I love that my two favorite local politicians are hashing things out in the mayor’s race. In this case, they have dueling posts on Slog about sub area equity. Sub area equity is an important issue for a Seattle mayor who will have a seat on the Sound Transit Board of Directors. First, was Ed Murray, who I agree with in general, opposing sub are equity (I’m ignoring the political sniping in both; I’m pro political sniping, but not what I want to write about here).
Sound Transit’s sub-area equity requires that any money raised in one of the five sub-areas of the Sound Transit district must be spent in that sub-area. It may seem sensible on the surface, but it is really a terrible policy, originally cooked up by light rail opponent Rob McKenna (when he served on the King County Council and the Sound Transit board) as a way of forcing transit dollars that should have been spent in Seattle to be diverted to the suburbs instead.
Sub-area equity has done more harm to the cause of efficient deployment of limited transit dollars in the central Puget Sound—and thus more harm to Seattle—than any other single decision made in the last two decades of transit planning. It allocates dollars based not on density and demand for service, but on political geography. Instead of building a system from the inside out to maximize ridership and benefit smart land use decisions, it balkanizes the region and facilitates sprawl.
Sub-area equity needs to go. And it needs to be replaced with a more sensible policy that stipulates that Sound Transit dollars will be spent efficiently to add light rail where it will have the maximum impact in terms of moving people, i.e. in denser cities like Seattle and our growing inner-ring suburbs. Such a policy would ensure that Seattle’s transit needs are better accommodated – particularly our underserved West side Green Line communities including Ballard and West Seattle – while also ensuring that hundreds of millions in taxpayer dollars are not diverted to building light rail in outlying areas where population densities are insufficient to support strong ridership.
I’m not sure it encourages sprawl (it brings transit to less dense places, but those places are already sprawling). But in general, I agree that there’s more bang for the buck in denser areas. And transit ought to be built more in our big cities and inner ring cities, and sub area equity is a hindrance to that. So fair enough.
Mayor McGinn has a response.
In fact, at the urging of myself and others, the Sound Transit board accelerated all of their planning around the region so we are prepared to go to the ballot in 2016 if the legislature gives Sound Transit revenue authority to support expansion.
All of that work falls apart if a Seattle mayor suddenly decided they wanted to change the deal. By attacking sub-area equity Ed Murray threatens to blow up Sound Transit. Sound Transit’s board was willing to advance these rail planning studies in Seattle in part because I pledged Seattle’s support to help complete the regional system. Communities outside of Seattle have been banking on future rail while the central portion has been built in Seattle. Proposing to end sub-area equity and take the money for Seattle is guaranteed to destroy the regional political coalition for rail and doom the chances of putting Sound Transit 3 on the ballot in 2016.
Further, sub-area equity protects Seattle. The recession significantly reduced Sound Transit’s revenues too, and they are working hard to meet their commitments elsewhere in King, Pierce, and Snohomish Counties. We need to ensure revenue raised in Seattle stays in Seattle to support our projects – which is why Seattle needs to defend sub-area equity, not attack it.
Even though McGinn probably wrote the better piece, I still agree with Ed Murray on sub area equity.