We so desperately need rail transit here in Seattle

Yesterday and today were proof positive that we desperately need rail transit in Seattle.

Last night, right at rush-hour we got dumped on out in Redmond — first some hail (to form a nice, slippery base) and then a couple of inches of snow that stuck firmly to the slushy hail. End result, hundreds of abandoned cars already stuck all over the roads by the time I left at 7pm.

Now, that’s unavoidable. Some folks will drive their cars and firmly believe that they can make it up (or down!) even the steepest icy hills without chains. I’m willing ot accept that some people are just foolish.

So what’s not unavoidable? How would rail have helped? Well… all those drivers who abandoned their cars combined with all of the folks who were already planning to use transit and converged on the buses. Buses that were idling at Overlake for hours. HOURS. Presumably because they were waiting for someone to bring them chains (which begs the question why we don’t keep chains WITH the bus, or at the very least in the transit center facility).

But even after these buses got chained up, they were going to be entering the parking lot that was 520.

Short version – there was ABSOLUTELY NO WAY to get home in a reasonable timeframe yesterday. No matter how much planning you did or how smart you were about taking transit, etc… you were out of luck unless you had just stayed home preemptively or were willing to walk home like so many did. That’s just broken.

Rail transit? Well, as evidenced in Denver the other week when they had the massive snowstorm that shut down the whole city, rail transit soldiers through. Masses of people descended on the Amtrak station to get out of Denver when this happened the other week. The same sort of thing would have worked here in Seattle yesterday. I — and THOUSANDS OF OTHERS who either had gotten their cars stuck or who simply decided to leave their cars parked safely in the parking garage at work — could have walked to Overlake and jumped right onto a fast, reliable light-rail train back through Bellevue and to Seattle.

Okay, so that’s yesterday’s impact. What about today? Well, this morning as I took Jodi to work at the VA (I drove her because it’s a 10 minute drive and a 60 minute bus trip… with transfers. And yes, I chained up the car) we noticed 23rd Ave was totally blocked right by Sam Smith park. Totally blocked by a jackknifed articulated metro bus. Presumably a 48 bus, based on the location. So even if Jodi had taken the bus today, she probably would have had a bad go at it given this result. Her 60 minute ride would probably have taken 2 hours or something.

How does this point to rail transit? Well, I think the central point of this whole post is that cars/buses/anything-that-runs-on-the-roads is quite liable to getting stuck or at least being significantly negatively impacted by bad weather conditions. Sure, maybe rail can face its own weather problems (here in seattle sometimes mudslides for tracks that are placed in ridiculous places, for instance)… but there have been at least 3-4 days THIS YEAR ALONE where it would have very specifically solved transit problems for MANY THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE coming to/from Redmond MS campus alone. I’m sure it would have been many TENS OF THOUSANDS of people across the region who would have benefited.

And that doesn’t even take the daily commute benefits of rail (overcoming traffic caused by traffic, not by bad weather) into consideration. Grade separated rail that can avoid the terrible HOV lanes on 520. Grade separated rail that can be FASTER and MORE RELIABLE than driving myself to work. I’d take that 5 days/week.

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