From speeding up Sound Transit, to dealing with major traffic disruptions coming to downtown, to sorting out how to allocate our limited road space, here’s where the major candidates to be Seattle’s next mayor stand on big transportation issues.
Why is it going to take so long to bring light rail to Ballard and West Seattle, and can we speed it up? What’s going to happen when new convention-center construction kicks buses out of the transit tunnel and — along with a half-dozen other major projects — further clogs Seattle’s already jammed downtown streets? How do we balance our limited street space when drivers, buses, bikes and pedestrians all need room?
In a city pocked with gridlock, with a transportation budget approaching $600 million in 2018, Seattle’s next mayor will have at least some input in answering all of these questions. Here’s were the leading candidates for mayor of Seattle stand on transportation issues.
Note: Nikkita Oliver’s campaign did not respond to repeated questions for this article. Her comments, where applicable, are gleaned from public statements.
Every candidate wants to get Sound Transit’s light rail lines open in Seattle sooner. Initial estimates have light rail opening to West Seattle in 2030 and to Uptown and Ballard in 2035.
Since studying routes, acquiring land and assessing impacts tends to take more time than the construction itself, candidates emphasized the need to begin outreach and planning as soon as possible.
Jenny Durkan, former US attorney: “Bring stakeholders and the public together early,” she said. Durkan said she would also look at combining the city’s project teams with Sound Transit’s in one location to speed up decision making.
Jessyn Farrell, former transit advocate and state representative: She recommended three steps: streamline permitting, pushing the Legislature to make Sound Transit eligible for state funding and improving collaboration. She cited Lynnwood Link, which took seven years of planning — a long time, but less than has been budgeted for West Seattle and Ballard.
But while advocating for state money, she’s also touted her support for a bill to fix Sound Transit’s inflated car-tab formula, a move that the agency says would cost it more than $2 billion.
Traffic Lab is a Seattle Times project that digs into the region’s thorny transportation issues, spotlights promising approaches to easing gridlock, and helps readers find the best ways to get around. It is funded with the help of community sponsors Alaska Airlines, CenturyLink, Kemper Development Co., Sabey Corp., Seattle Children’s hospital and Ste. Michelle Wine Estates. Seattle Times editors and reporters operate independently of our funders and maintain editorial control over Traffic Lab content.
Bob Hasegawa, state senator: He’s voted to support Sound Transit in the Legislature, but also supports making the agency’s board elected, rather than appointed, a move favored by transit foes that transit advocates say could lead to unorganized planning and delays.
He proposed making transit in Seattle free, which he said would move more people than ST3 at a fraction of the cost. A municipal bank — one of his core ideas — and charging impact fees on developers could help speed up projects by five years, Hasegawa said.
Mike McGinn, former mayor: To get Sound Transit to bump up Seattle’s projects as much as possible, McGinn said, Seattle could chip in more money, either by borrowing to make loans to Sound Transit or by financing some parts of the project itself.
He said that even a $1 billion loan to the agency would be doable for the city, and it should be considered, although he warned it “would be complex and potentially expensive.”
Cary Moon, urban planner: Moon would add city money or use the city’s bonding capacity to speed up construction, as well as focusing on better planning.
“There is a lot of buffer time put into the planning and design process; let’s make sure we don’t squander it spinning our wheels on debate,” she said.
Nikkita Oliver, lawyer and activist: In a recent debate she said we “can shave off two to five years” by beginning the planning process, but offered no specifics.
Bus detours, downtown projects
Traffic in downtown Seattle is going to get worse. In addition to the usual gridlocked streets and rampant development, projects that will affect traffic in the coming months and years include: a rebuild of Colman Dock, construction of the First Avenue Streetcar, demolition of the viaduct, a rebuild of Alaskan Way and a new $1.6 billion convention center.
The convention-center project will push buses out of the downtown transit tunnel in 2019. And all of this is happening before Northgate Link opens in 2021, increasing light rail access to downtown.
All candidates emphasize the need to reduce the number of people who drive alone.
Durkan: She proposes paying fares before entry for all bus routes on Third Avenue, not just the RapidRide routes, to make buses more efficient. She’d “treat Third Avenue like the transit tunnel” with fare-paid areas monitored by security.
She’d use the Husky Stadium light rail station as a transfer point for buses crossing the 520 bridge and would consider adding shuttle vans to make first- and last-mile connections with RapidRide routes and light rail.
