Before we get too far into planning Sounder to Stanwood, Marysville, Orting, Olympia, and God knows where else, I think it’s useful to apply a little reality check from the last election.

This blog spent about 0.01% of its time in 2008 worrying about it, but there was a ballot measure in Snohomish County to extend the Public Benefit Transit Area to the Southeastern part of Snohomish County. This would have been a 0.9% sales tax increase to bring signficant bus service into these areas, which aren’t that far from Downtown Seattle in the grand scheme of things.

To make a long story short, this relatively modest measure got killed in the strongest possible pro-transit tailwind.

Areas like this, in general, contain dispositionally transit-averse voters who will contribute relatively little in terms of tax revenue and make it harder to pass needed measures.  Furthermore, people that live in these areas and work in major regional job centers are indicating a pretty strong preference to live as rural a lifestyle as possible, inconsistent with the growth that makes high-quality transit worthwhile.

I’m all for more Amtrak service to facilitate the occasional trip to or from Seattle, but subsidizing this kind of daily commute is not where we want to dedicate resources.

Image of Maltby from Flickr contributor Don Decoud.

35 Replies to “PTBA and Rural Sounder”

  1. I strongly agree with the sentiment. My greatest fear about regional transit is that it can be just as sprawl inducing as building more roads. This effect can certainly be fought by adding strict land use regulations and building TOD, but making distant commutes to sparse areas with cheap land easy and fast just sounds like a bad idea. I think San Francisco’s BART went too far past dense areas and the ends of the line go to sprawled cheap large housing.

  2. Housing and growth issues are dead for the next 10 years as the overbuilding needs to be dealt with.

    In the meantime, people need to get places.

    1. That’s kind of the argument that gets us stuck in perpetual expensive bus service.

      We don’t serve Maltby right now. We have places that give us more bang for the buck, so we’re not about to start. Those people seem to get where they’re going okay.

      1. While I agree that there are places that give transit agencies more bang for their buck, I would disagree that they are getting where they’re going ok.It takes 45 min or more to drive from Lake Stevens down to Woodinville on Hwy 9 on a typical morning commute. Without traffic and green lights, its a 15 min drive.

        Granted, some of this will be alleviated when WSDOT finishes doubling the capacity of Hwy 9 all the way from Hwy 522 to Lake Stevens but this will not be finished until sometime around 2012-2015. The road is coming regardless of whether you agree with it or not because the traffic levels demand it. The traffic levels demanded it 8 years ago when I was driving that commute.

        I would much rather they get a fast transit link of some sort whether it be CT Express Buses down Hwy 9 or whatever, but I do realize that that’s way off in the future. The demand is there for it notwithstanding the vote which is probably more based on an anti-tax feeling more than anything else.

      2. I should have said direct north south transit link, it wouldn’t be fast in traffic.Anything would be better than what they have now, which is nothing.

  3. Ditto… Roads make sprawl bad enough.

    Also even though my parents live by the new Mukilteo station, I think it’s pretty useless for most people (try planning on using it for a 9-5 job in, say, south lake union) not to mention how slow it is. Buses are way better especially since even in rush hour traffic they’re just as fast.

    I don’t think you guys should be in favor of rail transit for rail transit’s sake. Sometimes, maybe even often, it’s not the right option.

    1. In the long term, it’s nearly always the best option. The exceptions to that are generally short term solutions.

      1. Wholeheartedly agree. Puget Sound is way too addicted to buses already. Thus King County is facing three fare increases in 3 years. Ridiculous, especially when Washington, DC bus fare is still a flat $1.25.

  4. I strongly agree as well. It was wise to narrowly define Sound Transit district boundaries to areas that would most likely benefit from transit. For example, C-TRAN reduced its service area from the entirety of Clark County to just the Vancouver urban growth area, allowing it to pass a tax increase whereas the last one failed.

    As I’ve commented in response to suggestions of expanding out into those areas, we should focus on compact infill and TOD in the central urban area and around stations, not sprawl. That is where transit is most effective.

  5. I followed this vote quite closely since I really wanted it to pass. The intent of this vote was to allow Community Transit to annex this area. For some reason I don’t understand, CT cannot put bus runs on Highway 9 and other roads in SE Snohomish unless they are a part of the CT district. I would have loved this since a bus from Arlington to Lake Stevens and south to Bothell would have been forecast. Now CT can’t do this run. I don’t see why they can’t simply do commuter style by picking up people southbound only in morning and then reverse the process in the afternoon. They do this for the route 200 which goes into Everett Community College and downtown Everett.

