Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposition 1 (Sound Transit 2.1)

Proposition 1 is Sound Transit's follow-up to last year's failed measure of the same name. Unlike last year's measure, which I opposed, I have no endorsement on this one. I opposed last year's measure because it had a large roads-expansion component, which this year has been removed, and because it was funded by a regressive sales tax, which unfortunately remains true for this year's measure. However, even though there is less light rail than last year, the cost hasn't been reduced at all, instead most of the light rail expansion is advertised to come online 5 years earlier; in 2022 rather than 2027. This still doesn't exactly live up to the measure's "Mass Transit Now" moniker, alas.

The roughly $20B requested by this measure is an enormous tax increase to be asking of Greater Seattle residents during an economic crisis, and just before a likely Obama administration can be expected to start investing more federal transit dollars than any Republican administration of my adult lifetime. The tax increase is roughly 100 times more than the combined amount asked by the two Seattle Propositions (Prop 1/Pike Place Market and Prop 2/Parks) on the ballot -- a huge tax increase. The reason I don't oppose it outright is that it would at least result in better transit than we have now. The reason I don't support it is that aside from the cost, that $20B could be better spent on more cost-effective transit projects and is funded from a regressive tax. Last year's successful King County Metro Transit Now! measure, for example, provides 50 miles of new Rapid Ride (bus rapid transit) service for less than the cost of a single mile of this year's light rail, and delivers it in less than half the time.

The measure I would like to see on the ballot would be about a third this size (about $6B), would include some funding towards replacing the SR-520 floating bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and would finish the work promised 12 years ago by Sound Move, which created Sound Transit and Central Link light rail in the first place. That measure promised four things:

1. Regional express and local buses, which it has largely delivered
2. Commuter rail (Sounder), though some promised stations were omitted.
3. Light rail, though behind schedule, significantly over budget, and not as much as had been promised, with some stations omitted
4. A Personal Rapid Transit demonstration, which Sound Transit hasn't even begun to address.

I would enthusiastically endorse a measure delivering all of the neglected promises made by Sound Move in 1996, including more regional express buses and
HOV accommodations, light rail to Northgate with more stations between UW and Northgate, more Sounder stations and service, especially the omitted Ballard/Shilshole station, a more extensive commitment to Personal Rapid Transit than was originally made (which was a pittance), with particular focus on providing PRT service in places where Sound Transit's light rail has been abandoned as impractical, such as First Hill, and, yes, some targeted congestion relief on our freeways, in areas where a little will go a long way. I would also love to see a regional commitment to bikeways, and not just a few more painted-on bike lanes and sharrows, but more nearly exclusive-use routes like the nascent "bike boulevard" on Fremont Avenue in North Seattle promises to become, where automobile traffic (and cross-traffic) would be minimized and calmed.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Initiative 985

Election time is here, and there are two transportation-related issues on this year's ballot in Seattle: Tim Eyman's Initiative 985, and Sound Transit's Proposition 1 (Sound Transit 2.1).

I-985 is Tim Eyman's latest stupid idea. The best argument (which isn't saying much) I've heard for passing this measure is that it would give Olympia "a kick in the shins", which sounds an awful lot like the argument made by past legislative efforts to "send a message", except dumber. Well, I've voted against every one of this guy's stupid initiatives, and of all those "messages", exactly none has been received, 'cause he's still at it -- this measure wouldn't so much give Olympia a kick in the shins as it would throw a spanner into the relatively sane transportation planning process used by actual grown-ups. Beyond that, it's hardly worth discussing, as it has already been done to death in plenty of other places.

Just say No! to Tim Eyman's Initiative I-985.

I'll get to Proposition 1 in a future entry, except to note that as I write this from on board a King County Metro #150 bus on the SoDo busway, two linked 2-vehicle light rail trains just passed my bus, headed in the opposite direction. Sound Transit must be testing longer train configurations. Heck, I saw three 2-vehicle trains linked together on the elevated track in Tukwila one night last week, though they weren't moving at the time.

Meanwhile, I spent yesterday in my home precinct distributing literature in support of Seattle Proposition 2 (Seattle Parks For All), which I regard as a necessity, especially when considering that it will not result in a tax increase (only the extension of part of an expiring Parks levy), and as a counterbalance to Seattle's increasing densification, which has resulted in a shrinking supply of private greenspace.

Vote smart!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Bus drivers and their bicyclist passenger

I caught my bus to Tukwila at the Westlake station Friday morning. Biked downtown to get there, as usual. Reminded me of a couple conversations I had with bus drivers earlier in the week. One had just come back from vacation and hadn't heard the news that all the bus tunnel stations were open to bikes yet. I went up early just to make sure he knew it, so I would be assured of getting off there. He took my word for it and let me off where I wanted. I didn't argue for it, just told him what was up, and he said 'I didn't know that, but I'll go with it'. Bus drivers are nice people, I find.

I did the same drill the next day, except this time dismounting at the University Street station. As I came up early that time, dressed in my usual day-glo vest, the bus driver remarked that 'I would be getting my Seattle bicyclist membership revoked for dressing in clothes that actually made me easily visible'. Then he started a lecture about how so many bicyclists don't, etc etc. I stopped him before he got far, telling him that I wasn't the guy he needed to be telling this to, and that I agreed with him that there were many "ninja" bicyclists (dressed in black, no helmet, no lights, etc) in Seattle, especially in and around downtown. It was a revealing conversation, probably giving me as much insight into what bus drivers think of their passengers (or at least a subset of us) as any other I've had, even though we didn't talk for long. It makes me wonder how much consultation happens with transit operators (or their union), much less the bicycling community, when transit planning decisions are made. Certainly, it seems clear that the bicycling community wasn't in the loop when the South Lake Union Trolley and its bicyclist-maiming layout was being planned.

