sierraclub

Maybe some day Link could get a bike car

Completely stolen from the Slog.

Love it or Leave it?

I’ve now heard two people threaten to leave Seattle if ST2 doesn’t pass. I certainly understand the frustration, but is this a logical choice?

Despite the popular sentiment about what a given project would do for your commute, using personal benefits as a factor in transportation planning seems like a terrible way to decide things. Let’s assume you live in Lynnwood, right next to the possible future station. The station won’t be available to you until 2023. That’s 15 years out. I don’t know about you but I’m not sure where I’ll be living in 5 years, let alone 15. I’m sure you don’t know where you’ll be working in 15 years. And even if you don’t move and don’t change jobs, you’ll be living your life for 15 years in a way that would otherwise cause you to move?

The reason I’m a supporter of ST2 has nothing to do with my life. If I wanted only to experience a good transit system, I’d move to New York or the other Washington. Why I support ST2 has more to do with a beneficent feeling about how a city should work. We know we’re running out of oil. We know that it’s a waste of human life for millions of people to sit in gridlocked freeways. We know that cities with fewer cars are more enjoyable places to live and work. We know that efficient transportation systems increase quality of life.

I live here because I like Seattle. I’m voting for ST2 because as much as I like Seattle, it could be better.

Children's Book Recommendation

The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton. She had cities figured out when she wrote this back in 1942.

You’ll notice the correct progression of efficient transportation. Buses turn into streetcars, then turn into light rail. Finally subway systems are built as buildings get taller and taller.

The Long View

I consider the amount of well thought out long-term infrastructure a society builds to be a direct measure of its past residents’ humanity. One does not decide to spend tax money on a 20-year subway project to get to work faster. He knows he is spending his hard-earned money to better his city, to change the environment of others that perhaps haven’t been born yet but whom he knows will live easier lives because of his actions.

I appreciate those that built our city’s water supply, the Denny regrade, our system of boulevards and parks, our bus tunnel, our nation’s intercontinental railroad, our power grid, our nuclear power plants, and even our freeway system. These projects could not have been easy or cheap, and those that voted for these plans knew they would not directly benefit for years, if ever.

Lately it feels as if we’re looking for quick solutions. Widening roads to fix traffic problems, “clean coal” to generate power, buses to save fuel. What we really need are large long-term projects: improved power grids, high-speed rail, subways, green power on a massive scale. Modern shallow politics focuses on direct voter benefits to pass laws and win elections. Have we misplaced our humanity?

A Way Forward: Seattle Built, King County Run Transit

In my previous post, I argued that:
1. Seattle needs a city-level mass-transit system – not to replace, but to augment the bus system.
2. King County is the wrong agency to build this.

There were several comments about how the branding a Seattle transit agency would be confusing. I’m not sure I agree (many other cities handle this fine), but I’m ok with not having a new agency as a requirement.

Here’s my proposed compromise: We build all of the infrastructure, buy the trains, then ask King County to run it. They may need to pay for a few new drivers, but it would certainly be an easier sell than having them come up with all of the initial capital.

Of course, this is exactly what’s happening with the streetcars. But I’d argue that streetcars aren’t enough. Unless they’re completely traffic-seperated, they’re just busses with increased ridership (good, but still slow and inefficient). What we need is a monorail-scale plan. We could still use streetcars (though light rail may be better), but elevate them, put them in tunnels, or just make their path completely seperate from cars.

Cell Phone Wars

The battle for silence on public transit is just getting started:

France’s SNCF rail company, determined to spare travelers cell phone cacophony, now operates “zen zones” in select compartments aboard intercity TGV bullet trains. The railway asks passengers seated in those areas to turn off their phones so everyone can “travel in a totally relaxing environment.”

Denmark, Germany and Finland – home to mobile phone giant Nokia Corp. – offer similar “quiet compartment” sanctuaries on trains.

That strategy didn’t work out so well in Sweden:

Last May, Sweden’s Stockholm Transport did away with “cell phone free zones” on subways, buses and commuter trains just 10 months after launching the spaces.

“It relied on people showing respect, but it didn’t really work,” spokesman Bjorn Holmberg said: Too many passengers wanted to use their commute to catch up on work calls, and some just felt safer with cell phones in hand.

Next up? Airplanes. The EU is getting closer to allowing cellphones in flight. Yikes.

