Olympia City Council backs sales tax increase for biking/pedestrian but debates flexibility in project funding


The Olympia City Council strongly supported a 0.1% sales tax increase for a new funding source for non-automotive transportation modes like walking and cycling.

However, at the Monday, November 6 meeting, there was a debate over ensuring the funds remain dedicated to these projects.

The city council directed staff to draft an ordinance for council consideration to impose a 0.1% sales tax to raise approximately $3.1 million annually for transportation capital projects. The proposed tax aims to accelerate the construction of bicycle, pedestrian, and safety projects identified in the city's Transportation Master Plan.

Interim Transportation Director Sophie Stimson outlined the need for additional funding to implement the goals of the Transportation Master Plan. She noted that the plan emphasizes building out bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure, but the city can currently afford a fraction of the identified projects with the existing revenues.

The Finance Committee recommended expanding the use of the Transportation Benefit District (TBP) to raise revenue for capital projects.

At the Olympia City Council meeting held Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, Interim Transportation Director Sophie Stimson outlined the projects for the potential $3.1 new revenues.
At the Olympia City Council meeting held Monday, Nov. 6, 2023, Interim Transportation Director Sophie Stimson outlined the projects for the potential …

TBP, which has been in place since 2009, is an independent taxing district created to fund transportation improvements. It currently generates about $1.5 million annually through the $40 vehicle licensing fees.

"To date, we have used those revenues for pavement management, such as street resurfacing, but it can be used for other transportation funding means," Stimson said, adding that the TBP can generate revenues through a sales tax. She mentioned that many Washington cities use vehicle license fees and the sales tax mechanism to raise revenues.

If the city council approved the proposed 0.1% sales tax increase, Stimson said the new revenues – about $3.1 million – would allow them to increase the TMP project construction to deliver more bike and pedestrian projects more quickly. "It is also an opportunity to add some funding towards projects without a typical funding source. The new revenues would be reflected in the 2025 Capital Facilities Plan (CFP)."

From the potential new revenues, Stimson is proposing:

  • New sidewalks and sidewalk repair - $1 million
  • Enhanced crosswalks - $700,000
  • Enhanced bike lanes - $600,000
  • Bike and pedestrian safety projects - $600,000

The Transportation director noted that enhanced crosswalks and bike and pedestrian safety projects do not have historical funding.

Stimson is also proposing a new position in the Public Works Department. She said that staff is needed to increase the city's ability to scope and design projects.

Stimson also added that they would need flexibility to adjust allocations between funding categories in each annual CFP, but they would continue to fund bike and pedestrian projects.


Olympia Councilmember Dani Madrone
Olympia Councilmember Dani Madrone

Councilmember Dani Madrone asked if the proposed funding would be dedicated exclusively to bicycle and pedestrian projects for the next ten years, as indicated by the sales tax proposal. "I understand wanting flexibility between the different categories, but I want to make sure that we're dedicating these funds to projects that don't have dedicated funding."

Stimson was non-committal as she pointed out that most CFP is focused on bike and pedestrian projects. She said it would be helpful to maintain some flexibility in allocating the funds between CFP cycles. For example, she suggested they may need to reallocate a little extra year to bike corridors if it was necessary to match a grant or fully fund a priority project without delay.

Mayor Pro Tem Clark Gilman expressed concern about the proposal to renegotiate funding allocations on an annual basis through each Capital Facilities Plan process.

While acknowledging larger corridor projects like Martin Way have value, Gilman believed the community had advocated most strongly for funding the smaller neighborhood projects that have historically not received dedicated funding. He preferred the budget to remain dedicated to categories like sidewalk repairs and enhanced bike lanes, as outlined in the presentation.

"I think that the flexibility should be addressed by coming to the council and asking to use the fund differently if an opportunity comes up," Gilman said.

Councilmember Jim Cooper agreed with Gilman and wanted to ensure the ordinance specifies the council's intent for the long-term use of these funds. He proposed language stating that the funds would be dedicated to non-motorized transportation modes like biking and walking for as long as possible. Any potential diversions from this funding allocation would be addressed by the council on a case-by-case basis rather than through annual renegotiation of the categories.

Olympia Councilmember Dani Madrone
Olympia Councilmember Dani Madrone

City Attorney Mark Barber weighed in on the discussion around codifying the long-term use of the transportation funding. He clarified that the sales tax ordinance could be broadly written to allow flexibility over ten years, as council members may change, and policy preferences could evolve.

If the council wanted to mandate funds, Barber added, it would need to amend a separate section of the municipal code outlining the approved uses of monies in the transportation benefit district fund.

The city attorney cited a municipal code specific to the uses of the Transportation Benefit District fund, saying that the code section is the appropriate place to make long-term allocation rules rather than including it in the sales tax ordinance.

Public Works Director Mark Russell assured the councilmembers that the staff understood the clear policy direction from the council to allocate the new tax revenues primarily to bicycle and pedestrian projects.

