Sub-area equity (SAE) is a favorite whipping boy of transit advocates. If it weren’t for that, they say, we could smuggle those Pierce County dollars up here to create a dense network of rail lines in Seattle! A lot of stuff floating around the legislature this session has sought to do away with it.

While a system focused on dense Seattle neighborhoods has a certain appeal, realistically that kind of plan is a dead duck at the ballot box, for obvious reasons. SAE does force Sound Transit to make some goofy decisions, because it has to spend like crazy in outlying areas to offset the huge capital costs in the core. However, if you look a little past the next ballot measure, SAE will end up working to Seattle’s advantage.

Making the big assumption that something like the most recent workshop proposal gets built, the buildout in Seattle is pretty much done. The Northgate line would probably eventually go out to N. 175th St along the freeway, but that’s relatively cheap, and of more interest to people in Snohomish County. Meanwhile, there are tons of outlying places ST3 can go — to Issaquah, over 520, to Renton, to Tacoma and Everett, etc.

I can picture the ST board, mulling over ST3 and unburdened by SAE, maximizing the investment in the outlying areas, where support for transit is tepid, and banking that earnest Seattle liberals (who are in any case outnumbered) will support it anyway.

SAE would force more investment in Seattle: presumably, in Ballard and West Seattle. With ST2.1 finishing as soon as 2020, we could get service in the Western half of the city by the early 2030s with a little luck.

9 Replies to “Sub-Area Equity”

  1. I completely agree with you on sub-area equity, though I think equitable taxation is silly. Why should So King County or Snohomish build as much transit as Seattle does? Seattle wants it more and needs it more. Each region should be allowed to tax themselves at different rates if they want. That way we could get rapid Transit to west seattle and ballard in the same time frame. In a way, I think that eliminating equitable taxation could make it more palatable for the outlying regions. Instead of a “sending money to seattle” mentality they could instead have a “seattle’s paying more that makes this better” mentality.

    Though anyway, SAE is better than what 6772 was proposing.

  2. In other regions without SAE, funds flow from the ‘burbs into the city to build the higher-cost central city segments. Then funds flow from the central city to the ‘burbs as the outer extensions are constructed.

    Overall, equity is achieved. Unfortunately, this concept is too difficult for some of our small-minded decision-makers.

  3. Anonymous,
    You’re assuming we have some sense of regionalism, which we completely don’t. The suburbs here all hate the city.

  4. If ST2 includes funds to get to Northgate (which I support, by the way) we will have used Seattle’s high capacity revenues to pay for bond financing until 2040 or 2050. Is that when you think it might make sense to start a rail transit network in Seattle?

    I will imagine myself being very happy for my children’s children’s kids who might be able to enjoy it – assuming there’s a chance in hell they could afford to live here then.

  5. Subarea equity might be good for capital projects, but it does not make sense for service. While I don’t disagree with providing additional service that might be needed in the suburbs, King County’s new policy of applying subarea equity to service basically makes adding service that crosses subarea lines near impossible as Seattle/North King subarea will not want to invest scarce resources into services that go outside the subarea.

    I believe Sound Transit also has subarea equity for its service, and therefore, service that might be sorely needed won’t be implemented because one subarea can’t afford it.

  6. Quasimodal man, the Central Link and the ULink bonds will have expired long before 2040 so there will be bonding capacity for ST3 before then, and ST’s bonding capacity is based on revenue which means if new taxes are approved, new rail can be built.

  7. quasimodal man,

    If we repealed SAE, you wouldn’t get rail in the Western half of the city any faster, because an ST2 plan that built that much rail would never win region-wide. So there’s no way it’s happening before ST3.

    Furthermore, the best way to ensure that west-side rail is included in ST3 is to keep the SAE provisions as they are. That’s the point of the post.

  8. WHAT is the obsession with rail to West Seattle and Ballard? They’re single-family neighborhoods! They can’t support rail.

