I-90’s HOV Lane

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

What can I say, I suppose it’s “HOV Lane Friday” here at Orphan Road.

Driving back from Bellevue this morning, I noticed work had begun on adding HOV lanes on and around Mercer Island:

I-90 has a two-lane reversible center roadway between Seattle and Bellevue for buses, carpools and vanpools only. Traffic travels westbound in the mornings and eastbound in the evenings on the center roadway. However, buses, carpools and vanpools that are traveling in the opposite direction of the center roadway are forced to use general-purpose lanes. This makes buses and other high occupancy vehicles traveling between Seattle and Bellevue run increasingly late during rush hours, and reduces the benefits of sharing the ride.

The reversible center lane, used on I-90 and I-5 north of Seattle, naturally only works when the bulk of traffic is going one way in the morning and the other way in the afternoon. That may have been the case years ago, when the I-90 lane was first envisioned (and it’s still mostly the case on I-5), but it’s not the case any more on the Eastside. In fact, there may even be more people traveling East in the morning. Q.E.D., the buses suck.

Fortunately, when light rail is built across I-90, they’ll do away with the reversible center lane entirely, use it for the trains instead, and put standard HOV lanes in either direction. I suspect the work on Mercer Island is a precursor to that effort.

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520’s HOV Lane

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Cascadia Report offers a fix for getting traffic moving on SR520 now:

So here’s an idea: Immediately move 520’s westbound HOV lane to the left side from Redmond to Seattle. Instead of being stopped by merging traffic in the right-hand lane, buses and three-person carpools could speed through the corridor. Forcing cars with one passenger to merge from two lanes into one before crossing the bridge would be a dramatic incentive to take transit or carpool.

The change could be made almost overnight and would boost capacity. Demand for buses would soar and suddenly people would be willing to carpool, even if it meant sharing rides with (gasp!) strangers. If drivers really wanted more lanes they would be incented to support funding a new bridge.

It’s certainly an idea I’ve had myself from time to time, as I sat in traffic on the bus from Redmond to Seattle (I used to work out there). I can certainly sympathize with CR’s daunting tale of a nightmarish afternoon commute on the bus. So long as the Westbound traffic on 520 doesn’t back up past the 405 interchange, you’re usually okay. But if it does… ho boy, things can get gnarly pretty quick.

Unfortunately, CR’s idea to shift the HOV lane from the right-hand side to the left (thereby preventing buses from getting stuck in the 405 snarl) won’t work, from what I understand. It turns out that the HOV lane on 520 is an afterthought. It was a shoulder lane that WSDOT converted to an HOV lane after the fact. As such, it’s not safe enough for general-purpose traffic. (This is also why it has a 3-person HOV requirement.)

Here’s a 2002 report on the subject from WSDOT:

These shoulder HOV lanes can safely accommodate three-person HOV traffic flow, but not general traffic flow.

When the 6-lane bridge is eventually put in place, then it definitely makes sense to re-engineer 520 to allow general traffic in the right two lanes and HOV traffic in the far left lane. But that would require some major construction.

However, in the interest of being solutions-oriented, let me offer one of my own. The idea is simple: we could instantly reduce the traffic from Redmond to Seattle in the afternoon if we gave people an incentive to do a 2-person carpool. As it stands now, 2-person carpools get stuck in the general traffic along with solo drivers, so you might as well drive solo.

Since we don’t have the lanes to work with, we need other incentives. One option would be to pay people who do a 2-person car pool. How do you pay them? I’m not sure. Maybe they stop for some kind of coupon when they get to Montlake, or maybe we photograph all the cars and then send a check to everyone (by matching license plates) whom we can verify has a passenger.

The other option is good, old-fashioned public shame. Maybe make up bumper stickers or road signs that say “I’m doing my part to make this commute better… have you found a 2-person carpool?” I’m skeptical about such a solution, but since the majority of commuters coming back from the East side work for a few large employers, the community is tightly knit enough that social pressure just might work.

