Yesterday, Mayor Mike McGinn issued his proposed budget for 2014. The $4.4 billion total proposed budget represents a 1.9% increase over the 2014 budget endorsed as part of last year’s budget process. The mayor’s office reports that the increase is possible largely because of better-than-expected tax collections resulting from the sustained economic recovery. SDOT fared better yet in the Mayor’s proposal, receiving a 3.9% increase (bottom of p.3) from last year’s endorsed budget, to a total proposed amount of $407 million. (The existing Seattle Streetcar, which is a separate line item from SDOT, saw no change.)
Buried in the details of the budget proposal are some items of considerable interest to transit riders. There are direct improvements to the city’s transit network, as well as street improvements with the potential to have a disproportionately positive impact on transit service quality. Further details below the jump. The descriptions in the budget documents are relatively basic; text in italics represents my commentary.
As the Highway 99 project progresses, the administration intends to continue making improvements to downtown traffic flow. The budget includes a substantial investment in Intelligent Transportation Systems (“ITS”) equipment, which is intended to improve traffic flow throughout the CBD, especially by optimizing traffic signal cycles. Included are real-time traffic sensors; closed-circuit TV cameras; new traffic signal equipment; new monitoring equipment to replace failing equipment in the city’s control center; and, most importantly, four engineers to help implement and operate ITS systems in the CBD.
I’ve long beat the drums for serious ITS enhancements. They are a win for all motorized road users, including transit, freight, and SOVs. Politically, they are a meaningful enhancement for transit users that is immune to any “war on cars” hysteria. I’m very pleased to see the city placing ITS in the foreground.
23rd Avenue Improvements
The proposed budget adds $2.9 million in new funding to the 23rd Avenue corridor project. Noteworthy nuggets in the budget line item include trolley-wire-compatible utility poles; ITS enhancements; wider sidewalks (as four feet wider on each side); and a parallel greenway for cyclists.
It’s excellent to see this project continue toward completion. What street the greenway would use — a topic of perennial debate in 23rd Avenue discussions — is not specified.
The budget includes a number of Transit Master Plan priority corridor improvements, including the following:
- $1m for preliminary engineering of Madison BRT.
- $1m for Center City Connector final design, and $4m in the 2015 Capital Improvement Plan to start construction. This priority is shared by Mayor and Council, and this funding will open up the opportunity for federal funds.
- $500k for the ship canal crossing study, now that there’s a likely council majority.
- $200k for Ballard to Downtown corridor station site planning
- $175k for study of a North Broadway LID to extend the First Hill streetcar northward
- $150k for SLU streetcar speed and reliability improvements – despite having almost complete signal priority, there are three intersections where the SLU streetcar gets caught in traffic, and this would likely address those three.
- One new full-time engineer devoted to transit speed and reliability
It won’t surprise anyone to learn that I think one of the best line items here is also the smallest: the new speed and reliability engineer. It can’t be emphasized enough how much small speed and reliability improvements can contribute to a usable transit network. More BAT lanes, more queue jumps, more TSP, and possibly even a fixed d.p. Memorial Traffic Light are the best thing we can do without investing real money.
I’m also particularly pleased to see Madison BRT moving forward, and reviving the ship canal study would be welcome news.
Ben will expand more on all these investments in a separate post.
More TMP work
Finally, the budget includes some interesting items of long-term planning. The most important is $800k to begin corridor studies of four new corridors: Beacon Ave S, Lake City Way NE, Greenwood Ave N, and E Marginal Way S. These corridor studies would consider all modes, including transit, bicycling, and walking. There are funds for TOD planning and implementation in Uptown, Ballard, and Lake City, and near several Link stations elsewhere. Finally, the mayor wants to update the Pedestrian Master Plan and the transportation portion of the Comprehensive Plan, and complete the SR 99 Tunnel Closure Response Plan for the new tunnel (which is similar to a plan the city already has for the outgoing viaduct).
Good news in the long term for riders of the 5, 36, 60, 124, and 522 (as well as other users in those corridors). A Phinney stop diet, a longstanding hobbyhorse of multiple STB authors, might even come out of this planning work!
And so much for the idea that the mayor would try to obstruct smooth tunnel completion or operations, now that the tunnel is past the point of no return.
It’s easy to play Santa Claus when revenues are good, and the mayor certainly is doing so throughout his proposed budget. But, on the whole, he deserves credit for a well-thought-out set of priorities for transportation and transit investment. SDOT has made consistent if slow steps in recent years toward spending more effort on these sorts of unglamorous but tremendously cost-effective improvements, and the Council should work with the mayor to enable more of them to happen.