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Sidewalks, streets: Debate over $60 car tab hike on November’s ballot

Posted by Mike on September 11th, 2011

Editor’s note: A system problem on Saturday reset the site to Sept. 7. We’re re-posting this as a significant number of commentators had chimed in. So far, though, I haven’t figured out a way to restore the comments.

Sidewalks and Red indicates lack of paved sidewalks.

Few issues have generated as much interest since we started Maple Leaf Life as – sidewalks. (And you thought I was going to say “strip clubs.” Or “crime.” Or, gasp, “bike lanes.”)

Turns out sidewalks – or the lack thereof – are indeed a major issue here. Safety aside, at the Maple Leaf Summer Social we had a Realtor tell us sidewalks are a big consideration for home buyers.

Much of Maple Leaf, north of about Northeast 92nd Street, lacks paved sidewalks. That’s also true of much of north Seattle.

Sidewalks may turn out to be a key issue in new moves making it more expensive to license a car here, by a potential total of $80 per vehicle.

Last month car license fees were raised $20 by the King County Council to pay for additional transit. No public vote was taken.

A little later in August, the Seattle City Council voted to add an additional $60 to the tabs, and put that hike on the November public ballot. That money is aimed at transit, cycling and pedestrian projects, but none of them are specified, as our news partner The Seattle Times pointed out in its thoughtful piece “Seattle’s $60 car tab fee: where it could go.” The official release from the council, acting as something called the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, is here.

That Seattle Times story quotes David Miller, an active member of the Maple Leaf Community Council and longtime sidewalk advocate, as saying: “Seattle taxpayers deserve more specifics for their $20 million a year.”

Miller is working with one of two groups opposing the fee hike this time around. His group, Sidewalks and Streets for Seattle, points out:

Elementary school children across much of north and southeast Seattle have to walk in the middle of the street to get to school because of a lack of sidewalks. Sidewalks deserve a higher priority than this measure gives them.

In comments on an earlier Maple Leaf Life post on the issue, Miller wrote in part: “The consistent message I get from Maple Leaf residents is sidewalks and transit, sidewalks and transit.”

The other opposition group is Citizens Against Raising Car Tabs.

The Seattle’s Joel Connelly has written a piece pointing out that Proposition 1, as the Seattle car tab hike is called, “is going to see an actual campaign with real-life opposition, unlike many other taxes and levies promoted in recent years by the city’s activist interest groups and political elites.”

The election is Nov. 8. The original ballot title, saying Prop. 1 would fund “transportation facilities and services benefiting the City of Seattle, including: street and bridge repairs,” has been changed after opponents noted none of the money is earmarked for bridges, according to this story in the Times.

Tags: Uncategorized

15 reader comments so far ↓

  • 1 jen // Sep 11, 2011 at 7:12 pm

    google cache is your friend:

  • 2 jen // Sep 11, 2011 at 7:13 pm

    sorry, lost the link:

  • 3 Mike // Sep 12, 2011 at 9:16 am

    Thanks, Jen! Here’s the lot:
    Thanks for coverage of this important issue.

    I want to make it clear the Maple Leaf Community Council decided not to take a position on this ballot measure. The MLCC did write a letter to the Transportation Benefit District prior to its passage and provided testimony asking for more sidewalks, which the TBD declined to do.

    While I am a long-time member of MLCC, I’m doing this campaign separate from MLCC. MLCC is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization and therefore prohibited to endorse candidates. In the 25-year history of MLCC we have only endorsed one ballot measure, the 2008 Parks and Green Spaces Levy.

    With all those caveats out of the way, please continue to visit the campaign’s (so brand new it is barely there) web site. The campaign is not yet two weeks old, so we’re just starting.

    Please sign up for the campaign’s mailing list. If you want to donate time or money (or have questions) send me an email at

    David Miller
    Sidewalks and Streets for Seattle

    2 Pete // Sep 7, 2011 at 6:59 pm

    Looks like either a lump sum $60 increase or the Seattle City Council arbitrarily raises a $20 car tab fee the next 4 years in a row… Don’t ya think?! Somehow I think they’ll get it either way.

    What a joke. It sure seems there are plenty of creative taxes every single time an election comes around. This time, the funds don’t even appear to be earmarked for anything specific.

