Last month’s ST3 letters had lots of requests for projects not strictly required to have a functioning rail line serving the stops the corridor concepts enumerate. Cities up and down the corridors have asked for help on station access — parking, feeder bus improvements, bike and pedestrian work and so on. A number of stakeholders came together to ask ST to prioritize affordable housing — even if it means taking less than fair market value for land. Most notably, Seattle asked for “early wins” — including bus rapid transit improvements in corridors for which rail would be a decade and a half away.

All of these projects are laudable. Moreover, attached projects are nothing new in Sound Transit’s history: widespread park-and-rides, totally rebuilt roadways on MLK and Broadway, and legal requirements surrounding TOD have all been done before, some things stretching all the way back to the beginning of Sound Transit.

But these concessions come with a cost. ST Spokesman Geoff Patrick cites a staff rule of thumb that each dollar of spending at the beginning of a package eliminates two constant dollars at the end of a package. A truly huge number of small projects could eliminate a very large one; a smaller number may delay delivery of headline projects. Overall, in a given period of time, buying projects early means we buy half as much overall.

Interestingly, Patrick added that the financial plan assumes no revenue from property sales, so concessions to housing won’t affect the package that goes before voters. However, it’s still real money that will reduce fiscal flexibility.

Depending on the project, a tradeoff like that might be worthwhile. But it’s a tradeoff that the board should make consciously, rather than viewing it as something for nothing.

96 Replies to “Early Wins: Something for Nothing?”

  1. ST packages are the Christmas trees that everyone loves to hang an ornament on. It would be great if ST could stick to the big capital projects that only they can do, leaving SDOT and others to pull their own weight. But as long as ST is giving away money for “early wins,” what incentive does SDOT have to fund the projects that should be in their domain?

    1. It is more than that. SDOT is simply not allowed to fund projects it wants to build. ST is also limited, it just has a much bigger budget.

    2. Specifically, ST’s tax authority is much larger. SDOT is already doing as much as it can do. Prop 1 could have been a little bigger, but that would cut into the city’s other planned tax levies like subsidized housing and waterfront renovation, and its emergency reserve.

    3. Anytime I either get or borrow money, I look first for a way to start building something that will not so much bring me more money in the future, but mainly make it possible to make increasing progress on an ongoing project will utlive me by long enough that somebody else gets to set one or two dollar priorities.

      Light rail choice of Ballard over West Seattle? DSTT approach might be best. Build hardest part first, like the extra tunnel through Downtown Seattle with first money, and build out as necessary and affordable.

      Or: since Ballard line can branch off from or cross LINK at 45th, Ballard line could be considered taking easy fast advantage of a strong existing line. Judging by a couple of rides Saturday, depending on soils and geology, straight shot underground could be a very fast trip.

      Or/and….Might be most productive to start seriously studying- the coring and surveying kind, not the loathsome line of dots kind, or the dreaded multiple choice public opinion kind, to find out what is technically involved in getting something fast out there. Different than politically getting something out there fast.

      So while somebody else is decorating the tree, I’d be down at the hardware store so I can tell everybody about that really cute rock drill I saw, and all those shiny little caps on wires. No, you can’t put them in your cowboy gun!

      Mark Dublin

  2. I think ST should stick to early wins that the board finds would have a significant impact on the likelihood ST3 passes. For example, funding for seattle’s RR corridors probably isn’t justified as Seattle voters will probably overwhelmingly vote yes, but BRT on the east side on the other hand might make a difference

    1. Funding Seattle RR corridors will make a difference. You need a huge turnout of support from Seattle voters to win, not just people who live in West Seattle or Ballard.

  3. One of the things that bothers me about a lot of the suburban proposals for ST is the amount of parking they want built at all the stations. To me, this is a bit of a step backward – trying to eliminate car reliance with rail, only to build up additional (and expensive) infrastructure for people to store their cars. The expansion of bus access is a much better allocation of funding, IMO. But I haven’t looked at the full details of the proposal, so I son’t know the dirty details of who is asking for what.

    1. Different areas with different densities require different transit solutions. What works for Capital Hill Station clearly wouldn’t work for Issaquah. Cars are a suburban fact of life, and there is just no way you could add enough bus service in the burbs to make transit to a light rail station time competitive with driving and parking. Let’s maximize our investment in light rail by making it easy for people to use it.

      1. If your train station is dependent on park and ride lots, chances are you shouldn’t have built it. It is damn near impossible to have ridership necessary to justify light rail with drive up passengers. Of course adding in parking at the terminus makes sense, but if you are extending your line and counting on park and riders to justify it, then you are doing it wrong.

      2. It’s not about “justifying the extension”, it’s about giving mobility choices to the people who live in the region. There’s a diminishing return the further you go out, but I wouldn’t cut it off hard at the last RapidRide crosstown line. The issue is whether there are tens of thousands of people within 3-5 miles of the terminus. The reality of suburbs is cul-de-sacs, and that makes it hard to walk to the station or an arterial bus even if they’re close as the crow flies. That’s why we have P&Rs.

      3. I lived in Seattle and was a near exclusive bus user for 15 years and moved to the Eastside (Kirkland) less than a year ago. The ignorance of many Seattle based transit advocates with regards to how people actually get around on the eastside and what will and will not work for them, borders on almost willful at times. It’s a shame because it is likely to result in a great deal of complication and unnecessary teeth gnashing as we approach finalizing ST3.

        I prefer to see a mixture off parking and TOD. I tend to think the proper approach is South Kirkland PR on steroids and in a better location. The SeaTimes editorial today had it right which is that PR’s are not inherently bad. Even with a heavy TOD focus they are a fact of life for at least another few decades. When critical mass is reached on density the PR can be removed entirely or switch to demand based pricing. Though I agree with someone else who noted that garages are a problem relative to surface lots in terms of actually eventually being removed.

      4. “If your train station is dependent on park and ride lots, chances are you shouldn’t have built it.”

        ….I’d be a little looser about this. If the park and ride lots *cost nothing*, which happens sometimes in brownfields (the gravel lot’s already there) then hey, go for it. If the park-and-ride lots *charge for parking* and *make a profit on parking*, which happens at quite a lot of train stations in New Jersey, hey, go for it.

