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Transcript from Panel Discussion with the Media on Snohomish County Transportation

On September 22, Snotrac held an online panel discussion with four transportation reporters and editors on Snohomish County transportation issues. This panel discussion was the first of a four-part Perspectives Series.

Due to a technical error, no video recording was made of this first panel discussion. For this reason, a lightly edited transcript based on an AI transcription is provided below.

The other three panel discussions can be viewed on Snotrac's Youtube channel.



Brock Howell, Snotrac

Welcome everyone to Snotrac’s Perspectives Series. This is going to be a four part series and our first panel discussion is with transportation reporters. So, I cannot be more excited for our panel today. Our panelists will be Teresa Wippel of My Edmonds News, MLT News, and Lynnwood Today, Mike Linblom of The Seattle Times, Ryan Packard of The Urbanist, and Tom Fucoloro of the Seattle Bike Blog and a recent published author of Biking Uphill in the Rain.

For those of you who are new to Snotrac, the Snohomish County Transportation Coalition advocates for connecting people and communities in Snohomish County and beyond with safe, flexible, and accessible transportation. We do that primarily by convening transportation and human service providers to identify mobility gaps and work together to find solutions for them. We focus on priority populations, including low income individuals, people with disabilities, older adults, and youth, as well as additional priority populations within our communities.

So with that, I don't want to delay too much further into starting our presentation. I do have a couple of polls so the panelists can get a sense of who's here and so I can get a list of registrants and so I'm going to pop up the first poll, which is just a sign in. Please quickly sign in. If the sign in doesn't pop up on your screen, feel free to do so and just write your name organization in the chat and I can add it in later.

All right, next poll question. Who Do you work for or represent? What's your subject matter? This is gonna help our panelists make sure that they understand who is here. All right, closing the poll and sharing the results. Six public agency folks here, seven nonprofits. Folks representing transit, ferries, and roads. Nearly half are here from transit, ferries, and roads. We have thirty-five percent focused on bike, ped, trails, ADA, and transportation demand management. We have forty percent or eight people in the housing, planning, zoning world. Twenty-five percent or five folks from the human/social services world. Of course we have media professionals here.

Alright, final poll questions. This is just a fun question, a little bit of history of the county. When Did the Interurban Railroad Operate? 1899 to 1915, 1907 to 1928, 1910 to 1939, or 1915 to 1933? And then the second question: What was the promised year in the ST3 ballot measure for the Everett Link Extension to be completed? What now is the target year and was the affordable year? You have three options for this question. There are actual correct answers to this poll. Alright I'm gonna close it. So thirty-eight percent of folks got the first question correct. The interurban operated from 1910 to 1939. Oh, this is a little surprising. The correct answer for when the Everett Link Extension was promised to be delivered; the current target year for completing it and then the affordable year, is 2036, 2037, and 2041. More than half of you got it wrong — sorry folks. Alright, with that, we're going to get this started. Thank you for the little quiz.

Thank you to the folks who are just joining us now as well. Welcome here.

I'm excited to have Teresa Wippel, Michael Lindbom, Ryan Packer, and Tom Fucoloro to discuss Snohomish County transportation. With that I'm going to go and jump into the first question.

Tom, you just wrote a book on the history of bicycling and transportation infrastructure in Seattle. Can you provide a quick sketch of how our bike paths, transit lines, and roadways came to be within the central Puget Sound.

Tom Fucoloro

Biking Uphill in the Rain The Story of Seattle behind the Handlebars. The first section of the book really dives into this question of the relationship between the early White settling of this region and the development of the transportation infrastructure. It's a fascinating story. It surprised me and I thought I kind of had a handle on it before I started writing and I came out of this process with sort of a different perspective on exactly what was happening.

You know, I think it's important to put into context that most of this land was claimed under a White supremacist law in the 1850 [Donation] Land Claim Act which specifically only allowed White people to make land claims — mostly White men — and that the bicycle really arrived in mass in this region, just like 40 years later is when the first bicycle boom happened in Seattle. And so the city is trying to figure out how to become more bike-friendly and respond to the fact that there's all these influential people who are really in favor of bicycling.

