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.
46 Replies to “Few issues separate candidates in forum”
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.
Wait, What??? Move Seattle’s failure has everything to do with transparency. Murray and Kubly knew very well that Move Seattle couldn’t pay for what they had planned, but hid that from the voters. That is a clear lack of transparency.
But there wasn’t sophisticated analysis of any systemic problems.
No, because the lying SOBs were fired. You want to criticize SDOT for some other issue, fine. But Move Seattle’s failure to deliver falls on the laps of Kubly and Murray.
I found the “transparency” criticism by the candidates vague and bewildering — and frankly wrong. The primary problem I see with with Move Seattle stems from bad cost estimating — coming partly from the rushed nature of the measure’s development. Move Seattle projects are mainly deferred not out of incompetence or maliciousness or transparency — but out of a shortage of funds because the measure over promised. If a project is more conceptual, simply add a higher contingency.
I can give a bit of a pass for those candidates unaware of the situation — but for those familiar with it like Farrell or Gonzalez, I’m very amazed and frankly disgusted that such an obvious shortcoming wasn’t deemed by them as the primary cause. I now more doubt their leadership capabilities.
Failure to question cost estimates remains our biggest transit challenge. That’s true about ST3 and Move Seattle both. Estimates off by 10-25 percent can be attributed somewhat to unexpected inflation — but when that mistake exceeds 50 percent like it has for WSBLE or many Move Seattle projects in less than a few years, the blame needs to go back to the original cost estimates prepared and marketed to the voters.
The primary problem I see with with Move Seattle stems from bad cost estimating
Sorry, Al, you just don’t get it. The estimates were highly accurate. They knew, well before the vote, that they couldn’t build what they promised. They simply didn’t share that information with the public. That is a lack of transparency.
I just reread the Move Seattle levy language. It mostly includes named categories and often has numeric goals of what each amount is supposed to do. What about this isn’t transparent? It’s fairly clear and specific what each of the pots do to me. I see nothing secret going on.
I stand by my comment that it’s a cost estimate mistake. It may be that individual projects were estimated accurately, but it looks to me that the cost estimates for many of these categories about what the funds could do were simply wrong. Not secretive — but wrong.
The problems were overoptimistic estimates (like ST1), slowness to hire project directors, Kubly’s implementation performance, and SDOT not telling the city how far it was behind. The common understanding of “transparency” is annual financial reports and audits, which is beside the point and wouldn’t solve the major issues.
it looks to me that the cost estimates for many of these categories about what the funds could do were simply wrong.
Yes, and Kubly and Murray knew they were wrong before the election. They had updated estimates that are very similar to the current estimates and they had them *before* the election. They didn’t share those numbers with the city council or the public. That is the lack of transparency.
This is not a new claim. Look at what the oversight board wrote (https://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/SDOT/About/DocumentLibrary/Levy/2018_LevyOversightLetter_Final.pdf):
• Lack of transparency and failure to act. Despite apparently knowing projects could not be delivered at the rate promised in the Levy, SDOT was not transparent about this reality with the Oversight Committee and other modal boards, and failed to take immediate action to adjust expectations by truing up costs and available funding. It wasn’t until a new mayor and interim SDOT Director acted by looking closely at these issues did the scale of the problem become more widely known and understood.
RossB, the document. You referenced says this as the first bullet:
“ Poor cost estimating. Cost estimates used to establish some subprogram deliverable targets were unrealistic. It remains unclear whether staff behind these estimates knew this at the outset.”
Right, the quote says “apparently knowing”, not “definitely knew”. Yet RossB claims that Murray and Kubly definitely knew and deceived the public before the vote. Why would they do that when it would kill their reputations in a few years, and cost Kubly his job? Kubly deserves responsibility as the top administrator who should have questioned the estimates more closely, but that’s not the same thing as knowingly lying. The definitive lying came later, when the projects were badly underperforming and SDOT hid this fact from the city council.
There was also a failure to clearly communicate the ballot provisions to the public. Many voters thought Move Seattle would fully fund the RapidRide lines at a high level (“better than the existing RapidRide Lines”), but it only partially funded them and at a low level. And it implied (or at least I thought it did), that buses would get top priority for street space, but then afterwards cycletracks displaced the proposed transit-priority lanes in several corridors.
Many voters thought Move Seattle would fully fund the RapidRide lines at a high level (“better than the existing RapidRide Lines”), but it only partially funded them and at a low level.
Yes, because they lied! Come on, man, it was obvious. They wanted the thing to pass, so when SDOT officials made updated estimates, they ignored them. The last thing you want right before a ballot initiative is a bunch of people thinking you don’t know how to spend your money. They hid this the entire time. It wasn’t until a new administration got there that they realized there wasn’t the money.
My guess is Kubly was ready to jump ship any moment, and head for the private sector. As it turned out, this was exactly what he did. Kubly took a job at LimeBike. He didn’t take a job in some other city (which is customary) but the private sector. His reputation as a public transportation administrator was ruined, he just wanted to buy some time. Yes, it is worse that he kept that quiet before the election, instead of after, but either way, it shows incompetence. Ultimately, it was Murray’s decision to release the information (making the lack of transparency before the election a smaller issue for him).
