The Big Idea: Transportation Edition

What locals would do to fix Seattle's transporation problems, if they had a blank check.
Kristen Russell  |   March 2012   |  FROM THE PRINT EDITION

If money were no object, what single thing would you do to improve transportation in the region? We put that question to dozens of local transportation thinkers and limited their responses to 150 words—short answers to a long-debated question. Here are a few; add your own idea in the comments section below, or write to editor@tigeroak.com.

FIX THE ROADS FIRST
Aubrey Davis, cofounder of King County Metro Transit and transit advocate

I wouldn’t do any project
. Our biggest need is to fix potholes and restore pavement on city, county and state roads. A friend just drove to Arizona through Salt Lake City and says that our state highways are much worse than those in Idaho or Utah, which have been paying attention to their highways. We have been unwilling to raise our gas tax to keep up our maintenance, with deplorable consequences. It has to affect our safety and our economy. 

JUST DO IT!
Bob Drewel, executive director, Puget Sound Regional Council

I still think a horse beats all the alternatives. And at my age, you sometimes wonder whether we’re going to ever do things that we’ve been planning since the earth cooled. My big idea for transportation is borrowed from Nike: Let’s just do it. We have common ground on our plans.  Light rail from Everett to Tacoma and points east. A ferry system that’s fit for the future. A freeway network that’s complete. A regional system of trails and streets that keeps everybody safe on foot, in a car, a bus or a semi. Freight systems that keep our ports competitive. Refitting older roads and bridges to keep pollution out of streams and the Sound. There’s no better time to act. Costs are down. People are hungry for work. Let’s raise the money now and build now. We’ll put people to work and emerge from this lousy economy stronger than the rest, and ready for the future. Let’s just do it.

CREATE CONNECTIONS
John Creighton, Seattle port commissioner

The Port of Seattle is 100 years old this year and today accounts for over 194,000 jobs in Washington state. The Port Commission is intent on building on the legacy of those who came before us. The vision that we are developing for the next 25 years includes some very ambitious goals—adding 100,000 new port-related jobs to the region, growing our seaport cargo operations to 3.5 million containers per year, tripling air cargo at Sea-Tac and doubling the economic impact of the cruise industry to our state. Our vision requires a seamless multimodal transportation system for people and goods. Transit, roads and rail all need to work together: Crown the Stampede Pass rail tunnel [a main train route through the Cascades] to allow for double-stacked container trains, connect the southern King County portion of S.R. 509 to Interstate 5 to relieve congestion, and complete light rail through the region to accommodate the 1 million more residents moving here in the next 20 years.

BALLARD TUNNEL VISION
Martin H. Duke, editor in chief, Seattle Transit Blog

The best thing to do is also the cheapest: Lift density restrictions around our main transit corridors so that everyone who wants to live in the city can do so. That will take cars off the road, and only requires letting property owners do what they want. No large, prosperous city truly solves congestion; instead, they create modes that allow residents to escape gridlock if they wish. When Sound Transit 2 [the current expansion of Link Light Rail and transit] is done, dense neighborhoods in the eastern half of the city will be connected by rapid, traffic-separated transit. It’s time to do the same for the western half. For around $1 billion, we can build a shallow tunnel under Second Avenue downtown (the Third Avenue tunnel will be full) and run buses to West Seattle and Ballard through it. For a bit more, we can skip that step and move straight to rail in that corridor.

MAKE TRANSIT SEXY
Carla Saulter, the “Bus Chick” transit blogger (buschick.com) and membership manager, Transportation Choices Coalition

I would make public transportation the most compelling way to travel. Cars are not inherently more convenient than other modes of transportation, but they are often the path of least resistance in this city, which was built to move cars and not people. I’d reserve right-of-way for transit; make pedestrians a priority; build safe, comfortable, accessible stops with real-time information, climate control and (ahem!) bathrooms. I’d purchase low-floor vehicles with space for strollers, groceries and other stuff people regularly transport. And then, I’d pimp the mess out of those vehicles. Seriously. You like big wheels? Metro’s got ’em. Add some rims, wood grain and a few hot drivers (no disrespect to my husband, but the guy who drives my [route] 8 really needs to be in some sort of calendar), and you’ve got a city that’s way too sexy for its car.

