This month SDOT says they are starting work on an extension of the West Seattle Neighborhood Greenway, which will finally connect the current greenway in the south end of the neighborhood with Alaska Junction. Most notably, the project will bring a major redesign to one of the area’s most problematic intersections, 35th Ave SW and SW Graham Street.
Map of the ultimate West Seattle Greenway, with the 2021 portion colored in green (click to enlarge).
Several high profile traffic deaths have occurred at the intersection of 35th and Graham. It’s been seven years since James St. Clair was struck and killed while attempting to cross the intersection on foot, and fourteen years since Susanne Scaringi was killed while biking across it. There’s not really any good excuse as to why safety improvements at this spot have taken so long to get constructed.
This project was most recently slated to go in last year, but was delayed due to “administrative challenges, most notably waiting longer than anticipated to receive the final approval for grant funding”. I asked SDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson if the new signal here would be a priority due to past issues here, and he told me, “We haven’t determined the construction schedule or order in which improvements will be installed. Safety will definitely be one of the factors which we consider.”
Currently 35th and Graham is a huge intersection to get across.
The planned upgrade to 35th/Graham includes a signal for traffic on 35th, marked crosswalks and a green crossbike for traffic on Graham, and traffic restrictions that essentially amount to a diverter- drivers will not be able to go straight across the intersection on Graham Street, and a left turn from 35th will only be allowed onto eastbound Graham, not westbound.
Plans for the greenway crossing at 35th and Graham include a new signal and diverter.
The entire extension of the Greenway will be installed on SW Graham Street, 38th Ave SW, SW Findlay Street, and 42nd Ave SW where it will terminate at SW Edmunds Street. The route only includes one other signalized crossing, at Findlay and 39th. At Edmunds, the existing four-way stop will be upgraded with new marked crosswalks.
42nd and Edmunds will get marked crosswalks.
The end of the West Seattle greenway is ultimately envisioned in the Admiral District, and SDOT currently has funds to design and plan that extension to the north but not to construct it. Heading through Alaska Junction on 42nd, traffic volumes on the street are higher than they would be on a normal neighborhood greenway, so the street treatments will have to be a bit more robust.
Designs from 2018 show a few different options to make the Junction segment more welcoming to people on bikes, the tradeoffs between them being parking, so we should expect that discussion to restart.
Options being considered for 42nd Ave SW in the junction.
A portion of this existing greenway in High Point is currently functioning as a Stay Healthy Street, with pedestrians and people biking more able to utilize the street space. In the coming weeks we’ll learn if SDOT has selected this route, serving one of the most diverse areas of West Seattle, to be one of the twenty miles of permanent Stay Healthy Streets and to get the permanent traffic diversion improvements that are going to come along with that. Ideally all neighborhood greenways would enable users to feel as comfortable using them as a Stay Healthy street does.
You can read more about the plans for the 2021 expansion of the West Seattle neighborhood greenway at SDOT’s blog.
The painted bike lane is now in place on the Dr. Jose P Rizal Bridge on 12th Ave S, a big construction milestone in the 12th Ave Vision Zero project, which is creating a bike connection between Little Saigon and the Mountains to Sound Trail at the north end of Beacon Hill. Still to come: plastic delineator posts in the buffer between the bike lane and the other travel lane.
Still to come: posts.
With the bike lane comes the vanquishment of one of Seattle’s most treacherous slip lanes, at Golf Drive on the west side of the street. As of this week, it is no more, with drivers directed to make a square right turn at the pedestrian island. This should make everyone not in a car more comfortable at this intersection.
Golf drive slip lane no more!
The biggest thing left to complete is work at north end of the PBL, at King Street. The curbs are being rebuilt at two of the corners right now to extend them out, at the spots where people biking would wait for the light to change across 12th, providing a protected spot at sidewalk level to wait for the light.
The protection for people riding bikes at the intersection of 12th and King.
The left turn lane from northbound 12th onto King Street toward downtown is being eliminated, with the turn lane and a protected turn phase being moved one block north to Weller St- that one’s already in place. That gets rid of a dangerous turn movement at the connection between protected bike lane on 12th and “neighborhood greenway” on King St.
Plans for S King Street and 12th Ave S.
As of now, there are no plans to extend the bike lane any further north than King Street, despite the high number of people biking who use that route.
Expect to see work being done in the coming weeks to add the plastic posts, and finish the work in Little Saigon, but the lane is open, and it’s currently getting a lot of use as people biking who previously had to contend with impatient drivers on the bridge now have their own space.
Later this year we’ll get more details on the next phase of this protected connection, the Beacon Hill bike route planned for construction in 2023.
Rep. Jake Fey, chair of the House Transportation Committee
Correction: a previous version of this post listed the timeframe of this package at 12 years instead of 16.
Yesterday the Democratic caucus in the Washington State House announced their proposal for the next major state transportation package. Their proposal would raise over $26 billion dollars over a sixteen-year period and include a brand-new carbon fee, the proceeds of which would be directed to a host of “carbon reduction initiatives”, including unprecedented state spending on multimodal transportation.
The proposed spending includes:
$267 million for direct bike & pedestrian projects
$318 million for bike & pedestrian grants to local governments
$290 million for Safe Routes to School grants
$59 million in Complete Streets grants
$333 million in transit grants
$800 million in bus & bus facility grants
$960 million in special needs transit grants
$240 million in rural mobility transit grants
$200 million in green transit grants
$80 million in tribal transit grants
That works out to over $80 million for every 2-year state budget in active transportation grants alone distributed to counties and cities statewide, to say nothing of the grants for public transit. This would amount to a big shift in transportation spending away from being primarily focused on highways and ferries alone.
The direct investments at the state level in bike & pedestrian projects should hopefully take some of the recommendations of the state’s Active Transportation plan and put them into action. You can read a full breakdown of the known spend plan here.
At the same time that a progressive carbon tax is proposed to fund projects that will decarbonize and electrify transportation, the package also proposes a black box of $6.7 billion in new “state & local projects”. These are likely new highway projects, but the only project we know about for certain right now is the proposed replacement of the I-5 bridge between Washington and Oregon, which would receive $1 billion. The total $3.2 billion price tag for that project is so high in part because of the amount of added capacity that is likely to come with it. The rest of the projects in the black box are expected to be negotiated via the legislative process later this session.
The proposal would also direct a much higher amount of money toward preserving and maintaining current transportation infrastructure than we’ve seen in recent years, with $4.6 spent to reduce the maintenance deficit over 16 years. It would also spend $3.5 billion to fully remove fish culverts statewide in compliance with a court order.
The funding for highway expansion and maintenance would be funded by a gas tax increase, bringing Washington up to 85 cents per gallon, the highest in the country. The proposal would also index the gas tax to the consumer price index, allowing it to better keep up with inflation.
This transportation package takes Senator Rebecca Saldaña’s proposed package from the State Senate side, which would make $2 billion in multimodal investments over twelve years, and takes it to the next level. But it may run into opposition from other Democrats in the Senate who want to see a transportation package focused even more around highway expansion. But this is clearly the new bar for a progressive transportation package, at least on the House side- one that recognizes we need to massively scale up our multimodal investments. In the coming weeks we’ll see how much traction the proposal is able to gain.
Representative Sharon Shewmake, 42nd Legislative District
A bill introduced into the Washington House of Representatives by Representative Sharon Shewmake (D-Bellingham) would exempt electric bikes, and up to $200 in bike accessories, from state sales taxes. HB 1330 would not apply to non-electric bikes, using the definition of ebike in state law, “bicycle with two or three wheels, a saddle, fully operative pedals for human propulsion, and an electric motor. The electric-assisted bicycle’s electric motor must have a power output of no more than seven hundred fifty watts”.
On Twitter, Rep. Shewmake explained her reasoning for confining the legislation to ebikes:
“My thinking was e-bikes are emerging tech and a car replacement. Haul kids, handle hills, more groceries! We give tax breaks to EVs but not e-bikes which are cheaper, don’t take up as much space, use less electricity, are FUN and a LOT cheaper but still suffer from sticker shock.”