As for Murray, he was likely hoping no one would notice until after he got reelected. He could blame the whole thing on Kubly, after Kubly took another job, or after he decided not to rehire Kubly for that second term. Murray resigned early in the campaign, which means it is quite likely none of this would have been discovered until his final term, allowing him to clean house with a “reformer”.
I know this sounds really slimy, but clearly both men are slimy. Murray had sexual relations with a minor, and when it was revealed, he attacked the victim. Kubly managed to destroy any chance at a decent publicly funded bike share system for this city — ignoring all the easily available science — and then he takes a job at a *private* bike company. Yet you don’t think these men would ignore the new estimates when they were revealed? Please. I hate to break it you, but sometimes Democrats lie too.
“Yes, because they lied! Come on, man, it was obvious. They wanted the thing to pass, so when SDOT officials made updated estimates, they ignored them.”
It’s not the estimates! The estimates were bad, but there were also parts of the RapidRide funding that was outside Move Seattle’s scope, so the estimates didn’t include them and never promised to. That was to be funding from other sources. The city never identified what those sources would be, much less put them in place.
There’s an undercurrent in this whole discussion that because the city has been wrong on past cost estimates, we should simply give up and vote future levies down, so there will be no more cases of promising this but only getting that.
Trouble is, if you don’t pass a levy, what you get is a guaranteed absolutely nothing. And if you do, you will at least get something.
An interesting tidbit of Move Seattle: It earmarks $10M to go to Graham Street Link. That’s enough to fund the station engineering and maybe secure some right of way.
Doing this now would save real estate costs in the long run and make the station a great candidate for incentive grants from FTA or other places.
Should we ask candidates if they would make advancing the Graham Street Link Station a top priority?
> Bruce Harrell blamed our topology, which is a good but not very actionable answer.
I think you’re being extremely charitable here…..is that really a “good” answer?
Whenever there is a levy on a ballot (ST 1, ST 3, Move Seattle) there is a temptation to underestimate the costs in order to overestimate the projects that will be delivered so the levy passes and the agency in charge suddenly has billions to spend, and job security for all involved. It is bait and switch. Never, ever, ever is there extra levy money left over after all the promised projects are delivered.
These are suppose to be estimating experts. These kinds of errors don’t happen in private industry in which the profit depends directly on correct estimating, and the cost reserve for large public projects is usually 30%, which of course is never mentioned in the levy language when you know it will be in the construction contracts. The public employees making the estimates in the levy have no skin in the game.
The problem now is the public is jaded. I automatically reduce the actual projects a levy will fund by 1/2, or if the project must be finished like the tunnel under the viaduct double the original cost estimates. Even I can look at Seattle Subway’s plan and know it is around 75% underestimated, and even then unaffordable, but still transit advocates take these folks seriously. Many transit folks on the eastside pointed out the ST 3 for N. King Co. projects and second tunnel in ST 3 were under estimated by billions. If these older retired WSDOT amateurs can figure that out why can’t ST estimators, or Move Seattle.
Whether there is proof of “wrongdoing” is irrelevant, just like it is in private construction where if the estimating is off someone goes bankrupt and people get fired. If you don’t know how to cost estimate then don’t, and don’t put levies on a ballot you admittedly can’t cost estimate. Being stupid is a poor defense.
“Even I can look at Seattle Subway’s plan and know it is around 75% underestimated”
Does Seattle Subway’s vision even have a cost estimate? If it does, your estimates of ST3 and what that proposed Seattle rail legislation could raise are not it. Much of Seattle Subway’s vision is outside Seattle. And that legislation is not sized to everything Seattle Subway wants in Seattle, but rather to be the same level as the existing monorail authority it would superceded. That level has no direct relationship to the unfunded parts of ST3 or what all Seattle Subway wants; it would be lower than both.
Names, Daniel, names. WHO are these prescient Eastside Masters of the Universe “transit folks”?
Are “transit folks” actually allowed to live on The Eastside? Wouldn’t that knock a quarter million off the neighboring houses for a mile in every direction? There a list of them, sort of like for sex-offenders.
Maybe he means the Eastside Transportation Coalition or whatever it’s called, of which Kemper Freeman and clueless former Metro general manager are prominent members. It’s unclear whether they have anybody knowledgeable about transit. That Metro manager from the 80s was prioritizing carpools over buses; no wonder the bus network was so skeletal then. And their proposal this year was to replace ST3 on the Eastside with vanpools and subsidies for autonomous cars, to address peak congestion, which they said is the only important problem to solve. Never mind that people have to get around off-peak and some people don’t have cars and trains and buses are more efficient and autonomous cars can only make a small dent in congestion. (And they could make congestion worse if people make more unnecessary trips or leave the car to drive around while they’re at an appointment.)
The more accurate word choice would have been “topography” and not “topology”. It’s sometimes hard to make word choices on the fly.
Generally, I felt Harrell should have seemed more articulate than he was given his experience. I am not sure if he was a bit off or if he is just being himself.
