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  • In last-minute effort, Strauss successfully adds $20M for Burke-Gilman Trail via Leary/Market to the transportation levy proposal + The current design needs to get better

    I was all set to write up a story about the uncertain future of the Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail when, in a last-minute Hail Mary minutes before official adoption, Councilmember Dan Strauss reintroduced his previously-failed amendment to fund his trail connection plan via Leary Way and Market Street and found the votes to get it passed. Councilmembers Cathy Moore and Rob Saka switched their stances from a week ago to join Joy Hollingsworth, Tammy Morales, Tanya Woo and Strauss in voting yes. The funds were shifted out of the significantly-increased paving budget line.

    The Burke-Gilman amendment (PDF) was the only change made Tuesday to the $1.55 billion transportation levy proposal (PDF), and it brought the total spending line for bicycle safety to $133.5 million. It may also have signaled a city policy change to shift focus from the fully-designed Shilshole trail route, which remains held up in court, to the Leary/Market route. The Leary/Market design has received lukewarm support from bicycle advocates, though Cascade Bicycle Club did put out an advocacy action alert in June supporting the Strauss amendment among others.

    Josh Brower, attorney for the appellant group that has successfully trapped the trail in an endless series of court battles, sent out a press release celebrating the news.

    “After 20 years of successfully protecting working-class Ballard, we are on the way to  a real solution to the Missing Link, together with a strong group of common-sense supporters who are truly dedicated to real transit equity and safety,” said Brower in the press release.

    While bike orgs have not been overly supportive of the Leary/Market idea, they also have not been fighting it. Cascade Bicycle Club’s stance has so far been that they support bike safety on Leary and Market, but not at the expense of the preferred and designed Shilshole trail route. Seattle Bike Blog praised parts of the very early design, especially the traffic calming elements on Leary Way, but the recently-released 30% designs show that many major issues have not been addressed.

    The biggest concern is that the trail route constantly mixes with busy commercial sidewalks in downtown Ballard rather than keeping people biking and walking separated. This design would make the pedestrian experience worse and would lead to constant conflicts between people biking and walking. Protected bike lane design best practices exist for a reason, but the current design largely ignores them. Yes, they keep calling it a “multi-use trail,” but to actual users on the ground that distinction is purely academic. In busy commercial areas, you gotta keep the modes separated, including at intersections, and the biking route needs to be continuous.

    Top-down diagram showing the trail on Leary ending beofre reaching Market and then not starting against until after it crosses 22nd Ave NW.
    The 30% design shows the trail disappearing entirely before it reaches Market Street, routing people on bikes to share the busy sidewalk with people shopping, hanging out and waiting for the walk signal so they can cross the street. Everyone will hate this if they build it.
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  • I had a Seattle traffic safety epiphany while riding Long Beach’s wonderful, legacy bike share system

    A line of blue bicycles locked to racks on a sidewalk. The walkway is clear.

    During the long train ride from Los Angeles to Long Beach, I tried to figure out whether it would be better to wait for a bus to my friend’s apartment or just walk it instead. But as I stepped off the A Line, the obvious answer was staring right at me: Long Beach Bike Share. They were right there, parked in a neat and orderly line rather than lying on their side or blocking a curb ramp. It was easy to use and cost me less than a dollar to travel a mile along a couple of the city’s very high-quality protected bike lanes. It was the most pleasant bike share experience I have had in years, and it didn’t even have electric assist.

    The experience gave me an epiphany of sorts. Seattle and King County are situated perfectly to steal a handful of great ideas from around the country and mash them together to solve several big transportation problems. And the piece at the center of it all is so simple: Street corner daylighting bike racks. The city could establish a public-private partnership between SDOT, King County and micromobility service providers to fund on-street bike and scooter parking corrals at every intersection with a crosswalk, improving crosswalk safety while also increasing the supply of bike parking to a level that could finally get scooters and bikes out of the middle of the sidewalk. The corrals would also help with bike/bus synergy by providing proper bike racks near bus stops so people don’t end up locking to the bus stop sign because it’s the only fixed pole on the block.

    Hoboken shows the power of daylighting intersections

    Aerial diagram of an intersection with a driver's visual cone highlighted to demonstrate how daylighting intersections works.
    How daylighting intersections makes them safer from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, of which SDOT is an engaged member.

