The Eastlake bike lane plans are still moving forward with the RapidRide J bus improvements project, but bike advocates in town are not taking their eye off the project until those bike lanes are on the ground.
City Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chair Alex Pedersen (D4) made comments during an Eastlake Community Council meeting that spooked the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board enough that they penned a letter (PDF) this week strongly supporting the project and the planned bike lanes.
“SBAB requests that SDOT, council, and the Harrell Administration complete the RapidRide J project as shown over the last several years including the fully protected bike lane,” the Board wrote in the letter addressed to Mayor Bruce Harrell, the Seattle City Council and SDOT. “We, along with numerous individuals and organizations in the city have supported the project with the understanding that it would include protected bike lanes. To remove them at this point would be a betrayal of trust as well as counter to our city’s council adopted Bicycle Master Plan, Climate Action Plan, and Vision Zero commitments.”
The comments were actually from an April meeting about the project, but many people didn’t see them until Ryan Packer noticed a recap of the meeting in the summer edition of the Eastlake Community Council’s newsletter Eastlake News (PDF). During the meeting, Pedersen reportedly said that he wished SDOT would consider “a creative sharing of the road” and that he anticipated an uproar similar to people opposed to the 35th Ave NE bike lanes a few years ago.
“It was very disheartening to read in the summer 2022 edition of the Eastlake News that the head of the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee appears to be seeking to water down this vital project,” wrote the Bike Board. “35th Ave NE represents a failure of the city to follow through on its adopted climate and Vision Zero policies. To hear 35th Ave Northeast referenced as a template for the future trajectory of the Rapid Ride J project is incredibly disappointing, and frankly unacceptable.”
I reached out to Councilmember Pedersen to get some clarification on his stance on Eastlake, and I’ve posted his full letter below. He noted that the project is far enough along that it doesn’t need any further Council approval “unless it eventually suffers cost overruns.” He attempted to play both sides, saying he supports “connecting more of the bike network” but that he also has been telling SDOT they are “making a mistake (in my opinion) by continuing with their plans to remove nearly all parking on BOTH sides of Eastlake Avenue.” Ultimately, though, he doesn’t anticipate SDOT will listen to him, and any opposition will need to target Mayor Harrell the new SDOT leadership.
The bike lanes are pretty hard-coded into the project at this point. Unlike with 35th Ave NE, RapidRide J has gone through extensive environmental review at local and federal levels because it is very large and the project has federal funding. Changing it at this point would be a huge undertaking. However, the bike lanes are tied to the major transit project, and we have seen major projects languish before, especially if local political support grows cold. The Center City Streetcar is a recent example that remains in limbo after Mayor Durkan paused work in 2018. City support for buses is typically far more unified than for streetcars, so hopefully RapidRide J can avoid such a fate. But it is still wise for project supporters to keep paying attention and making their support clear.
Below is Councilmember Pedersen’s full response (I asked him if he was pushing back on the Eastlake bike lanes as noted in Eastlake News):
I hope you are doing well.
I suppose it depends on what you mean by “pushing back” because, I don’t think SDOT needs any more approvals from the Seattle City Council on that mega project along Eastlake Avenue, unless it eventually suffers cost overruns. I believe I’ve been forthright that, while I’ve worked for increased bus service across the city (renewing the Seattle Transportation Benefit District for example), I want MORE buses along Eastlake Avenue even after the new light rail stations opened, I favor connecting more of the bike network (e.g. 15th Ave NE), and I want to see more traffic-calming / crosswalks / speed camera enforcement, etc, I continue to tell SDOT it’s making a mistake (in my opinion) by continuing with their plans to remove nearly all parking on BOTH sides of Eastlake Avenue. My concerns remain the impacts to those small business, the removal of several bus stops, the parking studies showing relative saturation — and the fact that South Seattle could make good use of those dollars. But, in my opinion, SDOT has not made meaningful changes for most of the small businesses along Eastlake Avenue – for this project of nearly 1.5 miles. And the department often doesn’t do what I suggest anyway – remember the $100 million in bond funding approved by the entire City Council for bridge safety infrastructure that SDOT turned down after the West Seattle Bridge closed and a bridge audit confirmed the rest of our bridges are in bad shape? Moreover, SDOT has since received their federal grant for the J Line further bolstering their original plans (the plans which include permanent new bike lanes on both sides of Eastlake Avenue). I think it’s positive that SBAB sent their letter advocating again for the project and it’s a good letter, though probably not needed as I’m not seeing SDOT pulling back at all on the bike lanes based on anything I say or do for the Eastlake small businesses. As your blog post astutely pointed out back in January 2020, I just don’t have the bandwidth on this single location. While I’ve given my two cents on this project numerous times over the past 3 years and I will continue to support the small businesses in Eastlake, it’s now primarily between the Eastlake community and new SDOT leadership along with the Mayor’s Office – they’ll need to answer to the Eastlake community for this project and to whomever is not getting those dollars.
