Slog News & Arts

Line Out

Music & Nightlife

« Barack Obama Isn't Homophobic | We're Number 23!!! »

Thursday, October 25, 2007

What He Said

posted by on October 25 at 14:06 PM

Chi-Dooh Li in today’s PI:

But one great benefit light rail will bring to all of us, for which detractors have no answer, is the certainty of travel time. Trains will—count on it—get you to your destination in a reliably predictable amount of time.

The same can never be said for any form of transportation that uses rubber tires on asphalt roads. Cars, buses, shuttle buses, vans, taxis—you name it—there is no way time of arrival can be accurately predicted.

Buses, the adored form of public transit among the anti-rail crowd, cannot even give you a fixed departure time. How often do we rush to the bus stop before the scheduled time, only to wait and wait for a bus that has been delayed by congestion?

Back in 1968 and 1970, using the same arguments they are proffering today, light rail opponents voted down two regionwide rail rapid transit systems for which the federal government was ready to pay 90 percent of the cost. In 1972 they gave us instead a bus-only transit system.

Have buses, expanded roads and highways, a new and much wider Interstate 90 bridge and corridor, and myriad other infrastructure capital expenditures succeeded in relieving congestion? … Yet opponents of light rail want us to continue believing that “bus rapid transit” is the answer to congestion. I bet they have some snake oil to sell us too.

Buses are the adored from of public transit among people that don’t use public transit now and have no intention of using public transit ever, period, regardless of what form public transit takes in our region. The anti-transit activists’ motto: My car for me, the bus for you.

RSS icon Comments


See, this is one of the reasons I'm baffled you guys came down against Prop 1. Okay, it's not perfect, and, okay, it's got a lot more roads than it ought to, but what it also has is some light rail. Which is more than none. Why can't we grab at some light rail, and then work to get more light rail spread around the region? Why are we being urged to vote against light rail (no matter how feeble) in favor of nothing whatsoever?

Posted by Horace | October 25, 2007 2:27 PM

Well, sort of. The guarantee goes out the window if a car stalls on the tracks or something.

That said, I took a commuter train in the SF Bay Area for 3 plus years (45 miles one way), and I arrived at the station within 5 minutes of the scheduled time well over 90% of the time. Prior to that, I drove those 45 miles and it could take 55 to 90 minutes. It had been creeping closer to 90 minutes when the express train configuration finally opened for service.

Posted by Mike | October 25, 2007 2:29 PM

What Horace said. Is it too late to retract your non-endorsement? If not, maybe you should.

Posted by Matthew | October 25, 2007 2:30 PM

That, and it's far easier to convert any BRT lanes you have into roads for regular traffic once you've "proven" that transit isn't viable in the area.

This is what is mind-numbingly idiotic about the American political system. Time after time, the small experiments with public goods such as public housing, socialized medicine, etc. have been undersupported and underfunded... and when these systems fail, it is seen as the fault of "big government", and more power is handed to the private market.

However, no one seems to understand that there are plenty of cases where private businesses are just as inefficient, if not moreso, than government enterprises. We don't ever seem to hold them up to the same standard, though, as we often work under the simple-minded assumption that competition within the market is sufficient to keep them in line.

Urrrgh. Idiot libertarians.

Posted by bma | October 25, 2007 2:35 PM

Look, put forward a light rail expansion plan that is paid for by businesses and federal grants, and it will make sense. But no more sales taxes. It isn't the trains that are the problem, it is tens of billions of dollars of sales taxes which would make light rail here VASTLY more expensive to the average person than what light rail costs people everywhere else.

Posted by puhleeze | October 25, 2007 2:36 PM

But Seattle's Light Rail line will run at street-level in Rainier Valley, competing with crossing cars and pedestrians. Every time there's an accident or someone who blocks an intersection, dependable times will disappear.

The advantage isn't about rail or asphalt. It's about not forcing transit to compete with single-occupant vehicles.

Posted by Christian | October 25, 2007 2:42 PM

puhleeze @ 5:

So which is better for the climate: a tax on jobs (income or business tax), or a tax on buying plastic toys made in China with dirty-coal energy and shipped here?

Yes, a sales tax is regressive, but it's also relatively environmentally sound. All the Prop. 1 opponents seem to be concerned about climate change above all else -- until it conflicts with one of their other priorities.

Posted by MHD | October 25, 2007 2:56 PM

@7: In no particular order, the following are better taxes/fees than a sales tax:

-gas tax
-income tax(personal and corporate)
-tolls on using certain roads/bridges (these are congestion reducing, and variable-priced depending on location and time of day)
-per-mile-driven-tax, collected when tabs issued
-tax on size of business payroll
-per-employee, per-month fee businesses pay
- flat tax on the 20% of vehicles that pollute the most (assessed at vehicle exhaust inspection time)
- tax on commercial property owners within three blocks of any light rail station

The legislature should give ST those taxes to work with, and ask the voters to approve a package including a mix of them. No more fucking sales taxes - they target the wrong people, and don't do anything to discourage GHG emissions.

Work on the demand side, and tax those most able to pay.

Posted by resplendanto | October 25, 2007 3:16 PM

I predict, after RTID/ST2 fails miserably at the polls, that ST2.1 will pass easily.

That said, if we had easy to use transit tickets like they do in DC's and SF's metro systems, we could probably handle more people.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 25, 2007 3:50 PM

Last night, I attended a meeting in St. Paul, MN regarding the design of specific light rail stations. Several people suggest that a park and ride would only "encourage more driving." None of these people got on the bus with me, on a nice Fall day. One can only assume that these people drove to the meeting and drove back.

