How ST3 Helps Fight Climate Change


Vlad Gutman-Britten
Vlad Gutman-Britten

Over the coming several years, more than half of Washington’s emissions will come from the transportation sector. If we don’t act now, Puget Sound’s booming population will mean more people will clog our roads—cars will spend more time idling in traffic, dirtying our air not just with dangerous greenhouse gases but also other pollutants that contribute to asthma and other lung disease.

Tackling climate change is about so much more than cleaner cars and efficient lightbulbs. We must identify different ways of moving people around. In Puget Sound, even with a multitude of races on the ballot this November, passing Sound Transit  Proposition 1 is the single most important vote we can cast to fight climate change.

If it passes, it will stand alongside Los Angeles as among the most ambitious and comprehensive mass transit packages in the country. It means that commuters from Everett to Tacoma can choose a fast and reliable light rail system with zero tailpipe emissions over crawling on I-5. It means a more connected Seattle, so that trips to West Seattle and Ballard no longer mean hopping into a more expensive and higher polluting rideshare vehicle. Taken together, it will cut over 360 million vehicle miles per year, and the entire Sound Transit system will save 800,000 tons of annual carbon emissions—equal to burning 89 million gallons of gas.

Solving for climate change requires solutions at the scale of the problem. So rather than seeking merely to expand transit options, Sound Transit  Proposition 1 thinks bigger. As we develop greater rail and bus access, Sound Transit will also facilitate expansion of affordable and market-rate housing in areas adjacent to the growing system. This will be a game changer for how busy working families, people with disabilities, and seniors experience the system and afford our region. Studies show that families in auto-dependent areas spend 25% of their household income on transportation. In places with robust transit systems, that total falls to just 9%.

This kind of transit-oriented development doesn’t just reduce vehicle miles traveled, it can help eliminate the need for a car entirely. The American Public Transportation Association estimates that families that rely on transit, only possible with a comprehensive system, will save over $10,000 a year in fuel and other costs. This is a clear win for our climate, and it ensures that low-income communities can thrive in the heart of our region.

Environmental advocates often argue that the transition to a clean economy will contribute to broadly shared prosperity, supporting more jobs than our fossil fuel economy does. Investments in public transit are a centerpiece of that transition—Sound Transit Proposition 1 will create nearly 80,000 direct jobs  and contribute an additional 144,000 indirect ones. For comparison, the fossil fuel sector in Washington employs less than 12,000 people.

The fight against climate change isn’t just about averting disaster. It’s about cheaper living, cleaner air, and wasting less time in traffic. Vote YES on Sound Transit Proposition 1.

Vlad Gutman-Britten is the Washington Director of Climate Solutions

Community Transit: 40 Years of Snohomish County Transit

CT 25811 at Mountlake Terrace TC
A U District-bound bus at Mountlake Terrace TC

For the past few months, Community Transit has been celebrating its 40th anniversary, culminating this week with a Customer Appreciation Day this morning, Employee Appreciation Day on Wednesday, and a special board meeting on Thursday with Governor Jay Inslee in attendance.

Community Transit is the largest suburban agency in the Seattle area, barely eclipsing Pierce Transit in ridership, and has one of the most visible presences on Seattle’s streets at rush hour in the form of their “Double Tall” buses. To celebrate, I’ve hastily prepared this history of the agency using notes I had compiled during earlier research for other projects. Enjoy the read and wish a happy 40th to Community Transit.


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Metro and SDOT to Overhaul Night Owl Service

A very lonely bus stop back in 2012. (photo mine)
A very lonely bus stop back in 2012. (photo mine)

The insane Night Owl loops of Routes 82, 83, and 84 will finally meet their end under a new proposal by King County Metro and SDOT announced this morning. Remnants of pre-Metro Seattle Transit that have remained mostly unchanged since the 1950s, the Night Owl routes have always been poorly-ridden, difficult to understand, and unnecessarily complex.

Routes 81 and 85 were terminated upon introduction of the C and D lines, and by finishing the job, the new proposal brings a healthy grid of simple, comprehensible overnight service to Seattle for the first time.

If approved by the County Council, the proposal would boost total overnight service by roughly 50%. The proposal would:

  • Replace Route 82 with Night Owl trips on Routes 3 (to Seattle Pacific), Route 5, and Route 62 (to Roosevelt only).
  • Replace Route 83 with Night Owl trips on Route 70
  • Replace Route 84 with Night Owl trips on Routes 3 and 11
  • Add Night Owl trips on Route 120
  • Upgrade RapidRide C, D, and E to hourly overnight service, up from 75-90 minute frequencies currently
  • Extend Route 124 to SeaTac Airport when Link isn’t running.

