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Transit train wreck: Here's how to do buses right

They aren't the only solution, but they are the most flexible and potentially most attractive solution if they are used well. Bus lines are flexible, scalable, and can touch more people than rail, and they don't have to be a pain to use. Part 3 of 3
The planned bus rapid transit line in Snohomish County. Click to enlarge. (Community Transit)

The planned bus rapid transit line in Snohomish County. Click to enlarge. (Community Transit) None

Bus rapid transit in Beijing. (Parsons Brinckerhoff)

Bus rapid transit in Beijing. (Parsons Brinckerhoff) None


Last of three parts
Part 1: Ridership today and the suggested Sound Transit sales tax increase.
Part 2: Real riders speak, and Sound Transit's model isn't what they want to buy.
Part 3: The must-do agenda for transit and smart growth.


Public transportation in metropolitan Puget Sound today achieves something like 540,000 boardings a day. That's with a narrow definition that doesn't include vanpools or special handicapped or elderly transportation, or getting kids to and from school on school buses, or ride-sharing, or private shuttle vans to the airport, all of which it should. It also leaves aside walking and the bicycle, the healthy, low-fat transportation alternatives.

All these things can contribute more to the transportation task. But to keep it very simple, we'll concentrate here just on so-called "fixed route" transit systems.

Even though the daily boardings seem like a big number, transit's role in the overall daily job of personal transportation is pretty modest. It has a long way to go to play the role it should in an end-of-cheap-oil world. Yet our regional transit network is strong compared to most other places. We have dedicated funding from the slice of the sales tax that goes to transit. Voters will approve more if they see a sensible plan.

Transportation is on the threshold of dramatic changes as we lament the lost luxury of cheap oil and worry about the future. Things need to be different. That includes cars that run on renewable energy and more efficient roads to continue to carry freight as well as a lot of daily personal trips for many people. Changes at the margins of accustomed ways of doing things, however, won't be enough. There needs to be a big shift of trips to shared-vehicle transit.

Transit also must play a key role in shaping and serving communities' growth in housing and jobs. We need compact, transportation-efficient communities that are both desirable — people's first choice — and affordable to people who today are all too literally driven to live in distant and sprawling residential areas. Social engineering is a bad idea for pushing change. Good transit is a good idea. We need to put our energies into the good idea.

Set a goal, take names, and kick butt

Progress must be made with urgency, and it can be if we set a goal and fix accountability for performance. Today, the overall system of transit in the region has no such goal and no effective accountability for an overall program of change.

It's not even clear that King County Metro, Pierce Transit, Community Transit, and Sound Transit are seen by one another, let alone by anybody else, as custodians, together, of a single system working toward a single goal and vision for transportation in the region.

Let's first take the entrepreneurial step of setting a goal. The winds of change will be pushing in the right direction, so let's make the most of our opportunity.

Here a goal: A million total daily transit boardings in the region within five years — 2013.

That's a far more ambitious and useful call to action than embracing the hope of seeing 120,000 new daily riders on Sound Transit's sub-system midway through our children's lifetimes in 2030! It's more in line with Community Transit's announced intention of growing ridership by 50 percent by 2012. That's the spirit we need.

We should judge our plans and results against our ambitious goal and speak plain English to the public about how it will be done and what progress we achieve month by month and year by year.

Look to the future, not the past

It's an open secret that in transit circles and among transportation progressives there's not much enthusiasm outside Sound Transit itself for its current plan. Ask, "Why should we go with the Sound Transit plan?" The most common answer is this: "We've been trying to get this done for a long time and if we don't get it done, we'll never get anything done."


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Comments:

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 7:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Well done series. Kudos to Doug.: For some years now, we've known that something was not right in transportation. If we were on the right track, proposals to the public - like Proposition 1 - would easily pass muster at the ballot box.

That isn't happening.

Doug is getting some flack for waiting until AFTER his tenure in office to deliver this absolutely chilling analysis of the current situation. Two observations: First, he was an employee and charged with implementing policy, not shaping or creating it (although he got accused of both). Second, there is nothing more freeing to expression than being "out from under".

Fred Jarrett and I have been talking for years about dealing with transportation as a SYSTEM, instead of highly-fragmented modes. We talk about the need for a way to measure the MOBILITY OF PEOPLE AND GOODS (congestion isn't a good benchmark, unless one's government is centralized in a way we'll never attain) and ACCOUNTABILITY (who's in charge and accepts the consequences of failure to perform).

And, yeah, we're probably talking at a level of wonkishness that sends most of our colleagues into a coma. But in '07, following on the coattails of the Stanton/Rice work, we came up with a bill that would've started us down the road to a rational, systemic approach to transportation, using the existing vehicle of Puget Sound Regional Council and a bridging oversight group.

Following its own vision as "the regional think tank for research, analysis and development of strategic policy initiatives," establishing "the way the industry approaches the provision of public transportation services", Sound Transit immolated our bill. Doug's right ... we need such an entity, but ST's not it.

I'm sure that Will from HA! will move quickly to denouce me as anti-transit, but somehow, somehow, we've got to come clean and admit ... this isn't working. And having a federated, state-sanctioned agency free to spend tax dollars lobbying against progressive reforms that threaten its hegemony?

Hmmm ...

Rep. Deb Eddy, 48th LD
Deb Eddy

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Well done series. Kudos to Doug.: Deb Eddy must not want to get re-elected. She's missing (as is McDonald) the one key element in her dissing of Sound Transit and light rail... the people.

Try putting an all-bus, no rail solution to the voters. I can see the speeches now, "Building smooth, spacious, reliable, air conditioned mass transit was a huge mistake, my friends. I promise to return Seattle to the days of buses jammed in traffic. We need to build least cost transit and that includes buses wrapped in advertising with no air conditioning. That is my promise to you."

Good luck with that Deb.

Richard

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 9:05 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Well done series. Kudos to Doug.: Richard:

I am much more interested in an open and honest public dialogue than in getting re-elected. Absolutely true. I weighed in here because I think we need to get beyond a roads-versus-transit argument that is now embarrassingly passe -- and ask how we get OPERATIONAL, EFFECTIVE transit in something less that 20 years. Trains, light rail and buses ALL must be included, as appropriate to the market/route/customer.

Doug has contributed usefully to that question by documenting here how shockingly LITTLE Sound Transit is proposing to contribute to the over-all goal (which could be stated as increasing transit use, reducing VMT, reducing our reliance of foreign oil, increasing multi-model mobility, reducing SOV reliance and saving us all money in a time of high gas prices -- all feed justification into the same general outcome).

That's the PUBLIC interest, Richard, those "people" you mention ... not protectionism of one mode of travel or one agency.

/d
Deb Eddy

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 9:40 a.m. Inappropriate

Regional Transit Needs Regional Solutions: If the transit plannners in the Puget Sound region are seriously committed to improving service to a point where people will want to use it, the first step ought to be to eliminate the crazy quilt of service providers. In the city of Seattle alone, there are what? five or six separate mass transit agencies (Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Monorail, SLUT and Washington State Ferries). Outside the city, add Pierce Transit and Everett Transit to that mix.

In addition to the obvious efficiencies of scale and elimination of duplicated adminstrative staff and facilities, a combined regional transit service could also treat the region's transportation problems with solutions that don't suffer from turf wars and artificial boundaries -- for example, why not combine the Aurora corridor BRT services (RapidRide and Swift) into a single line, all the way from downtown to downtown, instead of splitting it at Aurora Village? Or place transit centers at the ferry docks in Seattle, Edmunds and Mukilteo? There are plenty of other possibilities.

If we assume that transit will never pay for itself from farebox revenue, it seems like efficient administration is not an option -- it's essential.
John

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 11:06 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Well done series. Kudos to Doug.: As fun as it is to be called out by an incumbent legislator on the interwebs, my beef with you is that you are neither pro nor anti-transit. As was evident at the last Joint Transportation committee, all ya'll Eastside Dems are squishy on the issue. Rep. Judy Clibborn spent weeks telling everyone that the feasibility study on light rail across I-90 would find it not feasible, when it found that there were no "showstoppers." Weird comparisons to the Big Dig followed... All in all, it was just more evidence that some folks are trying to have it both ways on the issue by trying to appear as if they support the project while doing absolutely everything they can to stop it.

