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Friday, November 9, 2007

I Agree With Mayor Nickels Now That He Agrees With Me: Let’s Vote on Transit in 2008

posted by on November 9 at 10:00 AM

I’ve been arguing for over a year that it was stupid to tie roads and transit together.

And I continued to make that point right up until election day with our NO on Prop 1 endorsement when we said we didn’t want that Big Gulp with our salad

We also said this:

If we turn roads and transit down, the invaluable transit side of the package can come back next year —which would be great given that Democratic Party turnout will be huge.

As they did during the viaduct debate, when we advocated for the surface/transit option (now the preferred option), the establishment pontificated that we were idealistic weirdoes.

Listen to the establishment now. Here’s Mayor Nickels in today’s Seattle Times in article about polling that shows voters would have passed a transit package on its own:

“I recounted to (the Sound Transit Board) what happened in 1995 when the first Sound Transit plan was turned down, and I think that it offers us a pretty good lesson,” Nickels said. “We went back to the ballot in 1996, in a presidential election, with the second Sound Transit plan and it was very different than the first one … and we won going away.”

This is encouraging stuff from the mayor. (During the contentious campaign, Pro Prop 1 folks argued that Ron Sims alone wasn’t going to be able to bring back a package on his own. Well, it looks like he’s not alone now.)

The fact that Nickels is saying bold stuff like this also confirms what the Sierra Club was saying before the election—that this vote could reject conventional wisdom about political “reality” and let voters set the agenda. It also gets the ball rolling on the option we’ve been pushing all along: Expanding transit, not roads, transit.

This is not 1968; voting ‘No’ did not, as hysterics like Goldy argued, scuttle our chances for a generation. It clarified our priorities.

A year ago I wrote this, when I urged the legislature to de-couple light rail and RTID:

Forget that. It’s time for Sound Transit to break up with RTID…Sound Transit—and light-rail expansion—has nothing to gain from this shotgun wedding. Indeed, an Elway Poll from earlier this year found Sound Transit expansion polling well above 50 percent and RTID well below.

So, as long as Olympia has passed the buck to the voters, let’s let the voters do this in a sensible way. Instead of catering to powerful road builders and business interests who push legislators to make ugly compromises (business leaders threatened to campaign against Sound Transit if it wasn’t linked to RTID), the legislature should give voters a chance to make a clean decision.

Let’s have a stand-alone vote on light rail and a stand-alone vote on RTID. My sense is that a single Sound Transit will make out much better than one with a ball and chain.

I lost that fight, and so, during this election season, I argued we should reject the $17.8 billion roads and transit package and send a message from urban voters that we would not be blackmailed—that transit should and would come back, pronto. I’m glad Nickels has picked up that fight.

RSS icon Comments


Hear hear. Now, green "no" voters, don't forget to write your state legislators and County Councilmembers to tell them why you voted the way you did.

Posted by Patrick | November 9, 2007 10:23 AM

Hint: ST2 had nothing to do with urban transit except for a short streetcar and two light rail stations in Roosevelt and Northgate Mall. It was almost exclusively a package of park-and-ride lots and suburban commuter rail stations.

Posted by jamier | November 9, 2007 10:28 AM

You mean it wasn't our last chance for another 30 years.

Posted by whatever | November 9, 2007 10:30 AM

The Stranger yawns and says, "I'll do it tomorrow."

Posted by bullshit | November 9, 2007 10:43 AM

You are idealistic weirdoes. And I'd incline to support your notions under normal circumstances, but simply put, transportation isn't just an either/or situation, and it is subject to political realities. Assuming that these regional issues can simply be solved with light rail alone is just not correct, as is assuming that the number of green voters that would switch to a "yes" vote on a transit-only package would outweigh all of those suburban commuters that would switch their vote to a "no" on a package that they would not stand to gain from.

Posted by bma | November 9, 2007 10:45 AM

The new rail package should include steps to get the BNSF line into the nascent rail network, as well as hooking up West Seattle and Ballard and Seattle Center/SLU.

These destinations should have priority over Tacoma and Mill Creek and other far-off spots.

It is unthinkable to expand the system and yet leave out huge parts of the City of Seattle, and low hanging fruit like Renton and Kirkland (for which there is already a right of way.)

We need an integrated network that lets users go to many destinations.

Posted by Cleve | November 9, 2007 10:45 AM

"Me, me, me... and, did I mention, me."

