Page Two articles are from our reader community.

NOTE: This post is copied in its entirety from an article I wrote, titled Sound Transit 3 is Not the Way Forward. It is the latest entry of my blog, Transportation Matters, a Pacific Northwest-flavored blog that discusses railway planning, urban planning, and related politics.


If you had listened closely, you might have heard a collective gasp as Sound Transit unveiled the draft ST3 plan on March 24, 2016.

While the public may have been expecting a higher tax bill in order to provide the agency some financial wiggle room, especially as it tackles Seattle’s notorious congestion, few seemed prepared for the three-way collision that is borne out of enormous capital costs being paid down by a limited number of taxpayers through funds that are restricted by borrowing stipulations long ago codified into law. The reaction was immediate and shocked.

The consequence of this collision, it was discovered, are wildly extended project delivery timeframes for most of the major proposals. To the great many who were blindsided by the figures, these 25-year delivery estimations, which are vulnerable to further delay due to political whims and a reliance on generous federal funding, are simply unacceptable. Indeed, for a region clamoring for solutions now, they are certainly unacceptable.

Worse, a more in-depth review of the component plans for any potential ST3 package reveals that, for the necessary purposes of relieving congestion and expanding mass transit coverage for its constituents, Sound Transit is treading the entirely wrong path and is no longer advancing toward a particularly useful transportation system for the masses.

Many of the criticisms that are being levelled against the individual plans or overall scheme have been made before, notably on my very blog (here). They include:

1) The promotion of wasteful spending due to the funding structure of Sound Transit that mandates sub-area funding equity, despite the great inequities in worthiness between more cost-effective Seattle projects and less cost-effective suburban projects.

2) A political aversion to the most sensible corridors for investment with rail transit, based on census population and employment data, or other fine information sources;

3) A cannibalization of existing, parallel services by new light rail infrastructure, and a failure to consider alternatives that could provide similar, or even far better, transit services at a lower cost;

4) A strong emphasis on suburban commuting and single-occupancy vehicle parking at the expense of quality urban growth, and;

5) The failure to perform cost & benefits analyses to properly determine the worthiness of infrastructure projects before being put out to a vote, let alone whether they are remotely cost-effective, amongst others criticisms.

That the rail proposals of ST3 often lengthen commute times and force transfers onto riders who previously enjoyed speedier, direct bus journeys, is only now coming into stark relief as the details of the light rail program become more refined.

After considering the high-costs and elongated delivery schedules, many are asking why they should bear the burden of higher taxation for what may prove to be a significant degradation in the typical transit commute. Additionally, many doubt that a single, slower (albeit more reliable) rail corridor parallel to Interstate 5 could do anything to combat congestion for the grand majority of commuters. This is a legitimate skepticism that is worthy of a detailed response by public officials and other proponents.

Presumably, Sound Transit would argue that its objective is not to solve the congestion issue that generates so much ire here, but rather provide alternatives to single-occupancy commuting in the auto-oriented Puget Sound. To some extent, Link light rail would accomplish that goal, sure. However, this singular focus on the massive expansion of the light rail program siphons valuable political capital away from far more cost-effective and deliverable infrastructure investments that would benefit both the popular ST Express bus and Sounder commuter rail services. These are services that presently move tens of thousands of commuters each day, and which would be negatively impacted by the expansion of light rail, one-way-or-another. To ignore these services and expand Link light rail instead would be a mistake.

Critics of this perspective are well reasoned when they declare that the winds of momentum appear to be lifting the sails of light rail, and that now is better than tomorrow when deciding to act. These are fair, if not entirely sensible, points.

But Seattle will not wilt should light rail never be extended to the Tacoma Dome, much as it has not wilted without light rail to areas within its very urban core, most notably Belltown, Uptown, First Hill and South Lake Union. Indeed, Manhattan Island has done just fine for the last eighty years without the Second Avenue subway plying that busy corridor, though it may likely be the most anticipated, fundamental rapid transit project in the world (despite even its reprehensible cost to New Yorkers).

Seattle should never build transit for transit’s sake, let alone bad transit of limited usefulness. Simply because it runs on rails or carries more people than a car does not render massive new spending worthwhile. Indeed, huge investments that generate zero meaningful change, or do little to alter the commute mode-share in favor of transit may, in fact, poison the well that supports future infrastructure investment. Why support an agency that, after spending billions in public funds, has to continually ask for more to repeatedly address the very same problems? Eventually, there would be a revolt.

What, then, is the alternative?

First, let us never rush into poor investments that will have to be paid off over decades. We know better.

Second, we should acknowledge and better understand the mutually-exclusive transportation needs that reflect the suburban and urban divide of the Puget Sound region.

Central Seattle needs reliable transit coverage through its urban core that extends well into the neighborhoods, the most densely populated of which could be served by some form of rail transit with urbane station spacing (especially if costs are kept in check). Otherwise, bus rapid-transit and local bus services should provide the desired coverage across the city’s difficult terrain.

Conversely, the suburbs require express services that have far greater station spacing, if not point-to-point services, that take full advantage of the inherent flexibility of bus rapid-transit and the speeds and reliablility of trunk-line commuter rail service. This provides suburbanites who have been pushed to the fringes in search of affordable housing direct and convenient access to the job centers of the region. Not only is the cost-effectiveness of bus rapid-transit in complex suburban areas without parallel, there exist strong social justice arguments in their favor due to their relative affordability, their increase in transit area coverage, and their far more executable infrastructure investments that exploit existing roadway systems. Commuter rail fills in the gaps between the region’s most prominent suburban communities and our main centers of commerce and culture.

