Publicola today has one of their fantastic “one question” pieces – this time for mayoral candidate Ed Murray, on his view on Sound Transit’s subarea equity policy. Murray says it should be eliminated.

As a quick bit of background, subarea equity is a policy in which Sound Transit is split into five subareas – and money collected in a subarea must be spent in that subarea. This means money collected in Seattle essentially stays in Seattle, money collected on the eastside stays on the eastside.

Subarea equity originally existed because suburban legislators, in creating Sound Transit, wanted to make sure that suburban money didn’t end up spent in Seattle. As a result, Link implementation was at first slower. But now that Sound Transit 2 is passed, the North King subarea’s “spine” is fully funded. Most of the political pressure on Sound Transit is now to expand to Tacoma, Everett, and Redmond, and most of the board votes are outside Seattle.

In a Sound Transit 3 package, subarea equity is paramount to ensuring that we get a new line in Seattle – it ensures that Seattle’s contribution stays in the city, and political pressure doesn’t move money out to the ends of the lines.

Murray claims that his reason for wanting to remove subarea equity would be to focus transit investment in Seattle – but the outcome of removing it would be the opposite. As a transit advocate who wants Seattle to have more grade separated transit, this is scary because it’s a direct threat to a new line in the city, and it’s scary because a mayoral candidate should have a better grasp of the issues.

102 Replies to “Ed Murray Throws Seattle Under the Train”

  1. Contact him … would love to see you debate him on that idea … maybe you’d change his mind?

    1. Enough people have talked to him about this issue that I don’t think he’s able to change his mind. He’s been pushing this since like 2007.

      1. There’s no way transportation projects can go on the ballot the same year as a contentious gubernatorial election.

        Fortunately you aren’t always right, Ben.

  2. It’s one of those things that sounds great on paper, “By elminating sub-area equity, we can spend the money where it is needed.” But the reality is, “Seattle already got theirs, where’s mine?”

  3. Thanks Ben for breaking this down. For the casual transit advocate, I’m sure a brief glance at Ed Murray’s proposal sounds like a win for Seattle, so it’s really helpful to have your concise and articulate explanation to share.

    1. In a way, it sounds good, IF there is a way to protect the areas against constant thievery. If by getting rid of sub-area equity then Seattle gets intra-city rail first, then when that is done, the money can be focused on Bellevue/Redmond, then maybe that is something to be looked at? But, knowing it is all politics, there would always be a way around the protections to fund someone’s pet project in say, Enumclaw, Fall City, or Roy…

      1. Yeah. Without some other fundamental protection, this would mean DMUs in Orting or something instead of rail to Ballard. :)

      2. sound transit will only pay for projects in the areas which pay for it. enumclaw, fall city and Roy all are outside of the zone and should not receive service.

      3. So I’m going to play the devil’s advocate here:

        Why not have DMU’s to orting (or maybe not quite that far out) There’s areas of Kent, Auburn, etc., that we could probably build up quite a bit, and why not get transit there Before it gets built up, when it isn’t quite as expensive to build, and then those towns can build around transit instead of building just unfettered sprawl?

        I mean, we’ve already developed much of some of these towns, shouldn’t we be looking towards densification at some point? Not everyone will fit within the 82 small square miles that is Seattle Proper, so lets get things going as well in the burbs as in the city and grow as one unified region that can all go at the same pace, but around transit instead of roads?

        Just a thought.

      4. WSDOT has studied a Maple Valley – Covington – Auburn commuter rail line connecting to Sounder. It has so far not generated sufficient interest for funding.

        As for Orting, I had to look it up on a map. :) It’s southeast of Puyallup (which has a Sounder station). That part of Pierce County was the most hostile to Pierce Transit in the past two elections, so much so that it shrunk its taxing area to exclude the southeast. That was the end of all-day transit in the area.

