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City council candidate John Roderick, one of two leading contenders to take on council member Tim Burgess in citywide Position 8 in the November general election (the other is tenants advocate Jon Grant), recently unveiled the centerpiece of his transportation plan.

No, not funiculars or gondolas or any of the other far-fetched (supporters would say far-sighted) ideas you’ll hear him expound about at forums. What Roderick, along with Alon Bassok, a less-viable candidate in the other citywide position, is proposing is something he calls “neighborhood rail.” The idea is to build a system of short-line rail connections between neighborhoods in the north, south, and west sectors of Seattle that operate largely independent of each other, using existing bus and rail lines to connect people over water crossings. The streetcars would not cross the ship canal, saving enough money in bridge and tunnel construction to bring the price down, in Roderick and Bassock’s estimation, to $1 billion for 75 to 100 miles of streetcar rail. After the system is built, ongoing maintenance would be funded by an employee hours tax, known derisively as a head tax.

The idea would be to supplement regional systems like Sound Transit with a city-only rail system that serves “people who live and work in our great city,” according to the text of the proposal—emphasis on and. “This would be a transit network for people who live in the city,” Roderick says, and it would be paid for entirely by city dwellers. The idea is similar in principle to former mayor Mike McGinn’s plan to build a go-it-alone rail system, which would also have been funded by city-only taxes. That shouldn’t be too surprising—Roderick says McGinn, who has endorsed him, was one of his advisors on the plan.

After looking over the three-page, 10,000-foot-level proposal, I had so, so many questions. Among them: Was $1 billion just a nice, round number, or does Roderick think the city can actually build 100 miles of rail for $10 million a mile? Does he consider regionalism a bad thing? Is this proposal, which would require a significant increase in property taxes (Roderick and Bassock estimate around $200 per year for the average household), a whack at Mayor Ed Murray’s $930 million Move Seattle property tax proposal? And how does he expect to afford the kind of right-of-way that would be necessary to give each streetcar “its own lane, priority at traffic signals, and … complete separat[ion] from traffic”?

First of all, to answer the question I’ve heard come up most often: No, Roderick’s rail plan wouldn’t replace Move Seattle, and Roderick says he is not opposed to the mayor’s levy. Instead, Roderick says, his plan would help shore up a proposal full of “piecemeal fixes” that he says fails to “address this aspect of what is going to be a comprehensive redesign of a lot of our public spaces and roads. … To build all that stuff [in Move Seattle] and to not have a rail component, and then to come back later and redo it all, is going to be not just incredibly expensive but crazy.”Screen shot 2015-05-29 at 3.51.26 PM

And speaking of incredibly expensive: Where did that nice, round $10 million-per-mile dollar figure come from? It’s an estimate that seems especially implausible in the context of the streetcars we’ve already built or are in the process of building, on First Hill and in South Lake Union. Those lines cost between $30 million and $40 million per mile, on relatively flat land; given those demonstrably higher costs on the ground, it’s tough to see how Roderick could slash per-mile prices up to 75 percent.

To Roderick, though, his proposed streetcar lines (none of which are mapped out in the plan, making it hard to judge them on their merits–although some neighborhoods like steep Queen Anne and congested Fremont bring special challenges for streetcars) bear few similarities to the ones in South Lake Union and First Hill.

“I think the mistake that we make is looking at the cost per mile of the South Lake Union streetcar, or First Hill, and figuring that’s what it costs per mile to build streetcars in Seattle,” Roderick says. “The reality is that when they were building the South Lake Union streetcar, they were also rebuilding all the sidewalks and drainage. It was a comprehensive rebuild of the whole neighborhood, and a lot of that got attached to the cost of building the streetcar cost per mile. In fact, that isn’t reflective of what it costs to lay down rail, and you don’t have to rebuild the sidewalks all the way through.”

“We’ve learned a lot from building those two trains, and a lot about what not to do—in particular, that intermingling those trains with traffic doesn’t make sense.”

But separating the trains from traffic in dedicated lanes, like the portion of light rail along Martin Luther King in Southeast Seattle, also adds costs, and will be political kryptonite to the large and vocal subset of voters who believe transit-versus-cars is a zero-sum proposition. Although Roderick is characteristically blithe about the inevitable protests—”Traffic on 45th is not going to get better by not building a train”—those protesters are going to matter if his streetcar plan goes to a vote.

And their voices will be harder than usual to ignore. Unlike Move Seattle, which is pay-as-you-go, Roderick’s proposal would use up some of the city’s existing bonding capacity, which requires a 60-percent majority at the polls. (Move Seattle would fall under a different property tax cap.)

Bonding measures are like credit cards—instead of spending as it goes, the city borrows money and then pays it back, with interest, from a revenue stream such as a property tax. (In this case, the property tax level would probably be very roughly equivalent to Move Seattle, which would cost homeowners $61 per $100,000 of assessed value). When we vote for bonds, we’re agreeing to take on risk and use up some credit we could be spending elsewhere, which is why the city charter mandates a higher threshold to take on such debt.

Even if the Roderick rail plan clears that electoral hurdle, there’s the equally sticky question of the so-called head tax, a tax on each worker a company employs. Most council members hate the head tax (which the council itself overturned in 2009) and those who don’t hate the head tax have plenty of ideas for what they’d like to do with it. (See: Kshama Sawant, Nick Licata.) Roderick says that’s just because we don’t have the right council members yet.

“The employee hours tax is controversial, not with voters who voted for it, but with the sitting city council that repealed it, even though the voters favored it, because they were lobbied by their powerful friends. (Three of those nine council members are no longer on the council.)  “We need to recognize that we have powerful companies that are major employers all choosing to move into downtown Seattle. … I think those businesses also recognize that there will be an expectation that they help offset the disruption. … If you’re going to spend $1 billion on a new campus for your company, some percentage of that can go to helping us move people around the city. That’s not outrageous. We shouldn’t regard it as an onerous burden.”

Speaking of his overall vision for Seattle’s transportation system, Roderick says, “We are building a system for 20 to 50 years from now, at which point the single-occupancy, gasoline-powered car is going to be a thing of our distant memory. Yes, it is difficult to paint a picture of how different it’s going to be in five or 10 years, but that difficulty is a small challenge compared to the difficulty of failing to build with the future in mind. I’m excited about the prospect of going to the people of Seattle and saying, your single-passenger car with a gasoline motor is a thing of the past. That may be difficult to imagine, but you’re going to be so glad when it’s gone.”

Roderick is clearly passionate about transportation, and there’s no doubt it’s something he’s thought about, at least from a flyover perspective, plenty. If he’s elected, though (and I believe he may be), he’ll have to come down from his cable car and confront the practical and political realities on the ground.

139 Replies to “Does Roderick’s 10,000-Foot Transit Plan Have Wings?”

  1. The big question is whether the riders exist for such a plan. How many bus trips start and end in, say, Ballard? Can the route be long enough to beat walking?

    Will these end up being feeders for rapid rise? I don’t see a trip consisting of rail, bus, rail being very pleasant given the added wait time at each transfer.

    And then of course the idea that you can add rail to a street, in its own lane even, without total street reconstruction seems questionable.

    1. Hopeless? With all the cars gone in a few decades, there will be no more driveways along the curb, and all those garages can be rezoned for apodments.
      Could John pencil in the Aloha extension making a left turn, then down the hill on Belmont to connect to the Slut?

  2. This man is trying to get elected. This plan is all about generating publicity for his campaign. Which it has done. If he is elected this plan will be scaled back to reality.

    Seattle needs to focus on more buses, frequency, off board paymemt, signal priority and dedicated peak hour lanes. Non grade separated rail is not worth the extra money.

    1. I agree. The city is actually on the right path. Their plans might not be as grand as these, but they are headed the right direction. They are choosing BRT because BRT actually makes sense. They are focused on adding transit lanes (even left lane transit lanes) along with off board payment and level boarding. The jury is still out, but we could have a really good set of lines (on Madison and Eastlake) fairly soon. No one wants to admit that the streetcars were a mistake, but it is obvious that the people in charge don’t want to invest any more in them.

    2. Sure it is. Buses suck, and everyone who’s not already invested in transit infrastructure knows this. Doesn’t matter how full you pack the streets with buses, people with a choice will continue to drive their own cars. If you want to create a public transportation system which most people will find *preferable* to driving their own cars, you have to build a rail network.

      1. Okay Margaret.

        People who refuse to ride a bus won’t ride a bus. People who care more about trains than reaching their destinations in a timely manner won’t ride a bus. You can argue that this represents a substantial chunk of the market, and it’s one we should try to chase, but we have actual proof of robust demand for incremental improvements in speed, reliability and legibility to regular old bus service.

        Preference includes much more than vehicular type, namely cost (monetary and temporal) and whether you have to store a vehicle or not. These stressors are increasing for automobiles (and should be) while they are low, decreasing or non-existent for transit. I find it difficult to believe most people won’t consider leaving their cars at home and taking the humble bus* when driving takes twice as long and costs 5 times as much.


        *if they have access to a bus, and it will always be true that many more people will have access to bus lines than any rail lines we can afford or justify building; this is inconsequential because it’s a network and is only preferable to a substantial number of people when it functions as such, because geometry and limited resources

      2. There are many, many people who have lived without a car in cities like Chicago and San Francisco , and they come to Seattle and try to do the same but they end up getting a car. Why is that? Because they can’t get to where they reasonably want to go in a reasonable amount of time. Maybe they can get to work on transit, but they can’t get to all the other things that people do. Or even if they could as a single person, they can’t with a family and children. These people aren’t allergic to buses: they don’t say it has to be a train, it just has to be transit. Transit like Chicago that goes every direction, every 5-10 minutes daytime and 15-20 minutes evening. There are other people who are allergic to buses, but they can only live in places like New York and London where subways go to 80% of the city and form a grid. Chicago and San Francisco have radial train systems that leave out entire neighborhoods and require going downtown to transfer to another line. That’s unfortunate but still many people many people live in the trainless neighrhoods without a car. Or they take a train when they’re going one direction (Mission->downtown, Belmont->downtown) or a bus when they’re going in another direction (Mission->Haight, Belmont->Logan Square).

        But in Seattle the buses are much less comprehensive, more like a suburban level of service. The only areas comparable to Chicago are Capitol Hill, the U-District, Jackson Street, and Belltown/Uptown. But even on friggin’ Capitol Hill the 8, 10, 11, and 43 drop to half-hourly. If you live at 65th & Greenwood or 130th & Greenwood, the north-south bus drops to half-hourly and the east-west bus doesn’t exist at all. You could go north or south and transfer, but you might wait 15-30 minutes for the transfer. That’s what drives people to their cars.

        That’s why Prop 1 was so critical because it finally starts to fill in some of the worst gaps, so that we can at least start to approach a citywide level of service. But Prop 1 is temporary; it expires in five years. We need things like Madison BRT and Roosevelt BRT to achieve a longer-term solution. I really wish we could ditch buses and go completely to subways and streetcars. But what matters more is whether there’s a vehicle to take you where you want to go when you want to go, not what kind of wheels or motor the vehicle has. It also matters that the vehicles aren’t waiting for cars to move or stoplights to change but they can just go. In that sense the right of way matters more than the vehicle. So Roderick gets some things right but the priorities and dependencies between them are wrong. What we need is a plan with the priorities right, so that if we can achieve only 10% or 50% of it, the most essential parts will be done.

      3. Who is Margaret?

        Of course there are cheap ways to cut corners when it comes to transit; I’m just sick of hearing about them. It’s like we are supposed to feel grateful that rich people are generous enough to give us poors a system for riding around in. Enough of that: Seattle is one of the wealthiest cities in one of the wealthiest countries on Earth. Why should we settle for the cheapest, crappiest option that could possibly work? Why don’t we aim higher and build something *good*?

      4. Thatcher. The British Prime Minister to whom this quote/sentiment is often attributed.

        If you’re simply arguing for more money to be spent on smart public transportation investments (which might include trains!), I’m right there with you.

