Derailment Highlights Importance of Redundancy

One critical lesson we can take fromyesterday’s tragic train derailment is the importance of REDUNDANCY in any transportation system. Sound Transit built straighter, more direct track to save time on many commuter and intercity passenger rail trips that will no longer have to go out of their way on older freight. This was a good and necessary project.

You never know many details of a service disruption in advance–you can’t know when they will happen, where, or for how long. But the nature of life is that you do know they WILL happen, like our 9.0 earthquake. If your system only works when everything goes right, it’s failing. You can’t rely on everything always going right. You need alternatives available. This is one reason why grid layouts of streets work so well.

Obviously the new bypass track has been out of service since this morning, and will remain so for a while. But the old, indirect freight track can still be used. Amtrak and ST riders needing to travel through the accident area are delayed, but they can still get where they’re going (like a coworker who took the Cascades to Portland today; we only had to cancel one hour of tests). 

This is exactly what ST is NOT doing with light rail. We know there are many disruptions and other problems with the MLK segment especially. But there will be no parallel track redundant to the “spine” (part of why it’s so idiotic). One line will run from Ballard to Tacoma, a good 35 miles or so, and any disruption on MLK will grind the entire line to a halt. Buses have much less capacity and can only move a fraction of the people; we need a parallel rail line. Similarly, ST is building street-running Link on Bel-Red Road. That will be the weak link on the other line from Everett to Redmond, putting it at risk of halting entirely. Based on the service patterns ST plans to use, only the West Seattle stub and Kirkland-Issaquah segments will be immune to this. A system with only one north-south route or one east-west route lacks redundancy and therefore fails. For the ability of people to keep moving between here and Portland, we’re lucky we built redundancy we’re now benefitting from. Now imagine what happens when 200,000 or 400,000 riders a day get stuck on Link due to a similar disruption without redundancy. To allow that for $54 billion is unconscionable.


Election Predictions: Initiatives

I think it’s time to make some OFFICIAL ELECTION PREDICTIONS. Washington has 6 statewide initiatives on the ballot this year. Here’s my forecast on them (bonus at the end):
I-732 (carbon tax)
This is pretty certain to FAIL. The left being divided is a major hit to it, and I don’t see moderate or conservative support making up for that. Taxes do best in presidential election years, and WA should easily see 80% turnout next month. There’s some chance that people who don’t know much about it might read the voter guide and think it sounds good, putting it over the top, but that’s a decidedly unlikely possibility.
I-735 (resolution on Citizens United)
I think this will PASS, partly because there’s little real opposition, and partly because it just doesn’t do anything–it’s symbolic.
I-1433 ($13.50 minimum wage/paid sick leave)
This will PASS easily. It gets at least 55%, possibly 60% or more.
I-1464 (public campaign financing)
This is basically I-735, but with teeth and at the state level. There doesn’t seem to be much polling on it, I haven’t heard much about it other than from its own advocates, and I suspect many people will be unsure or confused about it. Given our record as a progressive and largely good government state, and the high presidential turnout, I’m inclined to say this is slightly more likely to pass than fail. But overall, I don’t feel like I have a good read on it yet, so I’m going to hold off on making an official prediction.
I-1491 (extreme risk protection orders/guns)
This will PASS easily. Two public polls show it with 64% and 79% support. In 2014 (a midterm year), I-594 on background checks passed 59%-41%. The underlying issue is the same, but this presidential year favors the yes side even more. A 2:1 victory here would not be surprising.
I-1501 (identity theft penalties)
This, too, will PASS easily. Who doesn’t want to protect seniors from identity theft? You can quibble about what the initiative really does, but that’s how the vast majority of people will see it.
I strongly believe in accountability for these predictions, because people need the ability to compare before and after the election, and because I find it improves my ability to make good predictions. Before the August primary, I predicted that Pramila Jayapal would win the 7th congressional district primary with at least 40% of the vote. She won with 42%. I also predicted that Seattle’s housing levy would pass with at least 65% if not 70% of the vote. It passed 72%-28%.
PASS. This horrible dumpster fire should not pass, but it will–easily. Separating what you want to happen from what appears likely to happen is important to making good predictions.
Stay tuned for further predictions in other races.

