HOT AIR Council Member Tom Rasmussen, speaking, wont commit to funding the citys bicycle safely plan. To the right, Mayor Ed Murray and Council Member Sally Bagshaw also wont commit to fully funding the plan.
  • DH
  • Council Member Tom Rasmussen, speaking, won't commit to funding the city's bicycle safely plan. To the right, Mayor Ed Murray and Council Member Sally Bagshaw also won't commit to fully funding the plan.

This morning on Second Avenue—which is infamously dangerous for cyclists—city officials proudly inaugurated a new bicycle track. The track features plastic pylons that separate the two-way bike lanes from car traffic and light signals that show the cyclists' right-of-way. A network of these sort of cycle tracks is supposed to be built around downtown and various other parts of the city as part of the Bicycle Master Plan. But the question is: Is the Seattle City Council actually committed to funding the plan?

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My research has found the council took steps to avoid financial benchmarks or accountability.

Last fall, former mayor Mike McGinn sent the city council legislation for a new Bicycle Master Plan. His bill pledged $20 million a year, according to records obtained from the Seattle City Clerk's office, and called for 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 originally 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 serves as the touchstone for future budgets—in April and trumpeted its success, saying their legislation “ensures bicycling in Seattle is safe and comfortable for users of all ages and abilities.” Sounds good, right? But it turns out, the council stripped out the section about the funding benchmarks, which are arguably the most important part of the legislation. There's no mention of $20 million a year in the resolution, no two-decade goal of $391 million to $523 million.

Why did the council remove the city’s funding pledge? Who made the call? And is the council actually committed to funding this plan?

I took those questions to the press conference this morning.

After all, a lofty plan that lacks financial milestones rings particularly hollow given the council's track record. In 2007, the council approved an older bike plan that required $24 million a year, but as I reported last week, the council underfunded the previous bike plan by three-fifths. Some years the council allocated only about $7 million. Is this latest plan just another hot-air promise?

The question was particularly relevant 10 days after Sher Kung was killed while riding her bicycle on Second Avenue. Politicians were all smiles as they introduced a protected bicycle lane along Second Avenue that included features that may have prevented Kung’s accident. That cycle track was built years ahead of schedule thanks to Mayor Ed Murray. The new bike plan will cost tens of millions of dollars, but the money must be approved by the city council.

The Second Avenue cycle track shows where cyclists have right-of-way and traffic signals that tell vehicles when they cannot turn into the bike lane.
  • The Second Avenue cycle track shows where cyclists have right-of-way and traffic signals that are supposed to tell vehicles when they cannot turn into the bike lane. However, moments after I took this photo, a driver still turned left despite having the red light.
For his part, council transportation chair Tom Rasmussen refused to pledge the $20 million a year required to fund the bicycle plan, saying—as the council has said for years—that officials must consider competing funding commitments. Council Member Bagshaw and Mayor Murray also refused to fulfill the $20 million annual target, which the Cascade Bicycle Club says is necessary to achieve the city’s bike-safety goals. Murray cited $2 billion required to build sidewalks in far-flung Seattle neighborhoods.

"I am not going to make a pledge here at all," Murray declared. (Murray's office points out Murray has supported a bike-share program and a Westlake Avenue Cycle Track.)

It’s an odd position for the same council that pledged $930 million a few years ago to help fund the state's deep-bore tunnel freeway (which is currently stuck under downtown), a $4.2 billion project that was sponsored by Murray when he served in the state senate.

Why did the council remove that $20 million funding target from the bicycle legislation? Rasmussen said the council received "a flurry of letters from McGinn" last fall, but he didn’t answer the question.

It must be pointed out: The Bicycle Master Plan was not merely a “letter”—it was represented by a formal piece of legislation transmitted to the council via the city clerk. Rasmussen’s bill was a nearly verbatim copy of the original sent by the mayor; it included some extra language about safety and lacked financial figures. In other words, Rasmussen used the mayor’s bill; the council apparently just stripped out key language about paying for bicycle safely.

Council Members Sally Clark and Tim Burgess, the past and current council presidents, respectively, did not reply to repeated e-mails asking about why this critical element was gutted from the bill.

Once again, I asked Rasmussen why he scotched the city’s commitment from the bill. But instead of answering, he looking hopefully towards the television cameras and said, “Let’s have another reporter who may want to ask questions.”