Adding vehicle lanes on a new Montlake drawbridge makes transit worse, not better

Atomic Taco / Flickr

Ed. Note: As always, guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of the STB editorial board.

The City of Seattle may reverse its longstanding position regarding the Montlake Bridge, a major transit corridor leading to the University of Washington Station. A resolution is before the Seattle City Council that reverses the traditionally skeptical posture of the city towards adding lanes, advocating not just bike and pedestrian upgrades (which have wide support), but also, new vehicular lanes across the Montlake Cut. These lanes would carry not just buses, but other “high-occupancy” vehicles as well such as carpools and rideshares. This is a huge departure from the city’s position as of 2015:

Consistent with Resolution 31411, the City continues to support the position that improvements made by a second Montlake bascule bridge are unlikely to yield the benefits that justify the cost and environmental impact of a bridge…

Resolution 31611, section 2, adopted unanimously in 2015

STB covered this issue back in 2012.

A bridge big enough to carry three northbound lanes, to the east of the current bridge, which the state would build with this new direction from the city, would likely require on the order of $100 million of public funds, based on prior WSDOT estimates – state funds already lined up. Free money for public infrastructure – something for transit, bikes – what’s not to like?

From a distance, it might sound like a no-brainer to add more lanes across the ship canal in Montlake, at least for transit, if not for HOV. Montlake is a major bottleneck and will remain so under the best of circumstances at this point.

WSDOT and SDOT have spent many years modeling the complex vehicular and transit movements in this area. A second drawbridge, which would go up exactly as often for exactly as long as the current one does, and lead to intersections north and south of the bridge that are over capacity, does not cure this bottleneck. No new reason has emerged to suggest that adding vehicular lanes would improve transit speed or reliability.

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ORCA for All

ORCA cards Image: Oran Viriyincy

Earlier this month the Transit Riders Union (TRU) launched a new campaign called ORCA for All.

You could categorize a lot of the campaigns TRU has run over the years under the theme “ORCA for All.” From the push for a low-income reduced fare that became the ORCA LIFT program, to expanding and improving the Human Services Bus Ticket program, to supporting Rainier Beach High School students fighting for free transit passes, to pressuring the University of Washington — our city’s second-largest employer — to step up and fully subsidize transit for all UW employees, expanding access to public transit has been one of our core issues for years.

This fall we’re continuing ongoing advocacy for a transit pass program to serve the lowest-income riders — people who can’t afford ORCA LIFT — and also to reform the way our transit agencies respond to fare evasion. But the centerpiece of ORCA for All is something new: We want more employers, especially larger employers that can more easily absorb the costs, to subsidize transit passes for their workers.

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Transit Tracker Updates: Now called “Pantograph,” debuting the iOS app, new features

A few months ago, I shared with Seattle Transit Blog readers a side project of mine—the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker. This quickly became much bigger than I ever expected it to, with several local news outlets picking up the story, including the Seattle Times.

It became very clear to me that we all need better transit data, and that I’m well-equipped to help with that. Today, I want to share with you what I’ve been up to since then, and where I’m going next.

Continue reading “Transit Tracker Updates: Now called “Pantograph,” debuting the iOS app, new features”

Seattle Subway: Build the Aurora Line

Aurora Line conceptual rendering (source: Seattle Subway)

Aurora represents an incredible opportunity for transit expansion.  The four urban villages north of the ship canal carry a massive capacity for recently upzoned density. The huge lots of big box stores that dot the landscape are a prime target for Transit Oriented Development. Grade separated transit will allow the street to feature wider sidewalks and fewer lanes.  The Aurora that can be is a place the Aurora that is wouldn’t even recognize.  

Transit on the Aurora corridor is already a huge success. Aurora carries over 32,500 daily riders in packed buses, including the E line, the busiest bus in the state.  It’s clear that even more people will choose transit when we add the speed, reliability, and comfort of Link to the equation.

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Metro’s least reliable routes

It’s Friday, the end of the work week, and all everyone wants to do is get home as quickly as possible. For the transit rider, it is time to enter the arena of unknown bus reliability. Will my bus come? Will it be on time? How bad will traffic be? We have all mentally asked these questions, but some have to ask them more than others.

