Opinion

Getting there | Editorial

How to rebuild the region’s transportation system is as complicated as how to reconfigure and rebuild existing Mercer Island school facilities into modern 21st century centers for learning. The new report from the Washington State Department of Transportation (see brief on page 8) reveals what we already know. There is more congestion on the roadways, more people on the road.

What delights those of us who look at data for patterns, especially those that link economics to behavior — we can see that as the recession hit, fewer cars were on the road. As the economy improved, people returned to their commutes. Alternatively, the data disappoints by showing that despite increasing congestion and higher fuel prices, people still opt to drive.

Longer commute times, of course, are the product of many variables. They include major construction projects or accidents linked to weather or unsafe driving. What is clear is that it is none too soon for our region to be building light rail, re-thinking bus routes and replacing and widening roadways.

The trick is to find ways to improve our transportation system while encouraging people to drive less. Carpooling, sort of a last-century tactic, seems to have finally paid its way by increasing the traffic loads on HOV lanes.

But it also needs to be easier and cheaper to take transit. There must be more ways for people to get to the places to board the bus and ride rail. That means building or expanding park-and-ride lots. However, with many such lots full, how do people get to the station as Metro has plans to eliminate local routes that do not pencil out? Biking is good, but not a solution for everyone.

One solution is to have housing near stations and workplaces. Living within walking distance to the bus, rail or the workplace is one of the goals of the Growth Management Act and of affordable housing initiatives.

City zoning to accommodate multifamily housing in the Town Center is part of that initiative and is required by state law. Each city has to set aside space for housing near transportation networks or commercial centers. We all have to do our part.

 

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