Elliott Bay panorama from Columbia Center

This is an open thread.

87 Replies to “News Roundup: Another Helpful Debunking”

  1. Hopefully these escalator issues encourage Sound Transit to include non-emergency stairs in all their stations. It seems like a major oversight to not have included stairs in the designs in the first place. I’d be curious why, presumably there was a reason.

    1. I have an idea for the escalator problem. Simply put up a temporary sign saying “Watch your step when escalators are stopped” or “Walk at your own risk”. ST is turning a theoretical safety problem that may or may not affect a few people into forcing 100% of the people to wait for the elevators. What if those people have flights to catch, a job interview, or a medical appointment? Should they plan an extra hour on every trip just in case the escalators are broken?

      1. I’ve mentioned this before, and I certainly would have no personal issue with your “use at own risk” signage, but the article regarding why ST does not want people using escalators as stairs is misleading at best in stating that the “dimensions of the steps are of standard size.” They are of standard size for an escalator – for actual stairs an 8″ riser does not come close to meeting building code for stairs (7″ is maximum). The difference is because it is not mandatory to walk up/down an escalator, whereas of course it is on a stairway, and different people have different abilities in climbing them. The 4 to 7 inch riser height mandate recognizes this for safety reasons. Code also does not allow differing riser heights, which as mentioned in the article can be an issue at top and bottom of stopped escalators.

        Can you walk up an escalator? For most of us, yes – in fact, I see a greater percentage of people doing so in Seattle (including myself) than in other transit systems I’ve used. However, ST’s stance is somewhat understandable – in our highly litigious society, it would probably take one fall to bring the wrath of the legal system – not to mention the Seattle Times – down upon ST’s head. LA and Vancouver have obviously decided that risk is worth it, which is a discussion worth having, but it is a risk.

        The overarching issue here is station designs that provide no alternative when things go awry, exacerbated by deep station locations with multiple escalator runs.

      2. Really have it with these wide-eyed, open-mouthed speculations on why transit is falling apart and more people than ever in memory living under tarps and going to work from their cars.

        For about forty years, this country’s public finances have been the possession of people whose share has gone from the lion’s to the hyena’s. Chief divide I can see: generation, gender, and “demographic” (does that mean “photo” or “porno”?) be dropped into Hell.

        Whatever their stated party-affiliation, this country’s political divide is between people whom last forty years have left comfortable, and those who are supposed to find that under either a tarp or a lifetime of debt. One major party- shrug and a smirk. The other one- shrug and apologize.

        So suggestion. Second party, start 2018 campaign with one-plank statement of intent to provide work with a living wage to start repairing two generations deferred maintenance on our every public thing. Out of the National Defense budget, to which it’s got more claim than jet-fighter-plane One. Link “F-35.”

        And let the currently-victorious minority party do whatever it feels like without any voters who aren’t either millionaires or rabid with spite over a lifetime of betrayal.

        Mark Dublin

      3. Station design ends up becoming a cop-out for not looking at ways to make the best use of what has been built.

        ST is afraid of people who would prefer not to walk on escalators walking on escalators, when having the choice last Friday would have likely cleared both the elevator and stairwell queue.

        ST is afraid of giving on-site staff the ability to reverse escalators to deal with growing crowds, even at the risk of overwhelming the platform with people trying to exit the station. Reversing just one escalator last Friday on each level would have left ingress and egress having the same number of escalators (one each way) and elevators (all of them each way) available.

        ST is afraid of letting people use the emergency stairs, and then spends great expense on buses between stations to avoid the use of these stairs. In Friday’s case, I assume there were no emergency buses to Capitol Hill Station. I can see why they wouldn’t want to use the emergency stairs to let people into the station. But ST also refused to let people use the emergency stairs to exit the station when the crowd was growing into a fire hazard before the Women’s March. (The formerly emergency stairs at the north end of SeaTac Airport Station are now open to the public, FWIW.)

        Station design is a good answer only when there is one elevator between station levels, and it fails. And that only applies to people who can’t use the stairs. I assume there will be no further stations with this clear design flaw.

      4. Mark,

        Are you blaming the 2-party Sithdom for the failure of vertical conveyance policies?

        Yeah, the homelessness crisis is a creation of both parties, and a nonpartisan city council that has for years gone out of its way to kowtow to those trying to keep more housing from being built.

        But what does party affiliation have to do with lack of creative thinking on how to use vertical conveyances?

      5. Station design is ALWAYS an issue, whether it’s for backup plans when escalators break or creating a seamless bus/train transfer. ST’s cop-out is for legal reasons exacerbated by designs that don’t allow flexibility. I agree completely that ST could have done other things since the station is what it is due to design. Reversing one of the escalators would be the most obvious thing as unless the incoming crowds on trains overwhelm the platform by so doing there isn’t a good reason not to, which is highly unlikely in this case as trains only arrive from one direction. This would be somewhat more likely at Capitol Hill at evening rush, and even then is probably manageable with crowd control. But design could have obviated some of the issues – elevators at each end, different ventilation solutions so that the fire stairs could be used (note that Sea-Tac station is not enclosed; that issue does not exist there – and are the doors held open there? That’s the code issue for fire stairs; you can’t do that under most circumstances). Lowering the mezzanines as much as possible above the catenary could help as it would lessen the distance necessary to get off of the constrained platform, and people could stage on the larger mezzanines while waiting to exit the station itself. Even the not optimal but usable solution of a single up escalator adjacent to stairs at least at one end helps. The constantly malfunctioning escalators in the DSTT do not effectively close the stations there because there are other ways to get to and from the platforms. All of that is design. It’s important.

