One of the more interesting traffic analyses that I've run across in a while tracks the number of trips per household by reason and in total. For example, how many trips are now being taken by households for work, shopping, recreation etc. compared to historical patterns? The decline of brick and mortar retail and rise of internet purchasing appear to be making a significant impact - and positively so, at least from the perspective of taking vehicle traffic off the highways.
Source: Energy.Gov Vehicle Technology Office
Live in Black Diamond and want to go shopping in Seattle or conduct business in the big city? The railroads didn't always make this easy in the early 1900's. From out of the way terminal locations to inconvenient schedules, the railroad's bread and butter was shipping coal and thus their #1 priority. Accommodating people could often get in the way. As a result, alternative services would occasionally spring up - providing people oriented transportation. In 1924, The Diamond Stage Company provided "bus" service along the Seattle - Black Diamond run.
Image courtesy Roger Parry and the Black Diamond Historical Society, circa 1924
For a period, Diamond Stage maintained a terminal in what was once the Krause Saloon located just behind the Railroad Terminal. A similar service was also maintained between Seattle and Enumclaw but I am not sure how the two services may have been connected. The vehicle we see above was called a Locomobile and manufactured by a company called Locomobile Company of America. They built these and other automobiles between 1899 and 1929.
An important heads up. The City of Black Diamond has scheduled a public hearing for Thursday May 17th at 7:00 pm to receive public input regarding the city's proposed Six Year 2019/2025 Transportation Improvement Plan. The numbers in this year's plan are eye popping. Over $26,000,000 in transportation improvement projects are being planned. Traffic is a subject that we all love to hate and our input is essential.
Fortunately, Oakpointe is responsible for funding $21,000,000 of these projects but significant funding challenges for the city remain. The Council, Mayor and staff need to hear from us. I have attached for your reference, a copy of the draft plan. In addition, for those interested, I have also included a copy of my comments and input. Please participate and help make our city the best it can be.
Good news! Significant progress has been made on the traffic modelling required for projecting future demands on our city's transportation infrastructure. We should soon have an opportunity to review and provide input on the city's Comprehensive Plan, of which traffic is a major component. Base line data has been completed for the year 2015 (prior data dates back to 2007) and initial projections have been made for 2020 and 2035 reflecting impacts/needs resulting from both expected growth within the city and elsewhere within the region. This work is done intersection by intersection for all intersections within the city.
So -- what are traffic volumes and wait times at each of the city's intersections? Following is a map showing each of the city's traffic intersections and the peak hour volume of traffic we faced in the baseline study year of 2015.
We don't have to be traffic engineers to know that intersections with higher flows are likely to have longer wait times, particularly since only two intersections in town today are signalized. Following are the 2015 baseline peak hour wait times for each intersection and the resulting "level of service".
No surprises really. The two SR 169 intersections at Roberts Drive and Ravensdale Road both fail today to meet a minimum Level of Service for state highways at LOS D. Engineering and seeking permit approvals from WSDOT for improvements to these intersections have been underway for some months - funded by Oakpointe as required by the MPD conditions of approval and development agreements. Initial improvements are likely to include signalization to begin with, followed by installation of a large roundabout at a defined future date as growth dictates.
The other already "failing" intersection within the city is the intersection of 216th and 288th, which in 2015 was at LOS D - current minimum standards for city street intersections are LOS C. If you have ever tried to take a left had turn from either 288th or 216th during peak commute hours, you can well attest to how long delays here have become.
This data is baseline for 2015. The traffic engineering/modeling task is to project these flows ahead reflecting growth both within the city and by our regional neighbors, identify what improvements will be needed to maintain at least minimum levels of service in the city and develop a funding plan to mitigate these impacts.
More about current modeling and funding in future posts, along with opportunities we will all have to better understand and provide our input.
My earlier Traffic #uggh post focused on the growth of traffic volumes on major state highways serving our community. County arterials have seen similar growth. Once again, I am pleased with the amount of data being tracked by King County.
