One step forward, two steps back, and a commission to prioritize more steps in 2010 (maybe)

What is Ed Murray thinking? While a regional transportation commission is probably a good idea, the devil is in the details. Details like setting election districts will take years. Now he wants to kill the RTID ballot and offer only a shrunken ST2 light rail package until this new commission can deliver a study?

Given the speed transportation planning moves with in Puget Sound, the eighteen month deadline the new commission is given means that the supposedly more effective, prioritized project list presented will likely be a rehash of what is already in RTID and ST2. This new agency is being pitched as a coordinator, not an inventor. RTID already reflects what the counties want: arterial and freeway widening along with some new highway miles to fill some gaps in Snohomish and Pierce, and support for megaprojects in King. Their wish lists will drive the commission’s plans, as the staff leads the politicos around shades of Yes, Minister.

Sound Transit’s planning staff will be absorbed into the new commission, and so the natural inclination of project inertia will be the same. The logic of restoring the interurban route and paralleling the region’s major freeway is hard to argue. The Eastside is becoming more supportive of light rail, as well. If the plan stood on its own at the ballot box, it would likely succeed.

So, that leaves me lukewarm on the idea. Looking south to Portland shows a rosy vision of what a truly regional approach could achieve. But according to Bill LaBorde, Sen. Ed Murray wants to kill RTID altogether and drop the eastside light rail line from ST2. The ostensible reason is to allow further planning on SR520 and I-90 light rail, both of which are to be turned over to this new commission.

I don’t think this is nearly as transit positive as advertised. Yes, there are things I would like to see in ST2 that aren’t there. That I-90 light rail should continue to Queen Anne and Ballard. Additional planning time and a dedicated advocate for additional urban light rail might manage to make something like that happen. But the focus on projects of “regional significance” in the commission’s mandate suggests it will be no more friendly to the kind of rail projects needed to address urban mobility that ST is. In fairness, getting to Northgate will substantially address this need, but with the Viaduct situation promising misery in western Seattle, more is needed.

In short, the ST/RTID marriage isn’t perfect, but the seductive mistress of regional integration is just as likely to take our wallets, steal our identity and produce nothing but paperwork.

You young punks get that transit off my lawn!!!

Reading Joel Connelly makes me ill these days. His lastest screed is a pure blast of the kind of thinking so typical among the reactionary old hippy crowd in Seattle.

I agree with Joel that Mayor Nickels richly deserves scorn. If only he could have scrounged up cash for a down payment on the monorail with the same fervor he found for keeping a tunnel on life support. Gregoire did not come off so well either, caught between the city and its legislators with dueling visions of new freeways. However, the results are hardly a disaster, giving momentum to studying a surface boulevard with reasonable traffic capacity.

Joel goes off the tracks from there, presaging doom for Sound Transit 2 and the RTID roads package the legislature has seen fit to stitch to it. He scoffs at John Ladenberg for claiming interagency coordination is good. What of the viaduct, he asks? Where is the harmony on 520, 405, and Eastside light rail?

Well, Joel, let me answer those rhetorical questions. Light rail has been a part of the I-90 plan since that center roadway was built. The I-405 plan is complete, and awaits only money to deliver more lanes, HOV access ramps and BRT service. The Pacific Interchange has gained the City of Seattle’s blessing, so the 520 plan is similarly waiting mainly for cash.

Joel’s analysis of a solution isn’t any better than his read on the problem. Creating a regional board wouldn’t reduce complexity, since it won’t actually replace RTID,ST,KCM,PT,CT,ET,PSRC or any other acronym. It would just add another layer of political gamesmanship. With as-yet undefined boundaries and districts, the likelyhood is a suburban domination of the process. The suburbs are already getting more than their fair share with Metro’s funding formula.

Joel’s true problem with the existing setup comes out at the end. It isn’t doing enough to stop Ron Sims and Erica Barnett from oppressing the masses with light rail social engineering. Buses are cheaper, m’kay? He praises San Diego’s regional bond measure, which is 2/3 road projects, with buses making up most of the transit component.

Tellingly, he also praises the TransLink “reform” in British Columbia, which is largely designed to dilute the influence of Vancouver and the other municipalities and move decision making to the provincial level. This is to grease the skids for the unpopular “Gateway” freeway building projects and other asphalt being pushed by the Minister of Transportation.

