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Bike plan hearing delayed until May, 100+ ride for a safer Westlake

Councilmember Tom Rasmussen attended the ride and addressed the crowd
Councilmember Tom Rasmussen attended the ride and addressed the crowd

It’s official. The hearing to decide the lawsuit to delay the Bike Master Plan update has, itself, been delayed. Originally scheduled for March, the date is now set for May 14.

Meanwhile, Cascade Bicycle Club organized a bike ride along Westlake Sunday that drew around 100 people, including some members of the group suing to delay the Bike Master Plan and several City Councilmembers.

“I am committed to having a great bicycle track on Westlake,” said Tom Rasmussen, City Councilmember and Chair of the Transportation Committee. He said a safe place to bike in the corridor has been a long time coming, and that it could be designed so Westlake is “better for everyone.”

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Councilmember Mike O’Brien also attended the ride and told the crowd that his concern about safety issues on Westlake was one of the first reasons he ever stepped foot in Seattle City Hall. When plans for bike lanes on the street were scrapped as part of a corridor remake in the early 2000s, O’Brien and a group went down to city hall to ask why. The city’s response: We’re working on a solution soon.

More than a decade later, there is still no clear way to safely and comfortably bike in the area.

Supporters and members of the Westlake Stakeholders Group suing to stop the bike plan held signs during the ride seemingly of support for the plan’s goals.

There is a frustrating disconnect surrounding this whole Westlake/bike plan lawsuit situation. Here’s a recap of some key facts:

  • There is no design for the Westlake bikeway, and no details about any possible reduction in parking spaces. The city is currently developing a number of design options and will soon seek community input on the benefits and trade-offs of each option.
  • Essentially everyone wants a safe and economically viable Westlake, and Westlake community members who attended the ride seemed to have the same basic goals as the people who organized the ride.
  • The Bicycle Master Plan lawsuit does not stop or slow plans for a remake of Westlake.

At one point during a pause in the ride, some members of the so-called Westlake Stakeholders Group suing to delay the bike plan started discussing his group’s preferred alignment for the Westlake bikeway (on the west side of the street). This started a good conversation about he pros and cons of placing the bikeway in different parts of the wide corridor. It was a great moment because it demonstrated that not only can we work through the planning process together, but there is a desire on both sides to do so.

Other members and supporters of the Westlake Stakeholders Group held signs during the ride that said things like “Westlake Community Safety For All” and “Keep Westlake Flowing For Everyone.” These are also goals of the Westlake bikeway project. But they are especially goals of the Bicycle Master Plan, which this group has sued to delay even though the delay will have no effect on the project they are upset about.

It’s clear that most people who are part of the Westlake Stakeholders Group want to have a say in the development of the Westlake project. While I don’t recall anyone saying Westlake residents and workers shouldn’t have a say, many apparently got that impression.

Well, if their intention was to get the city’s attention, they’ve done that. But they did it by pulling the fire alarm and waking up the whole damn city. Great, you’ve made your point and we all see you now. Now turn off the alarm and let everyone else get back to work on road safety in their neighborhoods. If you don’t you’re not going to be very popular and nobody is going to be interested in what you have to say.

Filing this lawsuit to delay the Bicycle Master Plan is an enormous overstep by the Westlake Stakeholders Group. It slows down safety improvements on streets in all corners of Seattle. If it wasn’t clear at the start, we now know that the lawsuit will do nothing to impact the Westlake project they are concerned about. Instead, the lawsuit is a move to either antagonize people working for safe streets in all city neighborhoods (many of them far away from Westlake) or to flex legal muscle and enter into Westlake conversations with an extra bargaining chip in their pocket.

It does not have to be this way. But only the Westlake Stakeholders Group is in a position to fix things. They must drop this lawsuit.

People in all parts of the city have been working for two years on this plan. It is aimed at increasing the safety and comfort of bike routes so they are comfortable for people of all ages and abilities. It has a specific focus on low-income neighborhoods that have been left out of the city’s bike investments to date. And aside from concerns about Westlake and NE 65ht St, the plan sailed through a public hearing with huge support in December. It’s all together and ready to be passed, and it’s about so much more than Westlake. This is why people are so angry about this lawsuit.

