"Personalized Rapid Transport"

Apparently the United Arab Emirates plans to build a “carbon-neutral city“, with all the kind of stuff you imagine would be involved.

Interestingly, residents are supposed to be no more than 200m away from a Personalized Rapid Transport station, which is the system where people get into their own little pods and whiz around the track to their destination.

I hesitated to post this because PRT is a refuge for many light rail opponents, who are nominally pro-transit but oppose any plan that actually emerges from the political sausage-making process because it uses the wrong technology, or goes to the wrong neighborhood, or is paid for by the wrong tax, or is coupled with the wrong roads, etc. ….

Still, overall the city is a project that I hope is successful, for obvious reasons.

Here it Comes

After talking to some people, I’ve discovered that last year’s governance reform bill (SB 5803) — which I linked to here — was reintroduced only as a part of standard Senate procedure, and indeed was killed only a few days later.

The bill that Josh Feit was talking about, SB 6772, is being introduced to the Senate today. Its sponsors are Sen. Haugen (D-Camano Island) and Sen. Rodney Tom (D-Bellevue/Redmond).

I may not have time to really study it till tonight, so as promised I’m going to refrain from shooting off at the mouth about it.

UPDATE 11:36 AM: Carless in Seattle has read the bill, and is mainly indifferent to it. His analysis is good, though.

Battle Stations, Everyone

2 UPDATES BELOW — Keep Scrolling.

We’ve been warning you for quite some time now about governance reform, most recently here.

Well, Josh Feit reports that the chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, Sen. Haugen of Camano Island, has written a bill that dissolves Sound Transit and replaces it with an elected board.

As he points out, this threatens the $750 million grant that University Link depends on.

I believe this is the bill. I haven’t had time yet to fully digest it, but Section 310 is the one that deals with Sound Transit and incorporates it into the new organization, which would pretty much hire all of Sound Transit’s old employees and assume its responsibilities.

Here’s the procedural history of the bill. I see that other sponsors include Ed Murray of Capitol Hill and Sen. Jeanne Kohl-Welles of Belltown, Queen Anne, and Ballard. Why Sen. Murray wants to mess with an organization building light rail through the heart of his district is beyond me.

Anyway, it’s time that we mobilize to make sure this thing is dead, dead, dead. Briefly, why it’s a horrible idea:

(1) Sound Transit consistently passes audits with flying colors. Special-purpose organizations with directly elected boards (Port of Seattle, Seattle Monorail Project, Seattle School Board) have a recent history of graft and incompetence. Why would we seek to replicate that governance model here?

(2) The Sound Transit board is filled with politicians dedicated to delivering real rapid transit. Lord knows who could get on an elected board with a few bucks from Kemper Freeman and the road lobby. Tim Eyman, everyone? I’m not a lawyer, but if I read Sec. 305(2) correctly, a new transit plan will require unanimous approval by the commission to be put before the voters, meaning one commissioner elected by people in Monroe can stop the entire region in its tracks.

(3) This creates some risk for the University Link federal funding agreement.

(4) The “Regional Transportation Commission” has a dual focus of roads and transit. Haven’t we been through this already?

We have a Democratic super-majority in Olympia — it’s unbelievable we have to fight off our state government like this. If Governor Gregoire signs this bill, I will vote for Rossi this fall, simply so that the Democrats come up with a leader that is merely neutral to transit, instead of actively hostile. If this passes, there isn’t anything left for Dino Rossi to screw up.

Contact your legislators.

UPDATE: Sen. Murray has once again placed a thoughtful response in the comments. The bill I cited is now dead as of today, assuming that’s what a “Senate Rules ‘X’ File” means.

It’s not clear to me how that relates to the Haugen proposal that Josh Feit mentioned. Remain vigilant, but I don’t see it listed anywhere under Sen. Haugen’s sponsored bills.

UPDATE 2 (1/21/08): Sen. Kohl-Welles also replies in the comments, reaffirming her support for transit.

