More from the ST Board Meeting

I finally had a chance to watch the video from the last ST board meeting, where they discussed options for the next ballot measure. There’s a bunch more information one gets by doing so:

  • The planners emphasized at the beginning that the presentation contained “more than we can afford”, and is meant as a menu of options to choose from.
  • The “BRT” is intended to utilize HOV lanes, but also expected to involve headways of no more than 15 minutes, and may include electronic signs and off-bus payment.
  • As I didn’t state clearly enough before, peak-hour buses will go straight into Seattle, but off-peak ones may dump them off at the rail termini.
  • 4 Sounder trains on the north line is all they really ever plan to do, because of the relatively low ridership.
  • One option to resolve the park-and-ride dilemma is to build satellite parking, which apparently has been successful in Sumner and Puyallup. Pierce County Exec John Ladenburg suggested charging for parking (yay!) and public-private partnerships to build garages.
  • The diesel multiple units (DMUs) suggested for Eastside commuter rail are 1-2 car, self-propelled mini-trains. The planners sound really down about the potential ridership on this line. Ladenburg is interested in running DMUs to supplement Sounder service in Pierce County.
  • Ladenburg and Tacoma City Councilmember Julie Anderson are really nostalgic for ST2 and would like to find a way to bring it back. Can’t say I blame them.
  • The University Link Federal funding agreement is more at risk than Carless In Seattle believes due to the threat from SB 6772.

Good stuff.

Sound Transit Workshop

I went to the Sound Transit workshop today, and it was interesting to see the various proposals. Here’s a pdf of the presentation.

  • I was disappointed that more Sounder service to Tacoma wasn’t included (the biggest increase was to just 15 daily round-trips), though that route is at or near capacity already. I guess this is because BNSF won’t give much more potential service on that route?
  • It was interesting to see that none of the plans proposed light rail south of Des Moines, which is really only one station south of Sea-Tac, or north of Northgate which is only three stations north of UW station. This is probably okay, I don’t know the ridership numbers exactly, but I doubt you’d get a lot of riders. The largest plan still had light-rail to Overlake (though not Redmond).
  • Nearly everybody there I spoke with seemed to think 2010 was the time to go back to ballot, which was what I have been leaning toward as well, with the recession and all. The one thing that could change my mind, is would be if Obama gets the nomination, he would drive young voters to the polls and vastly increase the likelihood of it passing in 2008.
  • I was suprised to see things I had never heard of before, like a Everett Streetcar (Everett Link?), Tacoma Link extensions to TCC, and a Northgate Freeway BRT station (where that would get built, I have no idea).
  • There was one Eastside Rail proposal, though I still think this is a bad idea, since most of the path is single-way and tops speeds are about 15 mph.

This map shows what the districts could look like if Mary Margaret Haugen’s bill passes.

Here’s a TNT article about it from the Pierce County perspective. Is it just me, or is TNT much better than at least the Times and probably the PI as well?
Did anyone else go?

SB 6772 Comments (II)

The bill has picked up two more sponsors: Sen. Marr (D-Spokane Outskirts) and Sen. Pridemore (D-Vancouver). Sen. Marr is the Assistant Majority Floor Leader.

So far, Rodney Tom is the only sponsor that actually represents part of the Sound Transit district.


I’ve gone through the 80 pages of legalese. Here’s the bill so that you can read for yourself, as I’m not any kind of lawyer. There are good and bad things about this bill, plus some things that could go either way.

The good things:
– The RTA would be authorized to collect sales taxes, vehicle excise taxes, and employee taxes solely for the purposes of high-capacity transit. (Section 516-518) I believe this expands their taxing authority. Of course, ST is currently limited by voter approval, not state legislation.

– The employee tax would be waived for any employee that has at least half the cost of a transit pass subsidized, or if the company has implemented an appropriate commuter-reduction plan (Section 307).

– Local municipalities can add their own stuff to the plan, effectively allowing for uneven levels of taxation if the benefits will be distributed unevenly. (Section 204)

– The Sound Transit staff essentially lives on in the new RTA (Section 210). I’m not sure Josh Feit’s fears about losing the $750 million FFGA for University Link is well-founded. Also, we’re not flushing over 10 years of hard-earned experience.

The bad things:
– The agency loses its focus on transit to also build roads.

– It’s also probably destined for a period of administrative chaos as they absorb road planners from RTID, which could have very negative impacts on Central Link startup and University Link groundbreaking.

– I think it’s unlikely you’d see a transit-only package go before the voters under this construct. That means that the Sierra Club et al. will be de facto opponents of rail for the foreseeable future.

– It’s certainly not explicitly in the bill, but I believe Daimajin is right when he suggests that this is an attempt by the rest of the state to stop funding their obligations on state highways in the region. It gives people clamoring for road projects somewhere to go besides the state legislature

The uncertain things:
– There are 10 voting commissioners: 3 appointed by the county executives, one elected at-large, and 6 elected from equally sized districts (Section 201). I’m skeptical this will work out in favor of the pro-transit forces, but I’m naturally pessimistic about such things. By my count, these districts work out to about one each for Snohomish, East King, and South King, and one-and-a-half for Seattle and Pierce County. If the most promising Link segments are to Northgate and Bellevue, you’re talking maybe 2 1/2 districts in favor. With the King Co. appointee and the at-large (?), you get 4 1/2 out of 10. The district lines will be important.

