bicycle safety

Today’s Bicycle Journey

Just to highlight Seattle’s struggling bicycle infrastructure, I thought I’d describe my bicycle experience today.  My wife and I took our 2yr old son on a ride from Gasworks Park to the Lake Forest Park Farmer’s Market.  The ride started off great – the Burke Gilman Trail was packed with bikers, joggers, and rollerbladers.  But […]

Good Bill

Martin’s right, this is a good bill. Kudos to Jay Inslee and Earl Blumenauer.

The Rossi Plan

Laura Onstot at the Weekly has the best rundown of Dino Rossi’s “transportation plan” that I’ve seen all week.

Jet skis for everyone! With John Edwards also angling for a jet-ski on last night’s Colbert Report, I think we can say this plan has broad bipartisan support:


To follow up on serial catowner’s post below, one thing I’ve not mentioned enough is the federal Dodd-Hagel bill to create a National Infrastructure Bank.

Obama’s on board, and Hillary Clinton’s a co-sponsor as well. The Campaign for America’s Future has a good overview of the legislation:

Perhaps most importantly, the selection criteria required by the National Infrastructure Bank would encourage the federal government to undertake projects that are significant to the country’s long-term well-being: rather than stop-gap measures to repair existing problems, such projects would take into account new challenges like climate change, the growing importance of urban areas, and the need for more affordable housing, while at the same time confronting the more typical concerns associated with economic growth (increased air, highway, and port traffic). A database with details about each infrastructure project and its funding would provide at least some public oversight.

Changing Priorities

As per usual, Joe Turner at the TNT has a wonderfully comprehensive breakdown on the state of play of various road projects around the sound, and how they’re faring in this legislative session. The stuff on 520 isn’t new, we basically knew that the state had $2B or so of the $4.4B price tag allocated, and that’s indeed what the project is going to get.

But Turner also quotes some legislators who think that many of the Prop. 1 highway projects — the Cross-Base Highway, SR 509 extension, SR 167 extension — may be DOA altogether:

That’s bad news for a lot of other projects across the state, said Rep. Doug Ericksen, the Republican deputy minority leader from Ferndale.

“If those projects are delayed after 2013, I would not take that to the bank and I wouldn’t promise your constituents (the projects will be built),” Ericksen said during Friday’s debate on the House floor.

Ericksen could be posturing, but it’s clear that priorities have shifted post-Prop. 1. Only the most essential projects are getting the green light.

More interestingly, the Governor says we’ll know more about the Viaduct in December 2008. Not too long ago it was supposed to be early this year.

I sure hope she’s not just stalling until after the election. Democrats nationally and locally have gotten it into their deluded heads that after November, when the Governor’s re-elected, and The Chosen One is in the White House, there will be much rejoicing throught the land and all the liberal pony plans will sail through the legislature and all the Repulbicans will crawl back into their caves or move to Canada.

Sorry folks, it ain’t gonna happen.

Down Oly Way

Mike @ CIS appraises us of the status of some transit-related legislation making its way through the legislature this session. I’m glad to see “governance reform” has died for now (though I suspect its reanimated corpse to walk the halls of Olympia for several years to come).

Ther’s another bill that deserves a hearing and should be of great interest to transit advocates: SB 6580 (aka HB 2797). The bill would amend the state’s Growth Management Act to include climate change impact. I blogged about it at my other site a few weeks ago, and Josh Feit noted last week that despite making it out of committee, the bill could still die in the Rules Committee.

It’s hard to overstate how important a role zoning plays in transit viability, so I hope this one passes.

Financing Transit

One of the most frustrating pieces of getting new transportation solutions online in Washington State is our regressive and limiting tax structure. We currently use sales taxes to finance Sound Transit (in addition to MVET). Our overall tax system is in dire need of reform. In the meantime, car taxes and sales taxes end up being used as the path of least resistance.

In what might be a first effort to break through that logjam, David Goldstein had a provocative post yesterday arguing that we can, in fact, tax gasoline, so long as it’s a sales tax and not an excise tax:

The other day I suggested that Washington state dramatically increase the motor fuel excise tax to pay for a massive investment in rail and other mass transit infrastructure. It was admittedly a bit of a thought experiment, as our state Constitution mandates that all motor vehicle fuel excise tax revenues be dedicated towards ‘highways,’ and of course, amending the Constitution remains exceedingly difficult.

But then I got to thinking. Article II, Section 40 specifically refers to ‘excise taxes.’ There’s nothing in the Constitution that says we can’t also levy a sales tax on motor vehicle fuel, and there’s nothing to mandate how such revenues might be spent. Thus all the hooey we’ve been fed about how we can’t spend gas tax dollars on anything but roads and ferries is exactly that… a bunch of hooey. A simple majority in both houses, and the stroke of the governor’s pen is all we need to create a dedicated fund for building mass transit. And of course, the people are free to vote yea or nay via referendum or initiative.

