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.

Tuesday, September 14th, 2021

Link’s arrival in Northgate is a good reminder that Seattle voters are keen on getting more neighborhoods connected to light rail

In a few weeks, Sound Tran­sit is set to inau­gu­rate rev­enue ser­vice on North­gate Link, the first expan­sion of the region’s high capac­i­ty tran­sit sys­tem in five years. On the morn­ing of Octo­ber 2nd, three new sta­tions will offi­cial­ly join Line 1, known once upon a time as Cen­tral Link, cre­at­ing a safe and reli­able means of get­ting quick­ly between the Uni­ver­si­ty Dis­trict and North­gate, as well as points south, from Capi­tol Hill and down­town to SoDo and the Rainier Valley.

The new sta­tions are poised to once again rev­o­lu­tion­ize trav­el in Seat­tle, just like the Uni­ver­si­ty Link project did five years ago when its com­ple­tion con­tributed two new sta­tions to Line 1. Those new under­ground sta­tions result­ed in a mas­sive rid­er­ship boom, bol­ster­ing mobil­i­ty with­in Seat­tle and giv­ing peo­ple out­side of Seat­tle new options for get­ting in and out of the city with­out sit­ting in traffic.

As local read­ers know, the stretch of I‑5 between North­gate and down­town is one of the most noto­ri­ous­ly grid­locked seg­ments of high­way in all of Wash­ing­ton State. There are arte­r­i­al streets that par­al­lel I‑5, along with Auro­ra Avenue North (High­way 99), but they can be con­gest­ed too, mak­ing trav­el between North­gate and down­town need­less­ly cum­ber­some and stressful.

Link will change that. In a mat­ter of days, one new above­ground mul­ti­modal hub and two under­ground sub­way-style sta­tions will throw open their doors to rid­ers, and it will be pos­si­ble to com­plete­ly bypass traf­fic on I‑5 and adja­cent arte­r­i­al streets for seam­less trips between North­gate and down­town… or even short­er trips, like from the U Dis­trict to the south­east end of the UW’s campus.

The increased reach of our rail spine will also allow bus routes and sched­ules to be recon­fig­ured to pro­vide more and bet­ter ser­vice in north King Coun­ty and south Sno­homish Coun­ty, some­thing that tran­sit plan­ners have cho­sen to do in con­junc­tion with the new sta­tion open­ings rather than wait.

For those neigh­bor­hoods about to gain new sta­tions, North­gate Link is a tan­gi­ble and direct mobil­i­ty win. For oth­er neigh­bor­hoods, whether in Seat­tle or beyond the city lim­its, North­gate Link’s arrival reminds us that a more sus­tain­able future is pos­si­ble and with­in our reach — but only if we recom­mit our­selves to get­ting Sound Tran­sit 3 built and adding to that with a Phase IV expan­sion plan.

Back in July, when we sur­veyed Seat­tle vot­ers in advance of the August 2021 Top Two elec­tion, we asked about this very sub­ject. In part­ner­ship with Seat­tle Sub­way, we inquired whether vot­ers would back a new city-lev­el tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure to speed up con­struc­tion of light rail projects with­in the city limits.

We posed the ques­tion in two dif­fer­ent forms.

One ver­sion was accom­pa­nied by a map and referred specif­i­cal­ly to the pos­si­bil­i­ty of project delays sanc­tioned by Sound Tran­sit’s realign­ment process.

We released that results of that ques­tion last month before the Sound Tran­sit Board­’s realign­ment vote right here on the Cas­ca­dia Advo­cate.

Today, we’re pleased to share the oth­er ver­sion of our ques­tion, which found sim­i­lar­ly high lev­els of enthu­si­asm for expand­ing Link light rail in Seattle.

This ver­sion, rather than bring­ing up realign­ment, sim­ply notes that many neigh­bor­hoods in Seat­tle aren’t yet con­nect­ed to the sys­tem and still won’t be even after Phase 3 has been deliv­ered. The ques­tion then asks whether respon­dents would back a fund­ing mea­sure to change that:

QUESTION: When all Sound Tran­sit 3 projects are ful­ly built, more than half of Seat­tle’s dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed neigh­bor­hoods will still not have their own light rail sta­tions. Would you sup­port or oppose a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure to con­nect the rest of the City of Seat­tle with Link light rail?

ANSWERS:

  • Sup­port: 76% 
    • Strong­ly sup­port a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure: 48%
    • Some­what sup­port a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure: 28%
  • Oppose: 19%
    • Some­what oppose a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure: 6%
    • Strong­ly oppose a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure: 13%
  • Not sure: 5%

Our poll of 617 like­ly August 2021 Seat­tle vot­ers was in the field through Mon­day, July 12th, through Thurs­day, July 15th. All respon­dents par­tic­i­pat­ed online. The poll was con­duct­ed by Change Research for the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, and has a mod­eled mar­gin of error of 4.3% at the 95% con­fi­dence interval.

As we can see, Seat­tle vot­ers over­whelm­ing­ly favor a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure to con­nect more of Seat­tle’s neigh­bor­hoods to Link light rail. Near­ly half are in strong sup­port, more than twice the total num­ber who say they’re opposed.

Unlike in the 1990s, when our region was debat­ing whether we should even build light rail at all, we no longer have to rely on pic­tures from oth­er cities, archi­tec­tur­al ren­der­ings, or hypo­thet­i­cal trav­el times to make the case for high capac­i­ty tran­sit. The sys­tem we’ve already built makes the case for itself.

While vot­ers are sold on light rail as a good invest­ment, there is still the prac­ti­cal mat­ter of deliv­er­ing it to the neigh­bor­hoods that need it.

That’s why we asked about sup­port for a new tran­sit fund­ing mea­sure in two dif­fer­ent ways. Giv­en that we’re in the midst of a cli­mate emer­gency, we just can’t wait until the 2050s or 2100s to get Link into more neighborhoods.

We’ve got to fig­ure out how to accel­er­ate our high capac­i­ty tran­sit build­out so that we can be the cli­mate action and sus­tain­abil­i­ty leader we aspire to be.

No one appre­ci­ates the need for action more than our friends at Seat­tle Subway.

If you’re inter­est­ed in their efforts to cre­ate a city and region ful­ly con­nect­ed by fast, reli­able high capac­i­ty tran­sit, con­sid­er book­mark­ing their web­site, fol­low­ing them on social plat­forms, or sup­port­ing their work with a con­tri­bu­tion.

A reminder: Stay tuned for more Seattle polling!

NPI and Change Research will be join­ing forces again this autumn to sur­vey Seat­tle vot­ers in advance of the Novem­ber 2020 gen­er­al elec­tion. We look for­ward to bring­ing you more cred­i­ble insights about what’s hap­pen­ing in the Emer­ald City before vot­ers make their final deci­sions this autumn.

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