Tacoma News Tribune Endorses Prop 1!

Great news for the campaign today – the Tacoma News Tribune just came out in favor. Definitely head over to their site and have a look!

I like their focus on what comes first. Not just more express bus service, but four new Sounder round trips, and longer trains to boot:

The new buses would show up quickly, and the commuter rail runs would not be far behind. The measure would give Puyallup, Sumner and the Tacoma area four new Sounder round trips to and from Seattle, greatly increasing the capacity of this extremely popular line.

They also point out that this isn’t the end, it’s just another step:

A third vote would be needed to bring the tracks all the way to the Tacoma Dome – but getting the line to Federal Way is likely to ensure a final build-out to Pierce County.

We’ll probably see the final vote in 2016. Before that, of course, we need the state legislature to authorize more taxing authority for Sound Transit. Especially after having ridden the train this week, I think there will be quite a bit of demand for that come the 2010 session. Maybe we can even get state support for the current projects – a few hundred million could get us to Bellevue faster, or get the S. 200th station built right away for commuters from south of Sea-Tac.

Thanks very much to the TNT for coming out in support!

News Round-Up

Here’s a bunch of links, none of which need a post in their own right, but worth reading.

  • This Crosscut piece details how Light Rail is being considered in the effort to update the City’s neighborhood plans. It’s a bit technical and not focused on development, but still interesting. 
  • Pierce County has term limits, which means Sound Transit supporter John Ladenburg is leaving office – he’s running for State Attorney General against long-time light rail opponent Rob McKenna – so there’s going to be a new Pierce County Exec. This post from the News Tribune lists the candidates’ positions on Proposition One.
  • Taxi fares have gone up in Seattle again, from $2 a mile to $2.50 a mile. Fares from the Airport to the Downtown hotel district have gone from $28 to $32.
  • There’s a meeting on side-walks on Mercer street set for Monday. I’ve always felt that Mercer was one of the worst streets for pedestrians, and anywhere near SR-99 in South Lake Union/Uptown is barely walkable.
  • The engineer in the Metro Rail crash in Southern California was definitely texting around the time of the crash. Goes to show it’s never save to operate any motor vehicle while texting.
  • This article from the DJC ($) notes that the City is looking at how parking is used around light rail stations. Visit the City’s parking near light rail page for more info.
  • Door Knockers are needed Saturday for a Mass Transit Now event in Bellevue, details here:

    Please join us this Saturday, October 4 at 10:00am in the parking lot of the Safeway store located at: 1645 140TH Ave. N.E., Bellevue, WA 98005.
    There will a short training and an opportunity to ask questions. Then, pairs will be sent to nearby neighborhoods to get out the vote on Prop. 1!

    If you are able to come for a few hours on Saturday, please contact Rebecca@masstransitnow.org so we can prepare for canvassing teams.

Five New Ferries coming soon; Pierce County allows extended lease

Washington State DOT Ferries Division has came to a decision regarding replacing the aging ferries and solve the Port Townsend – Keystone issue. DOT has also added 3 new 144-car ferries to the plan as well.

The plan and time-line as it stands now will be 2 Island Home type ferries . These ferries will have the capacity to hold 64 vehicles and a capacity of 600-700 passengers. The time-line is the first vessel will be ready in April 2010 and Fall 2010. The 2008 Transportation Budget (ESHB 2878) provides $84.5 million to construct new vessels for the Port Townsend/Keystone route.

Meanwhile the 144-car ferry will be based off the popular Issaquah class boats. These 3 new vessel will mean the retirement of the 1947 60-car Rhododendron and the 1954 87-car Evergreen State. These boats will be in service Spring 2011, Fall 2011, Spring 2012 respectively.

Funding for the 144-car ferries was originally approved by the Legislature in 2003, and $30.2 million has already been spent on design, engineering and procurement.

The currently projected design-build contract price is between $60 and $80 million for each ferry. The actual total contract price will depend on the contractor’s price proposal and the results of the price negotiations required by SHB 2378.

The 2008 supplemental budget provides funding for the purchase of up to three 144-car vessels. The total project cost is $283.2 million and the 2007-09 planned expenditure is $49.7 million.

And finally, Pierce County is allowing WSDOT the continued use of the Steilacoom II on the Port Townsend – Keystone route with a lease extension until August 2009.

Pierce County Parking

University Place is nearly out of bounding capacity and is trying to work out plans to have Pierce Transit pay for part of the parking they at putting in as part of their Town Center project. University Place wants Pierce Transit to bound $10 million for the second garage off the 851-space project.