Does Connelly have something similar in mind? I can only imagine the I-605 and 8-lane 520 ideas which will have to be “given a fair hearing” at his new commission. It certainly won’t be listening to any wild ideas about rapid streetcars or induced demand. That’s social engineering, doncha know. In fact, I’m sure if I was patient enough to pull out some microfilm, I could find a column just like this denouncing Forward Thrust in 1968. Wrong then, wrong now.

A Streetcar Named Desire

I just happened upon the greatest tool ever for transit geeks: Wayfaring.com. Point and click routes over a Google Maps base. I spent an hour whipping up a vision of THE FUTURE!!!

Green Line Redux

-Leverages existing infrastructure (only 4 new blocks of track between South Lake Union and SODO)

-Adds transit capacity to Ballard & West Seattle, mitigates Viaduct closures.

-Reasonably rapid. Has own right-of-way along Westlake, operates on Link tracks from Convention Place to SODO, runs in median on Spokane.

-Would use dual voltage trams, which can operate on the 1600v Link system and the 700v streetcar/trolley system. These are already in use in Europe.

And yes, this is largely a rehash of earlier posts. The only real brainstorm is in building a short track to connect the Ballard line with the West Seattle line. But that creates the ‘X’ of transit Seattle has been dreaming about since Dick Falkenbury put sharpie to napkin. Let’s try to get something like this done soon whatever happens with the Viaduct. Whether construction mitigation or mitigation for permanent lower capacity, it’s long overdue.

Rebuild Remix

With people talking about the construction disruption of the rebuilt viaduct, it got me thinking about alternatives to the unpalatable rebuild WSDOT seems to favor. While raising the viaduct to limit the impact to the waterfront mays seem counterintuitive, it has some real advantages.

A single deck elevated structure could be built alongside and somewhat above the current structure. This could allow it to stand as-is while the new viaduct is poured. With a four lane roadway with shoulders usable as HOV lanes at peak hours, this structure could be reasonably proportioned to the rest of the waterfront. A single level design could replace the Seneca Street exit, but the Columbia Street onramp would have to go. This would be more of a bypass, similar to the tunnel plan.

Behold, by my immense Photoshop skill, the rebuild remix:

Rebuild Remix

What’s that blue line, you ask? Something like this:

Melbourne Tube

That’s the Melbourne Sound Tube, designed to reduce sound from a new tollway which runs very near several housing towers. The ribs reflect sound back to the road. Add some translucent solar panels, which would offset some of the CO2 the road generates, and some multicolor LED lighting, and you have quite a design statement along the waterfront. Sure, the columns would be a little bigger. It isn’t the statement about the futility of endless age of carbon some want. It keeps the views for motorists. But it is undoubtedly better than a butt ugly rebuild with outrigger columns that will keep the entire waterfront a war zone for years.

Ron Sims: 3.5 times better than Woodrow Wilson

I speak, of course, of Mr. Sims 49 points plan, which kicks ass. In fact, reading it made me wonder why Metro hasn’t done this already:

49 Points

Consolidating service on 3rd Ave will get us to where Portland was a decade ago. Better late than never for the transit mall concept.

Many of the 49 points for implementing this concept are long overdue also:

-Bus lanes on Elliot Ave, Aurora, 3rd Ave, 1st Ave South, Eastlake/Fairview, Stewart, and 2nd & 4th Aves.

-Transit signal priority at congested intersections like 1st & Denny.

We need these improvements stat, whatever happens along the waterfront…

Re-Racking RTID

With the Governor announcing the priorities of Puget Sound’s highway projects approved in 2003 will have to be “re-racked” to account for cost overruns, the current round of projects under consideration by RTID may suffer a similar fate. The I-405 corridor will be one of the likeliest projects for deferral. Some suggestions on making an impact without as much expensive concrete past the jump.
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RTID & ST2: Prisoner’s Dilemma

When the legislature began the process of addressing the growing infrastructure gaps in Washington, it was always envisioned a regional funding mechanism would be born at the same time. This is as it should be, since Puget Sound has needs orders of magnitude greater than the rest of the state, and to ask those in Pasco or Omak to share them uniformly through the gas tax would be quite inequitable.

However, this noble intention has been fraught with problems. The legislature looked to the success of megaprojects combining roads and transit elsewhere, and decided to forcibly tie the newborn RTID’s fate to that of an undeveloped proposal from a formerly troubled transit agency, Sound Transit.

This was based on traditional assumptions about voting patterns: the suburbs love roads and hate transit, and urban centers have never met a road project they would vote for. While urban regions are still hostile to highway projects, (see Vancouver’s Gateway Project) the suburban regions of Puget Sound seem to have begun to warm to transit. Should we decouple these initiatives?

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