Folks, I’m going to take a brief break from the #SingleFamilyZoning series (which will be followed by yet another series on homelessness, complete with identification of meaningful solutions and funding sources) to chat about bike lanes. Regular readers of the Hashtag may have noticed that I don’t really dive into bikes and use of right-of-way too often. I can think of two posts (#Scootin and #RideBikes) where I’ve opined on the issue. There are better blogs to get into the nitty-gritty of these issues.
That said, street safety is something that is very important to me. My kiddo is regularly a pedestrian, and he deserves to count on city practices that are focused on safety as a priority. Our current mayor likes to use the term “city of the future,” and all of the data shows us that a “city of the future” means prioritizing safe routes for pedestrians - be they families with kiddos or seniors walking their neighborhoods. It also means creating safe routes for cyclists - be they families with kiddos or seniors biking their neighborhoods.
This is especially important if we are a city that believes in climate change, and believes we can be leaders on reversing the course for future generations. The science tells us climate change is real, and the science tells us vehicle emissions are the main source of greenhouse gases that are degrading our environment, worsening air quality, and polluting water systems.
Safe Routes is also very personal on another level. As many of you may recall, on April 6, 2018, I was ran down by a driver trying to overtake me on Eastlake Avenue. The cover photo for this post is an x-ray of my left clavicle after it was repaired. It’s still causing discomfort to this day. Frankly, given the speed of the vehicle, I am lucky to be alive. My kiddo is lucky that I am alive.
So imagine my surprise when Mayor Jenny Durkan used her executive authority to dismiss safety, dismiss science, and kill a safe street project in Northeast Seattle. This is the Mayor that loves to espouse her belief that we should be building a “city of the future,” and claims to believe in climate change and the need for safe communities, and in one fell swoop not only eliminated safe routes for folks trying to get to light rail, or looking to shop in a small business corridor, but also implement lane widths that are designed to induce driving at speeds up to 50 miles per hour.
Call me crazy, but I believe that elected officials are in a unique position to lead. To take data and facts, and work with communities that are concerned about an issue, but work toward an end-goal that is data and science-driven, and that ensures safety for generations to come. We’ve seen leaders in Seattle do this before. Mayor Greg Nickels pushed back on myths around rechannelizations (a/k/a road diets), and once they were implemented, we saw that they actually worked. Our previous mayor pushed back against lies about the Park District, and now we have permanent and stable funding for parks. A common theme among opponents of those issues: people in power seeking to deny people without power safe places. Here, we have people in power seeking to deny people without power safe streets, and the Mayor embraces the people with power, giving them even more power.
I wholly believe that elected officials should use data and facts, and not only reject, but repudiate, efforts to ignore science in order to achieve a political “win”. We don’t elect people so they can run for re-election, we elect them to govern. Governing from a place of evidence-denial is a recipe for disastrous results, and suggests one is not actually qualified for the position with which they hold.
The rejection of nearly a decade of public engagement and work to create a safe route along 35th Ave NE has broader implications. As has been well-reported, opponents of a safe 35th Ave NE not only vandalized bike counters, but lobbed death threats at elected officials, and stuffed fireworks – explosives – into a tractor constructing the new roadway. These actions fall under the dictionary definition of terrorism. The result: they got what they wanted. Mayor Jenny Durkan acquiesced to terrorist threats against civil servants and public officials. And what they wanted, it turns out, wasn’t parking – it was not having safe routes for vulnerable users. She has sent a message to a growing, violent extremism in our city: keep up the good work.
Also – what is the point of having public process and volunteer committees and commissions? I truly believe that government functions best when it embraces community engagement through boards and commissions. Here, the Mayor has, yet again, rejected the hard work of an all-volunteer group that crafted the Bike Master Plan. Not only is this a slap-in-the-face to people who are sitting down and doing the work (not just shouting and making threats toward public officials), but this bodes extraordinarily poorly for future safe-street efforts (I’m looking at you, Eastlake Ave).
What’s more, this rejects the science that shows safe streets create safe and healthier communities for all ages. Not to mention the evidence that bike lanes are good for small businesses. It ignores data that 12-foot lane widths induce speeding and reduce safety. Of course, additional data shows that protected bike lanes reduce injury risk by up to 90 percent. And, throwing a bone to drivers, bike lanes improve the street environment for cars.
These are facts and data. And by rejecting facts, rejecting data, overriding the public and legislative process, this Mayor has shown (yet again) a disregard for safety, a disregard for the environment, and a disregard for our democratic process.
But what can we do? Unfortunately, in the near-term, not much. We can (and should) continue to offer support for Council doing their job, and encourage members to provide stronger oversight, and encourage members to embrace budget provisos. Clearly policy resolutions are not enough, and are being willfully ignored by this Mayor.
In the coming elections, we can (and should) demand candidates stake out positions that are rooted in data, and that they be willing to take on the leadership of community outreach that this Mayor is apparently incapable of doing (at least when it’s a tough issue). We must also demand candidates maintain independence. The City Council isn’t another arm of the Mayor’s Office, and allowing it to be treated as such diminishes the value of our democratic institutions.