Seattle Transit Blog is officially a non-partisan publication, but it’s no secret that our favored policy positions tend to align with those on the progressive left. As someone with a libertarian streak, I want to make the case that pro-transit libertarianism has a strong ideological foundation, and in so doing, disabuse anyone of the notion that progressives monopolize the transit advocacy space.

Several years ago, I interviewed Bill Lind for a short piece on the conservative case for rail transit. Lind was a shining light among transportation thinkers, but he – like many fellow conservatives – disdained bus transit in favor of rail. Nonetheless, I found his insight to be refreshing among a cohort that has historically fought against transit.

Unfortunately, Lind’s views are largely a minority in the modern Republican and Libertarian Parties. Although ambivalence around transit is fairly pervasive at the federal level, local Republicans have historically lobbied hard against regional transit spending and initiatives.

I typically hear one of three arguments against transit among libertarians and conservatives:

  1. Few people use transit but we spend disproportionately on it
  2. Mobility = freedom and fixed transit is immobile
  3. Transit agencies are functions of big government and big government is bad

I’d like to reset how we think about applying classical liberal principles to these discussions and, in so doing, counter each of these points.

Libertarians tend to have a notorious tendency for wanting to privatize everything. Yet there are certain things that, from a functional standpoint, naturally resist privatization and are essentially a public good. I’d argue that transportation – more broadly infrastructure – is one such candidate. Firstly, private actors alone don’t have sufficient capital to build infrastructure without taking on substantial debt. Public agencies, on the other hand, mitigate this risk by selling bonds that are backed by taxing authority.

Secondly, infrastructure is a natural monopoly. As such, it isn’t conducive to competition, unlike commodities or consumer goods. For example, it makes little sense to let a bunch of private road builders build their own roads just to drive down prices. Physical restraints in the built environment, like land scarcity and property rights, form some pretty powerful deterrents that both progressives and libertarians can champion together.

The question of whether to spend now becomes a question of where to spend. More sincere conservatives concede that spending generously on transportation is inevitable, but that highways and roads are far more deserving recipients than transit. This is a common trope among local Republicans who like to market what they allege to be a glaring discrepancy between proportion of transit spending against transit mode share.

I’d contend that spending generously on transit is not only not contra-libertarian, it is actually pro-libertarian. For a natural monopoly like transportation, a libertarian-friendly government strategy would be to provision choices, price the commons accordingly, and competitively bid out projects. In practice, that means:

  1. Lifting restrictions on development, which artificially limit supply and drive up housing and transportation costs.
  2. Pricing resources to avoid the tragedy of the commons.
  3. Building capacity to absorb high demand through modes that scale really well (i.e., transit, walking, biking, etc.), in dense urban areas.
  4. Providing viable choices when priced resources are scarce. For example, tolling the hell out of a roadway when congestion is terrible doesn’t ameliorate someone’s need to get to where they need to go. Having dedicated transit helps satisfy that demand.

I’d principally highlight that these ideas aren’t progressive pipe dreams. They’re foundationally market-centric and help anchor a strong justification for robust transit investment. Recognizing the common points that can be championed by those on the left and right is a good way to cut through partisanship in the discussion.

58 Replies to “A libertarian case for robust transit investment”

  1. I’m curious what the libertarian solution to roadway capacity would be. If buses and trains scale to flat-fee demand by running increasing lengths and frequencies of vehicles, how do you would you “scale” a roadway to maintain throughput, but minimize maintenance costs? Having one “free lane,” then adjacent lanes be increasingly tolled? Since our gas taxes don’t cover the cost of road maintenance, there isn’t an argument for the gas tax as a “user fee,” especially in a world of high-mpg hybrids and fully electric cars.

    Also, as referenced in the Wikipedia article, the “tragedy of the commons” doesn’t require pricing to be avoided, as demonstrated by Elinor Ostrom in Governing The Commons

    Finally, I often wonder how to help bridge the gap between leftists trying to solve housing costs via public subsidized housing and market urbanists who believe that public subsidy is unnecessary if housing density is deregulated. I believe that both solutions are necessary but it seems that there are good arguments either way (gentrification vs “the projects”)

    1. I think the hard libertarian solution would be to price the entire roadway.

      Gas tax is an explicit user fee; it has been since it was conceived. It hasn’t fully recovered maintenance costs over most of its existence, but that doesn’t make it not a user fee. The Biden’s administration’s view that the gas tax ‘doesn’t work’ anymore and we need to switch to tolls/VMT is a few decades early, IMO. As the fuel mix on freeways shifts, the gas tax becomes less a user fee and more of a Pigouvian tax, both of which are generally libertarian solutions. If anything, the fact that the gas tax is a user fee and a Pigouvian tax strengthens the argument for raising the gas tax.

      RE: leftists vs market urbanists, I think the right solution is to say “all of the above.” Both sides have good arguments because both sides are correct that their preferred solution is effective; they tend to err in objecting to their opponent’s solutions. Housing is a complex system and anyone who argues for a single solution (let the market work! only the government can solve it!) is a fool.

    2. “Gas tax is an explicit user fee; “

      Used for what?
      Maintenance of the roadways?
      Construction of new roadways?
      Collected where?
      Used where?
      There are serious differences in types of highway infrastructure, ranging in cost to build. ($10-$100 million per lane mile)

      The gas tax is NOT a user fee, it is a convenient tax that can generally be assigned to one transportation mode.

      A toll is a user fee.

  2. One of the very finest ways to meld libertarian principles to the provision of transportation is with partially refunded energy taxes. Please notice I did not say “Carbon taxes”, though taxes on fossil fuels should certainly be higher than those on renewable sources. That’s because those renewable sources all have effects on the wider environment and the web of living beings inhabiting it. TANSTAAFL.

    If we build wind machines without thought we’ll change air and heat circulation patterns across the globe. If we pave the desert with photovoltaic panels, we will doom countless unique lifeforms to extinction. More hydro-power means less riverine habitat. TANSTAAFL.

