Mayor Mike McGinn’s announcement last Thursday of serious city budget cuts coming in April, though unspecified at this point, is already sparking concern from local transportation advocacy groups that promised improvements for cyclists and walkers could face serious delays—or be abandoned entirely.
David Hiller, advocacy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club, says that while voters approved funding for both the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master plans with the 2006 Bridging the Gap levy, there are still over $100 million in unfunded projects promised under the Bicycle Master Plan (which the City Council passed in 2007). "There are very large capital projects coming down the pipeline that we foresee difficulty getting funding for [given the budget shortfall]," Hiller says. Examples include, "real improvements to the Ballard Bridge, and the overpass at 47th that connects the U-District to Wallingford."
Hiller and other urban transportation advocates also worry that citywide staffing cuts will seriously delay planned projects. At the briefing last Thursday, McGinn repeatedly stressed his desire to minimize mid-year layoffs, but also acknowledged that by the end of April, “everything will be on the table,” including notifying departments of staffing changes.
That's the problem, says Hiller. “If you lose engineers, planners, administration support, community outreach, the people who keep the wheels greased and running, it will delay the implementation of the plans.” Hiller adds that although bicycling and walking make up nearly 10 percent of all trips in Puget Sound, they generally receive less than two percent of capital construction funds. A loss of dedicated manpower for these projects could put a stranglehold on Seattle’s goal to become the nation’s most walkable city.
News of Seattle’s budget woes follow a legislative session that killed many bills championed by environmental and transportation groups. (Among the bills that died: The Complete Streets grant program (HB 2911), focusing on bike and pedestrian safety in driving schools (HB 3001), and the Vulnerable User Law (SB 5838), which would have imposed more stringent consequences on drivers who cause death or serious injury to cyclists and pedestrians.)
“At this point, we must raise revenue so these projects will continue,” Hiller says, although he can't say how just yet, or who "we" refers to. The most Hiller would say is that transportation and environmental groups are planning to approach the city council in April—around the time McGinn throws everything on the table—with concrete ideas for keeping Seattle's Biking and Pedestrian Master plans funded and on schedule.