Open Letter in Support of Bike Lanes on 35th Ave NE

The following letter was sent to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan on December 11, 2018. Please share your support for a #Safe35th and let Mayor Durkan know we need safer and more sustainable ways to get around the city.

35th Ave NE approaching the intersection of NE 75th St as seen on Google Maps. Image taken August 2018.

Dear Mayor Durkan and staff,

We are writing today to urge you to move forward with the 35th Avenue Northeast safety redesign that includes a protected bike lane, as the final decision is in your hands after an unsuccessful mediation.

In looking at existing Seattle policies, we are at a loss for why Seattle has not yet implemented safe biking infrastructure on 35th Avenue Northeast. We note the following:

  • The Bike Master Plan, adopted unanimously by the City Council, calls for a protected bike lane on 35th Avenue Northeast.
  • A bike lane is consistent with the City’s Vision Zero plan. The current street design is conducive to serious injuries and fatalities, which the city says it is committed to eliminating.
  • Seattle’s Complete Streets ordinance requires the city to make streets safe for all users when repaving projects occur. The goal is to save money by consolidating projects and to make walking and biking improvements a routine upgrade. These improvements are a legal requirement.

This project went through extensive review and public comment, as well as extensive study on various topics by SDOT. In fact, four SDOT studies indicated that even with the redesign there was sufficient parking on 35th Avenue Northeast and side streets to easily accommodate all parking needs. This led to an approved final street design, putting the project out to bid, selecting a contractor, and scheduling construction for Spring 2018.

Yet, the source of delay is the City’s response to concerns raised by a handful of residents about parking for single-occupancy vehicles.

These same parking-concerned residents would almost certainly refuse to support a new bike lane under any circumstance. But now City funds have been spent on unsuccessful mediation in the process and you have delayed a project that is in line with the multiple City policies mentioned previously.

The Sierra Club nationally and in Seattle has long fought for safer streets for walking, biking and transit riders. We celebrated the adoption of a Bike Master Plan, Complete Streets and Vision Zero, as it meant that safe streets would be baked into SDOT daily operations and planning. Those policies were designed to promote safe infrastructure for all users based on data and need, and take these policies out of street by street fights and delays.

In 2018, projects supporting safety and sustainability have been routinely delayed, compromised or eliminated. This trend began prior to your being elected mayor, but the first year of your administration appears to be cementing that trend. A recent report by the Seattle Bike Blog has found that just 4% of the bike projects planned for 2018 have been built.

Of course, our concern is not just about safety. We also believe climate change is an existential threat to us all. Your own Climate Action Plan aims to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 because of this threat.

While one project alone will make but a small difference on climate, we also know that 61% percent of Seattle’s carbon emissions come from the transportation sector. Getting to carbon neutrality requires making walking, biking and transit an easy and safe choice for all residents. It will take a sustained citywide commitment, small project after small project, to meet this goal.

Therefore, we ask you to consider the signal you would send by refusing to approve the safest proposed design on 35th Avenue Northeast, the design that includes protected bike lanes. Choosing to end the already-approved protected bicycle lane on 35th Avenue Northeast would create a precedent that our city’s climate actions are subject to a heckler’s veto. It would embolden other opponents of projects designed to reduce carbon emissions, and would destroy the core purpose and practice of the existing Complete Streets ordinance as well as the city’s Vision Zero commitments. It would also further undermine the adopted Bike Master Plan.

As Seattle’s executive, your choices set the tone for the City’s operations as a whole. If an SDOT-approved safety project that is clearly consistent with existing laws and policies is stopped for political reasons, we fear that such a decision could easily stop future progress on safe and climate-friendly street design. Would other walking, biking and transit projects, such as the voter-approved Rapid Ride corridors, the basic bike network, sidewalk improvements and the streetcar also be delayed or stopped?

The decision regarding 35th Avenue Northeast presents an opportunity for the City to double down on its climate commitments, rather than walk away from them. We urge you to send a signal that Seattle is ready to return to leadership on progressive transportation policies, and that this is just the first in a series of decisions to transform our streets, improve safety, and put us on a path to carbon neutrality.

Thank you for your consideration.

Sincerely,

Rebecca Monteleone
Chair, Sierra Club Seattle Group