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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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.