UP’s request comes at a time when Pierce Transit is already investing in a $20 million Park & Ride project on Highway 16 in Gig Harbor. Plans call for a pedestrian footbridge, closed-circuit security cameras and adding 180 to 225 parking stalls west of the highway. The agency also would like to build a bus station in the highway’s median once the state adds HOV lanes west of the Narrows.

The groundbreaking on the Peninsula Park & Ride is expected in the fall or winter, and it’s scheduled to open in fall 2010, according to its Web site.

Pierce Transit spokesman Lars Erickson said the most expensive project the agency has built to date is the Tacoma Dome Station Park & Ride, which cost almost $50 million and required state, federal and Sound Transit dollars.

Pierce Transit seems to take park-and-rides seriously: 300 parking spots for Gig Harbor with about 6300 people. The 851-space facility could be a good investment if Pierce Transit has the money for it.

Things Rosy in Pierce County

Andrew Austin reports that Pierce Transit is paying $0.71 a gallon for their CNG-powered buses. The sales-tax decline is still hurting them, though.

At the moment, the CNG decision seems to be a good one, and someone at PT should get some sort of medal.

UPDATE: Thanks to commenter BobbyZ, I found this article from 1996 where the Seattle Times puts a little halo around Councilwoman Maggie Fimia, who opposed the plan to buy CNG buses that was then backed by Councilmembers Larry Phillips and Greg Nickels. Buying those buses, after all, wouldn’t have been “cost-effective.” Where have I heard that rhetoric recently?

SurveyUSA Polls Sound Transit District

An interesting SurveyUSA poll has been released showing some data about the Sound Transit 2 plan. For some reason, there’s no data showing how many voters survey supported the plan. I believe you can take the amount of registered voters from the other data (about 520) and subtract that from those who said they oppose the plan (about 252), and you’re left with the “yes” or “undecided” voters, but I’m not sure of the exact methodology here. In any case, let’s look at the data that SurveyUSA has posted.

The first interesting question was asked of 252 votes who oppose the ST2 plan: Why are you opposed to ST2?

First of all, this question is not open-ended so the responses are by nature pigeon-holed. For example, there would be no way to say that one supports BRT over ST2 without saying “other” — voters who feel that way will be inclined to state one of the listed position.

I think if someone opposes the plan already they have probably made up their minds, but these may be the arguments that ST2 opponents will make to their friends, family, and the Internet: No new taxes, not right now, and light rail doesn’t solve anything. Us who support ST2 have to have good responses to if we expect to win the vote.

Next, voters were asked about the best way to fix our region’s transportation problems:

In other words, 56% of voters think the major components of ST2 (bus service, light rail, commuter rail) help the most. 35% think that building new roads or new lanes is the solution. This is good news for transit fans, and shows that more and more people are beginning to understand that asphalt can’t be the answer.

(In some cases people who are pro-transit may just be reflecting their commute. For example, a Microsoftie who loves light rail may say that building a new lane on the 520 bridge is vital — and he’s right, we need an HOV lane across that bridge. Clearly, not all new lanes are created equal.)

The cross-tabs for this question are fascinating. 50% of Republicans and 46% of Snohomish County residents feel that building new roads/lanes is the solution, compared to 35% (as stated above) for the region as whole. 28% of King County thinks light rail would help the most, while 17% of Pierce County and 11% of Snohomish County believe the same. Commuter rail polls about five points in Pierce County (17%) better than King and Shomhomish, obviously reflecting the success of Sounder.

We must frame ST2 as delivering the bus service expansion that 20% want and the commuter rail expansion that another 14% want. Everyone knows that ST2 offers light rail, but some may not know of its near-term bus service improvements as well as the SR-520 bus rapid transit line or the Sounder service improvements. Of course, we need to further educate voters that relying on new roads won’t cause gas prices to fall.

Next up, we’re looking at ST’s favorability:

Nearly double the amount of favorable as unfavorable, that is pretty good. “Neutral” can only shrink after light rail comes online in 2009. Which leads us to this last question: Did you get your money’s worth from 1996’s Sound Move vote?

Sound Move was passed in 1996 with a vote of 56.5% to 43.5%, but only 20% feel they got their money’s worth from the vote. Yikes.

I feel that another big vulnerability for ST2 is that Sound Move isn’t yet done. We need to emphasize that Central Link is on-schedule to next Summer, and the extension to Capitol Hill and UW is proceeding with construction.  However, I can understand voter’s frustrations here. Even a transit supporter who lives along Rainer Valley may not have gotten his money’s worth until Central Link opens. This isn’t an argument to delay the vote — we simply can’t be idle anymore — but I’m just arguing that this perception is fluid and voters likely realize that.

Some darn interesting numbers, though I wish we had data on the percentage of voters who support the plan and why they do. It would be nice to see which arguments resonate with voters.

