Announcing Our First Fundraising Drive

Link 155 at SODO Station
Photo by SounderBruce on Flickr

For over 8 years, Seattle Transit Blog has been an independent, award-winning resource for helping tens of thousands of people in our region understand and take action on local transportation issues.

In addition to providing a top-notch community for enthusiasts, we’ve helped push real policy changes around the region, including ST2, expanding ORCA access, transit-oriented re-zoning, and operational improvements to bus service. Now it’s time to take our work to the next level. Today we’re announcing a fundraising drive to hire a paid part-time reporter to augment our all-volunteer staff, and we need your help.

Between now and the end of 2016, our region will face a series of critical choices – how to expand bus service, where to build light rail, and what role the city should play in funding capital and operations. There will be public votes on Move Seattle Forward, a housing levy and, as of this week, Sound Transit expansion.

We want to give our readers a view into the coming months and years like only STB can. We want to help you make informed decisions about where to live, what to ride, and how to participate in the public debate. You’ll be on the front lines with us as we look at infrastructure projects, talk to elected officials, weigh the pros and cons of new transit service, and think about how our growing region should move over the next 20 years.

Our reporter will:

  • Cover public hearings and events that we all can’t get to, keeping you up to date with what’s happening and how to take action.
  • Provide in-depth coverage of the maze of new transit spending coming up, from Move Seattle to Sound Transit 3 to expanded Seattle bus service.
  • Interview top officials to get more of your questions and ideas in front of key decision makers
  • Cover the transformational changes coming to the suburbs along with light rail, from Federal Way to Lynnwood to Bellevue

Our current volunteer staff isn’t going away. This new reporter will amp up our current efforts. It’s STB, but more.

Please consider giving to our campaign using the donate button below. All donors will receive a monthly insider newsletter, letting you know what we’re working on and what’s coming in the future.

It’s an exciting time to be thinking and talking about Seattle’s transit future, and we hope you’ll support us for the ride.





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Senate Ransoms Transit; House Voting Today

Less than 10 hours after the public received details about the state legislature’s transportation package, the Senate approved it. By the time you read this, the House’s vote will be imminent. Governor Inslee is a party to the deal and unlikely to veto any section of it. We’re not ones to lament lack of process — a good bill is a good bill even without public comment, and a bad one is bad even with it — but the lack of time to even digest the legislation, much less mobilize around it, is breathtaking.

We’re left with only the opportunity to reflect on what is about to become law. The basic highway/transit tradeoff was probably inevitable, because our allegedly climate-focused Governor either doesn’t grasp or doesn’t care about the link between highways and carbon emissions, and therefore fought hard for the highways. We were ready to grudgingly accept that deal, partly because some of the highway projects were at least defensible from a transit advocate’s perspective. But the additional stipulations are too onerous to accept.

First, there’s a further $500m subsidy of drivers by taking tax revenue from the general fund — from schools, state parks, health care, social services, public safety and all the other things the State does — and give it to WSDOT through a new sales tax exemption.

To raise the Sound Transit 3 revenue authority from $11 billion to $15 billion, the State will claim over $500m of that ST revenue, intended for transit, in addition to having Sound Transit forfeit virtually all state grants (already pathetically behind other urbanized states). So this last $4 billion of taxes will purchase perhaps $3 billion of transit. The $500m replaces the $500m WSDOT exemption, a barely obscured transfer of regional transit funds to statewide highways.

And then there’s the provision banning low-carbon fuel standards, which shows that Senate Republicans care so little about non-car modes of transportation that they will gleefully use its funding as a hostage.

In the short term, there’s little we can do about these bills. Perhaps there will be an initiative or referendum to target one or more package elements. A good target would be SSB 5990, the sales tax exemption, a straight giveaway to construction contractors and to WSDOT, the single state agency doing the most to aggravate the climate problems that are already damaging our state’s economy, at the expense of everything else the State does to serve its citizens.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, and Brent White.

November 2014 Election Endorsements

Here are STB’s endorsements for the November election. We’ve already written about our support for Seattle Transportation Proposition 1 (more bus service) and rejection of Seattle Citizen Petition 1 (monorail planning).

As always, our endorsements are entirely the product of a candidate’s positions and record on transit and land use. We endorse only in races where one candidate has exceptional strengths or exceptional weaknesses relative to their opponent.

The editorial board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, Matthew Johnson, and Brent White.

State Senate

Marko Liias
Marko Liias

21st District: Sen. Marko Liias has long been an ardent transit advocate, as Vice Chair of the House Transportation Committee, and now on the Senate Transportation Committee. He was the lone voice of firm opposition on the committee when Sen. Bob Hasegawa sponsored his ridiculous bill to force Sound Transit to subsidize car ownership around train stations. If retained, Liias would be in an excellent position to replace retiring Sen. Tracey Eide as the top Democrat on the Senate Transportation Committee.

Pramila Jayapal

37th District: In Seattle races, almost everyone is for transit funding and the real discriminator is land use. Pramila Jayapal, running for the seat of the retiring Adam Kline, had the right answer on the crucially important North Rainier rezone. Her opponent didn’t.

Matt Isenhower
Matt Isenhower

45th District: Matt Isenhower told us he supports expanded ST3 authority for Sound Transit.  He also wants to increase the share of the state transportation budget spent on public transit, since our state is  near worst in the nation on state transit funding. His opponent has ignored multiple opportunities to tell us his position on transportation issues. As one of the few possible Democratic pickups this year, this race could determine if ST3 is on the ballot in 2016.