        Nothing is stopping Covington, Maple Valley, and Orting from building up the walkable town centers they inherited from the past. But they have been running the other way, building up auto-dependent sprawl. How many houses can you walk to from the Maple Valley Safeway or Covington Fred Meyer? Where is the TOD? Reston Town Center built an entire compact village, both for its interim benefit and to attract the DC Metro. Meanwhile, Burien, Renton, Kent, and Southcenter have at least started building up their centers or thinking about doing it. Anyone who wants more space than Seattle’s horrible 82 square miles can go there, and they are getting more transit as funding becomes available.

      5. Alex, you say why not?

        Because the same number of dollars produces more mobility for more people in a denser place. Let’s not waste money – let’s build the most cost effective projects, and balance that with where the money is coming from. Neither of those things are DMUs in the exurbs.

      6. But, not necessarily to the exurbs, 6 or 7 census tracts around downtown/East Hill Kent have densities around 9-10,000/sq mile, That’s nothing to balk at. And given the proper infrastructure (decent transit) there’s no reason that couldn’t double or so. And like I said, build it before it gets expensive? And in the future, just as many people will be moved as would the people right now who will benefit.

        (realistically, I’m definitely for transit in the city first, because you’re right, the density levels are already there), but at the same time, We really should at some point (soonish, I think) start looking more to the future where we may need the space of our current inner and middle ring suburbs to be considerably denser than they are. And of course, them being denser is always better than building in north bend!

      7. I hate when these things have to come down to story problems, but I’m begging you – try to follow my point here.

        Let’s say I have two scenarios: A corridor of five census tracts with 10,000/sqmi that are each a half mile apart, and separately, two similar tracts that are five miles apart.

        If it costs about the same to build that 2.5 miles of rail with five stations as that 5 miles of rail with two stations, which one serves more people per dollar?

        Serving those places in Kent instead of places like Uptown and Ballard is not only less cost effective, it results in poor public opinion of transit that reduces the rate at which we can build more.

      8. I totally agree with you that we should build out the city properly first, but at some point we have to think beyond the city limits, and I think we should start thinking about that now, especially since it takes sooooo long to build if we get the process started soon, maybe it will get done by 2040 or something. (which is too far out, but the city will be well built out by then anyways)

      9. Alex, we are. Sound Transit 2 funded Link to Angle Lake and Lynnwood and Overlake. Sure, we can’t make it to Federal Way, but that’s because South King produced less revenue. Sound Transit 3 will probably connect Everett, Tacoma, Redmond and Issaquah, if Seattle Subway’s efforts are successful.

        The key here is that because of subarea equity, pushing for a lot of investment in Seattle makes sure that we get a lot of investment outside of Seattle too.

        The people who act like I’m somehow throwing the rest of the region under the bus by protecting subarea equity don’t seem to have any awareness of what I actually do. This is the vision I have of what Link should look like:

        And this is the current whitepaper explaining the battles that will help us get there:

      10. There are plenty of intermediate things Kent can do, like raise a small amount of money to upgrade the 169 to RapidRide, and look at other strategic routes (Southcenter-Kent-Auburn, Pac Hwy-Kent-Lake Meridian). If it waits for Metro or Sound Transit to fund them, it could be waiting a decade or two. But if the city takes the lead in deciding what it wants and raising funds for it, it can hire Metro to operate whatever routes it wants, like Seattle does. The most important thing is to designate long-term corridors, and to measurably improve transit service there (as RapidRide’s 15-minute frequency would do), and make complementary land-use changes to increase the density in that corridor. Then when a rail wave comes, it will be ready for it.

      11. Kent can also start reserving right of way for a future rail line. The more it can do incrementally now, the less it will cost at the end, and the easier it can be included in a future ST4-5 or Metro expansion. For instance, an east-west route would presumably be on Kent-Kangley Road or 240th. So… what about a road diet to fit in two transit lanes? It doesn’t have to be right now, and the neighbors will scream about traffic… but that’s all the more reason to start discussing it now because it will take time to resolve.

