Durkan, SDOT Get an Earful from Advocates About Proposed Bike Plan Cuts

Dozens of bike safety advocates lined up in city council chambers this afternoon to express their frustration at a Bicycle Master Plan update from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Seattle Department of Transportation that eliminates dozens of projects, replaces planned protected bike lanes with neighborhood greenways on distant, often hilly, parallel streets, and gives especially short shrift to neighborhoods in Southeast Seattle, where two of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board’s top-priority projects, on Rainier Ave. S and Beacon Ave. S, have been cut. Just prior to the meeting, the advocates held a rally and press conference in the lobby of City Hall, where council members Teresa Mosqueda and Mike O’Brien joined them in condemning the cuts.

Last year, SDOT announced significant cuts to many of the projects included in the $930 million Move Seattle levy, to reflect reduced federal funding and higher cost estimates for some projects.Meg Wade, from the climate action group 350 Seattle, talked about the abuse she has received from drivers as a queer cyclist and pedestrian. “I have been called a cunt; I have been called a bitch taking up too much space on the road; I have stepped into a crosswalk and asked a driver to move their car and been told ‘I am sick of you people’ I have been told ‘Fucking get out of my way.’ What this says is, it is okay for the harassment to continue.” Wade continued, her voice shaking: “It is astonishing to me that the mayor, who comes out of the gay community, would not understand that saying… ‘Go hide out of the public vision; get out of our public spaces’—that she wouldn’t understand the similarities” between anti-LGBT harassment and harassment of cyclists.

“Working-class people, middle-class people, families with little children, elderly individuals, community members—all of them have spoken [against the cuts]. When the mayor says it’s about community engagement, it’s about public feedback—well, whose feedback are you actually listening to?”

Immediately after Wade spoke, two cyclists, Apu Mishra and Tamara Schmautz, stood up to dramatically “mourn the loss” of three plans previously adopted by the city—the Bicycle Master Plan, the Climate Action Plan, and the Complete Streets—by destroying copies of each document in a hand-cranked portable shredder.

Members of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, including its current co-chair, Emily Paine, expressed dismay that the plan labeled 13 of the eliminated projects “SBAB removed,” implying that the bike board had recommended those projects for removal. Some of those projects, Paine said, were not only “not recommended by SBAB to be removed,” they “were actually given our highest endorsement,” including a protected bike lane on Beacon Hill and a PBL on Rainier Avenue South.

SDOT attempted to walk back the “SBAB removed” designation on Tuesday, calling it an inadvertent error and apologizing for the confusion. (SDOT traffic engineer Monica DeWald said, “We should have rephrased that to ‘SBAB prioritized but funding limited,’ just so we sent the message that it was still an SBAB top priority but we just didn’t have the funding.”) But agency staffers were undoubtedly aware that the list of cuts included some of the bike board’s top priorities when they came up with the list. In an email to bike board members and SDOT staff, including DeWald, from last November, SDOT senior transportation planner Serena Lehman compiled a list of the board’s top priorities, which included both the Beacon Avenue and Rainier Ave. bike lanes. SDOT has not elaborated on why these two top-priority projects have been cut other than to say that the city doesn’t have the money to build them.

Bike board members also expressed concern Tuesday that SDOT has designated about half of all the bike projects that are scheduled for completion between 2019 and 2024 projects as having high levels of “risk,” which they worried might provide cover to remove them from the plan.  “A pattern has emerged in this administration of delaying and eliminating bike lanes that prove challenging or controversial,” bike board member Patrick Taylor said. “When I look at the implementation plan, I see most of the projects listed as ‘risky,’ which in an administration that does not have the gumption to follow through with projects designated as challenging, I view as concerning.”

“Our perception on the Bike Advisory Board is that this administration does not care what we think, and that when we send letters, we might as well send them as a paper airplane.”

Council members, including O’Brien, committee chairman Rob Johnson, and Kshama Sawant, expressed frustration that the mayor had rolled the bike plan back so dramatically. Sawant, who has not historically been among the council’s most vocal bike advocates, was particularly vociferous, arguing that it was “meaningless” for SDOT staffers to tout the city’s progress on bike infrastructure “at the same time that the mayor’s office and SDOT leadership has dealt a significant blow to the whole plan. … Working-class people, middle-class people, families with little children, elderly individuals, community members—all of them have spoken [against the cuts], Sawant said. “So I don’t really understand. When the mayor … says it’s about community engagement, it’s about public feedback—well, whose feedback are you actually listening to?” Sawant’s comments were a rebuke to activists who helped defeat a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE, who argued that only “privileged” white people ride bikes or care about safe bike infrastructure.

