Council bills say major paving projects ‘shall’ build planned bike lanes, push for downtown and south end bike lanes + Support these bills Friday

Concept image of the new 35th Ave NE design, with two parking lanes, two general purpose lanes and a center turn lane.

A proposed bill would require SDOT to go to the Transportation Committee and justify decisions like the one depicted here on 35th Ave NE, in which Mayor Durkan directed them to delete the designed and contracted bike lane. They would also need to outline how the needed bike connection could be made without the bike lanes.

Seattle already has a complete streets ordinance that says SDOT needs to consider the needs of all road users when making major road investments. The city also has a Bicycle Master Plan that notes where the highest-priority bike connections are. And yet Mayor Jenny Durkan and SDOT were still able to delete the planned, designed and contracted 35th Ave NE bike lane with little to no explanation or justification. That decision has proven to be an absolute disaster, failing to improve safety, failing to improve walking or biking connectivity and failing to make any progress toward the city’s greenhouse gas reduction goals.

That’s why a new bill from the Transportation Committee is sort of like a more specific and tighter complete streets ordinance that says an improvement identified in the Bicycle Master Plan “shall be installed” whenever SDOT “constructs a major paving project along a segment of the protected bicycle lane network.” Understanding that the Bike Plan has not gone far enough into design to determine for sure whether projects are feasible, there is still an out for SDOT. However, the department would need to justify their decision to the Council and present how the needed bike connection could be advanced without the bike lane. (Full disclosure: My spouse Kelli works as a Legislative Assistant for committee Chair Mike O’Brien and worked on this bill)

So while it still falls short of requiring the city to build the Bike Master Plan, it should be able to help avoid future 35th Ave NE fiascos. For example, if SDOT had to justify their decision, they would have had a very hard time doing so. And the Council could possibly have had a chance to take action to intercede if, for example, the decision were political rather than based on best practices or city policies. Which it was. And perhaps it could also be useful for a mayor who doesn’t want to take political heat for a project by diffusing responsibility across the Council, which is responsible for passing these transportation policies and plans.

Cascade Bicycle Club has put out a call to action urging people to attend the special committee meeting 2 p.m. tomorrow (Friday) to support this bill.

Here’s the key section from the draft bill:

A. Whenever the Seattle Department of Transportation constructs a major paving project along a segment of the protected bicycle lane network, a protected bicycle lane with adequate directionality shall be installed along that segment.

B. Full compliance with the provisions of subsection 15.80.020.A is not required where the Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation determines that the characteristics of the physical features or usage of a street, or financial constraints of full compliance prevent the incorporation of a protected bicycle lane with adequate directionality.

C. Upon determining that full compliance with subsection 15.80.020.A is not required, the Director of the Seattle Department of Transportation shall provide a written report to the City Council detailing:

1. Why it is impractical to comply with subsection 15.80.020.A;

2. The alternatives analyzed in determining that full compliance with subsection 15.80.020.A is not required; and

3. How connectivity of the protected bicycle lane network could be advanced in the absence of a protected bicycle lane in that segment.

(full text of CB 119601)

The committee will also consider a resolution calling on the mayor to identify funding to complete the downtown and south end bike projects her latest short term bike plan has left behind. As I wrote in June, “South Seattle deserves action, not more ‘maybes.'” Here’s the project list highlighted in the Council resolution:

  • Beacon Ave S Segment 1 (S 39th St to Myrtle St)
  • Beacon Ave S Segment 2 (Myrtle St to S Spokane St)
  • Beacon Ave S Segment 3 (S Spokane St to Jose Rizal Bridge)
  • Georgetown to Downtown
  • Martin Luther King Jr Way (Rainier Ave to Henderson St)
  • Two-way protected bike lane on 4th Ave (Main St to Vine St)
  • Alaskan Way (Virginia St to Elliott Bay Trail)

A third resolution (PDF) under consideration tomorrow calls on SDOT to come up with a proposal for additional staff time and funding in order to deliver 3,000 new on-street bike corrals by the end of 2020. In many cases, corrals located adjacent to a crosswalk can do triple duty by increasing the bike parking supply, keeping sidewalks clear, and preventing illegal car parking too close to crosswalks and street corners.

These bills are elements of a suite of ideas proposed by Move All Seattle Sustainably coalition of transportation, accessibility and sustainability organizations. More details about their ideas in this PDF.

These bills are also an opportunity for Mayor Durkan to change her transportation tactics, which are not working. Especially if she wants to advance climate action policies, it would be great to have her get on board with these ideas.

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9 Responses to Council bills say major paving projects ‘shall’ build planned bike lanes, push for downtown and south end bike lanes + Support these bills Friday

  1. Richard D Slaughter says:

    So what happens if this is signed and the city continues ignoring the law? Can citizens sue to enforce it or something?

  2. Matt says:

    Won’t the director just repeatedly report “too much lost parking”?

  3. (Another) Tom says:

    – Beacon Ave S Segment 3 (S Spokane St to Jose Rizal Bridge)

    I wish we could rename 15th Ave S. to Beacon Ave from the bridge to the current intersection with Beacon Ave. The leftover stub of Beacon Ave S. can be renamed as an extension of Holgate St. The street morphs into 12th Ave on the other side of the bridge anyway so little incentive to keep the 15th Ave moniker on that end.

    But whatever we call it I REALLY wish we could get some bike lanes painted headed northbound.

    – Two-way protected bike lane on 4th Ave (Main St to Vine St)
    As a daily user of the current 4th Ave bike lanes, still DO NOT WANT. 5th is fine headed south because it’s downhill. 4th has it’s issues but squeezing in a narrow oncoming bike lane will make things worse. Please don’t turn 4th into 2nd.

    • dave says:

      I disagree. 5th is a nightmare heading south. The bike facility on 4th needs to be a 2-way facility just like 2nd in order to make biking through downtown (and to make all of the CBD accessible by bike) available to all ages and abilities.

  4. Joseph Singer says:

    Durkin has failed the bike community. It’s not surprising.

  5. Ballard Biker says:

    Yeah, Section B makes me not very optimistic about this. I call it the “because we don’t feel like it” clause.

    It’s the same with SDOT DR 10-2015, regarding the ban a few years back of construction projects closing sidewalks and bike lanes without an adequate reroute. If you report any blatant violations, SDOT always responds with the typical “it wasn’t feasible”.

    I hope I’m wrong.

    • Yesler says:

      This is a nothingburger. The BMP states:

      “However, as projects move through the project development process, our analysis, design, and community engagement may lead to a project being developed in a different way or location than envisioned in the plan. For example, the BMP may recommend a protected bike lane on a particular street, but through our project development and outreach process, we may determine that an alternate facility, such as a parallel neighborhood greenway, would be preferable.”

      In other words, the streets identified in the BMP are recommendations, not plans.

      The hope here is to avoid a repeat of the 35th Ave. NE. However, this bill does exactly zero in that regard. For one, the majority of the 35th Ave. NE plan did not meet this bill’s definition of a protected bike lane. Right there, most of it would have been exempted. That seems to be a major oversight in a bill designed to avoid a repeat.

      Secondly, based on public comments, SDOT staffers expressed an early preference for alternative designs, but were over ridden by CM Johnson. This bill seems to give SDOT bureaucratic cover to make an end run around the council. We shall see.

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  7. Pingback: An olive branch? Mayor Durkan celebrates downtown bike lanes, acknowledges delays | Seattle Bike Blog

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