Crytal ball shows transportation in 2050

Bainbridge Island wants to go back in its future – at least when it comes to climate change.

Back to 1990 that is. If regional transportation goals are realized, climate reduction goals would drop greenhouse gas emissions 83%, or what they were when George W. Bush was president more than 30 years ago.

Kelly McGourty, director of Transportation Planning for the Puget Sound Regional Council, provided that information to the City Council regarding the Regional Transportation Plan at Tuesday night’s meeting.

About $300 billion will be spent over the next 28 years to accomplish that goal. Regional transportation investments, fuel economy improvements and the transition to zero emissions in the transportation system will be key in reaching the goal.

Even though they were looking through a crystal ball to 2050, McGourty said they know there are challenges today. “We want to support you through the comprehensive plan process.”

In Kitsap, King, Snohomish and Pierce counties there will be 36 rapid bus transit routes and 10 passenger-only ferries, along with 116 miles of light rail and more than 80 stations. Transit boardings will triple, with 60% of households within half a mile of high-capacity transit service. PSRC expects the four counties to grow by 1.6 million people and 1.1 million jobs by 2050.

People will be driving almost 25% less. In 2018, the average household drove almost 16,000 miles a year. By 2050, that will drop to about 12,000. It will mean less stress for drivers. Instead of spending 62 hours a year stuck in congestion, the number will drop 15% to 53 hours. Public transit won’t be the only reason. The average person will walk or bicycle 21% more than today.

Many of the changes will involve race and equity as these four counties have populations higher than the average for people of color, young, elderly, low-income, disabled and who speak limited English. Existing transportation systems will be improved for ferries, rail and aviation. But funds also will be spent on forward-thinking investments that can accommodate growth.

Mayor Joe Deets asked what the greatest challenges are.

McGourty said in the past she would have said funding. But because of increased knowledge about climate change, attitudes are changing fast. She said decarbonization has been going on at some level for a decade. So, now, 84% of the plan is funded. “A lot of funding is flowing for electric infrastructure. The pace is rapidly picking up.”

Implementation could be a problem as local governments priorities funding. Safety is also a major concern. They are looking into forming a regional safety plan. “With growth density, safety continues to be an issue,” but not so much for cars and bicycles, which are stable. “Trends with pedestrian fatalities are going in the wrong direction.”

Councilmember Leslie Schneider asked what else is being done to meet climate goals. There needs to be “increased transportation options for me to be an advocate.”

We want to give people “transportation choices to get them out of their cars and into other modes, like high transit,” McGourty said. There will also be a pricing transition to encourage people to use other types of transportation. Focusing growth will help, as will working with other agencies to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, such as fleet turnover to improve fuel economy.

“More transit – not just more, but more frequent times – like evenings and Sundays,” she said. “Shift workers can’t take transit because it’s not offered” when they need it. Other public concerns include: biking and infrastructure, finance strategy, freight, street and highway conditions and water quality.

The PSRC represents more than 100 cities, counties, ports, transit, state and tribal governments. It plans for growth, economy and transportation, distributes federal transportation funds, gathers regional data and forecasts, and is a forum for regional issues. The Growth Management Act Vision 2050 includes regional economic strategy, regional transportation plan, local comprehensive plan updates, county planning and growth targets, housing strategy and equity.

Who’s in charge?

Also at the meeting, the council discussed growth goals regarding the Kitsap Regional Coordinating Council. It’s the City Council’s understanding that growth plans should be from the “bottom up” with public participation a key ingredient.

But the KRCC has told BI it is a “high capacity transit community” and must plan for a certain amount of growth, along with Poulsbo, Kingston and Port Orchard. The larger cities of Silverdale and Bremerton are required to plan for even more growth.

BI city manager Blair King sent a letter looking for clarification, but the response was inconclusive, city documents say. Along with local power, another question was if Winslow is required to be a countywide growth center.

Councilmember Kirsten Hytopoulos was passionate that the KRCC was trying to control what BI does, while Councilmembers Michael Pollock, Jon Quitslund, Clarence Moriwaki and Schneider said the KRCC letter says growth is a local matter.

“There’s a lot of flexibility in it,” Moriwaki said of the KRCC letter.

Quitslund said the KRCC goals match BI’s in that Winslow is the place for growth, not rural areas. “They don’t dictate. It’s a collaborative process if we allow that to happen. Holding larger entities at arm’s length does not make sense to me.”

Schneider said while BI does not want to be told what to do, they do seem to want the same things. “We can focus on what Bainbridge wants – how we can revise the comp plan for our purposes, not as directed by a county authority.”

Pollock agreed, asking: “What happens if we just move forward? If our comp plan doesn’t meet some standard do we have to do it again? What action can be taken against us?”

Discussion also questioned the difference between a candidate growth center and a permanent one. King wondered if the KRCC could mandate one.

Senior planner Jennifer Sutton said the advantage of having a permanent one would be competing for transportation grants from the KRCC. Right now, Winslow is too big to be one at 1,500 acres. The growth center could be as small as 150 acres. The KRCC advised the city to revise its boundaries to accomplish that goal, and if it decided not to work with them on a next step.

“I see that as a threat,” Hytopoulos said. “If you don’t want to do it you better talk to us early.” She said if BI does that, it would be subject to their next round of demands. “More and more of our power we would give over to …. regional bodies,” she said.

Deets said there’s a bigger issue. “We need to take that local control and manage our growth. Otherwise the state will do it, and we’re not going to like it.”