Mayor Durkan announced her 2021 budget proposal on Tuesday, with cuts in many departments due to COVID-19 and, in the case of Seattle PD, a push from the council and the community to redirect spending elsewhere.

One of those elsewheres will be SDOT, which is inheriting SPD’s parking enforcement division along with its ~$15m annual budget. But even with parking enforcement moved over to the SDOT ledger, the department would still have an $85m funding gap on a $608m budget. Director Zimbabwe will present the new budget to council later today.

The Center City Connector is still on pause, but the Northgate pedestrian bridge over I-5 is still funded. Also new is a $100M bond(!) to help with West Seattle Bridge repairs. Madison BRT is also full steam ahead, having received a green light from the FTA’s project management oversight consultant as well as $35.8M in funds from Sound Transit (part of ST3).

What was once a bold vision for 7 multimodal corridors has unfortunately been pared back significantly. As Dan wrote last week, Metro’s deteriorating finances mean that the only in-city RapidRide routes currently funded are the G line (Madison), the H (Delridge) and the J (which we used to call Roosevelt-Eastlake but now won’t even reach Roosevelt).

Here’s the Mayor’s full SDOT budget proposal for 2021. This is a proposal to council and they will surely have plenty to say about it. SCC Insight produced a chart showing revenues by department. Note that SDOT takes one of the largest cuts of any department shown. That could change, however, if the STBD renewal passes next month.

Moving parking enforcement out of SPD is overdue. Read this great article on Seattle Bike Blog or listen to this 99% Invisible episode on police and traffic enforcement if you want to learn more about the ill effects of police and traffic enforcement. The agencies ought to move all right-of-way enforcement issues over to SDOT. Not only does it reduce the chance of unnecessary armed interactions with police, but it better aligns incentives. Enforcing bus-only lanes, for example, is SPD’s responsibility but it never seems to rank very high on their priority list.

60 Replies to “SDOT takes a hit in Mayor’s budget proposal”

  1. Regardless of which government agency enforces traffic regulations, I am not convinced that traffic stops won’t be discriminatory. Discrimination doesn’t magically disappear because the uniform changes. I think the broad desire in Seattle is for less law-enforcement activity, not different law-enforcement activity. SDOT traffic enforcement would be very expensive (salaries, benefits, vehicles, overhead, etc.) and when trading off with other priorities, I can’t imagine how it would make sense to operate.

    Just last month a driver violently threatened me while I crossed the street in a crosswalk while he wanted to turn. He actually stopped his truck to continue yelling and threatening. I would’ve called 911 in years past but I now understand the severe danger in that, so I kept going and fortunately he didn’t continue after me.

    As an old professor of mine said, in most conflicts people just “lump it” and carry on. We’d do well to live by that more rather than creating new mechanisms for enforcement.

    1. I’m curious, [Another Alex]. Would you have been in any danger if you’d left the scene a safe distance, and then phoned the police with his description and his license number? Fair chance they might have already been on the lookout for him, for similar behavior and worse.

      Mark Dublin

    2. Without parking enforcement, people will just park anywhere and get away with it. The result is chaos.

      Making traffic enforcement fair is harder, but simply giving up is not an option. Speeding is dangerous. Running red lights is dangerous. And, without enforcement, people will do both much more rampantly and blatently.

      The key is that the police needs to go after people that are actually posing a danger to others, not abuse their position to cite people for the kinds of tickitac violations that people do all the time (e.g. drive 63 mph on the freeway instead of 60).

      In some case, the laws should be changed to legalize behavior that no reasonable police officer should be writing a ticket for. For example, walking across a street on a red light should not be ticketable when there are clearly no cars around.

    3. The biggest impact that I’ve seen to Move Seattle in SE Seattle has been a huge increase in sidewalk improvements, better crosswalks and PBL lanes. Many of the street projects like bridge replacements and over crossings also benefit bicyclists. We’ve had a wonderful major increase in bus frequencies (now in jeopardy).

      I don’t see how the SBB poster can legitimize their whining that it’s been mainly focused on autos. It seems to me that it’s been just the opposite.

      If there is a finger to point about Move Seattle, it’s the terrible underbudgeting of projects in the first place. That mistake has zapped projects that benefit bicyclists as well as everyone else. The mistakes have been noted so many times that to ignore them is unreasonable.

