The roundly panned plan for the most critical segment of 35th. Rendering by SDOT.

On Tuesday, SDOT announced an ugly split-the-baby solution to community deadlock over the planned redesign of 35th Ave NE, the central neighborhood arterial of Wedgwood and Bryant. The solution seems custom-designed to upset everyone in the debate, sacrificing both the bike lanes recommended in the city’s own Bike Master Plan and the street parking that was the central focus of opponents’ demands. Instead, drivers get a two-way turn lane for most of the corridor and freeway-style 12-foot general purpose lanes.

The new design for 35th, with its wider lanes, additional passing opportunities, and inevitably higher speeds, is a serious threat to the safety of people outside cars. But the point of this post is not to re-litigate 35th, but to suggest a way for the city to avoid this sort of worst-case outcome in future projects. In short, to have any chance of meeting its own Vision Zero goals, the city must establish legally binding guidelines for the redesign of all arterial corridors, and then direct professional staff to follow them when it is time to design individual projects. And there is a very good local example of how to do exactly that: King County Metro. The details, along with some history, are below the jump.

SDOT’s recent record in major project planning is far from stellar. Both of the city’s last two major transportation levies, 2006’s Bridging the Gap and 2015’s Move Seattle, substantially overpromised how much major work could be accomplished with available funding. Both promised accelerated implementation of modal master plans for foot and bike travel; significant capital improvements to speed bus transit; and several major corridor redesigns. Overall, BTG accomplished something like three-quarters of what was promised, while Move Seattle appears to be on track to accomplish even less.

But the biggest problem hasn’t been underperforming bureaucracy, but political interference. As happened with 35th, projects change at the last minute for political reasons. Designed and funded projects such as the NE 70th St redesign languish on the back burner without explanation. Funding shortfalls result in major cuts to some categories of projects (such as RapidRide capital improvements for transit), while leaving other megaprojects such as the Lander Street overpass untouched. Promises are made and then broken seemingly at random, with supermajority support somehow being translated into car priority all too often. Planning starts to seem pointless. As Twitter user @garlandmcq put it, succinctly:

The consequences of this sort of political interference add up over time—as Metro learned in the decade or so immediately following its 1994 takeover by King County. During those years, the process of adding service was politically managed, subject only to a very general subarea-based formula that required the county to invest 40 percent of new hours in the south end; 40 percent on the Eastside; and 20 percent in Seattle. Decisions on routing and frequency were often made directly by members of the King County Council representing one or more affected districts, frequently in response to interest-group requests. There was nothing holding Council members to any coherent plan. By the early 2000s, Metro’s network was a spaghetti mess of infrequent and unintuitive routes, some much more successful than others at attracting riders, but not in any way forming a useful network. Professional planning staff tried to use data to inform their recommendations, but had to filter it to the point of uselessness through a sticky layer of Council demands and reactions.

Finally, in 2010, the Council and municipal authorities realized that the process was just not improving regional transit, even during times when funds for expansion were available. The county formed a Regional Transit Task Force, which quickly recommended that the County Council adopt an “objective, data-based” set of principles which Metro planners would use in evaluating the network and recommend changes. That recommendation turned into Metro’s Service Guidelines, which the Council adopted by ordinance in 2011 and then revised, again by ordinance, in 2015.

The Service Guidelines have the force of law. They require Metro to use specific criteria in making service change decisions, based on an annual data-gathering process that results in a deeply informative report (2018 version). Metro has consistently followed the Service Guidelines, with just one or two arguable exceptions, in proposing both major and minor service changes to the Council. The Council, for its part, usually has been reluctant to interfere with Metro’s conclusions—particularly with respect to major, highly used Metro routes. The process over time has produced observably good results throughout Metro’s system, especially in underserved areas where there have been substantial frequency and span improvements that would almost certainly have gone nowhere under the old Council-driven process. The Metro network is unambiguously better today than it was in 2011, with far more frequent corridors and many improved routings. Much of the credit goes to a better funding picture, but the Service Guidelines are the reason that funding was allocated effectively.

There is no such set of legally binding principles governing SDOT street improvements. SDOT planning as a whole is a largely episodic process, focused into either specific geographic areas or specific transportation modes. Each modal master plan features a separate and independent data-driven method for selecting priority projects, but actual implementation is dependent almost entirely on elected leaders’ political priorities and often has little to do with what is in the plans. As we saw with the 35th Ave NE project (among others), hyperlocal political considerations can and often do override citywide planning priorities. The result of all this for users, especially those outside cars, is not unlike Metro’s situation before the Service Guidelines. There is little coherence in SDOT’s actual transportation accomplishments. Most critically for both Vision Zero and climate goals, scattered ad hoc pieces of non-car infrastructure remain mostly unconnected from one another, and many trips remain difficult and dangerous outside a car.

The City Council has the power to change this situation, just as the County Council did in 2011 for Metro service planning. The City Council can and should enact a legally binding set of priorities for SDOT roadway improvements, governing both the prioritization and the execution of projects, to ensure that projects are consistent in advancing citywide goals rather than narrow, hyperlocal interests. These guidelines would provide clear political direction to professional planners, while making the citywide consequences of political interference in any specific project far more obvious to elected officials. Failure to execute a project consistently with the guidelines could give rise to legal rights of action, providing a potentially expensive and embarrassing counterweight to project-by-project meddling. As projects get completed in accordance with the guidelines over the years, the city’s transportation network would become more coherent and effective, just as Metro’s service network has.

Any guidelines of this sort are inherently political, and it’s entirely appropriate to have a fine old multi-stakeholder Seattle Process to help the City Council establish and maintain them. The Council, though, should pay special attention to the needs and priorities of both marginalized communities and groups that face particular danger on city streets, especially including children, seniors, and people with disabilities outside of cars. The process should not prioritize those with the time and resources to attend endless meetings and hire legal counsel in the service of never slowing down their cars.