If you and your allies in Olympia had the votes to gut Sound Transit, you'd do it. But I don't think you do. Sound Transit is chartered with advocating for more public transit, so it's lobbying on behalf of transit and even itself is no scandal. "Hegemony", indeed. Sound Transit has almost no friends in Oly, but somehow manages to evade attempts by the legislature to eviscerate it. I think that says more about you guys and less about them.

I wish you would be much more open about your opposition to light rail. You've got one foot in the Kemper Freeman/Doug MacDonald/Discovery Inst. area, and one foot in the "I'm not against transit" area.

I'd love to read your thoughts on the future of transportation in this region. Even in three parts!

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 11:17 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Regional Transit Needs Regional Solutions: But not all transit is regional, and centralized government often loses sight of local needs. Should we combine all police forces into one regional police force? It might be more efficient from an overhead perspective, but less effective from a local perspective; Medina cops probably use different skills than Tacoma cops do.

Carless Capitol Hill hipsters, Bainbridge ferry commuters and blind Monroe dial-a-ride users have different transit needs, and their local agencies are better at attending to them than a centralized bureaucracy would be.
SteveM

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 11:53 a.m. Inappropriate

Rail needs to be part of the solution: While I agree that buses will play a large part in any transit system we settle on, the beef I have with this article is that the author wants this as the only option. He ignores the fact that for longer hall rides a bus is not all that attractive. Yes, I'd much rather sit in a train car that has legroom, restrooms, a place for my bike and other amenities that be stuck on a bus from Tacoma to Seattle. The goal is getting me out of my SOV and offering me a bus doesn't cut it.
The advantage of rail proposals is that the public intuitively knows how it will work. We know of successful systems in places we have visited (New York, Chicago, DC, London, Paris). Offering me a new system that you claim works great in Bogota does not give me confidence in that system. I have great confidence that stops along a rail line will have shelter, I hold no such confidence in a bus plan. With rail, I envision a dedicated track for the train that has no possibility of being encroached upon by other traffic, say via a HOT lane.
You have an uphill clime with the public with the dream of a bus only solution to transit. Keep rail in the mix. Let us move forward with these options, build the test bus lines, but don't derail the rail system.
iulawboy

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 12:08 p.m. Inappropriate

Comment on the 3 parts!: Comment on MacDonald (all 3)
MacDonald does take a while, but certainly reinforces what the many (not just a few old white men) skeptics have argued all along, that the extended RAIL component of Sound Transit just doesn't compute economically or geographically. It consumes far too much of future potential revenues for far too few new riders. It is not a plan for effective regional transportation, but rather an excuse to build trains, just for the sheer love of trains. I agree with other moderate commenters that a case can be made for the extension to Northgate, assuming that the link to the UW is built, but not for rail across the lake, which constitutes an ideal opportunity for BRT implementation and evaluation.

Just as MacDonald points out, most growth in population and in JOBS is not in or near the Seattle or Bellevue downtowns, or even in Seattle, despite all those construction cranes. It is everywhere, because that is the varied nature of the economy and of households. The real present and future metropolis must be served by an extensive high quality bus system, not a CBD oriented, high capacity rail lines that takes a high share of investment to deliver a small share of rides. This is the simple and obvious reason to be cautious about most rail extension proposals; they simply can't meet minimal cost-benefit analyses. High capacity with too few riders can't match moderate capacity (busses, carpools) with many riders.

Now a fair question, which David Brewster posed to me, is whether a rail line could CREATE supportive high density levels (such as exists, say, between downtown LA and Beverly Hills). Unfortunately the configuration and location of the corridtors, together with the difficult topography of the Seattle area, is not conducive to extended corridors of high density. Will Mercer Island accept 50000 folks near its station, or the Roosevelt area? Ironically the more plausible corridor for higher density is SR 99, from Tacoma to Everett, but it is populated by lower income folks, not us rich professionals.

It is truly refreshing to read such clear thinking, which deals with improving mobility for people and jobs in the real world. The Seattle region has a very high median level of education, but evidently of irrational fantasy as well. How else can we understand the true-believer obsession with rail, simply on faith, that would set back rather than advance a sustainable future.?
DMorrill

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 12:17 p.m. Inappropriate

Way to go, Doug MacDonald!: I don't get the American traffic world at all. An outsider, I was introduced to this crazy community when I met the bigwigs of traffic at a national award ceremony after winning Doug MacDonald's "throughput maximization" contest with my rice-funneling idea back in 2006.

Silly me, I thought our traffic experts actually wanted to help people get from here to there, based on individual choices and needs. But no, after my prize and a crash diet of traffic reading, I learned that the larger part of the traffic world exists to push its particular vision of society. Not just how we travel, but how we live, where we live, where we work, and so on. Yes, I get it that traffic is closely connected to our societal choices. But the end result seems to be a bunch of experts constantly at each others' throats, pushing plans for trains or roads or bikes or whatever.

These guys fight to the point that the particular plans themselves grow overaching and ideological. So much so that the plans unmoor from their primary reason for existing in the first place: allowing the most people to move about in the best ways for the least amount of public money.

The challenge isn't that tough. As Doug MacDonald lays out in this article series, it isn't hard to identify expensive plans that don't do much, and don't do the little they do do for a long time (per Sound Transit). It isn't hard to see what works in other places, and what's working here now. OK, the statistics of it all can be dull. But it's not rocket science.

So why is it so hard to get from here to there? I think we need more new ideas, more people who haven't tied their careers to one traffic ideology or another. We need more people like Doug MacDonald--a traffic outsider himself before he was appointed our Secretary of Transportation after a career in water--who simply look at the numbers to see what's working and what isn't.

Do we need to throw all the bums out and start afresh? Ban anyone who's ever worked in traffic in the past 20-30 years from futher involvement? Probably too simplistic a solution, but are we being well-served by our present public servants and well-paid consultants and so-called experts?

Or, as one of my political junky friend suggests, do we need a charismatic local leader to strongarm the crazy quilt of transit agencies into a common approach that benefits us all? (Doug, are you available?)

For, in the end, we are all in this together. If we screw up traffic with costly, ineffective investments now, all us (and all our children) will pay the price, for decades to come. Given the lasting impact, I don't understand why some continue to promote--almost to the death--demonstrably bad plans for the future. What's wrong with simply building on simple analysis of what works and what doesn't? It's too expensive and important to leave to ideology.

But then again, I'm just an outsider. Just like the majority of those stuck in traffic today. We deserve better than bitter political fights between bad plans for trains or roads.

And thank you Doug MacDonald for trying to help us, both in your days at WSDOT and in your capabity as a citizen now.
paulha

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 12:28 p.m. Inappropriate

People will support buses: The region has passed exactly one rail vote in the last 100 years.

Since 1999 King County has passed two bus only tax increases.

People paying to fill their cars with $4+ gas and eating more and more expensive food will be hard to be sold on a treatment (their are no solutions) bringing a few miles of rail in 10 to 20 years, that will aid maybe 5% of the people, while adding a big tax increase. The same taxes would increase bus service in the county by about 30%.

Regional governance needs to be elected and each of the major metro areas should have representation. Some agencies could remain and apply to the new PSRC for funding their pet projects.

If we stop building rail, how much money would be available without raising taxes for increased bus service?
jps

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 12:31 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: ail needs to be part of the solution: All the cities you mention have a transit system based on in-city heavy rail.

jps

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 12:42 p.m. Inappropriate

Better bus service? Absolutely! But...: Doug is absolutely right about the need for better bus service and he does make some good points about the need for coordination within the region and, especially, the need to set goals. But, it's absurd to characterize Sound Transit as one-dimensional in its approach and although he acknowledges the need for new right-of-way in the region, BRT is in many cases a poor substitute for light rail in that regard.

