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On Other Blogs Today: Bezos, Bertha, the Bridge, and More

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By Erica C. Barnett August 19, 2013


1. On Saturday, the New York Times ran a long piece about the future of the Washington Post under new owner Jeff Bezos. Bezos declined to be interviewed (he "gives interviews only when he has something to promote"), but the piece is still full of dishy details: Bezos once said the quality he most wanted in a wife was the ability to spring him from a Third-World prison; he yanked employes' free aspirin in 1999 to save money; and his web-services company has partnered with the CIA, raising questions about whether the Post will be discouraged from reporting critically on national security.

It's an intriguing but incomplete portrait that, like most press surrounding the Amazon billionaire's acquisition of the Post, gives little indication of what he plans to do with his new toy. 

Image via WSDOT.

2. The LA Times has a lengthy profile—that's really the only word for it—of Seattle's deep-bore tunneling machine "Bertha," the largest machine of its kind in the world.

The anthropomorphized Bertha, named after Seattle's only female mayor, Bertha Knight Landes, is currently working its 57-foot-wide drill bit through the downtown waterfront, where the machine ("she," in the Times' irritatingly cutesy vernacular) will encounter loose fill, silt, cobblestones, and boulders as large as three feet in diameter. 

3. The Columbian reports that a cheaper option for replacing the I-5 bridge between Oregon and Washington—a scaled-back Columbia River Crossing that would include light rail between Portland and Vancouver but would not include any freeway improvements in Washington state—is far from a done deal.

The state of Oregon still needs to secure funding for light-rail operations (about $2.5 million a year) as well as a permit from the Coast Guard to build the bridge too low for three upriver businesses to traverse it. (The businesses have all reached, or are working on, settlements with the federal government about the bridge height.) 

4. As Seattle work on the streetcar network gets underway in earnest, the city might be wise to take a lesson from Portland, where streetcar tracks cause dozens of bike crashes every year, BikePortland reports.

Bicyclists crash when their wheels get caught in the rail guideways; a plastic insert is supposed to collapse under a streetcar wheel but not a (much lighter) bike, reducing the likelihood that a bike's wheels will get caught in the gap. But it hasn't worked out that way, partly because the inserts are the wrong size and protrude into the roadway, when they work at all. We have a call out to the Seattle Department of Transportation to find out what their plans are for protecting cyclists on the streetcar tracks.

The system he proposes would also eliminate some very low-ridership routes, which is pretty much a nonstarter if you believe mobility is a human right. 

5. At Seattle Transit Blog, David Lawson has done some seriously heavy lifting to create a proposal for frequent transit service throughout the city that would increase reliability and improve travel times for daytime Metro service without increasing costs.

The catches (because anything that sounds too good to be true must have a catch): Under Lawson's proposal, you'd have to transfer more often; walk, in some cases, longer distances; and wait longer at night. (The system he proposes would also eliminate some very low-ridership routes, which is pretty much a nonstarter if you believe mobility is a human right.)

Of course, this entire scenario won't work if the state legislature lets Metro go off its own fiscal cliff; the agency is currently looking at potential service cuts of up to 17 percent unless the state gives King County the authority to ask voters for money to preserve existing service. 

6. (Josh took over my keyboard and wrote this one) Finally, Rolling Stone's polemicist Matt Taibbi has an important piece about the Obama Administration's complicity in the increasingly crippling burden of student loan debt on a generation of young adults for whom college is pretty much a prerequisite for even the lowest-paying, entry-level jobs. Although Obama took private companies out of the student-loan industry by taking it over and setting limits on interest rates, his reforms did nothing to reduce the crushing cost of tuition. 

"It's not the cost of the loan that's the problem, it's the principal – the appallingly high tuition costs that have been soaring at two to three times the rate of inflation, an irrational upward trajectory eerily reminiscent of skyrocketing housing prices in the years before 2008."



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