Opinion: Perception vs. reality on Sound Transit 3 plan

Maggie Fimia
Maggie Fimia

I’m passing on information about Sound Transit’s $54 billion proposal – the last item listed on your ballot. While the topic could easily fill up a three-day workshop, the bottom line is that while we absolutely need more and better transit, continuing to build light rail actually puts us further behind our ability to serve more communities, reduce sprawl, reduce greenhouse gases and stop the growth of soul-killing traffic congestion.

State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Democrat, publicly stated: “As a state legislator I cannot in good conscience support an inequitable and unstable financing plan…that I believe will have substantial negative implications for public education in the years to come.” He also said, referring to the price tag and increased sales, motor vehicle excise tax and now property tax, “it consumes the oxygen in the room on taxes for virtually all other public services at all levels of government for years to come.”

Here are five facts and links to where you can get more information.

Here’s what Sound Transit want us to think instead of what we actually know:

  1. We’re getting a long, fast, sleek train like New York, Paris or San Francisco.

No, with “Light rail” we’re getting a glorified, astronomically priced streetcar. “Light” refers to how many people it can carry (capacity), not weight. Parts of the line share right of way with cars and trucks. Each train can only be four cars long; it averages about 25-30 mph, and will be slower than the express bus because it has to stop at every station.

  1. Light rail is the best technology to serve the region.

No, light rail technology was never intended for regional service. It is designed for a short distance in a dense urban environment. It doesn’t provide the right characteristics for both fast and reliable regional services.

  1.  Light rail can carry 16,000 people an hour: a freeway lane can only carry 2,000 cars.

This is an intentional distortion of facts. While it may be possible to jam 12 people in a telephone booth (remember those?), that’s not how many were meant to be in there. They’re comparing “crush” capacity on their trains versus one person per car: no buses or carpools in that lane. Also, how many people a light rail car can hold is a very different number than how many actually ride it.

    4. You’ll have an alternative to being stuck in traffic.

By 2040, the official regional transportation plan shows that we will be taking 19 million trips a day by all forms of transportation, but mostly still by car. How many actual new transit riders will be getting on a bus or train? According to Sound Transit, only about 64,000 trips will be taken by new transit riders. If we assume each new rider takes a minimum of two trips per day, that’s only 32,000 new riders out of the expected million new people. Express buses will and are being canceled or rerouted to “feed” the train. Most people will have to transfer from their car or a bus to be able to access the train station that will be miles away from where they are to where they are going. In 2040, 91 percent of Sound Transit’s ridership will be former bus riders. Traffic gets worse, especially on arterials.

  1. The Sound Transit Board is accountable.

No. They are appointed by the three county executives, not directly elected by and accountable to the people. Some cities, like Seattle, are represented by several board members while others by only one. Many cities have no representative. The board can and does change the plans the voters approve. They appoint their own Citizen Oversight Panel. A performance audit by the State Auditor found serious problems with this arrangement. Their Expert Review Panel did not receive the most basic information about the costs and benefits of the ST3 plan in time to review it. They spent almost $1 million on a party when they opened the Husky Stadium Station. And the Sound Transit Board appointed Tim Eyman to the Voters’ Pamphlet Statement committee against the wishes of the official NoST3 campaign. He is not and never has been a part of the campaign.

But we need to do something. Of course we do.

Lastly, when the region said no to “heavy” rail 40 years ago we said yes to a high- capacity bus system and to 310 miles of HOV lanes, the downtown bus tunnel and ramped-up bus service. Consequently, we have some of the highest transit ridership in the country. We are ranked 12th in the nation for transit ridership per capita. Atlanta was awarded the federal grants instead and built heavy rail. They are ranked 45th. But the rail proponents were back again in 1996 and we approved 21 miles of light rail (I supported it) and then another 30 miles in 2008. The first 21 miles are still not done and is coming in 86 percent over budget. Meanwhile, buses and carpools are left to languish in HOV lanes that move slower and slower each month.

We need a real plan.

When a group of elected officials asked the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) what the plan was to deal with the growing traffic and under-performing HOV lanes, their answer was, “PSRC has engaged with WSDOT and flagged the topic for consideration as part of the scope of work for the upcoming transportation update.”

Sound Transit, PSRC and the State do not have a plan to deal with the expected growth of people and traffic over the next 25 years. Voters need to send a strong message to their elected officials that we need to set real transportation goals, real performance measures and adopt a real plan for growing transit, providing alternatives to driving alone, maintaining our transit and transportation system, incorporating new technology and reducing congestion.

