Sound Progress

Research and insights from Puget Sound Sage.


Sound Transit 3: Ramping up for an equitable and accessible transit future

By Afrin Sopariwala

The Puget Sound region has seen unprecedented growth of population in the last few years and this trend is expected to continue. By the year 2040, the population is projected to grow by roughly one million people, with a majority of the growth occurring in cities like Everett and Tacoma.

As we continue to grow as a region, we must plan to grow equitably. It’s critical that we are able to match population growth with infrastructure growth by investing in accessible public transit, affordable housing, and good jobs. With that in mind, the majority of the Puget Sound Region will have an opportunity to vote on Sound Transit 3 (ST3): a potential ballot measure that will expand and build out Sound Transit’s long range plan. ST3 will go before voters in November 2016. Sound Transit currently serves the urbanized parts of King, Snohomish and Pierce County and approximately 2.9 million people or 80.3% of the three counties.

In December 2015, Sound Transit released the list of candidate projects, which extend from Lynnwood to Everett; Bellevue to Redmond; down to Tacoma from Federal Way; and connects West Seattle and Ballard to downtown Seattle. This Thursday, the board will deliberate over the final list of projects and additional policy direction included in the ST3 package and then launch into a month of community engagement.

Community Engagement is critical to make ST3 an equitable transit system.

Puget Sound Sage, Transportation Choices Coalition, and OneAmerica – collectively Transit for All—are working with Sound Transit board members and staff to flip the script on community engagement by hosting community-driven conversations on the future of transit service and surrounding communities. Transit for All will host several workshops and forums to develop a community frame for the future of high-capacity transit in the region, to convey to Sound Transit board members and staff.

The first of many community workshops was on Feb 19th. Rebecca Saldaña, executive director at Puget Sound Sage, opened the event by inviting the community to engage in this process. She said, “If you’re not at the table, then you’re on the menu.” Shefali Ranganathan, director at Transportation Choices Coalition, walked the audience through the history of the region’s transit system.

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Shefali Ranganathan, Director of Transportation Choices Coalition

Shefali related the ironic story of how Seattle lost the opportunity to build a regional transit system. In 1965, the federal government proposed Forward Thrust – a project to fund most of a regional train system. Unfortunately, voters did not approve the ballot measure, and the Federal Government sent the funding to build Atlanta’s system instead. We are now playing catch-up. This time, it will cost over $27 billion and will be one of the biggest and boldest investments we will see in this region in our lifetimes.

It is important that the community is engaged in choosing how we connect our region in an accessible, just and sustainable way – focusing investments in historically disinvested in communities and ensuring that low-income communities are not displaced. The first workshop generated some great ideas and input from the community. They are outlined below.

Good Jobs near Transit:

  • Construction and maintenance jobs should pay living wages, and have intentional inclusion for people of color, women, LGBQT and other marginalized communities.
  • After construction, ensure good jobs that are long term and relevant to the community are available and accessible to people most impacted
  • While disposing the land, ST should require that developers provide good jobs to people that are from those communities.

Affordable Housing:

  • It is important that people can work and live near transit — to save a lot of time and cost. Sound Transit should prioritize affordable housing and living-wage jobs near transit.
  • Sound Transit and local governments must play a role in preventing and mitigating economic displacement that happens near transit for both residents and community institutions.
  • It is important to provide adequate benefit for households that will be physically displaced, there should be fair relocation opportunities offered to them in affordable housing without pushing them further out of the urban areas.
  • Surplus land disposition must allow affordable housing that recognizes the needs of the community that already exists to minimize gentrification.

Climate Resilience:

  • Resilience is both being prepared to face disasters and making our communities and social relationships stronger.
  • Transit centers must be designed keeping in mind climate change impacts like increased temperatures and frequent storms, especially to elders and disabled people. Invest in low-impact developments – rain gardens, tree cover, permeable pavements, etc.
  • Existing infrastructure should be retrofitted to be accessible and prepared for climate change impacts.
  • Different modes of transit must be in proximity each other and to community centers, educational centers, faith-places.