I can’t pretend to know what the final product should look like, but I would offer up all of the following as initial suggestions:

  • Projects should be selected based on objective measures of danger to users, including both actual accident data and dangerous design factors.
  • Arterials must have sidewalks on both sides that are at least 6 feet wide, with ADA-compliant accessibility features.
  • There must be a marked and signalized crosswalk on every side of a signalized intersection.
  • There must be a marked (and signalized, for any street with more than one general purpose lane in any direction) crosswalk at least every 250 feet along an arterial.
  • Signalized crosswalks must allow sufficient time for users with disabilities to cross.
  • General-purpose lanes should be no more than 11 feet wide, and narrower where feasible.
  • More than one general-purpose lane in any direction is strongly discouraged and should be used only where there is no other feasible option.
  • No intersection or street treatment may cause surface transit to experience average speed of less than 7.5 mph over any mile-long portion of its route during afternoon peak hour. Where speeds would otherwise fall below 7.5 mph because of congestion, sufficient transit priority to achieve 7.5 mph speed (including bus lanes, queue jumps, and signal priority) is required.
  • Any arterial identified in the BMP as a priority bicycle route must, if redesigned, receive either a separated bicycle facility or a parallel greenway that is direct, no more hilly than the arterial, and close in elevation to the arterial.
  • Where there is a separated bicycle facility, the facility must connect to all other nearby facilities and may not disappear or lose protection at specific intersections.
  • Every intersection of a greenway and an arterial must be signalized or have an all-way stop.
  • Level of service for single-occupant vehicles should be taken into account only as necessary to ensure transit speed and reliability.

Even with SDOT’s current slow pace of redesign work, implementing criteria like these consistently would result in major improvements to the safety of the city’s transportation network within a single levy period. The only way to force them to be used consistently is to legislate it. City Councilmembers, the transportation safety ball is in your court.

82 Replies to “The 35th Disaster: How the City Should Learn from Metro”

    1. More like having one big Seattle Process before deploying the plan throughout the city.

  1. “The process should not prioritize those with the time and resources to attend endless meetings and hire legal counsel in the service of never slowing down their cars.”

    And should not spawn pearl-clutching articles about city council members ignoring members of the public who are shocked that their repetitive complaints are not received with rapt attention!

    1. Oh you bringing up when that nice gentleman got equated to Alex Tsimerman… the Stranger did a good article clearing the guy’s name. The Stranger noted,

      “I calculated that between 2016 and this current incident, there have been 156 City Council meetings, and I spoke at four of them,” Schwartz told me. He has, however, contacted the City over 70 times, so while he’s not a frequent flyer, he’s a frequent caller and emailer instead.

      Beside the City Councilmembers’ lack of respect and response to their own constituents, Schwartz’s big complaint is the bike loop on the west side of Lake Union. He lives on a boat in the marina, and a few years ago, the city installed a bike lane between the sidewalk and the parking area on Westlake. Before the bike lane was constructed, cyclists were forced to choose between riding on a busy, no-shoulder road or ride through the parking lot, which most people did. The bike lane was sorely needed, and today, it’s heavily trafficked—and fast. And this is exactly Schwartz’s problem with it.

      “There are several thousand pedestrians crossing there every day,” Schwartz told me. “Before it was built, the City gave us all this assurance and said this is going to be designed in a way that would automatically control speed. They said they would build in physical barriers that would slow cyclists so they would yield to pedestrians.” That never happened, and two years later, Schwartz feels like he’s exhausted all options. “We’ve tried SDOT, the Mayor’s office, the full City Council, individual Councilmembers, and they just don’t respond. It’s a valid issue and they just will not respond.”

      Schwartz is not the only one concerned about excessive speeding in the neighborhood. Last year, he says he collected signatures from 350 of his neighbors. “We took that down to City Council and gave it to them and figured if 350 people are saying it’s a problem, this is going to get their attention. We never heard a word back.”

      Sorry but on this one, I’m on Mr. Schwartz’s side. Especially as some of us STB commentariat do make the time & effort to petition, to e-mail and yes to give public comment testimony. If that means a centre-right Seattle City Council is elected as a result, tough luck.

      1. The guy is [ad hom] and the bike lanes are nothing at all except at 6pm. Would he like more air pollution and global warming? More auto congestion on westlake when he exits his parking lot in his SUV?

        THAT BEING SAID — SDOT could install bike stop lights for the intersection that worries him.

      2. ronp – that personal attack on that gentleman was uncalled for. Could have been you or me. Really makes those of us who give genuine public comment wary to demand our rights.

        I do though support as part of bike lane infrastructure bike stop lights.


      3. Ah, my mistake, I wrongly assumed he was one of those “may I talk to your supervisor’ types based on the framing of the pieces surrounding him. The framing pieces are problematic but I agree that this person’s request for attention is legitimate.

      4. Avid cyclist here. If people riding too fast through there and never stopping for pedestrians is his complaint, I have to say he is right. I’m not sure I want extra stoplights, but a people need to ride way more considerately there.

        More than once when I have stopped for someone trying to cross on foot at rush hour, including for some kids trying to get to the pool, riders behind me simply fly by either without looking or without caring. People all over the city on all modes need to chill.

        We also need to build way more connected bike lanes like we did on Westlake.

      5. > We also need to build way more connected bike lanes like we did on Westlake.

        We need to build way more connected bike lanes but NOT like we did on Westlake.

        We took a major bike commuting route–3790 people biked the Fremont bridge yesterday–and put in a high-speed road for bikes. Great, we clearly needed a bike highway. But we decided to put that high-speed road between a parking lot and the sidewalk that serves it. This is NOT good design.

        What would this guy say if the parking lots for those businesses were actually on the west side of Westlake? Would he expect that he could walk out on the street and all traffic would stop for him? No? The only difference is that people in cars get infrastructure that lets them go, go, go, whereas people on bikes are expected to share infrastructure with everybody else and let everybody else have the right of way.

