May 9, 2014

Cycle Tracks in Seattle: Consultation for the Sake of It

A rather interesting dynamic shaping up in Seattle: The strange thing about Ed Murray’s Second Ave. bike lane.

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From the Seattle Times:

Mayor Ed Murray surprised the biking community – and some on the Seattle City Council – at Tuesday’s Cascade Bicycle Club annual Bike to Work breakfast with a sudden fix: a two-way cycle track (separated from traffic) on Second Avenue between Pike Place Market and Pioneer Square, to be constructed beginning in September. …

What’s curious about it is Murray’s method. During his campaign, he frequently pledged to build broad support, bottom-up, for transportation improvements that are not mode-specific. That approach is consistent with the Bike Master Plan just approved by City Council, which includes a prioritization process that still is under way.

But in this case, Murray announced a full-formed plan – the route, the basic design, and a sped-up time schedule – without the usual months of public engagement and meetings.

“That caught an awful lot of people by surprise,” said Seattle City Council member Tom Rasmussen, chair of the city transportation committee, who heard it first at the Tuesday breakfast. He’s spent a year building support for a downtown cycle track, on the belief that a neighborhood – in this case, businesses that may lose sidewalk parking – hate surprises. “When people feel like a plan has happened without consultation, that’s when opposition grows that can be avoided,” said Rasmussen. …

The Seattle City Council had already allotted $2.7 million for a downtown cycle track, but that project wasn’t expected to open until 2015 or  2016, after a community engagement period.

Seattle Department of Transportation spokesman Rick Sheridan said the Second Avenue path is a “pilot project,” of undetermined length. “We are very interested in getting public comment after it opens.”

Jon Scholes of the Downtown Seattle Association said the a pilot project can help determine “what works and what doesn’t as far as the design, location, signage, etc. We like the approach of trying this out and closely monitoring for a period of time to inform how other, more permanent cycle tracks are developed.”

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So, does extensive pre-consultation before moving forward mean more likelihood of success, or does the try-it-out pilot project achieve a faster outcome with similar or better results?

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  1. Post
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    David Sucher tweets in:

    @dsucher

    @pricetags Murray plan must be reversed until we can kill it with citizen participation. Consult-meeting more important than action.

  2. I don’t know this Seattle story, but it seems similar to issues here in Los Angeles. Should cyclists support our Department of Transportation sometimes slamming in bike facilities the same way they’ve historically slammed in car capacity (widening streets, removing parking lanes, etc.)? or do we really push for full inclusive processes? It irritates me when bike facilities are held up by cumbersome processes that car facilities weren’t subject to. There’s a balance somewhere that includes an open, reasonable community process.

    Ideally, the solution is for bicyclists to get out ahead of the curve and do proactive community organizing in favor of great bike facilities… but that takes a lot of time and effort.

  3. Second Avenue’s right of way is huge, and some of that excess width has previously been used to widen sidewalks, public art and the like. All of which has helped revitalize a marginal area by attracting residential and commercial to Belltown. A separated cycle track there sounds like a logical next step for an increasingly popular and lively area and corridor that links the Queen Anne and Seattle Centre areas to downtown, both for commuters and recreational cyclists.