State’s safe street design and neighborhood speed bills make progress

Two bills that give municipalities more tools to make streets safer are making good progress in the state legislature.

The Safe Neighborhood Speeds Bill (SHB 1217) is headed to the Senate floor for a final vote after passing the House 96-0. The bill — which would give municipalities the option of lowering speed limits on non-arterial streets to 20 mph — has until 5 p.m. Friday to pass. So write your Senator and let them know we need safe speeds on the streets where we live. It could go to vote as early as today, so write now!

From the Bicycle Alliance:

Just last week the Neighborhood Safe Speeds Bill (SHB 1217) was voted out of the Senate Transportation Committee and forwarded onto the Senate Rules Committee. Due to the letters, emails, and calls from supporters across the state, Senate Majority Leader Lisa Brown pulled the bill in yesterday’s Senate Rules Committee!

Excellent news for sure, but we now have less than three days to get the Senate to vote for SHB1217. If we miss Friday’s 5 p.m. Senate cutoff, the bill dies.

The Better Design Standards and Complete Streets Bill (SHB 1700) passed the Senate yesterday 43-6. It already passed the House 63-32, so it’s headed to the governor for a signature.

If Governor Gregoire signs it, SHB 1700 will make it easier for cities to use modern design guidelines (such as the new NACTO urban bikeways design guide) when doing road work. Currently, cities are supposed to default to the out-of-date state guidelines, which are often very car-centric and slow to adapt to design options that have proven safe and efficient around the world (and even right here in Seattle). The bill also encourages better standards for sidewalks and mandates that all users are considered when designing a road project.

HB 2370, which would include “health” in the state’s transportation goals. Can you believe it isn’t already there? Insane! This bill passed the House 53-43 and is currently in the Senate Transportation Committee after a hearing Monday. So it’s gonna need to sprint to make that Friday deadline, but it can make it!

UPDATE: It appears that HB 2370 has been declared dead. Time of death: Monday. Cause of death: Senate Transportation Committee inaction as the committee deadline passed. State government to transportation department: We don’t care how many of us you kill or poison along the way, just get us there…

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16 Responses to State’s safe street design and neighborhood speed bills make progress

  1. Mondoman says:

    Thanks for posting this info (and keeping track along the way)!
    I’ve got to disagree on HB2370 — I’m happy it died, as it seems to have nothing to do with safety, but rather seems to be trying to have WashDOT make reducing population obesity one of its goals. If we’re going to mix together such disparate functions, why bother having departments at all? We’d just have a single monolithic state government.

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  3. pqbuffington says:

    Good eye, Mondoman, as this is the language of the nascent Totalitarian state…

    “…the consideration of health implications in transportation policy has the potential to save lives, improve health and well-being, and reduce health care costs by creating transportation opportunities that prevent chronic diseases, improve air quality, and reduce obesity. Wise transportation investments that include a consideration of health consequences…”

    What next, warnings on cigarette packages?

    But seriously, massive infrastructure, and you can take your pick, from broadband to transportation to vertical architecture (how dare they insist we use stairs when capable?) has the common and onerous and often rather expensive problem of the “last-mile”. The beauty of transportation infrastructure is that the last-mile(s) can be solved by that evolutionary-god-send called walking.

    I would also include pedaling, but the bicycle, I am convinced, is the only proof we have of alien intelligence, and therefore immune from Divine and/or Darwinian explanation. Simply, there is no way our species developed such a miracle in isolation…pyramids pale in comparison.

    • Mondoman says:

      pq – thanks for making my point. Cigarette pack warnings should NOT be part of the Transportation Dept.

      • pqbuffington says:

        Mondoman,

        Yes, cigarette warnings are not controlled by the WSDOT…but, crosswalks, road designs, road signage, etc….are and all have safety, or “health”, as their intent. To suggest the language of HB2370 is some egregious legislative and/or agency over-reach is a bit much.

