Susan Gleason, SNG’s Communications & Development Director recently sat down with Gordon Padelford and Clara Cantor to learn more about the MASS Transportation Package they've been working on.
Susan: Fill me in. What is the MASS Transportation Package?
Gordon: It’s a really exciting package of policy reforms and investments in sidewalks, bus lanes, and bike paths that we are working with our allies to pass before the end of the year.
Susan: So, what’s in it specifically?
Clara: Hah, a lot! For biking there are three pieces. First, as people may remember, the mayor’s latest bike plan leaves many critical bike routes connecting SE Seattle and SODO unfunded. This package calls for finding new, non-regressive sources of revenue, such as a tax on Lyft and Uber rides, to build those routes.
The second piece was inspired by a Cambridge, Massachusetts ordinance which requires repaving projects to include any planned bike lanes except in rare circumstances. It will also require SDOT to present more holistic information to the public during outreach processes, rather than just how different street designs might slow down drivers — which in our experience has led to some bad decisions. So, moving forward we hope this will give everyone better information to work with.
Third, it will require SDOT to get its act together around bike route maintenance. We know a lot of SNG volunteers have noticed bike lanes disappearing if lanes are not repainted at the same time as the car lanes are getting repainted, or if protected bike lane posts get hit by vehicles. That’s a policy failure.
Susan: Is there a piece in there about bike and scooter parking, as well?
Clara: Yes, we’ve been working with Lime, disability rights advocates, and Councilmember Abel Pacheco to come up with a bike and scooter parking solution that works better for everyone. You might have seen the op-ed in the Seattle Times about that. Basically, we are proposing that the city build thousands of new bike and scooter parking spaces on the street, near street corners where car parking isn’t permitted. This will keep our sidewalks clear, give people more places to park, and also improve sightlines for people crossing the street. It’s a win-win-win.
Susan: What's in there for better walkability?
Gordon: There are four components for pedestrians. The first one calls on the city to find additional funding to build sidewalks and safe places to walk like Home Zones, so that people don’t have to wait multiple centuries to be able to safely walk to the bus stop, the store, etc.
But even when sidewalks are built we have to recognize that they aren’t always accessible, and in fact, the city has found something like 150,000 sidewalk hazards -- ranging from cracks that people could trip on to overgrown vegetation. We’ve seen other cities, like Denver, approach this accessibility issue in a much more comprehensive way, so we’re asking the city to improve their program.
We’re also advocating for a better traffic signals policy, so people don’t have to wait so long to cross the street, don’t have to push "beg buttons," and other tweaks that will make it safer and more convenient for people to cross the street. It sounds basic, but it really will make a big difference to people’s experience walking around Seattle.
Last, but definitely not least, we are advocating for funding for an Active Transportation Coordinator position for the Seattle School District. Right now ⅓ of the school crossing guard jobs are vacant and few schools have “walking school bus” programs. This position was recommended by the School Traffic Safety Committee, and we believe it will help bring new energy to these programs and make it safer for kids to walk to school across the city. It’s another small thing that we believe will have a big impact.
Susan: Wow, that’s a lot!
Gordon: Hah, yeah, there’s a reason why we’re calling it the nation’s best transportation package! There is also a whole section of improvements for transit — bus lanes and spot improvements to make public transit fast, reliable, and efficient.
Susan: Who will this benefit?
Clara: Well, everyone. For people who are already walking, biking and taking transit, which is disproportionately people of color and low-income folks, this will make getting around Seattle vastly safer, more comfortable, and more efficient. For folks who don’t currently walk, bike, and take transit very much it will give them more options to get around.
Susan: So how will it impact people in their daily lives?
Gordon: Great question. Each piece of the package that is passed will have a really positive impact. For instance, getting a better sidewalk repair program will mean fewer people trip and fall and injure themselves. People in South Beacon Hill will have a trail that opens up a new healthy and affordable transportation option that they haven’t had access to before. People walking along Greenwood Ave in north Seattle will no longer have to squeeze between dumpsters and fast moving traffic to catch the bus. People walking home from work won’t have to wait so long for the walk light and will be able to get to their families more quickly. And I could go on. This will make such a big difference, on so many fronts, it’s impossible to list them all!
Susan: What kind of impact will this have on affordability and stabilizing communities?
Gordon: We have to make sure that anything we’re building has adequate community engagement so that improvements can reflect the needs of the people who live there — one great example is the Georgetown to South Park Trail, which has incredible community support and input, right from the beginning of the process. And while we know providing affordable transportation options is important , we also need to see an increase in affordable housing and middle class housing construction so that everyone can benefit and stay as our city grows and evolves.
Susan: Where did these ideas come from?
Clara: We’ve been working on these issues for years, we’re just now wrapping them together into an all-inclusive package. For instance, our campaign to get a better signals policy for Seattle has been years in the making -- first identified by neighbors frustrated by specific traffic signals in their communities, who then led numerous walks with community members and elected officials, published articles, and now we’ve gained a lot of attention and are making moves.
Susan: Who is supporting the MASS Transportation Package?
Clara: We’ve been doing a lot of the behind the scenes work to get it ready and have been collaborating with our allies in the MASS Coalition which is made up of organizations focused on the environment, transportation, and disability rights.
Gordon: And, some components of the package have additional supporters as well. For instance the piece calling on the city to create a better sidewalk maintenance program has support from AARP and Sound Generations, who are helping collect personal stories about why it’s so important for everyone, but especially older adults, to have safe and accessible sidewalks.
Susan: What has the reception been like at City Hall and at SDOT?
Clara: It’s been very positive so far — these are known issues and ones that people in all parts of our local government would like to try and fix.
Gordon: Yeah, as often is the case, this is about making the “right thing to do” the “easy thing to do.” Overcoming the inertia of the status quo is tough. That’s why we’ve been laying the groundwork by doing the background research and policy development needed to make it as easy as possible for our elected leaders to pick up the baton and get these ideas over the finish line.
Susan: What is your biggest worry about passing these pieces of legislation?
Clara: The timing. We are trying to pass a huge amount of legislation before the end of the year, and in September the city budget discussions start taking up all of the City Council’s time, pretty much until December. So, we need everyone to speak up now and let city council know that this is a high priority and they need to get this done .
Susan: What gives you hope for this effort?
Clara: Our amazing volunteers.
Gordon: Absolutely, and we also couldn’t do it without our allies, and I also want to give a shout out to Clara who has been doing an incredible amount of the behind-the-scenes organizing around the policy development.
Susan: Last question, what should people do if they have more questions or want to get involved?
Clara: People can check out the policy brief, which has one-pagers for each piece of legislation , or they can email me to get more involved. And don’t forget to send a message to the Mayor and City Council to urge their support!