Global Warming

Most of the leftist Anti-Prop 1 arguments have been environmental. I know it sounds heretical for a supposed pro-environment, pro-transit, progressive to argue about the topic of global warming, but I think the effect of global warming in this package is overstated for the following reasons: many of the new roads are for freight and transit, huge new roads are being built anyway with little or no discussion from the left, and the fact of the matter is the oil argument is unconvincing for the reasons I lay out below.

The roads themselves

This is not a huge expenditure on roads as far as roads expenditures go. Washington state approved a bigger roads bill than this just two years ago, and a bill about half the size just two years before that. Also, two years ago President Bush signed a $286 billion dollar highway bill, and China will build more than 30,000 miles of highways this decade, most of those three lane express-ways. When you compare the literally hundreds of thousands -if not millions – of highway-lanes being built all around the world, the 156 miles of new highway lanes (not new roads, but new lanes) doesn’t seem like much at all. In fact, even in those estimates many of the new lanes are rebuilding existing lanes, or re-routing traffic onto highways from “street” roads.

If you look at the graffic at the left, only 15% of the Roads and Transit spending is so-called “bad roads”, those that are not transit, HOV lanes or freight capacity (that’s the Sierra Club’s own definition of good roads, by the way). Compare that number to the WSDOT projects linked to above, or the proposed State Highway 2 expansion – which would become unnecessary with 405 expansion, or Sierra Club donor, and Eastside real-estate (and fasion?) mogul Kemper Freeman’s I-605 proposal (aka the Snoqualimie Valley freeway).

Even with the 15% bad roads that would be built, not building them does nothing to ensure those fossil fuels don’t get burned, or that those roads won’t get built later.

The oil will get burned by someone no matter what

This article is pretty techincal from an economics stand point, but the message is important:

If Americans buy less oil but all the oil will end up sold in any case, demand simply has been redistributed rather than lowered. Instead the key is to get that oil to stay in the ground.

You could replace the argument with “Puget Sound Residents” and it still stands. Suppose we choose not to burn oil, or rather, we choose not to build roads because we fear it means more oil would get burned. The sad fact is that all the cheap oil left will be burned one way or another. Much of it will be burned in Asia, where massive militaries are being built to protect their own oil interests now that the sun is setting on our Empire. As the dollar declines, we will be able to afford ever less and less oil, and that leads to the next point.

There isn’t enough oil, it will take a new technology one way or another

If oil supplies were so small, and we could simply burn them all away and that would be the end of the fossil fuel era, then we shouldn’t really mind building the roads other than they’d be a waste of money since no one would be able to drive on them. If we use up all the oil, we’d have no fuel to burn, no one would drive, the roads would go unused and it’d be a huge boondoggle. Us transit folks wouldn’t even be troubled tremendously, since none of us drive, at least not that much anyway.

We’ve hit peak oil, and it will take a new technology one way or another to move those cars anyway. Sadly, the problem is not that we have too little fossil fuels, but that we have too much:

The trick in the argument is to equate oil with fossil fuels in general. This is plausible enough for natural gas, which commonly occurs in the same places as oil, and is also in fairly limited supply. But the elephant in the corner in these arguments is coal. The US has enough easily accessible coal to supply hundreds of years of consumption at current rates, and the same is true of the rest of the world.

The Salon article mentions coal only a couple of times in passing. Yet coal and coal-fired electricity already compete directly with oil in all major uses except personal transport. If current oil prices are sustained for long, we can expect to see electricity displacing oil in home heating, and electrification of rail transport at the expense of diesel, reversing the trend of recent decades when diesel has been cheap. This is already happening.

As for cars, there are at least three well-established ways in which they could be fuelled by coal. First, there are electric cars. Second, there is coal liquefication, used on a large scale by South Africa in the sanctions period. Third, gasification could be used to replace liquid petroleum gas. All of these options have problems, but none are insurmountable given a high enough price; they might be competitive if oil stays above $60 a barrel long enough, and they would certainly be competitive at $150/barrel. Then there are more exotic options, like fuel cells using coal-based methanol.

But even in the worst case scenario it will take many years and some technological change to switch from oil. Luckily, we have some of the world’s best scientists looking at alternative energy sources. This is about a Tokyo Institute of Technology (my alma mater) scientist’s attempt to turn solar energy into magnesium which could be used as car fuel. Another scientist in Pennsylvannia is working on burning water for propulsion, which obviously requires a separate power source, but that could be a solar energy generated battery, or through cold fusion, whose research seems to have made a number of advances in just the past year. My point is, there’s no gaurantee that new roads means new fossil fuel burning onto eternity. And as a species if we are not able to keep from burning fossil fuels we are doomed anyway.

