No One Is Dragging Their Feet

West Seattle Bridges

West Seattle Bridges

Will at the Slog has a piece up today that makes me angry – so angry I’m posting from Portland, where I was trying to have a nice vacation. Will is blaming Sound Transit for not having a ready-made light rail plan for a mayor who hasn’t even yet taken office when the plan doesn’t even have a scope yet!

This seems to display ignorance of a system that we’ve been working for years to help people understand.

Sound Transit gets a certain amount of money each year, from sales taxes and MVET. They write a budget based on how much they’re expecting, and publish it. Usually, there’s some wiggle room – as projects are completed, surpluses are sometimes released, and there are funds available for unexpected administrative or legal expenses.

In the past – maybe last year, or the year before – Sound Transit might have been able to take on a planning project like determining alignment for West Seattle or Ballard light rail – a $12 million study. But Sound Transit is receiving less in sales tax revenue this year than they’d budgeted for, meaning they’re looking to cut costs wherever they can, not accelerating projects. Sound Transit’s plan for ST2 shows light rail planning for these corridors to be budgeted in 2015 – and it’s been that way since the Proposition 1 election in 2008.

Furthermore, no plan – not even a scope – has been released by the mayor-elect’s office (possibly because he’s not actually the mayor yet). No plan – or again, even a scoping document – has been released by Richard Conlin’s office. As far as I’m aware, no request has been made to Sound Transit by those offices or any other for light rail planning in these corridors.

During McGinn’s campaign, I urged his staff to talk to him about making light rail to West Seattle and Ballard a priority. I’m overjoyed that he’s doing it, and I look forward to that planning taking place – but there’s nothing for Sound Transit to do here. Even if they could find a way to fund a study (and don’t hold your breath), they’d have to know what to study within some range between streetcar and subway, and have some idea of how they’re going to pay for it. The ball is in the mayor-elect’s court to figure out what he wants. The Slog’s piece today is Sound Transit bashing at its worst.

Sloggers – you know better than this.


  1. Anc says

    Posted a link in the comment thread over there, but as it is on the second page, not sure if anyone will see it. :/

  2. John Jensen says

    It should be said we have an entire state agency called WSDOT that spends a great deal of timing planning for transportation projects that will frequently never be built. Why don’t we spend the same effort on regional transit planning? Because of this disparity, when looking for shovel-ready projects highways have a build-in advantage.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      WSDOT is directed to do that planning by the legislature. If our elected officials wanted to kick-start this, they could, but they’d need money for it – and that’s up to McGinn.

      • says

        FWIW, Tacoma to Federal Way should take priority over any Ballard plans, at least until a funding vote in Seattle.

        Both projects are worthy of being made ‘shovel ready’, but absent additional cash from Seattle the completion of the original Link comes first.


      • Martin H. Duke says


        Those projects are in different subareas and therefore have essentially no bearing on each other in terms of funding priorities.

      • Cam says

        Those two projects are mutually exclusive.

        With Sound Transit’s sub-area equity you can’t legally spend South King & Pierce money on WS to Ballard or North King on Federal Way to Tacoma.

      • Mike Orr says

        I think the term is ‘unrelated’, not ‘mutually exclusive’. Mutually exclusive implies that if one project is done, the other couldn’t me.

  3. Bernie says

    ST is a regional agency. Yes, they did the initial planning (such as it is without a route) for the First Hill SC but that was an addendum to Central Link. In City light rail, like the rest of Seattle’s proposed SC network are all on the City’s dime. Not to say the City can’t go to ST for funding projects. Seattle is after all the major contributor to the North Kink sub-area but yes, it needs to be a pull not push relationship.

    • alexjonlin says

      I don’t really agree, I think it’s ST’s job to do the studies which they committed to do, and Seattle to do the ones that ST didn’t. In this case, ST said it’ll do the West Seattle-Ballard study in 2015, so unless some extra money comes (from the city or otherwise) to speed up the study, that’s what’ll happen.

  4. says


    I wouldn’t call my post “bashing” at all. It is clear that Seattleites want more rapid transit faster than the agency or the electeds will offer it. Sound Transit the agency won’t act on these studies until Sound Transit the board tells them to. The agency leaves these kind of political considerations up to the board. What I’m saying is that the Seattle delegation on the board should show leadership much in the same way Greg Nickels did in early 2008.