They start building out a network of bicycle paths so that people can get outside of the very small downtown Seattle area and into these other areas. As I was writing and doing a lot more research in the archives about this phase of bicycle path expansion when you know the city built twenty miles of bike paths in just a couple years at the end of the 1890s, it sort of became clear why a lot of it was happening. There were all these landowners in the area who had either made claims or their parents had made claims, or they were investors who bought someone else's claim and they saw bicycling and these bike paths as a way to increase people's access to these different parts of the city.

To get beyond just the core of the city, which was claimed by just a couple of high power families, whose names we all know. It's interesting to look at the first bike clubs that would organize huge rides, and they would publish the names of everyone who went on the ride. The names read like a list of Seattle street names. There's a couple Nickersons and some Dennys, and Judge Thomas Burke of the Burke-Gilman Trail namesake. He bought the first-ever Seattle-made bicycle.

There's always connections to these early founders. And that sort of put into context for me exactly what that early bicycle boom was. It was people using bikes and having fun and all that, that. You see the old, the old pictures of people smiling and having fun biking through the deep, deep lost forest of Capitol Hill. In reality, a lot of it was a land speculation tool, a way to actualize land speculation and these claims and grow the White settlement of Seattle.

So then one question I really wanted to ask was, how did the bicyclists allow the car drivers to take over these paths? And what I realized is the bicyclists became the drivers. So this early story of these bike paths in Seattle was really the start of Seattle's car culture.

And it just sort of once the car came around and, because Seattle also got cars very late, cars were popular in Europe and the East Coast before they got here.

Once the car arrived, that really was a much better tool for developing out onto communities, out sprawling away from the city, beyond the reach of a simple walk and being able to do it without having to build an expensive streetcar network in order to make your developments happen. This pattern continues throughout the 20th century, especially throughout the region. As the city ended up being successful and neighboring cities also, their financial prospects grew.

The building of roadways and highways and all the car centric infrastructure that really defines the 20th Century is a similar process. People have made claims or made land investments and these roads were how you actualize those investments, people building homes and businesses on your land, that's how you make money off that land and so that's just a huge driver of all of the expansion of the city.

Transportation and development, they're the same thing. It's not just that they play off each other, they are the same. I think that's sort of one of the insights of the book that came through loud and clear, the more research I did this, the more that point became solidified to me.

Brock Howell

I think that's a really good start for a conversation here. Teresa, Mike, Ryan: Is there anything you'd like to add about the construction of our transportation system over the last century?

Mike Lindblom

In Snohomish County, the county and the cities deserve a whole lot of praise for putting together the Interurban Trail, a really safe pleasant way to go north-south.

I wish it were here around 50 years ago when I grew up, near Chase Lake [in Edmonds]. I have good memories of commuting on my three-speed bicycle in the Chase Lake area down to Downtown Edmonds and then back up all the hills including on an icy day when my best friend and her mom rolled over on Main Street in Downtown Edmonds and I wound up calling 9-1-1 and miraculously they weren't killed, but anyway uh road I bike sometimes on highway ninety nine going across it to where the ninety nine asian food market is and It's kind of amazing how, how dangerous that all was in the early 70s.

The Interurban is great. And one thing I think should be encouraged is to really improve, beautify, and extend spurs off it as a way to get to the Lynwood City Center light rail station in a year or two.

Brock Howell

Teresa, you’re an editor representing three communities here. Any particular thoughts for Snohomish County?

Teresa Wippel

One thing that I think people think about a lot is the Interurban railway system and how that was really a connector for a lot of communities early on. I've seen comments on our websites about the fact that it was such a great system, and then all of a sudden the car came along and it went away, and now we're trying to get back to some of that transportation again. That's more mass transit, and too bad that we didn't have a little bit more foresight at the time to try to hang on to some of that.

Ryan Packer

That's a great segue of what I was going to say. Tom talked a little bit about car culture and the startup of car culture in Central Puget Sound. The role that the state legislature over the past several decades in reinforcing those standards and frameworks really can't be underplayed in Snohomish County or statewide. Just from everything from the classification of the state highway that's supposed to be for local travel but you're allowing forty mile per hour traffic on it, for example — it's not very biking-, pedestrian-friendly — to things like the Environmental Policy Act, in terms of created during the 70s.