– Sub-area equity is gone. This is good in terms of producing an objectively better plan, but not necessarily good in producing one acceptable to the voters. It’ll be much easier to characterize it as “sending all our money to Seattle,” even if that’s not the case.

– Section 503 goes on and on about monorails. (!) Huh?

– If I read Section 313 correctly, only 10% of the employee tax and MVET can go to HOV projects. The rest has to go to commuter rail. The text is clear as mud, so I’m particularly unsure of this conclusion, as it seems to conflict with Sections 516-518.

I can imagine both good and bad outcomes from this bill, but I think the downside is a lot bigger than the upside.

The good outcome is that the pro-transit forces gain a narrow majority on the board, the staff handles the ST transition with grace, and ST 2.1 takes advantage of the uneven taxing options to make a rail-heavy and yet politically palatable plan, perhaps with a little more track laid than we’ve dared hope. The state continues its historical level of funding of highway projects, calling on the RTA to only fund the gold-plated aspects of projects like SR 520.

The bad outcome is that the reorganization causes ST to take its eye off the ball and jeopardize University Link. Ron Sims nominates some anti-rail, pro-BRT guy, the highway lobby bankrolls an anti-rail majority on the board, and we see pavement, pavement, pavement. Anytime the Puget Sound region asks for state money for roads, the legislature tells us to go see the RTA — while continuing to send our gas tax dollars anywhere else in the state that wants them.

Quite frankly, I’m pleased with ST’s performance over the last few years and pessimistic about the mood of the electorate. I’m reluctant to jeopardize that performance, and doubtful that this bill will produce something better.

So it’s not the end of the world, but puts a lot of hard-won gains at risk. It could actually make us better off, but it’s far more likely to do the reverse.

Or perhaps I don’t speak lawyer and I don’t know what I’m talking about.

Prop. 1 Survey Released

Sound Transit Commissioned Moore Information to make a post-Prop. 1 survey earlier this month. The results were not terribly suprising, I’ll make a summary of the ones that stuck out to me:

Most people (72%) support expanding light rail. Not suprising, Seattle leads the way with 84% supporting it, while the rest of the subareas are between 65%-72%. I was suprised to see that Snohomish is the most pro-light rail region after Seattle.

Every Subarea supports future transit packages focusing on light rail over express bus service (52%-62%). Seattle leads the way on this side again. This shows that BRT may be popular amongst talking heads, but not the man on the street. That guy knows better.

Every region supported splitting roads and transit (70%-77%), and every sub region other than Pierce County (only 31%) support a mostly transit package in the future over a mostly roads package.

Every region also supports a series of smaller individual ballot measures for specific projects rather than large comprehensive packages (53%-65%). I reckon this is because people vote know on confusing packages with long time frames and large bills.

65% of people supported the light rail package in Prop. 1, though only 53% of people would have voted for it on its own with 38% against, and 9% undecided. Suprisingly, the roads had a similar result, with 50% for it, 10% undecided and 40% against. Seattle and Snohomish(!!!) were most for the package 73% for Seattle, and 70% for Snohomish. East King was least for it, with only 54% supporting it.

Only Seattle (43% vs. 49%) supports safety and maintance for roads over Capacity, safety and maintence. East King is most for more capacity (69% vs. 29%), but every other subarea is around 56~58% for capacity as well as maintenance, and 35~39% for just maintenance. This shows the Sierra Club side is in a mild minority outside of Seattle.

Another weak point for the Sierra Club/Ron Sims argument is that a minority supports congestion pricing, with only Seattle (53%) being more than 50%. Congestion pricing is going to be a really tough sell.

Sound Transit is more favorable overall than WSDOT, but less favorable than the local agencies (Metro, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit).

Amazingly, Light Rail North and South were the most important issues after Fixing unsafe roads and bridges. Even replacing 520 fell short of that. Light Rail East was important to only 55%, but still more important than widening 405 with it’s $11 billion dollar price tag. Yeah and people say transit is expensive.

Amazingly, the $157 billion tactic didn’t work well against prop. 1, because as many people (16%) thought it cost less than $10 billion as tought it cost more than $100 billion (11%) Most people just didn’t know 67%. That what happens when 10 different numbers float around.

The final blow is that people hate sales taxes. Only 23% of people support using sales taxes to pay for transportation projects. Of course people hate taxes, but the MVET was the most popular with 51% of people supporting it. Unfortunately, there may not be much that can be done on this front, Sound Transit doesn’t have much taxing authority beyond sales tax.

In all, the poll makes a good case for smaller incremental packages, with small taxes that aren’t sales taxes and without roads attached. Let’s hope it gets on the ballot next year.

Update Here’s the a summary, and the full results. Thanks to Bill LaBorde for the link, I was going off a hard-print out.

What’s interesting about the board minutes, is that they authorized $1.5 million to PB Americas to come up with more planning for a phase two, which shows they are serious about getting it back on the ballot!

