Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Poker and the 520 Bridge (bluffing won't get it done)

In poker, smart players look for ‘tells’ in their opponents. It can be as subtle as putting down the cards front edge first when you have a good hand, to yelling “Whoopee! I have three aces!” “Tells” can let you know what is really going on.

The 520 Bridge is not going to sink or fail and the state has given us abundant tells that let us know that this is the case. Either that or they are even more stupid than I thought possible.

If the state thought there was a likely chance that the bridge might sink, they would install a set of railroad crossing arms and some warning lights at both approaches. If the bridge sank, the arms would come down and prevent anyone from continuing on to the bridge deck. But they haven’t installed them. And they won’t. In fact, if they really thought it was even possible, they would string an electrical wire the length of the bridge; if the structure broke, the wire would break and the railroad crossing arms would come down.

When it became clear that the ferries on the Port Townsend/Keystone run were seriously dangerous, the Governor stepped in and shut them down. But the 520 Bridge is business as usual because there is very little chance of it sinking.

The state isn’t even doing anything about the bridge safety. There aren’t even rubber floatation bumpers around the piers even though a tugboat hit one of the concrete posts years ago. They could fill the hollow piers with concrete, substantially improving their strength, but they do not. Even something as simple as installing more and better lights on and around the piers isn’t being done.

And if the state really wanted to do something about the 520 Bridge, they would go out and buy a bunch of concrete floats like the kind that are used for marina docks. They would put a string of these floats tied together with some room in between each one and place this floating breakwater off of the sides of the existing bridge. They could be attached to the anchor cables that go from the bridge to the huge concrete anchors on the bottom of the lake. This floating breakwater would prevent the waves from splashing up against the bridge. Currently, the floating bridges bow twenty-two inches in the biggest storms. This flexing out and then snapping back is the worst thing happening to the structures. But the state does nothing to mitigate the damage. It can be done for a lot less than $4 billion.

Which brings up another interesting question: if we could build the replacement I-90 bridge for under $200 million, how come this replacement is going to cost $4 billion?

Saturday, November 17, 2007

The Sound Transit light rail segment to the airport will never work.

This fourteen mile piece of light rail is one of the worst designed, least thoughtful and just all around horrible transit projects ever conceived. Most transit projects have a few problems here and there; this mess has a major problem every mile.

It is supposed to ‘go to the airport’. It does not even do that. The station at the airport is, in fact, over 1,000 feet from the nearest concourse door and some people will have to walk over a half mile to access the airport from where the train lets them off. The port commissioners who run the airport had promised to install a moving sidewalk, but the path goes through the parking garage and the seven foot high headroom will not allow for a moving sidewalk to be built.

The light rail was never intended to move air travelers from the city to the airport; it was always designed to move employees of the airport—mostly very low paid employees—from parking lots to the airport. A major transit hub like the SeaTac International Airport has upwards of ten thousand employees. The airport management does not want these people parking in their garages, even if they could afford it. The garages are for the airline passengers and the parking fees are a good source of revenue. But the light rail train is not for airline passengers, it is for the employees of the airport.

The airport management is so confident that almost no airline passengers would be willing to schlep their bags and themselves the 1,200 feet average walk to the train station that they are planning to build a $400 million garage for car rentals off of the airport site, spend $17 million buying a fleet of buses and spending another $17 million a year operating the garage and bus fleet to ferry car renters from the concourse to the off-site parking garage rather than ask them to walk to the train and take it to a parking garage.

The train will leave the airport station and head to downtown Seattle, twelve miles as the crow flies, to the north. But instead, it heads due east for some five miles to the southern end of the Rainier Valley. This was done to deliver service to the most economically disadvantaged parts of the city. This may have been done for admirable purposes, but it means that the train is scheduled to take fifty minutes to get from downtown to the airport and the real time will be more like sixty minutes and more. Part of this due to the fact that through most of the Valley, the train is running on the surface down the middle of the street. Nationwide, surface urban light rail moves at an average of 14 mph—one mph better than buses. Sound Transit will install fences on both sides of the track but that will not noticeably speed up the trains. Trains on the surface do not have to slow for the cars, buses and people who are literally in the way. Urban surface light rail must slow because there may be cars, buses and people in the way. If there is a car waiting at the traffic light, the operator of the light rail must slow, in case that car moves. Once the car actually moves from the intersection onto the tracks, it will probably be too late to begin slowing for the train. In fact, light rail has a terrible record for accidents. After all, trains do not stop very quickly and they cannot swerve at all.

Then, the train turns eastward and enters a tunnel under Beacon Hill. There is no rhyme or reason for this. Beacon Hill is misnamed; it more properly should have been named Beacon Ridge, for that is what it is. It is a five-to-seven mile long north-to-south ridge from near downtown Seattle to the south end of the city. It is steep, tall and sandy. It is lousy for tunnels. But that is where Sound Transit built a one mile long, three hundred feet deep tunnel. Which is a little strange since the ridge is only about a quarter mile wide. The planners actually had to make the tunnel diagonal to make it a mile long. And when it gets through the tunnel and to the other side, it arrives at the maintenance and storage yards. Here, the train turns ninety degrees and heads north into the city. Now, there is a perfectly feasible and available route around the north end of Beacon Hill which would lead the train right into the downtown. This route would necessitate the building of a spur line from downtown to the storage and maintenance yard of about three miles in length, but that is a lot less expensive than a one mile, very deep tunnel through sandy soil.

But that is not the worst of it. They saved the worst for last.

While the nearly the entire route, design and building of the fourteen mile Sound Transit light rail train is flawed, the truly horrifying part is the attempt to convert the Downtown Bus Tunnel into a bus-and-light-rail combined tunnel.

Back in 1983, the city of Seattle, with substantial help from the federal government, built a one-mile tunnel under the downtown streets to accommodate buses and eventually, light rail trains.

The premise of the tunnel was that buses, by being separated from the hustle and bustle of traffic, could come off of the freeway and go into the tunnel where five stops within the one mile underground would free the buses to move quickly and efficiently through the downtown core.

Nice theory. In practice, much was left to be desired:

--There was no way to build a simple straight ramp from the tunnel to the freeway and vice versa. At certain times of the day, from the north, the buses had five traffic lights between the off ramp and the tunnel.

--Because of the noise of the diesel engines, the buses had to ‘switch’ to overhead electric wires. Thus, the bus that went in the tunnel had two propulsion systems, they weighed more than any other vehicle on the road (over 100,000 pounds), and they had twice as many breakdowns as other buses. They were built by an Italian company that promptly went out of business. Replacements were impossible, spare parts scarce and technical help non-existent.

