Transportation makes up the largest share of Seattle's greenhouse gas emissions. That's why, at a Thursday conference dedicated to climate leadership at the downtown Seattle Sheraton, Mayor Ed Murray dropped by with a new proposal to rapidly expand access to electric vehicle infrastructure and cut emissions from the city's fleet by 50 percent in less than 10 years.
The plan—called Drive Clean—relies on electrifying the city fleet and promoting the use of electric vehicles. In the past, driving an EV has been characterized as something only the rich and seriously environmentally devoted can do, but that's been changing as new and cheaper models come on the market. Murray wants to make it even easier for Seattleites to drive or ride in an EV, and more equitable.
Seattle also has a unique opportunity to go carbon neutral by encouraging the use of EVs. Because Seattle City Light relies on hydropower for 90 percent of its energy portfolio and has divested from coal and other fossil fuel projects, any power from City Light's grid can be considered carbon neutral.
"With Drive Clean Seattle... we will support a five-fold increase in electric vehicles in Seattle," the mayor said on Thursday. "Our goal is at least 15,000 electric vehicles across the city in 2025."
The growth in electric vehicle use aims to replace 120,000 gallons of gasoline with electricity across all cars per year.
So here's what we know about Drive Clean's specifics:
• Drive Clean will install 400 charging stations over the next five to seven years for Seattle fleet vehicles.
• The plan will also direct Seattle City Light to design two pilot programs to expand EV charging infrastructure in public places and residences.
• Each DC fast charging station will cost an estimated $80,000.
• The city will also lean on its Equity and Environment Initiative community steering committee to make sure the project is equitable—meaning that the benefits of the program are distributed to the communities that are most adversely impacted by pollution.
• The city will encourage rideshare companies and transportation network companies (like Uber and Lyft) to increase the number of electric vehicles in their fleets.
Of course, cutting down on greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector also requires taking cars off the road, not just electrifying them. The mayor called on voters to support Sound Transit 3—the region's biggest light rail expansion project—come November. (He supports adding light rail connections to West Seattle and Ballard).
And then there's parking. Reducing Seattle's greenhouse gas emissions also requires building up affordable housing near transit—and getting rid of parking requirements that restrict the ability to build. The mayor's Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda plan recommends removing off-street parking requirements, but homeowners in some single family zoned neighborhoods have been making serious noise over the last several months over perceived lack of parking.
When I asked Mayor Murray if he'd stand by his HALA recommendations, here's what he said:
"Part of what people need to think through is, okay, if you provide all the parking spaces you need in the urban villages, you won't be able to move down the street. We're not taking parking away from our single family neighborhoods. The focus is on growth, and the focus is on transit concentration in our urban cores."
The mayor undermines his climate bona fides, however, by the role he played in backing a massive tunnel-highway for private vehicles. Bertha, the problem-plagued tunnel boring machine drilling beneath downtown Seattle, has been digging on a conditional basis because of quality control problems. The state only recently gave the project the OK to tunnel to a maintenance stop—right before it begins drilling directly underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct itself.
Murray was the primary sponsor of a 2009 state law to build the tunnel. When I asked him if Bertha's recent problems were concerning, considering one of the most challenging aspects of the project was about to begin, he issued a non-answer about it being a state project.
Murray did say that his administration had also hired consultants of its own to assess the safety of the viaduct, and those consultants were "constantly sharing that information with the state; the state shares information with us when we have concerns." But, he said, "because it is a design-build contract, and the contract is between the state and a private company, and the city is not a partner to that, we don't have access to the full data."
He was whisked away shortly after that. The mayor may be taking big steps to encourage people to drive clean, but his answer on whether they can drive safely on the viaduct isn't very encouraging.