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Updated: 23 weeks 5 days ago

Seattle’s bike share stands out as companies shift to scooters elsewhere

Fri, 04/19/2019 - 14:16

Map from the NACTO report “Shared Micromobility in the U.S.: 2018” (PDF)

Just 21 months ago, Seattle turned American bike share on its head by permitting companies to launch free-floating bikes all over town, an effort that dramatically increased the number of bike trips all over town, turned heads in city halls across the country and helped demonstrate the popularity of so-called “micromobilty” companies, some of which are now valued in the billions of dollars.

Since Spin and Lime (née LimeBike) launched in summer 2017 the industry has pivoted and changed many times over:

  • It started with pedal bikes from U.S.-based companies.
  • Then Beijing-based ofo arrived, charging only $1 per hour.
  • Then electric scooters arrived in other cities, with per-minute fees.
  • Then electric bikes arrived alongside pedal bikes, also with per-minute fees.
  • Then Uber bought JUMP and Lyft bought Motivate.
  • Then Lime added car share to its bike and scooter fleets.
  • Then ofo imploded.
  • Then pedal bikes were completely replaced by electric bikes and scooters.
  • Now, in most cities, bikes are disappearing altogether because scooters get so many more uses per day than bikes.

But Seattle is a notable exception to this final trend, due mostly to Mayor Jenny Durkan’s continued resistance to allowing scooters. An early free-floating bike success story, Lime and JUMP are still working to compete here for the bike share market. Lyft is supposed to join the fray at some point, too, though there has been little news about their efforts.

And according to a recent report by the National Association of City Transportation Officials (“NACTO”), of which Seattle is a member, Seattle now stands out as an oddball in the country, and report authors essentially had to create a separate category just for Seattle. While other cities have sort of stratified into scooter cities and cities with dock-based bike share, Seattle is the only city noted as having only dockless bikes. At this point, Seattle is home to a huge percentage of all trips taken on dockless bikes in the country.

The report notes that 84 million trips have been taken on “shared micromobility” services in the nation, with the bulk split between the small handful of large docked systems and new scooter services:

The report also confirms something Seattle’s Pronto Cycle Share learned the hard way: The worst-performing systems are dock-based bike share systems that do not have enough bikes and stations. But large dock-based systems, especially New York’s Citibike, continue to grow. And in cities that don’t have large, established docked bike share systems (so, most cities), scooters boomed in 2018.

Pronto had 500 bikes, and struggled to get to 1 ride per bike per day, matching experiences in other cities.

Though this blog has been critical of the mayor’s stance on scooters in the past, I wonder if this will turn out to be a good thing (though not because scooters are too dangerous as she has suggested). We still have great bike share service today while other cities are losing bikes to scooters, a mobility tool that is popular but still unproven as a longterm success.

I was initially excited to hear about the popularity of scooters, and I liked the idea of them existing alongside bikes as part of an array of options people can choose from to get around without a car. But I must admit that the shift away from bikes at Lime, Spin and several other companies strikes me as possibly short-sighted. I get that these are for-profit companies, so focusing on more profitable scooters makes immediate business sense. But bikes have been around longer than cars, and they are a tried and true vehicle for getting around cities. The shared scooters might remain more popular than bikes, or they might be a fad. We just don’t know yet. Bikes don’t have the added appeal of being novel, but they definitely are not a fad.

Personally, I feel much more secure on a bike share bike than a scooter, but that is most likely just my personal preference as someone who is used to biking everywhere. Use in other cities suggests more people prefer the scooters.

While I would love to see Seattle add scooters as an option, I am happy that Seattle still has bike share. After Pronto’s demise, there is likely very little political will to invest public funding in a Citibike-scale docked bike system. So if the choice is bikes or scooters (rather than both), then I’d rather Seattle have bikes and remain the exception to the national trends. If nothing else, it seems potentially valuable to these companies to have Seattle’s bikes as a hedge on their bigger scooter bet. Continue experimenting here, trying to see how to grow bike share use. I’m certain the 2018 hard pivot to scooters is not the last pivot we’ll see from this industry.

E Union Street is a chance for SDOT and the mayor to prove they care about connecting bike routes

Wed, 04/17/2019 - 12:23

All you have to do is disappear from existence for two blocks while biking and you’ll be fine.

Seattle is once again set to choose the convenience of car driving over the safety of people walking and biking and our city’s Vision Zero, Climate Action Plan and Bicycle Master Plan goals. This time, it’s on E Union Street in the Central District, where early designs for a planned protected bike lane on the street will fail to fully connect across the two busiest and most important intersections in the project area: 23rd Ave and MLK Way. The reason? Cars, of course.

The single clearest example of the city bailing on its goals is their plan to completely drop the bike lanes for the two blocks surrounding 23rd Avenue. And worse, SDOT spokesperson Ethan Bergerson told the Urbanist’s Ryan Packer that people could just bike on the sidewalk:

“People biking would have the option to get through the intersection by crossing in the marked shared lane or using the sidewalk. We understand that bikes using the sidewalk is not always optimal, however, developments on both sides of 23rd Ave are expanding the sidewalks providing some relief.”

SDOT just used their official megaphone to lean out their car window and yell at people biking to “get on the damn sidewalk!”

Biking on the sidewalk in a busy business district is not a solution, and SDOT damn well knows it. But just to illustrate the point, David Seater recently took SDOT’s advice. Here’s how that went:

I took SDOT's advice and rode on the "expanded" sidewalks on Union from 22nd to 24th. They're right, it's "not optimal." If this is the vision for All Ages & Abilities / #ALEGRA / #VisionZero streets then we should just shut the whole department down. pic.twitter.com/RHkYmH7N13

— David Seater (@dseater) April 16, 2019

And this video wasn’t even at a time with heavy foot traffic.

To make matters worse, here’s one of the project’s proposed “benefits” from the official fact sheet (PDF):

SDOT’s traffic professionals know that you can’t just have the bike lane disappear for two blocks and expect it to function as a high quality, all ages and abilities bike route. They also know that bike lanes improve safety for all road users, since they practically wrote the book on that in the US. They know that intersections with shorter crosswalks (thanks to the presence of bike lanes) are much safer for people walking. They know our city needs to transition away from driving toward biking, walking and transit if we are going to keep people and goods moving as the city grows. They know all this because they also helped write our Council-approved plans and policies aimed at achieving that goal. That’s why this plan is so troubling.

The safety of our city’s residents is not some bullet point on a list to be weighed against the driving and parking convenience of people in cars. SDOT is constantly claiming that safety is its number one priority, but then they say stuff like this to the Urbanist:

“To fit a PBL through this section, we’d need to remove a vehicle travel lane in each direction. Condensing vehicles into a single lane would not only create slow downs for vehicles, it would also create a safety concern for pedestrians. Our traffic data shows a heavy amount of right turns at the 23rd Ave and Union St intersection, which means that removing a vehicle lane would increase the vehicle and pedestrian conflict.”

AHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!

OK, I just needed to let that out. Deeeeeeep breaths…. deeeeeeeeeeeep breaths….

Slowing cars is a safety benefit, not a problem. SDOT knows this. And bike lanes improve safety for people on foot, and, again, SDOT knows this. They know it. I don’t get why they are saying otherwise right now because they know bike lanes, when designed well, don’t “create a safety concern for pedestrians.” They are trying to pit people walking and biking against each other so they can preserve the status quo where every inch of road space prioritizes cars. It’s despicable and, considering people’s safety is at risk, unethical. They know this is wrong.

I keep saying “they know this” because, given Mayor Jenny Durkan’s recent decisions to delay or cut bike lanes, it’s safe to say that the direction to avoid all impacts on driving is coming from her office either directly or by assumption. Through decisions like 35th Ave NE, the mayor is directing SDOT’s transportation professionals to knowingly make decisions that put people’s safety at risk for the mayor’s personal political reasons. Spokespeople like Bergerson are trying to find justifications for these decisions, but there are none.

Following the blowback from her 35th Ave NE decision and SDOT’s major cuts to the short term bike plan earlier this month, SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe and Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan were sent on something of an apology tour, trying to stress that the mayor remains committed to safe streets, the Climate Action Plan and building the Bicycle Master Plan. Both Zimbabwe and Ranganathan stressed that the mayor wanted to focus on connecting places, not just building bike lane mileage.

Well, here’s a great opportunity for the mayor to step in and prove it. Because this plan is not connected and does not meet our city’s transportation and climate goals. But it doesn’t have to be this way. The design is only at ten percent with plenty of time to improve it if the mayor directs the project team to do so.

