Jefferson Transit Thomas CL960
Jefferson Transit bus (LB Bryce/Flickr)

This is an open thread.

32 Replies to “News roundup: at home”

  1. Bridge or tunnel or both, I’d like to see the West Seattle discussion start with what’s AHEAD of the tunnel-boring machine and how deep do the bridge-pillars need to be “footed”, rather than who’s BEHIND and supporting either politically.

    And when public meetings are again possible, fewer event staff and more engineers on stage. And also, by way of TBM and elevated structural technology, what new equipment’s come available?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Indeed, one moderator and more engineers – not bureaucrats – on stage. Also able to take questions, not “talk at” us. I was not impressed with that aspect of the Lynnwood Link events I went to four years and two years ago that Enviroissues moderated and was one factor why I left early. In all fairness: Talking at is a big turn-off, talking to is what happened before & after the presentations. I guess this is done to prevent grandstanding by say NIMBYs.

    2. I went to a Lynnwood Link open house in Northgate, and of the couple dozen people who gave testimony afterward, I was the only one to give specific comments on the alignment/station design and a passenger’s perspective. Half the other people argued to save a certain Ukranian community center north of Northgate Station, and the other half just said “Light rail is good”.

  2. Top Obama Health Official: U.S. Can ‘Virtually Eliminate’ COVID-19 When ‘We Decide To’

    “The former acting administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under President Barack Obam… “We can virtually eliminate the virus any time we decide to. We can be back to a reasonably normal existence: schools, travel, job growth, safer nursing homes & other settings. And we could do it in a matter of weeks. If we want to.”

    Sound good? Part of his prescription, after #1 wearing a mask; “2. Keep the bars & restaurants & churches & transit closed. “

    1. Some of his ideas are comically unworkable – not just limited to the transit ban:

      1) No interstate travel: Really tough for the Northeast where workforces, supply chains extend across state lines routinely. People walk it back with “essential” travel and trade would continue, but that’s actually a huge group of workers, and extremely difficult to enforce (“papers please” on the PATH train?).

      2) Most truckers, agricultural, health care workers stay home: this means crushing food shortages that will take many months to recover from. Food rots in fields and warehouses. People die of preventable illnesses and injuries.

      3) We don’t have enough testing capacity because the supply chain for testing supplies is broken (not enough supplies and chemicals, proprietary systems). A shutdown doesn’t fix that supply chain. Fewer cases doesn’t mean less testing – he’s twisting the same fallacy the president is using (testing more = more cases) in reverse. We need more testing than today, for a very long period.

      Science points to big areas that curtail the spread: masks indoors, close the bars, no indoor or non-socially distanced gatherings, work from home if you can. No need to curtail transit specifically – ridership is down dramatically from the other restrictions.

    2. Looking at the case rate, Washington doesn’t seem to be doing too badly. The statewide mask mandate has definitely helped, as has the closure of bars. A next logical step would be to ban indoor restaurant dining altogether (rather than just reduced capacity), and require people to either eat outside or get take-out. Church gatherings should also probably be banned as well, although the First Amendment (which was written back before people knew how viruses worked) might make that difficult.

      At the same time, I don’t think it’s necessary to restrict outdoor activities, such as hiking trails, where the COVID risk is minimal. Outdoor dining also feels reasonably safe, as long as the tables are spread out enough that people remain 6 feet apart.

      Doctors and dentist offices, I also feel should remain open (assuming the staff has sufficient PPE to protect themselves), as the long-term health consequences of not visiting a doctor or dentist could be severe.

      I haven’t seen much evidence of transit being a big spreading factor, especially since the mask mandates have been in place. And, I really don’t like the idea of forcing people who currently ride transit onto Uber/Lyft cars, where the social distancing is much worse. Nor do I like the idea or forcing people who work for minimum wage to spend $500/mo. they don’t have in transportation expenses, to avoid losing their job, be it in the form of daily Uber and Lyft rides or car ownership.

      1. I agree. We also need a lot more testing (and then some tracing). Those are all sensible policies. If only we had a federal government that was sensible.

      2. Agreed, we (Washington) have avoided a lot of the problematic areas. Gyms and bars never reopened, which is huge. Most worship services are streaming rather than in person.

