Public Interest Transportation Forum -

E-mails and Letters to the Editors

Please let us hear from you. Click here.

E-mail messages in Response to Volume 1 (pre 1996 election):


I have been following the RTA and transportation issues as a concerned citizen for about two years now. It is great to have such a useful site and forum. Over this period I have come to believe that the RTA second proposal is not the best investment for the region. I would like to be a contributor of these views in this forum. Please let me know how I can do so. - -Frank Fay

Editor's response: Contributions are welcome from everyone. Please send them in (see Contributions section for guidelines).

Why wasn't all this discussed prior to the scheduling of the bond issue. Shooting it down now seems to lead to a Pyrric victory. Will such funding levels be proposed again in the near future? Isn't there a participation mechanism to shape the plans after the bond issue is passed. That was done to some extent in the Central Artery project in Boston, by environmental interests. - -Howard Foster

Editor's response: The RTA promises to hire an independent auditor and appoint a citizen oversight committee to make sure that the agency is held accountable. Given that the RTA Board members are not directly elected and that RTA staff is likely to select only "agreeable" persons for the oversight committee, there is not nearly enough accountability for a project of this huge size to suit us. The bonds for Phase I of this project will probably have a life of 30 years, yet the revenues from the new taxes are to run for only 10 years. Where will the money come from to keep paying off the bonded debt? Remember that the ballot issue is only about agreeing to new taxes and the tax component is exactly the same text that was voted down in March, 1995. The ballot issue says that the RTA will implement that Sound Move plan. Some of us remember that we were promised a freeway flyer bus system in 1972 when Metro took over from Seattle Transit. Little of that 1972 plan was actually implemented. Instead, we got new maintenance bases, new uniforms and new buses.

While your site may well be "independent" it is anything but unbiased. You are blatantly opposed to rail transit, no ifs, ands, or buts about it. As an example, your links to commentary on other regions' experience with rail are particularly revealing. Why not provide some links to information from sources explaining the positive aspects of this rail service? Why is it that once rail transit is tried in a region like St. Louis, San Diego, etc., people who never dreamed of climbing on a bus are not only riding trains but buses as well. And those who don't have good access to rail are scrambling to get it? -- Leroy Chadwick

Editor's Response: Yes we are biased, but for stated reasons. We actually like to ride trains, and we take advantage of them when we visit other cities, as well as on the Seattle waterfront and at Sea-Tac Airport. Our biggest problem with the proposed rail for Puget Sound is the costs versus the benefits. However, we do understand that some people might like riding trains, or living in a region that has trains, so much that they don't really care how many people will be carried or what the cost is.

. On page three of the Washington Research Council report, the council offers the opinion that last year's RTA proposal failed at the polls "because the majority of voters believed that the benefits of the system to them did not justify the costs." We believe a more widely held opinion is that it failed because voters did not understand the issues, in large measure because the proponents' campaign was ineffectual. Furthermore, it was a special election and only a small minority of voters participated - Roger Pence

Editor's Response: The view expressed by Pence is what the proponents have come to believe. Does anyone have a credible statistic on what the supporters and opponents believed about congestion relief in the '95 election? As we recall, it was widely believed that the voting opponents understood what RTA means for congestion, and the supporters did not.

Any discussion of the RTA plan has to begin by noting the incredibly wide array of support for the Regional Express campaign, support that is both wide and deep. For example, last year the entire City of Everett, the mayor, city council and civic leadership, was unanimously opposed to the RTA ballot measure. This year, those same people all support the new RTA plan. The Regional Express endorsement list is a "who's who" of the region's civic leadership, including business, labor, neighborhood, environmental, and political leaders and organizations from across the 3-county region.

Organized opposition is concentrated on King County's east side. Of the 18 members of the RTA board of directors, only two oppose the plan: Rob McKenna and Jane Hague, both Republican King County Councilmembers from Bellevue. (not coincidentally, Bellevue's most prominent civic heavyweight is Kemper Freeman, Jr., perhaps the most passionate opponent of rail transit in the entire Pacific Northwest and a principal funder of the COST campaign.) - Roger Pence

Editor's Response: This is a lot of "campaign speak" promoting group think. Even though there are a number of elected leaders who oppose RTA, we are urging that people read some of the documents that are posted in this web Forum, read the Regional Express campaign literature, and then decide for themselves. When the ballots are tabulated in a democracy, each person's vote counts the same as any other. And Kemper Freeman's funding support for COST pales in comparison to out-of -town construction company money flowing to Regional Express in this campaign. (Other input from Roger Pence is posted under statements of RTA supporters.)

Gentleman, I like your site and your analysis is certainly incisive. However, your praise of HOV lanes might be premature. You know in Northern Virginia the Shirley Highway (I-395) was the grandaddy of HOV lanes and was touted as a big success. However, ridership has dropped dramatically primarily because the NUMBER OF AMERICANS who carpool has declined dramatically since the 1970s when the reconstructed Shirley highway opened. How can you so adamantly support HOV lanes that are built primarily for carpools, an ever decreasing mode?

