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City of Seattle

October 30, 3:07 PM click here to comment > 6

A tale of three meetings

At Thursday’s Executive Board Meeting of the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), one agenda item focused on whether to support PSRC’s participation in Transportation Partnership.

The Transportation Partnership is intended to be a broad coalition of interests pursuing responsible transportation investments. I closely reviewed their core principles, to see if it was the type of organization which PSRC should support. While there was much to admire in the partnership proposal, including references to sustainable communities and reducing environmental impacts, there was also a big red flag for me. There was no specific commitment to reducing global warming pollution or reducing greenhouse gas emissions to the level that is required to meet our legal imperative: statewide goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

So I asked my colleagues: “Why would we consider supporting a transportation initiative that doesn’t set serious goals for reducing greenhouse gas emissions?” After all, the transportation sector accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle and King County, and PSRC’s principles include reducing greenhouse gas emissions. In fact, this agenda item was preceded by an announcement that PSRC had received an award for environmental planning.

So I suggested an amendment: our support for the Transportation Partnership would depend on the Partnership making an explicit commitment in its core principles to advocating for transportation investments that would reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Given PSRC’s public stance on global warming, I thought this would be a fairly non-controversial request. Well, I was wrong. Other members argued that we had to seek “balance,” or that it was not our place to dictate to the Partnership what their goals should be. My colleagues on PSRC from the Seattle City Council argued we should join first then try to work to change the language. While I gained the support of three other members for my proposal, the majority of the PSRC was not willing to make our support for the Transportation Partnership contingent on the Partnership explicitly supporting the need to reduce global warming pollution.

Roger Valdez of Sightline has often spoken of the “Sustainability Gap” — the difference between our words on global warming, and our actions. This gap is one of the great challenges of our time. We are not alone in this problem — just take a look at how much “progress” has been made on the United Nations Climate Change Treaty. Nevertheless, when an organization isn’t even committed to getting the words right, the Sustainability Gap is even bigger than we thought.

Now let’s contrast that with a briefing I had the same day from staff at the city’s Department of Planning and Development (DPD) regarding our Sustainable Building Policy. Ten years ago Seattle set a new standard for cities when it committed that 50 percent of City buildings would be built to LEED Silver standard or above. We’re now beating that goal. So Seattle city employees decided it was time for a new, higher standard.

Before DPD staff started talking with staff around the City about how we should update the policy, they set goals and guiding principles so we’d know where we were heading. They started working on the details that we want to continue to be leaders in this arena, that we want to manage our facilities responsibly. They want a new policy to clearly demonstrate our commitment to addressing climate change and create a sustainable future by protecting, conserving and enhancing the region’s environmental resources.

After the discouraging meeting at PSRC, it was just the right tonic. I am so proud to be part of an organization that doesn’t look at the problem of global warming and flinch at potential conflict. Instead, city employees are asking themselves “how high can we set the bar?” and “how can we lead?”

This is the right approach. I look forward to reviewing the recommendations they’ll bring back to me in a few months. I’ll keep you posted on our progress.

Let me provide just a little more context. I had the pleasure of introducing Bruce Katz from the Brookings Institute two weeks ago when he was the featured guest at the opening reception of the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce’s annual conference. He has been beating the drum for years on how metropolitan areas must lead. Our 100 largest metro areas have 65 percent of the population, 75 percent of economic activity and 90 percent of innovation.

He laid out a persuasive case for what American Metros had to do to survive in a tough global economy: innovate, educate, and reduce carbon. Why reduce carbon? Because in an era of peak oil, we can’t afford to link our economy to ever more expensive fossil fuel prices. And local economies that create new low-carbon solutions will lead in creating exports and economic activity. Low carbon is not just the right thing to do – it’s an economic imperative. Check out his powerpoint HERE.

His prescription is reflected in our major initiatives: The Seattle Jobs Plan, The Youth and Families Initiative, and Walk Bike Ride. We’ll keep plugging away to make sure our city and our people thrive, now and in the future. If you want to help, check out Engage Seattle. We’ve got work to do.