A stronger Union Street

First off, there is a good part to this design. Between 14th and 22nd Avenues, the city will add or upgrade bike lanes to be parking-protected. Getting the design right at each intersection and driveway will be very important, but this is a great starting point.

But once the project gets to 22nd, it abandons these bike lanes entirely. E Union Street today is has two lanes (one in each direction) plus two parking and painted bike lanes at 22nd Ave, but then widens out to five lanes (two each direction and a left turn lane) plus a parking lane before reaching 23rd. There is no space constraint here. Traffic doesn’t suddenly double in that one block. I’m no traffic engineer, but I’ll go ahead and take a stab at what 23rd/Union that actually prioritizes walking, biking and transit might look like:

These images are mid-block between 23rd and 22nd, looking west. I made them using Streetmix (existing, remix), the same website SDOT staff used (measurements are my estimates). SDOT staff don’t need me to make these for them, because they know all this already. I’m sure they also have their own better ideas. But it’s important for non-professionals to imagine the ways our streets could be different if only SDOT were empowered to challenge the car-centric status quo.

Other stretches of the street could also easily include continuous and connected protected bike lanes, but only if the city prioritizes them over private car storage and excess general purpose lanes. Connecting to MLK is very important, especially since MLK is supposed to get its own protected bike lanes someday, according to the Bicycle Master Plan. And connecting to the Broadway Bikeway is just three blocks from the project’s western end point, which is tantalizingly close. From there, Broadway is due soon to connect to new Pike/Pine bike lanes into downtown.

If you look at the Bicycle Master Plan map, you can see how Union is a vital artery in the city’s connected network of protected bike lanes:

Project area circled in red. Map from the Bicycle Master Plan.

The Central District has long had one of the highest bike commute rates in the whole city, and Union is the only viable route option for many homes and destinations. Today, it can be a stressful street because bikes lanes come and go. Seattle now has a chance to make a major improvement, but only if the mayor directs SDOT to do the right thing. So far, the city seems prepared to blow this opportunity, but it doesn’t need to be this way.

Times: Seattle’s most decorated pro cyclist is living without a home

Tue, 04/16/2019 - 09:52

Rebecca Twigg has won six world track cycling championships, 16 U.S championships and two Olympic medals, likely making her Seattle’s most decorated bike racer. Today, she is one of the more than 12,000 people experiencing homelessness in the Seattle area.

Twigg spoke with the Seattle Times’ Scott Greenstone about how her life, her troubles holding a consistent desk job after more than a decade as a pro racer in the 80s and 90s, and her hesitancy to accept help when there are so many thousands of other people who need access to an affordable home, too.

Twigg’s story poses far more questions and issues than it resolves. For one, it highlights the dramatic inequity between men’s and women’s professional racing. A man with these kinds of championships would be a millionaire, but she needed to seek out a day job as soon as she stopped racing following the 1996 Olympics.

Twigg, though, said she hoped her story could help people understand that folks become homeless for all kinds of different reasons. And her message is really important now more than ever, as an ugly anti-homeless sentiment seems to be growing among Seattle residents that paints everyone on the streets with the same dehumanizing brush.

From the Times:

Twigg, 56, agreed to share her story to convince the public that not all homeless people are addicted to drugs or alcohol; that there are many like her, who have struggled with employment and are “confused,” as she said she is, about what to do next with their lives. She did not want to discuss mental health but feels it should be treated more seriously in Washington.

“Some of the hard days are really painful when you’re training for racing,” Twigg said, “but being homeless, when you have little hope or knowledge of where the finish line is going to be, is just as hard.”

People sometimes justify their callous attitudes toward people experiencing homelessness by say, “Oh, they just don’t want to work hard.” Well, the amount of work and training it took to win those races and Olympic medals is unfathomable. And here is someone who was at times the fastest woman in the world telling us that the daily struggle to keep going on the streets is “just as hard.”

But she doesn’t want help just because she was once a bicycling champion, she told the Times:

“Shelters are great, but there has to be a next step,” Twigg said. She still won’t accept housing for herself, even when help is offered by people who’ve found out about her state; her homelessness was mentioned in a cycling magazine last month.

“The point is not so much that I need help, it’s that there are a bunch of people who need help — 12,000 in this area, half a million in the country,” Twigg said. “Help should be provided for everybody, not just a few.”

Thank you, Rebecca, for sharing your story. I wish you well.

Some Bike Blog business: Planning an endorsement board + A family life update

Fri, 04/12/2019 - 14:57

Seattle’s more honest promotional photo: Our 1962 symbol of the city of the future next to our 2019 car tunnel smoke stacks.

Hello, wonderful Seattle Bike Blog readers. I’ve got some cool bits of blog and family news to share, so I figured I would write you all a letter keeping you in the loop.

First, my incredible spouse Kelli started work this week as Legislative Assistant to Councilmember Mike O’Brien. I’m letting you all know because A: I think that’s really cool news, and B: I figured I should explain how we plan to avoid conflicts of interest for the sake of transparency.

O’Brien is the Chair of the Transportation Committee, which I report about often. So Kelli and I have come up with some simple rules to both protect our relationship and avoid any conflicts of interest:

  1. I will never ask her for information she would have learned from her job. If I want info, I will pursue it through the usual channels.
  2. O’Brien’s office will have someone other than Kelli communicate with Seattle Bike Blog.
Seattle Bike Blog endorsements board

With 50 candidates running for City Council, some of whom I consider personal friends, there’s no way I can do blog endorsements myself this year. So I am in the planning stages of putting together an endorsements board to help with the workload and provide a wider perspective on candidates. A board will also allow our endorsements to be fair to all candidates in races where I have existing friendships.

The alternative to an endorsements board would be to not have endorsements this year. But that’s no fun.

There will likely be an open call-out for board members, so stay tuned for details (if anyone has relevant experience putting together something like this, I’d love advice). I’m hoping to make it both work and fun.

Dedication to independent news

Seattle Bike Blog is proudly independent, supported by direct-sale relationships with local businesses (no third party ad services like Google) and paid monthly reader supporters. News has been slower than usual here since my daughter was born because I double as a stay-at-home dad these days (is “work-at-home dad” a thing?). But as she grows and learns to be more independent (she’s so close to walking!), I’m getting back more and more time to dedicate to this site. So expect things here to continue ramping up slowly. The biggest change, I hope, is that I will eventually be able to do more on-the-ground reporting and long personal interviews than I have lately.

I have also been thinking a lot about platform ownership. When I started this site in 2010, there was this trend where reporters were spending lot of time and energy reporting directly via Twitter and Facebook, since those platforms were a very effective way to reach more users more quickly. But eight years later, we’re seeing the downsides to giving your work to social media companies: They keep all the money. Well, Facebook does, anyway. Twitter is pretty awful at making money. Facebook doesn’t report the news, they just profit from reporters’ work. Even worse, Facebook won’t even serve your posts to most of your own followers unless you pay them money (which I have never done outside of a few event promotions). This is not a new development or observation, but as more and more news outlets close or make cuts (or get bought by assholes like Sinclair who break editorial standards by forcing conservative propaganda disguised as local news), I’m realizing how important it is that independent journalists own their platforms and revenue streams.

I own SeattleBikeBlog.com, and I own the advertising sales system. Of course, that means I am also my own tech support, which is why the calendar is so often broken or why the “forgot password” button didn’t work for months (it’s fixed now I think!). It’s also why the design of the desktop site hasn’t changed in eight years. My logo is still a sharrow! But at least this site belongs to the journalist behind it.

Badass journalists at Gawker unionized, and now Buzzfeed journalists are working to do the same thing. You might even say there’s a journalist union movement happening, and it’s about damn time. But I also think it’s time for the independents and the freelancers (OMG freelancers are treated like such shit) work together to take more ownership and/or control of their own work. I don’t know exactly what the looks like, but the status quo is clearly not working. Whenever a legit journalism job is lost, corporate and government PR gains power, misinformation on Facebook has more space to grow, and propaganda from Sinclair or whoever becomes that much more powerful.

To tie this into the section above, Seattle has fewer journalists and more City Council candidates than any other time in recent memory. I’m honestly worried that our city is not in a place to report adequately about this election, and that opens the door for social media misinformation to have a bigger influence.

The Seattle Times and The Seattle Foundation recently launched the Seattle Times Investigative Journalism Fund, which can take tax-deductible donations to help keep the paper’s remarkable investigative work going. This is a very interesting concept, and I hope it works. Because there are very few organizations that can do that kind of work these days, and it’s so important.

But what’s it going to take to keep the rest of the journalists funded in this town?