From reading this article, you would think that Sound Transit only builds and markets rail transit. That's just not true. While the fact that it is building what are new modes of transportation for the Puget Sound region - light rail and commuter rail- focuses public attention on those modes, ST has spent billions on bus service and major capital projects such as new park and rides and direct access ramps that are solely dedicated to improving travel times for bus commuters using existing HOV right-of-way.

Of course, buses, because they are already deployed throughout the region in hundreds of corridors and because they are flexible will always be a critical component of our transportation system in this region. But that's true in New York, London, Chicago, Boston, San Francisco and every other major metropolitan area with an extensive rail transit system. But I can guarantee you that the residents of those cities value their rail systems even more than their bus systems. Why? Because rail transit moves along dedicated ROW, is comfortable, dependable, drives better, smarter land-use practices around station areas and provides a kind of predictability of travel time and travel experience missing from traditional bus transit.

So, Doug's answer to this is instead of all that light rail and commuter rail stuff, we should in most cases be building out Bus Rapid Transit. Now, don't get me wrong, in many cases BRT is a good choice and we should generally be doing more of it in this area. And, as Doug points out, we are - the Swift Corridor, Metro's Rapid Ride and, yes, as he acknowledges, Sound Transit is pursuing BRT in its next plan on the 520 bridge. However, as even those experiences reveal, BRT is no panacea. An improvement? Yes, but not as good as light rail in most cases.

Look at the SR 99 corridor. Seattle, King County and Snohomish have spent years (10? 15? more?) converting existing pavement and building new pavement to give buses increasingly dedicated access to a lane in each direction of that corridor. Businesses along the corridor have fought back, neighborhoods have complained and buses will still be subject to traffic delays, traffic signals (albeit with some level of prioritization) and other interferences that will still make for a relatively long trip given the distances involved. Don't get me wrong, Swift and RapidRide will be big improvements, but they won't be as good or as popular as light rail. It's as, Doug essentially acknowledges, (not so) rapid transit on the cheap.

It is possible to get BRT with the dependability and speed of light rail, but that means dedicated right of way that's separated and protected from traffic. The best examples of that in this region are the downtown bus tunnel and the E-4 Bus Way that travels through SODO on what used to be 5th Ave. South. But, if you're going to all that trouble -and expense- to create new right-of-way with fast, dependable service, you might as well build light rail. Why? Because, it has all the speed and reliability of this kind of true BRT, but it also operates on smaller footprint, is more popular (it may be irrational, but it's true- people love trains), and more esthetically pleasing, and therefore more acceptable, to the communities that surround those transit corridors. Oh, and light rail also drives better land use investments than any kind of BRT, but more about that later.
blaborde

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 12:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Uniting jobs and homes: I thought this was a great series overall, but I felt it only touched on the real root cause of our traffic congestion and need for improved transit options. In fact, it seems like no one ever talks about the cause; they only want to focus on fixing the effect!

The cause, of course, is that people live in one place and work in another place (and shop in another place, to a lesser degree).

For example, a huge percentage of Tacoma residents work in Seattle. Why? Because Tacoma has great neighborhoods that are relatively affordable, but Seattle/Bellevue/Redmond/etc. has the lion's share of good jobs. Why doesn't Tacoma have enough good jobs? Well ... maybe there used to be a good reason for that, but not any more. Tacoma is a large, well-established city and it needs to better support the employment of its own residents.

So instead of building the billion-dollar light rail line from Tacoma to Seattle, let's encourage businesses to locate in Tacoma, and expand transit options within Tacoma. Then those commuters don't clog the roads and don't need transit.

Of course Tacoma isn't the only city in which this'll work, it's just the biggest. We really need to ask ourselves why we seem to have resigned ourselves to the "fact" that all the good jobs have to be in Seattle and a 5-mile radius around it. Perhaps if we gave incentives for companies to locate outside that area, they will, and our traffic headaches will be cured in a way that doeesn't involve any commuting.

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 1:41 p.m. Inappropriate

Puts the Pieces Together: note: the below was mistakenly posted to the second MacDonald article

I have been a critic of Sound Transit largely because, a) I don't see how we can possibly build a complete, 150 mile or so light rail system, no matter how sexy it may seem, at well in excess of $300 million a mile -- we just don't have the money -- and because, b) with the now-proven HOT technology on freeways we can easily insure regional transit mobility throughout the entire metro Puget Sound when combined with arterial bus-only lanes. This was not the case in the Jim Ellis era. But time, and technology, marches on.

However, one reservation I have concerning some of my fellow critics is that they don't see the land-use / transit connection, which is the subject of this last article. So-called Transit Oriented Development (walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods) is essential for a whole host of reasons, not the least being amenity value. And with Bus Rapid Transit (on freeway HOT and arterial bus-only lanes) we can have TOD in hundreds of neighborhoods rather than the handful possible under Sound Transit's light rail fever-dream.

Even if you prefer light rail to BRT (an understandable preference), it is necessary to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. MacDonald's article has done just that. Good job. And let's hope the fever breaks soon.
dfp

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 2:04 p.m. Inappropriate

Doug, You have forgotten about Mr. Eyeman: What happens to Bus Rapid Transit if the Eyeman initiative to gut HOV and Hot Lanes passes this Fall. Guess it would be just more Bus Slow Transit.

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 2:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Doug makes clear that BRT is only ONE part of the equasion: For all of the comments trashing or calling out the limitations of BRT: no, BRT is NOT the end-all, be-all. Doug makes clear that he's using observations, recommendations on buses as an EXAMPLE of how we might do things differently. We're dealing with a complex (non)system in which the disparate parts - ferries to rail to sidewalks - must work together. Even the mighty McDonald couldn't slay the entire dragon in three days. :-)

All levels of government have been struggling to find new metrics for some time. Just last year, someone raised the idea of "competition" among bus routes. How do we motivate the creation/service of transit routes that are of benefit to the most people? In this last installment, Doug suggests one possible measure: percentage INCREASE in ridership. Just that one idea should provoke some other new ideas.

As a former secretary of transportation with both brains and stature, Doug may be able to create sufficient attention to the situation - and the unattractive options out there right now - to help get the region out of its current rut.

Rep. Deb Eddy, 48th LD
Deb Eddy

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 3:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Compared to the Viaduct: Doug, if I follow your logic, which I agree with, and compare it to the logic of tearing the Viaduct down and replacing it with a megamillion dollar solution, it doesn't line up. I would have expected you to support the retrofitting of the Viaduct instead of demolishing it. I would have thought that picking the least disruptive alternative that can be accomplished in a quick and very short time frame would be consistant with your thinking. I would have expected you to support the Retrofit which would cost under $1 billion and result in an uninterrupted traffic flow of 110,000 during and after construction.

So, what happened? Have you changed your mind on the replacement vs the Retrofit solution? I hope so! If you haven't made that course correction on the Viaduct, then I can hardly support your visioning, since it would lead me to believe that you speak with a forked tongue. Please tell me Im wrong and that you now See the errors of your ways and support the Retrofitting of the historic Viaduct.

Art

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 3:15 p.m. Inappropriate

Still not convinced: Thanks for the very thoughtful article. I learned some things from the series.

I am still not convinced for two reasons.

1) Your basic argument is that a bus system can better serve the population because it is more flexible and a faster solution. There is no doubting that it is easier to add bus routes than light rail. As a person who has used all forms of mass transit from street cars in Europe to the subway in NYC, nothing compares to the comfort of trains. I don't really know why either. I just know that riding in a train is preferable to a car or bus. So I could understand if your position is that we should sacrifice the pleasure of trains for the expediency of a bus system, but I would disagree. I would prefer to make the long term investment in the better transit mode. Moreover, if the bus lines are so easy to install, let's install BRT to mimic where the light rail will go until the lines are built. I am sure there will be a city willing to buy our buses when we are done with them.

