Yesterday, Seattle Times editorial board member Bruce Ramsey poked Mayor McGinn for including the Seattle Transit Master Plan’s map of future high capacity transit corridors on one of his campaign mailers, calling it McGinn’s map of “imaginary rail lines.”He goes on: “…if you vote for Mike McGinn, Seattle will have rail lines to West Seattle, White Center, Georgetown, Rainier Beach, Seward Park, Interbay, Ballard, Fremont, Lake City, Maple Leaf and Aurora North.”

Exactly. And it’s not just Mayor McGinn. That’s the plan our City Council unanimously voted for last year. Ramsey makes the point for us, though – McGinn is the only mayoral candidate championing this future. Creating that future is why I started Seattle Subway, and it’s one of many reasons I support him.

59 Replies to “Bruce Ramsey’s Imagination Problem”

  1. I’m going to vote for Mike McGinn chiefly because he was willing to put up a good strong campaign to be mayor of Seattle in an election when the job was nobody’s choice for a career move. Also because granted his lack of experience, by every customary measure of a mayor’s performance as indicated by the condition of the city, he’s been a good mayor.

    Meantime, when I hear as much about transit as I have about parking from any of the other candidates, I’ll listen a little harder to the rest they have to say- there’ll be other elections.

    But next time I see Bruce Ramsey I’ll thank him for the reminder about fact the transit system I want needs money. I’ve been planning on spending the rest of my life helping to raise it. Too bad he forgot to mention the fact there’s no money to repair the Interstate highway system, which is long past the end of its design life.

    Hopefully, one or two local parts of it can be incorporated into the rail map. In Sacramento twenty years ago, an official on the light rail system told me that structure for highways is more than strong enough for trains.

    Mark Dublin

  2. Maybe I am not paying enough attention, but I don’t recall the Seattle Times being quite as anti-transit in decades past as they seem to be in recent years. Am I missing something?

    It seems like they should change their name to the Bellevue Times or Nimby Times or something else of that nature.

    The continued implication that these transit lines won’t happen in our lifetimes contributes to the apathy that allows projects to languish. I am glad other publications (like The Stranger) exist in the city that counter this view, but maybe a continued vocal presence on all media we can access that “This is going to happen. We will make it happen. Join us so we can make it happen faster”. I know that Seattle Subway is working hard on this, but I can’t help but feel that additional (individual) voices on every place an article like this pops up will help hammer the point in.

    In my ideal world, every time someone mocks the idea of a fully integrated, extensive transit, there would be a chorus of comments to drown out the naysayers and plenty of links to point people in the right direction to help .

    Is that too trollish? I don’t know for sure, but I like the idea of having a powerful place people can turn to to channel their frustration at the slow progress of transit into positive action.

    1. Fairview Fanny has had these pro-highway anti-transit editorials going back at least 60 years when the Blethens supported a cross-sound bridge to South Kitsap county via White Center, Fauntleroy and North Vashon.

      1. I was unaware that there were ever plans to run a bridge over to South Kitsap… that might have been interesting for sure, but it definitely would have accelerated sprawl.

        I probably never read enough of the Seattle times back when I was growing up in Snohomish County to get a feel for how conservative a paper it is compared to how liberal Seattle is.

      2. It’s still a good idea. Putting cars on transit has got to be the worst of both worlds. Ideally we’d be carrying passengers across the Sound, but if we have to carry cars bridges are more economical in the long run.

      3. If a bridge existed to Vashon Island, there would most likely be no transit whatsoever there, outside of rush hour. And the bridge probably wouldn’t have a bike path either, which (except for rush hour) would leave a private car as the only way on or off the island.

        Given that, notwithstanding the huge cost to build the thing to serve an area where no-that-many people live, I’ll take the ferry.

      4. @asdf.

        If there were a bridge to Vashon Island it would be like Mercer Island; plenty of people would live there. Just not the ones who do now.

