Hella Bus Blog
What? Something's going on in Olympia that doesn't directly relate to the fact that education and human services are on a tight-rope?*
Yup, some transportation groups are driving an agenda around, you guessed it, transportation issues.
To take your mind off the budget, here are some of the ideas bouncing around:
Both the Cascade Bicycle Club and the Transportation Choice Coalition are pushing for Neighborhood Safe Speeds Bill (HB 1217), which would allow cities and counties to lower the speed limit on some arterials to 20 mph. No doubt, driving fast is fun, but so is not dying (fun fact: a pedestrian hit by a car traveling 30 mph has about a 45% chance of dying, whereas if you reduce the car's speed to 20 mph, the chance of dying is only 5%).
The CBC and TCC (who are apparently BFFs) are also both supporting the Safe and Flexible Street Design Bill (HB 1700), which would allow municipalities more flexibility in the design standards they use for bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and also require WSDOT to pay more attention to the needs of all road users when updating or constructing new infrastructure. Word is that this is basically a "complete streets" bill--transportation nerd speak for a bill that promotes pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
Also on the radar screen at TCC: easier peer to peer car sharing, and mileage based car insurance.
Updates to come unless our legislators run out of gas working on our fiscal issues.
For now, though, back to our regularly scheduled budget fun. On the bright side, maybe soon we won't even have a state legislature?**
*Hopefully not. Fingers crossed.
**Also hopefully not. Democracy is a good thing, really.
It's election season again, and apparently the postal service is too broke to get election mail out on time. Want to know how you can fix this? Go buy a stamp, put it on your ballot, and send that sucker in.
There are a few transportation issues on the ballot. One, I-1125 is Tim Eyman's effort to limit tolling and light rail. Credit where it's due, Tim Eyman is a miracle worker for getting the Machinists Union and Boeing to cooperate on something.
Proposition 1, though, is a little more divisive. Prop 1 would impose a $60 license fee that would generate $204 million in transportation funding. What would get funded? About $100 million would go to transit projects, like improving Metro efficiency. A further $60 million would go to road maintenance. $44 million would go to crosswalks, sidewalks, and bike lanes.
The Seattle Times editorialized in its news section that we should reject Proposition 1 because we need more money for road maintenance.*
The pro-Proposition 1 campaign's main response? We need this money. Like whoa. Check out this video they recently put out.
However you feel about Proposition 1, it's getting pretty hard to argue that we don't need to fund more efficient bus service.
*My personal take on this argument? It in no way makes sense to say "We need more money for road maintenance, so vote against $60 million for road maintenance." I'm not exactly a fan of the Seattle Times, though.
The Stranger formally declared a War on Cars this week. I really want to be the first soldier to enlist, but I’m too much of a peace and love flower child—I just can’t*.
Rather than accepting the Seattle Times’ “war on cars” frame, we need to do the transportation equivalent of some hippy putting a flower in the barrel of a national guardsman’s gun. Instead of getting angry and stooping to the misguidedly enraged driver’s level, let’s show them some unconditional love. Most people drive, and waging a political war on cars would be a little like being a young protestor throwing rocks at tanks--I'm sure it feels good, but it ain't gonna work.
Don’t get me wrong—I totally get the Strangers’ outrage. I am at my most-foul mouthed whenever a car pulls some wack ish too near my bike**. And the many recent cycling deaths remind me that my cycling attitude of “these motorized f*ckers are trying to kill me” is hyperbole, but probably has at least a grain of truth to it. Plus, it is absolutely absurd—maddeningly absurd—to think that building infrastructure that offers people cheaper, healthier and more fun transportation options and in fact makes all road users safer in any way constitutes a “war on cars.” The people who get around armored in two-tons of steel, on whom more than 85% of supposedly anti-car Seattle’s transportation money is spent, are not the victims, and it takes a really profound sense of entitlement to think that they are.
