Innovation Briefs are published by Ken Orski. Cascadia
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Briefs does not necessarily represent the view of Cascadia Center of
President Obama's new $50 billion infrastructure initiative--part of his $447 billion American Jobs Act (AJA)--offered no surprises. It's almost an exact replica of his FY 2012 budget request which included a sum of $50 billion for transportation to "jump start" a proposed $556 billion six-year surface transportation reauthorization.
The rhetoric may have changed--Obama avoided using the terms "stimulus" and "infrastructure" in presenting his AJA initiative to Congress--but the substance of the two initiatives is remarkably similar. Both proposals would fund an identical mix of programs (highways, transit, Amtrak, high-speed rail, aviation and the TIFIA credit program) and both would establish a National Infrastructure Bank.
The FY 2012 transportation budget request failed to obtain congressional approval for two reasons: (1) the Administration failed to show how the proposed $50 billion program would be paid for; and (2) there was no convincing evidence that the program would promptly create new jobs. Indeed, all evidence pointed in the opposite direction. The $48 billion in Recovery Act funds for transportation had failed to create the millions of jobs promised by the Administration. The money earmarked for highways had been spent largely on short term roadway maintenance-type contracts and had produced only temporary jobs. Nor was there much to show for in terms of an improved condition or performance of the nation's transportation system. As for the Infrastructure Bank, it is widely believed that at least one or two years could pass before the Bank would become operational and in a position to begin financing large-scale job-creating infrastructure projects.
The same reasons that led Congress to ignore the Administration's FY 2012 transportation budget request will likely cause the lawmakers to reject the new transportation initiative. They are skeptical that a fresh infusion of funds will succeeed where the first stimulus failed. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results may not be exacly insanity but it does suggest a certain denial to look facts in the face.
The President said that "everything in this bill will be paid for" and that he will call on the Joint Deficit Committee to come up with additional deficit reductions necessary to pay for the American Jobs Act. But by proposing to end tax breaks for people making more than $200,000 and for oil and gas companies, the White House is setting itself up again for a fight with the Congress which already once before rejected this approach to "revenue enhancement." It remains to be seen if the independent congressional committee will do Obama's bidding. With the President's approval ratings at an all time low, they just might be emboldened to ignore his plea.
In a bi-partisan pitch, former Pennsylvania governor Ed Rendell (a Democrat) and current Mesa, Ariz., mayor Scott Smith (a Republican), argue in today's Wall Street Journal for a stronger U.S. investment in transportation infrastructure.
Whether it involves highways, railways, ports, aviation or any other sector, infrastructure is an economic driver that is essential for the long-term creation of quality American jobs.
When it comes to transportation, Washington has been on autopilot for the last half-century. Instead of tackling the hard choices facing our nation and embracing innovations, federal transportation policy still largely adheres to an agenda set by President Eisenhower.
Investments in transportation infrastructure--especially strategic, long-term investments--are investments in the future of the country. And as Rendell and Smith argue, true transportation investments aren't (or shouldn't be) a partisan issue.
Building America's transportation infrastructure has been a national goal since Thomas Jefferson promoted canals and roads and Abraham Lincoln helped forge the Transcontinental Railroad. And still today, there remains a justifiable federal responsibility to address the country's infrastructure decline. But it must be addressed thoughtfully, and much differently from the past. The sole responsibility can't be left up to the federal government--from a financing or management perspective. (Indeed, given the current economic outlook, we're probably well past the days when this made sense--if it ever did.) Instead, infrastructure investments could benefit tremendously, especially in terms of innovation and financing, from public-private cooperation.
Ultimately, despite the economic chaos we find ourselves in, we need infrastructure improvements that will contribute to the long-term economic growth of the country. Hopefully, Messrs. Rendell and Smith aren't the only ones willing to cross the political aisle to cooperate on this issue.
The annual meetings of the Transportation Research Board (TRB) have always been a reliable barometer of the key transportation issues of the day as seen by the transportation community. This year's meeting--which attracted 10,100 participants and featured over 500 technical sessions and workshops--was no exception. What follows are some impressions from the conference, after listening to some 60 presentations and holding informal conversations with a number of conference speakers and other participants during the 4-day meeting, January 10-13.
The overall impression was one of a pervasive climate of uncertainty about the future. Conference sessions and informal conversations were full of speculations concerning the status of the surface transportation reauthorization, the potential solutions to the funding dilemma, the fate of the climate change legislation, the future direction of the federal high-speed rail program and the impact of the upcoming midterm elections on pending legislation, notably the surface transportation reauthorization and the climate change bill. The outcome of the second job stimulus bill was also a subject of much speculation. The bill, which already has been approved by the House and now awaits action in the Senate, would inject substantial interim funds into the surface transportation program and extend the surface transportation authorization through Sept. 30, 2010. The $154 billion measure would allocate $36.7 billion for highways, transit and Amtrak, credit the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) with $19.5 billion in foregone interest payments and allow the Trust Fund to accrue interest in the future. But, as one congressional source attending the TRB Conference told us, the Senate prospects for the deficit-funded jobs bill appear uncertain.
Senate opponents claim there is plenty of stimulus money still in the pipeline and the bill's requirement to spend the money within 90 days imposes an unrealistic deadline given the lengthy contracting process involved in infrastructure procurement. Additionally, Senate opponents may be expected to argue that the law establishing TARP requires unspent and repaid funds to be used to pay down the soaring national debt. The prospect of another vote to raise the debt ceiling might further discourage the Senate from redirecting the TARP money.