City announces bike plan update open houses, Barnett uncovers 11 missing projects

Wed, 04/10/2019 - 11:07

Draft map from the 2019 Bicycle Master Plan Implementation Plan (PDF)

SDOT has announced a series of four “café-style conversations” about the latest short-term bike plan, which includes significant cuts through the life of the Move Seattle Levy. The events, produced with help from the Department of Neighborhoods, will be a bit more informal than a typical open house. Staff will give a presentation and be there to answer questions and collect feedback.

Details from SDOT:

Café-style Conversations

6:00PM Doors open
6:15PM Short presentation
6:30PM Conversations

  • Tuesday, April 23
    Washington Hall
    153 14th Ave
  • Wednesday, April 24
    Youngstown Cultural Arts Center
    4408 Delridge Way SW
  • Monday, April 29
    Van Asselt Community Center
    2820 S Myrtle St
  • Tuesday, April 30
    Phinney Neighborhood Assoc.
    Community Hall
    6532 Phinney Ave N

Unable to attend a meeting? Send comments to CCBike@Seattle.gov by April 30, 2019.

Meanwhile, Erica C. Barnett at The C Is for Crank has tracked down the details of 11 missing (or partially missing) projects in the latest draft of the short term bike plan. She did this by comparing the latest and previous plans project-by-project. Some of the missing projects were gone by mistake and will be restored (yay!). Some were listed inaccurately in the previous plan or have been moved to become a part of other projects. Others were cut, but left off the list of removed projects.

“Those missing projects include protected bike lanes around the city—from the University District to SoDo to Beacon Hill to the Rainier Valley—as well as basic bike lanes and neighborhood greenways,” Barnett reports.

In all, thanks to Barnett’s work, we know that the total miles of bike facilities removed in the update is closer to 30 than the 25 SDOT previously reported. Check out her report for details on those projects and responses from SDOT.

Community organizes to celebrate NE 65th St bike lanes, shows what’s possible when city builds the bike plan

Mon, 04/08/2019 - 11:32

Photos by Matt White (unless noted otherwise)

People gathered at the start of the ride. Photo by Seattle Bike Blog.

Unlike the $4.4 million advertising budget and public fanfare celebrating the new SR 99 car tunnel, no official celebration or encouragement campaign was planned for a major new set of protected bike lanes on NE 65th Street. So excited community members decided to plan their own.

Dozens of people of all ages got together Sunday at Third Place Books at 20th Ave NE and NE 65th Street, the eastern terminus of the newly-completed lanes that have been years in the making and the result of a very tough neighborhood debate.

After a very frustrating week, with people protesting Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision to cut bike lanes on 35th Ave NE and release a near-term bike plan with even more big cuts, Sunday’s community ride was a much-welcome display of positivity and progress. It felt like a glimpse into an alternate reality in which the city had continued building planned bike lanes rather than delaying or cutting them. It was a happy and powerful demonstration of what a bold walk/bike/transit vision looks like in action.

Andres Salomon of NE Seattle Greenways with a bike full o’ kids.

Riders stopped halfway through the ride to pay their respects at 15th Ave NE, where Andy Hulslander was struck from behind and killed in 2015. A father of two, Hulslander’s death was one of several deaths on NE 65th Street that led the community to demand this safer street design. His death is also a reminder of why projects like this planned across the city are urgent public safety improvements. They prevent collisions that seriously injure or kill people.


NE 65th Street is a vital and difficult bike connection. It provides a rare crossing of I-5, which is the biggest barrier to biking in every neighborhood it plows through, and passes Roosevelt High School and the under-construction Roosevelt light rail station. It connects to many major bus lines, with the promise of being an even more important transit hub in coming years. The street also passes through a business district and connects to the existing Roosevelt Way and Ravenna Blvd protected bike lanes.

But these multimodal and commercial challenges are exactly why the bike lane works so well. Biking, transit and business are not in conflict, they are complementary. Rather than avoiding mixed uses on a single street, the city should be seeking out these opportunities. A street that is for everyone is stronger in every way.

Sure, there are some compromises in the design, but the result is incomparable to the way things were. Being able, for the first time ever, to bike on NE 65th Street without constantly looking over my shoulder unsure if someone passing would give enough room (or worse) was simply liberating as someone who has biked the street many times. But the biggest benefit the bike lane brings to the neighborhood is the way people who never would have considered biking on the street before now have that option open to them:

Today was the first time I've ridden a bike on #Bike65th ever–after living in this neighborhood for 15 years. And then my kids and I did it again later in the day for errands at Roosevelt Square. These bike lanes are going to change everything. https://t.co/A79B31Oa4R

— Karen James (@therego) April 8, 2019

This bike lane empowers its neighbors with new options for getting around. And that’s the promise of the Bicycle Master Plan: People living in every Seattle neighborhood should be empowered like NE 65th Street neighbors are now.

And this was a common topic of discussion among people on the ride: How do bike and safe streets supporters pivot from being angry at the mayor’s cuts to a place where people are celebrating progress like this instead? Last week’s protests and City Council testimony finally got the mayor’s attention, so now what? Nobody wants to protest and fight for the rest of her term, burning through vital Move Seattle funding years with limited progress. But there was also a sense that people don’t believe she has any interest in celebrating successes like this bike lane, which leaves people feeling like protest and negative feedback is the only method that works.

The fact that nobody from SDOT or the Mayor’s Office showed up to join Sunday’s ride was pretty telling. Here are a bunch of people celebrating the city’s work, and they don’t care enough to even show up?

Advocates for safe streets are holding out olive branches all over this city. But it is on the mayor to take them. Nobody else can fix this situation. It’s her move. She could, for example, pick a bold project or two (Beacon Ave S, Rainier Ave, 12th Ave south of Yesler, Fauntleroy Way, 5th Ave in the ID, etc) from the recent cut list and make it a true priority on an accelerated timeline. She could also make it clear that 35th Ave NE did not set a precedent, and that she’s not interested in cancelling other bike lanes already in design, like N 40th Street or Wilson Ave S.

That would send a solid signal that she really does want to back up her words when she says things like “We have to get people out of their single occupancy vehicles…A city of the future needs walking, biking, transit.”

Big thanks to organizers Inga Masnkopf and Oralea White, and everyone who worked so hard to make these bike lanes happen in the first place, including former Councilmember Rob Johnson who joined the ride. There’s still a lot of work to do, but it’s so important that people take the time to celebrate success and remember why all this hard work is worth it.

Sunday: Community celebration for opening of NE 65th St bike lanes

Fri, 04/05/2019 - 13:35

Details from the event listing:

Unlike the new downtown tunnel for cars, we don’t have an expensive ad campaign to encourage people to use the new bike lanes on NE 65th St, so let’s create our own!
Bike #Fix65th
Sunday, April 7
Noon to 1:00 p.m.

Meet at Third Place Books
Depart noon and bike to Roosevelt businesses (less than 1 mile)
Stop by your favorite business, buy a snack, a beverage, groceries, something for your home

. . .

Meet up again at the I-5 Park & Ride (south side of NE 65th St)
Depart at around 12:45/1:00 and bike back to Third Place Books

Promote the bike lane on social media using #Bike65th or #Walk65th or #65thPBL.

Along the way, we can stop to place flowers at the ghost bike on the corner of 65th and 15th Ave NE in remembrance of Andy Hulslander, who was killed at this intersection in 2015 when biking home from work.

This is an informal ride, with no formal program. It’s just meant to be an opportunity for those of us who support safer bike infrastructure to get together, become familiar with the new bike lanes, and encourage others to use them, even if they aren’t perfect.

Feel free to share this with anyone who may be interested in joining in. People who want to walk are welcome, too! I hope you can participate!

Rashomon in Wedgwood: SDOT Director and Deputy Mayor grilled during Bike Board meeting

Thu, 04/04/2019 - 12:50

SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe and Deputy Mayor Shefali Ranganathan sat down for a long talk with the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board Wednesday to have a difficult and at times uncomfortable conversation about Mayor Jenny Durkan’s commitment to building the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.

But even if the talk ended with gulfs still between the Board and the Mayor’s Office, both sides offered some valuable insights that I hope will prove fruitful once the temperature in Room 370 cools back down to 72 degrees. And, importantly, the talk generated a path for regaining trust if the Mayor chooses to make the effort.

You can follow that play-by-play via Twitter from these folks:

Missed tonight's epic #SBAB meeting?

Go check out tweets and threads by:@ericacbarnett @BrockRides @BikeSecurityAdv @QAGreenways @Andrew_Koved @typewriteralley

Undoubtedly @SeaBikeBlog will have the complete rundown tomorrow. Tom was there too, but no tweets.

— Bike Happy (@BikeHappyPNW) April 4, 2019

Ranganathan said she asked to be added to the agenda late because she wanted to “share a little bit of the mayor’s vision” for biking and transportation projects.

