From commenter colorfast in What the Eastside wants from ST3:

Parochialism will smother ST3 in the crib. The notion of restricting expenditures to within arbitrary geographic or jurisdictional boundaries that are invisible to real travel patterns is absurd. ST3 investments need to prioritize serving corridors where the highest travel demand exists today and in the future; these are pretty obvious because there aren’t that many of them.

The whole point of expanding the rail network is to bring higher capacity to the most densely crowded travel corridors. This does two things: it improves the quality of travel in those corridors, and allows the lower capacity mode(s) to increasea/improve/expand the overall network by deploying further afield in greater frequency than is the case absent rail. It also delivers a third benefit: catayzing the land use policy vision underlying GMA.

A regional — not parochial — view is needed to accomplish the right things in ST3. ST and KCM need to sit down and figure out which corridors are ripe for rail in King County and which aren’t, and then demonstrate how the two modes will complement each other in a network that provide intuitive connectivity.


I don’t think [parochialism is] imbedded in ST’s DNA at all. More like a ball & chain. It comes from the local politicans far more than ST. “We want ours and screw everyone else” seems to be the mantra eminating from sub-area transportation forums, with local council types leading the charge. It’s certainly ST’s problem to solve, tho. The basic problem seems to be an inability within this metropolitan area among local pols to view things through the lens of trips people are taking every day rather than brick & mortar facilities located in their boundaries.

26 Replies to “Dissent of the Day”

  1. The label (ball and chain or DNA) is not important, but the outcome is real and rather consistent since inception. In a better world, the system map of rail, BRT, bus integration and system operation would have been nailed down long before this. The phases of build-out (ST1,2,..) would be going on with predictability, rather than the food fight for projects we seem to go through every time a new phase is offered up.
    I asked the question of ST, Bellevue Staff, and here on STB when alignments were being fought over around S. Bellevue Station as to how a branch line would proceed to Issaquah, should one be built. I never got any sort of answer, and was brushed aside that it was way down the road. So be it! But look at all the discussion now on accommodating an existing line, with little foresight that a branch was feasible.
    Go back 20 years. I asked the Dep Director (Paul ??) of ST in a public meeting if a future switch to Link would be provided to serve a Green River line someday, and was assured that it would be. It never happened. Breaking into the line now is folly, shutting down the system for weeks or months.
    I think ST and its Board are hell bent on reaching Tacoma, Redmond and Everett at all costs, and that throwing sub area money at other transit projects is the cost of doing business.

    1. I really don’t see how adding a junction can be such a big deal. Rails get replaced quite often on systems all over the world. It might mean a weekend shutdown at most.

      MAX alone: Gresham consorted to double track, downtown track extended westward, red line junction added, yellow line junction added, Portland streetcar junction and crossings added, green line junctions added, and now the orange line junction added. In addition to those, several rails that were developing cracks have been removed and replaced. None of these involved significant issues, except the Portland Streetcar was shut down for some months for its own extension. I think that was just the city of Portland being cheap.

      Worldwide, there are dozens of experiences a week with lines having to go through construction or maintenance. Experienced railroad contractors do this with very little service delay.

      1. It’s much more involved when the guideway is elevated as the BAS to TIBS line is. Those are segments held in place with post tension cables and don’t easily lift out as an entire section between bents.
        Surface running? Sure. Tunnels, are problematic, Yes?

      2. Tunnels and underground have been done before on busy systems where shutting down for extended periods would be problematic.

        Only one I can think of that actually had an extended shutdown was a Chicago line, but that was a demolition and complete realignment of a section of line with curves that were too sharp. Adding a junction is a different matter.

    2. Sounds like U-District Station. I asked ST at open houses and put on comment forms, can’t you design the station to be expandable for a transfer station when a 45th line comes? It will become the most-used transfer in north Seattle so it’s gotta be built right.” But the rep said they couldn’t because the 45th line wasn’t voter-approved yet, so they didn’t know if or when it would be built or what the alignment would be. He mentioned Pacific Street as one of the possible alignments. This was before last year’s study that did have 45th. But even now there’s no plan for how people will transfer. Ayayay!

  2. People have to realize it’s a tug of war between the localizers like Seattle who want every tax dollar earned in its boundaries (and then some) to be taxed and spent there.

    Pulling against this is the average person who wants his large home, high salary and a fast way to get back and forth between the two.

    This dialectic has not resulted in solutions, just bigger problems. Seattle has held up regional rail building for two decades. Meanwhile rents have gone sky high. It’s a no win situation.