I know that’s not a heart-warming argument, that we are doomed if we don’t come up with an alternative. But that’s the facts as they stand today. I don’t mean to be flippant about global warming; it’s the biggest challenge facing mankind. But whether we move to other fossil fuels or move forward and find an alternative, it’s going to take a technological change to effect the climate one way or another.

As for the current vote, if we don’t drive, then RTID won’t have the money to pay for its roads projects, which are mostly funded by an increase in the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax. And some we’ll likely end up paying for anyway. So if we think that our driving days are numbered, why should we care about a roads package funded mostly by taxes on cars?

In summary, RTID isn’t a lot of roads. It’s also mostly good roads, and in the future driving doesn’t necessarily mean fossil fuels. Even if you think we need to oppose all roads because of global warming concerns, you are better off making that choice with your feet literally and stop driving. Well, I am ready for you to rip me apart on this, as a pro-environment progressive, but I guess I’ve opened the door.

Last Ron Sims Post

I promise this will be the last Ron Sims post.

Ron Sims in 2002:

But Sims said such a large investment is needed to address “a growing sense of rage that nothing is being done.”

But Sims said yesterday there was no time to waste.

“You cannot tell people sitting in congestion that we’ll have another year of planning,” he said.

Voters know the issues, Sims said, and more delay would only serve to confirm suspicions about government’s inability to listen and act.

Ron Sims in 2004:

Sims does not have a vote on the three-county Regional Transportation Investment District that would officially adopt a package, but he has refused to stay on the sidelines.

“My goal is to lead,” Sims said. “I am fatigued over discussions.”

Sims latest 10-year proposal comes in at a total of $7.2 billion for King County projects, compared with $6.5 billion for a version he released in September. The investment district board has been considering a 15-year $9 billion package.

Ron Posthuma, assistant director of King County’s Department of Transportation, said Sims’ package is about 10 percent smaller than what the district had been discussing.

Gaining ground in Sims’ proposal this time around is Interstate 405, for which Sims now proposes to spend $2.085 billion, compared with $1.3 billion in his September proposal.

Sims would spend 53 percent on roads, 21 percent on carpool lanes and 26 percent on transit, including $1.33 billion to take light rail to Northgate and to Sea-Tac Airport.

Ron Sims in 2007:

Tragically, this plan continues the national policy of ignoring our impacts upon global warming. In a region known for our leadership efforts to reduce greenhouse gases, this plan will actually boost harmful carbon emissions.

Faced with catastrophic climate change, we need to have courage in our convictions, in our leadership and in our transportation solutions. We must question the environmental implications of our actions.

We need to refocus on bold solutions that offer immediate relief and a better tomorrow — future generations deserve no less.

Until we have real transportation solutions, I’m a “no” vote

Good thing we have “principled” and consistent leaders!

Update: As Josh Feit pointsRon Sims is likely not pro-rail. He is pro-bus, especially Bus Rapid Transit.

Walt Crowley: Last days of the ICE Age

The Times ran a long opinion piece by Walt Crowley, who died last week at the too-young age of 60. It has a nice history of how transportation moved away from rail in the first half of the twentieth century, and how we now have the choice to move in the opposite direction:

Passage of the roads-and-transit plan will not instantly unclog highways nor usher in some modern version of a 19th-century City Beautiful utopia overnight. It will, however, mark a tipping point not unlike the predicted thawing of the polar ice caps, a one-way threshold of no return. We will always need roads and highways, but once the momentum of transportation investment steers away from the gas-powered automobile in favor of transit and other alternatives, there will be no going back.

The read whole thing, it’s very interesting. It’s an interesting perspective, and Crowley was very optimistic about the end of the automobile era. At least here, it’ll only happen if we pass prop 1.

More Ron Sims

From this Times piece

Sims wrote: “While containing some good projects, this plan doesn’t solve traffic congestion in the short term, nor does it provide enough long-term relief to justify the financial and environmental costs. Tragically, this plan continues the national policy of ignoring our impacts upon global warming.”

It was a remarkable statement from someone who declared four years ago, while chairman of Sound Transit, “We’re going to dig and dig and dig and dig until the light-rail project gets to Bellevue, gets to Everett, gets to Tacoma.”