      1. If you compare by dollars, rather than number of projects, it is auto-centric. The Lander St. Overpass, alone, is on the order of magnitude of all the bike/ped projects across the entire city.

        The bus frequency improvements is not from Move Seattle, but a separate budget. Move Seattle funds things like queue jumps and trolley wire, not actual service hours.

        Still, on balance, Move Seattle was definitely worth it.

      2. The Lander project only got about $20M from Move Seattle. That’s about 2-3 percent of the total levy. It includes benefits to all modes.

        The Fairview Ave bridge replacement got $2 from Move Seattle. Much of the replacement design is to add a bicycle track. That’s less than 3 percent of Move Seattle.

        Opining that Move Seattle is for autos is false. Can you prove me wrong?

    4. Regardless of which government agency enforces traffic regulations, I am not convinced that traffic stops won’t be discriminatory.

      Maybe, but the point is it wouldn’t be violent. It is all too common for a traffic stop to become violent because a cop becomes paranoid. This doesn’t happen with parking (which makes this move ironic — it really doesn’t help the problem). Not only are parking tickets color-blind, but meter-maids (or whatever they call them now) aren’t armed.

      1. “…which makes this move ironic…”

        That wasn’t my take on this at all. I guess I have a much more cynical viewpoint as I don’t think that the goal here was anything more than a budget shift. In other words, it’s just low-hanging fruit that the mayor’s office can easily pluck and then add to their “we’ve cut the SPD budget x%” argument. With that said, I do think the move is a reasonable realignment.

        Additionally, folks need to be careful about keeping the distinction between parking and traffic enforcement, i.e., the terms are not interchangeable in these types of discussions.

      2. I think we are on the same page. “Ironic” isn’t the best term. It is pointlessly symbolic. As you wrote, it shifts responsibilities from the police to SDOT. But this particular part of the police wasn’t the problem. They weren’t armed. They weren’t hassling minorities. They were just doing the same type of thing the new group of people will do (and for all I know, it will be the exact same people).

        It would be different if SDOT was responsible for traffic stops, and the city police weren’t allowed to do that. As you wrote, there is a big difference between traffic enforcement and parking enforcement.

    5. “I think the broad desire in Seattle is for less law-enforcement activity” raises two questions for me:

      1. Could Seattle have less law-enforcement activity?

      2. Isn’t it Seattle’s perceived lack of law enforcement activity that is killing general tax revenue?

      1. There are two contradictory public demands, and both were on display during CHOP. One is for less law enforcement and the other is for more law enforcement. The less law enforcement side has the leftists and presses hot social-issue buttons, and was unusually successful in electing sympathetic councilmembers this round, so it gets the media attention. The more law enforcement side is the Capitol Hill businesses who thought there shouldn’t have been a police-free zone and that their businesses’ safety was neglected.

        What’s killing tax revenue is the pandemic.

      2. Isn’t it Seattle’s perceived lack of law enforcement activity that is killing general tax revenue?”

        Um, “No”. It’s the Covid-19 shutdown, social distancing and work from home. You’ve said so yourself when it was convenient to your jihad against transit.

  2. [ot]

    2. Working bus drivers can confirm or refute (really am trying to find you some writers, Martin) my own lane-usage experience that the most effective bus-lane enforcement is the constant presence of authoritatively-moving buses. A platoon “means business” where plain old buses don’t.

    And turning cars shouldn’t “share” a bus lane at all, but if a turn is allowed, which should be seldom, they’re the vehicles held behind a red light ’til the platoon’s last coach goes through. Where needed, bicycles should get attractively styled bridges.


    4. And finally, for both serving and providing quality employment, the Central City Connector will be an excellent “key” element in Downtown Seattle’s inevitable Recovery.

    Whose chief motivators will be the people and interests now served by the F.irst H.ill S.treetcar and the S.outh L.ake U.nion…well no matter what your mom called her, Dolly P., she really IS pretty! Could also be the world’s longest streetcar line that is also a business district and much more.

