Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Transportation Woes and Wows

photo: Patrick Robinson

Talking about transportation sure does draw a crowd. Especially transportation pertaining to getting around Seattle or from one end of the Puget Sound to the other. Let's face it, transportation is one of the big issues facing our cities, let alone our country. More important than social issues you say? Military issues? Environmental issues? Health issues? Economic issues? It's hard to say. Or is it? I've found rather than placing one value over the other, that instead, we look at transportation as a piece woven into and throughout each one. Therefore, it is an incredibly important topic to talk about as we think about the future and the well-being of the communities we live in. How we transport ourselves, and the products we use, is very much a question of sustainability and a happy future.

Tuesday I attended a Sustainable West Seattle meeting that featured city officials and transportation advocates discussing these issues. We talked about how bus systems can be improved to become more efficient for their users (more routes, rapid transit, new routes), how electric street cars could be introduced to get around within a city, how safer bike routes could be provided, and how funding challenges are increasingly problematic for public transit in a bad economy. With gas prices rising every day (12 cents higher than a week ago), we are beginning to once again feel the pinch of high fuel costs. It doesn't take long before we rethink how often we jump in the car to run errands or think twice about what we put in our grocery cart because food prices are also on the rise. Not only are we feeling the stress of traffic we are paying the big bucks getting nowhere.

Solving transportation problems is no easy task, but we are all a part of this challenge, which is the reason why I like the sustainability movement so much. We do have a say, each one of us, in our choices. Part of solving our world's problems is choosing to be an active participant not just someone with an opinion. If you've got an opinion, act on it! I learned that 5,500 people ride my bus route everyday! How cool is that? If a few thousand more people start riding it everyday, it could be in consideration for a bus rapid transit route getting more people from West Seattle to downtown faster. I have several colleagues at work who faithfully ride their bikes to work. I even know of someone at the University of Idaho who rides his bike in the snow everyday! Now we might not all be that fit or willing to brave the elements, but if we want a happy future, with a variety of transportation options, we have to think of alternatives to the status quo. That includes jumping in our cars at every whim, as well as, depending on products that travel great distances from all around the world just to serve our local needs. I think it is time we start freeing ourselves of this gridlock!

Transportation policies and budgets are big and expensive with a lot of political clout. But hear me on this. Last time I checked there were 535 members in Congress (in your mind add your city, county, and state officials to that) and about 310 million people in the US. Sound a little lopsided? Even though it feels like political agendas and corporate influences are too great to overcome, when it comes to sustainability (which almost every issue can be viewed through), the power is with the people! Have your own suggestion for how to improve transportation in your town? Start by deciding how you are getting to work or the grocery store tomorrow.

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