It’s been a while since I’ve written about what I believe in, and I think this is a good time to share that again.

I am not religious. I don’t believe my purpose is ordained by any higher power. But like all of us, I do seek purpose, and many years of that search, trying to find what’s most important to me, has led me to believe the most important thing I can do is care for those around me: my friends, community, city, even species – and the ecosystem we all live in and depend on. The most important purpose I can imagine is to help us survive sustainably within that ecosystem.

To do that, we know we need to reduce, or even eliminate, our technology’s climate changing emissions. We know energy will continue to become more scarce and expensive in our future. And we know our transportation system has been contributing to social, public health and even economic problems. There are huge tasks ahead of our generation and those that come after it, tasks I want to do my best to help us accomplish.

I have little influence on the whole planet. I do have some power here, though, so the biggest impact I can have today is to help our city and region become sustainable. Because we have great renewable energy resources here already, our fastest path to sustainability starts in building a transportation system that doesn’t burn fossil fuels – but there are other requirements as well to really make that system sustainable. It must be resilient in the face of potentially extreme weather events and scarce resources. It must foster better social health – helping us build places where people can make connections with each other, find and create community, and organize to improve their lives. And it must have longevity; it must be reliable and maintainable as it ages and changes happen around it.

These are hard problems. They don’t usually come down to single, simple measurements, like “how many dollars per passenger mile traveled will this system cost next year” – they’re far more complicated. To solve them, we have to think about trends on a horizon of many decades or even centuries, and we need to think very holistically about the impacts of the infrastructure we build.

We’re not going to solve, or even approach, all of these problems perfectly. Transit agencies don’t have great incentives for good urban design or integration with other uses. Politicians don’t have great incentives to think long term. Activists don’t have great incentives to push projects to completion when they think there might be something better down the road. We’ve all trained ourselves to do and think about things in certain ways, and one of the hardest things – and most useful things – we can do is to recognize this and catch ourselves when we’re making choices that don’t fit with our values.

I think it’s important to use those values to have a strong vision of a future I want to live in. It’s easy to get caught in the trap of this year’s ballot measures or legislative goals and forget that all the things we work on today are stepping stones to something bigger.

My vision of the future has subways in it. It has streetcars in it, and regional and high speed rail connecting every city. It has narrower streets, wider sidewalks and cycletracks. It has cars and trucks, but they’re electric, and it’s easy to get around without one, so most people don’t own them. It has lots more density in the city, neighborhoods with strong community, and well protected wilderness and farmland. And it has things that I don’t write about here at all, like entirely renewable energy on a great grid, almost no packaging, disposable goods, or waste, much more locally grown food, much, much more affordable housing, far better healthcare, robust services for those who can’t take care of themselves, fantastic schools with small classes and healthy food, great childcare, well maintained parks, and support for art, small businesses, and creative innovation. The future I want to live in would always be growing and changing in ways I can’t predict and don’t want to limit. The people there are healthy, have community, and opportunities to explore and share ideas, learn and create.

When I see projects like Link, and even the rapid streetcars in the Transit Master Plan, I see stepping stones on the path to that future. I see projects with impacts greater than just moving people as cheaply as possible tomorrow, but also on all these other things we need – better bicycle infrastructure, better streets and sidewalks, more small business opportunities and stronger community. I see chances to get to that vision faster, by getting funding from outside our region. I also see politicians thinking longer term, more about the needs of the people they represent than about the politics of what they need today. Those are the values I’m looking for in who I support.

When we can place a stepping stone and take a step toward that future, we do best for ourselves by supporting it wholeheartedly. By seizing it, we help to grow those who are thinking about more than just themselves. We show other policymakers opportunities for our support, and we embolden those around us to join us, to feel success. We work toward better lives for ourselves and for those who come after us.

If we react with fear and doubt, if we fail to support those who are making these choices that match our values, we do worse than stepping forward – we uproot seedlings we worked to plant. We make it harder for our politicians to fight for good policies by making them unsure they’ll be supported. And that negativity repels our allies, making it harder to organize next time. We make accomplishing that vision more difficult for ourselves.