Secretary LaHood's address at the TRB Annual Luncheon, announcing revised criteria for New Starts funding, received a generally positive reception from the TRB audience. Under the new policy, proposals for new rail transit projects will be judged by a broader range of factors than in the past. In addition to cost-effectiveness, the criteria will include economic and environmental benefits, land use impact and "livability." One beneficial effect of the revamped policy should be a wider consideration of streetcars. This was first made possible several years ago when the Bush Administration made streetcars eligible for federal funding under its "Very Small Starts" category (Interim Guidance on Small Starts, July 26, 2006.) As many as 40 U.S. cities are in various stages of considering or planning streetcar projects according to a survey conducted by the Community Streetcar Coalition. As we observed in an earlier NewsBrief, "just as 30 years ago a less costly light rail transit LRT technology began to replace expensive heavy rail systems, so today, streetcars are offering to medium-size cities a more affordable fixed-guideway alternative to light rail systems." (The Streetcar Makes a Comeback, Innovation NewsBriefs, September 2006.)
In Crosscut this morning, Knute Berger channels the spirit of famed urban planner, writer and neighborhood preservationist Jane Jacobs - and sits down with Seattle City Council member Tim Burgess to talk tunnel.
They're mulling Seattle mayoral candidate Mike McGinn's call for ditching the planned deep-bore tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct on State Route 99 in downtown Seattle. Berger's hook is two-fold. First, Seattle is having its own Jane Jacobs moment in the candidacy of tunnel opponent McGinn, who favors a "surface street" option instead. Second, there's a new book out by Anthony Flint titled, "Wresting With Moses," on Jacobs' battles against the epic, 20th Century infrastructure builder of New York, Robert Moses (pictured, right).
Cast as the genius-villain writ large in Robert Caro's landmark, 1974 Pulitzer-winning biography "The Power Broker," Moses is just the kind of guy who like Seattle leaders in 1950 would have supported a noisy, fume-spewing, shadow-casting elevated highway such as our viaduct, and who if transported to 2009, probably would have been all for building the world's largest diameter single-deep-bored tunnel to replace it. Or a grand bridge across Elliott Bay, instead. The stage set thusly, Berger in his interview draws some astute observations from Council Member Burgess, himself a great fan of Jacobs' neighborhoods-first activism and scholarship.
...Burgess...says that reading the (Flint) book made him more certain that the deep-bore tunnel was the better option for the waterfront. That seems counter-intuitive, because Jacobs fought against highways. Doesn't a multi-billion-dollar road project seem more like a Moses boondoggle? Doesn't the surface option, which would limit vehicle traffic, sound like more like a Jacobs kind of solution?
But Burgess worries that the surface option will be destructive at the street level, especially to the businesses that rely on Highway 99 and waterfront access.
"Getting people out of their cars?" Ain't really gonna happen here in the four counties of metro Puget Sound. Not to any appreciable degree. Consider the eye-opening figures released in late May for the Puget Sound Regional Council's "Transportation 2040" Draft Environmental Impact Statement. A five percent mode share for transit in 2040, versus more than 80 percent for the evil auto, even in the rosiest scenario modeled.
There has been little or no discussion of this data in the region's media or blogosphere, puzzling because our many Greens profess to care so deeply about increasing transit usage to fight greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector. What emerges instead from the data is that the policy response should lead with incentives for cleaner cars and road pricing, the two of which can be coupled. Let's drill down, starting with a summary of the key data.
Q: As a former mayor of BogotÃ¡, Colombia, who won wide praise for making the city a model of enlightened planning, you have lately been hired by officials intent on building world-class cities, especially in Asia and the developing world. What is the first thing you tell them? In developing-world cities, the majority of people don't have cars, so I will say, when you construct a good sidewalk, you are constructing democracy. A sidewalk is a symbol of equality.
When the former BogotÃ¡, Columbia, mayor and Bus Rapid Transit proponent spoke in Seattle, he focused on his city's implementation of the TransMilenio Bus Rapid Transit system. King County voted to implement a Bus Rapid Transit program not long after our event in 2006.
If you have the time, Deborah Solomon's brief one-page interview is interesting and certainly worth a few minutes. Whether you agree with him or not, PeÃ±alosa is always thought-provoking. And it's good to see that The New York Times Magazine's editorial team sees value, as we did nearly two years ago, in hearing (and sharing) what PeÃ±alosa has to say.
The gulf between plans for regional urban density and the reality of dreaded "sprawl" is widening in Central Puget Sound, writes former Washington State Secretary of Transportation Doug MacDonald in Crosscut today. The Puget Sound Regional Council is poised tomorrow to approve Vision 2040, its updated growth plan. It predicts another 1.7 million people (the size of metro Portland, Oregon) will move to our four counties between 2000 and 2040. To protect the environment and limit traffic congestion, the elected officials and staff of PSRC propose ways to funnel most new residents to the close-in "metropolitan cities" of Seattle, Bellevue, Everett, Tacoma and Bremerton, plus 14 adjacent "core cities" such as Auburn, Redmond, Federal Way, Lakewood, Tukwila and unincorporated Silverdale.
But things aren't working out as planned. MacDonald comprehensively reviewed 2000-2007 population growth data for the region on a city-by-city basis, and found far more newcomers than hoped for are moving to our region's edges rather than its core, and that compared to the 1990s, the first- and second-ring target cities are now drawing a smaller percentage of population growth. If the trend continues, so will pressure on our natural lands, habitat, water and air quality. And traffic, already a huge concern, will worsen.
MacDonald reports that while Vision 2040 calls for 32 percent of Puget Sound newcomers to reside in the first-ring "metropolitan cities," only 13 percent complied from 2000 to 2007. The second-ring "core cities" were supposed to draw 21 percent of the newbies but again, only 13 percent complied. In the 90s, the same 19 cities drew 18 percent of the newcomers, so the 13 percent figure infers we're backsliding on density, according to MacDonald.
