For many people, Ed Murray’s time as mayor will forever recall the horrific allegations against him, and his arguably tone-deaf response to those allegations — and rightfully so. While acknowledging the significance of that story, I feel fully unqualified to address it in any detail. So I’ll set the ominous cloud to one side, and summarize the state of transit as Ed Murray resigns from office.
With the exception of Sound Transit 2, Ed Murray inherited a transit landscape in disarray. The west half of the city was stuck in traffic with no end in sight. Metro’s years of budget shell games were finally running out, and big bus service cuts threatened.
In response, the Murray administration led two successful ballot measures, and had a part in a third:
- After a county effort to raise funds for Metro failed, a 2014 city-level vehicle license fee funded bus service increases (as the originally-threatened cuts disappeared in economic growth).
- The 2015 9-year, $930m Move Seattle levy built on the McGinn-era transit master plan to fund a revision of most major corridors to better serve transit, bikes, and pedestrians, and bring RapidRide to every corner of the city.
- Although most of the praise for 2016’s Sound Transit 3 lies elsewhere, the Murray administration did produce an intriguing concept for a rail line that addressed needs in the Denny corridor instead of just rehashing the monorail. It also fought for infill stations at N. 130th St. and Graham St., and Seattle voted for the measure convincingly.
On top of these signature achievements, Murray’s SDOT, under appointee Scott Kubly, continued the shift away from prioritizing car throughput toward safety and considering needs of all modes. It also secured funding to build the Center City Connector between our two streetcar line. Thanks to dedicated right-of-way along 1st Avenue, this will be more of a low-grade light rail than a mixed-traffic streetcar.
Although Kubly was hired largely thanks to his bikeshare experience, the city’s Pronto bikeshare opened and then collapsed due to a constellation of problems. Luckily for Seattle, three private bikeshare companies soon followed with service that was in most respects vastly superior. SDOT deserves credit for creating a favorable regulatory framework for these companies.
Mayor Murray also made significant progress on land use policy during his term. He helped big developers and many low-income housing advocates reach a compromise known as HALA. Small developers, single-family homeowners, and some housing advocates were not part of the bargain, and each has tried to chip away at the package in their own way. Most notably, changes to single-family zoning to allow duplexes and triplexes vanished at the first sign of serious resistance. Seattle even moved backwards on design review requirements and strangled the apodment boom in its crib, eliminating affordable housing that only required the City to get out of the way.
But that shouldn’t obscure the large accomplishments of HALA: substantial upzones in certain neighborhoods, many of which are already law, and new money for subsidized housing. More tangibly, Seattle’s apartment production has shot up and up ($), though not nearly enough to meet demand.
When Ed Murray replaced Mike McGinn in 2014, I didn’t know what to expect. Like most legislators, his track record was largely orthogonal to big issues in city politics. Furthermore, his policy proposals were vague enough that we endorsed Mayor McGinn. The policy status quo in 2017 is far better than what a transit activist had any reason to expect in 2013, with the possible exception of bike infrastructure. While Ed Murray the person let us down, the Ed Murray administration left Seattle a much better place than they found it.