As written, the exemption would take effect on August 1st of this year, and expire in 2027 or if $500,000 in sales taxes have been waived under the provision, whichever comes first. However, there’s also a provision that signals the intent of the legislature to extend the exemption if it’s successful, specifically if sales of ebikes go up 25% or more compared to 2020 levels.
Bike accessories that qualify for the exemption (up to $200) are defined as “cycling accessories commonly associated with bicycle ownership including, but not limited to, helmets, bicycle locks, fenders, lights, and a bicycle service or repair plan, purchased as part of the same transaction as an electric bicycle”.
This bill would be an easier pathway to providing a state-supported boost to ebike ownership than a frequently-discussed rebate program (which we should also be pursuing). The transportation package floated during the 2020 session actually included a special sales tax on bikes, which would match a similar fee passed in Oregon in 2017, but so far we’ve seen no indication that a transportation package in either legislative house will include a special bike tax.
To stand a chance getting through the legislature, the bill currently needs co-sponsors. Contact your local House members to ask them to add their name to HB 1330.
SDOT has released a study looking at how to improve access for people walking and biking around two coming light rail stations at the north end of the city. The station in Shoreline at 148th Street is currently planned to open with the Lynnwood Link extension in 2024, and the planned infill station at 130th Street was originally scheduled for 2031, but this year the Sound Transit board will be voting on whether to move that up to 2024 so that they open at the same time.
This is the result of community engagement since 2019 being headed up by Seattle’s Office of Planning and Community Development, in conjunction with land use changes in the surrounding neighborhoods.
The study includes a current map of “level of traffic stress” for people biking around the vicinity of both stations. It has a lot of red, including a segment of pretty much every east-west route someone would use to access either station. The only separated bike facilities are the Interurban trail, pretty far away from the I-5 corridor where the train stations are, and a loosely protected bike lane on Pinehurst Way. The red on the map underscores the fact that there isn’t much of a bike network, and that we have a lot of work to do.
“Level of traffic stress” map for the area around these two light rail stations. (Click to enlarge)
This gets ahead of the planning for station access at these stations, but the projects “will still need to compete for transportation funding resources” from sources like the next transportation levy (starting in 2025, if it passes) or Sound Transit’s station access fund. The study also says “we encourage the community to pursue other available funding sources identified in the City of Seattle’s Community Resource Guide”, aka finding your own funding sources to improve access to light rail stations.
All of these projects will be built on top of the improvements coming directly at the stations themselves. NE 130th Street station is currently planned to have a ten foot “shared use path” directly outside the station running along 5th Ave NE between 130th and 145th Street. This will be the only pedestrian access between these two streets except for the pedestrian trail that exists on the edge of Jackson Park golf course, which is not fully accessible. The I-5 side of 5th Ave NE will not have sidewalks; riders who get off the trail will meet a dead-end at the north end of the station exit.
Planned “shared use path” on 5th Ave NE in front of 130th Street Station
Shoreline is currently planning to build a pedestrian and bicycle only bridge across I-5 to connect with the station at NE 148th Street. That bridge will connect via trail with 1st Ave NE but it doesn’t look like there will be any bike facilities on that street, with riders directed to the “off-corridor bike network” in Shoreline, aka neighborhood greenways. 5th Ave NE directly outside the Shoreline station also won’t have any bike facilities, according to the most recent plans.
Planned bike & pedestrian bridge across I-5 at NE 148th Street in Shoreline
As for the study itself, the projects that were ranked highest in the study are likeliest to be prioritized, tier 1 projects were defined as “provid[ing] direct access to the future stations; the rest of the network builds on these projects.” In other words, if these projects aren’t complete or in progress by the time the station opens, we will have missed a big opportunity.
So what are the highest-ranked projects in the study?
Improve the I-5 crossing at 130th Street with a shared use path
Current state of N 130th Street
Unsurprisingly, one of the top improvements here is to remake the bridge over I-5 at 130th Street which is currently four travel lanes and fairly narrow sidewalks. The recommended treatment here is a shared use path on the north side of the street (the light rail station will be completely on the north side).
A shared use path is proposed for the north side of NE 130th Street. (Click to enlarge)
Extending the shared-use path all the way to Aurora Ave is looked at as a separate project, but a neighborhood greenway on N 128th Street is also cited as an alternative. “This option would reduce conflicts between transit and bikes on N 130th St” is perhaps the wrong way to think about that.
145th Street is a state highway between Aurora Ave and Lake City Way, SR-523. Shoreline is taking the lead on street improvements on the corridor, with the latest proposal adding two roundabouts to the intersections on either side of I-5 at 145th, 1st and 5th Ave. The only bike facility currently proposed for the corridor would be a short stretch of shared-use path on the north side of the bridge over the interstate.
Current early plans for I-5 at 145th Street. (Click to enlarge)
The top rated projects on the Seattle side for 145th are almost entirely all crossing improvements. Improvements to the sidewalk adjacent to Jackson Park golf course were also included- there the sidewalk is frequently encroached on by vegetation and utility poles, and it’s just an unpleasant place to walk. That sidewalk is the only way to complete a full loop around the golf course.
Jackson Park trail improvements
On the southern end of Jackson Park golf course, the trail cutting east to west will be a frequently used pathway for people accessing the light rail station at 130th, with or without improvements to it. The most likely improvements are to widen the existing trail that connects with 5th Ave NE. But SDOT is also considering reclaiming right-of-way that doesn’t currently exist along 10th Ave NE to create a connection between Jackson Park and 130th Street. This could include neighborhood greenway elements and separated pedestrian facilities.
A number of projects could improve access to 130th Street Station via the Jackson Park trail. (Click to enlarge)
NE 125th Street and Roosevelt Way redesign
Roosevelt Way NE is a diagonal street connecting directly between 125th and 130th Street at the proposed light rail station. 125th currently has paint bike lanes, but they disappear at Roosevelt Way (as well as in the other direction before Lake City Way).
NE 125th Street currently has painted bike lanes only.
This project would install protected bike lanes between 125th and 130th, and take the number of general purpose lanes on Roosevelt down from four to three. This would really improve bike access between the station and the heart of Lake City.
Protected bike lanes could be added to Roosevelt Way NE. (Click to enlarge)
Seattle is really good at creating plans, and there’s a lot of great ideas in this study for making it easier to get around the vicinity of these light rail stations, at least one of which is opening in just a few years. Identifying funding sources is pretty important to getting these actually built, but it’s likely there will be a lot of competition for those pots of money when they become available. Most of these projects are pretty essential in getting the most out of the billion-dollar light rail investments that our region is making, and we should treat them that way.
You can read the entire Station Access Study which includes many more proposed projects at SDOT’s blog.
As of this past Monday morning, SDOT has turned on the automatic cameras that are able to ticket drivers $75 who aren’t authorized to use the Spokane Street drawbridge between 5 am and 9pm. This is great news for transit riders who cross the bridge and other essential workers allowed to use it. That day also marked seven months since the law the state legislature authorized allowing automatic enforcement of restricted lanes went into effect, and over nine months since it was signed by the Governor.
The pilot program also allows Seattle to issue automatic tickets to drivers who block an intersection or a crosswalk at up to twenty locations “where the Seattle Department of Transportation would most like to address safety concerns”, per the ordinance that the city council passed last year. But the city can only pilot those cameras until June 30 2023, meaning less than 30 months remain in the pilot, and we still don’t know what that list of camera locations is going to be.
Mercer and 9th Ave N is a busy bike corridor that is frequently impacted by drivers blocking the box.
SDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson told me that the agency hasn’t determined a list of camera locations yet, nor was he able to provide an estimate of when any crosswalk enforcing camera locations might be announced.
