Man killed near Seward Park was Boeing Field deputy director. RIP Mike Colmant

The man killed while biking near Seward Park Sunday evening has been identified as Mike Colmant. He was 63.

Our condolences to his friends and family.

Colmant was Deputy Director of Boeing Field, and his employer posted a sad memorial note on their website.

“Mike was a true professional who dedicated the last 20-plus years to making King County International Airport-Boeing Field better,” Airport Director John Parrott said. “He was a great colleague and a dear friend. He will be sorely missed.”

Colmant was a triathlete and marathon runner who moved to the area from Canada to work at Boeing Field. He was also a mentor to people looking to get into aviation.

He was biking northbound (downhill) on Seward Park Ave S just east of the intersection with Wilson Ave S when someone driving on the wrong side of the road struck him head-on and killed him. The suspect fled the scene. Police are searching for “a silver, older model compact sedan with a shattered windshield.” The license plate may start with something like “BKU 053.” Anyone with a tip is encouraged to call SPD’s Violent Crimes Tip Line at 206.233.5000.

A memorial has formed near the site of the hit and run, and someone etched “We love you Mike” into a nearby telephone pole.

From King County International Airport: Continue reading

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Person driving on wrong side of the road killed a man biking near Seward Park, police searching for suspect

Photo facing south on Seward Park Ave just north of in Wilson Ave S intersection. The street has no marking other than a center line. A person is biking.

Approximate location of the fatal hit and run from Google Street View. Image facing south on Seward Park Ave S toward Wilson Ave S.

A person driving on the wrong side of the street struck and killed a man biking toward Seward Park Sunday evening, according to Seattle Police. The suspect then fled the scene.

The man killed was 63. Our condolences to his friends and family.

Police are searching for the suspect, who was driving “a silver, older model compact sedan with a shattered windshield.” The license plate may start with something like “BKU 053.” Anyone with a tip is encouraged to call SPD’s Violent Crimes Tip Line at 206.233.5000.

The victim was biking downhill (northbound) toward the park shortly before 7 p.m. when the suspect drove the wrong way up the northbound lane and struck him head-on, according to police.

This stretch of Seward Park Ave S is part of the very popular Lake Washington Loop bike route. It is a relatively low-traffic street the primarily serves homes and Seward Park itself. It also feeds into Lake Washington Boulevard, a section of which was closed to most cars starting last week. The Bicycle Master Plan calls for bike lanes on the street, but they have not yet been installed.

This section of road was also on Seattle Neighborhood Greenways’ map of proposed Stay Healthy Streets, though it was never implemented. Their idea called for the parking lane to be turned into a bikeway. Continue reading

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Friday: Following death, community holds slow bike ride for safe streets in Georgetown

Event poster.The death of a man biking in Georgetown in late March has shaken the community, so some neighbors are organizing a slow bike ride tomorrow (Friday) to mourn his death and call for safer streets.

“For years, our community has demanded safe routes within Georgetown, and safe access to SoDo, the Chinatown/International District, and Downtown for biking,” the event listing created by John Persak and Amy Amaryllis says. “The city has been slow to prioritize this infrastructure which people in most other parts of the city already enjoy. This must be addressed now.”

The ride meets 4 p.m. at South Seattle College’s Georgetown Campus near Corson Ave S and E Marginal Way. Organizer say the ride will go slow and is for all ages, traveling major streets in the neighborhood before ending near Counterbalance Brewing.

As we reported previously, a person driving a semi truck made a right turn from northbound Corson Ave S onto S Bailey Street, striking and killing the man. The collision occurred shortly before 5 p.m. March 24. Seattle Police are investigating, and no new details are available at this time.

Our condolences to his loved ones. If any friends or family members want to share his story, you can reach me at [email protected].

Details from the ride event page: Continue reading

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Brooklyn Ave reopens today near U District Station, signaling the start of a new era for the neighborhood

Photo looking north on Brooklyn at 43rd Street.After eight years behind construction barriers, Brooklyn Ave NE and NE 43rd Street are finally starting to reopen today, Sound Transit announced. Brooklyn will open to all traffic while 43rd will open sidewalks.

This is a big deal for the neighborhood and a reminder that the opening of Brooklyn Station…ahem, I mean U District Station is getting very close. There is still no official opening date, but test trains have been running on the tracks up to Roosevelt and Northgate Stations. The current service plan calls for a September start, though train deliveries have been delayed. Each train needs to operate for a certain number of hours without any faults before it can go into service. So fingers crossed that all the testing goes smoothly.

Brooklyn’s street design is a big miss, unfortunately. It has a sidewalk-level protected bike lane headed uphill in the northbound direction, which should be lovely. But then people headed southbound are expected to mix with car traffic. It’s so strange. Who is the target user of this street? Who will decide to bike to the station because there is a comfortable bike lane in only one direction? There is space for a downhill bike lane, but instead SDOT and Sound Transit prioritized on-street parking on both sides of the street. Hopefully SDOT will closely observe car traffic on this street and will be ready to make significant changes to limit volumes and speeds if needed. This should also be an opportunity to improve the nearby 12th Ave neighborhood greenway, one of the worst in the city due to its relatively heavy car traffic thanks to people driving around the closed Brooklyn Ave.

A failed design concept for a “mall” on the Ave from 1972, as published in the Seattle Daily Times (PDF).

Brooklyn is also just one foot too skinny for two-way bus service, a huge priority for the advocacy group U District Mobility. This could make it more difficult to someday turn the Ave and NE 43rd Street into the car-free (or car-light) spaces they should be, a dream of many people in the neighborhood going back half a century.

Car ownership levels in the neighborhood are some of the lowest in the entire city. Only Belltown and downtown have fewer cars per capita than the U District, which has about one car for every two people. Yet the streets in the neighborhood still prioritize driving and parking cars even though half of the neighborhood residents don’t have one.

