Aurora Congestion
Congestion on Aurora Ave. N. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

The city of Seattle is a crowded place.  Anyone who sits in traffic (in a bus or a car) on I-5, Denny Way, Spring Street, or any of Seattle’s numerous other bottlenecks knows that.  People want to be here because there are great jobs and culture, diverse and fascinating people, and lots of fun things to do.  To take advantage of those strengths of the city, people put up with the congestion and delays we see every day on city streets.

But people are only willing to wait so long.  Eventually, as the wait gets worse and worse, people peel off one by one to live, work and play elsewhere.  There is a certain level of congestion and delay beyond which each person is unwilling to go, both because the loss of time begins to cost too much and because quality of life begins to suffer.  And you can’t increase the acceptable level of congestion by fiat.  How much congestion each person will tolerate is an individual decision.  So reducing transportation capacity doesn’t usually increase congestion.  Instead, it usually causes people to avoid the area where capacity was reduced.

Having lots of people in the city (whether they live here, work here, or just visit) is most of what generates and keeps jobs in the city.  People in the city buy goods and services from local businesses and create innovative new businesses of their own.  Without as many people, all those local businesses’ market would shrink, and the city would lose jobs.   In other words, each person who decides not to live, work, or play in the city because it’s too congested is costing jobs in the city.  To keep and add jobs, we have to keep people coming into, and moving around, the city.

The road network in the city is at capacity.  The most dramatic evidence of that: an oversupply of parking exists in downtown Seattle, yet parking-lot operators can’t fill more spots by reducing prices.  The reason is that more cars simply can’t get into the city.  It’s not a single roadway that is at capacity; it’s many of them, throughout the city, as any bus rider or driver knows.  It would take tens of billions of dollars, and result in untold destruction of buildings and city neighborhoods, to expand the road network sufficiently to allow a significant number of additional people to drive into and around the city with the current level of congestion.

Since it’s extremely difficult and destructive to add roadway capacity, and you can’t increase the level of congestion in the road network (or people will just leave), the only remaining way to get more people into and around the city is transit.  (Building more housing also helps get them in, but doesn’t help them move around.)  And transit, even gold-plated transit, is far cheaper for a given amount of capacity than roads built through the middle of cities.  Many more people can move through the same space if each one is not surrounded by 15 feet of steel.  That is why all medium-size and large cities — even ones built with far more car capacity than Seattle — heavily subsidize public transit systems, and see transit as vital to economic development and jobs.  Transit capacity, in a very concrete way, determines the potential for economic development in any developed city.  And actual transit ridership correlates very heavily with actual economic success.

Here in Seattle, Metro has the bulk of public transit ridership.  In 2012, Metro carried 115 million passengers in King County, while Sound Transit carried approximately 28 million passengers in the same period, over a much larger service area.  (Other public transit agencies serving Seattle carried negligible numbers in comparison.)  Both Metro and Sound Transit are essentially at capacity, especially during peak hours, when many of the busiest routes are regularly leaving people behind.  We have no other way to replace even a small part of Metro’s capacity.  Reduce it by 17 percent, and people — along with the jobs they bring — will leave.  They won’t keep jamming themselves into car traffic, because the resulting congestion will be too much for them.  Instead, they’ll just go somewhere else, which is the worst outcome for all of us.

Passing Prop. 1 will keep these Metro riders, and the jobs they bring the rest of us, in the city.  The sales tax and license fee Prop. 1 imposes, while imperfect, are a small price to pay for that benefit.  Please mail your Yes ballot by April 22.

34 Replies to “Save Seattle Jobs. Vote for Prop. 1.”

  1. A coworker of mine is a good example here: He lives in Queen Anne and he works for a small software company in Redmond. Most often he rides the bus to and from work and to get to things around town, but he owns a car (and a rather nice one, if I may say). His lease is up in September and he says that if congestion gets any worse, especially in the LQA/Belltown area, he’s going to move to Redmond or at least the Eastside. It’s not worth sitting in traffic on a bus that comes half as often and not as late. Should he move, he says he will pretty much drive everywhere, including back to Seattle for the occasional visit to friends and recreation. He told me that he is voting yes on Prop 1.

    So, to the car drivers who object so vociferously to Prop 1, I ask: Do you really want more cars competing with you for parking spots? What about more cars trying to cut in front of you on 405, 520, and 90? Those of you up north, 522 is a pinnacle of a wide-open, uncongested roadway that could use a few more vehicles per day, right?

