[Editors’ Note: It has come to our attention that people are misrepresenting this post as “STB is opposed to ST3.” As Ross would be the first to say, he is not an STB staff member. and Page 2 functions much like a newspaper op-ed page. Indeed, Seattle Transit Blog wholeheartedly endorses ST3.]
I consider myself a tax and spend, bleeding-heart liberal. I’ve voted yes for almost every bond issue since I turned 18 (a long time ago). I’ve supported all four Sound Transit proposals. This is why I find it strange and uncomfortable to oppose ST3. It sounds like a great proposal, especially because it is similar to the one originally proposed by Sound Transit. However, in the last few years, thanks in good part to this blog and the folks who write or comment on it, I’ve learned a lot about transit and transit issues. I have a much better idea of what works and what doesn’t; what is a good value and what isn’t. ST3 is not. It won’t do enough to improve transit to justify the large price.
What Works and What Doesn’t
Building mass transit is no guarantee of success. You can spend a huge amount of money and only help a handful of riders.
Or you can build a system that transforms a region. People still drive, but everyone knows that taking transit is a viable option, no matter where they are going. Within the urban core, where all day demand is high, there are two systems that work. The first covers all of the city with a subway, with overlapping lines connecting various neighborhoods. Most of these were built a long time ago (New York, Chicago and Boston). Washington D. C. stands out as a city that has built this recently. Unfortunately, building a system like that is extremely expensive. Even if we build ST3, we are nowhere near achieving that goal.
The second type of system is much smaller. It doesn’t cover the entire city, just the essential core. More importantly, it integrates really well with buses. Trains travel through the most congested, highest demand areas, allowing the buses to run quickly and frequently as well. A great example of a system like this is right up the road, in Vancouver, B.C. Vancouver is about as similar to Seattle as you can get. Both have challenging terrain full of hills and waterways. Both are fairly new cities that grew with the automobile, not before it. Yet despite having roughly the same number of people, Vancouver BC has a subway that is small compared to ours. While it carries a lot of people (390,000 people a day) it is their overall transit ridership that is impressive: over three times the ridership per capita than Seattle. The model works. Make it fast and easy to get from anywhere to anywhere via a bus or train (or likely, a combination) and people use transit.
These types of subways work really well inside the urban core (where all day, neighborhood to neighborhood demand is high). For the suburbs, building such a system would be prohibitively expensive. You just can’t build a high speed mass transit grid for every suburban neighborhood. What works for the suburban communities is a radial system reaching everywhere, connecting people to the core via a mix of commuter rail or express bus, with service concentrated in the peak but available less frequently the rest of the day.
What doesn’t work well is sending trains to low density or distant areas. Dallas, for example, has the longest light rail line in North America yet it has the lowest transit ridership of any big city. Unfortunately, we are building a system more like Dallas, and less like Vancouver.
Weakness of ST3
Much has been written about the shortcomings of ST3, or rather, the advantages of other alternatives. There are plenty of flaws.
- Poor Bus Integration.
Even the best, most productive, most justified additional railway section of ST3 fails from a bus integration standpoint. For example, when the Ballard Station is finally added (in 2035) very few will use it from Phinney Ridge, even thought it is one mile due east. It would require two buses to get there, and for most destinations (downtown, the U-District, Northgate, Bellevue, etc.) it isn’t worth taking the new train. What is true of Phinney Ridge is true of Fremont. These are neighborhoods adjacent to the light rail line, but the ST3 additions are pretty much useless for them. Sound Transit has failed (as they have in the past) to consider our geography and the role that complementary bus service plays in it.
- Cannibalizing bus routes
At the same time, there are clearly areas where buses will feed the stations. Unfortunately, for many of these, the train stations don’t complement the bus service, they cannibalize it — forcing riders into a time consuming transfer. Consider the neighborhood of High Point, the most densely populated part of West Seattle. Right now, if you want to get from High Point to downtown, you can take the Metro 21 directly there. In 2030, when a new bridge is built over the Duwamish and trains run overhead through the Alaska Junction, riders will be forced to get off the bus and wait for the train. What is true of West Seattle is true of Issaquah, where most riders will have to make two transfers to get downtown. It is possible that the buses will continue to run as they do now — but that would mean extremely low ridership followed by extremely low frequency on the trains. Either you eliminate the direct alternative, or put up with a system that performs very poorly and bleeds huge amounts of money.
- Poor intermediate destinations
Trade-offs like this exist in many subways. Folks trying to get from Queens to Manhattan sometimes take an express bus (or a cab). Yet the subway is still extremely popular, because lots of people are going to stops along the way. Unfortunately, most of ST3 lacks this. Very few will take a train from one stop to another in West Seattle. Nor are there a lot of people trying to get from park and ride to park and ride. Mariner to Mountlake Terrace or Federal Way to Fife trips just won’t happen. Despite spending billions, most of the riders would be better off with express buses.
- Superficial Service
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of considering door to door travel time versus “serving” an area. It isn’t enough to simply add a station in an arbitrarily designated city or neighborhood. Tacoma stands as a great example of this. From the Tacoma Dome to downtown Seattle, it will take about an hour and fifteen minutes. Sounder is faster, and the bus is much faster in the middle of the day. But more importantly, very few people live close to the Tacoma Dome. Just about everyone is going to have to spend an extra fifteen minutes just to get to the stop. This means that even if a Tacoma resident works right in downtown Seattle, right next to a station, they will spend three hours a day commuting via Link. There just aren’t that many people willing to do that. This is why it is rare for subway systems to extend out this far. Washington DC, New York, Chicago, London and Paris all have over a hundred miles of track, yet none of them extend out this far. They serve those areas with commuter trains or express buses. We should do the same.
It isn’t just the suburbs that suffer from the myth that simply having a station is sufficient to “serve” an area. The Ballard stop is another example of this problem. The route is largely parallel to the existing route, which means it is useless for a large percentage of Link riders. From the UW, Roosevelt, Northgate and every other stop north of there, it is meaningless. It is faster to take the 44 bus than it is to transfer downtown.
By failing to consider geography, density and the history of transit in the world, Sound Transit has failed to come up with a sensible plan. It emphasizes superficial achievements, such as “serving” areas like Tacoma, Everett, Issaquah, and West Seattle instead of building a cost effective transit network.
The planning process is broken
Of course this is just the armchair analysis of someone who listens to experts and has way too much time on his hands. There are plenty of people who feel the same way, but maybe we are all wrong. Maybe the folks at Sound Transit, who hired real professionals to do the job, have come up with the best available plan.
Unfortunately, the professionals haven’t been given a chance. The Sound Transit process is broken, which explains why we have this mess.
In a typical transit improvement process, you start with a blank slate. You look at the census data, the traffic maps, the existing trips as well as existing (and potential) transit and try to make the most cost effective system available. You measure alternatives by how much rider time you save versus how much you want to spend. This is a commonly used metric, that until recently was required for federal funding. Of course there is bound to be some horse trading at the end of the day, but you at least initially come up with reasonable ideas and debate the merits of all of them. Nothing like that happened here.
- West Seattle
For some bizarre reason, West Seattle — despite having better average transit times and lower density than much of Seattle — was considered a priority, while the Central Area (with the opposite) was not. Making matters worse, Sound Transit never considered a bus tunnel for downtown. Despite a front page article in the largest newspaper in the state and the support of the most fervent subway proponent in town, they didn’t consider it. They studied a couple of “BRT” options, but they failed to include a tunnel, which resulted in slow time estimates. Of course it did. There was no tunnel. Failing to study an obvious option — one that was well known — is not an oversight, it is a sign that the process is broken.