I’m not sure the city has yet to fully comprehend how much the U District is about to change. There are a lot of buildings under construction right now, and more are in the queue. It’s one of the few areas of the city that allows towers, and it is about to get a subway that brings it just minutes away from the heart of Capitol Hill and downtown.

With Brooklyn and 43rd closed since 2013, the neighborhood has felt a bit like a construction zone. But it’s about to open back up just as COVID vaccine rates start to gain steam (though Washington is currently seeing a spike in cases, so it is too soon to stop following the pandemic protocols!). But as the pandemic fades and the station opens, the neighborhood could assume its role as one of the biggest hubs of activity in our city. It will be transformative.

Continue reading

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Watch: Talking with Ryan Packer about being Editor for the winter

Ryan Packer did a fantastic job taking the helm of Seattle Bike Blog over the winter, writing 64 posts December through March.

Ryan was the Temporary Editor of Seattle Bike Blog while I focused on writing the first draft of a book for UW Press about bike history and culture in Seattle. Being a parent during COVID is very challenging, and my time had disappeared. So I was facing a tough choice in late 2020, and it seemed like I was going to need to shut down the blog entirely if I didn’t find someone who could do the job without much help from me. So you could say that Ryan saved Seattle Bike Blog.

I invited Ryan to talk about some of the most important stories of the past few months and to talk about taking over the Editor role. Check out our conversation above.

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Lake Washington Blvd ‘Keep Moving Street’ returns Friday + Campaign seeks permanent design

Project map.

From SDOT.

Lake Washington Blvd is reopening to people walking and biking Friday as the city’s Keep Moving Street program returns. The street will remain mostly car-free between Mount Baker Beach and Genesee Park from April 9 through 18.

Seattle has experimented with various versions of this Keep Moving Street for the past nine months, and they have been very popular (see the video above). Every time they shut it down and allow car traffic to take over, it’s a huge loss. So Rainier Valley Greenways is running a campaign to extend the project to Seward Park, keep the project open all year and to work with community to come up with a permanent design for the street that enables comfortable walking and biking on the street in some fashion.

There is no equivalent to the Burke-Gilman Trail in South Seattle, so a permanent route along Lake Washington Blvd would be huge for all ages and abilities biking access in the neighborhood. But it’s not just about biking. The open street also increases public access to the whole waterfront, an incredible public asset. It’s like an accessible extension of the lakefront park.

Additionally, Seattle Parks has been hosting Bicycle Sunday along the street for more than half a century, so this is not a major new concept. If anything, starting and stopping the program is more disruptive and confusing than simply leaving it in place.

Sign the Rainier Valley Greenways petition: Continue reading

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Court decides Hearing Examiner needs to redo 2018 Missing Link decision

Text of the court decision.

Read the full decision (PDF).

Many Seattleites have only ever known life with the Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail held up in court. Children born when the City Council first approved the route are now getting ready to vote in their first election. Seattle has nearly wasted an entire generation arguing over about 1.2 miles of trail, and the Washington Court of Appeals just decided to extend the fighting even longer.

The court ruled this week that the Seattle Hearing Examiner needs to redo a 2018 decision that determined the city’s massive environmental study of this short trail segment was sufficient. That study rivals freeway megaprojects in scale and depth. It’s an absurd document that took years to create and goes over the entire trail proposal with a toothbrush.

But the Appeals Court’s decision has nothing to do with the study’s findings or the trail design or even the businesses along the planned route. In fact, it seems to have little or nothing to do with SDOT or the trail at all. Instead, the court levied a rather harsh rebuke of Ryan Vancil, now the Seattle Hearing Examiner. In 2017–18, Vancil was hearing the appeal against the Missing Link’s environmental impact statement as Deputy Hearing Examiner. At the same time, he had applied to replace the city’s retiring Hearing Examiner and was going through the interview process, a fact he did not disclose during the proceedings. Because the City Council appoints the Hearing Examiner and the Missing Link was a Council-approved project, “Vancil violated the appearance of fairness doctrine,” the Appeals Court wrote in its decision reversing King County Superior Court’s decision.

“Because the deputy hearing examiner failed to disclose that he was seeking appointment by the Seattle City Council to replace the retiring city hearing examiner while he was also considering the adequacy of a councilendorsed project, we reverse the trial court’s summary judgment in favor of the city, enter summary judgment for the coalition, and remand for a new hearing.”

UPDATE: The Hearing Examiner declined to comment, saying, “It would be inappropriate for the Hearing Examiner to comment on a legal ruling concerning a matter on remand to the Office of Hearing Examiner.”

SDOT said in a statement that “the decision was solely concerned with the procedures followed by the Hearing Examiner, which were outside of the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT’s) control or knowledge. The decision did not include any negative findings about SDOT’s plans or Final Environmental Impact Statement.”

But the result is largely the same, at least in the near-term. The project now needs to go back to the Hearing Examiner, and that means more delays. And to the Ballard Coalition, that’s a win. Continue reading

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Biking the new I-90 Trail tunnel and flyover in Factoria

The I-90 trail just got a major upgrade in Factoria.

A new bike trail tunnel and flyover opened Wednesday allowing trail users to bypass the busy intersection with Factoria Blvd and the I-90 off-ramp entirely. It also saves users some elevation change.

I biked out there to try it out Wednesday, and it’s fantastic. Not only do users now get to skip a stressful intersection, but it also crosses over to a new trail on the north side of SE 36th Street. Previously, trail users had to use skinny paint-only bike lanes, a significant gap in the major trail.

For now, the trail ends at 132nd Ave SE, where users can cross at a light to access the bike lanes. But work is underway to extend the trail to 142nd Pl SE, which has bike lanes across I-90 toward Bellevue College.The eventual goal is to extend this new trail all the way to Lakemont Blvd SE, which would be much more direct than the current route, but that segment is not funded.

