Water Taxi to Des Moines?

The Highline Times thinks its possible under the new Ferry District in King County. The ferry service would be model after a passenger-only ferry between San Francisco and (I think) Tiburon.

Speaking of King County, have you seen this annexation page? Basically, the county is trying to get out of the business of running services in unincorporated areas such as Skyway, North Highline and Juanita. They have encouraged cities to look at annexing the unincorporated areas near them and want all the “urban unincorporated areas” annexed or incorporated by 2012. Recently voters in Renton voted down the annexation of East Renton Highlands, and if Renton residents don’t want the affluent Highlands, what makes anyone think that they will successfully annex Skyway?

Meanwhile, Seattle and Burien are fighting it out over North Highline, also known as White Center. Seattle wants to annex it but some people in the city wonder if it offers any advantage to Seattle. Burien wants to annex part of it, but since Seattle is willing to get the whole thing, they are unable to officially take that stance. The problem for Burien is that North Highline’s 32,400 people are about as many as Burien’s 34,000 and would create a $3.5 million loss on a $15 million budget for Burien, that’s with a sales tax sharing from the state for 10 years (Cities over 400,000 people, of which Seattle is the only one, are not eligible for the sales tax sharing from the state.). For Seattle, the area would cost about $4.6 million out of a total budget of close to $2 billion.

In Burien, the vast majority of the population is against annexation, in Seattle no body really seems to care much one way or another. In North Highline, their is a mild majority tilting toward Burien. They will be the people who ultimately decide. To make the whole thing more complicated, there’s the whole issue of who will pay for the replacement of the South Park Bridge which is set to fail to pieces any day now. Neither city wants to pay for the $70 million it’ll cost to replace the bridge. It’ll be weird to see how things play out on this and the other annexations.


City 2010

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Want to see what Seattle will look like in three years, after all these condos go up? Click here for a flash animation fly-over. It’s pretty neat. It even includes the new Gates Foundation headquarters in Lower Queen Anne.


RTID nearing completion

The PI reports that RTID’s executive committee voted 6-1 to move a version of the bill forward to a planning committee. The version they are considering is without the “cross-base highway” that has a lot of greens upset. The rub is that Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit Chairman John Ladenburg has threatened to veto any version of the RTID that did not include the cross-base highway. This is important because the new Sound Transit package, ST2, will be co-billed with RTID, so we won’t get our transit package if a majority of voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties don’t approve the bill.

Meanwhile, WashPirg, which has come out against RTID/ST2 in part because of the crossbase highway may come around on the new RTID/ST2 package as Bill LaBorde, state director for WashPIRG said:

“Happy enough” is a good way to put it. Bad stuff remains on the RTID project list but, in addition, to removing Cross-Base, we feel that the new policy language in the RTID plan gives us a foothold to change the way several of the RTID projects are ultimately built out and operated in the future. I guess the best way to put it is we’re now at a point where the good of adding 50 miles of light rail has begun to outweigh the potential harm from the RTID projects.

Stay tuned for more roads and transit drama…


RTID Minus Cross Base?

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Erica Barnett reports that the RTID will go through without the Cross Base Highway, which environmentalists oppose. It’s a risky move, since Pierce County exec (and current Sound Transit chair) John Ladenburg really wants the highway and has said he’ll fight the ballot measure if the Cross Base is eliminated. It’s hard to see how having the chair of Sound Transit actively working against the organization would be a good thing for anyone. But maybe he’ll realize he’s outgunned and move on.

It would be a huge coup for environmentalists if the highway doesn’t make the final cut.


Near Collision!! (Not)

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

KPRC Houston has some footage of light rail trains nearly colliding. Well, not really. One train got switched onto the opposite tracks, meaning that it could have potentially collided with an oncoming train. The operator halted the train in time.

Just FYI, you can expect these sorts of quasi-hysterical reports once Link Light Rail opens in Seattle: “passengers scared,” “investigation ordered,” “transit official to resign,” etc., etc. Of course, tens of thousands of people actually die in car crashes every year, so keep it in perspective.

