Municipal Street Railway Opening, Ballard Bridge, 1918, c/o Seattle Municipal Archives
Municipal Street Railway Opening, Ballard Bridge, 1918, c/o Seattle Municipal Archives

In 1922, GM President Alfred P. Sloan established a unit to investigate replacing streetcars nationwide with GM-manufactured buses, cars and trucks – GM was losing tens of millions at the time and felt this was the only way to expand their market. The same year, Electro-Motive Engineering Company was founded, which later became GM’s division for the manufacture of locomotives – including those used on Sounder today.

Some news items from the last few days:

  • Construction on Second Ave. in Downtown Seattle is rearranging many bus stops there.
  • There’s a serious effort to turn all but one lane of Bell St. into a linear park.
  • LA broke ground on their BRT Orange Line extension.
  • There’s a meeting in Tacoma tonight about extending Sounder to Lakewood, specifically on some crossings in the Dome district.  Opponents demand a more expensive bridge option that  preserves parking.  (H/T: Douglas)
  • Photographer Joseph Songco, who is chronicling the “path of destruction” of light rail construction, is part of the free Artopia exhibition, Saturday, in Georgetown.  Via Damon Agnos at Seattle Weekly.   Preview Songco’s work here.
  • Mayor Nickels has proposed that, effective January 1st, the $25-per-employee head tax be repealed.  It generates about $4.7m per year for roads and sidewalks, including transit-friendly road improvements, although it had not been allocated to any particular project.

Although driving jobs out of Seattle to less transit-friendly places is always a problem, there are two things to really like about this tax.  First, it is waived for any employee that doesn’t drive alone to work, discouraging the commute mode that generates the most external costs.  Secondly,while it may be true that higher-than-expected parking tax revenues offset the revenue loss, there’s a huge sidewalk backlog in North Seattle that could use that money.  Seattle is the level of government where generic transportation funds are most likely to be spent progressively, and it’s a shame to take money out of this fund.

41 Replies to “22 Days”

  1. That “head tax” is weird. Do employers commonly take advantage of the exemption for non-drive-alone employees? My employer has never asked how I get to work…

  2. Another great reason why GM should have collasped. They did immeasurable damage to our transit system for their own massive profit. It’s also worth noting that Electro Motive broke off GM in 2005. And they don’t make passenger train locomotives anymore.

    1. They aren’t to blame, they did exactly what they should have done as a business in that situation. They were receiving massive indirect subsidy – if they hadn’t been, they wouldn’t have been able to do these things (or grow as quickly as they did).

  3. A comment on Songco – he titles his pieces “before” and “after”, but doesn’t really acknowledge that he’s only really chronicling “before” and “during”.

    1. His works are pretty misleading. For example, in the link, the first picture shows a dirty pub (before) and MLK during reconstruction (after). Of course in the end MLK and that corner will turn out better than the before picture. Also, the second picture shows a couple of beat-up shacks (before) and a new road (after). I’m pretty sure that area became a new landscaped public plaza (area around MLK and Dawson St.).

      Not really impressive, logically and artistically…

    2. I agree, it’s still art, I understand that, but personally, I don’t really like how he presented his idea.

    3. I think a more appropriate “before and after” would feature the construction of interstate 5.

  4. Glad to see at least one street on a road diet. I wonder if there are any other good places to try to do something like the Bell St. linear park?

    1. I think that if we go there and use it a bit, eventually we can do this on Pike or Pine!

      1. The Pine Street closure at Westlake Park was pedestrianist extremism. Pine Street is not a side street but the main road between downtown and Capitol Hill. I did not enjoy the turning delays and extra walking when the Capitol Hill buses were rerouted to Union Street.

      2. Yeah, I mean, simply put – a pedestrian trip is far more efficient than a car trip. We should encourage that efficiency, as it saves our whole country money in multiple ways.

      3. Besides transit and commercial vehicles would move much more quickly through downtown if there weren’t any private automobiles in the way.

      4. If one stands at 8th and Pine and looks west, one will see that there are no entries to any garages from Pine. It was a bogus argument that the CBD was “cut off” from Cap Hill, and it still is a bogus argument. If one wants to get to a garage, one still has to turn off of Pine; it could be “reclosed” to auto traffic in an instant except for the electric buses and a lovely wide bike lane.

      5. What do garages have to do with it? How about going from Capitol Hill to Pike Place or the waterfront, or to turn south on any street past 5th. People can walk to downtown, but often they’re going through downtown to someplace else.

        I don’t understand how several people here can go from a reasonable “We want more transit” to “All trips to downtown that are not on foot are illegitimate, and we should ban all cars starting today.” That fails to take into account that some trips are legitimate. For instance, you may be taking the family to the ferry terminal for a trip to the penninsula. Or you may be disabled and unable to walk easily. Or you may be a gardener with tools in your truck, or Meals on Wheels. Or you may have that auto-dependent friend visiting from the suburbs.

        I do not have a car, so 100% of my trips are on foot or transit. But many of my friends have the auto mindset, and if I want to go somewhere with them it’s a choice of either riding in their car, not going at all, or catching up with them an hour later when I get there (assuming there even is transit to the place, for instance the MMA fights at the rural casinos), because they’re not going to take a bus (and where would they park their car until we get back?). Expecting Seattle to eliminate cars all in one day is completely unrealistic. And if we did, transit would have to increase ten times to take up the slack. The best we can hope for is a gradual increase in transit and a gradual decrease in auto use.