Thank you for checking in.
7 responses to “In response to Bike Board letter, CM Pedersen says he doesn’t see SDOT deleting Eastlake bike lanes”
While as a south ender I appreciate CM Pedersen’s concern for allocating resources for safety improvements where they are needed most (e.g., the south end), this is a poor argument in the case of the Eastlake project, which is primarily funded through federal dollars tied specifically to that project. Using this argument in this context really makes his recent comments about pedestrian and cyclist safety on the south end seem insincere at best and cynical at worst.
Further, the pitting of bike projects in other parts of the city against theoretical projects in the south end is pretty cynical to begin with. We all know that budget isn’t the issue here, we could easily afford to repaint Rainier and drop some jersey barriers down to create a protected cycle track tomorrow. The issue is a lack of political will.
I don’t know who needs to hear this, but if one supports safe bike infrastructure but thinks it’s a mistake to remove on-street parking for bike infrastructure, then they don’t support safe bike infrastructure.
I don’t think Pedersen makes any pretense of supporting bike infrastructure when it gets in the way of any other mode of transport or parking. Even he could not argue that there is much need for parking or extra vehicle lanes on 15th Ave NE. His opportunistic use of the 35th Ave NE bike lanes has not contributed to the vitality of the street (QFC recently closed their Wedgwood store and speeding continues to be a chronic problem). His lack of interest in the neighborhood is well illustrated by his and Debora Juarez’s joint antipathy to efforts to develop a small land banked dirt lot in Wedgwood, which sits almost on the boundary of their constituencies, into a park that the neighborhood so desperately needs. It has been on hold since 2019 and is now indefinitely suspended. Hopefully, he can be induced to move on in 2023.
Thanks for sharing the exchange. There are issues to resolve, but I expect Councilmember Pedersen is correct: the Eastlake Avenue East PBL are committed. SDOT could do more to mitigate the loss of short term parking. Perhaps they could work with WSDOT to offer parking under I-5 at East Allison Street. Perhaps they could buy a lot and build short term paid parking with low income housing atop. On the Eastlake bus-bike humps, a safety issue will be getting cyclists to yield to bus riders as they board and alight; we do not want to nail a senior with grocery bags. The Eastlake humps will have action and more bike speed than the ones on NE 65th Street. SDOT has bungled NE 43rd Street (today) and the future J Line alignment for Eastlake riders. The ROW Seattle put into drainage could have been used for a two-way PBL on the south side of NE 43rd Street. Now, there is mixing between buses and bikes and a pocket hazard at 12th Avenue NE with right turning buses with bikes to their right. The J Line alignment on the Roosevelt couplet will make northbound J Line riders walk one block to Link, two blocks to the Ave, and three blocks to 15th Avenue NE; all the walks were unnecessary, as the J Line could have used the Route 70 pathway.
If Pedersen really cares about parking he could advocate to convert the center turn lane on Eastlake to parking. The fact that he is just putting the parking against the bike lane tells us where his priorities are
Parking?!? This is a major bike and transit corridor and he is worried about parking? What nonsense. You don’t build a city around parking (ask Detroit, or any struggling city). In fact, you do the opposite. To quote Strong Towns, you deal with huge parking demand in popular locations by reducing some of the need to go park in those locations. https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2020/6/9/but-where-will-i-park
That essay references multiple articles about parking, many of which contain a ruthless financial analysis of parking (https://www.strongtowns.org/journal/2018/11/20/the-many-costs-of-too-much-parking). This is not about what is pleasant, or more aesthetically pleasing. It is about what makes financial sense for the city. The evidence is clear — parking should not be a priority.
Pederson is not all bad. I just read this morning that he is trying to get gas powered leaf blowers phased out, something that is years overdue. I just wish he were chair of literally any council committee other than transportation.
In any case, if you really do need more parking, the place to start is by better managing the parking you have. There’s a lot of parking on and near Eastlake that doesn’t even have signage limiting how long you can park. Bike lanes and parking for businesses can easily coexist if you update the signage of parking on adjacent streets so that the spaces go to customers, rather than long term car storage.