Olympia Planning Commission seeks to prioritize pedestrian and biking plans 

The planners seek to reduce automobile usage and question the benefits of electric vehicles


The Olympia Planning Commission is pushing for bolder pedestrian and biking priorities as it expressed concerns that a draft update to the city’s transportation chapter of the comprehensive plan remains too car-centric.  

Senior planner Michelle Swanson presented proposed updates to the transportation chapter of the city’s comprehensive plan at the Planning Commission on Monday.  

Swanson provided an overview of the draft plan, which incorporates the city’s recently adopted Transportation Master Plan. Some of the key elements of the draft plan include new requirements around multimodal metrics to evaluate the transportation system.  

Commissioner Greg Quetin commented on language in multiple places of the plan discussing direct routes for all transportation modes. He stated that there is established research and theory that more convenient driving routes can lead to induced demand, as drivers take more trips due to increased convenience of car travel, which countered the plan’s goal of reducing car dependency.  

He cited the northeast neighborhood in Olympia, saying sidewalks are unlikely to be built there due to costs. “So a speeding car in our neighborhood generally means that they are driving on the same place that we walk with our kids. Finding ways to keep that car traffic or at least fast car traffic going somewhere, not in the neighborhood… is certainly a goal of mine for the livability of that neighborhood.” 

In response, transportation planner Michelle Swanson acknowledged induced demand research but emphasized the goal is a denser, human-scale city where driving is unnecessary. She argued street grids worldwide share connectivity and noted new development standards require complete streets. However, she recognized many existing streets still lack pedestrian facilities. 

Commission Chair Zainab Nejati questioned how the comprehensive plan considers the tradeoff between investing in new street connections versus pathway-only routes for pedestrians and wheelchair users. She noted the city has limited funding for transportation projects and asked how the plan determines where to get the best value and improve accessibility. The chair suggested prioritizing projects that provide more benefits, rather than always including vehicle lanes in new streets, especially given budget constraints.  

Quetin suggested that the comprehensive plan should be a place where potential conflicts between different transportation modes can be openly discussed and addressed. 

As funding for projects becomes limited, Quetin said difficult trade-off decision will need to be made about priorities. He asked if the plan provided an opportunity to have a “robust discussion” about how the city will prioritize allocating transportation fundings between competing needs and modes of travel.  

Meanwhile, Commissioner William Hannah brought up issues with sidewalk accessibility and maintenance.  

Having a vision impairment, Hannah explained that crowded sidewalks with bikes, trees, posts and other obstructions make walking and navigating more difficult. This is especially true compared to driving, where cars face fewer impediments on roads. The commissioner suggested standardizing sidewalk signals and buttons to improve accessibility for people with disabilities. 

EVs, e-bikes, pollution 

Commissioner Daniel Garcia brought up concerns about pollution. He noted that while electric vehicles (EVs) help reduce carbon emissions, they still produce microplastics from tires and other pollution when manufactured. He questioned if conversations around transitioning to EVs also consider the other forms of pollution the production and use of these vehicles can create. This added an environmental perspective regarding the full impacts of various transportation technologies.  

Nejati also raised several points regarding the transportation plan’s focus on EV. She questions why EVs were prioritized so heavily in the draft, as alternatives like e-bikes had not been mentioned.  

The chair argued that switching solely to EVs does not inherently reduce car dependency as it simply replaces one mode of transportation with another. She felt the transportation chapter could consider additional options beyond positioning EVs as intermediate solutions. 

Quetin pushed back on calling EVs a “midterm policy solution” as he believed investing more in walking, biking and transit could potentially reduce car trips sooner than relying on EVs. 

The commissioner asked if the city had considered the equity issues of aiming for 100% electric vehicle use by 2035, pointing out that requiring each household to buy a costly new electric car within that period raised fairness concerns. He proposed the city could better impact transportation choices through street designs and transit rather than mandating car purchases. 

Swanson acknowledged Quetin’s point and added that the plan relies on state policies.  

Commissioner Tracey Carlos provided additional information that the state of Washington will require that all new vehicles sold in the state that have less than 7,500 miles on them already must be electric vehicles by 2035.  

Hannah expressed support on the role of EVs in reducing carbon emissions. He noted that while EVs don't eliminate microplastics or other pollution, they are effective at reducing carbon footprint in the near term.  

Hannah also highlighted that widespread EV adoption will force investment in renewable electricity sources to charge the vehicles. This transition to renewable energy provides additional environmental benefits beyond just emissions reductions from electric drives. 


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  • KarenM

    The most important thing that can be done to reduce the need for cars is to reduce sprawl and increase density of uses including residential. We currently don't have the density of uses for everyone to walk and cycle for all of their needs. Transit cannot serve everyone because of our low density. So EVs can be a solution that will fulfill transportation need for some. I agree with the Planning Commission members who want to place more emphasis on walking and cycling. And that should include how the transportation budget is spent. Those active transportation modes have many benefits.