At the very least, we could make it easier for slugging to occur. I’ve been waiting at the bus stop on NE 148th in Bellevue several times and had a driver pull up and offer to take two people across the bridge to Montlake. Whether that reduces traffic or just makes for emptier buses crossing the bridge, I’m not sure.

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You Had Me at “Monorail”

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Folke Nyberg wants to repair the viaduct. The consensus opinion is that you can’t repair it. And even if you could, Nyberg’s suggestions strike me as… odd. For example, I’m not sure how you “accommodat[e] emergency parking on each side of existing roadways” without tearing the thing down to widen it.

But hey, in the end, he throws a bone to monorail enthusiasts:

7. Considering an extension of the monorail line from the Seattle Center to the sports stadiums alongside the viaduct, with a possible extension to West Seattle and Ballard;

So hey, how bad can he be?

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Seattle Grew at 1.3% Last Year


Which also means the city got 1.3% more dense last year, the most of any year since 1968. The county grew at 1.4%, less than last year’s 1.5%, so Seattle’s share of the county’s population continues to fall, though this time ever so slightly.

The new statistics show that efforts to concentrate growth in existing cities such as Seattle are paying off, Nickels said.

“One of the secrets I think to our success to be able to battle climate change will be for cities to become really compelling places to live, because we can’t afford to have people driving 40, 50, 60 miles alone from work anymore.”

King County Demographer Chandler Felt said Seattle growth, and the lack of growth in unincorporated King County are successes of growth management.

“I think it’s pretty remarkable that Seattle is managing to grow at a comparable rate to its county and region,” he said.

Seattle now sits at 586,200, but housing is still scarce (from the PI article):

Abie Flaxman, 29, moved to Seattle from Pittsburgh last July to take a job as a mathematician at Microsoft, and found things were different here.

“Housing is the major issue in everyone’s life in Seattle,” he said. “Pittsburgh’s got houses for everybody. It’s got twice as many houses as it needs right now.”


Even with all the construction (some nine 25+ story condo towers are going to be completed by 2010, just within downtown), housing is still the major factor from density in the city. Nickels has said he wants 925,000 people in the city by 2040, which everyone thinks is completely unrealistic (including myself).

My simple excel extrapolation says that if Seattle continued to grow by 1.3% each year for the next 33, we’d hit 900,000 in 2040. To get to 925,000 we’d have to get about 1.39%, almost a percentage point higher. I have a feeling when Nickels says that 925,000 number, he is including the North Highline annexation, which would mean Seattle would only need to grow about 1.22~1.24%, depending on how many people live in North Highline (most people say 30,000~34,000). Still even 1.22% over 33 years will be tough for the city without massive development on the order we’ve been seeing continuing for years.

Seattle’s growth from 2000 to 2006 averaged 1.1%, which would be about 841,000 by 2040 without North Highline, and 890,000 with it. I bet that’s a more realistic number, but I’ll be 59 in 2040, so I wonder if I’ll care as much then. Even to get there, whole parts of the city will continue to need development. Well at least we’re growing smart, not sprawling out as much as the nation’s newest 5th biggest city, Phoenix, with 1.4 million at a density about that of Kitsap county.

Here’s a times article about the state at large.

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City to help pay for SLU Streetcar


On Monday, the council approved money for the car, which has seen cost overruns. PI editorial board did not like that, feeling they were taking money away from buses.

Personally I feel like the streetcar is nothing-ventured-nothing gained project. The streetcar in Portland has attracted a lot of development, and it is preferable to buses because it is so much more comfortable and somehow seems more reliable (whether it is or not). South Lake Union already seems to be attracting tenants. Since much of the money for the streetcar (even with cost over runs) came from private property owners, I think it’s a good deal that for the city, and a nice chance to see if these kinds of streetcars will work here. Unfortunately the line is too short to be really useful (it would have to go at least to UW to be), but it could be the start of something great, or a mildy inexpensive boondoggle.