    1. Seattle is outside the CT district yet it has very good CT commuter service but that was probably authorized under the original proposition that created CT (see RCW 36.57A). Metro had service to Edmonds and Everett before CT even existed.

      The CT 424 takes SR-522 through the Maltby area to serve Monroe and Snohomish. There are no stops between Woodinville and Monroe for this route. I think CT can put buses on Highway 9 without annexation, the only catch is no stops are allowed in those areas outside the PBTA.

      1. Oran,

        Seattle is outside the CT district yet it has very good CT commuter service

        Well, of course. People in the CT district want to go to Seattle, so to serve them CT establishes bus service to enable commuting to Seattle. CT certainly doesn’t set up their service to allow easy commuting from Seattle into job centers in Snohomish County.

    2. Shawn,

      For some reason I don’t understand, CT cannot put bus runs on Highway 9 and other roads in SE Snohomish unless they are a part of the CT district

      It’s easy to understand: those areas don’t pay the taxes, so they don’t get the service.

      It’s a simple equation.

      1. What I should have said more clearly is that I wonder if CT can do commuter style and not make any stops inside the Maltby area like Oran mentioned.

  6. At what population doeas a City on a Rail line that could be used for Sounder Service cross the threashold to get Sounder service?

    Off of the Last Census Sumner came in at 8670, Snohomish came in at 8320 If Snohomish and Everett shared a border on their Urban Growth Boundry, Snohomish would have been included in ST, Same for Monroe at a population of 11,920. Was Marysville with a population of 21710 even considered for ST, I believe that it’s Urban Growth Boundey is shared with Eerett

    If ST were to come to Snohomish and Monroe and offer them Sounder Service, and some bus service (especially Seattle focused servic Both cities might just jump on the offer, you can never tell until you ask, and ST has not asked.

    Lor Scara

    1. Sound Transit hasn’t attempted any annexation. They’re still trying to build light rail, and until last week, they had a 1 for 3 record in getting ballot measures passed. The last thing they want is to make it harder for them to pass – and places like Sumner are voting against ST.

      ST has to build core support before they can start annexations.

    2. The question would be how many people commute between Snohomish, Monroe, and the rest of the region, and what benefits would ST bring over current service? They already have a Community Transit commuter route to Seattle, the 424. They have regular CT bus service to Everett Station, which connects with ST services.

      Black Diamond and Maple Valley were in the contiguous King County UGB adopted 1992 but they were not included in the ST district. Setting such boundaries is a highly political process and I don’t know what kind of talks were going on when they decided on ST’s boundaries.

  7. I think the failure of the PTBA has more to do with the fact that bus service is not desirable out there. The levy asked residents to pay the same taxes as Lynnwood, which sees excellent bus service, but would only provide a bus every hour or so along S.R. 9. I wouldn’t vote for that either. But it is not all transit they oppose. Remember, Maltby and Snohomish had the biggest turnout for Eastside commuter rail meetings. There is demand there for cost effective, frequent service.

    There are a significant amount of people that live out in Maltby, Snohomish and Monroe and commute down I-405 to Overlake, Totem Lake or downtown Bellevue. That area seams to feed Eastside employers. I know quite a few people that live out there. All those cars from S.R. 9 dump straight onto S.R. 522, and then straight onto I-405 south. Capturing these commuters where they live reduces the traffic on I-405. This is FAR more cost effective than WSDOT’s current scheme of building more and more highway lanes we can’t afford. If we are going to subsidize their commute, I’d rather subsidize it with rail. It is more cost effective.

    Looking north, Hwy. 2 is as much a safety issue as a capacity issue. It is the same with S.R. 522. Neither of these roads can handle more auto traffic without hundreds of millions of dollars worth of improvements that will only meet demand for the next ten years. Our money would be better spent on rail improvements through the lower Skykomish Valley. Amtrak, BNSF, Sound Transit and WSDOT are all players in this. Each party would benefit in some way and sharing the costs makes the projects affordable. A rail line with all-day service through the valley would replace several busses, allowing CT to reprogram those hours. Taking the busses off the road reduces traffic on Hwy. 2.

    Because of the geography of the valley and the fact that Hwy. 2 is really the only option for drivers, the lower Sky has the potential to generate ridership far greater than its population would suggest. Offering a choice between a rail line and a four-lane (or bigger) “free”-way simplifies the options. The rail line preserves a sense of community identity. Paving the valley turns Monroe into another anonymous suburb. One of those is going to happen in the next 20 years. Which one do we want them to pick?