Do you share these values? Does your vision of our future sound like I describe? If so, try to think about where your energy goes in discussions here. Are you helping us take steps on this path? Do the fights you’re having help build our community, or do they split us, distract, or slow us down? If we all think about how our actions fit with our values more often, we can be more effective in building a better future.

75 Replies to “Working Toward a Vision”

  1. This is brilliant stuff. I think you’ve got the vision absolutely right (for me, urbanism and support of a European-style transit system is rooted in my deeper values of equality, democracy, and empowerment) but you’ve also got the approach to that vision right. We need to not only know where we want to go, but we have to also have identified the specific steps that will get us from where we are today to implementing that vision in the near future. And we have to be willing to go out and make those steps happen. We have some opportunities before us right now in Seattle to take some of those steps. We would do well to take that chance, because they don’t come around as often as we’d like.

    1. I share those deeper values as well. We’re working toward the same things, but I started writing more about that and realized it wouldn’t be as appropriate for STB, so I tried to focus on the transit.

  2. Honestly, Ben, I think your attempts to shut down discussion of things you would like people to avoid mentioning are far more divisive than anything else. I would reconsider your approach.

    1. When a discussion is created to clearly disrupt progress toward a better future, I want to call that out for what it is. If you share these values, don’t feed those discussions.

      1. “When a discussion is created to clearly disrupt progress toward a better future, I want to call that out for what it is.”

        Like when I shared a concern about what happens to Link if the I-90 bridge sinks? You all but accused me of aiding the enemy and called that concern a “Bullshit argument” and “FUD”. You would be wise to seek out the reasons for concern and to address those with solid data or facts rather than just brushing them off. Given our history of sinking bridges around here, I don’t think my concerns are unwarranted. That said, I don’t believe there is a high probability of such a catastrophe. Having a simple contingency plan for emergency acquisition of buses for a long-term bus bridge would suffice to calm my concerns and the rest of folks in this area old enough to remember driving across I-90 on the lanes that are to become the future home of Link when they were only a year old and being held in place by tug boats. You just don’t forget stuff like that when you grew up on an Island dependent on bridges.

      2. I still don’t know why you asked that. It seems to me that the answer is clear – Sound Transit runs buses and then we go get emergency funding to rebuild the bridge, and Link. Sound Transit has enough funding overall to be able to handle a situation like that. It doesn’t seem complicated. But you kept hammering it over and over again, and it really felt more like an indictment of choosing rail for East Link than anything else. If you really wanted to know, why didn’t you just email Sound Transit, rather than bringing up a fear like that publicly before even trying?

      3. If you recall, I was actually asking why Link’s boarding costs went up despite a large increase in ridership. I figured it was a simple question that you’d know the answer to off the top of your head so I made the comment and pointed you to it. The whole bridge sinking thing is a relatively minor concern (again, I don’t think it is likely – let’s just plan for it) I’ve had since the day Link was announced. Instead of addressing the main issue I had pointed to, you latched onto the sinking thing and did what you do.

        We have a lot of overlap in our views but where we diverge is on the level of taxes we think voters are willing/able to spend on transportation. I’ve voted for every transit measure I could, except for the Monorail which I always saw as deeply flawed. I focus more on bang/buck issues and trying to work with what we already have. You focus on grand visions which is great, but I won’t likely join in your crusade until I see some numbers. That’s the way I think. Don’t confuse wanting to understand how it all works and fits within a budget with being against your vision.

        Again, you’d be wise to tone it down and absorb other’s views and respond with facts/numbers rather than attacking. I’ve gotten into a lot of scraps here and pissed a lot of people off so I’d be the first to admit I’m far from innocent but I’m trying to temper my tendency to send out zingers and focus on facts instead.

      4. Velo, I appreciate your being willing to work with me even when I do get into scraps, even with you. :)

        The numbers game is interesting, and I think it’s misleading. We had more cost effective ways to move people, in the short term, than Link – if we had taken surface space for buses, we could have run a BRT system fairly quickly. But we *can’t* get people to agree to that. They would rather do something more expensive than give up lanes. So I think my vision is more achievable than other, potentially more purely cost effective options, because they’re politically much more expensive.

