Street Signs!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

As SDOT replaces their aging and hard-to-read street signs with bigger, shinier versions, they’re selling the old signs fo $5 or $10 a pop, depending on condition.

The list of available signs includes some big guns like Dexter Ave N and Rainier Ave S, but nothing truly iconic like Pike or Denny or Yesler. I’d hold out for Greenwood Ave or Ballard Ave, near where I used to love.

Anyone else have a favorite street name in Seattle?


ST Costs Go Down?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

This is not the type of thing you expect to read about a massive construction project:

Sound Transit confirmed last month that the total cost, including construction, inflation, debt payments, bond and other costs would total $37.9 billion. That figure was initially published by The Seattle Times after being confirmed by the agency and was later included in other media reports.

Sound Transit said when it reviewed the initial calculations before the larger number was published that it didn’t catch the fact that it double-counted $7 billion in costs, inflating the total. The amount double-counted was the portion of construction costs to be financed through bond sales.

Double-counting is, of course, a big problem. We like accuracy in our numbers. Still, the whole thing is sorta like the “Community Chest” card in the game Monopoly: “bank error in your favor, collect $7.1 billion.” Not the kind of thing you want to happen all the time, but better this way than the other.

Mostly, though, I think it goes to show the futility of trying ot project debt payments that far out in advance. The Times, in its story, adds:

Sound Transit spokesman Geoff Patrick … says the best figure for the public to use is $10.8 billion, which includes only the capital cost of trains, tracks and other construction, in 2006 dollars.

When inflation, operating costs, finance fees, cash reserves and administration are included, the total for Sound Transit’s plan through 2027 is $23.6 billion, in year-of-expenditure dollars. The $30.8 billion figure includes additional debt payments after 2027.

$10.8? $23.6? $30.8? Pick a number. The important thing is that Sound Transit has a good bond rating and is able to borrow money at a reasonable rate.


Dat’s a Lotta Dough!

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In some newspapers, you might see the phrase “300K” as shorthand for $300,000. But only the streetwise Staten Island Advance can refer to transit projects with such local color:

“Senate committee OKs 300Gs for light rail study”

The article goes on to note that Sens. Schumer and Clinton delivered the cash in briefcases full of small, unmarked bills in the trunk of a 1987 Lincoln Town Car.


Free Rides, Again

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’m skeptical about the idea of getting rid of the farebox on the bus altogether, despite the purported merits. Nonetheless, this is funny:

Skagit Transit in Washington State recently calculated that it takes in $121,300 from fares but spends $133,385 to collect them. The irony here is that the system started out fare-free and changed to a user-pay system because taxpayers did not want people to have a “free ride.” Now it costs taxpayers more than when it was fare-free.

But like I said, I’m skeptical. Free fares would essentially turn bus drivers into concierges of homeless-shelters-on-wheels. Even more so than they are already.


Pay Stations at Night

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I actually like the new pay stations that Seattle’s been installing the past few years. For one, there are more spaces now around Seattle Center, where I often have to go for an hour or so during the day for my job. I’d rather pay a couple of bucks than circle for 20 minutes looking for a “free” space.

Additionally, I could never seem to keep a sufficient stash of quarters in my car’s ash tray to use the old coin-op meters. Between my coin-op laundry machine, the parking meters, and my geeky desire to collect every one of the new state quarters, I spent way too much time worrying about hoarding quarters.

But it seems like I’m in the minority, Rick Andrerson notes. People hate the new stations, and they’re going to hate them even more when the city starts making you pay 24/7. That last step seems extreme to me, and it seems really extreme to one of Anderson’s sources:

“I would hate to live there if I didn’t have a dedicated parking spot. Now they are talking about 24-hour paid on-street parking. Won’t that make life interesting? Well, if the mayor and city council in Seattle think my friends and I from the Eastside are going to bus down for an evening at Elysian Brewing or any of those other good places, they are mistaken. I can just as easily spend my money on the Eastside and not have to pay the extortion.”

“Extortion” is a strong word, but the commenter has a point, in regards to making people pay after 6pm (which is currently free). The bus service just ain’t there yet. Service during rush hour is great, but going via bus from one neighborhood to another even inside Seattle can take 30-45 minutes at night. All of a sudden meeting someone for dinner is a 3+ hour ordeal.

In other words, if the point is to simply raise revenue for the city, that’s fine I guess. We’ve got to raise revenue somehow. But if the point is to get people out of their cars for after-hours travel, it just isn’t gonna happen.


Passenger Ferries

I guess I’m not the only one fantasizing about them.

When it comes to mass transit, Puget Sound’s new selling point is that open water requires no expensive workers to design, build, pave, stripe or repeatedly patch its surface.

“The route is free,” said King County Councilman Dow Constantine at a “mosquito fleet” forum last week at Salty’s on Alki.

What’s the expression about free lunches? I have to say that ferries are vastly preferrable to buses or shuttles, and if they ever bring back the UW-Kirkland Ferry, I will take it every day.


Pat Murray shows Sound Transit the Money!

I know that’s a lame title for this post, but I’m in Sweden (that’s a Stockholm metro station on the left), where things are a little behind the times in the American pop culture department, but way ahead in terms of congestion pricing (the photo in that article is hella not from Stockholm, btw), and transit (exactly 100 metro stations in a city of 760,000 and a region of 1.9 million, who says transit can’t work in low density?).

Anyway, it seems that Patty Murray has come through for Light Rail in the region.

Sound Transit today lauded Washington Sen. Patty Murray for her efforts to include $30 million for Sound Transit’s University Link light rail project in a key Senate funding bill.

“Our Senator comes through again,” said Sound Transit Board Chairman and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “When commuters jump on the quick, quiet and efficient U-Link, they should thank Patty Murray.”

The funding bill also includes a $70 million installment of Sound Transit’s $500 million full funding grant agreement for the initial Link light rail segment from downtown Seattle to Tukwila that is more than 70 percent complete. The line from downtown to Tukwila is scheduled to open for service in July, 2009, with the final leg from Tukwila into Sea-Tac International Airport to open by December, 2009.


More on Passenger Ferries

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Passenger-ferry maddness continues, with talk of catamarans:

The passenger-only boats Washington State Ferries used to operate were criticized for damage their wakes caused to private property along the shorelines where they operated, especially in narrow passages. So designers of a new passenger-only ferry are determining how to minimize the ferries’ wake while maintaining reasonable speeds.

Designers have been working on a hydrofoil catamaran that could carry 149 passengers at a cruising speed of about 35 knots. It would be partially lifted from the water on a submerged wing that could increase speed, said Matt Mullett of All American Marine Inc., a boatbuilding company in Bellingham. The company builds aluminum boats for whale watching, ocean research and passenger transport among the Hawaiian Islands.

Catamarans ride on two parallel hulls. With less water resistance, they use 44 percent less fuel than monohulls and create smaller wakes, Mullett said.

Design of a new Puget Sound passenger-only vessel is expected by the end of this year, said Phil Osborne of Kitsap Transit and Pacific International Engineering.

35 knots! That’s almost three times the speed of the current ferries. Not too bad.

I love the idea of making use of the water again as one giant freeway around Puget Sound. Might as well turn our liabilities into assets. I can think of two main problems with the passenger ferries. First, with the exception of Downtown Seattle and maybe UW, your final destination is rarely within walking distance of the ferry dock. That means transfering to a bus or train, which adds considerably to the total travel time. Then there’s the labor issue. Ferries require dock workers to tie them up, collect tickets, etc. I’d be interested to see how it fares against other forms of mass transit in that regard.

Still, 35 knots is about 40mph, if my calculations are correct. Meaning that a catamaran ferry could potentially make it from Everett to Seattle in half the time it takes the Sounder train to make the same trip.


Gas usage in Washington is lowest since 1968

An article today in the Seattle PI shows that gas use in Washington State is the lowest it has been in more than three decades. This is great! However there is still work to be done. Our neighbors to the north are using 2.8 gallons of gas per week per capita less than Washingtonians. Looking at the largest cities in these perspective regions (Seattle and Vancouver), this is possible because the densities of the two cities are very different. Vancouver is a little more than double the density of Seattle at 13,602.6/sq. mi. which would require less gasoline usage to get to and from the city. Seattle having a much larger metropolitan population means we are more spread out creating demand for more gasoline. However I think this article compliments Andrew’s nice blogs on Density and the string of density related articles coming from the PI lately.

While mass transit is becoming more widely available and building restrictions have forced more dense development, the gradual decrease — starting in 1999 — seems to also be tied to the increase in gas prices, said Clark Williams-Derry, the Sightline research director of the Cascadia Scorecard 2007 report released in June”.
This is key to building a well-oiled transportation system. Density places more people at the doorstep of transit. If available, people will forget they ever depended on cars.
The lower rate of consumption is partly because of decade-old development rules focused on creating “compact, complete communities,” said Peter Ladner… “.
I think our development is starting to head in this direction as well, take for instance Kent. The development of Kent Station has made living in Kent and the commuting much easier. If we can start making the cities we have more dense, and develop them around a reasonable transportation system, this will make for a better environment overall.

Transit Wrap-up

I’m in Sweden on Holiday at the moment, so here’s a brief transit news round-up:

On Saturday the P-I talked about free transit service. Apparently, Island Transit is free, and the P-I wondered if it would work here. I doubt it. The demand would go up, mostly from kids and the homeless, which would make the bus worse for commuters and actually make transit less popular.

SFist asked a bus driver what they hated most. I know that’s San Francisco, but the list is still relevant here. Except:

-Money. Please, people, please: If you’re paying cash, get it out of your purse/backpack/pocket/shoe before you climb the stairs. It’s beyond annoying to see someone talking on a cellphone, carrying a purse or backpack that could easily hold the Grand Canyon, spending five minutes leaning on the fare box, blocking everyone else’s efforts to get on the bus, counting out pennies from the nether reaches of their bag.

Orphan Road noticed they’ve already started building University Station.


Viaduct Repairs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Not much new in this piece on Viaduct repairs. The 6-part temporary fix will start this year with electrical work. The Belltown community seems to be rallying around opposition to new ventilation systems in the Battery Street Tunnel, something I don’t have much of an opinion on.

Still looks like the timeline is conveniently set up to avoid actually closing the viaduct before we have to make a decision.


If You Build It, They Will Come

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Denver Edition:

DENVER – The regional transit system is moving 34 light rail cars to the popular southeast light rail line.

RTD says Monday through Friday, an average of 61,000 people combined ride the central, southwest and southeast light rail lines. RTD says of that, an average of 34,000 are riding the southeast light rail line.

The southeast line connects north Denver to Park Meadows in the south and Aurora in the east.

“It is very popular because of the fact you have all those people coming in from the outskirts coming in to use the light rail,” RTD Spokesperson Daria Serna said.

Of course, Seattle is totally unlike Denver. Denver is a Western city surrounded by mountains. It can’t work here. Let’s just build lots of roads!


Transit in Snohomish County

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Lots of good stuff in this HeraldNet op-ed: on the increase in transit use up North:

Community Transit’s next big project is its Swift bus rapid transit service, slated to begin operation in 2009. The new route will run 17 miles along Highway 99 between Everett and Aurora Village, with 15 stops in each direction. Some 1.5 million people use the existing bus routes on that corridor, and the frequency and efficiency of the Swift system should further increase those numbers.

15 stops over 17 miles. That’s how you do BRT! With a connection at Aurora Village to Metro’s RapidRide, you’ve got a pretty nice commute down Hwy 99. Assuming, of course, that the bus-only lanes are all up and running (a project that WSDOT is working on). By 2009, transit options along the Aurora corridor will be much, much better.

Complementing that, you’ve got an increase in Sounder rail:

Through May, Sound Transit’s Sounder commuter rail line had made 1,315 total trips this year. Sound Transit plans to increase the number of weekday round trips between Everett and Seattle from four to eight next year, and to add a new stop in Mukilteo. (It currently stops in Edmonds.)

Four to Eight? I see two round-trips on Sounder’s site, plus two Amtrak trips. Either way, it’s a good development. Still, one hour from Everett to Seattle on Sounder is a bit long, and presumably the trip will get even longer when the Mukilteo stop is added in. I’m sure a lot of that has to do with sharing the BNSF tracks. And certiainly an hour from Everett to Seattle is actually quicker than driving most days. Still, if there’s a chance that you can do it in 30 minutes by car every now and then, many people will still opt to drive. That’s just how the human brain works.


“Light Rail Mafia”

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

It exists, if this Cato Institute study is to be believed. Shocking!

The idea that Portland is an “unlivable,” and “unaffordable” city is pretty absurd on its face. It’s still the least-expensive major city on the West Coast, and often ranks as one of the most livable cities in America. Such is the grasp of Portland’s nefarious light-rail mafia, I suppose, that they can supress housing prices and buy off news media. Truly nefarous stuff.

Of course, if I were to start a transit-oriented mafia, I’d surely start with roads, not rail, since road construction offers far more poured concrete in which to make the bodies of my enemies disappear. But that’s just me.

P.S.: … and that Measure 37 that Cato cites as evidence that “Portland–area residents have expressed their opposition to these plans”? Yeah, it’s on it’s way to being repealed.


Light Rail in Charlotte

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

If you haven’t been following the saga (and I can’t imagine why you wouldn’t be!), the city of Charlotte, NC, is building a light rail system, and, in a tactic surely appropriated from Seattle, some residents there have gotten a vote on the ballot to recall the whole thing, despite the fact that construction is well underway.

Here’s one op-ed arguing why that would be a bad idea:

Maybe the guys who want to scrap Charlotte’s light-rail system didn’t read the Observer’s “Our Energy Future” series. Maybe they forget that independence requires sacrifice on the part of all Americans, not just by those in our armed forces. Or maybe they’ve forgotten the Great Oil Crisis of 1973.

That was the year yours truly and a lot of other commuters learned to ride our public transportation system, then known as buses. We had fooled ourselves into thinking that gas-guzzling sedans and station wagons meant true independence. Suddenly some Middle Eastern politicians who didn’t like our support of Israel put a halt to that illusion. Their oil export embargo hit this nation’s consumers virtually overnight.

Sure, things like the strategic petroleum reserve have softened the potential effects of an embargo, but they’re still there: we’re importing far more oil now than we were 30 years ago, both in relative and absolute terms. Light rail’s not the only answer, but it’s part of it.