Sometimes I refer to myself as a transit nerd, but honestly, I don't come anywhere near the ZIP code of the obsessive public transportation wonks over at Seattle Transit Blog. I make a point of riding new routes on the first day of operation whenever I can, but they get down to a granular level that escapes me. They sometimes do math, and even graphs*! What I mean to say is, I can't communicate at their level, but I love to read their blog.
But sometimes their posts should be read by everyone who uses multiple transit options in the Seattle metro area. This post by Zach Shaner is an exhaustive pro/con list about Zipcar and Car2Go, including pricing analysis, availability, insurance costs, and much, much more. He finds that there are a lot of ways the two services complement each other. If you care about carsharing, you should go read the whole thing.
* Or are "graphs" just another "math" thing?
So I make airline reservations for my daughter and me, partly based on seat availability, and I recheck my reservation yesterday to find that we no longer have confirmed seat assignments on one of our segments. No explanation or apology from the airline about what happened, and no, the rep tells me, there is absolutely nothing they can do about it. Although if we really want to sit together, for an additional $65 each they will happily reserve us "premium" seats near the front of the plane.
It's not the first time this has happened to me. Or the third.
Yeah, I know, it's a First World problem. But fuck—is there another industry that hates its customers as much as the airline industry? As a percentage of my income, this was not a small purchase, and yet the airline has no obligation to give me the seats I reserved or get me to my destination on time, and if there's bad weather anywhere in the nation, they'll feel free to strand me in an airport for hours or days with no compensation and only a vague promise to get me on another plane whenever. Because, fuck me.
This is supposed to be a short vacation of sorts, and I'm already dreading it, not because I'm afraid to fly but because I can't stand spending money for the privilege of being disrespected. And from the the moment you step into line at TSA to the moment you finally claim your luggage, commercial air travel has become a calculated exercise in disrespect.
The only thing I can see in this timelapse of Nemo that Chase Jarvis posted on his website?
Snow falling on cars, cars buried in snow, and American humans exhuming cars from their graves of snow.
Seattle has hired a consultant to study the feasibility of bringing back the antique waterfront trolley streetcar line. The trolley could be part of the billion dollar development of the waterfront when a tunnel replaces the Alaskan Way Viaduct.
The trolley wasn't supposed to be killed. It was only supposed to be suspended when SAM demolished the old trolley barn in 2005 to build the Olympic Sculpture Park, and officials expected the trolley to come back on line in 2007. That never happened, of course, and now we're here.
Honesty, I don't really care either way about a novelty antique car that does nothing more than jaunt up and down the waterfront. But I think extending the First Hill streetcar line could be awesome. I think it's worth studying a transit connection—one that uses rail and overrides traffic lights—that begins on Capitol Hill, over First Hill, through Little Saigon, down into the International District, and then takes a right hook up the the waterfront. That sort of gigantic U could connect lots of the city's densest neighborhoods while making the waterfront car more than a cutesy showpiece for tourists.
What is an urban bike, anyway?
You can commute, get some fresh air, or fetch groceries on pretty much any bike that rolls. But urban bicycles are a developing class of bike which falls between skinny tired, racing-style bicycles and their burly offroad cousins, the mountain bike. They're known by a lot of trade names: city bikes, commuters, town bicycles and hybrids. Generally speaking, urban bikes are optimized for reliable city travel.
Yesterday, we broke the story about a new poll that finds voters in Seattle overwhelmingly support cyclists, believe we should build protected bike lanes, and think that recent anti-cyclist rhetoric is a load of shit. But I couldn't include the full memo from FM3 in the printed article. It's now posted online here. I also wanted to highlight a few numbers I didn't get to in my original story:
Not only is there overwhelming support for greenways (86 percent), which are streets with slower speed limits that accommodate cyclists, it shows that nearly three out of four voters support protected bicycle lanes separated from traffic. Even more, they are willing to sacrifice travel lanes and especially parking to accommodate protected bicycle lanes (58 and 63 percent, respectively). When voters were asked about giving up both parking spaces and travel lanes, 59 percent of them were supportive.
For all the "anger" and "indigestion" about road diets—which give up these two amenities to make bike lanes and streets safer for cyclists—it's obvious that the furious, bilious opponents are a minority of voters.
Next time you think about about rapid bus transportation, please picture something along these lines...