Hmm… Inconsistent…

There’s more:

And he says a proposed line through Federal Way to Tacoma would duplicate express-bus service that is being added by King County Metro Transit.

From the letter he sent out last year after Transit Now passed:

Increase frequency between Northgate, the University District and Downtown Seattle in advance of Link Light Rail completion;

South King County
• Improve east-west core connections to operate more frequently and/or over longer hours of operation;

• Update local routes to connect with light rail and commuter rail;

Excuse me? His express bus service was planned around light-rail. Now he is walking backwards. This isn’t about rail or express bus services. This is about Metro losing the transit hat to Sound Transit, and Sims clearly doesn’t like that. Sims wants to show that “bus rapid transit” works, as he keeps saying over and over, and that will help get him a cabinet position in Washington. That’s all he cares about.

Sims on Roads and Transit

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

I’ve been remiss in not commenting on Ron Sims’ guest op-ed in the Seattle Times coming out against the Roads and Transit package.

There’s no point in sugar-coating it: this is a substantial setback for the “Yes” campaign. As executive of Washington’s largest county — the county that stands the most to benefit from the investments in the package — Sims’ opposition is significant. He’s a credible progressive voice, and, as a former Sound Transit board member, he needs to be taken seriously.

STB does a good job of dissecting the nuts and bolts of Sims’ argument, so I won’t go through them here. The counterintuitive gist of Sims’ argument amounts this: “we’re running out of time to solve our transportation problems, so we need to slow down!”

He has a point. The funding for this plan is frustratingly slow. In order to collect enough money to start construction, we have to basically wait a decade. But Sims needs to offer more solutions for this. Why is it so slow? What factors do we need to change to speed it up? He doesn’t say.

Now, we know that Sims has been very concerned about regressive taxes, and he’s been a key voice in calling for a statewide income tax to make the tax burden more level. That’s the kind of fundamental reform that’s needed before we can even begin to think about more aggressive financing for transportation projects. But he avoids this altogether in his op-ed.

Reading Kerry Murakami’s backstory on Sims in the P-I, I’m struck by just how liberated he must be right now. Having tried, and failed, to capture the Governorship, and with two relatively young and well-entrenched Democratic Senators in our state, there’s really no where else for the man to go, politically (Transportation Secretary in an Obama administration??). So he’s free to think big, from congestion pricing to surface-street solutions for the Viaduct (which, as Josh Feit noted, was a “kooky” idea until Sims got behind it).

But ideas are not the problem in this state. We’re a hotbed of innovation. The problem is knocking heads and bringing interest groups together to agree on something, anything. I personally think the Roads and Transit package is that thing. It’s not perfect, but it works. If Sims wants to dedicate his time to something else, I wish him godspeed. I certainly share his values, and so I imagine I’ll support what he proposes. But at some point we need to stop dreaming and start digging.

Update: I have more, somewhat coherent thoughts on the global warming angle over at Bruno and the Prof.

Ron Sims

Ron Sims has come out against Prop 1 in an editorial in the Times.

I look at this package with the knowledge that in 50 years, my oldest son will be 80 when it’s paid off. My granddaughter will be 55. Their ability to make public investments relevant to their lives and times will be severely limited by this package. Should I be so lucky, I will use my pension until I am 110 years old to pay my share!

Is Sims argument, “this’ll take too long, so let’s do nothing and just wait and THEN do something.” Huh?

Anyway most of his points fall flat:

Projected light-rail ridership to Bellevue and Overlake is lackluster because of indirect routing. Traveling from Capitol Hill to the Microsoft campus via downtown Seattle and Mercer Island is slow and cumbersome. The retrofit of Interstate 90 for light rail will slow express-bus service and increase commute times to Issaquah, Sammamish and North Bend.

There’s already express bus service there that carries 10,000 people a day. We need rail for the other corridors.

I found Martin over at the desk drawer does a great job of providing a counter-argument to Sims:

He spends a paragraph complaining about the package’s size:

If approved, we will see the largest tax increase in state history. Starting in January, car-tab taxes will triple, and the sales tax will be 9.5 percent (10 percent in King County restaurants).

and in the very next paragraphs, complains that the delivery is too slow and that the package doesn’t do enough:

The benefits of this package are far from immediate. Even if on schedule, 60 percent of new light rail won’t open until 2027. Light rail across Lake Washington is at least 14 years away. The Northgate extension is 11 years away…

This roads-and-transit plan just doesn’t move enough people.
Which is it, Mr. Sims? Do you want an expensive package that delivers lots improvements quickly, or do you want a relatively low tax rate that spreads out expenditures over the long term?

