SDOT backpedals even further on already-slashed bike plan, cuts 9th Ave

disappearing-2016It took only two weeks for Seattle’s Department of Transportation to cut the only significant center city bike lane from their already-scaled-back 2016 plans.

The 9th Ave N bike lane would have connected the new Westlake Ave bikeway (due to open in late July) though South Lake Union and into downtown. For a decade since the city installed injury-causing streetcar tracks on Westlake Ave — the most direct and flat route from the lake to downtown — 9th Ave N has been promised as a major bike route alternative. So bike lanes there in 2016 was the only silver lining when the city made baffling and devastating cuts to the downtown bike plans earlier this year.

But now SDOT says the 9th Ave N bike lanes can’t be installed south of Mercer any earlier than 2018 due to construction (even though construction on a major bike route should be an argument in favor of building safe bike lanes). SDOT staff also said a needed bike connection from 9th Ave N to 2nd Ave via Bell Street can’t be installed until after the SR 99 tunnel highway opens (and who knows when that will be).

So in just one year, the city went from plans to build a grid of bike lanes downtown that connect to neighborhoods north, south and east to plans to build essentially no complete connections until at least 2018.

This change even calls into question Pronto Cycle Share expansion funding. The City Council mandated that bike lanes on 9th Ave N from Westlake to Denny be “on schedule to be completed” before they release funds to expand the bike share system (PDF). This amendment bit off only the lowest hanging fruit in the city’s scaled back bike plan, but now it appears SDOT won’t even meet that goal.

IMG_4879People at Wednesday’s Bicycle Advisory Board meeting expressed their concerns to City Councilmember Mike O’Brien and SDOT staff, saying that delaying safety projects gambles with people’s lives.

“I work at Perkins Coie, and I was friends with Sher Kung,” said Antoine McNamara during public comment. “Ten days of delay made the difference between life and death for her.”

Kung was killed biking to work in 2014 when someone driving a truck turned into her on 2nd Ave at University Street just ten days before the city’s protected bike lane upgrade was installed.

“It doesn’t feel like [SDOT] is prioritizing what matters,” McNamara said. “The Seattle process can have a real impact on people’s lives.”

SDOT staff were defensive at the meeting, saying that Seattle is way ahead of other cities in terms of bike infrastructure as though people should be happy with what we have.

But people are still getting hurt. And when the city needed to pass a transportation levy, they made promises that the levy would build half the Bike Master Plan, including the protected bike lanes pictured in the first map at the top of this post. They knew then that Seattle’s downtown bike infrastructure (or lack thereof) was inadequate, they just needed the funds to fix it, they said.

So Seattle responded by passing Move Seattle by a wide margin, giving SDOT both the funding and the voter mandate to make these changes. SDOT, the Mayor and other city leaders shouldn’t be surprised that now people expect them to deliver.

Councilmember O’Brien told the Bike Board he still needs to meet with SDOT and find out why the plans are being slashed.

“What I wish I was going to hear from all you is how great the bike plan is going,” he joked to the Board.

O’Brien’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee will discuss the slashed short-term bike plan during its May 17 meeting.

But it shouldn’t take City Council action to get SDOT to do the job the department promised. Some delays are normal for transportation projects, but a near-total deletion of the plan is unprecedented in my years writing this blog.

It’s ultimately up to Mayor Ed Murray to direct SDOT, and he’s either not doing that or is actively impeding their work. So far, the Mayor’s Office has just pointed to creation of a new Center City Mobility Plan as a reason SDOT can’t build any significant downtown bike lane projects (with the single exception of the 2nd Ave extension in Belltown).

But that’s a sorry excuse. We have a Bike Master Plan, a Pedestrian Master Plan, a Transit Master Plan, an in-development Freight Master Plan, a Vision Zero Plan and a Move Seattle Plan that integrates all those other plans. SDOT has smart transportation planners who have demonstrated the ability to install safe bike lanes that don’t impede bus travel.

