Saturday, May 8, 2010

A Comprehensive Approach To Transit, Transportation, and Land Use

A Proposal
James Robert Deal

(This article was written about Seattle and the state of Washington, but it would apply as well to any other city or region.)

Our current efforts to reduce traffic congestion are doomed to fail because they are piecemeal. They are incremental. They lack any big picture vision of how any specific proposed building project will fit with the whole or how much the whole will cost and can be financed. They are underfunded and presume tax increases later. They lack a 50 or 100-year plan. They are band aids on a broken limb.

Transportation and transit are not issues that can be addressed one piece at a time or one city or district or county at a time. Even if you complete all the pieces one at a time, all of them jury rigged political compromises, when you are done, they will not necessarily work well together. We must write a comprehensive, state-wide master plan looking forward to what we can have in place a year from now, a decade from now and at mid-century.

I know of no one else who has proposed a comprehensive, long-term plan. Despite the fact that I have no college degree in traffic engineering, I am presuming to take a first stab at it. I will not be offended if you disagree with my approach. However, if you do disagree, I only ask that you come up with a counter-proposal. Use mine as a starting point. Don’t just say “it won’t work” or “nothing will work.” That is what I think most of us believe right now, that it will take decades to get us out of traffic jams—if we ever get out.
I propose a plan for mid-century. More importantly I also propose a plan for what we could accomplish within one year: implement door-to-door transit from anywhere you are to anywhere you would want to go for a monthly fee. I propose we implement congestion pricing. Half of all drivers would voluntarily and joyfully leave their cars at home. We could cut in half the number of cars on the roads. People would sell some of their cars and save money on fuel, insurance, and car payments. We could eliminate traffic jams, get people around much faster than we do now, and eliminate the tension and frustration we now experience in traffic. And we could greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I could start with a discussion of new bridges, new tunnels, new trains, new ferries, new trains on floating bridges, new monorails, new light rail, new maglev, or new bike trails. I will touch on all these subjects — later. I choose to start with a discussion of how we could implement a door-to-door van and ride sharing service, possibly combined with congestion pricing. Neither have been included in any plans I have seen.

The following is a big point with me: We do not have to “build something” to solve our traffic and transit problems. The freeways and highways are already built. We just have to use them more efficiently than we do now. We jam them up with too many SOVs (single occupancy vehicles) and we max them out to the point where they do not function efficiently. Afflicted by a destructive growth mentality, we challenge the system more and more by making more people and more cars to max out the system. Our species has an unconscious and so far unstoppable urge to develop every developable square foot of the planet. There will be 9.0 billion of us by 2050. We are sleepwalking blindly towards ecological catastrophe. We will kill off 75% of the species in the world by simply denying them a place to exist. Our highway expansion program is a tool for furthering the Great Die Off. And most people assume this is fairly inevitable.

Individual by individual, some humans are sublime in their beauty and wisdom. As a group we humans are more destructive than any invader from outer space. To the animals and plants, we are the invaders from inner space. We invade all the wild areas of the planet and turn them into suburbs, deserts, corn rows, and feedlots.

Kyoto Protocols were just a starting point. We much decrease greenhouse gas emissions much more than what Kyoto called for in order to prevent an arctic meltdown. Are we serious about global warming? Are we serious about solving traffic congestion? Are we ready to change how we behave as a group? Those who would widen the freeways are going in exactly the wrong direction.

The permafrost in the Arctic is thawing and it will release enormous amounts of methane, a greenhouse gas 24 times more potent than CO2. It is possible that our children will live to see Puget Sound rise to the point where the Sculpture Park becomes the Scuba Sculpture Park. This is serious.

Humans have an instinct to follow convention. We use our big brains to rationalize the status quo. We often do what we do because everyone else does things that way or because people we otherwise respect do things that way or because we have always seen things done as they are done now. Given this weakness, we must try to become aware of the conformist absurdity of the current system, in which we move people who take up a relatively small space and who weigh on average 160 pounds in vehicles that take up a full lane on a freeway and average 4,000 pounds in weight.

I suggest that we think outside the box. Let’s deliver something that people cannot now obtain, no matter how much horsepower their cars have, fast, relaxing, door-to-door transportation, with no traffic jams to endure. Lets charge people a monthly fee for the service. Let’s hire FedEx as consultant and general administrator.

Most people writing about transit talk about how transit can be made to work for OTHER people, usually poor people. I want to talk about a plan that I too would use and which the rich would even prefer. I would like to be able to leave my car at home in the garage, and maybe even downsize to a one-car family. I call my plan the Comprehensive Transportation Pass System, and part of it is called the Flex Van System.

In developing my plan, I first conducted my own informal survey of people who do not regularly use the bus system. Here are some typical objections to using the bus system as it now exists:

  • It is slower to take the bus. If I drive my own car, I can leave right now. I can get there quicker. Transit is not as convenient. I cannot get from my home to the bus stop either quickly or conveniently. Sometimes it is rainy and windy and cold. My car is dry and even warm after a few minutes. The Park & Ride is usually already filled by the time I get there. If I use transit, I have to look up the times and plan ahead. If I use transit, I have to stand in the public places for long periods of time with strangers driving by and leering at me and wondering why I am too poor to be able to afford a car. The bus doesn’t go to the places where I need to go. Before and after work, I have to make several stops, so going by bus just would not work. I often have to go shopping, and riding the bus is impractical when I have groceries to carry home. I sometimes work odd hours, when few buses are running. There are often weird people riding the buses.
I believe my door-to-door solution would address these issues. I sometimes call it the last mile solution. It’s a comprehensive transit package good for any reasonable time of day or night from any place where I am to any place I want to go, to work or to shop, including both local and regional destinations. It is my theory that if we try to do anything less, we will stay stuck in our traffic jams, we will not be making use of mass transit - bus or train - because we have trouble getting to and from mass transit. So we will not do enough to reduce carbon emissions.

Under the plan I propose, Sound Transit, Metro, and Community Transit would sell a Flex Van Transit Pass available just like the regular bus passes it sells, but this one would provide door-to-door service. It would cost more than the current passes good only for riding buses, but it will cost less than the cost of owing and operating a vehicle.

