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This is an open thread.

50 Replies to “News roundup: setback”

  1. The problem with Texas’s HSR system is that it is proprietary technology. If the state ever wants to expand and seamlessly integrate with additional lines it will have to use Japanese tech. Also, as the French have pointed out, there is a better route then what was chosen which would result in a more efficient state system. The state should have taken this system over from the get go.

    1. I highly doubt that the Texas system would become part of a national network. Other than the Texas triangle, which large cities within 500mi would you connect to the high speed system? Houston to New Orleans is the only one that comes to mind, and I imagine that segment would be extremely expensive due to the topography (and future flooding from climate change). And considering that no one else in the US is building actual high speed rail, it seems like the Texas system could potentially set the American standard for true HSR.

      1. I’m not saying it will become a national system (however Oklahoma City and Monterray Mx have been mentioned as eventual partners many of times).

        That’s the problem, there is no foresight for the Triangle, it is not in their plans, just Dallas-Houston (which is apparent by their train station location and route).
        They will have to use the Japanese tech for Forth Worth, Arlington, San Antonio and etc.

        There was also a cheaper configuration proposed by the French that would have been more efficient and allow for the reuse of stations.

        https://www.dallasnews.com/news/transportation/2018/04/03/dallas-to-houston-high-speed-rail-plan-will-make-texas-i-35-corridor-a-loser-competitor-says/

      2. Even though there are other populous areas, the sizes of the Dallas-Ft Worth and Houston metro areas are both over 7 million people and dwarf the others in size. The amount of business travel is also substantial between the two areas. The 240-mile distance is ideally suited for rail because both driving and flying takes over 4 hours. I tend to agree that — except for a possible connection to Austin and San Antonio (combined 4 million people with a state government function) — this would likely be a stand-alone service for many decades.

        A more regional system fir the Great Lakes Region or Mid-Atlantic Region would probably need more compatibility.

        The related question for the Seattle region is whether our separation from other Metro areas and our limited available rail right-of-way would combine to optimize HSR as a completely new track and station system for us.

      3. “dwarf the others in size.”
        You are aware that San Antonio is the 7th largest city and Austin is the 11th in the US. Both are larger than Seattle and Portland. Combined the two have over 5 million metro. SA-Houston and SA-Dallas would be two of the better city pairs that could be found in the US.

      4. The T-Bone plan didn’t necessarily serve San Antonio or Austin all that well, though. In particular, it really didn’t serve the Houston-SA/Austin market.

        And Texas doesn’t need to build out the full triangle: A line from Waller (which is where the Texas HSR corridor turns north towards Dallas) to the existing SA/Austin corridor just south of Austin could serve Houston-SA, with a potential spur from around Bastrop to add Austin. Trains can run-through to Ft. Worth. And then everything is connected via a sideways version of the T-Bone plan. Cutoffs can be added for incremental improvements and one-seat rides, but why bother when Austin to Dallas via a transfer in suburban Houston may suffice?

      1. You gotta get current man and quit reading the LA Times. Cal will have track and electrification before Texas, I guarantee you that.

    2. Europe has different standards to Japan but fundamentally they’re both steel wheels on steel rails at standard gauge. Taiwan’s HSR was built following European standards but ended up using Japanese trainsets that were adapted. A truly proprietary technology would be maglev or hyperloop.

  2. That settlement offer by Ard is not a “setback.” It just shows Ard doesn’t understand that the board already locked in the vehicle value schedule that RCW 81.104.160 requires for full term of the outstanding 2048 Term Parity Bonds.

    Sound Transit isn’t stupid. It “Eyman-proofed” its taxes right after the ST3 vote, by pledging them to long term bonds. That pledge means DOL needs to use the valuation table for the duration the contracts specify. Changing the statute, as Ard’s offer would require, would violate our state’s constitution’s contracts clause. We know that because that is what the Supreme Court ruled when it struck down Eyman’s I-776 in 2006. That opinion spells out how this works. Ard must not have known about the 2016 bond sale contracts — that’s the only explanation. Now we wait until the state and Sound Transit announce they can’t accept the offer because it would cause the state to violate the constitution . . ..

    1. Although not always, the party that thinks they are more likely to lose in court while a decision is pending is the one who usually makes the first move in proposing a settlement.