        Obesity and related health problems are nothing short of an epidemic. Having a plurality of government agencies consider this is not some slippery slope toward “…monolithic state government”, whatever that actually means.

        The WSDOT et al has, over the decades, reduced annual traffic fatalities by something close to half since 1980; now one of the lowest rates in the nation. Interestingly, the responsible initiative, i.e. Target Zero, is a plurality of state agencies working toward the same goal, one of which is the Department of Health.

      • Mondoman says:

        pq – “safety” is quite different from “health”. I agree that the obesity epidemic is a serious concern — for public health, not for the Transportation Dept.

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  5. Mike Perry says:

    Special interests can certainly push through legislation before the general public becomes aware of what is happening. But eventually almost everyone finds out and matters get very sticky.

    In my experience legislation that passes by 96-0 votes are likely to do just that. This isn’t a bill to honor fire fighters or something equally non-controversial. It’s legislation that impacts the everyday life of almost everyone in the state. It’d be a much better bill if it’d passed by something like 54-42. That would show that the legislators knew what they were doing and that the varied interests of the public were being better served and compromises were made to serve the interests of everyone.

    In particular, bike riders who wonder why some drivers hate them should take a look at this law and the reasoning used to justify it. Bike lanes have already choked up traffic flow on arterials to please bikers. This will do the same for side streets on which bikers, as we all know, rarely travel. And it could severely impact the ability to get useful greenways on a few select side streets. You’re already going to face enormous NIMBY resistance there. This law won’t help matters.

    Biking groups need to face some facts before their cause comes to grief. Not everyone is 18-55, single or childless, and in the best of health. For many people, particularly given Seattle’s often rotten weather, cars and roads are the best or even only option. Sneering at such people as “car-centric” is bigotry. Ugly, gross and indefensible bigotry.

    For the record, the behavior to date by bikers has been less than brilliant. I used to commute from north of downtown to Wallingford by bike via Eastlake. When I saw the arterial in front my apartment adding bike lanes and bikers using them, I thought, “Those idiots. Do they really think that little white line offers any protection.”

    I was almost badly mangled on Eastlake by one of our city’s stretch buses and almost left in a coma by a woman on a side street in Wallingford who didn’t see me when she pulled out far enough to see oncoming traffic on a busy street. Only a panic stop that left me flipped over and flying through the air kept me from colliding with her car. It’s not a matter of speed limits, as some seem to think. She was stopped. It mattered not how fast or slow the traffic in the lane I dare not move into was moving. When you’re crushed by a car or, worse still, a heavy beer delivery truck, it doesn’t matter how fast either is moving.

    Now the biking agenda is shifting to greenways, a solution I enthusiastically support. The joy of biking shouldn’t be confined to fit adults with a suicidal bent. In particular, biking should also be safe enough for kids. Greenways will provide that.

    But restricting speeds for greenways should be a special case supported by a neighborhood not a bureaucratic prerogative, particularly given the current craze in highway circles for a woefully misnamed agenda called “traffic calming.” Bikers need to realize that the traffic calming movement is playing them as suckers.

    Many of those who visit this blog should watch the war movie “A Bridge Too Far.” Trying to accomplish too much, particularly when done out of arrogance and blindness–as good description of Gen. Montgomery as it is of some biking activists, often results in accomplishing less. Be realistic, be respectful of others and you’ll accomplish much more in the long run. Society has not elevated the biking community to the role of Superior Citizen, whatever some bikers may think. Society never will.

    –Michael W. Perry, editor of Across Asia on a Bicycle

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Michael,

      Thanks for the interesting perspective. I agree with much of what you say. However, a couple notes:

      The 20 mph bill will not impact the lives of every person in the state. It only gives cities the option of lowering neighborhood speed limits if they want to. This is Seattle. Obviously, that local decision will come with some form of local process. There’s almost always a process in this city (other cities take more of a “better to ask for forgiveness than permission” style of governing). And I agree with you that the neighbors should have a good conversation about what they have to gain from lower speed limits, and I suspect that’s exactly what will happen.

