Credit: Joe A. Kunzler

The failure of I-1631 has allowed Governor Jay Inslee to continue an annual tradition: he announced another climate action plan to great fanfare.

The plan leaves plenty to be desired. The package’s proposed $129 million in “clean transportation” funding doesn’t invest in any land-based, local transit.

There are some worthy items, but they miss the point. At present, high speed rail is a pleasant fantasy. Scrubbing the ferry system is all well and good, but it doesn’t get at the root of transportation’s carbon problem.

As every STB reader knows, but Olympia apparently fails to understand, driving is the single largest generator of carbon emissions in Washington. Reducing the amount of diesel consumed by car ferries misses the point. Starting a 40 year process for intercity high speed rail won’t make any immediate difference in the growing climate crisis.

But there is a Washington transportation project already in development—under construction, even!—that could slow or reduce the growth of driving carbon emissions. It’s Link light rail.

The more money that Sound Transit has to complete Link, the more the system can reduce emissions. The highest quality system will lure more riders out of cars, or keep new residents from getting in them.

However, local officials are debating tradeoffs in the project’s overall quality that could have a dramatic effect on ridership.

The First Hill station, which would have yielded some of the highest ridership in the system, has already been eliminated because of an austerity mindset. Other new stations will be built in neighborhoods with a high driving mode share, like Ballard.

If more stations are placed in suboptimal locations because of cost, Seattle and Washington will lose a generational chance to cut carbon emissions. Sound Transit needs a white knight.

Sources from the City of Seattle say that Mayor Jenny Durkan is willing to kick in money to Link if a new revenue source can be found. But Seattle residents are already paying plenty, and in most states, such a significant infrastructure project would get some state dollars.

The state could—and should—ride in and save the day. But the legislature has a clear and longstanding bias against capital projects in transit and/or Seattle. It’s disappointing, but not at all surprising, that lawmakers aren’t racing to spend on light rail. Instead, the usual concern- and budget-trolling continues.

The governor could try to wrest the issue from fiscal hawks, and reframe transit as the economic and environmental necessity that it is. This climate package is seemingly the perfect place to do just that.

Instead, the governor’s plan doesn’t do anything for Sound Transit—or local bus or rail transit anywhere in the state. Inslee’s desire for climate action only goes as far as his limited supply of political courage.

77 Replies to “Why doesn’t Inslee’s “clean transportation” plan include transit?”

  1. All of this is true for the siting of stations in Seattle, but it’s hardly ST3’s biggest sin when it comes to spending dollars efficiently to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. I think you could even argue that giving ST more money to spend in the city will enable them to free up dollars to spend completing the spine.

    ST3 was never about reducing emissions. If it was, it would have been a bunch of lines in the city, connecting places people actually live. It was about giving rural pols a signature project. And Seattle gave them the votes their constituents wouldn’t.

    The most effective thing the state could do is override local control on single family zoning. The transit will sort itself out when there’s a constituency for it.

    1. “It was about giving rural pols a signature project.”

      It was about giving suburban cities something visible for their tax dollars, a symbol of mass transit, which they could see themselves using on the only trips they’d use transit for: going to Seattle or Bellevue/Redmond or the airport.

      Not rural, because the ST district is specifically designed to exclude rural areas. I see no stations in Arlington, Snoqualmie, Buckley, or Vashon Island. The word you’re looking for is “suburban and exurban”.

      1. West Seattle rural???? Those jam packed Rapid Ride C’s coming to and going from downtown are packed with not so rural urban professionals. Don’t let a few nimby’s clamoring for a tunnel fool you..

      2. Most of West Seattle is not rural. Nor is it urban. It is suburban.

        That doesn’t alter, in the least, Kenneth’s excellent point: Sound Transit is not designed to lower carbon, or even provide the greatest good for the greatest number. It is designed to please a handful of powerful constituents. That is why you have West Seattle rail in the first place, and it is why the Ballard station may be moved to West Woodland. The article implies it is cost, when cost has nothing to do with it. We would all be distressed, and a little frustrated if it really was a cost issue. But that isn’t it at all. The only reason the powers that be are considering moving the stations is political.

        It is the same force that drove the entire projects in the first place. No one can cite an independent study that says that ST3 was the most cost effective option based on any metric. Not a single one. Not time saved per rider, not total ridership, not carbon reduction. None of that. It was all sloppy, politically based planning; in the end, when all is said and done, we will wonder why the hell we didn’t build something better.

      3. Having the station on Fourteenth is not “moving [it] to West Woodland”. It’s absurd to say so based on some fantasy map from the 1940’s.

        If the thing is going to be the permanent stub-end joke in the southwest corner of 15th and Market for which you cheer-lead, then at least move it 17th and Market. It would be closer to your beloved “Old Ballard” and not be on Fifteenth AvenueCar Sewer Northwest.

