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North by Northwest 03: What It’s Like to Ride Amtrak Cascades…

Here Comes the Amtrak

As a vacationer who uses Amtrak Cascades whenever possible to get out of Skagit to and from aviation geek (avgeek) events as able, figured I’d write you about the Amtrak Cascades experience plus share some of my photos as appropriate.  Now getting a ticket is rather easy – just go online and order them or either printout at home or pick up at a train station kiosk.  Or use a kiosk at a train station to order and printout – and hope there’s a vacancy.  Just like getting on an airplane… without the TSA.  Yes, this maze:

Relatively painless Bellingham International Airport Security...

Once you board, you’ll be assigned a seat.  Rarely by choice unlike an airline, but you are not cramped looking out a tiny window like a Q400’s for instance:

Seat 16A of the Alaska Airlines Q400

You may be – and are – paying for speed & altitude when using Alaska Airlines which has its own benefits such as a sunrise view that cannot be beat.  But on Amtrak Cascades once seated, you get to relax, sit back and either read, work or read or play on an electronic device, or if the WiFi works cruise the Internets while on the rail.  No safety briefing to suffer through or cramped lavatory to try to use.  Just sit back and relax – and hope no noisy baby is stuffed into business class.  Especially since whomever sold Amtrak Cascades the leather seats pictured below ought to advertise where to pick one of them up for Christmas!

Get a free ticket to THIS seat :-)

Say you get thirsty or hungry, you can walk over to the Bistro Car and pick something up – no need to find a fast food joint along the road or wait for a flight attendant’s cart as there’s a Dining Car.  Business Class customers get a $3 coupon against their purchases.  You can get a burger and a soda pop like this:

A July 4th Dinner on the Amtrak Cascades...

Every passenger car also has rather nice views.  Mostly either of farms or small towns along the way.  Good way to enjoy the view through rather big windows.

Sunset on South Mount Vernon...

There’s also seating for groups of four to sit together and either play together or chat (preferably) quietly.  A great way for a family to leave the driving to others… and have quality family time.

Amtrak Cascades Business Class Interior

A Peek Into the Dining Car...

Not to mention save on the costs of operating an automobile… which with the cost of gas nearing $4 as the Seattle average plus the costs of maintaining & operating a car are no small matters to consider.  Perhaps try the Skagit Transit trip calculator to see how much you’d save annually – especially if you can chuck the car during the week and come vacation time too!

That said, when you get off you just wait for the conductor to help you disembark and if need be grab luggage and/or a bicycle from the luggage car.

My Female Conductor's Waiting for Us to Pull In...

Offloading a Bicycle from Amtrak Cascades at Mt. Vernon...

Off you go!  Hope to see you on Amtrak Cascades:

Amtrak's Cute Lady Conductor at the Mt. Vernon Station...

Want ST3 Funding Authority? Support Matt Isenhower!

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In the comments of last weeks post on a budget for Sound Transit 3, several commenters noted that getting the funding authority for Sound Transit would be impossible so long as the GOP controls the State Senate. I thought I would go through what the post-primary situation looks like and if the lack of hope displayed by many commenters is justified.

Right now the Republicans have a de-facto 26 to 23 edge in the State Senate, de-facto because they have gotten an assist from turncoat Democrats Rodney Tom and Tim Sheldon. Senate seats are a zero sum game, so that three person edge is actually just two seats, the GOP loses a seat for every one the Democrats gain. Rodney Tom’s seat in the 48th district was won overwhelmingly by Cyrus Habib in the primary, by just over 29 points. Assuming that the popular Habib can repeat his performance that would cut the GOPs edge down to 25-24.

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The question then is this: where is the other seat going to come from? One possibility is the 35th where Irene Bowling leads both Tim Sheldon and Republican Travis Couture (who unfortunately doesn’t seem to have used Hi Couture or Haute Couture as his campaign slogan). Since Mr. Couture came in 3rd and the Republicans will probably defect to Tim Sheldon, it seems likely that the current victory would turn into an almost 30 point defeat.