Posted by: Mayor Mike McGinn


Comment from paul byron crane
Time October 30, 2010 at 3:50 pm

sitting here in my hotel room in Vancouver BC after spending a day walking the streets and neighborhoods one of many sustainable lifesyle elements stood out. There are No Idleing signs through out the city. If you stop you car at the curb you must shut it off. Lo hanging fruit we need to implement. If they can why not us.

Comment from Art
Time November 1, 2010 at 10:10 am

==NO “engine idling” SIGNS==

fruedian slip: “engine idoling”

I had an OMG moment — “celebrate the children’s playground” — and thought of commercializing the Center and didn’t replace the playground. The Science Center being open weekly means youth attractions for all days, not outings to see chiluly. The building is a WAREHOUSE too big and should go.

Mike, Thank you. NO DBT because it has the MOST environmental impact, MORE than surf/trans ideal future option, 20 more years and we’d be there. REorganize Trollybus wire today. And thanx again, bulldog.

Comment from Art
Time November 3, 2010 at 11:11 am

Again, after the election rearrangement, mayor mcginn and crew, please, the big fight here is: The DBT

…which incurs an environmental impact that is ‘worse’ if not ‘worst’ option. Cut/cover only sensible tunnel option in every actually important way, safety, less maintenance, more jobs, less risk, much ‘stronger’ Seawall. Less big machine left over as some monument to the “Bigger is not always better” question.

I repeat it more than long enuf. Mike is right. Mike, the environmentalist-types need the IMPACT argument made in their language. The money question is a sideshow.
Such terrible engineering with the deep bore, it’s oh im sorry, simply embarrassing engineering.


-stronger seawall
-better safety features
-best traffic on the Way
-better traffic all round
-less risk
-more jobs

When are you going to actually begin the discussion of how much better the cut/cover actually is in every way? Just askin…

Comment from Art
Time November 4, 2010 at 9:37 am

Cut/cover tunnel advantages:

-strongest seawall
-stabilized remaining fill soil
-lifesaving safety features with…
-SIX Lanes with shoulders along AWV stretch
-FOUR access portals by retaining Battery St Tunnel
-better emergency detour arrangement
-better overall daily traffic arrangement
-least traffic on Alaskan Way
-best utility relocation
-less maintenance
-more jobs
-less risk

Comment from John
Time November 7, 2010 at 10:18 pm

The best way to reducing environmental impacts of economic activity is to either reduce the amount of economic activity, or to actively develop and build a great rapid transit system for the city.

It is not rocket science to see how important developing rapid transit can be for a city. There is all sorts of empirical proof around the world which speaks to how people can live in a city without cars, given the right set of mobility options to make it viable.

Unfortunately, all politicians around here love to do is to talk in totally incomprehensible terms about abstract goals that achieve nothing practical.

Why don’t you spend your time figuring out how to build a rapid transit system and getting it funded properly by building the necessary coalitions in town instead of wasting tax dollars talking broadly about reducing carbon, innovating, and sustainability?

When a comprehensive mass transit system exists in town, people might agree upon the idea that the Deep Bore Tunnel doesn’t need to be built. Until then, people are left without any options other than the car.

Comment from John Niles
Time December 3, 2010 at 7:10 pm

Improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the existing road-based Metro bus transit system that covers every part of City of Seattle is important while waiting for Sound Transit to finish the single light rail subway to Northgate over the next decade.

Good people are working on making the buses in our town work better, including the effort on the Seattle Transit Master Plan at

Some principles for making buses work better on city streets are included in my research work for Mineta Transportation Institute at

Trains are nice, but are expensive and cover a limited geography. Buses are better for covering the entire geography of a city like Seattle, and there are many opportunities for making them work better, as long as building the light rail subway doesn’t suck away all the money that’s available for transit.