RTID did have a plan for 520, Viaduct is expensive

Read about the 520 plan here. It’s what they told me earlier this month, but I didn’t completely believe them. It’s basically a lot of tolls and the expectation that the viaduct won’t use much of the state’s special project money.

On the subject of the viaduct, you probably have already heard that Seattle’s Council approved $8.1 million for the study of a surface/transit option. Hopefully Light Rail could be part of the surface transit option, since the cost of a light rail system around there through West Seattle could be comparable to the difference in cost of the surface transit from the rebuild. The difference from the tunnel could pay for a new subway practically .

Project Cost (in millions)
Tunnel $3,600 to $4,100
Rebuild $3,200 to $3,500
Surface Roads ~$1,600
East Link Light Rail to Downtown Bellevue $1,465.2 to $1,684.9
Light Rail from University of Washington to Northgate* $1,126.6 to $1,239.3

*Includes about 3 miles of cut-and-cover bored subway.

If they can build rail from Seattle to Bellevue for less than $2 billion and imagine what they can do with the difference from the surface roads improvments and either the tunnel or the rebuild. They could connect light rail from Burien to West Seattle to Sodo and build a subway through Belltown to Seattle Center and maybe even connect rail through Ballard for the $3.5 potential difference between a tunnel and surface roads. I bet that plus the roads option would get more total people through than either the rebuild or the tunnel, and with the state’s new definition of capacity, that’s what should be done.

Update: someone wanted links to the numbers, so here they are for Sound Transit. Click on the project and a pdf will open with the cost estimate. For the Viaduct, I got the numbers from Wikipedia.

With Transit’s Help, Condo-zone Leaving City Center

Today PI ran an article about condo developments outside the city center in neighborhoods like Phinney Ridge, Wedgwood and Columbia City.

[Condo Marketer Bryon Ziegler] expects condos in Wedgwood and Phinney Ridge, and other neighborhoods farther from downtown increasingly will draw single parents, young families and move-down buyers, particularly after the start of light-rail service in 2009.

Light rail already is helping spur development in Columbia City, which has an increasingly fashionable commercial strip and will have a Sound Transit [Light-Rail] stop. Developers recently proposed two condo projects there, promising lower prices than downtown or Ballard condos.

Dense development is more affordable than single-family housing, and transit allows for more density and more affordability because transit enables car-free living.

Richardson is Pro-Transit

This post over at NPI’s blog about New Mexico Governor and Democratic Presidential Candidate Bill Richardson’s stop in Seattle has this nice nugget:

Transportation policy came up later during our discussion, and as Richardson began talking about mass transit, I asked him whether he would be willing to help out the Puget Sound with federal money for Link light rail.

Q: Would your administration grant a lot of money to metropolitan areas to build new and expand existing electric transit systems?

A: Yes! There is a highway bill that a President has. It’s the biggest pork in any bill. And it’s billions of dollars. When I was in Congress, it was $120 billion. We did it every three years. It’s gone up. And that’s money that goes straight to states. I would be a partner. I would say to Seattle: we will have some joint bonding. We will put in a certain amount if you do this and you build smart growth communities, [implement] sensible land use policies, and you commit to light rail instead of just expanding existing highways.

Richardson also pledged to keep Amtrak going and concluded by saying that he would be “a President with a national transportation policy: focused on light rail, bullet trains, more efficient transportation.”

Richardson’s answers on transportation left me satisfied but wondering about the other candidates. Transportation is not an important issue nationally – presidential candidates don’t spend much time talking about it – but it is a huge issue at the state level, and particularly here in Washington, where our infrastructure is aging and in need of new investment.

His point is pretty well thought-out. The joint-bonding would help speed up development since we know that all Sound Transit needs to complete its project faster is more of its money upfront. It can only issue five-year bonds, which means that it can only spend five years’ worth of income at a time. If the feds would joint issue the bonds, the bonds could be for 30 years with a much lower interest rate which would dramatically speed up the projects and actually make them cheaper.

What Ever Happened To ORCA?

