Your neighbors have weighed in on Prop 1 pic.twitter.com/X1gscx62w6
— jseattle (@jseattle) October 24, 2015
At nearly a billion dollars over its lifetime, Proposition 1, or Move Seattle, a $930 million dollar dollar property tax levy spanning nine years to fund transportation infrastructure throughout Seattle, dwarfs any other transportation investment Seattle has seen before. So, what’s in it for Capitol Hill and District 3?
Move Seattle will pick up where its predecessor — the $365 million dollar Bridging the Gap transportation levy which is set to expire this year — leaves off. Since its enactment nine years ago, Bridging the Gap has funded nearly twenty-five percent of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s budget. Those levy funds were spent conducting basic transit infrastructure maintenance like repaving streets and replacing street signs, as well as beginning investments in infrastructure for alternate transportation modes such as Broadway’s current protected bike lane. SDOT has a handy map of successful projects financed by Bridging the Gap.
Move Seattle continues this basic maintenance work, with an extra emphasis on accommodating growth and reducing congestion by accommodating all modes of transportation on Seattle’s streets.
“We are growing pretty quickly,” says Shefali Ranganathan, a Capitol Hill resident and deputy director at Transportation Choices Coalition, a non-profit transit advocacy organization that is backing Move Seattle. Everyone knows Ranganathan’s not exaggerating. After adding 14,000 people in 2014 alone (and 100,000 over the last twenty years), Seattle is expected to add 120,000 new residents in the next twenty years. And with that has come increased traffic. Earlier this year Seattle was ranked as the 5th most congested city in the U.S.
“We don’t have room on the streets any more to accommodate [more] cars. We have to give people workable options to get around,” said Ranganathan.
Seattle has talked a lot about how to make it easier to get around in various capacities. Over the years the city has developed four different transportation “master” plans: pedestrian, bicycle, transit (light rail, metro), and freight.
Move Seattle integrates these four plans — in addition to Vision Zero, the city’s game plan for eliminating traffic collision injuries and deaths — in its prioritizing of specific multi-modal projects that SDOT will implement over the next nine years, in addition to its allocating the total $900 million into three funding categories: $206 million into Safe Routes (bike lanes, crosswalks, safe routes to schools), $420 million into Maintenance and Repair (road repaving, seismic upgrades for bridges, and urban forestry trimming and planting), and $302 million into Congestion Relief, which funds seven rapidride bus projects, traffic signal timing improvements, site-specific road improvements at congestion points, and bike lanes and greenways dictated by the bicycle master plan.
SDOT released a updated, year-by-year project spending plan earlier this week, which you can view here.
“Whether you bike, walk, take a bus, or even drive, there is something in Move Seattle [that] makes it easier for you to get around,” said Ranganathan.
Move Seattle has a lot for Capitol Hill and Central Seattle. For one, South Dearborne is getting repaved. Then there’s protected bike lanes on a slew of District 3 streets, such as East Union street, ML King Jr Way South, Yesler Way, 12th Avenue East, and a completion of the Broadway bikeline that currently ends just before East Denny Way. Eastlake’s Fairview Avenue North bridge—the last remaining rickety timber-supported bridge in the city—is getting replaced. 17 Central Seattle streets are slated to become pedestrian and cyclist friendly neighborhood greenways to further connect neighborhoods.
Some of the bigger additions for Central Seattle are the Madison Street and 23rd Avenue Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) projects, which will create high capacity, all-electric buses to run along the length of both streets in designated BRT-only lanes stopping at brand new bus shelters with Orca card pay-before-boarding functions.
“What you’re guaranteed is a super reliable trip all the way up and down madison,” said Ranganathan in reference to the Madison Street BRT. “It will be completely separated from traffic so that makes for a quicker ride.”
The heavy focus on pedestrian and bike friendly investments has bicycle activists enthused, especially when it comes to inching closer to realizing Vision Zero, the city’s goal of eliminating all injuries and death caused by traffic collisions by 2030. Though traffic accidents (and the resulting injuries or deaths) have decreased by 30 percent over the last decade, the City estimates that there roughly 30 collisions per day in Seattle, and that 150 people sustain life-changing injuries from collisions annually, while an estimated 20 die each year. In 2013, 23 people died and 155 people were seriously injured by traffic estimates. But the possibility of the levy not passing has some bike and pedestrian transit activists worried.
“If it doesn’t pass it’s pretty bad,” said Brock Howell of the Cascade Bicycle Club. “It would be difficult to imagine how any of them [the various modal plans] could be implemented in any sort of way unless this gets funded. And those modal plans are really the road map for implementing Vision Zero.”
Move Seattle also includes revamping 12th Ave East into a Safety Corridor through lower speed limits, bike lanes, better traffic signal timing, sidewalks and crosswalks, and the addition of curb bulbs. Howell points to the levy’s investment in Safety Corridors as being crucial to achieving Vision Zero.
