The Washington Senate has passed a 15 billion dollar state-wide transportation package that includes a 11.7 cent incremental gas tax (spread over 3 years) to fund multiple projects, including the Montlake side of the 520 bride replacement and an initiative to expand light rail into Ballard.
I typically wouldn’t think twice about this legislation. Light rail? Good. Seattle needs more options in mass transit. The 520 Bridge? Great. Floating bridges are very cool and the proposals include accommodations for rapid transit with the possibility of future light rail expansion.
So why was this package tied up in the legislature for so long and what makes sustainable transportation controversial at all? Maybe it comes down to fairness. Our city needs environmental solutions, but people across the city have immediate personal transit needs that are currently not being met. Truly sustainable solutions must satisfy both needs.
Flexible, rapid transit bus routes are potentially more sustainable than light rail within the city of Seattle given this consideration. Light rail immediately serves very specific neighborhoods, immediately creating privileged access. Gentrification and increased housing costs follow. If such systems could be developed evenly and across all neighborhoods in Seattle then there wouldn’t be this issue of fairness—unfortunately these initiatives are funded and enacted piecemeal. This always creates winners and losers, proponents and dissidents.
As much as I love the idea of a light rail line to Ballard and across Lake Washington, I favor investment in an aggressive, rapid transit bus system in Seattle, serving a very large number of people with very little investment in new infrastructure. Eventually routes with high ridership should be replaced by light rail as the benefits begin to outweigh the costs of new infrastructure, but only after we manage to get people were they need to be by a well-funded bus system.
The incremental gas tax mentioned in the beginning of this blog post is a huge step in the right direction towards better transit solutions. Let’s make the money stretch as far as possible by ensuring a highly dependable and effective bus service to all locations in Seattle.