  5. Re: Head Tax,

    Well that explains why my employer gives everybody a bus/transit pass. They get a deal by buying the passes in bulk, and they escape the $25 head tax. Still though I doubt it affects their bottom line all that much.

    1. There’s also the “commute trip reduction act” that your employer has to take part in if it’s big enough.

    1. I’ve seen it. Most of what’s out there is biased and ignores the root causes. I’m no fan of GM, but to say they’re to blame is like to say Citibank is to blame for the mortgage problems we’re having now. Small decisions much earlier build up to cause these things.

    2. GM is not the only party to blame. The transportation policy choices of local, state, and federal governments made back then also contributed to the death of streetcars and led to what we have now.

    3. In any case, GM should not be singled out in 2009 for something it did in the 1940s. All the car companies benefited from the trend, and neither they nor any government attempted to counteract it in the intervening decades.

  6. Seattle already imposes far too many taxes and a generally harsh environment upon businesses. That’s why Bellevue even exists in the first place – as a response to Seattle’s mistakes. But, getting rid of the head tax won’t bring all those Eastside businesses back to Seattle.

    1. The Seattle mistakes you refer to are shortsighted growth restrictions a few decades ago.

    2. Hardly, Seattle still is the region (and even the state’s) major employment center. There are more jobs in the Seattle downtown core than all of the Eastside.

      1. Just happened to glance at my City of Bellevue June 2009 Water Quality Report and noticed it says there are 135,000 residents and 140,000 jobs. That would mean on whole that significantly more people commute to Bellevue than from Bellevue which I find surprising.

        According to the Redmond Chamber of Commerce:

        Nearly half of all jobs in Redmond – which has a workforce of more than 85,775 people – are in the high-tech and financial services sector,

        If you take downtown employment at ~240,000 (depends on who’s numbers, where you draw the boundaries, etc.) It a pretty safe bet you can make up the difference of 15 thousand jobs (240k-140k-85k) with Kirkland alone.

        All of Seattle has some 1/2 million jobs and there’s like 1.1 million in all King County. Obviously the Kent Valley has a lot of jobs so the eastside combined wouldn’t match Seattle on whole but I’d bet it equals or beats the CBD depending on how you define it.

      2. I guess my numbers were a bit off, still the Seattle CBD having roughly 25% of the jobs in King County is rather impressive.

        My point was somewhat twofold, first I get tired of all the people who bitch about transit service being focused on Downtown Seattle, especially those who think Kent or Bellevue should see similar service.

        Second is I get tired of the mantra pushed by some that businesses are somehow fleeing Seattle for the suburbs. Now businesses do move their facilities around the region (or even out of the region) for a number of reasons but that hardly means businesses are “fleeing” Seattle. Microsoft is opening a substantial amount of office space in Seattle after being located in the suburbs for the past 30+ years. Safeco consolidated its Redmond and U-District office space downtown. Russel investments touched off a bidding war between Tacoma and Seattle when they publicly announced they were considering a move to Seattle.

      3. Flatline, did I ever use the word ‘fleeing’? That’s an overreaction of the point I was trying to make. My point is simply this: Bellevue and the Eastside business districts exist entirely because the city of Seattle failed to adequately respond to their needs. Microsoft, T-Mobile, Paccar, Nintendo, Google… These are all big businesses that Seattle should never have lost to the suburbs – Seattle just isn’t big enough to be out of room for them to comfortably occupy the CBD. They clearly did something wrong.

      4. Yeah, there’s a difference between “employment center” and “a bunch of service-level jobs mixed with some office parks”.

      5. Large areas of the eastside just don’t warrant transit service outside of peak hours and most probably doesn’t warrant it at all. But there are large employment areas like downtown Bellevue and Microsoft/Overlake. Downtown Redmond has actually become very dense residential. Outside of that the transit nodes are pretty much P&R lots which are peak hour commuter oriented. The idea that the entire county needs access to the transit system is self defeating. First it decreases the necessity for someone depending on transit from living where it can be viable. Second, it dilutes the effectiveness of the whole system which makes it less desirable to make the decision to rely on transit.

      6. There is a difference between sprawl and towns. Build towns with viable town centers. But, the office park and subdivision zoning has to stop, and we need to dense up where we have already built.

  7. Just finished watching “Taken For A Ride”, and I highly recommend watching it. Also, if you haven’t seen “Who Killed The Electric Car?”, that’s also good.

    Anybody see the report on air quality released yesterday? A viable streetcar system and affordable, mass-produced electric car would help alleviate a lot of those problems! 22 DAYS!

    1. Somehow I get the impression you didn’t read the post below this one on the main thread…

  8. Huge sidewalk backlog in North Seattle? Sure, that’s true. (I grew up on one of those sidewalkless streets in Lake City.) But large portions of Beacon Hill (and maybe other parts of SE Seattle?) are also sidewalkless. Basically, anything developed or annexed after the 1940s in this town seems likely not to have them, as far as I can tell.

    1. Indeed – after the 1940s, most of our growth (and most of the new tax revenue) went outside the city.

  9. I have to fill out the head tax form although I’m exempt from it (too small and I take the bus anyway).

    It is one of the more confusing forms the City sends out and I think business folks feel especially picked on by it.

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