Nominated for best chart of the year

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It’s not the fanciest graph in the world, but it’s shocking.

This graph is from Clark Williams-Derry’s ongoing series Dude, Where Are My Cars?  Our state road building machine is kind of like an optimistic weatherman during a drought in Ethiopia.  Just wait – any day now the rain will come.  They’ve been building and building roads all with bad predictions about future car use.  Despite predictions, we keep driving less.

My favorite quote: “I could have included another projection from the 2006 [DEIS]… But it was getting hard to fit all the wrongness on a single chart.” 

If we didn’t have a constitutional requirement to spend all of our gas tax money on building more roads, perhaps these predictions might not have been so optimistic?

You own this.

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One fator that often brings down the livelyness of a city is dead, empty buildings or vacant lots.  Sometimes this happens because an owner is waiting for the right market to sell, or because of some legal issue that’s being worked out.  There are many blocks near my office with no street life despite being in a dense part of the city.  Let’s take a look at one of them:

 This is the “Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco – Seattle Branch.”  Or was.  Until our government decided they could save money by moving out to the suburbs and selling this high-value property downtown.  And in 2008 they did just that.  Except they didn’t follow their own process and perform an Environmental Impact Statement before they sold it, so they were sued (perhaps by the neighbors across the street) and in 2010 a federal judge told them they didn’t actually sell it and they still own it.  So what was potentially going to be a large new skyscraper is now an empty mass of concrete.

For the past three years this building has sat, in a high value area in the middle of the city, empty.  It’s very short for the area, has no retail or useful street activation, and has been rejected by the Seattle Landmarks Preservation Board as a landmark. 

It’s true that this building added little life to the street even when it was functioning.  And this is just one building.  But add together enough of these dead blocks, and it can harm the city.

Medium-Speed Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Having recently made the case for blowing up the long-range plan and starting over again on the Amtrak Cascades, let me offer some time to a more incrementalist vision. In the current Washington Monthly, Phillip Longman cites Cascades as a winning example of “not-quite-so-high-speed rail.”

This principle is also illustrated by Amtrak’s highly successful “Cascades” service on the 187-mile line between Portland and Seattle. The Spanish-designed Talgo “tilt” train sets look futuristic, and with their on-board bistros and comfy chairs they are a joy to ride. But because they run on conventional track through mountainous country shared by freight trains, their current top speed is only 79 mph, and their average speed is just 53. Still, that’s enough to make taking the train faster than driving, and ridership has swelled to more than 700,000 passengers a year. Using federal stimulus dollars plus state spending, work is currently under way to boost top train speeds to 110-125 mph, simply by adding better signaling and more sidings to let freight trains get out of the way. This incremental investment will also boost reliability and allow for increased frequency, which will further bump up ridership. But numerous studies show there is no point in making trains go faster than 125 mph on a segment this short because of the great cost involved and the limited gains to total trip times. Moreover, if a new bullet train line were built between Portland and Seattle, the tremendous cost of its construction would require fares too high for all but well-heeled business travelers to afford.

Fair point.  Longman also argues persuasively that, in the medium term, frequency and reliability are much more important to increasing ridership than pure speed.  I do wonder, though, how much better frequency and reliability can get so long as the freight companies own the tracks.

But the biggest problem with true HSR in America, it seems to me, is summed up here:

First off, building a truly high-speed rail system in today’s America would be so expensive, disruptive, contentious, and politically risky that it just might not be possible. It would require, for example, securing brand-new rights-of-way, because trains traveling at more than around 125 mph can’t share tracks with slower freight or passenger trains. This in turn would require using eminent domain to secure millions of acres of real estate, and these days, in the U.S., that would involve endless litigation, environmental review, and the innumerable other processes that always stand to derail any large-scale infrastructure project.

America might be too rich a country, with too strong of a property-rights tradition, to be able to confiscate the amount of private land needed to make it work.  Maybe in the 1960s, when urban renewal was in vogue and urban real estate was cheap.  But now, the cost of displacing all the people and expensive homes you’d need to move to create HSR in, say, the Northeast Corridor might make the project beyond reach.

Perhaps there is a way.  If not, cheers for incrementalism and long live the Amtrak Cascades!

