PSRC says light rail will carry half of what Sound Transit told voters

June 22, 2010 in Blog

How many people will ride light rail? It depends on who you ask.

Two years ago, Sound Transit asked voters to expand its regional public transportation system (ST2). During the election, Sound Transit officials told voters the expanded rail portion (137 miles of light rail and commuter rail) would carry 310,000 passenger trips (page 5) per day by 2030.

Voters agreed and raised sales taxes within the Sound Transit district.

The cost of traffic congestion: 7 out of every 10 construction projects delayed

June 21, 2010 in Blog

The Associated General Contractors of America recently surveyed 1,200 construction firms across the United States on the impact of traffic congestion.

Not surprisingly, traffic congestion does possess a negative financial impact on construction companies. In Washington, 72 percent of construction projects are delayed at least one day because of traffic.

Here is a sample of questions comparing results in Washington to the national average: 

impact does traffic congestion and shipping unreliability have on your
No impact on operations 7% 7%
Occasional impact on operations 40% 25%
Frequent impact on operations 31% 36%
Significant impact on operations 22% 32%
much is your cost of doing business increased by delays, wasted fuel and
other impacts caused by traffic congestion?
No, it is not impacted 8% 4%
Yes, less than one percent 19% 11%
Yes, one to five percent 44% 46%
Yes, six to ten percent 20% 28%
Yes, eleven percent or more 9% 11%
the total number of hours of lost productivity per worker caused by traffic
delays and congestion.
Not at all 8% 7%
Less than 10 hours per worker per year 28% 11%
Between 10 and 20 hours per worker per
28% 34%
Between 21 and 30 hours per worker per
14% 11%
More than 30 hours per worker per year 22% 37%
you made changes to schedules or business operations to adjust to traffic
congestion and unreliable shipping schedules?
Yes 59% 63%
No 41% 37%
the additional number of days it takes to complete a project because of the
impacts of traffic congestion.
No delay 28% 28%
One to two days 37% 43%
Three to four days 15% 11%
Five or more days 20% 18%

Investigators: Back room deal puts true ferry reform in question

June 18, 2010 in Blog

KING 5 investigation on state ferries includes an interview. Collective bargaining is an adversarial process so It is troubling when one side can influence who sits across the table.

WPC responds to King County Councilwoman Jan Drago’s column in the Seattle Times

June 11, 2010 in Blog

In a guest column in today’s Seattle Times, Jan Drago, King County Councilmember and chair of the King County Ferry District, uses false claims, factual errors and misleading statements to defend the poor performance of King County since taking over the West Seattle Ferry from a private operator.

Why Seattle hates Macy's: my sidewalks are better than yours

June 8, 2010 in Blog

Untitled Recently, the Seattle City Council decided to increase a permit fee for the Macy's skybridge from $300 per year to $31,185 per year. That is an increase of more than 10,000 percent!

With the City's recent bend toward improving pedestrian facilities, discouraging skybridges seems counterproductive. 

City Official: The new permit formula is "essentially ensuring that the public is
getting the fair market value for this encroachment on their right of

A skybridge is nothing more than an elevated sidewalk, which was paid for by a private company, not taxpayers. If anything, a skybridge expands the public right of way with no public cost.  

But I think the quote of the day goes to Councilmember Jean Godden:

"What a skybridge does is it takes people off of the right of way and
puts them up in the air, and leaves usually the people who aren't good
enough to go in the buildings down below," City Councilmember Jean
Godden said. "It's really not very friendly."


There is just no logic in this statement and it seems to suggest that Councilmember Godden opposes any form of conveyance that is not public or on the surface, such as bridges, tunnels or elevated rail lines. Or maybe she just opposes the choice people have to use a facility that is more convenient than the City's?

Rational choices mean less people choose public transit

June 7, 2010 in Blog

Here is an article by Steven Polzin called The Cost of Slow Travel. He points out that public transit is slower than other travel modes and if you value time, the additional delay becomes a cost.

Transit’s slower average travel speeds result in approximately 3
billion hours annually of additional travel time.  If valued at the TTI
time value of $15.47 per hour, this equates to approximately $44
billion annually in lost productivity due to travelers having or
choosing to use transit.  Thus, the few percent of persons who use
transit (approximately 2% of total person trips are on transit {5% of
work trips} and approximately 1% of person miles of travel) incur 70%
as much lost time relative to driving as is incurred by the total of
auto travelers due to congestion, $44 billion for transit users versus
$64 billion for driving in congestion.