Bill Virgin = Comic Relief

After reading this P-I Columnist thoughts on Prop 1, I think I honestly needed my ribs to be replaced from laughing so hard. First of all, I do admire him for some suggestions, such as replacing the 520 and Alaskan Way Viaduct but then he goes on to say to Disband Sound Transit and letting the regional transit agencies take over…. Sure, that’ll be fine in dandy to replace 500+ Sound Transit buses, give Sounder over to Amtrak and/or BNSF or another private venture and give Link over to King County.

If it wasn’t for Sound Transit, there would not be this additional transportation infrastructure that we now have thanks to Sound Transit because King County, Pierce County, and Snohomish Counties couldn’t get off their asses to develop an extensive transportation plan.

We now have an agency that while not near the size of King County Metro Transit but is already at 35+ million passengers in it’s short life span. I don’t see Sound Transit going anywhere anytime soon and with their recent credit approvals. We need to stop looking at Sound Transit who said one thing in 1996 and changed it in 2001 because of increased costs because every other country happens to be developing at a faster rate that the United States is….It is not Sound Transit’s fault for raising fuel costs, concrete costs, steel costs.

If anything, all of our networks need to be under ONE name instead of 4 different agencies (Community, King, Pierce, ST) I would personally would not mind the new Puget Pass/Orca Pass to include the Washington State Ferry System (foot and passenger) on top of all of our other systems. I also wouldn’t mind the Monorail under King County Metro but that would never happen.

So yes, we have a lot of ideas, plans, thoughts, how we would love to get rid of Sound Transit but without ST, we wouldn’t be where we are at today without them and for that, can not thank this agency enough. Central Link Light-Rail is coming to Seattle in 2009, South Lake Union Streetcar in December, Community Transit’s Swift BRT in 2009 and King County Metro’s RapidRide BRT in 2010 and the 2003 Legislative Transportation Funding Package, Nickel fund, and the 2005 Transportation Partnership Funding Package are well under way all over our State to get our roads improved and in a State of Good Repair.

Give it time for everything to come together and you’ll see that our tax money is going to something good but you all need to realize that it takes time to build up the funds to get our roads repaved, repaired, to get our transportation in a condition that meets our needs, and most importantly, keeps our strong employers in our region. Without a effective transportation system, Seattle and the Puget Sound region will fail to be a world leader in trade and our economy.

Sierra Club’s Exit Poll is Bogus, Roads are being built anyway

At Slog, Erica “Party Crasher” Barnett, who showed up to the Yes party just as things got ugly (not meant as a comment on her looks), points to some Sierra Club rubbish that “proves” that Pro-Rail lefties somehow swung the vote.

But the Sierra Club’s sample is way off.

  • They counted 1,250 Seattlites of their 5,004 voters. That counts Seattle as 25% of the region instead of 20% as it is. And, in turnouts, Seattle performed worse than other areas.
  • Their “rest of King County” did not show where they came up with those 1,998 voters. Were they all in Federal Way or Bothel? It’s a big county.
  • They only counted 646 Snohomish County voters, half as many as Seattle voters, when far more Snohomish County folks voted than Seattle folks.

I’m not sure whether ST2 could have passed on its own. It would have been a smaller tax increase, which would have made voters more receptive, and some pro-environment voters could have voted for it. I am sure a lot of pro-roads folks would have voted no, though. This exit poll, however, was performed poorly, and is not statistically accurate. It does not give us that answer conclusively.

What we do know, though, is that they are going to build many of those roads projects anyway, just as we said they would. Pierce County may write their own roads package, which would suck because Pierce County Executive John “boots” Ladenburg gave the best speech of the night Tuesday at the Yes Party. And we know the 520 rebuild is critical, and will be done anyway. That Lindblom piece does bring up the possibility of a rail only package, but notes the legistlature in Olympia might stop it.

On the other hand, our Governor spoke thusly:

Gregoire said the defeat of the initiative was a “significant” blow for Sound Transit and the transit agency now has to decide whether to proceed with plans to extend light rail first to Tacoma or Everett.

When it came to Sound Transit, Gregoire said some of the voters sounded like they were from Missouri, where the state motto is “show me.”

Good job Sierra Club of swinging the 11% away from rail and onto roads!

There’s someone running around the internet slandering my math, I already wrote this in the comments, but I want to put it at the top here in case anyone is looking.

You can’t compare the numbers from the Washington State site and the counties’ sites, they are not the same thing.

In an apples-to-apples comparison on Washington State’s election site, there were 103914 Yes + 129151 No votes in King totalling 233065, and 38780 + 51939 totalling 90719 in Snohomish.

Then go to King County’s site, they say that in total 286607 people voted in King County. That’s 53,000 MORE people than the state says. In that context, the 90,000+ Seattle voters makes sense, Seattle being about a third of the county’s population. The County has about 25% more voters listed than the state does. So if you compare the King County number for Seattle against the State number for the whole region like they were the same, then the number looks 25% higher for Seattle. Seattle is really 20% of the voters, and 25% (the factor by which the County’s number is higher)of 20% (Seattle’s portion of the region’s vote) is 5% which shows why it looks like Seattle was 25% of the vote when you compare across the sites. Sorry if it’s a bit technical.

