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.

Wednesday, July 12th, 2017

Sound Transit: Tim Eyman’s great white whale

Despite hav­ing failed to qual­i­fy the last four (yes, four) con­sec­u­tive ini­tia­tives he print­ed up peti­tions for, Tim Eyman is once again ask­ing his shrink­ing base of fol­low­ers to believe in him and give him mon­ey — lots of mon­ey — to force a new anti-Sound Tran­sit ini­tia­tive in front of the Leg­is­la­ture.

Ini­tia­tive 947 would sab­o­tage the expan­sion of light rail, express bus, and com­muter rail ser­vices approved over­whelm­ing­ly by vot­ers through­out Puget Sound last year. Eyman’s bat­tle cry for I‑947 is “Let’s stick it to Sound Tran­sit!”, which he is now using in all of his com­mu­ni­ca­tions.

As I explained yes­ter­day, Eyman absolute­ly despis­es Sound Tran­sit because his many past attempts to “stick it” to the agency have end­ed in fail­ure.

That’s evi­dent­ly cre­at­ed a very deep reser­voir of resent­ment.

While Eyman has endured years of set­backs and defeats of all kinds, Sound Tran­sit has rolled for­ward. It got Cen­tral Link light rail up and run­ning, then expand­ed it three times with Air­port Link, Uni­ver­si­ty Link, and Angle Lake Link. It has com­plet­ed new park and ride facil­i­ties, new Sounder sta­tions (includ­ing in Muk­il­teo, where Eyman lives) and it has added more bus ser­vice… a lot of bus ser­vice.

Sound Tran­sit’s rid­er­ship and cred­i­bil­i­ty just keep going up. And that infu­ri­ates Eyman. He can’t stand it. In an email today, he rants at length about the agen­cy’s influ­ence, even accus­ing Sound Tran­sit of hav­ing “hired every law firm”:

Sound Tran­sit has autonomous, unchecked pow­er. They’re immu­nized by an unelect­ed, unac­count­able board. They have no fear of law­suits because they’ve hired every law firm. They exten­sive­ly adver­tise on TV, radio, and news­pa­pers so the media won’t jour­nal­is­ti­cal­ly or edi­to­ri­al­ly chal­lenge them aggres­sive­ly. They spon­sor muse­ums and con­cert halls and orches­tras and operas and sports sta­di­ums with our tax dol­lars.  They are a gar­gan­tu­an octo­pus of influ­ence.

What a pack of lies! (Typ­i­cal for Tim, of course.)

First of all, Sound Tran­sit does not have unchecked pow­er. Sound Tran­sit has a man­date from the peo­ple of Puget Sound to improve qual­i­ty of life by devel­op­ing a region­al mass tran­sit sys­tem. The peo­ple of urban King, Sno­homish, and Pierce coun­ties have vot­ed three times — in 1996, 2008, and 2016 — to autho­rize Sound Tran­sit to build light rail, com­muter rail, and express bus infra­struc­ture.

Sec­ond, all but one mem­ber of the Sound Tran­sit Board (the Sec­re­tary of Trans­porta­tion) is an elect­ed offi­cial from either a coun­ty or a city in Sound Tran­sit’s juris­dic­tion. They are thus both elect­ed and account­able to the peo­ple of our region. When Sound Tran­sit was cre­at­ed back in the 1990s, the Leg­is­la­ture decid­ed that it made sense for Sound Tran­sit to be gov­erned by rep­re­sen­ta­tives of its local gov­ern­ment part­ners, and that struc­ture has worked very well.

Third, the notion that Sound Tran­sit has “hired every law firm” is laugh­able. It is cer­tain­ly true that Sound Tran­sit has beat­en Tim Eyman and his wealthy bene­fac­tors in the courts many times. But that was­n’t because the agency bought off every mem­ber of the bar who has been admit­ted to prac­tice law in our state. It’s because Sound Tran­sit was cor­rect on the law and Team Eyman was not.

