Excerpt from BMP update map
Excerpt from BMP update map

I don’t write much about biking here, as Tom over at Seattle Bike Blog does such a great job of it, but I actually put more miles on around the city by bike than transit in most months; and I think bikes could have, particularly for short- to medium-length trips in the flat-ish areas of the city, at least as much potential to give people freedom from their cars as a good transit network, among other benefits. Cycling as a means of daily transport in those areas, however, will remain the pursuit of a small minority unless and until the city builds the infrastructure to make it safe.

In theory, the city’s Bike Master Plan is the vehicle to achieve this, and the BMP is currently undergoing a five-yearly update, with a public comment period ongoing until the end of January. Frankly, though, I’m unimpressed with what’s come out of the process so far, in particular the only item of real substance to be published, a draft map of the proposed Citywide Bicycle Network, excerpted in the image above. I think the best general critique is the colorful one given by Bob Hall, which you should read in its entirety, but in particular his remarks about the Mineta report, the Level of Traffic Stress metric, and the fundamental structure and purpose of such network:

There isn’t a single section that attempts to answer questions like this: “How will a cyclist to get from the University District to Capitol Hill in a safe, continuous, easy to follow path with the least steep hills possible?” We have been talking about biking in Seattle for decades now and still nobody can answer this. […] During presentations, planners asked us: “Which street do you think needs to be added to or removed from our map, or which intersections?”. WRONG QUESTION. Any given street or intersection does not matter as long as you can still get from Point A to Point B [where A and B are major destinations] in a safe, continuous route.

While I’m sure lots of well-meaning people have spent lots of time thinking about what lines to put where on this map, it reads to me more like a wish list than a coherent plan to get us to a bike network that would (along with improved transit, car-share, and other tools) induce anyone to sell their car.

Above and beyond Bob’s general comments, I have a few more specific concerns with the proposals on the map, after the jump.

  • Insufficient attention to major connection points. I realize the BMP isn’t the place to figure out the micro-level detail of how to reconfigure each street or intersection to accomodate bicyclists, but there are some places in the network which are so crucial to its overall success that there’s not much point proceeding until we’ve sketched out some preliminary designs for how they could be reconfigured as safe and stress-free interchanges. As an example, for a Capitol Hill resident, the University Bridge is the connection point for most trips which involve the Burke-Gilman trail, but currently it’s miserable, requiring a rider to merge in with accelerating or decelerating cars on tightly-curving ramps which pass through poorly lit underpasses; the BMP draft proposes nothing to address this. Similar attention is needed for the crucial four-block connection between the forthcoming Westlake and Mercer underpass cycletracks, which will be the bike gateway to Uptown and the Seattle Center for the whole of north Seattle. Other such places include the Ballard, Fremont, Montlake and Spokane Street bridges.
  • Major facilities on ridiculously steep hills. Primarily, the proposed cycletracks on Denny, between Olive and Stewart, and on Madison west of I-5. Riding down these hills is like riding off the face of a cliff, and riding up them is physically impossible for the 99% of the population that’s not in excellent physical condition and riding a bike with very tall gears. I understand that Denny would be a really valuable bike connection, if it weren’t an incredibly steep hill, but I don’t see how such a facility could possibly attract enough riders to justify the road space. In a hilly city, we may just have to accept that there are some origin-destination pairs for which a direct bike route may not be possible, and thus such trips may not attract a lot of bike traffic (absent major infrastructure, like a new bike/ped overpass, which I would love, but isn’t coming in the foreseeable future).
  • Extensive parallel facilities on adjacent streets. For example, 10th Ave E and Federal Ave, north of Aloha; 23rd Ave and 22nd Ave, between Jackson and Olive; MLK and 27th Ave. Closely-spaced facilities might make sense in destination-rich areas, but those streets are not destinations. I’d rather spend money and political capital making one really good connection than two half-baked connections.
  • Madison facility conflicts with major transit corridor. Figure 3-7 of the Transit Master Plan summary clearly shows there’s not enough room in the cross-section of Madison St (east of I-5) to fit in both a cycle track and bus lanes, yet the BMP proposes one anyway, even though the city is moving ahead with a rapid bus project on Madison.

For what it’s worth, my ideal BMP update would be one in which SDOT identified a major-destination-oriented network along the lines Bob described, figured out a couple of possible pathways for each connection in the network, assembled a team of engineers with a broad exposure to bike facilities in other cities, and sent them out to ride those pathways with a bunch of people of all ages and abilities who don’t regularly ride bikes, but might be interested in doing so. The engineers woud ask them to point out obstacles — everything from potholes to lack of a traffic signal — and discuss potential solutions right there on the spot, come back to the office, and write that all down. That would be a game-changing document, one which, if its proposals were enacted, would radically extend the viability of utility cycling in Seattle. I suspect, however, it’s not the one we’ll end up with.

82 Replies to “Thinking Clearly About the Bike Master Plan”

  1. In a hilly city, we may just have to accept that there are some origin-destination pairs for which a direct bike route may not be possible

    In the land of the Councilmanic One-Seat Ride, expecting people to do anything resembling going out of their way is an exercise in futility.

