Westlake Ave. group drops challenge to city bicycle plan
A challenge to Seattle’s updated Bicycle Master Plan has been withdrawn, which means the City Council can now vote on it.
Seattle Times staff reporter
An obstacle that temporarily halted Seattle’s updated Bicycle Master Plan was removed last week when a challenge to the Westlake Avenue North section was withdrawn.
The master plan includes a bicycle track on Westlake to provide a flat, low-stress route that physically separates bicyclists from motor traffic with a raised barrier and that connects various routes for bicyclists in the city.
Plans put forth by the Seattle Department of Transportation, however, were met with opposition from a group of 130 people who live, work and manage buildings along Westlake.
In addition to negative economic impacts, the 1.7-mile protected bike lane from Lake Union Park to south of the Fremont Bridge would actually decrease safety by attracting more bicyclists to an already dangerous heavy-traffic area , the Westlake Stakeholders Group said.
The group’s appeal of the city’s environmental review of the Bicycle Master Plan update in December put a hold on the city’s entire plan, because the City Council couldn’t approve it while an appeal was pending.
Cycle-track advocates, mostly avid bicyclists, responded in various ways, including holding mobile demonstrations called “bike policy rides,” writing letters and, in some cases, painting the Westlake Stakeholders Group as anti-bicycle.
The two sides have come to an agreement, for now. The Westlake Stakeholders Group dropped its appeal last week and entered a settlement with SDOT to form a committee to advise the project team.
With the appeal withdrawn, the City Council will now be able to vote on the plan.
According to SDOT, Westlake Avenue North was the second-most requested area for bicycle-safety improvements in the 2007 Bicycle Master Plan. Bicycle safety has been a concern there for decades, Seattle City Council Transportation Committee Chair Tom Rasmussen said.
“Westlake has been viewed as an ideal bicycling route for years, but it has been recognized that there are significant improvements that need to be added to it before it can be a safe and comfortable bicycle route,” he said.
Rasmussen said that although cycling on Westlake Avenue North has been a known concern, the city hadn’t pursued it until now.
“They (the City Council) know how sensitive an issue it is to plan for a cycle route in that area,” Rasmussen said.
When Westlake Stakeholders learned of plans for the $3.6 million cycle track last summer, they expressed concern about traffic, safety and economic impacts, and about the potential decrease in the number of parking spots when the cycle track is built, according to Cam Strong, a moorage tenant on Lake Union for 25 years.
Building the cycle track could take space from a parking area, which has about 1,200 spaces. Parking in the vicinity is often at capacity, especially during the busy summer season, Strong said.
“Maps don’t show how many things are behind the buildings that are all dependent on the parking area,” Strong said, referring to the more than 300 floating homes and live-aboards and 19 marinas that provide moorage for 1,200 boats.
Members also said a protected bicycle track might not be safe enough for high-speed cyclists riding on a designated freight route that already has heavy vehicle and pedestrian traffic.
“We’re not anti-bicycle,” said Pamela Hale, Marina Mart property manager. “In fact, we are pro-bike. And pro-bike safety.”
However, Thomas Goldstein, government affairs and policy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, said a cycle track would significantly improve the safety of riders on the road. In late January, the organization held a “policy ride” along Westlake Avenue North. More than 80 bicyclists participated.
A protected track, Goldstein said, would prevent cyclists from having to choose whether to ride on the sidewalk, through a parking lot or in the street.
“As a bicyclist, you want predictability,” Goldstein said. “It’s a key piece of what is needed on Westlake.”
The stakeholders group worked with Mayor Ed Murray’s office and City Councilmember Sally Bagshaw to come up with the compromise — withdrawing the appeal and forming an advisory committee, Hansen said.
The Westlake members and Goldstein said they commended the office for resolving a difficult situation, while Murray said in a statement last Friday that he is pleased creation of the committee will address the community’s concerns without halting the Bicycle Master Plan.
“We hope this opens up dialogue,” Goldstein said. “We hope to work with the city, SDOT and the Westlake Stakeholders Group to forge a really spectacular protected bike lane, and a really successful Westlake.”
Paige Cornwell: 206-464-2530 or firstname.lastname@example.org