Streetcars in Immanuel Kant's Hometown of Kaliningrad (née Konigsberg)
Streetcars in Immanuel Kant’s Hometown of Kaliningrad (née Konigsberg)

On Friday the The Transport Politic’s Yonah Freemark had a meditation on Sound Transit 3 and the values inherent in prioritizing projects. After a piece two weeks earlier in which he took a standard performance-first approach while arguing for the priority of Ballard over other regional projects, he then stepped back a bit and used his most recent post to ask, “Which riders matter?”

At face value, the idea that we should treat each transit rider equivalently in a comparative analysis may not seem particularly controversial. Doesn’t it make intuitive sense to prioritize transit projects that serve the most people for the lowest cost?

In truth, though, riders are different. Some are taking long trips, some short ones. Some are wealthy, some are poor. Some have no choice but to ride transit, others are picking it instead of driving.

If the Ballard light rail project I noted above was filled with people already using buses to get to work and who would save just a few minutes traveling by train versus bus, while the Tacoma project was to be used by people who otherwise would be driving and who would be saving a lot of time, can we still be confident that the Ballard project is the better one? What if the Ballard project was serving all wealthy people, while the Tacoma one was designed for the poor?

How do we differentiate between riders? Who matters most? These are essential questions that we must answer when we’re picking investments. After all, given the fact that resources are limited, we must have some way to determine how to use them—whether that is through a process of reviewing quantitative statistics or through political debate.

When it comes to urban transit systems in the U.S., determining what riders matter most has a direct impact on what types of services are provided. Many large regions, for instance, have chosen to subsidize commuter rail at a higher rate per rider than other modes of transportation. Essentially that means that suburban, longer-distance travelers are being prioritized over urban travelers.

It’s a great piece and I’d encourage you to read the whole thing, but echoing my earlier piece on values, I’d add that this preference for the qualitative over the quantitative applies equally to process as it does to outcomes, or as much to means as to ends. That is to say that politics is the art (not science) of managing human relationships to produce outcomes. We do studies and calculate metrics, but at the end of the day this is a political business, and we have to ask, “Which riders politicians matter?”

Consider this from a theoretical ethics perspective. Wonky blogs like ours tend to take utilitarian viewpoints; we’re systems people who see inherent value in optimizing transit for the greatest good of the greatest number of people. To our minds it’s self evident that ridership-maximizing rail options are superior, or that frequent service with transfers should be preferred over infrequent one-seat rides.

But when analyzing the politics of these things, it’s helpful to remember that political systems think more like Kant than John Stuart Mill. Their ethical frameworks are based not on quantitative outcomes, but on perceived duties to one another. It’s about who is owed what and when. It’s an economy of debts, and transit just so happens to be the currency in which these transactions are settled. When cities mostly lack projects in a proposed measure, such as Renton, they get angry not because that the agency failed to appropriately rank objective criteria, but because they feel left out and devalued.

Uncomfortable with the nakedness of this reality, we attempt to buttress our intended actions with studies and metrics and numbers, but it’s remarkable how little weight these numbers usually end up carrying; no one will prioritize a project because it carries a couple thousand more riders for the same money, but the issue will be decided on much more personal and qualitative grounds.

So identity matters; it matters who is asking for what, and for whom they’re asking it. And governance structures matter too, because they frame the range of acceptable outcomes, decide who gets seats at the table, and determine who is entitled to a share of projects.

This may be a cynical frame, but it’s also one less likely to lead to unnecessary disillusionment (it’s a pre-emptive disillusionment, if you will). In such a case a premium should be placed on the importance of organizing over argument, for superior arguments only win the day if accompanied by a much more basic emotional weight for the agencies involved: the threat of embarrassment, the possibility of electoral defeat, or the fear of conflict. That’s why agencies live and die by their ability to put out fires. What emerges from the ashes of our competing concerns is what we get to vote on. If that sounds dark, consider the autocratic alternatives.

108 Replies to “The Messy Humanity of Transit Politics”

  1. What really puzzles me is why Everett commuters aren’t giving their own politicians pushback over the plan to permanently force them to ride to an arbitrary point near Paine Field on their way to their jobs in Seattle every day. Do these riders matter to Everett politicians?

    Or riders living in Everett and working in Lynnwood, or vice versa. Do they not count?

    Ballard is already an employment center, just by being dense, even without a major corporate overlord anchoring the jobbiness. Snohomish County has plans for major jobbiness in the vast landscape of Paine Field. A single stop on a light rail line just doesn’t serve that kind of spread-out employment. Even without the conundrum of ruining the commute of everyone not using Paine Field Station, the problem remains that a single light rail stop does not begin to serve the transportation needs of the Paine Field diaspora.

    Everett politicians appear to be STOMPING THEIR FEET, while being tone-deaf to proposals that do a better job serving Everett riders, in a way that will minimize the wait for light rail to begin serving Everett Station. Delaying everyone else’s projects through YELLING THE LOUDEST and demanding that everyone else subsidize them, will not solve the inherent anti-rider and anti-ridership problems built into the Paine Field diversion.

    1. This. This what i dont get. Link LR is not commuter rail. Someone in everett that works in DT seattle will not be saving time by taking link over an express bus on I-5. Sno Co needs more buses, BRT and HOV lanes, Not billions of dollars for light rail.

      1. Suggestion, fil. Take one round trip ride between Downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac Airport during morning rush hour, the worse the weather the better. Snowstorm is best.

        Compare your train’s speed with fastest express bus you can see on I-5 between Boeing Access Road and Southcenter.

        Even behind the huge combined snow-plow and sand-truck on the fully-reserved busways in Pittsburgh, no bus anywhere near approaches train speed in heavy weather.

        It’s fair to argue that for city streets and arterials, or around an airport, buses fit much better than trains. But anyplace large numbers people have to reliably move fast in all weather, no comparison.

        Also, since buses can’t be coupled and therefore need following distance that has to increase with speed, best busway can’t come close to rail for capacity.

        I do think that DSTT’s planned progression from bus-only to joint-ops to rail-only shows that busways- like the DSTT itself- are a good way to handle a rail project that will take a long time to complete. Like ST3.

        A busway requires a heavier structure than a railroad. But for a multi-decade project, it could be worth the cost to grade and curve the trackway for rail, but make it both easily convertible and strong enough to use buses for years.

        The Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel took longer to convert than planned because when project began in the early ’80’s, low-floor buses and trains capable of speeds above forty didn’t exist.

        So conversion to rail involved some unpleasant choices: Add wheelchair lifts to the railcars, and let other passengers climb stairs- just like on the Breda fleet.

        Or, add a sloped ramp at the front of every bay. Meaning less platform space and a frequently blocked lane. Or, raise every platform. Meaning replace every single platform-level elevator and escalator in the Tunnel.

        The low-floor vehicles solved the conversion problem. However, to put vehicle floor height at platform level, roadbed at every station had to be skill-sawed and jack-hammered down a foot. Which was still cheaper than raising the platforms.

        So it should be possible for ST3 to provide express bus service on future trackways for at least some segments of some routes. Which, with transit-owned snowplows included, should bring bus service at its closest approach to rail.

