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Under Mayor Durkan, Seattle has only built about 4% of its 2018 bike lane goal

Even many of the claimed mileage is misleading, since they are delayed from 2017. From an update to the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee (PDF).

Under Mayor Jenny Durkan, Seattle has nearly stopped building bike lanes. With the need to build more than ten miles of protected bike lanes in order to reach the Move Seattle Levy’s bike lane goals, SDOT says it will have constructed 1.88 miles in 2018. That is a pitiful 18 percent.

But the truth is even worse. That 18 percent is an inflated number. 1.49 of those 1.88 miles of bike lane were actually delayed 2017 projects that opened at the start of the year. They were accounted for in last year’s Move Seattle performance update as the excuse for why SDOT would miss its 2017 bike lane goals. So if you subtract those projects, SDOT has so far only constructed 0.39 of the 10.43 miles of protected bike lanes needed to meet the 2018 goal set by Seattle voters. That’s 3.7 percent.

There is no term for this other than failure.

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But rather than apologizing for so wildly underdelivering on a goal set by the voters, Mayor Durkan had the gall to highlight it as though it were some kind of success. As though we can’t see that 1.4 or 1.88 or 0.39 are all numbers far lower than the goal of 10.43. In her self-congratulating document “One Year of Urgent Action (PDF),” she lists building bike lanes as an example that she is “delivering essential services and meeting the needs of our growing city”:

The NE 65th Street bike lanes currently under construction thanks to the tireless work of Councilmember Rob Johnson are pretty much the only bike lanes in active construction right now. Nearly everything else has been delayed. A highly-compromised neighborhood greenway in Rainier Valley, which will do some good but will fail at truly connecting the neighborhood, will make up the bulk of the 2018 mileage.

Below is the project list Mayor Durkan inherited when she took office, based on the voter-approved goals in the Move Seattle Levy and the Council-approved Bicycle Master Plan:

It’s hard to say whether Mayor Durkan is actively undermining SDOT’s efforts to grow biking as a viable transportation mode or if the department is floundering due to the leadership vacuum she has created at the top of the department. I want to believe it is the latter, and that Mayor Durkan is on the verge of appointing a good permanent SDOT Director she will entrust with the political backing needed to enact our city’s transportation plans and policies with urgency in 2019.

The coming traffic crunch downtown is only getting closer, and the mayor just wasted an entire year that she could have spent making planned street changes to provide more people with more options to get around without a car. Her bike route progress is grim, but her transit progress may be even worse.

The big test for Mayor Durkan is here. Decisions need to be made. Bike lane projects need to get a green light and her political backing. So many bus lanes need to be painted. We also need effective education and encouragement campaigns to help people change their transportation habits. All this needs to happen quickly if we want these options to be available to people when the traffic crunch begins.

As we wrote last week, the combination of bike share and more comfortable bike routes is working. We can see this in the Fremont Bridge bike counter data, which shattered records by a huge margin this year. And Seattle now has a huge backlog of projects ready to go in 2019. They just need the mayor’s backing.

All the time for waiting and delaying has been used up in 2018. I’ve already seen people referring to the upcoming transportation mess as the “Jenny Jam” because she has had chances to get ahead of the problem and has so far squandered them through delays and inaction. I don’t think that’s a moniker she wants to stick.


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46 responses to “Under Mayor Durkan, Seattle has only built about 4% of its 2018 bike lane goal”

  1. ronp

    I really get the feeling she and other city hall people just do not bike or ride transit in their daily lives prior to getting elected. This is like most Americans I suppose.

    Her comment about the dangers of electric scooters is also insane. People are buying and riding them all the time — maybe she wants to outlaw the purchase of them?

    Meanwhile I can walk into any store in the city and buy bushels of cigarettes and alcohol that can kill me dead slowly.

  2. Steve

    Unfortunately I think you are too optimistic about her motivations. I think she is too afraid of any political blowback to push on bike lanes in any capacity. Sure, if she ever installs an SDOT director, we’ll probably get more than 0.39 miles in a year. But I expect nothing controversial in the slightest is getting a green light under her. The first test of this theory is going to be the decision of 35th Ave NE, which I fully expect will be the version with no bike lanes.

