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Friday, March 21, 2008

The Post-Prop. 1 Debate

posted by on March 21 at 17:42 PM

Last night, Friends of Seattle hosted a transportation panel at Spitfire in Belltown featuring Mayor Greg Nickels (who spoke but didn’t stay), City Council member Jan Drago, Sound Transit planner Greg Walker, Transportation Choices Coalition regional policy director Rob Johnson, and Sierra Club Cascade chapter chairman Mike O’Brien.

What struck me most during the discussion is how much everyone in Seattle’s environmental and political establishment has moved toward the once-radical Sierra Club’s transit-without-roads position. From Nickels—“We are moving ahead for [a light rail vote in] 2008”—to TCC’s Johnson—last seen making an extremely, um, animated argument for the roads and transit ballot measure at the Stranger Election Control Board’s endorsement interview—everyone agreed that roads are not the answer; transit is. “State roads are the state’s responsibility,” Johnson said. Light rail “is what my three-person organization is going to be devoting all our resources to.” On 520, Johnson added, “we want lanes five and six to be transit only.” Now, it’s not as if TCC was rabidly pro-roads during the Prop. 1 debate; but they certainly have moved toward the Sierra Club’s position compared to when their executive director was saying things like, “Ďfine, weíre not going to fight anymore [on funding for I-405 expansion], because we fought and we lost.í”

The Sierra Club’s O’Brien made many of the same arguments at last night’s forum as he did when Josh interviewed him a couple of weeks ago: Sound Transit needs to make sure that whatever it builds reduces the level of greenhouse gases in the region, and the number of new parking garages in the proposal is cause for concern. (Some transit activists don’t like parking garages because they encourage people to drive for the majority of their commute and take a short train ride into the city; that money would be better spent, they argue, creating transit that reduces the 75 percent of car trips that don’t involve a commute in the first place.) O’Brien urged Sound Transit to create “station access funds” that would create a range of ways for people to access far-flung stations, instead of focusing on garages for cars; but he conceded that “there’s not enough time to get light rail on 520” before a November ballot. Despite all that, I don’t agree with Will at Horse’s Ass when he says O’Brien’s answers were “aggravating.” There’s plenty of time for the Sierra Club to get on board with whatever light rail plan Sound Transit proposes, and I’d bet real money, if I had any, that they will; the time to agitate for changes, including a greenhouse-gas analysis of the proposal, is before the board adopts a plan in mid-April. Some kind of greenhouse-gas analysis will soon be de riguer for developments all over the country; why should Sound Transit’s buses, light rail, and parking garages be exempt?

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Posted by Fifty-Two-Eighty | March 21, 2008 5:58 PM

Any plan needs to reduce greenhouse gases within 15 years. It must do a better job than other alternatives including buying 400,000 hybrids. It will not measurably reduce congestion, that's just how it is. Without tying big time zoning upgrades near stations any plan will have small positive impacts.

Posted by bob | March 21, 2008 6:02 PM

My beef with the Sierra Club was their mantra last year "if you vote down prop 1 there will be transit on next year's ballot". This was said publicly (in particular at an event in W Seattle).

So where the fuck is it? Did we in fact forgo real transit for the next 10 years by screwing up Prop 1 last year? It's beginning to look like it. I give about a 10% chance that something real will be put on the ballot for voters to consider this fall. Especially with the politicos (including Gregoire) running again.

Until we get real transit west of Highway 99, I ain't voting for shit. Either Ballard and West Seattle are part of the city or they aren't. Mayor McCheese would do well to remember that.

Posted by Dave Coffman | March 21, 2008 6:22 PM

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Posted by No. 2 | March 21, 2008 6:30 PM


The reality is that West Seattle and Ballard are lower priorities than Northgate and I-90, and for good reason: ridership numbers are lower, and if you don't build out to the other subareas they aren't going to agree to taxes for more rail in the city.

So people on the west side of the city have to support these other lines with the understanding that they're next in line. That means supporting a ballot measure this year, voting for it, waiting for the initial line to open in 2009, and pushing for a rail expansion that includes the western parts of the city to be voted on in 2010.