Like Mike was talking about, SEPA’s more about reducing impacts. So it's in line with environmentalism to actually move traffic faster. So, those are all reinforced and so when we get to climate pledges that we have at the state level, it's not as easy as simply undoing all that. That's all one. Each individual piece has to be looked at and reassessed.

Brock Howell

Let's go to our next question. In Snohomish County, we've seen a substantial increase in pedestrian fatalities in the last couple of years, and the trend over the last decade or so. Is this similar to what's happening elsewhere? What are other best practices? Are you reading about or reporting on for addressing traffic fatalities? And do you see Snohomish doing something about it?

Teresa Wippel

I can talk about some things that are happening in our area, particularly on Highway 99 on the Edmonds segment. The City [of Edmonds] recently finished installing some concrete barriers and center median landscaping to try to reduce some of those pedestrian fatalities that have happened in that area from people trying to run across six lanes of traffic. There’s a new crosswalk at 234th. One of the problems people have is there are no crosswalks either on Highway 99 in many places for people to be able to cross, and so that'll help. The City did recently petition the state department of transportation and were granted to drop the speed limit on Highway 99 from 45 to 40 [mph], so again trying to figure out some ways to address that issue in that area.

Mike Lindblom

That's a really interesting part of town. One thing all four of us should probably be looking at is whether these HAWK signals are successful or not. I'm a little nervous about them because they're complex and they put too much judgment in the hands of drivers, so one driver might stop and the next driver goes off sides and hits a pedestrian they don't even see coming across. The professionals insist that these work well, but everybody needs to watch those HAWK signals with an eagle eye.

The Edmonds beautification looks really great although it's still essentially a six lane roadway and Seattle is having trouble sorting this out. Seattle got a $50 million grant from the legislature but now this year's session kicked it off beyond 2029, which is kind of a purgatory or the kiss of death for these projects. [Senator] Carlisle, who spearheaded this in North Seattle, is unhappy, to say the least, that the City [of Seattle] is still doing yet another round of studies instead of focusing on an immediate sidewalk and crossing improvement in the area from 90th to 105th. Similar discussions and similar very slow awareness and planning are happening in South Everett. I was just looking it up: more than two dozen crashes in the central to south Everett area just on Highway 99 in the past decade, similar to patterns on Aurora in Seattle. [Senator] Marco Liias is aware of this. I don't see an immediate project happening, though. Maybe someone else in this group knows the latest about taming South Everett.

Brock Howell

It is deferred similarly to the $50 million for Aurora, past the last biennium in the capital plan. So, there’s an uncertain timeline for the South Everett project. And it appears it was switched out for the Aviation Fuels Center. So, you have those trade offs being made within the transportation budget.

Any additional thoughts, Ryan or Tom, on this issue?

Ryan Packer

State Route 99 is a problem in Snohomish County. It's a problem in King County. It's a problem in South King County and Federal Way and Kent. We have a common denominator when it comes to uh the roadways that are most dangerous in our state. They're the multi lane, high speed arterials. Many of them are state highways because that's where the most speeds are and so it's really an across the board problem when it comes to 80% of the pedestrian fatalities in Seattle are on roadways with more than one lane in each direction.

It's really a question of how we are going to be able to square this issue where these are the roads that are intended to move the most, primarily cars, through our communities. We can't really solve the issue of the design of these places without addressing that square on. And so we haven't really seen the changes that we have had in Shoreline or that are on the way in Edmonds. Obviously, you're looking at sort of creating a complete street in Edmonds. It'll be the first to have an on-road protected bike lanes segment on SR 99 anywhere that I know of, which is a big step. But fundamentally, we're not changing how these roads actually operate.

Tom Fucoloro

I guess one thing I can bring from the historical perspective of it that became very apparent to me when researching this book and I'm learning about the early highway building phase and the early roadway building phase is that the engineers who were designing these streets genuinely had no idea what they were doing. They were just making it up as they went and it was just like, well, how wide can we make the street and how many lanes can we squeeze in?

That's how many will do. End of discussion about the design of this road. I think sometimes people have this idea that the streets have six lanes and it must need six lanes or it wouldn't have six lanes, right? But really there was no thought that went into why it has six lanes other than that they had enough money to make it six lanes and they had enough land to do it, or they had enough money to buy the land to do it.

