A new policy framework is flying under the radar that could remake how King County Metro delivers service and capital investments. Metro began developing the new Mobility Framework in spring 2019 aiming to guide equitable and sustainable updates to key agency policy documents. These change will ultimately affect future decision-making processes.

In 2018, the King County Council issued a directive that Metro engage in a process to create a countywide mobility framework. An emphasis was placed on exploring how to “ensure that innovations in mobility put people first, use public space equitably and efficiently, and are coordinated with transit policies and regional funding strategies.” The directive specified that Metro should work with diverse community stakeholders in developing the framework and use the framework to update the Strategic Plan for Public Transportation, Metro’s Service Guidelines, and Metro Connects long-range plan. The Mobility Framework also supports stated objectives of another directive to facilitate more regional coordination, planning, and funding efforts in order to implement the Metro Connects long-range plan.

As part of this, Metro formed the Mobility Equity Cabinet, an equity task force that consists of 23 community representatives. Many members of the task force were picked to represent traditionally underrepresented groups, such as people with disabilities, immigrants and refugees, people of color, and low-income individuals. While their work was heavily focused on setting the stage for developing principles and policies for the Mobility Framework last year, the task force will have another opportunity to help shape final policy updates to the aforementioned plans and guidelines this spring.

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci (District 6-Bellevue), a sponsor of the directive for a mobility framework, told The Urbanist in an interview that she was inspired by substantial changes in the transportation system over the past few years to begin a policy review process. The rise of ridehailing, micromobility, and on-demand services have been very impactful on transit and transportation system demands. Not all of these changes have been good, particularly in terms of reducing transit ridership. She also pointed out that transportation system management and planning is often siloed, creating a challenging environment in effectively delivering transportation in a coordinated manner. Creating a unitary vision for how the system is managed across agencies and boundaries could better reflect the values people have for the transportation system and ultimately lead to better outcomes.

Councilmember Balducci said that people should think of the solutions that the Mobility Framework brings similar to the “curb ramp” effect. Illustrating the point, she said that building our streets around people who need accessibility features actually provides direct benefits to other system users. People with wheelchairs need curb ramps to move between sidewalks, but they also make it easier for parents pushing strollers, jogger, and essentially anyone using the sidewalk since they provide step-free access. She sees a revamped transportation system, guided by a comprehensive framework, benefiting people across the whole county the same way.

Several major principles have come out of the engagement process and now form the basis of the Mobility Framework for climate and environmental justice, urban affordable housing near transit, and equitable and sustainable investments. Recommended policies derived from this collaborative process fall into key themes like land use contexts, innovation, and engagement. The framework recommendation outlines 25 separate policies, which could have a profound impact in shaping future transit investments and organization processes. A few policy highlights from the recommendations include the following:

  • “Provide additional transit service in areas with unmet need, defined as areas with high density; a high proportion of low-income people, people of color, people with disabilities, and members of limited-English speaking communities; and limited mid-day and evening service. Adapt Metro’s adopted policies to meet this need and to ensure regular and ongoing evaluation of the needs of these areas.”
  • “Develop people-friendly street design near transit, including traffic-calming measures and ways to make bus stops safe for all ages, genders, and abilities.”
  • “Increase dense, mixed use zoning and affordable housing in urban areas near transit, while working to minimize displacement of priority populations through the Growth Management Planning Council, by developing a King County Transit-oriented Development policy, and by updating Metro’s adopted policies to provide incentives for jurisdictions that provide increased density and/or affordable housing.”
  • “Develop an equity-centered engagement framework by co-creating with the community and measuring equity and sustainability over time.”
  • “Change Metro’s adopted policies to assert the role of innovation, address new mobility services, and support innovative, equitable, sustainable mobility to ensure they supplement transit services and work first for priority populations.”
  • “Develop station area and right-of-way guidelines that prioritize transit use and access for people who walk, bike, or roll to the station.”
  • “Facilitate integrated payment and planning to help customers plan and pay for multimodal trips, in partnership with ORCA agencies and private providers.”

Most of these policies will require considerable financial investments and rely upon direct cooperation with regional and local partners, such as cities and other transit agencies.

The Mobility Framework is scheduled to be adopted by the King County Council soon—perhaps as soon as next month—and could come some amendments to its scope. In the spring and summer time, Metro will go through a collaborative process to finalize the updates to the Strategic Plan for Public Transportation, Metro’s Service Guidelines, Metro Connects, and King County’s Strategic Climate Action Plan consistent with the framework.

The first stop, as part of that process will be the Equity Cabinet, which will have an opportunity to review the updates and weigh in. Then the final updates will be transmitted for review by the Regional Transit Committee and King County Council. The Regional Transit Committee includes elected representatives from local jurisdictions and members of the county council. Ultimately, the King County Council will have the final say in adopting the updates, perhaps before end of year.

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Stephen is a professional urban planner in Puget Sound with a passion for sustainable, livable, and diverse cities. He is especially interested in how policies, regulations, and programs can promote positive outcomes for communities. With stints in great cities like Bellingham and Cork, Stephen currently lives in Seattle. He primarily covers land use and transportation issues and has been with The Urbanist since 2014.