Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Official Blog.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

C-Tran could bear heavy load in bridge project

The Columbian reports on the possibility that C-Tran would run a transit system on a new I-5 bridge between Portland and Vancouver. Here's the article:
A high-capacity transit system expected to be part of a new Interstate 5 bridge would likely require C-Tran to ask voters to raise the sales tax.

How much money would be needed to operate and maintain the system is one of the many unknowns of the Columbia River Crossing project, along with the mode of transit - light rail or bus rapid transit - and what route the line would take through west Vancouver.

Nevertheless, a majority of Vancouver City Council members expressed their preference Monday for an option that calls for C-Tran to own and maintain the system.
There are still a lot of unknowns, as the article makes clear. And unknown costs are a potentially damaging thing, politically speaking.

There are tons of transportation wonks in the world who know a lot more than I do, but one key concept that always strikes me is that a transit system has to be somewhat comprehensive in order to be useful to large numbers of people. The service has to be frequent enough that people don't have to worry so much about getting back.

So in the case of Clark County, what this likely means is feeder bus routes serving a light rail or, less likely, a bus rapid transit system. (The main drawback of bus rapid transit being that, sooner or later, it winds up back on the existing roadway/freeway network, in the same traffic as everyone else.)

People have to perceive a benefit to even consider approving taxes to pay for stuff, be it schools, roads, libraries or transit service. The consensus among local leaders seems to be that the feds will require a clearly workable transit component in order to fund the bridge project.

So in a way, the entire I-5 bridge project rests on the ability of C-Tran (and thus the county and the cities) concocting an easily understood, practical system of feeder routes and winning approval at the ballot box.

And that means making it clear to people in relatively close-in but not downtown areas what their benefit will be. In the infamous 1995 light rail debacle, I certainly recall anecdotal comments that people felt they wouldn't be served at all by light rail, and the measure got creamed.

The down side is always expense, and I'm sure planners and officials are not looking to add to the expense, but you really have to make using public transportation easier for everyone through the use of bus shelters and cut-out lanes at stops to keep automobile traffic flowing. It's absurd to ask moms with small kids to stand in January rainstorms and it's absurd to bring busy arterial traffic to a halt with buses blocking travel lanes every two blocks.

Nobody said public policy was easy. That's why Vancouver City Council members' wages work out to three or four cents per hour, the greedy buggers.

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