Tuesday, July 17, 2007

This is a transportation policy?

Still haven't seen the text of the transportation compact signed by various agencies, but Secretary of Transportation Bernard Cohen has an op-ed in the Globe laying out the administration's transportation policy.

I hope the compact isn't this soft.

According to Secretary Cohen, Governor Patrick "has charged me with six principles to guide our work."

And the first principle is ... process. Transparency and coordination, to be exact. On a global scale, we've got to be concerned with climate change. On a local scale, we've got to be concerned with the pollution and the deterioration of our way of life that traffic generates. And process is the first principle?

I'm as big a fan of transparency and accountability as you'll find. But, the first principle for transportation in the Commonwealth better be reducing our contribution to global warming. I don't care if the policies that effectuate change occur in a smoke-filled back room (except to the extent that the smoking contributes to global warming). Just as long as we're doing our part.

The second principle is a focus on economic growth. That's not a bad objective. But, I wouldn't have put it ahead of the third principle, energy and the environment.

Beyond its disappointing rank, the energy and environment paragraph describes the problem and potential solutions, but doesn't articulate a clear position:

Transportation contributes about one-third of the carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere each year. Meanwhile, rising costs of gasoline and oil, all of it imported, hit families and businesses harder every day. Transportation initiatives can be aligned with environmental goals. Efficient vehicles, improved public transit, and greater attention to pedestrian and bicycle access translate into reduced congestion, cleaner air, and less reliance on foreign oil and other fossil fuels that contribute to global warming.

Is it the objective of the administration to reduce traffic volumes? Reduce per-househould trip generation? To increase mass transit ridership? To increase walking and biking? To significantly reduce Massachusetts' contribution to global warming?

When the agencies coordinate policy, what is the vision that informs that policy? Should the Turnpike Authority and MBTA be working together to shift people to public transit?

The times call for boldness wholly lacking in the Secretary's op-ed. California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg have demonstrated how to set an aggressive transportation agenda. A very popular Democrat governor with Democratic majorities in both chambers of the state house should not be serving up such bland mush.

The fourth, fifth, and sixth principles are financial stability, regional equity, and project delivery. Fine principles all, but they (along with transparency and accountability) should be clearly minor relative to environmental responsibility and economic growth.

Previously: Coordinating transportation

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