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Light rail at last: What took us forever?

13 reasons for Seattle's slug's pace for making tough decisions.
The bus tunnel investment of 1989 is finally paying off

The bus tunnel investment of 1989 is finally paying off Sound Transit

The first efforts to build modern rail transit in the Seattle area began about 50 years ago. A comprehensive plan was defeated by voters three times (1968, 70, 95), and then a shortened, "starter" system was passed in 1996. That's the one, shortened even further to just 14 miles, that opened this past weekend to general civic jubilation and maybe just in time to elect Mayor Greg Nickels to a third term.

The perennial Seattle questions arise: What takes so long? Why should Seattle be the biggest laggard for rail transit of all large American cities? Is it just transit — long a bedeviled question in these parts — or is there a broader Seattle malaise? Here's a baker's dozen of answers, only some pertaining to the endless transit debate.

1. Dispersed power. Like many Far West states, Washington and its cities take divided government to extremes, a legacy of the politics that was used to bust up the grip railroads had on our government. Most cities have a strong-mayor or strong-council system of government; we have both, in effect a 10-mayor system. And we have hundreds of local jurisdictions. Corraling all these fiercely independent entities takes a long, long time and usually produces a weak, weak compromise.

2. Passive-aggressive style. Seattleites are conflict-averse, or used to be (before Microsoft). That means seeming agreement is really just masked disagreement, and it takes a long time to put the cards on the table. Saying no early in the discussion would help greatly, but that's frowned on as hurtful. Smaller cities, where you worry about running into people you might have insulted, breed this kind of surface niceness.

3. The University of Washington. Seattle is unusual in having such a huge university in a middling-size burg, so the academic style of cranky disputatiousness looms larger than in most cities. Besides, the UW has long been the center of the pro-bus, anti-rail lobby — artfully argued since 1967 and never conceded. But it's not just orneriness. Our decision to build less-costly light rail, as opposed to longer trains of heavy rail (as proposed in 1968), has made Sound Transit especially vulnerable to cost-benefit analyses. Light rail is comparatively slow, especially when on the surface, and costly compared to its capacity. Worse, we have never really debated the merits of this particular light rail plan, heavily compromised by politics as it is, because the proponents have framed the debate as one between noble advocates of rapid transit and irrational opponents of all transit. Those who favor transit and yet feel the Sound Transit scheme is a poor one have been frozen out. They continue to fume and blog away.

4. Boeing. All those brainy engineers just love arguing about something as rich in mechanics, systems, and complex forecasting as transit. Boeing once even built some transit systems, called personal rapid transit, though it worked out badly for the company. Note also that rail transit does not serve any Boeing sites, though an earlier proposed route down Marginal Way would have done so.

5. Culture lag. It takes longer for ideas to make it out this far. That means by the time we get around to doing something other cities have done, a lot of the problems have become apparent. Rail transit doesn't really solve congestion, and it really is an old-fashioned mode of transit, we learn from these pioneering cities, some of whom have stillborn rail systems. Building transit later also means it's more expensive and more disruptive to the neighborhoods. Besides, proud innovators that we think we are (though way behind), we try to do it better or differently — as fatally demonstrated by the monorail, which was euthanized in 2005.

6. Affluence (not the worst problem to have). Being well off dulls the edge of urgency. A region where lots of people can afford cars has less demand for transit. Rich cities can afford, but don't really need, public services.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 7:54 a.m. Inappropriate

Wonderful!

Somehow I feel that I'm contributing to the problem by typing about this from behind a keyboard instead of getting involved in something.

A few thoughts:

1. This one's really important. Especially when we're comparing with international cities like Dublin, Amsterdam, and Mexico City. Many of the cities we hope to learn from have the national government directly involved in planning and financing their growth.

2. We should hire some Scandinavian and Japanese counselors to figure out how their societies continue to function with these characteristics. I need to read about that Toyota way.

5. We're ahead of the curve in connecting to Asian culture. We can borrow from successes that east coast cities don't know exist.

6. Maybe our problem is that the newly affluent are buying rental condos and skiing or hiking every weekend? A hundred years ago they would have been building houses to sell and rent by hand, and helping run the Potlatch?

