Two different bike safety projects in Seattle started development in 2020: A concept to complete the bike lane loop around Green Lake and a project to connect Beacon Hill to the downtown bike network. But even though the City Council specifically declared the Beacon Hill project to be a top priority project, the Green Lake bike lanes are nearing the end of construction while the Beacon Hill bike lanes are facing an extra year of delay.
The city recently completed bike lanes on the Jose Rizal Bridge, and the Beacon Hill project is planned to connect the heart of the neighborhood to the new bridge bike lanes as well as the Mountains to Sound Trail. After exploring a couple different options, the city decided on protected bike lanes on Beacon Ave S and 15th Ave S. This was the most direct and flat route and was favored by the majority of people surveyed.
The original schedule had SDOT finishing up design for the Beacon Ave S/15th Ave S bike lanes now and then beginning construction in winter 2023. But Ryan Packer reported for The Urbanist that construction has been delayed until 2024, the latest it could possibly start while still getting funding from the expiring Move Seattle Levy. Pushing it so close to the edge of the levy also makes the project vulnerable to unexpected delays or changes in available funding.
Seattle must give Beacon Hill at least the same level of urgency as Green Lake. In fact, given the city and state’s long history of neglecting street safety in Southeast Seattle, leaders should be giving projects like this one extra urgency and attention. That was the City Council’s reasoning in 2019 when they prioritized this project, as they made clear in their resolution (PDF). The resolution specifically notes that “longstanding disinvestment in safe streets infrastructure means that Black and Latinx riders are disproportionately likely to be killed by a car compared to white counterparts” and that “this disinvestment is especially notable in South Seattle neighborhoods, including Rainier Valley, Georgetown, South Park, and Beacon Hill.” The resolution then specifically called on the Mayor and SDOT to use Move Seattle Levy funds to build a handful of southend routes, including this route on Beacon Hill as part of the 2020 budget.
Obviously, a lot of city work was thrown into chaos in 2020, so some delay from that schedule is understandable. But the latest delay can’t be blamed on the pandemic. The reason for the delay seems to come from SDOT’s plan to conduct a third car parking study. The 15th Ave S segment will require either removing parking or making the street one-way for general traffic. Removing parking is by far the easiest and most feasible option, though many people who park on the street are not happy with the idea of having to park somewhere else. But this trade-off is more than worth it. Protecting people’s lives and building a more equitable and connected bike network is more important than car parking. The city should look for opportunities to mitigate the parking loss for neighbors, such as making sure parking on nearby streets is managed properly and that walking routes to those side streets are safe and accessible. But in the end the loss of parking may just be a necessary trade-off that won’t make everyone happy.
At a minimum Mayor Bruce Harrell and new SDOT Director Greg Spotts should make it clear that completing the Beacon Hill bike route is a top priority, and that its funding will be protected to ensure completion before the end of the levy. But they should also push the department to treat the project with the urgency it deserves. As it is, people who have worked for years to keep this project on the city’s plan and to secure funding for it are feeling like the city just does not care about them as much as the city cares about people biking around Green Lake. If Seattle’s leaders do not truly feel this way, then they need to take action to prove it.