But the angry rhetoric isn’t going to help us win--it's only going to reinforce a false us vs. them attitude. The morning the Stranger came out, I got a text from a car-bound friend that read “War on cars in the Stranger? Well bring it, I’m rootin for the cars.” Yeah, my friend is a gigantic jackass, but that’s the type of reaction that this rhetoric can produce. We need to win people over—and guilt, casting holier-than-thou aspersions, and making common sense transportation policy into a culture war won’t do that no matter how right we are.***
Here’s what I would say instead: I bicycle because it’s fun, it’s less frustrating than sitting in traffic and looking for parking, and I get a great workout simply getting from place to place on a daily basis. Biking is cheaper than driving, too. I look better and feel better when I bicycle regularly--and I get the added bonus of getting out in this beautifully crisp fall air. Quite simply, I’m hooked. That’s why I bike. You should give it a serious try too.
Bicycles safety increases the more cyclists there are on the road, and our real task is to convince people to give bicycling a shot rather than get all up and start a culture war with the people we’re trying to convince.
Let’s be courteous on the road even when drivers aren’t—and wave and thank people who drive well. And when you talk about transportation, talk about how much you love biking, bussing or walking, and why it makes your life better. Talk about enabling transportation choices. And talk about safety for everyone. That’s how we’re going to get people on our side.
And if that doesn’t work, we can resort to growing our hair out, flashing peace signs at drivers and using the word “groovy” a lot.
* The curmudgeon in me really wants to get a “I am the war on cars” t-shirt to wear when I’m biking, though.
** Fortunately, most drivers have their windows up and can’t hear me—this is probably good for my health.
*** Plus, did I mention that I’d be a huge hypocrite if I started spouting “cars are evil” rhetoric—I drive decently often for work, or when biking and bussing simply won’t work for what I need to do. And I am definitely not alone amongst bikers and bussers in this.
We're at it again--another car tab fee debate is brewing like a pot of strong coffee for your inner transportation geek. The Seattle City Council just put a proposal for a $60 increase in vehicle license fees on the November ballot. The fee would raise about $20 million a year, with around half of that money going to transit improvements, and the rest split roughly evenly between pedestrian and bike improvements and road repairs.
A transit advisory council (CTAC-III**) had previously recommended that the City Council put an $80 fee on the ballot. The council (most of whom probably took classes like "rock and roll poetry" in college in the 1960s), however, drew on Mick Jagger's timeless advice--"you can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes, you just might find you get what you need." Due to political considerations (like, can this thing actually pass?), they sent a $60 fee to the ballot rather than the full $80.
Many people had argued passionately that the full $80 fee was necessary in order fund bold, visible expansions to the city's streetcar network, and exciting projects like neighborhood greenway bike routes (in addition to bike lanes on arterials). Projects like the aforementioned are cool enough to make Dansportation feel all tingly and light-headed, but it remains to be seen how much of this a $60 fee will fund. In the end, I know I'm not going to get everything I want, but hopefully Seattle will still get what it needs.
All of this brings up some very serious questions--should aging rockers seek second careers as transportation planners? And should incoming Seattle City Council members be required to take a "rock and roll poetry" seminar taught by Richard Conlin?
There are some other questions a car tab fee brings up too--like, (i.e. would it unfairly impact lower income people more than rich people)? Clearly, any flat fee is by its nature regressive. But is it worth it? City Councilmember Mike O'Brien has clearly put some thought into this, and concluded that because higher income households own more cars (duh?), and lower income people tend to rely on transit more, the benefits of a car tab fee outweigh its regressivity. KUOW reports on another idea being floated by O'Brien--how about we give low income people a break on electric bills to offset the increase in car tab fees?
Also at issue--how far will Dansportation have to walk from his North Broadway apartment in order to catch the planned First Hill streetcar to the best damn banh mi in the city. If any city council people are reading this, door to door service would be ideal. Just saying.
All of these questions (and more!) will be decided on a ballot near you this November. Make sure to vote.
Some of our current city council members probably attended this show.
*Does not have anything to do with sex, drugs or rock and roll.
**Hands down the most confusing acronym in transportation. Stands for the Citizens Transit Advisory Committee III. It's pronounced like the airport, and the first few times I heard it I thought people were talking about adding a runway to SeaTac or something.