10. Who leads Seattle business? Anyone? Someone at the Rainier Club must know.

11. As Gordon Price and John C. Olmsted said, the hills, lakes, and waterfront are what makes us unique. It takes extra effort to figure out the right answer, but the beauty is that we have a place different from wherever everyone else is trying to escape.

Rob K

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 7:59 a.m. Inappropriate

I expect one could get more quickly to downtown seattle from five miles off during the horse and buggy days than do the slugs now as they ooze along the hi and biways.

as to the overlapping interests and authorities, they are actually worse on the east coast, e.g. new york city's inability to build
subway extensions to either la guardia and j.f.k. think of new orleans.

mr. brewster, like his compadre, mossback, needs to take the # 7 down to Rainier Valley and then walk back, to rid themselves
of the notion that this is an "affluent" region. Anyone forgot Hooverville and the Wobblies hereabout and their leaving? Just because
the affluent are the ones with political pow doesn't mean more than that.

a guiliani or bloomberg for a couple of terms might do wonders.

brewster is spot on about the commercial side of seattle being about making money, oh what a waste of one's ephemeral
god given life.

and also about the seattle times, a mediocre paper, not as lousy as the san diego tribune... but not far behind...
not that the p.i. was any great shakes. with someone like joe adcock as their theater reviewer for eons until he expired. very nice man as he's supposed to have been. good critics are not necessarily nice in print. the notorious john simon however, turned out to be a nice chap in person! just noxious in print, but effective, culturally. now with bloomberg news!

i am glad to see acknowledged the influence of the war economy , going back to WW II. i was bombed by boeing bombers,
and the first crashed plane i saw was a B-17, practically in my backyard! well, a quarter of a mile off! destiny came acalling
back on a sunny day in the summer of 1944! even jim "Bugdud" McDermott obtains goodies for the defense contractors
in his district. it is the genius of the american military industrial complex to have integrated itself into every congressional district
which is why this is the evil empire!

mikerol

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 8:02 a.m. Inappropriate

I fully agree with reason #5. It does takes longer to overwhelm people with bad ideas than it does with good ideas.

jmrolls

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 8:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Well, great. Happy days. Seattle now has its toy train set, courtesy of millions of taxpayers in Pierce and Snohomish (and even King) counties who will never ride it. Now that that priority is taken care of, can we please get down to work solving the transportation mess around Puget Sound?

dbreneman

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 8:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Absolutely brilliant! This article explains many of the reasons why in spite of ways in which our "leaders" try to tout Seattle as being as "green," "vibrant," etc., it is instead in many ways just a hick town on steroids.

Mud Baby

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 9:15 a.m. Inappropriate

Good analysis, David. The principal reason light rail took so long was that it was a truly bad idea brought about only after millions of public and private dollars had been spent campaigning on its behalf---and then Prop. 1 carried only narrowly last fall after having been soundly defeated the previous year.

One aspect of our well intentioned but often fumbling local culture is that such notions as cost-benefit analysis are alien---except when it comes to Boeing, Microsoft, and other private corporations who make such internal analyses, relating to their own products, on a daily basis.

The fact remains that light rail is a transportation system that will take a long time to build...carry fewer passengers to fewer places from its few fixed-point stations than less costly bus and bus rapid transit systems...and place a nationally historic tax burden on citizens of King, Pierce and Snohomish Counties. The fiesta thrown last weekend, celebrating light rail's long delayed debut, was of course financed with tax dollars as well.

It took a long time for light rail to get this far. It no doubt will take an equally long time until citizens of the three counties come to a realization of what they have financed. Then time will be consumed when they try to undo it.

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 10:20 a.m. Inappropriate

Ted (and/or David), some two dozen metropolitan cities in North America have built and expanded modern light rail transit systems since San Diego began with its Tijuana Trolley in 1983.

Please name one that has regrets, that has civic leadership working "to undo it"?

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 10:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Prop 1 passed "only narrowly" last year?

Sometimes I wonder whether Mr. Van Dyk is posting from the same planet. As a long-time political "observer," Van Dyk knows darn well 57% is a virtual landslide, especially in the middle of an economic meltdown.

