Speed limit contradictions with the Seattle Parks trail pilot

People have been using “ebikes” on Seattle’s multi-use trails for some time.  These are primarily pedal assist ones capped at 15, 20 or 25 mph. Our household recently got an electric cargo bike with this feature. It’s great because it’s insurance that you can get where you need to go, even if a little tired or the hills are bigger than you realized on the route you picked (a critical need in a city where we have not yet put protected bike lanes on major flat and direct arterial routes).

Technically, ebikes on trails only became legal at the state level recently and so the parks department is doing a pilot (for which they want your feedback). The pilot includes a maximum 15 mph speed limit for all users, on ebikes or not. This is likely due to concern that people will blast past people on foot or slower or less confident trail users. Unfortunately that’s been happening for some time and in my experience has little to do with whether the person is on an electric bike or not.

But this pilot points out a big contradiction in how we treat speed limits: for a trail, we can just lower all speed limits for all. For a road, we won’t, at least not without studying each road and spending money.

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The period of maximum constraint is an opportunity

Seattle’s Mayor, Jenny Durkan, announced a new interim director, for the city department of transportation (SDOT), Linea Laird. Urbanist twitter was aghast at this choice to lead SDOT as Laird’s most recent project was the state highway 99 replacement: a tunnel with no downtown exits is useless for freight or transit. “Why are we choosing a car focused person to lead SDOT during the period of maximum constraint? It must be because the mayor only cares about cars!” – urbanist twitter. Alternately, the mayor may have just picked someone competent without noticing the message it sends. But I take this as a chance to remind everyone what we should be doing, even if the mayor seems uninterested. Our constraints force us to make hard choices.

Picture of truck parked in turn lane on Weslake
Mode conflicts on Westlake Ave. Why do we have street parking here? What happens if the streetcar arrives and is blocked by a slow parallel park?

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Let’s just try lowering speed limits now!

Seattle’s Department of Transportation (SDOT) put up a new speed limit map last week. Seattle had a couple of years ago changed local law so that default speed limits for arterials was lowered to 25 mph and non-arterials was lowered to 20 mph. But, it will take a long time to officially change all roads because the process described to me in email involved evaluating a handful of urban village streets per year. But after looking at the data a bit and confirming there are large differences in speed limits across districts, I think a better and more equitable process would be to just lower nearly all arterial streets (per the intent of the law), then measure speeds and impacts, and adjust as needed.

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Imagine Seattle Taking Action on Climate

It’s 2032. The Mayor of Seattle – in 2032 a woman of color being mayor will be almost unremarkable – stands before the city council and distinguished guests to announce the completion of a program that marks Seattle officially becoming carbon neutral. While Seattle couldn’t control all of its carbon emissions directly, we discovered that the vast majority were under our control and what little was left were fixed by state level action or by offsetting. Seattle, in 2032, led the nation in hitting its targets ahead of schedule, helping to make it more likely the United States as a whole would be carbon neutral by 2035 and allowing the world to hold the line to a difficult, but not disastrous, increase in global temperature.

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I 💚 bike share! Please don’t mess it up!

Seattle’s city council committee devoted to transportation issues received a presentation last week on our free floating bike share program and then passed an ordinance out of committee. The current bike “free floating” (park anywhere) bike share program is still technically under pilot rules. Lime Bike is apparently currently “winning” – I’m not at all surprised as I use a Lime bike at least a couple times a week and their pedal-assist e-bikes are just enough and I love them.

I do, however, have strong concerns about the proposed permanent rules. I’m writing this up really quickly in a blog but plan to extract a summary to send to my city council members and share it here so you, if you live or work in (or even just visit) Seattle have ideas for what you want to write. Other transportation options than carbon polluting and people killing heavy machinery are critical to a sustainable city (and even electric cars won’t be enough). We need to do everything we can to make bike share a success!

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