      4. If you were going to the Ballard Farmers’ market or a bar or club in the densest bar district in Seattle or Swedish Ballard or the businesses on Market Street or one of the many apartments between 24th and 15th, would you want to walk from a station on 15th or from a station on 14th which is three blocks further away and you’d definitely have to cross the 15th car sewer both ways. If you think pedestrians wouldn’t mind at all and wouldn’t be deterred from taking Link. then you could argue that a station on 14th is OK. But in the real world pedestrians aren’t like that: the further you move a station, away from the pedestrian concentration, the more you lose a few riders who were on the verge of either taking it or not taking it. There are not enough people on 14th or west of 14th to compensate for that. 15th is six lanes but it’s not the soul-destroying concrete and speeding cars like Montlake freeway station or Aurora on Queen Anne. It’s not a great place for a station but it’s not that bad, and it’s certainly better than spending six extra minutes of your live every time you walk round trip to 14th Station and curse ST every minute for not putting the station on 15th or further west.

      5. Mike, did you read the entire post? I said, and I quote “If the thing is going to be the permanent stub-end joke in the southwest corner of 15th and Market for which you cheer-lead, then at least move it 17th and Market.” [Emphasis added].

        Yes, 15th and Market IS a terrible car sewer, and if the station is in the southwest quadrant as Ross believes is likely and desirable, it surely will not have an elevated diagonal crossing to the northeast corner where buses headed north would have to stop. People transferring to buses northbound on 15th will have to cross both Market and 15th at grade.

        “Ah,” you say, “there’s the southeast corner! That can have a simpler elevated crossing.” But there’s not, because of right turns.

        Get the people away from the cars!

        If the line will never go north of Market (and a station in the southwest quadrant off the street ensures that it will not), the move it to 17th. If it’s going to go on north at some time, it has to move to 14th or be elevated in the center of 15th. The cheap-ass southwest quadrant station will not allow for an extension. There’s a new six-story apartment building dead ahead.

        The southwest quadrant is the Ballard equivalent of east-west on Alaska for the Junction station: it can’t be extended.

      6. Actually, I am wrong about them having to cross both 15th and Market at grade. There will surely be an elevated walkway across Market is the station is in the southwest quadrant of the intersection, to allow people headed west on Market or up 24th or 32nd to access their buses without crossing Market.

        But ST will probably not also build an elevated crossing of 15th. Maybe they will, and if we can be certain that they will, then the transfer to northbound on 15th would be fine.

        The eastbound transfer will have the same problem with right turns if it’s right next to the station, but I expect it will be easier to ban right turns from Market to 15th in order to allow free bus access to the station than it would rights from 15th to Market.

      7. I don’t get how people keep getting away with saying 14th is three blocks from 15th. I’ve lived in Ballard most my life and made the walk between 14th and 15th probably well over 1,000 times. It’s isn’t three blocks.

        In the vicinity of 15th I would vote for 17th first, 14th second, and 15th third, but any of them would be fine. The built environment will change in response to the station location, unless zoning officials try really hard to get in the way.

      8. @Tom — You are missing the point. No one said that 15th was great. Obviously 17th, or 20th would be better. But 14th is worse than 15th. As Mike said, the vast majority of riders would have to cross 15th to get to 14th. Of course a lot of them won’t even bother. That is the flaw with putting a station at West Woodland*.

        But that misses the point. Right now ST isn’t considering building a station at 17th, or 20th. They aren’t thinking about adding both a station at 15th as well as 20th (the ideal approach). They are only considering building a station at 14th or 15th. Give them a bunch of money, and they will dig a tunnel and put the station at 15th. They will also dig a tunnel in West Seattle to build stations that are no better than the cheap alternative we voted on. They also won’t move the 5th Avenue station to First Hill. They have no interest.

        That is the point. Give ST money, and they won’t make the system any better for riders. In fact they will likely make it worse. It will take longer to get to the platform for people in Ballard and West Seattle, and the experience (being in a tunnel) is less attractive than riding a train high above one of the prettiest cities on earth. With the stations and the ride experience worse, you won’t get more riders. With no additional riders, it won’t help reduce global warming in the least.

        * The people of West Woodland call it West Woodland: It is also what Google calls West Woodland:

      9. OK, if Google maps says “West Woodland” goes to 15th NW I guess it must go to 15th NW. They have excellent cartographers. I won’t complain about your scornful use again.

        But you haven’t answered the fundamental problem with the inexpensive 15th option: the line can’t go anywhere from there. To be expandable, a 15th station must be elevated over the center of the street or in a subway.

        I don’t know what’s particularly wrong with it being a subway, though, ignoring the greater cost. It wouldn’t be deep like Husky Stadium, Beacon Hill and Midtown. There’s plenty of lateral distance between the Ship Canal and Market — over 3,000 feet or 3,500 if the crossing itself is at 14th — to reach an elevation such that the necessary shallow mezzanine and a center platform would each be only a single “story” down from the level above it.

        Well, yes the platforms would be more than 12 feet below the mezzanine simply because the catenary must be at least 14′ above the railhead to clear the electrical equipment on the top of the cars. But there would be no need for an intermediate mezzanine as at HSS.

        Yes, it requires messing up the intersection for a few weeks while the construction lid is put on and then after construction when the lid is replaced with the permanent roadway. But those operations can be completed in one quadrant of the intersection at a time if the bridgework supporting the lid is designed properly. There is abundant capacity on Leary and 14th for diverted north- and eastbound cars to be routed around the closure. Southbound traffic would stay on whichever side of 15th is not opened up; ditto westbound on Market.