What happened to West Seattle was not unique. The city of Kirkland hired a team of consultants to design a bus based solution that would leverage and enhance the existing bike trail. It was part of a range of improvements for the East Side (a plan nicknamed BRISK). Sound Transit didn’t study it, largely because they favored rail. The end result is a plan that features rail from Issaquah to South Kirkland, which is as misguided a plan as one can imagine. Despite a proposal put forth by a major municipality with the help of hired consultants, it was never seriously considered by Sound Transit.
- The Spine
Then there is “the spine”, a subway from Tacoma to Everett. In every single proposal, projects are graded on this bizarre and arbitrary criteria. Right next to ridership, cost and other obvious measurements, each planning document lists as one of their “Key Attributes” a row entitled
“REGIONAL LIGHT RAIL SPINE. Does this project help complete the light rail spine?“.
The assumption being that the spine is, without question, extremely valuable. That assumption is ridiculous. Very few people are willing to ride a subway for over an hour through miles of suburbia, which is why very few agencies bother to build such things (and those that do have failed miserably at it). Instead of considering and measuring various alternatives on a common and meaningful metric, they judge a project in part on whether or not it helps achieve an arbitrary and dubious goal.
The planning process is broken. An independent, experienced set of planners should be given the resources and freedom to come up with proposals for the area. Each proposal should be measured and openly debated. I don’t think there is any way we would get anything like this plan if that was the process.
Where we go from here
There has been a lot of discussion as to what will happen if ST3 fails. I understand and sympathize with those who feel like a flawed plan is better than nothing. While I can point to many mistakes made with ST2, I would enthusiastically vote for it again. But the amount of money we are talking about requires a better system. We have other needs besides transit. We could spend the money on education, day care, mental health services, homeless relief, police protection (or training), just to name a few. In the meantime, we will be able to muddle along. Seattle is making changes that will improve things considerably, while ST2 will change things dramatically.
It is likely that Sound Transit will come up with another plan. Just about everyone expects the next proposal to be smaller. So, whether proposed by Sound Transit or individual municipalities, it is likely to involve less rail and more bus service. These proposals would not only be more cost efficient, but better overall. In the suburbs, bus service improvements and new busways would enable much faster door to door service for a lot more riders.
Seattle remains one of the few areas in the region where light rail could be cost effective. But building smaller, shorter, more effective rail like a Metro 8 subway or a Ballard to UW subway would upset too many in West Seattle (where the head of Sound Transit lives). What is more likely is to build the WSTT, and make other, relatively cheap improvements. That would serve a much wider area — not only within West Seattle and Ballard, but along the extremely popular Aurora corridor. It would provide much faster door to door travel times for more riders. Like a similar and very successful system in Brisbane, we will be able to convert the busway to a subway eventually. But my guess is like them, we will be happy with the busway and focus our efforts on other parts of the city.
In all these cases, a cheaper plan would actually save more people more time than what ST3 has proposed. But I could be wrong. Show me the numbers. If ST3 fails, I want them to go back to the drawing board, and then show me the cost effectiveness of each proposal. I’m sure that we will end up with something much better.
47 Replies to “Why I’m Voting No on ST3”
Great post, Ross. I agree with you on a number of your objections to ST3 projects.
However, I think the strongest argument in favor of ST3 is that most of your recommendations are political non-starters. The region’s leaders are not interested in abandoning the Spine. Metro 8 has gotten zero traction outside of the internet. West Seattle & Issaquah are not interested in settling for bus improvements.
Perhaps if ST3 fails, some of these key projects can come to fruition. A King county only project could be built around the WSTT and things like Kirkland BRT. But is WSTT really that much better than a 2nd rail tunnel and 4 new rail stations in the downtown core that the region should just kick the can down the road by 4 years? Sure Kirkland BRT along ERC is a superior solution, and ST has clear easement right – but can it be done in the face of fierce local opposition?
I simply don’t see the upside of rejecting ST3. Any future package will be framed by the same political realities that build ST3
I see your point, but I think these are only the political realities of the moment. This will be the fifth ST vote, and every one had different political realities that people thought were critical for its success. The first measure failed, even though it was engineered to please every major municipality (except Everett) with rail. This was considered politically essential. When that failed, they passed a measure with very little rail, and a lot of bus service (ST1). The group that passed it essentially said it had enough rail in the city, while having enough bus service in the suburbs to keep everyone happy. So the assumption that folks outside the city wouldn’t vote for more bus service was wrong.
Then there was “roads and transit”. Again this was billed as part of the “political reality”. I actually voted for that measure for that reason. I honestly didn’t think an all transit package could pass. I was wrong.
Then there was ST2, which in my opinion, was the best package that Sound Transit ever proposed. Just about everyone who thinks rail is appropriate for the area was happy with that, including folks like me and folks like d. p. who are adamantly opposed to ST3. In any event, it was a better proposal than “roads and transit” and it passed easily.
Every proposal was different. I assume this will be the case if ST3 fails. I think a rejection often leads to a shakeup in the planning, if not the organization as a whole.
Meanwhile the main opposition group — the so called “Smarter Transit” folks — are not anti-transit, they are anti-Link. You can bet that they will push almost immediately for a better planning process as well as more bus service (believing the first will lead to the second).
I also think that if you come up with a smaller package, it naturally leads to less rail.
In the north end I could see how they might extend the rail line to Ash Way, but that might still be considered a stretch. Lynnwood really is the center of transit in Snohomish County which is why the terminus makes a lot of sense. There are several things they could do which would be really popular. They might fund the heck out of Swift, since they already have plans for a comprehensive network. I believe Swift is more popular than RapidRide, and if you could get the headways down to six minutes, you could get some real enthusiasm for the thing. That means faster trips to Link as well as faster trips everywhere. Meanwhile, you can add busway and ramps for much of I-5. Not the entire section between Lynnwood and Everett, but most of it. There are literally miles and miles of median that could easily and cheaply be converted to a busway, and would result in very fast service from South Everett to Lynnwood. If 90% of the route is an exclusive busway, then the 10% that is HOV 2 really doesn’t make much difference.
For the East Side the rail extension into Redmond is a given. Other than that, I don’t think any rail package would make sense. Maybe you don’t use the ERC, but you can certainly build busways or just add bus service to improve things. There are plenty of places that lack adequate service, as opposed to infrastructure (try to get from Totem Lake to the UW in the evening).
For the south end you invest in a mix of Sounder and bus service.
For Seattle a scaled down rail package like Ballard to UW is a possibility, but that would mean nothing for West Seattle. Likewise a rail line from Ballard to downtown would have the same problem. I think selling the WSTT is much easier. You sell it as a “first step” towards rail, but with more immediate benefits. I really don’t see why anyone in West Seattle would oppose that. They might want rail more, but recognize that this is a step towards it. Likewise with Ballard and all the areas along the way.
I do think it would be better. It gets complicated (and this is already a very long comment) but here goes: The trade-off between the stop on Denny versus the stop in Belltown is a wash. For the core — inside the busway tunnel — you have more frequent service (especially in the middle of the day). Most of West Seattle would be better off with a one seat ride to downtown. If we build a new Ballard bridge, then Ballard is clearly ahead as well. They get all of the grade separation, with fewer transfers. But the big kicker is that the WSTT also serves the Aurora corridor. Even without the new Ballard bridge, I think this puts the WSTT into the lead. The E is our most popular bus, while the 5, 26 and 28 are very popular. This would greatly speed up the buses, while making them a lot more reliable. There are winners and loser here (without a new Ballad bridge) but I strongly believe that more people come out ahead with the WSTT.