If the Westlake Stakeholders Group drags this suit out all the way to May (or beyond), then I don’t see the conversation about Westlake being very productive. I also don’t see city officials, planners or other people and groups with interest in Westlake having much of a reason to give the input of the Westlake Stakeholders Group much weight. Who wants to work with a bully group that would sue to stop road safety improvements all over the city just to make a point about one specific and unrelated project?

The Westlake residents I met on the ride Sunday were friendly, engaged and interested in making Westlake better for everyone. They were not bullies, like this legal action would suggest. I hope they pressure the group to withdraw this lawsuit and return to the table so the community can focus on how to make a better Westlake for everyone.

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26 responses to “Bike plan hearing delayed until May, 100+ ride for a safer Westlake”

  1. Bob Hall

    “Instead, the lawsuit is a move to … enter into Westlake conversations with an extra bargaining chip in their pocket.”

    I would personally love to adopt this tactic — stake out a position so far out that when you finally meet in the “middle” you end up with way more than you would have if you made a reasonable request in the first place. Someday we could be saying “Ok, ok, we’ll drop our lawsuit to block the freeway expansion and all we ask for in return is 150 miles of protected bike lanes and greenways…”

  2. Leif Espelund

    Well those Westlake Stakeholders Group people showing up and discussing the situation is a positive sign. Tom, since they are obviously interested in being part of the process maybe they’d be willing to sit down with you for an interview/discussion? I wonder if they just don’t realize how planning works and that they need to be more patient and see some actual proposals (or work to put out one of their own) before they jump the gun and hire a lawyer to stop the whole process.

    1. Charlie

      I would love to see an interview with some one from the group.

  3. Jake

    I spent a fair bit of time chatting with one of the Westlake Stakeholders representatives who came along on the ride. The main point I heard her reiterate was that their community perceives a history of SDOT forcing projects on them without giving them a chance for input. They feel this bike route design is just the latest action reflecting that trend. They are especially angry that the city applied for federal money without talking to them, and say the city has “stonewalled” them for the last several months on the subject.

    I certainly have some arguments with how they’ve perceived these things (and I hope she will take the feedback I gave back to the stakeholders group), but right or wrong, that seems to be where the Westlake Stakeholders folks are coming from.

    1. bill

      I had never ridden on the official sidewalk-bike trail before, and I never will again! In what bizzaro bureaucratic world does that route make sense? No wonder everyone who lives or works along that part of the trail hates it.

      I thought we were rather nice letting the “Stakeholders” representatives join the ride, considering the “Stakeholders” closed their meeting to city-wide stakeholders.

      The Westlake “Stakeholders” Group seems upset because they say the first they knew about this project was when city surveyors turned up in the (city) parking lot. It would be nice to get a statement from SDOT about any outreach they conducted to know whether the “Stakeholders” were too lazy to read their mail. However, given that the planning has only just begun, I would wager the city is waiting until it has some design alternatives to present at open houses. That is how the process for major street redesigns has been conducted in my neighborhood. The city presents several alternatives at public meetings and solicits feedback from interested parties. The “stonewalling” on the part of the city is probably just due to the city not having anything to present yet. The “Stakeholders” should have their infamous lawyer explain the city processes to them, then have the help mix martinis and relax on the afterdecks of their yachts.

      From what the “Stakeholders” indicated at the ride, their preferred cycle path alignment is on the west side of Westlake — the opposite side from the parking lots. But the businesses should realize that businesses are destinations and not everyone on a bike is just out getting some air. I frequently bike to run errands. In fact, after the ride I rode to U Village to do some shopping. Putting the bike path on the east side of Westlake will bring shoppers to those businesses. The business owners should do some careful thinking about this issue.

      I can’t think of a worse course of action than what the “Stakeholders” have chosen. By throwing a monkey wrench into the city-wide BMP they have incurred the ire of everyone in the city who wants safer streets. From where I live and where I go, I personally don’t have much use for a bike route on Westlake. But I donated to Cascade’s legal action, and I hope lots of other people will support Cascade as well.