    Sidewalks in North Seattle you say? Hardly makes their list I’d bet. We all know a huge chunk of this will go into some crazy public transit trial that ends up being an egregious waste of resources, does NOT alleviate traffic (see bike lines on Dexter and 125th Ave. NE), and is convenient for a tiny minority at the expense of everyone else.

    Can we trust our mayor to responsibly distribute a bonus $20 milllion/year? The same guy who wasted the last 2 years fighting an unwinnable battle against the viaduct? This mayor’s a fraud. It was clearly evident during his pre-election flip-flop, but we took him anyway… Please vote NO. I’d be much more prone to opening my wallet to a government that shares specific ideas before deciding they’d like to collect a pot of gold first…

    3 Cheddar // Sep 7, 2011 at 8:02 pm

    Vote no to additional regressive taxation…

    4 Sue // Sep 7, 2011 at 8:15 pm

    Seeing that half of the money would go to transit I will vote no. I really don’t think this will make a noticable reduction in traffic. There are still all kinds of single occupancy drivers out there even with gas at $4. a gallon. Transit riders will also ride the bus regardless and I am not willing to subsize them at all cost.

    5 Simon // Sep 7, 2011 at 9:52 pm

    Car tabs are just not the way to fund things. They are wrong-headed in so many ways it’s difficult to know where to begin.

    Definitely vote no.

    I agree strongly about how sidewalks in North Seattle ought to be a dramatically, dramatically higher priority than it is. Every time you talk to a city politician or bureaucrat about sidewalks, though, you can see the sidewalk issue going in one ear and out the other while a fake smile stays on their faces: that’s because they all have sidewalks in their neighborhoods and they just don’t get it.

    And when the city does lay asphalt as a fake sidewalk or put in fake curbs to make fake planting beds and sidwalks, SDOT and council members and the mayor act like they’re doing us a favor that practically qualifies them for beatification. Meanwhile we all know they’re stuffing second-rate crap down our throats…

    6 Wes // Sep 8, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Sue highways and automobiles are very highly subsidized too. Even people that don’t drive pay for them with sales taxes. I get really tired of hearing people complain about mass transit subsidies. I drive but I also take transit a lot and many of our busses are over capacity. Seattle is a real city in need of real transit.

    7 David Miller // Sep 8, 2011 at 11:07 am

    The numbers are purposefully vague so the TBD members can, “have the flexibility to do whatever we want.” (direct quote).

    That said, we have some ideas based upon how the TBD developed their numbers.

    In terms of sidewalks, we get 9 new block faces per year. That’s for the whole city.

    In contrast, we get 4.5 miles of new painted bike lanes a year, 1.9 miles of separated bikeways, 6.0 miles of new bike route signage a year, and 124 bicycle parking spots a year.

    In terms of street repairs, less than a third of the $204 million raised goes to streets. This is good for a couple of lane miles of new surfacing and 30 “spot fixes” a year.

    Over $100 million goes to “transit improvements” but this buys no new bus hours or routes. After spending $100 million we will have the same overcrowded buses we have now, though a portion of 9 routes will move a little faster.

    All this is “maybe” because the TBD can do whatever it wants with the money inside their very general, vague categories.

    8 Mrs. Wicklund // Sep 8, 2011 at 12:05 pm

    I thought the lack of sidewalks was kind of charming when I moved to Maple Leaf 15 years ago. The charm has worn off and I rarely walk anywhere at night since it’s quite dangerous on busy NE 92nd Street. Apparently sidewalks were promised to Wedgwood when the City of Seattle annexed the area in the late 1940s. Wedgwood is still waiting …

    9 Sue // Sep 8, 2011 at 1:33 pm

    @ Wes. I get that transportation stuff is subsidized and I don’t know anyone who has never been on a highway. I’m just saying that paying $50 out of $80 for transit is too much! We have 5 cars (silly I know but we have teens) thats an extra $400 a year for us.
    I think we need transit but I think the riders should shoulder more of burden. Don’t tell me they will stop riding if fares go up because I don’t believe it. No one stopped driving when gas hit $4. a gallon.