Even though there are serious transportation issues out there (example: the County Council narrowly averted a disaster which would have deprived you of sandwiches, and in the process got rid of the downtown ride free area. What does it all mean?), the recent heat has melted my brain, so I'm going to let this guy inspire my post:
Hat tip to these guys. And, yes, Europeans are actually way cooler than we are.
It turns out that when summer rolls around, all anyone wants to do is bike around and listen to music. It's a common misconception that these two activities have to be enjoyed separately. They really don't (just don't be one of those people wearing earbuds while biking--that's a good way to get killed).
Larry Mizell Jr., known to most people know as a Candidate Survivor judge, but who it turns out is also a local rap critic, points out a couple of examples of the combination of bikes and hip-hop. Local rapper Kublakai is one of them. Check it out. And for the record, I commute in a tux too. Don't you?
And, if you're really old (or just like classical music I guess?) there's stuff like this as well. (The people in that link are practicing some black-tie biking as well. Is that the hot new trend?).
And there you have it: summer.
The week was oh-so busy in Bus world, and the weekend was oh-so sunny. Which means it's time to sit back, relax, and think about a light, airy, and, yes, stretchable and breathable subject.* Specifically, spandex. And bike gear in general.
On a scale of one to who-needs-it, Dansportation falls firmly on the who-needs-it end of the spectrum.
Bike gear makes biking less accessible and more elitist. It's also just plain not necessary for most people. It might even hurt the biking cause.
On Bike to Work day, I was perplexed to see a comment (allll the way back in May--this has stuck with me) remarking on the number of bikers in "normal clothes" on the street. I believe the (admittedly, well intentioned) thought behind the comment was that riders in their everyday clothes are biking noobs. Surely, serious bikers, people who bike every day all wear spandex! But really, jeans do just fine for commuting. Extra gear just adds extra expense. And it fosters an elitist, in-crowd attitude around biking.
We are privileged to live in a time when the cheaper, cleaner and healthier transportation option is, dare I say it, cool. And the cooler something gets, the more people who'll do it (this concept may sound familiar to those involved with the WA Bus). Cycling is busting into the mainstream, and wearing your everyday styles, and just plain looking good while biking is a big part of that. And, on the real, even if that d-bag hipster's fixy is just a fashion accessory, at least he's biking.
Here's the larger point in liberating cycling from the spandex subculture, eloquently stated by the godfathers of cycle chic over in Copenhagen--"When Citizen Cyclists are allowed to take to the bicycle without worrying about 'fitting in' with the fancy bikes, expensive clothes, gear and helmets of a cycling sub-culture, mainstream bicycle culture is provided with fertile soil."
We've know for a minute now that more cyclists on the road increase cycling safety --a cycling safety snowball effect. The safer it is, the more people who'll ride, which makes it even safer, etc, ad nauseum (hopefully!).
Maybe we'll see a cycle chic snowball effect too?
*Although, I'd be remiss if I didn't remind you that there are serious transpo issues out there too--the county council has put off a vote on the $20 license fee to save metro until August 15. Which brings me to my next brilliant idea--bus chic to save King County Metro?
Who is incendiary enough in Washington State politics to unite leaders of big Washington businesses, environmentalists, transit geeks, and give one Stranger writer apoplexy?
Tim Eyman. And his latest opus, I-1125.
You may have heard of I-1125. Never one for hyperbole, Goldy (who named his blog after Tim Eyman long before he became a Stranger writer) compares I-1125's effects to bombing the SR 520 bridge, or flying an airplane into a light rail train. And the Seattle Times writes about I-1125's effects on the several billion dollar, multi-state plan to replace the I-5 bridge over the Columbia. Suffice it to say that I-1125 would have a pretty powerful effect on transportation.
You count on Hella Bus to cut through the hype for you, though. So, what's I-1125 about? In a nutshell, I-1125 would prohibit 1) adjusting road tolling rates based on road usage or time of day (otherwise known as "congestion pricing"), 2) spending money raised through tolling on anything other than the capital costs of the thoroughfare being tolled, and 3) using highway lanes funded through the gas tax for a "non-highway" purpose (i.e. light rail). I-1125 would also require the State Legislature to set tolls directly rather than empowering the people who know how to do that to do it for them.
