Monday, November 9, 2009
An Adventure on Seattle's New Light Rail
At the first three stops, no one boarded, but at the next, a family entered, two parents and two little girls, one holding tightly to her mom's hand. The elder girl, about 8, debated where to go, stepping out of the car--just as the doors closed. The parents frantically pounded on the closed door as the train pulled away, their screaming daughter running alongside, falling behind as the car accelerated.
At the next station, just three minutes away, the family jumped off; the conductor announced that the parents of a girl left behind at the previous station should return, an easy task as the opposite-direction train would arrive just a few feet away. Clearly, this little drama would end happily, and we could return our attention to the now-visible outdoor scenery.
Everyone knows that light rail is a financial disaster. I can't find any instance where publicly funded rail lines have made a profit. Rather, they serve a political agenda--to eliminate private autos and ultimately, independent travel. It's part of a larger worldview that promotes leveling the field--eraticating differences between people based on wealth and achievement. Often camouflaged as an effort to promote environmental causes, the crusade against cars and for mass transit really seeks to quash anything that differentiates and individualizes people and their choices.
I can understand that classic subways, like Manhattan's or Paris' are necessary--they serve cities built before cars, urban sprawl and suburbs. But west-coast towns, like L.A., San Francisco and Seattle burgeoned because of the automobile; trying to reconfigure these cities to light rail is like trying to cram toothpaste back in the tube.
I certainly enjoyed my jaunt today on Seattle's downtown "tube." It was cheaper and lengthier than a ride at Disneyland. Unfortuntately for taxpayers, like the attractions at the Magic Kingdom, Link light rail is also built on fantasy. No one wants to give up his car to take four times longer and pay perhaps double or triple, with much greater inconvenience. Even friends who, in principle, support light rail admit they don't use it. Every time I drive by the Mount Baker Station on Rainier Avenue, which I do often, I search the station for activity. Usually there's no one, either walking near the station or on the trains. Once I saw an orange-vested maintenance man.
Seattle just elected Mike McGinn its new mayor, by a super-thin margin. His primary promise is to expand light rail; he worked to block new suburban roads. He's a Sierra Club officer and rides his bike to work. Though he'll rationalize Link's poor performance and lack of customers, sanity may still prevail. Given the cost over-runs and delays inherent in building light rail (Central Link is the most expensive such project in the nation, ever), he'll long be out of office before the next segment can break ground.