Cyclists are getting the bare-minimum in SDOT's new, multi-million dollar mega project.
After years of planning, the Spokane Street Viaduct widening project is finally underway. The several year, $168 million project will widen the Spokane viaduct 41 feet to improve traffic flow and safety between I-5 and the West Seattle bridge. The project is obviously aimed at improving things for car and truck traffic, but the S. Spokane corridor is significant for bicycles and pedestrians as well. It will connect W. Seattle cyclists to downtown, the SODO trail, S. Airport Way, serve as a section of the Mountains to Sound Greenway trail, and could potentially connect to the Chief Sealth trail.
Blake Trask, chair of the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board, said, "it's an important component of the Bicycle Master Plan's (BMP) urban trails and bikeways system and it will serve as a key connector to a number of the city's trails between West Seattle, downtown, and Beacon Hill."
The BMP calls for a multi-use path (MUP) along the north side of Spokane street, but SDOT plans to simply build a 10-foot wide, continuous sidewalk instead of the 12-foot wide, buffered path that's called for. The Spokane project represents a problematic disconnect between the city's stated goals of increased investment in non-motorized transportation as part of their carbon neutrality plans and the city's actions.
"The wide sidewalk was designed to accommodate bikes and pedestrians," said Stuart Goldsmith, SDOT project manager. "If we were just planning to accommodate pedestrians we'd have five-foot sidewalks."
At a glance, a widened sidewalk may seem like a sufficient compromise to a MUP. It's still off the street, after all and it's certainly an improvement over the non-continuous and narrow sidewalk that currently exists. But, when compared with a full-spec MUP—standards require a 12-foot-wide path with two-foot buffers on either side and a five-foot vegetated buffer between the path and the road—it falls short. David Hiller, advocacy director Cascade Bicycle Club, says a 10-foot wide sidewalk "just doesn't meet or exceed the standard practice as a multi-use facility."
A MUP creates a safe space away from traffic where cyclists feel like they belong. A sidewalk, particularly along an industrial, fast-moving road like Spokane St, does not create a sense of safety or belonging. That sense of belonging is critical for encouraging use and without use, what's the point?
As a significant piece of the BMP, the Spokane St corridor needs to be the best it can be. If the city truly wants to embrace non-motorized transportation as part of its push for carbon neutrality (as the BMP clearly indicates that it does), "sufficient" infrastructure like widened sidewalks aren't going to cut it. With wide, safe, full-spec bike-lanes creating a bicycle arterial through the city, new populations will be willing to give bike commuting a try. More investments in bare-minimum infrastructure will result in stagnant numbers of bike commuters and no impact on carbon reduction.