Back to base

By the standards of most transit agency budgets, Sound Transit’s next round of rail expansion plans will be expensive. Critics, constructive or not, wonder if there’s a cheaper way. There is, in principle, if the transit agency can simply ignore other stakeholders instead of buying them off. The biggest savings comes from simply taking grade-separated freeway space and kicking out as many cars as necessary to ensure free flow of buses.

But that presumes a totally different set of politicians, voter attitudes, and institutional structures from what precipitated the sorry defenestration of Transportation Secretary Peterson earlier this month. Her departure was related to several issues, but the direct cause ($) was the entirely foreseeable backlash against reserving uncongested road space for carpools and transit. Indeed Senate Transportation Chair Curtis King publicly wonders if WSDOT is extracting enough transit dollars from Sound Transit to pump back into the road system. While Republicans are generating all the juicy quotes, Democratic majorities didn’t keep the HOV lanes clear either. Passing a small ST tax package and assuming that WSDOT will deliver good ROW would be foolish in the extreme.

In this environment, truly reliable transit has to build its own right of way. Some Seattle residents snicker at the Everett-Tacoma light rail “spine”, and there are legitimate criticisms of that project. However, it would deliver a commute free of ever-escalating driving times and frequent congestion collapse due to accidents.

STB will always wholeheartedly support using precious road space to carry lots of people on transit instead of a few people in cars (or worse, to store cars). It’s at least plausible to achieve this when local leaders and voters are self-identified transit advocates, as they usually are at the city and county level, and therefore open to pro-transit arguments.  Regrettably, the city and county don’t own much freeway right of way. At the level of government that does own most of it, the center of gravity of the debate is over subtle impacts to SOV travel times. The overwhelmingly positive impact on bus riders is both undisputed, and irrelevant.

Choosing freeway rapid transit as the long-term solution forever holds transit hostage to the whims of a state that considers its fate a low priority, and forever allows highway widening to masquerade as a “pro-transit” measure to ensure the free flow of buses. It’s one reason why people all over the region are hoping for ST3 to deliver them from this trap with light rail – on its own right of way.

89 Replies to “The High Cost of Free Right-of-Way”

  1. While flashy new transit systems are useful for cutting ribbons in front of, we could do more for less to encourage transit use in the area by advocating for more active management of public ROW – both managed lanes and parking management.

    1. That’s going along just swimmingly right now, isn’t it?

      The all-out rebellion against demand management will occur if/when I-5 HOV lanes are converted to HOV3+ and the large number of two-person carpools get sent back into the general purpose lanes.

      Guess why WSDOT hasn’t designated an HOV lane for I-5 south of Northgate for all these years?

      Your opinion may be valid in theory, but reality puts you on a backward trajectory.

      1. No. I’ve been saying it for ages now: buses need their OWN transit lanes shared with no other vehicles. Look at the Mississauga Transitway. This whole argument about whether buses should share HOV2 or HOV3 lanes with cars is stupid.

  2. Has anyone heard a chirp out of those advocates of BRT, the Eastside Transportation Association? Are they just waiting until ST3 hits the ballot before calling for bus lanes on freeways?

    1. Because they aren’t really advocates of BRT. They just hate trains. That’s the reality of most “BRT-advocate” groups.

      1. I know, but part of me wants to just flood the group with new members and switch the mission statement around a little :)

    2. The ETA hardly seems like a bus advocacy group. Perusing their website, I find it hard to find anything that supports buses. But I see things like “war on cars” or anti HOT rhetoric. There are also anti-Metro diatribes. In short, they look very much like just an advocate for automobile users, at the expense of transit.

      This is in contrast to CETA (Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives). Whatever disagreements you may have with them (I certainly have a few), they seem to consistently support bus service. They are mainly a watchdog group that thinks that Sound Transit is corrupt or incompetent (or both). But the members have spoken out, and made clear that they would spend a lot more money on bus service. For example, here is Vic Bishop, a member of the organization, speaking in the Seattle Times (

      “We would agree Seattle needs another tunnel,” Bishop said. “It should be for buses, not for trains.”

      If you look at their key issues, or “What they want” (, it includes this very item:

      3. Finish the HOV system and commit to policies that keep it functioning at 45 mph 90 percent of the time.

      Personally, I find the various transit groups and the general level of discussion (outside this blog) to be ridiculously limited and frustrating. It just seems to be full of extremists. The ETA wants nothing to do with transit. CETA wants nothing to do with light rail (even UW to Ballard or Metro 8). Seattle Subway wants four trains to Tukwila. Sound Transit, meanwhile, wants to meet Seattle Subway half way, and build light rail to Fife, but without all the in-city rail that might clutter up a pretty map (OMG — I might have to zoom in to figure out if light rail actually serves First Hill). The Stranger and this blog seem to think that Sound Transit can do no wrong (whatever they propose must be awesome, naturally) and The Seattle Times is just nuts.

      We don’t have unlimited funds. We aren’t that rich. Even New York City isn’t that rich, because they won’t spend money on obviously better values. I fear that we will end up with a system that is a really bad value and wonder why so many people still drive.

      1. The Stranger and this blog seem to think that Sound Transit can do no wrong (whatever they propose must be awesome, naturally)

        I won’t speak for the Stranger, but as a writer I’m not terribly interested in whether Sound Transit is “right” or “wrong.” I’m interested in understanding the incentives and forces that cause them to produce the output that they do. You’ve repeatedly stated your thesis that they do what they do because they are incompetent, an idea of which I am extremely skeptical.