We know so much more now about how to make a street safe than we did back when these highways were first being made. It doesn't take a traffic engineer or a student of traffic engineering to drive down or take a bus down Aurora to realize that, no, I don't think that this whole street was fully thought through. We have these sections where it's like a freeway, but it's also sort of like a business street, and it can't be both and it's clearly not working as either one of those things.

My message to any anyone working in an agency or decision makers is that don't assume that these things were created the way they are because that's what was needed or that it was a really well thought out design. We should feel empowered that we can do better now. We know a lot more. So, I think you can also separate in your head: you know there's Aurora/99 like that's its own that's one specific problem we need to deal with, but then there's all of the other streets in the community, and those are much more clear cut and much easier to deal with and much more affordable to deal with.

One really thing that makes me feel very hopeful about getting the traffic death spike to come back down is that when we do Safe Streets projects and actually genuinely prioritize safety, they work phenomenally. The problem is we're not doing them fast enough as a region. But every time we take a four lane street and make it one lane in each direction, turn lanes, maybe bike lanes, it works just like it's almost magic.

It's so effective and there's so many streets all across the region that we could do this to, we just need to decide that it's what we're going to prioritize. And if we did that to every street that is dangerous, that we're seeing high collisions on, we'd see huge results.

Brock Howell

Let's shift gears a little bit to a different mode: the expansion of light rail system. Sound Transit is building a regional transit system that will connect Everett to Tacoma with the spine of light rail by 2041 as well as light rail to Redmond, Issaquah, West Seattle, and Ballard and bus rapid transit from Renton to Lynnwood through Bellevue. Lynnwood Link opens next September, assuming that timeline still holds, and the Everett Link Extension is due to be fully completed in 2041 absent Snohomish County leaders working together to fill a $600 million shortfall.

I have a series of questions about this. First, what opportunities will light rail bring to local communities and what are South County jurisdictions doing to capitalize on them? We'll start with Teresa.

Teresa Wippel

We've seen this especially in Lynnwood and Mountlake Terrace with the stations coming in. The cities have been pretty thoughtful about changing their zoning to make sure there's a lot of multifamily development near the transit stations to accommodate the increased population. And I think they've been really trying to focus on that. And so the residents in other neighborhoods feel like it's going where some of that intense development needs to go.

I also think that there's been quite a bit of thought from what I've heard from Community Transit in particular, and thinking about what the connections are going to look like to those stations now that they're going to be focused more on their local routes and trying to get people to light rail, especially since those new stations don't have extra parking. They have parking, but not as much as some people think they should for those who want to drive. So, they're really thinking a lot about that and I think that's a concern.

Neighbors always worry that there's going to be parking spill over from those stations because people are going to try to drive and they're going to be parking in the neighborhoods instead. So I still see that as a concern. But I do know that the Community Transit in particular has been really proactive in talking with the cities about what that's going to look like, and for Edmonds, I think it's always an issue about wanting to have better connections to, even though we don't have a station in Edmonds having better connections to light rail, and I think that's a conversation that is ongoing as well.

Ryan Packer

I think Community Transit, among all of the regional transit agencies, is probably the best positioned to take advantage of light rail. Currently, King County Metro is not as good of a place in terms of when it comes to hiring operators. And obviously that's a challenge for everyone right now in today's environment. But for Community Transit, you're going to have the ability to really reinvest all those service hours that are currently running between places like Lynnwood and Everett down to downtown Seattle, take those hours that those buses are running on in traffic, running on the highway, and be able to do things like run a more frequent bus between downtown Edmonds and downtown Lynnwood.

To the point about the parking in the neighborhoods, I think the experience from Seattle is that there's a lot of tools that we can use to mitigate those impacts. That was a big concern when it came to Rainier Valley and Beacon Hill. You have things like parking zone passes and things like that that are really able to cut down on those sorts of impacts.

Mike Lindblom

Snohomish County, Mountlake Terrace, and Lynnwood are really showing Seattle and Shoreline how to do it. With the new light rail line, Mountlake Terrace has built basically an all new downtown from scratch. Between their central park and the light rail station, it's really great. And they also have the other apartments that are just to the south of the station. Those should bring a lot of light rail users. And you can get there in different ways: massive park and ride garage, walking. From new apartments and hotels, the Interurban trail, and Community Transit sending buses all day from all directions in there. So it could be really great.

