Bruce Nourish joins me to discuss a bunch of stuff.

  • (0:00) Hot takes on the election; we basically agree on all issues and then vote in opposite ways. Warning: we go way off-topic beyond transit and land use, to where we probably know less than you do. So skip ahead if this will just irritate you.
  • (32:15) On STB’s long hiatus this year
  • (35:10) Transit advocacy and journalism in 2021 (Katie Wilson’s fares op-ed)
  • (46:00) Martin and Bruce’s pet issues going forward (Martin’s misinterpreted legislative agenda piece)

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14 Replies to “Podcast #101: My Betrayal of All That is Good”

  1. Very good podcast, guys. Nice to hear some of the Blog’s voices once again.

    Re: Amtrak Cascades discussion near the end.

    I would argue that the Vancouver, BC-Seattle portion of the corridor is ripe for the type of “incremental” upgrades that you discussed. Yes, getting to true (~300km/h) HSR will require an almost completely new alignment between our cities. However, I feel there’s a decent amount of ‘little things’ that could be done to shave off 10-20 minute increments from the current schedule.

    As of Amtrak’s 2019 schedule, VAC-SEA is about 4 hours, and that definitely includes some indeterminate amount of padding. Through targeted interventions, if you could get that travel time down to say 3-hours, or even 2.5-hours, suddenly you’re competitive with driving even at non-HSR speeds (especially when you include potential border waits). Plus, post-East Link, Vancouver and Seattle will have extensive rapid transit networks that will allow a majority of inter-city travelers to eschew with private vehicles on either end of the trip. I believe that this outcome is within the realm of possibility, and could be accomplished without having to spend $XX billion on a completely new HSR system by simply putting dollars into what we already have.

    There is a big “but” hanging over this, and that’s that a lot of the room to shave minutes off the schedule is on the Canadian side of the border (where I’m writing from today). The crawl along the White Rock waterfront, the rail congestion with freight trains accessing Point Roberts, the 117-year-old (!) single-tracked New Westminster Bridge, and the single-tracked Grandview Cut where passenger trains on final approach to Pacific Central Station have to compete with endless container trains to/from Canada’s busiest port. Southbound, there’s the “secondary inspection” stop at Peace Arch that eats up precious time, but I recall that seemed to finally be on the way out pre-COVID. And don’t get me started about how spartan and unwelcoming the platform at Pacific Central can be on a cold and wet PNW winter night.

    The cross-border nature of this issue obviously limits WSDOT’s direct ability to make change, and would almost maybe even shift it into the Governor’s office (?) to advocate to the Government of British Columbia and the BC Ministry of Transportation to put in the money to get those small time savings north of the border. But I promise, from my POV here in Vancouver, this is a discussion the Horgan government would be willing to listen to as it tries to restart BC’s tourism sector, and grow the economic links between BC and Washington – especially in the eco-conscious tech sector.

    In 2009, in order to get two daily VAC-SEA trains running for the 2010 Olympics, we had to build a new siding in Delta, BC and get the Canadian government to waive the customs fees for processing the extra passengers. At the time, that felt like a herculean task, but it got done. If our governments collaborated once, we can do it again as some sort framework obviously exists.

    It’s been nearly 20-months since the last Cascades train ran between Vancouver and Seattle. The Canadian land border has been open to fully-vaccinated non-essential travelers since August; the US land border is set to do the same in just four days. Greyhound is re-starting cross-border bus service. If the bus company can do that, how much more difficult can it be for Cascades to resume? I suppose BNSF might be uncooperative, having enjoyed the extra slots on its tracks, but that cannot be insurmountable, can it?

    While it sucks that trains have been suspended this long, when service resumes, we can use the ‘reboot’ to renew the focus on improving this service into something that fulfills its potential. I think that can be accomplished through refreshed province-state cooperation and targeted improvements that won’t cost the billions that an all-new HSR service would cost. If you can spend $500 million and get a result that’s 75% as good as spending $50 billion, that’s a deal I take every day.

    I’ve been kicking around the idea of writing something for Page Two about Cascades service from a Canadian perspective for a while. Maybe this comment will get the ink flowing on my end, haha!

      1. Thank you. The task is to stress to WSDOT the need to get their consultants to put the fundamentals of excellent service into their new Service Development Plan – to see its merits and revive those efforts – not delay endlessly with studies that do nothing.

