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November 21, 2013 at 6:25 AM
Downtown Seattle cycle track could be Ed Murray’s first big bike test
Seattle Mayor-elect Ed Murray did a B-grade Cory Booker impersonation Wednesday morning when he stopped in Capitol Hill to help mop the face of a crashed cyclist. The heroic story appeared in The Seattle Times 46 minutes later.
That’s nice timing for a mayor-to-be who comes into office with some skepticism about his enthusiasm for bikes. He helped create that impression during the mayoral campaign with muddled opinions on the city’s plan for closing the Burke-Gilman Trail’s “missing link.” (I wrote a column about this last May.) Murray was vague enough that Mayor Mike McGinn’s supporters portrayed him (inaccurately) as being against the planned Westlake Avenue North cycle track.
In his post-campaign analysis, Tom Fucoloro of Seattle Bike Blog (who endorsed McGinn) said Murray’s “anti-bike” reputation is wrong:
Anyone who voted for Murray because they think he will fight bike lanes is probably in for a disappointment. They are not just pet projects of a cycling mayor.
But Murray is in for an early test of his stated support for cycle tracks (bike lanes physically separated from traffic) thanks to the Seattle City Council. On Monday, when the council votes on the 2014 budget, it will include $1 million to speed up planning on a cross-downtown cycle track. That puts the project on a downhill slope toward a 2015 launch date, with the wind of the City Council at its back.
It should be a top priority because the current 2nd Avenue bike lane is an “egregious example of a poorly designed bike lane,” bicycle policy expert John Pucher wrote in a widely-noted Seattle Times guest column last summer. True urban bike infrastructure has quickly become a necessary urban amenity for creative-class industries (Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel famously boasted about stealing jobs from Seattle with better bike lanes, according to DC.StreetsBlog.org). The current downtown bike infrastructure also puts the city at cross-purposes because it is supporting a roll-out in early 2014 of a bike-share program that may expose users to dangerous lanes.
But adding a downtown cycle track (most likely on 2nd and/or 4th avenues) would also likely require removing a lane of parking, or perhaps traffic — a cost that in the past has inflamed opposition from property and business owners.
Seattle City Council Transportation Committee Chair Tom Rasmussen thinks consensus has been reached about the need to fix a “frightening” corridor. He notes the Downtown Seattle Association‘s support for safer biking conditions. Big employers, including Amazon.com (which is building a 7th Avenue cycle track) would also help.
But Rasmussen said the details will matter.
“People are open and supportive, but not if it’s right in front of their business,” he said. “There will be robust discussion with property owners.”
That’s where Murray will have to step in. Murray plans to issue an integrated transportation plan within his first year in office that prioritizes roads, freight, bike and pedestrian needs, his transition spokesman, Jeff Reading, said Wednesday.
When I suggested that this sounded like he was undercutting the Bike Master Plan, Reading objected.
“Ed understands (bicycling) is a way people move around,” he said. “Ed wants to move away from one mode (of transportation) against another, pitting advocates against each other.”
Essentially, Murray is saying, “Trust me.” We’ll see.
An earlier version of this blog post, published Nov. 21, 2013 at 6:25 a.m., was updated at 11:09 a.m. on Nov. 22, 2013. Due to incorrect information provided by Mayor-elect Ed Murray’s spokesman, the previous version incorrectly stated that Murray planned to issue an integrated transportation plan in his first 100 days in office. He plans to issue it within his first year in office.