She cited escalating construction costs, due in significant part to a competitive construction contract environment, saying “there was  a misalignment with what was promised to voters in terms of mileage .. across the board.”

This led to the Mayor’s Move Seattle “reset,” in which she said the mayor then gave these policy directions:

  • How can we prioritize the projects that connect to the most hubs?
  • How can we complete networks? Instead of focusing on mileage, what are the most impactful projects?

“I will sort of own the fact that this plan should have been here sooner than it was,” she said. “SDOT won’t say it so I will: They have been dealing with the Seattle Squeeze and the snow…what ended up resulting was SDOT was really squeezed for capacity.”

And while this plan is based on what they see as realistic, “that doesn’t preclude us from looking for more resources to build more projects.”

But Ranganathan said that Mayor Durkan “is committed to a safe and connected bike network” and that they are “going to be as transparent as we can” about their process going forward.

But Board members generally weren’t convinced about that commitment, noting that judging by her actions she has mostly delayed or canceled bike lanes so far.

“I don’t think there’s a lot of confidence on this board and the advocacy community generally that when these projects are politically difficult that these projects will get built,” said Board Member Emily Paine.

Ranganathan said multiple times that the mayor didn’t want to just grandstand, but that she wanted to actually build a connected network. Then the Board said repeatedly that they have yet to see that action. This odd agreement/disagreement went around in a circle a few times and was never settled.

“At the end of the day, [the mayor’s] report card is the projects that actually got completed, not the promises that got made,” said Ranganathan. But according to that rubric, the mayor is definitely flunking due to the majority of her work still marked incomplete. It may take some extra credit if she wants to catch up. (OK, this analogy is getting too stretched.)

But this is the opening where the Mayor’s Office can do something. People need to see a significant action, something bold that demonstrates the mayor’s commitment. Board members (and myself) have highlighted Rainier Ave S (between downtown and Mount Baker Station, at least), 12th Ave between Yesler and Beacon Hill, or Beacon Ave as high-impact projects that were recently cut. Whether she grandstands or not when breaking ground is up to her. I personally enjoy a good grandstanding when it is coupled with bold action.

SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe started by introducing himself (this was his first Bike Board meeting since joining the department in January), and then apologized to the Board for listing them as the reason so many projects were listed as removed from the plan.

“We know you guys didn’t remove projects from the plan, and we apologize for that,” he said. The Board had helped prioritize projects, and some of the lower priority ones did inform SDOT’s removal decisions. But the Board was not knowingly cutting projects, and several of the Board’s top priorities were also removed.

The latest plan is really just a draft, and they are collecting feedback, Zimbabwe said. But he warned against “simply adding projects back in that are on the contingency list without saying, ‘Here’s what we are willing to give up.'”

He also added that projects cut were not removed from the Bicycle Master Plan, they were just from this implementation plan and things could be added back in the future “as conditions change and as we are able to secure funding.”

Rashomon in Wedgwood

When the conversation moved squarely to 35th Ave NE, Zimbabwe made a solid Akira Kurosawa reference by saying that, as someone who came into this fight at the very end, it has felt like the classic 1950 film Rashomon.

“Everyone who has ever been involved with that project has their own narrative” of how the project and surrounding debate got this point, he said. (If you haven’t seen Rashomon, it’s really great. You can watch it free online via Kanopy using your Seattle or King County Public Library card.)

He also questioned whether the designed and contracted bike lane design was really an all ages and abilities facility since only one direction was going to be protected, then questioned why bike advocates were fighting so hard for it.

“It became the best bike lane in the city,” he said of the tone he heard from advocates, and people were acting as though “not building it right now, it would be a critical failure.” It sounds like Zimbabwe may be giving a little too much credence to Tajōmaru’s testimony.

Bike advocates had fought for full protection for the 35th Ave NE project during the proper design phase, but the city returned with a half-protected design as an early compromise to accommodate car parking. So once SDOT’s design was final, advocates fought to defend the city’s compromise plan. But then that compromise was challenged by angry neighbors, who ultimately prevailed in winning a turn lane that few people ever asked for. So what is the lesson here? That bike advocates should never have compromised in the first place? That advocates were foolish to try to support SDOT’s decision?

Ranganathan said part of the problem was that SDOT had originally called the project a paving project. “No reasonable community member would assume a paving project would include a complete redesign of the whole corridor,” she said, ignoring that the city’s complete streets ordinance, on file since 2007, requires exactly that. So now people in Wedgwood won’t be able to safely bike to the library because SDOT staff used too few descriptors in their project title a few years ago? How does that makes sense?

No, Zimbabwe’s too smart to trust Tajōmaru at his word. Maybe he’s trusting the woodcutter Kikori, forgetting the twist at the end (spoiler!) that Kikori, too, was a compromised witness all along. Though Kikori ultimately feels shame and decides to care for the orphaned baby he, the priest and the commoner found while seeking shelter from a rainstorm, a display of penance on behalf of humanity’s inherently selfish nature. (OK, this analogy is also falling apart.)

But Zimbabwe told the Board that the 35th Ave NE decision does not endanger other projects.

“I don’t think it sets a precedent for building out the network,” he said.

Honestly, I don’t think there’s much point to getting angry at Zimbabwe since Ranganathan made it clear that Mayor Durkan made this decision.

“The mayor agonized over it,” she said.

If there was any doubt that this decision was political and not based on traffic engineering best practices, then this clears that up. The mayor is Zimbabwe’s boss, so he’s got to defend her decision, which puts him in an impossible position because the best practices of his profession are not on her side. SDOT’s professionals came up with the bike lane design, so Zimbabwe somehow needs to explain why his professional staff was wrong and the mayor was right. And he can’t because she is wrong.

Former Board Chair Casey Gifford shared similar feelings toward SDOT staff during public comment, who she said are trying to do the right thing but are being hindered by the mayor.

“The city keeps using money excuses, but 35th and 40th, those are political will,” she said, pointing out that because those bike lanes share costs as part of paving projects, they are extremely cost-effective.

“I feel really sorry for [SDOT staff] to have to work for such an uninspiring mayor,” she said. The Mayor’s Office ousted Gifford from SBAB in December with only a few hours of notice before her last meeting, giving essentially no time for the Board to plan a Chair transition. Since Board members are limited to two terms anyway, assuring lots of turnover and new voices, members are rarely (if ever) denied a second term if they want to continue serving.

I think everyone is ready to stop fighting about 35th Ave NE. Oh, lordy, I know I am, though I doubt this is truly the end of it. And maybe there will never be agreement on how it got so royally messed up. But it will be impossible to move past it without a replacement project of equal or greater scale that demonstrates the mayor’s stated commitment to building a connected bike network. She can move heaven and earth in this town when it is a priority for her (look at the NHL arena). And folks aren’t even asking for that much heavenly movement. Maybe just a heavenly nudge. (OK, I really need to work on my analogies…)

Notes from the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board: April, 2019

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 15:44

The Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board meets 6 p.m. the first Wednesday of every month at City Hall. Anyone can sit in on meetings and provide public comment at the beginning and (thanks to a recent change) end.

The volunteer board “advises the Mayor, City Council, and City Departments and Divisions on projects, policies, and programs that improve and/or affect bicycling conditions in Seattle,” and does so in a number of ways. In addition to their meetings, they host bike tours of areas under study, write letters and help prioritize the Bicycle Master Plan.

Below is the agenda for the April meeting. Stay tuned for updates.

 

Must Watch: Seattle’s bike movement finds its footing again, fights mayor’s bike plan cuts

Wed, 04/03/2019 - 12:05

Seattle’s bicycle movement emerged from chrysalis Tuesday transformed into its newest state, and it put on a powerful display inside City Hall.

I highly recommend watching the testimony and the very interesting Committee conversation, during which Councilmembers Mike O’Brien, Rob Johnson and Kshama Sawant all had powerful things to say in support of the bike plan and safe streets. Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda is not a member of the Transportation Committee, but she was active during the rally before the meeting.

I’ve been covering the bike movement in this town long enough to observe how the popular, grassroots energy behind the idea of a safer and more bikeable city is always evolving to meet the needs of the day. New people get engaged and emerge as leaders, people who have been engaged for a while level up and become stronger advocates, and some people grow cynical, burn out or move away, leaving voids that are not always filled. But despite setbacks here and there, the movement continues to grow stronger and more intersectional, connecting safe streets, bike lanes and transit with housing, public health, environmental justice and social justice.

The bike movement in this town, like so many other movements, has been a very uneasy place in recent years. A lot of the volunteer energy behind it shifted after Donald Trump got elected, as it should have. In my experience, people who believe everyone has a right to safely move around on our streets also tend to believe that everyone has a right to safely live in our nation.

