Friday, November 14, 2008

Transit Wins At The Polls (Mostly)

Still very upset about all the anti-gay ballot measures that passed on election day. But all the anti-choice measures on ballots around the country got defeated, so progressives won on that front.

And on the transportation measures, the citizens of this country have shown that they want quality public transportation, despite all the claims that this is a "center-right" country.

A little roundup of some of the good news on the transit front in America:

Prop 1 in the Seattle metro area passed. Voters in the three-county region agreed to raise their sales tax by half a cent to fund a roughly fifteen-year transit plan that will greatly expand the light rail network that will (FINALLY) open its first line next year, which will include extending it across Lake Washington. Something sorely needed about 30 years ago. Shorter-term benefits of the plan will see added capacity to the commuter rail lines (by a huge two-thirds to Tacoma) and express-bus service, among other improvements.

This one is a little personal to me. I was living in Seattle in the mid-90s when we passed the first big transit plan that created the new agency of Sound Transit to build light rail, commuter rail and create regional express-bus service. Unfortunately, Sound Transit may very well be the model of the absolute worst way to run a transit agency. They have not been able to do anything on time (light rail was supposed to open over two years ago originally) or on budget.

But kudos to the voters there for wanting more. Granted, a lot of this plan has stuff in it that was voted down in the 1995 before the more stripped-down plan as finally passed the following year (hence the one light rail line). But gas was only like a buck back then. Amazing what a difference three dollars can make.

I loved so many things about living in Seattle back then. What I didn't like was blowing through half-a-pack of smokes waiting for the fucking bus.

Rail transit may finally be coming to Hawaii! Voters in Honolulu voted to tell the city to move forward with a $4.28 billion commuter rail project. It was a non-binding vote, and the opposition is fierce (they want another fucking highway), but the voters made their desire known.

New Mexico citizens voted in a one-eighth-cent gross-receipts tax (not really sure what that means) for the operation of the new Rail Runner commuter line, which will expand to Santa Fe next month, and to expand bus service in the northern part of the state.

In San Francisco, measure B has still not been decided. This would expand BART, the region's high-speed commuter network, another 16 miles to Santa Clara, among other improvements, through a one-eighth-cent sales tax increase. The measure needs a silly 66.67% of the vote to pass and it now sits at 66.61% with about 17,000 provisional ballots, which have been running heavy on the yes side, still to be counted. Cross your fingers.

Los Angeles, the land of the automobile, voted themselves a sales tax increase to help fund their transit system, including a planned line to Santa Monica.

Sacramento voted themselves a streetcar that local leaders are saying can be up and running in three years because they are not looking to get any federal funds for it.

The only real losses that seemed to happen (pending the BART expansion outcome) were in Missouri. Kansas City voted down a three-eighths-cent sales tax increase to build a starter light rail line and St. Louis rejected a half-cent increase to help shore-up their local transit agency, despite the fact that it could mean their light rail system will now stop at 8:00pm and the end of extra service for Rams and Cardinals games. I guess they want to be the "show me how to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic state."

And one of the biggest of them all, California passed a bond measure for a high-speed rail line between Los Angeles and San Francisco. It still has a long way to go before it becomes reality, but it is an encouraging result. This gives the state the authority to raise actual funds to start planning this thing. Supporters hope for a train that can travel 220 m.p.h. and make the trip between L.A. and San Fran in 2-1/2 hours. Not only could this ease traffic congestion along the I-5 corridor, but it could put an end to flights between these two cities.

One of the goals of high-speed rail is to make flights of less than 500 or 600 miles obsolete, which would really help reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

I am certainly one of those that believes that most of these measures are too little and very, very late (especially Seattle). But it's not too late, it's never too late.

I had the opportunity to go to Taiwan recently for work. A country that has been behind for years when it came to public transit. About twenty years ago they decided enough was enough. The very first subway line in Taipei opened just twelve years ago and they are now up to over 50 miles and 67 stations with major expansions under construction. In just over a decade.

In early 2007 they opened a high-speed rail line between Taipei and Kaohsiung, which turned a 4-1/2 hour trip into a less than two-hour one. There were also massive improvements in other rail lines, making them much faster if not completely "high-speed." And Kaohsiung opened their own 25-mile starter subway this summer.

That's the kind of things that can be accomplished in a short amount of time. We just need leaders who want to do it.

We've now proven we have voters who want it and are willing to pay for it.


the beige one said...

Don't get me started on Seattle. But the extension of the existing system is a good thing. Not only that but the area also voted down a Tim Eyman initiative (hopefully the start of a trend) that would've just perpetuated the same unproven answers (less money for mass transit, opening up HOV lanes) to ages old questions.

My main bitch right now is that I'll likely never see the monorail service that I voted for five times in this least not in my lifetime.

JJisafool said...

No, TBO, I don't think we'll ever see the monorail. Honestly, I was never behind that plan, but it is BS it was voted for and never done.

And, I have to admit I didn't vote for Sound Transit this time. I want mass transit, and in researching Seattle's history was saddened to find out just how many times transit plans have been passed and then scuttled. But, I just couldn't choke down enough bile about how Sound Transit operates to give them the vote.

JJisafool said...

BTW, Deni, nice round-up of the transit voting. Seriously - great post.

the beige one said...


anna said...

I must've brought my good mass transit mojo with me when I lived in Seattle, 'cause I never had to wait for buses. I also must've left it there, since I now live in an area with no bus service on weekends.

As for Hawaii, I cannot even picture where they're going to put the rail lines on Oahu. That island is already so densely packed. Yikes. I reckon, though, it does beat another highway.

Joe said...

Seriously good round-up, Deni. Thanks for letting your Train-Freak Flag fly.

the beige one said...

Yo, JJ, why weren't you behind the monorail initiative?

Deni said...

Thanks JJ, Joe, etc...

I hear ya TBO, I could write a dissertation on what's been wrong with transit plans in Seattle over the last 40 years.

I understand the reservations people had about the monorail plan, though I voted for it when I was there. Right idea as far as route alignment, wrong idea on the technology to use.

Light rail has also been used wrong in many cities in recent years. Because it's cheaper, light rail is now used in ways that would really be more appropriate for heavy rail (faster speeds, 100% grade-separation like subway or elevated). Light rail, which is the modern term for streetcar, should be used to augment high-capacity heavy rail systems, like the U-Bahns and S-Bahns in Germany and other European systems.

The monorail is Seattle could have gotten built except that they found people to run it that were even more ridiculously inept than the Sound Transit board. Seriously, they thought it was a good idea to not seek federal funds, which made it impossible to get good ratings on their bonds. The junk status they had meant that Seattle taxpayers would have paid $11 billion for a $2 billion monorail line. And that's just for the first one, the green line.

Those idiots also thought they could run it without an operating subsidy, paying for running the thing with fares, advertising and retail space rents at the stations.

Anna, so did you never take the bus in Seattle after, oh say, 7:00pm?

The line in Oahu is planned for running right along the main highway into Honolulu, I think maybe in the median, but I'm not sure.

Deni said...

Oh, and my number one reason for supporting the monorail back then was that it addressed West Seattle, which seems to get ignored by Sound Transit. If only I would have had a quick way to get to and from the Corner Pocket pool hall/bar in The Junction when I lived there. That was such a long bus ride...