        Mark Dublin

    2. As far as I know, there isn’t a group educating those constituents and organizing them. If that’s true, that’s why

    3. It’s because transit customers and rational operation come last in rail planning. The political structure of ST determines what can be discussed and delivered, and all the gamesmanship is over equitable capital spending and comparative advantage for economic development. Everett electeds likely have few if any transit riders among their inner circles, so riders’ needs are the last thing on their minds – just like Tacoma (let’s serve Tacoma with a big P&R at the Tacoma Dome), Renton (Let’s get the transit center out of downtown where it belongs), Federal Way (transit should be on I-5 to avoid affecting businesses on 99)… I would not go to an ST board meeting to hear an intelligent conversation about customers’ needs.

      1. Quasi, name me a single major project, public or private, that you support, that doesn’t include bargaining and favor-trading. Especially between departments of the same private company.

        But these last couple of weeks, I’ve been asking for something l think will provide you with the technical knowledge that politicians generally can’t: frequent discussion sessions with actual engineers.

        At least we’ll then have a good enough grounding in the technical facts of the work. Which should give us a lot more authority to critique our elected employees’ handling of the political ones.

        But I think light rail defies the basic principles of laziness, greed, and corruption. Too much work, ‘way too little money, uphill fight with constituents. So too much competition with road projects to bother.

        Mark

      2. Mark, politics are always present. But there should be a balance and dialogue between technical and political perspectives, and there is no trace of a technical perspective at play. I like the idea of frequent discussions with engineers (and even more with people who understand transit operations), but I also know that candor among engineers is not healthy from a career perspective when megaprojects are on the line.

      3. It’s because transit customers and rational operation come last in rail planning. The political structure of ST determines what can be discussed and delivered, and all the gamesmanship is over equitable capital spending and comparative advantage for economic development.

        One big issue is that in most cities in the USA, the percentage of trips using transit is so low that people don’t pay much attention to what is going on until it is too late.

        Or, they never pay attention at all because transit is irrelevant to them because what it does isn’t good enough for them to be attracted to using it, and so they continue to view transit as irrelevant even after improvements are made.

    4. I think it’s because no one is planning to ride Link all the way from Everett to Seattle. Anyone who lives near downtown Everett and works in downtown Seattle can already take Sounder, but almost certainly chooses to drive because it’s faster and more convenient; this will be doubly true for Link. Sure, plenty of those very folks driving in every day like to think that some of the drivers around them causing the traffic jam will switch to Link, easing the highway congestion (it’s telling that a lot of suburban leaders have let slip this false promise of Link), but those drivers will keep on driving too. So it’s all just advocating on behalf of imaginary potential riders.

      This is why I don’t really mind the Paine Field diversion — it actually gives Everett Link a purpose. Degrading the Everett-Seattle commute utility from “useful to 0.1% of commuters” to “useful to 0.09% of commuters” is an OK price to pay for giving AvGeekJoe and the 5 Boeing workers who live walking distance from a station the chance to get to Paine Field.

      1. A lot of people in Everett do take transit to jobs in Seattle, but they ride ST and CT buses instead of Sounder.

        So the issue is not a lack of a transit market (though to be fair there are only so many people in SW Snohomish county) but that Sounder meets the needs of so few current (or potential) transit riders.

      2. The riders on routes 510 and 513 aren’t figments of ST’s imagination. Same for the various CT northern commuter routes.

      3. Yes! Those riders do exist. The latest report seems to work out to 8,807 average daily boardings, scaling the total ridership down to daily using the same ratio they have for ST Express overall: http://www.soundtransit.org/sites/default/files/q4_2015_rpt_service_delivery.pdf.

        My point is that travel time from Everett to Seattle will be no faster on Link than on ST 510/512/513, so there’s no reason to think that Link will attract more ridership for these routes than they presently have. And if the diversion to Paine Field reduces this by 1/10, that’s only 880 daily trips, which is roughly a rounding error in the scheme of ST3 planning.

      4. With the Paine Field diversion, I expect Everett-Seattle riders to insist on keeping express buses.

        On the bright side, Link is going to have a capacity problem about the time Everett Link opens, so the Paine Field diversion might help solve that problem.

      5. I think it’s because no one is planning to ride Link all the way from Everett to Seattle. Anyone who lives near downtown Everett and works in downtown Seattle can already take Sounder, but almost certainly chooses to drive because it’s faster and more convenient; this will be doubly true for Link.

        If this were accurate, the ridership of the 510-513 series would be much lower. Far more people take the bus for that trip than Sounder. (Probably because it’s usually faster.)

      6. “travel time from Everett to Seattle will be no faster on Link than on ST 510/512/513, so there’s no reason to think that Link will attract more ridership for these routes than they presently have.”

        Yes there is. Link will be more frequent all day and not prone to random slowdowns every day when a car has an accident somewhere. Link will also go to other parts of north Seattle that the express buses don’t.

        However, the same is true whether Link is extended north of Lynnwood or not.

    5. This is why most mature rail cities have a hierarchy of rail to reach different distances – because stop spacing affects effectiveness. Commuter rail (long spacing) and express bus (point to point) for work for long distance trips, and urban rail works to circulate people in the densest areas. If we had a rational transit plan we would have an urban network in Seattle and the Eastside, and commuter rail and express bus elsewhere. But instead we are trying to accomplish all purposes with a long ubiquitous spine that mimics the freeway system because that’s the way our elected officials visualize travel patterns. Why? Because they drive everywhere. And because this is all about giving everyone rail equally regardless of function or need.

      This is why Portland could build a more effective 4-line urban rail network than ours for the inflation-adjusted equivalent of $3B (most of which was federal). Vancouver’s three lines were $4B, and run at high frequencies at all times due to automation. We’re $17.5B into rail so far and looking for $50B more, and we’ll collect twice all of that in tax revenues due to bond financing. If we built the urban system we need it would still be more expensive than Portland or Vancouver’s, but only because we waited longer, we have more challenging terrain and have chosen forge ahead without federal or state financing.

      The system being built in Seattle will be very successful, in fact I suspect it will be overused. STB has comparisons of Seattle’s plans with other peer cities, but all of them are heavy rail cities with 8-10 car train consists. This $67.5B (twice that with bonds) system we’re proposing will be over capacity by the time it’s complete, and will still not help us get across North Seattle. I just think of all we could do with just a sliver of those billions for our schools, social services, housing affordability, mental health, local sidewalks …

      1. The $50 billion price tag is total expenditures over 20 years including operations cost and interest payment. ST is proposed in spend about $20 billion in 2016 dollars for Link expansion.

      2. Thanks for the clarification, I haven’t been able to get my hands on the details behind the ST3 financial plan. That is a much smaller total for rail than I’d imagined ($37.5B for all phases, adding to closer to $75B total after debt service). But still a stark contrast to our neighbors. I appreciate the information.

      3. Even with the correction, it doesn’t change the basic truth you put so well. We are poised to spend a huge amount of money on something not that useful because our political leaders don’t understand transit.