    We are in a careening rush toward the collapse of Amphetamine Agriculture, which depends almost completely on fossil hydrocarbons that we’re burning like bales of Benjamins, at which point millions –probably billions – will starve or kill one another. TANSTAAFL.

    So, tax any artificial energy source in the external harms it inflicts and you will have a more local economy of smaller pretensions.

    Please also notice that I said “partially refundable”, because some of the revenues should go toward the construction and operation of lower-harm sources of energy, in order to delay and make less extensive the inevitable breakdown ofur hyper-technological civilization. The majority, though, should be refunded per capita to living human beings.

    1. LOL. These complaints about the alleged ill effects of renewable energy are always the equivalent of “I broke my fingernail scratching this winning lottery ticket.”

      The sun does, in fact, conveniently provide a free lunch every single day, in quantities more than sufficient to keep our “hyper-technological civilization” humming without any fossil use.

      There was a good column in the Post last year titled “Environmentalists make good movie villains because they want to make your real life worse” – this sort of Mathusian “collapse is inevitable and the ones that survive will have to go back to being subsistence farmers” is pretty emblematic of the phenomenon.

      1. The mistake made with renewable energy is countries began phasing out carbon energy too soon, and too quickly.

        For example, Great Britain eliminated all of its propane storage and relied heavily on North Sea wind, but it has been a very non-windy year in the North Sea. Germany eliminated its carbon free nuclear plants to go with natural gas and renewables, as did Japan, and now natural gas has quadrupled in price in these countries with winter approaching. Almost all countries have been too slow to build LNG import terminals., and the U.S. has been slow in allowing LNG export terminals. Meanwhile the demand for electricity has soared, and remained strong during the pandemic (although carbon emissions have fallen due to a decline in car travel and commuting).

        Russia has limited natural gas to Europe as winter is approaching. The price of oil has risen from $37/barrel to $82/barrel in six months because oil companies expected a long recession from Covid and restrictions on drilling, both of which reduced supply, and that money funds some pretty bad countries. Many countries like China are now reverting to coal to produce electricity, and are buying up all the future contracts for LNG so its factories can run, which is only increasing the price of LNG.

        Bernie is correct that oil is the DNA in producing food, from fertilizer to transportation to plastic pipes. This is leading to steep price spikes in food, also compounded by supply chain issues.

        There are few things that touch the lives of nearly every person more than inflation. It affects gas, heating, food, Christmas presents. It is also forces reserve banks to raise interest rates that dampen jobs and economic activity. Already we are seeing factories being idled due to the cost of electricity needed to produce the goods, and fuel to transport the goods.

        The one thing I disagree with Tom about in his post is the idea Americans or any first world citizen are going to accept a less pretentious society due to the cost of energy. Jimmy Carter tried that and it killed his presidency. Everyone should know by now citizens expect these problems to be solved without any discomfort to them, which is possible with renewal energy if it is done on the right schedule. For example, electric cars are simply better than gas cars, so the issue is price and battery technology, and government subsidies can fix the former.

        The political outcome is citizens will vote out politicians who are in office during times of high inflation, and high food and gas prices which increase the price of everything else. Every time inflation has risen the politicians in office were voted out, which is exactly what happened with Reagan and Carter.

        I don’t do a lot of shopping, and my wife and I are not on a tight budget, but she knows the price of every food item to the penny, among many different regional stores. Women buy most of the things in this country, and so know prices. Prices affects their votes more than it does men, and they tend to be swing voters. She is not happy at the current prices for food.

        IMO the solution in this country is not grand subsidized renewable energy projects. Too often grand government programs just don’t produce. It is installing a solar panel on every house and building, tying it into a smart grid, and using the battery storage in EV’s to pump electricity back into the system during peak times. What I would NOT do right now is convert the county’s hearting system from natural gas to electricity, unless you want blackouts.

        Unfortunately all the experts I saw on the Sunday talk shows, especially Mohamed El-Erian (who is a VERY smart person because he does it for the money) said things will get worse before they get better, and inflation will remain strong through the 2022 midterm elections when Democrats are already looking at huge losses.

        Passing meaningful renewable energy policy will be expensive because citizens won’t want any discomfort from the policy, or any gap in their energy. Most agree a carbon tax is a good place to start, except there can be no exemptions, and it is hard to enact a carbon tax in fuel and electricity when prices are already too high, like today. These are big policies and tough to pass, and probably need to be the only issue, not a “reconciliation” bill that includes the kitchen sink.

        For example, when LBJ began the Great Society he had a 155 seat margin (yes 155) in the House and 69 Senators. Democrats just don’t have those margins now (in fact they have almost no margin) and now it looks like a wipe out in 2022.

        There are few things inflation and high energy prices affect more than elections. Food and heat come before global warming for most citizens.

        What this means is this issue beginning in 2022 will have to be solved by the private market, maybe with some government subsidies, but not sweeping federal legislation that even the current Democrats who barely hold three branches can’t pass.

      2. The problem isn’t that we aren’t transitioning away from a fossil-carbon-based energy economy too quickly, is that we’re doing it too slowly. You’re right that increasing prices makes people mad (not to mention making poor people more poor), and people don’t want to give up their luxuries. However, an unwillingness to make the transition to a sustainable energy economy has already forced many cities in the US (not mention elsewhere) to experience a less “pretentious” society via extreme weather, particularly strengthened hurricanes, increased flooding, routine record-breaking heat waves, and larger wildfires. To think that climate change won’t effect all of us if we don’t act now is sheer folly.

        To maintain energy stability, the transition must include using market leverage to incentivize energy corporations to pivot quickly. This includes making fossil-carbon energy more expensive – whether energy companies will find ways to make sustainable energy more affordable is up to them. Similarly, via market forces, energy-expensive lifestyles (SOV commuters, large-SFH heating, etc.) will be incentivized to do things like purchasing solar panels and efficient EV’s to offset their costs.

