List of Essays
Light Rail and Social Justice
Transit-For-All (an essay by the Rockridge Institute)
STA Ballot Measure Approved: Implications
John Olsen's September 8, 2008 Council Presentation
Spokane City Council Not Up to Speed
STA Board Punts
InlandRail Board Endorses Sayrs For County Commissioner
Mayor Verner Weighs In On Light Rail
Senator Lisa Brown Shares Her Thoughts About Light Rail
STA Board's Light Rail Stonewalling May Cost Our Region Dearly
An Email to the Technical Advisory Committee
Where Did Spokane's Vision Go?
What's a Few Pecentage Points Here and There?
How Many Board Members Does It Take To Spell "Collusion"?
Is a New STA Governance Model In Order?
The Rest of the Story
The Charlotte Success Story
STA and AVISTA Wedding Makes For Strange Bedfellows
A Quick Primer: Axle Loads And Street Deterioration
Reality Check: Why We Should Be Building Light Rail Now
Halleluiah! FTA Gets It Right
KREM TV Interview Underwhelming
Light Rail Spurs Local Economy
STA's Draft Comprehensive Plan
Problem: SRTC's Regional Visioning Project
Spokane Light Rail With Trails
Coeur d'Alene Visioning: Doing it Right
InlandRail Board Endorses Roskelley For County Commissioner
InlandRail Board Endorses Tedesco for Liberty Lake Council
STA's Latest Shenanigans
InlandRail Board Endorses Mary Lou Johnson For County Commissioner
Let's Ditch the Downtown Bus Plaza
STA's Central City Line Hidden Costs
LIGHT RAIL AND SOCIAL JUSTICE
(by Dick Raymond)
My church, Knox Presbyterian, has well over one-hundred years of rich mission-related tradition in the Spokane communityUnion Gospel Mission, Anna Ogden Hall, Christ Clinic, and Christ Kitchen were all direct results of Knox parishoners' visions or efforts. Lately, Knox has been trying to understand how it might honor this tradition in new ways. As a result, our congregation is in the middle of a feasibility study to determine how/if we might contribute to a revitalization of our neighborhood while addressing the affordable housing issue that is staring our region in the face.
I am on what Knox calls its Affordable Housing Task Force, and at one of the meetings I had the following realization: while a vital local transit systembus; street car; paratransitis clearly desirable to help those in need (not only those physically in need, but also those with a personal desire to help address sustainability issues), it is just thatlocal.
The term, "social justice" means so many things to so many people. To me, a couple of things it means is that regardless of their circumstance, people ought to be afforded the opportunity to better their lotto be as productive as they can to support society. And, they ought to be afforded the opportunity for as fulfilling a quality of life as possible. By providing a reliable means of mobility, a truly vital and vibrant public transportation system can do so much to address these social justice issues. Butand this was my "epiphany"why not more than just the usual local options?
Light rail transit is uniquely and particularly well suited to provide another dimension: regional mobility. During Spokane Transit Authority's ill-fated 2006 attempt to field the light rail transit proposal before the public, the thinking was that for a single system fare of $1ONE DOLLAR!any person could board any mode in the regional public transportation system and get to anywhere served by the system. Think of itone could catch a bus near the new affordable housing solution being contemplated by Knox Presbyterian and go, say to Coeur d'Alene to catch the Summer Theater; grab a burger at Hudson's; go to the city beach; hike Tubb's Hill; (fill in your own thoughts here)all with one transfer downtown or at one of the other LRT stations. You could get to the Spokane County Fair and Exposition Center to check out the Auto-Boat speed show. You could get from Coeur d'Alene to downtown Spokane to partake of the vitality, hospitality and entertainment offered there, too. You could stop at Liberty Lake. You could check out the buffet (or whatever) at one of the casinos. How about getting to your class at the EWU Cheney campus? Andhow radical is thisregional work commutes are now practical and possible. In a timely manner, you could get to anywhere served by the system, FOR ONE DOLLAR!
And, social justice issues aside, the sheer practicality of being able to get from anywhere served by the regional system to, say, the Spokane International Airport with absolutely no (or at most, minimal) hassle would not be lost. Multiply that by the number of destinations served by the system, and the light should be coming on.
Of course, by the time a light rail system is in place, the dollar fare will undoubtedly have gone by the wayside, but you get the picture. To me the idea is so right on so many levels.
The Rockridge Institute
(forwarded by InlandRail friends, John Olsen and Bart Haggin)
The way we move shapes almost everything about our nation. Our dependence on cars pollutes the environment, harms our personal health, restricts social and economic mobility, and chains us to foreign oil. With one multifaceted change over the course of many years, a "transit-for-all" initiative can help slay all of these beasts. Simply put, the idea is to take the $70 billion a year that currently goes to subsidizing cheap oil- the essential ingredient of our car culture-and shift it toward building and promoting public transit systems. Additional funding could come from the over $250 billion a year that is currently spent on building and maintaining the highway infrastructure.
Transit-for-all means expanding and improving public transportation at the local, regional, and federal levels. It means investing in bus and light rail in urban areas to create clean, convenient, reliable, and accessible webs of transportation. It means making our city cores more bike- and pedestrian-friendly. It means expanding commuter rail, to connect urban and suburban centers typically served by car transportation. It means investing in high-speed rail, to move people, goods, and services from city to city. Moving within urban cores and connecting urban and suburban hubs, these webs would extend to all auto-dense areas.
Transit-for-all is about values. Improving public transportation is about giving all Americans the freedom of equal access to social and economic opportunities that enhance our quality of life. Investing in alternative transportation is using the common wealth for the common good. It is an expansion of freedom, creating more diverse transportation.
Transit-for-all is a progressive strategic initiative to advance many of our goals at once.
It's an economic issue. It would increase mobility of goods and labor. It would revitalize neglected neighborhoods. And it would spur growth and attract development.
It's a labor issue. It would create many jobs-construction workers, engineers, bus drivers, rail operators, administrators, ticket vendors. Many of these jobs are sustainable union jobs. An increase of union jobs empowers labor to negotiate better contracts and helps develop better conditions for workers throughout the community.
It's an environmental issue. By now the relationship between fossil fuels and the environment is well understood and accepted. Burning oil releases into the atmosphere greenhouse gases that destabilize the climate. Mass transit reduces society's dependence on oil and helps remediate some of the dangers of global warming.
It's a public health issue. Our air quality is abysmal and getting worse. The dirty exhaust from cars is driving an air pollution crisis that increases health hazards and claims tens of thousands of American lives, not to mention millions of dollars, every year (and 43,000 deaths each year in traffic accidents-Bart Haggin). And no one needs to be reminded of the physical, emotional, and economic damage of six million annual auto accidents. Better public transportation helps us transition out of this dirty and dangerous technology. In doing so, it could rescue millions of Americans from debilitating health problems and even death-and save the public from bearing the burden of preventable medical expenses.
It's a national security issue. Kicking our oil habit not only benefits human and environmental health, it secures our nation. Greater energy autonomy frees us from our dangerous dependence on a volatile region.
With a transit-for-all initiative, laborers, economists, environmentalists, and security buffs could walk under the same banner. An investment in a transit-for-all strategic initiative is an investment in freedom, health, the economy, and national security.
It is time for progressives to start thinking strategically. The most effective longterm strategies start with the most commonplace activities: eating, traveling to work, and working in a business. Home is where we live. Start there.
STA BALLOT MEASURE APPROVED: IMPLICATIONS
OK, so the ballot measure reauthorizing the 0.3% sales tax for STA—sans sunset provisions—passed. Why should we care? Here's why. No matter what we may think of STA, they are in fact the area's primary provider of local transit services. Importantly, the recent ballot measure did NOT include sunset provisions. With sunset provisions, the agency can only rely on the authorized funding stream until it must again come up for a vote. This provision effectively limits STA from doing true, proactive, and effective strategic—that is, long-range—planning. When it comes to visioning and planning for the future, under the burden of sunset provisions, truly progressive (and appropriate) schemes can only be pondered, and are not readily pursuable. Without sunset provisions, the agency is in a position to exercise prudent planning, free from the burden of having to second-guess future electorate "moods".
The kicker is that one word, "prudent". It is true that STA does not have a stellar record. However, they are the only "act" around, and in recent times have shown a glimmer of hope. The fact is, the voters have the ability to rein in the agency in the future, should STA prove to be poor stewards of the electorate's trust.
This is, of course a web site advocating for fixed rail-based transit—particularly light rail, so we're more than mildly interested in the current state of affairs, and some of the nuances attendant to the reauthorization vote. Now, here's what is interesting and exciting:
Little-known fact: even without the reauthorization, STA has the money RIGHT NOW to complete the preliminary engineering and tie up the identified right-of-way. The 2006 ballot measures were advisory only to the STA Board, and while results were very, very close, the STA Board nonetheless used the negative result as an excuse to pull the plug on the light rail planning. Unfortunately, the deliverables (the project documents—the "proceeds", if you will) of the $8-million-plus spent on the study to date may be in jeopardy if the Draft Environmental Impact Statement (DEIS) is allowed to time out at the end of this year—2008. This situation can be mitigated by resuming planning, as advocated by InlandRail. Note that we did not say, "construction". The Federal funds spent thus far were for the development of a plan, including a Final Environmental Impact Statement.Thus, InlandRail's consternation...and resolve. Imagine, if the STA Board had the chutzpa to demonstrate some real vision and leadership, they actually (gasp!) could.
Another little-known fact: we believe the Board decision was regrettably driven by the special interests of a few of the board members.
Yet another little-known fact: given the results of the recent reauthorization vote, STA could proceed with the entire first phase of the proposed light rail project RIGHT NOW.
JOHN OLSEN'S SEPTEMBER 8, 2008 COUNCIL PRESENTATION
On September 8, 2008 Inland Empire Rail Transit Association board member John Olsen presented a paper to the Spokane City Council, at the invitation of the Mayor's office. His presentation clearly articulates InlandRail's thoughts and goals. The paper is presented in its entirety below.
Good Evening Council President Shogan and Council members. My name is John Olsen and am here this evening in the capacity of a new Board Member of the recently formed non profit Inland Empire Rail Transit Association. You may find us on the web at www.inlandrail.org. I am new to this calling, but have had a life long interest in mass transit and been a user in many cities in our country and in our world. Mass transit is beneficial in giving us more sustainable lives, with flexible options for mobility and fill our need for transportation to our work and play.
There is nationwide movement in areas the size of Metro Spokane/Kootenai Counties to facilitate Urban Walkable growth by utilizing Electric Light Rail and buses. The Portland Tri County Metro area has the Max which combined light rail and bus service serving three counties and is moving toward crossing the Columbia River to Vancouver.
The increasing sprawl afforded by Suburban Driveable communities such as we have in the Spokane/North Idaho Metro boundaries is proving to be not sustainable. This likely will not work for us long term. A culture of the automobile as primary transportation is not healthy for our environment, or good for our pocket books. Automobiles are the most costly of primary transportation modes, followed by buses, then light rail. Bicycles in conjunction with bus and light rail are likely the most cost efficient model.