      4. “More effective urban networks” don’t go through downtown on the surface stopping every two blocks and taking 20 minutes from one end of downtown to the other. MAX cost less because it avoided the investments that would have made it a superior service. If it did have a downtown tunnel, ridership would be significantly higher, transit would have a higher mode share, and people would find it more advantageous to live near stations.

      5. +1.

        However, in that era, nobody was building new downtown transit tunnels. The MAX concept was based on Edmonton, Calgary and then San Diego. New transit tunnels would have to wait for Buffalo (which didn’t work so well) and the Seattle (which showed everyone else what they should have learned from systems in Europe).

    6. And with this comment, the Seattle-Superiority-Complex commenters demonstrate that they learned literally nothing from this post or the linked article.

    7. I would imagine most of your questions were rhetorical, but I will answer them anyway, just to show the dynamic at work:

      What really puzzles me is why Everett commuters aren’t giving their own politicians pushback over the plan to permanently force them to ride to an arbitrary point near Paine Field on their way to their jobs in Seattle every day.

      My guess is very few Everett riders would benefit from a rail line to Everett Station. Everett Station is in the middle of nowhere. An I-5 alignment would mean a couple more stations in the middle of nowhere (next to the freeway). It is unlikely that there would be much in the way of feeder or complementary bus service, as what passes for bus service in the area is to the west (towards Paine Field). No matter what the routing, Everett Link will be used by very few people, and maybe those people know that light rail won’t benefit them, so they plan on voting no.

      Do these riders matter to Everett politicians?

      Probably not. Again, there are only a handful. Sounder North ridership is very tiny. Express service from Everett (510/512/532) is better, but still not that high. All together it is a lot less than 10,000 riders. Since these riders will be no better off with additional rail, there is no reason for Everett politicians to be overly concerned about them. This isn’t being built for them.

      Or riders living in Everett and working in Lynnwood, or vice versa. Do they not count?

      Once again we are talking about a few thousand, and talking about people who will be better off without rail. Big trains only run when they are full. This train won’t be full, so it won’t run that often. It will be largely dependent on feeder buses, and the transfer required to go to Lynnwood (or Seattle) will be a very inconvenient one. It is a vicious cycle of bad service that is quite common throughout the country. What is unusual is that the region seems poised to spend a huge amount for it (most cities spend very little on this type of thing).

      Now compare this with a Lynnwood terminus. Buses from the entire region would feed the station. So much so that ridership might be able to justify decent frequency. But it gets better for Lynnwood. So far as I know, there is no turn-back station between Northgate and Lynnwood. With high ridership at 130th and 145th, trains might be sent to Lynnwood because there is no other place for them to turn around (the irony of Lynnwood service being saved by the station at NE 130th isn’t lost on me). All of that would mean a much better transfer for those coming from Everett. Not just those coming from the Everett Station, but all over Everett. Reverse commuters to Everett, meanwhile, would have a much faster trip then if there was a train (the regular lanes are wide open for the reverse commute, let alone the HOV lanes). But all riders would be better off with express service (even a small slowdown isn’t enough to make up for coming to a complete stop for a minute).

      The only people who would come out behind are those who are going to some midpoint destination. For example, Everett to the Eastmont Park and Ride. The number of riders that actually take that trip, and would prefer it over Swift can be counted on one hand. Those riders will have to make a transfer (either in South Everett or Lynnwood).

      ST3 is not designed to improve transit. Politicians want to be able to say they successfully “got” light rail to their town, regardless of how well it functions. For some (in Tacoma as well as Everett) there is the hope that this will spur growth. This is a very expensive version of a streetcar. Absolutely meaningless when it comes to improving transit, and extremely dubious as a means to spur economic development. Unfortunately, unlike a streetcar, this will cost billions, not millions. The result will be worse transit for the area and (given the needs as well as regressive nature of our tax system) the average citizen in Snohomish County will be much worse off.

      1. “My guess is very few Everett riders would benefit from a rail line to Everett Station. Everett Station is in the middle of nowhere.”

        Still, they’re going to the same Everett Station to ride the 510/511/512.

        “Express service from Everett (510/512/532) is better, but still not that high. All together it is a lot less than 10,000 riders.”

        The buses are at capacity, which means that more buses would lead to more riders. People also get turned off when they have to stand for long periods of time on a bus, especially when it’s just one accident away from doubling the time.

        My sense is that Everett riders have as little imagination as Everett city, and they expect to go to an isolated station like Everett Station because that’s what happens when you live in a single-family neighborhood, and they don’t want density or living in a condo. Certainly the 510/512 riders expect to ride Link, but they may not know about the Paine deviation or realize its travel-time impact or fare-cost impact. What they most likely know about is the 10-year delay Paine Field causes in opening the line, since that has been reported in the newspapers. I’m hoping cooler heads will prevail with the Paine BRT loop by the time the decision is finalized.

  2. Thought-provoking notes.

    There are values and biases in transit ridership forecasting that make them volatile. All it takes is shaving an extra minute off of this or that, moving around where buses unload or what routes are rerouted to stop at a station, adjusting walk paths to a station, moving station locations, reducing the frequency of parallel bus routes, and on and on. The mathematics of transit paths are more variable than the public realizes. It’s an inaccurate science and a devious forecaster could force ridership to change in a number of ways. FTA knows this which is why any Federal funding comes with extensive review and even that misses lots.

    That said, there is the completely missed objectives we never discuss – like aggregate travel times saved for users, the taxpayer savings of faster trips by maximizing the productivity of drivers or the amount of economic activity that is induced by a new rail investment, for example.

    In sum, math presented cannot paint the whole picture. It is why there needs to be a political element to decide programs.

  3. Spot on Zach. In the previous article, I raised the question why Tacoma was happy with spending x per rider, while Everett had dug their heals in for the Full Monte of Link at 2x, costing a couple of billion more for about the same mileage, stations and fewer riders. I asked if they could pony up the extra 2 bil, rather than strong arm the E-Subarea for a loan.
    Now, put on your Mukilteo/Everett hat and remember back to the mid 90’s when lots of these deals were being struck. West Seattle, or Ballart to either the CBD or UW wasn’t even on the public radar scopes
    Seattle made the case to build the most productive and logical segments first, working towards eventual completion to Everet at a future date. Not much was known about how much those trades would eventually cost – only that the promise to complete them was ‘iron clad’, so here we are, a generation later building Mach 5 airbuses to serve Moses Lake, when a few 737’s would do nicely.

    1. >> Seattle made the case to build the most productive and logical segments first

      Yet they were ignored, and decided to build a line to the airport instead. Symbolism over functionality. It persists to this very day (it appears to be the motto for Sound Transit).

    2. They didn’t “just decide” to build a line to the airport. They decided to build a 45th-Rainier-SeaTac line, but the Ship Canal crossing proved too risky. If it had turned into cost overruns and delays or canceling or truncating the line in mid-construction, there might not be any light rail running now or the possibility of extensions before the next generation or the one after that.