If you refuse to vote for something that helps Northgate and Bellevue first, you will never get rail in West Seattle or Ballard. And Mayor McCheese couldn't help you because he's not the only person on the board and he doesn't have the power to make people outside the city pay for rail on the west side of the city without something in return. No one does.

Posted by Cascadian | March 21, 2008 7:16 PM

I'm fine with lanes 5 and 6 on the new 520 bridge being for transit only, as long as lanes 7 and 8 are for general traffic.

Posted by David Wright | March 21, 2008 7:34 PM
So where the fuck is it? Did we in fact forgo real transit for the next 10 years by screwing up Prop 1 last year? It's beginning to look like it.

This, right here.

Posted by tsm | March 21, 2008 7:46 PM

Jan(up Paul Allen's stinky ass) Drago/come on?

Posted by whatever | March 21, 2008 7:52 PM
Posted by Eddie | March 21, 2008 7:58 PM

Really Erica? Your main take away from that event that I attended was that we can have roads without transit?

I think everyone associated with ST and TCC, Futurewise, many Seattle electeds, and others who supported Prop. 1 were quite clear that they strongly preferred a transit-only ballot measure.

There is a constituency for transit and a constituency for roads in this region and you know that. The roads folks forced us transit folks into a shotgun marriage. That didn't work out so well. Good people disagreed on whether the package was worth it or not strategically. Fifty miles! of light rail vs. a truckload of roads. Tough choice.

But there has been no "movement" in opinion--at all, by anyone. Us transit folks will try to get ST2.1 back on the ballot in 2008. Chances are pretty darn iffy that will happen. The roads folks will chip away at the legislature, at local jurisdictions, and private money to build more lanes.

Erica seems to want to validate the Sierra Club's opposition to Prop. 1 and justify their (so-far) opposition to the 2008 ST plan so she sets up a false movement of people moving towards a transit-only ballot measure. But none of the people at the forum favored marrying roads and transit--not Greg, nor Rob, nor TCC, nor ST, nor many of the other Prop. 1 supporters in the room.

And now the Sierra Club is making a huge deal over potential parking in the ST2 plan and demanding a greenhouse gas analysis of the proposal. As for the parking, the plan hasn't even been adopted yet. And in the plan so far the talk has been to put money for station areas in a local mobility pool where the city of the station could decide whether to build more parking or feeder bus service or whatever they deemed best for their citizens.

You see, what happened is that ST built this wonderful thing called Sounder in the first ten years. This commuter rail line is incredibly popular as it runs through Tukwila, Renton, Kent, Auburn, Sumner, and Puyallup on its way to Tacoma. Lots of people live in these cities already. They really like the train. Trains are full. Park and rides are full. Most of the parking in the proposals for ST2 is for Sounder stations not light rail. ST2 would increase Sounder service 90%! If you have a service that is already built and people like it, it makes sense to expand it and make it more accessible.

As for the greenhouse gas analysis--fine, lets do it. So, as with all studies, the devil is in the details. What is the methodology? How do you quantify the cost of waiting until 2010 to have another iffy election on light rail? How do you quantify the development effects of building station areas throughout the region? Any "analysis" that doesn't include this is bullshit. If the "analysis" is just the carbon cost of construction offset by the rough numbers for people parking their cars or ditching the bus for light rail--well then, I think the Sierra Club is fucking stupid. Perhaps the adorable Mike O'Brien (god, he is so cute) and his behind the scenes puppetmaster, Tim Gould, and kindly lovable father figure Mike McGinn can explain it to us. Tell everyone what you really want ST to analyze and why it gives a true picture. Stop being so fucking lazy and intellectually dishonest by pretending to understand the issues involved and what people's lives are like outside of your Seattle bubble. Erica says she bets the Sierra Club will endorse a 2008 plan eventually. Well, they sure aren't acting like it. They are acting like the last campaign might have gone to their heads a bit.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | March 21, 2008 8:30 PM

In a region that used rental taxes to nudge me into buying a car, which as a fixed cost will make lots of driving now quite rational, which in turn will add maybe 7,000 car-miles every year that I own it... in short in a region that can't even get such easy bits right when it comes to the environment, it's ludicrous to think that there are something like deliberations concerning the environmental impact of this or that transit plan.
Business wants a transportation solution. They tried to ram more cars down our throats. That didn't work. So now they'll do the next best thing and make the cars park in the burbs. The environment has nothing to do with it. It's simply a matter of providing the car friendliest solution that will wash with enough voters to pull it off.

