Say good-bye to the city's bicycle and pedestrian programs.
The Seattle Department of Transportion plans to get rid of its groundbreaking bicycle and pedestrian divisions later this year, folding their functions into the department's traffic management division.
SDOT officials say this is a good thing—that it will allow them to integrate bike and ped planning into every project they undertake. "We'll be taking more of a multimodal view and breaking down the silos that [bike and ped advocates] are in now," says SDOT traffic manager Eric Widstrand, who will head up the transition. "I look at it as a positive—we're taking pedestrian and bike needs into account across the board." Instead of having a single advocate for bikers and pedestrians, in other words, planners would include them automatically.
That's the theory, anyway. The reality, some advocates worry, is that it may be too soon to take away their dedicated voice at City Hall. After all, the Bicycle Master Plan just passed a year ago—and it's still the source of constant, heated negotiations between cyclists who want to implement it and drivers who want to water it down. And the Pedestrian Master Plan just passed this week. Shouldn't the city give those plans a little time, see how well they work, before eliminating the offices that made them happen?
"That is something that is going to be a challenge," says Lisa Quinn, executive director of Feet First, the pedestrian advocacy group. Although Feet First generally supports the change, Quinn says she hopes SDOT will "still have a point person" on bike and pedestrian issues.
David Hiller, advocacy director of the Cascade Bicycle Club, urges caution. "I said years ago that I envision a day when... we wouldn't need a special division" to advocate for cyclists' concerns. "Are we ready for it?... Are the protections in place to preserve the thoughtful and complete consideration of the needs of people who have been left out, from an institutional standpoint, for generations? That's a good question."
The proposed changes come at a time of major budget cuts across the city—none deeper than those at SDOT, which Mayor Greg Nickels has proposed cutting 5.4 percent, or between 15 and 30 positions. Although SDOT spokesman Rick Sheridan said he "couldn't say" if the cuts would impact bike and pedestrian advocacy positions, they come just as the city's best-known bike advocate, former bike and ped program director Peter Lagerwey, announced he plans to retire this year after 25 years at the city. (Lagerwey will reportedly join Toole Design—the firm that narrowly won the contract to design the Bicycle Master Plan.)
Will Lagerwey be replaced? If Sheridan knows, he isn't saying. "I don't have the answer. However, the budget issues the city is facing obviously create complications."