Most of the world likely recognizes that line from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. While on the surface, it appears to ask where Romeo is, in reality it is asking why Romeo is. I won’t bore you with the details. The text begs the question of who Romeo is, a Capulet or a Montague. Seattle seems to suffer a similar identity crisis as we emerge from the struggles of COVID-19, rampant protests, often violent, over the arguably excessive use of force by the police, often tilted toward minorities, homelessness that seems hopeless, climate change, and an economy that appears to be bordering on grand-bourgeoisie and leaving the common worker behind.
Our problems, like many cities in the US and around the world, are primarily wrapped up in homelessness, violence, drugs, economic inequities, and the never-ending march of climate change related to over 7 billion humans and their use of fossil fuels. I won’t try to address them all here. After all, I’m not running for office (I can hear the collective sighs around that pronouncement) but I do have to pick a favorite for mayor in the upcoming primary election.
I like to think of myself as a liberal centrist. I’m have a well-defined list to the left, but I reject radical solutions that are knee-jerk reactions to a difficult problem rather than thinking through the problem and the impact of proposed solutions on society. A good example of that has been the “Defund police!” movement. While understandably embraced by those who have suffered the most under our slave-chaser brand of policing, it is not a well thought out solution. After about a year of this craziness, calmer minds have prevailed and are now looking at reforms that include things like better training for cops, eliminate the free pass they get for bad behavior, also known as ‘qualified immunity’, special units to address non-violent issues like public drunkenness, mental stability issues, etc. By rejecting those first calls for a drastic solution that would have been a nightmare for society, we are moving along a path toward solutions that work for everyone.
An issue I want to address is that of transportation in a large city like Seattle. With one exception, every mayoral candidate I’ve looked at, and I’ve looked at at least the ‘top ten’ the approach has been narrow and populist. In one Q&A exercise, they were asked to rank transportation priorities. Almost to a person, it was transit, bicycles, walking, driving. Mass transit, either busses or fixed rail, a 19th century technology is the mantra for anyone running for office. Bicycles, another marvelous 19th century mode of transport, was second followed by the oldest mode of moving around, walking, and last, was driving; the most modern mode available.
Yes, fossil fuel burning vehicles are a part of the problem, but this might surprise you; it’s not the gorilla in the room. You will find a myriad of data out there about how much private vehicles contribute to greenhouse gasses, but you’ll find that it ranges from about 15% to 30%.
This vendetta against the automobile is misplaced. If you get everyone out of their cars and on either busses or riding the rails - even electric rails - you will increase the pie slices above for electric generation, and you’ll still have the smoke-belching trucks on the road and factories spewing emissions. Private cars are not the villains. Seventy-five percent of the emissions screwing up our atmosphere come from other sources. And, we are rapidly moving toward electric cars and trucks, but then again, of course, they will increase the demand for electric power. We need a greater push for both solar and hydrogen powered engines in our transportation systems and wind energy for other electrical uses.
Candidate after candidate stated in that their top priority was to get people out of their cars. They didn’t say as much, but the traditional approach has been to punish drivers by taking away access to roads, raising parking fees through the roof, taxing the doo-doo out of drivers, etc. This Draconian approach to solving problems doesn’t surprise me when I hear it from conservatives, but coming from good-old-liberal Seattleites surprises me. Let me share another chart:
Well, that’s interesting. Only three-in-ten commuters to downtown drive their cars. The rest are all over the map, walking, biking, ride share, busses, etc. Interestingly, only 3% ride their bikes but we are spending tens-of-millions of dollars on bike lanes that set empty most of the time.
All I’m looking for, folks, is a commonsense approach to any of our problems, not a radical or punitive one that drives people away from Seattle to the suburbs. What about a ‘positive’ incentive to get that 30% who are driving to move to electric or hybrid vehicles instead of making life miserable for them?
We’ve been using the punitive approach for years and what have we got? A beautiful new skyline of shiny glass and steel skyscrapers that are empty because no one can afford to live in them or occupy them for business and the city has made getting to work more and more difficult. We need a balanced and experienced leader, and we need to work on our city council in the next couple of elections to get the one-issue minded people out and community minded people in.
So, how am I leaning? Well, sort of left, of course, but I like what Art Langlie had to say about transportation. When all the candidates were asked, he was the only one to say you can’t prioritize any one mode of transport; look at the entire system and take a balanced approach. That’s the thinking I want to see in our city government, not some narrow ideological approach that rewards only a small percentage of Seattleites while hurting others.
Discussing life, politics, and philosophy in the language of the bar.