Kemper Freeman's Bellevue Collection, photo by raggiesoft

The Seattle Times had an article out in the last Sunday Times profiling the life of Kemper Freeman and his lawsuit against using the I-90 lanes for light rail.  We’ve written so many times on Freeman’s anti-rail positions that I’ve lost count and am frankly weary every time his name comes up in the same sentence as ‘light rail.’  However, I couldn’t possibly pass up the ability to explain in full why most transit advocates have found extraordinary distaste with Freeman’s ideology toward transportation and why he’s simply wrong on many matters about rail.

It’s important to begin by saying nothing about Freeman’s virtues or moral character.  Whether he is a good man or not is beyond this argument.  The truth remains that a large share of Eastsiders admire him and show it by flocking to his malls and restaurants.  Some have labeled him racist— whether he is or not, I really don’t care.  In all honesty, he probably gets a good chuckle out of it.  Narrowing our attention on that only detracts from the real arguments on why his views on transportation are questionable.

More below the jump.

As a highly regarded developer, Freeman knows he can’t get away with bashing light rail without touting some other transit-oriented solution as an alternative.  Along with many other suburban conservatives, he favors bus rapid transit (BRT).  We’ve said this before: we like BRT in certain places, but there are key corridors that can benefit far more from rail transit.  So if Freeman is indeed supportive of bus service, then why is there such a problem with his attitude towards transit?

First, there seems to be a pretty clear mandate for light rail in this region, and voters have  shown willingness to pay into investment for capital rail projects.  Despite this, Freeman has spent millions against the advent of rail in the Puget Sound region.  If he’s not anti-transit, then where were the millions spent campaigning for and supporting expanded bus service?  Not once have I seen Freeman in Olympia lobbying for transit.  Not once has he helped fund an independent plan to study implementing bus service he supports.  Not once has he made it publicly clear that he cares about saving Pierce Transit and Community Transit.  Fighting against a voter-driven mandate is one thing, but transit-washing is clear proof that Freeman’s beliefs behind transportation are ideological, not pragmatic.

Last year, Ben wrote a piece examining Freeman’s motivations behind opposing light rail.  Yes, it’s good and well that he might reap no financial gain from Link, but why dip into the fiscal red and spend millions opposing it?  I can only surmise that as a prominent libertarian businessman, Freeman feels like he’s doing the tax base a favor by rallying against what he perceives as an “unaccountable government agency.”  His reputation among groups like the Eastside Business Alliance demands that he openly oppose “wasteful spending.”  The reasons behind opposing rail transit fare a lot better when the arguments are subjective, wishy-washy and centered around something that decries rail funding as “fiscal irresponsibility!”  “A vice on our freedom!”  Or better yet, “the social engineering scheme of the left-wing Marxists!”

The truth is the arguments against rail transit fare a lot worse when the debate turns substantive.  That’s because there isn’t very much substance to criticizing light rail’s costliness when turning a deaf ear to the money poured into road construction.  It’s little wonder why libertarians wave their arms at rail transit’s costs, but are oddly quiet when it comes to driving subsidies (and there are a lot more than just road costs: oil subsidies and parking requirements are just two things that come to mind).

Freeman and folks like Mike Ennis at the Washington Policy Center have skirted that argument with the distraction that the majority of existing trips in the region are by car.  What I’m not hearing is any mention that temporally, road subsidies have outweighed transit subsidies over a much longer period of time.  The reason why the majority of trips are by car now is because of this historical inequity.

At any rate, marginal dollars are still better spent on transit because capacity is so much higher.  I don’t need to go over this again, but even when there are brave conservatives standing up against partisan lines on misinformed positions about transit, it’s hard to fathom why some like Freeman still can’t accept the fact that density (yes, even that of Seattle’s) cannot support SOV commuting as the predominant mode share without inducing traffic woes.  I try to avoid the partisan implications about transportation policy, but it’s worth mentioning that pro-life Republicans can support biking and transit, like a certain transportation secretary does.

Now on to the actual lawsuit.  We’ve said before that Freeman’s case holds no water, but let me run down a couple more reasons why this is an eyebrow-raiser.  The plaintiffs allege that the conversion of the I-90 express lanes to light rail is unconstitutional because Washington State’s 18th amendment prohibits the use of gas tax funds for anything other than what it deems “highway purposes.”  The whole point of that amendment is to “protect” funding equity for projects that drivers might feel cheated from if they might not ever use such projects.  But if that’s the case, then the R8A project (which adds HOV lanes to both outer roadways) is a complete non-issue because not only is net highway capacity preserved, but HOV access is shared equally so reverse-peak commuters (like the ones that happen to live in Seattle but work in Bellevue) aren’t left in the dust.

Freeman knows this.  But from a legal perspective, he is adamant that the center lanes should only be reserved for any vehicle that consumes oil, whether capacity is preserved or not.  The State Constitution’s definition of “highway purposes” is an arbitrary one, and in the case of the center lanes, the 1976 Memorandum of Agreement (along with its 2004 amendment) to build the lanes makes said purposes inclusive of specifically accommodating high-capacity transit, so yes, conversion to rail is considered a “highway purpose.”  That renders East Link constitutional.  I should also mention that the center lanes were funded with a bulk of federal money, which isn’t restricted by any such constitution.

We know the lawsuit has no merit, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Freeman knows it too.  But if that’s the case, his continued persistence against light rail makes me seriously question if his opposition is anything but an ideological war that has no place in a region that needs better transit infrastructure.

144 Replies to “Breaking Down the Case Against Kemper Freeman”

  1. One reason why a retail-oriented businessman might be opposed to spending a lot on transit infrastructure is that we seem to only ever pay for it through sales taxes levies.

    Roads are paid for with property & gas taxes, which hurt a retail magnate far less.


    1. Plus, Freeman likely makes a pretty penny charging parking fees at many of his properties. Facilitating inexpensive transit to his building would likely hurt his bottom line.

      1. Parking for the retail and restaurant users at all of Freeman’s property is provided for free. So you can’t conlude he’s making money on parking. The other angle to that is no one else in Bellevue can get away with charging customers for parking. The presence of over 10,000 free parking spaces makes anyone trying to charge for parking de facto non-competitive.

      2. Plenty of places in Bellevue have an appearance of charging for parking. And if you forget to get your ticket stamped, you’ll pay for it.

        Bellevue Square has the only parking structures that I know of in downtown that don’t have gates.

      3. He is starting to charge for parking because Lincoln Square now has offices. He does not want the employees to fill up the patron stalls.

        It is free for all after a certain point in the evening.

      4. Know before you comment – parking for shoppers at all Kemper properties is free or validated during business hours.

  2. One really has to question this guy’s motives. The vast majority of developers would absolutely love for a regional transit line to serve their shopping area. I simply do not get it. Pacific Place is probably fancier than Bellevue Square, yet it’s served by light rail very well. Could you imagine the owners of Pacific Place putting up a similar fight? It’s the fact that this so flagrantly flies in the face of reason that makes many question what the real motive may be.

    At the same time, I’m very angry that we will have to waste tax dollars yet again to defend another frivolous lawsuit. I’m not angry that KF doesn’t like light rail, but I am angry that he uses resources to fight and jack up the cost of a plan that’s paid for and has been voted on with wide support.

    I know that all of Bellevue does not share this guy’s views, because Bellevue soundly approved ST2. I just wish people would vote with their pocketbooks and boycott Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square. I haven’t been to either in years, despite fitting the target demographic to a tea. The place is becoming a bit of a sprawling, poorly designed mess as it is. You have a huge insulated mall with poor street access, surrounded by multistorey garages, and then more retail on the streetside. It’s like, enter a store, go out the back entrance, walk through a parking garage or two, then enter another store, then enter the mall from that store. Maybe Bellevue Square’s poor layout is the microcosm of what KF wants for Bellevue in general?