With at least one candidate preferring a “multimodal plan” and others espousing better access to transit, the “update the Transit Master Plan” lightning round yes-no was off-base. I would have rather had an open-ended discussion about what to do with Seattle’s mode-focused citywide transportation master plans. Each has been developed with participation driven by modal advocates — and as much as it’s a chance to get mode-favorable ideas in documents, it doesn’t create very good consensus at a larger level.
“All but Jessyn Farrell, who waffled, clearly were in favor of prioritizing fare reductions over service increases.”
Disappointing, but not surprising. Better service would materially benefit people, but city politics are so left-wing now that asking anyone to pay for anything who isn’t “big business” or “the rich” is a non-starter.
Transit isn’t even free in actual social-democratic countries.
Yes, it is extremely disappointing. It points to the fact that none of the candidates (other than maybe Farrell) has even a basic understanding of transit. This wouldn’t be a big deal if the same was true of say, education. They aren’t running for school board, and while they interact with the school system, they really shouldn’t get involved that much in their issues.
Unfortunately, the mayor sits on the Sound Transit board, and along with all of the other ignorant politicians, makes decisions based on whim. They also get involved from time to time with pet projects (like the streetcar) or are given extra money for transit. It is one thing if Metro operates things, but the more you have people who haven’t a clue about transit making important decisions, the more likely we will have crap. Hopefully we will have a mayor who delegates such decisions, and people under them know a thing or two about transit.
I find the push for fare-free transit to be remarkably premature. Do we have numbers on the burden transit fares pose to low-income users, versus a lack of transit access? I’m curious where, exactly, the impetus for free transit (instead of better transit) is coming from. Maybe there’s some study out there, or is it just competition with Lacey?
The push for free fares came from a convergence of Metro and ST suspending fares for several months for the pandemic (a de facto free-fare experiment), the continuing ridership in lower-income areas now recognized as essential workers, and politicians increasing the priority of equity due to these and the post-Floyd BLM events.
The past few years we’ve been expanding targeted reduced/free fares through ORCA Lift and Seattle public school passes. So the main issue is, what is enough? And is there a strategic reason to turn off the fareboxes even after we’ve ensured low-income people have access to the network?
Ideally there would be no fares because transit is an essential part of city infrastructure fully funded by taxes, and we want it to be everybody’s first choice. Fareboxes add unnecessary friction and inconvenience, which is an inefficiency in moving people. BUT, frequency and a comprehensive network is more critical. People can’t take transit if it’s not there, or if it’s unreasonably inconvenient for certain kinds of trips. The fundamental problem is Seattle and the US don’t have a comprehensive transit network like other countries, so that’s what we need to fix first.
I’m concerned that the people who are pushing for free fares don’t understand the problems of under-frequency and under-coverage so they ignore them. But a low-income worker in the CD or Renton needs frequent transit that goes where they go as much as or more than they need free fares. Especially with the fare-subsidy programs we have to ensure cost isn’t a barrier. Buses can’t go to every isolated house, but they should go where the widest cross-section of people travel.
Exactly. Underfunded transit is much worse than paying for transit. Right now, Metro is very much underfunded — in Seattle, and especially outside it.
A few candidates pushed back that light rail is best done regionally, a banal sentiment but one that might not work post-ST3.
That is not banal, it is ignorant. Oh, sure, if you can leverage existing rail, then it definitely makes sense to build a regional system. But if you are going to build a light rail system like ours — an extremely expensive mix of underground and elevated lines — and almost all of the density is right in what is a good size city, the main focus should be on serving that city. By all means we should have good intercepts for the suburbs — but we’ll have that by ST2 (and then some).
It is really sad to think that someone running for mayor has been brainwashed by the Sound Transit nonsense, and thinks this is the type of system we should build. ST3 will build way too much in the distant suburbs (or distant cities) as it is. To assume that any other improvement in Seattle requires light rail to Woodinville or Burien is just ridiculous.
Of course Seattle should have a regional plan; it already does. It has been cooperating with the other cities and counties on Sound Transit for twenty-five years, and a large part of it is approved and under development now. But Seattle also needs to recognize its own needs that a regional plan doesn’t address, as all the other cities do too. It has a transit master plan which needs an update, and it needs to start thinking more whether to add rail lines in it (beyond the ST3 plans, and things outside ST’s regional scope),
Light rail expansion should certainly be delivered regionally. Seattle has neither the project management capabilities nor financial capacity to deliver even a modest, at grade Link expansion (look at the struggles with the CCC), let alone a megaproject like Ballard-UW. I find this comment akin to saying that bus base capacity expansion should be delivered regionally; any major expansion to KCM’s bus base footprint should run through KCM, not SDOT. Seattle trying to build a bus base rather than build a coalition within King County would be highly unproductive.
That doesn’t mean Link expansion in Seattle needs to be paired with suburban Link expansions; there are plenty of regional transit projects outside of Seattle that don’t involve Link, and many paths to an ST4 that involve minimal Link investment outside of Seattle.
The only people who think there is political value in advocating for rail in Woodinville are the fools who run Seattle Subway.
