What’s Wrong with Sound Transit 3

Seattle Times article

How telling that ST3 would build as many miles of rail as DC to serve 50% fewer daily riders. The article doesn’t mention this, but the proposal would extend Sounder (commuter rail) service in the south from Lakewood to Dupont, and it would lengthen platforms to accommodate longer trains. But it wouldn’t go to Olympia, it wouldn’t try sending any trains *through* downtown Seattle, and it adds no trips to move toward all-day Sounder service.

Everett light rail makes no sense. Tacoma light rail makes no sense. The $5 billion Ballard tunnel is a ludicrous boondoggle that bypasses Fremont and Seattle Pacific University. The Ballard Spur is missing even though it’s cheaper, faster, and would carry more riders. I don’t know why West Seattle’s line would end at Alaska Junction, though I predicted it wouldn’t serve White Center or Burien. More car-based park and ride stations, no Burien-Renton crosstown line, no Kirkland (though I know local officials and ST are fighting there), no Denny Way subway to unclog that mess. I can support the short extension of East Link to downtown Redmond.

This is the wrong modes the wrong way in the wrong places. It’s a ridiculous amount of money ($50 billion!!!) that takes 25 years–if their predictions hold (they’ve had 2 big failures here)–to deliver what it promises. I would be 65 when it’s complete. It wastes precious infrastructure investment to serve far-flung areas where people will drive to stations and leave trains empty half the time–it won’t increase walkability or improve bike conditions, it won’t increase transit use much for the cost, and it won’t reduce car dependence. It doesn’t create a comprehensive urban rail network at all.

An MVET (motor vehicle excise tax) increase is fine, but further sales tax increases just pour salt in the wound of our mostregressiveinAmerica tax system. Sales tax in Seattle would be 10.1%. The poorest 20% of us are already paying 17% of our incomes in sales tax (higher than federal income tax), while the rich pay 4%. Seniors are fed up with high property taxes forcing them out of their homes. It’s not as bad as sales tax, but it’s not progressive. And they have authorization for other funding sources that would be more progressive and better for the environment like an employee hours tax (which Seattle repealed in 2009 as Tim Burgess pandered to Joe Mallahan).

There’s almost nothing to like here. It’s better than a stick in the eye, though that would be a comparative bargain. No, no, no, no, no, no, no, no, no.


UPDATE: The Ballard extension would NOT serve Belltown, where we’ve built a massive amount of tall, dense development. And the package would build the horrible new “transit center” Renton wants at a highway interchange (I-405 & SR-167) instead of breathing life back into their downtown.


Reflecting on 9 Years in Seattle

Nine years ago today, I moved back to Seattle from Montreal. I haven’t been to Canada since (possible legal issue). I was filled with relief, comfort, and hope as I returned to a country where I was a citizen, spoke the language, was allowed to work, and wasn’t marginalized for being Anglophone; as well as a city I knew and liked and had a social group in. It was the second time I flew with Lucy (my cat), and she did fine from Trudeau to Dulles but woke up and got grumpy from there to Sea-Tac. I had a big one-bedroom apartment on Capitol Hill, then $875/month, and when the snotty Montreal airport people caused the litter box and other cat supplies not to reach me, I had the easy time I expected getting an empty box, cat food, and litter from the QFC across the street. The checker was a cute neighbor who became my coworker.

I’d dropped out of grad school primarily because I discovered I had sleep apnea. My plan was to work temporarily at a part-time at a job with health insurance to treat it, then get a professional urban planning job. I would use most of the profit/savings from my DC apartment to buy a home near the Capitol Hill Link station before it opened, and reap some profit from the opening of light rail. Of course, the best laid plans of mice and men aft gang aglay. The Great Recession made jobs very hard to get, and I was diagnosed with a raft of other health issues. Diabetes in 2008. Asperger’s Syndrome in 2010. ADD, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder…finally PTSD. I did various random jobs, one of which cost me $4300 in unemployment over two dumb words. I paid my dues at two non-profits I really liked, hoping for real jobs with them, only to have one promise a job they gave someone else and the other hire me but bully me so badly it traumatized me out of seeking work in the US. From an upper middle class childhood, strong academic career, and working for my hero in the US Senate at 24; I ended up on Medicaid and food stamps.