We don’t need to wait for an entire new plan before doing any work on bike safety downtown. There is always some excuse for why a later date is better than now, but this Mobility Plan excuse is so thin people can see right through it.

Here’s a more reasonable approach:

  • Restore the Center City Bike Network as planned in 2015
  • Require bike lane planners to consider transit movement (as they would have done anyway)
  • Use temporary materials (mostly paint and plastic posts) to build pilot projects for any bike lanes on streets that could get transit upgrades in coming years. That way bike lanes can be easily moved or adjusted as needed. They would also cost less and could be constructed more quickly

It would be better if the Mayor and SDOT make such changes before the May 17 committee meeting so that discussion can be more productive, focusing on what to build first rather than whether to build anything.

EI_CenterCityBikeBoards_web-trafficviolenceDowntown traffic violence is a public health emergency. Streets are still designed with car movement as the top priority even though transit, biking and walking are the most popular and fastest growing ways people get there.

Protected bike lanes are the flashiest part of what are really complete streets upgrades. Bike lanes can make streets safer for people on foot by shortening the effective distance people need to walk to cross the street and by protecting walk signals from turning cars.

What’s most frustrating is that SDOT knows all this better than anyone. The department claims over and over that safety is its top priority, but slashing nearly all significant safety projects from its downtown plans demonstrates the opposite.

Mayor Ed Murray had appeared to be a bold leader on safe, innovative streets when he launched the city’s Vision Zero Plan one year ago, which has an entire section focused on downtown. But now he appears to have abandoned it, falling back on tired Seattle habits of talking a big game but getting little done.

When the Mayor told SDOT to make a 2nd Ave pilot protected bike lane happen, they designed and constructed it in six months. And public reception was great. The project is even highlighted in a new national report “Quick Builds For Better Streets: A New Project Delivery Model For U.S. Cities.”

At an open house nine months after the 2nd Ave lane opened, SDOT asked over 100 people in attendance for feedback on their Center City Bike Plan for a network of such bike lanes, and the main response even then was, “Why is this taking so long?”

There is a transportation revolution waiting for release in Seattle, but the dam of stressful car-clogged streets downtown is holding back a wave of people who would bike downtown if it were safer and more comfortable. A connected network of downtown bike lanes is the solution. We have the plans, and we have the funding. The only missing piece is leadership willing to innovate and lead.

But most importantly, Seattle can’t wait for someone else to die before taking action.

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56 Responses to SDOT backpedals even further on already-slashed bike plan, cuts 9th Ave

  1. Randy says:

    Again, we have a mayor, City Council and transportation director who want to throw away $1.4 million or more — the Seattle Times recently reported the cost as more like $6 million — on our little-used bike-share program.

    Should we really be surprised when funding for REAL cycling infrastructure is gutted? The city has only so much money to spend on transit. The more that’s spent on Pronto, the less that’s available for other critical cycling needs.

    Write the mayor and your council member to express your displeasure at their ludicrous decision — championed on the council by Mike O’Brien — to waste so much money on Pronto.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      The $5mil earmarked for Pronto came from the Mayor’s budget – NOT the Move Seattle levy. The two are unrelated. There should be plenty of money in the levy to build bike facilities this year.

      The issue being discussed here isn’t funding. There’s enough money to build out good bike facilities.

      • Greg pedowski says:

        Murray had to save face with Alaska airlines since he bragged about that sponsorship so much.

        The way pronto played out is a disgrace. SDOT should build and improve safe bike facilities, not operate a money losing tourist trinket. I hope this blog will admit their mistake in blind support for pronto.

    • Central Districtite says:

      “I’ll take Red Herring for 1,000 Alex.”

    • asdf2 says:

      It’s not money. Rather, it’s city politicians fearful about people screaming about losing their parking.