Unfortunately, bus rapid-transit has not had the faddish, thirty year, multi-billion dollar backing that light rail has enjoyed in the Puget Sound. That does not mean cost-effective bus transit proposals warrant dismissal, especially when they are a slam dunk for a particular corridor (as they would be on Interstate 5, or to West Seattle from Downtown). And while specific investments in bus infrastructure are yet to be determined as a consequence of this improper focus on rail to everywhere, we nonetheless can see during our daily commute what is needed and where. That is, lane exclusivity for transit; new on and off-ramps reserved solely for transit; increased headways with buses of greater capacity; meaningful upgrades to bus facilities, in particular level boarding platforms and on-site ticketing machines; the establishment of key travel corridors, and; reliability improvements where necessary to move the hundreds of thousands of daily bus riders, even to the detriment of single-occupancy motorists.

And if it truly is an impossibility to reserve just a single lane in each direction for transit exclusivity, alongside the many others, maybe the problem of congestion is not overly problematic at all, and certainly it must mean it is not critical enough to require massive expenditures into new railroad lines.

Finally, before we even begin to build new lines for slow, commuter light rail services, we must begin the effort to secure the BNSF right-of-way between Tukwila and Tacoma Dome Station. The process of improving this corridor for world-class passenger service will be lengthy and pricey, but it promises to be far more valuable than the parasitic light rail program a few miles west, and overall more affordable relative to its impact on mobility within the South Sound.

Sounder services and infrastructure could be upgraded in meaningful phases as funding becomes available. Each new upgrade would deliver a dramatically enhanced service to a rail line that has enormous potential to bridge our region in unique and profound ways. It is entirely technically feasible as has been documented on this blog (here and here); the investment takes full advantage of existing rail resources and eliminates redundancy in our heavy-rail infrastructure into Seattle; the practice of sharing trackage and joint dispatching between BNSF and UPRR is well developed and even employed on this very corridor, and; the benefits of ownership are transformational, especially when combined with an urbanization of our land use patterns in Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, Kent, Tukwila, and perhaps Georgetown.

So, yes, credible alternatives do exist and are waiting to be evaluated and refined. The politics of both may be fraught with hurdles, but given the thirty year gestation period that has been afforded to light rail, not to mention the money, they are certainly achievable. The Puget Sound just needs to ensure that our civic institutions have the proper political structure to begin to identify and plan for them. Arguably, this is the greatest failing of Sound Transit in 2016.

Ultimately, the enormous capital and operational costs of a new light railroad are not justifiable when commuter rail alternatives presently exist and, also, bus rapid-transit opportunities are similarly unexplored. This is especially true for areas that have long been averse to new rail infrastructure, or have failed to fund their skeletal local bus transit systems. Furthermore, we should reject the funding structure of an agency that has delivered a set of projects with a genesis in wasteful spending.

We can do better—we must do better—and it starts by rejecting ST3.

53 Replies to “ST3 is Not the Way Forward.”

    1. That will have to be ironed out following some intensive negotiation.

      However, I would hope for a structure that better prioritizes a project based on its cost per rider, cost per mile, and total project cost, amongst other sensible metrics (for example, how many new transit riders it may attract). It would feature a more localized funding source, so Seattle paid for core Seattle projects, while the Everett area would fund their diversion to Paine Field themselves should they deem it worth their billions of dollars.

      This would have the effect of radically value-engineering proposals to eradicate superfluous civil structures and alignments. Cost control and value engineering that positively alters cost-effective proposals would never be a bad thing.

      Still, I do not have the answer to that question in detail, though may be one we will have to confront should ST3 fail at the ballot box.

      1. What is your plan for getting from here to there?

        Keep in mind that the structure will be determined in Olympia, since they authorize RTDs.

      2. I do believe there is some room in Olympia to negotiate and allow a bit more local self determination.

        I would say the following things for a better package.

        1) Limit extensions of LRT to Federal Way, Redmond, and potentially Alderwood Mall. We already have filling as is with current trains and if the commuter buses were 100% full that would take up 50% of the capacity in Lynnwood on Day 1. There maybe some induced demand on routes already going to Lynnwood Transit Center and that was not including ST numbers. If it is going to have significant filling on the stub end, does it make sense to extend it further if we are going to have overloads further south?
        2) If you want to prove a Tacoma to SeaTac transit market, then I want an origin destination study to prove me wrong. My bets are most commuters are bound for either Seattle or Bellevue most of the day. A Seattle-Tacoma RER line could regularly complete the trip in 45 minutes probably 40 or less and would benefit intercity passenger rail services to Portland cutting trips by another 15-20 minutes (speculative). This would also increase freight capacity too and grade separations would have major benefits for the 167 corridor. In ST 3, Puyallup-Kent get nothing in return besides maybe one more car for existing Sounder services. We have talked about all day Sounder for at least a decade, it’s time to come with a high capacity version that I believe most commuters would go for.
        3) Ballard-DT Seattle needs to be fully grade separated, no compromise on that. We have seen what accidents do and we do not need to risk more grade crossings for a line that could carry 100k although I have doubts on that number. I am curious to see what would happen in a Belltown versus SLU alignment how each fares. I am not sure if the ridership is inflated for SLU employment. To me the line doesn’t serve SLU very well to begin with given it being on the fringe and 99/Harrison seems like a stop at the Aurora freeway. Why would there be high ridership there?
        Either this one or connect Ballard-UW via automated Metro. That was one thing I talked to friends about and thought was missing in the plan. The issue I see is would there be enough room to go downtown if a transfer was done at UW or would there be enough people going downtown already through the trunk. It would be a separate line but which one wins I don’t know.
        4) I do think West Seattle should be in and have the route go to at least Morgan Junction but forget an extension to Fauntleroy in the future, I would study via Roxhill to Westwood Village based on current densities. Fauntleroy would likely be best served by a C line termination at Morgan Junction.

        Any new LRT should go where people are not on these freeway alignment that serve nothing but parking lots that generate little to no meaningful ridership. The plan seems to be more of a BART El Norte when Vancouver has pumped out the same ridership per day as BART with half the track miles. That is an accomplishment. I am not sure how BART bus connections are but if they have frequent service to the stations or lack there of we maybe repeating the same mistake.

      3. I do believe there is some room in Olympia to negotiate and allow a bit more local self determination.

        What is your evidence for this? Because from here it seems naive to the extreme. In order to get the funding authority for ST3 transit proponents had to agree to a massive highway expansion and agree to all sorts of other provisions (affordable housing, $500m to education, etc).

