Tuesday, August 15, 2006

BBC covers Portland's lowered car use: LRT as effective transit

BBC's Newsnight program tonight is covering Portland's trend away from car transportation and toward strong public transit. With Red, Blue and Yellow lines in operation, and with the South Corridor Project under way, Portland is very much changing their urban layout to be more accessible - and often more pleasant.

Last Saturday, I visited to look at the latest developments in the Pearl District and to introduce a couple of friends to riding Amtrak Cascades. Pedestrian density north of Burnside (where Powell's Books and much of the new mixed-use development has taken place) is quite high, extending north along the packed streetcar line. The Portland Saturday Market was, as usual, filled with people, as was Pioneer Courthouse Square. Between these two centers, we saw heavy circulation on MAX and on foot.

Newsnight will be discussing Portland's reduced emissions - they're in line with what Kyoto would have required of them. They've seen a 65% increase in the use of public transit in the last ten years, supported by strong transit oriented development and communities where many trips can take place entirely on foot or by bicycle.

Those of us in Seattle will be watching the same thing happen here as Link's initial segment opens, and we'll see the same public support that drove the South Corridor project drive University and East Link as people start realizing the power of having good alternatives to driving.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Dick Kelley was just on my street!

I was on my way home from the bus stop just now, and who did I see but Dick Kelley, running for state Representative in the 43rd district. Since Ed Murray announced his candidacy for state Senate, I've been paying attention to the platforms of the people running, and Kelley is by far my favorite.

He's progressive on every issue - he points out in his brochure that low income people pay a much higher percentage of their income than wealthier people in taxes, for instance.

It's his position on transportation that I like. He doesn't even say it's a position on "transportation" - it's "transportation and the environment". From his campaign brochure:
We should focus transportation investments on transit, carpools, and bikes, so we can all get to work faster without more cars on the road.
That's an excellent position to take. Light rail, cleaner buses, bike lanes - these are choices that people want to be able to make, and when we supply them, they reduce congestion and improve air quality.

Kelley won't accept more than $100 from anyone. I suggest anyone reading this check out his web site - hopefully he'll be a representative from Seattle next session.

Amtrak was very late last night:

I wasn't on the 3pm train from Portland to Bellingham, but I heard horror stories last night. Apparently, somewhere just north of Portland, there was an equipment failure of some kind that resulted in the train returning. Passengers had to wait for at least three hours for another train to take them northbound - I'm not sure, but they may even have been later getting into Seattle than the evening service!

We don't have any spare equipment on Amtrak Cascades - any time there's a difficulty, there's nothing available to take its place without waiting for another train that was in service earlier that day. We need to improve this service by buying a spare train.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Eyman may not have enough signatures to get on the ballot:

Today's Seattle P-I is reporting that Tim Eyman may not have enough signatures to get I-917 on the ballot.

This is good news. I-917 (PDF) would gut our transit systems, kill freight mobility projects that are necessary to our state's economic health, and probably result in putting more of the cost of roads on citizens like me who don't drive on them. Granted, I'm not against paying for our infrastructure - I certainly benefit from it - but we don't have a level playing field when we're so heavily subsidizing highways, so we don't see the alternatives that are so readily available in other cities and countries.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

Our northern neighbors are driving less.

A new report by Statistics Canada, reported on by the Vancouver Sun, shows residents of British Columbia drove less last year than in 2004. Not per capita, either - despite population growth of about 1.27% between the ends of 2004 and 2005, total miles driven dropped by nearly ten percent!

It's likely this is due to higher gas prices - in the article, a representative of the BC Automobile Association agrees. I think that what we're seeing in BC is what happens in something closer to a market system - where there are alternatives to driving. I think this is also evidence that buses aren't a viable alternative, whereas mass transit like SkyTrain probably is.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Hey, I'm a guest columnist today!

I submitted a piece to the P-I on why light rail is the right choice for serving the Eastside - it was put on the site tonight, and should be in the print edition tomorrow. It's pretty cool to see "guest columnist" under your name.

Now that Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland and Issaquah are on board with light rail endorsements, I can only hope that the Sound Transit board will vote the same way when they make their decision about what system to put in next year's ST2 ballot measure.

In other news, Sound Transit has announced increased Sounder service for next year - a fifth round trip in the direction we're accustomed to, as well as a reverse trip serving commuters going from Seattle and intermediate cities to Tacoma in the morning. Because they're getting a train "back" in Seattle from the reverse trip, presumably this means they won't have to buy new equipment for these round trips.

Monday, July 03, 2006

New Amtrak Cascades round trip

Starting on Saturday, Amtrak Cascades began offering a new option between Seattle and Portland, and better connecting service from this corridor to Bellingham and Everett.

I rode the inaugural train - passengers were treated to little cupcakes, Amtrak Cascades pens, and an early arrival into Portland, despite chasing the slower, hour-late Coast Starlight all the way to Centralia. With passengers coming all the way from Bellingham, the train was sold out, including many seats in the dining car.

I browsed the urban design and transport sections at Powell's Technical Books while we were in town, and we returned to Seattle in the evening on the usual late service.

While on board, I learned that about 4/5 of the funding necessary to extend the second northern round trip to Vancouver, BC is now available - $4.5m of $5.5m. That would be fantastic - an evening trip into Vancouver would be possible, doubling the available seats and allowing for trips starting Friday night instead of Saturday morning.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Relevant books I've been reading:

So, I'm working, going to school, and spending my time in between on transit. I just thought I'd mention a few of the books I've got going, and how they've related to Higher Frequency and my interest in urban planning and transportation infrastructure in general.

