Sound Transit Link About to Leave Mount Baker Station

This is an open thread.

76 Replies to “News roundup: why transit is expensive”

  1. A few thoughts here…

    1) As to the, “Study says it’s largely the sacred “public input” that makes infrastructure in the US cost so much” – I really don’t like conflating public input with the lawfare mentioned in the study that is really driving up the cost of infrastructure.

    Quoting from the link:

    If you think about who is most able to execute on their ability to speak to government, it’s people with money. The more money you have, the more able you — or the neighborhood association you live in — are to hire a lawyer and sue. It’s certainly not true that the only types of people who sue under these laws are wealthy, but I would strongly suspect that there is a high correlation between income and lawsuits in these areas.

    Lawfare is not public comment. I’ll just say it – it’s the NIMBYs who have the $$$ to sue that block & delay stuff, not the folks who just want a voice in a project.

    2) ESHB 1329 made it past the State House. If you support the right of giving your views to your elected officials, of having the ability to give public comment from home and more then go here: and let your State Senator know you support ESHB 1329.

    3) I’m all for prioritizing the Sound Transit Spine so more people have a transit option – notice I said transit, not just light rail – versus those whom block density in their own city. Frankly we needed light rail to at least Lynnwood, Bellevue and Federal Way by 2016. It is also noteworthy that while West Seattle has many political people living there; Ballard’s and Queen Anne’s Councilmembers seemingly aren’t active on this file.

  2. I encourage people to take the survey about public housing next to the Mount Baker light rail station. It has several questions focusing on what sort of open space people might like to see in the new developments. Please leave comments discouraging additional open space. All of that land should be used for as much dense housing next to the light rail station as is possible. There is already plenty of open space next to the station in the form of the Cheasty green space, Mount Baker Boulevard, the plazas next to the light rail station, and the playfields at the nearby high school. We don’t need more underused green space. We need more sense housing.

    1. I really dislike the vagueness of the term “open space”. Is it an active dog walking park or pristine natural land? Is it a play field or a small 3000 sq ft opening for a weekly event or a few benches? We tend to think of parks, recreational facilities and open space as somewhat interchangeable but we really should be more specific.

      1. Agreed. A small playground would probably be most welcome. Franklin has a big field, but it isn’t available during school hours. Meanwhile, the area has plenty of forested park land in the area — it really doesn’t need more. A small playground, and maybe a small basketball court (one hoop) is about all I would build. Something similar to John C. Little Park, next to Othello, although I would make it a little more snug (maybe half that size).

      2. The city parcels include the parking lot immediately under the rail viaduct, north of Forest & east of 26th. Given the difficulty of building up/around the Link structure, that seems like a great spot for a playground or another open space.

    2. When it comes to transit, Accessible Mt Baker’s proposed solution doesn’t “fix” anything for transit. It just makes things worse. Route 7 buses today go down the street without turning. This makes every bus turn twice — once left and once right.

      The only thing it “fixes” is eliminating the dangerous pedestrian crossing at MLK and Rainier. However, it still lacks a way to get across the street without dodging traffic.

      I can easily see two ways to make things better. The first is to move to MB transit center to be under the Link station — and free up the current site for housing. If that can’t be done, just close Forest St entirely (or at least in one direction) and build a wide pedestrian crosswalk on Forest St and extend the wide path east across the MB transit center and to a new pedestrian crosswalk signal to get across MLK.

      Finally, Hanford and Rainier seems to have a marked uptick in pedestrians crossing since a few new apartment buildings opened. That problem has yet to be discussed in Accessible Mt Baker.

    3. The Mt. Baker survey seems to omit transfer walks, rental housing, and transit layover as concerns.

  3. With regard to the cost of public input, I believe the standing to sue is at the root of the regulatory burden of environmental regulations. If citizen stakeholders did not have standing, it would be up to federal state local (and tribal) oversight to make sure regulations were upheld. I suspect big timber etc would have an influence in how regs were drafted, but ultimately elections could correct for over easing of regulatory burden. I suspect Amy Comey Barrett and other conservative justices will start chipping away at the citizen standing to sue on behalf of the environment, weakening the power of litigation focused environmental groups

      1. That same author largely dismisses the argument that our legal system is responsible for the added costs:

        That is what bothers me about the original article. The author is focused only on the United States. She ignores the rest of the world, that had much the same reckoning. Norway, for example, is one of the richest countries in the world. They got much richer after the war, and just kept on getting richer. They certainly have a strong “citizen voice”. Yet they have some of the lowest public transit development costs of any nation. If we had Norwegian costs, the Spine would be done by now (along with a lot of other stuff).

        There are some differences. We have a very high disparity of income. I could see how very wealthy people in particular could drag a project down. But I don’t think it would matter that much — if well-to-do Norwegian (and there are lots of well-to-do Norwegians) doesn’t want a noisy train in his backyard, he should have plenty of power to stop it.

        The biggest problem with discussions like this — and Alon Levy harps on this constantly — is that we fail to compare ourselves to other countries. That is what matters. Its no different with universal health care. We act as if we are the only country that has done this, or that the Canadian model is the only one. There are a lot of different countries out there with different models, that offer different advantages and disadvantages, yet you rarely here a discussion of them in the United States, even though we obviously could learn a lot from them. The same is true when it comes to public works construction costs.

    1. I expect a key litigation issue will be how legitimate state and local environmental regulations are applied . It’s not necessarily a conservative vs liberal justice issue, in that states’ rights is front and center in abortion restrictions as well as in environmental restrictions even though the “preferred” conservative outcome is exactly the opposite.

  4. The Bloomberg article doesn’t distinguish between the street grid available to buses and the street grid available to pedestrians. But it is important. Even if the streets cars travel on have a bunch of dead ends, as long as there’s cutthrough walking paths to the nearest arterial, you can run a bus down the arterial, put bus stops next to the paths, and serve the neighborhoods with all the dead ends relatively efficiently.

    The worst are the places where every inch of non-street space is private property, so pedestrians are forced to walk the roundabout way that cars go to get out of the neighborhood. This forces bus operators to choose between an extremely slow bus that winds through neighborhood streets or a greatly reduced walkshed. I find it very ironic that suburbs are supposed to be all about cheap land, yet the land is so expensive that the builders couldn’t afford to carve out a small, 5-foot path between houses to allow pedestrians to walk through.

    Similarly, just as there exists intersections which go through for pedestrians, but not vehicles, there also exists intersections that go through for vehicles, but not pedestrians. These intersections, typically take the form of a simple two-way stop-sign against a wide, fast arterial. If you are able to sprint across the street at 20 mph, and have armor to protect you, you can cross it. If you don’t, you can’t. Intersections like these are terrible for transit because, in order to make a round trip, you have to use bus stops on both sides of the street, which implies an ability to cross the street. If only vehicles are allowed to cross the street, this means the bus can’t serve a destination in both directions by just staying on the street, but must instead, leave the street and drive through transit centers or parking lots so that the bus stop is on the higher-demand side in both directions. This makes for a bus that is drastically slower than one that just stays on the street and follows a straight line.

    And this is not even getting into places like I-5/85th, where the only way across the freeway involves high speed weaving through ramps. As no bus routes use this crossing and it is too dangerous for bikes, it is effectively open only to private cars.