Polzin admits his calculations are not precise and ignore many factors. But his overall point is valid:

One of the reasons the country and individuals have become more
productive and the country has had growing gross domestic product over
the past several decades is that we have been highly mobile and travel
has gotten faster until recent years.  Part of the reason for faster
travel has been the shifting from slow to faster modes and facilities. 
There are lots of good reasons to enable and encourage use of
alternative modes but analysis of the consequences should strive to be
objective about the travel time and productivity consequences.

King County's magic show on the West Seattle Ferry

June 2, 2010 in Blog

Last week, we released a study showing King County's take over of the West Seattle Ferry from Argosy Cruises (a private ferry operator based in Seattle) will cost three times more over the next decade.

In this Seattle Times article, King County officials disputed our analysis and claimed our estimate showing the cost differences was too high.

Here is a table showing the full budget for the West Seattle Ferry in 2009 (Argosy) and 2010 (King County). Judge for yourself....(see footnote #2 for source). King County's labor costs alone are higher than the entire annual operating budget under the public/private model.


Note: Argosy only operated the route for seven months. King County will operate the route for nine months this year and a full twelve months next year. To make a fair comparison, you must annualize the costs. Argosy's cost is about $115,000 per month. King County's cost is about $339,000 per month.

Government Takeover Of West Seattle Ferry Triples Costs

May 27, 2010 in Blog

Last night, KIRO 7 (CBS) news in Seattle aired a special investigative
report based on our new study “King County Ferry Service Not as
Efficient as Private Operator.” You can read the story online here, and watch the video here.

Read the Policy Note that was the source for this story here >>

Here are the Key Findings:

  • This year, King County officials decided to cancel the public/private
    partnership with Argosy Cruises and operate the West Seattle Water Taxi
  • Annualizing costs shows Argosy Cruises was able to provide the same
    service for three times less money than a strictly government operation.
  • King County’s labor costs alone are higher than the entire operating
    budget of the public/private model.
  • Allowing Argosy Cruises to operate
    the West Seattle Water Taxi would save King County property tax payers
    nearly $30 million over the next ten years without sacrificing service.

Obama's troubling Transportation Policy

May 20, 2010 in Blog

Since President Obama took office, the federal philosophy on America's transportation policy revolved around terms such as "livability," "livable communities" and "sustainability."

Until now, no one really knew what these concepts meant. Recently, USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood clarified:

"Livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car."

Noted transportation expert, Ken Orski has more: 


May 19,

U.S. DOT’s Strategic
Plan Stirs Controversy With Its Emphasis on "Livability"

livable a transformative policy shift for U.S. DOT,"
announced grandiloquently the Draft U.S. DOT Strategic Plan, released for
public comment on April 15, 2010. But what exactly does the Administration
mean by "livable communities" and how does it intend to translate
this vague rhetorical abstraction into a practical reality? To get an
understanding of the Administration’s intentions one must delve into the
stilted language and bureaucratic jargon of its policy pronouncements,
notably the "HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable
Communities" and the above-mentioned Draft Strategic Plan. "Livable
Communities," says the latter, are "places where transportation,
housing and commercial development investments have been coordinated so that
people have access to adequate, affordable and environmentally sustainable
travel options."

Interagency Partnership Agreement speaks in similar vague generalities. It
defines livability principles as including "more transportation
choices," "equitable, affordable housing" and "reliable
access to employment centers, educational opportunities and services."
Give credit to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for reducing these
abstract concepts to plain English. "Livability," he said, "
means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop
by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with
your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car." In other
words, "livability" in the Secretary’s mind means living in a dense
urban environment where walking, biking and transit are realistic travel
alternatives to using a car.

But this definition is too narrow to suit most Americans, whose notion of
"livability" may include living in suburban communities and
enjoying such obvious amenities as a safe neighborhood, access to good
schools, the privacy of one’s own backyard and the freedom, comfort,
convenience and flexibility of personal transportation. If  "livability"
becomes a euphemism for a federal policy of favoring high density,
transit-dependent living, then we are moving closer to "newspeak"
when words mean whatever Big Brother intends them to mean.

Have you ever seen a $40 million bus stop?

May 17, 2010 in Blog

Untitled Behold: the $40,000,000 bus stop.

Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation are spending $40 million on a bus stop in Mountlake Terrace. The bus stop is in the middle of I-5 and connects with an existing park and ride lot.

So why spend so muc!
h on a bus stop on I-5 when bus drivers could just exit the freeway and use the park and ride lot?

Here is WSDOT's answer:

  1. This circuitous route would cause service delays.
  2. Increase bus operating costs.
  3. Increase the potential for collisions on I-5 from buses weaving between the HOV lanes and on and off-ramps.

I guess exiting the freeway and using the existing park and ride lot would add about 5 minutes to the average bus route. Shorter travel times is a public benefit but I'm having trouble justifying $40 million to save five minutes.