(I should note that I chose not to echo ECB’s analysis from the Slog since the margin of error for that particular question is 3.5% providing a statistical dead-head for that question. Also, the question was asked of all polled votes — not just those who opposed the package as she misstated.)

Phase I Complete!

Here’s the press release:

Sound Transit Board chair, vice chairs endorse 2008 mass transit measure

July 17, 2008

The top three governing officials of the Sound Transit board today announced their support for putting a mass transit ballot measure on the November ballot. The full Sound Transit board may vote July 24 on the 15-year proposal, which will offer expanded bus, commuter and light rail in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties.

“This plan provides a mass transit package that is faster, better and cheaper than last year’s Proposition 1,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels. “We can’t afford to wait when we have the solutions to our transportation crisis right now. For the price of one tank of gas per year, we move forward with a regional mass transit network in three counties that gives people what they need most: an alternative to paying high gas prices. The best way to avoid the high cost of gas is not to buy it in the first place.”

“The new plan before the Board gets light rail to Snohomish County while increasing and speeding up ST Express regional bus service expansions,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon. “It responds to Snohomish County commuters’ immediate needs, and at the same time, it delivers a light rail connection to Lynnwood while positioning us for a future extension to Everett.”

“This 15-year plan turns the nearly $1 billion we would lose to inflation over the next two years into rapid progress toward better transit connections for people in Pierce County and around the region,” said Sound Transit Board Vice Chair and Lakewood City Council Member Claudia Thomas. “It delivers significant Sounder commuter rail and ST Express expansions while moving forward now with planning and property purchases to set the stage for getting light rail to Tacoma in the future.”

Nickels, Reardon, Thomas and other Sound Transit Board leaders will discuss the merits of the plan on July 24, when the Board plans to decide whether to move forward with a package this year. The package’s capital projects would cost $13.3 billion in year-of-expenditure dollars that include inflation estimates, or $9.1 billion in 2007 dollars. Funding would come from a 0.5 percent increase of the local sales tax, or 5 cents on a $10 purchase. The approximately $69 annual cost of the increase for each adult is around the cost of a single tank of gas.

The transit-only package would deliver projects significantly faster than last year’s Proposition 1 measure. The construction costs are 50 percent lower than Proposition 1, which included both roads and transit projects, and 23 percent lower than the 20-year transit package that was part of Proposition 1.

The new plan responds to public input received in May and June, which showed strong desire to see light rail extended further north and south than was proposed in 12-year options identified in April. Details of the 15-year plan include:

  • Northward expansion of light rail from the University of Washington to Northgate by 2020, with a further extension to Lynnwood by 2023, five years earlier than last year’s Proposition 1 measure.
  • Eastward expansion of light rail to Bellevue and onward to Overlake Transit Center in Redmond by 2021, seven years earlier than Proposition 1.
  • Southward expansion of light rail to Highline Community College by 2020 and Federal Way’s South 272nd Street area by 2023, five years earlier than Proposition 1.
  • Major ST Express bus service improvements, including a first phase delivered prior to completion of a new maintenance base and a second phase afterward. The plan provides service increases of 10 to 30 percent in key corridors and bus rapid transit service on State Route 520.
  • Sounder Commuter Rail service expansions remain unchanged from the 12-year options, including longer trains and more trips on the line between Lakewood and Seattle.

Improved station access: Funding to increase access to transit facilities in Auburn, Edmonds, Kent, Lakewood, Mukilteo, Puyallup, South Tacoma, Sumner, Tacoma and Tukwila. Projects will be tailored to the needs of each location and may include expanded parking; pedestrian improvements at or near stations; additional bus/transfer facilities for improved feeder service to stations; bicycle access and storage; and new and expanded drop-off areas to encourage ride-sharing.
Partnerships for expanded transit: Partnership funding for Eastside passenger rail on existing freight tracks; as well as for potential extensions of Tacoma Link light rail and projects in Bothell and Burien.

More information on the 15-year plan and other options is available at www.future.soundtransit.org.
Sound Transit’s system of regional express buses, commuter rail and light rail currently carries about 55,000 riders each day, a number that will more than double following the 2009 opening of light rail service between downtown Seattle and Sea-Tac International Airport. Construction of that light rail line is moving forward on schedule and is more than 90 percent complete.

Expansion of Link light rail between downtown and the University of Washington is slated to begin this year and be completed in 2016. University Link is projected to increase the regional light rail system’s ridership to more than 114,000 a day by 2030.