        And then of course there would be a bridge over the west channel, so the area south of Southworth would be like Issaquah.

    2. The people who control the Seattle Times live in Mercer Island, west Bellevue, and Medina. None of them has ever had to use transit in his or her lifetime. That is all you need to know.

    3. The Times is an easily understood phenomena. Their market isn’t Seattle, with its 600k people. It’s Puget Sound or even WA state, with their millions and millions of people. Hating on Seattle values is far more profitable than defending them.

      What’s sad is that this leaves Seattle without our own daily paper. The Stranger’s Slog is great, and I consider it our daily “paper”, but they just don’t have the staff to give Seattle the coverage it deserves.

      1. Publicola? Crosscut? … Not that I read them regularly, I’m still in the habit of turning to the Seattle Times.

      2. Mike, I’d stick with the Slog. It really does cover everything. Publicola has turned to actual falsehoods lately. :(

      3. I wish the Stranger would live up to their “only newspaper in town” tag and print a free daily newspaper (like most other cities have). Print out yesterday’s SLOG, hire a sports reporter, sign up for an international news wire, and you got yourself a paper.

    4. Mindy Cameron was a pro-transit voice on the editorial board, and when she left/retired, I’m not sure that voice was replaced.

    5. Transit is a double edged sword for liberals.

      On the one hand it’s big budget infrastructure (when done in costly and inefficient ways).

      On the other it lets people live in lower cost areas and commute in swiftly (when done right).

      Seattle has chosen to do transit in the least effective and most costly way possible. Thus satisfying no one except the biggest crooks.

      1. Really not true. If you want to see the least effective and most costly way possible, I suggest you look at Austin, Texas.

    1. Preferably grade separated trains. (Though street cars in addition to that is fine, so long as we still get our fast, reliable network).

      1. My one issue with street cars (and I’m open to others opinions on this) is that using them in addition to grade separated light rail locks you into routes at two levels of your transit network. A focus on light rail for major routes that serve more as movement between neighborhoods/regions, then using buses that can actually alter their routes seems like it would be a much more robust and adaptable system.

      2. How many neighborhood centers move though? Transit goes between neighborhood centers, so if the centers don’t move, why would the transit have to move? The presence of fixed-guideway transit would also keep those centers more robust by guaranteeing a market that won’t suddenly go away.

      3. Spoons, transit flexibility is bad. The permanence is what gets you compact development. Our ETBs are in the same places we had streetcars a century ago – development doesn’t move.

      4. I’m not hellbent either way on whether transit paths *should* be flexible.

        But, historically, bus routes have tended to obey Newton’s FIrst Law of Bus Routes, While all the streetcars in Seattle except the SLUS are … GONE. That’s not just ancient history. Don’t forget the waterfront streetcar. I was misled about the vote on the outdoor art museum, and I want my vote back. But I’ll settle for getting the waterfront streetcar back. Streetcars don’t ensure permanence at all. Nor do they create a movement to get more dedicated ROW and other capital improvements once they are built.

        The idea of bus routes being flexible is mostly a meme put out by pretend BRT advocates who don’t ride the bus and have never studied the history of bus routes, but come out of the woodworks to oppose rail projects.

        Bus routes have institutional defenders, including the Transportation Choices Coalition, which, while they do outstanding work pushing for transit funding, are rather hard-line in their opposition to any and all route removals, even when it is really just a restructure that doesn’t remove any stops, connections, or service level.

      5. I’d like to make a call for clear distinctions here:

        – grade-separated: no roads or pedestrian paths cross the railway line
        – exclusive right-of-way: no cars or bikes or pedestrians walk ALONG the railway line, but they may CROSS it

        Exclusive right-of-way is MUCH more important than grade separation. Compare the Rainer section of Link (exclusive ROW, not grade separated) to the SLUT.

      6. “My one issue with street cars (and I’m open to others opinions on this) is that using them in addition to grade separated light rail locks you into routes at two levels of your transit network”

        See, here’s the thing. There’s no meaningful difference between a streetcar and light rail.

