Dozens of bike safety advocates lined up in city council chambers this afternoon to express their frustration at a Bicycle Master Plan update from Mayor Jenny Durkan’s Seattle Department of Transportation that eliminates dozens of projects, replaces planned protected bike lanes with neighborhood greenways on distant, often hilly, parallel streets, and gives especially short shrift to neighborhoods in Southeast Seattle, where two of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board’s top-priority projects, on Rainier Ave. S and Beacon Ave. S, have been cut. Just prior to the meeting, the advocates held a rally and press conference in the lobby of City Hall, where council members Teresa Mosqueda and Mike O’Brien joined them in condemning the cuts.
Last year, SDOT announced significant cuts to many of the projects included in the $930 million Move Seattle levy, to reflect reduced federal funding and higher cost estimates for some projects.Meg Wade, from the climate action group 350 Seattle, talked about the abuse she has received from drivers as a queer cyclist and pedestrian. “I have been called a cunt; I have been called a bitch taking up too much space on the road; I have stepped into a crosswalk and asked a driver to move their car and been told ‘I am sick of you people’ I have been told ‘Fucking get out of my way.’ What this says is, it is okay for the harassment to continue.” Wade continued, her voice shaking: “It is astonishing to me that the mayor, who comes out of the gay community, would not understand that saying… ‘Go hide out of the public vision; get out of our public spaces’—that she wouldn’t understand the similarities” between anti-LGBT harassment and harassment of cyclists.
“Working-class people, middle-class people, families with little children, elderly individuals, community members—all of them have spoken [against the cuts]. When the mayor says it’s about community engagement, it’s about public feedback—well, whose feedback are you actually listening to?”
Immediately after Wade spoke, two cyclists, Apu Mishra and Tamara Schmautz, stood up to dramatically “mourn the loss” of three plans previously adopted by the city—the Bicycle Master Plan, the Climate Action Plan, and the Complete Streets—by destroying copies of each document in a hand-cranked portable shredder.
Members of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, including its current co-chair, Emily Paine, expressed dismay that the plan labeled 13 of the eliminated projects “SBAB removed,” implying that the bike board had recommended those projects for removal. Some of those projects, Paine said, were not only “not recommended by SBAB to be removed,” they “were actually given our highest endorsement,” including a protected bike lane on Beacon Hill and a PBL on Rainier Avenue South.
SDOT attempted to walk back the “SBAB removed” designation on Tuesday, calling it an inadvertent error and apologizing for the confusion. (SDOT traffic engineer Monica DeWald said, “We should have rephrased that to ‘SBAB prioritized but funding limited,’ just so we sent the message that it was still an SBAB top priority but we just didn’t have the funding.”) But agency staffers were undoubtedly aware that the list of cuts included some of the bike board’s top priorities when they came up with the list. In an email to bike board members and SDOT staff, including DeWald, from last November, SDOT senior transportation planner Serena Lehman compiled a list of the board’s top priorities, which included both the Beacon Avenue and Rainier Ave. bike lanes. SDOT has not elaborated on why these two top-priority projects have been cut other than to say that the city doesn’t have the money to build them.
Bike board members also expressed concern Tuesday that SDOT has designated about half of all the bike projects that are scheduled for completion between 2019 and 2024 projects as having high levels of “risk,” which they worried might provide cover to remove them from the plan. “A pattern has emerged in this administration of delaying and eliminating bike lanes that prove challenging or controversial,” bike board member Patrick Taylor said. “When I look at the implementation plan, I see most of the projects listed as ‘risky,’ which in an administration that does not have the gumption to follow through with projects designated as challenging, I view as concerning.”
“Our perception on the Bike Advisory Board is that this administration does not care what we think, and that when we send letters, we might as well send them as a paper airplane.”
Council members, including O’Brien, committee chairman Rob Johnson, and Kshama Sawant, expressed frustration that the mayor had rolled the bike plan back so dramatically. Sawant, who has not historically been among the council’s most vocal bike advocates, was particularly vociferous, arguing that it was “meaningless” for SDOT staffers to tout the city’s progress on bike infrastructure “at the same time that the mayor’s office and SDOT leadership has dealt a significant blow to the whole plan. … Working-class people, middle-class people, families with little children, elderly individuals, community members—all of them have spoken [against the cuts], Sawant said. “So I don’t really understand. When the mayor … says it’s about community engagement, it’s about public feedback—well, whose feedback are you actually listening to?” Sawant’s comments were a rebuke to activists who helped defeat a long-planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave. NE, who argued that only “privileged” white people ride bikes or care about safe bike infrastructure.
Members of the Move Seattle Levy Oversight Committee hit on many of the same themes at their monthly meeting Tuesday night, and discussed issuing formal recommendations to the council in response to the scaled-back plan. Committee member Joseph Laubach, who noted that the new plan delivers only about 60 percent of the miles of new bike lanes, trails, and greenways included in the original levy, called the new strategy “unfair” even in light of the Move Seattle “reset.” Taylor, who also sits on the Move Seattle committee, noted that the bike board prioritized projects in South Seattle neighborhoods like Beacon Hill and the Rainier Valley precisely because they connected those historically neglected neighborhoods to downtown. “All the projects that rose to the top of our list for extra emphasis are in Southeast Seattle… and those were the projects that disappeared without a trace,” he said. [Editor’s note: This paragraph initially said that the new plan eliminates 60 percent of the new bike lane-miles; in fact, it eliminates 40 percent and preserves 60 percent.]
Both O’Brien, who attended Tuesday night’s committee meeting, and Taylor, who noted that the bike board itself will discuss the new plan at its own meeting tomorrow night, urged the committee to consider making a formal recommendation to the council. “Our perception on the Bike Advisory Board is that this administration does not care what we think, and that when we send letters, we might as well send them as a paper airplane,” Taylor said. “Having this board’s letter as well might elevate [the concerns] to a higher level.”