Car Activists See 35th Avenue NE as a Blueprint to Thwart Safety Upgrades

Neighbors spar on 35th Avenue NE.

“You’re a liar,” an enraged, middle-aged man shaking a red sign with the words “SAVE 35th” in white block letters screamed as a young woman expressed support for traffic improvements to 35th Avenue NE in Seattle’s Bryant/Ravenna/Wedgwood neighborhood. “You lie!” he kept yelling as she tried to go over data related to how bike lanes and pedestrian improvements reduce speeds and accidents. “This is fake news!” This occurred in front of the local library, when the two sides of the issue met during a community event.

Normally you’d think residents would applaud an attempt by the city to make their neighborhood safer, but this project, like projects across the city that have suddenly become political firestorms, removes parking and adds bike lanes. These two issues have overwhelmed any other aspect, benefit or consideration. Almost overnight, businesses who feared losing free parking on public streets had red placards in their windows asking residents to “SAVE 35th – save our parking”.

A few residents then got involved and mobilized a petition opposed to the improvements. How they converted a project originally inspired by the community into controversy is the epitome of how these groups have thwarted progress all over the country. And this is not by accident, the Save 35th group enlisted the assistance of social media consultants and a representative from Keep LA Moving, John Russo. Mr. Russo and others have provided guidance to the group and it is this template that is being used to stop the implementation of bike lanes, pedestrian improvements, and road diets in our city and all over the country.

Editor’s note:  Recently, the Save 35th group won even more concessions from Mayor’s Durkan office. A fourth parking study was performed in an attempt to appease them, and now, Mayor Durkan has hired a mediator (John Howell from Cedar River Group) at a cost of $14,000 (despite an apparent conflict of interest due to ties with a Save 35th leader) to give them even more of a chance to air their opinions. It’s intended that Mr. Howell will meet with those opposed and those for the safety improvements and attempt to reach an agreement that somehow satisfies everybody.

Some history though before we discuss how in the world we got here. In 2012, residents of four neighborhoods in north Seattle began a process to enhance 35th Avenue NE. They formed committees, developed concepts and detailed ideas. They performed public outreach, staffed tables at community events and held ‘coffee talks’ where experts explained design and engineering concepts. So successful was this, they won a local neighborhood grant from the city to hire consultants to further their plans. Again, they did so well, in 2016, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) took over and again, held public meetings, solicited feedback, setup online surveys and questionnaires, and engaged the community. The 2014 Bicycle Master Plan for the city included bike lanes on 35th.

Then, in late 2017, SDOT released their design documents, and it is then, and only then, that businesses flew into action and certain residents started attending public meetings and other community events.

The problem was, they hadn’t been paying attention. They hadn’t been bothered to get involved with the plans for 35th until businesses and concerned neighbors began making them aware of it on NextDoor and other social media sites, and of course, the red signs went up.

But with the history of the project, the incredible amount of community involvement, the public outreach, the designs and the plans, they had to figure out a way to make it seem like they’d never been engaged, that a paving project was now, all the sudden, changing the neighborhood.

This first tactic was almost natural because for many of them, it was true. They’d ignored the surveys and the postcards on their doorsteps, shewed away the nice people at their door and said no thank you to the people holding clipboards in front of the grocery store. So, they argued that this was all happening too fast, and we needed to slow down and work as a community to develop a new plan–one that would keep all parking and not add bike lanes.

At first, the Save 35th group was unashamedly all about not losing parking. It was all over their signs and their notices. They invented a number–that the plans would reduce parking by sixty-percent–and splashed it over everything (they’ve never been able to explain where this figure came from–even after repeated requests).

They were also unabashedly opposed to bike lanes. They did not care about any data to the contrary. Even though 35th is the only street that goes north to south without interruption (all other streets stop and start randomly), they argued cyclists could just use side streets. In now deleted social media posts and tweets, they taunted cyclists and made fun of bike lanes. Then, unfortunately, they made fun of the wrong people and had to delete their Twitter account completely after a collection of mothers who cycle took them to task for a particularly sexist tweet. They also removed their ratings from Facebook and comments had to be approved. But, they remained adamantly opposed–even going so far as to brag about holding up bike lanes on a connecting street (NE 65th Street) where a cyclist died.