        And that was with the suburbs getting something. Now you want to cut away 2/3rds of the area that will get rail and you think that that will pass? LOL

      4. Restructure efforts in Olympia have all been either trolling against ST getting funding or efforts to get more suburban control of the ST Board.

  1. Sound Transit and the political consensus that created and sustains it was the result of decades of negotiation and planning starting in the mid-1970s after Forward Thrust failed. You can go and find the various planning documents and meeting minutes from that era for background. It would probably take until after 2020 to recreate a new political consensus with modified objectives if ST3 fails badly. ST3, for all its faults, would get the ball rolling on addressing transportation issues NOW, not in 4 or 8 or however many years.

    The other problem is that there is no guarantee any future political consensus would conform to anyone’s ideals. That’s the nature of the political process. This isn’t a technocratic exercise; politics is messy. Any future consensus could prioritize the suburbs even more, for example, or could require shackling transit to highway expansions again ala 2007’s Roads and Transit.

    Beyond that it isn’t like (for example) Snohomish County is suddenly going to decide they don’t want light rail to Paine Field and Everett if ST3 fails. They want it and really don’t care if its a sub-optimal use of funds compared to a BRT alternative. If that means you need to drop the suburbs and try to go it alone in Seattle, well Seattle doesn’t have the available taxing authority to go it alone on any significant in-city projects except some lower capital BRT lines. We are very shackled to the RTA authority in RCW 81.104 and 81.112 to make large-scale investments happen.

    Perhaps the worst possible outcome of an ST3 failure would be the state legislature giving us the middle finger and revoking the RTA funding authority. Then we’d have zero chance of any significant transit investment beyond ST2 for another generation.

    1. Huh? ST3 responsobly addresses neither the congestion or transit coverage problem, nor does it address them now.

      What plan are you reviewing?

      We can demand better and more intelligent transit planning. We can reject inferior proposals.

      The world will not end and other solutions will be offered in the future.

      1. This is naive and flawed thinking. Jason is right. The existence of ST as a regional transit authority reflects a regional consensus established long ago that the region acting together has far greater financial heft to deliver a mass transit system than any city or county acting individually would. Seattle couldn’t possibly afford a full subway system by itself. Nor could Everett or Snohomish county on its own afford a grade separated mass transit system connecting into King County.

        There is a regional value proposition here that is often overlooked or taken for granted when parsing discreet details of a regional plan that do necessarily happen to be palatable or attractive at a local level. But that sort of navel gazing misses the larger points that we are an economic mega region, interlocked and interdependent, stretched out along a narrow, constrained geography along which the vast majority of commute trips are taken.

        We are stronger and more capable of large scale investment when acting together than we are as smaller units acting alone. Break it up and trying doing it in bite sized chunks, and things get more expensive locally and take longer to get done.

      2. A summary of the various plans is on Sound Transit’s website. The documents themselves are available in several libraries in the region including the Seattle Public Library and UW library.

        No transit project in isolation is going to “solve” congestion. Road congestion is a symptom of the lack of properly pricing our roadways.

        ST3 is certainly not ideal from a transit coverage perspective, but we’re not rich enough to send rail lines into every neighborhood; that’s what buses are for. While ST3 is rail heavy, appropriate integration with the bus systems operated by KC Metro, CT, and PT would allow for a pretty significant expansion of both frequency and coverage by letting light rail handle the heavy lifting in trunk corridors.

        The professional transportation planners are quite intelligent and understand transportation network design principles very well. However none of their work is done in isolation, and outcomes depend on what criteria you use and the politics involved. Of course BRT with a heavier emphasis on exclusive lanes, etc., would theoretically be more cost effective compared to light rail extensions to the same areas. The professional planners know this. Undergraduate planning and engineering students could tell you this. However when Seattle can’t get all-day BAT lanes (BAT lanes! Not even straight-up bus-only lanes!) for the E line because of a few loud business owners, or drivers violate the marked bus lanes in West Seattle or Belltown because enforcement is nearly nonexistent, is it any wonder the politics lean heavily towards rail in exclusive ROW? We could spend a bunch of money giving the C line more dedicated ROW across the Duwamish and into West Seattle, but so long as it is on a public road all it takes is one wrecked fish-carrying semi on SR 99 at Royal Brougham to nuke the whole thing. It is those types of scenarios which drive the politics to override any technical argument about BRT you care to make.

        For a perfect example of how politics is never divorced from technical planning, read today’s STB editorial. Metro’s Service Guidelines are very good and robust, yet the County Council is set to basically ignore them because politics. This kind of thing has been going on for hundreds, if not thousands, of years.

      3. That is where some citizen accountability needs to be injected into the system. NIMBYs have won many times yet you get plenty of riders in on the voice then as seen with Seattle and road diets they will win out as per usual. I do agree that the roadway network reliability compromises BRT and we have seen that on the ETLs along 405. Even with their extension unless they place physical barriers in between and even that doesn’t prevent accidents, the reliability of such a system cannot occur.

        Brisbane made two lanes roads for buses called quickways that allowed for the trunk system that spread multiple routes out like what was proposed for 405 originally rather than the current watered down BRT. Two lanes for buses exclusively that could get on and off at many places so you could have one seat rides. Access was included for emergency vehicles too. It maybe a good first step but it has to be separated. Due to lowest bidder laws and restrictions on profit margins, many companies bid low, rack up change orders, add on concrete where they can and then we get left with a poor product.

        What I am most sick of is believing this is the best we got and going along with it because it is better than nothing. We cannot continue to accept mediocrity like we did in the Rainier Valley due to then KC Executive Ron Sims, that compromise costed a potential Renton’s Landing through downtown and Southcenter Mall let alone the potential of something along 405 in the distant future due to limiting frequency in the RV. A bypass seems like a very expensive solution when express airport trains simply do not produce ridership. You would be better off building a one track stub from the Airport Baggage Claim to the BNSF trackage for the price you are paying IMO that would get you to downtown Seattle in 20 minutes and perhaps a similar travel time for Tacoma at around 30 minutes. An airport trunk seems to me to be a better option that would deliver lower travel times for both trips and serve a developed corridor versus the park & rides of I-5.

