(Video recording of SDOT’s stream of Thursday night’s meeting)

By Tracy Record
West Seattle Blog editor

Last night’s SDOT open house about the proposed West Marginal Way protected bicycle lane began with a guided “moment of meditation and reflection.”

As you can hear on the meeting video (6:20 in), attendees were urged to picture someone they love, and wish them health, happiness, freedom from suffering. It might have been ideal if SDOT’s project manager Brad Topol had also suggested that attendees picture someone who prefers a different mode of travel and wished them well, as the screen chat during the meeting veered into bikes-vs.-cars territory, though SDOT contends cars and trucks are not using the lane in question much anyway – their data has 20 percent of the southbound traffic in that area in the outside lane.

Here’s what happened during the meeting and what’s next.

After the moment of meditation/reflection, Topol and Sara Zora recapped what’s proposed for the north stretch of the southbound outer West Marginal Way lane and why. We’ve explained the proposal multiple times, most recently here; at the heart of it, a “gap” in the Duwamish Trail on the east side of WMW is proposed to be filled by a two-way protected bicycle lane replacing a general-traffic lane on the west side of the street.

South of the existing signal, where riders and pedestrians would cross to the existing trail, the options are to continue that proposed bicycle lane all the way to the longhouse, add more street parking, or do nothing and potentially even remove the current ‘drop lane” that provides parking in front of the longhouse.

(Go to the project page for maps, if you’re not sure exactly where all this would be.)

The SDOT reps recapped a variety of rationales for the proposed change – completing the Duwamish Trail, honoring the city’s “complete streets” ordinance, making the one-lane/two-lane/one-lane/two-lane stretch of SB West Marginal south of the bridge consistently one lane, and addressing a general upward trend in collisions on West Marginal. SDOT contends that the impact on traffic would be minimal, adding about 10 seconds to a southbound trip, and that there won’t be enough truck traffic, even once Terminal 5 opens, to lead to a problem. (The city-convened Freight Advisory Board is on record as opposing the lane and seeking the restoration of the entire stretch to two southbound general-traffic lanes.) If they used the existing no-sidewalk right of way alongside the road, they’d have to remove 38 trees and install a lot of new, costly pavement.

Spoken Q&A and comments from those in attendance were handled in two separate sections – one after the presentation of the reasons for change, the other after the explanation of the options. Here’s what we heard:

In the first section, Robert was first to comment, saying that the problems they’re seeking to fix won’t exist when the West Seattle Bridge reopens, adding that the time spent on proposals like this should be going into the high bridge instead: “It’s infuriating we’re getting this (presentation/proposal) instead of ‘here’s everything we’re doing to fix the bridge’.” Next, Kevin declared that “any further restriction to use of this roadway is absolutely the wrong move.” Brent suggested it was a “nice idea” but a “horrible time” for it. Don countered after that that it’s a “really good time to be doing this project,” because more people would be on bicycles if it were safe and convenient. Larry suggested construction would create “a mess.”

Jeanne said she both bicycles and drives, and that in the big picture, the potential improvement for riders would matter more and make a bigger impact than keeping the lane open to motor vehicles. Benita said it’s not the right time for construction on the road and wondered where the bicycle riders in that area are going to and coming from. (Topol reiterated that it’s a gap in the Duwamish Trail and as such, a route between the West Seattle Bridge Trail or Alki Trail to the north/west, and all the way to the 1st Avenue South Bridge to the south/east.)

There were questions, too – Kathy wondered about the sidewalk improvements that are already planned, separate from this discussion. She also urged people to respect the Duwamish Tribe‘s wishes for people to be able to safely get to and from their longhouse, whether on foot, on bike, or via motor vehicle. Bruce wondered why the trail on the east side of WMW couldn’t be improved; Topol pointed out that the future crossing signal, already planned and also separate from this discussion, is at Herrings House Park rather than at the turn-in for the longhouse, because of railroad issues.

In the second comment/Q&A period, Amanda asked about the timetable for construction; if any of these options are chosen, Topol said, they would be built around August, when the already-planned temporary signal goes in. That would last two or three weeks, he said. Jim echoed earlier concerns that the timing is not right for any kind of project on WMW – “delay it.” Krystal said that she’s a driver but still concerned about climate change so that should be a consideration when deciding on projects to make climate-friendlier transportation like biking and walking easier. Andrew said he bicycles exclusively – doesn’t have a car – and works at the Longhouse; bicycling along this stretch of West Marginal is “incredibly dangerous,” he said. To those who suggest delaying the work, he said, this is actually the time to do it because WMW is “the most dangerous … it’s ever been” (during the West Seattle Bridge detouring, which is expected to last until at least mid-2022).

That’s when Rachel brought up the bumpy conditions on West Marginal where unused railroad tracks span the street, and SDOT’s Zora said pavement repair is planned there during upcoming weekends. The final commenter, Patrick, said he lives and works in that area and wondered why the “missing link” wasn’t being routed along 16th SW parallel to that stretch of West Marginal; Zora didn’t answer. She did note that they are continuing to hold open an online survey for businesses in that area.

Meantime, we were watching the written chat too, with several attendees posting their opinions. (This was only visible if you had signed in to the meeting via Zoom, instead of just watching the simultaneous stream via YouTube.) It was somewhat less cordial, including some old misconceptions such as claims that bicycle riders don’t pay taxes, which some participants tried to correct.

Whatever you think about the proposal, if you missed the open house, you can still send comments to westseattlebridge@seattle.gov, the SDOT catch-all mailbox for its portfolio of projects related to the bridge, detour routes, etc. If you have a business on West Marginal Way, take the business survey here. Next step for SDOT is to draft a decisionmaking memo – remember, this is just about the potential bike lane and the stretch between it and the longhouse; the crossing signal and section of sidewalk are long since settled and funded – by late March.

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