Frieght on Mercer

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Speaking of Mercer Street and the Viaduct, it occurs to me, looking over the maps, that the future, post-Viaduct plan gets rid of the current off-ramp that connects Aurora Ave N to Mercer.

I’ve often noticed that the freight trucks that use the Viaduct and are headed North will often use Mercer St. to cross town and hook up with I-5. This lets them avoid I-5 where it gets congested around downtown.

I can’t see how they could do that in this new configuration. Once you’re on Aurora North, you’re prtty much stuck on Aurora North. You’ll have options to turn right on Republican or Roy, but (a) those are both hard right turns that will require trucks to make a nearly full stop, and (b) neither offers a straight, 4-lane shot to I-5.

Combine this with the planned SoDo interchange improvements that Will called out yesterday as part of RTID, and suddenly you realize that there will far less freight traffic using the Viaduct in the future. Connecting to I-5 in SoDo will be far more convenient than at any point North.


The New Mercer Street

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One infrastructure upgrade that’s going to have a big impact is the Mercer Corridor Project, which I’m reminded of in reading this Crosscut piece on the new South Lake Union park.

The goal of the Mercer project is to make Mercer a two-way street and thus avoid the traffic snarl of cars trying to get off of I-5 headed to Seattle Center. The project will come in two phases: in the first, Mercer will be come two-way only in South Lake Union. This will happen in the next two years and basically make Valley Street near the park more pedestrian-friendly (and, some have argued, add appease Vulcan, whose properties abut the park). The city’s currently buying back land from Vulcan to complete this phase.

Later, while the Viaduct is being replaced, the section of Aurora Avenue just north of Denny Way will be lowered, re-connecting the street grid between South Lake Union and Seattle Center. (As someone who walks between these areas frequently, it can’t happen soon enough. Walking between Seattle Center and SLU, no matter which route you take, is an awful blend of car exhaust, concrete, and noise. And not the good, I-live-in-a-city kinda noise. The belching-of-truck-engines-roaring-past-you-and-the-iPod-can’t-go-loud-enough kinda noise. )

Unfortunately, what’s going to happen, it seems, is that it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Making Mercer two-way without the added street-grid connections between it and Denny will probably just end up putting more congestion onto Mercer itself. We won’t see the benefits of the new arrangement until… well, until we figure out what do do with the Viaduct, and then do it. In other words, not for a while.


Vote in 2008?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In his column this week, Josh Feit at The Stranger argues that it would be better for environmentalists and transit advocates to vote “no” on this fall’s RTID/ST2 package, and instead hope for a transit-only vote in 2008.

Feit’s first argument is that there’s still plenty of work to do on ST1, so waiting another year to start on ST2 is no biggie. That’s specious logic. Sound Transit knows how to walk and chew gum at the same time. The more advanced planning they can do, the better. Land acquisition and construction costs are increasing at 3-5x the rate of inflation. Every year we wait adds hundreds of millions of dollars to the project.

Secondly he notes that the “the compromisers inform us cuckoo idealists that political reality wont allow a 2008 vote. Governor Gregoire won’t stand for it.” But the “political reality” has never been about Governor Gregoire. Rather, it’s been about the fact that the Puget Sound region, for various reasons, has always been skittish about big transit projects — from the failed 1911 Bogue Plan to the failed 1968 Forward Thrust to the failed 1995 RTA package to the failed 2000 Monorail. We need to be coaxed along slowly, carefully, and with lots of candy. Because, let’s remember, for all Seattle’s “progressive,” “big-city” pretensions, it’s still a small and relatively rural town in one of America’s most outlying provinces. That’s the “political reality” of the region, and it has little to do with Gov. Gregoire’s re-election campaign.

Finally, Feit notes that 2008 will be a much more favorable political climate for liberals, being a presidential election year. That has some merit, although one has to weigh the more favorable political climate against the increased risk of a transit-only package going in front of all three counties. It seems like a wash at best.

