Prop. 1 is a vote about a lot of different things. It’s a vote about 50 miles of rail, and $7 billion or so of new roads, replacements for existing roads, and improvements for existing roads. To me it’s more than that, it’s also a vote on the sort of city we want to live in, what life is going to be like in Seattle in 50 years, and whether Seattle can finally move out of the sort of transportation “Groundhog’s Day” (as the PI put it) and become a city that actually gets things done rather than just talking about the perfect plan for generations.
One thing it’s not, or shouldn’t be: It’s not a vote about global warming or about greenhouse gases. According to Sightline’s Clark Williams-Derry, the roads portion, RTID, could increase carbon emissions by as much as 15 million tons over 50 years. That’s an average of 300,000 tons per year. Currently, the US outputs 6394.5 million tons per year (a “metric” tonne is 110.25 English “tons”). Even if that were not to increase (it will), that means represents less than one half of one one hundredth of one percent of the US’s total greenhouse emissions. Or put another way, that means it’s less than four tenths of one percent of what our region does in greenhouse emissions (our region is about 1.25% of the nation’s population and pollutes slightly more than the average per person). For comparison, Sea-Tac airport is about 7% of our region’s greenhouse emissions, and adding a third runway ought to increase greenhouse emissions by about 50% there. That’d be about 3.5% of our region’s greenhouse gas emissions meaning the third runaway at Sea-Tac is an entire order of magnitude more greenhouse gas emissions than all the roads in RTID. According to David Suzuki, Erica Barnett’s trips to Texas at Atlanta by plane are as bad as driving a hummer there and back the whole distance. So we shouldn’t stop light-rail and all the good it will provide for a few tenth’s of a percent increase in greenhouse gases.
The arguments against ST2 have been made for generations. Look at the image to the left, it has the arguments against Forward Thrust 40 years ago. “Seattle doesn’t have the population density.” “It would be well to see how the controversial Bay Area Rapid Transit turns out” (Really well by the way with lots of expansion plans). “I feel the transit plan would saddle the people with an extremely high debt for 40 years” (the bonds would have been paid off this year) “His plea is for buses is dedicated highway lanes”. Isn’t that John Niles argument as well?
The fact is, that BRT has been tried here in the bus tunnel, at a cost the same as subway, but far worse for ridership. It has been tried in highway lanes in Los Angeles where there were huge cost overruns, making it almost as expensive as a subway line, and it even had collisions at the rate of one per week. So BRT is a red herring, and not a workable solution. We need to put it to bed.
Why are we still having this conversation after 40 years? Because Seattle is stuck in the ideas phase and can’t get past it, can’t put rubber to the road (or steel to the rails as it were) and get things done. Maybe our motto should be “don’t just do something, stand there!”