Tunnel Boring = Completely Awesome (not at all boring)

The tunnel boring-machine has broken through the other side of Beacon Hill, completing the 4,388-foot-long tunnel that will contain the Beacon Hill Station northbound. The Japanese-made tunnel boring machine weighs 375 tons (!!!), and can bore the holes within 5 millimetres of the engineers specifications. With the weight of the trailing gear it weighs nearly 650 tons.

Now the crews are going to take the machine apart, take it back t other side of the hill, and bore the southbound tunnel. The machine takes 21 truck loads to haul.

Beacon Hill Station will be 160 feet below ground and will only be accessible via high-speed elevators. Cool stuff. I wonder if that station is going to be smelling and nasty with hobos and other transients. I sure hope not, and I hope that there is security on those elevators otherwise it could be a scary situation.


Getting On The Bus

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One thing I’ve noticed in the past year or so is that it’s gotten much more difficult to park downtown. Through a combination of factors — more electronic meters, fewer free parking areas — the city has really changed my personal calculus: I think twice before driving downtown, even on a Saturday. And I’m much more likely to take the bus.

Some folks aren’t so happy about the changes:

Some neighborhood activists complain that the city’s goals are unrealistic, at least until there’s more convenient public transportation in Seattle.

“The city’s living in a planner’s fantasy that … if you make it hard to park people will magically walk or ride their bike,” said Matt Fox, a longtime activist in the University District, where the city has substantially reduced free parking.

“Until the transit alternatives are in place, I think this is a punitive approach that’s going to make people’s lives really miserable.”

Well, I have a hard time believing it’s going to make anyone’s life truly “miserable” (there are far worse things happening in the world), but I can see where he’s coming from. However, we’re in a bit of a Catch-22 with waiting “until the transit alternatives are in place.” Adding more bus service will be easier when there’s more demand, and there’ll be more demand when there’s more service. In the meantime, Metro’s Transit Now initiative will help.

But my instinct is that the barriers to entry are still too high for many people. The bus system is darn confusing if you don’t have a route that you know and use frequently. It’s reminiscent of the Simpsons episode where Lisa tries to take the bus to the museum and finds herself deposited out in the boonies. When she asks the bus driver why the bus didn’t stop at the museum, he replies “that’s the No. 22. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, this is the 22A.” It’s funny because it’s true.

It surprises me that a city with this many information workers can’t come up with a more intuitive way of communicating bus routes. Use colors, use shapes. Have more intuitive bus maps. Identify, say, 8 major routes and make them stand out from the pack somehow. We’re sort of getting there with the BRT component of Transit Now, but so much more could be done for what’s basically peanuts compared to the cost of, say, laying a mile of rail.


Parking Disappearing, Becoming More Expensive in the City

The PI ran two articles about parking in the city today, in different sections no less!

The article in the local section talked about free parking ending in the South Lake Union (someone please give this neighborhood a better name!). The City will be installing parking meters, and will sell parking at its 1,250 spots for 75ยข an hour. This is half as much as the $1.50 it charges in other neighborhoods. Another 750 spots will be charged at $1.25 an hour in SLU, and the remaining 600 will be charged at the normal $1.50 rate. The rates will be adjusted to ensure there is enough parking for short-term business visitors.

The cover-page article talked about the City’s plan to bring another 350,000 residents into the city by 2040 without cars. That’s 350,000 residents into the city proper, the region is expected about 1.5 million within that timeframe. The city hopes these new residents will take advantage of transit and have fewer cars on average than the typical resident does now. Either by sharing with their family or using flexcar-type programs. For this, the city has eased the rules on parking for commercial and residential developers, and turned more parking spots into pay spots.

I like the idea of people taking more transit, but density is sort of a chicken and the egg problem with regard to transit. Does more density allow for easier and better transit? Probably. But does more transit allow for more density? Definitely. If you want people to ditch their cars, build better transit first, don’t wait for them to decide to take the bus before you put the bus there.

However, with gas prices continually going up, maybe people will decide that the bus is the thing to do.


Downtown Tunnel will be a bus and train tunnel

I hadn’t realised that the downtown tunnel would still run buses through it when it reopens. According to the tunnel’s website, most of the Metro routes that went through the tunnel will be put back into it when the retro-fit is finished sometime at or before September this year. The tunnel buses, which had been electric only though the tunnel, will become diesel-electric hybrids and go wireless with in it. How this will effect air-quality in the tunnel is not mentioned. Once the train finally starts running in 2009, the tunnel’s hours of operation will increase to 18-21 hours a day which will be pretty nice.

Update: The tunnel will be ventilated by fans that have been installed.


Double Decker Bus on Community Transit

Community Transit is running a Scottish-made double-decker bus on its routes on a rotating basis. The bus is 14 feet-tall, and apartently can fit 80 people compared to 60 for articulated buses. If this bus recieves good reviews from passengers and drivers, Community Transit will consider getting more of the coaches.

