Seattle mayor proposes congestion pricing to help meet carbon-reduction goals

Downtown tolling part of slate of planned 'meaningful changes'

Seattle mayor proposes congestion pricing to help meet carbon-reduction goals

Seattle mayor proposes congestion pricing to help meet carbon-reduction goals

Congestion pricing could be coming to the city’s downtown core, as part of a new push to reduce carbon emissions announced Wednesday.

But Mayor Jenny Durkan says downtown tolling is only one part of a larger slate of “meaningful changes” needed to meet carbon goals and relieve traffic congestion in the face of inaction from the Trump administration.

“We know it can’t stand alone,” she said during a press conference Wednesday morning at Kerry Park. “We know it’s a heavy lift, and we have to engage people deeply before doing that, and we have to make sure that it is paired up with meaningful transit, because we can’t ask people to get out of their single-occupancy vehicles unless there are meaningful options.”

Transportation is one of the two areas of focus (building efficiency the other) in a new set of short-and-long-term actions as the city tries to hit the pollution reduction targets in the Paris Climate Agreement.

“Seattle is becoming a big city,” Durkan said. “We need to have a city in the future that is that kind of city where we squint our eyes and think, ‘Where do we want to be?’ And I think all of us want to be in a city that is easy to get in and out of, that’s pleasant to walk around, to bike around, to shop, to have cafes. One of the things we can do is look at congestion pricing to make sure that when we enter a certain core of the city, if you’re going to be the person driving in there, you have to pay more money.”

In addition to studying the potential for congestion pricing, the city is also putting a new emphasis on electric vehicle infrastructure — requiring its inclusion in new construction and renovations that include parking — and plans to phase out the use of fossil fuels in all fleet vehicles. Also proposed is the development of recommendations for the full electrification of the rideshare and taxi fleet. But with that electrification comes the need for a wide expansion in the number of charging stations around the city.

“Ideally, we would want charging stations to be more frequent than gas stations,” Durkan said. “We want people in every part of the city to take advantage of the technology of the future, and we know there are real barriers to electrification — both because of cost and availability of infrastructure.”

And while transportation accounts for the majority of greenhouse gas emissions, building efficiency is another major driver, with its own set of proposals to address that sphere.

“We are going to be really looking to make sure that we can set the bar for not just this area, but for the country on how we build and keep and sustain more efficient buildings,” she said.

That means a new citywide pilot — first announced during the mayor’s State of the City address in February — offering additional height and floor space incentives in exchange for significant upgrades surrounding energy and water usage, stormwater management and transportation efficiency for up to 20 major renovations in urban centers. 

Durkan also wants to expand City Light’s pay-for-performance energy efficiency pilot, and find funding to transition the 18,000 homes in the city that still use heating oil to electric heat pumps.

Backed by the heads of Seattle Public Utilities, Finance and Administrative Services and the Department of Construction and Inspections, the mayor said she’s well aware that city agencies will have to work together on these new initiatives to hit the targets they’ve set. 

“We know that we can’t live in silos, and that we have to move together as a city across all platforms to get us more ecologically friendly,” she said. “It will be a challenge for us, but we’re up to the challenge.”

City Councilmember Mike O’Brien was also on hand for Wednesday’s announcement, and said the plans were “the types of commitments necessary for the city to be true leaders on climate change.”

“The people of this region have long been fighters, fighting to protect the arctic from oil drilling, fighting new pipelines, fighting coal exports coming through our communities, but we know that if we’re going to solve climate change, we also have to make changes right here in our community,” he said.

Durkan likened the latest plans to past environmental efforts — like separating garbage from recycling — where initial skepticism gave way to acceptance.

“We can do this,” she said. “Seattle has led, and we will continue to lead.”