        If you were doing it right, you would have streetcars/trams with exclusive lanes, which then drive off directly onto grade-separated tracks in certain areas. You know, like Link does.

        Shared-lane streecars are a pretty poor idea. It’s OK to use a shared lane in a few places for special situations, but you shouldn’t have long sections of shared lanes. The example I’ll give is the RiverLine in New Jersey. It runs on exclusive reserved right-of-way almost all the way. But it goes through one one-lane alley in Camden which cars are allowed to drive in (for local access). It has a lot of grade crossings with crossing gates on other sections. It has grade-level pedestrian crossings at stations (rather than overpasses/underpasses). All of that is fine.

        Building a plain old streetcar which shares its lane with general car traffic the whole way is crazy.

    2. No, only grade separated trains thanks, otherwise I’d rather save the ten-of-millions per mile for something that’s actually useful. Foamers can foam on their own dime.

      1. There’s more than one useful kind of rail transportation, Bruce. In Stockholm, the excellent fully-grade-separated subway system is crossed at least twice by “Tverbanna”
        (Swedish for LINK) routes 12 and 22 which incorporate everything from street running to sixty mile an hour former freight sections.

        Flexity Swift trainsets same caliber as LINK’s Kinki-Sharyo cars. Very heavily used.

        Helsinki and Oslo both have extensive streetcar systems in addition to subways. Gothenburg’s soils are hard to tunnel- so drivers create right of way by sheer aggression.

        General public understanding that makes street rail work is that if there’s grooved rail underfoot and catenary overhead, people listen for bells and step aside- usually without even looking up or walking any faster.

        Also, in Europe if you get hit by a tram, either in or outside your car, you pay for repairs and cleaning of the streetcar.

        Might be easier to visualize the irreconcilable conflict if I knew what a foamer was. Visions of a very nervous groundcrew watching a 787 come in trailing smoke, or a jetliner whose pilots forgot to check their airspeed.

        South Lake Union line could work better- but it’s not that bad.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Speed is not the only virtue. I am happy to pay extra for streetcars even when they don’t go any faster than buses, because they are more comfortable to ride and easier to expand to higher passenger capacity, and a streetcar line is far less likely to be rerouted or cancelled than a bus route.

      3. I’ve poured over the paths of the Tverbanna in regards to past invocations, Mark, and you can count the number of shared-running segments on the fingers of half a hand.

        Unsurprisingly, these segments occur only on steep roads on skinny islands, far from any busy populated areas. And only on circumferential connectors, not on primary heavy-lifters.

        These same lines experience full lane separation wherever traffic exists, plus full grade separation at dozens of key intersections. Modern Europe does not waste its time or money on anything less.

        In parts of the world where transit is guided by sound principle rather than blind effusiveness, shared running is a last resort where literally unavoidable, not a lazy way of tickling a rail fetish on the cheap.

      4. As for the legacy tram systems of Central and Eastern Europe: any city over 100,000 people has been working for decades to replace streetcars as the major conveyance for all but the shortest connector/feeder segments.

        You don’t fix your broken transit system by copying the very things that others are methodically supplanting.

        Even Gotheberg has finally figured out how to build a subway that relieves its entire network of the need to slog through downtown streets. Meanwhile, we propose new downtown surface rails that fix nothing.

      5. Can you tell the difference between “grade separation” and “exclusive right-of-way”?

        Exclusive right-of-way without grade separation is often extremely useful. There is really no problem with having crossing gates on a railway line. The MLK section of Link is pretty effective compared to the SLUT.

        Shared lanes, by contrast, are really a bad idea.

      6. Mars,

        When the primary problem with your system as it currently exists is that trips invariably take 3x-7x as long as driving, leading most rational actors to avoid it like the plague for that specific reason, then speed* really is the only “virtue” on which we should be spending gobs of money.

