CTAC III Wants Your Opinion

Seattle’s Department of Transportation has an alphabet soup of committees exploring various transportation problems.  The Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee III (CTAC III) is tasked with matching funding sources to all the various transportation projects in the various master plans, as well as basic road maintenance needs.

If you’re a Seattle resident, I encourage you to fill out the online survey about what transportation investments are important to you, and your willingness to pay taxes to support it.

There are also workshops starting yesterday evening (oops), and continuing tonight and Thursday. Showing up and having a conversation with decision makers is always more effective than submitting uninformed comments.

Transit Master Plan Corridors Selected

Click to Enlarge

Seattle’s ongoing Transit Master Plan process* is designed to provide a list of transit spending priorities for the City of Seattle and should conclude in September 2011. In general, Seattle’s role is to fund capital projects like bus lanes, streetcars, and queue jumps; the TMP is not an attempt to redesign Metro’s route structure, and building infrastructure for routes that Metro is unable or disinclined to serve with high-frequency service would be silly.

The first step of the study, just completed and briefed to the Council’s Transportation Committee yesterday, established the quantitative criteria for scoring dozens of potential investment corridors**. Criteria were focused on current and potential ridership, current and future density, and social justice considerations. Overall, my personal impression was that corridors that connected dense and walkable neighborhoods generally tended to score the highest.

Stage I of the study selects the top 15 of these corridors for further analysis. Depending on how the precise corridor ranking plays out, the study will evaluate the most promising five or so of these for high capacity transit like BRT, streetcars, or light rail. The remainder will receive smaller-scale investments that can make buses work better. The 15 finalists are depicted in the map at right.

In a separate part of the study, Nelson/Nygaard will analyze circulation in the downtown core, hoping to make the system more usable and legible. The map below (the jump) indicates the areas of focus, fairly congruent with the inner parts of the trolleybus network.

Continue reading “Transit Master Plan Corridors Selected”

Tomorrow Night: Protect Seattle Now Campaign Party

For the last couple of months, I’ve been putting my time and money where my mouth is, and volunteering for Protect Seattle Now, the campaign to stop the tunnel and build the I-5/Transit option that stakeholders and government agreed was the best solution for replacing the Viaduct.

As I’ve engaged with this group, I keep learning more that amazes me. Basically, through a stakeholder process and actual study, everyone had already come out in support of the I-5 improvements, street grid improvements, and transit investment option. The Downtown Seattle Association, the Governor, WSDOT, all have strong quotes on record supporting this option.

Then something changed. It’s hard to know what really happened. A backroom deal was made to switch to a tunnel – with lip service to transit, but of course no funding. There’s no transparency at all, no reasoning that holds up under any scrutiny.

This isn’t how we do things. The public process was flipped on its head. There’s no evidence for a tunnel – every new study (a new one from UW today) says it offers little benefit, and shows that the I-5/Transit option that was already the consensus is still best. Even the Port commissioners know this is a waste now.

Seattle has fought highways before, and won. We joke about the Seattle process, but it’s resulted in an incredibly livable city – one where we build transit, parks, schools, and libraries, not huge freeways. These are our values – talking things through and understanding them, then making an informed decision. The state is telling us it knows best – but we’re learning they’re wrong. So we fight, and they’re telling us they don’t want democracy, they don’t want us to have a say. That in itself is worth fighting.

We collected nearly 29,000 signatures in only a month. That is unprecedented for any city campaign. And we’d like to have a celebration to kick off the real campaign.

Please join me tomorrow night and toast the fact that we’re smart, we’re involved, and more than ever, we’re right to fight this – dare I say it? – boondoggle. Come learn about our legal fight, meet the campaign, even sign up to help out!

When: Wednesday, May 11, 7:00 to 10:00 pm

Where: Havana, at 1010 E Pike Street on Capitol Hill

I look forward to seeing you there!

Potential Relief for Mt. Baker Transfers

Seattle DPD

There’s been a lot of attention to height limits in the draft North Rainier Neighborhood plan update, but from a transit perspective a more interesting element aspect is a traffic revision that might dramatically improve bus-rail transfers at Mt. Baker, one of the worst design aspects associated with Central Link.*

The “bowtie” concept would turn both MLK and Rainier Ave. in this area in to one-way streets, northbound and southbound respectively. SDOT models expect this to improve traffic flow (by eliminating the need for left turn signals and suicide lanes), provide space for bike lanes and wider sidewalks, and ease pedestrian crossings. It eliminates a horrific intersection at Rainier and MLK.

Even better, the diagram at left indicates that there will be one northbound lane on Rainier for buses. The current location of the Mt. Baker Transit Center would become a regular street with bus layover space; the geometry of Rainier would change so that the stops could be directly aligned with the Link station’s entry plaza, basically where you see the large crosswalk in the picture.

