First of three parts
Part 1 Ridership today and the suggested Sound Transit sales tax increase.
Part 2: Real riders speak, and Sound Transit's model isn't what they want to buy.
Part 3: The must-do agenda for transit and smart growth.
As memories fade of last November's failed and little-lamented Proposition 1, Sound Transit's board of directors now struggles with when to bring a big new transportation funding package - mostly rail, no roads, all Sound Transit — back to a regional ballot.
Which is the better time to let voters slam-dunk a big new sales tax boost for Sound Transit's vision?
Should it be in 2008, when a young and progressive presidential election turnout would vote green for rail transit?
Or in 2010, when taxpayer wallets will be looser with the economy back to full throttle? By then, light rail cars shuttling between downtown Seattle and Seattle-Tacoma International Airport could even warm the doubters to the main attraction of Sound Transit's plan: light rail to Bellevue, taking two existing vehicle lanes off the Interstate 90 floating bridge.
Or is there a third choice - the best - now not even being considered at Sound Transit? A different, stronger, broader transit plan, to be acted on as quickly as possible, costing less and doing more, and much sooner, to meet our region's pressing needs?
Sound Transit's staff and board profess great faith in "public outreach" to gauge sentiment and aid a decision. Never mind skeptical reviews of past survey methods and universally cautionary advice from regional writers (plus #, #, #, and #). Now, according to King County Council member and Sound Transit board member Julia Patterson, the agency should hear from people "who don't come to meetings."
I don't go to meetings now, but I used to. As the state's secretary of transportation and a member of the Sound Transit board of directors for six years, I voted with enthusiasm for the light rail segments soon to provide welcome benefits from the airport in and out of Seattle and to Husky Stadium and, perhaps someday, along Interstate 5 to Northgate.
Now I live in Seattle. I can't drive because of poor eyesight. So almost every day I ride the Metro Transit and Sound Transit buses with the rest of the regulars, learning and thinking at first-hand about our transit systems. I've gained new insights about the connected questions of energy scarcity, population growth, fairness to taxpayers, strengthening of neighborhoods, and protection in the Puget Sound area of water quality, the regional landscape, and natural habitat against sprawl and climate change.
I believe that big choices perhaps soon headed for the ballot about the next steps for transit must be examined with a vigorous, evidence-based progressive critique of where we should be going, and why. How does our regional transit system actually work? How can it work better and offer more in the future? With so much at stake, we had better get it right. There will be no cheap do-overs.
The overwhelming case for transit expansion
The public should certainly care. The case for transit system improvements could hardly be stronger. Family budgets are hemorrhaging from relentless gas-price increases. Deep anxiety feeds on the worldwide drumbeat that oil production has about peaked so that, unlike the last oil crisis, new supply won't ease the pressure on prices. Time now for a Prius? The trade-in value of the gas hog in the driveway has sunk like a rock. Federal statistics show that miles driven by vehicles in Washington have dropped 5 percent or more from a year ago, a huge shift over so short a period.
A sea change is at hand for transit and the public it serves. Over the past year, it's become standing-room-only on key buses for ordinary riders. Every transit system is reporting unprecedented ridership increases.
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