“I’m Here Because I’m Worried”: South Seattle Responds to Scaled-Back Bike Plan

Sarah Shifley, with Tyrell Hedlund, points to the circuitous, hilly route the city suggests for cyclists traveling north from the city’s south end as Department of Neighborhoods facilitator LaKecia Farmer looks on.

The Seattle Department of Transportation will wrap up the last of four “café-style conversations,” the public’s final in-person opportunity to give feedback on the city’s plans to build a dramatically scaled-back version of the Bike Master Plan, in Phinney Ridge tonight.

At last night’s meeting at the Van Asselt Community Center in Rainier Beach, about 50 people sat around tables and responded to a list of prewritten questions from facilitators about their “values,” how the bike plan reflects those values, and those values could best be realized as the city works to build out its bike infrastructure. (I did two detailed reports on the projects that the city has proposed delaying, downgrading, and eliminating here and here.) Although large maps of the South End dominated every table, the “conversations” offered no opportunity to discuss those maps in detail—to note, for example, the conspicuous gaps in the supposedly “connected” bike network at major intersections like Alaska and Rainier (and Alaska and Martin Luther King Jr. Way S), portions of major bike routes like 15th Ave. S., and throughout Georgetown and SoDo, where the plan shows short, random-seeming new stretches of bike lane that end abruptly when they approach arterial streets,  suggesting (on the map at least) that cyclists will simply fly over the major intersections where they are most at risk of being hit.

At my table, the mood was somber as a group of both casual and commuter cyclists—two from Columbia City, one from Georgetown, two from South Park, one from Beacon Hill, and one from Capitol Hill—said they worried that no matter what they said during the facilitated discussion, SDOT, under the current mayoral administration, wouldn’t build anything that was remotely expensive or controversial.

“I’m here because I’m worried,” said South Park resident Maris Zivarts. “I’m worried that people will look at what happened with 35th”—a long-planned bike lane in Northeast Seattle that Mayor Jenny Durkan decided to kill after a group of residents complained that it would eliminate parking for businesses— “and say, ‘We can stop bike lanes [by complaining.]’ I don’t  think I would be here if what happened with 35th hadn’t happened.” Charles Hall, a member of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, noted that when Mayor Jenny Durkan’s staff and SDOT asked the board to list their top projects, they decided to focus exclusively on projects in South Seattle, where the bike system is most disconnected and where equity concerns are greatest. “We just really pared it down. We didn’t even put the projects in order,” Hall said. Instead, “We specifically prioritized the south end. And none of the projects that we wanted are even in the [implementation] plan.”

Sarah Shifley, who lives in Columbia City, put an SDOT staffer on the spot about why, exactly, the city decided to reject the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board’s explicit recommendation to focus on creating safe, convenient bike connections between Southeast Seattle and downtown before saying, basically, that she didn’t buy it. “I don’t what the political block is. You can say it’s funding, but it feels like we all agree on the specific projects and then they just get shot down. … That’s my takeaway. It’s just sad.” Shifley pointed to the circuitous, up-and-down greenway route that the city recommends people riding from Southeast Seattle use to get to the rest of the city, then back to the map, where three major north-south thoroughfares—Beacon, Rainier, and MLK—were bare of any planned bike infrastructure. “It just seems crazy to me that there are so many major thoroughfares going north-south, and on a bike there’s not a safe one,” Zivarts chimed in.

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SDOT says it plans to “incorporate” the feedback it receives at all four facilitated discussions into the final version of the implementation plan. (For good measure, the bike board will likely send a “sternly worded letter” to the mayor’s office, another board member told me at last night’s meeting). But without any specific recommendations from the public, particularly the bike-riding public, about what routes should be prioritized for safety, convenience, and equity, it’s hard to see how “incorporating public feedback” will amount to much more than a summary of the comments SDOT staffers dutifully scribbled on easel paper at last night’s meeting.

At the end of the night, the cyclists in the crowd scrambled to unlock their bikes from the rack outside the community center. The city had hauled it in for the bike discussion and took it away as soon as the meeting was over.

Bike Master Plan Update: Fewer Protected Lanes, Longer Delays

South Seattle’s Bike Master Plan projects have been reduced to “a few scattered hilly segments,” according to one bike advocate,

Days after announcing that the city had decided to kill a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave NE in response to “many concerns we’ve heard from the community,” there was more bad news for cyclists. Three days later, the Seattle Department of Transportation released an update to the city’s Bike Master Plan that eliminates additional protected lanes, pushes other bike projects back several years or indefinitely, and contains no reference to about a dozen projects that were in the most recent update, back in 2017.

Last year, SDOT announced significant cuts to many of the projects included in the $930 million Move Seattle levy, which voters approved in 2015, to reflect reduced federal funding and higher cost estimates for some projects. (In the implementation plan, SDOT says the original cost estimates were not “realistic.”) Although a council resolution requires the agency to provide an updated implementation plan for the bike plan every year, SDOT skipped last year, making this the first update since the reset. This also means that any comparisons are necessarily between the 2017 implementation plan and the 2019 plan that was just released—an exercise the mayor’s office has suggested does not compare apples to apples. However, even within the reduced scope of the new plan post-“reset,” it’s possible to glean the city’s priorities (protected bike lanes on arterials, the widely accepted gold standard for safe bike infrastructure, are largely out; neighborhood greenways, which typically consist of sharrows and speed humps on slower side streets parallel to main streets, are largely in.)

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If you like the work I’m doing here, and would like to support this page financially, please support me by becoming a monthly donor on Patreon or PayPal.  For just $5, $10, or $20 a month (or whatever you can give), you can help keep this site going, and help me continue to dedicate the many hours it takes to bring you stories like this one every week. This site is funded entirely by contributions from readers, which pay for the time I put into reporting and writing for this blog and on social media, as well as reporting-related and office expenses.  If you don’t wish to become a monthly contributor, you can always make a one-time donation via PayPal, Venmo (Erica-Barnett-7) or by mailing your contribution to P.O. Box 14328, Seattle, WA 98104. Thank you for reading, and I’m truly grateful for your support.

Of two dozen projects that were supposed to be completed last year, only one —a 0.65-mile neighborhood greenway serving Eagle Staff Middle school in north Seattle—appears to have been completed on the original schedule. None of the 19 projects originally scheduled for completion in 2019 are on track to be done this year. Instead, they are pushed forward to 2020 or 2021—the final years included in the update. And the majority of the projects that were originally scheduled for completion in 2020 and 2021 are no longer being built, either because they have been explicitly removed from the plan or because they no longer appear on the list.

This last group of projects include planned protected bike lanes on Greenwood Ave. N, Broad Street, Fauntleroy Ave. SW, and Montlake, as well as planned neighborhood greenways on Beacon Ave. S and a protected bike lane on Rainier Ave. S., one of the deadliest street for cyclists and pedestrians in the city. The southeast corner of the city, which also happens to be one of the poorest and most racially diverse areas of Seattle, is left with what Seattle Neighborhood Greenways leader Gordon Padelford called “a few scattered hilly segments.”

In contrast, all but one of the projects that were supposed to be finished in 2017 under the original plan have been completed, and all but three of those were finished on time (the three exceptions were finished in 2018). The one project that was not completed was the Fourth Avenue protected bike lane, which Mayor Jenny Durkan announced the city was delaying last year.

The most common reason given for delays to projects that are being finished late is “weather.” The most common reason given for removing projects from the plan is “SBAB removed”—a reference to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board.

Durkan spokesman Mark Prentice says “SBAB removed” refers 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.”

However, as member Patrick Taylor noted on Twitter, the bike board actually did recommend several projects, including the Beacon Avenue greenway and the Rainier protected bike lane, that were nonetheless cut from the list. (Instead of a protected bike lane, the plan now calls for a “focus on spot transit improvements.”)

Asked about the Beacon Ave. project, which was included for study in the 2018 draft implementation that was never released, Prentice said, “The current board members thought it was an important connection but due to the limited funding to select projects (and the fact that there is an existing separated ped path) they dropped it for other projects.” The project, Prentice says, “would have looked at upgrading the pedestrian path in the median to a multi-use path and review of in-street minor sections on roadway.”

Advocates have also pointed out that at least two projects appear to be double-counted as being completed in both 2017 and 2018—a protected bike lane on Banner Way near Maple Leaf and a PBL along S. Dearborn St. Both projects are counted toward the total “miles delivered” in each year, contributing to a total of 10.81 miles of new bike facilities in 2017, and 10.26 miles in 2018. The city painted buffered bike lanes (bike lanes with painted double stripes to visually separate them from cars) on Banner Way in 2017 and converted them to (arguably) protected bike lanes (still double-striped lanes, but with flexible posts to let drivers know when they are veering into the lane) in 2018. To date, the Dearborn project has not been completed.

Prentice says counting buffered-to-protected bike lane projects twice was “the direction back in 2017,” adding, “Both projects (Banner and Dearborn) are shown as PBLs in our 2018 six-month progress report that went to Council. No one mentioned anything about double counting when that document was posted.”

And he points out that the new plan explicitly does not “double count” three neighborhood greenways that are scheduled for “upgrades” this year. He said he would have to get back to me on the Banner Way and Dearborn projects. Prentice also said he would get back to me with more details about a list of 11 projects that appear to have disappeared between the 2017 and 2019 versions of the plan. I’ll update this post when I hear back.

The city council’s transportation committee will get a briefing—and take public comment—on the new implementation plan at 2:00 this coming Tuesday afternoon in council chambers.