Skip to content

Posts from the "Washington state" Category

12 Comments

Tacoma Vows to Prosecute Rogue Crosswalk Painters

 

A group calling themselves “Citizens for a Safer Tacoma” has painted five crosswalks around the city, in hopes of pressing officials to take pedestrian safety more seriously.

The city of Tacoma, meanwhile, has reacted defensively, threatening to prosecute the group, according to King 5 News. Kurtis Kingsolver, interim public works director, complained to the television station that it costs the city $1,000 each to remove the guerrilla crosswalks and that they create a safety concern. Apparently rising traffic fatalities and citizen complaints are not enough to compel the city to improveconditions for walking. He said the city must consider things like sightlines, street width, and traffic volumes before installing a crosswalk.

Members of “Citizens for a Safer Tacoma” say they are responding to an increase in traffic collisions. With 15 of their members having been hit by cars, they say they tried to get the city to help, but were turned away.

The threat of arrest isn’t deterring them. “If the city does nothing, we will,” an anonymous spokesman for the group told the television station. “None of us want to go to jail, but we’re more dedicated to the safety of citizens than we are to the law.”

Streetsblog.net No Comments

Washington DOT Chief: Seattle’s Big Highway Tunnel Might Not Get Built

"Bertha," the digging machine that was to help build a buried highway in Seattle is broken down and might never get running. Photo: Washington State Department of Transportation

“Bertha,” the tunneling machine that’s supposed to clear the way for an underground highway in Seattle, might never get up and running again. Photo: Washington State DOT

Nearly five months after coming to a halt beneath the city of Seattle, Bertha — the largest tunnel boring machine in the world — is still immobilized. It had barely begun to clear space for the underground highway meant to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct when it broke down late last year.

Construction crews are furiously digging a second hole in the ground to access Bertha and fix it. What happens when they reach the machine is still uncertain. Even the state’s top transportation official admits theres a “small possibility” that the highway tunnel might never be completed, reports Erica C. Barnett at SeattleMet :

On conservative host Dori Monson’s show on KIRO radio earlier today, state transportation secretary Lynn Peterson sounded this wakeup call: She acknowledged, surprisingly candidly, that there is a “small possibility” that the deep-bore tunnel will never get built. The only scenario in which that might happen, she added, is if the contractor, Seattle Tunnel Partners, and WSDOT discover that “the machine is not going to actually be fixable.”

“I would say it’s a small possibility, but we want to make sure that everyone understands that it’s a possibility.”

Read more…

17 Comments

Washington DOT Officially Endorses NACTO Street Design Guide

NACTO-street

Transit lanes, protected bikeways, sidewalk seating and pedestrian islands are among the design treatments now officially recognized by Washington state DOT. Image: NACTO

One state down, 49 to go.

The NACTO Urban Street Design Guide instructs engineers how to design pedestrian plazas, like this one in Los Angeles. Image: ##http://inhabitat.com/sunset-triangle-plaza-las-first-pedestrian-plaza-conversion-is-now-open/## Inhabitat##

The NACTO Urban Street Design Guide instructs engineers how to design pedestrian plazas, like this one in Los Angeles. Image: Inhabitat

The Washington state Department of Transportation is the first state DOT to endorse the Urban Street Design Guide put out by the National Association of City Transportation Officials’ (NACTO). The manual provides instruction on creating treatments like protected bike lanes, transit-priority streets, and parklets, which aren’t included in the predominant American engineering guides.

“We believe the low-cost innovations, interim solutions, and improvements outlined in the Guide can bring many significant benefits to communities across Washington in a short period of time,” wrote WDOT Secretary Lynn Peterson in a letter outlining the policy.

While a growing number of cities are implementing features like pedestrian plazas and raised intersections, these treatments aren’t recognized by the AASHTO Green Book, a leading engineering manual. Lack of official recognition by state DOTs can make it difficult for cities to install these designs, especially on streets that happen to be classified as state highways.

Now, cities and towns in Washington will have greater freedom to adopt the type of designs in the NACTO guide.

Read more…

5 Comments

UPDATED: Last Night’s Quiet Transit Victories

Yesterday was a relatively quiet election day for transportation-related ballot measures, but of the six transit initiatives that came before voters yesterday, five six passed, with a sixth seventh too close to call. That’s in line with last year’s 79 percent success rate — 71 percent since 2000. When asked, voters overwhelmingly choose to raise their own taxes to improve public transportation.

