Governor Gregoire, Tear Down this Viaduct

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The plan is set. In a few years, the tunnel will be under construction. Assuming we can dig really deep for funding, around 2018 the state will have a new car bypass past Seattle. After that, the viaduct will be taken down. Many dislike this decision. I agree. And Dan Bertolet at hugeasscity has put into words exactly why this is such a terrible idea.

So what do we do about it? The die is cast, the decision is made. But wait, that’s a long time from now. What if we can convince Seattle and our state that the Viaduct isn’t needed. San Francisco did this with the Embarcadero – they tore it down with the plan of building a tunnel, but then things worked out so well they decided not to build a tunnel.

My proposal: Let’s tear the Viaduct down now. If we can build enough support, couldn’t we convince the city or state to close the Viaduct? It is terribly unsafe, after all. Yes, there will be many complaints about slowing down traffic, but we can make the argument that it’s only a short-term decision. We’ll have a tunnel soon, don’t worry.

After the Viaduct is gone we’ll be able to see if it really affects the city, and to what extent. If it grinds things to a halt, then we’ll have a new way through soon enough. But if not… we could save $4 billion to be used on something more useful.

Clean Air and Lifespan

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Cleaner air over the past two decades has allowed Americans to live an average of 21 weeks longer. In areas such as New York that have dramatically changed air quality this has gone up to 43 weeks longer.

Of course, we also know the cancer rates along freeways and highways are dramatically worse than elsewhere in Seattle.

The relevancy to this blog is left as an exercise for the reader.

Bus Pass Discount

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’m planning on taking the bus almost every day for at least a month, which is a first for me (cue claims of transit hypocrisy). This means I can actually buy a bus pass for once, which is something I’ve been coveting for a while. So today I searched to find out how much I’ll save with a bus pass. February will have new rates, so that’s $2 a way. Commuting every day, 5 days a week, with a trip a week replaced by another form of transportation (wife picking me up on her way elsewhere, or riding my bike if these sunny days keep going), that’ll be worth $64 to me. Looking into the bus pass to find out my savings it looks like it costs… $72?!

I suppose this comes with the benefit of exploring the city a bit on the bus, the reason I was excited about having the thing. And I won’t have to have a constant supply of $1’s (the huge benefit of raising the fare is removing all of those damn quarters). But I guess I’m a little bit disappointed that you really have to be a hard-core bus rider to benefit from the pass system.

2009 City Council Commitments

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Seattle City Council released their priorities for 2009. Call me a cynic, but they looked vague and predictable. Focusing only on the transit items, I see:

“Take major steps forward on the replacement of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and the Central Waterfront Public Space Design.”

How many years has that been on your agenda? A specific goal would have been nice.

“Implement new transit opportunities to provide greater access to public transportation, including Sound Transit light rail to the University and Northgate, expanded bus service, and the First Hill streetcar.”

Apparently not including a new Seattle Streetcar network? This is just a list of items Seattle has little control over and lies within someone else’s budget.

“Revise zoning in key areas of the City where greater height and density will promote the public interest.”

Ah, this is the one piece of gold in the pile of rocks. It’s measurable, has a specific goal, and lies within the power of the council. It’s also very important at a time when we’re building light rail, since rail and density should go hand in hand.

Penalizing Density: Ride Free Zone Edition

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Much blog space has been taken up lately over Seattle’s Ride Free Zone. Erica Barnett says we should get rid of it, and John Jensen says we should hold onto it for now, and get rid of it later. There are reasonable arguments to both of these positions, but I think both overlook at least one basic fact.

A one mile ride should not cost the same as a 14 mile ride. We’re looking at $3.50 for a round trip ride of exactly one mile downtown. Now, downtown trips are much different than cross-town trips. A cross-town trip is generally a commute trip – a way of moving from home to work. There’s value in that trip – you don’t have to drive, park, fight traffic, etc. In my book that’s worth $3.50.

But a one mile trip is a different animal. The alternative does not involve the high cost of car travel, but consists of walking for 15 minutes, paying $5 for a cab ride (ok, $10 round trip, but if traveling as a group of four this is a $2.75 round trip), or simply not traveling (for example, shopping downtown instead of in the International District or just not shopping).

Can we squeeze $3.50 per round trip out of would-be pedestrians? For many/most, likely not. There goes Erica’s source of funding light rail.

If the RFZ is removed, then the only way to actually collect much money from the downtown area would be to charge a lot less than full fare. One fair and profitable method would be charging per mile, rather than per trip. This would encourage local transit use in Rainier Valley as well (a good thing).