A recent Portland example may be a good (if ironic) example of how 'The Seattle Way' should be applied more often in urban planning decisions like these: a busy transit center without bicyclist accommodations was being heavily used by bicyclists anyway. Portland's leadership (including their Department Of Transportation, PDOT) then reached out to the bicycling community, and perhaps belatedly, the transit operators, to come up with a design that would make everyone happy. Not just another lame compromise, you understand, but a solution that would actually serve everyone.

It opened last week. I certainly hope that it'll make for safer and more convenient transportation for all its users, now and for many years to come.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

More adventures in the bus tunnel, and in the rain

Yesterday evening, on my bike/bus commute home on the King County Metro #150, I dismounted at University Street station, as I'd hoped to do last week. Unlike the Westlake station, this was as easy as could be, with the station laid out intelligibly and stairways available for guys like me who didn't want to wait for an elevator. The upper stairway was long, but not too long for a bicyclist in decent shape and accustomed to carrying a bike up stairs, even a heavier steel bike like mine.

I biked north the rest of the way through downtown until I reached the bus stop at Dexter & Denny, where I stopped to see when a connecting bus might come by. It was a bit after 6:00 PM, and I'd missed that bus by less than a minute. Then the sky opened up, and everyone scuttled into the bus shelter, including me with my bike. At first there was room enough for everyone, but when it filled up and a man with an umbrella came near, I moved outside the shelter with my bike to give him space. A bigger bus shelter here would be nice.

Once the bus came a few minutes later, a second bicyclist joined me aboard it, thereby filling up the rack. We passed at least one more bicyclist waiting at a stop, who probably would've liked to come aboard, too.

I dismounted the bike a half-mile from home and rode it the rest of the way. It was still raining hard enough that I got soaked, but I was back at it again today, which was thankfully dry, if not exactly warm.

Meanwhile, yesterday the AP wire carried a story about Personal Rapid Transit and its prospects in the United States, which appear quite good as next year's PRT opening at London's Heathrow Airport nears, with several vendors ramping up plans and/or construction for additional systems behind them, and at least a dozen more cities anxious to build them. CNN picked up that AP story, as did the Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, our own Seattle Post-Intelligencer, along with several other major-market news outlets. This may be the most widely distributed PRT story of the past decade, but this is not surprise considering the great coverage PRT got last month from the New York Times and Los Angeles Times, and, of course, much more to come.

The vastly greater capacity of PRT to carry bikes would've been nice, too, as well as the short wait time for a vehicle -- less than a minute in most cases.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Expanded bike access to Seattle's downtown bus tunnel

The bus tunnel opened up to bikes on September 22nd. Before, the only places one could board transit with a bike were at the first and last tunnel stations, at Convention Place and at the International District station, respectively. With this new announcement, which I understand is provisional, people can mount or dismount buses with their bikes at any station in the tunnel. Today I decided to try.

I rode my usual bike route from North Seattle to downtown, coming south on Dexter/7th Ave, this time to Westlake Ave, then to 5th Ave, and then to Pine St. I have to say that Westlake has gotten to be a terrible way to travel, perhaps excepting the South Lake Union Trolley; because Westlake is diagonal to the grid, it has nearly twice as many cross streets as a grid street would, it has a signal light at every intersection, and every time I've traveled this section of Westlake, I've had to stop for every light. I don't notice a lot of cars driving this part of Westlake, either. The South Lake Union Trolley gets priority signaling, I understand, so travel times might be quicker on that trolley or in its immediate vicinity. The more things change, the more they stay the same

Anyway, When I arrived at Westlake Center, I saw on an information kiosk that the tunnel station was right across the street (underground, of course), but I didn't see a way to get down to it. I still didn't see a way after investigating a couple of building entrances right above where the kiosk said the station was. Meanwhile, a disturbed fellow was yelling at some other people who were looking at that same kiosk that he was going to (paraphrasing) 'forcefully insert a camera into their nether regions'. I think the subjects of his tirade were tourists. I hope they take better remembrances of Seattle with them than being loudly threatened by a crazy person.

A King County Sheriff's car was across the street with a pair of officers inside. Maybe they were keeping an eye on the menacing loud guy. I asked them where the tunnel entrance was and they told me it was underneath Westlake Center, which was going to be the next place I investigated. There were no stairs that I could find, only escalators on which wheeled vehicles were prohibited. So I found an elevator and went down a level, followed a few signs and went through a few doors, then found the southbound lane and went down a staircase to it. My bus pulled up while I was at the top of the stairs, so I hustled. Once I got to the stairs, everything was fine, but I don't think I'll try using Westlake with my bike again -- it's a pain to get to, and who needs waiting for an elevator (which might be full) when you shouldn't have to? If I catch another King County Metro #150 home this evening, I'll try dismounting at another station, probably University Street, and see how that goes.

Postscript: I took the Sounder home instead, as my wife had lined up a babysitting gig that I had to be home earlier to facilitate, so no more tunnel exploration for me today. Ironically, the train was late, so I missed my connection, only getting home at the last minute.