    1. Most of his mall patrons are largely unaware of his views on transit, and if they are, they probably don’t care enough for a boycott.

      1. I concur, Sherwin, which is why I found this line from your post puzzling: “The truth remains that a large share of Eastsiders admire him and show it by flocking to his malls and restaurants.” I really don’t think we can glean anything about how Eastsiders feel about Freeman from the fact that they shop at his stores. Anyhow, nice post.

      2. I agree Jason. That sentence struck me as odd, too. I have gone to Bellevue Square many times. I had no idea who owned it or what they stood for. If I had to research every owner of every business I patronized, I would spend my entire life researching on the internet.

      3. While Kemper may be the landlord the owners of the businesses may have quite different views. Trying to paint eastside residents as supporting Kemper’s political views because they spend money at properties he owns is about as silly as the rest of the arguments in this post. Sure most people drive to the mall but Kemper properties are also the largest contributor to residents that live within walking distance of DT Bellevue.

        “Breaking Down the Case”? You completely skirted the actual case. What would show that the majority of Bellevue (which is different from the eastside) agrees more with Kemper than the ST Board is the City Council election results. Most people thought trains would run on train tracks; it’s so simple it never occurred to people that ST would instead deviate from the ROW engineered as optimal a century ago and was in active operation until only a few years ago.

        Fighting against a voter-driven mandate is one thing, but transit-washing is clear proof that Freeman’s beliefs behind transportation are ideological, not pragmatic.

        Your post is ideologically driven. You have no business investment in DT Bellevue. East Link does nothing to draw business to DT Bellevue retail. In fact the board advanced alternatives consistently do the opposite by making traffic worse and don’t serve the north/south 405 corridor that accounts for most of the business. In fact all East Link does is make DT Seattle retail more attractive for Bellevue residents and living in Seattle more desirable for people who work on the Eastside.

      4. Bernie, I’m assuming you clicked the wrong “reply” button? It doesn’t really sound like you’re disagreeing with anything I or BurienBen said.

      5. Always hard to keep these threads on focus but yes I agree with the jist of what you and BurienBen said. Clicking on Reply doesn’t mean you disagree.

      6. No, but debating the wrong individual(s) in the second person means you clicked on the wrong reply. Not a big deal. I’ve done it. Just clarifying.

      7. Bernie, a few points to consider:

        1) Go back and highlight for me where I ever said Kemper’s patrons agree with him politically.
        2) I skirted what actual case? You then went on to pose the claim that most Bellevuites agree with Kemper. That wasn’t my case. Reread the post.
        3) Continuing on point two, please show objective proof that the city council results had a strong positive correlation with how much Kemper is admired or agreed with. And please, you are wise enough to know that off-years bring out conservative voters. Did every Bellevue resident vote in this past election? What if all the 2008 Obamaites turned out? You think the Orrico-Lee or Bonincontri-Wallace races would have turned out exactly the same?
        4) Again, proof please that “most people thought trains would run on train tracks.” If you’re referring to BNSF, you’re wrong. South Bellevue was listed as a station on the voter’s pamphlet. Don’t try to twist it any other way.
        5) If anything, your comment was ideological. You didn’t attack anything I said about the pragmatic arguments in the case.

        Now let me pose this question: what has Freeman ever done to support transit?

      8. > 1) Go back and highlight for me where I ever said Kemper’s patrons agree with him politically.

        The truth remains that a large share of Eastsiders admire him and show it by flocking to his malls and restaurants.

        I don’t think “flocking to his malls” has anything to do with liking or agreeing with his point of view. Other than to perhaps confirm that there is an overwhelming preference for driving over other forms of transportation. If Link were claiming to reduce congestion he’d probably be all for it. Since it’s not the best he can hope for is that it doesn’t impact traffic to and from the mall and the best hope for this is next to the freeway and grade separated.

        Orrico has lost to Lee twice now and by a larger margin this time. Lee has never expressed support for any option other than B7. With the non-campaign Bonincontri ran it wouldn’t make a bean of difference when the election was held. She didn’t even spend the money she had.

        In the voters pamplet it said Bus or Rail, always leading with Bus which still would be the most cost effective solution and serve South Bellevue. With the exception of the A segment none of the current preffered alternatives were even in the DEIS so there’s no way to say the vote on ST2 was a mandate for one route over another.

        Not until two thirds of the way through your post did you finally get “on to the actual lawsuit.” But even then it was a retread of what Ben and others have covered regarding the gas tax issue. In fact almost all of the links are to old posts. Nothing new or directed at the actual case.

        Taking the center roadway does decrease capacity. The reversible lanes are used because there is still an asymmetrical demand. Try replacing the I-5 express lanes with additional unidirectional HOV lanes on the mainline and see what happens. It’s also a decrease in capacity because the outer roadway always has had the potential to be re-striped for additional lanes. It doesn’t add anything. OK, it did pay for additional HOV ramps required by the change in configuration.

        If the State Constitution’s definition of “highway purposes” is an arbitrary one then doesn’t that mean there is a case to be made?

      9. I don’t think “flocking to his malls” has anything to do with liking or agreeing with his point of view.

        I agree, Bernie, which is why I never said anything about anyone ascribing to Kemper’s point of view. It was you who claimed that I was “paint[ing] eastside residents as supporting Kemper’s political views,” when I was merely implying that Kemper is well-liked among certain circles on the Eastside. Nothing about his political ideologies.

        And your point about Bonincontri just proves that there was still hesitancy to vote for Wallace. That race was closest. Imagine if she actually campaigned a bit.

        The literature in the pamphlet was simple enough to indicate that light rail would go to Bellevue, and it would stop at South Bellevue in the process. No one on the Eastside could have taken that to mean SE 8th.

        Taking the center roadway does decrease capacity.

        No Bernie, there is NOT a net decrease in capacity. People who commute one way have to make the reverse trip in the evening. It’s that simple.

        And as far as your claim that I had nothing new to add, I never said there was anything new. But I did point out what the 18th amendment is for and that R8A is a non-issue. That’s something I haven’t heard on this blog, either from Ben or anyone else. Suing over the quibble of what constitutes a “highway purpose” is a distraction, plain and simple.

      10. If the State Constitution’s definition of “highway purposes” is an arbitrary one then doesn’t that mean there is a case to be made?

        If it is, then that means there’s a case against Freeman and the rest of the plaintiffs.

      11. It was optimized for freight a century ago; what makes you think it’s optimized for transit today? There’s a reason why it’s no longer in active operation.

      12. [Oops… reposting to correctly display the blockquote; Sorry, I’m a first time poster.]

        it’s so simple it never occurred to people that ST would instead deviate from the ROW engineered as optimal a century ago and was in active operation until only a few years ago.

        It was optimized for freight a century ago; what makes you think it’s optimized for transit today? There’s a reason why it’s no longer in active operation.

      13. Taking the center roadway does decrease capacity.

        No Bernie, there is NOT a net decrease in capacity. People who commute one way have to make the reverse trip in the evening. It’s that simple.