        Personally, I don’t think that the ST long-range plan or likely ST3 package is ridership maximizing, or anything particularly close to it. I do think it’s vote-maximizing, or close to it. Eliminate the need for a public vote, and you might get different outcomes. Short of that, large scale organizing for better plans is what’s going to improve matters from a ridership perspective.

      1. Thanks for the compliment; I worked hard at crafting this one. Frank’s comments really helped me to tighten up the thesis.

  3. On the topic of held-hostage, maybe ST should be the rail lines between Tacoma & Seattle.

      1. Never going to happen. Neither BNSF nor UP is interested in the least in selling. They want to get to the Port of Seattle, end of story. And they are protected by the Surface Transportation Board — another “STB” but one with a somewhat different agenda, albeit much concerned with steel wheels on steel rails.

      2. They’ll sell if their “mouths are stuffed with gold”.

        Make UP and BNSF an offer: buy the UP line (billions), guarantee that it will be passenger free forever, give UP free access in perpetuity, and triple-track it (more billions). Then buy the BNSF line (more billions), and give BNSF free access to the former UP line in perpetuity. At that point I think you could convert the BNSF line to all-passenger.

        Nobody’s wanted to put the money in. The Class I Railroads (BNSF, UP, NS, CSX, CN, CP) have proven to always be willing to sell *for the right price*, but the right price can be very, very high.

      3. The ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach are far more busy than the Port of Seattle or Tacoma. MetroLink in Los Angeles was able to buy the UP and BNSF lines they needed to operate their trains.

      4. Glenn,

        There are many more — and redundant — lines in the LA Basin. There were four separate routes to the ports from downtown, two of which were circuitous at best and one of which was a tertiary line.

        That tertiary line got a huge infusion of government cash to become a three mile trench used by (then) all three railroads.

        So, “Yes”, given enough money BNSF might sell.(mostly) and move through freight to an improved UP. But it would all add up to several billion dollars and not serve all that many people. Unless of course Kent, Auburn, and Puyallup grow to be a single long city which might happen.

      5. Are there industrial spurs off the BNSF line in the Kent Valley? As long as they’re in use, you wouldn’t be able to make the BNSF passenger-only. And we would prefer that that freight be on the railroads than on the highways, right?

      6. Buying up the rail lines would be a terrible value. It would cost a huge amount of money for very little in the way of time saved. But it would still be a better value than extending the spine.

      7. Any worse of a terrible idea than paying large sums to BNSF to improve track capacity and speed on lines ST doesn’t own?

        It’s a bit like paying your neighbor to add a utility box to the back of his truck so he can provide you with an occasional trip to the grocery store.

        Except, your neighbor’s truck is a semi with a 53 foot trailer that isn’t in town most of the time anyway, so most of the time the additional space you paid for (but isn’t yours) goes to moving a bit of additional freight.

      8. And then lucrative oil trains or coal trains come along and they don’t want your lousy passenger trains.

        Re Kent industrial spurs, that’s probably only a tiny percent of the traffic.

      9. This project, as I have mapped and detailed, is without-any-doubt technically feasible and sensible.

        Yes, the capital costs related to infrastructure improvement will not be zero, but neither will building an entirely brand new railroad while redundant heavy-rail main lines in Seattle sit under-utilized. Much of the new infrastructure should be built anyway for modern, safe operations.

        Additionally, there are so many tremendous civic benefits to be gained from a publicly-owned BNSF corridor that the reasonably high capital costs pale in comparison to the possibilities of improved quality of life and commerce in the Sea-Tac region. Fast, frequent trains between Seattle and Tacoma through the historic valley cities would transform our economic geography, and certainly our politics on transit, too.

        People decry the political battles this project may require, and this is legitimate. But grade-separating and heavily upgrading the UPRR mainline for exclusive freight services enticingly benefits both railroads enormously, and it gives the public the fine BNSF right-of-way while also removing dangerous chemicals from many city centers. BNSF and UPRR also have a long history of shared corridors and joint dispatching in critical areas. Do not speak of the perils of railroad politics in this instance when this possibility has never even been explored or entertained with any degree of seriousness. It is but 32 miles of mainline trackage. A new rail yard and access trench to Stampede Pass would need to be built, but those are not budget busters in the grand scheme of the overall cost.

        And it is far more sensible to use this technology for inter city linkages than light rail. On the face of it, the merit of this plan is a no-brainer with enormous civic potential.

        Check it out:

        Improving Rail Mobility in the Puget Sound: A Mapped, Annotated Plan.

      10. Google shows
        — two industrial spurs around 212th street (could be connected to UP line easily),
        — three industrial sidings just north of Auburn station
        — the wye at Auburn with the connection to the Stampede Pass line to Ellensburg across the mountains (not heavily used)
        — Auburn railyard (which actually has a connection to the UP line already)
        — the branch to McMillin, which has at least three sidings
        — an industrial siding just east of highway 512 in Puyallaup

        It’s OK to keep one or two local freight trains per day serving a passenger-primary line. It looks like the industrial sidings could be served by a single train per day, honestly. They don’t seem to hold very many cars each.

        Given how close the UP and BNSF lines are in the northern part of the route, everything except the McMillin branch and the Puyallup siding could be connected directly to the UP line given enough money.

      11. PS — there’s a mess of sidings from 180th to 212th, but the UP and BNSF lines are less than a block apart in that area anyway. Something could be worked out there pretty easily.