Where exactly are people settling in now, in greater numbers than planners would like? Mostly at the edges of the region, where housing prices are decidedly lower; places like Monroe, Arlington, Marysville, Dupont and Bonney Lake. (Those last two are respectively south and southeast off the regional map above, left). And in towns such as Sammamish, Duvall and Mill Creek, which while not cheap by any means, are at least more affordable than pricey Seattle and Bellevue.
As a metropolitan and regional transportation planning agency the PSRC by federal mandate must try to lay out goals and suggest strategies for managing growth. Vision 2040 is an ambitious plan with a bar set appropriately high. But the PSRC has never had decision-making authority. That's left to state, county and local lawmakers, and the swirling profusion of councils, boards and agencies overseeing transportation, growth management and economic development.
To abate the worrisome trend he sees, MacDonald prescribes development of beefier policies for affordable housing, better public schools and better bus transit in popular corridors. He also highlights the PSRC's own suggestion for unfied regional governance on Puget Sound water quality improvements, thus unavoidably also calling the obervant reader's attention to his own vocal role in advocating regional governance for roads and transit.
But no matter what exhortations and incentives are offered, high costs for single-family homes and the proliferation of family-unfriendly apartments and condominiums in first-ring Puget Sound cities - plus rapid urbanization in the second ring - will continue to drive many newcomers to the region's outskirts. Right now, that means longer commutes, more greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and more traffic congestion. Not exactly a recipe for environmental quality and sustainability.
Regional governance on transportation remains a hot-button issue in Puget Sound. Some zealous commentators see the idea as a nefarious plot by business and Republican interests to torpedo light rail. This is as foolish as the belief that any one transit mode provides the silver bullet to slay traffic congestion. Regional transportation governance has been recommended by two successive state blue-ribbon panels under two Democratic governors (most recently here) and all but endorsed in a recent state performance audit under a Democratic state auditor. Democratic-sponsored legislation for regional transportation governance passed the Democratic-majority state senate last year before stalling in the state house.
True, regional transportation decision-making doesn't by itself guarantee enactment of the right solutions to traffic congestion. But an elected regional transportation decision-making board would provide a crucial framework for coordinated, decisive actions to ration our limited peak-hour road capacity, to fully fund crucial road safety projects, to pay for operations and maintenance, to grow transit, and to incent other alternatives to single-occupant vehicles. These are just the kind of on-the-ground approaches needed to tame snarled traffic as newcomers keep arriving, and the outward expansion of the region documented by MacDonald continues.
As in all other regions our size or larger, the tab for must-have transportation capital projects runs well into the billions, to which must be added ongoing operations and maintenance costs. Just as the solutions are multiple, so are the ways we'll pay: time, money, and adaptation. We're seeing that many newcomers to the region would rather adapt their travel habits and costs to less central, less clustered and less expensive homes. Policy-makers, while still encouraging density, need to understand that countervailing tendency, and more fully address its implications for regional mobility.
As I've said before, I am all about reducing fossil fuel consumption. I'm about to buy a Toyota Yaris (a.k.a. "pea") for this purpose. I strongly believe in carbon taxes, or a cap and trade program. I say all of this as a preface for what is about to come, because I have shocked more than one person this past week. What is up with the disappearing parking spots?
Don't get me wrong -- density is a GOOD thing, and I have a personal vendetta against surface parking lots. But I also am aware of what it takes to create a thriving living environment, to draw people from all parts of our region to participate in the many attractions of denser neighborhoods, and of the small businesses that depend on that traffic.
What I don't understand is how eliminating and not replacing public parking lots will help mobility, neighborhood establishments, or the environment. Yet somehow this logic pervades our thinking. Fewer parking spots somehow equals less fuel consumption, (or more parking spots equals more greenhouse gases), when in fact the opposite might be true.
Let's face the facts: our transit system is nonfunctional for most people outside of commuting hours. Even then it can be awfully spotty; and my die-hard bus friends don't take public transit on the weekends... it just isn't worth the time or energy. Thus, until we have a good transit system, we are stuck in our cars.
Thankfully, there is a lot we can do--buy smaller cars, run errands together, etc. But we still want to live and participate in the exciting place we call home... which inevitably means driving to places like Downtown Seattle, Belltown, Capitol Hill, Ballard, Greenlake, Kirkland... you get my point. Seriously, do we really expect people to get on a bus from Redmond to go to Tia Lou's on Saturday night? Or for someone to hop on Metro to get to the B&O Espresso or 5-Spot Cafe? It's simply not going to happen to any measurable extent.
So, we better have parking for all of those people who are supporting our thriving commercial districts. We haven't yet reached the critical point, but in some neighborhoods, we are coming close. For example, in my neighborhood on Capitol Hill, we are about to lose the only public pay lot for over a dozen blocks in either direction. The last lot on the Pine/Pike corridor vanished a few months ago.
So what results? Endless circling and distracted drivers who: a) are wasting large quantities of fuel driving for an extra 20-30 minutes; b) decrease pedestrian safety; and c) don't spend money in the area because they become less inclined to make the trip. I know people who refuse to patronize those areas anymore because they just can't find parking.
It's not that they won't drive as an alternative to not finding parking... it's that they will drive to a place that has parking instead. So this diatribe is not about solutions, it's just a warning.
Before we all get on the "parking is bad" bandwagon, let's be specific. Surface parking LOTS are a bad idea because they under-utilize the property and have a host of other unsightly problems. But PARKING is a necessary evil until we have a comprehensive transportation system. It can go underground, in stacked buildings, behind alleys, or on roofs. I just hope we realize this before all the parking is gone, and we lose the vibrancy of our commercial districts!
