Tuesday, 21 January, 2020

How Many Times Could You Lap Bertha?

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Bertha’s cutterhead by WSDOT on Flickr.

People keep asking “When will the SR-99 tunnel be complete?” It’s a great question because right now is seems more likely never. We thought the new tunnel would wrap up digging and open in late 2015. Then it got pushed back to 2016. And now it’s maybe August 2017 at the soonest, but even WSDOT doesn’t buy that.

Why the creeping schedule? Well there’s no certainty that Seattle Tunnel Partners (STP), the contractors leading this catastrophic project, will actually successfully dig down to the tunnel boring machine cutterhead and replace it by April. In spite of a sinking Pioneer Square, the contractors continue their effort to reach the cutterhead in earnest, dewatering the waterfront and Pioneer Square in the process. The excavation effort remains a mere 6 feet from the cutterhead, but as we have all observed, this project has lurched from one disaster to another usually without notice.

Even if STP does manage to daylight the cutterhead and boring machine, Bertha may be totally unfixable, end up in lengthy lawsuits, or breakdown again in Downtown. And then what?

Who could beat Bertha?

So while Bertha’s laying patiently in her lonely, cavernous tunnel, we thought it would be useful to entertain a thought exercise. How many times could you walk the length of Bertha’s alignment before she makes it to the North Portal? 

Trick question! An infinite amount of times. While we’re pretty certain that this tunnel project won’t be completed, we did run the numbers just for kicks and grins.

Let’s suppose that Bertha somehow makes it to Thomas Street by October 2016: a comparable walk would take an average of 44 minutes to go one way along a 2-mile corridor. We estimate that you could walk the length of Bertha’s alignment about 18,980 times*, or the equivalent of  37,960 miles, between now and then. With that amount of walking, you could go from one end of SR-99 to the other in Seattle 2,480 timestravel between Seattle and New York City 15.7 times, or go around the globe 1.5 times. You could even get nearly 1/5th of the way to the moonWalking.

Walking route in blue, Bertha's alignment in red.
Walking route in blue, Bertha’s alignment in red.

If somehow the SR-99 tunnel project reaches completion (and that’s a big “if”), we’re betting that it will be beat by an early opening of Northgate Link. Yes, that tunnel project is considerably longer: 5.2 miles longer** to be exact! And, it isn’t even slated to open until 2021. However, Sound Transit has oscillated from being ahead of schedule to just on-time with an exceptionally generous project float time. But word is that it could open as early as 2019. That’s how much more confidence we have in Sound Transit than WSDOT.

Why is that? The simple answer is that Sound Transit has a great track record of successfully delivering complicated tunneling projects on-time and under-budget. University Link is the poster child of good tunneling projects with opening of the line in the first quarter of 2016, a solid 6-8 months ahead of schedule. We expect the Northgate Link schedule to contract while the SR-99 tunneling project schedule will continue to balloon–until it’s ultimately cancelled.

So, keep walking folks. You’re faster than Bertha, and that’s saying a lot.

*Based upon 580 days to completion of tunnel boring in October 2016.
**The Northgate Link project involves twin-boring the length between Northgate and UW Station, a distance of 3.6 miles per tunnel.

Transit improvements coming to Spring St this summer

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Spring St bus-only lane and queue jump.
Spring St bus-only lane and queue jump.

Traffic bound for Interstate 5, especially during rush hour, has long plagued transit riders heading from Downtown Seattle to First Hill and points east. Thanks to the passage of Proposition 1, which increased transit funding within the city of Seattle, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has finally revived their plans for improving transit reliability along the Spring Street corridor.

Starting this summer, SDOT will change the southern-most curb lane from general purpose traffic and parking into an exclusive, transit-only bus lane from 3rd Ave to 6th Ave in Downtown. In addition, SDOT will also install a queue jump traffic light which will enable buses to enter the intersection of Spring St, 6th Ave, and the southbound I-5 on-ramp before general traffic. This will allow buses like the King County Metro Route 2 to cross I-5 unimpeded. During the current afternoon rush-hour, it can take up to 15 minutes for transit to traverse this three-block section of Spring St.

SDOT will begin speaking to local stakeholders along Spring St on planned changes beginning in February. Lane striping and the queue jump light should be completed this summer.

While this change will be immediately beneficial to the King County Metro Route 2 bus and all of its daily riders, it also has the potential of positively affecting the Madison BRT bus line should the Madison St/Spring St couplet be chosen for the new BRT line.

A special thanks to all the folks who have been advocating for this transit improvement as well as the folks at SDOT.

Full disclosure: I am a member of the First Hill Improvement Association Board and sit on the Open Spaces and Transportation Working Groups.

Mercer Island rejects park-and-ride option at community center

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Mercer-Island-60-Percent-650x330

We recently reported on Sound Transit’s planning effort to build a new park-and-ride for Mercer Island Station. At the time, Sound Transit reached to out local residents at the Mercer Island Community Center. But within weeks, residents of the area spoke out in opposition of the plan, citing the value of community park space that the parking structure would take over. The irony of this situation is that the anti-park-and-ride movement has lead to a pro-urban outcome, which prevents public space–badly needed in urban areas–from turning into a parking lot.