  4. Public processes are messy everywhere, but Seattle’s is particularly terrible because there is such a lack of creative input by the public at large. It turns into a system where the public only reacts to one or two alternatives – which get refined and represented as another alternative when it really isn’t. The process also is driven by who whines and not who embraces. It’s also getting worse.

    Just this past month, Metro has a strategic plan with one alternative. SDOT revises the TMP with no publicized scrutiny. And no one questions why or how this happens. The assumption is that people are sheep or controversy isn’t healthy. Criticism is synonymous with being evil. ST3 does have its process logic gaps, but these other plans are done much less openly and we just don’t notice because ST3 is so sexy.

    1. Metro’s LRP came from a previous public round asking whether people wanted a network with mostly frequent routes, express routes, or local (coverage) routes. The “Frequent” answer seems to have won, fortunately. The current draft is not a final set of routes, which will have to go through the usual restructure processes, so I don’t think there needs to be more than one right now. What I want to see now is what Metro thinks is best, not two half-best compromises.

      1. But still — there is only one 2040 vision put on the table. There were never five different structures to compare and contrast that were shown to the public.

        Take Renton. There are many ways to serve Renton. Metro presents only one. That one shows ST3 lines but doesn’t use the relocated transit center. Why is that? Shouldn’t we have alternatives that show it used better? How would a system of limited stop true BarT routes work with parallel local routes, rather than a mostly local route with some elements of BRT stop enhancements and occasional signal priority that we call RapidRide in this plan?

        The same is true for the CD. Can there be faster ways to get to Doentown? Should there be a hub at Judkins Park Station on 23rd? Should there be a streetcar extension beyond those already studied?

        My point is that Metro skipped a step. They went directly from theoretical feedback to one alternative. Why? Is Metro afraid of a repeat of the CD restructure events of last year and want to use this to skip a step of public reaction?

      2. “That one shows ST3 lines but doesn’t use the relocated transit center. Why is that?”

        Maybe because Renton asked for it very recently and there wasn’t time to update the plan. Maybe because the new TC is out of the way of Renton’s trip patterns and Metro doesn’t know how to incorporate it any more than we do.

        “The same is true for the CD. Can there be faster ways to get to Doentown? Should there be a hub at Judkins Park Station on 23rd? Should there be a streetcar extension beyond those already studied?”

        Maybe that’s what the draft feedback period is for, to offer these suggestions. A network with hundreds of routes and two phases is a gargantuun task to perform; it’s not surprising that Metro missed a couple hubs or corridors, and expecting them to rewrite the network four or five times to have different alternatives (and ignoring the best ideas in the other alternatives so that they would all be distinct) is rather too much to ask.

    2. That’s funny, because people always complain about the “Seattle process” and how we tend to get bogged down discussing things, instead of “just building it”. As far as Sound Transit goes, I don’t think the problem is lack of public input. Of course I would have loved it if Sound Transit seriously considered the ideas and arguments made here and elsewhere. But we, the people, shouldn’t have to make those arguments. Right now there is a group of citizens fighting hard for a station at NE 130th. This shouldn’t be a requirement. If you are going to send a light rail line north of Northgate, it should include a station at NE 130th. This should be obvious.

      What is true of NE 130th is true of the entire system. ST3 is not a design failure because the politicians don’t listen to the public, it is a design failure because the politicians don’t understand transit.

  5. Right. Which is why it’s been so disappointing Murray sees himself as a regional go-along-to-get-along mayor, despite the fact that having stations in the exurbs adds little to no value to people living in Seattle. ST3 builds a S-Bahn type system that mainly serves regional commuters. Where is Murray’s push to build a U-Bahn that actually serves Seattle trips?

    1. I think Murray, like most of the politicians who have the real power when it comes to this debate think they understand transit, but don’t. I get it. I didn’t understand it that long ago. It isn’t obvious. It is way too easy to think in terms of a car. Tacoma to Everett light rail sounds great — it seems like just what we need. Likewise a West Seattle to Ballard subway. It isn’t until you dig into the details that it becomes obvious that long distance rail systems that mimic highways fail, while small, very thoughtfully planned subways can be very successful.

  6. I wouldn’t say we’re collectively strictly utilitarian. For one thing, the group is broadly in favor of late evening service fore reasons other than cost per rider.

    The group is prone to wield ridership estimates like a weapon when they support previous biases and question methodology when they don’t. So there’s something other than strict adherence to data going on.

    Yonah’s piece is a good reminder there is no single metric that should end an argument over a project.

    1. The group is generally against light rail to West Seattle for data reasons, but generally accepts that the political realities dictate that. They also are generally in favor of Ballard to UW for data reasons over Ballard to downtown, but understand that Amazon and Expedia have bigger sway

      1. I wouldn’t say as a group that is true, just true of some of the most frequent and vocal commenters.

        As to West Seattle, building rail there is still a better deal than to far flung suburbs. While BRT might be better from a cost effectiveness viewpoint, LRT service is necessary from a political viewpoint.

        As for Ballard to Downtown vs UW my view is “why not both?”

        Given the political layer cake that is Sound Transit projects outside the City are necessary to build projects inside it. To some extent as long as somewhat useful transit is built this is fine given the political realities. On the other hand I think it is worth saying “Wait a minute!” With boondoggles like Sounder North, the Paine Field diversion, LRT to downtown Redmond, LRT to Issaquah, Sounder to DuPont, and Sounder to Orting.

        Especially when those boondoggle projects mean cutting corners or taking money away from areas where transit is mor effective (Everett I’m looking at you).

      2. You can’t have both Ballard lines in ST3 is the conventional wisdom (since W. Seattle light rail is a given) in the N. King budget

      3. West Seattle BRT is not only better from a cost effectiveness standpoint, but from an efficacy standpoint as well. That may have been what you meant, but I just wanted to clarify. West Seattle BRT would result in more time savings for more riders even though it would cost less money. It would be like buying a Lexus SUV instead of a Hummer.

    2. Yonah’s piece is a good reminder there is no single metric that should end an argument over a project.

      As you know and already documented, in Portland TriMet just sent the southeast corridor plan back to the drawing board because after investing a pile of money into the BRT plan, the new service was going to be slower than the existing bus services.

      I agree that there is no single metric that should end an argument over a project, but if a project invests a bunch of money into an area and provides worse service at greater expense than the existing service or other alternatives, then it is time to look seriously at what has been proposed.

      If all or almost all of the metrics are consistently bad, then what?

      Let’s take highway 167. It’s going to be a brand spanking new wonderful freeway.
      Let’s suppose they decided to save some money by not paving it, so it’s instead a nice new 6 lane high speed, grade separated, limited access gravel road.
      Let’s suppose they decided to save some more money and built interchanges only several people could use on a day to day basis.
      So, Tacoma now has a huge new expensive (but SOMEWHAT CHEAPER!!!) highway serving it that only several people can actually use and really isn’t especially fast.
      Is it still a great highway? Or a waste of money?
      (assuming of course that building highway 167 isn’t a big waste to begin with)

      There’s a freeway running west from Olympia almost all the way to Montesano. Why didn’t highway 6 between Raymond and Chehalis get this same treatment? Because Highway 6 doesn’t have the traffic level that Montesano to Olympia does.

