Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Planning For The Worst

Seattle transit fans are surely among the most pathetic techno-dork wannabes in the history of ever. Like a sailor blown off his ship into the water, they see any semblance of transit as a timber to be grasped and clung to to buoy their hopes. And for the existing agencies, they feel the same affection a sailor feels for the ship at sea, which is to say, the best damn ship is the one with me on it.

Consider the Seattle Streetcar Plan. Never actually a plan, then-Mayor Nickels had requested SDOT to identify possible streetcar routes, and five were briefly sketched. This was at once more and less than any mayor of the past 50 years had done for rail transit in Seattle. The problems lay in how the Seattle transit fans began trying to see how the plan would work- and in the subsequent emergence of what seemed to be a better plan.

In part because there was no plan, it was hard to see how the plan would work. And then, along came candidate McGinn, who stripped planning to the barest essential of proclaiming that voters would have a chance to vote on a plan, and thus raised it to the highest plane, that of the ethereal. Unencumbered by any physical reality, imagination could soar, and the tide turned savagely against streetcars until the McGinniacs began to figure out that those streetcars might be all they got out of McGinn- if that.

Maybe the saddest part of this story is that if McGinn had any real interest in transit, he could have kept the ball rolling that Nickels started, but to McGinn transit is just a glittering bauble with which to beguile Seattle's transit children.- yet his supporters cling to him, like sailors clutching wreckage in a stormy sea. But without a strong leader, a person, perhaps, who would draw a line in the sand and declare the electric trolley buses must be renewed and expanded, the inexorable forces of car and truck will expand during McGinn's term, not recede.

Ironically, Seattle transit fans might be better grounded in reality if they built model railroads, and learned there some of the differences between reality and the happy ability to decide for yourself where the line will run and what kind of neighborhood it will serve. Seattle presents some interesting problems for coming changes in transit, and there's no shortage of real solutions to consider.

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