It is the goal of our association to highlight with these times of increased fuel costs and potentially decreased availability of liquid fossil fuel, electric light rail as an attractive and vital option for a sustainable future. Continuation of study and completion of the environmental impact statement for a metro light rail system should be on the front burner. A backbone of light rail from Cheney and our Airport to Coeur d'Alene through our central corridor, fed with connector buses should be moved to high priority in our Metro Bi State planning.
With the aquifer affording an abundance of available, accessible, safe water it is likely that the population growth here will be much faster and larger here than all current predictions. As the arid areas of Southern California and Arizona are forced to depopulate and relocate, Spokane/Coeur d'Alene Metro will be a Mecca for those wishing to be "Near Nature Near Perfect".
It is incumbent upon all our local planning commissions, at the County and City level in our basin to foster a Sustainable 20 year vision with solid plans for increased mass transportation. As town centers develop around light rail stations, fed by an efficient connector bus system they will be sustainable with all basic necessary services available, including high density housing, shopping and our workplaces.
It may be a moderate interval of time before the population needs to fund and finance such a transformative community project. Based on transportation needs right now it might not seem necessary, but it will be much less expensive to be building ahead of the curve, not behind the curve as Seattle Metro has been. Seattle costs currently are 180 Million a mile, and projected current costs for a beginning system here are at 18 Million.
Those of us that are community organizers often bring our many ideas to the elected bodies for consideration and decision. What the Inland Empire Rail Transit Association will continue to ask is that you as a City Council join citizens of our metro area in this project. We can become sustainable as long term beneficiaries of a coherent plan for Urban Walkable, under girded by mass transit, along with healthy options such as bike paths and pedestrian friendly town centers. We want your support of a strong backbone of Electric Light Rail connecting the two ends of our Metro Community. Seizing this opportunity the citizens will see you as leaders with a new vision for comprehensive development if you make sustainable transportation options and growth around new town centers at all rail stops a priority for our future.
Thank you for your time and consideration of our efforts to bring a higher level of Sustainability for our children and grand children to the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene Metro environment.
Respectfully submitted September 8, 2008
Dr John A Olsen to the Spokane City Council
As part of Mayor Mary Verner's Administrative Report
SPOKANE CITY COUNCIL NOT UP TO SPEED
At their September 8, 2008 meeting, after John Olsen's presentation (see above), the Spokane City Council unfortunately demonstrated its inability to grasp the basics with respect to light rail. Councilmember Nancy McLaughlin's grossly misinformed statements prompted former council member Phyllis Holmes to respond with an email to all current council members, to make sure that they all do, in fact "get it". Off-the-cuff remarks portraying as fact information that is flat wrong is at best misleading. The Spokane City Council owes it to the citizens to be up-to-speed on the very serious issues facing the region as an attempt is made to understand and proactively address the very relevant transportation, economic development, and sustainability issues staring the region in the face.
Phyllis' email follows, in its entirety:
Dear Council Members,
I watched the portion of tonight's meeting that dealt with transportation alternatives. Following John Olsen's presentation for the Inland Empire Rail Transit Assn, I was dismayed by some of the council comments that created a distorted and inaccurate picture of the light rail project as proposed to the STA board by the Light Rail Steering committee.
For the record and to correct the grossly inflated figure mentioned by Ms McLaughlin, the proposed project cost was not $600M. It was actually less than $300M with a $300M cap. This was briefed to all STA Board members multiple times, both individually and collectively, and presented in written form, as well. It was also well covered in the media. It is unfortunate when inaccurate information goes out on channel 5.
Further, the public has never been asked to vote to fund the project, thus they have never turned down a funding proposal. They were asked, in an advisory vote, whether STA should use the money it already had to continue work on the project. Further, the STA board chose to ask if it should prepare a funding package to present to the voters. It also included the cost figure but did not indicate that not all of the funding was expected to be locally generated.
The vote was very close with some reporting that they would have supported had another agency been in the lead. General confusion about the wording and intent also clouded the issue.
I can also elaborate further on the Charlotte, NC, light rail system. It was reported a couple of weeks ago that, even though the system opened just last year, they expect to reach their 2025 ridership projections within the next 3 years. This is an often repeated outcome.
STA BOARD PUNTS
A number of the InlandRail board members attended the September 18, 2008 STA Board meeting to present what InlandRail believes to be compelling reasoning for STA to resume light rail planning. The Board's response, both verbal and non-verbal was underwhelming. The fact is that the STA Board received public comment by a former city councilwoman and past STA Board Chair; an optometrist; a retired math professor; a retired city engineer; the Director of Construction & Planning at a local university; a U.S. Postman; plus a 1,300 signature petition backed by a statistically valid survey indicating overwhelming public interest. Unfortunately the STA Board, under Chair Mark Richard's incredibly myopic leadership, sank to the occasion by totally ignoring the input—including a motion from Spokane City Councilman/STA Board Member Richard Rush that died due to lack of a second—despite no testimony in opposition. Consider the following excerpt from the minutes of the September 18, 2008 STA Board meeting, item 7.A:
Mr. John Lackey of David Evans and Associates presented a recommendation concerning the draft environmental impact study (DEIS). As an overview, he said the DEIS was issued December 29, 2005 and the Board adopted a resolution in 2006 to accept the locally preferred alternative and preserve the corridor. He added that the DEIS statement remains valid; however a supplement will likely be needed in the future. This decision should be made cooperatively between the affected agencies. If the agency makes substantial changes to the proposed action that are relevant to environmental concerns or there are significant new circumstances or information relevant to environmental concerns, a supplement should be prepared. It is Mr. Lackey's recommendation that STA should invest appropriate resources in environmental documentation when there is intent to proceed toward the light rail project implementation. Discussion ensued as to funding from the federal government for the continuance of the light rail project. Federal funds are not available. Reference was made to the fact that voters turned down two advisory votes on light rail in November, 2006. Mr. Rush asked about the expiration date of December 2008 for the DEIS. Mr. Lackey said there is no statutory timeframe for expiration. If there is no intent to put the project on schedule, no supplement is required at this time. Mr. Rush said economic development has followed the construction of light rail in other areas of the country, for example, Charlotte, North Carolina. The STA Board should not lose control of the project and the non-profit group, Inland Empire Transit Rail Association, could help promote it to the voters. Mr. Rush moved to recommend staff prepare the selection of a locally preferred alternative to adopt at the October Board meeting and a conceptual design to address changes that have been addressed in the corridor with the anticipation of moving forward with the project. The motion died through lack of a second. Mr. Richard asked staff to gather more information on the light rail project in Charlotte, NC; the Washington State University light rail survey; and, updated real estate information on preserving the right-of-way for the October Board meeting.
You gotta' love it! We really wonder what the point of public input is, and what or who the STA Board's source is that controverts the formal and public input provided?
INLANDRAIL BOARD ENDORSES BRIAN SAYRS FOR COUNTY COMMISSIONER
At their September 2008 meeting, the InlandRail Board unanimously endorsed the candidacy of third-term Liberty Lake City Councilman Brian Sayrs in his bid for Spokane County Commissioner against incumbent Mark Richard. Board chair KC Traver issued the following statement:
The Inland Empire Rail Transit Association supports Brian Sayrs for Spokane County Commissioner. He understands the inseparable relationship between transportation mobility, growth management, and sustainable development.
The fact is, Brian actually gets it—he truly understands the role of county government, both what it should be and perhaps more importantly what it shouldn't be. Refreshingly, Brian has a keen grasp of the Growth Management Act, and why planning under GMA offers a predictable and consistent framework for sustainable growth rather than the chaotic, haphazard environment that prevails under the current reign of Spokane County Commissioners. Brian also understands the significant role that light rail can play in the overall transportation solution for the region. He knows that light rail is not an answer of itself, but that it will play a pivotal role in connecting all the various other modes for a truly vibrant, useful, important and sustainable regional public transportation network.
Post-Election Update: Brian ran a very strong campaign, but unfortunately did not win the election, which was extremely close. Regardless, we know Brian remains committed to light rail, and InlandRail looks forward to working with him in our effort to advance the case for regional light rail transit.
MAYOR VERNER WEIGHS IN ON LIGHT RAIL
At her 2008 State of the City address, Spokane Mayor Mary Verner made known her interest in light rail by saying, "I hope that you will participate with me in increasingly frequent conversations about revisiting light rail for our community." In a number of ways, Mayor Verner has demonstrated to InlandRail a keen grasp of just what a light rail system could do for the region. She is particularly interested in an initial phase that would run between downtown Spokane and the International Airport (SIA).
We think one can make a compelling case for a first phase running from a point east of the Spokane central business district—perhaps a maintenance facility situated at the old Playfair site, which is owned by the City of Spokane. In fact, Spokane City Councilman Al French has emphatically stated that the City is reserving ground at the site that could accommodate such a maintenance facility. We'd like to take Councilman French's words at face value, but so far InlandRail is unaware of any coordination between STA and the City of Spokane regarding this matter, and that could prove to be very, very costly in terms of lost opportunity.
Mayor Verner's enthusiasm is very encouraging. Would that the other politicians shared her thinking!
SENATOR LISA BROWN SHARES HER THOUGHTS ABOUT LIGHT RAIL
In an article by Nicholas Deshais in the October 23, 2008 Inlander, State Senator Lisa Brown shared some of her thoughts regarding light rail for the Spokane-Coeur d'Alene region. Happily, Senator Brown understands and is not shy about spelling out her vision. To us here at InlandRail, it would seem that the Senator perhaps wouldn't quite agree with the stonewalling effort that the County Commissioners, the STA Board and the Spokane Valley politicos have been advancing with respect to the regional light rail effort.
That portion (only) of Mr. Deshais' article which speaks to the subject of light rail is reproduced below. Please read on...
INLANDER October 23, 2008
By Nicholas Deshais
Lisa Brown's got it pretty good. She leads the Democrats in the Washington State Senate, where her party is expected to keep a large majority, allowing her to control much of the agenda. The candidate she endorsed early for president, Barack Obama, looks like he's headed to the White House, offering her some clout in D.C. She's up for re-election this year but the man who's attempting to unseat her is, so far, not that threatening. Not bad.
When she stopped by The Inlander offices last week, she was carefree, between events and ready to chat. When she wasn't making us feel like a light rail connecting Spokane and Coeur d'Alene was imminent, she was telling us about how a medical school is going to be smack dab in the middle of town. Oh, and did we mention that she might be running for governor in 2012?
THE INLANDER: Do you think who we choose as president is going to have an impact on what Washington's financial future looks like?
LISA BROWN: I think it could. I really do. I am, obviously, a supporter of Obama. He has said his No. 1 priority will be energy independence and green-collar economy type jobs. I think that would fit very well with where Washington state could make complementary investments. Also, despite the financial crisis, this is the time to launch a major infrastructure project for the U.S., like light rail and investing in alternative energy and conservation technology. That would create jobs. That would fit very well with what we've been trying to do in Washington state. In the short run, yes, it worsens our financial deficit, but I think you have to not just think about where you are now but where you're going to be in two to five years.
So that green economy plan leaves out the North-South Freeway?