    1. For biking, I completely disagree. Going over the Dexter hill is “out-of-the-way” for a lot of people, but the city has done a great job making that route comfortable, so it attracts users. Instead of Denny directly up to Capitol Hill, taking 9th Ave from Westlake to Olive or Pine could be a comfortable alternative that would attract more users. Focusing on origin-destination pairs would certainly help in identifying such alternatives.

  2. In my part of the world (SE Seattle), it looks like the city has wisely forsaken Rainier Avenue as a bikeway and chosen to enhance the biking facilities on MLK, Seward Park Avenue and some other side streets. That seems like a reasonable compromise: Rainier is too narrow and too busy to ever be a safe pathway for bikes, but the parallel avenues are very good alternatives.

    1. Rainier? Narrow? Are you talking about a different Rainier? Rainier is super wide, it just has a lot of lanes of car traffic on it.

      The general problem in SE Seattle is that every decent transportation corridor is occupied by a massive highway… and lots of the intersections and interchanges were designed with utter disregard for anything but car traffic (see I-90/Rainier).

      1. I think his point is that unless you remove a lane of traffic in each direction, Rainier is not an option for biking, except for the true road warrior. Parallel streets offer a much safer option. Certainly I would love Rainier to have separated bike lanes…but I don’t think there’s the money to do that…

      2. Rainier in Columbia City feels pretty darn narrow – there’s a reason Link doesn’t run down the middle of Rainier as opposed to MLK – and it’s nowhere near as cavernous as MLK.

      3. What Doug said. As a street with four lanes plus parking, Rainier is so narrow that trucks and buses can’t always fit in the lanes. The traffic volume there is such, and there are so few alternatives, that you can’t realistically take away one pair of GP lanes. The only think you could do would be to take away parking on one side, and that wouldn’t even help through the heart of Columbia City because curbs are built all the way out to the traffic lanes at a number of intersections.

        MLK really isn’t ideal either. Fortunately, there is Lake Washington Blvd on one side and both the Chief Sealth Trail and Beacon Ave S on the other.

  3. I’m actually a little less concerned about connecting nodes that have good transit links between them. For instance, Capitol Hill-University District is going to be so easy on Link, with or without a bike, that I’m not sure the University Bridge has to be high priority.

    Trips where the buses are slow and the bike racks capacity-limited, as well as feeder routes into transit, are the places we need to have good bike infrastructure for the casual set.

    1. The U Bridge is important for other O-D pairs, such as U-District Downtown, Wallingford Downtown, (Wallingford, U-District) SLU, etc.

      And sure, there’s good transit along those routes. But if you can attract even a few of transit riders to bikes, it’s as good as expanding transit system capacity by that many seats, and way less expensive.

      1. I don’t think the 70 quite counts as good transit to SLU – and this is going to become more an issue as the neighborhood grows. Without improvements to Eastlake the buses are doomed to be slow; I’m not a superfast cyclist but I routinely beat them on my bike in the morning.

      2. Eastlake isn’t actually, won’t actually, can’t actually grow much.

        But Eastlake Ave would be the perfect place for a Dexter-style semi-protected bike line behind bus-stop islands, which would be a boon to both bikers and bus riders.

      3. That’s why I actually support a streetcar on Eastlake even if I disagree with Ben’s reasoning for it – if nothing else, it would serve as occasion to rework the roadway, including a real bike facility for a route with no real reasonable alternative (sorry, the interrupted stretch of Fairview that doesn’t even have sidewalks the city calls part of the Cheshiahud Loop doesn’t count).

        Fixing the University Bridge is critical for Eastlake access as well as access to any part of Capitol Hill not in the immediate vicinity of the station, especially to the north. However, it becomes less important if biking across the Montlake Bridge is good (which is important regardless of Link, not least because of its role as the connection between the Burke-Gilman and 520 Bridge trails) and the Portage Bay Bridge Trail is built. Besides, the problem is not so much with the bridge itself – which contains perhaps some of the oldest good bike facilities in Seattle – so much as the southern approach, specifically the fact that going south, you have to cross the traffic lanes to get to the bike lane on Harvard without any markings to protect or guide you.

    2. I agree that feeding into transit is also important: I would like to see bike routes to, and more-secure bike parking at, the busier stops on frequent-service trunk routes and RapidRide. I had a bullet point about that, but cut it as this ran long already.

    3. “Capitol Hill-University District is going to be so easy on Link, with or without a bike, that I’m not sure the University Bridge has to be high priority.”

      Depends where on capitol hill you’re coming from. If your going to the U-district from the north part of capitol hill, biking across the University Bridge will always be the fastest way to go, Link or no Link.

  4. 1. If your network is entirely destination-oriented then you can only access destinations you know the names of. Some of the biggest missing links in our bike network today are industrial areas and transportation corridors, not destinations themselves. As with transit, you can get off a bike and walk the last couple blocks — with a bike you can even take the bike with you — so completing a network of corridors may be more powerful than defining destinations.

    2. The steep hills really do need bike facilities. Bike lanes up significant hills draw big crowds where they exist.

    3. I agree that sometimes there’s a lack of detail in the implementation of cycling infrastructure. The most important bike path in this region, the Burke-Gilman Trail, has lighting problems that would never be acceptable on any but the most piddling surface streets (there are many stretches of the Burke where the trail surface is totally dark but you’re flooded with light from up above, usually from nearby roads, so that even with a good headlight you can’t see where the trail continues or people that might be in your path).

