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Is safety really Seattle’s #1 transportation priority?

This plan was led by residents, has Council support, has been designed, and has funding. Why has it been delayed?

Just about all the transportation news since the city announced the Road Safety Action Plan has made me question whether safety really is the city’s top transportation priority.

Here’s what happened: The city held a press conference in South Lake Union announcing the plan and declaring the goal of zero traffic deaths by 2030.

Less than a week later, the city bailed on the community-led Ballard neighborhood greenway plan on NW 58th Street just because a couple loud people were against it for reasons that resemble misunderstandings more than legitimate project design concerns. In the process, they ignored the large amount of neighborhood support and grassroots, volunteer organizing that brought the plan this far. On top of it all, the city’s design for the project is totally awesome (see below).

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The city says they will “reevaluate” and come back in the spring for another open house, thus abandoning their goal of seven miles of neighborhood greenways in 2012. Because apparently they need more research than this to put in some wayfinding signs, stop signs and median islands:

Ballard Greenway Presentation

This delay comes one the heels of yet another big delay in completing the Burke-Gilman Missing Link through Ballard, where people continue to crash at an alarming rate. Sure, the city is fighting to get this project completed, but it adds to the feeling that safety projects just can’t win in Seattle.

There’s seemingly no action on the increasingly loud calls for protected bikeways downtown, no action to increase safety along the still-dangerous South Lake Union Streetcar tracks, no clear support from the city in support of the 520 biking and walking trail across Portage Bay, and few new miles of road diets on our city’s surplus of highway-like neighborhood streets.

However, the city did announce a $5 million increase in annual road maintenance money for what Mayor McGinn called “the basics, filling potholes and making more, longer-lasting repairs to our streets.” The basics? I thought road safety was a transportation basic and the city’s top priority. Clearly there is some bike safety gains from filling potholes and cracks, and I’m not against maintaining roads, of course. But maintaining dangerous roads makes no sense. We need to maintain and redesign for safety at the same time. Where’s the increased money for safety and more ADA-compliant curbs? To put this $5 million increase in perspective, that’s more than half the entire bicycle program budget.

The city also announced a Sodo arena deal that would invest $40 million to deal with Sodo traffic issues. Hopefully some of that will address the horrendous environment for people on foot and bike, but that has not been specifically mentioned as a goal.

Then the city and state announced a $30 million deal to help with car parking mitigation on Alaskan Way. No mention of safety on Alaskan Way. Meanwhile, a man was struck at Alaskan and Union Wednesday evening while crossing on foot. He went to the hospital in critical condition. I send him my best wishes and hope he heals soon.

You get the idea. In just the two weeks since the city announced their goal of zero traffic deaths, they have announced $75+ million in mostly-non-safety-related transportation investments. We’re not going to achieve significant increases in road safety unless we invest in it and make bold decisions to make it an actual priority, not just some words on paper.

When Mayor McGinn took office, he faced a lot of pushback on a bunch of neighborhood arterial redesign projects around town. Now, it’s almost impossible to imagine Greenwood Ave, Nickerson, 15th Ave S, Columbian Way, NE 125th, 11th Ave NE, Roosevelt and more as the dangerous highway-style roads they were before. Studies show big decreases in collisions and effectively no affect on vehicle throughput. It was a bold series of cost-effective projects, and it was met with a bold pushback.

But history has shown he was right, and the city’s traffic engineering was spot on. Now is not the time to let loud, angry voices stop our road safety investments. We know how to solve traffic injuries and deaths, we just need the political will to make it happen.

UPDATE: Wow, this post was sure effective! Within minutes of posting it, the PSRC announced their transpo funding recommendations, including some good biking and walking opportunities (23rd Ave!). AND the Mayor posted a series of transpo proposals to Slog, including an interesting-sounding proposal for a transit/walking/biking bridge across the Ship Canal along the Eastlake corridor.

Here’s the PSRC list:

 The Puget Sound Regional Council is recommending more than $166 million in funding for projects in Seattle, part of more than $440 million in federal funds proposed by PSRC to improve transportation around the region.