      1. Jake

        Bill – I agree that the legal action of the “stakeholders” has sent clear message to the rest of the city. But I honestly believe that message they sent was unintentional: the representative I talked with seemed genuinely surprised when I told her about the millions of dollars and decade of obstructionism that Josh Brower, the lawyer they hired, has caused in to the Missing Link project.

        The stakeholders thought they were fighting SDOT; they didn’t realize that in the process they were trampling on their fellow citizens. And the huge irony of this whole thing is that once their obstructionist, misguided, and myopic legal action is crushed by the city, they will be the greatest beneficiaries of the proposed improvements.

      2. Matthew Snyder

        Bill, it seems to me that routing the cycletrack on the west side of Westlake would potentially be safer than on the east side: fewer intersections and driveways to deal with, which are the major danger spots for cyclists. Access to lakefront businesses for cyclists could easily be handled with a few safe crossing spots, ideally controlled with traffic lights. I don’t think there’s any reason that we should dismiss that option out of hand.

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        I agree, MS. It should at the very least be studied as an option so we can weigh pros and cons compared to other options. That’s how the process is supposed to work.

  4. toadfish

    Ah, yes, but it will make thier lawyer rich and isn’t that the point. Just drag it out and make it as far-reaching as possible. More billable hours that way. I feel sorry for tge stakeholders group. They are being bamboozled and the whole city is paying the price al

  5. RTK

    I had read comments before about the crazy amount of space dedicated to free parking along this corridor. Having ridden on the street previously I guess I didn’t have a real sense of the insane amount of free parking here until I went on the Sunday policy ride. I think if people in this region want to be obstructionist the businesses and people that work and live in this region should pay for their parking. I’m not really sure how the city ended up subsidizing all these businesses, I can’t really think of an equivalent situation anywhere else in the city.

    Let’s have a thoughtful review about how to have safe flow through this region and generate revenue to maintain this massive parking lot. Can someone sue the city for not attempting to generate parking revenue in a responsible manner along this corridor?

  6. mandy

    Oh, so the businesses don’t want to give up their free parking subsidies and are willing to obstruct reasonable plans that would help move traffic and bicycles through town safely. It’s thinking like that that holds us back from progressing. They couch it in terms of “freedom,” but it’s really their freedom to continue to collect subsidies and benefits and profits, and screw everybody else.

    I took that ride once and it’s not a safe one, and these business owners’ obstruction should not be catered to. If they want to waste their money on lawyers, that’s their choice, but Seattle WILL move forward as a bike-friendly city because it’s the right thing to do, for the community, not a small group of well off business owners, business owners who obviously care little for the community that has helped make them successful. That’s a special kind of selfishness and greed.

  7. Jack

    Maybe time to start kayaking through there and reporting any oil spills we encounter?

  8. bill

    @Jake: “… the representative I talked with seemed genuinely surprised when I told her about the millions of dollars and decade of obstructionism that Josh Brower…”

    It can’t be an accident that Brower was hired. Somebody in the “Stakeholders” knew what they were getting, but has no feel for public relations. Is there anyone else they could have hired who would make the cycling community more angry?

    1. Paige

      Actually, hiring Sierra Hansen was their worst move. She is anti-PR. She only makes conversations toxic.

  9. Law Abider

    A quote from the “stakeholders” website:
    “The Westlake community is a diverse, unique, water-dependent community in the heart of Seattle.”

    So why do they care what happens on land?

  10. Enduser

    Developing & creating a bike lane along Westlake Ave, the way I see it, serves primarily the singular purpose of making bicycling more comfortable for folks who may commute North/Northwest from SLU or the metropolitan core.

    Let me ask, is the hilly terrain a bit much for most?

    1. RTK

      The issue being addressed is safety, not comfort. Additionally it is based on access for all users for many reasons, not just commuters.

    2. bill

      What’s wrong with comfortable cycling? We’ve paved all of creation to make driving comfortable, and now the only dependable thing about driving around Seattle during business hours is that you will end up stuck in a traffic jam. The more people we can encourage to bike, the less worse car traffic will become. Mark my words, car traffic is only going to get worse as the population grows.