    If you think I’m wrong and that this will never happen here, just take a drive during rush hour along some of the major corridors that Community Transit used to serve before the bottom fell out.

    1. Not really sure what the moral of the story is, except, he’s doing what it seems like the transit and STB folks encourage night and day — move closer to work!

      Why he would then want to pay more for a service he would use even less is beyond me.

      And in a couple of years he can just jump on Eastside LINK.

      My guess is that eventually he’ll realize, like many are, that there are great amenities in the exurbs of Washington like Kirkland, Kent, Redmond and elsewhere that make the necessity of downtown Seattle less each day.

      1. I was afraid that this anecdote would be taken like that. He started out living and working in Seattle and was transferred across the pond to Redmond; he hopes to find a job back in Seattle but, for various reasons, can’t change jobs just yet. East Link is more than “a couple of years” away, unless a couple now means “9.” Even if he moves to Redmond tomorrow, Prop 1 is still a good vote for him because the Eastside routes are going to get cut right along the Seattle routes with less alternate service to fill in the gaps.

    2. Lakecityrider, you can get around the Eastside on the bus and live a less car-dependent lifestyle although living without a car still is difficult, as is the case in most of the Seattle area including large parts of the city itself. I do take the bus (particularly RR to downtown Bellevue) for early evening social outings every now and then but either drive or bike to work.

      I was in a very similar situation as your friend was a few years ago. It would take 90 minutes to 2 hours to get home from my job in Redmond to my place in Seattle on the bus. Driving was going to be a nightmare too so I wasn’t going to do that. So I voted with my feet, moved to the Eastside and haven’t looked back. I miss living on the west side at times because I still have friends there but going from a 90 minute commute home to a 10 minute commute home is worth its weight in gold. You might be in an area with more to do socially, but that commute is a meatgrinder and wears on you mentally. To me, the added social aspect of living in Seattle was more than offset by the hellish commute home every day. If that’s worth it to people (and to a lot of people, it is) more power to them but it’s not for me.

      I do drive more now than I did in Seattle but there were times when not having a car was a pain in the butt in Seattle too (see: getting anywhere more than 2-3 mi away in less than an hour on Metro after 7pm)

      1. The lack of carsharing of the Eastside is a big obstacle to living without owning a car there. In Seattle, grabbing a car when you need it is as simple as a short walk down the street. On the Eastside, a one-way Car2Go trip is impossible and even all-day requires traveling several miles before and after the trip to pick up the car.

        It has gotten a bit better of late when Uber and Lyft started operating there, but even so, the response time of the services tends to be not nearly as good in Bellevue and Redmond as in Seattle.

        Another big obstacle is that it’s a lot more difficult to find a place to live with a grocery store within a reasonable walking distance.

  2. Is it just *Seattle* jobs that are in danger? If more suburban areas become transit-inaccessible, businesses in those locales will have a harder time attracting a labor force, as well as customers. The customers and employees that do come out to them will drive, and either park on-site or stash their car on a nearby neighborhood street.

    The neighbors, once they take notice, will then ask their city government to set up restricted parking zones. The city government will oblige, and then try to at least recover the administrative cost of the parking zone (but probably not the cost of maintaining the now-essentially-privatiized public asphalt). The annually fee will grow over time, but start at on the order of that $40-$60 neighbors thought they saved from voting down Prop 1. After all, cutting bus service wouldn’t affect them, right?

    The dining establishments and other businesses that depend on off-the-street customers shut down. Neighbors now get to drive to other locales to eat out. Wait, where did all this traffic come from? All the arterials are a parking lot! But at least we weren’t affected by voting down Prop 1 and cutting bus service. But why is the county not fixing the potholes?

    1. Brent, as it is, transit’s modeshare in suburbia is pretty much negligible. What we have is more or less what we’lll get.

      1. Several cities including Bellevue, Kirkland, Shoreline, Lynnwood, and Marysville, as well as Seattle, have master plans that call for channeling development to downtowns and other centers with frequent transit between them. That will require significantly more transit. It may take ten or twenty years to complete, but that’s the direction the suburbs are going. Cities in south King County are going that way too, but more slowly because they have less resources.

    2. Once again, circular logic.

      You say there is congestion in Seattle.

      Therefore you want to keep and increase jobs?

      Why not just let everything normalize and not have this one centralized plug that gums up the whole network?

      Cut the Gordian Knot.

      Reduce the size of Seattle.

      1. By your logic, the greatest potential for job growth is in undeveloped rural areas.

        How’s that working out for you?