But that doesn’t mean people stopped caring about safe streets, as was clear Tuesday at City Hall.

And it feels like the movement finally found its footing after a few years of being unsure how best to advocate under Mayor Jenny Durkan, whose 35th Ave NE decision finally showed people her true intentions as executor of Seattle’s bike plan.

People who hate bike lanes like to say that there’s a shadowy and nefarious bicycle lobby running City Hall because that imaginary villain is easier to fight than a popular movement of their neighbors who will never accept the status quo on our streets where nearly every inch of space is given to cars and people’s loved ones are seriously injured or killed as a direct result. In reality, the bike movement’s power comes from the grassroots. And if the mayor thought cancelling bike lanes was going to be the “safe” political choice, I hope she’s changing her mind now.

Because I would much rather spend the rest of her time in office building the bike network and celebrating successes rather than constantly fighting and rallying to save scraps she hasn’t yet cut.


Rather than just delivering words, Tamara Schmautz and Apu Mishra brought a hand-cranked paper shredder to the podium and proceeded to shred the cover sheets to the Bicycle Master Plan, Vision Zero Plan and Climate Action Plan (39:10 in the video above). The people of Seattle believe in the goals established in these plans, which were developed after an enormous amount of public outreach and input. The work to complete them will be difficult. There will be people fighting against them just about every step of the way. Hopefully the mayor can also see that there will also be a lot of people who have her back when she makes these tough decisions. Because the goals in these plans are urgent, and we don’t have time to waste waiting for the next mayoral election.

Restoring the 35th Ave NE bike lanes could be a good start. But even if she never wants to open that hellmouth again, she could announce a strong proposal of equal or better scale and impact, and that she will work to fill any funding gaps because it’s important the 35th Ave NE decision (which shared costs with the paving project) doesn’t set back progress on the Bike Master Plan. I’m not talking about some enhancements to the existing 39th Ave NE neighborhood greenway. I’m talking about 2 miles of protected bike lane that fills an important bike network gap. Something like Beacon Ave S or Rainier Ave S or 12th Ave between Yesler Way and Beacon Hill, all projects recently removed from the implementation plan that were high priorities for Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board.

It would also be helpful to hear her restate the city’s intention to build bike facilities when the costs can be shared with paving projects, such as on NE/N 40th Street, where bike lanes were recently removed from paving plans. If costs are a major limiter to building the bike plan, as SDOT has stated in this implementation plan update, then surely cutting the lowest-cost bike lanes makes no sense. Certainly, there will be people who don’t like these bike lane plans. But if she doesn’t stand behind the city’s policies, then she will flounder. Does she really want every single decision she has to make become a competition for who can yell at her the loudest? That sure doesn’t sound like fun to me, and it definitely sounds like a terrible way to lead a city. But that’s the precedent she is setting with the 35th Ave NE decision.

I was proud to join community members, safe streets advocates, and @CMMikeOBrien today in support of delivering on Seattle’s promised investments in our bike network to ensure that we have equitable, safe bikeways that connect communities across Seattle. pic.twitter.com/0EsMiLDIMG

— Councilmember Teresa Mosqueda (@CMTMosqueda) April 2, 2019

This decision was political. How can anyone have confidence that the bike plan which was carefully created after many months, if not years, of community involvement will be implemented.

— Tom Rasmussen (@CityhallTom) April 3, 2019

Note that former Councilmember Tom Rasmussen was the Transportation Committee Chair during the creation of the Bicycle Master Plan.

When Seattle refuses to slow cars or remove parking, we aren't able to travel safely. As #disabled people, we are here say that being able to bike safety is a #disability issue. We will stand w biking, walking, rolling & transit advocates to fight for a city that works for us all

— Anna Zivarts (@annabikes) April 2, 2019

 

SDOT and Mayor Durkan release more transparent, less visionary bike plan

Tue, 04/02/2019 - 11:45

Draft map from the 2019 Bicycle Master Plan Implementation Plan (PDF)

26 miles of bike facilities are gone completely, and another 27 are at risk. That’s the harsh reality of the latest iteration of the Bicycle Master Plan Implementation Plan (the “Bike Plan Plan”).

The result is what could be a more transparent bike plan the city has put forth in the years since voters approved Move Seattle, but it’s not visionary. The latest plan officially abandons the goal of keeping the 20-year Bicycle Master Plan on track for completion and will leave massive gaps in the citywide bike network even if every project included is constructed on schedule. And given our recent experience with Mayor Jenny Durkan cancelling the 35th Ave NE bike lanes, that’s hardly a sure thing.

SDOT will present this plan to the City Council Transportation Committee 2 p.m. today (Tuesday). Stay tuned for updates from that meeting or watch via Seattle Channel.

By the end of 2016, the 20-year Bicycle Master Plan was 28% complete (it started at 22% in 2013). One year later, it was 29% complete. One percent per year is dismal progress. It’s hard to imagine how the project list in this latest update puts the city within 5 years of achieving Vision Zero or on track to fulfill its ambitious Climate Action Plan goals.

There is one measure, though, where Seattle is making huge progress: Ridership. And that’s the most important one. The city’s annual bike counts saw an incredible 12% increase in 2017-2018, almost certainly powered by the boom in private bike share services coupled with significant bike route improvements like the 2nd Ave bike lane extension and the Westlake Bikeway. This is amazing, and despite all the other frustrations in this update, let’s not lose sight of this success. Seattle’s efforts to help more people get around by bike are working. We need city leadership to build on this success, not fight it.

In addition to the big bike network cuts, the plan highlights another 27 miles “with known risks,” which could be due to partnership dependencies (such as project where Sound Transit also has a say), where Federal funding is unknown or where the politics could be sticky (car parking!).

But as easy as it is to get angry or discouraged when looking through the latest plan, at least advocates can now see what the city is actually planning rather than being repeatedly blindsided by disappointing setbacks and cuts. The new plan may also provide a much-needed solid step for bike and safe streets advocates to stand on after years of what has felt like free fall. Because this is now Mayor Durkan’s plan.

This doesn’t mean people should just accept this plan and stop fighting to get important projects back. It is devastating to see so many of the Bike Plan’s goals abandoned like this. It is very frustrating to see that the city does not plan a single connection between Rainier Valley and downtown before the end of this levy, for example, and deletions like that are worth fighting to restore. But at least now most of those projects that just sort of vanished from the radar have reappeared somewhere. It may be in the delete pile, but at least you now have a place to start working again. (Erica Barnett at the C Is For Crank says she combed through the project lists and found 11 projects that seem to have disappeared between the 2017 and 2019 plans).

There are many ways to measure bike progress, and the city is doing poorly by most of them. If you focus on mileage, at best, the city is currently building less than half of what is needed each year to keep the 20-year Bicycle Master Plan on track. Since the City Council unanimously passed the master plan in 2014, The city has never even gotten close to building the 24 miles of bicycle facilities per year that would have been needed on average to reach that goal over 20 years. To reach the less ambitious goal laid out by the Move Seattle Levy (for half the plan to be complete by the end of the levy, including the miles previously constructed), the city would need to build about 20 miles of bicycle facilities every year now through the end of the levy in 2024. This latest plan shows that they are not going to try to do that, aiming for more like 10 miles per year if every project is constructed on schedule.

The other half was supposed to come from a mix of paving project partnerships (like 35th Ave NE, which has been cancelled), Federal funding that either SDOT has not been successfully applying for or has otherwise not come through (Trump’s administration isn’t exactly going out of its way to fund Seattle’s grant requests), and the planned “multimodal corridor” projects that have been slashed heavily. The price per mile for bike lanes, especially downtown, are quite a bit higher than the average cost assumed in the levy.

But bike facility mileage is not necessarily the most important measure, since bike network connections are the city’s real issue. A mile in a low-density part of town is hardly comparable to a mile downtown, for example. So if the city were going to miss their mileage goals because they bit off ambitious, game-changing and expensive sections instead, that could be a very worthy trade-off. But that’s not really what’s happening, either. The cut list includes many of those high-impact and difficult bike lanes, the kinds of projects that we need most. Rainier Ave between at least Mount Baker Station and Dearborn tops the list, for sure, but also Beacon Ave and N 40th Street and many others that ended up in the scrap pile:

But even more concerning is that the bulk of the remaining high-impact projects are included under projects “with risks” or “with known risks”:

Only 36 miles of bike facilities are considered at “low risk,” and only 30 of those miles are funded through construction:


Organizing projects by “risk” is really interesting. On one hand, it’s more transparent. SDOT isn’t pretending that they don’t see ways projects could falter. They are basically daylighting concerns they previously held behind the scenes.