Regardless, it’s hard to see what a “no” vote actually accomplishes. Feit calls out the $1.1B I-405 expansion, for example. But that’s something that’s going to happen eventually. 405 needs to be expanded and there’s more than enough political will to make it happen. If environmentalists think they can kill the 405 expansion, they’re misguided. The best they can do is delay it, which will make it more expensive (and starve even more money from transit projects) down the road.

Vote yes this November.

Update: In retrospect, I was a little sloppy above when I wrote that I-405 “needs” to be expanded. What meant (and what I tried to get at in the rest of the sentence) is that there’s more than enough political and popular will to expand I-405. It would be very, very hard to stop it, given the relative power of the suburbs versus the city in Olympia and a general sense that Seattle gets all the attention. I-405 expansion is the one project that the Eastside really wants and, as I’ve argued elsewhere, it might even offer an opportunity for a surface/transit solution to replace the Viaduct.


Transit+ Riders – I-5 lanes = Nice Commute

I was going to post Monday evening, but thought I better wait at least another day and see how things go. As you may have heard traffic on I-5 has been better than expected both Monday and Tuesday and at the time I am writing this it is good as well. Perhaps the coolest mode of transportation in my opinion, the Sounder, carried 6,709 people on Monday and about 1000 less on Tuesday. I hope that the influx of new riders will like it and stick with it, certainly, it has to be better than driving alone. This shows that Seattle has the capability of using transit and taking cars off the road! Certainly Sounder wasn’t the only mode to experience increased ridership, the water taxi had 500+ people cross Elliot Bay, Metro had normal levels on Monday and increased levels on Tuesday. This may be people not able to get on Sounder? Who knows. I have read a lot in the local paper comment sections that this was planned, it is a conspiracy that Seattle chose to do this at the time the ST 2 vote was coming up. I have 2 thoughts on that, first being if it is a conspiracy, that is some effective planning across many sections of government in our state, which is extremely unlikely to happen and invalidates that possibility. Second, if it was a conspiracy, which I don’t think it was, maybe it is a good thing to show people this is a good alternative to riding alone? I see nothing wrong with that? It goes to show you that riding transit is a mindset. Certainly there are problems with transit, but without riders you won’t see any changes. Of course, there has to be a Yes vote on ST2 ballot to help. Transit can work and will work in Seattle. All these people could have stayed in their car and dealt with backups to Tacoma, but they didn’t! I think it’s a sign. More transit!


King County Gets the SR-520 Grant

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

King county has been awarded a $140M grant from the feds to experiement with tolling on SR-520. . We noted in June that the project was a semi-finalist.

The county plan calls for electronic tolling technology and express lanes on the new 520 bridge, which is undergoing mediation to help determine a final design. The electronic tolling would be similar to what is being used on the newly reopened Tacoma Narrows Bridge, state transportation officials say.

The money will help build transit across the 520 corridor — $41 million for an estimated 45 more buses — and $1 million will go to improving passenger-only ferry service for Vashon Island, King County Executive Ron Sims said.

New York City’s congestion pricing proposal is also getting money.


Urban Villages

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Seattle Times offers a run-down of the mixed success of mixed-use urban villages in the suburbs. Focusing on Redmond Ridge, Snoqualmie Ridge, and the Issaquah Highlands, the Times notes that, while the villages have succeeded in offering walkable neighborhoods, jobs have been slow to materialize:

“We did envision people taking their bikes or walking to work,” said Snoqualmie Mayor Matt Larson, who lives on the Ridge. “We need to create an environment where there is a critical mass of a certain sector, like software or aerospace. Right now, the Ridge doesn’t rise to the ideal that most folks thought of.”

The developments were pushed during the 1980s and ’90s as a return to pedestrian centers of days past. Parks, narrow streets and convenient transit stations were designed to get residents out of their cars. Jobs and retail were supposed to encourage people to work and shop where they live. Essentially, urban villages would deliver what isolated subdivisions hadn’t — a sense of community.

I don’t think it’s actually possible to design a neighborhood or village or township where everyone can walk to work, for the simple reason that people change jobs too frequently these days. And with more and more families having two working parents, there’s an even greater likelihood that their jobs will be located miles apart from each other, let alone from their shared house. It’s not uncommon for people to change jobs every 2-3 years, and changing houses that often can be a real challenge, especially if it means disrupting your kids’ life.

