Ballard Docks

  • Seattle test will lead to regulations for dockless bike-share.
  • What the Washington train derailment means for Cascadia high-speed rail.
  • Speed control faces challenges ($), slowly gets rolling on Sounder trains.
  • What Vancouver, B.C., can teach us about housing.
  • When historic preservation clashes with housing affordability. Sightline’s Dan Bertolet catalogs several recent insane decisions from Seattle’s various landmark and historic district boards. Having read that piece, I’m really to nuke the entire dysfunctional process.
  • 120,000 square feet in the heart of Seattle is set to disappear; with the caveats that this square footage (a) is below grade and (b) will require about $100 million to bring up to code.
  • Denver vs Seattle: How our Pacific Northwest peer adds people without adding traffic. Streetblog gives a preview of the Moving People Forward conference in February, which looks very interesting.
  • Amtrak crews express concerns about training on new route where train derailed ($).
  • I-405 express toll lanes between Renton and Bellevue are on their way ($).
  • Driving from Everett to Seattle? Plan for a 94-minute commute, new report says ($). Hmmm… if only we had some technology that could provide an efficient alternative to driving for many thousands of people per day.
  • Seattle extends its run as the nation’s hottest housing market — but we may be starting to cool ($).
  • Margaret Hurley forced state to take alternate route for north Spokane freeway.
  • Elon Musk’s ideas about transportation are boring.
  • 150 studios with no parking going up in Ballard. Excellent!
  • Switzerland’s border-busting streetcar rolls Into France and Germany.
  • Boston tests faster bus service simply by laying out orange cones.
  • Agency OKs $126M budget for Tacoma Dome Link design ($).

This is an open thread.

86 Replies to “News Roundup: Insane Preservation Decisions”

  1. Meanwhile, at the other end of the urbanism spectrum, UPI is reporting that the Chinese government plans to cap the population of Shanghai at 25 million by 2035.

    Dec. 27 (UPI) — The Chinese government announced this week that it will cap the population of Shanghai at 25 million by 2035 to prevent the country’s largest city from catching “big city disease.”

    “Big city disease” is defined in the article as pollution, traffic congestion and a shortage of educational and medical services. I’ve only seen Shanghai in the movies, so I won’t make any comments about conditions there; but it is interesting that the Chinese government seems to believe that there is a limit to how big a city can grow and still be sustainable.

    I can’t imagine what Seattle (or San Francisco, Los Angeles, Vancouver) would look like with 25 million residents. Writing as someone who lives south of Jackson Street, I think there’s still room for plenty of healthy, smart growth in Seattle. But there are plenty of locals who fear that Seattle is already catching the dreaded BCD.

    Link to the UPI article:

    1. There’s a reasonable argument that w0 million or so is the maximum reasonable size of a city, and when it approaches that the authorities should plant another large city. But 25 million is a far cry from 450,000, which was Seattle’s population when it passed the CAP initiative to freeze downtown building heights. But we don’t have to guess what a 25 million population would look like: that’s the New York metropolitan area. Except most of that is suburban sprawl, so it would be denser and smaller, as if the city were extended out halfway.

    2. Seoul is about that big, and Tokyo is bigger. The problem the Chinese government is concerned about is that poor people from the villages will move to the city and dilute the urban elite. That’s all there is to it.

      And Los Angeles is currently at 19 million people; 25 million is pretty easy to get to given a reasonable regime of housing permits.

    3. Alon, do you think there’s an ideal upper limit for cities?

      I was going to mention, the problems China cites are not inevitable with mega cities, they’re due to China’s management of them. It’s possible to have a mega eco city.

      My concern with limiting cities’ size comes from a different reason. Twenty million is too large for individuals to relate to all of it, so they tend to live and work and socialize in a subset. Of course there are more job opportunities and cultural value if these subsets overlap, but if you get to twenty million people then it’s hard to imagine they can’t be just as fulfilled if the city were to split in half.

      1. Mike: no, but I think in some communities there’s a lower limit. I found Vancouver too small and Boston barely tolerable. I don’t need to relate to millions of people; I need to find a few hundred who I could relate to, and this is not always possible in a small city (Seattle counts as small for the purposes of this discussion).

    1. It’s a part of the HOT lane extension from Bellevue to Kent. They will be left-hand HOT only ramps between 405 (to/from Bellevue) and SR-167. Should be a massive improvement for buses running between the SR167 corridor and East King.

      Ramps initially may be just HOV lanes, but will become HOT lanes once the HOT lanes are built out from Renton to Bellevue (HOT lanes already exist on the SR167 portion). These direct access ramps are the keystone for well-functioning HOT lanes between south King and east King.

