Green and Black Spires Win Award

Sound Transit’s poles in the maintencance facility have won an award for best public art. Which is awesome!

Safety Spires” by artists Norie Sato and Dan Corson was honored in the Year in Review that culminated the Annual Americans for the Arts conference in Las Vegas last week. The tapered tops and distinctive pattern of the overhead centenary system poles, which carry power to light rail vehicles, were inspired by the native horsetail reed plant also known as scouring rush.

“’Safety Spires’ acknowledges the industrial architecture, and makes the site memorable and engaging,” said UCLA contemporary art history professor Miwon Kwon who curated the judging with artist Larry Kirkland. “The reference to the horsetail plant is logical without trying to replicate nature.”

Too bad ST’s best art is not in a station but in the maintence facility that few people go to. And seriously too bad my photos aren’t don’t do due justice to the art.

More about the poles here.


Dinner Train

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Speaking of the BNSF corridor, the Spirit of Washington Dinner Train has found a new home. That’s one less obstacle to converting the old tracks to rail or trail.

Interestingly enough at least one of the rail overpasses is coming down. WSDOT is taking down one of the rail overpasses over I-405 to widen the freeway. This brings up one of the major problems with the corridor: lots of overpasses. Before we bend over backwards to turn it into a trail, keep in mind that there are at least a few points where you’ll be jogging or biking on an old train trestle as it crosses I-405 or I-90.


17% of Seattle Workers Commuted by Bus

In this CNN article about the U.S. Census Bureau’s “American Community Survey” it says that 17% of Seattlites commuted to work on the bus in 2005. That’s about half as high a percentage of commuters on transit as San Francisco or Boston, and less than a third as much as New York where 54.6% of workers ride transit.

Probably more commuters who don’t work ride the bus. Those would be students, the unemployed and senior citizens, but let’s hope we can get the number up when LRT is built, because we are barely higher than Boston’s walk to work percentage (13%).

Update: NL asked, so I decided to go deeper in to the numbers, but lots of the links keep breaking. Sorry if they do for you.

This is about transportation for workers just in the city. It only is for workers, so it doesn’t count students. The data was collected by mailed survey (I filled one out down in San Francisco), and they have some wildly detailed information about sample size, response rate, etc.

I’m mildly surprised that its only 17% for the city, seems low. But the big news is actually this statistic: 7.6% of people in the urban area commute by transit! Look at the map to see the area. 3% statistic is completely wrong. Even including Monroe, Issaquah, Federal Way, Spanaway and the far outlying suburbs and we still get better than 2.5 times that misquoted statistic.

Here’s a breakdown of the data for the sub-regions with in the area. This includes rural areas!

I delved deeper into into this statistic.

During peak rush hour, 6-9 am, fully twenty percent (20.2%) of Seattle commuted by transit in 2005, and nine percent of the region.

Percentage of People Commuting by Public Transit in the City
12:00 a.m. to 4:59 a.m. 7.74
5:00 a.m. to 5:29 a.m. 12.8
5:30 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. 9.67
6:00 a.m. to 6:29 a.m. 21.8
6:30 a.m. to 6:59 a.m. 19.4
7:00 a.m. to 7:29 a.m. 22.6
7:30 a.m. to 7:59 a.m. 15.7
8:00 a.m. to 8:29 a.m. 23.8
8:30 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. 17.3
9:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. 15.7
Percentage of People Commuting by Public Transit in the Greater Seattle Urban Area
12:00 a.m. to 4:59 a.m. 3.43
5:00 a.m. to 5:29 a.m. 5.66
5:30 a.m. to 5:59 a.m. 4.28
6:00 a.m. to 6:29 a.m. 9.66
6:30 a.m. to 6:59 a.m. 8.62
7:00 a.m. to 7:29 a.m. 10.0
7:30 a.m. to 7:59 a.m. 6.98
8:00 a.m. to 8:29 a.m. 10.5
8:30 a.m. to 8:59 a.m. 7.69
9:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. 6.95

Anti-transit folks will not stop using the 3% statistic, but we know for commuters, especially during peak rush hour, it’s not the right number. In 2005, their number was already way off, and just wait until central link is finished, and let’s revisit these statistics. I bet it has already crossed 25% for the city by now, and 12% for the region by 2008.


Dual Use of BNSF Corridor

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Ron Sims is determined not to let that right-of-way slip through our fingers. From a King County press release:

Sims, along with the environmentalists and transportation advocates, signed a statement of Principles of Dual Use for the corridor. The principles include the promise to work with local, state and federal agencies for money to build a rail line on the 40 mile corridor being sold by the railroad. Trail advocates from the start have advocated the dual use of this critical public asset and the statement of principles signed today emphasize their absolute commitment to this goal.

