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HistoryLink File #3961

Voters reject rail transit plan and three other Forward Thrust bond proposals on May 19, 1970.

On May 19, 1970, King County voters reject four Forward Thrust bond issues for a regional rail transit system, storm water control, community centers, and new County public health and safety facilities. The total local cost of $615.5 million (not counting $900 million in pending federal aid for mass transit) apparently alarms voters amid the deepening Boeing Bust. James Ellis and other civic leaders disband Forward Thrust soon after the vote.

Second Time Around

The election essentially resubmitted major components of the original Forward Thrust package, which had failed in 1968. The most important element was $440 million in bonds for a regional mass transit system with 500 miles of bus routes and 49 miles of rail. U.S. Senator Warren G. Magnuson had secured nearly $900 million in federal funding to cover three-fourths of the system’s total cost of $1.321 billion — if local bonds passed.

Other proposals included $80 million for storm water control, $55.3 million for new community centers, and $40.2 million for new County jails, police stations, and public health centers. Passage of the bonds required a 60 percent yes vote, and all the proposals fell far short amid the deepening “Boeing Bust” recession.

Derailed?

Mass transit did the worst with only 46 percent approval. Regional leaders such as Metro founder James Ellis disbanded Forward Thrust, and federal transit funding earmarked for King County was allocated to build Atlanta’s MARTA system instead.

A dispirited Ellis told the press, “If rapid transit is to have a new beginning it will have to come from people other than the Forward Thrust Committee.” However, Ellis and many of his comrades would return to the arena within two years, and win voter approval of an all-bus Metro Transit system on September 19, 1972. Regional voters would not fund rail transit until 1996, when they approved the $3.9 billion Sound Transit system.

Sources:

Walt Crowley, Routes: An Interpretive History of Public Transportation in Metropolitan Seattle (Seattle: Metro Transit, 1993), 54-55.
Note: This essay was corrected on April 15, 2003.

By HistoryLink Staff, September 19, 2002

Seattle among top 10 most densely populated big cities in the U.S. for first time ever

When it comes to urban planning, we just have to contend with more people.

Be careful where you use the “D word” in Seattle.

“If you’re the quintessential suburbanite, density’s a swear word,” said Branden Born, associate professor of urban design and planning at the University of Washington. “If you’re an urbanist, it’s a buzzword.”

That conflict came to a head in July, when Mayor Ed Murray’s Housing Affordability and Livability Advisory (HALA) Committee recommended increasing density in areas zoned for single-family homes. It didn’t go over well in some parts of town.

I spoke with Born about density in Seattle because — HALA or not — it’s an unavoidable fact of life here.

Analysis of census data shows that Seattle — for the first time in its history — ranks among the top 10 most densely populated big cities in the U.S.

With 7,962 people per square mile in 2014, Seattle leapfrogged Baltimore into the No. 10 spot among the 50 most populous cities in the country. Seattle’s population density has increased by nearly 10 percent since the 2010 Census. And if current growth rates continue, we’ll bypass No. 9 Los Angeles within five years.

You can thank — or curse — all those newly minted Seattleites.

Born acknowledged that a lot of folks in single-family neighborhoods hear “density” and get nervous.

He thinks the word needs a rebranding. “Some people think crime … people think of New York City — dirty streets, and people bumping into you on the sidewalk or the bus. It’s having to take mass transit — not having the ability to take your car,” he said.

“On the flip side, people who understand that density can be an extremely positive thing would say ‘Look how vibrant New York is, it’s electric, it’s a wonderful place to spend time.’ ”

But even residents in say, Madrona, do want the benefits of density.

“They want to walk to a coffee shop. They want to have a little neighborhood grocer. They want these little neighborhood centers. That only happens with a certain amount of density … there are real benefits to density, from the retail and convenience and the quality-of-life things that come along with a city.”

Born points out that density doesn’t need to look like downtown. He suggests a stroll through some areas of Capitol Hill, one of the densest parts of Seattle.

“There are these old, beautiful brick walk-ups, there may be four stories, garden apartments at the lowest level … the neighborhood fabric is wonderful. You can walk to the grocery store, there are parks nearby — that’s some of the densest stuff in the city, and it doesn’t feel overwhelming. It’s very human-scale.”

The densest part of Capitol Hill packs in about 55,000 people per square mile — comparable to Greenwich Village in New York.

When density is done right, Born says, it gives people more of what they like, and less of what they don’t like, in their neighborhood — but he recognizes that hasn’t always happened in Seattle. In Ballard, for example, there are so many new projects they’ve changed the character of the neighborhood.

No matter what, newcomers will continue pouring into Seattle. With our strong economy and high quality of life, “It’s an incredible place to be,” Born said. And we’ll have to accommodate the increasing density to keep the city remotely affordable. “If people keep coming in and you’re not expanding the housing, then housing is just going to get more and more expensive.”

Despite the recent HALA skirmish, Born thinks a changing of the guard is under way when it comes to density and growth. Step aside, “Lesser Seattle” folks:

“Now there are a lot more people, say, like me — relatively new, urban folks interested in a global city. And I think we might be at that next turn, which is a bunch of folks coming here who are astounded with the housing prices and the lack of high-quality rapid public transit, and with the bad traffic on the freeways, and have a different understanding of what should be.

