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Friday, April 25, 2008

Sound Transit: Opening A(nother) Dialogue

posted by on April 25 at 14:55 PM

So Sound Transit decided yesterday to move forward with a plan… to start planning. Yesterday afternoon, the Sound Transit board voted to get public input on two different potential ballot measures—one that would increase sales taxes an average of $100 per household per year, and one that would raise them an average of $125.

I know the board wants to avoid an electoral debacle like last year’s failed roads and transit ballot measure, but I wish they’d just pick a plan. (Personally, I think the higher number makes more sense because it allows ST to serve more people, but the difference between a 0.4 percent sales tax increase and a 0.5 percent sales tax increase is pretty negligible—and certainly not enough to convince folks who would never have voted for transit in the first place.)

And seriously—hasn’t this already been surveyed, focus-grouped, and polled to death? Show me a person in this region who doesn’t have an opinion on light rail and I’ll show you someone who doesn’t vote anyway. Public input—fine. But no amount of temperature-taking is going to reach the citizens ST board member Julia Patterson referred to yesterday as “the average [people] living on the cul-de-sac” if they don’t take an interest. Sound Transit should say “fuck ‘em” and move forward this year, when Democratic voter turnout is going to break records.

As an aside: Times reporter Mike Lindblom (whom I like and respect a lot) had one line in his story that was a bit misleading. Lindblom quoted Seattle Mayor and ST board chair Greg Nickels as saying that all the tolls being proposed around the state “require that we create an alternative to driving, and paying an $8 toll.” According to my notes, what Nickels actually said was, “the governor and others have talked about tolling and congestion pricing as one strategy, and I applaud that, but I think it’s important that we take the steps first to provide an alternative to driving alone and paying an $8 toll… When we ask [drivers] to pay to cross 520 or other corridors or the whole system, I think we have to give them choices about how they travel and what they will pay.” Seen in context, Nickels’s comment was pro-transit and pro-tolls; Lindblom’s truncation makes it sound like Nickels considers tolls an unreasonably onerous burden.

RSS icon Comments


governments solve all problems! especially seattle government!

Posted by Bellevue Ave | April 25, 2008 3:16 PM

The second plan makes more sense, in that it has fewer parking garages for inefficient suburbanites and more light rail.

Glad to see getting Labor to lean on a certain outgoing ST person worked so well ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 25, 2008 3:23 PM

Light rail construction is well under way. Soon, there will be efficient and roomy service from Westlake Mall to the Airport. The agency is delivering transportation alternatives that are green, sustainable, and cost-effective. The new management is bringing the projects in on time and under the 2000 budgets. Frequent audits are always clean. Ride the wave!

Posted by we_need_real_transit | April 25, 2008 3:26 PM

"Sound Transit should say 'fuck ‘em' and move forward this year, when Democratic voter turnout is going to break records." HA! Classic ECB in all its glory.

I for one don't mind that they're seeking broader input - non-politically active suburbanites will inevitable constitute a signficant portion of light rail ridership (especially once it hits the eastside), so I understand their motive for reaching out to that demographic.

That said, the pace of progress on getting a new light rail initiative on the ballot has been annoyingly slow since Prop. 1 went down.

Posted by Hernandez | April 25, 2008 3:43 PM

Just build something!!!

Posted by Jake | April 25, 2008 3:49 PM

Most registered voters don't vote in local elections. They don't even follow most local news. There are lots of people who will be voting in the 2008 general election who may not have voted in some time. And, as the article you link makes clear, this isn't more read tape, but an attempt to use positive public polling to help "fast-track" the issue onto the November ballot.

So I don't get what the problem is here.

Posted by Trevor | April 25, 2008 3:51 PM

Recipe for Seattle transit planning:
Take one scoop of public forums, two spoonfuls of meaningless surveys, add a pinch of hand-wringing, sift in some shrill local journalism, sprinkle with indecisiveness, and allow to set. Your plan should come out bland and mediocre, with little vision and few results. Perfect when served at election time.

How very Seattle of them.

Posted by rb | April 25, 2008 3:55 PM

Yeah, fuck those suburban people that will pay the tax. Show 'em the contempt they deserve.

Posted by Luigi Giovanni | April 25, 2008 3:58 PM

LG, the largest revenue stream comes from us urban dwellers, in terms of per capita contributions.

P.S.: We're tired of paying for your roads, you slackers. And your parks.

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 25, 2008 4:08 PM

What's the big deal? This plan sounds great. The taxes will be modest, and they'll end in 12 years. All this whining about sales taxes is getting old. Mamma would just buy plastic Chinese crap for her kids with the money anyway . . .

Posted by green is as green does | April 25, 2008 4:22 PM


I'm not a suburbanite; I live in Fremont.

Posted by Luigi Giovanni | April 25, 2008 4:34 PM

The subject of tolling roads was a popular topic on the Times' reader forums yesterday. I think it would be educational for some of y'all, who have a very Seattle-centric focus, to read some of them. Might surprise you.

Posted by Geni | April 25, 2008 4:51 PM

@11 - Fremonsters should never have contempt for others, it's not in our nature.

Remember, we're the friendly neighborhood.