    10 Dave // Sep 8, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    There are, in my opinion, several pertinent facts in the article which lead me to believe sidewalks can be financed by the property owners. First, it is noted that, sidewalks impact housing decisions. Second, property owners seem to be clamoring for sidewalks on the basis of safety.

    I would suggest the city assess property owners for the cost of sidewalks bordering their property. Seattle can underwrite the loans to these property owners at a favorable interest rate so they can launch the project(s) immediately. Homeowners could use a loan or cash to pay their portion of the sidewalk cost.

    For tax purposes property owners can add the sidewalk cost to the basic cost of their property. Since the sidewalk adds to the inherent value of their property they recover their costs upon sale of the property.

    They (property owners) end up with added property value and the safety a sidewalk adds to the neighborhood. Those property owners who already have sidewalks would have already paid for theirs in the original price of their property.

    This method would reduce/eliminate the need for a ballot measure. If this would go to ballot those with existing sidewalks would have little reason to vote for a tax to fund sidewalks. Existing sidewalk and street repairs should come out of existing gas taxes. Bike lanes should be paid for by bicyclists.

    Pay for use and safety.

    11 Nate // Sep 8, 2011 at 5:10 pm

    @ Pete:

    “We all know a huge chunk of this will go into some crazy public transit trial that ends up being an egregious waste of resources, does NOT alleviate traffic (see bike lines on Dexter and 125th Ave. NE), and is convenient for a tiny minority at the expense of everyone else. ”

    Don’t forget that projects such as the 125th St re-striping aren’t promising to alleviate traffic. Often they are about more efficient use of the same space to allow for all forms of transportation safe access to our shared infrastructure(car, peds, bikes, transit).

    If the results of 125th are anything like Stone Way ( I’ll take that as money well spent any day.

    12 David Miller // Sep 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm

    Nate –

    Maybe you can anser this question. Why didn’t we take the “extra” travel lanes on 125th and give them over to buses to speed bus service in that area?

    13 kurisu // Sep 8, 2011 at 9:38 pm

    David – Maybe you can answer this question. Why do you keep telling people that they can have more for less? If you really want to build a couple billion dollars of sidewalks, people will be paying far more dearly than the tank of gas per year in Prop 1.

    As for me, I will appreciate the miles of new pavement, reliable bus service and safer street crossings. I’m voting YES.

    14 David Miller // Sep 8, 2011 at 10:20 pm

    I’m not sure where you get the idea where Streets and Sidewalks for Seattle is telling people they can have more for less.

    Our campaign is about creating a better measure that actually delivers more bus service, sidewalks, safer street crossings, safer bridges, and more repairs instead of $18M in “studies” and 12,000 “bicycle parking spots.”

    15 Nate // Sep 8, 2011 at 10:58 pm


    Sure it might have been even better to have some sort of awesome bus rapid lane installed, but we all know Metro doesn’t have the $$$ right now to implement new programs, so I stand by my statement that I think it is more efficient use of our space. The much predicted traffic havoc has not appeared, and the cost of restriping a road simply isn’t that great.

    16 David Miller // Sep 9, 2011 at 12:06 am

    I’m not talking about an “awesome bus rapid lane.” I’m talking about a lane for regular old buses to move more quickly. No new dolalrs allowed, just “simple lane restriping” for the benefit of public transit service.

    17 Nate // Sep 9, 2011 at 9:04 am

    Sure, I’m game, is that a heavy enough bus route to justify it, I don’t know off the top of my head. The only place I recall seeing a bus lane is on the super-busy Lake City Way.

    18 Nate // Sep 9, 2011 at 9:06 am

    Ultimately though, if that turns into a normal traffic lane during off hours (isn’t that how the LCW lane works?) then DOT won’t have achieved their goal of reducing speeding on this stretch of road, and the pedestrian and bike improvements would of course be diminished.

  • 4 Sam // Sep 12, 2011 at 11:17 am

    Sigh… I’m am truly tired of the status quo protectors in Seattle. Every idea that threatens to make even the most insignificant change is treated like some imminent apocalypse. (witness the ridiculous teeth gnashing over the recent bike lane on 125th) Face it folks – Since the fed no longer supports investment in infrastructure thanks to the teabaggers, we will have to build and maintain our own. Thanks to the braindead idiocy of Tim Eyman, that will come in the form of a regressive tax. And thanks to peak oil, it is better we begin creating alternatives and protecting what little we have in the way of alternatives now. That is the reality. Vote yes. Your precious neighborhood will not cease being the nice place it is presently as a result.