        Look, if everyone is going into work in Seattle an HOV lane leaving Seattle is empty in the morning. If you have two reversible lanes going in the direction everyone wants to go you have twice the capacity of one lane going that direction. It’s not 100% but there is a significant asymmetrical demand. Therefore replacing the reversible lanes with bidirectional lanes does decrease capacity. There’s no lack of capacity on I-90 if you spread out the traffic over 24 hours. There is a peak demand issue which is mitigated by reversible lanes. Second, you’re taking the bridge from it’s 10 lane potential to 8 lanes of vehicle traffic. How is that not a decrease in capacity? Third, two transit/HOV lanes move more people where they actually are trying to go. Light rail only provides a capacity advantage when you can run fairly full trains the majority of the day. The only destinations that meet that requirement are DT Seattle and the U District. The eastside doesn’t even have enough density to even support decent bus service. Commuting to Bellevue and Microsoft is about six hours out of the day where there is a crush load. The other 12 hours Link will be running at levels easily supported by buses; buses that will be running anyway since Link serves only a tiny fraction of the places most people need to go.

      14. I don’t think “flocking to his malls” has anything to do with liking or agreeing with his point of view.

        I agree, Bernie, which is why I never said anything about anyone ascribing to Kemper’s point of view. It was you who claimed that

        I wasn’t the only commenter that took your remarks this way. The entire first part of your post I read as a backhanded way of saying, “Kemper’s a jerk and wrong on transit.” Why else the links to horsesass calling him a racist. It’s got nothing to do with the lawsuit but you devoted the majority of your post to all the old attacks.

        You might be right that Bonincontri could have defeated Kevin Wallace if she really wanted to run. But, she did have the power of incumbency (even though she wasn’t elected) which seems to count for a great deal in Bellevue. Things have generally gone pretty well for the city so it’s no surprise that the conservative position would be to preserve the status quo. She may have enjoyed being on the council but she certainly shows no sign of wanting to be a politician. Part of that is that Bellevue City Council pays a relatively small part time salary for what is essentially a full time job.

        And as far as your claim that I had nothing new to add, I never said there was anything new. But I did point out what the 18th amendment is for and that R8A is a non-issue

        John Niles added something new, a link to the actual court documents and R8A is very much an issue. In fact it’s two issues. Obviously there’s the issue of whether it is sufficient to declare the center roadway as surplus but there’s also the issue of using highway fund money to pay for the study determining the value/compensation amount. I can see the court ruling one is constitutional and the other not. There’s plenty to add since other than some of Ben’s arguments very little has been related to legal issues surrounding the case and most of the STB commentary has been centered on attacking Kemper Freeman Jr. I really have to laugh at the folks that claim he’s a developer in it for the quick buck. Obviously no sense of how Bellevue became a city.

      15. In response to your argument that capacity is decreased: it doesn’t matter how asymmetrical peak demand is. Assuming you’re correct, there aren’t currently ten lanes of potential, there are eight. I can’t recall a time ever seeing the center lanes congested with peak commuters.

        Ironically, people you agree with say that that asymmetry will start leaning heavily in favor of the Eastside within a few decades. I don’t know what the numbers are but saying that an eastbound HOV lane will be empty is pretty far off-base. Capacity is decreased for peak (current) commuters under R8A, but increased for the return trip. Opposite is true for reverse-peak commuters.

        And your third point is absolutely right. That’s exactly why we’re painting bi-directional HOV lanes.

        I wasn’t the only commenter that took your remarks this way. The entire first part of your post I read as a backhanded way of saying, “Kemper’s a jerk and wrong on transit.” Why else the links to horsesass calling him a racist. It’s got nothing to do with the lawsuit but you devoted the majority of your post to all the old attacks.

        If you might reread the second paragraph, it is critical of the ad-hominem attacks on Freeman. I said those things were a distraction.

      16. How do you do the math? R8A puts 8 lanes on the outer roadway. There are two lanes on the inner roadway.. I count 10. Did you read the court documents?

        The asymmetrical peak absolutely matters. Lanes that don’t go in the direction they’re most needed are lost capacity. I reverse commute home now from Totem Lake to Bellevue. Cars are parked northbound on 405 but southbound it’s wide open. If there was a reversible center roadway northbound would flow better and southbound would still be a speed limit commute.

        It may continue to drift toward neutral but it’s a long way out. DT Seattle is still the 800 pound Gorilla. It’s good for Bellevue though (at least as far as tax revenue and property values are concerned) if access to DT is further inhibited. It’ll only increase the incentive to live and work on the eastside.

        If you might reread the second paragraph, it is critical of the ad-hominem attacks on Freeman. “It’s important to begin by saying nothing about Freeman’s virtues or moral character”

        Oldest trick in the book… say, “I’m not sayin'” and then spend 2/3rds of the post linking to the old attacks. If it doesn’t matter say so; one sentence. Then get on with what you have to say. You’re just dredging up old dirt.

      17. “The asymmetrical peak absolutely matters.”

        Apparently you’ve never seen the traffic backup on eastbound I-90 at the Mount Baker tunnel during the morning commute. I see it every morning while commuting in a nearly empty express lane across the bridge.

        The traffic counts in the EIS that WSDOT did for the center lane conversion show that the AM and PM peak traffic flows on the outer lanes are almost equal in each direction on the I-90 bridge and the utilization of the reversible lanes is about equal to what one HOV lane can handle. Adding HOV lanes to the outer roadway will benefit the “off-peak” direction while maintaining an equal vehicle-moving capacity for the “peak” direction.

      18. The closure for replacement of the expansion joints showed how the reversible lanes not only affect I-90 but 520 and routes around the lake. R8A will provide the relief you’re looking for eastbound in the morning. As you point out an additional HOV lane westbound isn’t going to add any meaningful capacity in the AM but in the PM when the lanes reverse the value of the outside lanes also switches. Getting back to the point that reversible lanes promote density in DT Seattle and removing them favors Urban sprawl.

    2. Bellevue Square’s poor layout is a function of having been built as a suburban mall, where all foot traffic is between the garage and stores. As Bellevue begins (it isn’t there by any stretch yet) to become an urban center the mall is being remodeled to try to morph into an urban form – sometimes poorly.

      Eventually it will open up further to the street, to support Kemper’s surrounding development.

      Give it time.

    3. I can imagine Pacific Place campaigning for a publicly funded parking garage.

    4. The notion that a shopping center magnate should love East Link light rail because it will bring more shoppers to his properties misses one point: the people moving impact of Link relative to the dominant automobile mode is officially forecast by Sound Transit to be very small, even if you (falsely) assumed all of the additional riders were headed to shopping.

      Former state legislator and businessman Kemper Freeman has probably noticed that 200,000 cars per day use the Lake Washington bridges, while Sound Transit in the East Link EIS forecasts new transit riders because of East Link at about 10,000 additional people per day, with no forecast of diminished motor vehicle traffic. We should pay billions for this kind of crummy performance improvement?

      200,000 cars carrying on average either one or two people, vs 10,000 new daily transit riders. 10,000 divided by 200,000+ = less than 5%.

      As for Freeman not pumping for more bus transit, he may believe that the region already spending over 50% of discretionary transportation resources on the public transit mode is enough. PSRC’s T2040 planning holds at more than 50% of spending to transit for the next three decades. The focus should be on getting more transit productivity out of the dollars already committed.

      Sound Transit’s passenger railroads are forecast to be an unproductive investment by the agency’s own numbers, and new numbers from a different agency are worse. The PSRC daily rail transit boarding forecast for 2040 to be approved on May 20 by elected leaders from throughout the region is about half of Sound Transit’s promotional rail forecast for 2030 put out to win the Prop 1 election of 2008.

      Somebody’s going to notice this disparity eventually, probably before the tunnel boring is complete on University Link. Sound Transit is sucking up billions for unproductive transit investment, but that may not go on for the complete 20 year life of Phase 1 ending in 2016.

      1. Those aren’t transit competitive trips. Stop pretending they are.

      2. FYI even AASHTO calls for a doubling of transit ridership nationally by 2030. Of course that is hardly a plan, but I do find it interesting that they feel the only way to deal with the transport needs of the future is to get more people to ride public transit.

