Friday, November 11, 2005

The Case for $3-a-Gallon Gasoline

Yeah, I know we've done the gas tax issue here before, but this column by Washington Post columnist Charles Krauthammer is interesting if only because of its conservative source. "Thank God for $3.50 gasoline," he writes in a piece titled "Pump Some Seriousness Into Energy Policy."

Says Krauthammer: '..the Senate is attacking the problem by hauling oil executives to hearings on "price gouging." Even by Senate standards, the cynicism here is breathtaking. Everyone knows what the problem really is. It's Economics 101: increasing demand and precariously tight supply.... We have a unique but fleeting opportunity to permanently depress demand by locking in higher gasoline prices. Put a floor at $3. Every penny that the price goes under $3 should be recaptured in a federal gas tax so that Americans pay $3 at the pump no matter how low the world price goes.

'Why is this a good idea? It is the simplest way to induce conservation. People will alter their buying habits. It was the higher fuel prices of the 1970s and early '80s that led to more energy-efficient cars and appliances -- which induced such restraint on demand that the world price of oil ultimately fell through the floor. By 1986 oil was $11 a barrel. Then we got profligate and resumed our old habits, and oil is now around $60. Surprise.'

On the supply side he calls for drilling in the Arctice National Wildlife Refuge and building more refineries, and closes with the certainty that nobody will do anything he recommends. 'And there is not a single national politician who dares propose raising gas taxes by even a penny. We are criminally unserious about energy independence, and we will pay the price.'

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Election's Over, Time to Network Again

Ok, wonks and political junkies, the election's over. The Dems are scrambling for positions in the Kaine administrations and the 'Pubs are wondering what to do with their lives. In either case, it's time to get back to the serious business of building your personal network.Bacon's Rebellion ran a brief beta test of its "Political Network" back in August. Now it's time to roll it out for real. Our Political Network is like those social networks you've heard a lot about. Except we're not interested in your favorite band or your sexual orientation. This is for activists and politicos.

Here's what's involved:
  • Create a professional profile. This is like a curricula vitae converted into searchable database format. List your areas of expertise so other people can find you.
    Invite your political/activist associates to join and create their own profiles. Build your network.
  • Use the search function. Looking for direct mail expertise? Use the search function. Tracking down someone who worked on the Byrne campaign? Use the search function. Looking for Wahoos engaged in politics? Use the search function.
  • Keep a journal. This feature is like a blog -- only simpler to set up.
  • Promote events. Free listings for political/policy-related meetings, conferences, events.
  • Start a message board. Any subject.
  • Create a group. Maintain privacy -- restrict communication to selected members of your group.

    The service is free (unless you want premium features). Click here to register.

At Last, a Governor Who Will Look at Land Use

The state Senate task force examining transportation issues has avoided touching the nexus of transportation and land use as if it were a postal package laced with anthrax. But there's no evading the issue. Gov.-elect Tim Kaine wants to put land use front and center. Now.

As the Washington Post put it this morning:

As a candidate, [Kaine] called traffic congestion on the state's roads a "crisis" and vowed to convene meetings with average people and transportation experts to discuss solutions.

"We must ensure that taxpayer dollars marked for transportation are only used for transportation, and we must better connect land use and transportation planning," Kaine said at a news conference at the Marriott Hotel in Richmond. ... Without taking these first crucial steps, we cannot move Virginia forward on transportation."

The election has done wonders to clarify the political dynamics of the transportation debate. Sentate Finance Chair John Chichester and his senatorial allies have been maneuvering all year to raise taxes for transportation to the tune of $1 billion to $2 billion annually. Here are the realities they now face:
  • Russ Potts, who staked his gubernatorial campaign on aggressively tackling traffic congestion by raising taxes, was a blow-out at the polls. Clearly, his message did not resonate with the public.
  • The House of Delegates retains a firm low-tax Republican majority. House Speaker William Howell has made it clear that he does not want to raise taxes for transportation.
  • Tim Kaine is not averse to raising taxes for transportation, but he won't do so without a constitutional amendment protecting transportation dollars from fiscal raids by the General Assembly. Furthermore, he understands that simply funding Business As Usual transportation policies -- i.e. without linking land use and transportation planning -- is a questionable use of money.

