Our Sponsors:

Read more »

Our Members

Many thanks to Nancy B Evans and COJK PLLC some of our many supporters.

ALL MEMBERS »

Transportation: Can't we all just get along?

An opponent of Proposition 1 opens the bidding, in hopes of finding a middle ground in the transportation wars. The peace treaty: a little more rail, no new highways, some highway fixes, unclogging arterials, tolls, and no more cute trolleys.
A demand-management tolling scheme, this one outlined in a recent proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire.

A demand-management tolling scheme, this one outlined in a recent proposal by Gov. Chris Gregoire. None

With the new year, wouldn't it be great if we could start to approach our transportation planning and investment collaboratively, instead of staying locked in confrontation?

The place to start is for each "side" to give up unproductive extremist positions and predictions. I'll go first. My opposition to rail transit is of long standing, and I welcomed Proposition 1's defeat. But I also realize that the majority of the population likes the idea of rail and is willing to pay for more; that is the citizens' right.

So all predictions that rail is "dead" are nonsensical. I suspect that the downtown-to-Sea-Tac Airport line will be sufficiently popular to induce the area's voters to complete the line to Northgate. (I just wish we had an above-ground design rather than a tunnel.) But beyond that, the next best link, if any – north to Lynnwood, south to Tacoma, or east on Interstate 90 to Bellevue, or east to Redmond on a new Highway 520 floating bridge – is terribly uncertain and should be subject to very thorough and careful cost-benefit and alternatives analyses.

Given the potential for bus rapid transit (BRT) for the north and south corridors, and via I-90 to Issaquah, the 520 high-tech corridor alignment would probably be most effective for rail transit, inasmuch as 520 needs to be replaced anyway.

Now, for the response from the other side, those environmental groups, planners, and urbanists who believe that in the future we all will live and work in high density cityscapes and that the private car is doomed. I suggest they simply give up that absurd and unhelpful delusion. Let's agree that there will be no more full-fledged "freeways" (which wouldn't be free in any case), but we will have to spend billions on road improvements and replacement to keep the highly interconnected material economy going.

Can't we just admit it, and set some realistic timetables? On my priority list, besides 520, would be Interstate 405, Highways 2 (inexcusable neglect), 522, 169, 9, probably some way to address the downtown Interstate 5 bottleneck, and, of course, the Alaskan Way Viaduct. Another way to ease congestion is to upgrade some critical intersections by such improvements as grade separation.

At the same time, the region needs to recognize that construction alone cannot meet future demand or relieve congestion and that we must implement demand management and other constraints on the unfettered growth of single-occupancy-vehicle driving. Besides the Highway 167 experiment (HOT and bus lane), let's look at additional corridors for BRT and selective tolls or congestion pricing. How about 520 and I-90 [622K PDF] – soon! Such tolling is inevitable. And it seems only fair that those folks who choose to work on one side of Lake Washington but live on the other should pay a little extra for those preferences.

And I'll yet again draw attention (with little hope) to the over-reliance on freeways and the gross under-utilization of a basically fine network of urban arterials. To make them work better, we'd have to grasp the nettles of reducing parking, and changing unloading, turning, and parking regulations.

My cordiality and cooperative mood is not unlimited, however. I have to say that streetcars, no matter how cute, belong in theme parks, not interfering with bus, car, truck, bicycle, and pedestrian use of roads. Not one more inch!

Finally, as to the big issue of changing governance: Many people want to believe that it isn't incompatible visions but decision-making organization that is the underlying cause of our political gridlock. Some have suggested a transportation czar as a savior. I fear that is exactly the wrong way to go, as would be an elected board, which would simply reproduce the confrontational gridlock of incompatible interests.

Another problem with a powerful regional transportation authority is that it ignores the fact that almost all the transportation infrastructure we are talking about is of a paramount state and federal interest, and that, ultimately, it is the state government and Legislature, led by representatives of the Seattle region, that must be responsible for these vital decisions.

Richard Morrill is an urban demographer and taught for many years at the University of Washington's Department of Geography. You can reach him in care of editor@crosscut.com.


Like what you just read? Support high quality local journalism. Become a member of Crosscut today!

Comments:

Posted Tue, Jan 22, 5:38 a.m. Inappropriate

Good ideas, but ...: Please stop with the "czar" stuff. It was never a good idea, but it made a good quote that just can't seem to die.

You are quite correct in asserting that a directly-elected regional super-agency solves nothing ... but to stop there, Richard, and not acknowledge the systemic problems caused by over-fragmentation ignores a major factor in our paralysis.

We need to provide a structure where planning for all modes of mobility are more closely coordinated, where engineering and environmentalism come together (as opposed to pitched opposition), and where decisions can be made and acted on.

Yes, right now, most of that occurs in Olympia. But it's a little arrogant of us to think that everyone else in the state is as fascinated with our problems as we in the Puget Sound are. We have an existing entity, PSRC, with great technical expertise and a decent organizational culture, which could be used as a vehicle for that closer coordination and decision-making. That's what I'm talking about when I talk about governance.