    5. “Could you imagine the owners of Pacific Place putting up a similar fight?”

      They were eager to get their name on the downtown streetcar stop.

      “I just wish people would vote with their pocketbooks and boycott Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square.”

      Even if the retailers noticed a drop in customers (which would take a lot of boycotters), they wouldn’t be able to distinguish between boycotters, people hurt by the recession, and people who just don’t like their products anymore or are buying online.

      1. “I just wish people would vote with their pocketbooks and boycott Bellevue Square and Lincoln Square.”

        People are voting with their pocketbooks (and expensive Coach handbags ;-). There’s a good reason parking at Bell Square has 3 times the number of stalls as the largest P&R lots. In fact the combined capacity of Eastgate, South Bellevue, South Kirkland, and Wilburton is less than half that of Bellevue Square.

        What percentage of sales revenue at Bellevue Square would people venture to guess comes from people that travel there via public transportation and if all of that evaporated do you think anyone would even notice?

      2. I don’t know for sure but I’d guess that Bellevue Square, like many suburban malls, has a significant number of teens who are not yet old enough to drive (or if they are, to afford their own car).

        At least when I was that age in Portland I would take a bus and meet friends for a movie or shopping or whatever if my parents or older brother couldn’t drive me. It also seems like a lot of mall employees are really young (again in general, not sure about Bellevue Square).

      3. Oh, and another tangent; I don’t know how many mall workers make a living wage but here’s a depressing fact from _Carjacked: The Culture of the Automobile and Its Effect on Our Lives_: “Car dealers and loan officers see the working poor as easy targets for overpricing—they are often victim to dealer fraud and pay high prices for older cars in poor condition.” I don’t think Freeman is personally responsible for this or anything, but our consumer culture is broken.

      4. Come on, this is Bellevue. Kids are driving the “old” BMW. That’s if they are even working outside the family business. Right?


      5. Wrong.

        I very much doubt that the BSquare janitorial staff are kids living at home (a for instance). Nor are the managers of those stores (who make something “closer” to a living wage for the region but that’s still often only $12-15/hour).

        The part-time college kids are a surprisingly small portion of retail workers, dude.

      6. Bellevue High School students frequent Bellevue Square, but many of them live within walking distance (South Bellevue, Clyde Hill, etc). You don’t see many shoppers on the promenade from Bel Square to the transit center, but I imagine a number of employees ride transit. Perhaps they take the bus routes going to the square rather than walking from the transit center.

    6. You obviously haven’t been in any of these properties, like most of the commenters who just can’t wrap their minds around clean, safe streets, no potholes, accessible buildings and low taxes like those we have in Bellevue. Please be true to ST’s “sub-area equity” and pour your concern and thought into the money being burned stretching this boondoggle to Northgate and Lynnwood….

      When ST is done, Boston’s Big Dig will look like childs’ play by comparison. Kemper’s points are more than valid – light rail is a dismal investment with fixed and limited capacity that will do absolutely nothing to diminish congestion – the arrogance on the part of the “light rail community” and ST is astounding.

  3. Thanks Sherwin, excellent recap of the issue at hand. One thing I got out of your blog (something you only touched on, however I want to highlight) is that it doesn’t matter if you are a liberal Democrat or conservative Republican, mass transit is for everyone. I mean, all conservatives are not opposed to trains and all liberals are not opposed to highways.

    There are certain corridors served well by highways, some by bridges, some with commuter rail, some by light rail, others by BRT and yet others by streetcar. It simply depends on the area, the population, the density and the situation each community is in. Of course, it could also be a graduated story as well. Maybe BRT is put into place in anticipation for light rail later on and so on.

    I believe Mr. Freeman simply dislikes taxes used for this project. Thankfully, he is not in the majority on the issue. Ironically, in the long run, Bellevue Square may (and I believe will) benefit from LINK, but if that was important to him, he’d not go ahead with this lawsuit. I believe he’s just opposed to taxes used for light rail. I am very happy that the majority doesn’t agree and I hope the judge in this lawsuit will also throw it out.

    1. Mr. Freeman wants more roads, specifically widened or new limited access highways. So much so that it would take many times the combined road and transit budgets for central Puget Sound to pay for all of them.

  4. I have a slightly different tact: any BRT advocates out there, get an initiative going that properly implements BRT by dedicating lanes to transit by law, I will sign and vote for it.

    1. I assume you are referring to what they did on Elliot (well almost) by making the curb lanes transit only … I’d vote for that … especially on 520, 405, etc …

    2. Good luck with that. An easier task would be a moratorium on any new general purpose lanes. Any new traffic capacity needs to be HOT-lane or dedicated transit capacity – That’s still a tall order, but it might actually fly – especially in the Seattle area.

  5. I saw a presentation by King Cushman (former director of PSRC) that showed that if you factor in private costs of transportation in the puget sound region it breaks done almost the same as the mode split that anti-transit people like to quote. As a region (public and private money) we spend ~95% of our money on cars and only ~5% on transit. You see similar trends with non-motorized transportation. I wasn’t able to get the presentation unfortunately.

  6. You forgot to mention the word dinosaur in close proximity to Kemper Freeman’s name.

    Doesn’t he use a helicopter to get to work? Maybe he should be advocating for more use of helicopters in public transportation.

    But let’s get real, here. Dinosaur Freeman must have something personally at stake here or he’d be working hard to make sure that any alignment dropped people off right at his doorstep. Oh… wait… maybe that’s it. He doesn’t want the kind of people who ride trains (or, gasp, buses) visiting his properties?

    I know when I drive up from Federal Way I feel like an imposter visiting his fancy-nancy malls.

    1. Well I can’t speak for him … but if I was the owner of a prime piece of retail property I’d want Link to come right down the middle of the mall (inside, elevated) like that hotel at Disney World where the monorail runs right through it.

      I’d even have the stores run a promotion where you got your fare discounted if you present your orca card or train ticket.

      That’d drive sales … but then I’m not a Bellevue Mall developer/owner.

    2. I read an article once that states he actually WALKS to work. Apparantly he lives in a condominum nearby to his office (might be in the same building i dont remember). go figure…

      1. Actually, not at all. He doesn’t have to use the bus and be crowded in with the “puffy jacket and hair curler” crowd. He can use his car off-peak to go to other locations he needs to for business and avoid traffic. It makes perfect sense actually.

  7. Have any of the bloggers here actually tried to arrange an interview from Kemper Freeman? or asked him to write a guest piece where he can present his views and reasons for being against rail transit?

    That would be very interesting (regardless of which side of the issues you stand)

    1. He’s got his Transportation Plan up on the Web somewhere. I’m sure Google can find it for you. In there, there’s a video of him talking about his philosophy, his goals — more lanes for more cars of course.

  8. One fact about BRT and cost.

    Cost per mile of Van Ness BRT line in SF: $57.5 million
    Cost per mile of South Lake Union Streetcar: $38 million

    I don’t want to get too into the rail vs. bus argument, but this just shows that every transit technology has a place in a city. Anyone who uses one technology as an argument not to spend on any other is not being honest.

    1. This isn’t really related to the point of this post. We already have too many discussions about this BRT vs. Rail and I would rather this discussion doesn’t evolve into that.

    2. Can those two things be reasonably compared? San Francisco is like the most expensive place in the universe for just about everything. Even costly Seattle is far behind.

    3. One would like to think that transit technology is a progression of sorts. You start off with a low capasity bus and as ridership improves a high capasity bus, than you move onto more frequent service (possibly in conjunction with high capasity buses), BRT, and eventually Light Rail and Subway for urban envrioments.

    4. Sound Transit invented a version of BRT called rail-convertible BRT that is more expensive than light rail. Handy to have when you are a rail-building agency.

