Thursday, July 30, 2009

Local Advocate Asks Elected Officials to Give up their Cars for 7 short days

Willie Weir, local bike and transportation advocate wrote an open letter to elected officials asking them to give up their cars for 7 days. I love it; lets if he gets any takers!

Give it Up: An open letter to my local and state representatives

Mayor Nichols–give it up. Seattle City Council members. You too. As well as King County Council members, Governor Gregoire, State representatives and ALL candidates for the above offices.

I’m talking about your car. For a week. Just a week.

You see, my wife and I answered the call to help the region and the planet by giving up our car over four years ago. With climate change upon us, it was imperative that we transition out of our auto-centric society. Get on the bus. Get on our bikes. Get out and walk.

There were plenty of incentive programs offered by our city and county governments, including the Way to Go Seattle–One Less Car Challenge. We took advantage of the Washington State Vehicle Redistribution Program … our car was stolen. We opted not to replace it.

We were in a good position to give up our car. We don’t have kids. We live on Beacon Hill with frequent bus service (and now Light Rail). We have stores, restaurants, a library, and a park all within a ten minute walking distance of our house. We both do most of our work from home.


OK. Walking up the hill from the grocery store with a 20lb Thanksgiving turkey in an excursion-size backpack wasn’t easy. Waiting outside in a 40 degree drizzle for a bus that never came wasn’t fun. And taking 4 buses and a ferry to get to Sequim wasn’t convenient.

It didn’t take long to understand that for someone who owns a private vehicle, our city and region’s public transportation, bike paths and pedestrian corridors are top notch. Because when it isn’t easy, fun or convenient … you take your car.

When I joined the ranks of the carless, I began an education in how auto-centric our green little region is, and how far we have to go to get to be a truly livable place … for everyone.

How many of my neighbors park their cars across the sidewalk. How cracked and poorly maintained those sidewalks are. How fast the cars fly by on our residential streets. How few cars yield to me in a cross walk. How few bike racks there are outside the businesses I frequent. How poorly signed (or not at all) the bike routes are throughout the city. How terrifying biking can be in downtown Seattle. How little park space we have downtown and how much space we devote to parking.

So many issues and problems invisible to me while driving in my own personal vehicle.

Now I’m asking you all to give up your car. Not for four years. Just seven days.

For seven days live the life that few have chosen and many have no choice but to live.

Believe me, no matter how long you have lived in or served this region, you’ll learn things that will surprise you.

I know I did. And I’ve lived here for 25 years.

The best decisions about transit and neighborhood planning will be made by government officials who have taken the time to live a life without a car as an option.

Give it up.

We’ll all be glad you did.


Willie Weir
Beacon Hill, Seattle

Blogging live at Joint Transportation Committee

I am at the Sound Transit Board room attending the WA House/Senate Joint Transportation Committee. I will be posting updates here with significant events and discussions. On the Agenda is the the cost of collecting tolls, I-90 Valuation project, review of Link opening, and implementation of alternative funding methods. Stay tuned.

Ben at Seattle Transit blog has a great post yesterday summing up the updated discussions around the I-90 valuation.

They are talking about electronic toll collections studies and tolling interoperability. It is quite dull. The I-90 discussions start at 11:00am which should have more lively discussion.

The discussions over collecting tolls are going a little long due to a high amount of questions from the legislature. Senator Haugen is concerned about interoperability issues for collecting tolls from Canadian drivers. The discussion is still fairly benign as most of the audience waits from the I-90 discussion (including my friend who works for WSDOT that I am sitting next to).

11:35am: They are finally moving into the I-90 valuation discussion. Introductions to the discussion are being made by JTC and the consultants who were hired to conduct the study.

11:39am: The study consultants are giving a summary of the report before they launch into discussion and questions. They mentioned the only part of the direction they were not able to complete yet is a consultation with federal agencies who were involved with the original 1976 agreement.

11:42am: The consultant notes that I-90 90% of the bridge was constructed with federal funds and only 10% was constructed with State funds.

11:45: Presenters are discussing other appraisal reports in similar situations (i.e. past Trimet and ODOT negotiations). Senator Jarrett just arrived in the room. Other Legislators here are Simpson, Eddy, Clibborn, Hougen, Becker, someone I don't recognize, Roach, and Mr. I love transit Rep. Doug Ericksen.

11:49: "none of these (appraisal) methods will necessarily result in the final appraisal number" states the consultants, interesting.