Pros of double-decker vs articulated buses.

  • 80 people on double-decker vs 60 for articulated.
  • Won’t jack-knife in bad weather.
  • Easier to turn

Cons of double-decker

  • More expensive, $650,000 vs $580,000.
  • Slower boarding.
  • At 14 feet tall, can’t fit through all tunnels, and under all bridges.

I am for double-deckers on these long-distance routes. Articulated buses are annoying on city streets, but they are necessary to fit under bridges and powerlines.


Route 509 Expansion

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

When I first heard mention of a $1B line-item in the RTID to connect SR 509 with I-5, I assumed they were talking about eliminating the stoplight where 509 meets 518 and making it an “all freeway” exchange. It struck me as an odd thing to spend a billion bucks to get rid of a single traffic light.

But I was wrong! The proposed connection, which is nearing approval would happen south of Sea-Tac. The P-I article, though, still doesn’t answer the question of what problem the expansion is designed to solve.

WSDOT’s website, though, provides an answer:

Extending SR 509 will ease congestion on I-5, improve service between industrial districts by allowing up to 9,000 trucks per day to bypass I-5, SR 99 and local streets, and provide for southern access to Sea-Tac International Airport.

It also seems like calling it a “509 expansion” is a bit misleading: in addition to the 3 miles of new 509 freeway, the project will also add a lane to I-5 for the 6 miles approaching the 509 interchange. I’m sure the 509 piece is more expensive (because it’s brand-new freeway), but still, a good chunk of this project is widening I-5.


Mountlake Terrace Transit Center

I reserve the phrase “The City” for Seattle, since I’m a Bay Area guy, and that’s the terminology down there for San Francisco. But uses it differently in this article about a new transit center in Mountlake Terrace. Apparently the transit center will be in the middle of I-5, with a pedestrian bridge toward a park and ride built in the 2009 timeframe. It looks cool, and includes a 880-space garage that will double park-and-ride capacity. I am all for the median bus lane, but doesn’t that mean these buses will have to merge left toward the median for Mountlake Terrace and then back right for the other stops which are on the left-side near exits? I wonder who thought that scheme up…

Apologies I wrote this post last week but clicked “Save as Draft” rather than publish.


Congestion Pricing Redux

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Following up on yesterday’s post on Congestion Pricing, Knute Berger has a smart piece in Crosscut today where he makes the same observation we did, namely that user fees on roads have broad support across the ideological spectrum:

The greens such as the Sightline folks like free candy — uh, congestion pricing because it gets cars off the road. The people who can’t afford to pay to use the roads at peak hours find other means to get to work. This is good for Sims because he’s betting the farm on stuff like bus rapid transit (BRT) and voter-approved improvements to Metro Transit service in King County. To make that work, he needs fewer cars getting in the way and more bus riders. Make driving more expensive by tolling the roads, and voila.

Conservatives like tolls and fees because they can claim it’s not a tax, and it’s certainly not progressive because it whacks drivers regardless of income or the price of their vehicle. The contractor in a pickup pays the same as his client in a Porsche. But it also allows the much-loved “market” to winnow out gridlock.

Still, despite support from across the political divide, Berger notes that it’s still a political nonstarter. “It’s saying something about the popularity of tolling the streets when a property tax hike looks like a great option,” he says.

Nonetheless, the more we fully integrate the costs of driving, the more informed we’ll be as customers and citizens, which is really what it’s all about.


San Francisco Transit

I read this crazy comment over at Slog and it got me thinking that if Seattle is aiming to have transit like the San Francisco Bay Area does, it is not aiming all that high. I lived in San Francisco for years, and I can sum up the transit systems pretty simply.


BART serves primarily the East Bay, those (especially from the East Bay) who commute from the suburbs into the city, and those going to SFO airport. That’s about it. Click the left link for a map. It does serve as a single subway line within the city along Mission toward Daly City, but it is a subway line that is mostly covered by Muni trains as well. When the Link Rail line is built, it will be about like BART is now, and when the East Link line is built, it will actually cover a greater portion of the region because BART doesn’t cover the South Bay at all, and doesn’t go into Marin county either. The most southern stop is Fremont. Sure it goes all the way to Pittsburgh, but that is the middle of no where. BART = Central Link


MUNI can basically be divided into two parts, MUNI rail and MUNI buses. There is also the cable car, but that is mostly for tourists and costs $5 to ride just up Nob Hill. MUNI metro rail (see the map at the right) serves mostly the South and West parts of the city, bringing them into the downtown shopping and Financial District. Note that only Embarcadero, Montgomery, Powell, Civic Center, Van Ness, Church, Castro, West Portal and Balboa Park stations are underground. The first four are actually shared with BART, so they are not unique subway stations. The rest of the stops are all above ground, making them like the South Lake Union Street Car. These lines are all much better than buses, but they only serve to bring people from the outskirt-neighborhoods into the employment centers downtown, and they don’t even serve most of the city. There is no Muni line to North Beach or Richmond District for example. There is one line missing on the map, the Historic F line, but that is mostly for tourists and basically goes along the embarcadero to Fishermans Wharf from Market. Muni Rail = More extensive version of Capitol Hill/SLU street cars

