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Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Preemptive Strike

Posted by on March 28 at 11:44 AM

Today’s lead Seattle Times editorial, headlined “Eliminate Viaduct ‘No Build’ Option,” is riddled with inaccuracies - starting with the assertion that the progressive, cost-effective “no build” option is on the ballot in the first place. (Under the “no build” option, better known as the “no-rebuild” option, the state would tear down the viaduct and spend hundreds of millions improving the surface street grid and expanding transit options downtown, eliminating the need for a six-lane freeway on the waterfront.)

Proponents of the no-rebuild option have been arguing for weeks that the third option should be included alongside a double-decker freeway rebuild and a $4 billion-plus tunnel on November’s advisory ballot. On Sunday, March 26, the Times reported that proposals to include the no-rebuild option on the ballot were “quietly gathering steam” after gaining the support of three council members and the Sierra Club. The story noted condescendingly that no-rebuild advocate Cary Moon “has no specific plan about where traffic would go” (umm… isn’t that the state transportation department’s job?) and portraying Moon as a radical, lone “carless advocate” against a benevolent, well-intentioned transportation bureaucracy.

But even that minimal progress was too much for the Times’s editorial board, whose scathing, hysterical editorial implores the council to “remove [the no-rebuild option] from the ballot” and make the vote “clearer and more compelling.” Presenting voters with all three options, the editorial says, “muddles things by making it unlikely any option would receive 50 percent or more of the public vote.” But what really “muddles things” is arbitrarily eliminating a cost-effective, environmentally sane option in favor of a six-lane freeway that will only reinforce Seattle’s automobile addiction.

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I find it amazing that a writer for the Stranger, of all places, is pointing out inaccuracies in reporting. While Ms. Barnett is head and shoulders above the rest of the reporters at this paper it seems to be common practice of many reporters at the Stranger to rely on personal opinions rather than fact.

I have already seen this paper print many inaccuracies about the Viaduct and the tunnel option. Even Ms. Barnett wrote an article that lead people to believe that a tunnel option that has long been off the table (the 12 billion dollar option) was some kind of big surprise. That option was off the table years ago and the new tunnel option (3.5-4.2 billion) has been in the public eye for years now.

Josh Feit and especially Dan Savage seem to feel that their personal opinions on a topic are enough to warrant news. Perhaps you should consider not throwing stones at others until you scrutinize your own shop.

I think A. Birch Steen may have written the first paragraph of Pot Calling Kettle's comment.

Thank heavens for all those reporters at other papers who don't have biases!

No one ever said reporters don't have biases. I just find it funny that a reporter at the Stranger would diss another paper for inaccuracies.

And as for you Mr. are heavy on personal opinion and light on diligent, rigourous reporting.

Erica Barnett is about one of the only reporters who actually seems to do her homework (pay her more!). But it does seem disingenious for a reporter at the Stranger to raise the issue of reporting innaccuracies. It's laughable actually!

When I get facts wrong, I'm grateful when people call them to my attention. I would hope the Times's writers feel the same way. I don't know what article about the $12 billion option Pot Calling the Kettle is referring to, but the response I got to my recent story about the $4 billion option consisted, almost without exception, of shock and dismay. It wasn't "in the public eye" until the media, primarily the Stranger, put it there. As for "personal opinions," I don't know what you think "opinion/editorial" pages are for, but they certainly include the same kind of "personal opinions" you trash Dan and Josh for having.

I love the line that it is WDOT's responsibility to find a place for all the traffic! Hey, I want 50 more buses for my neighborhood! King County get on it! Its not my job to figure out how to do it!

ECB, Fair enough!

thank you, strangerdanger, for pointing out the obvious. if people are going to advocate for removing one of only two N-S arteries (when we already have major traffic issues), they'd better be quick to offer up transportation alternatives too alleviate the additional congestion their option would cause. don't try to create a huge mess and then blame the state for not being creative enough to fix it.

beyond fact-checking, i think it's much more hypocritical (and funny) for a stranger writer to accuse another paper of writing "hysterical" screeds after their own endless hyperbole on this issue.


Way to go. That stretch of SR 99 along the waterfront should be on the surface only. Tear down the viaduct, replace the seawall, intelligently design the surface streets and let that be that. Much the best option.

Erica wrote: "On Sunday, March 26, the Times reported that proposals to include the no-rebuild option on the ballot were 'quietly gathering steam' after gaining the support of three council members and the Sierra Club."

The Times article identifies only one council member, Peter Steinbrueck, as a supporter. Where do you get the Times referring to three council members?

Mommy and Danndy Bigbucks, DOT, have made it clear there are two options....not three.

State power legislators said the same.