    What is needed is a rapprochement that removes the distinctions between cities, suburbs and rural neighborhoods in our region and replaces with fair and equitable property taxes that recognize the benefits of these systems — and their role in enhancing value — across all areas.

    1. John,
      How exactly has Seattle held up building rail transit? Sound Move and ST2 would not have passed without Seattle’s votes. Seattle didn’t fight Sound Transit every step of the way over rail alignments the way Tukwilla and Bellevue have.

      1. The UW did a fair amount of fighting over alignment. I didn’t pay attention to other battles in Seattle; maybe the UW’s was the only one.

        Bellevue’s fights canes from two sides: businesses (ok, one in particular) trying to preserve their car-oriented advantage and a neighborhood trying to protect their homes. Sound Transit predictably capitulated to serve business interests.

      1. First, I disagree. I think that property taxes are the ideal way to fund transportation. They are relatively stable, a small amount from each property owner produces a lot of tax revenue that can be bonded for many years at a time, and they capture some of the economic benefit that the owners will receive from improved infrastructure. As a homeowner, I would gladly pay more property tax to get high capacity transit (and not just rail).

        Second, how would you finance it? Bonus points if you can make it fit in our current tax laws in Washington.

      2. “Bonus points if you can make it fit in our current tax laws in Washington.”

        You can’t because of the unConstitutional limit on property tax increases which violates the primary spirit and intent of the founders of Washington State.

        Reform must occur at the highest level, in Olympia, to restore Property (and a close reading of the Constitution includes all forms of Property including Assets) as the primary driver and source of Governmental services.

    2. Problem is that once those who live in Orting come to Seattle, how do they get around once in Seattle? Seattle isn’t just one dot on the map.

      The line on the long range map we can call the Orting Express serves those, well, coming and going to/from Orting.

      John: How many times a year do you visit the wonderful cultural facilities of Orting?

      Metro’s route 8 bus is a connector across a dozen busy routes going in multiple directions. People coming in from the southeast, north, and east could wind up needing that to get to their ultimate drstination. If/ When they do so, they find it woefully inadequate for the current demand, and painfully slow.

      So, even if they could make use of the Flying Ortinger to get into Seattle, the last mile problem once in Seattle could be their problem anyway, if inadequate central area connectors are available.

      1. Thanks Glenn, I was hoping someone would save me the trouble of writing exactly that.

        It reminds me of a guy who used to drive from Lynnwood to Fremont to work every day. He said traffic was terrible, but taking the bus was worse. It was great from Lynnwood to Seattle, but then he had to deal with terrible bus service to Fremont. Overall, it was faster to just slog through traffic.

        Just to be clear, there is value in tying together various cities, with either express bus service, commuter rail or (if the cites are independent enough) city to city rail. There is no light rail between Baltimore and D. C., despite the fact that both cities are huge compared to Seattle/Tacoma. The suburbs of both are huge as well. But folks traveling from Baltimore to D. C. have a very good Amtrak connection. But more importantly, no matter how they get there (via rail or a suburban bus line) they can get around D. C. really well because the city has a great subway system. The same is true for New York. Commuter rail works really well from various parts of New Jersey because once you get to New York, you have good coverage and good frequency for much of the city. Connecting the suburban and smaller cities to one another and the big city has value, but only if the big city has really good mass transit. Seattle doesn’t have that, which is why it is important that we build that first. It will be much better for everyone (including those that live in the suburbs and smaller cities) if we do.

  3. One thing I just don’t get about Sound Transit is I don’t hear Sound Transit saying, “If you relieve us of these regulatory requirements and help us find a way to prefabricate this, this and this… we can get you light rail this much faster”. Especially as many of the regulatory requirements and red tape holding Sound Transit back from building are placed by local governments… like I understand faintly the City of Bellevue.

  4. No matter how small the group of people, any successful piece of work involves convincing every individual member to either help the project in some way, or at least not hinder it.

    Compromise is not automatically weakness, anymore than leadership decisions are always tyranny. However much this region’s people act like those are the choices.

    From neighborhood level on up, every project must convince many people that their own interests are at least being respected, let alone served. Because voluntarily cooperating individuals can always outperform intimidated slaves.

    However much Cecil B. DeMille’s own employees considered him Simon Legree, the Pyramids were built by working guys, farmers on the usual flood-season public works projects. Who chiseled things like “King Khufu’s Boys Built This” into the rock.

