st_districtLast week’s story about a new bill to switch Sound Transit to a directly elected board got a surprisingly positive reception from some commenters. It entirely escapes me why pro-transit people might have this reaction, even if they’re prone to dismiss the Sound Transit Board’s decisions as “political.” That choice of words is irritating enough — implying that their preferred decisions are an objective ideal above politics — but the idea that more elections somehow makes the process less political is befuddling.

I’ve made the general case against directly elected boards before. The explicit justification for this bill is to make Sound Transit more “accountable.” However, the Sound Transit 3 plan will be very “accountable.” If people think it’s full of good projects, they should vote for it. If it’s full of rotten projects, they should vote against it. If it’s a mix of good and rotten projects, then this is a fine introduction to the process of legislating.

A common STB comment thread critique is that completing the spine to Everett and Tacoma is a poor investment. Depending on what you value, that may even be the case. But the project reflects a coherent objective: to deliver fully traffic-separated transit to as wide an area as possible, without sacrificing existing auto right of way. That may be too responsive to hyperlocal concerns, but board members solely responsible for representing their district in a Sound Transit context will amplify this dynamic, not neutralize it.

There is one perceived problem that a direct election would address. For people that object to the entire light rail project, the current architecture makes it hard to overcome County Executives that won’t nominate dedicated rail opponents. There are certainly pockets of the district that might elect anti-rail candidates that would do what they could to sabotage the process. Indeed, at the edges of the district the alternative to the spine is not focused investment in the core, but rejection of the entire project. It certainly wouldn’t result in a better light rail system. That’s why the usual Republican suspects are backing this bill, as they have past “governance reform” bills.

It’s possible to imagine a governance model that produces better results, and certainly possible to imagine a rail proposal better optimized for whatever value you choose. But introducing more elections will push that kind of focus farther away.

146 Replies to “An Elected Board Would Solve Exactly One “Problem””

  1. Yes, absolutely. I’m really surprised so many otherwise perceptive people can’t see this for the Republican anti-transit trojan horse it so clearly is.

  2. Bingo. An elected board is about primarily about stopping LR, and to a lesser extent about the general anti-tax, anti-big government ideology of the right wing. It has nothing to do with “accountability” or “transparency” per say. Those are just the typical wailing points of the far right when they have nothing factual to say.

    But what if the far right does manage to hobble ST in the future via governance “reform”? It would leave Seattle with LR and the rest of the region without. It increases the advantage of Seattle in a region chocking on traffic.

    And of course the desire for more LR would remain strong in Seattle.

    1. Exactly. I tend to be very skeptical of any calls for “reform” as I remember the same thing being done against the Metro of old.

  3. I’m also not exactly sure what being “accountable” means. Does it mean they could be replaced a) at any time or b) at the next election? How often would that election be? Even if annually, they could make a bad decision on day one and still have 364 days to make more bad decisions.

    1. It means some constituency lost an issue-specific election (build transit), and wants to elect a PERSON from a small portion of the population, where they can actually win, to become a human boat anchor on the process of getting the job done.

  4. Are there any hints as to where “district” lines would be drawn? I am imagining districts designed for “accountability” – ones that look straightforward and *seem* politically-balanced – yet are actually designed to sabotage the system (i.e., subtle gerrymandering).

    1. The districts would be drawn up by a commission authorized by the governor. I doubt they would put together districts that are gerrymandered (subtly or not). In this state we actually have a very good record of designing districts that are reasonable and fair.

      1. Gerrymandering is a subjective term, but it is inherent, to at least some extent, to all districting processes. In Congress and the state legislature, everyone’s vote may count equally, in theory, but those living in swing districts have more power to control the outcome of policy.

        An ST districting process would have similar effects, with voters in Seattle having little chance to influence ST policy just by casting votes. The power of “accountability” would belong to voters in the districts where pro- and anti-transit voters are about even. It wouldn’t matter if Seattle voters are 90% behind rabidly pro-transit board members.

        Districting is not really one-person-one-vote. But the vote on ST3 is.

      2. “We actually have a very good record of designing districts that are reasonable and fair.” Which is why Dave Reichert got an hourglass-shaped district composed of conservative-leaning suburbs west of the Cascades and rural areas east of them in the last redistricting…

      3. Funny. I remember Slade stating that his role on the last redistricting commission was to curb the power of Seattle.

        Such an attitude when drawing transportation district boundaries would result in a de-emphasis of LR in favor of more suburban buses and Park & Rides. But I think you know that.

      4. Such an attitude when drawing transportation district boundaries would result in a de-emphasis of LR in favor of more suburban buses and Park & Rides.

        Well gee, even in King County 2/3rds of the population lives outside of Seattle. And that 2/3rds pays 100% of all ST Express bus service that exceeds light rail ridership at a fraction of the capital investment. Hmmm, pretty obvious why the minority controlling the majority is afraid of any change.

      5. @Brent — That wouldn’t go away. Either way you have to vote on the whole package. The difference is the makeup of the board that decides what goes into the package.

        If you look at the current board, it is hardly packed with Seattle or even urban representatives. Here is what it looks like now:

        Mayors: Seattle, Edmonds, Redmond, Sumner, Issaquah, Auburn, Tacoma.
        City council: Seattle, Everett, Lakewood
        King County council: Bellevue/M. I., South Seattle/Vashon, Kent, Federal Way
        County Execs: King (chair), Pierce, Snohomish
        State: Secretary of Transportation

        If you add up all population of all of the cities outside Seattle that have mayors or city council members with votes, they don’t add up to Seattle. In other words, you would have to add at least five more Seattle representatives to have it representative. If you count up all the county representatives, it is roughly equivalent to the number of people in each county. But the county positions are a bit arbitrary, as they skipped most of Seattle. Of course, the King County council members are not elected on at large basis. The districts are drawn up the same way you fear this being drawn up (yet they obviously have a lot of influence).

        There is the danger of gerrymandering, or at the very least, the possibility of concentrating urban votes in one area. But if you look at the current makeup of the board, it really isn’t much different now. In my opinion it is worse (even though I don’t think that is the worse thing about the current system). About the only thing that could tip the balance back is the role of the chair, which is in the hands of Constantine.

        I would elect the chair with an at-large election. This would make it just like city and county elections (you vote for your area rep as well as the head of the region).

      6. Can someone tell me why we need a board of 18 random people to run a relatively small agency? Seriously, ST doesn’t even operate the equipment; it’s all subcontracted (except I think Tacoma Link). Can you imagine WSDOT being run by a board of 18 county execs and low level local electeds appointed at the whim of the Governor?

        I can see a board for oversight and providing strategic direction like the way a corporate board functions. But why not just let the CEO run the thing. It seems like most of the boards “input” is nothing more than political posturing. Sure there’s local issues to work out but that needs to be done between ST and local staff. The local electeds input is then filtered through the hopefully competent staff they’ve hired to actually do the job. Right now we throw a bunch of snap track out on the rug and let the ST board members play with “their” train set.

  5. I want technically-minded board members that care about the results and have a focus on very long term outcomes. That’s more or less the opposite of what an election selects for.

    1. Nonsense! That is exactly what a directly elected board gives you. It is also what an independent, appointed board would give you. We have neither. Just look at the board and tell me how many of them have transit expertise, or even the time to focus on transit: Almost all of them are major elected officials, with other, more important responsibilities. The board chair is the head of the largest county in the state of Washington! There is no way he has time to spend thinking about the technical aspects of transit. Most of the rest of the board is made up of mayors and other elected officials. The one exception is the secretary of transportation. But as the person responsible for overseeing billions in freeway spending as well as making sure freight moves smoothly on the trains and boats in this state, she has her hands busy. All of these people do. That is the problem.

      We don’t get people who are experts because expertise is never an issue. They don’t campaign on it, and are never asked about it.