A report issued yesterday by Washington State Auditor Brian Sonntag's office urges the state to more aggressively attack highway congestion, beginning with a formal declaration that congestion is a top transportation policy priority. The Seattle Times reported on the findings today. The transportation performance audit, prepared for Sonntag's office by Talbot, Korvola & Warwick of Portland, goes on to make more than 20 specific policy recommendations. These include urging that the state legislature should:
"empower a single body - either the Department of Transportation or a regional transportation entity for the Puget Sound Region - to allow for a more integrated approach to planning for congestion reduction:"
"choose/identify transportation projects based on congestion reduction rather than other agendas;"
and "review whether new legislation is required for public private partnerships for transportation infrastructure and implement any changes."
The transportation performance audit, authorized under Initiative 900, also recommends the department add new highway lanes.
WSDOT observes in the audit report, correctly, with respect to new highway lanes and other capital-intensive proposals, that new state funding has been hard to secure over the years and much responsibility lies with the legislature.
A flurry of developments suggests passenger-only ferries are gaining momentum in Puget Sound. In recent months there have been seven routes in operation: the state's Vashon Island to downtown Seattle run; King County's West Seattle to downtown Seattle water taxi; Kitsap Transit's Port Orchard to Bremerton foot ferry; and four longer, privately operated routes to the San Juans Islands and Victoria. Now, add another local water taxi, and - it appears - another major regional passenger ferry route.
From today through late November, the Electric Boat Company will run reservation-only water taxis connecting neighborhood docks along Seattle's Lake Union, as KOMO4-TV reports. Here's the schedule. In addition, the Port of Kingston - in northeast Kitsap County across Puget Sound from Seattle's near-northern neighbors - has received a $3.5 million federal grant to fund Kingston-Seattle foot ferry service. The Kitsap Sun reports on this likely resurrection of a foot ferry run that didn't pencil out for one operator, Aqua Express, in 2005. Nels Sultan of Kingston Express will bid on the route and says he can make it work in part by starting small with just one boat.
Meanwhile, the West Seattle Herald reports that West Seattle water taxi ridership is up and a local advisory group called the Pier 1-Pier 2 Committee is suggesting the route's West Seattle dock be shifted from pinched accomodations at Seacrest Park a short distance south to the Port of Seattle's Jack Block Park, where there's far more room for park-and-ride spaces. That's a good idea. The current King County Metro water taxi shuttle bus to Seacrest Park is very small and only runs to and from Alki and the West Seattle Junction. Parking near the current Seacrest Park dock off Harbor Avenue is highly constained, as is space for larger buses. A large park-and-ride lot and room for mid-size buses with a longer range than the current shuttle routes is necessary to grow the water taxi service.
All this comes as the Puget Sound transportation planners are looking closely at how to best develop a regional passenger-only ferry system.
Last month, as part of a current study, the Puget Sound Regional Council released a white paper on on issues and trends affecting the future viability of a passenger-only ferry network. Among the key preliminary findings:
passenger-only ferries must be conceived and implemented in the Puget Sound region as a unified network which meshes with other transit modes and routes;
the public and decision-makers will have to be convinced the regional mobility benefits justify the costs;
(even if private operators are involved) the service must be framed as public transportation, with subsidy levels comparable to other public transit modes;
high-density "transit-oriented development" can be a significant driver of passenger-only ferry traffic, but trade-offs must be clearly illustrated to communities;
labor is the largest cost driver, and wages vary based on employer and whether employees are unionized or not. Scheduling is also a key cost factor. "Peak period service is most economical when using a split shift, with two distinct morning and evening segments. If the vessel is running all day, it is necessary to provide multiple shifts;"
funding for passenger-only ferries includes seven different federal sources, property taxes by ferry districts of up to 75 cents per $1,000 assesssed valuation, state budget appropriations, voter-approved sales and use taxes, motor vehicle excise taxes within a public transportation benefit area, fares, charters, employer subsidies, development fees and concession revenues;
Puget Sound and lake routes to be analyzed further for feasibility, with updated demand estimates, include Renton to Seattle (Leschi) on Lake Washington, Kirkland (across Lake Washington) to University of Washington to Seattle docks on Lake Union, Kingston-Seattle, Bainbridge Island Seattle, Bremerton-Seattle, Clinton (south Whidbey Island)-Seattle, Tacoma-Des Moines-Seattle and Southworth-Seattle.
The draft white paper prepared for the PSRC by Nelson Nygaard Consulting Associates notes that the Washington State Ferries (almost entirely a car ferry network at this point) is the largest ferry system in the U.S. and carries 25 million passengers annually. However, in 2003, 44 percent of all passengers were walk-ons and that percentage is projected to grow to 62 percent by 2030. By that year regional population will have grown 39 percent since 2000 and employment 42 percent.
If our much-vaunted emphasis on growth management is to mean anything at all in the face of such changes, governments will need to make high-density development a more attractive proposition by emphasizing livability through added green space, better policing (in Seattle), and fast, convenient regional transit including bus rapid transit and foot ferries.
What is the optimal arrangement for Puget Sound ferries in future decades? Given the spike in gasoline prices, current road congestion, the coming age of tolling, and the continuing push for greater urban and suburban density, a regional foot ferry network could really make sense in the end.
Recent news shows that interest is already high and the possibilities are many. When the PSRC study is done, county councils, local governments and private foot ferry operators will have a road map to developing a viable system in Puget Sound. But, no less important than financial considerations and land-use and transportation planning will be political leadership.