Cyrus Habib

48th District: Rep. Cyrus Habib was one of the rare state legislators who endorsed King County Proposition 1 last spring. In fact, he campaigned pretty hard for it. Now, he is running for the state senate seat being vacated by Sen. Rodney Tom. For Habib, transit isn’t just an issue. It’s an essential part of daily living. There is nothing like having a bus rider in the senate to put transit front and center, and Mr. Habib can make the case in business terms that many senators understand.

State House

Jake Fey
Jake Fey

27th, Pos. 2: Rep. Jake Fey was a positive voice on both the Pierce Transit and Sound Transit Boards while in other elected positions. He is too enthusiastic about extending Highway 167, but that is understandable for a Tacoma Representative. Most importantly, we expect him to be the most effective advocate for ST3 from Pierce County.

Joe Fitzgibbon
Joe Fitzgibbon

34th, Pos. 2: Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon wrote a piece on transit following the defeat of King County Proposition 1 this past spring. He led the fight on Governor Inslee’s climate change task force to include transportation in any carbon pricing scheme. He has worked hard to make sure Washington’s regional mobility grants go to the projects that rank highest according to objective criteria, rather than spread around to well-connected rural districts where neither need for transit nor acceptance of taxes is as great.

Jessyn Farrell

46th, Pos. 2: Rep. Jessyn Farrell is a Transportation Choices Coalition veteran who remains engaged on local transportation issues, such as the selection of new SDOT director Scott Kubly. She is a reliable vote to support alternatives to the car. More importantly, she is one of three vice chairs of the House Transportation Committee.

Ross Hunter

48th, Pos. 1: Rep. Ross Hunter has a reputation as a numbers guy, and that aptitude leads him to understand the geometry that demands both more density and more transit investment. His opponent is running to “expose” the “debacle” of light rail.

Joan McBride
Joan McBride

48th, Pos. 2: Joan McBride mentions funding transit and fighting climate change as priorities in her voters’ guide statement. Her opponent mentions neither, but running as a libertarian is a poor indicator on both issues. She is well-connected to the Eastside leaders that will be telling her that ST3 is a high priority for Eastside communities.

Vote No on Seattle Citizen Petition 1 (New Monorail Agency)

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It’s not very often that Seattle Transit Blog recommends rejection of a proposal to devote more resources to transit. Indeed, some board members voted for one or more of the monorail’s previous measures. However, the latest incarnation, “Seattle Citizen Petition 1,” attempts to address a real transportation need with a measure that is redundant, technically flawed, and that takes unnecessary organizational risks.

The petition, which would levy a $5 license fee to fund planning of a line between Ballard and West Seattle, is duplicative of recent Sound Transit efforts in the exact same corridor. Worse yet, the monorail plan would exclude promising underground options and alternative alignments like Ballard-UW.

These shortcomings lead to real technical problems. One reason that Sound Transit continually converges on underground alignments through dense cities is the intense opposition that elevated segments generate. Previous monorail plans never really solved this problem, and the current one envisions bypassing major activity centers and transit hubs downtown by traveling along the waterfront, a steep climb they hope to bridge with an added transfer to some other, unspecified, elevated technology, with the attendant transfer penalties and further political fights over elevated guideway.

The historical record suggests that new agencies running complicated capital projects will experience serious problems. Sound Transit had buy-in from local leaders and survived, but the Seattle Monorail Project did not, and didn’t.  Petition 1 will needlessly set up a new organization to learn the same hard lessons, and has not cultivated a broad base of support to get it through the tough times. The campaign is promising unrealistically short timetables, as if they are somehow immune to the Seattle process that afflicts every other public works project. Finally, the campaign rhetoric is very much in opposition to Sound Transit and the rest of the political establishment, which bodes ill for the joint planning and scheduling that creates a well-integrated transit system.

This measure’s probability of developing a high-quality transit line is virtually nil. Citizen Petition 1 is a waste of resources that distracts from much more promising and better-developed approaches to solve a real transportation problem. Vote No.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, Matthew Johnson, and Brent White.

Vote Yes on Transportation Proposition 1

Seattle needs more bus service. Prop 1 will deliver it.

Yes for BusesSeattle is booming. According to the latest census forecasts, Seattle is now the fastest-growing large city in America.  Between 2000 and 2014, we added almost 80,000 residents inside the city limits. Judging by all the construction cranes dotting the skyline, we’re nowhere near finished.

Yet despite the population growth, bus service in Seattle hasn’t expanded significantly in years. King County Metro tried twice to expand service over the last 15 years. Each time, unfortunately, an economic recession forced the agency to pull back, leaving service levels basically where they were in the ’90s. This September, Metro was in fact forced to cut service when various post-recession stopgaps finally ran out.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many buses are packed. On the most popular routes, buses are frequently so crowded that they have to leave passengers at the stop. After 7pm, many Seattle buses are infrequent. This makes things difficult for folks who work nights and weekends, or who just want to ride the bus for something other than commuting to work. Meanwhile, volatile tax revenue and years of crisis have diverted staff focus from improving the system.

This November, Seattle residents will have an opportunity to finally address some of the system’s problems instead of play defense. Seattle Transportation Proposition 1 would raise approximately $45m per year inside the city through a sales tax increase and a vehicle license fee, both expiring by 2021. Low-income residents would get a partial rebate on the license fee. This new revenue would translate to about 260,000 hours of new bus service per year if there are no further King County cuts.

Initially, this fall’s Transportation Prop 1 was conceived as yet another last-minute effort to save existing service.  Fortunately, thanks to yet more belt-tightening at the agency and an improving economic climate, Transportation Prop 1 would instead expand service and improve reliability on dozens of Seattle’s core bus routes. More peak trips would be added to several routes, while others would see more service in the evenings and weekends. The legislation contains clear language that prevents Metro from using Seattle money elsewhere in the County.

