Councilmember Tammy Morales represents only one-seventh of Seattle’s population, but half the city’s deadly traffic wrecks happen in her South End District 2.
That epidemic has steered her to seek slower traffic speeds, better bike lanes and more school zone enforcement cameras in the current 2023-24 budget cycle.
Morales proposes a $3.6 million boost for traffic calming citywide, with the understanding her district could likely show the highest need for improvements. An additional $1 million would go toward school zone safety, plus $2.7 million to install automated speed-enforcement cameras outside 35 more schools, doubling the current coverage.
Specifically for South Seattle, she’ll file a $1 million proviso she said would upgrade 4½ miles of bike lanes from plastic flex posts to concrete barriers — a slightly taller version of what the city installed this month at North Green Lake.
“South Seattle can’t wait to have our projects in the safety program,” Morales said. “In this budget, we see investments made in downtown and North Seattle, but we’re still not seeing investments in the area of the city most plagued by traffic deaths.”
Seven years ago, then-Mayor Ed Murray signed a worldwide pledge called Vision Zero to eliminate fatal and serious-injury crashes by 2030. Trends both in the city and statewide are moving the wrong way, with 30 traffic deaths in Seattle last year and 643 lives lost statewide.
To add safety funding is no easy matter because of the city’s projected $141 million shortfall next year as Seattle’s lucrative real estate excise tax cools down.
Citywide Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda, who chairs the budget committee, is focused on human services. She notes members have only a couple of more weeks to sort through 100 amendments they’ve offered to Mayor Bruce Harrell’s $7.4 billion 2023-24 budget proposal.
Morales said it wasn’t her plan to champion safe streets when she won her council race in 2019. But nowadays it’s a mission.
Just in the past month, people walking were killed by vehicles along Rainier Avenue South and East Marginal Way South within her district. Earlier this year, two car crashes killed people bicycling in Sodo, part of District 2.
“All those people died on streets designed by the city, over the last five decades. That’s a policy choice, and we can make a different choice,” Morales said in a budget hearing.
District 2 is distinctive in two ways. More than two-thirds of residents are of Asian, Black or Latino descent. And it’s laced with multi-lane former state highways through active neighborhoods — Martin Luther King Jr. Way South and Rainier Avenue South — where motorists flout the city’s attempted 25 mph speed limit.
Morales said Wednesday night in a tweet to new Seattle Department of Transportation director Greg Spotts: “I’ve spent 3 years sounding the alarm about the need to invest *equitably* in our infrastructure to #RepairTheHarm done to Black & brown communities. Yet, our budget still reflects different priorities. I’m fed up with our communities being told to wait.”
Her proposal for traffic calming is meant to increase safety in neighborhoods lacking sidewalks, especially in the south and far north ends. “We will never be able to afford a sidewalk in every street in Seattle,” she said. Projects typically include speed humps, narrower lanes, signs and landscaped barriers.
In a hearing, Morales recommended dedicating red-light traffic camera money to transportation safety instead of the general fund.
Councilmembers Alex Pedersen of northeast Seattle, Andrew Lewis from downtown and Magnolia, and Lisa Herbold of West Seattle and South Park added their names as co-sponsors, despite the pressure to sustain general fund money for social services and public safety.
Morales’ bike lane proviso could apply to South Columbian Way, the Jose Rizal Bridge to Beacon Hill, South Myrtle Street near Othello Station, Wilson Avenue South near Seward Park and South Dearborn Street, her staff said. Morales anticipates plastic flex-posts and paint will be replaced by knee high “Toronto barriers” of concrete that can repel cars.
Expanded school zone cameras would rake in more dollars than the cost to install and operate them. Ticket revenues would total $31.5 million to $36.5 million between 2022 and 2028, depending on the number of cameras. Fines are $237 for exceeding 20 mph when yellow lights flash.
Councilmembers say they’ve heard public worries about widening surveillance, or that camera placements might target drivers in certain neighborhoods. Pedersen is the prime sponsor and calls more cameras an effective tool.
“It protects vulnerable young people trying to walk safely to and from school. It removes the need for police response in the field, and it ultimately generates net revenues which would be added to more Vision Zero program,” he said in a hearing.
Council members proposed 19 transportation amendments, to include a $10 boost in car-tab fees.
- Bridge maintenance increase citywide, $19.4 million total over two years;
- A $15 million allocation to rebuild Fauntleroy Way Southwest near Alaska Junction, which was supposed to be the first project funded by the Move Seattle Levy voters passed in 2015;
- A $1.5 million fund for walk-bike improvements to the Interstate 5 overpass in the University District;
- A $2.5 million boost to fully fund the rebuild of Thomas Street between Seattle Center and South Lake Union, to include a plaza and walk/bike space 36 feet wide in places;
- A $500,000 boost for street trees in low-income areas and places lacking tree canopy;
- A $500,000 increase for Ballard Avenue Northwest streetlights and intersections to support pedestrian safety near restaurants, shops and pubs.
This season’s trade-offs over transportation priorities are in addition to higher-profile debates about police staff levels, parking enforcement and homelessness response, in the run-up to a final council vote Nov. 24.
Learn more about the council’s budget process and comment options by visiting st.news/seattlebudget.