    • John Jensen says

      But the money has to come from somewhere, and it’s worth mentioning that this is a cash-flow problem far, far more than it is a political-will problem. If the city wants to move up the studies, why can’t the council put up some money for it?

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        I think we’re a step behind that yet – the city hasn’t said they want to move up the studies! The mayor-elect has, but other than SDOT doing some prep work, nobody’s asked for anything.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      I think your pushing would be better spent on Conlin and McGinn to produce something for Sound Transit to study! Then we can start figuring out how to pay for it.

  5. Z says

    We all seein the spectacular failure of the SPMA, however seattle is approaching a mass where i think it may be time to look at breaking them off from King County Metro Transit, and putting them off on their own. With ORCA soon hanlding intra-regional transfers adding another agency wouldent be that difficult, and seattlites could better control how their transportation money gets spent. And of course tax themselves (in the city limits) to fund any amount of service, or diffrent services as they wish.

    Operationally, Spliting the agency wouldent be that hard, as you could initially transfer the equipment and Central/Atlantic/Ryerson bases over the city, and have the service operated by Metro until the city could set up it’s own operating arm. Anciliary services could be provided by metro until such a point as the city is capabile of operating the service itself. Of course i dont know how the revenue’s would fall, if the area outside Seattle generates more tax revenue than the area inside the city limits. But residents in the city could just choose a higher level of taxation to pay for the services. Reality is this would be no diffrent than some agencies in CA, where you have the “city” agency and the “county” agency (CCCTA and AC Transit, Marin Transit and Golden Gate Transit, etc.). Just food for thought.

    Of course i will say the article is a tad misleading, and as a regional taxpayer and stakeholder in ST, if the city wants their studies sooner than they had best put some money on the table for them. While seattle is the main urban area of this region, it should not be ST’s priority to design/contruct exclusive systems that only travel within the city, as they are supposed to be more regionally focused.

    • Mike Skehan says

      Uhg! Another Everett – Community Transit ‘pissing match’ in the making. Our freinds up north have been trying to heal that wound for decades!
      Suburban buses even venturing in the Seattle city limits will make far fewer stops in downtown, shifting local transit to pick up the burden.
      Also the current allocation of Metro services greatly favors Seattle, in relation to all revenue collected(tax and farebox), so be prepared for a big raise in one or both.

    • Anc says

      I’ve never understood the mentality that when there is a failure in bureaucracy (which is what it sounds like when you have a back and forth arguing over whether the Council, the Mayor, Metro, or ST is to blame), the answer is another layer of bureaucracy.

      If anything I’d like to further consolidation under one system, with semi-autonomous departments.

    • reality based commute says

      Seattle would likely get less service under your plan. Currently they are about an even third of both property and sales taxes in King County, yet they have 62% of the ridership. Remember, fares only pay for about 25 % systemwide and even most Seattle buses require subsidy.

  6. jeff says

    This story reminds me why I volunteered for McGinn. If Mayor Nickels had intention of moving quickly on light rail expansion to West Seattle and Ballard he would have had Sound Transit do the planning study sooner than 2015.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      I think McGinn has said he wants something more on the streetcar end – on a budget – but I intend to fight for more.

      I was riding MAX all weekend, and they must regret doing so much on the cheap. If you think stopping now and then in the rainier valley is something, try hitting every stoplight downtown.

      • Anc says

        Does a streetcar have to be like that though? I don’t remember the Strassenbahn in Germany being that slow at all.

        If you put a streetcar line in now, how hard would it be adjust traffic to give it priority in the future?

      • Brian Bundridge says

        Yes it does. Never been stopped in Downtown except waiting for another MAX or the Portland Streetcar since they cross each other at-grade.

        Come to think of it. I never have been delayed on any of MAX. Always been moving on it without the random stops at lights and such.

        The biggest downer with the MAX is that there are so many stops in Downtown. If they eliminated half of them, it would feel much, much faster.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Brian, I spent all weekend riding MAX, and stopped at lights downtown (or had very long station stops due to lights) *constantly*. If they get signal priority, I couldn’t tell.

      • joshuadf says

        Amen on eliminating some of the stops!

        The new Green/Yellow ROW seems better for signal priority, but the older MAX ROW stops all the time.

  7. says

    “During McGinn’s campaign, I urged his staff to talk to him about making light rail to West Seattle and Ballard a priority.”