Angle Lake Station a Near Total Waste of Money

Go visit the 1120 “free” parking spaces you’re subsidizing! They’re a top contributor to air and water pollution and cancel out the environmental benefits of rail. This station was expedited to placate Federal Way politicians upset that their extension got delayed due to the stupid “subarea equity” policy. This station won’t have 1/3 the daily riders of UW station, thanks to it being surrounded by parking instead of homes or jobs. That also means most of the investment in trains, tracks, and the station will be wasted because it won’t collect much in fares. It will also make it harder, and take longer, to run more 3-car trains. And it totally duplicates the existing A Line. This is what the vast majority of ST3 does.

Income-Based Transit Fares!

Please sign this petition against 2nd class transit. Here are my comments:

ORCA Lift is a great program, and I commend you for taking the leadership to implement a low-income fare in a major jurisdiction like King County. As a transit junkie and advocate, I know there are many good reasons for shifting fare collection away from paper and toward smart cards. One of these is the ability to create just about any fare category you want, and charge it to targeted populations. So I’m interested in working *with* ORCA rather than seeking a step backward (in the long term) toward paper fare media.

I appreciate the rationale for peak-hour and two-zone surcharges; they make sense from a transportation perspective. And I understand the reasons for having senior, disabled, and youth fares too–I use an RRFP myself. But it seems to me that these last three are indirect attempts to help people who really need it, which is mostly people with the least money. And a large share of peak-hour commuters paying both the distance and rush hour premiums are probably employees whose fares are subsidized by their employers anyway, so the surcharges raise more money but don’t have the transportation or location effects desired.

I increasingly believe that simplicity is of great and underappreciated importance, and income inequality nationally and locally has become so great that I think it’s now more important than the reasons for, and effects of, the rush hour and two-zone surcharges. So I propose that, short of violating any federal requirements, Metro end the surcharges, abolish the special senior, disabled, and youth fare categories, and charge fares entirely based on income. We have lots of good ways to verify income for people under 200% of the poverty line; we can use existing infrastructure to charge still lower fares for people below 100% and 50% of poverty. Above that, the County has a large role in health care, and the ACA offers premium subsidies to people up to 400% of poverty. I suggest that the Health Department, perhaps working with WA Healthplanfinder, use that information to verify incomes in the 200-400% poverty range and apply an appropriate income-based fare category. This would be simpler and fairer for everyone.


Never Mind Upzoning; Can’t We AT LEAST Have Backyard Cottages?!

IS1rpku0qpwn030000000000I walked by this house today. It’s quite the sight to behold. What if everyone could live like this? The median home in Montlake is $990,000, and interestingly the foreclosure rate is 12% which is much higher than citywide. A 20% down payment at this price is more than most people can afford as a purchase price. What really sticks in my craw about it is that–forget upzoning the part of Montlake near UW Station–the mayor already agreed to scrap his compromise committee’s recommendation to allow ADUs (accessory dwelling units) in single family neighborhoods. Those are modest, affordable, unintrusive, and can add revenue for the homeowner and diversity to the neighborhood. Zillow says this home’s Walkscore is just 59, but consider all these perks of the site:

*walk to light rail
*shorter walk to frequent bus (48, 271) and several other routes (43, 167, 277, 540, 541, 542, 556)
*walk to campus and UWMC
*adjacent to park
*adjacent to Ship Canal
*ample parking
*right by 520 interchange
*pretty damn private for a major city
*good bike infrastructure around
*walk to library branch
*good boating access
*every neighbor seems to support Bernie Sanders (must be among the 10 richest US neighborhoods to love Bernie)

Ignore the logic of upzoning this area and the wealth (privilege) that prevents it. Isn’t it kind of elitist or selfish to reserve this location for people who can afford well over $1 million on a home, instead of allowing some backyard cottages too? They’re not a silver bullet, but they would definitely help.

General Update

I went back to SHA. She’s submitting my file today and expects me to be approved. She said it might happen Friday. It’s a 2nd floor unit, and it has a dishwasher (hooray!). I’ll have to see later about getting a ham radio antenna outside. The rent is 30% of your income, updated annually. You also pay electric. The deposit is $300. She’s being extra cautious because of the way the feds pore over everything. Their check on me had temp agencies I worked for in college and the address where I first lived with a friend outside DC for two months in 1999-2000.

