Council leader irked with SDOT's dropping work on bike plan

The council transportation chair wants to know why the department did not inform him and his colleagues about the delay.
Cyclists on Dexter Avenue in Seattle

Cyclists on Dexter Avenue in Seattle Oran Viriyincy/Flickr

City councilmember Tom Rasmussen expressed frustration with the Seattle Department of Transportation on Tuesday because the agency had failed to notify the Council that an update to the city's Bicycle Master Plan had encountered a delay.

A resolution the Council passed in April approving the master plan also gave SDOT a deadline to come up with a three-to-five-year strategy for implementing the newly proposed bicycle facilities and programs. The department should have presented the implementation plan to the Council and the city's Bicycle Advisory Board for comments and review by July 17.

But the implementation plan remains incomplete.

"They haven't even started it," said Rasmussen, who chairs the Council's transportation committee. "I was shocked."

According to a letter Deputy Mayor Kate Joncas sent to Rasmussen last Friday, the delay occurred because the same SDOT staffers who would have prepared the implementation plan were busy working on a Second Avenue bike-lane project. 

A spokesperson for SDOT, Rick Sheridan, said in an email that the missed deadline was "due to an internal oversight."

But Rasmussen was less bothered by the delay than the fact that the department did not tell the Council that the implementation plan would not be delivered on time.

"In terms of Council and department relationships, it's very serious," he said. "When the Council gives direction, a department must carry it out. It's black and white."

"Clearly this is an indication of a problem within the department," he added. Rasmussen also said he was curious to know who within SDOT's management was aware that the agency was going to miss the deadline.

SDOT's Sheridan said that the agency took the communication lapse seriously, and that acting director Scott Kubly was committed to completing the implementation plan quickly.

The Council is currently considering whether to confirm Kubly as SDOT's permanent director.

In her letter, Joncas apologized to Rasmussen for the delay and said that she did not believe SDOT "intended to be unresponsive to Council legislative action."

Joncas also said that SDOT had focused on the Second Avenue project so that it can be finished by the time the city's bike-share program launches this fall. The project involves installing a two-way bike lane on Second Avenue between Pike Street and Yesler Way, which will be separated from traffic by a three-foot buffer and, at times, parked cars. It is scheduled to be in place by September and is actually included in the master plan as an important north-south corridor through downtown.

Despite Joncas' explanation, Rasmussen remained miffed. "I don't understand why that got higher priority," he said, referring to the Second Avenue bike lane.

Mayor Ed Murray helped line up an Alaska Airlines sponsorship for the bike share program earlier this year and touted it as an example of his ability to build city partnerships with business.

The Bicycle Master Plan includes recommendations for more than 400 miles of new cycle tracks, greenways and bike lanes in Seattle over the next 20 years. It also includes a number of proposed upgrades to existing bicycle facilities, as well as education, enforcement and promotional programs. Preliminary cost estimates for the new facilities and upgrades range from $390 million to $525 million.

The implementation plan is supposed to outline projects, programs and funding sources in the master plan that SDOT will prioritize.

A revised timeline for completing the implementation plan that was included in Joncas' letter said that SDOT would present a final version to the Council in mid-October. She wrote: "SDOT is redirecting other staff members to begin drafting the plan immediately."

Bill Lucia writes about Seattle City Hall and politics for Crosscut. He can be reached at bill.lucia@crosscut.com and you can follow him on Twitter @bill_lucia.


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Comments:

Posted Tue, Aug 12, 6:53 p.m. Inappropriate

Councilor Rasmussen is wrong about this. Implementing a genuine bicycle safety improvement right in the CBD where it will be noticed by thousands is worth more than a pretty planning document.

Anandakos

Posted Wed, Aug 13, 8:07 a.m. Inappropriate

I love how it's now August 13th, and Councilman Rasmussen is just now noticing that the report on the plan due July 17th is late...ah...it was late about a month ago Councilman, where were you?