Of course, it's easy to overstate this. Not everybody wants to go to Seattle, but the University of Washington, being easy to to reach from Lynnwood, is going to be a huge benefit. It's insurance against a downtown downturn. We've already got Northgate and U District stations, the number one and three stations on the line, so there's going to be a lot of opportunity to move between Snohomish County and UW.

It seems like the cities in Snohomish County are taking this seriously and trying to get the most from it.

One more point worth mentioning. We've talked a lot about these huge wide streets, the access parking lots. I was around in the late 60s and 70s when the road 196 was expanded to six and seven lanes from being a much smaller roadway. That's now an opportunity to do what's called grayfield redevelopment. There's all kinds of surplus asphalt parking space that Lynnwood and entrepreneurs can use almost any way they like, from building new parks to putting up affordable housing.

That is a resource in some ways similar to the abundant land that they had a couple generations ago to build anything they wanted, and they happened to build a seven lane boulevard. There's a lot of potential in Snohomish County and communities are asking the right questions and thinking ahead.

Tom Fucoloro

I think that each station is this unbelievable opportunity to reimagine how walking and biking circulation happens throughout the whole community, especially since the light rail alignment is highway aligned. Walking, walking and walkability and bikeability turns its back on I-5, especially because it's so hard to get across I-5. So, you get these areas that are very walkable and bikeable, but they're in pockets and they don't cross the freeway.

By having the station there, it almost forces the issue of we have to figure out how to get people across, which not only helps people get to the station, but now it connects these communities in a way that wasn't available before and that's like one of the best things that can come out of a light rail station in general. I think it's like an ancillary benefit, like you just have an excuse to do something that we should do anyway, that these communities should be connected.

Teresa Wippel

I think that's one reason why Mountlake Terrace put so much thought into building out Ballinger Park is because they knew that once the light rail station came in, there would be this beautiful park and lake just down the hill and it would be easy for people to get to, and so they mentioned that quite a bit. The city officials stood in their discussions about that it was an amenity they wanted to be able to use as something that would be a benefit for light rail users.

Mike Lindblom

It helped it. It helped that. The big part golf course flooded into a muddy quagmire every year, too, so it wasn't too too hard politically to get that converted.

Teresa Wippel

Yeah, it wasn't a tough call, true.

Brock Howell

What's some of the challenges that Sound Transit is facing building the system? And, something that I hear a lot of concern about, is there a risk that the delays and cost overruns of the Ballard and West Seattle alignments could actually negatively affect Everett Link Extension?

Mike Lindblom

The answer is yes, but Sound Transit has much bigger problems than whether the West Seattle Line drains off their bond debt coverage ratio. It's a big, big picture. A question of values wrapped in a question of financial arcana. And basically, the argument is that if Seattle breaks the bank and borrows tremendous amounts of money to build their line, that Sound Transit as a whole region won't have enough income to sell enough bonds to go from limbo to Everett and still have enough money coming in every year to satisfy the investors that they're solvent and all that.

But they've got much bigger problems starting with the one my colleague David Kroman wrote about this week that bids are 25 five to 50 % higher than were estimated.

And that goes for highways, too. It also is going to be a problem for transit.

There's also a problem of benefits. Benefits are easy to ignore if you see the 130th Street Station where Seattle is still doing not very much to encourage housing next to it. You're building some of the most expensive transit in North America and if you're not putting communities next to it then you're not taking the benefits, you're just recirculating dollars and jobs. So, those are issues that sound Transit really needs to get a hold on.

They have a whole suite of recommendations to manage and choose their projects better. That isn’t happening yet and we could go on all day about those. But yeah, I mean it's entirely possible that the overall cost of these systems could squeeze the budgets to get to Everett. But I'm more concerned about communities like Ash Way and Mariner that are growing not particularly high income, that those guys get some rail in the meantime.

