The Viaduct and Prop. 1

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Larry Lange, in a great roundup of Proposition 1, highlights some viaduct goodness in the package:

Seattle stands to get $323 million in regional money if Proposition 1 passes to finance about 90 percent of three major road improvement projects on Mercer, and South Lander and Spokane streets. Those routes could handle traffic during the removal of the Alaskan Way Viaduct and ultimately facilitate a surface-street replacement.

Indeed. Improving east-west connecitons south of downtown will make it easier to move people and freight without the viaduct. Additionally, adding lanes to I-405 will help realize one of my own little surface-transit ideas: routing Everett-to-Tacoma through traffic onto 405, freeing up capacity on I-5 to handle the viaduct-free future.

Either way, passing Prop. 1 will make a surface-transit replacement for the viaduct far easier.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

morganb, writing in the comments, makes what is, I think, a relatively common observation:

So, while I believe that the imperative to act is more urgent than some do, I really think that focusing on this moment in time as our only opportunity prevents us from looking into the future. Politics on transportation and on the environment are in flux right now, and we need to preserve our capacity to adjust as the times change.

Even if we pass Prop. 1, we can still adjust our priorities down the road, as public sentiment in the 3-county region moves more towards morganb’s perspective. Construction isn’t set to begin on many of these projects (light rail and highways) until 2018 or later. And heck, if we can stop construction on the monorail mere months before it starts, surely we can stop construction on anything, right?

For example, Salt Lake City recently announced that the extension of their light rail network, originally planned for 2030, would be open by 2012. How? They were able to pass a referendum to generate extra cash. We could easily do the same thing here, should we decide to plow more money into light rail and less into road building. But first we have to have the framework in place, and that’s what Prop 1 provides.


Prop. 1

Prop. 1 is a vote about a lot of different things. It’s a vote about 50 miles of rail, and $7 billion or so of new roads, replacements for existing roads, and improvements for existing roads. To me it’s more than that, it’s also a vote on the sort of city we want to live in, what life is going to be like in Seattle in 50 years, and whether Seattle can finally move out of the sort of transportation “Groundhog’s Day” (as the PI put it) and become a city that actually gets things done rather than just talking about the perfect plan for generations.

One thing it’s not, or shouldn’t be: It’s not a vote about global warming or about greenhouse gases. According to Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry, the roads portion, RTID, could increase carbon emissions by as much as 15 million tons over 50 years. That’s an average of 300,000 tons per year. Currently, the US outputs 6394.5 million tons per year (a “metric” tonne is 110.25 English “tons”). Even if that were not to increase (it will), that means represents less than one half of one one hundredth of one percent of the US’s total greenhouse emissions. Or put another way, that means it’s less than four tenths of one percent of what our region does in greenhouse emissions (our region is about 1.25% of the nation’s population and pollutes slightly more than the average per person). For comparison, Sea-Tac airport is about 7% of our region’s greenhouse emissions, and adding a third runway ought to increase greenhouse emissions by about 50% there. That’d be about 3.5% of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions meaning the third runaway at Sea-Tac is an entire order of magnitude more greenhouse gas emissions than all the roads in RTID. According to David Suzuki, Erica Barnett’s trips to Texas at Atlanta by plane are as bad as driving a hummer there and back the whole distance. So we shouldn’t stop light-rail and all the good it will provide for a few tenth’s of a percent increase in greenhouse gases.

The arguments against ST2 have been made for generations. Look at the image to the left, it has the arguments against Forward Thrust 40 years ago. “Seattle doesn’t have the population density.” “It would be well to see how the controversial Bay Area Rapid Transit turns out” (Really well by the way with lots of expansion plans). “I feel the transit plan would saddle the people with an extremely high debt for 40 years” (the bonds would have been paid off this year) “His plea is for buses is dedicated highway lanes”. Isn’t that John Niles argument as well?

The fact is, that BRT has been tried here in the bus tunnel, at a cost the same as subway, but far worse for ridership. It has been tried in highway lanes in Los Angeles where there were huge cost overruns, making it almost as expensive as a subway line, and it even had collisions at the rate of one per week. So BRT is a red herring, and not a workable solution. We need to put it to bed.

Why are we still having this conversation after 40 years? Because Seattle is stuck in the ideas phase and can’t get past it, can’t put rubber to the road (or steel to the rails as it were) and get things done. Maybe our motto should be “don’t just do something, stand there!”


