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Posts from the Seattle Category

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Seattle’s “Viadoom 2016” — Another Carmageddon That Wasn’t

Source: Seattle Bike Blog

Bike trips on Seattle’s Spokane Street Bridge spiked the first Monday when the Alaskan Way Viaduct was out of commission. Meanwhile, car commutes haven’t gotten much worse during the highway closure. Graph: Seattle Bike Blog

Heard this one before?

The temporary closure of Seattle’s Alaskan Way Viaduct to accommodate construction — code name: “Viadoom” — was going to paralyze the city. The elevated highway carries about 110,000 vehicles a day. Without it, travel times would soar 50 percent, predicted the traffic analytics firm Inrix.

The highway was closed from April 29 to May 8, and we now have a solid read on the effect. Wouldn’t you know it — Viadoom, like so many Carmageddons before it, didn’t live up to the hype.

“Commute times have not dramatically increased and several of the major routes into the city have been only moderately affected,” the company’s Lytang Kelley told Crosscut. Commuters on these routes only spent a few more minutes in traffic, Crosscut reports.

The fact that Viadoom turned out to be much milder than expected carries special significance because right now Seattle is spending $4.2 billion (expected cost overruns notwithstanding) to replace the viaduct with an underground highway.

Five years ago, highway opponents argued that a surface street with better transit could handle the travel demand just as effectively as the $4.2 billion megatunnel. But they were marginalized by highway boosters in city and state government who backed the project and said the underground highway was absolutely essential to keeping the city running.

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Highway Boondoggles: Washington’s Puget Sound Gateway Project

The $3.1 billion Washington proposes pouring into this highway system could more than fix every deficient bridge in the state.

The $3.1 billion Washington wants to lavish on these highways would be more than enough to fix every structurally deficient bridge in the state.

In a new report, Highway Boondoggles 2, U.S. PIRG and the Frontier Group profile the most wasteful highway projects that state DOTs are building. Today we look at a classic — Washington’s $3 billion “Puget Sound Gateway Project.”

Washington plans to spend billions on the Puget Sound Gateway project to “relieve congestion,” but if anything the project will increase it. Furthermore, it is planned for an area where traffic has been stagnant for more than a decade, and where other transportation needs are clamoring for attention.

The Washington Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has proposed construction of a $2.8 billion to $3.1 billion project between Seattle and Tacoma: expanding State Route 167 between Tacoma and Puyallup by two lanes and State Route 509 from Kent to Burien by two lanes. Also proposed is adding two new express lanes to Interstate 5 between the ports of Tacoma and Seattle, which could be used by drivers willing to pay for an expedited trip through the new lanes.

Toll revenue would only contribute $330 million toward the total cost of the project from the time it is completed in 2021 until 2060. WSDOT has already warned that more than a billion dollars in additional state borrowing will likely be needed to cover the project’s costs.

Justification for the project relies on claims by WSDOT that expanding routes 167 and 509 will bolster Washington’s export economy by increasing the ease and efficiency of the transport of commercial goods along the routes and to the ports. WSDOT also claims the project would reduce congestion through the region.

But the state’s own data show that building the project would substantially increase traffic on I-5, inducing cars and trucks to drive nearly 2 million more miles a year on the highway by 2030, and drivers to spend more than 25,000 hours behind the wheel on I-5 in that year than if the project was not built. In addition, traffic on routes 167 and 509 remained stagnant between 2003 and 2014.

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Vote for the Best Urban Street Transformation of 2015

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It’s almost time to say goodbye to 2015, which means we’re about to hand out Streetsies to recognize achievements for walking, biking, and transit in American cities this year.

Earlier this month we asked readers for nominations for the Best Urban Street Transformation of the year, and here are the standouts from your submissions. It’s a great batch and all of these cities deserve recognition for claiming space from cars and devoting it to people. But only one can win! Your votes will determine who gets the honor.

Here are the nominees:

Chicago: Washington Street

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Photo via Google Street View

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Photo: John Greenfield

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How Ambitious Will Seattle Get With Its Transit Expansion Plan?

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The nonprofit Seattle Subway wants to expand on the current concept for rail and bus expansion proposed by Sound Transit (left), with a more substantial network of light rail lines (right). Maps via Seattle Subway

Next November, voters in the Seattle region will be asked to approve a new tax to fund a major expansion of the region’s light rail system.

The $15 billion plan to expand transit, known as ST3, would be funded by a mix of sales taxes, property taxes, and car registration fees collected for 15 years. The big question is which projects will get built.

Sound Transit has proposed a smorgasbord of “candidate projects,” including light rail through downtown, commuter rail to the south and east suburbs, and a pair of north-south bus rapid transit routes. But area leaders haven’t yet decided exactly what to include in the final ballot measure.

