Seattle’s New Light Rail

I Rode Light Rail sticker

Seattle’s new Link Light Rail opened to the public today with free rides all weekend.  SoundTransit stickerI drove down to the Tukwila International station at the south end of the line.   It wasn’t too surprising that parking was very tight, but I was pleasantly suprised by how organized they were.  There were people in yellow shirts all over the place, starting with blocking off the parking lots at the station to allow only the number of cars in each lot that there was space for.  This meant it took a bit of time to get allowed into the parking lot, but once in, finding that one open spot was no hassle.

The planning didn’t end there.  From one end to the other, the event was planned and executed like a Disneyland ride, right down to the sign at the beginning of the line saying “wait is 30 minutes from this point” and plenty of water and porta-potties for those waiting.  They also managed the number of people allowed on each train such that they were full, but not uncomfortably packed.

The light rail stations seem to be well designed, with plenty of room for even the huge crowds of the opening day event.  I didn’t get off at any of the intermediate stops on the trip north, but all of those stations seemed well designed and attractive, but not extravagent.

The biggest complaint I had with the whole system is that the tracks were apparently not aligned very well, because we bounced around quite a bit, particularly on the long high-speed run between Tukwila and Raineer Beach stations.  On the return trip, the guy sitting next to me said he had worked on freight trains for 20 years and the ride was about the same.  Not a good recommendation for the contractor who laid this stretch of commuter light rail.   The trains themselves are pretty well laid out, except for the fact that there are only racks for two bicycles (hung by one wheel) on each car…  it could get pretty frustrating if more than a few cyclists want to extend their commuting range…

LinkBeaconHill1Light Rail arriving at Beacon Hill station On the way back south, I decided to get off at the Beacon Hill station, since it is 160 feet underground!  As with the other stations, this one is laid out with plenty of room and four elevators to the surface.  The elevators are roomy, smooth, and quick.  Each station has some sort of artwork; on the left you can see some of the fun stuff at Beacon Hill.

So, what’s my bottom like evaluation?  I’ll give Sound Transit an A for the opening day presentation, but a B for the system due to the bumpy track and limited bicycle provisions.

Before I sign off, a couple other items of note.  On the fun side, a family travelling next to me on the way north turned out to own a small apartment complex two blocks from the Tukwila station and they were getting some free advertising by wearing signs on their backs and leaving flyers in the schedule slots on the train 🙂  On a sad note, when I looked out the window at one of the downtown stops in the bus tunnel, paramedics were performing CPR on someone.  Prayers for whoever that was…

Anyone else reading this who made it to the opening day/weekend?


Support Our Troops

On this day to honor our fallen heros, I offer a few ways that we can support our troops:

  1. Bring them home — responsibly.  Where we’ve caused harm and instability, we have an obligation to do what we can to clear the wreckage we have brought.  Where Iraq and Afganistan need and want our help, we need to offer it.  But where our “help” isn’t wanted or needed, we need to make an orderly departure.
  2. Honor our commitments to care for those who have been wounded (physically and emotionally) and the families of those who have fallen.  Increasingly, the wounds are not apparent at first glance, but are equally debilitating.
  3. Treat all those who serve with the dignity and respect they deserve.  Don’t damn those who serve faithfully with the mistakes of their leaders.

Universal Access to Addiction Treatment

We’ve been hearing alot lately about health care reform and changing the focus of the War on Drugs to treating drugs as a public health issue.  That’s really good, but are we going to end up with what we really need?  One change that would help both the overall cost of health care and the cascade of problems stemming from the illegal drug trade is to follow one simple imperative:

Addiction treatment should be available to anyone who wants to recover from any addiction.

Notice that I say “any” addiction.  By that I mean that we should not be limiting ourselves to illegal drugs and alcohol.  There are many other forms of addiction, from gambling to eating disorders to codependency, that are just as much public health issues as drug and alcohol abuse.  So I say, treat all addictions the same and provide the public and private support necessary to provide universal access to treatment.

