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Originally published Monday, August 16, 2010 at 10:00 PM

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Nicole Brodeur

Bike lanes wobbly idea for N.E. 125th

It's expected that a politician, once in office, will tend to his pet projects before getting to other things.

Seattle Times staff columnist

It's expected that a politician, once in office, will tend to his pet projects before getting to other things.

So it's no surprise that Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn is supporting sacrificing car lanes in favor of bike lanes all over the city. He's a cyclist and a Sierra Clubber with an eye for preserving the environment.

But these new lanes may be exacerbating the hostile relationship between cyclists who use main roads and the motorists who would prefer to call them their own.

Moreover, they may be shoring the reputation of the man some call "Mayor McSchwinn," and the belief that he is forcing the entire city to follow his two-wheeled lead, while ignoring residents' concerns about safety, business viability and whether cyclists should be licensed to help pay for all the dedicated lanes they're getting.

You can track this little storm along Northeast 125th Street, which the city is planning to convert from four to two lanes, with bike lanes and a left-turn lane — a change known as a "road diet."

The proposal has gotten a lousy reception because people felt sideswiped from the start.

Residents and business owners say the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) didn't give them any notice of the plan.

SDOT argues that it sent information to neighborhood blogs and libraries, put door hangers on homes and businesses on Northeast 125th and sent e-mails to 350 other area residents. Why else would more than 100 people attend a recent open house?

Others don't understand why Northeast 125th was even chosen. Not a lot of cyclists use the road because it has a steep incline — an 8.5 percent grade.

Why give them their own lanes?

Moreover, the road is a key route from Interstate 5 to Lake City Way.

Why narrow it?

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The only thing people don't question is the fact that too many people speed on that road.

I don't think forcing four busy lanes of traffic into two is really the way to slow things down.

Instead, it may turn an east-west thoroughfare into a thorough crawl, sending more cars racing down side streets, while heating up the already bad relations between riders and drivers.

To be fair, bike lanes seem to be working on Fauntleroy Way Southwest and on Dexter Avenue North, where there is room for them. In the case of Dexter, cars can drop down to Westlake Avenue North if need be.

But I don't understand why already-crowded arterials are being cut in half to make room for cyclists who have other options.

Why not run the bike lanes on the roads less traveled, those tucked in between main east-west thoroughfares? They're quieter, safer and would cut way back on the driver-cyclist confrontations that come when you try to put too many moving vehicles on too narrow a strip of asphalt. Throw in the tension of a work- or kid-related commute, and air doesn't get any cleaner, believe me.

The bike lane on 130th seems to be working just fine — is a five-block detour too much to ask?

I appreciate the city trying to make more room on the roads for those who are getting out of their cars and — presumably — cutting down traffic congestion.

But when you essentially halve the traffic flow on major arterials, you're only making a tough situation worse.

What do you think? Is McSchwinn getting us anywhere, or just taking us for a spin?

Nicole Brodeur's column appears Tuesday and Friday. Reach her at 206-464-2334 or nbrodeur@seattletimes.com.

A cruiser. Off-road. I'm slow.

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About Nicole Brodeur

My column is more a conversation with readers than a spouting of my own views. I like to think that, in writing, I lay down a bridge between readers and me. It is as much their space as mine. And it is a place to tell the stories that, otherwise, may not get into the paper.
nbrodeur@seattletimes.com | 206-464-2334

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