Rep. Simpson asks about the state's funding portion of I-90 (which was 10%). The state claims all of that came from gas taxes, but they can't find the record to prove that.

He also asked about the double taxation issues since his consituents have already paid for the I-90 bridge so why do they have to pay for it again? He also points out the road capacity will not be lost and Link will take many cars of the road. Lastly he asks how ST and WSDOT has responded to the draft findings?

The answers from consulting team:
-They report assumed gas tax and MVET funds were used for their 10% portion. They have requested from WSDOT records to show how the records. They have assumed that all of the state funds were amendment 18 restricted (could only go towards roads) whether or not they were gas tax or license fee taxes. Clearly there is still some major confusion here.

-They have not arrived on a number value yet in the report. They have only chosen three methods in which the value should be determined. The report recommends that ST should receive credit against the final valuation for the millions of dollars they are spending on the highway repaving project (R8A). This is a big deal because ST is paying for the vast majority of the highway repaving project.

11:56am: Simpson pushed back after that answers. He notes that WSDOT claims all of the 10% state portion was constitutionally restricted towards roads but the report calls out that WSDOT can not prove this with documentation.

The consultants pushed back and said they basically are trusting WSDOT and are assuming that 100% of the state's contribution came from restricted amendment 18 road only funds.

Deb Eddy chimes in and asks if they are assuming all of the money from constitutionally restricted even though they didn't see documentation? Consultants replied simply yes.

Sen. Haugen chimed in saying that while I-90 was built MVET was going to ferries and transit and I-90 was taking almost all of the state's road dollars at the time. Rep. Clibborn thanked Hougen for her "historical perspective". There were some good chuckles in the room.

12:05pm: Senator Jarrett is asking a lot of technical legal questions. He has not called Kemper Freeman Court case yet as what he is asking about but he is getting at the root issue of that case. Very interesting. Basically he is asking if the federal record of decision memorandum of agreement will provide greater weight that WA State law regarding the I-90 valuation (I think).

Consultants responded that some of the legal questions were not looked at in this study but that no constitutional laws have been broken (because the memorandum of agreement states from the beginning that the center roadway was to be used for high capacity transit).

12:08pm: Rep. Clibborn thanks members of the consulting team who presented. She notes that phase two of the study will go forward and there will be a letter to the JTC with principals demonstrating the finding of part one of the valuation.

I am signing off for now but stay tuned as this issue will continue to be important for TCC!

Tacoma City Council Leads the Way to Create Vibrant Communities

Tuesday night the Tacoma City Council passed their mixed-use centers update. This is great news for Tacoma and a good regional model of how to plan for growth is a way that is compact and connected. TCC, Futurewise, and Cascade Land Conservancy worked hard on this package. Here is the press release I just sent out. Thank you everyone who got involved with this effort.

July 30, 2009
Ryan Mello, Cascade Land Conservancy, (253) 861-8356;
Andrew Austin, Transportation Choices Coalition, (253) 732-9434

Tacoma City Council Leads the Way to Create Vibrant Communities

Cascade Land Conservancy, Futurewise, and Transportation Choices Coalition applaud their visionary decision

Tacoma, WA- After two years of hard work and hours of debate, Tuesday night the Tacoma City Council unanimously approved an updated Mixed-Use Centers (MUC) Plan. The plan will encourage livable, walkable development within Tacoma’s neighborhood Centers by creating incentives for investment, improving design and encouraging well-planned growth. For a complete list of the mixed use-centers affected please see

Passing the plan was a 2009 priority for the Pierce County Sustainability Coalition, a group of organizations that support innovative policies that enhance quality of life throughout the region. Tacoma’s MUC updates presented an opportunity to ensure sustainable growth in the region.

The plan does just that. It protects neighborhood character and curbs urban sprawl by focusing growth within the Centers; it encourages private economic development; it provides incentives to developers to use energy efficient building materials; and it protects local farm and forest lands through a Transfer of Development Rights (TDR) option.

“Passing the Tacoma Mixed-Use Centers plan is an enormous win for sustainability in Pierce County,” stated Ryan Mello, Chair of the Pierce County Sustainability Coalition and Pierce County Conservation Director at Cascade Land Conservancy, “the Tacoma City Council has demonstrated leadership by taking an important step forward to concentrate growth within the City and protect our working forests and farmlands.”