Did anyone miss the headlines? The much anticipated I-5 closures produced no traffic catastrophe. Instead, usage dropped 50% during the 2 week period. And apparently no one knows why. Was it the bikes? The transit? Flexible work hours? Signals? Here's another theory: it was also a coordinated effort by all levels of government in Puget Sound. It proved that when a major project is orchestrated at a regional level, the payoffs are substantial.
Some of the planning I read or heard about: an additional Sounder Commuter Rail train, additional Water Taxis, extra parking at Park and Ride stations all the way to Tacoma and Kent. Extra shuttle services between communities and drop-off points for transit. Increased vanpools and more bike transit options in all parts of the county.
The drop in traffic wasn't about Seattle telling Seattleites to find alternatives; it was about mobilizing the resources in the region to coordinate with each other and find alternatives. It wasn't just about relieving pressure on Seattle's surface streets, but relied on roadways from Bremerton to Carnation.
If there is one thing that we have learned from this experience, it should be that we are a regional metropolis and planning should be viewed through that lens. More importantly, that if reasonable, cross-county, user-friendly alternatives are provided, people will gladly use them.
This Monday July 2, our Cascadia Center For Regional Development hosted a jam-packed forum in West Seattle for stakeholders to discuss next steps toward funding an expanded system of passenger-only ferries on Puget Sound and Lake Washington. This would embody a modern-day return of the region's old "Mosquito Fleet" of foot ferries; providing today's commuters and others with expanded transit options in a region facing increasingly congested roads and steets, and major population growth in coming decades.
Cascadia Center's Director Bruce Agnew moderated the panel discussion featuring presentations by members of the Puget Sound Passenger Ferry Coalition. Among those speaking were King County Council members Dow Constantine and Julia Patterson.
KIRO 7 TV and KING-5 TV were among media reporting. (Click on the above link or the "embed" below for the KIRO 7 report).
Agnew told KIRO 7's Graham Johnson:
We have plenty of water and you don't have to purchase new right-of-way, so it seems like...bringing back these boats as a form of mass transit in Puget Sound, its time has really come.
Expanded foot ferries become more logical when one understands the dimensions of estimated future costs for roads and transit in and around Seattle. The final report of the Regional Transportation Commission study group, authorized by the state legislature and Gov. Christine Gregoire, notes Central Puget Sound faces a $62 billion shortfall in needed funding for roads and transit over the next 24 years. (See third page from the top, here, in the study's cover letter to Gov. Gregoire from commission co-chairs Norm Rice and John Stanton).
King County, already gridlocked and with massive road construction projects on tap that will tie up traffic even more, formed a ferry district this year that will tap property taxes. It plans to boost West Seattle water taxi service to year-round, take over the state's Vashon-Seattle route, pay for a demonstration boat between Kirkland and the University of Washington, fund a feasibility study of other routes and provide money for better boats and docks. It will cost King County landowners 2 to 3 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value. "Compared with other modes of transportation, that's a bargain because the infrastructure is not as expensive," said King County Councilman Dow Constantine, who spearheaded the ferry district effort. "Water is free."
For 100 years, passenger ferries moved people and goods around the region, King County Council member Julia Patterson said. Service bottomed out in recent years after Washington State Ferries lost its motor vehicle excise tax funding and opted out of the foot-ferry business. "Next year, Washington state will be out of the business and will be looking to the region and local governments to provide that service," she said. "We cannot meet that demand with a patchwork approach. We need a regional vision. We need to be thinking big and working together on this issue."
All foot ferry proponents recognize that, as one participant at Monday's forum stated, "the difference between vision and hallucination is implementation." Will Echols of Crosscut details this morning how economic obstacles to expanded passenger-only ferry service in the region have proved daunting, so far.
But several factors suggest a turning point may be approaching. First, as the region's traffic mess intensifies, is the sheer cost of continuing to fund necessary landside roads and transit. The $62 billion shortfall identified by the Regional Transportation Commission study group only covers improvements needed in the next 24 years; but regional population will continue to grow thereafter, necessitating still more travel capacity. Next is our region's expansive water geography, providing connections between a plethora of major population centers. Third is substantial near-term growth, as the Puget Sound Regional Council notes in its "Destination 2030" transportation plan: a 30 percent increase in the region's four-county population (from the 2006 total of 3.5 million) and a 50 percent increase in travel by 2030 means more comprehensive transit, including more ferries, will be necessary. The PSRC notes:
Today, the central Puget Sound region has a high level of traffic congestion. By 2030, the region will grow by an additional 1.1 million people, add over 850,000 new jobs, and need to accommodate close to 50 percent more travel, putting even more strain on our transportation system. To ease current congestion and prepare for future growth, the region must expand its transportation system and complete key missing links. With smarter, more strategic transportation investments, traffic movement can be improved by the year 2030, even with additional people and increased use of our roads, buses, trains and ferries. With an expanded set of transportation choices offered by a more fully developed system, the region can prepare for continued economic growth, while protecting and enhancing its celebrated quality of life.
Finally, having recently formed a passenger-only ferry district with taxing authority, King County is postioned to fund a first-stage passenger-only ferry system expansion. Regional funding for more passenger-only ferries need not necessarily be secured through ballot measures posed to voters, nor from the state. While it is premature to make such a recommendation, it is worth considering that Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties could - as King County is positioned to do - approve by council vote a modest property tax increase to fund more passenger-only ferries. The legislature would merely have to alter the enabling legislation for the King County ferry district to allow the other three counties the same powers, and additionally grant all four the option of joint governance, along with key local governments, of a regional foot ferry system.
