Council President Richard Conlin. Photo from WSDOT.

The relationship between the Seattle City Council and Mayor McGinn doesn’t seem to be improving, and that could mean bad news for light rail supporters. McGinn promised to put a light rail measure on the ballot within two years of being elected — the most logical choice now being November 2011.

The revenue options available to McGinn have only shrunk in recent months as the SR-99 deep-bore tunnel, the crumbling waterfront seawall, and the SDOT funding shortfall have moved a variety of sources near their limits — or will in the near future. The city council is planning to soon create a Transportation Benefit District, according to PubliCola, to help fill SDOT’s shortfall.

A TBD would allow the council to raise serious revenue, with voter approval, through a high vehicle license fee, a property tax increase, a sales-tax increase, or even (unlikely) tolls on local arterials. But the Times notes that the city council — who would have to move any light rail measure to the ballot — is skeptical:

There doesn’t seem to be much fervor on the City Council to seek a near-term vote on light rail, in a time when basic services are threatened by recession and budget cuts, according to Councilman Nick Licata. “I think it’s been pushed back, and I don’t see the public necessarily supporting it, once they know what the costs are,” he said.

Councilman Tom Rasmussen, chairman of the transportation committee, is equally sour on trying a light rail tax anytime soon, even though he lives in West Seattle.

“We don’t even have light rail to the U District yet, and to Roosevelt,” he said, referring to Sound Transit lines due in the early 2020s. King County Metro’s RapidRide bus service, due in 2012 for Ballard and West Seattle, is more productive for those neighborhoods in the near term, he said. He suspects that a westside rail study would sit on the shelf for years.

Rasmussen and four other councilmembers are up for re-election next year.

In another political setback, the council’s transportation committee voted to approve initial funding for an updated transit master plan only after stipulating that the city must study high-capacity transit corridors in a mode neutral way, not picking light rail from the beginning. Though this decision is prudent, the council also added another delay mechanism: the second phase of funding for the master plan will only come after the council signs off on the first phase in January of next year.

The transit master plan must be delivered within a year, according to SDOT spokesman Richard Sheridan, if the council doesn’t delay it again. By the end of March, 2011, SDOT expects to be “heavily into modal analysis” which would include identified corridors, recommended modes, preliminary cost estimates, and a “menu of revenue options,” according to Tony Mazzella, who is the project lead for the master plan. It’s important to note that the transit master plan will not specifically favor one mode or one corridor, and may recommend bus rapid transit or rapid streetcar, or another mode, instead of light rail. My intuition is that light rail is the only mode with the capacity though the biggest corridors in the city.

For a 2011 measure to get on the ballot, there clearly needs to be more political momentum to get through a skeptical council. But if the council remains disinterested and local revenue sources continue to dry up, a local ballot measure might never come up to vote. Sound Transit doesn’t have revenue authority to build new light rail lines — beyond what was approved in ST2 — until the 2030’s. Even if the state legislature changes that, a local spur would certainly break ground much sooner.

91 Replies to “Report: Seattle Council Skeptical of Local Rail Measure”

  1. If Mayor McGinn wants to be re-elected again he must somehow,some way get some sort of light rail measure on the ballot next year. Even if its not extending it to West Seattle first, he should change the measure to ensure East Link gets built. Accelerate north and south extensions, and fund the study of light rail to West Seattle . I would settle for a plan like this. However, broken promises are NOT acceptable in my book. This is definitely disappointing news to say the least.

    1. “If Mayor McGinn wants to be re-elected again he must somehow,some way get some sort of light rail measure on the ballot next year.”

      No, he needs to get some sort of light rail measure on the ballot before his first term expires. November 2012 would work just fine, and a measure would be much more likely to pass with the higher turnout that accompanies a presidential election. You are correct, though, that he has to keep this promise if he wants to stand a chance at re-election. He has a little wiggle room on the timing, but it needs to be in the bag before 2013.

    2. he should change the measure to ensure East Link gets built

      He is the Mayor of Seattle, not East King County.

      Anything Seattle proper votes on needs to stay in Seattle.

    3. I’m tired of this “get rid of McGinn because he’s not perfect”. The point is what his goals are, not how long it takes to accomplish them (which is really a matter of how much opposition there is or how much money is available). McGinn has good goals (in my opinion), and the only question in the next election is, will somebody else emerge who has better goals? Unless McGinn does something inexcusably incompetent, which contrary to many pundits, he hasn’t.

      It’s like those who blame ST because it couldn’t get Link to Northgate by 2010 under the 1996 budget. ST has fixed its 1990s mistakes and has better budget estimates now, so time to move on.

      1. Well, the transit plan update was just held up for 2 months by the council. Let’s see what it yields.

      2. Its not about anyone being perfect, but if you make a promise you need to keep it. Simple and plain. He promised to have a light rail measure on the ballot within his first two years as Mayor. Its time to walk the talk.

      3. What’s more important, a light rail measure by 2012, or a robust long-term transit plan that doesn’t feel like it’s ramming too much down people’s throats during a recession and crowding out other transit improvements that may be more worthwhile. We can’t have just a Ballard-West Seattle light rail. We need a comprehensive transit system including frequent feeder buses to the trains.

      4. Being a man of your word is the most important and who’s to say this is jamming too much down our throats. Let the people decide that.

      5. Well, maybe McGinn can offer two alternative plans. One with maximum light rail, and another with other improvements that just “studies” light rail. Then the voters can really decide.

  2. I do believe that depending on the shape intra-city light rail takes, funding it with a TBD might be appropriate than asking the state. That certainly seems fairer for my preferred route for north Seattle (U District to Ballard via 45th). I don’t think we need to get caught up on delivering transit access to West Seattle and Ballard as part of some grand plan for another trunk line; geographically speaking, two spurs seem more appropriate.

    1. Kyle, we do not need a Transportation Benefit District. There already are 7 or 8 transit taxing districts around here, plus the county, the city, and the state. Creating another stand-alone taxing entity that would end up working at cross purposes with the others (they all do that to some extent) and requiring its own administration expenses is a DUMB idea.

  3. I’m eager to see what the master plan looks like. Delaying light rail might be OK if they make intelligent improvements in the meantime. I.e., things that work toward comprehensive transit and won’t have to be replaced later. I hope the plan doesn’t turn out to be a bozo.

    If the city can find the buses, it makes sense to put frequent buses on future rail corridors. That’s what Vancouver did with the Canada Line. I’m not holding my breath for Swift in Seattle, but if they could beef up the planned RapidRide lines and add a few more (maybe the 41, 8, and 48), it would at least have the frequency of rail if not the speed.

    And that would encourage people to take the RapidRide corridors more seriously and move toward them and demand they be converted to light rail.

    1. “That would encourage people to take the RapidRide corridors more seriously.”

      Precisely, Mike! They can’t be taken seriously as currently planned, and every time a politician, columnist, or miscellaneous ill-informed citizen says something like “Metro’s RapidRide bus service…is more productive for those neighborhoods in the near term,” I want to staple a list of RapidRide’s flaws to his or her forehead.

