27 Replies to “Podcast #64: Free on Weekends”

  1. I’m glad that you discussed the question of cost increases versus revenue increases. I’d conceptually agree that the two should seem to grow in tandem. When I read press releases and articles on this, the two topics never seem to be compared.

    Offhand, I’d observe that the Federal grant requests are fixed. That could be part of the problem. The grant paperwork lists one cost and that’s what is used to justify the grant, which seems to be a fixed amount base on the paperwork given to them. Frankly, the FTA guidance suggests higher contingencies anyway, so that it seems short-sighted for ST to consistently attribute low contingencies to projects because that means that the percent of Federal dollars would always be lower than initially anticipated.

    I also wonder if ST costing and ST revenue estimates are done on the same base year. As evidenced by repeated added costs to several projects, I have to wonder if the costing was done in one year and the revenue estimates were done a year or two or even three years later. The problem could simply be that there isn’t a base year set so every staff person overseeing estimates doesn’t have a fixed point in base year time by which to plan things correctly.

    Finally, I’m also a bit concerbed that recent foreign steel tariffs could make these most recent estimates wrong too.

    1. In tandem, yes. But not necessarily “in synch”. In fact, costs are almost guaranteed to outpace the increase in tax revenues. That’s because cost increases are unlikely to be limited to transportation infrastructure and therefore will absorb any wage income increases for most people.

      Yes, the portion of their income that goes to sales taxed items will rise, but that’s only a part of the increase of their income. Gross sales tax revenues do not rise as quickly as wages.

  2. Al, would you accept that at given all the possible outcomes- which can change by the minute- these calculations are the best guesses that intelligent, honest, and skilled people can do? And that system we have is possibly the best that anybody can come up with?

    Also, before I’d worry about the tariffs, I’d have to get a Twitter account so I could know by GPS exactly how far back the threat to cancel Trump Ottawa and sue the Canadian Prime Minister for being a lazy, dishonest coward has been walked back. Not only “malhonnet” but “triste!”

    Have to watch it, though. When it comes to freshly-generated low-grade organic fertilizer, hard for us to fend off a world-wide anti-dumping claim.


  3. Why isn’t 3rd Ave transit-only, 24/7?

    I think there is a coalition of downtown business interests (DSA et al) that are generally reluctant to go full-transit on 3rd for a couple of reasons:
    * Delivery access for businesses on 3rd
    * Legacy garage access – I’m guessing the post office and Macy’s freight access, for example
    * Passenger drop-off for people with mobility issues (e.g. Benaroya Hall)

    But more generally, there is a feeling among the downtown Seattle business community that 3rd Ave is already the least retail-friendly (and by implication, pedestrian friendly) downtown avenue and transit deserves much of the blame. The concern is that making 3rd Ave fully transit-only will just make the situation worse. A lot of these same concerns were raised when the idea was floated to convert 5th Ave to a transit mall as part of the OneCenterCity process (“how can you propose making 5th Ave, our most beautiful street-scape, transit only, when 3rd Ave is still such a mess?”).

    As a transit advocate, you might take issue with any or all of these concerns, but I do believe they have a point (and a pretty powerful coalition), so if the argument continues to be “ban all cars from 3rd”, then I don’t think there is going to be much traction. It’s gotta be more nuanced.

    1. Would like to take a walk with a representative of the Downtown Seattle Association’s choice down Third from Pine to Yesler, and then back up to Pine other side of street. To get some idea exactly how more automobile access would help businesses excluded because builders deliberately designed them out.

      We’d see what percentage of building-fronts fit that category right now. And then scope out how much of a much overdue attractive outdoor business community we could create. I think the World-‘s Class Evaluation Committee would put Third Avenue on its Distressed Area list.

      But note in its report how strange it is that Downtown’s emptiest commercial wasteland has the city’s most concentrated electric transit from end to end, and the regional rail system for a basement. And also that based on world experience, any Center City businessman could not appreciate that the street’s only hope for to maximize its return is to keep transit unimpeded.

