In Edmonds, traffic hums along Highway 104 east and west through the intersection with 100th Avenue W.
During the morning and afternoon commutes, and especially on holidays and weekends, it can become a slog as people make their way to downtown Edmonds, the ferry terminal, Highway 99 and I-5. An average of 19,000 vehicles use that stretch of road every day, according to Washington State Department of Transportation data.
In recent weeks, Edmonds City Council members have disagreed about proposed north-south bike lanes for 100th Avenue W that would reduce vehicle lanes. Arguments around bicyclist safety, climate change action and vehicle congestion have seemingly split the council.
“If we had the additional space, it would be a really obvious choice. It’s just that we don’t,” Public Works Director Phil Williams said at the Sept. 21 council meeting. “… Losing two travel lanes also is going to be important to people.”
A $1.85 million grant from Sound Transit would pay for bike infrastructure in both directions on four roads. That includes a nearly 2-mile stretch from 244th Street SW to Walnut Street along 100th Avenue W, which becomes Ninth Avenue W north of the highway.
Other bike lane work in the plan hasn’t drawn the same discord as the project through Highway 104.
Some council members tout dedicated bike lanes there as building a full network for cyclists to get around town and a way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through fewer car trips.
“I have biked this and I’m not a confident biker, and I would really prefer to have designated bike lanes (in) both directions,” Councilmember Susan Paine said.
Others argued that adding time for motorists is unacceptable and causes more idling of engines and that the high volume of traffic inherently makes it unsafe for cyclists.
Public Works staff have presented two options to the council. Their preferred option, Alternative 2, would make traffic lanes more narrow, add a northbound bike lane and paint bike markings — called a “sharrow” — on the southbound lane to designate it as a shared road for bikes and vehicles.
The changes were projected to add about 2 seconds to motorists’ travel time, capital projects manager Ryan Hague said in a parks and public works committee meeting Sept. 14.
The sharrows would put drivers and cyclists in the same space, and bike riders would be expected to use the crosswalk to go through the intersection instead of bogging down traffic.
“Bike lanes these days really are the bare minimum,” Councilmember Luke Distelhorst said. “Sharrows are pretty insulting.”
A study of Chicago’s cycling infrastructure and bike collision data between 2000 and 2010 found bike lanes were better at drawing cyclists and sharrows had only “slightly larger” increases in bike commuting, compared with blocks that did not have bike infrastructure, according to a 2016 story in Bloomberg.
Cascade Bicycle Club, a nonprofit that advocates for bikeriding education and needs statewide, does not recommend sharrows.
“We do not see sharrows as bike infrastructure,” said policy director Vicky Clarke, citing studies that have shown sharrows have no safety impact. They may even have a negative safety impact by giving cyclists a “false sense of security.”
Councilmembers Paine and Distelhorst supported Alternative 1, which proposes bike lanes on either side of the road, at the expense of a car through-lane in each direction.
Councilmembers Diane Buckshnis, Kristiana Johnson and Vivian Olson asked staff to consider a third option.
It would add right turn lanes for both directions. Staff projected the loss of a lane in either direction would add about 28 seconds for drivers during the afternoon traffic peak. Olson called that downgrade for drivers “completely unacceptable.”
State data from 2019 shows about 30 reported collisions in the vicinity of the intersection. Two involved a bicyclist with a possible injury. Last year, there were about 20 vehicle crashes: none were fatal or resulted in a serious injury, and none involved a bicyclist.
But statewide, cyclist and pedestrian fatalities have grown over the past 10 years, according to Washington Traffic Safety Commission data. In Snohomish County last year, 16 people died from a collision while biking or walking. Of those, one was in Edmonds.
Roads can be made safe for cyclists and motorists, Cascade Bicycle Club’s policy director said. Protected bike lanes in Snohomish County such as the Centennial and Interurban trails already draw large numbers of users. But Clarke said a bike lane with posts or a curb between it and vehicle traffic works well too.
“In terms of infrastructure, we know that safety is a huge factor in people deciding whether to bike,” Clarke said.
The council agreed to revisit the decision at its next regular meeting Tuesday.
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