GaryP

Posted Tue, Aug 12, 10:46 p.m. Inappropriate

Could not agree more with Anandakos. How dare the bicycle folks in SDOT actually do something to implement the master plan rather than work on a plan for the plan? We have too many Council members with too much time on their hands.

WSDW

Posted Tue, Aug 12, 11:39 p.m. Inappropriate

I don't think Second was part of the plan - it was an option in the plan.

I think the article is pretty clear - it's not that the order in which they chose to apply limited resources is an issue, they failed to do their job to COMMUNICATE with their bosses about a change in priorities and a DEADLINE - is a problem.

Finally, welcome to the SDOT way of doing things. Oh, we'll let you know when you need to worry about this and we'll get your input. Oh, sorry, we've already awarded the contract - and design and we've cut off one half of your community from the other (Holman Rd project) it's too late to change anything, and well I know we promised to communicate with the community, but could you do that for us now? I hope our new SDOT director can bring some order to this mess.

Catherine

Posted Wed, Aug 13, 7:15 a.m. Inappropriate

SDOT is the cyclist of city government, careening past the administrative controls that are designed to ensure the smooth flow and accountability of public business with a sense of entitlement and special purpose.

talisker

Posted Wed, Aug 13, 10:23 a.m. Inappropriate

More misadventures in LA North brought to you by Amazon.

Posted Wed, Aug 13, 11:41 a.m. Inappropriate

"In terms of Council and department relationships, it's very serious," he said. "When the Council gives direction, a department must carry it out. It's black and white."

Perhaps someone should point out to Rasmussen that this is not, in fact, how things work... Of course, he knows that as a former City employee.

He's pissed at the Mayor, but doesn't want to actually say this publicly. City staff work for the Mayor's Office, as the Mayor acts as the Executive.

Rasmussen knows exactly why Second Ave got higher priority -- because that's how Mayor Murray wants it.

Mickymse

Posted Wed, Aug 13, 1:03 p.m. Inappropriate

It doesn't matter what the bike master plan implementation plan looks. The easy stuff for bikes has been done - now it's the tough stuff involving real sacrifices of street space for more dedicated facilities. Each project is sure to be controversial,which means more cost and delay, and then more political hesitation on subsequent projects. And all of the controversy will end up drawing more and more attention to the fact that even the rosiest of rosy scenarios show cycling accounting for anything more than a tiny fraction of all trips....

Posted Wed, Aug 13, 6:23 p.m. Inappropriate

Rasmussen is wrong, the city council cannot dictate to departments what to do. The mayor is responsible for city staff.

Mickymse is correct. Voters should read these comments more, they would learn more than a few things.

Posted Sat, Aug 16, 7:38 a.m. Inappropriate

I'm in favor of anything that impedes wrecking 2nd Avenue for drivers. Put the bike lanes on 3rd and let them fight it out with the buses.

mspat

Posted Sat, Aug 16, 7:14 p.m. Inappropriate

The best thing that could happen to Seattle's bike lanes is 10,000 roofing tacks

NotFan

Posted Sun, Aug 17, 10:22 a.m. Inappropriate

As I found in my long and frustrating appointment to the Kent Bicycle Advisory Board, the problem with "Bike Infrastructure" is that neither side wants it.

The Conservatives, who would presumably find bicycles a sign of independence and freedom, hate bicycles. They have zero interest in building bike lanes, bike paths or bikeable streets. They don't want to spend the tax money and they perceive bikes only as transportation for homeless bums and people with so many DWIs they can't get a license.

The Liberals are dominated by the $8000 roadbike "Cyclists". These are gourmet bike riders who disdain anyone who doesn't go 35 mph up hill in highway level traffic. Red lights, markings and other distractions don't matter to these LeMonde's in search of a velodrome...nor do pedestrians, kids on bikes or anyone who isn't a whippet-like Lycra clad speed demon.

The bike manufactures have long ago abandoned the $600 bike "bike rider" issuing garbage that looks like a bike, but is meant to be left in the garage giving the impression that the overweight guy who owns it will (one day) go "trailing".

jabailo

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