This is a STATE HIWAY, not a Seattle fish stew ..... Peter and Nick...... No aces, no kings, no queens, and maybe a Jack named Josh.

Believe the DOT - two options. And they have the money under their bed.

If pushed, Gregoire will spell it out.....she is not a hack on the Seattle City Council.

The first council member cited in the Times article is actually Nick:
"Licata said he intends to put the no-build option on the ballot in November when city voters are asked what option they support for replacing the viaduct."

Funny how this entry is about biases and inaccuracies, then ends with ECB asserting that Seattle has an 'automobile addiction'. It's pretty clear her passion for the 3rd option, much like those she supports, is steeped in irrational bitterness towards the other two.

And they have a point, Erica. Adding more options, at best, leads to confusion and the inability to define a clear majority. Plus, there's simple logic going right over your head: if Seattle has an automobile addiction, then how the hell do you expect the majority of them to vote for your no-rebuild plan? The no-rebuild will not get 50% of the vote if Seattle is as 'automobile addicted' as you claim they are; don't kid yourself and don't kid us.

I'm confused about this muddling the vote business: why not make each option independent?

The if I'm okay with either the tunnel or the no rebuild, I can vote for both.

That way we'd really see what the biggest majority of Seattle voters are willing to accept.

typo: "Then if I'm okay with..."

Telling us we're automobile addicted and then giving us no alternatives doesn't sound like sound policy anymore than "just say no to drugs". I'd LOVE to ride me some damn transit, but there isn't any.

Oh, wait -- soon I'll be able to shuttle back and forth a mile down Westlake on the groovy streetcar. That'll make up for not being able to shuttle back and forth down 5th Avenue on the (apparently dead) old monorail. Sort of.

Re. "The first council member cited in the Times article is actually Nick." Thanks. I missed that line while scanning for three council members, although that still only makes two.

BTW, with Licata there's the distinction between supporting the surface-route option's presence on the ballot and actually supporting the surface-route option. Licata does not support that option; he supports a rebuild.

This *is* a somewhat zero-sum situation. The local revenue streams required to finance the tunnel option could easily pay for a greatly expanded rail and bus trasit system in the city. No matter the option chosen, traffic is going to be worse during the contstruction period, forcing poeple out of their cars. Why not take the time, money and hassle and put in the transit system seattle needs once and for all; a non-grade rail based system with intensive bus service to the peripheries.

I favor no-rebuild because I expect that traffic will be equally congested no matter what the road capacity is. People will drive and drive until the traffic becomes intolerable, and only then do they look for alternatives. So if you're going to have clogged streets either way, let's get them clogged with the less-money option. Especially if it includes a giant hippie parkway on the waterfront (or whatever you want to call it).

You might think I'm nuts. And some might think that improving the surface grid will help. But there are plenty of people in Seattle who are nuts like me -- in other words we don't have an answer for where all that traffic will go because we don't care where it goes. Let the people who want to drive everywhere figure that one out.

The bottom line is that if enough voters in Seattle agree, then that's what we should do. And that's exactly why certain interests want to keep no-rebuild off the ballot: it just might win.

GOLOB, The 'local revenue stream' is very minor and would probably not even provide enough money to tear the current deteriorating viaduct down.

Pot calling the kettle...

The feds and the state are only ponying up about $2 billion, leaving the $2+ billion (before the inevitable massive cost overruns) for the city to finance. For those keeping score, that difference is what the full length monorail would have cost to build *and* operate. THat is also roughly what it would cost to push light rail up to northgate. What do you think would benefit the *city* residents more, a superhighway pumping hundreds of thousands of cars into the city each day, or rail-and-bus based transit? The no-rebuild option has at its core the idea of taking these billions of dollars in financing and putting them to better use.

Golob wrote: "The no-rebuild option has at its core the idea of taking these billions of dollars in financing and putting them to better use."

Golob, I'm about as hardcore a supporter of monorail and light rail as there has ever been. The fact is, though, that the $2+ billion the state has committed is explicitly earmarked to building a highway. No highway --> no money. In fact, no highway means that money goes to some highway out in the suburbs.

Listen to some of state senator Ken Jacobsen's war stories about Olympia and you'll see hear the kind of hostility there is towards transit. (And Jacobsen's not so innocent himself.)

My priorities would include:
1.Light Rail up to Northgate and beyond
2.Light Rail to Bellevue
3.Tunnel and BRT at SR99, with new reconnected waterfront.
4. A series of connected innercity streetcars that tie together the "center City' neighborhoods.
5. BRT to Seattle 'suburb' neighborhoods such as Ravenna, Ballard, Westwood Village, etc.
6. Improvements to the West Seattle bridge.

