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.

Thursday, June 23rd, 2016

YES on Sound Transit 3: Now is the time to make a bold investment in regional mobility

Edi­tor’s Note: Today at Union Sta­tion, I spoke in favor of Sound Tran­sit’s ST3 plan, and urged the Sound Tran­sit Board of Direc­tors to place it on the bal­lot. The fol­low­ing is the text of my pre­pared tes­ti­mo­ny. I deliv­ered an abbre­vi­at­ed ver­sion of these remarks before the Board dur­ing its pub­lic com­ment peri­od.

Good after­noon Chair Con­stan­tine and Mem­bers of the Sound Tran­sit Board:

For the record, my name is Andrew Vil­leneuve. I am the founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, a strat­e­gy cen­ter work­ing to raise our region’s qual­i­ty of life through inno­v­a­tive research and imag­i­na­tive advo­ca­cy.

Since Feb­ru­ary of 2002, NPI’s Per­ma­nent Defense has been a tire­less sup­port­er of this agency, work­ing to edu­cate the pub­lic about the incred­i­bly valu­able work that Sound Tran­sit does. We believe that it is vital­ly impor­tant that our region devel­op a rail spine to pro­vide an alter­na­tive to dri­ving in our high­ly con­gest­ed trav­el cor­ri­dors. We strong­ly sup­port the draft ST3 plan, and we ask the Board to place it on the bal­lot for the vot­ers to con­sid­er this Novem­ber today.

As long­time tran­sit advo­cates, we reject the bus­es ver­sus trains dichoto­my that oppo­nents of this plan seem locked into.

The truth is, we need both bus­es and trains. They com­ple­ment each oth­er. What crit­ics of this plan refuse to acknowl­edge that peo­ple who own cars have a choice as to how they get to work. If we want to get peo­ple out of their cars, then we have to pro­vide tran­sit ser­vice that they WANT to use.

The research shows that there are a lot of car own­ers out there who will ride a train, but not a bus. Con­sid­er the expe­ri­ence of St. Louis, a city I’ll be vis­it­ing in just a cou­ple of weeks for Net­roots Nation 2016. After they opened their first rail line in 1993, they did a sur­vey of tran­sit rid­ers, and they found the fol­low­ing:

  • Among bus rid­ers, 70% said they used the bus because they did not dri­ve or had no car avail­able. For train rid­ers, the fig­ure was 17%.
  • 84% of train rid­ers rat­ed ser­vice as excel­lent or good, com­pared to 57% of bus rid­ers.
  • 40% of bus rid­ers owned no car, and 28% had two or more cars. Only 8% of train rid­ers had no car, and 68% had two or more cars.
  • 57% of bus rid­ers had annu­al house­hold incomes of less than $20,000, com­pared to 21% of train rid­ers.

This data illus­trates that car own­ers who are averse to bus­es are will­ing to ride trains. It’s very impor­tant, because it shows us that the way to get peo­ple out of their cars is to offer a mul­ti­modal tran­sit sys­tem that offers high qual­i­ty tran­sit ser­vice. Again, we need both a robust bus net­work and a rail spine. These are things that go togeth­er — and Sound Tran­sit’s hard­work­ing staff under­stands this.

There is no mag­ic rem­e­dy that will cure or solve traf­fic con­ges­tion.

The notion that self-dri­ving cars will van­ish away traf­fic jams is a fan­ta­sy.

The notion that a tran­sit sys­tem should con­sist of bus­es alone ignores the expe­ri­ence of cities like St. Louis, which have improved mobil­i­ty by con­struct­ing rail lines that pro­vide a reli­able way to get to school, and major events.

The crit­ics say that instead of expand­ing Link, we should invest in “mas­sive” bus rapid tran­sit. What they won’t admit is that for bus rapid tran­sit to work prop­er­ly on a “mas­sive” scale, we would need to con­struct a sys­tem in which the bus­es can oper­ate in their own ded­i­cat­ed right of way so they can’t get stuck in traf­fic.

How is Sound Tran­sit sup­posed to obtain this right of way? Any attempt to con­vert gen­er­al high­way lanes, express toll lanes, or HOV lanes to be bus-only lanes would be a polit­i­cal non­starter. We would have to widen our already wide high­ways to add new lanes for bus­es — at a cost of bil­lions of dol­lars.

Since full-bore bus rapid tran­sit would not be cheap­er than expand­ing Link, and since bus­es lack the appeal of trains to the auto-own­ing pub­lic, we can dis­miss the argu­ment that we should be build­ing “mas­sive BRT” instead of light rail.

Light rail is a proven tech­nol­o­gy and a proven tran­sit mode. It excels at mov­ing large num­bers of peo­ple through high­ly con­gest­ed cor­ri­dors, which is where most of our grid­lock is. And that is how this plan envi­sions that it will be deployed.

For far too long, we’ve had bus­es moon­light­ing as trains because we neglect­ed to invest in a rail spine for our region when we had the chance decades ago.

We can’t repeat that mis­take again. We need to build on the suc­cess of Sound Move and ST2 by giv­ing vot­ers a chance to pass ST3.

If the sys­tem envi­sioned in ST3 exist­ed now, I would have been able to take a train from my home­town right to Union Sta­tion to deliv­er this tes­ti­mo­ny. Instead, I had to take a bus. I rode a 545 Express to get here not an hour ago, and that bus moved very slow­ly through down­town Seat­tle’s sur­face streets because it had to stop repeat­ed­ly for vehi­cles turn­ing right and for con­struc­tion work.

I’ll be tak­ing Link light rail to the Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­trict as the first part of my jour­ney home, so I’m not on a vehi­cle that’s crawl­ing through the streets of down­town Seat­tle at rush hour. I’ll have to trans­fer to a bus for the rest of the jour­ney home, because ST3 does­n’t exist yet. I am very much look­ing for­ward to the day when I can take a train all the way into down­town Seat­tle to attend Sound Tran­sit board meet­ings, go to Mariners games, and shop at Pike Place Mar­ket.

Grade-sep­a­rat­ed rail works. It is a wor­thy invest­ment.

This plan will bring grade sep­a­rat­ed rail to many more neigh­bor­hoods through­out our region. In addi­tion to NPI’s home­town of down­town Red­mond, ST3 will bring Link to Bal­lard, West Seat­tle, Fed­er­al Way, Everett, Issaquah, and Taco­ma.  It will also expand Sounder com­muter rail and Express bus ser­vice.

ST3 is a care­ful­ly devel­oped plan based on years of pub­lic out­reach. We’re excit­ed to see it go to the bal­lot. Thank you to all the staff for your years of work putting this togeth­er. Now begins the cam­paign to pass it. Let’s go out and win!

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