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The next best performance by a Democratic candidate was by Matt Isenhower in the 45th who lost by 7.5 points to Andy Hill. 7.5 points may seem like a great deal, but because two candidate race margins are a zero sum game just like the composition of the senate as a whole listed above, it would only take a 3.75 point swing (4 if we want to be safe) to flip the district.

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The 45th has several other advantages for Seattle transit advocates compared to other districts. The 45th has a pair of incumbent Democratic State Legislators which won by margins bigger than Andy Hill’s margin of victory, but could use shoring up. The 45th is very close to Seattle compared to the other competitive districts and is accessible directly from Seattle using many Sound Transit and Metro routes Such as the 268, 542 and 545.

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One of the reasons Matt is running is because the Senate didn’t pass a transportation package when the House did. Having divided government is impairing the normal functioning of the state and imperiling Sound Transit’s ability to put ST3 on the ballot in 2016, when it will be coming what appears will be the early and $150 million under budget opening of University Link and have our best chance at electoral success.

With the additional turn out in the general election this district will be very close, four years ago Andy Hill won by less than 1200 votes in a very Republican leaning year. With our support Matt Isenhower could flip the Senate and help Sound Transit get the funding authority it needs.

Since North by Northwest ZERO THREE Is Going to be a Day Late

See, North by Northwest (NbyN) Zero Five on Island Transit is currently being built and production resources for Zero Five are being taken from NbyN Zero Three on Amtrak Cascades being such a wonderful service.  But once you see & hear Zero Five with all the intel products, you’ll understand why.

What’s Zero Four you might ask – well that’ll be all about Paine Field.  Waiting on an e-mail sent to yesterday with the subject line, “Question Re: Route Planning Input”.  Hopefully by posting here I’ll get Community Transit to reply to my e-mail in a timely manner (i.e. less than 24 hours Monday thru Friday).

So I shall make this a request line.  What would you me to tell you about – like perhaps how useful the Seafair shuttle was or how Skagit Transit is getting along or a 1,000 word rant on Washington State Ferries?  You tell me.  This Island Transit fiasco cannot be my only focus – it’d be too depressing.

Requests Please.

North by Northwest 02: Is Island Transit Still Misleading Folks?

Good question.

The Stanwood-Camano News reported 5 days ago they were not told during the loss of the Camano-to-Everett Connector about the depth of Island Transit’s fiscal problems, “All this was developing even as Rose and the board were talking about cutting the Everett Connector, but no one mentioned it in interviews.”  The same allegation has been made by the Whidbey Newsgroup.  If I may quote their syndicated newsstory:

A reporter contacted Rose and a couple of IT’s board members about budget problems a month ago, but none of them mentioned the impending layoffs, widespread route cuts or that the finance director was terminated because of the cash flow problems.

Rose told the reporter that the “county connector” in Skagit County was being modified and Everett connector canceled due to cuts in state transportation funding. She now says she didn’t realize at that time that deep cuts would be necessary to right the ship.

These cuts were promised to only last a year in many public statements.  However, Oak Harbor City Councilman Jim Campbell who serves on the Island Transit board made a statement at the 6 August Oak Harbor City Council meeting that should trouble many of us.  About 1:52 into a YouTube clipping are the assertions the rescue plan has not been presented to the Island Transit Board as a board and will require longer to as Martha Rose would say, “come out of the clouds in about a year.”  Therefore exists the serious, genuine question does misinformation from Island Transit continue – which makes me individually take the editorial position we just might find more fiscal booby traps and possibly similarities to Enron’s downfall.  Below is my attempt to embed the video:

There also has been the admission that 1:27 into the YouTube clip of what the open government community calls ‘serial meetings’ about this plan.  Having each board member meet with the Executive Director to talk about a plan very much in the public interest behind closed doors is at the least impugnable.  At the most, against the Washington State Open Public Meetings Act (OPMA), RCW 42.30.  Hopefully the Washington State Auditor’s Office (SAO) will investigate.  After I hit publish and address any grammatical errors here, will fire off a head’s up to my SAO contact.