Seems like I just touched on at least 4 different agencies and many more funding streams. Unfortunately it's not mix and match.


Traffic would be equally congested no matter what the road capacity? According to WSDOT (the best numbers I could find) the Viaduct carries 10,000 vehicle trips per day. Moving these cars to I-5 or surface streets would be an instantly noticeable impact on anyone who drives in the area. To say that they wouldn't be noticed is like saying your arteries wouldn't notice if you ate a pint of ben and jerry's every day.

Entire communities have based their transporation on the viaduct, for example Ballard. Ask any Ballardite how they would get to a Sodo sporting event or anything else down there.

Sorry to say so but the Monorail was a boondoggle with an incompetant board and staff. Blame Daniel Malarky and the other idiots if you're pissed.

The Mayor's role in the death of the Monorail was akin to the doctor who finally pulled the plug on Terry Shivo. The Monorail was already dead but it had crazy supporters who wanted to keep it on life support as a vegetable for years to come.

GT -- That's 110,000 trips a day (not 10,000)

I thought the surface no build option meant a 6 lane surface highway on the waterfront? That would suck and I'd rather spend more of my tax money for a tunnel that has bus lanes and carpool lanes!

Space--can you keep the Monorail staff dissing to a minimum? It distracts from the issue and is out right mean to the people who worked on the project and (a) had nothing to do with the finance plan and (b) were not imcompetent. Plus, your blaming Malarkey equating it to the Terri Shiavo case demonstrates your lack of understanding w/regards to some of the nuanced issues.

The issue of getting a 50% majority vote for this thing is stupid. It's a fuckin advisory vote, after all! They don't have to follow the results of the vote, and they frequently do advisory votes with more than 2 options. Plus, although it's a bit of a reach, you'd have to make the same argument against 3rd party candidates, which while they certainly frustrate me at times, have their place.

Finally, Cressona, I don't think that Licata's (who as council pres has a little more pwr than other individual council members) the only person that supports putting the option on the ballot, even though he doesn't support the option itself. I think that's a good take-home message. If the council's going to be pussy enough to put up an advisory vote (if you can't tell, I generally think advisory votes are lame procedures), they should put all three of the options on the ballot.

The commonplace that building new highways to ease congestion doesn't work because the new highways quickly fill to the same level of congestion as before DOESN'T WORK IN REVERSE. Tearing down existing highways will not result in a corresponding reduction of congestion. It will be much, much worse. The traffic patterns that rely on the Viaduct will not go away; they'll just back up.

The commonplace that building new highways to ease congestion doesn't work because the new highways quickly fill to the same level of congestion as before DOESN'T WORK IN REVERSE. Tearing down existing highways will not result in a corresponding reduction of congestion. It will be much, much worse. The traffic patterns that rely on the Viaduct will not go away; they'll just back up.

cressona --

fair point. That's why I think the best possible likely outcome is the rebuild... At least that can be financed mostly by federal and state funds. Let's save city financing and revenue for transit, and let the suburbanites pay for their SOV commutes.

The three council members who are open to putting the surface option on the ballot are Richard Conlin, Peter Steinbrueck and Nick Licata.

Here's the thing: no matter which option you prefer for whatever scurrilous personal bias, the Viaduct will no longer be available (during destruction and/or construction) for 110,000 cars daily for a long time. The shortest estimate I've heard is 2 years. A tunnel makes it longer.

Who's planning on sitting in their car holding their breath that long? Can I see a show of hands?

So arguing that we have to choose one or another option because instantaneous equal capacity replacement is "essential" is of questionable merit.

Golob wrote: "cressona --

fair point. That's why I think the best possible likely outcome is the rebuild..."

Yikes, a rebuilt, expanded viaduct is the one option we ought to be avoiding at all costs. At least the tunnel opens up the waterfront for development and open space. A metropolis can hardly reduce its dependence on cars when its downtown's livability has been severely compromised. Fighting another viaduct isn't just about taking cars off the roads; it's about encouraging people to live in places where they don't need cars so much.

My primary criticism of the surface route is practical, political, strategic. I'm afraid it's just going to divide the pro-change, urbanist, environmentalist constituencies, making it that much easier for the rebuild to win, especially where you literally have a three-option ballot.

And yes, this is just an advisory ballot. But obviously, the City Council wouldn't be punting to an advisory ballot if they didn't expect to honor its outcome.

"Open space" in the heart of a city is stupid, especially when by "open space" you mean "super wide boulevard". And the only development potential on top of the proposed eight-inch slab on top of the tunnel is a few miserable potted plants, i.e., ashtrays.

