Between yesterday and today, there have been a couple of posts here and on Publicola that, in my opinion, fail to cover the most important parts of the discussion about high capacity transit planning on Eastlake, have some clear misstatements, and make assumptions that aren’t borne out by the Seattle City Council’s actions.
Let’s step back. Seattle’s Transit Master Plan identified several corridors as the highest near-term priorities for city-built high capacity transit. The highest demand of these corridors are Ballard via Fremont and the University District via Eastlake and South Lake Union. Personally, I wouldn’t really call these high capacity transit – we only called the fast lines to West Seattle to Ballard “intermediate capacity” in 2000. But the transit master plan clearly finds that these corridors, with even a streetcar in semi-exclusive right of way, are very cost effective, and will carry tens of thousands of people with far faster and more reliable commutes than they have today.
Usually, in transit planning discussions, people make what I like to call the “endpoint fallacy”. With Link, many tend to ignore that the majority of ridership comes from the Rainier Valley, calling it a “train to the airport” among other things. But in this discussion of an Eastlake line, it seems like we’re ignoring the ends!
The Transit Master Plan shows that the two lines up the sides of Lake Union would carry very similar numbers of people. This makes sense, if you don’t focus on one of the neighborhoods served, and consider our entire transit network, as the Transit Master Plan did. It sees 25,000 riders on a rail line here, and for good reason – as downtown’s jobs are growing northward, they’re well outside the catchbasin of Link – this is a completely different corridor. People coming from all over the eastern half of the city would transfer from Link to this line to get to tens of thousands of new jobs in South Lake Union. Today, most of us don’t see that – we consider the South Lake Union Streetcar slow and infrequent, and we don’t see South Lake Union as a big urban center. But it’s not just Amazon’s new towers – there’s huge growth coming in SLU and more coming to the U-District shortly thereafter, and the focus on Eastlake ignores that this provides a connection between them – and a two way connection at that, as there are both jobs and residential in both centers.
Don’t be an armchair planner. If there’s real planning work that supports you, use it. But contradicting it with anecdotes just leads to poor decisions.
The other issue here, and the more interesting, is the politics. In Erica’s Publicola piece, she not only acts as if Eastlake/SLU is the same corridor as Link, which is pretty clearly mistaken, but she also attacks funding this line at all. She even claims bicycle advocates agree with her. But bicycle and even greenways advocates have been united – this planning money will lead to bicycle infrastructure along new lines. Even Cascade Bicycle Club sent a letter urging the Eastlake funding be retained. And the Council doesn’t agree with her either – their new green sheet (their proposal to change the budget) doesn’t cancel the funding at all, just splits it in two, pushing part of it out a year.
This causes a perfect political situation for the Council.
They don’t disagree with the project – they’re funding it, just more slowly. But it turns the Council’s argument that ‘we don’t yet know how to fund building these’ into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Instead of spending the next year with planning funded, where the mayor can continue to seek federal funding for design and engineering (as he’s been highly successful at with millions for the downtown connector and the Broadway extension), we’re left to fight next year to ensure that planning money is retained – while we’ll be fighting at the same time to ensure Metro is funded and to get transit included in a statewide transportation package.
The City Council passed the Transit Master Plan’s recommendations for high capacity transit unanimously – they clearly agree with funding the projects, or they would have been cut. But with a new Obama administration (fingers crossed), a state package, and PSRC all likely to offer new options, securing planning funding now leaves them at risk of a big win for the mayor – and for transit – if we’re ready to accept federal funds for more.
With at least two Councilmembers planning to run against McGinn next year, it makes sense for their political aspirations to keep him from having an election year success. Unfortunately, preventing us from winning transit funding does so at the expense of tens of thousands of Seattle commuters who are waiting for better solutions.
Look past the anecdotes. The Council proposal hurts transit for a political win.