Yesterday, councilmembers Rasmussen and Licata asked that Council postpone by three weeks the decision to move forward with the Center City Connector project.
On its face, their reasoning makes little sense. They ask whether it would be better to connect our two existing streetcars with buses – a question long answered with a resounding ‘no’ by both the Transit Master Plan and by subsequent study of the downtown corridor. Licata also asked “why would we spend tens of millions of dollars on streetcars, or other transit modes, to have them stuck behind other traffic?” – and as the connector project will use exclusive lanes, so the answer is simply that we aren’t!
It makes more sense that this is about power. This project is unlikely to be stopped. Mayor Murray supports it, as did McGinn and Nickels. The downtown business establishment wants it, so it has a clear majority once it goes to a vote. The Federal Transit Administration has made it clear they want to fund the project, ranking it at the top of their Small Starts program, and according to one of my sources in city hall, the Obama administration has been pressuring the city to submit our intent to request funding.
With this strong support, requesting a delay gives these two leverage over the rest of Council, Mayor Murray, or the new SDOT director (to be announced tomorrow), to win benefits for their districts.
There’s little we can do here to change this in the short term; I just want to point out yet another example of politicians holding transit hostage to benefit themselves. Until we build enough transit that it’s the default choice for most people, politicians aren’t easily held accountable for this kind of behavior. It’s up to urbanists to remember this when they run for re-election.