How would it work? What will happen one year from now when this new service is implemented? I will get up that morning at 7:30 and decide that after I go jogging I will want to head for the office at 9:00. I have a standing order for a pickup at 9:00. I can go online or use my cell phone and change the pick up time. Vans would be orbiting my neighborhood in north Lynnwood. In ten minutes, a van would drive up, and I would climb aboard. The van would take me all the way to my office, a trip of about three miles. By the way, for me to take the bus to downtown Lynnwood, I would have to take a ten minute hike to the nearest bus stop, ride one bus to the Lynnwood Park and Ride, wait a long time, and then take a second bus to the office.

When I go to lunch at a restaurant, I would request a ride the same way I did in the morning. After lunch I realize I have forgotten my cell phone, so I pick up a payphone and dial an 800 number, and line up a ride back to my office. I punch in a code for my location and general destination.

The van might be empty when it arrives. Along the way the van driver might get a message on his dashboard computer telling him of one or two passengers to be picked up along the way who are going in the same general direction.

If it will be a short trip, the van, carrying one to five riders, will take us all to our local destinations. If it is a trip to Bellevue, the van will take me to the Lynnwood Transit Center, where I will pick up a fast bus to the Bellevue Transit Center, where I will take another van to my seminar. Others going in the same general direction would come along in the same van.

This is not an outlandish idea. We already have it working, at least in part. Metro has the most successful Van Pool program in the country. Van poolers pay monthly fees which make the project self-supporting. The Van Pool program carries riders from their homes all the way to work and then back home after work. Vans are owned by Metro. The driver gets to use the van for commuting to work with passengers and for a reasonable amount of personal use. The Van Pool program would become even more popular if we implemented congestion pricing.

Metro also has a Van Share program which carries riders from home or from the ferry terminal to the Park and Ride or to Boeing in the morning and back home or back to the ferry terminal in the evening. With both of these programs, riders sign up in advance and ride the same vans with the same riders at the same time each day.

What I am suggesting is that the Flex Van program be expanded into a more flexible program that would not only drive people from home to Park and Ride or to Boeing, but also to doctor or local job or the Mall, and operate on a flexible, impromptu, fuzzy logic basis. A person could call for a ride from anywhere and get one in a short time. Vans would be waiting at Park and Rides, major bus stops, ferry terminals, and other busy hubs, where lots of people generally need rides. The zones served by vans would be posted on the vans. Flex vans would pick up more riders along the way, even by being flagged down.

Aside: It might be reasonable to issue vans to selected commuters. They would leave for work early and pick up riders going in their general direction.

For safety purposes, all flex van drivers would have to go through training and background checking. Flex van riders would have to be enrolled in the system and carry a flex van ID card.

For drivers and passengers, there would be a code of behavior to be followed while riding in a flex van, and to hold a flex van pass, flex van passengers would have to take a course on the subject.

Flex vans would all be equipped with transponders, so the central computer would know where they were. There would be two-way text and voice messaging through dashboard computers, like the ones installed in taxis, including TomTom type GPS mapping to show the driver the route he is to follow to pick up and deliver his passengers, the lane the flex van will drive in, and the speed at which it is to travel.
It may or may not be necessary to add congestion pricing to the mix. If flex van ridership were substantial, and half the SOVs were taken off the roads and freeways, there would be no need for congestion pricing. Congestion pricing communicates to drivers that they can save money by taking the bus, train, or flex van. However, congestion pricing alone - without a flex van program - would be unfair and unpopular. If we raise the cost of getting to work but provide no economical alternative, congestion pricing will only hurt the poor and the middle class, while the rich will easily be able to pay tolls on freeways which will then be too expensive for the poor and middle class to afford. My point is that congestion pricing should only be implemented in conjunction with a flex van program that would give everyone a good alternative to driving his or her own vehicle.

If congestion pricing were implemented, the way to collect the tolls would be through information delivered by transponders, which would be installed in participating vehicles. Drivers would pay tolls electronically as they pass certain points in the freeway or highway or avenue. Some cities photograph license plates and send out bills to those who are not equipped with transponders. Private vehicles wanting to pay the lowest tolls and ride in the best lanes would at least have transponders and be set up to receive voice messages by cell phone, assigning them to a certain lane and a certain speed. Perhaps all vehicles should eventually be equipped onboard computers.

If congestion pricing were implemented, SOVs would pay the highest rates. A car with 2, 3, 4, and more passengers would pay progressively less. Tolls would be assessed on a sliding scale. Perhaps the driver would plug the number of passengers into the onboard computer or into his cell phone or pager.

Tolls would be charged at toll points on freeways and highways and even avenues. The higher the number of passengers on board, the lower the toll that would be charged at toll points and the higher preference the vehicle would receive for riding in a faster lane. Fuel efficient vehicles should also have priority.

To communicate more easily with all drivers as to which lanes they should drive in, letters and numbers should be painted right onto the lane surface.

Aside: For example, starting at my home base in Lynnwood and headed south, the right lane would be lettered “L-1”.

The second lane from the right would be lettered “M-2”. The third “N-3”. The HOV lane would be lettered “O-4.” Maybe it would have the HOV symbol in it, or maybe it wouldn’t. Maybe most lanes will be high occupancy.

Give the lanes names from the middle of the alphabet because the freeway might expand on the right side, with new lanes added on the right. The “L” lane would remain the “L” lane until that lane exited the freeway. For example, when you head south on I-5 and get to 85th Ave in Seattle, “L-1” will terminate into a must-exit lane. At that point “M-2” would change its name to “M-1”. It would retain its letter, but it would be in a different position from left to right and so would change its number.

At Mercer another right-hand lane becomes a must-exit lane. “N-3” in Lynnwood became “N-2” at Roosevelt and becomes “N-1” just past Mercer.

Painting letters and lane numbers on the lanes would create reserved corridors, like flight corridors for aircraft. Van 1457 carrying eight people and headed from Lynnwood to the Southcenter area would login its number of passengers and its destination. Headquarters would assign it to Lane N-3, with instructions to stay in Lane N (which would keep its letter but change its lane number several times) until exiting in Renton. A space on the freeway would be allocated to Van No. 1457 all the way to its destination. Van 1457 would speed up or slow down as instructed to maintain traffic flow. Probably Van 1457 would travel at 65 mph all the way from Lynnwood to Southcenter at rush hour with no slowdowns.

New rules of the road would be developed One would be that drivers would be prohibited from tailgating. Drivers would be required to leave more than enough distance between their vehicle and the vehicle in front to allow other vehicles to change lanes and merge into the space ahead.