    She won’t stake out any controversial opinions because she has her sights on higher office. Fortunately, that seems to be backfiring and she is taking flack from a lot of directions for nonstop indecision. She needs to break out of that or her political career will be over come 2021.

  3. SSS

    Just wanted to mention that the Swift Ave S / S Myrtle St / S Othello St is another project in active construction. The project provides 1.75 miles of PBL in South Seattle by Beacon Hill / George Town.

    1. NickS

      @SSS: Is this still underway? I’ve seen construction personnel at times along Swift, and a few construction signs on Othello around the S. Precinct, but no real signs of progress. Meanwhile bus or truck traffic has pushed two asphalt patches across the northwest bound lane on Myrtle by Van Asselt deep below grade, making for dangerous and painful crossing by either bicycle or car (cars will veer all over the road trying to find a smoother part to cross).

      I’ve also been curious whether the construction of semi-protected bike lanes along Wilson Ave S. between Seward Park Ave S. and Dawson is continuing, or whether the NIMBYs lining Wilson have derailed it? This is a key part of my regular commute from Rainier Beach to Pioneer Square, so it’s a shame that they only made an effort to notify / invite immediate residents of this project, rather than involving people who may live adjacent and would use it.

      1. SSS

        My understanding is that the project is being done in phases, with the first phase being the blue section in the link Tom posted above. There has been some progress and they seem to be working more now that the rain has let up. From what I can tell, they are starting with the drainage. They have removed sections of side walk from various areas and some streets have been blocked off. There is also a huge pile of asphalt so work is definitely going forward.

        If you are going from Rainier Beach to Pioneer Square, it might be easier to just take the Chief Sealth trail and avoid the construction. I have no idea what is going on with other projects.

      2. NickS

        I actually take the Seward Park Ave -> Wilson -> Lake Washington Blvd to Pioneer Square, hence my Q about whether the bike lanes on that repaving project have been eliminated by NIMBYs.

        But I’m looking forward the Othello -> Myrtle -> Swift -> Albro project to get to Georgetown in the future. :)

    2. Pedro

      Swift/Myrtle/Othello is a red herring. The entire route they are building already has bike lanes.

      Same as Alaska Way from C City to Beacon Hill. They are rebuilding existing bike lanes.

      These maybe worthy projects. But don’t call them new bike lanes.

      1. SSS

        To clarify, what I said was that the project provides 1.75 miles of PBL, not just “bike lanes.” If you’ve ever biked that route, you would know that there is no PBL on that route, nor does the whole route already have bike lanes. In fact, some parts are just sharrows. Clearly not a red herring.

  4. Joseph Singer

    We’ve seen her record on bike infrastructure. I think our only remedy is at the ballot box the next time that she’s up for re-election.

  5. The world is facing a huge climate crisis, with the U.S.A. a big contributor. We created this toxic mess because moneyed interests designed America for the fuel burning private automobile. How can anyone deal with their conscience who is not redressing this by working to add bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure and mass transit to our cities as quickly as possible is incomprehensible to me. They have obviously checked their conscience at the door to political power. Worried about the poor and homeless? They are the most impacted by the poisoning of our environment.

    1. D

      From what I recall, Jenny Durkan ran on a platform as a “Climate Change Mayor,” yet has done nothing to benefit any mode of transport, other than Single Occupancy Vehicles.

  6. Dylan Oldenburg

    She stands for nothing, doesn’t particularly care about the future of the city/planet aside from the usual tax breaks for corporations. It’s always the same. Empty platitudes, “maybe next year”, bla bla bla. Visionless, unimaginative political opportunist who somehow got elected

  7. Nick

    Maybe it’s time to get a bunch of cyclists, bus riders, and those concerned about the environment to don yellow vests and spray paint the space needle.

    What ever happened to critical mass? It may have had its controversies, but it seems like the time is right for protest.

    1. Chris


  8. Rich

    I doubt that I’ll ever vote for another Seattle transportation Levy, and I’ll certainly never vote for Jenny Durkan.

  9. BH

    The Rainier Valley N-S Greenway was to be completed in 2016, even 2015. It too shouldn’t be counted toward 2018 accomplishments without an asterisk.

