There are these wonderful moments where opponents to bicycle projects just come right out and say what they mean. It’s refreshing to hear a group’s arguments against lanes without them being distorted into, say, an Orwellian desire to “protect” cyclists from dangerous roads by not building bike lanes.
Some freight groups oppose proposed changes to E Marginal Way and Airport Way because the changes would take away some element of road space from general vehicle traffic (we’ll go into the details of the projects below). Publicola highlighted an awesome post by the Manufacturing Industry Council that just tells it straight: Seattle should prioritize mobility over safety, especially bicycle and pedestrian safety.
From the MIC’s Seattle Industry eBulletin:
Why even consider road diets for such major truck thoroughfares? Why waste public funds pursuing bike paths where there is such little demand for them? Why the lack of city efforts to improve freight mobility? Why the mono-modal focus on bikes? Why the failure to account for business operations adjacent to road ways? Why create such a choke point on Airport Way? Why the refusal to recognize adopted public policies to preserve industrial lands and operations?
SDOT’s answer was, and is, many traffic lanes in the city simply aren’t needed by motorists and when that’s the case, the lanes should be turned over to bikes, even in industrial areas, even where cyclists might not be present.
SDOT’s top priority isn’t mobility – it’s safety, especially more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.
SDOT has hardly received a better performance review. The top priority of a city transportation department should be the health and lives of the people using the transportation network. If a road is unnecessarily dangerous due only to its outdated or poor design, SDOT has a responsibility to fix it.
So what are these bike-only projects that are so out of line? Well, one of them actually has no bike lanes at all and the other is for a road that saw its traffic levels peak in 1961, dropping 44 percent since then.
E Marginal Way
In 1961, average weekday traffic on E Marginal Way between Ellis Ave S and the South Park Bridge was 47,000 vehicles per day. Today, it is just over 26,000. The current design has three lanes headed north, two headed south and a center left turn lane. SDOT’s studies show that traffic is actually heavier headed south than it is headed north. They, therefore, proposed taking out the clearly unnecessary northbound lane and putting in bike lanes. With four general traffic lanes and a center turn lane, the road will still have massive amounts of surplus capacity.
To put it another way, when all traffic data is normalized to include weekends, this stretch carries fewer vehicles per day than Stone Way, which has two general traffic lanes, a center turn lane and one bike lane.
This project will absolutely not affect mobility on E Marginal Way. It is, in fact, a huge compromise. The road will still have too much excess capacity than what it needs (or as SDOT puts it: The road has ample room to accommodate future growth). But with bike lanes, the road will be prepared for safer bicycle travel between Georgetown and the new South Park Bridge, scheduled to open in 2013. It will also be safer immediately for anyone who lives or works near Boeing field and would like to ride a bicycle.
The proposed changes to Airport Way S in the Georgetown business district are so minimal, it’s incredible they are being met with any opposition at all. In this popular commercial neighborhood center, SDOT’s changes would simply remove the peak-hour parking restrictions headed south and install curb bulbs to help people on foot cross the over designed roadway.
Airport Way also saw its peak traffic volumes in 1961. Today, weekday traffic is just over 12,000 vehicles per day. That’s half of what Nickerson carries. Northbound traffic is a third higher than southbound traffic at peak times. Meanwhile, the Georgetown neighborhood has been asking for crosswalks for a long time. SDOT cannot install safe crosswalks with the current design. Therefore, the curb bulbs and all-day parking on the west side of the road will make crossing Airport Way safer and easier while preserving far more road capacity than the road needs.
The project will also increase the width of the southbound travel lane by two feet, making the road even better for freight during the 22 hours every day that there are parked cars in the southbound curb lane today.
The project also includes painting sharrows. This is a cop out lack of a bicycle facility for this stretch, which needs a safer facility. To claim that the city is doing anything for bicycle use at the expense of freight on Airport Way is silly and disingenuous, especially considering some of the industry in Georgetown is, in fact, bicycle-related.
SDOT conceded to freight groups on both of these projects, taking out all safety enhancements other than the bare minimums. These certain freight groups, however, are making it clear that they will oppose any bicycle or pedestrian facility, no matter how little it affects freight mobility. If these groups are going to object to any plan SDOT chooses, maybe SDOT should just go ahead with their more ambitious plans next time.
Cities are about compromise and balancing the needs of everyone. I hope the MIC is more willing to come to the table and be more open in the future. Grasping onto dangerous infrastructure left over from before I-5 was built at the expense of neighborhoods and people just trying to ride bicycles to get around is not what a good urban neighbor should do.