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Friday, March 30, 2007

Reality Check

posted by on March 30 at 13:39 PM

I’ve had a friend in town this past week. He prides himself on being a hayseed who scoffs at the pretensions of big city ways. (He’s from Minnesota. His name is Dallas. He likes his peace and quiet.) He was struck by how urban Seattle seemed compared to the Twin Cities.

We were downtown this morning, and as we passed by the light rail construction, I said: “There’s our light rail. It was supposed to be up and running already. You guys have light rail.”


“What do you mean?”

“Well, all it does is go from downtown to the airport.”


RSS icon Comments



Posted by Carollani | March 30, 2007 1:38 PM

Damn, that is funny!

Posted by Andrew | March 30, 2007 1:41 PM


Posted by where is my train to seatac | March 30, 2007 1:44 PM

but it does stop at the Metrodome, so you can take it to Twins and Vikings games....


Posted by ddv | March 30, 2007 1:49 PM

like most clueless urban folks they dont really care that the corridor from seattle to sea tac is filled with working class black, brown and white people who will benefit from light rail. there are tons of apartment complexes near the airport that will bring in workers to the city as well as improving the horrible commute for those of us who ride the 42 or 48 along MLK. Not to mention the thousands of people who live in New Holly, Rainier Vista and all along MLK.

Posted by SeMe | March 30, 2007 1:51 PM

And that's something New York's subway system does not do (you have to switch to a completely different airtrain system that they only got running a couple of years ago). And Vancouver BC's skytrain still does not, either, twenty years after it was first built (though they are, finally, extending it there because of the Olympics).

You have to start light rail somehwere, and the route to the airport is the most logical choice: it's the one destination where many people really don't want to take their cars. But this line also connects to the UW, so suddenly the Ranier Valley -- with low rents and rapid access to the U -- will be a viable habitat for grad students, associate professors, etc. And that's in addition to the benefits the Ranier Valley will see from easier access to downtown (who do you think cleans all those office buildings, and where do you think they live?)

Posted by Joe | March 30, 2007 1:57 PM

great comment, Joe. I was on a tour of the line today and thought many of the same things.

Posted by flotown | March 30, 2007 2:01 PM

Light rail is going to be great. You'll see.

Posted by evergreen_rails | March 30, 2007 2:02 PM

The reality is that Seattle is 30 to 40 years too late in ever getting viable rapid transit established in the area. Politically, our elected representatives are too scared to take a stand and (get this) represent us in Olympia and you know legislate laws. Like they are elected to do. This is coupled with the Tim Eyemans(sp)of the state who will push through voter initatives to prevent any real funding of viable transit options in the state.

Honestly, do any of us think that if Washington State did not have a State Ferry system that in this day and age we would actually vote for it and build it? Think about it.

Posted by Andrew | March 30, 2007 2:08 PM

Lol. Being from Minneapolis and living in Seattle, I can appreciate that one.

I worked downtown Minneapolis for 15 years. There were a lot of people complaining about the fact that the majority of the commuters weren't able to take advantage of the limited transport. At the same time, you should see how much the light rail fills up on game days with people using it for park-and-ride. It's also packed on the morning commute. When working downtown, it was great to be able to go to work and catch a flight by just taking the rail to the airport rather than having to ride in a crummy cab. While the light rail did receive a lot of bad press, it's been a good resource for the city and probably should have been done 30 years ago if it wasn't for the city officials arguing over the whole deal. Sounds like Seattle from what I've seen so far.

Posted by Eric | March 30, 2007 2:08 PM

I moved back from Minneapolis a year ago. True, the light rail only goes to the airport (and the Mall of America grotesquerie), but it was so quick, convenient, and just plain sexy that actual ridership blew the projections away. I hear the momentum for a more substantive connection between Minneapolis and Saint Paul has gotten a boost because of it. And, interestingly, the NW suburbs that were considering BRT have since changed their minds.