Community Engagement:

  • Set up community boards in each area of proposed construction with people that represent the community. Diverse segments of people must be invited to this board — not only business owners but also students, disabled, low-income people. Representation from ST should not just be engagement managers, but designers and engineers to collaborate on solutions.
  • Employ community liaisons from the community, and use easy-to-understand and interactive ways to engage the community in technical details.
  • Publish information in ethnic media outlets that the communities engage in more than just the mainstream media. Meeting should be set to be accessible in different languages and at times that working people can attend.
  • Design simple ways for people to understand the cost impact — cost to use transit, or how it might affect the rent of their homes.
  • Resource community stakeholders to conduct community engagement and organizing.

Accessibility & Safety:

  • We need sidewalks and good lighting not just at the station but 1/4- 1/2 mile from the station.
  • Stations should have activity near them like retail or commercial so that there are lots of people around. This creates a sense of safety.
  • Better bus access to the stations.
  • Bike lanes and lockers at the stations.
  • Better amenities at bus stops near stations (lighting, shelter, seating).
  • Make sure that communities are part of the design process so that they welcome the station and do not oppose it.
  • Good signage to and from the station in multiple languages where it makes sense.
  • Stations should feel walkable and human scale – not like the Mt.Baker station.
  • More security at stations.
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Transit for All is hosting several workshops and forums to develop a community frame for the future of high-capacity transit in the region to convey to the Sound Transit board members and staff.

Ramping up to the next phase:

The Transit for All coalition will advocate for these priorities to Sound Transit board members and urge them to take this community vision for an equitable Sound Transit 3 into account as they make their final decisions over the coming months.

This is just the beginning and it is important that the community deepens conversations and brings more voices to the process of decision making in the next few months. It is critical that we get active in discussions around the impacts and long-term goals that we envision for transit in our region. We will organize phone banking, door knocking and invite people to show up at board meetings and public hearing.

Please sign up to learn more and attend the next People’s Workshop on April 13th at Highline College.


A Vision for Community-Supported Equitable Development in Southeast Seattle

It is not a coincidence that Southeast Seattle has the greatest incidence of people with low incomes and possesses the highest poverty rate in the city.  In Southeast Seattle, affordable housing and quality jobs are increasingly hard to find for low-income people and families, who are disproportionately people of color, immigrants, and refugees as a result of the history of segregation.  However, the face of Southeast Seattle, and the country, is changing.  As of 2012, a majority of the nation’s infants were people of color, which now puts the white population of the country in the minority.

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South Communities Organized for Racial and Regional Equity and Puget Sound Sage organizing for equitable development in SE Seattle

Currently, Seattle is the fastest growing city in the country – average rents have increased even more dramatically in the past year and the trend does not show signs of slowing.  Demographic changes in Southeast Seattle and South King County indicate that people of color have been displaced from their communities as the cost of living in Seattle has become unsustainable for them.  As a result, low-income communities and communities of color are relocating to resource-poor suburbs while a largely white and wealthier population remains in Seattle. This segregative effect in major metropolitan areas are deepening racial disparities in this city – disparities we have long sought to change.

However, smart planning, policy and investments in the community can mitigate or even reverse this trend. The opposite of gentrification-fueled displacement is “prospering in place” – where low-income people and families can afford to stay where they are, access the region’s economic opportunities and deepen cultural roots in their existing communities.

Low-income communities and communities of color in Seattle have known this far too long and all too well.  This past fall, approximately fifty people participated in a convening and survey through the city-sponsored, community-led equitable-development-focused Community Cornerstones program.  Six multi-cultural coalitions, two foundations, four business associations and eight city staff from five departments were convened to share equitable development plans and accomplishments, deepen collaborative relationships and explore opportunities to coordinate ongoing efforts.

Through synthesis of the surveys and convening notes from community coalition participants, several overarching themes emerged that Sage was able to connect to project and policy next steps, in a report informed by community.

Themes:

  • Growth must be place-based and culturally relevant.
  • Cultural anchors and community-supported economic development must be prioritized.
  • Government entities need to understand community vision in order to facilitate positive growth and increase capacity to align programs and funding that make those visions happen.
  • Community leaders need to be part of decision-making processes.
  • Multi-racial, multi-cultural equitable development coalitions have emerged and are currently working directly with the city as a resource. These community organizations must be adequately resourced to take ownership of their vision and actively participate in shaping development.
  • Community organizations expressed a desire for regional cohesion, and that organizations be adequately networked, working across cultures and sectors to become more effective, powerful and farsighted. Only then will meaningful change stem displacement and grow significant economic opportunity in the Rainier Valley.