Spencer Township, Ohio, appears to have voted by the narrowest of margins to leave the TARTA regional transit system. Photo: Ability Center

There were no high-profile campaigns this year in major metropolitan areas, but that doesn’t mean this year’s ballot contests aren’t worthy of note. “I see a statement about the viability of both transit and these campaigns in smaller regions and rural places,” said Jason Jordan, director of the Center for Transportation Excellence.

Ohio: Let’s start with the most unsettling news: Residents of Spencer Township, Ohio, were asked whether they wanted to secede from the Toledo area’s transit agency, TARTA. It’s the exact same question they were asked last year, when they voted 59 percent to 41 percent to stay in.

Yesterday, however, was a different story. With low voter participation on an off-year, the secession referendum appears to have won by the narrowest of margins — “by 16 votes out of 520 cast, according to preliminary results” reported by the Toledo Blade last night.

Spencer Township isn’t the only Toledo-area jurisdiction to question its participation in TARTA. It’s been happening in outlying areas on the fringe of the regional system, Jordan said, where residents might feel they’re not getting much service and want to start their own transit agency, focused on their community. That’s what happened in Perrysburg.

In March 2012, Perrysburg voters opted to leave TARTA in favor of starting a new local system — but then in November of that year, they voted narrowly to defeat the property tax proposal to fund that new system. Caught in a bind, they passed a funding measure earlier this year, but at about half the level originally proposed, making possible only dial-a-ride and fixed route service for people with disabilities.

Nearby Sylvania Township considered secession as well, but without a plan to create local service. That measure failed resoundingly last November, 37 to 63, and Sylvania Township remains part of TARTA.

A recount could still be necessary for Spencer Township, given the closeness of the vote.

Either way, let’s not let this blow to regional transit darken our view of what was a very successful night for transit.

Read more…

21 Comments

If Drivers Won’t Pay to Bypass Congestion, Why Should Taxpayers?

A pilot project to bring high occupancy/toll lanes to State Route 167 in metro Seattle has grossly deviated from projections, raising questions about the value of added road capacity.

High-occupancy toll lanes outside Seattle aren't attracting as many drivers and as much money as expected. Image: Sightline

The 10 miles of priced lanes — the only “HOT” lanes in the Pacific Northwest — were converted from HOV lanes in 2008 and cost $18 million to implement. Five years later, Seattle-based sustainability think tank Sightline Institute reports that usage and toll revenue on the lanes are far lower than anticipated. Last year, the lanes collected about one-third the revenue of the most conservative predictions from the Washington Department of Transportation. The state had planned to expand “hot” lanes around the state, but the experience with SR 167 could change that, the News Tribune reports.

Two factors seem to be at play: People are driving less, and they aren’t as willing to pay their way out of congestion as was assumed.

Sightline’s Zachary Howard and Clark Williams-Derry report that in 2006, planners predicted that traffic on 167 would rise 2.5 percent a year. Instead, it fell three out of the following five years, including a 5 percent dip in 2008.

Less congestion means less incentive to pay for 167′s HOT lanes. But there’s more going on than that: Not only are fewer people choosing to use the priced lanes than expected, those who do are paying lower prices than expected. The lanes are dynamically priced, with the costs rising — and falling — based on demand. Sightline reports:

According to WSDOT figures for 2011, northbound drivers during peak morning hours paid an average toll of $1.75 to enter the HOT lane, saving about nine minutes in the process. Southbound evening peak-hour travelers paid $1.25 for about six minutes of time savings. Given those values, peak hour HOT lane toll payers apparently are willing to spend about $12 for every hour they save in traffic.

The prevailing theory about HOT pricing is that people would be willing to pay half their hourly wage rate to avoid sitting in traffic. But based on income data from WSDOT, far more commuters earn more than $24 per hour than are opting for the priced lanes, reports Sightline.

“Most drivers, even those from high-income households, would simply prefer to sit in traffic, rather than pay for a little speed,” Howard and Williams-Derry conclude. “Which raises a question: given that drivers may not be all that willing to pay for a quicker trip, does it really make sense for taxpayers to invest so much in trying to give them what they won’t pay for themselves?”