The map you see above is a print screen from the county's web page Traffic Counts in Unincorporated King County. Each of the pinkish squares represents an intersection at which traffic counts are being maintained. Click on an intersection and this is what you will find:
This specific drop down is pointing to the intersection of Covington-Sawyer Rd at Thomas Road - a high volume intersection in more recent years following the opening of Kentlake High School. The county samples traffic counts at this location every other year and as you will see, the growth rates have been particularly significant (my guess would be people like me avoiding Kent-Kangley to get to Costco or otherwise by-pass Covington).
2016 2014 2012
West of Thomas Rd. 12,236 N/A 11,710
East of Thomas Rd. 11,386 10,267 10,730
South on Thomas Rd. 2,516 2,185 1,981
It's also worth noting the traffic flows specifically on Thomas Road - likely fueled by continued growth in unincorporated King County? That's a 27% increase over just 4 years. Where are you county GMA?
Following is the data for Auburn Black Diamond Road.
2016 2014 2012
West of 218th 6,043 5,181 4,861
East of 218th 4,338 4,033 3,692
South on 218th 2,948 2,462 2,272
A few more intersections you may be interested in:
If you are interested in data for other intersections within unincorporated King County, follow this link to Traffic Counts in Unincorporated King County.
When the City of Black Diamond updates the city's Comprehensive Plan and traffic model, it's important to understand that city modeling will include only traffic counts and projections on roads and intersections within city limits. Hopefully, we will have that information available no later than early next year. But for regional modeling, however, and understanding regional impacts of growth in Black Diamond and other area cities, to get funding, we will have to wait until 750 building permits have been issued as part of the Master Planned Developments - last done based on data gathered in 2007.
Fortunately, thanks to both WSDOT and King County, we do have some data available that helps us understand some of the changes that have occurred in our area since 2007 and help us in our city planning.
Next week, as part of my #uggh focus on traffic, I'll include a list of traffic mitigation measures, intersections, road improvements etc. and their timing that are required of Oakpointe as condition of their permits for development of both Preliminary Plats 1-A and 2-C. It's a surprisingly long list.
As World War II began to heat up, the Seattle Tacoma Shipbuilding Corporation located in Tacoma's tide flats had grown to employ over 500 people. Most drove to work as this photo of their parking lot will attest.
Photo courtesy Tacoma Public Library, Richards Studio D11993-1, circa 1941
I didn't realize that car ownership was so high in the 1940's. People loved their cars. The only problem - access to the plant was limited to a two lane road running down east 11th Street, across the bridge and onto Alexander Ave. A whole lot of congestion at the end of the day. And within two months, the plant was slated to hire 5,000 more workers. Now that's what I call a major league traffic jam in the making, leaving city fathers to sort out the problem. Somehow, they made it work.
If there is a word in the English language that elicits universal loathing, it has to be traffic. It might be the one headache in our lives ever destined to get worse, never better - or at least it seems so. What can we do about it? In my view, our first and most important step is to become informed as best we can. To my surprise, when I first began researching local Black Diamond traffic issues and those of our surrounding communities, I found that there is quite a lot of data available at a level of detail I would not have expected. This data comes from both the State of Washington (WSDOT) and King County and can tell us a lot.
Photo University of Washington Libraries, 1986.5.7326.3, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, circa 1939
A few years ago, I pulled together several graphs that show historical average daily traffic counts by major intersection measured/estimated by WSDOT for two of our area's most important highways - Kent Kangley (SR516) and the Maple Valley Highway (SR169). I recently updated these charts to make them current through 2016 and also added Hwy 18. Data for the year 2017 should be available in the next several months and will add that when available.
First, following is historical traffic count data for the Maple Valley Highway (SR169). The intersection labeled as Enumclaw is the technical beginning of SR169 and represents where SR164 intersects.
