Thursday, December 14, 2006

Trolley Madness Continues

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz will ruin Madison aesthetically and financially if residents allow him to tear up our roads so streetcars requiring a dangling mess of overhead wires can substitute for a bus. The construction company that stands to make big profits from city tax dollars has a draft plan of the streets to be sacrificed in an idealistic attempt to recreate last century’s rejected technology. The meetings are ongoing downtown.

Trawling for trolley tracks: The public will help narrow down the options the committee has developed, said Nicole Anderson of Vandewalle & Associates. The firm is part of a consultant group headed by HDR Corp. that is working with the study committee to examine land use impact and work on public outreach, Trowbridge said.

Paying for Mayor Dave's streetcar desire: Cieslewicz says the city could use a combination of tax-incremental financing, room tax and other local funds to pay for a streetcar system, which could cost tens of millions of dollars. By using local funds, the city could avoid federal restrictions, like a "Buy American" clause that requires the purchase of streetcars made in the U.S.

Pacific coastline restricted big city Portland, Oregon is the model plan Cieslewicz wants to impose on small Midwestern Madison. At least in Portland the government is honest enough to admit their goal is to create traffic congestion. They also acknowledge remodeling of a functional transportation system is absurdly expensive, thus requiring shorting funds for other maintenance.

Streetcar planning calls for patience: While the streetcar remains popular with developers and “smart growth” activists, how it expands will affect Portlanders – whether they get around town by trolley, car or bike. For one thing, the money used by the city and TriMet to operate the streetcar line currently comes from funds that otherwise could be fixing potholes or providing better bus and light-rail service. “That is a tradeoff, and folks need to be absolutely up front about it,” Commissioner Sam Adams said, referring to the city’s contribution. “That is money that otherwise would go toward maintenance of streets, roads and bridges in the city.”

In Portland area, congestion can be a means to an end: “This region, more than any other region in the United States, has decided that we will live with more congestion,” said Bruce Warner, former head of the Oregon Department of Transportation and the current executive director of the Portland Development Commission. … Portland has quietly embraced congestion as a means to an end. Spending less on roads has allowed more spending on mass transit and livable, walkable communities, Warner said.

Portland’s road to utopia, however, has started showing potholes. Early this year, for instance, gas prices jumped $1 a gallon – but ridership on TriMet buses and light-rail lines did not grow. How could this be?

There is the money issue. With a million more people expected here in the next two decades, the price tag for needed transportation projects in the region runs $10 billion, compared to the $4 billion the region presently expects to have on hand. As a result, Cotugno said, Metro’s sophisticated transportation forecasting shows that in 20 years “traffic becomes pretty horrendous.”

You might say Portland’s unceasing need for more money isn’t directly comparable because a million people are not going to be added to millions already here, but that is exactly the point. Madison has no need for a complete transportation transformation. Madison simply needs better roads, more efficient traffic control and a rational bus system.

What bothers me most, however, is that everything Environmentalist Mayor Dave is trying to achieve with his smart growth planning is ultimately motivated not for the benefit of the people who live in Madison, but because he truly believes free people spread across the land and driving is bad for nature. This flaw in his values makes him very, very bad for our city.