Not only are good intermodal transfers important in their own right, but with Metro looking for efficiencies, this would make it much less painful if some Rainier Avenue buses have to stop running downtown.

At Thursday night’s meeting, the bowtie was somewhat controversial because it might divert traffic to other streets. There was also skepticism about the models. With some more outreach, hopefully DPD and SDOT will address the concerns so this project can move forward.

* I’m not pointing fingers here. I’ve never gotten a good answer on who is to blame.

Port Commissioner Holland is Open to Surface/Transit/I-5

Rob Holland

In Wednesday’s news, Port Commissioner Rob Holland has come out in favor of putting much of the Port of Seattle’s $300 million contribution to the viaduct replacement project into a streetcar project, instead of into road construction.

Considering that the so-called “tunnel plus transit” option the state selected doesn’t have any funding for transit – his proposal could actually be within the project plan. I called him yesterday afternoon for details, and the conversation took a different angle.

It turns out that two things happened. First, Holland read the Nelson/Nygaard report which points out surface traffic – meaning most of the freight at the Port – would be just as bad with a tunnel as without. Second, he’s been riding the Seattle Streetcar, and as he says, watching it fill up. He went on to point out that a transit user represents a car off the road, and the streetcar shows him that people are clearly willing to take transit.

The result? He’s open to the $700 million cheaper surface/transit/I-5 option, saying that with some creativity in freight management, it could work. He detailed a few options, such as running trucks at night, and using staging areas, that could mitigate the impact of the lack of bypass.

He said that while he’s on record supporting the tunnel, he’s “an environmentalist at heart,” and in light of the changes we need to make in the next decades, he said he wants to support building more transit – and we shouldn’t be building more roads.

Constantine Borrows Anti-Transit Rhetoric

Dow Constantine (wikimedia)

[UPDATE: Some Constantine people emailed me to assert that the full transportation section of the speech provides much needed context, in contrast to the PubliCola excerpt. Indeed, Mr. Constantine goes on to hit very strongly pro-transit points in his talk.

I’m still unconvinced that the Surface/Transit/I-5 plan is a radical anti-road plan. Not spending huge amounts on the DBT frees up state money to work on the surface roadway and I-5, which in turn frees up city money to improve the transit. Nevertheless, a much longer excerpt of the speech is now below the jump, so you can decide for yourself.]

[UPDATE 2: I got this statement from Constantine’s office:

Our office is committed to fighting for funding for transit in downtown Seattle and throughout the county and fighting to add capacity to I-5 as part of the resurfacing project.

Our only point of disagreement is whether a tunnel or a six-lane surface highway is the best way to move cars and trucks through downtown. The Executive in his speech says he supports the tunnel.]

I slammed Governor Gregoire for using anti-environmentalist hyperbole, so it’s only fair that I highlight the story that Andrew linked to yesterday, where Dow Constantine, a great friend of most causes that this blog supports, used some unhinged language about the surface/transit/I-5 option.

Constantine accused “a small faction” in Seattle—obvious code for Mayor Mike McGinn and his fellow proponents of the surface/transit/I-5 alternative for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct—of “believ[ing] that the key to the future lies in forcing traffic gridlock so that people abandon their cars.”

It’s a shame that he had to use this framing, as most of the rest of what PubliCola quotes is at least a cogent argument for the deep-bore tunnel*. Unlike the Governor, Constantine at least avoided right-wing code words like “social engineering” and the implication that surface/transit advocates are totalitarians.

But there’s still that ugly rhetoric of “force”. Once again, the surface plan spends $2.3 billion of a $3.3 billion total on highways. It is hardly giving up on moving cars through the city. Constantine implies that spending a little less on roads and a little more on transit is the use of force. I don’t know how to reconcile that with his broader record of supporting transit. More below the jump.

Continue reading “Constantine Borrows Anti-Transit Rhetoric”

The Nation’s Capital

I’m often quite fond of trying to draw lessons about Seattle from our nation’s capital. Unlike comparisons to New York, Seoul, or some other megacity, metro Washington is at least of the same order of population as greater Seattle, and closer still when today’s Washington is compared to Seattle in 2030.  The city proper is only about 30% denser. DC is also a bit newer, in general, than the other great cities of the Northeast. And of course, I know it well having grown up there and traveled there frequently in the last few years.

For these reason I was quite struck by this passage in Slate in December:

And yet, as Bob Levey and Jane Freundel Levey wrote in the Washington Post, “today, Washington has fewer miles of freeways within its borders than any other major city on the East Coast.” Thirty-eight of the planned 450 miles would have routed through D.C. proper; today, there are just 10. Instead, after a wrenching and protracted political battle, they write, “the Washington area got Metro—all $5 billion and 103 miles of it.”

Although Seattle was able to fight off a few freeway spurs, we still have highways in 6 directions out of greater downtown, and we certainly didn’t get — nor will we ever get — anything like the DC Metro. It’s going to be a long climb out of that mistake. And for all the talk about overruns and traffic diversion, I think recognition of that ultimately drives opposition to the DBT.

