To consolidate, disseminate, and gather information concerning the 710 expansion into our San Rafael neighborhood and into our surrounding neighborhoods. If you have an item that you would like posted on this blog, please e-mail the item to Peggy Drouet at pdrouet@earthlink.net

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Bertha: Worthy of a museum

 A painful history imagined, with a silver lining.


By Jason Shindler, February 24, 2014

(Please note the date of the article below--one in the future!)

 Bertha's cutter-boring machine when it was being brought to Seattle in 2013.
 Bertha's cutter-boring machine when it was being brought to Seattle in 2013.

June 18, 2019 Seattle — The International Tunnel Boring Machine Museum opened to great fanfare yesterday, despite the painful and expensive history of the Seattle waterfront project.

Thousands of people came to watch the ribbon-cutting. Ceremonies included the UW marching band and even a parade down Alaskan Way. Current politicians attended, but most politicians of the era when the "Seattle Big Dig" began stayed away, including former Gov. Christine Gregoire and former Seattle Mayor Greg Nickles. Not even the most prominent tunnel opponent, U.S. Rep. Mike McGinn, came. His congressional press office said he had important votes to attend in Washington, D.C. though no votes were listed on the House Web site.

"We've really made lemonades out of lemons. It is really a fantastic experience, worth a trip from out of town or even from around the world." Museum Director Kareen Smithson said. "We stay out of the politics of the tunnel project by creating a top quality museum that makes reference to what happened, but doesn't dwell on it.

The museum is unique. It begins in the 1/4 mile tunnel built by the boring machine, and allows visitors to climb up and even into the machine. Interactive exhibits show how tunnels are dug, the types of tunnel boring machines and show the history of tunneling. Kids have several tunnel boring machine models they can practice operating. Six-year-old Janie Rodriguez said, "I've never seen anything like this. It is amazing!"

Tickets for the museum are sold out until November. The $20 admission fee helps pay for the museum's expenses, which is expected to be free of state money by 2021.

The museum was not meant to exist. When construction on the Alaskan Way tunnel began in 2013, the Washington Department of Transportation officials were upbeat. After almost a year of start-and-stop digging, the machine had moved only 1,300 feet. The project stalled amid a flurry of accusations between the tunnel contractors and state officials, and ultimately a flurry of lawsuits.

No definitive report on the cause was ever created.  But many tunneling experts faulted the contractor for selecting what they believe was the wrong tunneling machine type and the state for not noticing the problem. The legal matters were settled out of court, with the state's taxpayers on the hook for $1.5 billion of the $1.75 billion project cost. State officials now project an additional $4 billion is necessary to rebuild the Viaduct.

State officials sold the tunnel and the machine last year for $1 to the museum, as the machine would have cost more to remove than its parts are worth.

Traffic Plummets on the Highway Seattle Is Spending a Fortune to Replace


By Angie Schmitt, February 21, 2014

 Traffic has collapsed around Seattle's Alaskan Way Viaduct. Image: Sightline

For months now, the largest tunnel boring machine in the United States has been broken down under the city of Seattle. Meanwhile, traffic on the highway that the tunnel is supposed to replace has plummeted, raising more questions about whether the project is worth the enormous expense.

The project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a buried highway in Seattle is off to an absolutely disastrous start. Image: Wikipedia
The project to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct with a buried highway is off to an absolutely disastrous start, but there’s also a big upside to the new traffic patterns. 

The state of Washington intends to spend $3.1 billion to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct — an elevated double-decker highway right by the waterfront — with an underground highway tunnel. But Bertha, the tunnel boring machine, is stuck a thousand feet into its path and will take months to get running again, if the state can get it running again at all.

Meanwhile, Clark Williams-Derry at regional think tank Sightline has made an amazing discovery: Traffic on the viaduct has plummeted by 48,000 vehicles per day in the last three years, or 44 percent, raising questions about whether this awesomely expensive undertaking is needed at all.

The reason for the traffic drop? A lot more people are taking buses. Some have avoided driving because of construction delays. Of those who are still driving, some have shifted to surface streets. Combine that with the fact that, across America, driving is declining in general — and maybe Seattle doesn’t need to replace this highway after all.
Williams-Derry puts it like this:
Nobody knows if Bertha will ever get moving again, let alone complete her job. But given these figures, maybe it doesn’t matter. Seattle has seamlessly adapted to losing the first 48,000 trips on the Viaduct. No one even noticed. No one even noticed that 40 percent of the Viaduct’s traffic just disappeared! Could accommodating the loss of another 62,000 be that hard if we, I don’t know, tried even a little?

