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WA Transpo Bill Update: ‘Modest’ walk/bike safety boost, UW trail makeover, Eastside bike share + lots of highways

Image from the House Democrats (thus the politicized slant)
Image from the House Democrats (thus the politicized slant)

The WA legislature is getting closer to a possible deal on transportation funding, paid for in large part through a raise in the gas tax and raises in various weight fees.

As with state spending for the past generation, the vast majority of spending in both the House and Senate bills will be on highways, including new and expanded roads. In fact, from a high level, the two versions of the bill really aren’t very different, House leaders noted to the Seattle Times last week. This includes the remaining $1.5 billion needed to connect the 520 Bridge to Seattle, as well as widening I-405 and extending Highway 167 in the Tacoma area (the Urbanist doesn’t even see much time gain from this project).

But it’s a bipartisan state transportation package, and everyone is going to need to do a lot of nose holding if this thing is going to pass. I am not here to convince you that all this highway expansion money is OK. Instead, I’m going to focus on the biking and walking investments that have so far made it into the bill. Because there is some good stuff buried under all those highways.

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To put the current House version into perspective, planned spending on the Bike/Ped Grant Program ($75M), Bike/Ped Projects ($100M) and Safe Routes to Schools Grant Program ($56M) combine to make up just 1.5 percent of the $15 billion package. Add the Complete Streets Grant Program ($160M) and you’re up to 2.6 percent. And while that might seem small, it’s a bigger piece of the state funding pie than usual.

Currently, only one in four of Safe Routes to School project proposals from communities all around the state will be funded. The House version boosts Safe Routes to School funding to $56 million. That’s great, but it’s not enough to meet the school safety need in communities across the state, according to Washington Bikes.

And in coming years, more and more applications will come in from places big and small who could use some help from the state making the streets near their schools safer. The state should be looking to boost their funding even further, which would be a great way to engage communities all across the state on taking action to make their streets safer for people of all ages and abilities.

After all, the state’s Target Zero traffic safety plan notes that declines in injuries and deaths in recent decades have largely left out people who walk or bike. With a Safe Routes to School grant, local communities partner with the state to solve this problem together. That’s exactly what we need, and a program worthy of as much investment as we can muster. Plus, compared to the cost of just one new or expanded highway, community safety projects are such an incredible value.

The transportation bill also calls out a bunch of projects specifically. While there are more projects that will affect biking and walking, here’s a look at a few you all might find particularly interesting (UPDATED, click to see more bike/walk projects and transit projects).

  • $10 million for Northgate walk/bike bridge
  • $5.5 million for bike share in Bellevue, Redmond, Kirkland and Issaquah
  • $16 million for UW Burke-Gilman Trail remake
  • $2.8 million for 520 Trail in Bellevue
  • $1.8 million for I-90 Trail in Bellevue
  • $1.09 million for Cross Kirkland Corridor/NE 52nd Street in Kirkland
  • $10.7 million for 520 Trail grade separation in Redmond
  • $8.8 million for the U District Gateway Bridge (UPDATE: This is noted in the legislation as a Seattle project, but this may be in Spokane’s U District. Trying to learn more.)
  • $0.5 million for a Seattle Waterfront Loop Feasibility Study

The House version also takes out the ridiculous “poison pill” in the Senate version that would revert all mulitmodal funds to highway spending if the state enacts clean fuel standards Governor Jay Inslee has been pushing (though those standards are not included in either version of the bill). The House also includes full authority Sound Transit needs to put a ballot measure in front of regional voters in 2016.

This is a 16-year funding package, and there is still a lot of work to do to get the bill through the House and to mesh the two versions together into a compromise bill.

WA Bikes urges support of the House version, but wants you all to write your representatives to urge further investments in walking, biking and Safe Routes to School. Here’s the default text of a letter you can send via the WA Bikes website:

I am writing to voice my thanks for the work by the House and Senate to develop transportation revenue proposals that prioritizes funding for biking and walking safety. Biking and walking safety, including Safe Routes to School, projects are popular and vital to helping build healthier and more economically vibrant communities throughout our state. I recognize both the Senate and House proposals made important contributions and forward progress for biking and walking.

I support the foundation established by the House proposal for a walking and biking project list of $100 million, and additive investments of $56 million and $75 million for the Safe Routes to School and Bicycle Pedestrian Grant Programs, respectively.

And while I appreciate this step to invest in safety and community priorities, your work is not over. The House and Senate negotiations should aim to increase the Safe Routes to School investments. Currently only 1 in 4 projects are getting funded. With a modest increase from the most recent transportation proposal, we can enable more locally driven school safety projects to reach completion.

I am part of the 84 percent of Washington voters who believe that funding for Safe Routes to School projects should be prioritized in the state transportation budget. I urge you to join me in supporting safer ways for our children to get to school.