        The other alternative is passengers on the UP line and freight on the BNSF. I think the UP line actually has more industrial sidings south of 212th, though, and the passenger station locations are better on the BNSF.

      12. Indeed, there are some sidings along the BNSF mainlines that service local businesses, but those businesses can either be served by off-peak cargo trains, or, should the corridor be modernized in support of high-speed passenger operations, be relocated or bought-out.

  4. How many other rail systems have you commuted on? Rail systems require an equal level of operational support to manage breakdowns and headways, and major breakdowns can bring the system to a standstill. How many crossovers are planned for this super-reliable transit system? How likely is it doors will start jamming at stations as cars age, without there being any way to isolate a platform and let trains keep operating? How many light rail lines are 50 miles long? I would be a lot more sympathetic to your argument if just a little more operator perspective and failure resistance was built into the system than I’m seeing evidence of.

    1. Buses get stuck in traffic. Almost dependably. When the most people are riding. Because politicians don’t work up the courage to clear a few dozen parked cars out of what could be a high-use bus lane, much less support HOV 3+/bus lanes. That starts with the Seattle City Council. Don’t expect eastside politicians to be any better. Indeed, the council just voted to leave a bunch of parking along the Madison BRT route, and let the fancy BRT buses run in general traffic, mere months after getting a voter mandate to do just the opposite.

      Though operators aren’t generally supposed to do it, the light rail trains can move with the doors open.

      The plan is to separate the Everett and Tacoma lines, with a same-station (alas, probably not level) transfer in Seattle.

      Beyond the current at-grade segments, I believe ST has learned its lesson and is avoiding building any more grade crossings, with the only exceptions being wyes.

      Having trains use the other track has been done many times for special weekend maintenance, and, I believe, to also get around blockages.

      It isn’t perfect, but it sure beats the heck out of crawling in ever-worsening traffic, day in and day out.

      And no operator has ever been laid off because of this light rail system.

      1. Nonsense. That is simply not true. SDOT was able to eliminate a bunch of parking, and otherwise do as they wanted as far as Madison BRT. It will run exclusively (at great cost both in terms of dollars as well as driving mobility and parking) for much of the route. The only reason it doesn’t run 100% grade separated is because they said it isn’t necessary. But they have made it clear that they will take additional lanes if this changes or is untrue.

        Meanwhile, there are bus lanes all over the city. The problem is really gutless politicians. Especially those at the state level. The 405 HOT lanes were not sold as a transit plan. Unlike a lot of the bus only lanes in the city, it promised something for everyone. Regular traffic would move better, while buses moved a lot better. But it didn’t work out that way. For parts of the road it was faster, for others it was slower. But the main issue is that they didn’t deliver what they promised, not that the folks in charge chose transit over general traffic (and the general traffic folks won).

        Oh, and I don’t know what you mean by “operator”, but Sound Transit certainly cleaned house after the estimation for a light rail from the UW to SeaTac came in way over budget.

      2. – 0.25

        at great cost both in terms of dollars as well as driving mobility and parking

        Granted, this is an area that has a parking problem, but when I count parking spaces per block it looks to me like it is something like 7 to 10 per block. Most businesses get maybe one or two street spots each.

        It’s enough parking loss to make for loud shouting matches, but in the overall global commerce of the area, I doubt the loss is really going to be that bad.

    2. Trains are few in number, are run by professional conductors, and the signaling system allows only one train in a section at a time. Puget Sound highways have an accident almost every day somewhere that blocks traffic. Do Puget Sound railroads?

  5. You’re comparing undersized unripe crab apples to rotten watermelons, Modal. If average voter had any idea that a crossover isn’t a running shoe, the war would be over and we would’ve won.

    Everybody who’s ever driven a transit vehicle of any kind hates worst of all having to operate a badly designed and worse-managed system.
    The box-positive DSTT fare collection decision should have lost King County the right to operate a parking lot, let alone transit.

    But none of us kid ourselves that if transit became a hundred percent stuck-door free, I-5 would move four miles an hour instead of three. We need hundred miles of mainline right of way, like between Everett and Olympia.

    Our first job is convincing several hundred thousand voters that a 90 mph electric railroad will be faster and cheaper to build, and condemn a lot less of their property, than twenty more general purpose lanes plugged in five years.

    Believe me, the most-informed worst you can tell your elected officials about lame operations is not only warranted but vital. Just so you’ve got description, time, location, travel direction, route destination and vehicle number right.

    But right now, knowing what you do, critical to help convince a weary transit-worker’s union to stop being more skeptical than the average stuck motorist. Get your facts right and you’ll have a badly-needed audience.

    For starters, ride as much, and get on speaking terms with as many drivers and supervisors as you can. And without naming any names but yours, relay what you’re told to your elected reps. E-mail, phone, and write often, and attend meetings.

    And just like the NRA says about the Second Amendment and guns, protect your First Amendment right to Grievance Redress for bad transit operations. “What you don’t use, you lose!”

    Mark Dublin

  6. Some Seattle residents snicker at the Everett-Tacoma light rail “spine”, and there are legitimate criticisms of that project. However, it would deliver a commute free of ever-escalating driving times and frequent congestion collapse due to accidents.

    I can certainly see the appeal of having to build a completely separate right of way.

    However, at these types of distances limiting the speed of the trains to 55 mph isn’t going to deliver the speed improvements over driving for most of the hours of the day to generate really good ridership and development attraction to the stations.