It is early, though. Very early. The first step in the possible "return of the Mosquito Fleet" is to see what happens in King County. As noted in stories by the Tacoma News Tribune and the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, the county council could approve a modest tax increase for more foot ferries as soon as November.
There is of course no "silver bullet" to the region's pressing need for improved transportation; but rather a series of necessary road and transit improvements to ease congestion and broaden choices, of which passenger-only ferries are one.
A new report by the Congressional Research Service notes that traffic congestion has reached crisis proportions in some places. But, the report notes, not everyone agrees that congestion is a major national problem warranting a federal government response. Because congestion tends to be geographically concentrated in major metropolitan areas, past Congressional action has tended to favor a predominantly state and local response.
The report speculates that Congress may well decide to continue with this approach in the next reauthorization of the guiding federal transportation policy legislation, known as SAFETEA-LU, which expires October 1, 2009. States and localities that suffer major congestion would be free to focus their resources on congestion mitigation, while those who are relatively congestion-free could devote their resources to other priorities. However, should Congress conclude that congestion has become a problem of national significance, a congestion mitigation program would become a major focus of the next reauthorization, the report states.
The question may already have been settled. The U.S. DOT, through its "National Strategy to Reduce Congestion," has made congestion mitigation a central element of the federal surface transportation program. Equally important, the need to eliminate truck bottlenecks and reduce congestion in heavily traveled interstate truck corridors has been recognized by the transportation community as a national priority. Indeed, if the second half of the 20th century was characterized by a national effort to create a continental highway system, the first half of the 21st century may become known as an era of a concerted national effort to prevent that highway system from becoming hopelessly gridlocked.
Congestion Initiative Update
Nine cities have been selected by the U.S. Department of Transportation as semi-finalists in the "Urban Partnerships" program. Thereby, the U.S. DOT is seeking proposals from metro areas to implement a comprehensive policy response to urban congestion, including demonstrations of variable tolling or congestion pricing, enhanced transit services such as bus rapid transit, increased use of telecommuting, and deployment of advanced Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) technology. From the nine semi-finalists the Department plans to select up to five "Urban Partners," which it will support with financial resources, regulatory flexibility, and technical assistance. The nine semi-finalists are Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Minneapolis-St, Paul, Miami, New York City, San Diego, San Francisco and Seattle. Winners will be announced in mid-August. The program commands significant discretionary resources. These include up to $100 million from the ITS Congestion Mitigation Operational Testing program; up to $30 million from the Value Pricing Program; up to $260 million in other Federal Highway Administration discretionary funds; up to $715 million in Federal Transit Administration discretionary funds; and $150 million in President's FY08 energy budget proposal -- for a total of over $1.2 billion.
Of all the proposed urban partnership projects, New York's proposal to implement congestion pricing in Mid- and Lower Manhattan is attracting the most attention as the boldest and most challenging of the initiatives. Combining as it does "cordon pricing" (i.e. a charge for entering a cordon area, as in the case of Stockholm) and "area pricing" (i.e. a charge for moving inside an area, as in the case of London) it is more sweeping in its breadth than anything that has been implemented to date.
The Mayor's proposal has been greeted with applause by some and deep skepticism by others. To many skeptics, the mayor's proposal seems more like a giant revenue raising scheme than a targeted congestion reduction initiative. The project would generate $380 million a year, to increase to $900 million/year by 2030, but it would reduce traffic within the charge zone by a mere 6.3 percent, according to Mayor Bloomberg's staff.
Most polls show a majority of New Yorkers (but not residents of Manhattan) opposed. State lawmakers, who must approve the proposal before it becomes law, are reported to be undecided. Opposition to congestion pricing runs deepest in the Assembly, many of whose members from the boroughs outside of Manhattan and from the city's suburbs view congestion charges as just a commuter tax by another name.
At a public hearing in Manhattan on June 8, state legislators gave a cool reception to Mayor Bloomberg's proposal. Assemblymen Herman Farrell, Jr. (D) and a dozen of his colleagues raised the familiar concerns such as the fairness of the congestion charge and its regressive effect on low income drivers, the ripple effect the program would have on neighborhoods just outside the charging zone and the threat to privacy inherent in having hundreds of cameras photographing license plates for billing purposes.
Although the project has been represented as a three-year demonstration, lawmakers at the hearing pointed out that the Mayor would retain entire discretion whether or not to continue the project. Also controversial are the huge start-up costs which could eat up most of the anticipated $500 million federal Urban Partnership grant.
Whether the legislature can act upon the congestion pricing proposal by the June 21 end of the regular legislative session is not certain. The city runs the risk of losing the federal grant if the mayor's plan does not obtain legislative approval by mid-August when the U.S. DOT plans to announce the winners of its Urban Partnership competition.
TECHNORATI TAGS: >TRAFFIC CONGESTION, SAFETEA-LU, URBAN PARTNERSHIPS, NEW YORK, MICHAEL BLOOMBERG, CONGESTION PRICING, SEATTLE>
In a Seattle Times op-ed published today, the former chief examiner of the Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, George Kargianis, and former state Supreme Court justice Phil Talmadge assert Sound Transit's proposal to build light rail across Lake Washington to Eastside suburbs via the I-90 floating bridge just doesn't pencil out.
We have taken no official position yet on either the Eastside light rail proposal or the larger November, 2007 roads and transit ballot measure of which it is a part. However, our Cascadia Center of Discovery Institute supports system wide, time variable automated highway tolling; taxpayer-friendly design-build contracting; enhanced opportunities for public-private partnerships to build and operate transportation infrastructure; improved transportation technology to help address congestion; regional governance in Central Puget Sound to plan, prioritize and fund road and transit projects; and cost-effective, speedy public transit that is well-integrated into the larger regional transportation system.