      BRT is subject to wide variation in definition, and thus wide variation in cost. It can be very expensive if building a dedicated busway on new right-of-way is involved.

    5. Cost per mile of Sound Transit Light Rail: $171 Million+ and counting…

      1. Cost per mile of tunneling SR-99 under downtown $2 Billion+ and counting.

        Cost of widening I-5 through Seattle or I-405 through Bellevue, unknown but likely closer to the cost of SR-99 than the cost of Link.

        Furthermore you quote the Central Link cost for the initial 14 mile segment. This does not mean that every stretch is going to have the same cost or higher. Sure some segments like U Link and North Link are going to cost more because they are entirely in tunnels but Northgate to Lynnwood or Airport to Star Lake are both likely to cost far less than even $171 million per mile.

      2. More like a billion per mile. The tunnel part is about 2 miles and a little less than $2B. Still, a pretty spendy four lane road. Cost comparisons with Link don’t really make sense because Link doesn’t move freight and it’s coverage is minuscule. But with respect to the tunnel I’m really having a hard time understanding the economic necessity. I hear things like industrial capacity in S. Seattle is required to serve the fishing fleet in Ballard. Fisherman’s Terminal is on life support. The Port has tried for years to recoup costs by leasing underutilized space for pleasure boats. Maybe it’s time for the fleet to move to the Duamish. Cement trucks, diesel fuel? Come on, there’s plenty of alternatives to traversing downtown. Living in West Seattle and working in Ballard, well that’s your choice. Living in Ballard, why do you need to get to West Seattle? The thing that gets me with the tunnel is it seems nobody would be willing to pay a toll that even covers the cost of collection to use the thing which makes me think that if it just went away we might all just be better off.

  9. Freeman has been very clear about what he opposes, but very vague about what he proposes to fix the congestion problems that occur daily around his properties. If he’s envisioning a massive road building program that will create congestion-free lanes leading directly to his malls at all hours of the day, then he’ll be needing a lot of money. We’ve already spent billions of dollars on adding capacity to I-5 and I-405 and they still are congested and they will remain congested no matter how much more money we spend on road building.

    Freeman wants his malls to attract the big ticket buyers, the folks that roll up in an Escalade, drop a fat wad and then drive back home. BRT would be nice, so that the clerks and mall employees could take the bus to work and not need space in the mall parking garage, because constructing parking facilities is a very expensive investment.

    I sometimes think that Freeman and his friends regard liberty as the right to jump in their cars and travel wherever they want, whenever they want, without having the nuisance of road congestion impinging on their constitutional right of happiness.

    1. you would think then that he want rail, get the rif-raf off the road and give more room and parking to the Escalade crowd. The high end stores of NYC and London dont seem to be hurting from having transit options outside their doors.

      And I agree with the earlier poster, the downtown Bellevue malls are designed horribly, having a follow a maze of parking garages and wind tunnels to get from one store to the other

      1. I’m sure he would love a solution that gets the rif-raf off the the road, but he believes the rif-raf reduction impact on congestion as being less than the impact of spending the same money on capacity expansion. Freeman does not look at Light Rail in isolation. He sees this issue as a choice between spending billions on light rail and spending billions on roads, so in his mind, a dollar spend on rail is a dollar not spent of roads.

      2. It isn’t just that he wants more money spent on roads. He wants the region to build highways the way Houston, Atlanta, or Phoenix have. It would take much more than simply spending the money going to transit to see his vision through.

    2. Red-ink Freeman sounds like most conservatives: love to complain about things but never offer solutions.

      1. Freeman has offered a “solution”. He has been extremely clear about his position from the get go: spend the money on roads instead. You may not support that position; you may believe that that policy will not “solve” the problem, but it is not accurate to say that he has not proposed an alternative policy. He has.

      2. The problem is his vision would cost far more than even current highway funding plus all transit taxes in the state would be able to pay for.

    3. Actually, I was curious about this from the sidebar: “January 2004: [Freeman] Throws his support behind Let’s Get Washington Moving, a new political group that proposes Initiative 883.” I did a quick search to find out the details and found this:

      His proposal to “fix congestion” was creating more general capacity, including widening I-5 and opening HOV lanes to all traffic. Even Doug MacDonald (State Transportation Secretary at the time) called the idea that this would help with congestion “wacky.”

      1. He also supported Initiative 745, Eyman’s anti-transit initiative from 2000. That initiative would have required state and local governments to dedicate 90% of all transportation revenue to roads. Fortunately, it went down in flames, rejected by nearly 60% of voters statewide. But I-745 and I-883 show that Freeman is not just anti-rail, he is anti-transit of any stripe.

      2. joshuadf,

        You mistakenly believe that “congestion” was the problem that Freeman was trying to solve. It was not. Freeman’s goals have been very clear: increase vehicle throughput. Vehicle throughput means people are moving, people moving means economic activity is being conducted, and that is his priority: economic activity. Congestion is a secondary consideration. Take two hypothetical options:

        1.) A facility with a capacity of 100,000 vehicles per day operating at 50% capacity and LOS A

        2.) A facility with a capacity of 200,000 vehicles per day operating at 90% capacity and LOS E

        Which of those two options do you think someone who cares about maximizing economic activity would support? It’s not the one with less congestion.

        Freeman’s proposal might “fail” to reduce congestion, but it would succeed in its real goal which is to increase vehicle miles traveled and thus economic activity.

  10. Call me crazy, but if I was Kemper I’d want that Light Rail built to Bellevue Square ASAP. Does he have any idea how much money cruise ship tourists and luxury label-hungry exchange students (you know what Im talking about) spend in stores just like Kemper’s?

    1. All in good humor, it would be crazy if visiting cruise ship passengers were in great numbers to ride light rail across the Lake to shop in Bellevue, but hey, a floating train might be quite an attraction for somebody off a ship, especially if the train rocked a bit, you know, like a ship on the sea.

      1. So we’re supposed to believe that even though the bridge can support thousands of cars and trucks at one time, the weight of one train is going to make it rock and roll? Good one. Nice fear mongering as usual John.

  11. I wish that…

    KF would stop saying – we are not Singapore or New York, therefore rail won’t work here.

    KF would site other cities where rail has failed. We are so late to the game, there must me plenty of examples.

    KF would comment on our closest neighbors (Port and Vanc) and why they continue to invest in failed rail projects.

    KF would stop thinking that 60% of people are wrong and that he is so enlightened.

    I hope that…

    all legal costs associated with this lawsuits are assigned to the loser.

    we continue to support and build a transit system that will meet our needs into the future.

    Bellevue residents vote for a City Council that represents all of them rather than a select few.

    Balducci keeps fighting the good fight.

    1. “Bellevue residents vote for a City Council that represents all of them rather than a select few.”

      So, now the 56% of Bellevue residents who voted for ST2 are “all of them” and the 44% who voted against it are “a select few”.

      I doubt you were such a populist back in 2007 when Roads and Transit failed.

      1. I may not have been very clear. I agree with you. 56% of Bellevue voted for ST2, but it seems that 3 or 4 council members are trying to kill it or make it take a useless route.

    2. Let’s see Kent –
      Failed light rail: San Diego, San Jose come to mind to start….

      Vancouver was far smarter than ST – SkyTrain is not light rail, is completely grade-separated, doesn’t impact residential neighborhoods and yet is very successful in moving 345,000 per day, just a few less than the whole Metro system. Portland is a great example of social engineering/mandated capacity control of parking & cars – works for them.

      Light Rail by ST is a boondoggle that will make Boston’s big dig look like childs play…how long until the costs exceed $200M/mile? (5 times the cost of new freeway for 1/6 the capacity)

      Keep Seattle, Seattle and stop trying to create Bellevue in your image, it has never been and hopefully will never be as screwed up as the big Burg to the West.