    2. If you watched the hearing, the Court clearly didn’t see this as a contracts clause case because they hardly mentioned that dimension. The statutory error, if that’s what it was, preceded any contractual arrangements around subsequent bond issuances.

      1. DAN RYAN:

        The legal issue on appeal has NOTHING to do with the contracts clause, so obviously the justices aren’t going to address it.

        The problem with the settlement offer is that the only way DOL could begin using the “2006” value table (a settlement offer term) would be for the state legislature to change the statute now in force. THAT is what would violate the contracts clause.

      2. If what you are saying is true and ST loses, the bonds would be invalidated and the RTID forced to pay off the bonds prematurely.

        Contract law is pretty clear. No contract fraudulently signed is legally binding. The contract would be considered not signed in good faith, and therefore void. Such a ruling would directly impact the credit ratings of every city and county in the RTID. That’s why the settlement is so tempting.

        The 2006 ruling doesn’t really apply. The case there involved a contract legally signed in good faith being changed after signing due to public initiative. The question in the case before the courts now is whether or not ST3 contracts were signed in good faith, looming future initiative or no.

      3. A JOY:

        “The question in the case before the courts now is whether or not ST3 contracts were signed in good faith, looming future initiative or no.”

        Not even close. Ard claims the state amended the vehicle value schedule in ch. 84.22 RCW improperly, by amending RCW 81.104.060 as it did. THAT is the claim in the case. It’s an Article II section 37 claim, not a “contracts clause” claim (which was what the 2006 opinion addressed).

        Given that no term of the vehicle value schedule in ch. 84.22 RCW was amended, and it remains as effective and effective in the same ways as it did before the 2015 transportation bill became law, I’m pretty sure Ard and his five clients are going to lose. If the court somehow sides with Ard and rules the legislature amended the vehicle value statute improperly, that would raise the question of whether the bond sale contracts are impacted. I’m not sure they would be, and I haven’t seen any argument one way or the other about that issue.

        You raise the issue of fraud, and seem to suggest Sound Transit acted fraudulently? Can’t follow your reasoning — I don’t see any fraud claim. Wouldn’t you think Sound Transit and the bond underwriters just made a mutual mistake when they both proceeded with their contract under the assumption that the legislature adopted the 2015 statute properly?

      4. Most of the public doesn’t know or care about contract law or the technical issues between the depreciation schedules. If the settlement passes and they get a refund check, they’ll interpret it as “ST was going to lose the lawsuit so it was doing something illegal, and yaay I got a tax refund.” That may make them more inclined to vote for the November initiative, which would reverse MVETs much more.

      5. A “mutual mistake” in this case would be a sign of criminal negligence or fraud. Once a contract is signed, it is usually a sign of fraud. Obviously criminally negligent contracts don’t get signed. This debacle made it through ST’s legal team and the legal teams of every ST 3 contractor. At that point I absolutely do not believe it is mere negligence. Dozens of people making hundreds of thousands of dollars each signed off on it. Calling that mere accidental negligence is an incredulous statement.

      6. MIKE ORR:

        The state can’t accept the settlement offer Ard proposed because it would require the state to start using the valuation schedule the legislature adopted in 2006, not the one that the statute calls for now. The state can’t make that change the settlement offer would require because it would impair bondholders’ interests. The state has to refuse the settlement offer now on the table.

      7. A JOY:

        “This debacle made it through ST’s legal team and the legal teams of every ST 3 contractor. ”

        You’ve lost me. What’s the “debacle?” In 2015 the state legislature amended RCW 81.104.160 as it did. Ard thinks that amendment somehow was an improper amendment of a table in ch. 82.44 RCW. I think Ard’s argument is flimsy at best. In 2016 Sound Transit and some bond underwriters executed contracts in good faith so Sound Transit could sell some debt. They each relied on the terms of the 2015 statutory amendments — which on their face look entirely proper — and completed their deal. If the justices now rule as Ard thinks they should, the way I see it it’d be nothing but a mutual mistake by Sound Transit and the bond underwriters regarding the propriety of the 2015 statute amendment. That’s not a debacle, and I wouldn’t say Sound Transit’s lawyers did anything wrong.

