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Monday, July 28, 2008

Part of the Problem

posted by on July 28 at 9:50 AM

Harry Petersen lives in Bellevue and doesn’t think we should expand our light rail system because Harry’s a clueless, selfish, short-sighted, myopic piece of—well, here’s Harry in the letters section of yesterday’s Seattle Times:

Sound Transit proposes nothing that will directly benefit me or my family: The light-rail system doesn’t go to or from anywhere we ever go.

There’s no direct benefit for Harry! No trains will go from Harry’s front door to his place of employment and back! And what of Harry’s family? Has sound Transit proposed a dedicated transit line that will whisk Harry’s children from their bedroom doors to their schools to their soccer practices and back home again! NO! So what earthly good is Sound Transit?!?

Because, you see, Harry’s children have no plans to grow up. (Their father didn’t, so why should they?) They have no plans to move out of Harry’s house—ever. In ten or fifteen years Harry’s children will not be looking for their first apartments, or thinking about going to college, and Harry’s children will not benefit—directly or otherwise—from an expanded light rail system that would allow them to choose to live someplace where they don’t need a car, or don’t need to use a car every day.

Because, you see, light rail lines may attract new development, and they may foster the creation of dense, walkable urban centers (the kind of places that are holding their property values as gas prices rise), but they will never attract Harry or his children or his children’s children.

Because, you see, these light rail lines don’t go anywhere Harry or his children ever go now, Harry can confidently predict his children and his grandchildren won’t decide—ten years from now, twenty years from now—to move closer to where light rail has gone then. Unlike adults today in New York City or Chicago or Washington D.C. or Portland, Oregon, or London or Paris or San Francisco, Harry’s children and grandchildren will never decide to buy a house or an apartment along a rail line, and so they will never, ever directly benefit from an expanded light rail system. So why build it?

RSS icon Comments


Good enough reason for me to vote against light rail. Next issue?

Posted by Andrew | July 28, 2008 9:55 AM

Hell, why build schools?

Posted by flamingbanjo | July 28, 2008 10:00 AM

The "Because, you see, ..." affectation is annoying. Cut it the fuck out.

Posted by Providence | July 28, 2008 10:02 AM

You should send this in to the Seattle Times as a letter to the editor.

Posted by Chris | July 28, 2008 10:03 AM

Also, Harry's children breathe carbon dioxide like plants, and are green with chlorophyl, so global warming is of no concern to them or Harry.

Posted by Simac | July 28, 2008 10:05 AM

Good point.

Transit is good therefore this plan is good.

Schools are good therefore this school is good.
Food is good therefore go eat 5 Big Macs every day.
Marriage is good therefore marry anyone.

Sex is good therefore all sex is good with anyone anytime.





Posted by McOuch | July 28, 2008 10:06 AM

... to say nothing of the fact that without a decent public transit infrastructure, this region's economic competitiveness will steadily decrease as fuel prices continue to rise.

Posted by economist | July 28, 2008 10:09 AM

Jeez I just love the way that you put things

Posted by Non | July 28, 2008 10:12 AM

I don't live in Bellevue, nor do I ever plan to raise children there. Why should I pay taxes that fund Bellevue parks, roads, and schools?


Posted by Greg | July 28, 2008 10:18 AM

Dan and Erica's patronizing, belittling tone in these kinds of posts always make me want to take the side of the SUV drivers, suburban mansion dwellers, pit-bull owners and child molesters.

Posted by bigyaz | July 28, 2008 10:22 AM

I'm just mild about Harry.

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 28, 2008 10:24 AM

Go for it, Big.

Posted by Dan Savage | July 28, 2008 10:24 AM

What you said, and what #4 said. Seriously, you should write in a counter-point editorial. On the other hand, being that your news editor is gleefully burning bridges with the Seattle Times, maybe that won't work out so well.

Posted by laterite | July 28, 2008 10:24 AM

I think 1 and 6 are missing the point; that Harry's argument is fallacious. His argument did not center around the efficacy of or need for the particular proposal, or rail in general, but rather the "We shouldn't build it because I won't use it," bull. Unlike the other letters, Harry didn't seek to discuss the the proposal, he wanted to whine about his tax dollars being spent on public works. I wonder if he applies the same logic to criminal justice or military spending?

Posted by Not Your Friend | July 28, 2008 10:24 AM

By this logic, those of us taking transit to work shouldn't pay for bridges to the Eastside.

Very un-American.

Posted by Will in Seattle | July 28, 2008 10:27 AM

Also, ugh, reading all those other letters just makes me incensed. "More highway funding!" "520 toll unfair!" They just don't get it. I grew up on the Eastside and I want to give the entire area a big slap on the back of the head.