Another new rule of the road: The driver to your right or left, provided he were ahead of you, would have the right of way over you, meaning the right to change lanes by pulling into the space in front of you. This would reverse the current rule, which apparently is that no driver can merge into the space in front of you unless you arbitrarily choose to allow him to do so.

On the other hand, one should change lanes only when there is a good reason for doing so. Because vehicles would be assigned lanes to use for the duration of the trip, the only reason for changing lanes would be to exit the freeway or to make a change as instructed via radio or cell phone or dashboard device, for example, if there were a slowdown ahead.

And if there were a slowdown ahead, vehicles approaching the area would be instructed through onboard computer to slow to some specific, lesser speed sufficient enough to give time for the problem ahead to be corrected and avoid having traffic come to a complete halt.

Another reason for assigning letters and numbers to lanes would be to be able to give more accurate instructions to drivers. Take for example, the signs above the I-5 lanes as they pass under the Convention Center heading south. Because I-5 is going through a curve at that point, it is not easy to tell which lanes the arrows point down to. If lane numbers were painted on the lane surface, everyone would know which lane would go where.

Moreover, the signs above the lanes do not give full or accurate information about which lanes go to Tacoma and which go to Bellevue. Several of the lanes go to both, and several of those lanes that go to both have signs above them which say erroneously that they go only to one or only to the other. People feel compelled to make lane changes which are not necessary. The signs should say: Lanes L, M, and O to Bellevue. Lanes N, P, and Q to Tacoma. My point is that signs should accurately communicate information to drivers; our current system does not. There has always been discussion about why traffic slows down under the Convention Center. The reason usually given is that it is dark thereunder. No, I think it is because people are struggling to change lanes unnecessarily.

Under my plan, the emphasis would be on viewing transportation and transit as a public utility and adopting a cooperative model of transit and transportation. The emphasis would be on people getting together and giving each other rides and setting up the rules and customs to make the transit and transportation venture work. The current individualist model is inappropriate because it overloads the system. We the people pay  vast sums in taxes to finance our roads and freeways. They are ours, and we can regulate them as we see fit to facilitate the flow of people and goods.

It is my hypothesis that we could implement a door-to-door flex van service within a year, and do so without raising the sales tax. I would propose that we halt and delay all new concrete laying projects and train building projects until this new plan is implemented. We should finish Link to the University of Washington, but build no more light rail until we have formulated a comprehensive plan.

If congestion pricing were part of the mix, it would arouse much more opposition than a Flex Van program. If the flex van program is a success, congestion pricing might not be necessary.

What about taxis and taxi drivers? They would immediately be a part of the program. They already have onboard computers. Some people would still want to ride privately, and I would think taxis for private occupancy would continue to be available. I would suggest that incentives might be set to encourage taxi drivers to carry more riders by paying bonuses according to the number of person they carry for the most number of miles.I talk with taxi drivers. They say that they sit around 60 percent of the time waiting and hoping for a fare. If they get a fare from Lynnwood to SeaTac, they have to "deadhead" back to Lynnwood. They are are prohibited from picking up a passenger at SeaTac and carrying him to Lynnwood or anywhere - unless the taxi driver has a SeaTac license. This is a rediculous system. Under a flex van program, taxis would make more money than they do now.

Driving a flex van would not necessarily be a full time job. A driver might be issued a flex van by transit agencies. He might carry a regular group of passengers or a group that he might pick up "on the fly". He would leave for work an hour early to allow time to pick up passengers  and then deliver them in the area where he is going. He would log in through his onboard computer or by cell phone. Messages would tell him where to go to find the number of passengers he might want to carry, and then where he would go to drop them off.

Flex vans driven by Sound Transit drivers would orbit neighborhoods, picking up riders calling for rides, and take them directly to their local destinations or to bus stations or other transfer points where they would transfer to high speed buses. Flex vans would go wherever riders are and pick them up and take them wherever they might need to go. It would be a comprehensive service.

Particularly if it is dark, cold, and rainy, flex vans would pick up those on the side of the road flagging for a pickup. Let’s call them flaggers. Flaggers might be equipped with a distinctive blinking flashlight that drivers could spot easily.

But what about the additional cost for labor to pay drivers to pick people up whereever they are and take them wherever they want to go? Right now SOVs provide their own free driving labor and their own vehicles. Will the price people pay for a Flex Van Pass cover the cost of transit services delivered?

How many passengers must a flex van carry to cover the extra cost of paying a driver and maintaining the flex van? From the extra costs incurred, be sure to subtract costs avoided, including the gallons of fuel not burned, the amount of greenhouse gasses not released, the billions of dollars not spent on armies to guard Middle East oil, the five story Park and Ride buildings not constructed, the freeways not widened, the reduction in sales tax subsidies we pay to have so many buses driving around most of the time mostly empty. 

There are mathematicians who can assign values to such factors and make the calculation. My approximation would be as follows if we are talking about a van which picks people up, carries the passengers to their destinations and does that again in the evening, in other words a non-full time van. If that van were carrying no passengers, there would be there would be the same number of vehicles in use and therefore the same amount of greenhouse gasses released. If the van were carrying the driver and one passenger, then there would be one fewer vehicle on the road and one vehicle's share of emissions not emitted. With the one passenger's vehicle left at home, there would be one fewer vehicles on the road and a reduction in congestion.

If the flex van were carrying four passengers, one quarter as much greenhouse gasses would be released and there would be three fewer vehicle on the road and therefore a potential 75 percent reduction in congestion in areas where the flex van program were in operation. Four drivers might each sell one car, and therefore as a society, we would be avoiding the costs of supporting four vehicles—insurance, financing, repairs, fuel, and storage space. Auto accidents would be less frequent, resulting in a reduction in property and personal injury damage. The only added cost, again, would be the cost of paying the flex van driver, but in this case the cost would pay for the transportation of four and not just one passenger.

There would be a tradeoff between maximizing these savings and picking up and delivering riders as quickly as possible. As the average number of riders being picked up and delivered increases, the amount of time it would take to get each rider to his destination would be increased. On the other hand, as the total number of vehicles on the road is radically reduced, congestion would be reduced, and delivery times would be shortened.