It’s important too to note that these are Seattleites. These people overwhelmingly caucused for Bernie Sanders in 2016 and have environmental stickers on their Leafs, Bolts and Priuses. In any other instance, they lament that lack of facts and science in public policy, and urge lawmakers and public officials to be inclusive and progressive. How ironic then that these same people, when faced with overwhelming data that slated safety improvements would reduce collisions, improve livability, and make the neighborhood safer, called it ‘fake news’ and ‘lies’.

And this was their next tactic. When they were faced with the history and could not argue that improvements had come out of the blue and no one had tried to tell them, they turned to calling everything a falsehood. When all facts are questionable, there are no facts. Every piece of data was not good enough. If city officials pointed out that safety plans had helped other cities reduce accidents, it was not Seattle. When representatives pointed out how improvements helped diminish collisions on other streets in the city and the neighborhood, it was not 35th. By constantly moving the target, no data was ever enough.

And, it didn’t hurt that they refused to believe any facts. Any time SDOT provided a study, it was bogus; when an engineer explained how rechannelization reduced speeds without drastically effecting travel times, she was ‘cherry picking facts.’ Actual data from traffic and parking studies – multiple studies performed by engineers – were packed with lies and untruths, to the point where they would call people liars and scammers and hacks for the city hall.

A natural progression from constructing an environment where you don’t believe facts is to move into playing on people’s fears and concerns, and this was where they went next. They began spouting anything that they knew would scare people, especially the elderly – you won’t be able to park anywhere near your destination; rogue cyclists will run you down as you try to get out of your car; children will have to exit school buses into busy streets; and runaway commuters will be gunning through side streets at 50 mile-per-hour. They went so far as to claim that the improvements did not include any pedestrian improvements (the plans include extensive ADA improvements, as well as sidewalk widening, curb bulbs, fixing buckling and cracked areas, and improving intersections). Another one they used a lot was that the changes – any changes – will cause congestion on 35th and that will send commuters on to other streets.

Despite its growth, Seattle is still a commuter city as well – millions of people flood in every work day and flood out every night, and they only see roads as ways to get to their destination. Our city has been for decades designed to accommodate this setup, and it’s done nothing to promote safety, livability and inclusiveness.

And that last issue, inclusiveness, is where they went next. People for the bike lanes were ‘ableists’ and ‘young tech bros’, and improvements (regardless of a myriad of pedestrian and vehicle safety improvements) would only benefit the fit and the young, and make it more difficult for the elderly and the disabled. Despite numerous elderly and handicapable people speaking out about how the improvements would help them, from a woman explaining that she cannot drive due to her disabilities but can operate an electric-assist bike, to another woman detailing that she feels unsafe in her motorized wheelchair on 35th because of the speeds cars drive on it, it did not matter.

Those opposed to the improvements flipped the issue–realizing improvements would help more people and make the street safer for more people, they turned an advantage into a disadvantage. They targeted churches and community centers, stood out in front with their petitions, and preyed upon their concerns and fears. They told neighbors they wouldn’t be able to find parking at the library or the post office anymore, that they’d have to park miles away from their destination and walk all the way, and that the improvements would actually make the street more dangerous.

And this was something Russo from Keep LA Moving advised them to do–frame it so they are the ones actually worried about safety, not SDOT. Not only that, despite the studies and data showing the street would be safer, they argued no one cared about vulnerable people. They filled their posts and notices with the word ‘safety’. They invented ways to argue that safety improvements would make the road less safe: crazy cyclists, too much happening on the road (cyclists, pedestrians and cars), less visibility (removing parking actually improves visibility), and of course, congestion causing drivers to scream through side streets running down children and cats like a game of Death Race 2000.

The problem has been and remains that they have no data–no studies, no engineering, no science–to support any of this. And they don’t need it. Once they’d told half-truths and untruths, and really got people scared, they launched a communication blitz aimed at the mayor’s office. They had 3,000 signatures (none of which have been verified and many are admittedly from outside the neighborhood and city) and they bombarded the mayor with calls, emails and meeting requests. She took notice. She sought to appease them. She agreed to ‘relook’ at parking studies (there had already been three) and take their concerns into consideration.