      5. I was actually asking why Link’s boarding costs went up despite a large increase in ridership.

        Interesting question. Just a guess but it could be related to ST taking an increasing percentage of the cost of DSTT operations. Another possibility is Seattle City Light stabbed them for higher electricity rates. And KC Metro charges ST on a cost plus basis so they can pretty much name their own price too.

    2. Sometimes I think Ben is too harsh, and I wouldn’t be so quick to judge personally, but I can understand it. I think it is bourne out of years of frustration with our city/civic process. Everyone wants to say their little piece, put forward their idea, issue their warning so they sound knowledgable, no one wants to get behind some one else’s solution and see them through to completion. Or even offer their own solution and do the work to get others to support them and follow it through to completion. Instead everyone just wants to ask questions, point out flaws, offer alternatives, ad nauseam.

      There is a saying that people in this region need to have programmed into their brain: “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.” It seems to me everyone in this city just wants to be in the way, thinking it makes them ‘involved.’

  3. I am with you on the vision but I do think it’s important to be thoughtful about how we move towards that vision. I think the “you’re 100% with me or you’re against me” stance is ultimately shortsighted.

    1. When there’s an option on the table that clearly fits with these values and vision, and one’s reaction is to attack it, that person is making a choice to be against those values. It’s absolutely shortsighted to attack things that fit with a better future. I’m posting this to remind people not to.

      1. ^ This would be what I’m talking about. “Clearly fits with these values and vision” is a highly subjective statement. As is what constitutes an “attack.” Further, your conclusion that “the person is making a choice to be against those values” continues a series of logical leaps that lead to all or nothing thinking.

        I would encourage you to be more curious about why people may disagree with you.

      2. Kevin, most of the people who disagree with me here clearly *don’t* have these values and vision. If you have a particular example of someone who I need to be more curious about, please point it out! The usual suspects fundamentally disagree with many of my values.

      3. “Build everything, everywhere” and “Let’s be Berlin, even though we’re not Berlin” are not values. They’re delusions and flights of fancy.

        To claim that those who seek excellent, usable transit — including grade-separated subways where justifiable — with an emphasis on tangible benefits on a budget that passes the rational-possibility test are somehow valueless and retrograde is not only wrong, but deeply offensive and stupid.

        Glad to see I’m not the only one here who thinks iconoclasm will be the death of possibility.

      4. In order to get a better future, one has to fight for it. I have trouble taking your criticism seriously, because I don’t believe you actually want any of these things. You have only ever attacked them.

      5. Try paying attention to the basic principles of usable transit for which I tirelessly advocate on this blog, and then make note of your incessant shouting-down of anyone who doesn’t share your moonbase fantasies, and then get back to me about “values”.

      6. Can you link me to any comments in which you espouse these principles? I certainly don’t see them here.

      7. Straw man.

        My entire time on STB can be boiled down to a defense of calling spades spades. Ideally before you start digging with items that are not spades.

        Service should be efficient, accessible, and plentiful. It should get people where they need to go, intuitively. That means without complications, reliable unreliabilities, complex strategic algorithms, or standing forever in the dark and rain and never using transit again.

        If your transit fails that basic litmus test, because:

        A) There are massive service gaps, transfers don’t work, and you declare thing “so frequent you don’t need a schedule” that positively are not;

        B) You build billion-dollar subways with gaping holes in your walkshed, requiring mile-plus walks and low-frequency feeders for trips that should have been easy as pie;

        C) You propose dozens of miles of streetcars with low speeds, little connectivity, and anticipated long-distance usage in a way that no one uses streetcars anywhere in the world; or

        D) Your long-term vision rests its demand and financing projections on fantastical population growth and revenue windfall, as well as sudden miraculous mode-shifting region-wide

        …rest assured that I will call you out on your violations of basic common sense.

        I believe that Seattle has — right now, at its current size, in its current form — the ability to offer a much more freedom-enabling transit environment that it is. I believe that if people comprehend basic transit geometry rather than fighting it with every ounce of their being, then successful high-frequency restructuring, faster payment and boarding, and the end of life-stealing diversions and service quirks are already within our grasp.