        If you’re subsidizing the train *and* you don’t get enough walkup / bike / dropoff traffic so you need park-and-rides, *and* you’re *subsidizing* the parking, then yeah, you probably shouldn’t have built it — you are effectively subsidizing car-based sprawl.

    2. I would be OK with this if they start charging for parking, like Metro does. (It can be small or even free at first, but eventually goes up as demand increases)

      1. Agreed. Vienna Station on the Orange line in NOVA charges $5 a day. Multiply that by 5000 stalls, which fill up every day, and you start talking about decent revenue. Not enough to pay for the capital cost of building a garage of course, but that’s not the expectation with rail either obviously.

      2. But these parking lots are not even coming close to realizing the actual value of the land

      3. Well, we’re talking about *all* stations. The goal of TOD is not parking. I think *some* parking will be ok, like maybe 25-50 stalls. But Saying that we should be building parking lots in Roosevelt, West Seattle, Ballard, along the East Link corridor….. that’s counter-productive in a city environment, especially with Seattle’s huge housing problem set.

      4. Was at the Capitol Hill opening day event on Saturday, and a lady was close to screaming at the people representing Sound Transit because they didn’t build a parking garage at the Capitol Hill or UW stations. Her flawed logic also was evident when she asked, “how do you expect me to get ride of my car if you don’t provide parking?”

      5. +1 Pete. I heard similar noises there, and some people decrying the lack of a parking structure in Roosevelt. Northgate….. already is one giant parking lot.

      6. Northgate needs less P&R by 2021, not more. You need an acre of parking to fill a single Link car. I tried parking in that lot twice. It fills up so early it’s pretty pointless, and I just got rid of my car instead. Put housing on that land and run frequent, reliable buses to the stops. Also connect the Roosevelt and Pinehurst bike routes to it instead of passing just a few blocks East.

      7. Northgate is only getting a little bit more parking. ST has to replace parking it doesn’t have the right to eliminate: the spaces it displaces for construction that are contractually obligated to the mall’s tenants. Metro surveyed the existing P&R usage and found most it comes from west and east: north Greenwood to Maple Leaf. So ST asked those neighborhoods whether they wanted more parking or more bus/bike/ped access. 3/4 of them said the latter. “We only drive to the P&R because there aren’t enough buses or sidewalks or bike paths.” So that’s what ST is doing. I doubt any other area would be so against P&R expansion, but one can hope at least partway.

      8. … so are there now more buses?

        (The 75 is doubling frequency, and the 67 is being rerouted, but is that anywhere near enough?)

      9. ST is targeting 2021 when Northgate Station opens, not now. ST is funding capital improvements for bus/bike/ped access, but I never paid attention to what exactly since I’ve never lived in the area. The ped bridge across I-5 is the most major one. ST is funding around a quarter of it, and Prop 1 is funding another chunk, and I think the rest still needs funding. The bus routes are mostly Metro’s domain, and it will have a ton of hours when the 41 and peak expresses are truncated (74, 76, etc, and perhaps even the 301, 316, 355, etc if they can get to Northgate Station quickly enough).

    3. I’m just a casual reader of this blog, but I keep seeing sentiments like this and I gotta say I don’t “get” it

      Couldn’t parking be seen as the grand bargain to get people who might not normally take transit to work it into their routines?

      Take my commute as an example – I live in North Bend (yeah, it’s still part of King County!) and commute to Seattle. Let’s call that 30 miles on the road

      I love transit and try to take it whenever possible. But my reality is that I need a car to get me to a hub. If there’s a Link station in Issaquah I will use it every day, as will half a dozen people on my street alone. That cuts my commute (by car) in half to about 15 miles

      But if there’s no parking there then what could I do? Garages are expensive, but is it any cheaper to run bus routes to areas without a lot of density?

      I’m fine with paying for parking, that makes sense to me

      1. The issue with public lots is that it obstructs the highest, best use of the land, dense development. The corollary of that, at least for me, is that private parking lots fit the bill — there are fewer obstructions to charging appropriately for parking, and converting the land use when the market will support it.

        That said, if suburban park-and-rides, especially for freeway stations, gets ST3 over the top I’ll swallow those objections. The implied Times idea that we should build giant public garages in central Ballard and West Seattle, however, is bonkers.

      2. ^ I agree with Martin. It’s a tough pill to swallow for me, though.

        Parking lots at the rail terminus is ok. But I’ve seen people saying that we should be building large parking lots *at every station* – including Roosevelt station! The problem here is that building large parking lots or garages at every light rail station simply facilitates poor land use; suburbanization, low density, high-percentages of impermeable land, more cars. Saying that we need parking lots for our cars now while we plan for future transit development will only continue to entrench cars, while making capital investments that will be hard to justify tearing down 20 years from now. One could argue that EV’s would be an acceptable middle ground – but the adoption rate of EV’s is WAY too low, and full adoption would probably take as long as developing extensive & efficient bus routing.

        Sorry if that was tangential.

      3. It isn’t just the cost of the parking, but the other issues it causes that are long term costs.

        Let’s take Kent. The parking lot takes a huge area of valuable land right next to the station. Given a proper mixed use development that same land could probably have more residents than are served by the existing parking structure. With mixed use, you get stores and offices and other trip generators as well, creating not just transit opportunity, but building the vitality around the station and making a positive contribution to the community.

        With the parking garage there, everyone that parks there treats the surrounding city streets like their personal freeway to wherever they are driving, and create a miserable environment for those that actually live, work, or otherwise actually use facilities around the station.

        They also depress ridership by not allowing off peak trips. If there isn’t traffic congestion, then people who use park and ride lots will just keep on driving to wherever they are going. If the transit station serves an actual community or corridor, then ridership is better and the line is able to serve a much broader range of trips than peak period.

        Sure, in a place as sprawled out as Seattle, there have to be park and ride lots to get political support. However, the reality is that they don’t generate much ridership and cost a lot in terms of community impact, development potential and construction and operating costs for not a whole lot of good ridership.

        At the end of the road to the park and ride is a community that looks like Clark County, Washington, with maybe one or two good transit corridors at peak period and everything else really not working very well because of the amount of effort and service hours going into serving a bunch of far flung park and ride lots.

