Still from KOMO's 1975 documentary on the future of Seattle transportation.
Still from KOMO’s 1975 documentary on the future of Seattle transportation.

If waiting until 2038 for a Ballard line has got you down, watch this 25-minute 1975 KOMO documentary on urban growth and transportation plans for Seattle. It surveys the current options for growth, what agencies might play a leading role, and ends with the emerging consensus for building the DSTT and the I-90 HOV lanes, both of which were still 15 years away.

The doc speaks glowingly of the planned community of Reston, VA, which just celebrated its 50th anniversary.  San Francisco’s subruban-oriented BART, which was brand new at the time, is presented as a cautionary tale, with high operating costs and reliability issues (which have only gotten worse, it appears) wooshing people into the city from the suburbs without meaningfully addressing sprawl.

Seattle can’t get away from comparing itself to San Francisco, it seems.  While we’re in the wayback machine, check out this 1992 New York Times piece by Timothy Egan on urban villages (via @bruteforceblog):

With its high real estate prices and low percentage of families with children, San Francisco is a city that has largely closed the door to middle-income residents, the Mayor said. “The worst thing that could happen to Seattle would be to become like San Francisco,” Mayor Rice said in an interview last week. By creating urban villages with schools and parks, and not just new apartments or condominiums, the Mayor said he hoped to attract families rather than single adults.”

While the Eastside has grown in the intervening 24 years, attitudes haven’t changed as much:

Still, even with the water threat, the plan has been well received east of Seattle, where the combined population of cities like Bellevue, Redmond and Issaquah will soon surpass that of Seattle, which has 516,000 people.

“This is the first time that a Seattle mayor has ever had the guts to stand up and accept the fact that the city has to accept its share of growth,” said Mayor Cary Bozeman of Bellevue, the largest of the cities surrounding Seattle. “Politically, it is very difficult to buck the no-growth, not-in-my-backyard neighborhood groups.”

One such group in North Seattle has attacked the Mayor’s plan as a blueprint for more crime and congestion. “I don’t buy that we have to accept all the growth,” said Cat Newsheller, a neighborhood leader, at a public hearing on the plan last week.

As of 2015, Seattle has an estimated 662,400 residents.

23 Replies to “Check Out This 1975 Documentary on Seattle Transit”

      1. I’d put same thought a few words differently, AX. Cheaping out on maintenance IS sabotage. A problem not exactly confined to BART. So fair comparison is repair not being done in at all in (you name the system), with the expensive maintenance BART is doing.

        Also, has BART’s track gauge constantly caused problems worse than above ones? Very likely the engineers saw some advantages to it- which, like many others in design, didn’t materialize. Would like to see what inherent technical advantage “standard” one has.

        It’s very likely the BART engineers calculated that wider gauge meant faster, smoother trains, so that by 2016, the rest of the industry would have made the wider gauge standard.

        Different perspective between aerospace and railroad engineer, I much agree from experience. though Breda fleet was junk designed by rail engineers who design trains of same quality.

        By the late 1960’s, BART engineers were looking at a generation of existing equipment well into the end of its own life, and had reason to think new designs and materials were long overdue.

        Behind it all, though, main unforeseen change was that 1972 began the powerfully-unmentioned decline of the United States of America as an industrial power with an economy healthy for the majority of its population.

        So good chance a lot of badly-needed improvements both technically desirable and feasible became impossible because the majority who would have benefited got thrown out of power for half a century a minority with its own priorities.

        I also think that the Viet Nam war literally blew away the exact savings that would have modernized our economy. But like the Japanese and German we obliterated and then rebuilt after WWII, repairs, like sanitary waste, happen.

        Mark Dublin

      2. So if BART is carrying 450,000/day, if it was fully automated (it kind of is) without operators, couldn’t it be covering it’s costs and or make money, and use that to update the system? I guess I’m a little confused how a system like this and its significant ridership can’t be making money on operations as unconventional that may sound.

      3. BART makes 70-80 percent of their operating costs from fares.

        One of BART’s issues is the imbalance of pay in job categories. Police make too little. Station agents make too much. Operators also get great pay – given how automated and safe and easy the job is.

        There is an agreement between BART and Muni in San Francisco with the city-only transit pass. Because BART offloads Muni for probably near 100,000 trips a day, Muni gives some pass sales to BART in exchange for pass use on BART.

      4. Like a lot of problems, it is probably a mix. As mentioned, there is a problem with its technology. But another problem is that it isn’t very efficient. Check out this comparison with other North American systems:
        BART is top ten in terms of ridership. Now sort “ridership per mile” and BART drops way down there (towards the bottom). I’m guessing the combination is really not a good one. In other words, lot a lot of systems, it is sapping money, but the size of it means that it is sapping more than most (a streetcar might be a losing proposition, but it won’t lose that much money overall).