  10. RossB

    In her defense, she inherited a mess. The previous administration was not only incompetent, they were corrupt. They lied to the city about MoveSeattle. They knew, *before the vote*, that the levy did not allocate enough money for the projects they promised, but said and did nothing. That left the new administration with no other option but to fire the previous, crooked director of SDOT. What you are seeing is basically a continuation of Mayor Murray/Director Kubly incompetence and scandal.

    That does not mean she shouldn’t turn the ship around. I realize she has also been dealing with more important matters (matters that are always the highest priority of any mayor). You have to make sure the police force is functioning properly, and not creating more problems than it solves.

    But you can’t go around patting yourself on the back for making the “Best” decision (even though it probably was). At some point you have to deal with the obvious lack of leadership in transportation in what is obviously an unusually important time for Seattle. There are dozens of important decisions to be made, such as where to put the Ballard Link station (my suggestion is Ballard, not West Woodland) or whether to kill the killing streetcar line (my suggestion — kill it). All the while the city is dealing with major transportation issues, such as the misguided viaduct replacement tunnel (which won’t have ramps to Western or downtown) or collapsing bridges in Magnolia. The folks who have taken over for the folks that were corrupt and incompetent simply aren’t cutting it. We need new leadership and we need it soon.

    1. Andres Salomon

      Nonsense. She inserted her office into the SDOT contract signing process. Protected bike lanes on 35th would’ve been done already, but her office delayed signing the contract for months.

      1. Andres Salomon

        To clarify, “nonsense” is referring to the idea that the lack of bike lanes this year is due to Kubly incompetence/corruption. I’d buy that claim for other projects, but repaving projects and bike lanes were funded, designed, and ready to go. I couldn’t stand Kubly/Murray, SDOT has serious issues, and Murray’s administration made it worse – but this year’s SDOT performance with regards to bike lanes is entirely on Durkan.

      2. RossB

        Alright, you are right about the 35th debacle. That was a weird attempt at trying to find middle ground, or at least assuage a handful of very angry people, who had formed their own organization to fight the project. In the grand scheme of things, it is a small project, and while it should be done, it is by no means the most important thing the city can do as far as bike safety. The lack of bike mileage has little to do with controversial projects like that one (that will all likely get built) but rather the inability to just build them. That goes back to the previous administration, as right now the department is operating without a permanent director and thus just doing what they did before (which was very little).

        As far as bike plans being “funded, designed, and ready to go”, that simply isn’t the case. When corruption and incompetence from the previous administration blows a huge hole in your overall transportation budget, current plans take a hit. That is just common sense. You have to reassess whether you really can build what you say you can build (since the previous administration lied about such things, repeatedly) and if not, what makes the most sense to build. It will take a while for the city to correct the previous problems. It is taking too long to get a new director, but even if they were in place right now, I wouldn’t expect 2018 to be a big year for bike lanes. 2020 (and the years following those) are when we really should see a lot of progress, or this administration will have simply failed.

  11. Southeasterner

    I think Durkan is only partially to blame. The bigger issue is she inherited an agency run by Kubly that has no clue on how to procure or deliver capital projects. Once you get past sidewalks and paint, which fades after one winter, they completely lack the capabilities to do anything.

  12. Marko

    The problems with SDOT go back much further than Scott Kubly. Our road infrastructure problems did not suddenly arise in the last 5 years. Unfortunately, at least based on her actions, it appears that it’s only getting worse under Mayor Durkan.

  13. Bob

    From the year 1854 until around the year 2000 almost no one talked or cared much about bike lanes in Seattle (with a few exceptions) and the bikers seemed to do just fine…So why sense 2000 does Seattle need loads and loads of bike lanes?…..I am sure a biker from the 1970s or 1980s would not understand it either….

    1. Southeasterner

      As a white male experienced bike rider in spandex I would agree that bike infrastructure is not that important to my personal preference for biking.

      However, like the Dutch, Danes, Swedes, Brits who have built out bike infrastructure with amazing increases in bike ridership… I believe the point of safe and accessible infrastructure is to go beyond the white male experienced bike rider in spandex and open up cycling to all ages and abilities.

    2. Peri Hartman

      For a few reasons.
      1. There was less traffic, thus riding on the street was easier.
      2. We were in an auto centric environment, most people didn’t care about bikes.
      3. There is a small percentage (us) who will ride with or without infrastructure, that level has been saturated for many years.