More Ladenburg

I want to mention one other point Ladenburg had yesterday about Sound Transit: governance reform is not popular in Pierce County. The Pierce County voters see it as a way to get more power in King County and less power for them, so they oppose governance reform. Ladenburg said that when Rice and Stanton, two people fighting for governance reform, gave a presentation to a business group in Pierce County, the response was very negative with people asking “Your solution to transportation is more elected officials?”

Pierce County residents do have good reason to believe governance reform would not benefit them. One major impetus for governance reform at the state legislature is that the expensive roads projects in King County, the Alaska Way Viaduct, SR-167 and the SR-520 floating bridge are the state’s responsibility and governance reform is an attempt to get central Puget Sound taxpayers to foot the bill for these projects rather than the whole state. But few in Pierce County use these roads either, and having the taxpayers down there pay for those roads doesn’t seem fair either.

Drinking Liberally

I’m here with Andrew at Drinking Liberally, an every Tuesday event at the Montlake Alehouse, to talk about progressive politics. I don’t normally come to this very often, but today we have Pierce County executive John Ladenburg here to talk about his bid for Attorney General.

We asked him about his position on the 15 year package, and he was blunt. He said he doesn’t want to go to ballot unless they have 15 of the 18 votes. The maybes right now are von Reichbauer, from Federal Way, who is a likely yes, and Aaron Reardon and Deanna Dawson. With those three, he’ll be number fifteen, and we’ll be ready to go to ballot.

Ladenburg also mentioned that if this passes, he’d be interested in annexing part of Thurston County to run Sounder all the way to the capitol! This is a great idea – there’s track to get nearly all the way there, and this is something I’ve personally been looking at as a great next step.

Handicapping the Board Vote

I’ve talked to a couple of sources, and together with observations from some board meetings, I think I know who the swing votes are going into next Thursday’s board vote.

There are 18 board members total.  We need 12 YES votes to get on the ballot in 2008, although more would probably help to sell it to the public.  Right now, I reckon we have 11 with two board members on the fence, and some others that might be brought around.

Someone like me can talk to Aaron Reardon until I’m blue in the face, but Mr. Reardon doesn’t really care (nor should he care) what a Seattle resident thinks.  That’s why it’s important for these politicians to hear from their actual constituents.  So if you live in the right place, make yourself heard.

In King County, I’m fairly comfortable that 8 of the 10 representatives (Nickels, Phillips, Constantine, Patterson, Burleigh, Butler, Conlin, and Marchione) are solid YES votes.  I’ve heard very little about Burleigh (Kirkland), Butler (Issaquah), and Marchione (Redmond), so if you’re a constituent of one of those three it wouldn’t hurt to drop them a line thanking them for their work on Sound Transit and encouraging them to vote YES.

Ron Sims has staked a very public position in opposition to light rail to anywhere but Northgate, so I suspect he’s beyond persuasion at this point.  If you like tilting at windmills, though, go for it.

The interesting figure from King County is Pete von Reichbauer, who represents parts of Algona, Auburn, Federal Way, Pacific, Kent and Milton.  He seems to be on the fence, pulled in different directions.  Federal Way is gung-ho about transit oriented development and therefore rail, but he seems hesitant to pull the trigger.  Let’s show him that his interests lie in serving constituents that want a YES vote.

In Pierce County, there’s a solid YES block of Thomas, Anderson, and Enslow.  All three are very active in meetings, asking good questions and clearly dedicated in bringing us light rail ASAP.  County Executive John Ladenburg, however, is wavering; he’s running for state Attorney General, and as with any electioneering politician, is very conscious of how the wind is blowing statewide.  Fortunately, that means he’s somewhat susceptible to pleas from any citizen in the state.

Snohomish County is the most challenging terrain.  In spite of the staff’s move to a 15-year plan to placate Executive Reardon, he’s been decidedly noncommittal, and he’s made positive comments about governance reform in the past.  Edmonds Councilwoman Deanna Dawson, who owes her position on the board to Reardon, seems to be following his lead.  Just try to figure out how she’ll vote based on this KUOW interview (skip ahead to 10:00); bet you can’t!  Lastly, there’s Everett Councilmember Paul Roberts, who’s traditionally been very skeptical of the Light Rail project and is likely to vote no.

The last vote on the board is WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond, who Goldy thinks is going to vote NO.  But that’s a whole ‘nother rant.  Her boss is Governor Gregoire, who’s up for re-election, for what it’s worth.

If my guesses are correct, we’re at 11 pretty solid votes for light rail, when we need 12.  There are four attainable votes out there, if the right people get a hold of them.  If you’re a constituent of one of the swing votes, let them know what you think.  With the current level of gas prices and Obama on the ballot, this is the best chance we may have in a generation to get a large rail plan that actually passes.  That opens the gates for a follow-on project down the road to build what isn’t served this time around.