D.Eddy
Deb Eddy

Posted Tue, Jan 22, 9:28 a.m. Inappropriate

what went wrong last time: Prop. 1 was annihilated by voters. Take out the votes of those living on either side of the Montlake Cut (too much money, too little sense) and you are approaching 42% yes to 58% no. Trains are popular; the way Sound Transit tries to pay for and build train systems is NOT, unfortunately.

Why such widespread and deep opposition to Prop. 1? Take a look at the results of the Sierra Club's exit survey:

http://www.horsesass.org/?p=3873

That poll showed no cost controls/blank check spending authority was the biggest problem. The over-reliance on sales taxes also doomed the proposition.

I like trains as much as the next guy, but the lege has to help Sound Transit out. Don't make it go to the ballot again with another massive sales tax proposal! That's a sure loser. A less-regressive tax source or two is needed - maybe a tax on business income that profitable businesses would pay. Make sure there are spending restrictions, so budgets don't get blown. Those are things the voters are telling everyone they want.

Posted Tue, Jan 22, 1:19 p.m. Inappropriate

Locked in Confrontation?: The core issues here aren't subject to mediation. We've got a bunch of power mad genetic defects running around with their pants unzipped - anyone who even gives these losers the time of day is part of the problem.

Posted Tue, Jan 22, 3:57 p.m. Inappropriate

Auto Transportation wins Each Day: The people of this region 'vote' each day as to how and what form of transportation they want, and no shaded ecco-facist exit poll can cover up that truth.

Within the context of the geographical constraints of the region, the first need is a new freeway, YES, a freeway designed for the realities of today. A freeway that segragates truck traffic into dedicated lanes, provides on/off ramps that allow accel/brake to/from freeway speeds before/after enter/exit so as not to slow freeway traffic. A freeway that can be max/min in direction depending upon time of day AND if there has to be HOV, put it in the right most lane, NEVER the left ( see 167 at 405 for an example of terrible engineering ).

The next gen of personal vehicles will be pollution free - thus negating the arg of emissions.

Light rail ( ANY rail ) is neither reconfigurable or scaleable. The failure of rail to be scaleable is particularly faulting. If you don't think so, take a week and park yourself on NE 33rd, in Portland and do your own survey of the freq and occupancy vs time of day, for MAX trains. Oh, and while your sitting there be sure to note the volume and freq of autos on the Banfield freeway ( a freeway that was designed for the traffic of 30 years ago ) .

OR

be the city of seattle and waist money on bike lanes, while the working roads of the industrial south are left to rot ! Don't think so ? , then drive south on 4th ave and turn right to get onto the west seattle bridge.

THIS REGION SUFFERS NOW, BECAUSE FOR OVER 25 YEARS, THE CORRECT SOLUTION TO TRAFFIC FLOW IMPROVEMENT ( ROADS ) HAS BEEN IGNORED.

Posted Tue, Jan 22, 5:23 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Auto Transportation wins Each Day: I'm actually in a mild state of shock, right now, because I agree with pretty much everything Mr. Morrill says in this article. Of particular importance is Morrill's point about not letting the extremists shout down common sense with poorly reasoned rants written in all capital letters (that's you, steptoe.fan).

You really think people are "voting" for auto-transportation by driving? Yeah, sure, in the same way that the Chinese "vote" for the communist party each election. What other choice is there?

And even if your utopian vision of pollution free vehicles becomes real in the next 50 years (hold your breath why don't you), those vehicles will be averaging about 2mph on your clogged up freeway system, and about 1mph on clogged up arterials once they get off their exit.

And how exactly are freeways any more scaleable than rail? They aren't, unless we want to pay billions every 20 years to keep making them bigger, and even more money widening the arterials that feed them.

Roads have been ignored for the last 25 years, huh? BS. The amount of money spent on rail and bikes (what a laugh) is a drop in the bucket of billions spent on building and maintaining roads. And as you point out, the fortune we've spent on them is still not enough to keep them in good shape.
Sean

Posted Tue, Jan 22, 10:24 p.m. Inappropriate

What's that definition of insanity again?: While a "czar" isn't a viable idea (autocrats aren't popular around here), without substantial transportation governance reform, all you'll have is the same old same old from the same old same old.

Asking a cobbled together gaggle of elected and appointed politiicans from more jurisdictions than Carter's got pills to get anything "big transportaiton picture" done in a genuinely coordinated and cost-effective manner is something only King Canute could appreciate. Too many turf wars, mixed agendas, parochial interests, and inevitable manifestations of the worst in human nature and political baseness gave us Prop. 1, and now you're asking them, out of the goodness of their hearts (they have them?) to go against type, be healed, and work their way to salvation.

Ain't gonna happen!

What's wrong with an elected regional transportation authority? Responsible ONLY for transportation issues - governance, planning, project execution - without the distraction of trying to fund a new courthourse, regulating nightclubs, or maintaining parks, a focused, knowledgeable transportation ONLY agency might be able to make some progress. What we have now gives us the opposite, so what's the point staying on that horse?