        My response was more to explain the codes and why ST might be leery of letting people walk on the escalators. I’m not defending it – personally I think they should do so if reversing one isn’t sufficient for whatever reason – but I’m not tasked with that liability. I’d be interested in learning LA and Vancouver’s rationale for allowing it, and how we might consider that here. I’d also be interested in why the stairs, as you note, can’t be used for access or egress at least in crush situations such as during the Women’s March. Unless the code requires closed and alarmed doors for whatever reason, there’s normally no reason that fire egress stairs can’t be used if there is no emergency. I do so in my building every day. If they don’t want to under normal circumstances (when it is not necessary) due to security or sanitary reasons, fine, but under abnormal crowding it would be nice if they could. The ventilation thing is a different issue if it’s accurate, and again that is specifically a design issue.

      6. From comparing other new systems to breakdowns, it’s clear that ST needs to be putting more escalators at stations. There is no excuse for their design short-sightedness and their stinginess given the billions that we are giving them.

        Keep in mind that there are other stations now under construction or in final design that also don’t have enough escalator capacity. We should demand that the plans get reviewed and modified before they open or we will see similar problems elsewhere.

        Although probably 10 percent of the WSB comments were about pedestrian circulation, ST staff continues again to act like there is no issue and doesn’t highlight it in the comment summary. How can we change the culture at ST to see their failure now will doom us for decades?

      7. The state could pass a law stating that walking on stopped escalators is allowed with the appropriate warning signs, and not a valid ground for litigation.

        I don’t think the Times would come out against it. The Times is more interested in preserving drivers’ privilege, which it sees as the norm for a rich country like ours, and a point of democratic freedom. It would probably see walking on escalators as a personal freedom, and be negative on government restrictions.

      8. I was honestly a little surprised to learn that ST had deployed its security team to actually enforce the prohibition on using the broken escalator as stairs. This has passed from ST being indifferent on a very crucial issue to ST being actively hostile to its customers. Until a few years ago, there was an escalator by the QFC on Broadway & Pike which was broken more often than it was working. I walked up it countless times, and no one or sign ever tried to stop me.

  2. First ped killed by a self driving car https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/technology/2018/mar/22/video-released-of-uber-self-driving-crash-that-killed-woman-in-arizona

    I wonder if the video was doctored. The headlamps don’t appear to cast 180ft. Uber isn’t know for integrity.

    Doctored or not, I do think it highlights how those sorts of streets are designed to kill. We as a society should recognize that and stop building them

      1. Main concern over headlight beams in question is for how many people they’ll be their last sight on earth. Been a long time since anything so dangerous as cars in question has been put in killing range of the public.

        With so much blind enthusiasm, including protection, by law, from regulation. Read yesterday there’s legislation to forbid states from regulating these literally damned things. And widespread agreement to let their companies set the rules.

        We’re looking at opioid epidemic part two. Suggestion. Go to your phone and see where our own elected reps stand? Both parties. And get back to us.


      2. Well, the robocars have about 37,460 deaths to go this year before they catch up with our 37,461.
        Not that they shouldn’t be regulated, but as it stands we as a society are okay with 102 people dying per day under this current system, not even considering the healthcare costs, societal costs and impacts to productivity and the economy.
        I worry less about the technology itself and more about who decides how they are regulated and who benefits from this.

      3. The woman died because the street is dangerous. The street lighting is too infrequent, leaving dark shadows, and the roads are too wide, causing drivers to go too fast.

        You solve problems like this by fixing the street, not by slapping up a “don’t walk” sign, telling pedestrians that they should detour out of the way.

      4. One Chinese city has an anti-jaywalking system with cameras at the intersection. It takes several snapshots and a video, and shows it on a screen so that you and the people around can see it, and it transmits it to the police to check for other outstanding tickets or warrants, and within 20 minutes the screen shows your ID number and address so that others can shame you. There’s a choice of three punishments: a $3 fine, a half-hour class on traffic laws, or helping the police direct traffic for a couple hours.

        It’s surprising they think that somebody who broke the traffic laws is competent to direct traffic. The $3 fine sounds low but it’s relative to Chinese wages. Revealing your address may be OK in China but not in a country with a runaway gun problem.

        Imagine that at Mercer Street or MLK.

      1. If it had been an elk, the technician might not have survived the thing coming through the windshield.

        Just because people drive faster than is safe for their headlights doesn’t mean automated cars should do the same.

  3. Anyone have a chance to digest the $1.3 trillion federal budget? A quick scan noted a chunk of money for NYC and NJ infrastructure projects. Curious if there’s any indication of impacts to ST and/or Washington infrastructure funding.

    1. Streetsblog TIGER grants are shifted heavily toward highways, with transit share going from 15-30% to 3%. More grants are going to new highways in small cities like Modesto CA and Lincoln NE. So that generally looks bad for ST and the CCC, but no specifics yet.

      I’m not sure about NYC and NJ infrastructure projects. One of the most signficant ones is rebuilding the rail tunnel between them, and last I heard it was being excluded.

