Here’s a one way to market light rail: highlighting the ethnic eats along the route. The new Gold Line in L.A. has mad culinary appeal. In Seattle, Sound Transit’s new “Link” light rail line might also benefit from a promotional campaign highlighting adjacent dining and other neighborhood attractions. Just one of many points of interest: In between the Othello and Edmunds stops, and right across from the Link tracks at Graham Street, is Joy Palace, one of the region’s best restaurants for Hong Kong style Chinese entrees, and the bite-sized savories and sweets known as dim sum. Take it from me, or Yelp fans of the place. In the same urban mall is a wondrous Asian supermarket, Viet Wah. Go there to buy shredded green papaya, Asian greens and fresh herbs, Asian fruits, fresh egg and rice noodles, fresh meats, fish and seafood, Chinese barbeque, Tibetan beer, and condiments galore. The mall also features Tony’s Vietnamese deli, with tasty, budget-friendly hot take-out, and a traditional Chinese apothecary.
And you thought there was no such thing as a sexy bus. Launching in full Nov. 30 is Washington state’s first “bus rapid transit” line, from Community Transit in Snohomish County. It’ll ply the SR 99 corridor, going as far south as the Aurora Village Transit Center in north Seattle, where King County Metro buses continue on to other points in the city. No corridor length bus-only dedicated lanes, but many other BRT features. How about on board WiFi one day?
Another piece of the puzzle begins falling into place. New partners announce their intent to join with the Port of Seattle to buy and preserve for public use a strategic commuter rail and recreational trail corridor in high-growth Eastside suburban cities.
Across Puget Sound in Kitsap County, the Port of Kingston has pulled together $3.65 million, just $350K short of their estimated full nut, for four years of fast passenger-only ferry service to and from Seattle. Commissioners may opt for a used vessel.
Surface Transportation Funding
NYT reports that a growing tab and lower-than-expected sales tax revenues have left a $2.2 billion gap in Denver’s planned light rail system, approved by voters in ’04. Another tax vote is due. But sales tax hikes aren’t the future of transportation funding; they’re the past. A better way to fund roads and transit: congestion-based electronic tolls of express lanes on all a region’s highways.
An old bridge across Lake Champlain between upstate New York and Vermont has been closed. It is considered too dangerous for traffic and beyond renovation. There is no money available at present to pay for replacement. There are 110 more bridges in New York state classified similarly, but yet to be closed, and many more moving toward that status. New York’s plight is emblematic of deteriorating surface transportation infrastructure nationwide. Federal money alone won’t be nearly enough. To repair, operate and maintain key roads and bridges; and to help fund carefully-vetted road extensions and widenings, plus transit system improvements, states and regions need RFID tolling of highway corridors now, public-private partnerships, and eventually charging for all miles driven by time, distance and place, as the gas tax is phased out. No more rowboats, OK?
Highways, streets bridges are like your house: there’s a lot to do after the purchase, thanks to wear and tear, or growing usage. Congressional Budget Office Director and Clinton budget director Alice Rivlin – now at Brookings – says regions must employ robust road user fees such as congestion pricing on highways and eventually a vehicle mileage tax.
A Brussels-based satellite navigation expert tells a Portsmouth, U.K. transportation technology symposium that taxing drivers by miles traveled rather than fuel purchased would have a major green upside. Developed nations should explore the policy further at Copenhagen talks.
The Dutch are aiming to implement wide area pricing, also known as a “vehicle mileage tax,” by 2012. This approach typically includes on-board units in vehicles, and is likely coming to U.S. within 10-15 years. Washington state and Oregon have already completed key field tests. The University of Iowa is conducting a 12-region, federally-funded field test. Major funding for more R&D, and advanced testing of the concept is likely in the next federal surface transportation bill. If, as is possible, the long term approach adopted by U.S. policymakers is to package wide area pricing with the phase-out of the ineffective per gallon gas tax and the phase in of mileage based consumer incentives such as pay-per-mile car insurance, then the controversial strategy could be a somewhat easier sell.
An international conference on road pricing was held last week in Toronto, on the heels of an OECD report that the region loses $2.7 billion a year in productivity and consumers pay an extra $3.3 billion annualy due to traffic gridlock. The regional transportation board will closely consider expanding electronic (variable-rate) express lane tolling on the region’s highways to help pay for $40 billion in transit and road improvements needed over next 25 years.
China’s Electric Vehicle Challenge
“China Confronts Global Warming Dilemma,” the Christian Science Monitor reports. If China is not a full partner, global action on greenhouse gas emissions will be ineffective. It’s already the world’s largest emitter and per-capita rates will grow with increasing urbanization. The state-owned power sector is reliant on cheap coal, and projections are for an increase in vehicles from 65 million now to 300 million by 2030. A carbon tax to drive faster adoption of renewable energy sources would help, as would ramp-up for widespread electric vehicle infrastructure.
Auto sales are already hitting a record pace in China as the huge nation’s economy continues to grow. Some key players in China are trying to help gear up for electric vehicles. The source of electricity matters, but even with coal, there are significant emission reductions on a per-vehicle basis when electrics replace fossil-fuel-powered. Air pollution and public health are additional reasons for developed and developing nations to move beyond oil and coal. The worst form of air pollution, particulate matter 2.5 (PM2.5), is at heinous daily levels in urban China; 750,000 people there die prematurely each year from fouled air. James Fallows, in The Atlantic.
The “X” Files
NYT: apparently there are limits to communitarianism, even in Paris, and under a genuine Socialist mayor. Nearly 80 percent of the 20,600 Velib public rental-bikes put into circulation there have been stolen or vandalized. They cost $3,500 each. Sheesh. France a civil society?
Iranian president Ahmedinejad wants to unleash his mojo on Tehran’s traffic jams. Remember, Mahmoud: more carrot, less stick.