Ryan Packer

I think we're seeing as Sound Transit enters its later stages of its operation, that we're seeing the trade-offs between trying to operate a local transit system and a regional transit system, and trying to do this at the same time as building out the entire system. And so I think, as Mike very well laid out, the challenges that are facing Sound Transit. That we're seeing the political coalition that came together to create Sound Transit show its fundamental problems, which is this sort of patchwork of communities that all want rail but whether rail is the best way to serve those communities.

For example, we're currently projecting overcrowding in Downtown Seattle indefinitely after Federal Way Link opens up.

Because we don't have enough trains to serve that community and then still run all the way down to Federal Way, even though we don't need all that train capacity to run down to Federal Way. It's not those trains that are going to be full, they're gonna be full in downtown. But we can't reallocate those resources we're going to have. Similar to things going on with Everett Link. And so, it's just a question of: Is this the best thing for us? You know the best way to serve these communities.

Brock Howell

Let me follow up on that with you Ryan. What is it about Everett Link in particular? Does it have some of the same issues that Mike brought up of recirculating funding for creating new jobs in a different way, and of your concern about this not bringing enough ridership? Help unpack the Everett Link project.

Ryan Packer

I think the long time [of the rides from Everett to Seattle] combined with the relatively low ridership compared to some of the more high demand segments of the system — you have choices to run the train out to Boeing, which has a time cost for the entire system that isn't really held up in terms of the benefit you're going to get from doing that. And so the question is whether rail is the best thing to provide access for Everett compared to the transit that we're getting now.

It's a real question. Ultimately, my point is that this was the sort of political coalition that came together to create Sound Transit. There's not really any turning back. This spine has to be completed, but the question is really whether it is ultimately going to pay the dividends that are coming from this massive investment, especially with all of those other trade offs that Mike mentioned.

Tom Fucoloro

I would say that it really depends on the development around the stations. I guess I'm very confident that, especially if there's lots of destinations and homes located near each of the stations, I don't think we'll have any problem filling those trains. Whether or not it in a dream world is actually the best thing to do is maybe another question. But I don't think we're gonna be running empty trains to Everett. I think it'll be well used. I'm a super optimistic person in general.

Mike Lindblom

There are a lot of ways to deal with this problem. One of them is to make sure you have turnback switches and half the trains go to Mariner and half go all the way to Downtown Everett. That was what they sketched out in 2016 anyway. People I know in Seattle have no clue how many apartments, how much housing there is in that central, mid Snohomish County area.

If you build decent sidewalks, pedestrian bridges over I-5, they're going to have strong ridership at least as far north as South Everett - Casino Road.

Whether they should make a big, wide swing to the Southwest Everett Industrial Center and drop off people still a long way from their jobs and then come back, that's a much tougher question. But that mid Snohomish County area up to South Everett — it's denser than the neighborhood I live in in Seattle and if they're smart, the train will be productive and they don't have to run all of them all the way north.

I think Sound Transit hates to introduce that kind of confusion with multiple trains, some going different areas, but it's a solvable problem.

Ryan Packer

I just want to be clear. I wasn't saying the would be running empty trains. To Mike's point, the idea is that light rail is not as flexible and so you're not going to run the same amount of ridership. You can have a bus that is providing the same amount of frequency between Seattle and Northgate and Everett. So, you're creating a system that's a little bit less flexible. There are definitely ways around that.

Brock Howell

Let’s shift to the bigger picture, to some extent. Aside from the regional transit investments, I'm just curious, what do you see? What's the general balance of roadway spending between road maintenance, roadway expansion and bike/ped safety infrastructure? Do you have a sense of how much is being spent on those things?

Teresa Wippel

I think the cities that I write about are trying to do more of other options. But it's hard to get people to get out of their cars, and there's still the majority voice, or at least the voice that seems to come through. I think it just takes some forward thinking by elected officials to continue to push the issue and to make that option feasible and viable and promote it as best they can. But we are a car culture and I, especially in the communities that I cover, it seems to still come through that way many times.

Mike Lindblom

It's easy to get in the bubble about all the non-car options, and we do that a lot in The Seattle Times and all the other publications.

The Last time we crunched the data, Marysville was still 80% single-occupancy car commuting. A lot of it is related to land use and where jobs are. A lot of people want the larger house and yard and drive and a lot of people don't.