2) You use the ridership numbers a lot. As a data analyst, I wonder if there is not a qualitative difference between the 120,000 riders that light rail would add compared to the 500,000 current riders. My guess is that those added will travel far further and more regularly thus having a greater impact. There is also a huge potential for cities to support light rail with other modes of transit that will link light rail stations to people's homes and their other destinations, which would increase those numbers over time.

In general, I think it is sad that with all of the time, energy and money that has gone into arguing about what to do, there is very little effort to show in terms of a real understanding of the issue. Why is the fate of our land-use and transportation, the basis of our economy, not better understood?

I find it hard to believe that Sound Transit as an organization is pushing this plan to feed their collective ego. They must have a reason that they support light rail. We should be able to model the two transportation options and make a choice based on the economic factors that matter to the citizens where they be the environment, cost, mobility, comfort or expediency.

Personally, I am tired of this conversation being based in speculation and random statistics. And to the extent that this series failed to engage the work that Sound Transit has put into their plans, I find it counterproductive to conversation.
wschenken

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 3:22 p.m. Inappropriate

Hey DEBO as long as you are here...: How about removing sales tax from Infrastructure Capital Projects like roads and bridges and schools? Next, please use your influence to have Bill Laborde removed from any boards, panels and commissions. Finally will you support a Bill to make any compact negotiations with tribes subject to Legislative review to avoid tha appearance of wrong doing we are currently enduring?

Cameron

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 3:27 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Still not convinced: Its corporate strategy and its big advertising budget – who has ever seen its tax-funded equal? – focus overwhelmingly on a single product: rail transit. That won't do for a truly regional-minded transit agency.

I can't help but think that SOund Transit is a REGIONAL transit company. Their mission is to move people across jurisdictions. That seems to be why they focus on light rail. Buses seem to make more sense within a jurisdiction: to get you from the train to work/home.

The other obvious point that seems to be missing from the series is that we are going to have to build rail or more roads. So why not invest in the better mode and free up space on the road for cars instead of increasing the traffic with buses?
wschenken

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 4:41 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: People will support buses: how much money would be available without raising taxes for increased bus service?

Less than the bus-only folks would have you believe, actually. King County Metro alone is spending $550 million/year on the bus system. Sound Transit is spending about $4.1 billion on light rail from the U-District to the Airport, and about $1.3 billion of that is federal grant money that we presumably wouldn't have gotten if we weren't investing in infrastructure. So that's $2.8 billion of local money, or enough money to, say, run half-again our current buses system for 10 years. (Assuming we didn't need to build a bigger bus base to support the new buses, though of course we would need to spend hundreds of millions on that, given the land costs. Oh, and this would also be assuming running more buses wouldn't interfere with current buses in traffic, though of course they would.) And after 10 years, we'd be back where we are now.
SteveM

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 4:45 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Hey DEBO as long as you are here...: I'd be breaking the norms to go that far off-topic here, Cameron, but I'm always willing to engage in other policy conversations at deb@debeddy.net.

Deb Eddy

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 5:12 p.m. Inappropriate

Can't politicians be honest AND get re-elected?: Deb -

Your response to me points out a major problem with politics in this region. It's the notion that you can't be honest with the voters AND get re-elected. Why can't you explain to the public that light rail is such a bad idea and make a persuasive argument for that? There is so much mis- and dis-information out there about transit, the public as well as the elected officials, are too confused to even be able to make an informed decision.

There have been lots of commenters on this thread who have eloquently spoken about how rail is better in so many ways. It's more reliable, smoother, more spacious and just a better overall experience. Ignoring the huge differences in rider experience is simply ridiculous.

Plus, you're putting alot onto the shoulders of transit: "reducing VMT, reducing our reliance of foreign oil, increasing multi-model mobility, reducing SOV reliance."

These goals could all be accomplished by increasing gas prices, which, thanks to the corruption in the oil markets, is already happening. Just because you say it's related, doesn't mean it is.

Richard

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 7:43 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Can't politicians be honest AND get re-elected?: Good questions, Richard. Thank you.

Light rail isn't a bad idea. I am PRO light rail, in addition to being PRO transit. The part that really, really worries me is this: the light rail proposal on the table right now, focused as it is on crossing I-90 from the International District to downtown Bellevue, absorbs an enormous amount of our overall revenue "capacity" (variously measured as what's currently authorized but including what I think the market will bear, long term). While absorbing all that money (to say nothing of TIME), it delivers very little transit ACCESS (MOBILITY).

You're right about mis- and dis-information. That's why many intelligent people turn tail and run from this issue. I successfully avoided it for the first 10 years of public service; possibly, I should've stayed with that position.

I threw out the various rationales (VMT, GHG) to illustrate how so many of our current issues all require that we get this transit thing RIGHT. The increase in gas prices will change the complexion of the solution, YES. But relying totally on market/pricing solutions will hurt a whole lot of people badly. Very badly. You probably wouldn't like that outcome any more than I would.

/d
Deb Eddy

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 8:20 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Still not convinced: The other obvious point that seems to be missing from the series is that we are going to have to build rail or more roads.

At least as this statement applies to transit, it is inaccurate. BRT in this region can use HOV lanes converted to HOT status on the freeways, and the parking lanes on arterials as bus-only lanes (for the sake of merchants you would have to more than replace the lost on-street parking with lots or garages). Thus for the most part you do not need a new right of way except in places such as downtown Bellevue, where a first-class BRT system would require a dedicated right of way (as a starter perhaps something like the downtown Seattle 3rd Avenue dedicated bus street, with a transit tunnel to follow).

The fact that you mostly don't need a new right of way is what makes BRT cost a fraction of the dollars per mile comrared to light rail. Which in turn means that for the same budget you get perhaps ten times the high capacity transit miles.
dfp

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 8:22 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Can't politicians be honest AND get re-elected?: Rep Eddy,

You write that East Link "absorbs an enormous amount of our overall revenue "capacity" (variously measured as what's currently authorized but including what I think the market will bear, long term). While absorbing all that money (to say nothing of TIME), it delivers very little transit ACCESS (MOBILITY)."

Can you define "very little"? East Link will deliver 14 (or more) miles of new right-of-way, able to move 45,000 riders per day, at a cost of $3 billion.

By point of comparison, the I-405 Master Plan adds capacity for 110,000 additional trips at a cost of nearly $11 billion (in 2002 dollars), and will take 20+ years to complete, according to WSDOT.

East Link sounds like a wise use of funds to me. How am I wrong?

Posted Wed, Jun 25, 10 p.m. Inappropriate

making a judgment on railroad limitations, not ignoring how smooth and spacious it is: Richard-the-transit-guy notes that trains are "more reliable, smoother, more spacious, and just a better overall experience."

Let me grant these characteristics for a moment, despite the fact that some trains compared to some buses don't win on these points. [A few years ago, my 20-something nephew from Boston thought Seattle's bus tunnel provided a much smoother, better ride than Boston's center city subways, but I digress...]

Let's assume the Sound Transit trains have all the fine characteristics held up by Richard, and also let's assume that buses will shake, rattle, and lurch despite ride-smoothing improvements seen in high-tech buses deployed in Oregon and Cleveland.

So, I'm granting Richard's "huge differences in rider experience."

Instead, let's pose the contrast between trains and buses as a choice of public resource allocation, with each having somewhat different characteristics.

Given Rep. Eddy's point on limited public tolerance for higher taxes, it comes down a choice for covering the region with transit:

Plan A from Sound Transit: X miles of trains, with "a more reliable, smoother, more spacious, better overall experience" than buses can provide. (There, I said it again.)

[X miles above and Y new transit riders below are stated as variables because we don't know for sure yet what Sound Transit is planning!]

What else? Perhaps the trains will go where you need to go, but maybe not, since not all corridors are served. The cost will be very high, 20 times per mile higher than buses in capital expenditure to build a line, and no savings over buses in operational costs based on data from around the country. Railroads take many years to build, as Sound Transit has shown us. Y new transit riders will be attracted to transit for the first time when the trains finally get rolling.