One possible reason for Ted Van Dyk's ongoing myopic vision: he gets his information soley from the transportation ideologues Brewster correctly identifies: the Ivory Tower bus nuts at the U of W, and the Personal Rapid Transit cult which evolved out of Boeing and spread to MS.

It's funny Van Dyk cites cost-benefit analysis as the rationale for his strong beliefs. The "alternative technologies" crowd he listens to is scared to death of ever putting a specific BRT/PRT/etc programme together. In the case of BRT, for intance, all Kemper Freeman and his cadre of public transit hating think tanks and consultants dream up the next BRT plan, it's always conceptual - and never specific in nature. These hired guns have run the numbers, and when they factor in all costs associated with a massive all-bus network (dedicated rights of way, cost of roadbed repair, etc) to go head-to-head with rail, the numbers don't look so good. Especially when industry standard metrics are used - as opposed to the fuzzy math and junk science measuring stick Van Dyk's highly biased never-named 'sources' employ.

Excellent piece by David Brewster. It's just too bad the gaggle of mixed-nuts rail opponents weren't identified and called-out years ago. Local media outlets have given every fringe technology kook carte blanche in this town for decades. Maybe now that light rail is up and running, the media will stop affording column space to the latest "my pet technology" fad.

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 10:34 a.m. Inappropriate

R on Beacon Hill: Mr. Van Dyk's sources like to portray DC's Metro system as an abomination.

Folks who live and work in the other Washington would tend to disagree.

There are several examples of BRT, PRT, Monorail buyers' remorse, however. Although many BRT projects have worked out just fine.

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 11:57 a.m. Inappropriate

I will prove all of David Brewster's points by saying that I love stories about me, the Seattle citizen, and my familiar problems that I embrace that descibe me, and my place in this world.

Mr Baker

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 12:55 p.m. Inappropriate

Thanks, MadisonAve. Helps confirm one of my observations -- people who dislike a given transit system are those who use it least.

DC Metro suffers from too many years of deferred maintenance, brought about by inadequate budgets. Tim Eyman, can you listen?

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 1:05 p.m. Inappropriate

While Mr. Brewster's analysis of why Pugetopolis has the worst urban public transport in North America is accurate as far as it goes, he omits the core element of xenophobia, the toxic undertow of "we-don'-wanna-be-like-New-York" hatefulness that has fueled the region's hostility to rail systems since the Forward Thrust debacles of 1968 and 1970.

Intensified by a nasty racism and anti-Jewish bias that is almost never publicly acknowledged -- the late Walter Crowley was good enough to reveal to me the damning details of the post-Forward Thrust voter research -- the resultant mindset surely marks Seattle and its surrounding metropolitan area as the home of the most hypocritical people on Earth.

On the one hand the region's occupants claim theirs is the very apex of environmental enlightenment; on the other they demonstrate a true nadir of anti-environmental malice by their unyielding reflexive opposition to adequate public transport -- "adequate" meaning that which runs on rails, is powered by electricity and takes full advantage of the fact that (thanks to Bonneville and the New Deal), we are blessed with the second cheapest electricity in the nation.

Thus the region's history of stubbornly rejecting adequate transit displays not only disdain for sound economic principles but an ultimate, possibly unprecedented contempt for the environment itself -- a contempt that, not surprisingly, is of a kind with the bigotries that came to light during the post-Forward Thrust surveys.

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 2:37 p.m. Inappropriate

14. Wear down the citzenry with multiple elections financed by deep-pocket consultants and corporations who stand to profit from the project; use the promise of federal construction funds to hide the true life-cycle costs, the big majority of which will be paid by local taxpayers to subsidize the system's operation; hype the extremely modest benefits (i.e. congestion reduction)and bury the true numbers in the EIS; emphasize the need for an "alternative" while not mentioning improvements that can be made (and will not be made do to lack of money) to the bus system that will continue to carry the vast majority of transit riders; and be current and politically correct by touting the global warming benefits, conveniently ignoring the huge carbon fuel footprint created by building the system, a carbon expenditure that will take decades to pay back, long after we will probably have reached the tipping point in global warming.