      1. Couple of points. One- the Monorail project couldn’t have been more the complete creation of Seattle voters. Including every technical detail, including precise route, the number of tracks, covering of the wheels. For starters.

        Also, planning and budgeting by the firm Jetson and WC Fields. Luckily, an elected official called the Mayor called the project quits before the first pillar disappeared gurgling into the irrelevant so-called soil south of Jackson.

        However- a fair number of engineers who should have and very likely did know better attached themselves to the project too. I deeply respect the profession, which really does include some of my best friends.

        At one Metro Transit Board meeting- during preliminary engineering on the DSTT- I asked one of the world’s top transit engineers why he didn’t stand up at Public Comments and straighten out a freight train full of elected mistakes.

        Here’s why: “An engineer can and will always tell you how much any technical alternative is going to cost, and how long it will take, and every technical consideration. What he or she will never tell you what your SHOULD do!”

        Reason there can never be such a thing as “Artificial Intelligence.” Unless you want to make yourself available for conversion into lubricant or conductors, you don’t want anything digital or mechanical to decide priorities.


      2. The core competence of any elected official isn’t technical expertise with subject matter, it’s reading the mood of the electorate. That’s true of the current board, and it’d be true of a directly elected board.

        Because their Sound Transit role is mixed in with a ton of other roles, current board members can occasionally afford to deviate from narrow district focus to think about the system as a whole. Members whose sole focus is ST would have to spend all their time “fighting for” West Seattle, or Issaquah, or Everett, or whatever, and could never be seen to concede anything for the good of the whole.

        I find you contention that an election would result in a board of 16 Jarrett Walkers implausible in the extreme. Moreover, as long as the public gets a vote, measuring the overall mood of the electorate *should* be the core competency of board members.

      3. One correction–Rob Johnson, Seattle City Councilperson, is now on the ST board, and he is a transit expert. He also campaigned as a transit advocate. So the transportation secretary is not the only transit

        The main point of the article is certainly correct. The self-appointed board is made up of pro-transit politicians, which gives both a reading of the electorate and a generally smooth ride for ST projects.

      4. If you look at who runs for school board (a position that doesn’t even have a salary — unlike what I would propose for this) you often see a lot of people with relevant experience. Head of the PTA, teaching experience, the like. Not always, of course, and often that leads to a board that is just fine. But expertise in education is often a big selling point, and often the way that we get a better board.

        I would hate to think that our board is simply made up of people who are good at “reading the mood of the electorate”. That would be a board made up of demagogues, not transit experts. That is hardly a prescription for building what is best for the area (or even proposing it).

      5. +10 RossB. I want guys on that Board like Seattle Subway, Martin Duke, yourself. Guys and gals who treat the Sound Transit Board like they’re suiting up for NASA or the Blue Angels. I want the best.

        Not mediocrity (e.g. WSDOT). Not jack of all trades, master of none (e.g. Dow Constantine).

      6. @Chris — Correct, Rob Johnson is an exception. He has the sort of expertise that I’m talking about. However, as far as the ST board is concerned, I think we just got lucky. Yes, he is a strong transit advocate and ran on that, but if he was a strong advocate for, say, improved child care he would have run on that. There was no real debate as to what to build in the area (e. g. Ballard to UW light rail or Interbay light rail) because it was never a question. Both of them wanted better public transit (and better bike service, better sidewalks, etc.).

        Why would someone run for an ST office as a means to sabotage it? That would be like being against school levies and running for the school board. I suppose it could happen, but even in areas that have trouble passing levies, the board is made up of people who want to see more funding for the schools.

        If we had direct ST elections, then people who are interested in transit would run. That would mean more people like Johnson, not less.

    2. I want a technically-minded staff that knows how transit should work. The people on the board need to know how to govern, including through the application of various equity lenses, how to direct the CEO, and how to smell baloney when it is being offered. Micromanagement is not their job.

      And don’t tell me Dow Constantine doesn’t think about the technical aspects of transit. I think he has demonstrated time and again that he does put serious attention to the minutiae of transit.

      1. I really doubt Constantine has the time nor the inclination to look into the technical aspects of transit. Everything I have read has suggested otherwise. He is pushing hard for light rail to West Seattle, and has not even proposed a Metro 8 subway (or anything similar). I would love to read an explanation of why independent assessments of the value of those projects are wrong, but I doubt any will be forthcoming from the executive. His stance is simply that West Seattle is “due” for light rail, and they will get it, regardless of whether it makes sense to build it next, or is even a good value for West Seattle.

    3. Matt, so as not to contradict another comment I made a few minutes ago, while an engineer can’t tell elected officials what they should do, they can and should tell officials the likely results of a course of action.

      Public comment at a meeting is a bad time to do it, because a good answer will take a lot longer than usual public comment, and a huge amount less distraction for the official.

      The DSTT boring machines would still be sending carloads full of paper into their conveyor belts if the Council hadn’t included several engineers, including a Republican named Paul Barden.

      So you’re a hundred percent right that every official elected to any agency that will have be able to make technical decisions should understand results of decisions that could cause a sink-hole or get a machine stuck for years. Including doing the project at all.

      Benjamin Franklin and Alexander Hamilton probably did predict the technical and financial outcome of the Monorail Project as planned and staffed. And so required universal public school training in both engineering and accounting. And the philosophical to know what should be done or not. And the artistic skill to create fine artistic renderings for working drawings.

      Before they graduated from high school. Also, that any Legislature defying a court order to fund this be hanged for Treason!


  6. Here are a few reasons why a directly elected board, or even an independently appointed board would be a good idea:

    1) All the members of the board could focus on transit. Right now, everyone on the board has other, more important jobs (running the biggest county in the state, the biggest city in the state, etc.).

    2) We are more likely to get transit experts. This follows from the first, of course. If the only job this person has is serving on the Sound Transit board, then it is quite likely that we would get people on the board who know more about transit. Expertise on transit issues would likely be a strong campaign issue.

    3) The candidates would focus on transit issues while running. Right now, most of the board is only asked about transit in passing, and they give vague answers before they get into the more important issues (e. g. running a police department or handling a homeless crisis). You could not only get a debate as to who is more qualified to serve on the board — who has more transit expertise — but a real debate as to what to build next. Should we extend the spine or add more bus service to the suburbs? What about West Seattle BRT versus light rail? How about a “Metro 8” subway? These are issues that are never debated in public because it has never been a focus of the campaign, even though almost every member of the board is an elected official.

    Right now we have the worst of both worlds. The board is largely made up of elected officials, but this is not the job they were elected to serve. You don’t have the independence and expertise of an appointed official, nor do you have the expertise and focus of a directly elected official.

    1. Actually what we would get Ross is one of two things:
      1. Board members bought and paid for by those with a financial interest in ST projects (Parsons, CH2M Hill, Kinkisharyo, etc.)
      2. Board members bought and paid for by Kemper Freedman and other transit opponents.

      Given the history of transit opposition around here I suspect #2 is more likely, at least in the short term.

      1. Chris is right. In fact, Sound Transit would become the Port of Seattle on wheels. Everyone who ran for this “accountable” board would have conflicts of interest nine miles wide and six miles deep.

        When was the last time you met a Port Commissioner who didn’t make your skin crawl with his (or very occasionally “her”) oily “certainty”?

      2. Yep, and the oily ones would be the “good” board members as opposed to those elected by people who are trying to either get their hands on ST’s tax revenue for roads or to stop any further expansion of transit or HOV lanes.

      3. I’m not saying “surrender” I’m just saying that a directly elected board won’t necessarily lead to the sort of utopia you think it might.

        I’m not 100% happy with every decision the board has made, but that is very likely to be the case if the board was entirely elected. Indeed direct election might lead to worse outcomes as the far suburbs vastly outnumber the central city.

      4. First of all, I think that is a crazy assumption, Second, what makes you think things operate differently right now? Do you think the folks who are trying to influence ST projects just ignore the fact that everyone on that list (except one) is an elected official. Do you really think they will fail to put money into the campaigns?