Or, we can have Plan B: 100X miles of new and improved bus service, that will NOT be as reliable, smooth, spacious yada yada yada as a train, but because of some infrastructure, vehicle, and service design tweaks, it will be faster than the old bus service. (More frequency, fewer bus stops, faster boarding, turns red lights to green, etc, etc., www.gobrt.org)

This new buses will go to far more places than the A-train because roads carrying buses will go down all the major corridors. Because bus stops are in more places than train stations, door-to-door travel time for many people will be faster than going to a train station. The cost to the public in taxes won't be nearly as much per mile as building train tracks. The new kind of buses can be put into service in far fewer years than building light rail. 10Y new transit riders will be attracted to transit for the first time.

Which do you like better?

[I'm estimating 100 times more route coverage of the region by lower cost bus improvements compared to rail yields a 10 fold multiple in new transit ridership on buses compared to new train service.]

Doug MacDonald is making the case for Plan B. B for buses. A for trains.

Opponents of A are arguing B is better, but Sound Transit and fans of Plan A are very persistent, so A may be on the ballot this year, trying to double Sound Transit's sales tax rate a year before the first major light rail line is supposed to be put in service.

Unfortunately, Plan B is a hypothetical. Sound Transit's charter does not let the agency put out a bus-centric plan. Opponents of A have to wait for it to go away following more Prop-1 type defeats at the polls.

Or, perhaps Sound Transit will decide to hold for a few more years at its current $million$ per day in taxes, yielding public acceptance of investing in bus service expansion NOW.
jniles

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 12:52 a.m. Inappropriate

MacDonald, Eddy, and Richard: Thanks to MacDonald for a wonderful series.

I doubt either MacDonald nor Representative Eddy are anti LRT, let alone anti transit. They are skeptical about the cost-effectiveness of the East Link LRT program. Could more transit ridership be attracted and better support to our environmental objectives be achieved with alternative transit investments? Yes. This should not be a faith based exercise.

Both MacDonald and Eddy probably support extending Link LRT to Northgate. That corridor has been studied for decades to be the highest ridership corridor. It will take ST a long time to recover from their bad decision in 2001 to build south first. The north line will connect several dense pedestrian oriented urban centers where bus transit goes slowly and where I-5 cannot be reconfigured to provide good transit right of way in the reverse peak direction.

Those conditions are not present in the East. The more than $2billion needed for east Link LRT could attract more ridership if spent on several BRT lines and service on the Woodinville subdivision. the latter is a right of way of opportunity. Most cities that have built modern LRT have used abandoned freight rail lines and not attempted to build their own (e.g., Denver, Vancouver, Sacremento, San Diego, Sacremento, St Louis). MacDonald suggests a network of BRT lines on SR-522, SR-520, I-90, etc. It is not a one for one comparison, but one v. several. East Link would improve Route 550 to LRT. It would be wonderful, but less wonderful than several BRT lines and expanded regional express bus lines. It would also degrade the translake trips of more riders on routes 111, 114, 212, 214, 216, 218, 225, 229, by kicking them off the I-90 center roadway and perhaps kicking them off the D-2 roadway between I-90 and the downtown Seattle surface streets. East Link would not use the I-90 center roadway very intensively. A large part of the east Link ridership is achieved by shifting Route 545 riders from SR-520 to Link. Why? Both the ST2 funds and the I-90 center roadway could be used better and more effectively. What is the delay with implementing R8A? ST could pay for it and the state could pay them back. Mercer Island residents will soon join all users is having to pay tolls to drive alone on the translake bridges.

A much better ST2 could be assembled. But I doubt the ST Board can do it this summer. As MacDonald suggests, they would need to embrase systemwide tolling of the limited access highway system and use all modes where they have comparitive advantage.

The transit future is one with tolling, global warming, higher ridership and farebox recovery. We need to focus good service on the places with walkable street grids, most of them were developed before WWII. The ST tax authority is scarce and should be well spent. We cannot afford to build new LRT rights of way for long distance trips that do not require that much transit capacity just because our long range plans say so. Affordability has to a factor. Better transit service is needed throughout the ST district. It need not be LRT everywhere.
eddiew

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 8:06 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Can't politicians be honest AND get re-elected?: Frank: your statistical comparison of East Link LRT with 405 is faulty. You've mistaken a highway "screenline" volume for a facility volume.

While East Link LRT may be forecast to serve 45,000 rides (not riders) a day sometime out beyond the end of the rainbow, the I-405 expansion adds 110,000 capacity AT EVERY POINT ALONG ITS 30-MILE LENGTH. (Theoretically, this could support 110,000 more daily trips just in the short stretch between Exit 1 and Exit 2.)

But extending this 110,000 added capacity along 405's entire length -and between all its entrances and exits- will enable a near *doubling* of its daily trips (from its current 800,000 level to 1.5 million daily trips) distributed across the entire facility.

Some of that traffic will travel between Exits 1 and 4, others between Exit 4 and 9, others between 9 and 27 and so on. Some will travel the whole distance.

So, the correct comparison is:

East Link LRT: $3 billion (plus interest) for 45,000 added daily trips
I-405 Expansion: $11 billion for 750,000 added daily trips

After LRT's borrowing costs are considered, the investment in 405 will cost maybe ~30% more, but will serve ~17 times the added travel demand.

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

Lets spend another 30 years argueing over Bus or Rail: Reading articles like Dougs are thought provoking, its true. But aren't we past the point of just provoking thought? Don't we want to provoke a little action? Sure, there are good points there, but so what? At WSDOT Doug was a big proponent--to his credit--of making a good decision with information he had and implementing it to the best ability. This series like nearly every other we see does the opposite. Isn't it true the longer we sit and wonder if our current course is the correct one, new options or information comes along that we "need" to ponder? We don't ever have to do anything, because we are still deciding....

While I don't advocate thoughtlessness, how does this lead us to action? Congestion is not getting better, the cost of building anything (and every option requires building stuff) is getting more expensive, the time frame for doing anything is always longer than we think (even BRT will unless we deploy buses in the same lanes as traffic--not withstanding Doug's suggestion that they are faster and more flexible). We are running out of options as fast as the price of fuel is rising.

This forum is full of people who are self-described transit supporters,yet this incessant bikering over which mode or technology is "best", results in an astounding lack of transit--which we point to and yell "see their technology is not as good as ours". Transit is NOT one mode. It is a combination of modes (read:right technology for a given application) all working together to provide mobility.

Our elected officials and our regional planning leadership had better understand that there is an explosion of demand for transit just over the horizon and we cannot fumble around much longer. The Seattle Area has the nations largest gap between infrastructure needs and the funding (read:will) to pay for it. the City second on that list has a gap between needs and funding half the size of ours. That's a pretty daming indictment of the unwillingness to actually do something in only the 23rd largest city in America.

We have fiddled around until it is no longer a question of either or; now it is a matter of both, and. The only question is how do we make a logical deployment of both to meet demand now and in the future.
Should we have BRT, yes, if its done right and not just fancier buses (we haven't begun to consider that yet and it is more expensive than BRT proponents would have us beleive).
Should we have light rail, yes;
street car, yes;
water transit, yes.
Yes, yes, yes.
Brad

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 9:07 a.m. Inappropriate

New Capacity Needed: The state's transportation tax structure must evolve to support tomorrow's transportation systems.

The current funding structures were designed to support a 1960s sensibility. If people want and need transit, they'll support the taxing capacity to get the job done. That will surely include more light rail and more of the buses MacDonald advocates.

We need reforms to match the challenge, not a war between rail and buses.

Let's hope the legislature gets that next year.

One big reform would be for Olympia powers to wake up, break down the turf war funding silos, put people in the region in charge, and get the heck out of the way. To date, powerful state legislators, just as much as the Sound Transit lobby (the agency itself is not the prime force in the lobby), have ruined useful reforms by inisisting on same-old control of state purse strings and same-old restrictions on transit funding.

While much attention has focused on turfy earmarking in Congress, little attention is focused on how Olympia works when it comes to transportation, where far more transportation funding is controlled by earmarking.