    4. The BMP isn’t supposed to indicate exact facilities and their exact routing in every case. It’s supposed to indicate corridors where there are lots of destinations and major potential cycling demand. Hence streets like Madison and 45th/Market, where there may never be room for a cycletrack. There may not be room for any bike facility on some of the streets themselves, but they’re considered urgently necessary as corridors, so that alternate routes would recieve equal attention.

    1. On point 4: That doesn’t explain the parallel corridors, and because it’s diagonal there really isn’t any practical alternative to Madison, which is why the TMP and BMP contradicted each other by naming it as a corridor on both. For that matter, the closest thing to a practical alternative to 45th to cross Aurora might be 50th.

      1. Madison is an important transit and cycling corridor FOR THE SAME REASON.

        If they can’t fit a cycletrack on Madison they’ll put real effort into the question of how to provide bike access to places along Madison otherwise. That is what the line on Madison means. This was explained by SDOT representatives at the BMP meetings.

      2. Madison is a convenient diagonal that disregards both the street grid and the terrain. The hilltops need access, but for thru riders a route around the hills may be more appropriate.

    2. “Bike lanes up significant hills draw big crowds where they exist.”

      No, no, they don’t, and I can’t imagine why you think that; it runs so counter to commonplace experience that it boggles my mind anyone would suggest such a thing.

      Back when I had a touring bike I used to ride it regularly up Taylor to the top of Queen Anne, and I think I saw two other cyclists during all of those rides. And other than the hill, Taylor is pretty low traffic, low stress street, somewhat residentially dense up until about Galer, and the most direct way into QA via bicycle. I couldn’t even ride that in most of the other bikes I’ve owned, including the one I own now. The bike lanes on Fremont Ave, James St, 12th Ave S (near PacMed), are similar, although car speed/volume makes those roads higher-stress, too.

      The only bike lanes on hills which I see attracting lots of riders are those moderately steep routes like Pine St, which fairly directly connect two major rider destinations in the least steep way possible. Those are the only (steep-ish) routes that make sense for major bike facilities.

      1. “The bike lanes on Fremont Ave … are similar”.

        I ride the bike lane on Fremont Ave all the time, and it was specifically the lane I was thinking of. Fremont Ave gets lots of bike traffic considering the sort of climb it is (nobody is going to use it as a through-route if they can avoid it — if Stone Way or 8th are on the way people will use them instead). If there’s no climb-side lane on Fremont Ave. that hill is basically inaccessible on a bike; with the lane it’s a common route.

        If you think the bike lane on Fremont Ave isn’t useful, well, that “runs so counter to commonplace experience that it boggles my mind anyone would suggest such a thing.” People live up on those hills.

      2. Fremont Ave probably wasn’t a great example — it has only one really steep block, and it’s easily the most used of the ones I mentioned as bad. But if you think cycletracks on that section of Denny or Madison will attract significant ridership, I think you’re nuts.

      3. I don’t think Fremont Ave has any brutally steep blocks, but it’s a pretty consistent and hard climb. If you ride it all the way from the ship canal up to where it levels off (maybe 43rd or 44th), it adds up, even with a long rest at 39th. Yet it’s a pretty popular route among people comfortable biking in bike lanes. I think Taylor is pretty similar overall — within the physical limits of lots of people, if not everyone.

        So what’s the difference between Fremont Ave and Taylor? Fremont Ave is part of a network of bike routes. Taylor will never be part of a route as long as the Interurban, but that’s not all that’s going on. There are bike paths along both sides of the ship canal, at the base of Fremont Ave. At the base of Taylor is the Mercer Mess (and south of there the Broad Street Barrier). There’s a major direct bike route connecting Fremont Ave to downtown. There isn’t a great route from downtown to Taylor — direct routes (4th/5th, for example) have no bike ROW, and routes with good bike facilities lead you elsewhere (like Dexter). There isn’t a direct route from Dexter to Taylor either because Aurora cuts it off.

        Maybe in the future when there’s a cycletrack on Mercer and some of the other cycling improvements between Denny and Mercer are finished we’ll see the value of having bike infrastructure on a street like Taylor. As it is, Taylor is isolated, and I really think it’s that, not its grade, that makes it unpopular.

      4. While I agree Taylor isn’t well-connected around Mercer, I don’t believe that’s why it’s virtually unused.

        If you are familiar with that stretch of Denny, and your vision of the bicycling future nevertheless involves average Joes and Janes pedaling up and it en masse, I think your perspective is fundamentally unserious or unrealistic. And that’s all I have to say about this.

      5. The reason Denny and Mercer and 5th Ave N and all these other streets are shit for cycling are the sorts of things that the BMP is supposed to address. It is a plan to make cycling possible all over Seattle. If the network isn’t good enough south of Mercer, the solution isn’t to tear up what’s there north of Mercer… unless, as others have argued, the bike lane on Taylor doesn’t leave enough room for other roles of the street.

      6. If you’ve got good gearing, the effort to ride up a hill is really not all that bad, if you’re willing to go slow.

      7. You two are talking past each other.

        The reason Denny is shit for cycling, as Bruce says, is GAH!!, which is not going to change.