Posted by laterite | July 28, 2008 10:37 AM

People vote out of self-interest all the time. School levies lose because many voters don't have school-age children. Seattle residents voted down Key Arena funding because they had no interest in supporting professional basketball. A lot of people won't vote for the Pike Place Market proposal because "only tourists go there."

Sure, this guy may be short-sighted, but I don't see him deserving this degree of ridicule when he's doing what voters have done forever.

Posted by bigyaz | July 28, 2008 10:43 AM

harry is likely around 80, and his "family" consists of his wife & a 13 year old pug.

Posted by max solomon | July 28, 2008 10:43 AM

@15 Therein lies the irony of this post.

Go light rail!

Down with larger 520 bridge. We never drive, so why should we have to pay for it? We never deign to go to the Eastside (hell, we never leave Seattle), so fuck everybody who works over there where buses never go. Fuck them right in the ear. But, GO LIGHTRAIL and ST.

Posted by TheMisanthrope | July 28, 2008 10:43 AM

I was a little amazed to find myself nodding in agreement with Harry this month, since his letters to the editor usually prompt eye-rolling.

Posted by Go Harry | July 28, 2008 10:45 AM

The bf and I drove to Bellevue early in the afternoon on Friday for an unavoidable errand near the mall. I hate driving and only do it when there's no other reasonable option. It was a complete nightmare - 20 minutes sucking fumes on NE 8th just to get near the mall, 20 minutes sucking fumes on NE 4th to get back to 405, and 45 minutes to get back to Seattle. And rush hour hadn't even started yet. It's bewildering that people can live like that, and furthermore can't see the benefit of rapid transit. The roads in Bellevue are huge, get wider by the year, and more and more clogged. Can people seriously not see that just building more roads and sticking buses into traffic doesn't work? But, there are a lot of Harrys out there, and the pro-rapid transit crowd has its work cut out for it.

BTW it always amuses me to no end that Whole Foods, who claims "sustainability" and "wise environmental practices" as part of its core philosophy, plopped one of their mega stores down in Bellevue, right next to a major freeway, surround by acres of asphalted parking. I just laugh and laugh as I see people toting their pre-packaged organic foods in their non-resuable grocery bags to their giant SUVs in the parking lot. Ah, Bellevue.

Posted by rb | July 28, 2008 11:45 AM

The Harry's of this area are actually why we should ask our largely progressive elected officials to simply pass the tax increases to build rail transit without a vote.

We have a representative democracy so political leaders can make decisions for the long-term good of the community, insulated from voters' immediate me-first concerns.

Posted by asdf | July 28, 2008 12:07 PM

@rb; Off topic but on Whole Foods what pissed me off about them is they will only allow the reusable bags THAT YOU GET FROM THEM in their stores. You cann't use the reusalbe bags from PCC, or QFC for your groceries. There is a sign on both entrances to the Whole Foods on 65th and Roosevelt. So much for "being green".

Posted by Andrew | July 28, 2008 12:09 PM

@21 Well Jesus if you drove near Bellevue Square on Friday afternoon and DIDN'T expect traffic then you were naive since it was the Bellevue Arts Fair and it is always jam packed. But, fine I'm sure your little story helps prove once again why people on the Eastside are fucked and Seattle is sooooo much better.

Posted by PopTart | July 28, 2008 12:16 PM

Don't malign pugs! No pug would be caught dead with such a tool for an owner.

Posted by Cleo the little black pug | July 28, 2008 12:32 PM

@25, you are SO right! Pug Power!

Posted by Jubilation T. Cornball | July 28, 2008 12:44 PM

Not being from Seattle, I'm not sure how good,bad,or indifferent the public transit system is there, but I have a question and a comment:

Judging from Seattle's geography(what, with it's relative compactness and the way it seems to be hemmed in by waterways and bridges)and it's seemingly progressive politics, why is funding for public transit such a hot button issue there?
Chicago's transit system sucks serious ass. It is horribly under-funded (every year the CTA sends out threats that the system is on the verge of shutting down if the state doesn't pony up the dinero

The trains are disgusting and they crawl at a snail's pace.

And the system isn't comprehensive enough..people how use it the most, aren't served equally
One telling thing: the International Olympic Commitee pretty much said that Chicago's chances of hosting the 2016 Summer games could be in jepordy because of it's lackluster transit.

Posted by scott in chi-town | July 28, 2008 12:59 PM

@23, seriously? I'm not much of a Whole Foods shopper, but I'd throw a hissy fit at the checkstand over that.

@24, I know, I didn't check my Bellevue Events Schedule and got stuck in that mess. Up until Friday I was not aware that such thing existed, and it's marked on my Outlook calendar for future years, "don't go to Belleuve today". But honestly, we go to the Eastside maybe 5 or 6 times a year, and it's the same thing every time, no matter what day or time of day. The traffic there is unreal. That could of course be my perception; I live and work in central Seattle and don't travel by car much, so freeway traffic always stuns me.