    And can easily share a substation with what the Waterfront’s been missing since 2005, whether it’s got one or two wires overhead, and the wheels have tracks or tire-treads.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The pandemic is killing revenue. True. The bigger question is what will revenue look like after Covid-19, both in the near five year term and long term, and where will that revenue be concentrated? IMO law enforcement will have a big impact on that allocation of tax revenue. Seattle’s shops are not boarded up because of Covid-19, and no stores in Bellevue are boarded up. That is a bad sign. It can takes weeks to board up stores, and years to unboard them.

      Many programs including transit are predicated on large future increases in revenue. Even if revenue remained at 2019 levels for the next five years (despite the large budget hole left by Covid-19) deep cuts across the board would be needed.

      The legislature is going to have to revisit the gas tax based on hybrids, electric cars, increased gas mileage and working from home. That is true too. My guess is a hybrid gas tax (any carbon tax is a good idea although it should apply to all carbon including government carbon and transit) and a tax per miles driven, which has some issues with privacy but is the fairest. (Except no one complains when writing off work travel as a tax deduction).

      The general rule of thumb is the larger the radius from Seattle you go the more likely a referendum to repeal any tax increase will pass. If the tax is designed to support capital infrastructure projects that could have some support region wide, although it is not very sexy, but it would have to exclude anything to do with transit or ST because ST is toxic, and the state just passed an initiative to roll back car tabs to $30 because of ST’s fraudulent valuations for used cars. The idea to load up a gas tax increase with pet projects for each region sounds too much like ST 3 to me, and I don’t think voters will take that hook again, even if it excludes transit and ST.

      I am not sure how much gas is purchased in Seattle, and if equitably apportioned how much of a state or region wide gas tax increase would flow to Seattle. This could end up like ST subarea equity in which the eastside realizes all the tax revenue but has the least need for it.

      I doubt a small gas tax increase would make much of a dent in Seattle’s infrastructure needs, even if transit were not included. I think a bond or levy is the only solution, and I have my doubts Seattle citizens will vote yes on a levy for basic infrastructure that is not loaded up with a ton of progressive ideology even though roads and bridges are fundamental. A levy for a streetcar or bike lane would pass, but not to replace the Ballard Bridge. That means even a $1 billion levy like the last levy will at most realize around $650 million in funding after under estimating project pricing, and much will be wasted on cost overruns and non-essential projects.

      The bike groups think the solution is to ride a bike. That may be the only option fiscally the way things are going.

      1. the state just passed an initiative to roll back car tabs to $30 because of ST’s fraudulent valuations for used cars

        Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire! “The state”, by which it’s clear you mean the loser part of Washington outside the Sound Transit Service Area, voted its mean-spirited, envious rage against the winners in and around Puget Sound. The initiative failed within the Sound Transit Tax District.

    2. Seattle’s shops are not boarded up because of Covid-19

      Yes they are. Here is a typical story: Notice the date: April 8, 2020. The Black Lives Matter protests started after the death of George Floyd. He died on May 25, 2020.

      All of this information is easily available on the internet. If you are confused, you can always ask questions, like you did up above (answering those was easy).

    3. Many downtown and SLU businesses are based on lunch and early-evening demand by office workers whose offices are closed. The immediate adjacent residential area is only two miles large because of Lake Washington and the Ship Canal, and south and southeast a large percent of people are too low-income to frequent downtown boutiques. In Bellevue the entire Eastside residential area is immediately around it and most people have money to shop in downtown Bellevue if they want. Add to that the existing chronic problem of sketchy people downtown.

      The result is, some businesses are boarded up because they’re not allowed to open until the virus numbers come down. Others are boarded up because the downtown workers they depend on are teleworking until the virus numbers go down. Others are boarded up but open because of the unrest this summer and the off-chance it may repeat, because while it costs a modest amount of money to board them up, it costs more to take down the boards and put them up again, and there might not be enough notice before a future riot to put them up in time for it.

  3. If SDOT were a person, and his wealth decreased from $808 million dollars to $747 million dollars, we’d say he still has more than enough.

    1. And if this was still 2008 and SDOT was a criminally culpable housing lender (Washington Mutual DID have a commercial with a lending officer yelling “Woo HOOOOW!” as he gleefully signed off on another Liar Loan….

      Would SDOT have been “Made Whole” by having the country’s whole banking system returned to his control, so Sam Zimbabwe could issue threat after threat to the now lifelong Renters who before their bedrooms became streets and buses used to own, uh, HOMES?

