A notorious Highland Park intersection is among the projects expected to get a boost from the recent sale of city-owned property in South Lake Union. Other money from the sale will go to bike and pedestrian projects, Mayor Jenny Durkan promised Monday, but exact locations remain to be seen.
Durkan announced the spending as part of her 2020 budget proposal, which includes an annual funding of more than $700 million for the city’s transportation department.
Continuing a yearslong trend, the total Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) budget would grow in 2020, from about $634 million this year to about $726 million next year.
The department, which has about 900 employees, struggled early in Durkan’s term to deliver promised projects on budget. Durkan has largely blamed the previous administration as she “reset” plans for the city’s transportation levy and hired a new director.
Durkan has faced criticism from some pedestrian and bike advocates who say the mayor has failed to prioritize Vision Zero, the city’s pledge to end traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030. SDOT data shows that 101 people were seriously injured or killed in 98 crashes on Seattle streets in the first half of this year, the highest number of crashes in the first half of a year since 2010.
Durkan said Monday the city should “recommit to our goal of Vision Zero.”
“We’re not doing enough and the numbers are going in the wrong direction,” Durkan said.
Durkan had previously signaled that some money from recent sale of the so-called Mercer Mega Block would fund transportation projects. The new budget proposal offers few specifics.
Of $16.7 million from the sale directed to transportation projects over three years, about $10 million would go toward bike lanes and greenways already in the city’s near-term bike plan but so far only funded through design or planning.
Those projects include bike lanes on Beacon Avenue South and a key connection downtown between Virginia Street and the Elliott Bay Trail, but Durkan did not identify specific projects. Spokeswoman Chelsea Kellogg said the city will work with advocates and “advance projects as they are ready.”
About $2 million would go toward sidewalks, curb bulbs and curb ramps. An intersection long the subject of safety concerns, Highland Park Way and Southwest Holden Street, would get $3.5 million for “traffic calming, new sidewalks and curb ramps, and new transit stops,” Durkan’s office said.
SDOT has already announced some changes at the intersection. The money is likely not enough to fully fund the roundabout some in the neighborhood have called for.
David Seater, chair of the Seattle Pedestrian Advisory Board, praised the planned spending in an email Monday, but noted that, at the city’s current pace, building sidewalks on every city street would take centuries.
“A one-time investment of $16.7 million, while certainly welcome, is just a drop in the bucket compared to our needs,” Seater said. “We need a stable, ongoing source of funding if we’re going to make our streets safe and comfortable for everyone walking and rolling.”
Other money from the sale would cover a shortfall in commercial parking tax revenue and repayment of loans for city streetcars.
The proposed SDOT budget includes other cost increases like employee wages and curb ramp installation as required by the settlement in federal class action lawsuit.
Durkan proposes spending about $2.6 million from local voter-approved sales tax and car tabs on 25,000 transit bus service hours from King County Metro and $5 million to build things like bus-stop benches and transit-only lanes, including on Rainier Avenue.
Metro in recent years hasn’t been able to add bus service as fast as the ridership wants. Seattle last year agreed to buy 100,000 service hours over two years and 75,000 were added last year, said Metro spokeswoman Torie Rynning.
Which routes will get the new hours remains an “evolving conversation,” Rynning said.
The City Council will take up Durkan’s proposals in the coming weeks.