Click here for the full report. For more information, to get engaged in the community-led equitable development movement as a community leader, or are a foundation looking to resource communities already doing equitable development work, contact the authors of the report, Ubax Gardheere and Lauren Craig .


South CORE’s Take on the Mt. Baker Rezone Proposal

Last week a proposal to up-zone building heights near Mt. Baker Station ignited controversy when it made a last minute appearance on the agenda for the council’s Planning, Land Use and Sustainability Committee just before the holiday.

Opponents accused the city of attempting to suddenly ram the proposal through without due community process, and claimed the up-zone would increase crime in North Rainier.

Photo: Department Of Planning And Development

Photo: Department Of Planning And Development

However, Community representatives are not uniformly against the proposal. Puget Sound Sage is a founding partner of Seattle’s South Communities Organizing for Racial/Regional Equity (CORE) which submitted comments to DPD over the summer supporting the proposed up-zone, and advocating for increased investment beyond zoning to street and safety improvements.

South CORE’s efforts resulted in more funding for transportation investments and allowed communities more time to weigh-in on the North Rainier rezone process.

The South CORE alliance represents multiracial and ethnic communities rooted in South Seattle and South King County who believe that in order for transit oriented development to result in racial justice, social equity must be at the center of all planning decisions.

While the delayed timeline was not South CORE’s aim, they will use the time to encourage City Council to improve transit service, accessibility and safety and access to good jobs around the station area.

The testimony submitted in August maintained that:

“Overall, we believe the proposed zoning changes fit with the long-term vision for the North Rainier/Mt. Baker area. We are encouraged by the City’s decision to use the Seattle mixed zone to retain light industrial businesses in Southeast Seattle, such as the Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company.  Maintaining and growing living wage jobs close to transit and urban areas is critical to ensuring communities of color and working families can afford to live in transit rich neighborhoods and benefit from new investment.

Passing this rezone is only the first step to building an equitable transit-oriented neighborhood. While the proposed rezone sets the boundaries for how North Rainier/Mount Baker will develop, the North Rainier/Mt. Baker area needs a significant amount of investment beyond zoning before our City’s vision for a thriving, and diverse community can be realized.”

Click here to read the full comments.


State Senate Transportation Package Weakens Transit Access and Environmental Protections

Seattle Times Photo

Seattle Times Photo

Washington State Senators will be holding a work session today on their latest transportation proposal.  The legislature was called back into a special legislative session by Governor Jay Inslee .  The proposal, from the GOP-led majority coalition, could be voted on by the legislature by the end of the week.

The Senate package will disproportionately impact people with lower incomes, immigrants, refugees and people of color.  It would do this in two ways: 1. It will result in cuts to transit services that people with lower incomes rely on, and 2. It will take funds away from toxic clean-up projects that affect the public health.

Despite raising revenue for transportation, the package would still lead to cuts to King County Metro that threaten transit access for low income communities. Service cuts are detrimental to those for whom public transit is their primary source of transportation to get to jobs, schools, day cares, and grocery stores. These residents are most likely to be people of color and low wage workers.

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Duwamish River Clean-Up Coalition

The proposal will also weaken environmental laws necessary to address public health concerns in communities near toxic waste sites. The Senate proposal diverts $280 million away from a toxic waste clean-up fund to the direct benefit of oil and gas corporations.

The diversion of funds comes at the direct expense of waterways like the Duwamish River. Residents of the Duwamish Valley are predominately low wage workers and people of color. A recent study has already demonstrated that Duwamish Valley residents face disproportionate diesel exhaust pollution. Failing to clean up toxic sites will compound and prolong the environmental hazards which place the health of lower income households at risk.

The package is essentially a doubling down on a failed transportation system that doesn’t adequately provide for transportation alternatives. The $12 billion package will spend less than 2% on alternatives to cars. For more information about their proposal view the proposal’s bills and balance sheet.

The Senate work session will take place on Thursday at 1:30pm in Olympia, Senate Hearing Rm 4 in the J.A. Cherberg Building; Olympia, WA. They will be taking public comments between 1:30-5:30pm.