Thursday, October 30, 2008

Proposition 1 (Sound Transit 2.1)

Proposition 1 is Sound Transit's follow-up to last year's failed measure of the same name. Unlike last year's measure, which I opposed, I have no endorsement on this one. I opposed last year's measure because it had a large roads-expansion component, which this year has been removed, and because it was funded by a regressive sales tax, which unfortunately remains true for this year's measure. However, even though there is less light rail than last year, the cost hasn't been reduced at all, instead most of the light rail expansion is advertised to come online 5 years earlier; in 2022 rather than 2027. This still doesn't exactly live up to the measure's "Mass Transit Now" moniker, alas.

The roughly $20B requested by this measure is an enormous tax increase to be asking of Greater Seattle residents during an economic crisis, and just before a likely Obama administration can be expected to start investing more federal transit dollars than any Republican administration of my adult lifetime. The tax increase is roughly 100 times more than the combined amount asked by the two Seattle Propositions (Prop 1/Pike Place Market and Prop 2/Parks) on the ballot -- a huge tax increase. The reason I don't oppose it outright is that it would at least result in better transit than we have now. The reason I don't support it is that aside from the cost, that $20B could be better spent on more cost-effective transit projects and is funded from a regressive tax. Last year's successful King County Metro Transit Now! measure, for example, provides 50 miles of new Rapid Ride (bus rapid transit) service for less than the cost of a single mile of this year's light rail, and delivers it in less than half the time.

The measure I would like to see on the ballot would be about a third this size (about $6B), would include some funding towards replacing the SR-520 floating bridge and the Alaskan Way Viaduct, and would finish the work promised 12 years ago by Sound Move, which created Sound Transit and Central Link light rail in the first place. That measure promised four things:

1. Regional express and local buses, which it has largely delivered
2. Commuter rail (Sounder), though some promised stations were omitted.
3. Light rail, though behind schedule, significantly over budget, and not as much as had been promised, with some stations omitted
4. A Personal Rapid Transit demonstration, which Sound Transit hasn't even begun to address.

I would enthusiastically endorse a measure delivering all of the neglected promises made by Sound Move in 1996, including more regional express buses and
HOV accommodations, light rail to Northgate with more stations between UW and Northgate, more Sounder stations and service, especially the omitted Ballard/Shilshole station, a more extensive commitment to Personal Rapid Transit than was originally made (which was a pittance), with particular focus on providing PRT service in places where Sound Transit's light rail has been abandoned as impractical, such as First Hill, and, yes, some targeted congestion relief on our freeways, in areas where a little will go a long way. I would also love to see a regional commitment to bikeways, and not just a few more painted-on bike lanes and sharrows, but more nearly exclusive-use routes like the nascent "bike boulevard" on Fremont Avenue in North Seattle promises to become, where automobile traffic (and cross-traffic) would be minimized and calmed.

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