Sunday, 19 May, 2019

What We’re Reading: Bertha is an unmitigated disaster

What Bertha leaves behind by WSDOT on Flickr.

A compelling case: Cary Moon lays out a reasonable path forward to end Seattle’s version of the Big Dig before it destroys the city and costs lives. Dominic Holden previously wrote about how the Viaduct replacement project could wrong. And here’s a blast from the past: McGinn and Gregoire go head-to-head over the tunnel.

Racial gameParable of the Polygons is an interesting online game to simulate segregation and diversity, and how groups of people interact for better or worse.

Working class tax credit: A map of where the Earned Income Tax Credit goes across the US.

Moving a city: A Swedish city is moving to make way for a mine operation, the planning work and funding for this effort is fascinating to say the least.

16k new service hours: Pierce Transit is adding a lot of new service for 2015, mostly for weekends, but there is a word of caution. Lakewood and Puyallup will also get improved service.

An auto-oriented NYC: What it would take to provide enough parking and bridge infrastructure to turn Manhattan into car central.

Sold: Paseo has been sold, and it looks like it may just return.

A map of poverty: The areas of poverty in Seattle probably won’t surprise you, but here’s the data.

Historic preservation: Two buildings on Capitol Hill are proposed for historic preservation status.

Train lasers: The Netherlands is slated to get lasers on trains to clear the tracks.

Shuttered windows: There may be a new way to shade houses that is less intrusive to the public.

Bike LA: 12 ways how biking in LA improved one man’s life.

Bright lights: Daan Roosegaarde continues his project to spiff up public spaces with lights, this time Amsterdam’s central station. Meanwhile, NYC is looking to reduce its light pollution through legislation on businesses after hours.

80/20 rule: Will Route 120 be funded under the 80/20 formula for funding bus routes in Seattle?

Raise the gas tax: Right now may be the best time to raise the Federal gas tax.

Power to the cities: Beginning in 2015, Italy will bestow most power of government upon centralized metropolitan districts run by the country’s major cities.

Redesigned design: The Cooper Hewitt, a constituent museum of the Smithsonian Institute, has reopened in New York to an amazing new set of exhibits and galleries.

Getting Some Diversity Off My Chest


Picture 3


We addressed “the whole bathroom thing” in my previous post. While we’re on a roll, let’s settle another issue–the one where people tell me Seattle is overwhelmingly white.

I’m weary of people who spend their entire lives north of the Ship Canal telling me that Seattle isn’t diverse. Hipsters who spend all their time in Belltown, Capitol Hill and the U-District, with the occasional exploratory jaunt out to Ballard, would do well to keep quiet on the issue, that they might not inadvertently reveal how little they know about the city.

A woman who worked on Queen Anne and lived in West Seattle once told me she thought Seattle was “just way too white.” I’m unable to take such comments seriously. You’ve got to go somewhere besides Queen Anne before rattling off such generalizations. The Seattle metro area is filled with huge, gigantic swaths of land, far larger than the high-profile neighborhoods people often think of, where entire lives, families and generations carry out the ongoing drama of the American nonwhite experience.

Some people will tell you 98118–Columbia City–is the most diverse zip code in the US. Others say it isn’t. It’s easy to find articles supporting the belief you choose.* However, searching for accuracy by way of arguing about the zip code boundaries and code tabulation areas is to miss the larger point: either way, 98118 is one of the most diverse environments in the country. Some reports point to 98178 and 98188 (Skyway and Tukwila, respectively) as more diverse. There is the fact of Tukwila School District being the most diverse in the US.

But statistics reduce all these lives to mere numbers. The forest for the trees here is that Seattle is exceptionally, monumentally and gloriously mixed.

If you haven’t spent time in “The Valley,” an enormous area which can take an hour to drive the bus to the bottom of, you haven’t seen all of Seattle. There you encounter languages you’ve never heard of, and can walk for miles without encountering a white face. If you haven’t been to or heard of White Center, Bryn Mawr, Riverton Heights, Hillman City, Boulevard Park, South Park, Delridge, Dunlap, Brighton, LakeRidge, Holly Park, the Central District, Delridge, Burien, Renton, Kent and the entire South End… these are minority majority environments. Even Bellevue is now a whopping forty percent Asian.