      If you’re talkin’ Socialism, hordes of pin-striped bankers ought to be Taking the same Knee as football players as the Hammer and Sickle waves proudly over the ballpark, and everybody sings The Internationale.

      “Arise ye Causers of Starvation,
      And be Glad You’re Not The Ones In Jail!”

      Mark Dublin

    2. But SDOT is not a person. That $747 million is the bulk of a central city’s transportation infrastructure. If a millionaire can’t buy a fourth house or yacht, it affects mainly himself and is non-essential. But roads and bike lanes and ped bridges and sidewalks cost millions of dollars each, so if we want to have any of them we have to raise several million dollars. And their benefit is not just a vacation stroll but it affects people’s ability to get to work and shopping and medical appointments — all of these necessary to residents’ well-being and the reason cities levy taxes.

    3. And if the federal government was a person, they would be arrested for murder. I’m not sure what your point is.

      1. And given the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act and our Federal Government’s armed support for every torturing tyranny from Guatemala and the Shah of Iran in 1954 to a certain former (though probably lifetime- Honorary) KGB chief….

        Treason too.

        Mark Dublin

      2. Bernie Sanders wanted to tax wealth over $500 million at 4%. That’s 4% per year. It’s estimated Bezos would have had to pay $9 billion per year. So, I’m trying to figure out, if a 4% loss every year is nothing, why is a 7% loss over 4 years devastating?

        Sam. Advocate for multi-billionaires.

  4. The Northgate ped bridge is under construction. The middle part west of I-5 with the stanchions and roadbed is visible from the 41.

    1. Yeah, I was going to mention that. The pedestrian bridge is half-way finished — too late to cut funding. (Although I guess we could have a “pedestrian bridge to nowhere”).

  5. The long term answer for Seattle transportation funding is likely a combination of gas taxes and tolling, along with a bit of state and federal funding. The state would have to give us the authority to propose a local gas tax. The money could go to both repairs and transit*. It would make sense to keep it relatively low (under a nickel) otherwise people will drive outside the city. Another alternative is a county tax (or both).

    The state should also pass another gas tax, with more of the money going towards maintenance. It would be crazy for Seattle to have to pay the whole cost of fixing the Ballard Bridge, while the state pays for dubious projects like 167/509 Gateway Project ( Way more people use the West Seattle bridge than a lot of state highways. The bridge should be tolled, but the gas taxes should help with the costs (similar to the SR 99 tunnel, which Seattle voters didn’t want).

    * It turns out that gas tax money could be used for anything.

    1. Wow! Next “click” will send those red Swiss trains to Beth Doglio, who’s not only my State representative, but also Bernie Sanders’ choice for Congress.

      Not only will Stevens Pass get the REAL Red Line, including coaches with not only generous social distance but fireplaces. But those former schoolrooms at Everett Station should start Transit-Tech classes soon as COVID permits!

      Knew there was a reason why the amendment’s called “18th.” It’s the minimum age you can vote pro-transit from your desk right under The Dome!


      Mark Dublin

    2. Thanks for posting that link again. I’ve cited that case once or twice before myself on this blog to attempt to correct the general misunderstanding many here have in regard to the use of gas tax funds. So it’s a good refresher for that purpose.

      1. I was corrected not too long ago. Having grown up with the restriction (that was always irritating) I must have just missed the court case where everything changed.

      2. So we can spend gas tax money on light rail and commuter rail and Amtrak Cascades and BRT lines? And this was known for eight years? It certainly wasn’t known on STB. There have been numerous articles in between about how transit is stunted because of the 18th Amendment and drivers are privileged over everything else because their money is dedicated to their sector while other things have to share the general-fund sales tax. The comments range from “Yep, it’s unconstitutional” to “That interpretation might not be solid but there’s been no court case to test it.”

      3. “It certainly wasn’t known on STB.”

        Well, I tried to do my small part to fix this earlier this year. (I think this was the second time I posted a comment on the subject matter actually.)…..

        I don’t think I read this blog back in 2012 and even after I did start reading it daily I didn’t start commenting until a few years ago. I think the ST3 package pushed me over the edge. Lol.