Posted by Patrick McGrath | March 30, 2007 2:14 PM

Even when it gets to Northgate we still have more than a 20 year deficit in building transit - time to Double Local Transit - all forms - and quit whining about which form - do them ALL.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 30, 2007 2:14 PM

I'm confused. It is going from downtown to the airport, right?

Posted by Really? | March 30, 2007 2:18 PM

The Twin Cities light rail line cost about $715 million TOTAL to build, including vehicles. It is longer than the one ST is building, it was started after the one ST is building, and obviously, it is up and running first. ST is doing a piss-poor job of it, and it is refusing to say what the cost likely will be. ST is rotten to the core.

Posted by money matters too, alice | March 30, 2007 2:21 PM

#9: I would argue that the citizenry is too scared to build rapid transit. They've voted against it in '68, '94, '05...

It's the public that hasn't taken leaderhip on Rapid Transit (Monorail notwithstanding)

Seattle hasn't been a major city for very long, just about 25-30 years so it's not surprising that we're behind much older cities on these things.

Posted by um | March 30, 2007 2:28 PM


My understanding is that the Hiawatha light rail line took 30 years to complete, from initial plans to full operation (

I believe we got started with a public vote in 1996, correct?

Posted by Patrick McGrath | March 30, 2007 2:29 PM

I should add that Minneapolis' rail too runs through a low income neighborhood and it provides reliable transportation to a lot of workers and families there.

Posted by Eric | March 30, 2007 2:30 PM

The Streetcar is the REAL Train-to-Nowhere!

Posted by DOUG. | March 30, 2007 2:31 PM

Here are some facts about the light rail project that was successful in MN:

-four years to construct
-$715 million total cost
-twelve mile line, seventeen stations, and some tunnels required
-annual operating budget of about $20 million, with annual fare revenue of $7.2 million.

All you Sound Transit fanboys and fangirls, go ahead and tell us what the corresponding numbers will be for the ST light rail line.

I didn’t think you could . . . .

Posted by Orenthal Jones | March 30, 2007 2:36 PM

MMTA @ 14---ST is doing a piss-poor job of it, and it is refusing to say what the cost likely will be.---

If they do say how it is going to end up costing, they'll never get ST2 approved by the voters. ST1 will never be "finished", it will just continue on with our taxes subsidizing it basically forever.

Posted by Princess Caroline | March 30, 2007 2:37 PM

I'm not saying you're right or wrong, but how exactly is Sound Transit doing a piss-poor job?

Posted by Patrick McGrath | March 30, 2007 2:44 PM

Patrick at 21 --

You can see how poorly Sound Transit is doing by comparing its performance to how the light rail line was constructed in the Twin Cities. Look at the facts in post # 19, then click on that link. Compare every aspect of how it was successfully done in MN (price, time, promises kept, etc.) to how ST has been performing for the past ten years.

You think ST is doing alright, Patrick? How much will the ST light rail line cost, how many stations will it have, when will it begin operating? Now, Patrick, what were the voters here told in 1996 about how much it would cost, how many stations it would have, and when it would begin operating?

All you have to do to see what a lousy job ST is doing is compare what the Metropolitan Council did in the Twin Cities to what ST is doing, AND compare what ST said it would do to the reality we are facing here in 2007.

Posted by Orenthal Jones | March 30, 2007 2:53 PM

PM @20--I'm not saying you're right or wrong, but how exactly is Sound Transit doing a piss-poor job?--

I was quoting (or at least attempting
to quote) Money Matters Too, Alice @ 14 who states ST is doing a piss poor job.

That being stated, the years of delay and self admitted, substantial cost overruns on ST's part certainly back up MMTA's comment. Lastly, we should have idea what ST1 is going to eventually cost the taxpayers of the region. We don't and don't you find that rather strange? It is called CYA

Posted by Princess Caroline | March 30, 2007 3:01 PM

The cost argument just sounds so contrarian and provincial to me. I dont know. Bottom line is that transit in this city is slow because people have been slow in viewing how the whole city benefits. There is no solidarity between neighborhoods. This city is sooo detatched. Community to many are just 2 or 3 people who scream the loudest at meetings. And these 2 or 3 can stop projects or get ink in papers as community reps. Plenty of capitol hillers north enders dont like sound transit because, lets face it, they dont benefit. I benefit, thousands of my neighbors will benefit. Those of us who ride the painful 42 couldnt be more excited. And actually dont mind the mine field that MLK has become.

