Seattle installed these bike racks last year as part of its Homelessness Emergency Response effort.
Seattle installed these bike racks last year as part of its "Homelessness Emergency Response effort." PHOTO COURTESY OF JEFF FEW

The Seattle Department of Transportation plans to relocate a line of bike racks it installed last year to discourage homeless camping.

The Stranger first reported on the bike racks in December with the help of a public records request from a nearby resident who wondered why the city would install racks in an area that sees little bike parking. Emails uncovered in that records request showed SDOT staffers discussing the racks as a strategy to prevent camping on the sidewalk in that area. In total, the racks and installation cost about $6,700, according to SDOT.

In a council briefing Monday, Council Member Mike O'Brien said SDOT "will be at some point making a commitment to relocate those." Today, SDOT confirmed to Publicola that the department "plans to remove the bike racks after a location is identified to ensure the greatest use to bicyclists in Seattle."

After our initial reporting, we reached out to the mayor and all nine city council members about the bike racks. Most council members did not respond. Mayor Jenny Durkan said, "Bike racks should be deployed to support and encourage biking – not used as impediments." In a letter to SDOT, Council Member Teresa Mosqueda said, "It is unacceptable that bike infrastructure funding be expressly used for displacing those who are unsheltered."

Nearly 12,000 people in King County were experiencing homelessness at last count, about 8,500 of them in Seattle. Countywide, a little more than half of people experiencing homelessness live in shelters. The rest live on the streets or in vehicles, abandoned buildings, and tents.

In the briefing Monday, Mosqueda called SDOT's response "good news."

O'Brien cited the broader issue of hostile architecture—including the bike racks and benches with arm rests in the middle to prevent sleeping—"used to specifically make life more miserable for people that are experiencing homelessness."

“The solution to homelessness is not going to be achieved through making life more miserable for people that are struggling," O'Brien said. "Also, we have a lot of demand for good bike infrastructure and we shouldn’t be spending it on places where people aren’t looking for bike infrastructure."

SDOT will speak to council members about the bike racks during a meeting beginning at 2 pm. I'll update this post after that meeting.

UPDATE: Today’s meeting offered little new information about the bike racks or any other hostile architecture in the city.

Council Member Mike O’Brien, who chairs the council’s transportation committee, said he invited interim SDOT director Goran Sparrman to today’s council meeting, but Sparrman “chose not to be here.”

O’Brien pointed to the statements SDOT has given to media about their plans to move the racks, but said he does not know when that will happen. Council Member Teresa Mosqueda said she was "appreciative of this move today” and the city should "continue to evaluate what we do with the limited resources that we do have."

O’Brien and Council Member Kshama Sawant both characterized the bike racks as part of a larger trend of anti-homeless efforts, including fencing. Sawant said that money should instead be used to support homeless shelters facing budget cuts.

“I think there's a bigger question about hostile architecture,” O’Brien said. “My hope is to get some clarity about what the department director is going to be doing in the near future before we waste money on any more projects that don’t make sense."