I believe that we are actually going to continue to make progress on the North-South Corridor. It also is a light rail corridor. The route has been decided upon and we're well on our way to having purchased the right-of-way through the city. In the short run, I don't think it will be a highway. It will be an arterial system. It will give us an alternative way to get freight off of Division and Hamilton, and it will give commuters a quicker way to get north/south. It won't look like a freeway for a long time. That's fine with me and a lot of other people. Purchasing the right-of-way and preserving the light rail corridor, that's something we need to do now. Otherwise we're going to have the same problems that Puget Sound has. If you wait too long, the choices are just all so bad and so expensive, and neighborhoods are up in arms. It's just a huge mess and I think Spokane really has an opportunity to avoid that. (Emphasis added)
In Portland, the light rail tracks head toward Vancouver before stopping right at the state line. Do you anticipate any problems similar to that here, considering the rail line would likely go to Coeur d'Alene?
Ideally, we would circumvent that problem and work with Idaho. It would be crazy to stop at Liberty Lake. We started working together on water. That's good news. We worked together to secure the funding for the aquifer study. With appropriate leadership on both sides we should be able to have our next major collaboration be on transportation.
Should we look to forming some sort of regional government before we face these major regional problems?
Governance is key. We have the Spokane Regional Transportation Commission, but it hasn't really been a planning organization. Governance on a regional level is what you're going to need to really carry off a big plan, like a light rail plan. We have an opportunity with a huge challenge. Local and state elected officials will have to give up some of their clout and that's going to be the hardest thing. Somebody will shoot this plan in the foot. Somebody will pull out. Somebody will have their own agenda. But, if this process works and holds officials' feet to the fire, then maybe we have a shot at this.
STA BOARD'S LIGHT RAIL STONEWALLING MAY COST OUR REGION DEARLY
(by Dick Raymond)
We had our regulary scheduled InlandRail Board meeting last night (November 17, 2008), and one of the things we discussed was the potential public works-related stimulus package the incoming administration is considering. Under that plan, the U.S. Government would strive to stimulate the economy by making a huge investment in the nation's infrastructure, both by upgrading existing infrastructure and constructing new infrastructure. The stimulus, of course would be both direct and indirect as suppliers provided material and the labor force filled the jobs, and the housing and service sectors did their "thing" as part of the overall equation. It is InlandRail's understanding that the proposed regional light rail project might be precisely what the administration is thinking of with respect to the stimulus package.
Now, here's what really, really frustrates me: the InlandRail board has been dogged in their effort to get STA to do what STA said they were going to do, namely, secure/protect right of way for the first phase of the proposed regional light rail system. We have also vehemently petitioned the STA Board to use the monies remaining from the initial study to help complete the preliminary engineering. FACT: STA's non-response to InlandRail's numerous requests/admonishments, has resulted in some of the identified light rail right of way in Liberty Lake being already developed—something a future light rail project will now have to deal with. That literally makes me want to retch.
Here's where we stand to lose BIG TIME: if the administration in fact proceeds with such a stimulus package, it is speculated that only projects that could be under construction soon would be eligible for the federal stimulus monies. Thanks to the STA board's and some Spokane Valley politicos' stonewalling, and the Spokane County Commissioners' ineptitude, it is doubtful whether even a renewed, herculean effort could position the proposed light rail project to receive any stimulus money. That, alone should now have you sitting up straight. If you're ticked, like me, you might want to give E. Susan Meyer (STA's CEO) a call and let her know how you feel. Oh, and while you're at it, ask her about her thoughts with respect to light rail—if she is candid, you might be surprised or perhaps even shocked.
Certainly, at this point we don't know if the stimulus package will even come to fruition. The undeniable fact is, if STA had pursued completion of the preliminary planning, including securing/protecting the right of way (it's been two years since the STA Board pulled the plug on the planning), the regional light rail project would in all likelihood be well positioned to participate in any stimulus package.
Oh, well, you gotta' love it! To whom shall the Margaret Leonard award be presented? There are so many candidates!
AN EMAIL TO THE TECHNICAL ADVISORY COMMITTEE
(by Dick Raymond)
As part of my duties while at the helm of the City of Spokane's Capital Programs Section, I served as the City's representative on the Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) to STA's Light Rail Steering Committee. When I retired from the City at the end of 2005, I took the opportunity to share my thoughts in an email to the other members of the TAC. That email is included below with the hope that you might gain some insight into what I believe is the real "meat and potatoes" issue behind the regional light rail effort.
I'll take this opportunity to let everyone know that I retired from the City of Spokane as of today, December 30th. So, what in the world am I doing at the office at this hour? Go figure. John Mercer will be taking my "full time" place on the TAC, and Ken Brown will remain as alternate.
Some of you may recall that at my first TAC meeting I mentioned that I thought the Light Rail Initiative was a big boondoggle, and that I was there to try to understand why in the world it was even being pursued at all. I was not convinced. However, some time later I had my epiphany—I realized that presently, LRT for our area is probably analagous to Expo 74 when it was being proposed for the City of Spokane. Expo '74 was not so much about what a great party and exposure it would be. Rather, it was all about what an opportunity for us to get people to know our city and, oh by the way what a great way to revitalize our downtown area. How lucky we were that someone had "the vision"!
I now view LRT in the same light as I believe those early visionaries viewed Expo '74. I fully believe that LRT has real near term potential as a significant economic development tool through the well documented phenomenon of transit oriented development. Right now, a viable transportation element it most likely isn't, and those who try to convince themselves otherwise are in my mind delusional. However, I am equally convinced that the Spokane-Coeur d' Alene corridor is going to fully develop in the future. Who knows, maybe all the way out to Cheney; probably out to SIA, too. And, with Deer Park out north, it very easily could develop into a bedroom community, putting pressure on that corridor. Then, LRT will indeed take its proper place as a viable transportation option. But, not now.
If one can buy in to this vision, then it makes no sense to postpone the obvious. Things are not getting any cheaper over time. It makes great sense, though to invest now in something that will not only have near-term economic benefits, but which will have enormous impact in the future with respect to our region's overall transportation solution.
As many of you know, WSDOT has provided room in their North Spokane Corridor project to accommodate future light rail. The City of Spokane is similarly engaged; we are accommodating LRT in our Riverside Avenue extension project through the University District, and making plans to accommodate LRT on the Latah Creek Bridge when we reconstruct its deck. Admittedly, this planning is mostly my "fault", but I strongly suspect others are starting to "get it".
Thanks to all for the wonderful conversations and debate we've had related to this very important project. It's been fun to be part of it. I sincerely hope that the region can somehow be allowed to catch "the vision" and embrace LRT for what it is—and, for that matter what it isn't.
Happy New Year!
So, you may be a bit surprised to learn that I was a "non-believer" when it came to light rail. When it dawned on me that in the near term it isn't at all about ridership—a hook on which the Spokane Regional Transportation Commission was unsuccessfully trying to hang their hat in order to garner FTA monies—but rather the very positive regional economic development impacts that would soon follow the construction of a light rail system, I became a zealous convert. The ridership would without doubt increase in the future, a historical fact backed by numerous studies. As an example, the City of Charlotte, North Carolina's new light rail system ("Lynx") has been so astonishingly popular that the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) expects to meet its year 2025 ridership projections after only "one or two" years of operation. Check out the LightRailNow! site for more on Charlotte's amazing success story. A follow-up article speaks directly to the Charlotte success story. I suspect that such success would not be out of the question for the Spokane region.
For some other information, you may wish to read my thoughts/arguments as to why I think it makes sense to move forward with light rail now. I hope you do—that it gets you to "scratch your head", see the light, and get on board with the vision.
WHERE DID SPOKANE'S VISION GO?
(by Dick Raymond)
It went the way of the visionless leaders.
In my opinion, it's very simple: politicians typically are reluctant to sign on to—let alone promote—any idea or cause that will expose them to contempt, "bad press" or ill-will. Therefore, it's best to let "someone else" champion that potentially good idea. Of course, that "someone else" is always a future figurehead; like Little Orphan Annie sang, "...Tomorrow! You're always a day away! "
Actually, we probably shouldn't be so astounded by this truth—after all, an incontrovertible fact is that the only real qualification needed by a politician to reach office is to garner the most votes. Period. It is only by providence that one truly qualified: (1) is in the first place passionate enough to be willing to subject him/herself to the rigors, scrutiny, prejudices and systemic intolerance concomitant with mounting a truthful, effective and hopefully successful campaign, and (2) actually becomes elected. The recent county commissioner race between incumbent Mark Richard and challenger Brian Sayrs comes to mind. Brian has "the vision" when it comes not only to the legislated role of county government, but also to light rail. However, he was not elected. Let the status quo live on.
In my 21 years with the City of Spokane, the only mayor that showed me any inkling of vision and leadership was Jim West. Of course, as it ended up Mayor West had some "baggage" that unfortunately will probably become his legacy, overshadowing his real value to the City, and relegating the very positive things he accomplished to the scrap pile of memories.
Mayor West initiated and accomplished a number of things that were very positive (note that I did not say they were necessarily popular) both at city hall and for the citizens:
With the possible exception of one—Mayor Mary Verner—today's politicos sadly appear to me to be from the same mold as those "status-quo is good enough" leader wannabes of years past. In spite of what I think to be overwhelming evidence speaking to the advisability of pursuing light rail sooner than later (The $64 Thousand Question: Why Light Rail Now? ; An Email To The Technical Advisory Committee ), not one politico—except for Mayor Verner—is on the record advocating for pursuing light rail. All others, especially some on the STA board from the City of Spokane Valley who are, for other unexplained reasons pursuing bus rapid transit insist that light rail will be needed, but only..."some day".
For once, I wish our political leaders would step up to the plate and commit to championing a cause whose time has come, and educating the public so that a well-conceived and executed vote can be taken to determine their educated opinion of the light rail vision. My guess is that the public would get it—big time.
WHAT'S A FEW PERCENTAGE POINTS HERE AND THERE?
(by Dick Raymond)
All the negative consumer support rhetoric being espoused by STA and other light rail detractors flies in the face of the results of a recent statistically valid survey conducted by Washington State University and sponsored by the Northwest Climate Change Center (see the SpokesmanReview.com article reporting on the survey results) showing that light rail is alive and well in the minds of many—perhaps even most—citizens. Interestingly, the County Commissioners and STA Board have openly questioned the survey results. In fact, at their November 20, 2008 meeting (see the meeting minutes, item 2.B), Professor Melissa Ahearn had been invited by the STA Board to present the results of the recent Northwest Climate Change Center light rail survey, when Spokane City Councilman/STA Board member Al French and STA CEO E. Susan Meyer inappropriately and rudely interrupted Professor Ahern in what seemed to be a poorly veiled attempt to discredit her and the survey. Stay tuned on this one; in order to fully comprehend the seeming inconsistencies surrounding the STA/light rail "marriage", it is necessary to understand the full history of the "engagement". We will have much more to say in a future editorial.
To point out just how delusional the STA Board is, we invite you to note the comment (see also item 2.B mentioned above) by Board member Councilman Dick Denenny, from the City of Spokane Valley contained in the November 20 meeting minutes:
"Mr. Denenny commented that the ballot vote in 2006 indicated a strong sentiment against light rail in the Valley and it was important to ascertain that the survey sampling included that area as well as others in the PTBA."