Interestingly, SR169 traffic volumes beginning in Enumclaw have not increased at nearly the rate seen at other SR169 intersections, though increased traffic from Bonney Lake that bypasses Enumclaw via 400th likely now shows up as increased traffic counts at Lawson St. in Black Diamond. It's been a real steady climb in traffic using Kent Kangley (SR516) to access SR169. Increasing volumes at Witte Road show just how much growth there has been in both Covington and Maple Valley - and judging from current building at 4 Corners and in Covington, these numbers are going to continue growing significantly. It's also worth noting that through 2017, there will have been zero impact from Master Planned Developments in Black Diamond.
Not surprisingly, Kent Kangley (SR516) traffic counts have also grown considerably at intersections other than just SR169.
The three intersections I tracked began at Hwy 18, through Covington and up the hill to 216th, also known as Lake Sawyer Road, and then to Witte Road. Clearly, the Kent Kangley exit to and from Hwy 18 is a busy place and getting busier.
The increases in traffic on Hwy 18 have been huge, surpassing that for all other "local" state arterials. Given that Hwy 18 is the closest freeway to Covington, Maple Valley and Black Diamond, lets hope that all intersections along Hwy 18 are being appropriately upgraded to increase their capacity lest they become the next major bottleneck to our area's traffic flow. I believe there are plans in the works funded principally by the state, but will follow up to learn more.
My focus on historical data has been to provide a factual perspective on trends. There is much more to learn for each individual intersection, which are often the most important places for planning improvements to state highways. The following print screen image of WSDOT's traffic geoportal webpage shows each intersection currently being tracked for each major highway in the greater Black Diamond, Maple Valley and Covington area.
If we want to look at, say, the Lawson Street intersection, we will find the following: average daily traffic counts for the year 2016 (they are typically measuring traffic counts every other year and estimating in between years), traffic counts between here and nearby mileposts, and % traffic counts for trucks as shown below:
Lot's of data to absorb but a sound base of info that most of us can understand without having to be a traffic engineer or completely reinvent the wheel as we look ahead. In addition, we also have valuable traffic count data available to us from King County for county roads in unincorporated areas. I will post graphs and maps summarizing this information next week.
Now, you might want to ask why am I going to all this work to pull this data together. Simple - the last traffic modeling done for Black Diamond was completed in 2008 based upon data gathered in 2007. This was done as part of the MPD submittal process that began in 2009. A whole lot has happened since then and though Oakpointe is responsible for mitigating traffic impacts that result from their development, they are not responsible for funding improvements that are not the result of their development - such as increased traffic volumes caused by growth in Maple Valley, Covington, unincorporated King County and even Bonney Lake. There also will be no update to MPD funded traffic modeling until building permits have been issued for 750 homes in the MPD's. This is some years away yet. In the mean time, our city needs to be planning and prioritizing how to address current and future traffic problems, including funding, and we as citizens need to be informed and provide meaningful input.
More about this in my next #uggh post.
On the lookout for some good news for a change, I ran across the following report issued last week by the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (Energy.gov). Despite consumer's growing appetite for large vehicles, nearly half of all new cars purchased last year exceeded 30 mpg fuel efficiency. Those cars exceeding 50 mpg grew to an all time high 5%. Great long term trends.
For light trucks, consider that in 1975, 95.7% had a fuel efficiency of 20 mpg or less and 80% 15 mpg or less. Today, nearly two thirds of new trucks purchased had a fuel efficiency of 20 mpg or greater.
Good news indeed!
Though my grandchildren find it hard to grasp (and me too for that matter), there was a time in development of the northwest where roads and reliable means of transportation were scarce. It could take three or more days just to make it from the Green River valley to population centers such as Seattle and Tacoma. Water transport was best, but if not available, you were left with horse drawn wagons pulled along faint trails first established by local Native Americans. Making a trip into town with your summer's harvest was something to be planned for days if not weeks. Then along came the railroads, forging new territory and opening up whole new areas for settlement and exploitation by resource extraction industries. Now you could make it from Black Diamond to Seattle within the same day. Your routes and schedule, however, remained quite constrained and expensive. By the time Washington became a state in 1899, few "travelable" roads existed. The challenge - how better to exploit the established railroad infrastructure while roads got built?