8 Comments

I-5 Bridge Collapse: A Painful Reminder of the Nation’s Misguided Priorities

A bridge on I-5 collapsed in Washington state last night, a reminder of the nation's need to focus more on repair. Photo: KRON 4

In a searing reminder that the nation has to do a better job of keeping its infrastructure in safe working condition, the I-5 bridge between Burlington and Mt. Vernon, Washington, collapsed last night. Thankfully, no one was killed, and the three people whose vehicles fell into the water were hospitalized with only minor injuries.

Interstate-5 runs from the Mexican border to the Canadian border, connecting most of the major cities of Washington, Oregon, and California. The collapse of a bridge on one of the country’s most important roads reveals the fragile state of the nation’s critical infrastructure, especially coming six years after the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis, which killed 13 people.

A truck with an oversize load apparently hit the overhead part of the steel truss bridge at about 7:00 p.m. last night, buckling the bridge and dropping two vehicles about 25 feet down into the cold Skagit River.

Google Maps has already been updated to show that the bridge no longer meets above the Skagit River.

The bridge was built in 1955 and has a sufficiency rating of 57.4 out of 100, according to federal records — well below the statewide average rating of 80. Still, Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson said the bridge was inspected twice last year, in August and November, and repairs were made. It wasdeemed “functionally obsolete” — but not structurally deficient — as recently as 2010. 

Functional obsolescence means that the bridge was built to outdated standards but doesn’t indicate that it’s necessarily unsafe. Often, a bridge is deemed obsolete simply for being more narrow than engineers would currently like it to be, given the level of traffic throughput. However, one factor in deeming a bridge “functionally obsolete” can be that it wasn’t built to withstand current vehicle weight loads — or heights.

ASCE’s 2013 infrastructure report card says 1,693 — 21.6 percent — of Washington’s bridges are functionally obsolete. Sixty-seven percent of the state’s roads are in poor or mediocre condition.

Though I-5 is an interstate highway, the collapse occurred in a state that has de-prioritized repair on its state roads. Washington spends just 14 percent of its total state highway budget on repair. Only six states spend less. According to a 2011 Smart Growth America analysis [PDF], the state spends $181 million a year on repair, when it needs to spend $426 million.

The collapse puts out of commission a bridge used by an average of 71,000 vehicles a day at the start of a busy holiday travel weekend.

1 Comment

Washington, Colorado, and Oregon Win Top Bike-Friendly State Honors

The League of American Bicyclists' annual bike friendly state rankings.

Congratulations are due to Washington, Colorado, Oregon and Minnesota; those four states took home top rankings this year in the League of American Bicyclists’ annual Bicycle Friendly States appraisal. The winners were announced this morning.

Washington has held the top position for six years running. But there were a few shake-ups further down the list.

Delaware was one of the main up-and-comers, jumping from number ten to number 5. The Bike League’s blog praised Governor Jack Markell, along with the state legislature and advocacy organizations.

“The benefits of biking are countless, and that’s why I’m proud to support dedicated federal funding for biking and walking infrastructure,” U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-DE) told the Bike League.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, meanwhile, said his state is not satisfied with second place.

“An important part of making Colorado the healthiest state is encouraging people to be more active in their everyday routines,” Hickenlooper said. “We’re proud that our bicycle-friendly policies have skyrocketed Colorado’s rank up 20 places in just five years, and we are committed to being No. 1 in the near future.”

Among the other most-improved states were Illinois and Arizona.

Michael Sanders, the Arizona Department of Transportation bicycle and pedestrian coordinator, said his state has been studying bike collisions and developing ways to reduce them.

These testimonies from high-ranking political officials prove how effective the Bicycle Friendly State program is at incentivizing a little good-natured competition to make cycling easier, safer, and more convenient for everyone. 

Here’s a preview of the top 15:

Read more…

43 Comments

Another Slanted High-Speed Rail Story From Anderson Cooper

Not one to back away from a terrible argument, CNN’s Anderson Cooper is sticking with his series exposing the “boondoggle” of federal high-speed rail funding. In a segment aired Monday night, he and reporter Drew Griffin hammered away yet again at their argument that high-speed rail has been a waste of money. Under the tagline “Keeping Them Honest,” Cooper and Griffin hope to raise public ire about the taxpayer money “dumped” into a program sold as high-speed rail but is really just moving slow trains “a little faster.”