Thank you for working to prioritize funding for biking and walking safety so we can build communities that are safe for Washingtonians of every age to get out and get active.

Thank you,

Meanwhile, UW’s Transportation Director Josh Kavanagh sent a letter to House leaders thanking them for including the Burke-Gilman Trail rebuild funding:

Dear friends and supporters of the Burke-Gilman Trail,

I’m excited to share that the Washington House Transportation Committee has included $16 million in funding for the University of Washington’s planned improvements to the Burke-Gilman Trail in its proposed transportation package. Combined with existing funds from UW Transportation Services and support from the Puget Sound Regional Council, this amount would complete funding for the Burke-Gilman Multimodal Connector, ensuring that the state’s busiest bicycle and pedestrian corridor will be ready to support the 150 percent increase in trail traffic projected by 2030, starting with the opening of Link Light Rail at Husky Stadium next year.

Preserving this funding will still require action by both the House and Senate, but this action by House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn, Vice Chair and project champion Jessyn Farrell and the rest of the committee gives our plan to expand this critical piece of our regional transportation infrastructure a credible path forward.

What do you all think? Does the legislature have the nuts and bolts of a good compromise here? Any major bike pieces we missed? Let us know in the comments below. If you’re interested, you can dig deeper into the specifics using this somewhat confusing state website.

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22 responses to “WA Transpo Bill Update: ‘Modest’ walk/bike safety boost, UW trail makeover, Eastside bike share + lots of highways”

  1. GlenBikes

    The house budget also has $10.7M to tunnel the 520 Multi-Use Trail under NE 40th St which is both one of the busiest ped/bike intersections on the Eastside and one of the most dangerous.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Thanks! I actually just updated the list :-)

    2. AW

      Although the Microsoft drivers are very busy using their phones and the light at 40th is annoying, isn’t there something more important to spend $10.7M on ?

      1. GlenBikes

        This is a ~100′ wide intersection that has high collision rate, including car vs bicycle and has 1000’s of MSFT employees in cars going through it every afternoon to get onto 520 westbound to get home (i.e. speeding and using their iPhones to start their Pandora playlist/start Google Maps directions/call or text their spouse).

        I can’t think of any currently unfunded project on the Eastside that would be higher priority in terms of safety.

      2. I’d be happy with simply making the intersection much safer. Eliminate no turn on red. Actually calm the turns unlike whatever the recent modifications did. Stuff like that.

        Then, consider a grade-separated trail crossing as a possible vehicular throughput improvement. I don’t think they’ve found a $10.7M project for “congestion reduction” that they haven’t thrown into this budget.

      3. @Mark: The question is, what’s going to make the intersection “much safer”? It’s not just turns on red, there are turns across the crosswalk on green, too! Separating the turn phase and the ped/bike phase (like 2nd Ave) would make things safer (to the extent drivers actually obey no-turn-on-red dictates), but would make ped/bike waits even longer!

        I’m definitely not a grade-separate-everything guy, but I think underpasses have their place. The ones on the Burke along 522 are great, and this location would be similar.

      4. @Al: I probably could have been clearer, but my main point was that I don’t think it should come out of the incredibly limited ped/bike allotment. WSDOT’s objection to making any significant safety changes is car throughput. So take a hypothetical setup with lower throughput and higher safety. Then they can consider building something expensive to increase throughput. However, this is moot because WSDOT does not seem to prioritize safety, so they wouldn’t take the hypothetical setup as the proper baseline.

        Given that budgeting allocates peanuts to shut up the ped/bike people, I’m forced to think about what else I might get with $10M. I’d like a route _to_ the 520 trail, for example. I’d like the CKC to actually have a connection to downtown Kirkland. And so on.

        Removing turns on red would by itself make the north-south crossing much safer. They are why the right-turn-to-on-ramp cars treat the end of the crosswalk as the stop line. They are why the off-ramp drivers camp too far forward and then don’t see people in the crosswalk even when they end up going on green. “Much safer” and “safe enough”, of course, are different. This much would remove this crossing as the biggest reason why I’m not biking to work right now, but it wouldn’t be enough. The remaining issue is cars reaching the exit in the middle of the crossing cycle. They conflict with the end of the northbound crossing or those entering the southbound crossing late. But yes, separating the phases is the proper thing to do. It would hardly affect the PM wait times since the off-ramp cycle would be short. It would help bike traffic going from the east to the north. Also, the incredibly long cycles are based on car throughput, so in this hypothetical world where car throughput isn’t the only consideration, they could be shortened. Without the tunnel or a separate cycle, I’ll admit it’s tricky. Raising the crosswalk would probably work. Actually tightening the turn, which is difficult since 40th is so wide, would help. But I’ve moved from “never going to happen” to “WSDOT is laughing hysterically”.