This is what is happening in Seattle right now and all over the country. The people with no facts, no statics, no science, and no engineering are getting their way. Mayor Durkan has stopped safety improvements on other streets (despite the fact that studies have shown they really do improve safety for all users) and she’s underfunded and delayed significant transportation plans that would offer more transportation options and reduce accidents. She’s putting me and my friends and family in greater danger to appease people with no basis for their concerns and no facts to support their contentions.

This is how we ruin cities, neighborhoods and communities. Our leaders lack vision. They crumble under the weight of difficult decisions. They let bias and prejudice determine policy. They do not invest in the future and they let fears hold back their potential. The problem is, we pay for it. Our roads become more congested, our infrastructure and bridges fail, our communities become less safe and less enjoyable, improvements become more expensive, and we lose lives pointlessly.

We’ve seen this before. We’re living it right now. Hopefully by recognizing these tactics and developing plans ahead of time to deal with them, other communities and other neighborhoods can follow a better path and implement safety improvements for everyone in the community.

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Chris Priest is a writer and community advocate who lives in northeast Seattle. Chris is a founding member of Safe 35th--a community-based group focused on bringing planned and agreed upon safety improvements to 35th Avenue NE in the Wedgwood, Ravenna and Bryant neighborhoods. He is a frequent cyclist, runner, transit rider, and walker who believes safe, inclusive modes of transportation are the way of the future.

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Thanks indeed for this article. I live in Wedgwood and walk bike daily on the 35th and sometimes drive there too. I’m still surprised and saddened how much this project has gotten out of control. A simple repavement project has caused extreme behavior from some people. And that all because (a few) parking spots disappear. How is it normal to yell at bicyclists because you don’t agree with a repavement project? This happens most often to my wife. Apparently she being a woman and just 5 foot tall makes some people very brave.


Amber, those data come from directly from SDOT, obtained via public records request. I *strongly* urge you (and everyone else who is skeptical) to obtain those documents yourself, so you can get an unfiltered look. There are a number of other eye-openers in there if you care chase it down. The real story is just a wee bit different than the one Chris is telling you. Again, no need to take my word for it. Please see it with your own eyes.

I do get bit of amusement that the CBC, et. al. is trying to frame this as as safety vs. anti-safety. You don’t realize how silly and tone-deaf that sounds to people in the neighborhood. Prior to the 2015 “Future of NE 35th Plan” there was another community document called “Wedgwood Vision Plan” produced in 2010. Both community plans called for pedestrian and safety improvements, as well as increased transit.

Under CM Johnson’s plan, we’re getting far fewer pedestrian/accessibility improvements AND we’re losing four transit stops (five if you count the Microsoft Connector stop). Since by far more people take transit than commute by bike, cutting transit is a guaranteed way to make your bike plan unpopular. Congrats! It worked! .

And it should be unpopular with cyclists as well. Under CM Johnson’s plan, the 35th bike lanes are neither protected nor connected. There is no protection at busy intersections including 35th NE and NE 75th where lots of traffic is turning left and and right. Southbound there is physical protection for only four blocks, the rest is unprotected, and in fact that the final segment is, get this, a sharrow where bikes get to share a lane of travel with cars. And of course the lanes connect to nothing in either direction. This project should be the poster child for how to make bike lanes unattractive to new riders. It makes all the mistakes.

The Wedgwood Vision Plan, by the way, called for protected lanes connecting to the Burke-Gilman both north sound and east-west. The Wedgwood neighborhood should have been a natural constituency for bike transit, and you would have scored big had you simply agreed with the existing neighborhood plans. Instead CM Johnson had a “better idea” that didn’t involve talking with the unwashed neighbors.

Evan D

Need a bit more detail than that to file a public records request, I think.


Great piece. I find I’m hesitant to comment on the parallels between the car death cult in NE Seattle and Trumpism, out of fear that it minimizes the horror of the latter. But the parallels really are substantial, and difficult to ignore.