  2. re bike share. I find it hard to believe that the typical bikeshare ride is for recreation. Neither fact used to come to that conclusion (longer rides, off peak) necessarily point to that conclusion. There’s more than “commute” and “recreation”. There’s non-commute utility. Which is how I’ve mostly used them so far – for running to the store in the snow, for running down the hill to catch a movie when the next bus isn’t for 20 minutes, for riding from my work to happy hour with friends. They’re great for impromptu trips that are easy if you drive everywhere, less easy if you’re trying to go car-lite or car-free.

    It’s precisely these non-commute trips that help people use cars less. For commute hours there’s buses, or an owned bike. Which is why I never quite understood the pricing model of Pronto – did anyone really use it *instead* of buying a bike? That’s seemed like what they were priced for.

    1. +1000

      Also, if someone is a regular bike commuter, chances are they own their bike. If I know I’m taking a round trip on bike and I’m not worried my bike will be stolen, I take my own bike. I use dockless bike share for unplanned opportunistic trips, e.g. I’ll take train/bus one way and bike share back. Or if I miss my bus connection and there is a bike nearby, I’ll take it. Rarely do I plan a round trip using bike share.

      If we want more people to bike commute, we need to focus on the infrastructure. The bike share companies have a shared interest (no pun intended) in better bike infrastructure and should partner with SDOT on some level, if not direct financial investment.

    2. Bike share can be both impromptu and reliable: they are not mutually exclusive. My point in talking to Josh is that there are some no-brainer things that we can do downtown to make it easier. We’ll know more after the pilot data is released.

      1. As always, the current shape of the downtown bike infrastructure makes reaching valuable conclusions from bike data difficult. Yesterday I tried to take an Ofo (free until January 2) north on Second and for some reason the northbound cycle track was marked closed. No sign of why.

      2. @Bread: The 2nd Ave Cycletrack’s extension north of Pike has not yet opened to northbound users because the project isn’t done. Traffic signals, in particular, aren’t ready, and I don’t think the city wants contraflow traffic without signals in an area where drivers aren’t familiar with that.

    3. I’ve seen lots of students at UW using them to get to classes. Given the size of campus, and the fact that it’s basically out of classroom space, means that students have to get to inconvenient places in very little time (I’ve talked to students who have had to get from north campus to South Campus Center in 10 minutes). I believe using a University email address to sign up for bike share gives a 50% discount, which makes them even more affordable for students, and they don’t even have to worry about their bike getting stolen while they’re in class.

  3. Vehemently opposed to any further study of high speed rail on the I-5 corridor. When we can’t even afford to straighten the end of the Tacoma bypass and lose three railfans over it, I can’t support further high speed rail talk or study.

    Doesn’t help this high speed rail spine will go over Skagit farmland but won’t stop in Skagit. Stopping in Skagit would connect the spine to Skagit, Island and San Juan Counties. Over 200,000 Washingtonians accumulatively.

    Not to mention assuming we have the money in the first place, we could use a slice of the money to put a heavy rail corridor inland from Seattle or Bellevue to Everett. Which is much more necessary for freight and Amtrak Cascades and Sounder North.

    You can just tell I’m a maintenance-first guy. We got enough shiny new toys coming around… ST2 is under construction and ST3 is being planned and ORCA Next Gen is well on the way, ditto TOD.

    1. Money talks– if big tech wants it, (Microsoft and Amazon are present in Vancouver, and Vancouver thinks it can be the next tech hub), it will happen. (One can argue thet merits of Ballard to UW vs. Ballard to Downtown, but once SDOT got Expedia and Amazon HQ as stops that was the only choice)

      As for maintenance of ST 2 and 3– the lessons of WMATA (pushing off fare hikes which delayed maintenance, expanding weekend service to cut down on maintenance hours, having a cheap state partner who doesn’t want to pay its fair share, taking the cheap way out over safety) are there for us to learn from.

      The bigger question is how you can get it past the WA state legislature to pony up the money for high speed rail without looking too pro-Seattle (even if it is now in D hands).

      1. If our local big tech really cared about mass transportation/commuter rail/light rail, we would have gotten cracking on it much sooner than we have. Most of the Tech elites are far more interested in self driving cars — and having their own lanes on I-5 specifically for such cars. They’re generally libertarians who would rather privatize the solution to transit rather than support government spending on mass transportation.

        And I seriously doubt we can get the predominantly reactionary legislature in Olympia to support massive funding for high speed rail and bullet trains.

      2. They’re interested in government building transit for them, although they’ll kick in a token amount.

      3. “how you can get it past the WA state legislature to pony up the money for high speed rail without looking too pro-Seattle”

        You get the state legislators in each county along the corridor – and co-opt legislators from legislative districts with cities that are a 90 minute or less bus service from the high speed rail. There you go.

        That means servicing Skagit. You service Skagit, you service San Juan & Island Counties as well. You also are fair as you will be taking Skagit farmland out of production and taxing Skagit, San Juan & Island Counties to pay for this.

