Local bike, pedestrian, and social justice organizations have formed a coalition to pressure City Hall into generating $30 million dollars to fund bicycle and pedestrian master plan improvements, as well as transit improvements around the city. The new Streets for All Seattle Coalition is fighting to fund projects that might otherwise languish in the planning stages thanks to the city's severe budget shortfall.
"Five million dollars buys about 50,000 hours of transit service," says SASC spokesman David Hiller, who also acts as the Cascade Bicycle Club's advocacy director. Hiller says that it would cost another five million dollars to fund speed and reliability projects for transit, such as dedicated transit queue lanes so buses don't have to pull in and out of streets. Ten million dollars alone could be spent on developing thirty blocks of sidewalk at high fatality areas, such as Rainier Avenue, and the list goes on.
Hiller says that a transportation crisis in south Seattle has spurred social justice groups like El Centro de la Raza into joining the coalition. South Seattle suffers from significant gaps in bicycle and pedestrian infastructure. It's a low-car-ownership, high-transit-ridership area, and now transit is being threatened by budget cuts. "This is a social justice issue as much as a transportation issue," says Hiller.
Why $30 million?
"We considered 30 million to be realistic," Hiller says. "It builds on the basics of what we need, not so much what we've got planned."
But it would take substantially more money to actually fund the bike and pedestrian master plans. In a letter addressed to Mayor Mike McGinn and city council members (Streets_For_All_Seattle.pdf">.pdf), the SASC noted that:
SDOT spent approximately $12 million in 2008 implementing bicycle and pedestrian improvements, a small fraction of the department’s $200 million budget. As presented to the council on March 22, the Bicycle Master Plan would require approximately $35 million of investment per year to complete on schedule in 2017. Meanwhile, the Pedestrian Master Plan is characterized as an “open-ended commitment.” Even $20 million per year would not finish the plan this century, never mind this decade. We can and must do better.
How does the SASC propose funding these plans?
Through a $20 vehicle license fee, to start. Hiller estimates that would generate nine million a year, "but at that rate the pedestrian master plan would still take centuries to build." The coalition hopes the city will consider implementing a commercial parking tax or dedicating meter revenue to support these projects. Hiller acknowledges that a commercial parking tax is sure to drum up opposition from businesses, "and that's a discussion we want to have on a broader community basis."
Members of the coalition are currently making their case to city council members and the mayor's staff. Hiller says the coalition is shooting for the mayor to include their $30 million request in the budget transmittal due out in fall. "We've put forward a vision that builds a sustainable, equitable transportation system," he says.
Now it's up to City Hall to respond.