Members of the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee hit on many of the same themes at their monthly meeting Tuesday night, and discussed issuing formal recommendations to the council in response to the scaled-back plan. Committee  member Joseph Laubach, who noted that the new plan delivers only about 60 percent of the miles of new bike lanes, trails, and greenways included in the original levy, called the new strategy “unfair” even in light of the Move Seattle “reset.” Taylor, who also sits on the Move Seattle committee, noted that the bike board prioritized projects in South Seattle neighborhoods like Beacon Hill and the Rainier Valley precisely because they connected those historically neglected neighborhoods to downtown. “All the projects that rose to the top of our list for extra emphasis are in Southeast Seattle… and those were the projects that disappeared without a trace,” he said. [Editor’s note: This paragraph initially said that the new plan eliminates 60 percent of the new bike lane-miles; in fact, it eliminates 40 percent and preserves 60 percent.]

Both O’Brien, who attended Tuesday night’s committee meeting, and Taylor, who noted that the bike board itself will discuss the new plan at its own meeting tomorrow night, urged the committee to consider making a formal recommendation to the council. “Our perception on the Bike Advisory Board is that this administration does not care what we think, and that when we send letters, we might as well send them as a paper airplane,” Taylor said. “Having this board’s letter as well might elevate [the concerns] to a higher level.”

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20 thoughts on “Durkan, SDOT Get an Earful from Advocates About Proposed Bike Plan Cuts

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  3. Pingback: "The Mayor Does Not Care About Bikes": Advocates United In Opposition to Bike Plan Cuts | The C Is for crank

  4. Commenter Yesler seems correct about the Move Seattle over promising by Murray-Kubly. the Durkan SDOT must reset the projects. There are also engineering and modal conflicts to consider. South of NE 65th Street, the SDOT bike lane proposal resulted in 10-foot lanes; that would have led to unsafe transit operation. The several modal plans should be integrated before they reach budgeting. The pedestrian master plan is less funded than the bike plan. The fiscal elephant in the room is the CCC Streetcar. It has many millions in play of Seattle capital; if downtown transit circulation was provided more cost-effectively, many millions could be used on better transit, pedestrian, and bike projects.

  5. Yesler, you don’t understand how this works. What good does preserving the total funding do if the funds are used to do projects that don’t support the safety and connectivity to destinations of bike routes? If you shift funding to projects that are lower priority because they will be less controversial? Priorities were set by SDOT safety experts with input from people experienced in using bicycles for their transportation needs, but many of these priorities are being ignored. You can have miles of bike trails interrupted by a few blocks of dangerous street right of way that render the entire route useless from a safety perspective. I don’t know if you use a bike for transportation, to take your kids to the library, do your shopping, etc. If you did I think you would understand better the impact of the Mayor’s unilateral decision against the recommendation of the city’s transportation committee.

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  7. Oh, Yesler, I thought the 100% designed and funded bike lane on 35th Ave NE was suddenly de-funded. Did I get that wrong? My neighborhood also had a 100% designed and funded bike and pedestrian safety project that we have been planning for 20 years with countless meetings between the community and the city which has been put on indefinite hold. It might not seem like it to you, but to me it seems de-funded, as I am now approaching 70 years old and will probably never see the fruit of our effort. And what a tremendous waste of all that time, effort and money on the part of the community and SDOT. No thanks to our mayor.

  8. I hate to rain on the outrage parade, but Mayor Durkan didn’t “cut” one thin dime out of bike budget. 100% of the funding is preserved. The ethically-challenged Ed Murray and his equally ethically-challenged SDOT director Scott Kubly wildly oversold what could be accomplished with the Move Seattle levy.

    The “cuts” ECB and Kshama Sawant talk are in reality budget realities. Murray and Kubly chose to sell a fantasy, and guess what? The fantasy just collided with reality. At some point, somebody has to be the adult.