Shovel-ready Infrastructure Idea

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Weren’t we ready to break ground on the Monorail before it failed? That must mean we have construction-ready plans for the thing – we just didn’t have enough money. Where do I apply for stimulus funds?

If I was the Bus Czar

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Just consider this me backseat driving our bus system…

By perhaps the 2nd or 3rd day of snow and only after a painful learning curve, buses in Seattle seem to have settled into a comfortable routine. Sure it’s a routine where half of the buses aren’t running, and most routes are unpredictable in terms of pickup and travel times, but at least the routes have settled down. However, these routes don’t look much like their published adverse weather routes (for example the 13 adverse weather route – had planned on still making it up the hill). And during the first days of snow people were stranded without even knowing which bus stop to wait at or which bus to take.

I humbly submit to the Internet my weather plan for the next snow season.

1. Find the most level, drivable route to serve a neighborhood. One way of doing this is to look at the routes as they exist right now. Now name these routes something easy, like #1S replacing the #1 (S for snow).

2. At the first hint of snow, announce to every media outlet you can that Seattle will be switching to snow routes. This shouldn’t be hard, since news reporters love this sort of thing. And don’t overlook the “first hint of snow” piece of this – buses are no good to anyone if they’re broken down on hills.

3. At every stop list directions to the nearest snow route stop, the snow route number, and a phone number to call if you need assistance (for those that can’t walk down a snow-covered hill).

4. Every non-articulated bus that serves a route that is canceled should now join these snow routes. This is critical, since we need to keep frequency high on these now overloaded routes.

5. 4×4 shuttle buses can ferry people up and down hills where required.

6. I’d have the city send someone around to shovel snow off of at least a few walking routes from each hill.

Yes, this will result in people that live on hills having to do a little more walking in the snow. But I’m sure I’m not alone in thinking an extra 10 minute walk to a reliable and predictable bus beats the current system hands-down.

Seattle Streetcar is Free Until After Xmas

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

After the bus system failed me yesterday, and others at the bus stop told me they’d been waiting an hour with no bus in site, I thought I’d walk home. I realized the streetcar would save me a bit of time on this walk, and hopped on board. But when I went to pay, there was a sign telling me it’s free until Dec. 26. So I thought I’d share the news.

Light Rail: Cheaper Than Expected

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

There’s news this morning that a bit of work that was estimated to cost $29.4M was bid at $19.6M. There were six bids – a very good sign. Now cost estimates are just estimates and they could have overvalued the cost of the work, but this may be a first hint at how cheap infrastructure projects can be during a recession.

Copenhagen architects say all Viaduct options suck

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Well, maybe not “suck”, but the Seattle Times story we had already figured this out. Their other major point was that we need fewer cars on the road.

So what’s the solution to this “too wide” problem? Dan Bertolet suggests a new line of buildings on the east side of the plaza, which I think is a good idea. Does anyone have access to this report? Maybe they have recommendations.

Metro Sub-area Disequity

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In a recent STB post, John asked why we don’t just raise fares in Seattle, since that’s where the money is. I’d argue that Seattle is already subsidizing the rest of King County’s bus service to a large extent.

A few notes from 2007 ridership data:

West area revenue: $55.6M
East area revenue: $10M
South area revenue: $19.8M

West area fare/expense: 25.7%
East area fare/expense: 14.4%
South area fare/expense: 19.6%

Ordering routes by fare recovery looks almost like the original bus route list back when streetcars were removed, with four Seattle routes actually making over 50% farebox recovery. The average farebox recovery for the West side off peak is 24% – that’s almost as high as the system-wide peak recovery (25%).

How to Survive the Economic Crisis

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

What will determine if a city will rebound quickly after the economic downturn? According to Forbes:

The best cities in which to invest are those that are considered gateways to international investment, have vital downtowns where people can forgo cars, and don’t have a glut of condos or office space.

(emphasis added)

Do we know any cities like that? New York? San Francisco? D.C.? Those are all on the list, but Seattle came in at #1.

What would make us even stronger, if this is the criteria? More good transit, of course. But I’d argue we should take walkability to the next level: close down a street or two downtown, allow food vendors onto our streets, and start connecting our neighborhoods together with traffic-free connections.

(hat tip to the ever-gloomy Seattle Bubble blog that even tries to find bad news in this story)

Reminder: 37 of 39 counties have no polling places

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Public service announcement: Unless you live in King or Pierce counties, you have to mail your ballot in – there are no polling places. If you’ve lost your ballot, contact your county election department.