    1. I agree. The worst problem is not the layout of the streets, exactly, it is the lack of pedestrian egress. Consider a couple of suburban neighborhoods. This one is bounded by NE 8th, Main Street, 140th NE and 148th NE. The streets are your typical cul-de-sac, dead end suburban design. You can’t drive through there, which is the whole point. The things is though, the bus would never do that anyway — there just isn’t enough density. It doesn’t matter. What does matter is if you can get to the main street in a straightforward fashion. For the most part, you can. The buses don’t serve all the streets — there isn’t a grid — but if there was, access from inside that giant suburban rectangle would be pretty good ( Not great — not as good as a standard grid, but at least reasonable. In contrast, look at the rectangle just to the east. It has pedestrian trips that involve going well out of your way (, or That’s really the norm. They just didn’t care about pedestrian access, even to the neighbors ( This is bad for transit, and bad for just about any kind of walking. It means that you have to drive to just about any destination.

      Walker explored this idea in this post: To quote a few sections (of the better design):

      The key is that while there are plenty of cul-de-sacs, they are almost always “pierced” by a pedestrian link that allows people to keep walking in a desired direction. In short, this structure is a labyrinth for cars, as cul-de-sacs are meant to be, but for pedestrians and cyclists it’s more like a grid. Every city should be looking for places where they can retrofit this sort of pedestrian connection.

      1. Yup. And it’s also worth noting that pedestrian access is really done much more easily back when the neighborhood is first developed, when you have a clean slate to work with.

        By contrast, retrofitting pedestrian access either, at a minimum, requires things like ripping out landscaping or moving fences. It also requires finding a homeowner willing to sell an easement to the city and lawyers to draw up the documents and make sure that if somebody trips and falls on the path, neither the city not the homeowner can get sued. In some cases, it’s impossible outright without eminent domain, and I’ve never heard of any public agency using eminent domain for pedestrian access pathways.

        This is why it is crucial that any new greenfield development adhere to basic walkability standards, even if there is nothing around (yet) to walk to. Someday, there will be and you don’t want ped access to be cost prohibitive then.

  5. Yep. I had seen those 360’s of the new Link stations previously. They are looking great, but would look even better in operation with people on the platforms.

    NG Link will be the biggest improvement in transportation in the region since UW Link open. It will finally begin to make Link an option for northenders who haven’t yet had easy access to Link.

    I’m personally excited about being able to use NG Link to go downtown to watch baseball, particularly in the first 2 weeks of April when the M’s are usually still in contention.

    Ya, it won’t open in time this year, but it is coming.

    1. Yes, the ST2 extensions will change many things. Along with better access, it will change perception. It will be a boon for not only commuters, but for those people making discretionary trips. While buses make connections, Link will be notably faster so that trips once unreasonable will become reasonable. UW students will go to Northgate Target . U-District restaurants will be an option for Downtown workers and tourists. North Seattle residents will take Link to Mariners games and park near a station in the evenings. Movie goers will automatically look at both Thornton Place and Downtown when buying tickets.

      And with East Link in 2023, there will be more frequent trains. It will be so frequent between 6 am and 11 pm (4-5 minutes) that the wait will be inconsequential. Some people have to wait that long to get through a few congested intersections on a bus.

      I expect station area parking issues. These issues will occur in the evenings and weekends — and not just during weekdays. Like it or not, there are many North Seattle single-family homeowners too lazy or scared to wait for a bus to get to Link and will instead just drive to a station — especially when the return trip is after 9 or 10 pm.

      1. I don’t think things will change much in terms of parking. I’m pretty sure it was full in the past. The neighborhood vocally opposed the parking (but were ignored). I doubt there is much difference in terms of attitude towards the bus or the train (the same people ride both).

        A lot depends on Metro and ST. If ST is infrequent, then I think people won’t want to transfer. Waiting for a ten minute bus *and* a ten minute train sucks. As a result, some will try and time the train by driving, but that is difficult (with traffic and the challenge of parking). I think some of those folks will just drive to their destination or take a cab (cutting into ridership). I could also see people taking the bus/train going there, and then the train/taxi the way back, especially if Metro doesn’t have good bus service at night. Northgate is very depending on bus service — at least initially, until the mall gets rebuilt, although it should be pretty good for those on Fifth (as the bus routes converge).

    2. NG Link will be the biggest improvement in transportation in the region since UW Link open.

      I agree, and we may never see an improvement that big again. The big improvement is not in trips to downtown (although evening trips can be slow). A lot of riders to downtown will actually have a slower ride (especially compared to when the 41 ran in the tunnel) and an extra transfer. But the trips to other, major urban destinations will improve dramatically. With no traffic, a trip from Northgate to Capitol Hill takes about 40 minutes right now. With Link it will take 11 minutes. That more than makes up for a transfer. The same is true for lots of trips. Northgate to UW Hospital takes about a half hour — instead it will take less than ten minutes. Those are just trips from Northgate. The big station edition is the U-District. From Beacon Hill to the U-District will take a bit over 20 minutes, not 40. U-District to Capitol Hill is 6 minutes, which is not only great in its own right, but means that connecting trips (e. g. Wallingford to Capitol Hill) are much faster.

      This is why you build a subway. It isn’t about getting downtown, it is about getting around within the urban core faster than driving, even in the middle of the day. Northgate Link will provide a lot of that. Even with the lack of stops (e. g. First Hill) it is still huge.

  6. Northgate Link will revolutionize the commute of northenders. Before, they used to take the route 41 to Northgate, walk to their car, then drive home. Soon, they’ll be able to take Link to Northgate, walk to their car, then drive home.

    1. Don’t forget the even bigger group of people that used to take the 41, and walk home who will now take the train, then the bus, then walk home.

      This gets to what I wrote up above. A subway isn’t about getting to downtown, it is about getting to lots of different places within the urban core. My guess is, most Northgate rush hour commuters will be worse off, especially compared to the days when the train ran in the tunnel. But people will be better off overall because they will be able to get to other places much, much faster. My wife, unprompted, mentioned her excitement about Link, because we will be able to get to Capitol Hill easily, just like we now get to downtown.

      Another way to think of it. Imagine if they kept the 41. Would many people get off at Northgate Station? Absolutely. Anyone headed to Roosevelt, UW and Capitol Hill would, and that is a lot of people. Compare this to the Delridge Station. If they kept the 120, would many people transfer? No, of course not. Why would they — to get to SoDo? It is a different dynamic, and why West Seattle Link just doesn’t make sense. There is nothing in between, and the bus is a very fast express.

      1. “Compare this to the Delridge Station. If they kept the 120, would many people transfer?”

        I think you’d transfer if your trip involves staying on Link past downtown to UW or Capitol Hill. If the final destination is downtown, it comes down to what the traffic is like and how well the bus lanes work. I can see rush hour or stadium events inducing me to go for the transfer. But in general, you’re right – I would stay on the bus.

      2. So you would get off your bus and wait for a train that runs every ten minutes, instead of staying on your cozy bus to downtown and transferring to one that runs every five? Sorry, hardly anyone would do that. It isn’t how people take transit. They ride their bus (or train) as far as it can go, then they transfer.

        What about the other way? Would you wait for the first train to go by, and then take the one that goes to West Seattle? Maybe, but I wouldn’t. I would take the first train, and then transfer.

        So basically the reverse trip only happens about half the time (and the rider takes the train all the way to Delridge). The first trip only happens if there is an accident, or the rider feels like the bus is going to be impaired in some way.