There is more to the city than Capitol Hill and the U District. I would hope this would be apparent to anyone walking through downtown. It’s one of my favorite things about the city. Moving beyond race, the fact is that most people in Seattle are from somewhere else–whether another state in the US, or another country. In many parts of the world, the person standing next to you is likely from a similar class and ethnic background, and experienced a child- and adulthood not unlike yours. In Seattle, the person standing next you has stories you couldn’t even guess about. I think this is beautiful.

At the end of the day, I would say heuristic knowledge counts for a lot. The experience of walking around in the aforementioned neighborhoods will do more for your understanding of the Central Puget Sound area than sitting around reading statistics and articles like this one. In other words, come out for a ride on my bus!

*98118: This issue is thorny. Naysayers will stick to ethnic values only, forgetting that diversity is about many other things as well. There’s a difference between “most nonwhites” and “smallest population share of dominant group.” More crucially, class remains the elephant in the room as far as the national conversation is concerned, and deserves more studied attention. Unlike places like Brooklyn, Columbia City is not comprised of self-imposed cultural enclaves or boroughs. Everybody lives next to everybody. Also, the “whites” figure discussed with respect to Columbia City  includes one of the US’s largest contingent of Sephardic Jews. Religious, economic, educational, tribal, and age values need to be considered as well. Gini-Simpson values would be useful here. More herehere, and especially here.

Tweet of the Week: Nobody walks a half mile to cross the street


Last week was a deadly week for pedestrians in the Puget Sound. A 77-year-old woman from Seattle died in the early hours of Monday morning while crossing a Bellevue street. She was hit by two drivers. Then on Thursday night, Linda Kulich, a 56-year-old woman from Bothell, also died crossing a street. She was on her way home when she was hit by three drivers late that evening. Both stories of these women’s deaths are tragic ones, but they’re all too common for pedestrians and cyclists. But perhaps the bigger tragedy here is that the media and police described these incidents almost as if they were the fault of the victims.

Tom over at Seattle Bike Blog pushed back against a KING 5 tweet that described Linda Kulich as not crossing in a crosswalk. He nailed it when he posted a map of showing the path on Bothell-Everett Highway that Linda Kulich would have to walk in order to use a marked crosswalk. It was over a a quarter-mile away in either direction.

Putting the blame on pedestrians

The media and police were very vocal in their pedestrian blaming. KIRO 7 described the story of the Bellevue victim’s this way:

Police said the victim is a 77-year-old Seattle woman. It is not yet known if she was in the crosswalk, but she was wearing dark clothing when she was hit and dragged by a Jeep shortly after 6 a.m.

Q13 quoted a Bellevue police officer from the same case in tasteless fashion:

“This crash is a good reminder for people to wear visible clothing when they are out walking. Bright clothes make you more visible to motorists, and reduce the chance of a crash”, said Lt. Marcia Harnden with the Bellevue Police Department.

On Thursday, the choir of pedestrian blaming voices returned. KING 5 tweeted out that Linda “was not in a crosswalk when she was hit.” And, Q13 again shared the sentiments of police officers:

According to Washington State Patrol, the pedestrian was illegally crossing the highway when she was hit by three separate vehicles.

Of the major local media, it was only KOMO TV that wrote the most evenhanded story on the death Linda Kulich.

The facts matter

The Seattle woman who died was struck at a major Bellevue intersection (NE 38th Street and 150th Avenue NE). Her body was drug more than a dozen feet before being struck by another vehicle. The driver who initially hit her in the crosswalk was an 18-year-old male in a Jeep. He couldn’t see her, evidently because he was too impatient to defrost his windshield and didn’t bother to look right. The media and police, however, would have you know that the vicitim was wearing dark clothing, as if somehow that matters.

18600 Block of SR 527Linda Kulich, the Bothell woman who died, crossed the street at 18600 block of NE Bothell Way (aka Bothell-Everett Highway). She was struck by a car in the northbound lane of the street. Two other drivers managed to also run over her body. Police would have you know that she didn’t cross at a cross walk. They’ll even tell you she did it illegally. But what they don’t tell you is that she likely did it legally at an unmarked crossing. This stretch of Bothell-Everett Highway is low speed and incredibly permeable for pedestrians. It’s possible she could have just got off a bus. And as Tom noted, that stretch of Bothell-Everett Highway would require a pedestrian to walk a quarter-mile in either direction just to reach a marked crosswalk.