--The pedestrian route from the front of the bus to the sidewalk upstairs was, for a number of reasons, almost never a ‘straight shot’. The average time for an average person to get from upstairs down to the bus or vice versa was three minutes. In some stations, it took nearly five minutes to get from the station platform to the outside.

--Recently, while converting the downtown tunnel to light rail use, the buses were rerouted to the surface streets above. Third Avenue was effectively converted to a transit mall during rush hour. The buses using this transit mall were able to get through the one mile of downtown three minutes faster than the buses that had previously used the tunnel.

--And worst of all, the train tracks were installed incorrectly. They simply neglected to ‘ground’ the rails. Stray electrical current from the eventual operation of the trains would seek out the path of least resistance. This path of least resistance would be the rebar steel reinforcing in the surrounding concrete and would corrode that steel until it was weak and worthless.

This final mistake meant that when the light rail came, the track had to be ripped up and replaced (and since it was imbedded in concrete, that surrounding concrete had to be ripped up and replaced).

Now the track has been replaced and Sound Transit says that they will open the rail line including the bus/rail tunnel under the downtown in 2009.

--Sound Transit’s new light rail vehicles have a higher floor than the buses that had previously used the tunnel. They were faced with a choice of raising the platforms or lowering the floor. Though the cost for lowering the rail bed at the bottom of the tunnel was more, the board followed the recommendation of the staff and opted to dig out the bottom of the station floors.

Tunnels are not static structures. The circle of a tunnel is a series of stresses playing dynamically on one another. One cannot simply cut a substantial piece out of a circular tunnel and expect all to be well. Some on the staff warned of possible collapse if the bottom were cut out of the stations. They chose to ignore these warnings and proceed with lowering the floors of all of the stations.

But they have even worse problems in the tunnel and these are insurmountable.

Midway in the tunnel is a ninety degree turn under the intersection of Third Avenue and Pine Street. The tunnel route goes from east-to-west and turns to travel north-to-south. The buses, about sixty-five feet long, had a bit of trouble making this turn. The light rail vehicles are ninety feet long and each train consists of four of these cars. Sound Transit has a study from an engineer that says that they can make it. The engineer says that they have an inch or two clearance. They have pushed through one car, at three miles an hour. But four cars, going at normal speeds, will not consistently make this turn. They will scrape, hit and maybe jam in the tunnel. Maybe not the first day or even the first year, but someday, sometime, someone will go a little faster than posted, rock the train just an inch too far that way or this way and it won’t get through.

At best, they wreck a train. At worse, we don’t want to think about it.

As bad as that is, there is an even worse problem at the southern end of the bus/rail tunnel. Towards the southern portal, the tunnel goes under the freight tunnel built in 1905. The bus/rail tunnel heading south goes down a short but steep incline. The slope is 5.25 degrees, which means that it falls five-and-a-quarter feet for every hundred feet of horizontal distance. (The steepest non-cogged railroad in the world has a 5.5 degree slope.) Then it levels out for eighty-five feet and then continues up a short incline of 5.4 degrees. Sound Transit has also pushed a single car of ninety feet length through this stretch, again at three miles per hour. Again, it won’t be able to consistently get a four car train through at even reduced speed. Eventually, there will be a reckoning as Sound transit tries to force a square peg through the round hole of physics.

Neither of these problems is solvable. There is no way that the bus/rail downtown tunnel will be able to handle the new light rail train. At best, this will be obvious. At worst, it will be catastrophic. Knowing Sound Transit, I hope for the best and expect the worst. There will be a day when the train becomes a train wreck, wedged deep in the tunnel, underground and fatal.

When that happens, I would hope that the entire board of the Sound Transit resigns. They have been warned by better than me that this project was misdesigned, mismanaged and badly built. They should have done due diligence to avoid problems that will come their way. They should have taken care that things were done right. Instead, they ignored the warnings, turned a blind eye to the obvious and relied on staff recommendations—from a staff with a proven record of failure. They should resign as a matter of course. Then, they should resign from further public service, for they have shown that theirs’ is no service at all but a failure to meet even the minimum of standards. They should resign and hope to God that will be enough.

What we could do today, tomorrow and this year

I was speaking to a group of suburbanites against a ballot measure that would build more roads and transit (it was a proposition that costs 57 billion dollars, not finish a single road and the transit planned was worse than none at all). I gave my reasons why the proposal was so wrong and so on, and someone in the back yelled “Then what would you do instead?”

Good question. Here is my answer. You’ll notice that I will try to define the problem in a couple of sentences before I give the answers. Truly understanding the problem is the key to having the answers.

First, there is no way to build your self out of congestion. It won’t work. Cities like New York, Chicago and Las Angeles have tried it and failed. In fact, building more roads just creates more travel. Not only will there be more cars, trucks and other vehicles, but individual vehicles will travel more.

There are enough roads. It’s just that we all want to use a few of them at the same time. The average American city has paved at least 25% of its land surface for cars. Surely, if we spread out demand, there is enough concrete for all of us.

The second point is that 60% of congestion is caused by accidents, breakdowns and stalled vehicles. All of the roads in the world are useless if there are vehicles stalled, broken down or involved in accidents on those roads. You could do more to alleviate congestion by removing breakdowns and accidents than you can by building more capacity.

That being said, it is important to start working on solutions, both so that you can make some headway on the problem and to show people that you are at least trying. So the trick is to attack the problem from several fronts.

The first and easiest task is to spread out demand. The key is to flatten the demand curve as much as possible. This is not to say that you ignore the breakdowns and accidents. In fact, you need to do both remove the obstructions and modify demand. It just so happens that in the flip of the coin in my mind, demand modification won.

Change nearly everyone’s work schedule

Get rid of the 9-5, Monday through Friday work schedule.

Thirty miles north of Seattle are the huge Boeing 747, 777, and 787 plants. The assembly plants are about three miles east of the Interstate 5, the main north-to-south corridor. You leave I-5 and drive three miles on a spur freeway to the site. This roadway used to be jammed when the workers were released at the end of their shifts. Then Boeing got smart. Now, every worker has an individual, separate starting time—and ending time, of course. When the individual’s eight hour shift is up, they pack up their tools, clean up and head out. Their replacement (Boeing is working around the clock) comes in and takes their place. The result is that Boeing loses no production time as shifts change and the spur highway out to the Interstate 5 three miles away flows easily.

Obviously, there are people in the general workforce that must start at 9:00 and stop at 5:00 but they are a tiny minority. Most work is more flexible than that.