Let's try handcars.
Image courtesy Railroad Handcar History
Railroad handcars are described as first coming on the scene in 1860 - custom built by the railroads. Simple, relying on manpower and not steam, they provided some flexibility of movement without costing an arm and a leg. Unfortunately, these cars were dangerous and killed men. Most were out of service by 1887 when safer "commercial" models first became available. They do look like fun and could move a few people some distance.
How about building a steam powered model?
Photo courtesy Washington State Digital Archives, John T. Labbe Collection, circa 1893
Nice and sturdy with brakes, now this looks like it could move you around pretty quick. Hard to keep in fuel and water though. Not for use over longer distances and pricey.
Even if you had an early automobile, there weren't many roads. How about a Model T for use on rails?
Photo courtesy Washington State Digital Archives, John T. Labbe Collection, n.d.
It was one way for the Forest Service to patrol for fires using established logging railroads and a whole lot safer. Or perhaps you would like to ride in a "speeder" used by loggers (see my earlier post Ever Ride in a Speeder?). Not that speeders were safe. Judy's dad broke a vertebra in his back after falling off one and plenty of family stories about Judy and siblings jumping off to avoid a collision with a locomotive headed their way.
Perhaps you would like to try this "dummy" used to transport upscale clientele or perhaps family of the boss?
Photo courtesy Washington State Digital Archives, John T. Labbe Collection, n.d.
Where are we headed after the railroads and after the automobile? Pretty soon you'll be able to book a flight on Blue Origin rocket launch being developed by Amazon's Jeff Bezos or on Space X owned by Elon Musk. Both of these companies are now successfully launching rockets into space and returning them back to earth safely. Ready to go?
What natural resource industry that began operations in Western Washington in the late 1800's is even bigger and employs more people today than ever? Not coal, not timber, not fisheries. What industry employs more people in Black Diamond and immediate vicinity than any other? Still need hints? Following is a photo of one of these businesses in the Puget Sound region taken in 1889.
Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, BOY78, William Boyd photographer, circa 1889
It's a rock quarry, of course, and the aggregates industry is big business today - rock, stone, sand, gravel, concrete. All you have to do is drive the Maple Valley Highway between Enumclaw and Renton one morning and you'll see Black Diamond's Palmer Coking Coal and a slew of local competitor trucks on the road. You'll see Cadman, Corliss, Stoneway, Miles, Northwest Aggregate and numerous independent truckers. The glaciers were apparently good to us, leaving behind not just coal seams but enormous deposits of aggregate.
As a state, Washington aggregate businesses generate an estimated $360 million in annual revenue. We also rank as the #5 national producer of construction sand and gravel. Per the numbers, each Washington State resident consumes on average 13.5 tons of aggregate per year. Could that be why I feel like I'm getting heavier each year? Road and building construction/maintenance are the biggest consumers of aggregate products but we also landscape our homes and manufacture bricks, tiles and other ancillary products.
Bigger than the coal industry too, nationally employing over 100,000 workers. Big business and from the looks of it on the highway, highly competitive too. Right Bill Kombol?
Fortunately, we are not the pothole capital of the state but with the heavy amount of truck traffic we see in Black Diamond, we do have our challenges. Fortunately, we live in a region with generally mild weather, without extreme temperatures and limited freeze/thaw problems. Making the switch, however, from dirt roads geared to horse drawn wagons and bikes, to roads capable of handling autos and trucks has not always been a smooth one (no pun intended). Earlier, I posted a photo of the concrete road built to provide access to Mt. Rainier National Park (see Roads - Then & Now). Concrete clearly had it's problems but so to did the alternatives, including the modified "bitulithic" material known as Warrenite.
The following photos taken in 1912 show reconstruction of the Bothell Road. Billed as the "second coming" in road construction material technology, Warrenite turned into to one of those "oops" moments. Following is a photo of the road just a few months following completion of initial construction.
