City Council will vote on Bike Master Plan + Next step: How to realize its vision

UPDATE: The Council passed the bike plan unanimously.

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Supporters of the plan donned green at the City Council meeting

Supporters of the plan donned green at the City Council meeting

On the way to City Hall, I caught up with Davey Oil, Madi Carlson and their children. To get downtown from Capitol Hill, we biked down busy Broadway, and it was safe and comfortable.

And that’s the whole point of this Bike Master Plan. This is a good thing, and it should happen more often in more places around town. If a street is not comfortable and safe for Seattle families, then Seattle needs to fix it. This plan is a good start.

Original story:

The proposed bike facilities map

The proposed bike facilities map

The Seattle City Council is scheduled to vote on final approval of the Bike Master Plan Monday, two years after work on the plan remake began. The vote will come during the afternoon meeting, which begins at 2 p.m. in the Council Chambers at City Hall.

After years of work and many, many hours of public outreach, the plan flew through a December public hearing in the City Council Chambers, and the Transportation Committee last week gave it unanimous approval.

For a look at the plan’s long slog to this point, our coverage is divided into two phases:

  • Creating the first draft mostly involved gathering all ideas for where bike facilities could use improvements and gathering ideas for education and outreach.
  • The second draft was more about making sure the changes are realistic, working to figure out modal conflicts and developing a connected city-wide network of bike routes that aim to be comfortable for people of all ages and abilities to use.

Cascade Bicycle Club, Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and other organizations that have worked to develop the plan are hoping to pack the Council meeting with plan supporters. It’s well past time to pass the plan so the city transportation staff can get to work on a project prioritization plan, and leaders can get to work on figuring out how we are going to realize the vision.

Funding

The resolution approving the bike plan does not include funding. Cost estimates put the plan somewhere between $391 – $524 million over 20 years, though not all of that money will come directly from Seattle. Regional, state and federal grants will certainly be used to offset much of the cost, and the city can save money by including bike upgrades with other city work (utilities work, major repaving projects, private development, etc).

When former Mayor Mike McGinn sent the plan to the City Council in November, his letter suggested that the Council include a policy goal of incrementally growing the budget for bicycling projects from $7 – $12 million as in recent years to at least $20 million per year. Without an increase in funding, the city will not be able to complete the plan within the desired timeline.

“I want it built out while I can use it,” said Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who is the Chair of the Transportation Committee and has had a hands-on role in developing the plan from the start.

The Council’s resolution does not, however, include a figure for how much they will aim to budget toward the plan each year (read it in full below).

“My commitment is to build that system out as soon we can,” said Rasmussen. “20 years is a heck of a long time to wait to get it done.”

But funding each year will be dependent on the city’s financial situation that year, he said. If there is another recession, for example, they might have to cut back on bike spending just like many other budget lines. But when things are going well, they could also invest more.

The city will need to average $20 million or so (obviously, costs change over time) over the next 20 years to substantially complete the plan, said Rasmussen.

It will also heavily depend on the next transportation levy, which could be a chance to get the plan some consistent funding. Of course, it needs to pass a city-wide vote. Bridging the Gap expires in 2015, so discussions about the levy to replace it will begin fairly soon.

There may also be an argument to be made for front-loading some of the costs of the plan. For example, the biggest bike need Rasmussen and many other advocates see is for safe bike infrastructure downtown. But, of course, downtown is also likely to be among the most expensive places to build protected bike lanes, since the number of high-traffic intersections and competing road uses is much higher than anywhere else in the city.

The city is currently seeking a firm to handle outreach and design work for the downtown plans, which Rasmussen said will likely take some time.

“Downtown business and property owners will want lots of opportunities to comment,” he said. He believes it would be “very optimistic” for a downtown protected bike lane to be in place before 2016.

Below is the text of the Council resolution. If you cannot make it in person, you can watch the meeting online via Seattle Channel.

BMP Adoption RES 040814 Version 6 by tfooq

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20 Responses to City Council will vote on Bike Master Plan + Next step: How to realize its vision

  1. A great big thank you to Council Members Rasmussen and Bagshaw, and the whole City Council. Everyone of them testified in favor of the BMP today before voting unanimously. Also, the council members thanked a few people by name, SDOT staff in particular, but also Cathy Tuttle and all of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, and Blake Trask from Washington Bikes. Thank you Bike Advisory Board members – you give a lot of your own time to this.

    Now: Implementation.

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  3. Josh says:

    Speaking of “next steps,” the City Council has more work to do on traffic law if the BMP is to be implemented.

    To give just two examples….