    Hoboken, New Jersey, garnered astonished headlines across the nation earlier this year when the city announced it had reached seven consecutive years without a traffic fatality. In a time when traffic deaths are rising at an alarming rate across the nation, Washington State, and Seattle, Hoboken’s success is a beacon of hope. And their solutions to dangerous crosswalks aren’t anything that Seattle has not also done successfully. The difference is that they have implemented them nearly everywhere. They extend the curbs to make the crosswalks shorter and, vitally, push back the on-street parking far enough so that everyone at the intersection can see each other. When rebuilding a street, use concrete. Otherwise, use temporary materials like paint, posts, parking stops or planters to create lower-cost curb extensions and on-street bike parking areas. These solutions all achieve the same end goals of calming traffic, “daylighting” the intersection so people can see each other, and shortening the crosswalk distance.

    These interventions save lives and make streets feel much more comfortable and inviting. And since it is already illegal to park within 20 feet of a crosswalk under Washington State law, the only thing we “give up” are illegal parking spaces. It’s a no-lose trade-off.

    SDOT already knows how to build all of these solutions and have done so successfully many times. But many isn’t good enough. We need these solutions everywhere. Every single crosswalk on a street with on-street parking needs these interventions. I have no idea how many we’re talking about here, but surely thousands if you count each corner. So we need to be building them at a rate many, many times faster than we are currently going.

    Bike and scooter share that doesn’t impede accessibility

    The prevalence of illegally-parking bikes and scooters is not as bad as it once was during the $1 bike days, but it’s still not good enough. A big part of the problem is that even if a user parks correctly, other people can knock them over (either on accident or on purpose), turning them into a hazard or accessibility blocker. We need a places they can be parked that are at least somewhat separate from walkways and curb ramps.

    The big problem with the idea of requiring shared bikes and scooters to be parked at bike racks has always been that there just aren’t enough bike racks. Plus, people who actually need to lock their bikes need to use those racks. The obvious solution has been staring us in the face this whole time: Build more bike racks and designated bike/scooter parking areas. Once there are enough of them, the city can require companies to either offer a credit for parking in a designated parking area or levy a fee for devices parked outside these areas. Or if bike racks really were at every intersection, the city could require bikes and scooters to be parked within designated areas only.

    In return for contributing funding and promoting the use of designated parking areas, the bike and scooter share companies would gain significant increases in the amount of public space essentially reserved for their devices. They could also perhaps get some kind of guarantee that adequate parking will be available in convenient spots at the busiest locations, including Sound Transit stations, ferry terminals, parks, and stadiums. The city has already had successful experiments with bike corrals that include some physical racks alongside some open space designated for shared bikes and scooters, so those seem like worthy templates to replicate.

    When dockless bike and scooter companies first arrived, being dockless was the primary reason they succeeded where Pronto failed. They could be used anywhere, but Pronto was limited to just 50 stations spread out across the city center and U District. But what’s old is new again, and finding a way to retain the orderliness of the docks without impeding usability may be the way of the future. Including bike/scooter corrals near crosswalks all over town seems like a perfect opportunity to achieve this goal.

    Long Beach’s unusual place in bike share history

    Selfie of the author biking in a protected bike lane.

    Long Beach Bike Share could only have been created during a very short window in bike share history, a time when the industry was shifting from smart dock systems (like New York’s CitiBike or Seattle’s old Pronto system) to smart bike systems, but had not yet been overrun by the private dockless bike share services we know so well in Seattle.

    A blue bike share bike with some electronics attached to it.
    The Lime e-bike’s great-great-great-grandparent, still living the good life in southern California.

    Long Beach’s system is a hybrid model that uses an ancient non-electric ancestor of the current Lime e-bikes. Made by a company that was then called Social Bicycles (which became JUMP then was bought by Uber and then was merged into Lime as part of a complicated Uber investment deal) the bikes are made to be locked to special bike share only bike racks that they still refer to as “docks.” But unlike traditional bike share docks, the technology to lock, unlock and pay for rides is all handled by interacting with a phone app and a computer on the bike itself. The dock is really just a metal bike rack that you’re not supposed to use with your private bike. It is essentially the same technology used by the first generation of Portland’s Biketown system, though Biketown has since moved on to a different system operated by Lyft.

    I was surprised by how much I loved Long Beach Bike Share. But let’s be real, it doesn’t make sense to have two different sets of bike racks taking up precious right of way. The technology Social Bicycles helped invent also sort of made the dedicated bike share dock obsolete. Sure enough, on my second ride I had trouble finding a dock without pulling over to look at the map on my phone. I passed by a lot of city bike racks on my way to an official dock. Yet I love using it, and the 80¢ bill I got for my first ride made me nostalgic for the days of super-low-cost bike share rides. Those prices are unlikely to return without public subsidy (which Seattle is not planning to provide), but still. It was nice.

