Last October, the Board of Directors at The Urbanist announced its decision to join the Move All Seattle Sustainably (MASS) Coalition. The decision was motivated by the desire to increase funding for transportation solutions that would accelerate progress toward achieving Seattle’s Vision Zero safety goals and targeted greenhouse gas reductions, 62% of which are caused by transportation.
“We can’t hope to decarbonize anytime soon if we are not creating space for people walking, biking, and riding transit–and the same goes for achieving zero road deaths,” wrote the Board of Directors.
At that time the MASS Coalition had already begun to craft an action plan, which was submitted to Mayor Jenny Durkan and the City Council in a letter that addressed the City’s proposed budget for 2019-2020.
Since then the MASS Coalition has developed a full scale transportation package that was presented to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee last Friday by coalition members Vicky Clarke of Cascade Bike Club and Clara Cantor of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.
Councilmembers Mike O’Brien and Abel Pacheco have already stated their intent to introduce the three pieces of legislation from the MASS Transportation Package to the full City Council for an approval vote after the summer break. The councilmembers also promised more legislation from the transportation package would follow.
At a press conference held at the busy corner of 2nd Avenue and Yesler Way just steps away from both the Pioneer Square Light Station and 2nd Avenue Protected Bike Lane (PBL), MASS coalition members spoke to the media about the need for safer, greener forms of transportation.
Margret McCauley, a Rainier Valley resident who biked to the event with her young son, explained that they arrived late because of an official City car blocking the S Dearborn St protected bike lane. Referencing the lack of safe infrastructure connecting Southeast Seattle to Downtown, McCauley described current connections as “really scary.”
McCauley who lives on Rainier Avenue, one of Seattle’s most dangerous corridors for pedestrians and cyclists, spoke of the need to invest more in infrastructure in South Seattle. “I’m really excited about the possibility that we are actually going to dedicate some money to Southeast Seattle because it’s got a lot of people who can’t come to this press conference on 1pm on a Friday and are getting around on a bike and… need to arrive alive,” McCauley said.
The first three pieces of legislation sponsored by O’Brien and Pacheco include a resolution calling for funding the unfunded Bicycle Master Plan projects in the Southend of the city. Also included is an ordinance that would require upgrades outlined in the Bicycle Master Plan to be implemented when the City does major road work and a resolution directing the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to double the number of off-sidewalk bike and scooter parking spaces.
More funding for Bicycle Master Plan projects
A lot of advocates were dismayed when SDOT unveiled its 2019-2024 Bicycle Implementation Plan, a scaled back version of the Bicycle Master Plan funded by the Move Seattle Levy. A top complaint was SDOT’s decision to delay projects in Southeast Seattle. While SDOT revised its plans after receiving community feedback, funding woes remain a potential barrier for many planned bike facilities in Southeast Seattle.
However, with the sale of the Mercer Megablock pending, the City may soon have additional funding on hand. Current plans include spending an estimated $16.7 million from sales proceeds on bicycle, pedestrian, and transit projects.
O’Brien and Pacheco’s resolution requests that unfunded projects in the Bicycle Implementation Plan be funded, including all Southend projects and two-way bike lanes on 4th Ave downtown.
Legislation spurred by 35th Ave NE complaints also moves ahead
SDOT’s decision last spring to remove a protected bike lane from a redesign of 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood was criticized by both the activist community and City Council, who began asking questions what it could do to improve the situation.
Despite promises that the newly redesigned street would be “safer for everyone” injuries and dangerous conditions on 35th Ave NE have continued to be a problem. Unfortunately, because the planned major repaving project on 35th Ave NE has been completed, it will be much more difficult for SDOT to go back and install bike facilities on the street.
While the Bicycle Safety Ordinance proposed by O’Brien and Pacheco would not provide a solution for 35th Ave NE’s current situation, it would require that upgrades outlined in the Bicycle Master Plan be “simultaneously implemented” when the City does major road work. In situations where SDOT have deemed that it is not possible to implement the planned bicycle facilities, the agency would be required to provide an explanation for why it is not possible.
“I want to reiterate that this an ordinance that emphasizes fiscal responsibility… it’s also saving neighbors from having to have construction in front of their homes twice,” said Cantor, speaking in support of the ordinance during the committee meeting.
Safety for all road users is a MASS Coalition priority
While bikeshare companies like Lime and Jump have increased transportation options for some Seattleites, accessibility problems resulting from bikeshare bikes being strewn across sidewalks have inspired disability activists to call for more parking enforcement. With a scootershare pilot planned for sometime next year, the City is trying to take an active stance, ensuring these small mobility options don’t cause more problems than they solve.
The final piece of legislation from MASS transportation package calls for doubling number of planned off-sidewalk bike and scooter parking spaces to continue to “rebalance the allocation of street space away from cars and ensure pedestrian access on sidewalks.”
University of Washington student Courtney Cole of Rooted in Rights said it was great to hear many people at the press conference speak about the need for accessibility. “We want the city to not only be green, but also be safe for everyone who lives in it,” said Cole, who is legally blind.
What’s next for the MASS Coalition’s transportation package?
While a press release from O’Brien and Pacheco stated that “[m]ore legislation will follow to implement the entire [transportation] package,” it remains unclear what actions items from the MASS coalition will be up next for the City Council’s approval.
Some possible contenders include:
- Implementing dedicated bus lanes, signal priority and queue jumps on twenty stretches of road identified by MASS as places where speed and reliability improvements could significantly improve people’s mobility.
- Moving ahead with planning and design for all seven RapidRide corridors promised in the Move Seattle Levy so that Seattle is prepared to take advantage of new federal funding opportunities as soon as they arise.
- Prioritizing projects from Bicycle Master Plan that rank highly on Race and Social Justice Initiative (RSJI) framework scores.
- Adopting new maintenance standards for bike lanes, trails, and greenways that include both a process for infrastructure maintenance and general maintenance needs.
- Require SDOT to conduct a RSJI analysis for all road work projects over $2.5 million instead of the current $5 million threshold.
- Developing an improved sidewalk repair program that allows for income-based responsibility, so that high-earning property owners contribute funds to improve mobility for everyone, while low-income owners do not.
- Increasing funding for sidewalk construction along dangerous streets like Lake City Way and Aurora Ave N and using an equity analysis to determine how funds would be distributed.
- Adopting new pedestrian signal policies that increase the amount of time pedestrians have to cross the street.
- Hiring an active transportation coordinator to oversee programmatic and infrastructure improvements to make it easier and safer for kids who walk to school.
After the City Council returns from its planned summer break, it is clear that if O’Brien and Pacheco keep their word this fall’s calendar will be busy with lots of possible transportation legislation votes.
Natalie Bicknell Argerious (she/her) is a reporter and podcast host at The Urbanist. She previously served as managing editor. A passionate urban explorer since childhood, she loves learning how to make cities more inclusive, vibrant, and environmentally resilient. You can often find her wandering around Seattle's Central District and Capitol Hill with her dogs and cat. Email her at natalie [at] theurbanist [dot] org.