Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Transit Corridors and an "Affordable" Street Car Technology

Emerald City's #1 "visionary" moves streetcars to the discussion front burner

Scott Schwebke adds more grist to the Emerald City public transit discussion mill this morning, with a Standard-Examiner Top of Utah section article which loosely describes several transit proposals which Boss Godfrey intends to present to the city council at Thursday's council work session. We incorporate Mr. Schwebke's lead paragraphs below:

OGDEN — The city council will unveil a priority list of top potential transit corridors within Ogden during a work session Thursday night.
Thirteen potential transit scenarios have been considered as part of the prioritization process, the council said in a prepared statement issued Tuesday night.
Specific details regarding the scenarios developed through discussions between the council, the city’s administration and the Ogden Planning Commission were unavailable.
In addition to a list of proposed corridors, this morning's story also again mentions Godfrey's intention to recommend study of a tantalizing alternate transit mode:

"However, he has said he intends to present the council with a proposal to study the feasibility of an affordable streetcar system."

Yesiree, Boss Godfrey is at least giving lip service to streetcars, although he's still keeping the details under wraps.

In the past week we've of course speculated here on Weber County Forum about this mysterious "affordable streetcar system" technology which Godfrey will unveil on Thursday. Gentle reader Dan S. has already opined in an earlier comments section that he believes Godfrey is thinking about something like this:

A streetcar named SWIMO; battery-powered tram in Japan

We heard similar speculation from gentle reader disgusted on May 13.

Whatever Godfrey has in mind, we confess we're sitting on the edges of our seats. How nice it would be however, we'll tentatively observe, if the lumpencitizens and their "visionary" mayor could find themselves marching in the same direction, at least once.

Before turning the floor over to our readers, we'll lodge a couple of our own lingering questions:

1) Why are we still studying alternate "preferred" transit corridors? We thought that issue was resolved by the Baker Study (at no small taxpayer expense) clear back in 2005.

2) If indeed it's to be the battery-powered SWIMO technology, we'll note that the whole thing looks entirely "experimental" to us. Though relatively cheap it may be, we wonder whether an unproven technology like SWIMO is something that could realistically become the backbone of our Ogden City public transit infrastructure.

So many questions; so few answers.

And what say our gentle readers about all this?


Tec Jonson said...

If he's interested in the SWIMO system that's a good sign that he is now focused on streetcar tech. Unfortunately, SWIMO is still experimental and I can find no installations as yet and little else on the internet besides the initial press releases in 2006 and a working vehicle prototype shown in 2007. It is exciting technology and would be perfect for us. Surely the lead time required for tracks construction will give time for this technology to be launched and mature.

Little Bird said...

So I am in the understanding that the public is invited to attend this worksession on Thursday? I went to a council session a while back which was followed by a "closed work session" I assumed that this implied that this meeting wasn't open to the public. If any of you have time today could you set me straight on the "rules" of attending work sessions and/or council meetings.


Amy Wicks said...

Little bird-

I can try to clarify the open/closed meeting issue for you.

All Council work sessions are open meetings and open to the public. There is not a place for public comments at work sessions, but anyone is welcome to attend. We anticipate a large crowd for Thursday's work session, so it will be held in Council chambers instead of room 310. The closed meeting you refer to most likely was a closed executive session held as part of a regular City Council or Redevelopment Agency meeting.

Summary of the Utah Open and Public Meetings Act:

Notice of meetings must be posted 24 hours in advance. The act does not require any meeting to be closed. The public body cannot take action in a closed meeting.

Before convening in closed session the public body must vote on it in an open meeting. A two-thirds majority must approve the motion.

Purposes of closed meetings:

A closed meeting may be held pursuant to Section 52-4-4 for any of the following purposes:

1- discussion of the character, professional competence, or physical or mental health of an individual;

2- strategy sessions to discuss collective bargaining;

3- strategy sessions to discuss pending or reasonably imminent litigation;

4- strategy sessions to discuss the purchase, exchange, or lease of real property when public discussion of the transaction would disclose the appraisal or estimated value of the property under consideration or prevent the public body from completing the transaction on the best possible terms;

5- strategy sessions to discuss the sale of real property when:

(A) public discussion of the transaction would disclose the appraisal or estimated value of the property under consideration or prevent the public body from completing the transaction on the best possible terms;

(B) the public body had previously given public notice that the property would be offered for sale; and

(C) the terms of the sale are publicly disclosed before the public body approves the sale;

6- discussion regarding deployment of security personnel, devices, or systems;

7- investigative proceedings regarding allegations of criminal misconduct; and

A public body may not interview a person applying to fill an elected position in a closed meeting.

