Ideas for Seattle

Seattle Skyline from jarnott at Flickr

It must be a lot of pressure to take the helm of one of the world’s smartest cities.

Car Free Days has high hopes that Mayor-Elect Mike McGinn will continue to listen to the citizens of Seattle while taking Seattle to the next level.

We have a feeling it’s going to be a little harder to connect with the citizens of Seattle as mayor than it was as candidate. As candidate he just had to listen. As mayor he has to listen, and then act in a way that pleases everyone. The pressure of trying to make everyone happy is enough to make a mayor wall themselves off behind grumpy power-broker staffers (Nichols) or crawl into a hole (Schell).

Still, being the optimists we are, we’re willing to look for positive signs that the new mayor will keep lines of communication open, such as his recent (and apparently ongoing) series of town hall forums. We’re also pretty stoked about the new Ideas for Seattle website.

While the format seems a little too close the the Salesforce.com-backed, faux-popularity contest of My Starbucks Idea (fake motto: we care enough about our customers to let them give us good ideas for free) so far the Seattle version looks like it is doing a bang up job of soliciting feedback from, hopefully, Seattle residents (on the Internet, no one knows where you really live).

The site is set up to give registered users up to 10 votes they can apply in each of 14 categories ranging from housing to transportation to education to senior services and more. Citizens can apply the votes to existing ideas or submit their own. The user interface does a nice job of surfacing those existing ideas, ideally keeping a handle on duplicate effort. Once you find or create an idea, you can apply votes (up 3 per idea) and participate in that idea‘s discussion area. Think of it as a place where average citizens can hammer out the framework for change (transparent lobbying without the lobbyists).

As you’d imagine, some of the submitted ideas totally suck (such as variations of “Have Bill Gates fix the city with all his money”), some of them have merit but are state or larger issues (“Sell liquor in grocery stores”), and many are pretty darn good (get rid of some auto parking downtown and make large all-day scooter parking zones, improve pedestrian safety, build bike lanes instead of sharrows, remove requirements that developers add parking, and more…).

Though it is seemingly easy to view bad ideas and agree they should be tossed, deciding how to prioritize and implement the good ones will be the test of McGinn’s ability to act on citizen feedback. Example: even to me (Tim), an anti downtown-parking zealot, the idea for scooter parking seems like a practical, inexpensive, and powerful move to signal Seattle’s intent to shift away from our auto-centric ways. Go for it, right?

But the problem with such shifts is that they alarm those who don’t want to see their current good deal (in this case, subsidized downtown automotive storage) go by the wayside. And so they’ll want to make their case to the Mayor about why such ideas should instead fall into “discard as dumb” category (“this will hurt downtown merchants, it’s bad for business, its… u-American!” etc…).

Will the mayor have the will to alienate some of the citizens who voted for him, so he can move forward with visionary changes? For now, we’re going to give him the benefit of the doubt and say yes. For as long as people like Alex Steffen believe in his power to drive change, we will too.

How about you? Do you have ideas ideas you’d like to champion? Head over to the site and share your vote. If you have some good ideas you think could use support (so far we’re liking these vote getters: “Make Seattle the first US City to be Carbon Neutral” and “Provide bicycle parking at major street fairs and markets“), please post them in the comments.

We’d love to help the everyday cycling community rally behind a few good suggestions!

– Tim and Anne

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5 responses to “Ideas for Seattle

  1. We were talking about this a couple of weeks ago, and one of my co-workers mentioned that it might be good if Seattle was a “no-car” city. In other words, there would be massive free public transportation in the city, and park-n-rides outside the city. Inside, the streets would be completely pedestrian or bike only.

    I’m not opposed to the idea, as long as I’ve got a place to park when I commute. And it would be cool to be able to walk down the streets.

    • I’d be happy with no-cars in Pike Place market. But as long as we’re dreaming, might as well go big…sounds like utopia.

  2. Cyclovias! Shut down WAAAAAY more streets to cars, WAY more often. Pike from Capitol Hill to the market! That street that goes through the arboretum! Market street from Ballard to the water! University Avenue from Cowan park to the ship canal!

  3. Having met both Nichols and McGinn, I think he’ll stay the approachable , personable guy that he currently is. He just seems sincere.

    Bicycle advocacy needs to be about harmony. Shutting down entire streets to traffic is an endeavor that won’t happen and will just polarize the opposition. Let’s start small, like more green bike lane sections and places to lock up downtown (now that there’s no more parking meters.)

    • Thanks for the comment. I agree small but steady progress has the most chance of success if we don’t want to polarize other user groups aganst bikes (though I still can’t help but dream about a car-free downtown *some*day*).
      -Tim

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