We often hear that it’s time to update our transportation infrastructure in order to keep up with the region’s booming economy and population growth, but there is a much more important reason to improve mobility and build better transit systems; health equity. The benefits of a fast-growing economy are not reaching all of our communities. In fact, research shows that zip code is the strongest determinant of health, and the walkability and connectivity of the neighborhoods we grow up in tell us more about how long we’ll live and how healthy we’ll be than almost any other factor, including genetics.
In the Seattle area, life expectancy varies significantly by neighborhood, as does access to transit, walkability, and access to high-quality, affordable housing. Traffic emissions are the biggest culprit of life-shortening air pollution, and our congested freeways force us all to spend too much time on the road and not enough time with our families. In order to build the types of healthy communities where everyone can thrive, we need to invest in the kind of infrastructure that enables us all to live healthier lifestyles. In November, we’ll have the opportunity to choose a healthier future.
Sound Transit Proposition 1 is toward the very bottom of November’s ballot. If it passes, it will be the largest public investment in state history, but it will only cost each of us an average of about $14 per month. Proposition 1 adds 62 miles of light rail, extends the Sounder commuter train, adds buses, bike paths, parking structures, tens of thousands of jobs, and of course, vibrant station areas in communities across the region. Once Proposition 1 is complete, 93% of the region’s jobs will be connected to mass transit.
But perhaps the biggest contribution Proposition 1 will make to health equity is in the unprecedented opportunities for affordable housing near transit. In 2015, when the State Legislature granted Sound Transit the authority to put Proposition 1 on the ballot, they created a new affordable housing mandate that makes a lot of the extra land near the light rail and transit stations available to nonprofit and affordable housing developers. That means that wherever Sound Transit builds light rail, we can expect to see mixed-use developments with lots of affordable housing nearby. In a region with very expensive land and very scarce housing, this requirement is a game-changer.
For too long, we have been building the kind of infrastructure that separates us from our communities, that pollutes our air, and creates barriers to healthful lifestyles. In November, we can choose to reverse that trend by voting for a step toward building the region where all of our communities will thrive.
Rich Stolz is the executive director of OneAmerica.