Remember ORCA? It stands for One Regional Card for All (I think the namers were LOTR fans), and was a test of a regional smart card that would work on seven transit systems: King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Everett Transit Route, Kitsap Transit, Washington State Ferries, and Pierce transit. I never heard anything about it again after that, so I asked the ORCA team, but they never responded.

Does anyone know anything about it?

Transit Quote of the Week

Of course, you might argue that adding highway lanes are never free, since they add to our reliance on automobiles. That’s valid, but it’s worth noting that widening 405 is a pretty mild step compared with building 49 miles of light rail. There’s no real radical road package to oppose here, like, for example, a new I-605 cutting through the Cascade foothills. It’s all pretty basic stuff. By voting “no” on this package, transit supporters would be cutting off their nose to spite their face. (Emphasis added)

From Orphan Road.

RTID is a compromise

Josh Feit of The Stranger has a very kooky argument against the RTID. Something about net-present value and inflation and loans that basically falls apart when serious thought is put to it. He complains:

However, I am not able to stomach $6.7 billion or $14 billion on roads—roads— when I was told by everyone in town that $3 billion or $11 billion was too much for mass transit.

As Frank over at Orphan Road pointed out, the $14 billion figure is for roads all over the tri-county area. The $11 billion figure is for one line in the city. Comparing the two is virtually meaningless. And if you don’t drive a car, then you won’t even pay much for RTID because it is mostly paid for by MVET ($80 per $10,000 assessed value), with only a .1% increase in sales tax. It’s not much money, $10 for every $10,000 spent.

He also hammers on about the “carbon footprint” of the RTID which is a strawman argument. Here’s a reductio ad absurdum about the carbon footprint argument. Suppose you oppose anything that will increase “carbon footprints” (like roads), and support anything with the potential to reduce it. Then you should oppose RTID because it will increase the “carbon footprint” of the region, and you should support ST2 because it could decrease the “carbon footprint”. But you should also support destroying I-5 because that would decrease the “carbon footprint” of the region. So let’s destroy all roads and outlaw gas and we can live like cavemen with no carbon footprint but the wood we burn to cook our food.

Look, I’m an environmentalist, I’m not gung-ho about RTID, I don’t like the cross-base highway, and most of the projects won’t have much positive effect for me at all. The only one that would have any effect on me, replacing 520, isn’t even completely funded in the proposal. However it is a pill I’m willing to swallow if I am going to be able to take a train to see my little brother in the UD, or to buy some shoes downtown. We can’t sit and wait for the perfect propsal that pleases everyone, we have to accept what will make the best compromise and move forward from there.

Sound Transit Board Adopts ST2 Plan

Today Sound Transit’s board unanimously adopted the ST2 plan that will go to the ballot this November. From the press release:

Sound Transit 2’s light rail expansions build on the light rail in Sound Transit’s first phase, including the line between downtown Seattle and the airport that will open in 2009; the University of Washington extension that Sound Transit is working to start building as soon as 2008; and the Tacoma Link system that is operating today.

The Sound Transit 2 Plan adds service northward from the University of Washington to Northgate, Shoreline, Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and the 164th Street/Ash Way area of Snohomish County. To the south the system would extend through Des Moines, Federal Way and Fife to the Tacoma Dome, connecting with the existing Tacoma Link light rail system. A long-awaited light rail extension across Lake Washington would serve Mercer Island, Bellevue and Redmond’s Overlake/Microsoft area.

Check out the finalized plan that will go on the ballot. I am definitely voting for it, even if I’m not a fan of the RTID piece. We’ll never get a sent a transit package that will make everyone happy, and the more ballots we pass, the more we show those who can do something that we want more transit.

Transit News Roundup

The PI endorsed the surface and transit option … well the study of it at least. In this op-ed piece, the paper “strong encourages” the council to “approve the $8 million study”. They also seem to support amendments to the proposal that would keep improvements that would lead to replacement from being started.

They also sort of come out against the streetcar, saying that its usefulness is suspect and that funding it will get in the way of expanding bus service in the city. I agree that the city can’t afford to lose any bus improvements, but the street car could become part of a larger network of cars that will cross the city and improve mobility dramatically. San Francisco’s Muni cars are a huge part of it’s transportation system, though I have to concede in some places they resemble Link more than the streetcars Seattle is building.