      We’re the natural ally here. Last fifty years, major purpose striped concrete in cities was to get customers, and other residents out.


    2. Is Third really that bad from a retail standpoint? From what I can tell, it is better than ever. I see a lot of places that are doing just fine: https://goo.gl/maps/AVwd3UyqmdC2. In comparison, Second looks pretty sterile: https://goo.gl/maps/6Ajmk1Zq2rx. I really don’t see how buses negatively effect a particular area. Width of streets matter, but also just the shops that happen to be there. High end stores tend to be close to high end stores. Third had Woolworths, and now has Ross, so it isn’t that surprising that it looks a little different than down the street from Nordstrom’s (which also had a street makeover).

      I think the other issues are real. Access to various garages and delivery points, along with passenger drop-offs are important. There are really several issues: First, should we ban cars 100% from the street. Second, should we allow a special permit for some users and finally, is we do allow some cars, when do we allow them. Banning cars entirely would mean that no one could make deliveries or drop-offs. Only allowing cars to use the street for one block (https://goo.gl/maps/SgnxHTTbJA32) means that some blocks are simply inaccessible. That is because some blocks can’t be accessed for one block. For example, I can’t turn left on Union from 3 to 6 PM, and if I turned right on Pike to get to Third, I can’t go through.

      This combination of restrictions means that there is a lot of flexibility. Personally, I would like to see a 24 hour, permit only approach. That way you can have deliveries, and you can have a special, regulated service that drops handicapped people off (or picks them up) on Third. The big advantage of a 24 hour system is that it is easy to understand. Permits allow great flexibility — you can restrict the times or locations where you can use them.

      At the same time, I think this is a big step in the right direction. It is quite possible that cars on Third early in the morning or late at night are no big deal. it also seems really easy to adjust this (e. g. extend the hours to 9:00 PM). To me the big issue is enforcement. It would help if the cops started ticketing people, but that has issues by itself (it may be great in the long run, but snarls up the buses while you do it). I really think the state needs to allow for automatic ticketing. It is nuts to me that I can get charged for accidentally driving in the HOT lane on the freeway, but if I do the same thing downtown, then everything is fine.

      Of course one option (for the time being) is to toll the street. Charge nothing for late night access, but during the restricted times, charge the maximum allowed by state law ($10). Put up tolls in a few places, and call it a day. Someone drives from one end to the other and they get a $50 ticket in the mail.

      1. “I really don’t see how buses negatively effect a particular area.”

        I was thinking about this the other day. Their argument is that buses cause the loiterers and drug dealers to hang out there. That was their argument about Fifth, that adding bus lanes would cause the scum to spread to Fifth and scare shoppers away. But I think they’re mistaking cause and effect. The loiterers hang out on University Way and Broadway because it’s the center of the neighborhood, and the buses are there for the same reason. When Campus Parkway turned into a major transfer point it didn’t cause the loiterers to spread down to there, and neither are they in SLU even though there’s a transit lane on Westlake (yikes!).

      2. Modern hybrid buses are less noisy and certainly less stinky than legacy straight diesels.

    3. As much as I support exclusive bus access to 3rd, I do have to say that I actively avoid lingering there. Part of it is because I don’t want to listen to the noise and breathe the diesel fumes of bus after bus accelerating from a bus stop right where I’m standing, partly because of the mentally ill people that tend to hang out there, plus some of them smoke, and I don’t want to breathe their smoke either.

      When I do need to catch a bus on 3rd, I will go so far as to wait a block over on 2nd or 4th until a few minutes before the bus is about to come.

      To some extent, migration to all electric buses would help things, as would better treatment for the mentally ill.

      That said, getting rid of the smattering of cars that continue to use 3rd is hardly going to make things worse than it already is, so using the blight on 3rd as an excuse to allow cars to slow down buses is just ridiculous.

