Puget Sound Regional Council has released the following statement in response to Cascade Bicycle Club's appeal of Transportation 2040.
“We’re really proud of the Transportation 2040 plan. And we’re confident it will stand up to any challenges. Thousands of citizens – representing many points of view – participated in the process and contributed to the plan over a several year period. The plan offers a balanced, sensible and realistic approach to meeting our region’s transportation needs. One of the exciting things about the plan is the initiatives aimed at addressing climate change. Our plan is one of the most proactive and progressive in the nation in the area of climate change.
Local elected officials from the four counties overwhelmingly support the plan – the vote to approve the plan was 54 to two. We encourage interested citizens to find out more about the plan by visiting www.psrc.org.”
Let's address these arguments from bottom to top.
Yes, the elected officials voted for the plan 54-2. There is some self interest here. One of the most glaring problems with the Metropolitan Planning Organization is its structure, which produced a plan that looks much like federal legislation that winds up full of earmarks, despite our best intentions. So imagine a room of 56 elected officials who don't want to vote down one another's projects.
More telling is the serious criticism from government staff, agencies, advocates, PSRC's own advisory boards, and yes -- the very cities that eventually voted for the plan. Local government staff serving on the Regional Staff Committee of PSRC were openly critical of the plan. Alternative Technical Group advisers -- myself included -- raised concern after concern.
The PSRC Special Needs Committee offered the following:
“As each of these plans have been presented to the Special Needs Transportation Committee we have expressed our concern that the planning process does not take into account the fact that nearly one third of the population has a greater need for transportation due to age, disability or income status…We believe that a plan that does not include one third of the population is not an adequate plan.”
Add to these the EPA, Seattle King County Health and many, many other rational actors who repeatedly offered solutions and guidance that was dismissed by PSRC's Transportation Policy Board and Executive Committee.
Finally, more than 90% of the comments received by PSRC favored the better plan, Alternative 5, or even wanted the plan to go further to address greenhouse gas emissions.
Clearly, not everyone likes the plan. Not even close.
As for climate and greenhouse gasses, note that PSRC doesn't contest its failure to comply with state law. The numbers tell the real story. By their own admission, the plan -- with almost 1,000 miles of wider roads and new highways, many of which voters overwhelmingly rejected in the "Roads & Transit" ballot measure -- makes virtually no progress on emissions reductions. Whereas state law requires a 35% reduction from 1990 levels by 2040, T2040 is projecting 4%.
Treading water does mean that you're not drowning -- but that's not much comfort when you're heading over a waterfall.
Finally, PSRC claims to have put forth, "a balanced, sensible and realistic approach." Sadly, Transportation 2040 doesn't factor in the very real impacts of their transportation policies. Crashes, deaths, disabling injuries, chronic and cardiovascular disease, air and water pollution... I could go on. All of these impacts have real costs that researchers like Littman, Delucchi and others have spent decades documenting. But PSRC's approach is to ignore these real costs, and continue to pass them along as if they weren't there.
And "balanced"? With more than 33% of the public unable to drive, 10% of all trips in the Puget Sound Region made by foot or bicycle, and a significant percentage of the region's trips within easy walking and bicycling distance - how "balanced" is it to spend only 1.5% of this massive new package on non-motorized improvements? PSRC's "balanced" approach is pouring tens of billions of dollars into destructive, unnecessary projects like the Cross Base Highway.
Though there are 535 miles of multi-use trails in the plan, and we support multi-use trails - it's important to note that these trails are mostly in locations that will have little impact on making bicycling a viable transportation choice for more people. More telling is the fact that the plan adds almost zero dollars to local road maintenance. That's correct, in our towns, where most walking and bicycling -- and driving for that matter -- are done, there won't be a red cent to keep the roads we already own and use safe and in good repair.
The "realistic" and "sensible" approach would have been to give the public what we've been crying for, and what we've voted for when given the chance: more choices, less traffic and healthier, more vibrant communities. The votes on Seattle's Bridging the Gap levy, King County's Transit Now, and Sound Transit 2 -- as well as the resounding defeat of Roads & Transit back this up.