      4. So we can spend gas tax money on light rail and commuter rail and Amtrak Cascades and BRT lines? And this was known for eight years?

        Yeah, pretty much. The main thing is, you have to describe what you are spending it on. So you could have a gas tax levy to pay for community centers, as long as you specify that it goes to community centers.

        It certainly wasn’t known on STB.

        Well it certainly wasn’t known by me :)

        I would say, though, that the people who regularly write for the blog knew this, but didn’t consider important, because money could always be shifted around ( But yes, there is nothing stopping the state from passing a gas tax as a way to pay for transit, general education, or anything else it wants to spend money on. Nothing, of course, but the political demands of a legislature that represents areas that don’t want to spend money that way.

    3. The reliance of anything on gasoline taxes is in jeopardy. Hybrids have slashed gasoline consumption and all-electric vehicles are pretty much going to wipe out its use as a major revenue source. I’m sure gasoline will still be around, but it’s a terrible revenue source to use going forward, particularly after 2025.

      1. No, it is the best revenue source. You simply need to increase the amount of tax. Our gas taxes are some of the lowest in the developed world. If at some point it doesn’t raise any money, it means that we aren’t consuming gasoline, which is a good thing. If we get to that point and have to find a different source of funding, so be it.

  6. A 3 county gas tax would avoid most ‘drive to avoid the tax’ issues (aside from Gig harbor). Given that’s also roughly the footprint of our wealthiest and fastest growing region, that’s where I would start if I was looking to levy a gas tax.

    The counties have plenty of bridges themselves that also need replacement. At worse, just throw more money at HOV projects if there’s a desire to ‘balance’ out Seattle’s needs. The 85th interchange rebuild in Kirkland makes more sense as a gas tax project than an ST project.

    1. What are the chances that Pierce County will agree to a unified gas tax?

      For that matter, what are the chances that even Snohomish county will agree to a unified gas tax?

      … For that matter, what are the chances that either of them will institute a separate gas tax at all, even if at a different rate from King?

      1. Also, they would first need to get the authority from the legislature which itself would be a tough row to hoe, imho.

      2. I think the Waleg would grant it if eastern Washington realized they were at risk of not have the votes to stop a statewide tax increase.

        Snohomish has major needs like the replacement of the US 2 viaduct that will be easy for the regional leaders to really around. I’m not sure if Pierce has a similar headline project to grab voter’s attention, but the need for road/bridge repair/replacement is basically limitless. You can throw in Thurston if there is a desire to fund the widening of I5 through JBLM to create 3+2 HOT as planned. Once there is a will to raise taxes, stitching together a package of projects to feed all the mouths should be straightforward.

  7. Well, if the above link on the Supreme Court is true, wouldn’t the most important consideration be whichever source can create the better experience for transit passengers?

    Mark Dublin

    1. If Seattle’s revenue is down sharply, and the mayor feels she has to divert money to BLM or other needs, isn’t it axiomatic all departments will take a hit in spending? To be honest, I think the mayor’s two year budget makes some very rosy revenue recovery assumptions. Plus where is the spending for Seattle’s bridges that are in immediate crisis according to the recent report? A $100 million bond to repair the W. Seattle Bridge is concerning because it tells me the mayor is not expecting a lot of regional help repairing the bridge. Seattle is on its own.

      Not surprisingly every special interest in Seattle, including this blog, will advocate for more taxes, hopefully for their pet projects. The reality is Seattle was very poorly prepared for this economic downturn, and has badly spent its transportation infrastructure funds over the last decade. Yes, the funding need today is acute, but that is why addressing infrastructure during good economic times is good policy.

      Yesterday I posted that my guess is Seattle overall will have to deal with a 25% reduction in revenue over the next five years (and the proposed SDOT budget plus the $100 million bond is close to a 25% reduction), although the state and neighboring cities are estimating 15%, the main difference being Seattle tourism revenue and the number of commuters who worked in Seattle Pre-Covid who may work from home, which impacts commercial development. Unfortunately Seattle has a very bad council for this kind of nuts and bolts budgeting, as they have never known a fiscal downturn.

      Quite honestly I don’t think any budget item region wide has been more extravagant than transit over the last 20 years, including ST 3, even at the expense of the roads and bridges transit rides over. I doubt most citizens region wide will weep at the idea of reductions in expenditures for transit as most don’t see transit as moral, or even a public good.

