It’s easy to get mired in despair. We’re in the news business, so believe us, we know. But a lot of what happened in Seattle this year bodes well for the next—really! Here we raise a glass to this year’s wins and next year’s prospects.
First off, getting around town will be easier. And no, not just because we’ll collectively admit that walking is the city’s fastest mode of transport. Seattle will have a light-rail line in early 2016 that will get you from Downtown to the U District at rush hour in “about the time it takes to order and get coffee,” says Sound Transit. That’s a far cry from the current system, which is “about the time it takes to listen to every podcast you’ve ever heard of and then call your mom and then give up and go home.” The First Hill Streetcar is also finally running its test trains up and down the lines; chances are high it’ll launch within months. Voters approved Move Seattle in November, the huge transportation levy, which means nearly $1 billion for transportation infrastructure projects, including new protected bike lanes and bus lanes in 2016. And there’s some (marginally) good news for gridlock: The city’s traffic engineer, Dongho Chang, promises that we’re going to see major improvements in traffic-light timing in the downtown corridor by early next year and along Mercer Avenue soon after, minimizing those interminable minutes you and everyone around you will sit at a red light, thinking Why? Why? And the low-income Rainier Beach High School students advocating for free ORCA passes? They got their passes. The city this fall found $1 million to help them get to school.
Speaking of which, 2015 was also a good year for all kinds of city policy, which means we might actually see some substantive changes next year on the city’s thorniest issues. Mayor Ed Murray’s declaration of emergency on homelessness won’t completely solve the problem, but acknowledging its severity and finding millions more dollars to address it is nothing to sneeze at; there will be more shelter beds next year. The Housing Affordability and Livability Agenda (HALA) came out, to much critical acclaim (with a generous slice of plain old criticism on the side), and in 2016 we should see some of those recommendations become law, including a commercial linkage fee that will require developers to directly fund the construction of affordable housing.
The city also approved $600,000 to develop alternatives to youth detention next year—an effort to help kids, not jail them. Voters passed Honest Elections this November, too, making it tougher for corporate money to dominate city politics in the years to come. Granted, there won’t be any city elections to use them on next year, but it will be the law! And, after much ado and several nail-bitingly close races, we’ve got a fresh-faced City Council that is younger, more racially diverse, more female, and more urbanist—in other words, more likely to pass legislation in 2016 that’ll help improve public transit and increase housing options and cap these skyrocketing rents.
Labor unions are on the rise—a good thing for workers, but also for the city as a whole. The City Council last week passed legislation that allows Uber and Lyft drivers to unionize, making us the first U.S. city to do so. The Council also doubled funding for the Tenant’s Union in the 2016 budget, which means nearly $100,000 in support for renters. And after the Seattle teachers’ union went on strike for the first time in three decades this September, it secured all kinds of wins for the school district that will benefit students and classrooms, not just teacher salaries. Among them: a guaranteed 30 minutes of recess for all elementary-school kids and the creation of equity teams in dozens of schools that might finally, tangibly address the disproportionate suspension rates of students of color. Seattle’s rising minimum wage will inch toward its eventual $15 in 2016, too, by the way—up to $13 an hour if you work for a large employer who doesn’t pay your health-care premiums.
Environmentalists and policymakers have done a hell of a job fighting for action on climate change this year, and show no signs of stopping in the next. Shell launched and then abandoned its effort to drill the Arctic for oil; Seattle’s kayaktivists can take credit for galvanizing global opposition to the effort. Washington could be the first U.S. state to pass a carbon tax at the ballot in 2016, since Carbon Washington got the 350,000 signatures it was shooting for and then some. The proposal will be in the hands of the legislature in January—and then on the ballot if the legislature does nothing, which, let’s face it, is likely. The Alliance for Jobs and Clean Energy is still developing its own carbon-tax proposal, too, which will start the signature-gathering process early in the year. (Update: After this story went to print, Carbon Washington informed its supporters that it was considering not submitting the ballot signatures, due to the potential conflict it would have with the Alliance's ballot measure.) What happened in Paris was way more promising than any climate conference that preceded it, and we had our own Gov. Jay Inslee on deck, teaming with other regional leaders to confab on better climate policies in the Pacific Northwest. And even if the state legislature stagnates again, Inslee has already commanded the Department of Ecology to cap carbon emissions, with a new rule to roll out by the end of 2016. Meanwhile, King County just adopted one of the boldest climate action plans in the country. (Even Earth Day founder Denis Hayes said it was the best one he’d seen.) What’s more, contrary to popular fears, Seattle’s winter has started off both wet and cold, with several feet of snow already blanketing the Cascades. So chin up, snow bums: The snowpack is back!
Same goes for sports fans: The Seahawks end 2015 on a hot streak, and the prospect of a third straight Super Bowl appearance beckons once again. Sure, Beast Mode is down, recovering from a hernia operation, and Thomas Rawls is out with a season-ending broken ankle, but who needs a running game when Russell Wilson is throwing three touchdowns a game? Plus, the Mariners have a new General Manager, Jerry Dipoto, who came in swinging, feeding hopes that the city’s beleaguered baseball team will break out of the playoff drought that’s been plaguing it for 14 agonizing years. None of the new GM’s transactions so far seem terribly significant, but the team has added depth, and—no offense, Trumbo—athleticism.
Oh, and for a final toast: Beer is bigger than ever. Yes, Seattle has gotten even friendlier with our favorite frothy beverage. There’s now a craft brewery on every street corner! (OK, just kidding. We mean every street corner in Ballard.) There are at least 315 breweries in the state, a good fifth of them within Seattle city limits, and of those, a bunch saw major expansions this year. Fremont Brewing’s new tasting room and office space broke ground in September; Epic Ales’ new restaurant and brewery, Mollusk, is bringing inventive suds like squid-ink pilsner to 5,000 square feet of South Lake Union; 2-year-old Standard Brewing’s headquarters in the Central District went from a tiny row of stools to an expansive patio with heat lamps and a movie screen; and Reuben’s Brews in Ballard just snagged a veteran employee from Pike Brewing and opened a huge new taproom. And if booze isn’t your thing, well, Washington just upped the state limit on recreational cannabis shops from 334 to 556 stores. Many of those will open in, you guessed, it 2016. It’s going to be a blazing year.