Or, we can mess around and argue about Northgate and Bellevue for a few more years.

Minds are being made up as we speak.  Act now.

Comments with nasty, personal comments about politicians will be deleted as soon as I see them.

Snohomish County Gets Off the Train

Based on this overheated rhetoric, you’ve got to hand it to Snohomish County leaders for petty sub-regionalism.

Snohomish County Executive Aaron Reardon and Edmonds City Councilwoman Deanna Dawson, who both serve on the transit board, said they oppose the 12-year plan, partly because it doesn’t bring light rail to Snohomish County.

“I will vote no on it,” Reardon said. “I will actively campaign against it.

I don’t blame them for wanting to get light rail to their county as quickly as possible; indeed, in their place I would insist on a longer plan. Maybe Reardon is just bluffing, but I’m not sure how actively working to defeat a smaller plan gets the train up there any sooner. At best, it kicks the can down the road a few years, so that it’ll cost more to get the same service later; at worst, a second defeat for Sound Transit leads to reorganization, years to decades of navel-gazing, and not much done, ever.

Reardon and Dawson said they won’t support the 15-year plan, either, unless it brings light rail to Lynnwood, quickly creates a better bus service for Snohomish County and assures local taxes will be used for local projects. Snohomish County residents need transit options, Dawson said.

Of course, informed readers know that sub-area equity requires that taxes collected in a sub-area are used on projects that directly benefit that sub-area. What I take this to mean is that they will not interpret any project in King County as benefiting Snohomish County residents, which is incredibly obtuse. At its most extreme, this can be read as a rejection of the practice of borrowing from Snohomish County funds to build in King County, which is the only sensible way I can think of to build a capital-intensive line that starts in King and goes to Snohomish.

“I’ve grown tired of waiting,” Reardon said. “It’s moving too slow.”

Ah, the constant refrain of those who wish to slow down light rail.

Sound Transit Board member Paul Roberts, an Everett City Councilman, said he opposes the two plans.

They don’t bring light rail to Everett, the largest city in Snohomish County with the county’s largest employer — the Boeing manufacturing plant, Roberts said. They don’t aim to provide much-needed bus service for people over the next few years.

This statement is disconnected from any actual feasible plan. Assuming Roberts isn’t talking about the Everett Streetcar, there just isn’t the money to get anywhere near Everett. If he wants more bus service, perhaps he can talk to his colleagues Reardon and Lawson and drop the light rail demands to pay for buses. If he wants to get the train all the way up there, I guess he’d prefer to sit around and wait for the legislature to go up to authorize another .5% or so, so we can pass a massive tax measure later. Yeah, that’d be much better than getting started now.

What I fear is that the statements of these three politicians both reflect and enable the attitude of the voters: get more rail, faster, for less money. If they’re waiting for that plan, they’ll be waiting a long time. See you on the bus in 2025!

In retrospect, it was a mistake to include parts of Snohomish County in the Sound Transit district. Their tax base is tiny, so it’s hard to deliver anything capital-intensive. Unlike Pierce County, their leaders unwilling to recognize that improvements in Seattle — where many of their residents work — are of benefit to them. Because of that attitude and sub-area equity, they don’t contribute anything and instead drag the agency down by creating planning problems and providing lots of tax-averse voters. At the same time, BNSF has been a much worse partner on the North Sounder than South, limiting service. Unfortunately, there isn’t much that we can do about that now.

People that want to get Sounder out to Marysville or Arlington, take note.

Although I don’t think this rhetoric at all helpful, if it’s an accurate reflection of voter sentiment that a 15-year plan that gets to Lynnwood will do better at the ballot box, then by all means, let’s do the 15-year plan. I’m still curious what’s been cut to shorten the completion time from Proposition 1 by 5 years while still getting to Lynnwood. Bus service? Sounder? Parking spaces? A different definition of “Lynnwood”?

ULI Reality Check Liveblog part 5

After lunch, we first heard about how well our urban layouts did against the State of Washington’s climate change laws – there was one table (which I hope I got a picture of) that came very close. We voted (using little remote controls at our seats) on what issues are most important for the region – where our largest challenges will be, and what we need to focus on first. Infrastructure came first – building transit and transit oriented development.

It was pointed out that of all the square footage that will exist in 2040, 60% of it is yet to be built. That does include renovations, but it’s eye-opening. We have the opportunity to completely transform our region, building TOD and high density, green buildings, and new transit investments designed to serve them.

Right now, we have a panel discussion going (in the above image), led by Emory Thomas of the Puget Sound Business Journal, and featuring Greg Nickels (mayor of Seattle), Cary Bozeman (mayor of Bremerton), Grant Degginger (mayor of Bellevue), Ray Stephanson (mayor of Everett), John “Boots” Ladenburg (Pierce County Executive), and Ron Sims (King County Executive).

They’re discussing how to handle densification – Ladenburg just talked about how to use TOD to build new communities rather than forcing existing communities to densify. They’ve been talking about who regulates growth – Sims mentioned that King County is being pressured more and more to manage growth outside the cities, and that they’re trying to ensure that there isn’t overlap between city and county in planning. Mayor Stephanson is talking about higher education – he feels that Everett is limited by a lack of schooling. He’s also just brought up Swift, a joint venture between Everett Transit and Community Transit to build BRT on highway 99 between Everett and Aurora Village (the county line) and meet up with RapidRide. He’s expecting to grow by 100,000 people by 2040, and he says Everett can’t handle that much growth without light rail.

Uh, Density?

Crosscut recently posted an essay by former WSDOT secretary Doug McDonald lamenting the fact that, seven years into our growth management plan, the core cities aren’t keeping up with the share of population growth they’re supposed to absorb, leaving the excess to places like Snoqualmie:

In King County, in the most recent years, only five percent or less of the new housing units are springing up outside the urban growth boundaries. But in Snohomish County, since 2000, the share of new housing units outside the urban growth boundaries has steadily increased. In Kitsap County, the number of new housing units outside the Urban Growth Area in recent years has bounced from year to year between 40 percent and 60 percent. In Pierce County, recent information shows that 20 percent of the new housing units are now arising outside the urban growth boundaries. Another telling indicator is that for Pierce County as a whole, growth in the unincorporated areas — some inside and some outside the urban growth boundaries — accounted for almost six out of 10 new residents in the entire county!

I assume that his data is correct, and agree that it’s a big concern. Befitting a former WSDOT (i.e., “Pavement Inc.”) chief, he completely misdiagnoses the problem:

What will be necessary to turn the tide against, well, the spread of sprawl across the region? Better urban public schools! Higher-quality and lower-cost housing in the cities, especially housing that will make all kinds of families with children eager to live in city neighborhoods! Friendlier, convenient main street shopping for shoppers of all incomes! Good streets and sidewalks, safe bike lanes, and enjoyable parks for people of all ages! For all the citizens of the entire region, these needs in the cities now are front and center as the essential, critical measures of “green.”

The underlying assumption is that we can’t find enough people to buy housing in Seattle, so we have to create more incentives for people to do so. That is, of course, nonsense: over the past decade demand has exceeded supply, and in fact developers can’t build enough units to satisfy market demand. Why is that? Because of zoning restrictions, design review boards, and NIMBYism, not because Seattle is such a rotten place to live. If you want more households in Seattle, you have to increase the number of homes, and there’s no place to put up vast new tracts of single-family housing.

Because this is Crosscut, there’s a gratuitous swipe at Light Rail:

Has anyone not yet noticed that it’s standing-room-only on principal bus routes all over the very areas where better transit services can help attract new residents? What is so hard about the obvious fact that today we must take the path of securing the Vision 2040 goals by radical, imaginative, and cost-effective improvements in bus and van services to strengthen the entire network of public transportation? Can we see the numbers, please, for our public transportation alternatives, including innovative bus and van transit services and modern park-and-ride centers, as compared to just a few light rail stops? It’s time to take action, guided by real data, to deliver transportation solutions to help hundreds of thousands of people move more easily and inexpensively everywhere in the designated growth centers.

Again, Mr. McDonald assumes that the problem is that no one wants to live in Seattle, rather than supporting transit options that support density. As we’ve reviewed time and time again, the permanence of rail attracts transit-oriented development in a way that non-capital-intensive buses never can. And since rail can carry more people than buses, the sheer number of people you can fit in a space is larger.

I’m not sure how he plans to improve bus service where articulated buses already run every 5 minutes or so during peak hours. Maybe he would take away general purpose traffic lanes on arterials, but that would be pretty unprecedented for a WSDOT guy. What he needs is a larger vehicle that can run with shorter headways, i.e., light rail. But I guess his “real data’ doesn’t support that.

Pierce Appreciating the Attention

The Sunday Tacoma News Tribune had an interesting editorial about how they at the paper are demanding at least an effort on light-rail to the “City of Destiny”. I agree in principial, that :More express buses would be welcome, but they will increasingly get mired in traffic as the HOV lanes on Interstate 5 get jammed. More Sounder runs would also be welcome, but they don’t have nearly the people-carrying capacity of light rail, and that line runs eastward through Puyallup, Auburn and Kent.”

I do wonder if we’re running into an “everyone’s a transit planner” situation here. Tacoma Streetcars, Eastside DMU’s, light rail across 520, light rail to Tacoma… How can we get a plan that everyone is happy with?

Well, we could with a 2% sales tax increase, maybe. But that’s a big maybe. At some point, we need to say to ourselves “well, we won’t get everything we want, but we’ll get something that we want, and that is worth the sales tax burden over the duration of the project.” The .5% plan last year was for me, and the .4% plans discussed this year are for me as well. But I don’t live in Tacoma, and I don’t know the mindset.

I do know this, the longer we wait, the longer it’ll be until we get what we want, no matter what comes on the ballot. The TNT mentions that Sound Transit is scraping together its money to try to find some way to at least acquire right-of-way for a future light-rail package to Tacoma. My question to Pierce County residents is this: is it worth holding out for?

Board Meeting Update

The board met today, but did not decide whether to go back to the ballot, as I thought they would. Whoops. Apparently, they have extened their time table until July to decide to go the ballot. Sorry about the misinformation. With a Billionaire John Stanton-back “governance” initiative likely to rear its ugly head come November, I pray we do get a ballot initiative.

Some interesting information came from the meeting according to the Tacoma News Tribune’s Patrick O’Callahan:

  • No Lakewood-Dupont extension to Sounder, mostly because that run would be mostly for commuters from Olympia. The Pierce County delegation was not happy with the idea of subsidizing Thurston County residents.
  • The Tacoma Link extension was out, which upsets me and a lot of other people.
  • Sound Transit would spend money on acquiring right-of-way for South Link to be built in ST3.

More Sounder runs would still be included. I know the News Tribune’s postion was with Pierce County Ladenburg that it’s all about light rail for Pierce County, but I wonder if just buying land will get enough support to pass a ballot proposition.

Sound Transit in Pierce County

The Tacoma New Tribune, usually a Sound Transit supporter, has warned Sound Transit that putting a ballot iniative that doesn’t light rail from Tacoma to Sea-Tac might cost the Tribune’s support. Their reasoning is explained in this blog post from the Tribune’s editorial board. An excerpt:

We are dismayed at the possibility that some on the Sound Transit board seem to be backing away from the agency’s historic commitment to a rail connection between Pierce County and Sea-Tac airport (and points north). When the region approved a mass transit system in 1996, the chief benefit for the South Sound was the prospect of a light rail connection to heart of the Puget Sound economy. The board should know: This editorial page will not support a Sound Transit ballot measure that effectively precludes regional light rail for Pierce and South King Counties. If money is short, what’s available to be used to buy right-of-way for a planned line.

In a later blog post, David Seago brings out the latest governence reform details, which now might appear in the form of ballot initiative.

During an email exchange today with Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg on that matter, he also argued that Sound Transit should hold off until 2009 to go back to voters for Phase II expansion. Ladenburg stepped down as Sound Transit chairman last year but remains on the board for the rest of this year.

All that being said, I’m still not sure this is the right year. I understand the advantage of high voter and young voter turnout, but we are falling into a national recession. Even if the local economy remains good as I think it will, the national economy may well affect the vote.

Also, it appears that John Stanton is prepared to put his “governance change” proposal forward as an initiative and fund signature gathering to get it to the ballot this year. While I think his plan is poorly thought out and dangerous for Pierce County, he has the money to get it on the ballot and distract from any Sound Transit measure.

Plus, once Light Rail opens in 2009 in King County, I think we get a lot more
people as supporters, since this is what has happened around the US in the past.

Stanton confirmed today that supporters of forming a single regional body to govern both mass transit and road construction are exploring an initiative campaign to put it on the November ballot.

Like Ladenburg, the TNT ed board and most Pierce County elected officials are wary of regional governance, fearing that the needs of the metro Seattle area will dominate, to the detriment of Pierce County.

I hope that Stanton initiative doesn’t make it to the ballot. And I think Ladenburg and the Tribune are right, that if an elected board came to power, it would benefit Seattle’s immediate suburbs to the detriment of both Seattle itself and Pierce County. It would be a lose-lose to many of the people who want transit the most. Here’s a little more reading about Ladenburg’s feeling on ST2.

The scary thing about a governance reform initiative is that it would be voted on by the whole state, while its effects would only be felt in the Sound Transit district.

More Tacoma Streetcars

Update Below
Andrew Austin at the Bus Stops Here argues that the Tacoma Streetcar proposal is regional partially in response to my post about the subject. His argument is basically that the streetcars are cheaper than light rail, and the streetcars are pro-Pierce County and pro-Tacoma rather compared to Sounder or Express buses which favor Seattle as an employment center.