        The reason somewhat gentler Taylor is underused, as Al says, is the lack of connectivity along routes that are palatable to most. For example, why not cycle routes on 6th, 7th, and/or Boren to connect the East Queen Anne climb to the Pike/Pine climb.

        Bruce never advocated for deleting Taylor’s bike lanes just because they were underused.

      8. I was talking about the stretch of Denny near Taylor. I misunderstood which part of Denny Bruce was talking about in that particular comment.

        The stretch of Denny over I-5 is indeed very steep… though if the entire street were redesigned and the flatter parts of Denny given better bike facilities, it would only make sense to continue them on the hill as well (these things often happen in phases, and the hill would probably be tackled along with whichever of the two halves came second). And, again, the point of this part of the BMP is identifying corridors. It’s pretty important and pretty hard to get from SLU to Cap Hill, and this line on this map indicates that it’s something we should think about when we consider changes in this corridor. If a transit plan indicated that Denny was a key corridor, we wouldn’t say, “No it isn’t, there’s too much traffic!” It’s a key corridor that needs attention because of all the traffic.

      9. it would only make sense to continue them on the hill as well.

        No. Because that’s thinking like a road warrior, rather than an average cyclist.

        Build a lane that claims to connect two places, but doesn’t for 99% of the population, and you’re just checking off boxes on a list while failing to build a complete, intuitive network that actually means a damn.

        Which is pretty much the entire point Bruce was making here.

      10. You wouldn’t build a cycletrack on Denny just for the hell of it, and you certainly wouldn’t do it to the exclusion of other routes up Cap Hill. But if you had a facility on one side of the hill and a facility on the other, you’d continue some kind of facility over the hill, not just say, “Oh, well, biking ends here.”

        But, again, even that isn’t what the line on the BMP map means. The line on the map means, “This corridor is important and deserves attention.”

      11. For Denny Way, I would consider a usable sidewalk on the south side of the bridge over I-5 a higher priority than a cycle track. Especially if the sidewalk were wide enough that bikes going up the hill (which would be barely faster than pedestrians anyway) could comfortably use it.

        Bikes going down the hill can just ride in the traffic lane. Between the steepness of the hill and lights at the bottom, you can easily keep up with the car traffic just on gravity, without even bothering to pedal.

      12. Wrt Taylor, I can tell you anecdotally about a time when I was shopping by bike trailer and need to go from REI to the top of Queen Anne Hill. Due the awful undercrossings of Aurora and the lack of a desire to detour to Belltown, Taylor for me was a non-starter. Instead, I took Dexter to Queen Anne Ave. and climbed the hill there.

  5. They should build one of those bicycle lifts like the one that was featured here some months back, where you plant your foot on the tread and it winches you on your bike up the hill. A couple of strategically placed lifts woiuld go MILES to getting more people on bikes.

    1. It’s called the Trampe (or the latest generation of the technology, CycloCable), and would fit perfectly in hilly Seattle. One per hill would do it.

  6. A great essay by Bruce. The observation that SDOT is “asking the wrong question” applied equally to the 2007 plan, which is why it became obsolete in only five years. You could update the plan to be twice as effective for half the cost, just by riding around the city, pairing a bike-loving engineer with a few newly-arrived UW freshmen from China.

    1. It sounds like the plan was designed to be revisited every five years, so the fact they’re creating a new one doesn’t necessarily mean the old one was “obsolete”. On the other hand, perhaps it is.

    2. I agree that it would be so much more direct to just sample from the target population and get direct opinions. I’m also of the mind that you get more useful feedback from slightly cranky participants, so all trials should take place on a misty day with insufficient rain gear.

      That said, I don’t quite understand the choice of UW freshmen from China. These are the kids who stroll 6-abreast on the Burke Gilman, baffling cyclists and joggers alike? [main point being that I don’t think children of the wealthy in China bike anymore]

      1. “I’m also of the mind that you get more useful feedback from slightly cranky participants…”

        Yes, because that works so well for improving non-car transportation everywhere else in Seattle.

      2. Better feedback = better improvements, right? It’s harder to probe for pain points if the sun is shining and everyone is joyous and feeling infinitely patient.

    3. To come up with a plan that serves everyone, most especially families and older people, that bike-loving engineer should make sure those freshmen have their parents, their little sisters and their grandparents riding with them. We don’t need another BMP designed for fit 20-somethings no matter where they’re from.

  7. Having lived in Seattle for a little over a year now, it’s pretty easy to see the geographic challenges of creating a transportation network that fits everyone’s needs. Coming from Dallas (TX), Seattle is an awesome place (for me) to get around by bus, bike, or running/walking.

    There are direct routes to/from major destinations with few hills already in place…for cars. ;)

    I’m sure SDOT and the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board would love to hear your recommendations. There have been plenty of bike rides in neighborhoods with SBAB, SDOT, and City Council members. These rides provided some initial “ground truthing” (a term mentioned at the last SBAB meeting).

    Seems like the root cause of transit issues is segregation. How do you separate cars from buses from bikes from pedestrians without more room? Know what takes up a lot of space (per person)? Cars.

    I feel like people are encouraged to drive a car because the infrastructure is in place to do so. This is clearly evident across the United States, not just Seattle. This is slowly changing, where infrastructure is being provided to encourage transportation via bus, bike, or walking. SDOT is in a predicament of trying to please everyone (i.e. how to avoid the rhetoric of “war on cars”).