    * Bicycle signal faces (BMP Update p.64) — FHWA has given interim approval for bicycle-shaped traffic signal faces, but they currently have no legal standing in Washington or Seattle.

    A green bicycle-shaped signal does not legally allow a cyclist to go; a red bicycle-shaped signal does not legally require a person on a bicycle to stop. The bicycle signal shape must be recognized in code, along with circles and arrows, before it has any legal meaning.

    This should be a simple addition to the code that already recognizes other shapes of signals, RCW 46.61.055 at the state level, SMC Chapter 11.50 in Seattle. Since these signals are already in use without any recognition in RCW or SMC, I would suggest this should be an urgent change.

    * Cycletracks — street, or sidepath? Cycletracks are not recognized at all in the RCW or SMC. Are they a segregated sidepath beside the street, in which case every intersection would legally be a crosswalk? Are they a lane in the street? Are they a separate street, essentially a frontage road for bicycles only?

    This question is critical for motorist responsibilities when crossing a cycletrack, since the legal rules of the road are very different for crosswalks, lanes of the street you’re already on, and lanes of a parallel street you’re crossing. The BMP Update refers to Cycletracks as “on-street” facilities (e.g., p.58), but SDOT signage for existing cycletracks refers to them as “paths,” which are off-street facilities.

    Until this question is settled, there’s no clear set of rules for motorists driving next to or across cycletracks, no clear rules for pedestrians walking across or along a cycletrack, and no clear set of rules for people riding bikes on cycletracks.

    • Kimberly Kinchen says:

      Dedicated bicycle signals are in use in NYC now, a considerably more chaotic street environment than Seattle (I’m familiar with both cities). They aren’t my favorite things (cyclists should not have to anticipate whether they should be looking for bicycle-specific signals or just regular traffic signals, for one), but they don’t create more chaos.

      Slightly more on-topic: the unanimous vote is a great signal. Even if the changes reflected in the plan will take years, that’s a great vote to have on the record to point to.

      • Josh says:

        I’m not saying they shouldn’t be used where appropriate, just that they aren’t yet legal under SMC or RCW. The legal work to implement the BMP Update hasn’t been done.

      • Josh says:

        FYI, as an example of what needs to be added to the RCW, California’s Legislature *has* recognized bicycle signal faces.

        21456.3. (a) An operator of a bicycle facing a green bicycle signal
        shall proceed straight through or turn right or left or make a
        U-turn unless a sign prohibits a U-turn. An operator of a bicycle,
        including one turning, shall yield the right-of-way to other traffic
        and to pedestrians lawfully within the intersection or an adjacent
        crosswalk.
        (b) An operator of a bicycle facing a steady yellow bicycle signal
        is, by that signal, warned that the related green movement is ending
        or that a red indication will be shown immediately thereafter.
        (c) Except as provided in subdivision (d), an operator of a
        bicycle facing a steady red bicycle signal shall stop at a marked
        limit line, but if none, before entering the crosswalk on the near
        side of the intersection, or, if none, then before entering the
        intersection, and shall remain stopped until an indication to proceed
        is shown.
        (d) Except when a sign is in place prohibiting a turn, an operator
        of a bicycle, after stopping as required by subdivision (c), facing
        a steady red bicycle signal, may turn right, or turn left from a
        one-way street onto a one-way street. An operator of a bicycle making
        a turn shall yield the right-of-way to pedestrians lawfully within
        an adjacent crosswalk and to traffic lawfully using the intersection.
        (e) A bicycle signal may be used only at those locations that meet
        geometric standards or traffic volume standards, or both, as adopted
        by the Department of Transportation.

  4. SGG says:

    Back in the previous Seattle Bike Master Plan which was adopted around 2007 I think, Mayor Nickels was sending the paint truck all over the city putting a sharrow on everything. Almost like the Portlandia skit, “Put a Bird On It”, this town ended up with meaningless sharrows on anything and everything, while the Mayor got to boast about all the miles of bike facilities that had been installed.

    Can anyone summarize where the “sharrow” currently fits in Seattle’s new master plan? Thanks.

    • Gordon says:

      They’re used on neighborhood greenways (for wayfinding primarily) and on arterials if there is no other option (but they cannot be considered city wide connectors in terms of prioritization)

      • Josh says:

        Note that the double ended sharrows currently used on Greenways appear to be prohibited by the Council’s adopting resolution, which requires compliance with MUTCD.

    • Richard Slaughter says:

      I hear a lot of negative commentary about sharrows, but I think there’s a loss of perspective that has occurred. The sharrow, while certainly weak and nowhere near where we SHOULD be, does serve an important purpose sometimes.