    One of the problems with people in this region is that people think small. We need light rail going straight down I-5 to Tacoma, and up to Everett, and out to Issaquah.

    Light rail is designed to be a regional transportation system, not a local bus route on rails.

    • Chris Stefan says

      One of the problems with people in this region is that people think small. We need light rail going straight down I-5 to Tacoma, and up to Everett, and out to Issaquah.

      ST2 already has Link light rail serving Lynnwood, North Federal Way, and Overlake. ST3 will almost certainly include further expansion to Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, and Issaquah.

      What we are talking about here is a city funded expansion of rail transit. Just because the City of Seattle funds additional rail transit in the city doesn’t mean Sound Transit can’t expand it regionally later.

      Light rail is designed to be a regional transportation system, not a local bus route on rails.

      See this is one of the great things about light rail you can scale it from streetcar like operation with frequent stops in mixed traffic all the way to a grade-separated light metro or commuter rail type service.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      Sam, the City of Seattle isn’t exactly going to be paying for light rail where there are 4 housing units per acre when we have places in the city we can build rail where there are 20 housing units per acre.

  8. Mickymse says

    No, Ben… Good for Will for bringing this up.

    For starters, there’s absolutely no reason why ST needs $12 million dollars to do this planning. The Seattle Monorail Project took two years to put together a complete project proposal for less than $6 million.

    ST doesn’t have to plan for technology, a maintenance base location, etc. They also don’t have to start from scratch because they could access all of the previous studies by the SMP and the City on ridership, potential route corridor and station locations, etc.

    ST and McGinn could also be asking Conlin and the rest of the City Council why THEY haven’t directed some money towards the study since that is what they promised to do after they killed the SMP — like Conlin talked about on the campaign trail prior to this one, though not to blame only Conlin for dropping campaign season talk about it.

    Folks even brainstormed proposals back then.

    However, I stand by what I said a few years ago. And what we’ve seen since is simply not up to par whatsoever, nor have we seen lobbying to recapture revenue sources for transit. What we’ve seen is a whole lot of attention for a waterfront highway that a majority of citizens do not desire.

    Instead, all we have seen is “RapidRide,” which STILL isn’t in the corridor, won’t be rapid when it opens, and is only proceeding contingent on monies from the Viaduct project.

    You’re right it’s not ST’s fault there’s no plan put together. But this really was supposed to be done a long time ago…

    • reality based commute says

      Mickymse is correct, the burden is on the city, not ST, to move up the funding. However, I would point out two things about the need for $12 million for the study. First, I believe the 12 million covers the entire corridor from Tukwila-Burien-West Seattle in the south and both Ballard-Interbay and Wallingford in the north. Second, perhaps in retrospect the monorail authority underbudgeted their planning effort given the ultimate results…

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        rbc – you’re right on both counts. This will probably more than the monorail spent (especially because it probably needs to be done faster than 2 years to get something ready for ballot filing), but it won’t have to cover the entire corridor.

    • lazarus says


      Yes, we all know what the monorail agency did in 2 years for just $6M. Unfortunately we also all know just how successful what they did was. That is now history – history that we can hopefully avoid repeating.

      I think LR will eventually get built in the WS to Ballard corridor, but I personally hope it gets done right this time – and if that means taking a bit more time and spending a bit more money than the SMP spent on their plan, then so be it.

      • Mickymse says

        For the record, the only thing “wrong” with the Seattle Monorail Project was funding. The Project needed either a larger tax base, a higher rate, or additional tax sources.

        I’m not interested in repeating the countless mistakes that happened after the public transit agency came into being, either; but there was absolutely nothing wrong with the initial plan presented to voters. The engineering was sound and a contractor was ready to build it for a fixed contract price.

        More importantly, there were technology comparison studies done for the corridor which could be referenced. There were also ridership and feasibility studies conducted that could be updated. There should even be documents regarding the bridge crossing to West Seattle and what can be done with the existing bridge or what’s necessary for building a new one.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      Michael, it’s unclear yet whether McGinn even wants ST to do it, or to have SDOT do it. The ball is squarely in his court.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      And you know what? “Supposed to be done”? The SMP told Sound Transit not to study the corridor.


      If you’re going to blame anyone for ST not having done a West Seattle study, blame the monorail. ST had the funding to do it ten years ago, but was very clearly asked not to. Talk about short-sighted.

