Real estate analyst Christopher Leinberger nails it:
But most immediately, investment in rail, bike, and walking infrastructure, laying the groundwork for developing the kind of housing that is now in demand, is essential if we want to restore the economy to health. In the mid-to-late 20th century, the growth of the suburbs propelled America’s economy. Growth of walkable neighborhoods in cities and suburbs can play a similar role in the decades to come, sparking growth in the broader economy—but only if we start preparing today [emphasis mine].
Both the Streets For All Seattle campaign and Mayor McGinn's Walk Bike Ride initiative couldn't ask for a more effective endorsement of their united goal to establish new funding sources for pedestrian, bicycle, and transit infrastructure. Because it's the economic argument, stupid.
Spending money on ped/bike/transit infrastructure is an investment that will deliver both short- and long-term economic benefits to Seattle. Near-term benefits include the creation of local construction jobs, increased property value and related tax revenue, more vibrant local business districts, and lower household transportation costs (owning a car costs the average Seattle resident more than $10,000 per year).
Over the longer term, first, as Leinberger describes above, transforming our cities and towns into the compact, walkable, transit-rich communities that Americans increasingly desire has the potential to become a major economic engine nationwide for decades to come.
But perhaps more importantly, investment in ped/bike/transit is one of the most critical ingredients for the creation of a sustainable, resilient Seattle that will be equipped to thrive in a future of rising energy prices, dwindling resources, and climate instability.
And on top of all that, the magnitude of the investment is relatively modest compared to what we pay for roads. The $30 million first-year goal proposed by Streets For All Seattle is less than the typical cost of one freeway lane-mile in an urban area. The state currently has two highway projects in the works for Seattle (the deep-bore tunnel and the 520 bridge) that are expected to cost in the range of $9 billion.
To catalyze the transformation that will deliver the broadest range of benefits, investments will have to be rapidly escalated from that initial $30 million, especially if light rail is being considered. But this is a long-haul endeavor, and we have to start somewhere. The time is now.