The second reason is my favorite. It only costs about $1.33 per minute to operate a bus in King County. If five routes use this bus stop and let's say each route makes 8 stops per day, officials are saving about $266 per day. This means it would take 412 years before this $40 million "investment" paid off. 

The final reason is also unconvincing. Bus drivers are already expected and trained to safely negotiate merging across all lanes of traffic. 

I like the idea of freeway transit stations, especially when combined with a Bus Rapid Transit system. But this particular project is completely duplicitous and not worth spending $40 million.

WSDOT official: replace domestic airline travel with publicly subsidized rail

May 13, 2010 in Blog

I recently taped a segment for TVW on some of the problems with High Speed Rail (HSR). My main argument is that it competes with the airline industry:

public taxes to artificially shift demand from an efficient sector of
the economy to one that loses money is a waste of resources and places hometown businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Andrew Wood, Deputy Director of the State Rail and Marine Division of the Washington State Department of Transportation, disagrees. Director Wood seems to argue that HSR should replace domestic airline travel:

I'm not familiar with the Spain example cited by Director Wood but I've highlighted a case in China in a previous post. As reported by Reuters, several Chinese airlines shut down some flights because passengers are instead using a new HSR line.

This is not a big deal when the government owns both the airline and
the train company....chalk it up to efficiency. But in the United
States, spending billions in public money to prop up a passenger rail
system that loses an average of $37 per rider will harm competing companies that do make money.

I wonder if officials from Boeing and Alaska Airlines know that a cabinet level state agency is advocating and working toward replacing all domestic airline service with publicly subsidized rail?

Hey Seattle, what about traffic congestion?

May 11, 2010 in Blog

In anticipation of today's announcement from Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn on pedestrian, bike, and transit funding, I'd just like to point out Seattle's bigger transportation problem: traffic congestion.

Traffic on downtown streets ranks Seattle as the most congested city in America.

Seattle has the 13th worst commute in U.S.

Highways around Seattle are !
the ninth most congested in the country

NHTS: more people walk to work than use public transit

April 15, 2010 in Blog

The Federal Highway Administration has released its 2009 National Household Travel Survey. There is a lot of data here and the format is challenging to navigate.

I spent some time looking at person trips by mode and purpose. Specifically, mode share to work. 

Mode share

88.3% of all commute trips take place with a car or truck, while only 3.7% use transit. In fact, there are more people who walk to work than take transit. The Puget Sound region has about the same mode split, which is madness when you consider:

It is no wonder Seattle is the most congested city in America.  

Not so fast on Fed plan to treat bicycles the same as auto use

April 14, 2010 in Blog

From the Washington Post:

WASHINGTON -- Transportation Secretary Ray Lahood,
a weekend bicyclist, might consider keeping his head down and his
helmet on. A backlash is brewing over his new bicycling policy.

LaHood says the government is going to give bicycling - and walking,
too - the same importance as automobiles in transportation planning and
the selection of projects for federal money. The former Republican
congressman quietly announced the "sea change" in transportation policy
last month.

"This is the end of favoring motorized transportation at the expense of non-motorized," he wrote in his government blog.

Not so fast, say some conservatives and industries dependent on
trucking. A manufacturers' blog called the policy "nonsensical." One
congressman suggested LaHood was on drugs.

Light rail on 520 means more traffic for Seattle, which is already the most congested city in America

April 12, 2010 in Blog

The preferred alternative to replace the 520 bridge contains a total of six lanes and adds a new HOV lane in each direction. According to the Supplemental Draft Environmental Impact Statement (SDEIS) on 520, there will be about 20,000 cars per day in the new HOV lanes.

Recently, Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn has been making a lot of noise about replacing the new HOV lanes with light rail. In a press release, McGinn adds:

"We only have one chance to get this right," said McGinn. "If we continue on with the state's current plan, then we will miss that chance. And that would be too bad—because this report shows that it is possible. We can design 520 from the outset to include light rail.  The question i!
s whether or not the leadership exists to make that vision a reality."

What McGinn fails to tell us is that replacing the HOV lanes with light rail will dump about 20,000 additional cars into the four general purpose lanes, which will bring the total traffic volume to about 131,000 cars per day. According to the SDEIS, this is about the same amount of cars (135,000) that would be in the four existing lanes in 2030 under a no build option, which the WSDOT estimates will result in a 10-16 percent increase in traffic congestion.

Traffic in downtown already makes Seattle the most congested city in America but Seattle falls to ninth worst wit!
h traffic on its surrounding highways. McGinn's light rail!
plan on 520 will certainly move Seattle in the direction of also having the most congested highways in America. But maybe that is his intention.