My point is that the people designing our light rail stations (at least in Minnesota) are not going to become transit riders, and they want the rail for ideological reasons. Ideologues are designing the systems to meet current federal funding requirements, where only bare bones designs get a match. Thus rail systems currently being designed in the United States justify those people who believe we live in a banana republic. People should be modeling Kyota's subways, rather than Portland's crawl ways.

That being said, I hope I once more live near in the San Francisco Bay Area, as I truly love the BART rail system.

Posted by David R. | October 25, 2007 3:52 PM

Yous guys still don't understand, Roads and more roads with roads connecting them, from side roads won't solve the problem. This package is about a road, it will connect to another road. It's not about a train choo chooing it's little way from here to there. One little train is not going to get people out of their cars. People that want to get out of their cars will do that, a choo choo train won't make them get out of theri car. Gheeezuz do I have to spell it out so simply? Prop 1 is a waste. Let us fund a single choo choo train with no roads and I'm all for the choo choo train.

Posted by Sargon Bighorn | October 25, 2007 4:24 PM

I'm delighted they're building lightrail to the airport, but I had several problems with this piece. First of all, he's clearly never taken Amtrak, or he'd be less certain trains qua trains get you somewhere on time (and at-grade lightrail does slow you down). Secondly, lightrail doesn't go door to door, so buses are a necessary part of a transit system that includes lightrail. Thirdly, it's nutty to talk about how stupid and slow BRT is if you're not talking about dedicated bus lanes -- without bus-only lanes, it's just regular bus transit.

While it's true that dedicated bus lanes can be converted back to carrying passenger cars, a good deal of the usefulness and appeal of BRT is that the existing, ubiquitous roadstock is open to conversion to dedicated bus lanes. Whether or not that's politically viable is another question.

Posted by MvB | October 25, 2007 4:46 PM

Umm.... #10? I really want to get out of my car. But every time I think of giving up my dry ride from my door to the door of the place I want to go, and instead standing out in the rain for lord knows how long for an unreliable-ass bus to show up, I just can't bear the thought. (Also, they just took out the bus shelter at my stop on Roosevelt to make it even worse to take the bus. Thanks, Metro).

I am happy to wait in nice dry train stations for trains that come regularly. People will NOT get out of their cars for buses, they WILL get out of their cars for trains, which are reliable. Have you ever been to a city with real mass transit? People take it. And they get out of their cars to take it.

Posted by exelizabeth | October 25, 2007 4:56 PM

@8 I'm all over the gas tax, only I'd like to see it expanded into a general carbon tax.

Posted by Gitai | October 25, 2007 5:10 PM

#13 BART in SF qualifies as mass transit. When it rained, I drove to the park and ride. Otherwise, I walked. I lived there five years and put very few miles on my car.

You overestimate the rail station design in my city. The stops and route, as currently foreseen, will be identical to the current bus stops and route.

So, I guess what you are saying is rail, being more fashionable than buses, will make our property values go up.

Posted by David R. | October 25, 2007 5:23 PM

You'll never have light rail in Seattle until the need for it is absolute and irrefutable. At which point whatever you build will be entirely too little, and too late.

Posted by Boomer in NYC | October 25, 2007 7:41 PM

@12, Amtrak, when running on its own tracks (like the Boston-DC corridor) is almost always on time. That's quite an accomplishment in itself, considering the NE corridor was given to them after the private sector literally ran it into the ground.

The fully developed California corridors (Sacramento-Oakland, Oakland-Bakersfield, LA to San Diego) do well also. Even our Cascades has vastly improved over what it was ten years ago, thanks to infrastructure improvements and the cooperation of the BNSF.

Posted by catalina vel-duray | October 25, 2007 8:02 PM

Every light rail system I've ever seen has to stop at traffic signals, JUST LIKE CARS. They do have a dedicated steel "lane" though, just like a bus would have.

In contrast, the Montreal Metro runs underground in a dedicated subway on rubber tires.

Posted by where the rubber meets the rail | October 25, 2007 9:12 PM

@16 has it sadly correct. Seattle - including, shockingly, the Stranger - will fight light rail until we face a real crisis, and by that point it will be unaffordable.

But no, the Stranger says, we can't build roads! Think of all the traffic it will cause?

Yet nobody - aside from Dan - seems to have asked the simple question "if gas prices continue to rise, who will be doing the driving?" The damning video of the SECB discussion reveals NOBODY answered this question at all. But it is in fact the key question underlying the entire issue of Prop 1.

Posted by eugene | October 25, 2007 10:41 PM


You've not seen enough light rail lines then. Both LA's Green Line and the Gold Line run on their own tracks, grade-separated and without having to stop at streetlights.

Posted by eugene | October 25, 2007 10:42 PM

Rail is only used by ugly cities ranging from London, Portland, Vienna, NYC, Toyko and Paris. Smart, creative people who work for forward looking businesses such as Wal-Mart, generally avoid places like these because they are so depressing.

Posted by Ebenezer | October 25, 2007 10:43 PM

Remember when Data was trying to remove Picard's borg implants, and Picard cried? Then Data (and we the audience) knew that Picard's soul was still in there, fighting, trying to get out.

This post is Dan's effort to show that he is still in there, in Stranger Central, fighting for the "Yes" vote, trying to get out from under the Josh/ECB "No" vote collective. It's his sign to us.

He just needs our help, people. He just needs our help.

Posted by Big Sven | October 25, 2007 11:31 PM

Dan does need our help. Perhaps it is because he is a parent that he better understands what is at stake. We have to build light rail to give people with complicated lives options in where to live and how to get around. It is easy to think that the issues are simple when you are a single Capitol Hill dweller.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | October 26, 2007 12:12 PM

Comments Closed

In order to combat spam, we are no longer accepting comments on this post (or any post more than 14 days old).