This is an excellent start for a reliable, comprehensible all-night service network, and it’s exciting that after a half-century we’re finally getting here. SDOT currently funds the entirety of the Owl network to the tune of 3,900 service hours; the Owl network was slated for elimination before Mayor Murray deferred Ship Canal Crossing study funds to save it in 2014. The County Executive’s recent budget proposal includes some funding for the final year of the current Night Owls.

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Life After ST3: If It Wins

Where to next? Photo via: Dennis Hamilton

If Sound Transit 3 wins in November, Sound Transit will have its hands full. It will operate Sound Transit 1 (“Sound Move”) services, execute the final seven years of Sound Transit 2 construction (including 18 new stations by 2023), and stand up project delivery for Sound Transit 3. This ambitious list of obligations will dominate Sound Transit’s attention for years to come. But even $20 billion in ST3 projects (in current dollars) won’t exhaust the imagination of activists. As the system expands, connecting to it becomes more valuable, not less.

Under current and proposed tax authority, ST3 consumes the agency’s entire fundraising capacity for at least 25 years, and bond repayments will continue for well over a decade after that. Unless there is yet more sentiment for additional legislative authority, this will be it for the working lives of most of the people reading this article.

“The overwhelming focus will be on project delivery,” says ST CEO Peter Rogoff, “and there is no room to take a breather.” After a win, Rogoff plans to “stand up a team right away” to examine lessons learned from ST 1 and 2, reform processes accordingly, and start hiring staff to support all the new projects.

If there’s anything to come that’s more exciting than steady execution, it’s haggling over the details of each alignment. ST spokesman Geoff Patrick said that ST3 “allows the board to make refinements to the representative alignments,” although the legal department believes “it is not legally doable” to build entirely new projects, like Ballard/UW, from tax revenue without additional voter approval. That still leaves plenty of opportunity to find budget space to bury sections of track, serve First Hill, or any one of a series of other improvements that interest groups might organize around.

Mr. Rogoff also noted “there haven’t been any board discussions” about what an ST4 might like look like. He couldn’t responsibly say much beyond that, but we’re free to speculate.

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Register to Vote by Monday, October 10; Safe Postmark Deadline This Friday

Click here to register to vote, if you have not already registered at your current address.  DO IT RIGHT NOW!
Click here to register to vote, if you have not already registered at your current address. DO IT RIGHT NOW!
October 10 is the deadline to register to vote online (DO IT RIGHT NOW!) or to walk in at a county elections office and register, in order to be eligible to vote in the November 8 general election. If you turn 18 on or before November 8, you can vote, but you must be registered ahead of time.

The mail-in registration deadline is either October 8 or 11. The deadline originally set by the state was October 10, but that is a federal holiday. If you want to be sure your mailed-in voter registration is accepted, you better just get it post-marked by this Friday, October 8. Secretary of State Kim Wyman has asked county election official to accept voter registrations post-marked October 11, so that is now up to each county, and subject to legal challenge. I wouldn’t suggest risking it.

For those choosing to print out an old-school voter registration card, or make a trip to their local election office, here are the details how to do that for King County, Pierce County, and Snohomish County. County offices will be open for business on Monday, October 10, in King, Pierce, and Snohomish County.

But really, if you are reading this, all you have to do is click this link, and fill out all the requested information. DO IT RIGHT NOW!

CLARIFICATION: You must have a Washington-state-issued photo ID or drivers’ license (with your signature on it) in order to register online. The state is able to verify the validity of your registration by looking at the signature it has on file.

If you live in the Sound Transit taxing district (most of the populated area of King, Pierce and Snohomish County), you have the opportunity to vote on a major transit investment package, commonly known as Sound Transit 3, but on the ballot as Regional Proposition 1.

If you have not registered to vote at your current address yet, please go to the Secretary of State’s online voter registration page, RIGHT NOW!

Thank you.

Martin on the Seattle Growth Podcast

Martin was a guest on a recent episode of the Seattle Growth Podcast, which covered transportation.  Martin starts at the 30 minute mark, but the interview with SDOT director Scott Kubly is interesting as well. You can listen right here:

I’ve been enjoying the series from the first episode.  If you’re interested in diving deeper, I’d strongly recommend the interview with Councilmembers Mike O’Brien on backyard cottages and Kshama Sawant on renting.  I’ve given backyard cottages short shrift in the past but O’Brien makes a really passionate case for them.  Sawant’s gives one of the best definitions of what a successful, equitable transit network ought to look like.