2016 was the year of bike plan delays, will 2017 be any better?

One of the relatively few 2016 bike plan projects completed on schedule, the underwhelming Columbia St neighborhood greenway is not likely to have much of an impact on bike mobility in Seattle. Pictured: The route's odd crosswalk swerve at 14th Ave.

One of the relatively few 2016 bike plan projects completed on schedule, the underwhelming Columbia St neighborhood greenway is not likely to have much of an impact on bike mobility in Seattle. Pictured: The route’s odd crosswalk swerve at 14th Ave.

The biggest story for biking in Seattle in 2016 can be summed up in one terrible word: Delayed.

After riding an incredible safe streets funding high for a few months following the November 2015 passage of the Move Seattle transportation levy, popular hopes for real action on safe streets projects slammed into the rocks. In spring 2016, SDOT released a revised short-term bike plan that dramatically slashed planned projects.

Not only did the revised plan include fewer miles of protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways, but the projects it did include failed to complete the most-needed connections in the city. Downtown and the south end were particularly hard hit.

To advocates who had worked so hard to pass Mayor Ed Murray’s transportation levy based on promises of bold action on safe streets, the revised plan was a slap in the face. Dozens of people, organized by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways and Cascade Bicycle Club, protested the cuts by holding a rally at City Hall.

Rallying around the phrase “We can’t wait,” protesters made the case that the city has the plans and funding needed to take bold action to improve safety on our streets and stop fatal or injurious collisions before they happen. The time for waiting is over, they said.

The city chose to wait. The miles of planned protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways for 2016 were cut by 35 percent, then the city failed to deliver half of the projects that remained in the slashed plan before the year ended.

To illustrate the point, here’s how the 2016 plan looked in spring of 2015 (note that in this version of the plan, Westlake, Roosevelt and Dearborn were completed a year earlier. The Pinehurst Way NE bike lane was completed in 2015, a year early):

bmpimplementationplanmarch2015-16-labelThen here’s the dramatically-cut version released in spring 2016:

2016bmpimpplanfinal16-labelAnd here are the projects in the spring 2016 version that are not complete as of New Year’s Day 2017 (note that the two northernmost projects are in construction):

2016bmpimpplanfinal16-delays-label

screen-shot-2017-01-04-at-7-01-07-pm

2016 bike plan progress as of January 4, from SDOT.

Some delays are going to happen. That’s just how public projects go. But the city acknowledges that it failed to have other projects designed and ready to take the place of delayed projects.

“We recognize projects get delayed for various reasons and to that end, are planning and designing additional 2017 and 2018 projects to prepare for schedule risks,” said Mah. “By planning and designing more mileage then we can accommodate delays in some projects and move enough corridors forward to make up for delays in others.”

2016 originally had few neighborhood projects because the year was going to focus on finally creating a connected skeleton network of protected bike lanes downtown. This was a great plan, which had hosted a very positive and well-attended open house in summer of 2015 and was politically primed to ride the wave of popular support from the Move Seattle vote.

But instead, Mayor Murray’s SDOT stopped the Center City Bike Network plan, citing the need to create a Center City Mobility Plan first. After public outcry over the delay, Mayor Murray’s SDOT committed to the City Council in May 2016 that the Center City Mobility Plan would free the downtown bike plan in July. They just needed to complete a quick study first.

The mayor and SDOT broke this promise.

As of January 2017, the Center City Mobility Plan has been rebranded the “ONE Center City Plan,” and there are still no plans to build the downtown bike network beyond a previously-planned (and genuinely awesome) Belltown extension of 2nd Ave and a delayed section of 7th Ave (which is good, but only serves one direction and won’t connect to 2nd Ave or Broadway).

“Other key corridors are being incorporated into options the ONE Center City Plan will share this spring,” said SDOT spokesperson Norm Mah when asked about the downtown bike network delays. “We anticipate meeting our five-year goal of delivering a network by 2020, pending funding availability.”

But it wasn’t originally a five-year goal, it was a one-year goal. And that year just ended.

Perhaps it’s worth rereading this paragraph from our April 2016 post on the bike plan cuts:

Does the mayor really want to delay these projects until he’s running a campaign? And if these projects get delayed even further than that, all the people who worked their asses off to help pass Move Seattle aren’t going to show up to support leaders who dropped the ball.