Seattle has neither the project management capabilities nor financial capacity to deliver even a modest, at grade Link expansion (look at the struggles with the CCC), let alone a megaproject like Ballard-UW.
What, you mean there are cost overruns? Yeah, Sound Transit never has those [he says rolling his eyes].
The only reason they don’t have the financial capability is because the state doesn’t grant them that. But if they did, a Seattle-focused light rail plan would pass easily. They could do worse that Sound Transit, but I really doubt it. They are far more likely to build something aimed at improving the areas that need to be improved. The Move Seattle RapidRide+ plans were solid — it was only that they were too expensive. Failing to reveal that was entirely the fault of an administration that no longer runs things.
Seattle should certainly hire the experts for construction and operations. All of its bus-service supplements have been through Metro. It can hire Sound Transit to build any light rail it wants. There’s no legal constraints on ST building other things; it just can’t spend ST1/2/3 money on them until it has completed all the voter-approved projects. Of course, ST would have to consent to building an additional line, and it would have certain ideas about what it would consent to and what it wouldn’t. But the city doesn’t even have a concept yet of what it wants, so there’s nothing for ST to decide on.
“Seattle should go it alone and finance a Ballard-UW subway” is a defensible position. I’m arguing that “Seattle should finance Ballard-UW through a regional effort” is not only a defensible position but is a more accurate read of the political environment, not a banal sentiment.
It seems to me that it would be a much easier political lift to build the 3-county coalition for an ST4 in 2024 or 2028 than to lobby the legislature to grant Seattle vast taxing authority unlike any other municipality in the state. Seattle going alone is likely to be blocked in the leg specifically because leaders elsewhere in the region will correctly judge they are more likely to achieve their goals by yoking them to Seattle’s transit aspiration, rather than go it alone.
If I wanted to get Everett Link across the finish line, or wanted all-day Sounder, or simply wanted to fully fund the Leafline Trails master plan, I’d probably oppose a Seattle-going-it-alone solution in the Waleg. Greater Seattle, not Seattle itself, dominates state politics.
“All but Jessyn Farrell, who waffled, clearly were in favor of prioritizing fare reductions over service increases.”
At least the question, and answers, recognize there is a tradeoff, rather than promising both fare reductions and no loss of service (although the question seems to assume fare reductions and maintaining current levels of service, which would mean more general fund or levy funding, even at only 20% farebox recovery). Maybe a better question was how to fill the funding gap if ridership does not return 100%, and fare enforcement is weak.
“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.”
The answers to this question suggest to me the candidates don’t really understand subarea equity, and so some fall back on platitudes like “multimodal access and equity”, including “[a] few candidates pushed back that light rail is best done regionally, a banal sentiment but one that might not work post-ST3.” More than banal, the answers make no sense when understanding subarea equity. There is no “regional” in the funding of ST (except perhaps the second transit tunnel, but that looks to me like it is dead).
Eliminating park and rides might sell well at a Seattle Subway forum in Seattle, but I don’t think eliminating park and rides will make any difference in the N. King Co. subarea where the funding shortfall is acute, or for the astronomical costs for the second tunnel and rail from West Seattle to Ballard. My guess is a similar forum for candidates for eastside cities would support park and rides, in the one subarea that can afford them.
Of course, require the mayor and council to use public transit and you might see more interest from candidates.
My guess is during an election, rather than telling West Seattle and Ballard the funding numbers don’t look good for rail to either, the candidates like ST and the Board will continue to pretend extending beginning and completion dates will solve the problem, or down the road (post election) TT’s idea to use one tunnel if that really is feasible.
Later on, if there is a bigger candidate forum or debate, such as the League of Women Voters, I will be interested to see whether transit is a pressing issue for the general non-transit Seattle crowd.
Prioritizing feeder buses over one seat express buses of course makes sense, unless it exposes some real flaws on Link, especially Northgate Link, like first mile access at Northgate and last mile access in Seattle the candidates don’t understand, or why express buses will continue after Northgate Link opens.. Maybe someone should have asked how does a Link rider get from Westlake to SLU after having taken one or two feeder buses to get to Link, and why did Seattle upzone SLU if there will be no rail access? I thought the PSRC was all about TOD. Except there is no “transit” in the TOD for SLU.
Of course, no one asked, and no one answered, how to repair or replace $3.5 billion in bridges that are rapidly reaching the end of their life expectancies even though the West Seattle bridge is closed, which seemed a little strange to me in a forum focused on transit. Do buses and trains fly? Like Voldemort, bridge costs are something to never mention.
“Prioritizing feeder buses over one seat express buses of course makes sense, unless it exposes some real flaws on Link”
The real answer is “it depends”, and the lightning question didn’t give candidates an opportunity to articulate where yes and where no. I could only answer it in reference to specific corridors and trips. Lake City clearly needs frequent evening feeders to Link, and shouldn’t have a one-seat bus to downtown parallel to Link. Lake City also needs better east-west access and south access (to southeast Seattle), and these will have to be one-seat bus rides because Link can’t address those corridors.
“why did Seattle upzone SLU if there will be no rail access?”