      4. BTR,

        Seattle could afford a subway system itself, if it were allowed to fund it. Especially now that Link to Northgate is essentially complete, the most expensive sections have been completed. The westside lines could be less rigorous if they weren’t going to be through-lined with the main spine.

      5. No serious transit plan will address congestion. What it will do is take the hints from where the congestion is to take advantage of the demand for an alternative that gets people out of that congestion. ST3 does that.

      6. @ Jason —

        >> While ST3 is rail heavy, appropriate integration with the bus systems operated by KC Metro, CT, and PT would allow for a pretty significant expansion of both frequency and coverage by letting light rail handle the heavy lifting in trunk corridors.

        But Sound Transit has no interest or ability to deliver that! That is the point. That has been the case from day one, and it is the case now. Here is a quick (but obviously not complete) review:

        1) The awful Mount Baker station — This was written by Mike Orr, one of the biggest rail proponents and ST apologists out there, but he clearly acknowledges that this station is awful when it comes to bus to rail interaction. Keep in mind, this is where the Metro 7 and Link intersect. The 7 carries more riders than just about any bus in the state (being barely edged out by the E). Yet the intersection of light rail and this important bus corridor is so poorly done that very few make the transfer. Mount Baker ridership is not very high, even though if you looked at a transit map, you would assume ridership would be huge.

        2) Lack of a station on First Hill. There are several buses that run on Madison, and pretty soon, a BRT line will run on Madison. This will enable fast service, with six minute frequency all day long. But there is no connection with Link. It isn’t just First Hill. Unlike the Forward Thrust proposal, there is no station at 23rd and Madison (despite the obvious advantages from a bus to rail perspective).

        3) Lack of a station at SR 520. The trail goes right under the freeway, but there is no station there. The freeway, by the way, is being rebuilt, which would able all sorts of possibilities (e. g. build a transit-only turn around ramp in Roanoke). A station there would enable very fast service from the north east side (Kirkland and Redmond).

        4) Lack of a station at NE 130th. This will cost all of $25 million, but as of this writing, it isn’t planned. They don’t want to screw up the grant. But why wasn’t it part of the grant from the beginning? Somehow, they just never considered it. If you want a nice, cheap example of an agency that really has no idea what it is doing, this is a great one. Just look at a census map, a road map and the Northgate station (which is not located on Northgate Way, but several twists and turns to the south). It is pretty obvious that you should put a station at NE 130th, which would enable a good transit network. But again, it never occurred to them.

        5) Ballard to West Seattle versus Ballard to UW. Ballard to West Seattle light rail will have practically nothing in the way of bus to rail interaction. Most of the buses that will connect to it will be buses that would otherwise simply go downtown (where the train is headed). In other words, it won’t build a network, it will simply force a transfer. Compare that to Ballard to UW rail. You don’t even have to modify the routes to see dozens of trips that are made substantially faster as the result of rail to bus interaction. It is one of the strongest (if not the strongest) argument for the line.

        >> The professional transportation planners are quite intelligent and understand transportation network design principles very well. However none of their work is done in isolation, and outcomes depend on what criteria you use and the politics involved.

        I would assume this to be the case. But your second sentence nails the problem. When you start with stupid assumptions, or a stupid set of guidelines, you get stupid results. Just consider these two requests, as made to a planning agency.

        OK folks, this is what we want. We want a light rail line from Everett to Tacoma. We also want a rail line from Ballard to West Seattle. You are free to look at BRT, but it should follow the exact same path as the light rail line, but without any major infrastructure improvement (no WSTT, for example). Don’t cooperate with the bus agencies, or even worry about bus to rail interaction. This is all about park and rider users and folks who live close to the station. You aren’t trying to build a transit network here, just a rail line. OK, have at it.

        What do you think they will build? Exactly what they have! Given that set of criteria, there is absolutely nothing wrong with ST3. The Ballard line deviates just enough from a straight line to pick up some good stops. West Seattle rail serves the one area that it needs to serve (at great expense, but they have no other choice).

        Now consider a different possibility:

        OK, folks, I want you to build a fancy transit network. We have to spend money on areas that maybe you wouldn’t otherwise (for political reasons). The focus is on infrastructure, not service. Build a network that makes sense. Start with rider time saved per dollar, then come back with a few proposals. Work with the various bus agencies to build a good transit network (of course).

        The result would be completely different. The arguments would be completely different. They would be on very trivial stuff. We would be arguing, for example, whether we should have a station at upper Fremont or lower Fremont when it comes to building the UW to Ballard light rail line. What areas of Snohomish County should have the treatments to eliminate the worst areas of congestion (for buses). Of course there would be disagreements, but overall the proposal would be much better.

        It would be similar to prop one, when people argued about one project or another, but overall, there was widespread support from the transit community for the projects. That just isn’t the case here, because they proposed something fundamentally flawed. It can’t be fixed with a little bit of work here or there. We need a completely different system.

  2. The problem with your analysis is that, while I agree that purely cost per rider decision making would be vastly superior, it’s way better than nothing. And nothing is what you’d get it you tried to build a regional mass transit network without the regional organization that currently exists. Because while it may seem possible in the wet dreams of transit geeks, a go it alone strategy is politically impossible. Seattle doesn’t have an extra 10 or 20 billion dollars to build several urban subway lines, and it’s the suburbs that make up the difference. The reality is that Seattle needs the suburbs and whatever compromises we have to make are worth it. I for one sleep perfectly well at night knowing my Seattle subway lines are paid for with mediocre low performing suburban lines. And don’t tell me that Olympia will grant our wishes and create a Sound Transit version two. If our state representatives are so anti-transit that WSDOT is afraid to even institute 3 person HOV lanes then I have zero faith that they’ll be doing anything for public transit anytime soon.