        In most cases, people just stay on the bus. In most of the remaining cases, it is just “six of one, half dozen of the other”. In very rare cases, they save time. This isn’t adding significant value — especially for the money involved. There just aren’t enough riders headed to SoDo.

        In contrast, imagine if we just pour a bunch of money into West Seattle service. Keep in mind, this isn’t what I would do — I would also look to improve what is already a very good connection from West Seattle to downtown. But just imagine if they ran buses all day from Alki. Or ran the 120 twice as often, along with the C, 120 and 128. Run the 125 twice as often, but send it to Alki. No more 30 minute buses for West Seattle. The C and 120 run every six minutes during the day (more frequent than West Seattle Link) and buses like the 21 run 8 to 10.

        Is this better for riders? Clearly. It isn’t even close. Is it cheaper? Yep. Again, not even close. There are no “Well, if the traffic is bad, you might …” scenarios. It is clearly better. For everyone. Every time.

        Is there a scenario like that with Northgate? Nope. Northgate Link offers huge time savings to various locations, and while frequency on the buses could be improved, they were already pretty good. There is just a fundamental difference between the two projects.

      3. At the time of my previous post, I had forgotten that the downtown->UW frequency would be double the downtown->West Seatle frequency. Still, getting into and through downtown on a bus involves a lot of stoplights that you bypass by switching to Link sooner. Doing the transfer in West Seattle is also likely to require less walking and escalator riding than doing it downtown, simply because of how deep the downtown tunnel stations are. If switching in West Seattle has a wait time under 5 minutes (50/50 probability), it’s going to be faster. Even if not, door to door, it’s probably a wash. Switching to Link sooner also means getting a seat on the train, as opposed to having to stand for 20+ minutes on the bus. That’s worth something too.

        In the reverse direction, I guess under your scenario, I’d take whatever train comes first and decide where to switch based on where it’s heading.

        That said, I do see what you’re getting at that, in theory, simply scrapping West Seattle Link altogether and pouring the equivalent money into better bus service would make for better quality transit in West Seattle. But in practice, bus service improvements would never stay concentrated in West Seattle like that for 50 years – they’d inevitably get spread out all over King County. The train, on the other hand, can’t move, and will always have service. So a person advocating for better transit in West Seattle specifically is still better off advocating for the train, even if it’s less efficient for the county’s taxpayers overall.

      4. simply scrapping West Seattle Link altogether and pouring the equivalent money into better bus service would make for better quality transit in West Seattle. But in practice, bus service improvements would never stay concentrated in West Seattle like that for 50 years – they’d inevitably get spread out all over King County.

        Yes, exactly. Which just shows how ridiculous West Seattle Link is. We can come up with a plan that just involves bus service and it is better. No major improvement in bus infrastructure, mind you (no downtown bus tunnel, no special ramps from the freeways) — just bus service — and it is better. Yet it is ridiculous, because it favors one part of town (the entire West Seattle region) more than any other.

        But we can do the same sort of thing with rail, even though it favors an even smaller part of town, and costs more. Only a handful of people will come out ahead when West Seattle Link is built. If you live close to a station, and go downtown (or to the Link stations to the north) then you come out ahead. If you are headed to SoDo, you come out ahead. Everyone else would be better off with better bus service. Even at Avalon (where the C and 21 combine) you would be better off with improved bus service in the middle of the day. If both buses ran every ten minutes all day long, they could combine for five minute frequency there — a clear improvement. Anyway you cut it, West Seattle Link is a terrible value.

        Again, you can’t say the same thing about Northgate Link. That is because of all the high quality stops that the 41 skips over.

      5. My issue with West Seattle Link is about the lack of describing where the riders will come from or go to and how they get to/ from Link. Are they hopping on buses or walking to/ from the three stations?

        This is important because three stations are proposed. Meanwhile, the other “over the water with ships” segment is Ballard, which gets only one station. The politics in 2016 were not in place to discuss this difference. I’ve observed that the Avalon Station is as close to the middle of the Alaska Junction retail district as the 14th and Market station is from the middle of Ballard’s retail street. The 2016 ST3 “deal” should have been 2 and 2 and not 3 and 1.

        ST does not disclose how riders are expected to get to and from these stations. This is a systemic problem with ST project information. So many aspects of station siting, layout, vertical circulation and access paths should be based on this information. Will big elevation differences suppress transfers? Are station entrances in the right places? If a station is deferred, how much will line ridership suffer? We just don’t know and no one with clout is demanding the type of access data.

      6. “My issue with West Seattle Link is about the lack of describing where the riders will come from or go to and how they get to/ from Link. Are they hopping on buses or walking to/ from the three stations?”

        They’re hopping on buses. 90% of West Seattle doesn’t live within walking distance of the three stations. Only the 120 will continue going downtown under Metro Connects. The 21 will terminate at Avalon Station, and the C will be turned into an Alki-Burien line. There will be an express on Fauntleroy-WSJ-SLU that will absorb some former C riders, but the typical profile for that service type is half-hourly until 7pm, so those who don’t want to wait or who travel in the evening will have to take Link. Some people may stop taking transit rather than taking a bus one or two miles to a Link transfer. since both the bus and Link segments are so short. Of course, if their destination is other than downtown, they’ll be better off transferring to Link in any case.

        “ST does not disclose how riders are expected to get to and from these stations.”

        It’s obvious when you look at where people live and where non-Junction businesses and attractions are located. It’s Metro’s responsibility to ensure a good bus network to get people to the stations, and SDOT’s for bike/ped access. They won’t be driving to the stations because there are no P&Rs. And emerging technologies like demand-response shuttles aren’t ST’s responsibility. (And they’d be a bad idea because fixed-route buses are more cost-effective.)

        “If a station is deferred, how much will line ridership suffer?”

        That’s not material to the deferring issue because deferral would only happen if ST flat-out can’t afford to build all stations initially, so those riders would never materialize anyway.

        Some STBers have estimated that having a single station at Delridge or Avalon wouldn’t hurt ridership that much, because most people are coming by bus. The transfer points would simply be moved 5-10 blocks to the station, and that adds less than a minute to the bus segment. The ones who would be worse off are those who could walk to the Junction station. That’s the center of the urban village so that’s bad, but it’s only a tiny fraction of West Seattle residents.

    2. Link will improve transit for non-work trips as well; it will provide direct access to several urban centers with paid or scarce parking (e.g., Roosevelt, U District, Capitol Hill, downtown Seattle).

      Again, we need to lobby ST for short waits on Link at peak and off-peak times. Service makes the network, not just the monument.

  7. Looking around on Zillow I couldn’t help but notice the biggest dead zone for both residential sales and rentals in Seattle. All the way from Dearborn street in north, to Michigan street in the south, and from I-5 to the Duwamish, there are virtually no red or purple dots. That’s a pretty big chunk of area to ban housing.

    1. Yep, industrial land account for about 12% of the land. That is second only to Single Family. Areas zoned single family account for about 25,000 acres, while industrial land is about 4,000. Here is a pretty good listing: I really like that page, by the way, as it does a great job of explaining how people argued over the percentage of single family zoned areas. What is clear is that it is “a lot”, and that not much is zoned for multi-family (and most of that is low rise, which has some pretty onerous restrictions in my opinion).

      Things may have chanced since then, but only marginally. Anyway, I’m not sure if I would mess with any of it. Industrial land has its purpose, and it is worth preserving, in my opinion. At most I would tweak things a bit, although I’m not sure it would add much to the housing supply. A lot of those places are not attractive places to live. You’ve got railroad tracks, lots of freeway ramps, as well as plenty of industries that aren’t going anywhere.

