August 2, 2010
Employment opportunities in this week's classifieds include two CEO positions and several high-level technical posts!
Denver, Seattle Thinking Long-Term
BY JOHN LAIRD
John Laird is editorial page editor of The Columbian, Vancouver, WA, where this article was originally published July 18, 2010.
Travel typically serves up the wonders of comparison and discovery. Having been born a couple of centuries too late to fully accommodate my wanderlust, I settle instead for leisure reading about the Oregon Trail and Lewis and Clark. My travels yield nowhere near the sense of awe that those pioneers experienced, but on the positive side, I’m less likely to become trapped in a blizzard, die of dysentery or ensnare myself in the nasty politics of a wagon train election.
Earlier this month I was able to compare two great cities—Denver and Seattle—with the place where I live: Hazel Dell But The Good Part. In the Mile High City on Sunday evening, July 4, I rediscovered the advantages of public fireworks displays over the private, amateur efforts. Downtown Denver was ablaze that evening with smoothly orchestrated, professional pyrotechnics. Back home in HDBTGP, I knew the tenderfoot technicians were doing their best to keep the term “blowing up the neighborhood” merely hyperbolic and not literal.
Denver also provided a learning opportunity on another explosive issue: light rail. For those of you who bothered to read beyond that previous sentence, here are a couple of boilerplate reminders that I usually proffer when this subject is broached:
Think long-term. Our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be glad we planted the seeds of mass transit. I’m sure that, back when tax dollars were first spent on paving roads, the ankle-biters’ outrage must have been cacophonous. Today, looking back, that seems like a pretty good investment.
Public transportation is meant to be only an option. You will continue to board a rail car or a bus on your own volition. No one is forcing you out of your car. In fact, your car-driving experience will be enhanced when we get more people—especially texters, tailgaters, left-lane slowpokes and clueless navigators—herded onto trains and buses.
Big plans in Denver
With a population of about 2.8 million, the Denver area can be compared to the Portland area (about 2.2 million people). Both are firmly committed to light rail and other forms of mass transit. Denver’s light-rail system extends 35 miles; Portland’s covers 52 miles. Both cities’ light-rail systems are growing at rates that infuriate the unimaginative but will surely gratify our grandchildren’s grandchildren.
Denver’s Regional Transportation District has a 12-year plan to build 122 miles of new commuter rail and light rail, 18 miles of bus rapid transit service, and 21,000 new parking spaces at rail and bus stations in eight counties. Total projected cost, which fluctuates with the economy, is $6.9 billion (with a “b”), funded by a regional sales tax, federal funds and local contributions.
Mass transit will provide more than just transportation options for a Denver-area population expected to reach 4.2 million residents by 2035. Construction projects will generate more than 10,000 jobs. Every $1 pumped into mass transit is projected to add $6 to the local economy.
Projected travel times are compelling. In 2019, a 41-mile commute from Longmont to downtown Denver is expected to take 61 minutes on a new “heavy-rail” line but more than two hours in a car. A commute downtown from the southwest through Littleton and Englewood will take 31 minutes by light rail, 97 minutes by car.
In Seattle, an interesting report comes from David Parker Brown, a blogger who recently rode public transportation from Sea-Tac Airport to his home in north Seattle. The new light-rail line from the airport to downtown cost $2.50, compared with $32 for a shuttle and more than $50 for a taxi. Total cost of the public-transportation trip to his house was $6, compared with $45 for a shuttle and $80 for a cab.
Of course, nothing comes free, and light-rail detractors carry satchels bulging with data disputing the value of this gift to our grandchildren’s grandchildren. Indeed, the volatile mass-transit debate will continue for years. But if you want to stop light rail in Denver or Seattle, it appears that train has already left the station.