Asleep At The Switch

“Along with other panelists, Beth Osborne, an aide to Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., agreed that “smart growth” planning principles can help cut the growth in vehicle miles traveled and make a substantial contribution to reducing greenhouse gas emissions. But she warned that transportation and land use are unlikely to get much federal money for climate change because the electric utilities and coal companies are doing a better job of lobbying Congress.”

More here.

PIRG Report

The Public Interest Research Group and its state subsidiaries (WashPIRG here in WA) have released a fantastic report on the benefits of mass transit:

-In 2006, transit saved an estimated 3.4 billion gallons of gasoline in the United States—enough to fuel 5.8 million cars for a year. In monetary terms, transit saved more than $9 billion that would otherwise have been spent on gasoline.

-In 2005, transit prevented 540.8 million hours of traffic delay, according to the Texas Transportation Institute, equivalent to more than 61,700 people sitting in traffic for an entire year. The monetary value of those savings was $10.2 billion.

-Transit reduced global warming emissions by nearly 26 million metric tons in 2006. In New York state alone, transit avoided 11.8 million metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution—more than was produced by the entire economies of Rhode Island, Vermont or the District of Columbia.

And now we’ve got Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) using the study to call for in increase in mass transit funding. Locally, WashPIRG has put out a sister report focusing on Washington State.

Via TOW, who’s pulled a nice graph showing that the LA Metro, of all places, has actually saved more gasoline than any other transit system. It makes perfect sense, when you think about it.

Think Big, Really Big

At the beginning of the 20th century, most Americans walked or rode transit to work. With few hard-surfaced roads outside towns and cities, the horse and the interurban remained the most practical way for farmers to get to town.

Companies making motorized vehicles had largely inherited their money or were already producing farm vehicles and wagons. Their business model was to use capital to produce a product, which was then sold to people who could afford it. At that time building a car usually took well over a month, and probably in 1900 America built about as many streetcars as automobiles.

Then Henry Ford arrived. His business model was to create capital and the market by mass production, totally transforming American society by “putting us on wheels”.

Much of what is said about Ford is a myth, invented after the fact, but the power of the myth derives from events- by the beginning of the 21st century, walking or riding transit to work had only a little more market share than the automobile had in 1900. The Ford model had redistributed the profits of mass production to the workers, entirely rebuilt the infrastructure of the nation, and drained the petroleum resources of the continent.

But now the wheels are falling off. Check out recent headlines- GM loses $39 billion (and 74,000 jobs disappear- this is the Ford economic model in full reverse)- Oil breaks $100/bbl but production remains flat-climate changes could kill thousands by 2012.

Within the lifetime of many readers, America must “nail the dismount”, abandoning mass car ownership in favor of transit, bicycles, and walking.

Think big, really big.

Why should Transit have to be self-supporting?

I’m often reading comments from people who insist that transit should pay for itself, that they don’t believe in giving a subsidy to any form of transportation. The truth is that there is no form of mechanized transportation in use today that pays for itself, so why should transit be treated any differently?

Let’s look at the major forms of transportation:

Air Travel: Airports built, expanded and maintained using local, state and federal tax dollars. The air traffic control system and the TSA paid for by federal (tax) money.

Rail Freight: The land the tracks are on was given to the railroads by local, state and federal governments in the 19th and 20th centuries, along with large sections of land on either side of the tracks that the railroads were free to use or sell as they saw fit. Imagine how much it would cost the railroads if they had to pay back the cost of all of the land they were given. There is also government paid over/underpasses and grade crossings to enable more efficient movement of trains as well as the government paid for roads to and from rail facilities.

Shipping: Useless without port facilities usually paid for by state and local governments as well as government paid for roads to move goods to and from the ports. Also supported by government paid Navy, Coast Guard and lighthouse facilities as well as Army Corps of Engineers dredged ports and shipping channels.

Roads: Gas (user) taxes and tolls don’t even begin to approach the actual cost of road and highways, let alone the indirect costs of traffic, pollution, injuries and deaths. There are not only the building costs, but maintenance, cleaning and patrolling which over the lifetime of the road cost more than the initial construction costs. Check the budget of cities, counties and states and they will all have budgets for roads that are not paid for by gas taxes but by general funds. If gas taxes paid for all of the costs of roads you wouldn’t need tolls or bond issues.

If you eliminated all of the various types of subsidies every type of transportation receives in this country all types of travel would soon grind to a halt.

So again, if no other mode of travel exists without some form of government subsidy why should transit be held to a different standard and be forced to pay for itself?