Public-Private Partnerships

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

From an article in Vancouver Island’s Goldstream News:

Several communities across North America, including Portland and Seattle, have built them using a public, private partnership – otherwise known as P3s – where business teams up with municipal and senior governments to share the development costs, said [Charles]Hales.

Because business and developers, including those proposing highrise projects on the West Shore, gain huge sales benefits,

Hales said the private sector has financed 50 per cent of Portland’s new transit system and 60 per cent of the new rail commuter system in Seattle.

Really? Where does he get that from? Hales was a Portland City Commissioner for a decade, so he’s a legitimate source. Maybe the article was just poorly written.


More on the Opposition

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Seattle Times sheds more light on the emerging opposition to RTID/ST2 that we noted yesterday.

As the campaign season approaches on a transportation ballot measure, an advocacy group called the Washington Traffic Institute has formed to oppose Sound Transit’s plans to expand light rail.

The group is led by Bill Eager, an engineer; Bruce Nurse, vice president of Bellevue mall developer Kemper Freeman’s organization; and Kathryn Serkes, a public-affairs consultant. At its Web site,, the group argues that rail won’t solve congestion.

Again, the group is hard to take seriously right now, since they’re chock full of out-of-towners and folks interested in resurrecting non-starter solutions like cutting a new freeway (I-605) through the Cascade Foothills. That said, Kemper Freeman has a lot of money and Eastside property, so don’t count them out.


The P-I Talks to Steinbrueck

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The P-I’s Opinion Leaders Podcast had an episode from May 22 with Peter Steinbrueck on the future of the Alaskan Way corridor that I’m just now listening to. Steinbrueck does a great job of moving the conversation from moving cars to moving people, which is a much-needed paradigm shift.

He laments the carbon emissions of cars, using the familiar greenhouse gas argument for transit. In response, David Horsey cites a Schwarzenegger speech (possibly this one) about electric cars of the future that won’t pollute. Doesn’t the greenhouse gas argument disappear, Horsey wonders?

Steinbrueck’s response isn’t great. But this is a really, really critical point. So let me help him make his case!

Steinbrueck makes two basic points in response to Horsey: (a) he thinks combustion engines are going to be around for a long time, and (b) even biofuels have environmental problems. Both of those things are true, but neither is the best rebuttal to Horsey. The best rebuttal is that the electricity for those cars has to come from someplace, and currently that place is carbon-belching coal plants (in most of the U.S.). Even hydrogen-powered cars need electricity to electrolyze the hydrogen in the first place.

In other words, there’s simply no getting around the fact that it takes a large amount of energy to move a single person and their 2,500-lb car around the city. By switching to electric cars, you haven’t gotten rid of the problem, you’ve just moved the carbon emissions from the tailpipe to the smokestack. Finally, you’ve still got congestion. If electric cars push the cost of driving towards zero, they’ll end up increasing congestion because people will drive more.

All that said, I still think there’s a benefit in moving to electric cars. Electric cars can be ligher, and, more importantly, they can be recharged at night when the grid has excess capacity. But they’re not reason enough to abandon transit-oriented development.


Testimonial of Moving to a Carless Life

Slog has been taken over by trolls commenters and one such commenter by the name of Gomez wrote a piece about growing up in a driver’s world but living without a car in Seattle.

So the point of all that long-winded spiel was… no, despite any background with highways and roads, no, I don’t love highways, and at this point in life, I wholeheartedly support the wise integration of street improvements with transit. As much as I liked the road growing up, I like life without it a whole hell of a lot better. I could never see myself living with a car again

It’s worth a read.


Liveblogging the RTID Meeting

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.


I’m at the RTID meeting this morning, and it looks like an agreement was reached last night to avoid a potential showdown over the Cross Base Highway. An compromise amendment was just passed unanimously. Sounds like people were up until the wee hours of the night last night figuring it out.

The compromise involves a mediation process, to start in January 2009, to mitigate the environmental impacts of the CBH and $105m in additional funds. The decision, more or less, “kicks the can down the road.” Everyone agrees not to sue until after the mediation process has completed, but doesn’t waive their right to do so afterward.

More to come…

Update: “the costs of delay way, WAY, outweigh the costs of the plan.” – King County Councilmember Julia Patterson. Indeed.

Update 2: Okay, I finally got my hands on the official talking points: more money for SR167, a Tacoma Mall Access project, and funding for congestion relief on SR410 and SR162. Meanwhile, the mediation process on the CBH will move forward, including a host of local municipalities, the state, the military, and various environmental groups. So yeah: can kicked down the road.

Pierce County Councilman Shawn Bunney seems to have threaded the needle almost perfectly on this one, saving the RTID from what could have been a costly distraction.

Update 3: David Wickert at the TNT has the full story, indicating that the environmental groups are on board with the measure.