        If instead you’re arguing to reallocate what inadequate resources transit agencies do have in order to build more trains (at the expense of of maintaining, expanding and enhancing buses that will always be able more useful to and able to reach more people) so that you will feel better about the choice to leave the car at home, I can’t go there with you.

      5. It’s hard to believe that if the sob had simply taken the tube or a commuter train instead, they would be seen as successful. The transit-is-socialism position was against all public transit, not just buses.

      6. I’m arguing “transit is socialism” as a good thing, since I like socialism. What I don’t like is the way transit advocates come rolling in with the same old “but BRT is cheaper why don’t we just use more buses” noise every time someone proposes a rail project. So what? You get what you pay for, and I’m really tired of the blinkered monofocus on route alignments and service hours as though the comfort and convenience of the people actually *using* transit is completely unimportant.

        Let’s spend more money for a better experience and stop cheaping out on transit all the time. So what if we blanket the city in buses? In order to get a *good* transit experience, we’re still going to have to retire them all and replace them with trains! That is going to take decades of hassle. Why not go straight for what we should really have anyway and spend the political effort raising money for a good system instead of fighting about all these tiny piecemeal tweaks on a bad one?

        Yes, my argument absolutely is “more money to be spent”. BRT may be a reasonable stopgap technology for a poor country which has not developed enough yet to be able to afford a decent transit system, but it’s just plain lazy here in America where we can afford to spend billions of dollars on transit projects. Buses suck, and the suckage is inherent to the technology, so instead of spending hundreds of millions of dollars on an unproductive detour to a better but still inadequate transit system, we should take transit seriously and build it right the first time. That means no more crappy buses on major in-city routes, no matter how grade-separated they may be.

        I mean, hell, I took a bus through the subway tunnel for a couple of stops this morning, since it was raining. This is just about the best possible case for BRT, no? Shiny new vehicle in a totally grade-separated, weather-shielded, enclosed environment? And still, that bus bounced and swayed and lurched like the oldest, clankiest, worst-maintained subway train I’ve ever ridden.

      7. When streetcar systems fail to generate adequate ridership, extensions are the standard solution. Likewise, a streetcar connector between the Lake Union and Capital Hill Streetcar lines should increase patronage on each. However, the proposed route on 1st Ave with median stations can’t do this as well as a streetcar couplet on 4th/5th Aves. So too a Waterfront Streetcar is the more logical extension from Jackson.

        A short spur line from Westlake to Seattle Center would run on this 4th/5th couplet to Jackson and Broadway. The Lake Union line also running on this couplet would lead to the Waterfront; the two streetcar lines forming an ‘X’ along routes of highest demand for streetcar service.

        1st Ave should not locate streetcar median stations competing with curbside bus stops. A modern trolleybus system is more applicable on 1st Ave. Trolleybuses, the best hillclimbers, are especially applicable on steep east/west routes which are the most direct service between Broadway/12th and 1st Ave.

        For downtown, a Madison BRT won’t work as well as freqent service. BRT is a standard maneuver for cutting the number of bus drivers, needed or not. Metro is the worst, followed by Sound Transit, neither agency making an honest attempt to improve transit service.

      8. As a postscript: lest you think I have some irrational attachment to steel rails, I’d be perfectly content with a rubber-tired system like the Paris and Montreal metros (and others I have not ridden). I just want transit *done right*, and I don’t believe BRT can qualify without spending so much money on the project that you might as well have built a train in the first place.

      9. Ever been on PATCO, Mars?

        Or on the fucked-up streetcar in Rome I just used last week, that seemingly hadn’t been maintenanced in decades?

        Yes, trains can suck too.

        Your rail-everywhere fantasies are unaffordable in a low-density city with zero legacy infrastructure. Please stop embarrassing yourself, and try to contribute to the notion of useful mobility improvements for the real world.

      10. Of course trains can suck; that’s why it’s relevant to observe that the best you can hope for with a bus is to reach the level of a crappy train.

        Keep on declaring defeat if you must, but I think it’s worth trying to push past the limitations created by 20th-century car-centric planning. There are no technological obstacles here; it is *solely* a matter of political will.

      11. Reliable get-around transit in a city dense enough to have congestion problems but too sparse to ever support your railfan fantasies is hardly “declaring defeat”.

        What we have here are geometric obstacles, which you cannot overcome just by declaring your enduring love for any particular “technology”.

        Geometry matters to demand generation, and it matters to revenue generation. We won’t have need/money for Paris-level rail pervasion because we haven’t 1/10th of the people in even our “densest” places to pay for or ride those trains. Ignore such basic facts at your own irrelevance.

        The good news is that the majority of people prefer the “comfort” of getting where they’re fucking going more than they enjoy the “comfort” of waiting in the cold to chug along on a stupid streetcar.

      12. Sure, and the majority of people accomplish that by eschewing transit entirely, driving their own cars wherever they want to go. That’s the problem I want to solve, and buses aren’t going to get us there.

      13. That’s because we don’t have reliable get-around transit.

        We could. But it will never be rail.

        To the extent that you insist it must be, you oppose functional transportation in Seattle.

      14. Well, there’s the difference in a nutshell. We both want Seattle to build a good transit system. You believe it’s impossible to do that with trains, so you’re interested in improving the buses; I believe it’s impossible to do that with buses, so I’m interested in improving the trains.

        I get the feeling that you see transit almost exclusively in functional terms, where I am trying to keep aesthetics and comfort from getting completely crowded out of the conversation. Design the perfect bus network, connecting everywhere to everywhere else with optimal efficiency, and you know what? I still wouldn’t use it unless I had no alternative, because it would still be an uncomfortable experience. I don’t *know* that this is true, because nobody involved in transit planning seems to care, but I *strongly suspect* that a great many people currently driving around in single-passenger cars feel similarly.

        This is a problem for which the bus-fan solution appears to be to be “tough luck for them, let’s eliminate parking and add congestion fees until they knuckle under and accept the reduction in quality of life”.

        I’m not willing to accept that solution; I think we can do better than just throw more buses at the problem.

        You’re describing my position as being far more extreme than it actually is. I know perfectly well that there are practical limits on the amount of money that can be raised and on the amount of time it takes to build infrastructure. What I’m arguing against is the knee-jerk “BRT is good enough” reaction that pops up against every rail project anyone proposes. I hate this response because it acts as though *having a good experience* is completely unimportant, when I think it is actually a significant obstacle to widespread conversion of SOV trips into transit trips. People aren’t going to put up with suck if they don’t have to, so why are transit advocates so quick to cheap out on transit projects?

        Of course there are limits on what we can accomplish, but we need to stop declaring defeat in advance and focus on recruiting more transit riders by tackling ambitious projects that people will *want* to ride, instead of just cheaping out and building whatever the bare minimum happens to be for the people who have no choice but to ride.

      15. I’m guessing you haven’t been to Bogota, Quito, or any of the other South American cities with truly great bus transit (or those located elsewhere in the world).

        I was just in Bogota last week. The TransMilenio, the world’s largest and arguably best BRT system, is a truly fantastic ride. It’s fastl it works well it has 100% dedicated, physically separated lanes, and it gets *a lot* of riders (one thing it doesn’t do so well: the route naming scheme is quite convoluted and difficult to understand as a visitor, but that can be solved by asking someone). It gets extremely crowded at rush hour too, apparently miserably so (I didn’t ride it so I can’t say from experience). But the crowding cannot be any more than what you’d find on say, the Tokyo Metro during rush hour, where there are employees whose job it is to pack people into trains. Given that TransMilenio is pretty much gold standard for BRT, we *would* know about it if it was. So is the train really any better than the bus here? Outside of rush hour, the bus is as comfortable as an metro, and probably more comfortable than some (I’m looking at you, Buenos Aires). Hell, standing in that full bus was more comfortable than sitting in the LIRR train I would have to take for 2 hours most weekdays to get to school (not *quite* comparable systems, but the point holds).

        Bogota built the Transmilenio instead of a long-delayed metro project (which it is now building, and which I noted when I saw the presentation on it, is being built with every good principle in mind that Sound Transit isn’t following) because it could get *so* much more bang for its buck. The planned metro was going to cover around 8% of the city for more than double the cost of the full build out of the BRT system, which would cover 85% of the city. Half the cost for more than 10 times the coverage. And that is for a system with total lane separation, every station with platform screen doors, and buses every few minutes.

        The comparison isn’t even *close* in terms of cost. Now Seattle, not being a city of nearly 8 million people, and being in the United States, where physically separate transit lanes are but a dream, doesn’t need to do a build out of a gold standard BRT line. But the fact is we can serve a lot more people with buses than we can with trains given the reality of limited funding. There are times when trains are better than buses could be due to various obstacles (ie routes 44 and 8), and there are times when the greater cost-effective passenger capacity of a train is really going to be necessary (ie UW->Downtown, most NYC subway lines, even most NYC commuter lines, to say nothing of Tokyo). There are times when there’s a legacy system already that’s vastly more cost effective to use than construct a new one, even if it isn’t the best possible system (ie lots of European streetcars, the Yerevan metro, the two lines of the NYC subway that run parallel blocks from each other in the Bronx, some of the LIRR’s lighter-ridership branches). Seattle doesn’t have much in the way of the latter, except arguably the Sounder tracks, if we could somehow seize them from UP.

        Long story short: given a fixed budget (and there *is* a fixed upper limit) would we rather have the most effective system that serves the most people well (with a backbone of buses and rail where appropriate), or a system that serves a few people very well and leaves everyone else with substandard service. Both systems will get people out of their cars, but one will get a lot more people out of their cars.

      16. “Bus stigma” is one of those American exceptionalisms that should just end already. Forget about Bogota, go up to Vancouver or Toronto or even Montreal. Those rail systems would have a fraction of their success were if not for the strong bus networks that support them. Canadian cities have per capita transit ridership that beats most U.S. cities and most of it is done with the help of buses.

        A Canadian transit planner I know who worked in a U.S. transit agency was just dumbfounded at the attitude Americans had towards buses and attributed part of the difference to culture. Funding for service is also a big factor but how do you build political support for something people think “will always suck”?

      17. It’s pretty wonderful to see someone else who recognizes that American Exceptionalism is about a lot more than just foreign policy, and reaches well into domestic policy as well. It’s been particularly harmful in transit.

        Though I think in this case, the foreign policy version of American Exceptionalism hasn’t helped. BRT, arguably the biggest innovation in bus transit, comes from South America, and what are generally regarded as the best bus systems in the world are all there (which is the reason I brought up Bogota specifically–I wanted an example of a truly great bus)–in the continent we used to act as if we owned, given the number of CIA sponsored coups that we’ve instigated down there, and a place a large number of Americans view as a backwater. Makes it even harder to accept true BRT, I suspect.

        I suspect a lot of what goes on in US government is also self-fulfilling prophecy: elect a bunch of people who say government is inherently inefficient, and you will get an inefficient government. Elect/hire a bunch of people who believe transit to suck, and it will suck.

      18. Thanks to Oran and Farro for allowing me to shorten my reply.

        It always gives me a chuckle when someone tosses out the false-equivalence “bus-fan”. Because there really is no such thing — the only thing Mars is truly right about, is that there are few people who find a “charm” or “romance” in going places on the bus.

        Fortunately, it really doesn’t matter. Buses can be clean and efficient and well-designed and smooth-riding and simply good enough to give thorough lie to the stigmas that Mars insists on claiming come inherent in the mode. And fortunately, the majority of humans in transit-efficient places truly will choose to ride the tool that works best for their trip, rather than insisting on their own inconvenience or artificially-limited range for the sake of insisting on the mode that most aesthetically pleases them.

