Cycling supporters say Mayor Jenny Durkan’s new administration is breaking past promises by postponing Fourth Avenue and Pike-Pine bike lanes.
Seattle’s new administration wants to delay a Fourth Avenue bicycle lane for three years until 2021, a move cycling activists called the latest of many broken promises to build a safe, interconnected bike-lane network.
But interim director Goran Sparrman, appointed by Mayor Jenny Durkan, says a bike lane would make Fourth Avenue slow to a crawl during major traffic blockages.
Sparrman invoked the “fish truck” incident of 2015, when a sluggish city response left an overturned semi tractor-trailer across southbound Highway 99 near the stadiums for nine hours.
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“We know there’s going to be a number of things that happen. The worst outcome will be that our bus system seizes up,” Sparrman told the City Council’s Sustainability and Transportation Committee, chaired by Mike O’Brien, on Tuesday.
The bike lane is among dozens of transportation tweaks and changes known as One Center City that aim to help travelers cope with expected traffic gridlock from a confluence of downtown construction projects, led by the $1.7 billion expansion of the state convention center.
O’Brien criticized the bike-lane delay.
“We were told to wait until the One Center City planning happens to get near-term, high-value actions like the Fourth Avenue protected bike lane,” O’Brien said. “And we waited. And we got nothing. We can’t wait any longer.”
He promised to work with the Cascade Bicycle Club and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways “to create a bike network that makes sense.”
“Right now, we are really disappointed,” said Kelsey Mesher, Puget Sound-area policy manager for Cascade, which counts more than 15,000 members. “This feels like only the latest in a yearslong pattern of pauses and delays.”
Councilmember Rob Johnson offered a broader critique. Though one-fourth of central-city commuters drive alone, three-quarters of downtown road lanes still serve general traffic, he said.
“I think we should reprioritize the city streets to be a more accurate reflection of the way that people use those streets,” he said.
Seattle travelers are warned to expect a “period of maximum constraint” from 2019-21, due to upcoming, high-impact construction projects.
Sometime next year, the convention-center construction will evict buses from the shared transit tunnel downtown, sending 30 to 40 buses in the busiest hour into the already-crowded surface streets.
Demolition of the Alaskan Way Viaduct next year will reduce vehicle lanes along the waterfront and force buses now using the Viaduct — serving 30,000 weekday passengers — into surface streets.
A significant boost in capacity won’t come until 2021, when Sound Transit opens its light-rail line to Northgate, using roomier four-car trains.
One Center City plans call for a second bus lane next year on northbound Fifth Avenue near City Hall, and another bus lane on Sixth Avenue near the retail district. Those would carry a third of the buses that now crowd onto Fourth.
Sparrman says even with the additional bus lanes, the city needs to preserve flexibility on Fourth Avenue for general traffic, passenger drop-offs and deliveries. An 8-foot-wide bike lane wouldn’t remove a general lane, but would convert a through lane to left-turn-only in some places.
To compensate for delaying Fourth Avenue bike improvements, Sparrman promised to accelerate work on an extension of the Second Avenue cycling lane from Pioneer Square into Sodo.
The Fourth Avenue bike lane could be added in 2021, once the Northgate light-rail extension is open and taking some commute pressure off the arterial, he said.
Bicycling is the mode of choice for 3 percent of central-city commuters, and the city estimates an average 42,500 rides of all types occur daily. Supporters say more people would ride for work, errands or touring if they had access to a safer and more comfortable network. They also say Seattle’s colorful dockless rental bikes are a good fit with low-speed bike lanes.
The city recently created bike lanes on Pike and Pine streets from First to Sixth avenues, but the One Center City plans now wait until 2021 to expand those farther east to I-5.
The Second Avenue bike lane has attracted just under 1,000 daily riders passing the magnetic counter at Madison Street, in warm-weather months. Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) staff reported that ridership there increased by one-third in early 2018 compared with a year ago, to an average 729 trips and a high of 1,250 trips March 14.
SDOT is completing a Seventh Avenue bike lane from Amazon’s spheres to the convention center, whose expansion budget will contribute some $16 million toward bike improvements on Pike, Pine and Eighth Avenue.
And decisions by Durkan, who has praised Seattle’s evolution away from solo driving, can defy easy labeling. Her climate-change plan, released this week, proposes central-city tolls in Seattle to fight congestion, with a highly optimistic hope to begin those by 2021. State law allows such tolls, if city voters approve them.