Ed Murray is shaping up to the bike mayor of Seattle, writes columnist Jonathan Martin.

Share story

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray is a success thus far because he focuses on winning the day, not winning the argument.

Maybe it’s his two decades in Olympia, where he mastered the slow sausage-making of public policy. As mayor, he likes to bypass Seattle’s particularly glacial process by brokering deals that are less about ideology and more about the end goal (see: $15 minimum wage and rules for Uber and Lyft).

That skill has been more quietly on display with contentious bike policy. Murray, without much debate or horn-blaring, recently laid down two of the city’s most high-profile bike projects — protected bike lanes through downtown Seattle and on Roosevelt Avenue Northeast. He also helped launch the Pronto bike share with 500 bikes-for-rent in 50 locations.

All required removing parking or traffic lanes in dense commercial neighborhoods, a usual trigger point for anti-bike backlash. Murray bypassed the usual process by opening the lanes as “demonstration projects.” Comments are now being taken about already-opened projects.

Not very Seattle, huh?

Murray isn’t doing this because he is a biking evangelist, as his predecessor famously was. Murray isn’t even much of a biker. His Giant brand bike is strictly for recreation, his spokesperson stated, somewhat emphatically.

But given Murray’s record in just 14 months in office, he is proving a more effective “bike mayor” than the Biking Mayor, or any of his predecessors. When I asked Murray about that last week, he pointed to Pronto’s corporate sponsorship by Alaska Airlines.

“Bike share sat there for four years. I went and asked Alaska Airlines and it was two calls and we reached a deal,” Murray said.

He paused. “I can make a sarcastic comment since I was the ‘corporate candidate’ (in the past election against Mike McGinn). Look how that paid off.”

Last week, he went even bigger on bike policy. In his proposed $900 million, nine-year transportation levy, the city would add 50 new miles of protected bike lanes, 60 miles of neighborhood greenways and 1,500 new bike parking spots. It pays for half of the ambitious 20-year Bicycle Master Plan.

On first read, it appears to devote much more to biking and pedestrian projects than the now-expiring Bridging the Gap levy. Jeff Aken of the Cascade Bicycle Club, which endorsed McGinn, calls Murray “a pleasant surprise.”

Murray says, over and over, that the “mode wars,” pitting bikes against cars, are over. Maybe he hasn’t read the comment threads on Seattle Times bike stories, and he probably shouldn’t read them on this column.

What I think he’s saying is that the toxicity over bike policy is easing because as Seattle thickens and sprouts up, we’re realizing the city simply can’t be car-first. And the hard-fought battles that shrank traffic lanes or cars to make walking or biking safer have worked.

In my Wallingford neighborhood, a road diet that narrowed Stone Way North from four to three lanes means cars no longer scream past at 45 miles an hour and my son can safely walk to school each morning.

Murray is not great as a speechmaker, but he’s good at sounding reasonable. Too often with bike policy, bike lanes shoehorned into arterials were sold as a righteous solution. Murray now is basically advocating the same thing, but without the strident messaging.

In a recent Seattle Times editorial board meeting, he even took a swipe at the “bike lobby.” “When one voice is heard above other voices, in a city where all of us depend on different forms of transportation, it really created a kind of poisonous atmosphere out there,” said Murray.

Those kind of statements won’t help win two-wheeled friends, but I don’t think Murray really cares. He can point to what he delivers.

Add to the list a dedicated bike lane along Westlake Avenue, offering a flat, safe connection between the Fremont Bridge and the tech mob in South Lake Union. That project was headed toward intractable litigation because businesses opposed the loss of parking. Instead, Murray, following his script, brought in the parties and brokered a deal. It is scheduled to open next year.

Ed Murray, the bike mayor of Seattle.