Goldy and various others are so up in arms about this because our state's transportation infrastructure is falling apart and badly needs funding. Take the SR 520 bridge: In 1997, WSDOT predicted that the bridge had 20 more years of use in it, which brings us all the way to...2017. And, fun fact, SR 520 now rides about a foot lower in the water than it did when it was first constructed.
The State plans to pay for a SR 520 bridge replacement through tolling. But imagine if, due to I-1125, we could only toll SR 520 were legally prohibited from tolling I-90. Tolls on 520 wouldn't raise enough money because a significant number of people would take I-90 instead, and, its likely that I-90 see a huge increase in congestion. Smarter people than I (e.g. our State Treasurer) say that I-1125 would severely lessen the state's capacity to update the 520 bridge.
Prohibiting congestion pricing would also throw a wrench in the works of a lot of projects. Congestion pricing is a pretty simple concept--charge a higher price for road use when or where demand is high. Road space is a publicly-owned commodity with a limited supply, and it doesn't make a lot of sense (in this blogger's personal opinion) for we-the-people to just give it away for free. So, how does the free market regulate the use of a scarce resource? Price signals--demand goes up, price rises, and when demand goes down, price falls. Currently, there's a pilot project on SR 167 where solo drivers can pay to have the privilege of driving in the carpool lane, and the price varies based on congestion. The folks at WSDOT are calling these "HOT lanes," and I have to agree--it is pretty damn sexy. Plus, as previously mentioned, a lot of the funding for the Columbia River Crossing project will come from congestion pricing, and I-1125 would make it difficult to fund that necessary project.
Fortunately for Eyman opponents, businesses need infrastructure in order to function. According to both Goldy and The Olympian, the Washington Business Roundtable (which includes executives from local heavyweights such as Boeing, Microsoft and Starbucks) doesn't want Tim Eyman f-ing over (I use that term in its technical, descriptive sense) our transportation networks. Goldy predicts a "well-funded" campaign against I-1125, which looks to be just getting started.
Get out your popcorn and red-vines. This is going to be interesting.
If you follow local news in Seattle, you've probably seen that King County Executive (and friend of the Bus--both the Hella and the Metro varieties) Dow Constantine proposed a two-year $20 vehicle license fee to prevent major cuts to Metro services. Specifically, 600,000 service hours, or roughly 17% of all Metro Service.
Visualizing abstract numbers is hard. For clarity, Metro has put the effects of a 17% cut in bus service in an understandable context--"the rough equivalent of eliminating all rush hour bus service for commuters, or all weekend service in King County."
Needless to say, that's HUGE. The impacts of such a dramatic cut in service will be felt by bus patrons and those of the car-going variety alike. If you're a bus rider, the effects are pretty direct. Check out the plan for one-sixth of the (PDF--helmet tip to Seattle Transit Blog). Not a Metro rider? According to Metro, buses "carry the equivalent of 7 lanes of traffic on state highways in peak commuting hours." Your commute just got longer.
Thank you map. For enhancing my confusion.
Dow's proposed $20 fee is a fairly straightforward plan to cover the revenue gap and prevent these cuts.
Now $20 may not seem like a whole lot of money. After all, it is about a half of one tank of gas (escalades excluded), or two-tenths of one percent of the AAA's --a pretty small amount of money in the grand-scheme of car-ownership.
But those thinking that a temporary $20 car tab hike would be uncontroversial should think again. In order to pass, the car tab hike needs either 6 out of 9 votes on the King County Council, or 5 out of 9 votes to be referred to the voters on the November ballot. There is still a great deal of uncertainty surrounding whether or not the Council will pass the fee directly - Publicola reports that five council members are on the fence - including all four Republicans and Democrat Julia Patterson.
Completely unrelated side note: You can find out who your King County Council person is and what their phone number is here (on the right side of the page). A call from an active and engaged constituent goes a long way towards nudging an elected official in your preferred direction. Whatever that may be.
Whatever happens with the two-year car-tab hike, though, the big picture demands that we find some long-term solutions for Metro funding. Currently, Metro gets the majority of its money from sales taxes (regressive and unstable), and another big chunk from rider fares (which have increased every year since 2008).