        Frankly, the ultimate need is to force companies to internalize the otherwise unaccounted-for negative externalities inherent in irreversible fossil-fuel consumption. It seems to me that incorporating double or treble damages into the cost of carbon (and other) pollution would be the most market-efficient and otherwise libertarian way of doing this.

      3. Well obviously the shift to renewable energy was too quick because there are now world wide shortages in electricity, and natural gas needed to heat the north during winter, and huge price increases in just about everything, and many countries are going to coal to generate electricity.

        The issue I tried to point out is inflation alone — putting aside Afghanistan, immigration, the economy, and some good old gerrymandering — will give Republicans huge victories across the board in 2022 despite the fact the U.S. is the most energy independent country in the world, and Biden/Harris are fairly weak. So whether you believe climate change or renewable energy are THE existential issues is irrelevant: the next Congress won’t, and Biden does not have the mandate or majorities to enact his climate plan. You go from Jimmy Carter to Ronald Reagan because you went too fast, and told citizens they needed a less pretentious society.

      4. I think both arguments are correct in a sense, but there’s a contradiction between what the planet needs and what the median voter is willing to accept. The planet, undoubtedly needs decarbonization to happen faster. Whereas the median voter is a world of contradictions. They believe climate change is real and want to solve it, but they also want to keep driving their gas guzzling SUV everywhere and make zero changes to their lifestyle. To them, any sacrifice or increased energy costs to meet decarbonization goals, no matter how minor, is a nonstarter on principle.

        Then, you’ve got people on the right who don’t even accept that decarbonization should even be a goal in the first place. To them, the economy is all about producing and consuming fossil fuels, so any attempt to decarbonize – by any means – is inherently sabotaging the economy. Many such people work in the fossil fuel industry, and all the talk of new jobs in renewable energy is of little comfort for the prospect of their job becoming obsolete.

        Ultimately, decarbonization is going to have to happen for market reasons, since unlike government action, it is market forces that survive changes in which party is in power. Renewable energy increased a lot during the Trump years, as much as Trump wishes it didn’t.

        What actually scares me the most about Republican control (at least on the issue of climate change) is not so much lack of government support for renewable energy, but active government efforts to undermine it. The fuel economy rollback and solar panel tariffs under Trump may only be the beginning. A future Republican president might go further and declare a national moratorium on clean energy projects altogether, or try to force California to burn coal if it wants highway funding. Heck, without the filibuster, a Republican Congress could even repeal the entire clean air act.

      5. Well, Daniel, I cannot argue with your apologia fior selfishness.
        What you predict has far too often on less existential questions been proven true. Why would it be different this time?

        In any case, I’ll be off this ark soon without any descendants about whom to care, so bye-bye as some of you die in floods, others bake to death while the last few starve.

  3. Yes this. I’ve not been a libertarian for many years, more of a georgist now, but regardless of your political views there probably a good argument for mass transit that fits it.

  4. One huge difference between transit and many other social services, such as housing, is that transit is largely what economists term a “nonrival good”.

    What this means is that one person’s decision to ride largely does not prevent others from riding too. This is very important here. When a government benefit is “rival”, it becomes cost-prohibitive for too many people to consume it. Which means, to prevent the service from become cost-prohibitive to offer at all, it must be rationed. Which means Big Government imposing rules and prioritizes as to which people need/deserve the service the most. It is these rules, many of which are somewhat arbitrary, that rankle the libertarian side of me the most, particularly when they start encouraging people to take actions that would ordinary make no sense in order to qualify for the benefit, for example, a person carefully throttling the number of hours they work to keep their income under some arbitrary cutoff to avoid losing a subsidy towards their rent or health insurance. Qualification rules also create considerable red tape/beurocracy as well.

    Transit, on the other hand, has none of these problems. Government simply puts the service out there and gets out of the way, leaving it up to each individual person to decide when, whether, and how they want to ride it. Nobody is ever excluded from riding transit because their income is too high, they’re not disabled, or because the trip they’re taking isn’t deemed “important” enough by the government to be worth subsidizing. Nor does anybody need to go on a long wait list, or even live in the city they are riding it in.

    Of course, the distinction between a universal benefit and a targeted benefit is often grey, not black and white, and public transit is full of these grey areas. There are numerous examples of buses detouring out of the way to serve destinations that are deemed socially important by government officials, even if not many people actually ride to those destinations. Service is allocated to prioritize neighborhoods with higher concentrations of poverty, even if it means less ridership overall. And then, of course, there’s paratransit which has operating costs so high as to actually require rationing (e.g. if you’re not disabled, you can’t ride it, even though there are some destinations where paratransit is the *only* service that goes there at all).

    Ultimately, I think in order for a transit system to have long-term sustainable political support to keep funding it, it needs to be designed first and foremost around maximizing ridership (both total and per taxpayer dollar), with the social-service aspect secondary. People’s willingness to pay higher taxes to fund services for others comes and goes as the political winds change, but people’s willingness to fund services they can envision someday using themselves (or someone they know) has much more staying power. Unfortunately, the county council now seems interested in moving in the backwards direction, talking ad nauseum about “equity” and “climate change”, rather than simply running frequent buses in straight lines down major arterials. It’s gotten to the point where it’s starting to feel that the county council is more interested in virtue signaling to a liberal electorate than actually providing a high quality transit service. If you want transit ridership to rebound and continue to grow, this has got to change.

  5. Yes, the right wing libertarian economist and the left wing green should agree on variable tolling of the limited access highways and cordon tolls in congested central business districts. It could be means tested, but note that transit riders would benefit more than high income auto users oriented to costly parking garages. In London, the tolling improved bus flow. Note such a program should lead to different transit investments. Here, the overly long Link spine would not be necessary, as freeway-based buses could handle long range trips. Link could focus on the dense pedestrian centers with paid parking and strong two-way all-day demand. A Forward Thrust alignment away from I-5 would be great. So, a phantasy paragraph. The libertarian element in the R party has been eclipsed by the Trumpists, so we are in trouble. In dense urban areas, transit has value.