      4. I’m an advocate of parking as a means of access to public transportation because it addresses the reality of the last mile for suburban people. There is a significant population in the Puget Sound region that will never be able to take advantage of public transportation because they have no public transportation within walking distance of their homes. Parking structures provide the crucial link for them to be able to use a bus or subway. I understand the long term argument against them, but I think now it is important to have that access point.

        The pricing, however, has to be right. Free is popular, but you see how the lots quickly get over-subscribed. They also can be used by others locally who aren’t even riding transit. The P&Rs should be priced on-demand the same as downtown parking. As long as the parking fee plus transit round trip is reasonable people should use the lot.

        I’m currently disappointed in some situations where a pay lot seems to be killing demand for transportation by raising the effective cost of the transportation. The WSF has this problem at some terminals. They’ve priced the lot far above demand so it isn’t effective as a ridership generator. I wish they’d go to on-demand pricing which would lower the price now, but respond if ridership increases.

      5. I would consider looking at property acquisition for surface parking only, rather than garages or nothing. It allows for ST to assemble enough land to get utility out in the short-run (renting unused parking before the line opens and charging for parking for riders once the line opens) as well as the long-run (a prime location for high-density redevelopment in a few decades once the parking becomes ‘surplus’ or unneeded). A number of BART station areas are in various stages of densification based on this unintended by strategic approach. A garage becomes a garage for decades, while a surface lot doesn’t usually last for decades.

        One of the most difficult things to do is to get land for high-density development around a station once a rail line opens. It’s expensive and it’s difficult to lay out a pedestrian network to connect nearby blocks when everything is in small parcels. This would circumvent these problems when the time occurs for station redevelopment.

      6. +1 Glenn and I’ll add one more thing.

        Even if you ignore all of the problems caused by parking near the station and somehow generate enough ridership from parking spaces, now you’re supporting the sprawl and encouraging more of it. I don’t want to do that.

        Certainly parking should be priced appropriately, but many of the problems that parking causes will still be there with pricing. You could get more turnover, and maybe you could eventually reduce the number of stalls, but I don’t think it makes any sense to build new lots/structures (especially huge ones) with the idea that pricing will make it ok.

      7. The other problem with parking cars to use transit is that it doesn’t scale. The proposed parking garage at Southeast Redmond is 1400 stalls. Eastgate is 1600 stalls. Both of these garages are huge, costly, and have a huge impact on the walkability of the surrounding area. A four-car link train holds 800 people. You can’t have “mass” transit and expect people to access it by driving. The geometry doesn’t work.

        Bikes are the answer for the last mile problem. A giant parking garage hurts the bikeability of the surrounding area too, because you now have 1400 cars trying to get there at the same time, and who wants to bike with that?

        A surface park & ride lot does work as a temporary land bank, as long as it is understood that it’s temporary, and you charge for parking so that there are always spots available. But with a surface park & ride you can end up with an awesome transfer point in a stupid location, because, by definition, if you can put a big parking lot there, there’s nothing else there, but you then serve this nothing with great transit. South Kirkland P&R is a prime example of this.

        Perhaps if we must build parking garages, we could build them some walk away from the station and build housing in between. Bike parking should still be right next to the station of course, as an incentive to bike rather than drive.

      8. One problem with charging for P&R usage is that the value is different depending on destination. Let’s say you work in downtown Seattle. Parking there is expensive, you may need to pay a toll to cross the bridge, plus gas costs. You’d probably be willing to pay more than a few dollars.

        On the other hand, let’s assume you live in Bothell and work in Redmond. You have free parking at work. So your only cost is gas. For you, anything more than free (or at most a dollar or two) will likely force you away from transit.

        So, do you want to make P&R’s only for access to Seattle, or make them useful for everyone?

      9. “Bikes are the answer for the last mile problem.”

        Bikes are not the complete answer. There are simply too many hills, it rains too often, and our biking infrastructure is too poor to support masses of people biking to transit stations. Let’s take Juanita to the freeway station at Totem Lake for example. That’s 1.5 miles. But anyone not in amazing shape won’t be able to do it without sweating. Particularly because 124th (which has a moderate hill) doesn’t have a bike lane, so most will want to use 116th (with up to 13% grade). Now it’s 35 degrees outside and raining. No one who’s not a serious biker will do that. You’re either going to drive to a P&R or home.

        Yes, in some areas it will work and we really do need good bike parking at stations. But P&R’s will still be necessary.

      10. The most insidious thing about parking minimums, P&Rs, and zoning restrictions is they distort the public’s perception of the most economic use of the land. If these restrictions were lifted, the inner third of Seattle would become like Chicago neighborhoods in a heartbeat: mostly 3-10 stories and row houses, with scattered houses remaining. Because the owners and developers know what’s most lucrative and what the market will bear. And the city would be significantly more affordable because landlords couldn’t price-gouge: there’s too much competition five blocks in every direction. And more owners would build duplexes and small 4-8 unit buildings, which are much less expensive to build than breadboxes, and could thus charge less rent for the same profit.

        When you get out to Issaquah the equation changes a lot, but not completely. If restrictions were lifted and P&R levies were harder to pass, then some in-town lots would become 2-4 stories and compact houses and street grids.

        The paradoxical thing is big-box stores with huge parking lots. It certainly looks like land is so cheap in the suburbs that they can literally throw it away on parking. How can that coexist with rising housing prices in the suburbs? The answer must be parking minimums displacing potential housing. The parking is a major expense (2-3 times the land of the building’s footprint), but not enough that corporations can’t afford it. If it were, then we’d see more garages at big-box stores, or different form factors. My favorite is Northgate North, which has several big-box stores stacked on top of each other with an adjacent garage. That’s the most sensible way to accommodate big-box stores and parking if we must.

        North Bend is so small-town and outside the urban-growth boundary (which ends at Issaquah, as the Sound Transit district does) that P&Rs and a coverage bus route (#208) are the only practical way to serve them. But at the same time they’re only a small number of people, so not many P&R spaces are required, and maybe the town could do more to contribute to their cost.

