Penna Turnpike Toll Plaza (wikimedia)

Zooming out from the viaduct debate, one of the fault lines
among the solid majority that supports transit in Seattle is between those that favor investment in all transportation modes and those that think we have to de-prioritize easy and cheap access for cars, often caricatured as a “war on cars”.

The former group is very much swayed by the easy-driving arguments we see in the tunnel and road diet debates. Businesses are worried that customers can’t get to the store. Operators of freight and emergency vehicles wonder how they’ll navigate the congestion. People may support others using transit but don’t see themselves abandoning use of the car. This line of thinking has a long an honorable tradition, including great friends of the blog like former Mayor Greg Nickels. Over the years, I’ve slid further into the “stick” camp based on some important realizations:

  • Emphasis on car access makes transit either worse or vastly more expensive than it needs to be. In a low-capital cost project like RapidRide, responsiveness to parking concerns means that the bus simply won’t get priority treatment. For a big-dollar project like Sound Move, it means Sound Transit rebuilds the entire MLK roadway rather than simply taking the ROW needed, which would have been much cheaper.
  • Most people make their mode decision, quite reasonably, on what’s easiest and cheapest for them, rather than any externalities they produce by driving. If driving and parking is cheap and uncongested, it will always be more convenient than taking transit and transit will lose, which is bad news for all those externalities.
  • At the moment, most Seattle households own cars. We’re in an equilibrium where the car is often the easiest way to get around, so everyone builds parking to accommodate most people, so land use is crappy for transit use, so everyone owns cars. To break out of the cycle, at some point residents must say enough and start allowing stuff that doesn’t assume most people will use cars to get around.

People with big transit dreams often fall victim to this death by a thousand cuts. Make enough concessions to preserve car access, and your project is no longer what it was.

The deep-bore tunnel is a case where we’re told that it’s simply “not practical” to limit our investment in car infrastructure, which is why it has provoked such deep splits in our community. In the viaduct replacement a total of $1.2 billion of non-gas-tax, non-toll money is being spent, not a dime of it on transit. Even the “surface/transit” option has hundreds of millions to improve capacity on I-5 and lots of street improvements.

$1.2 billion is in the ballpark for high-quality light rail to West Seattle or Ballard, or a Second Avenue transit tunnel to improve RapidRide now and rail in the future. All of these would have supported the same corridor that the DBT will. It’s a failure of vision by our leaders circa 2008-2009 that this approach wasn’t even on the table. And it’s sad to say that many Seattle voters and politicians that self-identify as pro-transit environmentalists today share those same failures.

133 Replies to “Carrots and Sticks”

  1. While I agree with almost all you are saying, I’m not sure if the way you are phrasing it really helps your arguement.

    When you say carrot and stick, the stick is negative reinforcement. Punishment. Do what I want you to do or you will get the stick. I don’t think that is what you are suggesting we do, you just think we should stop giving car drivers so many carrots. Or more accurately you are saying that their current ration of carrots aren’t sacrocanct and they can be taken away if there is greater need for them elsewhere.

    Stay away from the stick talk. That just feeds the ‘SOCIAL ENGINEERING!!’ trolls.

    1. I agree. This is more about what kind of project you prioritize over another. In a limited funding environment with lots of need whichever type of project you select to build (transit or auto oriented) is the most important, and in that sense anything you build is a carrot, not a stick. They key is spending money on the right type of project.

      I don’t think we are anywhere near the point were politicians would do anything to seriously discourage driving. So it all comes down to making transit *relatively* more attractive than driving, and to me that means spending state money on transit project, not freeways.

      1. Good point. Nobody is suggesting eliminating road access to anywhere, or eliminating ALL parking from anywhere (at least handicapped-access spaces and delivery-truck spaces will remain), or even reducing roads to one lane.

        This is a matter of degree. Do cars need the massive amount of pavement currently allotted for them, or could they do just fine with slightly less? I have to go with the “slightly less” position, in agreement with the column writer.

      1. In the cartoons yes, but the phrase ‘carrot and stick’ (or ‘pan, o palo’ if you are Mexican) means that you get a reward if you do what I want you to, or a stick (beating) if you don’t do it.

        This is not the type of language we need to be using to convince people of the superiority of our argument. This is the type of language used by a dictator.

        Words matter. No matter how good our argument is, if we aren’t communicating it in a way that is accepted by our target audience it will be rejected. Use language that is offensive to your target argument and you stand a very good chance of chasing them into the enemy camp.

        Although I am a Psychological Operations Sergeant, so I could just be fixated on this b/c it’s what I do for a living.

  2. I probably fall into the non-“war on cars” group, not because I like cars, but mostly because I’m temperamentally disinclined to sudden, high-risk changes. I’m a Richard Conlin rather than a Mike McGinn kind of guy: slow and steady wins the race.

    Take street parking, for example. In theory I like the “price to 85% utilization” idea, but customers are frequently irrational when things they’re accustomed to being free or heavily subsidized suddenly cost even a small amount more. What if a significant percentage of our downtown retail customers clear off to Bellevue in a fit of pique?

    I’m agree entirely on the DBT, it’s a horrifying waste of money, but I wasn’t in Seattle six months ago so it wasn’t really my fight.

    I’m not sure I agree about simply taking MLK way though. It’s a significant externality foisted on the neighborhood if they lose a main drag and all the people that can’t take the train (of which there will be plenty for years to come) start driving down side streets instead. People were unhappy enough with the disruption of LR going through Ranier Valley as it was (judging from my reading of old news articles.)

    My hope is that by taking it slowly at first and by putting in usable but not car-unfriendly transit infrastructure (like Link) and proving its value and usability, we can ramp up and start making more radical changes. Culture takes years — decades, perhaps — to change, and this is ultimately a paradigmatic and cultural change we’re trying to effect.

    1. And before I get flamed for my support of Conlin, I know he signed the EIS for the DBT etc. My point there was mostly about temperament and the ineffectuality of being a McGinn-style gadfly.

      1. If the swarm of gadflies grows large enough they will take notice. The people of Seattle voted for McGinn and I think they knew what they were getting. It unfortunate that the Mayor is “relegated” to fighting seemingly Quixotic fights with no one to back him up. Quite frankly, if the people that care so much about these decisions had some more backbone to take on the establishment, Conlin and his allies, would be far less cocky and arrogant and we’d probably have better outcomes.

      2. Take street parking, for example. In theory I like the “price to 85% utilization” idea, but customers are frequently irrational when things they’re accustomed to being free or heavily subsidized suddenly cost even a small amount more. What if a significant percentage of our downtown retail customers clear off to Bellevue in a fit of pique?

        Unfortunately your argument is believed by too many politicians. When I drive downtown, the one thing I can count on is not being able to find any on-street parking. If I have a quick errand where I would happily pay $2 for 30 minutes at a meter, I’d have to spend 20 minues circling to find one.

        Underpricing on-street parking makes it unavailable, so if I want easy parking U-Village or Bell Square are easier than downtown under current policies.

    2. “What if a significant percentage of our downtown retail customers clear off to Bellevue in a fit of pique?”

      Not sure I buy into this argument. Seattle may increase disincentives to shop by raising parking prices but Bellevue already has a significant traffic disincentive that will only get worse. (And remember that I live over here.) That said, I’m much more a “turn up the temperature” slowly kind of guy, lest the frog jump out of the pot.