    I agree with you about including key destination points in any transportation network. The whole picture has to be looked at as well. For example…if there was a flat, direct, segregated bike route to a destination, is there secure bike parking facilities in place there?

    Bob Hall’s writeup was dead-on, but how do you get the “interested but concerned” group of people to attend public meetings and provide input?

    Good job on this blog…I appreciate reading it. Keep it up!

    1. … Seems like the root cause of transit issues is segregation. How do you separate cars from buses from bikes from pedestrians without more room? …

      Bike lanes can have positive impacts for transit bus safety by providing a “buffer” between the traffic lane and parked cars. However, if the lane width is too narrow (a typical transit bus is 10 1/2 feet wide including mirrors), the resulting re-striping can have serious detrimental effects on transit safety and speed (reliability).

      Here are two examples:

      GOOD: South Myrtle Street & Myrtle Place east of Beacon Avenue South (Route 36)

      The City of Seattle re-configured South Myrtle Street & Myrtle Place from four traffic lanes to two traffic lanes, with dedicated bike lanes in both directions (with the loss of some street parking). Before the reconfiguration, westbound busses needed to split the lanes because the telephone poles were too close to the curb in the right-hand lane (this is especially obvious next to the library and community center). Now westbound Trolley busses can travel close to the speed limit (about 25 mph depending on the voltage).

      BAD: Taylor Avenue North on Queen Anne (Routes 3 & 4)

      The City of Seattle re-configured the street by narrowing the southbound travel lane to accommodate a bike lane northbound (uphill). The southbound lane is too narrow for Trolley busses, forcing them over the center line (notice that the yellow Botts’ dots are missing). Apparently, the City insists that the bike lanes be a minimum of four feet wide (rather than three feet). In this case, 12 inches is a big deal for busses! As a result, southbound Trolley busses must crawl down this street at less than 5 mph. (Note that it is probably not feasible to remove street parking due to the number of apartments/condos on this street).

      1. That lane is only too narrow for buses when parked cars infringe on it. And there is no need to “crawl” down — just like before, you can go down there at about 20-25 mph safely.

      2. The pavement quality on Talyor borders on intentional assault in reference to downhill cyclists. It hasn’t changed much since I lived on top of the hill and I still crawl down it carefully when biking – lots of gotchas

        As for the bus, we don’t crawl down at 5mph. Queen Anne Ave N has a slow order but not Taylor, except a short 10mph slow order, Northbound near Howe St.

  8. I don’t see the City putting any real teeth into any comprehensive bike network that is of value to daily cyclists like myself.

    Take the fact that as I rode by 45th and Corliss this morning in Wallingford, I lamented the obvious and complete stupidity of narrowing the street down so that as cars invariably try to pass me I have only one choice if squeezed, bunnyhop onto the sidewalk.

    Mind you this was a very recent construction project, last spring I think? I know there are people who work for the city who care, but not enough. We live in a car-centric culture here, and it shows by the lack of the city really going after drivers who don’t give a crap about us cyclists, and the poor effort at establishing a supposed bike network.

    Make the city council and other politicians ride daily to work, then we will see real improvements to cycling infrastructure. Otherwise it is all fluff, and another way to waste money and look good to the media at PR events.

    1. So why were you on 45th when there is a bike route one block south of you? The street is narrowed so those same cars don’t block the 44 as it makes stops.

      1. I can’t speak for Anthony, but I often take 45th eastbound if I want to go fast. Eastbound you’re going downhill mostly (so going slow is actually harder than going fast) and the sight lines on 44th aren’t sufficient to do anything but ride the brakes.

      2. But either way, if you ride on 45th and don’t take the lane you’re gonna have a bad time. That was just as true before the project.

  9. The main problem for good bicycle path design seems to be the vehicular cycling perspective of making bikes an adjunct to cars. I fought this viewpoint, unsuccessfully, during my tenure in my towns’s bicycle advisory board.

    For me, bicycles are not cars, nor are they a form of cars. They require their own topology and design. I see some of this happening when I hear about regrading to make no rise greater than 4 percent (something the Autobahn does for cars).

    The opportunity would be in developing bicycle pedestrian only corridors, distinct from the car networks. These networks do not have to run in the same roads, nor even parallel to the car roads, in fact, they shouldn’t!

    The bicycle boulevards concept is also promising, but really if we are talking about density, and housing patterns, why not start including the bicycle as a transport device from the get go. For example, imagine the typical bicycle path, segregated and way from all commerce (Burke Gillman, Interurban). Now, imagine that same path, expanded, but with no cars, and yet lined with housing and commerce! And yes, while the front side of shops would face the bike-ped corridor, the back end would still accommodate motorized transport, including cars.

    1. I’m taking it that you don’t ride everyday in Seattle, because if you did I think your perspective would be a different regarding making bicycle only lanes.

      Or how about riding the insane Burke Gilman trail where so many users think that since it is a bike trail they act like total idiots. I used to ride it daily from 96 to 98, don’t miss it one bit.

      The way to go is to get drivers attention spans off of their cell phones or whatever and realize that bikes are a part of the road network, give us our space and drive rationally. Your statement only furthers the anger and hostility that I have to face everyday by just riding my bike. Segregation does not work, period.