Most people in Seattle don't believe all the recent anti-bicycle rhetoric.
They believe the opposite.
A January 17 report by FM3, a policy-focused opinion research firm, shows that Seattle voters overwhelmingly like cyclists—79 percent have a favorable opinion—and most of the city's residents actually ride a bike. What's even more contrary to conventional wisdom: By a two-to-one margin, voters support removing traffic lanes and some on-street parking to build bicycle lanes that are physically separated from cars.
Back in 1990, this was something to talk about...
Al Jazeera reports:
This is a wonderful piece. And I think it's on track with the sentiment of most Seattle residents, who support cyclists, like riding, and would pay for more bike infrastructure. You'd think, though, that Seattle is stuffed with bike lanes and separated tracks, the result of a city council that actually funded its bike master plan and a mainstream media that didn't treat cyclists like a political target. But you'd be wrong about that part.
If Seattle is not going to be serious about public transportation (read Paul's post)...
Slog tipper Tim sent along a blog post from Greater Greater Washington about a report from the The Institute for Transportation & Development Policy that "describe[s] minimum characteristics necessary for a bus route to qualify" as bus rapid transit.
So far, only 5 lines in the United States have scored highly enough to qualify as true BRT, and all 5 rank at the bronze level. Not one is even silver, let alone gold.
According to ITDP, the best performing BRT systems in the world are Bogota, Colombia and Guangzhou, China, which score 93/100 and 89/100, respectively. They are the gold standard.
By comparison, the United States' highest-scoring BRT route is Cleveland's Health Line, which hits bronze with a score of 63. The other 4 bronze BRT lines in the US are in Eugene, Los Angeles, Pittsburgh, and Las Vegas.
You can read the full report as a PDF right here. Needless to say, Seattle's Rapid Ride doesn't merit the Institute's consideration as real bus rapid transit. In fact, the report even accuses Rapid Ride, along with other so-called BRT systems in New York City and Kansas City, of helping to "confuse the American public about what exactly constitutes BRT." Slog already knew that Rapid Ride is not bus rapid transit, but it's always nice to get confirmation from the experts.
From the Anything to Avoid Raising Taxes Department comes HB 1051, a Republican-sponsored bill to finance our highways by selling off the naming rights on state transportation facilities. You know, like the "Toyota Tacoma Double Cab PreRunner V6 Narrows Bridge." Or something.
Personally, I'm opposed to selling the naming rights on state bridges and highways because I think it cheapens the commons and reinforces our irresponsible something-for-nothing political narrative, whereas Charles is for it because he's the world's worst Marxist. But if this bill does pass, we were thinking: What would be an appropriate sponsorship of the new Alaska Way Viaduct tunnel?
We considered passing the plate to raise the money to name it the Dominic Holden Victory Tunnel, but that unfortunately would violate Section 2, Paragraph 4(e), expressly prohibiting: "Any material that is so objectionable under contemporary community standards as to be reasonably foreseeable that it will incite or produce imminent lawless action in the form of retaliation, vandalism, or other breach of public safety, peace, and order." Ah well.
So please feel free to offer in the comment thread your suggestions for fitting corporate sponsorships as our state auctions off its last shred of self-respect.
From Lars Erickson, Pierce Transit's spokesperson:
Pierce Transit currently operates 417,000 annual service hours. The revised service plan, with the September implementation, will reduce annual service hours to approximately 275,000. The plan will be made available for riders and the public to review on the agency website shortly. Pierce Transit will distribute information through print materials, open houses, and presentations. Look for information in the coming days regarding agency outreach efforts. A public hearing on the implementation plan will happen in May 2013.All of this because a large number of voters in that county and its surrounding areas did not want a sales tax increase of 3 cents on every $10 spent. And you can bet that almost all of these voters are not rich, and yet they see taxes in exactly the same way that rich people do. Taxes are not a great thing if you have lots of money, but they are vital to those who have little or none at all. A rich person doesn't need society to provide transportation, health services, child care, job protection, or other social goods. When an upper-class person votes against taxes, he/she is being rational. But when a middle-class or working-class person, a person who needs or could need such goods and services from society, does, he/she is being irrational.
Elements of the reduction plan include elimination of Saturday, Sunday, and holiday service and the route 62 in northeast Tacoma. Primary impacts to weekday service include reductions in service past 7:00 pm and mid-day service (9:00 am - 3:00 pm).
