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Sound Transit 3 is not about light rail, it’s about bringing our region closer together

st3-mass-transit-guide_mailer-2016_090216-mapSo much of the debating over the Sound Transit 3 vote has been about taxes or traffic or whether buses are better than trains or whether the size of the package is too ambitious. These points are all missing what’s really are the core of this decision: Loving our neighboring communities and wanting to be closer together.

Major investments in 20th Century freeways fueled sprawling growth across the region, encompassing old cities and towns while creating new ones on farm land and wilderness. In a literal sense, those freeways connected these homes to Seattle and to each other.

But those freeways also divide us. They physically cut through communities, creating barriers for everyone trying to get around by walking, biking and taking the bus. This need to buy, fuel, insure, park and maintain a car levies a de facto toll on access to these parts of our region.

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The need to own a personal car to get around in so many communities also creates miserable traffic. And traffic makes neighbors hate each other. Road rage is socially acceptable and almost routine. It’s a seemingly natural result of people hopelessly trapped in their cars with no other option for getting around. If that asshole in front of me would just drive five mph faster or if that bike lane weren’t there or if that kid in the crosswalk would stop lollygagging, I’d be there by now.

If it is miserable to get to another part of the region, you won’t want to go there. This creates even more divisions between us.

But it doesn’t need to be this way. Voting YES on Sound Transit 3 is about creating a very different future for our region.

ST3 is about building portals between regional centers, teleporting people reliably and completely outside the freeway traffic grind. Of course it won’t eliminate traffic, but it will give people another choice.

More importantly, it’s about bringing your community closer to other communities. Tacoma will no longer be an unpredictable stop-and-go slog away from Seattle, it will be a couple chapters of a book away. Ballard and Capitol Hill will feel right next door, not a city apart. People in Redmond could choose on a whim to go hang out at businesses in the West Seattle Junction.

The state is still building more and wider freeways, and they are using your taxes to do it without ever asking for your vote. Our region can make a different choice, but you have to make it happen with your ballot. No, that’s not fair, but it’s our reality. So let’s do it.

Vote YES on Proposition 1. And if you can, volunteer with the campaign to help get out more YES votes.

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26 responses to “Sound Transit 3 is not about light rail, it’s about bringing our region closer together”

  1. Benjamin

    This is a beautiful argument for better regional mass transit. Once we have decided to pursue better regional mass transit, though, we must try and do so in the best and most responsible way. The reason the debate is about light rail vs buses, the size of the package and the impact on traffic is that people are pretty unanimously in favor of better transit and a more connected region. People are not in agreement, though, that ST3 is the best or most responsible way to achieve that. You belittle the debates about buses, size and traffic impact but with a $54 billion those are very large issues. If we are going to spend that kind of money it should achieve what the region needs, and with accountability. A vote against ST3 is not a vote against regional mass transit. A vote NO on ST3 is a vote for regional transit done well.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Sound Transit is still the only regional transit that I’ve seen so far that’s done well. Metro is awful; buses are constantly stuck in traffic, and politics neutered what would have otherwise been a great restructuring in NE Seattle. Seattle’s street car is a joke. Our BRT plans are pretty underwhelming. We can’t even build a bike share system without screwing that up…

      I’m comfortable giving $20bil (that’s the cost in today’s dollars: https://seattletransitblog.com/2016/08/04/sound-transit-3-what-does-it-cost/) to Sound Transit to expand their currently successful system. Riding from UW to downtown right now is a joy.

      1. William

        I have not seen any opinion polls but I presume ST has them and reasonably confident of success; given that everybody is so sick of gridlock that there is a good chance that we will all vote for this. However, if we do then we will still be puzzling how to solve our gridlock problem in the coming decades and we will have $54 billion dollars less to do it.

      2. Gary

        Gridlock is the the point at which people are willing to wait and still use a particular mode of transport, ie a car. Past that point, people stop going there, or take another mode. But the Gridlock/congestion persists because as space is freed up, someone else will make the choice to make the trip.

        You can’t pave the city over and have any places left where you can’t hear/see/smell the freeway. Yes you might be able to have more people driving, but everywhere they go will suck. Better to put in dense high capacity transit and feeder routes via walking, biking, buses, taxis and maintain as much nice land use as possible.