        You service Thurston County, you service the part-time State Legislature and honor those taxpayers as well. A lot of lobbyists and legislative staffers who can bend ears will love that.

        There you go.

      4. Joe, the proposals I have seen on HSR proposal don’t have too many stops (just Seattle going north, IIRC one proposal might also include Bellingham). The idea is that this is an express, not a local. (I’m not saying this is a great idea, but those are the proposals)

        As for others, I noted in my original comment is that the biggest hurdle is the WA legislature. If Amazon, Microsoft, etc. truly want this, they can run pro HSR candidates and “Citizens United” the opponents in the legislature away (c.f., recent tax bill passed by congress despite widespread opposition, but the donor class wanted it).

      5. Boring a tunnel under Chuckanut Mountain would cut fifteen minutes off the Seattle-Bellingham run time. Completing the double-track ditch through Edmonds and removing the last single-track stretch at Golden Gardens would take another five. Getting BC to fix the slow spots north of the border could cut another twenty or thirty.

        Vancouver and Seattle don’t need 200 mph “high speed rail”. They’re too small and in different countries. Spend a couple of billion fixing the obvious, high impact problems and let it be good enough.

        But first, build the replacement bridge at Mounts Road that should have been included in the project in the first place.

      6. Joe,

        Perhaps you don’t know the alternative meaning of “service”. Skagit County is likely to be the cow in the servicing.

        I think perhaps you mean “serve”.

      7. 1) I agree with what…

        Richard Bullington says
        December 28, 2017 at 10:05 am

        2) I meant serve but I use the terms service and serve interchangeably.

        I’m going to stop there. My rising blood temperature in responding to this thread is making my typing hands and my throat hot.

    2. Big Tech can’t unilaterally drive high-speed rail through rural counties. It’s not the 1950s when highways blasted through neighborhoods and Robert Moses was almost unchecked. Even if the tech moguls pay for all of it, they’d still have some difficulty getting the state legislature and those rural legislators to allow it.

      1. See my last sntence about legislative approval. They’re the authority that would authorize eminent domain. But their constituents might tel them the project is not worthwhile and costs too much.

      2. See my comment on “Citizens United” and any recalcitrant legislators. If Big Tech wants it badly enough, they can get it through.

      3. I don’t think they want it that much. It’s just something they’d like to jump start if it takes off. I can’t see them being as excited about this as Bezos is about selling everything and certain others are celebtrating about tax cuts. It would make the northwest slightly better. It wouldn’t singlehandedly be the best thing for recruitment ever or the biggest thing Western Washington has ever done. A metro has much bigger impact because many people use it several times a week, while they take a regional train once or twice a year.

      4. If Big Tech wants it badly enough, they can get it through.

        They can get some study money through. That’s not a particularly heavy lift. Getting the legislature to actually come up with the money to actually pay for it? Nah.

      5. Right, a campaign to build it would be ten times bigger. All they agreed on was a study. As Mark said beklow, what’s wrong with a study? I’d like to see the result, and it would be something concrete to discuss over what its benefit and cost would be and how worthwhile it is. I feel about this proposal like I do about Link to Everett: I don’t think it’s necessary but if the majority want it I’m not going to stand in their way.

    3. HSR is a replacement for the Cascades; Sounder is pretty much irrelevant, and HSR could actually lead to semi-useful commuter rail in the I-5 ROW (frequency is probably low enough, say a train every half hour, that mixing slow and fast trains is feasible).

      1. Or simply triple-tracking the line in some segments of King County to allow for passing and commuter rail and HSR can coexist with pretty reasonable frequency.

      2. Ok… Since HSR running on I-5 keeps coming up… let’s be clear. It’s NOT possible to run HSR along I-5. Even if there was space, which there isn’t, I-5 curves far too much.

        Adding HSR to Seattle would almost certainly involve tunneling under the urban areas, which is why the cost is so high (up to $40 billion).

      3. There’s always space (the houses next to the freeway are not choice real estate). And yeah, there are curves, but you don’t need to run at 300 km/h in the Seattle built-up area, nor should you; It’s perfectly fine to do 160 in the last 20 km next to Seattle; it’s not as if the TGVs or Shinkansen go 300 this close to Paris or Tokyo.

        The reason the cost is high is a unit conversion error in the study.

    4. The slow trains would effectively be a statewide Sounder then, and could stop at Mt Vernon. There has already been talk of extending commuter rail to Bellingham someday, although with a change of trains in Everett.

      1. Per the Cascadia CEO quote, I have no problem with passenger rail operators owning the track they use, as long as they have to build it using their own non-taxpayer funds. It’s pretty telling that the CEO estimates $15B to build HSR from Seattle-YVR while the government preliminary estimate is $24B-$48B. . . Incentives and accountability matter.