I firmly believe that the Seattle delegation considers themselves pro-transit and pro-rail. To be anything else would be both foolish and politically suicidal. However, to this layman it appears that their names keep on ending up on bills that we here at STB consider to be hostile to Sound Transit, and therefore hostile to rapid construction of new rail capacity. This probably has something to do with the proverbial sausage-making in Olympia, but it’d be nice if for once the maneuvering was over providing funds to accelerate or extend projects, rather than coming up with cheap administrative fixes that can be manipulated by the road-building lobby.

However, I promise to do a bit more homework on these bills. No more flying off the handle at Josh Feit rumor-mill posts. I owe that to the readers if I ask you to contact your legislators.

Engaging with Conservatives

Confronted with a choice for governor between an incumbent that wavers between doing nothing for transit and actively working to inhibit it, and a challenger that consistently works to inhibit it, I’m wondering if there’s a better way.

I’ve been doing some thinking about how to build a coalition for transit in this state. Rather than engage 5% of the electorate that is theoretically pro-transit but finds a reason to oppose any actual plan, why not work on capturing some segment of the ~45% of the electorate that is historically opposed to transit?

Transit advocates tend to emphasize two key arguments, neither of which is appealing to conservatives. First, they talk about global warming. A large number of conservatives simply refuse to believe that the Earth is warming at all, that humans are responsible for it, and/or that the costs of doing something about it outweigh the benefits. The arguments are intensely technical, so anyone emotionally invested in debunking global warming is going to be pretty difficult to dissuade. Other environmental arguments, such as encouragement of dense development, are also unpersuasive to people who might idealize living in a place like North Bend.

The other key argument is quality of life for people who use transit. Obviously, riding a train is much better than riding a bus. Rail critics often prefer BRT because of its “cost-effectiveness,” which has its own distortions, but they essentially don’t care about the quality of the ride because they don’t plan to use transit. They’re certainly not particularly energized about BRT proposals like Transit Now, except when attacking light rail. Selfish arguments are common to all parts of the political spectrum on many issues, and are difficult to defuse with persuasion.

I think that transit advocates, in their efforts to dissuade car use, have soft-pedaled a national security argument that naturally appeals to conservatives. Specifically, every gallon of gasoline consumed, on a bus or in a SUV, ultimately puts money in the pockets of people who are either strongly anti-American (Hugo Chavez), or are actually trying to kill us (various Saudis). Of course riding a bus is much less damaging than driving an SUV, but neither compares to riding a hydroelectric-powered train.

The two things preventing recognition of this by right-wingers are (1) a failure of rail advocates to properly exploit this (frequently due to a distaste for raw appeals to patriotism), and (2) economic illiteracy, something that is much easier to counteract than unwillingness to pore through the details of climate simulations.

There’s a general perception that we can avoid dependence on “foreign oil” by reducing our consumption by a bit, or drilling for more oil in Alaska; both Democratic and Republican politicians have pandered to this belief. There’s a related argument that because the gasoline that we buy here in Washington generally comes from Alaska, that we aren’t putting money in the pockets of those that wish to do us harm. Some simple logic, involving basic economics, debunks both of these notions. Stay with me:

Oil in North America is generally expensive to produce. The oil sands of Alberta cost around $9 to $14 dollars per barrel to extract. Offshore production in the Gulf of Mexico is obviously an expensive proposition. In contrast, the Saudis pump oil out of the ground for less than $1 a barrel. So, a little thought experiment: if demand for oil suddenly collapsed, sending the price dramatically downward, who would still be producing profitably? That’s right, the Saudis, while all the other producers went out of business. So we’ll never be “independent” of foreign oil.

Secondly, even if we get all of our oil from domestic sources, that still lines the pockets of oil producers that we don’t purchase directly from. Since oil is a fungible commodity, whatever demand we do generate raises the price of oil, which benefits all the producers. If our consumption were lower than our production, excess American oil would be exported to the world market, lowering the price.