In creating a mathematical model, we should also factor in the increase in personal efficiency. Workers would get to work more quickly and waste less time on the road. Workers riding as passengers might be able to work instead of pay attention to the bumper ahead, again increasing productivity. Or they might get a little extra sleep. Or listen to music or news on their iPods. Getting to work more quickly would mean that passengers would either have more time to devote to work or more time to devote to their families and their personal callings. Workers would arrive more rested and therefore would be more effective at work.

The calculation should also include the general increase in occupancy levels of the bus system overall. Riders could get to bus stations more easily and so would fill the trunk line buses. This would lessen the cost currently needed to subsidize the bus system. That’s right, buses typically collect around 25% of their cost of operation at the fare box. The percentage of people using buses remains disappointingly low.

Another important factor is that implementing a Flex Van Pass system would obviate the need to expand the Park and Ride Centers, which would save hundreds of millions of dollars. And it would obviate the need to widen the freeways, which would save billions of dollars.

So, can we afford the extra costs of a van and ride share program? Yes, it would be far cheaper than the other alternatives, because the other alternatives are not working.

We are silly to presume that we should just keep widening freeways to carry more single occupancy vehicles. Every time we widen the freeways we set in motion forces that will cause us to need to widen them again. We must figure out a way to ration the use of the enormous freeways we have.

Such a system would increase mobility generally and thus make our businesses more competitive internationally. When all these savings are factored in, they more than offset the additional cost for vehicles and drivers to deliver door-to-door service.
And just maybe, if other cities implement similar programs, we could stop the sea level from rising.

Wouldn’t a flex van and ride share program be a little chaotic? Yes, and in an earlier era it would not have worked. But now practically everyone is equipped with a cell phone. Even some children carry cell phones. The less affluent could use cheap pagers. And now we have GPS onboard computers, like the ones in taxis, that can be connected by wireless networks to central mainframe computers. It would be easy to coordinate those needing rides with flex vans available in the area to accept riders and to map out travel routes for the driver.

A flex van could even be called on to carry children to and from home, school, and daycare, and to their father’s law office after work. Parents would not have to act as constant chauffeurs for their children. Maybe the door-to-door system would supplant the current school bus system, with its acres of buses sitting idle most of the time in vast parking lots.

Not everyone would buy a Flex Van Pass. Some would walk and bicycle to work. Some would walk or bike to the Transit Center and take the buses which would continue to operate on busy local routes on on freeways and major highways and avenues. Some will insist on driving their own vehicles on the freeways, and there will be more room on the freeways for those who choose to drive. As long as flex vans took substantial numbers of SOVs off the road, there would be no need for congestion pricing. It would be wise to avoid congestion pricing if possible because it could cause political backlash, just as raising excise tax on vehicles did. Instead of instituting congestion pricing, it would make much more sense politically to impose a sales tax on gasoline. People would pay an extra dollar per tank and such a tax would not arouse the same backlash. It would be just enough to prod people to consider signing up for a Flex Van pass.

Riding in a flex van or ride share will not work for everyone all the time. Some use their car as their offices. Sometimes we need to make trips involving a series of stops, making pickups and drop-offs. But it would work for enough people enough of the time to remove a sizable number of vehicles from the road.

What about buses that run on regular bus routes? If these routes were significantly utilized, then they should continue to operate. However, underused bus lines should be phased out. A bus line might run during the day when there are substantial numbers of riders but shut down at night and let flex vans take over. Bus drivers would not lose their jobs but would go to work driving flex vans providing door-to-door service.

I lament the number of buses I see driving by here in Lynnwood mostly empty most of the time. It would be funny if it were not so expensive and ineffectual. It’s like the kings new clothes. Buses driving around empty following lines on a map are a pretend bus system. Most bus lines here are under utilized, and there is good reason: Buses run only every half hour. Buses usually pass many blocks from where you live or want to go. To get where you want to go by bus, you often have to transfer to a different bus. You end up waiting in the cold and the rain.

It is true that there is much greater bus utilization in Seattle, however, a van and ride share program would still fill a need. A lot of people would pay extra for door-to-door service. And at night Seattle too has buses that drive around mostly empty, whereas vans that provided door-to-door service would be busy.

My theory is that we would attract far more passengers by giving them what they need—fast door-to-door service. Instead of relatively few buses driving around mostly empty and getting gallons per mile, we would have more smaller flex vans and ride shares carrying more riders and getting better mileage per passenger mile overall. We would be moving a lot less steel and rubber and a lot more people. Some costs would go up, but benefits would go up even more.


My vision of transit-oriented development is “string theory.” High-rise construction would be authorized near bus and train stations, and high-speed bus and later train lines would interconnect all the stations. Orbiting around the stations would be vans to bring those living further out to and from the stations and ferries.

Every few years we hear that planners are considering reopening the ferry system that once ran from down Kirkland across to the foot of Madison or to the University. But the ferry line never opens because there is not enough parking in downtown Kirkland. Parking! The almighty parking space for the almighty SOV! All bow down to the almighty SOV! With a flex van and enhanced ride share program, we could easily deliver the passengers to the ferry docks.

If more people used public transit in the form of flex vans and ride shares, then homes, apartments, condominiums, and office buildings could be built with fewer parking spaces, and the savings would be great. Park and Ride centers and bus stations could be redeveloped with condos and apartments, office buildings, and vertical industrial parks where there are now acres of parking spaces filled with acres of cars. The people who would live and work close to stations would drive rented cars on occasion, but generally they would ride in buses, flex vans, and ride shares.

How far out from the densely populated areas of Snohomish, King, and Pierce County should the Flex Van Pass, door-to-door system extend? I suggest that the congestion pricing and van and ride share system would be expanded gradually and eventually throughout the I-5 corridor from Blaine to Portland and I would hope even into rural areas throughout the state. Transit in rural areas can be extremely difficult. People there generally have infrequent bus service if they have it at all. I am proposing a regional or even state-wide transportation utility district that will lessen dependence on driving around solo.

Some rural counties have buses, but they mostly drive around empty as in Lynnwood. People must own a car to go anywhere, including to work or to college. The economics of providing transportation in suburban and rural areas could be worked out, and I think the key to keeping down costs would be to encourage a significant number of owners of private cars to sign up and serve as ride share drivers as they go about their daily driving. With drivers and riders signed up and certified, informal ride sharing could be quite effective in moving people around in rural areas.
I want to say a few words about growth. Both political parties favor growth. One seems to favor fast growth, while the other seems to favor slightly less fast growth. But growth is growth. Time continues infinitely into the future, as I often say, so the result is the same. In the long run growth increases the cost of utilities, schools, roads, police, and fire protection, and the costs rise faster than the increased tax revenue that growth produces. The last time I checked, both parties said nothing about population explosion in their platforms. That is one of the reasons why I am not a member of either.

