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Low hanging fruit – “Exempt” signs for Bellevue crossings

June 17, 2012 Leave a comment

On December 11th, 2011, the Kirkland City Council approved the purchase of the abandoned BNSF rail corridor within the city limits of Kirkland. The purchase closed sometime back in March and shortly afterwards, Kirkland placed concrete blocks across the rail line.  Because the tracks have already been severed south of the Wilburton trestle in Bellevue, it is currently impossible for trains to travel anywhere within the city of Bellevue. With Kirkland planning to convert their section into a bicycle and pedestrian trail you can be assured that trains will not be crossing at either NE 8th in Bellevue or 108th near the South Kirkland park & ride any time in the near future.

Unfortunately, because of the way State law is written, commercial drivers in buses and trucks are still required to stop at these crossings, because they both lack an “Exempt” or “Out of service” sign. Given the mandatory penalty of a 60-day license suspension for not stopping, you can bet that the vast majority of commercial drivers will be stopping.  (The State Patrol has recently been stepping up enforcement at other crossings in the area – ones with active train traffic – so there has been increased awareness among commercial drivers of the rules and penalties)

I’m not sure what the hold up is in getting these crossings marked “Exempt” but it is likely due to the fact that the Port of Seattle still owns the corridor within Bellevue.  Rest assured though, that marking these crossing as “Exempt” will improve traffic flow in both areas. Cars can’t pass stopped buses at 108th and NE 8th has a considerable amount of bus traffic since it has the RapidRide B-line and is a deadheading route for buses coming from the east side bases.

A noticeable improvement in traffic flow for two congested areas for the cost of 4 “Exempt” signs? I’d call that a prime example of low hanging fruit.

Apple helping me to choose Android

June 11, 2012 5 comments

[ UPDATE: 6/11 - Here is a far better article detailing the mapping features Apple plans to roll out - H/T: @SumNums on Twitter]

Great timing, Apple. Just when I’ve decided to give up my car, along comes this news story. In short, Apple has tired of relying on Google’s rather lame mapping app for the iPhone and has chosen to go it alone. Here’s what concerns me:

Maps itself will not feature information on public transit or alternative methods of transport like biking, as Google’s app does now. Instead, Apple will release APIs for Maps and allow developers to build their own transit apps that will be featured, integrated, and promoted from within Maps.

Let me be blunt: I could not care less about turn-by-turn driving directions (Frankly, I don’t trust them). Despite its relative lameness, I use Google Maps heavily on my iPhone for walking and transit directions. I *crave* biking directions and integrated real-time arrival times for public transportation. Those two items have been my motivation for looking at Android phones but, for now, I’ve been content to wait. If Apple pushes out a new mapping app without lining up quality developers to produce walking and transit directions at least as good as Google’s, that will push me over the edge.

The generation currently entering the workforce and buying cell phones like candy is driving less and using public transportation and bikes more than my generation. Does Apple really want to risk losing them? I assume the answer is no and that Apple will get this all sorted out. That said, you know what happens when you assume, right?

Taking the car-lite plunge in Suburbia

May 20, 2012 1 comment

Back when gas was $2.00 per gallon...I have been contemplating ditching our 2nd car for several years but have been reluctant for various reasons.  While we have decent bus service near our home, many routes aren’t in service when I need to be at work.  Additionally, while the base is only a 25 minute bike ride away, there are hills, a high school with inexperienced teenage drivers, and misty eye-glass obscuring conditions between here and there from time to time.  Most days I’m fine riding into work but there are times where a “cumulative disincentive” builds up to the point where I just drive. Lastly, there are the memories of several heavy snow days where only our trusty Subaru could get me into work. Well, maybe a Salsa Mukluk could too. Or I could walk. And then there are those snowshoes gathering dust in the garage.

All that worrying aside, we’ve only driven our Subaru 2,000-3,000 miles per year since we bought our Prius. Additionally, many of those miles were for what I call “pity” drives – Times where I could have used another mode of transportation, or our Prius, but decided to take the Subaru to keep the fluids moving and the battery charged. But all in all, I really don’t need a car to get to work. My wife, on the other hand, does. Thankfully she is able to work from home many days which means I’ll still have access to a car at home from time to time. Additionally, I have 8 Zipcars within a 15 minute bus or bike ride as well.  I’ve also been meaning to try out the many taxis I see in Bellevue as well.