Newsweek is reporting that 27% of us will be telecommuting by 2010. Even if we aren’t all telecommuting, I would bet that many of us spend the first hour or two answering emails, taking care of the phone messages or just catching up on the news that affects our industry. This could be done from home.

Inform people of alternative routes

OK, so say that you are on the road and traffic begins to back up. Once again, I call on technology to the rescue.

We need to set up ‘traffic speed ahead’ indicators. These simple displays would consist of three numbers: the top number would be the average speed of the cars in the next mile, the second would be the average speed in the next five mile and the final number would give the speed of the next ten miles. These indicators would be placed at ‘decision points’. Let us say that you are approaching the on ramp for the southbound freeway into town. The indicator lists the speeds as “18”, “42” and “55”. This would tell you at a glance that there is a very bad problem within the first mile of the ramp, but that the rest of the freeway is moving well. You would skip this ramp, use surface streets to reach the next ramp south and use that access instead.

As Global Positioning Systems become more commonplace, they will improve. Truckers will not be afraid to try alternative routes even in unfamiliar areas. The GPS will guide them expertly around traffic. They will eventually be enabled to deliver exact alternatives with real-time savings displayed. By the end of the decade most new vehicles will come with GPS.

Clear the way during peak hours

There are some vehicles that simply should not be on the major highways during peak hours of traffic: mobile homes, huge ‘over-sized’ trucks, army convoys and a few others. There is no practical way of stopping them, but you could fine them if they get involved in an accident, breakdown or stoppage. Make the fine so high that no right-thinking company would risk it. Why in the world can’t they move the mobile homes between midnight and four AM; is someone waiting for them somewhere at 9:00 AM? (These vehicles are driven by pros and their record is probably better than most. That misses the whole point. It is not that these types of vehicles are involved in accidents and breakdowns disproportionaly, it is that when they are involved, it is a great big mess.)

If congestion persists, toll Single Occupant Vehicles off the road at peak hours

The political pressure to toll is becoming too great to resist. It can be turned to the advantage of those that want to reduce congestion. Nineteen out of twenty cars in the commute traffic carry only one passenger. The gains from carpooling are paltry. But if tolling was designed to ease congestion, we could simply not toll anyone with more than one person per vehicle. If the toll was set high enough to compel people to carpool with even just one additional person during the peak hours, we could see the total of cars cut nearly in half during peak hours. And that would be anything other than ‘paltry’.

Study where, when and who is causing accidents and breakdowns, and then go out there and stop those accidents and breakdowns

Transportation experts will tell you that this has been studied to death. They are wrong. The State of Washington does not keep a computerized list of all of the vehicles left at the side of the road. They do not have a law that if your vehicle is abandoned three times in five years, we keep the vehicle until you prove that it is road-worthy and won’t be left again (or you could sign an agreement not to drive on the freeways).

A few years ago, a new Chief of the Patrol in the state of Washington directed the troopers to concentrate on four types of violations and issue tickets. The Big Four were drunk driving, excessive speeding, aggressive driving and not wearing a seat belt. No more verbal warnings, no stopping to help someone change their tire, don’t sweat the tail light out, just going out and issuing tickets for these four offenses. Where they did this, the fatalities dropped by 25%. Some of the drivers got off the road. Accidents fell and traffic moved.

Tell your law enforcement people that you want the accidents to go down and you will back them to the fullest.

One way to do that is to enact laws calling for the confiscation of vehicles for some infractions. Drunk driving, no insurance and truly excessive speed should be punished not by fines or jail but simple confiscation of the offending vehicle. Nothing else will stop some people. Sixty days for the first offense, 180 days for the second and permanently—with crushing the vehicle the third and final time. This may seem excessive; we just had a driver with several DUI’s go the wrong way on the freeway kill someone in the car that they were unlucky enough to hit. Now, that seems excessive to me. Had we confiscated their vehicle a couple of DUI’s ago, this accident would have never happened. By the way, the accident closed the freeway for several hours. Given that someone died, this is not the biggest part of the problem. But if the vehicle had been seized, the closure of the freeway also would not have occurred.

Get law enforcement to video their arrests. Watch as the conviction rate nears 100%. Wisconsin did this and their conviction rate is 92%.

Generally, get serious about traffic law enforcement. Go after those things that cause accidents. Confiscate the vehicle of those people doing these things. Keep up the pressure and don’t accept accidents as a normal part of traffic. Yes, there will always be fender benders but the really big, traffic-clogging accidents are caused by really bad behavior and we can stop this. All we have to do is decide to act.

Have law enforcement get in front of vehicles and then, lead them off the road

Law enforcement pulls up behind the offending vehicle and them follows them off of the road where they write them up a ticket. There are three things wrong with this out-dated approach.

First, the presence of the cop car does slow down the other cars on the road, but to some degree, they slow down too much. The cars behind them, seeing tail lights, slow and so on and pretty soon, you have traffic jams.

Second, too many cop cars are hit while sitting at the side of the road. Now, it is mostly drunks slamming into the back of the cops but this is a lousy way to catch drunk drivers. In the past year, seven state troopers have been hit at the side of the road.

Third, if the police pulled in front of the offenders, activated a lighted sign on their trunk that said something like “Slow down, follow this vehicle off of the road” with blue lights and sirens for added emphasis, this would virtually eliminate high speed chases. (The drunken driver that I cited above driving the wrong way on the freeway was being pursued by a police officer. Had the law enforcement vehicle been in front, there would be no chance that the drunk driver could have entered the freeway on-ramp the wrong way.)

Clearing accidents and breakdowns should be, after taking care of the injured, the highest priority

Imagine if I dropped a load of wood onto the roadway. Or someone had a mattress fall off their truck. Would we allow the obstruction to stay there? Of course not. When someone is involved in an accident without significant injuries, we should simply push the vehicles off of the road. Any additional damage that the vehicles suffer would simply be added to the damage caused by the accident. It is maddening to see literally tens of thousands of people stopped simply because we do not feel that we can order the state troopers or city police to push the cars off of the roadway.

The shoulder lane of the highway is the most important lane of any highway

In Seattle, in our great rush to build High Occupancy Lanes, we decided to use the shoulder lanes as HOV lanes. This was a giant mistake. The shoulder lane is where you take your accidents, where police write tickets and where we can safely put breakdowns. It is the lane that keeps the others—all of the others—flowing freely.

The shoulder lane should be considered sacred and treated as such.

Bring back the shoulder lane. Even though it would technically reduce capacity, it would substantially increase flow on all lanes. It would reduce congestion. Even if we had to forego HOV lanes, flow would be improved.