    This is also the real strength of our country- whose average citizens have always hated being soldiers for any length of time. However hot the button, 30 European-sized countries of us all think we’re in the same 4,000 by 2,500 mile internally borderless land.

    So call it subarea equity or whatever, no regional arrangement can or should happen without positive active agreement regionwide.

    However: call them King County Metro or Sound Transit, the words
    “We can’t coordinate your connection, or develop a comprehensible fare system, because we’re separate agencies” should be gross-misconduct termination for any employee of either.

    Mark Dublin

  5. I think that we need to be a little blunt and tell the Spine cities this:

    Cities, you must get together and jointly pledge big things —

    – pledge to have 200,000 new residences (20% affordable) and 100,000 new jobs within walking distance from the new stations beyond what is already there;

    – pledge to build all the pedestrian connecting including escalators and elevators for 1/2 mile radius around each station;

    – pledge to reserve right-of-way for rail corridors and stations so that ST doesn’t have to incur these costs; and,

    – pledge to implement station area parking programs that require paid parking (even $2 a day that is only charged between 4 AM and 10 AM) for all development in these areas (to promote transit use both coming into and going out of each station)

    Not merely a letter of support. Not a letter of “we want …”. A binding pledge to make the investment worthwhile for the region.

    With this, building the spine has legitimacy.

    Without this, the spine is a boondoggle.

    I’d point out that Seattle has already functionally made most of this pledge.

    If the other cities believe that they deserve their light rail as opposed to Seattle, then show the region that they mean it! Otherwise, they get ST express buses.

  6. @Joe,

    The problem is that ST3 comes at a rather awkward moment in the whole funding chain. Seattle is ready for another line, and that line has to be (for a variety of reasons) the Ballard-DT-WS line. But fully funding such a line inside the North King sub area is a bit of a stretch.

    ST could dumb down the line (which they don’t want to do), or they could truncate it (which they don’t want to do and which would cost them votes), or they could get large amounts of federal funding (unlikely with the R’s in control and given the time frame), or they could do something else.

    It is the something else that is problematic. We only have ST at all because of sub area equity. The burbs fear Seattle sucking their money and insisted on subarea equity to insulate themselves from Seattle spending. Change that and ST3 will lose votes in the burbs, lots of votes.

    So what to do? It’s not an easy problem. ST needs to hit the sweet spot in their ask or this will fail, but taxation sufficient for Seattle needs will over fund the burbs.

    It’s not an easy problem.

    1. Not in time for ST3, but perhaps critical for future measures, is differential taxation. ST3 is possible but already a bit of a stretch, likely overserving some subareas and underserving others, but I struggle to see how an ST4 happens under the current structure. If it were in ST’s bylaws and funding authority that a base tax level is voted upon by the entire taxing district, with individual subareas free to ask their constituents for a higher rate for their own projects, wouldn’t that solve the problem? What would, say, an additional .9% sales tax buy North King? Vancouver BC does just fine on a 12% combined sales tax.

      1. If Ballard-WS gets built in ST3 then the problem would be reversed for ST4 since Incremental additions would more easily match the revenue stream.

        That said, I too support differential taxation in concept. However, implementing such a thing would involve having the state legislature reopen the ST enabling legislation, and that would open the door to all sorts of anti-Seattle state meddling.

        A better option might be to convince the state to allow a subarea overlay for any subarea or major jurisdiction that wanted to implement one. Say something like allowing a 25% voter approved bump locally to a previously approved regional package.

        Such a scheme might give Seattle more spending headroom while maintaining a rejoin all focus and keeping the state R’s from making wholesale changes to ST

    2. Thanks Lazarus. I firmly get angry when state legislators whether from Yakima or upper crust northwest Lake Washington legislative districts boss around Seattle… and I’m from Skagit County, a medically retired former farmer.

      I know first hand the harassment of an overzealous regulator – whether in the guise of red tape or a red DNR truck – can do to an enterprise. My conservatism stems from I think the gov’t needs to be held accountable for this kinda stuff.

      Basically, my transit philosophy is more service more places. Spread the net. Transparency & accountability in transit operations. Get ‘er done.

    3. I agree, it is not an easy problem. But eventually, the subarea equity system should be changed. You can make a very good case (and others have made it) that everyone should fund Seattle (or at least King County) projects. Not to be rude, but Snohomish County needs King County a lot more than King County needs Snohomish County. This is true from an economic, medical, cultural and educational standpoint. What is true for Snohomish County is true of Pierce and other counties as well. Since we share the same tax base, Spokane County is dependent in large part on King County functioning well.