After four years and $12 billion poured into high-speed rail, Griffin says it’s nothing but a pipe dream held by those who “stand to make money” from it. After all, “not a single piece of rail has been laid.”

Griffin and Cooper made essentially the same arguments as their last segment, which cast hellfire and brimstone on a successful little project in Vermont that came in on time and under budget, cutting trip times and improving performance. And Streetsblog’s response is essentially the same.

Still, I can’t help calling out a few notable points that surfaced in this week’s story.

This time, they’re focused on improvements between Portland and Seattle, which, Griffin said, cut 10 minutes off a three hour, 40 minute trip. He doesn’t say how much the improvements cost, but he does mention that Washington state got $800 million of stimulus high-speed rail money, “mostly” for these rail improvements. (A small portion of those funds were actually appropriated in 2010, separate from the stimulus.)

If it makes him feel any better, the rest of Washington’s stimulus money for transportation was spent like this:

Read more…

18 Comments

Parking Madness: Cleveland vs. Spokane

Another day, another parking atrocity. Eight cities have already faced off in Parking Madness, where we attempt to find the worst parking crater in an American downtown. Milwaukee, Tulsa, Dallas and Louisville emerged victorious in the first half of the first round.

But there’s still a good number of cities with parking wastelands yet to be sufficiently ridiculed. On the agenda today, two formidable contenders: Cleveland, Ohio vs. Spokane, Washington.

First, let’s look at Cleveland’s Warehouse District:

This animated gif, which uses images from the urbanism blog I run in my spare time, Rust Wire, shows the neighborhood in the 1970s versus today.

These days, the Warehouse District is actually a pretty happening part of Cleveland. The area has been redeveloped with nice restaurants, coffee shops, a specialty grocer, and hundreds of apartments. Close to 3,000 people currently live in the Warehouse District.

But this parking expanse creates a no-man’s land between two of downtown Cleveland’s most popular areas — the Warehouse District and East Fourth Street — discouraging walking between the two districts and thus weakening downtown Cleveland immeasurably.

Meanwhile in Spokane, we have a special kind of parking disaster: the convention center parking crater. Here’s the before and after:

Read more…

2 Comments

Patty Murray as Senate Budget Chief: What It Means for Transportation

In transportation circles, all eyes are on Rep. Bill Shuster, who was just tapped to head the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee in the House. And you may have heard about how GOP leadership appointed a climate change denier to head the House Committee on Science. But on the Senate side, there’s some good news for advocates of sustainable transportation coming out of the appointment process this week.

How will Washington Senator Patty Murray use her new post as chair of the Senate Budget Committee to shape national transportation policy? Photo: Katu.com

Senator Patty Murray (D-WA) is set to take over the top role on the powerful Senate Budget Committee.

“Senator Murray is a strong supporter of transportation investments (including ports and rail infrastructure), livability programs, enhancements, and the TIGER program in particular,” said David Burwell, director of the Energy and Climate Program at the Carnegie Endowment. He added that the budget chair position “will put her in a very powerful position to craft the entire federal budget.”

Ben Schiendelman of Seattle Transit Blog said the 20-year Senate veteran is known for winning appropriations for local transportation projects. The blog has endorsed her in the past.

“She seems to be a strong transit supporter,” said Schiendelman. “She’s landed us $1.8 billion in transit funding that I can think of in the last decade.”

Bike advocates in her home state also seem to have had a receptive audience in Murray. ”She’s generally supportive and coming from a state with strong state and local advocacy, in the form of Cascade Bicycle Club and the Bicycle Alliance of Washington,” said Darren Flusche, of the League of American Bicyclists.

Her record isn’t without its blemishes, however. Murray has been a big supporter of Portland’s $3.2 billion Columbia River Crossing project, a highway bridge boondoggle, which is designed to speed commutes for residents of the Portland suburb of Vancouver, Washington, according to the Oregonian. One of the major hurdles to that project is funding, both federal, state, and local. Murray as budget chair could play a large role in deciding the project’s future.