Seattle P-I: Let’s Get It Started In Here!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Well said:

We bear the burden of hitting those people with a few awful truths:

1) Roads can be used for mass-transit vehicles. They’re called buses. And while this package isn’t aimed at improving bus service in a big way, it will have an impact. Roads — along with sidewalks and bike paths — are needed, and until those personal jet packs promised to us by sci-fi writers are delivered, we are bound to them.

2) For those who think this package is too expensive now, we promise, if you find yourself reading a similar endorsement 20 years from now (and this being Seattle, that is a distinct possibility), the cost of construction, materials, labor and reconfiguring the city’s infrastructure will be considerably higher. Speaking of the future …

3) It is coming, regardless of how you vote for this proposition.

You could vote no and leave us in the transportation “Groundhog’s Day” situation we’re in. Or you could vote yes — and we implore you to — and free this region from its gridlocked thinking.


Chart Shows light rail times, not bus times

In his “Prop. 1 no cure for commute”, Gregory Roberts has a chart that shows the wrong times. The bottom bar is actually Light Rail times, not bus times.

The article is mildly well reasoned for a local paper piece on Prop. 1 with sections like this:

Light rail’s biggest payoff will come at rush hour, Patrick said. Sound Transit projects that in 2030, its light rail trains will carry 8,800 people per hour across the Ship Canal during peak commuting times, compared to the 14,000 now crossing the canal on Interstate 5. It would be nearly impossible, Patrick said, to match light rail’s added capacity in that corridor by other means.

It does still quote Nutty John Niles, who is the world’s largest blowhard. And the piece still has a bunch of misleading numbers (in addition to the crap chart already mentioned).

The region’s drivers collectively lose about 260,000 hours per workday to traffic delays, compared with travel at the speed limit, according to a recent state transportation audit. If the Nov. 6 ballot proposal fails, that is expected to increase to more than 600,000 hours per day over 20 years. But even if Proposition 1 passes, the total is still expected to nearly double, to more than 500,000 hours.

Uh, we are expecting a huge increase in population over the time period. So how much of that above figure is simply caused by increased population? What is the per capita number hours lost number? I am sure it’ll be a lot less than doubled, probably an increase of barely over 10~15%. The per person number is what people care about. I don’t care how long other people sit in traffic, I want my commute shorter.

I guess they have removed the chart from the online edition, though you can still see it in the morning edition.


Seattle is a great place to own commercial real estate, except it lacks transit

According to a recent report by the Urban Land Institute, Seattle is one of the nations best five markets for commercial real-estate. Basically, more real estate professionals nation wide rank Seattle as a “buy” than any other markets. Must be why I can see 12 cranes from Melrose street looking over South Lake Union (and that’s just SLU, there’s more in downtown, Belltown, First Hill and even Queen Anne). The report did mention transportation as a major problem for , the DJC explicitly mentions transit, but the P-I version only mentions “transportation”.

We can only continue growing this way if we improve our infrastructure. Thanks to Ryan for the link!


More good news for Sound Transit

Sound Transit has enjoyed a AAA bond rating from Standard and Poor’s for some time, but Moody’s just announced that they’ve uprated the agency from AA3 to AA2. All the As mean “good”.

This really just means that their bonds are considered more reliable by investors – something that’s going to matter a lot as the credit crunch continues!


A Necessary Municipality

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Seattle Weekly‘s Mike Seely offers a smart way to think about Sound Transit:

In this day and age, commuter rail agencies should be viewed in the same light as sewer, police, roads and power authorities. We need them, and we should give them the money they need to get things done. Sound Transit, for all its faults, should be permitted to carry out its mission to the fullest. If they screw up, hold them accountable via personnel and structural changes, but don’t cut them off at the knees.

Sound Transit was created just 10 years ago by a vote, so its somewhat logical to think we can just end it by a vote, like the Monorail. I’m reminded of Bill Cosby’s stand-up routine about how the way his father viewed the father-son relationship (“I brought you into this world, boy, I can take you out, too!”). But that’s not a viable, responsible way to run a municipality.