    1. I’ve ridden the train to Bellingham a couple of times. Seems like every time, the train gets stuck waiting for another Amtrak to pass in the opposite direction. It’s not sexy, but simply adding double tracking in more places would help a lot.

      There’s also the issue that the fares are quite high. Even as somebody who did not have a car, the last time I rode, I paid about 80% in train fares of what it would have cost to rent a car, pay for gas, and drive myself. That’s not much of a savings. When traveling in groups of two or more, there’s a huge financial incentive to drive, even for those who would prefer not to. Somehow, the fares have to go down to attract more riders.

      1. These go together. It costs money to improve the rail line, but once you do, it is more reliable and faster, which means it costs less to carry riders.

      2. It’s not getting stuck, it’s a timed meet, usually just south of Mt Vernon. It sucks but you can’t do much about it when there’s so much single track.

  2. Thanks for the podcast, it’s great to hear from you all again. I also really appreciate your viewpoints on the election – it’s easy to get stuck in an echo chamber, and hearing reasonable tradeoffs for specific candidates is a very helpful way to think about the results.

    One thing: the podcast feed does not seem to be updated with the latest episode. doesn’t show this episode, and neither did my Android podcast app pointed to The feedburner site shows the episode, but it seems to just not parse correctly Possibly because there’s no “enclosure” tag/link to the mp3 in the entry for this episode?

    1. In recent years, many of the people advocating for and running transit have pivoted away from the message of transit as a service for everyone, and into a social justice message, about how it’s all about the poor, BIPOC, etc. I very much appreciate this blog’s efforts to counteract that message and advocate the point of view that transit should simply focus on serving as many riders as possible and not go overboard as to which specific riders are most important. After all, if the masses are served, the BIPOC, or whatever group is fashionable at the moment, communities are served automatically.

      At an EastLink restructure open house, for example, they began the discussion with a big spiel about equity, which essentially made me feel that, since I wasn’t poor, disabled, or BIPOC, my opinions were automatically worthless.

      I believe these types of attitudes directly lead to worse service. They encourage routes that have loopy detours that nobody rides because some advocate (who doesn’t understand or ride transit) for some priority group pushes for it. They also encourage service hours to be allocated between neighborhoods based on how many people who live in the area check the social equity box, rather than actual ridership. We saw this in the northgate Link restructure, where north Seattle essentially got screwed over for not being BIPOC enough.

      It is also true that having transit viewed as a service for only specific classes of people leaves it politically vulnerable to service cuts when the political winds shift right, as they seem to now be doing. By contrast, the New York subway just keeps going and going, essentially immune to short term politics, and has continued to run under both democratic and republican administrations for the past 100 years.

      When government services are used by the middle class (e.g. Medicare, social security, roads, airports, public schools), they have staying power. When government services are targeted exclusively at the poor (medicaid, food stamps, public housing), they are always starved of resources and having to beg for money.

      I support a vision where transit is in the former group, not the latter group, and I appreciate STB for advocating the same, when so many other groups advocating transit have gone the opposite.

  3. Good podcast, guys.

    As another former/occasional writer… Bruce could have been talking from my brain when he said “I’m basically a single-issue voter on housing.” There is no question Nikkita Oliver is well to my left on a wide variety of issues. I’m not remotely convinced at this point by the abolitionist point of view—and, honestly, traffic and streets are a major part of why. I’m also not lined up on the approach to small business, although I agree with them on taxing bigger businesses and wealthy individuals. But I voted for them without any reservations because they are so much better on both housing and homelessness than Sara Nelson. And that’s a theme; our centrists have been absolutely terrible on housing for quite a few years now. They’ve pushed my voting record considerably to the left.

    I’m better aligned with Mosqueda and González; meanwhile, Bruce Harrell has a solidly consistent 12-year record of seat-warming, and Ken Wilson is a Froot Loop. So those votes were easy.