Design for flow of traffic

The trick is not to build more lanes of traffic but to use the lanes that you have to better effect. Cars stopped are lanes of traffic that do not work—in fact, the lane might as well not exist at all. Keep things moving on the lanes that exist and you won’t have to build more lanes.

There are the accidents and breakdowns, but there are also the single car parked in the curb lane after three o’clock in the afternoon that effectively reduces the lanes available by half. There are the traffic signals that are holding up thirty-five cars and two buses for no good reason because there are no cars coming in the other direction. There are too many entrances and exits on the old Highway 99 that make that six-lane road both slow and dangerous.

This is not to argue for all-flow, everywhere. The neighborhood streets should be flow-restricted. They should not be used as shortcuts for people and things going from Rainier Valley to Beacon Hill, from Greenwood to Wallingford and downtown to Capital Hill. But the major highways, the arterials and the freeways ought to be made free flowing.

Modernize your traffic control lights to move traffic—and for crying out loud, add ‘left turn only’ arrows. Restrict parking and treat blocking parked cars like the obstructions that they are (you don’t need to tow them across town; just take them around the corner or nearby and put a lock on the wheel). Go to where the chokepoints are on major throughways and eliminate those problems.

Change the laws—especially tax laws—to favor driving less, or not driving at all

Every law, every rule ought to be changed to always make it better to drive less or not drive at all. Right now, there is no real change in the cost of insurance (the largest single check that you write for the privilege of driving) if you drive fewer miles or don’t drive one day. Make every insurance company offer a policy that notes how many miles you drive and lets you pay by the mile. Better, consider making minimum insurance part of the cost of a gallon of gas. You buy a gallon of gas and twenty-five cents of the price buys you collision insurance (covers the other person in case of accident). Don’t worry insurance companies, there is still plenty for you to sell in the form of extra added coverage that most car owners will want. But if you don’t drive, you don’t pay for insurance.

We should help those who choose not to drive or drive less. The state could try tying your cartabs to the amount that you drive instead of the cost of the vehicle. The local cities could pay the sales tax on bikes. State and local governments could simply give people money—or more likely bus passes, rebates on bikes and the like—for not owning a car.

I know that some of us need to have and drive a car (I consider myself one of them). But every rule, law and tax ought to reward you for not driving or at least driving less.

The reason for this is simple: everything that you do to releave congestion opens a place and someone on a bus, in a carpool or who has switched to off-peak hours, says “Hey, I can drive alone at 8:30” --and does. Unless and until you get the total number of vehicles off the road, you are really just spinning your wheels.

Sisyphus rolled up the rock to the top of the hill every day just to see the rock rolling back down the hill, to begin again rolling the rock up to the top of the hill again. Then one day, Sisyphus said to himself “Hey, this is stupid” and stopped rolling the rock up the hill and then the rock didn’t roll back down and he went and started a dating service for the Gods on the Internet and made a million bucks and retired to Montana or something very like that. The point is, if you keep rolling a rock up the hill and the same thing happens every day, you really should try something else. I don’t have the answer, but I think that we ought to try lots of things, see what works, discard what doesn’t and stop doing what is obviously not working.

Friday, October 5, 2007

The Alaskan Way Viaduct

It should come as no surprise that the engineers came to the conclusion that the viaduct cannot be saved by adding some bracing and grouting around the foundations. Afterall, that is the least costly of the alternatives. It is even less surprising that the engineers came to the conclusion that the preferred alternative is to build a tunnel. Afterall, that is the most expensive alternative.

Engineers are paid a percentage of the total cost of any project. It should come as no surprise that they skip the least expensive alternative and endorse the most expensive. To do otherwise, they would have to be saints. Or stupid.

The fix-it alternative has been pooh-poohed from day one and it is the one alternative that makes sense. It makes sense if you realize that the viaduct has been through several fairly severe earthquakes without significant damage (moving a couple of inches is not significant if you are a two mile long, fifty feet high and forty feet wide elevated roadway; these things are designed—if they are designed right—to move a little). If you look at the report that was written BEFORE the 2001 earthquake, the report that predicted that the whole thing would fall down for sure at the next tiny quake, you realize that the structure has withstood what they promised would be fatal. Simply put, the viaduct isn’t falling. Not even close. The fix-it alternative is the cheapest, surest and best alternative.

So let’s assume that it has to come down. Then the next best alternative is to not replace it. Here the proof is in the pudding. Several cities have eliminated their elevated roadways and not one has suffered the predicted dire consequences. Rather, every city that has torn down their elevated roadways report great news. But let us assume that the critics of such an idea are right when they pronounce that ‘those other cities are different; their elevated roadways went through the city’, or that they had ‘alternatives that we don’t’ or some other bullshit excuse why we can’t do the same thing here in Seattle. Seattle has shut down some streets for months, even years and some how, some way the cars found a new way around, they managed to get where they wanted to go and the swallows returned to Capistrano. When they built the West Seattle high bridge, all traffic was routed through a cow pasture path of a street with people predicting hour long commutes to and from West Seattle. But people aren’t that stupid. They adjusted, took new routes, started earlier—or later—and West Seattle is still there. Right now, they are busting up the approaches to and from the Fremont Bridge like its personal, and still the cars, trucks and buses get through. Not perfectly, but they get through.

Before you spend a couple of billions of taxpayer money, you should at least try the ‘no-build’ alternative. I would think it would be criminal not to. I’ve already used the ‘stupid’ word too many times, but it fits here, too.

Even the re-build it alternative is better than the tunnel. Don’t believe the drawings: it doesn’t have to be that big or that ugly. Don’t believe the costs either: it doesn’t have to be so expensive. Look to Sound Transit, believe it or not, if you don’t believe me. Look to what Sound Transit is building from Tukwilla to SeaTac where the light rail will be elevated. It is in these few miles, where they finally agreed to go elevated, that they are saving $200 million (though they are wasting more than $200 million on the tunnels—they are not going to come in under budget) and shaving months off of the construction schedule (though they are going to run into so many problems in the tunnels that they will never really complete the light rail). Sound Transit has put in columns every one hundred yards and then they bring in the roadway in segments which have been poured off-site and lift them into place. They draw wires through the roadway, apply tension and finish a hundred feet every couple of days. The ‘roadway’ is twenty-seven feet wide and that is three lanes of highway. “Hey! Why not build two of these roadways, side-by-side and you end up with a pretty darn graceful and smallish viaduct that can be built in months instead of years!” By separating the two roadways with a couple of feet you avoid really bad head-on collisions and let sunlight to the ground below (think of it as a two mile long skylight). If you got on the stick, you could even use the off-site concrete yard that Sound Transit is using and the forms, but that would be too smart. Even if you don’t do that, you save a lot of money.