This isn’t just amateur legal analysis on my part. I checked with a constitutional scholar who assured me that my reading was correct, and that similar proposals have indeed been debated from time to time. And it’s not such an original or off the wall idea; nine other states already levy both sales and excise taxes on gasoline.

Read the whole thing. Even Sound Transit acknowledges that we could have the Eastside link up and running 10 years sooner if we had the financing right. That’s worth considering.

Update: Josh Feit has a lot more data supporting the idea that Washingtonians don’t pay that much in taxes after all.

Congestion Pricing Redux

Following up on yesterday’s post on Congestion Pricing, Knute Berger has a smart piece in Crosscut today where he makes the same observation we did, namely that user fees on roads have broad support across the ideological spectrum:

The greens such as the Sightline folks like free candy — uh, congestion pricing because it gets cars off the road. The people who can’t afford to pay to use the roads at peak hours find other means to get to work. This is good for Sims because he’s betting the farm on stuff like bus rapid transit (BRT) and voter-approved improvements to Metro Transit service in King County. To make that work, he needs fewer cars getting in the way and more bus riders. Make driving more expensive by tolling the roads, and voila.

Conservatives like tolls and fees because they can claim it’s not a tax, and it’s certainly not progressive because it whacks drivers regardless of income or the price of their vehicle. The contractor in a pickup pays the same as his client in a Porsche. But it also allows the much-loved “market” to winnow out gridlock.

Still, despite support from across the political divide, Berger notes that it’s still a political nonstarter. “It’s saying something about the popularity of tolling the streets when a property tax hike looks like a great option,” he says.

Nonetheless, the more we fully integrate the costs of driving, the more informed we’ll be as customers and citizens, which is really what it’s all about.

Congestion Pricing

Danny Westneat flags Ron Sims’ latest big idea:

The idea is to turn all our freeways into payways.

There’s nothing new about tolls. But Sims is not talking about a couple of bucks for crossing a bridge. It’s a plan to toll most every mile of every major state and federal highway from Everett to south of Tacoma.

It’s just a concept, Sims says, but here’s how it could work. We’d all have computer chips in our cars to record time of day and lane miles traveled on Interstates 5, 405 and 90 (out to Issaquah), as well as parts of highways 99, 167, 509, 518 and 520. The gist is you’d pay $2 for a short rush-hour commute, with a max of $4 to $8 for longer drives, such as from Bothell to Tacoma. It’d be $1 for driving around in the middle of the night.

Westneat like the idea, but says that tolls are “political suicide.” He writes, “If there’s anything that’ll get the local blood boiling as much as that income tax, Sims has found it.”

I’m not so sure. If you assume that by “local blood” he means the conservative, anti-tax folks who by and large oppose the income tax, he’s mistaken. Pay-for-what-you-use has a lot of support among conservatives, because it involves no redistribution. It’s also insanely market friendly: when something gets more scarce (freeway capacity during rush hour), the price goes up. It’s Econ 101.

For example, here’s Stefan Sharkansky of the conservative blog Sound Politics writing two weeks ago:

Nobody should be forced to pay for infrastructure he considers to be foolishly cost-ineffective and/or environmentally immoral. Nobody should have their desired solution held hostage for the other. Roads should be paid for only by those who want and use them. Likewise with light rail.

Let all highway construction and improvements be paid for through tolls, and let all light rail be financed 100% through the farebox.

Sometimes it really is that simple.

Sounds like an endorsement to me!

Transportation Bill Proposed

The bill, which commits $7.4B over two years, would set aside some of — but not nearly all — the money needed for the 520 floating bridge replacement and the Viaduct replacement:

Lawmakers and Gov. Christine Gregoire said for the first time that Olympia must proceed with some projects, most notably the Evergreen Point Floating Bridge, without knowing entirely where the money is coming from. The bridge needs at least $2 billion more.

About $78 million is set aside to cover additional overruns in the next two years and a $1 billion risk pool is created for the Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement and rebuilding the 520 bridge.

The plan assumes $915 million worth of initial work on replacement of the viaduct and would include $120 million in early spending on the 520 bridge.

More on the unique process from the P-I:

Gregoire and other transportation leaders said it makes sense to start building huge highway projects – many of which could take a decade or more to complete – before final designs and total cost estimates are in established.

While it’s true that there are certain non-negotiable aspects of these projects that can be started right away (like new pontoons for a new floating bridge), it seems awful risky to start pre-construction before all the financing is in place. It just kicks the problem down the road.

That said, it is an interesting way to get around the “Seattle way” of talking projects to death and never pouring any concrete. That’s because citizens generally don’t get worked up until fairly late in the process. By the time people start holding neighborhood meetings to oppose a given project, it’ll be half-built.