I don’t think the pro-Nickels bona fides of me or any other authors of this blog can seriously be in doubt. We endorsed him in the Primary, gave him a platform to write about light rail, and reminded voters of his contributions just before election day. By my count at least 5 of the 8 bloggers on staff donated some money to his campaign, and I volunteered a small amount of hours for him. We remain enormously grateful for all he has done for this city and this region, and will mourn his departure from the scene in January. All that said, there’s a distressing theme in the comments of Nickels supporters continuing to rip McGinn, accusing him of being inexperienced and his rail plan as being a “pipe dream” at best or disingenuous at worst. More below the jump.
The flip answer is to say “consider the opposition,” who is equally inexperienced in government. Either Joe Mallahan or Mike McGinn is going to be the next Mayor of Seattle, and it matters for the future of transit in the City. You can participate in that decision by voting, volunteering, and/or contributing, or you can file a useless protest vote. The choice is yours.
More positively, I’m really puzzled about the lukewarm reaction here to McGinn’s light rail proposal. Ben, as an activist, is probably the one most engaged on how to get the ball rolling for the next stage of light rail. I asked him what the first priority was about six months ago, and he said, to paraphrase, “accelerate the Ballard/West Seattle light rail study with City funds, so that we can get a ballot measure sooner.”
I really don’t see how the detractors think this is going to play out. We can’t do anything until a serious study is done. We’re almost certainly going to have a City Council with a solid pro-rail majority. So it seems pretty trivial for the new Mayor to find a few million to get the study done. That is a significant step forward, more than I would have expected from a third Nickels term. It’s possible that the study could have some poorly designed inputs, and it’s important that the Mayor’s office work with Sound Transit to commission the study the right way. We can apply pressure as citizens on the Mayor and the Council to make sure that happens.
The next battle would be the ballot measure. As I said a while back, there’s almost inevitably going to be a tradeoff between serving a lot of neighborhoods with a MAX-like system or a few with a Link-style system. Although the initial read is that McGinn would prefer the former, if grade separation advocates are confident the numbers support their position, it’s going to come out in the study. Furthermore, the higher ridership of a high-quality system is going to bring in more federal dollars, creating a virtuous circle.
It’s entirely possible that the process to whittle down a menu of study options into a coherent plan could falter without a strong hand. There’s also management risks once a ballot measure passes. However, if those efforts collapse, we’ll still have the basic design in hand, which allows us to chase Federal dollars and go to the State with a coherent plan with what Sound Transit would do with additional funding authority.
Going down this road is better than not going down it, and serious rail advocates should recognize the choice here.