Posted by Bison | November 9, 2007 11:02 AM

@2: You're right -- ST2 is not primarily about transit within Seattle, it's about creating a solid regional light rail system like most big urban areas have. Having light rail along most of our major freeway corridors would cut down on driving and help reduce global warming. Seattle could have a great "urban transit"/intra-city system (and it should build itself one), but that would do very little in terms of addressing the region's big mobility and transportation emissions problems. We need ST2 or something similar.

Posted by amocat | November 9, 2007 11:12 AM

(whistles and looks away from the copy of the Backup plan that everyone said didn't exist ...)

Cool! Glad to hear our Mayor will be pushing for ST2.1 in 2008!

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 9, 2007 11:31 AM

"Having light rail along most of our major freeway corridors would cut down on driving and help reduce global warming."

Um, no. No urban transit system ever built has reduced congestion or driving. Driving in the system will expand to meet capacity whether rail alternatives exist or not. Light rail in fact usually increases driving in the areas it serves, if it allows people to move to farther-flung areas because of the rail, but they don't give up their cars. And they will NEVER give up their cars.

What rail systems DO do is provide a reasonable alternative for those who want it, and focus development in certain areas, both of which improve the quality of life.

The ONLY ways to reduce driving in the area are (a) $10 (maybe $20) gas or (b) total economic collapse -- move Boeing, Microsoft, Costco, WaMu out of the area ought to do it. 40% unemployment would open those highways right up.

Posted by Fnarf | November 9, 2007 12:02 PM

I voted for Prop One because I was skeptical that we'd get another transportation package anytime soon. If you want a real mass transit system, it was a roll of the dice whether you voted for Prop One or not, so I understand both those who voted for and against.

I'm going to work for a smarter package (and for a Sound Transit stand alone package), but it's still a big question when we get another ballot measure and if it's a bold regional proposal or something meek. You will also see people like Doug McDonald pushing for a light-rail-free ST2, replacing it with bus rapid transit (see today's Connelly column )

Posted by Ebenezer | November 9, 2007 12:07 PM

Fnarf - actually, no urban transit program that did not REPLACE and REMOVE existing highway capacity has ever reduced congestion for commuters as a whole.

In other words, the only way it works is when you remove the highways and you measure total congestion after replacing them with higher-capacity transit.

The roads still remain clogged, but since fewer commuters use the roads, the congestion per commuter decreases.

But, true, it is rare to find a project that does that.

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 9, 2007 12:14 PM

If the package is funded with an MVET, it will not pass. I will say it every single last time the Sloggers bring this up, if that's what it takes to get it through your skulls. A package has to have a different, far less punishing form of funding.

You're already facing a dicey uphill battle trying to ram in a transit package one year after the public voted one down, whether roads or no roads.

Posted by Gomez | November 9, 2007 12:17 PM

Fnarf - I like your post, especially the idea that rail focuses residential and commerical development in a way that bus rapid transit will not. And that one solution to our congestion is to ask our largest companies to leave (which isn't one of my top choices).

I do think that a lot of people would prefer to get rid of at least one car and drive less - it depends how convenient using the mass transit system is. (See the recent Seattle Times article at ).You aren't going to get there overnight.

I'd like to see Transportation Choices or one of these other groups design an ideal mass transit system that would be fully operational in fifty years, then build one phase at a time. It doesn't mean the first long-range plan will be perfect, but if you think bigger, you can create a much better system in the long run.

Posted by Ebenezer | November 9, 2007 12:20 PM

I think we should also point out that the same article quotes the House Majority Leader as opposing a new tax measure and saying that the 520 bridge is the highest priority. Don't get me wrong. I certainly do hope that we will get a chance to vote on light rail expansion in 2008, but just because the Mayor supports it doesn't mean much. Even if there is a vote and even if it passes, I'm pretty damn sure it's not going to be anywhere close to 50 miles of additional light rail.

In any event, I think it's important that we pro-transit voters (both those of us who were disappointed with the election result and those who were celebrating) bury the hatchet and try to come together because the name-calling between cressona and will in seattle is not going to improve our transportation situation. Cleve suggested that we focus on prioritizing the Ballard/Downtown/West Seattle corridor over the Seatac to Tacoma line. I agree in principle, but can we raise the money to pay for it without the votes/taxes from Pierce Co. (assuming they won't support more light rail in Seattle because they don't get any direct benefit)? Thoughts?