    If you look at other continents, you will see that almost anything that is on a 30+ mile suburban line is designed to operate faster than this. The exception would be a few rare cases such as the Belgium Coast Tram, but that runs in city streets for 42 miles through continuous urban settings. Link isn’t that.

    1. As I understand it, the federal safety regs are incredibly excessive for light rail. For the straight sections, there really is no valid engineering reason that these trains couldn’t safely go 100.

      Or, as the train operators say “I Can’t Drive…..


      1. Yes, there is. The suspension on Siemens LRV’s is built for a designed maximum speed of 105 km/hr. That’s about 65 mph.

      2. Houston and Dallas supposedly use the higher speed ranges (65 and 70 mph) but I haven’t had any reason to go to Texas to actually see what they are doing.

        Originally, there was a plan to have parts of MAX be 70 mph, but this was scaled back to 55 mph. The reason given at the time was that they couldn’t find a proven design that would do 70 mph.

        That was 1983 though. There are designs now that can go higher than 55 mph.

      3. The Houston light rail does not top 30 mph. Given the nature of the streets it travels along, going faster than this would not be advisable or safe.

    2. Agreed. The transit system doesn’t match the region. It might make some sense for an area like Phoenix, which has moderate density spread out over a very wide area. But it doesn’t make sense for a commute-only, destination-free service pattern like this.

      Cities solve this problem one of two ways. Either the old way (commuter rail, using existing railroad lines) or the new way, using HOV lanes on the freeway. Quite often they do have a suburban terminus — a mega station where buses (and drivers) can interact with it. We already have that — there is no need, nor is it cost efficient — to go any farther.


      Southern Sweden.100 miles an hour,electric, bathrooms. Over distances pretty much regional for us. Everett-Olympia. Also best way to widen Highway 2 to Wenatchee.

      Pronounced “Poge-a-Toge” in English. “Little Boy Train.” Think they had a contest. Swedes often name trains this way.

      Glenn, present I-5 traffic conditions can only keep steadily compacting for about a hundred miles through areas very hard to widen.

      So really think fastest, least expensive, and least disruptive cure would be straight very fast rail line, level and and surface cut, well over the shoulder of the freeway.

      ST3 would count as first leg, and either DSTT or new tunnel could become part of it. New trains could be sized and contoured to fit. Might draw both public and government support by really addressing a permanently worsening blockage.

      Without aggravating problem during or after construction. Aggravating. My “take” on the HOT lanes is that they were conceived in the world of computer accounting, whose complexity made them open in a flood of aggravation.

      In human nature. worse reflex reaction than either danger or expense. Reason “liberal” is a term so hateful that even Bernie Sanders chokes on it and says “progressive.”

      Conversion to single lane five minute headway bus-only -with other one given back to general transit- might be a lot more popular all around short term.

      And also give transit-haters the chance they’re demanding to make people beg for more transit as their property gets condemned for more lanes to “cure the congestion”.


      1. Mark,

        That’s clearly a “Sprinter” style vehicle with full on railroad trucks. The S70 has a factory stated top speed of 105 kmh or 65 mph. You can’t go 90 miles an hour in a modern LRV, regardless what your beloved Electrolineers did.

      2. Stadler GTW are considered light rail cars in the USA, and the diesel version built for Austin is listed at 75 mph.

      3. Well, the answer is that we have 55 mph trains because that’s what we spec’d and we didn’t want to pay more for faster trains. But if we wanted faster trains we could, even if they have to slow down to the same speed for the curves. 90 mph isn’t strictly necessary. 65 mph would make them as fast as driving, and 75 mph would be even better.

  7. I think your assessment of the situation today is spot on. However, I would add that the uncertain tenuous nature of securing HOV, HOT and dedicated transit lanes is not necessarily a permanent condition and that we must continue to fight for better road space management while also investing in light rail. Today’s victories in road space seem small and fragile as Secretary Petersen’s firing over HOT lane backlash indicates, but the goal of free flowing transit on existing roads has too much potential benefit to ever fall by the wayside. The path to building out light rail is clearer which is valuable, but as we all know, the potential yield from ST3 will be a relatively limited network that will need to be supported by other forms of transit (or unspeakably large parking lots).

    In short, this is not a choice between two options and ST3 and BRT should not be seen as opposing propositions. In terms of where we invest our transit political capital (how much time and energy we are all willing to invest in this issue) think of ST3 as a more stable investment with limited but more certain returns and securing more road space is the more risky investment with greater potential returns. You might want more of one or the other but a healthy mix of both is a better strategy than going all in on one approach.

  8. I misread the headline. At first I thought Martin was talking about giving all that free ROW to the railroads years ago, so we could forever pay high stakes ransom for the government to use some if it later on.

    1. Great thought, Mic. Reason I think that boring history teachers should be sentenced to take a semester of their own classes.

      Have transit ROW created by reversing the original surveying mistake and by stocking the scene with buffalo and native Americans to make original event more realistic.

      Both played by well-paid extras, none of whom are Brad Pitt. With some history-liberties like both sets of extras winning, and then leasing the land to the homeless who originally seized it.

      With capacity suddenly caused by the fossil fuel industries exploding due to their own overproduction given over to on-time Sounder service and not blowing up either IDS or the CBD.

      Sorry, Mic, but you look too much like Brad Pitt. General Custer, maybe?


      1. Surveying mistake? Hey, don’t knock the surveyors, okay? They were asked to divide the land into a bunch of squares and they did just that. Hell, if you own acreage, your property is probably defined based on those original squares.