      8. If this wasn’t a debacle, there would be no court case. No RTID citizens feeling this was a bait and switch. No need to try and excuse or rebrand clearly fraudulent actions as mutual mistakes.

        I wonder why you cannot see that.

      9. The court case is to determine whether there was a debacle or not. If A Joy’s additional allegations are accurate, why aren’t the parties and the judge and the Trubune making major issues of it? They have more credibility than one armchair analyst.

    3. I thought the setback was that Sound Transit admitted that instead of using the 1996 valuations, it was using 1999 valuations. Not a lawyer, so I don’t know how big of a deal this is.

      1. That wasn’t Sound Transit, that was the Department of Licensing. So far there’s no indication that ST knew that was happening.

  3. 1. Since last Presidential Inauguration Day, very leery about the term “could” in any connection. On the car tabs, am I right that no court has ruled anything yet? Meantime, wouldn’t mind some solid information on possible outcomes. And if need be, remedies.

    2. It’s been almost a decade since a well-publicized case of assault and battery on southbound platform at Westlake brought about some changes in security there. Good time for a posting from someone who works in DSTT operations at any level.

    Apologize for how much I no longer know first-hand. This last year or so, couldn’t be helped. But how correct is my impression that despite, or maybe because of Seattle’s unlovely size-change, above and below ground the corner of Third and Pine remains an empty and dangerous wasteland after dark?

    3. Also curious about the stabbing. Random or otherwise?

    Mark Dublin

  4. A common comment that comes up from bike lane opponents is that bicyclists should just use side streets instead of busier main streets. I understand the appeal of this idea- if bicyclists could just use existing infrastructure, there would be no expense or disruption in creating new infrastructure!

    I’ve bicycled a lot in Seattle during the past 15+ years and while it is nice that side streets often have less traffic than main streets, they also have a few undesirable features that may not be obvious to non-bicyclists:

    First, side streets are often very narrow, with cars parked on one or both sides, leaving a single thin lane with little room to maneuver to avoid approaching cars.

    Second, the condition of the asphalt/pavement on side streets is appalling. On a bike, this makes for a bone-jolting ride, and if you’re sitting, you get the joy of being kicked in the crotch repeatedly. This is also a safety risk, as it’s harder to keep your bike stable.

    Third, side streets often feature steeper grades than main streets, to the point that it can be impossible for even athletic riders to get up them.

    Fourth, side streets frequently don’t go through all the way- aside from the difficulty in navigating, they often require a much more circuitous and ultimately longer path than you would on a main street.

    Finally, bicyclists are going to the same destinations as drivers and transit riders, and most of those destinations are going to be on main streets- it’s always going to be impossible to avoid being on a main street for at least part of your trip!

    This isn’t to say that side streets are completely useless to bicyclists- sometimes I use them because the trade offs are worth it! But often bicycling on side streets means a slower, less comfortable, less safe, less convenient, and more difficult trip compared to bicycling on main streets.

    1. The greenway streets I’ve seen have so little traffic that it’s no problem to ride in the middle of the lane away from car doors, and you’ll probably encounter no moving cars, or at most one every few minutes moving slowly. What worries me is riding in the parking lane on busy arterials with car doors right next to you that might open, and too many fast cars in the main lane for me to ride there. Residential streets are a piece of cake compared to that.

      Re hills, I’ve found that there are many areas there’s one street that concentrates the entire ascent into one or two blocks, so that makes the approaches to it more flat. So I just walk the bike up those one or two blocks and enjoy the flatness around it.

      1. You fail to address the primary issue, which is that side streets have no destinations on them, unless you happen to live on the bike greenway.

        The conclusion here is that we need both. We need quiet side streets with effective diversion infrastructure, so we have low-stress options for all ages. We also need separated infrastructure on main roads that allow faster riders to get where they are going, and everyone to access businesses and other popular destinations.

      2. I agree with that. Bicyclists want to be on the main street for the same reasons drivers and pedestrians do: they want to go directly to a business, they’re not sure which block it’s on, they want to browse the available businesses to choose something now or for later reference, or they want to be in the company of people rather than isolated.

        But there are tradeoffs. The Broadway cycletrack was cited as the reason the streetcar can’t have its own lanes, and that makes the streetcar so slow it’s not really a new level of service. Or if it is a level it’s lower than the buses.

