Councilmember O'Brien left office on December 31, 2019. This website is for archival purposes only and is no longer updated.

Hearing Examiner Clears Way for Backyard Cottage Legislation

May 15th, 2019


I am excited to share with you some updates about a longtime legislative priority of mine: making it easier to build backyard cottages and basement units. I believe ADUs have the potential to provide new housing opportunities in neighborhoods where single family homes are unaffordable to many. ADU’s would also allow homeowners to generate supplemental income and adapt to their changing household needs.

On Monday we learned that the City of Seattle Deputy Hearing Examiner, Barbara Dykes Ehrlichman, ruled in favor of the City on an appeal of the Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for my 2016 Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs) proposal. Her ruling affirms that the FEIS meets all applicable requirements and allows the Seattle City Council to act on the proposal. Watch my reaction to the Hearing Examiner’s ruling in the video below or watching on Seattle Channel.

My next step is to introduce new legislation based on the Preferred Alternative that came out of the FEIS as a starting point June 2019. We will be discussing a path forward at the following Sustainability and Transportation committee meetings:

I want to share with you two important changes to my original proposal:

  • Floor Area Ratio (FAR) limits are often used to regulate the size of a building. Floor area ratio is the ratio of a building’s total square footage (floor area) relative to the size of the piece of land on which it is constructed. Under current regulations, there is not a maximum FAR limit in single-family zones. Under the proposal, a maximum FAR limit would govern the size and scale of development of new homes in single-family zones, along with maximum height limit, maximum lot coverage limit, and yard requirements. More information about the proposed FAR requirement to limit the construction of very large houses (i.e. McMansions and McModerns), can be found here.
  • Owner occupancy, under current regulations, a property owner is required to occupy either the main house or the accessory dwelling unit (ADU) for six months of the year. They cannot rent out both the main house and the ADU. The current proposal would remove the owner-occupancy requirement. The Preferred Alternative would allow a second ADU only if the property has been owned by the same person/entity for at least one year. I am not convinced that the ownership requirement for a second ADU makes sense at this point and I am asking staff for options to instead include an affordability requirement or a higher level of green building in order to be allowed to build a second ADU. More information about removing this requirement is available here.

I believe lowering the barriers to creating backyard cottages and in-law apartments is an important part of addressing affordability across the city. If you have any further questions, please reach out to Alisha Dall’Osto at Alisha.dall’ 

Thank you,


Mandatory Housing Affordability—Reflections on Crown Hill

March 18th, 2019

On Monday, March 18, the Council will hold its vote and likely approve the MHA legislation, which has been years in the making.  Included in that legislation are a set of amendments that I made to the Mayor’s proposal for the Crown Hill neighborhood.  Before I explain those amendments, let me first explain some of the core principles I attempted to uphold as we worked through the amendment process.

The Mandatory Housing Affordability framework’s purpose is to require that all new multi-family and commercial development contribute to affordable housing, either by providing affordable housing in new projects or paying a fee so that the City can build commensurate affordable housing nearby.  From the beginning, there have been three main principles that have been critical to me:

  • No new development in multi-family and commercial zones should be exempt from the requirement to provide affordable housing either through direct construction or paying a fee.
  • The boundaries of all urban villages be adjusted to include all properties within a ten-minute walk of frequent transit.
  • All properties within an urban village be zoned for a higher density than our single-family zoning.

I am pleased that the amended piece of legislation that came out of committee generally holds true to these three principles.

For many urban villages, the changes are rather modest because they are already zoned for significant density, but some urban villages are seeing significant changes.  In District 6, the Crown Hill Urban Village is one such place.  Crown Hill has seen a significant increase in transit access in recent years with the establishment of the Rapid Ride D line and increased service on routes 40 and 45, so the legislation included a substantial expansion of the urban village boundaries.  There was also a significant number of single-family zoned parcels in the existing urban village and in the expansion area that are all proposed to be rezoned.  Because of these significant proposed changes, a group of neighbors began organizing and formed a group called the Crown Hill Urban Village Committee for Smart Growth.  They reached out to me over a year ago wanting to understand how community members could best be involved in influencing the outcome of this legislation and we have been working together ever since.

