NPI's Cascadia Advocate

Offering commentary and analysis from Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, The Cascadia Advocate is the Northwest Progressive Institute's unconventional perspective on world, national, and local politics.

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Without Metro & Sound Transit, the Eastside’s traffic problems would be much worse

The Seat­tle Times is run­ning a sto­ry in tomor­row’s print edi­tion about the 48th LD state Sen­ate race, which pits well-liked State Rep­re­sen­ta­tive Cyrus Habib against Repub­li­can Michelle Dar­nell, an attor­ney. Habib, who cap­tured over 63% of the vote in the August Top Two elec­tion, is con­sid­ered to be a shoo-in, but that’s not stop­ping Dar­nell from cam­paign­ing (nor should it).

The Times gave both can­di­dates an oppor­tu­ni­ty to speak to their views on the issues. On the top­ic of trans­porta­tion (which is one of the top con­cerns of East­side vot­ers) reporter Lynn Thomp­son had this to say about Dar­nell:

She’s also crit­i­cal of Sound Tran­sit and Metro, which she said are too Seat­tle-cen­tric and leave East­side dri­vers stuck in traf­fic and spew­ing pol­lu­tion. Instead, she said she’d like to see more pri­vate trans­porta­tion solu­tions such as the vans and jit­neys that move peo­ple around oth­er cities in the world.

Sound Tran­sit and Metro may be run from Seat­tle, but they are hard­ly Seat­tle-cen­tric, as Seat­tleites would be the first to point out.

Dar­nell is clear­ly not very famil­iar with our region’s mass tran­sit sys­tem, or she’d know that Metro’s plan­ners care about see­ing that the East­side is well served.

Per­haps she’s unaware that both the East­side and the south coun­ty got RapidRide lines from Metro before Seat­tle did. (The A line serves the south coun­ty; it opened in 2010. The B line serves the East­side and opened in 2011. Seat­tle did­n’t get RapidRide until 2012, when the C and D lines opened).

Sound Tran­sit, mean­while, is devot­ing con­sid­er­able resources to East Link, which will bring light rail out to Red­mond’s Over­lake neigh­bor­hood via Mer­cer Island and Belle­vue. Present­ly, the East­side is well served by Sound Tran­sit Express bus ser­vice. In fact, half of Sound Tran­sit’s routes have ter­mi­nus­es in East­side cities!

For the record, Michelle, these are the routes:

  • The 522, con­nect­ing Wood­inville and Seat­tle via SR 522.
  • The 532, con­nect­ing Everett and Belle­vue via I‑405.
  • The 535, con­nect­ing Lyn­nwood and Belle­vue via I‑405.
  • The 540 and 542, con­nect­ing Red­mond and Kirk­land with the U District.
  • The 545, offer­ing fast and fre­quent ser­vice between down­town Seat­tle and Red­mond via SR 520. It’s eas­i­ly one of ST’s most pop­u­lar routes.
  • The 550, con­nect­ing down­town Belle­vue and Seat­tle via I‑90.
  • The 554, con­nect­ing Issaquah and Seat­tle via I‑90.
  • The 555 and 556, con­nect­ing Issaquah and North­gate (these routes use I‑90, I‑405, SR 520, and I‑5).
  • The 560, con­nect­ing Belle­vue and SeaT­ac Air­port via I‑405.
  • The 566 and 567, con­nect­ing Auburn and Kent with Belle­vue and Red­mond’s Over­lake neigh­bor­hood via I‑405 and SR 167.

Is there room for improve­ment? Cer­tain­ly. But the point is, the East­side is not being ignored by Sound Tran­sit or Metro. King Coun­ty lead­ers made a delib­er­ate choice to go to the vot­ers of the whole coun­ty ear­li­er this year with a request to approve bad­ly need­ed fund­ing for Metro and KCDOT — and that’s because they did­n’t want to pur­sue a Seat­tle-first approach to pro­tect­ing our bus service.

As for Michelle’s com­ment that she’d like to see more vans and jit­neys… per­haps she’s unaware that our state has the largest van­pool fleet in North Amer­i­ca. Accord­ing to WSDOT, there are near­ly 3,000 van­pools in oper­a­tion as of last Novem­ber. The pro­gram has been grow­ing like gangbusters:

Since 2003, van­pools in Wash­ing­ton have increased by more than 85 per­cent – a net increase of more than 1,300 van­pools. In 2009 and 2010, van­pool growth flat­tened pri­mar­i­ly due to the Great Reces­sion. Since then a slow but steady eco­nom­ic recov­ery has spurred van­pool growth in the state. Increas­es in fuel costs and traf­fic con­ges­tion (espe­cial­ly in busy cor­ri­dors) have also added to van­pool growth.

The East­side is not with­out pri­vate trans­porta­tion solu­tions, either. East­siders can choose to take a taxi, Uber, or Lyft. In addi­tion, Microsoft oper­ates its own pri­vate bus sys­tem to help employ­ees com­mute to and from workThe Con­nec­tor.

Again, there’s always room for improve­ment, but a major rea­son our traf­fic is lousy is due to the way the East­side was built. Traf­fic is an inevitable prob­lem of con­struct­ing auto-cen­tric sub­urbs. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, we’ve been doing this since the 1950s, so we’ve dug our­selves into a pret­ty big hole.

And we can’t seem to stop. King Coun­ty has fool­ish­ly con­tin­ued to per­mit auto-cen­tric exur­ban devel­op­ment east of the East­side’s inner suburbs.

For­tu­nate­ly, cities like Red­mond and Belle­vue are increas­ing­ly grow­ing up instead of out. The increased den­si­ty will make it much eas­i­er to live on the East­side with­out a car and make the build out of light rail more cost effective.

Dar­nell would do well to read an eye-open­ing text like Sub­ur­ban Nation to under­stand the root of our traf­fic prob­lems and why they’re hard to solve.

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