Photo courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, IND0590, Webster & Stevens photographers, circa 1912
The photo shows where practically the entire surface had clung to passing autos and wagon wheels, leaving a disintegrated mass of stones strewn to the side of the road. The piles of sand were on hand to spread across the surface and hopefully extend the surface life, what little of it there was left. And that was not all.
Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, IND0588, Webster & Stevens photographers, circa 1912
On a modestly warm day, walking across the road was impossible as the gentleman in the picture above can attest while he attempts to remove all the sticky goo that clung to his shoes. The equipment used to make Warrenite looked first class for the time.
Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, IND0402, Webster & Stevens photographer, circa 1912
The above contraption is identified as being the "portable" model for making Warrenite. It even had it's own donkey engine to provide power and heating, and a team of horses to spread the goo on the roads surface. Needless to say, the surface had to be completely replaced which meant digging up the whole road including foundation and reapplying it all at a cost of $17,000 per mile. Pretty steep price at the time for a road that didn't last long even after the second application.
Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, IND0587, Webster & Stevens photographers, circa 1912
Now is the season of road construction in Washington. I sure hope that we are getting our money's worth.
Despite our love of SUV's and pickups, average vehicle fuel economy in the U.S. reached an all time high in 2016. Following is a breakdown by vehicle type.
These trends are particularly interesting given our recent period of lower gas prices and increased sales of SUV's. Since 1975, fuel efficiency gains for SUV's alone have grown by 131%. How can this be? A lot of factors, no doubt, but one that I hadn't thought of before was changes in vehicle transmissions.
Long gone are the days of 3 speed transmissions that I grew up with. Now we even have CVT's (Continuously Variable Transmissions) and up to 10 speeds. The high rate of change between 2008 and 2016 is also quite notable following several decades of apparent limited change in transmission technology. I guess our cars are now just computers on wheels.
And what does the future hold? Would you believe that 26% of all cars sold in Norway in 2016 were electric plug in vehicles?
Summer is approaching and time to make a mess of our highway system again. Road construction season can be short so gotta git er done now. Paradoxically, we seem to have more lane closures and other traffic constraints just as traffic volumes reach their peak. Anyone try to get across Snoqualmie Pass this weekend? This was not always the case as this photo taken in 1925 will attest.
Photo courtesy Washington State Digital Archives, Asahel Curtis photographer, circa 1925
It didn't realize that they built rural roads this good. This one led to Mt. Rainier National Park. But even in 1925, the "rule of roads" did apply. Build a road and it will fill up with traffic - sooner rather than later. And it's always too late.
What country in the world produced more petroleum than any other during 2015? Saudi Arabia? Russia? Nope - the U.S.
Source: Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy
Not only is the U.S. #1 producer, but there have been huge changes in the who's who of petroleum since 1980. Disappointingly, overall production has grown by 50% from 1980 to 2015 from 64 mmbd to 96 mmbd - this despite big gains from renewable energy sources and auto efficiency improvements. Biggest losers - Russia and the USSR. Biggest production gains - U.S., China, Brazil and Canada.
Though PACCAR has long been a major employer and economic engine in south King County, to most of us it remains a hidden giant. From humble beginnings ($10,000 capital) in 1905 the company got it's start building trucks and railcars for the logging industry. When the original Duwamish plant burned to the ground, a new plant was constructed in Renton in 1909 on the same site where it operates today. The following image shows the plant layout as it was in 1909.
As the depression took its toll on the timber business, PACCAR switched to building buses to replace trolley's and street cars in cities such as Seattle. It was during this same period in the late 1930's when intercity rail was being replaced by buses and school districts needed buses to transport a burgeoning student population. The photo that follows shows the bus assembly plant.
Photo courtesy Museum of History & Industry, 1986.5.6755.2, Seattle PI photographer, circa 1938
Seems kind of ironic that we had rail service at the time but moved to replace it with buses. Now we are moving back to rail. Hmmmm? Here's another view of the plant.
