A winning transportation platform for City Council candidates

by John V. Fox and Carolee Colter, Seattle Displacement Coalition – May 18, 2015

Recently, we got a call from a candidate for one of the new Seattle City Council district seats, asking for our thoughts on the main transportation problems facing his district and Seattle as a whole. Here’s what we’d recommend for a transportation platform to capture the hearts and minds of Seattle voters.

Bus service, station parking

“I will fight for better and more frequent bus service into and through our neighborhoods. Right now, the bus service we need is being sacrificed and routes redirected to serve light rail. That isn’t the answer for those of us who don’t work downtown, and with the distance between rail stops, it’s difficult even for those who do.

“The vast majority who ride transit take the bus and always will. Enhancing bus service and expanding routes will do much more to get people out of their cars in the long run than rail.

“Many low-income and working people commute to jobs in places other than downtown. Right now, their only choice is to commute by car. We need more bus service for these people, running to and from other activity centers — not just downtown.

“Parking is needed around rail stops — not only to support light rail but to support the small businesses trying to make a go of it near those stops. Every study shows a huge portion of those taking rail drive to a rail stop. If there’s no parking there, their cars spill over into surrounding neighborhoods. It’s also folly to reduce or remove parking requirements for developers putting in dense projects around rail stops.”

Neighborhood amenities

“As for the big push for Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) around rail stops? When you hear planners call for TOD, they’re simply trying to put a happy face on their efforts to upzone and cram as much development as possible into your neighborhood. It’s no more than a euphemism for displacement, gentrification and loss of your neighborhoods’ unique physical, social and racial character.

“For example, a disproportionate number of African-American families rely on larger family-size rentals — often single-family homes. Much of this stock is concentrated around Southeast Seattle rail stops.   Around virtually every rail stop we see such concentrations of low income units, most of what’s left in our city.

“I will fight TOD or any other plans to redevelop around all rail stops, unless measures are first put in place that guarantee preservation of these affordable rentals or that require developers to replace one-for-one any units they remove. Development must be organic and come from within the community and reinforce, not destroy, its essential character.

“I support greenways, road diets and bike lanes but only where the neighborhood supports them and on quieter, less-used residential streets. I question whether these measures should be adopted for major arterials likeWestlake Avenue in South Lake Union or Rainier Avenue. There are other ways to address safety and calm traffic.

“I would never support adding car lanes, but let’s exercise more caution before removing lanes we have. Sometimes, such strategies only serve to clog our streets and contribute to more auto pollution and consumption of fossil fuels.”

No more wasteful spending

“Regarding the Mayor’s $930 million, nine-year renewal of the “Bridging the Gap” transportation levy for roads, bridges and sidewalks, I believe it’s too large and burdensome for many people. We’re heaping one regressive tax upon another, and the effect is to overburden those who are struggling in our communities.

“I would support a smaller transportation levy: cut it in half and replace the other half with a transportation developer impact fee. Every other city in the region requires developers to share in the cost and pay a fee in proportion to the amount of square footage they build.  Had we implemented such a system of developer fees in 2005 when our last transportation levy was approved, by now it would have raised easily $300 million from developers – about the same as what voters was asked to cover in higher taxes.

“There is some money in the mayor’s levy to create another rail stop inSoutheast Seattle. That’s good, but again, developers must share in the cost of upgrading our city’s infrastructure since it’s their projects that are overburdening these systems. As your councilmember, I wouldn’t ask you to pay a special tax again until we first put in place developer impact fees.

“I would put a stop to boondoggles like spending $270 million to $300 million on the Mercer corridor, a project that three studies said wasn’t needed and wouldn’t reduce congestion in that area. And I will fight against the wasteful plan to extend Paul Allen’s streetcar to North End neighborhoods at a cost of $800 million. Neither the Mercer project nor streetcars are real transportation solutions.

“Sixty percent of Seattle’s bridges are in poor condition, and there are miles and miles of block faces in Seattle without sidewalks. Had we not drained our city’s general fund on the streetcar and Mercer corridor, there would be no need for a special levy you’re now being asked to support. I will fight against these boondoggles and make sure neighborhoods get an equal share of the city’s transportation dollars.

“I’ll stand up and say no to Paul Allen and special interests and the corporate crowd in downtown now receiving an inordinate share of city resources every year at budget time, especially when it comes to addressing Seattle neighborhoods’ transportation needs.

“It’s time for change at City Hall!”

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