        I believe that Seattle needs more subways — the sooner the better — and I believe that the rest of the world has much to teach us about the best way to get more out of them in less time and for less money.

        I believe that Seattle can be a place where transit is a viable option for urbanites getting around, and for other regional populations getting to+from+between, but I know that terrible choices and half-assed initiatives have kept us in stasis, and at times made our situation worse.

        I don’t believe that promising “everything, plus everything else, everywhere” will get us very far when statistical realities hit the fan. That’s where you and I differ.

      8. d.p., thank you – this is exactly the kind of discussion I actually want to have with you. :)

        Much of what I fight for is in making transit reliable. Building something with rails means we can then, if we aren’t successful initially, have an easier time of making it *more* reliable than if there isn’t built infrastructure. It’s easier to say “we’re wasting our investment” when we’ve already invested something. I see a little work to improve our bus system, but it’s tiny compared to what we can win if we *do* get people excited about something (like subway).

        We’ve been winning subway for a while. Sound Transit won handily – it’s clear we can ask for funding for more like that, and if it’s really high quality, people *do* make serious changes to reap the benefits. We’re a large city in area – we need to have faster and slower services working together. There’s not one size that fits all, we might have three or four streetcar stops between Link stops, and yes, we need to make sure people can transfer effortlessly. ORCA is working toward that, and it needs work, but the agencies all know that and they’re all working on it.

        I’m not promising anyone anything. I’m just offering to help fight for things, and asking that my allies not tear down the things people are excited to fight for. When people lose on their own, that’s okay, they learn from their mistakes. When they lose by their allies, it breaks us down, keeps us from organizing, and prevents us from working together next time.

      9. When there’s an option on the table that clearly fits with these values and vision, and one’s reaction is to attack it, that person is making a choice to be against those values

        Whoa, Ben, you aren't God and you don't have the correct solution to every problem, no matter how pure your motives.

        First, there may be a technologically different way that's either better or cheaper than the one you have proposed. You'd have to agree that's possible.

        But even more to the point, there's this thing called "politics" that is a huge spanner in the works for Ten Commandments-style solutions. We're not waiting for Moses, and some of use are actually worshiping Golden Calves.

        You really seem to enjoy proving the wing-nuts right that "lefties" are a bunch of elitist snobs.

      10. Anandakos – often, we have a solution to a problem on the table. Just one solution, but a workable one, and one with political support. At that point, when the coalition has been built, when there’s a clear path forward, we really do need not to attack our solutions. Of course I’m not god, and that kind of hyperbole doesn’t help make an already difficult discussion any better – that’s why I’m urging transit supporters to make sure to gut check whether there really is something else on the table as a reasonable and timely option, or whether they’re hurting the situation.

      11. Okay, so let us do a gut check on a very specific project — one behind which you threw all your advocacy and organizing weight this past week; one to which many here strongly objected as a waste of resources and a distraction from the vital creation of a transit network for the present and for the future:

        To what is the Eastlake Streetcar a “solution”. What problem does it fix? What need does it meet? Whose life does it improve? It’s on the table; why is it there?

      12. To what is the Eastlake Streetcar a “solution”. What problem does it fix? What need does it meet? Whose life does it improve?

        In the world of Seattle politics, here’s what it means:

        – It ensures that service on the Fairview/Eastlake corridor is frequent (probably every 10 minutes) and legible (a single service pattern, no branching, no triplet of routes, no overlapping bus and train).

        – It enables Metro to run all-day express service to the U-District.

        It’s a bit silly that we need to build rail to accomplish that, but when it comes to rational network design, Metro is way in the hole, and as we’ve seen, the threat of the county council’s veto means that any change will come very slowly.

        It’s on the table; why is it there?

        It’s on the table because of the TMP. The TMP makes a key assumption: they estimated ridership in 2030 based on current ridership data, and assumed that trolleybus BRT would attract 75% as many riders as rail, and that “enhanced bus service” (e.g. RapidRide) would attract 50% as many. That tells you what the TMP thinks about rail bias.

