This past Monday, September 8, down on Second Avenue—an infamously dangerous road for cyclists—city officials proudly inaugurated a new bicycle track. The track features plastic pylons that separate two-way bike lanes from car traffic. Light signals also show when cyclists have the right-of-way. A network of cycle tracks is supposed to be built around the city as part of Seattle's Bicycle Master Plan. But an important question remains: Is the Seattle City Council actually committed to funding that plan?
According to city documents, the council has instead taken steps to avoid creating financial benchmarks or accountability.
Last fall, former mayor Mike McGinn sent the council legislation for a new Bicycle Master Plan. His original bill pledged $20 million a year, according to records obtained from the Seattle city clerk's office, and called for spending a total of $391 million to $523 million over two decades. "The Council hereby adopts a funding goal of $20 million per year," the resolution said. A fiscal note added, "$20 million... would be spent each year for 20 years."
The council passed its version of the resolution—which is nonbinding but states the city's long-term commitment—in April and trumpeted its success, saying their legislation "ensures bicycling in Seattle is safe and comfortable for users of all ages and abilities."
But, it turns out, the council stripped out the section about funding benchmarks, arguably the most important part of the legislation. In the version they passed, there's no mention of $20 million a year, no two-decade goal.
Why did the council remove the city's funding pledge? And is the council really committed to funding this plan in the future?
I took those questions down to the city's cycle-track press conference.
But while politicians were happy to celebrate the new cycle track, when asked to pledge the full $20 million a year to fund the city's bike-safety plan, they all declined. Council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen refused, saying—as the council has said for years—officials must consider competing funding commitments. Council Member Sally Bagshaw and Mayor Ed Murray also refused to pledge to fund the annual target.
It's an odd position for the same council that found $930 million a few years ago to help fund the state's deep-bore tunnel freeway (the drill for which is currently stuck under downtown).
And why did the council remove funding targets from the bike bill? Rasmussen couldn't answer, saying only that the council received "a flurry of letters from McGinn" last fall. It must be said: The Bicycle Master Plan was not a "letter," it was a formal piece of legislation. Rasmussen's bill was a nearly verbatim copy of the original sent by the mayor; the council apparently just stripped out key language about paying for bicycle safety.
Pressed again on why, Rasmussen looked hopefully toward the television cameras and said, "Let's have another reporter who may want to ask questions."
I have a better idea: Let's hear the council and mayor pledge to fully fund the Bicycle Master Plan.