Morning Fizz

Pedestrian Activists Continue to Press Mayor; DelBene Says FBI Needs to Answer Questions About Surveillance

Caffeinated news featuring pedestrian pains and citizen concerns

By Josh Feit June 4, 2015

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In yesterday's Fizz, I detailed the pedestrian and bike advocacy group Seattle Greenways's showing at Tuesday afternoon's transportation levy public hearing—and their grievances.

The group believes that upgrading walk sheds around the city's 97 schools with bike and ped safety amenities will transform Seattle into a perambulatory paradise—not just for kids, but, by planning for kids' safety, the strategy would simultaneously benefit everyone. Disappointed in the plan's $7 million line item for Safe Routes to School, they called for $40 million.

Mayor Ed Murray spokesman Jason Kelly tells me that despite the $7 million line item listed in the presentation to council, the mayor's plan actually spends $47 million on Safe Routes to School programs. Kelly says there's $7 million in the levy, plus $33 million from school zone cameras and $7 million in grants that would complete one Safe Routes to School project at every Seattle public school.

Kelly tells PubliCola:

We have heard loud and clear that everyone in Seattle wants more investment in their transportation priorities. The mayor’s proposal...tried to balance all these priorities. School safety is an issue the mayor has worked on for more than a decade, going back to his sponsorship of the statewide Safe Routes to School program as a legislator. Last year, Seattle launched Vision Zero, our plan to eliminate all traffic fatalities in Seattle by 2030. The mayor is committed to reaching that goal. The transportation a key component of our plan, with funding for school safety projects for every public school in Seattle. All told, the city will dedicate $47 million to Safe Routes to School through the levy and other sources. The levy also invests $183 million over nine years in our pedestrian and bicycle master plans, as well as millions more on traffic safety corridors throughout the city. We believe we are making the right investments that will help every child get to and from school safely.

Greenways director Cathy Tuttle says she's well aware of the $47 million figure, but she says much of that—the $33 million from cameras—is already part of SDOT's ongoing Safe Routes to School budget, levy or no levy. Tuttle says Seattle Greenways wants an additional $40 million in the levy proper, on top of the money that's part of the regular budget. 

Specifically, Seattle Greenways wants the $40 million to fund a series of pedestrian upgrades—a $250,000 sidewalk reconfiguration at Eighth Avenue South near Concord Elementary, rapid flashing beacons for arterial crossings near Dearborn Park Elementary, and $350,000 worth of sidewalk blocks near Northgate Elementary, for example—in the mile walk sheds around 28 elementary schools where 75 percent or more of the students meet the free and reduced lunch standards. (Seattle Greenways has published a list of $21.4 million worth in projects at 10 specific low-income schools.)

Tuttle acknowledges that the mayor's plan prioritizes equity and, indeed, the Seattle Department of Transportation sent me a list of the 38 school pedestrian projects slated for the next five years—and there appears to be some overlap with Seattle Greenways' wish list; the new sidewalk on North 117th between Meridian Avenue North and First Avenue Northeast by Northgate Elementary, for example, is on SDOT's list (81 percent of the students at Northgate are on the free or reduced cost lunch program).

However, Seattle Greenways's $4.7 million to-do list for Northgate Elementary includes several other projects, including stop signs, speed bumps, sharrows, and flashing lights at arterial crossings. Seattle Greenways has a bigger project list than SDOT because, while Seattle Greenways is scoping out the mile walk shed around each school, SDOT is (literally) zooming in on fixes in the immediate vicinity of the schools.

SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan told me:

The levy proposal seeks to ensure that Safe Routes to School funds serve every child that attends a public school in Seattle. We concentrate these investments as close to a school’s front door as possible to support as many students as possible through the work. As seen from our project list, we tailor the improvements to address the specific needs of each school.
The levy’s prioritization of Safe Routes to School projects will be based on the following criteria: percent of children eligible for free/reduced lunches, project scoring from the Pedestrian Master Plan, and collision data.

SDOT's list, by the way, also includes middle schools and high schools; Seattle Greenways's does not.

2. U.S. representative Suzan DelBene (D-WA, 1) continued her signature fight against Snowden-era snooping. Along with 14 other house members, DelBene sent a letter to FBI director James Comey today asking a series of questions—including "Under what circumstances are warrants sought for these surveillance operations?"—about an AP report that the FBI was setting up fake companies to conduct drone surveillance in several U.S. cities, including Seattle.

Having taken the lead in reining in Obama's phone surveillance program (a program Edward Snowden exposed), the letter said: "At least some of these aircraft were reported to be equipped with advanced surveillance devices that can pick up data from thousands of cell phones..."

Asked if she sided with U.S. senator Rand Paul (R-KY), the libertarian presidential hopeful who has taken on his own party by seeking to outlaw the surveillance program altogether, DelBene spokeswoman Ramsey Cox said DelBene disagreed "a little" with Paul, though DelBene strongly disagreed with Paul's adversary on the issue, GOP leader U.S. senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

McConnell wanted a straight-up reauthorization of the USA Patriot Act without reining in data collection. DelBene, who said that was "unacceptable" cosponsored the USA Freedom Act, which limits the surveillance by ending bulk data collection. For his part, Paul, wanted to do away with the whole shebang. Both McConnell and Paul ended up voting no (from opposite perspectives, while DelBene voted yes.) It passed the house 338 to 88 and the senate 67 to 32.







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