City The Bike Plan, Unravelled
posted by July 31 at 16:50 PMon
Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan, touted by Mayor Greg Nickels as the centerpiece of his plan to make Seattle “the most bike-friendly city in America,” is being eroded piece by piece, with only two-thirds of the bike facilities planned for this year still in the works. A highly anticipated “sharrow” on California Avenue SW, which would have at least given bikers a bit of breathing room on the busy West Seattle thoroughfare, has been put off until at least next year so that city planners can “spend some quality time with the businesses on California before the sharrows show up,” according to an e-mail written by Seattle traffic director Wayne Wentz in response to questions by City Attorney (and West Seattle resident) Tom Carr.
The sharrows were supposed to be added as part of a project to repave California under the “Complete Streets” plan adopted by the City Council earlier this year; that policy was supposed to ensure that whenever streets get upgraded or repaired, the repairs would include facilities for pedestrians and bikers as well as cars. At
the time, Nickels had this to say about the goal of Complete Streets: “This legislation will ensure that we donít just fix our streets, but we look at how to make them better for all users. It will make our streets safer for pedestrians and give cyclists, transit users and motorists more choices when traveling our roadways.Ē
So when the city’s transportation department went forward with the paving without including the sharrows, they did so in complete defiance of the Complete Streets policy. Moreover, they did it without any good reason. “The merchants have known that the city was going to be repaving California for about five years,” Carr says. “The merchants are going to say ‘no’ because they think for some reason that anything that helps bicycles hurts their business.” (See also: Suzie Burke, who got a bike lane killed in Fremont by raising concerns that it would hurt businesses along Stone Way.)
Currently, West Seattle does not have a single mile of bike lane. A planned bike lane along part of busy Fauntleroy is rumored to be the next on the chopping block; meanwhile, the rest of Fauntleroy and all of 35th Avenue SW are slated for “additional study,” often shorthand for “we don’t want to deal with it.” (See also: South Rainier.) The e-mail also reveals that the city plans to stripe just 20 miles of bike lanes and other facilities in 2007—a 33 percent reduction from the 30 miles included in the bike plan.
Moreover, the more closely I look at the bike plan, the more I wonder whether the people who plan bike facilities at the city have ever actually ridden a bike. The bike plan suggests bikers ride up some of the steepest hills in the city—in at least two cases, quite literally. Queen Anne Avenue N has an 18 percent grade; on SW Charlestown Street, it’s 20 percent. Both are among the city’s 20 steepest hills; both are slated for new bike facilities (sharrows and bike lanes) in the master plan. As Carr puts it, “Nobody in their right mind would go up that hill” on Charlestown. Other steep hills bike planners suggest you use include South Orcas Street in Seward Park (the “alternative route” for people trying to get to the Rainier Valley from the north); North 67th Street on Phinney Ridge; James Street from downtown to First Hill; and Florentia Street up Queen Anne Hill off Dexter.
As for Stone Way: Cascade Bicycle Club policy director David Hiller understandably questioned the city’s traffic projections for Stone Way, which predicted that traffic levels would double, quadruple, and in some cases even grow tenfold over 2001 levels at various points around the intersection of 35th and Stone by 2010. The mayor and transportation department have used those projections to justify eliminating the bike lane on Stone Way, arguing in essence that that pavement is needed to accommodate new traffic.
But that claim doesn’t hold up under scrutiny. For one thing, Hiller noticed, traffic on Stone Way just didn’t seem that bad. So, in addition to commissioning his own study by a reputable traffic consultant (which, not surprisingly, predicted much lower traffic levels), Hiller and a crew of Cascade activists went out and actually counted traffic moving through the intersection at the evening rush hour. Not surprisingly (if you’ve driven or biked down there) traffic at 35th and Stone was steady but not significantly higher than it was six years ago, the last time traffic figures were counted: 1,548 vehicles during the 5 to 6 p.m. peak, compared to 1,505 in 2001. The “growth” in traffic, in other words, didn’t happen. (Just 8 percent of those 1,500 vehicles, by the way, were trucks—and that included nearly a dozen “ducks,” those obnoxious amphibious vehicles that ferry kazoo-wielding tourists around the city.
Bikers will be protesting the removal of the bike lane tomorrow, August 1, starting at 4:30 at Gas Works Park; more information available here.