Moral: you can’t compare the two numbers like that slanderer is. They are completely different. The same goes for the Snohomish County number.

I’m not arguing that ST2 can’t win on it’s own. I’m sure it can’t and it will some day. I’m just not sure I buy that study.

Sound Transit receive second credit rating upgrade

November 02, 2007

For the second time in two weeks, Sound Transit was rewarded for its stellar financial performance with a credit rating upgrade from one of the nation’s three major independent municipal bond rating agencies.

Standard & Poor’s announced that they have upgraded Sound Transit’s subordinate lien bond rating to AAA, signaling strong investor confidence in Sound Transit’s financial health and outlook. Standard & Poor’s also affirmed the AAA rating for Sound Transit’s senior lien bonds, a rating that was upgraded to the S&P’s highest grade back in 2006.

“Two credit upgrades in less than a month is unassailable proof taxpayers can have total confidence in Sound Transit’s financial health,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “Now we can get even more bang for the buck as we move forward with regional transit projects.”

Two Pro-Prop 1 Articles, One Anti-Prop 1 post

There are two new interesting Pro-Prop 1 pieces out. The first one is a rather more enthusiastic piece from Hubert G. Locke, an elderly man who is actually for prop. 1, he calls voters to bring pragmatism and live ideology at home. The second is a less enthusiastic, but self-possessed pragmatic endorsement from Crosscut’s publisher, David Brewster.

First Locke:

A decade ago, Sound Transit was considered a disaster. Currently, it is hailed as a public enterprise that gets things done. Much of the credit, even Sound Transit critics acknowledge, goes to Joni Earl, Sound Transit’s CEO, who took over an agency with “a lousy reputation” and is credited with its near complete turnaround. Earl happens to be a public servant who turned down a raise five years ago based on her exceptional performance because Sound Transit had not achieved two major milestones it had set for itself. That kind of integrity, combined with the fact that she lives with public transportation issues every working day, makes Earl a voice I take seriously. So I asked her what advice she has for voters on Nov. 6.

True to her reputation for integrity, she was careful not to indicate how she thinks voters should cast their ballots. She points out, however, the two unarguable facts in all of this: Droves of people continue to move into our midst every year and we’ve delayed coming to grips with our transportation needs for far too long. No plan is perfect but now is the time, she says, to get on with it; “It’s only going to get more expensive if we delay.”

That’s sage counsel about a problem that won’t go away.

He knows what he is talking about. The transportation problem here just keeps coming up again and again, and as people keep moving here it gets worse and worse. This ballot measure seems to cover many of the points we care about: solutions to choke points that are broken only for lack of better infrastructure and a transit system to finally give people an alternative to driving.

On to Brewster. I was surprised he endorsed Prop 1, since he has written a number of pieces about how expensive light rail is on his site. His position is basically:

  • This ballot isn’t perfect, but it is good enough to deserve support.
  • The local elected officials who put the measure together will likely be the same ones who will draft the next ballot if we do make one. So defeat is not very likely to bring us something better. It’s a compromise now or a compromise later.
  • Passing the ballot will lift a huge burden off the voters and the politicians, where they will be allowed to work toward the more simple and small-scale solutions that will serve their consistencies. Basically, we only need one large scale ballot measure like this over the long time.

I agree with Mr Brewser, on the last two points, but I actually think Prop. 1 is pretty good. I love any and all transit and think that many of the roads portions of RTID are actually very good, that only the 405 and “Cross-Base” parts of the roads parts are bad roads.

Mr Brewster makes some other interesting points:

It’s hard to imagine that our politics, after such a monumental defeat, would move to the sunny uplands. One reason is that the same folks who brought us Proposition 1, with all its lumps and compromises, will be the folks who would fashion Proposition 2. The political realities won’t change (except for the worse). The highways folks, steaming in traffic jams, still have a veto over the transit folks, dueling over their technologies — and vice versa. The Legislature still has the last say over authorizing taxes, and they still are as gunshy as ever about tax-revolt figures such as Tim Eyman (doubtless more so after the taxpayers say no). So these are the folks who will suddenly have the courage and statesmanship to start imposing tolls, slicing off service to Pierce and Snohomish counties, and gambling on a surface solution for the Viaduct?

Well said. This idea is also very valuable:

Fixing the choke points on our highways and bridges may seem immoral because it lets drivers keep driving their evil cars. But it also helps fight sprawl, by keeping major employers closer inside the urban boundaries rather than throwing up their hands and moving to Moses Lake or Spanaway. A basic cause of sprawl is companies moving far out, to avoid congestion and to get cheaper land and the ability to move their trucks.

If you keep making congestion worse, you get a few people who move close to a job or switch to transit but a lot more people who vote with their feet. The way to get people to use transit is not to torture them, but to build good transit that is safe, frequent, fairly fast, and cheap. And you can’t build transit by not building transit.

Emphasis added. A lot of greens think that we can simply do nothing and people will pick up transit because they love it or will have little choice. As long as there are places like Spanaway, Duvall and Moses Lake, people will move there to avoid congestion. That’s sprawl, and that’s all that we’ll get if we don’t fix the obvious choke points, such as the 405/520 interchange and the so-called “Mercer Mess” and build transit.

Both writers make the point that this is a lot of non-Seattle politicians making decisions for their own voters, as they should. Locke writes:

Prop. 1 is a regional transportation issue on which the good people of Pierce and Snohomish counties, as well as King, get a chance to be heard. Their votes will serve, it is hoped, as a counterbalance to those local voices that pontificate about transportation as if only Seattle has a stake in its outcome. They might serve also as a corrective to the cycling enthusiasts in our midst who often sound as though our transportation problems could be solved if we just all took to two-wheelers. Prop. 1 is challenging us to think like the region that we are, rather than trying to behave as if Mill Creek and Federal Way didn’t exist.

Sounds almost like he’s writing against the Sierra Club and the Stranger. Erica Barnett and Josh Feit at the Stranger both complained about the idea of running transit through now low-dense South King County, as did the Sierra Club’s Mike O’Brien. They even said that it could cause sprawl, how transit causes sprawl in places people already live, I don’t know. But the only way to turn Federal Way into something like Fremont, California or Mill Creek into something like San Bruno, is to build light rail there. ECB or Feit could never understand that, probably because neither has ever been to any of the four places I mentioned. And Brewster writes:

It’s been interesting to watch a new generation of political leadership emerge, figures like Julia Patterson of the King County Council, a resident of SeaTac who was raised on a small farm in South King County; Pierce County Council member Shawn Bunney, chair of the Regional Transportation Investment District; and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg, chair of the Sound Transit board.

None is from Seattle, you notice. In fact, the one clear Seattle leader, King County Executive Ron Sims, having led the effort on Sound Transit and perhaps sensing how un-Seattlecentric it was becoming, jumped ship. At any rate, we’re way past due for some effective regional politics to come to maturity and not just defer to Seattle’s wishes, and this is Act I. Nor can Seattle expect, in the wake of a defeat of Proposition 1, to have any more clout, as its percentage of the regional population shrinks each year and its clout in Olympia keeps diminishing.

I don’t actually think that Sims jumped ship because it’s non-Seattle centric, and I don’t think that think that this ballot measure is overly anti-Seattle. But the fact is that it is a region plan, and it has a region purpose, and it serves the whole region reasonably well. Seattle gets a pretty good deal out of it too.

So we should vote for it.

Oh and the anti-Prop. 1 post? Ms Barnett of the Stranger in her usual form. Not much analysis there other than assuming it will fail without much evidence, and calling anyone who endorses Prop. 1 a “defeatist”. Nice. I wonder which of the three here actually thought this issue through more seriously?

Tukwila Station Event

These photos are actually legally taken this time:

It was a pretty nice event. Governor Christine Gregoire spoke, as did Senator Patty Murray, Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit Chair (and cowboy boot enthusiast) John Ladenburg, Port Commissioner Lloyd Hara, and State Representative Dave Upthegrove. The station looked great and it was actually raining during the speeches but I didn’t feel a drop on me. Beneath the station is a wonderful bus transfer section where buses can pick up and drop off on both sides of the station. There’s a lot of room for multi-modal transfers there.

There’s going to be a really nice mezzanine between the platform and the ground where the buses are. I wonder what exactly that space will be used for. They have already finished the elevated section between Rainier Valley and Tukwila so the only concrete construction left is from Tukwila to Seatac itself.

Some random things I learned at the event:

  • Politicians are great at congratulating themselves and thanking each other. On this note, Patty Murray said something great (paraphrased) “in twenty years people won’t remember who the leaders were, they will just be glad that it was built”.
  • The port commissioners really do answer to no one. Lloyd Hara said “we are going to make this a green airport” in the same sentence as saying “were are expanding 509 to the airport and adding a third runway.” It can’t become a green airport if you are adding highway lanes to the roads leading there and increasing the amount of air traffic.
  • On that note, where were the Sierra Club when these plans were being made? 509 expansion? That’s 15 lanes of general purpose highway (I’m not being facetious). We all know that air travel pollutes as much as highway travel per distance travelled, so where were they when the third runway was being built? One flight to New York and back is as bad as a 12 mile each way commute in a car for a whole year. A 50% increase in traffic at Seatac is a far bigger carbon effect than the roads in Prop. 1.
  • Union construction workers are very friendly people.
  • One factor in the long walk from the station to the terminals in the airport is that they are moving the terminals northward toward where the station is due to the increased traffic there. I had no idea that was going to happen.
  • Both Patty Murray and Christine Gregoire are very short. Both Larry Philips and Dave Upthegrove are very tall.

Sierra Club has no credibility

So now the Sierra Club has gone one step past it’s usual greenhouse emissions line and has taken the bizarre step of criticizing the ST2 lines themselves.

A Sierra Club leader took the rare step Thursday of criticizing part of Sound Transit’s light-rail vision — a proposed track extension from the city of SeaTac south to Tacoma.

“I think it’s not the most efficient use of tax dollars,” local club Chairman Mike O’Brien said during a campaign debate over this fall’s multibillion-dollar Proposition 1.

He called the Tacoma line a “political decision” made to satisfy elected officials in Pierce County. “If transportation planners were in charge, they would come up with a more efficient solution,” he said.

In this country (and others) tax dollars are rarely efficiently used. Hell, I don’t even efficiently use my own cash. That doesn’t mean I should stop spending it or stop paying taxes. Sound Transit actually has a pretty decent record of not being hugely wasteful with tax dollars. The argument that the line doesn’t go to the right place is laughable. No matter where the build the line in South King County, that’s the right place: people will move to where the line is built and development will happen around the line!

While several environmental groups support the joint “Roads & Transit” plan, the Sierra Club argues that more road lanes would worsen global warming. O’Brien says he could have endorsed a transit-only plan.

After the debate, O’Brien said South End* trains would take too long to reach Seattle, because of the system’s slow surface segment currently under construction through South Seattle’s Rainier Valley. He suggests building separate lines outward from downtown Everett and Tacoma, serving local riders into those urban centers.

What the hell is he talking about? Separate lines outward from downtown Tacoma? That is just insane. People living in Federal Way aren’t well served by a line that takes them around Tacoma.

I’ve noticed the Seattle Times is still using the $38 billion number which is before the $7 billion double counting was corrected for.

Joel Connelly actually makes a good point today

Vote down the roads-and-rails package so we can “do a lot better” next time with a transit-exclusive measure, urged Mike O’Brien of the Sierra Club. The club has broken with most major green outfits, which back the November measure.

King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson argued that delay carries a human price on working families coping with longer commutes, and added, “Every year that we wait will cost another $500 million.”

Polls show a buffeted electorate: Voters want a solution to the mess and favor mass transit. They’re not that enthusiastic with a six-tenths-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax and a licensing tab of $200 or so on a new car. Didn’t we already vote to limit car tabs?

Other cities in the West have been transformed, positively, by light rail and commuter rail systems. Once a dark, cavernous place populated by hoody teenagers, downtown Portland at night has come alive with light rail. The SkyTrain in Vancouver, B.C., is often packed and has revitalized neighborhoods.

The best public transit systems don’t just supplant already used bus routes, but extend to and serve growth areas. I used Bay Area Rapid Transit to visit an old friend in the far suburb of Pleasanton, Calif. Benedictine monks in Mission, B.C., use commuter rail for trips to diocesan headquarters 45 miles away in Vancouver.

Sound Transit has shaped up after a chaotic start. The light rail line is no longer going nowhere, but ending at the airport. Still, it proposes to spend huge amounts of money, and is asking for a huge leap of faith. The $1.64 billion price tag to tunnel beneath Capitol Hill is more than the entire Forward Thrust system would have cost.

Are we building new freeways and stoking the fires of global warming, as the Sierra Club charges? Or does this package make safety improvements and fix choke points so Puget Sound-area families can get home rather than fuming in traffic? I sense that the Sierra Club has let itself get driven by ideology.

It’s a very good reason to get out of the office this fall, seek answers and write down observations … which will keep me from lying on the horn in rush-hour traffic and being pulled over and given a ticket.

I agree with Joel. The Sierra Club has been taken over by ideology on this issue and are no longer credible.

*I don’t like people using “South End” this way. Seattle’s Rainer Valley is the South End, SeaTac is not the end of anything, and thus not the “South End.”
Update: Does Will read this blog, or is the conclusion just that obvious?

City of Destiny Train Opens!

Sound Transit opened a the new reverse-commute “City of Destiny” train (a Seattle-to-Tacoma route).
From the press release:

Today Sound Transit announced expanded Sounder commuter rail service starting September 24th that includes two new weekday round trips on the south corridor and one on the north corridor. The new south corridor trains include the introduction of a new “reverse commute” train that will run from Seattle to Tacoma in the morning and return northbound in the evening.

The reverse commute train will for the first time enable commuters to ride Sounder to jobs in South King County and Pierce County. The additional runs expand Sounder service hours in both the north and south corridors, with the first train starting at 5 a.m. and the last train making its final stop at 6:55 p.m.

More trains, more hours, and the new reverse commute train all add up to more choices for commuters who want to ride Sounder commuter rail and leave traffic behind.

Pretty awesome! I have been doing reverse commutes for years, first from San Francisco to San Jose, and now from Seattle to Redmond, and this is going to open possibilities for economic growth through that corridor, and give people more options to work where they want, and live where they please.

So what kind of commutes do you guys have? Anyone else do a reverse commute?

Anti Prop-1 Campaign

Carless in Seattle has a great round-up of the anti-prop 1 ads that have just started airing. The comparison of the Pierce County ad with the Seattle Ad is pretty interesting.

King 5’s Robert Mak, whose show “Upfront with Robert Mak” is one of the most (unfairly) unintentionally hilarious programs on television because of Mak’s resemblence to Kermit the Frog, discussed the issue and sums up the anti-transit side of the story though in a little bit simplistic way.