    I feel that people voting for Davison in the NTK vs. Davison race don’t actually know what the city attorney does or tune into what the candidates are saying. NTK has been very clear that she wouldn’t have lived up to her “radical” label in running the civil division of the office, which represents most of its staff and budget. In fact, she’s advocated for an approach that’s pretty much the same as Pete Holmes’s. It’s only in the criminal division where she’s advocating for change, and the change she’s advocating sounds bigger than it is; we already don’t prosecute most misdemeanors. Meanwhile, Ann Davison is a person who became a Republican during Trump’s 2020 campaign. You don’t get out of that by claiming you voted for Biden. You voluntarily adopted the GOP label at a time when the GOP is controlled lock, stock, and barrel by Trump. Beyond the Trumpism, she has no idea what the city attorney does, and keeps promising to do things that aren’t in the office’s power. She’s going to be a disaster and NTK, whatever you think of her tweets or her ideology, would have been much better at the job.

    1. If progressives or urbanists are going to get public support for affordable housing they will need to articulate: 1. Why; and 2. How.

      If the why is “equity” or racism even though redlining has been outlawed since 1968 that won’t fly, mainly because Black citizens are most opposed to upzoning because it leads to white gentrification, and doesn’t create affordable housing.

      If the why is affordable housing, the key there is what is “affordable” housing. The AMI for Seattle is $103,000, which means a single person with 100% AMI income can afford around $2600/month to live alone. Is that an issue in Seattle? No of course not. It is the high AMI that is causing high housing costs.

      If we are talking about 30% to 50% AMI then the cost of the housing has to be much lower than market, unless the person doesn’t have to live alone, a new progressive requirement. Apparently poor citizens can’t share a kitchen or bathroom.

      There is rent control like St. Paul just passed. The three problems with rent control are it creates two tiers of tenants depending on how long you have lived in the rent controlled unit, it decreases rental housing stock, and when the rent no longer covers the property maintenance and costs (especially in a state that relies primarily on property taxes) the property falls into disrepair and the neighborhood declines.

      There is public subsidies, but Seattle does not have the money, and government construction is almost twice the cost of private construction. Too bad we spent our wad on light rail for the middle class.

      Upzoning is great if the goal is to create $800,000 row houses, and a bunch of unaffordable new construction in neighborhoods with poor transit service. The problem is most voters see upzoning as housing envy, and know it won’t work but may ruin their SFH neighborhood. So they always vote no on upzoning, especially Black voters.

      And converting a SFH lot into multi-family with separate kitchens and bathrooms for each unit creates very little additional housing.

      Is there another painless solution? No. Sorry. It is public subsidies like ARCH which begins with cheap land and transit service, or nothing. Or God forbid moving to a Seattle neighborhood south of Yesler.

      I don’t think it helps progressives to run nuts for office. The fact is housing wasn’t an issue in Seattle elections. Crime and public safety were. No one gave a shit about Thomas-Kennedy’s ability to run the civil division (zilch). And those two issues will always be the only issues in any campaign if they are issues, except maybe education in suburbia.

      The voters will never get to affordable housing (it transit) if crime and public safety are issues, and when they do get to affordable housing they will want realistic options that actually work, even if expensive.

      1. Thanks Sam. The real divide is East/west Lake Washington in your map.

        The crazy thing is the two key issues for elections on the Eastside were .. . drum roll … crime and public safety, which boiled down to we don’t want to become Seattle.

        Is that a little hysterical? Maybe, but as I have pointed out before the Eastside is very female oriented. Asdf2 might visit Seattle occasionally, but my wife use to buy $400/week in groceries from Eastside stores (until the last kid just left for college).

        Plus a dash of CRT and don’t screw with our SFH zoning.

        I am rooting for Seattle. As long as crime and public safety are the key issues progressives and urbanists will be treated like the problem.

        If elected leaders can’t provide safe streets and parks and school grounds the electorate will move as far right as they have to until they elect someone who will.

        Is Harrell that person? No, I think Seattle will need someone several clicks to the right, and whoever that is will be popular, but anti every progressive policy.

        Youngkin is the rich, warm, caring, soft, suburban Republican, but he heralds a 2022 of some hard piping Republicans.

      2. The Virginia governor’s race always goes to the opposite party of whoever just got elected to the White House. Why is Younkin any more meaningful than any other year?

      3. It’s not the case that the VA Governor’s race always goes to the opposite party. It’s also a misconception that VA was ever a Red State that turned purple. Younkin’s victory was news because 1) he came from being about 10 pts down in the polls against a former Governor and 2) just a year ago the State went overwhelmingly for Biden. This shows there is a big swing vote in VA and people were more anti Trump than pro Biden.

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