Transportation

Because being there is what's most important, WPC's Center for Transportation researches and analyzes the best practices for relieving traffic congestion by recapturing a vision of a system based on freedom of movement.

What's New

LaHood to Congress: Debate a gas tax increase

December 1, 2009 in Blog
Secretary LaHood today commented that Congress is going to have to
debate an increase in the federal gas tax as it seeks to end the
political impasse over the next multi-year surface transportation bill,
reports the Fort Worth Telegram and Streetsblog Capitol Hill.

LaHood
stopped far short of reversing the White House's stated opposition to
raising the federal gas tax...but he seemed to suggest that Congress
should at least debate indexing the federal fuel tax to inflation,
while also considering tolling, creating an infrastrucure bank, and
charging for vehicle miles traveled.

520 bridge: officials could build 30 of the existing structures for the same amount they want to spend on its replacement

November 25, 2009 in Blog

A state panel has finally selected a preferred option on replacing the floating 520 bridge.

The panel voted 10 to 2 in favor of replacing the existing bridge from
Interstate 5 to Medina with a new six-lane bridge, which would include
one HOV lane in each direction. It would feature a new Montlake
interchange, similar to the current interchange, with a new bascule
bridge across the cut. It also would add some improvement to transit
connections, as well as a reversible HOV lane connecting to Interstate
5.

The cost will be about $4.6 billion but it will not increase general-purpose lane capacity.

According to this 2008 article in Wired Magazine, the first bridge cost $21 million in 1963, or about $154 million in 2008 dollars. This means officials could build 30 of the existing structures for the same amount they want to spend on its replacement.

Metro avoids service cuts, but ridership is falling

November 23, 2009 in Blog

In this Seattle Times article, Mike Lindblom touches on some of the things King County Metro is doing to fund its 2010 budget and prevent service cuts.

Yet, according to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Metro bus ridership is down 3.52%.

In other industries, the bottom line forces managers to keep supply commiserate with demand. But in the public sector, there ultimately is no bottom line, so performance and accountability succumb to political agendas. Lindblom even highlights this concept in his article:

This summer, County Executive Kurt Triplett proposed an
across-the-board service cut to all 225 routes. That proved unpopular
with several County Council members, who would have faced heat from
riders in their districts.

In transportation policy, performance should drive spending decisions.

Incidentally, vanpool ridership continues to grow (8.12%), despite the recession.

Transportation choices

November 23, 2009 in Blog

Gabriel Roth, A noted transportation economist and Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, has a great tale about the government's efforts to reduce how much people drive:

On November 17 I attended a National Journal meeting addressed by Polly Trottenberg, Assistant Secretary for Transportation Policy. She told us how important it was to reduce VMT (vehicle miles of travel). After the meeting, as she was entering a chauffeured government car, I asked her why she did not take a bus. She said something about being in a hurry.
 
Can it possibly be that reducing VMT is not a thing for important people?

You might recall that our state implemented VMT reduction targets a couple years back. The first phase calls for an 18 percent reduction by 2020.

Daily light rail ridership

November 20, 2009 in Blog

Over at the Public Interest Transportation Forum, John Niles has been tracking daily light rail ridership.
Here is his chart showing daily ridership between July and October: 

Niles ridership

As Niles highlights, notice ridership has been falling since it peaked in October. Niles estimates average ridership in October was 16,129 trips per day.

But remember, trips are not riders. Trips can count the same rider multiple times in a single day. Also remember that Sound Transit estimates!
two-thirds of its light rail riders come from the existing bus system. So taking these factors into account, at its peak, light rail is only carrying about 2,688 new transit riders per day.

WSDOT to reduce speed limit on I-5

November 17, 2009 in Blog

I've noticed WSDOT crews installing metal sign columns along a busy stretch of I-5 between Boeing Field and I-90. They are about every 300 feet and appear on both sides of the freeway. I took some pictures on a recent trip. 

Photo Photo2 Photo3

According to the WSDOT, these columns will be used to install variable speed limit signs.

The signs will display speed limits from 40 to 60 mph, depending on traffic
levels. The result will be fewer traffic collisions and less
collision-related congestion.
WSDOT estimates the speed limits will become variable beginning Summer 2010. Active Traffic Management systems are a sure fire way  to increase vehicle throughput along a particular corridor (and they are relatively inexpensive). Reducing the speed limit may seem counter intuitive to some, but as former WSDOT Secretary Doug MacDonald demonstrates in this video, it makes sense: 

As we have noted many times before, there is no formal policy to reduce traffic congestion in Washington State. So its refreshing to see a project with a direct relationship between spending transportation taxes and maximizing vehicle throughput. Seattle and Sound Transit officials have taken the opposite position by implementing policies and programs that don't reduce congestion or deliberately make it worse.