      Our city council represents the vast majority of Bellevue very well, thank you. Balducci, on the other hand, is no longer a councilmember, but has become a full-fledged “Boardmember”. It is obvious that she no longer believes she has a duty to Bellevue…so much for oaths.

      1. I have to agree with your comment that Vancouver Sky Train is a superior system. However I am glad that Bellevue voters approved ST2 and that the light rail system will include Bellevue.

        btw – where would you propose building your new freeways?

      2. “(Skytrain) doesn’t impact residential neighborhoods”

        How do you know what type of impacts Skytrain did or didn’t have? Were you living in Vancouver at any time during construction of either Skytrain line? Do you think Surrey Downs would have welcomed light rail if it was elevated along 112th instead of at-grade? Elevated light rail is no different than Skytrain, just a different propulsion technology.

        Skytrain’s not cheap either. A proposed 12.5km extension of the Millennium Line to UBC is estimated to cost $2.8 billion Canadian, or around $360 million USD per mile. Would you support Sound Transit if they had decided to use Skytrain technology for East Link instead of light rail, even though it’s twice as expensive?

  12. “As a highly regarded developer, Freeman knows he can’t get away with bashing light rail without touting some other transit-oriented solution as an alternative. Along with many other suburban conservatives, he favors bus rapid transit (BRT)”

    They always tout some non-defined alternative to light rail. For a while, it was monorail. For a long time, Kemper and his consultants have been fascinated with Personal Rapid Transit…which is just about as conceptual as you can get.

    Regarding BRT: the very SECOND any proposal for bus-only or bus+HOV lanes is floated for downtown Bellevue, Kemper and his machine would be out there fighting it.

    1. How about BRT on Bellevue Way from South Bellevue to Kirkland? Surely Kemper would be for that. It would pass plenty of affluent, environmentally-aware shoppers.

    2. Of course he will. Freeman has never supported the idea of reducing vehicle capacity and dedicating it to BRT. His definition of BRT does not include dedicated right of way, but instead means high frequency and wide stop spacing similar to the B-lines in Vancouver, which carry more people in a day than Central Link carries in a week.

      It seems that many people assume that this is a black-and-white issue between spending tens or hundreds of millions of dollars per mile to give transit dedicated ROW (rail or bus) or having slow, puttering, infrequent uncomfortable buses that stop ever 500 feet.

      The reality is that there is a huge continuous multidimensional spectrum of transit alternatives that could be deployed and Freeman’s definition of BRT is a legitimate one, even if it is not the one you would choose.

  13. Kemper says he wants to save Sound Transit from itself.

    I believe Sound Transit is actually going to save Kemper from himself.

    Kemper can get away with building high rise office buildings and tons of retail without a grade-separated high capacity rail system now. But 10-20 years of sustained growth (something he wants) & resulting density would turn downtown Bellevue’s super-blocks into a giant parking lot.

    1. He will have cashed out by then, that’s why he doesn’t care about light rail. He’s not in it for the long term. He wants to make his bucks now and walk so others have to deal with the long-term costs and requirements. Sadly it seems to be developer 101.

      1. “Cashed out” in the literal sense of having died, yes. Kemper is 69 years old this year. In 20 years, he’ll almost certainly be defunct.

      2. The Freeman family has been in the region for generations. Kemper Freeman is very dedicated to his community and sees leaving a positive legacy for Bellevue as one of his highest personal priorities.

        You can honestly disagree with Freeman’s assessment of what is and what is not effective transportation policy, but it is simply not accurate to say that he holds his positions because he does not care about the future. He honestly believes that an auto-based transportation system is superior, both for today and for the future. Whether he is right about that or not remains to be seen, but he does honestly believe it.

      3. That’s because he’s 69 and the auto literally built his fortune. He’s going with the “safe” bet.

      4. There are a significant number of Washington Mutual investors who thought the business model of banking and loaning money to people to buy houses was a “safe” bet. Basing Bellevue’s future on the sustainability of automobile dominated transportation is just as short-sighted.

        Seriously, where are we going to put even *more* cars? I’m not looking forward to all of the condos, apartments, and hospital parking spots in Bellevue being fully occupied. I’m relatively sure it’s going to ruin my only reasonable bike route through downtown Bellevue.

    2. “I believe Sound Transit is actually going to save Kemper from himself.”

      I wouldn’t worry about Kemper. If you actually had a better understanding of the real estate market than he does, you would own a billion dollars worth of successful real estate.

      “10-20 years of sustained growth (something he wants) & resulting density would turn downtown Bellevue’s super-blocks into a giant parking lot.”

      Freeman understands this, which is exactly why he wants to kill a project that he believes will have close to zero impact on mobility and spend the billions of dollars on projects that he believes will increase mobility, primarily expansion of roadway capacity and to a lesser extent a bus-based transit system more suited to the Eastside’s development patterns.

      Of course, even with the most ambitious growth targets, downtown Bellevue in 20 years will have only about half the density as downtown Seattle does today, yet somehow despite grade-separated high capacity rail being 10 years away, downtown Seattle seems to be doing just fine economically.

      Transit is great, but stop pretending it’s “necessary” to sustain growth in Bellevue. It is not.

      1. Well, if aside from a better understanding of the real estate market, he’d also need seed money from a [ad-hominem] father to really test your hypothesis.

      2. Happy to see that there remain plenty of useful idiots to support the ST/Light Rail mantra! What an idiotic comment!

      3. Oh, excuse me, seed money from a father who DIRECTLY profited from the Japanese internment during World War II after being the leader of the Anti-Japanese League before the war. My bad.

        Sins of the father and all that but Kemper was already rich when he started land speculation due to his father’s money. He just managed to get EVEN richer.

      4. Oh, excuse me, it was his grandfather who was the anti-Japanese League. His father was the one who bought the parcel on which now sits Bell Square, so you can’t even pin that on his land development vision. Wow, he’s even less of a success than he seemed!

      5. And believe me, I am not a worshiper of ST nor this blog’s owners. However, the Freemans are an insidious force in regional politics whose convictions are pro-sprawl in the extreme. Sprawl also ruins bus ridership and fare recovery, by the way. The 550 and the 271 are solid ridership buses, true, but for rider per mile, they stink because of the fifty years of crappy land-use policies on the Eastside.

        But yes, I know you (Gandolf) are afraid of poor/black people. I mean, that’s what you “pothole” language is code for, isn’t it?

      6. Sprawl also ruins bus ridership and fare recovery,

        No it doesn’t. Running buses all over the back of beyond ruins fare recovery. Metro was an OK idea when it was formed but Seattle should take back it’s transit system. ST is now in place to take care of regional routes. Additional service in Kirkland, Redmond, Bellevue, Renton, et al can be contracted through Seattle (or the lowest competent bidder) and the suburban cities being on the hook to pay for it won’t be so hot on buses to nowhere.

        I can understand the frustration with the stupid 60/20/20 policy. But if you get rid of that what does someone who lives withing the confines of inner city bus routes care about how screwed up they feel land use is on the eastside? I don’t want to live the Capitol Hill lifestyle but I’ve got no problem with Seattle doing what it see’s fit with regard to it’s zoning (city cottages, building heights, etc.). Bridle Trails has a strict tree cutting ordinance; remove no significant tree (significant being defined as 8″ in dia 4′ above the ground) within 30′ of the property line and remove a maximum of 3 trees over a 3 year period but only if sufficient tree density is maintained. I like tall trees, Seattlites like tall buildings… to each there own.

      7. Yes, it does. The rest of your post misses the point whether due to foolishness or mendacity and your Bridle Trails example is an enormous red herring, so let me explain.

