Cheers! Transit advocates Jamie Pedersen (cool sweater), David Hackney (cool beard), Liz Berry (cool sneakers), and Marko Liias (left early)
Cheers! Transit advocates Jamie Pedersen (cool sweater), David Hackney (cool beard), Liz Berry (cool sneakers), and Marko Liias (left early) Matt Baume

Last night saw a major milestone for Seattle Subway — their first in-person event of 2022, and an opportunity to award “Transit Rider of the Year” certificates to legislators who have supported efforts to get more people moving through subterranean tunnels.

About a hundred local underground-enthusiasts gathered Wednesday evening at Optimism Brewing, just a few blocks from the Capitol Hill station, among them Senators Marko Liias and Jamie Pedersen and Representatives Liz Berry and David Hackney (all SECB endorsees). Those four radicals were instrumental in passing a bill (SSB 5528) that is extremely wonky and boring but basically allows local voters to tax forms of transportation that hurt everyone (dirty cars, parking craters) to pay for the forms of transportation that benefit everyone (buses, trains). In other words, it paves the way for faster construction of Sound Transit projects — and could accelerate the next round of projects, ST4.

It is A Good Thing™ and everyone involved deserves a pat on the back. But because they are elected officials, they also deserve furious interrogation about what ELSE they’ve done for us lately and what they’re working on next. So while everyone filled up on tacos and beer, The Stranger sidled up to the politicos to pepper them with bothersome questions.

“We’ve been trying to expand transit options for years,” said Liias, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. Liias was the only guest who had to scamper away before we could corner him, but he offered a few positive remarks upon receiving his Transit Rider of the Year Award. (Don’t worry, we’ll be bugging him for a followup — and also an evaluation of his first session as transpo chair.)

Senator Pedersen, on the other hand, stuck around to shake hands. “I share your vision,” he told the assembled mole-people. “I love the idea of having light rail built out so people never have to be in a car.”

Afterwards we cornered Pedersen — who arrived by bike — near the buffet to ask about what he’s working on next. The 2022 election is top of mind for him, particularly protecting the Democrats’ majority in the Washington Senate. State Democrats plan to campaign on the job they’ve done so far, on issues like long-term care and police accountability. When it comes to transportation, he’s supportive of more density around public transit — “we want to make sure zoning isn’t getting in the way,” he said, referring to jurisdictions that ban duplexes and triplexes.

Rep Berry was in a particularly happy mood. “I am a huge fan of Seattle Subway and public transit in general,” she said. “We had to fight everybody off to get that bill through.”

Fight off who, exactly? She did not name names, perhaps out of diplomacy or perhaps because the list was too long. “Most of the Legislature not from Seattle hates Seattle,” she laughed. It was a knowing laugh, not without some weariness.

Convincing her colleagues to vote for SSB 5528 required a lot of conversations, Berry said, and assuring other electeds that the bill would have wide-reaching benefits in cities beyond Seattle.

There was particular skepticism from Snohomish and Pierce counties, she said. Why should they let Seattle speed up construction when Tacoma and Everett aren’t even done? The answer is that SSB 5528 could be used to speed things up for everyone — if voters want it. Having some alternatives to too-many-dollars-per-gallon gas prices can't come soon enough.

“We have to finish building outside of King County,” Berry said, “getting people outside of the urban core excited about transit.”

Rep Hackney brought something to the gathering that is highly unusual for a politician: Concrete, specific ideas about projects he wants to implement. “A lot of my focus is going to be on environmental justice,” he said. Off the top of his head, he listed the issues he’s planning to pursue, which included cleaning up polluting buildings, getting more air filters in schools, exploring hydrogen power, and modernizing the Port of Seattle with cleaner tech like electrified trucks instead of sticking with the old poisonous gas-powered engines.

“Respiratory disease is not rare in my district,” he said. District 11 includes areas south of Seattle with lots of freeways and air traffic. “We are poisoning our children.”

These are not all easy problems to solve — for example, electrifying drayage trucks (the vehicles that move cargo short distances at the port) is a bit of a longshot because those tend to be old, cheap vehicles. Replacing them would be quite expensive. But “the answer to that problem is not ‘do nothing,’” Hackney said. “It’s more expensive to deal with the consequences.”

Providing a bit of a sneak peek at where transpo advocates will focus their energy next year, Hackney says decarbonization is at the top of his agenda. “I’ve found my mission,” he said. “All of my resources are focused on environmental protection and economic equality.”