Decisions about the future of Lake Washington Boulevard between Mount Baker Beach and Seward Park are being made which may result in most of it being permanently closed to drivers heading north or south. Thousands of drivers depend on this route and for many seniors and those with disabilities, the drive along this road is their only way to enjoy this beautiful park and lakeshore experience.
The community outreach effort being relied upon to inform these decisions is flawed and inadequate. It may not reach all those impacted, once again leaving too many people in the South End out of the conversation.
We are concerned that the "Visioning Process" for LWB will be inequitable and result in permanent changes that are not in the best interests of the community or reflect what the majority of residents want.
Traditionally, Lake Washington Boulevard has always been open to everyone except on “Bicycle Sundays” when the 3-mile stretch from Mount Baker Beach to Seward Park was closed to drivers on select Sundays between May and September. For over 50 years, “Bicycle Sundays” were held on approximately 12 days per year ONLY and ran from 10am-6pm.
In 2020, with the City shut down for COVID, traffic across Seattle dropped by more than half. All indoor and many outdoor recreational venues were shuttered, and with so few cars on the road, LWB was temporarily closed to through-traffic in order to provide more space for socially-distanced recreation. It was the longest stretch of road that the city completely closed off to drivers during COVID.
LWB was reopened to drivers in the fall of 2020 but now there were new closures on holiday weekends and during school breaks, continuing through 2021. Bicycle Sundays had also morphed into Bicycle Weekends that ran from Friday to Monday, and this continued in 2022.
The City maintained that the decision to add these new closures and expand Bicycle Weekends was based on wide community input. However, many local residents felt they were either left out of the process completely, or that the poll was worded in a way that gave them no option to disagree with extended closures. The poll (which elicited a total of 6,701 responses) was not restricted to residents of the neighborhoods most impacted by closures. It was open to anyone, including cycling clubs and Greenways supporters throughout the city. Only 2,244 who took the poll were from 98118, which has almost 50,000 residents (and, according to latest census data, only 2% of these residents walk or bike to work while 65% drive or carpool).
THE DECISION-MAKING PROCESS FOR THE FUTURE OF LWB
The City is now considering options for expanding closures and bringing in permanent traffic changes to LWB. Proposals include making it drivable in one direction only, imposing a 15 MPH speed limit, and closing a section of it completely to drivers. These changes would effectively remove its function as a vital, drivable road that connects local neighborhoods.
This effort is spearheaded by District 2 Councilmember Tammy Morales and the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT). The City has spent $200,000 to fund a 6-month collaboration between SDOT and a Task Force to develop a new community outreach plan and vision for the future use of LWB. At the start of the process, the majority of those selected to be on the Task Force were cycling proponents and others in favor of closing LWB to drivers. In September, Councilmember Morales secured a further $404,000 for a permanent protected cycling-walking-rolling route on LWB.
The input from this new community outreach effort is supposed to inform the final recommendations made by the Task Force. The outreach is primarily being conducted through an online survey which SDOT launched on October 19th, 2022. It will run for approximately 6 weeks.
The members of Coexist Lake Washington support safety improvements for cyclists, pedestrians and rollers on LWB but we favor options that can provide this without adversely affecting people who drive. Thousands in our community rely on the boulevard for north-south access and for many, driving is the only way they can regularly access and enjoy the benefits of this park and lakeshore experience. We are concerned that the decision-making process for LWB is biased—that the agenda from the beginning has been to eliminate driving lanes in one or both directions. We do not believe the majority of people living in or traveling through the South End want this, or that it would be in their best interests.
Lake Washington Boulevard needs to remain open to EVERYONE, no matter how each individual is able to access it. Equitable use of our beautiful and unique boulevard is at stake.