1) I actually agree with the point about how Seattleites — who are so proud to be liberal and woke and part of “the resistance” against Trump — are increasingly acting just like Trump supporters. And I wonder how this may play out in next year’s Council elections. Will we see a shift rightward and more centrist candidates elected?

2) As someone who advocates for these things, I still don’t understand why people proud to call themselves “urbanists” still don’t seem to understand that a) you’re a minority, b) you’re often getting outmaneuvered by NIMBYs so maybe you should learn better tactics, and c) maybe you ought to try listening to actual neighborhood folks who have been living in places for years and often know better about what is the best way to implement improvements in the neighborhood or not.[


(b) is right (they’ve been doing this for a lot longer) but it’s much less clear that (a) is correct. (I’m not sure what you’re trying to say with (c) because what you suggest is precisely what happened from 2012-2016, as the article you’re commenting on clearly documents.) In recent council races, the more NIMBY candidates are the worse they do. This is especially true in the citywide races, where the more urbanist friendly candidates, Burgess/Mosqueda/Gonzales, crushed. Also the only polling I’ve seen on a modest upzone for SF zones showed something like 48-28 support. It wouldn’t surprise me if bike lanes and road diets are less popular, but the case that NIMBYism is popular in Seattle lacks a strong evidentiary basis.


True. I don’t mean to suggest that NIMBYs are a majority. I actually think both extremes are fairly similarly-sized minorities at the moment. Very urbanist candidates aren’t getting elected either.

Evan D

Mosqueda, Johnson, O’Brien and Gozalez were all endorsed by the site, Seattle Bike Blog, and other urbanist publications, and have all been successful, some repeatedly so. NIMBYISM has been remarkably unsuccessful in SCC elections.


The only real urbanist in that group is Mike. And none of them will because of the endorsements you cite. If that’s all it took to win in this city, we’d have a very different looking Council then we currently do.

Andres Salomon

Um, Johnson is very much an urbanist. Prior to city council, he worked on Sound Transit advocacy. He wears the nerdiest (best!) Shoupista buttons. He helped push the city to make NE 65th safer for people walking and biking, and has been the ONLY vocal backer of the plan to put bike lanes on 35th. Oh, and he chairs the Council’s PLUZ committee, and his office has been instrumental in getting HALA upzones passed. What does it take to be a “real” urbanist?

Valarie B.

The Future of 35th Ave Project, which you alluded to, was not the same as the present Save 35th or Safe 35th. The “Future” documents, which are still posted, outlined a zoning request for the business districts mainly clustered around NE 75th and 85th Streets. The Future project was about enhancing the business district, not about the street itself (35th Avenue NE). The Future project was completed in 2014 and was presented to Seattle City Council’s Land Use Committee in February 2015, but has never been acted upon. As years have gone by, City Council no longer responds to requests to address zoning to enhance the business district in Wedgwood. I participated fully in the Future Project, and you would have met me if you attended any of the meetings — I was the pushy person at the door who tried to get attendees to sign in, since we needed the attendance as documentation of the grant-funded project — average attendance at the 2014 meetings was eighty persons at each of the three planning meetings that summer. I also wrote most of the Coffee Talk summaries of the meetings which were posted on the webpage of the Wedgwood Community Council. I no longer live in Wedgwood (I am a little old lady living in senior housing now) but I still write for my blog, Wedgwood in Seattle History (a personal writing outlet, not affiliated with any group) and I have continued to write about the need for support for small businesses in the commercial zones.

Glen Buhlmann

Thanks for writing this Chris. It has always been incredibly annoying to me that SDOT frames their community outreach on street safety as “do you want street safety or not” when city policy states that they must give us street safety. So it’s not all that surprising when the people in a neighborhood who don’t want change, get upset when SDOT doesn’t choose the “not safety” option.

This project has just gotten crazy and your post does a great job of documenting how SDOT and Council and the Mayor’s office has just allowed this to snowball out of control because nobody other than Council-member Johnson wants to stand up and make a decision. They want to keep compromising with the anti-safety group who will not be happy until all of the safety elements are removed from the project.