“All of my documents and all of my staff presentations are about dual use. But let there be no doubt to anyone about our intention to include a rail line if we are able to secure public ownership of this corridor,” said Executive Sims. “If the money were available, we’d build modern commuter or high capacity transit rail immediately.”

Some transit advocates feared that once it became a trail, no one would tolerate building rail on it. But the rail advocates don’t have the money or the ridership numbers to justify a train. The PSRC study recommended trail now, rail later. But Sims wants to reassure us that rail is still a priority.

Although the Port Commissioner is explicitly mentioned, there’s no talk of the infamous trail-for-airport swap that the kids were crazy about back in the day.

Update: The P-I’s spin: Sims is trying to buy time until he can come up with the dough.


Streetcar vs. Light Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

An article on planned streetcars in Tacoma includes this helpful FAQ:

Streetcars are smaller-capacity vehicles, operating at street level alongside pedestrians and autos, with frequent stops and easy access. A streetcar track requires less infrastructure and costs less because the cars are lighter. Cars can have a modern or a vintage trolley design.

Light rail is designed to carry more people quickly over longer distances. It typically has its own right-of-way and station platforms separated from traffic. Multiple rail cars may be joined together to increase capacity. Because light rail uses heavier cars, it needs a more expensive, heavier-duty infrastructure.

To which we can add that heavy rail, of the kind used by SF’s BART, NYC’s Subway, and DC’s Metro, requires a high-voltage “third rail,” to supply power, which makes it even more expensive — and dangerous.


Tacoma Streetcars take a Step Forward

The Tacoma Street car system I mentioned has taken a step forward with the completion of a feasibility study.

An advisory committee that included officials from Pierce Transit and Sound Transit has identified three possible beginning routes:

• Sixth Avenue Line – Beginning where the Link light rail ends on Commerce Street, it would climb up the hill and connect to the east end of the city’s burgeoning restaurant row.

• Downtown Line – A serpentine line crisscrossing north and south through the core of downtown, possibly with one east-west connector going up and down the hill along South 11th Street.

• Portland Line – Beginning where the Link light rail ends on East 25th Street, it would run along Portland Avenue toward the new Salishan neighborhood on Tacoma’s East Side.

The News Tribune has a nice pdf of the possible alignments.


Lander Overpass

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The proposed overpass on S. Lander St. will definitely help mitigate traffic when the Viaduct closes. Filling out the street grid in SoDo, and providing people and freight with more ways of moving East-West through the city, could actually reduce congestion on our North-South roads. Street grids move traffic more efficiently than highways.


Money for Foot Ferries Coming

According to the Highline Times, a tiny property tax increase is all that would be needed:

An additional penny in King County’s property tax would raise $2.5 million annually for water taxi service, said King County Councilman Dow Constantine, D-West Seattle.

I have a soft spot for ferries, as you have probably noticed if you read this blog often. New Ferries are a cool mode of service, and would work great in the interum if projects like the 520 replacement or the Alaskan Way Viaduct take years to complete.

Also in the article are this tidbit about foot ferries:

The West Seattle Chamber of Commerce is pushing for the northern half of Jack Block Park to be used for a walk-on ferry dock, replacing the current “temporary” dock at Seacrest Park near Duwamish Head.

There are about 500 parking places there that are largely unused during workdays and underused at almost all times, said Patti Mullen, executive director of the chamber.

500 parking spots? That’s insane. While the parking is nice, the park is a little farther from Alki which would be unfortunately for people like me who like to take the ferry there. Here’s Jack Block Park on a map. It looks from the map that there is also some rail going there, so it could be a problem for the port, which owns the land, if the ferry interferes with shipping there.


High Capacity Transit in the South End

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

An amendment would add planning for transit in the Burien-Tukwila-Renton corridor.


The next round of transit construction — call it ST3 — is where things are really going to get interesting. Connecting areas as diverse as Ballard, Burien, and the UW (see the pink dotted line on the map above) will be tricky. Do you continue to assume that all routes lead through Seattle, or do you start to build a line that directly connects suburbs to suburbs?

Either way, I’ll probably be dead by the time any of it gets built…


Boring New York

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I mean that literally.

New York City’s getting its own version of the tunnel boring machine (TBM) that just finished one lap through Seattle’s Beacon Hill. The project is part of a plan to build a Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) connection directly to Manhattan’s East Side, specifically Grand Central Station.

It’s fascinating to watch the city I grew up in make its own infrastructure upgrade. There hasn’t been much in the way of large-scale transit projects in the New York for decades, but suddenly there’s activity again. Most of it relates to the East Side Access project, including the 63rd Street Tunnel. The tunnel opened in 1989 and carries the F train upstairs with two empty tubes downstairs that will eventually carry the LIRR when the TBM completes its work in 2012.

