Life in Seattle without a car? New subway system in the works

A nonprofit with hundreds of supporters, Seattle Subway aims to create a city where people could easily commute anywhere, without needing a car. 

From Queen Anne to Wallingford, from Magnolia to the University District, Seattle Subway is fighting for efficient public transportation for all Seattle residents.

“I’ve lived temporarily in other cities with better transit networks, and I would like to have that here, especially in a city like Seattle, where it’s very hard to move around,” said Seattle Subway volunteer James Dewar, who has been with the organization for more than a year. “Right now, I take the bus and work in Bothell. It takes an hour and a half at least each way. A huge chunk of my life is just gone.”

Seattle Subway has worked with city 

officials on this for years. Recently, it teamed up with Sound Transit. With this partnership, Seattle Subway hopes to eventually put a ballot measure on the 2016 ballot to raise revenue for Sound Transit to build the subways. Until then, Seattle Subway will build public support for the project, put pressure on the Legislature to allow the ballot measure and come up with designs for the new subways.

“A big goal is for Queen Anne,” said Ben Schiendelman, head of Seattle Subway. “It would go under Queen Anne, if we can get that into the long-range plan.”

Studying alternatives

The organization encouraged Sound Transit and the city to conduct a study to explore different alternatives for a new public transportation project.

“The study, which started late last year, will present the public with the first round of alternatives,” which took place at an open house on June 27, Schiendelman said. “The public will pick favored alternatives, and those will keep getting studied.” 

These alternatives are important to Sound Transit, as one will end up in a long-range plan, Schiendelman said.

Nearly 150 people attended the open house in March and about 270 people participated in an on-line mapping tool.

Some participants thought the best proposal for Queen Anne was Corridor 5, which would have a tunnel running underneath Queen Anne Avenue, with a station at the top of the hill and another at the bottom.

This would be ideal for small businesses in Queen Anne, supporters argued: Rather than diverting the rail along 15th Avenue West, this would make Queen Anne a “pass-through,” rather than a destination itself.

Also, while not the cheapest of the 

plans, it is not the most expensive, either. 

After this design-choosing step, Seattle Subway will move from a 501(c)3 to a 501(c)4. With the different legal status, Seattle Subway can lobby the Legislature more effectively. 

Seattle Subway wants to show clear public support of the plan to the 2015 Legislature and also demonstrate to Sound Transit that Seattle residents want expansion quickly. Seattle Subway aims to create three corridors in Seattle: Ballard to Downtown, West Seattle to Downtown and Ballard to the University of Washington.

A better Seattle

Seattle Subway is an all-volunteer, grass-roots coalition to expand mass-transit rail in Seattle and provide state-of-the-art transportation throughout the city, according to the organization’s website.

Seattle Subway largely aims to expand Seattle’s existing subway system in downtown. It wants to extend underground rail service to Capitol Hill, the University District, the University of Washington and Northgate.

The extensions will be both underground and elevated and out of the way of traffic. It will connect neighborhoods in Seattle and to surrounding communities. Its goal is to bring service to Seattle’s fastest-growing communities, including Queen Anne, Magnolia, Ballard, Fremont, Green Lake, Wallingford, West Seattle and White Center.

Seattle has fewer transportation options compared with other similarly sized cities, the website states.

“I really like the idea of making a city that works together well,” said Tim Hart, a volunteer who has been with the organization for about a year. “We are running out of space. Traffic continues to get worse, and [the] population continues to grow.

“I’m looking long-term at the future of the city, and I want it to work well: I want to have a livable, walkable community where people can have communities and places where they work close by,” he continued. 

“A part of having good transportation is where you can get around without a car. The best part of being part of Seattle Subway is pushing this forward and making this happen.”

“I hope we can get a ballot measure by 2016,” he added. “We’re looking at that as a benchmark.”

But the steps are incremental, he said. 

Seattle Subway has about 4,000 fans on Facebook and 4,000 followers on Twitter. A core group of 30 to 40 people volunteer regularly. 

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