Prop 1 isn’t perfect. We would prefer a countywide solution, but voters rejected that in April. Unfortunately, the money can only be spent on bus service, not on capital improvements like improving bus stations or adding new bus lanes. You will find no greater advocates for these projects than us, but we recognize that other measures can address these needs, and meanwhile demand for service is large.

A growing city needs a growing transit network. Proposition 1 provides the additional service the bus system needs.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, Matthew Johnson, and Brent White.

Call for Endorsements

Once again, the STB editorial board is considering its endorsements for the November election. If you have any recommendations in non-obvious races or ballot measures anywhere in the Puget Sound region, please share them in the comments.

As always, the board only evaluates the candidates’ positions on transit and land use, so limit your comments to those issues. Furthermore, links go much farther than unsubstantiated assertions.

Moving Forward on I-118

Seattle Transit Blog is eager to see Mayor Murray’s Metro plan, and open to the idea that it may be superior to the text of Initiative 118. However, we see no reason not to gather signatures for I-118 in the meantime. We simply cannot afford to wait for an alternative to develop, as Keep Seattle Moving must turn in 21,000 valid signatures from registered Seattle voters by early June.

Collecting signatures doesn’t necessarily mean the Initiative will be on the ballot. Ben Schiendelman, former STB staff writer and the spokesperson for Keep Seattle Moving, has told us that if the Mayor or City Council come up with a better solution they will drop I-118 and instead support that effort. We hope that the city does come up with a great solution. But until they do we need to keep working for I-118. As the $15 Now campaign has shown, the threat of a strong initiative can be a powerful tool for getting a superior final product.

In the next few days we will have an in-depth look at the benefits and weaknesses of I-118, and as soon as we have been able to digest the Mayor’s proposal we will do the same for it. But if Seattle wants to have the chance to chose the better of two options, we have to have two options. So go download the petition and start collecting signatures

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Matthew Johnson, and Frank Chiachiere.

Vote Yes on Prop 1 (Really)

[April 1st fun’s over, back to our regular programming. – Ed.]

Martin recently participated in a forum for employers about Proposition 1, the ballot measure to maintain Metro’s current service levels and fund road maintenance. Towards the end, one attendee asked the panel, “What are the reasons people are giving for voting against this? It seems like a no-brainer.”

That attendee was exactly right. That we should keep bus service hours at least at their current levels is such a blindingly obvious requirement for an economically robust, environmentally clean, and socially just region that it seems tedious to write down the reasons why. However, to summarize: transit is open to people of nearly all incomes and abilities; is better for public health than car use; levies few externalities on others; uses less precious road space per person; and provides a refuge from accident deaths, air and water pollution, and the perils of road users texting while driving. It is critical to the operation of our most economically important neighborhoods and a crucial discriminator for our economy in the global competition for talent.

As  Metro’s ridership grows to record numbers along with our region, and cars continue to make less sense, the demand for transit will only increase. Clearly, a cut in the taxes we pay for transit (a No vote allows the $20 tab fee to expire without replacement) is moving King County in the wrong direction. Moreover, Prop. 1 frees King County from the hostage situation where the legislature will not let us save Metro without also approving massive, sprawl-inducing, climate-altering highway expansion.

The arguments against this vote – both sincere and insincere – simply do not stand up to scrutiny.

  • Metro has already made significant efforts to reduce its budget hole – including winning concessions from its unionsraising fares three times, cutting low-performing service, and cutting back in places where it shouldn’t, like cleaning bus stops, security, and customer information. In fact, the transit-hostile state legislature was so impressed with their measures that Metro was the only agency to win temporary authority for a $20 license fee to avoid cuts two years ago.
  • Although a vehicle license fee and sales tax would not be our first choice, they are the only option for the County; moreover, a low-income license fee rebate and low-income fare will largely blunt the impact on low-income car owners and leave low-income bus riders significantly better off.
  • Predictions about the future are hard, and while cuts might not be exactly 17% if Prop 1 fails, they will still be on a large and unacceptable scale.
  • A needed restructure of the route network is easier to execute when service is growing — which allows new service patterns to coexist with the old, build their own constituency, and prove their worth — then when cuts force everyone into a defense of what they currently have.
  • All of our transportation modes are subsidized, especially when they get into trouble. For starters, the sales tax exemption for gasoline is a huge giveaway to drivers (over $650m per year statewide) paid for by the rest of us. To single out a sustainable form of transportation to pay its own way makes no sense.

Proposition 1 is indeed a no-brainer. The high-level principles are clear, and the tactical arguments against are nonsense. We urge you to vote yes before April 22nd, and to donate your money or time towards passage.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Matthew Johnson, and Frank Chiachiere.

Vote No on Prop 1 [April Fools’]

PRT on Ballard Ave (artist's rendering)
PRT on Ballard Ave (artist’s rendering)

[UPDATE 11:11 amApril Fools’, obviously! If you would like to know what we really think about Prop. 1, here’s our actual endorsement. The title above is altered if anyone is in any way confused.]

STB staff writers are free to take whatever positions they’d like, and many have done so by arguing forcefully for the passage of Prop. 1 to maintain existing service levels.

However, in the opinion of the editorial board, buses are not the future of public transportation. Newer technologies are on the horizon that will not only be cheaper to operate, but will actually turn a profit. It makes no sense to double down on a tax structure that will one day be irrelevant.

I’m referring of course to Personal Rapid Transportation, or PRT. Imagine a vehicle that delivers you with no wait from where you are to where you want to go. This vision is possible with just a little leadership from our elected officials.

