The dismal failure of Proposition 1 at the polls Nov. 6 is just another chapter in Seattle's continuing transportation tragedy, whose first act was written around the time many students' parents entered grade school.
The campaign to build a mass transit system like those that grace nearly every other charming metropolitan capital of the world, including Rome, New York, London, Tokyo and Mexico City, has been in progress for almost two generations.
Even then it was behind the times. Although its first metro line did not open until 1900, Paris began its mass transit planning in 1845. Today, a tourist within the city limits is never more than 500 meters from a metro station. While traffic on the Place d'Etoile is terrible, commuters and tourists have other options.
Seattle officials, beginning with the great Rep. Warren Magnuson, have been trying to get voters to approve other options since 1962. That year, and again in 1968 and 1970, voters stubbornly clung to roads.
The rationale in Seattle during the 1960s was apparently that mass transit was a trick by high-powered legislators to get fewer people to drive, leaving the roads for themselves. The result was that the $1 billion in federal funding Magnuson had secured for a Seattle-based mass transit system went to Atlanta, which promptly built one for itself.
Roads seem less attractive these days, given that some 40,000-plus people die in auto accidents in the United States each year and economists are predicting the price of oil will hit $100 per barrel sometime within the next 12 months.
Cities that got on the stick about mass transit years ago are basking in the glow of citizens whose collective blood pressure is several points lower because they don't have to worry about how long it's going to take them to get from Point A to Point B, 20 miles away.
I chatted with a fellow who moved from Seattle to Atlanta at a party last Christmas. He couldn't say enough great things about MARTA (Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority) and how much money and hassle he was saving. A woman who went to college at the UW and then moved to Washington, D.C., enthused how the mass transit system was so good she didn't have to own a car.
In an Oct. 19 article, Seattle Post-Intelligencer reporter Gregory Roberts painted an image of the Eastside in 2030 as a kind of Vancouver, British Columbia, wherein shuttles whisked residents from their condos near the light rail track across Lake Washington to their jobs in the big city in 20 minutes flat. What happens if we don't build a mass transit system? More of what we've got now. A lot more.
"Because of dramatic growth in population, highways in the Puget Sound region are expected to get far more crowded in the coming decades," Roberts wrote.
Granted, Proposition 1 would have ballooned the sales tax in King County to 9.5 percent and cost people $8 per $1,000 assessed value in vehicle taxes. But the positive impact of the measure, which would have raised $47 billion to pay for new lanes on Interstate 405, a new Evergreen Point Bridge and a sprouting in all directions of the already-in-progress Light Rail system, would have been felt for decades.
Hopefully the Light Rail system connecting the University District with Sea-Tac airport will show itself to be completely worthwhile and voters will approve expansion measures and quickly.
They may have little choice. Who knows what it's going to cost when voters finally get sick of two-hour one-way commutes
Proposition 1 wasn't perfect. But it seemed like a genuine effort at compromise between mass transit proponents and road lovers. One can only hope voters will be presented with something similar next year — and this time have the sense to approve it.
[Reach columnist Blythe Lawrence at firstname.lastname@example.org.]
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