      1. Well, that’s promising. Hopefully, by the time ST3 is ready to apply for grants, there will be a more infrastructure/transit friendlier Capitol Hill. An important excerpt from the Times article:

        “The office of Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., called the transit language “great news,” along with a clause sustaining $1.5 billion in TIGER grants available to local road, freight and transit agencies, and $1.3 billion for Amtrak. A $250 million fund would help railroads pay for positive train control, a satellite-based network to avert crashes. “I’m glad my colleagues joined me in rejecting President Trump’s attempt to curtail investments in these programs, and I will continue to fight for critical infrastructure investments that make a real difference to families and communities,” Murray said in a statement.

        The spending bill also raises the odds that Seattle will secure another $25 million for its First Avenue streetcar link, and $61 million for Madison Street bus-rapid transit. Federal Way light rail is also in line for a possible $499 million. The Swift bus-rapid transit line from Paine Field to Bothell’s Canyon Park area is nominated for $50 million.”

      2. Two comments about the Seattle Times piece.

        1. This is an appropriations bill and not a budget bill. Calling the FY2018 omnibus bill a budget measure is simply sloppy reporting.

        2. I’m happy to see that Mike Lindblom corrected the record regarding the amount of the Lynnwood Link cost estimate problem. I wrote the following on this blog earlier this year:

        >>>Regarding the Lynnwood Link project budget woes, let’s be sure we get our figures straight.

        FTA New Starts rating from Nov 2015:

        Total capital cost in YOE$ (incl financing)
        $2,345.93 million
        Subtracting out financing costs
        -$194.3 million
        Capital cost only
        $2,151.63 million

        FTA New Starts rating from Nov 2016:

        Total capital cost in YOE$ (incl financing)
        $2,347.72 million
        Subtracting out financing costs
        -$179.3 million
        Capital cost only
        $2,168.42 million

        Finally, as recently reported in the Seattle Times, per ST board motion 2017-162:

        Total capital cost in YOE$ (incl financing)
        $3,069 million
        Subtracting out financing costs
        -$135 million (assumed)
        Capital cost only
        $2,934 million

        Thus, taking this latest figure supplied by ST, $2,934M, and comparing it to the 2015 FTA ratings figure, $2,151.63M, one can quickly ascertain that the agency has blown a far bigger hole in the estimated budget for this project than the narrative they have been trying to push since last August.

        $2,934M – $2,151.63M = $782.37M

        That’s a far cry from the figure that keeps getting reported.<<<

      3. “This is an appropriations bill and not a budget bill. Calling the FY2018 omnibus bill a budget measure is simply sloppy reporting.”

        What’s the difference? It’s usually called a budget in common terminology. “Appropriation” is a bureaucratic term. If this wasn’t the budget, what was? The last bill was just a “budget framework”, described as an outline of spending levels. If you mean that it’s not a proper budget because it doesn’t match spending with income/assets, when does the government ever do that? It’s not realistic until they fully fund the essential infrastructure and social infrastructure they’ve neglected for so long, otherwise it would be harmful.

      4. @Mike Orr. Nonsense. They are two different things and have two different purposes. It’s actually called a spending bill in common parlance. The term appropriation is hardly a “bureaucratic term”; it’s the correct terminology here. Congress can pass all the budget bills they want but they won’t fund the government. That function is accomplished through the appropriation process (which is and has been incredibly broken in Congress).

    2. I posted about this last night (on the last open thread on Sunday) after spending some time digesting some of the spending bill….

      Congressional Republicons have released their omnibus appropriations bill for FY18 with Friday’s midnight deadline looming. So much for regular order (again).

      Anyway, in regard to the FTA’s appropriations, here’s the relevant section pertaining to the agency’s capital investment grants:

      The agreement provides $2,644,960,000 for fixed-guideway projects, to remain available
      until September 30, 2021, and directs the Secretary to administer the capital investment grants program in accordance with the requirements of 49 U.S.C. 5309 and move projects through the program from initial application to construction. The agreement directs the FTA to use $5,050,000 from unobligated amounts for fixed-guideway projects. Of the funds provided,
      $1,506,910,000 is available for projects authorized under 5309(d), $715,700,000 is available for projects authorized under 5309(e), $400,900,000 is for projects authorized under 5309(h), and $26,500,010 is available for oversight activities. The agreement directs the Secretary to obligate $2,252,508,586 of the amount provided for the capital investment grants program by December 31, 2019. The agreement directs the Secretary to provide updated project ratings expeditiously at
      the request of the project sponsor.<<<

      If you want to read additional details about the THUD piece (Division L) or any other sections of the $1.3 trillion omnibus bill to complete appropriations for 2018, the link below will get you there. Sound Transit should be very concerned.

      The Senate Amendment to H.R. 1625, the omnibus appropriations bill for FY18, which they are calling the "TARGET Act":

    3. “Sound Transit should be very concerned.”

      Why? What bad news is in there?

      One thing to watch for is the administration may defy Congress and not spend the grant money, or divert it to other projects, because it thinks those are more important. It has done that in a few other cases I think.

    4. Update on the bill….

      The House passed the bill 256-167, with 145 Republicans and 111 Democrats voting yes, and 90 Republicans and 77 Democrats voting no.

  4. Why is it considered safe for people to regularly walk on the left side of the escalator, passing people standing on the right side of the escalator, but not safe for anyone to walk on the escalators when they are stalled?

    1. With apologies, but I feel this is obligatory:

      “An escalator can never break: it can only become stairs. You should never see an Escalator Temporarily Out Of Order sign, just Escalator Temporarily Stairs. Sorry for the convenience.”

      – Mitch Hedberg

    2. I would love to see the MTA try and stop a crowd of New Yorkers from walking up a broken escalator. It would be hilarious. Of course most Seattlites are far too timid to disobey orders.