We can’t help but notice that Prop. 1 gets us no closer to the future. In fact, it dedicates valuable taxing authority to ephemeral service hours when we could be using it to make a permanent investment in transit.  The Editorial Board is disappointed to learn, via a public records request, that not a single councilmember from either the City of Seattle or King County has visited Morgantown, WV.  Had they done so, they’d find a shining example of the kind of transportation that could revolutionize our Emerald City. It’s one of many ways in that Morgantown is a city Seattle should emulate.

Moreover, if bus service is worth paying for then we should all chip in to pay for it. The King County Council’s low-income car tab rebate and new low-income fare are a huge giveaway to the working poor from scarce transit dollars. Unless we nip this sentiment in the bud, they’ll expect that the legislature actually tax them less than their job-creating, hardworking bosses when PRT comes up for a vote.

The desire for a stopgap is understandable. But King County voters should keep their eyes on the prize and demand a solution to our transit problems that won’t be obsolete in five years. Vote no on proposition 1.

Editorial: Uber, Lyft, and the City Council

Photo by Denise Hazard
PHOTO BY DENISE HAZARD — COPPERFYRE DESIGN

The City Council Committee on Taxi, For-Hire, and Limousine Regulations will hold its penultimate meeting tomorrow to discuss draft regulations to legalize and regulate new Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) such as Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar. In addition to adding 50 new taxi licenses, the draft legislation would regulate TNCs by imposing annual licensing fees, requiring vehicle inspections, specifying insurance standards, requiring state approval of GPS-based fare calculation, and imposing stricter driver requirements. Many of these regulations are welcome developments, especially clarification of the currently-murky insurance standards. But the core of the legislation — limiting each TNC to 100 drivers unless they hire currently licensed for-hire drivers — is terrible policy.

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Image from Sightline
lyft full
Real-Time Supply Management

This is an issue very important to STB because TNCs reduce the need for car ownership, which builds the market for transit and restrains the cry for parking that threatens to strangle our city’s growth.

A healthy transportation system is redundant. Walking, bikes, transit, Car2Go, TNCs, and taxis provide a robust set of options that have different strengths and weaknesses, and cover for each other when one fails. For example, TNCs are at their best when transit is at its worst, supplying extra capacity on nights, weekends, and in between urban villages (such as Queen Anne to Fremont, or Wallingford to Capitol Hill).

Seattle has an exceedingly low number of taxis, with no new licenses being issued since the early 1990s.  What taxis we do have are not popular with the public, with only 10% of those surveyed for the City’s own study ranking taxi service as very good (compared to over 70% ranking TNCs in that catagory). We don’t care, in principle, if the market fills the demand for taxi-like services with TNCs or conventional taxis, as long as regulations allow one or both to satisfy demand. In practice, however, TNCs are bringing innovation to a stagnant sector, 21st century prerequisites like GPS tracking, smartphone dispatching, estimated arrival times, dynamic management of the supply of cars, and cashless payment.

The unfairness of the current taxi regime should not be a reason to effectively shut TNCs down. Instead, Seattle should relax or eliminate taxi limits, along with the Rube Goldberg system of leasing agents, separate dispatchers, and artificial scarcity that only raises the costs of market entry. Taxis should be freer to innovate and compete, and already we are seeing attempts to bring taxis and for-hire vehicles into the 21st century through apps like Flywheel.

We urge the Council to let innovators innovate, and to produce regulations that answer safety concerns while letting TNCs thrive.

The committee meeting is Thursday (1/30) at 2:00pm in Council Chambers. A vote is expected on February 14th. The STB Editorial Board is Martin H. Duke and Matthew Johnson.

2013 General Election Endorsements – Part II

Here are STB’s endorsements in some less prominent races. For an introduction to our endorsement approach and our picks in statewide, King County, and Seattle races, see yesterday’s post.

Bellevue Council Position 2: Lyndon Heywood is a political outsider and novice, but has demonstrated a thorough understanding of walking, biking, and transit’s importance over car dependence. Incumbent Conrad Lee, on the other hand, presided over some of the most unproductive years in Bellevue city council history, largely thanks to the majority’s unwillingness to move on light rail.

Bellevue Council Position 4: Steve Kasner’s experience as a community leader will provide a useful balance on the council. He’s been supportive of light rail and rightly critical of opponent Kevin Wallace, who actively pushed for multiple bad light rail alignments during East Link planning.

Lynne Robinson

Bellevue Council Position 6: Lynne Robinson’s statements on the campaign trail reveal a thoughtful critique of the Bellevue Council’s wildly misplaced priorities. Although it’s too late to truly fix Downtown Bellevue’s station placement, it will be useful to have someone on the council that knows what mistakes to mitigate and will avoid similar errors at stations further East.

Fred Butler

Issaquah Mayor: Fred Butler has been a productive and enthusiastic member of the Sound Transit Board. We are always impressed by local politicians that deeply want rail to serve their jurisdictions but have the maturity to realize that they are not first in line.

Federal Way Mayor: Jim Ferrell has rightfully criticized incumbent Mayor Skip Priest’s tantrum about low Sound Transit tax revenues, where he backed a Republican-led legislative attack on Sound Transit. We can think of no less constructive response to a setback in a project of great significance to South King County’s future.

Federal Way Council 4: Jeanne Burbidge has a long record of participating in key regional transit organizations and is well-versed in the issues that transit faces. Her views on parking, development, and Link alignments are not particularly STB-friendly, but in a Federal Way race her expertise is enough to earn our endorsement.

