As we reported this morning, Tuesday night the King County Council TrEE Committee and chair Rod Dembowski will host the only public hearing outside of work hours on a proposed Metro transit restructure that could dramatically increase access to frequent transit service in Northeast Seattle and Capitol Hill. The restructure is a set of significant (and controversial) bus service changes that would kick in when the U Link light rail station opens in 2016.
Dembowski has suggested making no changes to the system until Northgate Link opens in 2021, an option that would miss the opportunity to profoundly improve mobility in Northeast Seattle and update a bus network that provides infrequent, daytime-only rides between just two locations, downtown and the University of Washington.
Unfortunately, those most likely to advocate for improvements to the network are also the least able to attend tomorrow’s hearing. Per Dembowski, the hearing is being held at the Mountaineers Club out in Magnuson Park– a venue that’s about as transit-inaccessible as Seattle gets. It is true that, as Dembowski, noted during a burst of defensive tweets on Friday, three bus lines–the 30, 74, and 75–stop in front of the Mountaineers. However, those lines stop running from downtown to Sand Point around 6:30, and only the 75 (which runs every half-hour) will be running when the meeting lets out some time after 9. According to Metro’s trip planner, my own ride to Sand Point would take 75 minutes, and my trip back home would be 90 minutes. I’m quite sure that for those who don’t rely on transit (such as, well, Dembowski) the trip will be significantly shorter.
This matters because if transit riders don’t show up in sufficient numbers tomorrow, Dembowski and his allies on the council will have fodder to go back to Metro and say the public opposes the changes.
I asked Dembowski–who also suggested that people who can’t make the hours-long round trip to testify simply comment online instead–why he chose such a remote location. He claimed he tried to line up other venues–including Roosevelt High School, whose staff was on strike when the council was scheduling the hearing, as well as the University and Ravenna Community Centers–but couldn’t find a place big enough to accommodate what he anticipates will be a crowd of hundreds. And, he said, this is a special discretionary committee meeting that he didn’t have to schedule in the first place.
“The only reason this meeting is happening is that I wanted to make sure we met in the community for a nighttime meeting. I was open to more than one hearing, but to get the council members together in the time frame Metro wants is tough,” Dembowski said.
“If you could find a better spot I’d do another meeting. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s pretty good–it’s a block off the Burke-Gilman Trail for thaose that are going to bike, it’s on a major arterial, it’s easy to find. Not everyone is 25 years old and really mobile.”
Dembowski also defended his comment that people who couldn’t make the meeting should just comment online. Denying that council members are swayed any more by public, in-person testimony than impersonal emails from faceless constituents, Dembowski said that, if anything, online commenters “have more power” because they reach all nine council members, who will all vote on the final proposal.”I want to take all of the views into consideration and not be swayed by the loudest voices,” Dembowski said.
— Seattle Transit Blog (@SeaTransitBlog) October 5, 2015
Incidentally, on Monday afternoon, Metro announced it was adding bus trips and a shuttle to get transit riders to and from the meeting. I have a call out to Metro spokesman Jeff Switzer to find out if this is the first time Metro has extended service to provide access to a particular public meeting.