For our next podcast, which will air sometime next week, Frank and I plan to select some questions from readers. So if there’s any subject you’d like us to discuss or questions you’d like us to answer, put it in the comments below before Sunday evening and we’ll consider if we have anything remotely interesting to say about it.

49 Replies to “Podcast Listener Mailbag #1”

  1. In the last podcast you talked about ousting of Peterson. Do you all have thoughts on Roger Millar’s appointment to acting director? He worked for Smart Growth America for a long time and helped develop the Portland Streetcar. Curious what folks are thinking in WA.

  2. The next big land use fight is the Uptown Upzones. What are the forces lining up for it, forces lining against it, and what are some early Action Alerts that we, the commentariat, can do to get the maximal heights possible before the Uptown subway stop comes online?

  3. Sorry if this is a stupid/out of place question (I think readers could answer it) but what are the gondolas everyone talks about? In one of the comment sections someone mentioned hooking them up to the CCC streetcar which really confused me because I think of gondolas as up on wires…

    1. In case they don’t answer in the pod…the general idea bouncing around for years has been a gondola from Capitol Hill station to somewhere around Seattle Center, providing a congestion-free east-west connection that avoids the political cost of taking a lane on Denny and the actual cost of tunneling. Gondolas have been gaining a little traction lately but seemingly still struggle to pass the “that’s weird” hurdle with the public/politicians. Do an image search for portland aerial tram to help wrap your head around the concept.

      1. How much research has been done on any technical matter related to aerial gondolas for use in Seattle?

        For instance, what is the maximum passenger capacity, and what speed? What are costs for both operation and maintenance?

        Especially on hillsides, will our soil or geology hold the pillars?
        How will safety and rescue be handled?

        I think that any plan for this technology really has to start with considerations like these. Which are exactly the ones the last Monorail effort willfully left out.

        Mark Dublin

      2. You would have to buy a lot of air rights to make such a line. With that area of Seattle building up, that will be mighty expensive.

    2. Knew I’d better watch that reference. I’m not sure they use them in Italy anymore-not California.

      One of those things everybody knew about. Classically, a gondola was a boat of same era and idea of an old fashioned horse-drawn carriages in Central Park.

      Traditionally, a single “gondolier” stood at the rear of the boat, using the oar to both push the boat in shallower water, and to steer for a rudder. Gondoliers also had to be able to sing, since the fleet was essential to romance,

      (One of my really saddest regrets is that the Waterfront Streetcar used to have a conductor named Eldo Kannikeberg who sang songs he wrote- with the Norwegian accent that was the worst of many losses in Ballard.)

      In the canals in Venice now, which really are arterials, average mode of transit is a long powered boat called a “vaporetto”. Works, and looks like, a motorized floating bus, stops and all.

      A few years ago, there was some talk of fitting a canal system into the Stadium neighborhood. When the northbound boring machine ran into an underground river, I don’t think anybody even considered turning the Tunnel into a canal.

      Also doubt it crossed anybody’s mind to put either a Norwegian of Italian singer on the 99.


    3. I think maybe one of the best recent examples of one being used as transit is the gondola in La Paz, Bolivia. It took an hour trip by bus and turned the uphill climb to something like 12 minutes.

      Unlike the Portland Arial Tram, it has dozens of cars running on a continuous loop so there is no meaningful waiting time.

    4. Maybe a nod to the applicability of any cable technologies would be a good topic. Funiculars and elevated cable-pulled systems could also be situationally useful.

  4. OK Martin here goes…

    a) Heard some great news from the Washington State Transit Association/WSTA:

    As you know, the WSTA legislative agenda includes an item focused on state funding for transit agencies that provide regional services. SMTA made the decision to start that conversation with legislators by requesting a budget proviso to gather data regarding regional transit services. The House passed a transportation budget this week that includes a proviso directing WSDOT’s public transportation division to review and report on regional services. The report must include information on the costs to provide those services, ridership, trips taken off of the state highway system and potential funding sources at the state level to help support those services. WSDOT must provide the report to the Legislature by November 15, 2016.

