Some 25,000 new jobs. A new five-lane roadway, and (wait for it…)

No planned bicycle facilities?

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We recently received notice that Frager Road in Tukwila, from S. 200th Street north to the Mitchell Moving and Storage facility, is closed to cyclists and all traffic due to the Southcenter Parkway Extension project.  Frager Road will be closed until the project is completed, possibly through the end of 2011 (according to the city). The Southcenter Parkway Extension will replace the current Frager Road with a five-lane road.  Unfortunately, Frager Road is a common bicycle route and one of the detour routes we recommended to the City of Tukwila in response to the Green River Trail closure. With both routes closed, the City is recommending bicyclists use the Interurban Trail; however there are currently no provisions to help bicyclists navigate through the detour.  Please take a moment to send an e-mail to Mike Mathia (Public Works Project Manager at mmathia@ci.tukwila.wa.us) indicating the importance of alternate routes and signage for bicyclists through the duration of the closure.

Of even greater concern, however, is the Southcenter Parkway Extension project itself.  The project will construct 1.4 miles of a new five-lane roadway extending from South 180th to South 200th Street, with no planned bicycle facilities.  The purpose of the new roadway is to increase access to the Tukwila Urban Center and the forthcoming Tukwila South Project.  The Tukwila South Project (500 acre development) includes an annexation of 259 acres of unincorporated King County, and over the next 20 years is estimated to provide "25,000 new jobs, add 10 million square feet of occupied space and join the University of Washington, Microsoft and Boeing Everett as the Puget Sound region’s fourth major 'non-Central Business District' employment center."  The new five-lane Southcenter Parkway Extension runs right through the heart of the planned Tukwila South Project development.

After learning a little more about the Tukwila South Project, my first concern was the location.  Not only does the project appear to be in the heart of the flood plain, but moreover, the location is not exactly in the heart of any urban area, which begs the question... how will people get there?

Let's assume that development goes according to planned (a mixed-use, vibrant community), and everyone can live, work, shop and recreate all within the planned community (unlikely, but let’s pretend).  If this is the case, then it is a great opportunity to design the community and supporting infrastructure in a way that fosters sustainable and healthy transportation.  It could be like Vauban, Germany... where walking, biking, and transit are the primary modes of travel!

Ok, so maybe that's a little ambitious, but the reality is that this is potentially 500 acres of new development -- a critical opportunity to be visionary and plan for the future that people want to see.

Unfortunately, this isn’t playing out accordingly.  Our first glance into the future of this development is the Southcenter Parkway Extension.  Just to reiterate, it will be a new five-lane roadway with NO bicycle facilities.  It seems like our vision of a bikeable, walkable, less car-dependent community is off to a rocky start.

I inquired about the lack of bicycle facilities on the new roadway and found out that the bike lanes were negotiated out of the plans.  As stated in the Tukwila South Development Agreement, the Southcenter Parkway Project will not include bike lanes as specified on the 90% drawings. While the agreement does require the developer to provide the City with a trail easement along the west side of the Green River Trail, the development of such trail may not occur until at least three years from the conveyance of the easement.

While Cascade will support the development of a trail if and when it happens, we fear (1) the new road will be built, and it will be years before a trail is built (if ever), and (2) the flood plain location of the potential trail will render it undevelopable or perpetually unusable (as seen today with the five-year Green River Trail closure).

The bottom line is, a new roadway is being built to provide infrastructure and access to a master planned community -- unfortunately, the access it is providing will not serve all people. As we build new roadways, it is important to consider all users, particularly in situations that have the potential to serve 25,000 new jobs.  Moreover, the scale of development here is likely one of the largest we will see in our lifetimes within such close proximity to Seattle.  Why waste such an opportunity to create a truly livable community for the future that isn’t built around 1950’s-style auto-dependency?   Creating a community that is transit and bike-friendly doesn’t necessarily cost more – it just requires thinking differently and moving beyond half-century old notions of urban planning.

We cannot continue planning and designing communities and transportation systems that take us further down the path of congestion, environmental degradation, and unhealthy lifestyles, and ultimately away from our collective goals of being a healthy and sustainable region.  What we can do, however, is incorporate bicycle, pedestrian, and transit friendly design principles into all stages of developments like Tukwila South.  After all, it’s no mystery that we get what we design for.  And in the case of the Southcenter Parkway Extension project, we’re designing for five new lanes of traffic.