Shilshole to Downtown Ferry?

Everybody loves the Elliot Bay Water Taxi. This Ballard News Tribune piece about transportation brings up the possibility of a Ballard to Downtown Ferry.

A new King County Ferry District ordinance, passed recently by the Metropolitan King County Council, could potentially fund a feasibility study for a passenger-only ferry route from Shilshole to downtown Seattle. The district could also support the operation of Vashon-Seattle ferries and year-round Elliott Bay Water Taxi service.

Funding to study the Shilshole Ferry idea could be included in that plan, he said.

That study would raise many questions about how the route might operate, such as dock site, customer market, operating issues and parking.

The piece also mentions the idea of a Sounder stop in Ballard, which would likely slow down the trip to and from Everett but would probably add a lot of numbers to the route. It wouldn’t be that expensive either since the line goes through Ballard already.

What Seattle Gets out of ST2

Over at Slog, people were upset with the “Cross-base Highway” included in the RTID plan that goes to the ballot with Sound Transit’s ST2 package. One major complaint was that RTID does almost nothing for Seattle, and that ST2 does a smaller portion for the city than ST1 one did, and Seattlites should vote against it. If you look at Sound Transit’s ST2 page, Seattle is getting a lot out of that transit package (more on that below).

As for RTID, it is true that only three projects take place within the city limits. The first is the widening of Mercer street near I-5. The second are a bunch of improvements in the southern industrial area of the city, which includes a transit-only ramp off I-5 at South Industrial Way. The last is an replacement for 520 which is partially funded by RTID. The 520 replacement is as useful for the Eastside as it is for Seattle, so that only counts for half a project for the city. The industrial improvements are mostly for freight and shipping, which benefits the whole region (there’s no Port of Kirkland, for example). So Seattle is definitely getting the short end of the stick in terms of RTID spending. For $5 billion in spending, less than half-a-billion is going to Seattle-only projects, and about $1.1 billion is going to half-Seattle, half-Eastside project.

Sound Transit will benefit Seattle much more than RTID. There will be two more subway stations added to the north end of the Link Rail, where it extends past Montlake/University of Washington. The 43rd & Brooklyn Station will be especially useful. This part of ST2 alone will cost $1.126 billion to $1.239 billion. Then, there will be a Northgate elevated station and a station on 145th at the city limits. This adds another $300 million or so, though it will be as useful for Shoreline as it is for Seattle.

For the East Link, there will be an at-grade station on Rainer and about 23rd Ave. That won’t be incredibly useful since that area is mostly well-served by the “Central Link” that already goes through the South End, but it definitely will get a lot of use, possibly even just from Amazon employees coming from the Eastside. Also, the East Link in general will help Seattlites who are commuting East (like me), and Eastsiders who commute into the city. Plus it will be paid entirely out of the Eastside’s Sound Transit money. Finally, there will be the First Hill street car. This costs $150 million and will greatly expand the “network effect” of the Capitol Hill station.

In addition there is an $8 million study of a Burien-West Seattle-Downtown rail (that’s technically getting paid partially out of the South King County budget), and a $5 million study of a Downtown-Ballard-Wallingford-UW line. That’s the one which would have made my childhood growing up in Wallingford/Green Lake so much different. I think that red line in the image actually goes right through the house I grew up in. Finally, there’s a $5 million study of HCT across 520. Let’s hope these don’t take until 2050 or something.

So, RTID is not a good deal for Seattle. But Sound Transit is a great deal for Seattle, so it’s a trade-off. Since ST2 is paid for by a .5% sales tax increase and RTID is paid for by a .1% sales tax increase and a $80 per $10,000 assessed value MVET, if you don’t own a car, you won’t pay much for RTID. At least that makes its payment scheme more fair than any other highway project ever attempted in this state. My only complaint about ST2 is the time frames discussed. 2027 to Overlake TC? Will I still make that commute in 20 years?

They Hate Transit, I Hate More Highways


I’ve waited all day to discuss this. Basically, there are three arguments in this opinion piece:
1) No one uses transit here, so why bother spending money on it.
2) Trains across the I-90 bridge is dangerous. 3) Acquiring the center of the I-90 bridge for trains is not a good use of road-space, and may not be legal.

Few people use transit here because there is very poor transit here. The statistic “Transit ridership in Central Puget Sound amounts to less than 3 percent of the total daily travel” is not given in any context, so we do not know what counts as “daily travel.” Is it walking+biking+transit+driving? Does it count freight? How about airplanes and boats? Anyway, Metro buses have over 100 million rides per year, which is 58 for every resident of King county. Unless people average more than five trips per day, that number is more than 3 percent in King county. (Five trips per day would be 3.2% of travel done on transit, any fewer trips per person would increase that dramatically).