      12. Somehow, I don’t think a dedicated transit lane for a bus that doesn’t come more than hourly and doesn’t carry more than 10 people when it does come is going to fly politically.

  4. How would subarea equity actually be eliminated? Is it something the ST Board can vote on, or would it require legislative action or a popular vote?

    1. It would require legislative action – but the addition of taxing authority that’s necessary for there to be a Sound Transit 3 package would open up the same law already. Murray has said he’d basically only support more authority for Sound Transit with “governance reform” (which is seriously bad news), and this would be part of that.

    2. How does this even help Seattle? It would be one thing if he were pushing for Seattle to be able to raise additional revenue for use in their subarea, but what he’s asking for is against the very interests of his potential voters.

      1. This.

        There’s no good reason that each sub-area should need to tax itself at the exact same rate as every other sub-area.

        But robbing Peter to pay Paul, in this region, can only lead to anti-urban outcomes.

      2. Yeah, I agree that different parts of the region should be able to consider different tax rates, too. Something else you and I agree on. :)

    3. Sub-Area equity is essentially a board policy, it could be removed at any time.

      From the sub-area equity fact sheet:
      “Changing the subarea equity principle would take two-thirds, or 12 votes, of the 18- member Sound Transit Board. In addition, other strong accountability measures are in place, including an independent Citizen Oversight Panel and regular external audits.”

      1. It was passed by the voters — it was key to ST1 getting passed and it won’t be touched.

        ST3? Well, it will be everyone against Seattle because they need our taxes for their projects. How else is Federal Way going to get LR to their city if they don’t get Seattle to pay for it?

        Us? We just want to pay for our own projects in our own city. We don’t have any problem with regionalism and regional coordination, but just let us spend our own money in our own city.

  5. Ben, are you of the opinion that he understands the effect of what policy he is proposing and that he’s being disingenuous? Or, is he ignorant of the effect of the policy he’s advocating or perhaps working off old information? I see by your first reply to Gordon that you think it’s the former. Am I correct in assuming that?

    1. I believe he understands the impact, yes. He used to chair the House Transportation Committee. Even at that time, they knew that the political pressure would flip post ST2, and since ST2, he’s had this conversation every legislative session.

      1. I think Ed either believes this is good for Seattle, or he believes that to the casual transit supporter it SOUNDS like it’s good for Seattle. I’m not sure which is worse.

    2. He doesn’t seem to be up to date on what is actually happening at Sound Transit and in the city (TMP, corridor studies, etc.) either, though. Does he see the need for rail or know that we are clamoring for it? Does he have any vision for what it should look like?

  6. The title is inaccurate. Like any rail skeptic, Ed Murray knows that it is much more cost efficient to throw someone under a bus.

  7. “King County Metro recently eliminated its own version of subarea equity, which required Metro to spend 40 percent of revenues in South King County, 40 percent on the Eastside, and just 20 percent in Seattle.”

    That’s not subarea equity! That’s an arbitrary allocation of new revenue regardless of how much each subarea raises. Its explicit purpose was redistributional: to invest in “transit-disadvantaged” areas. At most it’s outcome-equity (equalizing the level of transit among the subareas) rather than spending-equity (my taxes go to my area).

    ST’s subarea equity has always been controversial on STB, with no consensus opinion. Some people want to eliminate it to allow ST to concentrate investment in areas with the greatest transit needs and willingness to use transit (Seattle). Others want to keep it due to fairness or out of a fear that investment would go the other way, to areas with more political clout than transit users. I remain conservative on this: let’s not change the policy when it’s so uncertain whether the effect would be better or worse. The issue of fairness is legitimate (why should Snohomans pay for improvements in King County?) There is a counterargument that everybody should pay for improvements where they’re needed, but that’s a larger issue. You’d have to not only eliminate subarea equity but also put in ST’s charter that it should direct investment to where it would be the most effective according to industry-standard transit principles rather than where the most mayors are.

