Morning Crank: A “Reset” for Move Seattle

1. The Seattle Department of Transportation and the Durkan administration will soon propose what is being called a “reset” for Move Seattle, the $930 million levy that passed in 2015, to reflect the reality that the federal funding that the city assumed would be available for many of the projects has not come through from the Trump Administration, as well as increased cost estimates for some projects on the levy list.

The “reset” will likely mean significant cuts to some of the projects that were promised in the levy, particularly those that assumed high levels of federal funding, such as seven proposed new RapidRide lines, which were supposed to get more than half their funding ($218 million) from the feds. “They’re calling it a ‘reset,’ but I don’t know what that means,” says city council transportation committee chairman Mike O’Brien.  “It’s not terribly encouraging.” Additionally, O’Brien says, “costs have gone up significantly in the last few years because of the pace of the economy,” making capital projects, in particular, more expensive than the city bargained for.

The City Budget Office and the Seattle Department of Transportation are still having conversations about what the cuts might look like, but according to multiple current and former city staffers familiar with the situation, one possibility is that some of the planned new RapidRide lines might no longer happen on schedule or at all; another is that some projects could be dramatically scaled back, but not eliminated entirely. A third possibility is that some projects could be delayed until a future levy (or Presidential administration) or paid for with other funding sources .Move Seattle taxes will be collected through 2024. The mayor and SDOT are expected to release details of the “reset” in the several weeks.

One possibility is that some of the planned new RapidRide lines might no longer happen on schedule or at all; another is that some projects could be scaled back, but not eliminated entirely.  

The city was counting on about $564 million in federal funds to leverage the $930 million in local tax dollars in the voter-approved levy, but since the 2016 election, all bets are off. (Seattle’s sanctuary city status has prompted several threats from the Trump Administration to withhold federal grant funding from the city.)  SDOT has not released a 2017 financial report for Move Seattle, so it’s difficult to say how much federal money came in during the first full year under the new federal regime, but in 2016, the city received and spent just $16.3 million in federal funds on Move Seattle projects—a tiny fraction of that $564 million total. I have requested the 2017 spending report for Move Seattle from SDOT and will update this post if I receive it.

The projects on this list that could be particularly at risk for cuts include those that rely heavily on federal funding, including not just the seven RapidRide lines but bridge safety improvements, pedestrian safety projects, and sidewalks in neighborhoods that don’t currently have them. The percentage of federal funds assumed for each category of projects ranges from none to 86.7 percent.

“We’re still giving between 70 and 75 percent of our lane miles [downtown] over to folks that are only 25 percent of the [commuter] population. To me, that seems like a really inequitable use of public space.” – Council member Rob Johnson  

It’s a particularly inopportune time for more bad news from SDOT. Last week, Mayor Jenny Durkan announced she was putting the Center City Streetcar on “pause” because of dramatic cost overruns, and earlier this week, Durkan announced that the city would delay a long-planned protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue in downtown Seattle until 2021, when the Northgate light rail station opens, ostensibly to avoid eliminating motorized traffic lanes on Fourth during the upcoming “period of maximum constraint” downtown. Interim SDOT director Goran Sparrman got an earful about the delayed bike safety improvements from both O’Brien and council member (and former Transportation Choices Coalition director) Rob Johnson during his presentation on the One Center City plan earlier this week; Johnson said that one of his “frustrations” was that although the city says it prioritizes pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders over cars, its actions downtown have done exactly the opposite. “It’s not just that we aren’t dedicating enough of the center city to bicycle facilities, but ditto on the transit side of things, Goran,” Johnson said. “We’re still giving between 70 and 75 percent of our lane miles [downtown] over to folks that are only 25 percent of the [commuter] population. To me, that seems like a really inequitable use of public space.”

2. On Wednesday, with little fanfare, One Table—the 91-member work group tasked with coming up with recommendations to address the regional homelessness crisis—released its recommendations, in a nine-page document that includes no cost estimates, no funding proposals, and no timeline for implementing any of the ideas on the list. The city of Seattle’s progressive revenue task force, which recommended a tax on employers that could raise up to $75 million annually, has said that it would wait until One Table to release its recommendations before recommending additional taxes, with the ultimate goal of raising a total of $150 million a year.

The recommendations, which were released jointly by King County and the cities of Seattle and Auburn, are mostly familiar: Providing 5,000 units of affordable housing across the county over three years, by building new housing and by “increasing access to existing housing choices”; treatment on demand; financial assistance for housing, including short-term help for people in crisis; and increased investment in job programs for people at risk of homelessness. Since the list of “actions” doesn’t include any dollar amounts, it’s hard to assess how ambitious the proposal truly is, but 5,000 units in three years throughout King County (to say nothing of the three-county Puget Sound region) will house fewer than half of the 12,000 people living outdoors or in sanctioned encampments or shelters in King County alone. Job programs and homelessness prevention efforts will undoubtedly prevent some people from falling into homelessness and making that number even larger, but until it’s clear how the recommendations would cost and where the money would come from, it’s hard to say what impact the proposals will have, and whether One Table will live up to its promise to “best tackle this problem to ensure expansive and lasting solutions,” as Mayor Jenny Durkan put it when the work group held its first meeting in January.