      A Seattle gas tax wouldn’t work because everyone would get their gas outside Seattle (like the ammunition tax), and probably is illegal, so Seattle would realize even less gas tax revenue as stations closed. It is also regressive, and poor policy in the middle of a recession. Another levy for transportation after the last $1 billion levy was mostly wasted will run up against a dozen other special interests wanting their budgets restored, and so any levy measure would be extravagant.

      This is a time for priorities, especially for transit. I think this process will be salutary for most governments and their expenditures, although painful. It isn’t a time for ideology. The experts on this blog need to really concentrate on what is critical for Seattle transit, and what 25% can be cut, especially with the Seattle ST subarea limited in funds, but the costs to build a line to Snohomish County so expensive.

      What I would like to see on this blog is an article asking for suggestions for cuts, to routes, frequency and mode (train vs. bus), and fare increases. It is time to get real. Transit is a public good, with different benefits for different areas. On the eastside where the primary benefit is commuting to avoid congestion cuts are easier, and may occur anyway if working from home becomes permanent. In Seattle where a primary need is mobility for those who don’t own a car cuts are tougher, and their needs must take priority over grand visions.

      1. You can write such an article on Page 2 if you don’t think the staff are giving it enough attention. That 25% figure seems to be made up by you; I haven’t seen it elsewhere. We’ve been through this before in 2014: Metro proposed a 20% cut in four phases over two years. Yes. Really. Indeed. Fer sure. Uh huh. Affirmative. The first phase went through; the other phases were canceled as the economy recovered. The worst-performing routes that had hung on for thirty years were deleted in 2014, so the remaining routes are higher-performing than that. `Metro and ST know how much they have to cut when, so when they propose something concrete, we can debate it then.

        Drawing up a 25% cut scenario before the fact would have some benefit and give some ideas to Metro, but it reminds me of something negative, I can’t remember what. It would draw us into a useless fight over which neighborhoods to sacrifice. And transit haters would look at the list and say, “See, you don’t need these, so let’s delete them anyway.” There aren’t large areas of unnecessary service; instead there are underserved areas. Metro has already suspended the least cost-effective routes: many peak expresses and some like the 47 and the 78 was deleted last month.The 47 and 71 won’t be coming back until revenue improves, which is the same thing as saying we don’t need to imagine a cut scenario for them. In the 2014 cuts Arbor Heights lost transit service, and in a later phase there was only going to be one or two routes to downtown so route 21 riders from low-income High Point would have to transfer. (The first article contradicts this but I remember hearing these discussions and seeing such a savage map. I don’t remember all the details or timing but the impression of the kind of network remains.) So if we have a 20% cut now, it would be similar to that.

    2. and the mayor feels she has to divert money to BLM or other needs

      Wait, what? That sentence makes no sense. Black Lives Matter is a movement, not a branch of city government. Even if you are referring to the political action committee part of BLM, they don’t receive any funding from the city. Do you even understand what Black Lives Matter is? Just luck it up in Wikipedia, Danny.

      A $100 million bond to repair the W. Seattle Bridge is concerning because it tells me the mayor is not expecting a lot of regional help repairing the bridge. Seattle is on its own.

      Nonsense. It is a just an immediate measure to address an immediate problem. It doesn’t imply anything in terms of state or federal funding.

      The reality is Seattle was very poorly prepared for this economic downturn, and has badly spent its transportation infrastructure funds over the last decade.

      Citation please! You keep spouting out total bullshit, and I’m getting a little tired of correcting things that can be clearly shown as false with just the tiniest bit of research or reasoning. How about you do a little research to back up your audacious claims for once.

      Look, I hate to break it you, but Seattle isn’t dying. It is in better shape than most of the country. Seattle has a robust economy that is far more resilient than most. Those boarded up shops and empty skyscrapers in Seattle are still worth a fortune, simply because they won’t be boarded up forever.

  8. At some point SDOT needs to look at its organizational structure. The agency is horrifically bloated and many SDOT divisions have teams that overlap one another with little collaboration between the divisions. For example, elements of the Street Use Division could be rolled into the Transportation Management Division.

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