The 3.6-mile stretch from Factoria Blvd to Lakemont Blvd is known as the “Eastgate Gap,” and this project crosses one of the more difficult sections.

Factoria project concept overhead map. Continue reading

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It’s really happening! Northgate bike/walk bridge coming together on schedule

The Northgate biking and walking bridge is an enormous undertaking. I-5 in this part of town is level with or even above street level, so the bridge needs to climb in order to get above and over the massive freeway. But it’s needed if Northgate Station is going to be able to reach people on the west side of the freeway.

Crews have been closing the I-5 Express Lanes for several days of intense work in recent weeks to install large structural elements that were constructed off-site.

Photo of a piece of the bridge under construction off-site.

Photo from SDOT.

The project is still aiming for completion in fall 2021 in time for the opening of Northgate Station. A lot of things have had to come together to meet this deadline, and it’s great to see that goal seemingly within reach. It had to gather funding from the Move Seattle Levy, Sound Transit and the Washington State legislature in order to become reality.

It’s also becoming a symbol, at least for me, of a better future once COVID is finally behind us. Knowing that more Link stations are coming online later this year and that this bridge should be ready to greet the first passengers is really inspiring to me after such a dismal year. We still have more time in COVID protocols (especially us parents), but there is promise on the other side. Because of projects like this, which people worked so hard for in the last decade, our city will open up this decade in ways it never did before COVID arrived.

And for as much criticism as I send to Mayor Jenny Durkan, it is really cool that when this opens students will be able to use it to access two years of free tuition at North Seattle College thanks to her Seattle Promise program.

This bridge is going to need a better name. “Northgate Pedestrian and Bicycle Bridge” is way too long. I usually just call it the “Northgate Bridge,” but that maybe isn’t great because there is already a nearby I-5 bridge over Northgate Way. Maybe “Northgate Station Bridge?” Anyone have any other suggestions?

Here’s a video with some cool flyover footage of the area: Continue reading

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Seattle’s Marley Blonsky stars in mini-documentary All Bodies on Bikes

Well I love this.

Friend of Seattle Bike Blog Marley Blonsky stars in the new mini-documentary All Bodies on Bikes alongside Kailey Kornhauser. The 13-minute film premiered today, so check it out above.

The film follows them on a bike camping trip and other bike adventures while they discuss their relationships with their bodies and society’s harmful associations with weight and body size.

Marley has been a longtime friend of the site and was the last in-person guest from outside my household to join the Bike News Roundup chat before the 2020 COVID shutdown. Not only has she been a strong voice for helping more fat people feel welcome on a bike, she also works hard to improve the bike industry’s offerings for people with larger bodies. So it’s great to see Shimano featuring her in their video series, hopefully a sign of changes to come from more companies.

Also, Marley is going to teach a two-part bike camping class online in April. You can learn more and register here. Not only is the class a way for the bike-camping-curious to learn more, but Marley will also offer suggestions one-on-one if you have questions about your gear or bike set-up. Suggested $30-$50 per person.

Details from Shimano: Continue reading

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Mayor Durkan’s dead congestion pricing plan is another example of her poor leadership

A pie chart showing that passenger transportation generates 50% of the citywide greenhouse gasses in Seattle.

From Seattle Congestion Pricing Study Summary Report (PDF)

As Mayor Jenny Durkan’s frustrating and damaging time in office gets slowly closer to ending, it’s important that Seattle understands the ways her leadership (or lack thereof) harmed our city and many of its genuine movements for change. Because we cannot afford to elect another mayor like Durkan. So let’s look at her congestion pricing plan as one good illustration of many of the ways her leadership style is ineffective at best and harmful at worst.

In April 2018, Seattle’s new mayor Jenny Durkan made headlines by announcing that by the end of her first term (this year) she would launch a congestion pricing scheme to toll motor vehicles entering downtown. The announcement certainly turned heads, but not for the right reasons.

Congestion pricing can be a very effective tool to reduce driving while also raising funds to improve other transportation options like transit, walking and biking. Durkan’s tolling plan hoped to reduce the city’s total carbon emissions by 9% to 20%, and it was the centerpiece of her climate plan. Congestion pricing can be a very effective policy, and a handful of European cities and Singapore have enacted versions of the concept successfully. Durkan wanted Seattle to be the first city in the U.S. to do it.

The problem is that nobody was asking for it. I don’t mean that nobody in Seattle thinks it’s a good idea or has dreamed up concepts. Congestion pricing is one of those ideas that could be great, but it’s an enormous political undertaking. You have to pick your battles, and very few if any community organizations, including safe streets and environmental justice organizations, had been specifically advocating for congestion pricing. They hadn’t been doing all the community-building work that they know is necessary for a major idea like this to have community buy-in. There are a lot of questions about the potential inequities with such tolls, for example, so people and organizations that take equity seriously are not going to just jump on board with a plan they know nothing about just because the mayor announced it.

But to make matters worse, Mayor Durkan was quickly losing community trust. At the same time she was announcing her congestion pricing plan, she was delaying or cancelling many of the projects that people and organizations were actually asking for. In 2018, Mayor Durkan essentially cancelled Seattle’s bike lane program, for example. She built just 4% of the bike lanes planned for that year. I remember someone (I honestly don’t remember who) saying that complaints about delayed bike lanes were “thinking too small” because Durkan was going to do congestion pricing. But if she won’t even paint a bike lane, what on Earth made anyone think she would toll every motor vehicle entering downtown?

So it is absolutely no surprise to learn that her congestion pricing plan is officially dead. Of course it is. I personally never believed she was serious. It seemed like she just wanted to stand out to Mike Bloomberg, a plan that worked because he soon visited town and they went on a media tour together. Bloomberg was a proponent of congestion pricing in New York City in his time as mayor and had launched the American Cities Climate Challenge. Seattle “won” his challenge in 2018 in part by planning for congestion pricing. This does not feel like a coincidence.