        Still, in either case, I don’t see how the economics will pan out. I doubt many people will be willing to pay more than an average of $75 for a 1-way fare. At that price, you need 5,500 daily fares (2,750 in each direction) just to generate revenue (not operating income) equal to 1% of the $15B build cost.

      2. The government preliminary estimate is for Vancouver-Seattle-Portland, so both sets of numbers are in the same ballpark.

      3. Kevin22, as to, “I doubt many people will be willing to pay more than an average of $75 for a 1-way fare”

        Yeah, when Bolt Bus is $25 at most. This isn’t a transportation priority but a fantasy. When proponents of this want to respect over 200,000 taxpayers and have a stop in Skagit County plus better farebox recovery than Amtrak Cascades – wake me up.

    5. There’s no HSR system in the world that builds just the express portion (with limited stops). If HSR is built to Vancouver, Skagit would get its stop on the local line (replacing Sounder) that has easy transfers to the express at the nearest major station. The Skagit region isn’t really large enough to warrant stopping every express train and adding minutes to the trip, for a handful of riders.

      And planning today will lead to actions in far future being accelerated a tiny bit. The maintenance issue and curve issue on the bypass need to be solved today, but pre-planning for a future plan isn’t hurtful at all.

      1. Bruce,

        As to, “The Skagit region isn’t really large enough to warrant stopping every express train and adding minutes to the trip, for a handful of riders” – you are talking about dismissing over 200,000 taxpayers. This isn’t about another Stanwood stop. This is about one stop that Skagit Transit buses can connect to.

        As to, “Planning today will lead to actions in far future being accelerated a tiny bit. The maintenance issue and curve issue on the bypass need to be solved today, but pre-planning for a future plan isn’t hurtful at all” – generally I agree with you. I just want our eyes on the ball about maintenance, fixing that damn lethal Pierce County curve and replacing the total’d Amtrak equipment. When all that’s done, my concerns about dismissing 200,000 taxpayers –
        who are my people – remain.

      2. I suggest looking at successful HSR systems, perhaps like those in Germany. There, the ICE (express) is layered over the RB (regional) that stops more often, but not as often as the S-Bahn (local). This tiered approach would work well on the corridor, giving Mount Vernon its link to Vancouver and Seattle without compromising speed for terminal-to-terminal riders (who will likely form the majority of ridership).

        Taxpayer or not, Skagit isn’t a big destination. There’s other clumps of 200,000 Washingtonians that would be even more deserving of rail service (say the Arlington-Marysville-Stanwood residential and industrial region), but they won’t, because it doesn’t make sense from a planning perspective. We don’t have flights from Seattle to Atlanta stopping at every “deserving” town along the way, do we?

      3. That’s not the usual way the German system works, but it’s not totally easy to describe because there are variations.

        Usually you’ll have an all stop trains called either S-Bahn or RB depending on the line.
        Then you have a limited stop train usually called Regional Express (RE) that skips many stops but isn’t really an express.
        Sometimes you then have a somewhat faster limited stop train called either Inter Regional Express (IRE) or Intercity depending on who funds it.
        The main stay of high speed long distance travel is the InterCity Express (ICE), but sometimes it’s not any faster than the IC on the same line, or different ICE trains on the same line might have different stop patterns.

        E.g. on the newly open Nuernberg-Berlin line there is an hourly “normal” ICE they makes the run in about 4:30 hours (alternatively via Halle or Leipzig), and a faster Sprinter that currently only runs 3 times a day that takes just below 4 hours, but only has three stops on the way.

      4. 200,000 people spread out in a low-density region will never get a true HSR stop. Your expectations are unrealistic.

      5. The RE trains must be the successor to the SE (Stadt-Express), which traveled across the country and stopped at at least some isolated small towns, but in metropolitan areas they only stopped at the Hauptbahnhof and maybe one seconds stop (the Koeln-Messe convention center). I took an SE train from Duesseldorf to Aachen (3 hours) on a weekend pass. There was also an SE train from Duesseldorf to Berlin (9 hours) although I never took it.

      6. Three thoughts:

        1) To compare high speed rail to airline routes is absurd. High speed rail will take Skagit farmland out of production – we and our 200,000 neighbors paying into this would deserve some compensation. A simple five minute stop in Mt. Vernon or Burlington would be sufficient – five minutes is not going to deter folks from using the service and actually by having buses connect folks to other destinations like the San Juans and Whidbey Island, increase ridership.

        That said, Bolt Bus goes from Seattle to Bellingham to Vancouver. But it doesn’t take more farmland out of production and even with its low fare isn’t always full.

        2) “200,000 people spread out in a low-density region will never get a true HSR stop. Your expectations are unrealistic.” Then don’t expect Skagitonians or Islanders to support your high speed rail. Political reality.