But on the other hand, it sure makes the rest of the levy feel very uneasy. And it gives the impression that SDOT is not fully dedicated to accomplishing even this massively reduced project list. At a time when people upset about bike lanes successfully killed them on 35th Ave NE on a purely political basis, it’s hard to have faith that the city is ready to go to bat for these difficult but important bike network connections.

And even if this list inspires advocates for bike lanes and safer streets to get organized to push each and every one of them through, is that really the best way for our city to operate? People who drive are not expected to pack City Hall to fight for a multi-million-dollar paving project in their neighborhood, those projects just happen as the regular course of SDOT business. But people who bike are expected to do so for every little 0.13-mile segment of bike lane? That’s asking an awful lot of people, many of whom already volunteered lots of time and energy to creating this plan and passing the levy to fund it. I mean, I’m sure people will do it, but I wish city leaders would challenge advocates with a more empowering goal than just protecting the remaining scraps of a bike plan they already worked to pass.

And that leads into my biggest issue with this plan update: Vision. Seattle has very lofty goals, and the people of this city believe in them. This plan does not inspire. It shies away from most of the hardest stuff and, even if fully completed, leaves huge parts of our city disconnected. It does not improve equitable access to biking, and it does not hold the promise of making game-changing connections to seriously increase the number of people biking to get around. It is a diminished list of projects that will be steps in the right direction, but won’t be nearly enough.

This also feels like an inflection point for Seattle bicycle and safe streets advocacy. There is a big new near-term workload to accomplish that is going to need a lot of new voices and leaders. That could mean you. SDOT’s Bicycle Program is also in the midst of huge staff turnover, including the retirement of longtime program leader Sam Woods, a true legend. So Seattle needs ambitious and creative professionals to fill those roles. Keep a lookout for job listings.

But this is also the time to start planning for how the city can close gaps so wide that even the largest transportation levy in city history falls so short. I don’t know what that looks like, but now is the time to start the ground work to make it happen.

How did Mayor Durkan get the 35th Ave NE decision so wrong? + Councilmembers respond

Thu, 03/28/2019 - 14:45

Supporters donned green scarves to show their support for the Bicycle Master Plan during a 2013 public hearing.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s decision this week to scrap planned, designed and contracted bike lanes on 35th Ave NE has drawn a major backlash as people are dismayed to hear that Seattle’s mayor is abandoning the Bicycle Master Plan in order to serve cars.

The Mayor’s Office and SDOT leadership dramatically misread Seattle’s true feelings about bike lanes, street safety and the need to take bold action to fight climate change. If they thought this was going to be the easier or “safer” move politically, then they don’t know Seattle at all.

It’s true that the anti-bike lane organizers around 35th Ave NE have been louder in the past year than those arguing in favor of the bike lanes (though the pro-bike lane side had some great actions, like last year’s moms ride in response to a sexist tweet from the anti-bike lane camp). But the critical error the mayor made here was to forget or ignore the larger picture of how we got here, which included years of organizing and thousands of hours of engaged public participation to create the plans and pass the levy to build these bike lanes. The Bicycle Master Plan was an enormous, multi-year project, and the Move Seattle Levy was an incredibly bold funding package that put biking, walking and transit first. Both sailed into law on a popular wave.

Perhaps the Mayor and her office made the mistake of conflating a localized opposition with citywide opinion, so they decided to serve a small group of neighbors at the expense of a citywide bike network vision. And perhaps because the mayor was not around for the years of Bicycle Master Plan development and missed the big public displays of support for it, she has made a big mistake by underestimating how many people in Seattle expect SDOT to actually build what the bike lanes the plan promises.

So why didn’t the pro-bike lane voices rise up to overpower the anti-bike lane organizers until now? Honestly, I don’t yet have a complete understanding myself. One theory is that people have had some other causes on their plates in recent years, like our Federal government being racist and horrible or our city failing to help people experiencing homelessness. There are only so many people who are going to dedicate tons of personal time watchdogging safe streets plans that the Council and the voters have already approved. Most people have many causes they care about, and they probably assumed that by passing these plans and funding measures the hard part was over, and the city was going to do its job.

So when word came down that the Mayor decided to kill this bike lane, it may have been a bit of a wake-up call that the whole Bicycle Master Plan is under threat. The city’s wasn’t just doing a poor job at building what it promised, the Mayor was actively dismantling progress that took years to earn.

Voters handed the city a mandate in 2015 when they voted for the Move Seattle Levy, but it seems the memo about that mandate was lost in the disgraceful and messy mayoral shuffle. Whoever has Mayor Durkan’s ear on transportation issues is not giving her an accurate picture of what the people really want. Either that, or she doesn’t care.

Seattle has not suddenly become super conservative and anti-bike, and it makes me want to pull out my hair that our city’s leaders keep acting like we have. Why? Because a poll of homeowners with landline telephones showed conservative leanings on these issues? I mean, good lord, who has a landline anymore? That’s not Seattle. Luckily, people don’t need to own a house with a landline telephone to vote.

Mayor Durkan was not elected on a mandate to cancel bike lanes. When asked about them on the campaign trail, she either said she supported them or (more often) was wishy washy, giving lawyerly non-answers. On the contrary, just about every City Councilmember was clear in their support for bike lanes while campaigning, and the people elected them knowing that.

So Seattle finds itself in an uneasy place, with a Mayor who refuses to enact policies the elected City Council unanimously passed and the voters endorsed. The Council typically prefers to defer to SDOT and the mayor for execution of transportation policy, rarely stepping in to reverse decisions or direct the details of department work. But maybe that needs to change. The City Council has somehow allowed themselves to be bullied out of power by Mayor Durkan, and it’s time for them to step up for the people they represent and the policies they have passed.

So whether we’re talking about N 40th Street or Wilson Ave S or the downtown Basic Bike Network, people expect the city to fulfill its promises and plans. The best case would be for the mayor to change her mind and allow SDOT to do its work. But if she won’t, we need the Council to step in.

Because the risks of inaction extend far beyond just this handful of streets. Inaction erodes public trust in SDOT and the transportation levy system, which will be up for renewal in 2024. And Mayor Durkan has put the city on a transportation crash course by abandoning core levy goals rather than rising to the challenge to at least try to deliver what we voted for. Who do they think volunteered their time to staff phone banks and knock on doors? It was people who believed in the levy’s vision. It’s going to take a lot of work to turn the department around, and the mayor’s poor performance so far (like letting the department languish without a Director for more than a year or taking a year to decide what to do about 35th even after contractors had poured the cement) suggests she is not up to the task.

Let’s not forget that her biggest transportation success so far, keeping people moving during the Viaduct shutdown early this year, happened in large part because many people chose to bike despite the mayor’s purposeful lack of effort to help them do so. So she might try to claim credit for that, but she didn’t earn it. After a year of indecision that delayed planned transit, biking and walking improvements, the people bailed her out. Seattle can’t afford to continue running SDOT like this.

Below are a few responses from Councilmembers following the mayor’s 35th Ave NE decision, starting with Transportation Committee Chair Mike O’Brien:

I’m disappointed – but not surprised. After years of conversation and study, Mayor Durkan should know better. As I told Executive’s staff, based on everything I know about this project, today’s announcement feels more like a political decision, rather than one made with the safety considerations of both riders and drivers in mind. We’ve seen over and over again this year that when people have safe, reliable options for bike commuting they’ll use them. In today’s political environment, fear-mongering, threats of violence, and other loud voices in any given room seem to have the last word. But as long as I’m an elected, I will make decisions based on my values – prioritizing sustainability and safety for everyone.

Here’s outgoing Transportation Committee member Rob Johnson, who represents District 4 where this project is located:

JUST IN: District 4 councilmember Rob Johnson's statement on Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan's decision to cancel planned bike lanes on 35th Ave NE: pic.twitter.com/a2zlxJvXGi

— The Urbanist

Mayor Durkan chooses 35th Ave NE car convenience over street safety and the fight against climate change

Tue, 03/26/2019 - 14:00

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s vision for the future of Seattle streets is to reserve 100 percent of the street space for cars.

Mayor Jenny Durkan has officially abandoned the Bicycle Master Plan, which was approved unanimously by the City Council and funded through a vote of the people.

The Mayor has until recently only delayed Bike Master Plan projects, like essentially all downtown bike lanes. But the time for wishy-washy stances on bike lane projects is running out, and her office is finally admitting that they do not plan to build bike lanes, at least not bike lanes that have any opposition. Which is predictably almost all of them.

