Station-Station Travel Times

Sorry, Blogger has been fighting me, but if you click on the image you should be able to see the station-to-station travel times for Light Rail that would be built for ST2. 30 minutes from Bellevue to the UW. There’s no way you could drive that fast during rush hour.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

SeaTrans takes a look at streetcars in Philly (and Seattle). A real streetcar network, as opposed to a toy that runs along the waterfront, will be a good thing.

I have fond memories of the SEPTA trolley from my years living there. I lived right on a trolley line, and my absolute favorite aspect of city life was when the trolley would get stuck behind a double-parked car. The trolley driver would just lean on his horn until the double-parker came out of his or her house. What a way to wake up in the morning.

Ah, Philly…

Anyway, here in Seattle, where people (mostly) obey parking laws and seldom abandon cars in the middle of the street, streetcars will fit in nicely.


Streetcars Coming Back

This Article from Philladelphia talks about how streetcars are coming back to cities across the country including Seattle:

“Trolleys are taking back the streets,” says Harry Donahue, a founding member of the Friends of Philadelphia Trolleys.
Once-endangered, trolleys are experiencing a resurgence across North America.

“There was definitely a perception in the ’40s that anything dated before 1940 was old and streetcars fell in that category,” Dean said.

By the 1970s, only seven cities in the nation – including Philadelphia – were running trolleys, according to the Light Rail Now Web site.

There’s more to than that, but I won’t bore you with conspiracy theories. Unless you want me to.

There’s room for streetcars in transportation systems. They serve a similar function to a bus, but they create a more permanent presense, and are more comfortable to ride. People see them as more reliable, and that sense is a huge reason why places like South Lake Union and Portland’s Pearl District look to them during redevelopment.

On the City’s website there’s a report that was commissioned to study possible streetcar routes in Seattle. We are definitely getting on in South Lake Union that may eventually stretch all the way to the U-District. We’re also likely getting one from Chinatown, through Little Saigon up to First Hill and eventually to Aloha and Broadway. The report discusses other possible routes, including extending the Waterfront line to the Interlake area and one down through the Central District. It’s a good read, and discusses a lot of the benefits of streetcars and when building them is appropriate. Some of the advantages of Streetcars over buses:

  • Streetcars attract permanent investment because they are not easily re-routed.
  • Streetcars operate better in pedestrian environments because they are more easily accessed, especially by the disabled.
  • Streetcars attract more tourists and occasional riders than buses.

The report goes on to mention what seems to make a successful streetcar and what doesn’t:

  • They travel through high density corridors with a
    rich mixture of land uses.
  • Walking to, from and between streetcar stops is
    convenient and comfortable.
  • The mixture of land uses along the corridor
    encourages many short, convenience trips.
  • Street grades are 6% or less.
  • Travel lanes are 11 feet wide and intersection
    geometry is simple.
  • Overhead clearances are at least 14 feet.

We’ll see more streetcars in the next 20 years as the city completes it’s density drive.


Denver Considers a Public-Private Partnership

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Faced with a budget shortfall, the Rocky Mountain News reports that Denver is considering a public-private partnership for part of its light-rail. The article notes several other transit projects that have been built with a PPP model called DBOM, for Design, Build, Operate and Maintain.

If that acronym rings a bell, it’s because the same system was used for the Seattle Monorail Project. The plan was for the board to raise the money and sign the contract, then hand the whole thing off to the Fluor Corporation (or, more accurately, a consortium of companies led by Fluor). Additionally, you have the price guarantee: once the SMP signed off on the contract, Fluor would have had to build it, come hell or high water. There would be no sudden tax increases down the road because the project had run over budget, they’d just have to eat the difference.

And that’s what makes PPPs attractive: you can hand off the whole thing to a company that presumably has more expertise in the area than you do. Halliburton providing food and laundry services to U.S. soldiers in Iraq is probably the most famous (infamous?) example of a PPP. But there are many others.

I’ve been skeptical of PPPs, because any efficiency you might gain in terms of expertise is usually eaten up by the higher cost of providing the service. And sometimes it’s just a stalking horse to try and break the public-sector unions by firing government employees and re-hiring them as contractors.

But the monorail didn’t fail because it was a PPP. The monorail failed because the board of directors was in way over its head and didn’t want to build the political support necessary for a large infrastructure project. As interim Chair Kristina Hill noted at the time, “You can’t build infrastructure by initiative. There is no infrastructure in the United States that has been built by petition—none!—and you have to ask yourself why.”

The RMN article suggests that Seattle’s forthcoming BRT system — RapidRide — may be run via DBOM, and that would make sense: King County Metro is an experienced transit operator, so subcontracting out this one piece is a good use of the PPP strategy.