That said, ever notice how we never get anything from all the transit and roads plans, other than fewer and fewer free parking spots?

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 25, 2008 5:50 PM

Hmmm. I just had a thought ... instead of Tolls for bridges, why don't we have Trolls for bridges?

You pay the Troll ... or it eats you.

Solves a lot of problems all at once ... and of course the Troll would charge more for ultra-rich Hummers driven by combat avoiding Red Bushies ...

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 25, 2008 5:53 PM


(Personally, I think the higher number makes more sense because it allows ST to serve more people, but the difference between a 0.4 percent sales tax increase and a 0.5 percent sales tax increase is pretty negligible—and certainly not enough to convince folks who would never have voted for transit in the first place.)

Agreeing here.

Politically, I've got to think that Sound Transit gains more votes with the additional work it can do with the extra 0.1% tax than it loses with the tax. Especially if that extra funding allows them to extend light rail into Snohomish County.

As a transit supporter, I want to see Sound Transit extend light rail as far as they can. But also as a transit supporter, I see that value diminished (though not negated) if the stations they add can only ever function as park-and-rides.

So while I hope ST2 goes to the ballot this year with a plan that can appeal to Snohomish County, I just wish they could find a way to make light rail function as mass transit and not just a glorified commuter rail line.

Oh, and I need to get educated what Pierce County gets out of this...

Posted by cressona | April 25, 2008 6:23 PM

Mike Lindblom, misleading? No way!

I can't wait for this Seattle Times transportation reporter/columnist to write his next Intelligently Designed story on mass transit.

Take your pick on the headline options:

'Light Rail Kills Babies and Strangles Puppies'
'Light Rail To Cost Somewhere Between $10 billion and $100 trillion'
'MagLev Monorail and Flying Carpets to Make Light Rail Obsolete in 10 Years, According to Highly Respected Think Tank'
'If I Don't Get Rail to My West Seattle Neighborhood, Nobody Does'

One Times headline we will never see:

'Investigative Analysis Shows Seattle Times Editorial Board, Writers and Publisher Turned Against Light Rail When Times HQ / Fairview Alignment Alternative Was Rejected in Favor of Capitol Hill'

Posted by PetrolMonkey | April 25, 2008 6:59 PM

Dear Lord. I'm moving to Portland already.

Posted by it's ME | April 25, 2008 7:32 PM

@10, construction would be complete in 12 years. (We think, though with ST, nothing's a given.) The taxes would last much longer to pay off ST's bonds (likely 30 years, so potentially 30+12=42 years of this tax).

Posted by joykiller | April 25, 2008 8:14 PM

@4: The great-great-grandchildren of today's suburbanites might have light rail to the east side but we will likely be old geezers in nursing homes before the meetings/forums/public comments/blah blah blah will end and long in the grave before a single inch of track gets built.

Posted by RainMan | April 25, 2008 10:35 PM

ECB- The subtlety of this action appears to be eluding you and other, um, journalists. There are a lot of politicans who'd just as soon kill LRT this year. Can you figure out who? And more importantly, why?

Posted by clarity | April 25, 2008 10:55 PM

@15 - OMG, cressona and I agree ... sounds like option 2 is the winner!

Posted by Will in Seattle | April 25, 2008 11:18 PM

Boy, I really ought to read a bit before posting. Here I said I'd favor the bigger plan, especially if it went into Snohomish County. Well, the bigger plan doesn't go into Snohomish County. From the P-I's Friday story:

The board voted to approve publicizing the plans despite misgivings from Snohomish County officials that neither plan calls for extending light rail to their county.

The bigger plan's still better in my book because it extends light rail a little farther:

It wouldn't extend light rail beyond Northgate, but would push it farther east to the Overlake area of Redmond and south to Highline Community College.

My question now is whether either plan is a good enough deal for Pierce and Snohomish counties.

Posted by cressona | April 26, 2008 9:04 AM

@22: That's the issue that will determine the success of any transit ballot measure this year. As a very pro-transit Tacoma resident, I'll hold my nose tightly and vote to subsidize even a package that primarily benefits King County (there are actually NO guaranteed projects for Pierce County in this plan -- additional Sounder trains and a small extension of Tacoma light rail will remain subject to negotiation or joint funding with city or tribal governments). But ny nearly unconditional support for transit is not normal ... I guarantee this King County-focused package will go down in flames with the nearly one-half of voters that live outside of King County. King County voters will probably have to support at close to 70%-30% for it to pass overall.

Posted by amocat | April 26, 2008 11:00 AM
So while I hope ST2 goes to the ballot this year with a plan that can appeal to Snohomish County, I just wish they could find a way to make light rail function as mass transit and not just a glorified commuter rail line.

You have hit the nail on the head. The ST Link is a faux commuter rail line. The plan is one that fits a LA more than a NYC.
This plan will not make it significantly better to get around inside the cities in the region (Seattle, Tacoma, Bellevue, and Everett) but rather from city to city, city to suburb and suburb to subsurb.

Take the proposed ST lines and lay them over those transit cities that work. In NYC the N/S line would reach to MA. In Vancouver the N/S is three times the length of their current end to end distance.