        If you spend some time around these pages, Mars, you’ll discover that I am not (and have never been) one to equivocate on what Metro makes unpleasant about its services. I do not believe that it is “democratic” or “refreshingly grungy-urban” to have zero standards for public decorum or efficient operations on our buses — screw the tinfoil-hat crowd that claims a constitutional right to slow us down with cash; screw the street urchins with their mangy dogs. But as Oran and Farro remind use, those are Impotent Seattle problems driving non-dependent riders away, and has little to do with the mode itself. (Fun fact: the more extensive and marginally-demand-justified an Eastern European streetcar system is, the less well-policed their vehicles tend to be, too.)

        To the extent that you continue to equate “buses” with the choiceless only, you are simply incorrect, Mars. And that’s a good thing, because even if your dream of eventually replacement of all our transit with rail were geometrically justified — (and it’s not) — our current rail initiatives have achieved nearly nothing to those ends. Woe be to the person who wishes to get around Seattle using only Sound Transit’s barely-stops-anywhere subway. And don’t get me started on how little the First Hill Stuckcar will do for any rail-feeding vampires to whom buses are garlic.

        Mars, I come from Boston, which is one of the very few cities in our hemisphere dense enough that you might honestly be able to live your life largely by walking, bike-sharing, and rail. It’s also a city whose buses have notoriously received some very short (and environmentally-racist) shrift over the decades. And you know what? There are still about a dozen common city-proper trips that time-sensitive people would be insane to do without hopping a bus. I’ll almost never take an E Line train, because I know that the 39 bus, running in the lane right next to it, will come more often and run nearly twice as fast. And in this I am never alone.

        You are welcome to remain alone in your “fandom”-derived illogic. But you do not have the right to your own facts. “Buses suck too much for words” and “we’ll never improve mobility without 100 miles of rail” are not statements rooted in reality.

      19. Oh, d.p. I’ve read enough of your grouchy rants to know better than to take this one personally, but you might consider that your arguments would be more convincing if you weren’t so eager to direct them against blatantly made-up straw-man exaggerations. Carry on acting like transit modes are entirely fungible, if you must; I’ll be around if you ever want some help understanding why people in general are maybe a little less enthusiastic than you expect about your oh-so-sensible bus transit ideas.

        Farro: it’s true, my transit experiences all come from Europe, North America, and Australia; I’ve never been to South America. I’m willing to believe that things are different there. What I haven’t seen is any evidence that things have become different *here*, so that “why not use BRT instead” in the context of a Seattle transit discussion would actually mean more than “that project is not actually important, so let’s just find a cheap shortcut and pretend we’ve solved the problem”.

        I’m happy to vote for and pay for projects which upgrade bus lines into “BRT”, incidentally; I just don’t intend to ride on them if I can help it.

      20. I appreciate you not taking my rebuttals personally, but there are no straw men or exaggerations happening here.

        Your oft-stated (including in your last reply) and unambiguous position seems to remain that you refuse to set foot on bus transportation, no matter how fast/frequent/safe/clean/reliable/efficient that bus becomes, because buses are inherently repellant… and that the world at large shares your aversion.

        Astoundingly, you make this claim not in Texas or Florida or Los Angeles, but in a city where nearly half of downtown commuters already go by bus, and where non-negligible numbers of high-earning individuals already live car-free despite the near-nonexistence of urban rail. That happens in spite of Metro’s history of appalling frequencies and dogshit service quality, which clearly implies that any remaining local “bus stigma” could quickly go the way of the dodo if our bus network ever deigned to actually become any good!

        You claim extensive travels to reinforce your rail infatuation, but as someone whose love of cities biases my travels to highly dense but not necessarily rail-rich places, I can only presume that your travels and experiences have been exercises in confirmation bias. City buses in Paris and Berlin are nicer than rail in Philadelphia and more functional than rail in Pittsburgh, Dallas, or Minneapolis, full stop. Italy’s sometimes-disorienting public transport experience involves almost no rail at all, but the medieval density of its dozen largest cities has virtually forced them to make the buses work really, really well. And London buses are famous more direct than the Tube for many, many, many trips.

        Ultimately, Mars, I don’t even think this is about “bus hate” for you. You seem to be among the unfortunate Seattle faction whose inferiority complex about your adopted hometown — about its mediocre urban scape and decidedly middlebrow culture — has led you to treat “rail” a bit in the manner of a Cargo Cult. “If only will fill our streets and our soils with as much rail as a European city, we’ll be just as distinguished and urbane and debonair as those places we’ve been on vacation.”

        But as an good Cargo Cult fails to understand, its not the artifact that makes the imitated civilization so desirable. That artifact is a corollary of other facets of better cities: the centuries of accumulated, dynamic density that fills the streets with people and makes every block-face pulse with interest and life.

        You won’t find a rail-replete European city whose “density epicenter” is a fraction as sprawling and mostly-sedate as Capitol Hill. You won’t find one with a neighborhood as stubbornly low-density as the Madison Valley just 2 miles from the city center. And you won’t find one with city councillors fighting to (yet again) ban row-houses. Row-houses are the fucking DNA of the cities whose rail you crave, and “progressive” “urbanist” Seattle is allergic to them!

        The geometry of this town simply does not — and seemingly, will never — support your rail-rail-rah-rah dream.

        But the good news is that almost everyone who is not you will choose good transit that works, if we can get it to work. Even if that transit includes buses.

      21. p.s. I also never said that “transit modes are fungible”. Quite the opposite. Every mode, in every spatial situation and at every point on the demand curve, has its own attributes and peccadilloes and benefits and demerits.

        It’s about employing the right tools for their appropriate jobs. Always and ever.

        Nowhere on earth is that just about “rail”.

      22. You quoted me as saying “buses suck too much for words” and “we’ll never improve mobility without 100 miles of rail”, but I never said any such thing, and what I did say was nowhere near so extreme as that.

        The anti-bus feelings I express come from personal experience. When I say that buses are uncomfortable and that riding the bus sucks, I mean that my ride to work this morning was uncomfortable, the experience of getting to work via bus sucked, and this is consistent with the other bus experiences I’ve had throughout my life. I’ve taken the bus to work several times a week since I started working downtown in January, and I took the bus to work every day in 2011-2012. I have tried commuting by bus at other times, out of a sense of environmentalist duty, but it has always ended up wearing me out. I don’t refuse to take the bus; it’s just not a pleasant way to travel, so I choose another option whenever I have it.

        I want to get around by transit. I want to make car-ownership optional, and beyond that, I want us to develop transit to the point that car-freedom becomes *preferable* for a majority of people in Seattle. We are NOWHERE NEAR that and I don’t believe that any amount of tweaking the bus system will produce a big enough effect to get us there.

        Again, this belief comes from personal experience. In a fit of optimism, I once tried selling my car, and committed to getting around by bus, bike, and rental car for a full year. It sucked! I was amazed to find out how much that experience sucked. It sucked, and I was a young fit single guy living on Capitol Hill at the time – so the bar was as low as it possibly could be. Yes, people do it; it’s *possible*; but it ends up being a defining element of your lifestyle, and we’re simply not going to make significant progress moving our culture away from car-dependence while that’s true.

        Link is the only thing that has changed about Seattle transit since that time which offers hope that the car-free experience might someday not suck.

        You continue to make light of my supposed train infatuation, but you’re entirely missing the point; trains are the merely the rapid transit technology which happens to be on the table right now. What I want is fast, comfortable, urban transit. I don’t care if that’s accomplished with monorails, cable cars, gondolas, hovercraft, giant cannons, or magical flying unicorns, but I am one notch shy of perfectly certain it won’t be accomplished with buses.

      23. …and for whatever it’s worth, if you could stop focusing on how much of an idiot you think I am, you might find that we have a fair number of opinions in common. It so happens that I live in Madison Valley, I can see the consequences of Seattle’s bizarrely SFH-centric anti-density zoning all around my home, and I will happily rant at anyone who will listen about the many ways we need to change our zoning and development policies to support increasing density in order to stem sprawl and take advantage of the benefits of urban networking. I fantasize about buying up all the houses on my block and knocking them down to build three-story Brooklyn-style rowhouses, with a corner shop at either end. What a lovely neighborhood this would be if we could get some more life into it! These and many other things need to happen simultaneously; this blog just happens to be focused on transit.

      24. I hate to break it to you Mars, but every single transit system in the world relies on buses. Why? Because no matter how much money there may be for putting in rail there never is going to be enough to serve everyone with rail. Rail is also inappropriate in areas of relative low-density or transit demand.

        Just like trains, buses can be configured in many different ways. They can operate in mixed traffic or be 100% grade separated. They can have a stop every block or only stop every few miles. They can operate on 25 MPH streets or 75 MPH highways.

        Just because you don’t like the way Metro has implemented local, express, and RapidRide service it doesn’t mean all future bus service has to follow that model.

        For example look at ST Express service for a fairly pleasant example of express bus service. Look at SWIFT or EMX for what RapidRide should have been.

        For that matter one’s experience of Metro very much depends on what routes one rides. The experience of say the 77 is very different than say being on a 3 slowly crawling up James.

      25. I read back and I see what I said that gave you and d.p. the (false) impression that I want to replace all buses with trains. I said “we’re still going to have to retire them all and replace them with trains”, but I didn’t mean *all buses*, I meant all of the hypothetical buses we would be using to create a Curitiba-style BRT network. Sorry, I see why that was confusing.

        I am perfectly well aware that New York (for example) has an extensive bus network, but I don’t care, because the subway is so good that I never have to use it. And I don’t actually care whether we build light rail, heavy rail, monorail, or no rail, what I want for Seattle is a fast comfortable urban transit network good enough that I can get around town with transit and the occasional taxi, never having to take the bus. It just happens that light rail is the only option available right now, so that’s what I’m trying to stick up for.

        Of course Seattle will always have a bus network providing transit service to all its low-density suburban outlying areas. So what? I don’t want to go to any of those places anyway, and if I ever did I could just drive. We should fix our urban zoning so that nobody is obligated to live in those places unless they want to, and then I’m comfortable saying that bad transit is just part of the price you pay for living out there.

        There is of course no hope whatsoever that this hypothetical transit system will exist while I am still young enough to use it, but my hope is that by getting involved and pushing back against the tendency to cheap out, perhaps I can help solve this problem for the next generation.

        If ST Express is your example of a “fairly pleasant” bus service then it’s clear we have different ideas about what “pleasant” means. I took the 545 for a while when I worked at Microsoft and hated it so much I went back to crawling along 520 every day in my car. Lengthening my commute was totally worth not having to put up with the bus anymore.

      26. Please don’t take this personally either (because it really isn’t about finding supposed ways to “call you an idiot”, as much as it is about sparking a self-awareness that seems a bit lacking), but…

        Living a significant portion of your life in New York City without ever spending time, visiting acquaintances, or needing to runn life or work errands in places unserved by trains marks you as possessing an uncommon level of privilege. Because New York City is massive and multiplicitous, and the number of lives lived and functions performed in places far removed from “the subway” is literally countless.

        As I said early, Boston is the rare mid-to-large American city not only so dense, but so functionally compact from its core through its inner fully-built-up ring — more like a European city than like New York — that a high percentage of many people’s daily journeys can be walking+rail-exclusive. But even in Boston, and in its European analogues, a certain kind of white and white-collar urban privilege enables life functions to occur mostly within the well-railed areas.

        I am aware of my participation in that privilege. You do not seem to be.

        Furthermore, as Chris says, you will gain no argumentative traction from tautologies about Seattle buses being bad. We know they’re unpleasant, slow, poorly maintained, uncomfortably designed, unreliable, sometimes so off-putting that we avoid or foreshorten elective trips rather than deal with them. (Meet my nemesis, the 44.)

        But you have yet to extrapolate a single demerit against Seattle buses as inherent to buses. And you can’t. Because even though I have never been to South American cities with formalized BRT, I have personally used wonderful (often European… fancy!) city buses that arrived reliably, that stopped in-lane, that accelerated and rode smoothly, and that featured interior layouts for maximum comfort and minimum egress conflicts.

        These buses weren’t fancily branded. Their success as mobility instruments was wholly unremarkable. Just as trains-as-mobility becomes unremarkable to those who have lived around them enough not to fetishize them.

