McGinn's Viaduct plan would increase traffic congestion

September 21, 2009 in Blog

Last week, Seattle Mayoral candidate Mike McGinn suggested that expanding light rail to West Seattle could help serve travelers displaced from his ultimate plan to remove the Viaduct.

For this to work, McGinn assumes half of the passenger vehicles that currently use the Viaduct would shift to public transit. This is the same assumption Viaduct planners used during their analysis, which concluded a 50% increase in transit trips in Seattle over the next seven years.

But according to the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA) annual ridership reports, transit trips for King County have only!
risen 13% over the last seven years. This means the growth rate for transit trips in the Seattle region would have to increase by nearly 400 percent for McGinn to be right!

The more likely result is these displaced cars would not disappear but rather shift to surface arterials and I-5, both of which are already congested today. Consider this: if the Viaduct were not replaced, Seattle would have only two continuous North and South freeway lanes to serve all private and commercial traffic coming into and leaving downtown!

Costs are sinking a new Columbia River Bridge

September 18, 2009 in Blog

According to this article in the Oregonian, costs are forcing officials to look for cuts in replacing the I-5 bridge across the Columbia River.

The preferred option costs around $4 billion and includes light rail. The light rail piece has a cost estimate of over $1 billion. So light rail represents about 25 percent of the total costs.

According to the Regional Transportation Council, the
bridge carries about 3,300 transit trips per day, so only 2.4
percent of all trips that cross the bridge are on public transit.
This means local officials want to spend over $1 billion more to serve 2.4 percent of total bridge crossings.

officials estimate transit demand
across the bridge would increase with light rail, because riders will
not experience congestion like bus riders do today. As a result, CRC
projects light rail would boost transit crossings to about 20,000 trips
per day by 2030.

Generally, the Federal
Transit Administration presumes there is no modal preference for trains
over buses when travel time, comfort level, and other factors are the
same. So there is likely some validity to the CRC logic that congestion
is somehow suppressing transit demand across the bridge. However, a 500
percent increase in transit demand is an unrealistic estimate of light
rail’s influence on attracting new passengers.

assuming their ridership estimate is correct and accounting for population and growth in
bridge crossings over the next 20 years, light rail’s mode share would
still only rise to about 9.8 percent of daily crossings.

what light-rail advocates claim, deliberately increasing costs by 25
percent to serve between 2.4 percent and 9.8 percent of all bridge
crossings establishes a very large gap between public costs and public

Washington transportation taxes should be used more efficiently and tied to congestion relief rather than to appease Portland politicians.

$100 car tab increase to pay for light rail

September 17, 2009 in Blog

According to this article in today's Seattle Times, Seattle mayoral candidate, Mike McGinn proposes to expand light rail in the city. He does not have any cost estimates but suggests a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) could be implemented to pay for it.

Under state law, at TBD could implement up to a $100 car tab fee on every vehicle registered in the district, subject to voter approval.

According to the Department of Licensing, there are about 454,000 vehicles eligible for a car tab fee in Seattle. If voters approved the full $100 per registered vehicle, the estimated annual revenue would be about $45 million per year.

Without knowing any specifics on how or where the system would be placed, its virtually impossible to know whethe!
r a TBD could fund such a project. Sound Transit's system is roughly about $350 million per mile, making it one the more expensive systems in the country.

Hypothetically, if the project were to cost $1 billion, it would take an annual revenue stream of $45 million about 22 years to pay.

While feasible, convincing voters, even in Seattle, to triple their car tabs would be difficult; given it would be within three years of Sound Transit's 1/2 cent sales tax increase, King County's sales tax hike for buses, and the city's street repair property-tax increase. Not to mention the negative impact removing the Viaduct and replacing existing streets with rail would have on mobility, congestion and productivity.

Nissan's All-Electric LEAF

August 4, 2009 in Blog

Nissan Unveils the All-Electric LEAF to the World (Exclusive Photos)

Nissan claims the car will run about 100 miles on a single charge and charging the battery could take anywhere between 16 hours with a common household plug or 30 minutes on a special charging station. Nissan also plans to lease the battery pack for each car.

Be sure to read the comment section as there are some insightful questions.

Highways and bridges: "more scenic or more safe?"