        I’ve dined indoors 3x since the reopening but even that seems lower risk, as demand seems to be very low for indoor dining: one place only had 1 other customer seated and another had only 2 other seated tables. Restaurants aren’t going to even bother with seated service at that level of demand.

        I do wonder what is causing the new cases. The Seattle Times analysis shows South King County with a much higher case load, suggesting it could be due to more workers there having in-person jobs. Back in March that would make sense, but with universal mask wearing for workers and masks extremely common for customers, I would think transmission would be much lower at work today.

      3. asdf2, here’s what The First Amendment says:

        “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

        Since our country was founded in what contemporaries called “The Age of Reason”, mercifully not realizing it was temporary, I somehow kind of doubt they would have hesitated to take measures to assure that these rights were exercised in ways that Science, which they also respected, told them would not interfere with people’s Ninth Amendment rights:

        “The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.” For instance, the right not to be infected with conditions which The People and their Elected Authorities openly recognize to be a “Plague.”

        In the context of the Ninth Amendment, the Second Amendment text that “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed,” also had a context.

        Framers who were combat veterans in The French and Indian Wars and the American Revolution, certainly intended to protect a free population from death or paralysis when somebody’s gun fell out of their pocket. In the usage of their own time, “Keep and Bear Arms” meant “Serve in the Militia”, which meant “Freezing rain or not, when your Sergeant looks down your Constitutional barrel on the Village Green Saturday, it better be CLEAN!”

        Fact that The Supreme Court a few years ago ignored it doesn’t make the Amendment’s explanatory first clause any less true or less pertinent this very day. To the vets who wrote it, “Well regulated” meant “the opposite of the kind of militias we just defeated, which consist of murdering, thieving, raping nobleman-owned private contractors whom nobody would dirty a rope to hang.”

        Though in their defense, the usual way “The Duke of Whatever’s Own Invincibles” got brown uniforms was to fall in a pig-sty drunk. The mercenary who just about killed that kid in Portland with a rubber bullet for waving a portable music-maker at least deserved a red coat from his Self-Titled employer.

        Mark Dublin

      4. Washington isn’t doing bad. King County is doing really well. Assume that the steps outlined could actually free us from the Pandemic (not likely as a lasting fix) would it be worth 3 weeks of war time blackout vs 9+ months of the status quo after which there will be no “normal” for a large percentage of the work force to return to?

      5. “Assume that the steps outlined could actually free us from the Pandemic (not likely as a lasting fix)”

        But, without universal buy-in and sealed borders, how long would it really last. As long as there’s someone that isn’t following the rules, or someone coming in from an area with laxer rules, people are still going to need to wear masks and social distance anyway, so the “wartime lockdown” hasn’t really bought much.

        I can see it if things are spiriling really out of control and we’re desperate. But, as it stands, masks, social distancing, testing, contact tracing, and targeting closures to prevent superspreader events seems to be the sweet spot.

        We can hobble along with the status quo for another 9 months, then deploy a vaccine and really get back to normal.

      6. I agree that even if it worked it wouldn’t be long, if we returned to normal, before another wave would come in from somewhere. We’d have to at the very least lock down international boarders. But my concern is already there are a lot of people that have no “normal” to go back to. Large portions of the airline and hospitality industry jobs are just gone. Either the company has gone out of business or post pandemic levels of employment won’t return for a long long time. For kids missing school the achievement gap becomes a canyon and the hardest hit over the long haul are the lower paid service workers.

    3. Covid-19 has been surging in places without much transit to speak of, but with people going to bars ect without masks. Guess which factor is more relevant for Covid-19 spread?

      In fact the #1 way to cut down Covid-19 spread in America is to restrict car traffic, esp. on major highways. Of course, for most of America, this would not be a practical “on the ground” policy you could pursue.

  3. It’s a nice looking design. But since B+H didn’t apply to be a firm for consideration, my guess is this is really just them using this as an opportunity to pitch the idea of mass timber in bridges in general. Probably hoping to get some other future bridge contract and not this one in particular.

    link to their pdf pamphlet. https://f.hubspotusercontent30.net/hubfs/5412283/West%20Seattle%20Bridge-1.pdf?__hssc=267227921.1.1595811202945&__hstc=267227921.662ba253e7cb905ff3c081f74d5c7347.1595811202944.1595811202944.1595811202944.1&__hsfp=1435044746&hsCtaTracking=46e6c099-5139-4e48-8265-e293cb51f1e1%7C581a1c03-661e-478f-b18c-8944b0bed34e

    1. Yeah, that is really cool looking and it is an approach that will probably be used more in the future.

  4. “could make it an icon of sustainability”

    No matter how you cut it, a freeway will never be sustainable.

