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Move Seattle Levy Has Its Winners And Losers

It’s a sunny afternoon on Aurora Avenue North, at the far northern edge of the city. A RapidRide bus pulls up and drops off a couple of guys in wheelchairs.

One of them is Darrell Merriweather. As he scoots along the road shoulder, only a thin line separates him from cars traveling much faster. He tells me what it’s like getting from his bus stop on Aurora to the senior housing where he lives: “The sidewalk is torn up. Infrastructure, man – they need to improve this infrastructure.”

The $930 million raised from property taxes under the Move Seattle levy won’t solve all the city’s transportation problems. So hard choices have been made about which projects to fund and which to push further down the road. People in some neighborhoods will benefit – and other people feel left out.

On Aurora, I ask Merriweather what it’s like trying to get around safely there in a wheelchair.

“Well, I haven’t been hit yet," he says, laughing. "I’ve come close, but I haven’t been hit yet.”

Merriweather's story really upsets Richard Dyksterhuis. He lives nearby, and he walks this stretch of Aurora Avenue a lot. He’s been pushing city hall to get better sidewalks here. “You’ve got to have separation between cars and people walking,” he said.

Dyksterhuis is 88 years old and he’s set this goal for himself: “I want to live long enough for people to walk stem to stern, in the city of Seattle, east, west, north, south, and not be fearful.”

[asset-images[{"caption": "Richard Dyksterhuis, an 88-year-old pedestrian activist on Aurora Avenue North, doesn't like the Move Seattle Levy.", "fid": "121606", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201510/Dyksterhuis.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols"}]]So he’s angry that a big plan to make Aurora Avenue North a lot more pedestrian friendly wasn't included in the Move Seattle levy. He says it could be another decade before Aurora gets the attention it deserves. He’s urging his neighbors to vote against the levy.

“Taxation without representation is tyranny," he says. "We’re not at the table, making deals.”

But other people are excited about the levy’s investments and the changes they could bring to the city.

[asset-images[{"caption": "An artist's depiction of what Bus Rapid Transit could look like on Madison Street.", "fid": "121608", "style": "placed_full", "uri": "public://201510/bus_rapid_transit.jpg", "attribution": "Credit Seattle Department of Transportation"}]]

Shefali Ranganathan runs the Transportation Choices Coalition. She met me at Broadway and Madison to tell me about the Bus Rapid Transit line that would run up Madison.

“It will be the city’s first investment in bus rapid transit," she says. "Actually, the region’s first …”

Wait - don't we already have bus rapid transit? You know, the “C” and the “D” lines?

“I think RapidRide is a step closer to rapid transit," she says, but "the challenge with true bus rapid transit, as you look at it internationally, is how can we give transit its own lane so it’s as reliable as possible.”

So these buses here on Madison will have their own dedicated lane, separated from traffic, she tells me.

That line will run from downtown to the 23rd Avenue at the top of Capitol Hill. Ranganathan can already imagine it: “I can drop my kid off at day care, get down to my job, go to a doctor’s appointment at Swedish, and I can do it in a fast and reliable way.”

All without a car. “Why on earth would I want to drive?” she asks.

[asset-images[{"caption": "Shefali Ranganathan stands at the corner of Broadway and Madison, where the Bus Rapid Transit line will be built using levy funds. At this intersection alone, you'll find a hospital, hotel, university and future 16 story apartment building. Ranganathan says that density, common along Madison and increasing every year, helps the investment pay off.", "fid": "121607", "style": "placed_wide", "uri": "public://201510/Ranganathan.jpg", "attribution": "Credit KUOW Photo/Joshua McNichols"}]]A tenth of the city’s residents and almost a third of its jobs are within a half mile of this street. “This is a vibrant humming corridor," says Ranganathan. "And people want to live and work here. Which is why we need to make the investments so that it works to be able to do that.”

Ranganathan bristles at the criticism that Seattle’s farther out neighborhoods aren’t getting as much out of this levy. She points to smaller projects the levy will build in the north and south ends of the city – sidewalks, bike paths and safe routes to school.

If this levy fails, the mayor and the City Council would have to come up with another one that voters would pass in future years. But the City Council will look very different starting next year, when council members will begin to represent districts instead of the city as a whole. They could bring some very different priorities to the table.

See district-by-district details from the city of proposed projects under the Move Seattle levy.

Correction, 9 p.m., 10/21/2015: An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified an expansion to Seattle’s streetcar system as included in the Move Seattle levy’s list of projects. While the streetcar expansions are part of Mayor Ed Murray’s 10 Year “Move Seattle” Strategic Vision for Transportation, they are not part of the Move Seattle Levy.