The 35th Ave NE bike lane saga will go down as one of the most unnecessarily frustrating  public debates about bike lanes this city has seen, and the worst part is that the Mayor has now given people a template for how to cancel Bicycle Master Plan projects they don’t like. Get loud, make signs, feel free to get loose with the facts, and she’ll have your back even if you don’t really have a solid policy basis for your bike lane hatred.

The 35th Ave NE bike lanes are noted in the city’s Bicycle Master Plan as part of the priority-focus “citywide network.” SDOT will not build the bike lanes that were planned, designed and even sent to the contractor for construction. And they will not be replaced by a nearby facility (SDOT’s announcement makes a vague mention of “enhancements” to the existing 39th Ave NE neighborhood greenway, which is a steep eight-block round trip from 35th that does not function as an “alternative” or “parallel” bike route). Instead, they are just cancelled, and people in the neighborhood will not have a protected and comfortable way to access local businesses and destinations by bike. And there will now be a gap in the citywide bike network, which hurts bikeability for significant stretches of Northeast Seattle and Lake City.

This not only works against the city’s Vision Zero street safety goals, which requires bold investment in the Bicycle Master Plan to reach zero traffic deaths and serious injuries by 2030. It also works against the city’s climate change goals, which rely in part on shifting a lot more car trips to bicycles in every part of the city.

The Mayor is simply wrong here. She is acting against the will of the people as represented though our elected City Council and the 2015 Move Seattle Levy vote. She is prioritizing car movement and gasoline burning over safety and car-free mobility options.

Deleting these bike lanes goes against our Council-approved transportation policies. Will the Council push back or cede this power to her? If they don’t, then what’s the point of crafting city policies and passing them through that arduous City Council process if the Mayor can just choose not to follow them? Unanimous City Council approval should mean something.

At the very least, Councilmembers and the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee should make sure that now that the bike lanes have been cancelled, all Bicycle Master Plan funding spent on this project is returned to the bike budget for use on bike projects, including the $14,000 spent on a failed mediation attempt. Otherwise, this sure seems like an improper use of voter-approved funds. Plus, using Bicycle Master Plan funds to cancel bike lanes is just cruel.

And now that the Mayor has officially revealed her bike lane opposition, how do safe streets supporters respond? It’s a tough spot because Seattle has the necessary plans, policies and funding already on the books, the city just has a Mayor who refuses to execute them. We don’t have the time to wait out her term because we need to make safety and climate progress now. People’s lives and our city’s future are at stake.

City Light decides against car charger in path of Broadway Bikeway

Mon, 03/25/2019 - 09:09

Base image: SDOT’s Broadway bikeway and streetcar extension plans. As noted, the proposed car charger would be directly in the path of the bikeway.

After public pushback, including by many of you, Seattle City Light has dropped their plans for an electric car charging station on Broadway near Denny Way that would have been located in the path of a planned-but-delayed extension of the existing bike lane.

In an email to people who submitted feedback on the plan, the agency cited public concerns about the bike lane (and increased costs related to relocation) as primary reasons for the change. As Seattle Bike Blog and many others noted, the presence of a car charger would likely serve as an additional barrier to a sorely-needed bike lane extension on Broadway. Moving the charger if/when a bike lane is completed would also cost City Light unnecessary expenses.

Currently, the Broadway bikeway starts at Yesler Way and ends abruptly at Denny Way, spitting people biking into mixed traffic if they want to continue to the major business district at the north end of the street. The bike lane extension is still in the most recent implementation plans for near-term installation, but it has been delayed because an accompanying streetcar extension is also on hold. We have argued that the bike lane should be completed with or without the streetcar because it is noted as a major bike route in the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.

City Light’s car charger program already takes planned bus lanes into account, but not planned bike lanes. The agency has clearly listened to public feedback about this, which is great. Hopefully a policy update will include the Bicycle Master Plan for future siting decisions.

But the debate also raised more philosophical questions about the role of electric car chargers in the public right of way, the role of public entities in funding them, and whether locations with quality transit access is a smart place to locate them. And the answers are not exactly cut-and-dry. For example, the city wants encourage people, especially those without private garages, to use electric cars instead of gas-burning ones. But if you rely on street parking, how are you supposed to keep your car charged? So the city wants to jumpstart a solution. Obviously, the best option is, “Don’t have a car at all,” but that might not work for everyone. Electric cars are definitely not the solution, but they could be part of one. If nothing else, the local tailpipe pollution is better.

So if transit-oriented development includes many new homes without car parking, wouldn’t that be a good place for a public car charger? That makes sense in a way. But major transit hubs are also place where we should be prioritizing limited curb space for walking, biking and transit. A private car sitting for stretches of time simply charging up electrons isn’t really a transit-oriented activity.

This points to one major reason electric cars won’t save us: They still take up as much space as a gas-powered car. In dense neighborhoods like Capitol Hill, it would be impossible to serve a significant number of electric cars at the same time because there just isn’t that much space, nor should there be.

There are also serious equity questions to answer here. Should the public invest money in and reserve public curb space for something available only to people who can afford pricey electric cars?

But if the city can learn from experimenting, like this bike lane conflict lesson they are learning now, then perhaps they will be able to create a charger permit scheme that works better for everyone.

From a City Light email:

As a result of the feedback we received, City Light has decided to withdraw its Electric Vehicle Charging in the Public Right-of-Way (EVCROW) permit for the utility’s proposed DC fast charger site on Broadway.

City Light heard from community members and stakeholders in the Capitol Hill neighborhood that:

  • There is a preference for the City of Seattle to focus on transit, pedestrian, and biking options for this intersection.
  • Installing the EV chargers in a location where the community desires a protected bike lane extension would create a hurdle for the community’s continued appeal for the protected bike lane extension.
  • Installing the EV chargers in a location where future uses possibly include a protected bike lane or a loading/unloading zone could result in unnecessary expenses for City Light.

Seattle City Light appreciates the feedback we have received from the community about this pilot program and the proposed site in Capitol Hill. City Light will continue to explore sites for EV charging throughout the utility’s service area. If we find a feasible site in the Capitol Hill area, we will engage the community and stakeholders again.

Bike News Roundup: National bikelash highlights

Thu, 03/21/2019 - 09:52

It’s time for the Bike News Roundup! I’m in St. Louis visiting family this week, so that’s why news here is a bit slow. But here’s a long list of interesting stuff to read. And if I missed anything, this is an open thread.

First up, I know you all have heard some baffling reasons why a bike lane can’t be installed. Well, you’re in good company. StreetFilms put together a video highlighting some baffling anti-bike lane excuses people have heard from all around the country:

Pacific Northwest News

National & Global News

Will Mayor Durkan meet the City Council’s downtown bike lane 2019 deadline? – UPDATED

Tue, 03/19/2019 - 08:49

From a March 19 presentation to the City Council Transportation Committee (PDF).

SDOT will update the City Council Transportation and Sustainability Committee today on the progress (or lackthereof) on the downtown Basic Bike Network.

The City Council passed a resolution last summer calling on SDOT and Mayor Jenny Durkan to complete key sections of the downtown bike network by the end of 2019, including Pike/Pine, 8th and 9th Avenues, King Street, a south downtown connection and a segment of 12th Ave (see the resolution’s bike lanes in orange in the map above). The presentation notes that Pike/Pine and a south end connection are on target for December (so, as late as possible to meet the resolution), but does not include an update on the rest of the projects.

UPDATE: SDOT’s Jim Curtin told the committee Tuesday that the city had reached a “breakthrough” on 8th and 9th Avenues that will allow construction to start in the third quarter of this year. The biggest hangup for building the south downtown connection is Metro bus layover space, he said. And he noted that the stretch of 12th Ave between Yesler and King “will be very difficult.” You can watch the update via Seattle Channel (starts around the 34:20 mark).

The mayor and SDOT have nearly stopped building bike lanes, especially downtown. The only downtown bike lane to open under Mayor Durkan’s watch was already under construction before she took office. The City Council’s resolution last summer was essentially an attempt to remind her that the bike network is a Council and voter-approved priority. After years of bike network delays, SDOT would need to dramatically increase bike lane construction to catch up to the progress promised to voters who approved the Move Seattle levy.

The Mayor has already blown her chance to have a downtown bike network in operation before the city’s major transit and highway changes began earlier this year. The plans, funding, Council and voter support were all ready, but she chose to stop it. Even without a bike network, biking helped absorb a lot of trips during the initial Viaduct closure. This happened because neighbors got organized and people took it on themselves to bike despite her administration’s clear disinterest in helping people do so. And now that buses are due to be kicked out of the transit tunnel, another transportation crunch is about to begin. And once again, the mayor will have done essentially nothing to help more people shift to biking.