Train collisions are dramatic, and one can blame them on some mythical, distant bureaucracy, whereas car crashes are just deadly and are usually the fault of regular citizens.


Spare the Air Days

In the Bay Area they have something called “Spare the Air Days“. Basically, on days when the air quality is poor (when the “Air Quality Index” goes above 100) most rides on transit in the Bay Area are free. These days are meant to encourage transit and have a pretty strong lingering effect; when I used to take Caltrain, the train was more full all summer starting on the first Spare the Air Day and ending sometime around the end of summer (October or November in San Francisco). Actually, Caltrain seemed to be constantly increasing its ridership as gasoline became more expensive.

Anyway, I think this idea would work in Seattle, make transit free on a few weekdays in the summer, and you’ll find people will want to take transit all day long. I wonder how much it would cost Sound Transit and Metro to implement this kind of system. I’ll make sure to ask in my next meeting.


Anti-Transit Piece in the P-I

Here it is. I was going to write something about how bad the calculations are, but I came in this morning and Carless in Seattle had this fabulous take-down. Excerpt:

OK, so to keep traffic as bad as it is now, we’ll need to add 687 miles of new lanes at a cost of $361.69 per family. That’s a big tax increase being proposed by an organization with otherwise impeccable conservative credentials.

Needless to say, read the whole thing.


More Capitol Hill Station

In the post I mentioned before, Frank at Ophran Road wrote “I guess I didn’t realize that the station is going to take over the lots on both sides of Denny Way”. Not just Denny Way, but on both sides of Broadway. Yeah it’s going to be huge underground. If you look at the image above, the blue part is the platform and the red parts are entrances. Yellow is what is being destroyed for the creation of the tunnel. The red section on the left side is the old Chang’s Mongolian Grill and the red section on the top is about where the print shop and Twice Sold Tales are. The bottom right red spot is where the Godfather’s Pizza was back in the day but nothing is there at the moment. Now, if we could just get rid of that blasted Jack in the Box, we’d have something going.
How about a six-story building with a the food court on the ground floor, Karaoke Box/izakaya thing on the second floor, a pool hall on the third floor, an independent multiplex cinema on top three floors and underground parking. Anyone want to invest with me? Better ideas for what to put there?

Take It To The Bridge

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

(with apologies to James Brown)

More TransitNow changes are coming this weekend, including more service in South King County. We’re also getting the Fremont Bridge back: bus service there will also resume on Saturday.


The Environmental Impact of Rail

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Yes, Virginia, even rail has environmental impacts, especially rail tracks that were built a hundred years ago along pristine Puget Sound shoreline:

Many environmentalists call the BNSF Railway, built on 26 miles of beachfront between Seattle and Everett, one of the worst environmental problems for Snohomish County’s shoreline.

The railroad creates what amounts to a wall between the land and the shore. It hampers beach access, disrupts salmon creeks and prevents sediment from eroding down to the beach, starving beaches of sand and gravel, they say.

Now, efforts are under way to restore pockets of shoreline along the railroad line. Some planners and environmentalists have hailed the restoration projects — including opening up creek mouths, nourishing beaches with sand, and restoring tidal marshes — as pilots for a future approach to a healthier shoreline.

Of course, as the article notes, the tracks aren’t going anywhere. in fact, Sound Transit is widening the right-of-way in some places to allow for more Sounder trains. But they’re also opening up creeks and doing lots of other environmental mitigation to try and revitalize the corridor to the extent that they can.

Having the BNSF line where it is is a net positive. Otherwise you’d have to run it along the I-5 corridor, which would be ridiculously expensive, if it was even possible. BNSF’s presence also takes a lot of trucks off the roads.

Sounder, on the other hand, has its limits. It’s a relatively cheap way to build transit — the tracks are already there, you just have to operate the trains. But it’s limited to a few runs a day since it shares right-of-way with Amtrak and BNSF. Once Light Rail goes all the way from Everett to Tacoma, it will be interesting to see how successful Sounder is. Certainly for folks in Edmonds, Kent, and Auburn, Sounder will continue to be important, but Link Light Rail, running every 10 minutes or so, will be increasingly appealing even for medium distance (i.e. Everett-Seattle) travel.


