Who will ride light rail?

According to the Seattle Times, housing prices fell throughout the region during 2008, with the median price per square foot dropping 5 percent in King County.  But one neighborhood is bucking the trend, North Beacon/Rainier Valley, which saw median prices rise 12 percent over the year.


[I]t boasts an amenity almost no other neighborhood can offer: the region’s first light-rail line, scheduled to carry its first passenger July 18.

There is a lot of opportunity to make fun of the Times’ latest effort at real estate market cheerleading, not the least of which being its apparent attempt to lump everything south of I-90 and east of I-5 as a single neighborhood. (The examples cited appear to be from distinct neighborhoods we locals would describe as Beacon Hill, Rainier Valley, Mount Baker and Rainier Beach, covering a distance of five light rail stops… but then I guess from Times’ distinctly suburban perspective, all us Southeast Seattleites must look alike.)

Still, it’s good to see the Times finally acknowledging something we light rail boosters have been arguing all along: folks like choo-choos. In fact, they like them so much, they’re willing to move to be near them. On the flip side, I challenge the Times’ intrepid real estate reporters to find one anecdote of a person willing to spend a little extra for a house on the basis that it’s a mere eight minute walk to a bus stop.

Put aside for a moment the question as to whether this behavior is rational, and don’t worry your pretty little heads debating the relative economic efficiency of investing in buses versus rail. All that’s entirely beside the point. Rational or not, for whatever reasons, folks simply prefer trains and trolleys over buses. And it’s a preference whose impact is consistently repeated wherever rail systems are built.

It is ironic that, in a nation that otherwise reveres the market, establishment voices like the Times should so often ignore consumer demand when debating transit alternatives, always arguing that we should build the transit system that costs taxpayers the least, rather than the one they actually want. That’s no way to run a business, and I’d argue that’s no way to run a government either… at least not if your goal is to keep your customers happy.

So North Beacon Hill/Rainier Valley is about to get its light rail, and I’m guessing once it does, our region’s other four “neighborhoods” will want their’s too.


  1. 2

    Ghengis Khan spews:

    That’s impressive logic. The Romans invented the “road” so it’s old so obviously a road is a failure. And property…lots of cultures invented property, so that’s old, that is a failure. And fire ? Using the energy stored in old plants — wood, carbon, oil? such an old idea therefore it’s a failure.
    The wheel, using metal, these are all old ideas, therefore they are outmoded today.

    @1 you make a lot of sense. I like your brain so much, I would like to put it on a stake outside the town walls so everyone would know what a genius you are.

  2. 3

    Ghengis Khan spews:

    Let’s continue vanderleun:

    they are building high speed trains in Asia and Europe. And the automobile is about 100 years old. It’s old vanderleun, does that mean it’s useless?

    Btw you know what else is old?

    Writing. Obviously that’s useless, too. So by your logic we should do away with it.

    If you come back, I will put your head on a stake to show something else that’s old: stupidity.

  3. 5

    Roger Rabbit spews:

    So if Beacon Hill home values go up a few percent that justifies paying 10 times as much per mile for light rail as other cities pay for it? That somehow makes this exorbitantly expensive project a bargain for us taxpayers who got stuck paying for it?

    Sure, I suppose the value of my burrow would go up, too, if someone built a transportation system to my door that costs $30 a ride, each way, charged me only a couple bucks to ride it, and stuck someone else with the rest of the expenses.

  4. 6

    Blue John spews:

    We moved back to the city because there was public transportation. When we lived in the exurbs, we didn’t have choices.

  5. 7

    Libertarian Guy spews:

    How late at night will this thing run so that working stiffs on the late shift get to use it? Or is that just a dream?

  6. 8

    Blue John spews:

    Odd question, given your choice of Names.
    I looked up “Public Transportation” and “Libertarian”. Found this comment

    As a libertarian, I am against government funded public transportation. If there is enough of a demand for a transportation system, a private industry will spring up and take advantage of that demand.

    Ethnically, should Libertarians even take public transportation?

  7. 9

    Libertarian Guy spews:

    @ #8. Last time I looked there were laws that made owning a public transportion business pretty difficult, if not impossible. Just thought I might ask if this is just another way to coddle the well to do, or is this actually going to solve a problem, like poverty?

    As for the quote you post. I didn’t write it, but do have a fairly good background in transit issues.

  8. 10

    Commentator spews:

    how have other neighborhoods that had comparable prices done at the same time the neighborhood near light rail was holding steady on prices? Maybe the lower end of the housing market is less likely to have the drops that other neighborhoods have had.

