April 7, 1998
Honorable Paul Schell
Mayor, City of Seattle
600 Fourth Avenue, 12th Floor
Seattle, WA 98104-1873
Re: Your request for comments on the Draft Transportation Strategic Plan
Dear Mayor Schell:
In collaboration with my colleague John Niles from the Public Interest Transit Forum, I'm submitting a response to the Draft Transportation Strategic Plan (TSP) issued March 3, 1998. Detailed comments in page order are listed on the attachment to this letter. In summary, our principal comments are as follows:
1) The TSP seeks to do all things for all people, thereby greatly exceeding the City's financial capacity even if new revenues should be found. It needs a more focused prioritization beyond the top priority, which obviously is to repair and replace existing infrastructure and improve operational and seismic safety.
2) The TSP lacks important baseline information which will help in the identification of cost-effective strategies and actions. In other words, it needs to begin with an explanation of why residents on average take 11 trips per household per day, and the times, origins, destinations, purposes, and modes for these trips. A baseline is also crucial to an evaluation of the Plan.
3) Although the TSP declares that "traffic growth is overwhelming our streets," it provides no listing of those segments where traffic is truly acute and what solutions might mitigate it. Clearly there is a major issue with continued growth of traffic on the freeways into and through the city. What is the City's role in reducing this problem which effects residents in several ways? There are also traffic "hot spots" on key city arterials at certain times that need attention; the West Seattle Bridge, East Marginal Way near its intersection with First Avenue South Bridge, the University District, and the Fremont business area, are examples.
4) A related problem that is not addressed is the heavy concentration of traffic in some activity centers. In particular, drivers who are forced to circle several blocks looking for a vacant parking space contribute to the pedestrian unfriendliness of the Capital Hill and First Hill centers.
5) The TSP's analysis of transit does not identify significant transit markets, i.e., categories of riders who are dependent on transit for mobility or whose use of transit can produce secondary benefits, such as reduction of congestion. These include transit-dependent populations, central business district workers, and attendees at major sports venues. Specifically, it does not address the need of low-income residents for access to jobs that are increasingly located outside the city. We understand that support for welfare to work is a funding priority for the current federal administration. A focus on transit markets will help the City prioritize both policy and spending.
6) The document does not provide an unambiguous summary of costs. It is therefore difficult to compare the cost-effectiveness of strategies and actions. For example, there should be a summary budget table for street repair/replacement that gives total life-cycle costs at different levels of funding. Citizens would then be able to see more clearly the financial penalty associated with "deferred" maintenance.
7) Although the TSP speaks to the need for adequate and flexible revenues, it does not fully address the equally important issue of the equity of exactions. Sharing costs with nonresident users, as a commuter parking tax would allow, is one way to address equity. But residents use our transportation system in different ways and to different degrees, and the revenues they contribute should reflect these differences. They should also reflect differing abilities to afford additional taxes or fees. Specifically, there should be consideration of the use of impact fees.
8) Evaluation should be accomplished in ways that provide clear indications of the cost effectiveness of individual strategies and actions. Focused indicators are needed that measure meaningful outcomes. Two of the three indicators chosen are not very instructive since they measure citywide trends that are affected by other factors.
9) There is inadequate attention to the potential for electronic service delivery, teleconferencing, and telecommuting to be encouraged as transportation alternatives.
10) Finally, the Plan pays insufficient attention to the potential for accelerated deployment of intelligent transportation technology (ITS) to increase the effective capacity and safety of the present infrastructure, by providing traveler information, improving traffic flow, and warning drivers of potential hazards.
While these comments may appear critical, we believe the Draft Plan represents a good start. There is much in it we support. Seattle has had a long-standing need to clarify its transportation goals, strategies, and actions, so that citizens can have confidence that our transportation system is being effectively and efficiently managed.
Dick Nelson John Niles
122 NW 50th Street 4005 20th Ave W, Suite 111
Seattle, WA 98107-3419 Seattle, WA 98199