A Canadian Lesson For Walk Bike Ride

By Josh Cohen May 12, 2010

I attended Mayor Mike McGinn's Walk Bike Ride press conference at the Beacon Hill light rail station yesterday to see what the Bike part of the Mayor's plan entailed. (Before you ask, I rode my bike to the Westlake Center station and took the light rail the rest of the way. Multimodal transportation is a beautiful thing).

As Erica, who was also there, reported— McGinn announced his goal to make walking, biking, and transit the easiest ways to travel in Seattle, but was notably quiet about the ways in which that massive undertaking will be funded.

As McGinn spoke about revamping the Transit Master Plan, moving forward on the Nickerson road diet, and reaching out to a diverse cross-section of Seattle with town halls and meetings, I couldn't help but draw parallels between Seattle and our northern neighbor, Vancouver, B.C.

Vancouver has similar goals as Seattle to reduce driving and increase the number of trips made by bicycle (Vancouver's goal: increase from 3.7 percent to 10. Seattle's: triple current ridership, putting us close to 10 percent).

Like Seattle, Vancouver has plans to significantly increase bike-lane and bike trail mileage and put roads on "road diets" to give preference to reduce travel in single-occupancy vehicles and make nonmotorized transportation safer.

Very much unlike Seattle, however, Vancouver just approved a $25 million, two-year funding measure to improve its bike infrastructure and to kick-start work on a 10-year cycling master plan. The city is drawing funding from it's 3-year Capital plan, several regional and federal funding sources, and new levies.

It is of course unfair to compare Vancouver's funding one-to-one with Seattle's lack thereof. For one, Vancouver's budget deficit is less than $30 million, a fraction of Seattle's project $120 million deficit. Nonetheless, Vancouver is backing up their ambitious goal with a generous boost in funding. Seattle's Bike Master Plan faces a 70 percent funding shortfall and the Pedestrian Master Plan's situation is even grimmer.

My intent in drawing comparisons between Vancouver and Seattle is not to suggest that McGinn's Walk Bike Ride initiative is some empty attempt to garner political will or that there's no hope for funding it.  The Mayor has proven himself to be a proponent of cyclists, pedestrians, and transit-users with vocal support of transit expansion on the campaign trail, appearances at Missing Link rallies, and with today's announcement. McGinn has, in fact, sought out ways to fund the BMP and PMP such as a proposed $20 vehicle license fee.

But, it's hard not to be a little worried (and skeptical) about the prospect of getting the $30 million the Streets For All Seattle campaign says we'd need to fund bikes, peds, and transit this year. And yesterday's total silence on the issue did little to assuage those concerns.

Ultimately the decision to increase bike, pedestrian, and transit funding lies in the hands of the city council. Hopefully our council, like Vancouver's did, recognizes that funding alternative modes of transportation is not only intelligent, healthy, and environmentally sound; it's a politically-savvy move that meets the needs and demands of many people in the city.
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