So now the Sierra Club has gone one step past it’s usual greenhouse emissions line and has taken the bizarre step of criticizing the ST2 lines themselves.

A Sierra Club leader took the rare step Thursday of criticizing part of Sound Transit’s light-rail vision — a proposed track extension from the city of SeaTac south to Tacoma.

“I think it’s not the most efficient use of tax dollars,” local club Chairman Mike O’Brien said during a campaign debate over this fall’s multibillion-dollar Proposition 1.

He called the Tacoma line a “political decision” made to satisfy elected officials in Pierce County. “If transportation planners were in charge, they would come up with a more efficient solution,” he said.

In this country (and others) tax dollars are rarely efficiently used. Hell, I don’t even efficiently use my own cash. That doesn’t mean I should stop spending it or stop paying taxes. Sound Transit actually has a pretty decent record of not being hugely wasteful with tax dollars. The argument that the line doesn’t go to the right place is laughable. No matter where the build the line in South King County, that’s the right place: people will move to where the line is built and development will happen around the line!

While several environmental groups support the joint “Roads & Transit” plan, the Sierra Club argues that more road lanes would worsen global warming. O’Brien says he could have endorsed a transit-only plan.

After the debate, O’Brien said South End* trains would take too long to reach Seattle, because of the system’s slow surface segment currently under construction through South Seattle’s Rainier Valley. He suggests building separate lines outward from downtown Everett and Tacoma, serving local riders into those urban centers.

What the hell is he talking about? Separate lines outward from downtown Tacoma? That is just insane. People living in Federal Way aren’t well served by a line that takes them around Tacoma.

I’ve noticed the Seattle Times is still using the $38 billion number which is before the $7 billion double counting was corrected for.

Joel Connelly actually makes a good point today

Vote down the roads-and-rails package so we can “do a lot better” next time with a transit-exclusive measure, urged Mike O’Brien of the Sierra Club. The club has broken with most major green outfits, which back the November measure.

King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson argued that delay carries a human price on working families coping with longer commutes, and added, “Every year that we wait will cost another $500 million.”

Polls show a buffeted electorate: Voters want a solution to the mess and favor mass transit. They’re not that enthusiastic with a six-tenths-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax and a licensing tab of $200 or so on a new car. Didn’t we already vote to limit car tabs?

Other cities in the West have been transformed, positively, by light rail and commuter rail systems. Once a dark, cavernous place populated by hoody teenagers, downtown Portland at night has come alive with light rail. The SkyTrain in Vancouver, B.C., is often packed and has revitalized neighborhoods.

The best public transit systems don’t just supplant already used bus routes, but extend to and serve growth areas. I used Bay Area Rapid Transit to visit an old friend in the far suburb of Pleasanton, Calif. Benedictine monks in Mission, B.C., use commuter rail for trips to diocesan headquarters 45 miles away in Vancouver.

Sound Transit has shaped up after a chaotic start. The light rail line is no longer going nowhere, but ending at the airport. Still, it proposes to spend huge amounts of money, and is asking for a huge leap of faith. The $1.64 billion price tag to tunnel beneath Capitol Hill is more than the entire Forward Thrust system would have cost.

Are we building new freeways and stoking the fires of global warming, as the Sierra Club charges? Or does this package make safety improvements and fix choke points so Puget Sound-area families can get home rather than fuming in traffic? I sense that the Sierra Club has let itself get driven by ideology.

It’s a very good reason to get out of the office this fall, seek answers and write down observations … which will keep me from lying on the horn in rush-hour traffic and being pulled over and given a ticket.

I agree with Joel. The Sierra Club has been taken over by ideology on this issue and are no longer credible.

*I don’t like people using “South End” this way. Seattle’s Rainer Valley is the South End, SeaTac is not the end of anything, and thus not the “South End.”
Update: Does Will read this blog, or is the conclusion just that obvious?

8 Replies to “Sierra Club has no credibility”

  1. The Sierra Club criticizes the south line as “too slow” but their Seattle-centric view prevents them from figuring out the vast majority of ridership won’t come from people riding end-to-end.

    But why will it take an hour from Tacoma-Seattle, you ask? Well, because it goes where the people are (MLK, SeaTac, DesMoines, Federal Way) rather than straight down the highway.

    Ok, then – that must mean the Sierra Club LIKES the north light rail extension, because it will run along I-5 north of Seattle, right?

    Uh uh. They don’t like that one, either. Here’s Sierra Club Transportation Chair Tim Gould commenting on the P-I forum the other day:

    “The light rail proposed in ST2 is not as effective as it should and can be. The proposal has all the looks of an assemblage of political pet projects instead of relying on the professional experts on staff to devise a system that maximizes rider/$ spent. Light rail can transform the land use to lead to greater use of transit and reduced dependence on private vehicles. But putting the light rail in the freeway envelope (I-5 north into Snohomish Co., for example) will not lead to the desired land use transformations.”

    So, which is it guys? You want a slower line that serves neighborhoods, or a faster line that runs along the highway?

    Being “pro-transit” isn’t about supporting light rail plans in-concept-only. It’s about getting behind an actual plan, without all this endless goofy second-guessing.

