At the Seattle Weekly’s blog, Seattle rocker John Roderick has a “music” post about how much he dislikes Sound Transit. These days it feels like you can’t read a blog without reading something bad about light rail in this region, and even musicians in bands I like are no exception. Anyway, Roderick is way off on a few points:

First, in comparing Portland and Seattle, Roderick says it’s “paternalism” that Sound Transit decided to put link in its own riight-of-way down MLK. He says “unavoidably paternalistic message is that Seattle drivers are too incompetent, stupid or blind to navigate around a gigantic train that runs every fifteen minutes without being crushed beneath its wheels”. Uh, no. The message I received was that Sound Transit didn’t want to put cars right on the place that the train runs every six minutes, because they didn’t want to slow the train down. That’s the first time I’ve ever heard the argument against grade-separation.

Next, Mr Roderick says that the Capitol Hill tunnel project for U-Link “is a design which emphasizes everything that is exactly the opposite of what light-rail is good for… An elegant and effective form of public transit is destined to be an unloved and underused white elephant. If the light rail instead ran down Eastlake Way to the University district it could be built for a hundredth the cost, serve thousands more people, and be built in a tenth the time” There’s no way they could build a light rail line down Eastlike for $10 mn, even the SLU car cost $50 mn. And there’s no way it would serve more people: 40,000 people live with walking distance of the Capitol Hill station, and twice that many more live within a bike ride. Eastlake, on the otherhand, has just 6,000 people live in Eastlake, with few plans to build more housing. And there’s no way an at-grade light rail could connect the U-District and Capitol Hill in just three minutes.

I guess I shouldn’t fault a rockstar for not knowing about transit, but then again…

10 Replies to “Way Off”

  1. I’m pleased that my column has generated such an emotional response from the transit-fan community. Let me say right off that I’m a light-rail supporter and am delighted by trolleys and trains of every sort. I’m also predominantly a humor columnist, and as such my facts and figures were completely made-up, at four AM, and do not purport to be accurate or useful.

    That said, the Capitol Hill light-rail tunnel is clearly a boondoggle.


    1. Why do you think the Capitol Hill tunnel is a boondoggle?

      Yes, the numbers look big. You can pretty easily say “Oh my god, 1.7 billion dollars, and it’s SO SHORT!”

      The most conservative federal ridership models show that Central Link, what we’re building now, will carry some 45,000 riders per day in 2020. It cost us some $2.4 billion, and it’s certainly not a boondoggle – it looks like we both agree there.

      University Link, in its 3.15 miles, will add 70,000 riders per day to that number. That’s more riders for less money. In fact, it’s so many more riders for so much less money that the federal transit administration says it’s one of the most cost effective projects they’ve seen proposed in a quarter century – which is why they’re awarding us a $750 million grant to help build it.

      So no, University Link is absolutely not “clearly” a boondoggle, by any measure except for “that’s a really big number and I don’t know what it means”. In fact, it could be the most cost effective rail project you’ll ever use.

      And those trains, in that Capitol Hill Boondoggle, will eventually run every two minutes, at 55mph. I wouldn’t try driving between them.

    2. This.

      Although I have to add that while I don’t think it is a boondoggle, listening to such an argument is hilarious. You destroy capitol hill with your tunnels and light rail station entrances! Where will American Apparel go? WHY DO YOU WANT TO PUT JACK IN THE BOX OUT OF BUSINESS, SOUND TRANSIT? WHY?!

      1. Yeah seriously, Nearly every business on the block has found a replacement property. The Everyday music moved a block and a half south to the corner of pine and broadway. The Twice Sold Tales moved a block west to Olive and Harvard. The Piroshky spot is moving up broadway, and the Vivace coffee is moving into the “blix” apartment building up on Mercer.

        So it’s not like all these shops were disappeared.

      2. I heard that in line at the place. The guy could have been wrong. I guess they already have one down Broadway on First Hill.

    1. I once saw a naked girl on the cover and picked one up, but then I put it back down when I realized it wasn’t the stranger.

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