King-5 had a piece about how transit ridership is up. All the major transportation agencies in the region have seen year-over-year increases of about 8-10%.

Metro Transit

– Boardings were up 8.9 percent in April 2007 compared to April 2006, translating to about 30,000 more weekday riders.

Pierce Transit

– Boardings were up 8.7 percent in April 2007 compared to April 2006.

Sound Transit

– Bus boardings were up 10 percent overall in April 2007 compared to April 2006.

– Sounder commuter train boardings were up 27 percent in the same period.

Community Transit – … double digit increases in April 2007 compared to April 2006. That’s similar to the jump from the same time last year.

Apparently, gas prices, traffic fatigue and new employment is the cause. But as more people take transit, the demand for more transit will grow, and the political movement behind building more will grow.

Finally USA today discussed the 100 million more people who will live in America by 2040 (a couple million of which will live in the Seattle region), and how transit projects are being approved all over the country.

Shilshole to Downtown Ferry?

Everybody loves the Elliot Bay Water Taxi. This Ballard News Tribune piece about transportation brings up the possibility of a Ballard to Downtown Ferry.

A new King County Ferry District ordinance, passed recently by the Metropolitan King County Council, could potentially fund a feasibility study for a passenger-only ferry route from Shilshole to downtown Seattle. The district could also support the operation of Vashon-Seattle ferries and year-round Elliott Bay Water Taxi service.

Funding to study the Shilshole Ferry idea could be included in that plan, he said.

That study would raise many questions about how the route might operate, such as dock site, customer market, operating issues and parking.

The piece also mentions the idea of a Sounder stop in Ballard, which would likely slow down the trip to and from Everett but would probably add a lot of numbers to the route. It wouldn’t be that expensive either since the line goes through Ballard already.

What Seattle Gets out of ST2

Over at Slog, people were upset with the “Cross-base Highway” included in the RTID plan that goes to the ballot with Sound Transit’s ST2 package. One major complaint was that RTID does almost nothing for Seattle, and that ST2 does a smaller portion for the city than ST1 one did, and Seattlites should vote against it. If you look at Sound Transit’s ST2 page, Seattle is getting a lot out of that transit package (more on that below).

As for RTID, it is true that only three projects take place within the city limits. The first is the widening of Mercer street near I-5. The second are a bunch of improvements in the southern industrial area of the city, which includes a transit-only ramp off I-5 at South Industrial Way. The last is an replacement for 520 which is partially funded by RTID. The 520 replacement is as useful for the Eastside as it is for Seattle, so that only counts for half a project for the city. The industrial improvements are mostly for freight and shipping, which benefits the whole region (there’s no Port of Kirkland, for example). So Seattle is definitely getting the short end of the stick in terms of RTID spending. For $5 billion in spending, less than half-a-billion is going to Seattle-only projects, and about $1.1 billion is going to half-Seattle, half-Eastside project.

Sound Transit will benefit Seattle much more than RTID. There will be two more subway stations added to the north end of the Link Rail, where it extends past Montlake/University of Washington. The 43rd & Brooklyn Station will be especially useful. This part of ST2 alone will cost $1.126 billion to $1.239 billion. Then, there will be a Northgate elevated station and a station on 145th at the city limits. This adds another $300 million or so, though it will be as useful for Shoreline as it is for Seattle.

For the East Link, there will be an at-grade station on Rainer and about 23rd Ave. That won’t be incredibly useful since that area is mostly well-served by the “Central Link” that already goes through the South End, but it definitely will get a lot of use, possibly even just from Amazon employees coming from the Eastside. Also, the East Link in general will help Seattlites who are commuting East (like me), and Eastsiders who commute into the city. Plus it will be paid entirely out of the Eastside’s Sound Transit money. Finally, there will be the First Hill street car. This costs $150 million and will greatly expand the “network effect” of the Capitol Hill station.

