December 12, 2006
RE: I'm not buying it, Eric
Stefan responded below to my earlier musings on challenges facing the regional discourse on the RTID-Sound Transit joint ballot measure. Stefan, as regular readers of Sound Politics know full well, will not soon be accused of favoring Sound Transit's light rail program. And in all fairness, neither will many a Sound Politics reader.
My purpose in noting the difference between how the right and the left talk about this issue was to raise the notion that despite the imperfections of being coupled with Sound Transit, the RTID is the best chance conservatives have, likely for quite some time, to support the road construction they want in the Puget Sound region. My purpose was not to be a salesman for light rail, which is an effort only a fool would attempt with a conservative crowd.
One of my main points was that supporters of greater spending on roads (which includes many local conservatives) are going to be hard pressed to find a more roads friendly assemblage than the RTID portion of the package. That may not be saying much in the view of many conservatives given the combination with Sound Transit, but welcome to living in the greater Seattle area. This is the same region that at one point was moronically working on both the monorail and light rail. Thus there is good reason, however flawed in idealism it may be, to the state saying vote up or down on the package. Our anemic ability as a region to act decisively has earned us such a circumstance.
My argument is that conservatives would be foolish to turn their back on RTID because of the Sound Transit component. I'm not making any effort to convince readers of Sound Politics, or Stefan, to embrace light rail on the merits. Most light rail opponents dislike light rail period, for a number of reasons, no matter what cute cost-benefit analyses or other such spreadsheets one might trot out to validate the expense. The point is this may be the best chance for road backers to get the construction they want. I have much more faith in the RTID leadership, which is actually skewed away from Seattle on the basis of proportional representation, preparing a measure going to a vote of the people than I do a Democratic legislature, or even another regional body, handling the issue.
Here is where we get to a serious rub. I'm pointing out the need for some political expediency. Conservatives dislike mass transit; liberals love it. We live in a region where our local transportation votes are going to lean liberal because of the presence of Seattle, and the increasing Democratic tilt in suburban areas immediately outside Seattle as well. Some will say local voters don't really want lots of transit, they just want roads, and don't want to pay a lot more for them. Really? Why do local measures to expand transit keep getting approved? Why did the Puget Sound region crush initiative I-912? Why did I-776 fail convincingly inside the Sound Transit taxing district (which is most of where the voters on next November's ballot measure live)? The joint ballot might well sink under its own weight, but those expecting an anti-transit vote to carry the day in the greater Seattle area will be left waiting for quite some time.
If we want road construction, we're going to have to live with paying for mass transit at the same time. The backlog of Puget Sound area projects is so great the state is not going to pay for anymore so we have to approve the construction locally. I'm not saying conservatives should jump for joy about it, but it is reality, and lack of attention to that is the kind of ignorance of the modern political paradigm in the region that has cost the GOP a host of suburban legislative seats. If we don't take this road building option, I for one have no faith we'll get a better outcome in road construction anytime soon, particularly given the sustained inflation for such projects that has steadily wrecked our purchasing power as a region as this debate has worn on interminably.
In the bigger picture, this ballot measure touches on a broader problem for conservatives: what the heck are we for when it comes to transportation? I've argued before the "just say no" position doesn't sell anymore. If conservatives ever want to start winning competitive partisan races in this area with any regularity they need to do a better job of actually speaking to the issues voters care about. That's my point in saying the RTID shouldn't be so quickly thrown under the bus (lame pun intended). Automatically voting "no" to the joint ballot because one doesn't like Sound Transit is not without merit in the abstract, but in terms of realism in achieving local road construction, and in GOP hopes of being relevant to the region, it's a loser.
All that being said, let me add one caveat to all the above. Commenter "swatter" at my original thread Stefan responded to accused me of saying this joint ballot measure should be approved "sight unseen." Um, no. Give the RTID and Sound Transit proposals thorough review. They're regularly covered in the press, which will only increase in the coming months. One can also review the plans for Sound Transit and RTID here and here respectively. By all means make an educated decision on the matter. The contents of the measure are set to be tweaked and finalized in the coming months so you'll have to be blind and deaf to miss it in the news, especially since it's likely to be one of the more prominent items on the local November ballot.
Footnote: For those looking for a defense of light rail, the one thing I will take the time to say is that in the very big picture we live in a region with serious limitations on land use due to large bodies of water and a Growth Management Act that is here to stay. We have neither the space in land nor the political will to build our way out of congestion with road construction alone. Light rail is intended to be a long-term solution for that problem, which will only increase as our region's population density amplifies. Moreover, those same land limitations mean reliance on bus-rapid-transit (BRT) options is equally doomed as a primary mass transit option. HOV lanes on I-5 and the streets of downtown Seattle are already clogged with buses during rush hour. Where then are we going to put a huge increase for BRT? In locations like 405 where HOV lanes are underutilized by comparison such proposals can work. Elsewhere, not so much.