        It’s the difference between the old streetcar and old auto suburbs that were platted out much like Seattle (or Kirkland) and “new” auto-dominated suburbs with cul-de-sacs and the rest. In the former, which were largely built right next to existing neighborhoods, there are multiple points for ingress and egress to the neighborhood by foot, bike and automobile. Transit could be run down existing corridors as a continuation of existing service. And transit is within the 1/2 mile walking radius more often than not because of that decision.

        Meanwhile, on the Eastside, you have roads to nowhere and discrete neighborhoods that are discontinuous with one another. Even in Bellevue, with its relatively strong mega-platting, it is HARD to get to arterials except through certain chokepoints (many neighborhoods have ONE street providing ingress and egress!).

        There is nothing preventing a platted neighborhood from having your Bridle Trails tree rules. Indeed, a walk through Ravenna (do you walk at all?!) next to the park is a walk through a leafy suburb with many native and introduced tall trees that, aside from the close packing of the houses, would be largely indistinguishable from Bridle Trails. And, unlike Bridle Trails, you will soon be able to hop on a train and be downtown in 20 minutes or less.

      8. The lack of arterials through neighborhoods is by design. Neighborhoods groups fight attempts by the City to create cut through routes. It wouldn’t matter if these neighborhoods had a grid because there’s not enough density to support a bus system. Even restricted to the small number of N/S arterials there are the only one that comes close to having decent ridership is 148th and that’s mostly because of Microsoft. It’s running buses where there isn’t demand that dillutes fare recovery.

        If you ever walk though Bridle Trails you’ll discover that many of the roads that don’t connect are accessible via “bridle trails” (outside of the State Park bikes are OK). We want it that way and don’t expect bus service (don’t get me started on the abuse of Access though). Connecting trails were all layed out in the ’60s when the area was subdivided from what was mostly 5-10 acre tracts so that horse owners would always have access to the park, the power lines and the Bridle Crest Trail.

      9. Uh, I never said that arterials had to go through neighborhoods. Indeed, they should surround them. Rather, I was saying that having a plat allows ease of access to them versus the current chokepoints.

        The sort of density that supports a bus system in a walkable region with reasonable fare recovery (1/3 or higher) is about 4k/sq mi which is almost exactly Bellevue’s current density.

        In any event, Bridle Trails remains a red herring. Very few Eastside neighborhoods were built with its internal trail network. And, even aside from that, where is the anchoring retail common in streetcar and early auto age suburbs? Are there any walking destinations that aren’t purely recreational? I thought not…

  14. Kemper Freeman is a Corporatist, which is damn near the exact opposite of a Libertarian.

    That’d be like me calling you (in general) a communist b/c you support an income tax.

      1. Not true. Libertarians view roads similarly to how they view police, courts and national defense: they are necessary for the proper functioning of a free market economy. As such, they are one of the very few areas where government should act. Libertarians are not anarchists. They don’t hate all government; they just hate government that goes outside of a very narrow band of essential services. Roads are one of those services.

        Adam Smith actually identified roads and bridges as one of his five areas of legitimate and necessary government spending in The Wealth of Nations back in 1776. Libertarian support for roads is neither new nor surprising.

      2. What about railroads, then? They, too, are a form of roads/transport infrastructure. Public safety was also much broader than police, courts and national defense in Adam Smith, to quote him back at you. I still recall his lighthouse example (and ports, etc) even though I haven’t read the book in almost a decade. Also, most libertarians don’t get to Book V where he outlines a role for the state and for taxation in terms that would leave most modern Randroid influenced libertarians gagging. Following his Moral Sentiments, he basically says that it is the duty of the state to intervene and prevent the laboring poor from becoming ignorant due to the repetitious nature of their work.

        Anyhow, that doesn’t stop libertarianism from being little more than a haven for sociopaths and scoundrels.

  15. This illustrates why there is no real debate on the topics here in Puget Sound.

    You basically have a large scale mass developer who wants to pour a lot of concrete in very limited spaces and then charge people money, versus a very large state bureaucracy that wants to pour a lot of concrete in very limited spaces and then tax people to death.

    Either way, there is no room for the dissenter who doesn’t want high density growth, or who makes proposals that are more resource efficient or propose new ways of looking at the problem.

    What passes on both sides for conflict are really just two sides of the same (costly, for regular people) coin.

    1. Nothing’s keeping you from starting the Seattle Low-Density Blog, and your views are also here in comments for anyone to read. You could start a movement and see if you have enough supporters to overturn the plans. I won’t be a member, of course.

  16. He isn’t spending this kind of money to uphold general principles. The (Eastside) customers he cultivates live out in cul de sacs and want to take their cars to Bellevue Square. They will never ride a bus. They also tend to be skittish of driving and parking in downtown Seattle. However, if they could park at a nearby Eastside Park and Ride and take a comfy train to downtown Seattle, they just might skip going to Bellevue Square.

    1. You assume that downtown Seattle is a better destination than Bellevue Square, however, I would challenge you to prove that assertion.

      Clearly, Seattle has tried to “Bellevue-ize” itself with Westlake and the shops at Pacific Place and elsewhere. Clearly it has failed, due, in large part, because the American consumer expects free parking.

      1. Actually Bellevue has tried to become the “new” DT. That’s a battle Bellevue will most likely loose if it’s easy to shop DT. One way Bellevue might win is if people park at Bel Square, transit DT to shop and then actually buy at the same corporate name in Bellevue.

      2. “Better” is subjective. I’m sure the majority of Freeman’s customers would consider Bell Square “Better.” But some might prefer a more urban setting. Even 10% of Bell Square’s revenue is a huge number.

      3. If you look at the stores that are deciding to locate to Bell Square and the Bravern its very clear that Seattle is losing. Besides an overall lower tax structure, Bellevue doesn’t tolerate the street violence, graffiti and lack of civility that exists in Seattle. Yes, they might lose to Seattle on traffic, parking and mobility issues but its a long term loss vs a short term one. In the meantime Seattle will continue its death spiral towards commercial – at least from shopping – irrelevance.

        I live in Seattle and would love for it to turn course but I continue to be amazed at the lack of economic grounding that our city leadership shows. Bottom line, Seattle’s tax base will erode – perhaps dramatically- as a consequence of the policies the city chooses to pursue. It blows my mind that the mayor and council have the time to make proclamations about Arizona issues when there continue to be serious, unaddressed crime issues in their own backyard. I’m not talking about Burgess and the homeless. I’m talking about the fact that “youth” throughout the city – but particularly in the CD and Southend continue thumb their nose at the SPD and our justice system. Doesn’t happen in Bellevue- ever wonder why?

        As for Freeman – he doesn’t want LR because he would lose control. Right now he can control who comes into his malls as he controls parking and the bus terminal is distant enough to be controllable. Read Edge City by Joel Garreau to see where Freeman is coming from.

      4. Bellevue-ize? Westlake and Pacific Place have been there far longer than Bellevue’s boom last decade. If saying Seattle has failed means restricting parking, then I’m all for failure. The resident population-workforce ration in Downtown Seattle is roughly 1-4. In Bellevue? 1-8.

      5. Downtown Bellevue will never be as big as downtown Seattle, and it will certainly never be as historical. Conversely, downtown Seattle will probably never provide the elegant no-street-people experience of downtown Bellevue. They’re different things, and probably both will survive.

  17. I think the reason why BRT is popular with anti rail folks is that it doesn’t preclude future use for private cars.

    Oh not many are riding the bus, well that’s okay, let’s open it up to traffic.