        I really don’t think there is much corruption now, but I think that sort of corruption is a lot easier to spot with directly elected board officials, as opposed to the system we have right now. Either way it is a possibility, and nothing would change in that respect.

        What you are arguing for is an appointed board, made up of technocrats that aren’t directly elected. Fair enough. I would go for that as well. Of course that doesn’t completely remove the possibility of corruption, it just makes a little less direct and likely (especially if people were appointed for long terms).

        What is true of corruption is true of above board influence by guys like Freeman. Yes, they most certainly influence things, but people on the other side influence things in the other direction.

        Finally, I don’t think this would lead to an utopian board. But I think it would lead to more discussion and better representation. There really has been no real debate about these issues, except for on this blog, which has very little influence. The only people who represent me on that board are the mayor and the county exec. There is no way they have time to respond to my emails. No one on the board does. On the other hand, my state rep does have time, and has responded personally to my emails. I would hope that an ST rep — my ST rep — would do the same.

    2. What examples are there of directly elected regional transit authority boards and how well do they perform?

      The only one I’m aware of is BART and I know Ross isn’t a big fan of BART.

      1. This is the nut of it. Ross has a theory that sounds nice, but it’s just a theory. We should look for empirical evidence in similar cases, and I don’t think what we’d find is going to promote optimism about Ross’s rosy theories.

      2. San Diego MTS is elected officials from city governments in the district. They seem to do OK with that form.

    3. First off, thank you Martin Duke for the write up. Appreciate it.

      I see and understand the points made. I do think there is a bit of seeing only the “potential” negative impacts of an elected board.

      I look at it differently and look at the potential to give more voice to the people in the districts. It is true that a district could elect an anti-transit candidate. But looking at the past elections, a majority, if not all, would elect a pro-transit candidate.

      I would find it valuable that if a candidate was a proponent of bringing light rail to a certain location, or route, then I could vote for them if I had the same views. Right now we get very little input, regardless of how much “community input” they get. How many proponents of the 130th light rail station were there? Seemed a majority of people wanted the station. Did we get the station? Now their thinking of including it in ST3? Seem a little odd? How is that efficient?

      I think I would like to hear what members of the board view in terms of plans, then elect the one I think has the best ideas.

      And RossB brings up good points also.

      1. Hi GK, thanks for the comment.

        I look at it differently and look at the potential to give more voice to the people in the districts.

        This is diametrically opposed to Ross’s argument, which is that elections would empower technocrats. I thing your interpretation is more likely to be factually correct, but I question whether more “voice” is going to make the system better by my standards.

      2. The disconnect is that voters can be pro-transit but misunderstand what makes a transit network effective. So they vote for people who promise “Link to Tacoma, Everett, and Payne Field!”, “BRT on 405, never mind how Kirklanders will get to the stations”, and technocrats lose because they offer compromises and favor dense areas (which these voters aren’t).

        City and county officials are responsible for the economic good of their entire city and county, so that pushes them at least halfway toward a technocratic position. If some people say “No trains near me!” or “No upzones” or “Free parking everywhere!”, they have to weigh that against other constituents’ ability to get to work and shopping, the total tax revenue impacts, the city’s total congestion, the city’s attractiveness to new businesses (who increasingly want effective transit for their workers), etc.

      3. Sorry, Martin, that is not diametrically opposed to my argument. I certainly think we will get more technocrats — technocrats that will give voice to the people in their district. It is pretty simple to see how this works out. Someone runs for the district representing the area that would benefit from a station at NE 130th. Someone else runs for the same position. They argue about that station as well as other issues. The one who wins makes the case that it is a very cost effective way to increase transit in the area. They describe in great detail — in a technocratic way, if you will — why it is better than alternatives. Others agree, and that person gets elected.

        Now other issues come up. For example, BRT from 522. Should that go to NE 130th, or should that go to 145th? There is give an take with other board members (those from Lake Forest Park who want 145th). Someone from the district suggests both. They suggest to the rep that the best thing is do is have two lines. One for ST, and one for the city. The one in the city would cross 130th (connecting Bitter Lake to Lake City) while the other one goes to 145th (they would intersect at 145th and Lack City Way). A bigger, broader discussion ensues, with the community weighing in the options. After all the work, the rep makes the decision.

        Likewise, there will be districts where someone will run on a “buses for us” platform. If I wanted to run in Kent, that is exactly what I would run on. I would also argue that the state needs to change the HOV 3+ rules, and that we need a bigger Sounder investment. I would certainly back up my arguments with technical data (such as travel speeds).

        That is how this is supposed to work. Right now we really don’t have anything like that. No one runs for mayor on their transit qualifications. Response to emails is slow or non-existent. There is no real discussion (outside this blog) because every ST board member has another, (usually more important) job, for which they will judged by the people.

        To address Mike’s post, I think the problem is that technocrats lose because there is no point in a technocrat running. Remember when Chow (I forget which one) ran for mayor? She made a big deal about running “for the children” and how she would help improve the schools. The papers basically said “Sure, but you aren’t running for school board. You might do a good job for the schools, but there are all these other things you would have to handle, and I don’t think you’ve even thought about them.”. Right now that would likely happen to someone if they ran on their transit expertise alone.

    4. I agree with Martin here – more direct elections lead to officials more beholden to the interests of their particular region and to the timescale of their elections; thinking about the system and the long term, would not win the day. Poor decisions don’t get made because officials lack the expertise, because of their failures to understand – transit is not rocket science. Poor decisions get made because officials’ other interests (primarily: reelection) conflict with good choices. Increasing the role of elections, even if it were to select for aspiring technocrats, would not lead to technocratic decisions, because those who made those decisions would lose reelection.

      Further, the Board’s split duties are often an asset – a very clever bit of designing in the Sound Transit charter. Why? Every bit as important as technical board decisions on alignments, stop spacing, etc. is coordination with other government bodies. The failures (and successes) of integration with Metro for route and transfer planning, of zoning, of priority treatments for at-grade projects are every bit as big a part of the story as the actual routes and projects chosen. This is why the board is made up of people who also hold positions in municipal and county governments, transit agencies, etc.

      1. Then how do you explain the overwhelming focus on completing the spine, a project most technical experts would consider a horrible value? Do you think it would be really hard for a technocrat in the suburbs to basically argue that what they need are more express bus services and a nice terminus for each end of Link? Why would that person lose to someone promising 70 minute travel times and 20 minute headways?

        Oh, and if one benefit from the current system is better integration between agencies, I see very little of that. If someone told me that the head of Metro was the head of Sound Transit, I would tell them they are nuts, given what has gone down over the last few years.

    5. One thing to consider, Ross, is to get anything done, the completely transit-oriented officials will still have to negotiate with all the other officials.

      Which soon, instead of promoting cooperation, devolves into a permanent source of quarrel between the two sets of officials. Which gets really idiotic when some officials serve on both boards of a larger entity.

      Making ongoing irritations between Metro and Sound Transit look like a love-in without the tie-dye. So I think best approach is to pay less attention to where officials get elected to and more to what they do when they get there.

      Which we the voters can assure by threatening to do the same thing to them if they don’t perform.


  7. Sound Transit unaccountable, eh? What agency has all its projects 100% voter approved and is currently delivering projects under budget and ahead of schedule? Yeah, Sound Transit was a disaster nearly 15 years ago after the dark days, but they’ve earned back their credibility in spades. Rather than political grandstanding, it feels like we’re going to get another great package thanks to the road-free compromises and transit deals the ST board has to reach. And we do have voter accountability: we have to approve the package itself. Regionally, we’ve rejected 2 packages in 1995 and 2007, then better plans were approved by the voter the next year. I’d love to hear specific concrete examples for the need of oversight for this ” bureaucracy that desperately needs it in order to reach that objective”. Perhaps they’re just scared of the success coming in 2016, 2021, and 2023. Also, for accountability sake, can we voters vote on whether or not we want the board elected or appointed?

