City Hall

What Good is a City No One Can Walk In?

By Dorsol Plants August 18, 2010

During my campaign for city council last year, I spoke repeatedly with an amazing woman who had lived in Seattle for more than 80 years. She, like me, was an avid walker who took walks in the evening to help stay healthy. What saddened her was that as she got older and walking became more difficult, the sidewalks had continued to break down. Over time, they became a serious obstacle. After the city started removing crosswalks, she started to venture out less and less. Eventually, she decided the risk of falling or getting hit was too great, and she stopped taking her walks entirely.

The question isn't whether people want bike and pedestrian improvements. Seattle voters have repeatedly demonstrated their commitment to transportation choices. The problem is that funding keeps falling short. With the city's transportation department facing a budget shortfall of $7.8 million this year alone, we could see bike and pedestrian infrastructure pushed back years, even decades.

That's why it is so essential that when we do find a new revenue source, we use it wisely. One potential source of revenue is an increase in the city's commercial parking tax, which is currently 10 percent. The city council has proposed raising the tax 2.5 percentage points to pay for work on the downtown seawall. In contrast, Mayor Mike McGInn has proposed raising the tax between 5 and 10 percent, to pay for street maintenance and bike and pedestrian improvements.

My question to the council is: In economic times like these, why would we use any revenue source in such a limited fashion? Yes, the seawall needs to be replaced. But by merely matching the mayor's lowest suggested increase (5 percent), the city could put 2.5 percent toward seawall projects and spend another 2.5 percent on infrastructure projects around the city. During the recovery period, the council is only going to get one shot at raising this tax. Logic dictates that they should make the most of that opportunity. And using the tax to fix the city's crumbling sidewalks and other infrastructure would be completely in line with promises the council has already to fully fund the Bicycle and Pedestrian Master Plans.

But, some on the council have asked, what about the downtown businesses? Won't increasing the parking tax deter people from coming downtown? Of course, raising the parking tax too high could be bad for business. But how are unwalkable sidewalks or unsafe crosswalks good for business?

I used to do a lot of window shopping at Westwood Village near my house, until I was struck by a car in one of the crosswalks leading to the shopping center. Now I go where I need to go and head home.

Even---especially---during rough times, we have to keep working toward a vision of a safe, walkable Seattle.
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