        Listen, it’s nice that we’re on the same page about the lively, unbroken urban forms that we’d like to see redevelopment in Seattle pursue. But even if we weren’t up against political forces with some sort of phobia for buildings that touch, you still wouldn’t see Madison Valley turning into Brooklyn any time soon.

        The reason is that Seattle, for better or for worse, has already been built-out extensively with some pretty low-density forms. Even if we erased the constriction that keeps all density in “Urban Village” quarantines — which we should — in-fill growth would continue to radiate gradually out from our busiest and most density-desirable areas, organically and gradually and piecemeal.

        To rebuild even half of Seattle to look like Brooklyn, you would need about 3 million new people within our city limits (give or take a million). You can safely fuhgeddaboud that happening. There will still be lots of pre-existing areas that remain low-density, and people who live in them or need to reach them.

        Thus, buses. Forever. As the primary conveyance for most people to most places.

        It’s time to make them good.

      27. Furthermore, you need to keep straight your complaints. The 545 has a cushy interior by design. Is it excruciating to crawl down I-5 and along Stewart with no control over your destiny? Sure… but that’s the lack of transit priority, and not the bus’s fault. Does it get genuinely packed to the point of unavoidable discomfort at rush hour? Well, that might be the first legitimate case for rail you’ve made… and rail to Overlake is already happening.

        (Also, as anyone from northeastern Manhattan or most of Tokyo or Allston, Mass. can tell you, trains get uncomfortably full sometimes too,)

        I obviously don’t care about your confirmation-biasing European jaunts. But I would be highly curious to see you live and work somewhere like Sacramento, where rail was built to places where it made no sense whatsoever to build rail, and where the outcome has been empty trains running 30-minute off-peak headways or worse.

        How much are you truly willing to lengthen your trips and inconvenience your life, just so you can say you got there on a train?

      28. OK Mars, I may have missed it, but why exactly do you hate buses and love rail?

        Now ask yourself how much of that is an inherent feature of rail and how much is simply due to a poorly implemented bus system.

        FWIW to the extent I’ve ridden ST express I’ve found it a pleasant experience, but the routes I frequent are seldom crush loaded and lack segments where they crawl through gridlocked SOV traffic forever.

        The 545 is known for crowding which would easily be solved by adding additional frequencies during the most in-demand times. As d.p. points out East Link will eventually replace the 545 for many trips.

        Really rail is only justified in 3 circumstances:
        1. You need the capacity of rail.
        2. You are building lots of expensive grade separation so might as wel make the corridor rail (note this still has to be fairly high demand to justify the expense)
        3. You are making use of existing rail ROW or infrastructure (mostly commuter rail, but also applies to other systems reusing tunnels, bridges, and other ROW)

        To turn this back to Seattle Downtown-U District is a great example of a corridor that meets tests #1 and #2. Ballard to UW or Denny/John are good examples of corridors which might not need rail’s capacity but where getting space for exclusive transit ROW on the surface is all but impossible. (They are also high demand even if they don’t exceed the maximal theoretical capacity of a bus corridor).

      29. I’m not at all willing to lengthen my trip or inconvenience my life to say I got there by train, but I am happy to spend 50% more time or 10x more money *not* to get there by bus. Maybe more, depending on the bus.

        It’s funny that you mention Sacramento, because I spent my teen & college years in one of its desolate suburbs, which happened to be one of the nonsensical places served by light rail. Those empty trains were my lifeline to civilization. Sacramento had a bus network too, which supposedly went to all the useful places, but they were janky and unreliable so I learned to ignore them and walk or bike instead.

        I never lived in New York, but took many trips to visit my sister during the decade she lived there. She might take the bus once every year or two, if one happened to pass by in the same direction she was walking, but all of her intentional trips went by subway or bicycle. (She says she never *planned* to take the bus while she lived in New York, not even once.) Privilege? Yes, both of us, certainly; but not an unlimited amount of it. We’re just middle-class professionals, not 1%-ers.

        I’m not opposed to spending more money to improve bus service – I’m happy to help pay for all kinds of public services I don’t personally use – but buses are never going to solve the problem I really care about.

        By a 2:1 margin, people in Seattle, including me, currently choose to drive cars rather than use public transit. Even in the best case for transit, the downtown commute, the ratio is only 1:1! That’s a very large number of people who would prefer to deal with heavy congestion and expensive parking than put up with the hassle of riding the bus.

        How do we flip that 2:1 mode share number over, so that public transit becomes the default, and private car trips the exception?

        Call it impossible, if you want, but we have to figure out how to do it, and we have to do it soon, because climate change is a reality and we are already behind the curve.

        I’ve never seen a bus system I would describe as a pleasant way to travel, but I’m willing to believe those of you who say that it’s been accomplished elsewhere. The problem is that it just doesn’t matter, because of item #2 on Chris Stefan’s list of reasons to build rail.

        Thanks to the topographical nightmares we’ve inherited from the Denny Party’s ludicrous choice for a city location, and to the generally congested nature of our existing urban fabric, making our hypothetical magical-happyland bus system work well enough to become the default transit mode would require us to drill so many tunnels and construct so many bridges and build so many miles of elevated lanes that we would be better off just building a train in the first place, whether demand for that level of service currently exists or not. (And that demand will *come* to exist, if we build it.)

        It’s going to be expensive, no matter what we do, so why don’t we go for it, raise the money we need, and build something really good instead of puttering around with small changes while we leave the big problem unsolved? We can make all the incremental improvements to the bus system we want, but we’re only going to get incremental increases in transit mode share. To accomplish a substantial change in transit activity, we will need a substantial investment in a better kind of transit network, and at that scale buses are not going to be cheaper in any way that justifies their low quality of service.

        When I hear “let’s build BRT instead”, then, I don’t hear “let’s make a smart, economical choice”, I hear “let’s cut corners, build something cheap, and continue to act like public transit doesn’t actually matter”. Which pisses me off, because public transit *really* *matters*.

      30. 1. You continue to try to “prove” the repellant nature of buses to average folk by citing the deficiencies of King County Metro. Again, no one here disputes the oft-terribleness of Metro. If bus stigma were as pervasive as you describe, nobody would electively take the bus in Seattle today. And yet the facts say otherwise.

        2. It sounds like you wasted hours and hours of your young life waiting for Sacramento’s infrequent (thanks to terrible routing and near-zero demand) sprawl trains. Your time to waste, I guess. I hope you thanked all the people whose mobility options worsened as a result of SacRT’s misplaced priorities for the whopping subsidies you received from them.

        3. I thought you had said you grew up in NY. Don’t even get me started on those whose rail bias is affirmed by merely visiting the famously rail-rich metropoles of the world. Yeesh. Lived experience differs from touristic experience, and I’m sure even your relatively geographically-privileged sibling could cite many drawbacks of the NY subway-only life, if she’s a reasonably objective person and you ever give her the chance.

        4 (and most crucially). Seattle does not have the density or population to support the “so many bridges and build so many miles of elevated lanes” that you envision. Our miles of justified tunneling and from-scratch infrastructure are inherently limited by the built-form decisions of the 20th century.

        No matter what “mode” you insist on filling our mobility needs with, the overwhelming majority of it will happen on the surface, at the existing and variable grades, and in existing right-of-way (exclusive, semi-exclusive, or otherwise). Thus the need for carefully targeted investments big and small, and for policies that make the baseline transit work really well even where it must share the road (and in less-congested areas, even share the lane).

        Did you notice how much it cost to build the FHSC, a trolley that doesn’t even bother to move fast enough or follow a legible enough corridor to replace a single existing service? You need to stop thinking of “rail” as some kind of in-a-vacuum 1:1 replacement for other modes.

        Or you need to move to beautiful “downtown Lynnwood” so you can ride our dumb sprawl rail every day. Even after the projections fail and the frequencies get cut. Even after you realize life exists beyond the U-District and central Broadway. It sounds like that would actually make you happier than having even an ounce of the mobility freedom for which the rest of us are so desperate, but which you will so gleefully attack if it deigns to include buses.

      31. Ah well. I had thought we were having an actual conversation. Sorry I wasted my time trying to share my point of view, as you clearly don’t care.

      32. I care that you are passionate, and so I wish you could be reasonable as well.

        I am, however, quite dismayed that you would respond to Chris’s thoughtful distillation of the very slim from-scratch-rail-justifying conditions with yet another bout of “we’re totally going to build zillions of dollars in statistically-unjustifiable infrastructure, so we should make this hypothetical infrastructure rail because I hate buses”.

        I can’t have a rational discussion with someone who insists on clinging that hard to false premises.

      33. If your goal is to change my mind, you might start by responding to the things I am actually saying instead of ranting about these bizarrely exaggerated statements you attribute to me which are not things I ever said and are not ideas I would actually agree with. Your passion is admirable, but it’s not that I’m unwilling to change my mind, it’s that I can’t see how your arguments relate to what’s in my mind, except that you are completely, utterly certain that I am wrong. Which is not in itself persuasive.

        What you are calling my “premises” are simply the conclusions I have drawn from my life experiences. We all have our own perspectives and this one is mine. I am willing to change my opinions when I learn about ways my perspective is limited, but what you’re doing adds nothing, it merely asserts your opinion about my wrongness with greater and greater force. So what? We’re just transit nerds arguing on the internet. If you want me to change my mind, show me something new.

        I wasted all that time telling you where my perspective comes from because I hoped we could come to some sort of interesting understanding. I’m disappointed that you don’t seem to care, because I *wanted* to learn something. And it seems pretty clear that you don’t understand my perspective, so I wanted to give *you* the opportunity to learn something, since there are lots of people who look at transit issues similarly to the way I do, but for some reason this never seems to come up in transit discussions.

        Maybe you would have an easier time convincing people like me that your ideas would work if you could show that you understand where we’re coming from before telling us how utterly wrong, wrong, wrong and terrible we are.

      34. Mars,

        Again, I’m curious what your specific objections to buses are. I suspect these are all things that with public pressure on our transit agencies can be fixed and not anything inherent to buses.

        A simple reality for Seattle is there is only so much rail we can afford to build, particularly grade separated rail. Building that rail will take a long time so it s very worth seeing what can be done with buses in the interim. Furthermore there are many corridors where rail will be hard or impossible to justify. For those corridors why don’t we make the bus service as good as it can be?

        An example of something that could be done now for realtively low cost is to improve RapidRide E to the same standards as SWIFT. Take HOV lanes the entire length of 99, 100% off board paymen, very agressive signal priority, cut down the number of stops to no closer than 1/2 mile from each other, etc.

        Sure we could do a mixed traffic streetcar or surface light rail instead but that would be very expensive for no gain in ridership or speed.

        Take West Seattle for another example. While the bridge is a chokepoint it is more than wide encough to take a couple lanes for transit. It is simply a question of political will. Once in West Seattle there really aren’t any areas with the sort of density to justify grade separated transit. It is fairly spread out too, so much better to have buses fan out to the current RR C route and the 120 corridor along Delridge to Burien.

        If need be a couple block bus tunnel could potentially replace the current surface routing in the junction. Though truth be told, there is plenty of room for transit lanes here. Again it is mostly a problem of political will.

        Sure you hear ‘BRT’ and you think ‘cheap’ because all too often in the US so called BRT lines are as disappointing as RapidRide. Really nothing more than the same old bus with a fancy paint job.

        OTOH you don’t have to look far to find some decent examples. Everything from the pre-Link DSTT, to SWIFT, to EMX in Eugene, to LA’s Orange Line. BRT doesn’t always have to be the same ol’ bus with fancy paint.

        At the end of the day we as voters have to put pressure on local transit agencies to provide real mobility options which means getting the best bang for buck and attempting to minimize the politically driven boondoggles or watering down of BRT.