    One thing I have zero tolerance for is whining. Sawant and O’Brien were on the council the entire time while the costs of the project were spinning out of control. If they actually gave a shit,why weren’t they out there investigating, figuring out what was going wrong, and providing solutions? Somebody should have been on top of this years ago.

    Instead all we get is whining, whining, and more whining. Again, no budget cuts. Just a sober assessment (for the very first time) of priorities.

    By the way, if you watched the video of the Transportation meeting yesterday, CM Rob Johnson was on his cell phone almost the entire time. Not only during the citizen comments, but during the presentations of the various panelists as well. He clearly has never given a shit about his job or the city and his a poster child for everything that is wrong with the City Council.

    • Nearly half of the projects have been cut. Bike advocates have raised very legitimate questions about how these cuts were identified. No one (well, except KIRO/MyNorthwest, but that’s not me) claimed that the BUDGET has been cut; the concern is about the specific identified PROJECT cuts in the new plan, which include many of the bike board’s top priorities. I was at the meeting yesterday, by the way, and I don’t agree with your characterization of CM Johnson being on his phone; in any case, his last day is Friday.

      • From your article:

        “Council members, including O’Brien, committee chairman Rob Johnson, and Kshama Sawant, expressed frustration that the mayor had rolled the bike plan back so dramatically. ”

        Which is my assessment of what they expressed as well. But it is just a draft plan and the comment period is still open. If O’Brien, committee chairman Rob Johnson, and Kshama Sawant would have said something like “We disagree with the cut of X, and would rather substitute the cut of Y instead” then I would agree they were being constructive and engaged with reality and indeed the question was about priorities, and that we are all trying to make the best of a difficult situation. But that’s not what they did or said. They can and should (if we believe what they are saying) still come up with their owns versions. They are being paid (quite handsomely) to do so, in fact. As a citizen I would like to see them propose better solutions. Based on past performance, I have zero confidence they will attempt to improve the SDOT’s proposal.

        And the tape don’t lie. There’s a camera angle towards the table, towards the room, and each time the camera goes to that angle, CM Johnson is on phone pretty much the whole time. He looks up occasionally, but he’s busy working the phone in his lap. Doing the job he was elected to do is just too much trouble, it seems. Which is why his last day is on Friday. Just too much trouble to do the job he was elected to do.

      • I was literally sitting in the room, on the same side as the table, and what you are describing is not what happened.

      • I can’t comment on your experience Erica, but I can comment on the video.

        On the video, except when he’s speaking, CM Johnson is on his phone most of the time. Especially after the public comment portion is over, at that point he is on his phone virtually the entire time. That’s what the video shows. Even when people are thanking him for his service he’s still on his phone. That’s what the video shows.

        And yes, his last day is on Friday. It is almost like he didn’t take the commitment to his job seriously. Scratch the almost. He never showed up.

    • I was at the meeting on Tuesday. I didn’t see Rob Johnson on his phone. So I’ll assume the rest of your assertions are bullshit as well.

    • You’re lying. Here’s the video. Truth is, the camera isn’t even on the committee for most of the public comment period, so there’s no way that you could know that Johnson was on his phone. I was there. He wasn’t.

  9. I was not a fan of Durkan going into her term, but was open minded and had hope. She deeply disappointed me with her response to the head tax, and angers me with her continuous dismissal of bike issues. I will do everything I can to ensure she won’t be re-elected.

  10. What’s the actual number of bike ridership to justify spending money that could `otherwise go to programs like affordable health care and homelessness, programs that unlike a bike lane actually benefit the poor

    • The bike master plan is funded at around $12mil/year.

      The city spends more than $10mil/year on homeless sweeps alone. You’re not going to get much for that $12mil/yr.

    • Don’t you think it’s worth it to protect lives that we dedicate and maintain the same amount of bike infrastructure proportional to the number of people riding that we do to car infrastructure proportional to the number of people driving? It could be simply accomplished by not allowing so many people to store their cars for free on the right of way. The whole basis for de-funding many of these bike projects is the Mayor is afraid of and kowtows to people whining about losing their parking space.

      • “The whole basis for de-funding”

        Hi Kathy, There was no defunding. Exactly zero dollars were removed from bike projects. Zero. 100% of the Move Seattle Levy dollars that were supposed to go to bike facilities are still going to bike facilities.

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