When the law authorizing a pilot program was before the legislature, a large portion of the contingent that showed up to support it was pushing for that crosswalk enforcement element, to improve safety for everyone and improve mobility for people with disabilities for whom blocked crosswalks often mean harrowing detours. Without those voices working together with transit advocates pushing for the tools to enforce bus-only lanes, it’s likely there would be no pilot program at all.
The legislature had been considering an automatic camera bill with a crosswalk component since January of 2019, with a transit lane bill also before the legislature in the 2018 session and discussed by legislators well before that. It is surprising that a list of locations was not ready to go.
The pilot program requires a report to be delivered to the legislature by June 30 of next year. Assuming a few months of process and outreach for a brand new type of enforcement camera, it’s possible that the initial report may barely include a year of data on crosswalk enforcement. The renewal of this program, or its being made permanent, would be one necessary step in reducing the role of in-person traffic enforcement. Without making this change permanent, Seattle can only enforce red lights, railroad crossings, and speeding outside schools during specific times with automated cameras. But first, the pilot program needs to be successful. For that to happen, it needs to begin.
The Washington State House of Representatives Transportation Committee convened for the first time this session on Tuesday and WSDOT head Roger Millar was there to lead the members through a presentation, which was titled “Return on Investment”.
At the beginning of the talk, he made sure to emphasize that the legislature calls the shots and selects the projects, not WSDOT. But the framing of the presentation was focused on what kinds of investments might produce a higher return for the state as a whole. And he showed the committee a slide that broke down different categories where those costs are currently playing out.
Safety was the biggest impact shown. The annual cost of traffic crashes that happen because our transportation system isn’t safe enough was pegged in his data at $14.7 billion per year, which is over four times the actual budget of WSDOT itself. And it’s over 3.2 times as much as the cost attributed to “congestion” which the legislature seems much more preoccupied with.
Safety impacts cost Washingtonians $14.7 billion per year compared to the $3.6 billion WSDOT budget
“If we could drive these numbers down by increasing what we spend on transportation, we could have that increased investment and actually save hardworking families and hardworking businesses some money on the way”, he told the committee members. Of course, we could save much more than money by improving safety in the transportation system, we could save lives and prevent devastating life-altering injuries. It’s actually absurd to put this side-by-side with a so-called cost to sitting in traffic, but given the legislature’s track record clearly necessary.
What Millar did not do is directly connect the dots on safety, but his agency is doing that right now, in part with the Active Transportation Plan. Spending $283 million on adding speed treatments to every single state highway through a population center would save lives. So would spending $165 million to improve safety at every single highway ramp in the state. Or $1.2 billion to add full pedestrian facilities along state highways.
Millar’s speech to the committee comes at a time when, according to slides in his presentation, Washington is set to spend more money maintaining and expanding the state highway than it ever has before. This was conveyed in a chart showing highway construction heading toward a peak of nearly $5 billion in the next biennium as so many different highway expansion projects are set to be under construction at the same time.
Washington is set to spend the most on highways, ever.
Secretary Millar also tried to make the argument against highway expansion from the perspective of jobs creation, citing numbers showing that bicycle projects create 46% more jobs per million dollars spent than car-only road projects, and that public transit projects create 31% more jobs.
Clearly leadership at the state’s transportation agency wants to take the state in the right direction but, again, they don’t choose the projects to build. Roger Millar’s presentation this week should set the stage for making smarter investments than we have made in the past, with Senator Saldaña’s Evergreen Package an obvious vehicle for that, but only if we are ready to push against the status quo.
Aurora Ave N near the location where 92% of drivers were recorded going over the speed limit
A speed study conducted by the Seattle Department of Transportation early last October showed that 92% of drivers using Aurora Ave N at N 112th Street, where the speed limit is 35 mph, were exceeding that speed limit, with 66% of drivers going 5 mph or more over the limit and more than one in four drivers exceeding the speed limit by 10 mph or more.
Another speed study conducted last August further south at N 68th Street, just south of a zone with a 30 mph speed limit, showed slightly lower speeds despite a speed limit of 40 mph at that spot. There 19% of drivers were clocked at going over 45 mph with 26% of drivers recorded at that speed up at 112th.
Most of Aurora Ave N has a speed limit of 40 mph, with segments signed for 30 and 35 mph in the most dense commercial areas along the state highway. In late 2019, Mayor Durkan announced that nearly every single arterial in the city would have its speed limit lowered to 25 mph, but a state highway like Aurora Ave requires the city to coordinate any speed limit changes with the state and so far we haven’t heard any indication it will be moving to lower speed limits here.
As the speed studies show, simply lowering the speed limit will likely not do much to influence driver speed; more comprehensive design changes will be required. But the problem is urgent: in the past two-years, ten people have died on Aurora Avenue in Seattle, most of them people walking along the street. Statistically, a pedestrian struck by a vehicle traveling 40 mph has a one in ten chance of surviving the crash.
SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe responded early this morning after several North Seattle state legislators in recent weeks indicated support for changes to improve safety on Aurora but pointed toward a need for SDOT to take the lead on those changes. He was responding to Lee Bruch, an outspoken advocate for a safer Aurora Ave. His response:
“It is great to hear about the State-level support for continued investment in Aurora. We continue to work on small-scale changes to address the most challenging locations, but there is a limit to what results those can bear. Some planning and project definition work is really the next step for us on those larger investments, which is reflected in that grant you cite below. We face major investment needs in safety and infrastructure across the city and will need partnerships at all levels to bring those to fruition with the urgency needed. The planning work will better define what comes next while we continue to work on smaller steps to improve safety for all users.”
The City has applied for a state grant that would fund most of a $2 million study to determine changes to the street. It is frustrating to have to wait for a new study to be able to implement design changes to lower speeds on a street that has had the same problems for decades, but if that’s what’s necessary to ensure that the changes are comprehensive, so be it. Aurora Ave was just repaved for its entire length, which would have been a perfect chance to implement changes, but not even sidewalks could be added where they are currently missing.
Bruch told me today he was positive about Director Zimbabwe’s response: “I agree with him on the necessity to do long range planning”, but told me there were a lot of spot improvements that could be made along the corridor. One of those is a possible expanded sidewalk protected bike a jersey barrier near Green Lake where a UW student was struck by a car in 2019. He also pointed toward the closure of the slip lane off Aurora onto West Green Lake Drive as an example of where obvious improvements could be made.
Slip lane at West Green Lake Drive and Aurora Ave N
Ultimately, Aurora Avenue needs to be redesigned for lower speeds along its entire length. While it’s true the city faces a lot of need for safety improvements as Director Zimbabwe indicates, Aurora Ave sees a huge proportion of the injuries and fatalities on Seattle’s streets, and to date it doesn’t seem like the City is treating it that way.
Today we are circling back to some news that we missed from last autumn. SDOT has announced they will be making big upgrades to the Queen Anne approach of the Thomas Street overpass connection to Myrtle Edwards Park and the Elliott Bay Trail this year. This improvement comes as part of the package of transportation changes planned with the opening of Climate Pledge Arena this fall.
After public comments supported the option allocating the most space for walking and biking here, SDOT will convert the entire western half of 3rd Ave W north of the overpass to an extension of the trail, with delineated space for two directions of bike travel created out of one half of the current street, turning the street into a one-way for vehicle traffic northbound. This is how the street basically operates now anyway, with most traffic going west on Harrison instead of south on 3rd to access Elliott Ave.
SDOT’s rendering of 3rd Ave W looking toward the overpass.
The southbound side of the street will be entirely converted to walking and biking space.
This will alleviate a big pinch point to a great connection- currently people biking over from the waterfront get to decide between biking on a sidewalk that’s not in great condition or taking the lane on 3rd Ave W, where drivers heading off of Elliott Ave frequently exceed the speed limit.
Bird’s eye view of the planned improvements.
SDOT also announced they will be installing a protected bike lane on W Harrison Street which will connect to the planned two-way PBL on Queen Anne Avenue N, but only in the uphill eastbound direction. People biking westbound will be in a travel lane that SDOT will be adding speed cushions to. SDOT is also adding four new all-way stops in the area which should slow traffic as well.
