by JOSHUA NEWMAN, Candidate for Seattle City Council District 4
Once upon a time, it was easy to get around Seattle. Hop in the car and in 15 minutes, you were downtown; and outside of downtown, parking was easy. At least, that’s how many long-time residents remember Seattle. Congestion was infrequent and parking was plentiful.
So today’s congestion feel like dramatic change; a rupture from the Seattle people fell in love with. But people all over the world want a safe, prosperous place to live, and Seattle has offered that. After 40 years of stable population size, Seattle has grown 30%, by 167,000 people, since 2000. We all need to move around the city, and because every level of government has subsidized car use, most people assume they will get around by car.
This assumption carries heavy costs. In 2000, the annual cost to own a car was $7,160 (2018 dollars). It’s now $8,175. A community designed around cars is a community that chains its residents to a large financial liability. This burden falls most heavily on working families, who are forced into long commutes. Meanwhile, our businesses struggle to move freight, transit riders wait for car-clogged intersections, and potential bike riders stay away in fear.
The more expensive burden – which bears repeating – is to our climate. The human species has never, in our entire existence, lived on Earth when the atmospheric carbon content was as high as it is now: 415 ppm. Seattle’s own carbon emissions continue growing, and we won’t stop that with our current incremental approach.
STB readers know it doesn’t have to be this way. We can simultaneously unlock congestion, improve equity, and address climate change locally by making it easy to get around Seattle without a car.
My District 4 neighbors have repeatedly told me that we can’t get rid of cars because we lack robust public transportation. That’s debatable, but they have a point. I love Link Light Rail but ST3 (and soon, ST4) are practically the distant future. Metro and Seattle voters have made enormous strides in the last decade, but our total carbon emissions continue growing.
The fact is, our car-centric transportation system is killing us, and I’m running for City Council to stop it. I started my political activism with WashPIRG, volunteered for Mike McGinn’s campaigns, fought against the head-in-the-sand Deep Bore Tunnel, and am a past president of Seattle Subway. We are out of time for incremental approaches; now is the time for brave action.
The Mayor, City Council, and transportation advocates must establish and fund a legally binding 4-year plan to reprioritize our streets for car-free alternatives. Success must be measured by the number of people and amount of freight the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) is able to move, not the number of vehicles. There will be plenty of room for cars, but they should not be our priority.
Central to that plan, is the removal of nearly all arterial street parking. From downtown, to our commercial districts, and the neighborhoods in between. Our streets are public right-of-way, and with an ever-growing population, we need that space for moving, not storing private property. With fewer cars blocking the road, we’ll have more space for people and commerce.
How we utilize that reclaimed street space is key. The MASS Coalition has identified twenty bus priority projects throughout Seattle. Those projects are the tip of the iceberg. Buses and street paint are inexpensive and quick to deploy, and we should create bus-only lanes on every neighborhood arterial from 35th Ave NE to 35th Ave SW. Partnering with the business community, we may develop solutions that allow freight traffic to use some of these lanes, though, not for delivery stops of course.
Protected bikes lanes are the other, natural method to repurpose on-street arterial parking. For short trips, a quick bike ride is often the fastest option. Study after study has shown that replacing on-street parking with bike lanes improves or does no harm to local businesses. In a dense city, it’s easier to park a bike or step off a bus, than find and pay for car parking.
Finally, a very low, flat rate of $1 for King County Metro will ease the burden on hard-working people and help make public transportation “worth it” for those who might otherwise drive. Free transit is a popular, socially compassionate idea, but over time, humans lose respect for and abuse “free” resources, such as community pastures or roads. A $1 fare combats that tendency, simplifies management, and enables Metro to collect vital usage data.
To make this happen, city leadership must listen to the voters demanding action on climate change. We cannot blame Trump and the GOP for failing to act nationally, if we cannot be brave enough to act locally. We must respectfully tune out the loudest voices holding onto their aging, car-dominated assumptions. Seattle needs to elect a strong, transit-focused City Council that thinks outside the car.
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