On the other side, lots of my neighbors in the MLK corridor didnt support Monorail, because though we were paying for it, most of us knew we had nothing to go do in Ballard and only ocassionally do we visit Capitol Hill. But the argument is weak because it fails to see the bigger picture of having a WHOLE city connected with different transit options. Thus going to Ballard would have been easier. I supported Monorail, Light Rail and anything that ends this madness. I find it sooo goofy that Monorailers were (are) soooo anti light rail, but I would guess not many of em go down the MLK corridor much. Is as if theyre mad that Light rail was built and they couldnt get it together to get Monorail built. Most northenders just like the new Columbia city, Georgetown and other gentrifying neighborhoods in the south end, but could care less about the MLK corridor or the apartment dwellers in Sea Tac who will benefit from light rail. Forget the cost is not like its gonna break us. I paid for that monorail mess and I would gladly do it again. The more options the better.

Posted by SeMe | March 30, 2007 3:14 PM

transit = good

Sound Transit = fucked up

Posted by realist | March 30, 2007 3:17 PM

I see what you're saying, and the part of me I left in Minneapolis is proud at how quickly we/they got the Hiawatha line done. But the figures you cite still leave me with questions about how comparable the two projects are. Has Sound Transit faced hurdles that MNDOT did not? What about the environmental work? Labor costs? Material costs? Geotechnical analysis? Right-of-way aquisition?

Like I said to Princess Caroline, I'm not taking a side here. I'm just trying to get the whole picture.

Posted by Patrick McGrath | March 30, 2007 3:21 PM

Comparing costs between Seattle and Minneapolis is ridiculous.

The entire state of Minnesota is flat as a pancake. It is out in the middle of the plains. There is barely a rolling hill in the whole state more than 100 feet high. Also, Minnesota is one of the least earthquake prone areas on the continent. It should come as no surprise that it would be much cheaper and easier in general to build light rail in Minneapolis than in Seattle.

ST may indeed be open to legitimate criticism, but overly simplistic cost comparisons aren't valid.

Posted by SDA in SEA | March 30, 2007 3:21 PM

philadelphia has the best public transportation. subways, trains, trolleys. most kids i know from there who live in the city or in the burbs have never had a driver's license or a need for one. and you can get from every remote location from anywhere including the airport or nj or nyc.

Posted by something else | March 30, 2007 3:24 PM

SeMe@ 24--The cost argument just sounds so contrarian and provincial to me. I dont know. Bottom line is that transit in this city is slow because people have been slow--

Sure ya betcha, It's CYA.

Posted by Princess Caroline | March 30, 2007 3:24 PM

What #27 said: Yes.

Oh, and while ST have had their problems, you'll forget all about them after it's built. Just like Safeco. We all love Safeco now, right?

I'm probably not going to bolster my argument with that comparison on this particular forum, am I? Wrong crowd. Oh well.

Posted by Matthew | March 30, 2007 3:31 PM

Besides the obvious flatness savings, most of the right-of-way for the Hiawatha line had already been acquired by the state for an unbuilt expressway project. Cost comparisons are beyond ridiculous.

Posted by Some Jerk | March 30, 2007 3:33 PM

It isn't so much the cost comparisons,
Some Jerk. It is the money and time wasted, and ST inability to state the total cost of of ST1 build out. They won't because they can't. Why? ST will never finish the ST1 project. It will continue forever.

Posted by Princess Caroline | March 30, 2007 3:45 PM

It would be great if we had a BART-style train that would connect Olympia all the way up to Everett, but I'll settle for Sea Tac to the UW in the meantime.

Posted by elswinger | March 30, 2007 4:00 PM

But it's so hip and cool among the underemployed to bash Sound Transit! It makes their silly little existence (transcribing someone else's thoughts, or selling crap to someone with more money than they) seem somehow more important.