July 30, 2009 in Blog

The United States Senate just passed the bailout of the Highway Trust Fund. The bill now heads to the President.

Meanwhile, 'Senators
Tom Coburn, M.D. and John McCain released a report today revealing that
$78 billion from the soon-to-be-bankrupt Highway Trust Fund is not even being spent on bridges or roads.'

 Included in Highway Trust Fund Spending:

  • Over $2 billion on 5,547 bike paths and pedestrian
    walkways, including $878,000 for a
    pedestrian and
    bicycle bridge for a Minnesota town
    of 847.  An additional $2 million in federal
    stimulus funds for a
    bike lane along
    a deteriorating road in Pennsylvania
    , where exasperated local officials say the road is so
    bad they may be forced to drive on the bike path instead. 
  • $850 million for 2,772 “scenic beautification” and landscaping
    projects around the country;

  • $121 million for 63 ferry projects and ferry terminal
    facilities, including $1.6 million for a ferry boat program in Oklahoma
    that features Saturday
    morning cartoon cruises
    with Bugs Bunny and Wile E. Coyote on the
    ferry’s flat screen T.V.; 
  • $84 million for 398 pedestrian and bicyclist safety
    projects, including a
    brochure that encourages bicyclists to “Make eye contact,
    smile, or wave to communicate with motorists. Courtesy and predictability
    are a key to safe cycling”;
  • $3.1 million in federal stimulus funds to make a historic canal
    a permanent
    floating museum in New York,

    in addition to the $28 million already obligated for transportation
    museums from FY2004-2008;
  • $18 million for motorcyclist safety grants; which
    helped fund a “cruisin’ without bruisin’”
    brochure reminding bikers to “Obey traffic lights, signs, speed
    limits, and lane markings … and always check behind you and signal before
    you change lanes”; and 

  • $3.4 million in
    federal stimulus funds

    for a
    road-kill reduction project in Florida, which will help turtles and other wildlife
    pass under a highway.

To read the full report, click here. 

Light rail ridership not as "strong" as ST suggests

July 30, 2009 in Blog

Sound Transit just released its ridership figures for its first full week of operation. See press release below.

ST estimates its light rail segment carried 12,000 riders per weekday.This figure however, represents the number of trips, not riders, served by Sound Transit. And trips do not equal riders.

For example, a rider who makes a round trip commute to and from work
counts as two trips. If that same rider took a bus to lunch and back,
he counts as making four total trips during the day.

Because daily trips can double, triple and sometimes quadruple count
the same individual, trips should be adjusted to estimate unique
riders. The standard assumption is that single riders will equal 45
percent of trips. To look at it another way, 45 percent assumes less
than half of total trips in a day will be the same person making a
round trip. This does not capture all of the double counting of a
single rider, but it is closer to accurately estimating how many
different individuals will ride a transit system.

This means Sound Transit's light rail segment is only carrying about 6,600 individual people per day. Sound Transit also estimates that two-thirds of these people come from the existing bus service. So in reality, light rail is only carrying the equivalent of 2,200 new transit riders per day.

The cost to provide this service: $2.3 billion. I'll let you do the math.



ridership during first week of Link light rail service

proves popular option for special events

During its first week of
regular service Central Link light rail carried an estimated average of 12,000
riders each weekday. Another estimated 16,900 riders took Link on Saturday and
15,100 on Sunday.

encouraged by the large numbers of people who boarded light rail on opening
weekend and have started using it every day," said Sound Transit Board
Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels.  "This is a new way to think
about getting around our region and we know ridership will continue to increase
as more people try the system and we expand the line to more communities."

Nationally, ridership on new
light rail systems ramps up over time as more and more people find out about
the service and give it a try. Weekday ridership during the first week was
already more than halfway to the level Sound Transit projections show for the
end of 2009.

Sound Transit projects that
by the end of 2009 an average of 21,000 riders will climb aboard on weekdays.
Average weekday ridership is forecasted to rise to 26,600 in 2010 following the
December 2009 opening of light rail service directly to Sea-Tac International Airport.

An average of
1,300 riders a day rode the Link Airport Connector bus shuttle between the
airport and Tukwila / International Boulevard Station during the first week of
light rail service.

