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New coalition pushes for deeper investment in Seattle’s transit

It’s called Move All Seattle Sustainably, or MASS

Ceri Breeze/

As the Seattle City Council drills down on the city’s biennial budget for 2019 and 2020, a coalition of transit, urbanism, and climate change advocacy groups have banded together to push for greater investment in public transportation. Called Move All Seattle Sustainably, or MASS (we see what you did there), the group includes the Seattle chapter of the Sierra Club, the Transit Riders Union, Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, 350 Seattle, 500 Women Scientists Seattle, Seattle Subway, Seattle Transit Blog, and the Urbanist.

The council is currently in the process of amending a budget proposed by Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan back in September. In an open letter to both the mayor and the city council, MASS argues that Seattle is not on track to meet its goals—despite Durkan’s efforts to seem at the forefront of being a Climate Mayor. The coalition also calls out what it believes to be an insufficient investment in Vision Zero, a national effort to eliminate road fatalities and serious injuries. (Seattle’s goal is to eliminate traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.)

The need is immediate both globally, MASS argues, in light of a recent report that found we have only 12 years to avoid catastrophic climate change, and locally, as Seattle approaches what city planners are calling the “period of maximum constraint,” when multiple road and construction projects will descend upon Seattle all at once, causing heavy bottlenecks.

The letter outlines a litany of specific budget asks under four, more general categories: “Invest in safe and accessible streets,” “help people get to, from, and through downtown,” “connect our neighborhoods with quicker and more reliable transit,” and “ensure transportation equity.”

Requests include funding Seattle’s “basic bike network”—in accordance with an ordinance passed by the city council in July setting specific benchmarks for connected bike lanes downtown—extending the Third Avenue transit-only corridor through Belltown, and prioritizing the Center City Connector streetcar line, which would connect two existing lines via First Avenue downtown. (The streetcar’s fate is currently in limbo.) The coalition also specifically highlights the need for clear transit and bike connections to the soon-to-be-renovated Key Arena.

The letter also asks for improved transit, pedestrian safety, and bike access in Seattle’s neighborhoods outside of downtown. On Rainier Avenue—”Seattle’s most dangerous street,” MASS says—the letter asks the city to prioritize the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)’s Rainier Avenue Safety Corridor and Accessible Mount Baker projects and to prioritize bus lanes for the Route 7 in advance of planned bus rapid transit upgrades.

It also calls for bike lanes on Eastlake Avenue East, a popular corridor for cyclists despite a lack of safety measures, finish the long-delayed Missing Link bike lane project, and to divert money from adaptive signal projects, which can create a frustrating pedestrian experience, to fund a pilot for “home zones,” a tactic deployed in the UK to prioritize pedestrians, cyclists, and playtime on neighborhood streets.

“We are particularly asking Seattle’s elected leaders to choose to prioritize people who are walking around our city and our neighborhoods,” said Clara Cantor, a community organizer with Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, in a statement. “This means prioritizing people walking at intersections, and not spending money expanding the adaptive signal program until it can measure and mitigate delays to people walking. It also means finding additional sources of funding for building out our network of sidewalks, as well as funding low-cost, creative solutions such as home zones to help people feel safer walking down the street.”

The mayor’s budget proposal cut the Pavement to Parks program, which takes underutilized streets and turns them into permanent, or at least long-term, parks—like the park with the Pac-Man design on Capitol Hill. MASS also asks that this program be reinstated, but “with an equitable focus” on neighborhoods in need of open space, pointing specifically at Rainier Vista and South Park.

“Transportation is by far Seattle’s largest source of emissions,” said Sarah Shifley, a volunteer with 350 Seattle, in a statement. Data from the mayor’s office shows that 50 percent of all Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions were from passenger vehicles, like cars, SUVs, and light trucks. “The steps outlined in the MASS Coalition’s letter are not optional measures, but very real necessities for a livable future.”

In response to the letter, the mayor’s office told Curbed Seattle that “Mayor Durkan’s proposed budget makes significant investment in our transit and Seattle’s transportation system—everything from focusing on essential services like repairing sidewalks to supporting our partnership with Sound Transit to delivering more light rail to Seattle as soon as possible.”

Durkan’s office pointed to $609 million in her proposed budget for SDOT and $128.3 million more in transit investments over 2018. That includes a 30 percent increase to the city’s investment in King County Metro, requesting 100,000 more service hours over the next two years; continuation of the ORCA Opportunity program, which provides free transit passes to Seattle Public Schools high school students and some community college students; $1 million “to help low-income residents access transit”; and $9 million for Seattle’s streetcar system, including funding to “continue evaluating” the Center City Connector.

“Mayor Durkan will continuing listening to the community and working to help build a city of the future with more transit, fewer cars, and less carbon pollution,” the office said.

This article has been updated with comment from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office.