    Also, doesn’t Portland charge developers impact fees used to help build their rail? If property values are going up then the developers (and their customers)should help pay for the rail, not just all taxpayers.

  9. 11

    Transit Voter spews:

    L Guy @7, the trains will run from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m., Monday through Saturday; 6 a.m. to midnight on Sunday. The system needs a few hours down time in the middle of the night for maintenance purposes.

    R Rabbit @5, yes Link light rail is more expensive than most others being built these days because (a.) we don’t have abandoned local freight rail lines where it could be built on the cheap like other cities have done, and (b.) we have a policy of putting transit where the riders are and taking them where they want to go, which means building in the densest, most expensive areas of the county.

    In a built-up city, both those factors mean building entirely new right-of-way, basically from scratch. And in a city with hills and waterways, a good deal of that right-of-way has to be underground or elevated. Yep, it’s expensive, but it also means our ridership will be higher than lines in other cities.

    Oh to be Phoenix with nice flat land in all directions, then we could’ve built on the cheap like they did. (But who wants to live in Phoenix…)

  10. 12

    GS spews:

    Who will ride the LightRail?

    Government Workers – It is subsidized or free for them, and they are the only ones who still have or will have jobs in Seattle

    Out of towners – Stupid enough to take all their belongings and laptops, cash etc. through Rainier Valley to get to Seattle.

    Hows all the inferior steel holding up all of the towers going to hold up in the next earth shake?

  11. 13

    Gordian spews:

    Commentator @10 – Just because areas of South Seattle get light rail doesn’t mean they are the only ones benefiting. We all benefit through lower emissions, less traffic on the streets, and a transit system that, if successful, will hopefully one day grace the streets of our own neighborhood. Your theory – that developers and residents should have to pay more in impact fees if their property values increase – seems to be a popular one. So, if your theory holds up, does it also hold true that they should have to be reimbursed when property values go down? If we build a jail in one part of town, should the city reimburse the local residents some portion of their lost property value? Is everything we do as a city somehow predicated on property values going up or down? This perspective is indicative of these past few years of home price escalation – everything boils down to property value. There’s more at stake here than the value of your home. Get over it.

  12. 14

    devolution spews:

    There’s a correlation, but the Times’ mush-headed attempt to show a causal correlation between “the coming of light rail” and a relatively large “sale price per square foot” increase is asinine.

    It’s a neighborhood with bad teenage gangbangers, lots of property crime, and the lowest house prices in the area. That’s why the tiny little relatively-cheap houses there still are selling – not because of the fucking train “about to arrive.”

    These people are grasping at straws to try spinning Sound Transit something other than a polished turd. How much is ST paying the Times? The ad in todays A section probably cost a good bit, and the banners all over the Times website show ST is keeping Blethen in corn flakes up at his vacation place in the San Juans.

  13. 15

    Ghengis Khan spews:

    “we have a policy of putting transit where the riders are and taking them where they want to go, which means building in the densest, most expensive areas of the county.”

    Yes, that’s why the first line includes such dense areas as the airport, Tukwila, Boeing Road and I 5, and SE Seattle where there are still many vacant lots all over. The route was chosen becuase it was the least dense and the locals’ opposition could be rolled over. And you ignore the fact that even our flat land cost per mile is 4x higher than in other cities. Come on, Sound transit didn’t pay for all that right of way on MLK anyway! If you imputed a cost for that, the flat land cost per mile would be even higher. We’re talking like $175M per mile in general and what, $600 M per mile under ground, when other cities do it for $50 M a mile…now these may not be accurate figures but just dismissing the cost question of WHY THE FUCK IS IT SO EXPENSIVE HERE is bullshit.

    Off with your head!

    And by signing “Transit voter” you are making that old ad hominem attack implying anyone who ASKS QUESTIONS ABOUT COSTS is anti transit. Way to shut down debate and information buddy!

    Come on, put down all the costs and facts in one place our cost per mile total, cost per mile flat areas, cost per mile deep tunnels, etc. compared to Phoenix and Portland and everywhere else.

    got facts? Show ‘em.

  14. 16

    Realist spews:

    @ 15 – Kemper Freeman pay you much? Your whining is getting old. The voters have spoken, repeatedly, about how we need to get going on green, efficient, anti-war-for-oil transit.

    You whine about cost, but curiously I never hear you say anything about the massive public subsidies of highways. Try running a new highway through Seattle and creating the same capacity.

    You point to other cities, but you do not even try relying on ACTUAL FACTS to support your “positions.”

    You lost. Move on. We’re tired of listening to you grinding that same axe . . . .