        Most of the rest of their calculations fall out of the above assumption and their other data. They calculate the headways that would be necessary to meet capacity, then calculate operating cost based on that. They also calculate operating cost based on presumed service reorganization; for example, extending the streetcar allows you to avoid the redundancy between the 70 and the streetcar.

        Their conclusion is that the added ridership from rail, and the increased productivity (aka lower operating cost per rider), makes rail worth it.

        It’s a shame that they didn’t try to study rail bias more rigorously; the assumption makes it hard to take their mode suggestions seriously.

        However, given that we already have the SLU streetcar, and that rail is on the table, it doesn’t seem like it’s such a bad project that it’s worth opposing.

      13. It’s on the table because of the TMP.

        The TMP is fundamentally a rail-chasing document. Heck, the Madison corridor only gets in there because it’s so unbelievably obvious; if the TMP’s authors could have justified putting an SF-style cable car or a Haifa-style funicular on that corridor, you know they would have!*

        Allow me to direct you to this number-delving from STB newbie “KC”. He finds that, of all of the potential trip-pairs the Eastlake Streetcar claims to serve, not a single one appears to be any sort of remotely top priority for intra-city travel.

        This project is exactly what you imply it is in your last paragraph: consultants paid to be biased, looking at a map of what exists and bending over backward trying to advocate for an “obvious” extension that doesn’t actually pass any rational (much less obvious) priority muster.

        *(Note: a Haifa-style funicular up First Hill is not actually a bad idea.)

      14. I’m hearing this conversation go down the path of which technology is better again. What I’m trying to point out is that if there’s political support for a particular technology, we would do well to worry a little less about exact priority and a little more about supporting those who are actually making progress.

      15. Ben-

        Isn’t that how we went down the Monorail path?

        I think any TMP corridor would benefit from a thorough analysis of different technology and a recognition that any “Master Plan” is ultimately a political document that can and will change as the actors change.

      16. One thing building Eastlake Streetcar does is help add another corridor of the city to our growing city run transit system. The more corridors we take for ourselves the better.

        Honestly I don’t think the TMP went far enough. We need a BIGGER web of streetcars throughout the city. Streetcars that help people move within their neighborhood, from one neighborhood to the next, and from neighborhoods to Link/Seattle Subway.

        I no longer trust Metro to do this effectively.

      17. Kevin, monorail would have been fine for Ballard to West Seattle. The reasons it failed had almost nothing to do with technology, and more to do with poor financial planning. They wanted to do too much with too small a revenue stream.

      18. Seattleite, I agree completely. We need to be setting up as much as we can so that when money is available, we don’t lose any opportunities.

      19. The monorail would have been OK, although it had built-in limitations which would have become more significant in the long term. (35 mph, single-track segments, no transfer credit, inability to exchange vehicles/parts/tracks with Link, vendor lock-in, etc). But more pertinent to this discussion, the decision process was a lot different, and the conditions that led to the monorail movement or other monorail-like movements have passed.

        First, the decision process. The monorail was spearheaded by a group of citizens who weren’t transit engineers, who started with the premise, “Let’s lay down some monorail lines”, uncoordinated with other transit plans (although they avoided lines duplicating Link), and got it on the ballot. In contrast, the streetcar lines are based on a city analysis of the city’s transit needs, coordinated with ST’s long-term plan and the city’s other master plans, and the team considered several modes for each corridor, and stuck to “old” technology with multiple vendors/interchangeable parts. So the process is more organic/wholistic, while the monorail process was a “distruptive technology”.

        Second, the conditions that led to the monorail movement. The monorail supporters were exacerbated by the lack of any HCT for so many decades. They (or at least a subset including me) were afraid that light rail would be watered down like MAX, San Diego, VTA, and almost all other American light rail systems of the time: a surface route downtown, stations every few blocks, stopping at traffic lights, etc. Fortunately, Link did not turn out that way, although RapidRide did. But the point is, the lack of HCT on the ground leads people to desperate measures and uncoordinated strategies, and that’s what the monorail movement was. A lot of it was people afraid that light rail would deliver less than it has. But now Link is on the ground and people can see that the MLK and SODO segments are as fast as a monorail would have been. And it’s easier to get extensions approved than initial lines, so ST’s and Seattle’s expansion plans are more credible than they were in the 1990s. As a result, Seattle Subway is trying to accelerate ST’s and Seattle’s work rather than pushing something completely different. (Seattle Subway may be more subway-minded than the city, but it’s a matter of degree rather than a totally distruptive technology.) For these reasons, I don’t think there will be another movement like the monorail, or that the city itself will pursue anything that incompatible.