    1. One major disadvantage of freeway busses, at least the way we do them, is they are not insulated from traffic crashes on the freeway, and they have to interact with car traffic to get on and off the freeway and slog down the surface roads to actually serve most neighborhoods and destinations. Unless we build a separate freeway system with dedicated platforms for the busses, but in that case, you might as well just spend the money on a train and avoid all the pollution and blight that comes with it being a freeway. (I’d argue for improving and expanding Sounder as opposed to light rail for these longer distances of ST3, though. We already *have* a rail spine from Everett to Tacoma–and beyond!).

      1. Buses are not insulated from traffic crashes on the freeway, and they have to interact with car traffic to get on and off the freeway and slog down the surface roads to actually serve most neighborhoods and destinations.

        All of these are small problems in the grand scheme of things.

        1. Crashes that involve bus lanes are not that common.
        2. It is common even in Seattle to have buses get on and off the freeway in bus lanes.
        3. Yes, absolutely, buses are bound to have stretches where they travel at the same speed as general traffic. But done right, you avoid the worst sections.
        4. Yes, to build an entirely grade separated bus system is not much cheaper than an entirely grade-separated rail system. But that misses the point.

        By leveraging the existing road system, you can build a system that provides 80% of the benefit, with 20% of the cost. This savings then goes into making the rest of the system better.

        For example, consider RapidRide G (on Madison). This will be the first bus line in Washington State that can be considered BRT. It is not grade separated, but it operates better than many surface rail lines (including ours). It will operate in its own lane for much of the route. For other parts it won’t. But this can be extended at relatively low cost.

        Now imagine if we decided to build rail along the same corridor. It would cost a bundle. As a result, there would be almost immediate cutbacks. You would have half the stops. It couldn’t run as often. Instead of six minutes all-day, it would probably run ten. Even with all those cuts, it would cost a huge amount more than what they are building, and it would be difficult to modify. Yet it would be worse. The distance is such that you gain nothing with wide stop spacing. It would take a lot of extra time to go down to the station. The loss of frequency would be significant. In short, you would get less riders, and they would save less time, despite spending more money. That doesn’t even count the money that could go into making other, complementary routes more frequent.

        Then there are “trunk and branch” systems. A good example is West Seattle. West Seattle is a large, relatively low density area with no major destinations. Its biggest destinations are spread out — Alki, Admiral Junction, Alaska Junction, High Point, South Seattle College, Westwood Village. There are no destinations at all between it and SoDo (itself a minor destination). There is an existing freeway connecting part of that section, along with a busway connecting the rest of it. With a relatively minor investment, a bus could avoid all the traffic from West Seattle to downtown (including getting on the freeway). At that point, you would need to build another transit tunnel (the heart of the open BRT system). This would not be cheap, but it would be a lot cheaper than West Seattle Link (which has a huge, every expensive bridge). It would also be a lot better. The vast majority of riders would not have to transfer. Transit from SoDo to the northern end of the tunnel would be far more frequent (because of the combination of buses).

        There are certain corridors that make more sense for rail than buses. These have a couple key characteristics. They are very high density corridors (that can take advantage of the extra capacity of rail). The tunnel (or elevated line in some cases) can take advantage of the geography and create trip pairs that are much faster than surface travel (to justify the high cost of grade separation). For example, taking a train from the U-District to Capitol Hill is not only faster than a bus, it is faster than taking a cab. At noon. Thousands of people make that trip. Seattle, unfortunately, has only a few corridors that pass the test. Downtown to the UW was clearly one. West Seattle is clearly not.

  6. It’s noble to think of transit in libertarian circles as academically persuasive . I don’t see the concept changing attitudes though.

    I think that there are many in the US that still have such a core racist perspective that they harbor that their dislike of things is traceable to that. Whether it’s fear of non- family members or fear of entire ethnicities, transit requires a more communal lifestyle. It’s anti-segregation by definition.

    I’ve been intrigued about the broader public support for transit in places like Salt Lake City or Portland that are more homogenous. I wonder if the political “stress” of racism would have dampened their enthusiasm and they would be more like other major US cities.

    Why mention this? I don’t see how a libertarian discussion can conquer the “fear” bias of strangers that drive so much of the conservative movement nowadays. So many of the conservative holy grails are mostly fueled by irrational racism sold with fear — immigration suppression, “sanctuary” cities, school choice, police as victims, guns as personal defense, voter suppression that they call fighting perceived (but non-existent) voter fraud, support for candidates who run on platforms of fear of strangers, over-incarceration and many other things. It’s like there is a glowing lighted sign that flashes “we are afraid of and hate strangers” that they follow like moths to a flame.

    I just don’t see how an authentic libertarian argument would get very far with this crowd. These are the same people who locally use the gathering of riff-raff on Third Avenue on a short stretch of sidewalk near a bus stop to demonize all regional bus and rail transit, after all.

    Our ancestors have warred for millennia. It’s always been a major factor in the course of cruel human history.

    Of course, transit is a cheaper per capita societal investment to get around. Unless someone is traveling only a few miles or less, it’s going to sell well to true libertarians. However, I don’t think it’s convincing enough to dissuade the much bigger force of fear-driven bigotry.

    1. You seem to be mixing up non-partisan and “non-biased.” You can be non-partisan and still have a strong opinion. As an example, our upcoming city elections are non-partisan, but the candidates all have strong perspectives.

    2. I’ve seen many endorsements of pro-transit Republicans here. The party affiliation is historically irrelevant for endorsements here.

      If some Republicans want to demonize transit and thus don’t get an endorsement here, saying that it’s because of a “partisan” tint is total BS. It’s instead because their views expressed in direct questionnaire responses or campaign materials are less transit supportive than what STB thinks is needed compared to others.