Muni bus (map to left) is pretty great as far as bus systems go, but it still is a bus. According to ratings, Muni is average or below average. One of the reasons buses seem good in San Francisco is because they are going very short distances. San Francisco is only 47 square miles (Seattle by contrast, is 83 square miles of land plus another 59 square miles of water), so a ride on the 38 from Downtown all the way out to the Richmond is only about four miles long. And it still takes 30 minutes on the local. Buses are definitely better than those in Seattle, but they are working with an easier city: smaller, with no large lakes in the middle, and denser. Also, since it is a city-run operation, not a county-run operation (San Francisco is its own county as well as city), it has a much smaller area to deal with.


Finally, there is Caltrain. Caltrain is a commuter rail from the city down the penninsula and eventually into the South Bay. I used to takes it nearly everyday from the city to San Jose. It is wonderful as far as commuter rails go, a 50 mile trip from San Francisco to San Jose only take 55 minutes on the “baby bullet” super express trains. However, it is essentially useless for anything other than commuting, because outside of the commuting times of day, all the trains are local, and the trip to the south bay would take literally hours. Caltrain = (faster) Sounder

What I haven’t Covered

I am missing “Golden Gate Transit” which serves the Marin, sort of like Community Transit serves Snohomish, and SAMtrans, which serves San Mateo sort of like Metro serves the ‘burbs but I have never ridden those, so I can’t comment on them. Also, Santa Clara County has it’s own street car, which serves some neighborhoods in the South Bay, but there’s not much to that, since the South Bay is so vast and sparse relative to the city, its difficult to build mass transit down there that serves most neighborhoods.


In all, the Bay Area has better transit infrastructure, and MUCH better road/highway infrastructre (that’s a whole other post). But I think with a few more Street Car lines and the Central and East Link built, Seattle will have a similar level of transit service to the Bay. That’s when we need to shoot higher, maybe looking at Boston or Chicago… My dream though I guess.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Speaking of infrastructure upgrades, here’s an interesting nugget from today’s Times article:

The pipe that broke was installed in 1912, Mickelson said. The oldest pipe in the system was installed in 1898.

He said the break may have been the result of a flaw in the pipe that finally gave way. It’s going to be difficult to replace because it’s under the bridge and has a bend in it, he said.

John Hutchins, with Harbor Consulting Company, inspected the pipe today and said, “My best guess, it was an old pipe and it just washed out and broke.”


On Naming Stations

I like how Sound Transit has decided to give the stations names that describe the neighborhood instead of names of streets as has been done in some places. I guess you can only confuse one California or Western station with another if you, you know, actually have more than one line (we don’t have any yet). But if we ever do get that first line we might get a second…


Congestion Pricing

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Danny Westneat flags Ron Sims’ latest big idea:

The idea is to turn all our freeways into payways.

There’s nothing new about tolls. But Sims is not talking about a couple of bucks for crossing a bridge. It’s a plan to toll most every mile of every major state and federal highway from Everett to south of Tacoma.

It’s just a concept, Sims says, but here’s how it could work. We’d all have computer chips in our cars to record time of day and lane miles traveled on Interstates 5, 405 and 90 (out to Issaquah), as well as parts of highways 99, 167, 509, 518 and 520. The gist is you’d pay $2 for a short rush-hour commute, with a max of $4 to $8 for longer drives, such as from Bothell to Tacoma. It’d be $1 for driving around in the middle of the night.

Westneat like the idea, but says that tolls are “political suicide.” He writes, “If there’s anything that’ll get the local blood boiling as much as that income tax, Sims has found it.”

I’m not so sure. If you assume that by “local blood” he means the conservative, anti-tax folks who by and large oppose the income tax, he’s mistaken. Pay-for-what-you-use has a lot of support among conservatives, because it involves no redistribution. It’s also insanely market friendly: when something gets more scarce (freeway capacity during rush hour), the price goes up. It’s Econ 101.

For example, here’s Stefan Sharkansky of the conservative blog Sound Politics writing two weeks ago:

Nobody should be forced to pay for infrastructure he considers to be foolishly cost-ineffective and/or environmentally immoral. Nobody should have their desired solution held hostage for the other. Roads should be paid for only by those who want and use them. Likewise with light rail.

Let all highway construction and improvements be paid for through tolls, and let all light rail be financed 100% through the farebox.

Sometimes it really is that simple.

Sounds like an endorsement to me!