Mayor Durkan cared more about what Michael Bloomberg wanted than what community organizations in her own city wanted.

As Durkan’s term continued, it became clear that she had no real concern for equity in city policy. For example, when she finally released a heavily-reduced bike plan, it downplayed nearly all of the south end projects that bike advocates had been very clearly requesting as their top priorities. It took an act of the City Council to make south end bike lanes a priority, an action that never should have been needed. But the City Council has had to get used to doing Durkan’s job for her.

People quickly realized that even if they support the concept of congestion pricing, Durkan was absolutely the wrong person to lead such a delicate program that needed a strong equity focus.

What’s frustrating is that congestion pricing could be good for Seattle. We need big and bold ideas to address big problems like climate change, improving transit, increasing equitable mobility, and making streets safer. But I worry that the idea of congestion pricing is now poisoned because people had to organize against Durkan’s half-assed, non-serious proposal.

“Multiple members, including ourselves, voiced concerns of the regressivity of congestion pricing towards workers, especially those who have been displaced and have to drive into downtown Seattle for work,” Jill Mangaliman told KUOW. Mangaliman is the executive director of Got Green, an important environmental justice organization in our community and the exact kind of organization we would want helping to craft such an effort. “Those from the [environmental justice] communities were in favor of having a more comprehensive transit system and progressive funding sources, instead of being punitive towards workers and communities priced out of the city.”

I don’t blame Got Green for having this response given Durkan’s track record on anti-poor policies like her cruel treatment of people living in encampments. But it sucks that now congestion pricing is considered “punitive towards workers and communities out of the city.” It doesn’t need to be that way, but Durkan sure wasn’t making a good case otherwise.

As the number of people running for mayor continues to grow, hopefully Seattle’s community organizations and candidates can all learn from Durkan’s mistakes here. She did not earn community trust before asking them to go out on a limb for her. She displayed a disdain or disinterest in their existing priorities, then proposed a major idea that relied heavily on their enthusiastic support in order to succeed. It was a failure of leadership from beginning to end, and I just hope that the lesson Seattle takes away from this is more about Durkan’s leadership than the promising idea that she dragged down with her.

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Tom returns tomorrow…

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What the transformation of Denny Way tells us about our city

Last week, five years after Capitol Hill’s light rail station opened, the construction fencing was finally removed on the long-planned public plaza that will complement the south entrance of the station next to Cal Anderson Park. It’s a truly great new gathering space for a neighborhood that’s always been short on park land, and it’s very much like an extension of Cal Anderson Park just opened.

Shot of entirety of public plaza with Denny Way far off.

But the new public space was overshadowed: the plaza’s opening highlighted the fact that the redesigned stretch of Denny Way in front of the station is not functioning as it should. Despite the fact that this segment of street was closed for six years to construct the light rail station, it’s back to being a regular part of the street grid, albiet only one-way. And nothing was installed to prevent drivers from entering the public plaza, much less the pedestrian-oriented areas of the street itself.

Vehicles driving on Denny Way festival street

Brie Gyncild is one of the driving forces in the Capitol Hill Champion volunteer group, a joint project of the Capitol Hill Community Council and the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce that was devoted to achieving community goals for the development of the light rail station site. “Originally, the community vision was for that street to be a pedestrian-first street”, she told me. A permanent closure of the space to vehicles wasn’t ever on the table, but the design of the street was supposed to ensure that any vehicle traffic would be going very slow.

Indeed, the 2011 Urban Design Framework for Capitol Hill Station outline how the goals for the Denny Way festival street should include being “pedestrian and bicycle focused”, and having “limited access for local circulation and commercial load zones”. An illustration of the festival street concept from the same framework includes a notation to “consider planters and removable bollards to limit vehicle access”. In 2016 when the station opened, SDOT closed down the street when the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) was in town, for games of Scrabble, but almost exclusively in the years since the station opened Denny Way has been open to vehicle traffic. A festival street designation is not the same thing as a festival street design.

2011 Design Framework for the Denny Way festival street in Capitol Hill (Click to enlarge)

Central Capitol Hill, almost certainly with the help of the light rail station itself, has seen a remarkable 31% drop in the number of cars per resident in the past 10 years, per the Seattle Times. Here’s an instance where going the extra mile to make a block pedestrian and bicycle oriented will not cost us very much compared to any other option, and could have a reverberating effect throughout the neighborhood. Denny Way has long been envisioned as the location of a neighborhood greenway in a dense neighborhood with few east-west bike routes planned. Yet the greenway project has been delayed numerous times. In the center of the planned bike network for the area, vehicle access remains the priority.

Central Capitol Hill as envisioned in the 2014 Bicycle Master Plan. Denny and Broadway rests at the center of the planned network. (Click to enlarge)

Denny Way is only one example, but there are countless other examples of prioritizing access for a limited few and sacrificing the benefits that could come from turning space for cars into space for people. The renderings of Pike and Pine Street between 1st and 2nd Aves planned as part of the Pike Pine Renaissance show another “shared street” with people walking across the roadway freely but without any barricades to prevent drivers from speeding through the space. We know if this was converted into another Occidental Avenue, with business and emergency access preserved, that it would become a beloved public space. And yet we won’t do it.

Concept drawing for Pike Street between 1st and 2nd Ave as part of the Pike Pine Renaissance Project.

In West Seattle, plans are moving forward for a pair of twin apartment buildings on a designated bike corridor, 36th Ave SW south of Fauntleroy. It’s not a major arterial, and yet the street concept that goes before the design review board in coordination with SDOT includes 20 feet of roadway space, and 23 feet of parking, including back-angle parking. The bike facility proposed as Seattle careens toward 2030 completely off track to hit its carbon reduction targets is…sharrows. Even the Southwest Design Review board is trying to push back on that, with its meeting report noting,”The Board noted the street improvements would still create a car centric street, with parking on both sides of the street and wide car travel lanes.”

