The city's Bicycle Master Plan calls for the biggest expansion of bike facilities in the city's history—a prescription that has already led to battles between residents who want to keep pavement open for car traffic and cyclists who say the bike plan is being whittled away one lane at a time. One major upcoming battle will center around Fauntleroy Way in West Seattle, where some cyclists want to put the street on a "road diet"—eliminating one lane in each direction and adding bike lanes on each side.
Before the city gets into the debate on Fauntleroy, it should take a look at the ridiculous fiasco that ensued the last time it bowed to neighborhood opposition on a similar project: a proposed bike lane on Stone Way, which ended up wasting six months and more than $20,000 of the city's money.
Last summer, the city scrapped plans to stripe the 13-block-long bike lane on Stone Way, citing concerns by "some business owners," as a letter from Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) director Grace Crunican put it, that taking out a lane of traffic would lead to unacceptably high traffic congestion. Armed with a report commissioned by one such business owner—Fremont property owner Suzie Burke—SDOT said it would need six months to study the issue. Meanwhile, in lieu of a separate lane for cyclists, the city decided to paint Stone Way with "sharrows"—small lane markings that indicate that cars and bikes are supposed to share the lane of traffic. Cycling activists generally prefer separate lanes to sharrows, because they give both bikes and cars more room to maneuver.
Fast-forward seven months to March 2008, when the city announced, with little fanfare, that it was removing the northbound sharrows and replacing them with a bike lane and a two-way center lane despite its initial concerns. In a letter to residents around Stone Way, Crunican said SDOT had "conducted several traffic counts [which] showed that traffic volumes along the corridor have remained the same and congestion has not increased over the past six months... In addition, we found some miscalculations in the original consultant study which, when corrected, revealed that the anticipated problem did not exist." Asked about the nature of those "miscalculations," Sheridan said the report that Burke commissioned had overestimated the number of cars at North 35th Street and Stone Way. "It was hard for us to guess why those numbers were so far off, but when we broke down the numbers, it was very clear that there was a problem... that led to an erroneous conclusion."
SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan estimates that the work on Stone Way cost the city $20,000, not counting the work time of SDOT traffic engineering specialist Eric Widstrand, who analyzed the numbers SDOT used to justify eliminating the bike lane. Nor does it include a safety study on sharrows reportedly commissioned by the city—a study the city has yet to release.
Of course, none of those conclusions should have surprised SDOT: Bike activists and this paper ["Changing Lanes," Erica C. Barnett, July 19, 2007] pointed out that the numbers for that intersection seemed shockingly high—in some cases, 5 and even 10 times above current levels by 2010. That prediction made little sense given that, at the time, car traffic numbers were actually going down. SDOT should look at what happened when it indulged angry business interests in Fremont before it caves to similar anti-bike-lane interests elsewhere.