    1. Eliminating subarea equity when the only thing the Sound Transit board says when talking about their next plans is “finishing the spine” makes it very, very unlikely that they would build a new line in Seattle before connecting Redmond, Everett and Tacoma.

    2. Subarea equity served its purpose for ST1 but should be revisited. It’s a bit of a duct tape solution – it’s not perfect, but you better come up with a real fix if you’re going to remove it. Otherwise we’re going to get screwed. Who knows… we have a few years to feel out the ST Board and find a better formula for what’s fair AND what works for HCT. Murray doesn’t sound like he has anything constructive to offer.

      1. It’s doing exactly what it’s supposed to – it ensured everyone gets what they pay in, and now that means urban growth results in the reward of more transit. The only motivators to touch it would hurt us, not help us.

      2. Not exactly Ben. Subarea equity is only doing “exactly” what it’s supposed to do if you mean, benefitting places where people buy lots of and/or expensive things and own lots of and/or expensive cars. South King has fallen behind even though it has a disproportionate share of transit-dependent riders, who commute to subareas with better access to jobs and amenities and have less money to spend. That’s why subarea equity is currently a flexible standard. We could improve it by making investments in places that we want to make trip generators 20 years from now; unfortunately the politics holds us back and subarea equity is a useful compromise.

    3. i personally believe that the idea is flawed. we should not be funding transit based on how well the economy is doing in one subarea compared to another. That does not lead to an efficient system. ever notice that with the exception of st 574 and st 596 every sound transit express bus serves either bellevue or Seattle?

      1. Today, subarea equity is the thing keeping our system from being built inefficiently. That’s the whole reason we’re fighting to keep it.

      2. Most of Sound Transit’s funding comes from sales tax. Seattle collects the most sales tax mostly because it has the most people. I don’t think differences in economic condition between subareas affects the sales tax receipts nearly as much as differences in population do.

        In the end, we want the transit to go where the people are. The current subarea equity system does pretty well at making this happen That said, I wouldn’t be entirely opposed to distributing the money on a per-capita basis rather than based on how much tax money each area generates. Either way would be much better than completely eliminating subarea equity, which would likely put most future Seattle projects at great jeopardy.

      3. To say a route like 595 serves Seattle is a total joke. Yes, it stops in Seattle, but the schedule is such that no one who lives in Seattle could possibly ever use it. Fact of the matter is, it stops in Seattle, but it serves Gig Harbor and nothing but.

  8. Ben, you’re right on the substance of this…SAE protects whatever subarea would otherwise be a revenue donor to other subareas. In the past, that was the ‘burbs, now it’s definitively Seattle.

    But I can’t imagine Murray actually having malice toward Seattle…instead this has got to be ignorance based on outdated conceptions of regional transit politics. Disturbing yes, but educable. It is impossible in my mind for a mayoral candidate to prevail in Seattle by campaigning to siphon revenue and projects away from Seattle. That’d be lunacy. He just has the facts wrong, as most people who spend their time in Olympia do.

    1. I don’t think Senator Murray has any malice toward Seattle. I don’t attribute to malice what can be explained by incompetence. This is a matter of not understanding the issues well enough to be taking positions on them, and why I want him in the Senate, not in the mayor’s office.

      1. If he has no understanding of this issue, then why would you even want him in the Senate?

    1. I think there will be something each of us disagree with from anyone. But for the most part, he matches my values.

      1. Yeah, values and opinions are one thing. He tends to get knocked on leadership effectiveness… by other candidates that know running against his ideas might not be popular. It’s hard for an outsider to evaluate how to interpret that.

    2. And if you take the time to actually look at his record, you’ll find he’s actually been a better than average Mayor for this city. The question is, will you fall for the PR crap that was heaped on him during the throws of the Deep Bore Tunnel debacle or will you actually take a look at his record?

      1. +1

        “leadership effectiveness” is code for “pay no attention to the issues/track record/substance…”

      2. +2

        It’s a sad indictment of our media landscape that McGinn is having to go out of his way to highlight his record. Most politicians try to distract people from looking at their record, he’s trying to pull the spotlight TO it.

