Mountain lift

This is an open thread.

61 Replies to “News Roundup: Not Nearly Enough”

  1. I’m glad to see Amazon stepping up to fund transit. And I hope it works out for them better than Microsoft’s failed experiment. (Microsoft gave up on public buses and switched to company shuttles.)

    What I’d really like to see is Amazon, Google, Facebook, Tableau, and especially Expedia funding a Link light rail line that connects the existing ST1 through SLU, up to Expedia’s new HQ on the edge of nowhere, into Google’s Fremont campus, and over to the UW. They could dump a few tens of billions either as gifts or loans or bribes or whatever it takes. They’d save money, and the region could (partially) reverse the mistakes it’s made in SLU.

    And yes, I know this is a ridiculous thought on many vectors. I welcome discussion, but don’t be too concerned about poking holes in every detail. It’s not an idea that’s going anywhere.

    1. If ST is serious about entertaining a P3 options for Everett, then why not for the line from downtown to Ballard too?

      Seems to me that if Amazon et al, could get a decent return on investment from a P3 partnership, and get the benefits of the publicity from buildng and running the ‘Technology’ line, then why wouldn’t they?

    2. Fremont was a part of the failed Ballard to UW campaign, so Google pfrobably won’t be interested.

      Can they (legally) help bonding in ST3? Obviously Big Tech could form a lobby to put pressure on the legislature to allow methods to speed up construction/financing.

      1. Here at the ST southern battle line, time warping gravity waves off Mt. Rainier really mess up commentary, so fill us in. What were the historic dates of the Ballard to UW campaign? And which side’s troops called their commander “Old Google?” Can’t Civil War games just go back to zombies?


    3. It probably could be.

      Fremont was also one of the alternatives for Ballard (the Queen Anne tunnel). Actually more than one, if you count the streetcar alternatives..

      1. Well, wouldn’t be first time a transit project became a footnote to fifty years of freeways when leaders decided that choice of priority for one segment counted as declaration of war. Details different than ours, but good insight into digging anything long, espensive and round.

        With Seattle’s complications of terrain and soils, would rather turn discussion technical than political. Better for the unity that I think is harder and more important to get, than who’s across finish line for one segment over another.


    4. Brings up a general question: to what extent are public-private partnerships for transit allowed in WA and Seattle?

      1. Still same question, B. When the project hits a tight spot- as very large projects inevitably do- I’d much rather any disputes be an in-house matter. Where am I wrong?

        Would as soon not use any consultants at all. But better that than opposing legal team- who’s probably really well paid. Especially if present provider of elevators and escalators gived our private partners the low bid.

        Mark Dublin

  2. Can someone help me understand how Amazon can buy more bus service? I thought that Seattle had already bought more service, but King County Metro was running into constraints not related to money: not being able to hire and train new drivers fast enough, not enough buses (and buying new ones takes a while), not enough space at the various bus bases, too much congestion on existing routes such that more runs aren’t feasible, and so on. Why is this money all of a sudden seen as enough to actually get more service?

    1. “The investment will add 22 weekday trips for two years across a handful of King County Metro’s busy routes”

      I think the answer is that it’s such small scale. Metro has a couple dozen spare drivers and buses, but not hundreds.

      1. Thanks. That’s frustrating given how much PR this is getting. I’d gotten the impression from headlines that it would be a big improvement, but 22 trips is I guess not very much.

      2. Yeah, I guess, but Rachael is right — this is weird. Amazon is being credited for doing something that Seattle voters already said they would do, except that we only can do it when Amazon chips in? Don’t get me wrong, I think it is great — I just think the whole thing is weird.

      3. After being seen as the lead gunman in killing the head tax, Amazon needs good PR (at least in the city, many of whom blame Amazon (rightly or wrongly) for increased traffic and housing prices) without spending a lot of money.

      4. Well, it’s hard to compare apples and oranges, but this is 22 runs vs some 11,000 service hours.

      5. Exactly. Let’s not give Amazon more credit than they deserve. They are giving money to Metro because it directly benefits their employees and is cheaper than running shuttles like Microsoft.

      6. Amazon’s head of “Global Corporate Affairs” is Jay Carney. If that name sounds familiar, he was the White House Press Secretary under President Obama for 3.5 years.