Which leaves us with the tunnel. The Worst Alternative.

You should never sink four billion into two miles of roadway. Put it another way: “There is no one mile of your total transportation system that is so damn important that you spend $2 billion per mile.”

Then there is the billion dollar question of how in the hell you get from the Alaskan Way to the south mouth of the Battery Street tunnel? Stand at the foot of the Harbor Steps and look up at the top of the Steps and ask yourself ‘how could a truck, car or bus get from here-to-there in a quarter mile?’ Then, somehow dig a hole about twenty feet deep and then ask the question again. Then, add moisture to the roadway in your tunnel climbing from subterranean Alaskan Way to Battery Street tunnel and you are feeling--well, at the risk of being redundant—stupid. Or if you will, blazingly, totally, George Bushably, stupid.

Now, if you still want a tunnel, go Google “Major tunnel fires” and notice that every major tunnel has a major fire. They will tell you that they will forbid flammable cargo. This ignores the fact that every car, truck and van is carrying flammable cargo—it is called ‘gasoline’. They will tell you that they will have fire suppressants and equipment and blah, blah, blah because by the time that the fire happens, all those guys are dead and someone has forgotten to recharge the foam, the wires have corroded and blah, blah, blah and it’s another major tunnel fire and these things happen. Personally, I don’t want to be in a two and a half mile long tunnel when someone goes sideways and someone smashes into them, setting them on fire and a couple of others catch and explode. And I would sure not like to be the mayor that thought up this tragedy-waiting-to-happen.

Finally, I am not sure where Seattle, this country or this world is heading. But I am pretty sure that ‘transportation’ will change dramatically in the next twenty odd years and I don’t think we ought to be building four billion dollars of anything that is in response to our current problems. Better to fix-it or try to manage it without replacing or if we must replace it, do it with a little better technique than we usually do. Anything would be better than digging up the city and spending every dime we got on a tunnel.

Or maybe I’m stupid, but I doubt it.

No more lanes of traffic

The Seattle PI ended a recent editorial with “…the current assumption is that new road plans will open up new lanes and increase highway capacity.” (4/9/07)

The only thing that new lanes of pavement open is more traffic. Nowhere in the world has new lanes solved the traffic and transit problems. Each new highway, freeway, bridge or roadway is hailed as the one that will ‘solve the problem’. Think “I-90” in the late 1970’s; rebuilding the bridge wider and bigger was the promised solution to cross lake traffic. All it did was get more people to move over to the eastside, drive more and drive longer. The number of cars on I-90, 520 and even going around the lake did not decrease—in fact, they increased. And this is true whenever you increase the lanes available.

Go out and get a tattoo: “More lanes means more traffic.”

Even as a transit advocate, I am not stupid enough to think that transit can solve all of our traffic woes. You will never take a load of leaves to the dump in a bus, nor deliver a bunch of refrigerators in a monorail or rush your aged parent to the doctors in a light rail train. So while we need transit, we need traffic capacity. But rather than building ever more lanes in an ever futile attempt to ‘build our way out of congestion’, we need to understand the problem. Only by understanding the problem can we begin to tackle the issue.

First, the traffic is not as bad as it is made out to be. Traffic makes for very funny Dave Horsey cartoons, but we really are not even close to gridlock. Most of you reading this drive to work; I drive for a living. I drive a tour van. I drive most days from the north end of Seattle to the airport and back into downtown during the morning rush hour. On nearly every day, I am held up for a few minutes—but that is all. I maintain a speed of nearly fifty miles an hour, day-after-day. I listen to the traffic reports on the radio and when I-5 is bad, I take Aurora Avenue. Yes, of course, traffic is bad near Safeco Field after a game, but even then I can get out of there in under fifteen minutes (big hint: stay off the major roadways and use the alleys). Traffic in isolated areas—around the Fremont Bridge, the Husky Stadium and the Spokane Street/I-5 interchange among many—can be bad. But these are momentary, can be avoided easily and no amount of building will change them.

Traffic is simply not that bad.

Second, if you carefully note what the traffic reports tell you, you will know that the largest part—estimates are that it is 60% of the problem—are accidents and breakdowns. Now, accidents and breakdowns are not entirely avoidable (that’s why they are called ‘accidents’). But many accidents are avoidable. Many breakdowns are foreseeable. Imagine if we put the monetary effort into clearing accidents and breakdowns that we propose to building new roads? We need to examine and record all accidents—and then, go there and prevent some of those accidents! We need to see who and what is breaking down—and then, stop a few of those breakdowns!

Third, the absolute key is not building new lanes but traffic management. We have the ability to tie the traffic control system to the true, real-time needs of the cars, trucks and buses. The costs of these computer controlled traffic lights are going down, for the same reason that your personal computer costs are going down. Even at the old prices, it would be far cheaper to computerize our traffic control than to attempt to build enough lanes—and that won’t work anyway.

There is much more to traffic control than just traffic lights. We ought to be investigating, initiating and where appropriate, implementing them.

We should examine and document what is causing accidents and then direct the police to making accident reduction a priority.

Three minutes saved by improved traffic control is the same three minutes saved by clearing the freeway for three miles so that you can go sixty miles per hour.

We can change traffic for the better. I know that we can because we have—and it works. Notice how the traffic reports rarely mention the spur freeway that goes from the Everett plant to I-5? They used to mention it all of the time. Then, Boeing changed their program; every worker in that plant (and there are thousands of them) have a different start and stop time. Every minute, a different worker is let off from work. Result? No big traffic jams.

This is just one example of where a little common sense goes a lot farther than a billion dollar’s worth of new concrete.

Fourth, as a last resort, we can initiate demand management. “Demand management” is just a euphemism for “tolls” and I am opposed to “tolls” as usually done. Usually, tolls are simply charging to use the roads and that means that the poor are denied access and the rich are granted the use of the roads. Frankly, I don’t care if it is a dime: it is wrong to let some use the roads and not let others.

But there is a way: as a last resort, I would advocate for what they did in Singapore decades ago. They did not charge a vehicle for entering the city; they charged you for each empty seat as you entered the city. Full cars, trucks and so on, paid nothing. Most drivers simply carpooled up and drove in free. (Those rich people that wanted to ‘show their wealth’, paid $10 an empty seat and this was enough to pay for the toll booths, enforcement and so on.)

