Sound Move Plan

by GREG NICKELS, Mayor of Seattle and Chair of the Sound Transit Board

With 81 days until the opening of Sound Transit LINK Light Rail, here is the third of my posts on the long road we’ve traveled.

The first meeting of the eighteen member Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Board took place in September, 1993. I remember very well taking my seat at the table amidst much excitement and high expectations (I am the last of the original RTA Boardmembers still on the Board). King County Councilman Bruce Laing (R-6th) was elected the first RTA Board Chair. A former Hearing Examiner, Bruce was known to all as the epitome of the “honest broker”.

Following the 1988 Advisory Ballot and through the planning process (JRPC) a core of Metro staff formed the backbone of the effort. With the creation of a new, independent government it was time to expand and hire “permanent” staff to conduct the environmental and engineering work necessary to place a measure on the ballot (the State legislation contained a number of requirements to be met prior to going to the ballot, including engaging an “Expert Review Panel”).

The first hire was to be an Executive Director. The RTA Board chose Tom Matoff (former General Manager of the Sacramento Regional Transit Agency) because of his experience in developing Sacramento’s initial light rail project. Tom was a true believer in light rail and felt that a successful, inexpensive  start would pave the way for future extensions, earlier rather than later. This came into conflict with the aspirations of many Boardmembers, particularly those from the outermost parts of the three county district who wanted any plan to include them (this turned out to be quite a drama later).

The emotions were high, the debate heated, but in just over a year (on October 28, 1994) the RTA Board adopted a $ 6.7 billion, phase 1 (based on the JRPC Plan) rail and bus proposal to send to the ballot. The three County Councils were required to vote on whether to continue as part of the RTA and therefore send it to the ballot. After weeks of hearings the three Councils all voted affirmatively in December. The region’s voters would soon be deciding on a Mass Transit plan – for the first time in 25 years!

The mayor’s previous posts: Counting Down to Link, Light Rail’s Beginnings

34 Replies to “Guest Post Series: 81 Days”

      1. I think I did see a map similar to that one on the wall of the Mass Transit Now! offices, but I haven’t seen it anywhere else. Someone should keep an archive of all the old transit planning info so in thirty years young transit nerds can look back and scoff at the lack of transit today while they ride our 300-mile Link system.

      2. Hehe I had a hard time with the map for a minute. Note to self, never show land in any color that is similar to blue. It is just too confusing.

      3. Sound Transit has a library, apparently, that transit geeks can reserve time to check out… :)

      4. You youngsters never got to experience the wonderful Metro Library I presume.

        You can blame the loss of that to Tim Eyman.

        Never been to ST’s rumored library. I kinda figured it was like the land of Nod, existing only on paper.

        What am I doing calling people youngsters when I’m barely over 30 myself.

      1. He was ticked off that the light rail only went to Ash Way/164th.

        Interestingly, at one point SNOTRAN had an LRT proposed to run along SR 99 and Airport Road from I believe Aurora Village, to Paine Field and Boeing Everett. I believe it was then supposed to jog over to Downtown Everett.

        CT started putting money aside for this, and after Ken Graska quit and Joyce Olson nee Eleanor was hired, went on a bus buying frenzy with the money.

        There was also something called the Stimulus Plan about this time.

  1. Refreshing to hear a veteran pol talk in his own voice. We’re not reading the staff version here, folks, and we should thank Greg…excuse me, Mayor Nickels, for that.

    Looks like that failed first vote will be in the next installment.

  2. You can go to Union Station and see the map in large format right at the entrance to Sound Transit HQ reception. Enter from the front and turn to the left.

    1. Oops.. didn’t nest with the intended thread. I also want to add that I like the 3D perspective of the map.

    2. Not anymore! They replaced that map with a project delivery checklist that hasn’t been updated in months. :)

  3. But everybody, it isn’t gonna open in July, cuz we’re all gonna have Mexican Swine Flu!!

  4. Matoff is brilliant in addition to being a true believer in LRT. In Sacremento, they used an abandoned freight rail ROW for the starter. This was also done in San Diego and San Jose. The Board wanted and wants “regional mass transit”. That was the conflict. The beauty of the 1996 sound move plan was its mixutre of modes depending upon the market served.