As a frequent bus rider from West Seattle to downtown and UW, I believe most transit riders in West Seattle would come out strongly in favor of the WSTT vs. Link, because we recognize that the transfer penalties of Link will mostly or entirely negate the time savings. Witness the packed articulated buses on the 120, 21, 56, 57, etc. every morning, and the C from south of AKJCT. Those are thousands of riders who would ride buses right up to the cusp of the bus-lane-separated freeways to downtown, and instead have to disembark, climb through a surely byzantine and overbuilt Link station for 3 minutes, then wait up to 7 minutes at rush hour, 10 or more outside it, for a train, which will crawl through Sodo, Stadium, and ID stations before getting downtown. If they’re going to SLU or Belltown, they’ll have another transfer downtown to look forward to. Even in the 10% worst traffic mornings like this last Wednesday, our bus rides from the Junction to downtown are under 30 minutes. I know they’ll get a lot worse when the viaduct goes down, but the WSTT would fix that even better than Link, and probably make them shorter than they are today with our half-broken viaduct. Even with the queue-cutting bus lane, it takes a bus 5-7 minutes just to crawl up the ramp from the Spokane Street Viadcut to NB 99 in the morning rush hour. Switching to Sodo busway would be a godsend.
Not to mention that in the afternoons, I think outbound Link will have close to 0 time savings vs. buses even BEFORE transfer penalties. SR99 south of stadia, and WSB westbound to Delridge, Avalon and Admiral, are actually free-flowing highways almost every afternoon.
Frankly, I think West Seattle’s rail mania has been overstated, as our 7th of the city has come to serve as the within-Seattle bogeyman for overly costly transit investments. I believe that most of the voices and votes in West Seattle that would say yes to Link, but no to WSTT, are SOV commuters who assume a shiny new Link train would attract enough other drivers out of their way on the WSB to return to the glorious 15-minute morning driving commutes of Seattle’s bygone small town days. (I suspect most Everett and Tacoma area voters who say Yes to ST3 will be doing so in the same vain expectation of faster car commutes). Designing a transit system to bait SOV commuters into voting yes, instead of designing it to actually make commuting better for the largest number of current and future transit riders, is what got us such a bizarre exurban sprawling proposal.
And just to be clear, I voted yes on ST3 for the political reality reasons you cited, and because I think 99% of express bus routes in the region will rapidly close in on 15mph average speeds as our population grows, so I think your “better served by express buses” idea breaks down outside of Seattle proper. I didn’t stop to consider how a No vote might make the WSTT more likely, but I’ll be looking for that as a silver lining for me and my wife and our neighbors in WS if ST3 fails next week.
Thanks as always for being a principled, thoughtful leader of the “opposition party” since d.p.’s departure. I think your proposals and critiques help keep the range of ideas more diverse here.
I agree with jt. I think RossB has been and will continue to be a loyal opposition leader that is necessary.
If and likely when ST3 passes, the pressure needs to be unanimous for Sound Transit to keep its promises, and be efficient so that the contingencies in ST3 are spent on… more transit to more places more often.
“As a frequent bus rider from West Seattle to downtown and UW, I believe most transit riders in West Seattle would come out strongly in favor of the WSTT”
That’s good to know. However, they missed their chance to have a vocal presence on it. The appearance from outside is that most of the West Seattlites who vocalize an opinion want light rail, or they want roads, or they don’t want anything because it would lead to density… and only a few people want a WSTT-type solution (and the most vocal one is a non-resident).
In these debates it’s worth keeping in mind who would actually have to transfer and doesn’t already. Not Delridge, because the 120 will remain and be upgraded to RapidRide in Metro’s long-term plan. 35th yes, and that’s a well-used route, but it’s just one route. Not the Junction because Link will go there, and an increasing number of riders will be within walking distance. The southwest area will have to transfer, but maybe not forever because later extensions are likely to go via Fauntleroy (against my recommendation). Upper California already has to transfer off-peak, and lower California always (although the 22 is low ridership). So the Admiral District would lose its one-seat ride only peak hours, while the southern part of California already has to transfer. However, there is the high-ridership area between Alaska Street and Morgan Street where the C currently runs (and where the second Link extension would probably run); they would have to transfer, although some of them would probably do a longish walk to the station.
Count me as optimistic but concerned about ST3. I support it, I will vote for it (In fact, I’m the only social and fiscal conservative I know voting yes. ST3 is literally a laughing stock to basically all of my conservative friends. They deride it as a “boondoggle,” and very few of them (if any) have been following the process at all, or looked at how the financial details are worked out). Being an election year is definitely good for ST3. Both previous ST measures only passed on the second attempt after refinement, so that’s going against ST3. The version of ST2 that was transit-only passed by wide margins, and that’s helps ST3, as well as the fact that this is the first time that a vote on ST occurred after rail is in operation.
I have thought of what ST could propose if ST3 fails, and I think what I have is different enough to merit a good chance, especially if ST3 fails by a slim margin. Of course, I’m thinking of things like skipping Paine field as an easy to state improvement in travel time and cost, axing Issaquah Link to seriously cut the inflated cost of the package (the number most often publicized), and get Save Our Trail off our case, and some other major changes to reduce costs. I thought about doing an “If ST3 fails” page 2 post, but I think I’ll just write it up after the election if it does in fact fail (then it would be a meaningful article).
Yes, great post, Ross. I do not think there was anything in there I disagreed with. I agree wholeheartedly with the proposed bus tunnel (brilliant piece of work sans rail convertibility notion) as the most sensible thing for Seattle’s transit future, but it is for Seattle and Metro to do — not Sound Transit. When does the Seattle downtown pay some of its share of 40 years of transit largesse the region has showered upon them?
Truly the transportation planning process is broken in the Puget Sound Region — “light capacity rail” was a conspiratorial mistake from RTA days but the rail centric machine plods on nonetheless with that wasteful and ineffective 60+ mile long spine notion suppressing all creative and practical thought, as well as dissent. And nothing will likely improve until the Sound Transit Board is changed from appointed by the County execs (10 of 17 appointed by Dow Constantine) to directly elected by district as Governor Locke’s Blue Ribbon commission recommended.
When plans and politicians make little sense it’s all about follow the money and in this case there’s tons of it. Or as my Daddy used to say, “it’s a gravy train with biscuit wheels”. The taint of this machine extends from local city council elections in the burbs to the legislature, the governor’s office, several state agencies, and our congressional delegation. And the agency suppresses objective multi-modal planning on the part of our federally mandated Metropolitan Planning Organization, the PSRC.
A whole lot of people working together for a common cause, such as grade-separated transit between all the high-demand destinations in the region, is, by definition, a conspiracy. I plead guilty to being a conspirator. I look forward to an overwhelming majority of voters recognizing the historic opportunity, and joining the conspiracy on or before November 8.
The conspiracy began with a dishonest alternatives analysis effort wherein rapid rail head-ways of 1.5 minutes were used for the light rail system in order to justify light rail over the express bus system alternative. And then in later efforts ST even hobbled the bus alternative with “rail convertible” guide-ways and forced buses to stop at all stations like a rail train while using head-ways that were less than the now acknowledged 3 minute minimum.