Emphasis in the original. Martin shows that many of Sim’s points in the article are not salient (van pools, congestion pricing, etc.) and that he has very few arguments against the package other than what the Sierra Club has been preaching for ages now.

Sims talks about “But the plan still calls for landscaped lids in Medina, the wealthiest neighborhood in our state, financed with regressive taxes on the working poor” when his Metro buses are funded by a .9% sales tax and run buses through Medina as well! Those in glass houses…

I suspect that Sims is playing politics because he is in charge of Metro, and doesn’t want to see his bus fiefdom usurped by rail. It comes through strongly in the piece as he talks about van pools and express buses, the domain of Metro, the agency he runs. Of course he wants the money into his agency! He is playing a silly game though, since rail will along bus funds to go to other areas, thus increasing transit numbers on a large scale.

The Dilemma

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Erica Barnett sums up the choice faced in November:

Since transit projects in our region historically have not come back to the ballot a second time larger than the first, this is probably our only chance to get as much light rail as this package offers.

Additionally, of the $7B marked for roads, you can mark either 70 or 85 percent of them as “good”, since they facilitate high-occupancy or freight travel. Sounds good to me!

Roads and Transit Together

Interior of Link Train
Photo by Bejan

There’s a reason roads and transit are together. From Sound Politics (a far-right site):

he also found voters polled increasingly view the package as a positive step forward for transportation in the Puget Sound region and view it as having a “reasonable cost.”

Most intriguingly, and which should raise red flags for the anti-light rail folks on one side of the opposition and the anti-roads zealots on the other: Elway has the proposition passing as a package, but each individual component of roads and transit fails as a stand-alone option when voters are given that choice. The balance – as touted in the Roads and Transit ads – it indeed a significant selling point of the proposal.

There’s a reason the package makes sense togther.

How much will it cost?

Crappy reporting explained:

But both of those numbers, which add up to $18 billion, are in so-called 2006 dollars, meaning that they don’t allow for inflation over the decades it will take to complete the work.

And those calculations cover only the cost of construction, not interest payments on money borrowed for the projects, administrative expenses or other outlays (including, for Sound Transit, the cost of operating and maintaining its system).

Considering the effects of inflation at the various times the money will be paid out, the road agency estimates that it will spend $10 billion on actual construction and the transit agency $18 billion. When both inflation and the other costs are factored in — including interest charges until the last of the 30-year Sound Transit construction loans are repaid in 2057 — the sums rise to $16 billion for RTID and $31 billion for Sound Transit. That’s a grand total of $47 billion — the figure the Seattle P-I uses in its articles.

I know I feel like I’m beating a dead horse here, but we don’t know inflation with an accuracy over 50 year periods! The number makes no sense because three years of no inflation could shrink the end number by 20%, and three years of massive inflation could raise it by 50%. We don’t know inflation.

Another Elway Poll

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

Three months after an Elway poll showed support for RTID/ST2 at nearly 60 percent, a new poll is out showing a slight drop to 54 percent.

Despite the positive number, it’s important not to take anything for granted. Public opinion on projects like these is a tricky thing. The first UW freshman who will ride light rail from Everett and Redmond won’t be born until next year, so, like any infrastructure project, there’s a bit of a mismatch between the “voters” and the people who will reap the benefits.

Vesley on RTID/ST2

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

James Vesely is concerned that there’s no single point of accounability for RTID/ST2. And he’s right: that’s the whole point of the package. It’s designed to provide supplimental funding to a whole bunch of projects that are currently under the purview of different agencies (WSDOT, Sound Transit, SDOT, etc.) but that have in common the fact that they’re part of an overall central Puget Sound infrastructure upgrade.

STB argues that this is a fundraising issue, which is true, but there’s more to it than that. The whole point of the vote is to say, “look, we have serious transportation needs in the central Puget Sound, the State’s not gonna foot the bill, and there’s no single government with jurisdiction, so we’re going to have all the goverments come together and work on funding the most critical projects.”

What we don’t want, it seems to me, is to create yet another agency like the Port that has its own separate accountability. But there’s no way we can have a direct chain of command, because there are overlapping jurisdictions involved, and the city of Seattle, for example, doesn’t “report” to King County. So this is what we’re left with: a coalition of governments.