ODOT Gets It

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Searching for a good definition of “human scale” with regard to street design, I came upon an unlikely source: an Oregon Dept. of Transportation document from 1999.  It’s a great reference about how to take the noisy dangerous highway that runs through your town and turn into a comfortable pedestrian-friendly main street.  One particular segment jumped out:


The idea of a bypass often comes up in discussions where there is heavy traffic on main street. It’s often seen as the one big solution to get through traffic out of downtown. However, in many cases traffic studies have shown that most of the trips on main street are local and may not be attracted to a bypass…

Bypasses are very expensive and generate much debate. The controversy that goes on while the community discusses a bypass may detract from other issues. If approved, people often think the problem will be solved and they don’t need to support other improvements to main street.

Also, if a bypass removes too much traffic, the economic vitality of the main street can suffer.

But of course it wasn’t all about why you shouldn’t build a tunnel.  They identify all kinds of good street design that is completely lacking on WA highways.  Starting on page 14 they talk about human scale, street ratios, and many other street design concepts that are really important for walkability.  They recommend 25mph speed limits in a main street area. 

Take a drive up Aurora from downtown – inside WA’s largest city – and you’ll see examples of everything ODOT recommends against.  Following Oregon’s laws this area would be a business district and have a speed limit of 20mph.  It would be designed for that speed  with a connected grid, no massive parking lots fronting streets, limited curb cuts, and appropriate street ratio.  I guess I’m just surprised because I had assumed every state’s road-building agency would be like WSDOT.  But it turns out even our closest neighbor has human scale figured out.

East Link Stations

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

New video from Sound Transit:

Sad how many of these stations have poor or nonexistent TOD opportunities.  It’d be worse if the B7 alignment had gone through, so I guess that’s a bright side.

How to buy better cheese

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I have friends that live in the far suburbs, and spend quite a bit of time in their cars.  They each drive seperate cars far away to work in the morning after dropping their kids off for school in a different direction, drive far for groceries, etc.  Financially they just get by every month, and going grocery shopping with them at a big box store is a significantly different experience than going shopping with my wife at Trader Joe’s or the Met (both an easy walk from our house).  I never thought twice about this difference – they make less than us and have more kids, and I’ve certainly had to make due with simple and cheap groceries at different points in my life.  But today I saw this graph:

Notice the size of the food wedge next to the transportation wedge for the average American family.  Pinching pennies on large blocks of low-quality cheese is less effective than just driving a bit less.  If they had only settled for a smaller home (for the same price) in a dense area, it would have had a much larger effect than years and years of choosing low-quality food.  I know people love their yards.  But I don’t think most people realize they’re making a choice between more yard space and, well, everything else in the world they love but costs money.

Keeping the Trolleys

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Glad to see (via STB) that Metro has released a final recommendations report (PDF) in favor of keeping the electric trolleybuses. The report is fairly unequivocal in recommending the electrics over diesel hybrids, which is great to hear, especially after the talk last year that Metro could realize some short-term savings by switching to diesels.

I recommend browsing the comment log at the end of the report, which is an amazing outpouring of Seattle community support for the electric trolleys.  It’s nice to see the public show so much love for something that’s also good policy.

The Mayor’s Parking Jujitsu

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Mayor McGinn, the man who’s (unfairly) been labeled in the press as waging a “war on cars” in Seattle, today announced lower parking rates at the city-owned Pacific Place garage. The Mayor’s critics might expect him to be raising the cost of parking downtown, so this move might throw some off balance.  Plus, it’s good policy: parking should be set at a price that optimizes supply and demand.

Of course, the truth is that Pacific Place has been underperforming for some time, the city’s losing money on it, and the idea of lowering rates to boost performance has been floated before.  Still, it’s a political win for the Mayor in the short term.  Whether it buys him any political capital remains to be seen.

Over to you, Dan.

This month only: feel free to use more energy

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Dear Washington,

I know, we’ve started getting good at saving energy, and that’s a good thing – keep at it.  Except maybe wait a month or two.  You see, because we had a huge amount of snow this year we actually have too much energy – not a problem we’re used to having in our modern world.  Our dams are so full that not only has the Bonneville Power Administration (the folks in charge of these things) cut off coal and natural gas plants, but they’ve even started cutting off wind farms.  The issue is that unless we generate a whole lot of electricity using our dams, we’ll have to “spill” water, or allow it to bypass our generators, and that apparently oxygenates the water and is bad for fish.  Of course that’s a terrible deal for the wind producers who have gone and invested in a renewable power source just to be told to turn off their wind turbines for a while.