    Figured you’d have something to say. Hopefully cheerful.

    b) What does Bill Bryant or any other Republican need to do to earn your endorsement?

    c) Do you guys see a ST4 even remotely possible?

    d) Got any thoughts about Island Transit seeking fares for county connector routes?

    e) Finally, any chance of a guest host like me jamming with you guys one day on the podcast? Maybe during Seafair week since I’ll be in Seattle anyway.


    1. a) Love the priorities.
      – Cost to provide the service: we’re concerned about people who don’t take transit.
      – Ridership: a worthwhile measure.
      – Trips taken off the higheway sustem: we’re concerned about people who don’t take transit, not people who do.

      What’s missing:
      – How does it help transit riders’ mobility? Does it help them get to places they want to go to when they want to go?
      – How much does it allow them use a car less?
      – How much money do they save not using a car? How much would this help address the needs of low-income people to get around?

      1. Mike;

        The reason why the cost is so folks understand what it costs to provide these services. I consider Skagit Transit 90X vital to having a life and obviously taking 40-60 cars per run off of the Interstate highway. I quite frankly can’t drive and having cost-effective connectivity w/ neighboring transit systems really is an inducement to use transit instead of use the car to commute.

      2. Yes, I understand the cost is a practical issue when you want to implement it. But the attitude of the criteria seems like how the legislature evaluates 405 solely from the viewpoint of one-person or two-person cars, and the county requiring a traffic impact study for a half-hourly bus stop on Montlake Blvd.

    2. This is a good point on ST4, I would be interested in hearing a bit about ST2 – how it was sold, what was the original vision. How will ST3 expand on that vision.

  5. Leaving aside aesthetics, are there advantages to streetcars over electric trolley buses? Can you compare the modes as they are typically implemented – average cost, infrastructure and efficiency of real-world BRT vs the same for streetcar lines with imperfect implementation?

    1. Michael, one afternoon’s rush hour should tell you a lot. Ride heavy standing load on the South Lake Union Streetcar, and then a very crowded, preferably local, bus.

      Another time, maybe an express bus in light traffic and either streetcar or Sounder. Write a page in longhand, and see the difference in the lettering.

      Main difference for ride quality- which is both hard to measure and critically important to how willing people are to ride- is that while on the train, a passenger is either pushed or pulled by changes in speed.

      But on a bus, same forces- with a side-to-side one as well. A crowded streetcar is pretty much like an horizontal elevator. A crowded local bus ride is much worse. Check it out.

      Idea that buses can get around obstacles really doesn’t hold in heavy traffic. Generally, the lane that the bus driver needs for passing is blocked too. Same with route flexibility, since especially in Seattle, there are very few streets large enough to handle transit

      Working in general traffic should not be inflicted on any vehicle or its passengers- except that a streetcar gives more room to stand. Both need reserved lanes and signal preempt. Especially infuriating is to be held at a red-light between stops. Including ones right across the intersection.

      Maintenance often depends more on the quality of the vehicles in a given fleet. Low bid seems to guarantee worst machine of either mode. I wonder if anybody knows why even systems that ought to know that, like Gothenburg and Oslo, keep doing this. And invariably getting same bad results.

      Often overlooked consideration: both tracks and pavement require maintenance and repair. However, in these discussions, for idea that busways are just as good as rail except cheaper, best to check stats on pavement for heavy vehicles at high speed.

      Trolleybuses are excellent replacements for cable cars. Without cable or cog-wheel, a railcar can’t climb either Queen Anne Hill or Third Avenue to Harborview. Trolleybuses can pull standing loads,

      I think San Francisco shows best uses for each mode. Arterials are generally fairly level valleys, fine for streetcars. But residential neighborhoods are very vertical.

      If you’re down there, ride the 24 Divisadero both directions. A week on that run should be required training for all trolleybus drivers in every system. Because of all modes on routes with any climbing, a trolleybus takes far and away the most skill of any mode.

      Except for “Gripman” on a cable car. “Grip”, “cable”, and “San Francisco” pretty well say it.