        3) This isn’t a transportation priority but a fantasy. When proponents of this want to respect over 200,000 taxpayers and have a stop in Skagit County plus better farebox recovery than Amtrak Cascades – wake me up.

      7. Joe,

        “Then don’t expect Skagitonians or Islanders to support your high speed rail.”

        Your comments are a reflection of much of what is wrong with our country today. Your comments reflect an attitude of “If it doesn’t give me what I want or doesn’t directly benefit me then forget it”,

        There have probably been many road projects built over the years in Skagit & Island counties that were partially or fully paid for with State and Federal funds who’s users are +99% from Skagit and Island counties but you don’t hear many complaints from the rests of the State and country about this. That’s because in our system it has been accepted (until recently) that the Skagit taxpayer will help pay for and may be affected by projects that might not directly benefit them because non-Skagit taxpayers with help pay for projects in Skagit that don’t benefit these non-Skagit taxpayers. What has happened to this attitude? Why is it you feel a project is only worth supporting only if it benefits you? If you truly believe this then you should support a “subarea equity” plan where Skagit and Island transportation taxes are only spent on projects in those counties. But in return, no State or Federal transportation taxes would be spent on Skagit and Island projects. I have a feeling you would soon find that your 200,000 taxpayers wouldn’t be enough to pay to maintain your roads without a massive gas tax increase.

      8. @Steve,

        I often chide some of the Republicans I know who have children by stating something along the lines of, “Having children is a lifestyle choice. Why do you expect me to fund your lifestyle choice by voting for the school levy?”

        They generally don’t get the humor in my point.

      9. I am aiming to leave one final comment on this subject that I hope will resolve the remaining concerns. So here goes…

        As to, “Your comments are a reflection of much of what is wrong with our country today. Your comments reflect an attitude of “If it doesn’t give me what I want or doesn’t directly benefit me then forget it”,

        You and your pals want to take Skagitonian land and interfere with some of the Skagit River and take Skagitonian & our neighbors’ money for your high speed rail proposal. I and I suspect many others expect something in return for our contribution. That IS fair.

        “Fair” defined in Webster as I intend, “consonant with merit or importance : due a fair share”. I am simply putting my fist on the table making sure that Skagitonians – and our neighbors so often left out of regional transit discussions – get our fair share of the benefits.

        That said, that said, we all pay taxes for schools the way previous generations paid our way through public schools. That is only “a fair share”.

        Again, you are taking our farmland plus installing at least one new bridge across our river and giving us nothing in return. This is not a fair share.

        I am drawing the line now in this debate to make sure Skagitonians are not left railroaded out of a final deal. I am well aware after watching ST3 up close in 2015 & 2016 how this could very well play out… either Skagitonians speak up early and firmly, or end up like Renton. I will not be like that representative from Renton forced to beg at the eleventh hour for a study to get quality rail to my community and feeling as a KUOW report put it: “We don’t have a seat on the table,” … “[If] you don’t have a seat at the table, you’re part of the menu.”… because my community’s elected leadership and transit advisors were behind the ball. That will not be us on my watch.

        It’s my people’s land, our taxe$ for your desire to pop into Portland, OR and Vancouver, BC. Should be OUR shared taxes for the commons and our shared mobility. Pardon my condescension but you all fellow urbanists can please handle a small delay on your train for our commons and our unity. Or please take the advice of Richard Bullington and his December 28, 2017 at 10:05 am comments. Thanks.

      10. Right, Joe is concerned bout taking productive farmland out of use. That’s the same argument east Seattle gave about blasting the Thompson Expressway through the Central District, and First Hill and Cascade about I-5. It’s a factor that must be considered, and some compensation to Skagit County may be appropriate. And Joe is right about it being a strategic place for Island County too. Mt Vernon is too small for an express station, but as Alon said there will probably be local trains too. The state already owns the Talgos and they could be easily shifted to the new track. BNSF would be glad to get them off its tracks so it can recruit more lucrative freight, and we could maybe even fanagle a contribution from BNSF. Greyhound put in startup money when the state launched multi-county buses to replace the rural coverage Greyhound withdrew from, so there’s a precedent. If the state really replaces Cascades with HSR and no local service, then it would be deleting at least two or three stations, and there would be an uproar about that. The public believes HSR would be in addition to the exiting level of service, not subtracting from it. If it’s subtracting from it then people would have more doubts.

      11. Also, this is just a concept study. It doesn’t constrain the final alignment or stations. They just need a planning scenario to do the study on.

      12. Specifically, this is a study so that everybody can pore over the results and discuss, “Is this what we want?”

  4. “One of SDOT’s proposed solutions to the parking problems might help address the reliability issue. SDOT is considering making corrals for the bike-share bikes. They would paint boxes on the edge of sidewalks out of the right-of-way and on streets protected by physical barriers in the last 20 to 30 feet of a block before an intersection where it’s illegal for cars to park.”