There has never been a better time to build a connected network of downtown bike lanes than this moment right now. As Mayor Murray himself told his SDOT Director during a recent talk with Janette Sadik-Khan: “Don’t fuck it up.”

The delays in 2016 have now put Mayor Murray on the spot. He either needs to take bold action on safe streets downtown during an election year or risk losing the safe streets movement’s support in November. Seattle needs a mayor who is ready to take action to make streets safer and connect the city’s fragmented bike network.

In other words, he’s on the verge of fucking it up.

But as Murray himself proved back in 2014, it’s not too late to get back on track. We need year-one Mayor Murray, who lit a fire under SDOT and delivered the 2nd Ave protected bike lane in just six months. This effort revolutionized biking downtown and set the stage for a network of comfortable and safe bike lanes. But more than two years later it remains disconnected from all other bike routes in the city.

Mayor Murray can repeat that success in 2017. He could direct SDOT to connect 2nd Ave to Westlake, Broadway, Dearborn (and, thus, the I-90 Trail and southend bike routes), and the trail to West Seattle. These are all ambitious-but-achievable projects guaranteed to yield huge results.

But if he tries to push this work off another year, there are a lot of very active and engaged residents in every Seattle neighborhood who are still smarting from last year’s bike plan whiplash who will be looking for a leader who can follow-through.

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16 Responses to 2016 was the year of bike plan delays, will 2017 be any better?

  1. Chamois Davis Jr. says:

    Being a career politician I’m sure Mayor Murray will throw just enough scraps out to get re-elected. Makes me miss the progressive outsider we had in McGinn, who actually rode a bicycle as a choice.
    Sad!

  2. v.a. says:

    “Mayor Murray can repeat that success in 2017. He could direct SDOT to connect 2nd Ave to Westlake, Broadway, Dearborn (and, thus, the I-90 Trail and southend bike routes), and the trail to West Seattle. These are all ambitious-but-achievable projects guaranteed to yield huge results.”
    He could, but he won’t. Because why? He already made you all vote and pay. Now the money can be spent however he chooses. Definitely not building protected bike lanes…

  3. Andres Salomon says:

    Note that of the north end projects, Banner Way hasn’t started construction yet. And Meridian, while it has been striped, still doesn’t have flex posts installed on the protected sections yet; so it’s incomplete.

    And Roosevelt Way still isn’t fully opened yet; the section between NE 42nd and the University Bridge are still closed for construction, with bikes being detoured into the 2 (very much open) general purpose travel lanes.

    • Tim F says:

      I haven’t ridden it recently, but the driveway crossings on the short/truncated/disconnected Pinehurst Way PBL were still in the process of being marked and painted throughout Summer 2016, even though it looked completed on those maps. There was an obligatory missing segment at the Hazel Wolf K-8 construction site, of course. Still I’m hoping that a proper greenway connection can be made to Victory Heights, Lake City and Olympic Hills (via 115th, and 25th, for example – the bike lane on 125th is not All Ages/Abilities). Also the remaining few blocks to the Northgate Transit Center should be connected up. There’s a Transit-Oriented Development plan at 100th/103rd and the Roosevelt HCT plan had bike access in that area even if the bus route is being truncated further South.

      The 39th Avenue greenway north extension didn’t have full speed humps and signage well into 2016 either, although that was an improvement that I personally found very useful when it did get done. It also shows up as already existing on the 2016 maps rather than delayed/in progress.

  4. Dave F says:

    Adding to this farce, the city’s capital projects dashboard says projects are “100%” on projects are on schedule, including the long delayed Westlake trail.

    https://capitalprojects.seattle.gov/#/

    SDOT has massaged the metrics so much that it actually believes everything is on time.

  5. Mark h says:

    Career politicians don’t make things happen. They focus on reelection. Always.

  6. JAT says:

    Well, if the crappy downhill westbound bike lanes from Admiral Junction down to Alki (while the uphill westbound bike lane on Admiral peters out into worn sharrows exactly where the road gets dangerous at the lookout) are anything to go by, it certainly won’t get “better.”

    • Nate Todd says:

      Here Here JAT, that downhill lane is the worst paved section of the road, zig zags back and forth, every time I ride it I feel like I am going to die!