  8. Jon K.,

    The reasons that Lynnwood gets more service for the same taxes are (1) Lynnwood has a MUCH larger tax base and (2) Lynnwood is on the way to Seattle from Everett.

    When you have a small economy not on the way to anywhere, you’re not going to be able to pay for much.

    Amtrak, BNSF, Sound Transit and WSDOT are all players in this.

    Right, except for ST, which doesn’t have this in its district and has no reason to address this problem. I’m all for the other agencies delivering rail, and if these areas want to tax themselves to cover the rest, that’s great. But I think ST has bigger fish to fry in high-ridership corridors, and certainly doesn’t need to add more exurban voters that will turn against transit measures at the drop of a hat.

  9. This post seems a little anachronistic… the entire week has been almost completely posts about transit planning far in the future, but then I see something about a “reality check”? There’s nothing wrong with people thinking about where we could have future service; people do it all the time on this blog.

    1. I think we have to remember that we should be focusing on where we should build new service, not just where we could build service. But both are important to consider.

  10. How did Darrington get CT service anyway? For a town of about 1000 people in a very rural area, they still have bus service.

    1. Here’s the answer taken from They voted for it.

      Over the past three decades, Community Transit has grown from a small, local bus service into a leader in local and regional transportation. From a thriving vanpool program to the region’s first double decker bus and rapid transit line, Community Transit has been at the forefront of helping Snohomish County residents to think transit first.

      Community Transit began service Oct. 4, 1976, after voters in Lynnwood, Edmonds, Mountlake Terrace, Brier, Woodway, Marysville and Snohomish agreed to form their own local transit agency. With 18 leased GMC buses, Community Transit began serving seven routes in those communities.

      That first year, Community Transit buses provided 951,200 rides. As one long-time driver recalled, the agency didn’t have specific stops on routes back then. Drivers had to keep a sharp eye out for riders, who would flag down a passing bus.

      Community Transit operates 33 local and 31 commuter bus routes and carries 57 percent of all Snohomish County-Seattle commuters to work and back. In 2007, Community Transit provided more than 10 million passenger rides, a record for the agency.

      Growth has been a big part of Community Transit’s history. Since starting in the seven original communities, citizens in every city in the county except Everett have voted to join the agency: Monroe and Lake Stevens in 1977; Stanwood, Granite Falls, Mukilteo and Sultan in 1979; Arlington in 1980; Gold Bar, Index and Startup in 1981; Oso and Darrington in 1982; Mill Creek in 1983 and Bothell in 1992. In addition, Community Transit provides countywide commuter service into and out of Everett.

      1. Oh yeah, one other thing, all those towns in the late 70’s were significantly less size than they are today. None of them were over 5,000 people at the time.

  11. I agree. I do think Olympia should be served by Sounder; it’s big enough and the state capital. I’d think we could take a decent number of cars off I-5 for Seattle-Olympia travel. However, ST and Thurston County have to be careful only to add the dense, urban areas of the county to the ST district. I wish ST, like Portland’s Tri-Met, would condition new rail service on dense, tall, mixed use zoning. If people want to live rural lifestyles in rural areas, that’s fine. But rural means minimal or no transit service.

    I agree with Matt the Engineer that transit can also fuel sprawl (though it depends a little on how you define sprawl). I think Paris offers a good model; the city and inner suburbs are served by the Metro, while the outer suburbs are served only by commuter rail. I think DC’s Metro goes too far into the suburbs, and while there fought various extensions (like the Green Line to BWI) that I think would be better served by commuter rail. Commuter rail won’t drive land use as much since it runs far less often; you need a schedule to use it and will be stuck waiting a good while if you miss a train, unlike light rail. For LRT, I think Everett, Tacoma, Redmond, and Issaquah are quite far enough. My focus for expanding light rail would be in the urban core, like the Kirkland-UW-Ballard-downtown-West Seattle-Burien-Renton route.

    1. Even Tacoma and Everett seem a bit far, and maybe Issaquah is starting to push it as well. An LRT system that was about NYC-subway size would probably limit itself to the Seattle city limits, maybe a bit of Shoreline, Renton and Seatac, and out to Redmond. Going out to Tacoma and Everett is starting to create an LRT system that looks like how Sounder started out, which blurs the lines between semi-local rail and commuter rail. Probably the only reasons we’re going that far are political.

      If you go out to Tacoma and Everett, you might as well go out to North Bend, and at that point only the terrain and the voters are stopping you from going out to Snohomish and Monroe.

      1. Link to Tacoma and Everett effectively doubles are commuter rail, yes. The technology is different but the purpose is the same. How does the population of the cities you mention compare to Everett and Tacoma?

