The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) only plans to construct about half of the miles of protected bike lanes (PBLs) that it promised when voters approved a $930 million transportation levy in 2015, according to the Bicycle Master Plan implementation schedule released late last week. According to the plan, the department will completely stop constructing PBLs after 2021, when it has spent all of the Move Seattle Levy funds that were allocated toward them, and almost completely stop building neighborhood greenways after 2022.

The plan, which was due to city council by the end of March as laid out in a council resolution, is the first update to the implementation schedule for bicycle facilities in Seattle since 2017, and the first since last year’s “reset” examined project costs for completed bike projects and found that the original estimates were incredibly optimistic. Costs for almost all programs are coming in over estimates, as the updated workplan for every other program that was released last November outlined, but the bicycle subprogram also ended up paying for expensive street rebuilds that were required for its centerpiece projects, adding drainage and utility costs to these bike projects.

SDOT's draft BMP implementation plan overview from 2019 to 2024. (City of Seattle)
SDOT’s draft BMP implementation plan overview from 2019 to 2024. (City of Seattle)

The reduced scope of the Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) subprogram means more pressure to select the most crucial projects, which will go furthest toward creating a fully connected bicycle network that everyone in Seattle has access to. But here too the plan falls short, with key network segments dropped from the plan and Southeast Seattle yet again getting left behind in terms of direct connections to other neighborhoods, particularly Downtown.

The fact that the project list went through Mayor Jenny Durkan’s office before being approved is notable, especially coming on the heels of the decision by that office to cancel a planned protected bike lane on 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood that was fully designed and ready to be put in place. That office also spent at least $14,000–money that came out of the bike budget–hiring a mediator who failed to win support for the City’s design for 35th Ave NE bike lanes by overcoming virulent neighborhood opposition, which had included death threats and the sabotage of City equipment with fireworks.

The bike lane on 35th Ave NE was part of a planned repaving project, which meant that the cost-per-mile of adding safe bicycle facilities to 35th Ave NE was way below the cost to add facilities to a street not getting repaved. Months earlier, SDOT cancelled a planned protected bike lane on N 40th St in Wallingford also being constructed as part of a planned repaving last year, with no real alternative offered for safe bicycle access in that corridor.

SDOT has grouped its bicycle projects in a new way, with “low risk” projects separated from projects that it says come with risk of delay, and the precedent from the Mayor’s office suggests that the projects with risks could also be a list of projects that get dropped from the plan if there is political pressure.

Planned Protected Bike Lanes

Below is a list of the protected bike lane projects that SDOT says to complete for the next few years:

  • 2019: A PBL on Union Street, on a segment near 12th Ave long planned in conjunction with the Madison BRT project but not funded by that project. This project does not yet have its own website but is now on the schedule for this year.
  • 2019: An interim PBL connecting either Pike Street or Pine Street (or both) from Broadway on Capitol Hill and existing PBLs downtown. This project is considered to be at risk for delay due to the potential need to remove some parking from the Capitol Hill business district. This will be temporary until a permanent design is implemented with Convention Center funds.
  • 2019: An interim PBL on 8th Avenue to connect Pike Street and Pine Street and provide northbound connectivity to complement the existing 7th Avenue PBL. This will also be temporary until a permanent design comes later with Convention Center funding. Also listed as at risk for delay.
  • 2019: A PBL on Bell Street between 7th Avenue and 2nd Avenue. This project is not listed as in design yet and is considered to be at risk of delay in the plan due to the signal work required and coordination with King County Metro.
  • 2020: 12th Avenue S, between the S King Street neighborhood greenway (planned) and the Mountains to Sound trail in north Beacon Hill. Continuing the PBL north to connect with existing PBLs on Yesler and Broadway was considered infeasible due to the traffic impacts that would have on Seattle Streetcar operations.
  • 2020: PBLs around Green Lake on Green Lake Drive.
  • 2020: PBLs on Avalon Way SW in West Seattle.
  • 2020: A PBL on the final segment of 9th Ave N in South Lake Union, a bike lane that former SDOT director Scott Kubly infamously told Councilmember Mike O’Brien would be completed by the end of 2015.
  • 2020: The southern segment of the Melrose Promenade project that takes the form of protected bike lanes, south of Denny Way. North of Denny the street will be improved as a neighborhood greenway the same year. Funding for this project comes from a grant from the federal grant.
  • 2020: A PBL finally connecting the Fremont Bridge to the Burke Gilman Trail in the eastward direction. The PBL will extend eastward the existing N 34th St facility from Fremont Ave N to Stone Way, where people biking can access the Burke.
  • 2020: The first segment of the 4th Avenue protected bike lane downtown, which was famously deferred to 2021. The Pine Street to Spring Street segment (the section downtown with no paint bike lane) appears on the 2020 schedule. This project is not even included in the list of projects with associated risks.
  • 2020: An extension of the 7th Avenue PBL in Denny Triangle in conjunction with adjacent development.
  • 2020: A protected bike lane on 15th Ave NE between NE 62nd St and Lake City Way NE.
  • 2020: The connection on the south end of the 2nd Avenue PBL to S Dearborn St that zeor people who use the corridor will be happy with and which is absolutely not in the BMP.
  • 2020: Seattle Center arena renovations are coming with street rebuilds on 1st Ave N and Queen Anne Ave N that include protected bike lanes, as well as on Broad St and 1st Avenue in Belltown.
  • 2021Final implementation of the Pike/Pine and 8th Avenue projects being constructed as part of the public benefits for the Washington State Convention Center expansion.
  • 2021: The PBL on the downtown waterfront as part of the Alaskan Way rebuild.
  • 2021: A PBL on 1st Ave NE next to the Northgate light rail station opening that year, connecting the station with existing buffered bike lanes on NE 92nd St.
  • 2021: A PBL on East Marginal Way north of the West Seattle bridge. The BMP calls for a PBL south of the bridge as well, but SDOT determined it could not remove any of those seven lanes.
  • 2021: Segments 2 and 3 of the 4th Avenue bike lane, south to Main Street and north to Vine Street.
  • 2023: The Eastlake protected bike lanes planned as part of the Roosevelt RapidRide project are scheduled for 2023, but that project is still waiting on Federal funding that needs to materialize first. A complementary segment on Eastlake south of Fairview does not have a target date yet. This is the only planned protected bike lane after 2021 currently.