        Personally I believe that permanently truncating the Green Line at Market is a mistake. Extending it to Northgate and beyond to Lake City would provide many of the same network opportunities that a Ballard-UW line would. It would also serve urban villages at 85th and 15th and 105th and Aurora and could be elevated rather than subway the entire distance.

        Since Ballard-UW seems permanently embargoed by ST’s design of the University District Station — no demising walls need apply, apparently — this may be as good as it gets for east-west Link.

        Unfortunately it can not curve more sharply at 85th to go through Greenwood elevated; there’s no good right of way. That urban village may some day be served by a Westlake, Fremont, Phinney Ridge, Aurora line if growth in North King/Snohomish continues.

      10. Ross is saying West Woodland based on an old census-tract name. I interpret it as “the outer woods”, which aptly describes its relative relationship to west of 15th. We can imagine an upzone in the area, but we shouldn’t make station decisions based on imagined upzone that might never happen. Capitol Hill, Roosevelt, Mt Baker, Beacon Hill, and Northgate have station areas that weren’t upzoned much due to anti-density opposition. How can we expect something different in Ballard?

    2. This is a pretty bad take. Much of the region’s population is spread across the suburbs, which can generate their project funding on their own and do need transit services, especially to relieve the crowded trunk lines on I-5 and I-90/SR 520. And because of Seattle’s lazy approach to housing reform, the suburbs are absorbing a lot more demand they should and it’s causing sprawl and traffic issues that cities aren’t equipped to handle. The suburbs are also where people go to find cheap housing or communities that are more diverse and accepting of their own kind…leaving them out of the transit equation is a huge mistake.

      1. Agreed, Bruce, but the bigger issue is that the author and Seattle urbanists generally are ignorant or willfully ignorant of the State Constitution’s 18th amendment when making this argument.

        Very little of the state’s transportation budget fees or gas tax are allowed to be used for tansit. If you want to ask the Governor why he’s not suggesting an amendment or using his wish list budget is because the legislature writes the budget, not him or his agencies…

        In short, declaring that “such a significant infrastructure project would get some state dollars” is really fucking wrong and Seattle legislators are focused on other uncertain and immediate battles like transit lane camera enforcement.

        Link is a great step in the right direction but the State has already done its part under the current arrangement: they allowed the vote. The governor and legislature are not going to be doing much more.

      2. Aren’t transportation budget fees and gas tax revenue the same thing? Except when the legislature puts in non-gas-tax money, but then how is that part restricted from transit? (And my understanding is the prohibition is against using gas-tax money for rail, not specifically other transit.)

      3. Good lord. Nobody, certainly not me, ever, has implied that West Seattle shouldn’t have transit.

        This is the same disingenuous interpretation of “maybe *rail* isn’t the right mode choice for this *clear transit need*” that happens every time someone questions ST3 in STB comments. It’s why, save RossB’s tireless work here, we’ve mostly just given up.

  2. This article is spot on. The state would argue that all these are statewide projects like state highways, whereas transit is local. I cringed when I heard the ferries were 90% of the budget. There are only a couple dozen ferries so their total emissions are a tiny fraction of the state’s total, so we should come back to them later after we’ve addressed lower-hanging fruit. And the first two electric car items, if you put that money into transit it would get more bang for the buck. If you put that ferry money into transit you’d really accomplish something. We could easily split the money into a large chunk for Pugetopolis and smaller chunks for Spokane, Vancouver, Bellingham, and Central Washington based on metro size (i.e., number of taxpayers).

    The third EV item I don’t care about. The state can upgrade its own business facilities, and it doubtless has a fleet of trucks that can be converted to EV. We should make sure it’s for working vehicles and not just employees’ SOVs.

    1. I would argue that the ferries are low hanging fruit because they operate on regular routes, have a huge amount of storage capacity on board, and stay connected to land for fairly long periods during the boarding process. Plus, there are operations in other countries with electric ferries to gain experience from.

      1. Exactly. This article implies that Sound Transit has it all figured out, but just lacks money. Then the author goes on to imply that a West Seattle tunnel, or a West Woodland station is being planned for lack of money. We all know that isn’t true, and is simply an example of why giving Sound Transit a blank check is a horrible idea. ST3 is full of terrible projects that are obviously a waste of money and lack even the most basic of fact based study supporting them. But they can’t even get that right. Those same, fairly weak projects are being made worse *and* more expensive. Give them a few billion more, and they are just as likely to blow it all on more stupid-ass crap. Would it really shock anyone if ST built stations well under 15th and the Junction, and then applauded themselves for a job well done? Doing so would not help the environment in the least — in fact, it would likely hurt it (fewer riders, more carbon).

        One thing we do know is that the ferries will continue running. So converting them to electric, or hybrid electric service is worthwhile. Should we also do the same with more buses in Seattle? Maybe, but no one is exactly sure where to run the wire. Until Seattle (and Sound Transit) figures it out, the governor is right to focus efforts on things he knows are operating properly.