      1. Timid? I guess it depends on how you see the world. I say we’re rule followers, which isn’t a bad thing. If chaos and anarchy are your things, have at it. Following rules is rather noble, IMHO…reminds me of that protest a few years back where people in Ballard were waiting for the light to turn to ‘walk’ before proceding to the riot.

        If the rules/laws are stupid, then change them. That’s how a democratic republic is supposed to work.

      2. Also, sorry I have to comment again just because it’s so hilarious you equate walking up escalators to chaos and anarchy.

      3. Felsen, as in so many things, moderation is key. A public that generally follows rules, perhaps even when their wisdom is not immediately evident, is not a bad thing. A public that willingly follows orders and rules automatically, no matter how stupid and/or wicked, is perhaps not as terrifying as chaos and anarchy, but it’s not really a good thing either.

    3. That is a good question. I have wondered that myself. It is ok to walk on a moving set of stairs. Then it stops and now it is unsafe? What is the logic behind that? It still has the same rise either way. Isn’t it actually safer that way?

      1. Two reasons: one, it’s not mandatory to walk on an escalator, and an 8″ rise is not considered safe on stairs for all people – for the vast majority of us it is, and we can choose to walk or not – but once it becomes mandatory it is an issue. Two, unless the escalator stops in precisely the correct position, there are risers of differing heights at top and bottom. A change in riser height on a stairway run is never allowable by code (except within 3/8″ variation) for safety reasons. These have been UBC/IBC code requirements for at least 30 years, and probably considerably longer.

      2. Nobody is ever forced to walk on an escalator, whether it’s moving or stopped. I think it’s reasonable to give people the option. If you want to walk on an escalator, you can. If you don’t want to walk on the escalator, then take the elevator.

        But ST forbidding people from using an stopped escalator when plenty of other cities allow it doesn’t make sense to me.

      3. Nobody is suggesting that walking on the stalled escalator should be “mandatory.” The elevator would still be there for people who do not feel as though they can traverse the stalled escalator. Allowing the rest of us to walk down the escalator would make the line for the elevator much shorter than it was.

      4. If people don’t feel safe walking on a stopped escalator, they don’t have to use it. All the stations have elevators because of ADA access. And if the majority of people used the escalators, the line for the elevators would have been much shorter.

  5. It’s too bad Innisfil didn’t just set up its own rideshare system rather turning it over to Uber. Then the money could remain in the community rather than a foreign corporation taking a cut and setting fares. The difference could probably go into lower fares and treating the drivers as proper employees rather than freelancers. And if they need an app, they could give a university a grant to make a vendor-neutral app that they and other cities could use.

    1. I think the subsidy would have been quite a bit higher that way. It’s a lot more efficient to use Uber drivers that are already out there on the road than to pay separate drivers, just for a municipal rideshare program, who are probably going to be sitting idle most of the time (either that, or have very few drivers, so the system would be too unreliable).

      Progressive values (e.g. “treating the drivers as proper employees rather than freelancers”) would inevitably drive up the costs further.

      1. I agree. You can’t get much cheaper service than a company that is losing money while underpaying its employees.

  6. Meditation on shopping carts. I was at the bus stop at 45th across from University Village and there was a QFC shopping cart there. It reminded me of how stores restrict shopping carts to their building and parking lot, and the person could technically be arrested for stealing the cart. But the person was likely shopping for a family with children and had heavy groceries or many bags, otherwise they wouldn’t have taken the cart. Buf it they had had a car, they would have been able to take the cart to the car with the store’s permission. So there’s a double standard. The stores need to include bus stops in their cart zone. Some QFCs have signs saying their cart wheels automatically lock at the edge of the parking lot. I’ve never seen locked carts so I don’t know whether it’s true, but if it is it would affect this person who was taking the cart to the bus.

    1. Interesting musing. I used to work at a grocery chain as a teenager and then young adult for several years (and put myself through college that way) back in the 70s. The cost of the shopping carts, which were all metal back then, was just under $100 each given the volume that we purchased. Given the low margin that grocers operated at then and many still do, my chain did many things to prevent cart “misappropriation”. The carts were and still are a valuable company asset and essential to the course of daily business operations. The location I worked at had metal vertical poles protruding from the landing at the store’s entrance to prevent any shopper from taking his cart beyond that point. Store employees were always available to assist customers out to their cars with their bags of groceries, or to watch their carts as they pulled their cars up to the loading zone. Several of our locations that were in urban areas used this approach. Those locations that did not, and thus allowed customers to push their carts out to their cars in the lot, had to periodically go on “hunting expeditions” in their surrounding areas to retrieve lost carts (some of which were reported to the company by neighbors). These locations also had to have employees assigned to lot retrieval duty, which was the manpower trade-off from the system other locations such as my own employed. On that matter, it was probably a wash in terms of employee expense. The asset outlay was another matter altogether, as stores such as mine lost very few shopping carts whereas the “free-roaming” locations lost hundreds of carts each year. (The chain was a 24/7 type of operation.) Thus, when you multiply this loss by over a couple hundred locations, the expenses really add up. So I can understand why grocers and other retailers that use shopping carts in their course of business take steps to retain these assets. I don’t see this as a double standard as you stated in your observation and musing. I guess you’re suggesting that the grocer expand their cart retrieval zone to extend beyond their property to the public ROW where said bus stop is located. That may be feasible in some limited number of cases, but it seems unreasonable in most situations.