Posted by Eric Earling at December 12, 2006
07:31 AM | Email This
1. "HOV lanes on I-5 and the streets of downtown Seattle are already clogged with buses during rush hour." This isn't universally true in peak periods, but even if it were, it doesn't have much to do with the single light rail line that Sound Transit contemplates building for billions of dollars. The official government computer modeling shows that in 2040 even with 125 miles of light rail, the majority of transit riders (a miniscule share of all travelers) will be riding on buses. If transit is going to work, buses have to work. Light rail is a symbolic, expensive, unnecessary add-on.
"I've argued before the "just say no" position doesn't sell anymore."
You hit the nail on the head Eric.
3. This is not a Repub. (roads) vs Dem. (transit) issue. Conservatives don't want massive road building megaproject governments with limitless taxing authority (like RTID). RTID now plans on selling bonds of indefinite duration, and there is no expense limit on it. Everybody knows SR 520 needs to be rebuilt, and some local money has to be raised to repair/replace/whatever the SR 99 viaduct. However, that is very different than saying we need an RTID (let alone limitless taxes for whatever it is that ST will try to con voters into). Let the legislators impose taxes needed to repair the SR 520 and SR 99 projects, and to hell with ST and RTID. We've tried that approach: voters will vote for feel-good bromides on the ballot (like monorail and ST) and they turn out to be greedy fiefdoms where the Cost is the Benefit (to borrow the apt phrase).
4. Long, tendentious articles about the tiniest, arcane details aren't likely to sell the voters on conservative positions, either. Got any sound bites on this? How much will it cost over 5yrs, 10 yrs? Is it a boondoggle for the Sound Transit "leaders"? Any radical differences we can propose? Any skybridges? Any anything?
Eric, you are a good hand. I really like your posts.
If we have to have transit (and we do need to spend more money on transit) I would suggest a 80-20 split instead of a 50-50 split.
I also believe more people could be carpooling and the governments could be making more effort on those lines (I got hammered on this opinion a year or so ago).
The comment by others about the bottomless pit has merit, Eric.
And do you expect if I make comments on the ""PLAN"" anyone will listen? Read the Herald today about another scheme of ST (it may be the same one, I don't know because the same mouthpiece keeps talking about more and more project).
JohnH; sound bite?
How about, "take whatever ST tells you it will cost, and multiply X 4"
"take their cost number, multiply x 4, then add 8% interest onto it, divide by # of taxpayers, and voila, some $5,000 for every taxpayer from now to infinity..."
Eric, because of the fallacy of your reliance on light rail for anything, except, of course, massive budget overruns and huge subsidies to the wholly inadequate fare box return, it casts a pall over the rest of your take on transportation.
Light rail solves nothing of any kind, regardless of the land use or GMA issues.
Where has it succeeded? Portland has light rail, and by every measure, even though they lack the same geographical constraints of Seattle, their congestion is WORSE then Seattle's. LA has it; NY has itů and their traffic scenarios are all nightmares..
So, in the end, I must advocate for the exact opposite. Going along with rape merely validates it... it doesn't make us any less the victim.
The Shark and righton@6 are on target. Sadly, you are not.
You do remember, of course, the original offer for light rail?
Wasn't it something like $1.8 billion for 21 miles? And then, by golly, it wound up at 14 miles for $4 Billion? And the State Supreme Court went along with that robbery, telling us that, in effect, this kind of lying and robbery by an agency was perfectly legal?
And you think we should give these criminals a second chance?
You have far too much faith in this area of government, Eric... far too much.
9. Once again I bring my suggestion to the table: Before ANYTHING goes on the ballot for voter consideration the proponents must purchase sufficient performance bonding to complete the project as it was sold to the voters. The bonding would cover all costs that exceed 120% of the cost that the voters approved and would compensate the public for liquidated damages should the project not be completed when it was promised and as it was promised. Should the proposal be within reason, the cost of the bondwould be small....... .. . but should the proposal be unreasonable they better be ready to mortgage their collective homes to purchase the bonding required.
"And then, by golly, it wound up at 14 miles for $4 Billion? And the State Supreme Court went along with that robbery, telling us that, in effect, this kind of lying and robbery by an agency was perfectly legal?"
Uh . . . somebody (Hinton) doesn't have a clue . . ..
