This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.

In our attempt at making cities more friendly for bicycling, we often talk of bike paths as being the gold standard.  But cars never settled for paths – riddled with stop lights, crosswalks, and pedestrians – for their ideal commute.  I think it’s time to consider a bicycle freeway downtown.

My idea of a bicycle freeway would be an 8′ wide ribbon of concrete placed around 15′ in the air over a sidewalk.  There would be a simple railing on both sides, and would look a bit like a pedestrian overpass.  The bicycle freeway would allow bicyclists to speed past street-level obstacles and quickly enter the heart of the city.  Exit ramps would be curved and would be roughly level, which would be accomplished by exiting in the uphill direction (thanks to downtown’s hilly nature). 

Additional benefits would include a bit of shading and rain protection for pedestrians below, and the potential for hill leveling to allow for an easier ride.

 (please excuse the low-quality MS Paint rendering)

12 Replies to “Seattle Bicycle Freeway”

  1. I think it’s an awesome idea, but I don’t know about having an 8-foot-wide concrete structure covering one sidewalk of 3rd Ave… And 8 feet is not wide enough, in order for bicyclists to be safe, you’d need at least 5, if not more like 6, feet in each direction.
    We do need to figure out some way for bicyclists to get around downtown, though. I’m thinking take away a lane on 4th or 5th and make it into a two-way cycletrack.

    1. People seem to like awnings in front of storefronts here in Seattle. That’s actually where this idea came from – imagining turning these awnings into a grade-separated bike path. That’s also where my 8′ came from – I’m fine with changing it to 10 to 12 feet.

      I can imagine taking back quite a few car lanes for bike traffic in the future, but good luck with that in the current environment where we’re spending billions to make sure we don’t lose four viaduct lanes. Compared to the price of almost any road project, a thin strip of concrete will be cheap and will add capacity, not replace it.

  2. One challenge here is that emergency services need access. Unless we start running bicycle ambulences (they exist in other countries), any elevated bikeway needs to either support the weight of an ambulence or have very frequent access for stairs and/or ramps.

    Next, there are some practical questions around cleaning/sweeping of the elevated path, fencing to keep people from dropping/throwing stuff down on people below, how do you keep pedestrians out, what do the turn radii look like for the on/off merges, what do you do for lighting, etc.

    There are lots of things to like about the idea, but there are also a lot of challenges and details that need to be worked out.

    1. Agreed. There are many design issues, but I can’t think of a single one that’s all that tough to solve.

      I’ve thought about ambulances – clearly they’re not required on pedestrian overpasses, which can be fairly long. And there are a few downtown (Bell St., and the one that goes to the ferry terminal) that don’t have cages to keep people from thowing things over the sides. Curves and lights shouldn’t be too hard to design. Pedestrians can be kept off with signs and bike cop enforcement (similar to how we keep them off freeways). Cleaning is an interesting question – how do we clean sidewalks or the Burke-Gillman?

      1. For the ambulence question, that might be an issue of age of the structure and local design codes. I still don’t think it is insurmountable. In europe they have bicycle trailers that work as stretchers and hold medical gear, but I’ve heard that current design codes require EMT access every X feet.

        Would it empty out on streets or on sidewalks? Is there any reason why it couldn’t connect straight into buildings? That would be another set of EMT access points too.

        I’m not sure if a street sweeper is used on the BGT or if parks department folks just walk it periodically with leaf blowers. I know they run mowers down it from time to time to knock the blackberries back.

      2. I’d love it to connect straight to buildings. I can even imagine designing services right into new buildings like the large pit that will be our new city center. I’m picturing bike lockers, a public shower (or at least a city employee shower), and other services. Private buildings may want to add a small bike garage and access to their building on the 2nd floor – maybe even a cafe to watch the bikes go by.

  3. Maybe you’re familiar with the California Cycleway dating from c. 1901- quite possibly the first limited access freeway to open farmlands to suburbanization!

    I don’t think the thing would ever be popular with people like me, who abhor heights. It doesn’t matter to us that you can’t fall over the edge. Heights just bother us.

    1. I was not familiar with the Cycleway. Great stuff. I am aware of Toronto’s attempted Velo-city project, which was probably a bit too ambitious to pass the conceptual stage in the current environment (completely enclosed in glass, 3 lanes in each direction, winding throughout the city). I’m trying to go about this from the other direction: short, simple, cheap, but expandable. Like a pilot project.

      Do you ever drive on the Viaduct? How about walk on the pedestrian overpass from the ferry? I think it sounds more scary than it would feel.

      1. My problem is specifically with cycling on the pedestrian walkways of Seattle bridges. If I had to use the Aurora Bridge I would probably walk my bike across. It’s about feeling like I have a high center of gravity on the bike. That and really disliking heights.

      2. Incidentally, there’s no point in showing the victim of an irrational fear that their fears are irrational. They already know that. If it made a difference, they wouldn’t be afraid!

  4. Unrelated, but Chrome warns me when I try to visit Orphan Road (or even see it inside Google Reader) that the site contains malware. Ever since the redesign, I don’t see any way to contact the site’s owner(s). But really wanted to point this out.

  5. I’m following your RSS feed with Google Reader on Chrome, and every time I try to read one of your items, it throws this big scary malware warning about your site. Just wanted to make sure you’re aware of this. I hope it’s a mistake.

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