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January 15, 2007

Pro-transit legislative agenda right on target

The Transportation Choices Coalition 2007 Legislative Agenda is a great blend of pushing for alternative transportation funding within the framework of the current political climate at the state level and the long-term vision needed to create these reforms. The Legislative Agenda outlines several policy and funding goals, which if fully implemented in the 2007 legislative session would make a huge difference in supporting our heath, environment and the quality of life in our state.

A top priority in the 2007 agenda is creating a well-balanced regional transit-and-roads measure that is expected to be on the ballot in 2007.  This combined Sound Transit and RTID measure will create funding for numerous transit and highway projects in the Puget Sound RTA/RTID districts.  The agenda outlines a goal to fully fund Sound Transit phase 2, prioritize safety and maintenance of our existing roads before new highway construction, maximize transit funding during construction, and implement congestion pricing and carbon assessments.  These goals will create a pro-environment and pro-transit focus as we move forward with regional transportation funding this year.

There are those in the environmental community who oppose the coupling of Sound Transit 2 and RTID into a single ballot measure.  Opposing this marriage is a fight not worth fighting.  The Legislature took the action to put the former adversaries of highways and transit in bed together just last year.  What makes sense is a strategic focus of maximizing transit and environmental mitigation funding.  A strategy that I think is a winning strategy.  Additionally, the goal of congestion pricing and carbon assessments takes us one step closer to implementing a regulated transportation system where the true costs are paid for by the users, and where demand is driven by the price.  As a public, when we talk about transportation, it is so uncommon for there to be an acknowledgement that the economics of driving determines individual choices, with drivers paying for the true cost of congestion and environmental degradation.  With “regulation,” the economic appeal of transit becomes that much more real.

Commute trip reduction is on the agenda as a priority for this session, and it should be.  This program is popular with legislators and makes a huge difference in reducing congestion by offering incentives to create vanpools and other trip reduction strategies.  Another part of the program is state reimbursement of transit for school trips.  During the recent Seattle Public Schools financial crisis, I was appalled to see how much we spend on transportation in the district.  I see no reason why teenagers shouldn’t be taking Metro to school.  The early start time at high schools, purely designed to stagger school bus routes has been shown as detrimental to teenagers.  Money should go into classrooms and do something for our kids not pay for unneeded school buses.

The efficient movement of people and goods as opposed to the movement of cars and trucks is another focus of the agenda.  State transportation planners still have Robert Moses on the brain when it comes to designing transportation projects and the impact on our communities.  It's time WSDOT stop thinking in a 1950’s mentality and create a priority for the movement of people and goods in the most efficient and community oriented way possible.  Changing our statewide transportation audits to focus on the movement of people and goods in corridors versus the number of cars is also important.  HOT lanes and dynamic pricing opportunities are another part of the equation to start efficiently moving people.  HOT lanes earn revenue while creating mobility in the transportation system.

Creating healthy and vibrant communities by looking for opportunities with legislation to make policy changes and for funding opportunities in the state budget in this next session of the legislature rounds out the agenda for 2007.  Just imagine how our cities and suburbs would be improved with additional funding for local transit, bike lanes and sidewalks.  Have you driven lately in the suburbs at night and almost ran over some poor hapless soul walking along the shoulder?  Creative financing for an investment in alternative transportation could include a sales tax on gas (the current gas tax can only fund highways because of the state constitution) and parking fees.  Additionally, preserving the Transportation Partnership Act of 2005 and all the gains made with this act is important.

Finally, mobility education is one more part of the agenda.  Mobility education is an important idea whose time is long overdue.  Unlike The Stranger’s Josh Feit who after learning of this priority, decided to focus his column about the 2007 agenda on ridiculing this important education for our kids, I think mobility education is a good idea because kids, especially in areas underserved by transit, grow up with misperceptions about public transit.  Kids often think public transit is dirty, unsafe and only for “poor people.”  Current drivers often have a very derogatory view of bicycles and pedestrians which creates safety issues.  Creating a well-rounded approach to learning about how to drive safely and get around town independently is a modern and sensible approach.

I hope you’ll join me on February 6th for Transportation Lobby Day in Olympia.  This lobby day for alternative transportation is sponsored by Transportation Choices Coalition, Cascade Bicycle Club, Sierra Club, Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Feet First, Futurewise and WashPIRG.  This well attended annual event is an opportunity for everyone who cares about alternative transportation and the environment to show off our citizen muscle in the state capitol.  Meetings will be held with all legislators to talk about what the priorities are for our communities.

Cross Posted on Urban Transit

Posted by EzraBasom on January 15, 2007 at 07:50 PM in Policy | Permalink

Comments

Ezra,

Thanks so much for this post. It just clarifies so much for me on what is going on transportation-wise in the state. And gives me hope that we can move reasonably quickly on shifting gears to a less oil-dependent economy.

Posted by: Lynn | Jan 15, 2007 9:00:31 PM

I've often felt, as I think many people have, that it is difficult to envision a path towards a creating a sustainable transportation system. It gives me hope when I see the small things that get accomplished each year to improve alternative transportation and shift away from auto dependency. This is the political process in action and the end result can be quite different from the starting place.

Posted by: Ezra Basom | Jan 15, 2007 9:32:15 PM

I acknowledge the political reality of a joint ballot, but I'm very worried that the RTID will be a drag on popularity of Sound Transit 2. The RTID boardmembers are, by and large, pork-barrel minded road hogs. They want to bring home the bacon and are not looking at the system as a whole in the same way as the staff-driven ST2. They are more concerned with making sure every part of the 3-county region gets their project rather than coming up with a holistic, truly regional approach to increasing mobility. Even though the cost of the proposed project list has increased 15% or so, they just want to do the same number of projects in a half-assed way, rather than eliminate the worst projects (cross-base highway, 509 extension, ultra-expansion of 405) off the list. If voters see a bloated, expensive RTID list, they will reject it and ST extension will be delayed yet another year.

Posted by: Bill L | Jan 16, 2007 7:28:27 AM

Choices and others have this one right. And their new positive voice will make a difference in Olympia.

The upcoming ballot measure will do more for transportaiton choices than anything in recent history.

You can comlain about a few of the highway projects but the bulk of highway funding is going to fixing things first. And most reasonable voters will be persuaded that the balance in the upcoming ballot measure tilts their way and approve it.

Posted by: thor | Jan 16, 2007 1:03:01 PM

You mentioned the Puget Sound and I was wondering if you knew about Sound Experience where kids and adults learn about the Puget Sound as well and how our choices impact the environment. I did some interviews with some of the staff and have footage of the 100-year-old schooner, Adventuress. Please take a look. It is a wonderful program!!!

http://pugettown.wordpress.com/2007/01/16/meet-adventuress-magic-mistress-of-puget-sound/

Posted by: Heather Flanagan | Jan 22, 2007 2:02:54 PM

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