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 2:44 p.m. Inappropriate

The timeline for Sound Transit's accomplishments is not unreasonable for the scale of its track record measured by the staggering commitment of billions of local tax dollars, despite a localized future pin prick of mobility impact.

Digression: Read the PSRC Transportation 2040 Plan at http://www.psrc.org to compare the massive dollars for Sound Transit and the puny forecast of passenger RR results. Bus boardings still trump train boardings in all computer modeled scenarios. You'd think our planners could find a way to double transit market share and meet the State car mileage reduction goals with 161 miles of light rail and road use fees on every expressway and arterial, but they don't, so far.

While the explanations in the essay above from David Brewster provide some interesting context, a central point is that a series of well-executed technical decisions made by rail supporters following the 1970 second rejection of the Forward Thrust King County heavy rail subway took time to play out.

For one thing, the light rail mode with overhead wires took some time to come into existence as a professionally acceptable alternative to the heavy rail (3rd rail powered) systems popular in the 1970s, such as BART, MARTA in Atlanta, and MetroRail in DC. Light rail was supposed to be cheaper to build, but Seattle is providing a new high cost model.

But more importantly, in the recent history of our era, Sound Transit has been positively brilliant in establishing itself as a permanent light rail network construction agency, with some unexpected help from light rail opponents and the recent Republican Administration in Washington, DC.

Time consuming twists and turns on the path to the present reality are completely understandable.

Question: Does anybody think Sound Move would have passed in 1996 if Sound Transit had provided an accurate estimate of what its light rail plan would take, one that matches the reality of the present day? With the help of polling following the overreaching RTA proposal defeated in 1995, the agency proposed in 1996 just what it could get away with as acceptable. No lying was involved, just marketing.

The light rail network plan proposed by the agency and approved by voters back then is now taking twice as long to build as the plan approved, and costing more than twice as much. (By the way, a U of W professor signed the Expert Review Panel document in 1996 that said ST's rail cost and performance estimates presented to voters were reasonable.)

Now, take yourself back to a re-imagined 1996 Regional Express campaign where the truth were told: Yes or No, do you approve new sales and license tab taxation primarily aimed at building a light rail train line from downtown Seattle to the Airport opening in 13 years? And there's more if you vote yes: we'll sweeten the pot with a free Tacoma streetcar, Sounder commuter trains for 5,000 round trip commuters per day, some new bus ramps and transit centers along the freeway, and funding of express bus service from existing agencies that will board twice as many regional commuters in 2015 than will ride that Airport train. Yes or No.

Well, voters in 1996 said Yes to a more attractive description and set of performance forecasts. And you can thank Sound Transit's opponents at Sane Transit for the failed legal challenge that ended up with our State Supreme Court sanctioning what Sound Transit pulled off in 1996 -- over promised light rail mileage and underestimated costs and timelines.

Completing the funding took time of course. It's not unreasonable that the Bush Administration needed its full 8 year term to provide ST with $1.3 billion in light rail construction grants.

The second, bigger of two Federal grants came only after Mayor Nickels boldly led the agency against conventional political wisdom to a 2008 voter landslide approval of a doubling of its taxing authority necessary to complete the 1996 plan. This vote came many months before the first Seattle light rail trains were in operation, and our Mayor's success at keeping the light rail construction program rolling with 1/2 cent more sales tax revenue in a brewing recession is why the Bush Administration did not punt the $800 million Federal funding of University Link to the Obama Administration.

More technicalities: The continuity between the failure of King County voters to approve heavy rail in 1968 and 70 and the three-county light rail program of Sound Transit ramping up in the 1990s is the (again) brilliant maneuver to build the downtown Seattle bus tunnel in the 1980s complete with phony rails. Subway stations without trains sat there patiently for years, underutilized by Metro buses, and helping Seattle's light rail look easy to build.

Other ingenious moves from the point of view of promoting light rail inevitability were to build the I-90 cross Lake floating bridge with railroad load bearing in mind, and the 1999 decision to pledge the Sound Transit license tab tax against a token bond issuance lasting 30 years.

The Sound Transit team has been good at what they do best ... spending our money to get to ribbon cuttings, eventually.

