Thursday, June 22, 2006

Are We a Region, or Just a Bunch of Little Towns?

The DesNews reported this morning that the funding proposal to advance transit was given short shrift in the Utah Senate caucus yesterday. Talking to Lane Beattie, Salt Lake Chamber President, yesterday at the Davis COG meeting where he came to present the funding proposal, he indicated that the issue was brought up for a vote in the Senate caucus without being on the agenda or even any warning that they were going to be discussing and voting on it. LaVarr Webb also commented on this turn of events on his Utah Policy Daily website.

It's fine for legislators, mayors and others to have their own opinions on proposals and ideas that are put before them for consideration and discussion, but they should get due consideration before they are just dismissed out of hand. No question, this is an "outside the box" kind of proposal, but dealing with the need for our transportation infrastructure is going to take that kind of thinking to deal with the transportation crises we face. Maybe there are other ideas out there, but they need to be flushed out with a full discussion, and soon! UPDATE: See Friday morning DesNews editorial on this topic.

Something that I am starting to hear as part of the reaction to the Chamber's funding proposal is, "Why should we tax ourselves for something that we won't have right directly in our town? Most of that money is going to go elsewhere to build those transit improvements, so why should we support it?" These kinds of arguments are in the same vein as those made by people who say, "Why should we vote in favor of the school bond? Our kids are all grown, and we aren't going to be putting any more kids through the education system."

Well, did you ever think of your grandkids? Did you ever think about who is going to be making those payments into the retirement system to keep those checks coming to you once you've quit working and want to go fishing?

Same thing applies to our regional transportation system -- the key word here is "regional." It all inter-relates. Sure, we may not have a TRAX line or commuter rail station right in our home town, but we still travel throughout the region, usually on a daily basis. I get frustrated all the time when I try to travel to Salt Lake or (heaven forbid) try to get to Provo during commute times. Doesn't it benefit it us all, wherever we live, to have a system that works throughout the region? Not every community gets a freeway exit either, but we seem to support the building of the highway because we can see its benefit!

Come on, folks, we need to think and work together to provide a regional system, not just look at bringing home the bacon to each individual community. If we start acting like that, we're sunk. Does the term "Balkanization" mean anything? Is that the model we want to follow?


At 9:34 AM, Blogger Michael T. Packard said...

You ignore a few important facts:
The TrAX and RCR systems are focused on downtown Salt Lake as if that were still the only significant city in Utah. Many cities or pairs of cities, like Sandy/Draper will equal or exceed Salt Lake's polulation.In the future, Salt Lake will be first among equals.

Most of the benefit or trips on these trains is for work trips to downtown. Downtown employment has been static for 40 years!

All the employment and trip generation is occurring in the suburbs. Without a fair share of freeways, the suburbs will drown in never ending congestion.

Freeways work. We should be building freeways first for all suburbs before launching into pitiful performing rail projects.

Freeways have roughly 50 times the real capacity and utility, per billion spent, as these anachronistic trains! (Analysis of costs and performance of modes in 2030 WFRC LRP)

For instance, trips in the commuter rail corridor are over 300,000 a day and will grow by 2025 to 600,000 a day, (according to the RCR EIS. Opening day commuter rail ridership is about 3,000 new riders (FTA method) and by 2025 wil soar to just 6,463 new riders (boardings).

Notice that commuter rail will have just 1% impact on trips in the corridor!

Since you talk of regional need, the regional impact of the northern commuter rail segment, as shown in the Federal Transit Administration's 5309 New Start analysis, Template 6, is just 0.06%. No congestion impact can come from such trivial contribution.

What a deal for just $900 million for build cost and long term subsidy! That much money could have funded a non-tolled freeway in western Salt Lake valley.

In contrast, the Legacy Garden Pathway,(even as damaged by the envirothugs) will cut congestion to zero when it begins service.

Lavarr Webb and transit supporters like yourself are hamstringing future generations with this wasteful, ineffectual rail groupthink.