    1. Are we going to break out of that paradigm? I find it interesting that there is a lack of faith in WSDOT and State government yet somehow ST is much better? I find it hard to compromise another large investment for the sake of compromise. We have seen what mediocrity does to a transit system. Honestly Olympia should permit the voters to decide what is best rather than dictating limits and allow for P3 opportunities. If Ballard-DT Seattle will have 100k per day on opening day if not 150k per day, that could easily be funded by a P3 like Canada Line did.

      What is perceived is Seattle wants to tax the entire state on income to fulfill certain desires and if we are going to be spending money then we need to make it stretch not throw in mediocre lines that will not increase ridership meaningfully.

      Look at StarLake station for example. ST is saying they can get 18,000 riders per day at that station for a park & ride. I have doubts on that one even if you had 2,000 parking spaces. How does having a line go from the reaches of SLU and an at-grade section LRT going to be reliable when you have a crash on 15th Ave? Even with vehicle automation, there is still the possibility of computer system lag which no one even mentions as a potential pitfall.

      Sorry but a bad investment is a bad investment and have you even asked suburban voters what they really want? We are basing these off politicians and what they want not what their own citizens want let alone talking about coordination for feeding Link which Metro has not done very well of doing as we have seen with the NE Seattle restructure.

      1. You don’t build on 15th Avenue but to the west between the playfield and railyard. The section from the tunnel portal to Armory Way can be built behind — or through — the low quality buildings on the north side of Elliott West. You then have “at grade” which is also “grade separated”.

        Obviously there would have to be a short elevated section to cross 15th West near Whole Foods.

      2. “Are we going to break out of that paradigm?” — um no.

        I believe that statement is a misunderstanding of the problem. The state politics isn’t like this because we *believe* it to be, or because of our mindset. It is like this because this is how Oly operates. If we want to change it, we have to work hard to get people with our values elected, and to consistently show transit is a winner *on the ballot*. Transit ballot measures failing is not going to make Oly Dems think they should prioritize the issue, and the Rs don’t care, or actively oppose transit.

      3. You can show it is a winner on the ballot and people will still say they are paying taxes and getting no benefit.

        Again the whole that is how Olympia works is why we are in this situation we are in and not playing power politics. If you actually talk to Republicans about local self determination they would likely come around but if you keep placing up these barriers without even willingness to talk then we will be stuck in the same venue even with a passing ST3. If the Republicans want small government then they should ask themselves what is the issue of having a vote of the people. I don’t feel a case was well made.

        How is this package a good use of funds? 4 billion for 16k riders to Issaquah with two transfers, at grade crossings in Ballard, ridership numbers with little proof and poor alignment choices. When does it end? You can build all the lines you want but it doesn’t guarantee usage let alone a good system.

      4. You have to have a full integrated plan go to the voters. You can’t put various options on the ballot and ask voters to choose. That would be like taking ST’s entire candidate project list and throwing it on the ballot. That’s insane, because nobody is voting on a whole plan with appropriate financing. Ballard-Downtown all tunneled, $5 billion? Add a tunneled line to West Seattle for another $3.5 billion? Oh, and let’s vote yes on the West Seattle aerial line too, just in case, for another $2.5 billion. This all sounds great!!

        What you believe Olympia should do, and the metrics/criteria you would use to determine an appropriate system, are just that, your ideas. They may not align with other people’s ideas, but that’s what politics is all about. It is how we got Sound Transit in the first place.

        And +1 to Jon Cracilici.

      5. @Dan H,
        I don’t think you are correct about Republican Representatives and Senators being swayed by a call for local determination. They are aware of that philosophy, and that did not keep them from asking for lots of money in exchange to giving the Sound Region the ability to tax themselves. Just because that would be ideologically consistent, does not mean that they will find it appealing. The Rs would lose a lot of leverage if they went for that, and they want to use that leverage to provide for their constituents. That is a bigger deal than political philosophy.

      6. Dan H,

        Could you cite examples of defeating transit ballot items leading to more funding being allowed for transit?

      7. A peculiar question, Brent, as it presumes that increased funding for transit projects is necessary, or necessarily good.

        A more relevant answer to a similar question is that we can pinpoint multiple examples of ballot failures or project cancellations that have led to improved projects and initiatives, both here in Seattle and nationwide.

      8. Let’s review a few things here. There are two main reasons why these projects will take a long time: First, because it is so expensive, second, because of bonding authority. As the old bonds are paid off, we are able to spend money on the new (expensive) things. Thus it is quite likely that a new set of projects by this very agency could be built faster than ST3, even if the vote took place later.

        So Sound Transit could come back with something like what I described in my other note (which I’ll repeat here). This for Seattle: This (and similar projects) for the east side: For Pierce County, improve Sounder and the express bus service. For Snohomish County, add express bus service and leverage an already decent BRT system (Swift).

        It requires taking a different mindset. Rather than start with the assumption that the quality of a system is measured by the number of miles of rail built, you start by trying to build something that makes sense. Follow the example of Vancouver, BC, and build a system that does not have that many miles of rail, but rail that complements the bus service. Build the most cost effective transit system you can and leverage what you already have. That might means dozens of projects in the suburbs (to overcome dozens of little bottlenecks) but so be it. That will be way more cost effective than what is proposed.

        Another assumption is that the legislature will never change. That is absurd, given the timelines mentioned. Let’s say nothing changes for 6, but at least then we change up the districts. After the districts are redrawn, there is another election. A little while after that, Seattle (and other cities or counties) are allowed to allocate money for projects that make sense. Even if it takes that long and we start building things 8 years from now, then that is fine, as long as we build things that make sense. You could build the WSTT and make the improvements in West Seattle well before a rail line got there. More importantly, it would improve transit for everyone one in West Seattle, all day long. That would also deliver excellent service for Ballard, Queen Anne and Belltown (which is more than you can say about ST3). Ballard to UW rail would take a long time, but that isn’t even on the agenda for ST3! That is a bonus. Likewise, you work on what really is the only other needed piece — a Metro 8 subway.

