All of us have felt the effects of Seattle’s tremendous residential and job growth over the last 10 years. Downtown is now home to more than 313,000 jobs and 88,000 residents. This evolution has afforded us many opportunities, but it also has brought challenges, including added pressure on an already strained regional transportation system.
We know that any successful city needs a mix of transportation options serving a variety of users. We know that an increasing number of workers are having to commute into the city from further distances due to our rising housing costs. And we know that Seattle can no longer sustain the present level of vehicle traffic into and through downtown because of our growing gridlock and the realities of the global climate crisis.
In the Puget Sound, transportation is responsible for a staggering 65 percent of our carbon emissions. Making smart investments in green transportation options is one of the most effective ways to reduce our carbon footprint. It’s no surprise that the Center City Connector Streetcar project, which would connect the two ends of the city’s streetcar system, was identified as a top priority in the city’s 2013 Climate Action Plan Implementation Strategy as it is a zero-emission, electric mode that moves thousands of people per day. By the most recent estimates, the completed system would carry 20,000 people a day operating quickly, frequently and reliably to jobs, housing, shopping and cultural destinations. That’s transformative.
At Cornish College of the Arts, we decided to relocate our campus to South Lake Union more than a decade ago to offer our students all the opportunities that come with being in the center of a city like Seattle. Access to mass transit is one such opportunity, and we see the Center City Connector Streetcar as playing an essential role in connecting our community to all that Seattle has to offer. As South Lake Union has grown up around us, so must our transportation system, which is why we see a connected streetcar network through downtown as an essential investment that creates enormous potential for our students, faculty and staff, as well as Greater Seattle community members who attend artistic and cultural events presented by the college.
At the Chief Seattle Club in Pioneer Square, we see a population of people trying to access some of life’s most basic needs. We support citizens experiencing homelessness as well as mental-health and chemical-dependency challenges. The Center City Connector Streetcar was promised to service providers and small businesses within the Chinatown-International District and Pioneer Square. The CID and Pioneer Square comprise the city’s largest aging population and some of our lowest-income individuals. The streetcar offers accessible, at-grade boarding and will work with ORCA LIFT to create greater opportunity for those we serve. It is time to deliver on previous promises and guarantee an efficient, quiet and clean ride for our residents and community.
First Hill is the city’s second largest employment center, with 36,000 people going to work on First Hill every day. Additionally, the population of our neighborhood will increase by 72 percent over the next five years, and we have the lowest rate of car ownership of any neighborhood in Seattle. First Hill employees, residents and visitors depend on public transportation to get them where they need to go. Completing the streetcar network with options to connect to light rail, Sounder and ferries will support one of Seattle’s densest neighborhoods.
Seattle can’t wait any longer. This has been a priority project for the city for years. It’s time to support the communities that have been promised this solution. It’s time to support our residents and commuters who make Seattle their home. And it’s time to lead as a city committed to meaningful action on climate change, social equity and affordable transportation. We don’t have the luxury of waiting for the city to reach a literal and figurative boiling point. We must act now.