Seattle’s department of transportation is taking some flak for using bike racks to discourage tent camping on Seattle sidewalks.
In Seattle’s Belltown neighborhood, there’s a maze of on-ramps and off-ramps that access the viaduct. Underneath an overpass, Gabrielitto Rodriguez Barcelotta lays on the sidewalk in a sleeping bag. He likes this spot because it’s near the Millionair Club, which offers free breakfast on weekdays. Breakfast is 14 hours away, but he’s ready. “I’m the first customer in the line,” he said.
There are other perks that come with this location. The neighbors in the building across the street are nice (sometimes, they'll order pizzas for the campers) and after doing his laundry at the Millionair Club, Barcelotta can catch the bus to the Home Depot parking lot north of Seattle and get work as a day laborer.
Until recently, a lot more people camped here, next to the street as traffic rushed by. Elise Antonio worried about their safety. She works at the Steinbrueck Gallery, nearby. “It was just a really busy street for people camping really close to the road,” she said.
Then, the city of Seattle installed bike racks between the sidewalk and the street. The city confirmed to the Stranger that the bike racks were intended to discourage camping there.
The strategy worked. Fewer people camp there now. And the bike racks separate those that do from the rushing traffic.
The racks had been purchased using money funded by the Move Seattle Levy. That really upset bicycle advocate Tom Fucoloro who writes the Seattle Bike Blog. He told KUOW that advocates fought hard to secure funding for bicycle infrastructure in the levy.
"Using the bike racks in this way piggybacked on that effort," he said. "Bike racks had kind of won a place in the city. And [the city] used that to do something that would otherwise be very unpopular."
In places like New York, bike infrastructure has become culturally associated with gentrification. Fucoloro doesn't want that to happen here in Seattle. But Fucoloro says these racks, in this location “visually tells a story ... that people who bike are more important than people who are looking for a place to sleep. And I certainly don’t believe that.”
An SDOT spokesperson said that Seattle reimbursed the Move Seattle Levy for the bike racks.