Barry McCaffrey, Transportation Planner?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

You may know Gen. Barry McCaffrey for his role as the nation’s “Drug Czar” during the Clinton Years, or perhaps as an NBC military analyst more recently. So, what, pray tell, is he doing authoring an op-ed for the Seattle Times on the need for infrastructure investment?

It’s all a little less shocking when you read his bio at the bottom, which notes that he’s now the chairman of HNTB Federal Services an engineering and architecture firm that specializes in — wait for it — designing and building transportation systems! (He also “maintains a residence in Seattle.”)

The editorial itself is broadly pro-RTID and pro-ST2, though it does lob a few questions out there about public-private partnerships and a surface solution to the viaduct. But barring that, it seems like we can count the former drug Czar as a “yes” vote for the fall ballot.


Buses Aren’t Good Enough

At Slog, Charles Mudede wrote about a film writer who couldn’t get around on bus fast enough to see the movies at SIFF. Fact is, buses aren’t good enough. They take too long to get between population centers here. Yesterday, I took the bus from Kirkland to the city (I woke up at a friend’s house after my birthday party). I was lucky there to have walked up to the stop at the same time the bus came, since I would have had to have waited 30 minutes for the next 255 that was actually a very good experience. I read the Sunday paper and enjoyed the ride. Later, I needed to go to Fremont, and I waited at 3rd and Olive for a 26 or a 5 for so long that I ended up just getting on the 358 and walking from 46th and Aurora down to Fremont. The entire trip took me 50 minutes including the wait (25 of those 50) and the walk (15 of the 50).

That won’t get people out of their cars. Buses here are only good if you are commuting on a regular schedule, otherwise, you might as well walk. If we want people to quit driving, or to move people who don’t, can’t or won’t drive around reliably, we need something more than buses.


Other City’s Stories: Charlotte’s Quest for Light Rail

Seattle isn’t the only city struggling with growth and transportation neglect. Carlotte NC, is a rapidly-growing city, 3rd in the nation in finance after New York and Chicago and they are having growing pains similar to Seattle. And some want light rail (called CATS), and others who really don’t. They have their own half-cent tax (hey, that sounds familiar!), and their own transit vote this fall. That last piece talks about other issues involved in CATS and I won’t bore you with the details but it’s nice to see that we aren’t the only ones participating in this sort of struggle. Well, nice and not-so-nice, since we are competing with them for federal transit dollars.


Weekend Transit Round-Up

Will at Horse’s Ass puts the Stranger’s Josh Feit in his place like this:

No matter how much Josh Feit protests, young families are not going to buy “in-fill density” in Seattle. Maybe some will, but they are the exception that proves the rule. You can’t force young families into condos. Not when they can buy a house in Algona for the same price.

You can, however, give people options. Let’s build transit- lots more- in the city and elsewhere. Let’s expand HOV lanes. Let’s spend a little less time telling people what they should want and more time giving them options.

I think they might by townhomes or San Francisco-style non detached houses, but we’ll see.

Meanwhile, James Vesely the Times’ editorial page editor (say that three times fast) wrote this about the “Roads and transit package. It’s a pretty long read (about 1500 words) but it has a few good points in it, like this “The asking price in November is currently set at $18.9 billion, with $14.6 billion of that from renewal of existing taxes now being collected.” If that’s true, and it really is just an exstension of existing taxes then this would be the first time I’ve heard this from our local media.

The piece also has some weird parts:

In a region looking for answers, we are getting more questions. Each piece of the $18 billion-plus bill seems to be necessary for the rest to fit. Those in favor of the plan point to a 30-year delay in building almost anything that carries wheels, the declining road stock and lack of rolling stock, and the growth of a region spilling over in good jobs and brimming with promise.


A private poll conducted by Moore Information and EMC Research concludes:

“… A strong majority (61 percent) support the current Roads and Transit package … which includes the cost of $16.5 billion [now $18.9 billion] but not household costs.

“Support drops (to 49 percent) after voters hear the typical household costs early in the survey. Support returns to a strong majority (63 percent) after voters hear a description of the major components of the package.”

I wish I had that study. I wonder where I can get it. I suggest reading the whole thing.


Is the iPod Responsible for Increase in Transit?

I know it seems silly, but is the ipod, among other portable devices, partly responsible for the increase in transit ridership we’ve seen in the country over the last few years? The Overhead Wire thinks the ipod is a great transit equalizer.

