Friday, December 30, 2016

2016: Seattle's Cycling Progress


In 2014 Seattle adopted a major revision to its Bike Master Plan (BMP), defining routes of city-wide importance for bike transportation and promising to create good bike infrastructure along them, or at least serving the general travel need they represent. Though this represented more of a general aspiration for the shape of the network than a commitment to specific projects, and it never promised to do anything by any particular time, it was more specific than previous plans and explicitly called for higher standards in facilities. No route of city-wide importance would be implemented by slapping down “sharrows” on an arterial road, for example. It wasn't just bike advocates that took notice: opponents of including a bike lane on NE 65th Street through the Ravenna-Bryant business district packed a community center in protest and got the city to move the line, indicating a nearby side-street route (which probably would have happened several years later, when it became truly relevant, anyway). This was an exciting moment: this “master plan”, which explicitly didn't commit to anything specific or to any time frame, felt that real to people.

Just as exciting for the more wonky among us, though not as visible, was Seattle's subsequent release of a five-year “Implementation Plan”, setting out what sort of progress the city expected to make between 2015 and 2019. I believe the first version of the Implementation Plan was released in late 2014 and it had some really ambitious stuff in it! In March 2015 the city published an update, cutting a few things back due to changing conditions. It was reasonable to update the plan every year or so, to reflect differences between planned and real progress and changing conditions, but I also thought it was important to compare real progress against a fixed version of the plan. So I took the March 2015 version, broke down projects by year, analyzed it against the Master Plan, and have been tracking progress against it since then. That work is in in this spreadsheet. The March 2015 Implementation Plan covered 73.8 of the 176.2 miles in the BMP's city-wide network (41.9%), and only a few items in the Implementation Plan didn't correspond to Master Plan items. As for year-by-year progress, the Implementation Plan set out about 20 projects per-year, and I was curious whether SDOT would keep up that pace.

In 2015 the city completed half of the 22 projects they promised. That sounds bad, but I was tracking completion, while the plan only promised that these projects would start in 2015 (I track completion because it can't be fudged and is evident to the public), and most of them had been started (at least outreach or conceptual design was done). They also completed some things that had been planned in previous years that weren't counted toward the total; if they finished all the outstanding items in 2016 and got about half of the 2016 items done they'd still be in good shape! Toward the end of 2015 we got the disappointing news that the city wasn't going to release a final downtown bike network plan by 2015, and in fact would be kicking the can way down the road because of complications with bus routing due to the Convention Center expansion. This tore a big hole in the 2016 update to the Implementation Plan, removing the many downtown projects.

Even so, if the city has the capacity to implement about 20 bike projects per year, it certainly had a backlog that would allow it to get about 20 projects done in 2016. On the ground they finished 10 of the 11 outstanding 2015 projects, plus three-and-a-half of the 21 originally slated for 2016, plus a couple 2017 items that got moved up: by my count, 15.5 projects. Many of the 2016 projects have started, but some haven't, and that's not limited to downtown projects. Seattle is making progress, but it's both behind and off-pace.

Bike counts

The Fremont Bridge will not make a million this year, and will probably finish a little behind last year. The windstorm in October and some snow in December, both coming with threats of worse weather than what actually happened, kept cycling numbers down in those months. The Westlake Cycletrack opened in September, and we did pretty well in September and November, but not overwhelmingly so. The West Seattle Bridge got a boost from the 99 closure in May, but its usage has also been hit hard by weather late in the year, probably a little more than in Fremont. Monthly patterns are pretty similar between the two bridges, as you'd expect with weather as a major driver. Fremont is doing a little better year-over-year than West Seattle since September, which might indicate a small boost from Westlake. If that boost is real Fremont has a good chance to get back over a million in 2017.

Suburban things

As far as I know most of Seattle's suburbs don't have public multi-year bike infrastructure plans to track (and I wouldn't have time to do that anyway), but there have been some notable things going on throughout the region.

  • The part of the Lake to Sound Trail that follows Des Moines Memorial Drive between 156th and Normandy Road is almost complete. It will one day continue to the south and connect to the Des Moines Creek Trail (and the Sound), with the exact route yet to be determined; the Lake to Sound Trail heads east along 156th toward Renton. This segment is also part a path continuing along Des Moines Memorial Drive to North SeaTac Park, with bike lanes continuing from there almost to the Seattle city limit and the Duwamish Route.
  • Also near the Des Moines Creek Trail, a climbing lane was built from the trail up to the new Angle Lake light-rail station. The new lane is a steep climb for people that have just finished a long, easy climb.
  • Bellevue striped a bike lane that falls along a key route, on 116th Ave NE from about 12th to 24th, by doing a road diet! It's also in the process of a massive road expansion on 120th and NE 4th that also includes bike lanes, for what it's worth. The Northup Way rebuild that will eventually connect the two sections of the 520 trail with bike lanes is underway.
  • More sections of the East Lake Sammamish Trail are being paved, pushing it toward what the county will dubiously call “completion” in the next couple years.
  • Eastside Rail Corridor trail planning is underway. The county wants to get an interim trail open quickly, at least in some sections. Others (especially near Bellevue) may be held up by Sound Transit construction.

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