“When you find out how little it does, and how much it costs, it’s the largest public works project ever proposed in America,” said Kemper. (STB – What? It’s the largest project works project because of how little it does?)

Some opponents are now running radio ads claiming the extra license tab and sales tax would add up to $157 billion by the time the last bonds are paid off in 50 years.

But transit supporters say the estimates are wrong, because after the year 2027, Sound Transit may choose to reduce taxes if it doesn’t need them.

Anyway now I finally figured out where the $157 billion number comes from, they assume that all taxes that are being collected will be collected for the 60 years that started in 1996 and will end in 2057 without building any more than is in the plan today. If prop 1 passes, the taxes will start to decrease after 2027 – when final construction finishes – unless new construction is approved by another vote.

The other thing, is the $157 billion number is mentioned in year-of-expenditure dollar amounts, which are inflation-adjusted. That means that the 2057 dollar amount is listed along side the 2007 dollar amount even though nothing in 2057 will cost the same as it does in 2007. Confusing right?

We’ve gone over and over again why using inflation-adjusted number make no sense (short recap: 1) All inflation numbers are estimates, so we don’t know the actual number anyway, 2) inflation adjusted numbers over huge time spans vastly over emphasizes later expenditures because inflation has increased those numbers, and 3) population growth increases the number of people who are paying the taxes, so per-person numbers are mis-estimated). By including money that is not being taxed (full taxes instead of debt-servicing from 2027 to 2057) 30 years from now, they are adding the largest possibly number because inflation will make costs 50 years from now so much higher than today. They are also dividing by current population numbers, to come up with a $94,000 per household figure.

Liars and crooks with deep pockets trying to confuse voters because of an ideological opposition to mass transit. Wow.

Pat Murray shows Sound Transit the Money!

I know that’s a lame title for this post, but I’m in Sweden (that’s a Stockholm metro station on the left), where things are a little behind the times in the American pop culture department, but way ahead in terms of congestion pricing (the photo in that article is hella not from Stockholm, btw), and transit (exactly 100 metro stations in a city of 760,000 and a region of 1.9 million, who says transit can’t work in low density?).

Anyway, it seems that Patty Murray has come through for Light Rail in the region.

Sound Transit today lauded Washington Sen. Patty Murray for her efforts to include $30 million for Sound Transit’s University Link light rail project in a key Senate funding bill.

“Our Senator comes through again,” said Sound Transit Board Chairman and Pierce County Executive John Ladenburg. “When commuters jump on the quick, quiet and efficient U-Link, they should thank Patty Murray.”

The funding bill also includes a $70 million installment of Sound Transit’s $500 million full funding grant agreement for the initial Link light rail segment from downtown Seattle to Tukwila that is more than 70 percent complete. The line from downtown to Tukwila is scheduled to open for service in July, 2009, with the final leg from Tukwila into Sea-Tac International Airport to open by December, 2009.

Density Again

There has been a lot going back and forth about density, so I’d like to write about it yet again. My basic argument about density with relation to transit is that transit creates density, not the other way around. New York had 500,000 people when it’s first railway was built in 1849 , 617,000 people subway was built in 1869, and had 7,891,957 people 80 years later in 1950. London had 1.35 million in 1831 when it’s first railways were built, had 2.5 million when the tube began construction (in 1863) and had ballooned to 8,615,245 76 years later (1939).

So when you here about transit and density, think not about how much density is required to support fixed-guide-way mass transit, but instead think about how much construction will be built around that transit. Case in point: Saturday the New York Times ran this piece about transit oriented development in Utah.

Murray City and Hamlet Homes are taking advantage of growing buyer interest in living and working near the regional TRAX light rail system, which has operated in the Salt Lake Valley since 1999. The Murray North station, one of three TRAX stops in Murray City — population 50,000 — serves as the centerpiece of Birkhill at Fireclay.

Salt Lake City and its closest suburbs built the $520 million, 19-mile, 23-station TRAX system, which carries more than 55,000 riders a day, well ahead of ridership projections. Voters have also repeatedly passed sales tax increases, including one approved last November, to spend $2.5 billion more in the next decade to complete 26 additional miles of light rail, 88 miles of heavy commuter rail line and nearly 40 extra station stops. The only American metropolitan area that is building more regional rapid transit capacity is Denver, which is constructing a 151-mile system.

Uh, does it seem to me that the low density places like Utah and Denver benefit more from new rail already high density places? Development is relatively easy, there is more community transformation and it is easier to obtain rights of way. In fact, one of the reasons that was so cheap was the right of way was an abandoned railway. Sounds a bit like the BNSF corridor on the Eastside, doesn’t it?

So you may think that means that high-density Seattle won’t get much out of transit. But Seattle is actually relatively low density. People get confused because the downtown core is so dense, they think that Seattle is a dense city. It is not. I have compiled this table of city densities with how populated Seattle would be if it were that dense.

As you can see, even epitome of sprawl Los Angeles is far more dense than Seattle. In fact, Seattle would have 700,000 people (by my calculations), instead of the 580,000 it has now, if it were as dense as Los Angeles. Seattle is about like Cleveland and Detroit, not cities I think of when I think of dense.