        The city did a disservice building the Westlake cycle track the way it did. Bicyclists, like any commuter, deserve infrastructure that lets them commute efficiently. The Westlake cycle track is was a lazy, dangerous, half-assed design.

  2. This makes a lot of sense. I’ve often wondered why Every. Single. Project. seems to have the same fights over and over again. Bike lanes vs parking, bus lanes vs bike lanes, parking vs loading zones, etc, it’s the same exact argument every single time, and it ends up getting relitigated every single time, wasting enormous amounts of time and energy. Sure, each street and project is a little different, but not enough that the “but what about parking” argument needs to happen again from the beginning.

    In line with what David recommends, I think SDOT/Council just needs to have that debate once (generically, so you don’t have one small group of people feeling like they need to fight for their block), and come up with a set of specific, measurable rules for how they decide what to prioritize. E.g. “we will build PBLs on all arterials to build out the BMP”, “we will remove parking to accomplish that as long as vacancy rates are below X%”.

    Then, when it comes time to plan an individual project, you don’t have to fight the same fight. You just point to the rules and say “here’s how we do stuff, and this project is in line with those guidelines”. David’s list is really good, but I think it should have more specific metrics to reduce ambiguity and avoid debating endlessly whether some option is “feasible” or not.

    A set of guidelines like that is a great indicator of the goals and intent of the council/SDOT, which will also help with transparency. That’s something that’s sorely needed at this point.

    1. Yeah, I was going to say this. SDOT has some policies in place already (like the Director’s Rule for sidewalk construction detours), but those policies are often vague and ignored specifically because they use language like “where feasible” and there are no consequences for ignoring them.

      On a project like the S Lander bridge, a policy that requires sidewalks on both side would have changed that aspect of the plan, but “More than one general-purpose lane in any direction is strongly discouraged and should be used only where there is no other feasible option” would be hand-waved away with “but the Port demands it!”

      If, on the other hand, it was something like “on arterials with traffic volumes at or below 25,000 vehicles, only one general-purpose lane in one direction will be allowed”, that would have resulted in a cheaper, safer bridge. These requirements should obviously be set on a technical basis, and SDOT would need to help Council, but having a quantitative requirement would help immensely. I could easily imagine a battle between safety advocates and SDOT between using 20k instead of 25k for vehicle counts, but that’s exactly the kind of thing that our elected multi-member council should decide based on the City’s values (rather than a random project manager at SDOT who just spent 2 hours getting screamed at by community members).

  3. New signal installations require the intersection to meet certain warrants per the MUTCD. Arbitrarily adding signals does nothing to improve mobility. They slow transit and the traffic the bus is stuck in. My trip home via the bus doesn’t need to be any slower to appease the spandex mafia. What happened to this blog being pro-transit and keeping buses and transit moving?

    I see more people on buses than on bicycles. Let keep the transit agenda going. There’s another blog for bicyclists.

    1. You’re right, I’d hate to slow your commute in order to prevent kids on bikes from getting killed. Gee, I wonder why you don’t see too many people biking. Where good infrastructure exists, thousands use it daily (see bike counters).

      People love lumping anyone who rides a bike into “the spandex mafia” but that isn’t really who needs safe bike infrastructure the most. Regular people who ride bikes including kids and their parents, and people currently too frightened to bike are the ones who benefit the most. The spandex mafia will ride no matter what infrastructure is present.

      1. Oh, “the children” argument is laughable.

        More people ride the bus on any of these corridors than ride a bicycle. Not everyone is able bodied to ride a bicycle!

        STB needs to focus on transit.

      2. “STB needs to focus on transit.”

        There are several reasons why making our streets usable for people outside cars (or buses) is critical to the success of transit.

        First, people won’t use transit if they can’t safely travel between a transit stop and their destination. Second, getting people out of cars for short neighborhood trips clears roadway space for transit. Third, walkability and bikeability weaken political resistance to denser land use, which is absolutely necessary to have quality transit. Fourth, bikes can expand the reach of transit if they can be used

        Beyond that, you might have noticed that half of this post is explaining the practices of a transit agency.

      3. The issue here wasn’t transit vs. bike lanes, it was parking vs. bike lanes. Quoting a drive everywhere advocate on another forum (about street parking as a traffic calming technique): “roads should be for moving, not sitting there all day.”

        Every time I go through the area, I notice plenty of underutilized off street parking and underused street parking in side streets. In fact, most of the businesses seem to have off street parking either in front or the back, as the stretch was built in a more car oriented manner. It is also pretty revealing that the current SDOT plan *removes parking from one entire side of the street*, and the “Save 35th” people are suddenly fine with losing that parking! That tells me 1) at least half of that parking isn’t necessary after all, and 2) the rest could probably be accommodated in existing off street lots and side streets.

        In the end, it was never about parking, it was about anti-bike rhethoric as a partisan political talking point. Unfortunately, bikes are seem more as liberal elite play things and Agenda 21 tools, not families with children going to school or the neighborhood park or the library or fathers and mothers going to the store and their jobs. Somebody has to call this out. This stuff should really be as data focused and politically “boring” as sewers and power transformers.

    2. I agree. Our primary goal on STB should be to advocate for safe, reliable, rapid and productive transit service as well as good access. An urban environment also requires lots of trade-offs; applying unrealistic minimum design standards that can easily harm transit operations when applied on real-world streets must be called out for doing that damage.

    3. Imagine if the signals were timed, so that buses could get through all of them between stops in one shot. Then pedestrians could cross arterials safely and it wouldn’t slow buses down.

      (Of course, we already do that along several RapidRide lines.)

      1. Dream on. The 250-foot suggestion applied to buses traveling in both directions wouldn’t leave enough time to safely walk across the street without stopping at least one bus every time one travels by another going the opposite way.

        A key reason that RapidRide works is that signals are usually spaced far enough apart to allow for some signal priority outside of Downtown.

        I think it’s better to have more widely-spaced pedestrian crossings in exchange for getting rid of as many beg buttons as possible!