        He dealt with national and international media on a daily basis – feeding the local news cycle with a minimal increase in bus service is almost too easy.

      7. Plenty of First Hill employers are still making small contributions to Metro to help fund the First Hill express routes. They just don’t nudge the electeds to put out press releases on their behalf.

        I’m not sure, but I think this is somewhat smaller than what Amazon would have had to pay on a payroll tax.

        Antagonizing Amazon wasn’t just done by citizen groups. It was also done by the city council, banning employers from renting blocks of apartment units so some of their employees could have an easier time getting housing close to work. It is an unnecessary, carbon-positive, red-meat-for-techworker-haters policy that seems to have been more for base mobilization than for solving a definable problem.

        Regardless, I hope there is a lot more money Amazon is willing to offer, particularly to get the Center City Connector finished. At 20K projected riders per day (which would make it the second-highest ridership transit line in the state, until East Link opens), it would benefit a lot more people than Amazon employees. Or, help accelerate Ballard Link construction.

        Private grants for bus service eventually expire, so it would be preferable to use such grants on capital improvements that permanently speed up service.

      8. “It was also done by the city council, banning employers from renting blocks of apartment units so some of their employees could have an easier time getting housing close to work.”

        That effectively blocked non-Amazonians or Microsofties from living in one of the few dense, walkable areas available. Many of them also worked nearby.

      9. +1000, Mike. Tech workers aren’t the only people working downtown, nor even the only people working downtown that can afford to live nearby. If the tech companies want to build company housing then let them do so. (Tennessee Ernie Ford says they’ll also need a company store, but the employees’ souls may be involved.)

  3. So the buses needlessly get kicked out of the tunnel years before they should, and the person who could have stopped them — King County Executive Dow Constantine — did nothing. Meanwhile, the mayor dares to question a bloated and poorly designed streetcar project that follows a short, squiggly and looping route. On the Urbanist, no one says anything about Dow’s actions, but a former representative of McGinn (probably our worst mayors ) writes an article accusing the mayor of being anti-transit. Good God, she hasn’t even made a decision yet! There is a reason that people from other parts of the country laugh about the way that we do things in this town. The mayor seems like the only adult around, telling the little kids that they can’t have their shiny toys because mommy just can’t afford it.

    1. When the mayor’s reasoning for putting a project on hold is mostly FUD, and no alternatives are proposed, it kinda looks anti-transit to me. What is the real reason it is being slowly killed? Cost overruns? Many SDOT projects are over budget. Honestly, if I thought the mayor was serious about transit, then she would have SDOT work to massively improve speed and reliability of the existing streetcars and would follow through on building CCC.

      Look, I’m not a streetcar supporter. The reason they got built is due to funding sources (namely Amazon, Sound Transit, and the FTA) that meant Seattle didn’t have to put in much money to build something that in theory would spur development (SLU segment) or provide mobility in place of a light rail station (1st Hill). So now we have the two lines, and CCC is an effort to turn them into a usable system and add dedicated ROW through an important section of the proposed line.

      If we cancel the CCC, then we should establish a plan to remove the other lines and the mayor should propose a real plan to address SLU, 1st Ave and 1st Hill mobility that is better than the FH + SLU + CCC.

      1. Honestly, if I thought the mayor was serious about transit, then she would have SDOT work to massively improve speed and reliability of the existing streetcars and would follow through on building CCC.

        You mean by replacing them with buses? That would definitely help, but not that much. Just look at the route — it runs down Broadway, and there simply isn’t room to add transit lanes ( unless you get rid of the cycle track (and I really doubt that will happen). You could just abandon the whole streetcar thing, and run buses on 12th, but I don’t know where you are going to get the money for that. The Move Seattle project didn’t allocate nearly enough money for the projects that were supposed to be built — spending a bunch more on that corridor just isn’t going to happen unless we somehow find a new funding source. The money that won’t be spent on the streetcar expansion will only go so far.

        If we cancel the CCC, then we should establish a plan to remove the other lines and the mayor should propose a real plan to address SLU, 1st Ave and 1st Hill mobility that is better than the FH + SLU + CCC.

