Last night’s Seattle Subway/STB mayoral forum was narrowly focused on transit and land use issues. The moderator, Publicola‘s Erica C. Barnett, did a tremendous job keeping things on time and on track. As with most forums of this nature, the fundamental tension was between questions trying to elicit an interesting response and candidates trying not to say anything too interesting.
Watching the one-hour video is probably worth your time. If not, here are some impressions.
The “lightning rounds” showed some of the clearest distinctions. When asked if feeders to Link should take priority over one-seat rides, Bruce Harrell, Lance Randall, and Casey Sixkiller said unambiguously yes, and Andrew Grant Houston said no. The others waffled. All but Jessyn Farrell, who waffled, clearly were in favor of prioritizing fare reductions over service increases.
On the land use front, only Bruce Harrell and Casey Sixkiller said that there should be any single family zoning in Seattle (Lance Randall didn’t give a clear answer). Only Sixkiller defended minimum parking requirements under any circumstances. These questions intentionally lacked nuance to eliminate excuses for future exceptions.
We asked what the biggest obstacle was to a citywide rapid transit system, intending to get insight into how candidates approach the problem. Colleen Echohawk said there weren’t enough buses, especially for Link access. Similarly, Casey Sixkiller cited last-mile problems. Jessyn Farrell proposes 100 miles of bus lanes, which warms my heart. Lance Randall said maintenance and safety improvements. Bruce Harrell blamed our topology, which is a good but not very actionable answer. Andrew Grant Houston said political will. Lorena Gonzalez had the most interesting response, saying we didn’t have enough density between our urban villages.
There were a few questions probing support for Seattle Subway’s program of a city-funded dense network of rail lines, and add-ons in ST3 to enable future expansion. Lorena Gonzalez has clearly spoken with the group often enough to understand the intent, but my impression is that many others didn’t fully understand the question. As the commitment was basically to do some lobbying and write plans, those candidates saw this is a low-cost commitment and went along. A few candidates pushed back that light rail is best done regionally, a banal sentiment but one that might not work post-ST3.
We asked how Move Seattle went wrong, and how to do better in a 2024 renewal. Several candidates invoked rhetoric about transparency, which doesn’t really match with the easily discoverable reports that SDOT produces. Beyond that, there was sentiment that the measure over-promised and we need more focus on completing deliverables. But there wasn’t sophisticated analysis of any systemic problems.
As these candidates are not running for Congress or the Legislature, we asked which projects they would prioritize if Sound Transit isn’t bailed out by either. Most didn’t really absorb the premise, but Colleen Echohawk mentioned parking garages as the first thing to delay. Lorena Gonzalez prioritized multimodal access and equity. But no one took the bait to trade off Ballard, West Seattle, the Downtown Tunnel, and the infill stations.