Sound Transit is now in the process of looking for other parcels to locate a park-and-ride in and around Mercer Island Station. But such a solution is not optimal for high-capacity, frequent transit service. Instead, Mercer Island should first start using its already-present feeder bus service.

The current Metro Route 204 only runs once-hourly. But it only do so because of poor ridership, largely due to the park-and-ride suppressing linked trips. The future light rail station presents a unique situation to change this and boost ridership on the route. A large swath of island residents live within walking distance of a bus stop. If they took transit to the station instead of driving, this would both free up parking spaces and justify added bus service. Naturally, added bus service also benefits people who may not have access to a car, like youth or the disabled, as opposed to a park-and-ride, which only serves car owners. In other words, it’s an equity builder for all.

Another option that has been proposed several times is to make the current park-and-ride a pay-for-use parking lot, except for Mercer Island residents. This would likely leave many more spaces open for Mercer Islanders by driving away Eastsiders to other, free park-and-ride facilities. Of course, such an alternative is incredibly exclusive and inequitable for a transportation system that is supposed to treat all fairly.

Sound Transit has plenty of options available so as to make Mercer Island Station more accessible to a wider number of people. The agency should explore these instead of simply building additional parking or treating other riders unfairly.

Late Night Conversations in Rainier Beach

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Picture 5

 

Two teens board at Henderson. They walk to the back, then immediately turn around and walk back up, looking for seats as far away from the back lounge as possible. That’s odd. It’d be pretty hard to explain this to Rosa Parks, but today’s youngsters of color often do their best to avoid the front of the bus.

“We gonna sit up front,” one of the boys says. They’re scrunched in the two seats closest to me. “It’s some nasty shit on the floor back there!”
It’s a mixture of urine and malt liquor–a mixture I suggest avoiding at home! Out loud, in the interest of decorum, I say, “yeah, I don’t know what that is!”
“Shit was sticky.”
“Always an adventure out here!”
They laugh in solidarity. “You don’t gotta clean that shit up, though, right?”
“No, I’m gonna leave it for the cleaning lady!” She’ll know what to do.
The second boy chimes in with, “I know you don’t gotta clean it, cause you ain’t pissed off! They couldn’t pay me extra to touch that shit! I’d be like, fuck that five bucks!”
They’re rolling into each other, like a connected single being, arching out the same sentence in two voices. “They couldn’t pay me,”
“Fuck that five bucks!”
“Couldn’t pay me five to go and look at it!”
“Yeah, couldn’t pay me five!”
“I’m glad it don’t smell too funky,” I say. “I mean, it cooouuuuuld be root beer, but….”
Boy one, choking out a laugh: “‘Could be root beer,’ he says!”
“How’s the night been for you guys?”
They respond in a hesitant key.
“Um.”
“Uh.”
“Uh oh,” I say.
“Yeah. Strange, pretty strange. One of the strangest nights we’ve ever had.”
“Okay. Okay. I hope strange not in a bad way,”
“Aw, strange in all kind a ways, good, bad,”
“You got everything, the good the bad the ugly?” Don’t know if they’ve seen the great Sergio Leone film, but I may as well recommend the title by way of subterfuge.
“Yup, the good the bad and the ugly!”
“It’s getting gooder though.”
“Yeah, and they was some good. The girls were good. I’d say that was the best part.”
“There you go.”
“‘There you go,’ he says. And we smoked some good weed.”
“Uh huh.”
“And it’s getting gooder now, yeah,”
The other one continues: “and the yeah. Good always wins at the end of it. The good always outweighs the evil.”
“Iss getting gooder,” nods Boy Two. “This bus ride right here is all better!”
I’m interested in Boy One’s thought. I continue his sentence to see if he’ll elaborate. “At the end of the day,”
“Yeah. At the end of the day, there’s always more good. Jus’ like in the movies, you know,”
“Shit always ends up workin out,” his friend explains.
Boy One says, “And I’m glad they put it in the movies like that. ‘Cause it’s, it’s, it’s,”
“Like a reminder?” I say.
“Yeah, a reminder.”
“Always a light at the end of the tunnel,” I say.
“Yeah, ain’t no tunnel goes on forever.”
“Like they say, the night is always darkest before the dawn.” There I go, quoting another film.
“What?”
“The night is always darkest before the dawn, you know?”
“Yeah.”

I’m so glad they both think that way. Does it even matter if it’s true or not? Of course there’s no way to definitively know one way or another. But if you find a perspective from which to view the universe that allows you to see and emphasize the good, to notice and contribute to the idea of a just universe, well, wouldn’t that be a good thing? For the sake of one’s sanity, for the sake of belief in good works? Why not work toward the decency and excellence that exist all around us, that we might appreciate it more often, and take part in it more regularly? Thank you, young boys, for your perspective. There’s wisdom lurking beneath the surface.