      Somehow, we expect no less than absolute perfection, speed increases and utility for all for a highway project, but don’t have this same high standard for transit projects. We expand highways based on congestion points and desired speed increases and the amount of traffic a highway has, but don’t have this same standard for transit projects.

      1. Well put. When a project fails every conceivable metric, then it has failed, and should be scrapped.

      2. Glenn,

        Do you think anything in the Southwest Corridor other than occasional queue jumps and block long bus lanes makes sense without a Marquam Hill Tunnel? I don’t. The area’s too spread out and has the same sorts of NIMBY’ism that afflicts Seattle.

      3. Southwest Corridor could be a great project. The bus route formerly known as 97 was at one time running articulated buses every 7 minutes out of downtown – but the fact that was the last holdout of the Crown-Ikarus articulated buses shows how long ago that was.

        It speaks terribly of the plan that they are ending the light rail line at the Bridgeport Village shopping center. This isn’t like Northgate or some other mall that has a movie theatre and other evening attractions. This is a mall where people who are too rich for normal shopping centers go to show off their spare Land Battleship in the parking lot. There’s probably worse places on the corridor to end the line, but I can’t think of any right off hand.

        So, yes, we’ve had our awfulness as well.

    3. Yonah’s piece is a good reminder there is no single metric that should end an argument over a project.

      No, but this fails every conceivable metric for every region. Not rider time (*). Not new riders, not old riders, not suburban commuters nor midday riders who lack a choice. Not economic development, nor social equity. Nothing. ST3 falls short — way short — by every conceivable measure.

      *By that I mean total hours saved multiplied by the estimated number of riders (as the article referenced). The biggest flaw with that metric is that it tends to rewards those who spend a long time commuting, thus skewing towards suburban riders. Spending more on Sounder, and less on a Seattle subway would be an example of this. However, our system is already so skewed towards suburban riders and light rail is inappropriate for long distances that this is the least of our worries. We aren’t likely to spend way too much on Sounder, whereas we could easily spend too much on suburban light rail. This will benefit only a handful, and only save them a small amount of time (if anything) and thus fail by this metric as well.

      1. What about operating cost?

        MAX is awful on a lot of metrics, but the $0.44 per passenger per mile means they are at least saving money over the bus it replaced.

      2. ST3 as proposed *badly* fails on operating cost. (This is something where ST1 and ST2 were really quite good.)

  7. Thanks for this posting, Zach. This is probably the clearest and most comprehensive presentation I’ve seen about one aspect of transit priorities. For justice’s sake, considering both importance and support among residents, treatment of Ballard to date really demands some serious correction.

    But Emmanuel Kant lived in the Age of Reason, meaning the lead-up to the Industrial Revolution. So I think that he, and his contemporaries took it for granted that the more philosophically just the cause, the better the mechanics and engineering it requires.

    To Kant, and Benjamin Franklin, every citizen should be educated- philosophically, technically, artistically, and politically-to understand what Reason requires to justly connect Ballard with the rest of the planet. With a goose feather, an inkpot, and a piece of parchment for graphics.

    Zach, I wonder if, just like weekly Open Threads, Seattle Transit Blog could post regular exchanges between both activists and engineers. Now that our country has regressed beyond the Renaissance to the Dark Ages of permanent class division and rule of hereditary morons, it’s time for another Enlightenment.

    Mark Dublin

    “ST3’s proposed connection between Lynnwood and Everett is just not fast enough to compete effectively with car trips on freeways.”

  8. Erica Barnett was on the radio supporting light rail in Snohomish, stating essentially that they supported St1 and ST2 without them getting light rail, and therefore they are entitled to light rail in ST3 (not sure if she meant Paine Field).

    OTOH, one can argue that Ballard built up as an urban village (despite ongoing opposition) and they are rewarded in 22 years (unless you believe 15 years under Seattle Subway) while light rail to West Seattle had the political connections, if not the full throated commitment to density, and gets it sooner. A tough sell emotionally

    1. Not to mention: do millions (billions?) of dollars on express bus service and the horrifically wasteful Sounder North count for nothing?

      1. It most certainly is. I’m not sure what Erica meant. If she meant the county, then her statement doesn’t make sense. Snohomish County supported ST 2, which added added a line to Snohomish County (Lynnwood). If she meant the town of Snohomish, then she was lost.

      2. I didn’t hear the interview, but people sometimes forget things like county boundaries when they’re talking. The most important point though is that Snohomish County got what it paid into ST1 and 2, which took the form of Sounder and ST Express. And Snohomish would have Link faster if it canceled Sounder North.

  9. +1000
    Thanks for explaining so well why just pointing to the numbers doesn’t convince politicians, or voters. Data is great for supporting points, but you have to build a narrative, and organize a constituency.

  10. Social Justice vs. Economics. It is always a battle, and this battle is played out across a variety of government and non-government functions – it isn’t just a battle inside of transportation.

    That said, two comments:

    1). Bus systems are more prone to social justice meddling than rail systems. It is just too easy to reroute a bus line to serve an immediate, if sometimes only temporary,, social need. Once rerouted these routes usually aren’t repaired. And of course routings are subject to other political influences too.

    2). Sub area equity limits at least some of the social justice reprioritization. It’s just not possible to redirect say NKing dollars to SnoCo on a permenant basis. This I find reassuring.

    1. This fails to provide social justice or economic benefits. It fails on every conceivable metric. Not a single area is provided with adequate transit improvements, given the enormous cost.

  11. This is all correct, and it’s why Seattle voters should vote down ST3 if the current draft is put on the ballot. The embarassment will cause Sound Transit to come back to the table with a plan which is much better for Seattle.

    1. Not necessarily true. There isn’t really a way at this time to use other subarea money to just benefit seattle.

      Honestly, I wish it was as easy as that

      1. Why not? A huge hunk of money from other sub-areas is going to Snohomish (roughly $2 billion) for building the “Everett via Paine Field” folly.

        I think a very strong case can be made that a second downtown tunnel along with LRT access to SLU, LQA, and Expedia is of much more regional importance than service to the SW Everett industrial area.

      2. After 35 years living in this region, mostly in Seattle, 13 of them driving for Metro Transit, I think that the whole concept of “subareas” is at least 40 years obsolete.

        A single crash can a cross-county-line gridlock any minute any rush hour. And a delivery blocked by traffic in Bothell costs serious money to a company in Lakewood.

        And somebody with right software, work out how many subarea lines the average steering wheel holder along I-5 Monday morning is going to be in trouble at work for crossing a half hour late.

        Three years ago, I had to get out of Ballard involuntarily with a month’s notice, and was glad to find my geographically closest nice place to live here in Olympia.

        A wonderful, pretty, friendly town which I’d consider lonely political exile if transit were not barely good enough to make Olympia, to my outlook, a neighborhood of Seattle.

        Except that ST Express takes less time to Downtown than Metro from some parts of Seattle. Olympia, Tacoma, Everett, Bellevue, Bainbridge Island and North Bend are Seattle.

