The Eastlake bike lane plans are still moving forward with the RapidRide J bus improvements project, but bike advocates in town are not taking their eye off the project until those bike lanes are on the ground.
City Councilmember and Transportation Committee Chair Alex Pedersen (D4) made comments during an Eastlake Community Council meeting that spooked the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board enough that they penned a letter (PDF) this week strongly supporting the project and the planned bike lanes.
“SBAB requests that SDOT, council, and the Harrell Administration complete the Rapid Ride J project as shown over the last several years including the fully protected bike lane,” the Board wrote in the letter addressed to Mayor Bruce Harrell, the Seattle City Council and SDOT. “We, along with numerous individuals and organizations in the city have supported the project with the understanding that it would include protected bike lanes. To remove them at this point would be a betrayal of trust as well as counter to our city’s council adopted Bicycle Master Plan, Climate Action Plan, and Vision Zero commitments.”
The comments were actually from an April meeting about the project, but many people didn’t see them until Ryan Packer noticed a recap of the meeting in the summer edition of the Eastlake Community Council’s newsletter Eastlake News (PDF). During the meeting, Pedersen reportedly said that he wished SDOT would consider “a creative sharing of the road” and that he anticipated an uproar similar to people opposed to the 35th Ave NE bike lanes a few years ago.
“It was very disheartening to read in the summer 2022 edition of the Eastlake News that the head of the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee appears to be seeking to water down this vital project,” wrote the Bike Board. “35th Ave NE represents a failure of the city to follow through on its adopted climate and Vision Zero policies. To hear 35th Ave Northeast referenced as a template for the future trajectory of the Rapid Ride J project is incredibly disappointing, and frankly unacceptable.”
I reached out to Councilmember Pedersen to get some clarification on his stance on Eastlake, and I’ve posted his full letter below. He noted that the project is far enough along that it doesn’t need any further Council approval “unless it eventually suffers cost overruns.” He attempted to play both sides, saying he supports “connecting more of the bike network” but that he also has been telling SDOT they are “making a mistake (in my opinion) by continuing with their plans to remove nearly all parking on BOTH sides of Eastlake Avenue.” Ultimately, though, he doesn’t anticipate SDOT will listen to him, and any opposition will need to target Mayor Harrell the new SDOT leadership.
The bike lanes are pretty hard-coded into the project at this point. Unlike with 35th Ave NE, RapidRide J has gone through extensive environmental review at local and federal levels because it is very large and the project has federal funding. Changing it at this point would be a huge undertaking. However, the bike lanes are tied to the major transit project, and we have seen major projects languish before, especially if local political support grows cold. The Center City Streetcar is a recent example that remains in limbo after Mayor Durkan paused work in 2018. City support for buses is typically far more unified than for streetcars, so hopefully RapidRide J can avoid such a fate. But it is still wise for project supporters to keep paying attention and making their support clear.
Below is Councilmember Pedersen’s full response (I asked him if he was pushing back on the Eastlake bike lanes as noted in Eastlake News):
I hope you are doing well.
I suppose it depends on what you mean by “pushing back” because, I don’t think SDOT needs any more approvals from the Seattle City Council on that mega project along Eastlake Avenue, unless it eventually suffers cost overruns. I believe I’ve been forthright that, while I’ve worked for increased bus service across the city (renewing the Seattle Transportation Benefit District for example), I want MORE buses along Eastlake Avenue even after the new light rail stations opened, I favor connecting more of the bike network (e.g. 15th Ave NE), and I want to see more traffic-calming / crosswalks / speed camera enforcement, etc, I continue to tell SDOT it’s making a mistake (in my opinion) by continuing with their plans to remove nearly all parking on BOTH sides of Eastlake Avenue. My concerns remain the impacts to those small business, the removal of several bus stops, the parking studies showing relative saturation — and the fact that South Seattle could make good use of those dollars. But, in my opinion, SDOT has not made meaningful changes for most of the small businesses along Eastlake Avenue – for this project of nearly 1.5 miles. And the department often doesn’t do what I suggest anyway – remember the $100 million in bond funding approved by the entire City Council for bridge safety infrastructure that SDOT turned down after the West Seattle Bridge closed and a bridge audit confirmed the rest of our bridges are in bad shape? Moreover, SDOT has since received their federal grant for the J Line further bolstering their original plans (the plans which include permanent new bike lanes on both sides of Eastlake Avenue). I think it’s positive that SBAB sent their letter advocating again for the project and it’s a good letter, though probably not needed as I’m not seeing SDOT pulling back at all on the bike lanes based on anything I say or do for the Eastlake small businesses. As your blog post astutely pointed out back in January 2020, I just don’t have the bandwidth on this single location. While I’ve given my two cents on this project numerous times over the past 3 years and I will continue to support the small businesses in Eastlake, it’s now primarily between the Eastlake community and new SDOT leadership along with the Mayor’s Office – they’ll need to answer to the Eastlake community for this project and to whomever is not getting those dollars.
Thank you for checking in.