        The suburbs could build things very rapidly. The type of thing proposed for Kirkland could be done all over the place, and be built very quickly. Adding service to Sounder is very quick.

        Another assumption is that Seattle (or other cities) can’t muddle along fairly well, spending as much as is allowed on transit. It is quite possible that the money spent on prop one projects will save more people more time than the billions more that would be spent on ST3. That might be a stretch, but the ST3 plans are that inefficient. Without a doubt the prop one proposals are more cost effective. So pass another proposal a few years from now. Of course it isn’t what we want, but it is much better than ST3, because ST3 is takes forever to deliver something that simply isn’t very good.

        The same is true for other cities. Swift could be improved — will be improved — and will likely save more people more time than a train from Everett to Lynnwood. Even if you do nothing with the HOV lanes, there just aren’t that many people who want to make that trip on a subway (because it takes so long). The overall time savings are minimal. On the other hand, run Swift twice as often, add Swift 2 to the mix (along with some other express buses) and you come out way ahead.

        It seems crazy to think that you can build something a lot cheaper that is more effective, but that is just the way it is with ST3. It reminds me of cars, back in the 70s. You could buy an expensive big Ford, or an inexpensive little Honda Civic. After 50,000 miles, it was obvious that the cheap choice was the better choice. Same with this.

  3. I love the idea of all day Sounder service from Seattle to Tacoma and beyond. If you look at other parts of the world. Freight trains run on separate track than commuter trains. This allows commuter trains to be able to run whenever without having to worry about what frieght trains are doing. That’s what we need here and it’s sad it’s not addressed in ST3. Also the commuter trains are powered by overhead wires similar to light rail. This lessens the environmental impact of using fossil fuels.

    Despite the flaws of ST3 I do feel it’s better than a do nothing approach. ST3 addresses regional traffic congestion, the environment and city planning. It is important for ST3 to be passed.

    1. ST3 does not address regional congestion. That would mean repairing roadways, tolling, creating a more effective system of HOV’s and off and on-ramps, and dedicating bi-directional lanes for transit on major highways and arterials.

      ST3, contrastingly, builds hugely expensive rail lines with political alignments to areas that are not well served by light rail.

      There is no such thing as a do-nothing approach here. We will certainly have aternative plans come to the fore. However, there is the option of a do-ST3 approach, or we do something else.

      And we need to do something else.

      1. There is no such thing as a do-nothing approach here.


        You do realize that the State Senate is controlled by the Republicans right. If you don’t think they are perfectly capable of fiddling while Rome burns then you haven’t been paying attention to politics for the last, oh…. 6 years.

      2. Even with Republicans in office, our agencies have the resources to make some sensible improvements into the network that maximize the dollar.

        So, I don’t buy that as an excuse to immediately fund a flawed transportation package.

      3. A giant pork fest shows why people should not invest in transit and makes it look bad to where they might just pull RTD funding too even if approved.

        I am absolutely disgusted it comes down to a D versus R and no heavy lifting being done on eithe end to come up with something more sensible. Mediocrity serves no one except political ribbon cutting. This will hobble regional development using an inferior mode to fulfill political gain rather than using an appropriate mode to serve an actual purpose.

        It is a matter of getting the Rs to support the self determination of cities if voters choose to do so. I think that is an easy case to make especially given that Seattle would love an income tax on the entire state. We don’t have unlimited funds to use and being good stewards of dollars will save face later.

      4. What agencies, using which dollars, on what projects?

        Sound Transit can’t do anything that isn’t voter-approved.

        WSDOT knows who their political masters are and wants to “fix bottlenecks” and says going to HOV3 is difficult to justify. And similar to Sound Transit, their major capital projects come from dedicated funding (gas tax) for projects specifically identified by the state legislature.

        KC Metro is focused on operating service, and as we’ve seen the County Council can’t help but insert itself into service planning.

        SDOT doesn’t actually run any transit, and while they can do smaller scale capital projects and pay for bus service, their contribution of $45 million per year is tiny compared to KC Metro’s $1.4 billion budget.

      5. What you are complaining about here, Troy, are features, not bugs. The worst possible way to spend ST3 money is on automobile infrastructure. Highways have plenty of other funding sources. We shouldn’t have to pay for HOV/HOT/transit lanes out of sales tax.

      6. That is entirely untrue. New transit lanes and facilities on roadways have complicated sources of capital funding. They are not the same as those sources that go about funding new highway construction or maintenance.

        With regard to ST3, I am unsure of what you declare a feature that I claim to be bugs in the scheme.

  4. Consider Move Seattle and the multiple funding mechanisms that could sunstantially affect transit services. No, these will not finance extremely complex subway lines for light rail to Kirkland or Burien, as some confoundingly propose, but they are meaningful nonetheless.

    With regards to Sound Transit, yes, they are voter approved. However, voters approve packages (though barely, if at all, in two of three counties), with the hope that their commutes are improved.

    Does ST3 improve commutes for most of the regional populace? Does it do so at a cost that is palatable? Can more cost effective improvements be made using BRT, or, for goodness sakes, even gondolas?

    Most importantly, what is Plan B should, or when, ST3 fails?

    Baffling to me is that the interim improvements to the Rapid Ride Line to West Seattle are those cost effective improvements that would make that service the mobility option people there need and deserve. How funny that we get that only by voting for less useful rails, especially when a separate proposition like Move Seattle would easily fund the ramps abd bypasses to West Seattle that would make the C Line terrific.

    County planners at Metro know this, and they found it hard to acknowledge this point at the West Seattle meeting while not harming the cheerleading for ST’s new rail proposals that extend all over the map.

    1. I love how all this “BRT” cheerleading comes out of the woodworks when a light rail proposal is on the ballot, but not when BRT is being planned, or decisions about transit ROW priority are being debated. And then it disappears back into the woodworks after the vote on light rail, only to come out against actual proposals that fund BRT and no rail when that is on the ballot.