STRENGTHEN THE BACKBONE
Paula Hammond, secretary, state Department of Transportation and member of the governor’s Connecting Washington Task Force

It’s difficult to suggest just one project to improve our regional traffic problems. Puget Sound’s transportation system is just that: a system critical to moving freight within and through our regional and state economy, and vital to commuters and businesses that need reliable and safe travel. That said, the most important investments we must commit to are those that maintain and protect our critical highways, bridges, ferries, local roads and transit service, as these are the backbone of our economy. To lose our core assets and services from disrepair would be irresponsible and costly. From there, we need to make sure we are operating our transportation system well to ensure we make the most use of the facilities and provide an integrated and efficient network to stretch taxpayers’ dollars. If you gave me more leeway, I’d recommend modernizing our highway corridors with a project list as long as your arm.

MONEY WALKS
Dan Bertolet, urban designer and the founder of Citytank (citytank.org)

I propose a solution to our transportation woes that is over a million years old: walking. The question is: How do we motivate more of it? Part of the answer is better urban design, but I believe the biggest impediment is psychological. We need to break our habit of not walking, and here’s how to do it: Pay people to walk. Something like $5 or $10 a mile sounds about right. And because the key factor in breaking a habit is often simply getting a taste of the alternative, costs could be kept down by offering the subsidy during limited times only. It wouldn’t be that hard to track—most cell phones have GPS. Ideally, the program would be implemented at the national level (a federal income tax credit? National Walk Week?), because that would bring the added benefit of upping demand for walkable places nationwide. Ludicrous liberal social engineering fantasy? Totally. But far less ludicrous than a WALL-E world in which no one walks.

SHRINK ROADS
David Markley, founding principal, Transportation Solutions, Inc.

Think small! Yes, just as we have seen residences downsize and dedicated offices transition to shared cubicles...transportation must follow suit. Streets do not need 12-foot-wide lanes, parking on both sides of the street and continuous shoulders to serve the once-a-week vehicle breakdown. Traffic lanes can be narrower or, if wider, shared with bikes like Seattle’s sharrows. Consolidated on-street pocket parking, off-street community-owned parking areas and/or parking on only one side of the street can replace extra-wide road ribbons. Periodically spaced vehicle turnouts can be the new norm instead of continuous 8-foot-wide shoulders....These alternatives are more economical (5–20 percent lower cost); are much more compatible with the environment (reduce storm water runoff and enhance water quality and give some space back to people); and reduce maintenance costs with no significant compromise to capacity or safety.

A 5-YEAR PLAN
Larry Ehl, founder and publisher, Transportation Issues Daily blog, WSDOT veteran

There is no one solution. Since money is no object, I would build out the following within five years:

  • S.R. 509 missing link [around the southwest side of Sea-Tac airport]
  • A sidewalk on every road without one
  • A few bike greenways, and be done with it
  • A few crosstown “freightways,” too
  • An electric and natural-gas vehicle charging network
  • A Sounder stop near Pier 79
  • The planned Sound Transit lines, and be done with that

I would also:

  • Repave every potholed road.
  • Replace every older stinky diesel transit and school bus with a hybrid.
  • Relieve some congestion around Sea-Tac airport by opening Paine Field in Everett to very, very limited passenger air service.
  • Expand transit using more and smaller buses and vans, more routes; install many more covered stops, and make it easier for private providers to enter the market.
  • Rebuild the waterfront, including a world-class ferry terminal.

MORE BIG IDEAS THAT DIDN'T MAKE IT INTO PRINT...

