The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, which is housed at the United Nations, has said that cities must play a critical role if we are to meet our climate change targets. It also happens that Seattle is one of the richest cities in the history of human civilization, and our people are some of the US’ most environmentally focused voters. And yet, we are far behind the relatively modest targets we have set for ourselves.
This means we need to move beyond our deliberative, indecisive “Seattle process” and move quickly to cut greenhouse gas emissions in Seattle. Over 80% of our emissions come from transportation and residential/commercial buildings–so that’s where we need to start.
62% of our emissions come from personal transportation, so it should be our top priority.
About 41% of a car’s emissions come from manufacturing, so electrification is not enough. The greenest car is the one that never needs to be built. That doesn’t mean a war on cars. But it does mean that the only path forward is to make Seattle a place that is as easy, safe, quick, and convenient to get around the city without a car as it is with. To do this, we have to reduce the time, effort, and safety penalty people pay when they don’t take a car.
How to accomplish this
Make it so people can meet most of their needs with a short walk. Barcelona targets 85% of trips being in-neighborhood in the next five years. We are starting farther behind but should reach 75% by 2030 and 85% by 2035. Legalize retail everywhere and reform parking requirements to reflect best practices. Ensure that enough right of way is dedicated to protected and accessible space for people to walk, roll, and ride transit from where they are to where they want to be. Pay living wages to build up our bus operator workforce and fund frequent trips all over the city. Make streets safe by prioritizing safety and comfort over speed. This means raised and signalized crosswalks, no right turn on red, narrowed lanes, mid-block crossings, street trees, speed humps, and roundabouts. Electrify everything that remains and isn’t human-propelled Source all our electricity from clean, sustainable sources. Invest in distributed storage and work with private sector battery sources (e.g., school bus operators, homeowners) to balance energy distribution, supply, and demand.
The next 21% of our emissions come from the construction and operation of residential and commercial buildings. We need to decarbonize both.
To cut operational emissions:
For older buildings, weatherize and electrify. Work with the Office of Labor Standards and our union partners to develop a just transition for any displaced workers. For new buildings, start with carrots (e.g., density bonuses) and transition to formal requirements, pushing toward “Passivhaus” standards. Make multi-family housing easier and cheaper to build (see the housing section), as shared walls generate HVAC efficiency and support mass transit and walkable neighborhoods.
To cut construction emissions
The less concrete we use, the better, and the less custom construction, the better. Make our zoning, code, and design rules more amenable to modular and mass timber construction. Allow smaller wood frame-only buildings up to six or seven stories like many other jurisdictions.
One of the biggest ways to support all of the above is a smarter zoning code. Compact, complete neighborhoods have low energy usage per unit, support frequent transit, and provide a tax base that can invest in the kind of infrastructure we are talking about. To make this work, we do need to legalize family-sized mid-rise housing (with green space requirements and height bonuses to both build housing and preserve our tree canopy) in every corner of the city and move to a six-month or faster permitting process.
The remaining fifth of emissions are tied to industry. Gains here will come more slowly, and the city has fewer opportunities to lead here. Still, through partnerships with our labor partners, the Port, the State and Federal government, and as scientists and engineers push the frontier forward, we can hold ourselves to high standards of best practice to make sure we are delivering a clean economy.
Tree Canopy, Climate Resilience, and Climate Justice - (Link to Separate Page)
For climate resilience and climate justice, there are three things we can do.
Tree Canopy Protection and Expansion
While density is better than sprawl for overall numbers of trees, we are still humans, and we still need them close by! To protect trees and ensure housing is built, we need:
Flexible building footprint rules that don’t overprescribe setbacks or where the building footprint must go will allow developers to build around trees. More Reasonable lot coverage/greenspace requirements ensure we don’t cover entire lots with concrete and buildings. Protection for exceptional trees –and if landowners cannot reach the full capacity of their site, add a height and square footage bonus to ensure we don’t lose out on housing either. This will mean more trees–and that we site more housing next to them–which means more people with more exposure to more trees! Ensure that affordable and social housing is built in areas with lots of tree coverage, enabling people from every background to enjoy the health, safety, and comfort benefits of living with a tree canopy. Invest in tree preservation resources. Our largest losses right now come from climate, aging, and disease–primarily in parks and single-family home areas. We need to publicly fund the care we need to extend the lives of these trees. Plant and support at least 100,000 trees along streets and in parks, particularly for climate justice purposes, in neglected areas of the city. Streets touch almost every property in the city–and so this can reach almost everyone. They clean air, slow traffic, and reduce heat island effects–all of which are needed–especially in traditionally marginalized communities.
Environmental Justice–Arterials and Housing
Right now, politicians like my opponent say things like, “Let’s build apartments where it makes sense.”
Unfortunately, for decades, that has been code for “let’s build apartments along wide, busy roads and far away from parks and schools.”
This has meant that often, those with the least resources among us are the most impacted by the dangers and health hazards of those roads.
This is one of the primary reasons why children from BIPOC communities are much more likely to grow up with asthma. It’s why people from BIPOC communities are much more likely to be hit as pedestrians. And it’s a shameful legacy of our past practices of segregation.
To fix this, we need to
Allow development to be built next to parks and in leafy neighborhoods, with the tree protections mentioned above. Prioritize putting the street trees from my 100,000 street trees plan along arterials and in underrepresented neighborhoods. Eliminate right turns on red along such arterials. Add mid-block crossings to long stretches, using raised crosswalks with increased signaling. Narrow lanes and put in traffic calming devices that ensure greater safety. Accelerate our shift to other travel modes and electrification. Invest in creating greater green space in BIPOC neighborhoods, working with the communities to ensure this doesn’t lead to increased displacement.