The voters of Seattle approved a measure on November 3 for $930 million to put towards infrastructure and transportation improvements in the city. The measure, called “Let’s Move Seattle” was created with input from Seattle Voters, and took into consideration social equity and environmental impacts when priorities were clarified and budgets were defined. Specifically, Proposition One approved funds that will improve safety by adding sidewalks and streetlights to dangerous intersections, add bike lanes, fund bridge and road repair and introduce more rapid transit routes.
While the current transit system hosts a variety of transportation options, Seattle is growing quickly and current traffic problems will only get worse. More people bring more cars. In an interview with Next City in July, Seattle Department of Transportation’s Scott Kubly said “Broadly speaking, we can handle about 70,000 people commuting by automobile.If we’re going to keep the city moving it’s going to necessitate investing in transit, investing in bike infrastructure, [and we] need to figure out how to optimize our signals so the network operates as efficiently as possible without sacrificing safety.” As the city continues to expand, it is vital that we continue to make transit systems a priority.
High volumes of single occupancy vehicles also contribute to pollution and increases the region’s output of greenhouse gases. Improving the transit system with this levy is going to will reduce overall emissions. Our metro system already has a great record for clean green energy. According to King County Metro’s fact sheet, 70 percent of Metro’s fleet is either hybrid or electric and their goal is to have 100 percent hybrid or electric by 2018. Metro was also a founding signatory of the American Public Transportation Association Sustainability Commitment program. In 2013, Metro received gold-level recognition from APTA for significant reductions in energy, water use, and waste. Although the operation of buses and of transit still add some pollution, public transportation result in a net reduction of emissions by taking cars off the road, reducing congestion, and supporting more efficient land use. This measure also encourages biking and makes walking routes safer, which adds even more environmentally friendly options for transportation.
Last year Seattle gained national attention with the creation of a reduced-fare program for low income residents. This was a great start, and the Lets Move Levy is actually hailed by Puget Sound Sage and One America Votes for being one of the most socially equitable plans. These organizations focus on creating “communities where all families thrive” and “promoting democracy and building power in immigrant and refugee communities through advocacy, civic engagement and leadership development,” respectively. In the Draft Seattle Comprehensive Plan for Transportation released in July, item T3.3 states that the policies will “Consider the income, age, ability, and vehicle ownership patterns of populations throughout the city in developing transportation systems and facilities so that all residents, especially those most in need, have access to a wide range of affordable travel options.”
These are very important factors to consider when planning transit within a city.
Affordable and accessible transit options are vital in any city. “Without really good public transportation, it’s very difficult to deal with inequality,” Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard University and author of the new book Move: said in an interview with The Atlantic. The article continues, saying “Access to just about everything associated with upward mobility and economic progress—jobs, quality food, and goods (at reasonable prices), healthcare, and schooling— relies on the ability to get around in an efficient way, and for an affordable price.” This levy will improve this access to transportation and will therefore increase resident’s quality of life.
Since students within two miles of their school are not given any monetary transportation assistance with Seattle Public Schools, students in low income areas often end up walking the distance. While this is positive for the environment, it can be very unsafe when much of their route lacks sidewalks and includes intersections that are difficult to cross. The Safe Routes to School will improve kid’s access to education, and is a big focus of this new levy.
Opponents of the levy cited the income source of the levy, which is funded partially by an increase in property taxes. Housing costs are increasing as the population of Seattle grows, and critics warn that the cost could force people out of their homes. The tax increase is actually very low, “it would cost the typical homeowner only about $12 more per month” according to the Seattle Times. This extra tax is minimal compared to the positive impact it will have in Seattle.
The wide repairs will add to the lives of everyone from upper middle class commuters to the more vulnerable low income populations. Safe, clean, affordable public transportation is vital to a city that supports its residents, and the passing of the Lets Move Seattle levy is just one example of this positive change.