    3. Population density is heavily correlated with both the efficiency of transit and the Democratic party vote share. Put the two together, it is nearly impossible for a Republican to compete in any electorate that needs or wants a good transit system.

      There used to be exceptions, most notably, Mike Bloomberg, who got elected to mayor of NYC running as a Republican, but his politics are nothing like the Republican party of today, and he poured huge sums of money into the 2020 presidential race, running as a Democrat.

      When I think of transit districts in Republican majority areas, I of agencies like Greys Harbor transit, and struggle to think of anything beyond it. In the 1990’s, when Houston first decided to build light rail, the elected officials at the time were mostly Republicans, but again, times have changed.

      So, even if somebody wants to be a pro transit Republican, they would have to either switch focus to more exurban/rural issues or switch parties to become a Democrat if they want to get elected.

    4. cs seems to believe that “non-partisan” means “supports Republicans because they’re in the minority” [boo-hoo, boo-hoo].

  7. Weyrich asks, “Does transit work?”

    Sure it works, depending on the area.

    Transit thrives in areas with safe streets and dense retail and businesses. Transit doesn’t create those things. You can forget about frequency if the stations, stops and transit are not perceived as safe.

    When you vote in Seattle ask yourself a simple question: Why is the King Co. Courthouse still shut down? It is shut down because the female staff marched through the streets of Seattle to protest the crime, homelessness, and lack of safety after a staff member was raped in a courthouse bathroom by a homeless person living in the park next door, especially when the county wanted to phase out its subsidized parking program and shift staff to transit. Now King Co. believes it will need to purchase the park next to the courthouse because it can’t trust Seattle to keep it safe, and the county can’t have its major courthouse shut down, and without the female staff there is no one to run it.

    Today the Seattle Times ran an article from the Washington Post that has gone nationwide: a woman was raped on a Philadelphia train while the other riders watched and did nothing, and had no empathy afterwards for the victim. The police stated they would “review the surveillance film”.

    Although the article was about the fellow passengers, every woman who reads this article will think she can be raped on a train, let alone while waiting for transit, and transit riders are the kind of callous folks who won’t do anything to help her. Devastating article for transit, especially if like downtown Seattle you already have a reputation among women as unsafe. Our firm after 33 years in Pioneer Square finally decided to move to the eastside, because in this market employers have to go where employees — and women run the systems as the King Co. courthouse proves –are willing to commute to.

    Do I think women on the eastside will ride East Link? Yes, if they have to. Will they take it into Seattle? No. If you don’t understand this you don’t understand the 630, which will have a higher proportion of female riders because women run the medical systems, or why the 550 ridership declined 1/3 when the bus was eliminated from the transit tunnel.

    Women are more fearful and more vulnerable whenever they are out in public. Rape is a life altering crime for them, and their families, and has been described as death without dying. If you have a transit system that women don’t feel safe riding then you have a failed transit system, because employers (and husbands) will move to where they do feel safe.

    King Co. tried to tell female courthouse staff it was safe to return to work, and take transit, but you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do, or thinks is unsafe, unless Dow wants to run the courthouse himself. If Seattle does not fix its homeless and street problem transit will never recover downtown, and the rest of the businesses will move to where the workers are willing to commute to.

    1. “ Transit thrives in areas with safe streets and dense retail and businesses. Transit doesn’t create those things.”

      This is such a silly statement — and I only have to point to Columbia City to illustrate that the converse is actually true. The Columbia City neighborhood is much much safer than it was 15 years ago — and Link light rail’s opening was the major factor in making it safer.

      A logical extension of DT’s 550 logic here would be to conclude that rail transit stations are safer than bus stops in sidewalks are. If that’s the case, then buses like 630 are more dangerous for the women he seems to want to scare than a rail transfer is.

      1. Why is the King Co. Courthouse in downtown Seattle still closed Al. You didn’t answer my simple question. The courthouse in Kent is open. Are these staff members wrong in their fear to work there, or take transit to the courthouse?

        Do you have any evidence light rail made Colombia City safer, or it did get safer. That is a pretty big statement without a cite. Gentrification made Colombia City safer probably, but that began before light rail, and assumes it was the racial minorities who made Colombia City unsafe.

        Are these female staff all wrong, even though they work there, or did. I am not sure you understand women very well.

        Of course light rail stations are seen as safer than a bus stop on a street, if the area is the same, and it is peak hours. That was my whole point about the 550 that went right over your head. It was when the stops for the 550 were removed from DSTT1 and put on put on 4th and 2nd that ridership plunged. Someone taking light rail into downtown Seattle and going to First Hill has to exit that light rail station — even during peak hours — to catch a bus on a Seattle street and then all the way to First Hill. On the 630 that same rider will be dropped off right near their work, and will ride with only fellow medical workers from Mercer Island.

        Mercer Island is safe, and has a fairly vibrant downtown, and it has virtually no transit. In fact the concern is the cost of police when the intercept opens and that crime will go up. Or will you claim East Link made Mercer Island “safer”.

        Stop thinking transit — or just transit mode — changes the world. It doesn’t. It reflects the area it serves. If the area is unsafe few will ride transit. That is a fact.

      2. Do you believe that light rail had nothing to do with the gentrification of Columbia City, Daniel? Oh that’s too wild for words!

      3. So Al, did the Central District gentrify because of light rail? Or Ballard? SLU? Or Madison Park? Leschi? Is downtown Bellevue’s growth due to light rail. No, they gentrified because they are the closest areas to downtown Seattle that could be gentrified. They gentrified because of the new wealth and incomes that came to downtown Seattle due to the tech industry, and all the employment it spawned. It is why there are many areas along Link from Seattle to SeaTac that have not gentrified. Ironically Bellevue’s growth is due to the issues I raise about downtown Seattle.