  4. Nice piece Ben. I think we both want the same outcomes, and I won’t quibble about how we collectively get there.
    Consider my reality check this morning as a challenge for transit supporters, transit agencies and our elected officials to take bold steps that make the vision you so eloquently stated a reality.
    I’m not interested in just having transit keep pace with VMT’s, regardless of how the motor is driven. That’s defeat!
    When I look at NY and NJ, and the damage done to multibillion dollar infrastructures due to global warming and sea level rise, I fear much of FTA’s budget will start going towards just keeping what they have in working order. I think the handwriting is on the wall that the Puget Sound will have to mostly go it alone in the coming decades, so efficiency becomes a major enabler of what is possible.
    Anyway, nice post.

    1. Thanks. I do want to point out that FEMA has a lot of the money necessary to get MTA back in order. But yes, our fight does mean making systems resilient, maintaining and really improving what we have, and considering longevity when building more.

    2. One further thing to remember: when you’re building new stuff in Puget Sound? You need to floodproof it and you need to power it with renewable energy. Anything else is investing in obselescence.

      (If it isn’t already obvious, the Deep Bore Tunnel is the big violator here.)

      1. You bet. That’s why I fought the tunnel, or a couple of many reasons. Most of Link is high enough up not to be too much of a worry in a flood, save for the SODO part. Rebuilding the seawall will do a lot to mitigate that.

  5. As some old politician said “People with visions should consult a doctor.” This treatise sounds a bit like the beginnings of an ideology and a party line. Now, apart from a few details I share your values/outlook. E.g. in my opinion climate change won’t be mitigated. Everything that can be burned will be burned. But that’s another area.

    Sometimes stepping stones can be wobbly and slippery. History is full of examples of people who wanted to clear a straight, wide road (hint?) to a better future – only to find more complications than solutions. Nowhere is this more visible than in massive projects where the project itself is the goal. There is a tendency to build those things just to push up collective hope – a hope that tends to evaporate pretty quickly if the utility of an project is not real. Until the next fix. There goes our consensus on transit, land use etc.

    Conversely, if the first projects that were pushed through are clearly successful (because they have roots in truth and competence) then consensus tends to come pretty quickly. I have yet to see this in Seattle but the important thing is to keep plugging. Who knows, maybe in 2016 with univ Link? Good luck to your subway group.

    1. I fear you could be right about climate change. But I am not convinced – I believe we can rise to the challenge if we desire a better future. Focusing on efforts that are ratchets – built infrastructure that is hard to dismantle – we can keep from slipping.

    2. If climate change isn’t mitigated, the human race will quickly go extinct.

      (Track our food chains: after a certain point which we haven’t reached yet, the ocean food chain breaks down, and after another point it becomes impossible to grow significant quantities of our major grain crops. After an even further point, hydrogen sulfide gas will start sweeping out over the coasts as sulfur-metabolizing bacteria move to the surface. All this is still avoidable.)

      Given this, it’s not worth worrying about the situation where climate change won’t be mitigated. Mitigate it, adapt to the damage which is already guaranteed, and the human race has a good chance.

  6. I believe you’re on the right track, Ben. History is change and we live in times of great change. Unlike in the past, this time we have the opportunity to choose how we respond to our changes. Hopefully, humanity as a whole as well as the individuals who make it up will be wise enough to make those changes responsibly.

    Cities are a necessary part of the future. There’s no going back to the farm. There will be more and larger cities in the future. This is not a bad thing. Living in cities requires people to live and work closely together… to cooperate. In cities actions and reaction happen quickly. For example, toss a big bag of garbage out your window (as humans have done in the past) and see how fast you get a response.