It is just plain stupid that legislators from beyond Puget Sound to continue to decide what gets built here. There's no real accountability for them. Sound Transit wasn't really designed to build the sort of systems MacDonald advocates. As he notes, many local transit systems have their hands tied when it comes to making any new big play to match the need.

The world is turning. Yet Olympia seems stuck. Any winning reform will remove project picking by state legislators from the equation, break down the old funding restrictions, and bring the accountability closer to home.
Tarl

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Thanks to the former Tom Heller!: I read the question late last night and decided to answer it this morning, after some research. But I check in this morning and "the former Tom Heller" answered the question about East Link vs. I-405 statistics ... quicker and, frankly, undoubtedly BETTER than I would have. Thank you.

The last post raises a good point in that "we need to get started on SOMETHING!" During last year's Proposition 1 campaign, many of us kept our antipathy QUIET, based on just that reasoning.

But two things have changed. First, gas is up to $4.50 a gallon NOW. We are mortgaging our children's future to ensure a continual supply of "black gold" from the middle east. Secondly, climate change impacts - glaciers melting, acidic seas - are occurring faster than predicted. There is a compelling need for transit services SOONER and over a BROADER area, for both ECONOMIC and ENVIRONMENTAL reasons.

Whatever concern I might have about being perceived as politically incorrect by some people is far surpassed by my belief that we need to act faster, sooner, to get effective transit across this region -- to ensure the continuing quality of life here and to reduce the long-term impacts of all this upheaval on my grandkids.

SOUND TRANSIT'S PLAN TAKES TOO LONG AND DELIVERS TOO LITTLE. Yet it absorbs an enormous amount of money. I believe that money can be better used, FASTER, elsewhere.

/d
Deb Eddy

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 9:18 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: New Capacity Needed: You know Olympia, huh? Thanks for this.

Deb Eddy

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: Thanks to the former Tom Heller!: You're welcome, deb. (re: East LINK vs. 405 comparison)

I agree with the fundamental criticism of ST expressed by Sec. MacDonald, Rep. Eddy and others: It takes too much MONEY, too much TIME and does FAR TOO LITTLE.

--
Transit Guy sez that "ignoring the huge difference in rider experience is ridiculous [when] rail is more reliable, smoother, more spacious and a better overall experience."

Given light rail's very significant tax-support, ignoring the rider "experience" isn't half as ridiculous as ignoring its dismal cost-effectiveness. Why should the taxpaying public be expected to provide womb-like comfort and protection to transit commuters? Sheesh!! Who's driving this boat?

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 11:31 a.m. Inappropriate

BRT - not as good as rail: In many cases the BRT systems Doug touts in his article are temporary solutions on the way to better rail solutions. Take Viva in Toronto, a system Doug puts on a pedestal for BRT implementation. This is from the Viva web link Doug included in his article:

"Eventually, vivaNext will replace buses on the dedicated rapidways with an even faster light rail transit system."

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Still not convinced: Hmm. Given how much time current buses (e.g. the 545) spend waiting for cars to get out of the HOV lanes, how would converting the HOV lanes to HOT help anything? And also, are you really saying that 3rd Avenue is an example of how BRT works? It probably takes a bus 10 minutes to get from Yesler to Stewart along 3rd avenue. Can you really call that rapid?

Why don't we wait to see how much people like RapidRide to decide whether we need more BRT?
SteveM

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 12:40 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Thanks to the former Tom Heller!: "SOUND TRANSIT'S PLAN TAKES TOO LONG AND DELIVERS TOO LITTLE. Yet it absorbs an enormous amount of money. I believe that money can be better used, FASTER, elsewhere."

I agree. But the answer is not to throw out the already extensively developed plans for light rail across I-90 to the Eastside. The answer is to invest more money so ST2.1 and even ST3 can be deployed more quickly. And, here's where Rep. Eddy can help.

Washington is the only state I can think of with a major metropolitan rail transit network without any state investment in that system. It's time for the state to recognize the value of increasing mobility throughout the Puget Sound region- the state's economic engine- and start directing state dollars to the build out of the Sound Transit light rail system.

Of course, the obvious question is where that money comes from given deficits in the transportation budget. But, I think, at least over the long run, these are issues of priorities and in an era of climate change, $4 or even $5/gallon of gas, and ever increasing demand for transit, it will be worth finding ways for the state to help accelerate construction and delivery of rail transit services.
blaborde

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 3:50 p.m. Inappropriate

Rider Experience: I'd take a seat on a bus with wi-fi over a seat on a train, even if the bus doesn't accelerate or decelerate as evenly.

I'd take a cushioned seat on a bus over a hard-back seat on a train.

I'd take a seat on a train for a 40 min ride over a 30 min standing ride on a bus.

I'd stand for 20 mins on a bus instead of standing for 40 mins on a train.

I'd rather have a point to point bus ride that takes 40 mins than a 5 min bus ride, 5 mins wait to transfer, 10 mins on a train, 5 mins to transfer and 5 more mins for a ride on another bus. yes the point to point bus ride is 10 mins longer, but I'd get a lot more done in that time, and it would be more relaxing too.

I'd take whatever is safer, both in the bus and in the pre and post-boarding time. One of the only times I've been scared was in the train tunnels in Philadelphia. I've never felt unsafe at a surface bus stop, there are always people driving by on the street. But beneath the surface, the entrance and exits are choke points.

==

The point is: there are lots of factors that determine rider experience. Safety is a big one. My sense is some people don't like buses because of concerns about who else is on the bus. Fair enough. There's no guarantee the train will be any better though. This may be a function of time of day and location as much as mode.
sjenner

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 4 p.m. Inappropriate

A Big "thank you", and a comment rider expience and on meeting unmet demand: This series, and the dialogues that are a part of it, really are re-shaping journalism. A big "thank you" to Crosscut and to Doug McDonald.

There definitely seem to be a lot of myths about transit. One of the more insidious ones seems to be "we have to create a better experience or otherwise people will just keep driving their cars. The bus experience is simply not good enough."

Well, then, how do we explain the growth in bus ridership? And why is it that the bus service in Denver had a faster rate of growth than the train service, as mentioned I think on day 2?

Also, does anyone have any data of how full the park and ride lots are in the suburbs or in Seattle itself? I bet they are jammed. If there were more park and ride lot spaces, I bet transit ridership would increase. The park and ride lots are the bottleneck, not the bus itself.

Or maybe another bottleneck is being able to get a seat on a bus. Some people for health reasons can't stand, yet there may not be a seat.

==

I think one of the points of this series is: demand is unmet. We need more capacity on current routes. We can do better with what we have going on now.

THe problem with ST's planning is: certain elements of the demand are simply not on the planning horizon. As Mr McDonald pointed out - there will be more parking spaces for Sounder customers, but they may be driving from outside the taxing district. What a deal for them! But what about people in Federal Way at the 272nd or 348th park and rides, or South Bellevue, or other locations - what tax increase will give them more spaces?
sjenner

Posted Thu, Jun 26, 10:13 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: BRT - not as good as rail: A couple of the benefits of rail transit that are too often ignored or underappreciated are that (1.) it is new right-of-way that will forever be free of other traffic and congestion, and (2.) its roadway cannot be converted to General Purpose highway lanes as proposed by Tim Eyman and Dino Rossi.

Both of these gentlemen would limit HOV/HOT lanes to 30 hours a week (weekday rush hours only; 6-9 a.m. and 3-6 p.m.) All the rest of the week, no matter how congested the highways become, these lanes would be open to all traffic. They must know that traffic congestion is not limited to 30 hours a week, and they are content to see buses and other HOVs regularly stuck in traffic.

We can dream all we want about the magic of buses on special lanes, but no matter how good such transit could be, it would be forever at the mercy of a changed political climate, one that would validate an Initiative 985 or elect a Governor Rossi.

As Newsaholic wisely noted, in the major, highest-density travel corridors, BRT is a temporary fix. Rail transit will always be congestion-free travel. It will always be a smoother and more predictable ride (no potholes on steel rails). And it will never be at the mercy of roadwarriors who covet its right-of-way for more motor vehicles.