Projects removed from the BMP implementation plan

If the segment isn’t listed above, there isn’t funding to complete it. The BMP update includes a list of projects that have now dropped off the implementation plan, quite a few of which have been listed as “SBAB Removed”, referring to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board. The board was tasked with selecting projects like the ones above, but given the funding realities not all projects that they would have liked to select were able to make the list–listing the board as the reason for their removal from the plan is an odd framing.

Removed projects from the Bicycle Master Plan. (City of Seattle)

On top of that, there are projects that the bike board listed as priorities that are now nowhere to be seen. From the start of the project selection process, the board made it clear that they would be deliberately shying away from pure geographic equity and ensuring that Southeast Seattle gets as connected a network as it could. With that in mind they selected Beacon Avenue S and Airport Way S as projects to be funded, but when the project list came out of the other side of the Mayor’s Office those projects were no longer included.

In addition, as Erica Barnett first noted, there are several projects that appeared on the 2017 update that are completely gone from the project, like a bike lane on Vine Street in Belltown.

Neighborhood Greenways

The workplan continues construction of neighborhood greenways, including what it calls upgrades to existing routes, with around 40 miles of greenways planned to be completed over the entire length of the levy, compared to the 60 miles promised to voters.

But these routes vary in treatment and traffic volume, leading to an inconsistent network of greenways that in most cases do not offer significant improvements over regular neighborhood streets. Stop signs added to cross streets often encourage drivers to cut through a neighborhood greenway, creating unsafe speeds and since most greenways have parking on both sides of the street, people on bikes are put in harm’s way when there is not sufficient traffic diversion. Therefore, it’s not clear why SDOT should prioritize any greenways over funding for all-ages-and-abilities cycle facilities. It’s similar to the new sidewalk program continuing to invest in temporary pathways over permanent sidewalks.

Closing the Funding Gap

Seattle’s bicycle facilities program has also been a victim of project delay more than most other programs, for a myriad of reasons, and the department has lost credibility with project deadlines before. The list above is ambitious even as the department falls short of overall goals. Completing projects on the pace that SDOT says they will from 2019-2021, we would likely hit our levy goals. But after 2021, funding for the Bicycle Master Plan subprogram is set to run out. This puts advocates in a better position than if the remainder of the projects were spread out over the rest of the levy: if more funding is secured, projects can get delivered after 2021.

Mayor Jenny Durkan’s 2019-2020 budget proposal included funding for Move Seattle deliverables across many subprograms: new curbs ramps, new sidewalks, sidewalk repair, and in fact allocated $1.4 million for neighborhood greenways. It would not take a large amount of funding to get the BMP program back up to a place where it could meet its original levy goal of 50 miles of protected facilities. But the Mayor’s Office has not shown any interest in shoring up funding for facilities that would keep cyclists safe, even as it is cancelling relatively low-dollar projects like 35th Ave NE. Meanwhile, the Mayor’s electric scooter safety solution has been to ban them. Still, scooter share may eventually get the greenlight in Seattle adding strain on already busy bike lanes and trail facilities.

Stopping the construction of the bike network in two years isn’t really an option for a city that is trying to create options for transportation outside of a car, reduce serious injuries and fatalities on our streets, and curb carbon emissions. All we need is political leadership to recognize that and work to fix it.

Article Author

Ryan Packer lives in the Summit Slope neighborhood of Capitol Hill and has been writing for the The Urbanist since 2015. They report on multimodal transportation issues, #VisionZero, preservation, and local politics. They believe in using Seattle's history to help attain the vibrant, diverse city that we all wish to inhabit. Ryan's writing has appeared in Capitol Hill Seattle Blog, Bike Portland, and Seattle Bike Blog, where they also did a four-month stint as temporary editor.