More Delay for 35th Ave. NE Bike Lane as City Hires Mediator to Facilitate “Conversation” Between Pro- and Anti-Bike Lane Groups

The C is for Crank has learned that the city has hired a mediator, at an estimated cost of nearly $14,000, to facilitate a series of “conversations” to “explore areas of concern” between opponents and proponents of a bike lane on 35th Ave. Northeast, which has been a part of the city’s bike master plan for years but is at risk of being derailed by neighborhood activists who say it will harm businesses in Northeast Seattle. A spokeswoman for Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office says that she and city council member Rob Johnson decided to add this extra step to the process because “more than 3,400 people have contacted the Mayor’s Office regarding this project.” The goal, the spokeswoman says, is to “bring people together to facilitate conversations and work toward finding common ground.”

At the mediation sessions, which began earlier this month, representatives from each side of the bike lane issue will sit down separately with representatives from the mayor’s office, the Seattle Department of Transportation, and John Howell, a facilitator from the Cedar River Group, “to discuss their interests and concerns about the project in hopes of finding areas of common agreement as the project construction proceeds,” according to a mediation outline obtained by The C Is for Crank. The outline continues: “There are different perspectives in the community about the potential impacts from the project (mostly regarding the bike lanes). The Mayor’s office has agreed to convene parties representing those different perspectives.

The debate over the proposed protected bike lane, which would run along 35th Ave NE from Ravenna to Wedgwood, has been going on, unresolved, for years. Recently, though, the rhetoric from bike lane opponents has escalated dramatically to include allegations that those advocating for the bike lane are classist, racist, ageist, and ableist. At the same time, bike lane proponents have reported being publicly and privately threatened, and vandals have repeatedly damaged equipment used to measure speed and traffic volumes along the street. Just last month, someone planted fireworks in construction equipment that was being used to repave the roadway, prompting a response from the city’s bomb and arson squad. (Save 35th Ave. NE, the group opposing the bike lane, has disavowed and denounced the attack.)

The city’s official Bike Master Plan has promised a separated bike lane on 35th since it was last updated in 2014, and the project was supposed to be completed this year. The latest progress report on the bike plan, which SDOT is presenting to the city council’s transportation committee this afternoon, notes that the project will now be delayed until 2019, so that the city can participate in “an ongoing dialogue with the communities impacted by these projects.”

According to the project outline for the mediation, the anti-bike lane community will be represented by attorney Gabe Galanda and Pacific Merchant Shipping Association VP Jordan Royer, two men who also happen to be the campaign manager and top-listed officer, respectively, for a new PAC, “Neighborhoods for Smart Streets,” that just formed last week. The purpose of the PAC, according to the Save 35th Ave. NE newsletter: To “mobilize around transportation-related causes like Save 35th and candidates for local office who are not ideologues when it comes to local transportation planning.” Galanda, readers may recall, is the lawyer who argued that bike lanes only “serve Seattle’s white privileged communities, and further displace historically marginalized communities.” I responded to some of those arguments—particularly the claim that marginalized communities don’t want safe places to bike—here.

It’s unclear what the mayor’s office, and Johnson, expect to accomplish by adding a new mediation step to the process of building a bike lane that was approved after a lengthy process several years ago. According to the mayor’s spokeswoman, the goal of the mediation process is “Finding common ground on improvements in the corridor”—presumably improvements that are unrelated to the bike lane at the heart of the conflict. But why mediation, a process usually reserved for conflicts between two people or entities with a legal stake in the outcome of a dispute? Neither side of the mediation is a formal party to the decision, and no one is suing to stop the project. Save 35th Avenue NE, however, has been explicit about what it hopes to get out of Durkan—a “unilateral” decision to kill the bike lane. In an email late last month, as mediation was getting underway, the group encouraged its members to  “Contact Mayor Jenny Durkan” and tell her to kill the bike lane, because “In the final analysis, SDOT reports to the Mayor of Seattle. Mayor Durkan halted work on the First Avenue streetcar project. She can likewise unilaterally stop the bike lanes proposed for 35th Ave. NE.”

That email, written less than two weeks before the first mediation session, hardly sounds like the work of a group that is open to “compromise” and “common ground.” And there is plenty of other evidence that the anti-bike lane activists aren’t coming to the table in the best of faith. So far this year, Save 35th NE has claimed that single mothers do not ride bikes; asserted that SDOT “did not actually view streets such as 35th” before proposing bike lanes there; accused city council member Rob Johnson of lying to constituents and denigrating elderly and disabled people in his district; and accused Johnson, based on a single out-of-context email, of organizing an opposition group called Safe 35th Ave. NE.

The project outline for the mediation process doesn’t say how long the mediation will take,

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17 thoughts on “More Delay for 35th Ave. NE Bike Lane as City Hires Mediator to Facilitate “Conversation” Between Pro- and Anti-Bike Lane Groups

  1. Pingback: Morning Crank: "Housing First, Indeed." | The C Is for crank

  2. Pingback: Car Activists See 35th Avenue NE as a Blueprint to Thwart Safety Upgrades » The Urbanist

  3. I grew up in this neighborhood and my parents still live there. 35th Ave is a terrible street and the bike facilities would help it.

    Also, “more public process” is what people who were losers in the public process or failed to attend the first time say. It’s not because no one listened. It’s because they didn’t get what they want.