Against this backdrop, the Kargianis-Talmadge piece in The Times today raises additional concerns about the fall ballot measure which deserve further analysis by the media, stakeholders and voters.
The co-authors note that Central Puget Sound transit ridership is now less than 3 percent of total daily travel in the region, and according to projections by the Puget Sound Regional Council, would grow to only 4.5 percent in 2030 with increased transit investments. They write:
...the I-90 center corridor would be acquired by Sound Transit exclusively for light rail between Seattle and the Eastside. Buses, vanpools, HOVs and all Mercer Island vehicular traffic now using this inner corridor would be rerouted to the outer lanes. The result would be increased delays and congestion on all traffic moving between Seattle and the Eastside...The I-90 bridge would suffer a vehicle capacity loss of one-third compared with today. Even with an optimistic doubling of transit ridership, there would be a 9-percent loss of total (vehicle and transit) person trips. Light rail would not give us either the flexibility or the capacity that rapid bus service offers at a small fraction of the cost. Bus rapid transit can share the center lanes, thus avoiding the one-third loss of vehicular traffic.
.....The proposed taking of the I-90 center corridor should be viewed for what it really is: an unwarranted, unnecessary, unproductive, wasteful and essentially disruptive use that would contribute to congestion, not alleviate it.
Speaker Presentations At Cascadia/Microsoft/Idaho National Laboratory "Beyond Oil: Transforming Transportation" conference, 9/4/08 and 9/5/08, Redmond, Wash. (Topics included electric vehicles, plug-in hybrid electric vehicles, renewable energy, traffic management systems and technology, transit. Many of these files are very large and may take several minutes to open/download depending on your internet connection).
The estimated cost now is as high as $4.4 billion to replace the dangerously earthquake-prone Evergreen Point Floating Bridge on State Route 520, which crosses Lake Washington to connect the populous and job-rich Eastside with Seattle. But only $560 million is in hand; and the rest is decidedly iffy, as the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reports. (UPDATE: The state DOT's 520 page lists $1.25 billion in identified funding, including $700 million in tolls). The P-I editorializes we need to get the full funding package pulled together ASAP.
...we're told that the Evergreen Point Bridge will be rebuilt, pronto, even though we're $3.5 billion short on the project's budget. We currently have just under 20 percent of the bridge's $4.4 billion secured....This "build now, figure out how to settle the bill later" approach is reckless. We're not advocating the endless dithering for which our city and state have become unfortunately famous. What we're asking our legislators and transportation officials to do is to firm up the numbers for necessary, urgent projects such as the 520 bridge.
Getting the money requires knowing the real final cost, which in turn requires settling important components of the project. The ingredients most necessary are leadership and planning. There is no decision yet on what kind of transit will go on it, no final decision on the number of lanes. The current discussion centers on a six-lane replacement for the existing four-lane structure. Six lanes are an utter necessity, anything less offers insufficient capacity. An additional wild card - perhaps carrying substantial added costs beyond the current estimate - is environmental mitigation. This includes forcefully-voiced concerns from neighborhood residents on both ends of the bridge corridor. What is the endgame price tag for mitigation really going to be? The sooner we know, the better.
Message received. But with no solid plan yet on its configuration or funding, the likelihood of further delay and cost inflation grow. We need a single point of authority, namely an empowered Central Puget Sound regional transportation commission, to settle the configuration questions legally and in a timely manner, and put together a full public-private funding plan for the bridge. The fall 2007 regional roads and transit ballot measure would include just $1.1 billion toward the $3.5 billion now thought needed to complete the bridge replacement; this as part of the larger $16 billion package. If that proposal does win voter approval, there will still be a backlog of about $46 billion in Central Puget Sound road and transit project needs. A clearly stated comprehensive plan to prioritize those projects and pay for them in a series of public funding votes, and through private partnerships and tolls, will be essential. If the fall ballot measure fails, the need for such planning and leadership will be even more pressing.
Piecemeal, scattershot planning undercuts public trust. Without that trust, the necessary taxpayer support of expanded roads and transit cannot be expected to materialize.
TECHNORATI TAGS: >EVERGREEN POINT FLOATING BRIDGE, STATE ROUTE 520, WSDOT VIDEO, FUNDING>
In a summary of its updated "Commuting In America" study, the Transportation Research Board reports that what might be called "commuting with benefits" is growing, as more drivers make more stops for other purposes on the way to and from work. Commutes are getting more complex, and the trend could lead to still more cars on the road rather than fewer. Planners, many politicians, and environmental advocates would like to see more transit use, but especially where key suburban commuters are targeted, that will depend on speed, frequency and convenience of service.
How does "trip chaining" play out presently here in Central Puget Sound? Driving back from your job in Bellevue to your affordable home in Maple Valley, you stop for groceries at the Renton Wal-Mart, then in Maple Valley at the dry cleaners. On to pick up one child in after-school care, and another a mile away as her dance lesson ends; she's been ferried there in the family's second vehicle by her other, work-at-home parent, who then departed for a carefully-timed business meeting in a local coffee shop. Multiply across the region, and stir.
From the "Commuting In Amercia" fact sheet:
This 'trip chain' increases the efficiency of overall travel but has the effect of increasing the number of non-work related trips occurring in the peak period.
The effects of "trip chaining" are also discussed in the Dec. 31, 2006 final report of the (Central Puget Sound) Regional Transportation Commission study group to Washington Gov. Chris Gregoire and the state legislature, on pages 20-21:
...the majority of automobile trips are for...other than directly travelling from a residence to a place of work (during) peak hour because "trip chaining" commuters make stops in route to work or home; for example, to day care, school and shopping destinations. Increased travel is also a function of the increase in two-worker households, more dispersed trip patterns, and growth in areas that are accessible only by private auto.