        We run our economy and live our lives regionally, and massively by choice, and have no choice but to build transit accordingly. There are dumber and uglier ways to handle this transportation and land use- see under “I-5 and SR512 8AM.”

        Or planning better and more enjoyable ones, see under “What we’re all doing in this discussion at 14:31 4/23/2016.” But I really am curious. Just exactly why would anybody think that a lost ST3 has any chance of bringing a better “next election” for Seattle?

        Mark

      3. Chris, that’s a fight we need to have now, and bring more suburban money into the new downtown tunnel. If st3 fails, who knows what will happen.
        Well, it definitely delays a vote by at least two years, probably 4, and who knows what the package would look like. Don’t assume it will be the same, but with the parts you don’t like gone.

      4. “I think a very strong case can be made that a second downtown tunnel along with LRT access to SLU, LQA, and Expedia is of much more regional importance than service to the SW Everett industrial area.”

        That’s exactly what Mayor Murray is trying to convince Pierce of, that the second DSTT will benefit Pierce because Ballard-Tacoma trains will be in it, so Pierce should contribute to the cost of the tunnel. Right now we’re waiting to see whether they’re convinced. I’m not sure that I would expect the same from East King or Snohomish. On the other hand, the fact that Pierce trains are in the second tunnel is arbitrary: it could have been Snohomish or East King trains, and they have more capacity in the first tunnel because of the second tunnel. So in that way they’re benefiting from it.

      5. Apparently *Seattle* (North King) money is giong to *PARKING LOTS AT BOEING ACCESS ROAD* in ST3.

        Yes, you can redirect that money to Seattle. By God, you really really should.

      6. “Just exactly why would anybody think that a lost ST3 has any chance of bringing a better “next election” for Seattle?”

        Is history enough?

        A lost Roads and Transit ballot bought a much better “next election”.

    2. Voting down ST3 does not make any project happen faster. It pushes all the projects back a few more years.

      1. Not nessasarily. If ST3 fails, seattle could work with ST on a new ballard, w. Seattle only package that could be delivered sooner. ST3 is curently too big and takes to long. Its going to fail unless it is changed drastically.

      2. It has been suggested to look at monorail authority for Ballard to UW or the WSTT(although people differ as to what ut allows to be built)

      3. Or, fil, ST3 could pass, and Seattle could still go it alone to accelerate the Link projects in Seattle. That seems like a much more likely path.

      4. +1 brent.
        Seattle can’t work with st to raise st taxes without a st wide vote. Without the st taxes, we can’t come close to a project of that size.

      5. If Seattle uses monorail authority, you cannot use Link technology for those projects. You could only do this on Ballard-UW unless you want to do automated Metro.

      6. Daniel,

        You could have “SkyTrain” automated 3rd rail cars with auxiliary pantographs with which to access the heavy maintenance facility. With automated trains you can run some of them 24 hours a day so you don’t have quite as great a parking problem as with driver-operated trains.

        That would allow a small “non Light Rail” system to exist within the larger Link system.

    3. Seattle should vote down ST3 because every project — including those for Seattle — fails by every conceivable metric, including those that were referenced in this article. It would provide to little in the way of transit improvement for too much money. No one knows what could be built in its place, but we do know that ST is delayed in part because of funding limitations, not just project planning and construction timelines. As a result, it is quite possible that with a major rejection at the ballot box, the area could get much better transit much faster.

      1. As a result, it is quite possible that with a major rejection at the ballot box, the area could get much better transit much faster.”

        No, it’s not. Not by a long shot. Five to ten years will be consumed in bickering about who spoiled the cake and why. There is already seething resentment between the City and its hinterland. A failure will make it vastly worse.

        If it passes in North King (very, very likely), breaks even in East King (about what it deserves) fails closely in Snohomish, and miserably in South King and Pierce the result will be a circular firing squad, perhaps climaxing with Snohomish and Pierce Counties seceding from the agency.

        Really, if their residents are freed from paying the ST mordida annually and with every trip to the (non-grocery) store, they will have the geetus to pay an extra tenth or two to CT and PT to take over those paragons of bus operations the 510-512 and 590-594.

        And don’t think that the legislature will bail Seattle out; because suddenly the suburban areas who have ignored their gnawing animosity toward the City will be freed to let their Ids run rampant. Their representatives and Senators will vote against any freedom for Seattle to tax itself with a self-satisfied smile.

        As the old aphorism goes: Be careful what you ask for.

      2. “Really, if their residents are freed from paying the ST mordida annually and with every trip to the (non-grocery) store, they will have the geetus to pay an extra tenth or two to CT and PT to take over those paragons of bus operations the 510-512 and 590-594.”

        They would have to fit it into their state-allowed tax authority, which is either maxed out or close to it. Pierce has more unused capacity. but probably not enough to take over the 59x, must less expand it if Sounder ceases to operate.

      3. So, Anandakos, you predict that the failure of “Roads and Transit” will cause ten years of bickering and no transit ballots?

        You’re wrong.

  12. Last quote belongs in this comment. Tempted to invite Mr. Freemark on a LINK ride from Sea-Tac to Husky Stadium, and let him sit by the right-hand window inbound from Tukwila, holding a stop watch any weekday morning rush. Or blizzard of his choice.

    Though present conditions have worsened so rapidly that same ride between airport and CBD a year or two back wouldn’t have shown him the real catastrophe now. For passengers’ purposes, especially trying to make an international flight at the day’s most critical time, region-wide, no, our freeway system is not faster than something like LINK.

    But Mr. Freemark makes and excellent point about the machines we’ll need for the system we’re building. Electric trains one step larger and faster than present LINK equipment. Hate to say “enhanced”, because that’s copyrighted for waterboarding.

    Have linked these before. Being repetitious because I’ve ridden on both, and would like to have them permanently in these discussions.

    Southern Sweden:
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/26234919201/in/dateposted-public/

    And Chicago to Milwaukee. General traffic streetcar in Milwaukee, regular elevated track in Milwaukee. Last US attempt at what I think we need now.

    https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/26573066986/in/dateposted-public/
    https://www.flickr.com/photos/43315334@N07/26573066996/in/dateposted-public/

    Technical question one: Can we get trains like these into present or future DSTT?

    Mark Dublin

  13. OK, I’ll push back. True enough that no-one should be disillusioned by the political realities of, say, ST3 project selection. But outcomes matter – and therefore the quality and efficacy of governance matters too. The sharpest example of this is climate change: extreme sea-level rise would do horrible things to hundreds of millions of people, regardless the process by which we might fail to control emissions enough and in time.
    More positively, and more locally, we have seen Metro’s service planning improve markedly in the past decade, because it has become more transparent and numbers-driven. The long-range plan explicitly targets low-income riders and areas for the best, most-reliable service, and (kudos!) promises to apply quantitative and efficacious process to that end.
    Developmental economists tell us that the quality and transparency of institutions and governance are critical to economic development. That does not mean that market-based decisions and maximum-riders-served are the only criteria, but it DOES mean that you-help-my-town-and-I’ll-help-yours decision making in the hallways is something to improve upon. And congratulations to STB for its history of pushing for such improvements.