  4. Maybe this conundrum could have been avoided if the City had engaged in a neighborhood planning effort here. Have these “facilitated conversations” first, before the engineering plans are put together. But for reasons I can’t fathom, the City of Seattle prefers doing things backwards

  5. A mediation suggests there is a middle ground solution. From a design perspective, this seems like a pretty binary choice. The proposed design is already a compromise. No alternative other than shunting bikes off to the parallel greenway has been proposed. Build it or don’t. Johnson and Durkan are comical in the way they keep ducking and trying to get somebody else to own the decision. Here’s the latest.

  6. As a former mediator for Washington State, I have a couple of points to add to this informative update on the Save / Safe 35th issue.

    One is that I think mediation can help parties figure out their “interests” vs “positions” – positions being what you’re asking or demanding and interests being what’s driving those demands, what you really want, what really concerns you. Focusing on interests may lead people to recognize their have shared interests in, say, pedestrian safety and traffic flow. At this point, bike advocates can make a reasoned argument that increased bike / non-driver traffic actually *improves* pedestrian safety by increasing driver awareness. Also even a modest increase in neighborhood bike commuters will reduce the number of cars on 35th during peak hours, thereby having a positive impact on traffic. Both outcomes are desirable to both groups.

    Two is that negotiation and conversation (with or without a mediator) is vital to people who have an ongoing relationship – in this case neighbors in Wedgwood (+ Ravenna & Bryant). It is unwise for partisans to inject money & muscle into a dispute where people live next door to each other. More likely than not, the folks one targets with PACs or aggressive ads may be the source of future allies in future neighborhood issues – especially if you live in the same neighborhood!

    Sitting down face to face also allows people to be their calmer and more reasonable selves. I observed that at the neighborhood meeting I attended a couple months ago (my sole participation in this debate). I felt Rep. Pollet did an expert job of facilitating the conversation, politely defining the boundaries, and allowing people to vent. Once they vented there was more free flow, give-and-take conversation. Apparently there is a video of the meeting so you can see the stirrings of this give-and-take for yourself.

    Sitting down face to face also allowed neighbors to see what the other side “looked like”. It can be a humanizing moment, and a moment of self-recognition. On one side the partisans were all over 50 years old; on the other, almost all under 50, and all the parents with kids. That helped explain (in my mind) why people seemed to be talking and tweeting past each other – they simply didn’t mix much in real life despite living in the same community. It also dispelled the notion that any side could claim overwhelming community support – given how both sides were demographically limited.

    My one caveat is this: a mediation is a facilitated conversation done in *good faith*. Parties should not – and a professional mediator will not – start the conversation if the parties are unwilling to talk in good faith, meaning to resolve the dispute with an open mind. For a good faith conversation to start means some of the “actions” outside of mediation must end – like the equivalent of a cease-fire. Whether or not opponents of the bike lane agreed to mediation as a delaying tactic, they should realize that this step comes with its own ethical & contractual obligations.

    Good luck everyone.

    Philip

  7. Thanks for continually reporting on this, Erica. I bike, walk, and drive daily on 35th and I’m one of those who have been verbally attacked by people of the “Save 35th” crew simply for advocating for this bike lane. I’ve had several dangerous incidents while riding on 35th, and I’d just like the street to be safer.

  8. She’s just listing the facts as they are. Your “many cyclists” are not representative of the people who bike regularly in Seattle, as proven by the Save groups attacks on those who want the bike lanes. Also, we don’t only want bike lanes for biking, we want them for slowing traffic and reducing auto trips down that corridor. It’s not a freeway. Nor should I have to pay with my taxes for your free parking. It’s a privilege, not a right.

  9. Would be nice if you had written this article in an unbiased manner. If you want proof of the alleged name calling to those of us against the bike lanes on 35th just look at twitter, reddit or several blogs for written proof. Also our group has many cyclists. We are against the bike lanes on 35th not bike lanes in general. We certainly don’t advocate violence, theft, or any criminal or unethical behavior.

    • @ Danita, I was walking up and down 35th Ave the other day for a few hours. The thing that struck me about it is that drivers speed down the road at wildly unsafe speeds. It is choked with air pollution (the smell of raw gasoline almost made me vomit), it was ear-shatteringly loud, and generally made me feel unsafe as a human being near it.

      I think adding essential safety features like protected bicycle lanes is essential to making Seattle more livable and less choked with carginogenic air pollution.

      • @ Bob, I live on 35th and walk, bike ride, bus ride, and drive this area daily. I also spend a lot of time outdoors gardening. I don’t find it more choked with air pollution than any other part of Seattle. Yes people sometimes drive to fast, just like on every arterial street in Seattle. I was almost hit head on last week by a driver speeding down 38th and running a stop sign. More cars are now moving to the side streets and driving fast there due to the back up on 35th. There are several area schools are on our side streets just off 35th. The air pollution will be worse as more cars will be idling as the traffic backup will be increased due to the inability to go around a left turning driver at many of the intersections (with no left turn lights) where you can currently go around the person waiting to turn left. I don’t see how this new plan improves the climate or the lungs of the bike riders and pedestrians. Also I’m not sure if you are aware but several bus stops are being removed including the one by the library and local churches. This means people traveling further to get to their bus stops. The mayor and Rob Johnson have been non responsive to those who don’t agree with the current plan. That’s not winning any future votes.

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