Pro-transit, pro-bike, pro-density voters might be forgiven for thinking their vote and their input don’t really matter. We vote like-minded candidates into office, we pass taxes to fund forward-thinking transportation projects, and we participate in developing master plans. And then, when it’s time to actually take the road space for buses or bikes, a few neighbors complain, or sue, and SDOT chickens out. A handful of well-resourced reactionaries hold a veto on progress.
One of the more egregious instances of this was the demise of the 35th Avenue NE bike lane. Inspired by this debacle, outgoing Councilmember Mike O’Brien is trying to pass legislation this fall to give these plans force of law. Anytime SDOT spends $1m or more on a street with a bike lane in the master plan, it has to build the bike lane or write a letter to the Council explaining why they didn’t. This is pretty much what our own David Lawson proposed back in March.
Lester Black reports that Mayor Durkan, often blamed for what happened on 35th, supports the rule. So here’s hoping that there’s one less veto point for safe and rapid transportation. What Seattle needs is not more great plans, but reform of the institutions that block progress.
Mr. O’Brien and fellow outgoing Councilmember Abel Pacheco are also tackling the perverse use of the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) to attack transit, bike, and upzone proposals that would be quite good for the environment. This dovetails with E2SHB 1923, which quietly became state law last session.
The law, which your humble correspondent totally missed when it was happening, exempts a broad range of gentle zoning increases from SEPA or Growth Management Act appeals (e.g. allowing duplexes on corner lots, or increasing density to 6 units/acre anywhere and up to 50 units/acre by train stations). This aims to reduce nuisance process-oriented lawsuits by an intransigent and affluent minority.
E2SHB 1923 also curtails minimum parking requirements in some affordable housing projects (often used to deter such housing). It blocks SEPA appeals on the basis of transportation impact fees if, among other things, the city imposes parking or traffic impact fees.
Representatives Fitzgibbon (West Seattle), Macri (Capitol Hill), Appleton (Poulsbo), Doglio (Olympia), Dolan (Olympia), Santos (Rainier Valley), and Frame (Ballard/Magnolia) originally sponsored this bill, and if you live in one of their districts you owe them belated thanks. The law took effect on July 28th.
The Seattle legislation would align the city code with these changes, while also imposing time limits on SEPA appeals. With luck, there will be no more Missing Link sagas or multi-year delays to ADU legislation as the lawyers exhaust themselves.
For both of these items, it is always worth it to contact your City Council representatives (Lorena Gonzalez, Teresa Mosqueda, and whomever represents your district) to let them know that these boring procedural tweaks are very important to you.