How is this irrationality even possible? Because, as Marx pointed out in the German Ideology, our very sense of human rights has never been constructed from the perpective of those at the bottom. All in this society (and Western society as a whole) have been raised to see themselves as possessing the natural rights of people with wealth—the right to own property, the right to the protection of property, the right to purse more property, and so on. It's easy for us to unthinkingly vote like the rich because our whole sense of legal identity is based on that kind of subjectivity.
The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners voted last night to cut service by 34 percent, starting September 29, 2013. The service reductions come in the wake of the defeat last November of a proposed three tenths of a cent sales tax increase. The cuts will likely include the elimination of all weekend and holiday service because the working poor who rely on bus service never work weekends and holidays. Or something.
“We understand these reductions will deeply impact thousands in our communities,” Tacoma Mayor and Pierce Transit Board Chair Marilyn Strickland said in a statement. “This was a difficult decision.”
These cuts will come on top of a 35 percent service reduction just last year. That's a 57 percent cut in service over just two years.
Pierce Transit, which relies on sales tax revenues for 71 percent of its operations, has seen a four-year decline in sales tax revenues, but the legislature refused to grant it the same temporary car tab authority King County Metro exercised last year to stave off deep cuts. Fifty-six percent of Pierce Transit riders earn less than $20,000 a year, and 45 percent do not own a working vehicle. But, you know, fuck 'em.
This was the scene I encountered yesterday evening at rush hour. That cyclist sitting on the curb had just been hit by that SUV, he told me, and as you can see, the SUV is straddling the bicycle lane on Second Avenue. I'd stopped walking to ask if the cyclist was all right. He said he was okay, but seemed stunned and had some scratches on his face. He was riding in the bike lane, wearing a blinking red light, he explained, when the vehicle swung across the bike lane and attempted to "nose into the parking spot." As I was walking away, the driver told the cyclist, "That was my bad."
This is yet another example of why Seattle needs protected bicycle lanes, lanes that are separated from vehicle traffic by some sort of physical barrier. Sometimes they're called cycle tracks. They're found in cities around the world to prevent exactly this sort of collision from happening. On Second and Fourth Avenues, the primary thoroughfares through downtown Seattle where the lanes are counter-intuitively on the left side of the street (because buses pull over on the right), the traffic is all one direction and it moves fast. I've ridden on both, and, well... accidents like these have nearly happened to me about a dozen times when drivers have swerved into the bike lane.
We need more infrastructure to delineate where cyclists have right of way, obviously, but there's a problem.
Anti-cyclists propagandists, columnists like Joni Balter, and the Seattle Times editorial board have attempted to make cycling a political act. They say cars are being "shoved aside" for the "transfer of asphalt to bicycle lanes" and all cyclists are "militant." They say a "war on cars" and "road diets" that are proven to improve cyclist safety are driving people out of the city. Riding a bike isn't a political act. It's a means of transportation. But because these people—Balter, writers in her cadre, people who call cyclists "militant," local politicians who refuse to denounce that language, and others who we wrote about last year on this issue—are making it a political issue, and they make it more difficult for elected leaders to fund bicycle infrastructure.
The city's Bicycle Master Plan, created in 2007, has barely been funded. At five years into the 10-year plan, we've paid for only $36 million of the $240 million goal. That's less than one-quarter of the funding it needs, while the council finds political unity around spending $930 million for an underperforming freeway tunnel (that contains no accommodations for bikes or transit). Meanwhile, data from the Seattle Department of Transportation and other sources show that, as more people are riding bikes in Seattle, collisions and cyclist fatalities are on the rise. This has to end.
Treating cycling like a political football has to stop. Deferring cycling investments needs to stop. People's safety and their lives are on the line—and they're not activists. They're just people, commuters. Bicycle accidents can't be eliminated entirely by protected bicycle lanes, and I don't mean to say they can, but it would have eliminated this one and countless others just like it.
Impossible to miss the melancholy (we Brits used to be great) in this Al Jazeera report about the London Underground, a Victorian achievement...
Where the Victorians now?
It used to take the best part of 24 hours to travel by train from Beijing to the southern boomtown of Guangzhou. But as of Wednesday, when the world's longest high-speed rail line opened for business, the 1,428-mile journey has been cut to a mere eight hours.