  2. Meredith says:

    The cities relationship with construction and bicycle lanes is aweful. Take Dexter right now, where Northbound, the lane disappears to construction, reappears (at a huge pothole) for 100 ft, and then without warning disappears again for more construction. Knowledgeable cyclists now take the lane starting much further up the hill, but its causing a lot more driver/cyclist interactions and the construction isn’t required to mitigate for cyclists at all. If that’s how they are going to continue it might actully be less dangerous to postpone 9th honestly.

    One thing the city could and should start doing on Bell is clarifying and enforcing the “Right/Left turn only except bikes and busses”-tons of drivers use it as a throughway totally ignoring the signs and speeding through what is supposed to be a pedestrian/bike friendly zone

    • Qc says:

      I completely agree about Bell st. As terrible as this news is, it’s made worse by the fact that so much of our existing infrastructure is made unsafe by construction blockages and lack of enforcement of existing laws (as in “right turn only except for busses and bicycles”!).

    • Josh says:

      I doubt SPD would be willing to put much effort into enforcement on Bell so long as the signals and signs are far from clear and obvious — it’s wasted effort to ticket people when those tickets get thrown out.

      As with the separate bike signals on 2nd Ave, SDOT’s initial approach on Bell was to do the least possible to make the restrictions visible to people who already knew to look for them. That’s no way to design a user interface for a system that sees thousands of first-time users every month.

      SDOT simply doesn’t have a culture of clear, consistent traffic controls.

      • Breadbaker says:

        Similar facilities in Portland have signs that make it pretty clear what drivers are not supposed to do at protected bike signals. Why Seattle can’t copy this is one of those mysteries.

      • Breadbaker says:

        Similar facilities in Portland have signs that make it pretty clear what drivers are not supposed to do at protected bike signals. Why Seattle can’t copy this is one of those mysteries.

      • Becky says:

        Clear signage and effectively designed facilities are the best options, but I don’t think enforcement is a waste of effort either, even if tickets get thrown out; it still sends a message. Annnnd the signage still needs to be clearer.

    • Conrad says:

      Exactly. A bike lane that is blocked for whatever reason (and they always are) and forces a sudden merge into the general traffic lane is much more dangerous than just taking the lane in the first place. That means that 99% of what is currently being built for bikes is useless. I wonder if our mayor and Kubly ever ride a bike to work (doubt it!). I seem to remember that McGinn was known to ride a bike. O’Brien does too. Any coincidence that they are the only ones with a decent track record when it comes to bikes?

  3. Capitol Hillian says:

    If they can’t do 9th they need to make Dexter family friendly in the mean time. Having NO safe route between Westlake and downtown is absurd.

    For Bell St: 1) between Denny and 5th SDOT could use the on street parking spaces to create a PBL 2) Between 5th and 2nd SDOT could install retractable bollards like they have all over the world that can be retracted for transit and emergency vehicles, and a temporary contra flow bike lane to help people heading NE.

    • Skylar says:

      Or SPD could just put a cop on the corner and start writing tickets, and make some money for the city (I’m pretty sure they just have to send a tweet that it’s a do-our-job day). Or SDOT could just install red light cameras at the intersection and makes even more money.

      We need to stop coddling drivers into thinking that flouting the law is consequence-free.

      • Ballard Resident says:

        I mentioned this at the Ballard SDOT meeting this week and the SDOT official laughed. She said there are no resources for this. I pointed out that tickets can produce the revenue needed to enforce and she responded that tickets are not for producing revenue. From her comment, I got the idea that enforcing laws concerning pedestrians was not really an option. I think “zero vision” is what we’re getting from the city.

      • Josh says:

        Human-issued traffic tickets are generally not a good municipal revenue source in Washington State.

        The state takes a large share of the ticket for various dedicated state funds — the system is intended in part to prevent “ticket trap” towns that attempt to turn traffic citations into a revenue source rather than a public safety effort.

        There are also court costs, overtime for officers who have to testify in contested cases, collection expenses for violators who can’t or won’t pay, and writeoffs of tickets that never get paid.