Event: Join Connect Seattle Summit this Saturday

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CS-Summit-logo-200

Help the Cascade Bicycling Club build public support in favor of the many new miles of neighborhood greenways and protected bike lanes that will be rolling out this year. Hundreds of volunteers from all across the region will converge to work on better, all-ages and abilities bike facilities. The three-hour workshop will focus on city-wide goals like Vision Zero as well as more specific projects such as the Burke-Gilman Trail’s ‘Missing Link’ and the Rainier Avenue Road Diet.

When: Saturday, January 31st, Noon-3PM

Where: Cascade Bicycling Center, in Magnuson Park, just off the Burke-Gilman Trail located at 7787 62nd Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115

For more info and to RSVP for the event, head over to Cascade.

ICYMI: With $1.3bn loan secured, Sound Transit could restore projects

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Sound Transit 2 MapIn an extraordinary announcement, Sound Transit revealed that the agency will receive $1.3 billion in Federal loans from the US Department of Transportation (USDOT). The loans come from the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA), which provides incredibly favorable interest rates to transportation agencies across the United States. Sound Transit will pay 2.38% interest under the TIFIA loans as opposed to 5.75% interest through traditional government bonding. For Sound Transit, the loans will help the agency realize a significant cost savings over the life of the loans, between $200 million and $300 million.

The Great Recession greatly affected Sound Transit’s planned revenues under the Sound Transit 2 package to the tune of 29%. This meant that the agency had to cut back on the scale of projects or postpone their implementation. This ultimately was a key factor in Sound Transit’s application for the TIFIA loan which sought to reduce some costs–like interest–while increasing spending capacity due to savings. The loan will essentially help fund one-third of the total East Link project cost, but any savings can be spent on other projects.

With that in mind, Sound Transit says that these projects are at the top of their shortlist:

  • Deployment of 50,000 more service hours on ST Express buses (of the 100,000 service hours remaining planned for ST2).
  • Completion of two South Link stations along the South Link Light rail alignment (Highline Community College Station in Des Moines and Redondo/Star Lake Station in Federal Way).
  • Preliminary light rail engineering work could begin on East Link from Overlake to Downtown Redmond and South Link from Federal Way to Tacoma with acquisition of right-of-way.
  • Sounder could receive platform extensions and targeted improvements for both Kent Station and Auburn Station.
  • New HOV improvements could be constructed in Renton to enhance bus service and a permanent multi-modal transit facility could be built in Edmonds.

A lot of these projects on the list are worthy of additional funding and deployment, but there are two glaring omissions: Graham Street Station in the Rainier Valley and the Northgate Pedestrian Bridge. These two projects would give a bigger bang for the buck over any of the other individual projects mentioned by Sound Transit. Anticipated ridership growth for project cost should be a key metric in deciding how to allocate these funds. And, it’s for this reason that they should rise to the top of the shortlist.

What We’re Reading: Lipstick on a Pig

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Overview of SR-520 in Seattle, courtesy of WSDOT.
Overview of SR-520 in Seattle, courtesy of WSDOT.

A symbiotic relationship: A look at how food trucks and taprooms go hand-in-hand.

Lipstick on a pig: The Washington State Department of Transportation have released their final designs for SR-520 through Seattle; the plan is still universally awful for pedestrians, transit, and bicyclists. You still have an opportunity to comment.

Back to school: Maybe a Downtown Seattle school isn’t dead, Seattle Public Schools supports the federal building location.

Councilmembers call it quits: Last week, Nick Licata and Tom Rasmussen said that they won’t run for reelection.

Soaring high: You’d have to look under rocks to find people who don’t want more light rail; great news for Sound Transit 3!

A building is saved: The Landmarks Board has protected the former home of REI and The Stranger.

A big slide: Slide The City is coming to Seattle for summer 2015. Yes, a huge, 1000-foot slide! Get your tickets early, and cheap.

Labor hate: South Carolina’s governor attacks a labor union movement amongst Boeing employees in the state.

Bike racism: Apparently “biking while black” is a real thing that cops look out for.

Global employment change: Definitely the map of the week, a quick look at the global employment market.

Know the difference: How to tell whether a train line is a street car or light rail.

Micro housing goodness: In Seoul, they know how to make small spaces work well.

Getting to the airport: A comprehensive rundown of when to take transit or cab to the airport.

Residency required: Maybe it’s time to consider residency requirements for cops if only so they reflect the values of the communities that they serve.

Service change: The Seattle Police Department is dropping Eastlake and picking up First Hill for the East Precinct.

Chill out: Yes, the suburbs aren’t dying, but that’s because they’re not all the same (think Bellevue and Redmond–dense, diverse, multi-modal, and growing).

Charleston struggles: The city is having a tough time with new development fitting in with the older, historic ones.

Funded mandates: State legislators hope to pass a constitutional restriction on initiatives so that they can’t contain unfunded mandates.

Ruston annexation: A developer in Ruston, the small town adjacent to Tacoma, wants the City of Tacoma to annex their land because Ruston officials won’t play ball.

Sunday Video: Detroit Future City

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Detroit Future City: Design for Rapid Change by the UW College of Built Environments on Livestream.

A lively panel discussion on how Detroit transforms and innovates from the grassroots.

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