Westneat: ST2 better deal than I-405 widening

Of course, I could have told you that. Highways are bad for communities, bad for the environment, destroy sensible urban planning, dangerous, and create a bizarre and cold culture (I’ve never met a friend or a date on a highway, while I have met many on buses and trains). But Westneat puts it into a different perspective:

Here is a tale of two local megaprojects.

Both cost $11 billion. Both take 20 years to build. Both will help people move around the region. The first I’ll call Project A. It is widely praised, considered a no-brainer. Now and then an environmentalist squawks about it, but nobody listens.

Project B is the object of much ridicule. It is called a waste, a boondoggle. A P-I columnist dubbed it an “8-foot-tall steaming pile of elephant dung.” Another P-I column said the pile is 10 feet high.

So what would Project A and Project B actually do? Both would transport people along a corridor. So how many people would each move?

Project A, the no-brainer, will carry an additional 110,000 people daily over its 30 miles by the year 2030, according to its planners.

Project B, the wasteful one, will carry an additional 180,000 people per day over its 50 miles by the year 2030.

So … the boondoggle will transport more people? For the same construction cost?

So it goes in the upside-down world of our transportation debate, circa 2007.

Project A is the widening of the Eastside’s Interstate 405. The plan is to spend $10.9 billion (in 2002 dollars) laying four new freeway lanes and a bus rapid-transit route.

When done, the road will be 67 percent wider and carry 110,000 more trips than now. In some parts it will flow more freely. In others — such as the evening rush hour between Bellevue and Renton — it will be as jammed as it is today. (All this is from the state’s studies.)

Project B is Sound Transit’s light-rail plan. For $10.2 billion (in 2006 dollars), it would extend rail north to Lynnwood, east to Bellevue and south to Tacoma. The whole system, including the line being built now, is projected to carry 300,000 riders daily by 2030.

Yet this is the plan that people are saying is ludicrous.


Prop. 1 Round-Up

Here is quick summary of various prop. 1 news.

I am not the only person who thinks the Times’ using congestion reduction as the sole criteria for judging transportation projects is ridiculous. Here’s Goldy on the Times position on Prop. 1. I think I already posted it, but it’s good for a second read. Dan Savage agrees with him. Erica C. Barnett says they should read their own paper, because a million or so more people will move here by the time the work in Prop. 1 is finished, so traffic will suck no matter what.

Also, the Portland comparison the Times has made fails flat. Josh Feit doesn’t like the lazy logic, and shows that Max light rail ridership has grown faster than car travel or population growth. There’s plenty of evidence for this (scroll down). Lucky dogs, Portland got 75% of it’s light rail paid for by the feds. We’ll be lucky to get about 25%. I guess we missed the bus train on that sort of chance. We are getting a better system than them though. Finally, Josh Feit comes back with the facts that show that Portland did not reject light rail three times, but rather voted for it three times.

Of course, the Times keeps piling on the anti-Prop. 1 nonsense on. That crappy article has extensive quotes by Kemper “Japanese interment made my daddy rich” Freeman. And it includes this:

The Eastside rail line would be part of a 50-mile expansion of light rail, including extensions to Lynnwood and Tacoma. The line over Lake Washington would bring trains holding up to 600 people, stopping at each station about every nine minutes during rush hour, according to Sound Transit.

Westbound passengers could stay on the train to head north to Lynnwood or switch trains at the Seattle transit tunnel to go south to Tacoma or Seattle-Tacoma International Airport. About 45,000 people a day would ride the Eastside line by 2030, officials say.

Some of the biggest concerns from Eastside residents are about where the line would go, though Sound Transit wouldn’t pick a route until late next year. This is especially true south of downtown Bellevue, where the trains would run past the Mercer Slough Nature Park and possibly near homes.

Some residents there are opposing Proposition 1, in part, they say, because the trains could block car traffic and require the removal of scores of homes.

Proposition 1 also is raising tensions between some Bellevue and Redmond leaders. The Bellevue City Council has pushed Sound Transit to study a tunnel through downtown Bellevue, but the tunnel would cost an extra $500 million, raising the cost of an Eastside rail line to about $3.5 billion.

Jesus christ. They found the one important guy in Downtown Bellevue who doesn’t want the rail, and have been interviewing him for ages. According to the polls 81% of Eastsiders want the rail part of the package.