    Normally, I’m for better uses of otherwise unused or underutilized pavement, but the 30 ft clearance to a stop sign allows for safe and efficient navigation of intersections. I’d much rather they take up a parking spot or two, further back from the intersection.

      1. SDOT Should consider cobblestones for the CCC travelway through downtown as they are an effective ‘warning strip’ signifying the presence of rails to drivers, cyclists and pedestrians.

  5. “The new route showcased on Monday’s inaugural run was financed by federal high-speed rail funding, but it wasn’t technically high-speed rail, simply 14.5 miles of new and upgraded track that was meant to shave 20 minutes off the three-hour, 40-minute Seattle-Portland run. And that’s partially the problem, say rail advocates, who argue that true high-speed rail must be designed from the ground up.” -Next City

    Am I wrong that if anybody with any responsibility for the operation Train 501 did not think that true high-speed rail must be designed from the ground up….that’s completely the problem?

    Mark Dublin

    1. The problem is that the US press abuses the term “high-speed rail” for anything above 55 mph, and even The Guardian picked up the term without checking whether the line was really above 125 mph.

    2. That Next City article was pretty lousy. I thought this quote was particularly absurd:

      “No matter if it’s new or old, the design and planning of a corridor needs to meet the standards of high-speed rail,” Brad Perkins, CEO of Cascadia High-Speed Rail, told Next City. “[The derailment] is further evidence you cannot run fast trains on a freight rail track.” (The Point Defiance Bypass included some upgraded freight track as well as new track.)

      For decades, passenger trains have been running in the corridor at the same top speed on “freight rail track” as the 501 that derailed. And it’s disingenuous to suggest that the service in the corridor is anything like ‘high speed rail’. The 501 derailment provides zero evidence about running fast trains on freight rail track.

      1. The curve that derailed 501 was an part of an old freight alignment but it had been upgraded to passenger rail standards. Any true HSR system would avoid 30 mph curves except in the most extreme of circumstances like immediately after/before a station stop.

        The question for rail planners will be do we want to go for true (160-225 mph) rail service or would 110 – 125 mph passenger rail be “good enough”. The existing BNSF corridor could be modified to handle up to 125 mph trains. Anything above that speed would require a mostly new right-of-way. I’d like to compare the costs and benefits of a 110mph system with a 220 mph system.

      2. 90 or 110 mph is good enough for the Cascades Corridor, and they should be pursuing it right now. And it should seriously consider buying the BNSF track and making it priority-passenger, and let freight use the UP track. Above-110 mph is really only necessary if we have high-speed rail to California, and there’s not even a long-term inlking of when the powers that be might be ready for that.

      3. The problem is that the quality of the legacy track is low. Seattle-Vancouver is around 250 km, which a good legacy train could do in 2 hours (1:45 is aspirational, 1:35 is a limit value). The problem is that the track is curvy – compare the route of the Cascades with that of the fast legacy trains of the world, like Tel Aviv-Haifa, London-Birmingham/Manchester/Liverpool/Glasgow, London-Leeds/York (the limit value), and Stockholm-Gothenburg/Malmö. What’s more, the topography makes it difficult to do small curve modifications, unlike in the Northeast Corridor, which is pretty flat. Even tilting trains on a passenger-primary corridor can’t expect to go faster than 100-110 km/h from Seattle up to Everett, or in the mountains around Bellingham, and there are further slowdowns in the most constrained areas.

        With no good option for incremental improvements, the only route forward is full HSR, like in California.

      4. Ride trains much? Freight rail can carry passenger trains, but since freight loads are very hard on the tracks, ride quality a lot more comfortable for coal. Makes railroads a lot more money, too.

        What we’ve been doing with rail on any front last forty years, better argument for removing rail passenger service than leaving track as it is. United States used to be a first-world country. But based on same number of years- well, works for railroads, doesn’t it?


      5. Freight rail can carry passenger trains, but a speed that’s ideal for freight is slow for passengers. American railroads are going after low-budget interchangeable commodity transportation, not express shipment of unique luxury items. Nobody cares if it takes three days for a container of TVs to cross the country, as long as one of the shipments comes today. So freight railroads run at the most economical speed, which is slow.

  6. Your first paragraph is wrong, Joe. Study wasn’t the problem. But whoever’s signature is on its acceptance paper deserves a good attorney to redirect the blame onto whoever ordered him to do it.

    Meantime, though please tell us why we should not even study the rail system we should have had to let us know how to do it right? People have occasionally built lines that work, haven’t they?

    But this time, let’s have the engineering design team headed the engineer who’ll drive the first train empty for a year. Just for clarification, whose desk has a controller handle on its left side.