      Ballard-specific examples:

      Frequency:
      – Total frequency improves not one iota from 15/18, and actually decreases at some times of day.
      – 18 now requires a transfer to the no-more-frequent RapidRide, increasing likely total trip time (either through missed transfers or some hypothetical hold-the-connection plan that would be incommensurate with anything resembling rapid transit).
      – Justification for a longer walk or transfer disappears with inadequate frequency.

      Speed/Reliability:
      – Bike and wheelchair procedures remain unchanged. They don’t even remove the stupid fold-down seat (see “capacity” below).
      – Continued reliance on/acceptance of cash payments (apparently at “stations” as well as “stops”).
      – Between Market Street and Belltown, a grand total of 3 stops are removed!
      – 3rd West & Mercer (eastbound), a routine pulling-out bottleneck, remains a pull-out stop.
      – Ballard Bridge, especially in Ship Canal high-usage season, continues to torpedo headways, turning sub-adequate headways into unacceptable ones.
      – Elliott & Mercer remains a problem. (SDOT recently made changes to this intersection that severely disadvantaged the bus, delaying it as much as 4 minute per light cycle. No evidence exists that they expect to rectify this.)
      – 15th & Leary, 15th & Dravus as well. (Also 2-minute plus light cycles. Signal priority would need to be absolute, altering the light to green without fail, rather than nominal, i.e. 5-second green extension if approaching. No evidence exists that SDOT intends to comply.)

      Capacity:
      – Bus interiors are of nearly identical design to present buses, with giant, 2-by-2 seats, negligible passing room in the aisle, and no standing room whatsoever for crowded trips.
      I find this particularly telling; it’s as if they know RapidRide isn’t good enough to become any sort of “trunk line,” and they don’t expect it to! Any sort of worthwhile ridership gains, combined with no frequency improvements, would absolutely necessitate standing room. And standing on public transit isn’t such a big deal in cities where trips are fast and therefore feel short, neither of which RapidRide will deliver.

      Exactly how could Rasmussen be sold on this, unless he’s ignorant of the details or never rides Metro in the first place so he has no frame of reference?

      1. You may want to add:

        Stop spacing remains so close that average speed reaches a theoretical maximum of 12 MPH even if there were zero traffic congestion and zero traffic lights. Vancouver’s B-lines have stops spaced three times as far apart as “Rapid” Ride.

        For this and the other issues you mention, “Rapid” Ride does not meet even the most basic definition of BRT.

      2. As usual, Tony, you are 100% informed and reasoned!

        I actually did mention the stop spacing (implicitly) when I cited the removal of a mere 3 stops between Market Street in Ballard and Belltown.

    2. Here’s what I’d like to see for RapidRide: the same schedule as Link. 10-minute service 6am-10pm, more at rush hour, and 15 minutes after 10. That’s the kind of improvement that would make people take RapidRide seriously.

      It will still be slow, but maybe that will help the rail cause.

      My second wish would be to extend RapidRide to the 2am hour. That would get people thinking, “There’s only one single route I need to remember, that runs frequently at all times.” That would also be a good time to adjust the Night Owl routes, which have remained the same for decades. The West Seattle and Ballard ones could be a shuttle, meeting the RapidRide. The shortened routes may even allow another run or two.

  4. “I don’t see the public necessarily supporting it (Light-Rail), once they know what the costs are…”

    Of course the public is supporting it! We approved a multi-billion extension into the suburbs two year ago, and now your saying we’ll reject it?

    And the cost doesn’t mean anything… Do you have any idea what the SR-520 bridge and Hwy 99 tunnel will cost?!?!? Adding more lanes to these highways will not do ANYTHING to help Seattle’s traffic, in fact it will make traffic worse. Only light-rail (rail in general) will solve Seattle’s traffic issues.

    1. I think Rasmussen has a wrong read right now. We’re going to approve any reasonable transit measure that comes up to vote.

      1. The problem is that it’s going to be very, very difficult to bring a “reasonable transit measure” to the ballot that meets peoples expectations about performance and cost.

        This is a fantastically expensive corridor. Light Rail would require at least some amount of tunneling through downtown and it needs to cross two major bodies of water. Even if McGinn brings an “on the cheap” proposal, which runs at-grade whenever possible (and thus severely compromises speed), this line will still cost billions.

        People like light rail, but they also like schools, sidewalks, bike lanes, buses, parks, libraries, healthcare, public safety and low taxes. When people vote, they perform a cost-benefit analysis of the proposal in front of them. If it costs too much, it will go down, even in Seattle.

      2. I think the assumption that a downtown tunnel is needed hasn’t been vetted throughly. I agree there isn’t money for a downtown tunnel but I also think that a downtown tunnel isn’t the most pressing need, especially on a shorter, Seattle only line. Surface operations isn’t fast but with the money you would safe from not doing a tunnel you could grade separate segments north of south of downtown and double the max speed. Also a tunnel limits the number of stations possible because they become so expensive.

      3. But how do you get around the tight cross-street spacing downtown? Are you going to sacrifice capacity on the entire line, running through the densest parts of town, because you can’t run more than two-car trains through downtown?

      4. So would you be less concerned about the deep-bore tunnel if light rail to Ballard and West Seattle were built on an elevated structure that wasn’t as much of an eyesore as the Viaduct? (Dangit, why isn’t a waterfront streetcar revival on the table, so there wouldn’t be so much demand on the First Avenue right-of-way…)

      5. “But how do you get around the tight cross-street spacing downtown?”

        Higher frequency.

        I also think that 3-car trains could fit on the smallest block downtown. They could also look at using a different type of LRV than the Kinkisharyo cars being used on Link. For instance, Budapest is using a new Siemens LRV that is 175′ long and has a capacity of around 350 passengers.

      6. If we’re not going to build a tunnel, then don’t build light rail. If you’re going to crawl on city streets, build a streetcar that stops more frequently and actually picks people up on the way. Or build BRT as an interim fix with stations exactly where the light rail stations will be ultimately while we save up to do light rail right. The worst thing we could do is make a 100-year investment on the cheap. Do it right or do it later.

      7. “Dangit, why isn’t a waterfront streetcar revival on the table, so there wouldn’t be so much demand on the First Avenue right-of-way…”

        The waterfront is down a steep hill from midtown. 1st Ave and Alaskan Way are two different transit markets.

      8. I’ll hedge all my comment by saying these are all just my opinions based my experience and very rough calculations.

        -Cross town street spacing.
        -Downtown N/Sish streets are around 220 ft. Link cars are 95ft. So you would be limited to two car trains. So the question is, will demand during peak periods be higher than 10(trains/hour)* 2(trains/consist)* 200(people/car) = 4,000 people/hour/direction peak. If demand in the next 25 years or so is higher then this certainly need to be looked at closely. Otherwise two car trains are enough for now.

        -Crawling through city streets
        LINK’s top speed in the tunnel segments of DSTT is ~30 MPH. If trains get fully priority downtown, travel times will be longer but I don’t think it will be a game changer. The margin between surface travel and tunnel travel is maybe 10-15 miles per hour but in an area with the most stops, so you don’t capitalize on the ability to run fast. It’s waisted because you can’t sustain the speed.

