November 12, 2011 – Seattle’s Integrated Transit Systems: You can’t get there from here

Getting around Seattle once was relatively easy. The old joke was “it’s only 20 minutes” to get from any point in Seattle to another by car. But as Seattle grows (we are told that our population will increase 50% over the next 40 years) and we are faced with challenges such as peak oil and climate change, there are few who deny that our auto-centric way of life needs to change.

With the emergence of sustainable community groups throughout the city, and a growing suite of pedestrian and transit advocacy non-profits, coupled with a long-standing neighborhood interest in making our communities safer and easier to get around in, it seems that Seattle may be poised to make marked transit infrastructure improvements.

But getting to an integrated transportation network is a daunting challenge. Our intrepid bicyclist mayor wants to put bike greenways and streetcars everywhere while at the same time our roadway infrastructure is crumbling and we still have those 1,200 city blocks without sidewalks. With a budget crisis here in the City (projections are now for a $50M shortfall in the general fund next year), the State, and nationally, where will the money come from to transform our city and region to the multi-modal oasis that we all desire and need?

The City now sports a Pedestrian Master Plan, a Bicycle Master Plan, and in process of updating our Transit Master Plan. And there is, somewhere, an Urban Village Transportation Network plan. Yet none of these plans contemplate each other. We have at least three transportation networks and agencies between Sound Transit, Metro and our own fledgling street car lines. And we have competing modes of transit – from walking to bicycling to personal automobile to public transit and commercial transport – competing to the point of road rage and fatal encounters, and leaving us with some of the worst commute conditions in the country.

The Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) was created in September 2010. It is comprised of all property parcels within the boundaries of the City, and the Seattle City Council is the governing board. In September 2010, the TBD board voted to impose the maximum vehicle tab fee ($20) that it was entitled to without a public vote, under the law. Further, the STBD’s Proposition 1 would have funded facilities and services arguably to benefit the City of Seattle (including street repairs, transit infrastructure improvements to increase bus speed, reliability, and access, and pedestrian, bicycle and freight mobility programs) through an additional $60 increase in the Vehicle License Fee for ten years, generating another $20.4 million annually. Yet this measure was just soundly turned down by the voters this week.

Can Seattle achieve an integrated transit network? Or will the supposed “war on cars” end up badly for everyone.

Our speaker today is Craig Benjamin, Communications Director for the Environmental Priorities Coalition, the Policy and Government Affairs Manager for the Cascade Bicycle Club, and the Conservation Program Manager for the Seattle Chapter of Sierra Club. Craig has been tirelessly working to help Seattle get to a brighter transit future, and someone who has keen insight into the challenges and opportunities that await us on the way.

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