  7. Mike, terminology is annoying, So is everything political and bureaucratic connected to this derailment. They’re also all irrelevant.

    Only question on the agenda right now is why a trained railroad engineer at the controller of an 80 mile an hour train did not know his location to a foot, and his speed to the mile per hour in his bones?

    And let’s please just leave autonomy to independence movements that aren’t worse tyrants that the old ones, and cars I’m not riding in on a bet (I know, same thing). Computers have to be programmed by humans whose very technology deprives them of any “feel” for what they’re telling the computer to tell a machine.

    Same in Queens of Spades for train control mechanisms. No matter how much their name sounds like a well-designed and proven predatory lizard in Florida, algorithms don’t stop with running down a horse and eating it. At fault or not, a professional driver took his train into a curve fifty miles an hour too fast.

    Let’s focus on that.


  8. “I live in Oak Park. That’s a suburb.”

    So said Elisabeth Shue apologetically in “Adventures in Babysitting”, when she and her two school-age charges found themselves unexpectedly in big scary Chcago one evening. I’ve never been to Oak Park so I can’t comment on its density. But from the map it looks ironic to call it a suburb. Suburban development extends out several times past that, to a nine-county area. Oak Park even has two L lines running through it and a third one just five blocks outside.

    How much smaller are counties in the midwest? How does the size of that nine-county area compare to our three-county area?

    1. If you’re talking geographical size, comparing just the 3 counties in the state of Illinois directly adjacent to Cook (Kane, Dupage & Will), their area in sq.miles is a tad over 50% smaller than King/Snohomish/Pierce. However, Cook County alone is much bigger, population-wise (5,203,499 per 7/2016 US Census est) than King/Snohomish/Pierce (3,798,902 using same source). As for Oak Park being a suburb of Chicago, sure it has 2 el lines and shares a border with Chicago’s Austin neighborhood where, according to a recent Chicago Trib story at least 330 people have been shot this year. But, it’s still a suburb of Chicago… communities adjacent to Oak Park, such as Cicero, Berwyn & Forest Park, would not describe themselves as suburbs of Oak Park,,,they are all suburbs of Chicago no matter how urban they are.

      1. It’s not a part of Chicago. It has its own downtown, with a famous Frank Lloyd Wright church, and the heritage of both Wright and Ernest Hemingway. Different cops, too. And at least technically the country’s largest village.

      2. I’ve lived in Oak Park. Great town, if a little quiet for the young and childless. Definitely a suburb, but not “suburban” in the sprawly sense. Less dense than Chicago, but still features plenty of mixed-use zoning and multiunit housing. Has mass transit, is liberal and relatively diverse, and is set on a street grid — no cul-de-sacs or big-box strip malls. Great schools and building stock. Much like Evanston in all these ways. Feels more like Upper Queen Anne or Phinney (except blissfully flat) than your usual suburb.

        And in the late ’90s you could get a large one bedroom in a 1920s building with 12-foot ceilings, hardwood floors, original crown molding, and a back porch big enough for your Weber kettle for $550 a month.

      3. Oak Park is a certainly a suburb. It was mostly built-out, built-through, and built-past long before the height of the auto age, due to Chicago’s long history of suburban commuter rail service. The major story of Chicago’s auto-age development is less one of absolute sprawl than of infill sprawl, filling in relatively inaccessible areas between train lines with auto-centric developments of all sorts, de-emphasizing transit-accessible and walkable suburban centers. That’s different from the newer cities of the west coast! Oak Park, close enough to downtown that radial rail lines are closely spaced there and old enough to have a fairly strong center of gravity, was affected as much by the form of its neighbors’ infill as its own: its residents’ job sites and its workers’ homes became more diffuse and auto-oriented. Like many peripheral neighborhoods of Chicago it only partially remade itself around the car (Rogers Park and Hyde Park are quite comparable — but this applies even in much closer-in neighborhoods).

        Oak Park is one of the more diverse suburbs out there, racially and economically. It certainly has its rich and poor neighborhoods. Sometimes they don’t look too different physically! Immediately to the east are some of the poorest neighborhoods in Chicago. I haven’t read the story that kicked this thread off, but it’s easy to imagine the author is using the term “suburb” to refer to the sheltered privilege available in some parts of Oak Park, which would disappear in these (physically similar) areas of Chicago, more than to the physical changes in infrastructure and buildings she’d see if she took the train downtown (which is relatively safe).

