38 Replies to “Podcast #57: Light it on Fire”

  1. “Don’t like the whole streetcar concept for a reasons a lot of our listeners will understand…”

    Name one.

    Mark Dublin

  2. You didn’t mention one key element about greenways vs arterials: they seem fundamentally designed for recreation, not for transportation/utility, which is the main mind shift I’d like to see happen regarding bicycling in seattle. They go up and down hills instead of taking the flattest path (like rainier) they’re only sporadically connected to any commerce or shopping…

    The bike infrastructure in seattle needs to be a useful way to to actually get places.

    That’s one of the places the bike lane on broadway fails as well (at least the stretch between union and yesler terrace) — no one used is to bike before the protected lanes went in, so what suggests that they’d use it afterwards? Most bicyclists have always used 12th…

    1. Bikes don’t go more than 20 mph so what’s wrong with putting them on 20 mph lov-volume streets?

      The issue with arterials like Rainier, Broadway, Eastlake, and 45th, is that the rights of way are narrow so if you install a cycletrack you preclude transit/BAT lanes. That happened on Broadway, it’s planned for Eastlake, and it may happen on Rainier. So buses will continue being stuck in traffic because we have to have a cycletrack on the arterials.

      I used to bike on both Broadway and 12th when I had a bike. Sometimes I’m going to a Broadway business or want to be where the most people are; other times I just want to pass through quickly where the crowds aren’t.

      1. In the case of Eastlake, you have to have protected bike lanes on the arterial because there is simply no viable alternative. All of the parallel neighborhood streets don’t go through, so telling people to use them for a few blocks, only to end up right back on Eastlake, anyway, doesn’t work. Worse, they have large elevation gaps from Eastlake itself, so every time you have to jog back to the arterial, you have to climb up a steep hill. It is a much easier ride to just ride down Eastlake.

        Furthermore, transit riders already have a bypass of Eastlake – Link – which will improve significantly in this regard once the U-district station opens in 2021. And congestion on Eastlake is really just a rush hour thing to begin with – the rest of the day, running in mixed traffic has next to no effect on bus operation.

    2. I think greenways and arterial PBL serve different needs. The PBLs are for long distance travel, either commuter bikers or people out for strenuous exercise, while the greenways are for short local trips or leisure rides.

      It’s like comparing express bus infrastructure to “milk runs” focusing on coverage. They fill different needs, and both are needed in a well functioning city.

      In a flatter, less isthmus-y city, we could have both high-quality bus lanes and arterial PBLs, but in Seattle we sometimes have to make a tradeoff and it does become a true “bus vs bike” debate, unfortunately.

      I think it may be helpful to look at the overall corridors. I agree with asdf2 – for Eastlake, Link will operate as the “express” option, so I think I’d pick PBLs over bus lanes. For the Eastlake BRT, the “BRT-ness” is important in the sense that it provide high quality frequency and span of service – the end-to-end speed is less important because of the presence of Link. A similar argument can be made for other rapid rides that are or will be “shadows” of Link service. OTOH, a corridor like Aurora or Madison, the bus lane probably should trump because there the bus is the best option to move people in & out of the neighborhoods.

      1. When I biked between 1980 and 2003 neither the greenways nor the cycletracks existed, but when I see greenways now like the ones on Beacon Hill and Ballard, I would use them for cross-city trips. It all depends on the specific origin and destination, the choice of routes between them, how I feel that day, and other factors. The Burke-Gilman is faster than the Ballard greenway, but if your destination is several blocks north of the trail, or especially if it’s up a hill from the trail, you may prefer taking the greenway. Or even taking the greenway to around Greenlake and to another greenway east of it.

  3. Remind me exactly what, as an STB reader, I understand about Metro’s problems with the concept of streetcars.

    Mark Dublin

    1. That they are expensive to operate and maintain and offer little improvement over buses.

      1. That was the opinion in France until the 1980s, when one city figured out how to make them not suck.

        We’re still working on figuring out that “not suck” part.

      2. Make streetcars a small scale lower cost form of light rail with dedicated lanes and the ability to link cars together. Its not full on regional Link nor is it instead of Link.

      3. We transit geeks may have figured it out. Apparently certain other members of “we” haven’t.

      4. The United States, and most relevantly for us Seattle and Portland, have defined the word streetcar as low-quality rail transit. It’s like if we called RapidRide, Swift, express routes, and full-time frequent routes “chariots” and used the word “bus” only for coverage routes and inadequately slow/infrequent routes. In the same way, effective urban rail is called “light rail” here and “tram” in Europe. What we call streetcars and in my chariot/bus terminology buses, they would not build at all because it’s below the minimum quality.