        *(“speed”, of course, encompasses reliability, reduction in waiting and transfer penalties, and scalability of service)

  3. JFK first mentioned his goal of landing a man on the moon in 1961. Eight short years later it happened. McGinn’s been in office four years, and he couldn’t build one tiny rail line in all that time. Ramsey has a valid point. McGinn is more a dreamer than a doer.

    1. Sam, it’s pretty amazing how far you have to bend over backwards. Cool, want him to get rail faster? Help knock out one of the anti-rail city council members.

    2. Sam,where are those men who set foot upon the moon?

      They are back on Earth. Transit to the moon is defunct. There is no demand for it.

      McGinn is putting plans in place for something that will have permanence, and improve the lives of hundreds of thousands, for decades to come, at least until the moonians come invade and get their revenge.

    3. They started planning rail transit in King County in 1993 (I went to one of the planning meetings in Bellevue). It’s taken them 20 years to build one starter kit!

  4. We need trains. Study after study shows the only way to achieve upward economic mobility for the minorities is with a robust multimodal system, and where we’re lacking is in any serious rail investments. Full stop.

    1. Why invest in education or sow favorable conditions for entrepreneurialism or seek to gestate a cultural optimism or shore up a social safety net for a baseline standard of living on which advancement can be built?

      Apparently, “study after study” shows all you need is a random assortment of trains!

      Trains. They’re magic!

  5. Another reason I love rail: Trains rarely get screwed up by bad weather. We could have a harsh winter coming up and I dread the idea of waiting a long time for a bus that may never come. But, LINK had no problems the past few years with snow and ice. Don’t remember if SLUT had any problems. But, here in Shoreline, I will have to depend on the bus to get to work. At least this past winter wasn’t too bad so I didn’t have to worry!

    Wasn’t able to get to the Shoreline meeting about LINK stations this week. Does anyone have a report? Are they closer to deciding between 145th and 155th? I live about the same distance to both so I’m not sure which would be better for me, although I have heard all the pros and cons about each choice in terms of transfers to (possible/upcoming) bus routes.

    1. Link has switch heaters in key places now, so they can’t freeze! :)

      Have you read the Lynnwood Link DEIS? It lays out a good comparison. I don’t know how close they are to picking, though.

    2. Cinesea,

      You must not read about MAX. It has been seriously unreliable lately, though not because of weather as much as the power distribution system deteriorating.

      Talk about penny-wise pound-foolish!

      1. I remember when I lived in Portland(there were only two MAX lines then!) and during the big ice storms, the busses would be almost useless but MAX was still running. I really wish LINK would hurry up and get out to Shoreline instead of having to wait almost 10 years. By then, I may not need it anymore…

  6. This is yet another case where both sides are wrong.

    Light rail is called “light” because it is cheap and easy to implement using existing right of ways (such as streets or freight rail corridors).

    Seattle turned light rail into a subway and consumed the lion’s share of billiions in funding, moving inch by inch through difficult and dense areas first.

    That to me was a tragic mistake and not the result of rational planning, but a concernted effort to socially engineer (and yes, finagle) people into high priced real estate when clearly a robust transit system would allow them to spread out into greener, happier and less dense environments.

    Thus the criticism is not build or not build, but to get back to the original principals of Light Rail which are applicable in the suburban regions. There is no reason, for example, that daily and frequent rail service between Kent and Bellevue/Redmond which can be done at a cost that is a fraction of that of rail in Seattle, has to wait decades for someone to dig a tunnel to the University District!

    I mean, has anyone in Olympia ever used Microsoft Project or seen a Gantt chart? (I was a Project Planner at several points in my career). You can have parallel tasks going on at the same time. You can allocate small amounts of resource that can produce big results all the while the Critical Path is being held back by other factors.

    Seriously, it’s hard to have a real argument when so much discussion is off the table due to ignorance or simple malfeasance and chicanery.

