In the Hall
"Tunnel Lite" Emerges; Details on Bike Demotion; Bike Board Controversy
Council members and the mayor's office have been loath to say how they will respond to Governor Christine Gregoire's demand that they put two viaduct-replacement options on the ballot. But on Tuesday, January 16, with Gregoire's January 19 deadline fast approaching, observers speculated that council members and the mayor were preparing to make a big announcement Wednesday, January 17, after The Stranger went to press. That announcement would reportedly serve as a campaign kickoff of sorts for the "Tunnel Lite," so called because, at just four lanes, it would be smaller and have less traffic capacity than the mayor's original preference, a six-lane tunnel. The smaller tunnel has been controversial because it would lower the waterfront's car capacity by about a third, and because it would bypass the center city, forcing downtown traffic onto slower surface streets.
Supporters of the surface/transit alternative, including the People's Waterfront Coalition, the Sierra Club, and Friends of Seattle, "don't support any freeway," including the tunnel, PWC founder Cary Moon says. "Our position is that we should get started with the [city's traffic] mitigation package," which contains many elements of the surface/transit proposal, "while we keep trying to work on a common solution."
More details have emerged about the recent demotion of Peter Lagerwey, the former head of the city's bike and pedestrian program and a 22-year city veteran. The final straw reportedly came when Lagerwey allowed the appointment of Bicycle Advisory Board nominee Catherine Staunton, a pediatrician and advocate for separate bike facilities, to move forward. Staunton opposes many aspects of the master plan, and voiced those concerns at her confirmation hearing earlier this month. The plan, she told the council, "does not address safety issues. I think it's designed for bicycle enthusiasts." A more "visionary plan," Staunton suggested, would move bikers to segregated trails and paths. Cascade Bicycle Club advocacy director David Hiller, in contrast, believes bikers should be taught to act like cars. "It doesn't work from an engineering standpoint" to separate bikes from traffic, Hiller said.
Although Lagerwey didn't have a direct say in the nomination, one of Lagerwey's deputies helped facilitate it. That employee, the only person at the city working full-time on the city's Bike Spot Improvement Program, was moved out of the bike office; Lagerwey, meanwhile, was replaced by a pedestrian-safety expert. It's unclear what the changes will mean, long-term, for the program, which is gearing up to implement the city's first bike master plan; SDOT spokesman Gregg Hirakawa called the reassignments an "HR matter" and wouldn't comment further.
Some bike advocates worry that Staunton will slow down the bike master plan, which is currently being considered by the advisory board. At least one council member, Peter Steinbrueck, said he was "definitely interested" in learning more about Staunton's objections to the master plan. However, Staunton said Tuesday that she would "probably resign" from the advisory board over the controversy. "It's kind of been a disconcerting process," Staunton said.