Farrell: She would also reroute 520 buses to UW’s light rail station and increase service and push for other ways to better integrate bus lines with light rail stations.
Hasegawa: He would also allow riders to board buses by any door on Third Avenue and would add new electronic signage downtown to alert drivers to restrictions.
McGinn: He would not close the tunnel to buses until Northgate Link opens. “The convention center can wait,” he said. “We should not be making it harder for workers to get where they need to go.”
Moon: She wants more bus service, bus priority at intersections and more protected bus lanes. As the Chinatown International District becomes more of a transit hub, we must focus on protecting it as a community, she said.
Road diets and bus lanes
The Seattle Department of Transportation has done more than three dozen “road diets” over the last 40 years, reducing the number of general-purpose lanes on a roadway in an effort to reduce driving speeds and collisions. The city has increased the use of road diets in recent years.
Durkan: She did not take a position on road diets, but said she was committed to the city’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths. “Saving lives and moving traffic can be compatible,” Durkan said, citing the Rainier Avenue project.
She supports making more lanes bus-only, but declined to specify which roads until she can review the research.
Farrell: “I am generally in favor of road diets where there are real gains to be made in safety, traffic flow and other priorities.” She said road diets are a key part of the city’s Vision Zero campaign.
She is a “strong advocate” for bus-only lanes and said projects underway on Denny, Eastlake and Madison streets are good places to start.
Hasegawa: He is the lone candidate who is anti-road diet. “It takes almost an entire lifetime to get anywhere in Seattle, so I would say that they are not working,” he said.
He would add an additional bus-only lane on both Fourth and Fifth avenues and make Fifth a “two-way majority transit street,” while making Sixth two-way for cars.
McGinn: “We should prioritize the safety of people over the speed of vehicles,” McGinn said. He pointed to road diets done during his previous term as mayor and said he continues to support such projects.
He said the city needs more bus-only lanes and that the seven new RapidRide lines funded by 2015’s Move Seattle levy are a good place to look at creating more. “Without transit-only lanes, these new transit investments will get stuck in traffic,” he said.
Moon: She would continue the use of road diets on select roads with less than 20,000 cars per day and said that when done correctly they do not slow traffic flow.
She said the city should make more lanes bus-only, but did not name any specific streets that should be changed.
“Our future is buses, streetcars, Sound Transit, a complete bike network, and making sure neighborhoods are all walkable,” Moon said.
The city’s bicycle master plan has proceeded in fits and starts, with successes, dropped projects and many revisions since it was first adopted 10 years ago. There are new bike paths on Westlake Avenue, Second Avenue and Broadway, but the Burke-Gilman Trail remains unfinished and downtown has an archipelago of bike paths, not a linked network.
The city has plans to link those downtown bike paths in a “basic bike network,” with new paths proposed for Pike or Pine streets, Roy Street, Blanchard Street, King Street and Fourth Avenue, among others. That would mean the loss of parking spots, general traffic lanes or both.
Durkan: She said the downtown bike network is about safety, which “should be our highest priority.
“It doesn’t mean a protected bike lane on every street, but it does mean creating a network to connect people riding bikes,” Durkan said. “And yes, in some cases it may require removing on-street parking or possibly re-purposing a lane of traffic.”
Farrell: She said the bicycle master plan should be a priority and can be completed before the current estimate of 2021. She would increase the number of projects that are ready to be built, so if one is delayed, workers can be shifted to another.
“Vehicle capacity of the roads downtown is already stretching its limits,” Farrell said. “The more people who bike, the fewer who are adding to traffic.”
Hasegawa: He said we need to improve bicycling safety, especially on Alaskan Way, but offered no stance on building more bike paths.
“I don’t think that closing lanes for motor vehicles or getting rid of parking spots would make anyone truly safer,” he said.
McGinn: He called building a bike network a “basic safety issue,” citing a cyclist death on Second Avenue, just days before the protected bike lane there was completed.
“The cost of delaying the basic bike network will be the lives of more Seattleites,” McGinn said.
Moon: “We need a complete network of protected bike lanes,” Moon said.
Oliver: She proposed a high-school biking education program, similar to drivers education.
In South Seattle neighborhoods, Oliver said, “riding a bike is not second nature and yet we’re investing in a robust cycling infrastructure. How do we ensure that all communities that maybe haven’t had access to that culture get to learn about it?”