    1. John,

      This is a complete red herring. When we see you down in Olympia agitating for greater freedom for counties to tax themselves for infrastructure improvement they want to fund, then your arguments for suburban rail will carry some weight.

      But the simple fact is that while you would probably ride an East Hill streetcar down to Kent Station, most of your neighbors won’t and never will.

      The simple fact is that people who are interested in taking transit as an integral part of their daily lives do not live where they can’t do a lot of their business by walking. And, because of the bland sameness of the suburbia we have today, that will never be an option for you or your neighbors.

      You complain about the cost of construction through the center city, and you’re right. It is very expensive. But there are people where to use it 24 hours a day, or at least as many hours as it provides service. That is not and never will be true of suburbia. There just aren’t enough people to generate the needed trips. So heavy investment in transit there isn’t warranted. It is in the central city.

      1. Your statements are unfounded and easily dismissed via observation.

        In many ways you represent the prejudice and myopia of which I speak.

        That is why we need a top to bottom purge of bad thinking, false statements and lousy conjecture to be replaced with rational planning and sensible development.

      2. I have not heard of anyone who wants to get from Des Moines to Enumclaw. Or Federal Way to Renton. But, I know of people that want to get from Renton to Seattle(actually, NORTH Seattle, as in University District) and Woodinville to downtown Seattle. So, yes in a way, Suburbia is screaming for rapid transit, but their screams are not to go to other suburbs. I think we should do what the majority of people are asking/needing before we fill in the holes in the suburbs. The only exception I could think of would be Renton to Woodinville via Bellevue.

      3. Suburbia is screaming for rapid transit, but their screams are not to go to other suburbs.

        Right, that’s why there’s almost no traffic on I-405. Nobody wants to get from Lynnwood to Bellevue or Issaquah to Totem Lake. And absolutely nobody on the eastside is trying to get to Redmond/Overlake. All the people on 202 are trying to get to Seattle; not Microsoft or DT Bellevue.

      4. @Bernie LOL!

        Finally, one person who actually drives these roads and knows the reality of it, rather than a bunch of Transit Curmudgeons who sit around speculating about “the suburbs” with little or no data or real world experience. I really shouldn’t laugh, because I suspect the same amount of analytics and research goes into the real world decisions by the planners!

        As one who often struggled to get from South King to the Eastside, I know that such a service would be well used and much appreciated if linked together with frequent bus feeders.

    2. This is very confused.

      Seattle already *had* the subway, thanks to the bizarre decision to build a bus tunnel.

      Given that, it made sense to put the light rail through that tunnel.
      It made sense to run it in the median on MLK.
      Due to the mountain, the Mt. Baker tunnel made sense too.

      As others have said, people from outlying areas want to be able to go to downtown Seattle.

      1. People in outlying areas want to be able to get to Seattle, not necessarily downtown. Some are going downtown because that’s their destination. Others are going downtown because that’s where the transfers are. In the case of Amtrak, Greyound, and the ferries, that’s not going to change. In the case of other destinations like Seattle Center, UW, Broadway, Ballard, Northgate, etc, it’s not at all clear that transferring downtown is better than a one-seat ride or transferring elsewhere. Link should give one-seat rides to these neighborhoods when they happen to be along the way, and Metro should have frequent grid buses to allow convenient transfers outside downtown.

    3. Buses can’t support themselves on the sorts of routes you are talking about. Even the cheapest light rail is more expensive than buses, and less flexible. The cheapest light rail doesn’t tend to offer many advantages to passengers over buses. It still gets stuck in traffic, and it’s speed is limited to that of traffic. Often it’s less comfortable. I’m not going to argue that good decisions have been made by Sound Transit building Link: they haven’t, but that’s largely a result of Subarea equity, and wasted money in the suburbs. I understand that that was a political necessity to get ST approved, but suburbanites don’t get to demand that money gets wasted in suburbia and then turn around and complain that money is being wasted in suburbia.

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