Despite it’s recent condo boom, Bellevue is far to the low end of cities, though it is probably unfair to compare a satellite city to main ones. The point remains, this is a low density region, and mass transit won’t have quite the effect here as it had in London or New York, but I imagine with enough transit built Seattle could easily get to be as dense as San Francisco or Chicago, in the one million people range.

Here’s a decent argument from Clark Williams-Derry (of Sightline) about how transit works in Vancouver, and how it could work here from the Tacoma News Tribune.

But when density rises a bit, transit becomes viable. By clustering homes near transit stops, and mixing residences with stores and services, neighborhoods in greater Vancouver have created more opportunities for convenient, cost-effective transit service.

Data from the Canadian census shows that roughly two-thirds of greater Vancouver’s residents live in a compact neighborhood – the sort of place where transit begins to be convenient and reliable. At last count, only about one-quarter of the people in the greater Puget Sound region live in that kind of compact neighborhood.

Transit doesn’t solve everything, of course. Despite its transit-friendly neighborhoods, greater Vancouver’s traffic is still pretty darn congested. Still, even if Vancouver’s focus on transit-friendly neighborhoods hasn’t guaranteed breezy commutes, the effects have almost certainly been worthwhile. First, without Vancouver’s transit edge, the city’s commuters would almost certainly be worse off than they are right now. If you lowered Vancouver’s transit ridership to Seattle-Tacoma levels, tens of thousands of additional cars would flood their roads during peak hours – the very time when they’re already jammed to capacity.

He’s got the argument backwards as I keep pointing out. Vancouver wasn’t dense before they built Skytrain and other transit options, it became dense when transit became more reliable. The argument about lowering Vancouver’s transit ridership is silly, because if they had never built Skytrain, Vancouver and it’s suburbs wouldn’t be nearly as dense as it is now, with far more sprawl, and far fewer compact neighborhoods. Building transit here will allow for more density. It certainly won’t solve everything, but more roads won’t either.

Clark Williams-Derry does have this nice point:

And finally, Vancouver’s transit-friendly neighborhoods have kept residents safer. In Washington, car crashes are the leading killer of people under the age of 45. But Pierce County residents are 70 percent more likely to die in a car crash than are residents of greater Vancouver – not because the roads are less safe, but simply because residents in counties like Pierce have to drive so much. (Mile for mile, riding a bus is about 10 times safer than driving a car.)

Well, I will feel a little more safe aboard the bus tomorrow.

Don’t Let the Cross-base Highway Ruin Everything

For some reason the Cross-base highway is this tremendous deal breaker for a lot of lefties. Why? Apparently when they found out two weeks ago that it would go through the some woods in Pierce County they never knew existed they were worried it would destroy the environment. Which means they won’t vote for Roads and Transit, which would be a big win for environmentalists with its 50 miles of light rail. I am an environmentalist, and it would be awful if that road is built, but I think the good outweighs the bad in this case. And as Orphan Road has pointed out, even if it is in the RTID, it’s not gauranteed to be built.

Over in Stranger comments Tip-toe Tommy wrote:

BTW–the RTID package that builds all those new lanes actually does a few nice things for Seattle. It will help fully fund new overpasses and ramps for cars and transit at Lander and Spokane streets. These two projects will actually begin to implement some of the things one would have to do if you were going to do a surface option on the waterfront. They will be done by the time the viaduct likely comes down. The package also will help pay for improvements to Mercer that will help knit Queen Anne and South Lake Union together. The RTID also replaces the South Park Bridge, a vital lifeline to one of Seattle’s best working class neighborhoods, and the worst bridge in the state. It also builds bus lanes on Aurora in Shoreline that match the ones Metro is building in Seattle and it builds a new off ramp for buses only for the HOV lanes coming from South King or Pierce county. The Seattle stuff is almost all transit. Take a look at it again.

If Roads and Transit doesn’t pass, everyone will say “the transit side was too big” and we’ll get a second ballot with less transit and more roads. No one will say, “Roads and Transit didn’t pass because of the Cross-base highway”.

RTID nearing completion

The PI reports that RTID’s executive committee voted 6-1 to move a version of the bill forward to a planning committee. The version they are considering is without the “cross-base highway” that has a lot of greens upset. The rub is that Pierce County Executive and Sound Transit Chairman John Ladenburg has threatened to veto any version of the RTID that did not include the cross-base highway. This is important because the new Sound Transit package, ST2, will be co-billed with RTID, so we won’t get our transit package if a majority of voters in King, Pierce and Snohomish counties don’t approve the bill.

Meanwhile, WashPirg, which has come out against RTID/ST2 in part because of the crossbase highway may come around on the new RTID/ST2 package as Bill LaBorde, state director for WashPIRG said:

“Happy enough” is a good way to put it. Bad stuff remains on the RTID project list but, in addition, to removing Cross-Base, we feel that the new policy language in the RTID plan gives us a foothold to change the way several of the RTID projects are ultimately built out and operated in the future. I guess the best way to put it is we’re now at a point where the good of adding 50 miles of light rail has begun to outweigh the potential harm from the RTID projects.

Stay tuned for more roads and transit drama…