Now that we have this ridiculous secret mediation process happening, I hope that the people representing my safety and the safety of my kids and friends and neighbors are at least making sure that the mediation process doesn’t start at “current SDOT design” vs “no bike lanes”. Instead it needs to go back to what the BMP (which came out of years of public outreach and input) says we were supposed to get: “full protected bike lanes the entire length of 35th Ave NE” vs. “no bike lanes” so that we can end up with a mediated agreement closer to what SDOT should have designed.

Also, IMO the Save 35th group should be required to pay the $14,000 for the mediator which SDOT is currently taking out of the bicycle budget.


Yesler – Where is that 24% statistic from? After reading this article
I’m fairly suspect of every “fact” out of people who oppose the safety
improvements. This much I DO know, when a public meeting was held about
the draft bike master plan it was crazy well attended and not a soul
spoke out against bike lanes. And when SDOT followed up with an online
survey, again, the vast majority of people who even mentioned bike lanes
were in support of them. The anti-bike lane contingent…or perhaps i
should say the “pro-public-street-for-private-parking” contingent was
apparently asleep or non existent.


“In 2012, residents of four neighborhoods in north Seattle began a process to enhance 35th Avenue NE. They formed committees, developed concepts and detailed ideas. They performed public outreach, staffed tables at community events and held ‘coffee talks’ where experts explained design and engineering concepts. So successful was this, they won a local neighborhood grant from the city to hire consultants to further their plans. Again, they did so well, in 2016, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) took over and again, held public meetings, solicited feedback, setup online surveys and questionnaires, and engaged the community.”

That’s the thing. After all the committees, all the concepts and detailed ideas, tables at community events. and the ‘coffee talks’ the *final* plans from all that outreach as drawn up by the consultant REJECTED bike lanes on 35th. Bike lanes were favored, just not on 35th.

SDOT’s outreach found that only 24% of respondents were in favor in the proposed plans. That’s less popular than Donald Trump.

Obviously, if you do all that outreach and can only convince a small minority, maybe, just maybe, there are some problems with the plan and it might be a good idea to fix those problems instead of blindly charging forward.

My advice would be to try to engage with the vast majority of business and residents and maybe try to address their concerns and reach a compromise. Or you can continue your silly straw man arguments and get nothing. Again, this plan is less popular that Donald Trump and has been rejected by the community three times. That should give you reason to re-evaluate your scorched earth tactics.

Andres Salomon

I’m just over here laughing at your “scorched earth tactics” comment. It’s a bike lane, not a military invasion. It’s a project that consolidates parking to one side of the street, after parking studies showed most blocks having incredibly low parking utilization (like, on the order of 10%). You can fire up Google Streetview and see that for yourself; entire blocks with just a couple cars parked on it. “Scorched earth”, lol.


Andres, your comment is a poster child for the tone-deafness I was talking about. Fire up Google Streetview? Wait? What? Is there something wrong with the actual street view? You know, the view you get when you experience the neighborhood for yourself in person? Like my neighbors and I do every single day? *That* street view? The one in the real world?

Another part of your tone deafness is that you keep trying to frame this as parking vs. bikes. That argument doesn’t resonate with people who live and work in the neighborhood. Parking *is* a component, but a tiny component of this whole thing. If you are not amenable to visiting the neighborhood yourself, you can fire up Google Street View and you’ll see there are still lots of single-family homes on NE 35th. With only one lane of travel, how does garbage and recycling get picked up? The garbage truck has to stop, blocking one entire direction of travel. How does that affect not only cars, but transit? The buses would have to wait behind the garbage truck just like everybody else. And not just garbage, packages, fuel oil, and everything else. SDOT acknowledged this is a real problem, by the way.

And by “lane of travel” I mean the entire lane of travel. For 18 blocks, any stoppage will also entirely block the bike lane. SDOT’s recommended solution: Pass on the left. Does that sound like a safety improvement to you. It shouldn’t.

And speaking of transit, what does Google Street View say about how removing four to five transit stops *in each direction* affect mobility? If you bus to work, that’s a completely reasonable question to ask. Far more people bus to work than bike. The reason for removal is the blocking problems I mentioned. Buses won’t be able to maintain schedules with the anticipated increase in congestion so they are removing transit stops. Urbanists all know the first step in getting rid of cars is making transit slower and less convenient.