  5. If anyone here has a 4K camera drone, I’d like you to do a video of the East Link segment from the Spring District/120th to Surrey Downs Station and post it here. I want to see how things are progressing from an aerial perspective.

    Extra Credit: Do a quick detour over to the OMF on 120th. I want to see how that’s coming along.

  6. The Central Subway delay is another three years from the opening date declared at the February 2010 groundbreaking. This puts the project construction at over 11 years. Given the similarities to a second, longer subway with more stations under narrower streets through Downtown Seattle, I can’t help have some skepticism that 2035 is doable (considering how much complex engineering, property negotiations, mitigation and maybe funding shortfalls await ST).

  7. I think ST ought to also weigh the political calculus vis-a-vis the car tab initiative this fall.

    By that I mean if they accept the settlement and spin it so that it is portrayed as a win for everyone maybe they can score some public relations points out of the deal that benefits the ‘no’ side in the lead up to the car tab vote.

  8. When does an intersection qualify to automatically trigger the pedestrian crossing signal instead of requiring the pressing of a beg button? I only notice the lack of buttons in downtown and a few other high trafficked areas in the U district. The one in my life that is most confusing in my life is 34th and Stone – being on the Burke Gilman, I would hope it would always give preference to pedestrians.

    1. Good point there – that’s an annoying one at 34/Stone. Especially when on a bike.

      One you might appreciate from Ballard is 24th/57th next to the QFC, which gets substantial foot traffic. There’s a beg button to cross 24th there, which is strange (IMO) because the next block north at 24th/58th has a pedestrian-activated flashing crosswalk (but no traffic signals). It is usually faster for pedestrians to cross at 58th (you can just step off and hope cars will stop) than at 57th (which is delayed by the beg button), even though 57th is safer. Drivers don’t always respect the flashing crosswalk.

  9. Some crosswalks here in Kirkland supply pedestrian safety flags to use when crossing the street. Question. If these flags make crossing a street safer, why don’t people buy their own personal safety flags to carry and use whenever they cross a road? People carry around umbrellas if there’s a chance of rain. Why not crosswalk flags?

    1. How about encouraging carrying fluorescent orange umbrellas? How about encouraging collapsible orange sticks that hold one’s Orca card and can fit in a handbag or off of a belt loop (I’ll call it an Orca stick)?

  10. If the plaintiffs prevail in the lawsuit, the obvious thing to do is bin ST3 and have the now-fully Democratically controlled legislature pass legislation allowing Seattle to tax itself to build its own system. The City can contract with Sound Transit to run and maintain the trains while building its own Ballard, West Seattle, and “Metro 8” lines with proper urban station spacing.

    1. Redmond could and probably would also fund extension to its Downtown stations as well.

      What you’d end up with is Lynnwood to Redmond and Highline CC on “The Spine”, which is probably fine for at least a couple of decades.

    2. A Democratic legislature is not a panacea. It was Democrats who prevented Seattle from doing this before the Republican wave, and both parties have prevented Metro and Community Transit and other local agencies from raising taxes beyond the state’s strict ceiling. That’s a big part of why Metro’s frequency is uneven and rural inter-county connectors are so minimal. The legislature gave Seattle a monorail authority of $1 billion, which would cover only one of Ballard, West Seattle, or Metro 8, and maybe not all of it.

      Unless you want to build an all-elevated line like the monorail was, but the monorail’s budget was not realistic enough to build, and it wouldn’t have accepted transfers from other lines because the revenue wouldn’t be sufficient. That would make people like me not ride it because I’d be transferring from a bus and have to pay double fare. That would put people in the position of voting for and paying taxes for a train they can’t use.

      If ST3 dies completely we’ll still have Lynnwood/KDM/Overlake, and those are the biggest benefit. ST would have to revert to its pre-ST3 feeder bus plan from KDM and Lynnwood. Seattle might or might not be able to tap the monorail authority or get additional authority for post-ST2 rail. Then it depends on whether Metro Connects passes to fund the planned RapidRide, Frequent, and Express routes. Seattle could still do some low-cost things like paint Third Avenue red and convert parking to transit-priority lanes on Aurora, 15th Ave W, 45th, etc. But that’s something the most progressive city council in decades still shies away from doing.

