Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and a New York City transportation expert spoke to several hundred people at Town Hall on Monday night.
Young adults in Seattle need to speak out at neighborhood meetings if they want more bikeways, more plaza parks and safer walking conditions, Mayor Ed Murray told a friendly audience of 300 people Monday night.
His appearance at Town Hall, alongside former New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, offered the mayor a rare hour of safe space and approbation before his next wave of struggles over one of the nation’s tightest road grids.
Sadik-Khan was promoting her book, “Streetfight,” which explains how New York City delivered 400 miles of bicycle lanes and 70 acres of plazas from 2007 to 2013, while deflecting political backlashes. Most famously, she and Mayor Michael Bloomberg reinvigorated Times Square by blocking cars from part of Broadway to give people more space to walk and gawk.
“You’re at the forefront, now, of being able to set the table right,” Sadik-Khan said. “And I hope you guys have built in choices to accommodate the huge wave of growth that you’re seeing in Seattle and ensure it’s a place people do want to live, work and play.”
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Murray’s administration plans to add or extend bicycle lanes on Second and Fourth avenues and the north half of Fifth Avenue, among other places where he’ll have to fight for every block.
The mayor asked how many people under 35 had ever gone to a neighborhood forum, and was surprised to see about 80 hands shoot up.
“That’s actually pretty good, because that’s not the demographic that usually shows up,” Murray said. “This is where these discussions get stuck, and this is where folks need to be engaged.”
Young adults did just that at a Seattle Department of Transportation outreach meeting in November, but were not quite as firmly in Murray’s corner. Audience members told Murray’s transportation staff and consultants not to mix future Madison Street bus-rapid transit with general traffic.
Critiques of the city’s transportation efforts often fall along generational lines, Murray noted, with a majority of incoming messages berating the city’s shift from car-centered planning.
“The backlash goes something like this: ‘Mayor, you have a war on cars, you have a war on parking, and you don’t care, because you’ve lived on Capitol Hill for 32 years, and you’re changing the way things work,’” Murray said.
Murray mentioned that a century ago, the Olmsted brothers designed Seattle parks linked to bicycle corridors. “We actually had bike routes throughout the city that were torn out because of the automobile,” he said.
“A lot of folks, particularly my generation, came here in the ’70s and ’80s, and you really could park downtown,” said Murray, a 60-year-old raised in Seattle. “I would go to the YMCA to work out on weekends and I could find parking downtown, because the businesses had left, families had left, the streets were really pretty easy to get around in, and actually, your property wasn’t worth that much either.”
To be sure, grievances abound over Murray’s handling of transportation.
• The Pronto public bike-rental network has flopped so far, leading the City Council to bail it out for $1.4 million. Pronto has become a rallying cry in social-media discussions about Seattle’s failure to solve urban problems, including homelessness and property crime — the point being, how could the city spend that money on Pronto instead of on other issues?
• Traffic delays have worsened in the Seattle metropolitan area, ranking fourth in the U.S. by Tom Tom and sixth by Kirkland-based Inrix.
• Development projects, such as utility work blocking two lanes of Stewart Street this week, routinely hinder cars and buses, while high-rise towers with parking are built without a coherent strategy to manage traffic.
On the other hand, Seattle’s traffic-death rates are among the nation’s lowest, while two-thirds of downtown workers arrive by means other than driving alone. Two major light-rail stationsopened Saturday, at the University of Washington and on Capitol Hill.
Sadik-Khan’s book devotes two pages to Seattle, including this excerpt:
“Seattle Mayor Ed Murray gets this, and isn’t betting his city’s future on Bertha or the tunnel to replace the Alaskan Way Viaduct. In 2015, he campaigned for a transportation referendum that included a package of street, transit and state-of-good-repair improvements. While Vancouverites voted down a transit referendum just a few months earlier, Seattleites ultimately agreed to $930 million in property tax increases over nine years to fund new rapid-bus systems, bike lanes and radical street and sidewalk redesigns.”
She didn’t mention that Murray, as a state legislator, sponsored the 2009 bill to build a deep-bore tunnel — a project Sadik-Khan criticizes in the book. Questioned about that, she said the city will gain by removing the elevated viaduct, and that Murray’s efforts as mayor stretch far beyond the tunnel, into rethinking Seattle streets on a broad scale.
“Bertha is here and it’s bringing improvements, and I think it will be a good project when it’s done,” she said. “The premise is, you’ve got to focus on the surface network.”