The Seattle City Council proposed firm deadlines to build a long-planned network of protected bike lanes through downtown. The city’s transportation department said meeting those deadlines could be tough.
A majority of the Seattle City Council wants a full network of protected bike lanes through downtown by the end of next year.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) isn’t so sure.
The City Council’s transportation committee unanimously passed a nonbinding resolution Wednesday setting deadlines for the city to build a half-dozen long-planned bike lanes through downtown: On Eighth Avenue, Ninth Avenue North, 12th Avenue South, South King Street and on Pike and/or Pine streets, among others.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien, who sponsored the resolution, said he and bicycle advocates have talked with SDOT to make sure the demanded bike lanes are possible.
For instance, a long-promised protected bike lane on Fourth Avenue, which Mayor Jenny Durkan’s administration recently delayed for three years, would only need to be fully designed by June 2019, under the resolution.
“What we’re going to do in this resolution is say, ‘Look, we need you to get down to schedule, we need you to build the things that we’ve already budgeted for,” O’Brien said. “We think this is an ambitious but very achievable goal.”
But with downtown in the midst of an unprecedented construction boom and with a slate of big projects expected to clog downtown arterials even more than they already are, SDOT is dubious.
Darby Watson, the agency’s acting chief of staff, said there was nothing on the list of bike-lane projects that she’d dismiss as immediately unfeasible. But she wasn’t encouraging.
“We do have significant concerns, particularly around development, private construction, tunnel and viaduct issues, the buses coming out of the tunnel,” Watson said. “It’s a significant challenge building anything in the right of way in downtown, particularly in this period.”
Buses will be evicted from the downtown transit tunnel and onto city streets by March 2019 as part of the Washington State Convention Center expansion being built on the Convention Place Station site.
Watson said that some bike lanes may get built block-by-block, rather than in a big push constructing an entire corridor at once.
The resolution contains no funding. O’Brien said the money for the bike lanes is already in SDOT’s budget; the agency just needs to prioritize it.
SDOT has struggled to keep bike lanes to budgets, even if the most expensive projects are much more than bike lanes, and have included extensive rebuilds of sidewalks, traffic lanes and traffic lights.
The nearly one-mile extension of the Second Avenue bike lane through Belltown, completed earlier this year, cost about $11 million, although 40 percent of that money went to new traffic signals.
But new bike lanes on lower Pike and Pine streets cost less than $500,000 total, for about a half-mile.
O’Brien cited those as examples of downtown bike lanes that had been built inexpensively and quickly. But, he said, some of the new lanes could be costly.
“We cannot trade off safety to save a few bucks,” he said. “In some cases the only way to make it safe could be pretty expensive, but we have the money allocated to do that.”
The Convention Center expansion project is giving money to fund some downtown bike infrastructure. That includes $10 million to build bike lanes on Pike and/or Pine from the Convention Center to Broadway, and $6 million to build a lane on Eighth Avenue.
On a per-mile basis, those costs would be similar to costs for the Seventh Avenue and Second Avenue projects that SDOT admitted got out of control.
It’s been city policy to build a network of protected downtown bike lanes since at least 2014, when the City Council unanimously updated the city’s bicycle master plan.
Seattle has built a smattering of downtown bike projects since then — separate, protected lanes on Second Avenue, lower Pike and Pine, Broadway and Seventh Avenue. But the connections between the protected lanes are spotty or nonexistent.
“A network is only as strong as its weakest link,” said Vicky Clarke, Seattle policy manager for Cascade Bicycle Club. “We have some great protected bike infrastructure downtown, but it’s not connected.”
That, advocates said, effectively closes downtown to cyclists who aren’t willing to fight harrowing car traffic as they navigate streets between the relative oases of the protected lanes.
“I fall into that category of people who are not courageous enough to ride their bike in downtown,” Councilmember M. Lorena González said. “This is an issue that has not advanced with enough urgency.”
González and Councilmember Sally Bagshaw do not serve on the Transportation Committee but attended Wednesday and voted on the resolution. So although the resolution has not yet passed the full City Council, the 5-0 vote in favor represents the majority of the nine-member Council.
Durkan’s office did not respond when asked if the mayor supports the bike-lane resolution.
Advocates called specifically for bike lanes separate from car traffic, citing the death of a cyclist on Rainier Avenue South over the weekend by an alleged hit-and-run driver while the cyclist rode in a marked bike lane.
“He was in the bike lane,” said Andrew Kidde about his neighbor, 50-year-old Aaron Hayden, who was also known as Alex. “He’s got two kids, a loving wife and was just an incredibly sweet human being. And he was in the bike lane. We need protected bike lanes.”