    2. Ben

      Well put. As the Seattle Times said yesterday in their “no” recommendation, they want a more cost effective solution and they want greater accountability and the ability to redirect or cancel if it becomes necessary. ST2 will continue well past the next Presidential election cycle, so their is plenty of time to get a more responsible deal. It is a HUGE investment per household. This stuff isn’t free, it’s extremely expensive. I have used the light rail a few times already and love it, although the Metro connection part was really poor and the going home late at night end.

      I will vote for a better package, but this is certainly not it for lots of reasons. They can do better and I will vote no and see if they are up to the challenge of enabling proper oversight and lowering labor costs to actual market rates, like a private company would do.

      1. Gary

        The Seattle Times has recommended a no vote on nearly every ST vote. They would have us look like LA.

  2. Tacoma Nick

    I’m voting Yes, and I hope those who want more accountability get real and vote Yes as well. Since when has accountability been important for any major regional transportation issues? Since when is money an issue? It seems these things are only brought up when people start talking alternatives to road projects.

    I’m glad Tom brought up the rights issue. For decades our government has been basically mandating that anyone who would like to live in our communities without being severely restricted in their day to day movement, own a car. My wife didn’t get her drivers license until she was 26, and can speak to the challenges of living car free in our region; not to mention the discrimination that takes place against people who do not own cars (from employment perspectives).

    Great will be the day when owning a car seems completely unnecessary and I can thank the $169 annual dollars I spend to have a fantastic, capable, liberating transit system.

  3. RossB

    Calling it a teleporter is precisely why this is not a very good idea. It isn’t one. It will take 75 minutes to get from downtown Seattle to the Tacoma Dome. From a typical location in Seattle to a typical location in Tacoma will take two hours (bike ride to the nearest station, take the subway, take a bus). It doesn’t bring us closer together. A bus is faster in the middle of the day, and the existing train (Sounder) is faster every time it runs. There is a reason that much, much bigger cities don’t build subway lines to places this far out. They don’t work. New York, Chicago, Paris, London, Toronto don’t have subways that go this far away from the core of the city. They run express trains or buses.

    This will connect a park and ride in Fife to one of the least populated part of Tacoma. It will connect the Ash Way Park and Ride with the one at Mariner. These aren’t where people live — they are close to the freeway (where people notice the rail).

    This is the equivalent of billion dollar sharrows. Symbolic changes that look great on the map, but are largely meaningless when it comes to making a difference. I wish this was different. I wish it was more like ST2 (a major improvement in transit mobility for the region). But it isn’t, which is why I will reluctantly — and regrettably — be voting no.

    1. Mark

      Have you seen the amount of new multi-family housing going up on Ash Way between Ash Way P&R and Mariner? It’s one of the densest parts of Snohomish County. Well worth building rail to there, since both are major catchment points for east-west buses.

    2. Andres Salomon

      You can talk all about what a waste of money it is to build rail out in the suburbs, but unless you live out there – you’re not the one paying for it. King County taxpayers are paying for King County projects. Folks out in Pierce County are the ones paying for Pierce County stations and railway.

      1. William

        When I last checked a lot of King County would be described as suburbs. Your statement is misleading at least when it comes to Seattle because here projects are heavily backloaded to the end of the project when, as you point out above, the actual costs in today’s dollars are lower than the unadjusted amount. So while it okay for you to put the costs in today’s dollars when it suits ST’s case, that not being done when considering how funds are distributed within the region because it would show that Seattle, the area most suited to light rail, gets a bad deal. This distribution is probably good politics because Seattle is ProTransit whatever the system, but it is poor public policy in terms of building what the region needs.

        If we are going to have regional rail in this region it should be proper rail not light rail – it carries more people and it is quicker. I work at the UW and its comfortably quicker for me, even in rush hour, to drive to airport and navigate off site parking, than it is to take the light rail. If I was traveling from home (2 miles from the UW), the journey would take 2x as long on transit. That is ridiculous and it is not the kind of transportation we need to build the kind of region I want to live in.

      2. Andres Salomon

        The reason I use that $20bil number is because EVERYONE is throwing around that $54bil number as if that’s what we’re actually going to pay. It’s not. That is the full cost, but it includes inflation, federal/state grants, etc.

        I don’t think we’re going to agree on whether Seattle is getting a fair deal or not.

        As far as driving vs taking light rail to the airport, it’s 43 mins (not including additional connections to either station) on light rail according to google maps. Always, as long as light rail is running. It doesn’t matter what time of day it is. That’s incredibly valuable when trying to figure out what time you need to leave for the airport.

