Let’s Renew the Bellingham Transportation Fund

by Stoney Bird

Vote Yes on Proposition 2020-14

Ten years ago, Bellingham voters adopted our local Transportation Fund. The fund is responsible for providing us with many of the repaving projects that we’ve been seeing in the last 10 years and nearly all the nonmotorized projects. And it’s been supporting Whatcom Transportation Authority (WTA) in a number of ways.

Voters can renew the Transportation Fund in November. Many Bellinghamsters (Hamsters) are gathering in a newly formed campaign committee called Neighbors for Bellingham Transportation Fund to make sure the renewal happens. You can go to the group’s website at www.BellinghamTransportationFund.org to see the endorsements and why it’s so important to pass the extension. This article lays out the big picture.

Before and after photos of West Maplewood: resurfacing, real sidewalks, real bike lanes, bus shelter and better stormwater handling.
courtesy photo: City of Bellingham

Transportation Fund’s Great Work
When they voted on it 10 years ago, Bellingham voters overwhelmingly approved what was then called the Transportation Benefit District (TBD). At the time, a major motivation was to help the Whatcom Transportation Authority restore Sunday service, which it had to drop in the wake of the 2008 Great Recession.

WTA’s own finances were restored after a few years, and it no longer needed help from the Transportation Benefit District fund. At that time, the TBD fund was renamed the Transportation Fund and was incorporated directly into the city’s organizational structure instead of being a separate “district.” The geographic area involved remained the same. Everything the fund has collected is dedicated solely to transportation projects in Bellingham.

Since the adoption of the Bellingham Transportation Fund, Hamsters have enjoyed a stream of projects that make our city a safer and a more pleasant place to live in. These projects include repaving major roadways like Holly Street, Roeder Avenue, Bill McDonald Parkway, and West Maplewood Avenue, just to name a few, with Telegraph Road and many others in the works. Whenever these streets are repaved, the accessibility improvements related to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) are installed simultaneously.

A fund financed mid-block marked crossing with pedestrian-actuated button and numerical countdown signal.
courtesy photo: City of Bellingham

Things have gotten better step by step for pedestrians, too: more miles of sidewalks and more crosswalks, some of them, if they are on busy streets, with flashing lights to aid safe crossing. The city has also put in bike lanes to better separate car and bike traffic. The fund continues to support people being able to get to and rely on WTA service with projects like bus pullouts, accessible sidewalks and crosswalks leading to bus stops on city property.

In order to create more affordable and equitable transportation options, nonmotorized projects have been prioritized for areas with many low- and moderate-income households. And, every project — including repaving — provides upgrades to bring the location up-to-date with the ADA accessibility standards.

Through 2019, the fund generated $43 million for local transportation projects. Not only that, but we’ve been able to garner $4.3 million in matching federal or state funds, for example, through their respective Safe Routes to School programs. One significant benefit for the community is that literally all of the work on these projects has been done by contractors from Whatcom or Skagit counties. These are local funds for local projects and local jobs.

The fund has financed the installation of bus shelters and pull-outs to minimize road congestion at bus stops.

All of this means that getting around is safer and more convenient for everyone. It’s all interlinked. Smoother streets mean that trucks, buses, and cars have less maintenance to contend with. People on bikes don’t have to dodge cracks and potholes. With more connected facilities, more people can walk, take the bus, or use a bike if they want. That means the streets are safer for everyone!

On top of that are the benefits to our climate. It’s a win all around. Transportation accounts for a significant portion of the Bellingham community’s greenhouse gas emissions, and the city has committed to taking action to reduce such emissions.

More People Walking, Biking
Over the past six months, many people have discovered or reacquainted themselves with neighborhood walks and gentle bike rides. Especially with the advent of e-bikes, it’s pretty common for me to go out to do errands and see other people enjoying the fresh air on their bikes. Having separate space to do that has made it possible for more families to try it out. I’ve been car-free for about 20 years, starting when I was living in Mount Vernon, and continuing when I moved to Bellingham in 2011. At first, I had to look hard to find other people on bicycles, but not any more!

Renew the Fund
As things stand, the fund requires renewal this year. Bellingham Transportation Fund Renewal — Proposition 2020-14 — will be on the ballots that we’ll all be getting in a week or two. That’s the ballot measure we need to approve. Make sure you look for it! It will be the last item on the ballot. Proposition 2020-14 will continue the priorities of the existing Transportation Fund: repaving on major roadways, accessibility upgrades, nonmotorized projects, and infrastructure support for WTA. One thing in the renewal is new, however, as it will fund projects to address transportation-related climate change.

No Increase in Taxes
Since Proposition 2020-14 is a renewal of the Transportation Fund, there will be no increase in taxes. Extending the existing fund will continue the present 0.2 percent of sales tax — the source of fund revenue. That level of sales tax remains the same — two cents on a purchase of $10.00 — which is paid by both visitors and residents.

Covid-19 Makes It More Urgent
The Covid-19 emergency makes renewing the fund particularly urgent. For one thing, as I said earlier, all of the work on the various projects that the fund has financed has been performed by local contractors. Local funds support local jobs. We need to continue to support our local contractors in these hard times.

Beyond that, Bellingham families need the facilities that the fund will provide to get to work, shopping, trails, and even someday, to school. The Transportation Fund provides low-cost transit and nonmotorized options to help everyone get where they need to go. In other words, with Covid-19. the people of Bellingham will need the fund even more in their daily lives, in addition because of its forward-looking safety and environmental benefits.

You Can Help
Here are a few things that you can do to help Neighbors for Bellingham Transportation Fund get the renewal passed:
• Write a letter to the editor.
 Help us hand out literature door-to-door or outside at tabling locations.
• Talk to your family, friends, and neighbors about how the Transportation Fund will benefit everyone in the community and especially everyone who is trying to get from place to place in our fair city.
• If time is your constraint, please donate to Neighbors for Bellingham Transportation Fund, at www.BellinghamTransportationFund.org. Every dollar increases the number of voters we can send our message to.
 And above all, vote YES on Proposition 2020-14 when you get your ballot!

For Further Information:
Neighbors for the Bellingham Transportation Fund: www.BellinghamTransportationFund.org.

The city of Bellingham’s web page describing the work the fund has made possible in the last 10 years: cob.org/transportationfund.

Stoney Bird worked as a corporate lawyer for many years. In 2011-12, he was one of the leaders of the campaign for a Bellingham Community Bill of Rights that would have called for a ban on the transportation of coal through Bellingham, and would have acknowledged the rights of Bellingham ecosystems to exist and thrive. More recently, he has been part of the movement for adoption of ranked-choice voting. Seeing that people are removing Confederate monuments all over the country, he has decided to do the same with the Confederate monument of his own name, and will no longer call himself Stonewall Jackson Bird.


Bookmark the permalink.