Studies show that nineteen out of twenty vehicles going across the I-90 are single occupant cars, but that other one out of twenty vehicles carry forty percent of the people across the I-90 bridge. We could set up tolls that only charged if you were a single driver (commercial vehicles and transit ‘dead-heading’ would be exempt). I think that very few drivers would choose to ‘drive alone’. If I am right, we would see half of the cars on the road, overnight.

One reason why traffic control, accident reduction and removal of breakdowns doesn’t get priority is that the political people don’t get to have a ribbon cutting, contributors to their campaign fund don’t get big contracts and there is something terribly sexy about building the most expensive bridge or roadway or whatever.

If you listen to the radio traffic reports there are a couple of days a year that we hear ‘traffic is light’: the days that the federal workers have off and no one else does. Federal workers are a small, but significant, number of employees in Seattle. I mention this only to demonstrate that we do not need to cut huge numbers from the traffic flow; a few cars, here and there, will do the trick. A couple of fewer accidents and a handful less of cars abandoned in the street will go a long ways. Better traffic management and control will do more than any new bridge, road or highway.

We have paved over twenty-five percent of the city of Seattle with concrete for our cars. More concrete will not solve the problem. Certainly, we can make better use of the vehicles we have on the concrete already poured. Enough with the concrete already.

Lighting the way

Footlights on Burke Gilman Trail

The Burke Gilman bike trail in Seattle’s northend is a major, significant transportation corridor, used by several thousand people a day.

It is a paved, separated biking and walking trail that leads to, and through, the University of Washington. Since it utilizes the old railroad right-of-way, it has no hills and few street crossings.

If proof of its utility is needed, look no further than the fact that the University of Washington has all of its bike parking places taken (in fact, it can’t or won’t build enough bike parking places). Look at the real paucity of bikes at Seattle University or the Seattle Community Colleges. They have the same demographics as the UW and many of the students at these campuses would welcome a chance to bike to school but there are no safe and separated bike trails to those institutions. The Burke Gilman has saved the University from being inundated with cars.

The Burke Gilman bike trail could be even better if it were lighted, especially during the winter months when we get only eight hours of sunlight. I am not talking huge street lights shining down from twenty feet above. I am calling for footlights that would illuminate only the pavement of the trail itself. First, these type of lights would not shine into nearby homes and businesses. Second, it would take far less energy to light near the pavement than to light from high above.

When I proposed this to a friend, he said that the cost would be prohibitive. I said “We light the roads—all of the roads—throughout the night and no one seems to mind the expense”.

What a great way to tell non-car users “We are thinking about you; we want to help make you safe and comfortable.”

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Uber traffic circles

In Seattle, there are ‘traffic circles’ in the middle of many ‘uncontolled intersections’ where two non-arterials—side-streets—meet where there are also no stop signs or traffic lights. You must drive around the traffic circle

These traffic circles are very good. Where they have been installed, they reduce accidents by 97%.

Up on Capital Hill, between Fifteenth Avenue East and Nineteenth Avenue East, between Aloha Street and John Street, there are traffic circles, but instead of merely being a landscaped circle in the middle of the intersection, these traffic controlling breaks in the road go from corner to kitty corner, diagonally through the intersection.

These are better.

(For the nervous-nellies reading this, they leave enough room for fire trucks, cops and ambulances to get through, if a bit roughly.)

Not only do these Uber Traffic Circles slow down everyone but they virtually eliminate people driving through the neighborhood as a shortcut---as they used to. The onliest reason for driving here to go here. People can still drive home, deliveries are made, emergency vehicles can get through, but oh, what a change a few curbs, a little dirt and a couple of trees make.

Tolling SOV's

First, let’s make it clear that I am against paying to use the roads.

We paid for these roads with gas money and other taxes; we should be allowed to use them.

Worse, I would hate to see a world in which these gas tax built roads paid for by nearly all of us would be now given to those with the money to pay for access.

But having said that, there is something to be said for getting some vehicles off of the road.

So I think that it would be alright to put a toll on those non-commercial vehicles that have only one person in them—during peak hours. If you have more than one person, no charge. If you are driving during non-peak hours, no charge. No charge for commercial vehicles. Only the single occupant vehicles driving at peak hours would be charged.

Frankly, this is something that I would consider as a last resort measure. I am convinced that there are many things that we can do to relieve congestion but if we have to, we can toll SOV’s. It would work.

Nineteen out of twenty cars on the road at peak hours has only one person. If everyone doubled up, we would take nearly half of the cars off the road. Now that is congestion busting.


In “Our ability to deal with the traffic could pave the way for future success” (Seattle Times guest column 8/31/07 by Sims and Gregoire points out that the predicted nightmare of traffic gridlock during I-5 construction did not happen. (For twelve days or so, they closed down three of the five lanes on Interstate 5 leading into Seattle for replacement of huge expansion joints.)

Gridlock was not avoided by people taking transit. It was avoided because people commuted smarter.

The Sounder trains may have seen an increase in riders, but even packed, they moved only 2,000 people. The problem is, I-5 has 130,000 cars and trucks a day.

Buses didn’t move many more than the trains and the extra buses became part of the traffic that remained.

Don’t bother mentioning water taxi. They do not carry even 500 people all day long and are nothing more than a boondoogle of the worst sort.

What really happened when they closed down three of five lanes of northbound freeway was that thousands—tens of thousands of drivers—either went at other-than-peak rush hour times or used one of the other ten to fifteen lanes of traffic that lead into downtown Seattle.

Let us count the lanes:

--East Marginal Way (and even West Marginal Way to Spokane Street) has two and even three lanes that are almost never full.

--First Avenue South and Fourth Avernue South both are major, four lane arterials with hardly a light or traffic.

--Airport Way South (a personal favorite of mine) is a road that you can assume there is almost never another car on it.

When I was learning to be a cab driver in Seattle (back in the days when they actually trained cab drivers to get somewhere fast and the shortest way possible) they told us not to use the freeways. They are nearly always full, may trap you in a major jam and are almost never the best way to get anywhere.

Better, a lot of commuters simply put off driving into work between 7:00 and 9:00. Some hardy souls actually came in earlier.

But this November, the voters are being asked to tax themselves to build more roads, bigger transit, extra buses, light rail to the Husky Stadium and more roads. Most of the $17 billion is for transit that will carry almost no one.

What we need to do is take care of what we have. We don’t need to build new roads; we need to repair what we have. We need to realize that we have paved 25% of the city and within all of that concrete we have more than enough for our cars, trucks and vehicles.