      2. I didn’t say give all the money to ST. Metro, Community Transit, and Pierce Transit all need money to complete their long-range plans and get to the level of transit they should already have. Skagit Transit needs more inter-county connectors. InterCity Transit needs more local service and connectors to Pugetopolis.

      3. But why should we give *any* money to ST, given their failure to focus on ridership? ST3 was not designed to gain the most riders per dollar spent. Nor was it designed to reduce the most driving per dollar spent. Which means, obviously, it ignored the effect that the system will have on climate change. It was built based on politics, and unfortunately, the politicians don’t understand how to build mass transit.

        But even if you think that ST3 was a great set of projects, it should be obvious by now that Sound Transit has no interest in making it better. Give them a bunch of money, and we won’t see a First Hill station, or two stops in Ballard, or even a stop to the west of 15th. We will see underground stations in West Seattle and Ballard. Not a single thing will be improved from the standpoint of a rider. It will actually be worse. If the goal is reduce the state’s consumption of fossil fuels, then it is pointless to give ST money. There is not a single project they are considering that would lead to a decrease in driving.

  3. Perhaps a new statewide payroll tax to replace transit fares would have some climate impact as The Urbanist proposes… perhaps.

    Because quite frankly I’m proud to say I voted FOR Bill Bryant last gubernatorial election. At least Bill would be a more fiscally responsible version of Jay Inslee with way better management skills.

    Otherwise, thanks for using my photo with credit and I agree with this blog post. Especially, “The more money that Sound Transit has to complete Link, the more the system can reduce emissions. The highest quality system will lure more riders out of cars, or keep new residents from getting in them.” Yup.

  4. As long as Republicans wants to refuse to change the constitutional prohibition for using the gas tax for transit, Democrats should not be proposing any new funding sources for ferries. Ferries are defined as part of the highway network, and they should be paid for with existing gas taxes.

  5. walking , safety and mobilty: fund sidewalks on frequent transit arterials that lack them; fund sidewalks on arterial state routes that serve as the main streets of small towns. reduce congestion and improve efficiency of the highway network: toll the limited access highway network.

  6. Electrical power is cheap and pretty clean in Seattle (hydropower), so I can see the push for EVs (WA is far behind CA and even OR, a CARB state) in terms of selection and availability of EVs). Seattle needs better transit, but in the city, the next big improvements come in 12 years for ST3, assuming it does not bog down on tunneling to West Seattle and Ballard. And the complaining of car tabs.

    Politically, if Inslee thinks he’s presidential material, he is staying away from ST 3 transit (HIGH CAR TAXES/TABS!) and focusing more on green energy (Everyone drives Teslas!} and perhaps a smattering of ST2 love. Not saying that it is right, but that might be the mindset.

    1. I agree. This is an uninspired moderate proposal intended to pass this year’s legislature (meaning Frank Chopp) without too much controversy. Inslee needs some sort of climate win to run for president on a “moderate environmental” platform, especially since the well-publicized loss of I-1631.

      State funding of transit is sorely needed and is likely coming, as the state’s population balance shifts inwards to Seattle. Most state governments that provide a lot of transit funding have a large urban population majority, like Massachusetts and New Jersey. My unicorn preference is for a huge new gas tax (like $1/gallon) to fund intercity passenger rail and matching funds for rail transit construction in all counties > 200,000 people.

    2. he is staying away from ST 3 transit (HIGH CAR TAXES/TABS! AND MOSTLY STUPID!)

      (fixed it for you).

      1. Dude, you are not helping. By now everybody over at Sound Transit knows you think they’re corrupt nincompoops, and it appears not to have made much of an impression. They still have pretty much the same process and listen most attentively to the elected officials on the ST Board.

        But boy are you feeding the AEI claque with talking points.

      2. First of all, stop with the bullshit. I never said they were corrupt. Don’t put words in my mouth. As I’ve said all along, the board is full of well meaning, smart politicians. They all do their main job (running a city or county) quite well (as far as I know).

        The problem is, mass transit isn’t their main job. They don’t have time to learn it, either. They could delegate, but it is all too easy to assume that mass transit is a lot like driving (which is why ST3 largely follows the freeways). So then it simply becomes a matter of pleasing the politicians in each city. You end up with a plan like the one we have because the politicians love the idea of rail and again don’t bother hiring consultants to figure out the details or whether it is the best use of transit money. The one city that did hire an independent transit consulting firm — Kirkland — proposed something different. That idea (BRT on the CKC) was rejected, probably because it went against the basic zeitgeist of ST3. If buses make sense there — after a study showed it would — then maybe they make sense in others as well, thus collapsing the entire “rail is always better” canard on which ST3 rests. Regardless of their motivation, one thing is clear. ST3 had no studies to support its design, and when studies (even ones they produced) conflicted with their plans, they rejected them.

        Sorry if this information distresses you, or if you have fantasies that right wing zealots are poring over comments on a blog like this, thrilled that a transit supporter finds fault with Sound Transit. I believe the opposite is true. Supporting stupid projects does not help produce good transit. It makes it less likely they will be built in the future.