Jay Arnold

Kirkland Council 1: Jay Arnold’s pro-density positions are courageous in a suburban race, and his history with groups like Futurewise is remarkable. His fearless support of accessory dwelling units, cottage housing, and microhousing deserves your support.

Kirkland Council 7: Incumbent Doreen Marchione has some good work on bike trails and supports a new TOD hub in Totem Lake.

Lake Forest Park Council 1: Hilda Thompson‘s issues page is impressive for a race in a small suburban community. It comes out strongly for transit, pedestrian infrastructure, and — most notably — a variety of housing types to accommodate a wide variety of potential residents. She has worked for STB all-stars Patty Murray and Jessyn Farrell.

John Resha

Lake Forest Park Council 7: John Resha is well versed in transit issues having recently served as council staff liaison for Regional Transit Committee.

Mukilteo Mayor:  Jennifer Gregorson retains our endorsement from the Primary. Her urban planning background and Cascade Bicycle Club endorsements are very promising signs.

State Senate 26th District Special Election: Nathan Schlicher We generally don’t endorse generic Democrats against generic Republicans: you don’t need us to tell you that the former will create a friendlier picture for transit, although both state parties are equally bad about highways. However, this race is important for control in the finely balanced Senate, and the coming few years demand a flurry of legislative action for both the bus agencies and Sound Transit.

There is cause for concern that an undivided legislature will simply result in a terrible highway package coupled to a band-aid for transit. However, we don’t believe this battle is already lost. With Mary Margaret Haugen no longer in charge of Senate Transportation there is an opportunity for real progress on transit issues. Finally, in the coming years we need revenue authority for Sound Transit 3, and it is inconceivable that a Republican Senate would approve it.

2013 General Election Endorsements – Part I

Here are Seattle Transit Blog’s 2013 General Election Endorsements. As always, these endorsements are meant to entirely depend on a candidate’s positions and record on transit and land use, and generally looks for a clear difference on these issues beyond the generic Democrat-over-Republican default preference on transit. We also only endorse in contested races. The current Editorial Board consists of Martin H. Duke and Matthew Johnson.

Today, we cover the statewide, King County, and Seattle races. Part II, with races in smaller cities, will come later this week.

Dow Constantine

King County Executive: Dow Constantine has been an excellent and uncontroversial Executive, the single most important office for transit. He has made a good start on steering the Metro battleship in a better direction.

Rod Dembowski

King County Council District 1: Rod Dembowski has had a great start on the Council’s Regional Transit Committee and deserves another term.

King County Council District 5: Dave Upthegrove has been one of the more transit and environmentally minded members of the House. For a suburban politician, he is remarkably disinclined to pour more asphalt as a solution to transportation problems.

Mike McGinn

Seattle Mayor: Not much has changed since we endorsed Mike McGinn in the Primary Election. He still has a strong record of backing aggressive transit improvements and allowing more people to live here, even if he has a recent tendency to attach new conditions to development. Meanwhile, Senator Ed Murray’s record in Olympia doesn’t shed much light on Seattle issues, nor has the campaign produced detailed policy proposals. When he has done a deep dive, as with subarea equity and cycle tracks, the results have been mildly disconcerting. Under the circumstances, we see no reason to abandon an incumbent with whom we agree almost totally.

Richard Conlin

Seattle Council Position 2: We reiterate our support for incumbent Richard Conlin, who has been the strongest advocate for environmentally sustainable growth on the Council and the source of insightful critiques on the Sound Transit Board. Kshama Sawant is not particularly focused on these issues, and when she does address them slips all too easily into anti-developer rhetoric. She evidently views housing affordability as a problem of insufficient subsidy and regulation rather than insufficient supply. We recognize that some of you are going to vote for Sawant based on her social justice agenda — which is obviously your prerogative, and not something we’re considering here. Just be aware that you’ll be retiring the most unabashedly pro-density member of the Council.

Seattle Council Position 4: Sally Bagshaw is one of the better members of the Council on transit issues and is facing an unserious candidate.

Mike O’Brien

Seattle Council Position 8: Mike O’Brien is solid on transit and not operating under the illusion that Seattle has to cater to cars at every opportunity.

Seattle Proposed Charter Amendment #19: NO. In principle, we believe that voters must evaluate too many elected officials, and moving to districts would help alleviate that. However, in a district-based scheme the power largely lies with whomever draws the districts. When the number of districts is also a variable, the potential for gerrymandering is immense. In this case, prominent figures on the YES campaign include anti-transit, anti-bike businesswoman Faye Garneau; and John Fox, a housing activist who opposes everything Seattle Transit Blog stands for. We can only assume that these figures are competent enough to back a measure whose district lines will advance their political interests, which is reason enough to vote no.

Initiative 517: NO. The latest Tim Eyman-related offering will continue to abuse the initiative process to thwart responsible budgeting. The initiative system is a tool to gut the transit system, not to build it, and we’d like to make it harder for that to happen in the future.

Advisory Vote No. 6: MAINTAIN. The Legislature repealed a special retail sales tax exemption for telecommunications services. Expanding the sales tax base is good economics and brings more revenue for transit. Another $2m per year, by our estimate, for Metro won’t solve everything but it helps. Vote to maintain, confusingly, in order to eliminate the tax break. This vote is advisory but a clear signal that the voters are behind the legislature will encourage more actions like this.

2013 Primary Endorsements

Dow Constantine

King County Executive: incumbent Dow Constantine emerged four years ago from a strong field. He has governed with such proficiency and diplomacy that he has not drawn a serious challenger for this incredibly important position. He has gradually steered Metro towards a better set of policies, although there is a long way to go. His appointments to the Sound Transit Board have been basically sound.