We cannot spend every dime we have and ever will have on trying to build our way out of congestion. We can commute smarter, drive smarter and even haul freight smarter. New York, Chicago and LA have tried to build their way out of congestion and failed. Let’s try something different. Let’s try something smarter.

Smarter commuting

In “Our ability to deal with the traffic could pave the way for future success” (Seattle Times guest column 8/31/07 by Sims and Gregoire points out that the predicted nightmare of traffic gridlock during I-5 construction did not happen. (For twelve days or so, they closed down three of the five lanes on Interstate 5 leading into Seattle for replacement of huge expansion joints.)

Gridlock was not avoided by people taking transit. It was avoided because people commuted smarter.

The Sounder trains may have seen an increase in riders, but even packed, they moved only 2,000 people. The problem is, I-5 has 130,000 cars and trucks a day.

Buses didn’t move many more than the trains and the extra buses became part of the traffic that remained.

Don’t bother mentioning water taxi. They do not carry even 500 people all day long and are nothing more than a boondoogle of the worst sort.

What really happened when they closed down three of five lanes of northbound freeway was that thousands—tens of thousands of drivers—either went at other-than-peak rush hour times or used one of the other ten to fifteen lanes of traffic that lead into downtown Seattle.

Let us count the lanes:

--East Marginal Way (and even West Marginal Way to Spokane Street) has two and even three lanes that are almost never full.

--First Avenue South and Fourth Avernue South both are major, four lane arterials with hardly a light or traffic.

--Airport Way South (a personal favorite of mine) is a road that you can assume there is almost never another car on it.

When I was learning to be a cab driver in Seattle (back in the days when they actually trained cab drivers to get somewhere fast and the shortest way possible) they told us not to use the freeways. They are nearly always full, may trap you in a major jam and are almost never the best way to get anywhere.

Better, a lot of commuters simply put off driving into work between 7:00 and 9:00. Some hardy souls actually came in earlier.

But this November, the voters are being asked to tax themselves to build more roads, bigger transit, extra buses, light rail to the Husky Stadium and more roads. Most of the $17 billion is for transit that will carry almost no one.

What we need to do is take care of what we have. We don’t need to build new roads; we need to repair what we have. We need to realize that we have paved 25% of the city and within all of that concrete we have more than enough for our cars, trucks and vehicles.

We cannot spend every dime we have and ever will have on trying to build our way out of congestion. We can commute smarter, drive smarter and even haul freight smarter. New York, Chicago and LA have tried to build their way out of congestion and failed. Let’s try something different. Let’s try something smarter.

Slogans won the war

If you ever needed a perfect example of what is wrong with local government, look no further than the Washington State Department of Transportation.

With much fanfare, they recently announced a contest. They wanted suggestions for how to do their job better. Their job, as I see it, is to move people and goods through and throughout the state. I’m sure that some consultant can come up with a better way of putting it, but their job is transportation, transit, transing in general and in particular. Moving people and things. Moving them here and there. Up and down. Across and between, without dropping anything.

I was assuming that the winning idea might be a new and more competitive bidding process. Maybe a new way of tying computers to traffic information and signaling so that we wouldn’t spend three minutes at a red light when absolutely no cars are approaching from the cross street. Or perhaps a better business model for the Ferry System, one that might produce enough revenue from twenty-two million users to pay for the boats.

But instead, the winning entry was—get ready for it—a slogan.

Why bother with delivering service or goods when you can talk your way out of it? Didn’t we beat the Germans in World War II with a really snappy slogan? Hell, if only the builders of the intercontinental railroad had had a good slogan, they could have built a train track across the country. I would have had a pretty tasty dinner, but those stupid farmers still are trying to grow things instead of coming up with a good ten word phrase that would deliver food to my table.

While it’s been five years since the quake that shook the viaduct, the Washington State Department of Transportation has done almost nothing—except pine for a slogan. The 520 bridge has developed cracks, but the DOT hasn’t developed a slogan—small wonder that they can’t move on the bridge.

Now that they have a slogan, they can really begin.

Oh, the winning slogan? I think it’s something like “The Washington State Department of Transportation: sure we’re slow and wasteful, but not as slow and not as wasteful as Sound Transit!”

Cell phones

It’s going to be pretty hard to make it a law not to drive while on the cellphone when all the cops do it. Worse, they are sometimes typing on their keyboard while driving.

The problem is, the cellphone has become an integral part of our everyday lives. Some of us can hardly function without them. Admittedly, some of the calls go like this:

“What are you doing? Yeah, I’m just chilling. Driving and chilling. Well, see you later.”

But some of the calls are actually important or even useful.

So let’s take a page from the laws already on the books. It is illegal to drink and drive, of course. What you may not know is that if you get in an accident and you are driving under the influence, you must prove that you are innocent. In other words, you are automatically assumed to be guilty until you prove otherwise.

We should expand this law to include ‘talking on the cellphone, dialing a call or text messaging.’ If you get into an accident while on the phone, you must prove that you didn’t cause the problem.

Here’s what would happen. You get a call in traffic. If it is Norm checking to see if you are indeed chilling, you either ignore it or say “Yeah, I’m chilling but I have to drive. Later” and hang-up. Or if it is something that you need to know, like your appointment has canceled or something in your schedule has changed, you have the person give you the information fast and hang-up. Or you say, “I’m in traffic. I’ll pull over in a minute and call you back.”

But it is unrealistic to think that we will ban cellphones while driving.

It is also a law that bicycles have to have a light on for night driving, but the bike cops don’t have any lights.

Fewer laws, better enforcement.

Driving less: city employee division

I finally saw a Parking Enforcement Officer—meter maid—riding a bike instead of one of those little three wheeled Cushmans. Now this is great, but let’s get more of the city employees to agree to not use cars and other motor vehicles. There is one sure way of making that happen: pay them.

The Parking Enforcement Officer that chooses to ride a bike rather than drive a Cushman or other motor vehicle, they should get a bonus at the end of the year. I would think that two thousand dollars would be a nice number. The bonus has to be high enough to amount to something and not so high as to break the city’s bank.

Are there other examples where city employees could forego the use of vehicles? You bet.

Out on Aurora, the city has posted two old-fashioned beat cops, walking between 85th and 95th. These cops drive over from the cop shop a few miles away at the beginning of their shifts, park the car and then walk their beats. They could catch a ride from any of the dozens of cops leaving at the same time and get another ride back at the end of the shift. (There is the added bonus that by not using a cop car to go a mile in each direction, the city would save about five thousand a year on insurance.)