      4. Adventures in Babysitting is a 1980s movie. Shue is a high-school senior or graduate who takes a gig babysitting for a family in a low-density suburban neighborhood. The girl is middle-school age and the boy is a freshman in high school, so rather old to have a babysitter but their parents think differently. Shue’s friend Brenda makes a stupid decision and runs away and ends up at the Chicago Greyhound station, but the sketchy people there scare her and she calls Shue, frantically asking her to come pick her up. Shue prepares to drive into town alone but the kids convince her to let them go with her. On the way their car gets a flat tire and a scary tow-truck driver (whom the girl idolzes as Thor) picks them up and fixes their car. Later they are chased by criminals and end up in a blues club, and the owner says, “Nobody leaves here without singing the blues,” so they make up a song about their plight. The criminals can’t attack them while they’re on stage, and they escape them at the end and end up on an L train. There’s a gang fight on the train and they have to flee that. Then other things happen and they finally drive to the bus station and pick up Brenda and race home, and Shue finishes cleaning up the house mess just in time when the parents come home. So it’s very much a low-density crime-free suburb contrasted with the big scary city.

      5. Well, that sure is a tale. “Nobody leaves here without singing the blues,” indeed. The ages of the kids surely had more to do with finding actors that could reliably act than any sort of in-story logic.

        I was going to say it sounds like a real product of the ’80s, but… rich folks writing stories where the rich are preyed upon by the poor but escape by excelling without practice at things that actually do take practice… that’s timeless.

  9. No physical structure embodies New York City’s divisions as plainly as the subway, which serves the five boroughs unequally. ($) A report studies the parts of New York City that are subway deserts. Here people take a series of four buses for 1 3/4 hours to commute 3 1/2 miles. “Most New Yorkers work in the same borough where they live, but the subway system’s radial design makes cross-border commutes difficult.” The transit authority has sought to increase bus service pl places that the subway doesn’t reach, “but bus service has become increasingly unreliable, with average travel speeds declining and the number of riders decreasing.” The report estimates that it would take more than 60 miles of new track and 40 new stations to close the gap.

    “Two years ago, beaten down by her two-hour commute by bus and subway from East New York, Brooklyn, to her job behind a cash register at a pharmacy in Hollis, Queens, Marilyn Morales and her boyfriend pooled their resources to buy a $26,000 fuel-efficient car, a strategy she says few in her position can afford.” — In New York City. Parisians and Tokyoans must be aghast.

    1. 3.5 miles could be covered by many modes other than transit. A healthy person could walk that far in about 60-70 minutes which would save time, money and provide a good workout. At 10 mph on a bike the trip would take 20-25 minutes and provide the same benefits. The drawbacks are that the infrastructure might not exist for safe walking or biking. The person also might not be in good enough health to accomplish a self-propelled commute. But dense, sustainable urban environments should be focused on providing the infrastructure for a healthy and safe non-motorized commuting option over a distance of 3.5 miles.

      1. That’s what I was thinking. If walking is faster than riding the bus, just walk. The article doesn’t say anything about unsafe walking conditions, so my guess is that it’s that implicit psychological barrier where people assume that 1/4 mile or 1/2 mile is the farthest distance walk, and consequently assume that for any trip further than that, that they *have* to take a bus, no matter how long it takes.

      2. As a frequent urban-walker, my estimate would be that 60-70 minutes for 3.5 miles is reasonable assuming a healthy person with a through pedestrian path, but not if you have to wait for a traffic signal every-other-block, and the signals are not timed for pedestrians (which they almost never are). Yes, in NYC, no one ever actually waits for the signal, but even New York jaywalking tends to slow you down (assuming survival is a constraint).

      3. East New York Ave to Hollis Ave is 10 miles. It takes 30-45 minutes driving early afternoon, or 1:12 – 1:26 on a 3-4 seat bus/train ride, or a 58 minute bike ride, or 3 hours 13 minutes to walk. That’s all according to Google Maps, and assuming her origin and destination are near the main point of those streets.

      4. Seems like part of the problem may be a general lack of crosstown buses. Even if no direct subway line exists between two points, if there’s a direct major road, there should at least be a direct bus.

      5. If they’re on their feet all day in retail jobs, they may not want to walk to or from work. Also in some cases, people with lower-paying Jobs might have to work two jobs, possibly in opposite directions from their home, so walking/biking might take too long.

  10. That awkward moment when you sound like a hysterical, unhinged NIMBY by using “insane” and “nuke”.

  11. Oh, man, thanks for posting those articles on Margaret Hurley. I had completely missed those, and they fill in so many blanks for me..

    As a kid I distinctly remember hushed conversations around the dinner table about some woman in government. My dad was conflicted about this woman, but he didn’t completely condemn her either. Knowing my dad, and having read that article, I completley get it now.

    Left unsaid in the article though is what was happening at the north end of the project. The slow nature of the project gave the local developers an opening. Every time a route was set, the developers would move in and propose a subdivision right smack in the middle of the corridor. The corridor got moved several times due to “cost” increases, and every time it got moved, the developers would platt a new subdivision right in its path. No wonder the cost increased so much.

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