Tacoma Urbanist

Nov. 7, 2007 at 8:17pm

Sound Transit Proposition No. 1 Post Mortem

Many Tacomans like myself voted for Sound Transit Proposition No. 1 because they believed it would have reduced traffic congestion and would have provided a rail from Tacoma up to Sea-Tac. 

I still believe the rail connection would have benefitted Tacoma even though it would have not been for 20 years.

However, the more I read about transportation, the more it appears that the road portion of Proposition No. 1 may have done more harm than good:

The mechanism at work behind induced traffic is elegantly explained by an aphorism gaining popularity amoung traffic engineers:"trying to cure traffic congestion by adding more capacity is like like trying to cure obesity by loosening your belt."  Increased  traffic capacity makes longer commutes less burdensom, and as a result, people are willing to live farther from their workplace.  An increasing numbers of peope make similar decisions, the longer the distance commute grows as crowded as the inner city, commuters clamor for additional lanes, and the cycle repeats itself.
Suburban Nation : The Rise of Sprawl and the Decline of the American Dream.  Page 89-90. 


Another problem with Proposition No. 1 was that it subsidized suburban living.  Even if living further out in the county was a not objectionable on a public policy basis, the people seeking to live 20 miles out of town should have to pay for the roadways to get there. 

Thus, any road expansion plan should be financed through a user tax via a gas tax.  Unfortunately, proposition 1 would have increased the sales tax forcing Washington residents to subsidize suburban sprawl through the simply act buying groceries or any other consumer item. 

Consequently, the users of the new roads would be encouraged to live ever farther from areas of work as their actions would have been subsidized and made easier.

At the very least, the state should be neutral on the issue of suburban living and not subsidize it.  Due to environmental concerns, there is a much stronger argument for local governments to work to reduce sprawl, no encourage through subsidy.

Any new roads should be paid for by the people who choose to use them.  This can be done by funding all road construction projects by a gas tax which raises money proportional to the use of the roads.

Should Tacoma and Pierce County participate in another transportation package?  If so, what should we build and how should we pay for it?

If Tacoma has any additional money, would it be more wise to place the funds in a street car system and fix up our infrastructure here?

comments [6]  |  posted under blog, proposition 1, Tacoma, washington


by NineInchNachos on 11/7/2007 @ 10:03pm
Yer darn tootin!

Unsound Built Future

The true cost of gasoline should be about $8.00 a gallon. Mr. & Mrs. Hummer Suburban will soon get a rude awakening as their super discounted sound built dreams come crashing down to global reality.

by NineInchNachos on 11/7/2007 @ 10:05pm
homeowners: get back on the grid!

by drizell on 11/7/2007 @ 11:27pm
Good analysis, Eric.

In planning circles, the farce that you can build your way out of congestion is often known as the "law of latent demand." There will always be congestion, but you need to decide what type of congestion is more desirable. For most modern planners, crowded public transportation and busy downtown sidewalks are better than traffic-laden suburban strips.

It's delusional to think that making major changes will not have an effect on people's transportation habits. Proposition 1 had the possibly of actually decreasing ridership due to the new roads element.

A few years ago, Atlanta tried to free up congestion on Interstate 95 by building an obscenely wide freeway (something like 9 or 10 lanes in each direction). What happened though, is that people who previously had ridden buses and trains to avoid the congestion started driving again, and now I-95 (all 20 lanes) is now hopeless clogged a good portion of each day.

by Erik on 11/8/2007 @ 12:07am
Good analysis, Eric.

Thanks. The Tacoma Narrows Bridge is done better.

Here, extra capacity was added west. However, at least some portion is paid by tolls which makes the users of the bridge pay some of their own way.

I suppose they could have gotten out of building a second bridge altogether by simply adding a toll on the first one.

By the way, of the the supposed "benefits" was to build a southbound ramp from I-5 to Tacoma Mall Blvd. Unbelievable. Tacomans are supposed to pay additional sales tax to subsidize the Mall.

by jenyum on 11/8/2007 @ 7:50am
If you could convince people to leave the suburbs by squeezing them financially, they'd already be empty.

I think there's a values and cultural shift that has to happen before any amount of traffic and financial misery convinces more people in the former middle class to move to more densely populated areas. It would require cities to actively court them and accommodate their needs, and a general moratorium on the "cities kill children" messages out there in the media. I'm not seeing that happening until the planet boils, unfortunately.

by Erik on 11/10/2007 @ 9:28pm
If you could convince people to leave the suburbs by squeezing them financially, they'd already be empty.

I think we could accomplish quite a bit by just ceasing to continue to subsidize suburban sprawl through expensive road and highway building. Right now, sales and land taxes are going to build additional roads to the edge of town so that it is inexpensive to live 35 minutes from the city.