InlandRail Board President K.C. Traver responded to a number of items during the Public Expressions portion of the meeting, one of which was Mr. Denenny's statement regarding the City of Spokane Valley's "strong sentiment against light rail" in the 2006 election. K.C. rightfully pointed out, "In January 2006 a ballot survey of the PTBA showed 63% favored a light rail project between downtown and Liberty Lake. The most favorable support at 56% was from the Valley."
True enough, in the Spokane Valley the combined vote (both ballot measures averaged) was 52.6% "No" and 47.4% "Yes". Is that "...a strong sentiment against light rail", as Mr. Denenny states? Hardly, I think. In my mind, a 47.4% favorable response is probably not to be taken lightly, as the STA Board has been quick to do—unless, of course you are looking for any and all ways to ensure that the light rail initiative does not succeed. And, the January, 2006 scientifically valid survey (pre-dating the November election) showing 63% support for light rail seems to fly in the face of the ballot result. Keep all this in mind as you review the minutes of the December 14, 2006 STA Board meeting (agenda item #7.E)
At the same November 20, 2008 board meeting CEO Meyer was to present STA's proposal to pursue bus rapid transit (see the published agenda, item 9.A). However, this agenda item was scrubbed; as it turned out, at least one of Ms. Meyer's board cohorts was not in attendance, and perhaps she felt she needed more support (I admit herewith my disdain). Maybe she was unprepared—it's a little tough to find convincing material to justify BRT in lieu of light rail, so she might need a little more time to gather or create it.
Clearly, certain of the STA Board members—Mr. Denenny is not the only one—continue to obfuscate and/or embellish as necessary in order to reinforce their opposition to light rail. This is not only unhealthy and misleading, but in my opinion borders on (at best) misfeasance.
Regarding the Board's fixation on bus rapid transit, promoting BRT is not so disturbing; in fact, InlandRail views BRT as being one element of an overall regional transportation solution. However, we would caution you to not be too taken by STA's relatively positive statements in the Spokesman-Review article with regard to light rail's fate—STA's and the Spokane County Commissioner's recent (in)action points at best to a back seat for light rail; at worst, no light rail until..."some day". Mindlessly and self-servingly promoting BRT as a substitute for light rail simply won't hack it.
HOW MANY BOARD MEMBERS DOES IT TAKE TO SPELL "COLLUSION"?
(by Dick Raymond)
In light of the anomaly between the surveys and the actual election results discussed above, what gives? Here's what I think. As previously opined, the two ballot measures floated in the 2006 election were very confusing. In fact, I strongly suspect that they were purposely crafted in that manner by the STA Board as to confuse the public in an effort to elicit a negative (read that as "I'm confused, so I'm going to vote NO") response to the light rail initiative. Check out agenda item #7.G of the minutes of the July 20, 2006 STA Board meeting to get a feel for the tap dancing and maneuvering that was taking place with regard to the ballot language the Light Rail Steering Committee had been asked to craft.
Just in case you are interested, a side-by-side comparison of the (scrapped) ballot language proposed by the Light Rail Steering Committee and the ballot measures crafted and adopted by the STA Board is helpful. It's pretty easy to see that:
IS A NEW STA GOVERNANCE MODEL IN ORDER?
InlandRail believes that the current regional planning structure neither exhibits nor fosters the kind of vision and passion that connects the significance of land use AND transportation planning to economic viability, and that the time may be right to consider governance alternatives.
The STA Board is comprised of up to nine members who are assigned from the pool of elected officials representing jurisdictions served by the Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA), which includes the cities of Airway Heights, Cheney, Medical Lake, Millwood, Liberty Lake, Spokane, Spokane Valley and some unincorporated portions of the county surrounding those municipalities. Click here to view the current STA Board makeup.
It is important to understand a very significant distinction regarding the makeup of the STA Board: the STA board members are not elected to the board; rather, they are designated to membership by the various jurisdictions represented in the PTBA. Historically, many—maybe even most—designees have been those who "drew the short straw". Thus, membership on the STA Board often represents just one more of myriad commitments for those individuals—not necessarily a healthy environment for encouraging and stimulating robust, enlightened "visioning".
Perhaps the citizens should consider a different model for establishing the STA Board, one that would foster true regional thinking free of jurisdictional bias. In fact, InlandRail's board president recently sent a letter to Senator Lisa Brown and other legislators sharing InlandRail's thoughts about this matter.
Let's hope that Senator Brown continues her look into governance alternatives and that somehow our region will become served by an agency that understands and embraces managed growth—one that curbs rather than fosters jurisdictional turf battles and short-sighted thinking.
THE REST OF THE STORY
(by Dick Raymond)
As promised, here's a little history that may prove helpful as you consider the seeming anomalies surrounding the STA/light rail "marriage". You may be asking yourself why InlandRail is focused on supporting the move to some sort of regional transportation/economic development governance model other than Spokane Transit Authority's defacto—albeit by default—involvement. "Why", you may wonder, "is InlandRail so worked up? After all, STA runs the bus system, receives federal money, and they are obviously interested in the overall picture."
Ah, but that's where you're wrong. Whenever I share the following tidbit with people, they are for the most part disbelieving and sometimes incredulous and indignant. Regardless, here's the clinching anomaly:
Probably the single most visible, powerful and successful force behind the detractions and attempts to discredit and dismantle the light rail effort was (is) ...STA!
Surprised? So was I when I first learned this disturbing bit of news. However, when you consider the light rail history, especially the Light Rail Steering Committee's relationship with STA and its Board, replete with all its seeming inconsistencies, many events take on new meaning.
InlandRail's current (2009) board president, K.C. Traver was initially hired by STA's Light Rail Steering Committee, and then later by STA as staff by then CEO Kim Zentz to manage a sizable Federal Transit Administration grant to study regional transit alternatives. He served as the project manager and staff to STA's Light Rail Steering Committee. The Light Rail Steering Committee was the body empowered by both the STA Board and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council (SRTC) to study high capacity transit options, primarily focused on light rail but later expanded to other forms of high capacity transit. During the course of the study, Ms. Zentz accepted a position with SIRTI, and current CEO E. Susan Meyer was then hired to fill Kim's former position.
One of Ms. Meyer's early acts at STA was to visit with K.C. and inquire as to how the project could be brought to an end, without an investment in light rail. Taken aback, K.C. explained that there may be a problem, in that he believed in the light rail effort. From that time on, the light rail effort faced a number of attempts by STA—some veiled, and some not so—to stall or halt progress. This time was punctuated by a subsequent STA Board vote to terminate the Light Rail Steering Committee, followed some time later by the same board's vote to pursue Bus Rapid Transit (see agenda item #12 of the minutes of the October 16, 2008 STA Board meeting).
I asked K.C. about his experiences while employed at STA. Here's what he had to say:
"A number of times, I was asked for my input on how to bring the light rail project to an end. On at least one occasion shortly before the Steering Committee was scheduled to submit its report to the STA Board, I was asked to persuade the committee not to recommend light rail as a preferred alternative. Instead, I was asked to attempt to convince the committee that Bus Rapid Transit should be the recommended option for high capacity transit. In response, I reiterated that I was not a voting member of the committee and that all of the extensive public feedback strongly preferred light rail over bus rapid transit. Moreover, the extensive analysis conducted by the committee showed BRT would not be anywhere near as strong an economic stimulus as light rail, did not have as great a cost/benefit ratio as light rail, and would not positively influence land-use development. Lastly, I reemphasized that I personally supported light rail as the option which made the most sense for the future of the Spokane region."
So, just like Paul Harvey used to say, now you know...the rest of the story. How you choose to use this information is up to you. As for me, I am nonplussed and a bit upset! I am more focused than ever to ensure that the region's citizens learn the real light rail transit story, and the significant role this regional transportation backbone solution can play in managing growth, easing congestion and fostering economic development.
THE CHARLOTTE SUCCESS STORY
In a previous essay, we spoke to the amazing success story unfolding in Charlotte, North Carolina, as they are implementing their inaugural light rail system, called "Lynx". The LightRailNow! site contains in-depth and insightful coverage of the history—good and not so good—behind Charlotte's ordeal in bringing light rail to that region.
A recent communication from another local group interested in sustainability included a link to a program originally aired on PBS Television's February 13, 2009 installment of their program, "NOW", entitled Stimulus Roadblock? Please take the time to view the video. It is uncanny and timely how this 26-minute news feature captures and articulates the very essence of InlandRail's message—you are invited to check out our vision page; the "NOW" program literally "takes the words out of our mouths."
The PBS story speaks factually and well not only to the challenging issues being brought to focus in light of President Obama's recently enacted economic stimulus package (see also our article, "STA Board's Light Rail Stonewalling May Cost Our Region Dearly"), but also to the underlying value of a robust, fixed/dedicated alignment, regional transportation system (in this case, light rail) which, in conjunction with localized multi-modal feeder/circulation networks promotes sustainable/managed growth, economic vitality, affordable citizen mobility, and increased community character.
Here's the bottom line: Charlotte's mayor, Patrick L. McCrory had the vision, tenacity, backbone, wherewithal and luck to be able to shepherd into place the first phase of a light rail network that for future Charlotte-area citizens will surely be recalled as "that impossible, improbable, visionary miracle" anchoring the robust transportation network upon which myriad users daily rely.
May our local politicos take note, watch and learn...
STA AND AVISTA WEDDING MAKES FOR STRANGE BEDFELLOWS
(by Dick Raymond)
OK, so everyone remembers that STA has done everything they can to kill light rail, right? If this is a revelation to you, I suggest that you take a quick moment to read my prior editorial, The Rest of the Story before proceeding.
A bit of historical trivia: under the prior "leadership" of ex-CEO Tom Matthews, AVISTA took a rigid position against light rail. Any ideas why? A number of folks who have reason to know think it's because they were afraid the capital cost for light rail would erode their ability to float future electrical and gas rate hikes. Short. Sweet. So, "in your face." However, the current AVISTA regime appears to have suddenly gotten religion and become enlightened. They now think that a regional transportation backbone makes sense—and they think that electrified bus rapid transit is the answer. For reasons you'll soon see, this newly-acquired enlightenment is hardly altruistic. Oh, and as I just discovered (4/29/2009) they appear hell-bent to jam it down the region's throats.
But, how can AVISTA do this by themselves? The quick answer: they can't. That's where STA comes in. As I have mentioned in earlier editorials, not only has STA tried their darndest to kill light rail, they have also been actively pursuing diesel powered bus rapid transit. Now, the marriage made in heaven/hell (take your pick): AVISTA recently made a proposal to STA pushing an electrified bus rapid transit (eBRT) system. And, as you can see below, STA CEO E. Susan Meyer is apparently quite smitten.
On April 28, InlandRail received an email from another local advocacy group that contained the following:
"We were notified yesterday afternoon that STA is putting together a stimulus ask for $75 million that they want Mc Morris-Rogers to push as part of the mass transit money package. They are asking for this to fund electric bus rapid transit along the South Valley corridor (which is the light rail corridor)."