    3. 1854? In many cases, bike lanes WERE the original roads in Seattle before the automobiles came to town and co-0pted them. https://crosscut.com/2018/04/when-bikes-ruled-seattle

  14. Don Brubeck

    I don’t think it is so “…hard to say whether Mayor Durkan is actively undermining SDOT’s efforts to grow biking as a viable transportation mode.” It is clear that she is. The proof is in the numbers. The proof is in the budget. The proof is in her administration’s manipulative Move Seattle Levy “Reset” process, and the Executive’s attempt to co-opt the modal boards and Oversight Committee into going along. The proof is in the Mayor’s rejection of current Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board members for re-appointment to the customary second term. The proof is in the Mayor’s rejection of any applicant to SBAB who is active in Cascade Bicycle Club or Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. The proof is in the failure to submit the Council required annual and semi-annual reporting on Bicycle Master Plan implementation progress. The proof is in the failure of the Executive to move last year’s BMP Implementation Plan from draft to final. The proof is in the even more dismal BMP Implementation Plan currently being rammed through despite a signficantly larger overall transportation budget. The proof is in the delays and continual re-opening of completely designed projects to “community input” as if the planning was just beginning. The proof is in the behind-closed-doors “mediation” for opponents of projects already under contract for construction. The proof is in the administration promoting Seattle Times stories about $12M/mile bike lanes” instead of pushing back to show that their average for protected bike lanes is a tenth of that, and defending the benefits of the downtown projects for walking, biking, transit, car and truck traffic.
    Hoping someone will step up who can do the job and who cares about safe streets and equitable, sustainable transportation.

    1. RossB

      >> The proof is in her administration’s manipulative Move Seattle Levy “Reset” process,

      Don, you seem to be ignoring what happened with Move Seattle. The previous administration made promises they couldn’t keep. They knew — *before the vote* — that they couldn’t keep them. But rather than level with the people, they just let the whole process continue. I don’t know what the strategy was. Kubly probably had one foot out the door, and Murray was just going to kick the can down the road.

      But their unethical and corrupt behavior left the new administration in a bind. It left them with holes to fill, and not enough money to fill them. Worse yet, it left them with no reason to trust anything the previous administration said. They had no idea what they could build, because the previous estimates were simply lies.

      The “reset” is simply a case of building what they can. But the reset effects the entire agency. Promises they made in other areas are victims to the same sort of incompetence and lies.

      It also meant that they lacked leadership in the organization. Kubly was fired (as well he should be) but Sparrman (the guy who replaced him) left as well. Now you have the third director in two years, and none of them are permanent.

      I’m not excusing the lack of progress on finding a new director, but lack of progress *on all transportation projects* is understandable given the scandalous nature of the previous administration. It is way too early to draw any conclusions on whether this is a trend, being driven by the mayor, or simply a mayor struggling with fixing the problems of the previous administration. In a couple years, if we don’t see progress (under a new director who will hopefully be hitting their stride at that point) then I would be worried. But for now, I just think all things related to transportation will muddle along for a while.

      1. Don Brubeck

        The City certainly CAN keep those promises, and CAN fulfill the mandate of the 2014 Bicycle Master Plan. The funding gap is really quite small. The gap for bike projects and programs is less than a routine minor change order on other infrastructure projects, like the Elliott Bay Seawall, the SPU combined sewage overflow tunnels, the bridge projects.
        It’s a question of priortities and leadership.

    2. Thank you Don for referencing our bike-lane stories. The city staff (Goran Sparrman as interim SDOT director) both vouched for the $12m/mile figure AND pointed out the citywide average outside downtown is far less. My theme in the Seattle Times coverage was to suggest the city ought to be able to build high quality PBL for far less – and hopefully get more bang for the available levy money. (As someone who used the 2nd Avenue and 7th Avenue lanes for work-trips on LimeBikes yesterday.) As with Sound Transit, ignoring cost is a poor path to success.