        When you look at the fully-burdened cost of a law enforcement officer (not just salary, but benefits, taxes, retirement contributions, etc.), adding traffic control officers usually is a net cost to Washington cities even after ticket revenues.

        The glaring exception to that is school-zone safety cameras, which have been generating significant revenues for Seattle to plow back into safety improvements for school zones.

      • Skylar says:

        @Josh,

        Huh, I had no idea that this was another way the state could screw Seattle. You do mention school zone cameras, though – let’s just throw some cameras up at Bell and other greenway locations like NE 50th St & 12th Ave NE, and the various intersection at Fremont where drivers are supposed to turn but cyclists can continue straight.

  4. V says:

    Now you know how the rest of the city feels. Betrayed, tossed on the side of the road. Forgotten.

    • Breadbaker says:

      Downtown is significant to a lot of people who live and even work in “the rest of the city.” Both because of its being the largest job center in the city and the cultural amenities it contains and because geographically you have to pass through it going almost anywhere else.

  5. RTK says:

    I am now wary of the vagueness of ST3. I understand it is different entities in charge, but the bait and switch on Move Seattle seems to have no repercussions. I wish there were better tools to hold peoples feet to the fire on the implied promises of Move Seattle.

    • Morganb says:

      Until Seattle DoT, Sound Transit isn’t directed or even managed by one elected official and their staff. Sound Transit is directed by a large board and is managed by professionals who aren’t replaced every time they’re a new mayor.

    • William says:

      @Morganb Actually there are disturbing parallels. SDOT and its bike plan are just like Sound Transit 15 years ago when ST could not do anything right or on time – you may remember that the U District light rail was originally scheduled for 2006!

      Sound Transit solved that problem by scaling down ST1 and then for all further projects giving themselves a lavish timeline and a lavish budget so they could not help but succeed.

      SDOT could save us a lot of grief by telling us up front that it will take triple the time and double the budget to install a half-decent bike network.

  6. daihard says:

    I wasn’t aware of the cutback on the Center City Bike Plan (or the BMP in general) until very recently. I was excited to be at their Open House last summer where they promised to build the splendid network of bike lanes connecting all over DT. Now we will not get any of that, except for 2nd Ave. I feel betrayed. I used to laugh at those crying ‘War on Cars.’ Now I somewhat know where they’re coming from.

  7. Greg pedowski says:

    Give SDOT a break. To anyone with half a brain this is all Murray’s office.

    He is the worst kind of politician, but I can see why he is perfect for Seattle.

    • William says:

      The problems in SDOT were there long before Murray and will be there long after him unless something dramatic changes. One either has engineers who are competent enough to plan projects from the outset with workable timelines that they can then implement on time or you have engineers who do it by the seat of their pants. SDOT falls into the later category.

    • Central Districtite says:

      As Tom said “It’s ultimately up to Mayor Ed Murray to direct SDOT, and he’s either not doing that or is actively impeding their work.”

      • William says:

        I am not defending Ed Murray because he not up to his job and he has appointed a hopeless person to run SDOT, but a good Mayor could pick a better head and forcefully direct SDOT all they like butif the people in the trenches are not up to the job then stuff is not going to get it done until the agency gets reformed. SDOT has clearly committed itself to a bike master plan that it does not have the capabilities to implement.

  8. Jort Sandwich says:

    So, serious question: when are we starting the protest rides?

  9. Breadbaker says:

    Before someone gets killed, there needs to be significant pressure on SDOT to require construction projects to make safe streets during their projects, both for pedestrians and for cyclists. My bike to work is Wallingford to 34th to Dexter to Seventh; there have constantly been about a dozen projects under construction on that route for three years. Right now, there’s a narrowing with almost no warning on 34th Street where the street is too narrow for cars to pass bikes, and the drivers of course get angry because God forbid I didn’t just disappear into the ether rather than continue up the hill. On Seventh, the number of times the police have stopped me instead of making a piece of construction equipment wait five seconds for me to pass (without a single vehicle or bike in sight behind me) is in the high double digits. If the lane closures on Sixth are the same two days in a row I’ve yet to see it, and the two lane merge before the construction closures has been so much fun for bikes for about a year now.