    2. The alternative is to move the bus stops into the parking lot, but that would be even less feasible.

      Perhaps GPS would help with rounding up stray shopping carts. It works for bikeshares.

      Of course, there are only a few bus stops around each store. So it would just take somebody going around each hour to collect them, which I assume they already do.

      1. The alternative is to build stores that are transit friendly.

        In Portland, some examples of transit friendly include:

        Fred Meyer at SE Chavez & Hawthorne
        New Seasons at SE 40th & Hawthorne
        Safeway at SE 27th & Hawthorne

        All of these places also have parking for those that drive, but the store entrance has been set to not involve a long trek across a parking lot.

        Gateway Fred Meyer at least has a sidewalk to get to the MAX station. Otherwise it isn’t great.

        Places like anything at Cascade Station is pretty awful, but it’s better now that they added crosswalks at a few of the intersections. Until a few years ago getting anywhere in that area from the MAX station was a bit like trying to cross a freeway.

      2. I’m sure some stores tolerate customers taking them off the property to their bus stops and do round them up from there. Still, without the grocer’s explicit permission to take the shopping cart off the property, I cannot condone the behavior. The carts are for the customers’ free use while shopping and transporting their goods while on the premises. If the shopper needs a cart to go beyond that point, then there are consumer-oriented rolling (typically folding as well) carts that the shopper can purchase to transport their merchandise/groceries as needed.

  7. “Seattle underestimates by millions the cost to run its new streetcar line, Metro says.”

    So we’re all just ignoring the elephant in the room? This should be its own post really. The streetcar is a stupid project, a huge waste of resources, and a danger to cyclists. We’ll tear the tracks back out in ten years when everyone else wakes up to this fact. Now the operating costs are set to almost double? Kill this expensive boondoggle now.

    Also, I don’t know how anyone can defend ST on the escalator issue. Absolutely ridiculous to close them off; let people walk up if they choose. I walk up them every day working or not. More importantly I have anxiety about confined spaces. If the escalators are truly non-usable open the emergency stairs. There should never be a time when a line for elevator access is the only option.

    So to sum it up we’ll put the worthless streetcar tracks in that will definitely kill and injure cyclists and lead to expensive lawsuits (oh wait, this has already happened) but we won’t let people walk up the escalator because theoretically someone might trip and get a booboo and sue. Got it.

    1. Yes I was wondering when the streetcar operating cost issue would come up. It’s being spun as everything from a trivial disagreement between agencies and an outright public deception tactic on SDOT’s part. Apparently it centers around the needed number of employees.

      I trust operators more than non-operators on these things. SDOT may have a smart, large staff — but they don’t operate a big transit system.

      I’d be curious when this was known and if there are internal memos identifying the cost differences. I’ll be angry if they intentionally kept this from Council when the project was reviewed several months ago.

      1. According to the Times article, SDOT was notified and decided they weren’t going to change their numbers. Why? The obvious answer was to keep the streetcar plans moving, but only the Hastings-Glass could answer that question definitely. I bet he resigns before the Mayor’s commission issues a report.

      2. >> I’ll be angry if they intentionally kept this from Council when the project was reviewed several months ago.

        Sure sounds like they did. There is nothing wrong with having a disagreement between agencies. It happens all the time. But failing to bring that to the attention the elected representatives — especially when the project itself is being debated — is irresponsible, and grounds for termination in my opinion. Of course Kubly, like an overpaid CEO or coach, is off to his next gig.

    2. +10

      Also, don’t forget that the SDOT operations figures assume continued support from ST for the First Hill segment to the tune of $5 million annually, though that commitment beyond 2023 is questionable.

      1. ST support for First Hill is a low risk. The decision makers will be the North King members on the Board, none of whom are going to want to kick this onto the city’s budget.

    3. This should be its own post really.

      Speaking for myself here, but I don’t see watchdog stories like this as a particularly good use of my time, nor of other amateur advocate-journalist types. Mainstream media have people on payroll to report out these stories, and they’re very good at collecting good tips, following money and finding the juicy quotes. Likewise, I had nothing particularly interesting to say about Peter Rogoff’s work environment or Metro’s union negotiations, even though they’re very important stories.

      What STB can do that mainstream outlets can’t is (a) articulate pro-transit, pro-housing values; (b) mobilize supporters of those values; and (c) performed detailed analysis and critiques of technical stuff that are too nerdy for a general audience. The time when STB could add value was when the streetcar decision was being made; now this is just a money story.

    4. There’s limited purpose in reiterating that the CCC is a waste of money and pulling resources from bigger transit needs. The thing now is to watch whether this investigation and the Mayor’s upcoming report lead to any changes in attitude on the City Council. If so, we can leverage that and see whether they’re willing to modify the project. Beyond that I can’t think of anything to say. It is an elephant, it’s the City Council’s job to do something about it, and we and the public are the ones to keep the Council accountable. We’ll see what the report says and what the Council does. In the meantime, some of the street modifications would be useful even if a bus ends up replacing the streetcar. I still like the idea of a Seattle Center to SODO route.

      1. Mike, if it was any other street but First Avenue, you might have a point about the Connector. But Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square, with the Colman Dock entry-arrangement- still think the foot-bridge will stay- I think be a good “fit” for the car-line.

        Also, no reason whatever that in addition to the Jackson Street line, the First Avenue line can’t run from Seattle Center to SODO.


