If you haven’t voted on Sound Transit’s Proposition 1 yet, we need to talk.
Sound Transit’s Proposition 1, which raises $54 billion over 25 years for expansion of Link Light Rail and other projects, may be a bad or good idea, ultimately. But voting “yes” now is definitely a bad idea. There hasn’t been enough critical assessment upon which to decide whether the proposal is bad or good.
Voting “no” until such time comes — maybe one more year — as a robust public critical discussion has been conducted, is erring on the side of caution.
Voting “no” from the perspective of low-income people is even more compelling. Low-income households have little to gain but a lot to lose from Sound Transit 3.
I was a skeptic who has since turned a critic after an interview with former King County Councilwoman Maggie Fimia who grew up riding the subways and buses in Queens, New York. She has also worked for many years on transit transportation issues in the Seattle area, and advocated for the first Sound Transit light rail measure.
“Seattle, downtown Seattle is what [ST3] is all about,” Fimia said. “It’s sort of a big status project for Seattle. We are finally a ‘real’ city because we have rail. People have no idea what they are actually buying. This is light rail; it’s not heavy rail. We are all spread out. You can’t serve it by rail.”
Fimia said the way Sound Transit is appointed doesn’t allow for skeptics to get on the board.
The 18 board members are appointed, not elected, by the executives of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. The King County executive gets to appoints ten of those. Then Sound Transit board, in turn appoints both the Citizen Oversight Panel and Expert Review panel.
“They get appointed because they are sympathetic to Sound Transit,” Fimia said. “They don’t ask hard questions. They don’t challenge Sound Transit,” Fimia said, “Most decisions are unanimous decisions.”
She added the contractors are powerful, intimidating to overseers all the way up to the state and the feds, and donating to campaigns.
Also, Sound Transit 3 will affect King County Metro Transit, which I favor. In my previous reporting, I’ve outlined service disparity among South, North, Seattle and East and mused on what should be done about it.
But unlike me, King County Executive Dow Constantine, who oversees Metro and Sound Transit, hasn’t seemed to have favored Metro buses in his decisions.
“He had over two dozen bus routes rerouted or cancelled so that the people have to ride the train when they opened up the Husky Stadium station,” Fimia said. “And that is the plan: to move people off the buses onto trains forcing them to transfer or lose their service or would have to walk blocks and blocks.”
She expects more of the same with an expansion of Link Light Rail.
“What will happen is the Express buses will go away once rail service goes in. So your one stop ride from Renton or Everett to Downtown Seattle is going to go away and you will have a 15-stop ride which is going to be much slower on light rail. So much better and faster bus and dedicated lanes is what needs to happen.”
I liked Constantine and would have hoped his office practice what it preaches: use Equity Impact Review (EIR) to do impact review for ST3, which I don’t think has happened in a formal manner.
I have perused the impact review document of ST3. I didn’t buy it because it only shows benefits and no drawbacks. Neither did Fimia, who didn’t have faith in the process of the impact review.
“There’s token amount and token language in the ST3 plan about affordable housing. That affordable housing is not really affordable once the stations go in,“ Fimia told me. “And you’ve just displaced all these people who are having to live further out.”
“Plus they are going to pay increased property taxes, increased sales tax, increased motor vehicle excise tax and if they’re renters, their rents are going to go up,” she said.
This sounds like gentrification, which has become elusive for Seattle to solve, even the best case scenario, and maybe going regional this time around.
Why do a lot of people seem to support ST3, again?
Big money means massive marketing and public relations. Sound Transit has spent $37 million since 2007 trying to convince the public Light Rail everywhere is the way to go .
ST3 Light Rail takes $32 billion of the $54 billion compared to only $2 billion for buses. There are 740 people for working for Sound Transit. Thirty-nine people work for Sound Transit just in communication and marketing.
These public expenditures don’t include the money raised for Transportation Choices Coalition, an arm of Mass Transit Now which supports Sound Transit 3, which received $3.5 million in funds for the campaign from companies and other entities that benefit from the Sound Transit 3 project.
Fimia doesn’t get paid by No ST3, which has raised $316,000, according to the Public Disclosure Commission.
While it’s obvious that massive infrastructure investment will create good union jobs — which I sympathize with — it’s debatable if that is an end in itself if we don’t get much in the way of better transit.
So, the benefits are not very impressive to me, and the drawbacks have not been highlighted enough: ST3 jeopardizes school funding, according to the state Superintendent of Public Instruction. ST3 won’t reduce congestion according to Sound Transit’s own advocacy group, which is a far cry from the rosy ST3 campaign ads.
And there is no evidence that there will be a significant ridership increase, according to NoST3 campaign: “Sound Transit admits ST3 only creates 32K new riders. That’s less than 1% of all trips in 2040 and costs over $500K a rider!”
This mediocre goal is not due to lack of aspiration of on the part of Sound Transit, as I once thought. According to Fimia, Sound Transit has business considerations in mind more than transit service for people who need it most.
“This is not about service, which is what gets people onto transit. It’s about capital investment which makes a lot of people a lot of money, including real estate developers who will be speculating around those proposed stations. Rent prices will go up. People will be forced out of their homes and they will have to move further out.“
However, when I raise questions about ST3 in my circles of friends and acquaintances, I often get asked if I have an alternative plan, which I think is an unfair question. Why not mass teleportation? Why can’t I just poke holes in the logic of the Seattle progressive collective, which sometimes functions as a social club?
While I don’t have ideas, I did ask Fimia — who has a Master’s Degree in Public Administration heavily focused on transit transportation issues, a former member of King County Council and the Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Policy Board. She has several.
“The best alternative is ramping up the bus service and making it first class bus, rather than canceling buses or rerouting buses to serve the train,” Fimia said.
Now Fimia is working with NoST3 campaign, and Smarter Transit which evolved from Coalition for Effective Transportation Alternatives (CETA) — all three are volunteer groups she helped setup and organize. They advocate for revolutionary buses — neighborhood transit limos I would contend, which quite frankly is an aspiration I can get behind.
“And we need to have it be flexible because there’s also a transportation revolution coming here,” Fimia says. “Buses will be smaller and automated as they go deeper into the neighborhoods. You’ll be able call up for a bus that take you much closer to where you live than to light rail stations 2 to 3 miles away.”