My friend Deb Eddy suggests the Puget Sound Regional Council, but even that organization already has too many issues on its white board. Let others make policy decisions on growth management or even environmental policy considerations, not your transportation agency. Otherwise you're asking for more conflicts of interests and agendas.

Everything that moves and that's non-federal in nature from Thurston through Skagit Counties, from the water to the mountains, focusing on the best, most cost effective ways to get people from All the Points A to all the Points B and answerable directly to the voters who foot the bill. That's the ticket! Otherwise in five or so years we'll be having this discussion again after the same cast of characters, or their political progeny, try to sucker us into swallowing Son of Prop. 1 or some such.

We need a clean slate, not a gerrymandered re-hash of past insanity.

The Piper

Posted Wed, Jan 23, 6:56 a.m. Inappropriate

Cars are King: Fire any public employee who says "we've got to get people out of their cars." Finish all existing roadwork, lane expansion, interchange connections, etc. Open up HOV lanes to all traffic. Licence, insurance mandate and register all adult bicyclists; no more 'sharrows'. More parking garages; valet parking should be expanded. Many more tow truck to clear the roads and bridges. Cars are king. No more light rail. BRT is OK. Any questions??

animalal

Posted Wed, Jan 23, 12:52 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Cars are King: Animalal, you're exactly the kind of extremist Morrill's talking about. Read this again, specifically the statement that "the region needs to recognize that construction alone cannot meet future demand or relieve congestion and that we must implement demand management and other constraints on the unfettered growth of single-occupancy-vehicle driving."

Posted Wed, Jan 23, 4:47 p.m. Inappropriate

Microsoft Connector bus opened my eyes: I grew up in Chicago with its system of commuter rails linking out to many suburbs. And so, I have a nostalgic view of rail. Having commuted by bus to Microsoft many years from Montlake, the service was very good ... but that was because it was direct. One bus start to finish. Now I don't have that option and I'm back in the car. However, Microsoft has started a new service for its employees (which I cannot use as a contractor) that provides direct service to its main campus from various points in Seattle. In addition the service has wi-fi so people who can't read have something else to do. The comfort and ease of this Connector bus seems ideal for a typical computer-tied worker's needs. So, while rail is great to connect the major population areas, a more extensive point-to-point bus system (with comfortable seats and wi-fi) would seem to be just as important. I agree, therefore, with the multi-modal argument. I also agree with the cars-will-not-die position: people will always make decisions on simple economic calculations. So tolls are good to make the social cost of cars explicit. Then, people will make rational choices and we'll get to our goal. Using public transport can make you rich!! (if I have wi-fi and can bill my time en route)

markh

Posted Wed, Jan 23, 5:41 p.m. Inappropriate

PSRC: I concur with making PSRC's role more well known and unforgetable. They are already the official acgency for a number of planning functions as for as federal and state law is concerned. The old agency, with the pisscog phonetic was unforgetable, but this one is not a mess and worthy of becoming unforgetable for enabling consensus.

They have or just had important outreach on long range plans to which I wanted to contribute but had other priorities. I know better, but there it is.

As for congestion, 10 years ago, in an extension community planning class, I role-played Kemper Freeman, and when I spoke of relieving congestion, I was told that was impossible, even Freeman was not saying that. I stood my ground, told them to listen more carefully. No one has to listen more carefully these days! And on the other hand, the plan that PSRC proposes and has my concern? Accepts a totally unambituous shift to transit. No respect, no ambition, or is it vice versa?
amfn

Posted Thu, Jan 24, 11:42 a.m. Inappropriate

RE: What's that definition of insanity again?: The problem with electing members of a governing board JUST for transportation is that it sets up a confrontational mode, rail vs road extremsists, etc., Now if the proposal is a sly forerunner to replace the PSRC with a true, even if limited, regional government, then I'd be all for it. (I worked hard for a metropolitan government in the 70s and 80s).

A former student pointed out to me that since I opposed Prop 1 on both class (benefits the affluent) and geographic (benefits downtown) equity grounds, he was surprised that I hadn't dealth with the hardship of tolls and congestion pricing on the less affluent who have to commute farther and farther, since so many can't afford to live in the city. I'd say the solution is a combination of exemptions for carpools and much improved bus service.
DMorrill

Posted Thu, Jan 24, 2:32 p.m. Inappropriate

RE: Sean's 'no response' response: that's it, just respond with same tired generalizations !

Posted Fri, Jan 25, 1:06 a.m. Inappropriate

appeasement: You wouldn't have to try to appease any particular special-interest group to get a 'yes' vote if you were able to reach the general population and earn their trust. That's the problem with politicians, they can't reach the general population because they pander to special interests, and they can't earn the trust of the general population because they cause so much money to go right down the drain. That's why they have to wheel and deal with special interests to try to get what they want, and the general population just watches in disillusionment.

Login or register to add your voice to the conversation.

Join Crosscut now!
Subscribe to our Newsletter

Follow Us »