Therefore, anything that reduces American demand for oil, regardless of the origin of that oil, reduces the revenues of oil producers, some of which is diverted to organizations hostile to the United States.

I think Bill Maher coined the slogan “When you ride alone you ride with Bin Laden.” I might also suggest “Support the troops: Take Public Transit.” If I were a better graphic artist I might make the posters myself. At any rate, I think it’s a more productive proposition than quibbling over small differences with the Sierra Club. You’ll never get the dedicated anti-tax zealots, but there are others willing to pay for congestion improvements and enhanced national security.

Has anyone out there tried this line of argument? Any transit skeptics out there moved by it?

Rail can’t work in the Northwest

This morning, the premier of British Columbia announced a C$14 billion transit plan. It makes me want to weep for King County. The link is a pdf of the proposal. More coverage here.

First, as Frank at Orphan Road points out, this is an initiative at the provincial level. Meanwhile, our state not only contributes nothing, but actively works to frustrate local transit agencies by threatening to reorganize them out of existence.

The plan builds or expands four rail lines. To add insult to injury, there are also nineBRT lines, all of which involve dedicated bus lanes, off-board payment, bypasses of key intersections, and so on.

By the way, Premier Campbell is best described as a conservative in BC politics.

Are we that execrably led, or is our electorate simply that clueless?

Sounder Park & Rides

komotv.com has an interesting story about commuters in Auburn complaining about the lack of parking at Sounder stations.

Since the story could alternately be titled, “Commuter Rail too popular,” I find it hard to get too worked up about this. Still, it’s nice to capture everyone that wants to be a transit user.

“I appreciate that and my suggestion would be to keep calling and e-mailing and writing to Sound Transit and ask them when will the second parking garage be built,” [Auburn Mayor Pete Lewis] said…

“We would like to build more parking in Auburn. We don’t have the money to do it today and to do that, we need voter approval,” said [Bruce Gray of Sound Transit].

Some thoughts:

  • Perhaps disgruntled parkers should direct their anger at their immediate neighbors, who voted more that 60% against Prop 1, and therefore voted down those parking garages. They didn’t vote no because of global warming — it was because they opposed a transit plan that “sent all the money to Seattle.” Well guess what — if you won’t pay for Seattle, Seattle won’t pay for you.
  • This is pretty concrete evidence of rail bias, and that transfers kill ridership. What doesn’t get mentioned in the article is the possibility of taking the bus, although there are 10 bus lines serving the station. Why? Because buses stink and people are unwilling to ride them. It’s also evidence that opposing park-and-rides at the outer stations because it encourages local car use is self-defeating.
  • When demand exceeds capacity of a free commodity, there’s a simple solution: charge for it. A nominal daily parking fee of a couple of bucks will still allow the lot to fill to capacity, but encourages people to seek alternate methods if they live only a couple of blocks away, live right next to a bus line, have someone that could drop them off at the station, etc. And hey, maybe those few bucks can help build a new garage.
  • The fact that people in the Kent valley desire additional Sounder service (and the attached amenities) is useful for building a coalition for more transit. Voters in that area are unlikely to get any direct benefit from any proposed light rail line, except additional mobility from the King Street Sounder station if they work for, say, the University of Washington. It’s good to know that there’s a relatively inexpensive carrot we can give to that region.

Via Orphan Road.

Rapid Ride: This is what 0.1% buys you?

Earlier, I linked to the first details Metro released about RapidRide Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) on the Eastside and to West Seattle. I assumed all the details were the same as for the Pacific Highway segment, but after scrutinizing things more carefully I see I was wrong about that. Metro is promising almost nothing above what we see with a conventional express bus.

Let’s go through Metro’s promises one by one. I’ll use the text from the Eastside line:

After RapidRide service begins, Metro’s plan is for buses to arrive every 10 minutes during the busiest morning and evening travel hours. At other times between 5 a.m. and 10 p.m., buses will come every 15 minutes. Between 10 p.m. and 1 a.m., buses will come every 30 minutes.