Today we will look at the 5 buses that have the worst afternoon reliability in the Metro system and consider what can be done to improve them. These routes are generally low ridership and wouldn’t merit much capital investment, so we’ll focus on quick fixes where appropriate. Conveniently, each one of our tardy routes is from a different portion of the county. (On time data is from the King County Metro 2018 System Evaluation. )

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West Seattle and Burien Metro routes need improved reliability, or a new routing

Buses waiting to turn onto South Dearborn Street (SounderBruce)

At 5 p.m. two Fridays ago I made the grave mistake a getting on a West Seattle bus at the 3rd & Pike Street stop.  See, I had to retrieve a child from summer camp by 6 p.m.  As the bus crawled along the Columbia Street and 1st Avenue South “temporary 2019” routing, the minutes ticked away rapidly, and at 5:52 p.m. the bus was reaching the 1st & Dearborn stop, still in downtown Seattle. 

To routinely spend one hour traversing downtown Seattle is not functional bus service, full stop; especially in a City where more downtown workers arrive by bus than any other mode.  The Seattle DOT needs to significantly improve the transit pathway, or King County Metro needs to change the routing for Burien and West Seattle Metro bus routes that use Highway 99.

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Permits will make park and rides more reliable and accessible

Eastgate Park & Ride (ECTran71/wikimedia)

King County Council will vote on a Park and Ride permit program next week.

by HESTER SEREBRIN, VICKY CLARKE, ALEX BRENNAN, and TIM GOULD

In Seattle, many of us are privileged with easy access to great bus service at any time of day. But the regional reality is pretty different for most folks. Until we are able to fund and build out King County Metro’s long-range plan, which will connect many more neighborhoods to frequent, high-capacity transit via a short walk or bike ride, lots of residents have to rely on driving to a Park and Ride as part of their daily trip. 

With increased growth and demand in our region, many of these lots are filling up fast, creating crowding on earlier transit trips, and leaving little to no parking for workers without the flexibility in their schedules to race for one of the limited spaces early each morning. Rather than building more parking lots, parking permits can help manage available space at Park and Rides, encourage carpooling, and create reliability for those who need it.

Next Tuesday, July 16, the King County Council Mobility and Environment committee will vote on a parking permit resolution to offer reserved solo driver parking permits for King County Park and Ride facilities. Join TCC and partners on July 16 at 1:30 pm to testify and show your support for smarter parking management. 

This Park and Ride resolution is similar to the policy the Sound Transit Board of Directors approved last year; applications for solo driver permits, including discounted permits for ORCA LIFT riders, are now available for Sound Transit Park and Ride facilities in Northgate, Auburn, Puyallup, Edmonds, and Mukilteo. 

Why Park and Ride Permits?

Park and Ride lots are convenient transfer areas that make transit more accessible for people who do not live near a bus or light rail route. Until we have a more robust transit network, Park and Rides are one tool to relieve congestion and promote the use of public transportation. All riders and taxpayers pay hidden costs for expensive parking infrastructure, and building more parking will only occupy land that can be used to build housing near high-frequency transit. Parking permits can help manage parking demand and curb the need to build endless parking lots. Without parking fees, parking costs impact all users, including those arriving by foot, bike, or bus, while only benefiting those who drive.

King County’s Park and Ride Proposal

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dxʷləšucid signs

Some time ago I contemplated whether our buses—wherever they are on Coast Salish lands—would bear place names in dxʷləšucid (Lushootseed), the language of indigenous Coast Salish peoples from Nisqually all the way to Skagit. It was early winter of 2018 when I began packing for my trip to the Samoa archipelago. Something caught the corner of my eye outside the faculty offices of the UW Anthropology department: the Burke Waterlines Map. I perused the map, pinned to the bulletin board unfolded, and, curious as to where the Lushootseed place names belonged on the map, began to piece together village by village, water site to water site, into my head already deeply colonized by the more familiar English place names I was taught to know, love and sometimes hate.

What if public transportation can bear these place names?

