Of the critical issues facing the City of Seattle, transportation infrastructure is one of the most urgent to address. Relieving traffic congestion and making safer streets are the issues I hear about in every neighborhood.
It’s true. Seattle’s hour glass shape makes it challenging to get people and goods through our city efficiently and safely. And with over 100,000 more people expected in a little more than one decade, we can no longer be complacent and hope the problem will solve itself.
Nine years ago Seattle voters said YES to the Bridging the Gap levy. This levy has supported a variety of projects and is expiring at the end of this year.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) spent monies from Bridging the Gap, along with General Funds, and state/federal grants on the following projects and more:
- Upgraded 225 arterial lane miles including 4th Avenue, 15th NE, and Roy Street;
- Seismically retrofitted and/or repaired 13 bridges;
- Replaced 90,230 street signs;
- Pruned 26,226 trees, and with the help of volunteers and Green Seattle Partnership planted thousands more;
- Completed 48 Safe Routes to Schools
- Repaired 144 blocks of sidewalks
- Added 107 new blocks of sidewalks
- Completed 30 Neighborhood Street Fund Projects.
- Supported Metro Transit with 50,000 additional Seattle hours and added signal prioritization for Rapid Ride
Here’s the link to SDOT’s 2014 Bridging the Gap report.
Progress has been made on all fronts, but as we all know, congestion continues to be formidable. With more employers and people living and working in our city, cars, trucks, buses, bikes and pedestrians compete for limited real estate and safety continues to be a challenge.
With Bridging the Gap expiring at the end of this year , we have an opportunity to invest in the transportation infrastructure our city urgently needs. Move Seattle, our proposed transportation levy, is offering a unique opportunity to build a transportation system which works for us. I believe that the investments we will make with the levy will do exactly what the title says: Get Seattle Moving!
The two concerns I hear most are that people want to feel safer getting around our beautiful city on foot, by bicycle, car and on the bus. I also hear that however you travel, drivers of cars, trucks and buses are sick and tired of sitting in traffic. While there is simply nowhere new to build wider and more roads in our city, I believe we have an opportunity with Move Seattle to re-think how we use our roads in order to make them safer and faster to navigate for everyone.
Why safety? The leading cause of death in Seattle for those age 5 to 24 is traffic collisions.(cite). Our most vulnerable populations – the young, the old, and those with disabilities are at risk for traffic collisions at a much higher rate than other demographics. “In 2013, there were 10,310 police-reported collisions in Seattle. 155 people were seriously injured and 23 were killed.” Many parts of our city don’t have sidewalks and restructuring our most dangerous roadways can have an enormous impact on safety for our travelers. These deaths and injuries are avoidable when we slow down and provide predictable spaces for all modes.
Why congestion reduction? Few of us have ever enjoyed sitting in traffic. Traffic congestion has become the expectation for people living in our region. In 2013, Seattle ranked 4th for the worst traffic congestion in the nation. As our economy and city has grown, the anxiety around unpredictable traffic patterns has increased and residents in every neighborhood as City and Metro leaders what we are doing to reduce congestion.
Congestion reduction and safety go hand in hand. SDOT estimates that 25% of our roadway congestion is caused by crashes; by making our roads safer, we can reduce traffic injuries and fatalities and encourage people to choose an option other than driving their single occupancy vehicle. Getting people into other modes of transportation will have an enormous impact on our traffic flow. This in turn helps our local businesses and economy thrive.
As my colleagues and I prepare to vote on the Move Seattle Levy, the three questions I’m asking on every line item of our levy are 1) Will this investment make our city safer to get around? 2) Will the project reduce congestion? and 3) Will our system be better maintained and roads and bridges last longer?
How are we making it easier and safer to get around?
- Eliminate serious and fatal crashes in Seattle: (Move Seattle will invest $71 million in 9 years)
We will make investments large and small to targeted areas of our city with high frequencies of crashes, both to prevent these unnecessary injuries and deaths, and to keep our city moving.
We can accomplish these safety projects by investing and making our highest-crash streets safer, investing in critical safety improvements to all of our public schools, increasing crosswalk painting frequency (to every 4 years or better), and improving our city’s traffic signals and sign markings.
I am a huge supporter of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and the opportunity we have in Move Seattle to invest in Safe Routes to Schools. In Move Seattle, we are ensuring every school in our city benefits from safety investments, and high poverty areas and areas with high incidents of accidents are prioritized. With Move Seattle we are making additional investments to pedestrian safety that integrate with the Safe Routes to Schools to create networks of safety for those traveling to and from school.
I want to make sure that our children, youth and seniors feel safe getting not only from home to school, but also to other neighborhood facilities like the library, grocery store, community centers, and more. Many neighborhoods are creating “Walking Trains” or “Bike Trains” where children are escorted by designated parents along their neighborhood streets and sidewalks from their homes to schools. Teachers say these students arrive at school full of fresh air and ready to learn. See Portland Student Bike Trains as an example (about 2 minutes and 48 seconds into this video).
The chart below addresses the “Vicious Cycle,” in which unsafe routes to school increases traffic and decreases safety in our neighborhoods. When parents and their students feel safe walking and biking to school we are making steps to decrease the number of cars on the road, which in turn can reduce congestion around schools and improve safety for our kids. We can turn this around this vicious cycle with Safe Routes to School investments.
- Make it safer to walk and bike (Move Seattle will invest $178 million in 9 years).
When people feel safe walking, riding a bike or riding transit around our city, they leave their cars at home and take up less space on the road. I also believe they arrive at their destination happier and healthier!