    2. So, a bike network of alleys? ;)

      I feel like this would be a pipe dream in a city as built up as Seattle, even in the single-family neighborhoods. I seem to recall, though, Bellevue doing something like that in the Bel-Red Link corridor.

      The Burke is very lucky in how close it runs to the water for most of its length. Because of topography, there are a few places where separated trails should work as bike commute paths between destinations like the Burke does – the Elliott Bay Trail is an obvious example, and the much-maligned “Westlake sidewalk/parking lot” seems to me to be an attempt at another whose apparent failure may help explain the hostility towards the Burke’s “Missing Link” – but otherwise you find yourself limited to paths cut long ago like the Interurban or the Chief Sealth’s power-line path, as everything else is development.

      1. I agree. The other advantage to the Burke (as well as the Interurban and other bike paths) is that they weren’t streets with cars before. The Interurban actually works really well from a topographic standpoint. You can essentially go from the south end of Phinney Ridge to the city limits (if not beyond) without going up or down a steep hill. You could connect to Fremont (and thus the Burke Gilman) by just walking your bike up the steep parts. The problem is that it can’t be a “pure” bike path, in that it will, in all likelihood, allow cars. The Burke Gilman does not. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be a really good bike route. It isn’t that good right now. I make suggestions for how it could be better (below) but obviously many cities (Oakland, Portland, etc.) have gone down this road before.

        In general, though, there are plenty of places in the city that are just too hilly to work easily for bikes. You could run a bike path up and down Queen Anne but it wouldn’t work too well for most riders.

    3. I agree, but I’m not sure if there is political will for this. Take the Interurban, for example. On the south end, it basically dumps you out onto Fremont Avenue. Do you want to tell the folks that live on that street that the road is now only for bikes? I don’t think there is any that would fly. I have another idea, but I’m going to suggest it on a different thread.

      1. Actually, a lot of the push for the “neighborhood greenway” movement, which is about as close to “this street is only for bikes” as is practically feasible, seems to be coming from precisely those people.

    4. You start with a seed and let it grow. The seed is a vision and a few small steps. We’re lucky the Netherlands did it first so people can see what impact it has and how enthusiastically the public embraces it once it’s established. However, we’re starting from the opposite position as the Dutch. They demanded a bicycle network as an alternative to car accidents and oversized car infrastructure. In Seattle, most people prefer driving and many won’t give up even one lane or parking space to non-car uses. That limits what we can do, but the first place to start is to educate people about the benefits of a robust bike-path network, one that’s safe for granny to use and connects all the major destinations. Once we’re clear what we want, then we can apply it to the bicycle master pan, and try to get at least one or two paths that go in the right direction. The rest can fall into place after that. We may never reach the complete stage of a “path, expanded, but with no cars, and yet lined with housing and commerce!” Yet we can make a start now.

      “Or how about riding the insane Burke Gilman trail where so many users think that since it is a bike trail they act like total idiots….”

      Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. The Burke-Gilman is a wonderful thing.

      “The way to go is to get drivers attention spans off of their cell phones or whatever and realize that bikes are a part of the road network,”

      With an off-road network, that problem goes away. The goal is not to exercise drivers’ quick reflexes, it’s to get from here to there with low stress. Seattle is not about to make a complete off-road network so there will always be bicycles on some arterials, but if we can make an off-road trail for some bikes somewhere, something that actually goes between major destinations rather than on the periphery, it’s a net benefit.

    5. A residential and commercial pattern centered around walking and biking with cars only at the periphery. If we’re going to build on greenfields, that’s how we should do it (there are a ton of reasons developers don’t build that way, but if you want to go to a meeting on a greenfield development and tell the developer to do that, I’ll come along and say the same thing).

      In the existing cities, the places people need to go are on the car streets, and the best transportation corridors in terms of grade are occupied by major highways and railroads. Bike routes need to follow the roads because the roads were basically built in the right place to begin with.

  10. Your comment on Madison, I think, points to the overarching problem: focus on single elements and not an overarching whole. It’s apparent the BMP and TMP didn’t speak to each other. McGinn has his “Walk, Bike, Ride” campaign; the planning for the three should be as unified as the slogan, but instead it’s like we have three separate networks laid on top of one another.

    The existence of individually-planned redundant corridors and the failure of the outreach process to fix them is par for the course and easily explained. A lot of it you can blame on the recent “neighborhood greenways” fixation, and can be summed up in the first such completed greenway, 44th and 43rd streets in Wallingford. It runs one or two blocks from 45th St, a major car arterial so important there’s almost no way you can’t make it a priority for good bike facilities (I believe the BMP proposes a cycle track there), for its entire length, and there’s pretty much no good way to extend it into adjoining neighborhoods.

    Supposedly greenways are for travel within neighborhoods, and the idea for this one was to improve connections between the Lincoln High building, Wallingford Center, and a few other places, but most other greenway proposals are either aimed at inter-neighborhood travel (such as the pushes to greenway-ize Fremont Ave in Phinneywood, which would be part of the Interurban Trail) or enable long-distance travel generally (such as the one on Beacon Hill). A cycle track on 45th (supposedly for long-distance travel) wouldn’t quite hit all the same destinations as the greenway, but I doubt the greenway would have been built if it already existed.