    I tend to believe that personally owned, motor-driven, machines will soon be a thing of the past. Historically, they were just a flash in the pan. We need to have alternatives and they need to be clean, efficient, easilly accessable and frequent (and, hopefully, quiet).

    Sir David Attenbourogh (known at our house as “Uncle Wiggily” due to his personable and cozy presentation style) has pretty much been a mentor to me, albeit in a very 20/21st Century manner. I totally agree with him when, in a recent article in the Guardian, he said, the soulution was to raise living standards and increase democracy in developing countries. “The only way I can think of it [tackling population] is by giving women the rights to control their own bodies and control how many children they have. In every circumstance where women have that right, where they have the vote, where they are proper medical facilities, where they are literate, where they are given the choice, the birth rate falls,” he said. “That is a good start, if that could be spread.”

  7. That’s exactly how I feel too Ben, but if I find one more damned syringe in front of my house I’m moving to Bainbridge (In America emitting more carbon is the solution to most problems. That’s got to change).

    1. You made me laugh. :) You should post a notice outside with the address and opening times of the UW needle exchange!

      1. I’m not kidding. My baby just learned how to walk and now I have to worry about her stabbing herself with a needle every time she picks up a leaf.

  8. I love your vision of the future, Ben! We have to start with a complete vision, translate them into goals, and base all our decisions on whether or not they are vital steps toward achieving those goals. When we recognize the interconnection between transportation, communities, education, employment, environment, health, and quality of life, a single step can, and must, produce positive outcomes in every area, resulting also in a much more efficient use of funds. I’m with you, Ben!

  9. Ben, I’m curious, which cities come closest to your vision? I don’t mean in any one area like mass transit, but overall. You mention affordable housing, small class sizes, the arts, etc. It sounds like you’re describing a scandinavian or asian city like Stockholm or Hong Kong.

    1. Stockholm, Copenhagen, Amsterdam are definitely *closer*, but they too are only a couple of steps ahead on a long path.

      1. Love your vision, Ben. Though I think Scandinavia is more than a couple of steps closer. They were a couple of steps closer forty years ago…

      2. Maybe several steps closer. :) But even they have a long way to go to become sustainable.

  10. As I surveyed the damage post Sandy I kept thinking.

    If each person had a fuel cell vehicle, he would also have a mobile power generator right at his home…one that could even be inside his home and garage because hydrogen produces no noxious fumes…water is the by product!

    All over the world nations are building hydrogen highways. In Northern Europe they are receiving deliver of the fuel cell SUV that will go into limited mass production in 2013. The London Olympics showcased hydrogen taxis and buses.

    Washington State is stagnating in its economy. Could transit help by adopting and fostering a hydrogen strategy like much of the world and many other states are now doing?

    1. “because hydrogen produces no noxious fumes” (Ahh, the “look! squirrel!” strategy.) As one of the smaller atoms, it tends to get places it should not, and then hopefully you have a safe vantage to watch the Home Hindenburg Reenactment society at play.

      Highways are made from dreck like coal fly ash and asphalt and nobody-builds-it-like-the-Romans-CO2-rich concrete. Luckily for the Europeans, they already have a vast train and transit and U-Bahn and S-Bahn and so on and so forth already built out and already usable, so if they want to dedicate some of the agricultural surplus to toy projects for the rich, why not? As for showcasing, Hydrogen peroxide-powered rocket packs have also been showcased, but I don’t see them taking off.

      I guess Washington could gamble big on a raft of unknown unknowns instead of putting in proven transit technology–a little “hail mary and pray” transportation plan, what eh?

    2. A Hawaii Natural Energy Institute project in the planning stages would take advantage of clean power from the Puna Geothermal Venture, which has been operating since 1993 on the Big Island and is rated by owner Ormat at 38 megawatts. This plant — surprisingly, given the state’s famous volcanic activity, the only geothermal setup in the state — provides around 20 percent of the Big Island’s electricity.

      For areas without geothermal, solar could just as easily be used to separate the hydrogen from water. Perfectly clean.

      1. Hawaii with it’s year-round growing conditions allowing up to four crop cycles per year would be the perfect place for a Bio-Coal demonstration project.

