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

Cyclists on Dexter Avenue in Seattle Credit: 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."

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