      1. Mike, maybe necessity will be the mother of justification, and the City Council will paint those lanes red if Seattle can’t have more subways. The monorail is going to take transfers soon, and perhaps extending it to Expedia with a Wall Street Station and providing enforced [by dedicated Transit Police, not SPD] priority for the East- and Westlake Rapid Ride and Streetcar red lanes would be sufficient for SLU.

        The biggest problem is having a high volume turnaround at the Westlake end, but the Las Vegas monorail — using the same straddle beam technology — has two-into-one stub end stations while operating as frequently as four minute headways. That’s certainly sufficient to meet the demand for Amazon (yes, with a walk), Gates, LQA and Expedia.

        Sure, the existing stations would have to be rebuilt for longer trains with Westlake getting an all-weather transfer pathway. But it would do the job.

        I think that the jealous fools who are driving this lawsuit really should just get out of Seattle if they don’t like the changes that are happening. There are plenty of places with much cheaper housing and good jobs for people who aren’t high end tech workers. But if worse comes to worst and ST3 does get invalidated because of this stupid technicality, Seattle does have an alternative pathway to serve “North Downtown”.

      2. Also, there are several “new Democrats” in the Legislature, and a slow turnover in the next few years of other long-serving legislators can be expected. What ST has come up with for the suburbs is so underwhelming that even Republicans may be willing to say, “Oh, let Seattle and Bellevue do what they want.”

    3. The (now) fully Democratic led state legislature refused to allow Seattle to put cameras to catch bus lane violators, because War on Cars™.

      To them, allowing us to tax ourselves is akin to political suicide, because Eastern Washington cares way too much about how we tax ourselves and spend that tax revenue.

      That’s why we need to have a constitutional referendum to implement subarea equity for state tax revenue. Eastern Washington would eat it up before they realize their views on state tax revenue generation vs distribution is terribly flawed.

  11. I have noticed that in the past several days when ST sends out texts and emails on disruption in service on the Light Rail they are now calling it the Red Line in preparation for the expansion of service in future years.

  12. An exchange in these pages several days ago has kept me up every night since, thinking about the wreck of Train 501. Question somebody needs to ask, and nobody is:

    Three passengers killed, dozens injured because a very long line of people whose job it was to handle that train….individually and collectively didn’t. It’s been a couple of years now. Has anybody been fired over this miserability ? Or ever will be?

    Now, trying to stay human, I know that I have to be careful talking like that, for real fear someone will agree and commit suicide. I’ve personally seen fellow drivers have their hair turn white in a week over a non-chargeable fatality. If you think it was your fault, it certainly wasn’t. So let me put it this way instead.

    Given the maintenance-averse condition of my country’s whole machine infrastructure right now….are there any plans to hire back a single one of the people who could’ve collectively or individually saved that train if they hadn’t gotten laid off to save money somewhere up the line?

    Or fired for violating orders to shut up about faults in speed, training, or equipment?

    I’ve figured out a measure that’ll both satisfy justice and put Government in much better condition to straighten out Industry to save lives for many years ahead. Am I right that we’re discussing Washington State Senator Steve O’Ban’s district?

    Being generally critical about Sound Transit, which loss of that train indicates is not always a negative thing, Steve should have seen his duty clear to muster several dozen of his constituents and publicly rent a couple of truck loads of railroad ties to pile neatly on the tracks in front of the train’s lead locomotive as it sat idling in the yard ready to leave.

    And in front of the media he’d summoned, be the one to personally assure that the train wasn’t releasing its brakes until top posted train speed from Lakewood across the Nisqually became 25 mph. His chance of jail or any other retribution? Zero with a burgeoning margin of voter approval.

    Ballotpedia says the Senator’s next race is 2021. But just to show I’m not going for a personal vendetta here, we need to research the list of legislators’ names, both parties, who deliberately left in place the track curve that every one of them and a lot of other people knew was dangerous.

    Justice could buy herself a clean blindfold if Steve’s replacement’s resume includes several years at the throttle of a passenger locomotive. And meantime: BN, show us the proof that your new Positive Train Control is 24-7-365 in hands governed by brains that know how to both run and repair it. Under supervision who considers sharply deserved criticism of mistaken policy to be an employee’s highest proof of loyalty.

    Mark Dublin

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