by RICHARD CONLIN
The future of our region depends on our creating a comprehensive transit system that:
- Builds out a light rail spine that moves as many people as rapidly and efficiently as possible;
- Ensures critical transit, bicycle, and pedestrian connections to light rail stations and among our urban centers and villages; and
- Promotes transit oriented communities that build affordable housing and density so that we can get people away from automobile dependence.
We cannot do just one of these three things. We have to do them all in order to realize the vision of a truly sustainable region. We’ve succeeded in some of the basics and we’re ready to create the framework for a truly integrated vision. I have the experience and commitment to make sure that the City Council and Sound Transit give priority to all three of these as we make crucial policy decisions.
The spine: With light rail funded from Lynnwood to Federal Way and across Lake Washington to Overlake/Redmond, we are building the core system. But we must not forget how tough it is to actually do this. I remember how close the first Sound Transit vote was in 1995 (when we lost) and in 1996 (finally winning), how difficult it was to face the reality that it was harder and more expensive to build out the first line than we had thought, and ultimately having to take the incredibly tough decision to shorten it but still persist with the vision of a line that makes light rail an engine of community development. I remember being in the front of meetings in Rainier Valley with hundreds of Seattle residents attacking me and the other Councilmembers for moving the light rail program forward.
Tense negotiations seem to come with the territory. The UW demanded extraordinary measures to protect research from vibrations when the route cut under the campus. We faced lawsuits over the use of I-90 and an attempt in Bellevue to derail construction, which was only overcome through a careful and patient negotiation between three Sound Transit Board members (I was one of them) and Bellevue City Councilmembers.
One of the reasons I decided to run for reelection was to finish the job voters tasked us with: building a transit system that connects the region’s urban centers and Seattle’s neighborhoods. Even though rail is popular in Seattle, it requires a lot of dedicated effort to turn that into reality and my skills and experience will help ensure that we don’t someday lose one of these battles and suffer a significant setback. As we imagine what we can do with a 2016 ST3 vote, funding service from downtown to Ballard and/or West Seattle, or maybe Ballard to the UDistrict, let’s keep in mind that even if we get legislative authorization and win the public vote, there is still a tremendous amount of work for ST staff — and the need for Board members who both ardently believe and bring necessary skills and dedication to bear to solve problems.
The network: I’ve learned that there’s a long planning horizon for transit infrastructure. Deciding now to fund planning on a line that might not actually move commuters from their homes to work for several years can be a difficult sell for a Council facing pressing demands for other things like human services. But I’ve been a consistent advocate for making the strategic investments in planning and design so that projects such as streetcar lines are eligible for competitive state and federal grants.
Our bus system is also vitally important, and securing continued funding for the network of bus lines that serve so many people is essential. It is also imperative that we develop and fund an integrated strategy for bringing people to light rail – a strategy that includes good planning for bus connections and bicycle and pedestrian facilities that bring people to the stations without having to depend on cars. Over the last several years, Sound Transit has moved steadily towards a more sophisticated approach to access — integrating bicycle and pedestrian access and moving towards a parking strategy that includes charging for parking spaces. In several Board retreats, I have led the effort to develop this new policy approach, and we are beginning to see it take hold with commitments like the ped/bike bridge at Northgate.
Transit Oriented Development: ST and the region have also begun to fully embrace the reality that the people who live around the station are the most faithful ridership base, and that Transit Oriented Development (TOD) is a great way to reduce dependence on the automobile and give people extra resources to be able to afford housing as their transportation costs are reduced. Seattle, Capitol Hill, and Sound Transit embraced such a vision in the Capitol Hill Station Development Agreement, which adds density in return for affordable housing and community benefits. King County is prepared to convert its Northgate Park and Ride into new housing. The region’s Growing Transit Communities plans offer a next step in this direction, a step that Seattle is leading on with our own new Transit Communities Policies, added to the Comprehensive Plan last year.
I’ve played a pivotal role in bringing about this integration – it’s great to be wearing two complementary hats, as Chair of the Council’s Planning and Land Use Committee and a Sound Transit Board member. Things are moving in the right direction. But we have much work to do to truly realize the integrated vision for great communities served by great transit. I’m looking forward to making that work happen over the next four years, with updating neighborhood plans, implementing new ideas for parking and development like those Alan Durning has outlined in his recent work, and working with our communities to help them get the ‘essential components of livability’ that make density truly work.
In 2005, the Roosevelt neighborhood showed the way towards this new vision when they demanded that light rail not hug the freeway, but travel through the heart of the community – the ‘YIMFY’ movement (Yes, In My Front Yard). While we lost some of that good will with poor management of the Roosevelt zoning update, I’m convinced that we can still win it back with careful and thoughtful work with that community as we move into the next stages of transit community development. You can depend on me to work effectively to implement all of these key components of a great transit system. That means a great core rail system and a systematic access approach that reduces automobile dependence. It also means great neighborhoods that embrace density while reaping the community benefits of affordable housing and the essential accompanying targeted investments in public safety, parks, libraries and community building.
The author is a current Seattle City Councilmember, Chair of the Council Planning and Land Use Committee, and a Sound Transit board member.
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