Maybe you still have reservations about voting for Proposition 1, the mass-transit expansion measure that would build 36 new miles of light rail and add 100,000 new hours of express bus service. Maybe you have trouble stomaching another half-cent sales-tax increase; maybe you don't know if any of the proposed light-rail lines (one to Lynnwood, one to Redmond, and one to just north of Tacoma) will benefit you. Or maybe you just need more information.
Fair enough. For the unconvinced, here are five great reasons to vote for mass transit—and one really stupid reason to vote against it.
1. Higher property values. Every city that has built mass transit—that's real mass transit, on a fixed guideway—has seen major increases in property values around transit stations. From Boston to Chicago to San Francisco, the relationship between rail stops and property values is well established: If you want your property values to rise, buy a place near a transit station. That's one reason groups like the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce and the Bellevue Downtown Association are supporting Proposition 1—what's good for light rail is good for property values, and what's good for property values is good for business.
2. There's never been a better time. Building rail is never going to be more affordable than it is today. For the average person, this year's mass-transit proposal is going to cost an additional $69 in sales tax a year. If you think that sounds like a lot, think about what you've been spending on gas lately. Investing in light rail today is a long-overdue hedge against higher gas prices, higher construction costs, and worse congestion tomorrow. It's rare that we get an opportunity to make such a safe investment.
3. Your commute. Let's talk about you for a minute. Proposition 1 will pay for 100,000 new hours of bus service right away, including a new bus-rapid-transit line across 520— that's an immediate increase in express bus service of 17 percent (and of 30 percent along the busiest routes). Meanwhile, the 36 new miles of light rail will extend fast, predictable, reliable transit service throughout King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. And even when you do need to drive, you'll be doing it on roads that are 30 percent less congested, thanks to all those other people taking mass transit instead of driving. So vote selfishly—for transit.
4. Your city. Everywhere it's built, mass transit—real mass transit, with fixed stops, stops that can't be moved or eliminated because of temporary budget concerns or political pressure—creates dense, vital urban centers and forestalls sprawl. That's true even in the suburbs—for example, the area east of downtown Bellevue known as the Bel-Red Corridor, which will include a rail stop, is being transformed from a soulless row of car dealerships into a dense new urban center. Light-rail stations provide an organizing principle for development, creating a built-in incentive to build housing and retail in one place instead of another. Unlike unchecked road-building, which inevitably results in sprawl, rail leads to mixed-use developments and the parks and schools and community spaces to support them. Buses can never do that, because bus stops can be moved. It's as simple as that. Rail has economic-development potential in the short term, too. Rail construction will create an estimated 66,000 local jobs—not a bad investment in a time when high-paying, working-class jobs are getting harder and harder to come by.
5. Global warming. Intuitively, it makes sense that Proposition 1 would reduce greenhouse-gas emissions: It funds green alternatives to driving, including light rail, commuter rail, and new hybrid gas-electric buses. But maybe you're not convinced. The Sierra Club wasn't, so they demanded that Sound Transit do a scientific assessment of Proposition 1's impact on greenhouse gases in the region. That assessment found that the plan will reduce car trips, vehicle miles traveled, energy consumption, and greenhouse gases—a total reduction of 100,000 to 180,000 metric tons a year. The reason light rail has such a big impact beyond the immediate effects of substituting transit for cars is that it promotes developments that both save energy and allow people to live their lives without having to drive everywhere.
And one dumb reason to vote against it: "It doesn't go where I live." First of all, light rail probably does go where you live—once it's built, 70 percent of the homes and 85 percent of the businesses in the region will be at or near a light-rail station. And even if you're never going to use it, light rail will still benefit you—by creating better destinations, less traffic, less sprawl, and a cleaner environment for everyone, whether or not they ever set foot on a Sound Transit train.