    A Matoff network in the three-county area might have the following compenents:
    – an x-shaped surface LRT network in Seattle with lanes taken from traffic;
    – LRT on the Eastside BNSF RoW;
    – streetcars in Tacoma and Everett;
    – DMU in the Nalley Valley;
    – commuter rail South;
    – express bus in the freeways connecting the other systems and hopefully tolling.

    He consults in the bay area. He advocates good transfer points between frequent services.

    He is an avid bicyclist. When he had public meetings in Seattle, he always went by bus.

    1. Sounds pretty cool except for the dearth of grade separation. I think it is very important to except where impractical have it grade-separated.

  5. In the transit management field, there are two types.

    Type 1 Lives Breathes Sleeps public transportation. Where some people collect spoons and stickers from their travels, Type 1 collects bus schedules, transfers, and other fare media. This is the type to have when your system is facing growth challenges and needs a visionary. When you have a Type 1, you need a Type 2 in finance to keep the ship afloat.

    Type 2 Doesn’t take their work home with them. There is nothing to suggest that they know an Orion from a Gillig! If you ask them what an ISL is, they’ll think you’re talking about Italian as a second language. These types got into the field because of happenstance. They are sometimes useful however, because they undoubtedly have good business sense. You don’t want this type in service planning however, because the ship will not sail under their watch, it will shipwreck!

    I can readily spot a Type 1 from a Type 2.

    1. Oh, man, I have a ticket or card from every place I’ve been.

      And yeah, I think you’re right. Type 2 is good for management, though.

  6. Oh, and I can say with certainty that Ms. Earl is a Type 2.

    Please somebody prove me wrong.

    1. It seems like you’re kind of making up these distinctions and it’s all very arbitrary, but I think the results speak more about a person than whether they collect bus schedules or fetishize locomotives.

      1. Well, its possible that systems in WA are an exception to the rule, but I’m speaking from observation.

        I was inspired to make the comparison based on the info about Tom Matoff.

        Also, there’s a reason why I said “Please somebody prove me wrong”.

  7. Yes, and Michael Bloomberg rides the 4 train from 59th Street every workday.

    What would be spectacular is if he’d take the 6 from 96th Street and transfer at 42nd!

    1. The 4 is an express train, and is so exponentially faster than the downtown 6 local, especially at rush hour. He’d be cramming in with gazillions of others at 42nd, aka, (ahem) Grand Central terminal, endpoint for the 3 metro-north commuter rail lines. (If you haven’t ever been to new york’s transit centers in rush hours, it can be tough to imagine the scale of the masses.) Instead, he could take the 6 one stop to 86th, and transfer there for the remainder of his trip to Bkln Br/City Hall. It’s a much quieter place to transfer. Better option: the 5 express, which sometimes just ends at BB/CH, avoiding those passengers for the financial district. Even better option: magic carpet. (Carbon footprint = 6′ x 8′)

      1. Oddly I’d somehow managed to forget some of the particulars about the Lexington Ave Line (even though I lived in NYC for 2 years a couple of years ago (I got to vote for Freddy Ferrer))

        I forgot about the express stop at 86th Street (guess I was thinking of the CPW/8th Avenue line, aka the A train).

        But I will say that because of the 2 level trackway, cross-platform transfers are hard to do until 42nd Street, which is a madhouse on any weekday. Did you know the 42nd Street 4,5,6 platform is air conditioned!? I think there’s a practical reason for that, as the platform is really narrow.

    1. Normally, the infrastructure costs are significantly less.

      Wasn’t the original concept to build a twin of Vancouver’s SkyTrain? Automated operation, all elevated or submerged?

      They could have done that, if not for the surface running on MLK. Of course, the original idea was to run through the Duwamish Industrial area on an elevated track, then climb up next to International Blvd.

      When somebody (I don’t recall who, maybe it was Mayor Rice) proposed running down MLK as a way of providing urban renewal, that suddenly became an option (helped by the on-street running suggestion). On-street operation precludes both automated operation and linear induction motors.

      Now, as to why we have 1500vdc infrastructure, that has to do with staff influence, and in the early stages, the idea was to have a maximum speed of 70mph! The trains are still capable of this speed, but aren’t supposed to operate faster than 55mph.

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