In other words, while Vesely argues that a vote for RTID is “a vote for bureaucracy,” in fact the exact opposite is true. You’re voting for less bureaucracy, since the money will be funneled into projects that need it (SR 520, I-405, etc.) that are already under the management of existing bureaucracies (WSDOT, ST, etc.)

So we don’t want more quasi-independent fiefdoms like the Port, but we do want oversight and accountability. How do we get there? Knute Berger said it best a couple of years ago when he referred to these new bureaucracies as “designer governments.” He also pointed out that I-900, which was on the ballot that November, and which subequently passed, gave the State the authority to do performance audits of these agencies. There’s your accountability. In fact, we can go right over to the Auditor’s website and learn that his audit of Sound Transit is 99% complete. I hope Vesely reports on the results!

News and Blog Round-Up

Buses stay left.

Photo by Chris

The Sierra Club seems to have sold out for a bag of Eastside Real Estate money.

At the Urban Environmentalist Ezra Basom has put forward for an argument for Prop 1.

According to the latest Elway poll, the public still strongly favors Prop 1, even though both local papers insist on using wildly misleading numbers such as the $47 billion number in the article. The real cost in present time money is about $18 billion.

The Yes campaign has tried to copy Ben and has put together a project map. Their map includes roads projects, but Ben’s has photos and includes what is already built.

The Transit Tunnel’s opening has gone smoothly.

Any of you guys taking the Tunnel? The 545 doesn’t go in there, so I won’t get a chance to go until Friday when I make my way up to the U-District on one of the 70’s.

Sanity in transportation investment:

Hi, and Daimajin, thanks for the welcome! I was just in Paris a few weeks ago, and I wanted to share a couple of photos of what it looks like when government investment in transportation is more sane – when there’s more than one technology getting dollars, instead of a monopoly. This first shot is one of the trains that runs east from Paris – the TGV Est line that opened this June. This train took me to Strasbourg (nonstop) at a maximum speed of 320kph – or 200mph, the fastest passenger rail service in the world right now. Interestingly, it would have taken more time to fly, because the train station is in the city, and the airport would have required local transportation on both ends.This second shot is of the German ICE train – also high speed, also operating from Paris, this train likely went to either Frankfurt or Munich. This particular service also just started running in the last couple of months (although both of these train designs are a few years old):
What’s crazy, to me, is that the common arguments against this kind of investment don’t hold up under pressure. We don’t have the density? That’s not true – except for Paris itself, the TGV Est serves cities smaller than Seattle, Portland or Vancouver BC, in a similarly sized corridor, with nonstop service. We don’t have the money? Also untrue, we spend vastly more on our roads in this region than we would need to for this kind of rail service – and it isn’t subject to congestion like our highways.

I’m not suggesting we should stop spending on roads entirely – but I do want to point out that the largest highways in France are generally six lane. They don’t have to spend the billions we do on highway infrastructure that doesn’t really scale up – a 14 lane highway doesn’t move people any faster than a 6 lane highway, and they know that. The best way to move more people is to make sure they have more options, to split transportation investment rather than just letting our highway costs snowball ever higher. That’s what Roads and Transit starts to do this year – build us infrastructure that doesn’t cost more and more to expand over time, and that lasts instead of needing constant upgrades and replacement. That’s what the rest of the world has done, and they’re not seeing messes like our SR-99 and SR-520 now. The best time to stop making future messes for ourselves is now – and building a comprehensive rail system is the best way to avoid the problems that come with only having one transportation option.

Guest Blogger: Ben Schiendelman

Climbing onboard.
Photo by Chris

I’d like to welcome Ben Schiendelman as a guest blogger to Seatrans.

Ben knows heaps about trains, transit, urban planning, civic development, and the history of the process in our region. He’s travelled the globe riding trains, and has read extensively on transportation and environmental issues. Some of Ben’s other work on transit in the area:

Among others.

Ben’s a very busy guy, so I don’t expect him to post often or to post especially long pieces. But he’s going to be posting images of train systems in other places and to give us an idea of what has been done in other places and what works.

Welcome to Seatrans, Ben!

Uh, really?

Bus Rapid Transit
Photo by via Oren’s Transit Page

Is Stefan “Shiesty Tipper” Sharkansky talking crap on buses when at the same time he″>thinks we ought to only build more buses?

