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Wednesday, April 7, 2010 as of 11:14 AM ET

Transportation

Dan Springer

Seattle, WA

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Seattle’s War on Cars

October 12, 2010 - 2:09 PM | by: Dan Springer

It’s being called by some, Seattle’s war on cars. A series of recent moves by city leaders has critics saying Seattle wants to balance its massive budget deficit on the backs of motorists. Mayor Mike McGinn calls the idea that Seattle is at war with cars silly, but he does admit he’s trying to get many people out of their cars and onto bicycles and their own two feet.

The list of recent actions is long. Last year Seattle jacked up taxes on parking lot owners who are now passing those costs along to customers. McGinn beefed up parking enforcement in an effort to write more tickets and it’s working. Last year, officers wrote 508,675 parking tickets which works out to one ticket per minute. And they’re on pace to write even more this year. Parking ticket fines are projected to bring in $23 million next year up from $18.4 last year.

The city has also put itself on what it calls a “road diet”. The transportation department is taking car lanes and giving them to bicyclists. At a cost of  more than $300 million over 10 years, Seattle is creating hundreds of miles of bike and pedestrian lanes.

And most recently, Mayor Mike McGinn has proposed raising the metered parking rates up to $4 an hour. Currently people pay $2.50 per hour. It’s all got motorists and downtown business owners fuming. Some drivers we spoke with say only the wealthy can even afford to drive downtown these days. And the parking crunch has shop owners blasting the mayor for creating road blocks at a time when many of them are suffering and struggling to stay afloat. One antique shop owner told me his sales are down 40% since 2008 and this will deter even more would be customers from shopping downtown.

The Sierra Club, meantime likes the policy direction. Leaders blame cars for polluting the air, water and contributing to global warming. Before being elected mayor last year, Mike McGinn was a lawyer for the Sierra Club. McGinn scoffs at the idea that he wants everyone out of their cars. He says he owns a van and wants people to be able to have a variety of options. But for people who don’t want to walk or ride a bicycle the options are limited. There’s no subway in Seattle. Light rail currently only goes from downtown to the airport. And because of budget problems, the city is actually cutting bus routes.

Critics have begun mockingly calling McGinn “Mayor McSchwinn” partly because he often rides his bicycle to City Hall but also deriding his policies. McGinn makes no apologies. He says if Seattle is going to grow as a city it needs to give people more transportation options than hopping in their car.

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