      11. To me, parking minimums make little sense in dense areas. In fact, I think developers should separate parking spaces from apartments – people who need a parking space can pay for it. And if not, you park your car at a local garage (and pay for it there) or don’t have a car. If the market demands that every apartment has a spot, then the developers will build that. I don’t believe there are any parking minimums in Manhattan and it works there (even with street parking).

        Zoning is more complicated. Especially in less dense areas, people will be unhappy if a factory suddenly moves in next to a subdivision. So zoning changes are complicated. It’s also difficult if you suddenly convert a few SFH’s to an apartment complex – suddenly traffic goes up substantially in your residential neighborhood, property values go down, etc… That being said, cities should be more proactive about upzoning as density increases to stay ahead of it. Perhaps work out some way where a single subdivision can vote on any zone changes and receive appropriate compensation from any development (from the developer).

      12. “Bikes are not the complete answer”

        Fair enough. But given appropriate priority, they can be a much bigger part of the answer than they are now. If we are willing to spend tens of millions of dollars on park and rides, we ought to be willing to provide all-ages-and-abilities bike infrastructure for the couple of miles around the station. Going out of your way and taking a steeper hill because the direct, less steep route isn’t safe, is not appropriate priority.

      13. “we ought to be willing to provide all-ages-and-abilities bike infrastructure for the couple of miles around the station”

        That basically means providing protected (by a substantial barrier) bike lanes on every arterial at the least. Doable? Sure. But extremely expensive. You’d basically have to either acquire a huge amount of land or convert at least 1 lane. And you still have the problem, in particular, of hills. Probably worth it in Seattle. In the suburbs? It would be very hard to justify.

      14. @David: Bike lanes may be the most cost-effective way to shift the transportation system away from cars. The streets are already there. All it really takes to make a bike lane are those plastic columns, paint, sealant, and some bolts. The problem would be a political battle between devoted drivers and bikers, which we already see. I have this conversation with my parents occasionally, who are suburbanites and compare the rise in urban biking to “rickshaws in Beijing”.

      15. I think P&R lots are probably a necessary evil at some of the suburban parking lots. Take the proposed Shoreline stations at 145th and 185th St. Sure, the buses will be reorganized, but will circuitous, infrequent routes like the 347 and 348 be enough to get people from their houses to the stations?

        Within Seattle city limits, this shouldn’t be necessary, but it’s a fact of life for the suburbs. I grew up in suburban New Jersey, and while NJ Transit commuter buses and trains had huge ridership, the only way to get to either was either driving or walking because of the lack of local routes.

      16. Metro will have a lot of hours to increase or replace the 347 and 348. 185th should have full-time frequent transit to realize Shoreline’s goals for the city. I don’t know Shoreline’s trip patterns exactly but 185th & Aurora to the station and community center is a given, and Swift will do part of it. Beyond that, I guess the 348’s route to North City and Jackson Park is a starting point, and you could add Lake City for good measure. That would bypass 145th Station so there would be tradeoffs there, but you have to weigh 15th vs 5th or a second route, and I don’t know enough to say what’s best. Then there’s City Hall at 175th & Aurora; it should have a one-seat ride to a station so maybe something 175th-ish. Then there’s the commercial center at 155th-160th & Aurora. Among all that is the 330, which already goes from Shoreline CC, 155th & Aurora, and Lake City, and could become more frequent, although it doesn’t go near 145th Station and making it do so would take service off eastern 155th Street and 25th Ave, which may be a tradeoff. But again, adding another route in that vicinity could relieve the tradeoff.

      17. @Robert: Adding bike lanes takes much more than just some paint and posts. A protected bike lane is 7 feet wide or so and is probably ~10 feet if you make it two way. That’s the size of a whole lane of traffic. So now we need to remove a traffic lane. If the road is 4 lanes, you can do a road diet and keep traffic flowing decently. But what if it’s some other number of lanes? What if it’s only 2 lanes? Or what if it’s 3 lanes and you take away a lane – how much worse does traffic get? And while most people stuck in traffic may be commuters, it will also affect emergency vehicles, delivery vehicles, etc…

        So basically, adding a protected bike lane is much harder than you say it is. Which doesn’t mean it’s not worth it. It’s just not cheap.

      18. White Rock BC seems to do ok-ish with paid parking everywhere and bus circulators that operate reasonable frequently to connect to the reasonably frequent express bus routes.

        Sure, parts near the big shopping center are a mess of cars and traffic, but the park and ride lots are out by the highway and not in the core of town.

  4. Have a feeling that every public project since the beginning of time has started out with this exact situation. Fact that people selfishly want in on it is one sign that somebody thinks its real enough that they can make some money off of it.

    So, as has always been the case, these things are always matters of negotiation. With both future losses and benefits hard to predict for sure. Leading to one thing we can know:

    How good is our negotiating team?


  5. At the very least, ST should roll out branding of their future ST2 lines and stations right away, especially since many locations are adjacent to high volume freeways or arterials. Construction announcement billboards build support for the agrncy as a successful agrncy that makes things happen. “Station opening in 2025” or “Blue Line opening in 2025” and the agency name and logo along with a web site with details would be very powerful that a strategy is in place as an alternative to crawling in traffic. It seems that most locations except Northgate Link have no anticipatory signage – and the public doubts if things will happen if the sites remain unsigned. That messaging will help build agency support in suburban areas with less transit-informed voters.

  6. I’m still confused by the rule of thumb that says $1 now = $2 later. Is that $2 absolute dollars or inflation adjusted? Yes, spending money now means less later, but I would think most of that would be offset by the rising costs of projects … building a station now costs less in absolute dollars than building that station 10 years from now. Tax revenues will generally rise with inflation, so is this “more now = less overall” driven by bonding capacity?

      1. Sorry I still don’t get this. Assuming that construction costs rise faster than inflation (which has historically been true), then $1 now = <$1 later, not the other way around. How does bonding capacity change the total cost of a project?

        In fact, I thought that what they did in LA was a perfect example of this supposed rule in reverse. They pulled in projects scheduled over 30 years to only 10 years and saved a bunch of money.

      2. I think you also need to factor in the tax base. With our region’s rapid growth I would imagine in 5-10 years ST’s tax base would be noticeably higher

      3. Thanks Martin – so my question still stands. If the “$2 later” is due to inflation, then it shouldn’t make a difference when we build it … an early win project will cost $10M next year, and if we defer it to the end of the project is should cost $20M with inflation … more money, same project.