Fourth, Sound Tran­sit adver­tis­es to ensure more peo­ple are aware of what it offers, not because it expects to get uncrit­i­cal media cov­er­age. For exam­ple, peo­ple liv­ing in Muk­il­teo (like Eyman) who want to go to a game in SoDo can choose to bypass I‑5 traf­fic jams by tak­ing a spe­cial Sounder game day train to Safe­co or Cen­tu­ryLink Fields on many week­ends — if they know that ser­vice is avail­able. Sound Tran­sit adver­tis­es in order to make sure that they do. Eyman is clear­ly famil­iar with the ads, which is proof that Sound Tran­sit’s mar­ket­ing strat­e­gy is work­ing.

No insti­tu­tion cre­at­ed by humankind is per­fect, and Sound Tran­sit is no excep­tion. But the work Sound Tran­sit is doing is incred­i­bly impor­tant. The infra­struc­ture the agency is build­ing is bad­ly need­ed, and there­fore worth defend­ing.

Fif­teen years ago, when Tim Eyman set his sights on Sound Tran­sit, I’d had enough of his lying, cheat­ing, and dou­ble-deal­ing. I got involved. I became an activist.

I fig­ured the infra­struc­ture Sound Tran­sit was build­ing was so impor­tant that some­body should be build­ing polit­i­cal infra­struc­ture to defend it from Eyman and his ilk. So I found­ed Per­ma­nent Defense. And then, a year and half lat­er, I cre­at­ed the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, which pub­lish­es this blog.

NPI and Per­ma­nent Defense have fought tire­less­ly to turn back attacks on Sound Tran­sit so that Sound Tran­sit could focus on its mis­sion. And we’ve been very suc­cess­ful. Mean­while, Sound Tran­sit has demon­strat­ed that it can deliv­er.

Sad­ly, that does­n’t mat­ter to Tim “We Love Our Cars” Eyman or Sound Tran­sit’s oth­er unspar­ing crit­ics, most of whom could be called road war­riors because they want trans­porta­tion dol­lars to only flow to roads and high­ways, not mass tran­sit — or at least not rail tran­sit. They don’t ride tran­sit and they don’t under­stand that invest­ing in tran­sit ben­e­fits peo­ple who don’t ride it. They believe, mis­tak­en­ly, that if we just put every dol­lar we can find into wider roads, con­ges­tion will dis­si­pate.

But it won’t. Build­ing more high­way lanes and more roads will only cre­ate more traf­fic. And worse grid­lock. It may sound para­dox­i­cal, but it’s true.

The phe­nom­e­non even has a name: induced demand.

Traf­fic engi­neers and urban plan­ners under­stand it. So do most pro­gres­sive elect­ed lead­ers. I’ve dis­cussed it many times here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate. Regret­tably, a lot of peo­ple on the right wing seem not to under­stand it at all. Attempts to date to explain this and relat­ed con­cepts to them have large­ly been fruit­less.

I real­ly wish they’d pick up the pam­phlets of Paul Weyrich and Bill Lind and edu­cate them­selves. Weyrich was a staunch con­ser­v­a­tive who believed in the impor­tance of build­ing mass tran­sit and espe­cial­ly rail tran­sit. He and Lind wrote per­sua­sive­ly about the need for Amer­i­can cities to invest in tran­sit and the ben­e­fits of doing so.

Free­dom of mobil­i­ty is ulti­mate­ly all about hav­ing choic­es. When there’s just one mode avail­able — when dri­ving is the only way to get from Point A to Point B — that’s not free­dom. But by invest­ing in a mul­ti­modal sys­tem that makes it eas­i­er to walk, bike, or ride to our des­ti­na­tions, we can unshack­le our­selves from the chains of grid­lock. And every time one of us who owns a car choos­es not to dri­ve it, we’re free­ing up space on our exist­ing road­ways. That’s a win.

Thanks to Sound Tran­sit, I can go places today with­out my car that I could not have gone fif­teen years ago or even ten years ago.

This free mobil­i­ty future is what NPI is fight­ing for. It is the future that peo­ple in our region have repeat­ed­ly vot­ed for. Tim Eyman may not respect the vot­ers’ will, but I’m con­fi­dent we can once again defeat Tim Eyman should his I‑947 have seri­ous mon­ey behind it. It will require work, but it’s work we’re capa­ble of doing.

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