The trains travel at an average speed of 186mph, passing through five provinces as they tear through the countryside.
China's high-speed rail network is one of the country's most expensive infrastructure projects and a symbol of its long-term ambitions.
In the comments to my post about how the voters of Pierce County all but killed public transportation in their neck of the woods, giffy wrote...
It should not be Pierce County Transit, it should be Tacoma Transit. Transit makes sense in dense areas, not sprawling counties. By having these large County or regional bodies doing transit you create a need to provide service to areas where it makes little sense.This got me thinking. If Tacoma voted for Proposition 1 (a very small tax increase that would have saved the bus service), and the surrounding, less urban (and more suburban—even more country) areas didn't, would it be fair for the cuts to be across-the-board? Wouldn't it be more sensible to concentrate the cuts in the areas that strongly voted against Proposition 1? When I asked Pierce Transit's spokesperson Lars Erickson about this, he first pointed out that many of the areas that voted to destroy the county's public transportation system have low-income and minority communities, and then recommended that I have a look at this graph, which he granted me the permission to post...
The 787 is the world’s newest and most sophisticated commercial jet. It entered service with Japan’s All Nippon Airways in October, 2011. JAL’s Boston-Narita service, introduced last spring, was the first 787 route in North America. The plane’s composite construction, along with much of its systems architecture, is for now unique among commercial jets. Teething problems, let’s call them, are common when new models are introduced. Jetliners undergo rigorous pre-delivery testing, and but they are large and highly complicated machines. Not everything works perfectly right from the blocks....
This is the third serious incident involving the 787′s aft equipment bay. The first two resulted in emergency landings—one by a pre-delivery 787 on a test flight in 2010; the other two months ago by a United 787 in New Orleans. Testing and certification criteria have come a long way since the days of the DC-10 and the Comet, and I am by no means calling the 787 unsafe, but still this trend is a worrying one. It could potentially affect the plane’s certification for overwater flying (so-called ETOPS restrictions dictate how far from diversion airports a twin-engine plane like the 787 is allowed to fly). Nevertheless, it’s important to keep in mind that not every technical problem involving a 787 is indicative of a design flaw. From this point on, we can expect the growing fleet of 787s to be under rather intense scrutiny. That’s good for obvious reasons, but also bad because the media, which goes bonkers over almost anything involving airplanes, is liable to overhype even minor malfunctions that have nothing to do with the plane’s engineering.
I'm a nervous flyer... so, yeah, I'm kindasorta invested in the whole notion that new airplane models should work perfectly "right from the blocks." But I will somehow find the inner strength—or the outer Xanax—to defer Patrick's expertise on this one. (Via BalloonJuice.)
Urban theorist and former mayor of Bogota Enrique Penalosa, makes this important point about the political significance of dedicating lanes to his city's buses:
[TransMilenio system] is a powerful symbol of democracy... It shows that public transportation has a priority in the use of road space over private cars.
Theoretically, I'm technology agnostic when it comes to mass transit. Light rail, heavy rail, monorail, no-rail—I don't give a shit how many rails you have as long as it's grade separated. That's the secret to reliable transit: Not getting caught in traffic.
So yeah, theoretically, as Paul points out, true Bus Rapid Transit can work great. Until it doesn't. For the very flexibility that makes BRT cheaper to build also makes it cheaper to cut corners and eventually dismantle:
Wherever you build lanes that cars could use, car drivers will want to use them, and will exert political pressure to do so. Every BRT project that exists or is planned anywhere could be converted to a road for cars, without spending an additional dollar on construction.
This is not to say that BRT is useless. It certainly is not. BRT belongs in all our big cities, as one piece of a larger multimodal transit network. But the same flexibility and low cost that makes BRT attractive in many locations is simultaneously the reason it cannot be trusted to deliver on long-term promises in the same way as rail. It is easy to eliminate, and it has too great a history of being eliminated.
If you think about it, that's kinda the story behind the I-90 bridge's center HOV lanes. Originally built with the understanding that these lanes would be converted to transit, pro-car patriots like Kemper Freeman have fought and fought for BRT over the bridge instead of rail, knowing full well that this would leave the lanes open to cars. Angry drivers, stuck in bridge traffic while the center lanes remained virtually empty, would demand it.