So, for a limited time only, don’t bother line drying your laundry.  Power wash the driveway like you’ve been meaning to for years.  Take a few long hot baths (assuming you have an electric water heater).  But enjoy it while it lasts.  Your local wind farmer will thank you.

(I actually think the best thing they could do is announce a statewide one month rate reduction.  That will keep those wind farms in business.  Or even better – use smart meters for real-time pricing, to let you know hour by hour what your electricity costs and let you – or your next generation super-smart dishwasher – base your usage on how strong the wind is blowing on the other side of the state. )

Growth Management and Density

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Recently, I was chatting with a friend who works in government, and the topic of density and growth management came up.  We were discussing whether or not growth management leads to increased home values, and I made a point that I think doesn’t get discussed enough: growth management and density need to go hand-in-hand.  You can maybe have the latter without the former (if, say, you happen to build a city on the edge of a cliff or on a tiny island), but you really can’t have the former without the latter.

For example, why is housing so cheap in Texas?  Well, there are two reasons.  One, the Texas government puts strict restrictions on the size of your mortgage, which limits the rate at which house prices can rise.  That, in turn, limits the amount of money people can afford to spend on real estate.  This might be a problem, except for the other reason: land is cheap and plentiful in Texas, and there’s little or no growth management. So development in Texas tends to spread out until supply reaches an equilibrium with demand.

In Seattle, the state’s Growth Management Act prevents development from spreading out.  In theory, it should just spread up instead – until supply reaches equilibrium with demand – and housing should be nearly as cheap as it is in Texas.*  Obviously this hasn’t happened, for a number of reasons: (a) local regulations, such as minimum parking requirements, increase the cost of building up, (b) federal lending agencies such as the FHA are biased towards detached, single-family housing, and (c) local opposition, such as what we’re now seeing in Pioneer Square and Roosevelt, prevents housing from reaching the level of density needed to achieve the necessary supply-demand balance.  If we had Texas’ strict, paternalistic mortgage laws, then something would have to give here; but we don’t, so we limp along with expensive housing and sub-optimal growth management instead.

While the GMA does theoretically encourage urban growth (“Encourage development in urban areas where adequate public facilities and services exist or can be provided in an efficient manner,” reads the law), clearly the carrots and sticks have not been tuned correctly. Perhaps cities have been given too much leeway to define modest density targets.  HB 1490, the Transit-Oriented Communities bill that failed in 2009, would have done a lot to rectify this.  Hopefully a similar bill will pass in the future.  Ideally, this kind of legislation would have been baked into the GMA from the start, since, as I said at the top, growth management and density really do go hand-in-hand.

* perhaps our higher housing costs are inevitable in Seattle given our higher per-capita income, but I suspect that it’s actually the reverse: employers here have to pay more for workers because housing is so expensive.

Rail (and Bus) on the Hill

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I loved Zach Shaner’s radical plan for re-thinking bus service on Capitol Hill and the CD once light rail opens. Basically we’re sacrificing some direct routing for better and more frequent connections, with no net new service hours. It’s elegant.

I have two quibbles. First, I would have liked to have seen East Link figured in here. It will open a few years after U-Link, yes, but the link station at Rainier & Massachusetts will be a useful southern anchor for this grid.

Second, as Jarrett Walker has argued, grid systems are wonderfully efficient, but they work best when there’s an anchor at both ends:

Anchoring means designing a line so that it ends at a major destination, so that there will be lots of people on the vehicle all the way to the end of the line. A line with strong anchors at each end will have more uniform high ridership over the whole length of the line, and a much more efficient use of capacity overall.

How do we do a better job of anchoring the East end of the grid? We have small neighborhoods like Madrona and Madison Park, but the grid will really sing as more development occurs along 23rd Ave and MLK Way. I’d expect this to happen in the next development boom, as development in the last boom crested at about 17th & Madison.

The Wisdom of the Cloud

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Martin on Seattle Transit Blog posted a priority list and spreadsheet about how Metro is planning to potentially cut service, given the current funding problems.

