Following on my personal values and vision of a better future, and our first overall call on Governor-elect Inslee to lead with his own environmental values, here is our view of the top priorities for improving our transportation system to become more sustainable:
- First and foremost, Inslee should hire a director for the state Department of Transportation who will put climate change reduction first, not highway expansion. The head of DOT has many roles, including a seat on the Sound Transit board. We need a transportation leader who will think long term and progressively, someone like New York City’s Janette Sadik-Khan. SDOT director Peter Hahn might be a good choice here, or Sound Transit’s Ric Ilgenfritz – not a politician, but a professional with good political understanding and a willingness to push the envelope. We have state law already requiring emissions reduction – we need a leader to demand it. There are almost always better options on the table than what DOT chooses now.
- He should ensure Amtrak Cascades operations are safely funded, and use this opportunity to make service better. Let’s pick a seat on our smartphone when we buy a ticket, not get one assigned in a long line before boarding. Let’s better fund King Street Station’s progress and make it a great regional hub. Let’s push hard on the capital improvements that will get the service running more often and faster – improvements that have already led to hundreds of millions in federal funding, and would win us more.
- He should ask for the development of a real rail plan for the state – with true high speed rail for the Seattle-Portland corridor, and with possibilities to connect cities outside Puget Sound with service too. What would it take to actually run electric rail in the Northwest? We need to know so we can fight for it. 110mph diesel trains aren’t good enough for our future.
- He should push to require local comprehensive plans actually meet climate reduction targets. Cities and counties shouldn’t be allowed to build more suburban subdivisions unless they’re reducing those emissions somewhere else. California already does this. Our local emissions need to trend down, not up.
- He should champion serious local funding options for cities and transit agencies. With the right tools, every local bus in Seattle could be electrified, Sound Transit could build a rail network between major centers that really is better than driving, and other cities could have a robust discussion about building climate neutral transit systems. We need help doing that with direct grants, too – just like the state of Oregon helps Portland.
- He should ensure Metro has enough revenue to continue functioning, without requiring a public vote. Don’t waste activists’ time for months fighting a campaign when we should be basebuilding and creating support for a better future.
- He should ensure bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is built into *any* highway replacement or repair project. If we rebuild a highway, we must provide a usable bike path and connections to neighborhoods. No shirking – it needs to be for the entire length of the project. If there’s a hill involved, “we’ll skip that part” isn’t good enough – build trampes.
- Finally, many of these projects should be paid for through systemwide tolling on state highways, and a commitment to allowing cities to toll our arterials. Demand management directly reduces emissions and should be used today in places where transit options are available.
All of these things should be achievable with our new legislature, if we engage solidly as supporters. They all match the strong environmental values Jay Inslee has shown in his time in Congress. And we need all of them if we’re going to slow today’s march to a largely uninhabitable planet. If we want our children to be able to lead happy, successful lives, we need to accomplish these tasks.