It’s the other way round: why wasn’t Link access to SLU on ST’s or the city’s radar until 2016? It’s probably because SLU isn’t a separate regional growth center but is part of the downtown one, and the downtown one has rail access (on 3rd Avenue). If it were Totem Lake it would be obvious if it was missing from the plan. And if it were the city’s only urban growth center (as Totem Lake is for Kirkland), the city would be acutely aware of making sure it’s in ST’s network. But because Seattle has a lot of other Link service, and SLU is part of the downtown urban growth center, everybody overlooked SLU in particular, including transit fans. If SLU had been designated must-serve earlier, it and Ballard-Fremont beyond it would have gotten more priority in ST1 and ST2. That doesn’t necessarily mean they would have stepped in front of Northgate or Lynnwood (they probably wouldn’t), but they wouldn’t have had to beg for scraps late in ST3.
I thought the PSRC was all about TOD. Except there is no “transit” in the TOD for SLU.
“Seattle should go it alone and finance a Ballard-UW subway” is a defensible position. I’m arguing that “Seattle should finance Ballard-UW through a regional effort” is not only a defensible position but is a more accurate read of the political environment, not a banal sentiment”
AJ, how does Seattle fund Ballard-UW through a regional effort?
Subarea equity means Seattle will pay for the project itself, whether it is stand alone levy or part of ST 4.
Uniform tax rates mean that just like ST 3 the tax rate will be based on what the N. King Co., subarea needs to complete ST 3 plus a Ballard-UW line. That means the costs will be underestimated once again to sell the levy because the rate will be too high for the four other subareas.
A regional ST 4 levy will be a much tougher sell to four other subareas that are fatigued with transit levies, and don’t have a lot of trust in the numbers after ST 3 and Move Seattle. To sell these other subareas on a ST 4 would require a levy rate probably insufficient to build a Ballard-UW line, especially if N. King Co. needs some of the ST 4 levy money to complete ST 3 . Telling these subareas some of their subarea revenue will go towards a Ballard-UW line would be the death of any ST 4 levy.
Even if a ST 4 levy were to pass, and Seattle either way is funding the Ballard–UW line, by including the four other subareas — and different neighborhoods within the very large N. King Co. subarea — priorities will get corrupted if some like Tom Terrific are correct and the routes and stations are overly influenced by the “suburbs”, or “equity” becomes the driving force because Ballard to UW sounds pretty white to me (as does West Seattle to Ballard).
Finally, any ST 4 will have to start with completing ST 3 in N. King Co. There is no way ST is going to claim in ST 4 it will build a Ballard–UW line, but not complete the West Seattle to Ballard line first, including second transit tunnel. And if they did the ST 4 levy would fail even in Seattle.
I just think that if Seattle thinks the Ballard–UW line is the most important transit project for Seattle, more so than WS to Ballard, Seattle would be better off floating its own dedicated levy for just that project. I don’t think ST 4 would pass now, and probably for many years if ever, but I also don’t think a dedicated levy for a line from Ballard to UW would pass in Seattle unless West Seattle to Ballard is guaranteed, and somehow folks in South Seattle don’t object.
It’s premature to predict what might be in ST4, much less when it would be on the ballot or whether ST would even propose it. ST3 is a third larger and longer than ST1 or 2 (a 25-year plan instead of a 15-year plan). Some of what was expected to be in ST4 is in ST3, including the final stretch to Everett Station and Tacoma Dome, the Paine Field addition, and both Ballard and West Seattle. When the ST3 vote was accelerated to 2016 instead of the expected 2020s, that was only seven years, there was more satisfaction and goodwill toward ST, ST’s total tax rate was lower, and there wasn’t talk about secession from ST. Accelerating ST4 to the mid 2020s would be a fifteen-year jump, twice as far as ST3 was accelerated, with a higher total tax rate (because it would be on top of the ST1/2/3 streams until the ST3 bonds are paid down), and with the core Lynnwood-FW-Redmond done, and amidst less satisfaction with ST. It’s hard to see people voting for ST4 so early, or ST even proposing it then.
What we know about the subareas’ first priorities for ST4 are: (Snohomish) a short extension to Everett College, (Pierce) a short extension to Tacoma Mall, (South King) the Burien-Renton line and always more Sounder, (East King) I have no idea, something about downtown Kirkland maybe. North King could go in several directions. A West Seattle extension is most likely, to interline with the Burien-Renton line. Ballard-UW also has studies done, but there’d probably be less interest in it after Ballard-downtown exists. Ballard could be extended northward, or that Northgate-Lake City-Bothell concept could be pursued. But I don’t see a 522 line so soon after 522 Stride’s launching. The Metro 8 concept is not on ST’s radar; ST refuses to acknowledge it as a worthwhile project or “regional transit”.
That’s if ST4 goes into more projects as ST1/2/3 did. If ST4 merely backfills ST3 with additional tax revenue, then it would be an unprecedented proposal, and it’s hard to predict how it would land, but my initial assumption is skeptical. This kind of ST4 could also modify ST3, if ST decided to scale back or change the projects. That all depends on what the subareas demand. Theoretically Everett could be truncated at 128th with BRT beyond, Issaquah replaced by BRT, and West Seattle replaced by multi-line BRT, but there’s no hint that the subarea councilmembers or city governments would even consider this. That could change if the budget gap becomes more acute and persistent, but there’s no sign of it now.