The x-ray results were done right after I got them March 30th, but I only got them yesterday. They say everything is normal. I gave a copy to my physical therapist and got a doctor to request an MRI. She said they’ll want the PT notes, so my therapist is submitting them. They really make it hard to get an MRI and strongly discourage it. But my therapist thinks I have a cartilage issue, for which they might have to do a “manipulation under anesthesia”. You get *general* anesthetic, and they move your arm all around to force it back to its proper range of motion, breaking up the cartilage. Then you have more aggressive physical therapy. I’ve had general anesthesia once before and don’t look forward to the vomiting. (Why is my phone correcting physical to phytoplankton?)

I finally got a form from DSHS, and my therapist filled it out to say I’m disabled. I need to scan and submit it.

My new home clinic referred me to a separate place for medication management; they don’t do it there. This is part of the stigma of mental health and illness–why should it be done at a separate facility in a different network? No other body part gets separated out like that. I have lots more paperwork to fill out then a 2 hour intake. Hopefully I can get them to prescribe klonopin; apparently many Medicaid mental health places won’t. If I get med management there, they’ll want me to switch my therapy there too, but I’m pretty sure you still get just one hour every two weeks, which is definitely less than I need. The doctor I saw showed me that I’m listed as “medically complicated” in their system.

I’m behind on writing an article on late night transit service. I do have at least one rider who works late and is willing to talk with me about it. I also got a short email reply from the venerable Jarrett Walker.

Indirectly and unexpectedly, I got one of the ORCA cards being given to people who live near the new U Link stations. It’s good for free trips through the 13th. I start dog sitting in Burien Friday though.

I really badly want to get back on the air already. The guy with a spare radio to loan me should have it back now, but I haven’t heard. I could use my client’s car to pick it up from Burien which is slightly closer. I go to the Spark Museum in Bellingham tomorrow. Weather-wise, it should be a good day to go north. I have to wake up at 4:45am, and take a couple Whatcom bus schedules with me.

I have to get my hat back from my last clients and may have a free movie to see tonight. I’m at Top Pot now. It’s not what I should eat, but food is the one human need I can control.

What’s Wrong with Sound Transit 3

Seattle Times article

How telling that ST3 would build as many miles of rail as DC to serve 50% fewer daily riders. The article doesn’t mention this, but the proposal would extend Sounder (commuter rail) service in the south from Lakewood to Dupont, and it would lengthen platforms to accommodate longer trains. But it wouldn’t go to Olympia, it wouldn’t try sending any trains *through* downtown Seattle, and it adds no trips to move toward all-day Sounder service.

Everett light rail makes no sense. Tacoma light rail makes no sense. The $5 billion Ballard tunnel is a ludicrous boondoggle that bypasses Fremont and Seattle Pacific University. The Ballard Spur is missing even though it’s cheaper, faster, and would carry more riders. I don’t know why West Seattle’s line would end at Alaska Junction, though I predicted it wouldn’t serve White Center or Burien. More car-based park and ride stations, no Burien-Renton crosstown line, no Kirkland (though I know local officials and ST are fighting there), no Denny Way subway to unclog that mess. I can support the short extension of East Link to downtown Redmond.

This is the wrong modes the wrong way in the wrong places. It’s a ridiculous amount of money ($50 billion!!!) that takes 25 years–if their predictions hold (they’ve had 2 big failures here)–to deliver what it promises. I would be 65 when it’s complete. It wastes precious infrastructure investment to serve far-flung areas where people will drive to stations and leave trains empty half the time–it won’t increase walkability or improve bike conditions, it won’t increase transit use much for the cost, and it won’t reduce car dependence. It doesn’t create a comprehensive urban rail network at all.

An MVET (motor vehicle excise tax) increase is fine, but further sales tax increases just pour salt in the wound of our mostregressiveinAmerica tax system. Sales tax in Seattle would be 10.1%. The poorest 20% of us are already paying 17% of our incomes in sales tax (higher than federal income tax), while the rich pay 4%. Seniors are fed up with high property taxes forcing them out of their homes. It’s not as bad as sales tax, but it’s not progressive. And they have authorization for other funding sources that would be more progressive and better for the environment like an employee hours tax (which Seattle repealed in 2009 as Tim Burgess pandered to Joe Mallahan).

There’s almost nothing to like here. It’s better than a stick in the eye, though that would be a comparative bargain. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.


UPDATE: The Ballard extension would NOT serve Belltown, where we’ve built a massive amount of tall, dense development. And the package would build the horrible new “transit center” Renton wants at a highway interchange (I-405 & SR-167) instead of breathing life back into their downtown.