Street concept plan for 4406 36th Ave SW. (Click to enlarge)

The city’s new report outlining its ambitious transportation electrification goals generated headlines. Seattle has an entire department in Seattle City Light that is very invested in supporting the transition to more broad availability of electric vehicle infrastructure. But when it comes to making decisions that will support the necessity of the city as a whole to reduce the amount of vehicle miles that Seattle residents travel, on an institutional level Seattle is still sticking with the status quo.

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Person on bike struck and killed by driver in Georgetown collision

Just before 5pm Wednesday evening, someone riding a bike was struck and killed by the driver of a semi-truck in the Georgetown neighborhood, according to the Seattle Police Department. The collision took place at the intersection of Corson Ave S and S Michigan Street, which turns into S Bailey Street east of Corson. From SPD:

Prior to the collision, the driver of the semi-truck was stopped facing northbound at the intersection of South Michigan Street and Corson Avenue South, preparing to make an eastbound right turn [onto Bailey Street]. As the driver waited at the light, a bicyclist that had also been travelling [sic] northbound pulled in front of the truck, apparently out of view of the driver. When the truck pulled forward to turn right, the bicyclist was struck and killed.

The person riding the bike was approximately 40 years old, according to the department.

The curb ramp from Corson onto Bailey has a very large apron to accommodate the wide turning radius of large freight trucks that travel through the area. Georgetown has received a much larger volume of vehicle traffic since last March when the high West Seattle Bridge was entirely closed, though the low bridge remains open to freight traffic. The semi truck on SDOT’s traffic camera showed a visible USPS logo. There is a USPS distribution facility not far from Georgetown in Tukwila, and a USPS vehicle maintenance facility in SoDo.

Corson Ave S and S Bailey St (Google Maps)

 

This is at least the sixth traffic fatality on Seattle’s streets so far in 2021 and the first we know of where someone involved was riding a bicycle.

We are heartbroken at this news, and are thinking about what this person’s family and friends must be going through right now.

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Safety, maintenance compete for slice of council-approved car tab revenue

The Seattle Department of Transportation has released its proposed spending plan for the proceeds from a $20 vehicle license fee (VLF) that the City Council approved last fall. After an outreach process where the department received feedback from around 20 organizations and boards, it’s sending these funding recommendations back to the Council early next month. The VLF is expected to raise around $3.6 million in 2021 after it takes effect mid-year and around $7 million per year starting in 2022.

In budget discussions last year, a bloc of three councilmembers proposed allocating the entire amount toward bridge maintenance. A report from the city auditor had highlighted a spending gap on bridge maintenance funding: average spending on bridge maintenance of $6.6 million per year compared to a conservative estimate of $34 million per year. This plan would only spend around $2 million on bridge maintenance, in the “strong bridges and structures” category, which has been broadened to include stairways and other “essential roadway structures”.  That’s approximately one-quarter of the revenue generated.

But a large percentage of the overall revenue is still earmarked for transportation maintenance. 28% of the revenue would go toward “safe sidewalks”, which includes restriping crosswalks, replacing crossing beacons, and repairing existing sidewalks. Money in this category would also be used to fund ADA curb ramps, which the city is under a court-mandated order to do. Another 10% would go to “active transportation maintenance”, which includes repainting bike lanes, upgrading barriers on protected lanes, and bike signal improvements.

Another 28% of revenue would be dedicated to safe streets through Vision Zero projects. Vision Zero projects run the gamut in scope, from spot improvements at a single intersection to protected bike lane installation on an entire corridor. The department was already on track to complete all of the VZ projects (12-15) that it promised to deliver with the Move Seattle levy, but the process for prioritizing those remains opaque and we’ve seen specific projects during the Durkan administration watered down.

Another 7% would be allocated to planning, which includes the development of a citywide multimodal plan. The city doesn’t lack in plans, just the vision to implement them and frequently (but not always) the funds to complete them. The details we’ve seen so far on the development of a citywide multimodal plan actually seem to get us farther away, with the bicycle master plan getting dismantled in the name of identifying “critical segments”.

3% of the funds would be kept in reserve, rounding out the entire pie.

SDOT’s proposed breakdown of spending from the $20 VLF.

How we got to this point is not completely clear. According to the results of SDOT’s outreach, the highest rated criteria for prioritization in the process was increasing equity in Seattle’s transportation system, with increasing safety close behind. While reducing the maintenance backlog was prioritized highly by stakeholders in the “transportation and labor” space, it didn’t come out on top when the results were weighted across the entire group of feedback providers. But equity and safety are core values at the Seattle Department of Transportation, as well as sustainability and mobility.

The results of the “community evaluation process” for the $20 VLF. (Click to enlarge)

David Seater, former chair of the Pedestrian Advisory Board and a participant in the outreach process for this spending plan, told me that the public outreach was frustrating, particularly the idea of having to choose between safety and equity. “This process seems like a huge amount of overhead for what is a relatively small amount of money in the context of the SDOT budget. SDOT already has a huge, rigorously prioritized backlog of work and we should just be following that as more money becomes available”, he told me.

Ultimately the issue is that we’re trying to get too many things from one $20 vehicle license fee. If we need the entire amount here to fund bridge maintenance so we don’t have to spend more later, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t push for other revenue sources to fund all of the other urgently needed priorities outlined in this spending plan. The size of the pie is a bigger issue than the individual slices.

SDOT has a survey on these spending categories through March 30th at 9am.

