At last Thursday’s Growing Seattle candidate forum, moderator Erica C. Barnett asked the six participating mayoral candidates to perform a simple but revealing exercise: rank transit riders, pedestrians, cyclists, and car drivers in order of priority. The candidates’ answers varied widely. The answers of Jenny Durkan and Sen. Bob Hasegawa are notable, though, because they illustrate a common and fundamental blind spot about successful transit. Let’s have a look:
Both candidates put transit on top. But neither seems to think walking deserves much attention. That is inherently contradictory.
Especially in the city, where very few riders drive to transit, almost every transit trip requires a walk on public streets. Very few riders are lucky enough to have a bus stop outside their door on both ends of their trip. So every transit rider is also a pedestrian. And if the walk to or from a transit trip is impossible or unsafe, that transit trip doesn’t work well as a whole. Riders with poor pedestrian access are less likely to ride transit instead of driving, more likely to be unsatisfied with transit when they do ride, and more likely to suffer injury at the hands of car drivers.
For all those reasons, walking safety and comfort are an integral part of building a successful transit system. It makes no more sense to say “transit deserves more priority than walking” than it does to say “make the pizza better, but don’t worry about cheese quality.” Transit doesn’t really have priority over car drivers unless pedestrians do too. Ms. Durkan and Sen. Hasegawa would render many transit trips less workable, and undermine their own stated preferences for transit, by putting pedestrians at the back of the line.