A City of Seattle proposal to stretch a protected bicycle lane along the western edge of Lake Union was shaping up to be a familiar Seattle political story. Traditionalists in the maritime industry had sued to stop a project beloved by Millennial Generation bike riders.
Fortunately, the heat from that potential conflict is now cooling, with Mayor Ed Murray acting as broker, not agitator. In short-circuiting the trope of past versus future Seattle, Murray has charted a course that should be repeated as the city rolls out its ambitious citywide Bicycle Master Plan over the coming years.
At issue is a 1.2-mile protected bike lane proposed to shoot through the massive city-owned parking lot sprawling along Westlake Avenue North. It is a smart proposal, linking the Burke-Gilman recreational superhighway at the Fremont Bridge with the burgeoning South Lake Union neighborhood and downtown, via a 10-foot-wide path along the flattest route.
The route is well-used now, but poor planning leaves bikes and parking cars engaging daily in a confusing and dangerous dance.
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The 300-some businesses along the proposed route — about one-third are in the maritime industry — sued last year after being surprised to learn the project was already funded. Under a previous mayoral regime, the ideological battle lines would have been drawn, and the city would’ve litigated its pro-bike agenda.
Instead, Murray brokered a deal, giving business interests a role in design and a voice to preserve as many parking spots as possible. Instead of a one-size-fits-all plan, the route is being designed section by section, accommodating the business needs of Westlake merchants, including Kenmore Air and Argosy Cruises.
Once the parties started talking, they found common ground. The parking lot has 783 free parking spots, allowing it to be a no-cost park-and-walk lot for South Lake Union workers. Losing some of them, and swapping others for paid spots could accommodate the businesses’ interests in ample parking.
The city must continue its nuanced approach, ensuring Lake Union floating homeowners and boat owners aren’t squeezed out. But the businesses along Westlake must also stay constructive, and not default to angry anti-bike rhetoric. The city’s interest is clear: In exchange for parking, it gains a safer waterfront biking route for commuters, recreational riders and tourists. Call it a very fair trade.
The Westlake bike lane will — and should — be built, and the dust-up will be forgotten among regard for a jewel of a trail. How it was built should be the project’s true legacy.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Sharon Pian Chan, Lance Dickie, Jonathan Martin, Erik Smith, Thanh Tan, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).