Future Gas Prices

cnbc.com, 4/25/11.

One of the more intellectually lazy things that some transit advocates (including me) do is to expect immediate, sharp increases in the price of gasoline.

The “peak oil” argument is well rehearsed with this audience, so I’ll skip over it. It may very well be that argument is correct, immediately relevant, and we will soon see increases. However, there are plausible alternate scenarios where expensive gas is years, or even decades, off.

For one thing, we could have a sustained period of economic ruin, limiting demand. Alternatively, technology has a way of finding more reserves and making known ones more economic to exploit.

More interestingly, policy, both in America and elsewhere, could open up a lot more oil to exploration in the coming years. We could open up more offshore areas to exploration and drilling, which isn’t all that unpopular considering the worst developed-country spill in history is in recent memory. Canada could disregard the horrendous environmental impacts of tar sands exploitation and access another Saudi Arabia of hydrocarbons. Major producers with nationalized oil companies – like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Mexico – could stop using those companies like cash machines and allow them to properly invest in developing their reserves. If the political pressure gets too hot, America might decide to have a gas tax holiday and simply top off the highway fund with more general fund dollars.

Of course, any of these policy decisions would be disastrous for the environment, the situation in most oil-producing countries, and human health.  It’s worthwhile to offer transit as a hedge against the possibility that gas prices rise substantially, and get started now on long-range projects to prepare us for the day that must inevitably come. Still, it’s not doing the movement any favors to assume that the price of gasoline will soon make our argument for us.

Impact of Deep Bore Tunnel Tolling Diversion on City Streets

Executive Summary of Toll Impact and Mitigation Report

Yesterday SDOT released the executive summary of a report looking at the impacts of tolling the deep bore tunnel. The report focuses on WSDOT’s SDEIS tolling analysis, highlighting major issues that have yet to be addressed. Regardless of your position on the tunnel, and especially if you support this tunnel and want it to function better for Seattle, this report points out significant issues that WSDOT has yet to address.

Tolling of the tunnel, and the significant resulting diversion is a major outstanding issue that WSDOT has yet to plan for and mitigate adequately. Toll diversion is expected cause 50%-55% of tunnel traffic to divert to surface streets or I-5, which will have a large effect on Downtown’s transportation system and in some ways undermines WSDOT’s rationale for building the tunnel. If the tunnel is built, the best tolling system would be structured to minimize toll diversion and maximize utilization of the tunnel’s capacity.

In a letter that accompanied the report, Peter Hahn, Director of SDOT, accuses WSDOT of canceling Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) comment discussion meetings and not rescheduling them, essentially cutting SDOT out of the process. The letters says that after the cancellation of these meeting, WSDOT informed SDOT that no other comments would be accepted from the city.

A summary of the major points made in the executive summary are below the jump. Continue reading “Impact of Deep Bore Tunnel Tolling Diversion on City Streets”

Bus Only Lanes Coming to Battery, Wall and Howell St

Battery St and Wall St Changes (Via Metro)

Starting as early as next week and going until June, Metro and SDOT will be installing new bus only lanes in two north downtown corridors. The first project will install a 24/7 bus only lane on several blocks of the Battery St/Wall St couplet between 3rd Ave and Aurora Ave N. This project also includes a queue jump at the intersection of 5th and Wall, to help buses entering downtown merge to the far left lane to turn southbound onto 3rd. These improvements will be used by the 5, 26, 28, and 358, which combined carried ~25K riders a day in 2009.

More after the jump.

Continue reading “Bus Only Lanes Coming to Battery, Wall and Howell St”

SDOT: NE 125th St Rechannelization Recommended Again

Proposed Design Drawings (Via SDOT)

Last week SDOT again recommended the rechannelization of NE 125th St from Roosevelt Way NE to 30th Ave NE, converting the current configuration from two travel lanes in each direction, to one travel lane in each direction, a center turn lane, and bike lanes in both directions. At the intersection of NE 125th St and 10th, 15th and 30th Ave NE the current lane configuration is maintained.

The rechannelization would also have a transit component, allowing buses to travel straight through major intersections (10th, 15th and 30th Ave NE) in the right turn only lane, as well as including an aggressive stop consolidation program, reducing the number of stops from 15 to 5. This will likely maintain or improve transit travel time through the corridor, as long as bus reentering delays are not significant at location where buses do not stop in the flow of traffic. I don’t know where the proposed bus stops are so I can’t speak to this point.

This is a good proposal. It improves safety for all road users, likely maintains or improves transit travel times, and has minimal impact on vehicular travel. The biggest win will be the reduction of excessive speeding along the corridor. Send comments of support to walkandbike@seattle.gov. Opponent of the plan have been especially well organized so comment of support are important.