Archive for the ‘Transportation’ Category

Spike the Tunnel

Mayor Mike McGinn, fresh off bollixing up the 520 bridge replacement, just announced he was prepared to do the same with the deep bore tunnel which is being planned to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct.  Both the 520 bridge and the viaduct are decrepit and ready to sink, collapse, or pancake.  225,000 vehicles use them daily.  A catastrophe on either would seriously disrupt the local economy and probably result in loss of life.

Common sense tells us that a new viaduct is the smartest and cheapest way to solve the problem. Unfortunately, Seattle dreamers continue to fight for either a surface replacement, which would gridlock the entire waterfront area, or an expensive tunnel bored through unknown soil conditions.  The surface “solution” would do more harm than good, choking commuter and pier traffic.  The tunnel is a two billion dollar financial crapshoot.

McGinn, a former Sierra Club lawyer, wants everyone else to live in a rabbit hutch and ride public transit.  He hates personal, private mobility unless it is on foot or bicycle. He and his circle of elitists know what is good for us.  As far as they are concerned, we better take it and shout out “Thank you Sir – Can I have another”?

Giving McGinn the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he means well and is sincerely trying to save us from ourselves.   Tunnels can be full of surprises.  Just think about those two Brightwater boring machines that went kaput a couple hundred feet below Bothell & Lake Forest Park.  The Boston “Big Dig” created a cut & fill tunnel that went 400% over budget, taking 15 years to complete.  It killed a woman shortly after it opened and had to close for rework of shoddy construction.  There is a similar tunnel in Russia that gets wet and icy occasionally and makes for some gruesome entertainment:

Don’t hold your breath for anything sensible to ever get done with transportation around Seattle.  The “Seattle Way” drags out planning and agreement interminably and always results in solutions similar to a camel, said to be “a horse designed by a committee.” Billions are flushed down the rat hole of light & heavy rail while the obviously cheapest and most integrated solution – Bus Rapid Transit, sharing infrastructure with motor vehicles – is ignored. Bridge and viaduct plans have been fought over for years with no appreciable result.  Top these attitudes off with a fruitcake mayor who has the power and will to toss a wrench into everything, and you have gridlock.

The Puget Sound area experiences a serious earthquake about every 300-400 years. The last real doozie was in 1700.  The clock is ticking.  Here is a movie clip dramatizing the collapse of a highway viaduct in San Francisco.  After our viaduct ends up like this, perhaps a solution will be implemented.  In the meantime we must amuse ourselves reading about idealistic dithering, posturing, and hissy fits among our elitist “leaders.”

Here is a computer generated slow motion description and animation of the viaduct and how it would behave in an earthquake.  It will make you think twice about driving on or under it.

We have known for years what has to be done, and frittered those years away bickering.  Those in public office who delayed the obvious solution will be held accountable by the citizens – the same citizens who voted similar loons into office again and again.


Graceful Bird

As a kid, I had the fantastic good fortune to experience air travel as it used to be. Growing up in the ‘50s was a true gift. Those who came along later will never have the thrill of racing a huge steam locomotive along a 2-lane highway adjacent to the tracks. They will never experience the neighborhood excitement of the day the family down the street brought home their new ’55 Buick. Above all, younger folks have completely missed the excitement when air travel was a truly wonderful experience laced with a bit of adventure or tension.

Probably the most beautiful example of utility and grace of the period was the Lockheed Super Constellation. With its dolphin shaped fuselage and triple tail, it combined form and function with power and allure. The shaking, snarling, belching-to-life of its 4 huge radial engines totaling 13,000 horsepower would stir the blood of pilots and passengers alike as they announced we were about to “slip the surly bonds of earth. ” As a machine; it represented a technology at its zenith, soon to eclipsed by the evolving jet airliners that would sweep the Connie from the skies.

Here are a few minutes of shots of the Breitling Watch Company Constellation that was restored from junk and now flies the air show circuit in Europe.

An air trip was a magnificent pleasure when these planes plied the continental and ocean routes at about 340 MPH. Tickets were expensive because the government prevented much competition between airlines. Only the well-off or business traveler could afford an air journey. The middle class took a car, train or bus to go cross country.

We endured no security lines or metal detectors. Bombs, hijackers, and terrorists were not a threat. However with thousands of individual moving parts in powerful, temperamental gasoline engines, there was always a chance of some heart palpitations enroute. The Wright 3350 engines on the Connie had cut their teeth in B-29s during WW II, but still had their quirks. Occasionally one would not just expire peacefully. Throwing a prop blade or a master rod could lead to nail-biting emergency landings or an occasional spectacular crash.  An old pilot joke about Connies goes like this:

“A DC-6 is a 4 engine plane with 3 blade propellers. A Constellation is a 3 engine plane with 4 blade propellers.”  The main difference being the DC-6 had Pratt & Whitney engines, and that often one of the Connie’s Wrights would toss its cookies along the way.