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Seattle Subway: It’s time to start work on ST4

#ST4Seattle Map by Oran

People love riding Link. The more Sound Transit builds, the more Seattle votes with our feet. But planning and building expansions can take decades. It’s clear that we need Link expansion beyond what is currently planned, and our rapidly growing city and the burgeoning climate crisis demand we take action without delay. That’s why it’s time for Seattle to start working on ST4, the next round of Link rail expansion.

Looking ahead to the completion of ST3’s Seattle expansions in 2035, we see a city that has made huge strides building high quality transit but still lacks a comprehensive subway system. It’s a system that will still have frustrating gaps, lacking stations in our densest residential neighborhoods like Belltown and First Hill.  We must think bigger and bring service to the entire city. A true Seattle Subway means being able to catch a train in Georgetown, Wallingford, or White Center and take a ride to Lake City, Crown Hill, or Fremont. ST3 is a huge step forward, but it falls well short of the vision of ST Complete, the vision of a Seattle fully connected by high-quality transit. 

Seattle can’t afford to wait; it is imperative that we take charge of our future. Seattle is adding more residents than all King County suburbs combined. Our next expansion vote should come in 2024, on the heels of the opening of major expansions to Northgate, Bellevue, Redmond, Federal Way, and Lynnwood. More people than ever will be riding Link. More people than ever will be asking: Why can’t we have Link in our neighborhood? We must be ready with the best possible answer: You can.

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The Bellevue Transportation Commission is stalling on downtown bicycle lanes

Main St in Bellevue, where a bike lane is being considered (Image: Dan Ryan)

By BRAD HAVERSTEIN

Bellevue may have decided to make the 108th Ave NE bike lane it built last year permanent, but when it comes to expanding the city’s downtown cycling network the Bellevue Transportation Commission seems to be at odds with City Council. On May 23rd the Commission split 3-3 over whether to add bicycle lanes along two blocks of Main ST between Bellevue Way and 108th Ave NE, despite the fact that City Council strongly supports the project. Following the split, the Commission voted to delay further discussion, but did not choose a specific date to revisit the plan, leaving it unclear how the process will move forward.

This is the second time that the Commission has punted consideration of extending Bellevue’s downtown bicycle network. City staff first proposed the Main ST project at the Commission’s March 28th meeting, but the issue was tabled after the Commission’s 4-2 vote to retain the existing protected bicycle lanes on 108th Ave NE.

The decision to delay comes after Commission Chair Lei Wu has received specific instructions from Bellevue City Council to evaluate options for Main ST and choose an alternative. At a May 13th study session the full Council discussed the proposal with Wu and expressed unanimous support for moving forward with an east-west bicycle facility. Since City Council strongly supports piloting more bicycle lanes, why is the Transportation Commission dithering on its responsibility?

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Thinking outside the car

by JOSHUA NEWMAN, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 4

Once upon a time, it was easy to get around Seattle. Hop in the car and in 15 minutes, you were downtown; and outside of downtown, parking was easy. At least, that’s how many long-time residents remember Seattle. Congestion was infrequent and parking was plentiful.  

So today’s congestion feel like dramatic change; a rupture from the Seattle people fell in love with. But people all over the world want a safe, prosperous place to live, and Seattle has offered that. After 40 years of stable population size, Seattle has grown 30%, by 167,000 people, since 2000. We all need to move around the city, and because every level of government has subsidized car use, most people assume they will get around by car.

This assumption carries heavy costs. In 2000, the annual cost to own a car was $7,160 (2018 dollars). It’s now $8,175. A community designed around cars is a community that chains its residents to a large financial liability. This burden falls most heavily on working families, who are forced into long commutes. Meanwhile, our businesses struggle to move freight, transit riders wait for car-clogged intersections, and potential bike riders stay away in fear.

The more expensive burden – which bears repeating – is to our climate. The human species has never, in our entire existence, lived on Earth when the atmospheric carbon content was as high as it is now: 415 ppm. Seattle’s own carbon emissions continue growing, and we won’t stop that with our current incremental approach.

