The traditionally busy eastbound morning commute over the West Seattle Bridge will be a topic of conversation for the newly formed West Seattle Transit Coalition.
Transit coalition plans to forge a united voice for West Seattle
If the turnout and excitement witnessed on the evening of Sept. 24, 2013, is any indication, West Seattle is well on its way in forming a united coalition of active community groups and individuals who will lobby elected officials for better transit service and travel infrastructure long into the future.
With their first meeting, the West Seattle Transit Coalition (UPDATE: The group is now going by West Seattle Transportation Coalition) packed the High Point Neighborhood House to talk about pressing issues, long term goals, and just how the coalition will be formed. Some elected officials are already listening as 34th District Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon, Seattle City Councilmember Richard Conlin and Chris Arkills, King County Executive Dow Constantine’s transit policy advisor, attended.
Amanda Kay Helmick and Joe Szilagyi, members of the newly-formed and active-out-of-the-gates Westwood/Roxhill/Arbor Heights Community Council (WWRHAH) said the idea for a peninsula-wide coalition came about during a casual conversation, and quickly gained traction as they reached out to community groups from Highland Park to Alki (even White Center) who were interested in banding together for a stronger lobbying voice to improve transit issues here. As a hyperlocal example of how it could work, in July WWRHAH compiled S.W. Roxbury St. traffic and accident statistics from Seattle’s Department of Transportation, combined with two other community groups, and presented the data as proof that Roxbury needs safety improvements. Within a week, SDOT announced they would perform a study.
While transit issues reach far beyond bus routes, the unanimous concern of the first meeting was the possibility of King County Metro cutting an additional 17 percent from their service in 2014 if lawmakers in Olympia are unable to agree on a transit package soon to help with funding. There has been talk of Seattle stepping in to fund Metro within the city to avoid those cuts locally, but Conlin reminded the group in the world of politics, Seattle putting up the cash now could illustrate to Olympia that they don’t need to fund Metro at the state level. Metro’s map of theoretical cuts illustrates West Seattle would be hit very hard, with nearly all neighborhoods either losing routes completely or losing frequency of service.
Szilagyi, in a powerpoint presentation to kick off the meeting, used statistics to illustrate transit demand continues to increase in West Seattle as the population rises with everlasting development and more people opt for public transportation. Meanwhile, transit funding and service heads in the opposite direction, forever dwindling.
His full presentation is available for download from the WSTC website.
The coalition decided one of their first calls to action will be a letter to elected officials at every level illustrating the dire consequences of that service cut, and a need to find solutions. While that angle seemed unanimously backed others, including a push for light rail service from West Seattle to downtown, are more complicated where opinions will differ and debate will be required. Future goals include helping the city revise a master transit plan for West Seattle, working with like-minded organizations throughout the area, researching development impacts on transit, and presenting “legally possible and politically viable” solutions to improve roads and travel for all modes of transportation.
“This is not about bike versus bus versus car, this is about finding solutions,” Kay Helmick said.
Mat McBride, chair of the Delridge Neighborhoods District Council who also volunteered to be on the transit coalition board, said, “We, as a community, are underserved … (and) I believe that geography works in our favor … I believe that because we are a peninsula we have the ability to come together as a peninsula, and representing 100,000 votes, tell our elected officials during an election year that we will get better transit service.
“I believe that we can do that now … I believe that we can require the city to require the county to require the state to give us what we need, or at least make some very important concessions,” he added.
The group hopes to form a permanent coalition that will likely meet once a month, not just when big issues arise (like massive Metro cuts), and is looking to expand and bring in more community groups and individuals. Beyond that, the group plans to form a board of representatives and likely fundraise and lobby – all on a volunteer basis. To get in on this new voice, you can contact the West Seattle Transit Coalition at email@example.com. Similarly, they can be found online at www.westseattletc.org. Their next meeting is planned for Oct. 8 (more details will be posted online once available).
The 11 initial interim board members include:
Amanda Kay Helmick
Diane Rose Vincent