Given that, I think we need to define success downard for these villages. If they reduce the number of car trips on evenings and weekends — trips to the bank, grocery store, etc. — they’ll have been successful. Also, links to transit are important. Being able to walk or bike to a transit stop is probably more useful than luring a software firm into the neighborhood, since it will give people more freedom to work where they want.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

There’s an interesting piece in the New York Times Magazine on Clearview, the new font that will replace Highway Gothic as the “official” U.S. highway font. Clearview is more legible for old folks, apparently, due to the fact that the lowercase letters open up more.

A way-geeky-way-cool slideshow is also included.

Also of note, the guy who designed the new system, Don Meeker, is a Northwesterner, who got started in highway signage by designing signs for the State of Oregon.



If You Don’t Build It…

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

…maybe they’ll just find another way, argues Cascadia Report, discussing the “nightmare” I-5 closure that began today:

The clear takeaway is that people are more flexible than they think. In this case, there is a strong incentive (not wasting hours in traffic) to find alternatives. It’s exactly what would happen if the viaduct freeway were replaced with a combination of better transit and a more efficient network of surface streets. It’s exactly what would happen if there were tolls based on the amount of congestion on the roads. As long as there are effective alternatives (like far more transit, better carpool lanes) people will take them.

To be sure, August was strategically chosen because, in Francophone Seattle, no one really works this month. But it does show how elastic demand is for our highways. If you make a resource free, people will tend to over-consume it.


Information Infrastructure

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Blogger Jeff Jarvis has a worthy follow-up to my post today about smart transit. Jarvis writes about a particularly grueling commute into NYC:

There were thousands of people in that jam. We all knew what was going on and could have informed the thousands more who followed into the same trap. And I’ll be most of us would have done that out of sheer altruism, in the hope that someone else will help us avoid the next jam. Why have we not yet invented systems to capture and share that knowledge? I’ve been plotting this for years: I met with these and other traffic services a decade ago begging them to come up with the means to gather our knowledge of traffic: We could call into numbers that have logged our usual routes and report our conditions and get the conditions ahead. Or we could set up the means to monitor and report the movement of those phones along routes and cell towers. Or we could simply enable people to call a service and leave trouble reports. Anything. But, no, we knew nothing.

This isn’t limited to transit riders, either. When GPS-enabled cars hit a traffic jam — or even when they just notice that the driver is hitting the brakes an awful lot — the car should upload that information to a server or a peer-to-peer network, so that other cars can aggregate the information and plan routes accordingly. The fact that we’re still waiting for the AM radio’s 10-minute traffic updates in this day and age is absurd.


KC Council Weighs In

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

With the Airport-Trail swap looking dead, King County Council members Phillips and Hague have teamed up with Port Commissioner Creighton to plot a new way forward. They talk about “creative financing deals,” but basically avoid the real question: who’s gonna pony up $100M and buy the durn thing?

There are some hints that Sound Transit might be able to help, but I find it difficult to believe that they’d update their final project list or do anything that might upset the fall vote this late in the game (polling is apparently still steady at 60% “yes”). The authors do hint at the fact that ST can “win votes” by agreeing to help pay for the corridor, but I’m still skeptical that they’d acutally make any promises between now and November.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Sightline points us to SpotBus a web mash-up that grabs data from various local trip planners and presents it in an easier, more intuitive way. It’s a neat idea, and hopefully the start of something bigger. I especially like the no-frills, mobile-friendly interface. As more and more of us transit riders walk around with wireless, GPS-enabled pocket computers (a.k.a. “cell phones”) riding transit will become much more intuitive.


Bus Tunnel Security

King County Metro is making some changes in security when the opening of the tunnel occurs in September according to the Seattle PI. Basically KCM is renting cops to patrol the tunnel during operating hours. Previously it used to be 2 Seattle Police officers patrolling each station that were off duty and working overtime. It appears that will continue to be the case except they won’t be Seattle Police. Due to the rise in concern of safety on 3rd Avenue up above, this has people a little nervous. The new cops will be connected and a quick response away from real authority. However, they will not have authority to arrest or carry weapons.

