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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

emissions2.jpg

Just something to keep in mind.

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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.

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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.
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Fuel Efficiency

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Clark Williams-Derry is a smart guy, and so I defer to him when he says that building new lanes for cars doesn’t improve congestion. But I’m still skeptical about the claim that fuel efficiency will increase by only 2 percent a year over the next 50 years. True, fuel efficiency has stagnated in the past, but we as a society are far more interested in fuel efficiency now than we were even during the gas crunch of the 1970s. And the cost of fuel, adjusted for inflation, is now higher than ever. Even higher than in 1981, the previous peak year for fuel prices.

Additionally, new technology is coming on line that’s going to radically reshape the picture. This car, for example, gets 300MPG and will be available for purchase next year:

aptera3.jpg

Crazy!

The link wetween miles driven and GHGs (Greenhouse Gases) is only going to get more tenuous over the next few decades. As that happens, environmentalists will lose another weapon in our arsenal. We need new arguments for smart growth that are directly about smart growth (like preserving wetlands, for example) instead of related issues like carbon emissions or national security.

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The Overhead Wire

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

IMG_0087.jpg

Looks like the overhead wires on the new S.L.U…. um… streetcar are going to be solo operations, unlike the dual wires on the buses. In addition to being more aesthetically pleasing, single wires are probably less suceptible to becoming disconnected from the vehicle during turns, a problem that seems to plague our local buses with disturbing regularity.

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Seattle Center

While on the topic of Lower Queen Anne and South Lake Union Crosscut wrote up on the County’s plan for Seattle Center. It also hits on a street car running up from the waterfront through South Lake Union. Apparently, Sims wants to turn the Seattle Center into a sort of Central Park, with tons of green space and some rainwater capture system. Sounds nice, but it’s a waste of the space that is an awesome venue for important cultural festivals in the city. If Seattle Center is destroyed, where will Bumbershoot go? What will replace it? It’s already been handicapped by removing Key Arena from it’s possible venues.

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Housing and Transit-Oriented Development

Today in the PI, there was an article about a community meeting in the South Lake Union/East Queen Anne Area. The article mostly discusses increased heights for buildings and includes this lovely map featuring the current street car line and the possible addition of a second street car:


South Lake Union

Image Seattle P-I

Some of the article is just hilarious such as this quote:


Lamb’s friend, who is 39 and has lived in the neighborhood for 10 years, worries about the neighborhood losing its small town feel. “I don’t think I’ll feel like I know everybody in the neighborhood,” she said.

You know where that “small town feel” is not being lost? Small towns. If you live minutes away from Seattle Center, you can’t really expect to know everyone in your neighborhood. This is a city after all.

Anyway, much of the rest is pretty interesting. They talk about bringing a new street car into the mix, bringing the existing SLU car up to the U-District, and increasing heights for current zoning from four-to-eight stories up to as many as 25 or 40! The whole plan is to bring people closer to their jobs, and to concentrate density in those areas best able to handle it. I do worry about the “Bellevue West” concept, where there’s an island of high rises and skyscrapers in the middle of a sea of single family homes and “neighborhood commercial”. Too much of Seattle is currently zoned for single family to seriously increase density to the level the mayor has called for in his long-term planning, and it’s still no where near the level required to increase transit ridership to the level needed to make a serious reduction in green house gases.

I guess the one flaut in my super pro-density thinking is removing single family zoning in the city would mean the demolition of the beautiful craftsman bungalows in those neighborhoods. This is less of a problem in places in the far north where most of the housing is post-war track rubbish, but in the places like Fremont, Wallingford, the Central District, Queen Anne and West Seattle, we’d be losing some seriously beautiful buildings. At least there’s a company who can move them.


Modular Homes

Image Seattle P-I

This brings me to the next read in today’s PI, the idea of prefab lego-style apartments. Every so often there is a piece in some paper about prefab housing and boy are they ugly. The article calls them “the iPhone equivalent for housing”. Yikes. Modern because it hides the cheapness I reckon. I hope we don’t se them springing up all over town to replace those beautiful bungalows I mentioned.

Sorry long post. What do you guys want to see South Lake Union look like? What about other neighborhoods planned for more density such as Roosevelt, Interbay, Ballard and the Central District?

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Metro’s ridership growth quadrupling population growth

Metro seems to be experiencing a massive increase in ridership over the past year. The press release says “(o)verall, Metro’s 2007 ridership is running almost 7 percent higher than 2006”, I got about 6.8%, not bad at all. Here’s my chart:

Metro sites high gas prices, Transit Now funded increased transit service, and increased employment.

We know population growth has been about 1.4%. I looked for employment numbers, but couldn’t find one that was accurate enough on a year-over-year level for the region. Gas prices seem to have gone up by about 10~12%, though that is not an inflation adjusted amount, and when you look at inflation of about 4%, we’d get to about 6~8% price increase.

My guess is, part of it is population increase – probably about the 1.4%. Part of it is oil price increase, not the whole 6% because oil price changes are very inelastic because people purchase cars and choose houses on long schedules: people can’t just sell there cars and move quickly to adjust for oil price changes. Part of it is people tired of traffic, and the last part is people becoming more acceptant of transit lifestyles. Some people are accepting the global warming situation and moving to live a greener lifestyle. Also, the younger generation now joining the workforce as fresh grads or recent immigrations have a different attitude toward transit, urban living and a more flexible idea of what an ideal lifestyle is.

