Mayor Jenny Durkan has completely changed her tune about bike lanes since her first year in office. Well, that’s not entirely accurate because in her first year in office, she said very little about bike lanes at all. Projects were quietly delayed, scaled back or, in the case of 35th Ave NE, cut completely. She wasn’t saying she was against bike lanes back then, but her actions made it clear they weren’t a priority for her.
But it’s not that way anymore. For the second time since August, Mayor Durkan has spoken at a bike lane celebration about the importance of building bike connections and reducing the number of people driving alone in the city.
“A city of the future has to be a city that is safe and more connected for people that bike and walk and roll,” she said to a gathering of bike advocates and reporters Monday in South Lake Union. “We’ve got to make sure that in our climate fight we’re really doing what we need to do in the city of Seattle, and that means getting people out of cars as much as we can, particularly single occupancy vehicles.”
And at least for biking, she has lately been backing her words up with action, building major bike network connections that had been delayed during her first year and a half. That includes finishing 9th Ave in South Lake Union, 8th Ave downtown, parts of Pike Street between downtown and Capitol Hill, and a south downtown connection to the ID via S Main St and 5th Ave S. And as I write this, a connection between the 9th Ave and 2nd Ave bike lanes is under construction on Bell St. Once complete, it will be possible to bike between the ID and the Fremont Bridge/Burke-Gilman Trail without ever mixing with car traffic except through the traffic-calmed Bell St Park.
A single connected downtown bike route is not a complete network, sure, but it’s a remarkable feat that was little more than a dream just a few years ago. So while the work is far from complete, this is definitely worth celebrating.
Vicky Clarke, Policy Director at Cascade Bicycle Club, spoke after the mayor noting that the work isn’t finished.
“Cascade Bicycle Club and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways together launched the Basic Bike Network campaign in early 2017 to reinvigorate efforts to make biking to and through downtown safe and accessible,” said Clarke. “We set an aggressive but realistic goal of completing a connected minimum grid of all ages bikeways in downtown by the end of 2019. But there’s work to do. Realistically, gaps remain on 4th Avenue, 12th Avenue, Bell Street and around the new arena downtown. We know that the network was only as
strong as its weakest link, and we’ll be working with the city to fulfill their commitment to complete closing the gaps in the basic bike network including funding and building the two-way bike way on 4th Avenue next year.”
Of course, many people rightly remain cautious about trusting her dedication to biking. There are still no plans to restore the deleted 35th Ave NE bike lanes, and it’s going to be pretty hard for people who rely on biking in that neighborhood to forgive and forget. But it seems that all the organizing people did to protest the deletion of those lanes has paid off elsewhere.
There’s also a very practical and political reason to support biking and rebuild trust with bike supporters in Seattle: The Mayor needs to pass a voter-approved Transportation Benefit District measure in November. Mayor Durkan several times thanked voters for approving the Move Seattle Levy that funds much of the bike lane work, and she claimed the bike lane construction as evidence that the levy work is back on track. It’s important that people trust SDOT to fulfill its promises before giving the department more money. Cutting bike promises was a very dangerous narrative to have have in voters’ minds. SDOT’s budget would be decimated without the Transportation Benefit District, and bike supporters happen to be strong transportation ballot measure supporters. They don’t just vote, they also pack the phone banks and knock on doors. People who fight bike lanes don’t tend to do that.
As we reported yesterday, Mayor Durkan also announced her strong support for building the planned Eastlake Ave bike lanes as part of the 2024 RapidRide J project. This was a big win for biking that pretty much stole the headlines from the press event. The project is far from complete, but it’s hard to see a political path for people trying to block the bike lanes that doesn’t include the mayor.
Of course, all these improvements to north end bike connections make the city’s most glaring bike route gap stand out even more: Rainier Valley. The 2020-21 budget does include funding for a southend connection on either Beacon Ave or MLK. It’s going to be vital that the designs for these projects are high quality and complete. But no matter what the city builds, there are still going to be big missing gaps. It’s going to take a lot more funding than what is budgeted to put south end bike routes on par with north end bike routes. The 2020-21 budget is little more than a down payment.