What all this spending means to mobility for a region doing 12 million trips a day? Not very much, according to Puget Sound Regional Council planning publications.

And Madison Avenue, the answer is not to do BRT like ST does LRT.

jniles

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 3:14 p.m. Inappropriate

15. Park and Ride, afffordable housing? Neither!

16. Promise and deliver multimodel transportation to the same pools of population. The people that have do not have it working together, and those that don't still paying for it, neither group happy.

Mr Baker

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 7:24 p.m. Inappropriate

@dn: So if you keep presenting the same topic to voters, eventually they'll cave in and say yes? Is that what happened with the monorail? If transit's main goal is to reduce congestion, Tokyo is a complete, utter failure. They solved the problem of through-put (get as many people to their destination as possible), and never obsessed with giving drivers the "freedom" to go as fast as they please on empty roads.

@jniles: But voters have said yes to ST expansion even though the results of the original plan are no obvious. Why?

Rob K

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 8:25 p.m. Inappropriate

@Rob: There are lots of theories on the losing side of how the Mass Transit Now campaign for Prop 1 beat the NoToProp1 campaign. I don't know why with any certainty. Let the winners tell the tale. I have published a post-election take on the Yes campaign's messages at http://www.bettertransport.info/pitf/howSTwon.htm, but it doesn't explain why these messages prevailed.

jniles

Posted Tue, Jul 21, 11:11 p.m. Inappropriate

Sound Transit won in 2008 because voters could see the results that ST had delivered to date: Commuter rail trains to Everett and Tacoma, Express bus routes all over the region, A long list of transit centers, park-and-ride lots and freeway bus ramps, and of course over 14 miles of light rail almost ready to open. And they knew that Sound Transit had long-since solved the management problems that got the light rail program off on the wrong foot 10 years ago.

And the voters could also see what the other side was offering: Endless criticism, bloated numbers based on compounded "worst case" scenarios, and no viable alternative future, no vision other than "more buses would be cheaper."

Well, the voters of this region are smart enough to know that buses alone are not a long-term solution for growing transit capacity. They can see buses stuck in traffic, and they know that's not enough. And they know that simply adding lanes to urban freeways, the Kemper Freeman Jr. scheme, is a non-starter because the environmental costs, not to mention financial costs, are way too high. Modern light rail transit systems have been proved in two dozen other major cities in North America and they will work just fine here also.

Take a ride, folks. I rode midday trips that already have full seated loads, and I've seen many reports that that's the norm, not the exception. No surprise that people like it; the surprise is the apparent ridership.

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 2:27 a.m. Inappropriate

Ask yourself why Seattle still has no Green Line monorail in spite of having spent $200 million on it. The answer to the question of why light rail took so long is strongly similar.

rasul

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 2:36 a.m. Inappropriate

jeez, I was just wondering--where are all the complaints about direct democracy such as are found over at the comment thread on Tim Eyman?

For example this one:

[i]"Timmy, you fail to understand the central tenet of representative democracy. If people are unhappy with the policies implemented by their elected officials, they have the opportunity to vote them out every two or four years, in the case of the Legislature. Clowns (and liars) like you should not be micromanaging public policy with brain-dead initiatives.

— Adam Vogt
"[/i]

After all, ST was passed via direct democracy. Where are all the squeals? Probably deleted by some weird software bug, right?

rasul

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 6:03 a.m. Inappropriate

seattle seems to have had a fine streetcar network, then it submitted to the automobile, rubber and cement industry, at least the overhead wires for left to electric buses to hook up to...
as to planning for the future, look how the hegemon is planning in 40 year increments, and you thought that the famous five year plans produced boondoggles and contradictions!