2013: Another Year of Falling Per-Capita Driving in U.S.


By Tony Dutzik, February 24, 2014

This post was originally published on the blog of the Frontier Group, where the author is a senior policy analyst.

The number of miles driven in the United States continues to stagnate, even amidst economic recovery, according to just-released figures from the Federal Highway Administration.

Left behind. Photo: ##http://www.escapeartistes.com/2011/09/17/work-is-work-wherever-you-are/##Escape Artistes##

According to the agency’s December 2013 Traffic Volume Trends report, the number of vehicle-miles traveled on U.S. highways increased last year by approximately 0.6 percent – a rate of increase a tick slower than the 0.7 percent rate of population growth in the United States during 2013.
To put this in the context of longer-term trends:

  • The total number of vehicle-miles traveled in the U.S. remains about 2 percent below its 2007 peak. The number of miles driven in 2013 was lower than that of the 12-month period ending February 2005 – a nearly nine-year period of stagnation in total vehicle travel unprecedented in modern U.S. history.
  • The average number of vehicle-miles traveled per capita in 2013 was about 7 percent below its 2004 peak and was the lowest since 1996 – a roughly 17-year span of stagnation in per-capita vehicle travel.
Looking forward, continued stagnation in per-capita vehicle travel would have major implications for public policy:
  • Growth in traffic volumes would be insufficient to justify highway expansion projects in all but the fastest-growing areas.
  • Congestion in most areas would grow only slowly, and could largely be addressed through measures to improve the efficiency of the current transportation system (including by expanding access to public transportation and through the use of information technology and possibly pricing), rather than through costly capacity additions.
  • Revenue from fuel taxes would continue to decline as increases in driving fail to make up for improvements in vehicle fuel economy (and for the impacts of inflation in places where gasoline taxes are not indexed).
  • Increasing highway “user fees” – gas taxes, tolls, VMT fees – to recover that lost revenue would likely further depress vehicle travel by increasing the cost of driving.
With Congress on the hook for reauthorizing the nation’s transportation law this year – and with the Highway Trust Fund only months away from going broke – the latest evidence of continued stagnation in driving demands that our nation’s leaders plot a different course for our transportation future that recognizes changing trends in how Americans travel and focuses scarce resources on addressing America’s 21st century transportation priorities.

Developing Nations Respond to UN’s “Decade of Action for Road Safety”


By Tanya Snyder, February 24, 2014

 The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety seeks to save 5 million lives by 2020, principally by focusing on the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Image: WHO
The UN Decade of Action for Road Safety seeks to save 5 million lives by 2020, principally by focusing on the safety of pedestrians, bicyclists, and motorcyclists. Graphic: WHO

As poorly as America performs on street safety compared to places like Germany, the UK, Japan, and the Netherlands, traffic violence is an even graver public health threat in most other countries. Despite the fact that Africa has fewer cars per person than any other continent, for instance, no other suffers from a worse traffic fatality rate. Each year, 24 out of every 100,000 Africans are killed in traffic, with 38 percent of those deaths being pedestrians.

Globally, 1.24 million people die in traffic crashes each year. Fewer than a third of them are in a car when the crash happens. Half of the victims are either on foot (22 percent), on a bicycle (5 percent), or on a motorcycle (23 percent). In the language of street safety research, these people are “vulnerable road users” or “non-occupants.” Another 19 percent of road deaths are among “unspecified road users.”
In Costa Rica, 75 percent of traffic deaths are among non-vehicle occupants. The WHO analyzed data for every country in the United Nations. Image: WHO
In Costa Rica, 75 percent of traffic fatalities are people outside of motor vehicles. Image: WHO

As car ownership rises in developing countries — the places already plagued with the worst level of traffic violence — the United Nations has declared 2011-2020 a “Decade of Action for Road Safety.” In low- and middle-income countries, 84 percent of roads where pedestrians are present have no safe place for them to walk.

Without action, traffic fatalities are projected to rise to 1.9 million by the end of the decade, but the UN hopes to “stabilize and reduce” traffic deaths to about 900,000 by 2020.