        So yes, a $10M project in 2018 has a bigger impact than a $10M project in 2030 … but that $10M project in 2030 should cost $5M in 2018 (taking the inflation in reverse). I think that stat is misleading because it’s in absolute terms.

        If we do a bunch of little projects at the beginning, the absolute dollar amount is lower but the share is larger than a project with the same dollar amount built a 10 years later. It would be much more helpful if this was measured in terms of “share of the total package” … AKA in relative dollars.

        So the rule of thumb is trying to warn us to not be mislead by the low absolute dollar amount associate with projects that are completed early. However, it is NOT a warning against doing quick-win projects early … projects take the same share of the package regardless of when they are completed. The project costs in absolute dollars just move around depending on the forecasted construction period.

        Did I state that right?

      4. No, you still have it backwards. The $2 is stated in 2016 dollars. So you get less project when you build things early.

      5. So, Martin, in that case I call bullshit. It’s just obvious bullshit. Makes no sense whatsoever.

        $1 spent now means $1 not spent later. If you’re going to claim something else, you’re making an *extraordinary claim* and you need to provide evidence.

        I say this $2 stuff is garbage — lies.

      6. OK, as I note below, I think you just misunderstood what the ST spokesman was saying.

        I suspect this is actually a discussion about bond financing vs. pay-as-you-go. I advise that you correct your article after consulting to figure out where your misunderstanding was.

      7. ST collects tax revenue constantly, and issues bonds when contracts are set to start. the earlier the bonds are issued, the worse position ST is in for financing. So bonding on the first day definitely precludes projects in the future.

  7. Put enough ornaments on the tree and it can fall over.

    Look, most people on this blog have argued that “Spine Destiny” is a poor use of funds, but it is the ne plus ultra of ST3. Without it, nothing will be passed. But maybe “nothing” is better than “something” if that something is a bunch of mediocre solutions in search of problems.

    “Nothing” removes the Quixotic Dream of LRT to West Seattle, the tendentious arguments about a Paine Field routing, the wasteful I-5 routings south of Highline, though not the wasteful I-5 routing TO Highline. It moots the boiling anger of the Oh-So-Put-Upon Burgers [sic] of South Kirkland and questions about how to get to Issaquah. It might even lay to rest the Gallop to Puyallup’s parking garage.

    Let’s look at what an ST3 failure would mean for Seattle. The major loss would be Ballard to downtown and a second DSTT. ST is not going to include Ballard-UW in any likely package and nobody there gives a fig about a Metro 8. “That’s Seattle’s problem; it’s not ‘regional’!”

    Is there any way to accommodate the growth occurring in Ballard without rail? Sure there is, but it requires that the City “man up” about giving real bus priority in the 15th West corridor all the way to Third and Denny and, possibly, pay for a parallel, somewhat higher transit-only Ballard Bridge itself. Not cheap, but not ruinous.

    Then of course there is the second downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel. Such a facility must be built, according to the seemingly always a decade late Puget Sound Regional Council. It seems necessary that it include better service to South Lake Union. Now that the City has prioritized stations for SLU in the proposed Ballard-Downtown LRT line, in the event of a “No” vote it would clearby be time to revisit the “WSTT” concept surprisingly put forth by Seattle Subway in a rare fit of temporary sanity. There’s no reason that such a facility could not follow the routing through SLU rather than Belltown and keep the same two-northern portals concept of the original plan.

    Could Seattle pay for it itself? Yes, it could. The City has the right to levy an employment tax which it does not at this time use, and it should use it, but with a twist. Give businesses an exemption for every employee registered to vote and living at a verified address within the Seattle City limits. Obviously, this would reduce the income from the tax significantly, but it would reward businesses who did the “right thing” environmentally by hiring staff from within the heavily transit-served City. It would also give small businesses the opportunity to avoid the burden on lower-paying service jobs by hiring in-city residents.

    It would transfer much of the cost of the new facility which is necessary only because the existing facility which well-served North Seattle by re-purposing it to transit heavily dedicated to suburban travelers (e.g. “Link”) to the users of that suburban transit.

    Yes, I know it would be howlingly unpopular outside the City, but just read the comment threads in The Suburban Times and even Crosscut to get a flavor of what they already think of the City. And yet they want to work inside the City. Cognitive dissonance much?

    1. How many bullet holes can Seattle sustain in both feet before it bleeds out, when talking about tunnels.
      Start with a journey down forward thrust with a tunnel from SODO to Seattle Center/SLU, with branches to UW & Ballard on the north end, and branches to W. Seattle & points south and east on the other.
      Somehow that got turned up Pine St and it’s been a clusterfuk of planning mistakes ever since.
      I suppose if Seattle builds enough tunnels for cars, trains and buses in the future, all will be well – Oh, and a city willing to forego lots of basics to pay for all of it.

      1. Actually, mic, the Forward Thrust tunnel branched about Lenora, not at Seattle Center. The Seattle Center station was to have been on the Ballard line.

        The reason they went up Pine Street was because the DSTT was primarily for buses and they wanted to get the northend express buses through Seattle in the “right” direction. I think they missed the boat by not putting a junction in it at the turn, even if the “temporary” portal was at Third and Virginia, but they wanted to save money.

      2. Thanks, I’ve always wondered about that. I sat in a meeting once long ago where Councilman Benson remarked “you mean we built the tunnel in the wrong place?”, when the first inklings of going under I-5 were being tossed out for a future rail line.

      3. Or maybe, Mic, somebody looked at which of two underground routes through Seattle would serve more passengers, and decided the answer was pretty much what U-link just did?

        We here at the Nuremburg Tribunals (You know, where they made the MAN dual power bus you should have bought for your Tunnel?) would like as long a list of indictments as possible.

        What evidence do you actually have of alleged Pine Street outrages? A lot depends on this. Because Dropping cluster-anythings on your own helpless civilians has always been a war-crime.

        But it’s even worse to leave undetonated ones around where cows can step on them. As the decorated hero Bob Dylan once asked, in the 1960s just before Forward Thrust:

        “How many bullet holes can Seattle sustain in both feet,
        Before it bleeds out, when talking about tunnels?”