Map showing the planned connections between the Thomas Street overpass and the Seattle Center bike facilities.
SDOT had originally envisioned bike traffic using either Thomas or Republican Street to connect to the overpass, but Harrison makes much more sense given the street grades in the neighborhood.
The overpass connection is one spoke of the bike network improvements coming with the arena, the other main one being a connection with the 2nd Avenue protected bike lane via 1st Ave and Broad Street. Thomas Street on the other side of the Seattle Center was another improvement, but that has been put on hold. As for the disappointing news about the Denny Way terminus of the 2nd Ave PBL, we will be bringing you additional info about that soon.
On the other side of Myrtle Edwards, any bike connection between the Elliott Bay Trail and the planned waterfront bike trail remains unfunded as the rest of the waterfront’s reconfiguration moves forward.
But the Thomas Street overpass spot improvements and the connecting one-way PBL are definitely something to look forward to this year.
Plymouth Housing’s permanent supportive housing building at 501 Rainier Ave S.
“Not accomplishing anything” is how Tim Parham, the Director of Real Estate Development at Plymouth Housing Group described the current requirement to include a secure bike parking room in all of the buildings it constructs as Permanent Supportive Housing. Plymouth Housing Group is one of the largest providers of very low-income housing in Seattle and maintains 17 buildings with over 1,000 residents.
What exactly is Permanent Supportive Housing? From King County: “Permanent supportive housing is permanent housing for a household that is homeless on entry, where the individual or a household member has a condition of disability, such as mental illness, substance abuse, chronic health issues, or other conditions that create multiple and serious ongoing barriers to housing stability”.
With Seattle and King County now in a homelessness State of Emergency for over five years, building as much housing like this as fast as possible should remain our goal. In 2020, the Office of Housing announced $60 million to be invested in Permanent Supportive Housing to build nearly 600 units, but thousands of people currently living on Seattle’s streets need units like these. Public dollars get combined with private ones to create more housing than direct city investment, but the projects still have to go through most of the same bureaucratic hoops new market-rate development does, even as it saves lives that may have been lost if people continue to live on the street.
District 7 Councilmember Andrew Lewis has proposed a package of land use reforms intended to speed up, and reduce the per-unit costs on, construction of PSH. As a whole, the package of changes could reduce costs for each individual unit of housing by over $47,000, or almost 15%. One of these is the exemption from the bicycle parking requirements that normally apply to multifamily residential development.
Tim Parham told me that an average bike room in a building being built for Permanent Supportive Housing costs Plymouth around $300,000- essentially the cost of a single unit of housing that could change a person’s life. And that bike parking room often takes up some of the most valuable (and therefore most costly) real estate in the entire building- space that could be used for a nurse’s station, for example, or a community room.
He explained that the demographics of the people that Permanent Supportive Housing is intended for tend to skew heavily away from utilizing secure bike parking rooms. If someone living in PSH does have a bike, “it tends to be the most valuable thing they own”, which makes them likely to want to keep their bike in their unit. He told the city council’s Select Committee on Homelessness Strategies and Investments that Plymouth is moving toward including hooks for bike storage within the units themselves. At that meeting, Derrick Belgarde of the Chief Seattle Club also echoed the frustration with having to balance a bike parking room against other amenities that they might want to be providing when the proportion of people who would ultimately use that bike room remains relatively low.
I am focusing on the bike parking aspect here for obvious reasons, but the legislation would also remove Permanent Supportive Housing buildings from all design review, also a prime cause for delay in getting housing built. You can read about all aspects of the legislation here. The city council’s select committee on homelessness met to discuss the bill in mid-December and will be picking it up again with another meeting later this month; there will be a public hearing on the proposal on Wednesday January 27, specific meeting details still pending. Now is the time to contact your councilmembers about supporting this proposal that could save lives.
The legal fight between the City of Seattle and the coalition of Ballard businesses fighting the completion of the Burke Gilman trail’s Missing Link on Shilshole Ave NW moved ahead Friday morning as oral arguments were heard in the Washington Division I Court of Appeals. This marks the latest legal step in a process that has been going on for over eleven years as the legal grounds that the “Ballard Coalition” are able to contest the validity of the City of Seattle’s process to construct the 1.4 mile missing segment become narrower and narrower.
WIthout the Missing Link, people biking on Shilshole continue to face dangerous conditions.
Matthew Cohen, the lawyer representing the Cascade Bicycle Club in the litigation on the side of the City, told me after the hearing that he was “hopeful” that a ruling would be in their favor and that “the City and Cascade have the better of the arguments”.
There are a lot of different issues that both parties are asking the appeals court to deal with in this case. The argument Friday primarily revolved around two of them. Perhaps the biggest one is a new issue that the City has raised in this appeal: that the Missing Link should never have been subject to SEPA review at all.
While still contending that “the FEIS adequately analyzed and disclosed the Project’s potential significant impacts”, the city cites the fact that in 2015, the City Council modified the city’s SEPA code to exempt all “addition of bicycle lanes, paths and facilities, and pedestrian walks and paths including sidewalk extensions”, including those to be constructed on private property. Previous designs for the Missing Link did include private easements, but the current design does not.
The Ballard coalition contends it is “far too late” to introduce this line of argument, a fact that Judge Stephen Dwyer, one of the judges hearing the appeal, pushed back on quite a bit, suggesting that “retroactivity” wasn’t even relevant in the case. If the project becomes exempt at any time during the process then that’s all that is relevant. But he also suggested the City had engaged in “subterfuge” by not bringing forward an argument that it was exempt under SEPA even as it moved forward with a full EIS. “You want us to take the hit for the city’s dirty deeds”, he said, suggesting that if the project was truly exempt then his hands would be tied.
The other major issue in the case is whether there has been a violation of the “appearance of fairness doctrine” when Seattle’s deputy Hearing Examiner at the time, Ryan Vancil, ruled against the Ballard Coalition in upholding the EIS while he was applying for the job of Hearing Examiner, which requires city council approval. Councilmember Rob Johnson participated in his job interview, and the Coalition notes he was “a well-known bicycle advocate”. (Many “well known bicycle advocates” don’t necessarily support the current proposed design for the Missing Link.) The Superior Court declined to take up this claim, noting that setting that precedent would “impose a presumption that would taint virtually all decision making by [the hearing examiner]”.
The Ballard Coalition also contends the City is in violation of a court order to not proceed with constructing any portion of the trail by constructing a portion on Market Street, but the City contends that the Market Street Multimodal improvements project, which rebuilt the street to include what will become the trail, has “independent utility”, which is certainly true.
There are other issues raised in the appeal on either side, and as we have seen in the past, a ruling against the City on any one of them would be enough to add additional years of delay to the project. The Ballard Coalition’s brief tells the court “this matter should be remanded to SDOT to prepare a new EIS, or in the alternative, remanded to the City for a new evidentiary hearing before a new Examiner”, which presumably would add years and set up the potential for further appeal.
For now, we wait for a ruling from the court of appeals, which has no deadline to be issued; the earliest we might expect it is probably late Spring. In the meantime, the public health hazard that is the current Missing Link continues. SDOT maintains a commitment to build the trail, but says they do not anticipate starting construction earlier than 2022.
An Abbreviated Timeline of Missing Link Litigation
2008: SDOT issued first SEPA Determination of Non-significance (DNS), Ballard coalition appeals.
2011: SDOT issued a revised DNS, also appealed.
2012: SDOT issued a third revised DNS, appealed. Seattle Hearing Examiner orders a full Environmental Impact Statement (EIS)
2017: SDOT issues full EIS, Ballard coalition appeals it.
2018: Seattle Hearing Examiner rules EIS adequate; Ballard Coalition appeals ruling to King County Superior Court, which rules that the EIS is almost entirely adequate but does not fully account for certain economic impacts.
2019: Both the Ballard Coalition and the City file an appeal in the Washington Court of Appeals. The City issues an addendum to the EIS which includes the requested economic analysis even as the City appeals that ruling.