Yet transit or carpooling can work for some commuters during peak hours on heavily-travelled corridors. The RTC report on p. 29 (Figure 3-15) notes that according to 2000 WSDOT data, during morning rush, 37 percent of person trips in peak direction on I-5 at Southcenter were HOV or transit; along with 23 percent on I-90 at Eastgate; and 30 percent on State Route 520 at 140th Ave. N.E. That's nothing to sneeze at, but commuters lacking neatly compact urban lifestyles will do what they must to get around.
Faster and more frequent transit in major corridors connecting suburbs to suburbs, combined with ample park and ride lots at both ends could help get some of these drivers out of their cars on some days. That transit solution could take the form of a Metropolitan Puget Sound Bus Rapid Transit System, along the lines of that proposed by Donald L. Padelford of Seattle. The vehicles might look something like that pictured above, right; and would run in dedicated lanes. We're a ways from any such decision, however, with a fall ballot measure looming to expand Sound Transit's light rail. Should that fail, it will be back to the drawing board, and surveys on transit preferences could help guide subsequent proposals to voters.
Commuting isn't mainly a spoke-and-hub proposition anymore. The TRB's "Commuting In America" study reports that trips from suburb to suburb now account for almost half of all metro-area commuting in the U.S., and for almost two-thirds of job growth. There is also sharp growth in the number of commuters who leave their home county for work. It's some 34 million daily, 85 percent more than in 1980. Solo drivers account for 80 percent of commutes, and carpooling and transit for most of the rest, in the nine largest U.S. metro areas, of population five million or greater. Go-it-alone drivers comprise 90 percent of commutes elsewhere in the U.S.
Yet TRB says "there are signs of saturation in the use of the private vehicle," as gains from 1990 to 2000 were markedly less than from 1980 to 1990. In five U.S. metro areas, solo drivers actually declined as a percentage of commuters from 1990 to 2000. The changes were exceedingly modest, though; less than one percent in four of the regions. In metro Seattle, that decline was greater than anywhere else, 1.5 percent.
A key indicator for any metro region, according to the authors of "Commuting In America," is the joint share of carpooling and transit in daily commutes. Few areas are above the desired 20 percent benchmark, which must be calculated based on all work-related commutes within a region, not just during peak hours, in one direction, and at selected locations.
Central Puget Sound of course faces the need for new or expanded roadways to replace two dangerously earthquake-prone and outmoded facilities, the Alaskan Way Viaduct and State Route 520 floating bridge. Across the region, other, congested corridors demand expansion and investment, as well. With funds scarce and taxpayers wary of shouldering too great a burden, public-private parterships and tolls need to be closely considered to help foot the bill. Better prioritization and coordination would result if a regional superagency were empowered to plan and order projects, and develop funding strategies for transportation across Snohomish, King, Pierce - and perhaps Kitsap - counties.
Expanding transit market share effectively and economically necessitates a market-driven emphasis on faster travel times, service frequency in key corridors, and more seamless connections - which, combined, can draw the necessary volume to yield rational per-user costs for equipment, infrastructure, operations and maintenance.
We should take a mode-agnostic approach and evaluate differing technologies such as Bus Rapid Transit and light rail through carefully calibrated computer modeling to see which delivers the better return on investment. Additionally, now-free carpool (HOV) lanes could be converted into HOT (High Occupancy Toll) lanes where solo drivers gain access in return for a time-variable fee (costing more during rush hours) which is charged to their accounts via windshield transponder technology.
This will require focus and political leadership heretofore lacking. This much is clear. The tired and polarizing "roads versus transit" debate is a road to nowhere. We need smart, cost-effective investment in both roads and transit, which have the actual effect of reducing congestion and giving commuters real choices.
TECHNORATI TAGS: >CASCADIA CENTER, SEATTLE, COMMUTING, TRIP CHAINS, TRANSIT>
If November's joint (roads and transit) vote in Snohomish, King and Pierce counties is to succeed, voters will have to be convinced that they'll get their money's worth. Merging the planning and funding of regional transit and highways - functions currently under the separate wings of Sound Transit, the Puget Sound Regional Council, the Regional Transportation Invesment District and the state Department of Transportion (whew!) - under a single, accountable commission would be a step toward winning voter trust.
One version of such a commission is contained in ESSB 5803, which passed the Senate earlier this month. The House Transportation Committee is considering its own bill, and an amendment to shelve the creation of a new regional body could be introduced as early as today.
ESSB 5803 stems from the final report of the Regional Transportation Commmission study group tasked last year by the legislature and Governor Chris Gregoire with investigating restructured transportation governance for the region. Headed by former Western Wireless CEO John Stanton and former Seattle Mayor Norm Rice, the study group wrote in its final report, issued Dec. 31, 2006:
...the system has to be structurally re-knit at the regional level....Transportation represents an enormous financial challenge to the region....Three interrelated strategies need to be implemented:
Emply user fees (tolls, fares, parking charges) to manage demand for transportation - these should reduce demand and thus the amount of construction that must be funded.
Raise more money from a combination of tax increases and user fees.
Prioritize projects throughout the region and across modes so that the most important projects get built.
The challenge with prioritizing is establishing who is in charge. Today there are 128 agencies that manage aspects of transportation in the four-county region. If 128 parties are theoretically in charge of a problem, we concluded that in fact no one is really in charge.
It is reasonable to wonder whom such arrangements truly benefit. Certainly not taxpayers and commuters. Accountability must be more than just a buzzword.