STA Votes To Approve Electric Trolley
July 24, 2011 1 Comment
The initiative next moves at hyper speed to the Spokane City Council on Monday night (it is probably the last item on the agenda as RES 11-55), presumably so opponents will have a hard time mustering opposition speakers.
The STA is in process of cutting bus service by about 20% for the rest of us, but would seek a sales tax for all of the urban areas of Spokane County to pay for much of the 3 mile long, $36 million electric trolley.
Does Spokane need a 3 mile long electric trolley paid for by taxpayers to benefit downtown property owners?
Some facts about Spokane:
- Spokane ranks in the bottom 25% of metro counties nationwide for wages.
- In the rest of Washington, wage growth is twice as fast as in Spokane and has been for several decades. Which means Spokane residents are falling further behind every year.
- Household median income in Spokane County is less today than it was 20 years ago.
- Spokane ranks in the bottom 31% for GDP growth in the last decade.
- Airport passenger travel has been flat for 16 years. Spokane International has fewer passengers today than it did in 1996.
- Air traffic at general aviation airport Felts Field is 26% below last year.
- Homes sales have fallen off a cliff.
- Police department staffing is back to 1999 levels and they have eliminated the Property Crimes Unit.
- Transfer payment income to Spokane County residents now accounts for about 22% of personal income.
- The number of jobs in Spokane County is roughly the same as decade ago.
- The above are facts, not opinions. That is the ugly truth about Spokane and its failed leadership.
- Spokane is an economic disaster zone filled with empty buildings for lease, for sale or just abandoned.
- City roads are pot holed car killers as infrastructure outside downtown and South Hill falls apart.
- Sidewalks and streets are lined with weeds throughout north Spokane. The place looks like a dump.
- Spokane’s economy has failed. And its worse than it first appears.
- Spokane city and County leadership has failed. The proof is in the data.
What we need instead are initiatives with a positive, long term return on investment. Not concrete pouring initiatives as a short term jobs program that are intended to benefit local power brokers.
I wrote the following in April, but did not previously publish it:
- Step 1: Local power brokers decide they want a downtown trolley. It’s the latest gimmick in urban renewing and revitalizing downtowns nationwide.
- Step 2: Propose alternative trolley lines, most of which are absurd, so the preferred route to benefit power brokers is selected.
- Step 3: Bring in “experts” from a city with a real economy to pitch how “Spokane, is taking the right steps in planning for a high-performance transit line in the downtown area” while STA is drastically cutting bus service for the rest of us. Their expert comes from Salt Lake City where “…. the first light-rail line was inaugurated more than a decade ago, and while it exceeded ridership projections from the start, Gerry Carpenter says that didn’t result in new downtown development.” (Update: And never mind that the Utah Transit Authority is mired in a corruption scandal of crony capitalism – sounds like the kind of experience Spokane needs!)
- Step 4: Local media, which owns more downtown land than anyone else, gives free and happy news coverage to proponents. And as of the day before the Council meeting in July, has not yet reported this important agenda item.
- Step 5: Hand out copies of the news coverage to key decision makers at closed door meetings so decision makers know where the power brokers stand.
There is little evidence that downtown trolleys spawn economic growth but during the past year they are the rage amongst top down, centralized urban planning groups. Name a mid-sized city – Boise, Yakima, Tacoma, Cincinnati, Huntington, VA, Tucson and dozens and dozens more – all of them have built or are proposing downtown trolleys. Why? Because the Federal government will pay for up to 80% for “fixed guideway” transportation. That rules out buses but permits rail, monorail, buses on rubber wheels but with fixed overhead wires (“electric trolley”), and rail lines. This becomes an inflexible permanent transportation solution a la pouring concrete.
The Spokane downtown trolley does not bring shoppers into downtown. The primary goal is to keep the luxury housing residents of Kendall Yards, the future high density South University District housing residents, and thousands of college students from leaving the downtown core. The goal is to discourage travel to Northtown or Valley Malls and other non-downtown vendors. National and local taxpayers will fund this to create benefits to key downtown stakeholders. This will not create economic growth – it just moves spending from one place to another.
Like the $570 million sunk in the north side freeway, the $110 million waste of energy plant that makes our disposal costs twice that of a landfill (“it may turn trash into air pollution but at least it costs twice as much”), and other programs, this is another investment with a bad return to the many.
Like so many taxpayer funded investments here, the trolley does not show a good return on investment – and will divert money from projects that might actually improve our local economic situation.
I filed this story under “Crime”.