clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Seattle City Council looks toward connected downtown bike lanes by 2020

Mike O’Brien wants to hold SDOT to a timeline for a delayed bike network

Courtesy of SDOT

Downtown has gained a number of bike lanes in recent years, from the opening of the first stretch of the Second Avenue protected bike lane in 2014 to a recent westbound stretch on Pike just last week. The problem: Connections between the bike lanes are limited, and for most downtown destinations that aren’t along Second, there will usually be at least one point along the way where a cyclist is thrown into car or pedestrian traffic.

The city laid out plans for a larger, connected bike network—called the “Basic Bike Network” —but among an upcoming glut of road closures and construction projects, public-private partnership One Center City announced that some connections would be delayed until 2020 or 2021.

City Councilor Mike O’Brien says that’s unacceptable. He’s introduced a City Council resolution, which passed the council’s transportation committee Wednesday, to hold the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to a tighter timeline, connecting most of downtown’s bike islands by December 2019.

The resolution, which is not legally binding (O’Brien said that Council could pass something with more teeth if SDOT doesn’t comply), lays out specific timelines for different segments of a downtown bike network, including design and construction phases.

For example, outreach and concepts for both a connection to the Westlake cycle track and extending Pike and Pine bike lanes up to Broadway would be completed by the end of this year. For a connection to Dearborn Avenue S, outreach and concepts would be done by the end of May 2019.

By 2020, under the resolution, the goal would be to have safe, protected bike lanes connecting and stretching to several entrances to downtown, including a neighborhood greenway on King Street stretching up to a bike lane on 12th Avenue S. The existing Second Avenue bike lane would reach connections out of downtown instead of dumping riders on city streets. Fourth Avenue’s lane would stretch from a bike lane on Main to a terminus on Vine Street in Belltown.

O’Brien called the timeline “ambitious, but feasible.”

The Basic Bike Network. Solid green lines show downtown’s existing bike lanes.
Via City of Seattle

Under the resolution, SDOT would make quarterly reports to the City Council on its progress, and update the Traffic Control Manual to address the impact of construction projects on bike facilities.

While the so-called “period of maximum constraint” for Seattle traffic, where multiple road and construction projects are expected to converge into heavy bottlenecks on downtown streets, has been used as justification for the bike lane delay, O’Brien said at a press conference Wednesday that it’s all the more reason to expand transportation options.

“As we move into this crazy construction era of the next couple of years ... we can tell the citizens of our city that you have options to get around safely,” said O’Brien, joined by safe streets advocates from Cascade Bicycle Club and Seattle Neighborhood Greenways. That includes “biking to and through downtown.”

But bike lanes can be a little bit of a tough political sell sometimes. After a mile of Second Avenue bike lane rang up a price tag of $12 million—the majority of it being not the bike lane itself, but stuff like signal updates and drainage—it made international news.

Asked about the potential price tag, O’Brien stood firm: The city can’t afford to not build bike lanes.

“We want to be making smart decisions about cost effectiveness but we cannot sacrifice safety to save a few bucks,” explained O’Brien. “Doing nothing is really expensive too, expensive both in human life and dollars.”

O’Brien brought up the case of Sher Kung, who was killed cycling down Second Avenue soon before the bike lane opened. The city settled with Kung’s family for $3.2 million.

Some bike lanes, said O’Brien, end up being cheaper. For example, on the Pike and Pine corridor, SDOT could use existing signals for a stretch of Second to Eighth. O’Brien said that “was only a few hundred thousand dollars.” But not all intersections are going to be cheap, acknowledged O’Brien—some will need similar upgrades to Second.

At the meeting, SDOT didn’t share much concrete information about its abilities to meet those milestones, but had some reservations. Joining city councilors at the meeting, SDOT acting chief of staff Darby Watson said “building anything in the downtown right-of-way” is “a challenge.” Watson also noted it’d be easier where outreach was already complete: “A lot of these locations we haven’t done door to door outreach, and there’s business locations, there’s historic districts.”

Sally Bagshaw, who represents downtown on the city council, said that additional city resources, like the Community Involvement Commission, could be utilized to help SDOT complete necessary outreach.

Still, with SDOT currently between directors, whether SDOT commits to these deadlines could depend on whoever’s at the helm.

All present city councilors, however, favored the resolution—it passed out of committee unanimously—although a couple of amendments were floated.

“If we have bike lanes, more people are going to be using them,” said Bagshaw. “I really want us to get a timeline on these things.”

“I will support SDOT in any way, I’m just begging you to move it faster,” added Bagshaw. “And please can we have some more bike parking?”

“It doesn’t seem like the traffic apocalypse that some predicted” after previous bike lane construction has come true, said city councilor Rob Johnson. He said he’s considering an amendment that SDOT’s quarterly reports “also include some follow up about mobility effects”

“There’s a lot of fear about what happens once the bike lane goes in,” said Johnson, “but data tends to disprove that fear after the fact.”

City councilor Lorena González, noting bike lanes designated for “all ages and abilities,” is considering an amendment to “really crystalize what we mean by ‘all ages and abilities.’”

“We’re really talking about safe bicycle lanes, comfortable bike lanes, and equitable bikeways as well,” added González.

Public comment was also largely in favor.

“I’m 72 years old and biking is my primary mode of transportation and hope it still will be when I’m 82, maybe 92,” said former Bicycle Advisory Board member Merlin Rainwater in public comment. “I expect I won’t always be as vigorous as I am now, but I hope I will still be riding my bike.”