      2. And this is exactly the sort of debate the Council should have, and facilitate, before choosing what legally binding standard to set.

      3. That is not how it works, Al. Signal priority for transit is not like it is for ambulances — you don’t suddenly see the lights change. All that happens is that the walk signal is delayed a little bit longer if a bus is coming. If someone is already crossing (i. e. the walk signal is on) then the bus has to wait like it always does. But crosswalk signals are not especially long, as they are designed to allow those standing at the sidewalk to cross and nothing more. The only long cycles are for cars, to allow enough of them to go that way.

        For streets like that, you would give the crossing light a shorter cycle. For example, 80th street, crossing Aurora, has a long cycle. But the cycle is cut just a little bit short if the Metro E arrives. This might back up traffic, but the same time is given for walking across the street. However long it takes to cross the street is the minimum amount allowed. In other words, the street suddenly becomes more like, say, 92nd, which is a “pure crosswalk” (cars can’t even go across there ( The only negative (when applied to streets like 80th) is that cross traffic is inconvenienced. Even then this inconvenience is minor, and doesn’t happen all the time (since the E doesn’t run all the time).

        The only reason it isn’t implemented more often is cost. But that is a trade-off worth considering. Is it worth adding this feature in more places, or is it better to focus on off-board payment (which also has a cost). The point is that Aurora, which has the most popular and one of the most frequent buses in the system, as well as massive numbers of cars, added signalized crosswalks. A street like 35th can do the same.

      4. Tell me, RossB. How long does it take to walk across Aurora? How much time does it take for a moving bus to travel 250 feet? To hold lights green for buses coming from both directions would mean that pedestrians may have to wait as long as three or four or even five minutes to get a gap between high-frequency bus routes after punching the beg button unless a bus in one direction is forced to stop.

        The many friends that I have that have designed transit signal priority since the 1980’s tell me that pedestrian crossing time is one of the biggest challenges. They also tell me that it’s hard to set priority more than one stop ahead unless the exact seconds at each stop can be assured. So I think I know a little bit about how it works.

      5. @Al — First of all, it takes a long time to get the walk signal for a street like Aurora. This has nothing to do with the buses, but more to do with it being an extremely busy street (they don’t want to give priority to the other direction very often).

        But again, the way these lights work is not absolute. It is not like an ambulance, or a fire truck. There is simply a preference. Sometimes it means that a pedestrian has to wait a little longer. Sometimes it means that buses have to wait for pedestrians. The bus waiting is minimized, but not eliminated. It would not make sense to put the lights on a street like Third Avenue, where you have a steady stream of buses. But a street like Aurora — with buses every 10 minutes — it is not an issue. Even during rush hour it isn’t an issue. At that point the E is running every four minutes toward downtown, but only ten minutes towards Aurora Village. That means that there are still big gaps. But again, it isn’t perfect. The cycle for crossing Aurora is long. It takes a while to walk across it. That means that a bus can be delayed, simply because it wasn’t within range before the button was pressed. But the delay is minimized — the bus arrives towards the tail end of the cycle, not the beginning. In the case of 35th, it doesn’t take that long to cross. That means the cycle is shorter, which means that if there were some signal priority for the buses, the bus would be delayed ever more rarely.

    4. [ad hom] There is plenty of road space for buses and bikes in all cases.

      We just need to limit the car space in appropriately congested urban areas or soon to be urban based on comp plans and zoning.

    5. Arbitrarily adding signals does nothing to improve mobility. They slow transit and the traffic the bus is stuck in. My trip home via the bus doesn’t need to be any slower to appease the spandex mafia. What happened to this blog being pro-transit and keeping buses and transit moving?

      What exactly does new crosswalks have to do with biking? Crosswalks allow you to, well, cross the street. This in turn makes it easier to actually take the bus. Of course this is a transit issue.

      Bike lanes are a different matter. Bike lanes take space from other uses. Some times, it means that bike lanes are installed instead of bus lanes.

      But this isn’t one of those times! In this case, there are no plans for bus lanes. There is parking. There are very wide streets. But no bus lanes and no bike lanes. Bike lanes are actually better for buses than parking lanes. Think about it. To get into a parking spot, you need to parallel park, which means stopping traffic and backing into your spot. Exiting tends to be quicker, but a car can still delay things.

      Oh, and bikers won’t suddenly avoid this street. They will still use it, and if I was biking it (and by the way, I’ve never worn spandex) I would “take the lane”. This is by far the safest way to travel if you are on a street without a bike lane. It means that you ride in the middle of the lane making it very difficult to be passed by cars. ( This means that a bus (or car) can not pass you.

      The point being, this action by the mayor will do nothing for transit, while building the bike lanes would improve transit. This is a terrible decision for everyone except the handful who can’t bother to park on a side street.

  4. King county metro and SDOT are delivering very different products and providing the same tool to solve both of their needs won’t work. Regardless, the city has adopted their Street Use Guidelines that address a lot of the suggested fuidelines you state above. I honestly believe the real issue is not having a constant-known funding stream to fund projects such as Vision Zero. The current levy model puts tons of stress on amount delivered and causes the over promising predicament SDOT is faced with right now. An alternative to the levy is to instate an impact fee that could be a more known ( it is obviously not constant) funding structure for these important projects.

    1. The Right-of-Way Improvements Manual has a very different purpose. And in any case its guidelines are agency-driven, so they don’t have the force of a Council-adopted ordinance and routinely get ignored.

    2. In the case of 35th, though, the funds were all there, the design was at 100% and shovel-ready.

      The decision not to follow the city’s adopted policies and adopted design manuals was purely political, not funding or practicalities of implementation.

      1. I agree. Many of the problems mentioned in this essay are the result of lack of funds, or poor cost estimates. But in this case, it is simply a mayor going rogue and suddenly cancelling a program that everyone assumed was going to be built for no good reason.

      2. That last sentence is a bad one (as a run on sentence it became ambiguous). Let me try again:

        But in this case, it is simply a mayor going rogue for no good reason. She suddenly cancelled a program that everyone assumed was going to be built.

