by Rod Lotter
– The Capitol Hill Times –
A group of community leaders and residents recently submitted a document to the Seattle City Council calling for drastic changes to the SR520 Bridge’s pedestrian and bike lanes.
The document included comments of support from the Cascade Bicycle Club, various neighborhood branches of Seattle Greenways, the Capitol Hill Community Council, Sustainable Capitol Hill and many other neighborhood and community groups from across the city. Among the many improvements and changes proposed in the document is overwhelming support for a 14-foot, shared-use path along Portage Bay and a 30-foot wide bicycle bridge over Interstate 5, among many other smaller suggestions.
In general, the document expressed the dissatisfaction many community members have with the current design of the 520 bridge, which they claim is too car-centric and does not take into account the needs of pedestrians, bike riders and other users of alternative transportation.
Craig Benjamin, the policy and government affairs manager for the Cascade Bicycle Club said the organization has spearheaded this initiative because it supports everything they advocate for.
“Our goal is to build a better community through bicycling,” Benjamin said. “Most importantly, we want the roads to be safe, comfortable and convenient for bike riders of all ages, and right now, the current design does not do that.”
Benjamin said the main benefits for Capitol Hill would be easier access around the city.
“It is important that this busy corridor be friendly to bike riders, of which there are a lot of on Capitol Hill and the surrounding neighborhoods,” he said. “Potentially, we’ll have a way to safely ride bikes all the way from Redmond to Montlake, and that will drive more bike traffic to Capitol Hill, Eastlake, Downtown, South Lake Union and everywhere else people need to go.”
Seattle councilmember Mike O’Brien was not present during the presentation of the document, but is a supporter of increased alternative transportation options and accommodations for Seattle residents, he said.
“It’s important, that when we spend so much money on transportation projects, that we also allocate money for people who do not drive cars,” O’Brien said. “Unfortunately, Seattle was designed for motor vehicles, but it is our responsibility to make sure we don’t keep doing that at the expense of people who walk or ride a bike.”
O’Brien said, that although he was not present at that specific meeting, there is a general consensus among the City Council that bike and pedestrian lane improvements will be suggested to the Washington State Department Of Transportation, the agency implementing the bridge design.
“The council has always been behind the idea of ‘complete roads,'” O’ Brien said. “The idea is that the roads are built for everyone to use, and I don’t see why we would act any differently in this instance.”
The Seattle City Council is currently weighing its options, considering public opinion and will submit its recommendations at the end of the year. There will also be a special committee meeting on the status of the project on Jan. 22. Construction on the Montlake end of the bridge will not begin until 2015.
City Council Chair Richard Conlin said that they have hired a consultant group to perform a study of the Montlake area in particular, in order to identify solutions to the challenges that lay ahead.
“Right now we are analyzing all of our options and trying to figure out how we can get it all to work,” Conlin said. “We have been looking at this project from the big picture perspective, and now are just getting down to the details. The bike lanes are a huge part of the details we want to get right.”
While money is obviously one of the big obstacles in the way for the project, there are also some disputes among the community over an additional bike lane on the Portage Bay Bridge, which connects SR520 to I-5.
“Many community members have expressed their concern over the width of the Portage Bay Bridge,” Conlin said. “So, we tried to keep the bridge as narrow as possible, but with the addition of a bike lane, those two goals will be at conflict with each other.”
Inter-neighborhood squabbles may throw a cog in the design process, but Conlin said that everyone just needs to be patient and that he is confident it will work out in the end.
Craig Benjamin also said he was optimistic that the proposed improvements will go through.
“If these improvements did not happen, it would be further proof of Seattle’s sad legacy of not providing enough options for bike riders,” Benjamin said. “The way the roads have been designed has split Seattle into a bunch of isolated neighborhoods. I’d be very disappointed if the interests of the few negatively impact the lives and interests of the people.”