The first is "The Clock of the Long Now", by Stewart Brand. The original concept is simple: Build a clock and library to last at least through the next ice age, and contain knowledge in a format that will continue to be readable for tens of thousands of years. The clock would tick once a day, and go through full bells something like every millennium. Together, these would help humans consider thinking in longer terms - where we currently plan for weeks or years, we might realize it's more appropriate to plan in hundreds of years.
This gets really important for big projects, because if you take into account the ecological impact of your planning over decades or hundreds of years, you lean toward sustainable solutions. That's where using electric rail to connect communities becomes much more viable than cars or buses - when viewed in 100 year terms, for instance, a subway system can easily become the best bang for your buck.

I've been working on two books by Jane Jacobs, one started before and one after she passed away a few weeks ago. The first is her famous "The Death and Life of Great American Cities", describing how planning choices can make or break neighborhoods, and how to develop them to meet their own needs rather than to be subservient to, say, a large business. Renton is an example of a community reliant on a large employer (Boeing). Because the community relies on Boeing for much of their political power, if that employer were to leave, she argues that they would have to build much of that power again from scratch. My point here is that if Boeing left Renton, but Renton were well connected to other communities with permanent transit, the city would redevelop much more quickly. This would be due not only to accessibility of employment in neighboring communities, but also to newly available real estate near an existing transit hub.
The second, which I've just started, is "The Economy of Cities". So far, this has been about agriculture's development. The book was written in 1969, and suggests what I was taught in school - that cities developed before agriculture, and that most new technology is developed in dense areas and distributed to rural and suburban zones. I'm still quite early on in the book.

The newest addition to my reading list is Robert Cervero's "The Transit Metropolis", case studies of transit systems in several different types of city layouts and on several continents. I'm not sure I like his approach - he seems to address city development as linear, specifically avoiding discussing how a transit system can change that course, but only how a transit system can address the existing city layout. I'm not sure if that's just his starting point, or if it's going to be prevalent throughout.

I've got Kunstler's "The Geography of Nowhere" and a couple of other books on sprawl by Peter Calthorpe waiting in the wings for when I get through all of this. Hopefully I'm internalizing what I learn well enough to have better opinions of local developments.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Complaint submitted to Metro tonight:

Returning home late on my commute today, I saw someone running toward a stop, across the field just north of 51st street in Redmond. I stood, walked to the front of the bus and politely pointed the runner out to the driver - with plenty of time to stop. He declined to stop at the stop the runner was going for (that closest to SR-520 in the eastbound direction on 51st), and continued driving, even watching the person approaching the stop wave frantically for his attention. He was also extremely rude in his response, although I don't remember his wording here.

At this point, I checked my cell phone for the time, and noted that it was 7:22. Had the driver not been early, this person would have caught the bus. The driver went on to the next stop (after turning onto 148th), out of sight of the runner (and assuredly out of running distance given the half-mile sprint the man had already completed), and stopped for a few minutes to get back on time - 7:25.

Upon reaching my destination in Seattle, I asked the operator (again politely) for his operator number before exiting. Rather than provide me with this information, he told me to (and I quote) "get off the damn bus". Now, I commonly call in commendations for my regular operators, and it takes quite a bit for me to file a complaint, but this was completely out of line. I have never, in 19 years of using this system, had an operator swear at me, and I hope Metro sees fit to either strongly reprimand this operator or remove him from the route. I'm glad that isn't my usual run.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

In regards to the Seattle Times' editorial, and RTID:

This morning, I read the editorial in the Times regarding transportation funding. For the most part - I agree. Lawmakers should allow an RTID vote this year. Voters need to see the monorail tax disappear as a show of good faith before asking for it for another agency.

This year will bring us I-917, and further claims of government waste from Tim Eyman and his vocal minority. To counter this, I believe that the RTID bill should be bulletproof - fund extremely high priority projects and those WSDOT partially funded with the 2005 Partnership. Be careful to pay attention to the Potato Hill projects - things easily attacked by detractors through misinformation. Potato Hill was a great example last year of how good existing information from WSDOT, a solid response from legislators and bloggers and a response from the Times to their own editorial page made a surprisingly ill-informed attack fizzle.

When defending against I-912 last year, the biggest issue I ran into was a failure of WSDOT to keep their project web pages up to date until it was nearly election time. WSDOT had a page with links to various lists of projects, and very late in the game added project lists by county - missing links to most of the project pages. Many of the smaller projects still do not have web pages (like this one for Point Defiance Bypass) describing their importance and funding sources. If the RTID bill is to pass this year, WSDOT will have to be very clear on their site which projects are to be funded, and they will have to provide a self-contained list, with all proper links to project pages, accessible from a large, friendly button on the main page (as they've done before).

Here's where I'm really concerned: I think that if the monorail tax has not already been retired, any Sound Transit plan on the ballot will fail. It was extremely ill-advised to even discuss not allowing the tax to sunset. Taxpayers need closure! Look at this letter in yesterday's News Tribune - the author seems to be confusing Sounder commuter rail with the light rail project. Monorail and light rail are one and the same to many - our agencies are too complex to be distinct; I know people in Snohomish and East King who believed that they were paying for the monorail mess. Dropping that tax must occur to restore faith before we can ask for more money, and it must stay dead for long enough that people understand what they are paying for.

This brings me to my conclusion: Barring polling suggesting a solid win when offered with RTID, Sound Transit should wait to go on the ballot until 2007. The monorail tax should be retired as soon as the agency repays its debts, and the RTID should be limited to already partially funded projects and safety issues - no new ideas unless they enjoy popular support. As the monorail tax expires and Central Link construction takes shape, Sound Transit could offer demonstrations of their project as trains are delivered and enjoy increased popular support.

Yes, it's a year delay. I suspect that the alternative will be a lot worse.