I’m sure this decision will require some sacrifices such as getting up a little earlier to ride in every day or figuring out how to ride in sub-freezing temperatures – something I’ve been reluctant to do because of a combination of hills, ice, and knowing a fellow bus driver who broke his hip riding into work in icy conditions. But I’m excited to give it a shot and will keep you all up to date on the highs and lows of being car-lite in the suburbs.

“Free” parking, only $45,000 per stall

February 6, 2012 5 comments

Know your audience. It’s a common phrase but sadly, many fail to heed those wise words. Case in point: A herd of bicycles with helmet-clad riders standing in front of the King County Library in Bellevue listening to a talk delivered by an official from the library system.  A statue of Ghandi, commissioned by the Indian government, is pointed out as is the award winning architecture.  The library already has very respectable patronage but is underutilized, given it’s size.  The solution? A new parking garage. When you learn that these cyclists are touring the city of Bellevue brainstorming ideas for improved bicycle access, you may wonder if there is a bicycle-themed speech being delivered to a group of patrons who arrived by car.

Even after setting aside the “know your audience” issue, the facts presented do not convince us that a garage is truly needed.  One example: Many parking spots were freed up after the Library hired a parking management company and asked patrons to register for visits longer than 3 hours. Additionally, 25% of visits to the library are to drop off or pick up reserved materials and yet there are were only two parking spots reserved for short visits. To top it all off, charging for parking was considered but rejected since the library board has a philosophy of services being available “free to all”.

Let’s dig into the numbers a bit. The parking facility currently being built will house 362 cars, up from 199 before construction started. The cost of the additional 163 parking spots will be, depending on the number you use, anywhere from $7.4 and $11.3 Million. Using the lower cost estimate of $7.4 million, which is more recent and presumably reflects lower current construction costs, that works out to over $45,000 *per additional parking spot*. Read that number again: $45,000 per additional “free” parking space. I’m left wondering how many books or librarian hours that $7.4 Million, not including financing costs, would buy.

I’m not suggesting that the majority of Bellevue library patrons will always be able to take the bus, bike, or walk to the library. But plenty of viable alternatives to the private automobile exist today. The Bellevue Transit Center is a short walk from the library, 4 Metro bus routes have stops within 2 blocks, and the highest ridership route on the eastside, the Sound Transit 550, terminates at the library. Looking out further, SoundTransit’s light rail will serve the Bellevue Transit Center, a bike facility along NE 12th will connect to the mixed development slated for the Bel-Red corridor, and people are already moving into homes in downtown Bellevue just a short walk away.

All of this comes after the Library asked for and voters approved a tax increase in 2010 to continue funding library services at current levels. Given all of this, is it really that difficult to contemplate a library parking lot with reasonable restrictions and fees?  If the Seattle central library, with only 143 parking spots and 20 minutes of free parking for patrons picking up materials, can do it, why not the Bellevue library?  I have always been an outspoken supporter of the library system and have voted for every library ballot measure that has been put before me. But I’m more interested in books and the online databases the library gives me access to.  If I really need to stash my car at the library I don’t expect the taxpayers of King County to pay for my parking, especially since there are so many other ways to get there.  For me, the days of reflexively voting for additional library taxes are over: More library services? Yes. More publicly subsidized “free” parking? No.

Knock a streetcar off its tracks – Got coverage?

January 15, 2012 3 comments

The Seattle Times has the story on a collision that knocked one of the streetcars off of its tracks. Go read the story and look at the picture and then stop and think: How much is it going to cost to put that Streetcar back on the tracks and repair all the damage? While there were likely no injuries to passengers or the operator, it’s not impossible so add in a couple of trips to the hospital to check people out if they fell during the collision.  Now, go check your automobile insurance policy, or if you use ZipCar, go read this.  ZipCar’s coverage only provides $300,000 of coverage for any single incident. Many lower cost auto policies do the same. Using today’s streetcar/automobile collision as an example, you can see that it is easy to exhaust a $300,000 policy pretty quickly.

This week would be a good time to call your insurance agent and check up on your policy – Or, if that car of yours hasn’t been getting used as much, maybe consider ditching it.  But if you decide to use ZipCar, be sure to check with your insurance agent about an additional liability policy to cover you above ZipCar’s measly limits.