  6. This might be off topic, but why aren’t trolley buses run on the weekends on routes 2/13 and 3/4? I don’t ever see work going on (at least in the QA sections), and it seems that many of the old trolleys have been replaced, so why is weekend service still diesel?

    1. Very likely either fleet or wire need maintenance, or there’s a blockage of some kind. Sometimes a whole line will go to diesel for a few yards of work. In busy times, line crew would run alongside the coach and pull the ropes down ’til bus was past the blockage.

      Then the bus would stop and be rewired. Is that still procedure? But big advantage of the new fleet will be ability to run a certain distance on battery, making “jumping” practice-thankfully, unnecessary.


    2. I think there is also some sort of belief that it’s cheaper to turn the substations to ‘off’ on weekends. I’m not sure if that’s actually true or not.

    3. I’ve asked bus drivers a few times whether Metro turns off the power on the weekends and the answer is always no: the dieselization is just due to construction in some part of the line.

    1. It seems like they have some sort of federal subsidy for urban parking lots. If I remember right, it comes from Housing and Urban Development Funds. One thing might be to alter how that works. Some cities probably still need such a thing, but others are better served by the equivalent funds into the FRA grant program.

  7. My question is for Martin.

    You’ve been editor in chief for longer than I’ve lived in Seattle. How do you keep doing it? What keeps you going in the face of the seemingly glacial progress, the intransigent agencies and hidebound political leaders? What would you do with your free time if you quit STB?

  8. How does sub area equity work for operations, rather than infrastructure building? If operations require large subsidies in the less dense subareas, but those places generate little tax revenue, and the dense subareas require little (or no) subsidy, but have lots of tax revenue, how does the budget get worked out? Does service to each subarea change to reduce the imbalance?

  9. Martin and Frank, present operating condition of both State and national government could very well put us in the same situation as a major earthquake:

    We might very well have to work on our own for a very long time until either of them can be of any help to us. On the other hand, the situation might also give us a lot fewer demands and stipulations that get in our way.

    The Greater Puget Sound area has one of the best local economies in the world, don’t we? Also, we’ve got much better than average overseas trading possibilities.

    My own “take” on the politics between now and 2020 is that Government at those levels is simply rusted out of commission. Partly age of the people involved, but even more the very old age of all their working ideas.

    That’s what death, birth, and voting age are there to fix. What’s the plan for next election and the next four years while we get there?


  10. My question: With so much general inclusion of better station access in both Move Seattle and ST3, how can we projects actually vetted and constructed? How can it become an integrated effort with all of the relevant agencies in the room? How can a better input process from station users be used to determine what needs to happen — that every participating agency then discusses together?

    1. I couldn’t think of a question, but that comment inspired me. What’s happening with that much-announced ST/Metro integration goal? How do you two think the agencies should handle feeder and reoragnization planning? Should they release draft reorganizations or at least planned feeder routes and service levels a lot earlier?

      This would give greater certainty on how easy it will be to get to the stations and thus how useful they’ll be. On the other hand it would also bring out opponents for 5-10 long years like a presidential campaign, and imply promises that may have to be changed if residential/trip patterns change in the meantime. The new RapidRide+ corridors give some certainty that we haven’t had before, but how much do they address the need to access Link (e.g., none go to Lake City)?

      So how do you think the agencies should handle early bus-train interaction planning? Should STB more explicitly push for this on North Link, Lynnwood Link, and the further extensions?

  11. “Exit through the rear door” – a practice that was supposed to speed up bus loading but seems to have been collectively abandoned by riders and drivers. Worth dissecting or shrugging shoulders with an “oh well we tried” attitude?

    1. This is a question I would like answered as well. If Metro really cared about this, they would do two things:

      1. Require drivers open rear doors at every requested stop, retrofit push-to-open rear doors on every bus. No more screaming “back door!” and hoping that the driver acquiesces before driving off.

      2. Make a recording “In order to expedite the boarding process, please exit only through the rear doors if you are able” and play it at every stop.