      A lot of the industrial land is a combination of industrial/commercial, so I could see how they might allow some housing. I would do so well after changing the single family zones.

    2. That’s a long-running issue, with more tradeoffs than the issue of upzoning single-family areas. The industrial district allows local industries and manufacturing, which we may need more in the future if overseas shipping gets cut off or gets prohibitively expensive. (Due to climate change, wars, increasing inequality eroding the 90%’s purchasing power, etc.) We may need more local agriculture, which can be done in multistory buildings in industrial zones. (I assume not in the ground due to toxic pollution.) The industrial districts make Seattle’s economy more diversified and less dependent on one sector, and give a career pathway for blue-collar workers,

      Other cities that have converted their industrial districts to housing usually had obsolete factories that nobody wanted. In contrast, Seattle’s industrial districts are currently viable with a lot of overseas shipping, along with shipbuilding, logistics, wholesale, startup companies, and artists’ studios.

      One negative thing I’ve seen is an increasing number of big-box stores, suburbanesque freestanding buildings like Big 5 and Jack in the Box, and car dealerships. That’s not what we’re preserving the industrial districts for! But the car dealerships may be OK because it was a compromise to get them out of downtown, and their multistory buildings are at least compact.

      It may make sense to allow housing on part of the industrial land, as long as it has a minimum of seven stories. But the best decision would be to simply allow missing-middle housing in single-family areas. The only loss with that is the most affluent people’s yards and privacy, and only homeowners who want to would convert or sell. In contrast, shrinking the industrial districts makes Seattle’s economy less diverse and more vulnerable to recessions.

  8. I hope the STB commenters are lobbying the ST board for short headways on Link and routes 522, 545, and 550. In the 2016 SIP, their plan was for six-minute Link headway; now the 2021 SIP calls for eight minutes. Yes, the virus has its own calendar. Vaccines are coming. The CT and Metro restructures depend on short waits. The ST3 capital crisis should not be allowed to impact service levels. It is billions v. millions.

    1. Exactly. But all the evidence is that Unsound Transit is actually just a vehicle — no pun intended — for scratching the backs of campaign contributing contractors.

      It’s been twenty years with large claques screaming at them ways to do their jobs better, with little evidence that they notice.

      1. Where’s the evidence that ST puts contractors first, or that ST’s problems are the result of contractors? ST puts county and city governments’ wishes first, and doesn’t look very far beyond that. 4/5 of the subareas’ governments put the spine first. The reason they do that is to get Link to their cities, for transportation convenience and to attract affluent employers/workers/residents to those cites. Transit contractors are tiny players in the few cities they’re headquartered in.

      2. Mike, the agency doesn’t get the contributions, the electeds do, and they get a lot of “attaboys” from the contractors’ friends.

        Look how UT builds freaking palaces while refusing to install full sets of escalators, and cheap ones they do buy. Penny-wise, pound-foolish. But escalators aren’t made here and are usually installed by tge manufacturer’s contractor.

        Look how it runs trains as infrequently as it can, like Scrooge in his counting house cackling over the proceeds. It spends $250 million rebuilding a freeway interchange a mile from the destination of most of the riders who will use it. But it’s a LOT of concrete!

        These are rookie mistakes, the kind of errors that real transit consultants would warn against, but of which highway consultants have no clue.

        A professional transit organization would have begun building center platforms with the required ADA access at the three tunnel stations, knowing that the long narrow platforms mean congested loading and that center platforms would pay for themselves in a few years by shorter dwell times.

        UT is removing the one temporary one it has.

        These sorts of things are so irritatingly obvious that there omission can only be caused by the desire to build a gold-plated welfare system for the local construction industry.

  9. I have some thoughts about sharrows.

    I used to live in South Philadelphia. When I lived there, about 30% of people in South Philadelphia commuted by bike. But there are no bike lanes. There are lined sections on the side of a few of the wider streets, which have little bicycle logos on them, but in reality, the bicycle logos meant “free parking here”, because they were always filled with parked cars.

    There were also streets with so-called “sharrows”, little bicycle logos in the middle of the street. Every bicyclist instinctively knows that sharrows don’t mean that you can bike in the middle of the street, or “take the lane”. As an experiment, I did bike in the middle of one of those streets once and a driver literally tried to run me over. He missed, and then blocked the whole street, forcing me to stop. He got out of his truck, and then threatened to kill me. Luckily, he backed off without attacking me any further, and left. I called the police, gave them a photo of his license plate, and the police told me that unless he actually did kill me, they wouldn’t do anything. I suspect they were lying, and they wouldn’t do anything even if I was dead.

    Seattle is not Philadelphia, of course. The drivers here are less vengeful, albeit less skillful. But seriously: sharrows ARE nothing. They are not a compromise, they are merely lip service, painted onto the street.

    1. Unlike the Northwest, not a lot of passive-aggressive folks in Philly. I suspect the police officers who came out to take your bicycle complaint in south Philly wondered why you didn’t fight, or why the other person didn’t kill you, or you him. Or at least why he didn’t steal your bike. If everyone in South Philly who threatened to kill someone was arrested the streets would be empty, and like you note actually killing someone doesn’t always lead to an arrest in Philly.

      Sharrows create a lot of liability for cities because they are not very safe, and have been found to be a road design flaw. Bicyclists are better off riding in the road (unless perhaps in South Philly).

    2. Exactly. Sharrows mean the guy in the lifted F250 will rev his engine and close-pass me while I’m biking with my 4 year-old in tow. We use them in Portland on our neighborhood greenways, with mixed result. They only work if the route has vehicle diverters every few blocks. Otherwise, drivers utilize these routes as a cut-through to avoid traffic on main streets; and the drivers who tend to do this are also the ones who are more likely to harass cyclists.

      9th appears to be a horrible candidate for sharrow treatment. The existing traffic levels are way too high, and the topography means that cyclists will be constantly blocking traffic and receiving harassment on the uphill sections.

    3. Sharrows are useless for the actual intended users. They are only useful for politicians to claim they expanded “bicycle facilities” and created new “neighborhood greenways.”

  10. Link would reach Everett faster if they dropped the Paine field diversion, and people on link trains would also reach Everett faster.

    1. It would be faster, but it wouldn’t necessarily be better. Everett is betting on Paine Field being a major station. I don’t buy that, but I don’t buy downtown Everett being a major station, especially if the train connected to fewer places.

      The 510 go about 500 boardings a day at Everett Station. The 512 got a bit less than that. So basically there are 1,000 riders a day either taking an express right into Seattle, or the bus that stops at Ash Way, Lynnwood, etc. Hard to see why the numbers would be bigger, if the train doesn’t go anywhere else.

      To be fair, it will (it will go to Northgate, UW, etc.). We’ll have a good idea of potential ridership after Lynnwood Link. At that point, the 510 and 512 will terminate in Lynnwood. But I’ll be surprised if there are more than 1,000 riders a day from Everett Station, just like I would be surprised if there are more than 1,000 riders a day taking a more direct train.

      I’m not sold on the idea of Paine Field (or those other stops) but they do have much bigger potential. Ridership goes down the farther the trip is. This is true everywhere. Its why there are a lot more riders from Lynnwood to Seattle than Everett to Seattle. A trip from Everett to Paine Field is relatively short, and would probably have more riders. Although probably still not that many — Everett is pretty small. The entire Snohomish County bus system (Community Transit) carries 36,000 (and my guess is most of that is in Lynnwood/Edmonds). Everett has its charms (certainly) but it isn’t that dense, and it isn’t that big.