  5. This article seems to confuse design requirements with use-based or cost-benefit-based performance and productivity measures that Metro uses. They are very different things.

  6. This is just “Status Quo Durkan” playing it safe so she can ensure her reelection to mayor in 2021 where she can then spend a few years focusing on her inevitable campaign for Governor in 2024.

    1. This isn’t the status quo, nor it is politically safe. She just lost my vote. She lost my wife’s vote. My wife doesn’t bike, and I rarely do. But to suddenly go rogue, and cancel a project years in the making for no good reason puts every planned project at risk. I can no longer trust the mayor. There are plans for building bike lanes on Eastlake. Will those be cancelled at the last minute too? Should I write a letter in support of every project that has supposedly been approved?

  7. Metro’s Service Guidelines use “continuing community engagement” as one of the criteria, which was employed to extend route 106 downtown when no other criteria supported doing so. The City could use “unique neighborhood character” as a criterion to allow the Mayor to continue vetoing safety block by block and substituting projects that reduce safety and increase carbon emissions block by block.

  8. I’d like to make a general comment if I may please in response to, “The process should not prioritize those with the time and resources to attend endless meetings and hire legal counsel in the service of never slowing down their cars.”

    I have to say, I find this a sad commentary on American local government. So much of it – whether in Island County or King County – is dominated by folks who like I either by disability or age have a lot of time on their hands. Working stiffs can’t get time off to go to these meetings schedule for the convenience of staff, and not the general public. Too many politicians lack to be brutally frank the moral courage to stand up and say, “We will NOT hold meetings on this at 1 PM but 7 PM so we can hear from the general public and not just dweebs who can’t get Hollywood work or in the case of a certain Alex Trump TV work so they go to Seattle Channel, TVW, Sound Transit Livestream, and such.”

    With that, it is really nice though that Sound Transit and Enviroissues put together such awesome events for public input & outreach. I just request the “talking at” presentations were followed by a robust Q&A… or done away with. Otherwise, they’re very good events… and well worth attending. Lots of folks there to take your questions and a comment box available also. Everett Transit also has partnered with Enviroissues and does an even better job. I do take pictures of these events also – see for examples. Really hope to see some of you at these events…


  9. Uuhhhh…. I don’t think “guidelines” have “the force of law”. As guidelines, they can be easily dismissed for good reasons. Laws are rules and not guidelines.

    1. The Council can adopt an ordinance requiring SDOT to follow any guidelines it wants. It could even adopt an ordinance requiring SDOT to follow SDOT’s existing guidelines, although I don’t think those are ideal.

      1. Guidelines can be, and often are, adopted into a legally binding process—as with my example here, the Metro Service Guidelines. Don’t get hung up on names; read the text of ordinances and see what they require.

      2. I don’t think Metro Service Guidelines have ever been successfully challenged in court as law. Can you identify a court challenge that is based on them?

        Again, Metro’s Service Guidelines are about service and implemented very differently than the design guideline standards you suggest. If bicycle lanes got the same utilization measure scrutiny as bus routes have, the results would likely not look very good for many proposed projects. Others would even get removed for lack of use.

      3. (a) An ordinance passed by the King County Council and signed by the executive is law, just like an act of Congress or the Washington state legislature. It doesn’t need to be challenged in court to be law. This is the ordinance through which the Council adopted the Guidelines and directed Metro to use them for several purposes, including service changes and a strategic plan update.

        (b) The point is not whether a service performance metric is comparable to a design standard. The point is that both should be set out in binding legislation that applies across the jurisdiction, to prevent hyperlocal concerns from overriding jursdiction-wide ones and making a mishmash of the transportation system.

      4. “The point is not whether a service performance metric is comparable to a design standard. ”

        This is exactly a key point!

        No one is going to sue Metro for running 12-minute frequencies at 6:30 PM when 10 minutes are what the guidelines say. However, design standards (including design guidelines) have significant legal risks associated with them. Jurisdictions and even transit operators that own property are sued all the time for not meeting their own design guidelines. There is a whole personal injury legal industry out there just looking for ways to collect! There is a whole set of engineering review and professional registration out there to implement designs.

        For example, some guideline as seemingly innocuous as a crosswalk every 250 feet has very significant legal risks associated with it. A drunk driver may run over an intoxicated pedestrian in the middle of the night, but the City could face a lawsuit from either person because the injured party could claim that the adopted crosswalk standard was not met.

        This is why something like the AASHTO signal design standards are so important — and should take precedence whenever possible. These standards are not casually proposed by some blogger; they are developed after years of scrutiny by engineers, attorneys and other professionals.

        Any city attorney would tell you that you can’t just flippantly implement new, major design requirements without doing a legal assessment of the risks first. The more hard-line stance that a city takes on guidelines, the more legal risk they accept. Even not having the budget to maintain the striping and signals required to meet the standard wouldn’t be a significant argument for that city.

      5. AASHTO standards are largely garbage made up in the 1940s-1960s by car-obsessed people who did very little research.

        NACTO standards are actually appropriate for cities.

  10. Even if we add more bikers like Phyllis Porter and Cathy Tuttle to the City Council, it looks like we won’t make forward progress on Vision Zero until Mayor Durkan’s time is up and we can elect Teresa Mosqueda mayor. Three ….. more ….. years. :(

    1. The City Council has legal authority to plan and construct city streets. Not the Mayor. If you get a sympathetic majority on City Council, and they’re willing to actually make the tough decisions, the Mayor does not have the power to block them on this.

  11. Many good Metro changes were enacted before the service guidelines in the summer 2011. The former subarea financial rules did not prevent good planning or service changes. There were good network changes in 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2011. Many crosstown improvements were implemented before 2011: routes 44, 48, 40, 8, 180, and 245. the Aurora restructure, Route 120, and RapidRide lines predate the service guidelines. There is politics involved both before and after the service guideline adoption; that is how pubic policy is made. David mentioned exceptions; the SE Seattle change in fall 2016 was probably one. as another poster has stated, they are only guidelines; before 2011, there were others.