Whoa! What's going on? How has AVISTA suddenly become expert in mass transit modes, particularly to the point that they figure they have been dubbed "the enlightened" and are now quietly going for an end-run to bless us all with electrified bus rapid transit in the primary east-west (light rail) corridor? Well, as it turns out, AVISTA's Roger Woodworth took a trip to Europe to attend a conference on electrified bus rapid transit, put on by—yes, you guessed it—an electrified bus rapid transit vendor. After he got back, he shared his epiphany (I'm not the only one who has those, I guess) with STA. Happily, someone then asked AVISTA if they had spoken with InlandRail about AVISTA's new-found regional transportation solution. They had not. To AVISTA's credit, they then contacted InlandRail, to set a meeting for them to share the presentation they had already given to others.
Inlandrail's board president, KC Traver, fellow board member Phyllis Holmes, and I then met at AVISTA with Mr. Woodworth and Judy Cole. The meeting was quite cordial, and the presentation was well done. Afterward, we had a very frank discussion, and discovered that we had a lot in common. Most importantly, we all agreed that a viable regional transportation backbone is critical to the region not only from a transportation standpoint, but also in terms of helping to mold and support land use planning and foster development in a manner consistent with sustainability goals being embraced by a number of regional agencies. We also agreed that such an important and consequential decision as to what the regional transportation backbone should look like necessarily should be played out transparently in the public arena—a LOT is at stake; probably not so much for our generation, but for future generations.
AVISTA's excitement is based on their assertion that eBRT can be done "for 10% the cost of light rail." Remember that AVISTA's prior rebuff of light rail was based on their thinking that a built-out light rail system would be so costly as to make future AVISTA electricity and gas rate hikes more difficult for the region's ratepayers to bear, and thus much more tenuous for AVISTA to achieve. A system "10% the cost of light rail" then certainly fits AVISTA's agenda for future rate hike flexibility. Oh, and development clearly means more hook-ups, which means—more money. Now, you need to understand that I am definitely NOT anti-business—far from it—but it is important for the purposes of this essay that things be kept in perspective.
After Mr. Woodworth's presentation, KC, Phyllis and I opined that if eBRT could provide all the benefits of light rail, but at lower overall cost, then surely it must be seriously considered—maybe this improved (electrified) mode is the answer. We also noted, however, that it is extremely important that apples be compared to apples. For like levels of service, and to have any semblance of comparable impact on transit oriented development (data indicate that eBRT-related TOD likely would not be nearly as robust as with light rail), it is important that eBRT run in its own (not shared) right of way, on a dedicated guideway constructed for durability to withstand the harsh northwest winters. I suggest you read my essay, A Quick Primer: Axle Loads And Street Deterioration for a reality check.
We also discussed the rigorous and transparent public process that produced a recommendation for light rail—the same process that had the rug pulled out from under it when STA abruptly (and some of us think furtively) refused to use their remaining project funding to complete the preliminary engineering. Completing the preliminary engineering would have allowed the public to vote on a project with known data (finalized alignment; cost; payment alternatives), not just the bogus advisory vote that STA floated in 2006. Interestingly, that same study spent considerable time and attention examining the BRT mode before finally recommending light rail.
In InlandRail's opinion, the AVISTA/STA consortium should—make that must—demonstrate and make its case to the public, who will be bearing much of the cost. The Light Rail Steering Committee went through such a process; there's nothing in their report recommending BRT. Yet, that's exactly where AVISTA and STA want to go. Do you? It's a sad fact that thus far, AVISTA/STA's proposal for our region contains anecdotal information, only. Period. How about some substance? How about some public involvement? How about some transparency?
Wait! It just dawned on me—if AVISTA and STA are positioning for $75 million in federal stimulus money, then they may be thinking that would cover the full capital cost of an eBRT system—after all, it only costs "10% of light rail" (see above for refutation of this statement; oh, and by the way, $75 million is fully 28%—not just 10%—of the probable cost for the first phase of light rail as determined in the final study). So, no taxpayer capital cost, no foul...no need for public input. Never mind that the light rail study showed the ongoing unit operational costs for a BRT system exceed those for light rail. Never mind that TOD potential for light rail certainly exceeds that for eBRT. Never mind that the potential for shaping truly sustainable development is far greater with light rail than for eBRT. Just, never mind.
In response to the earlier-referenced email, InlandRail board president KC Traver penned a reply that is wholeheartedly shared by the board. Please take the time to read KC's thoughts—they succinctly express what we think the public should be interested in understanding with respect to AVISTA/STA's eBRT solution.
So, where do we go from here? It's up to you. Twitter us with your thoughts; we're "inlandrail". Read what others are saying on Twitter; you'll find us at www.twitter.com/inlandrail. Maybe you should let AVISTA (Roger Woodworth; Judy Cole) and STA (E. Susan Meyer) know what's going through your mind.
A QUICK PRIMER: AXLE LOADS AND STREET DETERIORATION
(by Dick Raymond)
In a previous essay, STA and AVISTA Wedding Makes For Strange Bedfellows, while admonishing AVISTA to ensure an "apples-to-apples" comparison between light rail and electrified bus rapid transit (eBRT), I referred to the need for the proper design of any guideway that would be used by eBRT. This statement was not made lightly. During my "stint" at the helm of the City of Spokane's Capital Programs section, I wrote a paper speaking specifically to the deleterious role that heavy, repeated loads play on the condition of the city's streets. The paper's title is Pavement Performance Considerations For Heavy Traffic Loads: Buses; Refuse Trucks; Concrete Trucks; Fire Trucks. Among other things, the paper makes a case for such deterioration to be considered by STA as they go about their routine route planning.
As might be expected, this report was not well received by STA. In fact, they asked one of their engineers to refute it; he could not. And, much to my chagrin and disappointment, the City of Spokane chose not to publish the paper. I guess upper management didn't want to "rock the boat"—perhaps STA raised a stink, I don't know. Regardless, it's now time—I'm publishing it herewith, and I hereby grant permission for its use (you gotta' love the internet!).
For the "Schaum's Outline" version of my report, following are the paper's conclusions and recommendations:
Conclusions and limitations. It is important that the above information be considered within the paper's intended scope. The fact is, the numbers are based primarily on empirical data from the AASHO Road Test of the late 1950's, together with subsequent industry observations and analytical work. The numbers must not be considered "exact". Rather, they must be viewed as being generally representative of the observed performance of numerous past and current pavement systems, and as having been demonstrated suitably appropriate for predicting future pavement performance.
Consideration of the above Vehicle Load Factors and accompanying discussion reveals a number of interesting, even startling relationships concerning the damage—reduction in serviceability index—imparted to the street system by various vehicles:
While it is possible to anticipate heavy loads and design pavement sections accordingly, it does not make economic sense to do so if such loads do not subsequently materialize—there is simply too much demand for current money. Perhaps equally important, any consideration to apply heavy loads to a street not appropriately designed therefor—e.g. changing a garbage truck route, or even more seriously changing a bus route—should be made with full knowledge of the ramifications.
Accordingly, it would not be inappropriate to require any agency, jurisdiction or entity that is considering actions that would impart significant heavy loading to a pavement structure not intended for that use—or, for that matter to any pavement structure—to pay into a fund to offset the cost associated with the inevitable accelerated pavement deterioration and related early required maintenance and repair. Perhaps the monetary "damages" could/should be related to the increase in ESALs imparted by the action of the responsible agency or entity. This notion is very similar to the concept of developer impact fees relating to residential or commercial/industrial development, and their effects on the transportation network.
It is especially appropriate that STA take into account these pavement service life factors and associated real—not "soft"—cost implications when considering route changes, particularly if the changes affect local access streets. It is important for the citizens of Spokane to understand the full implications of any decisions that have major effects on their—not "the City's"—infrastructure. If it is subsequently determined that "hard" payment is not appropriate, then the related costs should be accounted for as social costs or in some other manner so that they appear in the balance sheet, and do not become hidden and thus forgotten.
If you have some time, I would highly recommend that you (and AVISTA, for that matter) acquaint yourself with my report in its entirety; it has direct bearing on the electrified bus rapid transit system that the AVISTA/STA consortium is apparently attempting to ramrod through. Perhaps "ramrod" is too inflamatory a term. Let's just say they're convinced that eBRT is the thing to do, so the public really doesn't have to worry about the details.
REALITY CHECK: WHY WE SHOULD BE BUILDING LIGHT RAIL NOW
(by Dick Raymond)
On the "Vision" page, I wrote a segment called "The $64 Thousand Question: Why Light Rail Now?" I think it's really important for all to understand the magnitude of the consequences of NOT finding a way to undertake the light rail backbone now rather than later. So, I'm repeating it here for good measure.
When asked about light rail, a lot of people respond that it's not needed now, but surely will be needed some day. Just such an argument is advanced by the two dissenting jurisdictions (STA board and the City of Spokane Valley), usually quickly followed by the statement that it will probably be needed in the future (see the newspaper article). Even the County Commissioners are responding in a like manner; check out Commissioner Todd Mielke's response in this video from KXLY Television News. Oh, and regarding Commissioner Mielke's response that "they" are preserving right of way, see Dick Raymond's editorial essay for some enlightenment on this matter.
Here's a news flash—it's not so much ABOUT now. Rather, it's about putting something in place for the upcoming generations, while the overall fiscal impact to the region is the least, and the project development less invasive and disruptive; it's about getting the infrastructure in place and reaping the nearer-term benefits of the transit oriented development that would follow. However, given the "It's not needed now" argumentas flawed as we think it isone still must reach the conclusion that embarking on a light rail solution sooner than later is warranted—indeed, demanded. Constructing light rail now will result in LESS of a fiscal impact to the region than if the implementation of light rail is delayed. In fact, this very phenomenon has been well documented on the west side of the state. Consider the following examples:
1. Let's look at the per-capita cost of the project. For the sake of this example, assume the cost of the project is $300 million, and that the affected population base is 350 thousand. The per-capita cost of the project would thus be about $858. Assume that the regional population will increase at an annual rate of 1.9%. Assume, also that the real rate of inflation for the project cost (annual increase in real estate and construction costs minus generalized inflation) is 3.5%. It is easy to see that with the real project cost appreciation exceeding the population growth, doing a major project sooner, than later will result in a greatly reduced per-capita cost. If you don't like per-capita, use a per-family unit cost—the result is similar. Let's assume that the project is put off for fifty years (kind of like the north-south freeway debacle). Using the given assumptions, the real per-capita cost for the project in the year 2056 would increase to around $1,870—nearly 220% of the per-capita cost for the project in 2006. That's over TWICE the per-capita cost, reflective of a real, inflated total project cost of around $1.68 billion—that's a "B", folks—an increase of over 550% compared to the present-day project cost (the number would be much higher, if measured in actual, or gross inflationary terms).Arguably, these savings must be considered "soft" because they represent annual "savings" of monies not spent in the first place. Inarguable, however, is the fact that these same "soft" numbers will become alarmingly and painfully "hard" once the region decides to go forward with light rail. For the sake of future generations, we need to do better. Let's not fall victim to the visionless, selfish, short-sighted north-south freeway syndrome that has already cost Spokane so dearly. For once, let's get ahead of the curve, rather than behind it.