Now you may be thinking “the cost is going to be enormous, we can’t afford that!”  But let’s look at what we’re going to save, which can be broken down into a few broad categories:

  • Criminal Justice savings.   It is only reasonable that an addict who has the support necessary to recover from their addiction is much less likely to wind up in jail.  As a very simplistic example, compare the cost of 5-10 weeks of residential treatment to the 5-10 years the same person might spend in prison if they remain untreated.  I don’t have figures handy on the cost of each, but it’s obvious that the cost differential would be huge.  Even if treatment had a modest success rate, you’re talking millions or even billions of dollars per year in savings.
  • Health Care savings.  Plain and simple, an addict in recovery is going to be healthier than an addict on the street.  Someone who is healthier is going to need less medical care.
  • Business Productivity.  Even if an active addict is able to hold down a job, they are going to be less productive than the same person who is “clean and sober”.  I’m no actuary, but I suspect the cost of impaired productivity to the GDP is staggering.

So what does all of this mean?   It means that we should make our voices heard and call for universal access to addiction treatment!

Performing Arts: The Ultimate Team Sport?

One of the topics I’ve been wanting to write about for a while, but didn’t quite have an angle on is just how important it is for our schools to support performing arts programs (Band, Orchestra, Choir, Theater).  There have been plenty of academic studies showing a high correlation between participation in the performing arts and academic excellence, but I was looking for another angle.  As I was trying to go to sleep tonight, the topic of this post floated across my mind with such an impact that I had to get the idea down before I lost it.

So, why is it that the performing arts are the untilate team sport?  In a nutshell, you get all of the positive benefits of sports without the inherent aggression found to one degree or another in virtually every conventional team sport.  Taking a string orchestra class as an example,

  • Teamwork:  performers have to work together to meet a common goal, beautiful music.
  • Leadership:  each section has a “first chair” that leads the section.  There may also be student conductors who assist the teacher.
  • Coordination:  each performer needs to learn to coordinate their efforts with their section and the conductor.
  • Taking direction: each performer needs to follow the director’s instructions.
  • Observation:  each performer needs to pay attention to the director as well as their own performance.
  • Multi-tasking:  the performer needs to pay attention to at least three different things at once: the music, the director, and their instrument.
  • Dedication:  it takes a lot of practice and persistence to perform well.
  • Competition:  although not the focus of an orchestra, there are often opportunities to participate in local, regional, and even national  competitions.

Things you don’t typically get from the performing arts that are all too often found in sports include,

  • debilitating physical injury
  • fights
  • taunting/hostility

Under Construction

This is blog is still under construction and I’m still figuring out what I want to do with it. Please be patient and let me know if you like (or hate) any changes I make…

How to Profit in the Coming Recovery…

It seems that in this economy, many companies are still trying to show a profit, whatever the cost.  They are reducing staff to the point that critical projects are put in jeopardy, making it difficult or impossible to meet the commitments they still have.  Other companies are avoiding layoffs by cutting pay by reducing salaries, unpaid days off, etc.   These strategies are reasonable survival measures for companies that are facing bankruptcy, but I’m seeing it being used by companies that are healthy to continue making a profit.

I may be naive, but I would not be so focused on profit at a time like this.  I would be looking at two economic projections as applied to my industry.  The first is at my best guess at how long and deep this recession will be.  The second would be a more pessimistic view, much like the Obama administration is applying to the banks in theis “stress test”.   With those projections in hand, I would come up with two budgets.  The first would be targeted to break-even in the best guess economy.  The second would rely on drawing down my cash reserves to a bare minimum, or even zero, in the worst case economy.  Based on those two budgets, I would maintain staffing and spending as high as possible.

This approach would have several benefits.  First, my company would be positioned well, with my teams intact, when the economy recovers.  I won’t have to scramble to re-staff, sacrificing productivity in the recovery.  Second, if this were to become the norm, the recovery will be much faster than if everyone keeps focusing on profits.

So why do so many companies take short sighted approaches?