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    The Daily Troll: An unusual Inslee pick, Boeing angst & gay garden wedding parties

    A school superintendent will run the new governor's office. Boeing wants a mediator. And more talk about North Sounder rail's future.
    Heronswood Garden

    Heronswood Garden

    An unexpected pick for Inslee

    Incoming Gov. Jay Inslee has made an unusual selection for a key post in his new team. He's picking Renton School Superintendent Mary Alice Heuschel as his chief of staff. 

    Heuschel has an excellent reputation, so this could prove reassuring for those who have worried about whether Inslee, with long experience in Congress, would manage well. A chief of staff has to be driven, and The News Tribune reports that Inslee cited her "unrelenting search for quality" as a superintendent.

    Managing large school systems is one of the most demanding jobs around, as attested by the frequent turnover among superintendents. Of course, when schools find a good one, the communities are reluctant to lose them. Renton Patch reported that Heuschel expressed mixed feelings of her own in a message to school staff. 

    Patch noted: "In addition to her duties as superintendent, Heuschel is also a bit of a 'Community Rockstar.' Last year she appeared on a King 5 Evening Magazine segment called 'makeover Monday.' " 

    Inslee has talked gamely of using smart management to slim down government enough to pay for school improvement without tax increases. So, now it may be Operation Makeover Olympia for the governor and his new chief of staff. Even with such a talented staffer, it still sounds like a larger order.

    Boeing contract difficulties

    Speaking of large, complex organizations, the Boeing Co. today said it is seeking federal mediation in its stalled contract talks with the Society of Professional Engineering Employees in Aerospace. The Herald in Everett said the company explained its thinking in a message to employees today: "We hope the expertise of the Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service can help move the two sides toward a resolution."

    Sounder rail

    Sound Transit's Sounder rail service on traditional railroad tracks has always been sort of a tale of two counties. The connections running between Seattle and Pierce County have been popular; the line north to Snohomish County cities, not so much. At all.

    There are calls for saving money on the North Sounder service, or even eliminating it altogether, though Snohomish County mayors emphatically reject that idea.   

    A smart piece by Martin H. Duke on Seattle Transit Blog today suggests ways to increase ridership without investing lots more money from Sound Transit:

    [T]here are two hugely important things that cities could do, one that costs money and one that doesn’t. The expensive option is for the cities to step up and provide parking. There’s no reason that this has to be paid for by Sound Transit. Cities that value the service and are constrained by parking can benefit their citizens by making it easier to access.

    The free revenue-generating option is to upzone. We shouldn’t kid ourselves that a four-trips-per-day line will spawn “Transit-Oriented Development” in the classic sense, but there’s no fundamental reason that cities couldn’t allow more people within the walkshed of their stations. A few thousand more units could make a big difference to Sounder ridership and have additional side benefits for the neighborhoods.

    Weddings, weddings everywhere

    With voter approval of marriage equality kicking into law next week, some local governments have been stepping forward with plans to make weddings happen quickly. Today, Heronswood Gardens, owned by the The Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe, made its pitch for weddings at the historic spot.

    Heronswood was once renowned for its diversity of offerings as a nursery, but went through some near-bankruptcy experiences before the tribe purchased it last year. Technically, it's still under renovation, with a view to hosting weddings regularly and opening it to the public a few times a year.

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    Posted Fri, Nov 30, 8:35 a.m. Inappropriate

    Joe - thanks for bringing our attention to the transit blog. I would suggest that the Port of Seattle could provide the essential infrastructure to make the North Sounder viable at one of two facilities they already own - Shilshole Marina or Interbay. There is also easy access to the tracks at both locations, which should help with the cost/benefit analysis. There has been much discussion at Port Commission meetings of late (when they are not in controversy) as to how much is the Port a "transit agency." They could obviously play a larger role in discussions beyond the sighting of an Arena to include following through with the funding commitment for the tunnel, evaluating the impact of exceptionally long coal trains on their operations, in addition to sharing the heavy rails with the passengers. Commissioners will be appointing a person to serve out the balance of Gael Tarleton's term.

    Posted Fri, Nov 30, 8:19 p.m. Inappropriate

    Sounder North has been a known public service since 1996, when it was part of the Sound Move tax package approved that November. The Expert Review panel back in that year was concerned in its final letter that ridership would be problematic. The minutes of the Citizen Oversight Panel reveal that the ridership has been a concern for over a decade to some members of that official oversight body.

    Sixteen years after the announcement that a train is coming down the shoreline tracks, ridership is indeed problematic, giving the train a cost per passenger mile that is far higher than what state law deems "reasonable" even if its ridership were to double and reach the 2010 forecast.

    I've detailed the RCW 81.104.120 state legal requirement about the need for reasonable passenger mile costs at http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/SounderNorthInput.htm, which is my comment for the public record submitted to the Sound Transit Board of Directors about the 2013 Budget and Service Improvement Plan

    Sixteen years is enough time for this highly visible rail service on prominent, fixed-in-place infrastructure to have generated sufficient station parking, some upzoning, and some extra passenger stations. If indeed these steps are financially feasible and otherwise desirable to the elected officials and private development interests along the tracks one would think they would have begun to happen long ago.

    After sixteen years of publicity, years of low ridership leave Sounder North well beyond redemption. It should be terminated and its resources re-directed to parallel Sound Transit bus services. The sunk cost investments over the years in track upgrades will provide benefit to the freight trains and the Amtrak passenger trains that will continue after Sounder North is gone.


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