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  • Council poised to send $1.55B transportation levy to voters

    Table of July 2 Councilmember votes on various amendments.
    How Councilmembers voted on proposed amendments during the July 2 committee meeting. The chair’s amendment is a large amendment that included a bunch of requests and additions from councilmembers and raised the total to $1.55 billion.

    Seattle voters will have an opportunity this November to pass the largest city investment in transportation infrastructure in recent memory.

    Assuming the Seattle City Council does not make any additional changes to their amended levy proposal (spending breakdown PDF) before final approval next week, the 2024 Seattle Transportation Levy will put $1.55 billion into repairing and improving Seattle’s streets over the next eight years, a decent increase over the expiring 9-year Move Seattle Levy even when accounting for inflation.

    Transportation advocates and labor groups pushed for a more ambitious $1.75 billion version, but only Cathy Moore (D5) and amendment sponsor Tammy Morales (D2) voted Tuesday for the additional funds. It is notable that Districts 2 and 5 are also the districts most in need of basic transportation infrastructure improvements like bike lanes, sidewalks and traffic calming.

    Now that the $1.55 billion version is very likely headed to voters, transportation advocates will need to figure out where they stand on the measure and what role they are going to play in the campaign to approve it. Seattle Subway has already signaled that their org is opposed due to a lack of guaranteed transit funding, they said via social media. This is a worrying sign for the mayor and Council since the pro-levy campaign is going to need volunteers willing to knock on doors and make phone calls, and walk/bike/transit advocates along with organized labor did a lot of that heavy lifting during the 2015 Move Seattle campaign. Any questions about the levy’s dedication to improving transit is a huge liability in transit-loving Seattle.

    On the other hand, it’s not clear that voting down this measure would lead to a better levy later, at least not with the current City Council. Seattle’s opportunity to put together the levy of advocates’ dreams passed us by in November 2023 when the voters failed to elect a Council majority promising to champion walking, biking and transit. Instead, the proposed levy largely continues the Move Seattle scope of work, though with notable increases in funding for street paving and sidewalks and the notable absence of funding for the streetcar.

    Where the Move Seattle Levy over-promised about many specific improvements, especially for transit corridors and bike lane mileage, the proposed levy is a bit light on specifics. This means advocates are going to need to fight for every single project as they come, just like they always do. The Seattle Transportation Plan, a Mayor Bruce Harrell document, lays out a fairly ambitious future for the city’s streets, and the proposed levy will fund a significant increase in the number of those streets that will be repaved. The question facing advocates is whether they think they can win those battles project-by-project over the next eight years.

    Seattle Neighborhood Greenways celebrated that the levy is better than when it was initially proposed, even if it “is only about half of what Seattle needs in the next 8 years to reach its climate goals and reach Vision Zero.” From their blog post:

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  • CM Morales’ transportation levy amendment would fund Council priorities without pitting them against each other

    Screenshot of the action alert from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways with photos of three people holding supportive signs and a form to fill out.
    Send letters of support via the easy and quick SNG action alert.

    The City Council’s latest deliberations over the Seattle Transportation Levy saw many members trying to find cuts in the proposal in order to fund work they want to see added, whether it’s additional sidewalk construction in their districts or a Burke-Gilman Trail alternative via Leary and Market. But why make cuts to other important work when the Council can just increase the levy size to fund all these additions?

    That’s the idea behind Councilmember Tammy Morales’ newest amendment, which the Council will discuss Tuesday. By increasing the levy to $1.7 billion over eight years, the Council could fund additions while still remaining within the range that polling suggests voters will approve, according to Seattle Neighborhood Greenways.

    “Thanks to your advocacy, the draft Transportation Levy has significantly improved since we first saw it in April,” Greenways wrote in an email to supporters this week. “But Council is still trying to pit vital priorities against each other. We shouldn’t have to choose between building or repairing sidewalks, or between public open space and protected bike lanes. We need all of these things, and polling shows that voters will pass a levy that funds them.”

