Thursday, September 27, 2007

Don't stop me, I'm on a roll

Here's the SLOG comment I made yesterday about RTID and global warming:

Make no mistake: I'm supporting this because I support ST2, and because I believe that it will will not come back in similar form in 2008 if this measure goes down.

However, I'm trying to think about the real impact of RTID. As I noted before, it makes my head hurt, but please chip in if you have any constructive feedback.

I'd hoped that the Stranger, or somebody, would talk to some experts and report on this, but I guess I'll have to do it myself.

(1) The type of road project that is most destructive to the environment is probably new roads through virgin territory, like the old I-605 proposal. What's most bad about this is that sprawl develops around these highways because they provide easy access to everything else.

As far as I can tell, the only RTID project anything like this is the Cross-Base Highway. While this will reduce travel times (see below), the ability for developers to add parking lots and strip malls is severely limited by the fact that it's, you know, across a base. And I'm fairly skeptical that that project will ever get really started.

(2) The type that's almost certainly good for the environment is HOV improvements, because they encourage bus and carpool use. A significant chunk of RTID falls in this category (SR 520, BRT on SR 99 in Shoreline, 167/405 interchange, etc.)

(3) That leaves the great middle: projects that increase capacity and/or improve traffic flow of general-purpose lanes, which amount to two sides of the same coin. The net effect of doing this over doing nothing is:

- Somewhat more people move to the Puget Sound region. I think this is a net plus (?), given the relatively high proportion of carbon-neutral energy production here.

- Car capacity increases: it takes more cars to get to bad congestion, shifting the equilibrium point where people shift to transit. Almost certainly a net minus.

- Growing suburbs: favors lower-density development in existing outer suburbs, rather than more density in inner suburbs and Seattle. A minus for the environment, but the neighborhood movement will like it, and probably results in more affordable housing.

- Less idling in traffic: congestion isn't binary; there's slow traffic and very slow traffic. Wider roads result in more cars, but quite probably a shorter commute for each of those cars. Probably a net plus.

Taking all this together (and I wish I had numbers to make this more certain), I can't conclude anything other than that RTID is a mild net minus taken in isolation. Throw in 50 miles of light rail, and it's a no-brainer.

And another thing...

As if Microsoft employees all live on Capitol Hill, and they couldn't be downtown, or on Rainier Ave, or in Bellevue, if they couldn't stomach the "cumbersome" 38 minute commute from Capitol Hill.

I just don't understand...

Ron Sims is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

It pains me to say this, but Ron Sims might as well be an anything-but-rail activist with his hit piece in the Times that attacks the ST2/RTID proposal. My immediate response is, "huh?"

Sims goes a lot farther than the Sierra Club and other enviros, who oppose this package mainly because of the environmental impacts of road expansion, and whom he praises in the piece. After a brief shot at the proposed lid on SR 520 (!), he leaves the rest of RTID untouched and focuses his attention on slamming ST2.

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?

He then descends into a diatribe against the ST2 plan that is totally divorced from reality, political and otherwise:
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.
How exactly does he propose to get from Seattle to Overlake? Via SR 520? When will that bridge be complete? I thought the rail completion dates were too far in the future! More specifically, the ST2 plan (Appendix C) projects a Capitol Hill-Overlake time using light rail of 38 minutes. The existing transit time is 55 minutes, and is projected to be 63 minutes in 2030. How is this "slow and cumbersome?"

Service to Northgate finally delivers on the promise of light rail. But delay to 2018 is inexcusable; this badly needed segment can and should be built sooner.

What? They won't even get to UW till 2016! Where does he think the money to accelerate this is going to come from? How does rejecting the package, reworking the schedule (which will take months, or years, of staff work and process) somehow accelerate delivery?

It makes you wonder if Ron Sims has ever attended a ST2 board meeting, or what he's been listening to if he has. Snohomish County officials fought tooth-and-nail to prevent the acceleration of the Northgate construction as far as 2018. To think that they would acquiesce to further diversion of their funds into Seattle is fantasy.

To the south, we have different inefficiencies. Light rail would connect Seattle to Tacoma (already served by faster Sounder Trains) and run along Highway 99 (where last year's King County Metro "Transit Now" tax increase is ramping up bus-rapid-transit service).

Instead, expanded bus service could generate much higher ridership in this corridor while freeing up funds for light rail to Southcenter and Renton. In Pierce County, we can achieve more traffic relief by extending light rail within Tacoma to the University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University.
Aha! So this would interfere with Mr. Sims' precious "Transit Now! legacy". I never figured him for the rail-bashing BRT set, but now we see his true colors. Spoken like a true Kemper Freemanite, who supports buses because he never actually rides them.

Instead, expanded bus service could generate much higher ridership in this corridor while freeing up funds for light rail to Southcenter and Renton. In Pierce County, we can achieve more traffic relief by extending light rail within Tacoma to the University of Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran University.

If someone lives along the I-5 corridor (in King County, no less), what does Sounder do for them? The point of the South line isn't so much for people in Tacoma (unless they're going to the airport), the point is to serve the people along the route. And anyone who's actually ridden Sounder knows that the service is non-existent after about 5:45 pm, thanks to a crappy agreement with BNSF. That's hardly comprehensive transit service. Perish the thought you might want to take the train to work, and then catch a Mariners game before heading home.

The Pierce County representatives on the ST board seem to have endorsed a direct link with Seattle over improvements in Tacoma; I guess Ron Sims understands Pierce County's needs better than them, enough to trash a line that would serve his own constituents in the I-5 corridor.
The package before us does not include solutions like congestion pricing or variable tolls. The goal of congestion pricing is to keep our highways moving efficiently, getting people to work or home in the shortest amount of time. With congestion pricing we would see immediate results.
Great, Mr. Sims! I'm glad to see you're on board with congestion pricing. We can get that started whether or not ST2/RTID pass, and I eagerly anticipate seeing your leadership in moving this politically unpopular initiative forward.

Sims finishes up with a bunch of global warming boilerplate and some total non-sequiturs:
The private sector is already a tremendous partner, with many employers providing subsidized bus passes and van pools. In concert with congestion pricing, we need to consider remote work sites, telecommuting and other alternatives.
As if Prop. 1 precludes any of the above.
But, the most important option to accompany congestion pricing must be better access to transit. Transit is also critical to the environment.
Which is why you've spent the past several hundred words slagging the only major transit project realizable in the next decade or so?

I'm just mystified by this essay. It's like a press release from Kemper Freeman.

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