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Why SDOT scaled back its plans for Seattle bike lanes

Proponents of Seattle bike lanes score a huge win. (SDOT)

After announcing major changes to its plans for Seattle’s bike lanes, the Seattle Department of Transportation provided some insight into the motivations behind what many have viewed as significant — and sudden — cuts.

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“Mayor Durkan asked us to take a look at our levy to Move Seattle, and to check on the cost estimates that we had used to make sure that they were realistic,” SDOT told MyNorthwest. “We discovered — not to a lot of surprise — that bike infrastructure was costing more to implement than the original assumptions that were used in the levy.”

In terms of the total spending plan for the city’s bike lanes, bike racks, and greenways, the number remained the same between the 2017 and 2019 plans (roughly $76 million). What changed was the realization that the projects originally laid out by the city would far exceed that original figure.

To account for that, SDOT asked the Seattle Bike Advisory Board to list its highest and lowest priority projects, and subsequently removed those in the latter category. While some higher priority projects remained, others in that category weren’t listed in the new plan altogether.

“Some of the projects that were removed from the list were a SBAB priority project, but what we discovered is that … we didn’t have enough funding for all of those projects to make the final cut for this plan,” said SDOT. “In hindsight, we should have written ‘SBAB prioritized, but budget constraint.’”

Low priority projects that were cut were then listed in the plan as “SBAB removed,” wording that SDOT since walked back.

“We should have phrased this better, it was strictly an oversight on our part — we didn’t intend to be misleading in any way,” SDOT said.

For the projects that were removed, SDOT did note that they would be up for consideration in future plans.

Some of the remaining bike lane projects were delayed under the update. That list includes:

  • Montlake Cut Phase of SR-520 Bridge Replacement and HOV Program: Managed by WSDOT, delayed two years. Adds a 14-foot-wide bike and pedestrian path across Lake Washington.
  • Accessible Mt. Baker: Delayed three years, adds walking and biking connections to the Mt. Baker area
  • Burke-Gilman Trail Missing Link: Currently in litigation, delayed one year. Would build out a 1.4 mile multi-use trail in northeast Seattle.

On Tuesday, both opponents and advocates spoke during public comments before a Seattle City Council committee, as SDOT presented its proposed update to the Master Bike Plan.

“What is the mass vision for transportation in this growing city where two-thirds of people want more options to get around in some way other than the car? We’re asking council today for their support. We need more accountability,” said Vicki Clark with the Cascade Bicycle Club.

“A pattern has emerged in this administration of delaying and eliminating bike plans that prove challenging or controversial,” said Patrick Taylor, a member of SBAB speaking at the committee meeting on behalf of himself, rather than the advisory board.

The original Move Seattle levy was approved by voters in 2015. Funding for the Master Bike Plan program runs through 2021.

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