In addition to my principles above, I feel strongly that a neighborhood should play a significant role in deciding how they would like to see their community grow, as long as principles of Seattle’s Race and Social Justice Initiative are upheld.  This includes reducing racially disparate impacts, lifting up all voices including folks often left out of the conversation, and that the vision for the neighborhood included opportunities for new people to move in.  We wanted to have a dialog not about if growth should happen in Crown Hill, but how growth should happen.  So we got to work.

Over the course of the last year I have had multiple meetings both in Crown Hill and at City Hall with residents from Crown Hill.  We shared information about existing zoning and the proposals under the Mayors MHA legislation.  We worked to better understand the demographics of the neighborhood and how it has changed in recent years.  We went on walking tours to look at and discuss the conditions on the ground today and identify places people wanted to see changes, areas people hoped to preserve, and talked about all the things beyond zoning changes that will impact what happens in the neighborhood.  Throughout our work together, community members were thoughtful and proactive about reaching out to many of the apartment buildings in their neighborhood to solicit input from renters.  They also created an online survey so they could gather feedback from folks who couldn’t attend the meetings.

Through this process, I became much more informed about the needs and desires of the community.  While Crown Hill has frequent transit, it remains a 45-minute bus commute to City Hall. (That is only about 10 minutes quicker than a bus commute from Everett.)  They showed me where there are significant urban flooding events in the neighborhood, and we got Seattle Public Utilities to start working on a plan to address those needs.  We collaborated with leaders from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways on planning the new greenway connecting to Robert Eagle Staff Middle School.  I also heard about more of the commercial businesses they hoped to attract to the neighborhood, and the existing businesses the community wants to support and retain.  One result of all this work is a city supported community planning process that began last year and will continue through 2019.

We all recognize that how we changed the zoning in the neighborhood is an important piece of the puzzle. Using the Mayor’s proposed MHA legislation as a baseline, we talked about what neighbors liked in the proposal and where they had concerns.  Like every neighborhood, there are a lot of voices and they don’t all agree, but the leaders did a great job of ensuring all voices were welcome, worked to build consensus where possible, and highlighted where different opinions remained.  I also made it clear that based on my principles, I was open to proposals that shifted where and how growth happened, but would not significantly reduce future growth and opportunity in Crown Hill.

The key themes I heard over the last year included:

  • A strong interest in seeing many of the commercial spaces redevelop along the 15th corridor into a pedestrian friendly commercial district and away from an auto oriented development pattern
  • Concern about displacement of existing renters
  • Interests in the different kinds of opportunities posed by the proposed low-rise and residential small lot zoning types.

I heard from blocks were currently single family and homeowners are excited for an opportunity to redevelop in a low-rise zone and other blocks where homeowners are more interested in the possibilities provided by a Residential Small Lot (RSL) zone where they could stay in their existing home and build a second home on their property to accommodate growth.  And of course, there were blocks that included people with a variety of different opinions.

All of this led me to propose a set of amendments that added a couple stories of development capacity for additional housing along a number of blocks in the commercial core, maintained or made adjustments to Low Rise zones where it was consistent with my principles and community consensus, and on a number of blocks adjusted the zoning from Low Rise to Residential Small Lot where it seemed the best opportunity to simultaneously preserve some of the existing housing stock while allowing additional homes to be built or new duplexes and triplexes to be created.

I am thrilled that these amendments were all successful and will now be part of the final MHA bill we will vote on next week.  The package of amendments as passed out of committee can be seen on this map.