      3. Oh, they’re reading all right. Every once in a while a non-technical topic will a couple of dozen comments from people none of us has ever heard of, and they’re mostly about the politics, not the technical merits.

        They’re reading.

        It’s good to know you don’t think the leaders are corrupt, but “AND MOSTLY STUPID” ≠ “smart politicians”.

      4. Martin has a line he’s used a couple times that I don’t fully agree with, but I think points towards part of the truth: ST3 wasn’t designed to maximize ridership, it was designed to maximize political political support. Link has several design decisions that hurt riders, and for each of one of them you can point towards some explanation or justification for why that choice was made, but many of those decisions amounts to valuing some other constituency or goal above riders.

        It could be the system we’re getting is the best we can do under the constraints, but it’s not crazy to think we could have a better system if we had stronger leadership and a sounder planning process.

      5. Philip, I certainly don’t disagree. Of course it could be better. Roosevelt should have mezzanine extensions under 65th and 12th so people don’t have to cross the street to transfer. U-District should have a similar extension under 45th and demising walls at the ends of alcoves at both ends of the lower mezzanine to allow and underground connection to a Ballard-UW line. TIBS should be “stacked” so that a Burien-Renton service can share platforms (what’s another story on THAT skyscraper?). Mount Baker should have a mezzanine with direct connection to the existing crossing and a new one to the TC. The list goes on.

        Some of these things can be retro-fitted given sufficient funds, but probably neither Roosevelt nor U-District Stations can be made transfer-supportive at this point; the modifications would be too deep in the ground.

        So I agree that the Board has failed to “future-proof” the system at some important points. But to hear Ross tell it in his more intemperate posts the whole thing was a bad idea. And that’s clearly wrong.

    3. Hydropower is sufficient for current uses but not necessarily for a large increase in electric cars.

      Cheap electricity may come to an end if the administration forces the BPA to sell power at the average US price rather than at cost. Some conservatives aren’t happy that blue states get cheap renewable electricity which makes fossil-fuel power uncompetitive.

    4. As much as I “like” the Governor, I think he would be an ineffective President. He doesn’t have the killer instinct the a good politician requires, so he’d be another likable, cerebral progressive like Barack Obama. He’d be rolled over by the Mighty Wurlitzer for three years at a minimum before he woke up and realized that they really believe their talking points. Soulless greed and all.

      If he really cared about this stuff he would have campaigned hard against Tim Sheldon in the three-way race a few years ago, even if it meant the “real” Republican won. Representatives can — and should — vote against the “party line” from time to time when they feel a given bill is wrong. But they vote with their party for organization of the Body. Period.

      That’s what political parties are for.

  7. Ulike Washington State Ferries, Link is affordable for the masses. Link has a low-income fare, and participates in the PugetPass program that allows fares to be honored seamlessly across several transit systems. Although WSF is part of the ORCA pod, it is the only pod member that doesn’t honor PugetPass or inter-agency transfers. The Legislature is the body that can fix that.

    Building more car ferries for more than replacement purposes is like building more freeways. It induces more cars to cross the Sound, and drive around on both sides. It is, indeed, CARBON POSITIVE.

    A better, cheaper, investment is to provide ferries with more life rafts and vests, so the fire department limit on passengers can be raised. And then re-jigger the fares to induce more people to walk on instead of bringing their cars, first by honoring PugetPass and transfers, second by having a low-income fare category, and third by putting the burden on paying for the 70% fare recovery required by the state on cars, which seem able to keep paying higher fares, since the queues are getting longer. The Legislature doesn’t need to directly set the fares, mind you. It just needs to say WSF will honor PugetPass and transfers, and have a low-income (200% of federal poverty level) fare set at the same rate as the fare for seniors and riders with disabilities. It would then be up to WSF to reset the fare rates so as to cover the fiscal impact.

    And then, declare foot ferries (water taxis) to be a state highway purpose, so WSF can build and run some of those. Increase mobility for people, not SOVs.

    There are also obvious ways to reduce the state’s carbon footprint, while SAVING money. Remember all those highways the Legislature decided to build, without asking voters? Stop building them. Focus instead on maintaining and replacing the infrastructure the state already has.


    Whatever money the state is willing to spend on investing in Link, that money can than be shown to DC that the state stands behind the project. This should make it easier to get federal funds for Link in the future. The sooner millions more riders can switch to mass transit, the sooner we can get their cars off the street.

    Speaking of cars on the street, how about some state money for lane conversions to bus-only and/or HOV 3+ only, and the purchase of electric buses and charging stations for transit? Simply buying the buses doesn’t guarantee they will be able to make it from charging station to charging station without running out of charge, due to being stuck in gridlock.

    And how about some state money for opening protected bike lanes (please, don’t allow it to be spent on dooring lanes). And installing ADA-compliant sidewalks? So that people can access the transit that should be deemed a “highway purpose”, and will either run in transit lanes on highways, or enable more room on them instead of widening them.

    There are lots of transit capital expenditures with which the state government can help, without getting into the business of funding operations. (I don’t think it would be wise to get local transit agencies dependent on the state for operating funds.)

    1. This is the very best post you’ve ever made, Brent. This is a common sense, affordable program that would revolutionize suburban and especially cross-sound travel.