  7. Pablo96 says:

    I’m proud to have voted “no” on Move Seattle, I have never seen thousands of suckers who have lived here a handful of years or less believe Ed Murray was going to lift a pinky finger for bikes. It is stunning to see something like Move Seattle pass when you read the fine print. But the icing on the cake is the self-proclaimed “progressive agenda” of the career politicians in Seattle.

    You keep voting for them, you keep bending over and taking it. Vote “no” on politicians that pander to low-hanging votes for the sake of protecting a minority of taxpaying citizens.

  8. DOUG. says:

    Poor Ed Murray.

    He wanted nothing more than to wind up in Washington D.C., so he ran for mayor to get broader name recognition so he could take Jim McDermott’s seat in Congress once ol’ Jim decided to retire. But Brady Walkinshaw threw his hat in the ring and Jim decided to retire a little too early for poor Ed Murray to bail on the mayorship.

    Ed Murray never wanted to be mayor. He’s not an executive. He is far too shallow and dumb to actually LEAD. But now he’s stuck in that position. And we’re stuck with him. He’s a terrible mayor.

  9. Fred Chamois says:

    I’m a cynic on this stuff, especially when it comes to the south side getting anything worthwhile built, ever. However…

    I’m optimistic that the mayor and SDOT could be brought around to our way of thinking and speed up these projects.

    We use ‘career politician’ as a perjorative. But skilled politicians respond to political pressure, no? So, if we want this stuff built, we need to create some political pressure.

    There are enough of us, 5% or Seattle, maybe, and we are politically engaged enough that we could stir up some pressure.

    To make it happen, we’d need leadership -i nominate Tom. It would be helpful if the bike advisory board would fight, for once. Be great if Cascade and the bike shops joined in. Get the weekly rags on board, maybe even the Times.

    and us bikeres would have to care more abou t the big fight than about our own, parochial neighborhood projects, it’s not enough to troll from the comments section of a bike blog (I’m looking g at me here.)

    We could band together, get the downtown projects built, push back against the waterfront expressway, challenge Portland for leadership of best bikeing city…

    Not saying it will happen, saying it could.

  10. Roberto says:

    Don’t blame me…I voted for McGinn. Sorry he was too “confrontational” for Seattle folks, but maybe that’s precisely what this passive-aggressive city needs.

    • William says:

      When was the last time Seattle had a mayor who arrived in the job with proven executive skills – not Murray, not McGinn, not Nickels …

  11. Breadbaker says:

    In fairness, they recently added stop signs along the north-south avenues in Wallingford where they cross the greenway, which makes the greenway a lot safer as you right east-west past all the intersections. Of course, one might argue the greenway wasn’t “completed” until those appeared.

    On my commute, the biggest issue has been the impossible-to-guess obstacles that change daily on Dexter between Mercer and Denny, particularly the last couple of blocks northbound when the bike lane disappears due to construction with essentially no warning and there can easily be 20 bikes weaving in and out of traffic. “Complete streets” are not automatically repealed because there’s construction, particularly on one of the busiest commute routes in the city. But the Murray Administration has continually used single “bikes merge with traffic” signs as the only accommodation for cyclists whenever there is construction.

    • Kirk says:

      I saw a “autos merge with bikes sign this morning.” Of course, it was due to construction and a lane closed; people driving had to use the bike lane.

  12. Outsider says:

    Murray seems to have been just progressive enough to make the conservatives (such as they are in Seattle, at least) angry, while not doing much of anything to actually get progressives excited. See HALA (angering the conservative NIMBY crowd), homeless camp evictions (angering homeless advocates, and also getting into a childish texting fight with Councilwoman Bagshaw in the process), neighborhood RV safe zones (there’s the NIMBY crowd again), dismantling the District Councils (pulling the rug out from experienced neighborhood activists), advocating for the $160 million new police precinct (angering social justice progressives) while not having the actual leadership skills to push it through (angering law and order types, while making himself look ineffective), as well as his history of yelling at Stranger reporters (which just makes him look kinda Trumpish). Then add in the Westlake and 2nd Ave cycle tracks (making car and boat people mad) while rescinding his promises to develop an actual, connected downtown bike network (making bicycle commuters angry, as summarized above).

    I can’t see how this guy has any supporters left.

    Are there any viable, progressive candidates planning a run this fall? Does Brady Walkinshaw have the name recognition now to make a serious run after his near-miss congressional race?

    I’d really love the chance to vote for someone else this fall.

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