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: A Big "thank you", and a comment rider expience and on meeting unmet demand: I can appreciate the inqusitive nature of both sjenner and Doug MacDonald. But both hamper their intellectual curiousity with petty & sometimes stupid whining. MacDonald clearly developed a fierce vendetta against Sound Transit and light rail defending WSDOT's bridge from the horrors associated with light rail transit. Doug MacDonald should have left town before getting sucked in by obsessed anti-rail ideologues, who are consistent in only one emdeavor: finding a way to blame their personal and professional failures on the light rail bogeyman.

Not sure what initiated sjenner's original incurable griping. One thing for sure: this complaint MacDonald and Jenner raise about sales tax equity is a total waste of time, and an indication any-rail zealots will stop at nothing to find new ways to pusue their un-winable approach. Yes, somebody outside the UGA may take the train to work from Auburn. But that transit patron is spending plenty of his/her hard earned tax dollars at the Supermall, and probably paying plenty into the Sound Transit kitty. Not so for mvet, the tax we used to use until Doug MacDonald's new-found light rail opponent friends torpedoed that revenue stream. MacDonald knows this sales tax issue is a classic straw man argument Hopefully, sjenner can claim ignorance on this front.

As for Rep. Deb Eddy: I've never met the woman; but judging from her contradictory statements and "playing both sides" approach to politics - if I lived in her district, I would do everything I could to expose the fraud she is trying to pull off here. Eddy is fully aware that Seattle and Bellevue are the two high density cities which justify the high infrastructure costs associated with light rail. But, for a number of reasons (totally divorced from 'metrics') Eddy has arbitrarily decided rail is not the correct application for I-90. Nevermind decades of planning back ST up. And nevermind the bridge was re-built to accommodate rail. The most embarrassing moment for debo came when she tried to explain Doug really isn't pushing for buses at all. This entire intellectual and professional debacle is really just about a (yet to be determined) transit technology, which will emerge tomorrow, and get built next week. Deb, Doug, and their Discovery Institute colleagues have been holding out hope for this "second coming" for many years, now. They just hope the general public won't figure out someday it's a scam, rooted in the pre-DARPA days of the Reagan Administration.

Tomorrow's carbon conscious commuters aren't going to be riding Deb and Doug's diesel buses. It won't be long before an honest BRT supporter crunches some actial numbers, and realizes one person per hybrid is the greener way to go. And what was that garbage about "competing bus routes?" If I learned anything from Deb Eddy's esoteric transit planning techniques: keep the meddling, clueless, and politicized legislators as far away from regional transport planning as possible.

Look, Luke Esser lost his job pulling the same stunt. Homeboy Luke voted FOR the 2005 TPA gas tax project list. But he voted against the taxes needed to build those essential roads projects. Eventually the votets caught on to the doublespeak. Eddy keeps having to remind us she's PRO transit. Yet, every time she posts, it's about some academic excercise, designed to send us all out in the wilderness for another 5-10 years, so we can all experience the creative cavities and recesses of the Intelligently Designed mind.

John Niles and Doug MacDonald both know it's both unsustainable and ineffective to dump tens of thousands of buses on already clogged streets and arterials, trying to make buses act like really huge taxi cabs.

Neither really believes in mass transit at all. Maybe it's in the water over at the Discovery Institute Mothership.

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 10:57 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: A Big "thank you", and a comment rider expience and on meeting unmet demand: Well, I guess one way to phrase MacDonald's argument is "if we spend nearly all of the money on rail, we won't have any money left to put into bus expansion." So if we put money into rail, then the streets won't be more clogged because there won't be more buses. Unfortunately the rail will be irrelevant for most commuters unless the density gets incredibly high, or unless .... there are a lot of buses bringing people to the train stations.

Buses are a part of the equation either under MacDonald's proposal, or under a scenario where rail is the hub, but there are a lot of spokes as well, which I think is the implicit plan of Sound Transit. It is just that the plans of how many buses are needed for the spokes are not really spelled out, nor are the tax increase amounts that will be needed, all that's mentioned is a "building rail will free up bus capacity" argument.

It is a good point that people outside of the Sound Transit area do pay some sales tax. On the other hand, people inside the Sound Transit area probably are spending some money outside of Sound Transit's taxing district as well. Do you think all the car dealerships in Burlington and Mount Vernon and Monroe are selling only to people who live in the area? I think the broader point is - the taxing district boundaries are somewhat arbitrary. Or gerrymandered, to use another word.

What I like most about MacDonald's approach is "let's set a goal of a million trips in 5 years." I like that a lot better than "let's take 22 years to get a modest improvement in overall ridership." But I guess everyone has their own goals.

I just think his is more compelling than Sound Transit's. Especially since ST's are kind of vague or have big unknowns on several points: how much will it really cost to get to Microsoft, or to Tacoma, or to Everett? What are the real risks and reduced life span expectancy of the I90 bridge if rail if rail is placed on it?

Rail to northgate or Lynnwood could make some sense, but when I read today that the viaduct replacement might include HOV or HOT additions along I5, it makes me wonder how well we really know the alternatives. I say Lynnwood because that's where Community Transit seems to say they would want to end rides, but if they have to go to Northgate they might as well go into downtown Seattle.
sjenner

Posted Fri, Jun 27, 9:39 p.m. Inappropriate

Mode Warriors have got to stop: Madison Avenue stroked a sore point one too many times. There are a lot of transit supporters who have carefully considered reasons to feel that a different transit strategy would be more successful than the one advocated by Sound Transit. But whenever a question is raised about that plan, the mode warriors start throwing personal punches. Whoever disagrees with them is a highway advocate, an anti-rail zealot who has come self-interest to be satisfied.

It is a legitimate question whether the Sound Transit plan is the best one for the region. There has not been an analysis of alternative system strategies for decades. The ST long range plan did not assess alternatives - there were only two alternative, do nothing, or do everything in their plan. The plan was not borne of a technical analysis. We have simply assumed that the best plan is to connect cities thirty and forty miles away with light rail, when virtually no other region in the world that I know of has used light rail that way. The alternative of a shorter and denser rail network, complemented with a high-standard bus and commuter rail option for long distance trips has never been examined, even though that's the model observed in most places throughout the world.

Let me make the case for urban, rather than "regional" (or inter-city) rail. Think about cities you've visited with rail systems. Did you like them because they could take you to distant suburbs? No, I don't think so - you probably liked them because they could get you between all the pedestrian-oriented places in or near the city you wanted to go to. Rail's greatest strength is for non-work trips, which are spontaneous and varied, not for work trips where you take the same trip every day. Rail's strength is its simplicity - it's easy to understand and there is no timetable required. For non-work trips, that's a game changer. For work trips, it's just a nicer ride quality, but for a much higher cost.

Non-work trips are short. They are the majority of transit (and auto) trips. If gas prices are going to stay high, and we're going to need lifestyle changes to limit the effects of global warming, we will need rail in Seattle and in the central Eastside for local circulation, not on the freeways where we have the capacity (with some guts) to deliver fast and reliable bus service. That is where the demand will be, and it's also where we have fewest options to make buses fast and reliable. And when we're done building whatever rail system we end up building, the majority of transit riders will still ride buses, since this is such a big region and rail simply can reach it all. We will need all the modes to contribute, not more fighting about which is best in all cases.

I think the focus on regional (rather than urban) rail is more related to finding a funding approach that spreads investment around the three-county area than it is on providing a transit system that transforms how we live and travel. Does that make me an anti-rail zealot or an anti-transit conspirator? I know some will think so. But in my opinion we won't move forward on a real transit solution as long as people keep playing the mode warrior game. We will need a respectful discussion where people with differing opinions listen to each other and assume each is well-motivated. Again, I appreciate the first steps offered by Crosscut to get a real discussion started.

Posted Sat, Jun 28, 1:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Tens of thousands of more buses -NO. Instead: just a few hundred more moving well!: An anonymous comment above is "John Niles and Doug MacDonald both know it's both unsustainable and ineffective to dump tens of thousands of buses on already clogged streets and arterials, trying to make buses act like really huge taxi cabs."