    1. Yup, just google “El Monte Busway”!

      As for Kemper, remember that he keeps the flame of hatred of the private railroads that many of the older Seattle area families embraced, due to the abuses of monopoly-power those companies (GN, NP, Milwaukee Road, UP) made. Why this continues to public rail transit, I know not.

      1. The historical monopoly power of the railroads was ultimately brought down by competition from the automobile. The highway movement was a populist movement designed to use public expenditures to create a viable alternative to the railroads. Why does the same attitude apply to public rail transit? Because in an automobile based system, individuals can go wherever they want to go. In a rail based transportation system, you can only go where the train takes you.

        A rail-based transit system permanently enshrines downtown Seattle land as the most valuable in the region, and Freeman doesn’t own land in Seattle. It was the equalization provided by an automobile-based system that allowed Bellevue to challenge Seattle in the first place.

    2. That is hardly the reason. More rational reasons are:

      1) Don’t have to build a new infrastructure or technology. Buses use roads.
      2) Buses can go uphills. Puget Sound is hilly. Therefore…
      3) Bus routes can be changed as new development occurs. Buses can be added or subtracted instantly. With a train? Not so much…

      1. Individual buildings don’t move, but development patterns do change over time. 50 years ago, Bellevue hardly existed; today it is the second largest economic center in the state.

        Freeman wants the market (i.e. developers like himself) to decide where future growth occurs and have transit and infrastructure follow that. Rail transit reverses this relationship: the region decides where the stations go (i.e. what land will be given a 10x increase in value at taxpayer expense) and developers follow the infrastructure.

        The bus-v-rail debate is really about who should decide the future direction of development in the region: public agencies or private developers.

      2. The bus-v-rail debate is really about who should decide the future direction of development in the region: public agencies or private developers.

        I think in either case it’s a public agency. It’s just that our freeway system is so extensive that there are many more choices for developers.

      3. Yes, the public leads in either case, but with an auto-based system, public’s influence is very soft, while with a rail system, it is very pronounced. This is due primarily to the “last mile” considerations. A rapid transit system increases the value of land within tight circles around the stations because the last leg of the journey occurs on foot. A highway increase the value of surrounding land as well, but the land that is affected is spread out for several miles because the last leg of the journey takes place in a car.

        Because the car is so flexible over the last mile, the difference between owning land 1/4 mile away from a freeway exit and land 1 mile away from an exit is virtually zero. In fact, the pollution from the freeway might even make the land 1 mile away more valuable (though only slightly) than the land 1/4 mile away. As such, a freeway creates a continuous corridor of “value” several miles wide. It is then the private market, lead by developers and entrepreneurs that determines what portion of the giant value swath will be developed in what manner.

        With light rail, all that extra “value” gets squeezed into a tiny subset of land arrayed in a string of pearls 1/2 mile in radius around the rail stops. The difference between being 1/4 mile away from a station and being 1 mile away is literally billions of dollars in land value. Those who happen to own the land within those tiny 1/2 mile circles get a major windfall and those outside the circles get nothing.

        Developers also have a much smaller set of developable sites to choose from, and as such, land owners can extract scarcity rents, which lowers developer profits (unless the developer already owned the land before the rail line was built) and also results in higher prices to the ultimate customers at equilibrium.

        Thus, with rail, the government picks a very narrow set of “winners” and gives them a huge windfall, while with freeways, the whole area is affected pretty much equally, allowing the market to determine the details.

      4. Guess Kemper’s not that smart then, since all of his land is within one of the 1/2 mile “pearls.” I guess his argument really is just ideological, since fighting against light rail is fighting against being one of the “winners” whose land happens to be within walking distance of a station.

      5. “Guess Kemper’s not that smart then, since all of his land is within one of the 1/2 mile ‘pearls.'”

        It’s not that simple.

        I’ve been mixing a few messages in this comment thread. I apologize for that. I do not have any special psychic insight into the inner workings of Freeman’s brain. There are many possible motivations at play. The argument I laid out above is the libertarian case against rail (they don’t like government picking winners and losers), but that line of arguing assumes that light rail works. It appears that Freeman thinks light rail won’t work and is thus a waste of money, so the land market argument may not be central to his reasoning.

        It is possible to have both of these arguments come together to influence Freeman’s position. He may be thinking that on the Eastside, light rail won’t because the development patterns are so auto oriented. Thus, he hates East Link because it will be a waste of money, but light rail will work in Seattle, because Seattle has the density and development pattern to support light rail. Thus he hates light rail in Seattle for a different reason: because it gives Seattle a competitive advantage over Bellevue.

        Of course it could just be ideology. He may be arguing more from a philosophical opposition than a calculated cost-beneifit analysis of his properties.

      6. What is wrong with fixed-guideway transportation guiding the market to certain locations? Commerce in the “streetcar suburb” era was robust, and there were plenty of locations for businesses and residents to choose from. The only thing that was missing was ultra-low-density and sprawl. Those who want ultra-low-density can pay the full cost of going to/from it, and can respect reasonable environmental restrictions.

        Does capitalism really mean we have to let anybody build anything anywhere?

  18. This is ideological spaghetti-tossing-against-the way (K-F; not the post). It’s not rational; just seeing if anything sticks.

    1. Freeman’s position is completely rational if accept his premises:

      1.) Money not spent on Light Rail can be spent on roads
      2.) $1 million spent on roads facilitates more economic activity than $1 million spent on light rail
      3.) An automobile based transportation system gives customers more choices and thus increases competition between land owners and developers while a rail based system gives an unearned taxpayer funded advantage to downtown Seattle land owners.
      4.) The public good is served by maximizing both economic activity and free competition between land owners.

      Which of these premises do you disagree with?

  19. I masterbate to pictures of trains, and since Kemper Freeman doesn’t like trains, he is evil.

  20. Running fixed rail across the floating bridge will have problems. I’m not against running fixed rail, I happen to support elevated and tunneled rail, but on the floating bridge we are going to regret this.

    What’s the alternative? BRT. We see how well it works with the crush capacity of the 550 bus run that I ride when I’m not bicycling. That we could fix the crush with more buses for less cost. That by adding a fixed rail and moving the buses to the outer lanes and removing the break down lane is only going to add to the commute time of anyone not going where the rail goes. And I have my doubts that rail will be able to run at speed on days like yesterday where the wind pressure moves the bridge sideways.

    But my opinion on rail on I-90 no longer matters. We’ll all get to see how it works out in about 10 years.

    As for Kemper Freeman. The guy doesn’t like transit. Oh well, he only gets one vote. Even with his millions to spend on lawsuits and advertising it’s still one vote.

    As for this lawsuit, I’m glad that Mr. Lee is not the state’s attorney. He fails to address the key point of the lawsuit and that is that gas tax money can’t be spent on non highway expenses. That mitigation is not a remedy for taking gas tax money. And that the I-90 bridge was built using gas tax money.

    The remedy as I see it is:
    Refund all gas tax money spent on the center lanes on I-90 to the state.

    If it’s such a small amount, it should be easy for ST to do.

    The state can chose to use that money to re-stripe the outer lanes, or fill potholes or whatever.

  21. It’s sad to see someone spend so much money on a losing ideological court battle when the money could be used to much greater ends such as helping people in dire need.

  22. @John Niles, very cool that the case is so public for us all to see. That site lists Answer of Sound Transit to Petition Against State Officer, Answer to Petition Againstate State Officer, Petition Againstate State Officer, and Reply in Support of Petition, Brief of Petitioners.

    RE This post: I think Kemper is just trying to make a point and delaying movement forward as much as possible but he too knows this case really holds no water. Great detailed post though Sherwin! Thanks for all the info.

  23. Tony the Economist, where did you come from? Nice to see intelligence and an understanding of bigger issues on here. Keep posting.

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