It's almost a perfect storm: the recession, rising fares, the fact that people in King County are driving less and less, and the fact that baby boomers are about to hit the age where they have to turn in their car keys. Combine all those and you have an underfunded transit system pushed to the limit. Luckily, there are ideas out there such as the Local Transit Act designed to confront this impending challenge - we'll see how they fare (pun EXPLOSION!) in next year's legislative session. Stay tuned for more!
It's a three way street, and it's blowing my mind (helmet tip to the Seattle Bike Blog)
Just as Avatar added a new dimension to cinema, bicyclists are adding a new dimension to street use. Previously, the distinction between cars and pedestrians, roads and sidewalks, crosswalk users and people who have to stop for crosswalk users was pretty well-defined. Even if not perfectly practiced, the rules were generally understood.
Now that all of us cyclists are on the road, though, it's a brave new world. Much like the mythical griffin that is part-eagle, part-lion, we exist in a gray area somewhere in between a car and a pedestrian. We travel in the street, and yet are as vulnerable to collisions with cars as pedestrians. When riding in the street, we generally ride in the right shoulder, but take the car-lane when we need to, and sometimes we even ride on the sidewalk. We stop at stop lights (mostly), but treat stop signs like they're yield signs.
As a society, we're clearly in the middle of a sometimes messy, and sometimes heated process of figuring out what the norms of the road are for our increasingly three-way streets chock full of bicyclists.
Publicola recently linked to an insightful Portland Tribune article arguing that bicyclists should be legally allowed to treat stop signs as yield signs. And, as the 'Cola points out, Idaho already allows this. Mad love for Idaho, but who would have thought they'd be leading the way? It's a brave new world indeed.
Some forward-thinking locales--mostly in Europe, as far as I can tell--are even removing traffic signals--the thinking being that in the absence of traffic signals, road users are forced to pay more attention to each other, and be more considerate.
My take on all of this? I'm not sure if I'm ready to remove all the stop lights just yet. But, after years of cycling, I've developed some opinions on what the norms of bicyclist road-use should be. It's totally cool to treat stop signs as yield signs, but be very careful. And, please, don't run red lights--you just look like a dick if you do that. I generally ride to the right, but I will take a car-traffic lane anytime I even vaguely think I need to for safety. And I never, ever ride on the sidewalk, except when I'm absolutely forced to in instances such as crossing the Fremont Bridge. At stop lights, rather than ride all the way to the front of the line of cars, I'll generally take the car-lane because I'm scared of a right-turning car slamming into me.
And in general, the more separation between cars, bicyclists and pedestrians the better. Mad love for bike lanes, the Burke-Gilman and the soon-to-exist Broadway cycle track, which the city is developing in conjunction with the soon-to-exist Pioneer Square to Broadway streetcar line.
I'm actually ridiculously excited for the cycle-track. Check out the plans for Broadway's new look:
Thanks to Capitol Hill Seattle for the image.
About a week ago, I was in Baton Rouge, Louisiana—home to a very flooded Mississippi River, po’boys, boiled crayfish, the Louisiana State University Tigers (they actually have a real tiger. In a cage by the stadium. Someone call PETA). And also home to seemingly hundreds of take-out daiquiri shops (the take-out part is unofficial but widely practiced).
The only problem with this seeming-paradise? No sidewalks. And really, what am I supposed to do with a take-out daiquiri shop (awesome) if I have to drive to get there (not awesome)?
All of this brings up a question--aside from having to drive to the daiquiri stand, why is it such a problem that Baton Rouge doesn’t have sidewalks? Other than easy daiquiri access, why do cities even have sidewalks in the first place? How do we benefit from them (aside from the obvious benefit of pedestrians not getting run over)?
Let’s consult sidewalk guru and Dansportation intellectual crush Jane Jacobs.
According to Jane, sidewalks—and the vibrant pedestrian life they allow—keep our cities safe.
“This is something everyone already knows: a well used city street is apt to be a safe street. A deserted city street is apt to be unsafe.” (page 44 in this book, which I highly recommend).
