That is, “Seattle never misses a chance to miss a chance” on light rail. This article at Crosscut by Jon Talton is awesome. Talton breaks down the anti-light rail arguments one by one, and – in addition to the quote above stolen from that article – there’s this great quote: “The only thing keeping it from succeeding here are the myths propagated by foes”.

Nice, definitely read the whole thing.

12 Replies to ““Never Misses a Chance to Miss a Chance””

  1. I love how Crosscut comment thread attracts every crusty old crank around.

    They use the Kemper Freeman game plan: slam on public transportation…then pretend to like buses.

    Looks like the author has spent some time in Phoenix and Charlotte…so he must be used to hearing from the idiot dinosaur set.

  2. I am really nervous about it, myself. But I haven’t been watching the polls, just listening to people bitch about it. And those people are not necessarily representative voters, I hope.

  3. The cranks bitch about it, because their kind is a dying breed. The right wing talk radio callers have been more angry and active than ever, too regarding national elections. Don’t think of the cranks as a barometer.

  4. Jon Talton’s piece is underwhelming when it comes to dealing with some of the concerns that Sims, Doug MacDonald and other thoughtful leaders have about Sound Transit’s Light Rail. He focused his piece on what he called myths. Sims and MacDonald are not perpetuating myths; rather, the Light Rail Modal Religionists keep the myths handy as a straw man to tear down anytime someone speaks rationally about the situation.

    Instead of myths, here are some real concerns:
    #1 Sound Transit’s version of light rail is very expensive. Over four to five times more expensive than many other light rail systems on a mile per mile basis. It should be termed “medium rail.”
    #2 Sound Transit reduces the number of vehicles that can use I-90. Yes, they have more seats than buses and cars, but please remember that cars and buses access many more places than rail and therefore can accommodate more people’s needs than the rail line. It is not enough to have seats; you need to be serving a demand that justifies the capital investment.
    #3 Much of the light rail alignment is along the freeway, not the ideal place to create the urban form the rail advocates envision.

    1. I’m sure someone more involved with the yes on #1 campaign has more formal responses to these concerns, but here’s how I see it:

      #1) Agreed that it’s much more expensive than other light rail, but it’s also going to carry many more people than most light rail and be better for urban form than most light rail (given some subway sections, etc). I guess I’m a little confused by your objection: do you just find the terminology misleading? Or are you saying we’re getting a bad deal?

      #2) Given re-working of I-90 to add lanes to the outer spans, I believe the total roadway capacity of I-90 is going to remain constant. You can argue, of course, that we should re-work I-90 to both add lanes to the outer spans and leave the middle span for cars and buses. That said, I’d worry that adding capacity to I-90 this way would just move congestion elsewhere in the road system — that is, access to and from I-90 would likely become the new bottleneck. By comparison, light rail use of I-90 will not have access bottlenecks, since the trackway to get to and from I-90 is already accounted for in the costs of the project. That’s how I see it, anyway. Do you think otherwise?

      #3) Agreed that freeway alignment is non-optimal from an urban development perspective. That said, there are significant chunks of non-freeway alignment in the plan (Brooklyn, Roosevelt, Bel-Red, etc.), and IMHO, freeway alignment is not as bad as some people claim. First, in some outer areas (e.g. Lynnwood), development has already happened around freeways and most access will be via park ‘n’ ride for the moment anyway, and the freeway area is a good place for a park ‘n’ ride. Second, it’s not impossible to develop good urban form along a freeway. I’m currently spending a few months in a suburb near Stockholm, and my local subway stop is in a place called Morby Centrum, a small mall with housing around it, built right next to a highway. This is a rich area with high car-ownership rates, but the subway stop gets an enormous amount of use. Closer to Seattle, the new Northgate developments may prove to be good urban form near both a highway and mass transit.

      So anyway, I’m not too concerned about #3. Do you think it would be better to extend light rail, say, into Shoreline and Lynnwood along some other, non-freeway route? Or do you just think there’s no point in extending light rail into car-oriented suburbs?