      Thank you.

  8. I’m willing to bet that Inslee never considered this.

    In general hehas never impressed me as being a very effective leader, and this is just one more example.

    1. I agree, can’t believe he is pushing for ev’s when companies such as Chev have already decided to stop manufacturing them.

      1. False. GM is discontinuing the Volt, a plug-in hybrid, while ramping up the Bolt, a full battery electric.

  9. I think that until something as alluring as a rail station within walking distance of the Capitol building exists (combined with at least 8-10 trains leaving daily), inter-city transit will continue to not be a consensus priority in the legislature or Governor. Sometimes a project has to show direct benefit to lawmakers and staff to be important.

    How to do this?

    1. An EMU to a Cascades station is the obvious vehicle choice. Olympia’s central location gives little opportunity to take advantage of true high-speed rail although speed improvements would help.

    2. Given the number of modes coming into Downtown Tacoma, one has to put this station — as well as the Cascades station south of Lacey or an intercept station around Lakewood/JBLM (a Link extension to there is of course a pipe dream) — as the northeast end. If a way to go east from that across the Cascades can be made cost-effective, it would be a long-distance travel game changer.

    3. Given the hassle of getting to Olympia to conduct state business, i have to even wonder if we should be moving as many state offices as possible to Downtown Tacoma. Perhaps we should structurally decentralize as much of state government as possible and have large state offices in Spokane, Seattle, Yakima/Tri-Cities and Vancouver instead of one office in Olympia. From a greenhouse gas emissions standpoint, Olympia is not a good place to have a capitol and associated offices for government business.

    I know these appear as more radical comments. Still, climate change will force us to rethink historic fixed assumptions.

    1. Thanks for the opening, Al S. Got an easy capital-free “demo” project to kick off your program,

      Run ST Express 574 from Olympia Transit Center to Sea-Tac Airport, with stops only at the Capitol, Dupont, and Tacoma Dome Station.

      Any crap about boundaries, compost and fertilize an oxygen producing forest. Considering 100% jammed traffic at I-5 and Spokane, LINK from Sea-Tac will provide fastest possible two-seat ride from every elected-person’s office to, shortly, Lynnwood or Bellevue.

      But just for your own credibility, buddy, at least wait ’til Tacoma gets done with its freeway construction before you move our whole government there. Because by that time, continental drift will have eliminated more than one subarea division. Thereby also proving that there is now one more travel mode faster than a single-passenger automobile at rush hour.

      Happy fast-approaching New Year.


      1. I like your suggestion about an ST Express route The boundary issue could go away if the State would just pick up the subsidy! It could be up and running within the next year! It’s low-cost, immediate and as impactful as some of these other strategies.

      2. I’ll at that the Seatac terminus would also give a direct connection to legislators that fly to/ from Spokane and Tri-Cities on one of those frequent flights.

      3. It’s almost as if WSDOT has laid the groundwork for such an express with the re-striping on I-5 between Center Drive and Mounts Road. Especially the new northbound right-hand lane that swoops directly into the cloverleaf for Center is a natural for an HOV-3 lane.

        Do it, WSDOT!

    2. “I think that until something as alluring as a rail station within walking distance of the Capitol building exists (combined with at least 8-10 trains leaving daily), inter-city transit will continue to not be a consensus priority in the legislature or Governor. Sometimes a project has to show direct benefit to lawmakers and staff to be important.”

      Talk about siting rail for political reasons. The state could have kept the Lacey-Olympia right of way open and pursued Sounder-like rail to Olympia at any time over the past two decades. The legislators might consider it valuable after it opens (like many local people did about Link) but it’s a chicken-and-egg problem: it needs enough support before it opens to be built.

      1. I guess I’m of the mindset that elected officials should “walk the walk” rather than just “talk the talk”. A strategic democrat can get lots of political mileage out of carbon emission reduction programs and not change their lifestyle. That however may make them vulnerable if someone call them on their hypocrisy. Sponsoring an express bus from Olympia to Seatac screams “I’m taking action!”

        Conversely, a hard-line Republican could find it strategic to both subsidize and use a service to soften their unwillingness to make climate change actions happen. They might even begin to use and like transit! It’s hard to believe but there are lots of leaders and other people that have limited transit experience and don’t yet trust it.

        It may sound self-serving but it would highlight transit as a climate change tool. Then, other more committed actions to encourage transit will be easier to achieve in Olympia.

      2. The direct line from Lacy to Olympia had been enroached by road building to the point it would never have offered a fast route. Think of the Interurban Trail through Shoreline or the current Ballard terminal freight trackage and you have what this line looked like in the early 1990s.

        The existing Olympia line that is in service isn’t direct, but there isn’t as much road interference along it. If upgraded to passenger speeds the time penalty for using it as opposed to the direct line would probably be very small.

        Sure, a direct higher speed line along I-5 mostly separated from roads and driveways would be fairly fast, but that’s not what this line had become over the years.