The pitch has always been that superior capacity is the reason for building light rail, i.e., “high capacity transit”. Note that the long standing 12,000 (rounded up from 11,520) pass per hour per direction capacity has now become 16,000 with Constantine, Hallenbeck and others making that pitch. This is fundamentally dishonest as it represents crush loads which substantially degrade the rider experience and system reliability and ST operations staff know this. And notice that they never compare the 16,000 to what buses can do in an HOV lane. The conspiracy continues in direct response to the focus group results.
Buses can deliver far more riders per hour when operated in a “grade-separated” mode, as in speed assured freeway HOV lanes. The I-90 reversible roadway has higher trunk line capacity than light rail by orders of magnitude. And its connections to the DSTT, the downtown and adjacent arterial street system assures that capacity can be utilized.
And then what is the value of connecting these high demand destinations with grade separated transit? The home to work trip is the transit market and the home part of that trip is anything but a high demand concentration. That’s why we have the park and ride based bus transit system which incidentally is one of the best in the country. What Link does for us is steal those riders while subjecting them to an additional transfer.
We have all been slickered in one way or another by this machine and “its for the good of the order” theme. A lot of people bought into the Iraq war but that didn’t make it right. So Brent, don’t blindly accept this feel good stuff they are selling. RossB has done a decent reality check for us all..
I’ll take your advice and not blindly accept your contention that you support express bus alternatives to ST3. Can you show me ballot items you’ve supported for express bus service?
In particular, Bill, did you agree with the position of the Eastside Transportation Association, in which you are involved, against county prop 1 in 2014, in which ETA had no interest in funding to preserve express bus service? This was after ETA pointed to express bus service as a better alternative to rail in 2008.
Nobody should be “slickered” by any of the prevarications that ooze out of ETA any more.
Thank you Brent.
I do support elected transit boards but my support is contingent on it not being a “gang up on Sound Transit” stunt and on seats by population. So if Sound Transit is going to have a directly elected board, so too should Whatcom Transportation Authority, Skagit Transit, et al. Everett Transit already arguably has a directly elected board – Everett City Council.
If Washington State legislators are going to impose requirements on Sound Transit, then state legislators should do the same for their own parts of the state too. I mean, why not?
Everett Transit does not have an elected board. The city council is elected to deal with crime, homelessness, zoning, economic development and hundreds to other things that are not transit.
A real elected transit board is one elected to run transit and nothing else. It would be a great thing for ST – board members could campaign on the current ST vision versus Ross’s version and voters could actually pick candidates that they feel have the better vision.
Donde, I agree. I do think the more transit boards that are elected, the better. Also what is good for Sound Transit in accountability measures is good for Skagit Transit.
Seattle-Vancouver is not really a fair comparison. There is way less sprawl in Vancouver, and Vancouver has no community whatsoever that could be viewed in any way equivalent to Tacoma or Everett. Abbotsford is about the same distance to Vancouver as Tacoma is from Seattle, but there is huge expanses of empty farmland in-between.
Vancouver also has the more typical circular development patterns of large cities. Seattle, of course, has a linear pattern. The system maps for the two cities rail systems reflect this.
Vancouver has sprawl, it’s just that Vancouver doesn’t extend their rail as far into it.
It is tough to get apples to apples maps comparing the two, because of the different jurisdictions involved. This is the best map I know of for U. S. density, centered over Seattle: http://arcg.is/2eVUoTx. There is sprawl all over the place, but almost all the population density is within Seattle (we aren’t Phoenix). There are dozens and dozens (too many for me to count) census blocks of over 10,000 people per square mile (ppsm), and somewhere around 30 with 25,000 ppsm.
In contrast, Tacoma, is very low density. It has about a dozen census blocks over 10,000 ppsm and not a single block over 25,000. Everett has even less population density. So, yeah, it sprawls and sprawls — I guess I don’t get your point. Are you saying running a subway to very low density areas makes sense?
Meanwhile, Vancouver sprawls as well (http://2.bp.blogspot.com/_tTCyS07dYVs/TI0d9lz4V5I/AAAAAAAAFfA/ot6qht9JQFs/s1600/Vancouver+Density.png). It is a different measuring system, but you get the idea. The big concentrations of people are in the city, while some suburbs (like New Westminster) actually hold their own better than similar areas in Puget Sound. Yet the system in Vancouver is concentrated in the city. You don’t see a line from Vancouver to Langley, let alone Abbotsford. Not because there is nothing in between (you could easily justify stops in Surrey, Murrayville, Langley and Aldergrove just as folks justified stops in Federal Way and Fife). They didn’t build anything like that because it would be stupid. There simply isn’t the density or proximity to justify it.
Heck, they didn’t build a line to North Vancouver, despite the fact that it has way more density than West Seattle and is otherwise a remarkably similar area (separated from the main part of town by a river and connected via a busy bridge). Speaking of which, the idea that Vancouver grows in a circle is absurd. Like Seattle, it can’t grow to the west (salt water). It can’t grow to the north very much (big protected mountains). It is pretty obvious that growth occurs to the south and east, in a band similar to ours (although ours is more north-south). If anything, a “spine” out to Abbotsford would actually have more visual appeal, since much of the province lives in that general area. Fortunately they realized that building such a system has no record of success, and built something that does (based on the Toronto model).
Just for fun, check out the second (“Comparison”) map here: http://mapfrappe.com/?show=43029. It’s Link after ST3, overlaid on Vancouver. It fits strangely well: the Ballard leg takes you to West Vancouver, ULink takes you to North Vancouver, the West Seattle Leg takes you to that big chunk of town southwest of the CBD, and Eastlink runs out to Burnaby in place of Bellevue, Coquitlam in place of Redmond, New Westminster in place of Issaquah.
Then the mind boggling thing is to see the Spine. You have to zoom way out on the comparison map. It gets you to Squamish in the north, past Point Roberts in the south (looks like it’d reach all of Abbotsford if it were bent that way, the more analogous choice to our Tacoma route).
I think the instructive thing is that even the quite analogous lines, like West Vancouver being analogous to Ballard, are not being proposed there, much less anything like the longest-subway-in-the-world Spine plan.
Nice work, jt — thanks.
As you see, jt, you go those distances in Vancouver and you’re in the middle of nowhere, at least north and south. Abbotsford is not Tacoma, it’s not much more than Bellingham, and there isn’t the continuous urban development between Abbotsford and Vancouver as with Tacoma. And, of course, Vancouver has nothing but mountains where Everett would be.
Jt’s overlay map would be a pretty complete system for Vancouver even if you dropped the pointless long north-south stretches to Pt Roberts and Squamish.
As he said, he didn’t bend the lines to fit the cities. Of course Vancouver didn’t run the line out into the middle of the ocean, but they also don’t run it out to Abbotsford. They don’t even run it out to Langley, which has pockets of density as high as any found in Tacoma or Everett. As he mentioned, they didn’t even run it out to North Vancouver! We built a billion dollar line out to one area of West Seattle (https://goo.gl/maps/3dV13cn5L2n)*, while they don’t bother running to North Vancouver (https://goo.gl/maps/ZPfVhm2LDmA2). Of course ridership would be way higher with a train to North Vancouver, but they have bigger, more important things to build first. We do, too — we simply ignore them.
There is no “continuous urban development” between the Tacoma Dome and Federal Way. Where do you get that idea? Just look at each proposed station and you won’t find a single census block (including the one in Tacoma) of over 10,000 people per square mile, let alone 25,000. Compare that to the stations in the city. Just about every station has density (over 10,000 ppsm, with several over 25,000).