Now with the iPod, we can have thousands of songs in a device that is the same size of our wallet, allowing us to listen to whatever we want to, whenever we want to. But while the iPod can be hooked up to the car, it seems to be more useful from a transportation standpoint to walkable transit oriented neighborhoods. When you get out of a car the radio turns off or there is a tape transition, but when you leave a train or bus, the music continues on kind of like a soundtrack to your life.

In my opinion, it’s this soundtrack quality that can give transit a bonus versus the car.

It’s an interesting point to consider. Gasoline prices are certainly another cause of increase transit ridership, but I bet iPods, Nintendo DS, PSPs, and other portable, personal electronics becoming more sophisticated and less expensive have made transit more comfortable for a lot of people. Personally, I have an iPod (mostly news podcasts and not music) and a DS (mostly castlevania and puzzle games). What do you do on transit?


Sierra Club and RTID

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I admire Erica Barnett’s work, especially her efforts to lay out the surface/transit option for the Viaduct so clearly and effectively. Most journalists are skeptical of anything that isn’t a highway. Barnett is one of the few who “gets it” in that sense.

That said, I’m bothered by this piece in The Stranger, lauding the Sierra Club for refusing to “cave” on the Cross Base Highway and accusing environmental groups who support the RTID compromise of “selling out.”

But politics is not a spectator sport, of course: tough skin is a job requirement. So let’s talk about the substance of the article. Barnett laments the fact that the joint RTID/ST2 package is too roads-heavy, despite the fact that over 60% of it is going to transit. The project, she says, includes “1,500 new lane miles of freeways and arterials” but only “50 miles of light rail.” Well, if we’re going to compare lane-miles to rail-miles, then the number’s at least 100, since the rail is double-tracked. And if we’re going to talk about moving people instead of moving cars (which was Barnett’s position during the Viaduct debate), then the 100 rail-miles have a capacity that’s probably close or equal to the 1,500 lane-miles.

The main thrust of the complaint, though, is that the greenhouse gas emissions of the cars on all those new “lane miles” will cancel out the benefits of rail. But that assumes that car emissions stay constant, which is far from certain. It’s more likely that cars will get cleaner and more fuel efficient over the next few decades (though cleaner cars are not the answer to everything). It also assumes that people won’t change their ways when given the option of light rail. People like Barnett and myself argue constantly that people will gravitate to denser, more transit-oriented lifestyles if they’re given the option. Isn’t that still the case?

Finally, Barnett wonders, “why, then, would environmental groups sell out light rail for a package that only paves the way for that to happen?” The answer is that the environmentalists can still tie the CBH up in the courts for years, if not decades. By that time, light rail could be up and running from Everett to Tacoma to Redmond and maybe people, having seen the alternative, will stop clamoring for roads like the CBH and its ilk, and the project will die on the vine.

Look, the Sierra Club has every right to oppose the package. Their agenda is simple: fewer highways, more green space. Barnett, too, has every right to oppose it. But the real question, for those of us who have to go to the polls in November, is simple: is it worth pushing light rail back to 2040 or 2050 in the hopes that we will get a deal that’s even better than the one on the table? Given the political realities of the region, our regressive tax system, and the skyrocketing costs of land, construction materials, and labor, the answer is a resounding “no.”


Green and Black Spires Win Award

Sound Transit’s poles in the maintencance facility have won an award for best public art. Which is awesome!

Safety Spires” by artists Norie Sato and Dan Corson was honored in the Year in Review that culminated the Annual Americans for the Arts conference in Las Vegas last week. The tapered tops and distinctive pattern of the overhead centenary system poles, which carry power to light rail vehicles, were inspired by the native horsetail reed plant also known as scouring rush.

“’Safety Spires’ acknowledges the industrial architecture, and makes the site memorable and engaging,” said UCLA contemporary art history professor Miwon Kwon who curated the judging with artist Larry Kirkland. “The reference to the horsetail plant is logical without trying to replicate nature.”

Too bad ST’s best art is not in a station but in the maintence facility that few people go to. And seriously too bad my photos aren’t don’t do due justice to the art.

More about the poles here.


Dinner Train

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Speaking of the BNSF corridor, the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train has found a new home. That’s one less obstacle to converting the old tracks to rail or trail.

Interestingly enough at least one of the rail overpasses is coming down. WSDOT is taking down one of the rail overpasses over I-405 to widen the freeway. This brings up one of the major problems with the corridor: lots of overpasses. Before we bend over backwards to turn it into a trail, keep in mind that there are at least a few points where you’ll be jogging or biking on an old train trestle as it crosses I-405 or I-90.