Take the same line and put it over LA and you'll find a much better fit.

ST isn't transit. ST is regional rail, buses and roads (HOV, bus access). ST will support point density around stations but not true urban densty. Park and rides, miles between stations, stations located where little local transit exists and no significant in city plans all make for LA like development

Posted by bob | April 26, 2008 11:26 AM

Bob, I'm with you on the need to have good intra-city transit, but it's not an either/or when between that and a good regional system. People need to get from one city to another too, and they're going to do it one way or the other.

Posted by amocat | April 26, 2008 11:43 AM

bob @24 –

You misinterpreted what I said. My problem is not intercity rail per se. You cite Vancouver, B.C. The Vancouver region is an example of a successful intercity rail system. And they've been successful because they've been able to make the suburban stations magnets for development.

And when you talk about the proposed ST lines being three times as long as Vancouver's system, it sounds like you're talking about last year's ST2, not this year's. Even then you're not being accurate. The old ST2 would have added 50 miles to a 14-mile system. That would have been 64 miles, and 64 miles going out in three directions from a hub. SkyTrain currently is 30 miles with a loop and a fork.

My problem really was with last year's plan to extend light rail north into Snohomish County. If I recall correctly, most, if not all, of those stations would have been park-and-rides. And they wouldn't have had any potential to be anything more than park-and-rides because they would have been built so close to I-5 and so far from any real urban centers.

Well, when it comes to a 2008 vote, this is all a bit academic now.

Posted by cressona | April 26, 2008 2:53 PM

If we eliminate the gas tax making gas cheaper and reducing funds for mass transit will that make light rail more or less likely? That's what HRC wants to do. Maybe she can make it so we don't need and can't have an alternative to driving.

Posted by Mikeblanco | April 26, 2008 7:41 PM

ECB--the Sound Transit Board didn't take a vote to put a package on the ballot because they don't have the votes...yet. Sound Transit is a three-county agency with five subareas where money raised there, stays there. So Will, STFU about your massive tax revenue in Seattle supporting others. It costs a lot more to tunnel in this dense urban environment than it does to build at grade or elevated elsewhere. So we spend it all here

But the package needs to appeal to voters and decision makers in all five subareas. North King gets a tunnel from Husky Stadium to the Ave, to Roosevelt and then Northgate where there is a huge transit transfer point. This is the best prospective line in the country. They also get a streetcar from the International District rail station to Little Saigon, First Hill, and Capitol Hill perhaps all the way to Aloha. This is good stuff.

East King gets light rail to Mercer Island, Factoria, downtown Bellevue, Overlake Hospital, and perhaps Microsoft and beyond depending on the size and scope of the package. This rocks as well.

But South King gets more buses, lots more Sounder, and only a couple more stops past the airport for light rail. South King doesn't have much unspent money left from Sound Move because a lot of the construction in the first plan went there. Here is where it begins to get tough. People want rail--everywhere. Not just urban hipsters like ECB and Will. The city of Federal Way already has 85,000 people and is poised to dramatically upzone prospective station areas in its urban core. This package can't get there because it is a 12 year package instead of a 20-year like Prop. 1. It becomes harder to ask voters here to vote for this plan. Eventually I think most or all of the South King members will vote to put ST2 on the ballot, because they believe in transit.

Pierce has the same problems. We can extend Tacoma Link, perhaps both directions. And we can add Sounder service and more buses. But we can't afford to build rail in Pierce County. It is just too far away. The Sierra Club may not have liked light rail linking Tacoma to the airport and Seattle in Prop. 1, but people in Pierce want that link. The Pierce members are a smart, very pro-transit bunch and I think most or all of them will support a plan eventually even if it doesn't give them what they really want.

But Snohomish has it really tough. Everett is a LONG way away. Hard to get rail there right away. You can give them tons more buses, but they already have a lot of those. What they want is rail. And they can't hope to have that in this plan. Voters and electeds there must decide to support getting to Northgate and out of the dense Seattle core where construction gets cheaper. And they aren't there yet up there and you can't blame them. We need to work to give them the best mix of projects we can find. And maybe they need to bank some of that money for ST3 in seven years or so.

Wishin' don't make it so, ECB. You have to look at the political realities and real world desires of people all over this urban area to put together and pass a plan. I hope we get there, but we could really use your help. Don't dabble in reporting on this Erica. Do your homework.

Posted by please pay attention | April 26, 2008 10:55 PM

Cressona - unless you have a source that shows differently it appears to me that the length from King George to the waterfront is less than 20 miles and the second line (millennium line) parallels the first line rather than extended it.

Vancouver's first lines are providing city transit - not the vast regional rail planned by ST. ST still is planning the first "transit" line to run from Everett to Tacoma (70 miles).

Lots of people like the LA model and there is nothing wrong with it, except for energy use, etc. But let's be clear, not withstanding the ST staffer's comments above, this plan will cause the area to develop in pattern spreading across the whole region with little contiguous dense urban areas.

When will Tacoma, Bellevue, Seattle and Everett get adequate transit in-city?

Posted by bob | April 27, 2008 12:06 PM

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