— Advertisement —

Urbanist: Bike Bellevue effort paused due to ethics complaint involving Seattle Bike Blog? – UPDATED

Before and after diagram and concept images showing Bel-Red Road as a four lane street with no bikes lane vs a three lane street with bike lanes.
Concept images from the Bike Bellevue survey (now closed).

There I was, fresh coffee in hand, reading through my morning news when I saw my own site mentioned in a story by Ryan Packer at The Urbanist regarding an ethics complaint against the City of Bellevue’s friendly and hard-working Mobility Planning and Solutions Manager Franz Loewenherz. Surely this must be some kind of mistake, I thought, because this is the first I’ve heard of this. As a supposed party to this alleged unethical behavior, you’d think I would know about it.

I have requests out to the City of Bellevue to get a copy of the complaint and any other relevant documents about their ongoing investigation (UPDATE: I have the complaint. See the UPDATE section below). But I suppose I’m in the privileged position here of being able to search my own email for the evidence. So that’s what I did, turning up a grand total of one email thread from Loewenherz since 2021. It was a September 7 email to me, Vicky Clarke from Cascade Bicycle Club, Katherine Hollis of Eastside Trail Partners and Chris Randels of Complete Streets Bellevue telling us that the Bellevue Transportation Commission would be holding a meeting in a week about Bike Bellevue. Transportation Commission agendas and presentation materials are posted publicly online in advance of every meeting, so this wasn’t secret information.

Loewenherz then sent a follow-up email September 15 after the public meeting saying that the meeting happened, and then another on September 18 with a copy of a mass email Bellevue had sent out about the online feedback portal along with a link to a media story about it. And that’s it. That is every piece of communication Seattle Bike Blog has had with Loewenherz in recent years. We ended up posting our story September 20.


— Advertisement —

I have no idea what the complaint is here. It’s pretty common for officials to give relevant stakeholders and media a heads up about scheduled public proceedings regarding a project they have been following. Seattle Bike Blog has “Seattle” in the name, but we cover the whole region including Bellevue. We have many readers who live, work and travel through Bellevue, and we’ve covered essentially all the city’s major bicycling planning efforts in the past 14 years or so. At times we were the only ones covering this stuff. If you’re trying to reach people who ride bikes in Bellevue, it makes sense to contact Seattle Bike Blog. The other people copied on the email were members of organizations working on biking issues in Bellevue, also groups you’d want to contact if you were collecting feedback on a bike plan. It would be negligent NOT to contact local bike groups when collecting feedback on a bike plan.

It’s especially surprising to see an ethics complaint against Loewenherz because at least in all of my contacts with him since 2013, he’s always been such a cautious and by-the-books kind of city staffer. The Bike Bellevue plan is ambitious, but it’s been developed through a very drawn-out and careful process. It’s a follow-up to the city’s 2017 “Bicycle Rapid Implementation Plan” and 2018 downtown protected bike lane pilot project. Those launched six years ago and were themselves follow-up efforts to the Vision Zero plan Bellevue started in 2015 in part to address shortcomings in Bellevue’s 2009 Pedestrian and Bicycle Plan. Loewenherz is typically very careful not to skip steps in the public process, which can be frustrating to safe streets advocates who want to see a lot of changes as quickly as possible. Loewenherz has a lot of patience, and that patience has paid off in the form of some significant bike projects even in difficult locations within Bellevue’s downtown. Someone trying to move faster may have hit a brick wall of opposition long ago.

I have no inside information about the ethics complaint or the investigation. Maybe there’s some other damning piece of evidence that doesn’t involve Seattle Bike Blog, but I’m not aware of anything at this time. I’ll follow-up when I learn more. As for now, the Bike Bellevue effort seems to be on pause, according to Packer at The Urbanist. Hopefully this pause does not last long because Bellevue has a lot of work to do to make all these streets safer.

UPDATE

The complaint was also submitted as part of the 250-page public feedback summary (thanks Hanoch and Ryan for pointing me to it). The complaint (PDF), filed by Bellevue resident Phyllis White, requests that the city remove Loewenherz from the Bike Bellevue project and restart the entire outreach process. The specific code the complaint accuses Loewenherz of breaking was BCC 3.90.040, which states, “No city employee shall engage in any act which is in conflict with, or creates an appearance of conflict with, the performance of official duties.”

The complaint includes screenshots of the email thread I described above as well as two emails that did not include Seattle Bike Blog. It specifically cites 5 alleged unethical acts, though they do not actually seem to be entirely distinct from each other. I am not a lawyer, though, so take my word with a grain of salt here. But one detail that really stands out is that the complaint latches onto the fact that Loewenherz opened one of the emails with the phrase “Hi Team.” The complaint then erroneously refers to any of the advocates he is communicating with as “his team.” This was just a casual, informal greeting, like saying, “Hi guys,” or “Hey y’all.” Everyone on that email already knew Loewenherz from his many years of work for Bellevue, so the casual tone did not seem out of place or inappropriate to me. As one of the people on the email, I can assure you we were not a team beyond the fact that we all work on safe streets issues. This complaint is reading way too much into that one word.