    With Seattle, I suggest that planning in silos has led to problems. The several modal plans should be integrated before going to the Council for funding. the bike master plan may aim to place facilities on transit arterials where there is not sufficient width. the pedestrian master plan may include adding sidewalks on frequent transit arterials that would advance transit, mobility, economics, and vision zero. the transit master plan may pluck dumb streetcar projects off the top for funding ahead of more worthy ones.

  12. Hear, hear!

    “Metro’s Service Guidelines, which the Council adopted by ordinance in 2011”

    eddiew: “There were good network changes in 1991, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2008, and 2011.”

    I noticed the change in 2012. Before that the council often vetoed entire restructures, or protected a single route that one person or a small group of activists complained about losing. Keeping one route meant cascading changes on other routes, and the one that lost was usually a grid route that would have finally gotten better service. One example was the 42 in the 2008 restructure. For Link Metro proposed to replace the 42 with a frequent north-south route on MLK and a route on Othello so that people in Seward Park and east Rainier could get to Othello Station. But activists wanted the 42 to remain and a McClellan Street route from Mt Baker Station to Beacon Hill Station. So Metro kept a truncated 42 and added that other route. The hours came out of the Othello route, which was reduced to 45 minutes if I remember.

    There were some good restructures as eddiew mentioned. Northeast Seattle got more service in U Village and a new east-west corridor from Laurelhurst to Fremont. The 6, 359, and 360 were consolidated so that Aurora wasn’t a long milk run. But there were a lot of other good plans and routes that were vetoed, even if some restructures went through.

    In 2012 when the council was first grappling with the recession’s revenue shortfalls, the council seemed to realize it could no longer afford to prop up questionable legacy routes, and it clearly switched from telling Metro to keep particular routes to telling it to “follow its service guidelines”. That was the case in the C, D, E, and U-Link restructures. There was a little backsliding — the resurrection of the 71 and another route I can’t remember — but that was only a small fraction of what the council used to do before.

    There’s one factor that hasn’t been mentioned. The neighborhoods would say that they should get a large say in what happens to their streets, and these citywide guidelines give no room for that. To those proponents the guidelines sound like the city is captured by downtown interests, developer interests, and the war on cars. So there’s that.

    “making the citywide consequences of political interference in any specific project far more obvious to elected officials”

    Yes! Right now, I think, it’s easy for the politicians to sympathize with the plight of one person or business who’s losing parking on 35th, but not see the more diffuse impact of these cumulative decisions on thousands of non-driving residents. A transit/bike/ped network with holes in it can’t be as effective as a complete one. Paris puts SOVs at absolute last priority, as do some other cities. Thus their infrastructure and mobility improvements are effective. We can’t just say we want a good transit and bike network but then actually prioritize cars above them when it comes to implementing it; e.g., on 23rd as well as 35th and 65th and others, and the downtown Seattle Squeeze planning.

  13. I fully agree with these recommendations which would give SDOT stricter guidance and give Council more teeth to enforce they follow the guidance.

    However, we already have legislation that Durkan has overridden with her decision to genuflect to her good friend Jordon Royer who co-leads the “Save 35th” group: the Complete Streets ordinance. The proposed design violates this ordinance. Council could at their next meeting vote to direct SDOT to build the bike lanes because without them, they are violating the Complete Streets ordinance.

    1. The ordinance is both vague and toothless. SDOT could either take the position that the facilities in its design are “appropriate” (which is not defined in the ordinance) or issue an exception for almost any reason it wants. We need stronger tools.

  14. Were the Bike lanes on 35th part of the Move Seattle Levy and is so will they even be able to do the project since it doesn’t have bike lanes?

  15. There was no community deadlock. The community was overwhelmingly against adding a bike lane to 35th The community is not against bicyclists, there is a logical option is four bolcks west in 39th.

    1. How do I get to Top Pot or Grateful Bread safely from 39th?

      Bonus question: how do I do it with 120 lbs of cargo bike and kids on the back?

    2. There community was not overwhelmingly against bike lanes. There is the “Safe 35th” group. Those of us with kids wanted the streets to be slower and safer. The introduction of electric Lime Bikes made the arguing that a hill was not a good choice for a cycle lane invalid. I was almost hit by two cars while crossing 35th on foot just yesterday.

      There was a generational split between ‘safe’ and ‘save’. Given time I expect the bike lanes to eventually get built as more e-bikes become available and people are more environmentally concious.

      1. A poll of the community showed that 68% were against the bike lane and that is overwhelmingly against it and I was one of those 68%. I live in the neighborhood and I am delighted with the decision.

        Of course the bike lobby is all upset but then the bike lobby is just like a toddler. When a toddler doesn’t get their way they thrown a tantrum which is what the bike lobby is doing because for once they didn’t get their way. In this case community interest and preference took precedence.

      2. When “the bike lobby” (hi there, neighbor) doesn’t get their way, they get hit by cars. I’m glad you’re delighted with yourself for putting my family in danger.

      3. What is this “bike lobby”? People like me and my neighbors who are trying to make the streets safer? Some selective land-line based poll does not reflect the support for this project. Voters in the city overwhelmingly approved the construction of the bike network. It seems like your delight is directly connected to people being upset about the outcome.

      4. No, the voters approved Move Seattle, a multi-modal funding mechanism that provided funding for some bike network projects. There has not been a public referendum specifically on the bike network.

        I’d be happy to put the network up for a public vote.

      5. So I advocate for your family getting hit and where in my post did you come up with that assumption. Just another typical response from a bike advocate when they didn’t get their way.

        My stand against bike lanes comes from seeing too many bike riders disobey traffic laws like running red lights and stop signs, not stopping for pedestrians when they have the right of way in the crosswalks, cutting in and out of traffic and endangering themselves. It may be a minority who do this but they do reflect on the rest of the bike riders..

