The phrase,'Unsound Transit', was coined by the Wall Street Journal to describe Seattle where,"Light Rail Madness eats billions that could otherwise be devoted to truly efficient transportation technologies." The Puget Sound's traffic congestion is a growing cancer on the region's prosperity. This website, captures news and expert opinion about ways to address the crisis. This is not a blog, but a knowledge base, which collects the best articles and presents them in a searchable format. My goal is to arm residents with knowledge so they can champion fact-based, rather than emotional, solutions.


Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Vote No on Pop 1 again

Op-Ed - Vote No on the 'rail package'

By John V. Fox and Carolee Colter

Monday, October 27, 2008

Last year, we urged readers to oppose Proposition 1, the regional transportation package that was placed on the November '07 ballot. That $18 billion measure, including $7 billion for roads and most of the rest for light rail, was soundly defeated. But somehow the Sound Transit board interpreted that to mean they could come back again this November with another $18 billion ballot measure, only this time stripped of the roads component.

Repackaged under the banner "transit now," Proposition 1 would pay for construction of 34 additional miles of light-rail track, additional Sounder train service to the south, a First Hill streetcar, and a handful of express buses.

Even without roadway funding, it's still a global-warming, carbon-emitting lemon of a proposal and here's why:

- The measure allows Sound Transit to extend the existing sales tax of 0.04 percent and raise it by another 0.05 percent. This would bring Seattle's total sales tax burden to nearly 10 cents on the dollar - perhaps the highest rate in the nation. While the agency says the $18 billion package ($23 billion with interest) will be paid off in 2038, they've structured the tax to allow collection through 2053 and in an amount that literally would exceed $100 billion. Clearly officials lack confidence they can complete these light rail extensions within budget.

- It's a misnomer for Proposition 1 supporters to label this proposal "transit now." Light rail funded by the measure won't come on line until at least 2023. Meanwhile Seattle and the region continue to add population and commuters at an alarming rate - over 300,000 new residents since 2000. If we're going to get people out of their cars, we can't wait 15 years for a transit solution. As County Executive Ron Sims recently said, "We can't wait even 15 months." Sims, by the way, is one of the few regional leaders with the courage to speak out against Proposition 1.

- With gas prices rising, King County Metro reports a phenomenal increase in bus ridership - up 9 percent over the summer when ridership normally dips. Now with over 400,000 riders per day, area buses are crammed to the gills. At a time when we should be dramatically expanding the bus system, Sims reports that Metro lacks even the funding to maintain current levels of service. He's called for fare increases and asked Metro to tap into its reserve fund to make up the shortfall. For a fraction of the cost of Proposition 1's light rail extension, we could dramatically expand the number of buses and add dozens of new routes and truly provide "transit now."

But alas, Prop 1 allocates only about 2 percent of its total package for buses. To quote Sims again, "The plan provides just 60 new buses for the three-county area, half of which will not be in service until after 2015. That adds just an average of 1.3 new buses per year in each of the three counties for the next 15 years." Contrary to the claims of Prop 1 supporters, if we pour nearly all our transit dollars into a staggeringly expensive rail system, there's little left over for real solutions like buses, vans, carpooling, shuttle service, bike, and pedestrian amenities.

- Nothing exemplifies our misguided transit priorities more than our area leaders' obsession with rail - a plan that according to one study will serve only 0.4 percent of all trips in 2030. Earlier this summer area leaders including Mayor Nickels and members of our City Council had an opportunity to insist that a significant chunk of Prop 1's funding go to buses and other non-rail transit solutions. Rail is at least 40 percent more expensive to operate than buses (not counting the cost of adding several $100 million rail stations along each route). Instead, these officials asked that money's be inserted in the Prop 1 package for a costly toy of a streetcar line on Capitol Hill. Last year those same officials chose to divert monies Metro had dedicated for new bus routes in Seattle and instead use them to cover a portion of the operating costs for Paul Allen's South Lake Union Streetcar.

- Finally, and most damning of all, Prop 1 locks us for decades into an unsustainable car dependent pattern of growth. Our state's former Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald said it best in a recent issue of Crosscut, the local online magazine. Light rail, he says, assumes that most of the region's growth will be concentrated in or near the major urban centers including Bellevue, Tacoma, Seattle, and Everett. But despite our local government's best efforts to concentrate growth along or near planned rail routes serving these areas, it's simply not happening. Population and jobs are exploding on the margins of the region's growth boundaries in areas like Monroe, Marysville, Mount Vernon, Mill Creek, Issaquah, Sammamish, Snoqualmie, Dupont, Duvall, Bonney Lake, and a dozen other formerly rural areas. These areas cry out for creation of small transit centers with buses, vans, car pools, paths and bikeways running to and from those hubs. Lacking funding for these solutions (because most of our area transit dollars are being poured into rail) folks in these outlying areas have no choice but to continue to drive their cars.

As the rail line for Rainier Valley makes clear, light rail is not really about transportation. It's about real estate, displacement, and gentrification. Consider that most of the small businesses and residents displaced by light rail construction were low income and minorities. It's the rail lobby and real estate interests driving Prop 1, hiding under the illusion that this plan will curb use of cars and promote "sustainable" patterns of growth.

On the contrary, passage of this measure will lock us into a regional growth scenario that will keep us and our children and our children's children dependent on the automobile for decades to come.

Vote "NO" on Prop 1!

John V. Fox and Carolee Colter may be reached via

Please share your point of view on this story. Comments posted with First and Last names will be considered for publication in the print edition. You may request that your name not be published. You may also send your comment directly to the editor at

Gerry wrote on Oct 27, 2008 5:43 PM:
" So, an effective, reliable, quality mass transit system is going to create car dependency, eh? Amazing these two were given an inch of column space.

As is usually the case with most rail opponents, John Fox and Carolee Colter are fighting a totally different battle: density, and re-development. In their effort to excuse and encourage suburban sprawl, these perma-activists are actually fighting the good things rail delivers: dense, affordable human-scale housing around rail centers. But, if your lot in life is to ignore middle income residents - in favor of the very poor and very rich - light rail is the big, bad boogeyman.

John Fox fought the redevelopment of Holly Park, and the quality of life enhancements which came along with it. Light rail, again, was the evil instrument of modernity in the Rainier Valley...and that so-called "gentrification?" Well, yeah. Property values go up when drug dealers and gang violence goes down. You can tell John Fox and his one-man-band The Seattle Displacement Coalition are really looking out for the little guy.

Carpools and vanpools for suburbanites - and lousy bus service for the urban poor - instead of a quality, reliable mass transit system? Give me a break. This is crusty, car-centric old Seattle in its last throes. Living in the past, rather than looking to the future, is a sure way to sink all boats. "

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