A lot more. A lot of people are perfectly willing to move into dense neighborhoods. In the City of Seattle, traditionally, bike spending has been around four percent — pretty close to the overall number of trips. In fact, the number of bike trips is probably a lot higher than that. If you count neighborhood trips and not just the main city wide routes on that, you know, there's room for that to go a lot higher.

When people complain about bike [infrastructure] costs, I think about the fact that we spent $300 million planning and studying and outreaching options on the Highway 99 Alaskan Way Viaduct, and Governor Gregoire threw them out completely and chose a totally different strategy to do the deep bore tunnel. So that's $300 million dollars just to find out what people didn't want to build and that’s $300 million dollars that could’ve got you ten bicycle bridges over highways and freeways. It could have built out the bicycle master plan easily for the entire city.

There are other Sound Transit spending $300+ million to get the preliminary design that'll probably be well-used but it's still a tremendous amount of money. Highway 520: just some inflation overruns or excessive bids, those are [huge costs]. They spent nine years to decide how wide highway 520 should be. We're now building out things that were chosen in 2006. So when folks say there's not enough for bicycling, the problem isn't funding or that bike infrastructure is expensive, it's that politically difficult to convince some people in America to build reasonable bike routes.

Ryan Packer

This question comes up a lot at the state level, and is less visible at the local level. I think for bike/ped, it's sort of a footnote on the state budget,

We need to talk about preservation versus expansion. We're still not breaking even on highways, highway maintenance. And so we're gonna have to make some really tough choices[, even if by defaults]. … The secretary of WSDOT refers to this as a glide path to failure. [Without any formal decision to fund maintenance, WSDOT may be forced] to close bridges that we aren't able to actually maintain when it gets to 10-15 years down the road. And yet we're still making a choice [by taking no action].

[We have chosen to add capacity by] adding an HOV lane to 405, and we're making a choice about the 520 project that Mike just mentioned. [Meanwhile,] we're not able to actually maintain what we have.

I would actually put the bike and pedestrian projects into that bucket of not maintaining what we have because state highways that don't have pedestrian facilities and don't have bike facilities [have harmed the ability for people to walk and bike, and so] I would argue [those highways] are also deficient and [should be] added to that maintenance backlog. We would be basically getting [our communities up to a standard as if the highway was never built or as if the highway were built today up to our current Complete Streets standard]. And so if that's true, then it's essentially a deficit.

Tom Fucoloro

It's notably difficult to bike from Marysville to Everett. It's practically impossible. And especially unfriendly. So yeah, there's some segments where this infrastructure was built in an era where we just weren't even considering that we needed to facilitate people biking and walking in these places. So, now we have to deal with the consequences of that, of 80-something percent of people driving everywhere.

Even though you know there's a lot of people who can't drive today and then there's a lot of people who are driving today who won't be able to drive in the future, this is an issue that is like a slow moving catastrophe moving towards us. We have this infrastructure that we can't maintain, populations of people who will soon not be able to use it on their own. It's not an easy problem to fix, that's for sure. We have to make a choice.

Brock Howell

I have one last question I'm gonna ask and then I'm gonna open it up to our guests to see if they would like to ask a question.

How are decisions made locally and regionally about what projects we plan, fund, and build? Obviously, there are policy frameworks for that decision making. How are those changing, and are the perspectives of the people who are making those decisions also changing?

Ryan Packer

We have really great prioritized equity-based, metrics-driven scoring criteria for our smallest transportation projects in the entire state. But the big projects are chosen by legislators through bartering with each other. So, it's a little bit of an upside-down process. People are talking about how to change in terms of being able to actually look at metrics for our very large highway projects, but I just find that those two things to be kind of fascinating and how we do those at the different levels.

Brock Howell

Let's see if folks have questions. Audience, if you would like to ask a question raise your hand virtually or come on screen.

Susan Paine, Edmonds City Councilmember

I really do appreciate this discussion because I just learned so much. You've got some really great leaders here. I'm an alternate on the board for Community Transit. They've got the Lynnwood Zip Shuttle, which Rep. Larson decided to call Zip Trips. Edmonds Bicycle Advocacy Group has a dream level proposal to put a bike bridge that comes across 104, connecting Shoreline into Edmonds and Mountlake terrace, aiming towards the light rail station. We've got some new Community Transit routes as well. There's some really great ways to talk about how these things can all come together.