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22 thoughts on “Morning Crank: A “Reset” for Move Seattle

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  7. I’m willing to give Durkan some time to figure this out, since she may have walked in with budgets in a bad place. However, she needs to come with a real plan for improving public transit… not just make cuts.

    Using downtown tolling to raise money and expand service *might* be a solution, but it’s too vague at this point. It’s not clear how much money that would raise and how much service that would buy.

    The obvious solution would be making the next levy bigger… There is a certain amount of tax fatigue right now due to McCleary, but on the other hand Seattle voters are very pro-transit, so it would probably still pass.

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  9. When they peel the onion it will be clear again that Scott Kubly blatantly lied about the price of the projects promised in the levy. Yes, I work at SDOT.

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  11. I’m trying to make sense of this. It simply doesn’t compute.:

    “Rob Johnson during his presentation on the One Center City plan earlier this week; Johnson said that one of his “frustrations” was that although the city says it prioritizes pedestrians, cyclists, and transit riders over cars, its actions downtown have done exactly the opposite. “It’s not just that we aren’t dedicating enough of the center city to bicycle facilities, but ditto on the transit side of things, Goran,” Johnson said. “We’re still giving between 70 and 75 percent of our lane miles [downtown] over to folks that are only 25 percent of the [commuter] population. To me, that seems like a really inequitable use of public space.”

    Ok, so 25% of commuters are driving solo… What does that tell us about downtown vehicle traffic? Those lanes are shared by delivery trucks, buses, taxis and Ubers, non-commuters and carpools. Only 3% of commuters are bicycle commuters. (Since I no longer commute, I don’t count.) What does this tell us about the appropriate lane space allocation? Absolutely nothing!

    • Can you not do math?

      Downtown cycling commuters in city are actually greater than 3%. 3% is for the region. In the downtown core they far exceed that, as does transit usage vs. the regional percentage. The fact is, the actual arriving commuters come in via transit, carpool, biking, or simply walking at a much higher rate than by driving alone in a car yet we dedicate the vast majority of space to automobile space. If we want the city to grow in a healthy way, and to be efficient, automobile needs to give way to other modes. Currently it’s still very, very dominant even though it makes up the least commuters. The problem lies in the fact that auto usage consumes space at an exponentially greedier rate than any other mode. By proxy of that it moves very few while using up the majority of space.

      It isn’t fair to those commuting from the city itself, it isn’t good for the growth of the city, it isn’t maintainable, nor is it actually economically or environmentally friendly or logical to drive into Seattle.

      …I answered this, but you could obviously be trolling. If you are, ya got me. :-/

      • The data is 3% of commuters to downtown come by bike, from anywhere in the metro area. Please review your math and ask yourself how this bears on the other modes and vehicle types that share the streets. It doesn’t. My point was, there’s no data, hence no math. That’s what apples and oranges means.

      • My bad. I got Portland’s modal split swapped with Seattle’s. Seattle’s sucks by comparison (but which US city doesn’t in worldwide comparisons?). 3% is still significant when it is bike commuters however, as 3% back in cars is a huge impact on congestion, especially considering it’s only really measuring “commuters”, not the thousands upon thousands of trips happening every day during the day.

        It also doesn’t change my point, you’re denigrating the point saying nothing can be derived from modal use, but contrary to that it absolutely is telling. SOV use at 25% or even 40% is low, while we’re still dedicating the vast majority of budgets and funding to a mode that not only doesn’t carry the majority of people, but is less efficient and works against all sorts of goals the city & its citizens have. So 3% or 9% or whatever it is, is better than those people being on any other mode except maybe their own two feet.

        Summary: There’s no point to your denigration of the topic. It’s important and dictates whether the city can sustain the growth in an efficient, clean, and beneficial way that works for the citizens of the city. Continuing to spend the bulk of funds from everywhere on road surfaces for cars is folly and should not be continued. End of story.

  12. I don’t understand the relationship (if any) between One Table and All Home. The latter is the organization which receives money from HUD for the majority of homelessness funding. However, when All Home former ED quit, he indicated that the funders group of All Home simply did what they wanted without reference to all the many committees/stakeholders of All Home. So will One Table get funding from non-HUD sources? Very strange that Durkan and County people are touting it, but haven’t presented any even semi-details about just how it would work.

  13. Glad we’re getting rid of all that parking because we have so much transit and no one needs cars anymore.

  14. I don’t use Patreon any longer since I originally joined because one big guy that I followed was there but he’s since started his own site with its own form of support. Do you have another support option?

  15. This would be a great time for a certain Philanthropist in Bellevue to just drop some of his pocket change into this.

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