      35. Hi Chris. Thanks for your reply.

        It’s less about specific objections and more about a lifetime of bad experiences. I don’t know why it is that buses always suck, but so far they always have, and I’m tired of hoping for improvement that never comes. I don’t know whether the limits are technological, social, or political, but they appear to be intractable, so worrying about them has come to feel like a waste of time.

        I have no *objection* to improving existing bus service, I just don’t really *care*, because what I really want is to get most people riding transit for most trips. How can we make transit so good that people will prefer it to driving their own cars? I don’t believe we can do that with buses for any reasonable amount of money, and I don’t believe we will ever convince voters to spend an *un*reasonable amount of money improving the bus network.

        I do see hope, however, that we can convince voters to spend an unreasonable amount of money building a rail network. The monorail concept was popular, Link is popular, and outside transit-fan circles, people seem to have generally positive feelings about the streetcar, despite its high cost.

        Climate change demands that we tackle the transit problem at a larger scale and more rapid pace than we are used to. I think that a clear plan for a big ambitious rail network could motivate enough political support to break through the funding limits we are used to. It’s fine if we keep improving the buses, but I want to see a plan that will show people that they could have a good life in the city without having to drive. We won’t get there with an “eat your vegetables” moralistic appeal to use the existing bus system, and we won’t inspire people to bust open their wallets if we are selling them more of the same; we’re only going to get mass change if we can show people something new and clearly, significantly better.

        That’s how I see it anyway, but I’m no professional, just some dude on the internet trying to see what he can do to help.

      36. I do see hope, however, that we can convince voters to spend an unreasonable amount of money building a rail network…. Climate change demands that we tackle the transit problem at a larger scale and more rapid pace than we are used to.

        This, right here, is what I was describing as your insistent “false premise”.

        You treat as a given that Seattle could [nay] should [nay] must construct such massive quantities of from-scratch transit infrastructure that you can reach every nook and cranny of the city (and region?) using only that from-scratch infrastructure and your two feet, without ever deigning to use a vehicle that plies the existing street grid.

        And then, from this impossible premise, you suggest that we might as well make all this new infrastructure (and any remaining street-based transit) rail, as if modal distinctions even matter once you’ve constructed such an impossibly high barrier to implementation.

        I am trying very hard not to call your “perspectives” delusional, but you seem to be impervious to every new attempt to explain the limits that Seattle’s A) mid-sized population; B) low-density existing form; and C) broad geographic extent place upon your dream.

        Your false premise relies on the idea that is we just “open our wallets” wide enough, any amount of pervasive transportation infrastructure can become a reality. This is simply wrong. You could put us $100 billion in hock — that’s $142,000 for every man, woman, and child in the city, by the way — and still not build enough rail to reach it on foot from everywhere you might want to be, in the way you envision yourself doing in Manhattan.

        And because we are not Manhattan and will never be, those trains would be running really, really, really empty all the time. And all because you refuse to admit that regular ol’ buses can have a place in the functional transport network of a mid-sized city!

        Seems a bit… nonsensical. Does it not?

      37. One more thing: If you care about climate change at all, then it should become your primary goal to provide the people with transportation options that are fast enough, reliable enough, pleasant enough, and logical enough that they become just plain sensible to use.

        And since you literally cannot do this for all of the people all of the time, you should endeavor to do so for lots of the people lots of the time. That means writing off some low-density suburbs for the sake of getting city people and higher-density suburbanites out of their cars. And (more difficult to adjudicate), it also means writing off some lesser-ROI high-capitol-cost projects where incremental improvements to a host of baseline services can achieve better mobility outcomes for more people.

        You mention the “positive impression” (some) Seattleites retain of the streetcars. That’s because their use of the things is so explicitly rare — that’s a fact; see the ridership numbers — that there is a touristic charm to the scarcity of the experience.

        But build 100x as much slow, meandering, ultimately useless-to-mobility-or-range streetcar ROW around this town, and the charm will quickly dissipate. “Back in the car, kids; we have stuff we actually need to do!” All bad transit repels users.

      38. Got a better idea for stemming the flow of CO2 into the atmosphere?

        Yes; see above. Make smart transportation choices for real people, not fanciful ones for “dreamers”.

      39. By “dreamers” are you including the majority of the Seattle population who currently don’t use transit at all, and the supermajority who never use transit for anything but their commute to work?

        Because that’s the problem we have to solve here, and incremental improvement to the bus network will never accomplish that.

        Of course it’s going to be fantastically expensive. So what? What else are we going to do, sit here and let the planet burn?

        I’m not opposed to your “smart transportation choices for real people”, they just aren’t going to register against the scale of the problem I’m looking at.

      40. Also, when I say that you are consistently arguing with an exaggerated straw-man version of me and not engaging with what I’m actually advocating, I am referring to statements like this one:

        You treat as a given that Seattle could [nay] should [nay] must construct such massive quantities of from-scratch transit infrastructure that you can reach every nook and cranny of the city (and region?) using only that from-scratch infrastructure and your two feet, without ever deigning to use a vehicle that plies the existing street grid.

        Not only do I not treat that as a “given”, it’s not even close to what I’m actually concluding from my actual premises, which I’ve already explained in plenty of detail.

      41. And now we’re back to “current Seattle transit is repellant, so that ‘proves’ any and all non-trillion-dollar-100%-rail transit solutions must be repellant”.

        [Ad hom]

        This is going nowhere. Have a good weekend.

      42. That’s ok; I think you are astonishingly rude, but you’re so so over-the-top with it it’s actually kind of endearing. I like a lot of what you have to say and wish you could actually listen to what I’m saying so we could have a reasonable conversation about it.

        Anyway, yeah, let’s go enjoy the sunshine and take this up some other time, with hopefully more productive results.

      43. You have said that, explicitly, about half a dozen times now.

        “If I can’t get to rail transit on foot, I’m driving, as is everyone else, who I presume to be as closed-minded as I am.”

        And then you speak of the zillions of dollars we’ll spend in “bridges and elevated lanes” to get to every corner of the universe. (Or perhaps just the the corners where Mars goes.)

        “Open our wallets for rail.”

        I wish I were exaggerating. But read back — I am not.

  3. His proposal is not as whacky as I first thought. But I have a question: Why not BRT? For that matter, why not just add the transit lanes?

    It seems to me that are two things he is proposing here:

    1) Miles and miles of new transit lanes.
    2) A new surface rail network

    I think it is a great idea to add miles and miles of new transit lanes. That won’t be easy, but if he does that, why stop at bridges? If you are going to take lanes on Westlake, for example, don’t you want to take a lane on the Fremont Bridge? Same with Eastlake and the University Bridge.

    All systems have trade-offs, but the only advantage of rail is greater capacity, and even then, the difference is minor (and only if you invest in much bigger streetcars than we have now). The operational advantage to streetcars are based on this one factor — they can carry more people per driver. But that cost savings is contingent on a service reduction. The only way that streetcars are cheaper to run than BRT is if they are bigger and run less often. For a system that won’t cross bridges, and thus will require lots of transfers, this is not a good thing. I would rather have a bus running every ten minutes, rather than a train running every fifteen.

    Meanwhile, streetcars are limited to where they can go — they have to avoid steep hills. They can’t change lanes or take a different route if there is an accident (or a temporary closure). I only see an advantage to streetcars in very rare cases, and this isn’t one of those cases.

    I think the proposal does a good job of explaining some of the trade-offs. No bridges and no complete separation saves a lot of money. It is still isn’t as fast as you would want (you have to wait for stop lights) but much faster than existing buses, and often faster than cars (they don’t have their own lane). Adding off board payment and level boarding (with streetcars or BRT) would make things even better. It isn’t clear to me how much better though. If you simply added transit lanes, then the difference on a bus like the Metro 8 would be huge. Adding off board payment and level boarding would be nice, but make a smaller difference.

    It seems to me that he has made a good case for adding lots of new transit lanes (as politically difficult as that will be) and a good case for BRT. But he has made no case for streetcars, other than appealing to nostalgia (nice Kroll map).

    1. Streetcars have accessibility and comfort advantages, too, given the less bumpy ride.

      1. Indeed. And rail increases property values, and has induced demand. Though I have little use for it, I *love* the SLUT. It’s so nice, quiet and clean.

      2. … and spacious and free, unlike those Metro buses, which are always so crowded despite the fact that they charge.

      3. Actually, Ross, lately the SLUT appears to be employing a full-time ORCA inspector to make sure all of those 2.5 people on the mid-day trips have paid their $2.50s.

    2. Appealing to nostalgia is not a bad strategy to win votes. Taking lanes will be politically difficult, and the median voter is going to want something impressive in exchange.

    3. “why not just add the transit lanes?”

      Exactly. That’s where his vision overlaps with ours. As somebody said about Roosevelt, “Transit lanes are a great idea, why don’t we stripe them first so the existing buses can use them, and then do the rest of the project.” The perennial problem is, those who want to keep the free/inexpensive street parking will oppose them. We have to get it so that it’s more than just us demanding transit lanes and saying they’re more important than street parking. This may be one sign that other city residents are starting to warm up to the idea.

      1. To be fair (to the city that is doing the planning) sometimes the striping might require a lot more infrastructure to go along with it (if they make the left lane). I could go either way. Simply adding right lane bus lanes would improve things dramatically in many areas at very little cost. You still have to get buy off from the public, and that takes time. That still means paying a political price (as you mentioned). When you do that, do you want to go whole hog and go a bit further, with left side lanes? If so, you have to build more infrastructure (if not buy new buses).

        So I admire the man’s ambition, but other than that, I’m not too excited about it. Miles and miles of new transit lanes would be great, but it might make more sense to do what the city is actively doing, and take it a step further. If done right, it means really fast transit on the street. Not just a bit faster than driving, but a lot faster.

      2. Well, I suppose we can’t have a transit lane where the buses drop to half-hourly (e.g., 66, 40) because that’s insufficient transit use of the lane. It would have to wait until the buses reach 15-minutes full time (44, D).

  4. I’d love to see this actually happen more than almost anyone. I’ve been daydreaming of such a system for 25 years. His intention is terrific, and his prognosis is pretty spot on – we really must act faster, both in terms of long-range planning, and in terms of the kind of planning we do so that we don’t keep perpetuating this cycle of hugely expensive projects that serve a small portion of our neighborhoods, and won’t get built for 20-30 years.

    The problem though is the planning component. This follows an approach eerily similar to the Seattle Monorail Project (SMP), which I supported enthusiastically. That could have been open quickly and relatively cheaply – much faster than what we’ve seen with Link. However, without good upfront financial planning and engineering – and crucially – without support from the political establishment, it died an agonizing death once the financing ended up being poorly devised (and the management poorly run). It’s imprudent and impossible to fund a plan without doing some basic engineering first, and without getting the political establishment on board. If we can learn from the SMP, then perhaps he could pitch an initial effort to do corridor studies and engineering. These don’t need to be as complex perhaps as those done for Link, and hopefully wouldn’t take nearly as long, but could within a few years give us a map of the city, with good route options and somewhat reliable cost estimates.

    With that, we could actually vote on something buildable. I for one would be incredibly happy about it – let’s just learn from past mistakes. Now if only we hadn’t started that tunnel along the waterfront…

    1. But why choose rail over BRT? For that matter, why not just focus on the transit lanes first? He wants to add miles of new transit lanes, but none of those lanes can be on a steep hill (of which we have plenty). None of them can go over a bridge (no new bridges). So, basically, if I want to from Ballard to South Lake Union, I take a train, then maybe walk over the bridge and take another train.

      1. The decision about BRT vs. rail impacts *which* lanes to take. Presumably, rail would be center-running where possible. BRT could, too, but it would then have to be different livery. The buses would then have to have doors on both sides to make stops on streets where center-running doesn’t work. If we are to go the route of center-running BRT, we should try to stick with that on all new BRT routes, to develop a left-door fleet without the huge spare ratio Madison BRT will need if it is the only southpaw BRT route.

      2. Why choose rail over BRT? Because this isn’t about transportation, it is about getting elected. And proposing rail will get you a heck of a lot more votes than proposing more buses.

