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What is being built, or not, under Seattle’s new Bicycle Master Plan

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

Seattle has released its latest edition of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan, which proposes further impacts for both cyclists and drivers.

“Drivers downtown will see new bicycle facilities being built starting this year,” said Jim Curtin, interim director of project development for the Seattle Department of Transportation. “We will be working on streets like Pike and Pine to connect downtown Seattle to Capitol Hill where we have really high demand for bike facilities. We will be working on the north end on 8th Avenue and 9th Avenue as well as Bell Street to create really solid connections between the Westlake protected bike facility and all the businesses in South lake Union. That will also connect up to 2nd Avenue.”

“Drivers will also notice later this year that we will be working on connecting the south end of downtown to various facilities out there,” he said. “We’ll be connecting from 2nd Avenue via Main Street and 5th Avenue through the ID to connect folks who want to bike to and from the south end of the city. And long term we are looking at bike facilities on 4th Avenue as well.”

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Changes to downtown’s limited street space is certain to raise concerns over loss of lanes and room for vehicles. Curtin says that there will be no loss of lanes.

“There will be some subtle tweaks (drivers) will see out there, so changes to the way that turns are handled,” he said. “Whereas now drivers may see just a simple green ball at intersections, that will go to more protected turns where drivers will see a green arrow.”

The city aims to have 11 more miles of new bike lanes by the end of 2019.

Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan

Seattle’s Bicycle Master Plan is a long-term vision for building out bike infrastructure throughout the city. The plan was originally passed in 2014. The city is required to produce an implementation report annually that covers progress on the plan. That report also provides updates on the master plan – accounting for changes in construction costs or priorities.

“Whether they are built in 2020 or 2021, what you will read in this implementation plan, which was published a few hours ago, will be built by the city of Seattle,” Curtin said.

“What you see with this new plan here is a new approach from the city than what we’ve seen in the past,” he said, noting that accountability is an increased priority in the latest edition.

“Whenever we impact parking or have to change the design of a street, those are challenges we have to work through with each and every community,” he said. “We are trying to be really upfront about those challenges that we see on those projects so that everyone understands what we are facing before we go out there.”

Criticism and more projects

But other challenges have come in the form of ire drawn from the city’s bike community. The city has cancelled bike projects in the past. And as The Seattle Times notes, many projects in the current plan are not officially funded.

“Yes, there are some projects that were previously in the plan that are no longer in there,” Curtin said.

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“They are not being dropped, they are being deferred,” he said. “We are just not going to fund them right now. To frame it that way is not the proper way to do it. The projects that have been taken off the list will be built at some point down the road. They are just not going to be prioritized for construction at this time.”

Still, Curtin says that there are bike projects worth boasting about.

“There are some good things in the plan,” he said. “First of all, there are a bunch of new projects in the plan. One of the things we heard from the outreach we did is that folks want to connect downtown Seattle with Southeast Seattle. So you’ll see that we will be building about a mile of new protected bike facilities on Martin Luther King between I-90 and the Mount Baker Light Rail Station at Rainier Avenue South.”

The city is also advancing planning for routes along Beacon Avenue, from Jose Rizal Bridge to 39th Avenue South – about five miles.

“We are also working on efforts to connect Georgetown, South Park, and SoDo to downtown Seattle as well,” Curtin said.

KIRO Radio’s Diane Duthweiler contributed to this report.

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