      1. I am unsure why it fascinates you so. This is a perfectly reasonable time to debate the merits of extending light rail to everywhere—that is, right before we begin to vote on the extensions.

        Your point on the disappearance is also not so accurate, considering the efforts of many local transportation groups and individuals to create more sensible bus and rail infrastructure, my website included.

        It is further evidence of a lack of seriousness as we fail to advance more cost effective proposals.

      2. The politics of getting Rapid Ride BAT and transit lanes shows why we need to build rail. Any attempts to do BRT right will end up watered down to another bus line stuck in traffic once the sausage is made.

      3. You think we should build rail infrastructure that has trended 15 to 60 times more expensive than typical bus infrastructure, on corridors that are far more sensible for bus transit, because Rapid-Ride was poorly executed years ago by King County?

        I am not following your logic here, especially when considering the fact that ST3 contains bus rapid-transit within the proposal. Are you advocating for rails in the awfully congested I405 corridor, too, as buses are unsatisfactory? I strongly doubt it.

        Additionally, Seattle’s fine streetcar is evidence of rail being watered down; light rail in the valley, too.

        So, what is the point again? That poorly executed plans have poor infrastructure and even poorer performance? Well, then we agree.

        Let us *not* do that with quality bus transit into Issaquah, Federal Way or Everett. They deserve better.

      4. @Brent I love how all this “BRT” cheerleading comes out of the woodworks when a light rail proposal is on the ballot, but not when BRT is being planned, or decisions about transit ROW priority are being debated. And then it disappears back into the woodworks after the vote on light rail, only to come out against actual proposals that fund BRT and no rail when that is on the ballot.

        Bullshit. Total Bullshit. I wrote, contributed money and put a Prop One yard sign in my yard. I have written numerous articles in support of BRT, whether it be as part of ST3 ( or the city ( So has Troy. So have people pushing for BRT in Kirkland.

        At the same time, I pushed hard for light rail from Ballard to UW (just Google “Ballard to UW light rail” it if you doubt me — last time I checked it was the first entry). Simply put, people want transit that makes sense. They want light rail where it makes sense, BRT where it makes sense and express buses where they make sense. BRT along I-405 (with ten minute maximum frequency) has BRT fans (including me) calling it stupid because it is stupid. But compared to West Seattle light rail, it is absolutely brilliant.

        West Seattle really is a textbook example of an area that should have BRT, not rail. Ballard to the UW is the opposite. If you can’t tell the difference, let me know and I’ll explain it to you. This is a stupid proposal for the city, and a stupid proposal for the suburbs. Holy Cow, man, did it every occur to you that a trip from Everett to Ballard would be no faster with ST3, than without it? Seriously, in a few years someone in Everett will take an express bus to Lynnwood, then take the train to the UW, then ride a bus to Ballard. A few years later Seattle will make that last trip (the slowest section by far) substantially faster. ST3 will do nothing to improve that trip, yet these are two areas (Ballard and Everett) that are “getting” light rail. That is just one example of the colossal failure of this proposal.

        This is obviously better for the city: (and anyone who ever goes into the city). This is way better for the east side: (this would also be cheaper, which means you could add in all sorts of additional service in other areas). For Pierce County, improving Sounder and the express bus service would be better. For Snohomish County, adding express bus service and leveraging an already decent BRT system (Swift) would be much better.

        These aren’t trivial differences. These aren’t like choosing between upper Fremont or lower Fremont on a Ballard to UW rail line. This is the difference between a hugely expensive system that serves only a handful of trips, versus building the type of transit system that Vancouver BC has (i. e. a system that works for just about all the trips).

      5. Argg — I did it again. I made a typo and didn’t close the italics. Only the first paragraph of my last comment should be in italics (I’m the one saying Bullshit, not Brent).

  5. A comment about South Sounder – I talk to Mr. Rogoff at a hearing about this topic. If freight trains were kicked off the BNSF tracks (regardless of ownership), it would be a huge hit to our ports, and to our economy. BNSF and the Ports of Seattle and Tacoma all advertise to shippers that they can get their east Asian cargo into the US a day sooner by shipping it here, instead of LA. If they have to wait until the middle of the night to then transfer to rail, this advantage is gone.

    So any exclusive transit use on South Sounder would see huge opposition from local governments thruout the region.

    1. Effective, the only way to get light rail frequency on South Sounder is to build two new tracks next to the existing freight ones. Which is basically the same as building light rail.

      1. Untrue. Please do review my plan. It was linked into the article.

        There are two, redundant freight rail corridors into the city of Seattle. Though the BNSF and Union Pacific Railways share trackage from the Columbia River to the Port of Tacoma, due to historical reasons their mainlines diverge from this point onward to Seattle, just 30 or so miles.

        BNSF, of course, carries the passenger trains and its 40-60 freight trains. Union Pacific, on an alignment away from city centers and surrounded entirely by grass, carries but a fraction of that total (10, typically). The Union Pacific line could *easily* be upgraded to three mainline tracks and easily carry ALL the freight traffic into Seattle, while the BNSF carries all the passenger traffic.

        It is technically feasible, comparatively affordable, and, with grade separation, we have vast improvements in mobility, rail safety, congestion and real estate values. It is a ridiculously inuitive and logical plan to work toward.

        Of course, that means it has not been worked toward whatsoever.

        Already, BNSF trains occasionally use the UPRR tracks, and vice versa. Aready, former freight tracks in the region have been purchased and improved for passenger operations (Point Defiance Bypass). Already, similar projects have been constructed where new public infrastructure hosts freight railroads through busy urban corridors (Alameda Trench). Already, prominent officials, including the Director of Intermodal Business for the Port of Tacoma, Mike Reilly, advocate for more of this practice, but people like him have no impetus to advance the sensible concept any further. Why? Because that level of investment is not necessary for the interests of the port.