Now look at the station by station ridership. There is a strong correlation between density and ridership (of course). The relationship is not linear, but exponential. Thus Capitol Hill performs much better than Beacon Hill, even though Beacon Hill has more riders than most of the line. Speaking of Beacon Hill, it carries roughly 2,500 people a day. It has density in the area and very good bus connections (to the V. A., as well as the rest of Beacon Hill). Do you really think that 5,000 people will walk to the station at, say, Fife? There aren’t even 5,000 people within walking distance. The only way that those stations will have even decent ridership — let alone ridership justifying the expense — is if they have very big park and rides, and very good feeder bus service.
Not that there is anything wrong with that. Sounder has that, and it does reasonably well. The terminus to just about every great subway system has that. What is crazy is to spend billions extending your subway to low density areas that are completely dependent on that — and lack anything in the way of destinations — instead of investing in better express bus or commuter rail.
* I really tried to make that look as urban as possible, but it is obvious that West Seattle makes North Vancouver look like Hong Kong. It isn’t just the residential towers, but the widespread set of apartments everywhere that make it so different than West Seattle. That part of West Seattle has a small, thin strip, and not much more.
The difference is when and how Vancouver’s suburbs grew, and the public’s attitudes toward transit, roads, and land use issues. Cloverdale (Surrey) was as rural in the 90s as Kent was in the 60s. In 2000 when I went to Vancouver a lot, Langley was just starting to become a significant bedroom community for Vancouver. There’s nothing equivalent to Tacoma or Everett that could lay historical claim to being one of the trio of largest cities and a must-serve part of the frequent rail network. I don’t think Vancouverites or even Langleyites could have imagined Langley as being must-serve for a subway station.
Also, the regional government did something very smart in the early 90s: it designated rural Whalley as a satellite city center, zoned a dense downtown, and extended the Skytrain to it. That’s what a “regional growth center” should be like: strong densification and walkability and rapid transit. If only Lynnwood and Federal Way and Issaquah can rise to the occasion so well!
As to the North Vancouver situation, I don’t know much about it, but saying that some other area shouldn’t have rail because North Vancouver is denser and doesn’t have it sounds questionable. North Vancouver has the SeaBus, which is a frequent high-volume passenger ferry that was established for Expo in the 80s. The north side buses terminate at it, and when it’s not running evenings there are buses over the bridge to downtown. Does North Vancouver need more? I have no idea. All my friends live downtown or in south or east Vancouver and one in Horseshoe Bay, and they’ve never said much about North Vancouver. Maybe North Vancouver doesn’t need Skytrain; maybe it does but it has never been politically favored.
Seattle population density, 2010: 7,692 people per square mile.
Vancouver, BC: 5,250 per square km, 13,598 to the square mile.
So, there is less of a need in Vancouver for people to live 30 miles from their employment.
I really don’t understand why people think that Seattle is so spread out. Without a doubt, we have sprawl that goes out to the hinterlands. So does just about every other city (including Vancouver). But we aren’t Phoenix. Look at Seattle (http://arcg.is/2f6m9sh) and look at Phoenix (http://arcg.is/2f6mATM). Move the map around to get a feel for both cities. Almost all the density is in Seattle proper. You can easily see the moderately dense areas outside Seattle, and in the case of ST3, none of them are covered (that tiny pocket in Kent is missed by several miles). In comparison, look at Phoenix. Nothing too high, nothing too low.
The point being that Langley and Abbotsford aren’t that much different than Tacoma and Everett. See the little spot in north Langley that has two high density census tracks next to each other? That makes them more densely populated than any of the stops on the way to Tacoma.
Besides, my point in looking at Vancouver is not to point out the dubious nature of wide spread light rail. Dallas is a great example in that regard (and you are welcome to look at the census maps to see how remarkably similar Fort Worth is to either Tacoma or Everett). Nor was my point that Vancouver is a perfectly run organization and has built things in a logical order. Far from it. Their system is still too suburban.
The point being that ST3 is a crazy, bizarre proposal. Extending out to the suburbs much farther than Vancouver’s, but also farther than New York, Chicago, London or Paris! Are you going to claim that any of those cities lack suburbs or satellite cites as worthy as Tacoma or Everett?
There was nothing stopping Vancouver from following the Dallas/ST3 model. They could have easily built a line out to Abbotsford. It would have included Langley as well. If anything it is more reasonable and cost effective than what we have proposed, because it includes both. But it wouldn’t be as cost effective as what they built. They built a system that has a solid, short set of urban lines, with very good bus integration, along with good feeder bus and train service. We don’t seem to be interested in any of that.
You have a lot to discuss here. I somewhat agree on many points, and I’ll mention that at the end. I’ll repsond to the “weaknesses” in order:
Neighborhood adjacency was never taken into account for Fremont and Phinney, that is why ST will hopefully study the UW-Ballard line to eventually connect with the Kirkland-Issaquah line. Fremont and Phinney resident will never use light-rail in Ballard to travel downtown, unless road and marine traffic overburdens the Fremont bridge, forcing buses to radiate out from Ballard instead for the underground rail line to downtown.
I’ve got to admit I don’t understand why you considered bus-to-rail replacement as a “weaknesses” – that is one of the key purposes of rail transit. Rail is an upgrade for a major bus line, some would say. I’m so adamantly in favor of rail because it’s more reliable, faster, safer, economical and carries a much higher capacity per unit time, thus it should make sense that the city replaces bus routes, especially on major, congested corridors, with reliable rail transit, then repurpose those buses to serve under-served neighborhoods. Rail transit is more popular than buses, so I fully expect “bus-cannaibalization” as not a weakness, but a strength
Intermediate stops make more sense for denser neighborhoods, where walking distances are shorter – there is no point to have a station every mile along the freeway or even more potential TOD like hwy 99. When an along a light-rail becomes denser, an in-fill station can be built. Someday, I hope there are many more in-fill stations with “local” and “express” trains for commuters travelling from intermediate to intermediate stations, while long-distance commuters can take the “express” trains, such as Bellevue to Ballard.
As for “Superficial Service”, I agree about the Tacoma to Seattle light-rail. I wondered about rejecting ST3, but then I remember we’re voting for their tax authority and collection, not the actual lines. The routes can change if they can convince all members of the change. I personally believe Tacoma is it’s own city, no mater how depressed it looks, thus deserves inter-city high-speed rail between Seattle and Tacoma. Building “light-rail” to Tacoma feels like building a a streetcar line to Issaquah – it’s a inappropriate mode of transit for a distance that could be better served by a better alternative. That said, “light-rail to Tacoma” could be a political ploy to get overall political and voter approval – most voters do not understand the difference and purposes between light-rail, heavy rail and regional HSR. Sound Transit may have something up their sleeve, especially since I’ve heard Sound Transit has been exploring the possibility of building their own high-speed rail line for their Sounder train.
My point: I’m voting for giving them a permanent annual tax income, because any transit investment at this point will be better than none.
As much as I am annoyed at the freeway alignment proposed for light rail to Tacoma, the Tacoma News-Tribune seems to be happy. Not everyone who wants to get between Metro Seattle and Metro Tacoma lives north of downtown Seattle and south or west of downtown Tacoma. As a denizen of South Park, I will be one of those using Link to get to lots of destinations in South King County as well as Pierce County.
A No Vote will not lead to fixing alignments and station sitings to suit the preferences of us urbanists, or to adding on more projects we didn’t get in ST3, or to getting anything done faster, or to giving politicians some sort of backward mandate to take more dedicated bus lanes.