But that’s a long post for another day.

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Van Dyk is a Crazy Old Man

Van Dyk (the guy who worked on Herbert Humphrey’s Campaign all the way back in 1968!!!) gives us another doosy of an old man rant in today’s PI:

King County Executive Ron Sims, a former Sound Transit chairman and sparkplug, broke ranks with the political establishment recently to publicly oppose Prop. 1. It was a difficult decision for him but the right one for his county. It is never too late to correct a mistake, especially if the mistake in question is a world-class whopper.

Oh man, it keeps coming back to Ron Sims. The man who was chair of Sound Transit during the planning phase. The man who appointed a majority of the people on the board. The man who said during planning, “We’re going to dig and dig and dig and dig until the light-rail project gets to Bellevue, gets to Everett, gets to Tacoma.” (That’s four digs) If it was such a difficult decision to make, why didn’t he make it back when it could have been easy, back when he chaired the board, back when he was appointing the majority on the board, back when the plans weren’t finalized?

That would have meant building a line from Sea-Tac Airport to downtown, throwing a party and using Sound Transit resources thereafter for more sensible transit alternatives. Instead, Sound Transit has willfully pursued with public funds a non-stop push for light rail expansion — even though it is a decade late and billions of dollars over budget in completing its so-called Phase I line from the airport to Northgate, with many initially promised stations cancelled.

Um, that’s not what the audit said… So do you just make up the requirements for Phase one completion, Van Dyk? I think I’m starting to see why Walter Mondale, who Van Dyk was a “senior advisor” to, carried only one state: if your advisors don’t read the documents before passing judgment, who’s going to find you credible?

The present misleading media campaign for Prop. 1 has been funded by contractors and outriders who see it as providing them a generations-long cornucopia of public money and who, coincidentally, are a major source of campaign funds for Prop. 1’s political sponsors. Major corporations locally have fallen into line, apparently buying the premise that a dreadful transportation proposal is better than none. CEOs of the corporations supporting the huge taxpayer-financed package would not tolerate for a moment the same wildly cost-ineffective allocations of resources within their own companies. Investors would demand their resignations.

Wow. This essay would not have gotten a B- in my 12th-grade writting class. Misleading in which way? How do you know that major corporations think this is a dreadful proposal? I know that my employer has never told me it was a dreadful proposal before they donated cash to the yes campaign. And whose resignations would be demanded? The CEOs? It’s a very confusing read.

Anyway, Van Dyk is not just a crazy old man, he is a classy old man:

I disagree in one respect with P-I columnist Bill Virgin’s characterization of it as an “8-foot-tall steaming pile of elephant dung.” I believe the pile to be at least 10 feet high.

Nice. Van Dyk, you are so old there’s no way you will either ride the trains or pay for them. What the hell do you care? Leave the decisions on the future to those who will be alive to live in it.

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Danny Westneat Likes Light Rail

in Portland:

PORTLAND — The question comes as I’m whisking 55 mph on a standing-room-only light-rail train in this city’s west suburbs.

“What is wrong with Seattle?” It’s not me who asks it. It’s the woman next to me, Debby Fehrenbach, of Hillsboro, Ore. She is commuting 15 miles on Portland’s MAX electric light rail to her job at a Portland software firm.

Fehrenbach lived in Seattle for 25 years. She moved here two years ago. Part of the reason, she says, is because of how stuck Seattle is.

“I love Seattle, but I kind of gave up on it,” she says. “It’s a bus city. In Portland it’s so easy and fast to get around, you feel like you don’t even have to have a car anymore.

“Seattle really, really needs one of these.”

He points out a few of the really important parts of rail transit being different that bus transit. First, frequency:

It didn’t take more than two minutes for me to be impressed. That’s how long I waited to catch my first train in downtown Portland.

In two days of riding the rails, on 14 different trains, the longest I waited for one to come was eight minutes. That was at 11 on a Sunday night.

Anyone who rides a crowded bus knows about “bunching”, where no bus comes for a long while and two or three show up at the same time. That’s impossible with trains because they have their own right-of-way. So, the longest you wait is 8 minutes.

Next, boarding times:

The longest any of my trains spent stopped at a station was 25 seconds — even when 75 rush-hour commuters tried to board a crowded train at once. I’ve waited much longer for a single rider to get on a Seattle bus, fumbling for change or arguing with the driver.

Trains are flush-against the platform, buses are usually raised and slightly in the street. Buses have only two narrow doors, trains have two or three per car. Buses can only be paid for in the front, trains can be paid on the platform, and then boarding is instant.

Trains are faster:

The trains are surprisingly speedy. Well, not in downtown Portland, where they run on the street like streetcars. But outside the core of the city, on their own grade-separated tracks or in the medians of arterials, the trains routinely reach 40 to 55 mph. (Seattle’s system is slated to be faster than Portland’s, because none of it runs in street lanes. All of it is planned for medians, tunnels or elevated tracks.)

Because they are separated from car traffic.

Finally, Mr Westneat sums up the argument on prop. 1 nicely is his own way:

All I’m saying in this column is that if we build more light rail, we will love it. As Portland plainly does. It’s pricey. But it’s reliable, quiet and, when designed so the tracks aren’t right in the street, fast.

So maybe we’ll start acting like a big city and build some real rapid transit.

Or, maybe we’ll go on as “Seattle: Bus City, USA.”

Forced to forever face that awkward question from our smaller, smarter friends to the south.

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