I believe that the net result of the changes I proposed in the Crown Hill Urban Village will still have similar development capacity as the original proposed legislation, but the specific zoning has been tweaked to better reflect much of the vision that I heard through a neighborhood led, inclusive and open process.  Not everyone got what they wanted, in part because not everyone in the neighborhood wanted the same thing.  But I want to lift up the amazing work that the volunteers with the Crown Hill Urban Village Committee for Smart Growth did in creating a positive outcome for their neighborhood and the entire city.  It is a model that I hope the city can support in other communities that will see significant changes in the future.

A Response to System Failure

March 18th, 2019

I recently received a report called System Failure from several business organizations that described individuals committing extensive amounts of often problematic activity. The report provided an in-depth look at 100 individuals that have the highest frequency of problematic behavior in Seattle and how the criminal justice system has not remedied any of the issues. I agree with the report’s findings in that our current criminal justice response is not working and we as a City should be making deeper investments in evidence-based strategies.

One example is my continued support of the Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion (LEAD) program, which is an arrest diversion program that provides a credible alternative to booking people into jail for criminal activity which stems from unmet behavioral health needs or poverty. A study showed that compared to a control group, LEAD participants had 60% lower likelihood of arrest during the six months subsequent to evaluation. Because of the program’s success, LEAD has been replicated in over 90 other cities nationwide. Despite the presence of LEAD in our community, neighborhoods still experience a breadth of problematic behaviors. Bringing the LEAD program to scale citywide with significantly more resources will allow us to saturate more deeply and intervene in many of these types of behaviors. Additionally, a handful of the 100 individuals identified in the report are already LEAD and have complex trauma histories in addition to dual diagnoses. We often see a manifestation of this through substance abuse as a trauma response or method of symptom management due to lack of access to low-barrier mental health services. A report from Mental Health America named Washington state ranking number 48 out of 50 for how well the state funds and serves people with mental health challenges. As a City, we have not found the resources to address that gap and provide the totality of mental health services. Additionally, all of the 100 individuals do not have access to housing, and many are chronically homeless, which often means an individual has several barriers to accessing housing.

I absolutely support providing housing to these types of individuals as an evidence-based strategy, as it has also proven to be less costly than jail. This strategy has been thoroughly studied at the Downtown Emergency Service Center property called 1811 Eastlake. 1811 Eastlake opened in 2005 and provides supportive housing to 75 formerly homeless adults with chronic alcohol addiction. It is the first of its kind in Washington to address the needs of homeless chronic alcoholics who are the heaviest users of publicly-funded crisis services, which are greatly comparable to the report’s 100 individuals. The housing at 1811 Eastlake is affordable, accessible, provided through a harm-reduction and housing-first approach, which aims to quickly provide housing without preconditions and barriers to entry. Research on the housing program found that the median costs for residents the year prior to being housed were $4,066 per person per month in publicly-funded services such as jail, hospitalization and detox centers while the monthly median costs dropped to $1,492 and $958 after six and 12 months in housing. But scaling these successes would take more resources. Often referred to as Permanent Supportive Housing, this housing for chronically homeless people that includes social services has historically been funded by the federal government. Decades of defunding have left local jurisdictions with immense challenges.

We know that these strategies work and that they need more resources and this report adds to the urgency around deploying more of this resource. It is clear that the status quo is not working. It’s not working for these 100 individuals or any Seattle residents and continues to cause negative impacts inside our neighborhoods. As a City, we must continue investing in the strategies that work, as well as find and leverage more resources to saturate Seattle with evidence-based solutions. We also need all forms of government, not just the City of Seattle, to adequately fund these strategies. Until then, we will be left with the status quo of prolific offenders.

Accessory Dwelling Units – What’s Happened and Looking Ahead

December 10th, 2018

I appreciate the ongoing interest and excitement around backyard cottages and basement units. My office continues to hear every day from folks eager to move forward with projects and be a part of addressing our current housing crisis. Please watch my video below to learn what’s happened and next steps as 2018 comes to an end.

For more information, please visit the recently updated Accessory Dwelling Units website here.