    1. Why does this fellow think that the Central Subway will be such a fiasco if it will be unable to meet its potential demand? Every person on it will be a person NOT on the 8, 30, the 30X, or the 45. All of those buses crawl through Chinatown by one route or the other and all (traditionally) ran frequently. Surely diverting some of them to the subway will save operating hours.

      Does he think that people will still be painting the tubes?

      1. Yes, clearly the author is unfamiliar with the decades of horrors of bus overcrowding in Chinatown and the slow slog that buses take to get to Market Street. Unlike Seattle, residents rarely venture to other neighborhoods that don’t align with their demographic.

        SF Chinatown is extremely dense and poor and non-English speaking. The Central Subway is perhaps more about addressing the inequity of decades of overcrowding as much as it is operating cost. If every bus in SF was as crowded as 45- Stockton was before the pandemic, ridership would be off the charts!

        The equity issues on Third Street are also significant and the Central Subway was always the promised second piece of Third St light rail (Muni T line). It was a promise to voters.

        Finally, I really hate it when I read “every responsible transit expert” in any story. It’s like saying “every responsible American” opposes something the author also opposes. It’s doublespeak for “those that agree with me”.

      2. I’ve seen the crowding on the 8. At 5pm at every stop it takes minutes for people to board. Still, the article says that with the stations limited to 2-car trains, they may get overcrowded too. Maybe they would.

      3. The SF Chinatown buses make Metro and ST crowding look minimal.

        I have waited in SF Chinatown for a bus on a Saturday afternoon. After five packed buses passed me up, I got on the sixth one only by hopping on the rear steps that already had another person on them. I felt like I was in a foreign country because I’ve never ever seen bus crowding like that on. Saturday afternoon and I’ve ridden on most major American transit systems before or since.

      4. My most cherished (out at least vivid) memory of catching the bus in Chinatown is waiting on line to board, a little old Chinese lady shoving her way past me to get on, ending with her essentially under my armpit while trying to keep a live chicken from escaping its plastic bag.

      5. I think the criticism is more subtle than that. This is an expensive project, with poor station placement that won’t do very much initially (that’s his argument, not mine). It is one of those projects that started out great, but got watered down, and is now a bad value. It looks great on paper, but just doesn’t work. As a result, there won’t be crowding initially — it won’t get that many riders at all. But it does open up the possibility of better lines in the future. The problem is, even if it does that, it will only have two-car trains.

        I don’t know enough about the project to speak to the particulars, but this sounds quite reasonable. Why spend a fortune, and then only enable two car trains? That sounds weird, to say the least.

        It wouldn’t be that crazy to think that a project like this becomes more style that substance. The closest big project around here like that is the SR 99 tunnel. It cost a lot of money, and did very little for automobile mobility. This was lost in the “cars versus transit” debate. The lack of an exit at Western was huge, and means that traffic from the northwest is sent to Mercer (a major bottleneck) or along the surface. If you think of the SR 99 tunnel as a new car oriented project, not a replacement of the old viaduct, it is a terrible value. They would have been better off improving I-5. The fear is that the Central Subway will be similar.

        Again, I don’t know enough about the particulars of the project to speak to the criticisms. But the rest of the arguments seem solid. Muni is underfunded. It is a bad idea to spend a fortune on a new project (that will also have big maintenance costs) while neglecting to spend money fixing and operating what you have. Common, but bad (e. g. Second Avenue Subway). If the new subway turns out to be great (i. e. if he is wrong in his assessment) than it won’t matter. If he is right, then it is another big burden for San Fransisco.

      6. Ross, I agree that there should be a station In North Beach at the terminus. I agree that the platforms should accommodate three car trains even if three-car trains have to be shuttles because they can’t fit the stations on Third Avenue farther south.

        But getting some people off the Stockton and Kearney buses will be a huge win. That’s where a North Beach station would shine. Thousands of people traveling between. Points north and west of there and Soma — and even Union Square — will transfer there to avoid riding through Chinatown. It was stupid not to put a station at the Pagoda.

        Many 30 and 45 riders wil, still transfer at Chinatown Station to avoid the crawl between there and the Stockton auto tunnel, but not as many as a farther north station would intercept.

      7. Seems like the Central Subway may be comparable to U-Link: an urban subway that’s useful on its own but questionable value/station placement in isolation given the high cost, but the capital investment really pays off when there’s a further extension (Seattle Northgate, SF North Beach)?

        The difference in execution is Seattle had Northgate fully funded and through the EIS process when U-Link opened, while SFMTA is still trundling through EIS and has no funding for the next construction phase.

      8. AJ, I would compare it to what it would have been like if buses were kicked out of the DSTT in 2010. After all, three of the new stations are in a Chinatown, a retail district and next to a convention center.

        There are a few important lessons to be learned from this project:

        1. Construction schedule. The project will need 12 years of construction. 8 years was promised at the ground breaking.

        2. Cost. Beginning at $530M in 2001, it rose to $942M in the FTA FFGA and rose to $1.6B once the bids were in.

        As to the operations cost, I really think it depends on if people get off buses enough to reduce some frequency. The 45-Union+Stockton bus operates at high frequency through the posh Marina district (an all way stop at every block) with plenty of seats so that it can carry crush loads from Chinatown to Market Street. If those riders move to the subway (a real likelihood because many are transferring to east-west bus or light rail connections like to the Richmond or Sunset or to BART), Muni can reduce service a bit on this route.

      9. Sorry, I got toutes confused. Muni Route 45 runs through Cow Hollow and not the Marina — although Union is also a posh street with stop signs and empty seats.

        Muni Route 30-Stockton is the route I was thinking of. It’s the same issue with both of these routes — empty seats in the Marina or Cow Hollow and crush loads in Chinatown.

      10. Seems like the Central Subway may be comparable to U-Link: an urban subway that’s useful on its own but questionable value/station placement in isolation given the high cost, but the capital investment really pays off when there’s a further extension (Seattle Northgate, SF North Beach)?

        I really didn’t want to delve into the Central Subway particulars, but now I feel like defending U-Link. First off, for all its faults (and there are many), it is clearly the best subway line we’ve ever built. With the addition of only two stations, you’ve pretty much doubled the ridership of Link. It should have included First Hill, but it is still a vital part of our system. It is, arguably, the only subway we should have built. Of course that would be with the U-District station, which was oddly left out of that project. A subway line from the U-District through downtown would make sense, as it is by far where we get the most riders per mile, or riders per dollar (on maintenance or capital costs).

        You would have a very hard time arguing that for the Central Subway. (Here is where I reluctantly delve into the particulars of that project). U-Link was built after the rest of the system, which meant that it is integrated with the rest of the system. Beacon Hill to the UW is now much faster. Rainier Valley to Capitol Hill is much faster. It is also relatively long, which helps make up for the short-comings of the UW station. If you are in the middle of downtown you can take the 70 to the UW campus, and it may get you closer to your class, but the distance is such that Link will save you time (even with all of the extra walking).

        The Central Subway is a stand-alone line. It is also fairly short. It is less than a mile and a half. It does have a lot of stops (which is a good thing) but it is short. It is anchored on one end by the Caltrain station. There is some talk of improving Caltrain, and trying to make it more of an urban rail line, rather than a commuter rail line, but I remain skeptical. The stops tend to be industrial or too far away — the T seems a lot better. This connects to the T (which is great) but the T loops around and goes on Market (which means at least one of the stops won’t be worth it).