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Construction starts on Uptown bike connection paired with Climate Pledge Arena

Construction work has started on a separated bike corridor in the Uptown neighborhood as part of a set of transportation projects required to be installed by the grand opening of former Key Arena, now Climate Pledge Arena. A grand opening date hasn’t yet been announced, but is still set for this fall.

First set of concrete curbs for the protected bike lane on Queen Anne Ave N near Mercer Street.

Concrete curbs being installed near Republican Street on Queen Anne Ave N.

The two-way cycletrack goes out of its way to accommodate traffic management for other types of travel in Uptown, with three blocks of Queen Anne Ave N getting bike lanes north of Thomas Street and two blocks of 1st Ave N south of Thomas. The current one-way bike lane on 1st Ave N that’s been in place for the construction of the arena will be gone by the time construction is complete.

Northern segment of the bike lane being installed in conjunction with the arena. (Click to enlarge)

The planned connection between Queen Anne Ave N and 1st Ave N on Thomas Street. (Click to enlarge)

Southern segment of the Uptown bike lane on 1st Ave N north of Denny Way.

North of Mercer Street, the plans fall outside the jurisdiction of the arena’s transportation agreement. The latest we saw for plans for the block between Mercer and Roy Street (where there are paint bike lanes) was a short stub of a bike lane for northbound riders that ends at the MarQueen Hotel’s load and unload zone.

Plans for the terminus of the bike lane for northbound riders north of Mercer Street. (Click to enlarge)

The City is also working on connecting this Uptown cycletrack to the 2nd Ave protected bike lane via Broad Street this year. That lane will run along the western edge of 1st Ave and the northern edge of Broad Street.

Location of the planned cycletrack connecting 1st and Denny with 2nd and Broad. (Click to enlarge)

As for the northern end of the 2nd Ave protected bike lane, we don’t know exactly what the final design is going to look like yet. After negative reaction to the news that all bike traffic south of 2nd Ave and Denny Way would be relocated to the sidewalk, SDOT gave the intersection another look to improve the experience. A design shown last year (below) just shows a wider sidewalk.

The relocation of the bike lane here makes way for another southbound travel lane on 2nd Ave which will be the primary exit route for cars to “flush” out of the new 400-car garage at Climate Pledge Arena.

2020 illustration of 2nd Ave and Denny Way (Click to enlarge)

Also planned this year is a big upgrade on the connection between Uptown and the Thomas Street bridge connecting the neighborhood with the Elliott Bay Trail.

Even though the arena is officially planning for a very small percentage of visitors to be arriving by bike (1% when it first opens), the street space being provided to give people a safe option to bike to Uptown for arena events might cause expectations to be exceeded. But more importantly it provides everyone in Seattle a way to access the neighborhood via a safe bike route.

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Aurora Reimagined Coalition seeks to increase public pressure for safety improvements

When the entirety of state route 99, Aurora Ave N, was repaved by the Washington State Department of Transportation in 2018 and 2019, many safety advocates saw a missed opportunity. While actual roadway is state-owned, Seattle is responsible for taking the lead on changes to the street like channelization and safety improvements. While spot improvements have happened along Aurora, there was not a comprehensive effort made to redesign one of Seattle’s most dangerous streets. As Bart Treece, communications manager at WSDOT, described it in 2019, “Ahead of this pavement preservation project, we did approach the city, but nothing materialized on their end.”

A new group calling itself the Aurora Reimagined Coalition seeks to ensure that opportunities like that aren’t passed up again. SDOT is set to receive a state grant funding a $2 million corridor plan. According to SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe, the department expects to get to a 30% design on the entire Aurora corridor with this funding, and to a 90% design on at least one segment, setting the department up to be shovel-ready when funding becomes available to actually make changes. The coalition wants to ensure that someone is pushing SDOT to make Aurora into a “21st Century ‘main street’ for our neighborhoods, a thriving street where people feel comfortable walking and shopping and that reconnects neighborhoods on both sides of Aurora”. The group is having their kickoff meeting tonight.

Highway with three lanes in each direction with a center jersey barrier

Aurora Ave N near Green Lake

This month, SDOT announced that the first speed limit reductions on Aurora, a 30 mph limit between 85th and 109th Streets and a 35 mph limit between 115th St and the northern city limits at 145th Street, would be in place by mid-April. This is a slightly less significant change than we reported SDOT was requesting from WSDOT back in February, where the entire limit would be set at 30 north of 85th Street. Timelines for future phases in speed reductions, as suggested by SDOT’s proposal, remain unclear at this point. But Aurora will need significant changes to its design to make it as safe as it could be.

As a more immediate ask, the group is pushing for the curbside lane along Green Lake Park to be converted into walking and rolling space in place of the muddy dirt path (and no sidewalk) that currently exists there. Earlier this month, we reported on the fact that SDOT had already drawn up plans for this concept last Summer, and the department confirmed that it was still on the table but lacked funding, among other factors. With the soon-to-be completed protected bike lanes along the east side of Green Lake, adding a safe place to bike on the west side would complete a full route around Green Lake Park. They have a petition going to support this specific change.

Concept drawing for the Aurora lane conversion along Green Lake. (Green Lake & Wallingford Safe Streets)

But the longer-term vision for comprehensive changes to Aurora looms large. In ten years, 22 people have been killed while trying to use Aurora Ave to get where they were going, the majority of them walking. Aurora is a public safety crisis that the City has evaded responsibility on for far too long.

The Coalition so far includes long-time advocates for safety on Aurora like Lee Bruch of Licton-Haller Greenways and Brock Howell & Tom Lang of Green Lake & Wallingford Safe Streets.

The Aurora Reimagined Coalition’s kickoff is tonight at 7pm, on Zoom. Click here for the Zoom meeting, or call (253) 215-8782, meeting ID 881 5043 1673.