Fun With Dollar Signs

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

KNDO/KNDU, the Tri-Cities NBC affiliate, is running this wonderful bit on their site. As any savvy restaurant-goer knows, more dollar signs means it’s MORE EXPEN$$$IVE!

Seattle-are voters facing $$$38 billion roads-transit decision
Associated Press – May 30, 2007 1:25 PM ET

Corrected Version

SEATTLE (AP) – The Regional Transportation Investment District is expected tomorrow to approve a $$15 billion tax request to voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties.

If approved in November, the regional taxes would help pay for projects like a new four billion dollar Highway 520 floating bridge over Lake Washington. Tolls will be part of the funding package, and planners say the toll could be $$6 round trip by 2018 when the new span could be finished.

The road proposal would be paired with a $$23 billion plan to expand Sound Transit to Tacoma, Bellevue and nearly to Everett.

Both multi-billion dollar proposals must be approved to take effect.

Of course, they don’t even bother to explain that that $$$38B [sic] includes 30 years of finance charges, which, as we’ve noted before, is incredibly misleading.

On the plus side, at least it’s the corrected version. I’d hate to see what the uncorrected version looked like. My guess? It had more dollar signs!


Capitol Hill Station

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Reading about the businesses on Capitol Hill that will be displaced by the Sound Transit station made me want to take a look at the designs for the station itself. I guess I didn’t realize that the station is going to take over the lots on both sides of Denny Way.

This cross-section sort of gives you an idea of how expansive the underground station will be.

Of course, that makes perfect sense — it should be about as big as any of the downtown transit tunnel stations, except without the extra space for buses, of course:


One More Reason Sound Transit’s Rail Costs More than Vancouver

The PI ran an article a couple of days ago about the new subway station on Capitol Hill misplacing some businesses. The article focuses on Cafe Vivace in particular but I know that Everyday Music is also closing. Vivace is staying in the neighborhood but who knows about Everyday Music. This post at Orphan Road gives an idea of how expansive the station will be.

Hey, but at least Sound Transit is paying some money for displacement, unlike Vancouver’s Skytrain. According to this article, the construction of Vancouver’s new Canada line is harming a lot of businesses in its wake.

Petri winces at the notion that $1.3 million is much help. “Look at Seattle,” he says. “They know what help is.”

But Seattle apparently took a much more proactive approach to making sure businesses had a chance to survive the loss of traffic and that the area retained its character.

Seattle created the Ranier Valley Community Development Fund (CDF). The fund’s website said it would provide a source of investment that was concerned with the area’s well-being, its cultural diversity, livability and sustainability. Its aim was to strengthen and preserve the community, “not only by investing in tangible assets such as businesses and facilities, but also by building networks of relationships and trust that would allow the community to participate in determining their future well being.”

In 2006, The Beacon Hill News and South District Journal reported that the fund was succeeding. It had approved $7.5 million in mitigation funds” to help affected businesses through loans. In the beginning of the project, the fund had identified 274 businesses along the corridor. Of those, 230 still remained.

“Businesses that stayed were eligible for $30,000 payments, while those that relocated could receive $50,000,” the newspaper wrote. “Exceptional hardships entitled businesses to an additional $20,000,” said CDF director Jamie Garcia. Garcia said he expected the Seattle city council to approve an additional $50 million to pull the area through to completion of the line.

It’s not often someone says “look at Seattle” when it comes to transit successes. The article also highlights the differences between cut-and-cover and bored tunnels. Cut-and-cover is much cheaper, but is much more disruptive to neighborhoods:

The line will be the third in Vancouver and will connect downtown Vancouver to Richmond and the international airport. In the beginning of the project, merchants were told that construction would move quickly from block to block and sidewalk access would be maintained. That was when public consultations led merchants to believe that construction would be bored tunnel. But when SNL-Lavalin got the contract to do the construction, the project shifted to the cheaper, more disruptive method of cut and cover.