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Elway Poll

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Via STB, we have our first real poll of support for the Roads and Transit package: 57% support, but only 38% had heard of it before the call. That’s surprisingly consistent with the 61% that Elway polled in April.

There will be a major campaign coming to inform people about the package in the coming months. But unless Kemper Freeman dedicates his personal fortune to defeating it, the opposition looks pretty feeble so far. The model here has to be the recent I-933 campaign, where the establishment came through with millions in donations that dwarfed the proponents. Create an aura of inevitability, that’s the next step.

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Seoul

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Surface:

Transit:

Seoul has announced a plan to build seven light rail tracks around the city by year 2017.
The new tracks will cover approximately 64 km and will be constructed in areas now suffering from heavy traffic congestion or from a relatively backward mass transit system.

City officials expect the light rail service to cater to some 600,000 users on a daily basis when they are completed ten years from now.

Noted without comment.

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Rethink Rail not well Thought Out



An organization called Rethink Rail sponsored by Talisma Corp has come up with a plan to run heavy-rail across the existing BNSF tracks on the Eastside. It’s a pretty neat idea, and they got a tour set-up for July 17th. It’s a fairly similar plan to what Sound Transit is going to study for the area if (when!) ST2 passes. The Puget Sound Regional Counsel has a nice map of the rail line, it’s the red one. They’ve also got some “>fascinating preliminary studies of rail through that corridor.

The problems I see:
1) It’s pretty far from Downtown Bellevue, so a second transport mechanism would be required to move people from there to and from the station. It’d require either some kind of bus or secondary rail system.
2) There’s a huge section that passes outside of the growth boundary until Snohomish county, way out in the middle of no where.
3) The southern section runs right next to lake, where few people live and the (rich) people who do live there probably aren’t that interested in having stations in their neighborhoods. Actually, the rich people idea holds true for a lot of the rail on that line.

Still, I think it’s a good idea to put something there, and that area probably doesn’t have the density to support light rail.

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PI: Stop Subsidizing the Streetcar

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

the P-I doesn’t like the idea of losing bus service to accommodate the SLU Streetcar:

“Ultimately, it is dollars,” Licata said, adding that while a Metro bus costs $104 an hour to operate, a streetcar costs $182. Plus, only 14 percent of the 83 segments that make up the city’s 61 transit corridors get bus service every 15 minutes for 12 hours a day, which is what the SLU streetcar will provide to a very limited number of users. True, getting a whiz-bang light rail service may free up some Metro transit hours, but we could sure use those hours for feeder buses to light rail stations.

We said it before, and we’ll say it again: Cost overruns for the South Lake Union Streetcar should be covered by the rather deep pockets of the businesses — a collective known as the Local Improvement District. The city and the county need as many transit hours as they can get.

The streetcar’s a good deal, but only because the local businesses are willing to tax themselves to pay for it. Otherwise, crawling down Westlake at 9mph doesn’t strike me as the best use of the city’s limited transit dollars.

There are other benefits, of course: by developing the South Lake Union area and attracting businesses, the project is increasing Seattle’s overall tax base, for example. But we shouldn’t have to rely on such second- and third-order benefits to justify the expense.

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High-Speed Rail in California

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One of the impediments to the long-awaited high-speed rail project in California is that you have to run the tracks through a lot of communities in the Imperial Valley. These communities, quite reasonably, want a train station in exchange for the land (to spur development, create jobs, etc.). But if you add too many stops, the train stops being, well… high-speed.

In that sense, it’s good to see one central CA city put it all into context and admit that hey, it’s okay that the train isn’t going to stop there.

P.S.: if you’ve got the time, check out this sweet promo video for the project:

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Bus Wrap

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Metro tries to square the circle:

Metro Transit is proposing a new bus-wrap ad program that would partially wrap buses with advertising, including covering “only a portion” of the bus windows. The revised program would generate up to $900,000 a year in revenue, county officials said.

