Monday, March 5, 2007

Be Reasonable. Demand the Impossible.

We at Real Change have become born again surface transit advocates, and will publish this endorsement of the Transit + Streets solution to the viaduct problem in Wednesday's paper.

Say Yes to No and No
The Tunnel and the Elevated are solutions of a bygone era


Real Change Editors

On March 13, Seattle voters will be presented with two unattractive alternatives to address the unsafe Alaskan Way Viaduct. These options, a tunnel or a viaduct rebuild, are products of an oxygen-deprived political environment that is in denial over the future. Seattle voters should demand an alternative to dueling dead-end visions and vote no to both choices. We deserve an option that both meets the immediate need and lays the groundwork for a more sustainable future. This involves enhanced mass transit and smarter surface alternatives.

The tunnel, for all practical purposes, is already dead. People across the state are asking where Seattle gets off thinking we are wealthy enough to build a custom-made waterfront highway. This option lacks political and popular support and everyone knows it.

The viaduct rebuild is a default solution that lacks imagination and vision, and misses the remarkable opportunity that exists to re-imagine Seattle as the city we must become.

Seattle does not need a new mega-project. Instead, we should work smarter with what we have, begin work on the 520 Bridge replacement, and clear the way to closing the dangerous Alaska Way Viaduct.

The Transit + Streets solution, supported by the People’s Waterfront Coalition, envisions a dynamic water’s edge, with parks, beaches, recreation paths, event spaces, and an urban street integrated into a functional shore ecology. Their plan has gained support from people like Ron Sims and Peter Steinbrueck, and deserves serious consideration.

If we continue to act as though our car-dependent present is the only imaginable future, progress toward an environmentally sustainable future will come too little too late. Adopting a Transit + Streets solution begins the process of meeting the 2012 Kyoto Protocol goal of cutting emissions back to 1990 levels, the equivalent of getting 130,000 cars off the road.

We are amazed that tunnel proponents and viaduct rebuild advocates who all claim to be looking out for future generations don't see the writing on the wall. Our days of auto-dependence are numbered.

Over the coming decades, as the price of oil increases and the almost unimaginable costs of global warming become more apparent, ways of living that assume cheap and plentiful energy will inevitably change.

Oil is a non-renewable resource, and most of the world's oil fields have already peaked, meaning that what's left can only be extracted at greater expense for declining output. US fields in the lower 48 peaked in 1970. Alaska peaked in 1988. Canada and Mexico have also peaked.

The world’s remaining oil is a contested resource. Iraq's oil reserves are the largest in the world, and remain mostly untapped. Naming and confronting our addiction to oil will help ease global tensions and start us down the path toward environmental sustainability.

A rebuilt viaduct will, in thirty years, be a costly monument to a time that has passed. The time to think differently about the future is now.

Closing the viaduct, even for a rebuild, will mean finding new ways of moving people and goods for 3-4 years. This, in itself, is proof that another way is possible.

Other major cities that have reduced their highway capacity or removed waterfront highways have had encouraging results. Given good planning and effective alternatives, traffic decentralizes and people adjust. The gridlock forecasted by highway planners never materializes. People, given a chance, will surprise you.

The Transit + Streets solution, supported by the People’s Waterfront Coalition has not received anything nearing sufficient consideration. The city study of this option had more to do with setting up a straw man than seriously investigating other alternatives.

The future begins now with the investment in mass transit that Seattle needs and deserves. King County Metro has developed a list of 49 transit-related actions that in and of themselves could take 35,000 cars off the viaduct. These, along with other innovations such as adding a designated arterial through the city for freight, widening key streets and improving grid connections can offer a solution that builds toward a sustainable future.

We deserve better than a “choice” between the lesser of two evils. A No and No vote on March 13 opens the way to a future that says yes to ending political gridlock, yes to the environment, and yes to economically sustainable transportation choices.

More Information

The People’s Waterfront Coalition, at, offers detailed information on this issue and a plan for action.

1 comment:

Michael said...

I'm with you on Transit + Surface, and with your concerns about global warming.

But I have to point out:
a) Iraq does not have the world's largest oil reserves, Saudi Arabia does, and
b) the issue of whether the world's oil fields have peaked is very much in dispute. They will peak, but it could be 20-30 years in the future
c) new extraction techniques are actually increasing global oil reserves. Fields in the US that closed in the 1970s because it was technologically impossible to extract more than 10%-20% of the oil are now producing more oil than they were thirty years ago.

Oil prices are not necessarily going to rise much in the coming years, on an inflation-adjusted basis. In fact, gasoline is still cheaper in the US, from a purchasing price parity standpoint, than it was prior to the oil embargo period in the 1970s. Much of our car addiction in the past twenty years is tied to the dramatic drop in how much gasoline cost in relation to everything else.

I wish it were different. But the price of oil is unlikely to correct the negative externality resulting from the burning of these fossil fuels anytime soon.