    2. It’s likely that streetcars are on a fixed track. They can’t deviate around short-term on long-term issues. Instead, they get stuck!

      1. Al, KC Metro’s hiring. First rush hour out of base, I give you fifteen minutes max in Downtown-or any arterial-traffic before your passing speed is same as any streetcar. Including in a bus-only lane with stuck traffic in the one next to you. One taxicab will do it.

        And first time you try to take a trolleybus around average box truck first time, you’l lose a pole or break a rope. Mainly, the way it works in real life is that because buses theoretically can get around obstacles, it’s assumed they can actually do it.

        Frank, think minimum ten years into the future everything that a passenger- you with or without children or visitors- will be able to ride past on something smooth and comfortable. And how much large-marginally Seattle’s rep as a place to visit, and live, will go up.

        Pike Place Market, Pioneer Square. You’ve got two car-lines ending in them or near the ends. Why leave out the one that’ll not only carry the most itself, but make it possible to visit the most attractive part via either of the other two.

        Glenn- might give us some descriptions of how and why your choice of streetcar lines have been rendered non-vacuum.


      2. That’s mostly a red herring though. How often do streetcars get stuck when a bus could go around? I’ve hardly ever seen it. Usually the problem is that all the lanes are full so buses have to wait too.

        The problem with streetcars is that they cost more than buses but we don’t build them with priority right of way and higher capacity that would leverage a train’s strengths, and we spend so much money that the frequency drops to fifteen minutes and people don’t want to use them for transfers. So you’re spending a lot of money for nothing, when you could get more bus service for the same money.

  4. When discussing the West-Seattle-Ballard ST study, I think it’s important to move beyond already well-understood and opined thoughts about physical concepts like the Ballard crossing, the West Seattle design and the Midtown station location/First Hill connectivity. To me, the bigger question should be whether ST has adequately defined these concerns and solutions in the latest step of the alternatives development process. I hope to here future podcasts focus on whether ST is currently summarizing and considering things correctly, and not just what different groups think should happen.

  5. Last night and this morning indicate I need to get new glasses or go back to Firefox. Optics and operating this program giving me real reputation for bad manners that don’t serve any pro-transit purpose. I’m done.


  6. Leave it to the worthless AIA to give a design award to UW station. Typical BS architects… only concerned with trendy gimmicky aesthetics and couldnt be bothered with functionality or the building users.

  7. So, at what point does ST (although perhaps someone with less baggage then Rogoff) tell West Seattle’s junction tunnel dreams are not happening? Or does Constantine hold that much power to keep the hope alive? (FWIW, I expect someone from ST will tell Ballard tunnel proponents no dice).

    1. They probably need cost and ridership numbers first. It’s better political cover than just saying “no”.

    2. ST3 set the budget. The budget was scaled for an elevated line. So the cost of a tunnel will probably collide with the budget ceiling. ST may go a little over but I don’t see it going a lot over for things that weren’t in the ballot measure. But we can study it and see what the cost really is and what the tradeoffs would be to include it, then we can make an informed decision rather than blindly guessing.

      If the politics come down to West Seattle getting a tunnel because it’s entitled and politicians live there, and Ballard has to suck a bridge and 130th and Graham stations are deleted, then there will be a large outcry, and we’ll be going back to the politics of early 2016 where West Seattle got elevated to the top priority just cuz.

      1. Or, Big Tech might come in and say, we need the Ballard line to be uninterupted because our stops or on that line. When Big Tech talks (see the revised Kubly routing, the Seattle to Vancouver high speed rail, etc), things get done.

      2. Possibly, but Big Tech has big money and would probably go to SLU, and after that Northgate.

  8. You know, in 40 years, after the trillionth escalator breakdown from 15 or so underground stations that ST would manage…being able to access an elevated station like Northgate or even Angle Lake (the most comparable looking) is going to be refreshing.

    Remember that the High Line is an elevated track, and it was unloved but now loved.

    1. How will you get to Northgate Station if the escalators are broken? Will you have a helicopter lower you to it?

      1. My point is that with a 3 story elevated station, ST generally builds public stairs in addition to the escalator/elevator combo. With Husky Stadium, no stairs. Would West Seattle or Ballard really want several stations in each where users play a constant game of escalator chess?