“We might be at that tipping point.”

Sound Transit 3 - Board Proposes Earlier Light Rail Timelines

Board Proposes Earlier Light Rail Timelines

5/26/2016

Proposed ST3 Draft Plan changes would speed up major projects in response to overwhelming emphasis of public comments

Sound Transit Board members today outlined proposed changes to the Sound Transit 3 Draft Plan, with emphasis on completing light rail extensions sooner.

“Across the region we heard vocal support for completing projects sooner,” said Sound Transit Board Chair and King County Executive Dow Constantine. “Speeding up these light rail expansions will give riders earlier relief from our region’s ever-worsening congestion.”

Under proposed changes, the ST3 plan slated for voter consideration in November would build a total of 62 miles of light rail with stations serving 37 additional areas. Improvements outlined at today’s meeting would speed up most of the extensions by two to five years.

Light rail to Everett via Paine Field would open five years earlier than previously stated. Extensions to downtown Redmond and Federal Way would be completed four years sooner, while the Ballard, West Seattle and Tacoma extensions would open three years sooner. During the delivery of projects the agency would work with partners to further improve timelines where feasible.

“I am in full support of the revised Sound Transit 3 Plan and believe it is very good for Snohomish County and the region,” said Sound Transit Boardmember and Snohomish County Executive Dave Somers. “As presented, Link light rail will follow our preferred route, hitting Paine Field on the way to the Everett Station District. While we would all like to have light rail reach Everett tomorrow, that is not realistic. These large construction projects do take time. We need to ensure that Snohomish County is not left out of our region’s mass transit system, since the consequences of that to our economy could be devastating. With this plan, the vision of Sound Transit and the region can be realized: we connect population centers to job centers and make the spine a priority.”

“These amendments accomplish the longtime goal of a truly regional light rail system faster than we thought we could, reaching Tacoma three years earlier while extending Tacoma Link to Tacoma Community College two years earlier,” said Sound Transit Boardmember and Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy. “Our changes also include increasing investment in Sounder, which we heard today has seen ridership increases over the past year. The plan extends platforms to accommodate two more cars, provides funding for track capacity expansions for adding trains and extends service to Tillicum and DuPont, with additional parking in DuPont. These and other investments will help Pierce County thrive as our population keeps growing.”

Details of the proposed changes to the ST3 Plan are available at soundtransit3.org. Board members proposed a number of significant new projects and refinements that would be constructed as the region’s population grows by nearly a million residents by 2040. Seattle’s light rail extension to Ballard would be completely grade separated on 15th Avenue. A new light rail line between Issaquah and Bellevue would extend further to reach south Kirkland. Expanded Sounder commuter rail capital investments in South King County and Pierce County would increase system capacity, enhance service, and extend the line to Tillicum and DuPont.

Changes would expand early projects slated for completion within the first eight years, including improvements to Bus Rapid Transit on I-405 between Lynnwood and Burien with added facilities in Kirkland and Renton. A new station at 130th Street in Seattle would move from provisional to fully-funded status.

The Sound Transit Board is scheduled to vote on proposed updated projects and timelines at a special meeting June 2. The Board is scheduled to adopt completed language of the plan on June 23 to meet election submission deadlines.

The improved timelines and added projects are primarily enabled by refinements including adjusting the financing plan for the ST3 measure to modestly increase the issuance of bonds, improving the region’s financial capacity by approximately 8 percent or $4 billion.  The $54 billion in investments would be funded through new voter-approved sales, MVET and property taxes. The improved timelines and added projects would not change the measure’s estimated additional $200 annual or $17 monthly costs for a typical adult in the Sound Transit District.

The two major factors influencing project timelines are the time it takes to generate sufficient revenues through taxes, bonding and grants; and the time it takes to plan and build projects, including intensive work with local jurisdictions and other partners. Sound Transit CEO Peter Rogoff today updated the Board on options the agency will pursue to reduce the time required to plan, permit and construct major projects, with emphasis on working with local jurisdictions to speed up project development.

“The actions this week by the Snohomish, Everett and Lynnwood councils pledging to work with Sound Transit to speed up the process is precisely the kind of partnership we need to get commuters out of traffic sooner,” Rogoff said.

Over the course of the public input period on the ST3 Draft Plan that wrapped up earlier this month, Sound Transit heard strong continuing support for mass transit extensions. An online survey generated nearly 35,000 responses and more than 1,200 people attended seven open houses held across the region. The agency received a total of 2,320 written comments from individuals and more than 90 letters from jurisdictions and organizations. By far the most frequent theme was interest in completing projects more quickly.

In a phone survey that Sound Transit conducted last month, 65 percent of respondents stated they strongly (30 percent) or somewhat (36 percent) supported the ST3 draft package in a question that described the associated tax increases. Following a question describing the plan’s previously proposed project timelines, 59 percent of respondents strongly (24 percent) or somewhat (35 percent) supported the draft package. The soundtransit3.org website includes a presentation summarizing the public input and phone survey.

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