      5. Ross, when your trains go 70 mph on many stretches, riders per mile is going to be lower.

        Most people in transit look at riders per service hour, because labor is the biggest cost component anyway.

    1. Blows me away that they didn’t use the standard railway gauge. Wow! ST won’t have to custom-order train cars in the future, even 40 years from now, because they went with the standard. BART has to custom manufacture everything because the wheels need to be a foot farther apart than everyone else.

      1. Engineers inventing new standards doesn’t blow me away. In fact I expect it to happen because I am one. The problem is someone who was supposed to quality check and manage these gun-ho engineers probably dropped the ball and let them get away with ridiculously over engineered solutions.

        We had a guy like that at my company, insisted he reinvent RFCs until it started breaking other systems. He was promptly removed from working on anything new as management recognized that people like this think they are proving how smart they are, but are in fact only causing their own demise as they fall into irrelevancy.

        It’s not too surprising that the bay area in the 70s had some of these out to prove themselves engineers on staff. It’s also reasonable to assume that some of them could get away with sneaking in useless expensive non standard designs without being noticed. The fact that they got away with it at the scale they did just suggests BART was managed yes men, not people with experience. It’s also not surprising since it was the inception of HCT in the bay area when these designs were made. It’s also government not private industry which makes it harder to back out given sunken costs and time.

      2. BART gauge was chosen at a time when there were no rail operations people leading the agency. Know of any other rail operators not led by someone who had managed rail operations for many years?

      3. Well, it is Indian gauge, so perhaps they will start a nascent rapid transit car-building industry…(or not).

        My understanding is that a lot of the maintenance issues have to do with a different track profile than standard, causing wear that normally wouldn’t occur as quickly, but I may be mistaken.

      4. Guess what? At least according to Wikipedia, a lot of Indian rapid transit systems use standard gauge, so they can use standard cars.

      1. this is certainly something that fails to be mentioned. After all, BART owns more parking than any other entity west of the Mississippi. They don’t charge much for it, and the garages are expensive.

        It should nearly all be redeveloped

      2. They actually are redeveloping a number of these lots… San Leandro and MacArthur are underway

  1. You elect leaders with a disease of weakness, they spread it like an epidemic, caving and bowing to political special interest who make threats or have no skin in the game (the majority of union employees who provide services to Seattelites do not live in Seattle. Shocker!) except the duties of their union negotiated contract.

    Lots of money spent on talking, work-groups, designs & consultants and union contracts. Very little on the action side. Just watch and see what happens with the Move Seattle funding, I won’t be surprised if it falls short like Bridge The Gap did. Dollar for dollar, this is an incredibly wasteful city and project financing system: pay the unions first, then, whatever money is left, this is what we offer the taxpayers as an upgrade to our transportation system.

    Time for an Washington State Income Tax to permanently fund Transportation and Education

    1. I was amazed to see this too. Boeing also has, or did have Light Rail Vehicles for SF Muni correct? Didn’t realize they have had this transit vehicle division.


    And a lot more online. Railroad track gauge has varied worldwide, and not only for technical reasons. Like some political ones. Have read that for passenger trains crossing from former- Soviet countries into Russia itself, cars have to be unbolted from their undercarriages and re-attached to broader ones.

    In general, it seems that broader gauges- often as much as 7 feet- are associated with a more stable ride at higher speeds than narrower ones. Narrow gauge is common for uses like mining railroads through mountains. Street rail in Helsinki Finland is narrow gauge.

    So it really is likely that BART engineers did see real advantage for broad gauge in a brand new railroad that was expected to set a new and better standard.

    Onset of decades of stagnation has same result as machinery disused and left to rust. Starting a week ago last Saturday, good evidence that one regional system has finally broken through into faster and better operations.

    Worth some serious sustained politics to keep it that way.

    Mark Dublin

  3. They used the wider gauge because they wanted the design to be more stable going across the Golden Gate Bridge and its winds.

    However, when the nimby-esque San Mateo County suburbs left the BART District, Marin County’s tax base couldn’t support its share of the system investment, so they were forced to leave under duress. Hence, no BART over the Golden Gate or in the SMC suburbs, beyond Millbrae, an extension which was funded by a special agreement between different agencies, rather than their joining the BARTD.

  4. That KOMO sure video brought back some old memories. I hope all the youngsters and newcomers on this blog take a look at it. You can see some of the seeds being planted that are now maturing.

    One of the consultants shown, Bill Eager, has evolved into a highway guy, best known locally for authoring Kemper Freeman Jr’s massive urban freeway rebuild and expansion, taking transit money and building highways — all in the name of “congestion relief.” Google his name and check out some of the links.

Comments are closed.