Access to public transportation is an equity, environmental and affordability issue. Everyone in our city deserves access to affordable, accessible and safe transportation options. As our city adds more than 100,000 people in the next 20 years, investing in a multimodal transit system, including light rail, bus rapid transit (BRT) and bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure is crucial to creating a livable city for all. Seattle has led on many transit issues, yet there is still much work to do. We need to fully fund the Bicycle Master Plan, invest in Vision Zero and identify more progressive funding sources instead of continually relying on regressive property taxes
Fully Implement the Bicycle Master Plan and Prioritize Construction of a Basic Bicycle Network
Rates of bicycle commuting are essentially flat from two years ago, even as the share of commuters taking public transportation continues to rise. Access to safe, connected and well-designed bicycle infrastructure is an equity issue, environmental issue and affordability issue.
Implementation of the Bicycle Master Plan has been delayed. In 2016, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) cut protected bike lanes in the South End and neighborhood greenways across the city. If we are serious as a city about reducing traffic deaths and increasing the rates of cycling in the city, we must get the Bicycle Master Plan back on track.
From an equity perspective, we need to invest in bicycle infrastructure in underserved neighborhoods. Over the next five years, South Seattle will receive 23.2 miles of bike facilities while North Seattle will receive 28.6 miles. A disproportionate number of traffic deaths and injuries happen in District 2. We must ensure that the Rainier Valley greenway, slated to be completed by the end of 2017, is high-quality, addresses safety concerns and is completed on time.
Additionally, I support the Basic Bicycle Network campaign to prioritize connectivity and safety in downtown Seattle. Currently, the City of Seattle is designing the One Center City plan to integrate all modes of transportation downtown. Unfortunately, the current draft neglects cycling and pedestrian infrastructure. Integrating a Basic Bicycle Network into the One Center City plan will help the city meet its goals for mode share, climate change and Vision Zero.
Invest in Pedestrian Safety and Vision Zero
Every year, 20 people in Seattle die in traffic collisions and 150 more are seriously injured. Nearly 50% of traffic deaths are pedestrians and cyclists. Investing in safe streets will increase rates of walking and biking in our city, and will protect all Seattle residents. The City of Seattle has committed to Vision Zero, with the goal of achieving zero traffic deaths and serious traffic injuries by 2030. In order to reach this goal, we need to dramatically increase funding for sidewalk and street safety improvements by passing impact fees to pay for sidewalks.
Over the past decades, Seattle has left hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for safe streets improvements on the table by neglecting to implement impact fees for new development. As our city adds more than 100,000 new residents over the next 20 years, impact fees are a crucial source of new revenue to pay for basic walkability projects. We can use impact fee revenue to fund programs like Safe Routes to Schools. More than 80% of Seattle students live within walking distance to school, so it is crucial that we provide safe pedestrian infrastructure like sidewalks and crosswalks for those students to walk to school.
Finally, we need to ensure that Vision Zero policies and practices are incorporated into major transit infrastructure changes happening downtown and along the waterfront. Currently, the One Center City plan does not include metrics to assess pedestrian safety, such as deaths at crosswalks. We must ensure that Vision Zero goals are incorporated into all transportation infrastructure plans.
Identify Progressive Funding Sources for Transportation Infrastructure
The $930 million Move Seattle levy is providing crucial funding to transportation infrastructure in our city. Yet if we want to fully fund Vision Zero, complete the full 20 year Bicycle Master Plan and invest in complete streets across the city, we need to identify other more progressive funding sources such as a Corporate Employee Tax (Head Tax) and impact fees.
Developers profit from Seattle’s rapid growth, but do not pay their fair share. For well over a decade, the city has had the authority to enact developer impact fee legislation, but it has failed to do so. This has a lot to do with the fact that our City Council is too cozy with downtown developers. This creates conflicts of interest, and we need to demand that developers pay their fair share.
In addition to impact fees, I support requiring robust, comprehensive community benefit packages from big new developments. I strongly support the Convention Center Community Package which would invest up to $73 million in affordable housing and safe streets infrastructure. Community benefit packages like this can fund protected bike lanes and pedestrian improvements. As Seattle grows, we must demand that major developments like the Convention Center expansion contribute to affordable transportation options.
Finally, we have an opportunity with the Employee Hours Tax to supplement Move Seattle levy funds. The original EHT required businesses to pay a modest $25 per full-time employee per year to supplement Bridging the Gap transportation levy funds. Unfortunately, the EHT was repealed in 2009. We should bring back the EHT to supplement Move Seattle levy funds and continue to invest in transit infrastructure that reduces congestion city-wide.
Every year we wait to pass the EHT, we lose another opportunity to raise vital funds for public transportation. The EHT can be a progressive tax that charges businesses in high-congestion areas (like South Lake Union) more per employee. We should set a target of $20 million raised per year and direct funds toward equity improvements like improving late-night bus service.
Equitably Increasing Density & Investing in Transportation-Oriented Development
As Seattle adds over 100,000 new residents over 20 years, it is critical that we find an equitable balance between inviting new members to our community and protecting against displacement of low-income families and communities of color. Displacement due to skyrocketing housing costs is a real and growing problem in Seattle. When low and middle wage workers and families are forced to move farther away from their jobs, the long commute times and reliance on personal vehicles contributes to Seattle’s carbon footprint and the suburbanization of poverty.
We can address these issues by focusing on increasing density without displacement and equitable transit-oriented development (TOD). A disturbing history of redlining and racist housing covenants created a legacy of racial segregation in our city. Given this history, how and where we increase density in our city is fundamentally a racial equity issue. Density that only includes luxury housing will not alone address racial disparities in our city, and instead will only continue to resulted in concentrated pockets of wealth and poverty. I support density done right by ensuring access to affordable housing options. All residents in our city deserve access to good schools, parks, grocery stores and quality public transportation.
Transit Oriented Development (TOD) promotes healthy communities by reducing auto dependency and concentrating jobs and housing in the same neighborhoods. Yet TOD also has a history of contributing to displacement of low-income folks and communities of color. As the light rail and transit expands to new neighborhoods across Seattle, we must be proactive about placing a high value on racial equity outcomes when planning TOD.
There are several key ways we can promote racial equity alongside TOD. The first is requiring that family-size affordable housing is included in TOD projects. Too often, TOD housing includes only market-rate options and comprises largely studios and one-bedrooms, which do not serve most families’ needs. Second, we must focus on creating living-wage jobs in communities and in areas served by transit so that low-income communities can afford to stay in the city. Finally, we must prioritize community-driven development by providing affordable commercial space to community organizations. All communities in Seattle deserve access to affordable housing, good public transportation options and living wage jobs. Taking a racial equity focus toward density and TOD will help achieve those goals.