Freight group upset that city cares about bike safety

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 If a road is unnecessarily dangerous due only to its outdated or poor design, SDOT has a responsibility to fix it.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.

Airport Way

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.

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7 Responses to Freight group upset that city cares about bike safety

  1. Kevin says:

    Great post, and I love SDOT a little more because of it.

    “SDOT’s top priority isn’t mobility – it’s safety, especially more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.”

    And that’s exactly what SDOT’s priority should be. Thanks for bringing it to my attention, Manufacturing Industry Council. You know, I bet MIC could squeeze out more time/money from their drivers if they didn’t take the time to buckle their seatbelts. I smell a new MIC policy!

  2. Troy says:

    Great post, Tom!

  3. Brian says:

    Nice post.
    As an aside, I love the cyclists in the diagram of Proposed changes to Airport Way: one cyclist down in the drop bars with some sort of motorcycle goggles on, listing over to one side as though in a full sprint, apparently trying not to get mowed down by the truck behind him. The other cyclist, who I can only assume must be racing the other guy or has taken drastic measures to avoid getting run over by the truck, is barreling down the NB lane against traffic. Too bad that’s in the “proposed” diagram, and not in the “existing.”

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Ha! I didn’t notice that that guy was headed the wrong way (see Marginal Way graphic to see the graphic they usually use for cyclists going the other way). I have always enjoyed how this image makes it look like cycling is such a rebellious act. Dressed in all black, the little guy almost looks like he just robbed a bank or like he’s an extreme high-speed biking ninja. SDOT uses the same images for most their lower-budget project diagrams. Not sure if it helps to make cycling look safe on the roadway. We should name him. Ninja Joe?

  4. Nick says:

    With all this said the freight drivers are some of the most conscientious I encounter on my commute. I guess they understand the impact of their vehicle and operate accordingly. Still, you would think that the MIC would go after the numerous railgrade crossings their trucks get stuck idling at or the poorly timed traffic lights that force stop and go driving instead of bikes which I have yet to see impede their forward progress in the industrial area.

  5. Karena says:

    As a bicycle commuter, on streets with parking I actually prefer sharrows to bike lanes. The bike lane just tends to squish bikes into the door zone of parked cars, whereas sharrow markings extend over a wider swath of pavement, further away from the doors. (But on streets without parking, I think it’s nice to have the dedicated travel lane for bikes.) In that respect, these different approaches for E. Marginal Way and Airport Way make sense to me.

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