In addition there is an $8 million study of a Burien-West Seattle-Downtown rail (that’s technically getting paid partially out of the South King County budget), and a $5 million study of a Downtown-Ballard-Wallingford-UW line. That’s the one which would have made my childhood growing up in Wallingford/Green Lake so much different. I think that red line in the image actually goes right through the house I grew up in. Finally, there’s a $5 million study of HCT across 520. Let’s hope these don’t take until 2050 or something.

So, RTID is not a good deal for Seattle. But Sound Transit is a great deal for Seattle, so it’s a trade-off. Since ST2 is paid for by a .5% sales tax increase and RTID is paid for by a .1% sales tax increase and a $80 per $10,000 assessed value MVET, if you don’t own a car, you won’t pay much for RTID. At least that makes its payment scheme more fair than any other highway project ever attempted in this state. My only complaint about ST2 is the time frames discussed. 2027 to Overlake TC? Will I still make that commute in 20 years?

Link Rail Assembly

Here’s a nice article about the assembly of the Link Rail Cars in Everett in one of Boeing’s huge barns. At the end of the article is a nice list of facts about the rail cars, including the fact that if ST2 passes 188 more cars will be added to the 35 in the original order and the 27 for the University Link. That’s about 250 cars!

Thanks to Andrew for the tip and the second photo below:

Sound Transit Lunch Bus

I went on the Sound Transit Lunch Bus, where we took a tour of the light rail project through SoDo and the South End. It was really fun and the people from Sound Transit were really nice.

Some cool things I learned on the bus tour:

  • The “Rail” Sign on the maintenance facility has the old ‘R’ from the Rainer Beer factory, now the Tully’s headquarters, which is across the street from the facility. The ‘R’ was donated by MOHAI.
  • Beacon Hill is mostly glacial till and sand, so building the tunnel was not as bad as it could have been. Actually, since the machine can only bore 50 feet a day, and they need one tunnel for each direction, it takes almost two years to built one mile of tunnel. That’s one reason the connection to the University will take until 2016. The other is that a mile of tunnel costs about $280 million.
  • One disappointment was the lack of bike parking at the stations. Mount Baker will have about 6 bike lockers, but the other street-loading stations won’t have any.
  • There will be no parking at any of the South End stations, and they are all surrounded by dense-ish development. A lot of the development is pretty attractive! I haven’t been to the South End in years (I’ve been living in San Francisco), and I was happy to see it hasn’t all completely gentrified like the Central District seems to have. When I was in high school in the CD, it was at least half or a quarter black. Now it’s a white neighborhood.
  • I tried to get photos of the actual tunnel and the actual station at Mount Baker, but I was chased out by the contractors. I didn’t realize they worked 24 hours a day, seven days a week!

A couple more things. I was a little bit surprised to see the rail has been laid on MLK instead of Rainier Ave., because “Columbia City” is on Rainier Ave, about half a mile east of where the station has been put. Also, the Mount Baker intersection is about a mile east of that neighborhood’s traditional definition. So that was little bit of a surpise. The bus they took us on had “special” written on the top. I broke my foot in a soccer accident (don’t ask) so I was limping pretty heavily when I got off the bus, and after me a grandma in a walker got off the bus. A teen-aged boy across the street saw us and said to his friend, “Oh, the special bus.” I broke up laughing.

Streetcar Looking Positive

This Times piece on the streetcar seemed really positive until I read this bit: “Will these newcomers pay $1.50 at rush hour to take a short trip, at an average 9 to 10 mph? The city should find out soon after the streetcar’s grand opening in December.” Ouch! 9 mph? That’s pretty slow, about half the speed of driving.

I have to get numbers, but I wonder how fast the Portland Streetcar or any of San Francisco’s Muni lines are on street level. I remember reading the T-Third Street in San Francisco would go up to 25 mph at street level, but I couldn’t find a link to that article.

The rest of the article is positive, however:

Streetcar boosters point to nearby stories of success.
Sound Transit’s free streetcar in downtown Tacoma beat expectations by averaging 2,835 trips a day, or triple what a downtown bus carried.
Portland’s streetcar carries 9,000 riders a day and has steadily extended its route. Officials call it a “development-oriented streetcar,” because the project helped transform an old railroad yard into the trendy Pearl District.