Has the number of people biking during these downtown transportation crunches inspired the Mayor’s Office to rethink their anti-biking stance? Will they rise to the challenge the City Council unanimously set last summer by building a connected skeleton of a downtown bike network by the end of 2019?

Update on transportation bills in Olympia: What’s dead and what’s still got a chance

Thu, 03/14/2019 - 11:58

Non-budgetary bills in the Washington legislature had until yesterday to pass in at least one chamber in order to remain on track for passage into law. We wrote about a few transportation-related efforts Tuesday, so how did they do?

Well, it’s a mixed bag. Heidi Groover has a longer list over at the Seattle Times. Below are some highlights:

We are really disappointed that #HB1793, the traffic safety camera legislation, isn't getting passed this year. But we know we've educated a lot of people about the dangers of #BlockingTheBox. Our video reached 1.5 million people on Facebook, viewed over 60K times on Twitter.

— Rooted in Rights (@rootedinrights) March 14, 2019

  • DEADHB 1793 – Bill to allow automated enforcement of illegal bus lane driving and “blocking the box.” Disability rights group Rooted in Rights has done a great job leading on this bill, including this fantastic video explaining the need. A combination of resistance to traffic cameras and worries about unequal enforcement did it in. Failure possibly shows the need for more intersectional organizing to promote automated enforcement as a better and more fair alternative to police enforcement. This felt very close, and it was very cool to see Rooted in Rights and Transportation Choices Coalition team up the way they did to promote it. It didn’t win this time, but they made a powerful team. Also, the next version should also look into including bike lane blockages along with bus lanes and “blocking the box.”
  • ALIVE: SB 5723/HB 1966 – Revising the Vulnerable Road User Law. We wrote about this bill in depth earlier this week. It is way ahead of schedule, with both the House and Senate already passing companion versions of the bill. One of these two bills still needs approval by the other chamber, but the Senate vote was unanimous and the House vote was 61–36. So this is looking very good.
  • DEAD: SB 5104 – Prohibit local jurisdictions from imposing tolls. This is essentially the state trying to make sure no community can experiment with congestion pricing.
  • DEAD: SB 5299 – A DUI could become a felony if the offender has had three or more DUIs within 15 years, five years longer than the current ten years.
  • ALIVE: HB 1772 – Update definitions and add regulation details for electric foot scooters. It is way ahead, having already passed the House 85–13. It still needs Senate approval.
  • ALIVE: SB 5971, SB 5972, SB 5970 – These bills make up the $16 billion transportation package Senator Hobbs has proposed. As the Urbanist has reported, this package is filled with highways, even leveling a carbon fee to pay for them. This is all backwards, since transportation and highways are a top cause of greenhouse gas emissions in our state. And don’t get me started on the proposed bicycle tax (that will need to be the subject of a longer post…). This package should die and come back in a future session in a form that invests in building a better future rather than the gas-powered highway vision of the last century. As a budgetary package, it operates on a difference schedule than the other bills. So even though it still has not passed either chamber, it is still alive.

Mountains to Sound Greenway is now a National Heritage Area

Wed, 03/13/2019 - 13:52

Our local pride and joy is now officially a national treasure! After 8 years of tireless advocacy by @SenatorCantwell, Congressman Reichert, and the rest of our WA delegation, the Mountains to Sound Greenway has become our nation’s newest National Heritage Area. #YesGreenwayNHA pic.twitter.com/cgVvdo3qg4

— Mtns to Snd Greenway (@MTSGreenway) March 12, 2019

The Mountains to Sound Greenway, a huge swath of land surrounding I-90 from Seattle to Ellensburg, has been designated a National Heritage Area.

This designation could qualify the area for National Park Service funding to the tune of $150,000 to $750,000 per year, the Seattle Times reports. As the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust wrote in a press release, this funding could help:

  • Amplify our rich history and natural heritage on a national stage
  • Increase visibility for the Greenway’s communities through an enhanced sense of place and importance
  • Encourage ecological restoration across multiple jurisdictions and watersheds
  • Grow funding opportunities through private and public partnerships
  • Promote regional tourism and attract new economic opportunities

OK, maybe we need to take a moment to clarify what’s what here, since the term “Mountains to Sound” is used in a lot of different ways and can be confusing. The Mountains to Sound Greenway is 1.5 million acres encompassing much of King and Kittias Counties including Seattle. The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust is a non-profit organization that works to “conserve and enhance the landscape from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Central Washington, ensuring a long-term balance between people and nature,” according to their mission statement. The Trust was a leading partner in the campaign to have this area designated as a National Heritage Area. The Mountains to Sound Trail is the name of an incomplete trail that more or less follows the path of I-90, also commonly known in sections as the “I-90 Trail.” So while people in many parts of the country refer to such a “trail” as “greenway,” the Mountains to Sound Greenway is massively bigger in scope than just the Mountains to Sound Trail.

Here’s a map of the Greenway:

Map of the Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area, from the MTS Greenway Trust.

The mission of the Trust and the National Heritage Area are based around public lands, recreation and cultural heritage. And since regional biking and walking trails already connect so much of the Greenway area, it will be interesting to see how this national designation opens opportunities to make them even more accessible to more people.

Here’s the full celebratory press release from the MTS Greenway Trust:

Our local pride and joy is now officially a national treasure. After eight years of tireless advocacy, the Mountains to Sound Greenway has become our nation’s newest National Heritage Area (NHA).

We can’t think of a better way to start off 2019!

The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area proudly joins 54 other NHA sites in 32 states, including iconic and historic landscapes such as New York’s Niagara Falls, Mississippi’s Gulf Coast, and North Carolina’s Blue Ridge National Heritage Area. National Heritage Areas are places designated by Congress where historic, cultural, and natural resources combine to form cohesive, nationally important landscapes.

Today we celebrate all that the NHA designation will bring the Greenway. As our communities undergo massive growth, this designation gifts us new opportunities to more effectively conserve natural resources, protect our cultural heritage, and contribute to the economic vitality of the region. Specifically, it will help us to:

  • Amplify our rich history and natural heritage on a national stage
  • Increase visibility for the Greenway’s communities through an enhanced sense of place and importance
  • Encourage ecological restoration across multiple jurisdictions and watersheds
  • Grow funding opportunities through private and public partnerships
  • Promote regional tourism and attract new economic opportunities

Designation as a National Heritage Area requires an act of Congress.  The Greenway National Heritage Area legislation was originally introduced in 2013 by U.S. Representatives Dave Reichert and Adam Smith and Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray. And it would not have been possible without the entire congressional delegation’s persistence and collaboration, including U.S. Representatives Suzan DelBene, Pramila Jayapal, and Kim Schrier.

In this era of partisanship, we are especially proud that the Greenway NHA designation resulted from strong bipartisan collaboration and the endorsement of more than 6,500 individuals, and public and private partners including Governor Jay Inslee, King County Executive Dow Constantine, Microsoft, Expedia, REI Co-op, the Trust for Public Land, and the Mountaineers.

How inspiring it is to know we all share a common belief – the belief that nature enriches all of our lives. It is our natural environment that has drawn so many of us here, individuals and businesses alike. The Greenway surrounds us as we carry out our daily activities and it’s there for us when we need an escape. As the nexus of urban and wild life, the Greenway helps us thrive as individuals and as a community.

The NHA designation is not only a win for our state but will also allow the Greenway to serve as a national model for collaborative conservation.  It is a creative, non-regulatory approach to conservation that is rooted in cooperation among tribal, federal, state, and municipal agencies, and local residents.

Thank you to every one of you who supported us over the years as we set out to accomplish what we celebrate today. Thank you for signing petitions, for your calls and letters of support, for donating to our cause, and lending your voice and talents to making this dream a reality. It is because of all of you that the Greenway will be conserved for future generations, connecting our residents and visitors with the diverse people, landscapes, and stories of this region.

A look at some transportation bills still working through the WA legislature

Tue, 03/12/2019 - 15:58

So Washington Democrats have both legislative chambers and the Governor’s Office for the first time in a while, so what does that mean for transportation?

Well, some great things are moving forward, but so are some pretty not-so-great things. As the session nears its vital halfway point, Heidi Groover at the Seattle Times put together a handy transportation bill tracker to see what’s still alive. Check out the Times story for the full rundown. I’ll highlight a few below.

Non-budgetary bills typically need to pass at least one chamber by 5 p.m. Wednesday in order to stay alive. After this deadline, the chambers shift to working on amending and passing bills that have already passed in the other chamber. So if you see something in the list you care about (either in favor or against) that has not yet been approved by the Senate or House, now’s the time to contact your legislators. The bill must say “Approved by House” or “Approved by Senate,” approval by a committee is not enough.

Here are a few highlights: