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After mediation fails, 35th Ave NE bike lanes head to Mayor Durkan’s desk

Comparison of the options for 35th Ave NE, from Safe 35th Ave NE.

Remember the $10,000 of bicycle safety funds Councilmember Rob Johnson and Mayor Jenny Durkan spent on a confidential mediation effort to see if there was any way for bike lane opponents and supporters to agree on a plan for the street? That didn’t really work.

The result of those meetings is a new street design option that would remove the bike lanes from the street. But it would also remove the on-street car parking that bike lane opponents have been saying they want to protect. Instead, there would be a new center turn lane. The decision is in Mayor Durkan’s hands now.

“The Mayor’s Office will make a final decision on 35th Avenue NE’s new street configuration by the end of the year – choosing between the current “contracted design” and a new “alternative” that closely resembles a suggestion made by Save35th leadership last fall,” the pro-bike lane group Safe 35th Ave NE wrote in an update to their online petition. “We hold firm that the contracted design already represents a compromise, and that the alternative would  be less safe, and would not serve the needs of the community.”

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Let’s get one thing perfectly straight: Removing an already designed and contracted plan for bike lanes that were designed in accordance with Seattle’s unanimously-approved Bicycle Master Plan is not a compromise just because they are also removing parking. Without bike lanes, people biking on 35th will be less safe, and the city will be less able to meet its biking goals.

Mayor Durkan should reject this new design option and stick with the contracted design that meets our city’s established and Council-approved transportation policies.

The talks did come up with some points of agreement. Crosswalks should be improved, for example. Everyone agrees about that. And there may be a couple intersections where left turn signals should be separate from through traffic.

But the central disagreement remains quite simple: Some people don’t want there to be bike lanes, and some people do. And the people who want the bike lanes have the backing of years of Council-approved city transportation policy and an already-signed construction contract on their side.

“All users of 35th, including the people who ride bikes – or want to – should be able to safely get to businesses and residences,” the Safe 35th group wrote. “Bike lanes also provide an additional level of safety and comfort for pedestrians that would not be delivered by the ‘alternative.’”

Mayor Durkan should back up her city’s policies here, citing the goals of Bicycle Master Plan as her justification: Ridership, safety, connectivity, equity and livability.

Page 8 of the Seattle Bicycle Master Plan (PDF).

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22 responses to “After mediation fails, 35th Ave NE bike lanes head to Mayor Durkan’s desk”

  1. Tim F

    This change once again is a way to allow driving at dangerous speeds through a neighborhood where people live, shop, go to school, etc.
    Instead of drivers swerving their cars through the parking lane so they can speed to the next stop light, they’re willing to swerve through a center lane. Never mind that the car ahead might be stopping for someone crossing the street. It also creates the illusion of having a lane that is far wider than necessary. While I’m glad for a 25 MPH speed limit, it makes no sense to pair it with a design that encourages much higher speeds.

    Also, this roll-back represents a removal of 1.1 miles from the city’s bike network. It was only a painted door-zone lane before, but my understanding is the city grandfathers that kind of faded substandard stuff as part of the bike network as long as it was considered acceptable at the time of construction. Well, the time of construction is now, and we’ll be re-establishing all kinds of bad precedents about what is up to standard or how meaningful the city’s bike map and bike master plan are.

  2. Skylar

    I’ve biked on 35th a few times, most recently this past weekend when access to the Burke was being sold to the private interests behind the Seattle Marathon. My experience was that a substantial subset of the population in the area expects to be able to go 40+ mph – I had people honking at me, and was passed w/ <2' of clearance three times in 20 blocks. 35th needs not only bike lanes, but extended emphasis patrols by SPD, maybe even by plain-clothes bike cops with squad car support.

  3. kommish

    I don’t understand why Save 35th gets a pricey city-funded mediation and the opportunity to upend the City Council’s vote which resulted in a signed construction contract, when so many other communities with valid complaints in this city get told to pound sand. This is equity? This is democracy? If I throw a tantrum do I get to reopen closed discussions too?

    1. Skylar

      I agree. SDOT just capitulated on N 40th between Wallingford and 7th, and won’t even consider lowering the speed limit from 30mph to 25mph because the plans no longer involve restriping.

      It might help if Mayor Durkan would actually do her job and appoint a permanent SDOT director, despite the city waiting almost a year.

      1. Mark H

        This is hitting the nail on the head. The Durkan administration’s pathological inability to make timely decisions is atrocious. Couple that with their apparent fear over any type of disagreement and you don’t really have an executive. I’m not sure if she thought this was a ceremonial role to allow for issuing grandstanding press releases, but hard decisions have to be made.

      2. JB

        She strikes me as a timid and unimaginative mayor, which is unfortunate for the city that she is supposed to be leading. But maybe I’m reading her wrong … she’s just waiting for Viadoom to announce the completion of the streetcar and some nice new bike infrastructure – that would be an astute move.
        Not holding my breath.

      3. NoSpin

        This was addressed on KUOWs “The Week in Review” on Friday as they discussed Mayor Durkan’s first year in office.

        Not specific to the issue of 35th but to her tenure in general, she seems to be less of a ‘leader’ and more of someone who always needs to put her finger to the wind, with a decision-making process that tends to emphasize making the fewest waves possible.

        As a result, every stakeholder gets frustrated with the prolonged delays; in the case of hiring a mediator for 35th, all it does is waste time and money to end up right back where we started.

        When it comes to parking, trying to mediate between business owners and cyclists is like trying to find peace in the middle east – it’s a fools errand that, at best, results in a temporary cease fire while negotiations take place.

        I do have a prefered outcome to the situation on 35th. Regardless, I’d rather have a leader who takes charge and makes a decision – any decision, even one I don’t agree with – than the endless ‘Seattle Process’ that drags out forever and, more often than not, ends up at a compromise that everyone ends up being equally dissatisfied with.

    2. If you have money and throw a tantrum the answer is yes. If you do not have the money or ear of the mayor you pound sand. Its pretty clear

  4. kommish

    Also, Tom, if you have any knowledge on this it would be helpful to know who was represented at the mediation table and whether the new design represents the result of a compromise amongst those people. It would also be helfpul to know whether Safe 35th sees upsides to this arrangement that we don’t. Thanks as always for your reporting.

  5. Orange Wheels

    The reason the current plan represents a compromise is that it already falls short of the BMP in order to preserve half the parking. The BMP calls for protected bike lanes north of 68th st. Instead, only northbound bike lanes are protected, while southbound people on bikes only get a 5′ painted lane that will surely be full of illegal parkers or app-taxis. It’s unfortunate there wasn’t a third option that removed all parking in favor of actually following through on the BMP.

  6. Peri Hartman

    I think we should work together to promote a giant e-bike campaign. Get bike stores to promote e-bikes. Get the city to offer a subsidy program of some sort. Get employers to offer subsidies. Get merchants to offer a discount if you arrive by e-bike.

    E-bikes level hills. If we can double or triple the number of bike trips, we will get more support for proper bike lanes. Cases like 35th NE would be thunderously supported in favor of bike infrastructure.

    Currently, it is too easy for nay sayers to claim that the bike lanes are taking away from overall mobility. With more riders, we can make a clear case of the opposite.

  7. JB

    35th is obviously going down in flames, just like the 4th Avenue bike lanes and the Center City streetcar. Durkan and the rest of “Environmentally Conscious” Seattle are happy to cluck their tongues if people toss a gum wrapper in the wrong bin, but heaven forbid that we ask people to spend a dollar for parking or add a minute to travel time, even if it means keeping people safe on bicycles or addressing nagging little problems like Global Climate Change. Also not helpful, we in the perennially bumfuzzled Seattle bike lobby make ourselves about as politically relevant as a cloud of gnats. So don’t look for things to improve anytime soon.

  8. Sven

    Who was the mediator? This is an idiotic result. As I understood it, the entire argument of the anti-bicycle people was the loss of on-street parking and the perception of the lost business that would result. Why would any sane person agree to a settlement that results in no bike lane, no on-street parking, and a street design that is almost guaranteed to run over a pedestrian some day? Was the mediator a nostalgic “level of service” afficianado? Or was the anti-bike lane group’s agenda not really about parking? By the way, are there any data that show what happens to local sales when bike lanes go in? I’m guessing that business actually improves.

    1. Peri Hartman

      What we’re seeing is support of the status quo. Currently, many people drive and park to visit businesses. I can’t specifically speak for 35th NE but I can speak for Queen Anne, where I live. I suspect it’s similar. Some people walk. Some bicycle. Most drive & park.

      The problem with this logic is not that it’s idiotic but that it isn’t planning for the future. Ok, maybe that’s idiotic. The status quo will only support more demand for parking and more demand for lanes for cars. Since there isn’t physically any more room, that’s not sustainable. But, a sane person with blinders on is still sane, just blind.

      I’ll admit there’s a big difference between QA and 35th. QA is a relatively short strip and traffic speed is slow. The city has emphasized parking over speed by putting in diagonal parking. It’s a traffic mess but it seems to work.

    2. Skylar

      The mediator was one John Howell, who has been associated with the family behind the opposition group for the bike lanes for over 40 years, by his own admission:


      But of course our good Mayor didn’t see any problem with this.

    3. Evan D

      There are plenty of data on what happens to business after bike lanes are installed: https://www.citylab.com/solutions/2015/03/the-complete-business-case-for-converting-street-parking-into-bike-lanes/387595/

  9. Thomas the Meek

    This is a fascinating moment in city politics. Will the mayor choose bikes or cars?

    A handful of decisions (35th + other bike projects, the Streetcar + Rapid Ride, etc) will determine how she’s managing transpo policy during the city’s ridiculous growth.

    Somebody will write a book about Durkan and transportation someday. Whether she turns out heroine or villain, she’ll come out better in her book than the one they’ll write about Ed Murray.

  10. […] Urbanist and Seattle Bike Blog cover the ongoing fight over bike lanes ond 35th Avenue […]

  11. Conrad

    IMO priority number 1 was removing the pseudo traffic lane that is the parking along 35th Ave. This is the single most dangerous aspect of the street as is. So this “compromise” is truly baffling because I was under the impression that the major sticking point was the loss of on street parking. Maybe the Save 35th camp really and truly just simply hate bikes?
    I have to think that the worst part of any of this for the businesses along 35th Ave. is the construction disruption. Do you really think people are not going to patronize these businesses from the lack of street parking? On the rare occasions that I drive, I rarely parked on 35th anyway. And I have and will continue to frequent the library, post office, bakery, coffee shop and all that on my bike no matter what they are doing with the street. What choice do I have? All the nearby businesses are on 35th Ave. It would be nice if I didnt have to worry so much about me or my kids getting hit by a car though. I would love to have one of these businesses on 35th Ave chime in here. Was this whole circus worth it? Now you have the construction disruption and no 35th parking?! Would it have killed you to show some understanding and compassion to pedestrians and cyclists?

  12. mark smith

    Seattle could of had Mcginn. But they chose Mayor pro corporation, pro car. So, this is what happens.

    1. Dylan Oldenburg

      How did she win? She seems to stand for nothing, and have no vision for the future of the city, nor any concrete plans to deal with any issues that the city is facing. What a joke of a politician

  13. […] right-of-way on a given street and the Mayor waffles on a decision (in the case of, say, the CCC or bike lanes), then advocates will rightly start to question her […]

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