    2. Push-to-open doors may have a similar casualty. I’ve used them a few times, and at least once I’ve forgotten to push the door until the driver opened it. It’s different in cities where people have always pushed the door and you get used to it right away. The last two times I haven’t even had the opportunity to push the door because the driver opened as soon as the green light went on. I don’t know if Metro is moving toward that but maybe it is.

      Exiting rear will continue to pick up gradually I think. I’ve been doing it more recently to set a good example. And when somebody gets up to let me out of my seat and they stand behind me, I’ve started waiting until they sit down and then heading back rather than heading front, and they seem to be getting more accustomed to people doing that. Also, the newer buses have more space with side seats and 2×1 seats, so the total distance you have to walk in a narrow aisle is just one or two rows rather than several. And the “exit rear” signs are still there. So I think it will continue to pick up over time. Maybe not universally because our buses have so much 2×2 seating and the door is further back than in other cities (which have the door in the middle and mostly 2×1 seating), but moreso than now.

  12. – Early returns on the FH Streetcar?
    – Road diet on Rainier Avenue in Columbia & Hillman cities: while unquestionably good for safety, what about livability and usability as a transit corridor?
    – ST3 West Seattle light rail: Should social justice be a consideration in choosing between Alaska/California and Delridge routes?
    – 23rd Avenue work: Saw an interesting take by Dan Savage on slog a few days ago (, though-provoking view. Major and necessary investment in infrastructure improvement works in a minority neighborhood, but is deemed “racist” the moment the project inevitably hits a snag and is delayed/dragged out. The central issue: is it better to disrupt and improve, or to leave be until a critical failure point is reached?

  13. Using the monorail authority to build “heavy rail” in the Ballard-UW-Magnuson Park and Metro 8 corridors. The vehicles would be “dual mode”, with third rail collectors and pantographs. The pans would normally be folded on the “Seattle” trackage but could be extended in a transition track in order to access heavy maintenance at the Link facility.

    Trains would be stored and cleaned in “tail tracks” near Magnuson and in Interbay respectively.

    The connections to Link for maintenance would be at Ballard Station and Mt. Baker respectively.

  14. I think they should eliminate the South lake Union Street car and have the RR C hi Doreen to Fred Hutch. Discuss.

    1. The advantages of the streetcar are a more reliable schedule northbound (once parked cars are off the tracks, it’ll at least be more reliable than a bus coming from West Seattle), and a quicker connection to Westlake without traveling through Belltown. Still, it’s an attractive idea, and definitely worth consideration.

  15. Data. I’d like to understand the data sets that wsdot, metro, and sound transit use and generate. Could be population, demographics, transit use, predicted transit use.

  16. Really enjoy the podcasts, any way to get it through iTunes so I can enjoy it on my long oceanic’s?

    Anyway, any updates on Intercity rail in our area? Specifically a third daily northbound Cascades, and that daylight service to Spokane? I’ll take my answers off the air.

    1. I get them through iTunes. It’s under Podcast – Seattle Transit Blog. Sometimes there’s a delay of a day or so.

  17. Compare and contrast a Branching East link to a Kirkland to Issahquah line. Love the podcast when I’m able to listen.

  18. Should the region move from many transit agencies to one transit agency responsible for bus and rail, ala NY’s MTA and DC’s Metro?

  19. My question is why do housing construction costs rise for condos and apartments? I read these articles from developers where they need $700/sqft to cover costs (for condos), but that wasn’t the cost the last 30 years (older condos are priced lower and have seen rising values). So are construction costs increasing? is it all land costs? How does Transportation counter these cost increases?

  20. I have an idea that I’ve been thinking about for a while. This winter proved we needed better East-West WA connections. What would you guys think about starting a new once-a-day each-way Amtrak Service following the route of the Empire Builder that goes Seattle-Spokane-Portland? This would only take two trainsets and minimum capital investments, but it would also dramatically open up Spokane and Eastern WA for commuters and vacationers? It would also eliminate the extremely hostile boarding times for the Empire Builder at stations East of the Cascades. Is it worth investing in?

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