      3. McGinn has been very good on the mass transit issues, but his prevaricating of the consent decree for SPD oversight has been deplorable; however, he’s better than the other options who I suspect will not vigorously fight for improved public transportation.

      4. And he did get Diaz to retire. I think the outcome we’re actually seeing is far better than we’d have gotten if he’d fired the chief.

    1. Sounds like a Mayor Murray would be a SMINO — Seattle Mayor in Name Only.

      Eh? Eh? SMINO might be too gross to say out loud for that to catch on.

  9. Sound Transit’s purpose isn’t to serve Seattle, it’s to serve the region. It sounds like Ed is thinking about what’s best for the region, and Ben is thinking about what’s best for Seattle.

    1. “Best for the region?”

      Really? So you think DMUs in Orting are a better use of public funds than say rail to Ballard?

  10. Seattle has spent like gangbusters for 2 decades and has very little to show for it. Vancouver stands as an embarrassment as their SkyTrain is a fully extended metropolitan grade separated system that was built in the amount of time it took Sound Transit to build one overpriced misrouted starter line.

    1. Bailo, what you said really doesn’t make any sense. We’re building as fast as Vancouver does, we just started later and don’t get the money as fast as they did, so the projects are spaced out more.

      1. Ben, it pains me far more to agree with John about anything than it does to agree with you, but he is, in fact, correct:

        The Canada Line went from being a pipe dream in 2000 to being approved in 2004 to opening in 2009. For about the same price as our single-station tunnel under Capitol Hill, it built twelve miles and two branches of actual urban transit, with actual urban stop spacing and actual urban service levels and actual usefulness in an actual urban context.

        It is 100% accurate to observe that Vancouver has achieved more with less time and money, and to understand that Seattle’s political errors have real consequences on the ground.

      2. They built:

        – (mostly) cut and cover to our bored
        – Shallow stations to our deep
        – 40m platforms to our 120m

        Also, University Link has two stations, not one.

        Canada Line was underbuilt dramatically due to pressure from the BC government and the IOC, and is already crush loading at peak, with no possibility of expansion. I would love to be able to point at a system like that and find ways to build our transit more cheaply, but Canada Line is not a good example of how to build transit.

      3. I’ve seen the rush-hour crush loads on the Canada Line with my own eyes, and yes, in an ideal world, each station and each train would be 50% longer.*

        None of that changes the fact that the line is already handling 136,000 passengers daily, with headways as close as every 2 minutes. That’s roughly as many as Sound Transit ever anticipates handling through the Capitol Hill tunnel segment from points further north, with its much longer trains and 15x higher pricetags on every single station.

        None of that changes the fact that the line has 8 complete subway stations, serving every major cross street, with an average of .65 miles between them, with no gaps over a mile, and with provisions in place for infill stations. That’s in addition to the three waterway crossings, two branches, and 8 elevated stations.

        All for the same price as our single tunnel, with its overbuilt Capitol Hill station, worthlessly-located Husky Station, and essentially negligible impact on local mobility or access to cross-transit.

        *(Just 50%, not “three times longer and four times deeper”. Why on earth would you be proud of our overbuild obsession? It’s about getting around; it’s not a civic dick-measuring contest.)

      4. If you don’t think the Canada Line offers good guidance for building effective urban transit quickly and economically, then you really need to question your presumptions about what “good” is.

  11. I will make no comment on Senator Murray. some of the examples from posters and Ben are absurd as they are outside the ST District (e.g., Orting, Fall City, Enumclaw, and Roy). In his second paragraph, Ben slightly mistates the ST subarea policy; the projects must benefit the residents of the respective subarea, not be “in” the subarea. For example, Sounder improvements at King Street Station were funded by the outer subareas and not North King. The regional express routes are funded by the suburban subareas and many North King subarea residents use them for reverse peak direction commutes (e.g., Microsoft in Overlake or Boeing computer near Eastgate). The ST policy follows the intent of the enabling legislation; its details are self made. Do not routes 510, 545, and 594 perform the function of the regional spine; they could be improved.

    d.p. makes a good point: the large ST district makes it awkward to spend more on high capacity transit in the core, as the tax rate is level but the demand and utility are greater in the closely spaced urban centers. it is no accident that the ST board room is named for Representative Fisher.