I have not pasted the whole statue here. What it boils down to is this: under state law there are a few well defined reasons to meet behind closed doors. Everything else needs to be conducted out in the open. In my opinion, transparency in government is a very good thing.

dan s. said...

I wish a battery-operated streetcar system would be significantly less expensive than a traditional streetcar powered by overhead wires. Unfortunately, I don't see how the savings could be significant because the biggest capital costs in a streetcar system are the tracks and the vehicles--not the overhead lines.

So what does the mayor mean by an "affordable streetcar system"? The only way I can think of to make a streetcar system significantly cheaper is to reduce the amount of track. That means reducing the length of the system, or conceivably, putting in only one set of tracks instead of two. We already know that the mayor is a proponent of some type of "downtown circulator" transit system, so perhaps this is what he has in mind (but on real tracks this time, rather than buses dressed up to look like trolleys).

Unfortunately, it would be very difficult to obtain federal funding for a downtown circulator system, and there would be significant barriers even to obtaining local funding from the 1/4-cent sales tax. In both cases this is because the system would not serve a demonstrated transportation need. In general, it's difficult to demonstrate a need for short transit routes because there's not enough data to model trips shorter than a mile.

dan s. said...

I should add that as far as we know so far, a streetcar between downtown and McKay-Dee Hospital would be affordable. The mayor's arguments to the contrary are based on worst-case scenarios for the cost and for federal funding. Of course, his words could become a self-fulfilling prophesy because the longer we wait, the higher the cost will become and the more other projects we'll be competing against for the funding.

Tec Jonson said...

Whatever the mayor is doing, he is wrapping it with his name to aggrandize hisself. If he were simply, finally, to endorse the studied recommendations, I can't see what all the surprise or fuss is about, except for him to take credit for finally, simply, endorsing the recommendations. Can the drama get any more ho-hum.

OgdenLover said...

Would a battery-operated system be inefficient at colder temperatures? Chemical reaction rates are generally cut in half for each 10 degree drop in temperature.

I'm wondering if the Mayor is going to present something unworkable to again gum up the system for several years.

a little skepticle said...

My vision of the Mayors cost effective streetcar is liken to showing up to a great party, only to find a turd floating in the punch bowl.

dan s. said...


I'm sure there are a host of engineering challenges to making a practical battery-operated streetcar. I'm also sure that none of them are insurmountable. Rather than focusing on any one particular challenge (such as battery reaction rates in cold weather), the point is that this technology seems to be untested and therefore that we would be incurring considerable risk if we adopt it too early.

just a little skepticle said...

Dan s.
Thats why I envision the turd.

dan s. said...


If Godfrey makes any sort of specific proposal tomorrow, either a particular technology or a precise alignment, the proper response is to simply ignore it and focus on the big picture: Are we going to take the next step and do a formal Alternatives Analysis of the downtown-to-WSU-and-McKay-Dee corridor or not? That's the decision the council needs to make now. All further details can and should be postponed.

a little skepticle said...

I am just leary of most things Godfrey proposes. I am afraid that what ever he is going to propose will be so cheesey, and if the Council doesnt go along with him, he will stone wall until he gets his way. I think it will be interesting to attend and watch the bartering as it unfolds.

I do agree with you about the alternative analysis, but I have a feeling about Godfrey and his slick moves or lack there-of.

Gut feeling says he'll spoil things.

Anonymous said...

dan. s

this is way off subject but i know you live close to the binford bump. im having trouble trying to get the planing department to look at the mess my next door nut job is doing. i cant get them to come look at this mess. any advise would be great. thxs chop shop

Anonymous said...

sorry rudi its just the chop shop i dont know this blog shit just seeing is dan can help thxs. gin hmmmmmmm

dan s. said...


I do live just below the Binford Bump, but I'm not sure what house you're talking about, nor do I have any special influence with the code enforcers, who came after me years ago for letting my grass get too long. I do know most of the folks in the planning department but I don't think they're the ones you want.

Good luck and thanks for caring about the neighborhood.

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