Note: This post was originally published yesterday afternoon.
As we noted in Fizz this morning, Mayor Mike McGinn was one of just two Puget Sound Regional Council Executive Board members who voted "no" on the PSRC's "preferred" version of the Transportation 2040 plan, which directs transportation planning in the region. (Fun fact: The other "no" was Port Orchard mayor Lary Coppola, who thought the plan included too much transit and tolling).
All three of the Seattle City Council's representatives on the board—Tim Burgess, Bruce Harrell, and Tom Rasmussen—voted for the plan. King County Executive Dow Constantine, who sent a letter to PSRC director Bob Drewel expressing concerns about the plan last month, was on vacation.
However, Constantine's transportation policy director, Chris Arkills, says Constantine would have voted for the plan. Arkills says the plan is "better than earlier iterations" that included fewer nonmotorized options. "Is the plan perfect? No. It does have more roads and less transit than a lot of us would like to see." However, he adds, "it's a difficult task for organizations that seek funding from the PSRC to vote against the major transportation plan for the region in the coming decades. And we can amend the plan in the future."
McGinn, in contrast, said this weekend (in remarks the invite-only Climate Neutral Seattle Unconference, pictured above) he decided to go it alone in voting against the plan because "it doesn't meet our objectives on transit, land use, social equity, or greenhouse gas emissions." Instead of moving the region boldly forward in promoting transit, density, equitable access to infrastructure, and greenhouse-gas reductions, the plan preserves the region's "moderate" status quo—relatively modest investments in transit and biking coupled with massive outlays on new highways for cars.
McGinn's position, incidentally, is shared by groups like the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, the Cascade Bicycle Club, the Transportation Choices Coalition, the Washington Environmental Council—and even those radical lefties at the US Environmental Protection Agency.
In an email after this morning's item ran, PSRC spokesman Rick Olson disputed that point of view, arguing that the plan adopted by the board "includes significantly more transit and additional bike lanes and pedestrian infrastructure," Olson wrote.
In pure dollar terms, that's true: The plan adopted by the PSRC board includes about $14 billion more for transit, and 65 more miles of bike and pedestrian facilities, over the next 30 years than the environmentalists' preferred alternative ("Alternative 5"). However, the "share" of transit (the overall percentage of funding devoted to transit) is lower in the adopted alternative, thanks to the addition of billions of dollars of new highways. Overall, the share of highway funding is dramatically higher, as shown in this graph (created by PSRC):
"I believe the plan should be redesigned with a much stronger focus on making the shift to transit and walkable communities to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets," McGinn wrote in a letter to PSRC director Drewel. "The reputation of the Puget Sound region for sustainability is rightly earned; we can create a better plan for our communities, our economy, and our future."
David Hiller, policy director of the Cascade Bike Club (which, along with more than 1,000 other groups and individuals, sent a letter to the PSRC opposing the preferred alternative), says the preferred alternative will add nearly 750 miles of new and widened highways. Those new road projects include about $8 billion in road projects that were rejected by voters—including the Cross Base Highway in Pierce County, a project opposed by pretty much every environmental group in the region. In terms of highway building, the PSRC's plan actually "makes Roads and Transit"—the highway-heavy measure rejected by voters in 2008—"look moderate."
What's interesting here isn't just that the PSRC voted overwhelmingly to push forward with a transportation "vision" that pretty much preserves the status quo (invest modestly in alternatives, but for God's sake, don't stop expanding those highways!) It's also the fact that the state has actually mandated reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and vehicle miles traveled (VMT)—two goals that are far better served by a plan that emphasizes transit than one that invests billions and billions of dollars in new roads.
Hiller says Cascade is "meeting with counsel in the coming months" to discuss a possible legal challenge to the plan. If Cascade and other environmental groups decide to sue, the Puget Sound region could become one of the first regions in the nation to challenge a transportation plan on climate-change grounds.
State house transportation committee vice-chair Deb Eddy described the state's climate goals recently as "aspirational." But in fact, they're prescriptive: The law on greenhouse gas emissions says that the state "will do its part to reach global climate stabilization levels by reducing overall emissions to fifty percent below 1990 levels" by 2050, and the law on VMT says that the state "shall" establish benchmarks that will "Decrease the annual per capita vehicle miles traveled by fifty percent by 2050." Hiller jokes: "I could argue that the manslaughter law is aspirational as well, but I think I’d be laughed out of court as they locked me in irons and put me in an orange jumpsuit."
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