    Right now both areas have ten minute headways with 60′ buses on two trunk routes each and one or two mostly empty 40′ routes on 30 minute headways. That’s one 60′ bus every five minutes, or somewhere on the order of 600 people maximum per hour each way. And the headways don’t shorten very much during the rush hour. While it might be reasonable to have modern streetcar service with its growth shaping ability to Ballard since it can be done pretty cheaply, I believe that the cost of bridging the Duwamish waterway again permanently blocks rail from West Seattle.

    In any case, I do not believe the people who live in Ballard and West Seattle want the sort of density that rail supports and requires. West Seattle is far too pleasant a neighborhood to suffer the high rise development necessary, and Ballard is too potent politically.

    Everyone points out that the topographical constraints of the region are severe. I believe it makes more sense to develop three or four satellite centers for non-core businesses. The Seattle CBD is getting too expensive for business other than international ones anyway, and having major centers like Bellevue to the north and south would make more sense than ever greater Seattle growth. I would think that Lynnwood and Federal Way would be the right places.

    Doing this would slow down development in downtown Seattle in turing making further densification of Seattle’s livable neighborhoods unnecessary. There is still plenty of the available land around the three satellite cores which could support rational rail supported density like the 16th avenue corridor in Bellevue on what is now very low density uses.

    Why destroy what is so wonderful about Seattle in order to have more Californians and Texans move here? It doesn’t make sense to me.

    1. What’s your obsession with saying rail to Ballard and West Seattle is a bad idea? In particular I’m rather annoyed by your assertion that West Seattle is too “nice” to take more density. Not any more so than Ballard, Greenwood, Freemont, Wallinford, Greenlake, Roosevelt, Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, Madison Valley, or a host of other neighborhoods that have seen their densities increase in recent years.

      Have you been to either Ballard or West Seattle recently? There sure seems to have been a lot of new denser construction in both areas recently. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the potential station areas already exceed the 50 units/acre average 1/2 mile from the station that is considered to be the target for a walkable rail-focused neighborhood.

      There is a reason the same corridors keep coming up in any proposal for improved high-capacity transit service in the City of Seattle. Ballard and West Seattle were in the Forward Thrust plan and were the logical corridors to serve with monorail as Rainier Valley and NE Seattle were already covered by Link. For further Link expansion in Seattle they are the next logical steps.

      Now lets talk transit service. In my experience both Ballard and West Seattle have poor transit service compared to NE Seattle. The buses at peak hour are often at crush load (especially to/from Ballard) with many stories from co-workers of having several buses pass them by on the way to and from work because the coach is overloaded. In addition the service to/from Ballard and West Seattle is often very slow both due to the number of stops and the buses getting stuck in traffic. The East end of the West Seattle bridge is a particular bottleneck that I don’t think will be solved by the Spokane St. rebuild.

      In my experience my co-workers at downtown jobs who live in Ballard and West Seattle are far more likely to drive to work than co-workers who live in other areas of Seattle. The reasons cited when I’ve asked have been slow and crowded buses. Public transit in these parts of the city is, in my experience, not really much of an alternative to the private car.

      As far as the issue of getting across the Duwamish, I don’t think it is a showstopper any more than getting across the ship canal would be for a line to Ballard. Vancouver built a cable stay bridge across the Fraiser for Skytrain at a reasonable cost, I see no reason something similar couldn’t be done for Link. Heck for all I know tunneling might even be feasible. Lets have people who know this business study the alternatives and come up with some cost estimates before we dismiss the idea out of hand.

      As to politics, I do agree there may be some difficulty in getting Ballard to accept more density, but this is more an artifact of some really poorly designed projects, especially the dreaded faux-craftsman townhouses, being dumped on the neighborhood than any desire to reject further density. I’m not sure in any case they really have the political clout to say “no more”.

      Far more important from a political standpoint is the desire of the residents of Ballard and West Seattle for better transit service and to solve their access problems. Further transit expansion in the region will be difficult to do politically if the plans in question don’t include something for West Seattle and Ballard. It doesn’t matter if the mode in question is Link, streetcar, BRT, or Express buses you’ll see opposition from these neighborhood if they don’t feel they are getting the same transit benefits as the rest of the city and region.

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