In a report released last year, the UN and the World Health Organization framed safety for walking and biking as an important corrective to the global growth in car ownership:
As the world continues to motorize, walking and cycling need to be made safe and promoted as healthy and less expensive mobility options. However, only 68 countries have national or subnational policies to promote walking and cycling, and just 79 countries have policies that protect pedestrians and cyclists by separating them from motorized and high-speed traffic.
The UN now grades countries according to five “pillars of action” for road safety:

pillarsEach country gets a scorecard on its performance in these five areas. Policies to design safer streets and promote walking, biking, and transit fit under Pillar 2. The International Road Assessment Programme, which sets standards for road safety performance, considers street safety audits “vaccines for roads.”
International Automobile Federation President Jean Todt recently lamented that while over 100 countries supported the launch of the Decade of Action, many still do not take road safety seriously enough. But the campaign is beginning to have an impact.

Uganda and several other sub-Saharan countries are setting up road safety authorities, as the UN has recommended. Bella Dinh-Zarr, North America director of the Make Roads Safe campaign and co-chair of the UN NGO Committee on Sustainable Development, says that Costa Rica has improved its bicycle infrastructure and worked with the police to improve traffic enforcement. Vietnam, which has shifted from widespread bicycle use to motorcycles, is working to separate motorbikes from cars in rural areas and to separate pedestrians from motorcycles and cars in urban ones. Vietnam is also working on a tropical-weight helmet to try to address a primary reason many people don’t want to wear one.

Though the UN doesn’t put financial resources behind its recommendations, Dinh-Zarr says development banks fund projects that align with UN goals, and that the focus on vulnerable users could encourage these banks to change their ways, too. “It’s important for the governments themselves to say, ‘We need funding for safe roads, not just for roads,’” Dinh-Zarr said. “Because that’s the problem. [The multinational development banks] are building $4 billion of roads every year, but they’re building them longer and faster at the expense of being safe.”

The Decade of Action came about as a result of advocacy from around the world. Nelson Mandela’s family has lost two members to motor vehicle crashes — his son was killed while Mandela was in prison, and in 2010 his 13-year-old great-granddaughter was killed on her way to see the World Cup. Both were in vehicles, but the Mandelas knew that most African children killed in traffic are pedestrians. They started the Long Short Walk campaign, calling for the UN to make road safety a development goal.

Pressure came from many directions. Oman’s ambassador to the UN made it a personal mission. George Robertson, a British former secretary general of NATO and car crash survivor, has also been an advocate. The Make Roads Safe Campaign collected a million signatures and pictures of people holding up signs asking for the UN to launch a Decade of Action.“[The UN] has a lot of other efforts related to reducing deaths — for example, the Decade to Roll Back Malaria,” said Dinh-Zarr. “But this is different in the sense that it’s not an infectious disease; it’s not a chronic disease. It’s the first time motor vehicle related injuries and deaths were addressed by the UN as an official goal.”

But with road deaths poised to overtaken HIV/AIDS deaths around the world soon, the UN took action. “That’s what we have vaccines for,” said Dinh-Zarr. “We’ve really protected these children zero to five years old through vaccines. There are still too many children dying but we’ve made great gains. But then at 5 years old, we put them on the road to go to school, and we kill them.”

How to Make Crosswalks Artistically Delightful


By John Metcalfe, February 25, 2014

Sure, crosswalks have their uses: marking corners, indicating stop signs, saving, you know, human lives. But when was the last time they wowed, delighted, or engaged?

Canadian artist Roadsworth believes street crossings should be more than asphalt safety keyboards. So for years he's traveled around his native Montreal, as well as the world, transforming these pedestrian passages into eye-grabbing spectacles: a school of colorful fish, a skein of yarn, a skeleton, a row of large-caliber bullets.

The career of Roadsworth, whose normal-person name is Peter Gibson, has been long and sometimes bumpy. The artist explains:
Roadsworth began painting the streets of Montreal in the fall of 2001. Initially motivated by a desire for more bike paths in the city and a questioning of "car culture" in general, he continued to develop a language around street markings and other elements of the urban landscape using a primarily stencil based technique. In the fall of 2004, Roadsworth was arrested for his nocturnal activities and charged with 53 counts of mischief. Despite the threat of heavy fines and a criminal record he received a relatively lenient sentence which he attributes in part to the public support he received subsequent to his arrest. Since that time, Roadsworth has received various commissions for his work and continues to be active in both visual art and music.
These artworks have frequently slipped out from the rigid confines of crosswalks and invaded the larger streetscape. Drivers in Montreal had the pleasure of sharing the road with a V of Canadian geese painted on the pavement. Strange things have happened to double-yellow dividing lines, like when they got sucked down a sink drain in the street or sprouted electric plugs and a fish hook. Once, a traffic arrow moonlighted as a blue whale.