      3. @Brent, there’s no way this proposal can have center boarding for the cost they’re predicting. otherwise, it would include the “street maintenance” budget Roderick mentioned.

      4. We would have to buy a brand new fleet of streetcars as well, if we want them to be bigger than our buses (our current ones aren’t). There are other ways to have left lane running buses (as discussed here But as Zach said, that is more expensive.

        I think Lazarus is right — this may be all political. But that worries me. He might get elected, and then what? He pushes his dream, and we do as we always do — we half ass it. What it means in this case is a bunch of streetcars (not as many as he envisioned) running on the right side of the road in the few areas of the city where they can run (on the flats). All in all, it might be a huge waste of money compared to what the city is going through right now (discussing solutions for particular corridors and hopefully looking at the city more holistically).

      5. I don’t think those politics are that risky. There are only two sizeable factions: those who don’t want change, and those who want a high-quality transit network. Those who don’t want change have numerous reasons: don’t want their taxes raised, don’t want to lose parking, don’t want to lose their legacy bus route, don’t want apartments in their neighborhood. Those who want a high-quality transit network are mostly flexible: they’ll listen to arguments by Seattle Subway, Jarrett Walker, etc, that an all-train, all-streetcar, all-monorail system may not be the best. What they want is to get around conveniently without driving. The reason they’re so pro-train is they don’t believe the government will actually deliver high-quality bus service, but if they can be convinced about that they’ll get on board. Those who insist on trains with no exceptions are a small minority.

        What’s missing in the advocacy arena is something for the pro-transit people to coalesce around. Seattle Subway has heretofore focused on regional transit and, shall we say, regional-local subways (i.e., more stations than ST’s). But what goes around them? What serves the neighborhoods they don’t reach? That’s where Roderick is coming in and the monorail did. If we don’t want those, what do we want instead? We talk abstractly about feeders and transit lanes, but what exactly would that mean to somebody living in any particular location. David Lawson has done excellent work reorganizing Metro, but it was based on the current budget or a percentage increase. But what is our ideal level? How comprehensive would it be, how much would it cost, and what would it mean for somebody living in Greenwood or anywhere? The only way to convince more people to give up street parking for transit lanes is to show them how much access to places they’ll get for it, and show them it’s enough that they don’t need that much parking, or show them the transit customers who can replace driving customers at their

      6. Taking parking lanes isn’t that difficult. But taking general purpose lanes is. People assume (many times correctly) that it will add to traffic. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t attempt it, but just expect more than your average amount of blow back.

  5. On another note, I always cringe when I hear representatives mention Portland as a model. He didn’t specifically say we wanted to be like Portland (unlike another city council member) but he did mention their system. Just once I would like to hear someone say “We want to be like Vancouver”.

    Speaking of which, he is flirting with whacky territory here. Saying that a single-occupancy, gasoline-powered car will soon be a thing of the past is really stretching it. I think he needs to tone it down a bit if he wants to get elected. There is no way anyone can predict what will happen with cars. I would hate to see him labeled a fringe candidate based on some of his ideas (including this one). I think he has some good ideas, especially with regards to zoning.

    I think that is what bothers me most about most of the candidates. They fail to consider what other cities have done. San Fransisco has gone through the “preserve, tax, and control” approach to rent, and it is a disaster. Why not be as lenient with ADU zoning as our nearest (and most similar) neighbors? From a transit perspective, the best model for us (by far) is Vancouver BC. We can’t do everything they have done, but why not try and take their best ideas to heart (focus on integrating bus and rail transit)?

    1. 100 percent agree. Our city leadership should be looking to VAN not PDX. Vancouver has probably the best system of any midsized city I know of.

  6. Wings? Not a chance. This is monorail type foolishness on steroids.

    Don’t get me wrong. I would love for Seattle to build a mid level rail component connecting more neighborhoods, but 100 miles for $1b? Nope. Not a chance in heck

  7. So, what is it that the incumbent, Councilmember Burgess, is doing wrong on transportation issues (besides being a die-hard backer of the viaduct tunnel)?

      1. I don’t expect the next city council to have the power to undo all the work done and money spent. I also don’t think we should support someone who promises to keep all road lanes open for SOVs, to limit bus improvements to more service hours, to put parking instead of housing next to train stations, and to oppose ST3, just because they also happen to support shutting down the viaduct replacement program. Indeed, anyone who promises to shut down the viaduct replacement program is a dubious candidate for the council.

        Do you have other transportation-related strikes against Burgess?

      2. What’s wrong with the tunnel, though? Besides time delays [which granted suck], due to the design-build contract the state has with the contractor, no extra costs will be born by the taxpayer.

        Normal objection #1: But the contractor can fold! Answer: STP is set up as a JV, so unless the partners fold [both of which are giant corporations], STP will not fold.

        Normal objection #: But the contractor will sue the state! Answer: That’ll likely happen, and it’s their right: this is America after all. The key is that the state isn’t trying to get money back from the contractor, the contractor is trying to get money from the state. If a lawsuit takes 10 years to litigate, the taxpayers will still have their capital.

      3. The problem with the tunnel predates the actual construction problems they are currently having. It is simply a terrible value. It is bad for drivers, since we will get very little out of it (no downtown exits and even worse, no Western exit). It is bad for transit, because it does nothing for transit (no HOV lanes, no downtown exits, etc.). It is OK for the waterfront, but just about any solution would have been an improvement over the noisy, outdated current viaduct. A new viaduct would have been much smaller and quieter than the current one, and would have been much cheaper than the tunnel (and had a Western exit). That money could have been used for other improvements (such as improvements to I-5). Speaking of which, just using the money on improving I-5 and transit would have been a much better value (for everyone).

        This kind of reminds me of the Iraq War. It was a bad idea, poorly executed. You can focus on the poor execution all you want but the idea itself was really, really stupid.

      4. I don’t know that it was that good for the waterfront. My impression is that through traffic will increase after the tunnel is built due to all the 15th Ave through traffic that will wind up on Alaskan Way that currently uses the viaduct.

        Dumping a bunch of high speed through traffic into an area they want to remake into something a bit more pedestrian and tourist friendly seems a bit counterproductive.

      5. “A new viaduct would have been much smaller and quieter than the current one”

        That’s not what I heard. A new viaduct would be larger and wouldn’t have a view from it because of all the current safety regulations.

      6. You both are totally underestimating the enormous impact taking SR99 underground will have not only on the waterfront, but in QA/Belltown. It’ll dramatically increase waterfront property value, expand Pike Place Market, and create a long (pretty awesome looking park). In QA/Belltown, it’ll finally connect those two neighborhoods in a pedestrian/bike friendly connection and open up lots of new transportation connections.

        Point taken about the “downtown stops”, but I’d bet the state has data that shows the downtown viaduct exits are relatively underused.

        Your point about this money being used elsewhere is kind of a non-sequitur because monies in government budgets are not fungible at all: WSDOT had to repair their failing state route, and that monies could only be spent on that state road.

      7. Nope, the Sate’s data shows that 60% of Viaduct trips get on or off on those Downtown exits. That’s why they were able to get away with reducing the number of lanes, they know there will be less vehicles in it anyways.

      8. I agree Zach, Pike Place will be a much nicer place. But if you rebuilt the viaduct like so: you would have money left over for transit. You could even siphon some of that money to extend the cap on I-5 (north). That would be just as nice a value for the money as the tunnel.

        That wouldn’t be my first choice — my first choice would be just running it on the ground. There are lots of highways (including that one) that run on the ground. There is no reason the state couldn’t put money into improving I-5 and transit, while 99 would become a surface street through there. Yes, a highway with traffic lights and everything, just like a lot of our highways (complete with 30 MPH speed limits). As it is, we are building a similar road down below (with lots of lanes) to compensate for the fact that the tunnel doesn’t have downtown or Western Avenue exits.

        That’s the thing. The committee tasked with coming up with a plan did a lot work and got people from various interests together and came up with two choices — a new viaduct or a surface option (along with improvements to I-5 and transit). But all of that was rejected because Nickels thought a tunnel was a great idea. It was, but like this idea, it really made no sense once you examined the details. It was too expensive, which meant no money for other improvements (like I-5 or transit) and no money for proper exits. It is simply a bypass road — handy for a handful, but a terrible value overall. Even as a park it is a terrible value (I would rather cap I-5).

    1. Personally, I don’t see him as a transportation visionary. As one of two at-large councilors, leading city wide initiatives like this becomes even more important. While this plan if far from perfect, it indicates a willingness to propose brave, new strategies to move people in the city.

      I have other reasons why I’m not voting for Burgess, but he’s not great on transportation by any means.

      1. Could you cite specific examples of poor transportation decisions he has voted for? (other than the tunnel that we have beaten to death)

      2. As I’ve said, it’s not what he voted for, it’s what he didn’t propose. He’s not a leader on transportation which we need in the at-large seat.

    2. Plan B for Bertha:
      1) Extend 2000′ along seawall to Pike/Pine Portal
      2) Continue cement pier rows entire tunnel length
      3) Extend Battery Street Tunnel per FEIS
      4) Lower Belltown 2008 Scenario ‘G’ or 2-stoplight per DEIS

      This Plan B offers means to stabilize soils in which the bore tunnel is set. If Bertha breaks down again, it can be fixed. The tunnel does not proceed 60′ deeper (near Spring St) in watery unstable soils nor located directly beneath vulnerable historic and modern downtown buildings, below sea level near Denny Way. Access to Western Ave is achieved. Lower-Belltown to Alaskan Way access also possible.

  8. It will be interesting to see if ST3 and Murry’s billion get by voters. For another politician pushing another transportation agenda is a bit much. Come back in 25 years and then lets talk.

  9. I think both Mr. Roderick and his opponents are acting as if the idea of a pervasive street rail system is something new. A hundred years ago, many cities had car-lines on every arterial.

    Including in the days when motormen spent their shifts cursing and desperately ringing their bells at horses pulling wagons whose drivers could out-curse the whole world.

    Sound Transit Reception has a photo of a streetcar turning past current ST headquarters, from eastbound Jackson to southbound Fourth. Also, among others, University Street and Fremont drawbridges still show grooves for tracks.

    Nor is was there ever anything anti-regional about these lines. Check online for “Interurban” in general and Electroliner” specifically.

    This Chicago and North Shore “proto-bullet train” ran streetcar tracks in mixed traffic through Milwaukee before it went screaming down the Skokie Valley for Chicago at 100 mph. Where it ran elevated around the “loop” of elevated over Downtown.

    In Karlsruhe, Germany, at least one light rail line also runs intercity. My own definition of the term “light rail” is the ability to run streetcar grades and curves- where this can’t be avoided. LINK is an excellent example.

    But the monorail effort, whose proponents also insisted would cost only a billion dollars, proves that before on more word is printed, every detail of Mr. Roderick’s plan needs to be carefully screened for devils. Especially, streetcar or busway, about cross-streets and lane space.

    Since Yelm is only a few miles from Olympia, I’ll go over and talk with J. Z. Knight to see if Ramtha ever spent an incarnation driving either a streetcar or a freight-wagon through the streets of Chicago in 1899.

    And get back to STB and the Council campaign on the results.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Ah yes. You know what they say about the Queen of Yelm: “Seth Speaks, but Ramtha Squeaks!”

  10. The short lines would have to lead to a common maintenance base. If it’s not crossing bridges then there would have to be at least three bases: north Seattle, central/south Seattle, and West Seattle.

  11. The price is all wrong. Streetcars cost a couple million each. Non-connected lines mean a maintenance base on each one.

    Even rapid ride, without laying tracks or building maintenance bases at all, paid $200 million in capital costs just for passenger facilities, signal switches, coaches, etc.

  12. Erica, you’re being too kind. This is not a plan, it’s just crazy nostalgia stuff.

    He wants to put streetcars back on the bluff behind the houses on Candy Cane Lane at the edge of Ravenna Park? He wants the one-way loop around Green Lake? He wants to keep the tails of the 3 and 4?