King County Council District 1: Rod Dembowski impressed us in the scuffle to be appointed to this seat last year, and he has not disappointed in office. Although his time there has been short, he already chairs the Regional Transit Committee and is bringing organizational energy to it.

King County Council District 9Shari Song or Reagan Dunn. Reagan Dunn has been an active and productive voice in the fight to reform Metro’s route structure, eager to make Metro’s dollars go farther by eliminating ineffective service such as the infamous Route 42. While the Council probably needs more route-reform yes votes than revenue yes-votes, we can’t bring ourselves to endorse a Councilmember who will likely oppose more resources for transit. Shari Song will support more revenue, but hasn’t given us any indication that she brings any particular transportation expertise or correct positions on Metro reform.

Seattle Mayor: STB has already endorsed Mike McGinn for mayor.

Richard Conlin

Seattle Council Position 2: Richard Conlin has been the most consistent voice for the public good of density on the council while his colleagues serve neighborhood special interests.

Seattle Council Position 8: Mike O’Brien hasn’t been as deeply involved in transportation issues as we thought he might, but he remains a fairly reliable vote for better transit, less emphasis on cars, and more housing in Seattle.

Bellevue City Council 4: Steve Kasner presents the strongest challenge to incumbent Kevin Wallace, who not only delayed East Link planning with wacky proposals like the Vision Line, but is now claiming credit for creating a collaborative compromise. With more community leadership experience, Kasner is also not likely to carry all the conflict-of-interest baggage that Wallace is knee-deep in when it comes to light rail.

Bellevue City Council 6: Lynne Robinson makes for a worthy opponent against Don Davidson, who presided over much of the council’s shenanigans when it was fighting Sound Transit. Robinson has earned endorsements from all three of the council’s pro-rail minority and has supported keeping East Link accessible to neighborhoods and employment centers.

Mukilteo Mayor: We can’t imagine that transit is a very big issue in Mukilteo, and in an outlying suburb alternative transportation often means bikes. Jennifer Gregorson earned Cascade Bicycle Club’s endorsement and has a recent Urban Planning degree from UW. These are excellent indicators of a leader ready to enact environmentally sensitive policies.

STB’s Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Bruce Nourish, and Sherwin Lee.

Mike McGinn For Mayor

wikipedia

Seattle Transit Blog endorsements are primarily a function of a candidate’s transit and land use policies, and on those merits Mayor Mike McGinn is simply unassailable.

He has pushed for greater investment on all transit fronts. He initiated a badly needed update to the Transit Master Plan, sought to fund it through a $80 vehicle license fee, and used the TMP to open up the possibility of a Sound Transit 3 package in 2016 rather than 2020 or 2024. He has leveraged Seattle’s voracious appetite for transit to accelerate the entire region.

He has routinely produced the most aggressively pro-density proposals every time the subject arises. A city that enacted the Mayor’s proposals in full would create a better life for transit riders; more people, jobs, and activities well-served by transit; better public health and safer streets; greater housing supply and a more politically powerful Seattle; and a more environmentally sustainable future.

Of course, the Seattle City Council has not fully enacted the Mayor’s transit and land use proposals, often delaying and watering them down while not stating clear policy objections. Although critics suggest this means the Mayor is ineffective, this is a dynamic common to most Council-Mayor relationships. Moreover, we fail to see how electing a Mayor with a weaker pro-transit and pro-density reputation will increase the political potency of the positions we share.

Regarding those mayoral alternatives: Peter Steinbrueck, in addition to flirting with anti-rail rhetoric, displays strong anti-density instincts, consistently favoring replacement of a big building with a small building, and a small building with empty space. Councilmember Bruce Harrell has a poor density-and-transit voting record on the Council and continues to emphasize cheap and easy car access as a policy objective. We are hopeful that Senator Ed Murray would make a good mayor, but Olympia politics is so far to the right of Seattle that is difficult to discern where he stands on the real fault lines in City politics. He has not yet embraced the aggressively pro-transit and pro-density positions that would move us to abandon an incumbent with whom we agree almost totally.

Mayor McGinn’s first election victory was widely viewed as a fluke. He deserves an unambiguous mandate from the people of this City and a second term as Mayor.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Bruce Nourish, and Sherwin Lee.

Support the Burke-Gilman TIGER Application

Last Friday, we wrote about a proposal by the University of Washington for a major upgrade to the section of the Burke-Gilman trail that traverses the UW campus. Community support is a component in considering TIGER applications, so the STB Board would like to throw our support behind this application, and urge readers who care about safe and effective pedestrian and bike infrastructure in Seattle to do the same, by filling out the form at this page.

There are multiple reasons for our support:

  • The current trail is inadequate, obsolete and under-designed for its current level of traffic. Trail users are particularly poorly served by the multiplicity of (largely non-wheelchair-accessible) connection points and unsafe road crossings. The UW proposal solves those problems.
  • These problems will only increase with the opening of University Link in 2016, as the light rail station to the southeast of the university, and anticipated property development to the west, increase demand on this regional active-transportation highway.
  • This TIGER funding cycle represents the best (and likely the only) way to fund these improvements in time for the 2016 opening of University Link. Before the station opening is the smart time to perform this unavoidably-disruptive construction work.
  • This section of the Burke-Gilman trail is of regional importance, connecting all of northeast Seattle and the northeastern suburbs to the five-year interim northern terminus of Link Light Rail, the region’s transit backbone, and to the UW and downtown Seattle, two of our regions’s biggest travel demand centers.