    That the city is claiming it’s somehow better than some other cities is just bureaucratic propaganda.

  10. Doug says:

    Looking forward to the 2018 “Plan Integration Plan”

    And the 2020 “Planned Plan Integration Plan”

    And the 2022 “Planned Plan Integration Plan Plan for Revision”

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  12. Steve says:

    2017 can’t get here fast enough, get rid of Murray and hopefully Kubly is immediately fired by the next mayor. Kubly is more trouble than he is worth. If you’re going to cause bad ethics PR and look like a bike shill to the anti-bike crowd, at least make it worthwhile by getting something done. Instead he hurts bike advocacy and gets nothing done.

    Where is Cascade on all of this, they endorsed these people, time to put some pressure on the council. And what is with the council being “concerned?” They should be outright mad. SDOT pushed the Pronto buy out, which required these connections. Does SDOT now oppose the expansion of Pronto, they make no sense?

    So we pass a 10 year levy, and within 6 months, find out we will have no big downtown bike upgrades until at least year 3…likely pushed back further. Just what the hell is the city council going to be approving?

  13. Law Abider says:

    I might be highly ignorant, but I ride 9th Ave N every day, in bike lanes from Roy/Broad to Denny. Am I missing something here? Is there a link to what they were planning?

    On a slight tangent, it would be nice if the City restriped the portion of 9th between Westlake and Roy/Broad, since they made northbound 9th all day parking and the southbound bus lane is now unused.

    • Que says:

      The bike lane on 9th is a substandard outdated dangerous door zone lane that was designed to get bikes out of the way of cars. It needs a properly separated facility.

      • Law Abider says:

        That makes sense, but what is missing from the description is what, if anything, the City was planning. Was it something along the lines of Dexter, maybe a cycle track or was it always left undefined?

        Ironically, the biggest issue I have is not car doors, but rather cars/ubers/taxis blocking the bike lane to pickup/dropoff.

  14. Uli Kunkel says:

    Maybe we’ll remember to be more skeptical and persistent in our questioning the next time our local politicians promise us the moon in exchange for higher property taxes. I doubt it, but I suppose it’s possible.

    • William says:

      I doubt it too but there is no need to ask skeptical and persistent questions since that is already being done. All you need to do is listen the sensible liberal ladies who head up the League of Women voters who pointed out the fallacy of supporting Move Seattle before there were good workable plans in place.

      • Uli Kunkel says:

        Oh, believe me, I did. Mom was a very early member of the LWV. I voted no because I’ve been burned before and don’t trust these open-ended projects. Stick to the more dedicated stuff, like extending hours at the libraries and repairing the parks. Seattle is good at follow-through on those types of things. Transportation (like affordable housing) is a cluster—-, and it’s too easy to just take the money and run.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      The money’s still there for the next Mayor to do something awesome with. I’d rather have that situation than the situation where an awesome Mayor+DOT wants to make things safer but lacks any funding..

      So no, I don’t regret passing MoveSeattle.

      • William says:

        By the time the next mayor comes along a significant portion will be spent. I do not know what your property tax bill is but it annoys me enormously when I see my taxes misspent. So no I would rather not pay higher taxes in vague hope that at some point in the future we may elect a good mayer and see them well spent (When did Seattle last have an overachieving mayor?). I might be a little less concerned if it was somebody else footing the bill.

      • Uli Kunkel says:

        Schell, Nickels, McGinn, Murray. Am I missing one? I’m not too hopeful. Norm Rice ain’t walking through that door anytime soon.