Now I know you'll say that the cheap abundunt bus service will be jeopardized by the rail scheme. I ask what is the net social benefit of offering such excellent bus service? Here in Atlanta we have a integrated bus/rail system that charges high fares but offers excellent service. I agree that rail is expensive, but I think it offers a city a way to to densify if urban planners who understand its potential are in power.

In any case, election day beckens and I look forward to hearing about the results of the Seattle referendum. Please post the results in the MISC.TRANSPORT.URBAN-TRANSIT newsgroup. -- Dharm Guruswamy

Thank you for providing this service. RTA is nothing but a bureaucratic shell game and a sham at the public expense. The ""alternative"" plan is right on target. I have one suggestion. I was a so-called neighborhood activist in Seattle for about 15 years. I learned at the foot of Ms. Janet Worthington, a neighbor of mine who lived in the University District. Janet organized the neighborhood movement that stopped the freeway that would have split our neighborhood. She was instrumental in making Charlie Royer a "viable" candidate when he was a blip on the political scene, and she understood this city and its sinister, fraudulent political scene top to bottom.

The predecessor to RTA studied our neighborhood and predicted with the excellent bus service to the District, and the high price of gas, traffic on our neighborhood streets would decline. The City planners built this "data" into their "plans", and we got increased density, the worst traffic in the city, and all that comes with it. We fought the bogus land use policy changes, the psuedo technical mumbo jumbo that the City passes off as a mantra of land use holy grail, and we lost the battle. What we won was a "traffic" study Jim Street pushed through that proved that we had been impacted, and then decided that nothing could really be done about it.

Along came Metro at the end of the process to push through a change to move the existing bus routes from University Way NE to 15th Avenue NE. Of course, the neighborhood residents were not interested in Metro running their pollution machines past every 10 minutes, so we said no, and the businesses also said no. The point of all of this was to gain 5 minutes on certain bus routes during peak traffic. Several years after this process in which the neighborhood invested countless hours over a two year period, the City came back to us to get a Stop Light installed at an intersection that would have encouraged additional traffic to move through the residential streets at increased speeds, severely impaired a major bike route, and added at least 5 minutes to the average bus route through the District.

And what did the neighborhood want? Well, we wanted better bike, bus, automobile, and pedestrian access to the campus, and the business district, shuttle bus service between the eastern nexus (Children's Hospital) and the U District transit center (Why is it that the neighborhood with the highest ridership, worst traffic problems, and greatest need has no transit center?). We wanted to connect bike routes and trails, improve pedestrian safety, create a pedestrian and bicycle friendly neighborhood. We went further. We wanted satellite park and ride lots and shuttle bus service to the campus and the U District. The planners really took offense to this notion. These park and ride lots were for people headed for the CBD, not the city's largest employer, not the location in the state with the second largest number of vehicles passing through daily!

I would add one caveat to the RTA debate. Planners are only as good as the politicians and the political system they serve. Our problem in Seattle goes beyond RTA and a few score bureaucrats who create colorful maps. We have a political problem. Until we solve the larger political issue, I fear we will not see a vision that uplifts, unfolds, and rewards. Until then, we are relegated to NIMBY politics, and eternal gridlock.

Oh for another Oil crisis.

Regards, Randy LaVigne

Other correspondence on the issues:

As a regular bus rider, I'd love to support RTA, but the revised plan is no better than the defeated 1995 version. The proposed system would serve Wedgwood no better -- and possibly worse -- than does our existing transit system. Trips that are now direct to downtown, U District, or Northgate would require a transfer -- presumably from a local shuttle bus to a train -- but the proposal is long on grand promises and short on details.

There are other, less neighborhood-centric, reasons I cannot support RTA. First, transit planners are stuck on light rail, despite public pressure to investigate other modes. In a 1993 editorial entitled "Scrap glitzy rail plan; be bold with buses," the Seattle Times warned that "A costly commitment to fixed rail ignores the extent to which work and commute patterns are changing and will continue to change." Yet the 1995 proposal featured rail as its centerpiece, and the new plan retains that emphasis. Without exploring other transit modes, it is simplistic to believe that rail is most suitable for us, or that we have the potential ridership to support such a capital-intensive system. We simply do not have the population density of European or East Coast cities, and it is unrealistic to envision trains whizzing by every few minutes.

Second, although the new time frame was shortened to 10 years, this is only the first phase of the project. The system would not be completed in that time, so voters would need to approve later phases after that. Given competing public needs, it is unrealistic to assume the availability of funding so far into the future.

