I am jealous of Spokane. As a citizen of Tacoma and frequent visitor to Spokane, what I’m most envious of is your convenient, well-run transit system.
Five years ago, voters in Pierce County faced a decision: Either raise the sales-tax rate by 0.3 percent to maintain transit service, or have Pierce Transit cut service. The voters said no to the sales-tax increase, service was decimated by nearly 40 percent, and our economic vitality as a community suffered.
Swing-shift, lower-income workers can’t get home at night. Senior citizens can’t get around on the weekends. College students are forced to spend money they don’t have on cars so they can get to class. It’s challenging to attract high-income employers that need talented employees, employees who want to live in vibrant, urban, transit connected communities.
With Proposition One and the Spokane Transit Authority’s moving forward initiative, Spokane County has an immense opportunity. Because of shrewd planning by STA’s executives, the transit agency has weathered the recession in a better state than most. Now you, as voters and citizens, have a choice. Do you want to maintain and grow your transit system to meet rising demand? Or do you watch it flounder due to lack of funding? Do you want to invest in a vibrant, connected, economically attractive community? Or fall behind your competitors?
The proposed transit improvements aren’t just lines on a map; they are a catalyst for economic growth. The moving forward plan is more than the central city line, high frequency bus routes, and new express services. Transit is an important social safety net, a way to travel from point A to B, and an important tool to mitigate congestion. But it is more than that; it is a community’s investment in its economic future.
Studies calculate that economic returns on public transit are $4 for every $1 invested. When you include land-use in that equation, that return on investment skyrockets even higher. Property values next to bus rapid transit stations in Boston were found to be 7.6 percent higher than the surrounding areas. A new fixed-route transit line in Portland spurred $3.4 billion of economic investment along its route.
STA has a track record of conservative financial planning. The proposed central-city line would be paid for without bonds, primarily through federal grants. Investing in high capacity world-class transit is a win for everyone.
Land owners see property values rise. Businesses experience increased sales. Emissions are reduced, and air quality is increased. People walk more and are healthier, and transit users get a quicker trip, which leads to more riders.
It is my hope that Spokane voters will heed Tacoma’s mistakes and approve Proposition One this April. I can’t wait to experience even better transit in Spokane and would be happy to pay a measly 3 pennies on a $10 purchase for it every time I visit. Invest in your collective future, say yes to economic growth, say yes to Proposition One and a visionary transit system for your community.
Andrew Austin is policy director at Transportation Choices, a statewide nonprofit that works to bring more opportunities for Washington residents to walk, bike, and take public transit. He lives in Tacoma and frequently visits family members in Spokane.
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