Earlier this week I sat down with Alex Hudson to chat about her run for Seattle City Council in District 3, which she officially announced this morning. Hudson has been executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition since 2018 and is no stranger to policy debates that have raged in City Hall recently. Before joining TCC, she served as a member of The Urbanist Elections Committee in 2017 (when I first got to know her) and as an Urbanist boardmember.
Hudson is a long-time First Hill resident who has advocated for transportation and housing solutions in her community, including during a five-year stint as executive director of the First Hill Improvement Association.
The field of candidates in D3 is growing and likely to grow more crowded after Councilmember Kshama Sawant announced her retirement last Thursday — the fourth sitting Seattle councilmember to decline a reelection run. Former Legislative District 37 candidate Andrew Ashiofu joined the race on Tuesday. “Others joining the race include Ry Armstrong, a first time candidate with connections to the arts and LGBTQ communities, and Joy Hollingsworth, another first timer but with a deeper bench thanks to her strong connections to the Central District and Black communities as well as the city’s cannabis industry,” the Capitol Hill Seattle Blog reported.
Read on for Hudson’s take on what sets her apart from the field, Sound Transit 3 alignments, saving the Seattle Streetcar, housing abundance, getting the Vision Zero campaign to end traffic deaths on course and more. (Note: This interview was edited for clarity and length.)
Doug: We’ll start out with the basics: what inspired you to run?
Hudson: I really believe that Seattle is the most beautiful city in the whole world, and that District 3 is the most shining example of everything that is good about Seattle. And as someone who’s been working in this space around public policy for over a decade, I have felt like Seattle’s problems are getting worse and the solutions are coming slower than they should. And so I started thinking about my skills and the work that I’ve done and where I can be the most useful and provide the most good. And I think that providing a progressive delivery-focused voice and style of leadership for District 3 is the way that I can do that. So I’m inspired to run because I know how to solve problems, and I think we’ve got a bunch that need to be solved.
Doug: What is your professional experience for folks who maybe don’t know you as well? Transportation Choices Coalition has a great reputation as far as transportation policy. What else besides transportation will be your focus and expertise?
Hudson: Yeah. I like to think of myself as a policy omnivore. But at my core, I love great places and great places means abundant housing that people can afford, transportation choices so that people can get where they need to go how they wanna get there in a way that’s affordable and accessible and sustainable, great parks, great neighborhood business districts, like places that we can be in love with, right? And love us back. And so prior to being at Transportation Choices Coalition, I was the executive director of the First Hill Improvement Association. And I ran that organization for nearly five years, and that organization’s mission was to set a new high watermark in the city of Seattle for what it meant to be like a progressive neighborhood-based advocacy organization. And so I got to work on over a dozen private developments, housing. First Hill is experiencing a rapid population boom, 72% population growth because it’s zoned highrise residential.
And so the neighborhood long ago decided to be welcoming to density, but wanted to work in partnership to figure out what that looked like from the ground level and who got to be living there. So I got to work on development projects to make sure that they were contributing to our neighborhood, the streetscape — everything from the sidewalks to the landscaping to the open space that was adjacent to them. I got to work on community wellbeing, right. And so putting together information and events and meetings and, and problem solving charrettes to figure out what were the neighborhood priorities and how we were gonna come together to solve them. I got to organize with the community around affordability.
You know the Sound Transit site right in First Hill? Like, never forget [laughs] our First Hill light rail station that never was, but what we have now is organizing the neighborhood to bring a zero cost land transfer from Sound Transit. And what that means is that it’s gonna be 350 units of affordable housing in our neighborhood. 120 for homeless seniors and 200 plus for working families. It’s the first high-rise residential 100% affordable building that Seattle has built in the last 60 years.
We got to organize to bring homeless shelters to our neighborhood because we wanted real solutions to make sure that people could come and stay inside. I led a community-led redesign of our park. We installed public art all over the neighborhood. Like I have had a role in bringing people together to paint a vision and then really importantly implement those solutions at the scale of geography. And I have seen miracles happen when you do it that way.
Doug: I’ll give you a preview of a question that’s frequently on our questionnaire. Do you consider yourself an urbanist?
Hudson: I do consider myself an urbanist, a proud urbanist. I’m proud to be.
Doug: You’ve lived in First Hill a long time, right?
Hudson: 14 years.
Doug: I think you’ve been car light or car free a good chunk of that time. Has that experience informed how you see the city and how you see these issues?
Hudson: Yes of course, I have a family, right? I have a partner, I have a middle school student, right? Like, I have a young person in my family, and my whole family we live car-free. We don’t have a car. And of course that has painted my experience in the city in deeply fundamental ways, right? Public transit is how my kid gets to school and back. It’s how she goes to hang out with her friends. It’s how I get everywhere I need to go. And it informs the places that I don’t get to go to, right? And I’m a lucky one. I live in a really good transit neighborhood. I’ve built my life so that I could, and what I’ve seen is how hard and inconvenient and frankly, undignified we make it for people who are transit riders. That looks like the basic stuff about what the bus stops look like, the access to get to those bus stops, whether or not the city has prioritized the right of way to make those buses move in a fast, reliable way. How the city doesn’t run the transit agency, but they invest in the transit agency. They help derive the investments of the transit agency. Being a public transit rider is both deeply liberating and also frustratingly limiting.
Doug: Do you think transportation has become a neglected policy area in Seattle?
Hudson: I do.
Doug: One way that we’ve been covering that issue is Vision Zero obviously, and traffic fatalities are going in the wrong direction. Do you have thoughts on how that neglected policy area can become less neglected?
Hudson: The Move Seattle Levy renewal [in 2024]. The Move Seattle Levy is the single biggest source of funding for transportation infrastructure. So that starts with the process the city has right now, which is pulling people together to create a unified Seattle Transportation Plan. Doing the kind of deep analysis on the Vision Zero [program], what’s working, what’s not. I mean there’s a whole lot that’s not working there. And bringing the multimodal transportation plan and the Vision Zero implementation plan, and then creating a Move Seattle Levy that’s a funding package for those things. That’s how you do it with actual dollars.
And I think then the other one is you need good leaders. You need good people who have the lived experience of experiencing our transportation system as a pedestrian, as a transit rider, as a car-less person to really prioritize those needs. So I think it’s about being a champion. Being a champion means that you’ve got lived experience and you’re listening to other people, bringing people together to create this plan. And then working really hard to get the funding to make that real plan a reality. The Move Seattle Levy renewal should be a Vision Zero document. It should be a mobility justice document is what it should be.
Doug: Picking a council transportation chair three years ago sort of felt like a hot potato type of thing and we ended up with Alex Pedersen (which hasn’t turned out great). Is transportation committee leadership something that you would embrace?
Hudson: Pedersen’s term is coming to an end, and so in the future there will need to be a new transportation committee chair. Transportation is my passion, and I have spent five years as a professional coalition builder to bring real root cause, full scale solutions to our issues around transportation. If I was elected, I think regardless of what committee I would be able to serve on… bam, I’m gonna be a multimodal transportation champion and a mobility justice advocate in any space. That’s just who I am.
Doug: I’m glad you brought up the levy. With the comprehensive plan to be finalized next year, 2024 will be a hugely influential year. What’s your take on how the plan is going, particularly with respect to transportation and housing?
Hudson: Uh, yeah, I definitely have thoughts about that. Transportation solutions, especially under the transit side, will only ever be able to try to solve the problems that are created by the land use decisions, right? Transportation is about how people get from one place to another, and planning is about what those places are. They are the same concept. In order for us to be a city that is accessible, equitable, affordable, and sustainable, we have to have a comprehensive plan that maximizes the amount of people who can call this place their home. And that means that we need to get really serious about densification and the zoning, right? Housing is a function of supply, stability, and subsidy. And unless and until we get really serious about creating a whole lot more supply of available land for housing to be able to get on, we’re not gonna be able to solve these problems at the scale and speed that people are expecting.
And we will continue to force the most dense housing — and therefore it’s sometimes the most affordable housing — to be the most adjacent to our high capacity transportation systems. Which means in a lot of ways the most proximate to air pollution and human harm causing air particulates, right? So what I’m trying to say is that I think that the Urban Village Strategy is something we need to move beyond and that we need to seriously adjust the zoning and permitting that’s allowable in the city of Seattle if we’re gonna have enough housing for everybody everywhere.
Doug: How will you be a successor to Councilmember Kshama Sawant and how will you be different?
Hudson: District 3 is an extraordinarily progressive place. And that has been reflected in what Kshama has purported to represent, right? And it is the full expectation of that district that they continue to have a progressive leader. And that’s me. I’m a deeply progressive person. I also think that people in the district are looking for a different kind of way of doing business, right? While I’m a progressive person who wants to see the values that are about human dignity, shared prosperity, environmental, economic, and racial justice, I also wanna see those things actually get done.
And what I’ve seen in my experience is the way that you actually deliver for people, which is my core understanding of the responsibility of government, is that you identify problems together. You bring people together. You create shared principles, values, and goals, a whole suite of solutions, and then figure out how the heck you’re gonna implement those as fast as possible. And so I think that that’s just a very different process-based approach than what people in District 3 have had.
So I’m just a different kind of person, but still with a ton of progressive values. In my experience what I hear people say is they felt like they didn’t have someone that they could call who was on their side. And I, my promise is, as I always have been, is to continue to be somebody who listens. Doesn’t mean I’m gonna agree [laughs], right? But I’m down. Everybody’s got something to share. The fact that you care tells me that you care. And so it’s a place to start from.
Doug: What sets you apart in the field of D3 candidates which I’m sure grow increasingly crowded with an open seat?
Hudson: A decade of accomplishments. I have been working in coalition with people to solve some of our thorniest problems by delivering real solutions for over a decade. And that suite of accomplishments that I’ve been part of from everything we did at First Hill Improvement Association, the $63 million from the convention center redevelopment, $5.2 billion in Move Ahead Washington last year. My personal track record for success is to the tune of literally billions of dollars of public investment in the things that we all care about. And there is not a single other person in the race who can deliver and has the long track record of experience and accomplishments that I do.
And I know this city, like I know what the haps is, right? I know what they’re doing over there, and I know what they’re not doing over there. I’m here because I’ve worked really hard to do that. I’m here because I’ve been really passionate about these issues for a very long time. I didn’t just wake up one day and say, hey, I should be a city councilperson. I’ve worked really hard to earn the right to ask voters if they want me to represent them. And I’m gonna continue to do that if they elect me and work really hard.
Doug: Anything else that you think we should cover?
Hudson: The one thing that we didn’t talk about is Sound Transit and the West Seattle to Ballard Link Extension. Sound Transit 3 planning writ large is hugely important issue. We were talking about creating the fundamental travel patterns for the city of Seattle and our entire region for the next 100 years. And I really, really, really feel like we need a whole lot more attention to that issue in order to make sure that we get it right. The City only has so much decision-making power about the station locations, but the city can decide everything about what the station areas look like afterwards. And so we’re gonna need to make sure that we’re maximizing the public benefit from those projects with equitable transit oriented development. I’m on the Bellwether Housing Board. Our project at the Roosevelt Station, Cedar Crossing, is a really good example of what’s possible. We’ve got affordable childcare. We’ve got 100% affordable housing. It’s all TOD. It’s in a opportunity-rich neighborhood. There is a whole lot more chances to do that, but we got to take it serious.
Doug: Thank you for bringing that up. That’ll be a huge issue. And it does feel like another area of neglect. Councilmembers get tapped to sit on all these regional boards, and, whether it’s the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) or the regional transit board, or the Sound Transit Board, we track these meetings, and sometimes there’s pretty bad attendance.
Hudson: Yes. And you know, I’m already on PSRC transportation policy.
I’d say the last one, people who are reading this can’t see this [points to a picture on her office wall], but another neglected transportation project in the city. The Center City Streetcar is just the common-sense solution of connecting those lines in those in our communities. We gotta fix that one.
Doug: And do you have a position on West Seattle Ballard Link extension alignments and what’s the way to go?
Hudson: Yeah, there’s an interesting timing of when those decisions are gonna get made, and whether or not I’ll be the councilperson at those moments. I would say, thinking about it from a District 3 perspective, the Midtown Station is really just the bare minimum consolation prize for the high capacity mass transit system, access for the densest residential neighborhood north of San Francisco. And so I would be really passionate about making sure that Midtown Station stays in Midtown and that it is integrated with things like the Rapid Ride G Line and other things. So at the very least, if we’re gonna continue to experience this massive missed opportunity of a station there in the foreseeable future, at the very least, we can maximize the accessibility of the walkshed that’s at the western edge of District 3. So, that’s something I’m really paying attention to.
Doug: Yeah. And, and I hope that doesn’t get scrapped since there has been rumblings… Feels like deja vu.
Hudson: Yeah. More like PTSD.
Doug: The next Seattle station to open will be in D3: Judkins Park Station and there’s access issues to get across freeway ramps, and I know there’s been talks of improving that. Do you think there’s enough planned around that?
Hudson: Yeah. That’s a really tough location for maximizing transit ridership. There’s a lot of missed opportunity in the way that the alignment is currently planned for Sound Transit. We can all sit around with our time machines all day long and talk about the past decisions, but that alignment being so adjacent to the freeway across the system is a missed opportunity. And it means that the cities and municipalities are gonna have to be scrambling to figure out how to access those stations. And accessing those stations is gonna be complicated because yeah, you wanna put housing there, but you also don’t wanna put a bunch of affordable housing for low income people adjacent to our interstates so that low income people are exposed disproportionately to pollution.
But we also want people to be near those stations. So then well what can we do? How do we solve those problems? But how do we integrate it with the other parts of the transit system? How do we make sure that the pedestrian feels prioritized always around those station areas? How do we make sure that they are doing the most aggressively vision zero implementation possible, knowing how much pedestrian activity is gonna be around them?
So I think that those choices to put those stations adjacent to the interstate have created a whole lot of problems for cities to solve, and we’re gonna have to be really, really, really serious about them because they are magnets for people. That’s the entire purpose and point. Those people deserve to feel safe. I also know that the Puget Sound Regional Council they’ve done a bunch of analysis, and one of the things they showed was that improving access to high capacity transit increases ridership by 40%. And it’s actually way more effective than frequency alone, which frankly surprised me. So, we also have to maximize the usability so that people have real transportation choices that don’t feel scary.
Rainier is a tragically under prioritized corridor that is making it so that people get hurt and lose their lives. There’s a whole lot of improvements on these big stroads that we have to do, too.
Doug: For sure. Any final thoughts?
Hudson: You asked me earlier if I’m an urbanist, I was like, yeah, absolutely. And I hope not only to identify as an urbanist, but to represent the urbanist community and make us proud. Tired of feeling disappointed.
Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.