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.

“The Mayor Does Not Care About Bikes”: Advocates United In Opposition to Bike Plan Cuts

Bike advocates Apu Mishra and Tamara Schmautz symbolically shred the city’s bike master plan in council chambers Tuesday.

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.”

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.