        Google maps says that it would take 49 mins right now on I-5 (21 mins without traffic). It’s almost 1pm right now; not rush hour. How long should you give yourself to make a flight that leaves at 5pm? Should you expect your drive to take 20 minutes? 50 minutes? 1.5 hrs? Who knows? The drive is only 38 mins right now taking 99 (30 mins without traffic), but will that be the case in 2-3 hours when you want to leave?

        Me, I ‘ll take light rail over the uncertainty and stress of highway traffic any day. I completely understand if you don’t, but keep in mind that if I wasn’t taking light rail, I’d be taking a taxi. That would be additional traffic on the highway (both ways), making YOUR airport trip by highway take even longer. By choosing light rail instead of driving, I’m helping to reduce the time it takes for you to drive to the airport.

      3. William


        I think if you do the cost adjusted numbers you will find that Seattle pays a bigger proportion of the costs than the proportion of infrastruture it gets. These are simple numbers so the only way you can think that is fair is if you believe that Seattle should subsidize the rest of the region.

        You have two basic choices for an effective public transport system in Puget Sound
        1. Bus-based door to door (after short walks) for as many people as possible, accepting that slower speeds will offset the lack of need to change modes but with things like dedicated bus routes or bus only freeway lanes potentially making long routes very quick once they have collected passengers in a neighborhood.
        2. Spoke and hub with rail fast connections between the hubs making up for the need to change modes of transit.

        I think 1 is the more forward looking option, but one can make good arguments for 2 given our geography, except that we are not doing that because we are putting in the expensive light-rail infrastructure which ensures that the connections between the hubs will always be slow rather than fast. While better than nothing, what we are going to get on the regional scale is going to be a 3rd and clearly inferior option. To me that is incredibly frustrating.

        Pragmatically, I will probably vote for ST3 because we need something and I doubt the planners will do better given another try, but pass or fail it is yet another misstep in our regions very long record of inept transportation planning and implementation.

        As for the 44-minute journey from UW to Seatac on light rail, the station is 10 minutes walk from nearly all the offices in the UW including mine, the train usually doesn’t depart as one arrives (the train spacing is 6-15 minutes depending on the time of day) and the train delivers you to the periphery of Seatac airport so there is a 10 minute walk to the terminal. So the real journey time to closer to 70 minutes. If I come back from the airport to the UW station in the late evening, which is most common after a business trip, it is often about as quick to walk 2 miles home as to get a bus connections (90 minutes by public transportation versus 40 minutes by car in off-site airport parking). That is awful.

        While heavily promoted, the UW station is in my view a great example of how poorly optimized our infrastructure is (stuck on the periphery of the UW and not nearer its heart, lousy local bus connections some of which are a 5 minute walk uphill, no thought of how to connect it effectively to all transit users coming across the new 520, etc.).

      4. Gary

        Don’t forget to factor in the cost of parking offsite. Best I’ve gotten in $7/day so if you are gone for a week, add in $50. And since you work at the UW, don’t you get a “U-Pass” which makes your trip to the airport nearly free?

        If you wanted a faster trip, have you tried a Uber from your office to the Light Rail station?

      5. (Another) Tom

        You seem to be ignoring that there is a walk time cost if you are driving too; your car wasn’t parked in your office and if you are driving yourself you have to walk from where you parked at the other end too.

        15 minutes is the absolute worst case scenario for a wait, the average time will be 3-8 minutes.

        Yes it is a long walk through the parking garage from the light rail but more often than not these days there is a wait to get to the passenger drop off point anyways (even if you use the pro tip of dropping off at the arrivals level) so that basically cancels out the walk time.

        As to the UW station not being in the heart of the U-district. Well, that would be the U District station which will open along with the rest of the Northgate extension in a few years.

  4. Alkibkr

    Grade separated. Start now, yesterday would have been better. Buses will be kicked out of the tunnel very soon making even more challenges getting around at street level. If we vote against this with our pocketbooks, we’ll be sorry. We did that before and we were sorry. Like 1970 when we rejected transit related bonds and federal assistance went to Atlanta, GA instead. With a democratic administration backed by a very likely democratic senate for at least 2 years, the possibility of federal funding assistance and a strong economy are poised to make this a reality. It’s now or it could be never.