        Rather than spending well over a billion dollars on a downtown tunnel you can spend millions to elevate the guideway in SODO (~2 miles) and along Elliot and 15th in interbay (~3 miles). Both of those segments are were the trains will be most loaded thus you maximize your total passenger travel time reduction. Assuming trains travel at surface at 35 mph and 55 mph (excluding stations for both) the difference in travel time would be around 3 minutes. So it all depends on how much times the tunnel saves, which I don’t know.

        – Do it right or do it later
        There is no reason that a downtown tunnel cannot be added later when capacity or travel times requires it, or more likely there is ST money. This is what you see in a lot of European cities like Koln, Brussels, Den Haag, Karlsruche, etc where they have tram systems with *new* downtown tunnels. They built the trams systems at grade first and then when they needed the extra capacity they went back and build a tunnel.

      9. And if our local governments could get their act together, we might be eligible for any future federal stimulus funds.

        The bad relationship between the mayor and everyone else is costing us in ways that might not be obvious, and ultimately hurt his ability to bring about transit improvements we all want.

      10. Is that the mayor’s fault? He didn’t sign a hasty agreement with the state putting the city on the hook for cost overruns and then pretended there would be no overruns. Whether it’s enforceable or not, McGinn’s just acting sensible. Why doesn’t the council have responsibility to improve the relationship with the mayor?

    2. “Only light-rail (rail in general) will solve Seattle’s traffic issues.”

      A bus system that didn’t suck would also help.

      1. Um, it took 47 minutes to get downtown today.

        From Ballard.

        Which is only five miles.

        “What sucks in our bus system?”

      2. I mean, you can’t possibly be serious, can you?

        It can take 20 minutes just to crawl the first mile up Capitol Hill. That’s the same speed as walking! But if you need to go further on that same route, you have no alternative — and you might wait 35 minutes for the privilege of that crawl.

        Please tell me you were joking.

        Mark my words: in routing, schedulin, service arrangement and distribution, fare policy, payment procedure, boarding/exiting procedure, stop placement, driver performance metrics, and so forth — basically every possible element of public transit administration — there is a right way and a wrong way to do things. This is not up for wishy-washy everyone-gets-to-have-an-opinion-to-feel-good-about-oneself Seattle debate. And across the board, Metro does things the wrong way.

      3. Go live in Vancouver for a few months and come back and you won’t need to ask that question.

        If you want specifics:

        Travel Time – Too high – increase speed by substantially increasing stop spacing (1/2 mile), employing all-door boarding, constructing bus-bulbs at transit stops, and providing transit-only lanes and signal pre-emption on congested corridors. Of these, stop spacing is by far the most important.

        Frequency – To low – 5-minute headways all day, not 10, not 15. Pay for it by eliminating unproductive milk run routes (there’s plenty of milk-runs in Seattle to cut; leave 40-40-20 alone) and consolidating the rest. Employ park-and-rides (in the city) to collect riders from the low-density areas (in the city) that cannot justify high-frequency service.

        Cost – To high – drop the marginal cost of riding the bus to zero either through community or employer-based transit passes (e.g. U-PASS) or by simply eliminating the ridiculous and counterproductive practice of charging fares for transit, a vestige of the time when transit was a private, competitive enterprise rather than a public service. (note: Vancouver doesn’t do this, virtually no one does, but it works)

        Comfort – A joke – employ a zero-tolerance policy for unruly behavior on transit, clean the buses, employ more comfortable vehicle interiors (see d.p.’s comments above), expand the use of electric trolley buses and pave the #$%@ streets.

        The speed improvements pay for themselves with more efficient operations and actually generate enough savings to increase frequency (though not to the levels specified). The key problem is finding the political courage to significantly increase stop spacing. The other issues are more costly, but they could all be paid for with a fraction of what we would spend on light rail. I think light rail is a great investment AFTER we have fixed our bus system.

      4. Oh, no! I have a quibble with Tony the Economist for the first time!

        Austin, Texas tried eliminating fares completely, and it turned the system into a permanent rolling homeless shelter. The overall demand (and thus operational cost) exploded, yet the service quality and desirability for elective riders plummeted further.

        On the other hand, fares will always cover a small percentage of operational costs, and therefore should not be tied to the transit authority’s overall financial health.

        In order to provide an appealing cost/benefit ratio for potential elective users, the fare must not outstrip the quality of the service provided. If you can drive and park for 3 times the cost of a bus pass, when the bus is 6 times slower and infinitely more infuriating, fares are far too high. If service ever improves in a way that would make the trip reasonably competitive (say, half the speed of driving) and reliably sane, higher fares would be justified.

        It’s obscene that our peak in-city fare is 29% more than Boston’s, and more even than New York (with Metrocard multi-ride discount).

        (P.S. It’s worth noting that Seattle gives out so many free Metro tickets that we’ve cursed ourselves with rolling homeless shelters despite exorbitant fares!)

      5. d.p.,

        I knew my fare-free transit suggestion would generate some push-back. Let me elaborate:

        There are four core arguments for charging transit fares. Each of them is flawed.

        1.) It excludes undesirable people that make middle-class riders uncomfortable.

        Yes, that sounds mean, but that’s essentially what you are saying. Mean or not, it is a real concern. One of the major advantages of private auto transport (to the user) is privacy.

        The problem here, however, is not low transit fares. It’s anti-social behavior (which includes poor hygiene) in public places. By your logic, we should be charging admission to public parks and libraries in order to exclude homeless people. This is, of course, not feasible and would have disastrous consequences. It would cost a fortune to administer and would discourage use by the “desirable” portion of the public.

        Furthermore, colonization by the homeless is not a problem in every public park and library, only in a few of them. The same would be true of bus routes. Fare free transit would not turn the 550 into a rolling homeless shelter, but it might make the 7 even more of one than it already is. You yourself point out:

        “Seattle gives out so many free Metro tickets that we’ve cursed ourselves with rolling homeless shelters despite exorbitant fares!”

        So the solution, then is not transit fares, but rigorous enforcement of good behavior on problem routes. That is, incidentally, the same solution that should be applied to our public parks, libraries and other public spaces.

        2.) Fares discourage “frivolous use”.

        Without fares, more people will ride the bus. You acknowledge this yourself in your own example:

        “The overall demand (and thus operational cost) exploded…”

        First off, that’s the point. We want transit use to explode, and fare free transit is a great way to do that.

        The “problem” is that perhaps these new users are the wrong “kind” of users. Assuming that capacity remains fixed, these new users might crowd out previous users. First off, this is only a problem if you fail to increase capacity to match the increase in demand. If we were to increase frequency to the levels I specified previously, this would not be a problem, and if it still was, it’s a great problem to have.

        However, this could be a concern if these new users were not being drawn from the ranks of drivers, but instead from the ranks of pedestrians, cyclists or people who would otherwise not have made the trip at all.

        Tackling these in turn, if you increase stop spacing to levels that I specified above, transit will almost never compete with walking as it will only be viable for trips outside of walking distance. You could potentially compete with cycling, but as of today, cyclists make up such a tiny fraction of trips that the impact is negligible. Competing with the couch (i.e. drawing users who would otherwise not have made the trip at all and thus crowding out people who would otherwise drive) is a real concern, but it is not nearly as bad as you might think.