Categories: Car Culture, Other

Adios Motherfuc…

December 15, 2011 3 comments

Nina Shapiro at the Seattle Weekly, has more detail on the case against Nathan Godwin, the driver who hit and killed Bradley Nakatani on December 8th. Ms. Shapiro details the laundry list of intoxicants Mr. Godwin consumed that evening including champagne, Suboxone (used to treat opiate dependency), a marijuana laced cigar, a Jeremiah Weed Iced Tea, and a drink called an “Adios Motherfucker“.  Let that last one sink in a bit before you read on…

To be clear: Nathan Godwin hit and killed Bradley Nakatani while driving a Ford Excursion 60mph in a 35mph zone. He likely would have killed anyone who had been driving a car, let alone a bike.  This isn’t about cycling, it’s about revoking the privilege of driving from someone who has repeatedly shown himself unworthy of that privilege. Reading through Mr. Godwin’s list of traffic infractions, which yielded him over $7,000 in fines in 7 years, one has to wonder what it takes to revoke a license.

For more detail on Mr. Godwin’s driving record and his flagrant disrespect for the law, check out Biking Bis and Nerds in Seattle.  The Stranger also has a short article that includes a link to charging documents,

Oh, and if you’re Redmond, you’ll be happy to know that Mr. Godwin was released under the condition that he not drive or visit places that sell alcohol. But I’m sure he won’t drive, given his respect for the law…  Um… Yeah, right.

(NOTE: If you’d like to follow the case directly, you can obtain court records here for a small fee. You can also view records for free if you go down to the courthouse.)

 

Categories: Car Culture Tags:

What keeps auto executives up at night

November 19, 2011 1 comment

“The automakers see the future, and it is for them a chilling one in which young people don’t buy cars…” – From Upstream to Downtown: Car Ads Head to the City

Anne Lutz Fernandez, author of Carjacked, tweeted about a recent shift in car ads.  The tweet featured a rather silly ad showing JLo driving a tiny Fiat in a gritty New York neighborhood.  The first time I saw this ad I found it unbelievable.  Yes, it’s possible that JLo actually drives that tiny little car around her old neighborhood in the Bronx, although rumor has it she was recently driving an Aston Martin DB7 or a Lotus Elise.

But that’s not really my point.  I’m thinking about car buying trends and looking at my situation is illustrative: I am 44 years old, a little under half way through my car-driving lifetime.  To date I have purchased 3 cars:  A Volkswagen Sirocco, A Saturn SL2, and a Subaru Legacy (shared with my wife for 5 years when we owned only 1 car).  Traditionally, I am entering the years where car companies are counting on me upgrading to a more expensive luxury car.  I’ll be honest and say that I’ve been tempted.  The idea of driving a quiet luxury car on road trips *sounds* appealing, until I start running the numbers and looking at how much life is left in my 10 year old Subaru.  Like a growing number of people, I’m seeking other ways to move around.  Biking and taking public transportation have allowed me to cut way back on driving.  Given the mileage I drive my personal car, and my desire to move back into the urban center, I find it highly unlikely that I will be buying 3 more cars throughout the rest of my car-driving lifetime.  I’ll admit that I’m a bit of an outlier for my generation and that most of my friends still drive a lot.  I can think of only one friend from College as committed to a “car-lite” lifestyle as I am.  But even among my more car-oriented friends, I’ve heard plenty of interest in other modes of transportation.  A growing number of people of all ages are hungry for choices.

If that doesn’t paint a grim picture for automobile marketers, looking at the stats for kids exiting high school and college today will send auto executives scurrying to Costco in search of enormous quantities of antacids.  Here are a few gems from From Upstream to Downtown: Car Ads Head to the City:

  • 75% of 17 year olds had their license in 1978 vs just 49% in 2008
  • Twenty-somethings drive fewer miles – down 8% in just the last 15 years
  • A growing percentage of twenty-somethings want to live and work in revitalizing urban centers

Private enterprise and various levels of government are responding by offering alternatives ZipCar, new bike facilities, and improved bus service. As more people choose to live in neighborhoods with viable alternatives to the private car, no doubt the car companies will keep trying to sell us cars, but will they succeed?

Categories: Car Culture Tags:
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