When ST proposed a 15-year plan, it had West Seattle Link and a Ballard-Westlake streetcar. STB and transit fans blew their top and said they wouldn’t vote for anything less than Ballard light rail, and the city wouldn’t defer/BRTize West Seattle Link for it, and Snohomish insisted on Paine Field, and Seattle and ST belatedly realized the SLU highrises needed high-capacity transit, so that’s how the 15-year plan was extended to 25 years.
ST3’s completion is so far away (20 years by the pre-covid estimate, probably later now), and the early designs of Ballard and West Seattle have been so disappointing, that even transit fans are divided on whether ST3 is worth it or any ST4 would be. The ST3 vote was accelerated to 2016 instead of the probable 2020s, but that’s just seven or eight years. And it’s before ST turned out so mediocrely, and before anti-ST tax revolts and secession talk ratcheted up. If the ST4 vote is accelerated to the mid 2020s, that would be a 15-year jump — twice as far as ST3 was accelerated. It’s hard to see people voting for it so early — or ST even proposing it — especially with this lukewarm attitude toward ST3
Fun thought: West Seattle is planned to be part of an Everett-West Seattle line in DSTT1. DSTT1 also has East Link, and can’t fit more trains beyond those two lines without capital improvements. Westlake-Everett is 1 hour, and Westlake-WSJ-Burien-Renton is 40 minutes. That gets close to the maximum 2-hour length that ST says is reasonable for drivers. If it decides that Westlake-WSJ-Burien-Renton is too long, it would have to split it. Both halves would have to go downtown, and DSTT1 can’t fit three lines of trains. So could the southern part go into DSTT2 instead, which will have plenty of capacity? It would require appropriate track switching in SODO to allow it to get to DSTT2, but that seems like a minor issue in the context of the overall project.
Thanks for adding yet one more reason to have same-direction cross-platform transfers and parallel cross-over switches in SODO, Mike!
The current design is so deficient. It’s akin to having two parallel long-distance freeways without direct connections between them except forcing cars onto city streets. It still amazes me that this basic deficiency goes ignored by both agencies and transit advocates alike. As now designed, ST will make most or all transfers require using crowded stairs or elevators (tens of thousands of daily transfers) and walking several hundred feet as opposed to a quick and high-capacity 20-foot level transfer.
Bus lanes also warm my heart, but I think Colleen Echohawk had the best answer. Pre-covid, the primary constraint for a better bus network in Seattle wasn’t funding but bus base capacity. The ST2 will create significant capacity, and robust investment in bus priority will create further capacity, but to create a world class bus network across Seattle and through most of King county will simply require more buses. Admittedly, the Seattle mayor’s role is mostly to focus on better bus priority and the capital funding for KCM is a problem for the KC exec & council to solve, but it’s important to remember that throwing money and paint simply mitigates the fundamental problem of not enough buses.
Pre-covid, the primary constraint for a better bus network in Seattle wasn’t funding but bus base capacity.
Nonsense. Prior to the pandemic, we had lots of buses that sat unused most of the day, but are used during peak. The only reason we don’t run those buses in the middle of the day is money.
If you think I’m exaggerating, look at this listing: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2020/09/01/two-axes-to-swing-for-metro-in-september/. Not only do many buses run a lot more often during peak (the C runs every 4 minutes during peak, and every 12 minutes during the day) but we have lots of routes that *only* run during peak. This means that we could (if we wanted to) run the C every four minutes, all day long, while also running the 15, 17 and 18 all day long as well, without buying a single new bus. We just need the drivers. (To be clear, running the C every four minutes would be overkill, but 6 would be great.)
Good point, there is ample capacity to improve service midday and weekends, and a mayor could put together a coherent vision around using the TBD to boost non-peak service throughout the city. Prioritizing peak vs non-peak service is a point on which reasonable people can disagree. It would have been great lighting round question, “what do you view as more important – improving bus service quality during rush hour or during midday, evenings, and weekends?”
So I could read Echohawk’s comment as a sign that she views better peak service as the keystone for a great rapid transit system, which is totally reasonable if we return to a scenario in which some of our best routes are overcrowded at peak and yet aren’t able to provide 10 minute service across the entire city, i.e. a scenario in which Seattle want to buy more more bus hours than KCM can provide, i.e. where Seattle was 2018~2019.
I’d point out that the majority of KCM ridership occurs during weekday peak hours, so unless you want peak service to degrade outside of Seattle, KCM is going to need to expand bus base capacity simply to sustain peak service levels post-ST2, unless bus priority investments are able to fully mitigate congestion. More importantly, KCM aspires to significantly improve service quality outside of Seattle (notably SKC for equity reasons), which implies more buses for peak even with robust investments in bus priority.
I had to laugh when one candidate proposed ST3 parking garage elimination to gain $1B for the WSBLE project (that’s $5.7B short). That’s because there are zero parking garages in ST3 in North King even though the greatly higher price tag is a North King subarea project. I wanted a followup question: “Do you believe we can now ignore subarea cost assignments?”