2. Page 4 of the cost study listed the projected annual operational costs associated with the prefered light rail alternative as $6.5 million (in 2006 dollars). Assuming 3.5% real annual project cost inflation, the cost for NOT constructing the project—the penalty cost of inaction, if you will—would be about $10.5 million per year. Do the math—once anyone says "...it's not needed now, but yeah, it will in the future", then we must factor in a net penalty of $4 million per year for delaying the regional light rail project versus constructing and operating it now.
Let's look at it another way. Assuming you buy in to the fact that light rail will be needed at some time, by constructing and running it now we would save $4 million annually, even if no one rode it! Concurrently, we would be reaping the benefit of transit oriented development (see the Transit-Oriented Development Potential Evaluation report, and also KC Traver's synopsis of the Economic Impact Report) while the ridership was building to whatever level people want to define as being the tipping point—that point people vaguely refer to as "...some day". If you remember nothing else, remember this: The annual cost of NOT proceeding now with light rail EXCEEDS THE PROJECTED ANNUAL SYSTEM OPERATING COSTS!
HALLELUIAH! FTA GETS IT RIGHT
(by Dick Raymond)
In a monumental about-face of HUGE import, on January 13 the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) removed its blinders and admitted that "getting there" is only part of the equation when it comes to evaluating proposed transit projects for financial assistance under their New Starts and Small Starts programs.
FTA's action unequivocally validates the Light Rail Steering Committee's (and InlandRail's) contention that transit projects must be evaluated holistically when considering and comparing the merits of competing proposals. And, in no uncertain terms, "proposal" necessarily includes competing modes. Specifically, FTA's new direction (check out the press release) is to include economic development and environmental benefits when evaluating projects. Read that as admitting, "sustainability and livability matter."
Here is the gist of FTA's "epiphany", as delineated by U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood in the press release:
"Our new policy for selecting major transit projects will work to promote livability rather than hinder it. We want to base our decisions on how much transit helps the environment, how much it improves development opportunities and how it makes our communities better places to live."
As explained by FTA, the change will apply to how the Federal Transit Administration evaluates major transit projects going forward. In making funding decisions, the FTA will now evaluate the environmental, community and economic development benefits provided by transit projects, as well as the congestion relief benefits from such projects.
This has Spokane regional light rail written all over it.
So, what does that mean for the Spokane region? Well, for one thing it means that if the STA Board had not gone forward with those imbecillic, moronic, self-serving 2006 ballot issues, but with an informative and factual one (the one recommended by their Light Rail Steering Committee—you may refresh your memory here); had they looked beyond the predictable results of those same imbecillic, moronic, self-serving 2006 ballot issues, we might well be staring at a light rail project not only ready to receive federal stimulus monies, but potentially also FTA New Start monies.
This whole situation is at once ironic and pathetic. And just think—it took only a few individuals to put the region in this sorry state!
Where do we go from here? The recent election may prove beneficial to advancing the regional light rail vision. The new makeup of the STA Board is encouraging. Let's hope they are not as self-serving as their predecessors. My hope is that this new STA Board will be characterized by a renewed, informed, visionary, open and transparent dialogue regarding regional light rail, devoid of personal agendas. The region deserves at least that much.
KREM TV INTERVIEW UNDERWHELMING
(by Dick Raymond)
KREM TV recently asked me for an interview about the Inland Empire Rail Transit Association and light rail. Because of prior generally mediocre media experiences, I was reluctant. Nonetheless, InlandRail is trying to keep the light rail vision before the public, so I agreed to the interview. You can see the interview and read KREM viewer comments here.
That interview, and the resulting lame coverage inspired me to respond. I wrote the following to post to their website, but then discovered that there is a 1,000 character limit. So, I grossly pared my comments down for their website, with the hope and suggestion for readers to check out the inlandrail.org website. That originally intended post is included below:
When KREM TV recently asked me for an interview about the Inland Empire Rail Transit Association (InlandRail) and light rail, I was reluctant—virtually all my prior experiences with the visual media have been, well, underwhelming. I've been burned before by token video and sound bites. Nonetheless, because InlandRail is trying to keep the light rail vision before the public, I cautiously agreed to the interview. Unfortunately, my initial reaction proved to be accurate.
First of all, it's electric bus RAPID transit that STA is talking about, not just electric bus transit. The two terms are definitely not interchangeable.
The video report was actually not too bad, as far as for what I think KREM was trying to focus on, namely that STA, with AVISTA's help and encouragement is looking at electrified bus rapid transit in lieu of light rail. What frustrates me however is the inaccurate, misleading and woefully abbreviated written copy accompanying the video link on KREM's website.
Following is what I either told KREM or made them privy to—I provided them with printouts of salient material off our website.
1. The Inland Empire Rail Transit Association (InlandRail) was formed by core members of STA's Light Rail Steering Committee after STA shelved the light rail project and moved instead to pursue diesel bus rapid transit, effectively throwing out the results of a comprehensive, nearly $9 million study that considered multiple modes, including bus rapid transit and light rail.
2. STA has been the single biggest detractor vis-à-vis the light rail initiative. It was the STA Board who threw out the Light Rail Steering Committee's recommended single ballot language for the 2006 advisory vote; it was the STA Board who then crafted those two highly ambiguous ballot measures in what many believe was a blatant effort to try to kill light rail. In fact, some of us believe that the STA CEO was so tasked.
3. Around early 2009, AVISTA approached STA with an idea to do electrified bus rapid transit which at the time they claimed could be done "for 10% the cost of light rail". Seeing as how STA was already working on diesel bus rapid transit, they apparently jumped at the chance to align with AVISTA on an eBRT initiative.
4. InlandRail believes in the conclusions of the nearly $9 million study—that light rail makes sense and "pencils out" as the best comprehensive solution for an east-west regional high capacity transit backbone.
Now, here's how the (written) story came down:
1. "Spokane light rail idea transformed into electric bus system". That says to me that the light rail vision is dead, which idea InlandRail highly contests.
2. "...the light rail organizers approached Spokane Transit Authority suggesting electric bus transit." Where did THAT come from? Since InlandRail is the only "light rail organizer" of which I'm aware, that statement clearly implies that InlandRail approached STA. We did no such thing—that part was played by AVISTA.
3. My nearly 25-minute on-camera interview with KREM came out as an 11-second bite depicting a gray-headed guy whining about transparency. Definitely not cool.
Unfortunately, no media sources seem interested in understanding, let alone communicating why a long term vision for a mass transit system that can actually help shape and define more sustainable growth patterns and spark measurable, positive economic development would be good for the Spokane region. I and a lot of others believe that electric light rail is that system, at least for the east-west corridor. We believe the factual light rail story needs to be in front of the public. We encourage people to visit our inlandrail.org website, particularly the Vision and Editorial pages where the light rail vision, history and perhaps most importantly factual information are presented in depth.
Here's the bottom line: InlandRail remains curious about, but nonetheless open to AVISTA and STA's eBRT initiative. However, we are adamant that their investigation (a) be open and transparent to the public (read that as tax and rate payers), and (b) be objective and thoroughly researched—an "apples-to-apples" comparison between electric bus rapid transit and electric light rail, including all ancilliary elements and effects (e.g. maximized use of dedicated right of way; potential for transit oriented economic development; positive influence on land-use and zoning; support of sustainability issues). Remember, we've already spent nearly $9 million for a comprehensive transit study that concluded light rail makes the best overall sense for a regional mass transit backbone.
Here's another very important aspect of AVISTA and STA's eBRT study: the original, nearly $9 million study that concluded the desirability of light rail was done in a manner meeting federal guidelines, so that even if local monies were used to construct the initial phase of such a system, such monies might be counted as local match toward securing federal monies on future phases. AVISTA and STA would be well advised to keep that in mind.
LIGHT RAIL SPURS LOCAL ECONOMY
(by KC Traver)
In 2000, the boards of directors for Spokane Transit and the Spokane Regional Transportation Council established a light rail steering committee specifically to examine high-capacity transit between Spokane and Liberty Lake. For the next six years, the committee studied light rail and bus rapid transit options in the South Valley corridor. Finally, it concluded that a low-cost light rail system was the best option for the Spokane region, based on its consistency with growth management, environmental sustainability and long-term applicability.
The committee's detailed analysis indicated a 15.5-mile, 14-station light rail system operating on single track with 15-minute frequency could be built for $263 million, an average cost of about $17 million per mile. Even more important, the committee felt the system would serve as a powerful economic engine for the region.
In July 2005, analysis by two reputable economic consulting firms, Marketek from Portland and Applied Economics out of Phoenix, concluded the system's financial influence would be in the billions of dollars to the region. In 2006, the board of directors for the transit agency relied on "the conventional wisdom" for high-capacity transit, that being that the primary purpose of light rail systems is traffic congestion relief and so would not be needed in Spokane County for a decade or more.
The Light Rail Steering Committee was subsequently disbanded in December 2006 despite conceiving the lowest- cost-per-mile light rail system in the United States. The low cost was possible because it was based on a modest system that met the region's needs but which was planned for expansion as the population grows. This strategy should prove much cheaper than waiting as Seattle did, until the cost of their system, now under construction, is more than $180 million per mile. Moreover, construction costs are expected to grow much faster than the region's population, so the relative cost per individual will increase over time.
The steering committee correctly focused on strategic transportation planning, and to that end light rail was considered the best choice. Additionally, economic development and growth management were seen as a major benefit from investing in light rail earlier than traditionally done in large, congested metropolitan areas. As a result, the committee came to believe that the typical model, based on conventional wisdom, is wrong. Instead, they concluded that light rail costs much more the longer you wait, and the positive influences on community development in response to growth are lost. They determined that waiting to justify high-capacity transit based on traffic congestion would be poor planning and reactionary rather than visionary.
There is a saying that "if you follow the same old model, you'll end up in the same old place." That is how Seattle became an icon for highway congestion, contrasted with Portland and Salt Lake City, who both invested in regional light rail systems much earlier in their growth and are now benefiting greatly.
Now STA is proposing a major investment in a cheaper version of transit that mimics light rail. It's called bus rapid transit. In their report, Marketek and Applied Economics also concluded, "...while Bus Rapid Transit can be as effective in relieving congestion as light rail, there is little evidence that it supports or stimulates the same level of transit oriented development."
So if we deferred light rail, which is an economic engine, because we don't have a congestion problem, why would we invest in bus rapid transit, whose strength is congestion relief but isn't an economic stimulus? The city of Spokane and the Downtown Spokane Partnership are now looking at electric streetcars versus trolley buses to stimulate growth in the central business district. Let's hope they choose wisely.
STA's DRAFT COMPREHENSIVE PLAN
(by Dick Raymond)
On Saturday, July 31 a number of us InlandRail board members staffed a booth at the inaugural Liberty Lake Days celebration out at Pavillion Park in Liberty Lake. As usual, we were there to try to raise awareness with respect to our rail-based east-west corridor transportation backbone vision—namely, light rail. We were greatly encouraged by the number of people who stopped by to see us, and especially with their demonstrable knowledge and enthusiasm for light rail. It was truly a breath of fresh air for us.