"Dump tens of thousands of buses on already clogged streets?"

I'm guessing I can speak for MacDonald as well as myself in responding, Yup, doing that would be both unsustainable and ineffective. Fortunately, this is not what pro-transit, pro-bus professionals are suggesting.

According to the Statewide summary of public transportation published by WSDOT, 1,923 fixed route public transit buses are operated now in the Sound Transit taxing district by all the various agencies. That many existing buses is just 20 percent of a mythical ten thousand buses.

A very modest increase in the existing bus fleet, adding a few hundred buses, deployed to the geographies where people want to go, would work miracles for local public transportation service and ridership compared to the Sound Transit plans for shuttling a few dozen light rail trains in a few corridors. Adding to the bus fleet by a number in the low hundreds, not the tens of thousands, should be the action plan for the present regional public transportation crisis of soaring demand and insufficient service.

Hearing King County Executive Ron Sims interrogating Sound Transit staff at the ST board meeting on June 26 about the amount and timing of bus deployment in the ST staff proposal to try to double its taxes in a Prop 1 Do-Over next November leads me to believe that this elected leader grasps the opportunity at hand to do better.

And despite the length of MacDonald's 3-part essay, he skipped many details in describing what needs to be done to make buses move better on congested highways and arterials. Debate and decision making on how to allocate and manage public right-of-way for competing uses -- public transit, private autos, trucks, emergency and public safety vehicles, bicycles, curb parking -- is an important fight worth having.

Motor vehicle owners paying by the mile on all roads and highways, variable by location and time of day to make off-peak driving cost less, gradually replacing the increasingly obsolete system of paying by the gallon, is going to be part of the long run solution for a smoother flow of buses, cars, and trucks on the roads. The comparative price of driving versus riding on the bus will motivate more use of transit, happening already with higher gas prices. The Cascadia Center for Regional Development, to its credit, is leading the charge on the road user fee issue on the non-government side -- the Center's tolling and traffic management conference event just held on June 26th will soon be broadcast on TVW, cable TV as well as webstreamed on demand.

On the government side, Puget Sound Regional Council is stepping up to the challenge of road user fees ASAP with great staff work, and with Executive Director Bob Drewel's leadership on the SR 520 tolling implementation committee.

The often repeated notion that the leading option for serving the customer load of public transit, whether buses or trains, should be constructing new exclusive right of way, as in $550 million per mile subway tunnels, is reasonable only in a region where money grows on trees. The Prop 1 election results show that we are not living in that region.
jniles

Posted Sat, Jun 28, 7:07 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Doug makes clear that BRT is only ONE part of the equasion: If you focus on transport, more transport is what you get. If you focus on mobility, more mobility is what you get. If you focus on accessibility, could you get more accessibility?

A recent conference I attended explored 'accessibility' as the real key, and said it was made up of a combination of 'proximity', 'connectivity', and 'mobility'.

In the days of $4.50 gasoline, these distinctions take on greater importance.

Supposing Sound Transit was renamed Sound Access, to change the focus, and delinked from rail.

Surely the goal is not that that we drive more or less, or take the train or the bus, or walk, or cycle, or carpool, or telecommute, but that we have effective access to what we need to do, and the ability to choose what works best at the time. The combined provision of a variety of infrastructures might make it all work together much better than it does today.

Ensuring that the internet works well for the times we might be able to avoid travel; ensuring that the services we need are nearby so that any travel we need is most effective; and ensuring the travel modes available are the most effective for when we do need to travel, (including the walking/cycling/roading network, and the sov, taxi, car-share, car-pool, van-pool, bus, train, ferry systems, which should be 'right sized' to the time of day and purpose of travel)

What I am suggesting is widening the discussion to embrace the whole system, not just the mobility component. I think that the price of gas, if it doesn't drop a whole lot in the near future, is going to result in a fair amount of rethinking by people about lots of things they are doing. Maintaining a focus on just a piece of the system runs the danger of seriously incorrect decisions.

Posted Tue, Jul 1, 8:31 a.m. Inappropriate

No mention of the operating cost: One thing I haven't seen anyone mention is the cost of operating a BRT system. Right now, diesel is $5+/gallon. What happens when it gets to $7.50/gallon. $10.00/gallon? BRT may be cheaper to implement, but in a comparison of implementation costs + operating costs over a 20 year period which is actually cheaper?

swtmix

Posted Thu, Jul 10, 12:25 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Way to go, Doug MacDonald!: I don't get the American traffic world at all.....
Silly me, I thought our traffic experts actually wanted to help people get from here to there, based on individual choices and needs. But no ... I learned that the larger part of the traffic world exists to push its particular vision of society. Not just how we travel, but how we live, where we live, where we work, and so on.....

These guys fight to the point that the particular plans themselves grow overaching and ideological.
...
Or, as one of my political junky friend suggests, do we need a charismatic local leader to strongarm the crazy quilt of transit agencies into a common approach that benefits us all? (Doug, are you available?)

Transit has always kind of been that way. This brings to mind two "charismatic local leaders" who had a big effect on transit.

The first was Robert Moses, who gained godlike political power in New York in the '30s, and used it up until the '60s to build freeways right through the heart of the most densely populated city in America. Moses' vision was of families (not commuters) traveling together in cars (not buses, and certainly not trains) down "parkways" lined with sylvan shrubbery to beaches and parks in the hinterlands. Mom and Dad and the kids would have a picnic together and return to the city refreshed. Moses' team, armed with extraordinary powers, nearly unlimited funding from bridge tolls and the New Deal, and protected by an image of benevolence and reform, razed whole neighborhoods, displaced hundreds of thousands of people, deliberately crippled mass transit in New York, and left behind a legacy of urban ugliness and traffic congestion far worse than what they started with. Moses was finally deposed in the '70s by the same citizenry who put him in power.

Another transit visionary, a contemporary of Moses, was Adolf Hitler. He, too, had a vision of (German) families traveling together down beautiful highways. Hitler went to great lengths to design the autobahn to look pretty from a distance, and to present a sensation of flying to persons traveling along it. He, too, saw families traveling together to the countryside on weekends, and prevailed upon German industry to mass produce the Volkswagen Beetle ('37 edition) to meet the need for an affordable vehicle to travel on the new roads. And Hitler, like Moses, exercised godlike power which, along with certain of his utopian visions, led to a bitter end. But you know that story, right?

The moral of the story is, beware of the Transit Czar. You may get more than you bargained for.

Eric

Posted Mon, Aug 18, 3:50 p.m. Inappropriate

How will the Sound Transit benefit south King county?: The proposed plan seems to have little benefit for south King county. In fact, it might make things worse. The plan doesn't offer much in itself, but it raises the transportation tax, which might make it harder for Metro to provide more service to the area. This plan seems to benefit the north and east sides of the region, but not for a long time. I think a tax increase should go toward more immediate relief from the traffic congestion we have now. To me, that means a bus-oriented system, not a train-oriented one.

adh

Posted Wed, Aug 27, 1:17 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: How will the Sound Transit benefit south King county?: Will Sound transit do anything to address traffic problems caused by the at-grade street crossings?
This an especially bad problem in South King County, the rail transit really only serves locals who work in downtown, and only inconveniences any southenders who live and work in the south end.
Adding more trains is only going to increase the congestion problems caused by the trains backing up traffic at the crossings.
What makes the problem even worse is that Sound transit insists on keeping the crossings blocked even when a train is stopped in a station and NOT blocking the street. So drivers are stopped for 3-5 minutes, while the train is stopped and in the station loading, at a crossing that is empty by still closed by the crossing gate.
NOT very good PR for Sound Transit. Why would anyone living and working in an area that isn't serviced by the train vote to add more trains? The argument that it will take some local drivers off the local streets because they're riding the train, is completely offset by the 3-5 minute un-neccessary backups caused at the street crossings.
I like trains and I'm not a big fan of buses, but in this case I think for the entire overall population (riders and non-riders) the trains are NOT a very good solution.
m477b

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