        For the interests of the people of the Puget Sound, however, and of Sound Transit, you would think that operating swift, electrified express trains on grade separated passenger alignments would be a slam dunk of a rail investment and operation. The right-of-way is even already there! And it moves dangerous cargoes out of central Sumner, Puyallup and Kent, etc? Done deal.

        Instead, sadly, we will be forever burdened by slow light rail trains on expensive new alignments through suburban areas that are far better served by bus. And our commuter rail service will remain terrible, though it is by far the more logical and popular mode to invest in here.

        And while we can pretend the politics of rail make these schemes too hard or too challengining, we know better. We know what can be done, what it would look like, and can even provide rough estimations of cost. Perhaps, dare I suggest it, even better than Sound Transit’s estimations of cost.

        So, we can invest in these rails, increase capacity and radically improve mobility. The mapping is done. The research is done. It just needs to be refined.

        Let Mr. Rogoff know for me, please.

      2. Okay, Troy, where were you when we were campaigning to get more funding for buses that would better serve the suburbs? We lost. We looked for you on the battlefield …

      3. That is such a silly bit of argumentation.

        I have been a strong advocate for bus transit, local and express, for quite some time now, and am developing a voting record in support of that advocacy. For even longer, I have written and spoken in favor of the value of Sounder commuter rail.

        The construction of transit is not a zero-sum game. Denying the funding that will go toward an unintelligent light rail plan will not imperil mobility for decades.

      4. Dude, you cant just switch which lines are carrying freight. Those companies make money of that, and aren’t going to just say “oh ok”. All these suggestions have a very sim city feel to them.

        You have two options to accomplish your vision:
        1)Become a planner at ST
        2)Organize and mobilize a constituency for this vision.

        That’s it. There is no easy option where you propose something on the internet, don’t build relationships, don’t build a volunteer base, don’t ally with other groups, and somehow get your ideas to become politically possible.

      5. BNSF makes money on long-haul operations, not on specific sections of mainline. As long as trains can roll through to Seattle from Los Angeles or Chicago, BNSF interests are not harmed. They are even helped by major capacity increases funded by ST and the State.

        This is thirty miles of mainline operation that could easily be diverted the single mile east. The two railroads already share 186 miles of track before this brief and unnecessary split. The two railroads have already given up rail corridors in favor of finer alignments in Los Angeles and elsewhere.

        While you maintain that it is unrealistic, it isn’t. It is very feasible. It is already practiced by the two railroads. And it certainly is not anymore Sim City than dragging ineffective light rail lines all over the Seattle area map.

        Declaring something to be unrealistic or impossible, certainly before any serious alternatives analyses are conducted and proposals made, is so boring to me. How self-defeating Is such a perspective when the public clamors for frugality and quality ideas!

        We can also run down the list of improbable or impossible things that have happened: gay marriage; the internet fame of Kim Kardashian or Justin Bieber; legal recreational weed; a black president, and; a walk on the lunar surface. Eradicating redundancies in parallel freight mainlines in Seattle is *not* such a similarly improbable or impossible goal. It actually just makes a gross amount of sense.

        One day, one way or another, this correction will happen, too. Link’s slow trains will never become the answer to our congestion problems that Puget Sound residents deserve. Perhaps the explosion of an oil train in central Puyallup will necessitate it. In any case, our regional passenger trains will ultimately roll through the Sounder South Line on exclusively public right-of-way.

        Finally, I have spent almost a year working on and publicizing this extensive and transformational proposal, which I intensively researched and mapped out in map-grade technical detail. The “relationship building” you lecture about while uninformed is not developed in a day, and that process is well underway. The plan is also enhanced each day with literally thousands of individual insights from nearly 250 people and counting. I continue to work on the phasing components and cost estimations with transportation planners, civil engineers and rail operations professionals. This information will be provided in the near future.

        So, please, Internet critic, tell us how to get the plan to the forefront since you know so much about institutional intransigence and civic activism. We clearly need it.

      6. Jon while true you can’t just switch it overnight, when the money talks and you are getting funding to grade separate through communities that experience loud freight trains and tracks that obstruct movement of vehicles on a daily basis, it is hard to not have community buy in and if it means more profits for UP and BNSF, there simply isn’t a reason to say no.

        ST3 gives what to Puyallup, Sumner, Auburn, and Kent? I am willing to place a wager that Kirkland and north along 405 through the burbs all the way to Renton will fail this package. Redmond likely would pass it, Bellevue up in the air, Issaquah you could easily turn and the only strong area I see for ST 3 in Pierce is downtown Tacoma. There isn’t much along Pacific Highway as is. It is your typical 5 lanes high speed roadway between towns. If you want light rail in the corridor, then show there is demand via a BRT corridor first like they did in Vancouver. Turned a 60,000 people per day line over to a 130,000 people per day corridor from connecting suburban buses and increased frequencies. Voters are wanting reliable travel times but I do not think they understand the implications of a Link service versus all day Sounder. All-day Sounder was talked about in Sound Move and it should be the mode of choice given it would also benefit intercity rail in the area and might allow a few more departures to Portland given Nisqually-Seattle would be a dedicated passenger rail ROW.

        We’ve said no and saying that is impossible but where has that gotten us federally with politics? It has been a continuation of mediocrity and I have had it with mediocirty. We need a generational high quality investment that shows suburban voters what high quality public transportation is. BART El Norte is not that.

      7. Troy,

        If you ever want to drink a beer over the issue of transit advocacy, I’m very down for that. I don’t think your idea is bad, and my “Sim City” comment wasn’t meant to imply that. “Sim City” is my favorite game, because I can design and implement the best system and not worry about the internal politics. But we don’t have that option with transit advocacy.

        I do think it inappropriate to characterize non-adoption as institutional intransigence. ST et al are not intransigent (well, maybe sometimes). They respond to their planners, who look at things technically, and their Board, who look at things politically. If the Board is not aligned with this vision, the planners need to have an ironclad case for why they have to be. This idea, has promise, but is not currently fully-baked and as such is difficult to endorse to a decision maker- especially so late in the game.

        Like I said, beer?


Comments are closed.