Projects include:
·         Mercer Corridor West Project – Underpass Segment  (5th Ave N to 9th Ave N)* – $10,000,000
·         South Lake Union Streetcar Maintenance – $515,024
·         Westlake Cycle Track – $1,706,586
·         23rd Avenue Corridor Improvements  – South Jackson Street to East John Street – $3,500,000
·         23rd Avenue Corridor Improvements  – South Jackson Street to East Madison Street Preservation – $1,500,000
·         First Hill Street Car – Broadway Extension – $850,000
·         Seattle Central Waterfront Regional Passenger-Only Ferry Terminal  – $1,366,530
·         Bicycle Access Enhancements to King County Metro RapidRide Bus Rapid Transit – $600,000
·         King County Metro Electric Trolley Fleet Replacement – $67,092,357
·         Refurbishing Transit Tunnel Elevators – $2,839,594
·         Third Ave Transit Corridor Improvement and RapidRide Facilities Project  – $3,480,000
·         Lynnwood to Northgate Link Light Rail – $26,919,692
·         North Link: Extend Light Rail from UW to Northgate Transit Center – $29,442,586
·         Holman Rd Northwest – NW 87th Street to Greenwood Ave North Preservation – $1,129,357
·         NE 125th Street/Roosevelt Way NE/NE 130th   Street – I-5 Overpass to Sand Point Way NE Preservation – $1,000,000
·         South Park Bridge Replacement – $15,000,000

“These projects were selected on their merits and support the region’s economic development and growth,” said Bellevue Councilmember Claudia Balducci, chair of PSRC’s Transportation Policy Board.  “When Congress approved these funds earlier this year, their focus was on growing and sustaining jobs.  These projects, large and small, will put people to work and shore up the foundations of our economy for the future.”

PSRC is encouraging public comments on the projects proposed for funding and on the region’s draft Transportation Improvement Program for 2013-2016. The public comment period runs from September 13 through October 25, 2012. The vote by PSRC’s Executive Board to approve the 2013-2016 Transportation Improvement Program is scheduled for October 25. A complete list of all projects and more information is available at psrc.org.

How to make a comment:

Puget Sound Regional Council
ATTN: Kelly McGourty
1011 Western Avenue, Suite 500
Seattle, Washington 98104-1035

[email protected]

In Person:
October 11, 2012 or October 25, 2012 at PSRC

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20 responses to “Is safety really Seattle’s #1 transportation priority?”

  1. Chuck

    Nicely said Tom.

  2. I’m watching with GREAT interest…

  3. Eileen

    Great summary. It is still disappointing even with the list you later added from the PRSC how few improvements are proposed for better connections for West Seattle.

    1. WSHC

      Agreed. Really wish they would address the “no man’s land” ride between downtown and West Seattle. Scary and stressful when it’s busy with trucks during the day, eerie and desolate at night.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Now that the Alaksan Way trail is there, it’s obvious that the city should continue that all the way to the W Seattle Bridge as a two-way protected cycletrack. Does anyone know if there is a plan for that segment of E Marginal Way as part of the viaduct project?

      2. rider

        They have been slowly adding bike facilities on East Marginal between the stadiums and Spokane Street. They striped more than a mile of separated bike lane a couple of years ago for the southbound direction, and recently they added some green bike lanes at Hanford and East Marginal. An area for real improvement would be the 5 way intersection at lower Spokane, Chelan, and West Marginal. Any bicyclist or pedestrian going to Admiral, Alki, or other destination in the north section of West Seattle must go through there. The signals don’t work, and consequently, everyone invents their own unique way of getting from point A to B at this location. I am surprised there haven’t been serious injuries here. Many cyclists use this daily.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        The E Marignal bike facilities could definitely be worse, but they’re not exactly comfortable and inviting. A barrier separation from trucks is a must. There is plenty of space, especially if you move the NB bike lane to the west side for a two-way track. This would also solve the issue just north of the WSB where it’s really awkward and difficult to get to the northbound bike lane (many people just bike on the sidewalk instead, which is not a sufficient option).

  4. Breadbaker

    So if I follow your math, the amount to be spent on the waterfront parking is three times the annual budget for all bike related projects. What exactly is the need to spend anything on this at all?

  5. Orv

    I don’t think the problem is specific to safety projects. I think it’s just another example of the usual Seattle habit of delaying any project that doesn’t have 100% consensus. Very little ever gets done here because there’s always some group that will complain about not getting what they want, and they can bring the whole process to a halt. The Ballard Greenway is a good example. It’s like trying to drive a bus where every passenger has their own brake pedal.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      That’s a great metaphor for the Seattle process :-)

    2. There wasn’t 100% consensus on the Deeply Boring Tunnel or the so-called “park boulevard” surface highway doubling as street parking for the ferry terminal. That stuff is getting built.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        It seems like the only consensus about the DBT was that everyone wanted to stop talking about it. Unfortunately, the pro-tunnel side won out, but it was a bloody fight (and the fight over the “boulevard” highway isn’t over. We need to work hard for the walking environment to be safer, which is key for the success of the entire park.).

  6. AiliL


    So I wonder how much the new federal guidelines may be playing into this and how SDOT is handling the information. I’d like to see SDOT let us know which roads in the area are effected and how that could effect implementation of bike/ped infrastructure for Seattle. Looks like it’s bad news all around.