    • Al Dimond says:

      The headline element of Move Seattle is the arterial transit piece. There are reasons to be skeptical they can actually get it all done, but it’s far from decided, and if we want it to get done (I sure do!) we’ll need to stay engaged and active, because those plans will attract opponents when the details are released.

      The hidden element of Move Seattle is keeping up with road maintenance. If we don’t like the cost of that… then maybe we shouldn’t have so many roads.

      • William says:

        “keeping up with road maintenance”! In what city do you live? We must be 20 years behind and I do not think Move Seattle does more than keep us from getting further behind. This is a huge impact to installing good bike network because in many cases one has to rebuild the whole road to end up with a surface that safe for bikes.

  15. JB says:

    What a farce. Seattle and its politicians like to pat themselves on the back for being so green and progressive, but when the time comes to actually make a choice, set a priority and get something real done, we are far too comfortable and complacent with the planet-killing and human health-destroying status quo. If this is the best that Mayor Murray and his cronies at SDOT can do, then it’s time for a political revolution at City Hall.
    Throw the bums out.

    • Conrad says:

      The problem though is that the majority still prefer to drive. So Inslee, the mayor, etc. are likely going to get booted if they don’t pander to drivers. Remember what happened to McGinn, even though he stood up for doing the right thing about the tunnel. Seattle is in the midst of a difficult transition. We are growing fast and when density reaches a certain point, cars just don’t work anymore. It should be a pain in the ass to drive a car in a dense metropolitan area. If you can’t handle that, you should move to the suburbs or a smaller town. That is not what most, or at least a lot, of people in Seattle want to hear.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        I disagree. McGinn had other issues; he just wasn’t very good at dealing with the community. The NE 65th PBL mess was a great example. That should’ve been nipped in the bud early. Instead, people got worked up into a frenzy, culminating in a public meeting in which McGinn came across as very abrasive. Meanwhile, little old ladies and business owners were getting up and speaking about how a cycletrack (as they were called back then) were going to destroy their lives.

        The last city council vote showed us that people are tired of driving. Rob Johnson, The Transit Guy, won in a landslide (for example). People don’t want to drive any more, at least not in Seattle’s crazy traffic.

        People want convenient transit, and they want to be able to safely and comfortably walk & bike. Sure, not everyone, but the majority of the people I talk to. That includes angry people at public outreach meetings; usually it’s “I hate this (road diet) project because it will create gridlock and we don’t have good transit yet!” The key there is that they want better options, and the status quo isn’t working (but they obviously don’t want things to get even worse).

      • JB says:

        I don’t disagree with any of this, except maybe the premise that a win for cyclists is a loss for motorists. Driving is already a pain in Seattle, and a lot more people would get around on a bike if the infrastructure were there. The problem is that it’s counterintuitive to make the argument that taking road space away from cars will actually benefit traffic in the long run. Is it too much to ask for that kind of leadership in a city like Seattle, that has shown a willingness to be a leader in so many areas? I don’t think it is.

      • JB says:

        Just to clarify, that last comment was addressed to @Conrad.

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  17. David F says:

    There were at least a few bicycle advocates appointed to the Move Seattle levy Oversight Committee, which is supposed to issue regular reports about whether SDOT projects have delivered what was promised to the voters. Let’s hope the oversight committee members are ready to issue a scathing report about this failure to meet the promises on the ballot.

  18. Accountability says:

    Some of us raise serious concerns about the accountability and integrity mechanisms in the Move Seatle levy and the promises about what would be included, such as all the bike lanes and other promises, and sought clarity about what would be built with our tax dollars, but Transportation Choices, Cascade Bike Club, Urbanist Org, Brubeck, Brock Howell, and many others in the bike community dismissed us as being anti tax Republicans/Libertarians. That the backpedaling has begun shouldn’t be a problem for anyone who paid attention. The Mayor just wants people to like him when he wants something, and then follows whatever path he wants when it comes to implementation. And those who fought us when we had concerns about accountability are at least partly responsible for these cuts because they encouraged constituents to support a levy that was half baked.

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