Please join us in voting No and send a message to our elected officials that the region deserves better. The region deserves the truth. We need viable, sustainable and affordable options now.

Our many supporters include:

State Superintendent Randy Dorn
Mike Lonergan – Treasurer-Assessor of Pierce County
Phil Talmadge – Former legislator and Supreme Court Judge
Sen. Maralyn Chase, Democrat, 32nd District
Chuck Collins, Former manager of Metro
Toby Nixon, President of the Washington Coalition for Open Government

Here are some links for more info:

  1. Why I’m voting no on ST3 – transit supporter and self identified “bleeding heart liberal.”
  1. Outside City Hall – Vote No on ST3 – blog by Seattle Displacement Coalition about ST3
  1. Seattle Times endorses NoST3 position
  1. Smarter Transit– education/advocacy – much more info including links to SoundTransit Revealed – treasure trove of data- Mark Ahlers has done the research so you don’t have to!
  1. People for Smarter Transit – NoST3 coalition running campaign – see tax calculator to find out how much this actually will cost you.
  1. Smarter Transit Facebook page– many articles from around region, country and world regarding these issues.
  1. SWIFT Bus – Community Transit in Snohomish County – example in our own back yard!
  1. Institute for Transportation and Development Policy – What is BRT?
  1. Speech by head of Federal Transit Administration about how transit investments are moral decisions and how upgrading the bus system and giving buses dedicated lanes instead of building new rail lines can “move a lot of people for very little cost compared to rail.” He is now head of Sound Transit telling us we have no alternatives to building another 60 miles of light rail. It’s also on YouTube.

— By Maggie Fimia

Maggie Fimia is a former Metro Council and King County Councilmember. She served on several transit and transportation committees including the Puget Sound Regional Council Transportation Committee, Co-chaired their first Transportation Pricing Task Force and was a member of the State Commute Trip Reduction Task Force. She organized the first Livable Communities Fair at the Seattle Center. She’s the Co-Founder of Smarter Transit.org, an education and advocacy network. Maggie and her husband live in Edmonds. They share one car, enjoy their ORCA Transit Senior passes and walk for most trips.


16 Replies to “Opinion: Perception vs. reality on Sound Transit 3 plan”

  1. Maggie;
    When a NoST3 person opens their mouth, I wonder if they’re telling the truth or saying whatever word salad comes to mind. When you slandered great heroes of transit in Peter Rogoff and Karen Kitsis, it felt like a punch in this transit advocate’s stomach. Right now, KING 5 says ST3 is ahead in the polls.


        1. No, I was asking Joe for one per the ST3 opinion poll he references per KING5…thanks!

          By the way maggie, your synopsis of ST3 was excellent!!


  2. Thanks Maggie for your indepth analysis. ST has a history of broken promises, like the UW station that was more then 10 years late. In 1995 they said it would be completed in 2005. So what would be done by 2041? Technology is offering rapid changes in many areas of our life. We hear about driverless and flying cars. Uber is now a real-deal. GoToMeeting is a common tool also.
    What new technologies will we see in the next 25+ years?
    I vote for buses and van pools that work great at much lower costs. Oh ya, we can use them today.


  3. Thank you Maggie for presenting a concise and understandable explanation of a topic that is complex
    and many sided. After looking at “reams of material” on my dining room table for quite sometime
    now I can finally sweep it all into the recycle bin!


  4. Has anyone heard that ridership on the recently opened UW and Capitol Hill extensions has already surpassed expected 2018 levels? Sound a transit is already adding cars to their train sets to handle the crush loads. Light Rail WORKS and WILL ELIMINATE some of our worst traffic because of the neighborhoods it does and will be serving. Not to mention light rail has less stops, is often grade-separated from roads, and is often given priority signaling where it does intersect roads. Between stops the average speed is often over 40 mph, whereas the roadway traffic is limited to 25-35 mph for safety reasons, or is stuck in stop and go traffic on the freeways. Vote yes!


    1. Ridership on the recently opened UW and Capital Hill is still way below the 103,000/day promised and much of that ridership ST is claiming is due to the fact that over 2 dozen bus routes were rerouted to feed the trains. These stations were promised in the 1996 Sound Move Plan. Another one in the U District was in that plan and will not be done till 2021. That’s not ST just changes the goal posts, renames segments and claims “on time and under budget.”
      ST1, ST2 and ST3 does nothing to reduce traffic or significantly increase transit ridership. Even their own document doesn’t show any benefit from building ST3 (measured in cars coming off the road) till 2072. Yes, you read that correctly. Please see the Key Performance Measures Report to the Pubic on the http://www.SmarterTransit.org website – it is based on the official 2040 Transportation Plan Update from our regional planning agency – it assumes 79 miles of light rail. It’s 2 pages of cover letter and then about 6 graphics that tell the story.