        Where are we going to get the money to remove the other streetcars? Don’t get me wrong — I would love to get rid of them — they are not a very good value even operationally. But I just don’t see how we have the money to pull out the rails. I suppose we could just sell off the cars, sell off the maintenance barns and deal with the tracks later. That might actually make us some money (the maintenance barns sit in every expensive property now). Then run buses down various streets, which really shouldn’t be hard at all. A bus could go up Yesler and turn on Broadway or 12th. It could go further than John (to at least Republican, if not Aloha). Or we could just supplement the bus routes by adding a bus line on Boren (connecting South Lake Union, First Hill and the Mount Baker station).

        For First Avenue the situation is much easier. The big question is whether we have the money to create center running bus lanes. In that case, we just need to connect a couple of the Rapid Ride lines (e. g. the 7 and 70) when they add dual sided buses. If that proves to be too expensive, then just add BAT lanes on the right side, and run buses down First. There are plenty of runs that could use First instead of Third.

        So, yeah, maybe we do have enough money to add some bus lanes (on 12th and 1st) along with some new bus routes. But my guess is that the other projects (that are much further along from a planning standpoint) are still a better value. Regardless of whether this is built or not, folks on First/Capital Hill will likely have to make do with poor transit options (whether they include the streetcar or buses).

      2. …and no alternatives are proposed…

        Walk 1 or 2 blocks to the east for vastly more frequent, faster and reliable transit service than could ever be provided by the proposed streetcar?

      3. “Walk 1 or 2 blocks to the east for vastly more frequent, faster and reliable transit service than could ever be provided by the proposed streetcar?”

        I keep forgetting that Link goes to SLU and First Hill…

    2. The Lander St Bridge project is already 23% over its original $173 estimated cost (from my blog). For some reason that’s not a reason for it to be put on hold. I wonder why.

      I on the other hand AM a streetcar fan. I use the First Hill one fairly regularly. They are used around the world as part of the mix of transit because they are very helpful to some. They seem slow to you, but they are faster than walking for many people, including seniors and children. The low floor and smoothness of ride also makes them more accessible. My mother prefers the streetcar when she can take it to buses because she finds the ride more comfortable. The CCC is fine and it’s only over budget in the amounts that any transportation project in this scale tends to be, regardless of whether it’s public transit or for cars (the 99 tunnel anyone?)

      1. There are those out there that don’t have a fundamentally sound perspective on the merits of streetcars and tend to think they are an equivalent transportation tool to a bus. I frequent streetcar towns like El Paso, Tucson and Portland on a regular basis and I have come to realize their respective transportation role which is not to get people from point A to point B but to get people from point A1 to point A2, and in large volumes. The denser the amount of businesses the more effective and greater the return. They mark a set route which is convenient for visitors and locals a like, they seat more than buses, they board easier for seniors and they induce greater ridership of borderline transit users who would spurn buses given they were the only option. Unfortunately Durkan has proven herself unable to understand the merits of different transportation modes and is proving herself to be incompetent as a mayor in general.

      2. There are those out there that don’t have a fundamentally sound perspective on the merits of streetcars and tend to think they are an equivalent transportation tool to a bus.

        No one has said they are equivalent. They have said that in this case that buses would be better.

        Like every other mode choice, there are advantages and disadvantages. Jarrett Walker is not just some random dude who has a fancy for public transportation, but a professional who has written books about the subject. He has been a professional transit consultant since 1991. This is what he had to say about the subject:

        Notice there are two significant advantages to using streetcars. One is the added capacity, the other is that it can run on existing rails. Thus they make sense in those two cases. If demand is really high, and you are already planning on running vehicles every minute or two, then this is a good way to save some money, and deal with the crowding. Very few situations call for that, but a handful do. The other situation occurs when the rail already exists (a good example of this is in Vancouver, BC, on the Arbutus corridor). In that case, the dynamic is reversed — it is actually cheaper to run a streetcar. But that’s it — those are all the advantages.

        But here is the situation with our streetcars — they lack both advantages. There is no existing line down First (otherwise we would just plop down the streetcars). The streetcars are no bigger than our buses, and even if they were, we wouldn’t need them. Five minutes headways is nowhere near capacity — it makes sense to improve the line and run the vehicles every two minutes instead.

        At the same time, there are several disadvantages to streetcars, which have been noted several times. They are slower because they can’t avoid temporary obstacles (e. g. a car a couple inches into their path). The tracks themselves (not the vehicles) are a danger to bicyclists. It costs a lot to create or modify the route, or deal with longer term obstacles. They can’t easily go up hills, etc.