    And ooopsie, he neglected to notice that the lines on Madison west of 14th, on James, and on Yesler were cable cars. It was “street rail” all right; it had three “rails” just like a Lionel.

    If he’s proposing a 100 mile system he needs a current map with lines which are possible politically.

    It is impossible to get lanes on all the arterials he would hijack; the city will grind to a halt. Most of them don’t need rail lines for capacity anyway. As Ross noted, more frequent buses are more useful to people. The only time that trams make sense is when buses would be running more often than five minutes apart. Sub-five minute headways are little more useful to people than five minute ones, because bunching starts rapidly when vehicles are that close together. A rider can’t depend that a vehicle will be at her or his stop every three minutes with three minute timetable headways. She or he has to allow five minutes anyway. But five minutes can be at least more reliably maintained in street running.

    If he wants to improve neighborhood ambiance — and I like that idea, for sure — expand the trolley fleet and require Metro to run them on the weekends too. So what if they need a line crew on duty; the city can pay for it.

    Give buses — trolley and diesel — absolute signal priority at intersections where minor arterials cross and queue jump lanes at major ones where possible. For instance, on 15th NW, 85th, 80th, 65th and Market are “major” cross-arterials in the D-Line’s “catchment” area. Where it is possible to squeeze lanes a bit and perhaps widen the roadway a few feet to provide a bus lane it should be done. At such intersections buses should also have provisional signal advance (e.g. the advance can’t initiate for 20 to 25 seconds after the green for the cross-street or whatever is appropriate) and yellow delays of up to fifteen seconds, say. With exclusive lanes those priorities should allow for reliable schedule keeping without exclusive lanes. But the minor cross-arterials with lights (75th, 70th, and 60th) should have absolute bus priority congruent with safety. Even if the light turned green for the cross-street only five seconds ago, an approaching D-Line should have the right to trigger the yellow cycle for the crosser when it comes within range.

    However, this sort of treatment should be rare. With the exception of Aurora, Elliott/15th West (but not 15th NW north of Market), Rainier south of Mt. Baker Station, and Avalon down the hill, there are no streets which have enough vehicles to justify giving exclusive lanes over their entire length.

    1. Yeah, I agree. His heart is in the right place, but I just don’t see it. The one thing I like is having a radical transit advocate on the council fighting to “take lanes”. But someone like that needs to do his homework. It can happen — it will happen on selective streets — but it will be rare enough to warrant other investments on those streets (as the city is suggesting with Madison). But I have no problem with pushing for it throughout the city (e. g. full time, not just rush hour transit lanes on Aurora and 15th). Other than that, I really don’t like what he is proposing. It is too detailed (rail instead of BRT) and too grandiose (rail everywhere!). I would much rather have a guy proposing that we simply take all those lanes for transit. That would be cheaper, and just as unrealistic. But it would push them to take more lanes for transit, and that would be a good thing.

      I agree with your point about signal priority. This happened me the other day as I was crossing NE 125th and 5th NE on foot. I pushed the walk button without thinking and waited to cross. I got my walk signal right away. Then I saw the 41 (from the east) approaching. I felt guilty. I would have gladly waited a couple seconds for the bus (full of passengers) to cruise by, but I didn’t look. Signal priority would have meant that I waited ten more seconds and then crossed, while dozens of passengers got to their destination a little faster.

      1. More times than I’d like I’ve requested a pedestrian signal at a mid-block crossing on MLK only to notice that I just gave an oncoming 8 a red. Feels bad.

        Not as often but still more than once I’ve stopped a Link train. The vast majority of the time Link trains get priority, but every once in awhile the pedestrian light usurps Link. Stopping a train full of people feels even worse than stopping a bus.

    2. Thanks for helping get the discussion into street rail past, Anandakos. One car-line I’d love to see brought back is a true Seattle original: The Queen Anne Counterbalance.

      One advantage a trolley bus has over a streetcar is its ability to take heavy passenger loads up and down extremely steep hills. Every Metro trolley driver should take a windshield- view seat aboard aboard San Francisco MUNI’s 24 Divisadero.

      And King County should contract with MUNI to give every new Atlantic Base driver a month’s intensive (there isn’t any other kind) training driving the 24. Re: State Industrial: permanent immunity to terror.

      In 1902, trolley buses weren’t yet widespread. But since Queen Anne had only one vertical stretch of track, a full cable railway wasn’t warranted. So the line installed a 16-ton weighted flatcar in its own subway under the track- needing no power but gravity.

      A car would stop at the top or bottom of the grade. An attendant would fasten a looped cable to the front of the car- protruding from the grooved slot above the 16-ton weight.

      A south-bound car would pull the weight-car up the hill.
      The weight would then be a the top of the grade- waiting to pull a northbound streetcar up. A hooking mistake, and…use your imagination.

      One wonderful coffee-table book, “The Time of the Trolley” (William D. Middleton) called it an example of “The slightly demented mechanism common to street rail”. But- maybe because liability law was different- the last hook-up was in 1940.

      So: I would definitely support extending the First Hill Connector to Seattle University. There’d be no First Hill Streetcar-type overhead conflict, since, powered by the cable, the cars could drop poles or pantograph.

      We could charge tourists at least ten dollars a ride. But most important, it’s a good idea for the transit industry to remember how to build and operate things that use gravity instead of gigabytes. Remember, same solar flare could take both “chopper” controls and transit alerts at once.


      1. I hear you on the Divisadero Hill, brother! Back in the day when I’d be hitchhiking in from Marin County occasionally I’d get a car headed for somewhere along Divis or Castro. Climbing the north side of the hill is like taking a rocket straight into space!

    3. Is that his map or is it an old streetcar map? Several of the lines look like old streetcar lines. He wasn’t going to cross any bridges but this one crosses the Ballard Bridge (a bit further east than the current bridge), two Fremont bridges (there was a temporary one further east when the main one was rebuilt), and the University Bridge. It doesn’t go north of 85th, which was the old city boundary. There’s nothing in northeast Seattle, which was built up in the 1950s. The route through Ravenna Park may explain why there’s a road at the bottom of the ravine. The lines in Queen Anne and the CD look all stubby, like when a smaller city was more downtown-centric. Where is I-5, 520, 99?

      Oh, awesome! This shows what Summit was like before I-5. An uninterrupted grid of small blocks right down the hill to SLU and lower Queen Anne. There appears to be gaps in a few lines (Eastlake, Westlake, 1st Ave S, California Ave SW. Were these tunnels? Why short tunnels there?

      The oddest thing is the Broadway streetcar crosses the University Bridge but I thought it didn’t. The Broadway bus in the 60s and 70s just went down to Eastlake and you had to transfer to an Eastlake bus to get to the U-District. Why didn’t the bus go from Broadway to the U-District if a previous streetcar did? The gaps on 23rd probably aren’t tunnels, but reflect the lack of a Montlake-Rainier line before the 48.

      1. The #9 stopped at Eastlake because there was no overhead across the bridge. It was added in the Trolley System Rebuild in the mid-1970’s

      2. So the 7 MAPLE LEAF and the 7 LAKE CITY and 7 WEDGWOOD and 8 RAVENNA were all diesel?

      3. Mike,

        Yes. I don’t think they were ever “trackless trolleys”, but I may be wrong. The forerunner of the 8 was that streetcar route along the south edge of Ravenna Park. By the way, it was on the rim, not down in the gorge.

      4. But they went down to Rainier on the other end, didn’t they? Does that mean Rainier Avenue didn’t have trolleybuses either?

      5. Yes. The Rainier overhead was also a part of the 1970’s rebuild. It had previously been diesel.

        It never had a streetcar.

    4. The candidates’ “plan” reminds me of Falkenbury’s original X-plan monorail. Written by himself at his kitchen table, and after the voters approved it and millions of dollars spent, everyone recognized it was worthless, so they had to come up with a new monorail plan (yes, that one went bust too, but for different reasons).

    5. Where I said “With exclusive lanes” I should have said “With those queue-jump lanes“.

  13. $10 million a mile? Depends on how it is done. Portland has been able to do build its system with very large portions from the Feds. How much of this will qualify for significant FTA money?

    It seems to me the San Diego model is better: forget the federal funds and build it without the 10 year time delay to get grants. This can be a significant savings overall due to faster construction and less paperwork.

    1. When I visited San Diego a couple decades ago, I was told that State Senator James Mills made it possible to buy the right of way of a former railroad for a very low price.

      In addition, the San Diego area is a relatively flat desert. So to be fair, every transit matter in Seattle has to be addressed as befits the family member who got no inheritance. In this case, right of way suitable for transit.

      Either in terrain like a billiard table, or with longstanding development patterns based on a series of valleys, like San Francisco.

      Because for transit, every pebble of ballast counts as a gold nugget, and every inch of flat ground might as well be paved with silver.


      1. I’m talking about the funding model.

        San Diego found it was less expensive to just build one or two of their expansion projects by themselves rather than go through the federal process. With the prospect of federal transit funds likely limited for a while due to the makeup of congress, it may be that self-funding becomes more economical than the fist fight of dealing with the federal process, and then not really winding up with much after going through the expensive process.

      2. Glenn,

        I agree completely. The Republicans are likely to win the Presidency next year and keep the Senate. There will be no Federal transit funds — except for rural transit in redneck states that have powerful earmark Senators — until at least 2022. It’s a mug’s game to depend on the FTA.

      3. Pretty far off topic, but almost every 2016 model gives the Senate handily back to the Democrats. The “which seats are up for turnover this cycle” deck is even more stacked against the GOP than 2014 was stacked in its favor.

        Presidency is probably a toss-up at this point, but with the prevailing insanity in the Republican field and an electoral/demographic math that increasingly requires conservatives to win each and every swing state, it’s probably Hillary’s to lose.

      4. d.p.,

        I hope you’re right, obviously, but I just don’t see Hillary bringing out the Hispanic and youth vote. Yes, she’d eat into the older female Republican vote, at least some, and I expect she can get a good turn-out of African-Americans, if only to vote against whoever the R’s put up.

        But she’s not going to be easily attractive to young people; she’d be almost as old as RR when she was inaugurated. And of course the R’s are going to spend a year and half a billion dollars screaming about “Benghazi!”

        Now maybe if she put Julian Castro on the ticket as VP it might excite people. And I don’t say that only because “he’s Hispanic”. He’s also intensely “Urbanist”, pretty young, and very articulate.

        For the Senate to swing the young people and Hispanic folks must come out to vote.

  14. One has to laugh.

    Seattle has waited far too long to have a world-class transit

    Yes, because Seattle wasted 25 years and billions of dollars building holes under itself, so everyone has had to “wait too long” instead of getting a very simple, rapid, regional rail system, the one the voters thought they would get. This is the typical Seattle Swindle. Propose something unworkable. Screw it up even more. Then, come up with a plan to “fix” the broken system. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

    The only decent thing is that he says they will self-fund it. Meaning possibly the deadbeats will pay up their property taxes and leave the rest of Washington State alone without hooking us for “cost overruns” due to your own unfeasible designs? Dream on. We’ll all be rooked by anything that comes from the mouths of Seattle Politicians.

  15. Roderick is getting a lot of credit (far too much) for a well-intentioned, but basically ludicrous plan. The hope seems to be that once elected to Council, his notions will be transformed into something that isn’t ridiculous.

    It’s a bit of a pander to people who think real cities do it exclusively with rail. The use case for streetcars is fairly narrow. A route that’s too big to be served with buses or even BRT, but too small for LRT. Most transit corridors aren’t like that. Transit networks certainly aren’t about one-size-fits-all streetcars.

    1. Also, this is nonsense:

      “The reality is that when they were building the South Lake Union streetcar, they were also rebuilding all the sidewalks and drainage.”

      Building anything in a city, public or private, means moving other stuff. One doesn’t just get to ignore all of the other utilities en route.