I love how this group just dives right in and lists 174 (and counting) long comments describing how they’d improve on the experts’ work.  We can do this because we’re all experts – so are you if you ride a bus with some frequency.  I’d be willing to bet that this group can come up with ideas that a room full of transit experts would have never thought of.  Don’t get me wrong – the real experts add value as well, and they’re needed.  But I think the collective knowledge of a large group of people, whatever their expertise, has a great potential to find solutions.

I’m still rolling with creating a build a gondola system in Seattle campaign, and when I get a bit further I plan on using the collective power of the Internet (specifically those on the Internet in the Seattle area who are interested in transit) to come up with some initial routes.

Total Cost of Ownership

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Erica Barnett provides some much-needed additional context to the Everett Herald’s comparison of Everett-Seattle transportation costs, noting that the Herald’s $4.39 estimate for a one-way commute “excludes the many other costs associated with owning a car, including maintenance, insurance, the cost to own and maintain or rent parking, and the risk of accidents, to name a few.”  Indeed, the Herald strictly counts the cost of gas, estimated at $3.75/gallon.

Fortunately, we can calculate these costs pretty easily.  AAA calculates (PDF) the cost of driving at $0.58* per mile if you drive 15,000 miles per year, including maintenance, depreciation, financing, insurance, etc.  The official IRS reimbursement rate is $0.51 per mile for the year 2011.

Using the lower IRS rate yields a cost of $14.79 for a one-way 29-mile commute.  Use the AAA method and that rises to $16.82.  Assuming 250 days of commuting per year yields $7,395.00 in additional annual expenses (IRS rate), assuming that you have access to free parking in downtown Seattle.  Compare that against $1,500.00 per year for a bus pass (assuming $3/trip and that your employer won’t subsidize it).

[I’m glad the Herald did the study.  Helping people understand these things is exactly what newspapers should be doing.  And obviously, one can insert all sorts of weird variables (what if your employer pays for your bus pass? what about the costs of maintaining I-5? what about the bus driver’s pension? Etc., etc.), so I think the Herald was right to focus on the end costs to the consumer rather than start to make shaky assumptions about externalities.  Still, it would have been better to include total costs of ownership. ]

All that said, $7,395/year puts the cost of housing into question. For that much– or just over $600/month — you can afford substantially more house.  With mortgage rates at 5%, that’s roughly the difference between a $300,000 house and a $400,000 house in terms of your monthly payment  If you prefer to rent, it could be the difference between a 2-bedroom and a 3-bedroom rental.  Suddenly in-city living doesn’t look quite as expensive.

To be sure, there are plenty of other reasons to prefer suburban living, such as school quality or larger yards or what have you.  But it’s worth putting the total cost of ownership in perspective.

*One of Erica’s commenters tries to use AAA’s $0.17/mile cost for operating expenses only, which assumes that someone’s given you a car for free and continues to pay the license and insurance bills for you indefinitely.  Needless to say, I find this unpersuasive.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I talk about density because it’s good for the environment, good for reducing resources, protects natural environemnts and farms, and builds a better city.  But I don’t love density just because it’s good for me.  I’ve found living and working close to others to be far more enjoyable than the alternative.

The best living arrangement I’ve experienced were college dorms, and remember those days fondly. We were packed 2 to a tiny room, around 50 to a floor with a shared bathroom on our floor and a cafeteria downstairs. But the human interaction that created was amazing – we all (all 50) acted like a family and kept our doors open to be able to wander in and out of our neighbors’ rooms and to hear what’s going on nearby.

The most fun and most productive office environment I’ve had was in small cubicles where we could talk freely with those around us while working.  We could ask questions and share information effortlessly, but also joked and formed strong personal bonds.

I currently live in the best neighborhood I’ve lived in.  It’s an old “streetcar suburb” with 30′ lot lines. I can walk to 3 grocery stores, dozens of restaurants, bars, drug stores, parks, libraries etc. I can ride my bike to work in 10 minutes.  I have a bus line a block from my house that can get me most anywhere. 

The worst neighborhood experience, living arrangement, and office experience I’ve had was when I lived in the suburbs. I commuted long distances to a large office with walls and a door, where I’d have to get up and walk into a coworker’s office – if we wanted more than two to talk we’d both have to go to the next office (this rarely happened).  At home I barely knew my neighbors – and even then it was just the people next to me. I couldn’t walk to any stores or services and had to drive everywhere.  My commute distance left me with barely any free time, and I lived for the weekend – and even then much of my time was taken up with mowing the large lawns.