    Let’s look at another massive, unelected agency with more money: WSDOT. If I recall correctly, in 2007 we regionally voted no for several of WSDOT’s multi-billion dollar road projects which are now moving forward. Seattle voted no for the tunnel the first time, and that’s going really well. The SR520 project conveniently stopped at the Seattle city line. There is zero real accountability for WSDOT to the public, yet nobody blinks an eye.

      1. If you can find a “moderate” republican….. the last one of those left office decades ago (Dan Evans) and would be pretty much un-electable in today’s world.

      2. What do you think Bill Bryant (the former Port of Seattle Commissioner) would have done differently?

      3. Per Bryant, being a relative unknown isn’t the same as being a moderate. But we will see. The R’s have tried about everything else. They might as well run someone that nobody really knows.

      4. Well folks, if you like the past four years and think Jay Inslee’s highway expansion without voter approval helped by one Jessyn Farrell is so great… by all means send those two your valentines and your votes. I’d rather put those two on the Donald Trump campaign plane cleaning toilet bowls and have The Donald tell them, “YOU’RE FIRED.”

        Bill Bryant is no bombthrowing, flame-throwing, yee-haw, yahoo (and nor was Rob McKenna). If we’re going to have absolute Republican power – a distinct possibility – let’s have it when Sound Transit 3/ST3 authority is secure and get it over with. There you go.

      5. Everybody has to understand that in 1968 or so, the Republican Party got taken over by the worst of the Southern Democrats, the ones who thought Abraham Lincoln was a tyrant for taking away their hard-earned slaves.

        Richard Nixon achieved this takeover by promising the worst of these people that if they came over to his party, he wouldn’t enforce the Voting Rights Act. Thereby destroying the Republican Party and also seizing Washington DC, as they failed to do by force in the Civil War.

        But I think the best remedy, for our political system is to encourage young people with intelligent ideas on both business and labor to take over both major parties from, literally the basement, where most precinct meetings usually take place, and on up through district, county, and State.

        For, however bad the motives of the sponsors, this is how the Republican Party got taken over. The locks have rusted off both parties’ basement doors now. Though with both of them, first order of business is to finally fix the sewer pipe that broke forty years ago with the valve left open.

        Mark Dublin

      6. Mark;

        Sadly I have to agree with you. There is an ugly faction in the Republican Party that is making it hard for me to be a Republican in the truest since.

        No, not the Tea Party that wants to cut spending (and dammit gut Federal transit grants – see II, 14 on Ted Cruz’s platform) and eliminate the national debt.

        No, this faction started with the Dixiecrats let into the Republican Party. This faction grew to include extremism on the 2nd Amendment – a far cry from Ronald Reagan’s day when he supported with vigor the Brady Bill. This faction now has Donald Trump manipulating it. This faction thinks it’s okay to lie and misrepresent military service, it’s okay to respond with malicious indifference to Sandy Hook, it’s okay to be like the most cynical, machivillian version of Billary if that’s what it takes.

        I read about when Republicans were in the mold of Abraham Lincoln and Andrew Johnson and Ulysses Grant and Dwight Eisenhower – and it was Eisenhower who started the Interstate Highways as I recall. I feel Rob McKenna is/was in that mold. Whether or not Bill Bryant is as well remains to be seen, he’s not taking very many policy positions.

        But I know this much: As long as Bill Bryant doesn’t become a rabid dog or a threat to transit, I want him to go in and clean up WSDOT. It’s a real shame no commentator here is running against Jay’s mediocrity; because some of you (e.g. Martin, Mark) would do a better job.

        I also want to see a Republican majority in both chambers give a Governor Bill Bryant a bill to make ALL transit boards elected. ALL so we transit advocates can take over.

      7. Eisenhower saw the autobahns in Germany during the war and wanted to replicate them here. The US Highways at the time were 2-lane, built for Model-T’s, potholed, went through city centers with stoplights, and were congested in places. He thought 4-lane grade-separated highways were more efficient for civilians, the military, and commerce. He didn’t expect them to go through city centers, but that was a lower-level DOT decision and many states and cities wanted it.

  8. IMO, this notion of accountability is bunk. No one pays attention to these minor positions. The whole idea of representative government is we elect general government which handles all the particulars rather than us voting on each thing. This let’s elect every position is pretty close to us just voting on every bill. I mean, you can’t get more accountability than just doing it yourself.

    Obviously the current setup is daft. Let’s have random politicians be in charge of a transit agency. Just like we don’t have time for every bill, politicians don’t have time for every technical decision. The obvious solution is to have an appointed board consisting of transit experts.

    Can anyone explain why the board isn’t appointed experts?

    1. Simply put, appointed experts are all over the Sound Transit staff. It’s important the experts do the bidding of the people through duly elected representatives giving general direction. I “get it” there are many who question (me as I want a comprehensive strategy to feed the spine – especially if Paine Field is in ST3) or outright oppose (RossB) what seems to be ST3’s proposal to put light rail from Everett to Paine Field (yes, Paine) to the current system, and then south to Tacoma.

      I also think the overwhelming majority of us (me included) want more of an emphasis on TOD to go with Sound Transit expansion instead of highway & factory alignments. Issues like these are why I want an elected board of transit fans running ALL transit agencies in this state, let’s not delude ourselves into thinking Sound Transit is the only transit agency with these very strategic challenges in this state.

  9. Martin’s arguments are contradictory. On the one hand he says that it is all OK, because regardless of what ST proposes, we all get to vote on it anyway. On the other hand, he fears that a directly elected official will try and sabotage ST. If there are enough people to vote for a candidate that opposes transit, then there surely are enough votes to sabotage any proposal once it comes out of committee. So that argument — that the board will be stacked with transit opponents — is absurd.

    The reality is that we are greatly dependent on the board, and that the final vote puts people in a very challenging position. If we feel that the board is incompetent, or worse yet, corrupt, then we are forced to vote no, even though it will likely have some very good aspects to it.

    We have a great example of this opening in a couple months. If we could vote for just U-Link, would we? It is obviously flawed. The lack of stations is horrible. The substitute — a First Hill Streetcar — is embarrassing. Should we vote no, and hope that the board later comes up with a different proposal? One with stations on First Hill (thus providing service to one of the more popular and populous places in the state) as well as 23rd (thus providing a connection from 520 as well as much of the neighborhood)? Or should we just vote yes, and accept this, because it is better than nothing? Besides, just because we feel confident that most independent, competent transit agencies would put in more than one station between the UW and downtown, there is no reason to assume that if we vote no that ST would do anything different the second time..Maybe a no vote would be taken merely as a rebuke of light rail. After all, this segment (UW to Capitol Hill) is of course the most appropriate section for light rail in the state. If you vote against it, maybe you are just voting against light rail. The subtlety of voting yes or no is lost in this instance. This is not an obscure project, either, but the biggest, most important one we will ever build.

    That is hardly how a republic is supposed to work. We are supposed to be able to ask questions of our board, and have a more active role in how the board decides the project, not simply give a yay or nay vote at the end. In paper that exists now, but since the board is not focused on transit, they aren’t responsive. They don’t even have to campaign on transit expertise, since it is a very small (and essentially forgotten) part of their job.

    1. I think you way overestimate the knowledge and attention of the bulk of voting people. Let me contrast you with the voting people I know.

      My impression of you. You are constantly thinking about and researching transit. You read PDFs with hundreds of pages produced by transit agencies, just to understand and critique their study methodology. You look at job and populations maps. I bet you could link me to geological surveys about the first hill decision if I asked. You go examine locations with google maps all the time. Tell us honestly, how many times in the last year have you gone in person to check out a place to gauge transit potential.