Last weekend’s Sounders FC
and Seattle Mariners games, the Seattle Seafair Torchlight Parade and people
turning out to try Link for the first time contributed to last weekend’s strong
ridership. More than 11,000 tickets or ORCA cards were sold from Link ticket
vending machines on Saturday and station agents sold another 1,400 paper
tickets to overflow crowds at Tukwila. Sound Transit has doubled the number of
ticket vending machines in Tukwila and reminds riders that buying an ORCA smart
card is a great way to bypass lines.

Coming up, Sound Transit is
preparing for another busy weekend with Seafair running free shuttles from the
Othello light rail station to the hydroplane course and air show on Lake Washington on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

Sound Transit estimates its
light rail ridership using automatic passenger counting technology installed on
some of the vehicles. Infrared sensors in the trains’ doorways detect boardings
and alightings, generating data that is used to develop estimates consistent
with Federal Transit Administration-approved methods.

Link light rail opened 14
miles of new service between downtown Seattle and Tukwila on July 18th, generating more than 92,000 boardings on
the opening weekend. Paid service running 20 hours a day Monday – Saturday and
18 hours a day on Sundays began July 20th.

      Bruce Gray—(206) 398-5069 or bruce [dot] gray [at] soundtransit [dot] org

Linda Robson—(206) 398-5149
or linda [dot] robson [at] soundtransit [dot] org

Geoff Patrick—(206)
398-5313 or geoff [dot] patrick [at] soundtransit [dot] org


Sound Transit plans, builds and
operates regional transit systems and services to improve mobility for Central Puget Sound.

Undercutting the user-fee funding system in transportation

July 30, 2009 in Blog

Last year I covered how the federal Highway Trust Fund (HTF) was running out of money. At that time, the feds transferred about $8 billion to keep it solvent.

In June of this year, we learned the HTF was again heading for bankruptcy. Yesterday, the House voted to transfer another $7 billion from the General Fund to keep the highway budget in the black through September. The Senate is expected to take up the matter next week.

Using General Fund dollars to subsidize the HTF is remarkable because historically the highway system has always been funded through a system of user fees (mostly gas t!
ax collections). Its also important to understand how policies aiming to reduce how much people drive will continue to erode revenues. Whether through tolls or gas taxes, paying for highways through user fees is based on the obvious principle that the more people drive, the more revenue is created. Likewise, the less people drive the less revenue is created. So federal or state policies that reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled will undermine the user-fee funding system that most Americans agree is the most equitable.

For more information on the unintended consequences of reducing how much people drive, read: State's Mandate to Reduce Driver Mobility Threatens Revenue for Transportation Projects.

Light Rail Amnesia

July 21, 2009 in Blog

With the opening of the region's first light rail line, I'm reminded of what Sound Transit first promised in 1996 when voters initially approved funding.

Voters were promised 21-25 miles of light rail by 2006, which would carry about 107,000 daily riders for a cost of about $1.8 billion.

Today (2009), voters got 14-15 miles of light rail, which will carry about 26,600 daily riders for $2.3 billion.

In reviewing Sound Transit's 1996 plan, I also ran across this claim, which just seems kind of silly today:  

Sound Move is based on extremely conservative cost and ridership assumptions and methodologies reviewed by an independent expert review panel appointed by the governor, the state Legislature and the state Transportation Department.

***A quick thank you to John Niles for maintaining these documents online, which funny enough either don't exist on Sound Transit's website or are not in an easy place to find.

Obama Administration's Plan to Coerce People out of Their Cars

July 16, 2009 in Blog

Here is an excerpt from the beginning of a new report by Dr. Ronald Utt, a transportation policy expert from Heritage Foundation:

Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood remarked in May that his livability initiative "is a way to coerce people out of their cars."
When asked if this was government intrusion into people's lives, LaHood
responded that "about everything we do around here is government
intrusion in people's lives," a sentiment that would have certainly
surprised the authors of the United States Constitution, a document
whose major purpose was to restrain government.

Read the full report:Obama Administration's Plan to Coerce People out of Their Cars

Upside down transportation policy

July 10, 2009 in Blog

This, in today's Seattle Times:

As light-rail opponent Emory Bundy and others have noted, the 36-minute
ride from Westlake Center to the airport, via Rainier Valley and
Tukwila, is longer than the 194 bus, scheduled to take 28 minutes using
freeway HOV lanes. Next year the 194 will be dropped, so transit riders
heading to the airport will have to take a train.