Photo courtesy Museum of History & Industry, 1983.10.13326.2, Webster & Stevens photographer, circa 1939
Looks to be Henry Ford's classic assembly line process. During World War II, the plant switched production once more, primarily to building trucks. Following the War in 1945, PACCAR acquired Kenworth and today has grown to become a manufacturing behemoth with annual sales exceeding $19 billion. With it's headquarters in Bellevue, the company continues to invest in the Renton community having recently completed construction of a new 160,000 sq. ft. distribution facility. Pretty impressive record and major economic engine for our region.
If history is any indicator, there is little cause for being optimistic about solving our region's traffic woes. Build a new bridge, add lanes, invest in rail, add tolls - yet we still have gridlock. About the only thing that seems to work is for the economy to tank. Even then, problems persist. The photo that follows, taken in 1940, illustrates the magnitude of traffic safety problems faced during this period as the economy began to crank up ahead of WWII.
Photo courtesy Museum of History & Industry and University of Washington Libraries, Seattle PI photographer, 1986.5.15092.1, circa 1940
The thermometer in the background shows 1940 traffic deaths already at 60 for the year - a big number even for today. What should we do? I have no magic answer except to observe that ignoring the problem will only make matters worse. Or perhaps we can stifle economic growth until investment in infrastructure catches up? That's a death sentence. Though our problems are regional, there is much that can also be done locally. We have no excuses.
Where in the nation was the first gas station built? Wikipedia says that it was in St. Louis in 1905 with Seattle #2 in 1907. According to Webster and Stevens, the first gas station in the country was built in Seattle. Whether #1 or #2, this would indicate that Seattle was an early adopter of automobiles and perhaps a great location for gasoline distribution up and down the west coast.
The Standard Oil plant was huge for its time.
Photo courtesy University of Washington Libraries, 1983.10.10307, Webster & Stevens photographers, circa 1916
According to the photo verso, by 1920 Seattle had over 44,000 licensed drivers. Considering that the first auto in the state arrived in 1903, that's a lot of drivers. The Standard Oil plant was located on Harbor Island and opened in 1916. With construction materials limitations, it makes you wonder about oil leads.
Steel truss bridge construction appears to have been all the rage in King County during the early 1930's. The county even devotes a full exhibit in their archives to these bridges. Why were so many built during this period? A need to replace existing wooden structures? New roads needing bridges? Surplus steel availability? Advances in truss design and construction technology? New Deal economic stimulus programs? Whatever the impetus, it's fun to see them when they were brand spanking new.
Following are a few bridges close to home. All photos courtesy King County Archives.
Bridge #949B, Jones Road on the south side of the Cedar River, April 1934
Bridge #877A, Carr (Cedar Grove) Bridge, July 1932
Whitney Bridge crossing the Green River just west of Flaming Geyser State Park, June 1932
Maple Valley Bridge #1638A, 1 mile west of Maple Valley crossing the Cedar River, April 1934
Landsburg Bridge #3075, crossing the Cedar River at Landsburg, July 1932
Where did the Cedar River go?
Which of these can you identify as still being used today?
Imagine trying to get to Enumclaw and Mt. Rainier without the Kummer bridge. In the early 1900's, our choices were limited to the single lane Franklin bridge or crossing the Green and White rivers in Auburn. King County planners saw the need for a "cutoff" and the end result was the Kummer bridge - what is now SR 169 connecting Renton, Maple Valley, Black Diamond and Enumclaw. Following is a photo of the bridge crossing as it was in 1931.
All photos courtesy of King County Archives
Now that's a major undertaking. Even road construction looks pretty "rough".
A good old donkey engine supplied much of the power.
Mandatory attire for the engineers and county big wigs looks to be formal with suit, vest, tie and hat. Though not used as a component of the bridge (it's steel truss), local timber provided an important construction tool.
Eventually, the bridge began to take shape.
Total bridge span is 688 feet, 28 feet wide and stands 155 feet above the river below. The bridge was completed in October 1933 and is pretty much the same today as it was then. Except for a short period of shut down in 2009 for repairs, it's served us well for over 80 years.