This is the third installment in a monthlong series. To read the rest of the series, go to thestranger.com/news.
Enact the Bicycle Master Plan
Last week, we told legislators in Olympia that they need to make streets safer for cyclists and other "vulnerable roadway users." (Hint: Pass Senate Bill 5838.) This week, it's the Seattle City Council's turn for a talking-to regarding Seattle's hugely important but woefully underfunded Bicycle Master Plan.
The $250 million plan, adopted by the council in December 2007, outlined a myriad of projects that would make the city safer and more enjoyable for cyclists, such as drastically upping the number of roadways marked with bike lanes, creating a 230-mile system of signed bike routes crisscrossing the city, and ultimately delivering bike-friendly routes within a quarter mile of 95 percent of Seattle residents. The council pledged to complete all of these projects by 2017, with the goal of tripling the amount of bicycling in Seattle.
True, the plan is slowly being implemented, and yes, the number of daily bike trips into downtown is increasing (there were about 2,600 bike trips in 2009—up from about 2,270 in 2007—according to a count done by the Seattle Department of Transportation). But they're not increasing quickly enough to triple bike trips by 2017. Part of the problem: The council has made only about $6 million in capital funding available per year to implement the plan. "At a bare minimum, to just be building the Bicycle Master Plan that we adopted, it should be $15 million to $16 million a year," said David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club.
If things stay as they are, Seattle is simply not going to meet its goals for bicycle-related improvements by 2017. And this at a time when the city and state are gearing up to oversee a number of multibillion-dollar projects related to improving life for car drivers—including the downtown tunnel and the expansion of 520—projects that, Hiller said, "aren't even going to make traffic better."
Surely the council—which last year killed a tax that helped fund bike-related transportation improvements, citing revenue from other sources—can grab from those "other sources" to increase spending on promised improvements for cyclists. Surely it can get on this in 2010. If not, the burden will be on these politicians—who are up for election several times before 2017—to explain why they're skimping on their stated pledges to cyclists while going full speed ahead for drivers. ELI SANDERS
Keep It Up, Pete!
During his campaign for city attorney, Peter Holmes promised to stop prosecuting marijuana possession cases. Within weeks of taking office, he has made good on his promise, breaking away from the heavy-handed, anti-pot zealotry of his predecessor, Tom Carr (who continued to prosecute marijuana possession cases despite a city law making them the city's lowest enforcement priority). Since taking oath on January 4, Holmes has reviewed 25 active cases in which pot was the only charge. "It looks right now like they will all be dismissed by the end of the month," says city attorney spokeswoman Kathy Mulady. In addition, the office examined 17 more cases referred by Seattle police (some had marijuana as a secondary charge). Those, she adds, "will probably be referred back to the police department" and won't face charges.
This is exactly the prudent use of city resources that voters wanted when they elected Holmes last year.
But drug paraphernalia cases (like pipe possession), which should also be a low priority, are still up in the air. Under state law, paraphernalia charges are punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a $1,000 fine. That's a harsh penalty for an offense "at the very bottom" of prosecutors' priority, says the ACLU of Washington's Alison Holcomb.
In many cases, it's unclear what drug the paraphernalia is used for—pot, cocaine, or heroin—but Holmes should consider dismissing all of these, too. "Continuing to cycle [paraphernalia defendants] though the courts and jails is a waste of dollars that would be better spent on services... where they are more likely to have success with recovery," Holcomb says. DOMINIC HOLDEN