        First off, drawing people off the couch is not necessarily a bad thing. Those trips obviously have some value and those people are better off making the trip (otherwise they wouldn’t make it even at zero monetary cost).

        Secondly, any increase in service quality (whether it be speed, frequency, reliability, comfort, simplicity, coolness, or anything else) will draw people off the couch. The difference is that other improvements tend to be inherently correlated with increased capacity by definition:

        Increase speed => increased capacity.
        Upgrade to streetcar / light rail => increased capacity.
        Increase frequency => increased capacity.

        Lowering or eliminating transit fares does not, in and of itself, increase capacity. As such, if a route is operating at or near capacity today, AND you have no plans to increase capacity concurrently, then, and only then, will lowering or eliminating fares cause a crowding problem (as occurred in Austin).

        However, if a route is not operating near capacity (which is the case with the vast majority of our bus routes as well as the SLUT and Link) OR if we did increase capacity (by increasing frequency to the levels that we should increase it to anyway), then lower fares do not cause a crowding problem; they simply eliminate the empty bus problem.

        A sensible policy would be to maintain fares only on congested routes during congested times of the day, (similar to the concept of variable tolling as a means of managing demand) and eliminating fares everywhere else, which if we ran at true urban frequency would be virtually everywhere.

        3.) Fares raise revenue.

        This argument is better phrased as “lowering fares costs money”. This is true, but so does any improvement in service quality (other than increasing stop spacing). Increasing frequency costs money, light rail costs money, dedicated ROW costs money. The question is: what improvements give us the biggest “bang for our buck”?

        The value of any improvement in transit is proportional to the percentage change in total ridership.* Thus, eliminating transit fares should be evaluated just like any other potential expenditure of money. The question is, what will bring about the biggest change in ridership per dollar spent.

        However, I did order my recommendations above. Increasing stop spacing should come first, then higher frequency (and route simplification / consolidation), then lowering fares. Only after those three should we move on to other investments, including light rail.

        It is also worth noting that the very process of collecting fares is costly, so the net drop in revenue (marginal cost) of this policy is lower than metro’s current “fare revenue” number, but it is probably still greater than zero, but the change in ridership is well worth it.

        * Strictly speaking ∆V ~ %∆Q + 1/2(%∆Q)^2. So for small changes in ridership, the first term dominates, and the change in value (∆V) is roughly proportional to the percent change in ridership (%∆V), but for large changes (i.e. > 100%), the second term dominates and the change in value is proportional to the square of the change in ridership, which only makes my original point even stronger: the key variable we need to consider in evaluating different options is the percent change in ridership.

        4.) Fare send a “signal” that transit is valuable, and thus people appreciate it more.

        There are two sides to this argument, the first is that people don’t want free things because if they were valuable they wouldn’t be free, thus making transit free would actually reduce ridership. Two words: empirically denied.

        The other side of the argument is that people should appreciate the true cost of what they use. This is a fairly elitists attitude. The peons ought to appreciate all that we do for them. Bollocks. The only time that it makes sense for people to “appreciate the cost of something” is if they are using too much of it (e.g. driving, pollution, fatty foods) or if there is no other means of funding it (e.g. copyrighted works, news). Neither of these applies to transit. People don’t take transit too often, they don’t take it often enough. That’s why we subsidize it. With respect to paying for it, we do have another means of funding transit: taxes. You yourself admit that fares will always provide a small portion of total revenue. Fares are neither necessary nor efficient.

        Finally, every argument that could be made for charging transit fares could be made for charging admission to any public place, including parks, libraries and sidewalks. I simply want consistency: if it doesn’t make sense to charge admissions to parks and libraries, then it doesn’t make sense to charge admission to public transit.

      6. Eliminating fares is indeed a radical proposal. On the other hand those of us with employer provided passes have effectively “free” transit. Even those who have to pay for their passes have an essentially zero marginal cost for trips beyond their commute trips.

        It would be interesting to apply the same “bang for buck” metrics to lowering fares as is applied to other transit improvements.

        If fares were eliminated I would say strong enforcement of the code of conduct would be essential to ensure certain routes didn’t have more problems than they already do.

        I’d also say we’d need to keep the peak-hour fares as a way of offsetting expensive commuter service and as a form of “congestion toll”. Politically you’d probably have to charge at least a nominal fare the rest of the time to keep the employers who currently pay for transit passes for their employees from complaining. Say $1 for a Metro/ST all-day pass good any time except peak hours.

        In addition to some of the other transit improvements you outline I’d say we need more bus lanes and some sort of signal priority system at every traffic light as well. The slow slog through Belltown for buses is caused by the lack of exclusive lanes and way too many stops for traffic signals rather than stop spacing.

        I’d also disagree the bus system should be perfect before any more light rail is built. U-Link is under construction and the funding for ST2 is already programmed, lets not delay these projects any further. In addition lets secure funding for even more rail as fast as the public appetite for additional taxing authority allows. If we wait on perfecting the bus system then rail beyond our “starter” line will never be built.

        I have no faith in Metro’s ability to implement the sort of changes you outline without at least the excuse of a massive route restructuring due to new light rail lines. Metro has had nearly 40 years to improve service and is only recently getting around to increasing stop spacing. They still really haven’t consolidated routes and are largely a hub-and-spoke system based around downtown Seattle transfers. I see little momentum toward implementing a grid system focused on major arterials. Far too many routes are infrequent slow milk runs that wind all over the place, even in-city. In some cases the basic routing dates back to the streetcar days. They even fail on increasing service frequency. While some routes now enjoy increased frequencies, many heavily used routes have the same service frequency as when I first started riding buses in Seattle over 30 years ago. Even worse metro has managed to screw up the nice even spacing that used to exist on the joint portion of the 71/72/73/74 effectively lowering the frequency.

        The screaming and yelling over the proposed changes in SE Seattle or stop consolidation should show how difficult it will be to make any substantiative changes to service patterns. If we can’t get rid of the 42 or the time sucking VA loop then what can we do?

      7. Even without transit fares, it’s entirely reasonable to ask Microsoft and other major employers to contribute funding to Metro/ST. These kind of public-private partnerships happen all the time (e.g. the NE 36th St bridge). Microsoft pays for these things because they know that anything that makes the region a more desirable place to live will make them a more desirable employer, and because anything that will get their employees to work faster will ultimately save them time and money.

        As far as a peak-only fare goes, the question is, what incentives do you create? In theory, you’ll discourage people from taking peak buses in favor of waiting until an off-peak time. But in practice, a 3-hour peak period is much more likely to push that person back into their car than onto a later (or earlier) bus.

        Also, I think it’s safe to say that there’s a strong correlation between “flex hours” and employer-provided transit passes. If you can choose to get to work at any time, then the fare probably doesn’t matter to you. If you can’t, then it probably does.

      8. Tony,

        Your arguments are wholly engaging and, from a theoretical standpoint, well-argued.

        They have one overarching and fatal real-world flaw:

        They presume the ability, with infinitely flexible funding (and thus infinitely flexible vehicle/operator supply), to meet infinitely flexible demand.

