Bicycle and street-safety advocates rallied at Seattle City Hall Tuesday and shared disappointment that the city’s Bicycle Master Plan has been scaled back and delayed over the next five years.
Bicycle and street-safety advocates rallied at Seattle City Hall Tuesday and shared disappointment in what they describe as a scaled-back Bicycle Master Plan delayed over the next five years.
They urged City Council members to create protected bike lanes downtown and pursue a more ambitious plan for biking improvements, noting that they had thrown their support behind the mayor’s $930 million Move Seattle levy.
“We’d like to see investments in the Bicycle Master Plan, the vision of having it built in 20 years needs to look like a reality. Right now it looks like 40 years,” said Merlin Rainwater, vice-chair of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board.
“We have a good plan, we have the money, what’s the delay?” said Brian Estes, a bicyclist who said he worries for himself and two adult children on Seattle’s streets.
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Bicycling and safe-streets advocates were frustrated after the city’s latest incarnation of its plan for bicycling infrastructure was less extensive than envisioned last year. Bike advocates were expecting big things, particularly after voters approved the nine-year levy, which dedicated about $250 million to walking and bicycling projects.
Many of those who testified bemoaned the delay of the center city bike network, which would put several protected bike lanes throughout the city’s downtown core.
Marley Blonsky told the council she was organizing co-workers to bike to work this month. “When those people ask me for safe routes to downtown, I don’t have an answer to them. We have the Second Avenue bike lane, but there’s not a really good way to get there.”
Seattle Department of Transportation planner Darby Watson said the city was putting the center city plans on pause until June, until more information is available about transit downtown.
By 2018, SDOT’s Barbara Gray told the council, the downtown tunnel could be available only to light rail, with buses on Seattle’s downtown surface streets. SDOT wants to consider that impact before putting in bike lanes, she said.
Watson said the downtown cycling work is still on pace to be completed by 2020, despite the change in schedule.
“We’ll just make our engineers work harder,” she said.
Blake Trask, Cascade Bicycle Club’s policy director, said “it takes some bravery to bike downtown,” and the club’s priority was to see downtown protected bike lanes back on city’s agenda. He said he remains optimistic.
Cathy Tuttle, the executive director of Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, said many biking and walking advocates feel they are getting short shrift in city government.
Tuttle said Pronto, the bike-sharing program the city recently purchased, has been prioritized. “Pronto is not bicycling — it’s a shared mobility tool,” she said. “There’s no leadership that we are going to be a biking city. We’re going to be a Pronto city, but that’s not a biking city.”
Tuttle said rollbacks to specific bicycle lanes were frustrating, but that disappointment was heightened because bicycling and street-safety advocates had supported and pushed the Move Seattle levy.
“It’s not the miles, it’s the attitude,” she said. “There’s not a single politician who says walking and biking is my top priority. There has to be a champion for it.”
Watson said SDOT has had to reduce the scope of construction because the average cost of protected bike lanes has been higher than anticipated. SDOT now budgets about $1.3 million per mile instead of $1 million, she said.
Councilmember Rob Johnson pushed SDOT to consider short-term fixes on areas where cyclists have been struck by vehicles.
“There were two incidents in my neck of the woods last week. We’ve got to have rapid responses in high-accident locations,” he said. If full bike lanes aren’t possible, he said, perhaps small, concrete dividers would help.
Councilmember Mike O’Brien also suggested short-term fixes downtown, including making temporary bike lanes with pylons and paint, rather than concrete, to test out certain routes.
He said he was concerned with the city’s sometimes disparate approach to bike lanes.
“I think everyone understands when you put lines on a 20-year map you don’t get to build it all at once,” he said. “I hear folks say, ‘You built a beautiful chunk (of bike lane) and when I get to the end of it, I have no clue how to get to the next chunk.’ We need to look at our city policy of how to fill in those gaps.”