McGinn's $13 Million Walk Bike Ride Plan Is More Equitable Than You Think

By Josh Cohen October 8, 2010

Mayor Mike McGinn released a grim 2011-2012 budget last week, full of layoffs, wage freezes, reductions to human services, fewer library and community center hours, and more. However, the budget included at least one bright spot: $13 million in funding over two years for McGinn's Walk Bike Ride initiative, which aims to make walking, biking, and riding transit the easiest ways to get around in Seattle.

The $5 million in 2011 and $8 million in 2012 would be funded by increasing the commercial parking tax and vehicle license fee, so it will only increase the city's general transportation budget by a few million dollars, relatively small in a $3.9 billion budget.

According to Seattle Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Sheridan, SDOT had expected to lose about $5 million in funding for bike, ped, and transit projects between 2010 and 2011---from $20.6 million to $15.6 million---and to $16 million in 2012. With the new funding from the parking tax and license fee, the city will be able to spend about $23.8 million on Walk Bike Ride projects in 2011 and $24.9 million in 2012.

Unsurprisingly, critics pounced on the $13 million investment as another mishap by "Mayor McSchwinn" (still wish I'd thought to coin that term) putting bikes before every other spending priority in Seattle. The's Joel Connelly said the money is another among many reasons that McGinn is a "potential nightmare for Greens." Even Bike Intelligencer made the case that "with everyone else hurting, we [cyclists] cannot feel too good about getting ours."

But a more detailed look at McGinn's proposal shows improvements for all kinds of transportation users, not the full-scale bike pandering that's prompted so much angry fist-shaking.

Rebecca Deehr, a policy adviser in the mayor's office, and transportation department planning manager Barbara Gray presented the mayor's Walk Bike Ride budget at Wednesday night's Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board meeting. The two staffers explained how the license fees and commercial parking tax increase would be used to fund existing projects and create new programs.

There are too many projects on the draft Walk Bike Ride project list to name them all, but here are a few significant ones that are on tap for 2011 if the council approves the mayor's budget:

  • Pedestrian lighting projects on E. Yesler between 23rd and Martin Luther King, Jr. Way) and E. Cherry St. between 23rd and 26th;

  • Two or three stairway rehabilitation projects;

  • A new sidewalk on NE 125th St. between 35th Ave. and Sand Point Way and 8th Ave S (between S. Director and S. Concord Sts.;

  • 80 new curb ramps throughout the city;

  • Maintenance of wayfinding kiosks, signs, and "street furniture";

  • Upgrading several outdated bicycle facilities, including, potentially: E. Pine St., Greenlake Dr., E. Yesler, Rainier Ave S., MLK, E. Union St., and Magnolia Blvd.;

  • Plan and begin implementation of a bicycle boulevard paralleling Rainier Ave S.;

  • Fund pedestrian safety education, encouragement, and enforcement programs;

  • Begin construction of the Linden Ave. N. Complete Streets project;

  • Accelerate planning and design of capital projects like the Lake-to-Bay loop, Ballard Bridge improvements, and more; and

  • Complete the Transit Master Plan.

The $5 million in 2011 funding is split as follows: $2,180,000 for pedestrian projects, $1,350,000 for bicycles, $450,000 for "transportation demand management programs" (like pedestrian education outreach), $500,000 for the transit master plan, and $550,000 for large capital projects.

The projected revenues from the new license fee and the increased parking tax wouldn't be restricted to Walk Bike Ride. Of the projected $9,875,494 in 2011 parking-tax funding, about half---$4,500,000---would be used for Walk Bike Ride projects. The rest would fund everything from increasing emergency services, to bridge painting, to red light photo enforcement, to guard rails, to  South Park Bridge construction. All $3,320,983 in 2011 license-fee funding would be used for maintaining core services like landscaping, street cleaning, and surface-street repair.

Given that split, it's simply inaccurate to say the boost is a $13 million nod to environmental special interests. Yes, that $13 million includes funding for bike projects, but it also includes funding to help the elderly, disabled, and, children; improve safety; improve transit; upgrade pavement (which, last I checked, everyone uses whether they bike, bus, or drive). Mayor McGinn is working for health, safety, and equity for a wide range of Seattle residents---not an Antoinette-esque request to "let them ride bikes."
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