Finally mark the date, time and location: Friday, August 22, 2014, at 9:00 AM at the Island Transit Operations & Administration Building, 19758 SR 20, Coupeville, WA is the next Island Transit Board Meeting coupled to – and please swallow before you read this – “A Public Hearing to receive input on Island Transit’s Six-Year Transit Development Plan. … The regularly scheduled Monthly Business Meeting will be held following the conclusion of the Public Hearing”.  Six-Year Transit Development Plan now?  Seriously, when we do not know if Island Transit faces the threat of extinction Island Transit’s going to plan 6 years ahead?

Being I’d promised 500 words or less, stopping here.  Sincerely welcome and appreciate your comments!  I will do my best to reply within 12 hours or less, thank you!

Transit Timetable History (8.8.14)

Three new additions on the Flickr page:

1 KINNEAR (1975)

4 MONTLAKE (1975)

13 – 19th AVE (1975)

The 1 KINNEAR and 13 – 19th AVE maps show part of the original trolley wiring plan in downtown Seattle.  Inbound from Kinnear Park, the 1 operated on First Avenue to Pike Street, then eastbound on Pike to 5th Avenue and then east on Spring Street to 9th Avenue where the 1 would then continue as either the 12 E. CHERRY/26th AVE. S. (today’s 3/4 routes) or the 13 – 19th AVE. (today’s 12).   From First Hill to Kinnear Park, the 1 ran westbound on Madison Street to 6th Avenue, then north to Union Street and west to First Avenue.

The 4 MONTLAKE  is the predecessor of today’s route 43.  By 1975, the 4 MONTLAKE had been dieselized, but it retained its trolley era routing in downtown Seattle.  The 4 usually arrived in downtown Seattle from Queen Anne Hill/Seattle Center East via 3rd Avenue.  After making a left turn off 3rd Avenue at Pike Street, the 4 MONTLAKE followed Pike all the way to Madison Street and then 23rd Avenue East to Montlake and the University District.  The 4’s University District terminal was right next to the future Link station at 45th & Brooklyn.

In 1975, the 4 MONTLAKE was the only one-seat ride between Capitol Hill/First Hill and the University of Washington.  With weekday headways  in the 20 to 30 minute range, it suggests that Capitol Hill wasn’t as popular an area for student living as it is today.  Also, the 48 – 23rd AVENUE EAST route had started service in the late 1960s to offer service between the University District/Montlake and the Central District.

North by Northwest Post 01: Intro & Island Transit Update

Hi there!

I’ve figured it’s time for Northwest Washington State to have a seat at the table.  You may know me as “AvgeekJoe from Skagit County ” from the comment threads and as a regular contributor to the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr feed as well.

You may also know I lean somewhat right in my beliefs.  You can rest assured I may be friends with Washington Policy Center staffers, but I’m not here to spew talking points or troll.  I do believe however that political biases are best served out in the open.

One of those biases is for a strong, sustainable transit system allowing people to live where they need to live.  We in Northwest Washington State currently enjoy a County Connector System between Snohomish, Skagit, Island and Whatcom Counties.  I say currently as that depends on start-up grants and on if Island Transit can survive the recent dire straights Island Transit HQ has put a legendary transit agency into.

The Whidbey Examiner has reported in part on the Island Transit fiscal crisis:

Martha Rose, director of Island Transit, said she fired Financial Manager Barbara Savary in May after she disclosed that the agency didn’t have the money to pay $135,000 in bills.

Rose said she was dumbfounded to discover that Savary hadn’t been running the monthly cash flow analysis for years. She said the simple, internal report is not only a vital part of the job, but would have alerted the agency to cash flow concerns years ago.