      My impression of most voting people. Most voting people I know know just enough to vote yes on transit because they support socialist causes or no on transit because the know the true fact that all government is both corrupt and criminally incompetent. They are well informed if they can be bothered to glance their eyes at a Seattle Times article about transit when they already have the paper open.

      Votes go by the majority. Your assessment of U-link is something most people can not do. If we voted down U-link, it would be because the general voter thinks light rail bad, not because they understand the line has at least two, possibly three stations too few.

      1. Really, for using taxpayers’ and small business’ hard-earned funds with no accountability, the CEO’s of every large US industry might as well wear bad Russian Pre-Perestroika business suits, with Hero of the Soviet People medals on the wide years-out-of-fashion lapels.

        Too bad it’s out of print now, but for years the best transit publication in the world was called The New Electric Railway Journal, whose publisher Paul Weyrich would have executed King Louis the Sixteenth for being a left-wing radical.

        But who also very accurately believed that our country’s car-oriented highway systems, especially the Interstates constituted the biggest and least-efficient Socialist project the world has ever seen.

        His calculation was that our transportation would work best with the fifty-fifty mode-split between transit and automobiles that real non-Socialism would produce.

        On transit projects themselves, he thought that light-rail and streetcars were more efficient financially and operationally than giant heavy-rail projects. Of the kind in the period when the BART was built.

        For county and regional travel, he favored updated Interurbans, able to run streetcar track, but capable of 90 miles an hour on reserved track cross-county. A very conservative setup- but which LINK closely approaches.

        Point being that honest, intellignet people with widely-different sincere ideologies can agree on technical matters. Whatever the ideology of the plumbers, sewage always travels one way on its own, but has to be pumped the other way.


      2. “Transit is not socialist.”

        Then why won’t the state fund it at least partially? Why do Congressional Republicans keep trying to strip it out of the transportation bill?

      3. Why, yes, I read geologic maps all the time :)

        Seriously, though, Ben, I think we are on the same page. If (the current) U-Link were ever put to a vote, then I think most people who would vote against it simply oppose light rail or oppose spending more money on transit. I agree completely.

        Which is why I think we have a problem. A big problem. Without a board willing to fight for decent stations, the voters have no real choice. Do you want an expensive turd sandwich or do you want to go hungry? The bread is good, I certainly don’t want to go hungry, but man, why the turd?. How about an agency with the good sense to propose a decent sandwich? Maybe, at the very least, we can talk about whether it makes sense to add turds before presenting us with the eat it or go hungry option.

    2. The current Sound Transit situation, yielding foul-up after mistake after fiasco on just about everything but actual construction management, clearly needs fixing. But I’m skeptical whether an elected board will help.

      Voters pay notoriously little attention to down-ballot offices, unless they have a significant personal stake in them, or they know one or more of the candidates well. When voters pay little attention, the candidate with the best funded campaign almost always wins (if the well-funded down-ballot candidate loses, it’s almost always the result of hiring an incompetent consultant, massive favorable name-recognition of winner, or massive unfavorable name-recognition of the loser). In small towns/counties, the long ballot may work well because most voters know the candidates personally. School board elections sometimes work well when a sizable number of the voters are parents with kids in school. Otherwise, for down-ballot offices, it’s typically a matter of money, irrelevancies, or pure luck. Remember a couple of recent Supreme Court elections in this state when a guy who more-or-less didn’t campaign but had an attractive Scandinavian-sounding name defeated, or nearly defeated, an eminently qualified candidate with a “foreign”-sounding name.

      In the city of Seattle, electing a transit board might work, since transit users are numerous, and they have some idea what a good transit system is and isn’t. In most of the suburbs, and in most of Snohomish and Pierce counties, transit users are relatively few. Moreover, a much larger proportion of them are purely peak-hour commuters, many if not most of whom at least suspect that midday, evening, and weekend service is a waste of money. Will they vote for a person who runs as an explicit transit-hater? Mostly, no. Will they vote for someone who is well funded, and who wants to eviscerate transit while claiming to support it? Quite possibly. It won’t make any difference if STB exposes the charlatan – they’ve never heard of STB. Good luck in getting our TV stations to intelligently cover the race. I’m afraid that getting knowledgeable people elected in those districts would be, at best, a crapshoot. And, their representatives would make up the majority of an elected Sound Transit board.

      If we did implement an elected board, we should limit its scope. It needs to be impossible for them to spend transit money on road projects, to sabotage transit funding, etc.

      An appointed board (not restricted to electeds) might be an improvement. At least currently, the county executives of all three counties are pro-transit, and are unlikely to appoint transit saboteurs. However, an appointed board would need to know how to work with electeds. On something like an ST3 authorization election, support of the electeds is far from being a guarantee of passage, but opposition from electeds is close to a guarantee of failure.

      1. In the city of Seattle, electing a transit board might work, since transit users are numerous, and they have some idea what a good transit system is and isn’t. In most of the suburbs, and in most of Snohomish and Pierce counties, transit users are relatively few.

        Why would there need to be a representative from every far flung hamlet? IMHO part of the problem is the ST board has an excessive number of member; too many cooks… and what’s worse is the consensus seems to be that a spork is the perfect utensil for all occasions. It’s light rail, no it’s a subway, no wait it’s commuter rail all in one.

        WSDOT is headed by one appointed Director and oversees a vastly larger agency than ST. We have a well paid director of ST so let him direct. If he goes off the rails then can him and bring in someone else but my hunch is the project decisions would be much more rational than the current micro managing of every design proposal.

      2. @FBD — I considered your first point, and I think that is a problem for judges and the port. The issues there are hard to follow, and people don’t spend the time to actually figure out what independent voices say (and increasingly, many of those independent voices, like the Seattle Times, are increasingly wacky).

        But I think this is controversial enough to be interesting. We are talking about big bucks, and big decisions. This is not a minor thing, nor is it a thing — like a judgeship — where you are supposed to simply have good judgement. North of Everett is a good example. Extend the spine or just add feeder bus service? I would love to see that race, and you can bet that someone would run for more bus service. With any luck that candidate would be sensible, and have the time to present a case for better bus service (more frequent, faster for more people, etc.). Maybe that person loses. If so, then so be it. The people really want the spine. But if not, then people build things that are more appropriate for the area.

        As far as getting experts across the board, I agree, that is unlikely. But all you need is a majority. All you may really need is a sensible minority. A handful of reps saying, for example “Look, the best thing you can do for your suburb is add bus service. I know you want light rail, but it just won’t work for you. You just don’t have the density. Look at suburbs across the country and across the continent. They have the same sort of thing. Feeder buses, express buses, commuter rail, all working together with an inner city that has excellent, expensive rail. Look at the data — I’ve run the numbers. It takes too long for someone from Evergreen* to get to his job in Fremont. It takes too long for someone in Riverside* to get to her job in First Hill. But run the buses and everything becomes much better.”. Right now, my guess is no one is having that conversation. They are basically embracing the spine and most of them have no idea how unsuccessful it will be or how it compares to similar projects in this country.

        * Those are neighborhoods in Everett.

      3. @Bernie — Yeah, I would be fine with that. A strong director, and the committee is largely responsible for appointing the right director. That is a common structure for school boards.

        Right now I’m not sure if the process is broken or the director is not very good. As FBD said, our history is not a very good one. We definitely screwed up with UW to Downtown. But that is in the past, I suppose. What isn’t clear is what is next. It won’t be the Metro 8 subway, or anything close. That itself is disconcerting. Nothing at all for the Central Area, even though you could make a damn good case that it should be served next. But then there is the fixation on the spine, which is obvious and likely. Individual projects (e. g. 522 BRT) are measured against this metric (will it help the spine). That is crazy, but that is the way things are moving. I don’t know if that is because of the board or because of the director. Either way it isn’t good.

        My guess is the director is simply a manager — a guy paid big bucks to sit in meetings and go along with what they recommend. Ask for more money from the legislature. Keep pushing the spine because it is what the committee wants. But when it comes time to actually setting the direction of the agency — having the *cough* spine — to do what makes sense — forget about it.

