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Budget Hearing Reminder: Support walking, biking and transit funding tonight, 5 p.m. at City Hall

The City Council is holding their final public hearing on the mayor’s proposed budget. As we’ve reported before, the mayor’s budget includes some funding for walking, biking and transit improvements. The proposed $15 million over two years is a far cry from the $30 million annually that Streets For All has sought, but it is something. A couple million dollars (a small amount when you are talking about transportation funding) can still do a lot when it comes to bicycle projects.

The Council so far has been mostly cold to the mayor’s proposed parking cost increases. If the Walk Bike Ride funds are not passed by the council, it will represent a decrease in funding in comparison to 2010. From the mayor’s office:

What’s at risk:

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The commercial parking tax: in danger of being cut entirely, putting walking, biking, and transit projects, the city’s commitment to South Park Bridge, and core services at risk.

Parking Rates and Hours: these changes help reduce the pressures on the general fund. They also help increase visitors to businesses, make it easier to park, and reduce traffic congestion downtown.

If the City Council does not support the commercial parking tax, funding for biking and walking will be reduced by 25% in comparison to 2010 (it will go from $20.6 million in 2010 to $15.6 Million in 2011). This represents a huge step backwards in the city’s commitment to walking, biking, transit, and the environment.

If the full package of parking rates and hours is not passed, more services will have to be cut throughout the City’s general fund.

The city has completed a study of parking rates downtown and determined that the proposed rate increase would result in a vacancy rate of one or two spots per block during weekday business hours. This is the city’s stated parking goal, which is currently not being met. Councilmember Tim Burgess recently wrote about his support for “market rate” parking on his blog.

Downtown on-street parking rates are much lower than garage rates (given you don’t get in for the early bird special or have a monthly deal). Much of the downtown grid congestion is from cars circling around, trying to find a parking spot close to their destinations. Raising the parking rates and hour of enforcement are no-brainers, but it will take strong public support for the hikes if they are going to be approved.

The commercial parking tax increase is going to have an even harder time getting through, it seems. The Council has already raised the tax once this year (to fund the seawall), and several members have signaled that they do not want to raise it again.

Opponents of the increases have called them “anti-car” or claimed that there is some sort of “war on cars” going on. This is, of course, silly, considering there are at least three massive car-centric projects going on in the area right now (Mercer, viaduct, 520). If there is a war on cars, then the opposition to cars is getting slaughtered.

However, there are vast segments of the population who are unable to drive a car. There are even more who choose not to, for whatever reason. Cars cost the city WAY more money than they pay. So when times get rough and budgets get tight, doesn’t it make the most sense to remove a tiny bit of the subsidy on driving and invest in projects that help those who can’t or don’t drive while also bringing the city closer to its environmental goals?

Also, the money from the parking tax will go largely to pedestrian projects. So for drivers who are concerned that the city wants to just take their money and give it to bikes, don’t worry. If you may one day walk on a sidewalk that would not have been there otherwise. That helps you, too. Or you may drive on a safer street with calmer traffic and fewer dangerous four-lane crossings because the city designed the street to fit the needs of all users. That helps you, too.

So head down to City Hall at 5 p.m. tonight and sign up to speak. Voice your support for the mayor’s proposed parking costs. And voice your support for streets that are safe for all people.

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