The mayoral general election has largely been bereft of detailed transportation and land use policy proposals, with the exception of Mayor McGinn’s 2014 transportation budget. One might interpret this as a lack of significant policy disagreement, or as a campaign playing it safe. In the past week, however, a couple of events have allowed us a peek at how a Mayor Murray might govern.
First, in a “vision speech” broad enough that few in the Seattle mainstream would disagree with it, this interesting idea:
And even more vitally, I will – finally – develop and implement a Move Seattle transportation strategy that integrates bike, pedestrian, transit and freight plans. If our transportation plans don’t work together, our ability as a city to work together is seriously hampered.
Instead of ongoing, exhausting, unproductive wars between the various modes of transportation, let’s make sure that people have choices about transportation by create linkages among the modes. That includes making sure we have affordable and expanded bus service throughout the city, an expanded light rail and street car system, and better streets and bridges.
The second paragraph is mildly interesting in that he reaffirms support for all the modes. The first raises interesting questions about the existing Transit, Bicycle, Pedestrian, and Freight Master Plans. All but the Pedestrian plan have either been thoroughly redone, or are about to be, under McGinn. Intermodal connections have not been a regional strong suit, so in that sense the idea of emphasizing this is attractive. I asked the Murray campaign what the “Move Seattle” plan meant for the projects in the existing plans:
The current modal plans are valuable in that they identify important investments for each mode and involved a lot of stakeholder and public input into what should be done to improve biking, walking, transit, etc in Seattle. The Bike Master Plan update and new Freight Plan, as examples, will provide valuable and timely information and current thinking that we can make use of. What’s missing is how the plans work together to make transportation better in the city for everyone. The Move Seattle Strategy would integrate the plans into one comprehensive vision and build on them, prioritizing the best parts of each plan with project sequencing, perhaps based on 5, 10 and 15 year goals. The priorities would be based on agreed upon outcomes and matched to funding opportunities.
I take this answer to mean that the existing documents would cease to have a separate existence. Adding priority and schedules to the current approach might bring all the disparate forces into a common course of action; on the other hand, focusing too much on the priority list and timetable may leave Seattle insufficiently open to new opportunities from specific funding sources and the like.
Later last week, there was a stir about both candidates’ answers to a debate question about the merits of a city-only measure to fund Metro operations. In the event the legislature does nothing this fall, either county or city could use revenue sources not earmarked for transit (a flat vehicle license fee or city property tax, respectively). From PubliCola:
Murray said he [was not enthusiastic about] a Seattle-only measure, and that he would support a King County transit tax that was more regional in nature.
Talking to PubliCola this afternoon, Murray said, “If we go it alone the system won’t get money by itself. I really do think we can get this issue solved, but … we need a regional, countywide bus system” that serves people who commute in and out of Seattle, not just within it, Murray said. “People who live in Seattle work on the Eastside. We need a regional, countywide bus system that works for them too. I believe that if Seattle acts unilaterally without solving the countywide problem, we won’t solve the problem.”
Aaron Pickus of the McGinn campaign told PubliCola:
“We would want to talk to stakeholders about what people think is the best approach—whether it’s a city vote or a county vote. … We would want to talk to transit advocates, including Metro and other stakeholders, before choosing a specific policy.”
But Pickus said McGinn would be open to the idea of a Seattle-only transit funding plan.
The Murray campaign, when they spoke to me, didn’t rule out the possibility of a city measure if the county one were to fail, though they would strongly prefer the county. Sen. Murray is certainly right that the system is better off with a comprehensive county solution than a city one. Furthermore, there are many routes that are not clearly “Seattle” vs. “suburban” (150? 271? 358?), and a city-only plan threatens to either let these critical routes fall through the cracks or have city dollars bleed into suburban subsidy that takes the pressure off the rest of the county. Lastly, I would like to see a shift in resources to bus capital projects, cities’ traditional responsibility, and bailing out the countyon operations is a distraction from that.
That said, the city’s available funding source (property tax) is more progressive than a vehicle license fee; and the prospects of a Seattle-only transit vote have historically been better. The Murray campaign told me “we are confident that the voters of King County will support new funding to preserve Metro bus service. We have a very strong case to make that these investments are critically important to the future of our region, and we believe the voters will understand that.”