Russell suggested taking the council's statements as staff's guidance on funding bike/pedestrian improvements. Only if a large project like Martin Way required significant matching dollars would staff return to the council for approval.


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  • JW

    It utterly boggles the mind what the city of Olympia will put its priorities towards.

    What happens when we have year after year of frivolous and wasteful tax measures like the Arts tax and now this one that pass and then finally something actually important comes up like fire, police, or roads (the ones the cars drive on not your stupid bike lanes) and the public is so fed up they shoot it down. But at least they'll have poetry, arts, and bike lanes!

    Tuesday, November 7, 2023 Report this

  • KarenM

    Cars are late comers to the whole transportation situation. People have been walking since humans started walking upright. Bicycle riders were the original promoters for 'good roads' before cars became common. It should be possible to walk and cycle safely in our community.

    When people walk and ride bikes they are not polluting the air and as a bonus for car drivers, they are not taking up a parking place at your destination. Please be respectful of those who choose to not drive a car for any number of reasons. Or perhaps they cannot afford to won a car or they have a medical condition or they are a young person.

    Let's make room for everyone to move around safely.

    Wednesday, November 8, 2023 Report this

  • Coug66

    The City of Olympia used to require all bicycles to carry license plates. Fees were not excessive, such as the City adds to auto licenses now, but bikes could be accounted for. Licensing bicycles, particularly those that use arterials, could begin a well deserved return to riders providing support for their use of public streets.

    Wednesday, November 8, 2023 Report this

  • TomBoucher

    Biking's fun and effective and probably the biggest reason for my high quality of life physically in retirement. I just walked away in one thankful piece from a 911-level bike crash that could've been worse, say, on a narrower street and you can too with the right thought put into little dabs of money and thought scattered throughout our three cities making biking feel safer and clearer every year. A better look at some potholes, a repaired surface at some crucial places, some of it's so cheap and simple. Good work so far, let's keep attention on this very modest cost. Thanks Tumwater Fire in the drizzle that day!

    Wednesday, November 8, 2023 Report this

  • Somney

    I am looking at buying an electric bike in January or February. I would like to ride to work in the late spring/summer. I live in West Oly and drive to St. Peters Hospital. The route to ride would be enjoyable, I might get a little exercise, save money and via Harrison/4th/Martin Way, it would remove a car from the road and save a little gas. I think anything to remove a car from the road, reduce mileage would be helpful. Bikes generate less wear for roads than a car, one less car on I5. I do not see the downside. Unfortunately people are driving bigger and heavier vehicles which are dangerous to bikes so anything to make it safe would be appreciated.

    Wednesday, November 8, 2023 Report this

  • janedoe

    As a cyclist that re-discovered the joys of being on a bike at 37 after a major operation, I love how many options I have in this area to ride. I gave up many portions of the chehalis western trail after encampments went up and I no longer felt safe, but there are portions that I do still feel safe in the daytime and I carry a weapon for self-protection also from animals. I use my bike as exercise and maintaining my fitness, but I'm terrified of riding on the roads anymore. My final straw was actually nearly being hit by a city bus on capitol way near the safeway almost to tumwater. Silly me thinking I could trust a professional driver to pay attention to driving. My point is I no longer ride the roads.. it's just not safe in 2023 with all the distracted drivers. I got on my bike after being in the hospital and the ENTIRE point is to avoid having to go back to that god awful place. Getting hit by someone that thinks a text is more important that the life around them isn't ok in my book. I exclusively ride the trails now.

    I'm beyond grateful for the trail and the bridges over major roads that have made it even safer for cyclists in the last 15 years. I think some projects increasing safety on the trail would be helpful. What I don't think will help will be bike lanes painted with that bright green paint that is SLIPPERY. It's wet here a lot. Please please please figure out a way to take away the slickness of this paint because crashing right next to a lane of active traffic is bad. Really really bad. Hawaii has this same paint, my son lived there and crashed on it 4 times going to his attorney job he chose to ride to work instead of drive to lose weight. People do choose this option.

    There's more than one incredible quote by Einstein about bikes too by the way. Open your mind to another option.

    Wednesday, November 8, 2023 Report this

  • JulesJames

    Money spent on fixing and adding sidewalks is useful. Recreational bike trails are an excellent investment. But bike lanes for "commuters" are a giant mis-appropriation of funds and mis-allocation of roadway. Scrape away the hype and we find bicycle commuting stagnated nationally -- and probably locally -- in approximately 2014 as a insignificant statistical blip -- somewhere less than 3% of the commuting public. So we are really just re-purposing multi-functional roadways into single-purpose fitness gyms for the fully able. The "bikes will save the planet" crowd need to recognize fellow citizens with responsibilities for young kids or aging parents can't risk lifestyle-changing injuries from a minor fender-bender. When bicycles are required to have street-legal headlights, taillights, turn-signals, air bags and seat belts, then maybe the issue is worth re-visiting. Until then: No More Bike Lanes!

    Thursday, November 9, 2023 Report this