Protect nature with smart transit plan

July 31, 2013 | John Burbank

john-featured-croppedDon’t you feel lucky to live in this great state? Every day this summer we have had blue skies, mountains you can seemingly touch, sunny days and cool nights. Look west and gaze over Puget Sound to the Olympics. Look east and take in Mount Pilchuck and the Cascades. Look north and find Mount Baker. Look south for Mount Rainier. What a place to live!

Growing up on the East Coast we thought we had mountains. Back of my house was Mount Higby, with about 500 feet vertical climb. When my wife-to-be and I visited back in Connecticut, and I would exclaim nearing the family home, “Look, there’s Mount Higby,” she would nod and say “uh-huh.” But she didn’t see any mountain. It was only after living on the East Coast for a couple of years that she realized that Mount Higby was that little hump alongside I-91!

So here we have settled for the past 30 years, surrounded by the mountains and the Sound, and lucky to be here. Especially when we read about 90 percent humidity and 95 degrees heat combined on the East Coast.

Last weekend we took my cousin up to Mount Rainier. We hiked the Naches Peak Trail. She was blown away. For the girl from Manhattan, Mount Rainier was beautiful, stupendous, powerful and wonderful. And indeed it is. We here in the Northwest are surrounded by nature, some of its beauty more subtle, and some of it that just stops you in your tracks.

We need to do more than revel in this beauty of mountains and Sound. We need to make sure it is there for our grandchildren and their grandchildren — and not just the mountains 30 miles away, but the neighborhood creek as well. That means that we have to plan the future, not just let it happen.

Planning enables us to consider the impacts of our daily routines on our quality of life as well as the impact on future generations and their quality of life. Planning the future includes devising a transportation system that is pedestrian and bicycle-friendly, that enables us to move around quickly and efficiently, without depending on our car for every errand and every trip. It means focusing growth in certain high density areas and creating and preserving park space for everyone. It means a passenger rail and rapid transit system segregated from freight, so we can get from Everett to Seattle in 20 minutes by train, every hour.

This isn’t new — we have done this before, before the automobile was king. The interurban railroad ran from Everett to Tacoma 100 years ago. In the 1930s and 1940s, a snow train took skiers from Seattle to Snoqualmie Pass for evening skiing under lights. Not to say that we aren’t making progress now, with Sound Transit light rail. But there are no funded plans to extend light rail north of Lynnwood. And the extension from Northgate to Lynnwood won’t exist until 2021. By then, we will have another million people in metropolitan Puget Sound, with “freeways” jammed eight hours a day, and exhaust fumes fouling our air. That’s no way to enable us to get to the mountains or preserve the quality of air for the next generation.

What to do? We need a lot less of the Seattle process and a lot more of getting things done. We need the public resources to build a 21st century transportation system that connects us to our work, transit lines to train lines, and all of us to each other. When we built the interstate highway system, the federal government matched state spending nine-to-one. We could use that now for transit, as opposed to the sequestration that is choking public investment.

Building this sort of transportation infrastructure creates jobs, and makes getting from place to place a lot easier … for us and our children and their children. These investments in transportation will diminish automobile use and emissions while enabling high density growth and the preservation of public spaces. The result is that we save the beauty of the Northwest for our grandchildren’s grandchildren… So they too can enjoy and realize life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, and view Mount Rainier in the distance at sunset.

From the Everett Herald

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