STA was there, also manning a booth. Because they are right in the middle of updating their comprehensive plan (the "Plan")—Connect Spokane—they were apparently interested in sharing their transit vision "...relevant to both near term challenges and long term opportunities while working towards connecting people with places throughout the Spokane region. A defining element of this vision is the High Performance Transit (HPT) Network."
Their flyer handout, entitled The High Performance Transit Network speaks to a number of principles they consider key:
Now, here's a news flash—InlandRail REALLY DOESN'T CARE WHO GETS REMEMBERED AS THE GREAT PROPOSER OF COORDINATED, COMPREHENSIVE AND MEANINGFUL REGIONAL TRANSPORTATION PLANNING! If STA somehow succeeds in reaching the conclusion that a regional rail-based solution in the east-west corridor makes sense—thus convincing others and openly reinforcing the thoughts and convictions already held by many—then GREAT. We'll all benefit from this circumstance.
All that being said, there are a few things in STA's "vision" that caught my attention and deserve comment:
PROBLEM: SRTC'S REGIONAL VISIONING PROJECT
(by Dick Raymond)
Let the ineptitude continue. Let my cynicism be yet renewed. May we all continue to be screwed.
My friendly little reminder in the previous essay, STA's DRAFT COMPREHENSIVE PLAN, admonishing STA to remember the joint STA/SRTC $8 million alternatives analysis that recommended establishing a light rail transit alternative along what was referred to as the South Valley Corridor, seems to have gone unheeded. Sadly, this comes as no particular shock to me. Unfortunately, it seems that the Spokane Regional Transportation Council needs a little refresher course, too.
SRTC has been working for over a year on a regional visioning project whose principal product, a document entitled Spokane Unified Regional Transportation Vision and Implementation Strategy is available in draft form for public comment. It would seem that both STA and SRTC would be interested in at least acknowledging—if not implementing—the recommendations of their jointly-created and managed Light Rail Steering Committee, especially those relating to the critical need for right of way preservation. But, such is not the case. It's all about options, folks.
Yeah, right...blah, blah, blah. Now the source of my disdain, disgust and frustration: no one—NO ONE— is making any bona fide attempt to preserve the region's options for what InlandRail would like to think include a future light rail transit investment in the east-west south valley corridor. As you'll soon see, even the STA and SRTC have prior expressed support for a light rail vision. Are you surprised by this contradiction?
In InlandRail Board President K.C. Traver's recent letter to the SRTC Board, SRTC's glaring omission was brought to their attention. STA and SRTC really, REALLY need to be talking now more than ever seeing as how each agency is undertaking a major long range planning effort vis a vis transportation solutions for the region. Yet neither acknowledges the recommendations that came from their own Light Rail Steering Committee. But wait! They MUST be collaborating—to defeat any reasonable expectation our region might have for implementing an east-west regional light rail system at a cost far less than the costs for similar systems elsewhere.
You gotta' love it! As Dragnet's Sergeant Joe Friday always said, "Just the facts, ma'm". OK, here they are:
Apparently, only the Shadow knows.
SPOKANE LIGHT RAIL WITH TRAILS
(by Rich Bryant)
Spokane - Coeur d'Alene area is at a crossroad in our economic development. We can wait until the nation's economy recovers or we can start our own recovery. We have the resources to do it. We can start right now by preserving the Spokane Valley corridor with a bicycle trail in a greenbelt. These trails offer access to transit, transportation options to important destinations, and recreational and exercise opportunities. Rails-with-trails projects are booming around the country.
There are many benefits with rails-with-trails projects. Safety, general health, environmental/air quality, and economic development will be mention here.
SafetyWe could build the trail, being proactive while waiting for the future of light rail to become reality. Being proactive instead of reactive (congestion and air pollution problems), we need to demand more out of government leaders. It is our choice to make.
Safety is the most important aspect of developing any rail-trail, whether along an operating railroad or not. The good news is that rails-with-trails have been shown to be just as safe as other trails. Every day, thousands of people across the United States safely use existing rail-with-trails. Studies have proven that light rail alongside a pedestrian/bicycle greenbelt is very cost effective and safe. In fact, using a rail-with-trail may well be significantly safer than walking or cycling next to a busy main road. Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has done several studies on this very issue. Studies done in 2000, 2002, and 2005 found only two incidents that were not directly trail related, but did occur near rails-with-trails projects. A bicyclist was injured in Illinois on an adjacent preexisting road/rail crossing when the bicyclist ignored warning bells and flashing lights and rode around a lowered crossing gate. Another injury occurred in Alaska when a young person crossed a trail from a residential area to "hop" a slow-moving train. No other trail-related train accidents have been reported nationwide.
General health is one of the many benefits from having rails-with-trails. With a viable light rail with trails, Spokane could put itself in the forefront of ecomonic recovery. Electric light rail with a greenbelt pedestrian/bicycle trail would create a more healthy environment with better air quality. With healthier and better/improved air quality, the quality of life is improved drastically.
Transit Oriented Development (TOD)
A light rail with trails will not only create jobs during construction, it will also create long-term jobs at the transit oriented development centers/stations. City and county government could create multi-use zoning areas around and near light rail station (TOD's). At ground level level could be retail, entertainment, resturants, and plazas/parks, with centralized multi-level parking. The second level could be professional business (i.e., doctors, dentists, lawyers, real estate, insurance, etc.). The third level could be apartments (low or medium income), with a central plaza alongside parking. If there are fourth or fifth levels a level of loft housing (medium and high income) could be added.
We could wait and do more studies on it (which have already been done), or demand our government leaders to get started now on it. Getting started now will save time and money (due to inflation). You hear from some our government leaders that we don't need it now, but in 10 to 15 years. They are right, look at Seattle, they waited until they needed it and it is costing them 180 - 200 million dollars per mile. If we wait, instead of costing 30 million dollars per mile, it will the about same per mile as Seattle's. Light rail has helped Portland's ecomonic development and it is continuing to grow! We could be proactive (build it now) or we can be reactive (congestion and air pollution problems).
Greenbelt with Bicycle path
There is another option we could do while we are waiting for the future of Spokane planning. Instead of letting the old Milwaukee Road corridor (South Valley Corridor) continuing to grow weeds and insects, along with providing access to crime/vandalizism, we could start reclaiming that corridor. Reclaiming the corridor would start the needed economic development that is needed. It would not cost all that much, either. Through volunteers, community service groups, we could turn the corridor from "an eyesore" into a greenbelt with a paved walkway/bicycle path, that the community would be proud of! The cost of building would be minimal, because it would be a community project.
(by Dick Raymond)
Probably like a lot of folks, I have been following the tantalizing story around Boeing's intent to consider locations other than Everett when they ramp up production of the 737 in response to seriously increasing demand. To their credit, the Spokane area politicos seem to be saying and doing the right things as they prepare their pitch to sell the West Plains area as the most logical location for the new facilities.
While I was working at the City of Spokane, the City extended sewer and water to the West Plains in anticipation of such an eventuality. Finally, the County Commissioners are at least saying they're not going to do something stupid (again) when it comes to zoning and land use issues that affect such industry. And, to be sure, it looks like they're making a solid effort to back up the rhetoric.
As the various groups add up all the "pluses" for why Boeing ought to seriously consider the West Plains area for their next assembly plant, how cool would it be to say, "...and our light rail provides service all the way to Coeur d'Alene!"
Yeah, that would be very cool. It would also require—let's see—a light rail system. But, that would have required vision on the part of the regional leaders. Oh, well...
COEUR D'ALENE VISIONING: DOING IT RIGHT
(by Dick Raymond)
The November 16, 2011 Spokesman-Review had an interesting article entitled Road To College Gets Redo, by Alison Boggs. What caught my eye was this seemingly below-the-radar $3.6 million seed project for the "...transformation of a former lumber mill site..." into landscaped roadways, complete with roundabouts to ease traffic flow, sidewalks, curbs and landscaping being touted as the first step toward a long-envisioned education corridor in Coeur d'Alene.
I don't know, but this sounds kind of on the edge. Come on—who needs to be spending their money on that kind of stuff, especially during these hard times? As Coeur d'Alene mayor Sandi Bloem was quoted:
"In 10 to 20 years, I don't think we'll believe what this place will look like. It will be a legacy for the future."
In July, 2009, the North Idaho College Foundation acquired the 17-acre former mill site adjacent to NIC, with an eye toward the future. I believe that Mic Armon, president of NIC's board of trustees nailed it when he opined:
"It's always a group of people that decides they're not going to listen to the naysayers, and they just do it. If we'd never procured the land, we'd never have had the opportunity to build on it in the future."
Vision. Some folks had a vision. And, what's more they had the gumption—the chutzpah—to do something about it. And now they've capitalized on an opportunity. Unlike in my prior essay regarding vision (or lack thereof), Coeur d'Alene found a way to do a project that seemingly will have little near-term impact, but that will have HUGE long-term impact.
This sounds kind of like InlandRail's light rail vision. We sputter about the lack of political will to even preserve right-of-way. There's considerable lip service paid to this subject, but no action—NONE. It really makes me wonder what the future holds. Here's my fear: the future generation(s) will be saying something like, "Why the hell didn't those idiots at least preserve the right of way? Now look what this light rail system is going to cost. Thanks a lot...for nothing."
Sad, but probably true.
INLANDRAIL BOARD ENDORSES JOHN ROSKELLEY FOR COUNTY COMMISSIONER
At their August 2012 meeting, the InlandRail Board unanimously endorsed the candidacy of former County Commissioner John Roskelley in his bid for Spokane County Commissioner against incumbent Todd Mielke. The board asked candidates the following question:
Will you support light rail as a candidate for county commissioner?
Here is John Roskelley's reply:
I've always been a supporter of light rail in some fashion. As chair of the STA Board at least one year, and a member all nine years while a county commissioner, I felt strongly we should push forward with the plans we had in place, secure the right-of-way in the Spokane Valley, and put it to the voters to "pony up". Unfortunately, the numbers didn't come up for us to secure federal funding, but that didn't mean drop the project in my book. It meant redefine our end product and get something in place.
This community would benefit greatly from a light rail line between the Spokane Valley and the Downtown - to start. As I said yesterday at a forum for candidates, we could have paved the streets of Spokane and Spokane County in gold for what we're paying for the north-south freeway and built two light rails! I feel the N-S freeway is the 8th wonder of the world, in as much as I wonder how we're going to pay to finish it.
Post-Election Update: Unfortunately John did not win the election. Regardless, we know John remains committed to the light rail effort, and InlandRail looks forward to working with him in whatever manner as we strive to advance the case for regional light rail transit.
INLANDRAIL BOARD ENDORSES MIKE TEDESCO FOR LIBERTY LAKE CITY COUNCIL POSITION 4
At their October 2013 meeting, the InlandRail Board unanimously endorsed the candidacy of Mike Tedesco in his bid for a seat on the Liberty Lake City Council, Position 4.
Mike shared some of his thoughts with the board as to how he sees the region developing, and the important role that a light rail system can and should play in helping to shape how our region grows. He reminds the board a lot of former Liberty Lake Councilman Brian Sayrs, who for a number of years "fought the good fight" in championing regional light rail. Mike "gets it", as seems typical of the younger generation who see the value of being able to shed their dependence on privately owned vehicles in favor of transit-oriented solutions.