Reverse racism and self-appointed neighborhood activists (like the "save our valley" dumbshits, who tried to tell us that MLK was "a treasury of minority owned small businesses") bear more than a little responsibility for the state of light rail, with your dumbass lawsuit, that was finally thrown out.

But you know what, ST bashers? It's being built - and there's nothing you can do to stop it, and it's not going to go away. You failed. Maybe it's time to find another dumbass thing to bitch about?

Posted by Oh boo hoo hoo | March 30, 2007 4:06 PM

That's the bottom line: it's getting built. It's a foundation. Without that foundation everything else is pie in the sky.

Posted by Fnarf | March 30, 2007 4:11 PM

Oh boo hoo @ 34 -- But it's so hip and cool among the underemployed to bash Sound Transit! It makes their silly little existence (transcribing som--

Another CYA ranter who simply can't answer the question.

Posted by Princess Caroline | March 30, 2007 4:16 PM

The bottom line isn't that it is getting built, Fnarf. The bottom line questions if the project will remain legitimate in the mind of the general public. If not, once completed, it will destroy any future public confidence and expenditure in public transit i.e., ST2....especially after the Monorail debacle. The point is, Sound Transit is not being upfront, and it needs to be now.

Posted by Princess Caroline | March 30, 2007 4:27 PM

Just how should they be "upfront", Caroline? What do you want ST to do? Or am I covering my ass by asking YOU to do more than just be a disgruntled slogger?

You can pull assertions out of your ass all day (i.e. ST can't provide real costs of projects) but who are you to say that? What are you basing that on?

It sounds like more Seattle Big Thinker syndrome to me.

Posted by Oh boo hoo hoo | March 30, 2007 4:51 PM

I like that phrase Obhh. Seattle Big Thinker - goes well with our typical analysis paralysis around here.

Reality is, we need to start building EVERYTHING - all the forms of transit - NOW.

The time for choosing passed a long time ago - and even if we do that we're still in for a world of hurt.

Oh, ok, except for me - I walk to work. Sure, I have a car, but it really doesn't impact me much.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 30, 2007 5:10 PM

"i.e. ST can't provide real costs of projects) but who are you to say

Just go to the source, Slick. Sound Transit dot org.

Fnarf, what about your greatest fear?
We build it and nobody rides it? Kind of like Everett to Seattle.

Will, go drink a beer. You need one or four.

Posted by Bacchus | March 30, 2007 5:20 PM

hehe. Transit system?
That's not a transit system. This is a transit system:
If I'm not mistaken, I'm pretty sure I count three airports there.

Posted by John | March 30, 2007 5:29 PM

Light rail construction is well under way. The projects are coming in on time and under budget. Multiple audits in recent years have come back clean. Light rail will be running to and from SeaTac Airport in 2009. Factoring in inflation, the voters are paying less taxes. We can build on these successes with ST2!

Posted by we_need_real_transit | March 30, 2007 5:44 PM

"What do you want ST to do?"

Great question. I'd like Sound Transit to compare the cost figures estimated for building out Phase I that were in the 1996 ballot measure to what ST now believes the actuals will be. Obviously we know the light rail line has been shortened. However, ST should disclose updated costs figures now that it has been spending away for ten years. The end of Phase I is in sight. ASSUMING ST CAN, it should give the region the bad news now on what the build-out cost of the system is, how much more taxes it will need, whether any more bonds need to be issued, what additional costs of building out Phase I need to be paid for - those kinds of things.

After all, it is possible that ST lacks sufficient policies and procedures internally, and that it has no frigging clue what the remaining costs are. Princess Caroline presumes ST knows what the costs are, but is not disclosing them to make ST2 more attractive to voters (CYA, she calls it). An equally likely scenerio is that ST has no idea what it has left to pay for to get Phase I built.

THAT information - updating the costs to the public associated with Phase I over what the voters were told in 1996 - is what ST should disclose to demonstrate it is acting in a responsible manner with the public's money.

