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July 21, 2007

Are the City's Bike Plans Contradictory?

Mayor Nickels says he wants to make Seattle into the #1 biking city in the country, a great goal when one considers we already have an avid biking community here (even Will is joining the ranks). With roads constantly being torn up for resurfacing, putting in new cable lines and redefining parking and bus lanes, not to mention the ever-increasing vehicle traffic, bicyclists need new paths of their own. A proposed "road diet" for Stone Way, between N. 34th and N. 40th Streets, bringing that swath of four-lane road down to two lanes and adding a bike path, was expected to serve the cyclists without putting too much strain on drivers. Unfortunately, that dream is no more because the Seattle Dept. of Transportation has nixed the plan and David Hiller, advocacy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, is none too happy:

Stone Way connects to the Burke-Gilman Trail, and the Fremont Bridge is a major crossing for cyclists. So if the city can capitulate here, projects all over town are vulnerable, Hiller argues.

He admits being surprised the Fremont Chamber had more clout than the 7,400-member cycle club.

Chamber President Marko Tubic — an avid cyclist and former racer — said lower Stone Way remains "a heavy industrial thoroughfare."

One of the main critics of the Stone Way bike path has been Suzie Burke, the "land baroness of Fremont". Burke (whose father was a founder of Fremont, but not related to the Burke in the Burke-Gilman Trail) also fought with biking advocates a few years back over the redesign of the trail where it winds around her properties along the north side of Lake Union.

"I've never been in anything as convoluted as those negotiations," Burke says. "Stupid arguments. 'We have to have a bike path,' they said. Why?! They insisted the bike paths run along the railroad. Why?!"

Eventually, a compromise was reached, running the bike path along the water. But not before Burke was fed up. "You deal with people who don't have a dime on the table and don't have to be reasonable," she says.

That attitude has antagonized a lot of folks in Fremont. Apparently, having "a dime on the table" is the only thing that secures you the right to have a voice in your community -- otherwise, you're scum. As a major landowner, Burke is a formidable presence in the neighborhood and at the Fremont Chamber of Commerce.

I've frequently biked in that area, on and off the B-G Trail, and I have to agree with David Hiller. That 1/2 mile strip of Stone Way would be an obvious, and easy, connector between the trail and the south side of Wallingford. Success or failure is all in the planning and the design. Example: this past year, the city took out a thru-lane at 40th and Stone Way heading south, by creating a right-turn only lane leading to the Aurora Bridge. Since there is no proper signage in the block leading up to it, I, frankly, find that the right-turn lane is confusing because it seems to pop up without warning before you realize you're in it and unable to cross Stone Way. But from the left lane, crossing Stone, you're suddenly onto a four-lane road. If you're a cyclist riding south on Stone at that intersection... yikes, is all I can say.

As a contractor (and driver) who regularly patronizes businesses like Stone Way Hardware (north of 40th), Rodda Paint, Daly's Paint, and Hard Hat Tool & Supply (all south of 40th), I'd probably be expected to agree with Tubic that Stone is a "heavy industrial throughfare", and therefore, should be preserved as is. In reality, though, his argument is a little weak. Yes, there are trucks pulling in and out of those, and other, businesses, but it's nothing like what you see just south of downtown on 1st, 4th and 6th avenues -- that's an area I would advise a biker to avoid at all costs. The article also reports that one of Cascade's engineers says the vehicle traffic on Stone Way would be only mildly affected by a bike path. From my point of view, if drivers would just quit yakking on their cell phones and instead, pay attention to the road and follow the speed limit, there would be many fewer accidents and near-accidents. I can't count how many times I've nearly gotten hit while pulling out of the Rodda parking lot. The other part of the problem, I'm sorry to say, is the street parking that blocks the view of oncoming traffic.