Bus Lanes and BRT

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Vancouver is having some trouble with its new bus-only lanes: the buses aren’t going any faster.

But this, in itself, doesn’t completely disqualify Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). There are lots of other aspects to a BRT system — fewer stops, off-bus fare collection, etc. — that would have a marked effect on transit times.

For example, LA Metro’s Metro Rapid seems to be working. As Cascadia Report notes (and Cascadia Prospectus echoes) that’s the solution we should be looking at here.


Elevated Stations

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

charlotte.pngI’m sure that no one would mind an elevated light rail station in downtown Bellevue if it looked like this bad-ass piece of neo-futurism. It’s like a Batman cartoon.

This is taken from a PDF describing the new Charlotte light rail.

P.S.: Note to the web developers of the Charlotte project: do better search engine optimization! Most of the first 10 links or so for “Charlotte Light Rail” are websites that oppose the system.


Congestion Pricing on Lake Washington

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The US. Department of Transportation has selected a Lake Washington corridor project as semi-finalists for a federal Urban Partnerships grant.

The grant is to help cities mitigate construction through four “T”s: tolling, transit, telecommuting, and technology. But the emphasis of the plan is congestion pricing. Here’s a bit more from the WA State Transportation Commission’s March meeting minutes (PDF):

Favorable consideration is given if the request is for the ability to toll existing interstate facilities. The partnership is a two-way street with the federal government providing funding assistance and the metropolitan area entering into the partnership must commit to pursuing an aggressive congestion management strategy that includes four elements; tolling, technology, transit and telecommuting. The program asks that that within two to three years the metropolitan area demonstrate a congestion pricing or tolling element on an existing facility that results in measurable congestion reduction. A collective proposal is being put together that will meet the qualifying guidelines

The grant would be available within the next two years. Sounds to me like they’re considering congestion pricing on both 520 and I-90, possibly even before the 520 bridge is replaced.

Update: my instincts were right. The Times says $2 tolls could be implemented on the existing bridge within three years.


Grisly Details on the Cross Base

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The News-Tribune has plenty of info on the maneuvering inside the Pierce County Council on the Cross Base Highway and RTID.

Long story short: the Council is split: four of them (plus exec Ladenburg) have put together a plan that increases CBH funding by $160M, while the remaining three, led by Shawn Bunney, have an alternative proposal that puts more money into Highway 167 and omits the CBH. Though Bunney seems to be outnumbered, he also happens to be the chairman of the RTID’s executive board, which gives him added influence.

It’s unclear where Ladenburg is getting the $160M number. The CBH was slated to get $477M in the RTID, but would have needed an additional $100M from other sources to be completed.

As for Bunney, he’ll need to peel off two more votes to override the veto. Perhaps by putting more money into SR 167 he thinks he can pick up, say, Roger Bush (R-Graham) and Calvin Goings (D-Puyallup). But that’s just wild speculation.

The Exec Board meets at 9am tomorrow. We’ll know more after that.


The Truth About The Truth About Traffic

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

If the RTID/ST2 package fails, it will be because there’s a broad opposition that can rally support to kill it. Thus far, no such opposition has emerged. However, the Seattle P-I has been running ads online for Truth About Traffic, which seems to be a clearinghouse of sorts for various pro-road, anti-transit organizations.

All your favorite road-builders are there. They’re mostly fringe groups, including a group of San Jose-based car fetishists called the “American Dream Coalition.” Further suggesting that the site is some sort of front, it is registered to a right-wing political consultant based in Spokane.

If this represents the sum total of the opposition, it makes me even more confident that the package will pass.


Bus Links!

Someone mailed me these links: My bus shows when the next buses coming to your station will arrive, and how late/on time they are. This is the SMS (text message) version of the above.

Google Transit (the updated version communicates with Google Earth)

Public Routes a nice tool that lets you find bus routes to and from your location.

Do you have any more bus links? Post them in the comments and we’ll create a comprehensive collection.

Long Walk to University of Washington Station from 520

Carless in Seattle has pointed out that the issue of travelling between the 520/Montlake Blvd and University of Washington Station has not been resolved in the current agreement announced yesterday. It’s a pretty long distance, probably about 1500~2000 feet.

I see this as one of those unfortunate situations that won’t be solved. Maybe frequent shuttle service can be the answer?


Carless Road Trips!

This week’s Seattle Weekly has a great article about carless road trips. It has a bunch of nuggets like this (well the monorail would have been nice):

Contrary to what those monorail morons wanted you to believe, getting out to West Seattle couldn’t be easier, on the back of the mighty Metro 54. Hop on it downtown, and it’ll whisk you over the freeway and down the length of Fauntleroy Way. At about the 30-minute mark, you’ll hop off at Lincoln Park, one of Seattle’s best—and not all that heavily used by those outside the neighborhood. Its 135 acres includes five miles of trails, including a stunner that goes all along the point under a canopy of trees; it’s one of the best Puget Sound walks you’re going to find. At the tip of the point is the park’s most famous amenity: an Olympic-size, heated, outdoor, salt-water pool that’s open summer-only. The 54 runs twice an hour on weekends.