Last November, the Metropolitan King County Council voted to get rid of advertising that completely covered a bus, including the windows.

Some bus riders complained that wrapped buses were dark and that views were greatly reduced, but the move will cost the Seattle area transit agency $743,000 in revenue.

It’s true that fully-wrapped buses can suck, especially on those rainy winter nights when the bus is stiflingly muggy. Glad they found a way around it.

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Mediators

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ever-consious about repeating the Viaduct fiasco, Gov. Gregoire has brought in some out-of-town help to forge consensus on 520:

The economic and transportation artery connecting the increasingly urban Eastside with an activist, neighborhood-oriented Seattle raises environmental, transit, bridge design and noise-reduction concerns.

Design proposals are particularly controversial in the most heavily affected areas — Montlake, the University of Washington and the Washington Park Arboretum.

Carless in Seattle has more on the various designs.

Now, I may come to regret this, but it strikes me that the 520 bridge is potentially much easier to solve than the Viaduct. Here’s why: the Viaduct straddles Seattle’s front doorstep, Elliot Bay. It’s extremely visible and public. It’s also in the center of a (primarily) non-residential urban core, a part of the city that most of us see and use on a daily or near-daily basis. In other words, there’s a great sense of collective ownership of the downtown waterfront.

The 520 bridge, on the other hand, primarily affects the neighboring residential neighborhoods (and various nearby entities like UW and the Arboretum). These constituencies have organized into discrete factions. Additionally, there’s more or less a consensus that (a) the bridge needs to be replaced, (b) it needs to be replaced with another bridge, and (c) the replacement should have 6 lanes with an HOV or other high-capacity option.

Given all that, a mediation process, therefore, ought to be able to bring the leaders of these various groups into alignment without getting the whole city involved in a potentially disastrous ballot process.

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If You Build It, They Will Come

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Phoenix, AZ edition:

The Mesa Planning and Zoning Board recommended approval of West Main Street Station, only six weeks after voting to reject it, after developer Dan Randall agreed to a series of changes that made the development somewhat more palatable to nearby residents.

Designed to capitalize on the Metro light rail line, the project’s success may prove pivotal in the redevelopment of West Main Street. It combines 55 townhouses with 13 shops at 1350 W. Main St., the site of a former automobile dealership and, later, Tracker Marine, a boat dealership.

A zoning change, to allow higher density residential development, is scheduled to go before the Mesa City Council on July 9. The development is not oriented toward light rail alone because it still offers parking for residents and visitors.

“It brings a nice breath of fresh air to an otherwise distressed part of Main Street,” said Rich Adams, the planning board’s chairman, who voted against the proposal June 2. “I think it would have sent the wrong signal” to recommend the council reject it again.

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Density Again

There has been a lot going back and forth about density, so I’d like to write about it yet again. My basic argument about density with relation to transit is that transit creates density, not the other way around. New York had 500,000 people when it’s first railway was built in 1849 , 617,000 people subway was built in 1869, and had 7,891,957 people 80 years later in 1950. London had 1.35 million in 1831 when it’s first railways were built, had 2.5 million when the tube began construction (in 1863) and had ballooned to 8,615,245 76 years later (1939).

So when you here about transit and density, think not about how much density is required to support fixed-guide-way mass transit, but instead think about how much construction will be built around that transit. Case in point: Saturday the New York Times ran this piece about transit oriented development in Utah.

Murray City and Hamlet Homes are taking advantage of growing buyer interest in living and working near the regional TRAX light rail system, which has operated in the Salt Lake Valley since 1999. The Murray North station, one of three TRAX stops in Murray City — population 50,000 — serves as the centerpiece of Birkhill at Fireclay.

Salt Lake City and its closest suburbs built the $520 million, 19-mile, 23-station TRAX system, which carries more than 55,000 riders a day, well ahead of ridership projections. Voters have also repeatedly passed sales tax increases, including one approved last November, to spend $2.5 billion more in the next decade to complete 26 additional miles of light rail, 88 miles of heavy commuter rail line and nearly 40 extra station stops. The only American metropolitan area that is building more regional rapid transit capacity is Denver, which is constructing a 151-mile system.