Yes, they can, because the driver of realignment is agency-wide financial constraints in the 2030s, not subarea equity issues. If WSBLE ends up significantly over budget and the other subareas do not, that can be rebalanced within ST4.
Here’s my rankings after watching the forum twice. I may change my mind later of course.
5 stars (best): Farrell. 4 stars: Gonzalez. 3 stars: Houston. 1 or 2 stars (worst): Ecohawk, Harrell, Randall, Sixkiller.
As an aside, these failed the single-family question (right answer is no): Harrell, Randall, Sixkiller. These failed the minimum parking question (no): Sixkiller. These failed the “reduce fares over expanding service” question (no): all of them. These failed the “redistribute bus hours to Link feeders” (yes): Houston. However, I don’t weigh these answers much. The real answer on all of these is “it depends” and “some aspects are more critical than others”. But the format didn’t allow them to say that, or what it depends on, or how much it should be done. We’d need that information to fully evaluate their positions.
Jesslyn Farrell has the best ideas, experience, and articulation. That’s based on this forum and her previous mayoral run. Her ideas are legislation-ready, and she has pragmatic ideas for the state (reduce permitting red tape, fully fund transit grants, contribute to Pugetopolis transit). She rightly gets that prioritization and implementation are the problems. My main concern is her strong priority for climate and equity may shortchange some transit needs.
Lorena Gonzales was weaker than I expected in the forum, but her record on the council pulls her up. She’s right that density between urban villages is important, and in her analysis that Move Seattle had too many priorities, which de facto results in no priorities.
Coleen Echohawk was muddled. She said she’d ask the community what the transit needs are, when it’s relatively clear what they are and the people have spoken in several votes. Inexperience is not necessarily a disqualification, but it raises the question of what she’d support when she informs herself on the issues. Her Move Seattle policy was generic, like she doesn’t know its problems. Her prioritization of BIPOC/marginalized communities, while important, runs the risk of shortchanging transit best practices. She was lukewarm on redistributing bus hours to feeders. She supports the CCC after opposing it; I oppose the CCC because Seattle has many more critical transit needs.
Andrew Grant Houston says he’s a long-time transit activist, and I’ll take his word on it. He said Move Seattle’s biggest problem was the mayor raided it for other projects. Really? I hadn’t heard that. Maybe he was referring to Durkin redirecting TBD bus-hour funds to fare subsidies after Metro couldn’t supply enough buses, but the TBD is not Move Seattle. He says the next Move Seattle should backfill the unfunded projects, which is a a good idea. We already know where the RapidLines should be and how important they are, so let’s just build them. But I’d ditch the CCC. Or at least defer it until all the RapidRide lines are funded. He complained about people “losing connections to East Link” — I don’t even know what that means. Did we drop a feeder somewhere? He says sidewalks are the most important equity issue, which has some merit, but not if it prevents restoring and expanding frequency.
Bruce Harrell was very muddled. He said the biggest issue is topology, but topoligy is the background we need strategies for, so what are his strategies? He said we must do a deep dive with communities to find out what we need, but we already know a lot of what we need: it’s in Seattle’s TMP, Metro Connects, ST 2 & 3, and Seattle’s first TBD. So let’s get those done,. and we can tweak them at the margins as necessary, He says Seattle needs more “local control on ST3”, whatever that means. He says Move Seattle needs transparency on costs so the public can data-mine it and suggest improvements, but that’s not the primary problem: the problem was overoptimistic estimates. He says the highest priority for the ST3 realignment is to get it passed. Get what passed? ST3 already passed, and the realignment doesn’t need a revote. He mentions an MVET and property tax proposal, but again ST3 already passed. Is he talking about the state transportation bill? State transit improvements don’t have to be in a highway bill; the legislature could pass them separately if it wanted to. The problem is they don’t want to and don’t prioritize transit, but what does that have to do with the ST3 realignment? If he means the state should raise ST’s MVET and property tax authority, OK, but there’s no bill to do that that I’m aware of.
Lance Randall was very muddled. His biggest priority is safety. But you can’t be safe in transit that doesn’t exist where you need it. He prioritizes east-west corridors. That’s right, but what are the specifics, and how would you make tradeoffs with our other corridor needs? He focuses on bridges and roads, which can be good but it may be a sign of car bias. He’s concerned about safe streets hindering emergency vehicles, but they don’t. He’d see that if he visits any safe street: they all have one lane open for local car access. As to an emergency vehicle crashing into a pedestrian on a safe street, puh-lease. They slow down at intersections if they’re unsure about cross traffic, so they can slow down on safe streets.
Casey Sixkiller is very muddled. He things we just need to finish ST3. But many urgent things aren’t addressed by ST3, and many of those are outside ST’s regional-transit scope. His best point was, “Don’t make shortsighted decisions on ST3 realignment, take the time to do it right so it’ll still make sense over the long term.” (paraphrased) He praised Claudia Balducci for championing this, which she deserves. But what alternatives does he think are shortsighted, and why? These may or may not be sound. He said his priority is access to frequent/reliable service, but that can have two interpretations. If it means increasing frequency and reliability (e.g., more runs and transit-priority lanes), great. If it means improving access to the existing service and nothing more, not so good. Again, people can’t ride frequent transit that doesn’t exist, or drops off evenings and Sundays. He failed three of the four lightning questions above, the worst of any candidate.