Once aboard the Connie, the seats were well spaced and comfortable. The food was good, and there was even a small pack of cigarettes served with each meal so passengers could light up after lunch. We kids would slip them into our pockets to show off when we got home.  The vibration and monotonous drone of the engines had an affect of lulling one to sleep, which was beneficial as the trips lasted a lot longer than now. Flight Attendants were called “Stewardesses” who acted and looked the part. Passengers were pampered as honored guests; not crammed in like cattle.

These days air travel has all the unpleasantness of a long bus trip complete with hygienically challenged fellow passengers; some so big they must be greased with Crisco to fit in a seat. Adding to this are the hassles of crowded airports, security screening, minimal food service, packed seating, baggage fees, robot check-in, and the occasional frowzy and grumpy flight attendant. Contemplating a plane trip is about as pleasant as heading for the dentist’s office. Yes the fares are much lower, and millions more people can enjoy the speed of air travel today, but the trade-offs may not be worth it.

Personally, this writer has reverted to land travel whenever possible. The moment that new toll bridge to Hawaii is opened, my old ’93 Jeep shall be the first in line.

If you are really interested, check out the first few minutes of this old California promo film. You will be amazed at the comfort, treatment, food, and some beautiful in flight shots. Flying into LAX, my little brother and I were astounded to see the “Daily Planet” building from the Superman TV series. It appears at about 8 minutes in if you have the time.

The Seattle Way

The Seattle Way is a Brick Wall

Seattle and its surrounding environs have a rather odd method of doing things in government; locally nicknamed “The Seattle Way.”  In endless efforts to obtain a consensus by pleasing all, very few decisions get made in a timely manner. Many of the projects that actually get started often lead to loopy results instead of practical solutions. Below is but one glaring example:

Seattle’s two ancient roadways — a viaduct and a floating bridge — carry 225,000 vehicles per day, from Smart Cars to 53-ton truck combinations.  Both are ready to collapse in a good earthquake.  While these long known dangers imperil the entire local economy, billions of dollars have been sunk into 19th century technologies like commuter heavy rail, light rail, and streetcars serving in total less than 18,000 riders per day, each perhaps burdened with a sack lunch and a laptop.

How does Seattle do it, one might ask? Below is a satirical announcement from a “Study Group” which closely resembles the reports we routinely see in the local press:

Group to Promote New Rapid Mass Transit Formed

Air Ships in New Innovative Novel Environments (ASININE) announced today that it is moving forward to create commuter dirigible service between Seattle, Tacoma, and Everett. ASININE is a coalition of grass roots activists formed to find ways to cut greenhouse gasses and promote eco-friendly transportation alternatives. Spokesperson Dilarine Lightpockets announced that ASININE was founded by feminist paralegals seeking inclusiveness and consensus in the process of system specific planning.

The group has a proactive “zero tolerance policy” on road construction and demands an immediate statewide moratorium on such plans. A coordinating task force chaired by Wilhelmina Broom-Wickersham will interface with a steering committee that will in turn organize workshops, panel discussions, and neighborhood roundtable groups. Rignalita Ramos-Hoogerwerf has been named to dialog with state, county, and city officials on diversity issues, and seek opportunity grant money to initialize the planning stages. Ramos-Hoogerwerf will also establish a resource sharing forum to provide outreach to various advocacy groups with common goals and author a manifesto/position paper based on their input and throughput. “The solidarity with other groups will lead to synergistic diversity, tolerance, and empowerment as ASININE evolves” according to Lightpockets.

Civil engineer Buskirk Brubacher studied alternative transportation and did his PHD thesis on airship design in Europe.  “The drawings of the Hindenburg are all in good condition and can easily be scanned into AutoCAD files. The US has the world’s largest supply of helium and a simple switch to that gas would make the airships safe for commuter transportation” he said.  Additionally, Brubacher mentions that this transportation mode can be adopted between large buildings thereby eliminating any use of roadways.  “The Empire State Building was built with a mooring mast and it is still in place. We can do the same with the Columbia Center here.”

Bids for planning, design, and construction of the airships will be sought from Asian and European firms. “Nearly all our present transit equipment from the monorail to hybrid busses were sourced outside the US” said Brubacher. “There is no reason to work with a Boeing or GM when we can purchase everything from abroad.”

Cartoon Credit:  Shiers, Jr., published in Bellevue Reporter Newspaper on February 24, 2010, page 4.