How Seattle's Deep-Bore Highway Opponents Lost Their Own Referendum

Opponents of Seattle’s deep-bore tunnel lost a big one yesterday. A voter referendum they hoped might kill the plan to replace the aging Alaskan Way Viaduct with a massive underground highway went down in a 60-40 vote, following a superior campaign by pro-tunnel forces.

A ballot referendum aimed at halting Seattle's buried highway project has failed. Where did the campaign go wrong? Image: ## Met##

We’ve reported before how this exorbitantly expensive highway project will retrench car dependence in Seattle while exhausting resources that could be used to advance environmentally and financially sustainable solutions like better transit and cycling amenities.

Just a few months ago, energized project opponents handily gathered the 29,000 signatures needed to take their fight to the ballot. While lacking the financial resources of deep-pocket downtown supporters, it seemed the anti-tunnel coalition had momentum and public opinion on their side.

But along the way, the opposition group stumbled while tunnel-proponents found a way to capitalize. Sandeep Kaushik at PubliCola is sorting through the rubble of the campaign and delivers this post-mortem:

So what happened? The campaign happened. As the Let’s Move Forward pro-tunnel side ran an effective, disciplined campaign — central message: tens years of debate is long enough, it is time to move forward — the anti-tunnel forces floundered, making a series of strategic and tactical errors that damaged their cause.

Their voter guide statement promised that a no vote would lead to “a better solution” but they completely avoided even a hint of what that solution might be. That 8-page Protect Seattle Now insert in the Times? It begins with the all caps headline, “SEATTLE, WE CAN DO BETTER THAN THIS,” but nowhere in the brochure did they provide any mention of what they meant by “better.”

I wish surface-transit supporters had been more forthright, and put a measure on the ballot that offered a clear choice between their preferred option and the tunnel. I understand why they didn’t do that. They believed that they would have won fewer votes if they were open about the solution they supported. But they might have won mine.

Perhaps the pro-transit, pro-livability forces in Seattle should have heeded the lessons from this Mineta Transportation Institute study [PDF] on success factors in transit referendums, which emphasizes the importance of a savvy marketing campaign.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Copenhagenize compiles an exhaustive list of research showing that bike infrastructure is valuable and effective, then contrasts it with the paltry, inconsistent and partisan counter-evidence. Cap’n Transit asks what it would take to make New York’s rail transit operate at a profit, like Hong Kong’s system. And Pattern Cities reports on the various groups installing swings to liven up random locations around U.S. cities, including bus stops.

73 thoughts on How Seattle's Deep-Bore Highway Opponents Lost Their Own Referendum

  1. It’s only possible to work with those in power who are reasonable, capable people — NOT Trump. This is not venom from Rep. Gallego. He spoke the truth. Trump is morally corrupt and should never have been put in the position to step into the White House. He has sullied the position of the presidency. Congratulations to Rep. Gallegos for having the courage to stand up to Trump, a racist, incompetent, psychopathic liar who’s financial interests pose a security threat. If they didn’t, he’d release his tax returns. It’s not possible to “normalize” someone like Trump. The man is sick.

  2. Speaking up to incite who. We had enough of that during the campaign and it didn’t work. This is the time to have some cool aid and see whether he ‘ll campaign in prose and govern in poetry.

  3. I agree with Rep. Gallegos. Not speaking up is far more dangerous. I equate this incoming Administration with fascism. They will have to be the ones to prove otherwise. The terrible rhetoric on the campaign trail leaves me with a “what you see / hear is what you get”. Trump has no one to blame but himself for the genuine upset and concern on the part of many, many citizens of this country. He created it; now he owns it.

  4. I choose not to live with it. How can one forget that this is exactly the kind of rhetoric our grandparents fought against in WWII? They gave their lives for it. Now, sadly the US, the UK and France all seem to have forgotten the lessons of history and are (ironically) headed down a terrible path. I, for one, refuse to go.

  5. Whether Trump created it or not, some how he got elected which shouldn’t have been. The country need to move on rather than dwelling on this blame game. Guess who lost out as this blame game continues? Well, good luck.

  6. Compared with the rest of the Republican Party, Trump is a right winger on social issues, but a left winger on economic issues.

    Should left wingers ignore the possibilities of the latter in spite because of the former? That’s the question here.

    As as for those social issues, I’m not sure where he actually stands. He said what he did to get elected. The Donald against abortion? He of all people should be all out in favor– and given legal abortion, perhaps against child support.

    My understanding is that 7 percent of the children in kindergarten in the U.S. are the children of illegal immigrants, and the U.S. has had a current account deficit for all but one of 35 years. Gradually going bankrupt selling off the future to be able to import in excess of what they exported.

    A reasonable person who discussed the situation reasonably, without anger and bigotry, and made reasonable, workable proposals would be a much better President. But would have gotten not one bit of coverage in the media, and never had a chance. That’s part of how we ended up in the miserable situation we are in.

  7. Whether he should or shouldn’t have been, it happened. I am not blaming. What is, is. But, I would like to point out that MORE of us voted against him than for him and he needs to remember that. And even more didn’t vote at all. And, I am not moving on. I will remember every hate-filled angry word he said on the campaign trail. I will remember all the flip-flop and twisting reality to get votes. I won’t forget. He is a huckster for sure. We will see how the American people feel about him in a few years. I doubt he will stand the test of time.

  8. Trump (and our country) may definitely performed well below expectation because some people are stall on remembering campaign rhetoric by politicians. I prefer that he flip-flop on some issues and do better. We’re entitle to our opinions.

  9. Trump is, fundamentally, about graft. But we built most of America on graft, back in the 19th century. We could do worse.

    The graft surrounding the First Transcontinental Railroad was legendary, but the railroad got built and was a good thing.

    If what it takes to get us High Speed Rail in the US is 10% graft to Trump’s family, fine, I say do it.

  10. I knew about Bannon for years. He’s a creep. A liar, a fraudster, and of course a white supremacist. But he actually belongs in prison for his frauds.

  11. The cities still have the vast majority of the population.

    To be clear, Trump was not elected primarily by rural people; there simply aren’t enough of them.

    Trump — like most Republicans — was elected largely by delusional suburbanites who think that they’re rural, while working in office or retail jobs in a city. 😛 There are a lot of these. I’m really not quite sure what to make of them.

  12. Absolutely. We’ve been following Trump for a long time in NY. He’s very similar to Berlusconi. I think he actually won’t harrass his opponents as much as Berlusconi did, because I think he’ll discover that it’s *way easier* to extract money into his personal pocket here than it is in Italy, so why waste time on harassment when he could be hoovering up more money?

  13. If he performs below expectations, that is his doing – not the doing of people remembering what he said on the campaign trail. I respect politicians that have the courage to take a new position on a topic IF they have additional information for making a better decision and explain their reasoning to people. I don’t respect someone (Trump) who continually flip-flops on issues and denies he has said things he clearly HAS said. I used the term ‘flip-flop’, but in essence this is lying to the public to gain votes. That is what Donald Trump did and he gets no respect from me for it.

  14. Unfortunately for those of us who are female, black, hispanic, transgender or gay, peace can be difficult to achieve with a racist, misogynist in power.

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