      4. To that Ross B, I’d say look at the Sound Transit District. Everybody wants a spine to serve the totality of the district in ST3.

        Now ST4 had better be drafted here, on this blog. ST4 – or renewing ST1 authority – had better be about west-east trusses. I may live in Skagit County – and not necessarily by choice. Also if I had a 100% free choice, I’d live in Mukilteo. But I sure as water as wet see a very pressing need for a ST4 to east-west truss the spine in Seattle and maybe if we’d get some serious TOD out of it Snohomish & Pierce Counties.

      5. Right now I’m not sure if the process is broken or the director is not very good. As FBD said, our history is not a very good one.

        Hey, the new guy has only been on the job for a month. Joni Earl set the finances straight and has set the agency on a path of under promise and over deliver. All well and good. Maybe now we can take the next step and let ST actually design a regional transit system that works.

        Interesting that he held up Dallas and LA as models to Seattle’s fledging efforts at long range planning. And note he said Seattle, not King County, not the Puget Sound and certainly not Everett and Tacoma. He’s already tipped his hat that sub area equity doesn’t mean we have to build stupid projects to everywhere.

    3. So “that argument — that the board will be stacked with transit opponents — is absurd.”

      It’s not that it definitely will be stacked with transit opponents. It’s that there’s a significant danger that Snohomish and Pierce and South King may choose transit opponents. Or transit proponents that would push exactly the kind of Link spine that you object to.

      “We have a great example of this opening in a couple months. If we could vote for just U-Link, would we? It is obviously flawed.”

      We did, although it was part of a larger line. An isolated downtown-UW (or U-District) line line is too hypothetical to compare because it was unlikely to ever be proposed (by ST or anybody). But if it were proposed (as such a short line with no other light rail in the region expected), then it would be a different kind of line and would probably have more stations to make that unit more viable, and because nobody would be traveling longer distances on it.

      But if it were proposed as a follow-up to the original DSTT vision, and with more extensions expected later, then it could very well have the same alignment and stations as now. Because the emphasis in the 80s and 90s was on “alternative to highways”, and the first Link proposals were in the I-5 express lanes or Eastlake. At the time the urbanists pushed for a station near Broadway and a station near University Way — which is what U/North Link has. The issues of more in-between stations or a 520 station or a better transfer for UW/520 buses did not come up much — that was all later when U-Link was revived just before ST2.

      Seattle and Bellevue-Redmond have the most likelyhood of electing urban-minded Walkerite boardmembers, but even there we know it would be iffy. So you really can’t expect that from South King, Pierce, or Snohomish. You may get one or two if you’re lucky, but a widespread change in attitude is not in the near future. Otherwise Renton and Tukwila and Kent would be thinking more about their downtowns and transit centers already.

      1. As far as the previous vote, that is my point. You really can’t say “it doesn’t matter because the voters have a final yay or nay” when presented a choice like that. Whether in isolation or part of a bigger project, I have no idea whether I would vote yes or no on U-Link. That is crazy, because I would vote enthusiastically for a proper U-Link. But I was never given the opportunity.

        I fear I won’t be given the opportunity in the future, either. There will be more “better than nothing” choices. More “enemy of the good is the perfect” arguments. I get that. I’m not expecting perfect. But for billions I am at least expecting very good, and I really doubt I will see it.

        I would not expect urban-minded candidates from the suburbs. But I would expect a contentious race between people who want to extend the spine and those who want more bus service. Maybe the ones running on more bus service are rogues — maybe they just want less transit. Or maybe they are willing to sacrifice midday service for express buses. I think the former is very unlikely, and the latter is not the end of the world. An emphasis on commuter trips is just as likely with the spine as without (if not more so). No, the train won’t dead head back. But without local connecting service, a suburban commuter rail line (pretending to be light rail) is pretty much useless for midday service. You need midday bus service somewhere, and you have much better odds putting your money into more bus service.

  10. All my adult life, rhetorically “reform” always means cutting anything that benefits anybody but the super-rich. And “accountable” means ordinary people going to jail for contempt for wrong choice of eating vs. paying court costs for their own time in jail for minor crimes.

    A law, laid down, incidentally by a State legislature that for months has been in contempt for months of the State Supreme Court for failure to fund education as the State Constitution requires. Because of “reforms” like Tim Eyman’s first initiative.

    In other words, being elected doesn’t guarantee you’re also honest, intelligent, humane, or not gutless. Or law-abiding either. On the other hand it’s equally true that being appointed doesn’t mean you won’t abuse your authority because it’s so hard to fire you.

    For transit, we’ve got a perfect chance for an assessment. Metro Transit belonged to an independent agency run by a self-selected board of elected officials from several municipalities around the region. The King County Council has always been directly elected by voters.

    From the beginning, the County promised- and delivered- a system run by elected officials. So anybody old enough to be paying transit-political attention…weigh in with your opinion of the results. But also remember that the term “Have to settle Governance first” was the invariable answer to any request for a decision on the DSTP- with the boring machines in the ground.

    Resulting in mistakes that left our system damaged ever since. Meaning, to me, that either form can work either well or ill. But that given the distraction an election can cause, the temporary worst of either form might be best abided until an important until an important technical job is done.

    Also like any machinery- as witness Bertha over our own present boring machines- good results come from skilled people who know their jobs. Voters or appointers can each sit at the controls. Overseen, for good or ill, by shareholders also called voters with above knowledge and skill. Martin, please edit this for being [TDL]

    Mark Dublin

    1. I agree with Mark here. For all of its faults the old Metro did many things much better than the County run Metro has. This applies both to the transit side and to the water quality side. (again remember Metro wasn’t formed as a transit agency but to clean up Lake Washington)

      I do wonder if it would have been better to move the transit side of the operation to a TBD structure like the one that governs Pierce Transit and Community Transit (indeed most transit systems in the state other than WSF, ST, Metro, and Everett Transit). TBDs aren’t without their flaws either, but you are much less likely to see a board member interfere with a route re-structure like happens with Metro.

  11. Look where McGinn and Constantine have gotten us, potentially spending over 10 billion on less than 10 miles of LR track, money that could be spent much more wisely. We need ST to be elected experts.

    1. The thing is a directly elected board wouldn’t be “experts”, you’d have the outright transit opponents who get in because they have a lot of money and voters don’t get that far down ballot. You’d have insiders much like the Port of Seattle. You’d have random gadflies like happened with the monorail board.

      1. Joe, transit opponents will be elected by voters who oppose transit. It’s practically inevitable that some would end up on the board unless every member is elected at-large. Good luck getting the state legislature to allow that.

      2. transit opponents will be elected by voters who oppose transit. It’s practically inevitable

        So, if their views differ from yours take their money but make sure they don’t have any say in how it’s spent. Got it. What’s sad is “transit advocates” seem to almost universally agree that the system is flawed but are scared spitless to even have a discussion that might upset the apple sausage cart.

      3. Thank you Bernie. Some of my fellow STB commentators would be well suited to serve on the Sound Transit Board, but wouldn’t be elected Mayor or Council Member of anything else.

        I would rather roll the dice on the off chance a transit opponent is going to want to commit themselves to a campaign for a transit board seat being anti-transit and then commit to hours of correspondence & meetings about transit. I really would.

      4. If the argument is that transit opponents might “derail” future Light Rail lines AND nobody here is happy with “Spine Destiny” OR with West Seattle Light Rail OR with Ballard-Downtown OR with a second DSTT under Fifth, then maybe just maybe having an elected Board that Just Says No isn’t such a bad thing after all!

        Yes, they’d be as rottenly corrupt as the day is long, but if there aren’t any projects, how much money can they really waste?