Tell me again, why spending dozens of billions of dollars on Light Rail is a good idea?

Status of Puget Sound Traffic Congestion

July 8, 2009 in Blog

The Texas Transportation Institute just released their newest Mobility Report. Using a Travel Time Index (TTI), the report measures and tracks congestion among the nation's biggest cities.

In Seattle,
the TTI fell from 1.30 in 2006 to 1.29 in 2007. This means during the
peak times, the average commute was 29% longer than it should have been
under free flow conditions. The report also shows that the Seattle
region ranks as the 20th most congested city (of the cities measured in
the report). This is down from 17th in 2006.

Despite a slight
fall in traffic, the cost of congestion rose to a new high, from
$1.556 billion in 2006 to $1.591 billion in 2007.

Most data
shows that Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) is flat or even falling in the
last couple of years. This is a result of the economy and unemployment.
Some assume that a permanent shift from driving to transit is taking
place. While others believe transit is not absorbing the majority of the shift: US Transit Increase Captures Only 2% of Road Use Decline in 2008

The Bureau of Transportation Statistics has this table that shows mode share in the most common forms of traveling to work.

I think most of the shift is captured by more people working from home. But you can decide for yourself.

Public Transportation: A Core Climate Solution?

July 8, 2009 in Blog

On Tuesday, WPC Adjunct Scholar and Senior Fellow at CATO Randal O'Toole, testified on the Senate Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development. Note the full list of witnesses and the interesting news article following.

Panel 1

  • Mr. Michael A. Replogle
    [view testimony]
    Global Policy Director
    Institute for Transportation and Development Policy
  • Mr. Clinton Andrews [view testimony]
    Professor and Director
    Urban Planning and Policy Development Program in the Bloustein School of
    Planning and Public Policy at Rutgers University
  • Honorable Christopher
    [view testimony]
    City of West Sacramento, California
  • Mr. Randal O'Toole
    [view testimony]
    Senior Fellow
    Cato Institute
  • Mr. Ernest Tollerson
    [view testimony]
    Director of Policy and Media Relations
    The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, State of New York

Standing in the transit bread line

By: Barbara Hollingsworth
Examiner Columnist | 7/8/09 7:13 AM

He was outnumbered four-to-one at a Senate hearing on transportation and
climate change, but nobody challenged CATO senior fellow Randall O'Toole's
claim that rather than saving energy, mass transit uses massive amounts of it
and produces copious amounts of greenhouse gas emissions to boot.

"Transit produces as much greenhouse gas emissions [per passenger mile]
as the average SUV, and consumes far more energy," O'Toole told the Senate
Banking Subcommittee on Housing, Transportation and Community Development.
"Transit is the culprit, not the savior."

Neither of the two senators there - Chairman Robert Menendez, D-NJ, and Sen.
Mark Warner, D-VA - nor any of four pro-transit witnesses who testified
alongside O'Toole directly addressed his point.

And nobody produced data proving O'Toole wrong, even though the stated
purpose of the hearing was to "chart a course towards lowering emissions
in the transportation sector" - which accounts for nearly one third of all
air pollution in the U.S.

When O'Toole noted that, besides being energy guzzlers and polluters, urban
mass transit systems are typically "in a perpetual state of financial
crisis" requiring massive taxpayer subsidies, Menendez cited the $200
billion spent on highways over the last few decades. "That's a
subsidy," he said.

No, senator, it's not. As Gabriel Roth, research fellow at the Independent
Institute who was present at the hearing, told me afterwards, gasoline taxes
and other highway user fees have paid for nearly 90 percent of all the costs of
building and maintaining the nation's highway system.

In contrast, fares cover less than half of the operating costs and none of
the capital costs associated with building and running mass transit.

A decades-long experiment in O'Toole's former hometown of Portland, Oregon,
showed transit to be the loser in cost effectiveness as well. Portland spent $2
billion on an extensive light rail system and dramatically increased operating
subsidies in inflation-adjusted dollars, yet transit still lost market share.
Forty years ago, 4 percent of Portland commuters took transit to work; today
it's a pathetic 1.6 percent.