“The City of Tacoma is expected to grow by 127,000 people in the next 30 years,” Stated Sara Nikolic, Urban Strategies Director of Futurewise, “The City Council has decided to focus that growth in vibrant walkable communities while protecting single family neighborhoods.”

“People want to have the choice of walking to the grocery store, biking to school, or taking a bus to work,” said Andrew Austin, Policy Associate at Transportation Choices Coalition, “Yesterday’s action by the City Council means land use policies will support that choice and create healthier more livable communities.”

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Tacoma Mixed-Use Centers Final Package is tonight at 5pm

Tonight at 5pm the Tacoma City Council will discuss and hopefully pass the final Mixed-Use Centers update package. This will allow many of the mixed-use centers in Tacoma to absorb more growth create transit and people oriented communities while protecting single family neighborhoods.

Amendments 2,3, and 4 to the package are supported by TCC and the Pierce County sustainability coalition. For a full list of the amendments are here. Amendment number 4 is of particular importance.

The final meeting is tonight at 5:00pm at the Tacoma City Chamber, I hope to see you there.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Tolling and Southern Califronia Hot Lanes

There has been a lot of talk regionally and nationally about congestion pricing, tolling, and pay as you drive user fees. Earlier today I was at a meeting on PSRC's 2040 plan where the discussion of infrastructure funding was front and center. On Thursday the Joint Transportation Committee will be discussing tolling and long-term transportation funding at their meeting. It is at 9:30am on Thursday at the ST board room, here is the agenda.

I got word today from our friends in California that the LA Metropolitan Planning Organization is starting a HOT lane program similar to the pilot program WSDOT has on 167.

This LA Times article on the topic is well worth the read. Many of points of contention and debate in Southern California are similar to what I hear at meetings around the Puget Sound.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Headed to Portland for a Joint Transportation Commission Meeting

The TCC office is slowly returning to normal now that light rail opening is over. Thank you to all of the all star volunteers who helped make opening day a success. We signed up almost 1000 new members! Check out a the Light Rail website on Whrrl where there are a bunch of pictures from the weekend.

I am en route for to Portland to attend a meeting with members of the California, Washington, and Oregon transportation commission.

The agenda for the meeting on the Washington Transportation Commission's web pagehere.

It is a packed full agenda, here are the highlight:

-Columbia River Crossing
-Federal Re-authorization
-High-Speed Rail
-Tolling in Washington

I would highlight which of these topics I will be watching closest, but that would be contrived since all of these issues are critically important for TCC and the future of transportation in the Pacific Northwest.

I'll post a summary of the meeting here on the blog and report on any new insight into where ODOT and WSDOT are headed in terms of these looming policy decisions. I am not sure if I will have internet at the ODOT building so feel free to follow mini-updates on TCC's Twitter Account.

I am wait for my Amtrak Cascade train which is over an hour late due to mechanical problems, the path towards high speed rail is incremental...

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Friday, July 17, 2009

Mayor Nickels gives props to longtime TCC members Mona Lee and Dick Burkhart

Mayor Nickels has a good piece on the opening of light rail today in the Seattle Transit blog. He talks about the challenges and succeses he has witnessed while fighting for light rail and sitting on the Sound Transit Board. It is well worth the read.

At the end of the article he gives a huge shout out to longtime friends and members of TCC, Dick Burkhart and Mona Lee. Come say hi to Dick at Mona on Saturday at the Othello Station Streetfair!

From the article:
While certainly not easy (1995-96 and 2000-01 come to mind!), it has been an incredible honor to work with the elected officials on the ST Board, the staff (Joni Earl for instance) and particularly the interested citizens (Mona Lee and Dick Burkhart come to mind) who have engaged, often passionately in this saga. I do wish the voters had approved the Forward Thrust plan in 1968, but what a ride my generation would have missed! For someone who wants to make a difference in people’s lives it has been the chance of a lifetime.

t-minus 23 hours: 35 minutes to light rail in Seattle

Here at the TCC Office is all about Link Light rail opening. We have boxes packed full of awesome Travel Light T-shirts that we will be selling for only $10 at Othello, ID, and Westlake Station! Come by and say hello and pick up a commemorative T-shirt. We will also have free give aways and prize drawing at all three of those stations. The prizes you can win include a signed Le Toux Sounders Jersey, a free 6 month ORCA pass, and free bike tune ups at REI. Make sure to swing by Westlake, Othello and the ID on Saturday and say hello to your friendly TCC staff and volunteers. For a full list of Saturday's opening day activities check out our website here.