Makes sense, right? No one’s going to rob you on a crowded street—it’s a different story if no one else is around, though. This is why I, and I’m willing to bet most of you, feel a lot safer walking down any given street at noon than at 3am. Think about it—city streets aren’t safe because of laws, or police. Those things are great, but police aren’t around all the time. Rather, you feel safe walking down the street because we, as a society, have agreed on certain norms, and in a successful urban environment, we enforce those norms through the sheer presence of lots of people on the street—the more “eyes on the street” the better.
Sidewalks are also the basic building blocks of a neighborhood community (and the Bus is all about community). They are the most ubiquitous and yet the most overlooked public space in the city. They provide a site for the many miniscule contacts that add up to form a neighborhood. Once again, the lovely Mrs. Jacobs—
“Most of [sidewalk interaction] is ostensibly trivial, but the sum is not trivial at all. The sum of such contact at a local level…is a feeling for the public identity of people, a web of public respect and trust, a resource in time of personal or neighborhood need” (page 73).
To put it another way, which is actually very applicable to our beloved civic-engagement promoting Bus— “lowly, unpurposeful and random as they may appear, sidewalk contacts are the small change from which a city’s wealth of public life may grow” (95).
And, crucially, these interactions (usually with strangers) cannot happen without sidewalks. In the absence of sidewalks, where these interactions take place? A coffee shop? Maybe, but if you're in a coffee shop as often as you're on the sidewalk, you have a serious caffeine problem, my friend. In your house? Not so much. Talk to strangers on the sidewalk? Yes. Invite them in? Probably not.
Basically, sidewalks allow contact with people we wouldn't have a space to interact with otherwise. And contacts between people on sidewalks are the building blocks of communities.
So, how's Seattle doing at providing sidewalks for its communities?
Grey is good, but purple areas have been unfortunately overlooked by the city. "The map accounts for whether there is a sidewalk on a road or not and whether there is a physical buffer such as a parked car or a tree. It also accounts for the volume and speed of traffic on the road" Love, SDOT
Long and short: there's definitely room for improvement. According to SDOT, Seattle has 4,000 paved lane-miles of roads, but only 2,256 miles of sidewalks. If you live fairly central in Seattle, things are probably pretty good for you. But if you live in South Park, Georgetown, parts of the Rainier Valley, or far North Seattle, things aren’t so hot.
And that's why Dansportation heartily supports the Bridging the Gap Levy. The levy passed in 2006 and provides $365 million over nine years to, among other things, build 117 blocks of new sidewalks, repair another 144 blocks of sidewalks and restripe 5,000 sidewalks.
2015 is coming up fast though. What will the next version of Bridging the Gap look like? Can we get more sidewalks? Who's with me?
HELLO people of the Bus-world, and also random internet passersby. I’m Dan. I’ll be your Hella Bus blogger writing about biking, bussing, transportation, and anything related to that bizness. Why? We all move ourselves around the area we live in every day. And how we do it is hella interesting and important.
First, a programming note: This interesting (also, mind-numbing), very-Seattle process is happening. This Hella Bus series will ignore it. There is enough noise already. And that’s my first and last word about the tunnel.
Fortunately, the tunnel isn’t the only thing happening in transportation. The city is putting roads on diets (no, not of the roadkill variety). Metro faces some possible major cuts in service and I'll be covering all the wrangling and ins and outs that entails. The governor just signed a vulnerable road users bill (yay!). And transit oriented developments around light rail stations are getting off the ground - or should I say UNDER IT (pow! This is the sort of rapier wit you can expect on a weekly basis).
I’m not a transportation expert—I have no fancy letters after my name, nor diplomas hanging on my wall. Rather, I am a user and observer of transportation. Cars are expensive, so, like a lot of young people, I commute by bike nearly everyday (Cap Hill to Wallingford—mad love to all the drivers on Eastlake who regularly refrain from hitting me). I also take the bus frequently. My favorite routes are the 14, the 49, and, of course, my OG bus route, the 72.
There will be posts digging into substantive issues soon. In the meantime, enjoy one of my favorite recent pieces on bicycling--Jim Behrle comparing NYC cyclists to glistening gazelles on The Awl.