Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Culture: Opposing Transit

BELLEVUE, WASHINGTON - Walking around this mostly-affluent suburb of Seattle today, I was surprised to see a substantial number of "No Trains in Our Neighborhoods" signs. What was especially strange was that many of these signs were located more than a fifteen minute walk away from the closest proposed light rail alignment. I can understand some opposition to light rail, but the flavor in Bellevue is really hard to explain.

Sound Transit plans to build the East Link light rail line from the current north-south Central Link near downtown Seattle to Bellevue and Overlake. Based on the timetable voted for by the public in November 2008, construction would begin in 2013 and the first segment of the line to Bellevue would open by 2020. One of the first steps in the planning process was to determine the design and alignment of the line.

The alignment preferred by Sound Transit would stop at South Bellevue Park and Ride and then head north roughly along Bellevue Way and 112th Ave SE to downtown Bellevue. As urban rapid transit systems go, the route has relatively low residential density. However, it's still higher than an alternate alignment (B7) that would avoid South Bellevue Park and Ride, head east to I-405, and then north along the currently-dormant railway right-of-way toward downtown Bellevue. While it could serve a Wilburton Park and Ride lot, there are almost no residences within walking distance of stop(s) on that route, and it adds trip time over the preferred alternative.

The opposition to the preferred alignment comes from an anticipated decline in property values as a result of the line construction, because of increased noise and crime. As far as I know, such a decline in property value has never occurred after the construction of a modern transit line. Instead, property always increases in value, especially near the station locations. I haven't seen statistics yet, but I would be pretty surprised if crime rates have increased in the Rainier Valley or near the Tukwila station as the result of the arrival of light rail. As a result of gentrification (driven by the rise in property values), it would actually be expected to go down. Beyond these arguments, it starts to get really absurd, like an actual web site comment claiming that light rail advocates did not understand the damage that would be done by taking the space for two tennis courts away from the Bellevue Club (an institution whose membership rates are so high they don't release the rates publicly).

Even if any of these fears were justified, they only would affect residents within at most a radius of a few blocks of the tracks, if that. The anti-light rail signs appear throughout essentially all of the South Bellevue, including households a substantial distance from the preferred alignment. There's no way a house along 108th Ave SE south of Bellevue is going to be affected by a light rail line running on an elevated right-of-way more than a block and a steep hill away, more than a half-mile away from the nearest station.

There are some reasons to oppose transit systems. The arguments being observed in southern Bellevue have to be amongst the most pathetic I have ever observed.

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