    A more productive, but also more long-term, place for a greenway – for people for whom even a cycle track isn’t good enough or in case the “war on cars” crowd kills anything safer than what’s on 45th now – would be on 47th St, including a long-proposed bike/ped bridge over I-5. All this also goes for the parallel facilities you mention, and I believe Tom in a recent SBB post actually backed a 10th Ave cycle track as opposed to a Federal Ave greenway.

    The point is, as with everything else in Seattle, there are several different groups pushing their own parochial interests and often not even doing it all that well. Al’s point 4 is taken, and (as with Tom’s treatment of 10th v. Federal) several of these projects can be seen as different ways to achieve the same goal (though that’s not obvious from the map), but what’s probably more likely the case is several different groups throwing ideas at the wall to see what sticks, each serving a different purpose even though some of them could serve multiple purposes at the same time.

    1. Morgan,

      As one of the people involved with Central Seattle Greenways I can say we aren’t fixated on one type of solution (Neighborhood Greenways). Instead we are focused on identifying, advocating, and activating an interconnected network of bicycle and pedestrian facilities that are family-friendly (all-ages-and abilities.

      If a cycletrack could be built on 10th there would be significantly less of a need for a Neighborhood Greenway on Federal. I did’t say “no need,” because neighborhood Greenways are a bit like a complete streets solution for low density areas in that they aren’t just about bicycling (also about: green stormwater, pedestrian connections, public art, pocket parks, community building, etc). Given budget realities, if a cycletrk is built on 10th there won’t be a Federal Ave Greenway.

      Something worth stressing, is that there are really two main types of bicycle infrastructure from a user experience point of view:

      1) Expert level infrastructure that is only enticing to experienced cyclists
      2) Family-friendly infrastructure that is acceptable to people of all-ages-and-abilities. This is the type of infrastructure that will be able to reach the 60-70% of people who would like to ride, but don’t because they don’t feel safe. This infrastructure will get the most bang for the buck in terms of enticing more people to try bicycling for those short trips to the store/school/park etc.

      Unfortunately, the BMP and much of the discussion surrounding it, seems to think that a bike lane and a cycletrack would both serve the same population – they don’t. That is why it’s a shame to see Pike/Pine corridor listed as having a facility in the BMP when in reality it is only an experts only level facility.


  11. I have a suggestion with regards to streets meant to be “bike streets”. Basically, the city has done the following:

    1) Put in bike lanes
    2) Put in cycle tracks (new curbs)
    3) Created bike paths (where old railway existed)
    4) Put in speed bumps on preferred bike routes

    Other cities have:
    5) Closed off intersections or routes to cars (bikes can go from one street to another, but cars can’t).

    The last two are unpopular with residents and emergency vehicles. I would prefer we do the following:

    6) Treat “bike streets” as “school zones”. This would work only for residential streets (in my opinion the bulk of bike streets should be residential streets). In other words, drop the speed limit to 20, and install those big “You are going XX MPH” signs and then automatic ticketing along the corridor. The Seattle Times had an article this morning about how effective these automatic ticketing systems are (they have raised a bunch of money). It is only a matter of time before it changes behavior. People will either slow down or avoid those streets.

    The same thing would happen to these streets. There really is no reason to drive residential streets more than a few blocks. But people do it anyway, because the arterials get clogged. The neighbors don’t like it, but there is little you can do. Dropping the speed limit, posting signs and putting up the automatic speeding machine will get the job done, and do so fairly cheaply.

    You could take it a step further and mark the streets as “Local Access Only”. This would give residents a chance to fight the ticket, but send a message to everyone else. For example, the south part of the Interurban bike path dumps you out onto Fremont Avenue (and about N. 110th). Fremont Avenue is a residential street, but despite the speed bumps, I’ve seen guys drive block after block along there. If it is supposed to be mainly for bikes, then it should be treated that way.

    1. Just so you know, urbanists tend to love the fact that with a grid, there are multiple potential routes to a destination and no need for any one route to be “arterial”. Not that that’s feasible even in North Seattle, and single-family neighborhoods like Greenwood might be a different story, but still, I wouldn’t be surprised if you got pushback from other commenters here.

    2. “The grid” is less of an issue for bicyclists than for pedestrians or cars. For pedestrians, several choices mean a much shorter walk. For cars, many choices mean lack of congestion. But bicyclists can easily go around a block, and congestion doesn’t occur until you get to really high volumes like the Burke-Gilman at rush hour. There should be greenways or cycletracks to make one convenient route through a neighborhood that most people will take, but we shouldn’t prohibit bikes from using alternate routes to leverage the grid.

  12. Regular readers of this blog for a while already know about it (since that’s why I do) but Trondheim, in Norway, has a solution to those hill connections that’s been in place and functioning well for a number of years – a bicycle lift like a ski lift in the street, installed at the end of the curb. Flaps keep rising out of the street at the bottom; you pull up on your bike and put your foot on one of them, and it takes your bike and you to the top of the hill. It’s recently been upgraded; they have now eliminated the smart card system and made it free for users, and they have a licensing agreement with a major European ski lift. There’s a web site about the project that includes a fairly detailed FAQ. (The most interesting item to me was about costs, which they say are $1,500 to $1,800 a meter, or roughly equivalent to those for “an ordinary bicycle road in urban areas.”)

