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Seattle City Council sets timeline for connected downtown bike lanes by 2020

A resolution attempts to hold SDOT to a timeline for a delayed bike network

Courtesy of SDOT

Connections between the bike lanes—despite a growing number of them—are limited, which means that for most downtown destinations that aren’t along Second, there will typically be a point where a cyclist has to merge with car traffic. A resolution passed unanimously by the Seattle City Council on Monday hopes to change that by 2020.

The legislation, first introduced by Seattle City Councilor Mike O’Brien earlier this month, will attempt to hold the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to a tighter timeline, connecting most of downtown’s now-isolated bike lanes by December 2019.

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.

The resolution, which is not legally binding (O’Brien said while introducing the legislation 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.

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, safe, protected bike lanes would connect to both each other and various portals to and from downtown, including a neighborhood greenway on King Street reaching 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.

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

SDOT will make quarterly, written reports to the City Council on its progress.

Amendments to the resolution, added between its committee passage and full council vote, acknowledge that Black and Latinx bike ridership is increasing in the city—but more likely to be killed by cars. Another says that connections to “historically neglected communities” is a must-have.

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 the bill’s introduction that it’s all the more reason to expand transportation options. One Center City, the public-private partnership juggling many of the projects, is acknowledged in a revised version of the bill.

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.

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

Some bike lanes, said O’Brien earlier this month, 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.

Still, with SDOT currently between directors, whether SDOT commits to these deadlines could depend on whoever’s in charge.

The bill seems to acknowledge this. In the final version of the bill, a line was added to the end: “The City Council recognizes that SDOT will make decisions about which projects to build within the overall context of meeting the One Center City goal of moving people safely and efficiently through Center City.”