The City Council, acting as the Transportation Benefits District, voted unanimously to send a $60 vehicle license fee to the November ballot. It’s not the full $80 recommended by the Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee (CTAC III), but the funding allocations are mostly proportional to the committee’s recommendations.
The funds are more about transit than bicycling, but passing the funds would be a significant 10-year investment in positive, effective transportation in Seattle. It’s now time to work on painting a clear and inspiring picture for why people should vote for this funding.
However, the funds would also spend $2.3 million on pedestrian specific projects and $6 million on paving and traffic safety, all of which could have some overlap with bicycle safety, complete streets and access.
$500,000 would go to creating a new Freight Master Plan.
The largest chunk, however, would go to transit and providing funding for the under-construction Transit Master Plan. $10 million annually would be used to complete reliability and speed for transit, expanding the electric trolley infrastructure and planning high capacity transit (e.g. more streetcars).
First, let’s be clear that this fee is not about bicycle projects. I have noticed an increase in the “let’s license bicycles” line since this debate started, which is really unfortunate (I will have a “why bicycle licenses make no sense” post soon). But with this fee, the two-wheeled are clearly the lowest on the totem pole.
The creation of a Freight Master Plan has the potential to conflict with the Bicycle Master Plan, an update for which has already been delayed due to its consistent lack of funding. What happens if a needed bicycle project happens to be on a route designated in the FMP? It just so happens that many of the roads most in need of safe bicycle facilities are also used by industry. How will these potential differences be hashed out? It’s not necessarily a bad thing to have freight needs mapped out, and maybe it could be designed as a good way to make sure all needs are met without unnecessary fighting and name-calling. But without a clear idea of how that would work, it’s hard to think of this as overly-positive for people hoping for safer bicycle routes.
Another major component of this project is expansion of the streetcar network. Again, people who ride bicycles in Seattle would not be crazy to have serious doubts about expanding the streetcar system. The only example we have on the ground is a terrible, dangerous streetcar that has hurt a lot of people and has made riding a bicycle in South Lake Union extremely difficult and confusing. The more bike-friendly (though not perfect) approach by the First Hill Streetcar is promising, but people who ride bikes might need a very convincing argument before they get too excited about more streetcars.
Between those who think the SLU Streetcar is useless and those who think it’s dangerous, forking over an extra $60 per motor vehicle per year for a large expansion of the system might be a tough sell.
But this transportation funding measure is good. It is not the game-changing investment in bicycle infrastructure our city needs to dramatically increase ridership and invest in truly innovative bicycle facilities, but it is a solid, annual increase in funding for the Bicycle Master Plan and safer streets for everyone.
It’s also a gutsy proposal by transit advocates for projects that could change the face of the city. Even though transit is the top means of transportation for commuters to downtown Seattle, it is going to take even wider support than that to pass these funds. With the passage of the deep bore tunnel referendum and its astronomical investment in motor vehicle travel, Seattle needs to pass a measure that makes a long-term investment in the future we want to see in our city.
Transit advocates, City Councilmembers and Mayor McGinn, it’s up to you to put forth a vision of what these funds will buy our city. We need to be sold on streetcars. Perhaps more importantly, we need to know how and why investments can help make buses run faster and more reliably. We need to know what dirty diesel buses might be able to be put on trolley wires, making our streets quieter and, importantly for people riding bikes, our air cleaner.
People of Seattle share a hope for a cleaner, safer city that easier to move around in, but they aren’t going to fork over hard-earned cash unless they can be convinced they are actually investing to make that happen.