But, my point wasn't that Seattle is sooo much better, rather, that opposition to rapid transit seems to come most vocally from those outside the city, in the suburbs. Based on the mess of 1-5 and 405 and the number of people traveling from suburb to city and back, why wouldn't these people be clamoring for a better option than sitting in their car or bus in traffic?

Light rail will hardly benefit me at all. My work, home and preferred areas to play are neither near to nor connected by the planned light rail routes and stations. And really, traffic and congestion don't affect me on a daily basis. But I'm 100% for light rail and rapid transit. It just amazes me that so many people in the burbs (or in Seattle, for that matter) have the attitude of "it doesn't directly benefit me", so screw everyone else. That was all.

P.S., you gotta admit that central Bellevue leaves much to be desired in terms of sustainable urban planning. It's designed around cars and cheap gas and consisting of superblocks, giant (crowded) roads, freeways and malls.

Posted by rb | July 28, 2008 1:11 PM

@25, 26: i was trying to think of an old person's dog - i guess i should have said "miniature schnauzer" or "pomeranian".

Posted by max solomon | July 28, 2008 1:12 PM

@27, you just opened up a giant can of worms... But from my perspective, we don't have any form of rapid transit. The closest thing is express buses to the suburbs, which do not equal rapid transit. Depending on where you live in the city, you may or may not have reliable service in terms of buses leaving and arriving often (or on time), convoluted routes, overcrowded buses, and an inordinate amount of crazy, drugged-up, or very fragrant passengers (thanks, Ride Free Zone!). The route to my house doesn't run all that often, and it takes forever just to get downtown. I can walk to my work in 30-35 minutes, or spend an hour on two buses in a rolling detox clinic. Not all routes are that bad, of course; there are just a few extreme ones and I happen to be on them. Also, Seattle and environs have grown very rapidly in the past 15 years, so we've got tons of new people, cars and congestion, but nothing in terms of effective rapid transit.

The other issue is that we voted over and over for five years on a city-wide monorail system that would be up and running by now, but because of NIMBYs and incompetent city and transit officials, all we got left with is congestion and a bitter taste in our mouths. IMO it's not just transit that's broken here, it's the political process.

Posted by rb | July 28, 2008 1:27 PM

@30, Yikes! Thanks for the answer, and good luck with all that!

Posted by scott in chi-town | July 28, 2008 1:56 PM

It's going to take a long time to fix the Century of the Self.

Posted by Hey wait | July 28, 2008 2:06 PM

@23: Not true at all. Get some facts before posting.

The signs say to use their baskets or bags *while shopping*. How you carry the stuff home is up to you.

Posted by bigyaz | July 28, 2008 3:24 PM

Dan, what's the opposite of NIMBYism?


Only If It's In My Backyard-ism?

Shut down all libraries and parks not near Harry's house!

Yes, people have always voted in their self-interest, and there's nothing wrong with that, up to a point. If that's all you ever do, though, if you have no concept of the social good, well, you're a creep.

Posted by CP | July 28, 2008 10:33 PM
But I'm 100% for light rail and rapid transit.

I used to think that way, but I've been changing my mind lately. First off, I think fixed rail is too expensive for a metro area like this one, where the density and geography can't support it. Second, I think dedicated busways and time-of-day tolling makes a lot more sense, along with GPS tracking and broadcasting of bus traffic so people can know when theirs is coming to a particular stop.

Even in cities with extensive mass transit, such as Boston, those networks carry fewer than 10% of the trips every day. I think an all-out push for electric vehicles is a better way to go.

The other issue is that we voted over and over for five years on a city-wide monorail system that would be up and running by now, but because of NIMBYs and incompetent city and transit officials, all we got left with is congestion and a bitter taste in our mouths. IMO it's not just transit that's broken here, it's the political process.

As soon as the true cost of the monorail was revealed, the voters here shitcanned it. I was one of those voters. I could never figure out why so many people wanted to build an elevated railway here when just about every other city with an "El" regards them as eyesores to be torn down.

For some reason that I can't discern, a bunch of people in Seattle thought that having one rail instead of two per track would make it "cool," instead of being the hideously expensive, sun-blocking monster it would have been. Good riddance to the monorail.

The route to my house doesn't run all that often, and it takes forever just to get downtown. I can walk to my work in 30-35 minutes, or spend an hour on two buses in a rolling detox clinic. Not all routes are that bad, of course; there are just a few extreme ones and I happen to be on them.

I'm retired now, but when I was working I was lucky. The bus stop is directly in front of my house, and it took 25 minutes to get downtown in the morning. The evenings were the problem, due to traffic congestion.

Posted by Seattle Resident | July 29, 2008 2:16 AM

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