        The key thing your arguments always miss is that people do better (economically, culturally, and psychologically) when they’re brought together than when they’re isolated, to enough of an extent to make up for a whole lot of congestion and inconvenience.

      2. And Detroit is and has been auto dependent for decades, with development pushed out to the suburbs on a continuous basis.

        I suppose the good news is that creating an auto dependent hellhole like Detroit where the only ones who live there are those that have no other choice, does in fact eventually eliminate many congestion problems.

    3. I’m a Seattle resident and focused on Seattle, and the transportation capacity problem is at its worst in Seattle, so my argument focuses on Seattle. But the logic of my piece doesn’t change in the suburbs, and it’s just as valid if you substitute “greater Seattle” and “metro area” for every instance of “Seattle” and “city.”

      The big picture behind this piece is that I’m sick of nickel-and-dime arguments with the Bellevue-based Seattle Times editorial board about cost per service hour, management cuts, and bus drivers’ health benefits when the stakes are so much larger. (That’s not at all a criticism of Martin’s and your excellent, very necessary pieces on the subject — it’s just an effort to shift the playing field a bit.)

      1. When all’s said and done, this is a nickel and dime tax. Even my four person , 3 vehicle household, with above average discretionary spending habits and two rapidly growing children, could save more if my wife and I forwent a Latte a week than we’d save if this tax weren’t enacted. As such nickel and dime arguments _are_worth having [I agree that the particular arguments the Times has chosen aren’t productive].

  3. While I voted yes for Prop 1 without hesitation, I don’t know if saying, “if we vote down Prop 1, jobs will leave the city!” is really going to resonate with the greater King County voting populace. A majority of the county lives outside Seattle and a lot of them don’t work in Seattle either; they won’t view this as apocalyptically as those in the city might.

    The other major problem Prop 1 faces is that Metro service in the suburbs isn’t very good for the most part to begin with. The average suburban voter will take a quick look at this and say, “well I get nothing or next to nothing from Metro now in terms of service, I’m not going to pay more to get the same crappy service” and vote no.

    As an example, in Redmond where I live (and, gasp, work!), for instance, we have great Sound Transit service with the 545 but a pretty much skeletal Metro system that are basically ghost buses running around outside of rush hour. Yes, RapidRide has more people than say the 221 or 248, but even that doesn’t carry a lot of people outside of rush hour based on my anecdotal experience as both a rider and seeing RR coaches pass by me as a pedestrian or driver on the street. If regular Metro buses get cut down (RR is funded out of a different pot and is unaffected), people aren’t going to lose any sleep over it because virtually everyone has a car anyway. I think this type of scenario will play out in the other surrounding cities as well.

    I voted for Prop 1 because I don’t want whatever transit service we have now to be gutted. I want Prop 1 to pass but I think this kind of messaging in this article won’t really move the needle much with the greater King County population.

    1. @TransitDork. +1, especially on your last paragraph.

      I think the logic of David’s post also invites people to argue that we could cut a lot of service without moving the dial much on congestion — concentrate the cuts on services that operate when there’s plenty of road capacity: Sundays, Saturdays, evenings, midday in the suburbs. I think that when people talk about Metro designing the cuts to look worse than needed is a good part of what they really mean. To be more concrete, they see peak hour buses into Seattle like Police and Firefighters, and things like Sunday service like the Arts budget (but much bigger).

      There’s a common refrain each time we have an election for one of these special purpose taxes to support essential services: “governement is threating to cut essentail services to get more money so that they can continue to provide lesss important services”. I have a certain amount of sympathy for this position, although I come to a different conclusion than most commentators seem to want. I believe that what we need is to make it easier to raise general purpose taxes. Frankly, while I voted yes on this measure, it really ticks me off that I’m having to vote for roughly $50M dollars in new taxes to support transit, rather than a new $50M dollar tax to support the least important $50M worth of work that the county does. [the exact value of the tax doesn’t matter, so, please, no nitpicking about the numbers]. I’d probably still vote yes for that, but it would allow a more honest discussion of the sort of society we want to build.

  4. I thought this was going to be about the poor, carless people who’ll lose their jobs when the bus service they rely on to get to work is cut. This is one of the most predictable consequences of transit cuts, and one of the most devastating, and has been frustratingly absent from the prop. 1 dialogue.

    (Not snarking about the post, it’s good and important and correct; since we’re talking about job losses I wanted to mention this too.