Finally, some general observations.
We already know much of what we need to do. It’s articulated in a transit best-practices books (Human Transit), and in most of the Metro Connects and Move Seattle plans, and in Seattle’s TBD at its peak, and in Metro’s annual report on the most underserved corridors. These may need tweaks at the margins, and we should ask the equity-emphasis communities if there’s anything left out we should consider, but we know most of it already. We just need to do it. And sooner than 2070.
The best question in the forum was, “Were did Move Seattle go wrong? And how would you design its renewal?”
Frequency is the most important thing we should spend resources on, above lowering fares and “equity”. Having a frequent comprehensive grid will maximize equity in any case. As it does in cities that have it.
On the feeders vs one-seat ride issue, we’re already halfway there. We’ve already reorganized many of the excessive one-seat rides we previously had, and more will be done in Northgate Link. So we’re not doing that bad now; we’re just not doing perfect.
Equity is important but not at the expense of serving urban villages. 15-minute evening service between Lake City and Northgate Link is important. Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill have had multiple frequency increases; e.g., on the 7, 36, 106, 48, and 50. And maybe the 107 too. The 106 and 107 have certainly been extended.
We can’t just ask equity-emphasis communities what they want and make that override everything else. Often they don’t understand how transit works, how transit best-practices would benefit them, or how what they want would create excessive negative externalities for others and the network as a whole. We should start with a plan based on transit best practices, and then ask equity-emphasis communities how to improve it, and evaluate the suggestions based on a balance between transit best practices and equity/coverage. That’s what’s missing in the “Equity first!” rhetoric. Maybe the candidates would have a balanced approach on this, but if so they need to say so. If they just say “Equity first!” to get the knee-jerk votes, it’s unclear how good they would be on the rest of the needs.
I’m hesitant towards Jessyn Farrell – I was hoping Echohawk would make a stronger argument for herself as mayor but she’s not doing a great job differentiating herself from Gonzalez or Farrell.
I don’t think AceGH has the practical experience to be the executive, but I would love for him to be in a chief staff or advisory position.
I still couldn’t really tell you what the others are trying to do with their bids. Bruce Harrell was either confused by the question or honestly doesn’t know that ST3 has already passed.
I look at voting on filling the mayor’s job like I am picking a CEO — because this is much of what the job is. It’s not about “who represents my interests” as it is “who can get things done”. Can they inspire employees? Can they negotiate with opponents? Can they create compromises? Can they look out for marginalized people when bombarded by the biases of local groups (and in Seattle there are passionate advocates in every political lane)?
I suggest assessing candidates with that lens. They may not use the most correct buzzwords to tow a particular lane but they need to demonstrate how they would take input or assess the outcomes before coming to decisions.
To that end, no current candidate seems to me to have charisma and listening skills to lead to stand out from the other candidates. However, issue-driven forums often phrase questions about outcomes rather than about processes — so it’s difficult to assess each candidate’s executive capabilities.
The mayor’s race is more muddled than I have hoped. Free transit v. frequent transit should be an obvious no on fare free. Business pays for many ORCA passes; many households have high income and ride transit. In Seattle, fare revenue is more than 30 percent of operating revenue. Seattle is not Island County or Kansas City. Metro is addressing the fare equity issues fairly well. Transit has value. When Farrell calls for 100 miles of transit lanes, what does she mean: bus only lanes or BAT lanes; if the former, how could she do it? The real scarce resource is right of way and how that is allocated between the modes. It should be no surprise that ST3 needs to be reset or delayed, Sound Move and ST2 were reset and delayed. One minor example: the South Graham Street Link station was in Sound Move. A major example, in 1999, the ST board voted against north first Link; in 2001, the ST board voted in favor of south first Link; so, in 2021, Link will serve NE 45th Street. Do they all still want the CCC Streetcar? Seattle has a huge fiscal hole in transportation; it cannot afford the Nickels toy trains. Farrell mentioned U Pass of 1991; that was great; in addition to U Pass and parking fees, it also included service improvements, especially to Route 48, a crosstown. The main transit improvement to complement Link is crosstown service; that is what Metro has been doing for 30 years (e.g., routes 128, 60, 50, 8, 48, 44, 45, 40, 62, 345, 348, 330, 331). More is needed. There is push back; the “save the 42” movement is anti-transfer; we have a duplicative Route 106. On the eastside, routes 252, 257, 268, 311, and 545 continue to serve downtown Seattle past the UW Link station. Seattle does not small buses; the loads attracted are above the capacity of small buses. Overall, the candidates want Seattle to become a resilient transit metropolis; they debate the tactics. https://www.taylorfrancis.com/chapters/edit/10.4324/9780203593066-21/resilient-sustainable-urban-transport-peter-newman
Errata: missing “need” before small buses.
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