Uh, does it seem to me that the low density places like Utah and Denver benefit more from new rail already high density places? Development is relatively easy, there is more community transformation and it is easier to obtain rights of way. In fact, one of the reasons that was so cheap was the right of way was an abandoned railway. Sounds a bit like the BNSF corridor on the Eastside, doesn’t it?

So you may think that means that high-density Seattle won’t get much out of transit. But Seattle is actually relatively low density. People get confused because the downtown core is so dense, they think that Seattle is a dense city. It is not. I have compiled this table of city densities with how populated Seattle would be if it were that dense.

As you can see, even epitome of sprawl Los Angeles is far more dense than Seattle. In fact, Seattle would have 700,000 people (by my calculations), instead of the 580,000 it has now, if it were as dense as Los Angeles. Seattle is about like Cleveland and Detroit, not cities I think of when I think of dense.

Despite it’s recent condo boom, Bellevue is far to the low end of cities, though it is probably unfair to compare a satellite city to main ones. The point remains, this is a low density region, and mass transit won’t have quite the effect here as it had in London or New York, but I imagine with enough transit built Seattle could easily get to be as dense as San Francisco or Chicago, in the one million people range.

Here’s a decent argument from Clark Williams-Derry (of Sightline) about how transit works in Vancouver, and how it could work here from the Tacoma News Tribune.

But when density rises a bit, transit becomes viable. By clustering homes near transit stops, and mixing residences with stores and services, neighborhoods in greater Vancouver have created more opportunities for convenient, cost-effective transit service.

Data from the Canadian census shows that roughly two-thirds of greater Vancouver’s residents live in a compact neighborhood – the sort of place where transit begins to be convenient and reliable. At last count, only about one-quarter of the people in the greater Puget Sound region live in that kind of compact neighborhood.

Transit doesn’t solve everything, of course. Despite its transit-friendly neighborhoods, greater Vancouver’s traffic is still pretty darn congested. Still, even if Vancouver’s focus on transit-friendly neighborhoods hasn’t guaranteed breezy commutes, the effects have almost certainly been worthwhile. First, without Vancouver’s transit edge, the city’s commuters would almost certainly be worse off than they are right now. If you lowered Vancouver’s transit ridership to Seattle-Tacoma levels, tens of thousands of additional cars would flood their roads during peak hours – the very time when they’re already jammed to capacity.

He’s got the argument backwards as I keep pointing out. Vancouver wasn’t dense before they built Skytrain and other transit options, it became dense when transit became more reliable. The argument about lowering Vancouver’s transit ridership is silly, because if they had never built Skytrain, Vancouver and it’s suburbs wouldn’t be nearly as dense as it is now, with far more sprawl, and far fewer compact neighborhoods. Building transit here will allow for more density. It certainly won’t solve everything, but more roads won’t either.

Clark Williams-Derry does have this nice point:

And finally, Vancouver’s transit-friendly neighborhoods have kept residents safer. In Washington, car crashes are the leading killer of people under the age of 45. But Pierce County residents are 70 percent more likely to die in a car crash than are residents of greater Vancouver – not because the roads are less safe, but simply because residents in counties like Pierce have to drive so much. (Mile for mile, riding a bus is about 10 times safer than driving a car.)

Well, I will feel a little more safe aboard the bus tomorrow.

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RTID gets approval in King County

Read an article about it here.

The King County Council agreed Monday to place a $9.7 billion regional road-building plan on the November ballot, where it will be combined with a $17.5 billion proposal to expand the Sound Transit light rail system.

“I believe that this package is a very important investment in the region’s future,” Councilman Reagan Dunn, R-Bellevue, said before the approval of the highway construction proposal from the Regional Transportation Investment District.

That’s how you get the Republicans to vote for Transit, give them some roads.

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