When Mayor Mike McGinn unveils his 2013-2014 budget proposal to the city council on September 24, it will do more than simply balance a $20 million deficit—it'll include an ambitious, $6 million pledge to study high-capacity transit from downtown to four neighborhoods along the city's busiest corridors.
If the $6 million allocations are approved by the Seattle City Council, McGinn says the city could have four new high capacity lines—likely streetcars—connecting downtown to Ballard, Queen Anne, the University District, and across the ship canal within five years, as well as a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) System servicing Madison Street.
Specifically, McGinn's budget includes:
· $2 million to fund a corridor analysis of a downtown to University District line (perhaps by extending the South Lake Union trolley along Eastlake). If approved by the City Council, this work would begin next year.
· $1 million for corridor analysis of a Madison Street Bus Rapid Transit line, as the hill grade is too steep for a trolley.
· $500,000 to study a pedestrian, bike and transit north/south crossing of the Ship Canal.
· $2.5 million to fund the next phase of the development process—the design work—for whichever line is read first, beginning in 2014.
"People and businesses expect good transit," McGinn said in a meeting with Stranger staff this morning. "Employers aren't coming here because land is cheap or parking is easy—they're coming here because this is where young people want to live."
Committing $6 million to study street car lines may seem like a modest proposal from a man who famously promised to put a Ballard-West Seattle light rail measure on the ballot within two years of being elected (and didn't succeed).
"My last attempt was not a winning strategy," said McGinn, referring to a failed 2011 ballot measure that would've used car-tab fees to fund transportation projects. "There's no mayor's school and I didn't expect the headwinds I would face. But now we’re building the support to make this the next big capital lift the city does. It takes awhile to get capital projects generating enough steam so that they’re unstoppable."
But he thinks he's got a good shot, given that last year, the Seattle Department of Transportation produced a study pinpointing the top corridors ripe for high-capacity transit development—including connections from downtown to Ballard, Queen Anne, Madison Street, and the University District. The city and Sound Transit has already begun studying a so-called "downtown connector" that would unite the First Hill streetcar to the South Lake Union trolley. And McGinn says preliminary studies of the Ballard-downtown line could produce 26,000 people using the line each day. "We need to get better at connecting our neighborhoods to each other," McGinn says. "Street rail is the only mode that could move that many people through the city each day—as much as Link light rail is moving through the Valley."
If he can pull it off, it's a significant step in McGinn's transformation as a mayoral candidate full of lofty goals and arbitrary timelines to a mayor who has mapped out the studies, partnerships, timelines, and funding sources to actually achieve those goals.
McGinn stopped short of identifying the funding sources for actually building the new lines. "We have to plan it first and build that support," he said, while pointing out that the city could tap Federal funding sources, a local taxing source like a Transportation Benefit District, and perhaps even partner with Sound Transit 3 to complete the lines.