Sound Transit Submits Suburb-Heavy Expansion Plan

This article is cross-posted at The Urbanist.

Commuters in Seattle’s suburbs should like what they see in the Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan that the Sound Transit Executive Board unveiled on Thursday. Seattle urbanists are left wondering what they get out of the ambitious but suburban-focused 25-year $50 billion plan to bring Sound Transit’s total to 108 miles of rail, a length that would rival BART in San Francisco. Sound Transit officials estimate that $27 billion would come from regional taxes and $23 billion would be leveraged from other sources like the federal government.

Seattle: West Seattle Junction, At Grade To Ballard… That’s It?

The plan would build light rail to West Seattle Junction in 2033 and to Ballard via Interbay and a new Downtown transit tunnel by 2038. The plan calls for at-grade rail in Interbay and a moveable bridge crossing of Salmon Bay which cause some to worry that light rail to Ballard would be bogged down in traffic, both nautical and terrestrial. Sound Transit’s own study found that the at-grade option to be 5 minutes slower than a completely grade-separated option (23 minutes versus 18 minutes). We can take solace that a second Downtown transit tunnel is on the plan, but, without many additional Seattle destinations in the light rail network, that tunnel would also be more about expanding capacity for suburban commuters than it would be about helping Seattleites. If ST3 has $50 billion, why did Sound Transit not pick a gold standard rail option for Ballard? The Ballard-to-Downtown options that were entirely elevated or with a tunnel crossing of Salmon Bay show massively larger ridership. Options C-01B (elevated) and C-01C (tunnel crossing) each showed ridership of 102,000 to 133,000. With the opening of the University Link, the Central Link hit ridership of 57,000 on Tuesday. Option C-01B or C would more than double that, showing its colossal potential. So why did Sound Transit not go with the superior option on travel time, reliability, and ridership?

A portion of the Draft Plan expansion proposal. (Sound Transit)

A portion of the Draft Plan expansion proposal. (Sound Transit)

Extensive Suburban Rail Service

Finishing the Central Link spine north to Everett and south to Tacoma remains the central focus of Sound Transit’s vision. Everett promoted the extravagant option of routing to Paine Field picking up roughly the same ridership while spending about $2 billion more and taking 13 minutes longer than the I-5 alignment, and costing about $1 billion and taking 7 minutes longer than the most direct SR-99 alignment, according to Sound Transit own study.

Extending the East Link to the Redmond city center also got priority by being pegged for 2028 completion. Tacoma Dome would get service by 2033 and Tacoma Community College by 2041.

Meanwhile, Everett could be served by 2041 (a mere 26 years from now) via extensions of the Link spine. Same goes for Bellevue to Issaquah with a 2041 opening while the plan also calls for the extension of Sounder rail service from Lakewood south to DuPont by 2036.

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Trump In The City

City-dwellers often try the best they can to ignore the circus of presidential politics and the political theater of congressional gridlock. We even spin narratives that cities are stepping in to fill the void left by an ineffective US Congress and forge a more progressive future despite the many obstacles a rabidly conservative congress throws in their way. To some extent that is true; cities are making progress even without much help from a stingy congress. Eventually the narrative — namely, the city as a progressive bubble insulated from the conservative nation gridlock enveloping it —  comes crashing to the ground. Particularly when the three-ring circus comes to town.

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The Donald Trump three-ring circus came to Chicago on Friday night to stage a old-fashioned racist revival, which was made all the more frightening by the fact he has the inside track to the Republican nomination and from there a shot at becoming President of the United States. However, turns out a minority-majority city (Chicago is 45% white) isn’t the greatest place to shill white supremacy. Trump found thousands of protesters awaiting him outside and hundreds more inside the UIC Pavilion. Previously, Trump has relished ejecting protesters and hurling insults as security removed them, even inciting his followers to rough them up. Perhaps, he feared this time his swaggering supporters would too vigorously heed his calls for violence, or maybe that they’d be outnumbered. Whatever the reason, the self-styled tough guy canceled his rally.

The crowd was asked to leave, and, as Trump supporters filtered out and encountered protesters, several scuffles ensured. At one point, protesters began chanting “we gonna be alright,” a lyric from Kendrick Lamar’s Alright, which is slowly cementing itself as a Black Lives Matter anthem. The whole chorus goes like so:

When you know, we been hurt, been down before, n****
When my pride was low, lookin’ at the world like, “where do we go, n****?”
And we hate Popo, wanna kill us dead in the street for sure, n****
I’m at the preacher’s door
My knees gettin’ weak and my gun might blow but we gon’ be alright

Trump has been a noted advocate of using police brutality to quell the masses. There may be no better foil for Black Lives Matter in modern politics. In the aftermath, Trump was quick to blame everyone but himself for the canceled rally from CNN to Obama to Bernie Sanders to “thugs.” He also didn’t miss the opportunity to spin the turmoil as a boon for him with voters, saying he might gains votes from the backlash. He might be right as far as the Republican primary electorate goes.

If Trump is the wrinkly, spray-tanned mouth piece of Nativism, who is his counterpart speaking on the behalf of multiculturalism and racial justice? Who is breaking down the Otherness and the criminality that Trump is projecting onto non-white Americans? Maybe the fact that protesters were chanting Kendrick Lamar lyrics is no coincidence. The Compton-raised rapper filled that void in pop culture and popular media being exploited by Trump and his tremendous hate vortex sucking gullible and haplessly angry people left and right. Hip hop is still one of the dominant musical genres in American culture, and few are able wield it to greater political effect than Kendrick.

My takeaway from Chicago is that Trump’s brand of authoritarian conservatism will prove to be incompatible with cities. Cities are places that seek to foster inclusion and diversity; their economies are propped up by immigrants. Much of their music celebrates black culture, Latino culture, and cultural differences. This is partly by choice, but also out of necessity. Minority communities need places to live and a sense of place. Exclusionary suburbs, exurbs and rural areas tend to deny them that place in a variety of ways from discriminatory real estate practices, exclusionary land use policy, weak social services, poor public transit, and biased policing. The city then is where immigrants, African Americans, and Latinos seek refuge and opportunity in an otherwise unwelcoming nation.

If progressives thrive best in heterogeneous cities, Trump, meanwhile, represents the homogeneous gated community walled off from the poor, the black, the brown, and the huddled masses. For Trump to come into a cosmopolitan city and act surprised they don’t roll out the welcome mat shows either how out of touch or disingenuous he is. If the energy that was on display in Chicago is any sign of voter turnout this November, we gonna be alright.