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New downtown Seattle bike lanes bring cheers and fears

Bike lanes on Second Avenue. (SDOT)

In the midst of Seattle celebrating the building of a new downtown bike lane, many businesses in the area fear the effect the lanes could have on their ability to operate.

A case arguing for Seattle’s controversial bike lanes

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan hosted a ribbon cutting ceremony on Wednesday, celebrating a new protected bike lane on 8th Avenue and Olive Way. It’s part of the Center City Bike Network, Seattle’s vision to link up protected bike lanes that take people into and through downtown.

The Seattle Department of Transportation said the network has been in the works since 2015. According to SDOT, the project has several goals, including improving safety, increasing ridership, and boosting business. 2019 projects include bike lanes on 8th Avenue, 9th Avenue, and Pike Street.

“The number one goal is safety,” said Dan Anderson, SDOT’s project delivery communications manager. “Make it a good place not only to walk and bike, take the bus and drive, but also to do business.”

Anderson said SDOT does not do economic studies on how bike lanes affect nearby businesses, but he pointed to recent data that showed a spike in ridership when bike lanes are built.

“On 2nd Avenue in downtown, we built protected bike lanes and I believe the number of people biking on 2nd avenue has quadrupled in the few years that we’ve put those in,” he noted.

Citywide, however, the numbers show a different story. Census data show commuting by bike in Seattle hit a 10-year low in 2017, when just 2.8 percent of workers who live in the city biked to work as their main mode of transportation.

Along Pike Street, some business owners said they didn’t see the benefit of adding bike lanes. Many argued against them because they remove parking spots, and citing fear the lanes could drive customers away.

At Romio’s Pizza and Pasta near Pike and Boren, owner Sean Virk was concerned about the removal of 13 parking spots.

“This is the city’s vision to install the bike lanes and they’re going to go ahead with that, and either we like it, or we don’t like it,” said Virk. “Eventually we’ll probably end up closing because I just moved here, [and] put half a million dollars into this place.”

Virk said about 80 percent of his business relies on parking. His delivery drivers use the loading and unloading zone while customers often stop by for pickup. When the new bike lane is complete on Virk’s block, it will leave only one 46-foot loading/unloading zone he’ll share with a hotel and two other businesses, including Pike Grocery.

“We have deliveries four days a week, Monday through Thursday, and mostly 30-footer trucks,” said Pike Grocery owner Michael Danford. “They do sometimes complain that they couldn’t find any parking space.”

Seattle’s plans for more downtown bike lanes

Danford said there are times his delivery trucks won’t fulfill orders when they can’t find parking.

SDOT officials said they worked with business owners to accommodate their needs, but admitted the bike lanes require “in some cases trade-offs or compromises.” Cycling advocates echoed SDOT’s sentiments, while also saying the downtown bike lanes are long overdue.

“If we, as a city, care about keeping people safe we have to actually allocate the space that will allow that to happen,” said Brie Gyncild, co-leader of Central Seattle Greenways. “There are so many competing uses for our space, but for years bicycle safety has been put at the bottom of the list.”

With its new network of downtown bike lanes, Seattle city officials said they’re making bicycle safety a top priority. Over the next six years, using resources from the Levy to Move Seattle, the city will invest $76 million to build over 50 miles of new bike facilities and 29 miles of new projects.

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