    2. Aye, but the high line first become obsolete before it was rediscovered and loved. Hopefully Link is appreciated before it becomes obsolete. Though I am amused imaging a futuristic world where the best used of the Northgate elevated station is as a leisure promenade.

  9. Limebike’s app has a very easy way to report problems (damage, improper parking, etc.). Look for the exclamation point on the lower right corner of the map. It lets you scan the QR Code, set a location, categorize issues, etc. I usually get credits when I report problems.

    I’ve ridden the Lime-ebikes. Easy to start from a standstill and handle gentle slopes well. Super steep hills are a problem and they aren’t really any faster than the commuter bike I normally ride, just easier to peddle.

    1. I find The electric Lime Bikes to be most useful when you need to get up a hill. If you’re just riding the Burke-Gilman trail, you may as well save yourself some money and just ride a pedal bike. Very steep hills can be a problem even in the electric bikes because, the steeper the hill, the harder to have to push down on the pedals to get the motor to engage. However, this is really only a problem on the steepest hills. Taking Pine or Pike up from downtown to Capital Hill, you’ll be just fine.

      One thing I have noticed with the electric Lime Bikes is that they can be as fast, if not faster than transit for surprisingly long distances, once the walk time and wait time are properly accounted for. I had one of those moments this Sunday morning where I was trying to figure out the best way to get to downtown Bellevue by a certain time. I ended up riding an electric Lime Bike all the way over, across the 520 bridge. It was basically 12-15 mph the whole way, but I was moving virtually nonstop, with no interminable waits for buses, and almost no stoplights, and, thanks to the motor, I was able to maintain the 12 mph pace while climbing hills on the Bellevue side of the bridge. Total time: 43 minutes. With the 271 running just hourly at that time, the wait for the bus, alone, would have been about 43 minutes. The ride, itself, was not cheap ($6.60), but considering that the only other option to get where I was going on time was Lyft/Uber ($20-25), I’m not complaining.

      I had another occasion where I tried riding an electric Lime Bike all the way from Magnolia to the U-district. The entire trip took about 32 minutes. Even if the 31 were running at the time (which it wasn’t, it was a Sunday), the bus would have taken at least that much time, and that’s before you add the time to wait for it or walk to it.

      I can see those electric bikes in Bellevue being very tempting on weekends when the bus that travels in the direction you want to go isn’t going to come for 20-30 minutes, yet the bike is right there, and you only need to go a few miles.

      Given enough time, I can see bike share spreading beyond Seattle and Bellevue, eventually encompassing the entire Puget Sound Region. The basic pattern is each time they seed bikes in one city, people ride them to the next city over, which creates demand there, which gets the company’s attention, so they expand the area where they seed their bikes, which makes the next city over suddenly within a reasonable riding distance from somewhere with a lot of bikes, and the cycle begins again.

      The effect is especially strong when cities are connected by high-quality, flat trails, like the Burke-Gilman and Sammamish River Trail. Seed the bikes in Seattle, they migrate to Bothell. Seed them in Bothell, they migrate to Woodinville and Redmond. Seed them in Redmond, and watch them migrate over the East Lake Sammamish Trail to Issaquah. As long as the company is ever willing to expand, and as long as the cities don’t get in the way, the bike share map could easily become as large and comprehensive as the Sound Transit system map.

      This is huge in terms of mobility, because the further you get from Seattle proper, the worse the bus service becomes, and the longer you get stuck waiting for a bus to take you that last mile. Yet, as long as you have a bike, 12-15 mph is still 12-15 mph, and you never have to wait. (Where the bike “share” comes in, is avoiding the need to gamble on getting space on a bus rack to store your own bike – it’s much easier to just ride the bus without a bike, and grab the bike at the destination).

      1. I already see those rental bikes here on Bainbridge Island, so the process of them migrating to adjacent cities where the company did not initially place them is not just hypothetical.

  10. CCC streetcar. As an agency, Metro was mute on streetcars. Nickels was the proponent of the 1st Avenue line; he inserted it in all the AWV scenarios; mayors McGinn, Murray, and Burgess continued the program. Now, Mayor Durkan and the new Council have to consider the potentially higher operating costs, higher sunk costs, and the opportunity costs or alternative uses of the 1st Avenue right of way, local capital, and local service subsidy. re sunk cost, this column explains it well:https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/01/21/that-sunk-cost-feeling

  11. I would like to go on the record as being the hypothetical person who enjoys Martin and Frank bantering about stuff. Those guys have good chemistry for riffing on transit news!

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