"And what they don't tell you," O'Toole told me, "is that the
city spent another $2 billion to subsidize transit-oriented development. They
have to build huge parking garages for the developers or it's not commercially

Michael Replogle, policy and strategy consultant for the Environmental
Defense Fund, told the subcommittee that even the draconian cap-and-trade
provisions in the House-passed cap-and-trade bill will not be enough "to
bring about an efficient reduction in transportation -related greenhouse gas
emissions." But if the Senate passes a similar bill, electricity costs
will skyrocket, dramatically increasing mass transit operating costs.

Since more than 90 percent of all urban travel is done by automobile anyway,
O'Toole says, "small improvements in autos can be far more significant
than large investments in transit."

If you're really serious about lowering carbon emissions, supporting mass
transit doesn't make much sense. Neither does expanding passenger rail lines,
which slurp up large quantities of coal-generated electricity, if your major
goal is to decrease energy use.

But if you're part of the politically correct pro-transit lobby, you just
ignore such inconvenient facts. With a new administration in town ready to hand
out billions of tax dollars for prohibitively expensive rail projects that
cannot be justified on the basis of cost, energy use or even carbon emissions,
all you have to do is stand in the transit bread line and wait for your

Barbara F. Hollingworth is The Examiner's local opinion editor.

I-90 Traffic Congestion

July 7, 2009 in Blog

I-90 commute into Seattle slower today, but not by much, says DOT

That's "a little longer than typical — maybe five minutes — but not huge," said transportation spokeswoman Jamie Holter.

It helps when your baseline comparison is already congested.

Passenger Rail: not so good for the envrionment

June 30, 2009 in Blog

A new study by two professors at the University of California, Berkeley argues that when assessing the environmental impacts of a transportation system, one should include life cycle costs of infrastructure, fuel production and supply chains, not just the simple measure of tail pipe emissions.

In doing so, the researchers conclude:

We find that total
life-cycle energy inputs and greenhouse gas emissions contribute an additional 63% for
onroad, 155% for rail, and 31% for air systems over vehicle tailpipe operation.

Why is rail so much more harmful to the environment than other modes?

          Ranges in passenger occupancy can easily change the relative
performance of modes.

This means transit modes that don't carry a lot of people are more harmful to the environment when compared to other transportation modes that are more efficient, like air travel or private vehicles. This is the point we try to make in our analysis of Sound Transit's Light Rail system and High Speed Rail.

Yet rail advocates continue to push for greater public spending under this false premise of environmental stewardship. Consider this statement from the campaign folks supporting the 2008 ballot measure to expand light rail in the Puget Sound:

="margin-left: 40px;">"One thing that really struck me is, when people get a sense of the
greenhouse gas levels that will be reduced, that will be a compelling
argument," said Alex Fryer of the group Mass Transit Now.

Yet our analysis shows ST2's poor ridership would only reduce CO2 emissions by 1.11%. Randal O'Toole made similar findings in his remarks about High Speed Rail. And these don't even include the life cycle costs of infrastructure or supply chains that the Berkeley researchers count.

You can find the full U.C. Berkeley study here.


Train collides with car

June 30, 2009 in Blog

Sound Transit train and car collide in Seattle

According to local transportation policy expert, John Niles, Sound Transit's EIS,,,

...forecast a collision with a vehicle, bike, or pedestrian averaging every 12 days. Most are expected to be minor, but serious injuries and fatalities are not unheard of in other light rail cities, at a rate per passenger mile that exceeds urban car and bus driving/riding.

John has portions of the EIS showing Sound Transit's analysis posted on his website here.

Interestingly, yesterday's collision was caused by a driver crossing the tracks after turning left against a red light. According to the EIS:

A review of the experience of other light rail transit systems indicates that motor vehicles turning left in front of light rail vehicles account for the largest percentage of collisions.

Yet, despite this latest collision !
and according to the EIS, the light rail line will reduce overall accidents along the MLK corridor by about 37%. This is because an at-grade line will separate oncoming traffic and require more signalization. Only time will tell if Sound Transit's estimate is correct....

Update: originally I questioned whether Sound Transit should have installed some sort of audible or visual warning device at each intersection on MLK Way and apparantly, they have. Who knew I had that much if I can get them to reconsider placing light rail across I-90.