Update: this post has been changed to clarify that any changes to Lake Washington Boulevard or Golden Gardens Park Road are not necessarily off the table but are not part of the permanent Stay Healthy Streets process.
A large majority of the membership of both the bicycle and pedestrian advisory boards on Wednesday night signaled to the Seattle Department of Transportation that they weren’t okay with a proposal to fund permanent improvements on 20 miles of Stay Healthy Streets by diverting funds from existing bike projects.
SDOT is asking to divert partial funding for 2.6 miles of neighborhood greenway projects, as we reported last month. The two boards asked the department to look for other funding sources. The decision ultimately rests with the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee, though presumably the opinion of the two modal boards will carry significant weight; the levy oversight committee will take up the issue in early February. The fate of the Stay Healthy Streets program if the request is denied is not yet clear.
In its presentation last night, SDOT’s neighborhood greenways program manager Summer Jawson, laid out the first steps that SDOT is taking this year to fulfill the promise made last summer to make twenty miles of Stay Healthy Streets permanent, but did not provide a huge amount of detail to the boards about what exactly those permanent improvements are going to look like. Those details will be worked out in through community outreach, she said. This was also another likely factor in the board’s vote not to okay the funding swap: it wasn’t entirely clear what the city will even be funding yet.
Ecoblocks, like the ones currently barricaded in front of two of Seattle’s police precincts, were suggested to be the most likely way that intersections along Stay Healthy Streets would receive protection. That’s likely to be the biggest line item for the projects.
Ecoblocks in front of the East Police Precinct.
The SDOT presentation included a variety of images of street treatments (most of which seem fairly temporary) and emphasized that they will be conducing more outreach than they “normally would do” on a neighborhood greenway project to receive a large amount of community buy-in to keep the program successful. The original Stay Healthy Streets, rolled out in the first month of the pandemic, were chosen as neighborhood greenways in part because some outreach had already been done when those facilities were installed.
Some concepts shown for permanent Stay Healthy Streets.
Jawson also announced that SDOT was prioritizing some new streets that have not yet been Stay Healthy Streets, including 0.7 miles in Georgetown, 0.4 miles in South Park (both neighborhoods currently dealing with a lot of cut-through traffic due to the West Seattle Bridge closure) and 0.1 miles in Little Brook in NE Seattle. These streets were prioritized based on concerns coming directly from community, she said. The South Park and Little Brook projects will include additional segments that only have neighborhood greenway treatments but aren’t Stay Healthy Streets.
In the next few months, SDOT will also be conducting community outreach to determine what the first current Stay Healthy Streets to be converted to permanent fixtures will look like. Those are the Greenwood SHS on 1st Ave NW, and the Alki Keep Moving Street on Beach Drive SW. Other Keep Moving Streets like Lake Washington Boulevard and Golden Gardens will not be considered for permanent status in the Stay Healthy Streets program, but may see changes via other avenues.
SDOT does appear to be moving fast to implement all of the 20 miles of permanent Stay Healthy Streets this year, but the potential roadblock on funding could slow them down.
SDOT’s current timeline for Stay Healthy Streets
Also included in the resounding vote by the joint pedestrian and bicycle advisory boards was a sentiment they sent to SDOT that the more intensive traffic diversion treatments being considered for Stay Healthy Streets should become the de facto baseline with all neighborhood greenway projects. There was a general consensus that the approach being taken with Stay Healthy Streets should have been the approach with neighborhood greenways from the very start, even if that’s not immediately able to be implemented.
Seattle has approximately 50 miles of neighborhood greenways, but with the new proposed projects in Georgetown and South Park, it looks like over 30 miles of neighborhood greenways won’t have the same improvements that Stay Healthy Streets do at the end of 2021.
We should expect more information on which of the remaining Stay Healthy Streets (after Greenwood and Alki) are to be selected to get made permanent in the next few months.
During the last state legislative session in 2020, Steve Hobbs (D-Lake Stevens), chair of the State Senate’s transportation committee, released his latest version of the “Forward Washington” transportation package. The list of proposed projects to receive funding in the package totaled nearly $15 billion, and over half of that was proposed to go to “improving” state highways, not counting court-mandated spending on removing culverts statewide to improve fish habitat. That included dozens of projects with the sole purpose of expanding highway capacity, as well as projects like the $1.8 billion US 2 trestle rebuild that expand highways in the process of replacing aging infrastructure. It was not able to be passed by the end of the short legislative session.
Sen. Rebecca Saldaña, D-37
The Seattle Times reports this week that Senator Rebecca Saldaña (D-Seattle,Renton) is proposing an alternate plan that includes fewer highway expansion projects and shifts dollars to more sustainable transportation investments. Most notably, it would include $2 billion for multimodal transportation grants, projects that are shovel-ready but haven’t been able to receive funding due to the heavy highway bias of statewide transportation spending.
The Saldaña proposal would span twelve years: evenly split among six two-year transportation budgets, that would amount to $333 million per biennium for transit, walking, and biking projects. Governor Inslee’s proposed 2021-2023 budget only provided about $115 million, even with a one-time $20 million boost to pedestrian and bicycle grant program. A $2 billion investment over 12 years would absolutely be the biggest multimodal investment that has ever been made at the state level.
The spending plan does include $1.4 billion for the US 2 trestle, a project in Steve Hobbs’s district that is clearly included in the package as a compromise, but projects like $259 million to widen SR-18 in Issaquah are not included and many other projects to expand highway capacity are absent. It also includes only $450 million for the I-5 bridge between Washington and Oregon; this is likely not going to be the full amount for the project if the latest version of the bridge includes as much highway expansion as the previous iteration, the Columbia River Crossing. Hobbs’s 2020 proposal would have allocated $3 billion for it.
The spending plan in Senator Saldana’s proposed package
The Saldaña proposal acknowledges that we are currently underfunding badly needed local pedestrian, biking, and transit projects. Prior to the Governor’s extra funding being announced, WSDOT expected to only be able to fund 39 out of 232 projects that requested funding from either the Safe Routes to Schools grant program or the Pedestrian and Bicyclist program in the next two years. Local programs like this will make the difference in allowing people to make trips by biking, walking, or taking transit when they might not have otherwise. The shift away from focusing the transportation package on expanding state highway routes is huge.
The senate transportation committee now includes a very progressive contingent of Democrats on transportation issues. In addition to Saldaña, who is vice-chair, the committee has Joe Nguyen (White Center) and newly elected T’Wina Nobles (Tacoma) who is replacing anti-transit Republican Steve O’Ban, who also served on the transportation committee.
Getting a proposal like this passed during the legislature’s first all-remote session will be a heavy lift, and it has to compete with a coming update to the Hobbs transportation package that will likely hand out highway expansion packages to nearly every legislative district at the expense of needed statewide active transportation investments. But the fact that a more progressive proposal like this is even in the mix at all is a huge win.
In the decade between 1924 and 1934, the number of people dying in traffic collisions in Seattle each year increased 250% from 48 to 121. About 70% of those killed were people walking.
By the end of the 1930s, Seattle decided that something needed to change. So the city’s Traffic and Safety Council partnered with the Seattle Police Department to crack down on bad traffic behavior as part of a major public safety campaign called “100 Deathless Days.” The city would publicly count the days between traffic deaths, encouraging everyone to work together to go a full 100 days without a single death.
They didn’t make it. And as each campaign ended with a death, they would start again from zero. And again. And again. As they reached their fifth campaign just five weeks after the start of the first one, they started to narrow their focus on the real problem: Jaywalkers.
Newspapers closely tracked the Deathless Days campaigns.
“We can’t have the rest of the year deathless if pedestrians are going to invite death by jaywalking,” Seattle Police Captain Joseph E. Prince told the Seattle Daily Times. He was preparing his officers for a major series of jaywalking stings during the summer of 1939, instructing officers that “pedestrians must share equal responsibility with drivers.”