Meanwhile, transit advocates have stepped up with some ideas of their own. The most talked about comes from the nonprofit Seattle Subway, which proposes a much more expansive menu. Their plan, which they call STcomplete, would use the same funding mix but extend the collection period from 15 years to 30 years.

Rumors are swirling that the Sound Transit board is taking Seattle Subway’s expanded proposal seriously. Doug Trumm of The Urbanist said he hopes that’s true, for a couple of reasons.

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With Big Levy Vote, Seattle Is Ready to Lead the Nation on Bike Infrastructure

Dexter Avenue.

pfb logo 100x22Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

The last two years have revealed a very clear new superstar in the country’s progress toward protected bike lane networks.

It’s the Emerald City: Seattle.

In the last two years, Seattle has completed seven protected bike lane projects, more than any other city in the country in that period except New York.

Seattle heaved through a significant “bikelash” a few years ago, and it’s discovered an ocean of political support on the other side.

On Tuesday night, the city’s voters did something remarkable: By 56 percent to 44 percent, they approved a property tax increase that will spend $65 million on a 50-mile protected bike lane network and a 60-mile neighborhood greenway network over the next nine years. It’ll also put $71 million toward Seattle’s goal of eliminating serious and fatal crashes, $15 million to repair 225 blocks of damaged sidewalks, $250 million to maintain existing roads, and $140 million to maintain existing bridges.

The project list goes on. But it never stoops to the mistaken claim that a fast-growing city can fix its transportation problems by building more and more lanes for cars, always hoping that the next lane will be the one that never fills up.

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Transit vs. Highways: Which Came Out on Top in Local Elections?

Ed Murray's Move Seattle plan got a $900 million nod from voters yesterday. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

Ed Murray’s Move Seattle plan got a $900 million nod from voters yesterday. Photo: Seattle Bike Blog

There were several local ballot measures with big implications for streets and transportation yesterday, and results were all over the map. Here’s how three of the most notable votes turned out.

Seattle’s property tax increase to fund walking, biking, and transit

This map shows all the projects planned as part of Ed Murray's 10-year Move Seattle Plan. Image: Seattle. Click to enlarge

This map shows all the projects planned as part of Ed Murray’s 10-year Move Seattle Plan. Image: Seattle. Click to enlarge

Voters have spoken and they decided to enact Move Seattle, the $900 million property tax levy for transportation.

The funding will support Mayor Ed Murray’s 10-year transportation vision [PDF], which lays out an agenda to reduce traffic deaths and greenhouse gas emissions, and generally make it safer and more convenient to walk, bike, or ride the bus.

Among the projects that will receive funding: seven rapid bus routes with dedicated lanes, a creative plan to fill gaps in the sidewalk network, and a network of 50 miles of protected bike lanes.

One of the longer-term goals of the plan is to put 75 percent of Seattle households within a 10-minute walk of frequent bus routes, running at least every 15 minutes.

The constitutional mandate to subsidize highways in Texas

In Texas, voters overwhelming passed Prop 7, a sales tax measure that will generate revenue for free highways. The measure mandates spending $2.5 billion in sales tax revenue annually on highways without tolls. As expected, Prop 7 won in a landslide, with about 83 percent of voters supporting the measure, according to the Austin Statesman.

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Seattle Policy Honchos Look to Parking Reform to Make Housing Affordable

They look like houses, but they're not for people -- just cars. Photo: ##https://www.flickr.com/photos/smart_growth/3881768618/in/set-72157624500360362/##Brett VA/flickr##

They look like houses, but people can’t live in them. Photo: Brett VA/Flickr

Buried under headlines about Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s plans to battle “economic apartheid” are little-noticed reforms that would reduce or do away with parking quotas that inflate the cost of housing.

Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) Committee released its recommendations yesterday. Noting that about “65 percent of Seattle’s land — not just its residential land but all its land — is zoned single family, severely constraining how much the City can increase housing supply,” the report calls for raising height limits in six percent of that area. The rest of the city currently zoned for single family would get “small tweaks” like allowances for mother-in-law units and duplexes to increase the housing supply within existing height limits.

Seeking to make more productive use of available land — even the land zoned for lower densities — HALA also recommends a number of reforms to parking mandates that “act as density limits” and “inflate the average size and price of housing units.”

Here are some of the major changes to off-street and on-street parking policy in the report:

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How Smart Language Helped End Seattle’s Paralyzing Bikelash

Broadway, Seattle.

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Instead of “cyclists,” people biking. Instead of “accident,” collision. Instead of “cycle track,” protected bike lane.