Update on Conversations with ADU Final EIS Appellant

November 21st, 2018

As many of my constituents probably know, I have been working for over 3 years on legislation to make it easier for property owners to create accessory dwelling units (backyard cottages and mother-in-law apartments). On October 18, 2018, the Queen Anne Community Council, represented by Marty Kaplan, appealed the adequacy of the Final Environmental Impact Statement with the City of Seattle Hearing Examiner. The timing for City Council consideration of proposed legislation is uncertain while the appeal is ongoing.

On Monday I met with Marty Kaplan to discuss our proposed Backyard Cottage legislation.  I am always interested in meeting with constituents – even constituents who I have disagreements with.  I believe it is critically important to all policy makers to have a good understanding of all perspectives on an issue before we make policy decisions, and this issue is no different.

I want to share with the public both what transpired in that friendly meeting as well as facts on how this process will move forward.

Let me start by explaining what Marty’s challenge to the EIS means and, in that context, what a settlement negotiation would entail.   This appeal process is not where decisions are made about forthcoming legislation, but where the Examiner evaluates the adequacy of our analysis about the impacts of a range of policy alternatives.  Marty and his organization appealed, and a hearing has been set for the week of March 25th, with a decision expected soon after from the Hearing Examiner’s office.  That decision will articulate if more analysis is needed for the EIS, or if the EIS is adequate such that the Council can move forward with legislation.  Assuming a positive outcome from the Examiner appeal, my plan would be to introduce legislation based on the Preferred Alternative defined in the Final EIS as a starting point for our legislative process.

Following a favorable resolution of the Examiner’s appeal process, we will begin the legislative process.  We will have multiple committee meetings and a public hearing over the course of a few months to discuss the legislation.  Once we start debating at City Council, we will begin what is in effect a public negotiation with ALL members of our communities who are interested in this legislation.  We will get public comments at meetings, we will get emails and phone calls, and likely most Councilmembers will take private meetings with different groups advocating for different approaches to the policy.  In addition to our committee process, I plan to hold topical discussions leading up to legislation being introduced, where my colleagues and I can get feedback on some of the more debated aspects of the Preferred Alternative, such as the floor area ratio (FAR) requirements, and my ideas around owner occupancy requirements.  My goal with this and any legislation is to make the process public, transparent, and accessible to everyone interested in having their voice heard, regardless of whether they can afford attorneys. 

As far as negotiations for an appeal to the adequacy of our environmental review, the leverage Marty has in a negotiation is that he could drop the appeal, at which point we would be able to proceed to pass legislation on a faster timeline.  Why would Marty choose to drop his appeal?  Presumably only if he got something he wanted, and what he wants is different legislation than what is proposed in the Preferred Alternative of the EIS.

I explained to Marty that while the legislation I plan to introduce was likely to reflect the Preferred Alternative in the EIS, I am open to changes to that legislation as we work through the legislative process.  Furthermore, even if I disagree with certain changes to the legislation, a majority of the Council, not me alone, make the decisions about what changes are acceptable.  I also assured him that whatever likely passes the full Council at the end of the process will almost certainly be different than what I introduce, as I am not aware of any complex piece of land use legislation that doesn’t go through some changes in the legislative process.

If Marty was asking me to cut a special, secret deal with him so that he would drop the lawsuit, I made it clear to him that I am completely opposed to that type of back room dealing.  But I also informed him that he would have plenty of opportunities to present his concerns about my proposed legislation in public forums and that I would remain open to understanding why people have different opinions and consider different approaches we could explore to pursue my objectives of creating more housing opportunities.

In our conversation, I asked Marty what kind of changes he would like to see in the legislation, especially to address his complaint that it is a “one-size fits all” bill.  He proposed having different rules depending on lot size or street width.  I informed him that the underlying legislation already contemplates different heights allowed for backyard cottages based on lot size, but that I would be interested in hearing a different proposal if he had a different framework on lot size or street width to bring forward.  He didn’t have anything specific to share on Monday, but I encouraged him to develop a plan and bring his ideas to me, other Councilmembers, and committee discussions as they get underway in the new year.

