Janette Sadik-Khan, you are wrong.

Mayors around the world may be looking enviously at Seattle, but they aren’t looking enviously at our streets clogged with cars, our missing sidewalks, or our broken bike networks.

They’re looking at Seattle’s stunning natural scenery and the tech companies that are coming of age here. And believe me, no mayor in the world would be willing to take Bertha, the tunnel off of our hands.

At Janette Sadik-Khan and Mayor Ed Murray’s chat last night at Town Hall, the Mayor fondly recalled how, when he was young, he could drive Downtown and park on the street and go to the gym at the YMCA. Mayor Murray implied people with similar car-centric memories are the forces pushing back on all the innovative street changes he might make someday in the future.

Mayor Murray urged people in the mostly young Town Hall audience to join their local community groups.

They have, Mr. Mayor.

Yes, young people are joining their district councils, boards, and commissions. They are writing exemplary blogs like The Urbanist, Seattle Transit Blog, and Seattle Bike Blog.

Young family people are finding sitters so they can go to their neighborhood council meetings to ask for safer routes to schools, new sidewalks, and street crossings (arguably many of these should be the primary responsibility of a well-funded transportation agency, and not be the responsibility of people who have to beg for community funding).

Young people are voting for climate-friendly candidates, and coming to community meetings to speak up for road rechannelizations and protected bike lanes.

Mayor Murray and Seattle Transportation Director Scott Kubly, we have been holding your feet to the fire for a long time asking for safe well-maintained streets, and streets that are joyful public places like the ones we’ve visited in Europe.

We have been willing partners, celebrating everything from Sound Transit station openings, to new bike corrals and parklets.

We’ve knocked on doors and phone banked to pass the Move Seattle Levy.

The people of Seattle are ready NOW for our #StreetFight. We’re just waiting, a little impatiently, for you, our leaders, to catch up.

  • Pledge real money to fund safety projects around schools. Fund a 10-year plan to build sidewalks or Neighborhood Slow Zones on the 27% of Seattle streets without sidewalks.
  • Make streets safe enough for elders to cross the street so they can age in place.
  • Prioritize safety in every single transportation project. Get police to enforce speeding. Pass 20/25 MPH and Presumption of Liability legislation.
  • Build street plazas everywhere. Streets reconfigured as places for people are desperately needed in our rapidly densifying urban neighborhoods.
  • Give us a center city protected bike network and a minimum grid of protected streets citywide. Build a carbon neutral city without relying on e-powered self-driving cars.
  • Heck, go out on a limb and actually make the core of downtown car-free.

Don’t worry. We’ve got your back.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider supporting our work. The Urbanist is a nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

14 COMMENTS

  1. I hope the Mayor realized how hollow that compliment really was, whether Ms. S-K thought so or not. If I’d been called on I would have asked, “Mayor, what are the most inspiring things you saw in those NYC transformations, and which three will you get done in Seattle within the next six months?” SNG, your comments are right on!

  2. Thank you, Cathy, for calling out the elephant in the living room at last night’s event.

    As you know, I started volunteering in streets advocacy in 2011. After a thousand hours of volunteer time in 3 years, I decided it made more sense to reinvest that time back in my professional career. While the City’s expressed enthusiasm was heartening, and the passion of our city leaders contagious, it was excrutiatingly rare to see high-quality execution take hold. (And based on the subsequent 3 years, it’s tragically clear that I made the right choice.)

    Last night’s event felt tragically like an evening of unwarranted, congratulatory self-talk, and softball fluff questions.

    As you correctly point out, we’re at a juncture in which the city needs to be earnestly introspecting: a full year after JSK’s last visit, why do we have virtually nothing to show for it on the ground? Why are the projects SDOT has taken on often delivered partially (e.g. 12th ave greenway south of 50th) or woefully inadequately (Summer Parkways)?

    We have a few expensive, showcase projects planned many years ago (light rail, 23rd Ave, etc). But on a day-to-day basis, there has been no improvement whatsoever in the street safety of our densest neighborhoods. As Janette points out, cost is not a barrier — basic improvements can be done cheaply.

    I love Mayor Murray’s vision of transportation for the city. But talking is no substitute for doing, and there has been precious little doing visible.

    ** SDOT needs to actually learn how to stop acting like IBM or Microsoft of a previous era, and more like Google or Amazon of today. **

    Also, Janette is correct that many skilled professionals have choice in what city they live in. I work for a well-known global tech company in which Seattle is but one choice of city we’re offered. I can’t help notice that — while we create many jobs in Seattle — most of the Seattle interns I know are choosing to take their full-time offers in London or New York.

    (And I am finally joining them overseas in 2017. I’d hoped and worked for great things from Seattle, but I can’t spend another decade — or several thousand more hours of my personal time volunteering — to goad Seattle to one day deliver on its progressive rhetoric.)

  3. Thank you Cathy. Our elected leaders need to hear this. We need actions, paint, and concrete, not words.

  4. One of my favorite moments of JSK and the Mayor’s discussion was when the Mayor said “So I should just trust my SDOT Director?” Absolutely yes. Support Scott Kubly to finish 2nd Ave cycle track and the core protected network, work with Downtown businesses to put in the Emerald mile , add the pedestrian plazas. Fast track connections to parks and safe routes to school and safe routes for seniors across our city. Voters said Yes to Parks , Yes to Transit Now and Yes to move Seattle . It is high time to say Yes to voters and get these projects underway.

    • This is fantastic to hear from a sitting Councilmember, Sally. Thank you for your support of the movement for safe and vibrant streets.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation Sally.

      I dedicate much of my time working to make Seattle a safer and more human-scaled city, and like so many others here I’m tired of endlessly hearing self-congratulations about how progressive we are and that bold changes are just around the corner, only for said changes to rarely materialize in any meaningful form.

      Please continue to push the rest of the city leaders to be bold in making these positive changes. We need less back patting from the city and more action.

  5. “(arguably many of these should be the
    primary responsibility of a well-funded transportation agency, and not
    be the responsibility of people who have to beg for community funding)”

    Transactional politics have gotten Murray this far, I don’t know why he’d stop them now.

  6. Thank you, Cathy, for recognizing the young demographic (myself included) that invests considerable free time picking up the slack for the City–organizing, writing grants, ensuring contractors deliver projects that work and engaging diverse communities. The Mayor’s (outdated) perception of who attends community meetings and joins neighborhood boards/District Councils shows a clear disconnect and cries out for a revamping of a broken public process. Seattle (unlike New York) does not hold 2000 public meetings for anything. We’re lucky to get two (2) for projects already at 30% design which sets the stage for a no-win #streetfight

  7. The right questions, the hard questions, were not asked and answered last night. Like, are we ever going to have complete streets? Can we make room for all modes on our arterials? If not, which mode(s) would you sacrifice? What comes first, bike share or bike infrastructure? Should one wait on the other? Can we do both at once? I would have loved to hear a response to those questions.

  8. Tomorrow night, I’m going to a district council meeting to argue that my grant application for safer streets is better than the other 14 neighborhood applications. The 15 applications are competing for a measly $90k. Last year was a similar number of applications, and mine didn’t win. Tell me how this is good policy, to have people like me having to find childcare and waste time applying for scraps of grants instead of just having the city fix clearly problematic streets?

    • It’s the 75th annual Safe Streets Hunger Games! May the odds be ever in your favor.

      Try to imagine an alternate universe where tech companies refused to fix severe product bugs — and where they avoided modern, agile software development methods. Instead, they forced customers to pay out of pocket to compete amongst themselves for an artificially scarce number of bug fixes.

      Except here, actual human lives are at stake every day.

Comments are closed.