      1. Steve,

        Nicely done. I appreciate your tone as being respectful and thoughtful
        Regarding cost, I think it is a major issue that can’t be brushed aside. Since we have decided upon the most expensive version of light rail, the extent to which we can build a network of light rail (which I believe would be really great) is lessened, since ST3 and ST4 or whatever else would require a lot of new taxes relative to the benefit.
        Regarding I-90, your response was thoughtful. Yes, I completely agree about too many cars without any road space to accommodate them once once they cross the bridge. The completion of the outer carpool lanes will be helpful, but remember that buses use the D2 roadway to get to 5th Avenue and the bus tunnel today. (The D2 roadway is the facility connecting the express lanes to the Rainier Avenue flyer stop and travel underneath the 12th Avenue S bridge and drop transit and carpool to 5th Avenue S and Airport Way as well as into the the bus tunnel (buses only of course). It is not clear that buses will still have access to this facility (they likely won’t since they won’t have access to the center lanes of the bridge). Also, my point is that East Link crossing I-90 would not serve the preponderance of travel needs for current users of I-90, including Factoria, Eastgate, Sammamish and Issaquah. It may have seats, but people won’t ride something that doesn’t have access and doesn’t go where they want to go.
        On #3, I think there many opportunities to shy away from the freeway envelope. Auto oriented places like SR 99 in Shoreline and Lynnwood at least have zoning that could see more density and sidewalks and places for pedestrians to cross the street. A large stretch of I-5 is absent any of this. Look at I-5 between Northgate and 196th in Lynnwood. A golf course, a bus base and lots of large lot single family housing set back from the roadway. If the routing was less concerned about getting to Everett as fast as possible and instead focused on serving the most people, it would look at a different alignment.

        Thanks for the discussion.

      2. Multimodal Man,

        The question for you is, is this better than nothing or not. The plan, as it is, is the product of a lot of sausage-making (in particular, placating the Snohomish folks), and sending ST back to the drawing board is unlikely to result in anything but further delay and lower ambitions.

        We can get into an extended discussion on the merits of each of your points, and this forum is partly intended for you to do so, but that’s the practical decision facing us this election.

      3. I’ll jump on one of the points: whether medium-rail is appropriate. I agree it’s a bit heavy for our immediate needs, but think it shows good foresight to handle future loads. I think my question back to you is similar to Martin’s point. Assuming you’re right and the technology is cost limiting, what should we do about it? We’ve already built ST1 using this type of rail. Are you suggesting we build a separate line with a different technology?

      4. Thanks for your response, Multimodal man. I have some responses in turn:

        1) On cost: agreed that the expense affects our ability to build other routes, maybe using more traditional (i.e. at-grade, shorter-platform, slower, cheaper) light rail.

        That said, I’m not sure how well suited our area is to traditional light rail. We don’t have a ton of abandoned rail corridors, and what we do have either doesn’t hit major centers (the BNSF Eastside line) or is impractical to reconvert to rail (the Burke-Gilman). We do have some roads that could probably handle light rail in the median (Lake City Way, NW 15th, Bel-Red, maybe 148th NE, etc.), and maybe we’ll eventually build it there, but I’m not convinced surface light rail along any of those streets would be a better investment than a higher-capacity system hitting more major nodes.

        Do you think there are specific projects we should be building instead of the ST2 proposal, or is it more a general sense that the cost is hard to swallow?

        2) On I-90, I would expect the people going to/from Factoria, Eastgate, Issaquah, etc. to use the same mode they’ve used before, so I wouldn’t expect things to be much worse for them just because they’re not on the train. The D2 roadway detail is interesting, though, and may in fact make things worse for bus users — I didn’t know about that.

        That said, your main point here seems to be that we may be spending a bunch on something nobody will ride. I get that argument, but I tend to be more optimistic about the ridership projections — between the retail and office density of downtown Bellevue/Overlake, the development plans for Bel-Red and presence of some park and rides along the route, I’m convinced the projections are actually a little conservative.

        It’s all a guessing game, though — if you disagree, there’s not much I can say.

        3) On the north routing, I pulled out Google Maps, and I do see your point — while Shoreline and Lynnwood are low density throughout, a line that ran, say, along SR 99 might make for better development potential. That said, I see wisdom in the Sound Transit decision, too: the highway is direct, the route can be built without needing to invoke eminent domain to take land held by private citizens, and as Martin mentions above, it’s not clear Snohomish County would go along with a plan that switched over to a route through more developable land.

        Anyway, thanks for your thoughts — it’s nice to hear reasoned criticism, and I appreciate being able to discuss the issues without feeling like the person I’m talking to is an irrational fanatic.

    2. Many of those station locations have not been finalized. The initial preferred alternative for Roosevelt Station was at I-5, and community leaders had a successful “Yes in my front yard” campaign to argue for NE 65th ST and 12th Ave NE (right by the Whole Foods, Pies and Pints, etc. business district). I hope Shoreline and Lynnwood community leaders have similar foresight! I have a friend who lives in Shoreline… I’ll have to get him to contact someone. We have to pass Proposition 1 first, then we have a few years to get the communities involved like the SPL did with its immensely successful Libraries for All program.

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