This election, Seattle needs to eradicate ersatz environmentalism

mike eliason
6 min readSep 25, 2019

Seattle needs a Green Marshall Plan on housing/land use and mobility, to go along with its recently passed Green New Deal. Unfortunately, last week’s D6 candidate forum in Greenwood proved that one candidate would not be the environmental champion we need, which makes the early Sierra Club endorsement they received even more egregious.

On the question of mobility and bike lanes, former councilmember and current candidate Heidi Wills claimed, ‘not everyone can bike… we need balance in our transportation system

The greenways in D6 are not safe. There are all of 3 blocks of protected bike lanes in D6, and they do not connect. The greenways and bike lanes do not provide ALEGRA connections to neighborhood business districts, parks, or schools like they should. There are entire neighborhoods in D6 missing sidewalks. Outside of a few blocks, there is also virtually no transit priority in D6. Meanwhile, there is free parking all over the district, and over 98% of D6 roadways only prioritize motorists. We do need balance in our transportation system, however, giving credence to bogus anti-safe street and anti-bike lane arguments will not result in the balance needed.

2018 Seattle Frequent Transit Service Area (dark = frequent transit) v. zoning map (yellow = apt ban)

Yes, it is true that not everyone can bike. And Wills has shared this sentiment at several forums, and yet she has never once pushed back, and stated that no, not everyone can drive, either. The ‘balance’ put forth by candidates like Wills has absolutely nothing to do with prioritizing safe streets, transit, and bike infrastructure. This usage of ‘balance’ is a canard trotted out by homeowners opposed to safe streets, removing parking, and de-prioritizing automobiles (not surprisingly, a sizeable share of her backers), and it is really disgusting to see it being used by someone claiming to care about the environment. Furthermore, many people who have disabilities, do, in fact, bike. Recently the Seattle Disability Commission came out with recs for safe streets and bike lanes. Protected bike lanes are also utilized by forms of mobility outside of bikes — including wheelchairs. In Bavaria (and even the Netherlands), electric bikes are now outselling traditional bikes, specifically because they allow people (including the elderly and those with mobility challenges) to tackle hills and go farther than they could unassisted or without a car.

this ain’t a high line

Wills has also championed a useless and expensive proposal designed to delay or kill the Missing Link altogether. The so-called ‘Ballard High Line’ would be a $50 million-dollar per mile boondoggle to preserve street parking (and kill support for bike lanes due to absurd costs), while forcing cyclists to bypass side streets to Ballard’s historic core. It is fitting that it is likened to NYC’s High Line, a $180 million dollar retrofit of an existing 1.5-mile rail line. The High Line has amazing views (and, more importantly, density), whereas this boondoggle would provide a vista of parked vehicles, inexpensive single story buildings and plastic membrane roofs. Sadly, the city’s original zoning allowed 80’ tall buildings throughout this entire area. The only alternate to the Missing Link that makes any sense, would be to pedestrianize all of Ballard Ave and allow bikes through it. While this is what any progressive city that values people and livability would have already done, Seattle’s fealty to climate arson and cars prevents this.

left: city of seattle proposed urban village map, right: neighborhood planning gerrymandered map

Wills proposal to return to the neighborhood planning that was done in the late 90s and early 2000s is also a big tell. The neighborhood plans were largely coopted by homeowners who gerrymandered urban village boundaries to preserve their enclaves from the horror of renters and affordable housing. Less than 2% of our city actually participated it (seriously, it was all of 12,000 residents). It is one of the reasons CM Mosqueda’s office has asked for a Racial Equity Analysis of the Urban Village Strategy codified in the anti-tenant neighborhood plans. The Greenwood Urban Village saw its boundaries reduced by over 30 blocks, with parks being removed from the UV and multifamily housing being limited to the arterials where current businesses face increased risk of displacement. Fremont’s Urban Village was reduced by a third — and none of the zoning within the UV itself was changed to accommodate affordable housing. Today’s housing crisis has a direct line to the inequitable, and frankly, classist as f*ck neighborhood plans. This is why MHA was a step in the right direction. This was why liberalizing ADUs was a positive thing (although it should have gone farther). Allowing homeowners to veto where renters and affordable housing can go has been a recipe for economic segregation and displacement, while allowing wealthy homeowners, including Wills, to hoard city-funded resources like parks and schools.

If you think providing safe streets so moms who cart their kids around on bike deserve to not get harassed or killed is ‘polarizing’, when it is more dangerous for pedestrians and those who ride bikes today than it has been for decades, you aren’t fit for council.

If you think a land use program that opened up a little more of the city for renters and those who can’t afford million dollars homes was ‘polarizing’, you can’t represent renters, and aren’t fit for council.

Alex Pedersen’s anti-housing, anti-safe streets history is well documented, and he’a so opposed to bike lanes and equitable mobility he couldn’t even be bothered to show up to the MASS coalition’s debate.

Wills has tried to walk a fine line of being an environmentalist, while appealing to homeowners who oppose safe streets, oppose affordable housing rezones, oppose increasing housing opportunities for renters who make up the majority of the city, and who oppose progressive taxation to mitigate climate change. This fake environmentalism — where claims that electric vehicles will make Seattle green (they won’t), where chemical-laden golf courses off limits to families are parks (they ain’t), where preserving exclusionary zoning saves trees (it doesn’t), where bike lanes increase carbon emissions (nope)— may poll well with wealthy homeowners who don’t want to disrupt the status quo (likely why Wills performed horribly among people who actually live near other people) — but it has dire consequences for families and renters. Speaking of polarizing, Wills previously voted to let a corporate developer skip out of paying for affordable housing — an act so heinous, Mayor Nickels actually vetoed it.

This election, the city needs to loudly and resoundingly reject the ersatz environmentalism being floated by wealthy homeowners like Wills, Sattler-Davidson, and Pedersen. We need to elect candidates that will create radical changes in open space. We need to elect candidates that will actually fund Seattle’s Green New Deal. We need to elect candidates that will drastically increase safe streets and mobility. And most importantly, we need to elect candidates who are willing to radically embiggen where and how affordable, multifamily housing is allowed, and finally repeal the apartment ban.

Our children’s lives literally depend on it.



mike eliason

dad | designer | writer | Noted shill for housing. interests: Baugruppen, architecture, passivhaus, mass timber, staedtebau, not for profit housing