        It also frustrating that when surveys show that is it less then 3% per cent in Seattle who ride bikes and yet millions of dollars are spent on bike lanes instead of using that money on maintaining the streets that are used by buses and not just cars. There are too many streets in Seattle who are so bad that it is like an obstacle course trying to avoid the potholes.

        I am sure that I am upsetting many of you with my viewpoints but I am not the only with them as I talk to people who are also fed up with the way SDOT spends their money on different projects which they can’t complete or if they do not on time and most of the time over budget. SDOT is a prime example of why people get upset with government as they see SDOT as an agency run amok with terrible leadership and especially under Scott Kubly.

      6. I have seen cars do the same thing but you are not willing to acknowledge that some bicyclists break traffic laws but I am not surprised because I have found that you must march in beat on this forum and you are not permitted to express an opposite opinion and I found that out several years ago.

        When ST3 was on the ballot I posted that I will vote against the measure because I am retired and on a fixed incomes and I could not afford the major increases in taxes.. What I got in responses was gee too bad but who cares. One poster told me that I should just move somewhere else and this after living in Seattle for over 63 years. Isn’t that just a wonderful attitude to take. Of course I pointed out to this poster that he will get older and then he will find himself in the same position in being retired and on a fixed income.

        And then you have posters that propose more transit improvements that will cost billions of dollars and you proposals from the city and county for other tax increases for other things and they say that it will only cost just a few dollars more per year. Well a couple of dollars here and a couple of dollars there and it adds up to real money. and there is only so much that the taxpayers can afford. Taxpayers are not ATM;s with unlimited funds and there is a limit,

      7. Okay, some bicyclists break traffic laws. When they do, someone might get bruised.

        Some pedestrians break traffic laws (usually due to poor engineering, such as the type about to be deployed on 35th Ave NE). Usually when they collide with something, Newton’s Third Law of Motion makes them the loser in the collision.

        Some transit riders break the law. When they get caught, the result is usually just a scolding.

        Many car drivers break the law. When it happens and they aren’t lucky to avoid a collision, it is usually someone else — often a law-abiding pedestrian or bicyclist — who is on the losing end of Newton’s Third Law.

        We also know that wider lanes lead to faster driving, and that is the Anti-Vision Zero striping coming to 35th Ave NE. If there were an engineer’s equivalent of the Hippocratic Oath, Zimbabwe has just been ordered to ignore that oath by his new boss. And to lie to the public.

    3. There was no community deadlock. The community was overwhelmingly against adding a bike lane to 35th The community is not against bicyclists, there is a logical option four blocks west in 39th.

      What complete BS. First of all, what evidence do you have that the community overwhelmingly opposed the bike lane? Was there a vote? Of course not. The mayor, in fact, as a candidate, said she prioritized transit and bikes over cars. Putting pedestrians at the bottom of the list lead to criticism by this very blog ( but it was clear that she prioritized bikes over cars. Thus people like me voted for her, assuming she would do the sensible thing.

      In terms of public input to the mayor’s office, the biking community was blindsided. They were told by SDOT that this was a done deal. There was no point to fight for bike lanes, because they were going to be built. That would be like fighting for bike lanes on Eastlake. As a result, the only people who wrote in were those opposed to it.

      Finally, the idea that 39th works for biking is ridiculous. 35th is the only good way to traverse the hill. If you look at topographic map of the area, you can see this (,-122.2809&z=15&b=t). 39th doesn’t even through, and involves way too much up and down. Here is a small part of a route, for example: Just on that one little section, you’ve had to lose 128 feet, and gain 144. In comparison, look at the route on 35th: Not only is it much shorter, but you only gain 50 feet. To go around, you have to climb an additional 90 feet! What is true of that section is true of other sections. For example, here is the route on 35th, between 65th and 75th: Google calls it “mostly flat”. Here is the route on 39th: You gain about 90 feet again. String these together and you have a ridiculous route: That is a gain of close to 400 feet! That is twice as much biking in terms of elevation gain, and a lot of zig-zagging, waiting to cross busy streets (with no traffic lights).

      This isn’t a case of people wanting the fastest way, or the way that goes by the businesses, or any of that. It is simply people wanting the *best* route — the route that involves the least amount of up and down. It is the route that people reluctantly follow, despite all the risks, for this very reason. If I’m biking, I’m not going to go up an additional 200 feet — I’m taking my chances with the cars. The idea that there is a safe, easy alternative is simply not true.

      1. You make my point about the bike lobby throwing a tantrum when they don’t get their way.

        No this was a case where a community said no to bike lanes and city listened to the residents of the area and made the right decision.

        And by the way there was never a specific ballot issue to the voters if they wanted bike lanes. Another wrong assumption by the bike lobby.

      2. Some people in the community said no, not the community. And plenty of people voted for Move Seattle expressly for the bike improvements.

        It was the parking lobby that really threw a tantrum, threatened Rob Johnson and vandalized equipment.

  16. Depending on your perspective Durkan has neutered or demolished SDOT. If she wants to run it, she should have applied for a job there.

    I don’t understand how the city tolerates a Mayor who left SDOT with no permanent director and a revolving door of actors for a year+.

    Durkan is great on photo ops, and terrible as a leader.

    1. Zimbabwe should stand up for public safety by telling the mayor if he is asked to lie and say a project that will endanger the public will improve public safety again, then he will resign. If Durkan expects blind loyalty from her department directors and willingeness among them to lie to the public while endangering the public, then she should expect nobody will want to work for her. Just like the guy in the White House.

      Some requests from a boss come with too high a price. Zimbabwe needs to think about how high the price is for what was asked to do this week, put himself in Cohen’s shoes, and choose public service over paycheck.

      1. I fully agree with this. I get that Sam has a boss and his boss is a politician who is swayed by political forces. But he also has a job. Going out and repeatedly telling provably false statements to council members, reporters, volunteer advisory boards, non-profits and volunteer activists, the general public, reporters, radio hosts…. This should not be something he is willing to do. How can he get the respect of the people in SDOT by doing this? He may make Durkan happy that he agreed to do this, but he’s not getting her respect.

