Cycle Tracks and Seattle, Part 1: But the Danes can do it!

After attending the Great City brown bag this afternoon, I decided Seattle bikers need to take a closer look at cycle tracks and work to better define what we need and what will work best for our city. Cycle tracks may or may not fit those criteria. But the worst thing we can do is build an unsafe bike facility. Now is the time to get this right. So, for installment one, I look at Copenhagen … and how it is not Seattle:

Do you have Copenhagen Envy? Does the idea of a city-wide network of cycle tracks filled with people of all ages and walks of life moving around the city on two wheels and zero carbon emissions fill your body with lust and arouse you almost to the point of exploding? Well, if you get to know Copenhagen a little more, you might find that your fantasy partner and you do not have all that much in common, after all.

This is (sort of) the point Great City brought up at the brown bag discussion today. With separated bike facilities proposed for Broadway (maybe Yelser, too) and Dexter, now is a really good time to take a closer look at the cycle track and try to decide if it is the best fit for Seattle.

If the Dutch and Danes can do it, why can’t we?

The Netherlands is flat as a pancake. So is Copenhagen. On Dexter, bike traffic might go 8 miles per hour uphill, then 25 mile per hour downhill. In Copenhagen, the lights on the Green Wave (see video above) are timed so that bikers can theoretically get all the way through the city without having to stop … if you bike 12.5 mph. Wanna go 15? You will be stopped at every light. The point is: they ride a slower and more consistent pace over there due to their topography.

So how safe will it be to go barreling down Dexter at 25 mph hidden behind parked cars and crossing over driveways and some intersections (though the number of intersections is far fewer than the average street)? The image above shows the proposed Dexter configuration. It’s great that the mostly useless turn lane is being removed in favor of expanded space for bicycles.

However, the only real advantage the proposed parking-separated cycle tracks offer is that buses will not have to jockey with bicycles at every stop (as happens now). Improving transit efficiency is a big deal, but I wonder if there would not be a way to have an eight-foot buffered bike lane that swoops around a bus island at every stop so that bike traffic is still visible to car traffic while not delaying buses. Or there may be another way to fix this without putting bikes on the other side of a row of parked cars.

We need to increase the perception of safety

OK, this is an interesting point. Cycle tracks increase the number of people who feel comfortable biking. Riding on the street next to traffic is just never going to feel safe or desirable to a lot of people, but those people may ride if they can be separated by parked cars or a curb or anything. There is evidence to argue that cycle tracks are, in fact, more dangerous than traffic-adjacent cycling. But so long as people feel that it is more dangerous, they will keep driving (or whatever they are doing currently). Don’t forget, having more bicycles on the streets makes cycling safer for everyone.

In the next installment, I will look at Vancouver’s recent cycle track on Dunsmuir and see how it compares to Broadway.

View the rest of the series

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3 Responses to Cycle Tracks and Seattle, Part 1: But the Danes can do it!

  1. Andreas says:

    There was a slide in the presentation comparing the width of cycletracks and buffers in various North American cities plus Copenhagen. The narrowest cycletrack on the list was 2 meters (6.5 feet) wide. Denmark has a 2-meter minimum and recommends 8 feet for new construction. In NYC, buffers between cycletracks and parked cars or traffic were between 3 and 5 feet wide. The proposed Dexter cycletrack? 6 feet wide with a 2-foot buffer. Broadway would be 5 feet in either direction, with a 2-foot buffer. If we’re going to try this experiment, wouldn’t it make sense to not start out with facilities that don’t even meet the minimums that seem to have been established in the rest of the world?

    The point about perception of safety, rather than actual safety, was an interesting one. The increased risk of collisions is why I strongly oppose cycle tracks and don’t intend to use any that are constructed in Seattle. You say that “having more bicycles on the streets makes cycling safer for everyone”, but the data suggest that’s crap if those cyclists are riding in cycletracks. It’s my understanding that the data are pretty clear that cyclists in cycletracks are at a higher risk of colliding with cars. It’s not that the risk stays the same but since there are so many more riders, the number of accidents goes up; the actual risk per person of being hit goes up dramatically.

    Of course, the argument about perception may still make sense, especially from a governmental perspective. If, on average, the savings accrued by getting people out of their cars is greater than the costs incurred by people getting hit by cars, then it’s in the state’s interest to get folks out of their cars even if the means of doing so make it far more likely that people will be hit by cars. But as an individual cyclist and citizen, I can’t get behind the notion of luring people onto bikes by making it more likely that they will die on them.

  2. alexjonlin says:

    I got to ride on the Dunsmuir cycletrack and the Carrall St buffered bike lanes when I went up to Vancouver a couple weeks ago, and I can tell you they’re great. Even though it may not look like it when you try to visualize it, not having to jockey with cars and buses all along there is just great. They put plentiful signs up along the street warning right-turning traffic to watch for bikes on the two-way cycletrack, and it ends up working really well. I think the collision rate goes up for them because they attract a lot of inexperienced/less vigilant cyclists, because of their appeal to the general public instead of just the current cycling community.

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