We’re talking about less service than Metro route 7. Woo hoo!

RapidRide buses will have low floors and three doors, so people can get on and off quickly. Depending on the outcome of a pilot project, a new fare payment system might be used that would allow riders with passes to pay before they board the bus, and enter through any door.

So we “might” see off-bus payment. I assume they’re referring to ORCA, but doesn’t Metro want to implement that system-wide anyway?

RapidRide stations and stops will be placed where the most riders gather, at reasonable walking distances along the corridor. Bus stops will be farther apart than they are on typical routes, so RapidRide trips will be faster. Metro planners are working with the local communities to choose the best places for stations and stops.

In other words, an express bus. Perhaps you’ve heard of them?

Other features might be added to speed up RapidRide service. For example, as buses approach intersections, they could send signals to traffic lights, requesting that green lights stay green longer or red lights switch to green faster.

It’s nice that they “might” actually do something to actually make the buses run faster. I wonder if that’s contingent on getting more revenue from somewhere, because God forbid that Metro get anything done with a mere $50 million extra per year.

Note what’s not mentioned: any sort of transit-only (or even HOV) lane anywhere along the route. This bus is stuck in the same traffic as the old bus. But it might make a couple of green lights it didn’t before!

All RapidRide stops will be lighted so people can see around themselves and be seen. With buses arriving more often than they do today, people will spend less time waiting at bus stops. Metro Transit Police will be on buses and at bus zones more often for fare enforcement and other security monitoring.

Bus safety is one reason people don’t take transit, but is far behind speed and inconvenience, which this plan does nothing to solve.

At the busiest stops, where many people catch buses each day, Metro will build stations with more room for the expected number of riders. These stations-placed about every mile along the route-will have shelters, benches and trash receptacles. The shelters and signs will look different from those you see at regular Metro stops-they will have a special RapidRide style and color scheme. Waiting areas will be well-lit, increasing security. Electronic realtime signs will tell people the actual number of minutes before the next bus will arrive.

Incidentally, now that they’ve thoughtfully added a legend so that we can actually decode the route map, you can see that not all of the “stops” are actually “stations”. So half the time on this route, you still might be standing next to nothing but a pole in the ground with a route number of it, with no electronic signs, enhanced security, or anything else.

And you can see from the map there are tons of stops, many more than a light rail line would have had. Again, this bus will be anything but “Rapid.”

Between the major stations, RapidRide bus stops also will have signs and other features to give them the distinctive RapidRide look. In some cases shelters and benches may be added or improved. Stop-request signals, which people can use to alert the bus driver when they are waiting for a bus at night, may be provided at these stops.

The buses will be easily recognizable with the RapidRide design and color scheme. All buses will be high-capacity, low-emission hybrid vehicles designed especially for RapidRide.

It’s slow, but at least it’s rebranded! As for nice shelters and so on, what they’re really describing is just bringing up a lot of really crappy Metro stops to some kind of minimum standard. That’s nice and all, but it isn’t a replacement for Light Rail.

In fairness, the West Seattle page adds this:

Other features might be added to speed up West Seattle RapidRide service. Business Access & Transit (BAT) lanes would help buses move faster through the corridor. The City of Seattle is considering transit lanes for portions of work in conjunction with the transit-only lane on SW Spokane Street and the West Seattle Bridge.

It sounds like this depends on other funds from the city rather than the Transit Now package. But hey, it’s better than the Eastside situation.

This is really pathetic. Metro could very easily have hired a few transit cops, spruced up a couple of stops, bought a couple of extra buses, and run a “253 express”. They could have even posted instructions on how to get bus arrival information using the mybus.org SMS service, and gotten about 95% of the benefit for around $1 million. They would also have avoided the confusion that will arise from appearing to add another transit provider to join Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit buses operating in this area. And oh yeah, it’ll take till 2011 for this to get realized.