    There are also a number of YouTube videos of the system in use.

    I don’t know why Seattle doesn’t have some of these.

  13. SDOT is right to revise the BMP. Sharrows stink. Dutch bike blogs have shown us what real bike infrastructure looks like. It’s great that SDOT is rebooting it, and I appreciate that they’re inviting the public to think big about what’s possible. I went to the U District BMP meeting and talked to some SDOT folks. They kind of get it, but not quite. The thing they don’t get is intersections. The people I talked to had nothing to say about intersections. They hadn’t heard of Mark Wagenbuur and hadn’t seen his videos (see here and here). Kevin O’Neill from SDOT told me they weren’t working on that yet. The best cycle track in the world won’t do you any good if you get murdered in the intersection.

    1. The first example (the one he says the Netherlands got past ages ago) is basically what was installed last year at 34th and Fremont. Drivers have gotten around the issue of not being able to see the bicycles in the allegedly protected lane by driving over it in order to turn right onto Fremont.

      1. That redesign is simply awful.

        But SDOT didn’t even stop there. They required crossing the cycle lane and queuing in the too-short right-turn lane even to go straight!

        When I happen to be in a car there and am continuing straight toward PCC, I continue to do so from the middle lane (now left turn only), because to follow SDOT’s dictates would be insane.

      2. @d.p. Going straight from the left-turn-only lane is a really bad idea. A lot of the cyclists turning left toward the bridge are still to your right at that point — they’re to your right because it’s silly to wait in the bike box in front of left-turning traffic when your destination lane is to the right of all the left-turning traffic, and some may be to your right because they arrived at the intersection on a stale green. Furthermore, other traffic (cars and bikes) going straight is typically to your right instead of in line with you, and you’ll have to merge with it right in the intersection.

        The redesign is kind of weird in some ways… but adding yet another movement at the intersection, going straight from the left-turn lane, makes it much worse.

      3. I’m generally going straight from the middle lane if it’s already green, the middle lane is already clear, and the right lane is totally fucked thanks to the right-turners waiting for Seattle’s slowest-in-the-world pedestrians.

        In that case, there will be no merging necessary, because anyone else going is stuck, and I can visually confirm that there are no bikes because I’m moving and they would already be in front of me. (Literally in front of me, since the stuck right-turners are probably blocking the bike lane itself.)

      4. You need to be careful here. Bikes are a lot narrower than cars. Even if a right turning car is blocking the bike lane waiting for pedestrians, there is still room for bikes to squeeze by. And if the light just turned green, you’re probably not moving any faster than they are.

      5. I’m not doing this rotely or blindly. I know where the bikes are or could be, my eyes are open, and I have no intention of hitting any cyclists.

        I also have no intention of waiting an entire light cycle because of a poorly designed channelization, because that’s stupid.

  14. I haven’t read the bicycle master plan, but is there adequate funding for bike lockers? It seems like this would be a really cheap way to improve transportation. Pretty soon, the fastest way to get from Columbia City to Fremont is to take the train, then get on your bike and ride the Burke Gilman. Their are dozens and dozens of routes like that, many of which are served by bus, not train. For the most part you can carry your bike, but that is really limited. It makes a lot more sense to just rent a locker and put a bike in there. But there aren’t that many lockers. I hope they build a lot more.

    1. The current distribution model of having each bike locker reserved exclusively for one particular individual 24/7 is an extremely inefficient use of space. We need to move towards a system where you rent the lockers for, say a dollar a day, instead, with deep discounts on weekends.

  15. Separated trails, paths, roads, etc. should be the priority in my opinion. Get bicycles and cars away from one another where possible. Bikes and cars may be the same in the rules of the road’s eyes but they are different beasts in reality. Our existing trail system in Seattle is secondary, scattered, and hazardous. The fact is that most people ride at a pace of 10-15 mph and want nothing to do with cars whizzing by on their left with only a “sharrow” or ghost line as their safety margin. You can forget about families on these shared chunks of asphalt. The trails we do have are cracked and broken. It sucks! I’d like to ride to work regularly at least in the summer but I tried it a few times and it sucks because of too much shared roadway and the risk of breaking my neck. I have no doubt many of my neighbors feel the same way. I applaud those who ride anyway but I have little desire to join them at this time, which sucks because I used to commute regularly by bicycle in a different part of the Sound. Sucks!

  16. West Seattle has limited options for access by cars, transit and bikes to destinations east of the Duwamish River. Transit options are available, but slow. My friend in Kenmore can get downtown on transit in under a half hour, it takes me 45 minutes from Alki. During rush hour traffic, bikes would be hands down the fastest way to commute from and to central and northern West Seattle given decent infrastructure. We have ad hoc routes that work around the steepest hills. That said, there are many choke points with safety hazards for cyclists along these routes. Alaska and Morgan Junctions, the top of Admiral Hill, The Alaska St Triangle, the 5-way intersection at Spokane and Chelan Streets, the corner of Spokane Street and East Marginal Way, the Delridge connection to the Alki/Duwamish Trail, Spokane St. and Avalon/Harbor Avenue are just a few of the many examples of chokepoints in need of a safer option for bicyclists. We West Seattleites hope to see these sites addressed vigorously in the Plan. https://www.facebook.com/WestSeattleBikeConnections?filter=2

Comments are closed.