The Seattle Daily Times ran a huge headline June 23 proclaiming “16 JAILED IN DRIVE ON JAYWALKERS!” It was the first highly-publicized jaywalking enforcement action, or “drive” as police called it back then. But dig a little deeper, and it starts to feel like maybe jaywalking wasn’t really the reason these particular individuals were stopped. The paper listed the names, ages and occupations of each person stopped. It also noted that of the 16 people arrested, only five were able to pay the $5 bail. Those who couldn’t pay were listed as “laborers” and had to stay in jail.
But incredibly, locking up poor people didn’t stop or even slow the steady stream of people being injured or killed by cars in Seattle. So they did it again a few weeks later, arresting 47 people this time. News stories refer to many jaywalking “drives” throughout 1939 and into the early 1940s.
But no matter how many poor people they arrested, the constant deadly collisions just wouldn’t stop. So Chair of the Traffic and Safety Council Earl F. Campbell decided it was time to get serious about the problem. Seattle needed more serious jaywalking penalties. Continue reading →
The Washington legislature’s long legislative session starts next Monday. This is set to be an important session as lawmakers modify Governor Inslee’s proposal for the biennial budget.
If you were wondering what Washington’s statewide bicycle advocacy organization is planing to push for during this session, Washington Bikes is hosting a “Lunch and Learn” session this Thursday at noon to discuss their policy priorities.
Those priorities, from Washington Bikes, are:
Grow bike and pedestrian funding in the multimodal account in the transportation budget. Washington Bikes is supportive of new, flexible revenue sources for active transportation.
Protecting and connecting trails statewide. We support the Washington Wildlife and Recreation Program’s $140 million funding request.
Support policies to address inequities in transportation and policing, including measures to decriminalize biking and walking.
Support measures that will incentivize or lower the barrier to e-bike ownership.
Governor Inslee’s budget already includes an additional $20 million for bike & pedestrian grants, and it looks like there are going to be dueling proposals for a big transportation package that could increase that amount over longer than the next two years.
Legalizing the “safety stop” was a high priority item on Washington Bikes’ 2020 agenda, with the legislature passing the law that allows people on bikes to treat stop signs as yield signs if there are no other vehicles present; it took effect last October. Oregon’s version of the law has been in effect for a year now.
The northern segment of the Duwamish trail, a sidewalk.
The Duwamish trail provides one of the only dedicated bike routes to and from the South Park neighborhood, which is currently dealing with an influx of drivers looking for any shortcut they can take to avoid the repercussions of the West Seattle bridge closure. But for nearly half a mile on its northern end, the Duwamish trail is nothing more than a narrow sidewalk through an industrial area. With the South Park to Georgetown trail moving forward, this segment deserves more attention than ever.
For years, the Duwamish tribe has been trying to improve safety in front of their Longhouse on West Marginal Way SW along the river that bears the name of the tribe. It took the West Seattle bridge crisis, which diverted thousands of vehicles per day onto Marginal Way that would have otherwise used the bridge, to provide impetus (and funding) to install a crosswalk and traffic signal directly at the Longhouse. “This year, we leveraged the fact that we have this crisis with the bridge closure to get the city to fully fund the project,” Councilmember Lisa Herbold recently told Real Change. Mitigation funds for the bridge will pay for a new pedestrian crossing directly in front of the Longhouse as well as install a missing sidewalk on the west side of Marginal Way north of the building.
Current “crossing” in front of the Duwamish longhouse.
In 2019, lacking funding for a pedestrian crossing, SDOT took southbound Marginal Way down from one lanes to two for a short stretch in front of the Longhouse. Now SDOT proposes to extend that southbound lane closure up to the northern end of the Duwamish trail, converting the curbside lane into a two-way protected bike lane.
The proposed Duwamish trail connection would bridge a gap between the separated trail and the West Seattle bridge.
This improvement is obviously not a complete replacement for an off-street trail, but would be an improvement, especially for people biking southbound in the direction of traffic. But the biggest benefit of this change would be the impact on the speed of drivers on this segment of Marginal. SDOT recently brought the speed limit on the street down from 40 mph to 30 mph. But consistent design changes would do more to lower speeds, and since drivers are already merging into one lane at the Longhouse, it makes sense to extend that change all the way north.
Proposed cross section of Marginal with space made for a protected bike lane.
But the protected bike lane idea is meeting opposition from those who do not want to see auto capacity on Marginal Way reduced any further. Port Commissioner Peter Steinbrueck has been an outspoken critic of taking away space for vehicles on Marginal at West Seattle Bridge Community Taskforce meetings. In November of last year, the freight advisory board sent a letter to Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan asking the city for West Marginal Way to be “restored as a five-lane facility”. The letter mischaracterizes the final connection of the Duwamish trail as “redundant” because users currently can use the sidewalk. “We are in deeply opposed to removing traffic lanes to add a protected bike lane on WMW”, the letter states. “We believe the proposed signal and sidewalk improvement near the Longhouse will improve safety so that the southbound traffic lane can be restored as a through traffic lane on this Major Truck Route.”
I spoke with Aley Thompson, who serves on the South Park Neighborhood Association and also serves on the West Seattle Bridge Community Taskforce. She told me that it was not her understanding that a removal of the lane reduction in front of the Longhouse was on the table, and cited the need to slow vehicle traffic down on Marginal as the most pressing issue.
SDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson characterized the issue as a debate over whether to install the protected bike lane this year or wait until the West Seattle bridge is repaired. “SDOT is committed to making this connection,” he told me. “Maintaining a single lane of traffic throughout the corridor would likely reduce the ‘hurry up and wait’ effect of congestion caused cars merging back into a single lane, and result in more consistent speeds throughout the corridor, closer to the current 30 mph speed limit,” Bergerson said, citing the lane reduction at the Longhouse as the “bottleneck” that is having a bigger impact on travel times than the bike lane would.
Asked if the lane reduction in front of the Duwamish tribe’s facility was on the table for removal, he told me, “There has not been a final decision on this. We are planning to conduct stakeholder engagement in early 2021 to get feedback once we have a design proposal ready to share.”
The new signal at the Longhouse is set to be installed this Summer. A pedestrian crossing will likely only be a bandaid if speed treatments aren’t effective, and adding the lane back to the street will likely increase driver speeds. It’s clear that any bike facility’s larger purpose would be to serve the larger goal of making West Marginal Way a safer street for everyone to use.
2020 was a year of adjusting to new realities, and Seattle’s effort to meet its goals for expanding its bike network did not escape the curveballs that were thrown during the year. In response to a fundamental reshuffling of demand for right-of-way compared to other years, the Seattle Department of Transportation responded with a few new programs, namely Stay Healthy Streets, but mostly stayed the course even as Covid impacts on staffing delayed projects and Covid-induced budget cuts imperiled future ones. 4th Avenue finally has a protected bike lane, protected lanes on Bell Street were installed, and bike lanes on Avalon Way in West Seattle opened just as the West Seattle Bridge was closed in March.
Now that 2021 is here, we are looking forward to some of the projects that are planned for the year across the city that will improve conditions for people biking.
Construction has already started on the installation of this bike lane, which won’t extend north of King Street due to concerns about impacts on traffic, namely the First Hill Streetcar, which doesn’t operate in its own dedicated lane.
12th Ave will feature similar to bus stops to the ones that were installed along NE 65th Street, with bus riders exiting directly into the bike lane. The PBL will extend all the way across the bridge to the connection with the Mountains to Sound trail. A route running the entire length of Beacon Hill is currently planned for 2023.
This project was originally planed for 2020 but was delayed due to coordination with Metro on moving trolley wires. A big win for advocates, this bike lane was originally planned to disappear on either side of the busy intersection at 23rd Avenue but was redesigned earlier this year to bridge the gap. Though the protected bike lanes will not extend west of 14th Ave, the Madison RapidRide project, which SDOT says will start construction next year and take about 3 years, will connect the facility across 12th Ave.