      • jeff says

        Of course the SMP told ST not to study the corridor. What where they supposed to do. Tell Sound Transit “We are going to fail. Why don’t you develop a plan to build a light rail line after we collapse.” The monorail project made a lot of mistakes but your hatred of it is pathological.

      • says

        The monorail – which I voted for before I voted against it – wound up being a stupid, wasteful idea. The final straw for me was when local activist of dubious income origin (nobody is quite sure how he makes his money) went on the Dave Ross show and called those who opposed the monorail “curmudgeonly”. It’s this attitude – which I sometimes see in some of the more ardent rail-uber-alles advocates – that turns me off. This “blue tower” idea that you lack vision simply because you don’t share THEIR vision.

        I darn well DO hate the failed monorail – now – if only for the time and money wasted that could have been directed at completing something that people could be riding on by now.

        They did have a cute little float that showed up in parades though. Kind of like a chinese dragon, only a monorail that danced around.

      • says

        Michael DeBell was the activist who nobody is sure where is income comes from, BTW. Currently serving on the Seattle School Board, I believe.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        jeff (not Jeff Welch, I mean little j jeff here):

        Maybe you missed this, but I’m replying to a comment blaming ST for not studying the corridor. From a former employee of SMP. Think through your position before replying again.

        If I hate the monorail, it’s because people keep bringing up “what the monorail could have done” in trying to push our current agencies to make the same mistakes the SMP did.

      • jeff says

        You are right. I should have also said that there are a lot of people who keep bringing up the monorail who have a pathological hatred of light rail. I never understood the hatred on either side.

  9. Mike Lindblom says

    For the record, the Seattle Monorail Project spent not $6 million but $124 million [the final net cost to taxpayers] to reach final negotiations with its contractor in Spring 2005. The total project budget of appx. $2.1b required 50 years of financing, because the SMP’s car-tab taxes weren’t robust enough to support a conventional 30-year funding. Ideally, the SMP might have planned its Green Line for tens of millions less, but nowhere near as low as $6m.
    — Mike Lindblom, Seattle Times.

    • Mickymse says

      Thanks, Mike… but I’m talking only about planning for a light rail line in the corridor. Lord only knows when we could afford to build it.

      And, Ben, of course ST stopped looking at the corridor when the Monorail vote passed. I’m talking about promises at least three current City Council members made directly to me and other monorail supporters when the project collapsed, and cited quotes from folks during the campaign cycle when it was voted down.

      At the time, there was an understanding that we needed rapid, grade-separated transit inside the city limits; and that this need didn’t go away because some agency staff and board members completely fucked up the plan I helped work on.

      So, where’s the study those City folks promised? If SDOT can’t do it, they can pay ST. And why has the result been the closing of one beloved streetcar line, the opening of a new one not connected to anything, and plans for Rapid Ride that may or may not be rapid in the corridor and certainly is not grade-separated?

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Michael – why do you keep asking when the city will deliver on something when the administration that made the promise won’t be seated for another month?

        And the new streetcar connects to Link, Amazon, Gates Foundation, soon MOHAI, Fred Hutch, Zymogenetics, and many other employers – and Link and of course downtown on the other end. Quit with the rhetoric, it’s tired, and it just makes me not like you.

      • Mickymse says

        I’m not talking about Mike’s promise to put a light rail plan up for a vote, Ben. I’m talking about long overdue promises made by City Council members to make proposals.

        And, sorry, I didn’t mean there was nothing in South Lake Union. I mean the SLUT doesn’t connect to any other streetcar line, has a terrible connection to light rail, and won’t connect to the next line we expect to build. I wasn’t knocking ridership here, but system planning.

  10. Chris Stefan says

    In 2001 the City of Seattle conducted a Seattle Transit Study for Intermediate Capacity Transit. There is some interesting information in there for future transit planning be it for bus, BRT, ETB, streetcar, or light rail service.

    Seattle Transit Study for Intermediate Capacity Transit – Final Report
    Seattle Transit Study for Intermediate Capacity Transit – Stage II Ridership and Cost estimates

    There is also the Seattle Transit Plan which has the Urban Village Transit Network corridors in it. One map of particular interest is Map 3.1: 2000 Population/Employment Density
    with Transit Ridership
    . This map superimposes ridership per-mile over a density map.

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