Who’s really to blame

As we can see from the above, reporting by the media and commentary by police on these tragedies is offensive at best. Both have an obligation to be fair and truthful in their assessment of these incidents, yet they continue to perpetuate a cultural meme that is biased against pedestrians (and cyclists). The truth, however, is that pedestrian deaths are the result of an unholy combination in poor infrastructure design and inattentive driving behaviors.

When streets are designed to discourage pedestrians from crossing them, it’s little wonder that a pedestrian would cross at unsafe or unmarked locations. By the same token, this only creates a sense of entitlement for drivers who only think that they must pay attention at marked locations. Why yield to a pedestrian if they’re just trying to scurry across the middle of the street? It’s not just crosswalks and intersections though. Traffic engineers have stacked the decks against pedestrians in the interest of moving the most amount vehicles in the shortest span of time possible. Road networks have gradually been transformed to include things like:

  • Wide streets to accommodate more lanes of traffic;
  • Raising speed limits to match the design capabilities; and
  • Making highly complex intersections to manage a multitude of intricate traffic movements.

The bodies of pedestrians are fragile things. They don’t compare to the structural integrity of a motor vehicle. A hunk of metal is always a force to be reckoned with when it contains a combination of high velocity and significant weight. The human body is easily crushed and dismembered when faced with collision. It’s for this reason that laws are in place to oblige drivers to give the maximum possible regard to pedestrians (and cyclists) when operating within the same right-of-way. We know that motorists bare the burden of constant obstacles throughout their journeys from all modes, and that demands constant vigilance. And, it’s for this reason that we license and train drivers in the hopes that they will be law abiding and safe drivers.

However, the 30,000+ annual road deaths (and millions more who are maimed and injured — no, that’s not an exaggeration) in the US are proof that we are failing badly at creating both safe infrastructure and safe drivers. And because of that, it demands serious action.

In a previous article, I called for a Vision Zero plan in Seattle; a plan to end the deaths of pedestrians and cyclists alike. But, it isn’t just Seattle that needs to commit to policies that can implement a Vision Zero plan; communities across the Puget Sound have an obligation to make streets safer for all pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers. It seems that a reasonable start in this conversation is to stop blaming pedestrians and start to look at how we develop public campaigns, realign our streets, better educate drivers, and reduce speed limits.

UPDATE: It was brought to our attention that the Bothell incident took place at the 18400 block of Bothell-Everett Highway, just north of Bothell in Unincorporated Snohomish County. This section is a wide, high speed section of the highway. We apologize for the error.

ICYMI: Pioneer Square is Sinking and Taking Bertha Prospects With It


News broke yesterday that Pioneer Square and much of the waterfront is sinking—up to 1.4”—and many are pointing fingers at Bertha as the reason why.

Since the giant tunnel boring machine shut down last December, workers have begun digging an access shaft to rescue and replace its broken cutting head. This task has proved difficult with Seattle’s famous high water table, just four to five feet below the surface, necessitating aggressive dewatering efforts. Millions of gallons of water have been pumped out of the excavation shaft with overlapping concrete pillars holding back enormous pressures. Only 70-80 feet of the access shaft has been excavated thus far, with another 40-50 feet to go before the crew reaches Bertha.

10842007_10152612998864926_2943268738913677673_o-166x300The dewatering process may be to blame for the disturbances, with maps of the settlement showing a clear correlation between the deepest impacts and the location of the access shaft. But city and state officials say it’s too early to say.

“Currently we don’t have enough data to tell you that certain things are related to activities where the drilling machine is, or whether they are related to an old neighborhood that, in some cases, has sewer lines that go back to 1880,” said Mayor Ed Murray.

News that the Viaduct has sunk an additional 1.2” has pushed some to call for an emergency closure. But Washington State Department of Transportation officials assure that the settlement has been evenly distributed, minimizing any structural twists or contortions that would jeopardize structural integrity and public safety.

Several local businesses have reported damage they say is related to the tunneling activities. Seattle Department of Transportation closed a section of King Street between 1st Ave and Alaskan Way yesterday after residents reported a deep crack in the roadway.