More people and more vehicles and more consumption produce more greenhouse gases. I oppose growth in general. If I got my wish, the United States would mostly close its doors to immigration and we would stabilize our population immediately. Illegal immigrants already here would be allowed to stay, in fact, it would be impossible to round them up and evict them. But no others would be allowed to enter except for the very closest relatives and specially trained workers.

Given the primitive level of our politics, I presume that our numbers will continue to grow. On the other hand, it is possible to decrease the impact of so many new people by decreasing the number of vehicles we drive and by living in more compact high rise neighborhoods where public transportation can more easily be implemented.

According to my string theory of transit and land use, incentives should be set up to encourage conversion of older housing into green space and to concentrate living space into 40-story condominium towers located along transit lines. The easiest example of this is the concrete block ghettos of Mountlake Terrace. Owners of an entire block of homes could be bought out by a public utility district. Owners would own a large, new, energy efficient unit in a tall condominium tower built on one corner of the block. The rest of the block would be tennis courts, ball fields, vegetable gardens, and green space. Our tall condominium towers would be surrounded by miles of meadow and forest. In theory we should evacuate the sprawling suburbs over the decades and regroup back into town centers.

I would like to say a few words about bicycling, and most of the things I say about biking will apply to walking: Biking is an excellent form of exercise. Old people and fat people can bike. It is not as hard on the knees as jogging. Biking is a relatively fast way to get around. Bicycling can be a way for people to get to bus stations or get to their ultimate destinations.

I propose we develop what I would call bicycle highways and freeways. Some would be striped lanes winding through neighborhood streets. Some like the Burk-Gillman and the Interurban should be limited access bicycle freeways, with overpasses and underpasses over and under streets, and with continuous roofing for all-weather use. Traffic signals should be set up at busy streets. Traffic flow could be timed so that bikers and cars could take turns riding through on green lights.

Main bicycle highways should have overpasses or underpasses so bikers and walkers could safely pass the busiest streets and highways. I note how difficult it is in most places for pedestrians and cyclists to cross freeways. The roads that pass under freeway interchanges often include no lanes for walkers and bikers, who must sprint across freeway on-ramps littered with broken glass and gravel. Bike tires can be punctured. Biking is not necessarily a sweaty thing, but employers should be encouraged to make showers available for those who push hard and get sweaty.

Already we have bicycle corridors on major thoroughfares and even highways. Their virtue of these is that they are straight and that hills are gradual. Unfortunately, it is inevitable that drivers will make mistakes and hit bikers. I suggest that alternate routes be developed which would parallel heavily traveled thoroughfares and run a few blocks away from busy streets. These routes would twist and turn through neighborhood streets. There would be few cars on these streets, and the few cars there would be required to drive slowly and carefully and give bikes and pedestrians the right of way. With 50 to 75 percent of the vehicles off the road, there would be more room for bikers and walkers.

What is mass transit? It is transportation that moves a lot of people and goes really fast. Moves a lot of people—yes. Goes really fast—not necessarily. If the mode of transportation moves a large number of people and the distances are not great, then high speed is not a necessary ingredient. It is the total flow per hour that is important. Three miles can easily be walked by a pedestrian in an hour, and 12 can easily be biked by a biker. The term “mass transit” should not have to exclude methods where people travel three mph as in the case of walkers or 12 mph as in the case of bicycling. I would propose bicycle and pedestrian routes that would be multiple and parallel, and which would thus have a large carrying capacity. This is why I contend that biking and walking qualify as mass transit.

We have a lot of people who have problems getting to and from work. A lot of these people do not get enough exercise. In one bicycle or walking package we could give them weight loss, good health, and a refreshing and reasonably fast commute to work.

Another component of the door-to-door concept would be to make rental cars available at bus and train stations. Sometimes a person needs a private vehicle to conduct private business. Sometimes people need to travel to destinations far from bus stations. Maybe there are no vans or ride shares available going out to remote areas. There are times when the SOV is the best option.

How would a person go from Woodinville to a destination a few miles outside of Frederickson, a small Pierce County berg that is not well served by transit. He would go by van from his home in Woodinville to the bus station, then by express bus at 70 mph with no slowdowns to a Tacoma station, and then by van, ride share, or rental car to Frederickson. He might rent a car if he had many trips to make in and around Frederickson. If he drove his SOV all the way, and if congestion pricing had not yet been implemented, the trip would be slow, tense, and exhausting, particularly if attempted during rush hour. If congestion pricing were in effect, it would be faster but still tense and exhausting, and in addition it would be expensive. But if he used his Comprehensive Transit Pass, the trip would be faster and cheaper, and he could even take a nap in route.

I would like to say a few words about light rail and trains in general. Some transit thinkers question whether we need trains at all. Their theory is that computerized and congestion priced freeway driving combined with rapid buses, vans, and carpools would do the job better than a train or a widened freeway and could be implemented much more quickly than trains. Some may take the position that we lack the population density necessary to justify the high cost of trains.

I agree that computerized and congestion priced use of the freeways is the first step we should take, along with bus rapid transit, vans, and ride shares, plus safe bicycle highways and walking paths—what I refer to as the Comprehensive Transit Pass system. However, I believe that there are corridors where—after the Comprehensive Transit Pass System is implemented first—there is sufficient ridership to justify building the right kind of high speed train.

And the right kind of train is a maglev train, digital transportation, almost no moving parts except the HVAC fans. Why waste our money on analog transportation? It’s outmoded. A digital train makes sense because it can operate at much higher speeds, which is necessary where longer distances are involved. It is energy efficient, can carry many passengers, enjoys low maintenance costs, can carry freight and would make a lot of money doing so, provides a much higher quality ride than steel wheeled trains or rubber wheeled monorails.

Such a train would go fast enough to replace some airline traffic, including short haul airline freight traffic. I will talk below about how Sound Transit could build a train around Lake Washington that would be the first leg of fast train that would interconnect all four corners of the state of Washington and perhaps other states.