When I was a kid, my siblings and I used to bus out to Discovery Park. I think it was the 31 we took with a bit of a walk in at the end. The other option was the 33, I think, from Downtown. When I was in college, we used to go to Vancouver on Amtrak, Greyhound and Quickshuttle. We always had a blast. Have any of you guys done a successful carless road trip?


Anti-Transit Folks Make Up Numbers?

Where’s the data that backs up these claims?

[A] line to Northgate now is expected to cost at least $6 billion and to not be completed until 2016. [Ed. My sources say $1.126 billion to $1.239 billion.

A recent Seattle Times essay by former Washington Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge and former state Transportation Commissioner George Kargianis pointed out the multiple problems posed by Sound Transit’s drive to build light rail to the Eastside, across the Interstate 90 bridge, at a cost of another $6 billion. [my sources say $1.465 billion to $2.157 billion, and that’s the whole line part from Seattle to Bellevue’s Downtown]

Look, I am all for a good debate, but I’d prefer and honest one. This anti-transit guy Van Dyk seem to just make there numbers up out of thin air. Compare it with this nuanced anti-transit pro-highways article from the Reason Foundation. The difference is stark. I guess “reason” doesn’t sell as many news papers as made up numbers and sensationalism does. Well, I guess this is a newspaper that put American Idol on it’s cover five times in two weeks.

We have the second worst-traffic in the nation as a factor of time, and 1.5 million more people are expected to move here over the next 30 years or so. We need to think about how those people will live and work, and we need to be prudent about how we move people around. Unfortunately, we have one of the lowest tax burdens in the country and because of this we haven’t been able to afford the necessary improvements to replace our post-war infrastructure that is now mostly 50 years old or more. Instead of scare tactics designed to frighten people, let’s be reasonable with our arguments for and against transit.


Yet Another Anti-RTID editorial

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

One, two, and now three makes a trend.

This one comes from Ted Van Dyk, a former P-I columnist. Here Van Dyk rehashes anti-rail arguments he’s been making for years. The thrust of his column is one we’ve heard before: rail just won’t work here.

Moreover, light rail is a technology appropriate to flat areas where commuters move from high-density residential areas to workplaces concentrated along the rail line. Commuting patterns here are far more diffuse. The southern leg of the approved line did not have stations at the airport, The Boeing Co. or Southcenter.

One can always come up with reasons why Seattle is uniquely unsuited for this or that solution. As Dan Savage is fond of saying, “just like rapid transit can’t work here and taking out an elevated freeway can’t work here and bike commuting can’t work here and urban density can’t work here. Seattle is exceptional in each and every respect.”

But Seattle’s geography is as much asset as liability. “Flat areas” also lend themselves to sprawl, whereas Seattle’s hilly, water-logged geography makes it naturally more dense and transit-friendly. Rail systems have been built in far less hostpitible environments.

Van Dyk concludes with a facile comparison to the Big Dig, giving us pause by insulting our intelligence relative to our friends on the opposite side of I-90:

Light rail’s projected costs dwarf the Big Dig’s. It is not too late to change the regional package in favor of valid transportation investments. There is one important difference between the Big Dig in Boston and Sound Transit light rail here. In street-smart Boston, folks recognize more quickly when they’ve been had.

Sorry Mr. Van Dyk — buses ain’t gonna cut it. Rail’s going to be messy and expensive, but we don’t have a choice. In 50 years, when we’re looking at a post-carbon economy, our kids will thank us for the investment. It’s time to stop taling and start building.


Relative Burdens

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Washington Policy Center’s Michael Ennis is cited by the P-I as a critic of the upcoming RTID package.

Isn’t it strange that the P-I would have someone write an op-ed dissing transit, and then, just days later, cite him as the only source in an article complaining about the cost of the package? I’m all but certain the P-I will end up endorsing the RTID, so I don’t want to accuse them of an anti-RTID agenda, but what’s up with the all-Ennis-all-the-time thing?

Anyway, Ennis complains about the “burden” on families of a $286 tax. To put that in perspective, the Iraq War (which Ennis’ comrades at the Heritage Foundation strongly advocated for) is costing families somewhere between $4,100 and $20,000 per household.

P.S.: Carless in Seattle has more on Ennis’ op-ed and the real cost of freeway expansion.


Measuring Support

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

With all these editorials coming out opposing the RTID/ST2 package, you’d think that the fall ballot measure was doomed. But I’m still optiimistic.

Here’s why: the folks who put it together have done their polls, like this one that shows strong support for transit. They made the risky move of dropping the Cross Base Highway to gain support of environmentalists.