      3. Somebody who lives in Olympia told me they’ve built housing developments on part of the right of way.

      4. Glenn is right about the UP entry. It can be sped up, and it’s reasonably close to I-5 so a park and ride could be provided at Henderson accessed via Tumwater Boulevard. The only real problem I see is that BNSF is going to demand that new bridges across the Nisqually and Pattison Lake be provided for a third track to East Olympia. There’s a long berm south of the Nisqually that would have to be widened for the new track. And it might mean moving Centennial Station back a dozen feet.

        Nope I looked at the map and there’s room for a third track, but the pretty front yard would have to go and the bus loop moved.

        The interchange track at East Oly would definitely have to be replaced with a larger radius curve. East Olympia has the north side constrained so the tracks would have to bulge south of the current straight track from the south leg of the wye. And of course the passenger track would be on the “wrong side” of the freight tracks there. Some delays are inevitable.

        Maybe include a stop by the old brewery for Tumwater, too.

        This is obviously several decades in the future, so get that express bus running as soon as Sounder gets to Dupont.

  10. Having Inslee base his political career on the environment is akin to Trump basing his on telling the truth, there just isn’t a lot to sink their teeth into.

    Washington isn’t even in the top 40 of polluting states. However it is in the top 3 for ratio of EV purchases (this will become very significant in 2019), its’ most populated (by far) county has a 50% public transportation commuter usage and in 2018 the state broke ground on its first 3 major solar projects.

    Ferries are but a few of the last remaining low hanging fruits which will soon be addressed.

    I’m not going to lose sleep over Washington’s green house emissions when states like Indiana, Ohio and those from the Southeast continue to choke us to death. It’s up to the feds to act if we ever expect to make significant changes.

    1. Inslee’s faults are 1% of Trump’s.

      “its’ most populated (by far) county has a 50% public transportation commuter usage”

      SOV commutes to downtown are under 40% but for all jobs in the county cars are probably still the majority.

      1. How is Inslee using the governorship to enrich himself, or spurning our allies and making alliances with authoritarian governments, or letting himself be potentially blackmailed by said governments, or lying ten times a day and changing his story from hour to hour, or shutting down the state government over a political gimmick, or getting out of treaties and commitments willy-nilly without notice and against his advisers’ advice?


    Founded the Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle. Acquired 1.3 miles worth of property through Downtown Seattle at the height of a building boom without having to condemn a square inch for the subway that began Sound Transit.

    Thank you for this morning’s posting, Peter. But since politics always requires a “second”….Am I Seattle Transit Blog’s only James R. Ellis Republican this morning?

    Mark Dublin

  12. We get it, you like Link. But this post is dishonest. The laws of induced demand don’t care if new capacity comes from road expansion or the magic driver conversion to transit.

    Transit allows for more growth at a fixed level of congestion, but doesn’t reduce emissions or congestion.

    And as long as sound transit is building $100,000 free commuter parking spaces, they don’t deserve any green points or money.

    You also bemoan long timelines, which is all sound transit expansions offer. I’m sorry you don’t agree with ferry investments, but for GhG that wsdot actually controls, the ferry switch to electric yields massive and measureable carbon reductions.

    1. Fifty people in a bus or train use much less energy and create much less congestion than fifty people in SOVs. Most countries worldwide have defined an acceptable level of emissions as comprehensive local, regional, and intercity transit. That’s two or three times more transit than we have. If you have less it either hinders people’s mobility (and thus the economy, cultural life, and people’s health) or incentivizes them to use cars more.

    2. Changing mode share should mean less pollution. But yeah, freeway congestion should remain pretty much unchanged unless there is a price (toll, congestion charge, etc.)

    3. Shrinking the number of cars on the road is a long-term goal. The short- and medium-term is about giving people a viable alternative to driving. That won’t reduce total emissions but it will give greater mobility without increasing emissions much, and as I said above optimum mobility should be the basic goal. As some drivers switch to transit, other drivers will drive more to fill up the space. But it’s better to have an option competitive with driving than to not have it. And sometime in the far future, people will find driving and having a car more trouble than it’s worth, and then the number of cars on the road will shrink and P&R spaces will become unused. Some P&Rs are being made to be convertable to housing then, South Bellevue and maybe TIB. But we can’t recover the $80K per parking space we sunk into them. Except in the sense that the money went to people so maybe they did something worthwhile with it.

  13. My gut feeling is that the effective strategies for decarbonizing transportation in Seattle vs the suburbs vs the rest of the state make this a difficult problem to solve at the state level, and will probably require federal action.

    Seattle could do most of the work to decarbonize its transportation sector during the next 5-20 years by expanding and intensifying several policies it’s already pursuing to move people away from driving: electrify the bus fleet, increase bus frequency, create more bus lanes, accelerate ST3, build more light rail, create more bike lanes and sidewalks, expand the urban village boundaries, and legalize duplexes/triples/quads + corner stores and cafes in single-family zones.

    I expect that enabling mode-switching is much less viable, and much less popular the further you get outside Seattle. Decarbonizing transportation in the rest of the state- at least during the next couple decades- is going have to mostly come from switching people to electric vehicles. Is subsidizing electric vehicle purchases enough to get the suburbs/exurbs/rural areas to support transit funding for Seattle?

