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Council passes budget with Mt. Baker, S Henderson safety projects + more

Screenshot from the Seattle Channel telecast of a budget hearing with many people standing behind a speaker holding signs with people's names.
Seattle Neighborhood Greenways organized a group to advocate for safer streets by holding up the names of victims of traffic violence during a budget hearing.

For a budget cycle with tough revenue projections, the City Council still added some excellent street safety projects and mostly protected safety efforts from cuts. The Council passed the 2024-25 budget Tuesday after weeks of hearings and debates.

Highlights include $1.4 million to “transform the Mt. Baker station area into a safer and comfortable place for people to walk, bike, and make transit connections; and for the Mt. Baker Town Center to take root and flourish,” according to the budget document (PDF). The Council also earmarked funds from the sale of surplus SDOT property to the Thomas Street redesign between South Lake Union and Seattle Center and to a traffic calming project on S Henderson Street in Rainier Beach. Both of these projects are major needs with big potential to improve mobility and keep people safe.

Unfortunately, the Council did approve a $1.4 million cut to the School Safety and Pedestrian Improvement Fund with SDOT noting their intent to complete planned projects using Vision Zero and ADA accessibility improvement funds. These pools need to grow, not shrink as every penny invested here makes our city safer for everybody. Oddly, though, the Council saved the $1.5 million for the sorely lacking NE 45th Street overpass fence funds, a project that we have argued needs to go back to step one because it falls desperately short of what is actually needed and might even make the real safety improvements more difficult and expensive in the future. Perhaps there is still time to steer this project toward a better outcome, but I’m surprised the Council saved this project while cutting the same amount from the Vision Zero and ADA budgets.

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The Council narrowly voted against passing transportation impact fees on new residential and commercial development. The Urbanist argued strongly against this measure. The short version is: We desperately need more housing, so let’s not make it even more expensive to build it.

But the budget as passed will require the Council to make some big decisions next year because the 2025 budget currently has a $218 million hole in it. So Seattle will either need to find new revenue sources or make some significant cuts. And, of course, the city will also need to spend next year putting together and then passing a major transportation funding measure to replace the expiring Move Seattle Levy. So I hope you’re all ready to get very involved in local politics and initiative campaigning in 2024.

More details on the budget from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways:

Exciting Wins

  1. Safe Streets Projects Advancing! Funding for projects that communities have been advocating for years that make it easier and safer for us to move around to schools, transit, and business districts.
    • Funding for Accessible Mt Baker after 8 years of delays! $1.4m towards repurposing the northern lane on Mt. Baker Blvd for a multi-use trail/school street connecting Franklin High School to Mount Baker Station.
    • Traffic calming for S Henderson St! $2m to reconfigure S Henderson St in Rainier Beach to make it safer and more comfortable for people walking, rolling, and biking, as well as additional funding for a community planning process. The street would connect Dunlap Elementary, South Shore K-8, Rainier Beach High School, and Alan Sugiyama High School to Rainier Beach Station.
    • Funding for Thomas St. This critical east-west walking and biking route between South Lake Union and Seattle Center will increase transit accessibility and decrease vehicle reliance for events.
    • SDOT Staff for the Home Zone program! Several years ago, we successfully advocated for the city to trial a Home Zone pilot program. Now, 1.5 new full-time employees at SDOT will ensure this successful program continues to holistically create traffic-calmed neighborhoods, especially in areas with no sidewalks. Learn more about Home Zones here.
  1. Public Space for People! $150k for the Ballard Ave Café Street and $300k for street activation at Mount Baker Station and in Rainier Beach.
  2. Winter Storm Recovery! $2m increase in winter storm response funding so that people (especially disabled people, elders, and those who walk, bike, or take transit) are not stuck at home for weeks after a snow or ice storm.

Automated Enforcement Doubled

The City Council allocated $480k to double the automated school zone speed camera program they approved last year. This move has ups and downs.

Upside: Automated cameras are both a more effective means of speed enforcement and less prone to bias than police officers. Unlike other automated enforcement programs in Seattle, revenue from these tickets funds street projects that help kids walk and bike to school safely.

Downside: Camera enforcement comes with its own set of equity concerns, and represents a MASSIVE increase in punitive enforcement in Seattle.

Whose Streets? Our Streets! conducted BIPOC-focused community outreach and policy research and released a report with 15 detailed recommendations on how Seattle can balance safety and equity considerations. Thanks to that advocacy, SDOT created an equitable citywide distribution of cameras and implemented warnings for all first-time violations. We will continue to advocate for ways to make the program more equitable, including developing a policy to prioritize physical traffic calming to slow speeds, mitigating the disproportionate impacts of fines, and addressing surveillance concerns.

Disappointing Setbacks:

  1. Cuts to Vision Zero and ADA Accessibility. City Council approved a $1.4m cut to the School Safety Traffic and Pedestrian Improvement Fund. SDOT has promised to complete projects currently in progress by backfilling with Vision Zero and ADA accessibility funding.

    229 people have been killed in traffic crashes since the City of Seattle committed to Vision Zero, including 25 just this year. The Vision Zero program has strong safety and equity filters, putting money towards projects that save lives. Yet it is chronically underfunded, despite advocate pressure.

    ADA accessibility, which was also cut last year, primarily funds sidewalk curb cuts throughout the city. This cut in public funding means that new curb cuts will primarily be done by private developers, and will be concentrated in wealthier neighborhoods with a lot of new construction, ignoring the many neighborhoods where curb cuts are needed most.

    We will continue to push to make Seattle an accessible city for all.
  2. Anti-homeless sidewalk construction? Council approved a proviso of $150k, representing 22% of the citywide funding for building sidewalks on residential streets, to enable a sweep of a homeless encampment in Greenwood. We support sidewalk construction everywhere, but at our current funding rate, Seattle has 1600 years worth of sidewalks to build. We cannot afford to prioritize that funding at the whim of council members – we need to allow SDOT to build sidewalks where they’re needed most to improve pedestrian access and safety.

    Seattle Neighborhood Greenways works to make our streets and public spaces safe and welcoming for all. It does not help our mission when the city justifies removing people from their only shelter claiming an obstruction that does not exist, or pits advocates against each other by justifying sweeps with new pedestrian or bike infrastructure.
  3. Increased Street Surveillance. Services were cut to pay $1.5m for ShotSpotter, a program that increases surveillance on our streets and does not reduce gun violence. Other cities are fighting to end ShotSpotter contracts after police have harassed and jailed innocent people because of a flood of false alerts. This program will make our shared public spaces more hostile for people walking around on our public streets. Learn more about ShotSpotter here.
  4. No New Progressive Revenue. The Mayor and Council failed to pass new progressive revenue to address the $218m budget deficit anticipated in 2025, setting us up for an extreme austerity budget next year. This lack of action threatens vital services and programs and jeopardizes the JumpStart spending plan, which requires investment in affordable housing, the Green New Deal, and more.

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One response to “Council passes budget with Mt. Baker, S Henderson safety projects + more”

  1. John W.

    I would have loved to have taken part in this with you guys. Nice of everyone to remind them why we need safe streets!

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