The valid objection to trains has been that people have to get to them to ride them, and that it is difficult for people to get to them, especially if there are no parking lots around them. A door-to-door van and ride share program would get people to and from the train stations.

I come to the conclusion that high speed rail is feasible because I apply my string theory of development and because I take a really long view. I also come to that conclusion because the train I have in mind can be designed to carry freight. Not coal or logs, but light and medium weight freight of high value that would justify solid freight charges and thus high profits. Carrying freight is always the high profit side of the business for trains. Maglev freight trains made up of aerodynamically designed container vehicles could run day or night. Maglev is so quiet that no one would object to night trains. One of light rail’s defects is that it is not designed to carry freight.

If my string theory of development were adopted, there would be many condominium dwellers and many vertical office and factory buildings in close proximity to train stations. Cargo would need to be delivered, and the new train would be the delivery mechanism.

The system I propose would have turnouts so trains could leave the main line and ride on a slow lane into stations and then onto another line where containers would be off loaded.

The system would have switching on the trains and not on the tracks, a concept hard to understand for those new to train design. Tracks would not move to switch a train from one set of tracks to another. Instead an apparatus on the train would move. This arrangement would be safer and greatly reduce wear and tear and thus maintenance costs.

Next I would like to say something about the various freeway and train mega-projects now on the boards. I am talking about light rail across the I-90 bridge, rebuilding the SR-520 bridge, and doing something about the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

Again, please bear in mind that this is a speculative and hypothetical treatment of these issues intended to stimulate debate on these subjects. I will not be offended if you disagree with my proposals. All I ask is that you give them due consideration and, if you disagree with them, come up with something better.

I would first suggest a method to use in analyzing these mega-projects, and that would be to look forward to 2050 and ask ourselves what kind of state-wide transit and transportation system we are worthy of having by that date. We should keep that system in mind as we decide what to build and what not to build today. Everything we build today should fit in as a component part of the 2050 system. Nothing should be built that will not fit in as a component.

We are building what should be permanent improvements, so we should think far into the future. We should not be wasting any of our limited funds on projects that will be rendered unnecessary by more advanced technologies which we will build later. Our transit opportunity capital is limited, so none of it should be squandered on projects that do not fit with the ultimate 2050 vision.

This is far different from the method we currently use: We analyze one project at a time and individually. We do not analyze them as part of an integrated system. We incrementally expand and rebuild existing components, with no vision of how they will work together and what will happen in the distant future.

I would first apply this big-picture, comprehensive 2050 look-back method of analysis to the issue of whether we should build light rail across I-90 from Seattle to Bellevue. The answer is No. The answer is HELL NO. Instead of a slow train across Lake Washington, we should build a fast train around Lake Washington.

First, I will comment on why light rail on I-90 would be a bad idea and then discuss the advantages of building a high speed train around the Lake instead of light rail across the Lake—of course after, the door-to-door Comprehensive Transit Pass system is implemented.

George Kargianis and Phil Talmadge wrote about “The Hidden Costs of Light Rail Across the I-90 Floating Bridge” (Seattle Times, May 16, 2007). They correctly pointed out that taking over the I-90 reversible lanes for light rail would lessen our ability to deliver rapid bus service across Lake Washington. They pointed out that three inches of concrete would have to be shaved off the bridge deck so that when two trains pass, the weight will not be excessive.

Transit experts point out that the shaving is needed because, although the I-90 reversible lanes were designed for heavy rail, they were not designed for light rail. They explain that ironically light rail trains are heavier than their heavy rail counterparts (like BART, which has an exclusive right of way) because light rail trains have to be sturdy enough to survive inevitable collisions with trucks and cars at grade crossings.

Kargianis and Talmadge could have reminded readers that there is a difficult stray current issue when operating an electric train on a floating bridge. That trains making the transition off firm ground onto a barge that moves up, down, sideways, and rotationally, may derail, or that as a precaution against derailment trains might have to creep slowly onto the bridge. That if rails are not precisely parallel and level with each other, trains have a tendency to oscillate from side to side. That as a result on a floating bridge there would be bridge movement that could set off or amplify such oscillations. That trains might have to travel slowly as they cross the bridge, especially on windy days. That the flanges on conventional train wheels are small and that it is relatively easy for a conventional train to be derailed—accidentally or through mischief.

They could have added that floating bridges are not permanent structures. They are glorified pontoon bridges. They only last a few decades. The majority of all floating bridges ever built in Washington have sunk. A train system should be built on firm ground and should be built to last for centuries. A glorified pontoon bridge is no place for a train.

Next, I will say a few words about the many advantages of a round-the-lake high-speed train—of course after, the door-to-door Comprehensive Transit Pass system is implemented. The round-the-lake train I have in mind would do more than just connect the two sides of the Lake and all the cities around the Lake. It would be the first stage in interconnecting the entire state by high speed rail.

Fast buses, fast vans, and fast carpools are an excellent use of technology for relatively short trips, especially if congestion pricing and door-to-door service are implemented to eliminate traffic jams. However, for longer trips, moving people and freight by automobiles is too slow. I think it is a shame that I cannot get on a fast train and be in Olympia in an hour or less to lobby politicians. Driving to Olympia is exhausting and stressful. All automobiles use more energy than a train on a per passenger basis. There is a practical speed limit for vehicles not physically or magnetically attached to a rail. It is just not safe to drive them at the same speeds that trains can achieve. Further, freeway lanes and even HOV lanes can become blocked.

It should be our goal by 2050 to have a state-wide high-speed rail system up and running which would connect all Washington population centers—Blaine to Vancouver to Renton to Bothell to Redmond to Bellevue to Issaquah to Tacoma to Bremerton to Yakima and to Spokane. All of it should be built with an exclusive right of way and with turn-outs at each station so express trains will not have to stop at each station. Local trains could pull out and stop and let non-stop trains bypass the station. High speed buses and door-to-door vans and ride shares would deliver passengers to and from the stations.

This state-wide system could be part of a Northwest States or a West Coast or even a national high-speed, train system. There would be plenty of time for agreement to be reached on a common technology. My thesis is that the first stage of that system could be a high-speed maglev rail line around Lake Washington. It would make sense to start in Seattle because we need a round-the-Lake system.

What if train technology changes? Rails, what ever the type, should be built so they can be unbolted from supporting structure and replaced with different rails.