Obama to Ron Sims: Everything is in your jurisdiction

November 16, 2009 in Blog

On Sunday, the Washington Post reported on the federal government possibly taking over yet another industry, local rail systems.

Under the proposal, the U.S. Department of Transportation would do for
transit what it does for airlines and Amtrak: set and enforce federal
regulations to ensure that millions of passengers get to their
destinations safely.

The proposal to impose federal oversight over local rail agencies is another example of a growing trend of the Obama administration to centralize power in Washington D.C. This deliberate concentration of power has been seen most dramatically in the auto, health care and financial industries. And with the upcoming Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act, Dr. Ron Utt from the Heritage Foundation details how the federal government will also centralize even greater authority over transportation policies.

In October, Ron Sims, Deputy Secretary of Department of Housing and Urban Development spoke at Cascadia's Beyond Oil Conference at Microsoft and gave us a glimpse of his role in this massive centralization!
of power. He began his remarks with this introduction:

“I have an interesting Job. I have both the responsibilities for day to day operations of the Department of Housing and Urban Development and then two major policy initiatives. I’m called the new breed of deputy secretaries. And one of those is “sustainability” and “livability.” It’s really interesting when you talk about how to transform an agency because we were told by the President that we could not exist in silos anymore. That it would be unacceptable for us to go to any meeting and say the problem we face in any major urban area or even the rural areas across the country was not our jurisdictional issue. That would not be a good meeting. There would not be a positive result. The President at that moment would thank you for your service and replace you.” (here is the video)

Centralization of power at the federal level means local officials have less control over policy decisions. It also means the federal government has an ever increasing role in our lives. And I think we all get a little anxious when federal officials claim that every issue is now within their jurisdiction.

Seattle opposes PSRC's preferred Transportation 2040 alternative

November 12, 2009 in Blog

During the PSRC's Transportation Policy Board (TPB) meeting this morning, the city of Seattle expressed opposition to the Transportation 2040 plan and asked for an extra year to work out their issues. The prepared statement was read by a city representative and signed by Mayor Greg Nickels and all nine councilmembers.

Despite Seattle's protest, the TPB voted to move the preferred alternative forward and directed staff to prepare an EIS.

Another interesting factoid (and probably Seattle's reason for opposition) is the preferred Transportation 2040 alternative does not achieve the state's targets for reducing emissions or reducing how much people drive, even with PSRC's assumption of more than 160 miles of light rail.

This finding is similar to the conclusions of a new TRB study called Driving and the Built Environment, The Effect of Compact Development on Motor!

PSRC Transportation 2040 plan underestimates vanpool potential

November 11, 2009 in Blog

Vnapool Currently, the Puget Sound Regional Council's (PSRC) update to its long-range plan, Transportation  2040, estimates vanpools will grow to
about 4,300 by 2040. This is great news.

But our vanpool research shows with some
marketing and operational changes, there could be nearly 12,000 vanpools by
2030! This equals about 192,000 trips per day. This means vanpools have the
potential to carry 20 percent more riders for $20 billion less than Sound
Transit’s light rail expansion. The impact on reducing CO2 emissions and SOV
use is also more significant than any other transit mode, and vanpools do not require social engineering or forcing compact development.

I've met with PSRC staff and plan to present these findings to the Transportation Policy Board. I think the numbers are compelling enough for PSRC to reexamine their vanpool strategies.

10 year update on smart growth: it doesn't work

November 11, 2009 in Blog

From Ken Orski (I don't see this linked on his website yet, but I'm sure it will be shortly)

In a
revealing article that should be required reading for smart growth advocates
everywhere, Gerrit-Jan Knaap, executive director of the National Center for
Smart Growth Research and Education at the University of Maryland, offers a
sobering appraisal of Maryland’s smart growth policy. Writing in the current
issue of the Journal of the American Planning Association, he concludes that
there is little evidence after a full decade, that Maryland's smart growth laws
have had any effect on residential development patterns.
Ironically, the Smart
Growth Center, was founded by the University of Maryland (and supported by
former Governor Parris N. Glendening) to advance research and spread
awareness about the very same policy whose effectiveness the Center is now
questioning.