    4. Six AM to seven PM is long enough, if it’s genuinely enforced. I’m hoping that the Democrats keep both houses of the Legislature this fall, because they need to step up and allow camera enforcement more widely in the state, especially for Red Lane violations.

      Given that camera systems can do real-time digital matching to find people, they could be used to issue citations for failure to turn right at the first opportunity or even failure to make a useful stop on Third. That is, if they see a car turn on at 11:31:22 and that car then presents itself at 11:31:54 at the next intersection, it has merely used Third Avenue as a roadway rather than for business access.

      And finally, there should be absolutely no parking allowed on the street any time between 6 AM and 7 PM, even for delivery vehicles. Create delivery zones “around the corner” on the east-west streets and have delivery staff use hand-trucks to complete the delivery. Heavy and bulky shipments should arrive overnight.

  4. Enjoyed the orca discussion a lot. One pet peeve of mine is that even folks with employer-provided Orca cards can be fined for failing to tap. What legal rationale can possibly be used to justify this? Having such a card is the same thing as having 30 day passes. In no way can failing to tap be construed as fare evasion because the fare has been pre-paid. How about we free up the security guards’ time by exempting this class of rider from ticketing?

    1. The tap is needed so that the agency that provided the service (Metro, ST, CT, Pierce, etc.) receives the fare revenue for the trip.

      1. In other words, you are not penalized for not paying, but for not being a good little data point, which last I checked is not criminal.

      2. Same explanation my inquiries get, David. Just hope I’m not hearing any more approval or sympathy than I think it deserves, which is none cubed.

        Major campaign point was, if memory serves, a fare system both Integrated and Seamless. Turning fully-paid-up passengers over to the Superior Courts (Sound Transit gets only a few dollars out of every fine, rest being plain punishment!) to save the Agency its responsibility to
        apportion its own revenue.

        And thank you, Al S. I think you got them all. I hate making lists. And attorneys tend to bill by the minute. But having a hard time figuring out why nobody has taken this matter nuclear over last nine years? My guess is that real fines go to either people too poor and unassisted to fight, or too rich go to court over what falls out of their pants-pockets with the lint.

        Efforts to go easier on the poor, commendable, as well as saving all relevant authorities a fortune. But a little [OT] here. Topic is passengers being charged for theft by a system with a month’s worth of their money in its own bank. But seriously, where IS the Transit Passenger’s Union on this one? You’re pretty savvy, David. So maybe you can help me here.

        A system I’ve fought pretty hard for is fighting harder for the right to abuse its passengers. Making it real personal. What’s my first move?

        Mark Dublin

      3. The data point is what allows the agency to claim a share of your pass fee; that’s why it’s considered fare evasion. But that’s ludicrous. What happens if you don’t ride at all in the month? Do they apportion it according to the previous month, or do they divide it equally among the agencies?

      4. Mark, I’m not sure why nobody has fought this either – I damn sure would if it happened to me. I’d also be willing to chip in a decent amount to a crowdfund for legal representation, or perhaps a transit-loving attorney would do it pro bono. It bugs me that you feel that, in addition to the pass you already have, you feel like you need to actually buy a day pass or paper ticket “just in case.”

        Adding to Al S. and Baselle’s good comments posted as I was writing:

        Exacerbating my peeved-offishness about Mark’s situation is the fact that ORCA readers are often poorly placed off to the side and are hardly reminders to tap on/off in those cases. I’ve oft decried the lack of barriers, physical or visual (Sea-Tac the only example otherwise I can think of, and even there the readers are at the sides and before the actual ORCA machines) when entering or leaving the fare-paid zone. Funneling you past ORCA readers in a line where you’d actually have to plan to pass them without tapping would serve to remind most riders to tap. Remind people with strategic placement that they are entering or leaving the fare-paid areas. This would have to wait at the downtown stations the last few months that the buses are in the tunnel, and a reader would have to be left at the elevator entrances outside the station if the elevator goes directly from street level to platform, but other than that make the stations the same way they are everywhere else on earth. Frankly we should have fare gates, which would put paid to this problem. Put your fare enforcement agents at the at-grade stations if you’re that worried about fare evasion; it’s not like it would be any easier with gates to evade fares than it is now to just ignore the readers. I’d say that more people would remember to tap than would all of a sudden decide not to pay.

