Saying he wants to prevent a repeat of 35th Avenue Northeast, Seattle City Councilmember Mike O’Brien is pitching a new strategy to pressure the city to stick to its bike-lane plans.
O’Brien proposed legislation this week to require the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to build protected bike lanes any time the department spends more than $1 million on a paving project along a segment of street where the city’s long-term bike plan says a protected bike lane should someday be installed.
In cases where financial constraints or the street’s physical features or use make bike lanes unfeasible, SDOT could avoid building them but would have to explain why in a written report to the City Council.
Bike lanes on 35th were included in the Bicycle Master Plan, Seattle’s long-term road map for building bike projects. But the plan, which would have removed parking, drew opposition from some in the neighborhood.
O’Brien and other council members have criticized Mayor Jenny Durkan over the reversal and openly pondered ways to pressure her administration to reconsider.
Durkan’s office would not say whether she opposes the ordinance but emphasized the projects included in the administration’s latest near-term bicycle plan, which spokeswoman Chelsea Kellogg called “a blueprint of our city’s commitment to creating safe connections for bikes and pedestrians.”
“The mayor also believes that it is critical to engage communities throughout the planning, designing and building phases of our transportation projects so that projects reflect the mobility needs of the community as we create the city of the future,” Kellogg said.
The new proposal wouldn’t bring bike lanes back to 35th but is meant to protect future projects, O’Brien said.
“We have these planning documents. The community spends a lot of time designing and vetting them. We spend a lot of time approving them,” he said. “If the mayor or department decide they’re not going to build a bike lane, they would need to make a much stronger case than they did [on 35th].”
A spokesman for SDOT declined to comment, directing questions to the mayor’s office.
When deciding not to build planned bike lanes, SDOT would also be required to describe the alternatives the agency considered and “how connectivity of the protected bicycle lane network could be advanced in the absence of a protected bicycle lane in that segment.”
A separate resolution O’Brien submitted this week asks Durkan to include money in her 2020 budget for several bike projects in South Seattle, including on Beacon Avenue South and Martin Luther King Jr. Way.
The council’s transportation committee is expected to discuss both proposals Friday.
On 35th, where project supporters and opponents met with a mediator behind closed doors, “there was a feeling it wasn’t transparent how that process happened and how the decision was made,” said Vicky Clarke, policy director at Cascade Bicycle Club.
“What this ordinance does is it asks SDOT to come back to them and tell [the council] the technical reasons why those plans can’t be advanced,” Clarke added later. “It’s a really different thing if it’s a political decision to not move ahead.”
Durkan and SDOT have defended their decision not to build bike lanes on 35th, in part, because of a nearby residential street known as a greenway, which some cyclists say is not an adequate alternative.
If the new rule passes, bike-lane backers and opponents may not have to wait long to see how it plays out.
SDOT is already working on plans for protected bike lanes along Eastlake Avenue East, for instance, where the project could improve a dangerous area for cyclists but would also remove on-street parking and loading zones.