      2. “Oops! posted again”

        Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
        Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

        I think you posted again
        That there’s something to Hydrogen
        Oh Baby
        It might seem to the curious
        A thermodynamic age of aquarius
        ‘Cause sapiens lost all their senses
        That is just so typically them
        Oh Baby, Baby

        Oops!…you posted again
        A play for Hydrogen, just more of the same
        Oh Baby, Baby
        Oops!…it’s not too abstract
        That there’s more Carbon to extract
        Liquid gold, of no equivalent.

        You see the problem is this
        The market does dream
        To drill baby drill
        And damn the jet stream.
        Switch to Hydrogen, you say
        And pray there could be a way
        To do more with less
        After an Age of Excess
        Baby, oh

        Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah
        Yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah yeah

        I think you posted again
        That there’s something to Hydrogen
        Oh Baby
        It might seem to the curious
        A thermodynamic age of aquarius
        ‘Cause sapiens lost all their senses
        That is just so typically them
        Oh Baby, Baby

      3. And if you’re using solar, it’s more efficient to use it to generate electricity, and it’s more efficient to store the electricity in batteries and use electric motors.

        John, you have not been paying attention to the actual state of the tech. It’s gonna be electric cars, not fuel-cell cars.

      4. FYI, NOBODY is adopting a “hydrogen strategy” except for a few oil companies.

        A “green electricity” strategy? Lots are adopting that, and you should too!

  11. Behind every dollar of GDP is a unit of energy. Solve that problem with a reliable system and you are a long way towards sustainability. As for living in “cities”, “net cities” maybe, but I for one have no desire to live in a compact high rise.

    1. That’s part of why I tend to advocate for rail – because the energy it takes to move people around is lower, and we’re going to need that in the long run.

      If you don’t want to live in a compact high rise, don’t choose to. Right now, people who *want* to live in compact high rises can’t because we don’t allow enough of them to be built – so they’re competing with you and making houses more expensive when they don’t need to be.

      1. I advocate for walking, bicycles and monorail. Bicycles because they are healthy and solve the last mile problem. Monorail because it’s one of the lightest elevated systems. (The cars weigh less than other systems, other than PRT, which I also like but the tradeoff between more stops, and small cars seems hard to get right.)

        I’m not anti bus, or anti subway, it just seems like digging tunnels is hugely energy expensive and takes a looooong time to pay back the carbon cost. And in a region like ours, I enjoy looking out the window at it.

      2. Gary, the energy cost of moving a slightly lighter monorail train on rubber wheels is higher than the energy cost of moving a slightly heavier conventional rail train on steel wheels.

      3. Yes, but the amount of things you need to hold the heavier cars is larger, and the “track” is larger, meaning it has a bigger footprint on the ground.

        Also a system which “grips” the track has a higher probability of doing better during a seismic event. Which is my other reason for liking it.

      4. There’s almost no difference between typical rail and monorail performance during a seismic event. Trains don’t fall off tracks during earthquakes in dangerous ways, they just derail in place.

        The “larger” issue is also kind of a red herring. You have to provide walkways for federal safety requirements, as the monorail project learned. There’s just not any real difference. The fact that you’re convinced one is better than the other for a lot of reasons that don’t really play out is an issue, because it makes me think you aren’t going to be rational about other transit decisions either!

  12. here are more tools that may fit the vision:
    a. systemwide variable tolling on all limited access highways;
    b. a complete network of curb and sidewalks on transit arterials;
    c. access management and driveway consolidation on all multilane arterals;
    d. a much higher gas tax to raise revenue for roadway maintenance;
    e. a widespread network of frequent electric trolleybus lines with in-lane stops and fast fare collection for those corridors that do not warrant multicar streetcars;
    f. real time transit arrival information allow the frequent network.

    1. I agree with all of those. Organizing people to do them is important – and something I’ve found isn’t happening, at least for most of them. I would love your support in actually championing these!

    1. Seems a bit harsh. You fly on commercial aircraft right? Not all of us can afford a personal jet. So we compromise on convenience for speed and reduced cost. Building out a road system so everyone can drive is not without cost. Yes it should be an option, but it shouldn’t be the only one.

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