Sunday, May 20, 2007

A Rock and Hard Place

Talk about being stuck between a rock and hard place...Sacramentans are not only paying the highest national average for a gallon of gas, but our alternatives may cost us a pretty penny too. And if the Governor has his way we will be paying more for less. At least that's the assessment of the Sacramento Bee.
Sacramento transit riders could pay higher fares and find fewer buses on the streets if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's latest budget plan is enacted, local officials say.

Echoing complaints from transit officials statewide, Sacramento transit chief Beverly Scott said her agency faces a potential $7 million deficit that could lead to service cuts and increased fares for students and others who now pay reduced rates.

The Gov's May Budget Plan Revision has another punch from the body-builder: a big zilch on funding the High-Speed Rail start-up. According to The Sacramento News and Review the budget will just barely keep the plan afloat and it looks as though the Governor's expecting the private sector to pony up:
We know, of course, that rail isn’t popular with those all-powerful entities--oil, automotive, airline industries and the real-estate lobby--who want people to travel in automobiles and on highways with off ramps leading to new developments. And we know many of these people are your friends and contributors. But you’ve shown you can act independently, right?

Now you seem to be pushing the idea that high-speed-rail proponents need to first lineup private funding for the project. But you must know that private financing of a giant public-works effort such as this is basically impossible without a firm financial commitment (like the passage of a bond) from the state of California. The public investment simply has to come first. You know it, everyone knows it. Saying the bullet train has to be built with private monies is saying it won’t be built. Governor, it’s a quiet killing.

So much for reducing those greenhouse gas emissions...if the cost of riding the bus goes up, and there are no other alternatives, people will stick to their tried and true automobile. But then again, as the Los Angeles Times pointed out in their "Greenhouse Gas Bags" piece:
IF WE COULD HARNESS the renewable wind power from all the politicians making empty promises about fighting global warming, we could go a long way toward solving the problem.

The PBS series NOW broadcast an excellent show: Miles to Go, discussing how American car makers have done their share to keep us mired in the petroleum mud. The show also highlights the performance versus fuel economy trap that the Japanese automakers are now falling into. For an excellent review of fuel alternatives, and why we need to pay close attention to these, see the Nightly Business Report.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

A River Runs Through It...

Do new bridges in an urban area give commuters shorter routes and encourage neighborhood residents to walk, bike or use transit more? Will they save gas and ease freeway congestion? Or, will bridges, built mainly for cars, encourage more driving and clog nearby neighborhoods? According to city planners it's the former and environmentalists contend the latter. This is a big question facing the Sacramento Region as it expands and tries to develop waterfront areas.

The first new bridge in decades is currently in the planning stages. It will link Sacramento and West Sacramento from Broadway, just south of downtown, to South River Road. According to a recent Sacramento Bee article, Sacramento has a dearth of bridges compared to similar river cities. There are now six bridges spread over six miles on the Sacramento and American rivers, four of these are elevated freeways. Downtown Portland has eight bridges in just half that distance, while Austin, Texas, has eight bridges in a four-mile stretch.

According to Mayor Heather Fargo, a Broadway Bridge will be a conduit for cultural and economic cross-pollination.

"It'll bring more people to eat at 40-plus restaurants and to the Tower Theatre," she said. But, "it has to be built on the same scale as Tower Bridge, walkable and friendly."
Many of the Region's bridges are concrete eyesores packed with cars, not the least pedestrian or bike friendly. Frank Cirill of the Save the American River Association says their philosophy is, 'Don't build new bridges.' So what will it be? The bridge question is one of the many vital transportation issues facing Sacramento Area Council of Government (SACOG) planners, as they put together the Master Transportation Plan (MTP) for the Region.

The ECOS Air, Transportation and Climate Committee will be providing comments on the MTP to SACOG. If you would like to be involved in this effort, email co-chair Eric Davis.

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

California's Bullet Train

I just returned from a trip to Japan where I had a chance to ride the incredible bullet train. There really is nothing like it--and I can't imagine how the Tokyo metropolitan population would manage without it. There is absolutely no way the airports in the Tokyo area could handle all of the domestic travel needs of the 35 million residents in and around Tokyo. We are quickly approaching the same situation in the Los Angeles area. A recent opinion piece by Dan Walters in the SacBee highlighted the failed expansion plans of all the major airports in the southland and San Francisco. The Sacramento airport traffic is up 25 percent from pre-911 levels.

A high-speed rail system has been under consideration in California for a decade and over $30 million has been spent to study this alternative. A California bullet train will not only relieve air traffic congestion and take auto traffic off our over-crowded highways, it will also dramatically reduce the State's green house gas emissions; over 40 percent of these emissions are attributed to transportation sources.

The Sacramento News and Review has been following the politics surrounding the HSR in several recent articles, and the Sacramento Bee is also paying attention. At issue is initial planning and infrastructure funding and whether or not a bond for the system should be placed before the voters in 2008. With gas prices close to $4 a gallon, climate change and middle east unrest, it would be hard to imagine such a bond not passing. In 2003, two-thirds of Californians favored the idea.

The Governor's original budget proposal of $1.2 million was just enough to keep the HSR plans on life-support. He also proposed postponing a 2008 bond measure designed to fund the initial infrastructure development. Now, however, the "Green Governor" appears to be changing course. The Governor penned a recent editorial in the Fresno Bee:

As the recent Bay Area freeway collapse illustrated -- and as a recent Bee editorial correctly pointed out -- Californians need and deserve a diverse array of transportation options. I absolutely believe high-speed rail should be one of those alternatives.

A network of high-speed rail lines connecting cities throughout California would be a tremendous benefit to our state.

Not only would its construction bring economic development and the creation of hundreds of thousands of new jobs, but once completed, we would also see improvements to our air quality, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, congestion relief on our highways and greater mobility for people living in the Valley and other areas of our state currently underserved by other forms of transportation.
Walters believes there is not much support in the State legislature for the HSR, given a current deficit. With the Governor's recent show of support perhaps that will change but we should not be complacent. Everyone should write their State representatives to let them know you support full funding for the project. Let's get the HSR plans back on track.