Dexter is a next generation Seattle bike facility (VIDEO)

The repaved and redesigned Dexter Ave N has been open for a couple weeks now, and so far I have only heard praise for the road’s design. The wide bike lanes with several feet of buffer space make biking remarkably low-stress. It just feels safe.

The bus islands appear to be working well for people biking and for transit reliability. Those who rode Dexter northbound regularly know how miserable it is to leapfrog a bus all the way up the hill, passing it when it made a stop, then inhaling bus exhaust every time it passed again. This back-and-forth was annoying for bus drivers and passengers, too. But not anymore.

I would love to get an opinion from an ADA expert on how they affect transit accessibility, since the crossing from sidewalk to bus island goes down to street level, then back up. I have not heard any complaints yet, but it’s a perspective that should be considered as we review the success of the design.

As a way of comparing a next generation facility to older (and particularly bad one), I took video on Dexter and on 2nd Ave downtown. There has been talk recently of installing cycle tracks downtown, something that could happen much sooner if voter pass Prop 1. This is long overdue. For a comparison, play these videos at the same time (yes, I realize the traffic volumes are not comparable, but use your imagination…)

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47 Responses to Dexter is a next generation Seattle bike facility (VIDEO)

  1. Lisa says:

    The Dexter bike lanes do look nice, although until I can get up a hill without getting sweaty, I’m sticking to Westlake. Can anyone tell my why they haven’t put a glorious and wide cycle track along Westlake yet? IMHO, Westlake is way to wide anyway. And yeah, I know we can just use the parking lot, but I get tired of losing my momentum every time a car backs out of a spot.

    As for 2nd Ave, something definitely needs to be done. However, as bordering on the “interested but concerned” group of cyclists, I don’t think a Dexter-style buffered lane would cut it. You’ve still got people trying to park, turning right, crossing the street. I think 2nd ave (or wherever the cycle track would go) needs to be a full-on cycle track, both ways (or one on each side of the road), curb-separated from the road and the sidewalk, with its own dedicated lights.

    • JAT says:

      Motorists expect to drive fast in two lanes in each direction on Westlake; businesses expect their employees and customers to get in and out of their parking lots with ease. I haven’t ridden on Westlake since I was a messenger (in the previous century…)

      Even before the improvements (and yes, while generally bike facility-agnostic – this does look like an improvement) Dexter was a great bike-able street – a direct route with camaraderie, and yes, a little sweat. I encourage you to give it a try; we don’t need a bike boulevard on every single road to make this thing work.

    • Brian says:

      When I was going downtown a lot, I always used Westlake as a lower stress route that would help me avoid sweat. However, with the sorta-cycle track on Dexter, I’ve converted over to that route. It is very pleasant to glide past those bus bulbs. I do wish the city had seen fit to make it a full-on cycle track with parked cars buffering the track from the roadway, but it’s a serious incremental improvement as-is.

      I completely concur that Westlake is subpar at the moment. It’s incredibly dangerous too, since cars swoop into the lot from Westlake without looking for bikes. I’ve needed to make two panic stops in order to avoid a collision just in the last year. A lot of people are going to be intimated by the Dexter hill, and I think that if we are ever going to get beyond 5% ridership in the city we will have to build a high quality pedestrian and bicycle facility on Westlake. The city owns the right of way, and it’s extremely wide, so should be able to get done without too much effort.

      • LWC says:

        Brian, the city’s initial plan was to do exactly what you mention in the first paragraph. After many meetings with cyclists, they changed it to the (IMHO) much better design we see now.

      • Brian says:

        LWC, I am definitely aware of that. I think the concern was about fast-moving bicycles on the downhill getting right-hooked or colliding with cars trying to enter Dexter, right? I’m still sad that a fully separated cycle track couldn’t have been engineered.

    • Kevin says:

      Truth. Westlake >> Dexter.

      The solution to the 2nd Ave downhill bike lane is very similar. Stop encouraging people to ride on hilly 2nd & 4th Ave and get them over to 3rd instead.

    • Andreas says:

      Can anyone tell my why they haven’t put a glorious and wide cycle track along Westlake yet?

      See my response from a few months back. Basically, SDOT probably doesn’t have financial capital to redo the same road twice in ten years, and even if they did, they don’t have the political capital to do it given all the businesses on Westlake.

      When I wrote that comment I hadn’t actually done much digging to see what, if any, debate had gone on about Westlake over the years. While I still find little debate from ’02, turns out the idea has been out there for over 30 damn years.