        Let me just finish by addressing some of the myths you mentioned:

        The denser the amount of businesses the more effective and greater the return. Same with a bus route.

        They mark a set route which is convenient for visitors and locals alike. Same with a bus route.

        They seat more than buses Except when the don’t, as with our streetcars and buses.

        they board easier for seniors Buses can also have level boarding as well.

        they induce greater ridership of borderline transit users who would spurn buses Evidence please. In this city, anyway, the streetcar hasn’t induced borderline transit users at all. The two lines both perform very poorly compared to buses, and both are well below the estimates. Maybe it is because transit riders aren’t really induced to ride a streetcar, and just want to get from Point A to Point B (or Point A1 to A2, if you prefer) as quickly and conveniently as possible.

      3. “The CCC is fine and it’s only over budget in the amounts that any transportation project in this scale tends to be,…”

        That’s just nonsense. Are you aware of what the ORIGINAL cost estimate for the CCC was? This estimation miss is of a magnitude that would make Sound Transit proud. (Yes, that was snark, but I think you get my point.)

      4. I’m with RossB… And let’s not kid ourselves. We could have been running streetcars on the Waterfront, which would be historical, very convenient for visitors and locals alike, etc. This is about much more than transit service — and many transit supporters like myself have long complained about using scarce transit dollars to fund streetcars serving other purposes. If the CCC is so great for businesses, why isn’t it being (at least partially) funded with economic development dollars or the proposed Waterfront LID?

    3. Money doesn’t grow on trees, and most Seattle projects have multiple sources. I’d much rather see the streetcar money go to cover the other cost overruns for sidewalks, for example.

      It’s also not fair to blame Durkan for overruns. That blame belongs to SDOT staff and a former director (Kubly) who appeared to not question costs.

      Frankly, let’s just realize that the City Seattle probably needs to get out of direct transit operator business. Metro and ST have their issues, but these agencies know more about what they are doing. Perhaps we’ve been too focused on the project’s merits and too dismissive of the project’s seemingly misassigned management.

      1. Both of those articles are critical of the project, but neither spends much time at all mentioning the transit drawbacks. No one at The Urbanist has called Dow Constantine anti-transit, even though his actions regarding the convention center clearly have been.

    4. I don’t think there is much Executive Constantine could have done to delay the Convention Center Annex construction. WSCC is a state entity, ranking higher in power of eminent domain than the County and the City. Yes, I know Constantine has cheerled the project, but he didn’t make it happen. I believe he had some hand in enabling the Community Benefits Package, such as it is, and has done most of what can be done from the County’s end to streamline bus service, short of enacting even-dollar cash fares, but the entity being least helpful right now in improving bus movement is the City. The Council can beg the Mayor to paint most of 3rd Ave red, but the City’s executive branch has to decide to do it.

      1. Sure he could have. Ultimately it was the county that decided whether it would go through or not. He could have easily said “Sure, but only after the buses have left”. What that have been that bad?

      2. The KC Council and Dow were also not required by law to sell it to the WSCC at a heavily discounted rate, while creating terrible impacts to Seattle traffic. They could have sold it for market rate, and negotiated to start construction later.

    5. People are making far more of the tunnel than it is. It’s only a handful of bus routes, not even 1% of the buses downtown. Buses were inevitably going to leave the tunnel; it doesn’t matter much when. Yes, it will slow down riders of the 41 and 255, but those are a tiny fraction of riders and they’ve been getting an unusually sweet deal for a long time. Arguing to keep buses in the tunnel longer is like arguing to keep the CCC: it misses the big picture. Neither of them does practically anything for our overall transit mobility; it just helps a few people avoid the Stewart Street traffic or shuttles tourists from Westlake to Pike Place.

      1. It is six buses, effecting up to 40,000 riders, or roughly half the ridership of our entire light rail line. I’m not sure how you get the 1% figure, either. It won’t just effect the riders of those buses, it will effect lots of buses downtown, as all the buses are pushed to the surface, and we wait for Link to take care of some of the demand. That is why there has been so much work done to try to find a solution (by re-routing buses). Of course this is a temporary problem, but there is no reason why the convention center expansion even need happen, let alone now. Why endure a negative outcome for so many to build something that benefits so few?

