Before putting Seattle’s $930 million transportation proposal on the fall ballot, the City Council should thoroughly discuss what’s planned and how it would affect traffic congestion.
MAYOR Ed Murray’s proposed $930 million transportation levy is one for the record books — it’s nearly the combined price of Safeco and CenturyLink fields.
More remarkable than the price tag, though, is that the proposal says nothing directly about the traffic congestion that’s become a hallmark of Seattle in its Amazon.com era.
The Move Seattle proposal now before the City Council, which will decide this summer whether to put the measure on the fall ballot, doesn’t even use the word, even though congestion may be the biggest threat to the city’s future success.
Meanwhile, thousands of cars struggle daily to go to, from and across the city. People still drive cars 82 percent of the time they go anywhere in this region and 84 percent of Seattle households have at least one car at hand.
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It’s imperative that the council address this elephant in the room.
Starting with a June 2 public hearing, the council has an opportunity to elevate the discussion of Seattle’s transportation situation. Instead of waiting to haggle over projects as they start here and there, atomizing the debate, the city should discuss Move Seattle’s broad effect and policy goals.
The plan would dramatically reshape the city’s busiest roads. This may be the biggest decision made by this lame-duck council before it’s restructured into neighborhood districts.
Congestion is indirectly addressed by City Hall’s pitch for more options, better signal timing and a reliable transportation system. The council should be more direct.
The country knows Seattle is mired in traffic — it’s a regular in the top 10 list of most congested cities in America. Seattle metro-area drivers wasted 40 hours in congestion over the last year, according to INRIX data.
This is of great concern around the region, where 79 percent of voters believe road congestion is a serious or critical problem, according to a survey released in February by the Puget Sound Regional Council.
Seattle has made great strides in providing options to get around. The recent surge of housing and job growth concentrated in the city has led more people to walk, ride the bus or bike to work, which help alleviate congestion and are better for the environment.
More work to improve these options is needed. Of course, the city should also continue improving safety, especially near schools.
Mostly, Seattle needs a balanced system that meets the diverse needs of the city and the region, for which it serves as a hub of commerce, entertainment and travel.
Before punting to voters, the council should discuss how this will be achieved. It must also help voters understand what’s being built and what’s being taken away.
Move Seattle’s biggest component is seven transit corridors, including one that will convert Madison Street from four lanes of general traffic to two, with buses running down the middle. The plan also includes 50 miles of bicycle lanes, 60 miles of bicycle greenways and 1,500 bicycle parking locations.
These could reduce congestion. But there are concrete trade-offs. The council must ask hard questions, such as how many general-purpose traffic lanes and parking spaces would be eliminated? What’s the effect on car travel, which will remain an important way for people to traverse and visit Seattle?
These topics should particularly concern council progressives. Much of the burden of congestion is borne by working-class people who build and maintain the city and have no choice but to drive.
Then there’s the question of the tax burden: Seattle also pays a $60 car tab for transportation, and Sound Transit may ask for as much as $15 billion in 2016, depending on what happens in Olympia.
All of this might be approved by the city that can’t say no. But voters deserve a more thorough and candid discussion of what they’ll get for $930 million.