        Colombia City had pretty good bus service to Seattle and surrounding regions for a long time. I was born in Seattle in 1959 and have basically lived or worked here all my life. Neighborhoods gentrify when there is wealth, and that wealth makes closer in areas too expensive so the developers and workers move outwards. It is why I have tried to point out over and over that developers look for distressed neighborhoods and housing to buy and replace with new, unaffordable housing. That is why gentrification happened first in The Central District because it is closest, then Leschi, then places like Colombia City.

        Light rail could have passed Colombia City by and it still would have gentrified.

      4. I had occasion to catch the 550 Saturday night at about 6:30 PM at 2nd/Seneca. The bus stop was quite dark, and the area deserted. I was very glad to not be waiting there more than a minute or two. On this, Daniel Thompson has a point.

        But, the solution is not run routes like the 630. It’s to fix the issues regarding why people feel unsafe waiting downtown for a bus in the first place. This means better street lights, a stronger police presence, and ideally, some restaurants and residential housing in more of downtown to create more eyes on the street after dark. Belltown has all of the above and felt perfectly safe walking through there after dark. 2nd/Seneca doesn’t.

        All that said, without a 630, someone going home from first hill wouldn’t need to wait anywhere after dark except for first hill and the downtown transit tunnel. It is inconsistent to say the when the 550 was in the tunnel, it was safe to wait there, yet waiting in the exact same tunnel station for a Link train is somehow unsafe.

      5. The 630 serves only people going from First Hill to Mercer Island. The 550 serves people going from all over Seattle to Mercer Island, because almost all the other Seattle buses transfer to it.

      6. “But, the solution is not run routes like the 630. It’s to fix the issues regarding why people feel unsafe waiting downtown for a bus in the first place. This means better street lights, a stronger police presence, and ideally, some restaurants and residential housing in more of downtown to create more eyes on the street after dark. Belltown has all of the above and felt perfectly safe walking through there after dark. 2nd/Seneca doesn’t.”

        I agree with you asdf2. Ideally a worker on First Hill would want to transfer to downtown Seattle to shop or have a drink after work if the frequency was there. Street safety and vibrancy affects all transit. You are a pretty savvy transit rider and urbanist, and a man. If you felt a little concerned waiting for a bus on 2nd and Seneca (which is better than 2nd and Jackson) in the daylight then you can understand how an eastside woman feels waiting in the dark.

        Re: the 630 I also think its existence has to do with an unwillingness to transfer AFTER taking Link. I plan to ask the city of Mercer Island why it is subsidizing the 630, although I have no objection.

        When the 550 used the transit tunnel during peak times eastside workers thought it was safe. It was only when it was removed from the tunnel, and the stops placed at 4th Ave., and more importantly 2nd Ave. going back, that ridership dropped off.

        I don’t think an eastside commuter would have safety concerns using DSTT1 when East Link opens, at least during peak times. Pre-pandemic it was usual among law firms to get an Uber for any staff who stayed after 6 pm. But one of the draws for employers in the past was that Seattle was an exciting city to shop and dine in after work. We like to live in boring suburbia, but prefer to dine and shop someplace exciting.

        A Joy called me a racist for raising this issue. But here is a photo of the march by King Co. Courthouse employees. Three of the four women marching in the photo are African American. Women safety is not a racial issue, or shouldn’t be.

        This is a good video as well.

      7. I wouldn’t ever suggest that Madison Park, Ballard and Leschi had the level of decline that Columbia City did. Even in their worst years, they’ve been pretty nice areas.

        Besides, gentrification happens for multiple reasons. That doesn’t prove that light rail was not a factor in Columbia City’s case. To demonstrate this, there are other parts of SE Seattle and neighborhoods just beyond the city limits that have not gentrified much — partly because they are too far from light rail.

        To be fair, upzoning in Columbia City helped too. It made it possible for a larger developer to pencil out redeveloping parcels into new MF housing. It helped put townhomes where tiny homes stood. That affected the market.

        A mostly built-out city doesn’t add 120,000 residents in 10 years without massive real estate economics consequences. Certainly city growth is a major factor. However, the redevelopment of Columbia City is much higher than Hillman City or South Beacon Hill, the areas with frequent bus transit service and adjacent to Columbia City. These last two areas are way more comparable to Columbia City than Madison Park or Ballard is.

      8. Route 630 and its type are strategic and tactical mistakes. I hope it is deleted soon and the hours better used. Little buses running one-way service have no place on I-90 today, let alone with Link.

    2. “If you have a transit system that women don’t feel safe riding then you have a failed transit system, because employers (and husbands) will move to where they do feel safe.”

      Thank goodness we don’t have such a system then. As someone who is no man, I have no fear when it comes to riding transit (even our Night Owl busses), walking past the courthouse, or even going the park adjacent to it.

      Your fear mongering is tired, classist, and looking at the disproportionate numbers within Seattle and King County’s homeless, racist, sexist and ableist as well.

      1. Yes A Joy, but you don’t work. Despite your posts about dancing until 4 am, and walking long distances dressed to the nines as a Goth, and taking buses at night and all around Seattle and walking miles, and never being afraid, and being an erudite writer and having plenty of time to post, you state you are permanently and totally disabled and can’t find any work, anywhere, and need 0% AMI housing that I suppose you want me to subsidize.

        I am talking about folks who work, every day, downtown, and help run this city. Not dancing. Not partying. Folks who have options, one of which is to refuse to return to work.

        The people you are really calling classist and racist and “ableist” and every other tired cliché are the workers in the King Co. Courthouse — most of whom are female — who refuse to return to work there. They don’t give a shit about what you think. You are about the only woman I have ever heard say they feel perfectly safe taking public transit alone late at night. It is such a ludicrous statement it undermines all your credibility.

        They don’t think it is safe to work in the courthouse, or to take transit there, and without them the courthouse can’t run. That is why they marched through the streets. Same with our firm trying to get staff to commute to Pioneer Square. Unless you are a paralegal and are willing to work five days/week.

        You might disagree with them, but they work, and we need them, to run courthouses, hospitals, law firms, and just about everything else so we can support those who don’t work.