Metro paid about $1.5 million annually to hire the off-duty Seattle
officers, Jacobson said. O’Neill said officers were paid a flat rate with no
The new plan will cost about $1.7 million, including $984,000 for a
contract with Olympic Security Services Inc. of SeaTac and $770,000 for the
Sheriff’s Office to hire the additional commissioned officers for its Metro
unit, Jacobson said.

Do you feel this is a bad move? Would it prevent you from using the tunnel? I am excited to see it open again, I know I will be using it. I am not sure why now the plan is 200K more than prior service? The tunnel has been an example of cleanliness and safety in transit systems. I hope it continues to stay that way.


Numbers Shine for Sound Transit

Sound Transit released some stats on 2nd Quarter performance and their hard work is starting to pay off! Total ridership on Sounder, Link light rail, and Express buses went up 11% compared to last year. The Sounder alone went up 20% while Express buses went up 10% and Link light rail 2%. This is awesome, especially since Central Link isn’t even completed yet. In fact they had 3.5 Million people use Sound Transit in the 2nd Quarter. When Central Link is completed and rolling on its rails, I only see Sound Transit going up. In my perfect world, when ST Link is running to Everett and Redmond, the numbers will be as high as some other larger cities perhaps? San Francisco? Chicago?

Speaking of ridership the 19 days of pain are almost here, and as you may have heard Sound Transit added a Sounder round trip run for a total of 5 runs. The new trip starts in Puyallup at 6:17am and returns leaving King Street at 4:50pm. They have tweaked the normal schedule so make sure to take a peek if you are a regular. I see this as really the only way to sanity during this stretch of time. It will show the region that we need grade separated transit badly. In fact I hope people will use Sounder and see that it is the way to go even with all I-5 available. It provides Sound Transit with a great opportunity to showcase the Commuter Rail. So tell everyone about it that can use this awesome service. Too bad they couldn’t do 9 or 10 round trip runs! However Sound Transit is the agency that is adding service on buses and trains during the I-5 maintenance project. King County Metro is not adding any additional service as they are maxed out. Is anyone trying Sounder out for the first time? What are you doing to avoid this mess? Vacation? The coffee shop idea Mayor Nickels was talking about?


Double the Fun!

I am sure you may have seen the new Double Decker bus used by Community Transit, if not I snapped the photo above so you could see the massiveness. Community Transit is the second agency in the U.S. to put this type of bus into its regular service, the only other being Las Vegas. Unfortunately, I don’t use the CT route that uses this particular bus, but I have got to imagine the views are awesome! The bus seats 67 with room for 20 standing which is double a regular 40′ bus in the same footprint. I wonder how this compares to the articulated buses? The route 402 is currently using the bus as a testing period which will last approximately two weeks, before it rotates to another route for additional testing by Community Transit. I saw the release on the news and there was a lady who wouldn’t get on cause she was afraid it would hit the overpasses. It does clear the overpasses so don’t worry if that is stopping you. Has anyone rode the Double Decker yet? Any first impressions? I am glad to see CT pushing the envelope for innovation in modern transportation, it shows that this region is serious about transportation.


Transit = Choice

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The L.A. Times looks at the vaunted Denver light rail system. One of Denver’s suburban mayors is surprisingly candid:

Cal Marsella, the general manager of the Regional Transportation District, which is building FasTracks, can readily tick off travel times he uses to sell people on the program.

In 2025, for example, he says the drive from the airport to downtown will take 48 minutes by car and 39 minutes on the train, and the drive from Longmont — a far northern suburb — to Denver will take 133 minutes by car versus 61 minutes by train.

Politicians make much the same arguments.