  5. Conrad

    You make a compelling reason for a yes vote. My concern is the current light rail projects are about the only thing we have done right for a long time. Seattle is a big city now and desperately needs transit. So far I have seen no acknowledgement that the Bertha tunnel was a bad idea and huge waste of money. I voted for the Move Seattle levy, and the city turned around and gutted the bike master plan. The majority of our new bike infrastructure is poorly designed anyway. The SLU streetcars are a total joke. Pronto. As a person that primarily uses a bike for transportation, all I get for the hundreds of dollars a year that it will cost is a vague hope that motorists will be nicer to me if traffic is better? Is that right? Maybe someone better informed than me could say who would be in charge of the ST3 projects. If it is the same organization that is doing the current light rail, I would go for it. If it is anybody else, with a D- track record at this point, I am not going for it.

    1. Yep, it’s the same agency doing the current light rail. This is a really important point to make to people who are leaning toward no: ST3 has nothing to do with Bertha. The agency in charge of ST3, Sound Transit, has delivered all of their projects on time and on (or under) budget since 2001.

      One of the reasons the costs and timelines for ST3 look so big and far away is that this is an extremely conservative agency with a track record of delivering projects according to what they promise to voters. Most megaprojects of this scale are boondoggles; this one is significantly less likely to be.

      Even if you don’t think it’s a perfect plan, it’s a huge step forward. In 1970, people in Seattle rejected a transit package for the same reasons (costs too much, takes too long, let’s wait for a better package) that people are thinking of rejecting this one. Look where it got them.

  6. SGG

    How is it that there is no polling for this? Unbelievable.

    1. Gary

      What are you taking about? ST has polled people for years!

      Yes I hate their “unelected” board status. Yes I hate that they don’t use Fare bonds and instead use Sales Taxes which require huge set-asides for the bond holders effectively doubling the collected tax. Yes MLK on the surface was a terrible mistake. Yes they should have build heavy rail vs light (capcity) rail

      However the MLK route will eventually be bypassed with a run down Airport way. (ST4) The run to Tacoma is slower due to all the stops along the way than an express bus in a open hwy lane. But people keep smaking their cars into each other and so rarely is the lanes from Tacoma to Everett open.

      But face it, this package is as good as it’s going to get. And way better than nothing or what these guys will come up with if voted down.

  7. stardent

    I don’t share the sentiment that the region should come together. I don’t even what that means. Should the entire state come together? The entire PNW? West Coast? ad nauseam.

    I found the brochure intentionally misleading. It should have had 3 separate maps – currently funded, to be funded by ST3 and the sum total, because if you had done that you’d see that we are paying a whole lot of money for a fantasy transit plan. The most important sections have already been paid for and the additional stuff shouldn’t be costing this much. Having to make 2 bus transfers to sandwich light rain travel in your daily commute is going to be a failure.
    ST3 once implemented will require massive subsidies to keep it going. A nimble transportation system that included regular buses ONLY on freeways, smaller buses, vans on arterials and city streets and light rail could be a viable option but not this pie-in-the-sky proposition.

  8. […] already endorsed regional Prop 1 to fund the Sound Transit 3 expansion. But if you live in Bellevue, Issaquah or […]

  9. Citygirl

    I’ll be voting no. Microsoft and Boeing should be paying more for this in the form of employer taxes just like those levied in Portland, New York and other cities. We shouldn’t be putting trains where buses can get people to the end location faster (like out Everett and Tacoma). Plus – rail gets stopped by traffic accidents too – just look at the accident this week on MLK Blvd. The light rail was stopped for hours – a bus could have gone around this accident. For $54 mill we can and should do better meaning faster delivery of light rail to dense areas of the city extending outward from the center. We should add bus service – true rapid ride service to other cities farther away using dedicated traffic lanes.

    The threats from Sound Transit Board that “there is no plan B” implying that there never again will be another transit proposal because they don’t want to rework any projects that the public would dare to question – fall flat for me and show very disappointing leadership of this agency.

  10. Alkibkr

    Isn’t ST3 100% grade separated? That’s the whole point. Your bus will be totally gridlocked in traffic in 20 yrs unless we pursue this option. Therefore. I voted Yes. Even though I will be 90 years old before I ever see the benefit, I actually give a hoot about future generations’ quality of life and the damage we are responsible for doing to our environment and climate. By the way, I heard those electric hybrid buses aren’t working out too well.

    1. Alkibkr

      Well, 85 yrs old if things go well. Yippee!

  11. […] I voted for ST3. It was at the very end of a very long ballot. But damn it felt good. […]

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