It may be necessary to raise transportation taxes down the road, as maintenance spending gobbles a growing share of state revenue and leaves less for new construction, but Kaine's instincts are absolutely right. Transportation cannot be addressed in a vacuum. The pattern and density of development has a tremendous influence on how often people drive, how far they drive and the stress they put on the road grid. Transportation and land use must be addressed together.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005

Transportation/Growth -- a Key to Tim Kaine's Victory

This insta-analysis comes from Stewart Schwartz and Laura Olson at the Coalition for Smarter Growth:

Growth Issues Swing Gubernatorial Race

In the traffic clogged suburbs of Northern Virginia, Tim Kaine hit a chord with voters that allowed him some historic victories.

Fairfax: Kaine won by a 22% margin, much larger than Byrne, who is from Fairfax, Deeds or Warner, a Northern Virginian four years ago (Warner won with 10% margin in 2001)

Loudoun: Kaine won Loudoun as did McDonnel for A ttorney General – but Kaine won by a much larger margin. (5.5% vs. 1.5%) Warner lost Loudoun by 6.5% four years ago.

Prince William: Voters elected Kaine, Bolling and McDonnel for their statewide ticket. Kaine was the only Democrat to win out of 8 races on the ballot. Warner lost PRince William by 4.5% in 2001.

The Prince William results are one of the clearest to show that Kaine’s victory was not about national politics, or party politics, but that he managed to tap into resident opinions about HOW to deal with impacts of poorly planned development and the traffic, school crowding and other issues it creates.

All 3 candidates for Governor talked about transportation issues, but Kaine hit a chord with voters when he linked transportation solutions to land use and growth issues. For five years polls have show that Northern Virginia residents believe better managing growth is the best way to deal with traffic problems. This year, they had the choice of a gubernatorial candidate who focused on: more money for transportation, general fund for transportation or managing growth to reduce traffic, and they chose the third.

In his speech on Tuesday night, Kaine highlighted four items in his "platform for the future". The second was: "Tackle our transportation problems through restoring trust in the system and preventing runaway development from clogging up our roads and ruining our beautiful landscapes."

The only thing that I would add would be to take note of Russ Potts' dismal, two-percent showing. His No. One issue -- raising $2 billion in taxes to fund more transportation projects -- obviously went NOWHERE.

Monday, November 07, 2005

NoVa Mass Transit Ridership Up 3.3 Percent -- Does that Tell Us Anything?

The Associated Press reports that mass transit ridership in Northern Virginia increased last year by 3.3 percent -- to 128 million trips. The figure includes the Metro, Virginia Railway Express and eight local bus systems. Predictably, the article included calls for more spending on mass transit.

Clearly, there is a demand for mass transit, even in today's hyper-mobile society. What the article doesn't discuss, however, is what it costs to provide and maintain different types of mass transit, or what it costs to provide mass transit compared to alternatives. What will it cost per rider to extend Metro rail to Dulles, vs. Bus Rapid Transit, vs. expanding the capacity of VRE, vs. adding HOT lanes, vs. changing the pattern and density of land use that generates the trips in the first place?

None of that context appears in the AP article, nor does it appear in anywhere else in the great volume of verbiage spilled on the issue. Unfortunately, no methodology exists for ranking the Return On Investment of the myriad transportation alternatives. As a result, we wind up with a lot of useless numbers devoid of context -- such as the fact that mass transit ridership increased 3.3 percent last year -- that politicians will bandy about to make their case. Inveitably, scarce public resources will be invested based on political considerations rather than merit. What a mess!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Traffic-Camera System Flops on Route 7

An obviously good idea that apparently still isn't supported by technology that actually works. The Wash Post story today describes the failure of a $500,000 high-tech traffic detection system along Route 7 in Northern Virginia that was supposed to detect the approach of traffic and change the timing of the lights to smooth the flow. Route 7 is a pretty awful drive but this system didn't work - the sun, says the lead VDOT official in Northern Virginia, created glare that kept the cameras from detecting the cars.