While admitting that there isn’t room in the budget to pledge anything more than his commitment, today Mayor Mike McGinn vowed to make walking, biking, and riding transit the easiest ways to navigate Seattle.
McGinn's (un-funded) initiative kick-off was the kind of feel-good public event that is hard to criticize, and it comes weeks after local bike, pedestrian, and social justice organizations formed a Streets for All Seattle 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.
But, as noted, the city doesn't have any money. So what's the point? McGinn made noise about developing a Transit Master Plan—much like the Bike and Pedestrian master plans we can't currently fund—and implement already-funded capitol projects that promote walking, biking, and neighborhoods, including a summer redesign of Nickerson Street to accommodate a bicycle lane and safer pedestrian cross points.
This is all fantastic.
However, more striking was that while pledging to make non-car transportation a city priority, McGinn was also subtly pitting community needs against the Alaskan Way deep-bore tunnel project.
McGinn notes that when transportation development is discussed, the discussion is often one-dimensional. He says, “we talk about the cost” of expanded bus routes, new sidewalks, and transit improvements, “but we don’t often think about ‘what is the cost to the public?’ and how do the choices we make affect that?”
The mayor could easily be referring to residents’ health or the relative accessibility of public services. However, here’s another cost prominently stated in the press packet: “We are currently planning for over $8 billion in major highway projects in Seattle. That’s a lot of money. It would go a long way toward building out a citywide light rail system. It could buy a lot of bus hours.”
Then King County Council Member Larry Philips spoke briefly on the cuts residents can expect from King County Metro and Sound Transit—including cutting 600,000 hours of Metro service by 2015. Philips also mentioned that Metro ridership increased 14 percent between 2006 and 2008, and now accommodates 110 million riders, annually.
So the city has no money for the capital projects people want, and the mayor has no desire to help dig us into a deep hole at the likely expense of millions in cost overruns—overruns the city would be held accountable for. And Streets for All Seattle spokesman Craig Benjamin admits that while the organization is working with City Council Members and the mayor's office to identify possible revenue streams for bike and ped improvements—vehicle license fees? En-mass plasma donations?—right now it’s all just talk.
Speaking of talk, McGinn has scheduled at least five public meetings to discuss the long-term non-car-related Needs of the People, while stressing that, “we have billions going into highway facilities that will be tolled. But if you need transit services, you’re told we don’t have the money. Turning that ship around won’t be easy.”
The ship, in this case, is more of a car. Or something. And the first step in turning this car around includes mounting a public campaign against the deep-bore tunnel project by promoting what all neighborhoods crave—more sidewalks, more bike lanes, and more public transit.