        Those LP’s are worth a fortune, Mic.


      4. The LP titled “Let’s dig up Pine St … twice” or “Don’t cry for me oh, Pill Hill Stn”, or maybe “Bury the CPS 6 fathoms under”, followed by “Rails in the DSTT – I Don’t got to show you no rails”, by the Sierra Madre’s.

    2. I’ll just add to this that the politics are clear. To get what it alone in the region truly needs (high capacity transit) the City must be willing to say — and mean — “We will do this with you or without you.”

    3. We’re lucky that we’ll have so much even without ST3. I have lived most of my life in the U-District, Capitol Hill, and Bellevue, and go to Northgate and Roosevelt and Rainier Valley on occasion, and Lynnwood and Redmond and SeaTac. Sometimes I have 4-5 trips between those a week, even ignoring work commutes, and I combine them into chain trips when I can. That’s thousands of hours I’ve wasted the past thirty years waiting for infrequent buses and getting caught in traffic and stopping every block — the equivalent of a six-month vacation or productive time lost. That’s enough destinations on ST2 to make me willing to write off living in Ballard or West Seattle or Lake City; although it seems like a shame to leave half the city outside the convenient-transit network, not to mention the future housing-price pressure in the half that is near Link. And I did live in Ballard for nine months and loved the atmosphere and might move back when I’m older even without Link, but the lack of Link creates a 30-minute overhead getting in and out of Ballard, and most of my destinations are in the east half of the city and the Eastside. Why are my destinations there? Before I was 18 it’s because my parents raised me there, and after I was 18 it’s because that’s where the most frequent buses and all-day expresses and gridded routes were.

      If ST3 fails there’s the possibility that Seattle might do something smaller, but it’s uncertain and it would open later. It’s uncertain that Seattle could use the monorail tax authority or get more tax authority from the legislature, it has a smaller tax base so its interest rate would be higher, and I’d be retirement age by the time it opens.

      Of course I’m not entirely pleased with ST3’s anticipated cost and all its projects. But it’s premature to give it a decisive yes or no until we know what exactly will be in it. It’s all still speculation and horse-trading at this point.

      1. That’s enough destinations on ST2 to make me willing to write off living in Ballard or West Seattle or Lake City or the Central District; although it seems like a shame to leave half the city outside the convenient-transit network…

        Sorry for interrupting and using an Internet Meme, but fixed that for you. Even if we never get any kind of high-capacity transit here in in the land of buses-that-sit-in-traffic-at-freeway-crossings, someday I hope to at least upgrade the CD to “place that people on STB mention in the same list of all of other dense areas in Seattle that lack high-capacity transit.” How in the world have we slipped behind Lake City, of all areas?

        (Yes, I-90 & Rainier Ave/Judkins Park station is technically in what is commonly known as “the Central District,” but being located on the periphery, atop a freeway, and primarily connected to destinations outside of Seattle doesn’t count in my world.)

      2. Because Lake City was only added a couple years ago. I forgot the CD because I’m still only halfway used to the idea that it’s a possible place for Link. I thought it wasn’t because it’s so close to downtown that it’s only a mile’s bus ride to transfer.

      3. @Mike: First, my apologies, my “how in the world” quip came across as personal to you and I didn’t mean that.

        The reason why the CD wants (and, in my humble opinion, needs) some form of high-capacity transit–I don’t care if it is rails or rubber tires in their own ROW but tunneled under 23rd Ave would be awesome–is because it is “so close, yet so far.” Getting to any of the big transfer points–downtown, Capitol Hill Station, Mt Baker TC, UW Station–requires, for most of us, either sitting in astounding traffic at IH-5, sitting in traffic at the ship canal bridge*, sitting in traffic on Rainier Ave, or taking two buses (or just one now-comes-at-odd-times bus, the 43) to reach a station. We need HCT for the same reason Capitol Hill needs/needed it: we’re boxed in by freeways and the lake, with smallish streets and limited room to add surface transit capacity. Our routes in the CD, by and large, can’t even be restructured because they’re all trolley and east of MLK they have to go where they’ve always gone.

        So that’s why I keep beating the drum to keep the CD on the list of that-sure-would-be-great, even though we have less than half the political clout of West Seattle.

        * The Montlake bridge is why I’m still so vehemently opposed to splitting the 48. South of the bridge we get fewer direct destinations and we still get to sit in traffic while the north side of the canal gets more (hey, now the 45 can go directly on the Ave! We would have liked that when it was the 48) and better reliability. I logically understand tradeoffs in a systemwide process…it still makes me irrationally cranky.

      4. Capitol Hill’s justification for Link is partly that people from the rest of the city go to it, to Seattle Central and Broadway shopping. SLU and Seattle Center/Uptown are like that. Belltown has highrises so a lot of residents and workers. The CD doesn’t have any of that. Providence sort of, but it’s not that major a draw, and a Denny/23rd line wouldn’t go to it anyway. Seattle University is really part of Broadway/First Hill, and again a Denny/23rd line wouldn’t go to it. There’s Garfield High School, but we haven’t made it a priority to get Link to all high schools, although it happens to serve some. Then there’s a bunch of small-lot single-family houses, which some people say is a large transit draw and the densest in the city, but to me they don’t look particularly dense and I don’t see a lot of pedestrians around. Is there something I’m missing?

      5. Thing is if you look at population density maps the CD is actually pretty damn dense for an area with so many single family homes. Why is that? Small lots, lots of duplex and triplex conversions before such things became illegal, and quite a few small apartment buildings mixed in with the single family homes.

      6. A few points:

        1) Route 48 is the most-used route that doesn’t serve downtown (an artificially-limiting distinction, I grant, because of how Metro’s route structure goes, but a useful metric nonetheless). Guess which one is second? Route 8. Even including both routes in a sorted list of “most riders per platform hour,” both would be in the top 20. The other high-usage, all-day routes are either RapidRides or are being restructured in a major fashion when some form of Link comes online…or are routes 7, 8, and 48. If I’m reading the 2015 guidelines report correctly, and I’d like to think I am, there is a pretty high-ridership hole that is being skipped. Backbone-of-northeast-Seattle route 41–which I used to ride a whole lot when I was truly LakeCityRider–gets truncated at a station that it doesn’t have to cross a freeway to meet, for example, and there’s already a major push to get Lake City its “own” station at NE 130th.

