City funding is limited, including city funding for transportation. The fact that we can't spend infinite dollars on infinite transportation projects—sidewalks on every block face in Seattle, separated bike lanes on every arterial, frequent transit to every corner of the city 24 hours a day, not to mention road expansions, bridge repairs, and pothole fixes—means the city has to prioritize.
Which brings us to the annual city budget process, in which the mayor suggests a budget, the council amends it, and everybody agrees on a compromise by November. Certainly, this year, one of the points of contention is the transportation budget, where Mayor Mike McGinn has proposed spending $2.5 million to plan a streetcar line up Eastlake and across the Ship Canal.
Advocates for other transportation options, such as cycling, have argued that that $5 million could be better spent, prompting elaborate conspiracy theories among McGinn sycophants: Those evil council members are trying to kill rail! They hate transit! And so forth. (No one, it should be noted, is proposing that those dollars should be spent on road expansion or other car-centric transportation planning; the entire debate centers on whether the money should go to transit, or bike and pedestrian projects, and in which part of the city).
"There is skepticism on the part of the council whether we want to begin a study for yet another line along Eastlake, when it may be many years before it could be constructed and when we have many other irons in the fire," council transportation committee chair Tom Rasmussen says.
The truth is, given finite resources, rail on Eastlake shouldn't be a top priority. The University District is already extraordinarily well served by frequent bus service on the 70 series of lines (70-77), and it's about to get light rail service as well (University Link, running from downtown to the UW campus, is scheduled to open in 2016.) A third mode, streetcar, would be nice if taxpayers' money wasn't an object, but it is, and there are many higher priorities, including bus service on Madison, increased transit frequency in West Seattle, and sidewalks in Northeast Seattle.
Given the resources that have been lavished on providing transit service to the north end of the city, it would make far more sense to spend our limited transportation dollars on projects that still lack funding—like the Broadway Streetcar extension, the 12 "priority bus corridors" the city has identified as needing more investment, or improvements to the city's laughably impecunious pedestrian and bike master plans.
The mayor's office would benefit politically from a win on Eastlake, but at a cost to other parts of the city's transportation system that have been sorely underfunded for decades.