So that’s what’s built my opinion of density – ignoring all of the social, economic, and environmental benefits. I think it might come down to personality type. If you like people, density is for you. If you like to be left alone, maybe you’re a suburbanite.

Experiments and Engineering

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

A favored tactic of those who argue for subsidized highways is to pit blue collar against white collar. For a classic of the genre, check out maritime industry spokesman Jordan Royer’s op-ed in the Seattle Times today, which tries to pit the needs of the “maritime-industrial complex” (yes, he actually calls it that! and he means it in a good way!) against the desires of the Mayor’s effete, latte-swillin’ Portlandia dreams.

The Mayor, you see, wants to conduct a “social experiment” (again, Royer’s phrasing) on the middle-class families and children of this fair city. Can you picture it now? The mayor, in his white lab coat, with a nice, middle-class family from Federal Way in his petri dish, poking and prodding them until they give in and ride light rail?

Royer’s not alone in this sort of demagoguery. Gov. Christine “38% approval rating” Gregoire has also decided to accuse the mayor of “social engineering” (in the New York Times no less! How un-Seattle like to air our dirty laundry like that!).

In truth, all transportation is social engineering. If we build more highways, which Royer and Gregoire want, we’ll be manipulating society as well, just in the way that they prefer. I just wish we could all be honest about this.

Howell Street Changes

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Metro and SDOT have yet another joint project to speed bus flow through the CBD:

Metro and SDOT will begin a project in May to make the following changes along Howell Street between Ninth Avenue and Eastlake Avenue at Stewart Street:

• Convert Howell to four eastbound lanes, with one lane reserved for transit only during the evening commute period from 3-7 p.m.;

• Convert Eastlake Avenue to a one-way northbound corridor between Yale Avenue and Stewart Street;

• Eliminate westbound lanes; and

• Create approximately 40 new paid parking spaces along the corridor.

Good stuff.  Small projects to make bus service more efficient and reliable are big wins in this cash-strapped era.

If I wanted to make it all about me, I would say that this is a minor bummer because I liked to use that rarely-used stretch of Eastlake between Denny and Howell when driving between Eastlake and points South, but considering that I was often the only one doing that, this is certainly a better use of the right-of-way.  And, of course, any time we’re moving street ROW from cars to buses it’s a big win for urban mobility.

Seattle’s Light Rail Dreams

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Thanks to PubliCola for allowing Mayor McGinn and Councilwoman Julia Patterson to square off on the issue of Westside light rail.  I tend to agree with Ben @ STB that the Mayor should work with Sound Transit and not try to go it alone.  ST is planning for this corridor, let them do their thing.  Plus, Seattle voters are — rightfully — ticked off about flushing $200M+ in taxpayer money down the hole called “monorail.”  I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re hesitant to spend another $8M to plan for yet another go-it-alone transit option in that corridor.

On the other hand, Patterson’s response really ticks me off.  Her argument boils down to, “listen Seattle, there’s a whole region outside your borders, so just sit down and shut up, you’ll get your transit when we say so.”  Sentiments like that make the Council — and Sound Transit, where Patterson serves on the board — sound clueless and out of touch. It’s almost enough to make me change my mind.

Patterson, however, has been a strong advocate for transit in the past, so let me give her the benefit of the doubt. Instead, let me offer what I think might have been a more constructive response to McGinn’s proposal:

“Many of us on the Sound Transit board and King County Council applaud Mayor McGinn’s desire to expand the transit options for Seattle’s West side.  Since the demise of the Monorail project, this corridor has been without a long-term rapid transit plan, and it’s sorely needed.  Buses on the Ballard-West Seattle routes are currently over 100% capacity.   I recognize that an urbanizing city like Seattle might have different transit needs than, say, Federal Way or Redmond, so it’s perfectly natural to want more transit options beyond a single light rail line for the whole city.

“Sound Transit is planning to study the west side corridor in 4 years.  But since we have such an eager partner in the Mayor, we’ll see if we can’t speed that up a bit if Seattle can come up with the funds.