Another reason why we should develop a high speed train system is to diminish the use of airplanes. Flying people and freight around is very fuel inefficient, and when you consider the time needed to get to and from the airport, it is not necessarily faster, especially for short hops.

Airplanes spew greenhouse gasses high into the stratosphere, including carbon dioxide, which does not dissipate because there are no forests and no oceans up there to absorb it, plus much nitrous oxide, “the third largest greenhouse gas contributor to overall global warming, behind carbon dioxide and methane.”

How do we reduce such pollution? It’s easy: Develop hydrogen burning aircraft. No, it is not easy. Hydrogen fuel takes up more space than kerosene although it weighs less. It will have to be supercooled because presurized tanks would weigh too much. The technological problems are challenging although not insurmountable. Thus far neither Boeing nor Airbus has plans to build hydrogen powered aircraft.

That leaves only one other method to stop pollution of the stratosphere by aircraft: Stop flying. Take trains. We need to use trains instead of airplanes if we are really serious about reversing the greenhouse effect and stopping sea level rise. Unfortunately, building a national high-speed train is also a long-term project. But just because a worthy project will take a long time and will be an uphill battle does not mean we should not work to get it started. If we started now, we could have it running by 2050.

Our ultimate goals should be to adopt a more cooperative approach to travel and treat it more like a public utility. We should lessen our reliance on private vehicles and instead utilize fast buses and trains instead of cars and use fast trains as much as possible for both short and long trips. We have to move in this direction in order to reduce emission of greenhouse gasses both on the highways and in the stratosphere. With apologies to Boeing, I conclude that planes should be used primarily for travel between continents or at least between cities which have no trains interconnecting them.

I would apply the same big-picture, 2050, look-back method of analysis to the debate about the SR 520 floating bridge. The solution is simple: Tear it down, and don’t rebuild it. There is no need to waste $5 billion rebuilding a floating bridge if we are going to have a high-speed train running around the Lake and high-speed bus rapid transit running across the I-90 bridge. The SR 520 bridge should never have been built, and rebuilding today would be a repetition of the original mistake.

What about the Alaskan Way Viaduct? The current plan is to move SR 99 to a deep bore tunnel. There is debate over whether cost overruns will be guaranteed by the state of Washington or by the city of Seattle.

Fortunately, plans to dig a new tunnel under Alaskan Way have been scrapped. Such a tunnel would have been below sea level from the start. We can look forward to sea level rising continuously, year after year. Frankly, I believe it is too late to avert global temperature increases and a major rise in sea level. Even if there were solutions which might work, I believe our amoral version of capitalism is so devoted to worshiping the dollar and so powerful that it will be impossible to reduce carbon emissions until it is too late. We will not do anything serious about global warming until after the water starts to rise in a big way and Wall Street and the New York subways are flooded. Temperatures in the Arctic and Antarctic will rise up to ten degrees Fahrenheit over the next century. Many more cubic miles of ice are melting into the oceans yearly than are being added as snowfall. Warming oceans expand. Sea levels quickly rose 400 feet at the end of the last Ice Age, and the rising has resumed.

Uniformitarianism is a serious intellectual error, because as I said above, time continues infinitely into the future. We should take a really long view of this, I mean a 100 or 500 year view: In a century Ivar’s Acres of Clams will probably be underwater. Sooner or later any tunnel built along the Seattle waterfront will be a canal, and the money we spend on it now will have been squandered. An Alaskan Way tunnel or rebuilt viaduct certainly would not fit into the 2050 comprehensive plan I propose.

Severe earthquakes occur here every few hundred years, and the last one devastated the Northwest in 1700. Soil along the waterfront is unstable fill. Some say a killer quake could heave and twist the shoreline, destroying a new viaduct or tunnel.

So what should we do about the Viaduct? I would apply the same big-picture 2050 look-back method of analysis and propose a seventh alternative, one which may sound extravagant and impossible at first, and odd because I am proposing new freeway construction, something I generally oppose. But I think it makes sense in this case. And if you disagree, please come up with something better.

Here is my proposal: I-5 would be relocated straight down into a group of deep-bore, stacked tunnels below where I-5 now runs through Downtown Seattle. SR 99 would be rerouted to run jointly through the same set of tunnels. The new high-speed train I am proposing would run through these tunnels and continue around Lake Washington, following I-5 and I-405 or Bothell Way. It would mostly be elevated.

A detoured SR 99 would turn east and run as an elevated highway over Royal Brougham to join a subterranean I-5 heading north. At Mercer it would turn west in a tunnel under or a viaduct over the present Mercer to rejoin the existing SR 99. At the completion of the project the Alaskan Way Viaduct would be dismantled.

I admit that such a tunnel project would be fabulously expensive. I only propose it because we have to do something about the Viaduct before the next earthquake hits and because the state of Washington and Seattle are proposing to spend a fabulous $4.5 billion on a new deep bore tunnel. A single, combined I-5/SR 99 tunnel would presumably cost more than a single deep bore tunnel for SR 99 only. However, if we are going to spend fabulously, shouldn’t we at least get something fabulous for our money? My mother always said it was usually better to spend a little more to get something better. Cheaper is not always better, but it seems that most Washingtonians believe that.

And the results would be fabulous: Putting I-5 into a tunnel would free up an area for redevelopment and parks that would be a city block wide and two miles long, all the way from King to Mercer, around 40 city blocks. That redevelopment would produce fabulous infusions of capital from the sale of the real estate plus fabulous real estate tax revenues for ever—maybe enough to pay for the project through the sale of long-term bonds. Because a federal freeway would be involved along with a new high-speed train, federal money would be available to help finance it. Conversely, the Feds will contribute little to rebuild a state highway tunnel.

In retrospect it should be clear that our predecessors made a big mistake 50 years ago when they failed to insist when I-5 was built that it be tunneled through Downtown Seattle. President Eisenhower, signer of the 1956 act that authorized building of the Interstate system, was shocked at the resulting bulldozing of American cities. Ike admitted he had envisioned the new freeways going around instead of through downtown cores.

The plan I propose would allow the Viaduct and I-5 both to remain open during construction. It would give us a no-freeway Downtown, a no-Viaduct waterfront, crossover routes between I-5 and SR 99, bi-directional HOV lanes through Downtown (needed if bus rapid transit plans are to work), improved truck access to the Port, opportunities for a new high-speed train, a solution to the Mercer mess, new land for parks and development, revenues from land sales, and new ongoing tax revenues. A new SR 99 tunnel would reconnect Seattle to its waterfront, but the plan I propose would do that and also reconnect the Seattle that was bifurcated by I-5.