If you think about it, a workable "road diet" wouldn't necessarily have to cut the driving lanes in half because a two-directional bike lane, like the one on the B-G Trail, is only as wide as one car lane. So, why not a three-lane road for motor vehicles and one lane for the bike path? No, I'm not a transportation planner, and I know full well that contractors use both the Fremont Bridge coming north, and Hwy 99 coming south into the area. Deciding which direction of Stone Way should have one lane and which should have two would likely stir up a whole new controversy and take about 17 years to resolve. After all, this is Seattle, where study and process last longer than the lives of most of our pets. I still think it's an idea worth looking into. Bikers already travel that road daily, and the danger of getting hit by a truck or car is much greater without a dedicated bike lane. The reason I'm on the lookout for bikers when I'm behind the wheel is because I'm a biker myself, and I know it's hard enough riding in traffic without having to fend off drivers who behave as if they are purposely trying to mow you down. Most importantly, the far right car lanes on Stone are too narrow to comfortably provide for a vehicle and a bike traveling side-by-side.

On a positive note, the city is finally breaking ground on a new portion of the Burke-Gilman Trail near the end of its proposed line:

Construction will now begin on a one-mile section from Northwest 60th Street near Ray's Boathouse to Golden Gardens Park on the Shilshole Bay that will cost $4.6 million. The project is being funded with city money, the Bridging the Gap property levy approved last year, the parks property levy and some federal money. The city expects to finish construction by the end of this year.

This is great news, and since the road to Shilshole is already one-lane each way past the locks there is no way the bike trail will affect road traffic at all. However, I'm compelled to point out the obvious: there is still no path between 11th NW near Leary Way -- just west of where the trail now ends -- and a mile north at NW 60th where the new portion will begin. The same controversy about industry needs stymied earlier plans for the connecting section, but in my view, that was a clearer case to make. Riding north from the trail end along the docks feels unsafe. It's tough to see vehicles pulling in and out, and there is no way to escape them because they don't have any other options for entry or exit. And I don't want to see a path that does anything to hinder our area's fisherman and boat and dock workers, who already take enough hits and have seen parts of their marina given over to yachts and pleasure boats. A new design currently in the works is slated for unveiling next year. I'm glad the Shilshole portion will be completed soon because it will bring more people out along the water, and the bikers deserve this. But it's a shame the city couldn't come up with the trail extension to connect with it sooner, because this means that we're in the same situation as before, at least for awhile: hopping off the trail at 8th NW, riding side streets through Ballard up to Shilshole.

So... one out of three ain't bad?

Posted by shoephone on July 21, 2007 at 01:10 PM in Environment, Washington Culture | Permalink



Nice piece. I also bike and the place that drives me crazy is trying to get from lower Magnolia to Queen Anne and Fremont on the south side of the canal and back.

There is no safe route. The city has promised to extend the Ship Canal trail under the Ballard Bridge and meet up with the North-South trail downtown through Myrtle Edwards park. But so far, I've seen nothing.

And I hope the Ballard Bridge is next to be renovated. As we saw a couple weeks ago with the death of a bicyclist, that is a death trap.

Posted by: Lynn | Jul 22, 2007 8:08:51 AM

Lynn - I really commiserate with you on that one. I NEVER ride over the B. Bridge. It's disaster. (Since I'm in Ballard, I would take the Fremont Bridge to Dexter going downtown.) You make a very good point about connecting up QA, Mag and Ballard or QA, Mag and Fremont. I see people riding from Nickerson to the Fremont Bridge, but around those curved inclines to the bridge is where I have to keep an eagle eye out for them. It all looks too dangerous to me.

And the City still can't connect up Magnolia with Myrtle Edwards? It seems like they only see what's right in front of them, ie. expanding the B-G Trail. The problem with their "backpeddling" on the lower Stone Way section is that they are building a path north of 40th, and now there's going to be this hole between 40th and the B-G.

But big money talks, and some people with big money have nothing but antipathy for cyclists.

Posted by: shoephone | Jul 22, 2007 10:34:41 AM

Sorry if I implied that Magnolia and Myrtle Edwards aren't linked up. They link up quite well. It's getting over there from north Queen Anne that's the difficult part.

Posted by: Lynn | Jul 22, 2007 12:24:52 PM

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