  12. I don’t get it. They are all public, elected officials already. Not a single one of them is in office purely because of an appointment. Last I checked, we regularly vote on mayors, city councils, and county councils. If we go to an “elected” ST board, we will be much worse off, similar to where we are with the current Port of Tacoma and Port of Seattle boards. Keep the ST board as-is. Their projects are on-time and under-budget, and there is one less line on the ballot to try and figure out. A purely-elected ST board will be a bunch of no-name half-wits (just like our Port boards) who we know nothing about when we vote on them.

    1. Yes, they are elected, but transit was probably near the bottom of the list of issues they campaigned on. Most of their campaigning was probably about development, homelessness, economic development, etc. So, their views on transit are at times totally unknown. And their transit view are not why people voted for them.

      1. Well so far for ST board members who have come from the KC council or the Seattle City Council transit has indeed often been one of the big issues during their election. For suburban members and those from Snohomish or Pierce counties less so. However due to appointments being controlled by the respective county exec ST board members have tended to be those with a strong interest in transit and in many cases mayors or council members who made transit a cornerstone issue of their last election.

  13. Ok, with Sound Transit currently on track to put Link to Federal Way on I-5 instead of 99, where the people are, in complete defiance of common sense (and on a ballot measure that passed 8 years ago with SR-99 wording, by the way, since you brought up that we can keep the board accountable by voting on ballot measures), and with ST set to effectively eliminate all Seattle express bus service with practically no input from riders (again, regardless of how people vote on ST3), then the fact that we can keep the board accountable by voting down projects is complete and utter nonsense. Even worse, if the only way to keep the board accountable is to vote down whole transit projects (a very destructive way to keep people accountable, IMHO), then I think it only makes sense to make them elected. It does add a political angle, but at least these board members will represent the people and what they want.

    I’m AlexKven and I approve this message.

    1. First it isn’t known exactly what the ST board will do WRT Seattle express bus service from Federal Way, etc.

      Second a directly elected board would have still likely put Link on I-5.

      Three while a more “accountable” board might be easier to convince to do what is popular with constituents do we really want a horde of elected board members getting involved on every minor route adjustment and schedule change like happens with the County Council?

      1. The difference is Chris, Dow Constantine can do as he and his staff pleases in regards to King County Metro. Meddling in King County Metro is NOT going to alone be enough to get a new King County Exec.

        Now a directly elected transit board that meddles and fouls up say King County Metro… entirely different story altogether.

        Some of these same arguments were made against electing a King County Elections Director. Amazingly once that position was elected, King County Elections stopped screwing around.

      1. That map is not to scale, and severely exaggerates the gyrations.

        It’s not the decision I would have made, but it’s not contrary to “common sense”. It minimizes community oppposition and saves $300m.

      2. Bellevue saved a ton of money by deleting the station from it’s DT tunnel. And lower ridership means on going operational efficiency not having to wait for all those pesky passengers. Taxing authority maxed out; OK, job done.

      3. Yeah, it’s totally not to scale, but I am frankly very surprised that Sound Transit puts out these very cartoonish out of scale maps that really does make Link on I-5 look much worse than it is.

        To add a little irony to your day, remember that one of the things they said as they announced the I-5 alignment in July is something like “We can’t have a route that zig-zags all around, serving every neighborhood.”

      4. Yes Bernie and let’s not forget that East Link didn’t run down Bellevue Way because they were concerned about the cost and traffic impacts from crossing through DT Bellevue. So they put it down 112th instead, where it wouldn’t have to cross downtown.

        Then Bellevue says, you know what? Let’s spend a billion dollars to swerve into a giant loop underneath downtown Bellevue. No need for a station – we’ll just punch back out of onto 112th and put our station above ground.

        Seriously, what in the hell??

      5. But wait, there’s more. Couldn’t possibly cross the environmentally sensitive Mercer Slew (yes, the one with an interstate already there) so digging a trench all the way along it’s western shore was the only way to go. And besides, noted rail planner John Chelminiak determined that there was no way to cross I-90 so light rail could never be extended to Issaquah anyway. Oh well, at least we get urban station spacing though the Muffler District; envy us Central District.

      6. How is an elected board, whose primary concern is getting elected, going to prevent that from happening? What you see is what Federal Way elected officials asked for.

        What you need in order to prevent that is a good newspaper that pays attention to transit issues.

        It’s difficult to think that in the current news situation an elected board is going to do much better. Good elections require an informed electorate.

        Unless you can figure out how to have a mob of heavily armed ranchers from Nevada take over a parking structure or something, chances are you’re not going to get much news attention about the Federal Way route.

      7. @Glenn — Someone runs against that. Maybe someone runs for ending at Highline and spending the rest of the money on bus service. Maybe someone runs at ending it even sooner.

        Oh, and I’m not sure if “not to scale” really bolsters the case here. It is about five miles (as the crow flies) from the Kent/Des Moines stop to the FWTC. So, yeah, it is only another mile or so to follow the freeway. A station every two and a half miles versus a station every three miles. It doesn’t make much difference. Either way it is a terrible idea.

  14. A directly elected board is a structure – but it won’t change things much for better or worse. The stories from BART and AC Tramsit (both elected boards) have both wonderful and horrible anecdotes.

    I think the bigger problem is coordination. As Link-bus trip-making disconnects and cities making transit investments without adequate operator considerations continue to emerge, it’s only getting worse.

    1. The funny thing is the current ST structure has some thought toward coordination. A certain percentage of the board members from each county have to be on the board of transit agencies of the county. The TBD boards in the case of CT and PT, the King County Exec/Council for Metro, and the Everett Mayor/Council for ET.

      1. I can see your point, Chris. The issue is more one of local government fiefdoms that pervades the region. The ST structure could be more effective but only when the operators and cities want to create that culture.

    1. And Ross for Position 2, and David for Position 3, and Ben for Position 4…

      Wait; AFAIK they all live in Seattle. Do we have any Eastside commenters besides me and the Sextalingual Sam?

    2. Dan Ryan, David Lawson, VeloBusDriver, and Dara are all in the Eastside. Oran and Peyton and myself have lived there and have family connections there. Others work in the Eastside.

      A bigger issue is who lives in Snohomish and Pierce?

  15. As a transit commuter I am on board with transit-focused legislation, but in principle I find a democratically elected board more more appealing than one that isn’t. Unelected technocrats tend to be willfully blind to their own shortcomings and do not necessarily make better policy.

    Instead of advocating for technocrats to dictate policy from above, maybe you should work on convincing more people that your policies are the right ones. I think that route leads to better outcomes.

    1. Ross’s contention above is that elections will lead to more technocrats, which I agree is implausible.

      But I agree that the fundamental issue with attacking the spine is that people in outlying areas are skeptical that buses will get them out of traffic and leery of providing the current auto ROW that would counter that skepticism, and that persuasion would be necessary to overcome that.

  16. On problem I have with the way the ST board is constituted is the discretionary appointments that are handed out as political favors. The other thing is Everett and Tacoma are guaranteed a seat at the table along with the county exec for Pierce and Snohomish. King County with a greater population than Pierce and Snohomish combined still has only those two guaranteed spots. Seattle makes sense as it’s the only real city in the region and has a third of the population of the largest county; almost as many as Snohomish County. Everett is only 14% of the smallest of the three counties. Bellevue is much larger but instead of any directly accountable representative for Bellevue/Kirkland/Redmond we get appointments like the Mayor of Issaquah and Sumner. THAT is a broken system. Transit advocates that are afraid of a more representative board understand that the current system is rigged in their favor. To “the usual Republican suspects” all I can say is, be careful what you wish for.

  17. Hilarious oxymorons read here:

    1. “Moderate Republican”
    2. “Elected Experts”

    The conceit of the voter runs deep in WA State. In order to believe either of the above creatures actually exist, you have to believe that we the voter have a good track record of directly electing people who get highly technical jobs done effectively. Generally, we believe that we will make better decisions than bureaucrats because… not sure why.