      2. I’m in the minority here as a streetcar “sympathizer,” but I actually wouldn’t mind if a bus replaced the streetcar with the same priorities and lane dedications being put towards the streetcar. Actual “light rail on wheels.” However, I doubt there is political will go this route for a bus route from the beginning. Madison BRT is already watered down to rapid ride with shared traffic through the downtown portion. Rainier rapid ride apparently is not getting dedicated lanes between Mount Baker and 3rd Ave (and even 3rd ave. is not certain to be 24h transit lanes). BRT here means expressway busses sharing lanes with express lane drivers. Just sayin’.

      3. The best thing the CCC has going for it is that it connects two lines that alone have variable, but low, utility. All of them together are worth more than the sum of the parts. In that light, assuming we aren’t going to tear up the SLU and First Hill lines, it is a little more worthwhile. That’s at least what I tell myself to make me feel a little better.

      4. >> Madison BRT is already watered down …

        Madison BRT will have a higher ratio and a larger amount of dedicated lanes than the streetcar. The only parts of Madison BRT that involve mixed traffic are areas where SDOT studies show they won’t be a problem. In contrast, we know, for a fact, that the streetcar gets bogged down in various places, but that isn’t changing. Even where the two lines cross — on First Hill — the streetcar will be running in traffic, while the bus runs in its own center lane. Overall speed and reliability was never a consideration when building the streetcars, while it has been the primary goal with the Madison BRT.

        By all objective measures, the Madison BRT project is better designed, start to finish. It is absurd to conclude that there is anything special about a streetcar from a practical or political standpoint. There would be *more* political support for the street improvements if they were made for bus lines, since they would provide better service at a cheaper price.

      5. >> The best thing the CCC has going for it is that it connects two lines that alone have variable, but low, utility.

        That’s a sunk cost argument, and it comes with a couple assumptions:

        1) This is a fundamentally good line (when the streetcars are connected). I don’t think anyone actually believes this. A line that doubles back upon itself is bad enough (it means no one will ride this for very far) but the worst part is the button hook around Yesler Terrace. If this was a bus route, that would have been eliminated years ago (either by turning on 12th or heading up Yesler instead of Jackson). We can’t do the former cheaply, nor the latter at all, because this is a train. Which leads to the second assumption.

        2) The streetcar offers a fundamental advantage on this route. Streetcars — like all modes of transport — have advantages and disadvantages. However, since this streetcar is no bigger than a bus, it lacks any advantage. There is no reason to pull up the rail — you could simply run the buses on this route .That would allow you to make any modification you want (including the two I suggested). You could sell the dedicated streetcar garage (which sits on very expensive property). Chances are, you would abandon this route (since it simply isn’t very good) and come up with a mix of different routes serving the same areas. The result would be cheaper and faster service, along with more useful routes.

      6. This is a fundamentally good line (when the streetcars are connected). I don’t think anyone actually believes this. A line that doubles back upon itself is bad enough (it means no one will ride this for very far) but the worst part is the button hook around Yesler Terrace.

        The SDOT streetcar study doesn’t claim much benefit to ridership past Yesler Terrace. All the added ridership is on (a) the new segment, and (b) the SLU segment. See the map on this post.

      7. It isn’t a sunk cost argument. I’m saying that since the utility of the complete line is noticeably higher than the sum of its parts, the value of the connecting piece is really the value of it as a standalone line plus all the benefit provided to the other lines. Eliminating the transfer at Westlake alone is worth quite a bit.

        I agree that the full line is not a great route. Anyone wanting to go from one end to the other would be much better served by just going straight up or down the hill (on a bus), rather in some big loop. That said, there are full ring lines in other systems, and obviously the intended use is not to ride them in a full circle, the point is to use sections of the line. SLU to downtown, Pioneer Square or the ID are all useful trips, as is Capitol Hill to ID (of course Link should be used for that) and Capitol Hill to First Hill.

        Anyway, I agree it isn’t a great route and wish we hadn’t wasted our money on any part of it. Streetcars have several fundamental disadvantages on this overall route (more so the Capitol Hill to ID section), as you point out. I’m not a fan of abandoning the line but leaving the rail, though. We could leave it until the next road resurfacing, I suppose, but railroad tracks are unsafe for bicycles, and I suspect they are even somewhat unsafe for cars. So, if we are going to abandon them, we should remove them.

      8. We need to base our transit lines on where the biggest transit needs are, not on where the existing streetcars happen to be. Yes, it would be better to spend the money on an even better Madison RR. How about 3-5 minute frequency, to make up for that First Hill Link station? How about a trolleybus from Seattle Center to SODO?

        The best part of the CCC is the exclusive transit lanes, which would benefit either a streetcar or a bus. I think Martin said, “Rail is the most effective way to get approval for transit lanes”, which are otherwise extremely hard to get. (Madison may seem like an exception, but it’s a would-have-been-rail-if-it-weren’t-for-the-steep-hill, so that gave it more leverage.)

        The First Hill line will terminate at Westlake or Pike Place, whereas now it terminates in Pioneer Square. So from Yesler Terrace’s perspective it’s not adding much: just the ferry terminal and Pike Place Market, which residents don’t go to every day. As for Yesler Terrace to Westlake, there’s one and eventually two Links tunnels from Chinatown to Westlake which will compete with it.

      9. “It is absurd to conclude that there is anything special about a streetcar from a practical or political standpoint.”