STB readers know it doesn’t have to be this way. We can simultaneously unlock congestion, improve equity, and address climate change locally by making it easy to get around Seattle without a car.

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How Seattle can shape an equitable congestion pricing plan

Traffic on Stewart Street (Sounder Bruce – Flickr)

If done right, congestion pricing can reduce pollution and improve mobility.

by HESTER SEREBRIN, Policy Director, Transportation Choices Coalition

Seattle has a traffic problem. According to the 2018 Global Traffic Scorecard, Seattle is the 6th most congested city in the country, robbing people who drive 138 hours and nearly $2,000 annually. 

Congestion also contributes to our climate crisis, with 66% of Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions coming from road transportation. Commutes will only get longer and pollution worse as our city grows unless we take decisive action. Cities across the world, facing similar dilemmas, are considering congestion pricing, the only proven tool to reduce congestion. Pricing is also a tool that can be used to achieve other outcomes like mitigating local air and water pollution, and creating progressive revenue structures to support healthier and safer mobility options. While cordon pricing, charging people to drive to or within a downtown area, is the most well-known form of congestion pricing, pricing is flexible and we can find a structure that best meets our goals.

Last Thursday, the City of Seattle released a congestion pricing phase one report that provides case studies and potential pricing tools to inform Seattle’s policy development and engagement process as we explore congestion pricing. The report evaluates a variety of possible pricing scenarios based on criteria related to equity, climate and health, traffic congestion, and implementation, and outlines a process for engaging with stakeholders to ensure benefits accrue to communities who need them most. We all now have an opportunity to help shape a progressive plan that is still in the early stages of policy development.

Transportation Choices Coalition is working to bring more and better transportation choices to Washington State, improving access and mobility for all. As the report identifies, our current transportation system is inequitable, drawing from regressive revenue sources, struggling to provide affordable and reliable options to those pushed out by growth, and creating poor air quality disproportionately in communities of color. We believe that if done right, congestion pricing has the ability to cut pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, and generate progressive revenue to reinvest in a robust transportation system. There are understandable concerns that a poorly planned pricing system could hurt low-income communities and communities of color, and our priority is to develop a congestion pricing policy rooted in equity.  

Here’s what we want to see next from Seattle’s congestion pricing process:

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Scooter share coming to Seattle: Lessons learned from Portland’s roll-out

Mayor Durkan recently announced that Seattle will be looking into how to safely welcome scooter share.

Scooters arrived in Portland, Oregon, for a pilot program last summer, and hoo-boy did they get talked about around that city. And ridden. And dumped in the Willamette River (there was a website tracking how many: 6 at one count) — oh, in portable toilets, too. But mostly ridden. They are super fun, fast enough to contribute as a transportation option, and they’re convenient to grab-and-go.

Swap out “the Willamette River” with one of our own local bodies of water, and pretty much everything written above could have been said (probably was said) during the roll-out of our Seattle bike share program a couple years ago. But when it comes to safety, scooters are different, and Seattle will need the right regulations for a scooter share program to work well. The scooters in Portland are surprisingly fast: a person standing three inches above the pavement scooting through a busy city at 15-mph is more eyebrow-raising to witness in person than to read about in print, I assure you. Additionally, there seem to be a lot of crashes — a couple per week involving cars in the first two weeks of the program. Just applying what we’ve learned here in Seattle from bike share — and copy-pasting those newly-crafted bike share regulations over to a scooter share program — won’t be adequate.

Working down in Portland for a couple months during their initial pilot, I was able to witness and experience the roll-out of their scooter-share program (the scooters then disappeared from Portland, and just recently returned for a second pilot), and I believe scooters can work well in Seattle. But a few changes to how they’re regulated in Portland would vastly improve safety (for scooter riders and pedestrians), as well as improve the likelihood that the public embraces scooters instead of rejects them. And the importance of the latter can’t be overstated: a Google News search of “e scooters” will provide you with headline after headline describing citizen outrage or cities struggling to effectively regulate, and in the case of Paris, deciding last week to ban them [ed note: Paris banned scooters on sidewalks, not entirely]. Most importantly, Seattle must start with regulations that are consistent with human behavior. In Portland, the rules around helmets and sidewalks don’t match people’s actual behavior, making almost every scooter rider a law-breaker. Since the 15 mph governed scooter speed is based on the assumption that no one will ride on the sidewalk and everyone will wear a helmet, there is a mis-match between intended and actual behavior that leads to serious safety problems. Here are some lessons and proposals for us in Seattle:

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Pros and Cons of Truncating Bus Routes at Link: Route 150

 

Route 150 shadowing Link at SODO. Photo by Oran.