That wasn’t even an actual bus that caught on fire, and how many trains have caught on fire recently? How about cars, how many of those catch on fire?

(Apologies for the language of this post)

Long Distance Runner

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

The Sierra Club’s Miles O’Brien caused a stir recently by arguing that extending light rail from Sea-Tac to Tacoma was not the most efficient use of tax dollars. As Mike Lindblom reported:

O’Brien said South End trains would take too long to reach Seattle, because of the system’s slow surface segment currently under construction through South Seattle’s Rainier Valley. He suggests building separate lines outward from downtown Everett and Tacoma, serving local riders into those urban centers.

O’Brien’s right that it would be a long trip from Tacoma to Seattle on light rail. About 73 minutes, based on Sound Transit’s figures. That’s longer than the bus, and longer than Sounder. Fortunately, for people who need to commute from Tacoma to Seattle, we have the bus and Sounder.

That said, I wouldn’t be surprised if ST does something to address this, like having an “express line” to the airport that shoots down I-5 or Airport Way from SODO to Boeing Field and connects with the main trunk line. But that’s way down the line, so to speak. As to his point about building lines out from Everett and Tacoma, I agree! But in any logical model, the first line out from either of those cities has to be toward Seattle, because that’s where the ridership is, which is exactly what the ST2 plan does, no?

But, more importatntly, we have to compare the transit times against traffic in 2030., which, given the projected rate of growth in the Puget Sound, will be far worse than today (picture bumper-to-bumper on I-5 12 hours a day, 7 days a week). People may well be thrilled to be able to get from Tacoma to Seattle in just 73 minutes, virtually any time of day or night.

(Via Will @ HA, who gives us the much-needed populist POV)

What specifically do you need?

Notice how close the train is to the platform.
Photo by Chris

James Vesely, the man with the confusing title “Times editorial page editor”, in his editorial today argues that he cannot support the Roads and Transit ballot because it’s difficult to find a responsibility chain among bureaucracy

It’s tough for anyone, even those immersed n the public process, to tick off the names of all the seated members of the Sound Transit board, or the board of directors of the Regional Transportation Investment District. It’s easier to remember the names of the county executives of King, Snohomish and Pierce counties, but their direct responsibility for a successful roads-and-transit program is limited.

Certainly true. But the problem here is not with the package, but with the way we raise money in this state. Our leaders have no way to create the locally, and the legislature in Olympia is not willing to fork over the whole state’s cash for transportation projects in our area, even if we are more than half the state’s totally population. While Sound Transit is actually a regional government organization, Prop. 1 (aka Roads and Transit), is a funding mechanism to pay for capital projects. Who’s responsible for the package? For the transit side it’s obvious: Sound Transit, and ultimately its CEO Joni Earl, and its Board of Directors, 17 elected officials and the Washington Secretary of Transportation.

… That doesn’t mean the voters won’t accept the tax burden — but I think we are entitled to focus the responsibility on a few individuals and hold them accountable. Accountability eventually shattered the Seattle Monorail. Those who were accountable were discovered to have an overly optimistic financial plan. Accountability made a mess of the political decision over the viaduct. People knew the mayor, the governor and the speaker of the House were sometimes together, more often at odds about what to do next. They were accountable and we knew who they were. No one seems to be accountable for ST2/RTID. Even the name doesn’t conjure a face. It is a vote for bureaucracy.

Maybe it’s public relations that’s missing, maybe it’s hype, maybe it is the personalization of the political process. But, I have yet to find anyone who can tell me specifically who is in charge.

I’m not exactly sure what Veseley wants. A directly-elected regional transportation officer? I think that would just serve to expand the politicking surrounding the process. We already have enough politics when it comes to transportation and I don’t see the value in that sort of position. Having the board made up of elected members from within the region helps ensure that everyone’s needs are at least heard and considered, and having the board’s chair rotate from the county executives seems fair. Transportation is one of the most important local issues and part of the jobs of our elected officials. Setting up some sort of transportation czar would be passing the buck away from those who have it as part of their job already. So much for accountability.

It’s almost a Bush Administration type argument that we need some person responsible for the bill; “Brownie’s doing a heckuva job”. I certainly hope Joni Earl is doing a heckuva job, I’d rather than Sound Transit as a whole were.

Water Taxi

This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

An article in the P-I gets at the problems of ferries and water taxis:

A couple of things are working against the idea. The fare — $3 one way and $5 round trip — is about twice that of a Metro bus. The 30-minute ride between the University District and South Lake Union, and the 20-minute ride from Fremont to South Lake Union, take about twice as long as the bus.

