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Delivering a first-rate transportation system for Seattle Scott Kubly, Director







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Building a sustainable transportation system
A description of how Seattle is moving more people in fewer cars.

Almost 40 percent of Seattle’s greenhouse gas emissions come from Seattle's cars and trucks. In 2005, Mayor Nickels began a national movement of mayors by committing Seattle to meet the goals of the Kyoto Protocol and reduce its carbon footprint.

As identified in Seattle’s Climate Action Plan— Seattle’s roadmap for achieving these goals—the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) plays a critical role in this effort. The activities described below explain how SDOT is building a sustainable transportation system that supports real options to driving and keeps Seattle moving.

Seattle ’s solution to sustainable transportation depends on a three legged stool:

  1. create liveable, walkable communities,
  2. provide transportation choices and
  3. encourage people to use those choices, to be part of the solution

Laying the Foundation

Providing the resources for the extensive multimodal investments underway in Seattle requires a unique funding approach. After years of diminishing transportation resources that brought about a failing street network, Mayor Nickel’s proposed a bold solution called Bridging the Gap. Approved by voters in November 2006, Bridging the Gap is a nine-year property tax levy that will provide an estimated $365 million for transportation improvements. Perhaps then most significant aspect of Bridging the Gap is that it requires that more than $100 million be spent over nine years on infrastructure that facilitates alternative transportation choices such as transit use, bicycling, and walking.

The Bridging the Gap tax levy is complemented by two progressive taxes that target individuals who choose to drive alone. The first is a commercial parking tax. The second tax charges businesses $25 per full-time employee per year, but only for those employees who commute to work in a single-occupancy vehicle. Not only do these taxes provide additional transportation funding, but they target the driver behavior that contributes most to greenhouse-gas emissions.

The Bridging the Gap program has established a set of nine-year goals that will provide SDOT with the ability to build a sustainable transportation system that supports alternatives to driving alone.

Bridging the Gap Nine-year Goals

  • Support the development of a Pedestrian Master Plan.
  • Implement the Bicycle Master Plan.
  • Repair or restore approximately 144 blocks of sidewalks.
  • Build approximately 117 blocks of new sidewalks.
  • Restripe 5,000 crosswalks.
  • Create "safe routes to schools" near approximately 30 elementary schools.
  • Rehabilitate approximately 50 stairways.
  • Add 4 miles of new multi-use paths.
  • Secure up to 45,000 hours of new Metro Transit service.
  • Enhance transit and safety improvements on 3 key transit corridors.
  • Prune 25,000 street trees to prevent safety and security hazards.
  • Plant 8,000 new street trees.

To make sure the City is not foregoing any opportunities to create streets and sidewalks that are safe, accessible, and convenient to all users, the City has recently enacted a Complete Streets ordinance. As a result, designing streets to accommodate non-automobile modes of travel is not just a preferred approach to addressing global warming, it’s the law.

Providing Transportation Choices

Meeting the complex challenge of reducing motor vehicle emissions requires a deliberate, sustained, community-wide effort and be regional in scope. We focus on moving people and goods, not cars. Continue reading to learn how Seattle is engaging its residents in the solution and expected outcomes.

Walking is oldest and most efficient, affordable and environmentally-friendly form of transportation. To encourage and support walking a one year process to develop a Pedestrian Master Plan is underway. Using the pedestrian plan as a guide, Bridging the Gap includes $29.8 million over the next nine years to build and improve sidewalks, trails and other safety programs.

Similarly, last year a Bicycle Master Plan was drafted, when implemented it will triple the amount of bicycling in Seattle. Today 6,000 people commute by bike daily. Already this year SDOT has started construction on a missing link of the Burke-Gilman Trail, improved 200 curb ramps and 50 crosswalks.

Guiding the investments and decisions of multiple transit agencies Seattle Connections, our transit plan aims to provide riders with transit service every 15 minutes, 18 hours a day, seven days a week that connects our 37 urban villages to each other and the region. Three major initiatives are underway:

  • Investing in signal, Intelligent Transportation Systems and road enhancements supporting ‘ RapidRide’ bus service on three key corridors.
  • Proposing an investment of $1.5 million annually in King County Metro Transit’s new transit partnership program using Bridging the Gap funds. This could add 45,000 new Seattle service hours. In addition, Seattle is investing $22.5 million of our Bridging the Gap funds to make changes in our right-of-way that improve transit speed and reliability.
  • Creating three Center City transportation hubs where people can make easy connections to buses, ferries, light rail and other modes.

Combined with improving bus service, Seattle and the region are building new transit modes. In two and a half months, the City and Metro Transit are starting the operations of the South Lake Union Streetcar. The streetcar is expected to carry 330,000 riders the first year and connects one of our fastest growing neighborhoods and bio-tech hub to Seattle’s retail core.

The Sound Transit light rail line is nearing completion. By 2009, Downtown Seattle will connect to the airport and carry about 40,000 riders a day. Light rail will share a 1.3 mile transit tunnel with buses when moving through the Center City.

Encouraging less car use

Seattle is implementing two on-street parking programs to discourage commuter parking and support short-term, discretionary trips [four hours or less]. A citywide program is being implemented in 35 neighborhoods over seven years. Working with neighborhood stakeholders, SDOT is supporting the various uses through options like adding paid parking and creating residential parking zones.

The Center City Parking Program is a bold plan to get downtown commuters out of their cars, to replace lost on-street, short-term parking spaces in private garages and lots and to install an electronic parking guidance system. SDOT is just beginning these conversations and if successful, streets can support more bicycles, car-and vanpools, transit-only lanes, making these options competitive with driving and alluring to commuters.

Nearly 500 residents in the Uptown neighborhood are participating in SDOT’s new In Motion program which asks people to reduce their drive-alone trips by two a week. In ten weeks, drive-alone trips decreased by 8, 816 amounting to a reduction of 92,774 miles of travel.

SDOT’s One Less Car Challenge encourages drivers to try life with ‘one less car.’ In Level 1, participants park their car for a month. In Level 2, they sell or donate their vehicle, agreeing not to replace it for a full year. In 2007, Level 2 participation has grown from 30 to 146. With 10-20 people applying every week this number is expected to keep growing.


Related Links:

Pedestrian Program

Bicycle Program

Bridging the Gap

Center City Parking Program

In Motion

One Less Car Challenge

Pedestrian Master Plan


South Lake Union Streetcar

Sound Transit Link Light Rail

Seattle Connections

Urban Mobility Group

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