    2. Um, er, ah, you really don’t know about “penny a ton-mile” do you? The railroads which received Federal Land Grants (the CP, SP, AT&SF, UP, and NP) all had to haul government freight in perpetuity for one cent per ton mile. That was true through World War II when it became very clear that the rails could not maintain their tracks if the government didn’t pay more for using them and the law was repealed.

      The government still didn’t pay commercial rates, but it was a lot more than a penny a ton-mile.

      1. Yeah, better at making money. Just ask BNSF how the transfer of wealth is working out with Sounder.

  9. I’ve got some great pictures from recent bus rides up and down the Everett-Seattle I-5 corridor, including from a Double Tall. They’ll be going up into the Seattle Transit Blog Flickr Poll this evening…

  10. However, it [the spine] would deliver a commute free of ever-escalating driving times and frequent congestion collapse due to accidents.

    Really? How many people will walk to the stations, if the stations are by the freeway? Not many. How many stations are going to be placed away from crowded on-ramps? Again, not many. This means that a typical commute will be slow, just that the congestion will shift. Instead of the freeway being slow because of congestion, getting to the train will be really slow because of the congestion.

    We could spend money on this problem, of course. We could spend money on making all of these ramps and side streets more accessible, but not if we blow it all on a very expensive spine. that is the idiocy of the current approach. If we spent our money on extra service and infrastructure improvements that could make the end to end trip much faster, we would be better off. But instead we will make it wonderful for someone who is willing to spend 20 minutes getting to their parking spot in Martha Lake, but someone who takes a bus from north of Lake Stickney (one of the few pockets of density in Snohomish County) gets nothing out of the deal.

      1. Hey, Jarrett baby, who loves you? Just talked to the studio, and you get your choice which end of the buffalo!

        Thought about JP Morgan. But decided only client ever to play against type in a Western and get away with it was Henry Fonda.

        Well, sleep on it and get back to me. I gotta run!
        Not looking forward to telling Mark he can be either a railroad spike or a cactus!

        Brad Pitt

      2. Ah, mic, you like stirring things up, don’t you. Do you really want the “Sam” award of the month?

        You and I both know that Jarrett made some ridiculous assumptions when he defended Lynnwood Link. The first is that Lynnwood has huge numbers of people who would use light rail. I seriously doubt that if Walker had the time to study the situation that he would suggest that the best thing for this region is light rail out to Lynnwood. As folks like d. p. (wonder what the “D” stands for — hint, hint) have said in the past, there is a whole lot of nothingness out there.

      3. It’s a common first name, and since he hasn’t chosen to reveal it, I don’t think we should.

        Of course Link won’t help the traffic between somebody’s house and the station. But it would help part of the trip, and the largest part of the trip in some cases. Transit lanes on both freeways and local streets could do more, perhaps, but as Martin says that’s politically impossible right now. And while Drew says it may be possible later, it’s an absolute prerequisite for good transit mobility on existing streets, so we can’t just do nothing and wait for it to happen.

      4. Good point, Mike. Fair enough about the “d.” — that comment was meant for mic (inside joke, if you will).

        Anyway, simply “taking lanes” is politically difficult, and not really what I’m suggesting. My point is that there are a lot of infrastructure improvements that would help things. New ramps, for example. Brand new lanes. These are a lot like light rail, except a lot cheaper and thus a lot more spread out. There is only so much you can do, but in the case of an area like Snohomish County (where everything is spread out) it would likely be a much better value. I honestly don’t have a list of changes like this, but I remember reading one of the comments about that. Someone had a list of about a dozen, and none of them would likely encounter the type of political opposition that changing HOV 2 to HOV 3 would. They aren’t cheap, either, but they don’t cost billions. For example, Emmett Heath, head of Community Transit, suggested spending $88 million on a couple overpass projects. (

        But as to changing HOV 2 to HOV 3, I do think that is possible. We really haven’t had a showdown — a political battle over that. We have battled over HOT versus regular lanes, and we lost a round (sort of). If I’m not mistaken, there could also be a legal challenge over HOV 2 (since federal funding of HOV lanes was contingent on them moving at 45 MPH). The thing is, its not like light rail would be built right away either, or that very many people would spend most of their trip in the HOV lanes once Link gets to Lynnwood. That is a very long way from Seattle — it is about half the distance from the UW to downtown Everett. While Lynnwood to Everett moves slow, most of the people aren’t going that far into Everett, and it is by no means as slow as many locations (20 MPH seems dreadfully slow on the freeway but it is blazing fast on the surface streets).

      5. The most obvious thing about Snohomish and Pierce Counties is that the highways are wide and there’s gobs of land for transit lanes or an elevated train anywhere without cutting into a dense neighborhood — which does not exist in Seattle. I despair when looking at the clover leaves or one-story big-box stores with acres of parking, such as during my Canyon Park bus trip last week. It looks like the land is so f*ing cheap that people are just throwing it away, and it’s such a tiny part of a big-box store’s cost that they don’t care. How can that coexist with people not being able to afford apartments and houses? But somehow it does, and sprawl marches on. To be fair, I think Canyon Park has done a better job at compact housing developments and commercial plazas than, grr, Woodinville. So New Urbanism is coming little by little. But it’s still a lot of wasted space, which makes it harder to walk in, and makes the buses less frequent, and raises the cost of housing.

      6. HOV3+ is an interesting next battle, and an organized reform effort like Seattle Subway or the Transit Riders’ Union could maybe make some headway. But there’s still probably a majority of people who prefer 2+ because they can use it more often.