      2. You are about the only woman I have ever heard say they feel perfectly safe taking public transit alone late at night. It is such a ludicrous statement it undermines all your credibility.

        Dan can’t believe a woman would feel safe on transit, and says it undermines her credibility as a woman. Incredible.

      3. “dancing until 4 am, and walking long distances dressed to the nines as a Goth, and taking buses at night and all around Seattle and walking miles, and never being afraid, and being an erudite writer and having plenty of time to post, you state you are permanently and totally disabled and can’t find any work, anywhere, and need 0% AMI housing that I suppose you want me to subsidize.

        I am talking about folks who work, every day, downtown, and help run this city. Not dancing. Not partying. Folks who have options, one of which is to refuse to return to work.”

        You’re missing the point. Assuming that parts of Seattle are distinctly unsafe, they would be more unsafe at the times I am out and about than they would be when those 9 to 5 workers are. If things are a problem during peak hours, wouldn’t they be a bigger problem from midnight to 4am, when there are less eyes on the street?

        “The people you are really calling classist and racist and “ableist” and every other tired cliché are the workers in the King Co. Courthouse — most of whom are female —”

        Again, you miss the point. The homeless in Seattle are disproportionately minorities, LGBTQIA+, and disabled. The transgender community in particular is over an order of magnitude overrepresented. So to paint the homeless as criminals and rapists is indeed a racist, ableist, and sexist statement. Regardless of who is making that statement.

        “You are about the only woman I have ever heard say they feel perfectly safe taking public transit alone late at night.”

        You need to get more women in your social circles then.

      4. Oh Good God, that is your argument? A Joy’s experience, as one of the most vulnerable people in the city, means nothing because it is safer at 2:00 AM than during working hours? Seriously? That is ridiculous.

        A woman and/or sexual minority is most likely to encounter a violent crime — especially by a stranger — after work hours. If someone feels safe late at night, they sure as hell feel safe commuting to work, where they have strength in numbers (and far fewer drunk assholes looking to cause trouble).

      5. DT;
        It should surprise nobody that women don’t feel safe in cities. Surveys I have seen say the vast majority of women don’t feel safe in their own workplaces.

        You still haven’t provided any solutions to any of this, other than to keep doing what we’ve been doing for the last 50 years. It obviously hasn’t worked, since we are where we are.

      6. Glenn, at least you recognize the problem. I wish I had the solutions, but I am not running for office. Other cities in the 1970’s that were racked with crime were able to deal with the issue, and usually those cities then flourished. Cities with very progressive approaches like Seattle and Portland seem to have the biggest problems, although I can’t explain why.

        As an individual, or individual firm, I can only make decisions that are best for me, my family, and my firm. I have no control over Seattle policy. I already live on the eastside, my daughter chose an out of state university over the UW when everyone in my family has attended the UW since the 1940’s (with out-of-state tuition) because she did not like the surrounding areas at the UW, and our firm will be moving to the eastside in the next month or two.

        It isn’t like I don’t like Seattle. I was born here, and have a lovely office I have been in since 1990. I used to really like heading out for a drink after work in Pioneer Square, especially since I live in suburbia.

        It just wasn’t right for my firm to insist eastside staff take public transit to Pioneer Square to our office, especially with Weyerhaeuser choosing to not open its new Pioneer Square headquarters due to unsafe conditions, all the reported crime in the park across from The Smith Tower, and the King Co. courthouse workers marching in the street.

        We subsidized parking for our staff, but there is no onsite underground parking for our building (or most of Pioneer Square) so staff still had to walk to and from our building, and soon it will be dark after work.

        In the end it became moot because since the pandemic it has become an employee’s market. I am sure there are dozens of law firms on the eastside advertising for legal staff. We could not get anyone to commute to our office, especially women, and they tend to make up the bulk of the legal staff. Even our clients were not keen on coming to our office once everyone was vaccinated.

        The reality is crime rarely affects those with money, or those who can move. It affects the poor, people of color, women, and the working class disproportionately because they cannot afford to move. I think some on this blog miss that point, because they want crime to be a classist issue.

      7. “You’ve repeated this lurid rape story at least four times with way too much schadenfreude toward Seattle.

        “This begs the question of whether you have a bit of “fascination” with it.”

        Tom Terrific, you are better than this. Rape is not a joke or a way to make a transit point. It is not sexual. It is aggravated assault and battery. You need to take rape more seriously. The moderator should have removed this comment. It struck a nerve in every women in Pioneer Square when a King Co. staff member can be raped inside the courthouse, just like the rape on the Philadelphia train touched a nerve.

        This post is from Ross:

        “Oh Good God, that is your argument? A Joy’s experience, as one of the most vulnerable people in the city, means nothing because it is safer at 2:00 AM than during working hours? Seriously? That is ridiculous.”

        Wasn’t it Ross who on several occasions has claimed that A Joy was such a troll she must be a “bot”. Now he rushes to defend a “vulnerable” bot.

        I think Ross missed the point A Joy tried to make: A Joy feels no fear anywhere in the city or on transit at any hour of the day, even though asdf2 was very uncomfortable waiting for a bus at 6:30 at 2nd and Seneca in the evening (daylight). A Joy’s claims sometimes are so far fetched they do come across as trolling, but I doubt she is a bot.

        A Joy is so consumed with wealth and other clichés she misses the inconsistency in her argument: yes disadvantaged groups like the LGBQT community, women, and minorities, have higher risk on the streets of Seattle, but does that then mean an eastside female nurse or paralegal does not? Nurses and paralegals are disproportionally female.

        A Joy expresses concern for the safety of disadvantaged communities on the streets in Seattle, and among the tent communities, but then seems shocked that an eastside female nurse or paralegal would feel the same fear standing on the same street corner waiting for a bus.

