Move Seattle, the $930M levy Seattle voters passed in 2015, originally budgeted around $860K per mile for bicycle infrustructure such as protected lanes. The Seattle Department of Transportation(SDOT) has now doubled that estimate, as stated in a status report to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee. This sharp increas has been attributed to rising construction costs as well as decreased federal funding. A bike lane along Seventh Avenue, including other improvements such as storm drains, signage, islands, and more, came to a total of $3.8 million for just one-third of a mile. The projection is now $12M per mile (“Actually closer to $13 [million],” Interim SDOT Director Goran Sparrman reported to the Committee). This has a lot to do with costs of downtown lanes being significantly greater than the projections based on greenways that were outlined. It’s uncertain at this point just how much of the originally anticipated 50 miles of bicycle lanes will actually come to completion. The higher-than-expected downtown lane costs, and loss of some federal grant funding, caused Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkin and Sparrmanto call for a “reset” of the levy last month.
Seattle does have other opportunities for getting aroundthat are coming to completion. Sound Transit has many projects under construction and scheduled for completion within the next five years (paralleling the time the original Levy work would have been completed). These proejcts include the East Link, with Sound Transit Link Light Rail stations at Main Street and over the existing Bellevue Transit Center to be completed by 2023 and Northgate Station to be completed by 2021.
The King County Metro system has budgeted $1.6 billion to focus on doubling ridership and increasing service by 70% by 2040. Metro saw a record high of 122.2 million riders last year (Sound Transit also saw a record high, 23.2 million riders, in 2017). This is a huge credit to Seattle transit riders: according to CityLab, Seattle has not gained more cars in its most congested areas, and the number of private vehicles driven downtown has decreased by 10% since 2010 – even with a 15% population growth in the same amount of time.
In the short term, it looks like Seattle will continue to be more busable than bikeable, and transit options such as rail may improve access throughout the area much sooner than the bicycle-friendly solution can be completed. In the long term, what will reduce congestions for the million or more additional residents anticipated to be living in the area by 2040 (according to the Puget Sound Regional Council)? Well, driverless cars and more car sharing, perhaps. While driverless vehicles may begin to dominate our roads as soon as 2025 as some experts believe, according to a recently published article by CCIM Institute, our future may beless car-centered on the whole. “Changes will happen more gradually on the roads, but the big push for public transportation is happening already,” says Tom Bothen, owner of Bothencharles Real Estate Group, LLC. “Urban planning, zoning, and building codes will drive the impact of driverless vehicles. Globally, the population trend is that 70 million people annually are moving to cities. We have to find more efficient ways to move those people around, which will be some combination of driverless cars and public transit.” Is budgeting for bicycles the best way to manage Seattle’s transit future? The city currently ranks 5th among the most bicycle friendly, while the population is increasing faster than most cities in the country. Bike-riding growth in Seattle between 2011-2016 falls behind cities such as Pittsburgh, Washington D.C., New Orleans, and Boston. It’s clear that the future of transit is changing, regardless of bicycle lane projects. As transit options in Seattle increase, and private car ridership decreases, there may be significant changes to how the growing population occupies space in buildings and on roads.