    In response to one of the comments during the EV discussion. There is no mandate that every individual or household buy an EV by 2035. The requirements relate to the availability of new vehicles. So you can keep your gas car or if you have no car, you won't be required to buy one. The options for taxi-like transportation, walking, cycling and transit will be more robust in the future. The cost of EVs is coming down and used ones will also be available so the 'expensive' part about EV's is going become moot soon. I am glad the Planning Commission is aiming for less pollution and more active transportation.

    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • JnNwmn

    Olympia has become way too car dependent. The City should close every other street. This will allow the bike traffic to increase. Handicapped people may use their wheel chairs to get to special transit shelters for the buses on the cross streets. Police, firemen, and paramedics can run to the houses to see if additional petroleum must be used. If not then retired ski patrolmen can use sleds with wheels to move the approved ambulance patient to the cross street.

    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • JulesJames

    Bikes are a joke. Not climate-controlled, extremely limited range, almost no cargo or passenger capacity, zero safety features and only for the able-bodied. Not transportation! And please stop putting pedestrians in the same sentence with bicycles. They are conflicting, not complimentary. Pedestrians build community. Bike lanes waste roadway.

    Thursday, June 6 Report this

  • BobJacobs

    This statement stopped me cold:

    "Transportation planner Michelle Swanson ... emphasized the goal is a denser, human-scale city where driving is unnecessary."

    I lived in Manhattan where driving truly is unnecessary. But in Olympia, the kind of housing density and transit system that would make this possible is centuries away at best.

    It really doesn't help to make such unrealistic statements.

    Bob Jacobs

    Friday, June 7 Report this

  • JW

    We need more bike lanes so that after a transient steals someone's bike, they are safer in their getaway.

    Friday, June 7 Report this

  • GinnyAnn

    I agree that pedestrians and bikers anywhere in Thurston County have a hard time navigating safely. There are seldom sidewalks outside the city or planned developments. Trying to take a walk along the side of the road is hazardous because a person is stuck between a speeding car and the ditch or shrubbery. Walkers also must give way to speeding bikers who blast through without warning. We can't ignore the physical facts of how our cities were planned for the automobile, but we can mitigate the existing roadways by offering safety to those who must or choose to walk or bike. Pointing fingers of blame on anyone or imagining a different urban plan will not help. Simply allow people and bikers to have some safety to the extent possible. (If you don't like bikes, JulesJames, don't buy one.)

    Friday, June 7 Report this

  • Cobbnaustic

    How about you guys fix all the crater size potholes first. I could care less about bike lanes.

    Friday, June 7 Report this

  • ChuckCross

    Though I don't live in Olympia, I do shop in Olympia and frequent several city restaurants. If driving my auto to reach the shops where I wish to shop, or the restaurants where I wanted to find food, became difficult, you would find me looking for other shopping or dining opportunities. Does Ms. Swanson really believe that the majority of Olympia residents clamor for reduced auto usage?? Personally I doubt it.

    Saturday, June 8 Report this

  • MartyKenney

    While I appreciate the lofty goal of no cars, I find it totally unrealistic, our culture and city is designed for cars and that’s not changing. As a carpenter, theres no way I’m going to use the bus or a bike for work. And there’s no way around that.

    Spending money and time trying to decide how to make Olympia a fossil fuel free city is a waste. I think we would be better off making sure sidewalks in already walkable areas are connected, such as boulevard rd (many breaks in the sidewalk) and 18th on the east side (to name a few in my neighborhood). The policy the city has that sidewalks only get built in new development is the problem. It puts to cost on the public developer and creates patchwork nonsense that makes it more unsafe as bikes weave on and off the road.

    Sunday, June 9 Report this

  • HotTractor

    Any improvement to a pedestrian and cycling will be welcomed. A systematic plan would go a long way to improve the hodgepodge of bike lanes and sidewalks that are currently the norm when trying to traverse Olympia. It's not unusual to be walking along and the sidewalk just disappears, or bike lane disappears forcing you back onto the street sharing the road with multi ton metal vehicles where the drivers are busy on their cell phones.

    Tuesday, June 11 Report this

  • EllenR

    I think the Olympia Planning Commission needs a few senior citizens on it. Biking and pedestrian existence is wonderful when you're in your 20's or 30's. After age takes its toll on your strength and stamina it is no longer an option. I tried to live in Portland 12 years ago but my asthma wouldn't allow me to walk several blocks to Fred Myers and then carry my groceries uphill to my apartment. If I can't drive into downtown Oly, or have trouble finding a parking space, I won't shop there. And I would like to shop downtown. The local transit system is not an option either. Recently my car was in the shop for several weeks. I found that what is normally a 15 minute trip would take twice as long one way, not counting wait times. I depended on local friends to drive me to the library so I could get a few books to read and pick up items I needed. More bikes is not the answer to pollution control. Innovation and better city planning is.

    Sunday, June 16 Report this