  5. Interesting just to look at the Car tab component increase of ST3:

    If your vehicle assessed value is 10,000 dollars then your Car tabs will increase 80 dollars per year.

    However, the increase is 80 dollars PER 10,000 dollars of assessed value…there are a lot SUV’s and fancy trucks around… assessed value could be 20-40 thousand dollars per vehicle..or MORE!

    meaning 160-320 dollars increased Car Tab Taxe$ per year, or MORE…

    and hold your breath…

    That is per vehicle! Lord help you if your household has multiple vehicles…


  6. Too late for light rail. Takes too long to build and terribly expensive.

    We need solutions now, using and upgrading current transportation infrastructure. It is a relatively low cost to try dedicated bus lanes from city to city, and add more..and smaller.. buses in city to nimbly move people in and around cities versus static rail lines, .

    But what we have now for roads…that is it. Congestion is not going away. There is no more road capacity available…unless you all want to rip up thousands of homes and businesses.


  7. I come from the more rural areas of Snohomish County, and my frustration with the idolization of light rail is that it will do little to actually reduce congestion.

    In my mind, here are the problems:

    1. We do not control housing prices in the urban areas, so people who have families tend to move outward where they can afford a house big enough to have a family in. Thus, the large commuting population from the rural areas to the urban ones (where wages tend to be higher). We need to have a discussion about housing prices if we really want to do something about “urban sprawl”.

    2. We are not in an area with centralized employment (unlike say New York City or Paris or… were millions of jobs exist in a small dense business district). We have employment scattered at every manufacturing plant, strip mall, small city, etc. … and they don’t all run 9-5 anymore, so it’s a 24/7 game.

    3. Light rail means stations inside an urban area that one has to drive to to get to (as we do not have timely bus service in most areas that will do the job). Having the infrastructure to take in and park all those cars is not currently available in these cities… just getting to the station will be an adventure. Even to make light rail useful we will have to increase our bus lanes and come up with some way to get from the sprawled out areas to a central station… and I can’t see how that is going to work without major rennovations in each city or area with a station.

    4. Our bus system sometimes triples a person’s daily commute. A trip that would take an hour if you drive can take three on a bus, especially if they route you from where you are to the central station in Everett before disbursing you to the bus that’s actually going where you need to. Even here in South Seattle, if I took the bus the trip to one of my jobs would take an hour or more, when I can drive it in 15-20 minutes, find parking and walk to work. I do not have another 1.5 hours to spend each day riding the bus.

    5. Without a bus lane on 522 or Hiway 2, we are restricting how well even bus service can be utilized in those areas. Waiting for 50 years for “something” to be built that will hopefully help isn’t.. helpful. Those areas are bursting at the seams at the moment, if we want people to take mass transit, you need to provide something now that actually works… and sitting on a bus in the same traffic you’d be in if you drove… is not it.

    I have the occasion to drive on 599 and observe the light rail headed to the airport – no matter the time of day, I rarely see more than a few passengers on board. I don’t know how many are supposed to be riding, but … it’s empty whenever I see it. I know when I considered trying to take that train to the airport, the logistics of finding a bus that would link me up to a station (with all my luggage) and then get me to the airport was a lot harder than I thought it would be… so I ended up driving and parking my car at one of the lots with a shuttle.

    I’ve tried to use mass transit when possible. When I could take the bus (when I worked downtown and lived in Snohomish), I would still have to drive from Snohomish to south Everett in order to catch the bus. (This was many years ago, but to the best of my knowledge there is not a more time-efficient way to do it now). That worked because the bus could then take the transit lane, I avoided paying parking, and it was convenient and cheap. However, most of the other routes I’ve investigated have involved getting on a bus, being routed to a central station, then getting on another bus… all while on a bus waiting in the same traffic as all the other commuters. Time wise, it has not been attractive.

    I wish those who were trying to cram this stuff through would figure out why people don’t already take mass transit. For me, it comes down to – does the bus run when I need it to or will I spend hours standing in the dark waiting for a bus? Does it run in the hours I work? Does the trip time make sense? Does it go anywhere close to where I need to go or will I be schlepping all my stuff through the rain for blocks?

    I agree something needs to be done, but somehow it seems that Sound Transit is wanting to do the least effective and most expensive avenue. I’d like to know why we can’t somehow tailor this more to adequate buses (and they don’t all have to be articulated, do they?) with routes that make it simple to get from “here” to “there”.


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