This past weekend while walking on California Avenue in West Seattle, I saw something that should be commonplace, yet remains relatively rare in our city. A group of kids were strolling together, chatting excitedly about their fourth grade teacher. They encountered another group of elementary-aged children, which sparked raucous laughter followed by impromptu dance moves. No supervising adults were present — the kids were simply wandering through the city and enjoying the beautiful day. A simple act that people in all stages of life should be able to do safely and independently. I’m always deeply moved when I see groups of kids out and about in the city partly because it was a privilege I enjoyed as a child, but also because today it’s a rare occurrence.
It’s difficult for us to imagine a childhood in which traveling to school, parks, friends’ homes, corner stores, and community centers is all accomplished entirely as a passenger in a car. And yet that is the experience of many children in Washington State. These children are missing out on so many important life lessons, as well as the simple pleasure of indulging their sense of curiosity by roaming about their community on foot or on wheels. But children are not the only victims of transportation planning that prioritizes cars over people. Elders, people with disabilities, and people who cannot afford to own a car are all unfairly penalized by our current transportation system.
That’s why The Urbanist Editorial Board endorses the Transportation Bill of Rights drafted by Front and Centered, Disability Rights Washington, 350 Washington, and the Yakima Asian Pacific Islander Coalition. We need to realign our state’s transportation to prioritize people over cars. We also call on members of Washington State Legislature, as well as transportation decision-makers on all levels, to use the guiding principles set forth in the document to make our state’s transportation system safer, greener, and more equitable.
Join us in endorsing the Transportation Bill of Rights
The Transportation Bill of Rights contends that regardless of our race, age, gender, disability, income and where we live we all deserve transportation where:
1. No one dies or is seriously injured traveling on state roads, streets, and sidewalks.
2. Every household can access groceries within 20 minutes without a car.
3. No one today is harmed by pollution or noise from transportation.
4. Protection from the climate crisis today for future generations.
5. All trips less than one mile are easily and enjoyably achieved by non-vehicle travel including for people with disabilities.
6. No household should spend more than 45% of its income on housing, transportation, and energy.
7. Every child who wants to can bike, walk, or roll safely to school.
8. Transit service is frequent and spans the day and night so people can get to work and come back.
9. The pursuit of happiness does not require a car.
Does this vision align with the transportation system you would like to see in our state? If so, join us in endorsing the document as an individual or organization. You can also learn more about the investments being called for by the coalition’s Just Transition in Transportation Plan that would move this document from vision to reality.
Current legislative priorities
The Just Transition in Transportation coalition is also calling on lawmakers to take action. Specifically they ask for the following:
- Start with the communities facing the greatest environmental health risks.
- Halt road and bridge expansion; we can’t build our way out of gridlock, so let’s be responsible with our funds and focus exclusively on maintenance. Fix-it-first!
- Establish sustainable, progressive funding for electric public transportation that reaches every neighborhood and community in our state. Authorize more local revenue options so local governments can better address the transportation needs of their communities.
- Fund transit operations to run every 15 minutes at least and seven days a week into the night also.
- Build affordable housing near frequent, electrified public transportation; implement zoning and tax incentives.
- Make sure there is a radius of one mile around every bus stop with accessible sidewalks, trails, and bike lanes.
- Build safe, kid-friendly, bike and roll paths in a three-mile radius around every public school.
- Fund multi-use trails, with transit access, that connect communities, including tribal and rural communities throughout Washington.
- Fund regular public maintenance of sidewalks and paths to repair cracks and remove debris and snow/ice.
- Reduce/eliminate the role of armed police in traffic and transit fare enforcement
- Zero-fare public transportation creates operating efficiencies and greater equity by speeding up boarding, eliminating enforcement disparities, and reducing the criminalization of poverty.
The Washington State legislature is currently weighing several proposed pieces of legislation could advance these basic transportation rights. Providing comment on these important bills could help them get past the finish line. Some prominent examples include:
- SB 5510: Allows for sales and use taxes for Transportation Benefit Districts to be renewed up to ten years with an affirmative vote of the electorate, essentially extending the number of times such taxes may be imposed.
- SB 5528: Provides new taxing authority to Sound Transit to fund specialized expansion projects within “enhanced service zones.” Cities, towns, and other areas that want to fund such specialized projects would have to vote on a measure authorizing them and new taxes. Last year, a Seattle-specific bill, HB 1304 — which we covered here — had similar aims.
- SB 5707: Extends authorization of Seattle to use automated camera enforcement for transit lanes, crosswalks, and intersections by two years to June 30, 2025.
- SB 5687: Allows cities to install automatic speed cameras within the designated walk area of a school, not just at the school’s front door. It also allows jurisdictions to establish a 20-mph speed limit on nonarterial highways without first conducting an engineering and traffic investigation. Additionally, the bill would add a due care standard for pedestrians in the roadway, mirroring that for motorist, but some safe streets advocates have criticized that language, as Ryan Packer covered earlier this month.
- SB 5485: Prohibits traffic stops for certain traffic violations, which is aimed at preventing racially biased stops for minor offenses and reducing dangerous interactions with armed police officers.
- HB 1731: Strengthens requirements for autonomous vehicle testing within the state.
- HB 1330 and HB 1524: Creates a limited sales and use tax exemption on the purchase of electric bikes and related equipment.
- HB 2026: Implements a per mile charge on vehicles. Adding a mileage charge could become increasingly necessary as electric car adoption increases and gas tax proceeds plummet, starving the state transportation system of resources.
- HB 1786: Makes supplemental transportation appropriations for the 2021-2023 fiscal biennium.
The other elephant in the room is whether the state legislature will pass a major transportation spending bill. The senate transportation committee has a new chair in Marko Liias (D-Everett) after former chair Steve Hobbs was promoted to Secretary of State by Governor Jay Inslee. Hobbs failed in the three previous sessions to pass a transportation package, pushing a regressively-funded highway-expansion-focused bill that rankled some of his more progressive and climate-focused colleagues. Senator Liias may have better luck. One of his first acts as chair was to come out against a gas tax hike, but apparently a package that would invest about $15 billion over a decade is still possible with existing funding streams. Neither the house nor the senate has revealed their proposal yet.
With traffic injuries and fatalities on the rise, a climate crisis unfolding before us, and disenfranchised communities continuing to be neglected in transportation decision-making, now is the time to take action. Pursuing a whole and active life should not require access to a car.
The editorial board consists of Natalie Bicknell, Stephen Fesler, Shaun Kuo, Ryan Packer, and Doug Trumm.
The Urbanist was founded in 2014 to examine and influence urban policies. We believe cities provide unique opportunities for addressing many of the most challenging social, environmental, and economic problems. We serve as a resource for promoting and disseminating ideas, creating community, increasing political participation, and improving the places we live.