11. Eric, you said, "Conservatives dislike mass transit...", and I cannot disagree with you more on this. Conservatives do not dislike mass transit. Conservatives, like Stefan, dislikes foolish spending on mass transit like Sound Transit is doing. When ST wants to build mass transit that require thousands of dollars in subsidy for each rider, then conservatives have problem.
Exactly right, I have been painted as anti-transit when I ask the simple question: Wouldn't it be a better investment of the region's resources to spend the dollars that ST is spending on Tacoma Link light rail to provide bus service throughout Pierce County, even if it means foregoing the Federal dollars that are tied to the light rail implementation? Does that question manifest a dislike for mass transit?
JDH: Of course you got called anti-transit when you posted that. It is a valid criticism.
There is a playbook for how ST's PR folks deal with on-line critics. It is easy to tell when someone has posted some valid objection to something ST is up to. First, that screen name will be labeled anti-transit and called a "Bush lover." The idea is to demonize - to categorize the critic as "the other." It is a fascist tactic (the Jews were labeled and caricatured in Nazi Germany, to devastating effect - the mainstream public there actually thought of them as subhuman).
If the criticism of ST is particularly solid, the level of personal animus and vitriol directed at the screen name increases dramatically. The response to really good arguments is exclusively personal (the merits of the criticism are ignored completely).
The nature of the retort from the ST defender is a good indication of how strong the attack on ST's behavior is. ST takes on-line criticism seriously.
14. How about adding a personal indemnification clause to anyone who is a part of Sound Transit or the RTID collective? Require all executive staff to sign off on a scope of work for the entire project and it's budget. Over runs will be absorbed by the agency personal in a direct purportional basis. 30% over on budget, take 30% off of salaries. Conversely if they deliver on time and under budget they get a bonus. If they fail to deliver on any aspect of the proposed finished project on the original budget and timeline (like ST going from 21 miles to 14 miles) The executive staff is removed and all pension and severance pay is voided. They may not work on a government project in the State of Washington for ten years after. I don't know how to motivate people, I just know how to fire people who aren't motivated.
Tim Eyman or another initiative initiator will need to get active in order to thwart Sound Transit light rail. Patty"Queen of pork" Murray has siphoned more money at the trough to supplement this project.
What will probably happen in the near term is that people will see the price tag on the RTID on the ballot and vote it down.
As a result, road construction will drop in another few years, unless I am reading the public sentiments wrong. Rumor is that this may be Sims' last term, but that won't change the mindset of the politicians here. And so it goes...
Anyone caring to discuss urban transportation, especially light rail, first needs to read "The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths" by Randal O'Toole. It contains hard engineering numbers which basically destroy all the happy-talk about light rail and heavy, high speed rail (even inner New York City). Fact free debates, which are what normally occurs in our civitas these days, only end up wasting money and further degrading our standard of living. Some examples of myths?
1. What is the most DENSELY populated urban area in the U.S.? Los Angeles, CA (remember, NYCity is only part of its "urban area" which needs to be considered for transportation planning).
2. Is sprawl eating up all of the U.S.' open land? Excluding Alaska, urban area takes up only 4.2% of the other 49 states' land area. The percentage that is farm, forest, or open space is 92.9%.
3. Which mode of transit is more popular, light rail or freeway (measured in passenger miles per route mile)? 1998 data show the most popular light rail line being San Diego at 8,664 and a U.S. average of 4,620 where light rail exists, versus freeway average of 23,724. Clearly cars are more popular.
4. In the transit heaven of New York City, which system delivers more transportation, ALL transit or automobiles? Again using 1998 numbers, transit provides about 978 annual miles per capita, while automobiles provide 9,170 annual miles per capita.
Build light rail --> starve the bus system, decrease flexibility as the community evolves, saddle yourselves with endless taxes to subsidize operation, and the frosting on the cake...INCREASED CONGESTION!
I'm a structural engineer, live in Portland, and just drove home from Seattle tonight (and have done this a lot over the last 8 years watching your congestion build). In my business, we're not allowed to ignore the facts since gravity is not swayed by political correctness. Too bad control of traffic engineering has been taken over by "activists" who want to tell us how they believe we should live. Apparently they know my family's needs and wants better than I do.
Randal O'Toole fits his name. He is a tool of big funders who like our continuing belief in a car culture. Misleading "facts" like these don't further real debate.
It warms my heart to see so many of you refusing to discuss Eric's central question. We must have a balance between transit and roads. We simply do not have the ability or will to build our way out of congestion for our automobiles. We probably can't even build enough roads to handle our 2X population growth in the next 20 years.
So we must build transit and roads. What Mr. Niles and others ignore is that developers love rail. They build housing density near stations. People want to live there and not drive a car. If any of you know a developer, ask them if they would prefer to build a project near A) A freeway, B) A bus line, or C) a rail station.