    The Sierra Club wouldn’t be opposing Roads and Transit if they actually liked the transit side. But since they don’t like the transit side, it’s a lot easier to just blame the roads, which – when you eliminate the HOV lanes needed for buses – makes up only a small portion of the package – like 15%.

    Too bad they can’t be honest with us.

  2. And what does Sierra Club Transportation Committee member Jack Whisner have to say about light rail? Posting all over the place as “eddiew” Whisner not only joins his colleagues at Sierra Club in bashing on the south extension, he doesn’t like East Link, either, connecting downtown Seattle to downtown Bellevue and Microsoft:

    “The ST2 package is deeply flawed and should be defeated. They want the revenue stream from five-tenths sales tax. They should select better projects and programs for that much funding. Please consider the opportunity cost and the many much better transit projects that ST2 could provide more quickly than long Link LRT extensions.”

    Oh yeah, Whisner doesn’t like extending light rail north of Seattle, either…or the First Hill street car. But he does like a streetcar up to Hilltop in Tacoma. Go figure.

    But wait, there’s more. Jack Whisner wants the east link money to go that dinner train route, which hasn’t even undergone any ridership studies

    He also repeats that tired Kemper Freeman line @38:

    “Does using the entire center roadway of I-90 for one train in each direction every nine minutes pass the laugh test? That would leave a lot of empty space.”

    While Jack Whisner isn’t doling out random transportation advice from his armchair, it looks to me like he is actually a Metro transit engineer for his day job. As such, eddiew should know it’s not about how many vehicles you move through a given corridor; It’s the PEOPLE, stupid.

  3. So now that we know Sierra Club is both for & against light rail, from that same Slog link (above) take a look at Sierra Clubber Kevin Fullerton’s http://cascade.sierraclub .org/node/284 comments the other day, accusing greens who support the rail and roads package as being sell-outs:

    “Same with so-called environmental guardians such as Transportation Choices and Futurewise who endorse this package — they know they’re backing a turkey but fear falling out of favor with the powers-that-be if they don’t go along.”

    Since Sierra Club doesn’t think light rail is such a good idea, afterall, maybe Mr. Fullerton should take a quick look in the mirror when he calls people ‘sell-outs.’ Or, he could take a look at the new partnership Sierra Club has formed with anti-transit activists.

    This might explain why the Sierra Club is also starting to make anti-tax statements, as well.

    If I belonged to an organization which claimed it wanted to get people out of their greenhouse gas-causing cars, two things I wouldn’t do:

    1) Bash on transit as being ineffective, using contradictory statements to make those claims

    2) Bash on the taxes which would be needed to raise to build said public transportation systems.

    The Sierra Club, for whatever reason, has decided to go off the deep-end and commit both offenses, thus helping defeat their own cause.

    Great strategy, don’t you think?

    These guys seem to think so:

  4. If you happen to know somebody at the National Sierra Club office, I think they deserve to know their Cascade Chapter has taken a long walk off a short pier.

    If they had just stuck to their principles, this critique would not have been necessary.

  5. The National Sierra Club loves the Cascade Chapter. They are known throughout the national leadership as one of the strongest chapters because of the great work they do in Washington state. Helping pass the Renewable energy ballot measure, leading to pass SB 6001 in the legislature last year to set targets on reducing emissions, starting Cool Counties program with Ron Sims, getting cities throughout Washington to sign the Mayor’s Climate Protection Agreement (including conservative Bellevue). Leading the grassroots work on passing green building legislation and green car legislation. Not to mention the Cascade Chapter’s work in knocking off Slade Gorton, helping replace four republican congressman with democrats, and getting Dave Reichert to vote to protect the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

    The full Sierra Club position on RTID and Sound Transit can be found at
    It is entirely consistent with the Sierra Club’s leadership on global warming in this state. It is time to stop building more highways to make global warming worse. As for Sound Transit, the Sierra Club supports it, but made suggestions on how to improve it.

    So, other commenters — do you think we should spend billions on new highways to make global warming worse? Or do you think that politics as usual is what we need right now?

  6. I’m glad that Sierra Club activist confirmed that they have little to no knowledge about what is going on in Olympia, and have no idea what a negative outcome will mean for light rail, which they only support in concept-only.

    If Sound Transit comes back with a much smaller light rail extension in a couple years, they could care less. The Sierra Club has its elitist urban moat. But hey, I thought ghg gasses created in the burbs were just as bad as those created in their $700 per house Wallingford neighborhood?

    Inconsistency is the ideologue’s trademark.

  7. What are you talking about? Does the joint ballot measure make global warming better or worse? If worse, please explain why we should vote for it?

    As usual, no rebuttal of the Sierra Club’s point that building 150 new miles of highways makes global warming worse. As for light rail, it is too popular for the politicians to kill, and they always have a backup plan. Defeat RTID and make them come back with a plan that actually reduces global warming. Are you all in such thrall to the idea of light rail that you cannot see that you are being used by the road advocates? And contributing to the global warming problem. Snap out of it, please.

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