As of 5 p.m. on June 23, 2010, Cascade Bicycle Club along with Futurewise and the Sierra Club, will have filed a complaint to block adoption of PSRC’s Transportation 2040 (T2040), the region’s 30-year transportation plan. Our legal basis for this challenge is PSRC’s failure to meet the statutory goals and benchmarks for reducing vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the adoption of T2040. The failure to meet VMT reduction limits results in increased motor vehicle traffic on the region’s highways and arterials, the construction of fewer miles of facilities for non-motorized travel and in turn, reduces the desirability and safety of bicycling throughout the region.
This will be a long and expensive fight, but a necessary one as we work for better conditions for bicycling. Help us demand a plan that improves bicycling, walking and transit, and improves the environment.
Our concerns with T2040
Adopted by the General Assembly of the PSRC on May 20, 2010, T2040 fails to meet the needs of the region in a number of ways. Principally, it continues a practice of biasing transportation investments toward automobile infrastructure by widening local roadways and state highways, supporting low-density development on the urban fringe, and violates laws calling for reductions in per capita vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and greenhouse gas reductions.
In and of themselves, VMT and global warming are not Cascade Bicycle Club’s issues. The projects and priorities in the plan that cause it to fail to comply however, also undermine our mission, and move us farther along a path that diverges from our vision of a bicycle-friendly region.
Though most trips are less than five miles – easy bicycling distance, and one in three of residents cannot drive, billions of dollars will be spent in a manner that will actually make it harder to bicycle in city after city throughout our region. At the same time, those cities that are trying to support bicycling will scrape by with little or no funding for their nonmotorized transportation plans and projects.
T2040 contains almost 1,000 miles of new and expanded roadways, which will create additional barriers to bicycling by accommodating high volumes of high speed traffic, increasing crossing distances and supporting sprawl land uses that can only be reasonable accessed by car. Further, the speed and volume of vehicles will increase risks to those who do continue to ride in those environments. Moreover, a large number of projects will effectively eliminate current rural recreational bicycle routes. Finally, the disparate investment levels proposed in T2040 will leave cities without funds to complete the comprehensive networks of bicycle facilities necessary to encourage routine bicycle trips.
The plan runs contrary to the new direction issued by the federal government, where the Secretary of the US Dept. of Transportation declared an end to the practice of prioritizing motor vehicle projects over non-motorized investments. Moreover, it runs counter to the public’s wishes – as polling continues to demonstrate. In a recent national poll, two-thirds of respondents (66%) say that they “would like more transportation options so they have the freedom to choose how to get where they need to go.” Along these same lines, 73% currently feel they “have no choice but to drive as much as” they do, and 57% would like to spend less time in the car.
Finally, our research has demonstrated that the plan – if executed – will exacerbate health disparities, increase rates of obesity and chronic disease, social isolation, and the number of people killed and disabled in crashes.
Pardon the pun, but these aren’t outcomes that we can live with.
Our fight for a better plan began more than two years ago – Cascade staff participated in dozens of meetings, sat on committees, and worked with cities, counties, public agencies and nonprofit organizations throughout the region to make Transportation 2040, the 30-year transportation plan for the four-county central Puget Sound Region, a plan we could support. It didn’t happen.
During the Transportation 2040 Draft Environmental Impact Statement comment period back in 2009, Alternative 5 (1 of 5, plus a Baseline alternative) received overwhelming public support (over 90% of the public comments), on its principles of promoting sustainable transportation modes, reducing Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHG), promoting public and environmental health, and strategically investing in roadway projects. In fact, the vast majority of public comments in support of Alternative 5 encouraged PSRC to be even more aggressive in these areas, while de-emphasizing the inclusion of additional highway capacity.
Comments from major stakeholders and experts were submitted with this guidance, including: the US EPA, US Fish and Wildlife Service, US DOT Federal Transit Administration, Cascade Land Conservancy, Cascade Bicycle Club, Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Transportation Choices Coalition, Futurewise, various municipalities and counties from around the region including City of Seattle and King County, as well as over 1,000 e-mails. Similar direction was provided from various internal boards within PSRC, including the Regional Staff Committee and others. Unfortunately the overwhelming public support for a more ambitious approach than Alternative 5 is not reflected in the adopted plan. In other words, PSRC didn’t listen.