Compare with Community Transit, which was creative with Federal grants and was able to start planning for a superior BRT line without a tax or fare increase. Examples of shoddy projects like this make me wonder why anyone would want to disband Sound Transit and move its responsibilities to the county agencies.

The 0.1% Transit Now levy generates approximately $50 million per year. Collected for 12 years, it would have gotten us half the money required to get to Northgate by 2018! It’s ridiculous to suggest that incremental improvements like these would produce anything like half the effect of the Northgate line.

To argue that Bus Rapid Transit is viable alternative to Light Rail is to insult our intelligence. Won’t someone truly interested in alternatives to sitting in traffic please run against Ron Sims?

Why governance reform?

The stated rationale for governance reform is that Sound Transit is an unaccountable agency, out there mismanaging our funds with no oversight.

Well, the latest state audit of ST came out, and for the 6th time out of 7, the audit has been completely free of negative “findings”. Moreover, the agency was commended for its “culture of continuous improvement”.

Governance reform advocates demand a directly elected board, like we the Port of Seattle. You may recall that the Port’s last audit, uh, didn’t go so well.

Of course, what this is really about is murdering light rail in its crib, before rolling trains boost its popularity. Attacks on Sound Transit’s management are merely a fig leaf that plays on the public’s memory of the agency’s initial failures. While those failures matter, it’s unclear why one would reform an agency that is now a model of probity.

More Transit "NOW"

Metro has followed up its details on South King County BRT with info on the line between Bellevue and Redmond, and the one to West Seattle. No big surprises about the design of the lines, and I refer you to my earlier comments here and here.

For a program called “Transit NOW”, it’s sure taking a long time. These two lines won’t be complete till 2011.

Metro is soliciting comments, and the maps are interesting. It would have been nice if they’d bothered to include a legend explaining the difference between the blue station dots and the red station dots.

Anyway, comments are due by February 1st. They’re considering a couple of routing options. I don’t plan to ride either line very much, but I’m usually in favor of picking the route with the fewest detours.

The only RapidRide proposals we haven’t seen are to Ballard and along Aurora.

Metro Raising Fares

As announced previously, Metro is raising its fares by a quarter for most of its ridership beginning March 1. This isn’t surprising given that the last fare increase was in 2001. What’s mildly annoying is that in each case the increased fare means we have to carry more quarters around, and wait longer for people to root through their pockets. I’d almost prefer if they went straight to $2.00/$2.50.

I suppose I could just buy a more valuable pass, but for obscure reasons related to my commute patterns, the structure of my employer’s subsidy, and the fact that each increment of value must be used 36 times in a month to pay for itself, I find it cheaper to buy the $1.50 PugetPass and top it off with the odd dollar for the $2.50 Sound Transit fare. Now it’ll be three quarters — grrr.

Here comes governance reform

At one of the News Tribune blogs, David Seago reports on Gov. Gregoire’s visit to the editorial board. There’s good news and bad news.

The bad news:

The governor said she was prepared to introduce her own RTG [Regional Transportation Governance] legislation for the 2008 session, but she agreed to let state Sens. Ed Murray, D-Seattle, and Mary Margaret Haugen, D-Camano Island, take the lead in crafting a proposal…

RTG means no more Sound Transit, no more Regional Transportation Improvement District – bodies comprised of elected city and county officials from Pierce, King and Snohomish counties.

Daimajin has discussed at length why this is a bad idea. Briefly, I oppose it strongly because (1) new agencies tend to be paralyzed by indecision and incompetence for several years, while Sound Transit is now operating smoothly; (2) Any new entity is likely to both dilute the vote of pro-transit Seattle and lose most of its rail transit focus; and (3) an elected board is unlikely to approve the taxes necessary to build a good rail system.

By the way, Ed Murray is the one you can thank for the ST2/RTID marriage in the last election, in spite of representing one of the most liberal districts in the state.

