Neighborhoods across Seattle have balked at having their streets changed to accommodate bike and pedestrian traffic, claiming that businesses will suffer and traffic congestion will spike. Now, Seattle's Manufacturing Industrial Council (MIC) has joined the fray with a new angle on this argument: Some roads just can't coexist with bike lanes and wider sidewalks, period.
On August 24, the MIC lobbied Seattle City Council president Richard Conlin to stop the city's plans to add lanes for bicyclists and sidewalk buffers to sections of Airport Way South and East Marginal Way—changes that Georgetown residents helped develop on the two designated freight roads.
However, rather than warn about struggling local businesses or scary traffic congestion, as various neighborhood groups have, the MIC just gets right to its self-interested point: "A bike plan should not be the only policy document guiding a decision that impacts Boeing Field," says MIC president Dave Gering. "Bicyclists trying to navigate the Duwamish have options. Trucks servicing Boeing don't." Gering goes on to point out that the Washington State Growth Management Act preserves a handful of Seattle roads, including these, as designated truck routes. "The policies are meant to protect these roads from gentrification and becoming less industrial," Gering says. "We have 900 new jobs at Boeing. They're increasing their production from 33 to 38 planes a month, and these two roads are designed to support freight service to and from Boeing." Meaning: bikes not welcome, and pedestrians beware.
The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) says so-called road diets wouldn't affect the roads' current or future freight capacity. A six-block stretch of Airport Way passing through the heart of Georgetown (between Corson Avenue South and 13th Avenue) would be repaved. All-day free parking would open up on the west side of Airport Way. Curbs would be rebuilt to pop into the street and make it safer—and easier—for pedestrians to cross. Meanwhile, a bike route would be created along Marginal Way, connecting the area to the South Park Bridge, once it's rebuilt.
Brian Dougherty, a road planner at SDOT, says the road diets could accommodate current and future levels of freight. Gering of the MIC calls the analysis "laughably bad."
As Gering sees it, there are two options: suspend the road diets and call a "Freight-Bike Summit" to discuss other alternatives for cyclists or possibly challenge the city's changes before the Growth Management Hearings Board. Right now, they're not considering the latter. "We believe—perhaps naively so—that there are still adults at City Hall who can see some wisdom on this issue," says Gering. SDOT, meanwhile, is not backing down. "We're not taking away the freight roads at all; they're still designated truck routes," says Dougherty. "We don't think these changes will have a negative impact on freight; they'll have positive impacts on business."