Tonight is the Tuxes and Train Gala. For more information go here, it should be a great celebratory event.

New Media:
We will be out of the office all weekend so we will try to keep in touch through the internet. Throughout the whole weekend we will be creating a photo story around opening day at a new social networking site called Whrrl. Check it out and keep your eyes peeled for Whirl booths at the stations where you can get your picture taken and be part of the story. We will also be on Twitter and facebook.

See you this weekend during this historic weekend that we have all been waiting for!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Counting Down to Opening Day

I apologize for the light blog posting of late, here at the TCC office we have been slammed as we prepare for the opening of Central Link this SATURDAY!

We have a ton of stuff going on, check out our website HERE to get the low down on all of the exciting opening day activities. We will have tables, booths, and hordes of volunteers at Westlake, International District, and Othello Station.

Make sure to stop by and say hello grab one of awesome Travel Light T-Shirts as we celebrate this monumental event.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Vibrant mixed-use centers key to growing smart in Tacoma

Transportation Choices Coalition and Futurewise Co-wrote an Op-Ed on Tacoma's Mixed Use Centers update that was printed in the News Tribune Today. It was printed straight across from the TNT's positive editorial on light rail opening from Seattle to Tukwilla.

The second reading and discussion on the Tacoma Mixed Use Centers plan will be at tonight's city council meeting at Tacoma City Hall at 5:00pm. The final reading and proposed passage of the package will be next week (the 21st) at 5:00pm at Tacoma City Hall. Stay tuned!

Here is today's editorial:

Vibrant mixed-use centers key to growing smart in the city

The Puget Sound Regional Council predicts that 1.7 million additional people will move into Pierce, Kitsap, King and Snohomish counties in the next 30 years. They expect Tacoma to grow by 32 percent – 127,000 people – by the year 2040, an increase larger than the current population of Bellevue.

Regional growth provides tremendous opportunities, but also real challenges. Are we going to grow in a way that concentrates new jobs and residents in urban centers, or are we going to pave our way to Mount Rainier? Will future growth spur economic development and revitalize our historic business districts or build new communities without sufficient infrastructure?

Will future residents of Pierce County have the choice to catch a streetcar to work or walk to the grocery store? Or will working families continue to live in auto-oriented communities and have to choose between putting food on the table or filling up the gas tank?

These are the tough questions we must ask as we envision what we want our region and communities to look like during our lifetimes and for future generations.

Elected officials and community leaders asked many of these questions as they developed the growth plan in “Vision 2040” at the Puget Sound Regional Council. They found that growth and quality of life can co-exist if we are smart about where we direct new homes and jobs.

Protecting our natural lands makes concentrating growth in cities a must. While growth within cities provides immense economic development opportunities, it will also create pressure on cities’ aging infrastructure. If the City of Tacoma grows by 127,000 people, we will need to fix sidewalks, paint crosswalks and bike lanes, and fill potholes. Sewer and utility systems will need upgrades, open space and parks will need improvements, and there will be more traffic and demand for more transit service.

Economic opportunities for cities absorbing new growth are immense. Such cities as Tacoma, Lakewood and Puyallup can attract new jobs; promote prospering business districts; and create vibrant, walkable communities as the region grows.

But capitalizing on this opportunity will not be easy. Cities must engage neighborhoods early so that new growth plans can respond to the needs of current as well as future residents.

The Tacoma City Council has a unique opportunity to do just that: plan for growth in a way that involves neighborhood input to create compact mixed-use neighborhoods well-connected by sidewalks, bike lanes, high-frequency bus service and streetcars. This month, the council will hear testimony and vote on the mixed-use centers plan as proposed by the Tacoma Planning Commission.

The proposed plan will change transportation requirements, raise height limits, and focus infrastructure resources in areas of the city such as 56th and South Tacoma Way, lower Portland Avenue, Martin Luther King Way and the Stadium District.

The current plan is an important step toward creating vibrant, livable neighborhoods, but the city should be bolder. The council should amend the proposal to:

• Remove parking minimums, and let the market decide how much parking is needed, not mandate excessive parking lots.

• Attract local businesses and provide housing for families – while protecting single-family neighborhoods – by allowing the height bonus to apply to the entire mixed-use zones surrounding core pedestrian streets.

• Make walking and cycling more convenient by implementing complete streets standards and shorter maximum block lengths for new streets.

Over the next 30 years, Tacoma and our region will grow. The question is whether we plan for growth and invest in infrastructure in a way that builds vibrant, connected, and livable communities. Tacoma has the opportunity to continue to lead the region in meeting its sustainability and economic development goals.

The City Council should step up to the plate, reaffirm its leadership and pass a strong mixed-use center update.

Andrew Austin of Tacoma is the policy associate for Transportation Choices Coalition, a statewide organization working to bring Washington residents more opportunities to ride a bus, catch a train, bike or walk. Sara Nikolic is co-director of Futurewise, a statewide nonprofit smart-growth advocacy organization.

Update: The Tacoma BIA blog covered the Mixed-Use Centers update today here.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Bus Rapid Transit and Climate Change in the New York Times

The New York Times has an in depth article today discussing the connection between climate change, transportation sector emissions, and how Bus Rapid Transit systems can help solve the problem. It is well worth a read.

The story states, "in the booming cities of Asia, Africa and Latin America account for a rapidly growing component of heat-trapping gases linked to global warming. While emissions from industry are decreasing, those related to transportation are expected to rise more than50 percent by 2030 in industrialized and poorer nations." Often times climate change related emission reduction efforts are focused on power and efficiency, both of which are very important. That said, this statistic reasserts that transportation planning is a crucial component to greenhouse gas emission reduction worldwide (in Washington State's transportation emissions account for 47% of emissions).

The article points to Botoga's highly acclaimed BRT system, TransMilenio , as an successful example.

Bus rapid transit systems like Bogotá’s, called TransMilenio, might hold an answer. Now used for an average of 1.6 million trips each day, TransMilenio has allowed the city to remove 7,000 small private buses from its roads, reducing the use of bus fuel — and associated emissions — by more than 59 percent since it opened its first line in 2001, according to city officials.

1.6 Million trips per day just on their BRT system is phenomenal. Bogata is quite a bit bigger than Seattle, but to give you an idea metro's systemwide ridership on an average weekday in 2007 was 365,000.

The story goes on to get into a few stories of what TransMilenio has done for commuters and discusses the diffrence in branding between buses and true BRT:

Mr. Peñalosa noted that the negative stereotypes about bus travel required some clever rebranding. Now, he said, upscale condominiums advertise that they are near TransMilenio lines. “People don’t say, ‘I’m taking the bus,’ they say, ‘I’m taking TransMilenio,’ ” he added, as he rode at rush hour recently, chatting with other passengers.

Jorge Engarrita, 45, a leather worker who was riding TransMilenio to work, said the system had “changed his life,” reducing his commuting time to 40 minutes with one transfer from two or three hours on several buses. Free shuttle buses carry residents from outlying districts to TransMilenio terminals.

For a great video on how TransMilenio works check out this Streetfilms video.

As someone who has experience South American BRT personally , I am continually impressed how large South American cities especially Bogata continue to highlight their success with a fast and efficient BRT systems. Both the Quito and Bogata systems function better than any attempts at BRT regionally so far for two key reasons:

-True right of way that is dedicated solely for Bus Rapid Transit and not shared with other buses or cars. These lanes have controlled access like a rail line and never get stuck in traffic.

-Stations that function and feel like a rail line where you buy a ticket to get into the station and you can not pay onboard (Swift is going to be the first BRT system in the region that has this benefit to speed up boarding).

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Donald Shoup Coming to Tacoma

Last night there was a lively discussion surrounding parking guidelines for Tacoma's Mixed Use Centers.

I just found out today that Pacific Intermountain Parking and Transportation Association Annual Conference is going to be in Tacoma July 26-28th (thanks for the heads up Chelsea).

For all the info go to their website:

A full schedule of the conference can be found here.

It looks like a great lineup of interesting speakers and with cities across the state debating the removal of mandated minimum parking requirements as we move into the 21st century, the timing could not be better.

Best of all, the lead parking guru or all parking gurus, Donald Shoup will be there. For normal people this probably doesn't mean much, but for parking nerds Shoup is the progressive market based parking master. Streetfilms has a great Shoup video here that I suggest you watch.

If there is one thing nerdier than being a transit geek, it is being a parking geek (playing Dungeon and Dragons with your friends if you over the age of 15 would probably also count in that category but I won't get into that discussion).

As transit and parking nerds we should just accept who we are and own up to it. If you really want to show your colors, I suggest you check out and join the Shoupista facebook group!