Posted by Franz Loudermilk | March 30, 2007 5:57 PM

great transit system - almost all grade separated except a little streetcar in the former Russian Sector

Tegel the current main airport (unless Schönefeld has taken that role in the last year) has no rail service.

Schönefeld will have S-Bahn service.

Templehof did have U-Bahn service.

Posted by Sherwin | March 30, 2007 5:58 PM

"It sounds like more Seattle Big Thinker syndrome to me."

Sound Transit has figured out who its enemies are: thinkers. The last thing ST wants is anyone thinking about what it is up to. It wants docile, stupid voters to fill in the "yes" ovals in November.

ST's pitch for this November: "It will feel SO good to vote 'yes' for transit taxes!"

Posted by Franz Loudermilk | March 30, 2007 7:15 PM

Unfortunately we don't yet know what will be included in the ST2 ballot in November, and I suspect its authors will wait until the last possible moment in order to allow the least amount of scrutiny. In the meantime we will still be waiting to know what
we will eventually pay for ST1's compleation and if it will be finished on time. "Sometime in 2009" sure doesn't give me a warm fuzzy. We're almost half way through 2007, and there is a lot of extremely difficult work yet to accomplish. I don't think they can do it.

I am a bit surprised, Fnarf. You seem to have forgot that these projects still require public consent and oversight. You seem to have forgotten that their future and the future of other transit projects are dependent
on it.

--- Jensen

Posted by Jensen Interceptor | March 30, 2007 8:14 PM

I want transit. Notice that nothing is done for anyone west of Highway 99 except a Sounder train stop in Edmonds. I'm so happy several hundred thousand people will not benefit from any of it. Guess we'll be stuck with roads.

Posted by Dave Coffman | March 30, 2007 8:31 PM

SeMe at pst #5, I'm with you. Yeah, Seattle is way behind, that much is obvious, but it is being built and so yeah, we're so so late to the party, but there is still the FUTURE generations to consider. What the fuck y'all, yeah, I wish Seattle had gotten this shit together decades ago, but hey, keep building away so that say, 20, 30, 40 years down the road, the young of tomorrow aren't bitching like most of us (I'm assuming many of the Stranger's readers are young) are today. Until then, it will be of benefit to many people who live in South Seattle and the adjacent, oh, working class suburbs beyond that when it opens. Shit, it might even allow Metro to reconsider how they run routes in the areas that will have the best access to the line and maybe offer more improvements for other folks in other areas of the city. Someone's going to benefit, not everyone will, but please, it's still not enough reason to suggest that it is not worth building. I'm optimistic and hopeful and that still beats the shit out of being a whiny pessimist about every little fucking thing. By the way, not all of Minnesota is flat like a pancake. Ever heard of Duluth, the Arrowhead or the Iron Range? Fuck, y'all just irritate me.

Posted by Deacon Seattle | March 30, 2007 10:34 PM

Sound Transit may or may not be an incompetent, corrupt organization, but it's the only game in town.

If we were to give up on ST and start over, we won't see rail transit in our working lifetimes (and I'm 30).

That's reason enough to back ST as much as possible.

Posted by MHD | March 31, 2007 7:33 AM

# 48:

Good point, they must be confusing Nebraska with Minnesota.

#48 and 49:

I couldn't agree with you more. Now that they are building it I think Seattle should embrace it, and expand it.

Posted by MC Rove | March 31, 2007 11:06 AM

c'mon deacon seattle, duluth and the
iron range are hundreds of miles north
of the twin cities, how is that even relevant?

Posted by ben | March 31, 2007 12:02 PM

You can also get to the "Mall of America" on the Mpls light rail. I'm not sure what else one would want in a public transportation system.

Posted by Ariel | April 1, 2007 7:13 PM

Hey Ben, I was simply saying that with the inclusion of Duluth, the Arrowhead and the Iron Range, that not all of Minnesota is flat as a pancake.

Posted by Deacon Seattle | April 1, 2007 11:54 PM

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