Another 2020 holdover, this project will finally connect the Burke-Gilman at Stone Way with the Fremont bridge instead of that harrowing door zone lane. The project will also add a northbound protected bike lane just north of the bridge, making the transition from the cramped bridge deck a little more seamless.
A segment of the new protected bike lanes coming to N 34th Street.
The first phase of the long-awaited Melrose Promenade project will get underway next year, with protected bike lanes getting installed on Melrose Ave E in far west Capitol Hill between Pine Street and Denny Way. Between Pike and Pine, one of the most obvious places in the city to turn into a pedestrian street, people on bikes will share the road with cars and a massive raised intersection will be installed in front of the Starbucks Roastery. North of Denny Way, SDOT will be installing speed humps in the style of a greenway.
The raised intersection planned at Pike and Melrose.
The repaving project for the east half of the street circling Green Lake will finally be wrapping up next year, including protected bike facilities from Aurora and 83rd all the way to N 50th Street. A separate project will install protected bike lanes on a segment of Stone Way south of N 50th Street as well. The paint bike lanes on 50th Street are staying in place.
With these bike lanes the North Seattle bike network will really start to fill in, with Ravenna Boulevard and NE 65th Street fully connected to north Wallingford.
The Durkan administration’s decision to eliminate bike lanes on N 40th Street that would have been installed while that street was being repaved is still disappointing.
Green Lake Way repaving project brings bike lanes to that street.
With the grand opening of the Northgate Link light rail extension in the fall, the bike and pedestrian bridge over I-5 will also be ready for traffic. This will open up a brand new connection at N 100th Street between the light rail station and North Seattle Community College.
Northgate pedestrian bridge
On the Northgate side of the bridge, separate bike facilities will connect NE 92nd Street all the way up to Northgate Way along 1st Ave NE.
The bicycle improvements required as part of the agreement to renovate Key Arena into what will be Climate Pledge Arena are set to be installed by fall’s opening of the facility. The route will take several zigs and zags as riders heading to Uptown will take Broad Street onto 1st Avenue, continue onto 1st Ave N, and then have to take Thomas Street to Queen Anne Ave to continue north to Mercer.
Connection planned to Uptown for Climate Pledge Arena.
SDOT will come back and improve the 4th Avenue protected bike lane they installed in 2020 by extending the lane north to Vine Street, converting the entire corridor to a two-way facility, and extending it south to Yesler Way via the out-of-the-way Dilling Way. SDOT says they envision the lane eventually connecting south to Main Street but not until there are fewer buses using 4th Ave S.
As part of a project to make more space for Metro buses to lay over in South Lake Union, SDOT will be reconfiguring Eastlake Ave E along I-5 south of the Lakeview overpass and adding protected bike lanes, although a short segment between Mercer and Roy Street will be a multiuse trail. An extension north to the bike lanes planned as part of the RapidRide J line will be coming later.
Bike lanes planned for Eastlake Ave E in SLU
All of these projects are set to happen while a wide-open Mayor’s race takes place where transportation issues like the West Seattle bridge take center stage, and the two at-large councilmembers (two of the best on transportation) are also up for reelection. The only thing that’s certain is uncertainty.
State law in Washington that dates from the 1990s requires that the Washington Department of Transportation complete a “bicycle transportation and pedestrian walkways plan”. The last version of the plan was created in 2008, and is getting a brand new update. A draft of part one of the plan is available to read and comment on at this online open house until February 15 of 2021.
Part one of the plan is in large part devoted to high level concepts around walking, biking, and rolling facilities, overall purpose and need, the current state of Washington’s active transportation infrastructure, and what WSDOT has heard from community member while conducting public outreach for the plan. Part two, which will come out next year, will cover specific policy topics around project implementation, performance measures, and next steps for developing an actual implementation plan- in other words, even deeper into the weeds.
The entire plan is worth your time, but at 184 pages the draft is a bit hard to get through. I want to highlight a particularly rich area of the report, in case you don’t have time to read it. Chapter 4 looks at cost estimates for statewide needs and opportunities. Early in the report, dropped in a section about benefits of active transportation is the fact that “for the approximate cost of one Seattle-area freeway interchange, approximately 300 miles of trail could be constructed”. These numbers come from WSDOT’s own planning level cost estimates, and it’s facts like these that are the best part of the report.
The report looked at the 6,977 miles of state highway and noted that 1,685 of them went through a city, town, or census-designated place. The plan looked at costs to improve state routes in those population centers in part because that is where a large majority of the bicyclist and pedestrian injuries and fatalities occur, 83% between 2010 and 2020.
The vast majority of people walking and biking hurt on our state highways are in population centers.
86% of pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in Washington occurred on roads with posted speeds of 30 mph or higher during the same timeframe. The active transportation plan looks at the mileage of state highways with posted speeds over 30 mph, 849 miles, and calculates a one-time statewide need to implement changes bring vehicle speeds below 30 mph at $283 million.
Also estimated is the amount of money to improve the 542 miles of state highways that do not have adequate pedestrian facilities and 1,142 miles where there are not separated bike facilities (on highways where people walking and biking are not prohibited) at $1.8 billion. Add to that $1.6 billion to improve crossing treatments at 7,564 locations on the state system, and 1.98 billion to improve 680 bridges on state routes where pedestrian & bike facilities are nonexistent or substandard.
“Intersection gaps” like the one pictured here near Soap Lake were looked in by the Active Transportation plan.
Added together, the total for those improvements for safety and access to the entire statewide highway system totals $5.7 billion. These aren’t upgrades, they are basic elements that a statewide transportation system should have, before the state spends money expanding it.
Costs associated with adding basic infrastructure to the state system
Governor Inslee’s proposed transportation budget for the next two years totals $6.2 billion in spending, $3.7 billion of that for the Highway Improvements program, which mainly goes to expanding highway capacity, while a tiny portion of the biennial budget goes toward these basic safety improvements. Washington State has had a Target Zero goal for twenty years now, and the state’s transportation agency knows what it will take to make the changes needed to get us there.
Pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities in Washington, 2010-2019
In March of 2019, after Mayor Jenny Durkan overrode the finalized plans that the Seattle Department of Transportation had developed for 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood and removed dedicated space for people to bike on that street, it was SDOT who had to go out sell this politically-motivated change. For months, anyone following the issue had seen the opponents of the bike lanes, with well-established ties to the Mayor, push back against the project. SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe had been officially in his post for only a month before the decision was announced, but the department had to come up with a justification for the change.
One of those reasons cited was the fact that the inclusion of a protected bike lane on 35th Ave NE in the bicycle master plan didn’t adequately take transit into account. Seattle’s bike plan and its transit plan had a conflict on 35th. SDOT’s blog post about the cancelled bike lanes included the fact that “the new design will also allow efficient transit travel through the corridor with southbound buses making in-lane stops at the curb” as opposed to the prior design, which required buses to merge back with traffic after stopping in the bike lane.
Shortly after that, Zimbabwe told Michelle Baruchman of the Seattle Times answering a question about 35th Ave that “we’ve got a lot of modal plans that are getting to be outdated, and how [do] we take those and overlay them to try and work out some of these conflicts at the citywide level, if we can?” The conversation was being turned away from the broken decision-making process onto the city’s long established plans and goals.
Since then, it looks like this idea that the modal plans don’t “play nice” with each other has taken deeper root at the agency. SDOT has been working on developing an in-house tool that would look at all roadway segments in the city that are “deficient”, meaning they don’t appear to have enough space for the modes in multiple plans, and use a proposed policy framework to resolve those modal conflicts.
So far, we don’t have a good idea yet of where bicycle infrastructure would get prioritized over other modes. According to the policy, “critical connections” would receive priority. Included there is the concept of prioritizing pedestrian movement in all of Seattle’s urban centers and villages, some of the most contested space in the city. “Critical bike segments [would] share priority with pedestrians” in urban villages. There are still a lot of questions about how a critical segment would be defined and how that map would be developed. Right now, it looks like this change will eliminate the bicycle master plan as we know it, and the goals that go along with it, like allowing 100% of the city to live within 1/4 mile of an ALEGRA (all ages, languages, education, genders, races, abilities) bike facility by 2035.