        I see enough people at Capitol Hill station – I’m sure at other stations as well, but I notice it there – who leave without tapping that there should also be obvious signage and even occasional audio reminders that you must tap when entering and exiting stations. A combination of these things would make it much easier to remember to tap on and off. I’m pretty sure only some of those folks are traveling with a paper ticket. (Then again, we still haven’t figured out how not to stand directly in front of the doors when people are disembarking….)

        Al and Baselle stated most of this much better than I!

    2. I think the big issue with tapping is the very user-unfriendlly design of the taps:

      – Same tone for tap on and tap off
      – No voice recording explanation of what the tap means
      – No overhead signs reminding Orca users where the machines are
      – Confusing and hard to see displays below eye level (even with shields on top so one must squat down to read them) when tapping on/off
      – No signs anywhere (nor announcements) on Link reminding users to tap off (and many just ignore tapping off)
      – No Orca machines right next to ticket vending machines that sell Orca cards (a rider buys a card then has to hunt for the nearest machine)

      It’s set up to have an inside set of rules to use an Orca card that one must be aware of. That’s the way technology used to be, but the rest of the world pays more attention to making this more user-friendly these days.

      1. The machines are scattered in places seemingly convenient to the electrician/installer. Especially at Husky Stadium Station.

        One of the few places where the ORCA readers are placed in a logical manner is the the airport station/airport walking corridor. Multiple readers are placed gate-like inside a thick yellow line on the floor, the yellow line serving as a warning to tap on and off. There you get some non-verbal clues for what to do.

      2. Actually, baselle, even the SeaTac Airport station has a layout problem. Orca readers are positioned before the ticket vending machines that sell Orca cards. It often confuses people! Every other transit system has the vending machines outside of the paid fare area, and that’s also what ST mostly has at places like Columbia City.

      3. While nearly indestinguishable, there is a slight difference between the tap-on and tap-off tones. On is more of a ‘beep’ while off is a ‘boop’. I’m not musical, but think one is sharp and the other flat of the same note.

      4. While nearly indestinguishable, there is a slight difference between the tap-on and tap-off tones. On is more of a ‘beep’ while off is a ‘boop’. I’m not musical, but think one is sharp and the other flat of the same note.

      5. An ST spokesperson told me several months ago that adding a distinct tap-off tone is in the ORCA Joint Board’s work queue, but there is no timeline.

        ST does not collect data on how many warning and fines involve riders who have fully paid merely mis-tapping or forgetting to tap. With all the reports I’ve gotten of people getting wrongfully accused of failure to pay, I’m starting to believe that wrongful warnings are a significant portion of ST’s “fare evasion” rate. Wrongful fines — as has happened to Erica Barnett, but I haven’t heard of it happening to anyone else — are probably more rare, but they do happen.

        Some may dismiss this as something only rich, white riders are concerned about (and I am not rich), but the riders most likely to be deterred from wasting their own money on a monthly pass that ST (and maybe Metro and CT) refuses to honor as clear and obvious full payment, despite the officers having access to this information, are those without an employer-paid pass. Those without an employer paid-pass are also the most likely to be deterred from riding at all because of this unethical practice.

      6. I don’t hear a difference. Even if there may be a boop somewhere, it’s not distinct enough for most people to perceive.

      7. There’s no meaningful difference in tone, at most reverberation is affecting the sound. I can hear both versions, and they’re not specific to on and off taps. One happens for the other, and vice versa.