      1. Why do you think Restoration Hardware is pulling out of Westlake but staying in U Village? More examples exist but this will be a highly visible one. As for Bellevue, while traffic is an issue parking is free and the streets are safe and clean.

      2. Why do you think Restoration Hardware is pulling out of Westlake but staying in U Village?

        Maybe it’s because people can’t find (desired) parking at all, rather than because it’s too expensive. I’ve met many people who prefer to circle the block for 10 minutes than to park in a garage, not because of money, but because parking in front of the store feels more “efficient”.

        As Velo said, raising rates will cause higher turnover, which means that, as a rule, every city block will always have one open space (if you’re willing to pay). For shoppers who strongly prefer street parking, higher rates will dramatically increase parking availability.

        And again, by definition, there’s no way than an 85% utilization target could completely destroy downtown. If prices rose to a level where no one parked downtown, then utilization would be way below 85%, and prices would drop back down. I suppose you could make the argument that we’re on a cliff, and that raising prices by a quarter would cause utilization to drop to 50%, but does anyone seriously believe that?

      3. Restoration Hardware has a store in the North and Clybourne neighborhood of Chicago that has a whole collection of upscale stores but a dearth of parking. A few stores such as “the Container Store” or “Best Buy” have private garages or lots. But a large percentage of people to this area arrive by public transit. The Red Line stop here has had an interesting transformation thanks to a $3 million dollar fee paid by Apple to renovate the station which is directly adjacent to its shiny new Apple Store for which a huge numbers of people are all too happy to visit versus the wildly overcrowded Michigan Avenue store – again where most people arrive on foot.

      4. ““What if a significant percentage of our downtown retail customers clear off to Bellevue in a fit of pique?”

        Hasn’t everybody who was going to do this, done so already? We always here about the people who whine about parking, but never about the people who shop downtown because it’s convenient to transit and walking/biking.

      5. I’ll chime in anecdotally: I shop downtown because it is easy for me to arrive via transit. I live a few blocks from the Beacon Hill LINK station, making the trip really easy. I see movies downtown almost exclusively – I can’t remember the last time I saw one somewhere else, aside from independent films at theaters in capitol hill.

    3. What if a significant percentage of our downtown retail customers clear off to Bellevue in a fit of pique?

      The idea of setting the rate to ~85% is that you increase the number of customers because the emphasis is on turnover rather than long term meter feeders. Currently the system encourages people working DT to hop down and feed the meter throughout the day rather than allow shoppers the access. Market pricing won’t deter shoppers so much because it’s a small “one time” charge; not an all day everyday increase. Office workers will either pay the rate at a commercial lot or switch to transit. My bet’s on transit. And don’t worry about Bellevue, “Nobody goes there anymore; it’s too crowded.”

      1. Having spent the past 15 years in Chicagoland, I can tell you that unless Seattle makes some serious decisions about transit, it is in for a rather unpleasant future based on the car. Imagine the gridlock Seattle area receives just during rush hours to happen for most of the day on weekends. In Chicago, people are out driving their cars and the roads can’t handle them all.

        But, now, you’ll pay for parking on the street up until 9pm in some places. Neighborhood parking is a roulette of when will the city post no-parking signs and will you have noticed in time to avoid a $124 ticket or getting your car booted or towed. Parking in the downtown area in a private garage is like $25-45/day or more. Parking in the city owned garages (but privately run) is also very expensive.

        So, even if you live in an outlying area of Chicago city proper, just driving to a super market can be a stressful experience. But its even bad if you want to drive to one of the suburbs because often the freeways are packed all hours of the day and night.

        This is all in a city that started with trains and street cars and built its buildings based on that infrastructure. The cars came later and the suburbs which were built around town squares and rail stations have given way to urban sprawl and non-walk-ability. Where transit serves 2.7 million people a day which is less than 1/3 of the total regional populace.

        When car ownership gets so expensive and so stressful, people will begin to choose transit even if it might take a bit more time. Arriving at your destination in a non-stressed condition is a better outcome. But for that to happen in Seattle, more frequent service, and reliable connections need to be secured in urban routes.

    4. What if a significant percentage of our downtown retail customers clear off to Bellevue in a fit of pique?

      If that happens, then we’ll be at below 85% utilization, and we’ll lower prices. :)

      1. but I bet you once people have left they won’t come back unless a serious disincentive arises with their new choice. Driving cars is often less rational when it comes to economics.

    5. I’ve noticed that if a road has one driving lane in each direction and one parking lane in each direction, with some turn lanes at key intersections, it’s often pretty close to optimal. The added “benefit” of a second driving lane in either direction is questionable, especially since the studies I’ve read say that the road becomes *much more dangerous* to pedestrians.

  3. “Most people make their mode decision, quite reasonably, on what’s easiest and cheapest for them, rather than any externalities they produce by driving.”

    You are right about externalities but I disagree strongly with most people choosing the “cheapest” mode. For most transportation needs the personal automobile is the most expensive mode of transport available. People choose it because our society has been built around it so other modes are usually slower. In addition, other modes suffer from the image of being more dangerous, more exposed to the elements, and of a lower status – The “looser cruiser” argument.

    1. I really think a lot of it is the irrationality of how people evaluate costs. Back when I lived in Phoenix and drove a 15 mpg SUV, I knew it cost money to drive somewhere but the pain of seeing $50 at the pump and the act of driving were disconnected; when you ride the bus you take the $2.25 hit up front every time.

      An eye-opener for me was the “vs $X.XX driving” in Google Maps. If bet if drivers could somehow be apprised of the cost differential for each trip they made, some would start taking transit.

    2. @ Velo I agree and disagree. People do generally make rational choices, but only to a limit. Where it breaks down is when people act in a heuristic way (experience based behavior, ie habit) or when people have imprecise information. Both of these cases apply to transit. For a most people taking transit just isn’t practical, so the default behavior is to drive, even if transit is cheaper and possibly faster.

      Same thing with imprecise information. Can you tell me how much your last car trip cost including gas, insurance, and the amortization cost of your car and maintenance? I certainly can’t yet every single time you get on transit you know the exact cost of the trip. Paying for parking and tolls are the only instantaneous price feedback drivers get and we all know how people respond to those.

      1. “I certainly can’t yet every single time you get on transit you know the exact cost of the trip.”

        No, you don’t. You only know what it cost YOU. You have no idea what the actual cost of providing that service is, the vast majority of which is paid by someone else, not you.

      2. “You have no idea what the actual cost of providing that service is, the vast majority of which is paid by someone else, not you.”

        Exactly how much does it cost to provide the roads to drive from Beaux Arts to the downtown bases at 6th ave S and S Royal Brougham? I’m traveling over roads maintained by the city of Beaux Arts, city of Bellevue, WSDOT (I-90), and the city of Seattle?

        Like Adam, I barely have a grasp on how much it costs me to drive my car on a per-mile basis, let alone how much all of those roads cost. Good luck untying that Gordian knot of budgets.

      3. You can’t know the exact cost of driving because there are far too many fixed costs that you need to allocat in some fashion.

        Withour even considering the cost of building & maintaining roads, drilling for oil, managing runoff, and creating air pollution, here are some of the costs that it is almost impossible for an ordinary driver to allocate reasonably:

        Cost of auto insurance – generally a fixed annual cost per car

        Cost of auto & tire maintenance – paid in lump sums, some time-based, much in fact distance-based, but who really knows the cost/mile of replacing tires or lamps or fluids or brakes.

        There is also a time cost to doing the maintenance.

        Implicit cost of traffic citations, accidents, and other damage – enforcement of traffic laws is infrequent and subjective enough that even if you are an excellent driver and obey laws, you still have a chance of getting a citation every time you drive, and if you get distracted or are less than excellent, you may get pulled over, and the chance of getting a ticket can depend on the mood of the officer or where they are in their quota. Similarly, I’ve been at a dead stop and been run into, and even if someone else will pay for the damage, I have to deal with getting it fixed.

        Yet, having said all the above, when I consider the cost of driving on any given trip, the only costs I think think about are the fuel cost, parking cost and tolls – because the other costs are either sunk/fixed, or I can’t quantify them – or like pollution or roads, I don’t really bear them, at least not directly.

        This results in many people treating driving as being much cheaper than it really is – either to them personally or to greater society – especially when some of those costs like drilling for oil or air pollution or runoff or building roads – do have to be paid eventually. The easiest way to send market price signals both to drivers and to developers about the true cost of driving would be to increase the gas tax. Why are we so unable to have constructive discussion of that in the political arena?

      4. Carl, that was a rhetorical question aimed at Norman. That said, nice try at untying the knot. you=preacher, me=choir. :)

        FWIW: I’m part of a trial of mileage based auto insurance. For now the variable cost is about $.01 per mile. Not much of a “stick” to use transit instead of driving my car. I’ve been told that more of the fixed costs will be moved to the per-mile side of the ledger in the future. I’m really looking forward to that.

      5. The cost of driving a car includes a multitude of taxes, especially in Seattle: gas tax, both federal and state; license fees; MVET; and state and local sales taxes on all your maintenance and repairs. For example, when you pay $30, or whatever for an oil change, almost 10% of that is sales tax, which goes to state and local general funds. When you pay $400, or whatever for new tires, almost 10% of that is sales tax, which goes to state and local general funds. All of these various taxes and fees on all motor vehicles (including trucks) easily add up to the total spent on federal, state and local roads.

        So, if I know how much I spend per year on license fees, MVET, gas, maintenance and repairs — and I can easily add that up — then I know how much the total cost of my driving is, including the cost of my share of all the roads I travel, which is paid out of all the various taxes and fees I pay as part of the cost of operating my car.

      6. @Norman – disagree on two points

        First, sales tax is general revenue used to fund our government – whether it is Dept of Corrections or Ecology or social services. When I buy a 6-pack of beer, I pay sales tax and all kinds of other taxes and don’t expect it to be applied only to alcohol. Similarly if I buy a pair of pants it has sales tax. No way should car-related sales taxes be any different, they are funding our general government, not just roads.

        Second, no, I don’t think it is easy to keep track of all the expenses related to owning a car and figure out what is the real cost per mile to drive it. The expenses come at all kinds of random times and bear only a loose relationship to the amount of driving. Subconsciously most drivers discount or forget many of the costs, and only think of the short-term out of pocket cost – gas, parking, tolls – and ignore the many other costs of driving their cars.

        To take but one example – I am astounded at the acres of parking provided at our public schools. I’m sure that’s paid for out of our property taxes, but rightfully it’s yet another cost of driving.

      7. Norman, you’ve been around long enough to have read all the evidence that driving is subsidized: for starters, the sales tax exemption for gasoline. You have been repeatedly corrected on this point, so stop being intellectually dishonest.

      8. Actually, Martin, I have been continually correcting posters on this site about the false claims of subsidies for roads.

        If the “cost of driving” includes all costs of repairs, maintenance, gas, etc., these all include taxes, both gas tax and sales tax. These are part of the “cost of driving.” These taxes and fees generate more than the amount of tax dollars spent on roads.

        You can’t have it both ways: if those taxes and fees are part of the “cost of driving”, then they count as money paid by motorists towards roads.

      9. “These taxes and fees generate more than the amount of tax dollars spent on roads.”

        Prove it. You make that statement over and over again, but never supply any verifiable data to support your claim.

        The amount of sales taxes and fees I pay to the government more than covers the cost of my transit use, so by your reasoning transit isn’t subsidized either.

        Your argument hinges on the postulate that auto owners pay more sales tax than non auto owners and therefore generate additional tax revenue, but this simply isn’t true. People have a fixed amount of disposable income and will spend it regardless of whether it’s on a car or some other widget. The state makes the same amount of money whether you spend $1000 on a new TV or $1000 fixing your car.

        It’s a stupid argument anyways, everything the government does is paid for by taxpayers, i.e. subsidized. It’s just your personal opinion that subsidies for roads are ok and subsidies for transit aren’t, so you try to come up with all sorts of convoluted arguments to “prove” that roads aren’t subsidized to try to justify your personal opinion.

      10. Yes, that exact same argument can be applied to driving, Norman. How much did you pay to pave the roads, plow them, salt them, provide traffic police, keep traffic lights operating, etc.? You have no idea, do you?

      11. “These taxes and fees generate more than the amount of tax dollars spent on roads.”

        In fact, there’s a dozen studies showing that this is an outright lie. Try Texas DOT, Wisconsin DOT, etc.

      12. Norman, despite repeated requests, I don’t believe that you have ever once provided any sort of citation for your claim that roads are paid for entirely via “user fees”, such as the gas tax and tolls. Please provide this citation. I would be very interested to read it.

        Linking to the WSDOT budget is not nearly sufficient. There are many, many agencies which spend money on roads, and only the WSDOT recoups any of that money via gas tax. I want to see an actual study.

    3. Velo, in practice people that already own cars face low marginal costs to use it. It takes a pretty big shift in perception to abandon the car altogether.

  4. I’m confused. When I commented on this blog that Central Link won’t take any cars off the road, some here said it didn’t matter. That that is not the point of light rail. “Let those people sit in traffic!” one person I just made up said. But now it seems like, well, yeah, you do want to get people out of their cars. So that’s what I’m confused about. Which is it? Is it important to get people out of their cars or not?

    1. Sam the world isn’t black and white as you seem to want it to be. Any responsible answer almost always start with “it depends”. Give up the gotcha comments.

    2. I can’t speak for those “Let those people sit in traffic!” comments – If I ever made a comment like that, I was joking.

      I’ve lived in the Seattle area my entire life (I’m 43) and have watched the region pour money into roads, roads, and more roads. Traffic congestion and your ability to get around, during rush hour, is worse today than it was when I was a teenager. (One example is the 405/520 interchange. WSDOT is pouring another $300 Million into that interchange for the “Bellevue braids” project. I swear that interchange has been under construction for almost my entire life, save for a few 2-3 year pauses.).

      Given that worldview I want more options than driving a car. I’d be fine with a comprehensive HOV 3+ system with dedicated on/off ramps available to anyone willing to pile 3 or more people into a car, join a vanpool, or use the bus. Sadly, I’ve never heard support for such an idea from the pro-roads/buses are better than rail folks.

      Rail advocates have succeeded in getting funding for rail and, long-term, the system they are building will not get stuck in traffic. Casting that whole bus vs. rail debate aside, either system may not pull any cars off the road but will give people more choices. As the economy recovers, folks with options can choose whether they get stuck in traffic. Today, your choices are pretty much get stuck driving in traffic or get stuck on a bus in traffic. Given those choices, the buses or trains will do just fine.

      1. Sam says: I’m confused.

        Maybe you are, but it seems you’re more trying to confuse things. As Morgan Wick pointed out, it’s the old issue of induce demand. Of course everybody that actually engages in debate on this blog knows that so no reason to explain it to the confused.

      2. Exactly correct, Morgan. With an expanding population, this is to be expected.

        If you were in a region with a declining population, rail might actually take cars off the road and have them *not* replaced.

  5. “Most people make their mode decision, quite reasonably, on what’s easiest and cheapest for them, rather than any externalities they produce by driving. If driving and parking is cheap and uncongested, it will always be more convenient than taking transit and transit will lose, which is bad news for all those externalities.”

    Comments like these just amaze me. What is the ACTUAL cost of moving people on Link light rail, for example? The operating cost alone is now around $6.50 per boarding. What do people actually pay? Well under $2.00 per boarding. So, how many people would use transit if they had to pay just the true OPERATING COST of their trips?

    Now, if you add in the capital cost, you get numbers like $15 to $20 per boarding for Link trips, or something along those lines. Would anyone pay $!5 to $20 per one–way trip on Link? Maybe some people between downtown and the airport. I can’t imagine anyone else paying that much.

    Why are you opposed to people having a “cheap and convenient” way to travel? lol This is just stupid to me, that anyone would be opposed to the public having a “cheap and convenient” way of getting around. Yet, you spend billions of tax dollars to subsidize transit to make it “cheaper” than it really is, and it’s still not close to being as convenient as driving. What a waste.

    1. “Why are you opposed to people having a “cheap and convenient” way to travel?”

      Because, as I already commented, a personal automobile, and the infrastructure to support it’s use, is neither “cheap” nor “convenient” when traffic is heavy.

      If you are serious about improving convenience, reducing costs, and being truly conservative, let’s talk seriously about my HOV 3+ system idea. (Either that or congestion pricing the entire freeway system to the point that traffic flows at 45mph during rush hours)

      1. “Autos are cheap and convenient compared to transit in our area”

        Would you agree that for some trips bicycles are even less expensive and as convenient with the added benefit of providing the traveler some moderate exercise?

      2. Autos are cheap and convenient compared to transit in our area.

        The reason that autos appear cheap is because there are enormous embedded subsidies for the use of autos. We don’t come any where near paying the true full cost of auto usage. Developers are forced to build massive amounts of parking to get building permits. Most local roads are paid for out of property taxes, as are the police who spend 90% of their time on traffic. We pay to manage runoff through property taxes. We pay the costs of air pollution through higher healthcare costs. We fight wars and clean up oceans and pipeline leaks and explosions to have sufficient supplies of gasoline. We bail out auto-makers and auto-lenders, and provide tax credits for buying cars. Huge amounts of our infrastructure and government expenditures are around providing for the automobile ecosystem.

        So just like the transit fare is only a fraction of the cost, so too is the marginal operating cost of a car only a fraction of its true cost.

      3. Carl, that is just nonsense. Refer to my prior post. Motorists pay a multitude of taxes and fees which easily cover the total cost of all the roads they use.

        The parking is paid for by the people who buy the homes with the parking. Parking downtown is more than paid for by parking fees, fines, and taxes.

        It is transit that is insanely highly tax subsidized in our area. One trip on Link actually costs around $18, but the rider pays less than $2.

        The average auto is more energy-efficient than the average light rail car.

        You just repeat the “company line”, which is utter nonsens.

      4. Fees and taxes paid by motorists don’t come close to covering all the costs of roads, parking, supplying gas, enforcement, accidents, medical care, pollution.

        Housing and offices are made more expensive by parking requirements. Just let the free market decide how much to provide – it would provide less parking than zoning requirements force.

        Energy efficiency is dependent on occupancy of the vehicle. A loaded light rail train is significantly more energy efficient than the typical auto which has 1.2 riders.

        I don’t have a company, my opinions are my own.

      5. “You just repeat the “company line”, which is utter nonsens.”

        You’re one to talk. You’re the one who’s so fearful of transit advocates that you feel compelled to hang out on transit blogs every day and defend the multi-trillion dollar auto and petroleum industries.

      6. By the way “The former president of Shell Oil, John Hofmeister, says Americans could be paying $5 for a gallon of gasoline by 2012.”

        http://money.cnn.com/2010/12/27/markets/oil_commodities/index.htm?hpt=T2

        Whether it is 2012 or 2015, as Chinese and Indians buy more cars and drive more, demand is growing and supply isn’t. Driving is going to get more expensive over time, and it is sensible that our transportation investments be made in such a way as to provide sufficient transportation value even if the cost of driving individual cars increases dramatically.

    2. The capital cost of Link and highways is totally irrelevant to the self-interested mode choices that people make.

      Norman, I’m opposed to cheap and convenient travel when it requires massive subsidy and also incurs massive negative externalities. Of course, you’re also opposed to cheap and convenient travel unless each person brings two tons of steel, pollutes our waterways, and hands money to people trying to kill us.

      1. Well then, you should be opposed to transit, which requires massive subsidy and also includes negative externalities.

        In the Puget Sound area, about 55% of all public transportation money is spent on transit, and only 45% is spent on roads. Yet, 90% of all trips are taken in motor vehicles, and 10% on transit. And of the 10% of all trips taken on transit, the vast majority are on buses whichf use ROADS. So, about 99% of all trips in our area use roads, yet transit gets 55% of the public money spent on transportation.

        What is getting “massive subsidies”? roads or transit?

      2. “In the Puget Sound area, about 55% of all public transportation money is spent on transit, and only 45% is spent on roads.”

        Clarify this, please.

      3. Never mind, I see you duplicated this comment below, with a subsequent reply, under your reply to Jason’s One-Two.

      4. What is getting “massive subsidies”? roads or transit?

        Both.

        I don’t think you understand what “externalities” are.

      5. Of course, I know what externalities are:

        They are the massive amount of greenhouse gases emitted from buildin U-Link, for example, which most posters here refuse to even recognize, and certainly refuse to quantify;

        They are the pollution from diesel fuel used by Sounder trains, for example;

        They are the lowered property values from having Link trains running overhead right next to your home;

        They are the delays caused to traffic crossing or turning left from MLK Jr Way caused by Link trains in each direction every 7.5 minutes during peak hours.

        Stuff like that, right, Martin?

      6. They are the lowered property values from having Link trains running overhead right next to your home

        The Effect of Rail Transit on Property Values: A Summary of Studies

        This lists dozens of studies that evaluated rail’s effect on property values. The vast majority of them found a significant increase in property value with proximity to rail. Only two found any decrease in value from being near the line, and in one case, it was a freight line (which is obviously much less useful than a passenger rail line).

        When you make outlandish claims like the above, which are so easily refuted, forgive us if we have a hard time believing the rest of your (uncited) arguments.

  6. I’m fine with removing car capacity if it is replaced by the same or more transit capacity. So taking up a lane or two with light rail to Ballard or West Seattle is fine by me, but simply reducing capacity to make driving more difficult is something I am not a fan of. Same with street cars. By all means inconvenience cars for those.

    If you are going to take away or make more difficult a method of travel you need to provide a solid alternative otherwise you just frustrate and annoy people. Metro is not even close to that for most people who don’t live on one of the few high frequency routes.

    I guess its a carrot stick approach.

    As for the Tunnel, most of that 1.2b non gas tax money would not be available for transit anyways. Federal highway funds, toll revenue, Port money(transit doesn’t move freight). At best you’d get the non-state gas tax money and the local pittance, but I’d say thats a long shot.

    1. My $1.2 billion figure excludes tolls and federal highway money. $300m is from the port, but the other $800m or so is straight from the City of Seattle.

      1. But a good chunk of that money is for the seawall, which has to be replaced regardless, Mercer and the Spokane Viaduct which are part of the bridging the gap levy, and putting park stuff on the waterfront, which is needed no matter what we do.

        The money from Seattle Light and Public Utility would not be available for transit regardless.

        At best you could reallocate some Levy money, but you’re only really talking a few hundred million at best.

      2. Yeah, I’d love to see a breakdown of what the non-gas-tax money is and where it’s programmed to go under the current DBT plan. Even a small amount would be valuable if it could be used on transit.

        However I think you discount the real concern about where the money will go otherwise. Will the state’s $2.4 billion in gas tax money create more car capacity if used to build the tunnel or if it is used to build the SR 509 expansion, the cross-base highway, and the north-south freeway in Spokane?

  7. Does anybody remember the debate over the 3rd runway at Sea-Tac? For the cost of that runway, we could have built a large part of the 110 mph passenger rail system between Portland and Vancouver BC. This isn’t the first time we’ve been down this road (or runway).

    The “war on cars” idea is something of a misplaced argument. It won’t be cheap or easy to build new roads to the places people want to go. Check out the cost of the new floating bridge across Lake Washington or the cost of the DBT. Roads are very, very expensive to build. In the extremist arguments over transportation funding, the bridge and the tunnel are seen as necessary expenditures, but LINK is seen as a frivolous extravagance. I can drive to work in about 20-25 minutes using the Viaduct, but the LINK/bus alternative takes over 60 minutes and requires a transfer downtown. Would I like to see better mass transit that reduces the time needed to get to work or would I prefer to see tax dollars spent on better roads that benefit my commute? That’s what it comes down to.

  8. “In the viaduct replacement a total of $1.2 billion of non-gas-tax, non-toll money is being spent, not a dime of it on transit.”

    This is really sad. Hard to know what your point is, Martin. Why don’t you explain it to us?

    $274 million of that is for the seawall. You think gas taxes should pay for the seawall?

    For the Mercer Street projects, funding sources include a license fee, and commercial parking tax — paid by motorists.

    The Central waterfront public spaces and public utilities relocation total $371 million. You think gas taxes should pay for those things?

    1. Norman,

      Well once upon a time the seawall was such an integral part of the replacement project it was rolled into the same line item as the roadway.

      If SR99 is coming down and to be replaced with a surface highway in the same place, then yes they should pay utility costs, just as ST had to for MLK.

      1. In reality, the viaduct saved the utitlies money, because they just hung a lot of power lines on the viaduct, which lines now have to be moved. What does that have to do with roads?

        The seawall is independent of the deep bored tunnel. Even if there were no road near the waterfront, the seawall would still have to be replace, wouldn’t it?

      2. Red herring argument. What about the other, oh, $605 billion of non-gas-tax, non-toll money being spent on a wasteful automobile tunnel?

      3. The seawall is a necessary component of every widely debated option for replacing/repairing the AWV except for the deep-bore tunnel option. For surface, cut+cover tunnel, and elevated rebuild the seawall can be paid for with gas tax money as it is required to build a stable and safe roadway.

  9. •Emphasis on car access makes transit either worse or vastly more expensive than it needs to be.

    The new 520 bridge is also an example of that. While the new HOV lanes are great, removing the function provided by the existing Montlake Freeway station will both increase operating costs, and reduce the service provided. The freeway station facility exists today, and in this $4 billion project it was not made a priority to retain this existing, well-functioning, and well-used facility.

    The bridge is being built with a car focus. Transit users and operators will regret it when it is gone.

  10. Martin

    Your dislike, almost hatred, of the DBT project, is the main reason why I have become somewhat disenchanted with the goals of this blog since Mayor Nickels got chucked out of Seattle in 2009 and the City became largely rudderless under McGinn in the year since. I am saddened that you and I have parted company on lots of important goals for our region, not that I am anyone important as I am not, but there was a time when I would have followed your leadership anywhere but I cannot jump over a cliff to follow irrational ideas based on a fervor for things or ideas that are not practical or which hold Seattle back from its future.

    As I see it, there is NOTHING intrinsically wrong with the DBT that time will not be able to correct in the long term. If cars go away, then I am sure it could be retrofitted for light rail and yes, the future for our region still has to be sensible mass transit and at various times I have hoped for it sooner rather than later but as the debacle of the Monorail project showed, it takes too long and too much effort sometimes to get the easiest or best ideas through in Seattle. We argue and debate and vote too much and when you have a situation as we do now when the City (except now for the mayor), the State and the County all agree on a solution to a well known problem, then we should embrace it more than fight it. It doesn’t happen that often in Seattle.

    The DBT is also an exciting project for Seattle and it does include new sea walls and a new waterfront as well as a tunnel that will hopefully be an engineering marvel for the City and one that will attract engineering symposiums here for years to come. It will also massively help with the construction employment decline and greatly improve the aesthetics of the waterfront.

    To a large extent the future has to be seen not as a clash between cars and mass transit, including trains, buses and bikes, but as a progressive integration of all forms of transit – including those same roads, trains, buses and even bicycles. To argue for light rail and other transit fangled arrangements along the line of the existing viaduct places a solution way too far into the future and not enough in the present given existing planning and thinking. Also, you cannot move freight on buses and the proposed tunnel is in part a solution to the freight mess on the waterfront and in part a solution to moving cars from south of Seattle to north of Seattle (or vice-versa) in the most efficient way possible. McGinn’s silly idea of a 28 stop light roadway achieves neither the efficient movement of freight nor the swift movement of cars. If indeed he had his way, all freight would move on bicycles but this would essentially be a luddite solution to our difficulties.

    As for trains, I love Light Rail and think it is great as a way of integrating communities wherever it goes, but we do have to admit that the reliability of existing Light Rail is a huge problem. Most trains I have been on have unaccountably stopped and progress has been often Amtrakised if I can use such a word. We sadly do not have an efficient, fast and a reliable trains network, and, as I found the other week when taking my parents to SeaTac, walking from the station to the international flight desks at the other end of the terminal is EXHAUSTING! We should have two Link stops at SeaTac and no way around that I am afraid. Only Alaska Airlines truly benefits from the existing terminus of Light Rail and so as you have quickly moved towards the dump cars now side of the debate, I guess, I have gone the other way and noticed more the flaws of what I used to hold dear.

    Not that I want to stop any of our rail projects, but realism does suggest that they have not all worked quite as well as hoped. Yet my imagination always ends up correcting my realism and I still do strongly believe in all of our rail projects and I would be the first to jump on the idea of more ferry routes too as a solution to cross Sound travel. But I do also think that elegant bridges, roadways and tunnels can add an integration element to getting around our community. Even Portland I noticed the other day when on the Coast Starlight is still building road bridges as if it didn’t have enough of them already.

    You and I just don’t get each other’s arguments I am guessing, but the good news for both of us, is that neither of us is alone in our conclusions and I am sure the debate will continue beyond even the time when the State hopefully signs the papers with the winning tunnel bidder in January.

    1. I am not Martin, and I’ve never discussed the DBT with him, but I have to say that the DBT is probably the most irrational and economically inefficient project that I have seen in Seattle in the past 20 years.

      The supporters for the DBT are some combination of people who want to see the AWV come down (I agree with that goal) but have been brainwashed into thinking that the only way we can take it down is to build the DBT, plus property owners whose property will skyrocket in value if the view obstruction is removed, plus construction interests who believe they can profit from building it.

      The two feel-good arguments that keep getting cited are to take down the ugly viaduct, and “for freight mobility”, plus creating jobs in a recession.

      (1) I agree – let’s take down the ugly viaducty.
      (2) The DBT does absolutely nothing for freight mobility
      (3) There are more efficient and useful ways to invest in infrastructure and create jobs

      The project has fundamental flaws which no one seems to serious consider. Well over half of the users of the existing viaduct use it to acess the downtown Seattle core/Interbay/Magnolia, or leave Seattle – either via the Western Ave ramps, or Seneca/Marion ramps. The DBT won’t serve these users.

      The tunnel is to be partially funded by tolls, but every study shows that even low tolls will cause the majority of remaining tunnel users to choose alternate routes – which demonstrates how little value the tunnel really has.

      The full project is $4 billion, of which the DBT tunnel is about $2 billion. The rest of the project includes the southern approach, seawall reconstruction, AWV removal, etc. Why don’t we spend the $2 billion, which creates all the West Seattle access and fixes the seawall, but invest the second $2 billion in a more useful way, which is probably I-5 improvements through Seattle plus transit infrastructure.

      The DBT cannot be converted to light rail in any useful fasion. It wouldn’t have any stations between Mercer and the stadium area. I don’t think you can pierce its shell to add stations without threatening its structural integrity and it is way too deep for most of its run.

      My argument isn’t based on harming cars, but on the irrationality of spending $2 billion a tunnel that will get few users who don’t value it very much. It’s just not an effective corridor for the price, and it will preclude more useful investments for years while we have dedicated all kinds of revenue streams to pay off bonds.

      1. Carl

        “most irrational and economically inefficient project that I have seen in Seattle in the past 20 years”

        I disagree with how you come to this conclusion – how is the tunnel inefficient? It costs as much as two weeks fighting in Irag once cost. It is not really a large sum in the general scheme of things and hopefully with Senator Murray re-elected, she can bring back some federal earmarks. If you built Light Rail in the corridor for the same price, it wouldn’t move freight so how would that be an efficient response to the problem?

        Also, why should WSDOT pour its funds into improving transit in Seattle at the expense of its larger goal of moving freight and people across the State as a whole?

      2. Hurrah Carl! You have eloquently and elegantly summarized why some of us will keep fighting the tunnel, no matter how often we hear that we should just accept the will of the Governor, WSDOT, state legislature, City Council and a plurality of our fellow citizens and let the dratted thing be built. It’s too much money and too important a corridor to give up now.

      3. @Tim — You could argue that a project that significantly reduced car use, particularly between West Seattle and Downtown, could improve freight mobility through Seattle AND greatly improve the transport options of West Seattle residents. The tunnel does at most one of those things.

        And comparing the cost of any public project to the Iraq war just makes me nauseous.

      4. @Tim I would gladly spend money wasted in Iraq to improve transport in Seattle, but I don’t think that’s possible. I am saying that if we allocate the funding sources that are to be used for the DBT to the DBT they won’t be available for anything else.

        I haven’t said to build light rail instead (though I might think it would be a good idea) nor that it moves freight. But the EIS itself says that 97% of the freight traffic coming from the Port of Seattle and East Marginal/Duwamish industrial areas moves via I-5 and I-90, and doesn’t use AWV, and that of the freight traffic that uses AWV, the majority of it is destined to Interbay and Ballard, and will not use the DBT. So the DBT doesn’t have anything to do with freight mobility.

        My point is – there are far better ways to spend that $2+ billion. And there will be things we cannot do if all the revenue sources are dedicated to retiring the bonds for it for the next 20 or 30 years.

      5. The $2 billion we’re spending on the DBT would be a damn good start on light rail between SODO and the Alaska Junction.

    2. Tim can something really have “NOTHING” intrinsically wrong with it? That sounds pretty unrealistic to me.

      Also think it is pretty ridiculous if you think a transit blog is going to support a 2.4 billion dollar highway under downtown, especially one that has no transit component *at all*. That again sounds pretty unrealistic.

      You might support it and we might not, that is fine, but I think that is the exact reason Martin wrote this post.

      1. Adam, by its nature, ‘transit’ has to include roads otherwise it is an oxymoron.

        Look at it this way – the State is building a road to replace something terrible and dangerous. If you rebuild with a surface option or Light Rail, you change the function of the existing AWV which we do not need to do – just to make it more efficient.

        I suggest that you invite Richard Conlin to comment or even Greg Nickels as the STB has become way too extreme on the tunnel.

      2. They did an alternatives analysis, comparing a deep-bore tunnel, a shallow-bore tunnel, a viaduct rebuild, and a surface option. The analysis concluded that the deep-bore tunnel was the most expensive, and the least effective for practically all purposes…

        …and a tunnel actually got voted down by the voters.

        What’s to like? It’s a backroom deal which has nothing to recommend it technically. I can’t understand why anyone would support it. The shallow tunnel, with integrated seawall rebuild, at least made some kind of sense.

      3. @Nathanael: No one would confuse me with a tunnel supporter (I wasn’t around to vote on it, but I definitely would have voted it down), but I would still much prefer the DBT to a viaduct rebuild. The former is expensive and useless to Seattle, but the latter would be actively harmful to life and development along the waterfront for decades to come. So while I continue to argue against the tunnel, I will argue even more strongly against a rebuilt viaduct.

        @Tim: If it’s really so terrible and dangerous, then why haven’t we taken it down already? I know this isn’t an original argument, but I have a hard time taking any of the “disaster” scenarios seriously, for exactly that reason.

        And anyway, what’s wrong with changing the function of the existing AWV? Who says that its existing function is ideal? If anything, spending billions of dollars *without* reassessing how the infrastructure is used seems like the mistake.

    3. “If cars go away, then I am sure it could be retrofitted for light rail”

      Which light rail route would want to bypass downtown, which is the largest destination and transfer point?

      1. I’m going to show my ignorance here, but how deep is the DBT? I know that the London Underground has some deep-bore lines, which are only accessible via really long escalators and/or elevators.

        I don’t *want* to do this — I’d much rather we save the money and design a tunnel for transit under 1st/2nd Ave, say — but if we somehow end up with this tunnel, it’s at least a possibility.

      2. I don’t foresee the DBT being retrofitted for any sort of rail. The alignment itself isn’t really useful. The grades aren’t going to be built with rail in mind. Adding stations in the middle of the tunnel is likely to be so costly and complex that building a new tunnel for rail will prove more cost-effective.

    4. Two parts to my comment:

      One: Cars v. Transit I completely agree with you. Taking an extremist view against cars is just as bad as taking an extremist view against transit. I agree that we need more transit, but to fuel a war on cars is dangerous. Great transit alone will attract and encourage use.

      Look at Taipei, a once car-oriented city that has built a profitable, reliable, convenient MRT system, even in the face of a full-blown car infrastructure. Tokyo is another example where great transit is reducing vehicle miles driven. Vehicle ownership is dropping because people realize they don’t have to drive, rather than having others tell them that they shouldn’t.

      In addition, our overall infrastructure is poor enough as it is and there needs to be replacements and reconstruction of vehicle infrastructure.

      The best way to reduce miles driven is to improve the quality and attractiveness of transit, not to choke automobiles out of existence. Link was a first step in stepping up the quality of regional transportation, and like many of you are saying, the next short-term logical step would be to optimize the bus system to better complement Link, while the intermediate-term step would be to expand Link.

      Two: Cost

      Now, here is the question of how to improve transit when so much money is being spent on road infrastructure. My view on this is not that we are investing too much on roads. It’s that we are investing too little on transit. We have neglected our infrastructure, both road and transit, for decades and we are under-investing on overall infrastructure itself, period.

      We are at a point where the amount we invest on roadway maintenance is already barely enough to get us by, let alone widespread expansion. Most of our large projects are focused on maintaining current capacity and service levels, or to improve efficiency. Remember, the DBT is reducing the capacity of SR99. The SR520 bridge replacement is maintaining the same number of general purpose lanes. The direction that we are moving in is now focused less on expansion and more on maintenance. And trust me, WSDOT recognizes that roads aren’t the only answer. From their website: “We cannot build our way out of congestion.” The reason why Active Traffic Management is being added to I-5, SR520, and I-90, so we don’t have to add more lanes.

      With regards to financial resources, there has to be an increase in the gas tax along with a modification of the 18th amendment. It has to go up, and a significant portion of it has to go towards transit. We should be looking at ways to increase overall infrastructure investment, not just altering the percentage share between cars and transit. All modes of transportation are necessary, and like Tim said last year, should complement each other rather than confront.

      1. I agree with everything, but how are we supposed to get the public to buy in to tax increases? Voters just handily defeated a modest income tax and a small tax on horrible sugary beverages.

      2. Jason sez: “The best way to reduce miles driven is to improve the quality and attractiveness of transit, not to choke automobiles out of existence.”

        I agree with the gist of your comment, but I disagree with portion I’ve quoted above. The best way to reduce VMT is to reduce the need to travel long distances. If people choose to live close to their jobs and the services they use, they can reduce their need for both trnsit and auto travel. Encouraging compact, walkable, mixed-use development is a step toward that goal.

      3. “Now, here is the question of how to improve transit when so much money is being spent on road infrastructure.”

        In the Puget Sound region, about 55% of public transportation money is being spent on transit, and only about 45% on roads. But 90% of all trips are taken in motor vehicles, and only about 10% on transit. And, of the 10% of all trips taken on transit, the vast majority are on buses, which use roads. So, aroudn 99% of all trips in our area are taken on roads, which get only about 45% of the transportation dollars.

        How can you argue that “so much money is being spent on road infrastructure”? The problem is the billions being wasted on little trains, which carry almost nobody. That is the problem in our area.

      4. According to the King Co. Transportation Budget for 2010-2011:

        Amount budgeted for Transit: $1.209 BILLION (page 18 pdf)

        Amount budgeted for Roads: $197 Million (page 47).

        The King County transit budget does not include any of the Sound Transit transit budget. Even so, the amount of money King Co. budgeted for Transit was about 6 times the amount budgeted for roads. Yet, all the buses King County pays for have to have roads to be used.

      5. The King County DOT only covers roads in unincorporated King County, which is a very small portion of the county. And even though they are only responsible for a small fraction of the roads in King County they’ve still managed to rack up close to $1 billion in deferred maintenance and replacement costs, which they will probably have to cover by raising property taxes.

      6. “They” as in The King County DOT don’t get to raise property taxes. People can vote to raise their property taxes for a general roads fund or create a LID for a specific project. But, if people really want better roads (or police) they join an incorporated area that results in better services for less money. Well, not so sure about Seattle but it sure works that way in Bellevue. We own one property in unincorporated King County and one in the City of Bellevue. The Bellevue property is worth about 3X the value but taxes are only about 40% higher. The school districts (Northshore vs Bellevue are a wash). County roads, well they sort of suck but if your house is on a through street it’s sort of nice to have the “speed control”. Flooding… I’m still waiting for the flood district tax to provide ferry service across Bear Creek in the winter. Oh wait, that money got siphoned off for Metro :=

      7. Nice slight of hand. Transit is mainly funded locally and roads mainly at the state level, so you pick “the region” and ignore the man behind the curtain.

      8. What does Active Traffic Management mean? Is this the variable speed limits and tolls depending on congestion?

      9. Transit is mainly funded locally and roads mainly at the state level Absolutely wrong. The vast majoryity of roads are funded at the local level. Your property taxes pay to maintain the road in front on your property! Even when it comes to new freeway ramps it’s the local city that’s on the hook for most of it. On the 520 rebuild Bellevue has to foot the bill for all of the utility rework since it’s on a leased easement from the State. Transit is not funded just locally. ST has huge federal subsidies. Metro too receives capital grants from D.C. It’s true that Washington doesn’t do much at the state level to fund transit operations (other than the Ferry system and Amtrak which are largely intercounty). But public transit buses run on State and Interstate highways without having to pay the fuel tax. “State money” like the nickle a gallon projects are largely local money that’s being returned. Transit users don’t send money in the form of user fees back to Olympia. It would be a windfall for the small transit agencies around the State if that 1.8% sales tax from King County was given to the State to be divided up by the legislature.

      10. But, if people really want better roads (or police) they join an incorporated area that results in better services for less money. Well, not so sure about Seattle but it sure works that way in Bellevue. We own one property in unincorporated King County and one in the City of Bellevue. The Bellevue property is worth about 3X the value but taxes are only about 40% higher.

        Cities can levy a wider range of taxes, such as utility taxes, which spreads the costs around a bit more. Then there is the whole “economies of scale” thing – Police and Fire protection are more efficient to deliver within a city vs. the county. In the case of Bellevue, I’d guess that the presence of Hellevue Square, and it’s substantial retail base, has something to do with your lower property taxes.

        FWIW: Most of Beaux Arts’ road budget is paid for with real-estate excise taxes – The money collected each time a house is sold. This account is dedicated to capital improvement costs while sales tax and property tax can be used for operational as well as capital costs.

      11. Bruce,
        The voters of the Central Puget Sound region in general and King County and Seattle in particular have shown a willingness to increase taxes on themselves for certain types of investments. See ST2, Transit Now, and Bridging the Gap for examples.

        I suspect that in Central Puget Sound region we could get voters to approve more taxes for transit, however the problem is getting the legislature to grant more tax authority.

    5. I believe the DBT is being planned to be build with steep grades which will prevent it from ever being converted to productive rail use (at least without a great deal of additional tunnelling). Correct me if I’m wrong.

      It’s going to be a big waste if it’s built.

  11. So, what ~most of the Seattle City Council members fall back on is the “gas tax is reserved for roads as a matter of state constitution” position. How do we change the gas tax constitutionality issue without terrifying all the non-Seattle corridor communities?

    Central problem–the existing gas subsidy built into our political fabric. Fix that, and the investment in transit issues go away.

    Jeff Rubin, the former CIBC chief energy economist, predicts triple digit oil barrel costs by next spring. Again with the gas costs soaring–after we are apparently locked into the DBT, the stupidity of building the damn thing will be much clearer.

    http://www.jeffrubinssmallerworld.com/2010/12/22/eia%E2%80%99s-forecast-is-an-energy-fantasy-land/

    Will the legislators showing up at Liberty Bar on Thursday be willing to take that one on? And will there be more than two women showing up? Start the pool!

