The elimination of a long-planned bike lane along Stone Way North between North 34th and 40th Streets [Erica C. Barnett, "Changing Lanes," The Stranger (July 18, 2007)] has prompted plans for a protest by biking advocates who say the city is abandoning its commitment to its adopted Bicycle Master Plan. The lane would have gone the stretch of Stone Way that links the Burke-Gilman Trail to Fremont and Wallingford. Suzie Burke, a longtime Fremont developer with extensive property holdings in the area, opposed the bike lane, which would have eliminated one car lane in each direction, because, she said, it would make it hard for the "industrial" businesses in the area to maneuver their trucks. However, bike proponents point out that the only industrial businesses on Stone Way are those that sell products, like lumber, electrical supplies, and paint, to industrial customers; meanwhile, many of the other businesses on Stone Way, including the Pacific Inn Pub and the Speedy Reedy bike-supply store, cater largely to a bike-bound clientele.
Mayor Greg Nickels has said repeatedly that he wants to make Seattle the "best biking city in the country." But by caving in to pressure from Burke, Nickels has made that goal less likely. Nickels's turnaround also goes against the intent of the city's recently approved Bicycle Master Plan, its pro-bike Complete Streets planning policy, and the citywide comprehensive plan. And it flies in the face of the trend toward bike commuting in Seattle: According to Cascade Bicycle Club advocacy director David Hiller, the proportion of commuters who get to work by bike will increase from 2.3 percent to 5 percent in the next decade.
Nova Clawson—a bike, bus, and pedestrian commuter who has never owned a car—says that if Nickels and the council "are as committed to a greener Seattle as they say they are, they can prove it by following the recommendations of the Bicycle Master Plan they helped commission. We are not just alternatives to traffic—we are traffic."
Fremont bikers—already incensed at Nickels for agreeing to keep a segment of the Burke-Gilman Trail through Fremont closed at Burke's behest (her company, Fremont Dock Co., is developing an office building along the trail)—are organizing a protest ride for next week along the two disputed routes. The point, according to a message board about the ride, will be "to clog up lower Fremont at rush hour" by taking the city's bicycling advice literally—riding along 34th Avenue where it parallels the Burke-Gilman Trail, and riding in the traffic lane along Stone Way. Creating a (legal) critical mass of bikers will illustrate the point that giving bikers nowhere to ride (except in car lanes) isn't good for anyone—bikers, cars, or Burke's mythical 18-wheelers.
Clawson says that protest organizers want the city to reopen the Burke-Gilman Trail or come up with a safer solution than the current bike lane on 34th Street, which is frequently occupied by cars; penalize developers who close sidewalks and trails such as the Burke-Gilman; and add bike lanes on Stone Way between 34th and 40th Streets.
According to statistics maintained by the Seattle Department of Transportation, between one and three bike/vehicle accidents on Stone Way are reported to police every year. The actual number, however, may be higher, because it's likely that not every accident is reported to police. The number of accidents is higher south of 40th Street, along the segment of Stone Way where the bike lane was killed.
Hiller, whose organization is not affiliated with ride organizers, says the city's proposed solution—replacing the planned dedicated bike lane with a "sharrow," with lane markings to indicate that bikes can travel in the lane along with cars—will likely lead to worse traffic and more accidents. "When I've got a truck behind me and I'm going uphill at 12 miles an hour and he wants to go 25, you're looking for conflict." Riding next to the line of parked cars, meanwhile, puts cyclists in the "door zone"—an area that extends about three feet from cars in which doors can hit cyclists.
Details about the protest ride can be found online at firstname.lastname@example.org