A bicycle track slated to be built along the west side of Seattle’s Lake Union could mean a significant loss of parking that would be devastating for marinas and other maritime businesses, a stakeholder group says.
The Westlake Stakeholders Group says parking is already so tight along Westlake Avenue North that a loss of spots could drive away boaters and customers of the businesses along the stretch, which, according to data compiled by the group, includes 19 marinas, 20 boat dealerships and about 50 marine repair shops and haulout facilities.
“This is going to drive the marine-related businesses away,” said group member Martin Nelson, whose family owns the Marina Mart building and moorage, as well as another building on the strip.
Nelson estimates he could lose at least 20 percent of tenants at his marina as a result of the project, which will be the subject of an open house tomorrow night.
“People don’t come to boats on bicycles. They come to boats with all of their gear and all of their stuff,” he said. “They will go to other marinas that don’t have parking issues.”
The track would run along a 150-foot-wide city-owned right-of-way on Westlake Avenue North from Lake Union Park to the Ship Canal Trail in front of Diamond Marina, just south of the Aurora Bridge.
Scheduled to be built late next year, the two-way bike lane would be at least 10 feet wide, with a physical barrier of some type separating it from vehicle traffic, and would run through a series of parking lots along Westlake.
Currently, cyclists traveling along the strip either ride on Westlake, through the parking lots or along a broad sidewalk — and in some areas, a service lane — in front of the Westlake businesses.
Stakeholder group member Cam Strong said the Westlake community only found out about the track last August, after it had been funded, when someone spotted surveyors in the parking lot and asked what they were doing. The stakeholder group mobilized, hired a lawyer and sued the city over the bike path and its Bicycle Master Plan.
“There was no community outreach on it,” said Strong, who moors his boat at Diamond Marina. “They have basically railroaded this thing through.”
Under a settlement resulting from the lawsuit, the city formed a design advisory committee for the bike path project with representation from the Westlake stakeholders, a 22-member coalition comprising marine business owners, liveaboards, cyclists and others concerned about the proposal.
The committee also includes freight interests, pedestrians, bike advocates, boaters and representation from the Northwest Marine Trade Association (NMTA). The NMTA and the Northwest Yacht Brokers Association are jointly funding an economic impact study to determine how the bike track might affect businesses.
The track was identified as a high priority in the city’s 2007 Bicycle Master Plan. But some question the need for it, since there is already a buffered bike lane on Dexter Avenue North, a block away.
The city counters that Dexter, a high-traffic route with steep slopes, is more suitable for experienced cyclists and that a flat, protected bike lane along the busy, four-lane Westlake corridor is needed to provide a connection from the Burke-Gilman Trail to the South Lake Union area.
The city says the Westlake track, expected to cost about $3.6 million to build, will improve safety, make bike traffic more predictable and accommodate increasing demand for a bike connection through the area.
“It’s very unpredictable and confusing,” said Sandra Woods, the Seattle Department of Transportation’s (SDOT) project manager for the bike track.
“Even if you’re driving there, it doesn’t feel comfortable. The objective is to create a more predictable environment so everyone will be safer.”
Demand for parking along Westlake has intensified in the past few years as Amazon-driven development has boomed in adjacent South Lake Union. Strong said increasing numbers of people are parking in the Westlake lots all day and going to work elsewhere, and there is very little parking available on the other side of Westlake.
SDOT put forth two general options for the track that it estimated would have eliminated up to 40 percent of parking spaces, but withdrew them at a meeting last week. Woods said the city realizes the “uniqueness of the corridor,” which has more dozen distinct parking areas with various configurations.
SDOT will be looking at each area individually, she said, and considering measures to address the issue of all-day parkers. The city has been meeting with stakeholders along the stretch to hear their concerns, she said.
“I think that more individual outreach to stakeholders and getting the input at the open house will be really valuable to helping us move forward with the design,” Woods said. “We’re interested in how everything operates along that corridor.”
Nelson emphasized that the Westlake Stakeholders Group is not anti-bicycle.
“I ride a bike frequently,” he said. “I am pro-bike. But I’m also pro-business.
“I think there are alternatives that would minimize the loss to the marine-related businesses and maximize safety,” Nelson said. “I would like to think that logical minds would figure out a way to make everybody happy.”
An open house about the project will be held from 5:30 to 8 p.m. tomorrow, May 21, at Fremont Studios, 155 N. 35th St.
Additional information about the bicycle track is available on the project website.