Friday, June 21, 2013

Councilor Dickey's Statement on Transit and a Third Bridge

From the Facebook:
This Monday, June 24, the City Council will be deliberating on recommending an alternative for the Salem River Crossing EIS. Many people have shared their thoughts on this issue in writing, public testimony at Council meetings in other public meetings. I do not know how the vote will go on Monday, but many opponents of a 3rd bridge cite public transportation as an alternative that can be considered, as well as the general trend toward more people using public transportation. Today’s post is longer than usual, as I wanted to share an excerpt of an email response I wrote to a No 3rd Bridge supporter. I would welcome your thoughts on this:

“As you may be aware, our community generally has not been supportive of efforts by the transit district (i.e. operating levys) and at times vocally opposed to transit district locations due to the perception that transit is only for certain populations. I have never seen the kind of grassroots effort similar to No 3rd Bridge in support of public transit in our community. Whatever happens with the bridge, I hope that some or all of those who have voiced transit support in their comments about the bridge will bring a similar grass roots effort in support of public transportation--to thebusiness groups, community groups, neighborhoods,media outlets, etc. Simply not building a bridge will not be enough to change the community's attitude toward public transportation. But I believe that the kind of energy and effort that has gone into the No 3rd Bridge campaign can make a difference. And please know that when you do that, I will support that effort 100% and be involved as much as I am legally and ethically allowed.”
A fair response to this is so difficult.

For many, a response to this will start from the way Dementors seem to have run the process:  It's totally soul-sucking.  One member of the Task Force has written:

This isn't the only person who thought the process has been a waste of time and money.

The process is also intellectually dishonest, designed not to seek truth, or even just an outcome based on best available information and accounting for known future uncertainties, but rather rigged to land on an outcome already known from the ostensible starting point of the "purpose and need."

For example, the TSM/TDM analysis of transit was profoundly flawed and, by a straw man argument, concluded transit was helpless to alleviate congestion:

Sloppy or Intellectually Dishonest?
Here's the relevant TSM/TDM memo from the Task Force proceedings and an earlier discussion of it on the blog.

So the first thought - and it's undeniably a feeling - is:  City of Salem and ODOT, you've exhausted us.  The City shouldn't foist something designed to exhaust the opposition into submission as they fight a pre-ordained outcome, and then turn around and say - guess what, try again!

In this transportation advocates might feel like Charlie Brown to the City's Lucy.

So that's the emotional, social, and organizing part of a response.

What about policy?

It may be true that no one has ever "seen the kind of grassroots effort similar to No 3rd Bridge in support of public transit in our community."

But if we keep planning to increase auto capacity and to make it easy to make the drive-alone trip, it may not be quite impossible to get support for transit, but we certainly make it more difficult to get support for transit.

It's basic economics:  The incentives have to align, and this means that the drive-alone trip must be sufficiently costly to make transit an attractive alternative, not just for the whackos, the poor, and otherwise marginal, but for normal, everyday folks.

When we plan to spend nearly a billion dollars to make the drive-alone trip more attractive and faster, and we insist on indulging the mania for free parking downtown, there is hardly any incentive for "choice" riders to choose transit.

Nearly every decision we make reinforces a total transportation system that caters in a practical way exclusively to the drive-alone trip and makes it so that only "captive" riders will use transit or other non-auto transportation.

So on this side of the equation we need leadership from Electeds to put the brakes on foolish, soon-to-be obsolete, or otherwise non-essential roadway expansion.  We're, what, 1/2, or 3/4 of the way through a $100 million bond measure that had way more road expansion in it than simple preservation and repair?

And Electeds have support at the highest levels of policy: Just cite the the Comprehensive Plan:
12. The implementation of transportation system and demand management measures, enhanced transit service, and provision for bicycle and pedestrian facilities shall be pursued as a first choice for accommodating travel demand and relieving congestion in a travel corridor, before widening projects are constructed.
13. The Salem Transportation System Plan shall identify methods that citizens can use to commute to work and decrease overall traffic demand on the transportation system. Such methods include transit ridership, telecommuting, carpooling, vanpooling, flexible work schedules, walking, and bicycling.
18. The Salem Transportation System Plan shall identify methods that employers can use to better facilitate the commute of their employees, encourage employees to use alternative travel modes other than the SOV, and decrease their needs for off-street parking.
Life's not fair, of course, but for Electeds to encourage driving and drive-alone trips and then to turn around and admonish advocates, wondering why we keep failing at creating more choices - well, there's some tension there.

And as long as choice riders aren't given reasons to choose transit - and support transit funding - building support for transit beyond captive riders will remain difficult.

Until we start reining in our road capacity expansion, and start seriously thinking about charging for parking and about other demand management projects,  we will retain a system with a very strong structural bias against building out transit.  


Brian said...

Great analysis of the horrific Third Bridge planning. I don't agree that downtown parking meters could be a good thing; I'm against them. Otherwise, this post is right on.

Jim Scheppke said...

You nailed it SBOB. Thanks. I hope Councilor Dickey gets the message.

Jeff McNamee said...

Right on, Eric! I for one would be willing to lose my favorite pedestrian bridge (Union) for a light rail system that ran from west Salem, State Cap buildings, out south a bit and back.