Posted by kinaidos | March 21, 2008 8:47 PM

Tommy @ 10:

Perhaps the reason its riders love that "wonderful thing called Sounder" is that the rest of us are effectively paying $14-$68 for every one of their comfortable, traffic-free commutes. We might be able to afford to throw that kind of money at a few thousand commuters, but if you try to do that kind of thing for a significant fraction of the commuters in the greater Seattle area, the taxpayers will quickly make clear to you that they are not willing.

(And no, road commutes are not subsidized at anywhere near that level. In fact, if you account for the gas taxes that drivers pay in order to drive on those roads, they are not subsidized at all.)

Posted by David Wright | March 21, 2008 9:15 PM

@ 12


Actually, gas taxes (and other so-called user fees) don't come close to paying for the total continuing costs of road maintenance. State government, as a matter of budgeting, must use general revenue funds to pay for state highway needs. Until Gregoire, this state has neglected it's infrastructure, and the gas tax, even after being raised 5 cents and then 9.5 cents, doesn't keep our roads budget at an even keel. So the idea that roads are somehow "costless" or a better deal than transit like the Sounder is just baloney. Besides, if all SOunder trips were shifted to buses and SOVs, congestion during peak time would explode. ST does not get a fair price for the use of that rail, and if we were able to get a more favorable rate for the use, the per rider "subsidy" you quote would be significantly lower.

Posted by Will/HA | March 21, 2008 9:53 PM

Fight the fuel, not the vehicle.

Posted by ejamadoodle | March 21, 2008 10:29 PM

@6 - no.

Global Warming is now.

Not tomorrow.

Not ten years from now.


You called us radicals. You said we could not win. You thought you could force us to vote for roads - for more damage to the environment - for highways built through wetlands. All by holding transit hostage.

We are TODAY. We faced down your attempts to make us YOURS - and we define the DEBATE, we define the BATTLEFIELD, we define the TERMS, and we define what is VICTORY.

Global Warming is now. Change must happen - and is happening - and will happen.

Fuel is a choice - but it is miles travelled that burns the fuel. It is building four story buildings along arterials when reductions we say we will do require 20 to 40 story buildings near transit hubs today and 40 to 100 story buildings in a few years.

Change is now. It is not tomorrow.

Adapt - or die.

Posted by Will in Seattle | March 21, 2008 10:58 PM

Will @ 13:

I'm afraid your claims are just plain wrong, as you can see by examining the state's own DOT budget summary.

For the 2007-09 budget cycle, the DOT will get $2.7B from the gas tax, and spend $1.3B on operating expenses, which completely blows away your claim that "gas taxes ... don't come close to paying for the total continuing costs of road maintenance."

It gets a bit more complex when you take into account the capital budget (i.e. new roads), which at $4.3B does exceed gas tax revenue, but that difference is more than made up for by $2.4B in bond sales (which are serviced from gas tax revenues), $1.0B in various vehicle fees, and $0.9B in federal funds (which are covered by the federal gas tax).

All in all, according to that state government report, not one dime of the $7.6B in DOT revenues comes from the general fund, but $2.0B does flow out to "other agencies."

Now I'm sure you can come up with some "true cost accounting" argument that every car commute does $50 in envrionmental dammage, or that the Sounder rail costs would vanish if only we were to nationalize the rail industry, or that the $50 we spend on each Sounder rail commute is really an investment that will pay back in ... something or other. But fortunately for me, when you actually ask the taxpayers of Washington expand that $50 rail commute subdidy to every commuter (which, a quick calculation shows, would add up to more than the entire state budget), they won't care about your sophistry. They'll prefer to keep their money.

Posted by David Wright | March 21, 2008 11:08 PM

Y'all give me a boner when you argue.

Posted by A | March 21, 2008 11:29 PM

Ummmm, Mr. Wright, you conveniently neglect to acknowledge that state roadway maintenance needs are nowhere near being adequately met every year, by that revenue you cite in 12. If our gas taxes were meeting needs, we wouldn't be debating and wondering about finding $$$$$ for the 520 bridge, Alaskan Way Viaduct, etc. etc.

The "operating expenses" you cite are pavement restriping, guardrail repair, pothole repair, signage, roadside rest areas, bridge painting, and those sorts of things. It does not cover the big and necessary expenses to keep facilities in place for the long haul.

Posted by Transit Voter | March 21, 2008 11:40 PM

Will @ 15:

Use overheated rhetoric much?

I actually opposed the "roads & transit" package you appear to assume I supported. In part because damn near half of it went to "transit," but mostly because it didn't guarentee what I really wanted: an expanded 520 bridge.

But that's okay, since you "define what is VICTORY" I guess you can define the vote turning out the way I wanted as a defeat for me.

By the way, isn't this global warming thing great? You can use it to guilt trip people into doing what you wanted them to do, even before you had ever heard of global warming!

Posted by David Wright | March 22, 2008 12:02 AM

Transit Voter @ 18:

So the road professionals say that gas tax revenues are more than double road maintenence costs. In fact the $1.4B by which bi-annual gas tax revenues exceed road maintenence costs are enough for us to build a new 520 bridge every 6 years. But you claim, without any numbers or any analysis, that still isn't enough, because ... well, because that would be inconvenient for your point of view.

You aren't a numbers person, are you? Are you one of those people who claim "we don't spend enough on education" without knowing how much we spend now, or being willing to say how much would be enough? Because I get the feeling that, for you, it's more about what feels right than what actually pencils out.

Posted by David Wright | March 22, 2008 12:15 AM

A @ 17:

Glad to oblige.

Posted by David Wright | March 22, 2008 12:20 AM

Transit Voter @ 18:

Has it occured you that, by your logic of classifying the costs of desired new infrastructure as "maintenence costs," that any time we find ourselves debating how to pay for new infrastructure, it means that our current taxes aren't enough to "cover the big and necessary expenses to keep facilities in place for the long haul." That's a nice argumentative trick to define your way to victory, and to ensure that our taxes never qualify as "enough."

Now, just for kicks, let's try to pin a transit voter down to an actual number: what is a reasonable amount by which taxpayers should subsidize each commute via transit? Surely you don't really believe $50, since the cost of such a subsidy would massively exceed the entire current state budget. Even a $5 subsidy would add up to a rather large fraction of the state budget. So let's hear it -- how much is too much for the commonwealth to pay for a single transit commute?

Posted by David Wright | March 22, 2008 12:42 AM

WSDot doesn't build that into their proposals, and Mike O'Brien couldn't even describe what his "global warming friendly" plan would be.

BTW, Erica, he never said "green house gases" once last night

Posted by Andrew | March 22, 2008 3:10 AM

My biggest surprise is how the green transit crowd is so ok with a six lane 520. With a HOV lane and 2 general lanes it will bring in another 2000 cars per hour to a grid these same people wish to calm down by elininating the Viaduct, adding bike lanes and other changes.

All of the the planning for the basic systems being argued now was done well before the 90s much of it looking like the plans of the 50s. With changes in climate, employment patterns, world resources and politics it would seem that just going ahead with parts of these old plans without a complete review would be foolish.

Posted by bob | March 22, 2008 8:28 AM

What's the best (i.e. most unbiased) site to educate oneself on the transit issues here? I'd like to be more educated before shooting my mouth off.

Posted by Dawgson | March 22, 2008 10:59 AM

@24 I don't think the greens are okay with HOV lanes on 520. For exactly the reasons you mention. TCC and Sierra Club both said at the forum they wanted lanes 5 and 6 to be high-capacity transit only. The advantage of HOV in the future should be sharing the toll and the costs of driving, not special lanes.

@25 try They appear to go where the data takes them.

Posted by michael | March 22, 2008 11:29 AM

The TCC gets paid big money by ST - of course it wants a new limitless tax grab attempt on the ballot this November.

Trying to cram a massive sales tax increase down voters' throats this year will be a doomed effort. RECESSION. BOEING CAN'T SELL NEW PLANES AND THE 787 ISN'T BEING DELIVERED. People are nervous. The list goes on.

There are more important things. Get the taxes and tolls in place on SR 520 and I-5 first. Use transponder (RFID) to congestion-manage I-5 in Seattle and on both bridges to raise the funds to upgrade and maintain those highways of significance. Those are billions of dollars of costs that are more important to the region as a whole.

Light rail expansion is so much less of a priority that it isn't funny - only a miniscule percentage of the population ever would use light rail here on a regular basis.

Posted by get real | March 22, 2008 11:47 AM

Dawgson - what sort of information are you looking for? isn't a they it is a he and a very pro light rail he at that - call him up, he's happy to chat. It is almost impossible to find sites that are truly neural - and Litman isn't exactly local. But Litman is less over the top than say light rail now or

The best way is to read ST's site, the anti-LR sites, the dailies and more deciding for yourself - the biggest deal is what do you want to accomplish first and best.

Posted by bob | March 22, 2008 2:10 PM

@28: Thanks. I'm a recent transplant from a city with more public transportation and am used to public funding as a given.

What's interesting about Seattle is that there seems to be no real consensus on the right, left, west, or east about this issue.

All I've been able to figure out so far is that a lot of people on this blog seem to be hostile to anything that's not a bike or scooter.

Posted by Dawgson | March 22, 2008 2:58 PM

@25--I like Carless in Seattle. Favors mass transit but very thoughtful about the issues.

He also has a transportation blogroll that has links to some other good sites.

Posted by tiptoe tommy | March 22, 2008 3:28 PM

Will in Your Own Special Reality,

You first, the latter option preferably.

Posted by Donolectic | March 22, 2008 4:07 PM

I've commented before on this "transit" problem that exists in King County. This whole county is entirely fucked up. Period. Anyone who looks at the issue with roads, and then looks at all the special interests getting in the way realizes this is definitely not an area of the country to live in. Within 10 years there will be a mass exodus of folks getting out of the region, due to the ineptitude of our "leaders" who refuse to simply build more road capacity, instead deferring to our eco-rabid freaks who insist on a folly that you will force people to use some fucked up light rail or HOV system that is poorly planned and executed.

This part of the country fell on it's face 10 years ago when they restricted building out further lane capacity for REGULAR vehicles. We are NOW 10 YEARS + behind on having sufficient transit.

There are Tens of THOUSANDS of us that want NOTHING to do with your transit folly.

Build us more fucking lanes for REGULAR vehicles and be done with this SHIT.

Enough already!

Posted by Fucking Eco Fools | March 22, 2008 4:56 PM

Dawgson - also the pro light rail sites - TCC (transportation choices coalition) and of course the Sierra Club.

I would start by reading the Sound Transit information on the last plan.

Posted by bob | March 22, 2008 5:03 PM

among the electorate the fear of recession and depression is real

not a great time to tax everybody another billion or two or three0r ... endless process

fools in the political ivory towers - beware the revolt on new taxes, it is here

will vote NO to any tax increase, period

Posted by Sergio | March 23, 2008 11:58 AM

When politicians and local transit departments do not come up with adequate solutions the voters have taken measurers into their own hands. That is how we ended up with the failed monorail effort.
We want victories along the way, more options, more investment into transit...not just transit that reduces greenhouse gas, but transit that makes our city a richer more vibrant place to live. It is not a dream to be able to take quick, safe, easy public transit in a major city, from developed Europe, to USA cities, to the developing world itís not just reality, but what they take for granted.

As much as the SLUT is a drop in the bucket, I am impressed that something was done. It is a monument that something can be done, and quickly. Letís get the move on with more buses and rail that is part of a grid. The SLUT sadly was not part of a bigger vision it was done to meet the special interests needs of an area. Letís get Seattle Voters to be the special interest needs with a city plan in mind.

What we need now is for voters to call for smart decisions and grand action--A plan for a Seattle grid that serves the public and helps us abandon our cars: a rail, streetcar, bus grid plan that is far reaching. This is what our politicians need to deliver and start winning the victories on, moving forward in phases on something that is part of a plan. Why any consider of a study of a bore tunnel is being done before we come up with a comprehensive transit plan that should be the guide to what comes next is beyond me.

Posted by Sean H | March 24, 2008 11:05 AM

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