Here's part of the way that Secretary of Defense Robert Gates recently defended his decision to stop production of the F-22 Raptor, the U.S. Air Force's giant boondoggle of a fighter jet. "Consider," the secretary of defense said,

"that by 2020, the United States is projected to have nearly 2,500 manned combat aircraft of all kinds. Of those, nearly 1,100 will be the most advanced fifth generation F-35s and F-22s. China, by contrast, is projected to have no fifth generation aircraft by 2020. And by 2025, the gap only widens. The U.S. will have approximately 1,700 of the most advanced fifth generation fighters versus a handful of comparable aircraft for the Chinese…Only in the parallel universe that is Washington, D.C., would that be considered 'gutting' defense."
So we've already made it to 2025 and, the Secretary of Defense tells us, the U.S. will still, according to present Pentagon planning, have an air force the likes of none on Earth. But don't stop there. That's just medium-range planning when it comes to the U.S. military and future war fighting. According to David Axe of Wired's Danger Room blog, the Air Force has just released its "Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047." In what Axe describes as an "acronym-dense 82 pages," it suggests that "tomorrow's dogfighters might not have pilots in the cockpit." The Plan sketches out how "ever-larger and more sophisticated flying robots could eventually replace every type of manned aircraft in its inventory -- everything from speedy air-to-air fighters to lumbering bombers and tankers."

http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175098/david_bromwich_america_s_serial_warriors

mikerol

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 9:08 a.m. Inappropriate

One correction for David: Seattle isn't the last big city to add a serious rail system. That would be Detroit.

BTW, Seattle's transit usage numbers (commute trips) have been above many of the rail cities, per census.gov numbers dating to both 2000 and the 2005-2007 ACS, regardless of whether you count city or metro area. Easily #2 in the Western US, well ahead of Portland, LA, Denver, et al. That's the power of density (vs. Denver and Portland), centralized jobs (vs. LA and Portland), and the power of buses to provide direct service to far more people. Buses aren't easy to figure out for a tourist or first-time user, and they're not exciting to ride. But they get the job done. Particularly when they get their own ROW. Third Ave ought to be a full-time bus mall soon.

Of course we do need rail. It's the spine for trips to or between the major destinations. Particularly as we grow, and do so with infill more than sprawl.

mhays

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 11:29 a.m. Inappropriate

Nothing changed for my except my taxes, you're welcome.

Mr Baker

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 12:18 p.m. Inappropriate

Yeah, let's not fund education either. Until I have kids.

mhays

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 2:09 p.m. Inappropriate

Or, you could do the short form.

Seattle's two daily papers got most of their profits from advertising for suburban homes and for cars (which may explain the incredible reign of Ted van Dyke). In the 50s and 60s Seattle was run as the industrial wasteland contrasting with the beautiful suburbs. Every public building in the city was neglected or replaced with trashy buildings we are now replacing.

As for Boeing, after discovering they made the worst public transit ever seen on earth (even the Eastern bloc nations used the superior PCC car) the company devoted most of their efforts to what they did best- keeping competing employers out of the region and keeping their taxes low. They were all too successful at both of those.

Dave Brewster is far too modest. His publications could have been noted for a series of articles which educated all of us on the basics of mass transit. They are not- they are noted for authors like Knute Berger, who credits himself in his latest "Light Rail does not a 'grown-up city' make" as fairly handy at slinging the mud but not so good at backing it up with any facts.

That long list of reasons Brewster gave is just an effort to hid the basic dynamics of the situation that converted thousands of acres of farmland into suburban housing, strip malls, and warehouses to serve big-box retailers. Getting the government to build a freeway to your short-platted acreage is as American as apple pie- no long-winded analysis needed.

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 2:56 p.m. Inappropriate

David, your insight into the history of Seattle politics is as always refreshing. I wonder if in side conversations you ever get Ted_Van_Dyk to change his strong views?

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 10:16 p.m. Inappropriate

~ Yawn ~

Who cares what took so long. The trains are here, full of shiny happy people who would never look for a reason to hop on a bus.

The U-Link extension is underway with another $800+ MILLION in hand from the Feds. And thanks to all those disaffected comfortable voters Brewster apparently thinks live in the burbs and send their kids to private schools and don't give a rip about the public process, light rail is an unstoppable force headed east across bridges and north and south to a station near you.

David should enjoy another glas of yesterday's wine with Ted, Kemper and the rest of their ilk. We'll keep building.

Better late than never.

Dinosaur

Posted Wed, Jul 22, 10:33 p.m. Inappropriate

Mr. Van Dyk has achieved another bewildering non-sequitur. I won't try to add to Brewster's list; he's covered the reasons it's hard to get things done in marked contrast to the former's terse rhetoric.