I was led to this blog entry via David Brewster on Crosscut, who adds:

The first political showdown will be Sound Transit’s decision next February whether to go back to the ballot in 2008, this time with no roads component. House Speaker Frank Chopp opposes the 2008 submission, fearing that some of his Democratic candidates in the suburbs will be forced to take a stand on a tax increase. Olympia has threatened Sound Transit that if they go ahead with the 2008 vote, they can expect to be punished by enactment of a regional governance entity that will weaken Sound Transit’s autonomy and its dedicated taxes. Waiting to 2010 for the Sound Transit II vote may also give enough time for the regional governance entity to be enacted.

How far back has the Prop. 1 failure set us? A generation?

A wee bit of good news via Seago:

And the notion of “sub-area equity,” Gregoire said emphatically, has got to go. That gave us a little shudder, because the principle that the money raised in each county should be spent each county is pretty much Holy Writ in Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Sub-area equity prevents us from building a system that serves the most riders. If key leaders are starting to recognize that, it’s a good thing.

Still, in state races I’m pretty much a single-issue voter on transit, and the Governor has yet to give me a reason she’d be better than Dino Rossi, which is pathetic.

UPDATE: Sen. Murray has a fair response in the comments, that you should read. It is certainly true that he renounced his support for the ST2/RTID marriage quite some time ago, which is something I should have pointed out in the original post.

As for his claims about opposing RTID from the start, he sponsored this bill about RTID, and Section 8 (an amendment added by the Senate) is where the linkage is established. Judge for yourself (I’m no journalist), but to me that’s ancient history. I’m glad to see our Seattle delegation standing up for a 2008 ST2.1 vote, and that’s what matters.

Viaduct Meeting Tomorrow

It’s not a public comment meeting, but you could submit a written comment and listen to the latest thinking:

The State, King County and the City of Seattle are working together to create a solution for the central waterfront section that can be broadly supported and implemented. Our intention is to develop a recommended approach in December 2008 for consideration by the legislature in 2009.

A key part of this effort is the creation of the new Stakeholder Advisory Committee, which was formed by Governor Chris Gregoire, King County Executive Ron Sims, and Mayor Greg Nickels. The committee will be made up of 30 individuals representing various constituencies and community groups throughout King County. WSDOT, KCDOT and SDOT will lead the committee to engage key stakeholders, listen to ideas, and conduct a transparent public involvement process over the next year.

The first committee meeting will be held Thursday, Dec. 13, 4 to 7 p.m. at Town Hall in Seattle. The meeting is open to the public, but it will not be a forum for open comment. The public is invited to submit written comments at the meeting or through viaduct@wsdot.wa.gov. Comments can also be submitted at any time on our hotline, 1-888-AWV-LINE. For more information, please visit the Alaskan Way Viaduct and Seawall Replacement Program Web site.

Anyone who attends is encouraged to report about it in this post’s comments.

Snohomish County BRT (Swift)

I’d like to expand on Daimajin’s short comments about Snohomish BRT. First of all, you can find a lot more info than the Times article here. It’s a big improvement over King County’s plans, although of course the geographic scope is smaller.

Kudos to Snohomish County leaders for getting this done with an electorate that is generally less transit-friendly than King County. Bonus points for getting it done without a tax or fare increase, and not taking it through a laborious public vote.

The project should be done in 2009. King County’s version, RapidRide, won’t have its earliest portion done before 2010 despite being launched over a year earlier. It will mesh quite nicely with RapidRide’s Aurora Service, terminating at Aurora Village. People living along this corridor can access jobs in places like Fremont far faster than the current best option of going downtown, and then back north.

Swift would appear to have the same features as RapidRide, except:

  • The 10-minute headways will be 20 hours a day (instead of peak-only).
  • It has on-board bike racks served by their own door(!)
  • Ticket machines are at the stations, while RapidRide envisions that passengers will still fumble for change on board.
  • Seven miles of the route will actually be bus-only instead of HOV. Anyone who’s ridden 405 Northbound in the afternoon can tell you the difference, although Swift will still have to deal with the usual idiots trying to turn right.

