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Changing Lanes

Business Leader Kills Stone Way Bike Lane

Curt Doughty

Under pressure from the Fremont Chamber of Commerce and the unofficial "Mayor of Fremont," Fremont property owner Suzie Burke, Mayor Greg Nickels eliminated an important link in the Bicycle Master Plan adopted by the city earlier this year. The new plan eliminates a planned bike lane on Stone Way North that would have connected the Burke-Gilman Trail to Wallingford, Fremont, and other North End neighborhoods. Representatives of the mayor, the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT), and the city's bike program did not return repeated calls requesting an explanation of the analysis they used to justify cutting the bike lane—an analysis that ranges, on its face, from questionable to downright bizarre.

Eliminating the bike lane, which would have reduced Stone Way south of North 40th Street to three through lanes for cars and trucks, allows the city to keep Stone Way four lanes wide between North 50th Street and the Ship Canal. But it may erode the bike plan's impact throughout the city, as neighborhood activists in places like Fauntleroy, where residents also oppose a bike lane included in the bike plan, feel empowered to exert pressure on the mayor. "What this [decision] says is that all you have to do is have a small group of folks who scream loud enough," says David Hiller, policy director for the Cascade Bicycle Club. "Everything's back on the table."

To bike activists, who fought hard to get the city to adopt a master plan for bike lanes and other facilities throughout the city, that's a big disappointment. The 10-year bike plan, despite its flaws (neglecting the South End), is the biggest step the city has taken yet to improve safety and access for bike riders in Seattle.

Burke says she only opposes the bike lane because she wants to keep Stone Way safe for industrial traffic. "Stone Way is a pretty heavy truck corridor," Burke says. "Personally, I'm concerned about squeezing those trucks. It's pretty important to keep the industrial folks moving." Hiller counters that the businesses on Stone Way—which include a hardware store, a lumber shop, and an office machine and repair shop—don't cater primarily to big trucks. "Almost nothing along there is light industrial," Hiller says. "It's mostly wholesale or retail to [industrial] trades." Because the Fremont Bridge has been under construction for years, the city hasn't counted truck traffic since 2001, when it found that the proportion of traffic made up by trucks and Metro buses on Stone Way and North 35th Street ranged from 1.7 to 11 percent.

Hiller also disputes the analysis the mayor and SDOT have used to justify their decision, which assumes huge spikes in traffic from 2001 levels. For example, the city estimates westbound through traffic on Stone Way will increase nearly ninefold from 2001 levels in the next three years, that right-turning traffic onto Stone Way at 35th Street will increase fivefold, and that traffic turning south onto 35th Street will increase by a factor of 10. Those numbers are completely out of whack with citywide traffic forecasts, which predict that bike commuting will continue to rise and car commuting will continue to drop. At the current rate of growth, 5 percent of Seattle commuters will get to work by bike in the next decade, according to Hiller; given that, he asks, "Why would we make any plans based on continuing the existing paradigm?"

Using the 2001 numbers generated by the city, Hiller's group commissioned its own analysis by Sprinkle Consulting, a Florida-based engineering and planning group. This analysis found that, even using extremely conservative assumptions (doubling the average number of trucks on Stone Way, for example), a three-lane Stone Way with a bike lane would be more than adequate to serve cars, trucks, and bike commuters.

The mayor, who also agreed to close the Burke-Gilman Trail through Fremont for an extra year after Burke complained that having the trail open would interfere with her development plans, has frequently bragged about his "green" credentials. Earlier this year, the mayor endorsed, and the council adopted, a so-called "Complete Streets" policy toward transportation planning, which mandates that the city prioritize "improv[ing] travel conditions for bicyclists, pedestrians, transit, and freight." The mayor's turnaround also defies the city's comprehensive plan—which mandates that the city "increase walking and bicycling" and "promote safe and convenient bicycle and pedestrian access throughout the transportation system"—and the city's Climate Action Plan, which calls for investments that "make it easier to walk or bike in Seattle." recommended

barnett@thestranger.com
 

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