Anyway, the P-I has continued it’s parade of “dinosaurs against the future” with this op-ed by George Kargianis and Phil Talmadge. I guess Talmadge is only like 65, but Kargianis passed the bar in Washington in 1953 (more than fifty years ago!) meaning he’s pushing 80. Of course these guys think something about global warming and BRT. Whatever. People past retirement shouldn’t even be allowed to vote on bills that have 30 year spans. Speaking of dinosaurs, Ted Van Dyk responded to his own piece here (scroll down).

O. Casey Corr at crosscut discusses what might happen if Prop. 1 fails. I don’t even want to think about that, so I won’t talk about it here.

Make sure you guys vote November 6th! You have no right to complain if you don’t exercise this right.


Sims Proposes Ferry Tax, Bus Fare Hike

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Part of Ron Sims’ proposed King County budget would include a 25-cent hike in bus fares, presumably bringing prices to $1.50 for an off-peak trip and $1.75 at peak times. That seems reasonable to me. Transit fares in many cities are at or above $2, so Metro is still a relative bargain.

His levy on homes to support a passenger ferry service is a bit…odd… and a .1% sales tax increase to fund drug treatment is just wacky. I mean, doesn’t anything get paid for out of general operating funds anymore?

In yet more wackiness, Sims argues that his proposals would cost “a lot less” than Proposition 1. Well yeah, but it also does a lot less. MUCH less. Ferries are not interchangeable with light rail. And how exactly does a drug treatment center improve transit?


Cars becoming less popular in KC

This Seattle Times article has a ton of statistics in it, but the major points are essentially the following:

  • Car registrations per annum have fallen from 33,000 between 1980-1990 to 11,000 between 2000-2006. Population growth was lower during the period 2000-2003 as a percentage, but the absolute numbers were similar.
  • Transit Ridership is way up, with Metro close to 7% increase year over year, and Sound Transit up close to 285% in six years.
  • Seattle recorded the largest decrease in “drive alone” ride shares of any city in the nation, of 1.5%.
  • 1990’s Growth Management Act seems to have had a lot of effect on the commuting patterns, as more people have been moving into condos and apartments in already existing neighborhoods and cities compared to new subdivisions in the county. I guess urban planning works!

I think this shows that we need even more transit, and as congestion gets worse, we need more of our transit to be grade separted. Goldy over at HA wrote a good argument for why we can’t build roads to alleviate our traffic congestions, and why grade-separated transit gives us a choice with how to commute.


The Times Loses It

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Times op-ed urging a “no” vote on Prop. 1 is absurd. Once more, now, with feeling:

1. “it costs too much to do too little.” I hear this all the time, and it never makes sense to me. Unless you’re alleging that Sound Transit is pocketing billions to build Joni Earl a retirement palace in Tahiti, maybe the truth is that transportation projects are expensive, and it would cost even more to DO even more.

2. “it won’t reduce congestion.” Nothing will reduce congestion. Nothing. Congestion is here to stay. Cities with large transit stystems, like NYC, have congestion. Cities with paltry transit systems, like LA, have congestion. As long as there are roads, there will be congestion. To suggest otherwise is completely disingenuous.

3. The $7B on roads is a “minor part” of the package. Really? minor?

4. “Much more could be done with bus service.” Oh yeah? How many members of the Times‘ editorial board ride the bus to work? Seriously, I’m curious.

In an April 2006 Seattle Times op-ed, the board wrote, “a fast-growing region cannot afford to be blasé about transportation planning. This is a smart time to invest in transportation.”

At the time, they were endorsing the .1% sales tax for Metro bus service. But the support was tepid at best — they wanted to see if there way anyway that Metro could do with even less money. So that’s the Times’ idea of Transit spending for you: do a lot with no money.

I’m always reluctant to attribute corrupt motives to the paper, but I don’t know how else to explain this editorial.

Update: I was worried that I’d come across as too angry here, but after reading Goldstein and Barnett, i realize I was relatively measured. Nonetheless, I agree with everything they both wrote.


Airport Rental Parking

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Port wants to move the rental care parking:

To make room in the parking garage and to ease curbside congestion, the port has been designing a multistory rental car garage at International Boulevard and South 160th Street. Passengers would be shuttled to the airport on a 10- to 15-minute ride on buses running on compressed natural gas.

Alas, such a shuttle might “ensnar[e] travelers in SeaTac and Burien traffic during those precious preflight minutes.”