  11. Come on folks. Finishing The Spine is stupid. Build to Midway with two stations there, one for HC and one for the West Kent cluster. Add a really good bus intercept somewhere in the stretch where Link will be alongside I-5 south of Angle Lake and call it good.

    Extend to Alderwood Mall and SW 164th (thank you, Mike) on the north and call it good.

    Extend to downtown Redmond and call it good.

    You can do all that without voting “Yes” on “Spine Destiny”. Vote “No” this fall and then come back with a much smaller package consisting of the extensions to 164th, Redmond, South Sounder Improvements, a new bus tunnel for downtown Seattle (the original WSTT idea) and the Tacoma Streetcar extension. That should pencil out on sub-area equity terms and be a high-bang-for-the-buck plan.

    1. Or maybe a better idea is to add bus ramps to SR509 at 26th Avenue South and serve Angle Lake Station for express buses from the west side on a big wide street that will never have noticeable traffic.

    2. A plan that no one outside of Seattle would ever vote for. It wouldn’t be the first time that a urban rail ballot measure was sunk because Everett got screwed and they got royally pissed about it.

      1. BTW, I ain’t talking about Forward Thrust. I’m talking about the one around 1994, the predecessor to Sound Transit. As I remember, that ballot measure basically was 100% light rail that stopped in Lynnwood. Everett played a large part on killing it.

      2. Why would anyone vote for the spine? Look, a trip from Everett will be much better than today with what Anandakos proposes. The bus gets slogged down a bit getting to Lynnwood but it is still a huge improvement. Spend the money making other, cheaper, much more cost effective infrastructure improvements, like the overpasses and ramps that Emmett Heath (CEO of Community Transit) wants ( Spend some money on service, too. All of that would be a much better value.

        But why in hell would someone from Lynnwood vote for extending light rail to Everett? The reverse commute is no problem. Bus service is no problem. Someone in Lynnwood wants those sorts of improvements (cost effective ways of getting around in Snohomish County) not a very expensive train that would likely take longer to get from from Lynnwood to Everett than their current bus. What is true for Lynnwood is true for Edmonds, Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace. Of course Everett has more people than Edmonds, Lynnwood, Shoreline and Mountlake Terrace combined. Oh wait, it doesn’t. Quite the opposite.

      3. Ross is very right. Once the train gets to your latitude (or longitude for Eastsiders) you suddenly have little passion for more rails and “sleepers” (ties).

    3. When they voted no in the 1970s it took twenty years for another vote. And the next presidential election when it has the best chance of passage is 2020. That means it wouldn’t even start construction until the mid 2020s. But the mobility needs are now, and have been for twenty years.

      1. Of course, they actually voted *yes* in the 1970s.

        But you had a stupid supermajority rule. They didn’t vote yes *enough*.

        You’ve repealed that supermajority rule now, right? 51% is enough to win now, right?

      2. Mike, Donde,

        They’re probably not going to vote for it anyway, at least, not in East King, South King and Pierce.

        People are bending into ridiculous contortions trying to make something that is useful for East King, but WSDOT just blew up the only project that has any kind of decent ROI. So figure East King at 60-40 “No”.

        South King is too spread out by a couple of orders of magnitude to serve efficiently with rail. Especially when the “visionaries” of SeaTac, DesMoines and Federal Way are lying in a dirty hallway at a seedy motel on 99 mainlining auto lot sales taxes. Maybe even 65-35 “No” down there. If South Sounder gets a nice surprise, Kent and Auburn might come even.

        While voters in Tacoma might vote “Yes” weakly to push their cute little streetcar up the hill to some neighborhoods where people live, the rest of the “District” in Pierce will bellow “Hell, No!”

        There’s so much fiscal fellation being proposed for Snohomish County that I will admit it might actually pass up there, if only as a WPA project for laid-off Boeing workers. .

        So, the truth is the project is damned if the Board proposes the Big Kahuna package because it will piss off the anti-taxers to no end and damned if they propose one that makes economic sense because everyone will say, “What’s in it for me?”

        The lousy thing is that we’re going to end up with a clueless Republican governor and maybe an “R” State House of Representatives too. Bad times for Washington State.

      3. Mike, these aren’t really long times for major projects. And with things like transit, every system starts with, and is surrounded by, other systems. Whose benefit is if conditions change to take one down, others are there to take over.

        Main reason public transit has suffered so badly since World War II? In 1945, we seemed to have literally a whole world of flat space. And for the first time in history, the average person could finally have a car. Literally nobody could imagine a time when nationwide, due to cars, nothing could move.

        Also forgotten is that at the beginning, a major reason things didn’t plug solid sooner is that streetcars, trains, and buses took a lot of the load off. A lot of early planning assumed they’d always be here, no matter how new mode was exploding.

        Working for Greyhound in 1980- last time people would ride by choice, I watched airline deregulation change that. Again, something nobody expected, based on recent past conditions.

        Voters on Forward Thrust thought shopping malls were exciting. Many probably assumed that the trains would let them shop at a dozen of them every day. Leaving their cars for picking up kids at school and rides in the country.

        So defeat- by a small margin- wasn’t that big a deal. ‘Til around 1980. When Metro’s founders decided on a system that would make progress when possible, but to keep providing usable service through setbacks. Opposite of only working at all when finished.