Not rocket science folks, despite the misleading rhetoric. If you want to ensure Republican failure in the future, vote against transit. Most of the people who move here from other places with rail will look at you like you are crazy.
That is the same advice I posted here last week. Get this book and read it. You can get it used for a very reasonable price by searching for it on www.bookfinder.com
One of the primary reasons to read this book and have FACT ready is that one day they will come to devistate YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD and you better be ready to confront them with facts. The APA recomends that their members purchase and read this book so that they are not "blind sided" by informed persons that show up to their "dog and pony shows" that they call Public Outreach sessions or Open Houses.
comb, the fallacy of your assumption is you will never get the half million or so people living next to the transit centers. Face it, most of the growth and the population will be living outside the boundaries of your rail.
Interesting that you seem to ignore my suggestion of 80% roads to 20% transit.
You also seem to want to ignore the Freeman proposal where an additional north-south highway east of Bellevue would help reduce congestion 20-25%, while the same money in transit only reduces about 5%. Freeman also states realistically that more is needed.
Too bad folks like you didn't allow that highway be built when it was first proposed and would cost half as much. Now, we are still having to get that highway built and are falling further behind.
comb, 80-20, take it or leave it!!
#17. Randal O'Toole fits his name. He is a tool of big funders who like our continuing belief in a car culture. Misleading "facts" like these don't further real debate. - He was concerned when the Urban Planners set their sights on his home town. Geet your facts straight.
It warms my heart to see so many of you refusing to discuss Eric's central question. We must have a balance between transit and roads. We simply do not have the ability or will to build our way out of congestion for our automobiles. We probably can't even build enough roads to handle our 2X population growth in the next 20 years. - I also had a fair idea that my dog cannot live forever, did that prevent me from taking her to the vet when she was threatened with a life threatening illness? Nice soundbite but it doesn't work when you are dealing with people who use their brains to think through statements like that one.
So we must build transit and roads. What Mr. Niles and others ignore is that developers love rail. They build housing density near stations. People want to live there and not drive a car. If any of you know a developer, ask them if they would prefer to build a project near A) A freeway, B) A bus line, or C) a rail station. - Only when they are induced by heavy Government subsidies. Case in point, Tacoma where every one of the condo projects along the Light Rail line is inhabited by FREE LOADERS who pay no real estate taxes for ten years plus get other goodies thanks to the politicians giving away the money of the taxpaying residents of Tacoma (such as my family and I)to pay for their fire, police, refuse etc etc etc. By the way the developers who benefit from this are none other than Family and close Business Associates of a certain cabal of Tacoma and Pierce County's elected and appointed officials.
Not rocket science folks, despite the misleading rhetoric. If you want to ensure Republican failure in the future, vote against transit. Most of the people who move here from other places with rail will look at you like you are crazy. - I don't really care, nor do I pay attention to what people who are driven by emotion think, because for the most part they don't think, they rely on their feelings.
Spend the billions of dollars being wasted on rail and put it in express buses that run to the major riding points, and more frequent service everywhere else and you've got my vote. Then widen the roads so there is more capacity for those buses to travel.
Just imagine what kind of bus service there could be with the money that is being spent on ST. It might actually make riding the bus convenient enough where people could get there in relatively the same time as driving. That is something which will actually reduce congestion as more people choose transit.
I've never quite understood exactly what conservatives are trying to conserve. It certainly is not the environment or oil for future generations for that matter. Just exactly what do you expect your children to use to run their cars in the future. Actually, after the increased demand in resources cause by the move to consumer based economies in China and India, they problably won't be able to even afford to buy cars. An SUV actually might be a good investment as steel prices go through the roof. When you can't afford the fuel to drive it, sell it for scrap and make a fortune.
The only way to "conserve" a decent standard of living for the future is to build a transportation system built around public transit and not roads and the automobile.
Time to give up the freeway fantasies.
These are the facts:
If you want to build the next big road projects in the region, they'll need to ride on support for light rail.
If you want all buses and not light rail, you are way too late. And if you oppose light rail now on this idea you will not get more buses, or anything else, anytime soon.
And by the time the fight you've started ends 20 years from now, light rail will still be on the table but everything you've held up will cost a ton more. And we'll be voting for about the same thing then that we've supposed to vote on in 2007.
It might be nice to have a revolution and turn everything on a perfect path. But that perfect path does not exist because next to no one can agree on one.
The only responsible thing to do is to move forward with what we can do next. That means light rail and better roads now.
The arguements against both are hyped to the max. The choices that are about to appear on the ballot are the most reasonable and balanced we've seen in decades.