I’ve waited all day to discuss this. Basically, there are three arguments in this opinion piece:
1) No one uses transit here, so why bother spending money on it.
2) Trains across the I-90 bridge is dangerous. 3) Acquiring the center of the I-90 bridge for trains is not a good use of road-space, and may not be legal.

Few people use transit here because there is very poor transit here. The statistic “Transit ridership in Central Puget Sound amounts to less than 3 percent of the total daily travel” is not given in any context, so we do not know what counts as “daily travel.” Is it walking+biking+transit+driving? Does it count freight? How about airplanes and boats? Anyway, Metro buses have over 100 million rides per year, which is 58 for every resident of King county. Unless people average more than five trips per day, that number is more than 3 percent in King county. (Five trips per day would be 3.2% of travel done on transit, any fewer trips per person would increase that dramatically).

The argument here is sort of like before paved roads will built, saying “only 3 percent of daily travel is done with automobiles, why waste the money on the infrastructure? We need more horse paths!” The idea is that with better transit more people will ride it, and once a beginning infrastructure is built, more infrastructure will be added later. Transit makes cities more affordable to live in, because travel is enabled without a car. It makes them more environmental friendly, because of the above, but also because it enables higher density which reduces the number and distance of travel trips, which reduces fuel foot print. Transit also increase property values, and encourages tourism. There is a strong “network effect” on proper rail systems. To quote Calgary Transit: “Since the inception of LRT service, each new LRT line or LRT extension has produced a 15 to 20 percent increase in corridor ridership, resulting from the diversion of previous auto drivers to transit.”

If it is true that by 2030 only 4.5 of travel will be done with transit, I would say that is would have been a waste but, again, I don’t know where that stat came from, and if Ron Sims is talking about getting 50,000 commuters out of their cars by 2016, that would be mean trips in King County would be at least 6% transit by 2016 (50,000 people is 2.9% of the county’s population), even if people were making five trips a day. Anyway, even small reductions in volume reduce delays significantly for highways.

The second argument that putting trains across the I-90 bridge is dangerous I won’t argue with. I am sure Sound Transit won’t build anything knowing that it is not safe, and I trust their engineers more than pundits with an axe to grind.

The point that commandeering the center of the I-90 bridge is not a good use of road space is only obvious if you compare the number of trips across the bridge on the train and on the current center roadway. Any other comparison is apples-to-oranges. The argument that “The I-90 bridge would suffer a vehicle capacity loss of one-third compared with today” is pointless because we all know that the center HOV part does not actually carry one-third of traffic across the bridge! The vast majority goes in the other two lanes and the authors surely know that.

The piece asks:

Aside from the cost of converting the center corridor to light rail, one has to ask by what right would Sound Transit acquire this center corridor? This would constitute a “taking” of state highway property now belonging to all Washington taxpayers.

No, it wouldn’t. I-90 is an interstate and is thus owned by the federal government. The 18th Amendment (section 40) mentions money raised by special tax or levy, not money paid by the federal government. Thus this argument has no bearing. I don’t know the exact legality of acquiring this part of the bridge, but the 18th amendment has nothing to do with it. I will ask Sound Transit to respond to this today.

7 Replies to “They Hate Transit, I Hate More Highways”

  1. Oddly enough, that op-ed piece misquoted the law.

    Talmadge J. claims the law:
    “[Requires] that the property is ‘no longer required for highway purposes‘ and ‘is in the public interest’ before a transfer takes place.”

    But the law actually:
    “[Requires] that the property is ‘no longer required for transportation purposes’ and ‘is in the public interest’ before a transfer takes place.”

    How the law actually applies in this situation is unclear, and I am very curious to hear how ST responds. Keep us posted!

  2. Bravo!

    The “3% of trips” argument is bogus. It’s technically correct – but the region makes around 10 million trips each, so any one of the corridors we’re building rail in only has 1-2% of trips: I believe the I-90 bridge carries about 160,000 people daily. Let’s say that’s 1.6% of trips in the region, and we end up going from 3% to 4.5% on transit. If just a few tenths of a percent of those trips are done on East Link (and they will be), you’re looking at a quarter of the trips on I-90 done on transit! That’s not chump change. :)

  3. Oh, and on the safety argument? I believe I’ve read that the cable-stayed suspension bridge that SkyTrain uses to go over the Fraser River actually moves more at the joints than the floating bridge would.

    This makes sense – wind moves a lot more than water. The “oh my god it floats” thing is really just FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) – like all the other arguments against building a multimodal transportation system.

  4. um, anyone who’s lived in the area who is not a complete idiot conservative idealogue would also know that when I-90 was built, the express lanes were earmarked for future transit use. no matter how you look at it, that’s how the highway and bridges were built and that’s why there’s no legitimate question whatsoever why ST can run light rail over the bridge.

    wow, i am really disappointed at the Times’ editorial board for running that complete piece of crap editorial. useless.

  5. Interesting, for those that hate transit so much it seems that every time there is an “issue” on I-90 outside of the normal commute, I hear the next day that people were so frustrated it took them 90 minutes to get home. For example the truck that just wrecked yesterday? Snow storms in December, bad weather, nasty accidents, you name it. Any one of these events cripples traffic. I am pro transit and I live in Seattle, but I feel that people should be able to get around these events easily. I use the transit system we have daily, and by that I mean I use the bus and commuter rail. I feel the issue is obvious we need better infrastructure. It seems to me a no brainer. But hey it isn’t me that has to get stuck in traffic. Transit is a lifestyle I personally use it because I don’t want to pay for parking and other misc. things that are associated with driving when I have a bus that is literally two blocks from my house. I think light rail to the eastside is crucial. My concern is why did ST extend the plans all the way to Tacoma? We have commuter rail already servicing that area? Wouldn’t it make more sense to go to Redmond with confidence? Just my 10 cents.

  6. 1) No one uses transit here, so why bother spending money on it.

    I forgot to respond to this section. I think people who think this really ought to ride my commute, I am on an articulated bus that is deemed to be a rapid transit route that is packed every morning. People are always tight as sardines. Both Sound Transit and King County Metro have reported increase in ridership lately. Certainly people are riding. I think many problems with the system would be worked out if more people bought into the system perhaps…?

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