When the method was revealed in winter of 2005, one city councillor accused RAV backers of pulling a “bait and switch” on citizens who would feel the impact.
Today, the tunneling is at the core of the sense of betrayal that shrouds the business closures, Petri said. It’s taken far longer than many business owners say they were led to expect. It has snarled traffic and forced many smaller businesses to close as walk-in and drive-by customers have dwindled.

So it seems Sound Transit is a better community citizen than Vancouver’s rail company, and that is a bit of consolation for the longer time frame.


RTID did have a plan for 520, Viaduct is expensive

Read about the 520 plan here. It’s what they told me earlier this month, but I didn’t completely believe them. It’s basically a lot of tolls and the expectation that the viaduct won’t use much of the state’s special project money.

On the subject of the viaduct, you probably have already heard that Seattle’s Council approved $8.1 million for the study of a surface/transit option. Hopefully Light Rail could be part of the surface transit option, since the cost of a light rail system around there through West Seattle could be comparable to the difference in cost of the surface transit from the rebuild. The difference from the tunnel could pay for a new subway practically .

Project Cost (in millions)
Tunnel $3,600 to $4,100
Rebuild $3,200 to $3,500
Surface Roads ~$1,600
East Link Light Rail to Downtown Bellevue $1,465.2 to $1,684.9
Light Rail from University of Washington to Northgate* $1,126.6 to $1,239.3

*Includes about 3 miles of cut-and-cover bored subway.

If they can build rail from Seattle to Bellevue for less than $2 billion and imagine what they can do with the difference from the surface roads improvments and either the tunnel or the rebuild. They could connect light rail from Burien to West Seattle to Sodo and build a subway through Belltown to Seattle Center and maybe even connect rail through Ballard for the $3.5 potential difference between a tunnel and surface roads. I bet that plus the roads option would get more total people through than either the rebuild or the tunnel, and with the state’s new definition of capacity, that’s what should be done.

Update: someone wanted links to the numbers, so here they are for Sound Transit. Click on the project and a pdf will open with the cost estimate. For the Viaduct, I got the numbers from Wikipedia.


King County Ferry District

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I just noticed that King County last month created a ferry district, which will allow it to explore more passenger-only ferries. The county’s main passenger ferry, the Elliot Bay water taxi, could be run year-round with the new district. Additionally, other routes connecting, say UW with Kirkland, or West Seattle with Tacoma, are also going to be explored.

All this water makes building roads and trains expensive. Why not turn our transportation liability into an asset? Ferries are easy to set up: you buy a boat, build a dock, and you’re done. The downside is that there’s a lot of time lost in the modal transfer. Unless you live right near the water, you have to first take a bus or drive to the dock, then wait for the ferry, etc. But for some routes — like Kirkland-to-UW, or say Gasworks-Park-to-South-Lake-Union — it could make sense.

Update: The UW Daily has more on the potential UW-Kirkland ferry route.



This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Highline Times channels the ghost of Sprio Agnew to editorialize in favor of november’s RTID. Money quote:

Unfortunately, the uneasy coalition of roads and transit proponents is threatening to come unraveled.

The roads crowd thinks it is weighted too much toward transit while the Greenies think highways get an unfair advantage.

The measure is expensive and does not solve all our long-delayed transportation problems.

But voters should reject the nattering nabobs of negativism, as a disgraced former vice president put it, and consider the measure carefully before November.

(not to be confused with this great Queen Anne bar)


Surface-Transit Gains Momentum

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Erica Barnett reports that the Surface-Transit option has just been “officially endorsed” by the City Council, which just approved spending $8.1M to formally study it:

The council approved the measure unanimously–a seismic shift from the days when only Peter Steinbrueck supported the surface/transit proposal, and a sign that the council is taking seriously last March’s “no/no” vote on two new waterfront freeway options.

“[The plan] focuses our energies on the substance of the solution rather than design of the solution, which is what got us sidetracked” previously, council president Nick Licata said. Licata, once the council’s staunchest supporter of rebuilding the viaduct, cosponsored the resolution.

You can view the surface-transit option in our new “Hot Docs” section.

Update: The P-I provides some more context: the report will be done by July 2008.