Westlake Needs a Queue Jump

Route 40 at 9th & Mercer

Route 40 at 9th & Mercer

A few weeks ago, I attended SDOT’s open house on the proposed Westlake Cycletrack. While most of the public feedback has focused on safety and possible parking loss, transit is also part of the picture, and one of my items of feedback for SDOT was that the project should maintain or improve the speed and reliability of transit service, as Westlake is a major thoroughfare for bus riders to Fremont, Ballard and South Lake Union. I think there is an opportunity to combine improved bike connectivity at the south end of the proposed cycletrack with improved southbound bus service.

Riders at the south end of the off-street portion of the Westlake cycletrack (which will end roughly at Aloha) will need a safe, comfortable, and direct way to connect to bike lanes on 9th Ave, Valley St, and (once Mercer West is complete) a cycletrack to Seattle Center on Mercer St. Currently, there are no bicycle facilities on the street that could provide such a connection. Meanwhile, southbound buses on Westlake in the PM peak are regularly stuck in a southbound traffic jam on the same part of Westlake, caused by all the cars that want to turn onto Mercer to access I-5.

My idea is shown on the map to the right. The section of 9th Ave from where it splits from Westlake, down to Mercer, is wider than the rest of Westlake or 9th. With the removal of one lane of parking, the conversion of another lane of parking to a peak-period bus lane, and a bus-only signal at 9th & Valley, it would be possible to put in a southbound queue jump for buses on the west side of 9th, and a two-way, separated cycletrack on the east side of 9th. 9th/Valley idea

While the queue jump would not completely eliminate transit delays in the PM peak, as traffic can back up to Aloha, it would probably allow each bus to spend one less signal cycle getting though Mercer — a significant time saving. Similarly, the cycletrack would not completely solve all the bike connectivity issues in this area, as there would be an awkward transition to the 9th Ave bike lanes, which, to fix, would probably require a complete rethinking of 9th Ave.

The loss of the current right-turn pocket at 9th & Valley would be mitigated with signs further north on Westlake directing eastbound traffic on Roy St (likely headed to northbound Dexter or Aurora) to use 8th Ave, which is uncongested, and provides good access to Roy St.

This section of Westlake/9th has needed improved bus and bike facilities for years, but construction on the Mercer East project meant the street space in this area was needed for temporary reroutes. Now that Mercer East is over, that road space should be put towards longer-term more optimal uses — transit and biking. The Westlake Cycletrack project provides a great opportunity to do so.




Comments

  1. RapidRider says:

    That stretch of 9th has been a headscratcher since day one after it reopened.

    First, the parking on the west side of 9th seems to be pretty much solely used by the Maaco. It functions as a large parking and unofficial, inadequate “bike lane”. There’s no reason to have parking there at all, but the way they striped it, I don’t see it going away any time soon.

    Another goofy thing about southbound 9th is the light at 9th/Westlake. In the mornings, there will be a cycle where Westlake has a green arrow to turn right onto Westlake (no left turns allowed ever), 9th has a green arrow to turn left onto Westlake and none of the pedestrian signals are green. Despite this, 9th, continuing straight onto 9th has a red light. This happens most mornings and lasts around 30 seconds. While that doesn’t seem like a lot, it causes a queue of cars on Westlake that then proceed to miss lights at Roy and then Mercer. I don’t know if it’s some kind of traffic control thing, but I can’t make heads or tails of it.

    While Northbound 9th doesn’t serve the 40 (will it ever?), I’ll bring it up as a cyclist. The parking on the east side is in a drive lane that is signed “No parking from 4 to 6″. I have not seen one day, after the reopening, where no one is parked there, so it’s clearly unenforced and the people that park there know it. In the end, it means that northbound 9th is left with one lane, 24 hours a day, so as a cyclist you are straddling parked cars to avoid the travel lane.

    While I’m on the subject of northbound 9th, the lane configuration at Northbound 9th and Mercer baffles me. Currently, it’s a left turn lane, a straight/right lane and a bike lane, whose striping has long been worn out. On my bike, it’s horribly dangerous, because right turners, even when they see me, could care less. I’ve seen some cyclists hang out on the left side of that lane, but then you are risking someone in the straight/right lane going straight.
    It seems to me that they should have a lane configuration of: a left/straight lane, a bike lane and a right turn only lane. Now granted, if you’ve seen the intersection, that means a pretty big swerve for the cars going straight, but if it’s a legal distance of swerve, it would be a huge benefit for cars going straight and cyclists.

  2. Totally agree with the queue jump idea. I think there’s a real question whether a cycletrack directly adjacent to the east edge of Westlake is a safer bike route than the current parking lot shuffle (that’s a post for SBB), but a queue jump just like this has been a big win for the westbound 44 approaching Aurora, and would be a great idea regardless of whatever happens elsewhere on the road.

  3. From a transit perspective, I like this idea. From a cycle track perspective, it depends a lot on where the cycle track is placed. As Al Dimond commented on the Seattle Bike Blog ( http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2013/12/23/safety-is-top-concern-voiced-at-westlake-open-house/#more-226348) a west side cycle track could make a lot of sense. There would basically be no crossing from the Fremont Bridge until pretty far south. There are a couple of intersections that have lights, so those are no problem. The big problem is 8th Ave North (8th actually crosses Westlake twice, but I’m talking about the southern one — the one that is in your picture in purple). This is a problem intersection (the southern 8th/Westlake) for a west side cycle track. You could basically do what is done for the northern 8th/Westlake intersection — curve 8th to be perpendicular and put in a four way light, but that could slow down things even more in a congested area. A logical alternative would be to send the cycle track further south, on 8th until Aloha. Then what?

    This is where the city has to decide where it wants bike traffic through this area. Dexter makes sense. The cycle track could just take head west on Aloha, Valley or better yet, Roy. By going on Roy, you essentially bypass the hill (which is one of the main reasons folks want a Westlake route in the first place).

    Another alternative would be to send people to 9th. As I see it, there are two ways to do that, but neither look that good. One is via Aloha; but then southbound bike traffic would have to merge with southbound car traffic (which could be going fast) to take a left. You could add stop signs and crosswalks, but it looks messy to me. The other alternative would be via Roy. You would definitely want a cycle track here, as cars could be going quite fast. Even with a cycle track, things would be pretty messy.

    The more I look at it, the more I think it makes sense to continue the cycle track on 8th until Roy, then turn the cycle track on Roy until Dexter. There is plenty of room to modify Roy between 8th and Dexter (unlike 8th and 9th). Roy is one way heading west through here, so you only have to deal with one lane of traffic (westbound). Force the car traffic a bit south so you can carve out a cycle track on the north side of it. You could force drivers who want to head north on Dexter from Roy onto that little triangular street (marked as 8th on Google Maps, but Broad on the street sign) which would mean that there would be no right turns from Roy to Dexter. In other words, there is plenty of flexibility there, and you could make it work.

    But cars on Roy go fast, so another alternative would be to connect via Valley Street, which is much quieter (it doesn’t go through). The only drawback to that is that it involves a bit more hill. It is by no means as big as the one required to go via Dexter, but it is still more than Roy.

    All of this suggests that while I really like this idea, the city needs to think about what it wants to do with the bikers that come down Westlake. If they send them the way I think they should send them, then the queue jump makes sense, but there would be no need for a cycle track on 9th, which would then allow the right turn lane on 9th to remain. Bikers would use 8th and then cut over to Dexter. Those that want to go to the park (or the trails that lead to Eastlake) could do so via any number of crosswalks along the way.

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