Despite what Marty claims in his email blasts, I explained the many doors that remain open throughout the upcoming process to influence the outcome of the legislation.

I want to close with a quick note on the tenor of city politics that Marty is playing on in all of his communications.  I have known Marty for a decade, and I appreciated meeting with him on Monday. We clearly disagree on some policy issues but were still able to carry out a thoughtful and intelligent discussion.  It felt like an example of what is good about Seattle politics.  But I have since learned that Marty has publicly represented our friendly conversation as a divisive fight.  Instead of communicating where we have common ground and where we differ, explaining the opportunities to influence the process and sharing my willingness to remain open to alternative approaches during the legislative process, Marty choose instead to double down on a mean-spirited and polarizing approach, representing the worst of our current tone in politics.  As a community, we must decide if we are going to let divisiveness prevail and be the new way we govern, or re-embrace what I have known my entire life in Seattle: a collaborative approach to policy making.

The legislative process exists for a reason, and just because people seem to be leaning one way at the moment, including me, as we learn more from community members during the legislative process, we often change direction.  I encourage Marty Kaplan, and anyone else, to bring the best arguments forward in that public and transparent forum.

Backyard Cottages Are Key to Building Inclusive, Multi-generational Neighborhoods

October 8th, 2018

I am pleased to share we are one step closer to legislation to lower the barriers to building backyard cottages and basement units in Seattle. The Final Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) has been published.  The EIS evaluates the potential environmental impacts of proposed changes to the City’s Land Use Code intended to remove barriers to the creation of accessory dwelling units (ADUs) in single-family zones (also known as backyard cottages or in-law apartments).

The results of the analysis indicate that all of the action alternatives would increase the production of ADUs and would reduce the number of teardowns of single-family homes citywide compared to the No Action alternative.  Here is a brief description of the EIS and Preferred Alternative.  The Preferred Alternative analyzed in the Final EIS represents the changes I intend to include in legislation, hopefully in early 2019.

Some key elements of my proposal will include:

  • Allowing two ADUs on one lot
  • Removing the off-street parking requirement
  • Allowing Detached ADUs (DADUs) on lots of at least 3,200 square feet
  • Removing the owner-occupancy requirement
  • Requiring one year of continuous ownership to establish a second ADU
  • Allowing DADUs of up to 1,000 square feet, the same size currently allowed for AADUs
  • Increasing DADU height limits by 1-2 feet, with flexibility for green building strategies
  • Providing flexibility for one-story DADUs accessible to people with disabilities or limited mobility, with limitations on tree removal
  • Establishing a new floor area ratio (FAR) standard that limits the maximum size of new single-family homes and encourages ADUs

The Environmental Impact Statement, which commenced in October 2017, represents the capstone on a multi-year effort to explore policy changes that would spur creation of ADUs.

Based on comments we received and the analysis that was conducted, we believe that backyard cottages will allow homeowners to increase the number and variety of housing choices in single-family zones. What’s more, the addition of ADUs will afford homeowners and renters alike a mix of housing types at prices accessible to people at a variety of incomes. This includes family members who want to age ‘in place’, or increase their income through a long-term rental.

Without an appeal to the EIS, we would plan to introduce legislation and take Council action in early 2019.  If the EIS is appealed, Council cannot take action and the timeline becomes more uncertain, depending on the complexity of the appeal and scheduling availability.

I am eager to move forward with legislation and have heard from hundreds of people over the last few years who are ready and waiting for us to move forward.

The Final EIS is available here on our project website and you can also view this piece is a piece published about the EIS in the Seattle Times.

Transit Savings – How Employees and Employers Could Save Money

September 19th, 2018

Employees and employers could save money through pre-tax commuter benefits.

