On Thursday afternoon, Mayor Bruce Harrell released a draft of his eight-year, $1.35 billion transportation levy, dubbed the “Move Seattle Levy,” which historically funds about 30% of the City’s transportation budget. The levy proposal will cost owners of the median value home–which runs about $866,000 these days–$12 extra per month on top of the $24 they pay under the expiring levy.

While the levy will raise more funds than the previous one, a nine-year $930 million levy passed by voters in 2015, it's less than half of the $3 billion that urbanists, environmentalists, and disability advocates say it would cost to tackle the City’s safety, mobility, climate, and equity challenges. 

Wow, Harrell only delivers about half of what advocates say the City needs! Anyone getting deja vu? 

Now the City will kick off a month of public dialogue before it goes to the city council for amendments and a vote. With the council so aligned with the Mayor, and with the Transportation Committee led by self-appointed “Pothole King” Rob Saka, advocates may find it difficult to win amendments for more funding, particularly for projects that benefit Seattleites who walk, roll, bike, and bus around town. 

Before making the draft public, advocates already voiced their concern that the conservative Mayor would write an “austerity levy” that would dig Seattle deeper into car dependency by allocating more money to street maintenance and repaving than to improvements to the City’s underwhelming walking, rolling, and transit infrastructure. Great intuition, guys. Seriously.

In his proposal, Harrell allocated the most money–about $432 million, or 31% of the total levy–to repavement and street maintenance. By comparison, transportation advocates wanted the City to dedicate about $305 million for street repaving and maintenance, according to a financial plan drafted by Seattle 350, Disability Rights WA, Seattle Subway, and other groups. 

Unlike the Mayor, the advocates also suggested the largest single investment in building new sidewalks. Right now, 11,000 blocks in Seattle do not have sidewalks. At the City’s current pace, it would take more than 400 years to complete the sidewalk network, according to the Seattle Times. 

Advocates proposed $696 million to build about 590 blocks of new sidewalks every year of the levy and another $200 million to repair existing sidewalks. Harrell’s draft allocates $109 million specifically to “pedestrian programs,” which includes money to build 250 blocks of new sidewalks (about 2% of Seattle’s need) and 34,000 spot repairs on existing sidewalks. 

The next big-ticket item for the advocates were transit improvements. They wanted to set aside $400 million for them. Harrell’s draft allocates $121 million on transit projects, including 160 projects to improve bus reliability and adding two new east-west transit corridors to help transit riders get to the light rail. 

The advocates also emphasized the importance of bike safety. Their plan allocates almost $260 million for new bike lanes, $40 million for bike lane maintenance, and $20 million for bike parking. Harrell’s plan includes $94 million to build and maintain bike lanes. 

Harrell does have the transportation nerds beat on investments in bridges! He suggested $218 million for repairs and preventative improvements to Ballard Bridge, Fremont Bridge, and others. He also suggested $25 million to improve freight by repairing 20% of major truck streets and by making 32 spot improvements. By the draft's own omission, this does not help pedestrians, cyclists, transit riders, the climate, or neighborhoods. The advocates did not suggest any money for bridge maintenance or freight improvement. 

On the bright side, Harrell’s draft proposes a 150% increase in funding to Vision Zero, a program to end pedestrian death, and pays for eight projects to open streets to people.

Even though Harrell’s plan looks puny next to the plan from transit advocates, at a Thursday press conference, a reporter questioned him about asking taxpayers to vote for raising the levy while the City deals with a budget deficit. Harrell told reporters to “forget about” the deficit for a second because “one does not off-set the other.” He thinks the levy is the “right thing” for Seattle. The City is working “very feverishly” to balance the budget. Both can be true!

Another reporter asked him about his “message” to property owners who do not want to pay an extra $12 a month. Harrell said he could have asked for $2 billion or $3 billion, but he said the City had to be “sensitive” to property owners who may already struggle to keep up with the rising cost of living. The Seattle Department of Transportation commissioned a poll that found 56% of voters would support a $1.7 billion Move Seattle Levy and 64% would support a $1.2 billion levy. He said he thinks he reached the right balance, but again, it’s not a done deal.