I have heard a great deal of frustration from neighbors about the “influx of bike lanes” and anger about restructuring our lanes to safely accommodate bikes on some of our streets. People are concerned that by redesigning our streets for bikes, their commute will take longer by car or truck. I understand the frustration and ask that we look at this concern from a different perspective: see the next chart.
The Cycling Promotion Fund developed the graphic below to demonstrate how much geographic space we take up in our cars, on foot, on a bus and on a bike. The simple fact is when we choose an alternative to driving our single occupancy vehicles — to walk, ride a bike, carpool or take a bus to wherever we are going — work, the market, the library, the neighborhood meeting – we will reduce the number of cars on our streets. Statistics show that if we each change our habits a mere 10% of our commutes, our local and regional commutes will be faster and easier every day.
Last year I bought an electric assist bike which greatly helps me ride up Seattle’s hills. It has greatly improved my commuting experience. Now that the 2nd Avenue cycle track has been installed downtown, (thank you, SDOT!) my commute to work is significantly safer, and I regularly ride my bike. I believe once the 2nd Avenue cycle track is connected to other safe and separated lanes across Downtown, many more of us will feel comfortable riding our bikes as a commute option. For me, riding my bike is a faster option to get around downtown, and has the added benefit of leaving more space for those who choose to drive. Move Seattle invests in providing residents more transportation choices we desperately need!
I am thrilled Move Seattle is making a strong commitment to pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure. Research shows that these investments are also great for our local businesses. The University of Washington did research on “bikenomics” to measure the economic impact of installing bike lanes on neighborhoods. Their research showed sales increased dramatically when neighborhood investments are made for travelers on foot and bicycle. 
- Improve Transit Infrastructure: (Move Seattle will invest $167 million in 9 years).
King County Metro introduced RapidRide (also known as Bus Rapid Transit) to our region in 2010. According to Metro, “Combined, all of the RapidRide lines have seen ridership grow 43 percent above the predecessor routes.” Why is RapidRide so successful? It provides residents convenient, fast, and reliable transit service.
If it is easy and reliable to ride transit people are more likely to get out of our cars and use the service. In the space it takes to accommodate 60 cars, we can accommodate around 16 buses. Most people who are traveling downtown to work are riding transit, and there is still demand for more and better transit service. In our growing city with little space to build new roads, our answer to congestion reduction is to make transit a viable option for more people.
We will invest in seven additional bus rapid transit corridors in Seattle to broaden RapidRide service throughout the city.
We will invest resources to make our infrastructure work better with existing bus routes and make your bus ride more reliable. We can do this by helping to eliminate bottlenecks, rebuilding sidewalks to let a bus stop more easily, re-timing traffic signals, and more—all to help improve everyone’s travel experience.
We will invest in a new light rail station in Southeast Seattle, the recently completed Graham Street Station and the Northgate Pedestrian Bridge so neighbors can readily access this vital transit service. Light Rail is one of the most impactful investments we have made in our region to reduce traffic congestion. It is critical for neighbors who live in proximity to light rail can safely and easily access to light rail!
4. Update our Traffic Control and Signal Technology: (Move Seattle will invest $67 million in 9 years).
Technology is critical to ensuring our transportation system is flowing smoothly. Travelers along a street see benefits when the signals on the street are coordinated and when the “central nervous system” of the city’s traffic control is able to respond and adapt quickly to the changing needs of our transportation system.
We will invest in and improve SDOT’s traffic operations center and will maintain and improve our traffic signal system to ensure our traffic experts can respond quickly and appropriately to changes in our traffic flow.
We will invest in traffic signal timing improvements to fund optimization of traffic signal timing on five corridors per year and ensure travelers are not unnecessarily delayed.
We will invest in SDOT’s Intelligent Transportation Systems program. This will fund everything from new traffic signal hardware to dynamic message signs. This funding will enable SDOT to change signal timing in real time to keep people moving. This technology will also better equip travelers to know how to avoid congestion.
Maintaining the System we have: (Move Seattle will invest $410 million in 9 years).
Investments made to maintain the system we have is absolutely crucial. Move Seattle will make critical investments in Bridges and Structures, Roadway and Paving Maintenance, and much more.
We will fund the replacement of the bridge on Fairview Avenue. This is the last remaining vehicle bridge in the city constructed by timber. Additionally, we will seismically reinforce sixteen vulnerable bridges around the city.
We will fund the planning and design of high priority bridge replacements – this includes the Magnolia and Ballard Bridges. I have had a lot of conversations with community members about the Magnolia Bridge and will have a separate blog post about the bridge replacement funding soon.
We will repave up to 180 miles of arterial streets and repave 65 targeted locations every year totaling about 70 lane-miles. We will also be able to add a new tree crew whose job is to focus on quick response to important pruning needs – this is very helpful for maintaining trees causing impediments to sidewalks, bike trails and transit corridors. We are also planning on replacing trees removed due to disease or safety with two new trees to maintain the beautiful greenery that makes Seattle live up to the name Emerald City.
These are just a few examples of the significant investments in Move Seattle to keep our streets safe for all, reduce congestion, and ensure that we are maintaining the transportation system that we all depend on.
My goals for the upcoming Move Seattle levy are to 1) Improve safety for all modes; 2) Reduce Congestion and 3) Maintain the system we have. The opportunity before us is to build a transportation system that improves conditions and safety for all modes.
This levy will have a wide-reaching impact. I look forward to building a transportation system that reduces congestion and improves safety for all modes of transportation in every neighborhood and into through Downtown.
 Rowe, Kyle. “Bikenomics: Measuring the Economic Impact of Bicycle Facilities on Neighborhood Business Districts.” Seattle: 2013. http://cep.be.washington.edu/wp-content/uploads/2013/07/bikenomics_v2.pdf