As the Mercer Island City Council discusses its 2017-2022 Transportation Improvement Program (TIP), one group feels underrepresented in the discussion.
Neighbors in Motion, a group of Island residents that has been advocating for cyclists and pedestrians for the past five years to improve safety for both groups, was disappointed with the draft TIP. There is only one specific bicycle-related improvement mentioned, and it is a proposal to push Phase 11 of the East Mercer Way roadside shoulders from 2020 to 2022.
“Shoulder projects on both East and West Mercer Ways will be proposed in future TIPs as funding becomes available,” according to a draft of the plan presented to the council on June 6.
In the meantime, Neighbors in Motion has been working to gather community input and propose a list of projects, including priority improvements to the Interstate 90 bike and pedestrian trail, a dedicated north-south walking and biking route and a completion of the Southeast 40th Street link to connect bikers and walkers to the north end schools, according to a letter sent to city staff on May 10. About 140 people signed a petition to support these priorities.
This is an important year for planning on the north end of the Island, said Neighbors in Motion leader Jim Stanton, with the King County North Mercer Sewer project and Sound Transit’s East Link light rail extension underway and the new Northwood Elementary opening this fall.
Issues with poor lighting, car-bike conflicts near the Park and Ride and unsafe bollards on the I-90 trail remain, though the city settled a $7 million lawsuit over the bollards last year. In addition, cyclists expect bike commuter traffic to increase with the rising popularity of electronic bikes and the closing of the I-90 center lanes in 2017.
Other leaders for Neighbors in Motion include Kirk Griffin, Jeff Koontz, Robert Olson and Mark Clausen. The group held public meetings, conducted a survey of 500 Island residents and polled people at Leap for Green about attitudes and priorities concerning transportation issues, according to its letter.
Group members also met with city engineers from Seattle and Mercer Island to talk about existing issues, especially near the Mercer Island Park and Ride and Southeast 40th Street. There are currently 1.2 miles of bike lanes on Mercer Island, and half of that length runs on 77th Avenue Southeast and are set to be eliminated under the new Town Center plan.
Stanton said the group wants city engineers to take bicycles and pedestrians into consideration at the design level, which is the least expensive place to start.
“One of the problems the city faces with its Bike-Pedestrian plan [from 2010] is that it has a nice vision of a multi-modal Mercer Island, but no timelines, priorities or commitments, and no way to measure progress against it,” Stanton said.
Some issues have quick fixes, including lighting, signage and paint on the roads, group members say. But the combination of the existing problems, growing population and lack of planning for bike and pedestrian infrastructure is concerning, the group says.
“Even at current volumes the current I-90 Bike and Pedestrian trail is inadequate to ensure safety at all times,” according to its letter. “The expected growth in bicycle and pedestrian traffic will exacerbate these problems and risks.”
The ​East Mercer Way ​shoulder projects ​have been the most consistent​​​​ effort, but ​are often postponed.
Neighboring cities are making more substantial investments.
Bellevue is set to discuss a $5 million bike plan, and Seattle will add 25 miles of ​protected bike lanes and 32 miles of greenways to its system.
There is also $45,000 for Pedestrian and Bicycle Facilities (PBF) plan implementation.
Mercer Island needs to accelerate its efforts to “keep up with the population growth and the regional investments being made in bike and pedestrian infrastructure,” the letter states.
The council decided to delay adoption of the TIP to allow more time for public comment and staff research.
See the draft TIP here and the July 5 city council agenda bill here. For the Reporter story on the intersection of Southeast 40th Street and 86th Avenue Southeast, which has been a major discussion point in the TIP, click here.