      2. Also there is a real, immediate benefit to kicking the buses out of the tunnel: The trains will run on time!

        Yesterday I was initially bummed to just miss a train heading south out of ID station right at 5pm. Well I was (mostly) glad I did because the next train was waiting just behind in the tunnel. Wonder how long they had been waiting behind the buses for two packed trains to be stacked up in that dark tunnel.

        Of course when that train pulled up it was only two cars long so I had to hustle up the platform and squeeze into a jam-packed car anyway. Luckily this problem will resolve itself in time too, just waiting on that new stock to arrive!

      3. Part of the problem is that SDOT planning is for more people to simply ride light rail trains through Downtown. The same light rail trains which are currently overcrowded at peak periods. And ST clearly told them when new cars are scheduled to arrive to allow for increased capacity, but that timeline didn’t fit with this rush to start convention center construction. Want to piss people off about transit? Expect them to use it, but don’t provide the service levels they need.

  4. I was talking with one of the agency’s lawyers and we were laughing at that Pierce County lawsuit over the MVET statute. The state did NOTHING wrong — there certainly is no Art. II § 37 violation. The 2015 statute clearly supplemented a prior statute without repealing it, and it adopted by express reference provisions of a prior statute. There was no improper amending or repealing. of the car value table.

    1. Also, I’m not sure how ST can be sued in this case. ST is using the outdated MVET schedule that was proposed, approved and mandated for ST3 by the then GOP senate majority. In addition, an amendment to the ST3 funding schedule by a Ferndale GOP senator, to use the updated WSDOT MVET schedule, was rejected by the same GOP senate majority. It’s not like ST can choose to use the updated MVET schedule; their hands are tied.

      This seems to be conveniently left out or ignored by the anti-ST MVET crowd. Why not sue the State Senate?

    2. It’s all smoke and mirrors. ST is an easy political target: it can be described as unelected bureaucrats imposing high taxes for something opaque. To the extent that the people suing are senators or anti-Sound Transit county councilmembers, they’re doing it to make themselves look good. ST is the one charging the MVET, so it must be ST’s fault.

    3. Well the attorneys at my company are of the opposite opinion, so I guess a court (or courts) will indeed sort the matter out. They are contract attorneys so they are sticklers on the little details and this is really what this case boils down to. I can definitely see the argument for a section 37 violation. We shall see.

  5. How does this statement:

    “The streetcar vehicles procured for the C3 are heavier, longer and wider (in context to the vehicles lateral movement along the system or dynamic envelope) than the existing SLU and First Hill streetcars”

    Lead to this “question”:

    Are the new vehicles compatible with the current track gauge? If not, what options, costs and disruptions to service would there be for retrofitting the tracks?

    I would be absolutely shocked if the track gauge isn’t standard gauge, and it should be incredibly easy to find this out in the procurement docs. I’m not proponent of the CCC, but this press statement is clearly a hatchet job meant to kill the CCC.

    1. The increased weight and dynamic envelope in curves from the longer vehicles is one issue and could potentially require modifications to wayside structures (such as the GATE located in the curve at the SLU maintenance barn). But it is inconceivable that the SDOT, the design consultants, or the car builder would’ve changed the track gage or static dimensions to platform nose.

      1. The original article headline (not the article) implied that track gauges might be a problem. They aren’t. I believe the possible issue is length and weight.

      2. Yeah, but the damage is done. There are dozens of news stories out yesterday and today implying that the gauge could be wrong. To your average low info reader this is proof of SDOT incompetence.

        I’m not saying the length and weight isn’t an issue, just that tying it to a non-issue like track gauge, is a Trumpian tactic meant to destroy the credibility of the project and SDOT staff.

        I have no confidence in the Mayor now.

      3. To be fair, SDOT had kind of already hurt their own credibility before this article. The low ball estimates they provided over Metro’s objections were the original reason the streetcar got put on hold. (And it does appear Durkan is trying to kill it)

      4. I’m pretty sure the mayor didn’t write the headline. In fact the mayor hasn’t released a statement at all. If you have a problem, it is with the Seattle Times.

      5. @Frank — Fair enough. I stand corrected.