I really wish the people responsible for this were running the BRT shop at Metro. They seem to be doing a lot more with a lot less, at least in this narrow case.

But in spite of all the things they’ve done right, it’s still not light rail. An 80-passenger bus every 10 minutes is nothing like an 800-passenger train every six in terms of capacity, and therefore has dramatically lower potential for high-density development along the line. It also will not be truly separated from traffic. At the same time, what they’ve done here is about as much as you can do with buses before you start to approach the cost of rail.

In the long run, light rail can be run with four or two-minute headways. Buses can’t, because the timing is unreliable and they end up bunched up (See: Metro Route 48). Bigger trains, shorter headways: Light Rail moves a lot more people than BRT, even when BRT is done right.

But BRT is a good option for a corridor that won’t see rail for a long, long time.

UPDATE: Reading between the lines more carefully, I should point out one weakness in the plan: apparently, the ten miles of the line that are not bus-only lanes are general purpose lanes. Given the rather tight constraints they were under, I still think they did a really good job. It’s just not quite as much of a slam dunk over RapidRide.

Waterfront Streetcar Tracks

I know we talk about the waterfront streetcar way too much, but the process is pretty opaque, so we have to expend a lot of effort to find out what’s going on.

Anyway, I emailed WSDOT about the mysterious paving over of the streetcar tracks. Here’s what I got back:

Yes, we’re using it as a temporary detour for bikes and pedestrians while we repair several viaduct columns between Columbia Street and Yesler Way. Construction on that project should be done by the end of April, and the streetcar tracks will be restored.

So there you go. No need to panic.

Rainier Valley Segment Photos

At about the same time that the Washington Transportation Blog posted these, I went and took some photos along the Rainier Valley Light Rail segment. I also have a few comments about the line’s design.

Down around Rainier Beach station, the track seems completely done, with the station apparently complete and the overhead wires installed. As you go north, things get progressively less developed till you reach Mount Baker station and the Beacon Hill segment.

Here’s Othello Station, which as you can see is surrounded by retail development.

Immediately north of Othello, the pylons are in with the pointy tips that my friend remarked made them look like “weapons for giant fighting robots.”

Up at Columbia City station, they’re putting in little plazas at each corner of the station. They’re looking nice.

And the station itself is coming along nicely.

One thing that could be a problem is a lack of crossing gates at major intersections. Here at MLK & Alaska, I can certainly envision some idiot trying to turn left and blocking the train.

And lastly, a pedestrian crossing near the Rainier Vista development. There’s a boys and girls’ club going in near here, and I’m really concerned kids are going to run across the tracks wherever they like. It’s a matter of time until the first accident. That’s not only a tragedy in its own right, but will almost certainly result in reduced speeds afterwards, which makes LINK a less attractive option.

I would propose a tasteful, 2 or 3 foot black iron fence along the length of the right-of-way to channel people into the signalized crossing, as well as crossing gates at intersections. How much more investment could it be on a multi-billion dollar project?

By the way, you can see that drainage on the tracks already sucks.

Waterfront Streetcar, Take 2

After many comments and more digging, and a revised webpage by Metro, here’s what I think we know:

  • The streetcar cannot return until the trolley barn is rebuilt, which is probably about mid-2009.
  • Whether it opens or not at that time will depend largely on the fate of the Alaskan Way viaduct. If they’re going to have to shut the thing down anyway for construction in 2010, it makes little sense to run it for a few months.

Sorry for all the confusion.

Rest in peace, waterfront streetcar?


While I’m busy bashing King County today…

Commenter Shotsix asked about the Waterfront Streetcar today. It’s something I’ve been wondering about myself, as it was a nice way to get down to the waterfront on a partially separated right-of-way. My brother-in-law is considering switching to transit to get to work and asked me about it. So I did a little Googling:

It looks like the Streetcar is dead. UPDATE: No it’s not. See below.