    1. This is a bridge, so many of the arguments against freeways don’t really apply. The opposite of a freeway is a lot of small local through streets. That would suggest a lot of little bridges from West Seattle to South Seattle. That would be more expensive than one bridge, and all of them would have to negotiate the height difference between the West Seattle cliff and the sea-level industrial district. Another alternative to a freeway is a boulevard. But again it’s a bridge so there’s nothing to turn in to and no cross streets anyway. Another alternative would be a larger subway, if you think you could convince most people not to take their cars off the penninsula. Another would be to just dismantle the bridge and replace it with nothing. I’m not ready to say West Seattle should just have the low-level bridge and the roads around the south end. And it’s a non-starter anyway in the current political environment.

    2. If we start with the assumption that we have to have that car capacity, yes, replacing the West Seattle bridge is not less environmentally friendly than multiple smaller bridges.

      Yes, in our current culture, we can’t reduce car capacity. Even though the car capacity will be gone for two years, and even though we are building a new transit bridge, Seattle will still insist that we build this major car bridge.

      But let’s call a spade a spade. This is a major highway for planet destroying, pedestrian spattering, cars. It’s not an “icon of sustainability”, no matter what lipstick we throw on it.

    1. It’s a reflex now, Sam. Every time I hear somebody deliver the word “Values” with a raised tone of voice in a political context, I always answer: “Name One.” Discussion never really gets to the price of slaves, like it used to, but odds are 99 out of a hundred when the speaker says “Freedom” he means he REALLY values being free to own some.

      Or equally precious, the right to tell a girl she has to go through the pain and danger of delivering the “life” she was raped at knife-point into creating. Or to enforce laws dictating who someone can or can’t get married to, if everybody involved are of legal age.

      Though my favorite of all are the ones to whom the Confederacy that almost destroyed my country and is now revving up its next try was only a matter of history that people still should have the right to “value”. My question is: “What was the going price of the average product of a slave-breeding plantation?” They usually don’t stay around to discuss the value of the producer’s wages. Guess term was “sale price,” but to each their own values.

      Overdue to visit New York City, but the values I recall are friendliness, generosity, and willingness to complain over a lousy tip. Too bad they don’t handle shipping too well.

      Mark Dublin

  5. Thirty years ago, or so, a driver on Sacramento light rail told me we were on a stretch of track installed on what was originally built to be freeway structure. Once we’ve cleared the land and built the freeway- if we decide to put its usage 100% to rail, who’s going to stop us?

    Or, we could also save one set of lanes exclusively for trucks, and another set for express buses, regional and intercity. Before airline deregulation left it crying to be put out of its misery, travel quality on Greyhound was well up to airline standard. If it doesn’t pencil out for profit, make it part of the twenty-first century public rail system we need, and will sooner or later get.

    Because at present writing, main difference between a car lane on a freeway and any length of either express train track or fully-reserved for express buses and a car lane is that the cars aren’t, and never again will be, moving. Over seventy years, the cars fulfilled their purpose of expanding our living space ’til it’s full.

    Does anybody really think we’ll really start destroying established neighborhoods for freeways like we did in the ’50’s? Well…..how well the transit system handles itself this next while could determine if there’s a repeat. Somehow I just don’t see it.

    Mark Dublin

  6. Every day for what seems like many weeks I have been seeing alerts that Link is single tracking on MLK for track maintenance. What is being done for so many weeks? And are there still not enough train drivers that we can’t resume even 15 minute service?

  7. Two weeks ago, Sound Transit finally got around to publishing their fourth quarter ridership report for 2019, stating their EOY results which were less than stellar. Link and STX missed most of their targets for the year, ridership declined on STX as a whole and ridership fell again on Sounder North.

    Also, ST really is doing its best to make sure these reports aren’t terribly visible. The 2019 Q4 and 2020 Q1 service reports were stored under the archive for “Agency progress reports” and not the customary “Service planning and ridership documents” section.

    https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/documents-reports/service-planning-ridership

    https://www.soundtransit.org/get-to-know-us/documents-reports/agency-progress-reports

    As you can see, the agency published its 2020 Q1 report at the same time, though that report isn’t terribly meaningful anyway as it picks up March ridership data. Additionally, the report is also missing the Link station data for the first quarter.

    1. Thanks for posting these. Q4 2019 STX declines are largely attributable to the huge ridership loss on the 550, which the blog has discussed before. Taking the 550 out results in basically flat STX ridership (down 0.4%) for the year, which… isn’t terrible I guess? Hardly a ringing endorsement.

      Q1 2020 Link ridership only being down 4.3% vs. Q1 2019 is kind of amazing, considering Connect 2020 followed by COVID-19 impacts.

    2. Thanks for uncovering this!

      I’m not surprised that Q1 for Link is lower. We had the track switch service mess (Connect 2020) in February and the pandemic starting in mid-March.

      Q4 is interesting. Sounder isn’t growing. There appears to be Link growth in the DSTT because Metro got booted in 2019 but overall it’s also looking very modest.

      Of course it feels like that pre-COVID transit world is a nostalgic dream at this point.

    3. One thing that really stood out to me was the data reflecting cost per boarding by mode. Out of curiosity, I decided to take a look back at this particular parameter for the last five years:

      Cost per boarding by mode –

      Link:
      2015 $5.05 (pre-ULink)
      2016 $4.21
      2017 $3.92
      2018 $4.43
      2019 $5.09

      Sounder:
      2015 $10.57
      2016 $10.58
      2017 $10.20
      2018 $10.89
      2019 $11.93

      STX:
      2015 $6.20
      2016 $6.40
      2017 $6.92
      2018 $7.41
      2019 $8.37

  8. Tlsgwm, given the disease that’s got literally the whole world in its grip right now, how could anyone expect Sound Transit to have hit any of its targets by a mile? What do they have to lose by being honest and forthright about anything? Could it be that the people who would ordinarily do this work are all either off sick, or on early retirement?

    The approach I’ve been trying to take is to keep us all on the lookout for things it’s still within transit’s capability to do a lot better. Often when morale goes down, like a drowning swimmer, it drags after it the people who’ve still got the skill and strength to save them.

    That on-board PA message at Pioneer Square Station demanding that bikes be removed and announcing that the next two stations northbound would be Angle Lake and Sea-Tac Airport in that order are very much with me tonight. Because the really great old College Inn, where I was to stay for the first time that night after attending a Transit Riders’ Union on Beacon Hill….just now shut its doors for good.

    If Peter Rogoff names you as his successor when he announces his retirement tomorrow morning…what’s first order of business?

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark, the targets were for 2019, so pre-pandemic.

      “What do they have to lose by being honest and forthright about anything?”

      Management’s preferred narrative for one thing.

      1. Tlsgwm, if my transit-driver’s performance had ever gotten close to the level of ST management’s regarding the loss of Train 501 at Dupont three years ago, I would’ve had to retrieve my locker-contents from a dumpster before my shift ended. So you’re right that evil though she is, COVIDIA can’t be blamed for what’s been so long-term lame.

        Since the problem is narrative, ST’s own electorate finds itself in the position of a publisher. Don’t like the plot, you’ve got a lot of dynamite young authors just waiting for their Break. Change of address that ST-wise deprived me of my right to vote…my vote to buy the property we were living on, new owner laughed off.

        But after all these years after Sound Transit’s inception, I don’t give up that easy. Is there anything I can do to help? ‘Til I hear from you, will continue to concentrate my persuasive efforts toward the age group, including but far from limited to Black Lives Matter, whose tolerance for being shucked off is even lower than its willingness to be shined-on.

        Starting with constant twin reminder, which I wish vandals would start spray-painting on every wall in the service areas, about their eighteenth birthday: For transit agency control, alteration, or termination, you can not only vote for it by mail, but also from the floor of the State Legislature. Though for the people bugging you, Tlsgwm, my call is that early retirement will help you out a lot.

        Mark Dublin

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