  5. And Jenny Anne Durkan, from the coldest. most ruthless interest imaginable, what on Earth do you think you can gain by your handling of the Central City Connector? The only public official I’ve ever seen do something this irresponsible was the defendant in your legal action at Sea-Tac Airport last year! I hope you’re not angling for Jeff Sessions’ job.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Some city councilmembers brought up the issue first, led by my district representative, Lisa Herbold. It isn’t in her district, so it is an easy target for her, theoretically. She even parroted Mayor Durkan’s misplaced concern troll over the weight and width of the next streetcar order in her constituent newsletter.

      We could run free buses between the downtown termini of the two streetcars to test her idea that they would be a useful alternative to finishing the CCC. And see what a dud that idea is.

      Ultimately, the CCC may succumb to the car lobby wanting those lanes. In case anyone missed it, Herbold was the lone vote against the Shoup parking reforms. She *is* the car lobby on the city council.

      Thankfully, most of the business community is backing the CCC, and they carry more weight with Mayor Durkan than the car lobby does.

  6. Read before you comment, Mark. Same to Jennie’s recent Adversary In-Chief, but no excuse for me. Frank and Martin, think you understand that between buses and streetcars, rule of thumb here is “every tool to its use.”

    Something to the observation that it’s easier to get reserved lane for streetcars than buses. Best rationale is that bus drivers can swing around a blockage while motormen have gone looking for the motorist.

    But counter-truth is that because buses can go around obstacles, they to more often than they should. Also, with rush hour traffic alongside, bus can’t change lanes, reserved or not.

    Read something interesting last night. Very few systems in the world do joint rail-bus operations on same reserved right of way. One very straightforward example- think our design team might have visited it.


    Essen, Germany. One difference between their bus equipment and ours: Their buses run with “kerb-guided ” steering. From first hand experience on orange-cone lined lanes at Seattle International Raceway, we knew we didn’t need it.

    My guess would be that Seattle competes with Portuguese hill towns for narrow limited space. Which makes it necessary to put everything that needs to be fast down the same track- steel and concrete both.
    But our own most important lesson on joint use: It doesn’t work.

    Instead it has to be operated, with tightly trained crews and skilled supervisors, at the controls of sophisticated and expensive equipment. Paid for by the operating time it saves. Meaning a transit system that wants to run it.

    For First Avenue, one thing advocates need to get onto is getting the streetcars a fleet of rubber tired partners. San Francisco MUNI gives same positive (bus left hand side) wire to streetcars with both poles and pantographs, and two-pole trolleybuses, heavy use, no sweat.

    But absolutely critical that First has supervisors’ stations at Jackson and Pine. Because bunching will be much resented and highly visible. Center platforms? Do just like Bellevue Square and Federal Way. Special signal, diagonal across intersections at entry and exit, so right doors to platform whole ride.

    To get political considerations out of the way of transit ones, very important for transit people to shift discussion highly visibly to technical points like these. Because it concentrates public, and expert, attention on things that definitely can both be done and work.

    Tunnel boring trick for “de-watering” underground water, swamp, lake, or river: Pass a current of fast-moving water down the edge of the water that’s in your way. Fast flow sucks the slower water into the faster stream. Can leave mud so dry it has to be moistened again.

    NB northbound at Third at Century Square…crew moved elsewhere for a few days while the river got shifted. I don’t think we lost a single day. “Mighty Mole” luckier name. “Big Bertha” was a giant German cannon in WWI. Battery Street wouldn’t have been the only target on the list.

    Principle should work same way for keeping discussion on the positive. Since for the average person technical things motivate more activity in thought and deed than politics- especially if you’re seven years old which means you vote in eleven- should dry out the politics to where nobody drowns while they’re still trying to dig.

    One political thought, though: Given the speed of Seattle’s population growth this year, I wonder how many of this years’ voters cast their lives’ first Mayoral votes in Seattle.

    Mark Dublin

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