Perhaps most concerning is news that deep benchmarks up to 120 feet underground have shown settlement. According to WSDOT project administrator Todd Trepanier, “deep benchmarks are not supposed to settle.”

City officials will be checking local fault, sewer, and water lines for damage.

It is unclear how, when, and even if the tunnel project will continue.

City Considers Municipal Bank


The Seattle City Council held a briefing Wednesday afternoon on the creation of a municipal bank. Councilmember Licata, chair of the Finance and Culture Committee, invited experts to testify about successful models from around the world, including the Bank of North Dakota and the German public banking system.

Municipal banks have become popular since the recession, with 15 such bills introduced in states around the country in 2011. Here in Washington, Senator Bob Hasegawa has introduced similar legislation to create a state bank. He says it would benefit marijuana businesses, which are turned away from corporate banks due to federal regulations. Congressman Denny Heck has introduced legislation to loosen these regulations.

Other municipalities considering such proposals include Santa Fe, New Mexico, which is undergoing a feasibility study. Their proposal includes a partnership with Santa Fe County to increase available funds. With a combined population smaller than the city of Vancouver, WA (147,423), the applicability of their study may be limited.

At the briefing, experts cited numerous public benefits from a municipal bank, including lower debt costs, more affordable credit for local small businesses, and low-interest loans to finance progressive policy objectives like affordable housing, major infrastructure projects, and local economic development. One study cited found that interest can account for 30-50% of public project costs. A municipal bank would offer lower interest rates and funnel any profit from interest back to the City.

Some constitutional experts have expressed doubts about the legality of a state or municipal bank, including local constitutional scholar Hugh Spitzer. Former Supreme Court Justice Phil Talmadge, since leaving the bench, has said he believes such proposals pass constitutional muster. Seattle may serve as a test case for the state Supreme Court, paving the way for other cities to follow.

Councilmember Sawant, though not a member of the committee, brought what she believed were broad public concerns for the proposal. She warned against pushback from corporate banks that claim municipal banks are too risky to be sound investments. She simultaneously exalted the opportunity to provide banking opportunities to low-income residents (an option under some models), while cautioning that the bank may receive the lowest quality loans while corporate banks continue to receive high quality loans from “Microsoft millionaires.” The four Councilmembers present (Licata, Sawant, Godden, and Bagshaw) all appeared to support the proposal.

Ben Crowther is a Seattle native, policy wonk, news junkie, and transit nerd. He started in queer grassroots organizing upon graduating from high school in 2009, and quickly developed a love for all things political and bureaucratic. When he’s not reading news articles, he’s serving on the board of Young Dems of WA and PFLAG Bellevue, on the GSBA Public Policy Task Force, and as a PCO for the 37th District Democrats.

Comment on the Mayor’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda


Muarry Housing

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray has an initiative to establish policies and goals for housing affordability and livability within the city. The Mayor’s initiative is an opportunity to look at a wide set of issues surrounding these values like open space, the services that residents except, development types, and housing options for all income levels. Three public meetings have been held to discuss ideas and values for the initiative since November. Mayor Murray has spoken about why this initiative is so important to the city in saying the following:

Seattle’s future growth can and will bring unprecedented challenges for our city, but we can choose our path forward. This can be a moment to engage in battles over density and fear of change, or this can be a moment full of opportunity to create walkable, livable, and affordable mixed-income neighborhoods for everyone.

The Mayor’s Office is taking public comment on what sort of policies and goals should be pursued by the initiative. We encourage you take a few minutes to share your thoughts and ideas on what the agenda should consider.

UPDATE: The link has been fixed.

More details on the Mercer Island Station parking and bus connections

Mercer Island Station, as seen from the north side of I-90. Image from Sound Transit.

When East Link’s Mercer Island Station opens in 2023, it will link the Island with Downtown Seattle, UW, Bellevue and Overlake via frequent, fast and reliable transit. Being located in the median of I-90, the design of the station is straightforward. However, there are two concepts that need Sound Transit’s attention: parking and bus connections.


