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Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Light Rail is Magic

posted by on October 15 at 10:53 AM

I didn’t want people to miss this comment—it appeared this morning on a Slog post that went up early yesterday. Read it and vote yes on Prop One!

what is it with washingtonians and their unreasonable fear of light-rail?

light rail really is magic. just do it, you’ll be glad you did. it does solve problems. it doesn’t solve the problem of crap-ass traffic on freeways, because no matter how many lanes you build, there will always be people to drive on them until they are uncomfortably packed and then immobilized. it’s the feeling of having *no choice* but to waste so much time in these wretched conditions that makes drivers unreasonable and dangerous.

folks used to bitch *constantly* here about the sunset highway and the banfield before the light rail went in, and now? there’s still some bitching, but it’s not the furious, aggressive bitching of people who are trapped in a cage and can’t get out. it’s the mild bitching of people who choose to drive in light of all available options and want something to bitch about.

now people gripe about I-5 and 205, because it’s the next place we need light rail. good. the people of milwaukie got their gripe in first and attended the planning meetings, so it looks like they’re next on the list after the 205 line goes in. hopefully the I-5 corridor will be next.

the only people still bitching about the light rail we already invested in are angry redneck suburbanites who don’t ride it. every time a new proposal arrives, a few lunatics in the far-outlying areas vent some self-serving bullshit about how their statistics about light rail *prove unconditionally* what a waste of money it is, and the people of portland (apparently) roll their eyes and vote for it anyway. which is why we have the world-class transportation system we have today.

there will always be people who want instant gratification - in so very many things - but there is no instant solution to traffic. the arrival of people will always outpace the capacity to transport them. rail has much better potential to transport people in volume than roads have. invest in rail. it is safer, cheaper, it requires less money to maintain, and it is a better use of resources than roads. and it’s also a hell of a lot more rewarding to spend your commute reading the paper, sipping your coffee, cuddling your kid, making phone calls, and listening to music than snarling at the car in front of you. we all know drivers do all those things are more, much more, when they shouldn’t be. on the train, you may annoy some people, but you’re not annoying them *and* endangering their lives.

don’t be scared, washington residents. embrace the future and vote that shit in. you’ll be glad you did.

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Dan, I do a combination of A: bike commuting; weather permitting of course, B: driving, and C:CTA to get to work. Even though the CTA on the north side of town is kind of sucking right now, I still take it. I just leave earlier. On a nice day, though, it is quicker to bike the 5 miles than to take the train OR drive, if you factor in the parking and the walk. Still, the CTA is the reason I moved to my neighborhood in Chicago. It's not that good right now, but it's not so bad. On weekends, it is more on time, so it's a great way after a nice baking session to get around town.

Posted by P to the J | October 15, 2008 11:02 AM

Light rail is an economic and social failure for any city that's implemented it.

The only reason the Libs want Light Rail is because their political base is dependent on high density, low wage slaves who they can then offer "government benefits".

The last thing Democrats want are wealthy exurbians who see no need to pay into the tax system. Therefore, they create budget busting drains on income like Light Rail to sap monies from all of King County.

Posted by John Bailo | October 15, 2008 11:30 AM

your political discourse is amazing. do you offer any pamphlets? preferably in comic form.


Posted by diggum | October 15, 2008 11:52 AM

John, when you're riding the Link from your rooming house in the Rainier Valley to the temp agency downtown, you'll be happy we invested in light rail.

Posted by Greg | October 15, 2008 11:54 AM

I love how liberals, when they're doing their thing right, have actual ideas and solutions to persistent problems, and all we ever seem to hear from idiot conservatives like Bailo is how much liberals suck. Blame the liberals for all the problems. It's all a vast liberal conspiracy to encourage people to walk more and be less dependent on fossil fuels! Damn them! No actual policy proposals, just more of the same.

Posted by David | October 15, 2008 12:06 PM


I'll be happy to ride the bus like always when on the skids. That will mean more money for job growth and unemployment insurance when needed.

Posted by John Bailo | October 15, 2008 12:06 PM

#5: solutions to persistent problems

"There is no solution, because there is no problem."

-- Marcel Duchamp

Posted by John Bailo | October 15, 2008 12:10 PM

Here's another piece of magic: if you are part of the ~50% of the population that pays almost no taxes at all (more like ~90% of the Stranger readership), someone else will be paying for it! Vote yourself something free from the rich people! It's the American way!

Posted by David Wright | October 15, 2008 12:14 PM

#3 - He could create the Chick tracks of anti-rail. Only problem is, leaving them at bus stops isn't bound to win any converts. His lack of understanding about how public transit succeeds in other cities would make for hilarious reading though.

That reader's letter is spot on. Like all infrastructure, of course there are rail systems that struggle financially (oddly, the best example I can think of is actually a train built with federal money earmarked for Seattle, but voted down in 68/70 that went to Atlanta), but there are no rail systems that are "social failures".

My city without rail would be impossibly crippled by auto traffic.

Posted by Dougsf | October 15, 2008 12:23 PM

#8 - explain how ~50% of Stranger readership pays almost no taxes relevant to light rail funding?

Posted by Dougsf | October 15, 2008 12:28 PM

#9: My city without rail would be impossibly crippled by auto traffic.

Here's where your assumptions color the argument.

Why a "city"?

Why not a ring of exurbs and nearby agricenters linked by private 100% clean fuel cell cars and taxis?

Why not houses heated by hydrogen, generated using solar and wind, and hydrolysis done with the Nocera (MIT) process?

Posted by John Bailo | October 15, 2008 12:36 PM

I've heard that "The Collected Wit And Wisdom" of Mr Bailo will be appearing in print soon, courtesy of Chick Publications.

Posted by Seajay | October 15, 2008 12:37 PM

Because those are fucking pixie dust and unicorns, John. They don't fucking exist.

Posted by Greg | October 15, 2008 12:37 PM

David Wright thinks Washington has a progressive income tax. As if.

Posted by elenchos | October 15, 2008 12:41 PM

#11 - Ahh... just getting your LULZ I see. That's fine. Seems like a waste of time, but it's your life.

Posted by Dougsf | October 15, 2008 12:46 PM

I live in Charlotte, NC. We got light rail about a year and a half ago or so. All of the same arguments were put forth ad nauseum to block it by all of those people who hate to pay taxes for anything unless they are going to use it. Light rail in Charlotte has been an unequivocal success. Ridership has consistently been double expectations. When gas prices went up, it was a godsend for the city. Everyone except the most hard-core head-in-sanders loves it. Most of the people who opposed it complained within a month that it was too crowded (what did Woody Allen say? I hate this meal and the portions are too small?).

(And for the record, before people start saying that the only people who like light rail are poor people who want others to pay for their transportation, I am a corporate lawyer who lives in the suburbs and has never used the light rail for commuting. In fact, I only use it when my kids want to go for a ride because the station is too far from where I live. My point is that it helps a lot of people in this city and our only question now is: where can we put more lines? When a line gets close enough to me, I'll keep my car in the garage.)

Posted by fribster | October 15, 2008 12:51 PM

#11 (with nod to #13): It's great to know that magic can solve our transportation needs!

Exurbs are an incredibly poor use of scarce resources. In fact, they're a kind of apotheosis of "my rights trump everyone else's" in resource planning.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | October 15, 2008 12:52 PM


Based on what data?


Posted by derek | October 15, 2008 1:23 PM

I know that in Boston, where I used to live, the MBTA was established in 1964, with the State committed to covering 90% of the T's debt related to capital service projects.

The money it made has not covered its deficits in over forty years. At the outset, fares covered about 70% of its operating expenses; that is now down around 30%. It now faces an annual deficit of about $68 million, and a five-year projected funding gap of about $400 million. It is over $8 billion in debt with interest payments rising, and the Commonwealth has just had to step in to cover $1.8 billion. This comes from and And this is in a much more densely populated area where many citizens are habituated to riding the train. In fact, despite gas prices, more Bostonians are driving than ever, and a proposed 38% fare increase may not be enough even for the short term.

The Washington State Ferries used to be run by Black Ball, a private firm which still runs the Port Angeles-Victoria ferry. Black Ball made money back in the day and still does. But the State Ferry system can't come up with the cash to build a new boat for the Port Townsend-Keystone run. In the meantime, nearly 1,600 of its workers pull down over $100K a year (while having to borrow a boat from Pierce County to make the PT run). These aren't managers, but workers on the boats.

When government runs something, it may not be an automatic failure. But you know it will lose money.

Posted by Seajay | October 15, 2008 2:21 PM

Light rail here in San Diego works great, and has since 1981.

The trolley's got great farebox recovery, there's over 50 miles of track, and it integrates well with the commuter and regular train service. It has widespread support going to popular places like the baseball stadium, the football stadium, San Diego State, downtown, and the main Tijuana border crossing. There's an extension to UC San Diego in development now.

So yes, light rail can work. If it can work here in San Diego--a more conservative, less urban, and more freewayed city--why can't Seattle get it to work?

Posted by SD Dan | October 15, 2008 2:48 PM


Cute distortion of data for your purposes.

Posted by keshmeshi | October 15, 2008 2:51 PM



which label would you say does *not* apply to you, then? circle one:

a) angry

b) redneck

c) suburbanite

d) who doesn't ride [light rail]

p.s. pretending 'exurbanites' are different, for the purposes of this argument, than 'suburbanites' on answer c does not count.

yes on prop one!

Posted by happy hedonist | October 16, 2008 3:46 PM

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