      For example, last year I moved to Seattle from Little Rock, and that is most certainly a city that could benefit dramatically from some sharrows.

      In Seattle, and the surrounding areas I’ve experienced, there’s the occasional “get off the road!” idiot who honestly believes that bikes do not (or possibly just should not) have a legal right to utilize streets and roads. But here, for the most part, these people are the exception.

      This is not true in all of the U.S., not by a long shot. In Little Rock, the belief that cyclists on the streets are innately a violation of highway law is nearly ubiquitous. Sharrows, for all their flaws, at least convey the understanding that, “no, a bicycle here IS legal and right.”

      Yes, there is the flaw that drivers may then mistakenly believe that cyclists are *only* allowed to be on marked streets, but honestly, that’s still an improvement over the belief that they aren’t legally permitted at all. And given how limited cyclists’ ability to actually impact drivers’ beliefs, I think it’s an important positive step.

      Since for all their aggression, Seattle drivers do know we are legally allowed, sharrows in Seattle today are on the verge of pointless, I agree. But was that the case in 2007? (honest question, I have no idea).

      • Fish says:

        I completely agree. Sharrows are a thing of the past but they were an important step in getting cities in the right direction. I think we quickly forget what is used to be like just a few short years ago. Although they do not make the vast majority of “want to be cyclists” feel safe, they served a purpose in making those, like myself, that were very determined to get around by bike feel a bit safer knowing I was on a street that was at least somewhat bike friendly. It helped grow the cycling population and give us the needed momentum to be able to convince the majority of the people that cycletracks, greenways, etc would be well used and worth the investment.

    • RTK says:

      While not a bike lane, the sharrows aren’t useless from my experience. They give drivers an awareness that the road is also intended for bicyclists. In places like Sodo and south this seems to help.

      • Owen says:

        Perhaps I’m mistaken about the safety aspect but I think sharrows serve another important purpose. On streets with no other bicycle facilities, correctly placed sharrows tell the cyclists where in the road they should be. I’ve had a lot of conversations with cyclists that simply ride in the door zone because they feel like it’s safer and a sharrow communicates that this isn’t true.

        It’s my understand that it is safer to be out of the door zone (which could be wrong) but on the other hand, perhaps sharrows aren’t a strong enough message since a lot of people continue to ride in the door zone.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        The flip side, Owen, is that the sharrows are not always placed in the actual safest place to ride. For example, they are often too close to the curb, making it seem like people on bikes should squeeze against the curb so cars can pass (westbound Jackson between Rainier and 12th is a great example, and those are brand new)

      • Josh says:

        Assuming it made the final draft, the BMP Update has language that where sharrows are used, they must be centered in the lane. Having ridden streets with properly centered sharrows, I think Seattle’s rampant misuse of sharrows is part of what makes them so ineffective.

    • Josh says:

      Since I now have the full BMP on my phone… the current status of sharrows in Seattle:

      BMP p.38 summarizes sharrow use as “To be used due to ROW constraints or topography” on “non-arterial and collector/minor arterials.”

      Strategy 4.5 “Implement shared street bicycle facilities as part of the bicycle facility network” includes:

      4.5.1 Develop shared street bicycle facilities. Shared streets help provide important connections to destinations and to the rest of the network for people riding bicycles where it is not possible to implement a bicycle lane or buffered bicycle lane.
      4.5.2 Promote visibility of the person on the bicycle. Place shared lane markings in the center of the travel lane on streets with driveways and on-street parking to encourage bicycling outside of the door zone or in potentially low visibility conflict points.
      4.5.3 Install wayfinding with all shared street bicycle facility projects.

      The “Uphill Climbing Lane” description (p.62) notes that on downhills where bicycle speeds are similar to motorists, the downhill general-purpose lane should be marked with sharrows.

      The “Advisory Bicycle Lane” description on p.63 advocates a use of sharrows that isn’t compatible with Federal standards. (FHWA is accepting experiments with dashed “advisory” bike lane, but they cannot currently be marked with a shared lane marking, they’re supposed to use a “bicycle pavement marking” instead.)

      BMP also endorses sharrows on BAT lanes — bus-only lanes shared with bicycles and right-turning traffic.

      Sharrows are also used in “cycle track mixing zones”, where cars merge to the right for right turns, and through cyclists may merge left through the intersection. (Even if a bike lane is striped solid to the intersection, cars are supposed to merge into the bike lane before making a right turn, rather than making a right hook across the bike lane. But compliance is very low; sharrows are supposed to make this shared use more obvious.)

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