      1. Don Brubeck

        Mike, the Times reporting is ignoring the actual cost of the protected bike lanes and neighborhood greenways, and SDOT is not helping refute the $12M/mile mantra. Here are some representative actual costs per mile (at an order of magnitude or two under $12M/mi):
        Wilson Ave S PBL: $198,256/mile
        Swift Ave S/ S Myrtle: $104,998/mile
        Roosevelt Way NE & University Bridge PBL : $337,138/mile
        39th Ave NE NGW extension: $368,750/mile
        N 92nd PBL: $305,078/mile
        9th/Roy/Dexter: $502,125/mile
        Pike/Pine PBL $792,503/mile (with future phase design cost included).
        What possible motivation can there be for pushing a story that makes the high cost of one downtown project seem like all projects are at that level, when it is nowhere nearly the case. The only plausible explanation is a desire to scuttle the implementation of the bike master plan, to use those funds elsewhere.

  15. […] has found it a major challenge to create much of its planned bike infrastructure but one important new feature for riders headed […]

  16. Les Bois

    Finally, Durkin is doing something right. The last thing Seattle needs is more bike lanes, which create more congestion and difficulties for drivers.

    1. Mike G

      My commute is already congested and I rarely see a cyclist during it. So by your logic, getting those cyclists into more SOVs will reduce the congestion.

    2. Gary

      Wait, those cars are causing the congestion. It’s not the bikes. There is no more room for more roads. The only way out of this mess is to make the roads more efficient at moving people. That’s bikes/buses, not SOV’s.

  17. ChuDlife

    In flipping through the report the frustrating thing is seeing that the projects were budgeted, so the money was allocated, yet the actual spending was so much less. They can’t whine about not having the funding to complete the projects. Where did that money go? Why isn’t it being put to use?

  18. […] Seattle Bike Blog delivers the bad news on the city’s progress on building out its bike network. […]

  19. Oh.lordy,lordy,lordy. Help us all!

  20. […] Willamette Week has a detailed profile of Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and his frustrations halfway into his term. A wonky technocrat who hasn’t accomplished much, he’s not popular with people on both the left and right. Part of the problem: his clumsy efforts to regulate protests and require journalists to check in with the police. Meanwhile Seattle mayor Jenny Durkan is drawing the ire of bike activists who lament the fact the city has only built 4 percent of the city’s 2018 bike lane goals. […]

  21. […] delivered 4% (!) of its 2018 bike lane […]

  22. Conrad

    Murray was a lousy mayor, I didnt vote for him. When it comes to streets there is no definition of failure that Durkan is not hitting really, really squarely. I didnt vote for her either. I think this is a classic case of growing pains in a big city. People love their cars, and vote for people that prioritize them over other modes of transportation. The problem is that cars dont work in real cities. Never have and never will. In a real metropolitan area with real population density there is not enough room for everyone to have their own private 100 square foot box when getting around. Its not a war on cars, its just a simple immutable fact. So unless you can convince the 500,000 people that have moved here recently to move away again, driving will continue to suck no matter what. Can anyone name me a real city where driving works well? A real leader would just say that: ” We have a responsibility to make streets safe for all users. We said we will and we will follow through on it. I’m sorry that you are losing your free car storage, and I’m sorry that it is increasingly difficult to drive, but this is the reality of a real city.” But look what happens when you actually say that. The snowstorm incident destroyed Nickels career, because lo and behold it was difficult to drive when we had a one-in-ten- year snowstorm. Look what happened to McGinn. He stuck to his guns about making wise decisions with respect to the tunnel. Its up to the people to elect real leaders and lets face it, sometimes Seattle isnt up to it.

  23. Eli

    If it makes you feel better, in NYC we’re also pissed that we’re still only getting about 20-25 miles a year of protected bike lanes.

    Hell, I’m so annoyed, I may move to Portland! ;-)

  24. […] back transit projects promised to voters in the Move Seattle levy. In 2018 Durkan has built just 4% of the planned bike […]

  25. Em gee

    Perhaps it’s because the bike lanes provide almost no traffic relief. Empty bike lanes show little public need or interest. They provide an expensive and trivial solution to real transportation problems and are an unnecessary indulgence for a tiny minority and hold me up trying to cross Second Avenue.

    Seattle is not a flood plain; Portland is.

    Signed: the pedestrian.

  26. […] have some work to do on the bike end of things. The Durkan administration has only managed to build around 4% of the planned lanes in the […]

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