    1. Jack, before calling me absurd, do a little due diligence. I was just pointing to a project Sound Transit had previously considered.

      Yes, I said “spent in”, rather than “benefits”. As you’re the only one who’s commented on this, it’s splitting hairs, but you have a valid point. The thing is, there’s no real difference between “spent in” and “benefits” for Link, except at the fuzzy edges of subareas, where Snohomish is helping with a little bit of track in North King, and North King is paying for a little bit of track that goes to Bellevue.

      1. Yes, and everyone in Orting that can drive to Sumner or Puyallup to ride Sounder is getting their money’s worth. And if you don’t want to drive, the foothills trail will take you most of the way there on a bike.

  12. I honestly cannot understand how STB could decry the loss of the RFA because of its impact on the poor, and then uphold ST’s subarea equity as eminently fair, which screws poor communities.

    By upholding subarea equity, you are basically supporting a system that gives transit to rich communities and denies it to poor communities.

    I also have serious disagreements with the implication behind the pragma of “those communities will develop TOD and then they will get transit.” The suggestion is that growth comes before transportation. And I would challenge you to come up with one example where that has been the case. Since the dawn of man growth has been driven by transportation access, and not the other way around. Whether it’s valleys, rivers, interstates, or transit lines, growth has *always* followed transportation.

    1. Well, considering that history of human population clustering predates mass transportation by about 6000 years, and considering that every successful transit system of the past 150 years has come into existence to meet existing needs and to support growth that was already well underway, and considering that every politically-generated attempt to spur “transit-oriented development” from scratch with a slick new train and a media campaign has failed miserably… I’m going to go with you’re totally and completely wrong.

      As for your minced words, a river is not a “mass transportation system”. Civilizations gravitated toward them first for sustenance and later for the movement of goods, though again the latter followed (and built upon) existing demand. Let me know how a trolley will help you irrigate Kent East Hill or move goods to Orting.

      1. All I can say in response to this is “strawmen, strawmen everywhere”. You managed to conflate my use of the term “transportation,” in which I *included* transit, to be the same thing as “mass transportation system”, in other words inverting what I said, in order to tear it down. Man, when you actually have to completely reverse what someone actually said in order to argue against them, you’re really reaching.

        Civilizations didn’t just gravitate towards transportation avenues for their ancillary products, e.g. rivers and fish. It isn’t especially superior to the open range, or the forests, in terms of available food. The additional benefit of the river is that it provided them with a better means of getting to different places to find *more* food. Otherwise they would have distributed equally between areas near rivers and areas not near rivers (or coasts), which they didn’t.

        Transportation comes before population. If it’s harder to get there, less people will bother. No culture or community converges on a place that is less convenient to get to in the hopes that someday it will get better. Where has settlement growth been in the past 50 years? Along the interstates — and on the smaller geographic scale, along the transit lines.

        Likewise, your argument against transit driving TOD is that when people try to artificially force TOD in a certain place, it doesn’t happen. That’s a far cry from saying that transit doesn’t lead to TOD, and certainly doesn’t do a lick to prove that TOD leads to transit.

        It’s much better to have a rail line that can have its service reduced during unpopular times, than a big hulking empty shell of TOD development that must always be the same size.

      2. and certainly doesn’t do a lick to prove that TOD leads to transit

        That’s pretty much the opposite of what I said.

        If you really want to boil it down, the recently-manufactured notion of some planned-development concept that is described “TOD” is basically fraudulent. Human populations and activity centers concentrate where the do for a variety of reasons. The transportation connectivity follows, and that connectivity informs how those places grow, fill out, and function. This process is partially organic and partially shaped by regulatory frameworks. But it is never “from scratch”.