        He took the job. He should be willing to stand up and say no to this given how many strong reasons and justifications he has to do so. The fact that he didn’t, is quite worrisome for the city.

  17. SDOT is walking back Complete Street improvements along Sand Point Way near Magnuson Park as well.

    A consultant they hired recommended reducing speed limits and channelization for the stretch of roadway from NE 65TH Street to NE74TH Street to improve traffic and safety for all users.
    Instead, they got pushback from car owners and those who don’t live along Sand Point Way near the park and use it as an arterial. Now their “improvements” are limited to installing some sidewalks, changes to a few intersections, and some turn lanes.

    Between this and the flop on 35th AV NE, it is clear Seattle Move really applies to car owners and those who have to get out of their way unless they want to get run over!

    1. Lowering the speed limits makes buses slower too. Lowering NE 65th St and 15th Ave NE and others to 25 mph was excessive. If that was all that was withdrawn, I’m glad. Sand Point Way is an arterial.

      1. Given how frequently local buses have to stop, lowering the speed limit from 35 to 25 probably has a negligible effect on bus speeds.

      2. It doesn’t matter much if you’re going a short distance, but if you’re going across the city it does.

      3. Sand Point Way is an arterial, so is 35th AV NE. It can remain an arterial and still have safety improvements for the residents who live along it.
        The speed limits went from 40 down to 35 (the speed limit on Lake City Way), so I’m not sure if that is considered too slow for transit, but it’s a step to help make it safer for all users.

      4. Buses go across the city, but they stop every quarter or half mile, so spend very little of their time at top speed.

  18. What cracks me up (in the “otherwise one has to cry” sense) is that it isn’t even splitting the baby. It’s more like “well, you can keep the baby but now we’ll just kill the baby and you can have the corpse”.

    Meanwhile the anti-bike lane advocates are all “wooohooo we got what we want, dead baby and no changes!”

    …and yeah, I get the analogy, just applying the contrived forced logic.

    The other side effect of all this is, “auto” traffic isn’t going to be compromised, nor would it have been with bike lanes. The throughput is still there and travel time is basically the same.

    Which in the garbage pile of American infrastructure that I just don’t get, is we slow down our cars even while we’re over-emphasizing and focusing on them being a complete and total priority in almost every way. Meanwhile cars get faster trip time in places like the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, etc, were auto dominance is anything but assured, but simply provided for in some cases. All while attaining a dramatically safer environment for all users.

    I keep asking over and over WTF is wrong with us in this country?

    1. This particular problem was the country going off the deep end believing the Futurama vision of a car for every household and transit is a niche service. The car-highway-fossil fuel industry promoted this, and it got mixed up with American exceptionalism, individualism, postwar prosperity, and the adversion to being around different people that ultimately comes down to racism and classism. Other countries don’t have all of these as much so they support different things. The Futurama vision got written into laws and regulations and now perpetuates itself far beyond its direct public support. This gives a structural pro-SOV bias of like 95+%, which we’ve been able to chip away down to maybe 80% in Seattle (and less in a few cases, as in the 30% care modeshare for downtown commutes).

      Other countries start with, “How can we get people to jobs most efficiently? What’s the sweet spot between optimal mobility for the population and the fewest negative externalities?” That leads them to urban best practices, and prioritizing non-car infrastructure absolutely above cars, and actually building comprehensive non-car infrastructure. This seems too socialist to many Americans: focusing on the collective population rather than on individual desires. And many people think that what they want is for the government tog et their hands off my car and give me an uncongested road and a free parking space everywhere I go. Because most other Americans are like me, so that’s what they want too. But you also have to look at how the bias of the system influences people’s thinking. Advertisements, zoning norms, vocal pro-car neighbors, and the practical need to get around a regionthat doesn’t have comprehensive non-car infrastructure, in a country that doesn’t have comprehensive non-car infrastructure anywhere except in a few parts of a half-dozen cities, gives the impression that this is normal and this is what I want.

      James Howard Kunstler said an interesting thing in a TED talk. He’s a die-hard anti-car activist that I find extreme sometimes. But he shows picture of main streets and stroads lined with large highway-sized signs and blocks, like in White Center or Aurora, and says, “Nobody likes these. they don’t go to these streets because they like to be there; they go there because they have to. The people laying down their lives for our freedom in Afghanistan and Iraq and Syria, many of them will come back to a town with a physical environment that’s not worth saving.” That’s why we need to change them into places that are worth saving, that people will long to be in and they’;ll find it convenient to walk around.

      1. You make a great point about large signs. I would suggest adding tall street lighting as well (and the recent replacements for LED streetlights are pitiful about casting light on a street while being so bright that it makes it hard to look up).

        I always thought that the welcome gate arches installed by many California cities were a powerful way to message to any traveler that you are entering a lower-speed, pedestrian-friendly commercial district.

  19. The only other things I would add:
    Bike lanes need to be grade separated where feasible.
    Bike lanes should only be off the main arterial if it’s unfeasible to include them on it.
    There can be a second GP lane on an arterial only if there’s already a Bike lane or Bus/Bike Priority Lane.

    I’d like to see this city borrow the Bus/Bike lane concept for arterials from Paris, and for grade-separated lanes to be the default for bike lanes.

  20. This is what needs to happen. If you can do this, or any version of this, you’ll start having a functioning street system. For the first time.

  21. Not happy about bike lane removal, but on the other hand if you actually live with 35th Ave NE you’ll instantly recognize that removal of “phantom right lanes” will eliminate people using that not-quite-a-lane to pass cars stopped for pedestrians. “Undertaking” on the right has been the principle hazard of 35th and for the sections realigned per the mish-mosh outcome, the option for idiots to pass on the right has been removed and will doubtless result in a statistical improvement in outcomes.

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