The argument here is sort of like before paved roads will built, saying “only 3 percent of daily travel is done with automobiles, why waste the money on the infrastructure? We need more horse paths!” The idea is that with better transit more people will ride it, and once a beginning infrastructure is built, more infrastructure will be added later. Transit makes cities more affordable to live in, because travel is enabled without a car. It makes them more environmental friendly, because of the above, but also because it enables higher density which reduces the number and distance of travel trips, which reduces fuel foot print. Transit also increase property values, and encourages tourism. There is a strong “network effect” on proper rail systems. To quote Calgary Transit: “Since the inception of LRT service, each new LRT line or LRT extension has produced a 15 to 20 percent increase in corridor ridership, resulting from the diversion of previous auto drivers to transit.”

If it is true that by 2030 only 4.5 of travel will be done with transit, I would say that is would have been a waste but, again, I don’t know where that stat came from, and if Ron Sims is talking about getting 50,000 commuters out of their cars by 2016, that would be mean trips in King County would be at least 6% transit by 2016 (50,000 people is 2.9% of the county’s population), even if people were making five trips a day. Anyway, even small reductions in volume reduce delays significantly for highways.

The second argument that putting trains across the I-90 bridge is dangerous I won’t argue with. I am sure Sound Transit won’t build anything knowing that it is not safe, and I trust their engineers more than pundits with an axe to grind.

The point that commandeering the center of the I-90 bridge is not a good use of road space is only obvious if you compare the number of trips across the bridge on the train and on the current center roadway. Any other comparison is apples-to-oranges. The argument that “The I-90 bridge would suffer a vehicle capacity loss of one-third compared with today” is pointless because we all know that the center HOV part does not actually carry one-third of traffic across the bridge! The vast majority goes in the other two lanes and the authors surely know that.

The piece asks:

Aside from the cost of converting the center corridor to light rail, one has to ask by what right would Sound Transit acquire this center corridor? This would constitute a “taking” of state highway property now belonging to all Washington taxpayers.

No, it wouldn’t. I-90 is an interstate and is thus owned by the federal government. The 18th Amendment (section 40) mentions money raised by special tax or levy, not money paid by the federal government. Thus this argument has no bearing. I don’t know the exact legality of acquiring this part of the bridge, but the 18th amendment has nothing to do with it. I will ask Sound Transit to respond to this today.

BRT vs Light Rail


Houston has decided to go with Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) rather than Light Rail. Their project was more expensive than they expected, and the feds wouldn’t pay for part unless they switched from rail to buses. This is bound to continue the conversation here about BRT vs Rail that has been going on for sometime.

The BRT that they are selling us here and that which is going up in Houston are two very different things. According to the click2houston article: “B.R.T. is a diesel bus on rubber wheels that’s similar to light rail in that it follows a fixed guide-path and makes far fewer stops than a regular bus.” In Seattle, BRT is essentially more buses that make fewer stops but that’s it. They would not be on their own paths, and they would not have elevated platform stops.

Also, BRT is not the stopping point for Houston, it’s just an interrum as they move torward rail. Again, from the click2houston article.

Chairman David Wolff says B.R.T. allows METRO to live up to the spirit of the referendum. And notes as METRO’s building these lines, it will lay down tracks so it can switch to light-rail if ridership numbers justify it.

“That’s an additional expenditure which we wouldn’t have to do, but we want to show people that we want to get to light-rail as soon as we can,” Wolff said.

King County Executive Ron Sims, has been keen on BRT for years. After the viaduct vote went down, many more Seattle-area politicians have been talking about BRT. Erica C Barnett at the stranger had a nice summary six months ago.

The primary argument for BRT, especially during the Bush era of parsimonious transit funding, is that it’s cheaper and easier to implement than light rail. But while it’s undeniably less expensive to put buses on existing streets than it is to build the substantial infrastructure needed to create a new rail transit system, there are other measures of cost-effectiveness besides capital costs.


[T]he data is clear: BRT draws far fewer transit riders—and, importantly, far fewer new [Emphasis in the original, Ed.] transit riders—than light rail or other fixed-rail systems. In a 2001 study that’s often cited as evidence that BRT can work along the former monorail Green Line, the Seattle Department of Transportation found that elevated transit like the monorail or elevated light rail would add about 56,000 daily riders to the North Seattle-to-downtown corridor; BRT would add just 32,500. From West Seattle to downtown, the disparity was even more startling: nearly 28,000 riders for elevated rail, and just 10,000 for BRT.

Real-world statistics bear out the Seattle planners’ estimates: In Houston … there are six BRT routes running on 44 miles of freeway HOV lanes throughout the city. Currently, just 36,000 people use the system. In Portland, a much smaller city … a 33-mile light-rail system carries nearly twice as many riders as Houston’s: some 74,000 a day. Because of the higher ridership, the cost per passenger mile … is actually lower in many cities, including Portland, for rail than it is for “affordable” BRT.


