The Covid-19 pandemic has upended transit as we know it, devastated transportation budgets, and imperiled planned infrastructure upgrades. The advocacy organization Feet First is hosting a webinar 9am tomorrow May 29th to discuss the crisis with a panel of leaders on the issue. Register for the webinar via this link.
The panel consists of State Senator Joe Nguyen (D-White Center), Transportation for America Director Beth Osborne, Jessica Engelman of Spokane-based multimodal advocacy group SpokAT, and Shamso Issak of Living Well Kent.
Former Mayor Mike McGinn, who volunteers with Feet First these days, helped organize the panel and I caught up with him to hear about what to expect.
“The point of the panel is talk about how do we prioritize what we do,” McGinn said. “Transit needs funding. There are more people walking. There are more people biking. But is the State gonna, come hell or high water, fund highway expansion or are they going to look to re-prioritize their spending?”
With representation from Spokane and Kent, the panel will take a statewide perspective and McGinn noted that the suburbanization of low-wage workers and communities of color meant that places like Kent sorely need affordable transportation options. “For many of them transit is essential,” he added.
Transportation for America has helped organize the resistance to transit cuts due to the pandemic, with a petition that succeeded in winning federal funding for transit agencies–although more emergency funding will be needed given the depth of the fiscal crisis. They’ve also been working to shift priorities more broadly.
“Transportation for America nationally is saying its time to stop the highway building binge and look at maintenance first, measuring mobility not the number of cars moved, and measuring safety not speed,” McGinn said. “Those are really good principles that the state legislature should consider as well.”
Senator Nguyen has been a leader in the fight for progressive tax reform and green infrastructure. He fought hard to pass the Don’t Block The Box legislation permitting a camera enforcement of transit lanes and intersection-blocking. With leaders like him, there’s more hope of bolder action on climate and wiser investments in transportation. Whether that action will start this year remains to seen and the panel might give us some clue how high to set our sights.
McGinn was known during his tenure as Mayor from 2010 to 2014 for attempting to block the four-billion-dollar highway tunnel to replace Alaskan Way Viaduct (and getting railroaded by establishment political figures and media for doing so). That skepticism of highway expansion remains very much alive in the former city executive.
“The fact is that are billions and billions of dollars in highway expansion projects the books, and we understand that big business really wants those,” McGinn said. “But our needs are different now and we can’t just keep compounding issues around air pollution and global warming…”
Join the webinar by registering via this link. Feet First is also recording the webinar for folks who can’t watch live. Stay tuned for that link.