        Streetcar connected places that already existed, or that were being created concurrently by the same developers. Nobody put in tracks and hoped neighborhoods would miraculously appear, because that would have been stupid.

        The Eisenhower freeways, later, were not just random lines on a map. They too connected to pre-existing destinations. Only government actions that favored home-ownership and de-urbanization created the endless sprawl around those roads, backfiring as congestion descended upon roads intended to serve long-distance rather than commuter needs.

        Your argument that long-distance trains will magically yield “TOD” is refuted everywhere. No walkable places whatsoever exist along the outer fringes of BART; they never will, either because the train is essentially useless beyond a one-a-day purpose (and even then, only if you’re lucky). And grand Civic Leader With An Easel schemes to produce “TOD” completely from scratch are always failures: they either wind up vacant, like Dallas’s Cityplace, or horrible and dysfunctional, like the banlieues on the outskirts of the cities of Europe.

        Again, the key is to allow for infill development in places already connected to the city — to provide a framework for the city growing and stitching itself together organically – and to build transit where it will already do good and will support that process. Building anti-urban trains to Lynnwood and Federal Way and Woodinville, will change nothing and will get you nowhere.

        It’s much better to have a rail line that can have its service reduced during unpopular times

        How is it good to have transit that poorly fits the needs of the places it goes? The shorter term for what you desire is “waste”.

    2. This is a really interesting discussion – I think you’re bringing up the question of how we measure success in a transit system, which is often lost in our discussions of transit.

      There are a lot of metrics. We need to change our land use so that we build walkable, healthy, sustainable communities. We need to reduce emissions. We need to create economic justice by giving everyone access to affordable transportation. Not all of those things are directly solved by transportation, either – our land use regulations do more damage to social justice than “the wrong transit investments” ever could.

      We have to balance those metrics against each other, and we have to make sure that we make choices that lead to successful ballot measures, which sometimes means the balance we get isn’t absolutely perfect.

      I’m thinking about Ballard and West Seattle as connecting points to the 99 corridor and Lake City in the north and to Burien and Tukwila and Renton in the south. We can’t build really great transit to connect those lower income communities to the regional network unless the middle of that line is great as well.

      I think sometimes I don’t spend enough time clarifying how individual points I make fit together into a holistic vision of a more connected, livable city, and that’s to some extent what Seattle Subway is for. Yesterday I just had time to point out a bad decision, not to couch it in everything else, and I hope you consider it in the frame I’m providing you now.

      1. Ben, your post is valuable because it puts into focus the question of exactly what we can achieve directly through HCT/mass transit programs and what goals, while valuable, need to be met in other ways. A lot of discussion of transit is unrealistic because people try to use it as a tool to accomplish things it can’t do by itself.

        change our land use so that we build walkable, healthy, sustainable communities

        HCT can accelerate that process once it’s started. It cannot start the process from scratch. It is valuable to use HCT to increase the capacity of places where people have already indicated they want to be. It is not valuable to use expensive HCT to try to force people into places where they have indicated no interest in locating.

        For example: build HCT to allow Ballard, Capitol Hill, Lake City, or Bellevue to get denser. Don’t try to use transit to turn Woodinville or Bridle Trails into an urban place.

        We need to reduce emissions.

        HCT can only do this by encouraging changes in land use and lifestyles. Again, that supports using HCT to support places where people already want to move.

        We need to create economic justice by giving everyone access to affordable transportation.

