(I submitted the following to the Bellevue Reporter. I’ve posted it since they are unlikely to print it.)
Mass Transit Now ST3 Press Conference
The Sept 30th Bellevue Reporter front-page article “Mayors, business leaders support ST3 in Bellevue” is a perfect example of what happens when a well-funded pro-light rail organization sponsors a press conference telling voters about ST3. All one really needs to know about East Link and ST3 ability to reduce congestion can be gleaned from Sound Transit’s East Link Extension web site video. The video depicting East Link includes a narrative describing it as providing a three or four car train every eight to ten minutes.
At best a four-car train every eight minutes will provide thirty 74-seat light rail cars an hour. Even with the rather dubious narrative assumption each of the four cars can average 200 riders, the total capacity is only 6000 riders per hour (rph) in each direction. No matter how many riders Sound Transit assumes in each car, East Link will have about half the current transit capacity and a fraction of what’s needed to meet projected I-90 corroder transit growth. East Link’s limited capacity also means it will increase cross-lake congestion because the 4th lanes added to the outer roadways won’t give it the capacity to accommodate all the buses needed for transit and all the other cross-lake vehicles.
One can only assume the “leaders” quoted in the article were either unaware of those realities or unconcerned about the difficulties eastside commuters might have with cross-lake congestion. It’s bad enough the Bellevue Mayor and the Downtown Business Association apparently have no objections to Sound Transit closure of the South Bellevue P&R later this year (after the vote), closing the I-90 center roadway in 2017, and spending more than $3 billion over the next 6 years disrupting those who live or commute along the route into Bellevue to create a light rail system that will actually increase cross-lake congestion. Their willingness to recommend eastside residents approve paying close to $1000 annually for at least the next 25 years to fund ST3 “Prop 1 and Beyond” belies belief.
Mass Transit Now's approach to "informing voters" is exemplified by their decision to include two other mayors who are Sound Transit Board members in the "press conference". Redmond Mayor Marchione opined, “We are wasting millions of hours of time as we sit in out car”. Yet the East Link extension to Redmond was part of the Prop 1 package voters approved in 2008. His recommendation constituents approve paying additional thousands over the next 25 years for something they’d thought they were already paying for would seem to be a “hard sell”.
With East Link’s limited capacity, whatever riders the Redmond extension does add increases the likelihood the trains will be full before they even reach some of the subsequent stations. That’s especially true with Marchione’s anticipated growth from 60,000 to 120,000. The limited capacity means even Redmond transit commuters, while having a sure ride into Seattle, will face problems finding space on the return trips.
Issaquah Mayor Butler opines “Congestion is already making getting in and out of Issaquah difficult”. I-90 traffic can be “difficult” all the way from Issaquah through Eastgate to I-405. The afternoon return commutes can be even worse. Yet East Link extensions will do absolutely nothing to ease that congestion and the closure of the I-90 bridge center roadway increases cross-lake congestion. Again, Butler’s recommendation I-90 corridor commuters approve paying thousands over the next 25 years in hopes for a light rail link between Issaquah and South Kirkland in 2041 seems like a “hard sell”.
The bottom line is Mass Transit Now’s approach suggests its “goal” is not to increase mass transit capacity “now” but to convince voters to give the Sound Transit Board the authority to spend $2 billion annually for the next 25 years with little if any public oversight. No organization should be given the ability to spend so much for so long with so little outside control.
Particularly since really increasing mass transit “now” requires adding thousands of parking spaces near where commuters live with access to transit with capacity and routes to take them near where they want to go. Not only does ST3 not fund the tens of thousands of parking spaces needed, the billions spent on Prop 1 and beyond, won’t provide the capacity and the routing needed to take them near where they want to go. ST3 will never increase mass transit now!