Nine years living in one place at a time is by far the longest for me. With my time here in 1999, I’m at most a year away from living here longer than I’ve lived anywhere else total, including my hometown of Columbus, Ohio (which I’m long overdue to visit). After years of moving around and starting over, Seattle is my chosen home. I see its flaws and problems, but I still love it as much as ever. It’s progressive, secular, beautiful, clean, the people are pretty friendly and very creative and open-minded, and no city I’ve seen is as committed to aesthetic beauty and whimsical fun everywhere. No other city I’ve lived in (there are 7) would let me contemplate wearing a skirt or painting my nails, is as introverted or connected to its natural surroundings, has people who dress so much for comfort rather than show, or has a better sense that you should work to live, not live to work. Housing and transportation are the same major problems they were in 1999, we have intellectual dishonesty and a maddening passive-aggressiveness, and our police were among the earlier departments to show the epidemic of militarism, racism, and violence plaguing them in America.

But every city has problems, and one thing I love about Seattle is its openness to new ideas and solutions, its willingness to lead and do what no other place has done before, its lack of fealty to the older parts of the country, tradition, “the way it’s always been done”. Seattle gives you the sense that while it has problems, it also has the ability and willingness (usually) to solve them. The only other city I’ve liked living in as much, or would consider moving to in the US, is Washington, DC. But my one real, intractable issue with Seattle is that it’s in the wrong country. I remain serious about moving to Scandinavia, but until then I am proud to call Seattle home, for all the foreign and exotic reactions I get about it from friends and family back East who’ve never been here. Wherever I go on vacation, it’s only a few days before I start missing it, and I get a kind of childish impish glee as I return to the Space Needle, the Sound, Lakes Washington and Union, Mount Rainier, Pike Place Market, streets I can identify from the sky, even the City Light building in SODO that lights up at night.

For 9+ years, Seattle, cheers to you, warts and all.

Impossible Decision Point

The Social Security Administration limits disability applicants to earning $1130/month for 2016.
If you make any more than that in a calendar month, you’re automatically disqualified from getting disability. 
Well, by working at Taco Time doing boring mindless work for a lower nominal (let alone real) wage than I earned in 1999 before I had any professional work experience, and which I had to commute 75 minutes each way to get to and from, it turns out that my February earnings were…$1131.27. Of course, I’ve since lost that job for being sick too often (embarrassing, stigmatized health issues like PTSD with no coverage to speak of from Medicaid), but that extra $1.27 does me in. After 20 months of bureaucratic nightmare trying to get disability, including a trumped up arrest dismissed by the prosecutor (only arrest in my life), and their loss of my birth certificate for 7 months and claim it was my fault, my application is now automatically disqualified. This is the great vaunted social safely net in America. I can’t hold a job but can’t get disability. I can’t have a stable home, pet, girlfriend, any of the physical or mental health treatment I desperately need–no matter how hard I fight for it or how many times I seek it out. Or how clearly and certainly I know exactly what I need–the poorer and less powerful you are, the less anyone bothers listening to you. Including friends and family, if you have those. I have nothing but inadequate food stamps, which will be taken away soon–because under their standards, I’m an able body adult w/o kids. (Since I’m not approved for disability) 
The only thing we do for people in need in the US is blame them, judge them, ignore them, castigate and excoriate them, and pretend everything bad in their lives is their own fault. Never mind systematic classism. Because we can’t possibly admit that the US is not a perfect meritocracy which deliberately and systematically exploits the poor to feather the nests of the Super-rich just a little more–in fact, no advanced nation is as anti-meritocratic or anti-utilitarian as the US. We make sure to maximize the number of people suffering and the depths of their suffering–see Where to Invade Next. It doesn’t have to be like this at all–we choose it consciously. But pretty lies always trump ugly truths in our land of denial and magical thinking. It’s far easier to blame victims and cast them as immoral, lazy, weak, undeserving, etc. than to acknowledge or fix problems. 

Is it worth trying yet a third time (with another 18-24 month wait) to apply for disability anew with all its impossible endless bureaucracy and total lack of guarantee you’ll get a fair hearing, let alone benefits? Is there any job I could possibly get and keep–one with a reasonable commute that uses my “huge Aspie brain” and lets me advance social justice in some way, paying well enough not to need help from poverty programs, but rather let me enter the middle class for the first time in my life at 39? Am I truly better off killing myself, since that’s clearly what every institution of any power or significance in the US really wants of us? Or is there any plausible way for me to emigrate to the vastly more advanced, fair, humane, egalitarian, happy, functional, democratic countries of northern Europe where people are treated with dignity and opportunity? My inclination now is suicide, unless emigration gets simpler, faster, and more feasible in short order.