“We frame this as giving people a choice,” said Steve Burkholder, the mayor of suburban Lakewood, which will get rail service as part of FasTracks. “Will this take cars off the road? I doubt it. As you grow as an area, congestion will grow.” [emphasis added]

Exactly. Congestion is here to stay, but it’s important to give people real choices. In 20 years, traffic in Seattle will be terrible. Like LA-style terrible. Imagine rush hour on I-5 or I-405 for 12 hours a day, 7 days a week. If we don’t start building now, we’re gonna be seriously screwed.


“A Lot of Buses”

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Amtrak shuts down a few Cascade routes:

Posted online at 4:51 p.m. Friday Four Amtrak trains that travel between Washington and Oregon have been pulled from service at least through this weekend after technicians on Thursday discovered problems with trains built by Spanish train company Talgo.

Alternative transportation is not being provided, but customers can get refunds for their tickets, Amtrak spokeswoman Vernae Graham said.

The four trains that have been pulled from service can carry as many as 1,000 passengers a day, Graham said. Three of them travel between Eugene, Ore., and Seattle, and the fourth travels between Portland and Bellingham.

“That would be a lot of buses,” Graham said.

Well, it would be 20 buses or so, I guess. That doesn’t seem like a lot to me. Amtrak may be learning marketing, but customer service has to be solid, too.


Infrastructure Upgrades

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The tragedy in Minneapolis yesterday forces us all to take a moment and evaluate our own infrastructure:

Wooten’s concerns aren’t too far off base — in a 2005 study of the nation’s infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers found that about 26 percent of Washington’s 3,000 bridges are either structurally deficient or obsolete.

And the state has had its share of major bridges collapse.

The old Tacoma Narrows Bridge — “Galloping Gertie” as it came to be called — fell into Puget Sound during a 1940 windstorm.

Fifty years later, a section of the Interstate 90 Mercer Island floating bridge sank to the bottom of Lake Washington during stormy weather.

In an effort to prevent more failures from happening here, engineers inspect each of the state’s bridges every two years, said Jugesh Kapur, the chief bridge engineer at the state Department of Transportation.

America’s infrastructure is showing its age. Most of the highways and bridges we use today were built during the 1950s and 60s. And though most are still in incredibly good shape, many are starting to fall apart. Fortunately, this is all happening at a time in which we as a society are re-evaluating the pre-eminence of the automobile. We can make better choices with this next time ’round.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

After a parade of anti-rail hit pieces, Crosscut apparently feels like they need to run a pro-rail piece. You can read it here. It does a pretty good job of dispatching the anti-rail pieces that have appeared before.

But get this — the author, William Echols, is Crosscut’s intern. An INTERN! That’s right: after going out into the world and finding anti-rail professionals in the transit community (no easy task, since most transit planners agree that light rail should be part of any urban transit network), the best that David Brewster could do for the “pro” rail piece was to look around the office and say, “how about… you! Yeah, you…. when you get back from fetching us coffee, why don’t you fire up Wikipedia and put together a pro-rail article, eh?”

Look, I have no idea how the Crosscut “newsroom” really works, and for all I know, Brewster doesn’t even drink coffee. I don’t mean to impugn the credentials of Mr. Echols, either. Like I said, he does a fine job. But one can only imagine what kind of an enlightening article we’d get if we had an actual, real-life transportation planner or professor writing a pro-rail piece.

(via CIS, who’s equally astonished that Crosscut even published a pro-rail article)


PODs Again

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Hot on the heels of the proposed London PRT system, a Mesa, AZ businessman is floating a proposal to bring a 25-mile transit pod network to downtown Mesa:

Bullet-shaped two-passenger vehicles would be suspended from overhead tracks. Instead of riding on wheels or bearings, they would be elevated and propelled by magnetic levitation at speeds up to 100 mph in city, and 150 mph between cities.

About every quarter-mile, there would be a station. Passengers would climb to the boarding platform, pay for their rides, punch in their destinations and jump into waiting cars.

A computer would guide the cars as they merge into the high-speed upper rail and then slow to a stop at the destinations.

Eventually, SkyTran advocates say, a city could be covered with a grid of lines, making it all but unnecessary to use cars for local trips.

And you thought the Seattle Monorail was a pie-in-the-sky idea?