Third, the RTA plan bears no relationship to a 6-year bus plan recently approved by King County Council. This is particularly troublesome since several Council members are also RTA Board members. The 6-year bus plan evolved when the County Executive canceled an order of natural-gas-powered buses, and allocated the savings to enhance bus service. Approval of one plan is not contingent on, or related to, approval of the other. So it is unrealistic to assume operational coordination between the two systems.

One might consider supporting RTA because it would create construction jobs, enhancing the regional economy. But it is unrealistic to believe that such public investment by a government agency would spend the money more wisely, and reap greater returns, than would individuals making their own investment decisions.

Nor should one consider voting for RTA as "our last chance to solve our transportation mess." Politicians may stake their reputations on passage of this proposal, but voters should have the same good sense to defeat it again. Rather than lament about our "last chance," we should recognize that this proposal was never the right one, and that the re-hashed proposal is still the wrong one. Wedgwood -- and the entire region -- can do better than this.

Jane Johnson, Wedgwood Community Council Trustee

Dear Editors:

Congrats to me -- I found and utilized your site. Congrats to you -- on the quality of material that I found!! I too am confused, frustrated and infuriated by campaign rhetoric. How refreshing it is to find fairly objective and very informative information at your site. It is this type of journalism that I fervently hope will be accepted by the intelligent voter in making a decision on this highest single tax issue in the history of our Puget Sound region.

I also applaud your programming of links to the sites of the RTA, and of the RTP support groups. This gave me a chance to review the perspectives on both sides of the RTP issue. I must confess that I continue to be puzzled by the lack of factual and informative support articles and statements. It seems incredulous to me that supporters of this huge public investment cannot provide us with anything more than what appears to be campaign rhetoric.

The opponents make statements based upon RTA data such as that the $4 billion RTP would result in less than a 1% travel mode shift from auto to transit. The proponent responses primarily rally around the excellent transit systems and statistics that already exist by actions of existing transit providers and funding, and point to would be statistics -- if people would abandon private autos and switch to transit. Yet they do not point to PSRC or RTA projections that this shift is in fact predicted to happen. I look forward to even one learned article with statistics that point to a significant change in mobility choices in this region that would occur as a result of the proposed RTP investment -- and I mean this most sincerely.

I am particularly amazed by the position paper on the RTP issued by the Boeing Company. The same statement could be issued in support of a rail system in Yakima -- it has no direct relationship as to how the RTP would really help improve transportation needs of the Boeing Company. Boeing has high employment plants along East Marginal Way in Seattle. Yet the RTP offers a light rail system that totally avoids access to its Duwamish facilities. In fact, it would appear that these Boeing plants would result in reduced transit accessibility if all south county transit lines feed an LRT line that circulates through the Rainier Valley.

Boeing has plants/offices in Everett, Fredrickson, Renton, Kent and East Bellevue. Boeing offers no evidence that the RTP would improve accessibility to these sites. Boeing indicates that it is highly dependent upon highway goods movement for its economic vitality. Yet the RTA and PSRC forecasts indicate that highway congestion will increase by over 300% by 2020, with or without the RTP. If fact, any mode shift to transit in the future is mostly predicated on severe congestion of highway transportation. There is no evidence that goods movements to/from or amongst Boeing plants would be facilitated by the RTP. It would be much more helpful to the voter if Boeing could point out more specifically just how the RTP would benefit its employees and goods movements.

I look forward to your follow-up articles on the upcoming hearings before and actions of the King County Council. I hope the Council will listen to facts and PSRC and RTA mobility predictions related to the RTP -- not just to hopes and wishes as to what it could do if it could find people to sit in the new seats provided. Two-thirds of all seats currently being carried on our transportation system, in transit and autos alike, are currently unused. I hope that proponents of this $4 billion investment will produce evidence that new seats would be voluntarily occupied.

The most disconcerting support statement for the RTP of all is the expression "that 50 years from now we will be glad that we took this action". Unfortunately, 20 years from now, according to PSRC and RTA data, our primary transportation system dependency will be hopelessly congested. If there is any economic/transportation bailout that must be a current action, a 50-year "glad-we-did-it" hope is too late. To be an effective action at all, the RTP would need to show a quadrupling of transit usage by 2020, if we are to avoid transportation gridlock by current standards.

Neither side of the RTA issue has been forthcoming as to what really would reach out to accommodate future mobility needs in this region. Opponents of the RTA say the RTP is not the "solution", and the RTA and its supporters agree. Conversely, the RTA and its supporters say that building more highways is not a solution. So what is the real "solution"? and who is preparing it? at what cost? and when?

Hopefully your forum will find an answer to this real mobility question before November -- otherwise we will be potentially frittering away $4 billion for a non-solution. I hope a significant part of the answer will be how to fill the two-thirds of existing empty seats on our highway and transit systems, and the political fortitude it will take to bring forward such a real solution to mobility in this region.

Respectfully submitted by,
James W. MacIsaac, P.E.

Return to the Public Interest Transportation Forum home page.