The environmental movement is rarely accused of being united. Inevitably, it seems, different environmentally-minded groups will end up on different sides of an issue, both claiming to have the solution that is better for the environment.
The biggest such issue in Seattle today is the Highway 99 deep-bore tunnel, but there are other vital transportation issues in Seattle that need the attention of citizen groups.
That's why a wide coalition of local organizations has come together to form Streets for All to push for $30 million in annual funding for bicycle, pedestrian and transit infrastructure projects. The city now has bicycle and pedestrian master plans, but Streets for All is encouraging the city to fund the plans and make them happen.
"By partnering with like-minded or not like-minded groups, we can go further in accomplishing our goals," said Lisa Quinn of Feet First. Having a giant project like the tunnel looming over the city is sort of like the elephant in the room at Streets for All, she said, but by uniting their focus on issues they agree on, these organizations can accomplish much more. That is what brought so many of them together to be part of the campaign.
Currently, the bicycle master plan is funded at about 30 percent of what is needed to complete it. The pedestrian master plan is basically unfunded (at it's current rate of funding, it would take 80 years to complete the top 20 percent of the projects).
"A plan is only ... good if you can fund the plan," said Quinn. So the dozens of groups that have signed onto Streets for All, ranging from the Transportation Choices Coalition to Feet First to Real Change, have all agreed that Seattle needs to make walking, biking and riding transit the easiest ways to get around town, as the coalition's website says. Though their central focuses may be different, whether based around transportation, the environment or social equality, these groups have found common ground in the importance of creating a transportation system made for people.
The $30 million goal that has united the Streets for All Seattle coalition is "very ambitious," said Jesseca Brand of the King County Chapter of Washington Conservation Voters, a Streets for All member organization. "At the end of the day, the environmental movement is stronger if we continue to have people willing to push harder" for ambitious policies. When issues like the deep-bore tunnel come along and split organizations, Brand said organizations need to do their best to engage the environmental community to see if there are places where their causes overlap, like Streets for All Seattle.
The coalition boasts a long list of organizations, but disagreement about how revenue should be collected in order to fund the transportation projects has kept some organizations from joining, according to David Hiller, Co-Chair of Streets for All and Advocacy Director of Cascade Bicycle Club. For example, increasing the vehicle licensing fee is a regressive measure that charges the same amount to all drivers, regardless of income. While improvements in walking, biking and transit infrastructure should help low-income people by allowing them to ditch their expensive cars, a vehicle license fee increase could place an unequal burden on the poor, some say.
"That's the biggest challenge to keeping people at the table," said Hiller, "trying to reconcile issues of revenue."
Recently, Streets for All Seattle has taken issue with the city council's plan to fund the seawall replacement in part by raising the commercial parking tax, saying in a press release that "allocation of our limited, flexible transportation funds to a single, capital-intensive project would unnecessarily curtail the opportunity before us to engage in a holistic transportation discussion during the budget process." Meanwhile, the group has not yet outlined their desired revenue sources to fund the $30 million annual spending. The mayor has suggested that increases in the commercial parking tax and vehicle license fees could go to street maintenance and bike and pedestrian projects.
Streets for All, however, has staked out a negotiating position. In the same press release, they called the mayor's plan "an inadequate step in the right direction," but said the City Council's seawall plan "takes our city in the wrong direction." Perhaps if the coalition can find common ground among so many different groups, they can help find common ground in the revenue debate. Otherwise driving may become more expensive, and there will not be much further help for those looking for an alternative.