        The defining limitation of a traditional bus system — i.e. a system with no or few design/operational alterations that approximate rapid transit — is that it can never achieve true mass-transit capacities, no matter how many vehicles it puts into service. Whereas rapid transit systems can absorb massive increases in use with only marginal decreases in speed and efficiency, bus systems like Metro’s respond to even modest increases in per-vehicle boarding with exponential decreases in travel speed. (This was apparent even during the modest ridership spike that accompanied the $4/gallon gas prices of 2008.)

        You could flood the busiest of corridors with back-to-back buses under your fare-free proposal, and the lack of level boarding, limitations of aisle space and door placement, and traffic-negotiation requirements would still prevent the constant flow of vehicles your proposal would necessitate (to say nothing of people peppering the driver with ‘do you go near…?’ questions, or of god%&*#ed bicycle-loading procedures).

        Just think how much longer a present-day surface trip across the ride-free area takes, and how much less predictable it is, than it should be; your proposal gives the whole system that treatment.

        Also note that L.A.’s MetroRapid buses, which run 30-40 buses per hour on many corridors, have wide stop spacing, and despite requiring payment (expedited through rear-door-exit and no transfer slips) experience the level of demand that Seattle might with no fares, still bunch up horribly.

        As I said above, Metro’s highest-in-the-nation fares are massively out of step with the cost-benefit determination that might boost choice ridership. And as you say, massive investments in heightened quality divorced from parochial considerations and economical-health-constricted revenue sources (instead borne of a newfound political recognition that transit is a public service as worthy of general-fund considerations as anything else) are a must!

        But fareless operations would do more harm to service quality than could be mitigated. Much better to minimize the service-harm associated with fare collection by incentivizing ORCA usage through steep discounts, penalizing cash payment through elimination of paper transfers, and mandating rear-door exit at all times to allow uni-directional flow at the front, which simultaneously restructuring the system for ease of use by old and new riders alike.

      9. And Aleks,

        I’ve come to understand that the prevalence of white-collar employer-provided transit passes in the Puget Sound area are detrimental in that they divorce the elective riders who receive them from the ability to judge the relationship between fare, funding, and service quality (i.e. those with the most potential political clout to demand quality-of-service improvements are less inclined to make the effort because, “hey, I didn’t have to pay for it anyway”).

        In Boston, when rumblings of a hypothetical fare increase accompanied a structural problem on the Longfellow Bridge that hobbled the Red Line, the choice riders screamed bloody murder about it, construction crews got to work, and Deval Patrick took fares-hikes-without-service-improvements off the table. Here, fares jump 50% in 3 years, service quality continues to degrade, and the Queen Anne-ites and Bellevueans shrug, “hey, I didn’t have to pay for it anyway.”)

        Oh, and since Microsoft runs its own exclusive transit system for full-time employees that bests Metro/Sound Transit in every way, what do they care?

      10. [Amazing how huge a difference an editing once-over can make: the first of my two above posts reads legibly and logically; the second is packed with nails-to-a-chalkboard typos. Seattle Transit Blog editing capabilities now!]

      11. The Microsoft transit system is not better than Metro/ST in one very important way: it only runs 6-8 schedule trips on your route each way, and if you’re lucky, they’ll be at sub-30-minute frequency. (Most routes are closer to 35-40.) And you have to reserve a seat. So for someone who doesn’t go to work at the same time every day, or who doesn’t live within walking distance of a Connector stop (transferring to the Connector in the morning is more work than it’s worth), it’s no contest.

        That said, the “nerd express” (aka the 545) is also one of the nicest Metro routes around. As you’re probably aware, ST actually detours the 545 by about 5 minutes in the morning so that Capitol Hill riders don’t have to take a second bus to get to Redmond. So I imagine that quite a few 545 riders aren’t actually familiar with “regular” service.

    3. Point of order — the Viaduct tunnel is a reduction in lanes and the 520 bridge adds two lanes. The overall megaproject lanes are the same.

      There are no silver bullets in transportation — a functional, working city leadership could find a way to move forward on a variety of projects, be they highways, transit, pedestrian or bicycle improvements.

  5. In the on going conflict between the mayor and the city council, you make the assumption I think that the council is always wrong. I have yet to see this in their antagonism towards McGinn. It is real and burning and not easily preventable from becoming a wildfire because of the mayor’s general antagonism towards anything sensible and reasonable.

    Light Rail to West Seattle was never going to be reasonable in this economy and with so many other projects on-going – all of which are stressful enough without adding yet another to the mix.

    Oh, I just read that McGinn voted against extending Light Rail south of SeaTac because of the worsening economic outlook for Sound Transit. So where are his priorities and his consistencies? I don’t think that former mayor Greg Nickels would have voted down that extension……

    1. Tim,

      I don’t understand why the DBT is, in your view, necessary to create jobs, but somehow light rail is “never going to be reasonable in this economy”.

      1. But it doesn’t have to be either/or. With leadership, we can have both. In the next ten years, we’ll have the First Hill Streetcar, East Link, North Link, U-Link, RapidRide, a new 520 and a new Viaduct (with most of that stuff online by the end of 2016). That’s a ton of building that’s all going to be going forward during a depressed economy.

        If the mayor believed in compromise and deal-making, we could be in a position to trade west side light rail for the downtown tunnel. You could even find that putting Viaduct traffic in a tunnel leaves that surface capacity available for light rail.

        Where we are now, however, is in a place where the default is no. It hasn’t been a year, and Seattle has already lost the (meager) can-do spirit it had under Nickels.

        And this is to say nothing of other big projects, like an NBA/NHL stadium. This blog isn’t the place for that discussion, but the general point is that the attitude of if not mine than no one’s at all isn’t helping anyone.

      2. “But it doesn’t have to be either/or.”

        Actually, there is a direct tradeoff, economically, between DBT and west-side rapid transit. Under the DBT agreement (unlike ST5 or rebuild), the City, not the State, must foot the bill for both utility relocation and seawall replacement with local funds. These projects sap hundreds of millions of dollars worth of local taxing authority that could be used for transit projects. There is not constitutional limitation on these local funding sources as there is with gas-tax revenue.

        “If the mayor believed in compromise and deal-making, we could be in a position to trade west side light rail for the downtown tunnel.”

        No, we couldn’t. Nickels, whom you seem to admire so much, tried to “trade” for far less than west side light rail. He was happy to get a First Ave Streetcar and a meager increase in bus service out of the deal, a project that costs less than 1/10 of a west-side light rail line, but the State backed out of that deal and we have nothing. The highway lobby is not interested in compromise.

        “…the attitude of if not mine than no one’s at all isn’t helping anyone.”

        The people who oppose DBT are not cutting off their nose to spite their face as you suggest. This is not about throwing a tantrum because we didn’t get our train and now we want to make life miserable for others out of spite. We oppose DBT because it’s a bad project. It would be a bad project regardless of what we do with transit.

        Stopping DBT will help someone: the tax payers of Seattle who are one the hook for hundreds of millions even if there are no cost overruns and hundreds of millions more if there are.

      3. The projects the city is paying for need to be done regardless of what replaces the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

      4. Paul,

        Under ST5, new elevated, or cut-and-cover tunnel, the state would have wrapped some or all of the cost of these projects into their expenditures. These costs have been pushed on to the city because every last penny of state dollars is being spend digging the tunnel.