        I think part of my confusion is due to the two stories the Seattle Times released, one after the other. I still contend that the original headline is misleading. Here is the headline:

        Seattle’s new streetcars may be too big to fit tracks, maintenance barn, mayor’s office says

        Here is the first paragraph:

        The new streetcars that Seattle ordered to expand the downtown streetcar system are heavier and longer than the ones the city now operates, and it’s unclear if they’ll work on the current track and fit in the maintenance barn, Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office said Tuesday.

        That is a major difference in emphasis. In contrast, the followup article took a more reasonable approach:

        In that article it clearly spells out that gauge isn’t a problem, but the weight and size might be. I believe that is still the case (no one has figured out if they really are a problem or not). The mayor’s office was sloppy for even suggesting that gauge could be an issue (even if it was only one of over a dozen questions it raised with its statement) but the Seattle Times was even sloppier in not bothering to look up the two vehicles.

        My guess is that the mayor has completely lost faith in SDOT (or at least the folks in SDOT in charge at the time) and is thus asking some pretty fundamental questions that are highly unlikely to be a problem. By that I mean that if you don’t trust folks to buy cars that fit on the old rails, you really don’t trust them to do anything right.

  6. The temporary ramp out of the DSTT from the former Convention Place Station is huge. And on the way to it, buses drive right past the old CPS stops which are closed off. This leads me wonder: why not just continue to use the old CPS stops with the new ramp, and then they could have gotten rid of the 9th Ave stops? The only difference is they would have to consolidate all services to two stops within CPS, which they do now on 9th Ave.

    1. The current ramp you see is just phase 1. The next phase involves demolition of the current platforms and building a new connection to the ramp adjacent to 9th Ave, which will remain for a longer period.

  7. I sure hope that the mayor (and her staff) focus on more than just the physical and monetary issues involved with the streetcar. It reminds me of the Bertha tunnel. So much of the focus was on cost overruns because of a stuck digger. But the bigger problem was a very poorly designed project that will hamper mobility of all sorts in this town. I just hope that folks are willing to study real alternatives to the streetcar (including buses on First) instead of just saying the whole thing isn’t worth it.

    1. If there’s no mayoral political will to build an already planned and approved streetcar project on 1st, there’s zero chance an unplanned bus route will get done. No busses, no drivers, and no ability to acquire either.

      1. What if entities like Pike Place Market and similar important business communities- there’s more than one between Jackson and Pine had will enough that they murdered my Waterfront line to get it?

        When was last time the Mayor of Seattle had, let alone needed, enough will to do anything? Bet it wasn’t the mayor who inked out the last Monorail. But all the property owners who didn’t want their property looking like that Chicago apartment in T”he Blue Brothers” that that Romanian gangster’s daughter blew up with an anti-tank rocket to try and kill John Belushi?

        Mad Pete Trullo’s little girl wants it gone, or built- dat’s a good girl, Jenny!


    2. It won’t hamper mobility per se. Only in the sense that the money could have been spent on something more effective. Although the federal grant is not transferable so that part would just be lost.

      (As to why the feds rated the streetcar so highly… that gets into the muddled thinking about transit in this county. It’s the same feds that also funded the ineffective highway-median light rail lines across the country.)

      1. Exactly Mike, opportunity cost is a real cost. Sum the dollars spent on this albatross over time and you start talking about real money that could be given to ST to get us up to First Hill or a decent tunneled Salmon Bay crossing. NO ONE is talking about additional funding sources to make up for ST’s cheaping out on the Seattle projects in ST3…

  8. Considering source….anyplace we can find exactly how much overweight the CCC cars are? Though if we just find out they’re made by Breda, all we need do is advocate an 8-lane solid rock miniature Olympic Mountains between Jackson and Pine. Better safe than sorry.

    Wait a minute….
    Hey Casey Corr! Can’t you at least wait ’til we’ve at least started DIGGING DSTT-2? OK if you prove the streetcars will crack the world (the San Andreas Fault was there before!), but admit the
    trolley-motors on the Breda fleet were solid.

    Now, watching the Mayor in action at Sea-Tac- first teeth-marks in the ankle of Evil Himself- wouldn’t be the first time somebody established their good credentials before the Dark Side got them.

    But thankfully….

    Not all Sequels have to Suck.

    Mark Dublin

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