      Yes, I would say the Dexter hill climb is a bit much for many aspiring bike commuters, particularly if they don’t want arrive at work sweaty. For me Dexter is normally a speedbump. Over the holidays I got badly sick and out of shape, and found Dexter pretty difficult for a couple of weeks. To someone new to bicycling it must be a major deterrent.

  11. Art Huber

    I think there’s plenty of space between the east side curb and the sidewalk in front of business to merit a reconfiguration of the parking spaces. Rather than have them separated by a wide gulf, with one side parking westward and the other side parking eastward, they could push them nose-to-nose, like you find in most commercial parking lots. This would create a great deal of width for a bike lane. Primary issue, however, remains the surface draining inlets and existing trees but those can be remedied over time.

  12. Art Huber

    I think there’s plenty of space between the east side curb and the sidewalk in front of business to merit a reconfiguration of the parking spaces. Rather than have them separated by a wide gulf, with one side parking westward and the other side parking eastward, they could push them nose-to-nose, like you find in most commercial parking lots. This would create a great deal of width for a bike lane. Primary issue, however, remains the surface draining inlets and existing trees but those can be remedied over time.

  13. Mondoman

    I’m concerned that the demonization of the stakeholders’ group in many of the comments here just serves to perpetuate the stereotype of cycling supporters as selfish, entitled, and more likely to tell others how to live their lives than to listen to their actual needs.

    I’ve always found the current Westlake parking/path route enjoyable and safe, but then I’m more of a 10mph rider. Has there been an undue incidence of bike accidents along that stretch that prompts a redesign so close to the existing Dexter route?

    1. Queen Anne cyclist

      Mondoman: I agree. The vitriol is a bit much.

      I’m a 10mph rider who uses the Westlake parking lots a lot. I think it’s critical to keep your speed down to normal 10 mph limit in parking lots regardless of your vehicle type.

      I would love to have a cycle track along Westlake, but I am concerned about the interactions with cars turning into the lots at intersections. There are tons of cyclists who blow right through intersections when they’re on a bike path without even looking, as can be seen riding along the Burke-Gilman through the U-District. I think they mistakenly feel safer because they’re on a path instead of the road. Combine that with drivers that aren’t paying attention, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I haven’t seen discussion of how that will be handled.

      We should just build an elevated cycle track over the lots with lots of access points. There would be less chance of bike/car collisions and we could gain covered parking spaces. Score!

    2. If the stakeholders group made their voice heard in the upcoming public process regarding the project that actually affects them, and they were demonized for that, you’d have a point.

      Instead, they’re suing the city over adoption of the BMP, which doesn’t even help them get what they want on Westlake but does waste public funds and hold up planning work elsewhere. Their concern over parking and business access is basically legitimate, in that it’s worthy of consideration in the upcoming design process. And it surely will be considered — already the city has studied how, when, and for what purposes the existing parking is used. Their lawsuit, on the other hand, is absolutely worthy of criticism and public scorn.

      1. bill

        Well put, Al. The “Stakeholders” chose the most antagonistic option. They should not be surprised at the reaction.

  14. Clark in Vancouver

    Something I noticed about the signs was the wording. “Westlake Community Safety For All” and “Keep Westlake Flowing For Everyone.”
    To me it sounds like they’re thinking that someone cycling is a different person than someone walking or driving.
    This kind of language brings the discussion to a false sense of how things are.
    Once a “cyclist” locks up their bike and walks to the store or their boat, they’ve suddenly become a “pedestrian”. Does that mean they are now good and no longer evil? Does that individual now side with some other people now?
    It’s an inaccurate idea to make a mode of transportation be what defines a person. We shouldn’t be wording phrases as if it would.

    So what other kind of wording could be used instead?
    Maybe “Westlake Community Safety for all activities”. “Make Westlake flow for all modes”.
    What do others think?

  15. […] over 2012 and 2013, would have no impact on the Westlake project they are upset about. After all, as we wrote last month, who wants to deal with a […]

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