17% of Seattle Workers Commuted by Bus

In this CNN article about the U.S. Census Bureau’s “American Community Survey” it says that 17% of Seattlites commuted to work on the bus in 2005. That’s about half as high a percentage of commuters on transit as San Francisco or Boston, and less than a third as much as New York where 54.6% of workers ride transit.

Probably more commuters who don’t work ride the bus. Those would be students, the unemployed and senior citizens, but let’s hope we can get the number up when LRT is built, because we are barely higher than Boston’s walk to work percentage (13%).

Update: NL asked, so I decided to go deeper in to the numbers, but lots of the links keep breaking. Sorry if they do for you.

This is about transportation for workers just in the city. It only is for workers, so it doesn’t count students. The data was collected by mailed survey (I filled one out down in San Francisco), and they have some wildly detailed information about sample size, response rate, etc.

I’m mildly surprised that its only 17% for the city, seems low. But the big news is actually this statistic: 7.6% of people in the urban area commute by transit! Look at the map to see the area. 3% statistic is completely wrong. Even including Monroe, Issaquah, Federal Way, Spanaway and the far outlying suburbs and we still get better than 2.5 times that misquoted statistic.

Here’s a breakdown of the data for the sub-regions with in the area. This includes rural areas!

I delved deeper into into this statistic.

During peak rush hour, 6-9 am, fully twenty percent (20.2%) of Seattle commuted by transit in 2005, and nine percent of the region.

Percentage of People Commuting by Public Transit in the City
12:00 a.m. to 4:59 a.m. 7.74
5:00 a.m. to 5:29 a.m. 12.8
5:30 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. 9.67
6:00 a.m. to 6:29 a.m. 21.8
6:30 a.m. to 6:59 a.m. 19.4
7:00 a.m. to 7:29 a.m. 22.6
7:30 a.m. to 7:59 a.m. 15.7
8:00 a.m. to 8:29 a.m. 23.8
8:30 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. 17.3
9:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. 15.7
Percentage of People Commuting by Public Transit in the Greater Seattle Urban Area
12:00 a.m. to 4:59 a.m. 3.43
5:00 a.m. to 5:29 a.m. 5.66
5:30 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. 4.28
6:00 a.m. to 6:29 a.m. 9.66
6:30 a.m. to 6:59 a.m. 8.62
7:00 a.m. to 7:29 a.m. 10.0
7:30 a.m. to 7:59 a.m. 6.98
8:00 a.m. to 8:29 a.m. 10.5
8:30 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. 7.69
9:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. 6.95

Anti-transit folks will not stop using the 3% statistic, but we know for commuters, especially during peak rush hour, it’s not the right number. In 2005, their number was already way off, and just wait until central link is finished, and let’s revisit these statistics. I bet it has already crossed 25% for the city by now, and 12% for the region by 2008.


Dual Use of BNSF Corridor

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ron Sims is determined not to let that right-of-way slip through our fingers. From a King County press release:

Sims, along with the environmentalists and transportation advocates, signed a statement of Principles of Dual Use for the corridor. The principles include the promise to work with local, state and federal agencies for money to build a rail line on the 40 mile corridor being sold by the railroad. Trail advocates from the start have advocated the dual use of this critical public asset and the statement of principles signed today emphasize their absolute commitment to this goal.

“All of my documents and all of my staff presentations are about dual use. But let there be no doubt to anyone about our intention to include a rail line if we are able to secure public ownership of this corridor,” said Executive Sims. “If the money were available, we’d build modern commuter or high capacity transit rail immediately.”

Some transit advocates feared that once it became a trail, no one would tolerate building rail on it. But the rail advocates don’t have the money or the ridership numbers to justify a train. The PSRC study recommended trail now, rail later. But Sims wants to reassure us that rail is still a priority.

Although the Port Commissioner is explicitly mentioned, there’s no talk of the infamous trail-for-airport swap that the kids were crazy about back in the day.

Update: The P-I’s spin: Sims is trying to buy time until he can come up with the dough.


Streetcar vs. Light Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

An article on planned streetcars in Tacoma includes this helpful FAQ:

Streetcars are smaller-capacity vehicles, operating at street level alongside pedestrians and autos, with frequent stops and easy access. A streetcar track requires less infrastructure and costs less because the cars are lighter. Cars can have a modern or a vintage trolley design.

Light rail is designed to carry more people quickly over longer distances. It typically has its own right-of-way and station platforms separated from traffic. Multiple rail cars may be joined together to increase capacity. Because light rail uses heavier cars, it needs a more expensive, heavier-duty infrastructure.

To which we can add that heavy rail, of the kind used by SF’s BART, NYC’s Subway, and DC’s Metro, requires a high-voltage “third rail,” to supply power, which makes it even more expensive — and dangerous.