    The poll by the Northwest Progressive Institute found strong support for an even larger $1.9 billion levy, suggesting the Council can safely grow the levy without risking voter backlash. Given the extended closure of the West Seattle Bridge and the terrifying spike in traffic deaths, especially of people walking, voters know Seattle needs to increase its funding for improving our streets. And Seattle is a city where the number of people willing to help our city go big outnumber those who vote against all tax increases. The expiring Move Seattle Levy passed with a 17 point margin even in a lower-turnout, odd-year ballot without high-profile federal elections. This is the first year that a Seattle transportation levy will be on the same ballot as the U.S. President, and the conventional wisdom suggests that a higher turnout should yield better results for an ambitious levy like this one.

    Morales announced the amendment during a press conference alongside Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Disability Rights Washington and the MLK County Labor Council, the Urbanist reported. The Urbanist also included a breakdown of what the extra $150 million would fund, including $20 million for protected bike lanes in south Seattle and $20 million for the Leary/Market Burke-Gilman Trail connection.

    Seattle Neighborhood Greenways is calling on supporters to send Councilmembers letters of support using their handy online form and to sign up to give supportive testimony. More details from SNG:

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  • $25M federal grant will help cross final major Eastrail hurdle: I-90

    Aerial photo with the trail route marked as it crosses over I-90.
    From King County.

    King County has secured a $25 million federal RAISE grant to rehab an old railroad bridge over I-90 that had been one of the few major pieces still missing from the Eastrail route. The funds will also build and pave 1.7 miles of the trail in the I-90 area and “create safe connections” to the I-90 Trail that passes underneath the rail bridge. $25 million is about half of the total project cost, and the grant application notes that there is still a $10 million funding gap.

    With the NE 8th Street bridge open as of Sunday and the Wilburton Trestle and I-405 crossings already in construction, the I-90 crossing was the final remaining unfunded Eastrail gap between Renton and Woodinville. Once complete, this trail has the potential to rival the Burke-Gilman Trail in Seattle. It will revolutionize the role of biking and walking on the Eastside and reorient neighborhoods.

    Don’t expect to bike on the I-90 crossing in the near future, however. First, King County voters will need to approve the King County Parks levy renewal next year, which will provide necessary local funding. Then a nearby sewer project will use the trail right of way until 2027. After years of planning and dealing with encroachments, the grant application anticipated a 2031 opening. There’s gotta be a way to speed up that timeline.

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  • Here are the 8 neighborhood greenways SDOT paused until after November’s transportation levy vote

    Map of planned bicycle master plan projects for 2021 through 2024 edited to highlight the 8 paused projects.
    Base map from Seattle’s 2021 – 2024 Bicycle Master Plan Implementation Plan. Seattle Bike Blog added red circles and text to show the delayed projects. Numbered projects paused include all or parts of 20, 29, 35, 57, 59, 65, 70. The “Garfield High School to Leschi Elementary School Connection” does not seem to be listed on the 2021-2024 map so I circled the general area near number 47.

    SDOT announced that eight neighborhood greenway projects previously scheduled for construction and/or planning have been put on pause because “inflation is affecting our large-scale project budgets more than initially expected,” according to the department. The Central District and Capitol Hill were hit the hardest by the pauses, though there are pauses in all districts other than 7.

    We annotated the map above to help visualize the changes. The projects that formerly had solid lines are the biggest disappointment since those were supposed to have been funded through both design and construction by the end of 2024. The projects with dotted lines were only supposed to be funded through design.

    The highest-profile project on the list is Phase 2 of the Central Ridge Greenway in the Central District and Capitol Hill. The good news is that the most important and difficult element of this route, a traffic signal at 18th and Madison, was completed as part of the RapidRide G project.

    top-down design diagram of the 18th and madison intersection with a new traffic signal.
    From the RapidRide G design plans.

    The projects had been included on SDOT’s 2021-24 Bicycle Master Plan Implementation Plan, a list of deliverable projects that the city created after reviewing the state of rising construction costs amid the peak of the COVID-19 response. The 2021 list also followed Mayor Jenny Durkan’s so-called “reset” of the Move Seattle Levy in 2019 that included a lot of cuts to the bike plan. The latest delays are pauses to projects that had already made it through several rounds of cuts.

    Though SDOT did not cite the upcoming public vote on renewing the Seattle Transportation Levy, the department’s statement said, “We will have a clearer funding picture in late November when the City Council finalizes the City’s budget.” The passage or failure of the levy in early November will have a massive impact on those city budget decisions.

    This somewhat awkward dance will probably happen throughout this year. SDOT cannot assume that the new levy will pass, so they may make decisions based on the current levy expiring without a replacement. Then if voters do approve a replacement levy, they can add things back and build out the new work plan.

    More details on the pauses from SDOT:

    (more…)
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