A vote for Mike will be a vote to help elevate the regional light rail effort to the next level.
STA's LATEST SHENANIGANS
(by Dick Raymond)
Full disclosure: I am not a fan of STA. First, as the City of Spokane's representative on the Technical Advisory Committee (to STA's Light Rail Steering Committee) during the very exhaustive and comprehensive study that concluded light rail transit, along what was called the south valley corridor would be a desirable and feasible regional alternative providing not only long term transportation/transit benefits, but also very significant and positive near and long-term economic development impacts; Second, as a concerned citizen.
So, why the attitude? I am, to say the least, nonplused that after the change in STA leadership late into the study, emphasis at the highest level suddenly changed from "how might this vision be accomplished?" to "how can this whole thing be scuttled?" This ultimately culminated in a vote by the STA Board to set aside the project and disband the Light Rail Steering Committee, thus effectively putting the kibosh on any further development.
This cancellation was after spending $8 million on the study. Eight million bucks down the drain! I wonder how those who worked so hard to obtain the federal grant in the first place feel after that, let alone the feds themselves? The sorry history of this entire ordeal is fully documented here, on this website.
One of the things that came out of the original study was the reality of a phenomenon commonly referred to as rail bias, something that until very recently STA refused to acknowledge, but that even the Federal Transit Administration now recognizes as a considering factor when evaluating New/Small Start transit projects for funding assistance—it didn't back when the original study was performed. In fact, rail bias significantly bolsters and sustains another phenomenon called transit oriented development (TOD). More commonly, TOD occurs around light rail transit nodes (stations), largely because developers are not unwilling to invest significant sums, comfortable in the knowledge that the permanence provided by the light rail transit infrastructure effectively inhibits future moves; bus routes can be modified at a moment's notice—light rail trackage cannot.
Early on, STA would have us think that rail bias is a figment of everyone's imagination, and that buses are really the way to go. After all, that's what they do—buses. Notably, STA's (at least, public) party line has evolved since shelving the original study and effort. Now, they acknowledge the reality of rail bias, even embracing it. Even Mark Richard, part of the "not now" movement used to try to kill light rail in the first place was quoted in a September 26, 2013 Inlander article entitled Streetcar Desired as saying "...there's an argument to be made that a fixed route could provide 'certainty to the private sector.'" In the same article, STA CEO E. Susan Meyer was also interviewed: "If the Central City Line was just another bus route configuration, STA CEO E. Susan Meyer says, it's doubtful it would transform the city economically. 'There is a sense that a transit route could be relocated,' Meyer says, drawing from feedback from local businesses. But a fixed system, with clear infrastructure? She's seen how other communities throughout the country have seen development spring up around trolley lines and light rail tracks."
Laughably—or, pathetically depending on your mindset—the Inlander article continued with another Meyer quote: "What I heard from the business community in 2010 is that it [STA's proposed trolley for the envisioned Central City Line] needs to look electric, because that's the future. And it needs to not look like a bus. It's time to look like a train." The article continued, "Trains are cool. There are people who will take a train or a streetcar, she says, who would never set foot on an STA bus."
Interestingly, the photo used in the Inlander article shows a trolley bus used in Van Hool's EquiCity line, currently in use in Parma, Italy that has special wheel skirts—presumably to hide the vehicle's rubber tires? States the article: "She [Meyer] carries a picture of that modern electric trolley on her iPad wherever she goes, showing it to key industry figures. 'I'm an evangelist now,' Meyer says."
Wheel skirts. Right.
STA's current utterances sound oddly like the bold statements the Light Rail Steering Committee was making to STA nearly ten years ago, which statements were inelegantly disregarded and ultimately discarded as being nonsense. No kidding—it felt as though the Light Rail Steering Committee was considered by STA as blasphemous in espousing a non-rubber-tired transit mode for the Spokane region. Rails? Bah! Humbug!
As part of the aforementioned Central City Line/Modern trolley initiative, STA was proposing the use of overhead electrical catenaries as a way to instill a sense of permanence, as to promote TOD. The Inlander article noted, "The single-articulated vehicles would run on [rubber-tired] wheels with an electric line running overhead instead of traditional street-car rails. They would be able to swing to a different lane while connected to the trolley wire, or disconnect entirely" [emphasis added].
The ability to disconnect and travel independently from the overhead electric catenary by definition renders STA's proposal non-permanent. Nonetheless, the InlandRail group embraced the initiative—albeit somewhat tepidly—as at least one way of introducing the public to (quasi) non-bus transit. Plus, overhead catenaries were at least a step in the right direction toward permanence.
Recently, STA has called for another public hearing "...concerning the proposal to extend the Central City Line Locally Preferred alignment to Spokane Community College and to further evaluate other electrification options." The announcement continues:
The original cost estimates were useful for comparing between modes but in the case each of the three modes (enhanced bus, modern electric trolley, streetcar) the estimates were too low, not accounting for risk and not matching newer construction costs experienced elsewhere. As for the second finding, this meant that while building the Modern Electric Trolley was still significantly less than a streetcar, new cost estimates are about twice as much as the 2011 estimates. Besides under-accounting for risk, the electric trolley overhead systems have increased in cost by a large factor.It would now appear that permanence can be effected by providing streetscape enhancements. Really? It would be great to hear from real developers—people with skin in the game—regarding that one. Cost estimates too low? This seems eerily like STA's downtown bus plaza episode. Not a great track record.
So, what to do? I'd be lying if I said I knew. I guess we can make ourselves heard—try to keep STA "honest". After all, when combining the $3 million mentioned in the Inlander article with the original $8 million light rail transit study, STA's total transit study efforts to date are somewhere north of $11 million.
I wonder how and when they'll decide to scrap this effort, too.
INLANDRAIL BOARD ENDORSES MARY LOU JOHNSON FOR COUNTY COMMISSIONER
At their September 2014 meeting, the InlandRail Board endorsed the candidacy of Mary Lou Johnson in her bid for a seat on the Spokane County Board of Commissioners. The vote was not unanimous, however—board members Bryant and Lamotte were absent, but in a later email to the board, board member Lamotte expressed his desire to go on record as dissenting. Mary Lou is running for the seat currently occupied by Al French, who is running for re-election. Notably, Al French did more to derail the light rail project than any other single person.
Mary Lou has had two successful careers: One as a nurse practitioner and health educator and as an attorney in the Washington Court of Appeals. As a leader in the Spokane Alliance, she has worked to reform the Spokane County criminal justice system through her involvement with Smart Justice. She understands smart growth management and economic development. She can bring valuable real world experience and insights to the County Commission.
As she speaks, we hear someone who says things that we have long said need to happen .Our project fits with the vision we hear articulated.
LET'S DITCH THE DOWNTOWN BUS PLAZA
(by Dick Raymond)
Spokane Transit Authority and the Downtown Spokane Partnership should seriously consider biting the bullet, cutting the losses and just getting rid of the contentious downtown bus plaza altogether. Blasphemy, you say? The more I think about it, the more I like it. And my reasoning embraces the interests of far more than just STA and DSP.
With the opening of the new Davenport Grand Hotel, the recently upgraded convention facilities, the upcoming major improvements to Riverfront Park, the booming University and Medical Districts, and the gem-in-the-making east Sprague district it would seem that downtown Spokane is working really hard to position itself as—drum roll, please—a truly regional entertainment, business, health care, government, recreation and scholastic center.
One of my biggest fears is that maybe all we're going to see happen is the disjointed amalgamation of myriad attempts made by a lot of delusional wannabes. And, there's not much in the region's recent political history that helps assuage my fears. So consider the following definitions:
Delusional: "a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary".Too harsh an assessment? Maybe, but I don't think so. You see, these facilities are really, REALLY great. And, they're getting even greater, rightfully attracting outside interest—not only regionally, but nationally and internationally as well. But, a number of basic detractions loom large: (1) much of the downtown area is turning into surface parking lots—premium space that could well be used for further buildout; (2) STA's downtown plaza has arguably become the de facto hangout for a crowd that often intimidates locals, visitors and passersby and that, shall we say, has thus not been well received by the downtown businesses; (3) getting to and back out of the downtown core and nearby areas can prove to be a daunting task; and (4) STA's downtown bus plaza directly and indirectly impacts downtown circulation and other near-downtown vehicular traffic patterns and mobility in adversely significant ways perhaps not originally envisioned.
That being said, maybe people should consider something that could go a long way toward addressing these detractions—Light Rail Transit.
I know, I know—Light Rail Transit isn't right for a region until they are nearly paralyzed by congestion. So say the delusionals and wannabes. That's the kind of visionless, near sighted and plain wrong notion that InlandRail has been attempting to change—going on ten years, now. For kicks, tell it to Portland, Seattle, Salt Lake City, Phoenix, and many, many other areas world wide who are enjoying the numerous benefits associated with Light Rail Transit. See what they think about that statement.
What if we had Light Rail Transit service in the east-west regional corridor from Coeur d'Alene to Cheney, including the Spokane International Airport (SIA) and the West Plains "casino" district? Here are some thoughts to consider:
But, there's no reason like the present to do the right thing. Here's what's on The Inland Empire Rail Transit Association board's mind for the near term:
There must be some private sector folks out there who already get it—who understand the Light Rail Transit story and get the vision. Cheney, Kalispel Tribe, Spokane Tribe, Coeur d'Alene Tribe (yes, even the Coeur d'Alenes can share in the LRT "wealth"), Spokane City, Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Post Falls, Coeur d'Alene—we all have something at stake. Our future is ripe for the taking.
Surely there's someone in the region's midst with the gumption and the creds to take the bull by the horns. How about giving us all a break by stepping up to the plate, then? Time is running out.
STA's CENTRAL CITY LINE HIDDEN COSTS
(by Dick Raymond)
To no avail, I've tried twice, now to share some of my thoughts in the Spokesman-Review letters to the editor column regarding very real operational costs that STA is magically shifting to the City of Spokane. Make that the CITIZENS of Spokane. So, just for personal cathartic effect, I'm including my unpublished letter to the editor:
I'm concerned the public isn't receiving the entire story regarding STA's planned Central City Line BRT project. Rather than rightly accounting for all costs, STA intends to externalize a significant portion of the project cost—improvement and maintenance of the line's proposed travel ways. Specifically, they don't plan to pay for improving and maintaining the existing paved routes. Instead, they expect the City of Spokane to maintain them as part of normal roadway maintenance. In 2004 I produced a report for the City of Spokane entitled Pavement Performance Considerations For Heavy Traffic Loads: Buses; Refuse Trucks; Concrete Trucks; Fire Trucks (http://www.inlandrail.org/editorial_page.php#axle_load_primer) identifying STA as causing by far the most roadway damage wherever they run. In their apparent effort to obfuscate, STA amazingly ignores a major BRT marketing expectation—ride quality—thus rendering them incapable of controlling their own destiny. I see the potential for finger pointing in our future as the CCL's ride deteriorates, victim to the City's historically underfunded roadway maintenance program. The citizens might thus expect a future request for higher taxes in order to maintain STA's BRT lines.There's only so much you can say in 200 words. Here are the salient takeaways: