Eleven Projects Vanished From the City’s Bike Master Plan Update. Here’s What Happened to Them.

Your mileage may vary. This grand total, for example, is actually more like 30. (Full list available here.)

As I reported in March, the city’s updated bike master plan implementation plan (sorry for the unwieldy mouthful, but that’s what it’s called) eliminates more than just the list of projects the Seattle Department of Transportation chose to highlight on pages 36-37 of the update.  It also quietly eliminated nearly a dozen projects without including them on the list of official cuts. (I came up with this list by manually checking every project in the 2017 plan against every project in the 2019 update, then figuring out which projects went unmentioned in the 2019 plan.) Those missing projects include protected bike lanes around the city—from the University District to SoDo to Beacon Hill to the Rainier Valley—as well as basic bike lanes and neighborhood greenways. After compiling the list, I sent it to the Seattle Department of Transportation and asked them where the projects went.

Here’s what they had to say.

1. 11th / 12th Ave NE 2018 Paving (1.94 miles)

This project, originally a 1.94-mile bike lane along 11th and 12th Ave. NE between the University Bridge and Roosevelt, is partly accounted for under the new list of “Projects Removed,” which includes a half-mile protected bike lane along 12th between NE 67th and NE 75th Streets. The remainder of this bike lane is, according to SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson, accounted for as part of the “Roosevelt RapidRide multimodal corridor,” which could begin construction as soon as 2021.

The 2019 bike plan update describes the Roosevelt RapidRide project as “fully funded through construction pending [Federal Transit Agency] funds.” According to the Move Seattle Levy “reassessment” last year, which examined which of the projects promised in the 2015 levy could actually be completed given costs that turned out to be higher than the original estimates and federal funding constraints, “[a]ll budgeted funds [for Roosevelt RapidRide] are not yet secured. In addition, uncertainty related to Small Starts funding persists, particularly with regards to the schedule to secure a funding commitment from FTA. SDOT anticipates having to continue to advance the project at SDOT’s risk until at least late 2020 before securing funding.”

2. N 50th St 2019 Paving (0.64 miles)

SDOT all but eliminated this planned 0.64-mile protected bike lane connecting Phinney and Green Lake along NE 50th St—first by cutting it down to 0.27 miles (and pushing it back a year), then by reducing the scope of the project, which will now consist of two short segments of slightly wider, unprotected bike to the east and west of Aurora Ave. N. SDOT spokesman Ethan Bergerson says the city decided not to move forward with the original plan because “the roadway is not wide enough to accommodate protected bike lanes. Widening the bike lanes allows us to increase safety while also retaining parking in the area.” The need to preserve parking is the same argument that ultimately doomed a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE, which was killed after activists complained that eliminating on-street parking would destroy local businesses.

The bike lanes, according to Bergerson, will be one additional foot wide. Here’s the city’s fact sheet on the project.

3. N / NE 40th St 2019 Paving (1.12 miles)

This 1.12-mile unprotected bike lane on 40th St., which was supposed to be completed this year, gets a brief and partial mention in the bike plan update, which mentions that a 0.29-mile protected bike lane on N 40th has been eliminated from the package “due to design constraints & funding risk.” Bergerson says this PBL and the longer unprotected bike lane are the same project, although 0.83 miles of the original bike lane remain unaccounted for in the new update.

According to Bergerson, “During our recent outreach, we heard concerns about the plan to add a protected bike lane. In addition to concerns from neighbors and businesses about parking removal and loading access needs, we also heard safety concerns about the design from people who bike through this area. … Since there are nearby alternative east/west bike routes (Burke Gilman Trail and the N 44th St Neighborhood Greenway), we postponed the N 40th PBL to evaluate other potential spot connection improvements on or near N 40th St.” Seattle bike advocates generally prefer protected bike lanes over neighborhood greenways because they offer physical protection from cars, don’t force cyclists onto circuitous parallel paths full of obstacles like traffic circles and speed bumps, and make it easy for people to ride bikes to destinations along arterials, rather than on parallel paths that may be many blocks away from where they want to go.

5. Ballard Neighborhood Greenway – Eastern Segment (0.25 miles)

Bergerson says this project—described in the 2017 plan as a 0.25-mile neighborhood greenway along N 83rd St. between Fremont Ave. N and Aurora Ave. N—has been renamed the “Green Lake to Interurban Connection,” to “highlight the connection between the Green Lake PBLs and the Interurban/Fremont Ave NGW.” Although the 2019 draft plan lists this as a 0.38-mile project, Bergerson said that was in error, and the final version of the plan will reflect that the project is 0.25 miles long.

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5. One Center City – Spring Street BL (five blocks)

This five-block bike lane from 4th Ave. to 9th Ave. now appears on a list of “completed” projects, although the project that was actually completed was a scaled-back three-block version of the original project.

Update: In a followup email, Bergerson says the city has “additional paving work planned in this area” and will “reinstall and extend the PBL from 1st Ave to 9th Ave once the pavement construction is complete.”

6. Madison RapidRide (G Line) Complementary Route (20-22 blocks)

This approximately 1.5-mile bike facility between Boylston and roughly Martin Luther King Way S, the details of which were listed as “TBD” in 2017, was removed from the project list and “replaced,” in some places, “with other routes serving similar goals,” according to Bergerson. The “replacement” projects that roughly parallel the original proposal include a three-block stretch of bike lane on Union Street between 11th and 14th, one block of which has already been completed by a private developer, and a 0.67-mile protected lane that’s supposed to be finished this year as part of the Madison Multimodal Corridor project. Four other projects related to the (possibly former) Madison Street bus-rapid transit project are also listed as “removed” in the update, but none appear to exactly parallel the original 2017 project.

7. One Center City – Bell and/or Blanchard Protected Bike Lane

Bergerson says this six-to-seven-block bike lane project, which was originally scheduled for completion in 2020, will now be finished in 2021 and was ” left out of the draft Implementation Plan due to a copying and pasting error.”

8. One Center City – Vine Street

This six-block bike lane, originally scheduled for completion in 2020, should have been included in the list of project cuts, Bergerson says. He says SDOT will add this project to the list of projects removed from the plan.

9. S Spokane St 2020 Paving

This 0.39-mile bike lane on Beacon Hill was also supposed to be finished in 2020, and also should have been included in the list of project cuts. Bergerson says SDOT will add it to the list of removed projects.

10. NGW Connections (2018-2021) (4 miles)

This item, which referred to a total of about 4 miles of unspecified neighborhood greenways throughout the city, has been removed. According to Bergerson, the ill-defined greenways have been replaced in the latest plan by more specific “Safe Routes to School neighborhood greenway connections.” These projects—which include two greenways, totaling 1.32 miles, that were included in both the 2017 and 2019 plans—add up to about 9 miles of new neighborhood greenways.

11. 12th Ave S Protected Bike Lane (0.53 miles)

The new plan eliminates most of a protected bike lane along 12th Avenue S, including a segment between S. King Street and Yesler Way that passes by Bailey Gatzert Elementary School. In place of that 0.53-mile protected bike lane, the city will build a quarter-mile protected lane from the Jose Rizal Bridge (near the original southern terminus of the bike lane) to S. King Street. Advocates who noticed the cut have pointed out that the 12th Avenue south of Yesler includes many bike collision hot spots.

The city will hold a series of four evening open houses on the proposal, starting on April 23. Details on each of the meetings are available on the city’s website.

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.”

Support The C Is for Crank
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.

Morning Crank: City Falls Further Behind on Bike Lanes; 35th Ave NE “Alternative” Would Include No Bike Lanes at All

1. The latest quarterly report on the Move Seattle Levy, which The C Is for Crank obtained in advance of a Move Seattle Oversight Levy Committee meeting on Thursday, reveals that the Seattle Department of  Transportation has continued to fall behind on plans to build out the bike network laid out in the 2014 Bike Master Plan, particularly when it comes to protected bike lanes. According to the report, because of “ongoing challenges with cost estimate increases, packaged-contracting approach, and contractor delays,” SDOT will “not meet annual targets” for bike-safety improvements—an understatement, given that many of the projects that were supposed to have been completed or underway this year have been delayed multiple times, some since 2016, the first year the levy was in effect. (The report also includes updates on other levy projects, including sidewalks, street paving, and bridge projects.)

The report lists seven bike projects as being completed in 2018, including two that were “2017 target[s]” (full list above). These include 1.88 miles of protected bike lanes and 7.47 miles of neighborhood greenways—markings and traffic-calming measures on streets that parallel arterial streets. This represents a significant shortfall from the 10.43 miles of protected bike lanes and 12.47 miles of greenways that SDOT had planned to build this year.  Protected bike lanes are typically more controversial than neighborhood greenways, because they take up space on arterial roads that was previously occupied by (parked or moving) cars; witness the battle over a long-planned bike lane on 35th Avenue Northeast, which is on this year’s list of planned but uncompleted projects. (More on that below).

However, a closer look at all five of the projects the report cites as having come in on schedule in 2018 reveals that SDOT is further behind on building greenways and, especially, protected bike lanes than the report makes it appear.  Of the five projects, only one—a 0.65-mile stretch of greenway on N. 92nd Street—was originally scheduled for construction in 2018. The rest were delayed projects from previous years. “If we’re going to live up to our climate goals, our equity goals, our safety goals, we have a lot of work left to do,” Neighborhood Greenways director Gordon Padelford, who received a copy of the report, says.

For example: A 5.45-mile stretch of greenway paralleling Rainier Ave. S., which the report lists as a completed 2018 project, was originally supposed to be built back in 2016, under to the city’s adopted Bike Master Plan, but was pushed back, first to 2017, and then to this year. (SDOT’s third-quarter report for last year—the equivalent of the report that’s being released this week—lists the project as “pushed to 2018.”) Similarly, a 0.39-mile protected bike lane on 7th Avenue, in downtown Seattle, that the report counts as a 2018 project was originally supposed to be finished in 2017. Another protected bike lane on S. Dearborn Street, which has not been completed and is listed as “in progress,” was originally supposed to be built by 2016.

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Oversight committee member Brian Estes says, echoing the report, that some of the delays were unavoidable, due to issues with contractors, a concrete driver strike in September, and other factors. But, he says,  “political considerations” also contributed to delays in building out bike infrastructure in the center city (the City Center Bike Network and the One Center City plan) under both former mayor Ed Murray and current Mayor Jenny Durkan. In August, the oversight committee sent a lengthy letter to Durkan and the council outlining other factors that, in their view, contributed to problems delivering on all the projects promised in the levy, including SDOT’s “organizational structure and culture,” “lack of transparency and failure to act,” and the fact that Durkan still had not appointed a permanent director of SDOT. (The agency is currently on its second interim director since Durkan took office in 2017).

A spokeswoman for SDOT says that a new work plan, which will also be released on Thursday, will provide much more detailed information about how the city plans to complete the outstanding levy projects. The oversight committee has not yet received a copy of that work plan, which, according to an email an SDOT staffer sent to stakeholders, was held up because staffers were out of town over Thanksgiving and due to the need for “coordination with the Mayor’s Office.” In the email, the staffer characterized the third-quarter report, not the work plan, as “the main topic for Thursday’s meeting.”

2. A series of “facilitated conversations” between advocates for and against a planned bike lane along 35th Ave. NE between Wedgwood and Ravenna did lead to some consensus around a set of safety improvements in the corridor—lower speed limits, new crosswalk markings, and the like—but no agreement on whether to build the protected bike lane, which has been in the Bike Master Plan since 2014. Opponents of the bike lane have argued that it will harm businesses who need on-street parking (in fact, a parking utilization study showed that, at most, 40 percent of spaces are occupied); that it will lead to more collisions with cyclists, not fewer; that a bike lane will slow vehicle traffic to a crawl; and even that safe bike lanes are only for “the privileged.”

As a result of the facilitated conversations, SDOT reportedly presented two options for moving forward: The “contracted design” (to which the Move Seattle Levy report, above, refers), with a protected bike lane on one side of the street, an unprotected bike lane on the other, two travel lanes, and one lane of parking; and an “alternative,” which includes no bike lanes, a lane of parking, two travel lanes, and a center turn lane. The “alternative,” interestingly, would get rid of the same amount of parking as the protected bike lane option; the only difference between it and the way 35th Avenue NE is currently configured is the new center turn lane.

SDOT directed questions about the new 35th Avenue option to the mayor’s office, which has not responded substantively to requests for comment made on Monday and Tuesday.

Meanwhile, I spoke with several bike advocates who participated in the mediation. They say they remain optimistic that 35th Avenue NE will get bike lanes eventually, but were concerned about the precedent created by the mediation process, which Durkan and Northeast Seattle council member Rob Johnson initiated after getting thousands of emails opposing the project. Liam Bradshaw, a member of the pro-bike-lane group Safe 35th Avenue NE, says the bike lane project “sat and festered and we had this whole debate. There was nobody who would say outright that we were going to build it the way it was drawn.” Bradshaw says the lack of a permanent SDOT director contributed to the delay. “I don’t fault the mayor for not making a decision—I fault the mayor for not appointing an SDOT director,” he says.

Advocates for the bike lane have started a Change.org petition urging the city to “Complete the 35th Ave NE safety project now!” Durkan is supposed to announce a decision on the project by the end of the year.