I'd love to see more media about some of the options to get people out of their cars. The light rail is one way to reduce our climate impacts because transportation is the biggest impact on our climate crisis right now. So how do we get more media?

Teresa Wippel

We've written especially in Lynnwood Today about the Zip shuttle, and I know Councilmember Paine has mentioned it in Edmonds City Council meetings as well, wanting to see if we can get Edmonds on the list for that. And there's some interest and the Edmonds Bicycle Advocacy Group proposal for that bridge across 104 is something that they've been talking about for a while and I know there was a recent trip and a trip a couple years ago that we wrote about but yeah I mean I think all of that's really important. I think the more you can engage media to be part of those eventents. When I heard about the most recent trip that you guys took, Susan, in fact I thought well I would have liked to have been on that bike ride. But nobody invited me.

Susan Paine

We went right past your house.

Teresa Wippel

So invite me. I'm happy to cover it.

Mike Lindblom

Zip and circular vans are kind of too low to break through my radar. I know in King County they carry pretty minor amounts of folks compared with the big time highways and light rail and King County Metro and so forth. A bridge over Highway 104 is a pretty fascinating idea, because it's so unusual. So of course, Community Transit lining up its buses to feed the Lynnwood City Center Station is a big deal but we probably wouldn't dive in very hard until right before the station opens. We did that when Northgate Station opened — we had nine different stories, one or two of which was entirely about the transit that goes there.

Susan Paine

[The Interurban Trail bridge over 104] would use the Snohomish PUD right of way and it would come across 104 ….

Mike Lindblom

Oh yeah, we would definitely write about that in the Times. I've biked that area, it's super dangerous for all modes. Yeah, that's a big honking deal. Look forward to contacting you guys about it.

Tom Fucoloro

I would add something that seems to work really well for getting more public awareness about these kinds of things: think how things could be different and projects that are in motion or projects that could be in motion. There is that balance you kind of need [between] an independent advocacy group, neighbors who are organized together pushing for this idea, and then elected officials and agencies who are working towards this stuff.

But I think it's important that those are two separate groups. Different messages might be stronger coming from official sources, and different messages might be stronger coming from community voices. It's like picking your moment based on the need and learning that art of making it sound juicy enough that a reporter will pick it up. So like for me, just send me a pitch because I'm doing bicycle advocacy work. But if you're trying to hit more general purpose news, figure out how to phrase it in a way that's fun or sometimes confrontational, depending on what's needed at the time. I think it's also important that the official voices and the advocacy voices support each other when they are aligned, but that they're not just [the same] megaphone. They’ve got their own perspective and respect that.

Brock Howell

I think it's important to note that increasingly our media outlets are understaffed and under-resourced. So, it is helpful to be able to serve up some of the news stories on a plate for some of our reporters and be able to really explain what's happening. And then there are times when we lose really good reporters that are covering these issues and we have to figure out who's next.

One of those reporters we wanted for today’s panel was Ben Wantanabe because he’s been covering a lot of the transportation issues across the county. However, he’s no longer reporting for the Everett Herald and is instead teaching, which is fantastic but we haven't found a new person within the Herald who's covered a lot of these issues.

And today we haven't talked a lot about what's happening in North Snohomish County. But we have two new transit services that are run by nonprofits that are launched up in North Newholm County. It’s not something that The Seattle Times is going to cover, and it’s unlikely the Urbanist or Seattle Bike Blog is going to cover those. But Ben was covering them and so that was helpful. And the local newspapers occasionally, like a local weekly or blog, would cover them as well. So, resource and staff constraint means you have got to work really hard to get media coverage.

In that vein, reporters’ time is very limited. Ryan, Teresa, Tom, Mike, thank you so much for being here today. I thought this was a really good conversation. We didn't get to all of our questions, but we had a good discussion. So thank you.

This was the first of a four part series, and so I hope you will all be back soon for our next speaker forum with city councilmembers on October 13. And then we will have south county mayors on October 20 and then north and east county mayors in October 27. Thank you all for being here today. Take care and see you soon.

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