For many Seattle families, public transit costs are a major household expense. National data shows that transportation costs are the second highest household cost after housing, affecting cost-burdened households in Seattle.  But few people know they can set aside money for transit expenses through a pre-tax payroll deduction. That money can be used to commute via bus, rail, ferry, or water taxi.

Pre-tax commuter benefits save employees and employers money in the long run by allowing workers to allocate up to $255 for transit costs before taxes are applied. For a Seattle worker making between $38,700 to $82,500 per year and deducting $100 per month in pre-tax commuter benefits, that Seattle worker would save $356 a year in taxes.

Commuter benefits also save businesses money. By offering the pre-tax benefit, businesses save about 8% on payroll taxes because the commuter benefits are allocated before taxes are applied. In the example above, the business would save $92 per year for that one employee.

This is a rare opportunity to reduce taxes for both employees and employers, and the tax discount is significant enough that more people may be encouraged to take public transit, which in turn reduces our impact on the environment. The City of Seattle would be following other cities, including San Francisco, Berkeley, Washington D.C., Oakland and New York City.

So why do so few people take advantage of pre-tax commuter benefits, which are available for everyone in the country?  Often, it’s because employers and employees don’t know it’s available.

Since September of 2017, I’ve been working on a mechanism to require businesses to offer commuter benefits to their employees.  The first step in my work was to allocate funding in the 2018 City Budget for the non-profit Commute Seattle to conduct outreach to Seattle businesses and educate them on pre-tax commuter benefits. Commute Seattle is an organization available to all businesses to provide outreach, education and technical assistance on many transit issues including pre-tax commuter benefits. My office has also conducted extensive business outreach throughout the summer, including working with leaders from Mayor Durkan’s Small Business Advisory Council.

Through my Sustainability and Transportation Committee, I introduced a Commuter Benefit Ordinance (Council Bill 119329), which would require Seattle businesses with 20 or more employees to offer an option to use this pre-tax commuter benefit.

Businesses won’t go it alone, of course. They will receive advice and assistance from Commute Seattle. Based on feedback from members of the Small Business Advisory Council, I have decided to move the implementation date from July 2019 to January 2020 and the enforcement date from July 2020 to January 2021 to ensure businesses have ample time to successfully implement this ordinance.

The proposed Commuter Benefit Ordinance passed my committee on Sept. 18, 2018, and will be considered by the full City Council on Monday, October 1.

By allowing employees to reduce their commuting costs and lowering businesses tax liability, the Commuter Benefit Ordinance will save money and can help reduce congestion and carbon emissions.

How the Sweetened Beverage Tax Allows Families to Stretch their Food Dollars Further

September 7th, 2018

When I think of the sweetened beverage tax, I picture the face of Nora Jenkins.

Jenkins shops at the Columbia City Farmers’ Market every Wednesday and picks up her favorite vegetable – collard greens.

She receives SNAP assistance (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), but through a program called Fresh Bucks, she’s able to double the amount of money she spends on fresh fruits and vegetables. That’s because Fresh Bucks provide a dollar-for-dollar match to shoppers who make purchases with SNAP benefits at farmers markets, market stands and neighborhood grocery stores.

Fresh Bucks in Seattle is now primarily funded by the city’s Sweetened Beverage Tax.

When my Council colleagues and I passed the Sweetened Beverage Tax last year, we heard clearly from community members that it was important the money collected was reinvested back into the city’s lower income communities, communities of color, and communities with food deserts. Low-income communities and communities of color bear the burden of poor health outcomes in the city.  Communities of color have long been targets of the soda industry, leading to higher rates of consumption, and thus, are paying more of the tax.  For this tax to be fair, revenue must be reinvested into the health of these communities. The Council’s number one funding priority was resources for increasing food access, and expanding those opportunities for people in the food security gap.  

