Mayoral Candidates Differ on Most Effective Transportation Fix

Oct 22, 2013

Have you ever been stuck in traffic or tried to get on an overcrowded bus, or had to dodge potholes in the bike lanes?

Sometimes, just getting from point A to point B can be an exercise in frustration, even if you live and work within the city limits of Seattle. The candidates for mayor of Seattle, incumbent Mike McGinn and challenger state Sen. Ed Murray both say they’ve experienced problems in getting around the city.

Not surprisingly, each candidate also says he is the best candidate to improve transportation in the city.

A View from the Trenches

At 7 a.m. on a weekday morning, it’s controlled chaos in the home of Sarah Duran and Neil Pattison in Seattle’s Magnolia neighborhood.

Duran and Pattison have to get themselves ready for work. They also have to make sure their two little boys are fed and dressed. Everybody has to be out the door by 7:45 a.m.

Duran says it’s her drive downtown to drop off her youngest, Jules, at daycare that is the most stressful part of her day.

“It makes me crazy,” she said.

She says it’s not just car traffic, but all the modes of transportation competing for the same space that is so nerve-wracking.

“It seems like some days, it just completely clashes. Some days, I feel like I’m playing a video game, trying to avoid the bicyclists and pedestrians. It can be quite a mess,” she said.

Duran's afternoon commute can be even worse. She says there have been times when she’s been unable to make it back to Magnolia to pick up her older son, Chance, at his afterschool program by the 6 p.m. deadline.

“It's one of the few times that I’ve been brought to tears by my commute,” she said.

A Sign of Prosperity?

Both mayoral candidates are sympathetic to Duran’s commuting woes. McGinn says, in many ways, though, it’s a sign that we’re growing as a city, "which is a good thing."

“There are cities that have not grown, that empty out and lose their tax base. We’re expanding and we’re expanding our tax base, but with that growth come some real challenges,” McGinn said.

Those challenges include having enough attractive alternatives in place so people don’t have to drive, McGinn said, and progress has been made on that front.

Ten years ago, for example, 43 percent of trips downtown during rush hour were in single-occupancy vehicles, the mayor said. That same figure is now down to just 34 percent. With the job growth we’ve had, he added, if Seattle still had as many people driving alone as did a decade ago, it would mean "we’d have to have 12 additional lanes for traffic and 10 square blocks of 10-story-high parking garages.”

Mode Wars

McGinn’s opponent doesn’t oppose making more room for bike lanes and transit, and promoting walkable communities. But Murray doesn’t think the city under McGinn has gone about it the right way.

Murray says McGinn's approach to transportation has resulted in what Murray calls mode wars "where bicycles are angry at cars and cars are angry at bicyclists, and pedestrians are angry at buses."

Murray says the city should combine its separate transit, bike, and pedestrian plans.

“Other cities actually do integrated transportation planning. Vancouver, B.C., for example, they actually do prioritize what they’re going to do first. So part of it is growth, but part of it is our lack of taking an integrated approach, of planning things in separate buckets,” Murray said.

McGinn takes issue with Murray’s claim that there isn’t an overall vision for transportation in Seattle. He says the problem isn't a lack of a plan, but rather a lack of money from the state for things like Metro transit.

McGinn says he has taken an integrated approach, and points to the way he has fixed up neighborhood streets as an example.

“Not only do you fix the potholes, you also widen the sidewalks, improve the crosswalks, and create a safe biking facility and that will yield huge benefits,” McGinn said.

Rely Less on Cars, Both Agree

If the candidates differ on how best to get there, both McGinn and Murray do favor more light rail, streetcars, and bikeways, as well as continuing to make Seattle less dependent on cars.

As for our commuter, Duran, she’s counting the days until her personal circumstances change.

“I’m looking forward to the day that both of my kids are in their neighborhood schools,” she said.

Then, Duran says, she’ll be able to avoid driving downtown; it will be easier to take the bus to work.

“That’ll  happen in about nine months, but who’s counting?” she said.