  18. The idea is that a directly elected board would be more responsive to the needs of Seattle where the people are, just like the state legislature… oh wait…

    1. The idea is that a directly elected board would be more responsive to the needs of Seattle where the people are

      And there lies the rub. Seattle might lose it’s choke hold on the King County appointed members. The mayor of Seattle and the County Exec hold all the cards. Everyone else serves at their pleasure. It’s highly unlikely that King County will ever have a County Executive that isn’t from a Seattle District.

    2. The Mayor of Seattle and the King County Exec are responsible for the Pierce and Snohomish boardmembers pushing Link extensions to Tacoma and Everett and ignoring other alternatives?

      “It’s highly unlikely that King County will ever have a County Executive that isn’t from a Seattle District.”

      Why? I vote for Dow because he’s a good exec, and my Eastside relatives do the same. If Balducci runs for exec someday I might vote for her.

      1. The Mayor of Seattle and the King County Exec are responsible for the Pierce and Snohomish boardmembers pushing Link extensions to Tacoma and Everett and ignoring other alternatives?

        Snohomish and Pierce follow their own follies. The mayor of Everett, which constitutes only 14% of Snohomish County is the cheerleader for Link not only to DT Everett (which already has under utilized Sounder service) but a Paine Field spur. Tacoma of course has it’s phenomenally successful Tacoma Link. Hey, it’s free money!

      2. Joe,

        It’s treated like free money by board members since it’s a guaranteed revenue stream from which all they have to do is spend. The mayor of Sumner has no accountability at the polls when the ST board makes a bone head decision. The mayor of Everett couldn’t care less about voters in Mill Creek or Marysville. ST has a pot of gold and he wants 100% of it for his 14% of the county population.

        Dividing the ST taxing district into even smaller fiefdoms I agree is a terrible idea. Like I said, we already have to many amateur chefs in the kitchen. Meanwhile we’re paying good money to a CEO who has more transit wonk credentials than even Sam. And he’s played ball in the political Big League. Let him pitch his own game. If you need to go out to the mound and have a discussion, fine.

        Alternately you have a board of 8, 2 each appointed by the county execs from Pierce and Snohomish and 4 from King County. Let the county councils approve the nomination. Make it a rule that no appointee can hold any elected office to avoid a conflict of interest (political pressure from voters and/or campaign donors) or the current system of appointments with it’s quid pro quo.

        Three, you elect this board of 8 the way King County elects it’s Port Commissioners. This would be my last choice only because I think it would be most likely to give us the board that we deserve rather than the type of board that we want. But if we’re stuck with a system where we first vote for a potpourri of projects and then have to live with an implementation decided long after the fact them maybe that’s the best we can do.

      3. “It’s treated like free money by board members since it’s a guaranteed revenue stream from which all they have to do is spend.”

        The taxpayers voted for it. What did they think it was going to do, not be a “guaranteed revenue stream” that the board would have to spend?

        “The mayor of Sumner has no accountability at the polls when the ST board makes a bone head decision. The mayor of Everett couldn’t care less about voters in Mill Creek or Marysville. ST has a pot of gold and he wants 100% of it for his 14% of the county population.”

        Mill Creek will get an Ash Way Station in any conceivable Link extension. I’m sure every Everett mayor expects that, and would support an extension to 164th if he can’t get it all the way to Everett. Marysville is outside the ST district. You might want to ask why the Mayor of Sumner would support Link to Tacoma over more Sounder service through Sumner.

  19. As I ponder it more, I’m wondering if a partially direct-elected board would work. It would give a voice that’s missing but not let populism run amok. I realize that no agrncy has tried this pariah idea but it seems intriguing.

  20. Do you know what I find a little pitiful about STB commentators’ thoughts on electing transit boards?

    The fact only one of us is openly craving the idea of running for one. That would be me.

    If you truly believe in transit, you’ll fight for transit. Period.

    I await your responses.

    1. How much does it pay? Part of the problem is we have a well paid CEO but entrust the decisions regarding every inch of ROW to a board that is basically doing it for ego or political payback. I don’t know the numbers but I’d be wiling to buy doughnuts for someone that shows me a position on the ST board pays better than being a Port Commissioner. Running for dog catcher these days involves a huge commitment of money.

    2. Some people have a personality that’s more attuned to running for elected office. I don’t. But there are a few people around here who I think might run someday if the board positions existed, if it were compatible enough with their other life goals.

  21. OK, let me toss out an idea (not sure I agree with it; I probably don’t, but maybe it’s worth discussing).
    How about a mixed board — half appointed by county executives as in the current model, and half elected from single-member districts. Plus the WSDOT director. Maybe nine in each category, for a total of 19 boardmembers.

    The people who want their directly-elected representatives on the board would have them, and local governments would still be represented.

    One caveat would be that the districts be drawn by computer in a way that eliminates the political biases that we see in state and King County redistricting.

  22. Martin, you might want to update this post. The bill was heard in Oly yesterday, and the only people to testify in support were the usual suspects from the Kemper Freeman crowd: Bruce Nurse, Kevin Wallace, Don Davidson, Dick Paylor, etc. That’s enough to reflect the real intent behind this idea IMO.

  23. I think you all in Seattle should take a close look at the functioning of the three elected transit boards in the country–BART in the Bay Area, AC Transit in the Bay Area East Bay, and Denver RTD, which I’m really not familiar with.

    There are good transit advocates on both the AC Transit and BART boards, and people who are not. The BART board in particular often has big money to spend, which attracts people. You also get people who are running because they want to run for higher office than, say, the AC Transit Board.

    The BART board has an ongoing, long-running urban/suburban split. BART has now begun to charge (a little) for parking, but suburban board members delayed parking charges for years.

    There is also the long ballot problem. With so many offices (and measures) on the ballot, people just stop voting before they get to the transit board. There usually aren’t clear political differences between the candidates (if the elections are seriously contested at all) and if there are it’s hard to get them aired when so many other races are going on.

    On the other hand, appointed transit boards can have people who are more interested in representing their city than helping transit.

  24. The assumption with this article is that the current system is ideal. The features of the current system: county executives cherry pick the members, i.e. ones who will agree with them; there is seldom any debate, for “group think” is well entrenched; the public is relegated to the end of what could be a very long meeting to offer a pittance, an insufficient two-minute comment in order for “public comment” to be checked off the board’s list of minimums met, and ballot measures are presented in a way that misleads the voters (e.g., $ per $1,000 of assessed valuation, or $x for the owner of a $300,000 property, when the average house is $500,000, and the voter shouldn’t have to “do the math” to figure out how much…they should be given the cost per year for the average homeowner in the taxing district, the # of years, and the total to be assessed). No surprise, the agency is opposing the legislation, as they want to protect the “accountability” that its officials have been allowed to define for the taxpayers due to the complacency of our legislators rather than moving towards a system of checks and balances, which is sorely needed for all agencies who survive due to the public’s generosity.

    1. Well said, TransitRider and when…

      a) The public comment times are such only retirees, government employees, and trolls (e.g. Queen Pearl, “Stop Facisim” Zimmermann) can participate it’s not genuine public comment.

      b) Public hearings are set up in a format where staff put up signs and then transit agency CEOs get to talk at but not take questions from the citizenry…

      We got a problem. I do think having ALL transit boards elected and having ST3 public comment hearings where we get to have a back and forth of questions would be good.

      I luckily do not have a vote on ST3, but unless – and I’m getting there – I’m assured the Paine Field diversion means more buses to ALL of Paine Field & Mukilteo, I’m not going to go gaga over ST3.

    2. What you said:
      “The assumption with this article is that the current system is ideal.”

      What I actually wrote:
      “It’s possible to imagine a governance model that produces better results, ”

      The question is what you’re trying to optimize. Your critique suggests that more public input is a good thing in itself. I think a system that maximizes usefulness to the largest number of people is best. More public input is damaging to that goal, not supportive of it.

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