Andrew is off on the streetcars being cheaper than Tacoma Link, he claims that “using the same amount of money [as extending the streetcar to Tacoma General], extending the LINK with streetcar at-grade technology, and taking it to Stadium, 6th Ave., and Portland Ave., would be a better deal.” That’s impossible. Tacoma Link is the exact same type of streetcar the, made by the exact same company, as the Seattle streetcar is. Tacoma Link is not the same technology as Central Link which has much larger and faster cars. So it wouldn’t be cheaper, it’d be exactly the same cost, since it’d be exactly the same thing.

Secondly, the argument that building more streetcars would be good for Tacoma and could help Pierce County from “hav[ing] e to ship 30% of our brain power and workers to Seattle forever” goes completely against the notion that it is regional. I could argue that Seattle shouldn’t rebuild the 520 to ship workers to Redmond (though traffic there is about 50/50 each way), and the argument is clearly against regionalism.

I think the Tacoma Streetcar system is an awesome idea, and if Pierce County voters, about a third of whom live in Tacoma, feel that is the best use of their Sound Transit dollars they should get it. But it’s important to keep the details straight.

Hat Tip to Erik from Tacoma Urbanist.
An anonymous commentor asked why I hate the Tacoma streetcars. I don’t, I’m 100% for them. I just am not sure if the rest of Pierce County would want to see their ST2 money spent on those streetcars. If Pierce County does, then they should absolutely be a part of the proposal. I like Streetcars a whole lot more than express buses.

Barnett on Streetcar, and Transit to Marysville?

Erica Barnett, who apparently writes articles when she’s not making fun of Obama supporters, has a bizarre argument in this article. She starts by mentioning the streetcar proposal and the latest Sound Transit workshop. Okay, but then she busts into this:

[F]or those hoping Sound Transit will provide a panacea for the region’s out-of-control sprawl and growth-management woes, the latest proposal from the agency includes some sobering information.

In a nutshell: Growth management—which calls for concentrating growth in areas that are well served by transit, encouraging people to live close to where they work, and discouraging or banning new sprawl that promotes driving and harms the environment—isn’t working. Not only is it not working, the region is moving in the wrong direction. (Transit, in the absence of policies disincentivizing driving, isn’t “working” either—according to the US Department of Energy, vehicle miles driven could increase by 59 percent over 2005 levels by 2030—but that’s another column.) According to data included in Sound Transit’s preliminary “menu” of proposals for the ballot, the biggest growth is expected in places like Marysville and far Southeast Pierce County—places that won’t be served by new transit at all. Meanwhile, most of the job growth will be in places like Seattle, Bellevue, and Redmond. That means more trips—more long trips—in and out of the major urban centers from and to the sprawling, transitless suburbs.

First, she misunderstood the point about the Marysville argument. That was pointing out the importance of building transit, not the opposite. According to the Puget Sound Research Council’s models, most of the trips go through the main corridors that would be well served by high-capacity transit after ST2.

Second, Marysville is not in the Sound Transit district. That’s both good and bad; good because we don’t have the automatic no voters out there bringing propositionss down, but bad because it does not let new growth out there become transit-oriented.

I do agree with Barnett on the importance of growth boundaries with some teeth. As Martin showed this morning, New York was successful with transit by forcing the development into areas served by mass-transit. Here we need to do the same: build loads of real mass transit, and force new development there and there only.

I wonder what the chances are.

Sub-Area Equity

Sub-area equity (SAE) is a favorite whipping boy of transit advocates. If it weren’t for that, they say, we could smuggle those Pierce County dollars up here to create a dense network of rail lines in Seattle! A lot of stuff floating around the legislature this session has sought to do away with it.

While a system focused on dense Seattle neighborhoods has a certain appeal, realistically that kind of plan is a dead duck at the ballot box, for obvious reasons. SAE does force Sound Transit to make some goofy decisions, because it has to spend like crazy in outlying areas to offset the huge capital costs in the core. However, if you look a little past the next ballot measure, SAE will end up working to Seattle’s advantage.

Making the big assumption that something like the most recent workshop proposal gets built, the buildout in Seattle is pretty much done. The Northgate line would probably eventually go out to N. 175th St along the freeway, but that’s relatively cheap, and of more interest to people in Snohomish County. Meanwhile, there are tons of outlying places ST3 can go — to Issaquah, over 520, to Renton, to Tacoma and Everett, etc.

I can picture the ST board, mulling over ST3 and unburdened by SAE, maximizing the investment in the outlying areas, where support for transit is tepid, and banking that earnest Seattle liberals (who are in any case outnumbered) will support it anyway.

SAE would force more investment in Seattle: presumably, in Ballard and West Seattle. With ST2.1 finishing as soon as 2020, we could get service in the Western half of the city by the early 2030s with a little luck.