What drives me nuts about this is the lack of priorities. The city decides to build a sculpture park, and they have to move the streetcar barn. That’s fine, but a jurisdiction that actually prioritized transit would get the replacement facility constructed first, or at least finalize the plans for that replacement.

With typical skill, our fearless leaders had no such plan. Instead, their vague notions of a replacement got mired in Seattle process, and it’s taken so long they’d now rather wait to restore service until the viaduct replacement is done in the year 2175.

Meanwhile, its replacement, bus route 99, has one-fifteenth the ridership that the streetcar had. (scroll to near the bottom on the link).

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter “Pantograph Trolleypole”, who pointed out a summer post from this very same blog (D’oh!).

That gave me some new search terms, which pointed me to this newer (Jan 2007) article, which suggests that the trolley will return in 2009. Damn you Google!

Of course, that could still be a very short run indeed. If the viaduct rebuild is chosen, the new viaduct would swallow up the streetcar line. I’m no civil engineer, but I suspect the retrofit and surface/transit options could leave the streetcar unharmed.

UPDATE 2: Commenter Brian Bundridge, piling on, gives a more precise date of Summer 2009, just in time for light rail. Mea culpa, mea culpa!

But I don’t want to lose the larger point. Sculpture parks are not high on any citizen’s priority list. Regardless, to get one, they tore down part of our transit infrastructure with no replacement and no firm plan for one in place. These are not the actions of a leadership focused on transportation issues. The fact that they haven’t even started building the barn yet is outrageous.

Priority: Everything but Transit

We’ve spent the last week or so agonizing over how to get the $1.2 billion in 2006 dollars to extend light rail to Northgate by 2018. We’ve spilled many electrons trying to figure out what taxing district is optimal, how the legal arrangements work out, etc.

Well, the King County Council just raised taxes without a public vote yesterday, and if you multiply the projected yearly income by the 10 years it would take to get to Northgate, you get no less than $1.1 billion. That’s a back-of-the-envelope calculation, ignoring inflation (although tax receipts inflate too), but also ignoring the fact that we could pay it off over a longer period of time, and the likelihood that the Federal government would chip in.

Remember this when we’re told there’s no money to get to Northgate (or repair crumbling bridges).

Ron Sims’ swing from champion for transportation to head of the mass transit enemies list is truly startling. Could a Republican County Exec be any worse?

Getting Rail to the Ballot

There’s a lot of talk about getting some light rail to the ballot next year. As Daimajin points out, I’m not sure that it’s within Sound Transit’s authority to propose that some portion of the ST district be taxed to fund a particular project. Any lawyers out there that can clarify the limits of Sound Transit’s charter?

It’s evident that asking the three-county district to vote on a Northgate extension alone is dead-on-arrival. Another possibility is to revisit the bus/rail extension option that was briefly considered by the board for this year’s ballot, which would have involved only a 0.3% sales tax increase. Although that option was savaged during the comment period in favor of more aggressive rail construction, the kind of person who comments at that stage in the process is likely a wee bit more energized about transit than the rest of us.

Unfortunately, it’s not clear if that option has enough in it for Snohomish County. Snohomish representatives on the Sound Transit board were quite adamant that getting to Northgate did not adequately serve their constituents, to the point of fighting the idea of “loaning” subarea funds to complete the Northgate line. I found this to be shortsighted, but is probably reasonably reflective of the attitude of voters there.

The other alternative, of course, is to abandon going to the whole district altogether, and do a Seattle-only or King-County-only vote. Legally, I’m not sure how this would work out: would the City just deliver a lump of money to Sound Transit? Set up a separate authority to complete the work? Again, calling all the lawyers…

No doubt we can count on the Sierra Club to produce the initiative it looks like we’ll need…