It can come off as trivial word policing. But if you want proof that language shapes thoughts, look no further than Seattle — where one of the country’s biggest bikelashes has turned decisively around in the last four years.

For a while in 2010 and 2011, the three-word phrase “war on cars,” which had risen to prominence in Rob Ford’s Toronto and spread to Seattle in 2009, threatened to poison every conversation about improving bicycling in the city.

Eleven characters long and poetic in its simplicity, the phrase could pop easily into any headline or news spot about transportation changes.

“It’s one of those ideas that makes a lot of sense if you don’t think about it too hard,” says Tom Fucoloro, publisher of Seattle Bike Blog. “Like, Yeah, cars should get more lanes!

For several years, instead of arguing about whether biking, walking or riding transit should be improved, the city was arguing about whether driving should be made worse. A winning issue had become a losing one.

Things got so bad that The Stranger, an altweekly Seattle newspaper that supports biking investments, declared in a not-quite-joking cover story: “Okay, fine, it’s war.”

Today, the phrase seems to have receded from Seattle’s public life. And now the pro-bike, pro-transit policies championed by former Mayor Mike McGinn and continued by his successor Ed Murray are bearing fruit.

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Washington Republicans: Put Seattle’s Highway-Borer Out of Its Misery

If nothing else, the politics of Seattle’s deep-bore highway tunnel fiasco keep getting more interesting. With Bertha the tunnel-boring machine stuck underground and “rescue” efforts literally destabilizing city neighborhoods, a pair of Republicans in the Washington State Senate introduced a bill to scrap the project before any more money is wasted.

After Seattle has spent billions and more than a year and all it has to show for it is a hole in the ground. Photo: Washington Department of Transportation

Washington Democrats won’t back off their support for a risky deep-bore highway tunnel in Seattle. Photo: Washington Department of Transportation

While putting a halt to the underground highway would limit Seattle’s exposure to enormous cost overruns and open the door to more city-friendly transportation options, this effort to bury Bertha comes from outside the city. The Democratic establishment in the Seattle region isn’t rallying around the idea.

Republicans Doug Ericksen of Ferndale and Michael Baumgartner of Spokane co-sponsored legislation to cease spending on the stalled tunnel project and use the remaining money to study alternatives. The text of their bill [PDF] is probably the most sensible thing any politician has said about this project in quite some time:

The legislature finds that the state route number 99 Alaskan Way viaduct replacement project has failed. The legislature also finds that the project as it is currently designed cannot be justified financially and is not in the best interest of the public.

The knock against the bill is that it’s pure theater — a political maneuver to place the blame for Bertha squarely at the feet of Democrats.

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Can Seattle Stop Its Highway Tunnel Boondoggle Before It’s Too Late?

Is it too late for Bertha? Photo: WsDOT

Seattle and the state of Washington have a window of opportunity to stop throwing good money after bad. Photo: WsDOT

It’s been one year since the world’s largest tunnel boring machine, “Bertha,” got stuck 120 feet beneath Seattle. Before it broke down, the colossal machine had excavated just 1,000 feet of the two-mile tube that’s supposed to house a new, $3.1 billion underground highway to replace an aging elevated road called the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Bertha hasn’t budged an inch in the 12 months since. Meanwhile, the bad news keeps on piling up.

Right now, the state’s contractor is busy building a second tunnel down to the machine, so that parts can be removed, repaired, and replaced. In order to keep the second tunnel dry, construction crews have been draining the water table. This work has dangerously destabilized the very elevated highway the tunnel is supposed to replace, and one of the city’s historic neighborhoods — Pioneer Square — is actually sinking as well.

As David Roberts detailed in a recent Grist story, the project could impose billions of dollars in cost overruns on the public. Nobody is certain the machine can be fixed, or if it does get fixed, whether the same problem won’t occur again, farther down its path. In December, the deep-bore tunnel ran away with the voting for Streetsblog’s “Highway Boondoggle of the Year” award.

If there’s anything positive to emerge from the current mess, it’s that local advocates like Cary Moon, who warned against building the tunnel in the first place, are commanding attention again. Moon recently took to the pages of the local alt-weekly, the Stranger, to argue that in light of the tunnel project’s spectacular, slow-motion meltdown, the city should explore other options.

We reached out to her to learn more.

This is a pretty big disaster, it sounds like.

This project identified a lot of risks at the beginning of the process, but the political commitment to it was already high enough at that point that no one really paid that much attention, except for several of us.

They treated us like we were gadflies instead of pointing out honestly and clearly what was probably going to happen. It’s frustrating because all this was known then but no one was listening.

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