This policy is being developed with SDOT’s Policy and Operations Advisory Group (POAG), which originally convened in response to a council resolution to develop a consistent traffic signal policy, a finalized version of which SDOT released this month. Like this modal prioritization policy, the signal policy was heavily centered around adjacent land use.
SDOT’s proposed framework for resolving modal conflict.
At the November POAG meeting, SDOT presented four different examples of how this prioritization might impact outcomes on different street segments. Looking at those concrete examples highlights the shortcomings of the proposed policy.
Elliott Ave W/15th Ave W in Interbay
Elliott Ave W in Interbay
Elliott Ave W & 15th Ave W are massive (70 foot+) streets with 7 lanes, including curbside Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes for most of its length. It is not considered “in network” for bicycle facilities, likely because they were not included in the bicycle master plan, even though the nearest parallel bike facility, the terminal 91 bike path, is separated by railroad tracks with a connecting pedestrian bridge. Since the neighborhood is a manufacturing/industrial center, freight access would be at the top of the proposed priority list here, in addition to the transit lanes already in place as part of the frequent transit network. The outcome presented at the meeting is allowing freight to use the bus lanes, turning them into Freight and Transit (FAT) lanes. Additional pedestrian facilities or the impact of reducing auto capacity on the pedestrian environment were not considered here in the exercise.
35th Ave SW in West Seattle
35th Ave SW in West Seattle
The segment of 35th Ave SW looked at here is not located in an urban village or center, and not on the freight network, but is on the frequent transit network. The current bike master plan indicates that protected bike lanes should be included on the street, but according to SDOT, “This is an unlikely critical bike segment as there are parallel bike routes that are flatter than 35th Ave SW”. It’s unclear what that proposed route would be. Bus-only lanes would be the proposed policy outcome here. It’s important to note that it’s not clear that those bus lanes would even be prioritized if it meant taking away general purpose lanes here, particularly on the busier northern segment of 35th (at least prior to the West Seattle bridge closure). A proposed rechannelization there was scaled back during the current administration.
12th Ave E in Capitol Hill
12th Ave E in Capitol Hill
The only example inside an urban center or village, no buses use this street, though one is proposed in Metro’s long range plan. It’s also a minor truck route. According to SDOT, this is an “unlikely critical bike segment”, even though the paint bike lanes south of Denny Way are probably some of the busiest unprotected bike facilities in the city. This is probably because the Bicycle Master Plan shows a protected bike lane on Broadway north of the existing lane which also ends at Denny Way, not on 12th. Again, it’s not clear how “critical” bike lane segment is defined.
Since it’s inside an urban center, the proposed policy would put pedestrians at the top of the list here: the current sidewalks are half as wide as Seattle’s right-of-way manual says they should be. So the outcome would be to “prioritize future sidewalk widening to meet Streets Illustrated standards”, though it’s hard to imagine a time horizon where that would actually occur. In the meantime, the existing on-street parking lanes would be retained and “strategic widenings at intersections, bike parking, other pedestrian realm uses” would be identified.
In other words, a potential sidewalk expansion in the future justifies keeping things mostly the same in the near-term.
Sylvan Way in West Seattle
Sylvan Way in West Seattle
Sylvan Way is shown as the example where bicycle facilities would be at the top of the list for prioritization. SDOT called the street an “excellent candidate for designation as a ‘critical bike segment’ because it is one of the few pathways between the Delridge Valley and High Point”. But the current roadway, with two twelve foot travel lanes and a five foot uphill bike lane, is too narrow to add protected bike lanes, so the “options include constructing a multi-use trail side path, or widening the street to accommodate the PBL”. Without a specific grant, that would be likely to eat up a large segment of the bike budget, but it’s possible.
With these four examples, the only space even theoretically proposed to be reallocated away from general purpose vehicles was the bus lane on 35th Ave SW. For advocates of a citywide ALEGRA bike network, it’s hard to see what the benefit will be to moving forward with a watered down “critical segment” version of the bicycle master plan, particularly if it looks to be as skeletal as the examples provided so far have shown.
The biggest thing that seems to be missing from the policy is an actual way to account for how much street space is allocated to none of these modes, but to general purpose traffic. Bryce Kolton, a representative on the POAG from the transit advisory board, told me, “We didn’t even see the words or any term that could be used for the words ‘general purpose traffic’ or ‘single occupancy vehicle’ appear on slides until the fourth meeting”, mentioning that references to the majority of traffic didn’t appear until urging from POAG members.
Kolton is not optimistic that this policy will result in more multimodal projects moving forward. “My question for SDOT, which I have not received a satisfactory answer for, is how come, with all of the plans we have…are we continuously having watered down transportation projects. Why? Until they can tell me why established plans have not been completed when they aren’t for car traffic…I don’t think a multi-multimodal plan is the answer, and I don’t have any faith in them to go back and be able to fix it.”
Anna Zivarts, a pedestrian advisory board representative on the POAG, was slightly more optimistic about the overall goal of the policy. “I think it does need to be a conversation that happens across the modal boards,” she told me. “The question then becomes, is it an equal distribution? How do we then distribute [the street space]? And that I think is what needs to be provided by SDOT or provided by our elected leaders: what is the vision for the city?”
Noting that the policy is still a draft, she added, “From what I have seen, it’s mostly a way of preserving the status quo. I think it makes sense to integrate…if the integration is seen as a way to force the political conversation so the changes can then happen more easily, then that’s helpful, but I’m not sure the city’s going to have the political will to do that.”
SDOT will be presenting a final proposed policy at the next POAG meeting at the end of January. Once it’s finalized, the department will start to use it internally, but SDOT also has a goal of including a citywide integrated transportation map in the 2024 Comprehensive Plan update, which would enshrine these proposed changes even more deeply in city policy. This framework would absolutely play a large role in the development of the transportation levy set to replace Move Seattle at the end of 2024 as well. There’s a lot that could come out of a shift like this, and we have to make sure that it’s not actually a step in the wrong direction.
Last night, 5 days after SDOT announced that it had installed two speed-display signs on either side of the Aurora bridge, a pedestrian was hit and killed on the Queen Anne side of Aurora Avenue N by someone driving. The Seattle Times reports that as of last night SPD did not have any information to provide about the events that proceeded the crash. We know the crash happened on the west side of Aurora Ave in the 2400 block and that the victim has been described as a 41-year old man whose identity is not yet known. The driver reportedly left the scene.
This marks the 10th traffic fatality on Seattle’s portion of Aurora Ave N since last January. Nine of those ten fatalities were people walking on Aurora. Many more people have been seriously injured on the street in that timeframe. Aurora Ave and Rainier Ave frequently change places as the top street for traffic fatalities in the city of Seattle.
Last year, when the city announced that it was lowering the speed limit on the vast majority of arterial streets to 25 mph, it noted that state routes like Aurora would not be included in that but that also said that “the City will also partner with the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) to reduce speeds on state highways within city limits, including Aurora Ave N on State Route 99 and Lake City Way on State Route 522”. The speed limit remains 40 mph on Aurora Ave all the way from the SR-99 tunnel to Green Lake, the longest stretch in the city with a speed limit that high.
40 mph+ speeds substantially reduces the likelihood that a pedestrian will survive a crash
WSDOT recently spent $19 million repaving the entirety of Aurora Ave from Roy Street to the city line, and despite both agencies having a shared goal of reducing fatalities and serious injuries to zero by 2030, minimal safety improvements were completed with that repaving. According to state law, SDOT is responsible for the traffic operations on the street, though the state would need to approve a change to the speed limit. Why hasn’t it happened yet?
We recently reported that the state 2021-2023 transportation budget will likely include money to complete a $2 million planning study for Aurora, which would not include any money for actual roadway changes. The state has already completed many studies encompassing portions of this dangerous route, what is needed now is action.
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