        2) Following 1, that shows that Central District denizens need to get to other places in the city and we’re willing to ride transit to do it. Yet we’re not even on the long-list by Metro or Sound Transit to get real high-capacity transit in this neck of the woods. Yes, we’re not on the way to anywhere grand, though we do have Swedish Medical Center Cherry Hill, which is trying hard to expand in a major way, new development already coming from the folks who brought us the boom in South Lake Union, and, as Chris Stefan points out, a lot of density that already existed. (Also, Garfield is one of the best high schools in the city, so maybe it should be served by rail or HCT, like Roosevelt.)

        2b) A Denny/23rd route would serve 23rd/Jackson, so it would directly touch the Promenade that’s going to be redeveloped.

        3) Speaking of density, people are going to move to the Central District (they already are, witnesseth all of the townhouses being built on multi-family-zoned lots) and there’s nothing we can do to stop them. Why don’t we get ahead of the trend instead of looking back in 20 years and saying “damn, well, sure wish we’d built that [something] down 23rd yeah?”

        4) I promise, this will be the only time I play the “social justice” card because I am loathe to do so when the numbers can otherwise back me up: Why doesn’t the CD have more destinations like Capitol Hill or Ballard? For decades, nobody wanted to come here. Nobody wanted to serve here with good transit–look back at how hard folks who predate me had to push to get the 48–and nobody wanted to build here. There’s a reason. Now, that push-back is lessening. We are, if not the last then certainly one of the last “affordable” neighborhoods that touch downtown Seattle. We have spillover from Capitol Hill and we have businesses and residents that have deliberately chosen to locate in the CD starting to put it on the map. We’re populated, we use transit, we are growing, and we have the room now, not in 30 years.

      7. Your fourth point is the strongest. Whenever I think of moving to Rainier Valley, I despair at the lack of destinations: the businesses down there don’t meet a lot of my needs so I’d have to go out of the district all the time. But the reason for that is the legacy of redlining, as you point out. And it won’t be fully gone until the development boom is finished. And I didn’t think of the Promenade 23 development, since I didn’t know it would be that big. How big will it be? Is the entire few blocks around 23rd & Jackson expected to become 4-6 story mixed-use?

      8. Excellent, I love it when the words in my head make sense to someone else. Though I thought that my first bullet point had pretty good numbers, since we obviously do use transit here between 23rd and MLK. :)

        Yes, much of 23rd in the CD is being upzoned. See the 23rd Ave Action Plan: and

        Right now, it isn’t for “several blocks” in all directions (more like 2-3), though I expect that to change as mixed uses come online and surrounding property owners get bought out. 23rd/Union is going to 65′, 23rd/Cherry is going to 40′ (a concession to the school-centric nature of the area), and 23rd/Jackson–where Promenade now sits–is going to 85′ with varying height surrounding zones.

        Even though I detest most of what happens on NextDoor, I’ll point out that my neighbors in this area are already looking at these upzones and saying “ooookay, where’s the transit to get people around here?” So it isn’t just me whistling into the wind.

  8. I agree, we can’t get something for nothing. Nor, in my opinion, should we focus too much on short term gains (to the detriment of long term ones). But in many cases, the small, short term project is simply a better value. Graham Street Station, 130th Street Station and even Madison BRT come to mind. In all these cases, the cost per minute saved per rider is much less than most of the other projects. So if a low value project, say West Seattle, gets delayed because of lots of high value ones, then I could live with that.

    1. What it’s actually likely to delay or eliminate is Ballard-UW. Can you live with that?

      1. Is Ballard-UW actually likely to be in an ST3 package? I definitely hope so, but given how ST has been unrelentingly biased against the corridor, I’m not assuming so.

      2. I wouldn’t assume so either. The bigger the package is, though, and the fewer Seattle add-ons there are to Ballard/West Seattle, the less excuse there is for them to exclude it.

        I suspect that there will be some tension between extending West Seattle Link to Burien/White Center and Ballard/UW, a pretty straightforward productivity vs. social justice tradeoff.

      3. If Ballard-UW is just a study, Ballard-Downtown had better be perfect and East King had better have something substantial, or the package has lost at least my vote.

      4. To answer your question, Martin: Absolutely, as long as things are built in the right order. As I’ve said before, I think Ballard to the UW is the next thing we should build. So, that would imply that we only add a bunch of back fill stations (and BRT projects) in ST3 (no major new light rail projects). Would I be OK with that? Yes. That would be a very small package, but a very cost effective one. I would look forward to ST4.

        What I don’t support is building things that are horrible waste of money. Things like West Seattle rail built instead of these little projects or Ballard to UW light rail would make me angry, and I would oppose that. As to whether I would actually vote against the proposal — that is a different matter. I have been voting for over 35 years, never missed an election, and believe I have supported every levy or proposition but one: a new jail. So it would be very strange for me to vote against ST3 (even if it was a mess) but stranger things have happened.

      5. Sure. In practice, Ballard to West Seattle via SLU is the clear first priority for Seattle to just about anyone with significant influence on the process. So the question is what else fits in the package, and what the priority should be: infill stations, Ballard/UW, Burien, bus improvements permanent and pre-rail, etc.

        I’m not making any claims here as to what should be first, but there are actual tradeoffs.

  9. I would suggest to ST to rebrand some lines in the Express bus program as a temporary light rail bridge for the future rail corridors where possible – along with building some temporary station features where possible including local bus transit transfer centers. Getting the community aware of station locations have the added benefit of encouraging early station area development layouts well before the stations open — and dampens any local movement to not allow denser development once stations are almost open. For example, it’s much easier to set the stage for 20-story towers in a future Issaquah than it is to have them at a Mercer Island station.

  10. On a random side note: is there any method to the color metro paints their buses? The new electric ones are purple, but the new hybrids are either blue or green. Is this just random?

    1. Like the Sonics, they seem stuck with a bad color scheme, although they occasionally make the best of it, and stretch the definition of their colors.

  11. Clearly the solution is just to not spend money on anything at all for ten or twenty years, then we’ll really be able to afford a lot of stuff!

