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Why complete streets make sense in a balanced city budget

A lot of city services will be hit pretty hard if Mayor McGinn’s proposed budget goes through. Among the hardest hit are neighborhood centers, community centers in richer areas, smaller libraries and employees in nearly all departments.

But the mayor mentioned complete street approaches as part of maintaining the budget from many angles and stood by the city’s Walk Bike Ride initiative. He has proposed increases in the vehicle licensing fee and commercial parking tax to help pay for road maintenance and some bike and pedestrian master plan projects (though not enough to fund them adequately).

But, wait … complete streets are cost-saving? They definitely can be (clearly, some projects are more effective than others). Here’s a list of some of the ways complete streets, when done well, can save the city money down the road.

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First, the city’s public utilities services are old, and the city will need to spend lots of money to prevent our polluting runoff from flowing into nearby bodies of water. A complete streets design with vegetation to absorb runoff would take more storm water out of the city’s aging sewer system. That’s a win-win-win project.

Another way complete streets save money is through a reduced need for traffic policing. No new officers are being hired in the mayor’s budget, but the city has the duty to keep its streets safe. For a one-time, relatively low cost, the city can redesign a street that encourages driving at the desired speeds. If no one is speeding, the city could reassign any police time patrolling speeds on that street to other needs.

Complete streets encourage biking. Biking is unbelievably cheap. With a low upfront cost (a $150 used bike will likely get you up Seattle’s hills with few problems) and nominal maintenance costs (even lower if you learn to do maintain a bike yourself), biking is the most cost-effective way for able-bodied people within a reasonable number of miles from their destinations to get around. During tough economic times, biking can be a huge hand up.

What’s even cheaper than biking? Walking, if you are close or have the time. And complete streets make this option much safer, too.

Most importantly (and probably the hardest to measure), complete streets reconnect neighborhoods and encourage local activity. Imagine if more people could get what they needed and/or worked a short walk from their homes. That is a lot of saved trips and saved money. A better connected neighborhood is a safer neighborhood, and streets that are easy and safe to cross encourage stronger neighborhood community.

So, I was very glad to hear the mayor include complete streets projects as an important way for the city to save money. Maybe it’s a cost this year, but it’s a big savings next year, and the next, and the next…

So support the commercial parking tax and vehicle license fee raises. It is necessary to maintain our deteriorated roads and keep complete street projects coming. From a Walk Bike Ride press release:

This budget includes more support for walking, biking, and transit. We’ll need your help in order for Seattle to be an equitable, healthy, and safe city for people that walk, bike, and ride.

Walk Bike Ride includes an increase of over $5 million dollars in 2011 of funding for pedestrians, bicyclist, and transit riders, and an increase of over $8 million in 2012. Though the need is far greater than this amount, these funds will still provide a big benefit for neighborhoods across Seattle. Visit our website for details of Walk Bike Ride projects included in the budget.

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