At the open house for the Ballard-Downtown transit study, attendees learned about and gave their opinion on what possible high capacity transit would look like.
At open house for Downtown-Ballard transit study, Ballardites supportive but wary
In Ballard, the promise of effective, efficient transit has been dangled over residents' heads since the monorail-craze.
Then there was RapidRide.
And now, a new transit study which would analyze the best way to bring high capacity transit -- e.g., light rail or streetcar -- is underway, to be completed in mid-2014.
"We know folks in Ballard have taken the merry-go-round once before," Mayor Mike McGinn said with a knowing smile. "But we are asking you again to hop right back on it."
Mayor Mike McGinn, who took the RapidRide to Ballard, talked about what the city was doing with the study and possible avenues to fund a transit line to Ballard.
At the open house for the transit study on Tuesday night, March 12, inside the Ballard High School commons area, a lively group of Ballardites learned about and gave their opinion on how better transit should come to Ballard.
In open house style, attendees made their way around a large circle of informative boards manned by professionals from Sound Transit.
In addition, there were three activity boards and maps that accumulated attendee opinions: A chart on which they could mark what was high or low priority in transit; a map marking the beginning and ending of commutes; and a map where people could write and apply sticky notes with transit suggestions.
A bit surprisingly to some of the officials present, the event was lively and residents were full of questions, remarks and suggestions.
Attendees marked with stickers what they thought was important and not so important. By the end, just about everything was marked "Important" or "Very Important."
Attendees marked on a map with stickers the beginning of their commute (green) and the end (red). Ballard is in the upper right, downtown is in the lower left.
Another map became littered with suggestions and ideas written on sticky notes.
Ballardites at the event seemed overall positive, but clearly had some reservations and concerns going into the study. Not least of which being the promise of RapidRide, which has generally increased commute times for Ballardites to and from downtown.
Kirk Robbins, of the 36th District Republicans, hoped whatever came to Ballard that it didn't recreate the bungle of RapidRide.
"I want direct service from Ballard to downtown without going through Queen Anne," he said.
Ballard District Council President Catherine Weatbrook, who was clearly upset with RapidRide, wasn't as concerned about the route as she was about the promise of efficiency.
"It could go through Kingston for all I care," Weatbrook said. "As long as that it (light rail or streetcar) improves time and availability of seats for Ballardites trying to get downtown," she said.
Likewise, other Ballardites refused to comment on the transit study based solely on what they perceived as the mess of RapidRide. Indeed, if all their comments were included in this article, there might be more expletives.
"Most people are not happy with over-promise and under-delivery," said Shannon Dunn, president of the East Ballard Residents Association.
Still, the promise of an actually efficient transit service was tantalizing for most.
"For me that's crucial to be able to get everywhere," Dunn said, who has become car-less by choice.
For Robbins, money was a concern.
"I'm more interested in what the outcome is rather than the abstract of this expensive study," he said.
For him, in addition to the end result being worthwhile, there were two worries when it came to spending: the pricetag on the study and the expense of a possible bridge over the ship canal by Seattle Pacific University.
He said having the line parallel with either the Ballard or Fremont bridge made more sense, both in terms of money and effectiveness for when the bridge has to go up for boats.
Mayor McGinn addressed the money problem in his remarks.
"There's the natural question of 'How will you pay for it?' And that's a good question," he said.
While everything is not set yet, he said there were a number of options for funding.
On March 1, the Sound Transit Board of Directors unanimously approved a motion to accelerate planning for the next phase of the Regional Transit System Plan (which includes high capacity corridor studies such as Ballard's) and update the Long-Range Plan by 2014. This would allow Sound Transit to bring a ballot measure asking for funding in 2016 in an ST3 package, which would likely include funding for the Ballard corridor.
In addition, the city could seek funding by a special levy, including it in with the Bridging the Gap Levy or a property tax increase.
Federal funding is one more option that the mayor is excited about. McGinn said the federal government has become more interested in bringing rails to cities, so he wants to do everything in his power to compete for funding.
But, in the end, nothing is set in stone yet, as more work on the study needs to be done. At this point, no one knows how much the Ballard-Downtown line would cost.
"You have to do all the work before you can get down to specifics," he said.
One more concern was preserving land for industrial use. The industrial areas of Ballard and Interbay could be affected by high capacity transit.
"I'm super concerned about them trying to route this down 15th and Elliot, that's where industrial is," said Kate Martin, a Phinneywood resident and mayoral candidate. "Density and transit go together."
She explained that if the transit line went down NW 15th St, industrial would be taken over by apartments and retail. In other neighborhoods, development has been planned around light rail stations. The same could happen in Ballard, Martin said.
"Retail jobs don't interest me," she said. "I'm into real jobs."
All in all, Martin was supportive of light rail or streetcar going to Ballard. She said by providing more transit to people, it would help decongest the roads and allow the road to be used for more work-related purposes, such as moving goods and freight.
"We cannot keep businesses growing in Seattle if the surface is gridlocked," Martin said.
Planning and being careful is important, she said.
"I want to make sure it's planned with a 360 degree view," she said.
After hundreds of Ballardites had their say at the open house, planning and taking into account concerns might not be a problem. The aforementioned maps and charts which started out empty were filled up by the end.
In the end, one conclusion can be taken away from the open house. Ballardites are excited (if a tad wary).
"It's still exciting to watch Seattle become a real grownup city," Dunn said. "A world class city."
Zachariah Bryan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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