Editorial: Sound Transit responds only to the noise of complaining neighbors

By Jeff Parke

The July 11th Sound Transit (ST) presentation at Miller Community Center brought some new good news and some old bad news.

First the good news: ST has decided to implement more vibration prevention measures in the planned operating phase of U-Link trains. These entail a large rubber cushion on every track tie along the entire route from Capitol Hill to Husky Stadium. They have also decided to do a custom track surface profile which is supposed to decrease vibrations & noise. The former is a direct result of the collective complaining we all did about the unexpected noise/vibrations during the current construction phase of the project. The track profile work seems to be a result of complaints ST has had from above-ground operations in the Tukwilla area.

At the meeting, ST presented predicted vibration levels for operation which are approximately 1/4 or less what they had previously anticipated, as a result of the rubber dampers and track profiling.

What does this mean? At my location, the Dec/Jan mitigation work (rubber pads and track surface work) made construction train passage by and large un-noticeable to me. The seismometer in my basement can still “see” the trains, but my senses don’t. What I think this 7/11 presentation says is that the levels of normal operations will be much lower than what is currently happening. If true, even the seismometer may not trigger on the normal operations trains, and that is very good news.

The other good news: Montlakers are not the only complainers. At the Miller meeting several individuals from various parts of Capital Hill were quite vocal about how the construction trains have disturbed their home life or ability to sell their homes. This sounded too familiar. The good news here is that more complaints means ST officials will do more to reduce the complaint level. They respond glacially. They do their best to make complainers think they have a unique problem. But, they do respond.

The bad news: ST seems to still have no plans to implement continuous monitoring of ground vibrations in order to actually see if their predictions hold true. Measurements of disturbing vibrations so far has been mainly in the homes of those who complain. How these homes get selected is not a rational nor validated process. Measurements have only been done for a limited number of hours for a limited number of “test” train passages. Measurements are done of floors and rooms of structures, and not of the earth where the vibrations come from.

If ST was going to take their predictions seriously, they would have established scientifically valid monitoring sites and been collecting vibration data from these sites. They haven’t, and in answer to my question about this, they still don’t plan on it.

ST is working from the FTA (Federal Transit Authority) playbook, which specifically addresses vague relationships between ground vibrations and complaint levels of nearby humans. This playbook, and clearly ST, assumes if people aren’t complaining much, there isn’t much of a problem.

Unfortunately for us, most of us want to be nice guys and complaining gets us down. Some of us take it personally when others label us “whiners”. Others of us feel like we are powerless in the face of large municipal bureaucracies.

Regarding the above, I say, get over it. In this case, if you are hearing/feeling things from the earth you think ST is involved with, don’t be discouraged by their PR efforts to make you think you are the only one, crazy, or need new hearing aids. Complain, keep complaining, and be very patient and persistent. They are prepared and able to respond to enough complaints. Unless they change their ways, this is the only data they take seriously.

Jeff Parke is a Montlake resident and neighborhood organizer on ST noise and vibration issues.