Island Transit is an independent agency overseen by a board of directors. It offers fare-free transit and is funded by a nine-tenths of 1 percent sales tax and grants. The operating budget for this year is $12.2 million.

Unbeknownst to her, Rose said, Savary was dipping into investments as expenses outpaced revenues for years on end. Rose said she found unpaid bills in Savary’s desk after she was gone.

YouTube video – clearly set to the soundtrack of the James Bond movie Skyfall – has been posted of the Island County Commissioners’ Monday meeting where further revelations came forward.  On that YouTube video are statements pledging new accountability, a look into the fiscal sustainability of Island Transit and finally in the last 60 seconds “financial statements” made to the board were clearly “incorrect”.

Now I’d rather write about the great transit network we have here, complete with dang “selfies” of me using transit to see the great aviation community we have in Northwest Washington State.  But I believe you should know what’s going down up here as it’s going to color debates & dialogue on transit in this state.  Already the Washington Policy Center has written up a note,  noting, “More tax money from the state is not the solution to fix the financial mess at Island Transit. Better budget management and financial practices could have reduced the pain felt by communities across Island County. … Island Transit officials should better manage public tax dollars to rebuild the public trust and restore reliable and efficient bus service.”

Ultimately I hope all of us in the transit community heed these thoughts from Whidbey Newsgroup publisher Keven R. Graves that, “citizens need to reclaim ownership of their taxpayer-funded agencies, attend meetings, ask hard questions and push for tougher open records laws that don’t allow agencies to drag their heels and play games.  Take back your voice and demand greater accountability of government employees before things start going wrong.”  I would add when there are opportunities for transit advocates to raise your voice… please use up that First Amendment to the US Constitution of free speech, freedom of the press, freedom of peaceful assembly and petition the government for a redress of grievances – key freedoms our troops and First Responders fight for every day.

Better Parking Garages

There’s a piece in The Atlantic on parking garages, covering the state of the art from compact, automated garages to garages outfitted with green roofs and wind turbines:

“The initial response is, ‘Green parking—isn’t that an oxymoron?’ ” says Paul Wessel, executive director of the New Haven-based Green Parking Council, which in June released its Green Garage Certification Standard, modeled on the LEED program for green buildings. But once we admit that parking isn’t going away, he says, we might as well figure out how to make it more efficient and less harmful.

We’d probably see more of this kind of innovation if we didn’t mandate that developers include parking in their buildings.

Transit Timetable History

I have 3 historical timetables uploaded to my flickr account:

  • 7 RAINIER (1970)
  • 42 EMPIRE WAY (1972)
  • 9 BROADWAY (1976)

The 7 RAINIER of 1970 looks very similar to Metro’s route 7 of today.  The most notable routing difference is that the Henderson loop wasn’t used in 1970–there were turnback loops at Graham Street and Rose Street.  The midday schedule offered basic 10 minute headways on most of Rainier Avenue with every other bus turning back at Rose Street  (the Prentice loop was covered every 20 minutes).  Peak hour service added express runs and more local buses that turned back at Graham Street.

The 42 EMPIRE WAY of 1972 shows what transit service along MLK looked like before light rail (and the name change).  Bus service on the old 42 corridor has been replaced by the 8, 36, 106 and 107.  The basic service pattern in 1972 was 30 minute headways along Empire Way/MLK with hourly deviations to Holly Park.  At Rainier Beach the route split and covered tails that are parts of today’s 106 and 107 routes with hourly service on each tail.  There were no extensions to Skyway and Renton (they were added a few years later).

The 9 BROADWAY of 1976 was still using its historical routing that terminated south of the University Bridge at Martin Street.  Riders from Capitol Hill would then transfer on Eastlake to get to the University District.  There were a few trips that turned back at Aloha Street during peak hours, but the basic midday service pattern was 15 minute headways along the whole route with a live-loop in downtown Seattle.  The schedule also shows a Yesler-Broadway shuttle that ran just a few times a day, but eventually grew into route 60 and the First Hill Streetcar.