Nine years ago Martin looked at the general problem of I-5 buses terminating at Rainier Beach. However, removing buses from the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel provides an opportunity to review if there are cost savings or efficiency improvements by truncating routes formerly in the tunnel and forcing a transfer to Link.

Truncating is a balancing act: Riders can often save time by transferring to a congestion-free mode like light rail, and service hours saved can be used to provide more frequent service on the shortened bus line. However, the benefits can be diminished if the transfer is infrequent or inconvenient. Let’s look at King County Metro Route 150 as an example.

Route 150 map, highlighting congestion areas

The 150 runs from Kent Station to Seattle, providing service from roughly 5 a.m. to midnight with pickups every 15 minutes during the day Monday through Saturday. On weekdays in the fall of 2017, it carried about 6,200 passengers, comparable to RapidRide B. The 150 also serves as the direct connection to Seattle from Kent since there is no ST Express bus. How would truncating the 150 at Rainier Beach Link station affect quality of service for north- and southbound riders?

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West Seattle and Burien Routes Add Stops in Pioneer Square

1st & King SB With the Spring 2019 service change, routes 21X, 55, 56, 57, 113, 120, 121, 122, 123, 125, and C Line began serving two stops on 1st Ave. This will be the first time this century that [ed: some of these] southwest Seattle routes will connect directly to Pioneer Square. Both stops are centered on King Street, albeit at the furthest end of the intersection, with the northbound stop closer to Jackson and the southbound stop nearly at Dearborn.

The two stops add an important connection to routes that previously used the viaduct’s Columbia and Seneca ramps, making them an anomaly amongst the rest of the downtown routes as they did not serve any stops in or near Pioneer Square or the International District. With the viaduct out of commission, routes have been traveling along 1st Avenue South making a quick jog on Dearborn to access the new ramps to SR-99. Continue reading “West Seattle and Burien Routes Add Stops in Pioneer Square”

Transit Integration at Mercer Island

Sound Transit and King County Metro provided an update to the Mercer Island City Council on East Link’s construction progress on Tuesday, March 19.  The presentation also included information about the future Mercer Island Transit Interchange, which is the new name for the project formerly known colloquially as the bus intercept.

The general concept remains generally similar as previously reported, but at this time Sound Transit and Metro, in coordination with the City of Mercer Island, have made some refinements and identified options for Mercer Island to consider.

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A Better Elevated Option in West Seattle

In our last post we asked the Sound Transit Board to focus on elevated West Seattle options for ST3.  A tunnel would lessen impacts but $700 Million in Seattle transit funding is far better spent on transit expansion. The focus for the ST3 planning process should therefore be to craft the best possible elevated option.

There are two elevated options presented by Sound Transit:  

  1. The representative alignment on Fauntleroy with a station to the east if the Junction and tail tracks nearly reaching the junction.
  1. An elevated alignment that curves through the neighborhood north of Fauntleroy in order to orient the station north/south on 41st.
Elevated options shown in red and orange

Both options will score high on reliability and, with details done right, high on accessibility.  

Unfortunately, the first option has a fatal flaw on expandability. Expansion to the south would require crossing California for elevated tracks continuing south on a street to the west. Per Sound Transit, the line would then need to cut back across California at some point to continue south. The property impacts are big enough to make this extremely unlikely. The Junction stop would become the permanent end of the line.  

The second option orients the station north/south on 41st (good) but instead of being on an arterial, cuts through the neighborhood at an angle which requires the line to impact the most existing housing of all the proposed alignments. Though we prioritize transit and future transit riders above all other concerns – we can understand why people would not be excited about this option.