Speaking of cops, the Seattle Center security boys have a cop car of their own. From the middle of the Center to the edge is about 250 yards. Why they need a car of their own is anyone’s guess. My guess? It keeps them warm in the winter.

If I see another landscaping truck driving around the Seattle Center grounds with a single garbage can in it, I am going to scream.

I would bet if you gave out Metro passes, a few judicious taxi charges—for those times when the bus just won’t do—and that two thousand dollar bonus, I bet we could really see some significant reductions in the number of vehicles driven.

Ban pay-per-ride trucking

If you are a logging truck and get a hundred bucks for every load that you deliver to the yard in Tacoma, what are you going to do?

Drive like a bat out of hell, of course.

If you get down to Tacoma fifteen minutes faster on every run, you may be able to squeeze in another run into the day. Another hundred bucks for you.

We need to outlaw ‘pay-per-run’ trucking.

There needs to be a word invented for a conviction that you know something without one shred of evidence to back it up. I am convinced that some of the worst accidents on the freeway are these truckers racing to squeeze one more run into the day. I am also convinced that even if there are no accidents attributable to truckers trying to squeeze in one more, the practice of paying per run for truckers must be abolished by law.

Closing neighborhood side streets (in one direction)

Out in Seattle’s Northgate district, they have made some of the side streets one-way. Where the side street used to lead on-to and off-of the arterial, it now goes only onto the busy street. As with the traffic circles on Capital Hill, it effectively stops people from using the side streets as shortcuts through the neighborhood and still allows for circulation.

It is cheap to install these types of changes. It is cheap to un-do the changes if it turns out that it doesn’t work. You could probably try it out with temporary signs for even less investment.

We should be trying this all over town; maybe a hundred streets. If it works, a hundred more. And if it doesn’t work, take down some of the signs. No big whoop.

rewarding non ownership of cars

Take a deep breath. Give people money for not owning a car. OK, that might be too much.

How about giving them a bus pass? Or at least a reduced price bus pass. Maybe some taxi script. Or even a coupon good for the first hundred bucks on a bike.

But let’s give something to those that take a car off the road by not owning a car.

Jackknifed trucks

I was talking with a truck driver about trucks. “We could build a truck that moved the cargo box up snug against the tractor. That would mean that there would be no more jack-knifing.”

The trucker laughed and said “A good trucker should never jack knife. I never have and never will.”

The tractor truck is attached to the cargo box with a couple of feet of room between the two so that you can make a sharp turn. But on the freeway, you never need to make a sharp turn. The truck can have a system that pulls the cargo box up snug or at least ‘snugger’ when they are on the freeway and lets the gap get bigger when you are off the freeway and need to turn sharply.

Not all truck drivers are as good as the one I was talking to. Make the trucks better, reduce the jack-knifed incidents and the freeways will be that much clearer.

Added bonus! By ‘snuging’ the tractor up to the front of the box, you would see significant gas savings—less wind resistance equals less gas. It just might be enough to get the drivers and tractor truck owners to adopt this idea.

Insurance by the day or the mile

OK, so you own a car. Fine; so do I. Let’s say that you want to cut back on how much you drive. Great; so do I. It saves gas, wear-and-tear on the vehicle and some other costs.

But there are two areas where it makes no difference.

Your insurance is largely a yearly price, with only a small reduction if you drive less. But what if it was based entirely on your mileage? Rather than paying for the year, you would pay by the mile. Every time that you start up the car, it would cost you more. Now, maybe you would think twice of driving to work or be more willing to carpool, knowing that it could save you a couple of bucks—the cost of public transit or your share of the gas money in the carpool. Maybe you would join Flexcar and use their service.

Imagine if the state tax on your vehicle was tied, not to the value of your car, but to the number of miles actually driven. Or at least, some part of the tax could be tied to the miles. Or perhaps, a penalty would be assessed for truly excessive driving of personal cars.

There are obvious problems with such a plan; it would take a while to work out the bugs But if we are serious about reducing traffic and smog and all of the rest, we have to start somewhere and probably try a couple of different fronts.

Drunk driving

The problem with laws aimed at preventing drunk driving is that they are written by sober people. If Mothers Against Drunk Drivers (MADD) thinks that installing alcohol sensors will prevent drunks from driving, they simply are not aware of the lengths that drunks will go to drive; they will simply get a sober person to ‘blow’ for them—I know, I’ve seen it when I was a cab driver sitting on Ballard Avenue at the 2:00 AM bar rush.

MADD has worked to make the penalties more severe and to some extent this worked. But now that is acknowledged to have limits. If you have lost your job, your spouse and maybe your children, jail and financial penalties are not that big of a deal. In fact, that ‘one day in jail’ is really nothing but a source of a couple of good stories. Guys at the bar will buy you a drink to hear again about your night in jail. Again, as a cab driver I used to pick up the guys from jail and they were laughing about it.

Making the penalties worse won’t work. First, juries will balk at putting people away for long periods for doing something that many of them have done on occasion. Second, as a taxpayer, I am not too thrilled with paying to incarcerate anyone for too long.

But there is a solution: take the vehicle. First offense, six months; second, a year and the third, forever. Locking up a vehicle is not very expensive for the taxpayer but very expensive for most drunks.

There are numerous arguments against such an approach and they are all bogus:

Many families have more than one car (actually, most do.); the convicted drunk will merely switch to another car. Try explaining to your spouse why they have to carpool and are greatly inconvenienced. Right after finishing reading this letter, try calmly walking into the living room and announce that you think that the family ought to ‘give up a car’.

The drunk will go out and buy another junker car. True, but that will get old real fast. And frankly, I doubt if most people would finance you if, the next time, the vehicle may be seized forever.

Drunks will borrow someone else’s car. That’s why we seize the vehicle. The law should apply whoever owns the vehicle whether it is yours, your mother’s, or a cab, bus or delivery van. You’re drunk, the vehicle is ours. I have been a professional driver for twenty years and in all of that time, I never saw a breathalyzer in any shop that I drove out of.

By confiscating the vehicles, we will have a law—not aimed at drunks (alcohol first effects your judgment)—but aimed at the people that can actually do some good. Sober friends, bartenders and others will take your keys. The drinker will argue about it, fight it but the next morning they will come and thank the person who took the keys. They saved their car.

While we are at it, we need to video tape the arrest. When this was done in one Midwest state, and the conviction rate went up to over 90%.

We need to become serious in this effort to stop drunk driving. Confiscation is aimed at the one person that can stop the drunk driving—the sober friend. Losing a car is enough of an incentive that anyone would step in and stop the drunk from driving.