We strongly urge the United States Department of Transportation to consider and approve the University of Washington’s Burke-Gilman connector proposal, and for our state and federal elected officials to support and advance it however they may.

STB’s Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Bruce Nourish, and Sherwin Lee.

STB Endorses Will Hall for King County Council

Will Hall

The editorial board was pleasantly surprised that all seven sets of answers to our questionnaire for King County Council District 1 were all “correct” in terms of subjects that unite the pro-transit coalition. No one refused to answer, or opposed more funding for Metro or Sound Transit. Although most candidates have their flaws, none strike us as a complete disaster.

Nevertheless, based on their survey responses, and conversations with various people we trust, Shoreline City Council member Will Hall is the best candidate for this position. Not only are his policy positions solid, he has experience in political office, and people who have observed him in his day job as a Snohomish County planner (and Puget Sound Regional Council staffer) have been impressed with his progressive viewpoints and technical expertise on our issues. This grounding would be valuable on a County Council that often reacts to whoever screams the loudest.

Executive Constantine will nominate three candidates for the County Council. The other standout in the field is real estate attorney Rod Dembowski, who has solid views, and is well respected in Democratic Party circles, but has less of a track record on urbanism. But Hall is the strongest choice for transit.

You won’t get a chance to vote on these candidates anytime soon, but you can let the Executive and your Councilmember know what you think about them. The King County Council is the single most important body for determining how transit operates in Greater Seattle, although it receives far less attention than the Seattle City Council.

STB 2012 General Election Endorsements Cheat Sheet

For all those last minute voters, below is our election endorsements cheat sheet. Full writeup can be viewed here.

U.S. Senate

U.S. Senator: Maria Cantwell

Washington State

Governor: Jay Inslee

Initiative 1185: No

Supreme Court Position #9: Sheryl Gordon McCloud

County

Pierce Transit Proposition 1: Yes

C-Tran Proposition 1: Approve

Washington State Senate

District 10: Barbara Bailey

District 41: Maureen Judge

Washington State House

District 21, Rep. 2: Marko Liias

District 27, Rep. 2: Jake Fey

District 30, Rep. 2: Roger Freeman

District 34, Rep. 2: Joe Fitzgibbon

District 36, Rep. 1: Reuven Carlyle

District 46, Rep. 2: Jessyn Farrell

District 48, Rep 1: Ross Hunter

District 48, Rep 2: Cyrus Habib

City and Other

City of Seattle Proposition 1: Approve

City of Kirkland Proposition 1: Approve

Proposed North Highline “Y” Annexation Area: Approve

Proposed West Hills Annexation Area: Approve

STB 2012 General Election Endorsements

Below are Seattle Transit Blog’s Endorsements for the November 6th General Election. As always, these purely reflect the issues of public transit and land use. We have only endorsed in races with a compelling reason to do so, but in general a generic Democrat typically is better on transit and land use issues than a generic Republican. The Editorial Board consists of Martin H. Duke, Adam Parast, Sherwin Lee, and Bruce Nourish.

U.S. Senate

U.S. Senator: Maria Cantwell gets our pick for a third term in the U.S. Senate. While not as proactive about sustainable transportation choices as her colleague, Patty Murray, Senator Cantwell has provided reasonably steadfast support for transit during her tenure in D.C. Her earmark requests have been relatively favorable to local transit projects, a notable example being Sound Transit’s Link extension to S. 200th.

Washington State

Governor: Jay Inslee has a transportation platform that explicitly mentions continued support for light rail and Amtrak Cascades. His support for light rail on the Columbia River Crossing and long career emphasis on greenhouse gas reduction are good signs. His opponent doesn’t have transportation as a major issue on his website, but does have a record of light rail opposition stretching back over a decade. Although McKenna seems to have made his peace with current Sound Transit plans, he hasn’t repudiated his previous attitude towards high-quality transit and would probably not support any further effort to expand it.

Initiative 1185: No. Another Eyman initiative, once again requiring a supermajority to raise taxes. Our broad view is that transportation taxes are not high enough, and this creates insurmountable obstacles to fixing that. Furthermore, the initiative creates more procedural obstacles to adjusting tolling rates, flying in the face of best practice for managing demand on congested roadways and ensuring they remain congested.

Supreme Court Position #9: Sheryl Gordon McCloud, like most judicial candidates, doesn’t get deep into transportation in her campaign materials. However, her opponent is former Justice Richard B. Sanders, a reliable vote against Sound Transit in Kemper Freeman’s endless attempts to sue East Link out of existence.

County

Pierce Transit Proposition 1: Yes. Pierce Transit is in deep financial trouble. Service levels have dropped dramatically over the last few years, and failure of this measure would accelerate the death spiral by eliminating all evening and weekend service. We’re not thrilled with how little PT achieves with the current level of funding, but don’t see any alternative to preserve the principle of service beyond support for commuters.

C-Tran Proposition 1: Approve. This proposition is a critical seal of approval for light rail on the Columbia River Crossing (CRC), which will be Vancouver’s principal connection to Portland for our lifetime and beyond. The proposition funds C-TRAN’s share of light rail operations on the CRC as well as construction and operation of the Fourth Plain BRT project through a 1/10th of 1 percent sales tax increase. High-capacity transit across the CRC is essential for Vancouver’s future, and the extension of Portland’s well-established MAX system is an obvious choice.

Washington State Senate

Continue reading “STB 2012 General Election Endorsements”

STB 2012 Primary Endorsements

Here are Seattle Transit Blog’s endorsements for the August 7th primary. As with all our primary endorsements, these focus entirely on transit and land-use issues, and only on races with three or more candidates.

