The fiery debate over Mayor Durkan’s proposal to dramatically reduce the scope of the city’s planned bike network, often in ways that directly contradict the recommendations of the city’s Bicycle Advisory Board, showed no signs of abating Wednesday, as bike board members expressed their frustration directly to new Seattle Department of Transportation director Sam Zimbabwe and deputy mayor Shefali Ranganathan at their monthly meeting.
SDOT released its latest Bike Master Plan update a few minutes after 5:00 last Friday evening. Besides lowering the total number of miles of bike facilities, it de-emphasizes protected bike lanes on arterial streets (the current gold standard for safety and rider usability) in favor of neighborhood greenways (typically sharrows—markings on the shared roadway— and speed bumps on slower streets that are typically several blocks away from destinations). The new plan also eliminates a number of connections between underserved neighborhoods in Southeast and Southwest Seattle and downtown, including a planned protected bike lane between 12th Ave. South between South Charles Street and Yesler, where a cyclist was hit by a car just last week. That project was one of about a dozen that seem to have simply vanished from the plan since its most recent iterationin 2017, without any explanation in the update.
“Simply adding projects back … without saying, ‘Here are the things that we’re willing to give up that are not on the funded list’—right now, it’s not going to help us get to a final list if it’s all adds and no subtracts.” — SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe
Ranganathan and Zimbabwe attempted to reframe the cuts as the mayor’s attempt to rightsize a bloated plan as part of the Move Seattle levy “reset,” which cut back on levy-funded transportation projects of all kinds in response to lower-than-anticipated grant funding and cost estimates that the mayor’s office maintains were unrealistic. “It was really important for her and the department to rebuild public trust [and] to put together what we think is SDOT’s best estimate of what we should build,” Ranganathan said. The deputy mayor, who previously led the Transportation Choices Coalition, also maintained that the Durkan administration wanted to shift the emphasis from “miles” of bike facilities to “connections” between destinations, implying that previous administrations had focused mostly on mileage and that Durkan’s would not. (Insert “hmm” emoji here.) Bike board members have pointed out that many of the projects erroneously marked “SBAB removed” in the bike plan update were actually among the board’s top priorities. “You say you want to listen to the community,” said former bike board chair Casey Gifford, whom Durkan abruptly dismissed last year. “SBAB is designed to advise… but hardly any of the recommendations that were made were incorporated into the plan.” SDOT and the mayor’s office have both apologized for the suggestion that the projects were removed by the bike board, saying it was an oversight. However, this represents a significant shifting of the goalposts—just four days ago, mayoral spokesman Mark Prentice told me that the designation referred to “projects that SBAB opted not to prioritize. This does not mean that SDOT and SBAB do not consider these worthy projects, but just that based on resources and preferred connections, these did not rise to the top of the list.”
“I don’t think there’s a lot of confidence from this board or from the advocacy community generally that when projects are politically challenging …that we are going to keep those commitments.” —Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board co-chair Emily Paine
Zimbabwe said that the bike advocates would have more luck getting their priority projects added back into the plan if they also came up with a list of projects that could be cut. “Simply adding projects back … without saying, ‘Here are the things that we’re willing to give up that are not on the funded list’—right now, it’s not going to help us get to a final list if it’s all adds and no subtracts,” Zimbabwe said. That comment prompted a round of responses from the board that could be summarized by board member Patrick Taylor’s comment that “we’re being thrown under the bus a bit. When we went through the process we were not told the costs” or that they should keep costs in mind when making their recommendations. “I have in my head a whole bunch of little data points that say the mayor does not care about bikes,” Taylor added, “and the only data point I have that says that she does is and Sam and other people telling me that.”