, and I’ve come up with an urban design idea that I think could be really cool:

    What if, as an experiment, the city reconfigured a minor residential street in a LR zone as a woonerf (with tree planters and reduced on-street parking) and sold or deeded the existing sidewalk and the planting strip on either side to property owners? The property owners could then develop to the property line if they so choose (an additional 15-20 feet of land in some cases), use that area for well-designed off-street parking in the short term, or use it for urban agriculture. The additional property taxes generated by the added density (and more privately-owned land) would go to better maintaining the narrower right of way, which would include traffic calming devices, trees between parking spaces, etc. In addition, the narrower street spaces that would result would create a more intimate and walkable urban environment.

    I know these are extreme examples but compare the photos on this website:

    I know it’s a stretch, but I’m of the opinion that our city has too much right of way for the amount of taxes it collects. Offloading some of this land and reducing the pavement it maintains while increasing property taxes could be a big win.

    1. (There are lots of possible configurations of course – for instance. if we didn’t have any on-street parking there would be even more flexibility. A zigzagging street with groups of diagonal parking spaces might work – or even traditional sidewalks with parking on only one side of the street.)

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