ETA and nearly everyone involved in People for Smarter Transit will still remain adamantly opposed to the next transit proposition, whether it be rail or all buses.
@Andrew — I’ve got to admit I don’t understand why you considered bus-to-rail replacement as a “weaknesses” …
Believe it or not, this long essay used to be a lot longer. I elaborated on points like this, so I don’t blame you for not understanding the subtleties. It gets complicated. Sometimes it makes perfect sense to replace bus routes with trains, sometimes it doesn’t.
A great example is the 41. The 41 right now carries plenty of people and is quite crowded. Most of the people get on the bus before the Northgate Transit Center. Despite the traffic in the HOV lanes, it is a very fast way to get to and through downtown. It was faster when it had off board payment and didn’t share the ride with the train, but it is still pretty fast. For the bulk of old riders I would guess that the 41 would actually be faster because it is an express, and doesn’t require a transfer to the most popular destination. A lot of people will miss the old 41.
But look what they get in return: A very fast ride to Roosevelt, two parts of the UW and Capitol Hill. That right there is worth it. Big time. There will be people who come out behind, but plenty of people who come out way ahead. Meanwhile, the worst traffic is not during morning rush hour, but in the evening. This will completely reverse this. Again, we are talking about very fast service to popular evening locations (UW, Capitol Hill and downtown). It is a trade-off, but one well worth it.
West Seattle doesn’t have that trade-off. You don’t have valuable stops along the way and if you built a bus tunnel, it would be faster for just about everyone.
Imagine we built both the WSTT and the Ballard to West Seattle subway, side by side. With both in place, let’s have a race from Lower Queen Anne to a typical spot in West Seattle. The bus goes just as fast as the train, if not faster (smaller vehicle, less dwell time). As they leave SoDo, they are neck and neck. The train stops off at the Avalon station, while the bus keeps going. Already the bus is ahead. Now, of course, the train gets to the stop on 35th, and you get off the train and wait for the bus. It takes a while, of course (the train and bus are at different levels — likely at a sizeable difference). Then you wait for the connecting bus. Even if you luck out and manage to make the connection right away the other bus is already five minutes ahead. What is true for High Point is true for most of West Seattle. if the Alaska Junction was downtown Bellevue, then maybe this thing would make sense. But it isn’t. The only stop directly served by this hugely expensive project is just one of many areas that make up the peninsula. Not just High Point, but Alki, Fauntleroy, Delridge, South Seattle College. This is only one stop in an area with a very diverse, spread out set of destinations and population. If you built both, very few people would take the train — only those headed to within a block or two of the Junction. It is the opposite of the old 41 (where only a handful of people would take the 41 if it was kept).
What is true of West Seattle is true of most of ST3 rail. From Tacoma it is faster to take Sounder during rush hour, while the express buses will likely be a lot more frequent than Link. When you consider that service to the Tacoma Dome will require a transfer for most riders, the door to door time for either Sounder or a bus will be much faster. For Everett an express from an Everett neighborhood to Lynnwood would be faster nine times out of ten. With just a small investment, it would be much faster. Likewise with Issaquah.
In all these cases, of course, what is needed most is simply good bus service. Run from the neighborhoods to either the nearest Link station or downtown Seattle. That is the way that most agencies in the world operate. It is really unusual for anyone — I mean anyone — to build a subway out this far. Most have express buses or commuter rail. One exception is Dallas, which, as noted, has really bad transit outcomes.
A note on “cannabalizing” bus routes:
Let’s not make the Reg/ACRS mistake of obsessing over lines on a map, as if frequency doesn’t matter.
Future potential frequency, and potential cross-town one-seat connectivity, will be cannabilized for every express bus route that has to be preserved due to the lack of light rail reaching an area.
Even with just 20-minute peak-of-peak headway, South Sounder commuters are voting with their feet, and paying more, to avoid staying on the increasingly unpopular competing express buses.
I find myself in much the same boat as you RossB. I too consider myself a dyed in the wool tax and spend liberal, yet I too am unlikely to vote for the proposed taxes, and am seriously considering voting against them. I’ll admit that I believe that the proposal will pass (narrowly), and I won’t shed too many tears if it does, so perhaps I’m making the perfect the enemy of the acceptable. That said, I’ve spent a fair amount of effort considering my positions, and I don’t believe that is what’s going on.
The principal problem I have with this proposal is that it (essentially) exhausts our tax authority for a very long time into the future. Realistically, without additional revenue, any major additions to the plan will not come on line until the 2060s. There better not be any gaping holes to fill, because filling them will be difficult.
Ultimately, there were three criteria I used to evaluate the proposal. Does it preserve sub-area equity (at least to the extent I care about it)? Does it do a good job in my subarea? Does it meaningfully address regional mobility needs.
For subarea equity, my concern is whether money gets siphoned from needy subareas to build less effective transit elsewhere. In practice, what that means is making sure Seattle money didn’t get siphoned off to complete low value suburban projects. Here, the plan passes with flying colors. The headline cross area transfer is the requirement that all subareas contribute to the downtown tunnel. While I have some problems with precise language that the board is using justify this transfer, I have no meaningful problem with the effect. The downtown tunnel will be a regionally valuable asset, and should be paid for regionally. [My problems with the precise language being used are the degree to which it treats the tunnel as a special case, and the way it attempts to blame the need for the tunnel on ST3 projects. I believe that there needs to be some acceptance that projects aimed at the high density parts of Seattle are of regional value, and need to be paid for regionally (and that this would have been a good opportunity to start making that case). I’m going to trust that they know the politics better than I do, and give them a pass, but I still think it’s a missed opportunity. I also don’t think that their arguments really make logical sense: almost all the additional downtown load in ST3 comes from West Seattle and Ballard]. The only other meaningful subarea transfer seems to be money flowing out of East King in the 405 corridor. Since these projects are mostly about connectivity to East King, I don’t think it’s too much of a stretch to claim East King benefit here, and my opinion of East King’s project plans is so low that it’s difficult to feel too much angst here. Bottom line. ST3 passes this gate.
For my subarea, East King, I think that the proposal is a dog’s breakfast of mostly (at best) mediocre projects. Going into planning my priorities were routes around the ends of Lake Washington and fixing the 520 bus to Link transfer in Montlake, followed by north south connectivity into and through Bellevue. Renton’s bizarre non-engagement during planning complicated the planning around the south end of Lake Washington (probably my #1 ask), and a Montlake fix would have been a big political lift (both because it would have required admitting shortcomings in ST1, and because of the vast out of area expenditure [albeit clearly an East King benefit] required. What we got was
– an SR-522 project, really good and fairly cheap. If everything looked like that, I wouldn’t be contributing here. Note that by making this an East King project rather than sharing with North King, you get to use 145th and avoid Lake City. I’m not entirely convinced that this is the best decision for regional mobility, but it’s almost certainly best for the East King commuters using the route.
– The Redmond extension. Obvious, but frankly not very inspiring: a billion dollars for only 8000 daily riders. I’m told there may be some technical risk with gradients too: don’t know if I believe that. Not actively bad, but I wish the economics were better. Note that this project made a lot more sense as part of ST-2 since it would have allowed more freedom in the location of the Eastside rail base.