      Which brings up the second point — projects like light rail simply make more sense for an area like King County and especially Seattle. A couple billion spent on a Seattle light rail project is, in most cases, money well spent. But you really have to try hard to spend that kind of money in other areas and have it pay off. Without a doubt I would love it if every neighborhood in Tacoma had great bus service, or their own light rail line, but running empty buses or even emptier light rail lines isn’t a great use of money. At some point in those areas, you just get diminishing returns. Swift is excellent and a great use of money — as is Swift 2. But swift 12 or 13 just won’t work that well. Spending money on replacing Swift with light rail will be an even bigger waste of money. Yet spending similar money in Seattle does get you the value. For example, a Metro 8 subway would have huge numbers of riders, and would thus would save huge amounts of time, which ultimately translates into huge amounts of money and improvements in all the things I mentioned (economic, medical, cultural and educational improvements for the entire region).

      All of this means that we really have two choices. The first one is that the state does what makes sense, which is to fund the areas that should be funded. When it comes to higher education, for example, the state pumps a lot of money into the UW, WSU and other state universities. But there is little concern over where these are. There is little talk, for example, about whether Skagit County is getting their fair share, because Skagit County doesn’t have a major university, and it doesn’t make sense to worry about whether they get their share. The most important thing is to make the universities as successful as possible, so that everyone can benefit. I benefit a lot when WSU is made better, and someone in Douglas County benefits when the UW is made better, even though both are a long way away from home.

      The other alternative is to simply allow each area to be taxed at a different rate. As mentioned, there are areas where high cost transit is simply a better value. As it turns out, these are also the areas that are most willing to pay for transit. I find the arguments against allowing Seattle, or at the minimum, King County, to approve their own light rail plans very weak. What exactly are they afraid of? That we will build something that doesn’t work well with the other areas? I see no evidence of this, or at least, no evidence that this would change things in the least. In all likelihood, this is it for Seattle as far as cross jurisdictional light rail lines. We aren’t going to build a second line to Snohomish County, or Pierce County or even Bellevue. That’s it, and as far as Seattle is concerned, you can do what you want over there (and Federal Way has shown they will do what they want). Meanwhile, we haven’t exactly bent over backwards to make sure that connections to light rail are easy from other areas. SR 520 — a major highway that carries lots of buses and is in the process of being rebuilt so that it can carry more (largely in their on lane) — does not interact very well at all with Link. It literally crosses right over it, yet there is no station there. There is little being done to make the nearest station (at the UW) easier for buses, either. Whatever cooperation that should have happened because Link was a multi-jurisdictional system is largely nonexistent. If Seattle simply built its own thing, would it really have been worse for Bellevue? More to the point, what will Seattle do as part of Sound Transit that it wouldn’t do better if it operates alone? It seems to me that if other areas want us to do something — want Seattle to make the system more amenable to their needs — than they should just ask, and negotiate a price. If Renton wants to run buses in the WSTT, then fine — let them get 10% of the south end slots, and they can chip in the money for it.

      I really don’t see the second proposal as being that difficult. I don’t think someone in Bellevue cares is someone in Seattle wants better transit. In fact, we did just that. The rest of the county rejected money for transit, but we approved it. Was there a storm of complaints from the other parts of the county? No, of course not. A few were probably thrilled (because their transfer within the city was made much better, at no cost to them) while others didn’t care. If we pushed for financial autonomy — the right to fund our own projects — at this point I really don’t see any objection.

  7. Bubble of floating pontification over my name above was trying to get this discussion back onto the long-term regional picture.

    As someone has already pointed out, time is coming when people in every present subarea will soon spend an ever-increasing part of their day in more than one other one.

    Who are doubtless growing rapidly tired of the amount of their day spent stuck in traffic. Elected politicians are generally the last to know when their constituents have changed their mind about something.

    Usually until their district elects somebody else. So as always for forces of change, large amount of effort should be directed not at the people in office, but at their employers.

    Who are themselves getting younger, and from every kid I’ve seen on LINK these last six years, extremely pro-rail. Parents often comment that their children now like their train ride much more than whatever they’re going to do at the end of the ride.

    Two year olds often start pointing downstairs and demanding every time they pass a LINK entrance and hear a train bell.

    So seriously, excellent tactic will be to offer every program possible to encourage suburban school districts to stage as many LINK-served outings as possible.

    A regional transit system that starts sponsoring rides now could well sweep the polls at exactly the necessary time.


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