“There are 122,000 families in King County who work and earn a living wage, but struggle to put healthy food on the table. They’re not eligible for food benefits such as EBT or SNAP, and there aren’t many additional programs to help those families buy more fruits and vegetables. Next year, revenue from the Sweetened Beverage Tax will expand access to Fresh Bucks, allowing food insecure families to take advantage of our matching program at local farmers markets,” said Tanika Thompson, food access organizer for Got Green and member of the Food Access Coalition.

The legislation also established a Sweetened Beverage Tax Community Advisory Board (CAB). The board is made up of community members involved in grassroots solutions to food justice issues, and public health and education experts working with low income communities and communities of color. The CAB works collaboratively with the community to make recommendations on where money collected through the tax should go.

The Community Advisory Board will present their recommendations to my committee on Friday at 2:00 p.m.

In the first and second quarters of this year, the city collected $10.7 million through the Sweetened Beverage Tax. Mayor Durkan is expected to present her budget later this month, and it’s my hope to see her set a budget that is consistent with the board’s recommendations.

Jenkins said since she’s discovered the Fresh Bucks program six months ago through her church and Got Green, her health has improved. Jenkins has been able to decrease her medications because she’s eating healthier.

Nora Jenkins, right, being interviewed about Fresh Bucks.

“Food stamps only go so far and they only give you so much. Now with this program, I’m eating healthy. A lot of vegetables and fruits. My doctor is happy. My body is happy. And I’m very happy,” Jenkins said.

Fresh Bucks also helps our local farmers and their businesses. The program generated $1.5 million in business to local farmers since 2012. Clayton Burrows, Executive Director of Growing Washington, said the farmers market system in Seattle has done a wonderful job promoting and securing funding for Fresh Bucks.

“It gives people who might not be able to afford farm fresh food access, and this has been very rewarding to me. In our society food is really undervalued. When we buy cheap food, it’s harming the environment and our health because it’s often laced with chemicals. The Fresh Bucks program is a model for urban areas and a testament to the important work happening in Seattle,” Burrows said.

So far this year, we’ve also more than doubled Fresh Bucks usage compared to the same time last year. In addition, Fresh Bucks is expanding to invest further in community thanks to the Sweetened Beverage Tax. This year, Fresh Bucks has been able to:

  • Partner with 26 healthcare clinics are prescribing Fresh Bucks Rx (cash-value vouchers) to people in the food gap so they can buy more fruits and vegetables
  • Pilot partnerships with community-based organizations to distribute fruit and vegetable vouchers to people in the food gap
  • Increase the benefit available to SNAP customers by doubling their dollars for fresh produce purchases, and removed the limit on how much benefit they can earn
  • The Fresh Bucks program is about to launch in supermarkets, which will increase year-round access to the program and increase the number of retail sites where customers can use their Fresh Bucks to buy fruits and vegetables

I look forward to continuing to support these programs as they grow, to help ensure low-income families and families of color in Seattle have access to healthy food.


Safety and Costs of Bike Lanes

August 9th, 2018

Last week the city council passed Resolution #31826 committing the city to completing certain pieces of the downtown bike network in the next 18 months. I expect the City’s Department of Transportation to do their best work in identifying cost efficiencies as they finalize designs for these projects so that we can get the safety improvements as affordably as possible.  I will be continually monitoring their work to ensure this occurs.

I also recognize that certain improvements may come with significant costs because of the existing road design or other existing deficiencies that will need to be addressed.  In these instances, if the project is still the best solution to address safety needs, I will also support these projects. It is important that we not sacrifice the safety of some people simply to save money and we must also be aware that sometimes the cost of doing nothing can be significantly more than a safety investment.

This challenge has recently come to light as the city opened a couple of new protected bike lanes in downtown Seattle:

  • On 2nd Avenue, the city spent nearly $11 million to extend the existing protected bike lane from Pike St to Denny Ave.
  • On 7th Avenue the city spent $3.8 million to build a protected bike lane from Westlake to Pike Street.

A breakdown of some of the costs were detailed in the Seattle Times two months ago.

