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Dave Gering
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Seattle Industry is published by the Manufacturing Industrial Council of Seattle

SI eBulletin

Reality Checks

Posted: April 1, 2011

E. Marginal Way

Lovely for cycling

Perspective is always a valuable commodity in the Emerald City and today's first context-setter comes from South Carolina, courtesy of Charleston's Channel 5 "Live 5 News." The second comes from the City of Seattle's relentless pursuit of road diets.

The connection? Reality and our contrasting ways of perceiving it.

First stop, Charleston.

According to a Live 5 reporter, the Charleston Chamber of Commerce was told by a Boeing executive Wednesday that the world needs 30,000 new commercial jet liners over the next 20 years. The reporter noted that to meet this need, "Boeing will need to build at least three aircraft a month."

Well, not exactly. Boeing hopes to build three 787s per month at the new South Carolina assembly plant. At that rate it would take 833 years to meet the projected aircraft demand.

So, while it may be news in Charleston, Boeing must still rely on greater Seattle to grab its share of the growing aircraft market and in 2010, Boeing workers here assembled 462 airplanes. That represents a production rate of 3 jet liners every two work days.

Three airplanes a month. Three airplanes every two days.

Remember when it seemed like the end of Boeing in Seattle when the news broke about the new plant in Charleston? The fact is, this remains the only place in the world where Boeing is equipped to achieve the production rates necessary to keep up with aircraft demand and maintain its enormous cash flow.

But, if Boeing is still ours' to lose, there's also still a chance we'll blow it, which brings us to the road diets.


Road Diets on Airport Way and East Marginal

King County International Airport - aka Boeing Field - remains one of the most productive pieces of real estate in the entire world of aerospace. In 2010, the airport was the site of final assembly and servicing for 376 737 jetliners. That represented 81% of all Boeing airplanes built last year.

Boeing Field is bordered on the east by Airport Way, and on the west by East Marginal Way, two roads that are among the best-known, most important truck routes in the State of Washington.

It seems inconceivable that the city would subject these roads to road diets - the process by which the city takes away traffic lanes and devotes them to bicycle use.

Yet, last August, that's exactly what the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) proposed to do. At its unveiling, the plan called for converting lanes of each road for bicycles with curb bulbs added in the retail section along Airport Way in Georgetown.The center turn lane would be removed from East Marginal Way because, well, SDOT staff didn't think it was really necessary and it could create more room for bikes.

Each proposal was justified by SDOT staff primarily because the two roads provide more surface area than cars and trucks are usually using. As for the low-to-no levels of bicycle ridership on many sections of the roads, SDOT staff refuse to consider actual bicycle demand because the department's goal is to encourage more bicycle ridership.

SDOT staff also refused to acknowledge, let alone consider, the industrial business activity adjacent to the roads.

Industry protested. Senior SDOT staff intervened. The center turn lane on East Marginal was dropped from the plan, as were most stretches of the proposed bike lanes. The East Marginal Way proposal is now reduced to a single isolated section of road next to Boeing Field where we will have a "Bike Path to Nowhere."

The remaining portion of the Airport Way plan focuses on the retail section of Georgetown between 13th Avenue and Lucille at the elevated approach to the Argo Bridge. In this section of Airport Way, the city plans to reduce the existing four lanes to two, and build curb bulbs to make it easier for pedestrians to cross the street.

This remaining proposal was the subject of a special meeting at the Port of Seattle this week where four Port commissioners, the longshoremen's union, and representatives for UPS, Boeing, BNSF, MacMillan-Piper and other freight interests collectively asked SDOT's top manager several different versions of the same simple question, Why?

Why even consider road diets for such major truck thoroughfares? Why waste public funds pursuing bike paths where there is such little demand for them? Why the lack of city efforts to improve freight mobility? Why the mono-modal focus on bikes? Why the failure to account for business operations adjacent to road ways? Why create such a choke point on Airport Way? Why the refusal to recognize adopted public policies to preserve industrial lands and operations?

SDOT's answer was, and is, many traffic lanes in the city simply aren't needed by motorists and when that's the case, the lanes should be turned over to bikes, even in industrial areas, even where cyclists might not be present.

SDOT's top priority isn't mobility - it's safety, especially more safety for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Usually, meetings like the one at the Port identify a piece or two of common ground. Not this one. It revealed instead the contrast in perspectives on transportation between the administration of Mayor Mike McGinn, who now commands SDOT, and the industrial business community.

Most cities would be thrilled to acquire the economic and social benefits of hosting a facility such as Boeing Field. Ours' seems blind to our Boeing Field except to see the truck routes that serve it as opportunities to build bike paths.

It's great that Boeing seems so solidly settled in these days, given the uncertainty created by the new plant in South Carolina and the move of corporate HQ to Chicago a decade ago.

But the city's shifting perspective regarding industrial transportation resources is not good given the relentless eagerness of other regions to steal our lunch.


City Business Casual

The Office of Economic Development and the City of Seattle are excited to connect directly with the local business community via our City Business Casual series. These monthly, informal gatherings provide the Seattle business community with regular, direct access to business-focused city officials, including influential city leaders and key department heads and representatives.

No pre-registration for City Business Casual is necessary. The sessions do not include a formal program, but Office of Economic Development staff will actively make introductions and connections. Business owners and advocates will also have a chance to ask questions, suggest ideas, and troubleshoot specific issues in an informal and relaxed setting.

This month OED cordially invites you to attend City Business Casual on Thursday, April 14 from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. at the Polar Bar in the Arctic Club Hotel. Seattle City Councilmember Jean Godden, Seattle City Budget Director Beth Goldberg, King County Assessor Lloyd Hara, and Washington Revenue Department's National Tax Policy Advisor Russ Brubaker will join business-savvy city staff, business owners and advocates for a night of introductions and idea-sharing.

Close collaboration and information exchange are essential for Seattle businesses to build and grow. City Business Casual is a great way to facilitate growth in Seattle's thriving local business community. More details can be found on the City Business Casual webpage. 

(In case you haven't heard)

Are you ready for the full I-405 closure this weekend?

Crews have been removing recyclable materials and getting the N.E. 12th Street Bridge prepared for removal all this week. In order to safely do the work, I-405 will be completely closed through Bellevue from 11 p.m. Friday, April 1 until 4 a.m. Monday, April 4. To avoid getting stuck in traffic, drivers should delay trips, take alternate routes, and plan for delays throughout the Eastside and Seattle area. Detours will be in place for Bellevue drivers. Get the latest closure details and learn how to get around during the closure online.

Argo Bridge is Closing Soon

Airport Way South Viaduct over Argo Railroad Yard Rehabilitation Project is under way. Starting around April 1st the bridge will close for 12-14 months. All vehicles will detour to 4th Ave S. and bicycles to 1st Ave S in order to cross over the Railroad yard. For more info go to:


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