  7. Bob Hall

    This reminds me of a recent Bill Maher monologue where he’s says: “How can Republicans be so mad at Obama, when *I’m* so mad at Obama?… If they’re mad that I got everything I wanted, shouldn’t I have at least gotten it?”

    That reminded me so much of Seattle and McGinn. They say he’s this rabidly pro-bike nazi who unleashed this wave of bicycle dollars all over the city, ruining everything for cars. Um, that would all be a fine thing to say …. if we had actually gotten more bicycle dollars and infrastructure! Can anybody point to me how the rate of bicycle improvements has gone up since he took office?

    Same with this supposed safety program. Sounds like a lot of talk, with most dollars still going to the usual suspects — cars, parking for cars, and a few scraps thrown in for peds, cyclists, and safety.

  8. bill

    “rider says:
    An area for real improvement would be the 5 way intersection at lower Spokane, Chelan, ….The signals don’t work, and consequently, everyone invents their own unique way of getting from point A to B at this location. “

    The signals work. You have to have patience and wait your turn. Signage for bikes would help a lot, as would repainting the roads. The bike sensor markings have mostly disappeared on Delridge. Bike sensors should be installed on Chelan, and a turn lane striped to lead riders across to the curb cut on Delridge. Coming westbound from the bridge, the ramp from Delridge is a blind crossing. There should at leas be a mirror so riders can see to the left. Ideally there should be a crossing light to stop bikes when a vehicle is coming.

    The turn signs for traffic off the bridge which are visible from Delridge are an enduring danger. Lots of drivers think those signs mean they can make a left from the right hand lane of Delridge, even though those signs are next to the lights for the bridge. I tangle with drivers turning from the wrong lane nearly every month. I have complained to the city about this to no effect.

  9. Naomi Wilson

    There was a cyclist down this morning in South Lake Union. Just north of the Fred Hutch on Eastlake. She was headed southbound. Any updates or information would be great. I didn’t stop because there were more than a few people with her but she was on the ground. Traffic reroutes in the area are HORRIBLE for cyclists and she was IN THE BIKE LANE.

  10. Will Douglas

    Hmm, this seems like a bit of an overreaction to me. SDOT has a fairly typical m.o. when it comes to dealing with this kind of opposition. They’ll announce a short delay for more feedback, let anger dissipate, and then come right back and do the same plan as intended. Their message on the Ballard Greenway reads just like the message they put out on the NE 125th road diet in 2010. They delayed for more feedback and then decided to move ahead in 2011 with the same plan. McGinn took a ton of shit for it but didn’t waver.

    Similarly, SDOT announced a delay for more feedback on the Roosevelt bike lane between 75th and 85th – and right now they’re back with the same proposal and it’s likely to happen.

    I know people want a confrontation and want to see a smackdown of the whiny NIMBYs. God knows I want it too. But I don’t see evidence for any claim that the city is backing off, and I think they have hit on a smart strategy whose results I can’t argue with.

    Personally my anger is directed at the Ballard businesses who are blocking the missing link project, jeopardizing lives in the process.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Having the same debate twice doesn’t help. The Roosevelt project was essentially received the same way the second time, and I had to go back and dig up my old reports on the issue just to rehash them.

      I’d like to have new debates over new projects.

      Or, better yet, I would like SDOT’s process to look a little different. Instead of presenting people with a project and saying, “What do you think?” (which is essentially SDOT trolling themselves: Someone will always be there to hate it), SDOT should approach the neighborhood and say, “You have identified a problem, and the city wants to invest to solve it. What should that solution look like?” That helps active neighbors feel some ownership over the project and prevent this image that SDOT is swooping in from downtown to tell you how your neighborhood should be.

      This is the role the neighborhood greenways groups are sort of filling now. Things obviously could have gone better in Ballard on 58th St. But on the otherhand, neighbors did get together and do that work and now feel a sense of ownership. That’s why the 58th St delay is more frustrating to me than, say, the Roosevelt delay. When you have that clear support and involvement, the city needs to make the leap and rely on that community strength, even if it isn’t unanimous (nothing ever will be).

  11. Anthony

    Mayor McGinn is a complete waste of time when it comes to cycling and dealing with the city’s infrastructure issues. The best bet everyone has is to vote the piece of junk out of his office. I am actively working to gather votes against him, and the best way to do that is let McGinn do his work which showcases why not to vote for him.

    This town is so anti-bike it is amazing…fortunately there are some great individuals and a few groups who do care about cyclists and the overall quality of life here. It just happens that McGinn literally doesn’t give a crap about them unless they have massive amounts of dough for him.

    Hmm, funny how a basketball is all of a sudden more important than everyday users of the transportation system here…

  12. […] has stated that safety is its top transportation priority, but policy investments have not yet followed suit. […]

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