    1. Well said. ST3 fails in so many ways. It fails from any reasonable metric, and is a failure from a political standpoint.

  14. I’ve noticed a tendency for leaders in this region to ignore the striking impact of growth. If trends continue, we are expected to house and employ a million more people. That’s more than today’s population within the City of Seattle. In this context, ST3 is ahead of the public discussion about where these people will live and work. If it was better anticipated that office towers or condo towers were coming to Issaquah or Everett or Federal Way (places with fewer NIMBY pressures than West Seattle or Ballard, by the way), we wouldn’t see so much skepticism about ST3. On the other hand, we would also be expecting new development to pay part of the ST3 cost.

    1. +1000, Al, on both primary points. Impact fees should include transit improvements for dense development. Those guys are making a bundle of buckos off the desirability of Seattle. They should be made to chip in to keeping it desirable.

  15. For justice and fairness, today’s discussion is missing important recent and current events with serious implications. Namely sudden and serious upward income bracket changes in Ballard, South Lake Union and Columbia City, and downward farther out.

    So within time-frame of ST3, passengers using any line or station could quickly change income and family size, due to either national economy or a relocated industry. In life-span of the system itself, more than once.

    To Kant’s coffee-house circle, Reason made it obvious that the larger and fairer everyone’s honestly-earned income got, the simpler social planning would become. Equally well-paid people could move to whatever coach-station they felt like.

    So whatever arrangements and adjustments have to be worked out short-term, we have to build a system that’ll serve, survive, and stay healthy through a lot of changes. Good basic metric could be, can we keep it running, repaired, and re-directable?

    Right now, meaning this exact week, I think permanent blockage of our freeway system is going to make some major changes both necessary and possible very shortly. Whatever happens this fall, ST3 has already started.

    Answer isn’t to forget ongoing political efforts at justice. But rather to attach them to present plans for immediate action.

    Mark Dublin

  16. “Wonky blogs like ours tend to take utilitarian viewpoints; we’re systems people who see inherent value in optimizing transit for the greatest good of the greatest number of people. To our minds it’s self evident that ridership-maximizing rail options are superior, or that frequent service with transfers should be preferred over infrequent one-seat rides.”

    Different riders derive different amounts of good from “a ride”. If I’m an elderly gentleman who can’t drive, and who doesn’t have a lot of money, being able to take a bus may produce a much larger benefit for me that providing a somewhat more frequent commute for someone with plenty of transportation options. I don’t think you need to go to Kant, and our duties to explain why other standards than maximizing total rides might matter – a slightly more sophisticaed utilitarian calculus would provide plenty of reasons.

  17. Politicians are responding to the demands of the median metropolitan voter better than many on this blog recognize.

    ST3 is being proposed because of a perception that the Puget Sound area has transportation problems. What are the primary transportation problems in the region to solve (based on a representative poll of King/Snohomish/Pierce County voters)?

    – Peak hour freeway congestion, especially on I-5, I-405 and Lake Washington bridges
    – Transit takes even longer than driving and is less reliable
    – Poor evening frequency on Route 8
    – Crowding on Rapid Ride routes
    – The D takes too long to get to Ballard

    I am certain that #1 and #2 would poll much higher than the remaining choices.

    Because of massive and unpredictable traffic congestion, Link rail is seen as a faster and more reliable way to get to downtown or the UW than the freeway.

    Link to Everett and Tacoma IS completely about travelling to downtown. The median voter does not care about travelling on light rail between suburbs with free parking everywhere; they want to be on a train going >55 mph zooming past all the backed-up traffic on I-5. They may even be willing to take rail to events downtown off-peak even though the train is slower than driving, just to save on parking & hassle. Reliable “show-up-and-go” frequencies and reliable travel time are the selling points over the express buses they could take now.

    This might not be the most rational, cost-effective transit planning, but politicians are responding to the general mood (except for the Paine Field deviation – that one seems to be cooked up by economical development officials without a lot of public support).

    1. Um, hello. Link cannot travel >55 MPH. But buses in HOV lanes can.

      ST2 will extend Link to Lynwood in the north, Overlake in the east, and close to Federal Way in the south. That is far enough north and south to address the areas where traffic becomes stop-and-go. So if Link to Everett and Tacoma are completely about traveling to downtown Seattle, ST3 is a colossal waste of money.

      What would be the best use of money is extending the parts of Seattle where people can go once they have gotten onto Link at Lynwood or Federal Way.

      1. “Um, hello. Link cannot travel >55 MPH. But buses in HOV lanes can.

        ST2 will extend Link to Lynwood in the north, Overlake in the east, and close to Federal Way in the south. That is far enough north and south to address the areas where traffic becomes stop-and-go. So if Link to Everett and Tacoma are completely about traveling to downtown Seattle, ST3 is a colossal waste of money.

        What would be the best use of money is extending the parts of Seattle where people can go once they have gotten onto Link at Lynwood or Federal Way.”

        Wow. Just wow. They amount of factual inaccuracies in this post boggles the mind.

        Buses in HOV lanes can go 55? In rush hour? Where exactly do you live?

        North to Lynnwood addresses stop-and-go traffic? You ever been to Marysville? South to Federal Way addresses stop-and go traffic? Have you been on I-5 in Tacoma? JBLM?

        If Link is about going from Tacoma to Seattle is a huge if, especially for Tacomans who see the Seattle superiority-attitude you just displayed and want nothing to do with the city.

        If you want anyone to take your arguments seriously, you should probably make sure you get the facts right. Or get at least one right.

      2. Facts would be more persuasive than statements of character. What is the traffic situation beyond Lynnwood and Federal Way, how many people would take Link even with its estimated travel time, would they take it all day both directions or just unidirectional peak only…

    2. >> politicians are responding to the general mood …

      Which is another way of saying that politicians are responding with ignorance. They are either hoping that the voters are ignorant enough to support a poor proposal, or they are just as ignorant.

  18. The aspect of the political process that I hate is that we let vehicle type or right of way preferences lead the discussion. We should have a plan that focuses on delivering better transit outcomes for given populations- for example, people in Renton should be able to travel to downtown Seattle in x number of minutes, to Bellevue in x minutes, etc. and the system should be able to carry x number of peak hour travelers with vehicles that arrive within a minute or two of the schedule 95% of the time. The region has to agree to look at transit in this way so we can have a meaningful discussion of how to prioritize investments that give people what they actually want.

    It turns out for folks who value average travel time over perfect reliability, the current ST3 plan does not improve many of the bigger connections it would ostensibly serve. For example, Issaquah fares better today in terms of getting to many places in Seattle than they would in twenty years with light rail and they won’t need rail capacity. So, why not give them improvements that would speed up express buses and make them more reliable instead of deleting them in favor of adding multiple train legs? This would save billions for other projects and actually improve transit mobility for everyone. Those billions could go to add more dedicated lanes for accessing existing HOV lanes in Issaquah and improving connections both to Eastlink and UW Station, electrifying the vehicles and why not ask Issaquah to put savings into a Ballard Spur so people from Issaquah could finally take transit to Ballard in a reasonable amount of time. The expensive separate right of way through dense, congested parts of the region like a Ballard Spur, help everyone using the system from farther out who like to travel or commute to our biggest urban centers.