        If there is one point I have tried to make it is you can’t “injure” the wealthy with transit or crime. First they don’t take transit. And how can unsafe streets in Seattle affect the wealthy? They simply move to areas without crime (although there are property crimes), and naturally those areas without the crime become too expensive except for the wealthy.

        A Joy wants to make crime a “classist” argument (another fancy progressive term), and she is correct. Of course crime affects individuals based on where they live and work and how much money they make, because it is the poor and working poor who can’t move away and are the overwhelming victims of crime, by other poor people.

        Some like Ross think they will shoot for the moon and create a socialist utopia, although he is around 150 years late (Das Kapital was published in 1867), whereas the poor would simply appreciate safer streets and transit, or even better a ticket to a safe place. This is what happens when comfortable middle class and upper middle class people on a transit blog think they speak for the poor. They make about themselves, instead of the poor, and since so much of it is self-virtue they like to compare themselves to someone they think is wealthier than they are, and so must be a worse person, when that wealthy person isn’t even paying attention.

        You want people to ride transit now that the commuter is no longer a transit slave. Make them WANT to ride transit. That means safe streets, safe trains, stations, and buses, it means women on the street, which means shops and bars and restaurants, which will bring back the downtown worker. No one is going to ride transit to a dead downtown covered in homeless tents when they can either drive or take transit east.

        Fix the fundamental problem and you will fix transit because people will want to take transit, rather than having to, because those abusive days are gone. Uber, WFH, subsidized parking, driving, working on the eastside, the 630, people and the market will always find an alternative if you provide them with a crummy service.

      8. “A Joy expresses concern for the safety of disadvantaged communities on the streets in Seattle, and among the tent communities, but then seems shocked that an eastside female nurse or paralegal would feel the same fear standing on the same street corner waiting for a bus.”

        Wait, what? My concern is that we are not doing enough to help and support the homeless. I would be ecstatic if an Eastside female nurse or paralegal shared that same compassion. There’s no fear involved for me. I consider the homeless part of my community and social circle. Why would I fear them?

        I also take issue with your claim that Eastside nurses are afraid to go into Seattle. See, I too have nurses in my family. And they say the problem is a lack of competitive wages. They can (and do) make more per hour working at Eastside nursing homes or as school nurses throughout the county. Seattle simply doesn’t pay as much, so there’s no interest in working there.

    3. Is the courthouse closed downtown? I see no information that it is closed. There is some information that operations are modified due to covid, but that’s it.

    4. You’ve repeated this lurid rape story at least four times with way too much schadenfreude toward Seattle.

      This begs the question of whether you have a bit of “fascination” with it.

      1. It gets better. The suspect wasn’t chronically homeless. They had gotten out of jail less than a week prior. So DT is attacking a group that had nothing to do with the example being used to malign them.

  8. The first link is a good Channel 13 report. The second link notes the downtown county courthouse is closed to most in person use, and the a project is under way to move most of the administration to another site. The other links are to articles about the march. The law library is closed, and the Dept. of licensing, and most court functions although there may be some skeleton staff. (note three of four county employees in the photo are African American despite A Joy calling them racist).

    1. Reading comprehension, again: The Administration Building is closed for a budget-saving project (announced September 2020) of moving KC DNRP staff to permanent WFH and consolidating other staff to other buildings in in downtown.

      So, no, the Courthouse isn’t closed, but many workers are still working remotely for various reasons, primarily pandemic-related social distancing and budget saving measures.


    Here Nathan. This is one of hundreds of articles and studies discussing fears women have riding transit alone, or just being in the dark alone. This is not a novel issue.

    The courthouse staff did not march to protest a project to relocate the administration functions. The administration building and the courthouse are separate buildings. The Kent courthouse is open but not the downtown courthouse, and this closure pre-dated Covid. The move to permanent WFH for courthouse staff or relocating them is due to safety concerns that have led these staff to refuse to return to the courthouse, especially without subsidized parking like King Co. was providing.

    A courthouse under the sixth amendment needs in person trials, hearings, jurors, and so on. Right now there is a huge backlog in criminal trials, which unfortunately is leading to bail-less release pending the ability to try a case, which hast to be in Kent now. You can’t really have trial without jurors.

  10. TND might be willing to pay some or all of the cost of an electric railway to serve their development, just as they did 100 years ago. Remember, doing things the way we did them 100 years ago is, from a conservative perspective, good.

    Great read of a previous post. The boot for developers back then was they were owning the electricity monopoly to the areas that the SC served; the catenary was both power to the SC and a distribution network. They also largely owned the power production (not carbon neutral) so it was a two’fer.

  11. Because transit is a monopoly, and especially because it relies on taxpayer money, it deserves deep scrutiny vs. the blank check that STB and other “transit at all costs” advocates routinely give them. To do that, however, one must bypass the considerable public relations machines that a couple of the transit agencies in this region have built up to ensure that “their” story gets into the public discourse rather than the truth. One example would be that U-Link was on time and on budget, which was “their” story that few challenged. Another example is the sales pitch for ST-3, while hiding their oversight committee’s thoughtful recommendations that were sent to sit in an Indiana Jones-type warehouse somewhere rather than seeing the light of day. Another example is calling an agency “well run” based on awards they’ve successfully maneuvered for. A better approach on the last point would be to review the organizational chart to see how top-heavy these agencies are. For instance, Everett Transit runs an incredibly lean operation, with a single director. As a result, their cost per revenue mile (the distance their buses travel with passengers) is lower than the surrounding agency.

    In the 1960s and 1970s, it was a common sight to see a VW bus or other vehicle with a bumper sticker stating “Question Authority.” It is always wise to do so, as headlines remind us frequently, with stories of deceit and fiscal irresponsibility and almost never ones of being upfront and “coming clean.”

    BTW, I’m not a new highway proponent, but a more-efficient highway proponent. I favor items such as improving major interchanges, the source of daily backups, and direct access lanes to minimize the weaving and bus reliability, such as what happens at Ash Way/164th on a regular basis.

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