      5. Agreed Selma

        The mayor needs to stop believing that ideas agreed upon before his reign are somehow illegitimate and unworthy. He can have his Light Rail once all of these other projects are led into fully fledged existence. I believe he is using Light Rail to West Seattle to manipulate some sort of collapse to the tunnel project.

      6. The mayor needs to stop believing that ideas agreed upon before his reign are somehow illegitimate and unworthy

        – Bridging the Gap
        – The First Hill Streetcar
        – Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans
        – Sound Transit 2

        are all projects that predate the McGinn administration that he has enthusiastically supported.

        Stop performing amateur psychology on the Mayor and recognize that he’s maintained a consistent preference for more bike/ped/transit infrastructure over automobile infrastructure. That’s what actually fits the facts.

      7. That maybe Martin, but the public is not aware of it. I believe that there are starker differences between the Nickels and McGinn administrations than there sometimes seem to be between the Bush and Obama administrations at the federal level which doesn’t make much sense to me because both Greg Nickels and Mike McGinn are Democrats and shouldn’t be as divergent as they are.

        There is nothing wrong with the DBT if the State can pay for it as agreed. The City has always been behind restoring the seawall and waterfront so it can’t be roped into the overall project as an overrun.

      8. Tim,

        I think the public is pretty aware that McGinn is a radical environmentalist who opposes car use and car infrastructure. That’s why so many Seattlites like him, and why so many others hate him.

        “I believe that there are starker differences between the Nickels and McGinn administrations than there sometimes seem to be between the Bush and Obama administrations at the federal level…”

        Other than their positions on DBT, could you please name one substantive policy difference between Nickels and McGinn?

        “There is nothing wrong with the DBT if the State can pay for it as agreed.”

        If.

      9. The mayor is using Light Rail to divert or distort the public’s attention from the DBT as an alternative direction once he succeeds in derailing the tunnel project.

        Yes, Light Rail would create future jobs but not as soon as the DBT which could go ahead as early as next year if the mayor would just shut up on the topic.

      10. While I support creating just about ANY new jobs in this economy… the DBT is estimated to create a couple hundred new jobs. It’s not exactly going to help much.

    2. “I just read that McGinn voted against extending Light Rail south of SeaTac because of the worsening economic outlook for Sound Transit. So where are his priorities and his consistencies?”

      If you simply look at a map, you might notice that no part of the City of Seattle exists south of Sea-Tac. McGinn is the Mayor of Seattle, not the mayor of Greater Puget Sound. Where are his priorities and constituencies? They are with the people that pay his salary, no of whom live south of Sea-Tac and many of whom live in Ballard and West Seattle.

      Furthermore, extending Link south of Sea-Tac is a waste of time. Transit demand drops off substantially at a 30-minutes of in-vehicle travel time, which you reach about 1 stop south of Sea-Tac.The people of South King County would be far better served by improved Sounder service or express buses.

      I don’t think that former mayor Greg Nickels would have voted down that extension……

      I don’t think he would have either. Greg Nickels mistakenly imagined that he was Mayor of the entire region rather than Mayor of Seattle. You may have noticed that Nickels lost the primary last year. Perhaps his decision to emphasize “regional priorities” at the expense of local needs and concerns had something to do with that.

      1. Greg Nickels, Tony, had something called the faculty of leadership and yes, some of that attitude spilled over into working out solutions for non-Seattle areas. Remember that Sound Transit is a regional agency and that anyone on the Board has to think regionally when wearing that hat.

      2. You asked where McGinn’s constituency was and I told you.

        Secondly, I already told you: Extending Link south of Sea-Tac is a waste of time. It will not serve the needs of the people of South King County because it is too slow. South Link was included in ST2 not to serve the people of South King, but as a bribe to get their votes. The key to an effective bribe is that people think it will be valuable, even if on the ground it won’t be. Unfortunately, by the time the people of South King realize that South Link is does not meet their needs, the money will have been spent and the elected leaders who pulled off the swindle will have long since left town.

        Someone having this “faculty of leadership” that you speak of, might also have had the integrity to admit this and insist upon solutions that actually work for the people of South King, rather than dangling a shinny toy in front of them to sucker them in to supporting a plan that was not in their best interest.

        “Remember that Sound Transit is a regional agency and that anyone on the Board has to think regionally when wearing that hat.”

        Understand one thing, Tim: “thinking regionally” means throwing your local constituents under the bus for the sake of big business interests. There is nothing inherently wrong with supporting big business. Business is important for our economy. They provide jobs and the tax revenue we need to fund all sorts of public goods. We all depend on having a functional and prosperous economy to support all our priorities and too much emphasis on parochial local interests can undermine regional commerce. So it makes sense to “think regionally” at least some of the time, but when you go too far, it haunts you at the ballot box.

        When I say Nickels lost the primary because he focused on “regional priorities” rather than local needs, this is what I mean. Light Rail to Bellevue, Redmond and Northgate (supported by Nickels) is a regional priority; Light Rail to Ballard and West Seattle (not prioritized by Nickels) is a local concern. Building a biotech hub and a new headquarters for Amazon.com in South Lake Union (supported by Nickels) is a regional priority; building high-density moderately-priced housing in South Lake Union while maintaining a human scale and protecting view corridors (not prioritized by Nickels) is a local concern. Removing an elevated freeway from the waterfront (supported by Nickels) is a regional priority (big business interests); the pro-parks levy (opposed by Nickels) is a local concern.

        I’m not saying one is better than the other; I’m saying that too much regional and not enough local will haunt any politician.

        However, “thinking regionally” manifestly does not mean being concerned about the local needs of the residents of South King County. It is absolutely appropriate for the Mayor of Seattle to be concerned with the interests of residents outside the city, but South Link is not in the interests of South King. With ST2, the regional priorities were Northgate, Bellevue and Microsoft. The South King and (to a lesser extent) Snohomish County extensions were bribes designed to log roll politicians and voters into supporting the “regional priorities”. This is how things work in America, at every level of government, for good or for ill.

        I tend to believe that someone with a “faculty of leadership” would insist on win-win solutions. To me, that would mean a plan that actually benefited South King and Pierce Counties rather than a ploy that looks good on paper but won’t work in real life. The problem is that doing so would have involved both disabusing the politicians and residents of South King and Pierce Counties of their mistaken belief that extending Central Link to Tacoma will do them any good, and then going back to the drawing board to come up with a real solution. That would have taken time, and we would have missed our window to get ST2 on the ballot in a presidential year and before the State had a chance to gut the agency, thus compromising the “regional priorities”.

        In Summer of 2008, I probably would have done the same thing. Getting something on the ballot in 2008 was so important that it may have been worth screwing South King and wasting a couple billion dollars assuming that there was not enough time to find a real solution, but back in 2007 there was enough time. Nickels was ST board chair back in 2007, and he could have tried to steer the board in the direction of sensible win-win planning rather than going with the flow.

        Ron Sims had the integrity to oppose the 2007 measure, at least in part because he understood how wasteful it would be to build Light Rail all the way to Tacoma, as is any extension of Central Link past S. 200th St. McGinn had the integrity to oppose it because he wouldn’t support a shot-gun wedding between roads and transit. Nickels was willing to make any compromise “necessary” to get Light Rail built.