King county will join the 37 other counties in voting only by mail next year, but for now there are still polling places.

Oh, and a full 18% of Washington ballots are postmarked too late. Make sure it’s in the mail before pickup on Tuesday (perhaps drop it at the post office just to be sure).

We now return to your regular blogging, already in progress.

Love it or Leave it?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’ve now heard two people threaten to leave Seattle if ST2 doesn’t pass. I certainly understand the frustration, but is this a logical choice?

Despite the popular sentiment about what a given project would do for your commute, using personal benefits as a factor in transportation planning seems like a terrible way to decide things. Let’s assume you live in Lynnwood, right next to the possible future station. The station won’t be available to you until 2023. That’s 15 years out. I don’t know about you but I’m not sure where I’ll be living in 5 years, let alone 15. I’m sure you don’t know where you’ll be working in 15 years. And even if you don’t move and don’t change jobs, you’ll be living your life for 15 years in a way that would otherwise cause you to move?

The reason I’m a supporter of ST2 has nothing to do with my life. If I wanted only to experience a good transit system, I’d move to New York or the other Washington. Why I support ST2 has more to do with a beneficent feeling about how a city should work. We know we’re running out of oil. We know that it’s a waste of human life for millions of people to sit in gridlocked freeways. We know that cities with fewer cars are more enjoyable places to live and work. We know that efficient transportation systems increase quality of life.

I live here because I like Seattle. I’m voting for ST2 because as much as I like Seattle, it could be better.

Coal = Poison Twinkies

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I like to think of the climate change problem in terms of a sick but fat and happy man alone in the woods. He’s sick because he’s in a cabin with a large supply of arsenic laced Ho-Hos (oil), and a much larger supply of Twinkies (coal) with even more arsenic. On one particular day he both realizes that he’s almost out of Ho-Hos, his favorite food, but more importantly that the reason he’s getting sick is that both sources of food are poison. But without food he’ll starve.

Here’s the question: If eating a quarter of the Twinkies will kill him, how much more of the delicious snacks should he eat?

The answer, of course, is he should get off his lazy butt and learn to hunt and farm.

Overheard in the Bus Tunnel

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Three men, apparently traveling to a restaurant for lunch:
A: “I always take this because the shuttle is so slow.”
B: “Yeah, it takes forever with traffic lights. I can walk faster than that thing.”
C: “We could have walked…”
A: “This is much faster than walking.”
B: “I wish we had a real subway, like Munich.”
(discussion continues about “real” subways around the world)

I really wanted to turn around and ask what they meant by “real” subway. A train? We’ll get there soon. Having more than 5 stops downtown? Ditto.

I used the bus tunnel three times today. We have a subway, and it works. I’m connected to the International district, Pioneer Square, and the stadiums all without usually having to wait for more than 2-3 minutes. There’s no traffic and it’s much faster than any other mode of transportation. The bus tunnel took quite a bit of foresight to build, and Link would be a lot more difficult and expensive without it.

As an aside, today is the first time I’ve seen the Westlake Center station (I hate shopping). It’s beautiful, and provides a nice rain-free path between Nordstrom’s and Macy’s. Actually, soon it will provide a rain-free path between the airport and Seattle Center as well.

Children’s Book Recommendation

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton. She had cities figured out when she wrote this back in 1942.

You’ll notice the correct progression of efficient transportation. Buses turn into streetcars, then turn into light rail. Finally subway systems are built as buildings get taller and taller.

The Long View

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I consider the amount of well thought out long-term infrastructure a society builds to be a direct measure of its past residents’ humanity. One does not decide to spend tax money on a 20-year subway project to get to work faster. He knows he is spending his hard-earned money to better his city, to change the environment of others that perhaps haven’t been born yet but whom he knows will live easier lives because of his actions.

I appreciate those that built our city’s water supply, the Denny regrade, our system of boulevards and parks, our bus tunnel, our nation’s intercontinental railroad, our power grid, our nuclear power plants, and even our freeway system. These projects could not have been easy or cheap, and those that voted for these plans knew they would not directly benefit for years, if ever.

Lately it feels as if we’re looking for quick solutions. Widening roads to fix traffic problems, “clean coal” to generate power, buses to save fuel. What we really need are large long-term projects: improved power grids, high-speed rail, subways, green power on a massive scale. Modern shallow politics focuses on direct voter benefits to pass laws and win elections. Have we misplaced our humanity?