The final piece of the pie is the long-awaited 2nd Avenue Subway, which is finally getting going after literally decades of delay.


Tukwila Station

Someone (who wants to remain nameless because of possible trespassing charges) sent me these photos of Tukwila Light Rail’s Station. I promise I did not take these photos. I did, however, get really excited when I saw them! Click on them for larger versions.


What is the perfect bus shelter?

This Bus Chick post reminded me of the contest SF Muni (San Francisco’s Bus and Rail company) is currently running to design new bus shelters for the service. This is what current muni shelters look like. All of the possible shelter designs include a “next bus” sign with information about the next bus. Take a look at the photo below of a next bus sign in Melbourne Australia. Vandalism is probably less of a problem in Australia than it is in Seattle (and in Seattle FAAAAAAAR less than in San Francisco.

I haven’t thought a lot about what the perfect metro bus stop would be like, but it would definitely include a next bus sign, and uh, a shelter. I take the 545 at Bellevue & Olive Street (down a block from Olive Way, confusing, right?) and its great to just show up in the summer since the bus comes every 8~12 minutes and the weather’s wonderful but come January, I’d like to know when the bus is coming, and be able to stand under a shelter. Have you got anything more than that you’d like in the perfect shelter? Wi-fi is probably asking too much… Japanese train stations always have fabulous vending machines that serve a variety of cold drinks in the summer, and a mix of hot and cold drinks in the winter (actually you could replace ‘train stations’ with basically anything in that sentance). I think a perfect bus station would have a vending machine because I’m always thirsty.


Great Response to Van Dyk Column

I guess I wasn’t the only one (look for “VAN DYK COLUMN” about 1/3 the way down) who thought Ted Van Dyk’s opinion piece in the P-I was off.

One of my favorite parts:

Van Dyk asserts that light rail technology is inappropriate for cities with Seattle’s hills and extensive water crossings. These kinds of natural features did not stop San Francisco’s BART system from tunneling through Oakland’s hills to the suburbs beyond, or under the bay and under San Francisco itself. Portland’s popular MAX light rail system requires a long tunnel through the hills in its extension west of the city. New York, Washington, D.C., and many European cities long ago decided that subterranean construction was a necessary expense.

I hear some arguments along the lines of “Chicago, Tokyo and San Francisco were able to build rail earlier, which made it easier because they were either still developing or had just been destroyed.” (Some form of that here) But most European cities have some form of rail, including ones that haven’t been destroyed by war or fire in hundreds of years. In Barcelona (last war there, oh about 1500 years ago), they are still building rail now underneath dense neighborhoods. Just because we are late doesn’t mean we are too late.

He also says:

Van Dyk condemns Sound Transit for estimating future capital costs in 2006 dollars. But in reality, it is by now commonly understood that inflation, debt service, bond reserves, etc. will add substantially to today’s estimate of $10.8 billion for 50 more miles of rail transit in the future. But so will the region’s capacity to pay those expanded costs. The $10.8 billion figure establishes a basis for comparing the project’s magnitude with other projects — bridges, freeway expansions, etc. — whose costs will also grow the same way in those future years

This topic has been discussed heavily by myself and others. Basically, putting the numbers in future terms is far more inaccurate because 1) no one knows what inflation will actually be, if they did, everyone would have bought that house in the Central District in the early 1990s, and no one would have held money through the 1970s and 1980s hyperinflation, 2) future dollars are complete wild-guess estimates unlike 2006 dollars which people understand, and 3) that’s the normal way of doing these time-value estimates. When you buy a car or a house they don’t put in the interest in the price, the put the cost of the house now.

That’s all Sound Transit is doing.


Erica Barnett on Kemper Freeman

At Slog, there is an awesome put down on Kemper Freeman’s Truth About Traffic via links to sources that disprove Freeman’s factual errors. It has a wealth of great links, and if your a transit fan, it’s definitely worth a read.

Oh, and she has the video I mentioned in my previous KF post.

I want to add my two cents to this. Even the linked document’s stats ECB put in response to the 3% trip statistic are misleading, because they are measured in Vehicle Miles Travelled, which is not the same as trips. Someone driving from Spanaway to Redmond counts the same as a fifteen people riding the bus from Ballard downtown or five people riding from the city to Redmond. Plus, all other commute options (biking, walking, skateboarding, etc.) are left out.

Finally, if all you care about is congestion (as Kemper Freeman alleges to), trips taken at midnight don’t effect congestion, so why consider the 3% statistic when talking about congestion? We care about number of commute trips during rush hour, that’s what congestion is. Not the number of miles travelled by people. I can drive from LA to Seattle and that won’t cause congestion, but driving across 520 during the middle of rush hour will.