“Finally, since any light rail solution is still years away, we need to do more in the short term.  Since I’m conveniently on the King County Council, I’ll find ways in which Metro and SDOT can work together to make bus service faster and more reliable within the city limits.  I look forward to working with the Mayor’s staff on these issues.”

None of this would require Patterson to make any specific policy commitments (though she could, if she was feeling ambitious, come out in favor of repealing the 40-40-20 rule), but it would at least make it sound like she gets where Seattle’s coming from.

The Seattle Monorail Project, however flawed, was borne out of a legitimate sense among Seattle transit advocates that Sound Transit was moving too slow, too far behind schedule, grossly overbudget, and too focused on the region as a whole to deliver true in-city rapid transit.  10 years later, it seems like everyone is reverting to their same roles, which I’m afraid will lead to the same result.

Instead, let’s talk about expediting the Sound Transit study and, in the meantime, let’s get some more cooperation between Metro and SDOT on prioritizing buses and making the RapidRide experience as good as it can be.


This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

180sf.  2 people.  2 beds, 2 tables, 1 small closet.  Shared bathroom with 30 others.  Shared coin-operated laundry room.  No kitchen.  Rented 2’tall refrigerators (for beer).  2nd hand store smelly microwave (for popcorn).  1 small window with 2-pipe wall unit for heat and cooling.

My dorm room was spartan, but I loved it.  The high density that comes with such small quarters gave me near live-in closeness with 30 other people on my floor, and most became good friends at a time when I had nobody.  Everyone would prop their door open for constant interaction with neighbors.  The feel of the place was somewhere between a family and a party.

It’s currently illegal to build “apodments” in Seattle less than 120sf.  If I hadn’t wanted a room-mate my dorm would have been 90sf.  And that would have been just fine.  A while back the City Council ran presentations showing what terrible lives people must have to only afford such small units, as if making these units illegal would have magically allowed them to afford some place bigger.  I’m glad that effort has seemed to have gone nowhere. I wish they would remove the 120sf minimum.

Coming up: 180sf A’pod’ments (sorry, paywall – I haven’t read it myself) near Seattle U.  Sounds about right to me.

A Different Path for Seattle-Portland HSR

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Alaska train

Alaska trainWordRidden

Since I’m already musing about blowing up the WSDOT long-range plan for Amtrak Cascasdes, let’s see where this train of thought (so to speak) leads us.

Let’s imagine a parallel universe, one where, for whatever reason, the Port of Seattle is unable to build the third runway at SeaTac.  Maybe Burien and the other neighboring cities win their lawsuit blocking its construction, or maybe the soil’s no good.  Whatever the reason, SeaTac hits capacity.  To prioritize incoming air traffic, the Port hikes gate fees, so that only long-distance routes are profitable.  Or maybe in this alternative universe, we’ve passed some sort of carbon tax, and so carbon-intensive industries like airlines are under pressure to reduce their emissions.  In either scenario, what happens to the short-hop flights to Bellingham, Portland, Yakima, and the like?  In the former, possibly they move to Boeing Field, if neighbors there allow it.  But possibly Alaska Airlines, which operates most of those flights, sees a different opportunity, and works with the state to develop a rail link to those cities.  Land at SeaTac, take a short bus ride to Tukwila Amtrak station, and ride Alaska Rail to Portland.

SNCF offers a similar service in France, but SNCF is a state-owned company.  Virgin Trains running on state-owned tracks in the UK might be a better example.  The government there has upgraded the tracks and leased them to the train companies.  We might imagine something similar happening here.  Capital costs are always easier to come by than operating costs.  Upgrading the tracks and working with BNSF to lease them out should certainly be possible (especially in this parallel universe where the cost of short-hop flights has gone up).

Usually I’m against privatizing infrastructure.  Privatized toll roads, for example, are a bad idea.  But in this case, the infrastructure — the tracks — is already private.  Republicans in congress would probably love it.  And though Northwesterners are typically skeptical of big private companies in this way (with good reason!) I have to think Alaska Air’s status as a regional darling would buy it enough good will (how many people do you know with Alaska Air credit cards? And have I told you lately about their all-Boeing fleet?).

Anyway, this is probably lunacy.  And I certainly can’t prove it would result in better, faster, more reliable Northwest intercity train service.  But as I said in my last post, I think the nation is begging for some region to step up to the plate and change the game when it comes to intercity passenger rail, and I think it should be us.