– The Issaquah line. Yuck. East of Eastgate there is nothing, and because of the topography almost certainly never will be, until you get to Issaquah City center. That’s a lot of grade4 separated rail to bet on a promised up zone that may never materialize. Issaquah has it on hold right now, and if experience elsewhere is anything to go by, it will be watered down after the election. The line from Bellevue to Factoria/Eastgate is probably pretty good [although it barely serves downtown Bellevue], but between the decision to avoid another fight over Mercer Slough (probably wise, the fight for East Link was ugly and recent) and the desire to continue further East along I-90 it’s almost impossible to serve both destinations well.
– I-405 BRT. It was on my list of wants, there’s a clear need for better North South connections, I want to support it, but it just doesn’t pencil out. I don’t think the ERC is any better. Moreover, thanks to WADOT’s recent botched implementation of HOT lanes, talk about the very things that will at least make it work as well as possible—transit only lanes, dedicated ramps—is currently more radioactive than Hanford.
In summary, 1 good project a couple half decent ones, and 1 and a half pretty bad ones. And the money is skewed towards the bad projects. Not enough to decide my vote either way, but probably more negative than positive.
On to regional coverage. There are smaller projects here and there, most of which are fairly good, but the bulk of the money outside of North and East King goes to completing the Spine or to Sounder improvements. It is difficult to see how the ST3 spine work will make anyone’s life better. Virtually every long distance journey will be slower than existing buses. At best there is a reliability time tradeoff here. Short trips are better supported by the new Spine, but there isn’t enough there there, nor are there really plans to build some, to make this more than a niche improvement. I suppose trips to the airport are better, but that’s a niche market at best. It doesn’t help that the proposed line doesn’t serve Tacoma business centers well, so it’s not great even for commuting into Tacoma. As for the Sounder improvements, the ballot is deliberately vague about what’s to be expected. It could be anything from a few additional commuter trips (meh) to all day service every day (probably enough to make me vote yes on the ballot). There’s just not enough information here to swing my vote.
That leaves us with North King’s contribution to regional mobility. Here there are three big projects: Westlake to Ballard via South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne, A second downtown tunnel, and Stadium to West Seattle.
+ Westlake to Ballard is by far and away the best project on the ballot. It improves access to three areas of regional importance (SLU is a huge employment center, and the other two are meaningful recreational and employment centers too.) While the actual proposal seems a little gold plated — I don’t believe full grade separation is needed on 15th/Elliot. This is a clear win for the region.
+ The new downtown tunnel. I have no doubt that we will eventually need a second tunnel, but reject the notion that we need it now. Its presence is a budget buster, and probably negatively affects the Ballard schedule. ST has not provided convincing data (a station pair, direction and hour) to suggest where the capacity problems are, nor has it provided evidence that a particular station will be overcrowded at some point in the day, nor has it suggested that linking the Ballard line to the existing tunnel is too hard. I believe that the tunnel makes more sense as a centerpiece for ST4. I would probably be more supportive if some of the more Easterly options for routing this tunnel were being taken seriously — they could go a long way to fixing the omission of a First Hill station in ST1. I’d also be more supportive if ST didn’t have a history of claiming that things that systems worldwide do every single day were impossible. I’d also be more supportive if ST’s history didn’t include so many missed opportunities to build good transfers: as it is, I suspect inter tunnel transfers will be a nightmare.
+ West Seattle. Probably a better project than any major non-North King project, but that’s damning with very faint praise. A very expensive light rail line to a sleepy suburb of Seattle. Possibly a good North King project, although I suspect most West Seattleites would be better off with minor fixes to the existing bus routing. A zero for regional mobility: why would anyone who didn’t live there ever use this line?
In summary, one great project, one premature optimization of the system, which I distrust ST to get right, and one zero. If these were really filling the biggest North King related regional needs, fine; however, at a minimum, I believe that there will still be missing capacity getting from downtown up the hill to the East.
I think I understand fairly well the process that got us here, and I understand that politics is like sausage making, but at the end of the day, one has to decide whether what we have is delicious charcuterie, or a cheap banger filled with mystery meat and filler. Unfortunately, it is my belief that we are closer to the latter than the former. To those who say that this is the best ST could do given the political constraints under which it operates, I respond that outside of North King, I more or less agree, but that isn’t a reason to vote for this package, but a reason to question whether ST is the right vehicle through which to drive regional transit improvements. A valid follow up question is whether there is an alternative. Outside Seattle, the answer is probably no, although given the weak sauce we have been served there, it’s worth asking “so what?” As for Seattle, I think there are viable alternatives Either the Monorail authority or Article VII.2B property taxation would allow the Ballard line to be built. Each has issues, notably 60% vote requirements, but given the urgent need for action, I think that’s achievable. Of course, West Seattleites might feel cheated and vote against the package. That’s a local Seattle problem, and I don’t think it’s the rest of the region’s job to fix it for them.
Very good comment William. Thanks for the thoughtful reply.
Unlike ST3 I agree with 90% of it. I really have only a handful of quibbles:
1) I really want to like the 522 BRT, but this really has a very high price tag. I feel like one of the big problems is that Sound Transit gets fixated on only a handful of corridors, and misses the diverse, widespread nature of most of the city. Could you spend a little less on 522 BRT, so that we could have a few more Swift style runs? In a cost per rider (or subsidy per rider) basis, 522 BRT is not a great project (http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2016/04/06/youve-got-50-billion-for-transit-now-how-should-you-spend-it/). That may not be fair — maybe all the riders will save oodles of time — but they really don’t predict that many riders (less than 10,000). But if this was the worst thing about ST3, I would be an enthusiastic supporter.
2) I-405 BRT makes 522 BRT look like a gem. It again represents a fixation on a corridor. It looks a lot like the spine, but with fewer destinations. For most riders, this means a three seat ride. Given the headways (not great) It just sounds like a failure. The only real destination is downtown Bellevue, and that already has pretty decent bus service. What would make a lot more sense is a series of overlapping lines that stop at easy-on, easy-off places along the way. BRISK represents this sort of thing, but it is by no mean the only possibility. For example, a bus can run from Woodinville to downtown Bellevue, but along the way it stops at Totem Lake. A bus from Juanita runs along 132nd, stops off at Totem Lake, then heads towards Seattle. Every stop is easy, the HOV connection from 405 to 520 is smoothed out, and you suddenly have a lot more reasonable connections. From Woodinville you can get to the UW fairly easily. As much as I like BRISK, I know there were challenges with it. It isn’t that I think I think it would be perfect, only that I think it serves as a good model for what should be built (in most of the region).
3) As far as the political constraints go, I think this might have been all that was possible now, but things change. Losing causes a shakeup. The main opposition group essentially demands two things — accountability and more bus service. The second is what they believe will follow from the first. Prove to me that you save more time for more people by extending the spine, rather than adding a bunch of bus service. Good luck.
It isn’t like there aren’t good projects for the suburbs, either. (When I say suburbs I simply mean the region outside Seattle, even though many of those areas are more urban than West Seattle). Snohomish County is busy expanding its very popular Swift line. Add a half dozen lines, bump up the frequency and you bet your ass the Smarter Transit folks (the main opposition group) will be enthusiastically in favor. Meanwhile, improving Sounder will also be popular as would a better regional express bus system.
But yeah, I could easily see Seattle going it alone, especially since so many of the other areas get so little out of this package. My guess is ST will try again with a much smaller, much more bus focused system (which is what they did after the first failure) which I think would work out better for everyone.
The Issaquah line, in my opinion would have had its money better spent coming down through Renton and South center to Sea-Tac with a connection to Sounder at Tukwila. its still incredibly difficult to get to the eastside from the south at rush hour, and this does not change a thing.