“90% of collisions that result in serious injury or death are on the arterials. If we can’t get those safety corridor projects then we probably are not going to make a dent in the reduction [of injuries and deaths],” said Howell.
“Basically the idea for vision zero is that people are fallible. They make mistakes,” said Brie Gyncild, co-leader of Central Seattle Greenways. “So we need to make infrastructure safe. That means safer crosswalks, safer biking facilities, safer streets.”
“Many of those pieces are part of the bread and butter projects that the levy would invest in…SDOT wants to invest in those projects but they’re contingent on funding. And much of that funding will come from the levy,” she added.
For transit safety advocates, Move Seattle’s investments in Safe Routes to School are also crucial for achieving Vision Zero. The levy intends to allocate funds for pedestrian and cyclist safety infrastructure (such as speed bumps, crosswalks, sidewalks, and bike parking) up to a mile out from Seattle’s schools to make it easier for kids to walk or bike to school, reducing dependency on parent chauffeuring by car. The levy also prioritizes 12 schools with high rates of students on free and reduced lunch programs to get the additional infrastructure within three years of the levy passing.
TCC’s Ranganathan says that Safe Routes to School can reduce transit costs for low-income and cost burdened households. “Second to housing, transportation is your largest cost,” she said.
The Central District’s Bailey Gatzert Elementary is one of the schools slated for a priority Safe Routes to Schools investment. The school sits at the corner of 12th and Yesler, an intersection which Gyncild with Central Seattle Greenways calls “horrendous.” “It’s incredibly busy and chaotic, especially since the streetcar went in,” she said
“We know low income families have a harder time getting their kids to school and getting their kids a good education,” said Howell with the Cascade Bicycle Club. “That’s why those 12 schools have been prioritized.”
“There’s a certain element of both intersectionality [and] a real commitment to trying to be equitable,” said Zachary Pullin of the Capitol Hill Community Council.
We’re always going to be playing a little bit of catch up, but I’d rather we play catch up then not do anything and let it get worse.”
So how much is this all going to cost? It’s a turn-off for some critics, who decry Seattle’s heavy reliance on property tax levies. The expiring $365 million dollar Bridging the Gap levy cost the median homeowner an estimated $130 dollars per year. Move Seattle will renew that annual cost and tack on an extra $145 dollars (or an extra $12 dollars per month), bringing the total to around $275 dollars. Ranganathan estimates that the burden will be shared roughly 50/50 between residential property owners and commercial and apartment and properties. She makes note that the distribution could get even wider given the pace of development in Seattle.
“It’s a big pill to swallow because it is a large number, but it’s not divided between four households but a whole city,” said Pullin. “It will do a lot to increase access to affordable transportation options for folks.”
The levy has come under fire from critics (mainly the Seattle Times editorial board) for being both unaccountable and non-specific in how it will spend its funding. While the levy does fund very specific projects (e.g the Madison street BRT and the Fairview bridge replacement), it’s true that the levy doesn’t allocate all of the revenue to hyper specific projects within the broader funding categories. Ranganathan says this is necessary to give SDOT some flexibility as the city grows. “It’s hard to say what the city will look like 9 years from now.”
Like Bridging the Gap, Move Seattle will have a levy oversight committee appointed by the city council and the mayor. In addition, funds around bound to their designated categories, and require a seven-member vote by the City Council to be moved to another category or “big downtown projects [like the Bertha tunnel]” as some critics fear. To prioritize and vet future projects, SDOT will use a rubric with a number of factors. Projects will be prioritized based on overlap between the various modal plans, the immediacy of need for safety improvements (such as streets and corridors that experience a high number of collisions), and how much Federal grant money can be leveraged to match levy monies.
Both of District 3’s City Council candidates support the levy, but have their own concerns and skepticism. Socialist council member Kshama Sawant is all for projects in Move Seattle but she’s skeptical of SDOT’s ability to follow through.
“While the levy is advertised to pay for many important projects and probably will, SDOT is not legally bound to use it for those projects,” wrote Sawant in an email. “After voters pass the levy, I look forward to playing a key oversight role on the council and ensuring we get the best possible transit outcomes for our money.” She went on to call for a millionaire’s tax and a commercial parking tax to replace property taxes which she sees as regressive.
Sawant’s opponent, Urban League CEO Pamela Banks, also supports the levy, but has qualms with some of its proposals. At a recent candidates forum at Seattle University, Banks condemned road diets. In a statement sent to CHS on Move Seattle, she called the current construction on 23rd Ave — the groundwork for making 23rd a Multimodal Transit Corridor — a “mess,” and said she would keep an eye on SDOT to ensure they complete projects in a timely manner.
No one thinks Move Seattle will solve all of Seattle’s transit and traffic problems. But advocates see it as a necessary next step for Seattle.
“If we don’t do anything, it’s [congestion] only to get worse,” says Ranganathan. “We’re always going to be playing a little bit of catch up, but I’d rather we play catch up then not do anything and let it get worse.”