The City has plans to extend the streetcar up Eastlake to the U-District in the future. My concern is the 15 minutes between cars and the 9 mph will make the streetcar too slow to ride, and would discourage streetcar developments in the rest of the city. Let’s hope it’s a huge success.

Water Taxi Could Run Year Round

According to this PI article, the west Seattle Water Taxi could start running year round. Apparently it gets 122,000 riders a year, which makes it more popular than almost any bus route. Metro is considering other foot-ferry routes, in particular, Kirkland to the University of Washington. I’d take that if they’d let me bring a bike on the ferry.

To pay for the expandeded service, the want to impose a property tax:

The council is expected to impose a property tax of 2 to 3 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation for the ferries, costing the owner of a home assessed at $400,000 from $8 to $12 a year. The tax money would make up the difference between the revenue provided by fares and the cost of operating the ferry service, including any connecting shuttle buses.

In 2006, Metro spent $386,474 on the water taxi while collecting $171,102 in fares. The West Seattle shuttle buses cost the agency another $185,808 to operate.

I don’t know if a couple of bucks per ride is a bargain or not for transit, but I wish they’d raise taxes for rail lines (such as the South Lake Union Streetcar).

I talked about foot ferries about a month ago.

When are Tickets Purchased?

In Metroblogging Seattle’s write-up of BRT in Quinto, Naomi says “You pay as you enter the stop, so that when the vehicle stops, it is quick to enter.” Wow, that’s a great idea, and makes me wonder, how will people pay for Link? The Tacoma link is free, so there’s no precedence there. Way down in the South Bay, VTA has machines on the track to buy tickets and then it’s a proof of payment system. SkyTrain in Vancouver works the same way. BART, and most other heavy rail systems, have turnstyles and ticket machines. Street cars in San Francisco are pay as you enter, like buses in Seattle. I’m guessing Link will work the VTA/Skytrain way and not the BART way, but I’ll make sure when I go to the tour lunch tomorrow and see completed (!!) stations.

Meeting with Sound Transit Yesterday

Sound Transit and someone from WashDot came to work yesterday and talked about the RTID ballot for next year. The first guy talked about all the road work, which is about $7bn worth of improvements on choke points. He made a point to say that they were looking at SR-520 more than the press has been giving them credit for.

After him a rather polite and knowledgeable guy talked about the East Link rail for about 20 minutes before giving over to someone who explained the flexibility of light rail and it’s advantages over heavy rail. Basically, more flexibility when it comes to at-grade sections.

We then had a question and answer, where I asked the most unpopular question, “Vancouver is building the Canada Line in 7 years with $2billion USD, if Light Rail is so great, why does it cost so much and take so long?” The gentleman answered that the environmental rules were less strict in Canada, which I believe. The other differences were the Skytrains’ routes will be smaller and they won’t have to build across a lake. He said the date could be moved to as soon as 2018 (it’s 2027 now) if Sound Transit only had more money. I think if they would put ST2 on the ballot after the central link is finished, people would see its usefulness and be willing to fork over the cash.

Someone asked why the line is not gauranteed to go all the way to downtown Redmond and instead is only slated to go to Overlake Transit Center? Apparently if a tunnel is built through Bellevue it’ll cost about $250~$400 million a mile compared to $150 million for elevated and only $80 million for at grade. That’s a lot of money, and with that it would be difficult to get the train all the way to downtown Redmond. Also, Downtown Redmond is not a major employment center, but there is a major push to get the train to Redmond because parking around Overlake is already nasty and anyone taking the train into Bellevue or the city would have no where to park.

So my question is does Bellevue really need a tunnel? I know that they no longer consider themselves a suburb and want to be a real city with a subway and high-rises, but they are limiting the usefulness of their own train line by insisting on a tunnel. We’ll see how this goes, but I think if we have at grade stations in the city, they can handle at grade stations in Bellevue.

Finally, someone asked if there was any possibility of new park and rides in the city. The answer was, “No, the city of Seattle is against new parking lots, and areas around train stations will be for dense mixed-use developments.” That was my expectation, too. I think Nickels and Sims are planning on putting a lot of buses toward the stations, so park and rides won’t be very necessary.