Thursday, November 8, 2007

Voting on local transportation - Get your assessments straight

Gristmill provides a great article on Seattle regional transportation initiatives voted on in the recent election. In "Transportation and climate get hitched," Eric de Place describes how "voters just sank an $18 billion transportation megaproposal that would have built more than 180 lanes miles of highway and 50 miles of light rail."

The local media seems to have missed the most significant factor in the vote - the extent to which climate impact concerns drove voters' choices. And that voters on both sides of the issue - for and against the proposal - considered that their votes were pro-environment.

In the run-up to the vote, a surprising amount of the debate centered on the package's climate implications. (The state has committed to reduce greenhouse-gas emissions to 50 percent below 1990 levels by 2050, and many cities, including Seattle, have been national leaders on climate.)

The opposition argued global warming. So did the measure's supporters. If you don't believe me, see, among others, the Seattle P-I (yes), The Stranger (no), the Yes Campaign, the Sierra Club's No Campaign, the right-leaning Washington Policy Center (no), and even the anti-tax/rail No Campaign, which oddly enough kept trumpeting the Sierra Club's opposition as a primary reason to vote no.

The turning point may have been when King County Executive Ron Sims suddenly withdrew his support. He cited the climate-warming emissions from added traffic as one of his chief objections -- he was thinking about his granddaughters, he said, not just the next five years.

King County, of course, is one of the more active American counties in doing local adaptation planning, and is a primary contributor to Preparing for Climate Change: A Guidebook for Local, Regional, and State Governments.

But as Gristmill points out, even in such an environmentally conscious area, there was no comprehensive impact assessment done to inform the voters of the tradeoffs of supporting or not supporting the proposal. If voters are going to be in control of local adaptation planning, it's essential that such huge issues as highway expansion and widening and light rail systems be put under the microscope so that voters understand the short- and long-range impacts of their implementation.

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