Sunday, August 24, 2008

Space Race Update: Denver's Whiners

I like the Fastracks program. What it has done is lead the way for other regions to start thinking about how transit is being built in this country, usually one line at a time over many years. But now that the budget has gone up a few times, a lot of people are freaking out, mostly the people that didn't want the project in the first place, like the Rocky Mountain News. Part of the problem is that they never saw the importance of the project, but another part is that they are stuck in the car oriented world of roads are the greatest thing since sliced bread.

An editorial at the Rocky Mountain News this weekend states that Fastracks should be pared down in order to deal with the cost, which sounds reasonable when you think about it, until you read what they feel like should be the priority instead.
Some of those new revenues could come from whatever tax plan for transportation emerges from the legislature in the coming years. But transit should be far behind highway and bridge construction as a priority for state transportation planners. There simply isn't enough new revenue likely to materialize.
Because new highway construction to make the problem Fastracks is trying to help solve worse is a great idea. Look, for over 60 years in Denver, hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on road infrastructure just like everywhere else. I don't see why making even a $10 billion investment in transit is such a big deal.

I do think RTD is doing the best it can with a bad situation created by the people that love roads anyways. It's not their fault that costs have skyrocketed because of issues outside of their immediate control, but to say that because of the cost, this type of project shouldn't be completed is wrong headed and short sighted. In fact, if the money for expanding (not fixing) freeways in the state was shifted to transit to complete the project, they would get done faster and help direct growth more intelligently sooner. The funds used on expansion would have just allowed people to sent more of their money to foreign oil companies and increase VMT.

There was a poster who replied to the editorial saying he was tired of North Denver getting the shaft when it came to funding allocations. The favored quarter of the Southeast is getting a lot of the investment and the northern end is paying for a lot of it, yet there is a lot going on in the Northwest as well.

I can see where the corridor gets even more congested between Boulder and Denver as population fills in the gap between the two cities. The need for an alternative development strategy is great and its not going to happen with BRT going down the center of a huge freeway, contrary to what people think. I have a lot of problems with the southeast corridor light rail because it was run down the side of the freeway. Many of the stations including those in the area of the tech center are not able to help the district turn into a more walkable pattern because the stations are on the other side of the freeway. The line should have shot through the center of the building density, not around it.

But I digress. We should be measuring mobility projects on whether they can get us out of the hole we have dug. The Denver projects move the region in that direction and the locals will have to step up and push against the road building interests of newspapers and the status quo.


toast2042 said...

What they should do is ditch that stupid BRT line up US36. The northwest rail line parallels its direction and actually does go through population centers.

And I forget whether it was the News or the Post who said we should ditch the East Corridor line out to the airport, which of course should be one of our first priorities, along with refurbing Union Station.

BeyondDC said...

The Boulder corridor is a mess.

The big problem is that none of the three most important activity centers along the corridor (downtown Boulder, University of Colorado and Broomfield's shopping district) are along the existing freight rail line, so getting service to them, which is absolutely necessary for the success of the corridor, requires leaving that existing right-of-way.

RTD's big mistake was in trying to compromise. Essentially they decided to build both the commuter rail line and the BRT on the cheap, rather than do one of them correctly.

A better solution would have been to pick one mode, but spend the money to make that one mode hit all the necessary targets.

But here, as repeated all over the metro area, politics trumped good planning.

Ultimately FasTracks is a good program. It *will* transform Denver into a transit-friendly city. But FasTracks has so many problems that it is all but guaranteed that in 20 years there will have to be a FasTracks II to solve the problems created by FasTracks I. In RTD's worthy quest to get a transit system built they are pushing a lot of the harder problems off to the next generation.