        My guess is the big criticism is with the connection to BART. For all of its faults, BART is an essential part of the transit system in San Fransisco. Or at least, the part that connects East Bay with the handful of stops in San Fransisco is essential. It carries hundreds of thousands of riders a day, and many of those trips are spontaneous. This will require a three minute walk (according to Google) and that doesn’t count the time exiting the BART station and entering the Central Subway station (which I assume is buried). The combination of poor (or just weak) connections and relatively short distance could cause problems for the project. A lot of people will just walk, or find other ways of completing their trip.

        I think the fundamental problem is just cost. Complaining about the Central Subway takes up only a small part of that essay (lots of time was spent complaining about the streetcars). This is all about money. The Central Subway will be good. It just won’t be great. It won’t carry enough riders to improve the financial situation of Muni, which is ridiculously underfunded. We don’t really have an analogy here because our system is young. But imagine it is the year 2040 and both Link and Metro are suffering from underfunding. East Link and South Link run every 15 minutes in the middle of the day, and 20 minutes at night. Everett Link is finally complete, and ridership is much lower than ST expected (just like Tacoma Link). Traffic in the city is as bad as ever, as automated cars get people cheaply and easily to where you want to go. Metro ridership is decent, but the buses are often stuck in traffic, as the city doesn’t have enough money to fund major improvements, as it deals with the poverty/crime problems that every major city has to deal with. Ballard Link is finally done, but they chose the cheapest path. The station at Aurora (the so called “South Lake Union”) is just north of Mercer. The station in Ballard is at 14th. The transfer at Westlake requires going to the surface and then under again. Like so many projects, it doesn’t have the ridership that people expected, even though it clearly adds value. It was just a tremendous amount of money to spend for what we ended up with. (By the way, other than the connection at Westlake, that all seems plausible).

        I think mainly he has a very good point. From what I can see, the Central Subway is fine. You really can’t build much of anything in San Fransisco without getting a lot of riders. But if it actually *adds* to the maintenance costs (because the fare recovery is negative) and you don’t have a major funding source, that causes all sorts of problems.

        This is a common problem with aging systems. New York and DC Metro struggle with this. Making things more complicated are the various funding sources. This should all be funded and managed at a federal level, but that idea pretty much died when Reagan got elected. Local funding varies. I have no idea how Muni gets its money versus how BART gets its money, but I’m guessing it is different. Likewise, ST and Metro have different funding sources, and even different options for funding. It means that money is not spent wisely. Too much money is spent on big projects (often with costly or poor design decisions) and too little is spent making sure that what you have runs better.

        Again, I don’t know enough about the particulars there to say whether he is right or not about the Central Subway, but the complaint about funding is certainly valid.

      11. Ross, it may not be evident from the maps, but the biggest benefit of the Central Subway is to provide a connection between Chinatown (and part of North Beach) across a hill to all of the major east-west transit services as well as to relieve severe overcrowding. Trust me, the overcrowding has been awful for decades. Riders often have to let several buses pass by to even board one. Plus, the travel patterns among the Chinese community are to the Richmond and to the Sunset (requiring a transfer) as opposed to the Marina and Cow Hollow (direct bus routes). Imbedded in the project is addressing how non-Chinese areas were able to get better transit capacity and speed than Chinese areas have had.

        Like our second Downtown tunnel in ST3, the line needed to connect to an OMF plus to the huge new projects in Mission Bay (giant hospitals, bio-tech facilities and sports facilities) without having to make a slow loop through downtown in a street median in South Beach. It is not a short stand-alone line and Muni will have lots of flexibility to create interlined configurations integrated with the rest of Muni in front of the Caltrain station.

      12. “that would be with the U-District station, which was oddly left out of that project.”

        When ST recovered from the 2000 meltdown and restarted U-Link in the early 2000s, there was only enough money to get to UW Station. U-District Station’s exclusion benefitted nobody and created headaches for everybody. Metro has to run extra service between the stations to fill the gap, ST’s ridership numbers are blunted. North Seattle has to get to an extreme corner through traffic to get to Link.

      13. I don’t think the Central Subway is a standalone line? I thought the T gets rerouted once the Subway opens? There will still be light rail service along the waterfront connecting the Embarcadero to Caltrain, but that will be provided by the N (or another line), not the T. I don’t think the Central Subway’s primary operating pattern will be a a short shuttle (there will be a short overlay to alleviate crowding during rush hour & major events, using the turnback loop in Mission Bay). So the entirety of the T south of downtown gets a 1-seat ride to downtown & BART, which seems super useful for all sorts of trip pairs.

        This change also pulls the T out of the main Muni tunnel, allowing higher frequency on the other routes while maintaining the same frequency & capacity under Market.

      14. @AJ — Yeah, you are right. This is why I didn’t want to delve into the particulars :). I’m basically making an argument for another person (the author of that essay) and I’m sure he can explain better the strengths and weaknesses of the plan. So far as I can tell, it will work like this:

        The next step in the remaking of Muni is this: This should dramatically improve reliability (the map towards the bottom shows how it will work). Then the southeastern part of the T is mixed with this line. At that point, I’m guessing the T no longer goes through the main section (from Embarcadero to West Portal). That would mean less frequency along that northeastern side (currently handled by both the N and T). That may not be an issue, and if it is, they could run the N more often, or extend the M or the new S.

        This does sound much better. There would be winners and losers of course (some would love the old T better than the new one) but overall it seems to add a lot of functionality.

        @Al — Yeah, I get that. The only thing I can surmise is that the author thinks this is one of those projects that looks great on paper, but doesn’t really work in real life, because they didn’t get the details right. The transfer to BART (and the bulk of the Muni trains) might be similar to the transfer from Link to the 7 in Mount Baker. I doubt it will be that bad, nor do I think it is the same dynamic — for one thing, the bus doesn’t look much better. Maybe the problem is that there is only one stop. In other words, this is good, but needs to have more stops to really pull people away from taking the bus. I’m not sure about that either. I would probably try to squeeze in another stop there, but you aren’t missing much (if anything really) in terms of crossing bus routes.

        I’m sure there are particulars (like the transfer) but I really can’t find fault with it — I’m just guessing. It sure looks to me like it will carry a lot of riders. The only issue is cost.

        I go back to this — the big issue is cost. This thing is going to cost a huge amount of money. It will get lots of riders, but it won’t get that many riders. The T gets about 35,000 a day. The Chinatown stops looks great, but I can’t see it getting enormous numbers of riders. The same is true with the other stops. This is just a huge amount of money for a handful of stops. It is similar to the Second Avenue Subway, except I doubt it will have that kind of ridership.

        It is an example of focusing on new things, while ignoring maintenance. Imagine if DC Metro did this. It is worth noting that reliability problems have hammered ridership (and this happened before the pandemic). So imagine if they built a line to Georgetown. This would be wonderful. It would get lots of riders. It would pretty much mean the entire city — the entire region — is covered. It would be like the Paris Metro — sure, you can drive, but why would you? But if they spent a bunch of money on the new line serving Georgetown and neglected to maintain the overall system, it is like buying a Ferrari and not changing the oil like you are supposed to.

        That, in a nutshell, is the man’s argument. Even if the new subway line is great, it isn’t what the city needs, more than anything. It needs to fix what is already there, which is a mess. The subway will cost a fortune, and only improve one relatively small section.

        Again, I don’t know enough about the particulars to speak to that — I just know that given the historic issues with Muni (which he cites quite well) it is a very reasonable argument.

      15. Since ST is planning a second subway line through Downtown Seattle, maybe the best way to look at the SF situation is to pick up on the “lessons learned”.

        These are the ones I see:

        1. Cultural biases. Every transit expansion wish carries value judgements. Any transit expansion should consider how it affects the trip needs of people from all walks of life — and not just an able-bodied 30 year old white male who likes the restaurants or clubs of a particular area or who wants their personal work commute optimized. The ease of online publishing makes it easier to raise issues — but it also allows for personal wishes to appear more convincing.

        2. Transfers matter. The new Union Square connection to Powell Street is indeed a walk even though it is through a mezzanine (no street crossings). Many transfers will be to Geary buses (a much shorter walk) but the three-dimensional logistics of the station ends up forcing a bit of a hike to BART. For us, Westlake, ID and SODO will be transfer points — and I could easily see how constructibility issues could make rider transfers long because ST doesn’t seem to have the metrics nor the advocates for them. Without metrics (feet between train doors on different lines at platforms) as well as prominent rider influence, we could end up with a cool system map but using the system could be a real hassle.

        The Westlake and Midtown Station new platform designs are particularly relevant here. How much walking and elevation change will be required to get between platforms or to different walking destinations? It really pains me at how we can obsess about Ballard or Alaska Junction station sites — over the transfer designs which will affect significantly more riders every day. ST won’t even publish how many riders will transfer at the transfer stations!!

        3. Operational flexibility matters. SF Muni has not finalized an operating plan. They often run special trains for events like baseball games that don’t follow exact line structures. They propose new interlining configurations based on changing demand and crowding. On the other hand, ST seems obsessed with one operating plan and never consider deviations from it. For example, should ST design for an overlay line option for peak times or for special events? Today we have one line so the ability to introduce new service configurations is limited, but when we go to two and then three lines, the tracks should be able to respond to unforeseen trip pattern shits, special events or even inevitable service disruptions. This is a reason why I am so emphatic about the SODO track and platform layouts because it’s the easiest place to design for flexibility — even though few transit advocates here seem to care and ST ignores my comments on that. The current southbound-northbound-southbound -northbound platform arrangement at SODO is the worst possible configuration imaginable as switching to another track and platform in the same direction would mean crossing two tracks. If it would be southbound-southbound-northbound-northbound, flexibility improves significantly.

        4. Construction time/ cost. SF is notorious for delays more than Seattle is. The project initial funding pot was approved by voters in 1989. The Central Subway project was prioritized in the mid 1990’s. The environmental and design was several years and the construction will have taken 12 years even though 8 was promised upon groundbreaking. It’s easy to criticize and say that won’t happen here — but is that really true? Almost every recent new subway tunnel built next to skyscrapers in US downtowns has had problems with schedules and construction costs. The constructibility of our second Downtown Seattle tunnel remains unclear.

        I’m glad that the post is here. We should be looking at the nuances of the downtown tunnel projects in LA and Dallas and Calgary and Toronto and Montreal for more lessons in addition to this one.

      16. @Ross – that’s a good argument, but then the root cause is that SFMTA is underfunding transit, not that the Central Subway or another marquee project is a bad project. But the criticism is still on point – the best way to good ridership is sufficiently funding existing operations

        I’ll connect this to a debate we’ve had many times in these threads – the problem with HCT in SF isn’t that BART sucks, but that after SF built the Market street tunnel for BART and Muni – the logical first priority at the time – it didn’t continue the momentum with further major investments. If the Central Subway had opened in the 1990s and then Phase II to North Beach opened in the early 2000s, I think we’d be looking at BART + Muni and say, “yeah, that’s solid urban rail network.” That means SFMTA would have needed to find billions more of funding 1980-2000 … but that’s what Seattle has done with ST1+2+3.

        Al – for #3, ST already does peak overlays for events. My understanding is they can have an operating line turn around at every intermediate terminus (Westlake, Husky Stadium, Northgate, etc.) and a few other locations. The only things I’m unclear on – and will be important to beat the drum on – is whether the Bellevue, WS, and RV lines will be able to switch between downtown tunnels if needed. I think East Link will not, but WS & RV will b/c the junctions will be down near SoDo while at ID the lines are running in parallel.

      17. Meant to mention that Human Transit just had a post on the importance of funding good operations, which jives with what Ross is saying about big capital projects cannibalizing operations & maintenance.

  11. “Muni, the transit agency that slowly trundles people and urine around San Francisco, is in a bad way.”

    What a classic opening line from the article Transit Girl links to.

    “Its current daily ridership stands at 183,000 — down from 710,000 in pre-pandemic 2019 which, itself, was down from 728,0728,000 in 2016.”

    The rest of the article sounds a lot like Metro’s future.

    1. In response to Al’s post here are my thoughts:

      First is cost. So is second, third and fourth. Not just because all five subareas will share in the costs, including maybe cost overruns, but because the tunnel costs will directly impact what the N. KC subarea can afford in other ST 3 projects, which probably means buses over trains for a very long time.

      2. Luckily biases or equity will have little impact. The tunnel will go south/north under 5th Ave. and the stations will mirror the existing tunnel in case of transfers between tunnels, which reflects commuter patterns. . If the work commuter does not return in full force I doubt a second tunnel is affordable, so I would be careful about the equity argument. A second tunnel only makes sense if the ridership is there. Capacity, not equity, is the purpose. If you want equity you want buses running on surface streets with more frequency, not a $3.5 billion tunnel ultimately designed to serve more light rail from primarily white Seattle neighborhoods.

      3. Construction times will be much longer than anticipated. I can’t think of a more complicated project than building a deep transit tunnel under 5th Ave. through questionable soil.

      4. I think the four other subareas will object to sharing tunnel costs above $2.2 billion, so I don’t think ST should begin construction until Seattle passes a HB1304 levy, both for the second tunnel and the other transit projects that will use the second tunnel. No point in building a second tunnel if it isn’t going to be used. I am not a fan of “build it and they will come” when the cost is at least $3.5 billion.

      5. Discussion of a second tunnel or HB1304 levy is premature. Wait until commuter and rider patterns are better known long term post-pandemic, and wait to float a 1304 levy until the spine is complete and voters can see if total trip times with transfers and truncation are something they want to spend more on. In the end, the success of ST 2 will determine whether voters want to pursue the astronomical costs of ST 3, or look at something that can be implemented sooner, is truly more “equitable”, is more cost effective, and serves more riders.

  12. Did anyone else notice the absurd assertion in the NEPA article that “raw materials” for lack of a better word increased only by 20% over the two highest inflation decades in US history, the ’60’s and ’70’s? That is absurd. Concrete and asphalt soared in cost over that 20 years because they are directly dependent on the cost of oil which increased by 10 times per barrel because of the embargoes. Asphalt is itself oil while concrete depends on large amounts of energy mostly from natural gas.

    This is not to say that the cost of public involvement is trivial. It is expensive, but having public meetings is pretty cheap compared to the costs of demolition of existing structures, earth moving, and actual construction.

    What is uniquely expensive about the American system is political deadlock and that the two parties believe that “infrastructure” means a completely different project-list. Therefore nothing much gets past the planning stage before an election throws previous projects out and replaces them with others of a dissimilar nature and objectives.

