Publicola reports that Seattle mayor Greg Nickels has conceded in the primary election, with a generous and humble concession speech. Great City Initiative founder Mike McGinn and T-Mobile executive Joe Mallahan will advance to the general in November.
Nickels leaves behind a very strong legacy on transit, and particularly rail. He worked hard to get our light rail built. Last year, against headwinds, he secured a spot for ST2 on the ballot. Without support from his Department of Transportation, a First Hill streetcar may not have been part of those plans. He built the South Lake Union streetcar, a starter line showing that the city can build its own transit infrastructure quickly and on budget. South Lake Union itself is a neighborhood that over the coming decades will see density and strong growth, largely thanks to Nickels. We honor his service to this city.
Mallahan has not offered great encouragement regarding his views on transit. His answers, so far, have been vague and not meaningful. We need to hear why he’s good on transit and land use. Without specificity, we can only assume the worst.
McGinn is an environmentalist through and through. We have no doubt in his commitment to bike improvements, pedestrian investments, and bus amenities. He opposes the SR-99 tunnel, saying we don’t need it. But he’s soft on additional rail expansion until Metro fixes its problems and the state offers new funding. Neither will happen soon, while a near-term investment in rail is a catalyst for the dense land use he recognizes is necessary.
We need to hear from McGinn that he won’t oppose the First Hill streetcar funded by Sound Transit, and that he will support the acceleration of construction proposed by Seattle’s Department of Transportation. We want a re-evaluation — or change of heart — and the 1st Ave streetcar. Streetcars are not for every location, and one can argue that the SLUT wasn’t an appropriate first line, but these two lines are smart investments. The city can’t wait for Metro to fix its house and we certainly cannot wait for the state to move away from highway funding before investing in more-efficient, higher-capacity, and greener rail transit. We are impressed by McGinn’s commitment to buses, bikes, and feet, but we want to see something on rail.
We should make one thing clear: this isn’t about a mode fetish or being rail fans just to be rail fans. There are real, demonstrable reasons to favor an investment in rail over other new transit spending. We haven’t been in campaign mode for rail recently — hey, we won ST2 and we had a mayor who supported a series of streetcar lines, so why bother? But things have changed, and we’re going to have to prove to our readers and the incoming establishment that streetcars and light rail are a smart use of taxpayer dollars. We’re going to spend some time in the coming months reaching out to both mayoral candidates as well as the city council candidates, and hopefully we’ll give their supporters and all other voters the facts necessary to get commitments on rail.