I am struck my Mr. Van Dyk's unwillingness or inability to reflect, either on the course of events or his own writings on the subject.

His message has not changed in eight years: buses are better and local pols are corrupt. But the facts have put the lie to such charges time and time again, and they are pretty clear. Sound Transit built and opened the first line, and they are building the UW connection; people seem to like it, and they voted for more.

There's a sort of blame-the-voters implication eminating from the Van Dyk comment that comes off like sour grapes. The notion that people are going to suddenly reverse course and undo what's been done seems oddly ill-founded in light of reality on the ground.

Posted Thu, Jul 23, 6:21 p.m. Inappropriate

Great article David. I've never heard anyone numerically analyze why Seattle has such a horrible time making decisions. The disperse nature of the government agencies is perhaps more at fault than most people realize. But then having 1 huge transportation agency that rules like a czar isn't an answer either. After all, that's what the WADOT is and it's wasting millions upon millions of dollars buying new ferries that could have easily been repaired.

The 2 citations that David made that seem most responsible are the UW and the Boeing Engineers. It seems no debate goes very far without someone pulling their credentials as UW 'experts' or Boeing Engineers. Witness the viaduct or 520 debates for examples of that.

One thing David perhaps omitted was the presence of wealth and lawyers, in combination to allow the public process to be challenged, confused and sued into oblivion as seems to be the case in almost every transportation project.

Interesting analysis David. Perhaps the best solution is to elect some courageous people into offices where people can make and defend their decisions instead of studying and analyzing projects to death.

Posted Thu, Jul 23, 6:30 p.m. Inappropriate

Ted Van Dyk's comments are worth saving for the history books. His attitude seems to be that the people in the tri-county district who voted again and again and again for transit, be it monorail or light rail, strongly support the concept of fixed guideway rail transit. I guess they were too stupid to know what they were voting for, a pretty condemning view of the region's voters. Wow.

As far as his support of buses over light rail, he clearly shows no value for people's time. Try taking a bus from say the SoDo station at Lander Street to Husky Stadium or therabouts. It's at least 2 buses and in rush hour, takes well over an hour. When the light rail tunnel gets finished to Husky stadium, it will take about 15 minutes, roughly 4 times faster.

There are no proposals by anyone, anywhere to provide that kind of service by the so-called paper tiger called 'bus rapid transit'.

Posted Thu, Jul 23, 7:40 p.m. Inappropriate

Legitamate reasons all, but corruption within automobile-related business interests is probably the #1 reason light rail took so long to return to Seattle and did so with a woefully underperforming initial line and expansion plans that don't seem to be appropriate improvements.

Southcenter should not have been left off the initial line. Stopping at the airport is an insufficient terminus. These two engineering blunders on the initial line were political machinations that axed potential ridership in half and offered little potential to guide regional growth and development. Yet, the next light rail expansion will be to UW where it will mostly replace existing transit and likewise offer little potential to guide growth. Put the tunnel on indefinite hold and build south to Federal Way, build a spur to Southcenter possibly to Renton, and build east to Bellevue and Redmond. These extensions will cost less and do more than reaching Northgate.

The next most likely reason light rail resurgence was hampered is that Seattle is inhabited by too many chickenshits.

Wells

Posted Fri, Jul 24, 1:08 a.m. Inappropriate

It is an interesting list, but I think some basics were not addressed. The first streetcars in the region were built by developers to sell new suburbs. ALL were originally private schemes, privately funded. When the auto hit, the city ended up holding the bag. As the last owners of a system that drained funds, it left a scar on the concept. The new suburbs were built for Autos. New middle class left the city in droves. As density dropped, developers made wider roads, not rail or trolley lines to get folks to buy the new suburbia... Light rail / trolleys were a thing of the past, left to develop for the cities that lost their infrastructure in WW II... Easy to build efficient lines and dense housing from the ground up after your previous city was bombed flat.

The dream lines we model light rail on were built from the ground up in cities with very strong zoning and planning. Europe and the Far East best practices examples are either built from scratch, or cities that were too poor or too smart to adopt the use of cars... like Scandinavia, or the dense older cities of England that were not bombed, but never got rid of the old tram and trolley lines, and instead spent money improving the machines that ran on them...

