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Vancouver (Washington) council says yes to protected bike lanes, no to 393 parking spaces

Cross-section adopted by council Monday.


Existing conditions versus what was adopted on Monday night.

Project map.

“It was a very emotional evening,” Niche Wine Bar owner and longtime Vancouver (Washington) cycling advocate Leah Jackson shared in an email Tuesday morning that included a photo of a dog-eared project booklet dated December 2005.

On Monday, Vancouver City Council voted to support a plan for protected bike lanes on Columbia Street. They did so knowing their decision would impact 393 auto parking spaces.

Known most recently as the Westside Bike Mobility Project, the plan aims to improve cycling access on Vancouver’s key north-south corridor. Columbia Street connects residential neighborhoods to downtown, Esther Short Park, and the I-5 bridge to Portland. When I biked on Columbia with resident Ben Sanders in 2015 he said, “It’s a bike street, but it’s also a car street.”

By the end of next year, Columbia will become much more of a bike street.

According to City of Vancouver Principal Transportation Planner Jennifer Campos, Monday’s vote endorsed a plan that will create about 3.5 miles of protected bike lanes and a host of other upgrades to the existing bikeway between the I-5 bridge and NW 45th Street.

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Here’s the breakdown:
– E Mill Plain Blvd to 45th: Protected bike lanes in both directions
– 13th to Mill Plain: Buffered bike lane northbound, sharrows southbound
– 8th-13th: Protected bike lanes in both directions
– Columbia Way – 8th: Existing bike lanes to remain and improvements made to shared use path

The most eye-popping fact about the plan? The space to build the new protected bike lanes comes by re-distributing what is currently used as 393 auto parking spaces. Yes, our neighbors to the north just vanquished 393 parking spaces on a key corridor in the name of safer streets.

Slides from council presentation. They chose Alternative 1.

What makes the vote even more noteworthy is councilors could have endorsed a compromise option that would have maintained parking on one side and “taken away” only 223 parking spaces.

The lede from The Columbian newspaper coverage puts a fine point on what happened:

Vancouver will move forward with a plan to install protected bike lanes along Columbia Street and remove nearly 400 parking spaces, following a near-consensus from the city council that pedestrian and cyclist safety was more important than maintaining convenient parking along the corridor.

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Leah Jackson’s proof of how long it took to get this victory.

Leah Jackson was at the City Council meeting Monday night and could not fight off tears. She and other advocates worried council members would only support a watered-down option that would have kept the parking lane and opted for sharrows instead.

“We in the cycling community were very afraid… [the compromise option] would have been a big hit to safety,” Jackson shared.

Jackson has fought for better bicycling in Vancouver for many years. After this project ran into strong opposition last year, City Council said more public outreach was needed. Jackson joined the citizen’s advisory committee and spent the last six months in meetings.

“I am not going to lie, I cried as some of them [council members] made their statements in support of safety and street equity,” Jackson shared. “Leaving council chambers Monday night I felt appreciated, respected and valued. As a business owner I am delighted to see us take a step toward safe, multimodal transportation.”

The new bikeway will be implemented as part of repaving projects this year and next. It will be completed by the end of 2021.

— Jonathan Maus: (503) 706-8804, @jonathan_maus on Twitter and jonathan@bikeportland.org
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