ELECTRIC BULLETS
Hilary Franz, Executive Director, Futurewise

The “Big Idea” transportation project that would address our regional transportation problem is an interconnected statewide network of high-speed bullet trains connected to a larger multi-modal network that includes light rail, street car, walkways and bikeways. If money were no object, the bullet trains would be electric powered and on tracks separate from freight trains. A half an hour: Seattle to Everett; an hour: Seattle to Bellingham; an hour and half: Seattle to Yakima; two hours: Seattle to Spokane; three hours: Seattle to Walla Walla. All times approximate, with dining car and wireless service. To further mobility, the bullet trains would be connected to a larger network of light rail, streetcar, bikeways and bike parking, and sidewalks that are twice as wide and connect residents to community hubs.

LINK THE LINKS
Chas Redmond, board member, Feet First

I would like to see the Link system completed to Federal Way, to Lynnwood, to Bellevue and Redmond. I would like to see an elevated system connecting the West side of Seattle and interconnecting with the Link system. I would like to see the Central-area streetcar network completed and made more integral with the Link system, through connections made either underground or using overhead pedestrian flyways. And, if money were no object, I would like to see these mass transit systems completed by 2020 with the expectation that we would further fill in the missing sections after 2020. Some of the missing sections would be connecting the Northeast Seattle neighborhoods to the Northwest Seattle neighborhoods through either elevated or tunneled systems, completely by-passing the congestion on 85th, 80th, 65th, 50th and 45th Streets. I would also like to see the system maintain weekday hours from 5 am through 1 am and weekend hours from 6 am through 2 am.

BUILD RAIL AND FAIR TOLLS
Maud Daudon, President and CEO, Seattle Northwest Securities and Past Chair, Seattle Metro Chamber, former Deputy Mayor of Seattle

If money were no object, the region would greatly benefit from the build-out of a complete light rail mass transit system running from Everett to Tacoma, east across the lake and up and down the 405 corridor. The establishment of a regional tolling system to fund road maintenance and replacement (rather than tolls on only new projects) would create lower tolls on drivers throughout the region, coupled with variable tolling which could create less traffic by shifting traffic from peak to off-peak periods. Funds from this more equitable tolling structure could be used to support high profile projects—such as the replacement of the 520 bridge—in addition to providing money to fund the less glamorous but necessary renewal and replacement of our regional highway infrastructure. Thanks for letting me dream a little!

INCREASE ACCOUNTABILITY
Virginia Gunby, former State Transportation Commissioner, co-founder of FutureWise

1. Provide a statewide travel (without driving) User/Way-Finding Information Network to assist travelers inside our state, and to adjacent states, similar to our “One Bus Away” transit  information system. Include info on service gaps in connecting current public and private systems.

2. Reduced state gas revenues and the recent defeat of Initiative 1125 will result in the use of tolling funds to pay for and manage state highways. Washington used to have a Toll Bridge Authority. I support a new Washington Toll/Ferry Authority to increase public oversight, accountability and responsiveness for our two challenged transport services.

3. A new Urban Multi-modal State Corridor Performance Monitoring Program is needed with adopted performance objectives to ensure implementation of multimodal corridor/ HOV/transit performance and to meet state climate-change and growth-management goals and reduce energy use. Monitored results must be widely reported annually, and changes made, if needed, to meet adopted urban corridor multimodal performance objectives. 

A CIVILIZED MENTALITY
George Durham, board president, Cascade Bicycle Club

If money were no object, I would create a transportation system and a sense of community that would allow my 8-year-old daughter to walk or ride her bike to school every day without being concerned about preventable and unnecessary injury from automobiles. I would seize upon the responsibility we share to make decisions, create infrastructure, and choose transportation options that can improve our communities, our individual and collective health, save us money, reduce automobile congestion, and improve the economic, social, and environmental well-being of our children and grandchildren. Forty-seven percent of Americans would like to see more trails, bridges, and bike lanes in their communities. Fifty percent of all trips we make each day are less than 3 miles. We should fund and build a modern transportation system; one that includes robust and functional options for mass transit, safe and efficient routes for pedestrians and cyclists, safe and well-functioning roads and signals, and a more civilized transportation mentality that optimizes around human-scaled transportation.

 

This page has been updated since its original publication.