Councilman, riders push for bike paths

Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Mercer Island accommodates cyclists from near and far. The City Council is looking at adding bike lanes to make it easier for Islanders to get around. -
Chad Coleman/Mercer Island Reporter Mercer Island accommodates cyclists from near and far. The City Council is looking at adding bike lanes to make it easier for Islanders to get around.
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About 40 people, many of them cyclists, attended a City Council study session focused on making the Island safer for bicycling.

During the meeting, Councilmembers directed city staff to come up with a short-term plan that would add bike lanes to some roads surrounding the Island’s elementary schools. City staff was also given a list of long- term updates for the bike and pedestrian plan.

Councilmember Mike Grady, who rode his bicycle to the meeting, told colleagues that his goal was to make immediate implementations without a financial impact.

“We need to find a way to get bikers to use the Town Center,” Grady said. “Let’s make it easier to get to and through the Town Center and find out where we should do that. I’d like this group to talk about what we can do right now.”

City maintenance director Glenn Boettcher said city staff would identify which streets are wide enough to have bike lanes and would devise routes on those streets to connect neighborhoods with schools. They will also be working with the school district on the project.

“We'll need to identify the routes that students are most likely to use, identify whether there are some routes that really shouldn't be used because of safety concerns, determine which streets are wide enough to support striped routes on one or both sides and try to anticipate where there could be conflicts with parking or other street uses,” Boettcher said.

“Our first step, which I hope will happen in the next few days, is to meet with the district’s new transportation director to talk about coordination between the city and district as we move forward,” he said.

After the study session concluded, about 10 residents and bicyclists made comments. A majority of the speakers mentioned the need for signs to remind cyclists to ride in a single file. Many also echoed the need for reducing the speed limit on West Mercer Way. More than one person stated the need to connect the South end of the Island to the Town Center with a bike lane on Island Crest Way and other connecting streets.

“Mercer Island is a gem for bicycling. It’s easily the best 15 miles of cycling for me,” Island resident John Gebhart said. “But over the last 10 years it’s gotten worse. I routinely experience serious road rage because of the misunderstanding that the new shoulders on West Mercer Way are bike lanes. We need some signage or a policy or some system so motorists know I have the right to be on the road.”

Jans Gos, a cyclist who lives on Gallagher Hill told the Council there needs to be a sign or better enforcement for cyclists to ride in a single file. “If they want to have a conversation they can sit and have a coffee at Starbucks or Tullys. If they’re on a ride they should be in a single file.”

Marguerite Sutherlund told the Council the current “share the road signs” are the equivalent of saying “have a nice day” because they lack direction. She also suggested reducing the speed limit on West Mercer Way, as did many others.

The Council also authorized the creation of an ad-hoc committee in the Parks and Rec. department to guide long term plan development. Some of the recent capital projects for cyclists have included the addition of more than 3.5 miles of shoulder during the past four construction seasons. A total of seven roadside shoulder projects have been built on the Island’s perimeter arterials.

The Council also received an updated version of the plans to prohibit and prevent left turns at Island Crest Way and Merrimount Drive. A community meeting to display the planned traffic improvements is scheduled for Sept. 6.

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