The only real new (to me) information in the complaint are two emails in which Loewenherz shared some public comments with a couple people including Complete Streets Bellevue and Eastside Urbanism. There is also an email in which he tells some advocates that they have revised the way they talk about parking impacts in response to feedback. Loewenherz includes the phrase “sharing in confidence” when sharing the public comments, which complaint alleges as evidence of “acknowledged impropriety.” But these were public comments, key word: “public.” I don’t think it’s unethical for a public official to share a public comment. There’s also no further context around these emails, so it’s impossible to come to a conclusion based solely on them. Perhaps he was asked about them? Of course it does look shady when someone says, “sharing in confidence,” and I have no insight into why he used that phrase. Again, this is just the complaint, and I have no access to his defense or the other elements of the investigation. But based on my previous experience with Loewenherz, I know he’s someone who is very hesitant to go around putting people on blast, so that’s what I assumed he was trying to avoid when I first read the emails. But again, I have no inside information about this.

As for the final email, he is informing some people who are doing outreach to building managers that Bellevue has updated one of its infographics related to impacts to parking in response to feedback. The complaint alleges that in the email he was trying to “avoid having to disclose such impacts by using Eastside Urbanism as a communications proxy,” but it seems to me that he was instead informing them of the updated graphic. Of course Eastside Urbanism doesn’t have to follow the city’s official language because they are an independent group, but I don’t see how updating the info and then sending that updated info to people is a problem. And it is quite a stretch to claim that Eastside Urbanism could possibly be considered a “communications proxy” to the City of Bellevue. They have 195 followers on Twitter, a Meetup page and a Discord server (and sound like a great group to join if you’re into urbanist issues on the Eastside). They are the kind of people who probably ask Loewenherz a lot of questions because this is the stuff they’re into. These are urbanism geeks (again, no offense intended, I use that phrase as a compliment). I mean, who else could possibly care about Bellevue updating the language around parking impacts on page 5 of the Bike Bellevue Draft Concepts Guide?

So the allegations here are that Loewenherz, the city staffer tasked with developing and carrying out the Bike Bellevue, sent notices of public proceedings to bike media and advocates, used the word “team” in a casual manner once, shared public comments, and shared updated language about parking impacts. We’ll see if the ethics investigation thinks these are violations, but I sure don’t see it.

But in the spirit of throwing around wild accusations, this all sounds to me like bike lane opponents trying to disparage a public servant’s reputation and honor in a desperate effort to subvert the official process because they know they are losing. Loewenherz runs such a tight ship that the only thing they can hope to do is to take him down personally because his work is too careful to attack on its merits.


About the author:


Related posts:

Comments

10 responses to “Urbanist: Bike Bellevue effort paused due to ethics complaint involving Seattle Bike Blog? – UPDATED”

  1. R

    I blame the Bellevue Squares, they’re a rough bunch that don’t take kindly to outsiders meddling with downtown Bellevue.

    I finally got your stickers on my bike last weekend. I miss a lot about Seattle nothing was ever comparable but the calendar of social rides in Portland at shift2bikes.org (and I’m pretty sure I’ve been riding with characters from Portlandia).

  2. Brad Praxton

    Given how anti-bike Bellevue is (and particularly Kemper Freeman) it wouldn’t surprise me if Loewnherz is getting railroaded.

  3. Al Dimond

    There’s a smell in the air… what could it be? Oh, I know, it’s reactionary projection!

    What I’m suggesting is that the reason the reactionaries trying to stop this work specifically used an ethics complaint to do it is that they actually are doing stuff that’s ethically dubious. In this case… that there is a real ethically dubious network of reactionaries weaving together city officials (elected and otherwise) and outside advocacy groups, which is also why a complaint like this has the legs it seems to have.

    To put it lightly, this is not a good look for Bellevue.

  4. eddiew

    Franz Loewenherz is an excellent public servant.

  5. Anthony Avery

    As a (former) public servant, I would be violating my ethical commitment if I didn’t provide information on upcoming public events to interested stakeholders.
    I also would’ve BCC’d everybody, which may or may not have avoided the whole PRR that probably started this whole thing.
    On its face and knowing Franz personally, this is an absurd allegation and the fact that the city is still “investigating” reeks of politics, which shouldn’t interfere with professionals doing their job.