This has raised questions such as why some bike lanes cost as much as they do and what is the appropriate amount to invest in safety projects for various roadway users. I want to address both of these questions.

First, why are some safety projects so expensive? The context in which we make safety investments plays a huge role in how expensive the projects are. For decades our road system has been designed to move cars, often at the detriment of other road users, and the cost to retrofit that system can be expensive in some circumstances.  In the case of 2nd Avenue, to make that roadway function for all users required a complete upgrade to the traffic signal system that was decades old and in need of being replaced at some point regardless of this project. Forty percent of the project costs were to cover the signal replacement which was mostly to manage car traffic.  When safety projects require broader system upgrades that would ultimately be necessary regardless, it can make those safety projects look more expensive than they would otherwise be.

An alternative example to this are the safety investments made along Pike and Pine streets between 2ndt Ave and 7th Ave.  Because modern signal infrastructure was already in place and the existing curb infrastructure could accommodate the safety improvements, SDOT was able to install 7 blocks of protected bike lanes in 2017 for only $325,000.

Sometimes decisions that are not directly related to the safety improvement have a cost impact on the project.  For example, on Second Avenue, a decision was made to minimize the disruption to Pike Place Market during the summer months by not partially tearing up that road to determine the exact location of other infrastructure.  This was an intentional and well considered decision and it resulted in greater costs to the safety project.

The second question I field in my office is also a fair one: what is the appropriate amount to spend on safety improvements?  We need to be smart and thoughtful about what are the appropriate investments to make at this time, but it is also critical that we make significant strides to meeting our Vision Zero goals  to eliminate all traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030.  We have a comprehensive strategy to achieve this goal that includes investment in roadway infrastructure to ensure safety for all road users. In some cases we can make low cost investments that deliver the necessary safety improvements, like we were able to do on Pike and Pine streets.  Other times there are significant costs to make the necessary safety improvements, such as was the case on 2nd Ave.

Above all, it is also important to recognize that there can be significant costs to not making necessary safety improvements.  In the case of 2nd Ave., a cyclists and new mother, Sher Kung, was struck and killed four years ago while biking. The city paid a $3.1 million settlement in that death, but the incalculable loss to her family and community goes far beyond dollars.

As we work to make investments so that all road users are safe, we need to be smart in finding the most cost-effective ways to deliver the necessary safety improvements and in some locations there will be projects where it will require significant investments to correct a design that is inherently dangerous.  To meet our Vision Zero goals, I will continue to support safety improvements for all users.

Creating a Connected, Protected Bicycle Lane Network in Downtown

July 18th, 2018

Riding a bike is proven to keep communities healthy, and to reduce climate pollution, and approximately 60% of Seattleites want to bike more than they do now.  But today we heard loud and clear that the lack of safe, connected routes is cited as the number one reason why they don’t. In recent years there have been a series of commitments made about specific investments downtown, but many projects have been postponed putting Seattle behind our targets on ridership.

During the meeting of Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, which I chair, we introduced Resolution #31826 which memorializes the Seattle Center City Bike Network, and establishes an 18-month implementation schedule for creating a connected, protected bicycle lane network in downtown Seattle by the end of 2019.

I was joined by advocates from the Seattle Bike Advisory Board, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Cascade Bicycle Club and other people who ride bikes to express broad community support for a Bike Network that everyone can feel safe using.  Photos from today’s event are available online.

Together we reaffirmed our commitment to establishing a connected, protected bicycle lane network in downtown Seattle.  We also restated our commitment to achieve zero traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2030.  

The goal with today’s resolution is to single out safe infrastructure downtown which is the start or end of many trips in this city, and oftentimes the reason why many folks can’t or don’t ride a bike.  Today’s resolution is also the culmination of a series of conversations with advocates and SDOT, and building on our bike master plan that represents a larger commitment to riders in Seattle.

Given what’s at stake, it’s too expensive not to make these critical investments in completing the bike network for all to utilize and enjoy.

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