All this spam subsequently drowns my point that Erica, in her mind, somehow expects people that she considers car addicted to vote for a no-rebuild option if it's put on the ballot.

How is putting this on the ballot at all productive if you've dismissed the city's residents as car addicts?

Hey fnarf,

Looks like we agree on something. Scary?

Fnarf and Gt-mule... where do you have the evidence for that? If more highways can create congestion, why can't less highways lessen congestion? It might be counterintuitive but there's evidence that it's true. WSDOT did a study that showed that if they put a $1 toll on the viaduct that >30% of the trips on the viaduct would simply disappear!

Leaving aside the point that a dollar toll is not QUITE the same thing as a demolition job, that still leaves a mere 77,000 trips a day unaccounted for. I know it's fun to bash "suburban drivers" but very few of those trips originate or end in suburbs.

The reason less [sic] highways don't lessen congestion is that the patterns of traffic flow have already been set in place. Areas of the city have grown up, destinations are there along the route; that's how the city grew.
It's one thing to avoid sprouting a new Edge City in the middle of nowhere by not building a highway there; it's quite another to suggest that's it's OK to choke off already-populated city neighborhoods. The Viaduct is not a new I-605 along the Cascades like Kemper Freeman wants to build; it's a vital artery in a living city.

So if there's no rebuild, does that mean it'll take 20 minutes to get from West Seattle to downtown, instead of the usual ten? The horror!

The last time 520 was closed down, KOMO 4 made sure to interview a few commuters. The commuters griped that it took twice the usual time to get home. So, basically, it took them a half an hour instead of the usual 15 minutes. I was once stuck in a traffic jam in LA that took me two hours to go 30 miles. There was no accident, nothing that would explain such terrible traffic. We have it easy.


You make it sound like *puff* those trips would just disappear into this air. The drivers still have to get from point A to point B. A toll would just put more of them on to surface streets and I-5.

The below quote comes from the following article that found that in 60 cases where road capacity was reduced, the predictions of gridlock failed to materialize.

Real world evidence: capacity reduction, congestion pricing, malleable demand.

Capacity reduction data:

"Consequently the UCL team examined nearly 60 locations where road space had been taken away from cars and put to other use. Examples were studied from the UK, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, The Netherlands, Sweden, Norway, the USA, Canada, Tasmania and Japan. In some cases, road space for cars had been reduced because of deliberate policies like bus lanes or pedestrianisation, in others it was because of problems like roadworks. Irrespective of the cause, in such circumstances, there are often predictions of major traffic chaos.

Examination of the evidence suggested that these predictions rarely, if ever, prove accurate. Prolonged, long-term gridlock is simply not reported, although there can be short-term disruption, and some increase in problems on particular local roads. In many cases, there were actually significant reductions in the total amount of traffic on the networks studied. On average, 14-25% of the traffic that used to use the affected route, could not be found on the neighbouring streets. However, the results varied substantially, depending on the context. For example, where schemes made public transport more attractive, they were more likely to encourage people to change mode than those which did not."

OK, so your study says 14-25% reduction in total traffic. The other one says 33%. I'd also like to see apples to apples; taking away a lane for HOV is very different than vaporizing a major arterial. As for "making public transport more attractive": that joke isn't funny anymore. Color me unimpressed.

I also would like to hear what downtown businesses think of the idea of "taking away traffic". Traffic is usually something they're trying to generate, not take away.

And the question of what to do with the space where the viaduct was has not been answered at all. The best people come up with is "oh, like the Embarcadero". The new, improved, highway-free Embarcadero is a wild-swept wasteland, a nothingness. Do we want more nothingness downtown?

"Oh, it'll open up the waterfront". No, the waterfront is opened up now--you can easily walk there without having to cross the Viaduct. If you take away the Viaduct you'll have to cross a street that's much wider and much busier than Alaskan Way is now.

Seattle streets are already too wide. We can't do anything about that, but we can avoid making more, even wider ones.

Hey, SDOTer, your survey isn't something I'd be bragging about. Questions like "How would you rank the role the transportation system (i.e. roads, bridges, sidewalks) plays in the following categories: (scale of 1 to 10 where 10 = excellent and 1 = very poor)" don't even make any sense. You've got a ten point scale, but scale of what? What is an "excellent role" or a "very poor role"? It's not even English.

Michael, It is simply a myth that the construction and closure for the tunnel option would be longer. Actualy it might even be less if they build the 'stacked tunnel" because they would be able to keep part of the old viaduct running and start the stacked tunnel.


I didn't design the survey and agree some of it should be worded differently - I'm just letting you know it's available as a way to share your opinions in a forum where you can be heard by those making and/or implementing decisions.


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