      1. That is the same mistake the monorail clowns made. They kept walking around looking up at the existing monorail saying, “Look. How easy is that? Just Rise Above It All.” Not a one of them took time to think about all the stuff under a street that needs to be moved to anchor those columns. And there are overhead utilities too.

        Ya, this guy is out to lunch, but he will probably get elected on this. It’s just more power to the mayor..

    2. Yeah, I agree. What worries me is that he might get elected, and this transforms into something that isn’t ridiculous, but is a waste of money (more streetcars, when BRT would be a better choice). I would much rather the city continue on its current path (I really like the Madison and Eastlake proposals so far — it seems really well though out).

  16. Roderick says, “We are building a system for 20 to 50 years from now, at which point the single-occupancy, gasoline-powered car is going to be a thing of our distant memory. Yes, it is difficult to paint a picture of how different it’s going to be in five or 10 years,…”
    At the midpoint of his projection (35 years from now), or in 2050, the SOV will be a distant memory, so let’s say he’s talking about the year 2040.
    Hey, the PSRC has a slightly different Vision of 2040, where all those SOV’s will be metered on every arterial in the region to pay for a lot of this.. I hope Mr Roderick has a revenue Plan B.

  17. Seems to me that, on transit, overpromising and under delivering is a proven strategy fro electoral success in the Seattle area, at least in the short term.

  18. I’m confused – what does the 10,000 foot mean in the title? 100 miles is over 50,000 feet, right? I’m assuming author is confusing 1000 meters per kilometer?

    Aside from that, why don’t we just dust off the old seattle streetcar plan that McGinn made. And to be honest, we should just pay higher taxes to speed up and bring subway style transit in seattle. That’s what we will need in the future. Not slow streetcars…

    1. A 10,000 ft plan is a sketch, one that might make sense from an airplane flying over ten thosuand feet, but which needs more filling in as you get closer to the ground.

  19. There are few corridors in Seattle that don’t go over bridges that have obviously great transit demand, where if we could build relatively cheap surface rail (i.e. cheaper than tunneling) with enough traffic separation to make it reliable even in the face of heavy traffic it would obviously be worth building, even if the real price was well north of $10M/mi.

    There’s one north of the Ship Canal: UW-Ballard (pick the center of Fremont or the center of Wallingford, a reasonable network can be filled in around either). Other than that, nothing obvious to me. West of Lake Union… any route in Westlake needs to cross the Fremont Bridge, Queen Anne is crazy steep, Magnolia has some less-steep ways but the only way in and out without a bridge is the South Ship Canal Trail, which crosses freight tracks at-grade.

    It would seem like there should be a lot in central and eastern Seattle, but most important routes use bridges to make important connections across freeways. That fact might kill the notion of applying Roderick’s idea widely and cheaply before even beginning a more detailed analysis. For example, Eastlake and Cherry each cross I-5 on terra firma. Every road crossing between the two is a bridge. So a James/Cherry route might be the sort of thing he’s thinking of (compare to a Madison/Union BRT). Or a most-of-Jackson route. My knowledge of ridership and demand factors in these corridors is limited, so I’d consider them candidates. Probably some infrastructure challenges in either case. If we found a pile of money to run tracks on the U Bridge it couldn’t benefit Capitol Hill without work on a bridge over 520, because the only non-bridge crossing of 520 is Boyer, which doesn’t really connect. Same is true of the Montlake Bridge and the Central District. 12th crosses I-90 on a bridge; 23rd and MLK cross it on the lid, which I assume is just as bad. That leaves Rainier…

    … and a segue to south Seattle. The only point against Rainier is that it’s so closely parallel to Link on MLK; it’s one of the strongest bridge-less corridors in Seattle. A Beacon Hill route (basically the lower half of the 36) might work, but it doesn’t address the need for bridge connections provided by existing bus routes.

    In West Seattle “connecting the junctions” can sound as good on the stump as Ballard-UW, but it just isn’t. Crossing the bridge and getting downtown is the big issue. West Seattle doesn’t need a bunch of $10M miles, it needs a couple $1B miles.

    So even at 10,000 feet, Roderick’s idea (I wouldn’t call it a “plan” exactly) doesn’t add up. Take out the bridges and there are maybe four lines to build, nowhere near 100 total miles in length. The vision here is to go back to the pre-car Seattle. That sounds simple, but the post-car city is in the way — the freeways and their bridges, the vastly more dispersed travel patterns, and a whole population of people accustomed to free street parking that vote.

    1. Granted a short one but I think a street car up the ave would go over good in replacing the frequent stops and congestion of the 70s buses. I think car traffic can manage here since this is a heavy pedestrian stretch where cars have always detoured. I’m not sure about Ballard to UW though. 45th would be great for a streetcar except for the fact it is a major East-West arterial for car traffic.

    2. “No North American city has more chokepoints than Seattle. The city itself consists of three peninsulas with narrow water barriers between them. Further barriers are created by steep hills in most parts of the city. Nowhere in Seattle can you travel in a straight line for more than a few miles without going into the water or over a cliff.” (–Jarrett Walker, A Carbon-Neutral Seattle, 2010) Continuing:

      “Ultimately, Seattle’s chokepoints have the effect of reducing much of the complex problem of mode share to a critical decision about a strategic spot. If you give transit an advantage through a chokepoint, you’ve given it a big advantage over a large area.”

      “What Seattle doesn’t have is a lot of transit infrastructure. Its first rail rapid transit line opened just last year, though the downtown subway that the line uses is almost 20 years old. Other than this, its speed and reliability infrastructure (as opposed to the power supply infrastructure of trolleybuses) consists of bus lanes. Seattle is used to feeling inferior on this score because Portland is just down the road, and Portland has a huge light rail network extending three directions from downtown, in addition to its much-imitated and expanding streetcar line. Yet bus-dependent Seattle has a higher transit mode share to downtown (transit trips as a percentage of all trips) than rail-oriented Portland does.”

      “Effective transit infrastructure aims for the chokepoints, and seeks an advantage there. This is part of why various forms of Bus Rapid Transit have particular potential in Seattle: if you give transit an advantage through the chokepoint, you can achieve a lot of mode shift. The bus services across Lake Washington (between Seattle and its eastern suburbs) on I-90 do well because they have preferential access through a major chokepoint. East of the lake, they spread out to serve many suburbs directly, something buses do easily and rail does only with a required transfer.”

      So what we really need to do is get superior transit across the bridges and other chokepoints. That’s the opposite of a plan that ignores the bridges because they’re expensive. So for instance, the 48 is a powerhouse because it helps people in the CD and Rainier Valley get to the UW and north Seattle. There’s a disincentive to drive because of the Montlake Bridge and 520 entrance traffic. But while its primary benefit is crossing the bridge, it secondarily serves a lot of trips between the valley, CD, and eastern Capitol Hill. So one investment can do both simultaneously. But if it doesn’t cross the bridge, then it loses its primary benefit, and there may not be enough demand left to make the rest of the route viable on its own.

      1. Thanks. That was very close to my reaction (other than the snarky comment above about overpromising) and now I don’t have to write it.

      2. Excellent quote, Mike. I agree completely (and have thought that for a while). We are all about the chokepoints. We could use (and take advantage) of areas that move fairly well, but could move better, but a major investment in wide spread rail without focusing on the chokepoints would be a big waste of money.

    3. (FWIW, I think there’s a spirit to the idea that’s right on. We need to find more cost-effective ways to build out our transit network, and the biggest and most important asset we have is the streets. But Roderick’s document doesn’t suggest that he’s thought at all about how his particular idea of building street rail applies to any particular place in Seattle, or why it hasn’t looked attractive when it’s been proposed. It looks like he doesn’t know our geography or our history.)

      1. Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I don’t like it, and the less I like about the candidate. I’m all for coming up with creative ideas, but you should run those ideas by experts before coming up with a fancy PDF proposal. It is one thing if a candidate says “we should look at a major investment in surface rail, running in their own lanes, but avoiding bridges to save money” and this document. Candidates (and elected officials) often spout out ideas, and then basically say “never mind”. But they don’t present them as proposals in this way before doing a little homework. If you sat down with half the people on the STB board, or half the people who comment regularly, you could come up with a better solution, especially if you started with the attitude that drivers will just have to deal with fewer lanes (a politically challenging proposal).

      2. Maybe some of us should sit down with Roderick and redesign the plan, then. His heart is definitely in the right place; if we can persuade him of the facts, he’d be a very valuable voice.

      3. That’s an idea. See how flexible they are and willing to recognize alternate goals.

      4. If they’re concerned about appearing wishy-washy, they could say the put it out for public discussion, and after the discussion they changed some of the goals to improve it and give it a better chance of success, and that’s what democracy’s all about and how they’d behave in office.

        The issue with unrealistic trains is not whether they proposes it once without getting expert review first, but whether they keep proposing other things without quality-control and again, and how willing they are to consider changes. The monorail campaign was willing to compromise on small issues but they were dead-set for the monorail mode and that was a huge flaw. And they couldn’t come up with an operating budget that allowed ORCA transfers, which would have severely hit ridership as people who wanted to ride the monorail stuck to buses so they could transfer free.

        Where did they get their $1 billion for 100 miles from? I think surface light rail in other cities is around $20-30 million/mile. So did they base it on something or did they make it up completely? If they made it up, they should have just said they don’t know and let experts estimate it, or say they want to do this much for this budget and how realistic is it, but instead they just assert that they can build 100 miles for $1 billion. Again, if this is quickly corrected, it’s not fatal to their candidacy. But if it shows how they’ll approach budgeting in general, it’s a big concern, and exactly the mistake the the monorail did and Link’s original budget did.

      5. Fancy PDF proposal? It’s three pages, and half of one of the pages is a couple maps cribbed from other sources (one of which has several puzzling errors). Three pages for what he calls a 100-mile, $1B system. Every STB author and half the commenters could write more words, more coherently, on smaller topics, on the spot. It’s shocking that he put this out there like it was novel or insightful. Anyone can wake up, get in the shower, and think he’s solved Seattle’s transportation problems once and for all, but politicians are supposed to have advisors to make sure they do the cursory research to avoid looking like idiots.

      6. It’s still a PDF. This is the opposite of an off the cuff remark. This isn’t a blog comment, a blog post, or even a letter to an editor (which one should write with care). This is above all that. This is basically him, as a candidate, saying “Hey everyone, I’ve written something great. Check it out, you will be amazed!”.

        The fact that it is poorly written and worse yet, not very well thought out, is the big problem. It is like a kid who hands in the report in a fancy binder but the material is obviously substandard. I would give him a lot more slack if this was just a remark, or even a blog post. But to make this a PDF suggests he thinks this is really important and well researched — but it simply isn’t.

  20. Glad to see the support for BRT here. Seattle already has miles and miles of trolley bus infrastructure. While I appreciate the lofty dream of rebuilding the City’s rail network, replacing trolley buses with streetcars is not a wise use of money when it comes to reducing our carbon footprint.

    But, I am very glad to see a politician talk about visionary goals and spark a serious discussion about what our future transit system should try to achieve. It is definitely time to get serious about transit priority, as Roderick says; but, we should build out a citywide BRT system that dovetails with light rail and utilizes our trolley bus infrastructure as much as possible to create a citywide, zero carbon transit system that reduces traffic across Seattle. That would definitely be achievable with the scale of budget John Roderick proposes.

  21. I see this more as a frustration with the ST planning process than a concrete proposal. ST did most of their analyses on a handful of corridors inside Seattle, and on only BRT or LRT in most cases. It also is an indication of the new reality of local transit, which is that Seattle now has two major transit providers as well as the city as a major policy influence — and that new reality has yet to result in a continuous, integrated transit investment process. I see the subtext as more of a call to change how we make transit investment decisions in Seattle.

  22. >>There are other people who are allergic to buses, but they can only live in places like New York and London where subways go to 80% of the city and form a grid.<<

    New York's subway system doesn't really form a grid at all. There's only one line that doesn't go into Manhattan.

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