      Is this bill about bikes? Not really. It’s about making neighborhood streets safer. And yes, speed (even 5 mph) is crucial at both decreasing the number of collisions and decreasing the severity of injuries when collisions occur. This is simply an urban traffic fact.

      Which brings me to your opinion of bike lanes. I agree that many of the bike lanes in the city are not safely designed. Many, however, are, and we need to keep pushing the city to make them safer. You also ignore the fact that adding bike lanes to roads makes roads safer for everyone, most of all people in cars! The city’s first “road diets” didn’t even have bike lanes. They were about safety for people walking and driving.

      Finally, I didn’t all anyone “car-centric,” I called the state’s road design manual outdated and car-centric. I apologize to the WSDOT Design Manual if I offended it. I understand that some people are in situations where they depend on cars and have not proposed banning cars or anything like that. Making a road safer for people who walk, bike and drive is not an insult to people who need to drive.

    • Lars Borgeson says:

      When I heard of “greenways” here in Seattle, I had to chuckle, as I have always used “greenways” since I was a child. It never ceases to amaze me when I see bike commuters essentially replicating how they would drive to work in a car. The beauty of a bike is that you can take scenic and quiet sideroads with little or any loss in time, (if that is a concern). Treating bikes as mini cars is foolish. More bikeways like Burke Gilman is what should be in the works.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I largely agree with you. Most of my trips in central Seattle can be made on side streets. However, there are parts of town where side streets simply do not go through, whether due to a freeway cutting it off, short-sighted culs-de-sac neighborhood designs, or because a very busy street is difficult and dangerous to cross unless you have a traffic signal (which mostly exist only for busy streets). This problem is true whether you’re walking or biking. On a bike, the only real solution, therefore, is to act like a car and get into traffic. This isn’t appealing to many people, and the number of people biking in such areas is fairly low accordingly.

        In theory, neighborhood greenways make the relatively small changes necessary to connect these already calm and scenic routes, while making sure traffic remains safe. I might be okay with darting across 23rd Ave the way it is, but a father with small children in tow might not. Make that crossing safer, and suddenly the side streets are far more appealing.

        The etymology of “neighborhood greenway” alludes to your point. Trails like the Burke-Gilman have long been referred to as “greenways.” A neighborhood greenway, therefore, is meant to “feel” like a trail, with it’s ample safety and few interactions with speeding motor vehicles. And, like a trail, you will be able to depend on it being continuous and getting you where you’re going (Ballard Missing Link excepted, of course).

        Today, finding a route using only side streets takes a lot of trial and error – “nope, that doesn’t go through,” “oops, that hill is way too steep,” “this is a staircase, not a trail!” etc… If you are going to a an unfamiliar area of town, it’s sometimes easier just to stick with busy streets because at least you know they will be continuous. A neighborhood greenway should get rid of that work so you can just head out the door and go.

  6. Jose Particular says:

    Yes, make streets safe by keeping bicyclists OFF THE SIDEWALK.

  7. Paul says:

    I don’t see how this change is truly helpful. Today, bikes and cars alike ignore the 25mph limit on city streets and the 30mph limit on arterials. I don’t believe for a minute that cyclists will be happy at 20mph on these streets.

    The culture of road sharing will not be enhanced by this measure. The culture of safety barely exists on our roads.

    Until we invest in real driver education and couple it with meaningful and repeated testing we will have to endure drivers who understand neither the rules nor the consequences of poor driving. Solving the problem of reckless cyclists is even harder.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      The average cycling speed is somewhere around 8-12 mph. Some people can go 20, but that’s pretty fast and likely only on a long downhill (obviously, pro racers can get to really high speeds, but so can pro car drivers…). I doubt there are many situations in which someone on a bike will get up to 20 or 25 on a neighborhood street.

      I agree that we need to increase driver education and foster a culture of safety on roads. I think bills like that were not in play this year because they would have had pricetags, and just about any bill with added costs (even a relatively small one) would have a hard time getting through.

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