  12. Another good example of the pointlessness surrounding BRT-lite. What’s the purpose of adding more bus service in an area lacking HOV or bus-only lanes?

    Keep in mind: the clowns at the Discovery Institute and the legislature-empowered regional transportation governance “reform” effort envision areas like this as the prime market for their future Cascadia empire. This vote illustrates just how idiotic the “grand plan” really is.

    The purpose of bringing in anti-transit voters is WHAT exactly? To ensure the failure of transit?

    I would be interested to hear from clueless Discovery Institute advocates like Rep. Deb Eddy – to figure out how she reconciles her ivory tower theories with harsh political reality…the kind of reality illustrated in this vote.

    The Discovery Institute really needs to cut its transit policy arm losses, and return focus on fighting Darwin. Oh yeah…and building more roads.

    1. Now that Prop. 1 has passed, I don’t think BRT-lite aka RapidRide is a serious threat anymore. West Seattle and Ballard probably won’t get rail for twenty years. Let’s give these guys a frequent transit option, if not one that’s particularly reliable.

      In terms of mythical regional BRT as opposed to steel-on-steel rail — well, that battle was fought and we won last Tuesday.

  13. Can anyone post any links to advertising for the Pro and Anti PTBA campains?

    To the best of my knowledge, there was minimal activity for or against the PTBA.

    If the For PTBA group would have advertised that the majority of people in the region being asked to be anexed already pay this tax on a majority of their purchases (most purchases by people living in this area occure in areas either already taxed by CT, or in King county), and if CT would have came out with a list before hand saying that if passed we will add the following services (30 minute, bydirectional service on hw9 and 522, 524 Thrashers corner to Maltby, Snohomish to Milcreek via Cathcart way, …) people would have known what they were voting for, and may have voted yes.

    It would also be nice to see which precincts voted yes, and which voted no

    Lor Scara

    1. I agree with Lor Scara here. I cannot immagine what CT was thinking when they did not advertise the vote before the election! I can only assume that the decision to create the annexation vote was a last minute decision. Maybe CT just wanted to test the waters…

  14. For most of my childhood, I lived in various homes in and around the PTBA annexation so I’m pretty familiar with this area. However, if this area has changed as much since 2001 as it did the 11 years I lived there my analysis could be way off, so feel free to correct me if you know the area.

    Putting a commter route in service from points along Highway 9 north of the annexation to Woodinville doesn’t really make too much sense to me. Woodinville isn’t a big enough job center to warrant a commuter route from that area, and if Seattle was intended to be the final destination, this route would be essentially duplicating existing service in Snohomish (424) and Lake Stevens (425). North of the river there really isn’t any use for a route traveling along 9. It would have to run into the city of Snohomish for any practical use as there is virtually no place along the highway itself until about Frontier Village for pedestrian access. The point here is that I don’t see Highway 9 as a place in need of much commuter service in this area without the inclusion of Clearview and Maltby. The only route that makes sense to me using Highway 9 at all is a local route connecting Snohomish and Marysville via Lake Stevens; a route that previously existed prior to I-695 passing in 1999.

    A local route from Snnohomish or Lake Stevens to Mill Creek would be interesting. I remember CT listing it in their six-year plan as a potential future route. I don’t know if there is a high enough demand to warrant this route’s existence either. It is true that Seattle Hill Road (and I assume Cathcart Way now that it is open) see a very high level of traffic, but most of those people are traveling to I-5, headed for points south in the morning, and returning home in the evening. Again here the 424 and 425 cover these Seattle commuters. That being said, if this route existed when I lived either in Silver Firs or DT Snohomish I would’ve used it every single day and I’m probably not alone, so maybe there is a high enough demand for hourly service. It also might be worth sending this route up Seattle Hill Road instead of Cathcart Way. There are a few neighborhoods at the top of the hill that could really use bus service.

    As for what would have been done if this measure had passed; A route from Arlington or Lake Stevens to Woodinville via Snohomish, Clearview, and Maltby probably would’ve been pretty popular. A route from Lynnwood to Voodinville via Thrasher’s Corner and Maltby would probably be even more popular. The only major obstacle I see based on what I remember of the area is that it is pretty spread out and not made for pedestrian traffic at all. Thus, people would often have to walk more than a mile without sidewalks down poorly lit roads just to get to a bus stop. I think it would’ve been great if CT could have put in a Dial-A-Ride service in this area to transport people within the area and/or to transfer points along the other two routes. I guess it’ll be a few more years before we see any sort of transit in that area though. Oh well. Thank God I don’t live out there anymore.

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