Here’s an idea: instead of building the garage at 160th and International Blvd, build it at 154th and International Blvd, right next to the giant Light Rail station.


Cutting Commutes? The Times critera seem wrong

In this Seattle Times article, they let say “If you believe the multibillion dollar roads and transit package on the November ballot would shave time off your highway commute, think again.” Why should that be the measurement of success of a transportation package? They make the same argument in their “Reject Prop 1” editorial.

Transit is about giving an option not to sit in traffic. It has nothing to do with “reducing congestion”. That’s a very automobile centric way of thinking about transportation. The article does make this point:

Here’s a specific example. Research by the investment district shows it takes about 20 minutes on average to drive from Renton to Auburn during the evening commute on Highway 167.

That same trip is expected to increase to 24 minutes by the time all the Proposition improvements are completed two decades from now.

However, if Proposition 1 fails and none of the work is done, the trip in 2028 would take 32 minutes, the investment district estimates. That’s a 60 percent increase in time.

At least it’s not an entirely negative article, only mostly negative, from the Times this time around. Unlike the “Can you trust sound transit” slam piece.


Some Perspective

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Tons of annual CO2 emitted due to RTID projects, according to Sightline: 300,000

(15 million divided by 50 years)

Tons of annual CO2 emitted from India, the U.S. and China’s new coal-fired power plants: 2.7 billion

These are worst-case scenarios. I tried to make a chart in Excel, but the RTID emissions are so small, they don’t even show up:


Just something to keep in mind.


The Myth of “Next Year”

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Will @ HA argues persuasively:

Don’t forget that even if Prop 1 goes down this fall, roads will still get built. Why? Gov. Gregoire won’t allow 520 to plunge into Lake Washington. Expansion of the south portion of 405 is popular on the Eastside (and already partially funded), and with traffic congestion statistics showing this stretch of road to be the most congested in the state, it will be an easy call for legislators. Roads spending, unlike light rail, has sometimes be[en] handled by the legislature without a vote of the people. Initiative 912 notwithstanding, two gas tax increases came out of Olympia without public votes. This could very well happen again, but this time to fund the projects that RTID funds.

Indeed. 520 and 405 constitute about half of King County’s share of RTID funding, nearly $2B. A “no” vote in November is a “no for light rail.” The roads stuff will come back, the legislature will make sure of that. They’ll just find a different way to pay for it.


Tukwila Station Event

These photos are actually legally taken this time:

It was a pretty nice event. Governor Christine Gregoire spoke, as did Senator Patty Murray, Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit Chair (and cowboy boot enthusiast) John Ladenburg, Port Commissioner Lloyd Hara, and State Representative Dave Upthegrove. The station looked great and it was actually raining during the speeches but I didn’t feel a drop on me. Beneath the station is a wonderful bus transfer section where buses can pick up and drop off on both sides of the station. There’s a lot of room for multi-modal transfers there.

There’s going to be a really nice mezzanine between the platform and the ground where the buses are. I wonder what exactly that space will be used for. They have already finished the elevated section between Rainier Valley and Tukwila so the only concrete construction left is from Tukwila to Seatac itself.

Some random things I learned at the event:

  • Politicians are great at congratulating themselves and thanking each other. On this note, Patty Murray said something great (paraphrased) “in twenty years people won’t remember who the leaders were, they will just be glad that it was built”.
  • The port commissioners really do answer to no one. Lloyd Hara said “we are going to make this a green airport” in the same sentence as saying “were are expanding 509 to the airport and adding a third runway.” It can’t become a green airport if you are adding highway lanes to the roads leading there and increasing the amount of air traffic.
  • On that note, where were the Sierra Club when these plans were being made? 509 expansion? That’s 15 lanes of general purpose highway (I’m not being facetious). We all know that air travel pollutes as much as highway travel per distance travelled, so where were they when the third runway was being built? One flight to New York and back is as bad as a 12 mile each way commute in a car for a whole year. A 50% increase in traffic at Seatac is a far bigger carbon effect than the roads in Prop. 1.
  • Union construction workers are very friendly people.
  • One factor in the long walk from the station to the terminals in the airport is that they are moving the terminals northward toward where the station is due to the increased traffic there. I had no idea that was going to happen.
  • Both Patty Murray and Christine Gregoire are very short. Both Larry Philips and Dave Upthegrove are very tall.