But lay down tracks on the those lanes and what's done is done. (Well, almost.)
Technically, BRT could work. But politically, not so much. Politicians looking to do rapid transit on the cheap will inevitably cheapen BRT until it isn't really rapid at all, and any dedicated lanes will face a constant battle to fend off HOV and SOV encroachment.
So give me a rail or two, and let's be done with it.
Dan, I completely agree with your assessment that RapidRide is a "COMPLETE FUCKING JOKE." When I was in Lima last month, I appreciated the fact that their bus rapid transit line has dedicated lanes running right down the center of the highway that bisects the city. The BRT lines are physically separated from the rest of the highway traffic by concrete barriers. It's ugly, but at least it works: At rush hour, there are hundreds of professionals patiently waiting for the next bus. Traffic in both directions is often snarled to a standstill, but the buses keep speeding through at regular intervals in their dedicated lanes. (It's important to note that even a successful BRT can't be the whole solution; that's why Lima is also in the early stages of building a light rail line, too.) Here's video of the BRT in Lima. It's not at rush hour, but it gives you the idea:
So what can we do here? I think first, it's important to not allow any city official to get away with calling RapidRide bus rapid transit. It's not. It fails to meet even the most basic definition of what a bus rapid transit system should be. It's a goddamned insult, is what it is. Unless we reject the premise outright that RapidRide is bus rapid transit, politicians will just keep propping it up as an example of transit that works.
When I read the above sentence in Charles' short post yesterday about the COMPLETE FUCKING JOKE that "Rapid Ride" has turned out to be—no one could've predicted that a bus with the word "rapid" painted on its side isn't going to cut through traffic any faster than a bus that doesn't have "rapid" painted on its side—I thought of this headline on the cover of Seattle Times a month or so ago. The headline made me so mad I took a picture of it:
First, bus "rapid transit" is now, always has been, and always will be the "mass transit fix" most likely to be proposed and embraced by people who don't rely on mass transit to get anywhere. Bus rapid transit only works if lanes are taken away from cars and given to buses—dedicated bus lanes—and, since that's never going to happen, bus rapid transit will never work.
Second, gee... maybe Ballard commuters would've been better served if we had built—oh, I dunno—maybe an elevated system? Dedicated lanes in the sky? With trains that ran from, I don't know, Ballard to West Seattle?
The continued growth of discount services like BoltBus and Megabus pushed intercity bus travel up 7.5 percent last year, making it the nation's fastest growing intercity transportation segment. By comparison, passenger rail service was up 3.5 percent, car and air travel up only 1 percent.
A U.S. bus-transportation boom that began seven years ago is accelerating as travelers ditch their cars and avoid airport security lines to buy cheap tickets on Wi-Fi equipped motorcoaches.
No doubt the improved amenities and lower prices of these discount bus lines are major draws, but don't underestimate how much the increasingly-crappy air travel experience drives travelers to seek alternatives. Between the hassle, inconvenience and indignities of TSA, the nickel-and-diming of consumers via baggage/seat/food fees, and the generally awful customer service that has become the industry norm, air travel has grown ever more stressful, uncomfortable, and expensive over the past decade or so.
And it's not just intercity bus travel that's picking up the slack. Amtrak served over 31.2 million passengers in 2012, it's ninth ridership record in ten years:
(In case you're wondering, ridership on the Amtrak Cascade line was down 0.8 percent from 2011—I'm guessing those frequent mudslide outages don't help.)
Of course, I can hear those Republican gears churning right now: "Why subsidize Amtrak," they might ask, "when these private sector bus lines can provide comparable service for less?" Well, first of all, the bulk of Amtrak's ridership occurs on the profitable Northeast Corridor; most of Amtrak's subsidy goes toward money-losing, congressionally mandated long distance lines. But second, these buses can only afford to offer such cheap service because they are driving on taxpayer subsidized roads and highways:
“In the past four years, the federal government has appropriated $53.3 billion from the general fund of the Treasury to bail out the Highway Trust Fund,” [Amtrak CEO Joe] Boardman told the committee. “That’s almost 30 percent more than the total federal expenditure on Amtrak since 1971.”
Considering that about 20 percent of the Highway Trust Fund goes to transit, that’s still more for highways alone over the past four years than Amtrak has ever gotten.
