I’ve given Seattle (specifically Metro and Sound Transit) a lot of crap over the years. Overall they do an ok job, I do think they spend WAY too much money on what they’re building. For whatever reason Sound Transit just keeps on suggesting these cut and cover, dig and cover, elevated, and tunnel bore type routes which are insanely expensive. They’re building light rail like it is heavy rail, which puts light rail in the heavy rail price range without the carrying capacity. This leaves me perplexed. This also leaves the Seattle area with very little light rail that could be serving hundreds of thousands of riders by now if it didnt’ get stuck every time it is up for vote or pulled off the “build queue” because it is so blasted expensive.
As I’ve said before, there are prime examples of how to use light rail to our south and north of the city. Vancouver BC carries more people on light rail than the entire Seattle Metro System, and it is only a couple of lines. Portland carries over a hundred thousand people a day on its line, with a per ride cost that is vastly lower than Sound Transit Link Light Rails costs now or will ever cost even with additions. All of this amounts to a lot of scary budget problems and other concerns that I have about Sound Transit.
Overall, it looks more like this whole light rail effort of Sound Transit’s is somewhat misplaced, overpriced, and won’t actually serve to create or expand town centers in core areas that it will serve.
Looking at the east side line provides a glimpse into an amazing service potential. Uninterrupted by traffic, unencumbered by the inefficiencies of diesel, hybrid power, or even rubber on road concerns Bellevue could be connected 365 days a year through almost any conditions. Cold weather concerns in this area wouldn’t even bother light rail, the destructive nature of chained tires on buses goes away for this route. Increased capacity to move people between Bellevue and Seattle increases by a substantial percent.
Over a period of 30 years of operation, the net cost of light rail, even with some of the above mentioned design cost concerns, would be equivalent to that of similar bus operations with lower capacity. (Keep in mind this is in comparison to the usual 18-22 years it usually takes for light rail to recoup and become cheaper than equivalent bus service, after which light rail only becomes a smaller and smaller cost compared to equivalent bus service)
Additionally the amount of “choice” riders will increase based on empirical ridership numbers. The town centers that are served (Bellevue and Seattle) will gain foot traffic that, some realize, is vastly more valuable and less costly to service than auto based traffic. The Overlake Transit Center area, pending Microsoft maintains itself as a dominant employer in the area, will become even more intensely utilized. In addition Microsoft itself could probably even woo additional talent from downtown (which it often desperately wants to do – re: Connector).
In the end though, will this work? Will Seattle be able to provide the funds for this? Will Seattle get enough support from the Federal Government? Is the potential payoff even worth it compared to a cheaper implementation of light rail? Why is Seattle, at least by action, ignoring lessons learned in Denver, Portland, San Francisco, and Vancouver? Will people really use the system in enough numbers to validate its massive cost per mile? Already auto based transportation is draining this country of monetary resources, inefficiencies, and now we continue to fall into hock to support it. But can we do better with well built transit services? Will we recoup enough efficiencies from this to save so much of our decaying standard of life? Will Seattle’s (via Sound Transit) ongoing attempts to build out light rail actually build up the town centers within this city?
What’s your take? I’d love to know. Please comment! Cheers 🙂