STB only selects candidates with strong pro-transit portfolios or particularly egregious opponents, although the generic Democrat will generally produce better legislative outcomes than the generic Republican.

The editorial board consists of Martin H. Duke, Sherwin Lee, Bruce Nourish, and Adam B. Parast, with valued input from the rest of the staff.

Jay Inslee (wikimedia)

Governor: Jay Inslee’s transportation platform is basically agreeable to STB: “The next governor must take an ‘all of the above’ approach to transit and transportation choices – cooperation at the state level and advocacy within the Legislature for transit alternatives.” He also name-checks light rail on the CRC, Amtrak, and complete streets. His platform, and a track record of concern about environmental issues, suggests he would be a reliable partner for transit agencies around the state, although he shows no indication of wanting to curtail endless road expansion.

Principal opponent Rob McKenna says nothing about transportation in the issues section of his website. More worryingly, Mr. McKenna has a long record of being a Sound Transit skeptic, favoring highways over rail spending. He was particularly active on this front from around 2000 to 2003. Ancient history, perhaps (and he did recently preside over the defeat of the Kemper Freeman lawsuit). But he hasn’t articulated a change of heart, and his instincts are clearly to fund roads and lower taxes rather than create high-quality transit; it’s unlikely he’d be interested in finding new revenue sources to accelerate rail expansion.

Rob Holland

District 11, Rep. 2: Rob Holland stands out from the field of five candidates. Scanning the five websites shows that transportation is not a major issue in this race, but Mr. Holland has a transportation background at the Port of Seattle. In these very pages he bucked his colleagues there by favoring the SR99 replacement option that maximized delivery of transit. He told The Stranger he favors new taxes for transit, which is a much clearer statement of support than virtually any other candidate this cycle.

Brett Phillips

District 36, Rep. 2: In a field full with basically pro-transit candidates, Brett Phillips  demonstrates a focus on transit and understanding of the immediate challenges it faces. Moreover, his endorsements indicate a good interface with groups in our corner of the policy world.

Jessyn Farrell

District 46, Rep. 2: Jessyn Farrell’s background includes the Transportation Choices Coalition, and that experience shows in an issues page that discusses transportation and land use in rich detail. She has deep understanding of the issues and experience with relevant legislation in Olympia. Her opponents don’t indicate any priority on transportation at all. There are a few candidates that stand out every election cycle by being worth not only your vote, but your time and money. Ms. Farrell is the one in a competitive race this time around.

Supreme Court: Light rail opponents are always suing Sound Transit over something or other, so who sits on the court matters. As judicial candidates traditionally don’t speak about potential issues before the court, it’s also hard to know how they’ll vote unless there’s a track record. However, at Position 2 Justice Susan Owens has spent her 11 years on the bench beating back desperate attempts to halt rail construction. At Position 9, John Ladenburg spent time as Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit Board Chair. One of his opponents, Richard B. Sanders, in his previous tenure on the court has consistently found excuses to try to freeze the rail project.

Open Letter: ST, Bellevue Shouldn’t Advance Station Cost Saving Designs

June 18th, 2012

The Honorable Pat McCarthy, Chair
Sound Transit Board of Directors
401 South Jackson Street
Seattle, WA 98104
 
The Honorable Conrad Lee, Mayor
Bellevue City Council
450 110th Ave NE
Bellevue, WA 98004
 

Dear Chair McCarthy and Mayor Lee:

The Seattle Transit Blog (STB) Editorial Board is concerned about the Downtown Bellevue Station cost savings designs that the City of Bellevue and Sound Transit have identified through the Collaborative Design Process. As STB has reported, tens of millions of dollars in possible cost savings have been identified recently through the design process. This is good news and very welcome, especially when design changes reduce costs, reduce neighborhood impacts and improve operations of East Link.

However, changes that result in functional and irreparable reduction in the quality of Link are unacceptable.

Over two years ago the STB Board sent you an open letter indicating our support for the C11A (surface on 108thth) and C9T (tunnel under 110th). The C3T (tunnel under 108th Ave) is the ideal solution. We still hold that position.

Roughly $180 million to $235 million dollars have already been shaved from the ideal downtown tunnel proposals (C3T to C9T). These costs savings are a result of the shorter tunnel design, which also results in a poorer station location, located farther from the geographic center of Downtown Bellevue, increasing walking time to much of downtown Bellevue. We believed this was an acceptable compromise because it reduced East Link travel times and made a tunnel financially feasible.

However, the two proposed station cost saving designs currently under review unacceptably compromise the station design. The downtown Bellevue Station is the most important station of the whole $2.4 billion dollar line and the STB Board finds the cost savings proposals short sighted.

The NE 6th St Station design is wholly unacceptable and defeats the purpose of the downtown tunnel. It reduces walk access to employment and housing throughout downtown Bellevue, results in slower travel times due to substandard curves and will result in inferior passenger comfort. It also has little TOD or development advantage over other station designs.

The Stacked Tunnel design, while better than the NE 6th design, results in reduced station accessibility due to elimination of station access on the west side of 110th Ave, reduces vehicular capacity on 110th Ave (which could degrade transit speed and reliability at the Bellevue Transit Center  immediately adjacent), and eliminates the possibility of a center platform design which improves ease of use and safety while waiting. These compromises are not worth the estimated $8-13 million dollars in savings.

Thus, the STB Board urges you to cease work on these cost savings designs as they are unacceptable compromises in the quality of an investment the region will rely on for decades.

Sincerely,

Seattle Transit Blog Editorial Board

cc:

Bellevue City Council
ST Board of Directors
Joni Earl, Sound Transit CEO
Steve Sarkozy, Bellevue City Manager