    We shouldn’t act as though it is politically insensitive to stand up for actual transit riders when their leaders are about to diminish their potential future transit network. And if anyone believes that people who take transit on a regular basis would knowingly take a much slower trip because they got to ride trains (most likely in addition to buses), they are exaggerating the vast majority of transit riders’ actual mode preference.

    1. Drew,

      Your comment is in large true, but you do overlook one thing: buses are completely adequate for the “frequent service” network that the region needs, but they fail to provide the necessary capacity to support the peak loads expected before mid-century and at least in North America cost a lot more to operate at the sub-minute frequencies of which Ross is so enamored.

      1. [buses] in North America cost a lot more to operate at the sub-minute frequencies of which Ross is so enamored.

        On an abstract level, sure. That is one reason why I support Ballard to UW light rail, not a Ballard to UW BRT tunnel. But light rail to Everett, Issaquah or Tacoma will never be a money saving proposition. Even if it was free to build, capacity concerns are so low on those lines that you want to run the cheapest vehicle possible, and that is a bus. Unless, of course, you want to sacrifice quality of service, and run a train very infrequently (which is likely to happen with all of those lines if they are built).

        Besides, capital costs are so high that even for relatively highly performing lines (like Ballard, the highest line proposed for ST3) it is unlikely that any savings for using rail over using buses will materialize. You may save a million a year by running trains instead of more frequent buses, but that doesn’t matter if the project cost a billion.

      2. Ross, lots of people have pointed out that the lucky people who own single family homes in relatively quiet neighborhoods are never going to allow them to become squiched up like, say, the Richmond or Sunset in San Francisco. Let alone Western Addition or the Noe Valley with three floor flats. so where exactly are you going to put the million new residents who are coming to the region in the next two- to three-decades.

        No, of course light rail to Everett makes no sense now and it may not even by 2040. But you are not going to get any effyouseeking thing! in Seattle if the people who are going to pay for Link to Everett and Link to Tacoma don’t get it, assuming they want it.

        That’s the point that Martin and Zach have been making over and over and over.

        And to the issue of operating costs, it costs a lot more than a “million” to run all those express buses from Lynnwood to downtown Seattle and the U-District. In fact, it costs a whole lot of millions. Ditto from the south end.

        As I’ve said many times, I know it makes no sense to build north of Lynnwood or south of Highline at this time. Express buses spreading out from Lynnwood TC and some spiffy new bus intercept station somewhere betwen Kent-DesMoines and the new 518 interchange would be a great use of rail and bus, playing to the strength of each.

        So if you want to vote ST3 down and Paint The Town Red!, that would be great! There is no finer technical solution for Puget Sound transit. The region would save a bundle of money and maybe the azzóles would shut up. (Not likely; it’s a pathology with them, but one can hope.)

        But what you cannot have is more in-city Light Rail subways (including your blessed Ballard-UW 44-On-Steroids) without also building Light Rail farther into the suburbs. A deal is a deal, and the people who have been paying taxes for twenty years for SoundTransit while Link was built through Seattle should not be shafted now that it has been built.

      3. Certainly rail is needed to support peak loads.

        To Issaquah?!? That ain’t where the peak loads are, is it?

      4. So, look. I understand that Everett Light Rail is a deal worth making. Everett was supposed to get Sounder, but Sounder North kind of doesn’t work, thank you mudslides. So go ahead, build Link to Everett.

        Tacoma… would benefit a lot more from high-frequency Sounder service than from extending Link. So why hasn’t that been suggested in ST3?

        But those aren’t the real problems. The real problems: light rail to Issaquah?!? Extraordinarily expensive light rail to West Seattle with *only one stop*, making extremely poor ROI? Paine Field Rail?!!? Meanwhile, the Ballard Line has a DRAWBRIDGE and GRADE CROSSINGS because F*** Seattle?

        This is not an acceptable compromise. UW-Ballard + 130th Station + Everett Link (Direct Route) + Center Platform Transfer at International District Station + All Day Sounder To Tacoma + West Seattle With Intermediate Stops might be an acceptable compromise. Just for one example. The ST3 plan is just *absurd*.

  19. I have succumbed to political reality.

    I am selling my house in Lake City and moving to f’n Issaquah. Build my dream-house on a dozen acres, cut down 500 trees.

    So I can take LIGHT RAIL.

    Sheesh.

  20. So, I was in downtown Tacoma a bit past 7 and found myself with a 25 minutes for Pierce Transit’s flagship route #1 to Tacoma Community College, and fact that I’m sure boggles the mind to the Seattle folks here. As the linked article notes, new service is often much more valuable where transit service is poor. By every measure Pierce Transit is worse than both CT & Metro, and so the Tacoma Link to TCC should be first on the list. Light rail from Federal Way to Tacoma should be near the end, since ST does a decent job on this service.

    1. Yes, the Pierce Transit situation is pretty sad. The one-digit routes are supposed to be like RapidRide or Swift, but they drop down to half-hourly evenings and weekends, and most other routes are hourly. That’s one reason I don’t live in Tacoma now. And the eastern Pierce suburbs have too many “No transit tax” voters who won’t allow any more frequency. Tacoma is going to have to have a “Move Tacoma” someday.

      In areas where local bus service is skeletal and there’s little chance of improving it due to too many “No” votes, improving regional transit sounds pretty good, so that at least they’ll have something: they can take ST to Seattle and Bellevue even if they can’t get around Tacoma or Pierce County on the bus.

      We also see something similar within Community Transit. When the recession cuts came, CT asked residents whether to restructure to a frequent local network or keep the expresses to Seattle. The residents said to keep the expresses to Seattle, because those are the things they’d actually use.

  21. So, all the crowds yelling “run buses instead” are forgetting an important fact about building light-rail on areas currently served by buses. It frees up a ton of bus service hours to go elsewhere. ST is running an express from Everett to Seattle every 10 minute during peak commutes. Imagine all the new service you can open up once you move it all to rail. So, your “run buses” strategy is actual weakened by not building rail.

    1. You can run a lot of buses for the cost of the new rail line.

      Also, it costs more to run a train than it does a bus. So either you run the train less often than the bus, or you are spending more money. So, that basically means that you have to run the train less than every ten minutes peak, which seems quite likely. Either you degrade service — and less than ten minute peak frequency is a bid degradation in my book — or you are spending more money.

      1. My point being, you put rail on the *busy busy* corridors where it can replace *lots* of buses, not on the outlying branch corridors where it replaces a couple of buses.

  22. ST subarea equity will place ST3 projects serving all five subareas proportional to their respective revenue. The projects need not be Link. Link is quite costly. Yes, it provides great capacity, but if it is too much capacity and cost, it means the stream of funds are not being spent well or on the best network. the funds for Link between Bellevue and Issaquah and between Kent Des Moine and Tacoma could be much better spent. Attracting ridership should be the overwhelming objective.

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