More specific concerns with Transportation 2040
VMT reduction/GHG reduction: The adopted plan fails to meet state requirements and benchmarks for VMT and GHG reductions. With almost 50 percent of Washington’s GHG emissions attributable to the transportation sector, it’s not only reasonable, but imperative that a long-range regional transportation plan use the state law as a baseline. Unfortunately, under the current Transportation 2040 framework, as compared to the 2040 baseline, there will be no change in VMT per capita in 2040.
The central Puget Sound region supports over half of Washington’s population and is a significant contributor to the state’s transportation sector emissions. With the best mobility options in place (compared to the rest of the state), it is this region’s responsibility to lead the way in reducing VMT and GHG. The implications of not meeting the state’s VMT/GHG reduction levels are significant. This will further exacerbate climate change, further degrade air and water quality, and pose increased threats to human health and productivity.
Project Investments: The widespread support for strategic (i.e. limited) investment in roadway expansion projects (unique to DEIS Alternative 5) is not been upheld in the adopted plan. While PSRC has a framework for project inclusion, it’s difficult to see how the majority of the projects included in the plan meet the established criteria, and more importantly, how these projects will meet the desired outcomes inherent to a more sustainable future. Many of roadway widening projects contradict the vision and goals framed by both Vision 2040 (regional growth strategy) and Transportation 2040 and are in direct conflict with the public’s stated desires.
With 25 percent of trips less than one mile and 40 percent of trips less than two miles, there is realistic potential to fulfill these trips through walking or bicycling. Under the Transportation 2040 framework, the region will only see a 1.6 percent increase in daily bike and walk trips, which is equivalent to the 2040 baseline numbers. Unfortunately, the investment strategies fail to outline sufficient local revenue for our core urban areas to complete their sidewalk and on-street bicycle networks.
Project and Program Prioritization: In response to widespread public and agency concerns over the transportation projects included in the plan, the PSRC has said that the project and program prioritization system will address the concerns related to VMT, GHG, and other issues. Given the central role that project prioritization is to play, the project prioritization criteria and their weighting must be included in Transportation 2040. The criteria must include meeting the GHG reduction requirements, the VMT reduction benchmarks, supporting centers and other preferred development locations identified in Vision 2040, multimodal transportation systems, freight mobility, storm water impacts and impacts on Puget Sound and its tributaries, and whether the jurisdiction in which the project is located has updated their comprehensive plan and development regulations to conform to Vision 2040 and Transportation 2040.
Pricing Revenue Allocation: We recognize PSRC’s leadership in developing a transportation plan that supports roadway pricing as a viable funding strategy and as a means for reducing private automobile travel. However, by allocating the revenue generated through roadway pricing to roadway expansion projects, it lessens the effectiveness tolling as a TDM strategy, by not reinforcing other modes of transportation. To fully realize the benefits of this type of funding strategy, the revenue should be available to all modes of transportation and to increasing transportation options. Funding options also addresses concerns that tolling may adversely impact low- and moderate-income families.
Support for Vision 2040: The purpose of Transportation 2040 is to provide the transportation facilities needed to serve Vision 2040. However the two plans continue to be incompatible. Not only do the projects work in contradiction to Vision 2040, they make it difficult to comply with Vision 2040 by placing development pressure in rural/natural resource areas through transportation investments. Most counties and cities have yet to update their comprehensive plans to comply with Vision 2040, and thus the actual land use decisions that have happened on the ground have already significantly deviated from the Vision 2040.
Transportation 2040, if implemented, will move us further away from our vision of becoming a more sustainable region and having more transportation options. The residents and businesses of the Puget Sound region deserve better. Sign up to stay informed and make a donation to support our efforts. We’ll keep you updated as things progress.