        The east-west crossing is a separate conversation and project. Right turn on red is a problem there too, but right turn on green and left turn on red are also problems.

        Other than losing the funds for other projects, my only concern with the tunnel is that it would make 40th even less hospitable for those that still ended up using it. But to be practical, 40th is probably a lost cause anyway, so this concern loses out.

  2. Todd

    I like what I’m seeing here because I live on the Northeast side of Lake Washington and I would directly benefit. But being originally from the south end, once again it looks like the bill completely ignores it. It’s about time money went into upgrading the Duwamish/Green River Trails (You hearing/reading me South Park?) and start putting into plans a route that will connect the city of Tacoma with the Interurban South trail or. There is absolutely no good reason I can think of why this hasn’t already been done. We’ve got a connector north to Everett and more than half the trail is already paved south to second largest city in the state in T-Town. It’s time to connect them.

  3. JB

    Does anyone know who some of the Good Guys are in the legislature, with respect to this particular transportation package, or transportation funding in general?

  4. Bryan Paetsch

    We should be spending more money on maintaining and preserving the highway structures we have for those that need it, and direct money for new projects towards mass transit (rail) and alternative transportation (biking, walking).
    New highways may make sense in less populated areas, east of the cascades, but the money spent on these projects in the Puget Sound region will only maintain the grid lock status quo. This won’t solve the problem.

    1. Adam

      I doubt you’ll find many readers of SBB that disagree with you. Both these budgets are utter crap; it’s just that the House version is ever so slightly less pungent.

  5. Mark Shoaf

    I would trade some of these apparent showcase projects for practical and safe facilities. For example, the 520 trail tunnel at NE 148th is a nice project, but the whole NE 148th cooridor is unfortunate considering the large amount of non drivers who deserve better. No dedicated facilities and super crowded sidewalks so lots of uncomfortable bike/ped interactions, with inaudible bell ringing over the roar I-148. Curb ramps and sidewalks are in disarray in areas. Certain streets have 35+ mph speeds where vehicle mirrors overhang the sidewalk, so you have to walk single file as far away from the street as possible (grazing the bushes). The portion of the 520 trail behind Microsoft is worse than the BG with the tree roots. Aside from the campus, the place is a wreck. Sorry for the rant, I feel better now. I know there are lots of places like this in WA that could use the funds.

    1. William C.

      Wait, are they grade-separating 148th as well? I thought they were only doing 40th. Frankly, I think 148th needs it more; the traffic is going even faster because most of it’s headed straight, and trail users need to cross both sides of that intersection.

      1. GlenBikes

        No, there are no plans to grade separate the 148th Ave NE crossing. City of Redmond is looking at what small changes they can make to improve safety. There are plans to make some significant changes to the ramps at 520 and 148th Ave NE (see the $68M project named “SR 520/148th Ave NE Overlake Access Ramp” in the “Connecting Washington Projects” link on the above budget link that I posted). I don’t think there are any trail improvements included as part of that project, definitely nothing as significant as grade separation.

        As to whether 148th is higher or lower priority than NE 40th, currently the NE 40th crossing likely has 5x as much bicycle traffic and 20x or more the ped traffic. So from that perspective, NE 40th is higher priority.

        The volumes are likely to change as Redmond’s Overlake urban village redevelopments move forward, Bellevue’s Northup Way bike lanes get completed (2016 or 2017 I think) and Bellevue’s 116th Ave NE bike lanes are striped (this summer) and the 520 bridge multi-use trail options (2018?). But those changes are years away from all coming together.

  6. Stuart Strand

    Oh great, another year or two of lousy, dangerous detours at the UW. What with chaos at 40th and 15th and right of way preference to car drivers on Mason Rd, UW transportation has shown a lack of priority for bicyclist safety in these detour plans. Trusting in luck is bad engineering.

  7. Jeremy

    Bad, but not so bad as over in, say, Missouri


  8. RKT

    That 16M for the BGT redo at the UW seems like a very big number. No land purchase, the trail is already in place at grade. What drives the cost so high?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      It includes grade separating at Pend Oreille and I think some significant bridge work.

  9. Todd

    Just what I thought. Nobody gives a chit about the South end.

  10. […] if the state legislature will pass a transportation package this year. If it passes, there is some good biking and walking stuff buried under all the typical highway expansion money. The Republican-controlled Senate has already […]

  11. […] We’ve already reported on the modest funding for Safe Routes to School and other bike/walk safety and access projects working through the legislature. It’s pennies compared to the $8.3 billion for highways, but it’s more than usual. And it’s always at risk until it’s final. […]

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