Why We Should Fund "Walk Bike Ride"

By Dan Bertolet May 18, 2010

The recently launched Streets For All Seattle campaign is on a mission to create dedicated funding mechanisms for infrastructure that supports walking, biking, and transit. But the preliminary target of $30 million per year will undoubtedly be a tough sell given that the city is facing a $120 million budget deficit over the next two years.

There are many good reasons why we should fund it anyway, but for this post, I'll let pictures make the case:

This is the end of the bike lane on the Ballard Bridge heading southbound. Cyclists are expected to slip through that gap in the curb and merge with car traffic (including traffic heading west on Emerson). No worries happy bikers, surely that painted bike symbol makes it completely safe!

Worst. Bike lane. Ever.

Even without that death trap, the cycling experience across the Ballard Bridge is astoundingly awful. For most of the way in either direction you're squeezed into a four-foot-wide sidewalk, cars and trucks tearing by only feet away on the other side of the curb.

Here's the convenient scenario I encountered heading northbound yesterday:

The Ballard Bridge provides the most direct link to downtown for the entire northwest corner of the city. Yet these dismal excuses for bike lanes/sidewalks are the best Seattle has been able to provide.  For a city that gets no shortage of hype for being green, a city that is seriously discussing a goal of carbon neutrality by 2030, could this possibly be any more embarrassing?

The simple explanation is that it will cost real money to fix it---there's no way around it. Seattle's Bicycle Master Plan proposes a dedicated bike and pedestrian bridge running parallel to the existing bridge that would likely cost $50 to 75 million. A cheaper option would be bike lanes "grafted" onto the bridge, with an estimated cost of around $4 million.

To put that in perspective, the new Magnolia bridge will cost in excess of $260 million. But since it is viewed as an important corridor for cars, there has been essentially zero debate about it whether it should be funded.

Based on the sustainability rhetoric we constantly hear from Seattle's elected officials, there also should be zero debate about the importance of dedicating the necessary funds to create high-quality bike-ped connections throughout the city, the Ballard Bridge being one particularly egregious example.

But last week when Mayor McGinn spoke at the launch of the City's Walk Bike Ride initiative, not a single Seattle City Council member was present to offer their support. (Mike O'Brien had a previously scheduled committee meeting, but has written in support of the campaign on his blog.)

There is no question that expanding options for walking, biking, and transit is totally in line with Seattle's stated goal of becoming a more sustainable city. But because the timing for securing new funding is not ideal, the success of the Streets For All Seattle campaign and the Walk Bike Ride initiative will hinge on bold and unified political leadership. It's time to shut up and put up.
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