    1. No they wouldn’t, they’d walk, or bum rides, or bike, or operate a clunker without insurance. It would probably take them longer to get to work, which is really bad for them. But let’s be honest about things: if society valued the time of the working poor, they wouldn’t be poor..

      1. Some will, some won’t. There’s no good historical or empirical reason to assume they all will.

    1. Community Transit also focused its service to Seattle by increasing bus routes to Seattle–the biggest employer for Snohomish County. SoundTransit also has increased its SnoCo-Seattle services. You don’t have a point here. Increased congestion to Bellevue and Seattle will stifle the Snohomish County market.

      More assertions without context by Sam.

  5. I take tiny issue with the statement that transit is the ONLY remaining way to get people into and around the city. I hope implementation of the bike master plan with some protected infrastructure downtown will get some people who might be busing or driving now to take bikes instead.

    1. Very fair point. But it will take some longer-term societal change before biking will have enough modeshare to seriously change the city’s total transportation capacity.

    2. Also, making a dent in the massive road maintenance backlog would help make the streets safer for cyclists. There are some real nasty potholes and cracks in Seattle streets around the city. But, alas, that requires funding but hopefully Prop 1 passes and will help fund some long overdue road maintenance.

    3. Having a usable bus system prevents people from sinking into the belief that driving is the only valid way to get around. By precluding mind-monopoly now, it makes it easier for people to accept future infrastructure changes that will make it easier and safer for cycling.

      1. I just wanted to bring it up. But you’re all right, the transit system and biking totally go hand in hand, you need multiple solutions. If I didn’t know that I could take a bus if my bike broke, or it started pouring and I forgot my rain pants, or any other host of reasons, I wouldn’t bike as often.

  6. it will take some longer-term societal change before biking will have enough modeshare to seriously change the city’s total transportation capacity.

    Portland has more bike commuters than transit riders, by some measurements. Then again, we don’t have the same hill problems as Seattle does.

  7. It comes down to this: If you’re riding the bus for any reason, whether you have a car or not. Then you should vote Prop. 1 and even if you’re driving 100 % , less cars on the road is better than more, right?

  8. A lot of the coverage of Prop 1 has focused on Metro’s perceived inefficiencies. I heard a Metro official on KUOW saying that their last tax increase didn’t show the revenues that they’d hoped (sales taxes are down due to a bad economy) but that they’d do better with this new year’s taxes. I frequently see empty Metro busses following each other down long Eastside routes and have heard many times that Metro has one of the highest costs of operation for a bus system.

    The perception of inefficiency may not be true. Everything I’ve said above will likely be explained away in follow-up comments. But my assertion is that there is a perception of inefficiency.

    And my prediction: if Prop 1 fails, we will believe it failed because car drivers don’t want to pay more for tabs. If Prop 1 succeeds, it will be seen as a mandate: “Eh, they may be terribly inefficient but they’re important so throwing a few dollars their way is OK.” No one will address any inefficiencies or the perception that the public has of Metro.

    I say this because our choice with Sound Transit has always been “if you’re not totally with our plans, you’re the enemy.” No one really ever tries to fix anything in this region.

    1. “I say this because our choice with Sound Transit has always been “if you’re not totally with our plans, you’re the enemy.” No one really ever tries to fix anything in this region.”

      There is no middle ground with Sound Transit, as it HAS enemies. Brutal, uncaring enemies who would cut its head off. It IS war.

    2. Oh, we have suggested many cost-saving improvements with both Metro and ST, and many have gotten adopted. Just scroll through the blog posts, and you can’t miss them.

      Transit opponents have simply taken the approach that costs need to be cut (while in many cases uttering disingenuous forced exposition that service should be maintained), and left it up to the agencies to figure out where. The transit opponents don’t know how to do efficiency, because they don’t know much about transit. We do, and we know how to make transit more efficient, but we don’t know how to make Metro 17% more efficient overnight.

  9. The local government continues wasting money and failing at everything it does. Look at its projects. Monorail? Money down the drain. Mercer? 7 years of of construction of several blocks. Capitol Hill train station? 7 years to make a single station. The tunnel? The machine got stuck on a pipe the city itself put there for surveying for this project and it the machine hasn’t moved in a year?!??!?

    Seriously, giving these people more money is like giving heroine to an addict. They need to be weaned, and cleaned up before they can ask for more.

  10. Josh, most those are different entities from King County Metro, the agency in question who is asking for the increase. The tunnel is WSDOT. Mercer is City of Seattle. Capitol Hill train station–wasn’t that Sound Transit? (Someone please correct me if I’m wrong.)

Comments are closed.