        There are streetcar lines with practical advantages, but as RossB says that’s not out our streetcars are designed. Streetcars can be higher capacity and articulated, but ours aren’t. They can be built with exclusive lanes but ours aren’t, and even though 1st Avenue is an exception, it’s not most of the line or the most congested area. Jackson Street is just as congested if not more and it’s not getting exclusive lanes. Real exclusive lanes look like MLK, running adjacent to the road, or in a non-road segment (like a greenbelt, which may not be acceptable here). The very word “streetcar” in the US is defined as excluding the things that make it more practical. (Specifically, modern streetcars. Legacy streetcars were built before cars or congestion were widespread.)

  8. One item I never see talked about when comparing costs of transit systems, such as the NYC MTA article, is that medical coverage is vastly different in other countries. TriMet’s medical insurance for employees is at least 13% of its operating costs.In countries with health insurance not tied to employers, this becomes 0%.

    1. That’s true for all employers though. Bezos may be a tax libertarian but Amazon pays social-safety-net taxes for its Canadian and European employees. And I don’t know about France’s system in particular, but in Scandinavia you’d get subsidized insurance if you’re unemployed and France must be the same.

    2. Another “Cone of Silence” miss for the Democrats. When was their last mention of this minor balance sheet item in the face of a budget-bellowing opponent? Whether or not we got Single Payer, Public Option might’ve left the President with a government after 2010.


  9. This is vaguely related to the NYTs “declining transit” article since it’s mentions Seattle’s growth, but if you want a few moments of happiness go read the TripAdvisor reviews of Link. Lots of people from around the world have left almost universally glowing reviews. It’s pretty neat when a bunch of “Bill and Sue’s from Omaha” who never use, or are probably skeptical of big city transit, come away loving Seattle’s version of it.

    1. There’s also a small European city with a slow autonomous bus on a woonerf or mixed-use street downtown if I recall.

  10. Brent, thanks for calling me on this one. Have to remember how hard it is to place these comments in relation to each other.

    Also, good lesson about listening to Democratic Party Chairman Tom Perez use the undefined word “values” more times than VP candidate Dan Quayle just before bedtime. Single suggestion of any concrete program, just not [OnTopic].

    Really do think civic repair and restoration belongs in the Defense Budget. The $95 million dollar cost of a single ill-reputed F-35 would help a little, wouldn’t it? And bringing the voting age to 16, same as for trial as an adult, might result in some votes for those jobs?

    And while they’re at it, inform the banking system that the’ll repay their loans up to the amount their parents’ own education cost them personally. If Tom just finished these mentions with “Just sayin…’ Demographocracy might’ve taken a turn that would’ve left skidmarks.

    On station stairs, major station design problem same as for every station Downtown: not really enough side to side room to make any grade shallow enough for an easy climb.

    Best approach would be to put station surface entrances as far from the station as necessary to run a passage at a shallow slant. If building foundations an utilities permit. Wish we had somebody with this technical information to discuss this with.

    But also think there’s rescue equipment available to fix movable tracks to the sides of the stairways, with a winch mechanism to roll people up to the surface, with or without wheelchairs, and singly or in groups.
    Interesting to get the Legal Department’s point of view in design discussions. But you’ve given us all a valuable piece of political information.

    Early in the first, which by the plot’s own time-frame should have been the last episode of Star Wars, the Empire destroyed a planet named “Tatooine.” Probably something like “Ten Twenty-nine.” City Council map has the Sith represented by Mike O’Brien, so the ball’s in his court. Not going to name Darth’s political lineage, because local rep he most reminds me of is on the County Council.

    But still can’t reconcile all these years of The Dark Lord (his own colleagues probably invented the that one ) looking like Luke Skywalker after his meth lab blew up. I always assumed he evolved from Henry Kissinger. Anyhow, will now use NPR-killing digital jab reflex to snuff all political news before it returns the favor. Wonder if The Force will pull a standing artic-load up to Harborview.


  11. It says something about the sorry state of transit and TOD in most of the US that having 8 story buildings near transit stations (especially in a major metropolitan area) is considered bold. In many parts of the world that would be considered pathetic. Try something more like 30 stories. Let’s get our money’s worth out of these investments, then make a lot more of them.

    1. Not necessarily looking for (inevitably high priced, luxury) 30 floor buildings beside transit, but what I find pathethic is how much single family exclusive zoning is allowed within a mile of rapid transit stations. At the very least, four plex apartments with street parking should be allowed anywhere within walking distance of a station. By the time you add a parking structure and elevator costs for residents go up dramatically. With all the concern with gentrification, only allowing high end housing is an efficient way towards “there goes the neighborhood.”

      1. In the Bay Area the rents are crazy high anyway, so the added construction costs of a 30 story building won’t necessarily lead to relatively high-priced units. When land values are that high you probably gain more by dividing that cost among more units than you do by changing construction type. Furthermore, at least in our building codes (which should be the same in the Bay Area), an 8 story building has to be all Type 1 construction (I believe that’s the designation…concrete essentially) anyway with many of the costly items that would be required in a taller building (not so of a 70′ or shorter building). At that point you might as well allow taller buildings to share those costs among more units. This argument would be less true in lower-cost/lower-rent areas.

        I completely agree with you on the single family (or even 40′) zoning issue near stations. I don’t know if that’s common in the Bay Area, but it sure is around some of the stations here. It seems like Seattle may be the biggest offender, surprisingly, with places like Lynwood looking at major upzones.

