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November 01, 2007

Opponents of Roads and Transit Package fall short of creating a vision for transit loving Seattle

Let us close our eyes for a moment and imagine what Seattle might look like with Sound Transit succeeding at the ballot, and rail transit running the length of Seattle, serving major dense neighborhoods and the places in between.  Just imagine a region with a network of light rail, express buses and commuter rail service connecting suburbs with Seattle to the North, South and East.

What if all the pro-transit advocates in Seattle were unified in our support for transit funding in the city and while celebrating the victory of light rail, and regional transit service, we were able to focus our energies on a plan for next year to expand the BRT routes in Seattle, building on the funding approved last year for Metro.  Many local Metro routes are still on 20 or 30 minute intervals in the city and the routes with more frequent service almost always shift to 30 minute intervals after 7 PM.  What if we were able to make the frequency of most local routes in Seattle a minimum of every 10 to 15 minutes and extend that frequency to 9 PM.  What about late night service, and very early morning service?  In other cities folks go out enjoying the nightlife and take a subway or bus home.  Wouldn’t it be nice to have major routes that had service 24 hours a day?  Serving late night partiers or early morning commuters.

Every time transit is opposed in Seattle, we lose momentum on the bigger picture of creating funding for a long term investment in rail, a system that rivals the capacity of highways.  At the same time we miss the opportunity for a short term investment in bus service to create a system with frequency that will serve us now. 

We have to think about the larger opportunity here, and the political dynamics of each election year.  With 2008 as a presidential election year, turnout will be especially strong for liberal voters, less concerned about taxes, and interested in service improvements to Metro routes serving the city. This is the perfect opportunity to upgrade our bus service in the city and add new BRT routes.  What are we waiting for?  The Alaskan Way Viaduct is coming down in years not decades.  Thousands of people are moving here each week and month.  Buses in the city are already beyond capacity.

The issue in this election and with this vote is the same political issue we face in Olympia, and in King County.  Liberals in the city are feeling beat up by the suburbs, who collectively dominate the city in terms of population and political power.  The suburbs are built inside a highway grid and they are at a choke point.  This measure is the perfect balance for the suburbs with an investment in transit connecting urban centers and an improvement in the roads infrastructure.  This is a regional measure and it makes sense as a whole for the region.

In Seattle, a city that in vote after vote has favored additional funding for transit, a city leading the nation in taking action against climate change, we need to chart our own course and clean up our own back yard before we can really focus on the suburbs.   We should really start focusing on I-5 and the bigger picture of what makes successful communities, where highways are designed as an integrated part of the landscape, integrated into the road grid and supporting the community and not creating barriers of concrete.  Imagine if I-5 was torn down, it’s crumbling anyway, and made into a beautiful European style boulevard, integrated into the community.

There is a different way to spin each issue,.  I’m looking at the roads and transit measure in today’s dollars, and not adding inflation and interest to the package.  I’m counting on environmentalists getting smart in the coming decades and focusing on how we can speed up getting this rapid transit built and paying this package off and putting additional funding in place as soon as we can for creating the transit system that we need.

Cross Posted on The Urban Environmentalist

Posted by EzraBasom on November 1, 2007 at 11:33 PM in Policy | Permalink


Ezra - thanks for this post, which is extremely well written! Instead of all the hyperbole and bluster we've been subjected to regarding RTID, it's nice to read an argument so logical, that gets to the heart of the issue.

Posted by: shoephone | Nov 1, 2007 11:58:37 PM

To me, you've hit the nail on the head with the bus schedules. Depending on the buses late at night is a good way to be stranded somewhere. And in a place where it seems to rain for eight months a year, waiting half an hour for a bus can be hazardous to your health.

All that rail transit is nice, but without a more frequent bus schedule it's hard to imagine more people using the system for anything other than a daily commute during rush hour.

Posted by: Cujo359 | Nov 2, 2007 12:40:43 AM

There is no single answer to our mobility situation in King County, the Puget Sound region, Western Washington or the entire state. Instead, we implement every possible solution simultaneously, doing a thousand diffenrent things to build a stable, sustainable efficiency of energy use and management.
Recent advances in manufacturing technology will soon produce electric motors, the ubiquitous workhorse of building and mechanical systems, with copper rotor cores rather than aluminum, extending longevity of equipment while operating at lower consumption rates. We should incentivize changeout of the millions of old motors over a compressed timeline.
Development of new transportation technologies is critical. Coaster Pod systems, based on pipe rail amusement park rides, could provide an individualized, fast, efficient transport systems that would attract riders and could be built on trail system rights-of-way at extremely low costs per mile. Embedded-wire or camera/computer automated guidance systems for cars, the technology for which is on the shelf, could be added to the existing freeway system to increase efficiency (trips/hr) tenfold and increase safety by a similar factor while yielding productive travel time for the riders. Throw some money at developing and testing new ideas in mobility!

Posted by: Steve Scott | Nov 3, 2007 8:51:42 PM

Nice commentary. Let's hope the voice of the common sense urban environmentalist wins out on Tuesday.

I'm tired of listening to the zealots at the Sierra Club and their new found friends on the "pave the planet" right.

Neither side has any viable solutions - and both will just go back to fighting their ideological wars should Prop. 1 fail.

The definition of "progess" is not endless arguing. Progress is when you actually move forward...

Posted by: Brandon | Nov 4, 2007 9:27:23 PM

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