    Does anybody think that a new bridge for I-5 — even one with no dedicated transit facility at all — is going to cost less than the “Columbia River Crossing” which was shovel-ready in 2013 when the Republicans in the Washington State Senate shot it down over light rail would have?

    Of course it won’t. Current estimates are over $4 billion with only a pair of HOV lanes, and the project is still three years from bidding in the most optimistic timeline.

    The proposed new Trans-Hudson tunnel in New York that the Republican Congress refused to fund back in 2010 is still essential if only to allow one existing tube at a time to be semi-permanently removed from service for water-tightening and general refurbishment. If one springs a major leak and has to be removed from service for an extended period without the proposed third, travel across the Hudson River will choke.

    On the “pro-highway” side there are projects on the Virginia side of the Potomac on which the outer ring of counties which don’t have commuter rail lines into DC depend have been delayed and may be canceled because Virginia is now a Democratic-party Trifecta . We here on STB might agree that from an environmental standpoint that is a good thing, but the development has already happened because of the planned roads which now might not be built.

    This back-and-forth puts a lot of grit in the system.

      1. The French do love a good demo…..

        I think their secret is that they let the technocrats run things while they go for crepes afterward,

      2. The French have strong NIMBYs, but now that I reread your comment, that isn’t exactly your theory. It is more about extremism and political moderation.

        Then Italy should be a good model. We should expect costs to be high. Yet it is the opposite. Italy is one of those “lower cost” countries (

        My guess is Alon nailed it in that post. It is multi-factorial, but the combination of what the author mentioned (which is also mentioned by Alon) and the lack of in-house engineering are the big culprits.


    Inflation adjusted, the price of oil has not increased dramatically overall since 1946.

    I think the quote TT is referencing is referring to raw materials. Concrete is a finished material. The cost of concrete in this region today has to do with the few companies who can make and pour large amounts of concrete that must meet specific requirements (like oxygen levels in the concrete) and the competition for concrete during a building boom.

    One of the biggest costs for public projects is the prevailing wage requirement. This article is old but still relevant. I represent workers in different building fields, and federal and WA state projects are always the highest paying and most coveted. Plus these public projects are often some of the biggest and most complex, and so have high contingencies, such as tunnel boring.

    This is big reason highway projects, or transit, are such good pork projects, and are often used as economic stimulus, because work is usually good for folks rather than government payments, and the wages are high. Since a small percentage of the country has sophisticated transit, let alone shovel ready transit, and virtually every area has roads, bridges, highways and tunnels that are ready to go, the vast majority of the funding goes into those projects, because car/transit ideology isn’t the goal, economic stimulus and local pork are the goals.

    1. Daniel, the article did not specify that it was using constant-dollar costs. Maybe it was, but if so, the author should have said so. It is possible that he did, and I missed it. If so, please point that out.

      In fact the tenfold rise in nominal oil prices was the single most potent factor in the steep rise in inflation during those decades. There was NOTHING like the flood of money injected into the financial system since 2009 in the ’60’s and ’70’s. Yes, the government spent heavily on Vietnam, the space race and armaments, but taxes were considerably higher, keeping overall deficits — and the resultant increases in borrowing creating “money” — reasonable. It wasn’t like World War II.

      So “inflation at all times and in all places is a result of an increase in the money supply” is not correct. It is USUALLY the result of an increase in the money supply in excess of a parallel increase in supply, but when a fundamental resource is withheld in such a way that its clearing price rises in real terms, the purchasing power of money falls which is another way to describe inflation.

      I do have to say that your anti-labor opinions make me wonder why the unions continue to engage your firm

      1. Anti-union. That is a laugh. I have spent 30 years representing unions and union members, who ironically are mostly very unprogressive.

        I have no problem with prevailing wage laws. I just was trying to explain them to you, and why the price of oil over the decades is not a major factor in the cost of public projects, although oil prices can be volatile, which is why smart people buy futures. Neither is political ideology; the fact is both parties love pork projects, and roads, bridges and highways (and under Roosevelt dams) are perfect pork projects, because infrastructure has to be addressed anyway. Some progressives prefer transit pork, which is fine. These projects and prevailing wage laws pump money directly into the local economies, which is part of the goal, and lower unemployment which is very expensive.

        By law all public projects are bid, and the lowest bid from a qualified bidder must be taken. But some of these public projects are huge and complex, with very high contingency reserves. The government is not boring the tunnels, the contractors are. In some ways it is amazing people can remove the Viaduct and build such a tunnel, except such a complicated project cost more and took longer than expected. Very common.

        Public projects also grow because citizens and politicians and advocates like to think money is not an object, because it is not their money. Until the money runs out.

        I certainly don’t want to get into a debate about the causes of inflation, which are myriad, and inflation has been at very low levels for many years, mostly based on Fed policy, so that is not a cause of increased transit costs either.

        In fact the costs of ST 3 in N. King Co. didn’t really increase, they were just intentionally underestimated, and then the pandemic threw a wrench into short term, and more importantly long term, general tax revenue projections. Unfortunately the figures are so high for one subarea — $11.5 billion without really repricing the second transit tunnel — no one knows what to do.

      2. @Daniel Thompson. I have noticed many conservative thinking people flocking to progressive run, labor backed, union jobs. But I also understand how and why it hapens. At least in my field. But yes, it is ironic. It is funny to think that the majority of Sound Transit and Metro employees are liberals. I personally wish they were. But from what I can see, it is not that way.

      3. They’re “unprogressive” because people who value women’s rights object to the catcalling and other obnoxious macho eruptions from “tradesmen”, so the inner snowflakes of the lads are wounded.

        Therefore they ally with the Republicans who thrill to their eruptions and slap them on the back while picking the pockets of every other group of workers. So much for “solidarity”.

        I said I agree that at most times and in most places inflation is the result of monetary policy. But I note that you continue to ignore the huge explosion in oil prices immediately before the ruinous bulge in inflation between 1977 and 1981 shown clearly in the chart you linked. At that time the nosebleed rates pushed by the Fed had reigned it in at the cost of a severe recession.

        By that time oil had stabilized at a much higher nominal cost which the inflation its rise temporarily drove then normalized back to the long-term “real” cost.

        But everything else was then priced higher in the REAL “barrels of oil” standard.

      4. It was the increase in the OPEC cartel’s oil prices and the delinking of the dollar from its artificially high gold standard price that caused much of the inflation in the 70s. Before the 70s people used to pay 5 cents or 25 cents a gallon for gas.

      5. Part of the reason old cars were heavy and exhausted not-fully-burnt gas was that gas was so cheap that there wasn’t an incentive to make cars lighter and fully burn the gas. That changed when gas started getting more expensive relative to people’s purchasing power. Sure, it took time to invent plastic and fiberglass and maybe make aluminum practical, but if gas had been less affordable earlier there would have been an incentive to find alternative materials sooner.

      6. Lots of cars on the road still don’t fully burn their gas. Stand on a steep road and wait for a truck or SUV to go up the hill. For a few seconds, the road beside you will smell like a gas station. What you’re smelling is unburned gasoline coming right out the tailpipe.

    2. And just look at the nominal and inflation-adjusted prices between 1970 and 1980 in your chart. Oil soared ten times. Yes, there was some non-oil inflation before embargoes, as shown by the per-barrel price falling in the pre-1974 years. But in both columns it exploded between ’74 and ’80.

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