      2. “(inevitably high priced, luxury) 30 floor buildings beside transit”

        That’s only because the zoning restrictions severely restrict the amount of housing near high-capacity transit (and the walkable station-area villages that are hopefully around them). That means the highest bidders get the housing, and they can afford and often demand luxury extras. If more 8-, 14-, and 40-story buildings were built like in Chicago, it would saturate the market and the extreme price premiums would vanish. Vancouver’s highrises were cheap in the early 2000s: you could get a 12th-floor West End condo with a breathtaking view for $75K, and the New Westminster towers must have been less than that. It’s only because of the housing shortage relative to the population increase and urban-demand increase that Vancouver prices shot up in the late 2000s. (And, some speculate, laundered BC Bud money that’s sitting on empty real estate.)

        There is an intrinsic cost premium for highrise buildings because they need stronger support to stay up, but that’s much less than the rent premiums being charged now, and in a broad upzoned housing market its impact would be diluted. But that’s why it’s important to point out that we don’t need 40-story buildings if we have enough 8-story buildings. Edinburgh, Paris, and other cities fit a lot of people in just 2-4 stories, by having enough of them in a 2×2 space and eliminating excessive setbacks and wide streets and such.

        Chicago’s north side is my favorite example: it’s a 2×2 mile area of 3-10 story buildings, with scattered single-family houses and row houses here and there, and highrises just along the shore (for water views). It works very well and fits a lot of people, and all the buses are frequent and pretty full, and the L is well used. Chicago also allows multifamily construction to keep up with population increases so the prices don’t rise. The prices were comparable to Seattle in the early 2000s, but now that the population is slightly decreasing they’re lower. I’d like to see a North Side from Ballard to UW and the Ship Canal to 50th or 65th. That would really solve our housing shortage, and if we got another 40,000-person Amazon it would be no problem to accommodate.

      3. I think Paris is more like 4-6 stories. San Francisco is a good example of a city that fits a lot of people into 2-4 story buildings.

        Anyway, upzoning a massive area to 8 stories as you suggest can work in walkable, relatively transit-dense areas like the north Seattle area you described, and I would generally support such a proposal (depends on the details). In an area that is unwilling to make major changes like that to single family zones beyond mass transit stations, or in more far-flung suburbs that don’t have enough transit coverage or walkability, getting the most value possible out of the transit investment is important, and that will require buildings significantly taller than 8 stories since the affected area will be significantly smaller.

  12. Brent, wish I’d read whole list more carefully, because my comments on politics, policy, and brilliant people looking at the moon with wide eyes and drooping tongues really describe transit officials, and anybody else in the world, willing to waste an eyeblink waiting for any thing out of this Administration to make sense.

    Because nobody in this Administration has any intention to make anything comprehensible. All our country’s public policy is in the bull’s eye of the most successful psych warfare campaign in history. Statements deliberately senseless rapid-fire self-contraxcontradicted rapid fire ’til the gun barrel overheats. For starters.

    With a national media, to it’s shame starring National Public radio swarming like flies and maggots to the inevitable plop of something stinking at precisely the time an emergency distraction- like a determined prosecutor- arise. Or more to the point, Mr. Rogoff and every administrator mentioned. Ask the Guard for a Government-Issue entrenching tool and start uncovering what’s happening to every single cabinet department in our Government:

    Masses of empty seats from which experienced and competent people have either been forced, or out of disgust resigned. Either deliberately left empty, or filled with people whose job, and specialty, is to deliver their department into the hands of the companies it was their job to regulate. Lot of empty offices in the diplomatic corps too. With a background of daily-amended threats of war, do we even have a full-time ambassador to South Korea?

    Both of our major parties have a political system needing much more repair than our civil service, railroads, and bridges put together. But existence of Sound Transit itself is proof that active bipartisan government is as possible as it is necessary. James R. Ellis is a Republican! As were many others responsible for getting our transit effort restarted after two consecutive defeats.

    So let’s trade the puzzlement for a simpler mind-set. Treat this Administration like a Force 9 earthquake, meaning that a this-time-comprehensible force has left transit buried under a lot of infrastructure. And cut the Sound Transit service area off from the rest of the country. For an unknown amount of time. Call it a disaster drill – probably Defense money already banked for it, if we move fast.

    And from the get-go, level with our people as to what we’re doing and why. Anybody they feel like retiring or replacing- their privilege. Present circumstances, no official’s job is either safe or bearable if they’re honest and competent right now. Or, less dramatic alternative. Responsibly treat inexplicable money as non-existent, and adjust service accordingly. Worst that can happen is a lot better than on present course is hundred percent going to happen.

    Good visual for this whole discussion. Which should at least end a lot of puzzlement.


    Mark Dublin

  13. Regarding Monroe transit, there was a debate whether most people travel to Boeing Everett or King County. Yesterday I talked with somebody who lives in a town outside Monroe. He said almost all the traffic is going to Seattle, and there’s an animated map that shows the huge wave mornings and evenings. He said there’s a peak-only bus on 522 but it only goes to the county border, a half mile from the other Woodinville buses. His son couldn’t go to UW Bothell because of that gap and the lack of midday service. He also said that the county tried to get the state to widen 522 but it only agreed to widen the bridges and overpasses because they’re tricky to engineer. The county was responsible for widening the rest of the road but it never did. So the road alternates between three lanes and two lanes.

    I’ve never been in that area since the 80s because of the lack of buses. What I remembered was ten miles of nothingness between Bothell and Monroe. I asked if that was all filled up with houses now. He said the nothingness is still there, but it’s five miles between Woodinville and Monroe. I asked, “Where do all the commuters live then?” He said Monroe itself has grown a lot.

Comments are closed.