Another thing you won’t see on Google Street View is traffic barreling down NE 34th and 33th, and 72nd NE trying to avoid congestion caused by the road 75th NE road diet. Neighbors on those streets have been asking for traffic calming for *years*, only to be told there is no budget. However, during the NE 35th outreach SDOT assured us that when traffic is pushed onto neighborhood streets, they will consider traffic calming options. That answer does not build confidence. We need traffic calming right now. And for the record, the recent construction reducing NE 35th to one lane of travel caused a huge amount of traffic to be diverted to the neighborhood streets. That’s our future, and isn’t safe. We don’t want traffic on the neighborhood streets. Does that make us car activists, or are we the ones who are actually concerned about safety?

Reems of data and decades of experience have shown us the the *majority* of riders don’t feel comfortable mixing it up in traffic. CM Johnson’s plan has no protection for riders at intersections–the most dangerous part of the ride. Is it smart and safe to encourage riders to ride through arterial intersections with no protection? The answer, is no. Unprotected bike lanes are just as dangerous as no bike lanes in intersections. Who is concerned about safety again?

And almost the entire southbound direction has no protection at all (Sharrows! The symbol that never goes out of style!). How is that attractive to new riders who don’t want to mix it up in traffic? Again, a completely reasonable question. Oh, and most of the protected lane northbound is too narrow to prevent dooring, which is the fourth most common and third most serious type of bike accident. Great! Lack of protection on the streets, lack of protection at intersections, and no connection to other bike lanes–including the Burke-Gilman only a couple blocks away. What’s not to like if you are a cyclist? Other than everything?

We know that bike commuting has remained flat for a decade in Seattle. The reasons are blindingly obvious: Most Seattle bike lanes aren’t fully protected (or connected), especially at intersections so most potential riders don’t use them and never will use them. Yet the 35th Ave NE plan is making the same exact mistakes that have been made over and over again, and will continue to fail to attract new riders. It is a waste of time and resources. In the meantime, actual safety improvements the neighborhood has been asking for for years continue to get shot down.

Google Streetview. That’s a hot one. I’m laughing too.

Glen Buhlmann

I made a high budget feature film showing how there is absolutely no free parking spaces on 35th at weekday peak parking time. So clearly we can’t lose any spaces.

Mike Carr

Your video makes you ask the question: “Is a bike lane on 35th even needed?”

Glen Buhlmann

No. That is not what it asks. The fact that there is lightly used #parking the entire length of the street and overly wide lanes even when there are parked cars means that 1) motorists are often driving too fast (i.e. high end speeding – 10+ mph over limit) and 2) with the lack of lane segregation, are often changing lanes and passing on the right and left.

Both of these make it incredibly unsafe for people walking across the street, people riding bicycles in the street and even people driving cars in the street.

This is an incredibly unsafe design that SDOT has more than a decade of experience addressing and a decade of data to show that what they do works for everyone: people walking, people bicycling, people driving and the businesses along the street.

But somehow Mayor Jenny is allowing a group of angry data-deniers and bike lane-haters to halt safety projects because… well
… we have no idea why. There is no justification for allowing this group to delay safety improvements that their community has clearly expressed desire for. And before they scream out their private survey responses, it doesn’t matter how many people in the neighborhood say they don’t want the street to be safe for everyone. The city has clear policies that say that SDOT must make the streets safe for everyone, even if a bunch of entitled wealthy old white white homeowners say they don’t care about the safety of people who happen to be on a bicycle.

Mike Carr

Your response went racist at the end. You also seem like a very angry person. Biking 35th is a walk in the park compared to the bikers down on the waterfront by the Great Wheel. They navigate between cars and cement barriers on their ride, maybe 18” of clearance. Maybe you are not suited to bike in the city.


Thanks for this, Chris. It’s been incredibly frustrating seeing my neighborhood rally against safety improvements on the street I travel daily by bike and foot. It’s been even more frustrating being insulted and called names simply for presenting data and analysis regarding road diets locally and nationally in support of the changes on 35th.