Dow Constantine (wikimedia)

[UPDATE: Some Constantine people emailed me to assert that the full transportation section of the speech provides much needed context, in contrast to the PubliCola excerpt. Indeed, Mr. Constantine goes on to hit very strongly pro-transit points in his talk.

I’m still unconvinced that the Surface/Transit/I-5 plan is a radical anti-road plan. Not spending huge amounts on the DBT frees up state money to work on the surface roadway and I-5, which in turn frees up city money to improve the transit. Nevertheless, a much longer excerpt of the speech is now below the jump, so you can decide for yourself.]

[UPDATE 2: I got this statement from Constantine’s office:

Our office is committed to fighting for funding for transit in downtown Seattle and throughout the county and fighting to add capacity to I-5 as part of the resurfacing project.

Our only point of disagreement is whether a tunnel or a six-lane surface highway is the best way to move cars and trucks through downtown. The Executive in his speech says he supports the tunnel.]

I slammed Governor Gregoire for using anti-environmentalist hyperbole, so it’s only fair that I highlight the story that Andrew linked to yesterday, where Dow Constantine, a great friend of most causes that this blog supports, used some unhinged language about the surface/transit/I-5 option.

Constantine accused “a small faction” in Seattle—obvious code for Mayor Mike McGinn and his fellow proponents of the surface/transit/I-5 alternative for replacing the Alaskan Way Viaduct—of “believ[ing] that the key to the future lies in forcing traffic gridlock so that people abandon their cars.”

It’s a shame that he had to use this framing, as most of the rest of what PubliCola quotes is at least a cogent argument for the deep-bore tunnel*. Unlike the Governor, Constantine at least avoided right-wing code words like “social engineering” and the implication that surface/transit advocates are totalitarians.

But there’s still that ugly rhetoric of “force”. Once again, the surface plan spends $2.3 billion of a $3.3 billion total on highways. It is hardly giving up on moving cars through the city. Constantine implies that spending a little less on roads and a little more on transit is the use of force. I don’t know how to reconcile that with his broader record of supporting transit. More below the jump.

I’m starting to agree that this is sort of pointless to argue about anymore, because the tunnel is going to happen. But if prominent officials keep labeling people like me as extremists because we want to reserve a mere 14% of a megaproject’s cost for transit, and save $900m in the process, I’m going to rebut it.

*Obviously, one with which I disagree.

A long excerpt from the speech is below:

“In both of these proud, forward-thinking cities there is an odd undercurrent, an opposing force, that if yielded to results in: Gridlock. Transportation gridlock. Political gridlock. Economic gridlock.

In one city, the city across the lake, a small faction seems to believe that the key to the future lies in forcing traffic gridlock so that people abandon their cars.

This group is guided by a noble set of values: to address the realities of climate change, to fight overdependence on foreign oil, and to promote the fact that merely adding capacity is never a lasting solution in solving traffic congestion.

I share many of these values, but I disagree with them on a simple point.

I know that traffic congestion—even intentionally-created traffic congestion—has dreadful and unintended impacts to our economy, our quality of life—and our environment.

I don’t want a 6-lane, slow-motion, surface highway along Seattle’s waterfront. And we all know that freight doesn’t take the bus.

I support the bored tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct because I want to see a world-class waterfront, in a world-class city, that isn’t choked with buses, trucks, and cars sitting in gridlock.

I want to see a Port that can compete internationally, while creating family-wage jobs in the most trade-dependent state in the nation.

A contract’s been signed, let’s get the tunnel started and put people back to work.

On the flipside of the gridlock crowd in Seattle is a group here in Bellevue, whose opposite stance could create the same result.

Opposition to light rail – despite the will of the voters who approved East Link – has created an atmosphere of political gridlock and acrimony outmatched only perhaps by the Viaduct debate.

That gridlock threatens to create unnecessary delays in bringing voter-approved and voter-funded service to this vibrant, growing downtown community.

We owe it to the voters who spoke with a clear voice for light rail – we owe it to the employers and communities – those both in and beyond Bellevue – to move forward.

We must acknowledge that a car-only culture, the mirror image of that faction in Seattle, is simply not consistent with our shared vision for the future …. and it’s not, as I mentioned, how we prepare our region for the greatness we can achieve.

What then is our urban vision—how do we move forward to embrace that bright future?

It starts with how we develop our built environments and link our communities.

Like most of you, and like this region’s voters, I believe we are best served by a true, multi-modal transportation and transit network.

That means more transit and more efficient transit, cleaner cars, less congestion, safe routes for bikes and pedestrians, and walkable urban centers where we are closer to shopping, schools, and jobs.

We should not try to reduce our dependence on the car by creating congestion and harming downtowns—that merely forces frustrated residents and businesses to abandon the urban core and sprawl into rural and ex-urban areas.

Instead, we must direct capital investments into our downtowns to make them exciting, livable hubs of commerce and culture.”

Our office is committed to fighting for funding for transit in downtown Seattle and throughout the county and fighting to add capacity to I-5 as part of the resurfacing project.

Our only point of disagreement is whether a tunnel or a six-lane surface highway is the best way to move cars and trucks through downtown. The Executive in his speech says he supports the tunnel.

48 Replies to “Constantine Borrows Anti-Transit Rhetoric”

  1. I’m with Dow on this one.

    The assumption behind the S+T option is that a certain amount of congestion will be created and this will encourage people to switch to transit. This is the main reason that the S+T proponents can claim a reduction in car volume over the other options. Because if the mode switch was due to some other factor (say the desirability of the additional transit service), then adding that other factor to the other options would produce the same affect.

    But I agree, arguing about this is getting rather pointless, because the tunnel is going to happen. And I don’t think fighting the DBT is going to help the transit cause much.

    I’d put early tolls on the viaduct, access the diversion/congestion problem, and then use that as ammo to build a solid case for transit (and I do it independently of the DBT debate).

    1. Lazarus,

      Any untolled, urban roadway is going to be congested. The choice is to invest some money in transit instead of roads, so that the equilibrium shifts towards transit, or put it in all in roads, so that you have more people driving.

      Or do you think we have to spend unlimited amounts on highways to hope to beat congestion? There’s congestion on I-5; are we “forcing people out of their cars” because we didn’t take the Central Link money and use it to enhance the roadway instead?

      1. Or annoy the legislature until their take that gas tax money and spend it elsewhere, leaving us with surface + 0; or maybe they decide to rebuild the viaduct, leaving this cacophonous eyesore to blight the waterfront for another 40 years.

      2. I think that if offering transit is what causes the model shift away from roads, then the same modal shift could be obtained by adding transit to the DBT project.

        And I think that fighting to get transit added to the DBT project is a lot more productive per the transit cause then is fighting all the political, business, and labor establishments in favor of an option that is polling at less then 20% support locally.

      3. Surface + 0 is preferable to tunnel.

        If we do cause gridlock, there will be pressure immediately to invest in transit and in street grid improvements. These things *are* self-righting. Look at Metro – everyone went down and lobbied for the vehicle license fee to keep our buses moving. The same thing would happen in the next few years with a 99 replacement.

      4. Bruce,

        Business and port interests won’t tolerate surface + 0, so it won’t come out of the legislature. They will not renege on their responsibility to fund the state and interstate highways, on the surface or no.


        There’s a $900m difference in the cost of the two plans. That pays for a lot of transit.

      5. @Lazarus the whole transit in DBT isn’t important, whether it happens or not. There just isn’t enough demand to bypass downtown Seattle and all of the transfer opportunities.

  2. Martin thanks for writing this. I was at the event and just haven’t had time to write about it. I find it disheartening that Dow has taken such a harsh tone because I really like him a lot.

    As a politician that hasn’t been in all of the debates he had a *perfect* chance to come out in support of the tunnel, but admit that it needed to have a better solution for diversion and to better support transit. That is what I would have expected him. He totally botched this.

    The middle road in this debate is open for the taking and Dow totally missed out.

    He tried to frame this in the context of regionalism. The whole speech was about Seattle with the Viaduct and Bellevue with Link. Kind of trying to say that both don’t get it, and are out of touch. I can see where he is coming from but comparing people that simply don’t like transit or are worried about noise to people that don’t want to build a freeway in downtown Seattle is completely different.

    1. Seriously? Middle of the road? STB is nowhere near the middle-of-the-road on this topic (ironic metaphor, incidently). Dow is about as anti-transit as Kemper is anti-road. We live in a world in which you need to pick your battles, whether we like it or not. The mayor chose poorly. Dow has chosen wisely.

      1. No one that is pro-tunnel has come out saying that we need to change the toll system to reduce diversion or that we should use toll revenue to increase transit service.

        People remember you can be for something and still think it has problems. I love transit but I think Metro has problems.

        If these two issues were addressed I would probably support the tunnel, and I think a majority of voters would agree.

      2. Adam,

        I don’t think tolls should be adjusted to reduce diversion. I think the tolls should be set per what is required to fund the DBT project.

        I’m not sure about using tolls to fund transit. My impression is that the State is expecting the tolls to go fully towards funding the DBT project, and of course Eyman and the State Legislature keep playing around with legislature that would treat tolls like gas tax revenue (roads only), but I’m not sure of the status of that.

        However, there might be a window to divert some of the tolling revenue to transit and/or surface improvements if early tolls were implemented. My thought would be to promote early tolls with something like a 50/50 split of the revenue. The city could use it’s 50% to fund surface improvements and/or fund transit, the State could put their 50% towards the DBT. When the DBT opens the split would probably need to be renegotiated, but…..

      3. I don’t think the tolls should raise less money, it should raise more in my opinion, the system needs to be set up so it’s not so easy to get out of paying a toll. 50% diversion is not acceptable.

        You could toll it furture north or south, or have a lower toll rate but apply it to both SR-99 and I-5. There are lots of ways you can do it but it is a problem currently.

        I would like to see the Governor and legislature support tolling that uses some of the revenue to fund transit. That is completely in their jurisdiction to do, and you won’t get any pushback from me or anyone at the blog.

      4. I also wanted to add that from a PR perspective he could have scored some points if he did that. He would have distance himself from both opposing sides, and all their messiness and it would fit in well with his pragmatic improvement of government narrative. How he is just one of those politicians that likes the tunnel. Not the pragmatic problem solver that is looking out of the interests of King County.

  3. Nevermind the “small faction” language being used to marginalized the position of others, that’s just politics. It’s resorting to the bogeyman of “gridlock” that has me disappointed in Dow. That, specifically, is lazy pandering and dangerously bolsters the simpletons who simplify all transportation issues to lane mileage.

  4. Something I’ve been wondering: I know a lot of examples, just off the top of my head, of cities that tore down urban freeways, over the complaints of people who said that tearing them down would cause gridlock, and subsequently, for whatever reason, did not experience increases in congestion (SF is the most straightforward example here). Are there any good examples out there of a freeway teardown actually causing the congestion that freeway advocates claim will happen? I’ve honestly never heard anyone cite them. This isn’t a rhetorical question: I suspect that likely I haven’t heard the examples because people tend to remember counterintuitive results more than intuitive ones…

    1. Asking if a plan will cause “gridlock” is asking the wrong question. People have a limit on how long they’re willing to sit in traffic, and over time the congestion level of the road will find equilibrium.

      The question is how we get there. If people adjust by taking the bus or moving closer to work, that’s a win. But if businesses move from Seattle to Bellevue or people choose to go elsewhere for shopping and entertainment, that’s bad. The real question we need to ask is what the impact would be on Seattle’s economy, and also who would be the most impacted. Lower-income individuals generally have fewer choices in housing and employment.

  5. I like Dow – but I am very disappointed he used the B.S. line about tunnel opponents wanting to force people out of their cars.

    Politicians need to be called out when they make such ridiculous statements.

  6. I’m really perplexed as to where progressive activists get their love for Dow. I’ve been scratching my head over this since before he was elected Executive, when my fellow lefties were already abuzz about his potential gubernatorial candidacy.

    He’s noncommittal and wishy-washy, has approximately zero grand ideas, and, as far as I can tell, he’s wholly uninteresting. Why do people project their political hopes and fantasies upon him?

    Just after the election, I went to the traditional Democratic celebratory affair at Hale’s Ales. At least, I tried to go. Metro took more than an hour from Lower Queen Anne to FreLard (via a snail’s pace 30 and a massively late 28). I arrived, sopping wet from the rain, just as Dow was walking out the door.

    “Metro’s your primary charge now,” I told him. “What are you going to do to fix it?”

    “I don’t know,” he replied as he got into his car and drove away.

    1. “has approximately zero grand ideas, and, as far as I can tell, he’s wholly uninteresting”

      People with grand ideas typically make terrible executives. That’s what ideologues are for.

      1. FDR was a pragmatist and a great speaker. He appointed a brain trust and mostly followed their ideas, and sold them to the public. As the wiki article itself notes:

        Economist Marriner Eccles observed that “given later developments, the campaign speeches often read like a giant misprint, in which Roosevelt and Hoover speak each other’s lines.”[64] Roosevelt denounced Hoover’s failures to restore prosperity or even halt the downward slide, and he ridiculed Hoover’s huge deficits. Roosevelt campaigned on the Democratic platform advocating “immediate and drastic reductions of all public expenditures,” “abolishing useless commissions and offices, consolidating departments and bureaus, and eliminating extravagances” and for a “sound currency to be maintained at all hazards.”

        Grand ideas in American politics tend to revolve around such wooly yet nationalistic notions as “spreading democracy” and get us leaders like Reagan and Bush II. We have entirely too many blowhards with big ideas, and not enough technocrats.

  7. I’m with Adam. I like what I’ve seen from Dow so far and find this hard turn perplexing. There are ways to support the tunnel and not go rabid about it.

    Really makes you wonder if there was a phone call or back room meeting where the situation was ‘explained’ to him.

    1. Constantine is yet another low quality intellect who isn’t qualified for his position.

      He is simply mouthing Gregoire’s position because he doesn’t think for himself, if he does any thinking at all.

      Washington’s insider system insured the worst choice will always be made.

  8. In defense of Dow, he is not the one forcing the building trade unions to look to giga-freeway projects for jobs. That fault would lie squarely on the city council, with their fear of creating construction jobs by allowing construction of residential towers in neighborhoods around rail stations.

    We should be making common cause with the building trade unions over the city council’s NIMBY tendencies.

  9. The part about buses being stuck in gridlock doesn’t make sense. Hasn’t Dow heard of transit lanes and busways?

    Certainly, he isn’t vindictive enough to make all the buses sit in general traffic if the tunnel loses and doesn’t get built.

  10. In your obsession over one line in his speech and the holy war that is the tunnel debate you all missed the real point

    Dow marched into the heart of the downtown Bellevue business crowd and told Kemper Freeman and Kevin Wallace that they were full of shit.

    That is more courageous and progressive than you give him credit for. He is trying like hell to break the logjam in Bellevue and get East Link built.

    1. Most members of the Bellevue Downtown Association are in favor of light rail, that’s why Kemper quit the association with his panties in a bunch. Now walking in to an Eastside Transportation Association meeting and telling them they’re full of shit would be brave.

  11. Nice rhetoric. There are plenty of progressives who support the tunnel and are strongly in support of transit.

    1. Also, I see from the comment section that John Bailo has come out swinging in support of the surface option, which should give pause to anyone else in favor of it.

      1. Do you have a clown suit?

        One with bright puffy buttons?

        Then go put it on, and parade around for all the world to see what a buffoon you truly are.

  12. “Update 2” is a surprising statement from Constantine because it seems wrong and misleading.

    This is not simply a choice between “a tunnel or a six-lane surface highway”. The surface option has a complete package of street, transit and I-5 improvements. The tunnel has none because it costs so much that no money is left over. (The tunnel deal was originally presented as including transit, but Gregoire vetoed the transit funding.)

  13. Detroit: (Former-)Auto industry-town, Freeways everywhere, No Transit = $#!thole.

    Calgary: Oil industry-town, No freeways inside city, Some transit = Not a $#!thole.

    Where do you want to go now Seattle?

    1. Oh, I thought you were talking about light rail.

      They started spending money on that in 1994 and all we have to show for more than $20 billion spent is a few measly miles on one route.

      At San Diego’s price of $20 million per mile, we should have a light rail system that is 1000 (one thousand) miles.

  14. McGinn’s Surface 5 plan serves the most people in the best way.

    It’s the least costly and most effective.

    Seattle down town is turning into a ghost town.

    Far from gridlock, no one is going there any more.

    A surface street would revivify it.

    More lanes on I5 is a must.

    If all these projects were cancelled, we’d still need a wider I5.

    It’s no longer a question of different transport models.

    Seattle’s survival depends on a surface street.

    Anyone who is against the surface street is trying to kill down town.

    1. I can assure you the crowds are still thick on Pine Street days, evenings, and weekends. It constantly surprises me because there can’t be that many people going to the department stores, can there?

      “A surface street would revivify it.”

      Downtown Seattle has more surface streets than you can shake a stick at. 2nd and 4th Avenues together are eight lanes, more than Pacific Hwy S, and 1st and 5th add another four lanes each. So how would adding another street accomplish anything if, as you say, downtown is a ghost town with no traffic.

  15. Shorter Dow Constantine:

    This group is guided by a noble set of values: to address the realities of climate change, to fight overdependence on foreign oil, and to promote the fact that merely adding capacity is never a lasting solution in solving traffic congestion. I share many of these values, but I disagree with them on a simple point: I’m opposed to actually doing anything about these values.

    1. Pretty much my read on it.

      You are in charge of the transit, Dow. Where’s the transit solution?

      1. I rarely agree with you, d.p., but nail has been struck on the head. Where is Dow’s plan for how to keep transit mobility through downtown when the viaduct closes?

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