The current Mercer Island park-and-ride facility consists of a two-level garage located on the north side of I-90 and includes 447 parking spaces. The park-and-ride sees significant demand with the garage regularly being full by 7.30am on weekdays. However, only about half of the current users are island residents; the other half come mainly from the Eastside to take advantage of more buses and access to available parking, which may not as readily available at other park-and-rides in the Eastside. At previous East Link open houses, residents voiced their support in favor of a new park-and-ride facility that prioritizes use by Mercer Islanders.

A solution for Sound Transit is to provide more parking at the Marcer Island Community and Event Center (located at SE 24th St and 84th Ave SE), a quarter-mile from the station. Sound Transit is considering two options for parking, either a three-level garage or a surface lot. The parking garage would cost more, but it would have a much smaller footprint than the surface lot. It would also provide about 25 more parking spaces than the surface options (229 spaces versus 203 or 207 spaces). While the new park-and-ride will be farther from the freeway than the current one, there will be nothing keeping Eastsiders out of the new lot or saving parking spaces past 7.30am.

At the moment, there is no mention of pricing parking from Sound Transit. But, a six-month pilot project was carried out earlier this year at four park-and-rides operated by Sound Transit. The project allowed users, for a fee, to reserve a parking space until 9.30am at which time the space would become open to anyone. This pilot project should be implemented at Mercer Island to guarantee open spaces for later commuters or for Mercer Islanders.

Bus Connections

Instead of wasting hours and hours of bus service by continuing service of I-90 buses (like the ST 554 and the peak expresses) all the way to Downtown Seattle, Sound Transit and King County Metro will truncate them to Mercer Island where current bus riders will be forced transfer to East Link to continue their trip to Seattle. This will save as much 20 minutes per bus. Currently, 117 trips per direction on 9 routes (111, 114, 212, 214, 216, 217, 218, 219, 554) are operated between Mercer Island and Seattle. Together, the savings from these routes at least 78 hours of service each day.

Previous options presented involved the buses moving onto Mercer Island streets, adding dozens and dozens of buses per day to already clogged Mercer Island streets. The options would also have required a long walk from the bus stops to the station, which would have made forced transfers unattractive to bus riders. After receiving mostly negative comments from both bus riders and Mercer Island residents, Sound Transit rethought their options and came up with one that kept most buses off of streets while giving the shortest possible walking distance to bus riders.

MI Bus Transfer

A new transit center would be created on the 80th Ave SE Overpass, and Sound Transit’s Route 554 would both drop off and pick up passengers on the overpass as opposed to deviating off toward the park-and-ride. Transfers would be at the door of the station making it easy and convenient convenient for passengers to transfer under a covered facility protected from the weather. Meanwhile, King County Metro Route 216 would drop off at the station door, but pick up at the current transit center. Routes 204 and the now-defunct Routes 203 and 213 would stay on their current routing.

This is by far the best of the alternatives. It gives riders a very minor delay if buses and trains are being timed correctly, and keeps the buses in a single, concentrated area.

This also gives an opportunity to Sound Transit and King County Metro to completely rethink the network of I-90 peak expresses. King County Metro operates two routes, the 212 and 214, with the main purpose of skipping Mercer Island and gaining a couple minutes over Sound Transit Route 554. These routes could now be absorbed into Route 554. King County Metro Routes 216, 218 and 219 could be combined into one peak-only route, which is here described as the 216. King County Metro Route 217 would keep the same routing east of Mercer Island, with the reverse-peak Route 212 being converted into Route 217. King County Metro Routes 111 and 114 could end at South Bellevue Park and Ride instead of at Mercer Island, avoiding the merge across all lanes of I-90 westbound and taking advantage of the future HOV lanes on Bellevue Way on the eastbound journey. And, King County Metro Routes 114 and 240 could be combined, as at that point they will be very similar to the previously suggested reroute of the 240 (assuming the reroute goes ahead).

This would greatly simplify the inner Eastside bus network by combing the structure of nine routes (previously twelve) to a more reasonable four. The benefit of this is more consistent coverage, stop patterns, and increased headways on common corridors.

About Those Urine-Soaked Seats…


Picture 21
You’ve probably heard by now of the now-famous sixty urine-soaked seats. In what ended up making national news, the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries fined Metro for one serious violation (not providing operators with unrestricted access to bathroom facilities when needed to relieve themselves, with specific attention to how bathrooms are often unavailable at night, not located at all route terminals, and with not enough time to access the bathroom if one is provided) and one general violation (no running water, soap, or paper towels for route 36 & 50 operators for over six years).

