The Seattle region has been tied in knots over transit planning since the mid-1960s, when the first opponents of rail transit surfaced, mostly based at the University of Washington. It's easier to attack a proposal than to have to defend one, which is one reason opponents of rail have had an advantage. Factor in populist suspicion of large, arrogant agencies and the hilly landscape, and you've got Impasse Transit.
Skeptics such as former Transportation Secretary Doug MacDonald normally propose a better way to spend all those rail dollars, namely on buses, vanpools, and bus rapid transit. They make a compelling case, at least on paper.
The problem is, the alternative case is hypothetical, assuming a wise transportation agency that is able to build bus rapid transit. In fact, for all the logic behind bus rapid transit, you end up having to fight it through block by block, a little like clearing streets in Baghdad. You have to pry a dedicated lane away from automobiles and trucks, or from curbside parking. You have to change traffic signals. You need to create large park and ride lots, which neighborhoods don't want. Little wonder that we've made little progress on this idea and that Metro, which ought to embrace it, instead is dragging its feet.
To glimpse the messy future of non-rail rapid transit, consider the case of Berkeley. Plans for dedicated bus lanes on busy Telegraph Avenue, south of the Cal campus, have touched off a broad revolt, complete with an initiative that would require voter approval for any high-occupancy vehicle lanes in the city. As a public service, I hereby present a preview of the arguments that would soon be exported to Seattle:Lots of money to save just a minute or two compared to ordinary bus trips. Forcing traffic and parking onto side streets. Death knell to businesses along established streets. Better to spend the $400 million on cleaner buses, express buses that don't need dedicated lanes, or a new rail rapid transit route.
In short, in Seattle as in Berkeley, all right-thinking people are opposed to cars and in favor of transit. So long as it's the next proposal, not the current one, that is.