I have been told by those who should know that the Burlington Northern rail right of way under Seattle is inadequate, and it could be upgraded at the same time this other work is done.

Except for completion of the HOV system, I oppose widening the freeways. I favor putting I-5 in a tunnel in part to complete the HOV system. I also favor it because we have a general need to build more and better rights of way through downtown Seattle—for bidirectional HOV, for trains fast and slow, and to create an alternative to the Alaskan Way viaduct or tunnel.

Back to the subject of cost and a comprehensive plan: We would save $4.5 billion by not building an tunnel just for SR 99, $6 billion by not building light rail across I-90 bridge, and $5 billion by not rebuilding SR-520. Now we have saved $15.5 billion that could be applied to more useful projects such as my Comprehensive Transit Pass system followed by a tunnel which would hold both SR 99 and I-5 followed by a round-the-Lake train.

Which form of taxation should be used to fund transit and road improvements is another difficult issue. I hope you would agree with me that a general sales tax is not the way to do it; it is extremely regressive. The same is true of a high motor vehicle tax. Cars should be relatively cheap to own but relatively expensive to use. Any large property tax on cars creates great resentment and politicians would be wise to oppose it.

The best way to fund transit is with user fees, specifically a fuel tax and congestion pricing. The Washington Constitution might prevent using fuel tax for anything other than road building and ferries. A sales tax on fuel might be a way to circumvent the constitutional problem. But if the Washington Constitution must be amended, I say amend it. Those who drive the most should help pay for building transit alternatives that will get people off the roads so the roads will work better. A tax on road use, a charge by the mile, would be a way of sidestepping constitutional problems with a fuel tax: Tax miles driven instead of fuel used.

Would citizens of Eastern Washington support use of a fuel tax to build a state-wide high-speed train? It would benefit them, so maybe they would. If they opposed it, then it could be left out of the taxing district. They just would not get their high-speed train.

Another alternative source of revenue would be a state income tax on the rich, a flat income tax at a relatively low rate that would exempt the first $200,000 in income for single people and the first $400,000 for married couples, indexed to the cost of living. We thousands of millionaires and billionaires living here in Washington who have been made rich at least partially through the assistance and services given them by the state of Washington. They are able to pay something back, and they should do so.

The same could be said of Washington corporations: We should tax the incomes of corporations with the first $500,000 in corporate income exempt and mostly do away with the B & O tax. If the Washington Constitution must be amended for us to have such an income tax, I say amend it.

I would prefer that the income tax be dedicated first to fund education fully. The Washington Constitution requires that the state do so, but we ignore it on that point. Bill Gates Sr. and other enlightened wealthy people say they do not want all the tax breaks they keep getting, that they would rather have a state where kids are well educated, where transit works well, and where people are not sleeping in the streets.

I would like to say a few words about light rail: Light rail is not the highest and best technology available, nor the most cost-effective, nor the safest. It does not offer an exclusive right of way and therefore is too slow. Trains lacking an exclusive right of way will inevitably run into or be run into by cars, trucks, animals, and people. The advantage its supporters tout most is that its tracks are low enough that cars can drive over them. Duh? We want cars OUT of the right of way. I was glad to learn recently that Sound Transit has decided that any additional light rail to be built will have an exclusive right of way.

Maglev is a better mass transit technology than steel rail. Being elevated and not having grade crossings, it would be safer and faster. It might cost more in the short run, but having no moving parts, it would cost less to maintain, and thus would be more cost-effective in the long run. Also, being capable of higher speeds, it would attract more riders. Further, it can carry freight, and light rail is not designed to do that.

I would like to say a few words about monorail: I was a Seattle resident for many years, and if I had still been living there, I probably would have voted in favor of the final 2005 referendum to build the monorail. However, I have shed no tears about the monorail going down. I thought its rubber-tired technology was not the highest and best transit technology available.

Further, the version of the monorail on the final ballot was a pale shadow of its original vision. Because there was never an adequate funding source and not enough money to build a quality system, monorail leaders kept cutting the scope of the plan. Gleaming stations became unheated bus stop shelters. The number of train sets was cut. The length of the trains was cut. The length of the system shrank. It was the incredible shrinking monorail.

Ironically it was Dick Faulkenberry who set the monorail up for failure. From the very beginning, Dick said he was only in favor of monorail if it could be built cheaply. Trains cannot be built cheaply, at least not the first ten miles of a new train. If they are built cheaply, they will have to be rebuilt later or replaced. A well built train can last for centuries. The funding source for the monorail, a property tax on cars, was truly stupid. A sales tax on fuel or even a general sales tax would have been more palatable politically and would have raised more money.

Perhaps someday we will revive the Green Line as a medium-speed HSST style maglev, running on guideways compatible with those used by my proposed high-speed train.;;

I must say something about how Sound Transit and any new RTID should be governed. Its directors should be directly elected by the people. Currently directors are appointed by the county councils of King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties. There is no way to vote out Sound Transit commissioners without voting out the county councils, and therefore voters have no real control over what the directors do.

Finally, I would like to return to the initial issues: Any competent transit and transportation plan must include congestion pricing as well as a way to make it easier and cheaper for people to use mass transit than their SOV cars. Any competent plan must do something about global warming. Proposition 1-RTID failed on all counts.

The plan I propose would take cars off the roads permanently. It would improve the flow of traffic and make it possible for buses, jitneys, vans, and carpools to move around the region quickly. It could even ultimately provide an alternative to airplane travel. All of this would reduce the greenhouse gases we emit.

We need to take this global warming thing very seriously. Gradualism is not going to prevent a lot of valuable real estate from being flooded by this time next century. I find it odd that Republicans drag their heels most on global warming: Republicans own most of the beachfront property!

Half measures will not get the job done. We must come up with a bold and comprehensive new plan and implement it. If we do so, we will deal with traffic congestion, reduce greenhouse emissions, and bequeath to our descendants a saner lifestyle. On the other hand, if we continue to make the same marginal transit and transportation adjustments that Proposition 1-RTID proposed, we will accomplish nothing except spend lots of money ineffectually.


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