    Good thing we don’t have to actually pay any attention to the time-value of the things we’re buying!

    1. Depending on the project, a tradeoff like that might be worthwhile. But it’s a tradeoff that the board should make consciously, rather than viewing it as something for nothing.

  12. Alert: my link ride was held up because bank robbers thought it wise to use public transit for their escape. They robbed the chase bank near Othello station. Didn’t get very far needles to say.

  13. “But these concessions come with a cost. ST Spokesman Geoff Patrick cites a staff rule of thumb that each dollar of spending at the beginning of a package eliminates two constant dollars at the end of a package. A truly huge number of small projects could eliminate a very large one; a smaller number may delay delivery of headline projects. Overall, in a given period of time, buying projects early means we buy half as much overall.”

    Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

    I’ve spent my life in investing and finance. This is bullshit. One of the following is true:
    — Either you misunderstood what Geoff Patrick is saying,
    — or he’s trying to pull the wool over someone’s eyes by lying,
    — or he’s saying that all of these projects are *value-destroying*, worth less than leaving the money in an interest-bearing bank account, and we should not build them — the Tim Eyman position, which is also wrong.

    I suspect you misunderstood what he’s saying.

    Here’s what I’m guessing he’s actually saying:
    — Sound Transit pays high interest rates on bonds. Spending more money early incurs higher borrowing costs, which are a waste.

    In that case, the solution is obvious: pay as you go. Don’t fund “early wins” out of bond funding; fund them strictly out of as-it-arrives tax funding on a pay-as-you-go basis, only to the extent that tax funding exceeds the amount dedicated to bond repayment.

    1. If I’ve misunderstood, I’m sure ST will send along a correction sometime soon.

      However, from your choices I’m not sure why it’d be weird for projects to be “value destroying” in a strict fiscal sense. We’re not expecting full farebox recovery, so building something 10 years earlier incurs 10 additional years of operating costs. Given a finite package length, this matters.

      Paying as you go means you can’t bond against the revenue you’ve accumulated. So if ST lets the revenue pile up in the bank until they need to sell a bond in 2025, that means they can’t finance a larger project, yes?

      I’m not saying we should delay everything, but we should look carefully at what we’re bringing up.

      1. If the project is value-creating, then building it 10 years earlier *creates economic value* which causes property values to rise, attracts people who perform more economic activity, and thus causes property tax and sales tax revenues to rise.

        I believe that Sound Transit is funded by sales tax? (Property tax responds much faster than sales tax to this sort of change, and is less influenced by other things — it would be hard to spot the effect on sales tax in the data.)

    2. ST has a fixed target and a legislative cap on the amount of bonds it can have outstanding. ST highly values minimizing budget risk after its problems in 2000, so it won’t raise its target. Therefore more small projects up front will postpone large projects.

      1. This is just such an incredibly dishonest and misleading way of putting it. One dollar spent on a small project is one dollar not spent on a large project. Not “two dollars”.

        If the issue relates to *bond interest*, say so. If one dollar borrowed is paying one dollar in interest over the course of the bond lifetime (entirely possible), then it becomes very valuable to avoid borrowing. If one dollar spent today means an increase in borrowing of one dollar, then you could end up with one dollar today costing two dollars — due to interest.

        All other things equal, earlier projects are obviously preferable to later projects because the benefits arrive earlier.And supposedly the projects are supposed to have economic benefits, with economic development resulting in improved property tax and sales tax income, right?

        And earlier projects cost less because construction inflation is higher than ordinary inflation, so *you get more bang for your buck if you spend it now* rather than later.

        This “two dollar” stuff *has* to be about bond interest, because anything else is nonsense.

  14. Here’s exactly the kind of project I’m looking for that will both be extremely necessary immediately, and also take care of a problem that probably costs us a lot of passengers, as well as seriously increased maintenance.

    Build and keep spotless as many toilets and their fixtures as money can buy. The on-property toilets at Tukwila are a health hazard. And the ones at the airport don’t have toilet seats, which is both a disease hazard and an duel-level insult to people who haven’t committed a crime.

    In East Africa, Tanzania researched and then built the most powerful tourist attraction on the continent. A nationwide system of public toilets, with staff on hand to major clean every stall after every single use.

    So it’s a modest priced short term program that will steadily gain ridership and good will that will definitely make money for future transit that’ll be rewarded before opening day.

    Also, self-flushing elevators that never need cones in front of them. Now we’ll see if anybody reads comments this far down.


    1. Labor costs are still just a bit lower in Tanzania, Mark – not to mention that I’ve seen quite a few toilets in Central Africa that were not even up to US public toilet standards.

      That said, a dearth of public toilets is a shame in a city where people are out and about constantly (at least in some areas). Someone at work mentioned that they saw someone urinating on a wall near the office this morning, and I asked them “well, if you have to go, particularly in when many businesses lock their bathrooms and you might not be allowed in some that don’t, where would you go?” There’s not really an answer to that in much of the city, and public health at least (not to mention basic human decency) would seem to require a solution.

  15. I somewhat agree with @huskytbone – ST’s project selection process is a Christmas tree with ornaments to hang. The board members have no “skin in the game,” so their aim is to please their individual constituents, campaign funders, and as many voters as possible. If the projects don’t do as promised, the politicians that voted for them are long gone, in one way or another, zero accountability. That’s why they will be sending out a package that has bloat in it, for it’s “other people’s money.” The two obvious examples are the $2 billion diversion to Paine Field in the north and the high capital cost, low ridership estimate Kirkland/Issaquah line on the east, while the area between Issaquah and Renton – a better direction for a segment on the east side – continues to get ignored. It’s also why – fir ST2 – they selected a 145th St. station, which at least one of their prominent members admitting that he wasn’t familiar with until after(!) the vote. That’s because they trusted the city folks vs. thinking of what made most sense for that segment (130th and 155th). Now, they’re scrambling to fix up a street that only has a 60 foot right-of-way. No matter, the system doesn’t have any mechanism for holding them accountable.

    It would be great if an independent analysis (vs. the one that they’re doing, which is laden with folks of their ilk) was done of these projects, but I doubt we’ll see that in our lifetimes.

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