And that’s assuming you live right along the water near a stop. The bus can actually get into neighborhoods. The fact is, most boats don’t really go all that fast, and the ones that do would generate enough wake to capsize a few dozen kayakers each morning.

Still, there’s opportunity. More commercial development in South Lake Union, plus the Streetcar, could help make it a more viable option.

Sierra Club has no credibility

So now the Sierra Club has gone one step past it’s usual greenhouse emissions line and has taken the bizarre step of criticizing the ST2 lines themselves.

A Sierra Club leader took the rare step Thursday of criticizing part of Sound Transit’s light-rail vision — a proposed track extension from the city of SeaTac south to Tacoma.

“I think it’s not the most efficient use of tax dollars,” local club Chairman Mike O’Brien said during a campaign debate over this fall’s multibillion-dollar Proposition 1.

He called the Tacoma line a “political decision” made to satisfy elected officials in Pierce County. “If transportation planners were in charge, they would come up with a more efficient solution,” he said.

In this country (and others) tax dollars are rarely efficiently used. Hell, I don’t even efficiently use my own cash. That doesn’t mean I should stop spending it or stop paying taxes. Sound Transit actually has a pretty decent record of not being hugely wasteful with tax dollars. The argument that the line doesn’t go to the right place is laughable. No matter where the build the line in South King County, that’s the right place: people will move to where the line is built and development will happen around the line!

While several environmental groups support the joint “Roads & Transit” plan, the Sierra Club argues that more road lanes would worsen global warming. O’Brien says he could have endorsed a transit-only plan.

After the debate, O’Brien said South End* trains would take too long to reach Seattle, because of the system’s slow surface segment currently under construction through South Seattle’s Rainier Valley. He suggests building separate lines outward from downtown Everett and Tacoma, serving local riders into those urban centers.

What the hell is he talking about? Separate lines outward from downtown Tacoma? That is just insane. People living in Federal Way aren’t well served by a line that takes them around Tacoma.

I’ve noticed the Seattle Times is still using the $38 billion number which is before the $7 billion double counting was corrected for.

Joel Connelly actually makes a good point today

Vote down the roads-and-rails package so we can “do a lot better” next time with a transit-exclusive measure, urged Mike O’Brien of the Sierra Club. The club has broken with most major green outfits, which back the November measure.

King County Councilwoman Julia Patterson argued that delay carries a human price on working families coping with longer commutes, and added, “Every year that we wait will cost another $500 million.”

Polls show a buffeted electorate: Voters want a solution to the mess and favor mass transit. They’re not that enthusiastic with a six-tenths-of-a-cent increase in the sales tax and a licensing tab of $200 or so on a new car. Didn’t we already vote to limit car tabs?

Other cities in the West have been transformed, positively, by light rail and commuter rail systems. Once a dark, cavernous place populated by hoody teenagers, downtown Portland at night has come alive with light rail. The SkyTrain in Vancouver, B.C., is often packed and has revitalized neighborhoods.

The best public transit systems don’t just supplant already used bus routes, but extend to and serve growth areas. I used Bay Area Rapid Transit to visit an old friend in the far suburb of Pleasanton, Calif. Benedictine monks in Mission, B.C., use commuter rail for trips to diocesan headquarters 45 miles away in Vancouver.

Sound Transit has shaped up after a chaotic start. The light rail line is no longer going nowhere, but ending at the airport. Still, it proposes to spend huge amounts of money, and is asking for a huge leap of faith. The $1.64 billion price tag to tunnel beneath Capitol Hill is more than the entire Forward Thrust system would have cost.

Are we building new freeways and stoking the fires of global warming, as the Sierra Club charges? Or does this package make safety improvements and fix choke points so Puget Sound-area families can get home rather than fuming in traffic? I sense that the Sierra Club has let itself get driven by ideology.

It’s a very good reason to get out of the office this fall, seek answers and write down observations … which will keep me from lying on the horn in rush-hour traffic and being pulled over and given a ticket.

I agree with Joel. The Sierra Club has been taken over by ideology on this issue and are no longer credible.

*I don’t like people using “South End” this way. Seattle’s Rainer Valley is the South End, SeaTac is not the end of anything, and thus not the “South End.”
Update: Does Will read this blog, or is the conclusion just that obvious?