Posted by Scott H | November 9, 2007 12:26 PM

Fnarf, traffic does not expand due to any iron law of physics, but only because gas was cheap and alternatives did not exist. As gas prices continue to soar - we're nearing $100/bbl and with supply declining and the dollar weakening, continued rises are expected - there will be an enormous demand for mass transit and a stagnation and, eventually, decline in the miles driven.

The complains about light rail and commuter rail prove that many "pro-transit enviros" are peddling bullshit. If you want to cut down on emissions, get people out of their cars. If you want to get people out of their cars, you MUST start building capacity out to the suburbs.

I do not understand how people miss that, unless they think we can somehow plow under Kent and make everyone relocate to Ballard (doing so would, of course, kill what little affordability remains in Seattle proper).

This is why transit dies - Seattleites can't see beyond Capitol Hill. We should make the Stranger editorial board relocate to Lynnwood, Kent, Federal Way, and Redmond for a year - and only after that year should we listen to their judgment on anything transit-related again. Only then will they understand why light rail and other forms of mass transit are essential if we're serious about "doing something on global warming."

Posted by greenlake | November 9, 2007 12:30 PM

Will @12: no, you're wrong. Congestion does not go down, period. It never has, anywhere in the world. The only way to reduce congestion in the long run is economic collapse; in the short run, builds lots more highways and enjoy the catch-up period of a few years or so. Congestion is a red herring in the transit debate.

Greenlake @16: you are also wrong, though not as glaringly. Congestion DOES in fact increase according to an iron law. If congestion is eased in any one place, people will get into their cars and fill that gap as soon as they possibly can. And light rail to the suburbs will INCREASE car traffic. Look at BART: SF traffic is horrendous still, traffic on the Bay Bridge INCREASED after BART opened, and is increasing still; and BART enabled hundreds of square miles of sprawl in places like Concord and Walnut Creek and Fremont, precisely because it made living in those areas feasible for the first time. None of those people give up their cars.

Pretending that transit eases congestion or prevents sprawl or reduces global warming is like saying that you can lose weight by wearing tighter pants.

Look at the rail systems that have been built in the last fifty years: BART, San Jose, Portland, San Diego, LA etc. How many of those places have experienced a reduction in sprawl? In car ownership? In miles driven? In carbon output? None of them. Quite the opposite, in fact.

Posted by Fnarf | November 9, 2007 12:45 PM

I don't think we know why Prop 1 went down. Some people who voted No were anti-transit, some were anti-roads, some were anti-tax, some just didn't like the package, and some thought it was bad for the environment, and some had a combination of reasons.

I have a sense of why a lot of urbanists voted no (environment, anti-roads), but I don't have a sense of how big the anti-tax or anti-transit sentiment was. I don't really know what the deal was with voters in Kent or Kirkland or Redmond.

I really don't think we can say anything definitively about what the voters did or didn't want yet. And for that reason I would be really surprised if ST brings back its same proposal next year; it gets two more votes, and then the plan is scrapped. I'm not sure when the filing deadline is, but I doubt they'll feel they have their ducks in a row to put this on the ballot next year.

Hey, if they do, great. I want my damn light rail, and even though I'm pissed Prop 1 went down, I'm looking to the future.

Posted by exelizabeth | November 9, 2007 12:55 PM

Interesting that my district, the uber-liberal 43rd, was the only district in King County that voted FOR RTID:

I'm guessing the vast majority of voters in the district, pro- or anti-RTID, voted with a mind to increase transit and NOT to increase roads.

Posted by Will in 98103 | November 9, 2007 1:14 PM

This is all assuming, of course, that Sound Transit doesn't get dissolved in the legislature next year.

Posted by Greg | November 9, 2007 1:16 PM

No, it's because most of the people who bothered to vote actually use 520 or work at the UW or along the ST line more than the rest of us.

Look at the precinct vote map and you'll see it drops off away from those areas in the district.

(psst - Fnarf, you're wrong but it depends on your definition of congestion)

Posted by Will in Seattle | November 9, 2007 3:34 PM

The 43rd came in at 80% for the transit now sales tax increase last year. 53% is a huge drop for the most pro-tax district in the state.

Posted by Christian | November 9, 2007 7:30 PM

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