Mercer Islanders showcase a purer form of entitlement

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Mercer Island

When citizens gather to engage government employees, the results can be illuminating. Public town halls, “listening tours” and forums are ideal showcases for – as one inspiring public servant put it – “people caring loudly.” Otherwise pleasant individuals unleash years of pent-up frustration over narrow issues. Participants make demands that range from the mundane to fundamental restructurings of American society and law. Grandstanding local weirdos get a live audience. On occasion, people raise reasonable ideas and concerns. It’s democracy in action.

But it’s not often that a public meeting incorporates the subjects of Civil War-era slavery, self-driving cars, and how mass transit is a key part of the pollution problem. That’s what representatives of Sound Transit faced last Thursday at an open-mic session on Mercer Island attended by roughly 200 citizens, Washington Department of Transportation Secretary Lynn Peterson, Bellevue Mayor Claudia Balducci, and a range of Mercer Island politicians.

Like their island-dwelling brethren on Bainbridge or Vashon, many Mercer Islanders want to separate themselves from Seattle and Bellevue’s clamor. Unlike these other island residents, however, they have an easy commute to the cities courtesy of Interstate 90’s bridges. Unfortunately for some island residents, these bridges and related transit infrastructure are also enjoyed by non-residents.

This frustration was the focus at Thursday’s meeting, as Seattle Transit Blog reporter Zach Shaner documented in detail via Twitter and an article published Tuesday. Shaner’s parents lived on the island for a time, and he’s followed its transit-related sentiments for a while. Nonetheless, he told us that he “wasn’t prepared for the breadth of special privileges and exemptions (Mercer Islanders) sought” at the meeting.

For example, many non-residents use the Mercer Island Park and Ride, which the Mercer Island Reporter notes is among the most heavily used in the county. It fills up by 7:30 in the morning most days, which is why Sound Transit proposed to expand it in 2006. The Mercer Island city council voted to keep it smaller.

At the meeting, numerous speakers demanded that Island residents receive special or exclusive access to the Park and Ride.

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About the Authors & Contributors

Drew Atkins

Drew Atkins

Drew Atkins is a journalist and writer in Seattle, and the recipient of numerous national and regional awards. His work has appeared in the New York Times, Seattle Times, The Oregonian, InvestigateWest, Geekwire, Seattle Magazine, and others. He also previously served as the managing editor of Crosscut. He can be contacted at