The language employed in the (public) documentation is harsh (“Describe on the form how you corrected each hazard, rather than what you intend to do in the future…. If we do not receive written confirmation you have corrected the hazards, we will take follow-up action, which may include additional penalties. If you provide us with false information, you may face criminal penalties.”), and I feel it is appropriate.

As an operator, my bladder and my mind are immensely grateful to learn of this. When the King County Council ordered Metro to tighten the schedules in 2009, in response to economic pressures and as a result of a now highly-questioned performance audit, many staff knew the ramifications would be far reaching: more accidents, more unreliable service, a decline in customer service quality and maintenance, and more work-related injuries for operators. All of those have panned out–even down to more operators needing kidney stone operations because of accumulated lack of access to restrooms. I’m grateful that such badly-needed attention is finally being brought to bear on the issue.

What I’d like to contribute regarding all this is a little further clarification on how you might end up with sixty urine-soaked driver seats. My frustration is not with Metro, but with certain folks’ misunderstanding of the issue. I would think such a thing might be self-explanatory, but a quick listen to Mr. Dori Monson, the local talk radio personality, reveals that it isn’t. I was directed to a recent show of his wherein he told Metro GM Kevin Desmond he couldn’t fathom how such a thing could happen. Monson cited how he once successfully sat in traffic for two hours fighting the urge, and that forty-five minutes on a bus ought to be nothing. Mr. Monson concluded by saying that drivers who soil seats should be fired.

I think the polite way to say this is that Bob Woodward isn’t going to rise from the grave to shower Monson with praise for investigative journalism. Mr. Desmond, as someone who clearly cares passionately for transit, its users, and its operators, acquitted himself reasonably well on the issue, but both individuals–Mr. Monson in particular–would do well to further inform themselves on the issue prior to discussing it on air.

Many routes are longer than forty-five minutes, and the breaks at the ends of those trips are regularly only five minutes– five scheduled minutes, that is. An eight-hour shift is required to have two fifteen minute breaks (drivers don’t get lunch breaks), and all the rest are often shorter. A real-world example: I drive a 97-minute 7/49 trip that needs to be that long, and needs more than the five minutes given at the end to balance out the very natural delays one will encounter over that time. Heaven help you if you get two red lights (three minutes), take a minute to answer someone’s questions, or if there’s someone inside the gas station bathroom at the end of the line.

Weekend schedules are older, and my weekend runcards give me 60-75 minutes to drive what is actually 90 minutes in real life, but the breaks aren’t any longer. The weekday and Sunday 49 terminal has a bathroom which closes at 10pm and 6pm, respectively, and the nearest reliable bathroom after that is six blocks away. The issue is not the length of the route (through-routes are convenient, fun to drive, and structurally very useful), but rather the unrealistic nature of the schedules themselves. When Service Planning writes runcards expecting you to get from 12th & Jackson to 5th & Jackson in two minutes, you just want to throw up your hands and invite them all out for a few honest-to-goodness, real-world, ground-level bus rides.

Some bathrooms are too often out of order, overused, too far away, or plagued with drug use. The 70 is famous for having consecutive six minute breaks ever since 2009–one legendary ten-hour and forty minute piece has just two breaks longer than ten minutes (fifteen each, and one is your very first one, when you don’t need it). The “no-pee” 24/124 has only a heavily drug-abused bathroom on one end, and a quarter-mile walk away on the other; the 11 has only one terminal, being a live loop, with a bathroom too far to reach in the allotted time, and which is closed after hours. And so on. In situations like this the operator is forced to make a decision between taking the time to care for his/her body, or receive the wrath of irked passengers who have been kept waiting. As Mr. Desmond has pointed out, this is not a decision they should have to make.

My hope is that this comes across not as a rant, but as an explanation. I’m compelled to share these realities as a corrective to the information which you might encounter from less-informed outlets. If your 70 is late, complain to the King County Council, not Metro. If your driver is stressed, mind that (s)he might not have had a restroom in the last six hours. The important thing is that thanks to voters, there is now actually funding available with which to address the issue, and the service can be improved to the benefit of both riders and drivers. All of which is to say: Hooray!