Recently, an editorial in the Mercer Island Reporter suggested that public transit is a solution to Island traffic problems.
I agree with the Reporter on this point, but I don’t see the possibility of public transit as a solution unless our civil servants and elected officials start promoting public transit on the Island.
The City Council acknowledges public transit, but has done little to promote it on Mercer Island. While the city is spending heavily on a re-design of Island Crest Way, it is ignoring public transportation as a way to make Island Crest Way safer. The Council should not overlook ways to get Islanders out of their cars into safe, professionally driven public buses.
As far as I know, only one Council member has ever taken the bus to work, so ideas for public transit enhancement may be limited. Given the limited time available to the Council persons, it might make the most sense for them to create a citizen committee that provides them with recommendations for public transit improvement.
A neighborhood that selfishly tries to get better bus service for itself is much more effective for the county as a whole than one that doesn’t pay attention at all.
Metro and Sound Transit do provide bus service, but the philosophy of these organizations is biased against Mercer Island. They have determined that bus ridership is mainly determined by the affordability of parking at the destination. They think that Mercer Island as an affluent community can afford parking and thus is not a good candidate for bus service. (I have been told this directly by Metro.) As a result, we have token bus service as demonstrated by the empty, local shuttle buses one can see shunting around the Island. These bus routes with empty buses are provided by Metro, but they are not adapted to Island commuters, and so they remain empty.
Contrary to Metro thinking, Island commuters do have the potential to use public transit, but they demand convenience and speed while cost is not a major determinate.
Sound Transit is even less effective in providing public transit for Mercer Island.
The Eastlink Light Rail, for which the Island is losing the I-90 express lanes, will change nothing for any Islander who wants to use public transit. Any service that it will provide is already offered by the 550 bus route, so if you’re not using it now, don’t expect anything to change in the future.
It doesn’t have to be this way, but until our elected officials pay attention and require that Metro and Sound Transit provide usable service for Mercer Island, we will have to settle for “back of the bus” service from those organizations.
W. Clark Powell is a longtime resident and former candidate for City Council.