Examining advocacy

I learned a new word this week: NIMBY. As in Not In My Back Yard. As in “the NIMBYs don’t really have a good reason why they don’t want this project, they just know they don’t want to be next to it.”

I learned a new word this week: NIMBY. As in Not In My Back Yard. As in “the NIMBYs don’t really have a good reason why they don’t want this project, they just know they don’t want to be next to it.”

According to Wikipedia, NIMBY is a term “used to describe opposition to a new project by residents, even if they themselves and those around will benefit from the construction.”

I came across the word last week at a gathering of Kirkland residents concerned about a quick implementation of commuter rail along the BNSF rail corridor (the King County Council agreed last week to a three-way deal with the Port of Seattle and BNSF Railway to acquire the 42-mile rail corridor that runs from Snohomish to Renton through Kirkland). It’s a moniker the nascent group, calling themselves the Eastside Trail Advocates, is understandably eager to avoid.

Meeting at the Houghton Fire Station last Thursday, a group of about 50 to 60 people — ages six months to 60 years — sat down with state Rep. Ross Hunter, D-Medina, and state Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, to discuss such things as: How should we organize? How do we define our mission? Should we have an executive committee? What politicians do we need to influence? Which one of us will deal with the media? The meeting provided a fascinating look into how a community activist group forms — “we have shared concerns and a shared mission, but how do we accomplish it?”

During the discussion, Hunter and Tom repeatedly emphasized one point: If you want to be taken seriously, and don’t want to get “rolled over” by the opposition, don’t be a bunch of NIMBYs. For the Eastside Trail Advocates, that means defining their stance not simply as “against commuter rail,” but rather as “for an Eastside trail,” “for the expansion of commuter bus service” and “against the impracticality of putting commuter rail service through residential neighborhoods.”

“You can’t just say I don’t want it in my backyard because I don’t like the noise,” Tom said.

Hunter told the group they should “be very clear: The first thing is to figure out what you want. Do you want a trail, or do you not want trains?”

“Those are very different things,” he said.

It turns out what you say matters, and how you define yourself matters.

At the meeting, Tom referred to a City of Bellevue study showing daily commuter trips between the city and Snohomish along the Interstate-405 corridor are expected increase by 63 percent — from 246,000 to 401,000 — by 2030. With traffic already congested, it’s clear transit solutions must be found. A ready-made rail corridor that travels the length of the Eastside would seem a nice fit.

But is the cost, in both dollars and associated pedestrian dangers, too high? Are better transit options available?

Let’s hope the group couches the issue in these terms — that they generate a discussion framed not as “beautiful trail” versus “ugly rail,” but as “what is the best benefit for all.”

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