  6. Dave B

    There is significant anti-cyclist sentiment in Bellevue both from the old-guard “all roads must lead to Bellevue Square” contingent and the Tesla horde. I believe the complaint filer was also part of the group that went apoplectic over the new bike lane on Main St that eliminated one traffic lane.
    Past attempts to improve bike infrastructure have been vigorously opposed by citizen groups and political majorities. It’s been slowly changing but there’s still solid opposition.

  7. Dan

    Given the negative feedback in the comments at https://bikebellevue.konveio.com/ that I remember reading about the proposed plans, this complaint doesn’t surprise me. The real complaint behind it is obviously that a larger public discourse was happening when some, who would rather keep things the way they are, wished the info was hidden. I hope it is dismissed promptly as what it is: without merit.

    Meanwhile I thank this blog for alerting me to matters on the Eastside that are of interest me, such as the https://bikebellevue.konveio.com/ survey. That’s one of the reason I read it.

  8. Chris Covert-Bowlds

    Thanks for the years of good work by Franz and Tom for the good and safety of people of this region. File this under “No good deed goes unpunished”. Thanks for letting us know, to continue making the streets safer for everyone.

  9. Adron Hall

    So is this Phyllis White even a real person? What’s the legitimacy of someone even making a complaint like that (honestly it seems there is more ethical behavior in question of this Phyllis White person than anybody else’s, as they’re making a mountain out of… well I’d say a mole hill but that is even too big).

    Anyway, this kind of NIMBY railroading is to be expected, albeit as we all know it’s horrifyingly backwards and perverse – one could honestly say unethical – in its vective insinuation.

    Will write to these folks mentioned. I had hesitancy, heavy hesitancy in moving ot the east side because – as a car-free lad – the absolute staunch hatred and backwardsness of much of the political ranks on the east side freaks me out. Not in a, I’m scared of them, but just in awe of how out of touch many are or how perversely dystopian they desire the world (i.e. Kemper Freeman).

    Anyway, will fire up the ole keyboard and get to typing. Hope to start attending some meetings to advocate here in the near future too now that I’m a “Redmond Resident”.

  10. RP

    As described, this accusation should not be sustained.

    That being said, as a public servant, things like “hello team” or ensconcing a particular group of stakeholders (advocates, really) as kind of a “team” is absolutely bad practice. You can manage this through your CAC or similar structures rather than an informal network of connected insiders.

    Mr. Loewenherz is guilty of some sloppiness and should be reminded to follow inclusive procedure going forward

— Advertisement —

Join the Seattle Bike Blog Supporters

As a supporter, you help power independent bike news in the Seattle area. Please consider supporting the site financially starting at $5 per month:


Latest stories

Bike Events Calendar

Jun
18
Tue
6:00 pm South Seattle Safe Streets Coali… @ Virtual via Zoom
South Seattle Safe Streets Coali… @ Virtual via Zoom
Jun 18 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Joint meeting between Rainier Valley Greenways & Beacon Hill Safe Streets.ShareMastodonTwitterFacebookRedditEmail
Jun
20
Thu
7:15 pm Point83 @ Westlake Park
Point83 @ Westlake Park
Jun 20 @ 7:15 pm
Point83 @ Westlake Park
Meet up in the center of the park at 7ish. Leave at 730. Every Thursday from now until forever rain or shine. Bikes, beers, illegal firepits, nachos, bottlerockets, timetraveling, lollygagging, mechanicals, good times.ShareMastodonTwitterFacebookRedditEmail
Jun
23
Sun
1:00 pm Redmond History Ride @ Marymoor Park Velodrome Parking Lot
Redmond History Ride @ Marymoor Park Velodrome Parking Lot
Jun 23 @ 1:00 pm – 4:30 pm
Redmond History Ride @ Marymoor Park Velodrome Parking Lot | Redmond | Washington | United States
Join this 13 mile bike ride around Redmond at a Leisurely pace. We’ll visit various sites both old and new as I tell stories about the city that was once known as Salmonberg.ShareMastodonTwitterFacebookRedditEmail
Jun
24
Mon
5:30 pm Downtown Greenways monthly meeting
Downtown Greenways monthly meeting
Jun 24 @ 5:30 pm – 7:00 pm
Last Monday of the month.  Join us! https://seattlegreenways.org/downtowngreenwaysShareMastodonTwitterFacebookRedditEmail
Jun
26
Wed
6:00 pm Ballard-Fremont Greenways Meeting
Ballard-Fremont Greenways Meeting
Jun 26 @ 6:00 pm – 7:30 pm
Ballard-Fremont Greenways meets monthly on the 4th Wednesday of the month. Join the google group for monthly meeting information: https://groups.google.com/g/ballard-greenwaysBring your enthusiasm and ideas to share with the group or just stop in to say hello[…]
— Advertisements —

Latest on Mastodon

Loading Mastodon feed…