Streets for All Seattle: Less Talk, More Action

By Josh Cohen April 21, 2010

Launched on Monday, Streets for All Seattle is a campaign by dozens of Seattle nonprofits and organizations pushing the city to fully fund the (woefully underfunded) Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans and expand transit to make walking, biking, and transit the easiest means of transportation in the city.

I spoke with Craig Benjamin, Sierra Club Conservation Program Coordinator and spokesman for the campaign, about Streets for All Seattle's plan, the availability of funding, and the feasibility of their goals.

How did Streets for All Seattle get started?

It came about from a number of people in the city who are really concerned that we are not aligning our infrastructure investments with the values of our citizens. And coming off last year, when the city council repealed the head tax [which paid for things like bike and pedestrian infrastructure], a lot of us were left scratching our heads that we had a council and a mayor—both in [former mayor Greg] Nickels and in [Mike] McGinn as mayor-elect—who supported the bike master plan and the pedestrian master plan and transit extension, yet we weren't taking the actions necessary, or making the tough choices necessary, to actually make the investments to make that happen.

Right now we've got a bike master plan that's seriously underfunded, and almost completely unfunded pedestrian master plan. Metro's facing huge cuts, which is going to leave a lot of people stranded all over the city. A lot of us aren't comfortable waiting another 30 years for another extension of light rail or real transit service in this city. So we decided that we needed to all get together and really get serious about funding bicycle, pedestrian, and transit infrastructure. So a group of us came together and started organizing and looking at what we could do this year to push both the council and the mayor to actually build the kind of transportation system our citizens want.

Your goal of transforming Seattle into a city that predominantly travels by walking, biking, and transit is no small task. What are your short-term and long-term plans for accomplishing that goal?

Just so you understand, this isn't a one-year plan. This is a multi-year campaign. We're planning to be working on this for at least two to four years. And really, what we want this year is for the council to raise $30 million in revenue. And there's a number of ways they can do that.

We want to use this year to have a city-wide conversation about how we actually fund and build the infrastructure that aligns with our values. And we plan on doing that this year and talking to groups all over the city. Groups and organizations, especially, that haven't been involved in your typical transportation conversation. If you look at the groups who've already endorsed this campaign, yeah, we've got the usual suspects, but we've also got United African Public Affairs Committee and El Centro De La Raza.

For people that don't have a lot of money, cuts in Metro service hours and pedestrian infrastructure is incredibly important.

Where is that $30 million going to come from? Are you looking for new revenue sources, shifting money within the existing city budget, or both?

It could be a little bit of both. We know we can raise an additional $8 million a year in revenue with a $20 vehicle licensing fee. We know that we could increase a commercial parking tax and for every five percent increase, we could bring in an additional $10 million per year. Those are just two of many different things we could do.

But we don't want to limit ourselves right now and say, "these are the revenue mechanisms we're looking at right now that we want." We want to have the conversation with council, with the mayor, with all of our partners and see what really works. How do we get there? Also, since this is a multi-year campaign, how do we work with our partners at the state level to expand the options that we have? The cities wants this. Why aren't there other mechanisms that we can use to generate revenue to build the things we actually want?

We recognize fully that it's a really tough budget time. When you start talking about reallocation of resources you have to be careful about what you're reallocating it from. You have to think that through thoroughly. You don't want to take money from human resources or really important things. But if we're reallocating it from something that everyone agrees it should be reallocated from, then yeah, that'd be fantastic.

The city's in its own budget crisis. It's hard to imagine any programs that everyone would agree to cut.

I don't have a good answer for you. Obviously, one of the reasons we're pushing for new revenue is that we totally understand that we're in a tight budget time and we don't want to get into competition with things that are incredibly important. You don't want to cut human services to pay for pedestrian and transportation improvements.

What does $30 million a year buy you?

It will help us kick things off and really allow us to start doing more good things. With $30 million in annual revenue you can double your bike and ped investment annually. Metro's revenues are going to fall off a cliff. We can buy about 50,000 Metro service hours, which will help offset the cuts that we know are coming and hopefully help increase service a little bit. It allows us to do some strategically targeted transit improvements, like fixing the right of way for the First Hill streetcar and potentially helping to extend it. When you look out over 10 years that really starts to make a large difference. But it's a first step.

Do you have the support of any elected officials?

We've started to speak with some council members. We know from their public statements and what they've said in discussions we've had that they support our visions and our goals. You can just look at our web site and see some of the quotes from council members about bikes, peds, and transit. We know Mayor McGinn supports our goals. He's started talking about his "walk, bike, ride" initiative. We're really excited to see where that goes and hear more details about it. We're meeting on Friday with council members [Nick] Licata, Tom Rasmussen, and Richard Conlin. At the end of the day, our elected officials have said they're with us, publicly. Now it's time to step up and fund it.
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