The artist recently participated in Santiago's urban-intervention festival Hecho en Casa. Here's a taste of his reinventive works from that event as well as earlier years:



Why More U.S. Cities Need to Embrace Bus-Rapid Transit


By Yonah Freemark, February 25, 2014

 Why More U.S. Cities Need to Embrace Bus-Rapid Transit

American cities welcomed the automobile in the 20th century by yielding much of their street space to cars. The damage done by this approach can be measured in rising pedestrian deaths or declining walking rates, but a less obviously legacy is the reluctance cities still show toward reshaping their streets — a resistance that's playing out full-bore in local debates over so-called bus-rapid transit lines. It's a feud that calls into question the street's very role in the modern city: Is it to convey automobiles, or is to provide mobility for everyone?

Bus-Rapid Transit lines, or BRT, are designed to address a flaw in most public bus systems: they're slowed down by the automobile traffic that surrounds them. Stuck in lanes shared with cars, caught up at frequent traffic lights, and often stopping every block, buses too often fail to attract riders who have an alternative. Slow speeds, infrequent arrival, and a generally low service level too often make buses less appealing than rail.

The following chart, compiled with data from the American Public Transportation Association, shows that of ten U.S. cities that had rail systems in 2001 that have not since been significantly expanded, only one (Buffalo) had faster growth in ridership on its buses than its rail lines:

What BRT attempts to do is ape the benefits of rail service at a much lower cost, and in city after city, BRT services have indeed increased ridership. But effective BRT requires giving buses some street space previously allocated to cars, so they can operate in their own exclusive lanes, and taking lanes from cars has proven politically toxic. Even in otherwise progressive places like Berkeley and New York, BRT projects have been subject to incredibly contentious public meetings and hostile press. Drivers have complained about the prospect of increasing congestion and business owners have moaned about lost sales.

(Several cities discussing bus improvements they term "BRT," from El Paso to Grand Rapids, are investing in marginal improvements that will certainly improve bus service but that don't generally meet the international BRT standard because they don't give buses exclusive lanes.)

Taking street space from cars and giving it to buses will change the commuting habits of the people who currently drive there. It will slow down cars a bit and it will encourage people to drive on other streets. It will also likely make auto-oriented retail stores (i.e. those with lots of parking) less appealing. But making room for BRT will also do something else: it will make taking the bus a lot more convenient and increase the number of people walking down the street to get to stations.

How getting from here to there is changing forever.
See full coverage
In research we conducted at the Metropolitan Planning Council, we found that a new, $160 million BRT line on Chicago's Ashland Avenue — a route that already serves more than 30,000 daily riders — would dramatically improve the effectiveness of the city's transit system. For people living near several stations, the number of jobs accessible within a 20-minute transit commute would increase by more than 80 percent. The line itself would increase the number of people living and working within a quarter mile of a rapid transit station by 80,000 and 25,000, respectively — hardly a drop in the bucket.

Though specific to Chicago, these results speak to the potential of BRT for increasing transit access, reducing transportation costs, and easing commutes — all at a relatively limited cost. Rail is far more expensive to build than BRT, and highways around the country serving considerably fewer people often cost five to ten times more to construct.

Indeed, all of the improvements offered by BRT alter the landscape of the neighborhoods through which lines run. They make public transportation more convenient and — truth be told — more useful for people in a way that current services are not. And businesses fearful of fewer cars driving down streets with BRT should comfort themselves with the fact that more transit users typically means more economic activity, not less.

But this requires rethinking the way our cities work. The automobile orientation that defined 20th-century American street planning is comfortable to many city residents because they've grown used to the expectation that it should be easy to get around by car, even if that means degrading bus service and making walking more difficult. Yet that orientation, which has unsurprisingly reduced the share of people using transit, has also degraded the viability of our urban cores, resulting in a loss of population in many major central cities.

The rush to realign our cities toward the needs of the private automobile has been ineffective mostly because the suburbs — less dense and with more parking — make more sense for drivers. With projects like BRT, we have an opportunity to play to the great advantages of dense, urban environments, where transit is truly effective in connecting people to jobs and other needs, if given the chance to thrive.