Thursday, December 15, 2005

Monorail Derailed

Rosebud last night was home to an unlikely collection of transit activists. They had come together to celebrate the end of a long battle - for some, only two years, for some as much as eight - against a transit agency which ignored the realities of the system they proposed and tried to move ahead without adequate funding or disclosure.

After I-83 failed (possibly because people thought a "No" vote was "No" on the monorail), the system finally was brought down by an almost 2:1 vote. This couldn't have happened without these people's dedication to informing the public about the shortcomings of the system, the people running it, and the financing plan. Richard Borkowski of People for Modern Transit handed out awards to volunteers and activists who had put hundreds of hours of their lives into phone banking, research, time before the SMP board and on committees to keep SMP honest.

Before and after the awards, discussion was largely about the future of local transit - now that the monorail is dead, we can get back to what we'd all prefer to do: Find solutions to move people and implement them. With Link under construction and Sounder ramping up service, it sounds like people in the area are starting to stop asking about profitability and start realizing that a transit system is within the highway paradigm - an investment to generate economic growth. It was nice to see.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Link in Tukwila: An impressive way to build elevated trackway

Last post, I mentioned seeing a huge steel framework perched atop the support columns for what will be Tukwila Station and the associated track headed north. Owned by PCL Construction Services, it hoists about ten trackway segments at a time between sets of support columns so they can be put into place. PCL's web site has images of what the trackway they're contracted to build will eventually look like, but what I'm more impressed by is what it looks like now - with the first trackway section erected this week.

Tukwila will be the southernmost stop in the initial plan, with Airport Link (and its excessively amusing "Kiss and Ride") to follow six months later. As far as I'm concerned, though, this is the most impressive segment - sharing right-of-way with I-5 and SR-518, it's highly visible to many of the people who will use it.

This brings me to some new speculation: What's quite effective as a local service on MLK for South Seattle is not particularly desirable as part of an express service to the airport and further south. Let's look back at that initial plan. Headed south from downtown, Link turns east through Beacon Hill, and meanders along with an eventual return to the Duwamish River valley. I can understand that for a first segment, serving as much local population as possible is key, but as a regional system, eventually we'll want to offer service that doesn't stop everywhere (and isn't limited to streetcar speeds) for people going between major destinations.

So, perhaps, there's an option opened up by the valley. An express link could bypass the Rainier Valley, continuing straight where the trackway turns to go under Beacon Hill, and reconnecting before the Duwamish River crossing - perhaps using 4th Ave and Marginal Way. Local service could extend from Ballard (note that rail link on the long-range plan map) through downtown to MLK, then rejoin the main line in Tukwila. Express service would come in from north of Seattle, bypass MLK (perhaps with one or two stops near Boeing Field) and continue south.

You wouldn't have to call these local and express. They could be "Blue" and "Green", or they could have local unique names like "Duwamish" or "Walla Walla". I do see some problems with this, of course: the expected multimodal station at Boeing Field would only be accessible by one line, confusing some passengers - but someone starting in Seattle wouldn't need to transfer there, and someone at Sea-Tac would simply take the local (MLK) train. By the time this happened, we'd probably have 3 minute headways all day, so it wouldn't be a significant addition to travel time.

But those are the rantings of a mad transit advocate. Japan does this between Narita Airport and Tokyo - there are several train types: some continue beyond Tokyo Station, some serve communities between the airport and downtown. Interestingly, as soon as Airport Link is completed, we will have more frequent service and lower travel time between our international airport and downtown than Tokyo does to Narita - at significantly lower cost.