        There is little disagreement today that Sims and McGinn were right about Roads and Transit, and Nickels was wrong. Where was his “faculty of leadership” then?

      3. How is light rail to Northgate not a local concern? Just because it’s also extremely valuable to the region?

        The bulk of the North subarea funds are extending the tunnel, mainly underground, to Northgate – the best possible investment the City could make given the completion of Sound Move.

        You seem to have decided that South Link is worthless. Time will tell. But the South King and Pierce leaders (and presumably voters as well, unless they’re terrible politicians) wanted this, not more Sounder or more express buses. How long should Nickels have held his own city’s interests hostage to wait for South King to make a different decision on how to spend South King’s money?

        It’s pejorative hyperbole to suggest that a regionwide package with different projects for different subregions, designed to win votes everywhere, is somehow filled with “bribes.” Your obvious contempt for rail advocates — never can you get through a comment without an aside about “toys” — shines through once again.

      4. The light rail line between Seattle and (possibly eventually) Tacoma serves more than one transit market. People tend to think of light rail in this region primarily in terms of travel to and from downtown Seattle, but those aren’t the only sort of trips people will take.

        For example Link between Seattle and Tacoma will serve at least some commuters who work in Seatac, Federal Way, and Tacoma. It will also provide a way to get to the airport from the South. People will use it as a way to visit friends or go to a game. People will take it to shopping in Federal Way.

        That said, the potential ridership South of S. 200th is very weak, both compared to what is in ST2 and compared to potential future extensions in the long-range plan to Downtown Redmond, Everett, or even Issaquah.

        As an aside, I’ll say the potential ridership up into Snohomish County for Link is very strong. Furthermore it is very travel time competitive with SOVs and buses to at least Ash Way P&R. The boondoggle for Snohomish County was and is North Sounder. ST could really better spend that money elsewhere.

        The question is what other improvements could the money for current (ST2) and future Link service South of S. 200th buy instead? For example how much would it cost to be able to run all day Sounder service to Lakewood? Even better offer 30 minute or less headways each way? Electrify the corridor?

        Unfortunately I think politically ST is stuck building to Star Lake with ST2 and extending to at least Tacoma Dome Station in any future expansion. Hopefully if that happens people will be talking about the ridership on the other lines rather than the relatively low ridership between the Airport and Tacoma.

      5. I don’t even see much potential ridership in the neighborhoods around 200th St. I think the ridership that that station would bring in would be that more of the routes from Federal Way, the valley, and Tacoma would head there instead of going all the way downtown, enabling a significant reduction in operational costs.

        A lot of riders on those routes might not be too enthused about that.

        If riders on the 59x’s, the 577. 578, etc raise a stink when runs on their favorite route are reduced to provide more runs to 200th St Station, then 200th St Station may as well wait.

        Chris, do you think Pierce / South King riders will embrace the 200th St Station connection, or curse it?

        Of course, the faster South Link gets built, the sooner Tacoma commuters will have an all-day 1-seat ride from downtown Tacoma to downtown Seattle without being stuck in traffic (and hopefully not stranded due to a rail blockage), and the sooner people living near Link stations will have easy access to downtown Tacoma. That’s, what, 20 years away? Sigh.

    3. Hmmm. You make a lot of accusations about McGinn, and provide no evidence.

      Sounds to *me* like the City Council has been doing a lot of unreasonable things, the State Legislature even more, and McGinn has had general antagonism for anything *unreasonable and senseless*. Perhaps this is why there is hostility to him?

  6. What if the transit master plan comes to the conclusion that we should have elevated transit from West Seattle to Ballard?

  7. A downtown tunnel isn’t required for phase I of the West Seattle LINK extension. The tracks could join up in the Sodo corridor for now.

    Ballard was not proposed to get Light rail in McGinn’s plan. It needs it but the plan was to extend a street car from Westlake to Freemont to Ballard. It’s slower but it serves a different need than downtown commuting.

    Once the Ballard Street car is built and the West Seattle line is built, and the East Link is built and the extension to Northgate is built, and the Federal Way extension is built, it will become obvious that another downtown tunnel needs to be dug. Sound Transit should dig it, not the city of Seattle.

    Once that tunnel is finished, then the Ballard Light Rail extension can be built. I assume by then that the West Seattle Line bonds will be paid off, so the funding will be available.

    1. The Ballard-Fremont streetcar puzzles me. It’s been marketed as a low-cost connection from the Ballard hub urban village to downtown, but it seems to me like it’s really a replacement for the 28, serving two separate markets: Ballard-Fremont and Fremont-Downtown.

      Is there just a marketing disconnect here, or do the planners actually envision the streetcar serving serious commuting needs from Market St to the CBD?

      1. Well a lot of it depends on how much ROW it gets, but I bet a streetcar would be the way to go for Ballard-SLU.

        People will pick what they want to pick, but RapidRide D will definitely exist to take people from Ballard to Belltown and the CBD.

      2. But neither will be much of a speed — or in the case of RapidRide, experiential — improvement. Which makes them both inadequate.

      3. As has been covered here before, streetcars are perceived to provide a superior experience to buses. So even if there isn’t a speed or capacity increase from the Ballard streetcar, I can see the Ballard streetcar as a positive investment. But I am concerned that we will be making the right investment for the wrong reasons, with this streetcar floating around in the public’s mind as a Ballard-Downtown route.

        I had forgotten about Amazon’s move to SLU, which Martin’s post reminded me of. That provides even more justification for improving the Ballard-Westlake corridor. But again, none of this seems in step with the Mayor’s marketing message.

      4. As someone who occasionally hops off an overcrowded, dirty, deeply unpleasant 17 if there’s a streetcar coming behind it — even though I know it will add 2 minutes to my ride and 5 blocks to my walk — I can vouch for the superior experience.

        But you are absolutely correct that the proposed route, combined with likely 15-minute-ish headways (thrown off by any number of speed/signal/bridge obstructions), make a mockery of the idea of it as a high-capacity Ballard-to-downtown line.

        Occasionally I am reminded that ST3 might include a UW-to-Ballard Link spur. If that should ever happen, it would provide a <20-minute ride from Ballard to downtown — significantly faster than RapidRide or the proposed streetcar — despite going nearly five miles out of the way! That alone should be taken as proof that RapidRide and the streetcar proposal are both pathetically underwhelming!

      5. If Rapid RIde D were to:

        1.) Bypass Uptown (staying on Elliot until Denny).
        2.) Have no more than 2 stops in Interbay and employ >=1/2 mile stop spacing everywhere else.
        3.) Be given dedicated ROW over the entire length of Elliot and 15th Ave.
        4.) Employ all-door boarding and off-vehicle payment at all stops
        5.) Increase in frequency to 5-minute headways

        It would go a long way to reducing travel times and alleviating crowding. The Ballard Bridge would remain a difficult choke point and running at grade (even with dedicated ROW) would be slower than grade-separated light rail, but it would be a major improvement over the status quo and it would beat a streetcar as well. The real value of the proposed streetcar line is actually in connecting Ballard to Fremont and SLU. While not as big a draw as the CBD, these are not insignificant, which is why the proposed streetcar is complementary rather than competitive with rapid transit via Interbay.