        Also, excellent way be ready for transit’s first chance at a break since 1950. Like any change exact timing impossible to predict. The living patterns that killed transit were now themselves becoming unlivable.

        Wrong first bus vendor choice and a couple of decades’ lazy operations doesn’t change how well prepared we are for exactly the change the worst Dome-dwellers can mess with, but not stop.

        Everybody reading this: Right time and place for the most important lifetime work in the industry.

        Mark Dublin

      4. Killing ST3 wouldn’t kill all momentum for transit. Far from it. It hasn’t in the past (the time period between ST votes is pretty small). I’m not sure we would get anything better a few years later, but to suggest it is “our last chance” for twenty years is hyperbolic.

        As for it passing or not, it is anyone’s guess. If people vote for it or against it based on whether they will personally benefit (as in — I can see myself saving a lot of time once it is built) then it will go down in flames. You are just getting diminishing returns now, as we try to shoehorn a light rail line into what is obviously a commuter rail, express transit service. It is the opposite of what you would expect at this point. Adding Ballard to UW light rail benefits everyone in the region, because it connects so well with everything else. Likewise with just about any light rail line in the city you could imagine (even the ones that no one proposes — like Queen Anne to Fremont to Northgate). But with the spine you have the opposite. There just aren’t that many people going to places between Everett and Shoreline. Everyone north of Lynnwood benefits from Lynnwood light rail because there trip is much faster. But no one in Lynnwood, Edmonds or Mountlake Terrace will benefit from extending it to Everett. Bus service in the reverse direction is easy and fast (and will be more frequent when Link gets to Lynnwood).

        What is true for the north is true for the south, which has the added problem of absolutely dreadful times to get from Tacoma to Seattle (why would anyone take Link in the middle of day over the 590). Are people in Tacoma going to vote for Link to get a faster ride to the airport? I really doubt it. Meanwhile, the east side projects went from promising to a mess in a big hurry.

        Which means it is completely up to Seattle to save this thing. If a substantial number of people in the city say “enough already” then it will go down in flames. Enough with the spine, enough with wasteful projects that prioritize making letters (like ‘X’) versus making the best, most efficient set of projects you can. If enough people say “enough already”, then I think it will fail, and it will likely lead to a complete rethinking of priorities for Sound Transit.

        Of course, it could still pass, because voters are stupid. Left wing papers (and blogs) will talk about “the perfect being the enemy of the good” and all that. Right wing papers will focus on taxes, and spending more for cars (not sensible transit). People will assume this is just like Proposition One (with the same voices on each side) and next thing you know, it passes because “traffic is really bad and we have to do something”.

      5. Sound Transit polls to see what would vote well. If people didn’t want Link to Everett and Tacoma, ST would stop talking about it because it’s a vote-loser, and failed vote doesn’t help ST. But ST is talking about it, and all the county and city officials are talking about it, so there must be something they see that gives them a reason to push for it. It’s not like they aren’t smart enough to see that 5-minute BRT from the termini could be an alternative.

        “The lousy thing is that we’re going to end up with a clueless Republican governor and maybe an “R” State House of Representatives too.”

        It’s useless to predict that when the votes aren’t counted yet. It could go either way.

      6. Clearly it will pass with 100% of West Seattle’s votes. We keep getting told what a high percentage of the city is made up of West Seattle, which hasn’t gotten anything out of ST so far, so clearly they will vote for it unanimously and that will be enough.

  12. STB is not so much saying “ST can do no wrong” as being willing to go with the majority of the region rather than against it. Every single Snohomish city letter to ST endorsed Link to Everett with Paine Field. If there’s a large opposition, where is it? Why haven’t they been able to elect any mayors anywhere? People in this region believe they should have a vote on large transit projects, and that it should do what they think it should, not what you think it should or what transit experts think it should.

    If you really want to build a perfect urban-centric light rail network, then the time to start was in 1975 or 1980, taking ten or fifteen years to gradually convince the public, so that they’d be ready to vote for an urban-centric metro system in 1990. It’s way too late now for perfection; the most we can have is incremental improvements. And we have been getting them, with ST now on the side of TOD at stations rather than neutral, and formal ST/Metro integration planning — and the fact that Link stops in Capitol Hill at all rather than on Eastlake or at 45th & I-5.

    1. People forget that Forward Thrust got a large majority “yes” vote. But it required a 60% yes vote (why?).

      1. I think usual justification is to make sure the expenditure has enough support that one percent change of mind can’t kill the project.

        But I’m surprise that as yet, nobody has looked Tim Eyman and his backers, and the legislators who back him, in the eye, in front of a TV camera and demanded an end to permanent government by minority.


    2. STB is not so much saying “ST can do no wrong” as being willing to go with the majority of the region rather than against it

      If by “majority of the region” you mean a majority of the regional representatives, then we are saying the same thing. Of course that is an oversimplification. STB has been critical of Sound Transit. But they get a lot more slack than Metro, that’s for sure. Witness the failed restructure for Capitol Hill. There was post after post about how Metro screwed up, but very little about how they were put in a ridiculously awkward position because of ST’s failure to add adequate stations.

      Perhaps the most interesting STB post was the one that occurred when Seattle mistakenly gave the impression that they didn’t want a station by Aurora, on a line that deviated to Ballard by going to Denny and Westlake. Most of the folks were aghast at the decision, calling SDOT fools. You basically defended the action, saying it wasn’t that big of a deal. It turns out I was right — they essentially just dropped the sticker on the way to the meeting. Once the alignment (that most thought was sensible) was understood, you supported that as well.