With those things in mind, we’d like to put forth a third, “mix and match,” alignment that addresses the weaknesses of both options.

The new elevated option would follow the Fauntleroy alignment to Alaska  but take a sharp turn onto 41st. Though sharp turns are generally not ideal, they are part systems worldwide (check out the NYC Subway south of Central Park) and one right next to a station where the train will already be moving slowly will have minimal impacts on operations.  

We need to think about the future when making an investment of this scale. Looking at the Sound Transit’s HCT study work, an elevated line to the south of The Junction is likely to be a better investment in terms of capital cost per weekday rider than the line to The Junction itself.  It would be an entirely separate process, but see C5 (pages 10-11) in the HCT study for a sense of what that extension could be and how it would perform.

It is our strong opinion that funding a West Seattle tunnel is both a poor use of transit funding and, to put it bluntly, not going to happen. It’s time to look past that distraction and find an elevated option that works for West Seattle transit riders – both now and in the future.

You have until April 2nd to comment on the ST3 level 3 options online. Join us in urging the Sound Transit board to advance an elevated West Seattle option designed for future expansion.  

Unveiling the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker

As a transit fan and lover of maps, I’ve always been captivated by the screens in control rooms that show the status of every vehicle in service.
Those maps inspired me to use the real-time data provided by transit agencies to create one of my own. Before long, a simple set of pins on a map spiraled into a comprehensive “bird’s-eye view” of the entire transit system.

Today I’m releasing it as the Puget Sound Transit Operations Tracker. Every in-service vehicle (that actively reports data) will appear on the map for eight area transit agencies, including King County Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit. Each vehicle has also been matched to its make and model information, and icons can be filtered by these parameters and more. Check out the full set of features and future plans after the jump.

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ST3 Level 3 Planning: Lets Not Paint Ourselves into a Corner

We’re finally here:  ST3 Planning level 3 is where we cut everything but two options and send those on for an environmental impact study. Those options will include a high end options that relies on local funding an an affordable option that doesn’t.  At this point, our primary concern is with the low end options. There is a conversation to be had in the future about whether spending $1.9B on high end ST3 options makes sense and where the money will come from, but that’s a topic for another day.

Right now we need to make sure the affordable options that we send through are acceptable in case additional local funding never comes.  Building on our central concepts of Reliability, Expandability, and Accessibility along with our Level 2 feedback and plea to put riders first, here is what we’re focused on now by station:

Ballard

Though we’ve heard ST staff say many times that the options are mix and match, we don’t get the impression they mean it when it comes to the Ballard station location.  As we (and others) have said many times a 14th NW station and a drawbridge are both unacceptable.  A drawbridge is an unacceptable reliability compromise for the future or our system.  A station on 14th NW simply doesn’t serve riders west of 15th or transfers well.  A station on 15th NW with entrances on both sides of the street does.

A 14th high bridge crossing with a station on 15th is our minimal expectation for an affordable option.  While it’s not impossible to see local funding via the port come through for a tunnel to Ballard, as the current options stand, the 15th Ave NW tunnel station the only option we can support.  

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Can we replace cross-country air with rail travel? Yes, we can!

When Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced the Green New Deal, critics jumped on it immediately – it can’t be done, it’s too expensive, etc. I want to debunk one of these critiques, and that is that carbon-intensive air travel cannot be replaced with (eventually green) electricity-powered rail travel.

People often cite the size of the country and large distances between cities as the number one reason. The story goes, we used to have regional and cross-country rail, but now we have cars and planes and the former were rendered obsolete. A lot of people have covered why regional transport (think up to 200 miles), now covered by car as flying is not economical, can be effectively replaced by high-speed rail. The definition of high-speed rail requires a speed of at least 125 mph and if sustained, this provides much faster travel than by car (not to mention that it is congestion-free) and a comparable total travel time to air.

But, what about cross-country? Surely this is the domain of air travel given the vastness of the country? Let’s calculate some travel times from our corner here in Seattle (good for accounting for the longest flights possible).

Continue reading “Can we replace cross-country air with rail travel? Yes, we can!”