By the 50's and 60's in the USA the die was cast for 4 lane roads (SIX in Bellevue... lots of room left when the Japanese Americans had to leave their farms behind to Developers could by tracts for dirt cheap...)

WIth super blocks and super highways and cheap gas, no one could really believe the growth to come... especially here in the northwest.

My grandfather was AMAZED when they built 405 and Southcenter... Who the heck is going to shop there he asked... Forward thust failed because we were hard pressed to believe the growth we were told was coming, let alone pay for it...

In the 60's I remember the push to get rid of the overhead wires of the trackless trolleys... only to have the gas crunch hit (.49 CENTS A GALLON! AN OUTRAGE... lets buy a Pinto and save gas!) and then we got to pay to RE INSTALL those same overhead lines. A lot of the new wealth (I got mine and I am NOT sharing it) in the mid-seventies made fund of those at City Light who pulled us out of WHOOPS and pushed conservation... Today the battles are hardly recalled... When our funding went south to Portland's Max, most did not seem to care...

We forget the nay sayers almost as much as we forget those who got it right. You need to thank R.H. Thompson for pushing Seattle into having its own watershed, and the Great Northern into tunneling under Seattle, or Bertha Landis for backing City Light. We are proud of Safeco field yet forget we voted against it, what was it, um Twice?

I have my book of Seattle Engineering History and there is a wonderful map from city planning in 1910 showing the proposed subway under Lake Washington from Kirkland to downtown Seattle.

WE should be the Show Me City... Wells (previously) said it best... Too many who either cannot see the vision, wisdom or don't want to pay for the greater good unless they themselves benefit.

Posted Wed, Jul 29, 8:25 a.m. Inappropriate

Light rail didn't take that long to build once a government was designed within the urbanized portions of the region to build it and pay for it. Voters approved it a few years after the first ever regional district was created. It took a strong progressive Tacoma politician to break through King County's fractures in Olympia and create a regional government that would work: Ruth Fisher did that.

Early, King county centric efforts, failed to catch fire. (Construction delays post 1996 were mostly about opposition by leading Republicans in the region firing up leading Republicans in Congress, with an assist from Emory Bundy and the rag-tag ideology gang, which included the Seattle Times.)

Sound Transit has proven itself to be a strong regional government, as witnessed by voter approval of Phase II last year - before its first trains in Seattle carried people, which is fairly remarkable. (Salt Lake, Denver and Minneapolis rail system were approved at about the same time as Sound Transit, but were easier to build in places that are not nearly as constrained by hills and water. Regional governments in those places actually appear far weaker than those here. Portland's much touted system doesn't have much to offer here - its regional transit system (run by a board appointed by the Governor) serves a relatively puny geography compared to here. Portland's three county Metro focus is not transportation, but other things like garbage, a convention center and the zoo, and serves a largely urbanized core smaller than King County. The adjoining counties do their own thing, mostly.)

Early efforts to get King County voters to approve rail were hampered by the fact that Seattle had been losing population during the same period. It is only recently that Seattle has gained back the numbers of people who lived in the city in 1960. During the decade of flight, combined with dispersed growth fed by massive cut-rate freeway building, it was hard to argue that roads and buses were not a better choice because rail moves on a fixed system that didn't support the growth patterns within the region. Even the city of Seattle densities don't match cities like LA.

Boeing did have much to do with delay, especially by dispersing jobs around the region instead of growing in the core post-Seattle and Renton employment centers, it takes real estate to build big planes. Boeing workers, post-Seattle and Renton, tend to live far from work in dispersed patterns. Microsoft's job explosion in Redmond and Bellevue has actually helped urbanize the place to create a bed for rail. Bellevue's new skyline has had a similar effect - hard to believe the city old father's who created the plan that produced Bellevue's new densities were thinking rail was a necessary part of downtown's success, which not too long ago was dominated by a mall with free parking.

Perhaps there are lessons in theories about history. Let's see how this works. Experience in other areas indicate that the big thing for Sound Transit now will be pressure to build more, much faster. Let's slice years of construction schedules and really move.

Jan

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