        This is a good criterion for low-cost public transportation, such as coverage bus routes and DART. It is an excellent criterion for land-use decisions, although it is often employed in very counterproductive ways. It is not a good criterion for large HCT projects such as those ST is undertaking. HCT is about expanding capacity and enabling growth. We have to have faith in the ability of growth and capacity to serve economic justice goals, particularly where abetted by smart land-use policy. HCT projects need to be evaluated on how much growth and development they enable, and how much time they can save everyone in a population, rather than directly on economic justice effects. HCT should be mass transit; transit projects done with economic justice as a primary purpose tend to serve a fairly small population, and not to justify the high costs of HCT modes. Evaluation of HCT should focus on the effects on the community as a whole, not particular subsegments of it.

      2. David, d.p, we’re in total agreement.

        When I said “success in a transit system,” I didn’t just mean ST. I meant all of our transit. Metro does a lot of the social justice work. Sound Transit does a lot of the backbone work to connect communities that are becoming more walkable and sustainable and soaking up the growth. The streetcar lines that Seattle wants to build are doing more of the latter as well.

        I think in the next twenty years, we’re going to be connecting Woodinville and Renton and a lot of other places we don’t think we’ll connect now. As driving gets more expensive, a higher proportion of any given community will be willing to use transit, and we’ll see demand increase across the board. I want to ensure we build our HCT with that in mind – so that the spines (note: plural! :) ) we build now are capable of handling a lot of growth.

        Hence: Seattle Subway.

      3. we’re going to be connecting Woodinville and Renton and a lot of other places we don’t think we’ll connect now.

        No, we’re not. Or if we do, it’s not going to be with a bunch of empty trains, at the expense of something more important. Just like BART.

        The land usage just doesn’t align with your vision.

        You need to re-read David’s comment. You’re clearly still not getting it.

      4. I truly don’t have a clue how Sprawlmerica will adapt to the decreasing cultural interest in driving, and neither do you.

        It’s pretty easy for rural Britain, built through the centuries as compact villages easily connected by wagon road, bus, or train, to reinstate and beef up its transit networks as the desire to drive wanes. But massive sprawl, built around only the faintest semblance of pre-auto downtowns and hostile to pedestrians as a matter of inherent form, is not so easy to retrofit.

        The best you can do is to build ubiquitous pedestrian cut-throughs out of cul-de-sac developments, and run mediocre bus service up and down the arterials.

        I hope we don’t see a massive suburbanization of poverty (though that’s highly likely and already happening in some places). But the increasing desire for city living won’t remake Bothell or Renton or Marysville from scratch, and those places will never take a shape that will make urban-style trains — at unwalkable suburban spacings — a workable mobility option. That’s just not going to happen.

        The focus needs to be on infill development* that expands the contiguous city. That’s the way to allow the next generation to live where it isn’t a slave to automobiles. That’s the way to expand the number of places that good public transit can actually support.

        Empty trains to Woodinville are the exact opposite of a sustainable future.

        *(Smart, real, walkable, enjoyable, busy, contiguous urban infill. Not towers on dead pedestals.)

      5. We need to create economic justice

        But that’s my point. We can’t do that with subarea equity. It’s fundamentally regressive.

        ST operates on the principle that the RTA is a holistic commercial-commuter network. But subarea equity actually results in it favoring some slices of that network more than others, and curiously enough, not based on actual demand.

        And clearly Metro cannot pick up the slack, either, as evidenced by another very recent post. Like austerity during recessions, or layoffs during high unemployment, the lack of investment in transit in areas that underperform tax-wise will only exacerbate that situation until it reaches its logical conclusion of poor, run-down suburbs.

        Some people of course are perfectly okay with that, and I don’t think you are, which brings me back to: how, then, can subarea equity be okay? Waving it off as “necessary evil” means that the *actual* “necessary evil” is that eventually, the result will be to abandon certain places in favor of others through nothing more than than their economic situation. And that this noble sacrifice is worth it for the greater glory of Seattle.

        Man, does that suck.

      6. Keith, when you say subarea equity is fundamentally regressive, I feel like you’re ignoring the current outcome of removing it – which is far more regressive, and *worse* at reflecting actual demand.

        We all agree that more of this should go to higher density city communities. Right now subarea equity is keeping us *closer* to that, not farther away.

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