And that's just federal dollars. Every penny the state spends paving I-5 helps pave the way for BoltBus's Vancouver-Bellingham-Seattle-Portland service. But then, every mode of transportation, public or private, benefits from government subsidies in one form or another, so it's kinda silly to point fingers.
Defenders of our automobile culture like to equate cars with freedom, and yet when given the freedom to choose between various transportation alternatives, more and more American travelers are choosing buses and trains. Go figure.
This is what real democracy looks like...
The Google translator with some help:
Incredibly, in 2011 the sale of bicycles exceeded that of cars. This has not been the case since the war. Times are definitely changing, the bicycle has set us in motion after years and years of lounging on chairs and office sofas, watching TV... In 2011 there were 1,750,000 against 1,748,143 bikes sold car.Though the news of this trend is supposed to be uplifting, give us hope, show that humans are finally on the right track, it's depressing to learn that nearly 1.8 million cars were sold in one year in Italy alone. Despite all that we know about the state of the environment, there seems no real end in sight to this century-old car mania.
So let's say somebody invented a new kind of car that runs entirely on water. It's an expensive new technology, so these water-fueled cars cost a bit more than their gasoline-fueled cousins, and they don't go quite as far on a full tank. But they produce zero greenhouse gas emissions, and, well, they run on fucking water! Amazing!
You'd think, what with Antarctica warming even faster than the most dire projections, if this miraculous water-fueled car existed, our lawmakers would do everything they could to incentivize its widespread adoption, right? Subsidies, tax credits, whatever it takes. Well, you'd think wrong.
In fact, this water-fueled car does exist, sorta, at least here in Washington, where all-electric vehicles are fueled predominantly by clean, green hydro power—92.39% hydro for Seattle City Light customers—and yet, rather than incentivizing their use, our legislature last session passed a bill charging all-electric vehicle owners a $100 annual fee to make up for lost gas tax revenues. Which, I gotta say, is just plain stupid.
Yes, the gas tax pays for road maintenance, and yes, electric cars use the roads like everybody else. But they don't generate the same sort of external costs as their gas-fueled cousins, and with only about 1,600 of them currently registered in the state, the additional revenue is barely worth the effort of collecting it. It's just hard to see the value of levying this particular fee at this particular time.
And it's also hard to see this as anything but a missed opportunity to reconsider our whole antiquated and regressive system of financing road construction and maintenance. If the goal is to make electric car owners pay their fair share, then we should scrap our current gas tax and car tabs, and replace them with an annual fee based on a combination of mileage and vehicle weight, a much more accurate measure of the wear and tear each driver exacts on our roads.
That would be the more creative, progressive, and farsighted approach to the question of how to fund our highway system in this era of rising fuel economy.
Instead, we punted on the larger issue and just imposed an arbitrary $100 a year per electric car, a number that appears to be based on absolutely nothing (drive your electric car 4,000 miles a year or 40,000, and you pay the same fee) and that amounts to little more than a fuel economy tax.
Now where's the sense in that?
Today, Pierce Transit is meeting to figure out how to reduce its service hours by 53 percent (from roughly 418,000 hours a year to 197,000—and this comes after a recent reduction from 600,000 hours). This is a catastrophe for the county. And it seems no one in power can do anything about it. Supposedly, this is how democracy works. Proposition 1, which would have generated $28 million dollars a year for bus services by raising the sales tax from 6 cents for every $10 spent to 9 cents, failed by only 704 votes (100,943 voters rejected it; 100,239 approved it). More amazing yet, according to Pierce Transit's spokesperson Lars Erickson, 18,000 people simple did not bother to vote on the issue. They just skipped it. The importance of public transportation did not occur to them. A significant part of their region's economy was totally invisible.
But here is the question: Why is transit service a matter for voters in the first place? Any major transportation issue is about democracy, not voting. The meaning of this is made clear by what has just happened in Tacoma. As you can see, the more democratic option would have been to simply impose the small tax on the citizens, raise the needed money, and keep transit running normally for all citizens. But in this case, voting proved to be the less democratic option. Voting is not democracy; it is only a part of the institution but not the institution itself. (Indeed, as minority groups well know, democracy sometimes has to protect some of its citizens from voters.) The city of Tacoma needs to get the voters out of the way and normalize this terrible situation.