    1. The solution is clear in other countries: comprehensive transit to all parts of the state both large and small. The UK, Germany, Switzerland, and China have transit going everywhere so you never need to drive, even to rural towns and to footpaths to villages. This is politically hard to do, but the solution isn’t going to change. We already tried universal cars and no transit.

      1. Plenty of people drive in Germany… Yes, they have good public transit even in some rural areas, but they also like their cars. They aren’t mutually exclusive.

        Because our state’s energy sources are mostly carbon free, this is actually the best place to promote electric vehicles.

        Because people replace their cars relatively frequently, it’s much more realistic to convert the state over to 100% electric autos than to 100% mass transit use.

        I’m not saying we shouldn’t invest in mass transit for other reasons. However, it’s not really a climate change issue…

      2. How many people in Germany drive everywhere and never take transit? How many jobs in Germany are not accessible via transit? A lot of people drive in Germany by choice, but you don’t have the millions of others who drive because they can’t survive otherwise.

  14. If STB and Seattle Subway wanted to get more folks out of their cars faster, why didn’t it go to the wall /fight until the “last dog died” for a quicker built, more cost effective, carried more folks, Ballard to UW line, instead of the current option of Ballard to downtown, that might get built in 2035? [Runs out of the room while ducking]

    1. Quicker built? Yes. [Would] carry more people?” Not even close. More cost effective? Possibly, if something else were done about SLU/Lower Queen Anne.

  15. Peter, this posting could be 2018’s most valuable, because content and comments so clearly demonstrate the real condition and prospects for our State’s public transit officially starting three days from midnight.

    Neither first nor last time a State’s transportation system will have had to keep rolling with all communications down between train-control and the Capitol. That’s what those colored hoods on the flashlights are for.

    Most discouraging thing in these last hours’ pages has been amount of anger between people honestly committed to the same cause. However passenger transportation divides its loyalties, ferryboats and trains are not competing entities. World over, international rail passengers still spend hours aboard trains aboard boats.

    And the space aboard ferries now devoted to cars can easily be shifted at least to buses, if not to light rail cars. Likewise, every single constituency in Western Washington is now in flux. I’m surely not the only 36th District voter involuntarily residing in the 22nd who’d like to keep up my ridership on the Route 44 that I paid taxes for, rode, and drove for so many years.

    Olympia’s Lacey Amtrak Station is a ten-minute ride south of Dupont. What Cascades can do, Sounder can too. And after all those years of ORCA, I know Sounder knows how many passengers would like to renew our subscriptions. But for transit, our politics, and our country, here’s 2020 Yet To Come I fear most.

    Election night goes Mid. Contrail of hybrid sparks, fleeing southward from a distraught Westin Ballroom-full of wailing Democrats after the Dread Concession, all the way down through Rushton, sweet NPR colleens keening like an Irish ghost as to how their polls could’ve been so wrong! How in The World Could Jay Inslee Be President!?


  16. California shows the usefulness of having gas tax funding available for transit. We just fought that issue on the statewide ballot, and the good guys won. But it doesn’t guarantee that projects built will all be good. LA is building light rail into its deep eastern suburbs to get the right to build a subway down high density Wilshire Boulevard. The cities in Silicon Valley fought off a BRT line on El Camino Real (the strongest transit corridor in Santa Clara County). Some San Francisco pols think transit quality should be measured by how many subways are under construction, not the quality of transit service. It’s not clear when, if ever, another BRT line will be built through Oakland beyond the one under construction now. Winning the money is only the beginning of the battle.

    1. Washington has a particular problem that in the 1930s people were so fed up with the robber-baron rail monopolies and the auto lobby wanted highways that they passed a constitutional amendment prohibiting gas-tax money from being used for non-highway purposes. The ferries are defined as part of the highway system, but the proponents have argued that any kind of rail transit is excluded, even if it fulfills the same people-moving function as the highways. It does fund complete highways (e.g., bus lanes, sidewalks, and alternative pedestrian/bike paths if they aren’t allowed in the highway), but not rail. The I-90 bridge is getting rail only because that was in the agreement with the feds when the new bridge was built and it got federal grants. Kemper Freeman, shopping mall owner and train hater, tried to sue to prevent the conversion of the center lanes to rail on the basis that gas-tax money was used for the bridge, but it got thrown out because the federal agreement superceded it, and ST paid WSDOT for the lanes. Did California have some provision like that?

    1. I don’t have a problem with this. Given the billions that have been spent on salmon runs by the feds and state this will only be a continuation of previous policies. Sportsman, tribal interest and Orca fans will all love this.

  17. oh boy.

    I think we should spend more money on public transit, but to be frank as far as climate change goes the biggest bang for the buck would be encouraging the use of electric vehicles.

    The reality is that at a state level, only a tiny fraction of the state’s population of 7 million takes transit. The lion share drive. This will not change for the foreseeable future.

    The smart thing to do would be to have more tax credits for electric vehicle purchase, more electric vehicle infrastructure, etc. Which is what Inslee is doing. I think he’s a pretty good governor actually…

    It’s a problem if every activist groups demands that they be cut in on any new revenue stream… that’s part of what killed the carbon tax.

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