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Advocates ask SDOT to examine different options for Beacon Ave bike route

Late last year SDOT released early designs for the safe bike route being planned to run nearly the entire length of Beacon Hill, currently scheduled to start construction in 2023. While the route on the northern end of the hill is still being decided by SDOT, we got a pretty clear picture what the department was planning for Beacon Ave south of Jefferson Park golf course. The sidewalk path that winds around the wide median in the center of the street, would be widened by four feet to better accommodate people traveling in both directions.

Four foot added to center path, rest of the street kept the same

Latest designs for the center median on Beacon Ave from late 2020. (Click to enlarge)

On a segment of roadway that’s nearly 100 feet, only four additional feet would be provided to allow Beacon Ave to become a primary north-south bike route for people traveling through a large swath of the city.

Narrow path that winds around the median

When this design was presented to the Bicycle Advisory Board last year, several members expressed concern that routing relatively fast-moving bicycle traffic down this center median would not work well, with no separation between people walking and people biking. In January, the board wrote a letter to SDOT. From the letter:

Adding bikes to the Center Median Path crowds a trail that already has a wide variety of users, which has the potential to take this asset away from community members or make it more dangerous for community members. In addition, routing bikes onto this Center Median Path does not facilitate biking as a mode of transportation, for reasons we outline below. The current design prioritizes vehicular traffic and parking. SBAB would like to encourage SDOT to be forward thinking and creative.

The board has asked SDOT to “Analyze the option of adding protected bike lanes to the street and maintaining the Center Median Path for walkers/runners/families”, or, if that’s not feasible, to “explore all creative possibilities for enabling ALL users to share the Center Median Path in a safe, comfortable, intuitive way”.

Now Beacon Hill Safe Streets, the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways affiliate in Beacon Hill, has written a letter to SDOT raising similar issues.

We’re concerned that widening the Beacon Avenue median walking path to accommodate more bicycles will lead to increased conflict between relatively fast bicycles and those walking, jogging, and rolling on the trail, especially on the sections that will have the most use and/or that have a steep grade. When we picture bicycles on this winding, park-like trail, we think of children learning to bike or adults out for a leisurely ride.

The letter asks the department to study an in-street bike lane option.

The design for this section should explore placing a bike lane on either side of the median in the existing street and have the cars move along closer the cars parked there, as has been done on Ravenna Boulevard. The roadway is already wide enough to allow this and also has the advantage of slowing vehicular traffic. This is a design that has already proven to be feasible in North Seattle, avoids conflicts with driveways, and would be less expensive than widening the median. We also would like SDOT to conduct a parking study of the project area. There are long stretches of Beacon Avenue in which the on-street parking is only lightly used. We question whether private property storage is really the best use of three miles of one of our primary arterials in Southeast Seattle.

Both groups are asking SDOT to conduct a parking study to determine how utilized the current parking lanes that run along the outer curb on Beacon Ave. There are also parking spots in the center median in numerous spots that SDOT has previously said would not be reduced.

Narrow sidewalk with planting on one side and parked cars on the other

The Beacon Hill bike route is one of three major bike routes currently moving forward after years of advocacy by the Bicycle Advisory Board and other Seattle bike advocates to improve connections between Southeast Seattle and the rest of the city. Making sure the connections are well-designed is also pretty important.

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City transportation electrification “blueprint” includes emissions-free area by 2030

Today the City of Seattle has released what it’s calling a “blueprint” to electrify the city’s transportation system, further clarifying the city’s goals around decarbonizing our largest single source of emissions. Among the goals outlined with a 2030 deadline is for the city to create a major area where walking, biking, and transit are the primary modes and goods are delivered by electric or other non-emitting vehicles, and other personal vehicles are restricted.

That goal actually comes directly from a commitment the City made in 2017, when then-Mayor Tim Burgess signed onto a declaration along with eleven other cities from around the world to ensure that a major zone in their city is zero emission by 2030. At the time, Mayor Burgess was quoted alongside Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo as saying, “Responding to climate change’s threat requires big thinking and bold action”. Paris has proceeded with a fundamental reshaping of the city’s streets, with around 30 miles of pop-up bike lanes added in just 2020 that will likely all remain permanent. Seattle built around 2 miles of protected bike lanes last year.

London, another signatory on the 2018 commitment, has already implemented an Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) of around 8 miles in the center of the city, and another Low Emission Zone (LEZ) that covers the rest of the city. Vehicles not meeting certain emission standards are charged to enter the zone; this is separate from the congestion charge also in place in London. Emissions policies like this have had already contributed to a reduction of 44% in roadside NO2 levels in Central London between February 2017 and January 2020 and an an expected 13% reduction in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Transport Decarbonisation Alliance, C40 cities, and POLIS. These are the public health benefits that come from emissions reduction zones.

Signage in London indicating the ultra low-emission zone. (C40 cities)

In the US, Santa Monica, California is probably the closest example. A pilot project running through this year implemented a voluntary 1-mile emissions-free delivery zone where curb space is reserved for electric delivery vehicles. Personal vehicles used by residents inside the zone are not covered by the voluntary policy.

Mayor Durkan has not referenced the 2017 commitment for an emissions-free zone in the city much if at all during her tenure. A 2018 announcement to study congestion pricing as part of “a vision for a more vibrant downtown with fewer cars, more transit, and less pollution” has not produced anything substantive to date. The update to the 2013 Climate Action Plan released in 2018, included very few concrete strategies to reduce Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) and shift vehicle trips away from single-occupancy vehicle to transit and active transportation. Seattle’s official 2013 goal for VMT is a 20% drop from 2008 levels by 2030, a modest reduction that the city is currently further away from than when we adopted the goal.

Seattle’s vehicle miles travelled trends compared to the goal.

A neighborhood or segment of a neighborhood where most of the cars and trucks permitted to use the streets are delivering goods could amount to one of the biggest shifts of street space to biking and walking ever. Of course, if everyone in Seattle isn’t able to access that emissions-free zone or zones, the impact would be limited and likely inequitable.