    1. I’m very on board with Jeff Rubin’s argument and it puzzles me that in an area where supposedly there is a consciousness towards ecology that we do not factor in peak oil and the total damage that our oil based economy is doing to our environment into our legislative decisions.

      It is very clear to me that we will see significant increases in the price of oil in the next several months and we should account for that in our medium and long term planning. On this basis alone, the DBT should be stopped cold where it lays.

      Already just in the past 3 weeks we’ve seen a 5+% rise in crude oil prices with its corollary $3+/gal gas. The pricing of oil has less to do with our consumption of it and more to do with the increase in demand everywhere else in the world and the fact that oil is denominated in US Dollars for trade everywhere but the dollar is presently in a devaluation cycle that will make oil more expensive for Americans as the currency declines.

      1. The area is conscious toward ecology on average, but that doesn’t mean 100% of the people make it a high priority. The people supporting the DBT don’t believe in peak oil, or rather they assume we’ll all have electric cars or solar cars anyway by the time it happens. I hear people talk about all the new reserves that have been discovered, plus the untapped oil in the Arctic, the underproducing fields in Iraq, and the shale in Alberta. “There’s no oil shortage after all,” they say. So a prerequisite to getting people to support energy-efficient projects is to convince them that peak oil is coming and is not a hoax. And to get the word out that the shale mining in Alberta is an environmental catastrophe, and doesn’t yield much energy over the amount required to extract it. Alberta is building two nuclear plants to provide energy for shale extraction. Uh, why not build the nuclear plants where people can use the electricity directly, and leave the shale in the ground?

        Some other trends are looking better. US driver-miles peaked around 2003 and have been falling since. Oil demand is also low because of the weak economy: a lot of oil goes to industrial uses that aren’t being done. That’s why the price is “only” $3.15 right now. So the planet is taking a breather while economies build back up. Of course, nothing can compensate for the half-billion Nano and equivalent cars that will be running in China and India over the next decade.

  12. Simple way to find the answer to who pays for roads: PRIVATIZE THEM.

    Get the government out of providing benefits to those who only feel entitled to them.

    1. Let’s privatize the rail systems. Privatize Link. How many people do you think would ride it at $18 per trip?

      1. We had privately-built, owned, and operated urban rail transit systems in Seattle. All the public transit in Seattle started out as a private business. Government took over while encouraging its competition, instead of investing money in improving the existing dominant system (rail), turning once profitable operations into money losers.

      2. Anyways, while a business’s objective is to make a profit, the objective of government is to serve its citizens. Transit can’t do both. That’s why it is and should be a government thing.

      3. I’m not arguing private vs public ownership, but making a point on the result of policy decisions made a long time ago. The city-owned Seattle Transit System made a net profit between 1939 and 1963 after which ridership and revenue dropped precipitously. By the time Metro took over ridership was at an all time low (30 million vs 2008’s 118 million). Metro invested in new buses, new service, and ridership increased, but the amount Metro invested was a drop in the bucket compared to the massive road & freeway projects and resulting land use that did more to hurt transit market share than help it. That’s the historical basis supporting Martin’s original points.

      4. The amount King County spends on Metro every year exceeds Health and Human Services and Law and Justice. It’s almost the combined total of the two. That’s hardly a drop in the bucket. Of our sales tax 6.5% goes to the State. The next biggest benefactor is Metro and Sound Transit at 1.8%. Well behind the 1.1% “left over” that goes to cities and the county for everything else. The State transportation taxes and fees are wide ranging. Think trucks aren’t paying their way? “Combined Licensing Fees” exceed ferry fares and start looking at all the other fees they pay in addition to tolls, ferry fares (take a trailer across on the ferry sometime) and of course fuel tax. It just doesn’t wash when you try to argue that transit is in it’s current poor state because of lack of public subsidy. Less total dollars yes, but as a percentage of subisidy public transit FAR exceeds any perceived general subsidy for roads. And I say perceived because everyone depends on roads whether or not they ever drive or even ride in a car. They’re hauling the dirt away from the U-Link tunnel on trucks, no?

      5. I’m talking about the long history of suburbanization that has been happening in the region that resulted from new highways and bridges built, with public money and encouraging public policies. Today’s subsidies to transit are the result.

      6. Let’s go for it.

        If everything was privatized, then everything should be paying for itself.

        The privately-owned railroads, might very well get back into the passenger hauling business.

        If you had to pay a private operator $14 per trip, PLUS having to supply your own transport vehicle just to get from Lynnwood to Renton, you’d be making different decisions.

      7. “Losing my subsidy”? lol What subsidy? With all the taxes and fees I pay to own and drive my car, the share of the roads I use are being paid for with the taxes and fees I pay.

        Are you afraid of losing the MVET car owners pay which goes to ST?

        Are you afraid of the sales tax everyone pays which goes to ST and Metro?

        Take off all the sales taxes, gas taxes, MVET, license fees, et. al. from motor vehicles and charge a toll on all roads, instead, and I will come out even.

        Stop giving taxes to ST and Metro, and how much are you going to have to pay to ride a bus or train? PLUS: make bus passengers pay the toll for the roads the buses use, too, to make it fair.

      8. “With all the taxes and fees I pay to own and drive my car, the share of the roads I use are being paid for with the taxes and fees I pay.”

        We focus on Norman’s opinion on this, but this perception is pervasive in the general public.

        By starting our road system using government intervention, with a wealth redistribution scheme (a tax on the middle class spent on projects not benefiting those taxpayers directly) we’ve created multiple generations of people who feel ENTITLED to unlimited paved highways, and an unfettered commute.

        “Take off all the sales taxes, gas taxes, MVET, license fees, et. al. from motor vehicles and charge a toll on all roads, instead, and I will come out even.”

        You think so, Norman?

        Okay Mr. Chadwick, let’s go for it!
        Flesh this out, at least in a basic sense.

        You do understand road financing don’t you?

        Every time I’ve challenged critics like you (and John Niles, too (concerning the BRT solution)), you divert the argument with just another anti-rail/transit retort.

        You Have NO PLAN.

        “Stop giving taxes to ST and Metro, and how much are you going to have to pay to ride a bus or train?”

        Are you suggesting paying NO Taxes? Not even the ones that the voting majority supported with a public vote?

        “PLUS: make bus passengers pay the toll for the roads the buses use, too, to make it fair.”

        Surprisingly, I agreed with the suggestion from the Washington Trucking Association representative when he requested of the I-405 Corridor Program staff to analyze this.

        If you were a ‘Road Owner’, how would you price your road?

      9. Bernie, due to axle loading, trucks provide, to a first approximation, ALL the damage to roads — standard models for road damage don’t even count cars — so yeah, even if they are paying huge fees, it isn’t enough for them to pay their share. (If they had six axles per truck… but I digress.)

        However, there’s an argument that trucks *should* be subsidized, as there is no other reasonable way to provide “last mile” delivery for a shipping container from the intermodal railroad terminal, and that delivery of goods provides a positive externality.

        There’s no rational argument for the subsidization of suburban living, however, which provides *negative* externalities for everyone else. Luckily said subsidization is likely to collapse due to unincorporated areas being unable to maintain their massive road budgets on their low property base. Unfortunately a side-effect will be hurt for actual rural areas (farms), which deserve a transportation subsidy….

  13. Best way to find out what roads cost, and who pays for what: PRIVATIZE THEM.

    Because there are people who feel they are entitled doesn’t mean we taxpayers are required to provide it for them. At least put it up four a public vote.

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