  • 5 DC // Sep 12, 2011 at 7:50 pm

    Talk about brain-dead Sam, if that is the best “vote yes” argument you’ve got, I’m voting no.

  • 6 Sam // Sep 12, 2011 at 8:57 pm

    Care to offer a rebuttal, DC, or just name calling?

  • 7 DC // Sep 13, 2011 at 12:26 am

    A) Sam’s your name.

    B) Your argument is lame. (Exaggeration, straw man argument, false association, pulpit exhortation).

    There’s nothing there to dignify with a rebuttal, Sam I Am.

  • 8 Chris S. // Sep 13, 2011 at 5:59 am

    Elementary school children across much of north and southeast Seattle have to walk in the middle of the street to get to school because of a lack of sidewalks.

    This is a huge strawman sentence. People can choose to walk down the middle or the sides of the street. North Seattle has been just fine without sidewalks for decades.

    I can’t recall a single incident causing harm to a pedestrian in my four decades here due to the lack of sidewalks. If you have one, bring it forth, but just doing something “for the children” without basis is empty and costs a lot of money.

  • 9 Chris S. // Sep 13, 2011 at 6:06 am

    And also, Sam, the recent outright disgust and rage at SDOT at the 125th debacle is not merely due to the unneeded bike lane, it’s the absolute mess that has been made of what was once a properly working four lane corridor.

    (BTW, as a biker to the UW, most of the bike lane overhauls, except Roosevelt, have done nothing for bikers except introduce another reason for animosity from some drivers)

  • 10 Mr. X // Sep 13, 2011 at 1:04 pm

    No blank checks for road diets and streetcar studies, period.

  • 11 Susan // Sep 13, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I for one would like to have the sidewalks promised when North Seattle was annexed. Cars drive way to fast on 98th and there is no where else to walk but in the street. We have asked for traffic calming solutions but while one side of 98th has gotten them (the Maple Leaf side), the Meadowbrook side has not. I am left with yelling at drivers as they speed by at 40 MPH in a 20 zone.

  • 12 MapleLeafBob // Sep 13, 2011 at 4:33 pm

    “Every idea that threatens to make even the most insignificant change is treated like some imminent apocalypse”

    The only worse than that are people so politically programmed by one side they blame everything on groups like the tea party. Please name one single person in the federal government that ran and was elected with a “T” after their name. Oh yeah, that’s right, no such person exists. Note mention the crazy attempt at blaming a group that has only existed for a couple years for actions that have been mounting over decades of failed Dem and Repub political policies.

    If you really believe that all federal infrastructure spending is gone solely by actions of the tea party, then please contact me because I have some awesome ocean property for sale in Colorado that I believe may interest you.

  • 13 L // Sep 16, 2011 at 10:45 am

    I would love to have sidewalks in my neighborhood.

  • 14 eric // Sep 27, 2011 at 10:00 am

    @Sam S – Please come to 17th Ave Ne between 7am-9am and walk from 90th to 94th towards Sacajawea Elementary School. What the A-holes who fly up and down the Aves to miss traffic lights as those of us who walk on very tight streets have to get out of their way.

  • 15 MapleLeafStreetwalker // Sep 27, 2011 at 9:24 pm

    The promise of sidewalks and delivery instead of bikelanes (side question: how many cyclists do you see traveling southbound from N-Gate Way to 75th everyday? Don’t recall? Perhaps because it’s an insignificant number.) HOWEVER, we all live within walking distance to the transit center, the first mall in America, a multiplex cinema, a new library and community center, groceries etc. So why no sidewalks? Count pedestrians, tally them vs. the cyclists you see in a day on Roosevelt or 5th Ave. Which is the larger number? Most of Maple Leaf ranks and 86 or better for “walkability.” That makes us highly attractive real estate. We’d do even better with more sidewalks. You can put in your own sidewalk and curb, but you have do it on the cheap (too bad) because if the city needs to dig up your easement, they only replace with ass(sic)phalt. Surprised? I didn’t think so. We need to make more noise to get what we want – and what we pay for.