Late comments for what it’s worth:
1. Ross’s post and William’s reply are welcome constructive discussion. ST3 is a frustrating proposal for those who want transit to expand and succeed but also worry about (for lack of a better term) the business case.
2. Predicting future political events is perhaps useful, but precision generally exceeds accuracy, and it is a short-term issue. ST3’s defeat might embolden transit opponents and make a revised proposal also difficult to pass. But if ST3 is far off the mark on fundamentals, then the commitment of so much revenue for such a long time is a much more clear and present danger than whatever political momentum one might predict.
I’m already certain, that at least for the foreseeable future PT will not have any chance to utilize their remaining .3% sales tax as ST III will push pierce county over 10%. Which is a shame because when the Spine finally reaches Pierce County, if it ever does, there will be no connecting bus service to carry people onto the last mile.
The regional spine is faith based. The south leg was part of measures defeated in 1995 and 2007. It is back again.
I’m still not sure why but I did wind up voting yes. the MVET really burns me, its based on the MSRP of your vehicle and has a totally unrealistic deprecation schedule attached to it. Why its still being used when Tim Eyman, and the legislature killed it off in 1999 is beyond me. Other than that, the Spine itself has a number of pro’s and con’s, Honestly it really should be a subway system for what they are aspiring it to be, but everyone is locked in on light rail, which does not have the capacity in the long term. Also, if your coming from the south you get to slog through the Rainier Valley which is a very big negative in my book. I’ve seen some things floating around about bus planning when ST 3 is at full build-out, but that’s so far in the future its not very important right now. However if in 14+ years when they do start opening they have planned to use ST Express funds to fund the operations of LINK I think they will have a LOT of unhappy riders, especially the ones dragging through the rainier valley heading to Tacoma where they had a more direct shot on the bus before. But again that is so far in the future it hardly worth mentioning here. One other complaint is that Sounder service expansion is vague, and I’m sure with good reason as they are in negotiations with the BNSF. However, its hard to vote on something you’re not sure if its going to happen. Really, Frequent all day Sounder service is more important to me than LINK is, which is why I voted yes. Hopefully they will live up to some of things the talked about and get all day Sounder service.
Thank you vir your bote to set the region back a decade because your pet projects did not make it on the lost.
I totally agree with a lot of your points. We are not getting what we’re paying for and the idea of the regional light rail spine being a deciding factor between whether we should build other projects or not is ridiculous. We should be investing that money into improving Sounder since it already serves the “spine.” I understand that people may think that it’s unreliable because mudslides…etc, so we should take some money and fix it. Metro 8 and UW-Ballard are top priorities, and I don’t know why Sound Transit would even consider a draw-bridge over the LWSC. $54 billion is a lot of money, and if Sound Transit wants to serve its taxpayers, they need to find a cheaper alternative (like building Sounder out to the suburbs that want transit.)
As much as I agree with your points, I do support the passage of ST3. We cannot afford waiting four years for another chance to vote. After ST3 passes, we need to demand that Sound Transit refine its plan and have voters weigh in on whether or not certain areas need light rail. We can treat ST3 as a budget package where there is the capability to change the plan as long as the cost doesn’t exceed $54 billion. By scrapping lines like light rail to Everett and Issaquah and replacing it with Sounder, we’ll save so much money that we’ll be able to fund UW-Ballard or the Metro 8 Subway.
Why would the next opportunity to vote be 4 years away rather than 1 or 2?
Turnout is lower in non-presidential years, and those that do vote tend to vote far more conservative.
@ Glenn – scheduling for presidential years is sensible as a tactical consideration for political operations, but it causes some heartburn for folks considering the merits of a policy. Those of us who think that ST3 is overreach might feel like we’re having our arms twisted by the argument that the next opportunity is 4 years away. Whether the next opportunity is this year or 4 years from now, the proposal should be considered on its merits. The plan need not be perfect to merit approval, but approval WILL commit the region and a large revenue stream to the current plan for a time much longer than 4 years, and if the plan has major shortcomings that’s what we will get.
@ Josh – if ST3 passes, the voters will have explicitly approved a pretty specific plan, including light rail to Tacoma, West Seattle, and Everett. We don’t have a “Yes, But…” option on the ballot, and it won’t happen after passage either.
The Regional “spine” was very political. I mean VERY political. The Tacoma Mayor was pushing really hard for it, as was the Everett mayor with the loop through pane field. In my opinion it should have never been used as a judge for the project, as it basically rigged the process. Not to say it wont get used, however it will be a victim of its own success, and if the parallel bus routes are eliminated, I don’t think it will have enough overall capacity to comfortably haul riders the long distances from downtown to downtown, which will cause a bit of an upset in 2030. Personally, more money should have been invested in South Sounder to bring it up to a frequent level of service at least every 30-60 minutes for 20 hours a day, plus bring it to the eastside for those coming from the south, where I can guarantee those trains would be full on day 1. But its what we have, and I’m sure if it fails and gets re-constituted it will not change much.
Frankly buddy it’s either this or nothing. I publicly joined with Geoff Patrick in pushing an alternative to a Paine Field detour to the spine but we lost. It’s time to be a true believer, suck it in and win this!
Who do you trust? Maggie Firmia, Kevin Wallace, Kemper Freeman, Kemper’s WPC chick, and of course Alex Tsimerman or Peter Rogoff, Jennifer Gregerson, STB Editorial Staff, Geoff Patrick, and me?
Man I don’t see you as the type to pal around with Tsimerman and Freeman.
I have a hard time “sucking it in and winning this” when I’m looking at the MVET tax going up on one my vehicles by an estimated $165 a year. a 26 year old vehicle that was $165k when new, and I bought for $1900 12 years ago and due to the horrible MVET tax it still has not fully depreciated. Its an unfair property tax that no one in the state is responsible for nor can anyone change. I have tried. Fortunately I can register it as a collectors vehicle in a few years if this passes, or not but still their funding sources leave a lot to be desired. Also, because they are bumping up the sales tax as well, it pretty much kills any hope of PT ever getting their remainder .3% anytime in the near future since sales tax in Pierce County will be over 10% at that point. As you will see in a prior comments I did begrudgingly vote yes on this mess without even any assurances that Sounder will see much in the way of serious improvement, which is the service I would like to use most.
I would look at it as you voted for MORE transit. You voted for the best option we could get out of Sound Transit and the state legislature.
I don’t think PT can get additional public support for its own needs for a while. I just think the current PT board members would be too scared to go for a third try in this decade.
Sorry man, hey up in Skagit County I’m hoping Skagit Transit will consider taking a look at our current & future growth needs. The strategic plan to do that has now slid two years off of schedule. Yeah, it hurts.
That’s why sometimes folks have to take the 80-85% solution to fund more Sounder, to fund more Link, to fund BRT and accept it. ST3 is better than nothing.
Oh, that is hilarious, dude. As if Tacoma and Everett will vote to no longer have light rail while still paying the taxes. And can you imagine how much Renton and Issaquah would despise each other in a vote asking which one gets rail? Good-bye regional cooperation.
Ross, I see a lot of valid points in your arguments. My only question is, what is your stand on the 130th St station that’s part of ST3? The station would be very close to the high-density (25,000 people per square mile) area. In fact, I know that you have supported the 130th St station as a member of the steering committee. By voting no to ST3, you would reverse that position. Is that what’s happening?
The NE 130th Street station could and should be funded by ST2.
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