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Originally published August 14, 2010 at 8:46 PM | Page modified August 14, 2010 at 9:32 PM

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Lake City residents angry over city bike-lane plan

Northeast Seattle neighbors are unhappy with plans to convert Northeast 125th Street from four lanes to two and add bicycle lanes.

Seattle Times staff reporter

When Walt Keith, manager of an Ace Hardware Store in Lake City, learned about the city's plan to turn Northeast 125th Street from a four-lane to a two-lane road with bike lanes, he fired off a letter to Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

He said he was tired of the city ruining businesses and tired of the city catering to bicyclists. "I'm just against it," he said.

He added a P.S.: "If you're just going to send me a form letter, don't do it."

He got a form letter back from the mayor.

Anger is racing through the Pinehurst neighborhood on Northeast 125th Street over the city's plans to convert it from four to two lanes, with a center turn lane and bike lanes.

Critics say the road is too congested — it's a key route from Interstate 5 to Lake City Way — and the hill, with an 8.5 percent grade, is too steep for bicyclists.

"Nobody rides up that hill on a bicycle," said resident Mauri Stach, who's lived in the neighborhood for 44 years.

City officials say it's a safety issue and the changes will reduce speeds and provide pedestrian and bicycle access on the busy east-west roadway. They say many drivers now go at speeds far above the posted 30-mph limit.

The city says the change would not affect capacity on the road.

Sandra Woods, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT)'s leader on the project, said 33 percent of accidents on the city's minor arterial streets cause injuries. On Northeast 125th, the number is 51 percent.

According to SDOT, the capacity for a two-lane road is about 25,000 vehicles per day, and Northeast 125th now carries about 16,200 daily. The city doesn't have figures on the number of bicyclists who use the street.

Residents complain that the city was working to change the road without notifying them.

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"It's so insulting and offensive: No one in the neighborhood knew about it. It's sneaky and underhanded," said resident Debra Jarvis, who said the issue has galvanized the neighborhood. She said she bikes to work, but putting bike lanes on steep 125th makes no sense. "Why not put bike lanes on Mount Everest?" she said.

She also said the change will clog the street. "It will be congested. It will be a snarling mess."

David Hiller, advocacy director of Cascade Bicycle Club, said the change is a safety project, not a bicycle project. "There's a higher percentage of injury crashes" on that street, he said. "If any roadway could use rechannelization, 125th is on the top of the list."

He said bikers don't use 125th "because it's a hostile, dangerous situation. No one wants to be there. The folks are trying to confuse the issue. The fact we can improve conditions for bikes is a win-win. It's hard to understand how an adult can come to the conclusions that neighbors have come to."

Peter Lukevich, president of the Lake City Chamber of Commerce, said his group opposes the change and complained that the city gave the neighborhood little notice. "It was woefully lacking in timing, miserably lacking in the notification process," he said.

Lukevich also said the business community is trying to create a business-improvement district in Lake City, and this could damage those plans.

"We have some grave concerns about bicyclists using the steep grade eastbound and having to be alongside traffic," he said.

Woods said the city did give notice, sent information to neighborhood blogs and libraries and put door hangers on all homes and businesses on Northeast 125th Street, as well as sending e-mail notices to 350 other area residents.

"SDOT conducted a thorough outreach effort to inform the community of the proposed changes for Northeast 125th Street," she said. "The 100-plus attendees at our 125th open house are a clear sign that the outreach was thorough and effective."

Resident Lisa Brihagen said 125th is one of two main arterials between I-5 and Lake City Way. "It's a huge main arterial and it flows tons of traffic, not just people in the neighborhood," she said. "The road will be backed up to I-5. People will start avoiding 125th and go through the neighborhoods, which is what nobody wants."

While McGinn has been pushing for more bike lanes in the city, the proposed change to 125th predates him, said McGinn spokesman Aaron Pickus. It was identified by SDOT in 2009, before McGinn was in office, Pickus said, pointing out that the road was also identified in the bicycle and pedestrian master plan as a high-speed corridor that needed to be addressed.

Brihagen's husband, Erik, is a bike commuter and said he rarely rides on 125th.

"Congestion will slow traffic, and congestion will make it harder for anyone to turn left off Northeast 125th, and congestion will make the use of Northeast 125th worse for everyone — except the commuting cyclists who don't use the hill anyway. Wow, what a novel way to enforce the law: enforcement through congestion."

Phillip Duggan, president of the Pinehurst Community Council, said the council has no official position on the proposed changes to Northeast 125th, but he supports it. He said every time the community has been polled, concern about speeds on 125th is high on the list. "This isn't a solution, but an improvement," he said.

While no one denies that Northeast 125th Street is a steep roadway, it's far from being the city's steepest. According to SDOT, that is East Roy Street on Capitol Hill, from 25th to 26th avenues east, where the grade is 21 percent.

Woods, the SDOT project leader, said the city will consider comments from the neighbors before making a decision, which could be delayed until next year. She said the project cost is relatively low, about $60,000, because it would mean just repainting the street.

If the city adopts the "road diet" for Northeast 125th Street, it will be the 27th new street configuration since 1972. Other such changes include Stone Way and Nickerson Street.

Susan Gilmore: 206-464-2054 or sgilmore@seattletimes.com

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