Most significantly, the Sound Transit Board was presented with three options for ST2: low, medium, and high investment (a .3, .4, and .5% sales tax respectively). Not only did they choose the most expensive option, they doubled down and pushed rail almost all the way from Everett to Tacoma. it’s a very aggressive, expensive package. Not exactly the kind you’d put together if you were concerned about political support.

In other words, politicians are generally risk-averse. They wouldn’t be going the full monty here unless they were confident that the support was there. Could it fail? It’s certainly possible. Stranger things have happened in Washington politics. But it would take down so many careers with it that it’s hard to imagine the political elites not bending over backwards to salvage it.


Metro’s 40/40/20 rule

A month ago I mailed King County Exec Ron Sims about Metro’s 40/40/20 rule that was put in place in Metro’s last six-year-plan. The rule basically indicates that 40% of new Metro service should be created on the Eastside, 40% in South King County and only 20% in the city. When I read about it, it seemed unfair to me since the city is 35% of the county’s population. I asked Sims whether such a rule would be put in place in King County’s next six-year-plan for Metro and here’s the response I recieved:

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for your email of May 21, 2007, to King County Executive Ron Sims, regarding the 40/40/20 percent policy addressing the distribution of new Metro service hours between the Eastside, South King County and Seattle/Shoreline subareas. Executive Sims asked me to respond to you on his behalf. This is a policy that has caused a great deal of controversy and confusion, but it has been supported by a majority of King County Councilmembers.

As background, it’s useful to know the existing distribution of service hours between subareas. Currently, approximately 64 percent of Metro’s service hours are allocated to serve the “west” subarea that includes Seattle, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park, which comprises about 35 percent of the county’s population. The other two subareas share the remaining 36 percent. Seattle has a greater share of service per capita primarily for historical reasons. When Metro was formed it absorbed the established Seattle Transit, which had an extensive route system and frequent service. Prior to Metro’s formation there was meager transit service in the suburbs.

Since the entire county contributes to Metro transit, there is a desire in the East and South subareas to gradually improve the level of transit service to get closer to the higher baseline for service that Seattle enjoys. It is easy to understand their point of view. The 40/40/20 policy, which addresses only new service added to the system, is intended to achieve a more even balance of service hours per capita between subareas over time.

It’s also easy to understand concerns in Seattle and Shoreline, where ridership and expectations for service improvements continue to grow, especially as gasoline prices have increased. This is one reason the Transit Now program established a “service partnerships” program. Metro can now provide matching funds to leverage investments by local jurisdictions and/or public/private partnerships in service or speed and reliability improvements that benefit transit. This program was created in part to allow Metro to respond to emerging transit demands and desires for a higher level of service than the baseline we provide county-wide. Some of the funds Seattle authorized through the Bridging the Gap initiative may be spent to add service in Seattle under the partnership program.

At this point, Metro does not plan to recommend reconsideration of the 40/40/20 policy; however, the County Council is due to revisit transit policies over the coming year, and if you want to pursue the issue further, you may want to contact your representative on the King County Council or the Council’s Regional Transit Committee.


Kevin Desmond

General Manager

Metro Transit Division

cc: The Honorable Ron Sims, King County Executive

De’Sean Quinn, Director, Council Relations, King County Executive Office

Harold S. Taniguchi, Director, Department of Transportation (DOT)

Victor Obeso, Manager, Service Development, Metro Transit Division, DOT

David Hull, Supervisor, Service Planning, Service Development, Metro Transit Division, DO


University of Washington Station One Step Closer

Today, Sound Transit and the University of Washington have announced an agreement with regards to Light Rail. Some details are:

Elements of the proposed agreement include:

  • Establishes an interim terminus for Link light rail at the University of Washington Station located near Husky Stadium and the UW Medical Center.
  • Supports Sound Transit’s construction plans for tunneling operations running south from UW to Capitol Hill.
  • Identifies at least two public entrances to the underground University of Washington Station with at least one entrance located north of Northeast Pacific Place and the Burke Gilman Trail.
  • Sets construction timelines for work on the campus not to exceed 66 months.
  • Sets specific monitoring measures for magnetic field and vibration thresholds to protect UW research facilities during light rail operations.
  • Provides $20 million to the UW for property to be used for current and future Link light rail construction and operations easements.
  • Provides $10 million to the UW for the permanent loss of up to 100 parking spaces at

  • Husky Stadium and the temporary use of approximately 600 parking stalls for construction staging.
  • Provides $5.2 million to UW for its design review and approval, potential relocation plans, construction coordination and participation in the review and approval of light rail operating plans.

People always ask why light rail takes so long. There are a lot of reasons, some financial, others technological, but another big reason is that Sound Transit works had to make sure most people in the community are happy with the project. Good or bad, it’s all a part of building a huge system in a region where no one can agree on anything.