At 9:36 AM, Blogger Brian said...

I agree that it's frustrating that the legislature and their constituents at large have such a difficult time seeing the big picture.

The only way I can see to break down the "What's in it for me?" attitude is further education. The 2015 Transportation Alliance seems to be making a good push from the private sector side.

I would love to see more from the public planning profession, but I'm uncertain about the amount of credibility people would give us. There is a great deal of misunderstanding and mistrust among the general population to what planning is.

Yet, we still need to find a way to illustrate to the public what the real consequences of their decisions are. The newspaper editorial today was interesting, but to me, it came off as a bit of a scare piece. We as planners need to find an effective forum for disseminating data on an urgent situation without sounding like doomsday academics.

That said, I'm not convinced that there is much that we can do to make any difference this year. We'll just have to wait for another two years - and another few billion dollars.

At 9:50 AM, Blogger Brian said...

I'm sure Wilf can come up with a more succinct response than mine, but to Mr. Packard's assertion that freeways are the answer I pose a few questions:

Where are we going to build these new freeways? How are we going to pay for them without legislative support for funding?

I also challenge your assertion that the Legacy Parkway will drop congestion on I-15 to "zero" upon completion. It will relocate, at best, 15-25% of the traffice through South Davis County for the first few years, according to the UDOT figures I've seen. Certainly striking results, initially, though anyone who thinks we have true congestion problems in Davis County needs to spend a day trying to get around Phoenix or Los Angeles or even Provo.

But I digress. According to the best estimates I've seen, the Legacy Parkway and I-15 will be back at capacity and in a failing state of traffic flow within as little as 15 years. Can we just build another freeway through Davis County? Does this finally push the scales over to result in an extreme west-side solution across Antelope Island and the Great Salt Lake? If you think Legacy highway was an environmental battle, this would be full-out war - not to mention astronomically expensive.

Transit alone is certainly not the answer - as you've shown. But just the same that it is more cost-effective now to build roads while the land and materials are relatively less expensive, it's much more cost-effective to invest in some transit projects now, rather than wait 15 years until there are no more options to roadbuilding.

At 10:31 AM, Blogger Wilf said...

Brian, you did just fine. I'm pretty much on the same page with what you say. When we consider the cost of highways, we also must consider what it costs us personally to own and operate a motor vehicle -- add that cost up for everyone, and the price really gets up there.

Now we are wealthy enough as a society and as individuals that we can afford to pay those costs, and we choose to do so in most cases because of the level of mobility it gives us, but that level of mobility will gradually erode as roads become more congested. Driving through downtown Salt Lake the other day, it just drove me crazy how much time I had to spend waiting at red lights, and that will only get worse.

With the general sentiment of the public to reduce or limit new taxes, road-building to the level needed won't be easy, either.

Bottom line, I think we need both -- more roads and more transit, in some balanced fashion. One or the other alone just won't cut it.

At 2:19 PM, Blogger google_PEAK_OIL said...

Michael T. Packard said...
"You ignore a few important facts:
The TrAX and RCR systems are focused on downtown Salt Lake as if that were still the only significant city in Utah. Many cities or pairs of cities, like Sandy/Draper will equal or exceed Salt Lake's polulation.In the future, Salt Lake will be first among equals."

A multi line rail transit system will have to converge somewhere. It would be a logistical nightmare to try to provide transit directly from every municipality to every other. Salt Lake City is the logical choice for a transit hub.
And your system of plenty of highways for everybody will only work as long as there continues to be lots and lots of cheap gasoline to burn. The era of cheap and abundant gasoline is already fading into history. We will desperately need all the transit options we can get as it becomes impossible for most people to continue to use their cars for the number of miles and trips they are accustomed to.

A rail system will not merely serve downtown Salt Lake. It will be a practical way to reach any stop from any other stop on the system and will serve, and promote the growth of the outlying cities on the route. I went to a coin show way down in Sandy today because the Trax made it easy to get to. I wouldn't have bothered otherwise.

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