      I’m not saying that is a bad choice, just making the observation that ST gets way more slack than everyone else around here, which is not a good thing. They should be held to a much higher standard, given the fact that they have a lot more money to play around with. If SDOT screws up, for example, and Madison BRT is stuck in traffic, they can clean that up fairly easily with some paint. Even if it doesn’t carry nearly as many riders as they had hoped, we aren’t talking billions of dollars. But if ST digs the wrong tunnel and the numbers never work out, we are pretty much stuck with it (and the real possibility that it is the last light rail we build).

      1. It wasn’t at Aurora, it was at Queen Anne Avenue. You weren’t the “leader of the pack”, just another hound baying.

    3. I am not STB; I’m just an active reader. And I do tend to give people the benefit of the doubt on things that aren’t critical. I don’t see an Aurora & Harrison station as critical. If it skipped Seattle Center and Uptown then I would complain loudly. Likewise, it doesn’t matter to me if Link goes to Everett or not, as long at it gets to Lynnwood. Either LRT or BRT beyond that are acceptable alternatives, and better than the status quo, which is cumbersome. But if we can get a seamless light rail network throughout the region, that would just be better for everybody’s mobility, so how can I be the one to say no to it? That doesn’t mean I see Everett as more important than Ballard or a Metro 8 line, but I don’t see them as either/or: they’re just different things, and one we’re voting on now (if we are; it’s not definite yet), and one we aren’t.

    4. “If by “majority of the region” you mean a majority of the regional representatives,”

      I’m taking about the majority of voters. The majority of voters put those representatives into place. In mayorships and county councils everywhere, and Seattle neighborhood organizations who don’t have council status, you see a lot of people who want what ST recommends: likes that give alternatives to freeway driving, and a few lines in the city. You also see a lot of people who don’t want their taxes raised and don’t think transit of any kind is important. But their numbers are shrinking as congestion gets worse and people get more and more frustrated. That’s why people who would not have voted for ST2 twenty years ago are now willing to, and why people who would have said “Hell no” to an ST3-wtih-spine twenty years ago are now not so against it. What you don’t see is officials supporting an urbanist network. Why aren’t they getting into office, even in Seattle’s new council districts? The pro-urban transit voice is larger than people thought five years ago before the Ballard/45th movement organized, but it’s still more of a moehill rather than a mountain. I wish it were a mountain, because I’d really love to have a network like Vancouver or Chicago or Cologne, and the 2-D rectangular urban areas like Chicago’s north side. But the public will only go so far at present.

  13. People have really bought into light rail, they understand it is new capacity at a high price that does not slow car traffic. They will vote for more of it in measured portions.

    That being said, politicians really should stand up to the anti HOT/V whiners. Congestion management works and benefits everyone in a specific corridor. Land use changes give people options to live a transit friendly lifestyle.

    In Seattle they need to make more progress in adding bus only lanes in critical corridors, better pedestrian facilities plus bike lanes. Get rid of on street parking to do it. Businesses and residents will whine a bit, but it needs to be done.,

    1. Ron, I don’t think that directly reducing car traffic is the first goal of rail transit. Main short-term goal is to permit a very large number of people to start moving very fast in spite of the way car traffic parks in lane.

      But, especially on elevated sections beside highways, it’s easy for motorists to read their speedometers and estimate speed difference between their car’s and the train’s. Over time, definitely cutting car use, for either them or their children.

      Of course, get everything possible out of the way of buses, from parked and moving cars to traffic lights. Although a halfway job in this kind of traffic management generates as much resistance as being forced to ride substandard bus service. Like a certain recent transit management matter.

      So gut level, thing I like most about free-way-side transit speed is that it really works by classic non-coercive free enterprise. All travelers are allowed and encouraged by greatest natural determinant on Earth:

      What your two-year-old is pointing at and screaming about!


  14. While it is true that transit has an uphill battle at getting right-of-way today, transit advocated should not give up. Free-flowing HOV3+ and Bus lanes on freeways, in addition to BRT routes with exclusive lanes and signal preemption, can provide good transit access to far more people in the region than light rail alone, and will be faster and more frequent, for most trips. Seattle certainly needs several more rail lines even under this scenario, but the suburbs would get much more benefit from widespread bus improvements.
    Here’s a map of the many, many arterial streets and freeways that would make great routes for BRT and Express buses. Combined with an improved Sounder system (fix the mudslides, electrify, double the number of stations, run trains every 15 minutes), this could provide great mobility for the region:

    (The map suggests a few expensive improvements; a new downtown bus tunnel and new freeway bus stations, in addition to new underground Sounder station downtown, but all the bus lines could be created at low cost)

  15. A way to move forward is with introducing some legislation in Olympia that requires taxes collected in a jurisdiction have to be used to provide services in that jurisdiction. An example is gasoline taxes, MVET, etc., collected in the three-county region of Pierce, King, and Snohomish, have to be spent on projects and services that benefit these three counties.

    It’s leverage to achieve an aim.

    At a minimum, there needs to be better transparency on where tax dollars are collected and where tax dollars are spent. Let’s answer the question of whether or not there are subsidies. And if so, which direction do the funds flow. This would create leverage.

    It’s been years since I’ve seen any information in, say, the ‘Seattle Times,’ at least that I can remember, about the amount of taxes collected in the three-county region that are used to pay for projects and services outside the three-county region. This needs to be used as leverage to achieve to help achieve the goals of building a sustainable future in our region.

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