        Of course upgrading Rapid Ride D to grade separated light rail would bypass the chokepoint at the Ballard bridge, allow a higher top speed and reconnect with Uptown, but if it turns out we can’t afford it right now, a true BRT line would be a reasonable stop-gap.

      6. Tony,
        I’d advocate similar treatment for West Seattle and Aurora (Rapid Ride C and E). While true BRT would be a “nice to have” for lines A, B, and F, I don’t see it as being as essential as for C, D, & E.

      7. Tony,

        But we’re not getting true BRT on Ballard RapidRide — not even close to it — and never will. Which is why it should never be even tacitly treated as an acceptable stopgap!

      8. Functionally, the streetcar would serve mainly people going to/from Fremont, and the few who want the streetcar experience. It would also give direct Fremont-Ballard service all day. But those wanting to go quickly from Ballard to downtown will stick to 15th Ave W.

        I hope the city doesn’t market is as Ballard-downtown rapid transit and say we’re done there. I think the city has gotten the message that that’s not the case. They aren’t canceling the RapidRide, for one thing. It’s up to Ballard residents to tell the city that a streetcar is nice but it’s not enough.

        But we don’t have to build light rail right now. Let’s get the master plan done, digest the things that are being built now, and wait a few years for the economy to recover, then we can go slam into building another light rail line.

  8. Martin’s article from last September, linked above under “changes that” and also here is still current in a lot of ways. It could almost have been written today.

  9. I think the transit supporters in this region that support McGinn’s transit-only vision of Seattle are delusional. Seattle and the region are very sprawly, whether you like to admit that or not. Transit isn’t going to work everywhere, even sometimes in the closer in neighborhoods.

    I’d challenge anyone proposing ‘transit only’ configurations to replace the viaduct to take a bus trip from a neighborhood at the top of Queen Anne Hill to the Starbucks Center in Sodo. Add a light rail transfer in as well and see how long it takes. From door to door, you’re looking at well over an HOUR just to get less than 4 miles.

    I think light rail to Ballard and West Seattle suffer the same problems as the monorail. Low ridership. It’s simply not a dense, high demand corridor for transit that needs to be served with rail. Buses can serve it very adequately.

    1. It may take an hour in the current scenario, but that’s why transit needs to improve. Suppose the 13 ran every five minutes (or fifteen if you want to be low-budget) and ended at a Seattle Center Station. From the station you take a 2nd Ave subway, a 3rd Ave Rapid Ride, a 2nd or 3rd Ave surface train, or a 3rd Ave trolleybus or streetcar in an exclusive lane — whichever gets built — to Westlake or all the way to Intl Dist and transfer to Link. Suppose that were the main N-S route through downtown so it ran very frequently. Suppose the E-W trolleys did not turn on 3rd (did not go N-S) so they wouldn’t be in the way of the N-S line. That should do it in 30 minutes. The official Westlake-SODO time is 10 minutes, so that leaves 20 minutes to get to Queen Anne. The main reason it takes so long is the transfer time, lack of exclusive bus lanes, on-board payment, entry through one small door, etc. These can all be improved.

    2. Richard,

      First off, no one is proposing a “transit-only vision” of Seattle. The surface-transit-I5 proposal includes significant vehicle capacity via the street grid. The particular trip you describe will likely remain somewhat difficult to make via transit, but if we can capture a larger portion of trips along the corridors for which transit can be made competitive, it makes more room on the streets for the remaining trips for which transit is not.

      Taking your specific example and using the intersection of 3rd Ave W and W McGraw as a representative Upper Queen Anne location, it takes 11 minutes to get to Starbucks HQ via 99 in uncongested traffic and 13 minutes to make the same trip via surface streets (again uncongested). Congestion is equally likely to affect either of these routes. Again moving other trips, such as those bound for downtown, to transit makes room for the trips that can’t be made by transit.

      Secondly, transit does not have to work everywhere. If we were to substantially expand our use of park-and-rides, we could use the automobile as a collector for trips destined for dense job or retail centers like Central Seattle, UW, Northgate, Bellevue, Redmond, etc. By combining high-quality rapid transit with park-and-rides we could potentially capture 90 percent of trips bound for the CBD, greatly reducing congestion and greenhouse gas emissions, and making room for the trips to low-density destinations that must traverse the CBD (such as the one you describe).

    3. “The particular trip you describe will likely remain somewhat difficult to make via transit”

      I was going to mention this but edited it out. Queen Anne is in a difficult geographical situation for transit. You have to transverse the most congested parts of the city — Uptown, Belltown, Downtown, and the International District — to get to SODO or anywhere in the south end. Only a subway from Seattle Center would make it fast.

  10. None of these taxes, unfortunately, will get people out of their cars.

    Once you own a car, the marginal cost of operation is quite low. Only a higher gas tax will change that.

    1. A very good point, Alex. There are, however, a couple of other ways of increasing the marginal cost of driving besides gas taxes:

      1.) Per-mile premiums for auto insurance (currently being experimented with in Texas). A typical per-mile premium is about 10¢ per mile, equivalent to a $2.00 per gallon gas tax.

      2.) Expensive parking, which essentially means ending subsidies or bundling of parking. Parking is extremely expensive to build, especially in the CBD, but user fees rarely cover the true cost.

      3.) Tolls.

      4.) A carbon tax or cap-and-trade system. (equivalent to 50¢ to $1.00 per gallon gas tax, depending on the rate)

      5.) Decreasing the marginal user cost of alternatives (e.g. reducing transit fares or increasing transit speed). What matters is the relative marginal cost, not the absolute marginal cost.

  11. It has to be a ‘vision’ rail project. Streetcar Fremont. SR520. A Link LRT to West Seattle will have impacts; maybe just stop at first terminus and connect streetcar to ferry landing.

    What is it you guys don’t like about my vision planning?

    AWV-free waterfront forever!

    McGinn right on S/T becuz less environmental impact than DBT. McGinn right.

    Tunnelite becuz seawall fixed same time; keeps best Interbay access; doesn’t add traffic to Queen Anne, SLU, Denny corridor. IJPMO you dbs can’t c it.

  12. Quickly design a vision rail line before all else. Don’t delay. It’s not that complicated. Hire high school students. Other than the streetcar/SLU sidewalk team, who at SDOT are doing that well? The Mercer West and Alaskan Way teams will flunk that engineering test BEFORE building those surface projects.

    How bout my Seattle Center to Waterfront streetcar route down republican/3rd/Elliott, bridge over Broad Street? Last time I checked, Seattle aleady HAS electric trams to Pike Market and Pioneer Square. Sum DA made the route turn to 3rd and back, who knows why?

    Fremont Streetcar.

    Link LRT with terminus at early stop/streetcar to ferry landing.

    Waterfront streetcar up to Center.

    How about a new home, yard and track for the antique Australians?

  13. There is a point of low-hanging fruit to increase travel speed for *all* routes and to increase revenue for Metro: End paper transfers (so that a larger chunk of change fumblers will buy ORCA cards).

    Include a list of locations where ORCA is sold on the ORCA brochures, and don’t assume people will know they can get in line at the library to look those locations up on-line.

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