Bus lanes, unlike rail, can be easily converted for use by other types of vehicles, in effect subsidizing private autos with public-transportation dollars. In Houston, highway lanes that were originally dedicated to “bus rapid transit” have been converted into HOV lanes where buses compete with private cars. This is exactly why you’ll never see real economic development around a bus stop: Buses can be moved; trains have to go where the rails go.

There is a really important point under the surface of Erica’s argument here. BRT does nothing to improve property values, while light rail improves property values considerably. That is why South Lake Union residents were willing to pay half the price of the streetcar there. And Streetcars aren’t even mass transit, just rail-based local transit. Imagine what a real rail system would do for this property values.

Admittedly, few places have tried BRT in America. As this article, with a more positive spin on BRT than the Stranger, says:

flexibility, she concluded that “bus service has a negative image, particularly when compared with rail service.”

She said rail-based plans are often viewed as the mark of “a world-class city” and an image-enhancer that can attract developers.

“As more experience is gained with BRT, its advantages and disadvantages will become better understood,” she said.

BRT is better than nothing, for sure. But it is not the sort of rapid, mass transit that will get people to leave their cars. Rail is.

More links:
Dan Savage on BRT.
Wikipedia on BRT
Bus Rapid Transit.net

P-I advocates for Transit

Yesterday the P-I told us it was important to for the State to find a Transportation Department head from out-of-state.

Washington needs a transportation department that puts mass transit, the environment and the public interest ahead of building more car capacity…

With you on that one, PI! They also stressed the important of bringing in a Gregoire crony, a la George Bush, to run the department.

Transportation still needs the benefit of an outsider, who will continue to shake things up. Particularly with a strong governor, it would be too easy for an insider to tell her all is fine.

Today the PI tells us how much they like the idea of a mosquito fleet of passenger-only ferries, and how better to sell the fleet to tax-payers.

King County Council’s plan to take over the Vashon foot-passenger ferries and downtown water taxi … sorry, can’t resist … floats our boat…
As far as funding goes, we’re not against some funds coming from property taxes — after all, everyone in the region, even those who don’t use ferries and water taxis, will benefit from living in a place with good public transportation. We do believe, however, that relying solely on property taxes for funding the ferries and future water taxis is folly.

Foot Ferries?

The PI today ran a story about the possible rebirth of passenger-only ferries in the Sound and even Lake Washington. Apparently the success of the Elliot Bay Water Taxi, the coming traffic hell, and the development of Puget Sounds westside has people thinking back to the days of the Puget Sound Mosquito Fleet. Also, the state would like to get out of the business of running passenger-ferries, and King County Metro or Sound Transit would take up running the ferries.

Some words of caution from me: (1) The Water Taxi works because it runs in the summer when it is most fun to take a ferry, (2) all transit projects lose money and passenger ferries would be no exception, (3) if 520 is so dangerous during a windstorm, imagine a passenger-ferry on Lake Washington.

All in all it’s a fine plan, but I think the focus should remain on off-grade trains.

Sound Transit expanding expansion plans

It looks like sound transit will expand its plans for light rail further than expected. The expanded light rail plan will start south of the Tacoma Dome, near where the existing Tacoma link line is now, and stretch all the way out to Mill Creek in Snohomish County. The previous plan was only to Fife and Lynnwood, and they were thinking more about Everett than Ash Way. They’d also include a line out to Bellevue and Overlake, which would likely improve my commute a bit.

They are also looking into a rail corridor on the current Burlington Northern Santa Fe railway on the Eastside. BNSF wants to sell the strip, and King County wants obtain it by having the Port of Seattle buy it, and then trading them Boeing Field. The county would wants to turn the land into a bike trail now, and later possibly investigate rail there. Boeing field would probably turn into more of a passenger airport (which Southwest has wanted for sometime, Beacon Hill residents be damned) since now it is used mostly for cargo, charter flights and private jets. Apparently if that deal falls through, Sound Transit wants to look into buying that land and making it a rail corridor from Renton to Woodinville. Hopefully they’d be smart enough to have connect with the current “Central Line” either somewhere in the city, maybe Columbia City, or at least in Tukwila.

Critics, having lived through the monorail disaster, are concerned that Sound Transit is not being realistic about the cost. I agree that Sound Transit hasn’t actually finished much of anything yet, but they have had success keeping their schedules so far, and those lines look ready to go at or around the dates they have mentioned. My big issue is the timeframe they are talking about. Why would the expansion to Ash Way in Snohomish take to 2027? That is twenty years from now! BART in the Bay Area was built in way less time than that, included a trans-bay tube, those distances are way farther, and technolody is much better now than then.

Well whatever, better late than never. More later. Vote yes on that initiative!