“TRANSIT: THE STORY of Public Transportation in the Puget Sound Region” has a deceptively simple narrative arc: The region built a vast rail transit system, dismantled it in 1940 and eventually launched a system that looks a lot like the one it tore up.
The full story, however, is nowhere near that simple. It is filled with high political drama and the making and breaking of Seattle mayors. It is the story of momentous turning points, none more disastrous than the defeat of the Forward Thrust rail transit system in 1968, and none more startling than the 1996 vote authorizing Sound Move — the results of which are speeding along tracks today.
The book also tells the story of how Seattle, Tacoma and Everett built their own street rail and interurban railroad systems in the late 19th century. It describes what life was like during this “golden age” of street rail — and why that age wasn’t as golden as it sounds. (It was, in significant ways, a train wreck.)
The excerpt in this issue of Pacific NW magazine tells the story of the streetcar’s painful demise, and the beginnings of the rubber-tired transit era. The book then goes on to examine the region’s transit renaissance, beginning in 1973, as a regional agency named Metro created King County’s first truly successful transit system — which would result in the construction of a controversial bus tunnel directly under downtown.
Finally, it discusses the dogged determination necessary to create Sound Transit, an agency that finally began to redeem the opportunities lost in the 1968 bond defeat. The Sound Transit story is filled with the kinds of ups and downs usually associated with a slightly more terrifying form of rail transit — the roller coaster. This particular thrill ride includes a period known as “The Dark Days,” followed by a more exhilarating period in which Sound Transit managed to fulfill some of the visions once dreamed of by a forward-thinking civil engineer named Virgil Bogue almost 100 years earlier.