The plan spends some time addressing that inequality in the transportation system that our choices continue to reinforce. “Climate justice is a central focus of this plan,” it states. “Our residents and neighbors who are least responsible for climate change and least equipped to adapt, are already disproportionately bearing the health and financial impacts of climate change.” Given that it notes that “residents living in the Duwamish Valley community in South Seattle will die eight years sooner than other Seattle neighborhoods due to air pollution and exposure to environmental toxins”, then that fact should be centered in the urgent task of removing those pollutants, and the emissions that come along with them, from our transportation system.

Among the other 2030 goals in the blueprint is that every single vehicle providing “shared mobility”, including taxis, Uber, Lyft, as well as electric scooter and bike share, is zero-emissions, that 90% of personal trips are in vehicles that are zero-emission, and 30% of goods delivery is completed by zero-emissions vehicles. Having a city-owned fleet that is also 100% zero-emission by 2030 is also a goal. The blueprint states that these “ambitious, yet achievable, goals will accelerate market transformation and make it possible for Seattle to achieve a clean energy future”.

Another plan on the shelf with another set of ambitious goals doesn’t mean much when we aren’t achieving the goals we’ve already set. If we are actually serious about achieving the goals, it’s going to require more specifics and more concrete actions.

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Meet Shelly Baldwin, new Director of the Washington Traffic Safety Commission

Shelly Badwin

The Washington Traffic Safety Commission is a public agency that flies under the radar. In February, the commission got a new leader when Shelly Baldwin, previously the Legislative and Media Relations division director at the WTSC, was appointed head of the commission by Governor Inslee. Last year, the previous Director, Darrin Grondel, who had been appointed to the job by Governor Christine Gregoire in 2012, left to become Vice President of Traffic Safety and Government Relations at The Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility.

We sat down with Director Baldwin recently to get a better understanding of the Safety Commission’s role in improving traffic safety in Washington.

Seattle Bike Blog: I guess the first question would just be, tell me a little bit more about your background and how you ended up as the Director.

Director Baldwin: Yeah, you know, when I was a little girl, I wanted to be an astronaut, so I don’t know how I ended up here. I wanted to be a writer growing up, and when I became a grown up, I had a freelance writing situation going on and the commission began hiring me for many of their writing projects. That was back in ’92…So for many years, I enjoyed my association with the commission. I learned a lot about traffic safety, I wrote their grants, I wrote the first Target Zero plan. And then my daughter went to college and I realized I was going to need a little bit more of a steady income, and I was lucky enough to be hired on as a program manager. I took their impaired driving program as my emphasis area and worked in that for maybe seven years. And then as people retired, they asked me to do legislation and their communications, which I did for about seven years before our director, Darrin Grondel left and I applied for the position and I was extremely humbled to have been chosen for it. So that’s about twenty-five years in traffic safety.

Seattle Bike Blog: So you’ve been along for almost all of the Target Zero program.

Director Baldwin: Almost. So in 2000, the director at the time, John Moffitt, had come back with information about what they were doing in Norway, on their Vision, Zero piece, and he said to the team, I am not going to continue to set goals that maybe we can kill X number of people this year, which is 20 less than last year. It just doesn’t make any sense to me that that would be our goal. And he at that point implemented Target Zero, worked with all of the partners to bring them on board and honestly, everybody thought he was crazy for a little bit, probably including his staff…Like zero is never going to happen, why would we set that for our goal? But as we’ve existed in this world and watched successes in Norway, we really think that this is the only appropriate goal to set.

If you’ve seen it, but we do have a video out about why zero is the appropriate goal. It’s basically man-on-the-street interviews across the state asking people just basic questions, how many people do you think are killed in car crashes in Washington, and what do you think the leading causes are, what do you think an appropriate goal is. Most people say, well, can we kill ten thousand? They have no idea how many people actually die in Washington per year.

And then we say, well, what’s the goal for your family? And, you know, that gives them pause. And that’s where I’m at too. I certainly don’t want anybody in my family to ever be killed just because they’re trying to get from one place to another, regardless of what method they’re using. But more than that, there are actually things that we could be doing, if we would make the commitment as a state, to get us there.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the actual Target Zero strategic plan…It’s a big, big plan, but there are sections in there that talk about the most important things we could be doing to reach zero. And those are things that we will always be advocating for, even when they’re not popular.

Seattle Bike Blog: And so how do you describe the Safety Commission’s role in the statewide ecosystem?

Director Baldwin: That’s a really good question. The Safety Commission was formed back in 1967…The federal government required all states to have a highway safety representative appointed by the Governor. And that’s what this position is. There are fifty-four other people like me, who are the head of their traffic safety office and serve as that governor’s representative. But when we were formed, we were a little unique, so most states formed their highway safety office, either as part of their public safety statewide state patrol kind of office or under their DOTs. Washington however took a very different approach, recognizing that traffic safety is a multifaceted issue.

They made us a commission. So we have: the heads of agencies, including department of licensing, department of health, state patrol. superintendent of public instruction, a person who represents counties , a person who represents cities, a person who represents the judiciary…And they form our commission, which makes us super lucky. So we are a commission, we’re twenty-two people big right now. We could possibly be twenty-six people if we filled positions. And yet we’re tasked with eliminating all traffic crashes in the state, so obviously it’s not about simply what we can do. It really is about bringing those commissioners into the fold, letting them provide us direction and also providing them with what traffic safety professionals do and what we learn from the connections we have throughout America. And guiding and building partnerships, so we take charge of the Target Zero plan every three years, we bring all the partners to the table. We have a partners meeting to kick off that probably has, what was our last count, about 500 people that attend. So really, the best thing that we can do is organizing and bringing together lots of different professionals to help us reach our goals.

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