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Jason Rantz

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A frank talk about parking, bike lanes with SDOT’s Sam Zimbabwe

A protected bike lane, with accompanying traffic signals, in downtown Seattle. (SDOT)

Neighborhoods across Seattle either have already experienced the loss of parking spaces in favor of new bike lanes. Others are facing a similar fate in the future.

Such a plan was proposed for Eastlake Avenue in late 2018. Over the past year, parking spaces were eliminated along a service center in the Roosevelt neighborhood. This too was replaced by a protected bike lane on each side of the street.

Which begs a question — one that Jason Rantz on KTTH asks of Seattle Department of Transportation Director Sam Zimbabwe. Where are all these cars supposed to go? After all, just because you take away street parking, that doesn’t mean people aren’t driving anymore.

“(Parking) does provide important access for people who are trying to get to businesses, it also is a pretty inefficient use of our limited street right of way, to have cars stored there, rather than moving people or goods,” Zimbabwe said.

Therefore, Zimbabwe argues that “it’s always going to be a balance” between cars, bikes, buses and other street uses. For example, one approach Seattle has engaged in is using parking meter prices to encourage more turnover. In theory, higher parking fees prompt drivers to move their cars, freeing up a space for the next driver.

Zimbabwe says that only about 25 percent of people are accessing downtown Seattle, and neighboring areas, with single-occupancy vehicles. That’s an incentive for officials to make other modes of transportation safe and reliable. That means building out infrastructure for all transportation.

“Some of it is connecting to those future light rail stations, some of it is making sure people have a way to walk and bike to school with their kids, and to the grocery store,” he said. “… for people who are driving, we don’t say ‘you can only go within your neighborhood, but you can’t go all the way downtown.’ So we do need to make a citywide network that is also connected.”

Which comes back to building more bike lanes.

RELATED: An argument for Seattle’s controversial bike lanes

Despite some numbers showing an overall decline in the number of people using bikes to get around Seattle, Zimbabwe argues for a “if you build it, they will come” approach. He notes that increased investment in mass transit has caused more ridership, and believes the same can be true for bikes.

“I do think that we are starting from a place where we are a little bit behind in terms of making a fully-connected bike network,” he said. “…where we’ve made investments, like on 2nd Avenue, downtown, we’ve seen lots of growth in the number of people biking.”

“We may not quite be to that tipping point yet, in terms of people biking citywide,” Zimbabwe said. “When we put out counters in specific places where we make an investment, like 2nd Avenue and some of our bridges, we do see numbers increasing as we continue to build out a network.”

Converting parking into bike lanes hasn’t occurred everywhere in Seattle. Such a plan was nixed for 35th Avenue NE, prompting the ire of the city’s bicycling community. That criticism has only continued as SDOT engages in its “Seattle’s Safest Driver” campaign.

“I never know exactly what to expect,” Zimbabwe said. “But I think it’s an opportunity. You can actually track your rides, even if you are biking or taking transit with this app. It’s an opportunity for people to test themselves, have a friendly competition with friends, and improve their driving.”

“We are promoting safe driving here,” he said. “We know that some people don’t have a choice with how they get around, and we know that some people, even when they have a choice, are going to choose to drive.”

Listen to the Jason Rantz Show weekday afternoons from 3-6 p.m. on KTTH 770 AM (or HD Radio 97.3 FM HD-Channel 3). Subscribe to the podcast here.

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