Today, we're covering transportation funding issues in Washington state. Cathy Tuttle is the Executive Director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, a safe street advocacy organization.
How we choose to spend our money is a reflection of who we are. This is true on a personal level – do you choose to go into debt for Tesla, GM, or a bicycle – and it is true in the collective financial decisions we make as well.
While we know our personal and business decisions are in the realm of microeconomics, and macroeconomics are the coin of government, we do make collective bargains in our spending decisions that have profound and real impacts on our daily lives and futures.
Transportation takes up about 10% of Washington State’s budget, funding that includes more than 7,000 full time equivalent employees. Of those thousands of Washington State transportation employees, only one is tasked with a Safe Routes to School program intended for thousands of Washington State schools, and another staff member holds the “active transportation” walk-bike portfolio. We pay for what we value.
Another reflection of our collective values is the Washington State $16 billion transportation omnibus bill, passed by our legislators after two years of acrimonious debate in July of 2015.
Sixty percent of that bill ($9.7 billion) was earmarked for building large new local stroads and state highway megaprojects, while six percent ($1 billion) was provided for “good” road projects – updating our roads for transit – with just a little thrown in for sidewalks and biking infrastructure. An additional nine percent ($1.4 billion) was set aside for maintenance of previously built megaprojects. The best news from the bill was a provision authorizing Sound Transit 3 (ST3), which will go on the ballot this fall asking voters for more money for light rail, commuter rail, and bus rapid transit in the Seattle metropolitan area.
Washington State’s governor Jay Inslee was elected as a climate warrior (he co-authored the book Apollo’s Fire: Igniting America’s Clean Energy Economy). Inslee made a bargain with the devil in the Washington State transportation bill. Republicans in the legislature added a poison pill proviso to the bill that strips all funding from multi-modal projects in the bill if the governor moved ahead with clean fuel standards.
In July, just after Inslee signed the car-biased transportation bill into law, he directed the Department of Ecology to step up enforcement of the Clean Air Act, but was unable to fund meaningful clean fuel standard action because of the proviso in the transportation bill.
And so it goes in Washington State.
Meanwhile, in Seattle, voters passed the $930 million Move Seattle Levy in November 2015, taxing themselves to pay for the broken pieces Washington State left on the table. Close to 60 percent of the Seattle levy goes into maintenance of existing large roads and seismic bridge retrofits, about 20 percent into new sidewalks and bike infrastructure, and the rest into beefing up bus rapid transit.
And I’m not going to say anything at all about our special giant Seattle sinkhole, Bertha.
Funding for modernizing our street system for safe walking and biking has been neglected for decades. In fact, building streets as places for people has never really been more than an afterthought in our transportation priorities and funding packages.
If we are going to create the cities and regions we want, we have to spend more on updating streets for walking, biking and accessible local transit than we do on useless stroads and megaprojects. We’re not close to the level of funding needed to retrofit local streets for people with a desperate need to get safely to school, build thriving local businesses, age in place, and live healthy productive lives.
Here in the Pacific Northwest, we continue to make poor decisions as a state and to pick up the broken pieces as a city, as we all continue down the road, away from clean, connected walk-able, bike-able cities, and away from a climate neutral future.
About the Author
Cathy Tuttle is the Executive Director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. She builds relationships between city government officials, nonprofits, and Seattle Neighborhood Greenway’s extensive coalition of volunteers in order to plan, advocate, and activate a safe and comfortable street network for all. She is a thought leader in safe streets and has published papers on bicycle and pedestrian design and safety issues. Cathy has a Ph.D. in Urban Design and Planning from the University of Washington and a certificate from Portland State University in Bicycle Facilities Planning and Design. Since 2012, Cathy has served on the Seattle Mayor’s School Road Safety Task Force and Seattle Public Schools Traffic Safety Committee.