Community & Editorial
To build walkable communities in Puget Sound, we must beat a path to Olympia
Last summer, Sound Transit found itself in a jam. The agency had planned to build a parking lot for a future light rail station outside Northgate Mall. The trouble was, the garage took away money that could have been used for accommodations for pedestrians. After an outcry from neighborhood residents and from nonprofits including Feet First, which works to ensure walkable communities across Washington, Sound Transit’s governing board voted to spend as much as $5 million to improve access for people walking and biking to the light rail station.
The people won a victory. But in order to make sure people have transportation that incorporates the needs of all users, we have more challenges ahead. In 2013, transportation advocates have prioritized a few key efforts in the Washington Legislature. A sustainable transportation budget is key among them.
In Washington, our primary transportation revenue comes from the gas tax. Because the state hasn’t raised the tax since 2005, we’re not making adequate investments in walking facilities. And given that
28 percent of travel by car is one mile or less, many of these trips can be completed on foot, if people have access to sidewalks.
We need a transportation revenue package that provides at least $150 million per year for pedestrian and bicycle programs. The current transportation package presented by Rep. Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, Transportation Committee chair, does not balance the needs of Washington residents and cuts our ability to choose to travel by foot. In these challenging financial times, our legislators should think of the needs of our state’s most vulnerable residents and look for a long-term funding solution, such as increasing the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax and allowing cities more control over local revenue to meet their transportation demands.
We must also make neighborhood streets safer for people of all ages. Between 2000 and 2009, 683 people were killed while walking in Washington. Beyond the tragic human cost of these deaths, they also represent a financial burden to the state: $2.94 billion, in lost productivity and wages, medical expenses and more. When cars drive slower more people stay alive. The chance of dying from a collision with a motor vehicle at 20 mph or less is 5 percent compared with the 45 percent chance of death in a similar impact at 30 mph. But communities are unable to make nonarterial streets safer because of a state law forbidding cities from lowering speed limits without first conducting expensive block-by-block traffic engineering studies.
Alongside the Bicycle Alliance of Washington, Cascade Bicycle Club, Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition, Sierra Club and Transportation Choices Coalition, we are working hard in Olympia to get legislators to pass
HB 1045 and SB 5066. These bills give cities the freedom to lower residential speed limits to 20 mph, a common-sense measure making our streets safer while eliminating red tape.
With the federal Safe Routes to School program, we have an opportunity to improve children’s health. Since 2005, this program has successfully increased the health and safety of 67,000 children, at 168 elementary schools across the state, by creating safer ways for children to walk and bike to school. Right now, we are working to ensure that the legislature retains the levels of federal funding from the 2011-13 biennium. These programs are effective at making big changes and potentially saving money on yellow bus expenses. Last year, the Seattle School Board unanimously voted to make Safe Routes to School a key part of their transportation strategy. Beginning in fall 2013, you’ll see more crossing guards and a walking school bus at every K-8 school, promoting children walking together from a designated location accompanied by a parent or school representative.
For the sake of both children and adults, we must factor health into transportation. Transportation advocates testified last month before the House Transportation Committee in favor of HB 2370, citing health as an outcome of the state’s transportation system goals. The choices people make are the direct result of the choices they have: Between 1977 and 1995 the number of trips the average American took by foot dropped 21 percent. HB 2370 supports physical activity in the design of our transportation system.
Finally, we should give more people the freedom to choose how they get to regional transit. We are working to ensure Sound Transit builds Link Light Rail stations that are accessible to everyone. As light rail expands north, east and south, we’re developing a Sound Access for All campaign that will push for future stations to provide the ability to safely and easily get to light rail stations.
No matter if you drive, ride a bus, bike or walk, we need your help to make sure that our legislators put feet first. Contact them and ask them to support the ability for all people to go by foot.
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