As Cienna just reported, the Seattle City Council has decided to delay spending $1.35 million for studying a likely rail line from downtown to the University District, because, well, rail's not their priority. There's a case to be made, of course, that it is a priority: Ben over at Seattle Transit Blog explains why the council should fund it immediately.
It would carry 25,000 riders a day, downtown is growing, South Lake Union is a ballooning jobs hub, and the UW is the city's largest employer. Of all the corridors in the city's Transit Master Plan—some of which the council is funding studies for, per the mayor's budget—this streetcar route has the greatest promise for high ridership.
But the council's decision to withhold money makes perfect sense if you believe that designing and building rail isn't the city's greatest, unmet transportation need. If you think we need to spend more for bus-corridor improvements (like coordinating lights and building curb bulbs), which is what they'll use the money for instead, this is totally logical. The council has said, in essence, "We have other priorities so we're putting rail on the back burner."
But that's the problem with this city. Generations of city councils in Seattle have made this calculation to defer for decades, and look where it's gotten us: We still don't have a real rail system. The suburbs are sprawling, the city's neighborhoods are bisected from one another because traffic is jammed, and the bus system is jammed along with them—our transit system sucks. The light rail being built by Sound Transit is so glacially slow, it will take 100 years to build a complete urban system, and the city's leaders have been too craven to take any initiative on their own. My entire life in this town, the city council has stood idly by—while the metropolitan population booms—while gunning for freeways and leaving the one big transportation need of every big city leaderless: a fucking rail system.
Council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen was the deciding council member. Reached by phone, his office wants to deflect blow-back by saying they'll fund this stuff next year. Just not this year. Just like we've always heard. Here's video of Rasmussn explaining his logic in the council chamber.
Sure, people can make an academic case for investing in other transportation modes—and council apologists do—but all that's done is kick the city's biggest can down the road indefinitely.