      In 1979, a year after the BGT opened from Gasworks to Kenmore, there were calls from the bicycling community for a “Lake Union Bikeway”. The City Engineering Dept (now SDOT) “warned cyclists…they could not provide a ‘Burke-Gilman Trail type of environment’ for the proposed project completely encircling the lake,” but Mayor Royer proposed a path through the Westlake parking lots from Valley to the Fremont Bridge. The proposal apparently pleased no one, and at the first of four public meetings on the plan both cyclists (who still wanted a completely separated facility rather than one that wove dangerously through the parking lots) and Westlake business owners (who wanted neither a trail nor a path—just more parking) expressed displeasure. Unsurprisingly the Times published a misleading editorial after the meeting, implying that cyclists didn’t want to a path along Westlake at all, and saying that “parking space [is] already scarce” in the area (ha!). They conclude that it would just be too expensive and dangerous to completely encircle the lake with a pathway.

      (The same editorial says there was “little or no opposition to other parts of the bikeway plan, which includes improving bicycle access across the University Bridge…, building a pier at Mallard Cove… to connect two parts of Fairview Avenue East, and completing a route from Gas Works Park to the Fremont Bridge.” While the first and third elements came to fruition, the pier accross Mallard Cove remains a conspicuous gap in the half-assed Cheshiahud Loop. And given the recent upmarket development of Mallard Cove, I suspect the City missed its chance to ever connect the two Fairviews there.)

      In 1991, the City installed the bike lanes on Dexter.

      In 1992, 13 years after the Bikeway proposal and ten years before SDOT would redo the Westlake parking lot, the Times published a letter from one Hank Trotter (apparently later Art Director at The Stranger), wherein he proposed connecting “the south end of Lake Union with the Fremont Bridge and, thus, the Burke-Gilman Trail, with a clearly marked bicycle path along Westlake’s east side.” Obviously, no such thing ever happened.

      In 1995, a 28-year-old Ballard resident, Nora Folkenflik, was killed by a hit-and-run driver riding northbound in the curb lane. In the type of classy move we’ve come to expect from the Times, nine days later they publish a letter to the editor from a cyclist entitled “Avoiding Road Hazards — Bicycle Commuters Should Use Dexter Avenue North”. Nothing like blaming the victim. (Carlos Cortes, who had a 0.20 blood-alcohol level at the time of the collision plus a prior DUI conviction, recieved the maximum sentence: four and a half years.)

      It’s rather disheartening to know that people have been seriously discussing a Westlake path or cycletrack for over three decades now and absolutely nothing has been done, despite the rather evident need for such a facility. I still hold out hope that the Westlake streetcar will be approved in a few years and that its construction will allow SDOT to finally install a proper facility. But I won’t hold my breath.

      (If you have a Seattle Public Library account, you can read the ’79 Times’ editorial, and the letter to the editor from Eric Swensson of the Bicycle Advisory Board calling them on their bull.)

      • Andreas says:

        Oh, and in 1994 the City Council unanimously passed Resolution Number 28909, “reiterating Seattle City Council support for the development of a bicycle and pedestrian trail along the railroad corridor on the south side of the Ship Canal, and the west side of Lake Union”. Sadly, resolutions of support don’t start the backhoes moving.

      • Lisa says:

        That is really interesting, thanks for the info! I only moved here in ’07 so I’ve never heard any of this.

      • Brock says:

        This is a fabulous summary of the history of Westlake. Thanks!

      • Kevin says:

        Awesome post, thank you!

  2. jeff says:

    When the city builds a cycle track on Westlake through downtown then I will believe they are serious about wanting people to bike around town. Until then I believe they are just paying lip service.

  3. MondoMan says:

    Nice! Many thanks for posting the bike-view video of Dexter!

  4. Ann says:

    I LOVE the new N Dexter bike lanes!!! They are so awesome!!! Don’t have to play musical lanes with the buses any more, and the lane buffer is greatly appreciated. I know the bus drivers appreciate it too. About the hill thing, I know there’s a break-in period for riding up them, but hill avoidance in Seattle will make your riding world pretty small. I’ll take the Dexter hill any day over the Westlake speedsters/no shoulder/parking lots obstacle course, yikes!

  5. merlin says:

    I would agree that hill avoidance should not keep people away from the nice lanes on Dexter. I’m 65, female, my knees are not that great, and as long as I’m not humiliated by all the young folks passing me, I can make it up the Dexter hill just fine. Just do it a couple times, and by the 3rd time you won’t even have to shower when you get to work. On the other hand, on Denny I’ll walk or jump on the bus going up hill!

    • Lisa says:

      Ok, these comments have encouraged me to try the hill. I’ve made it up Cap Hill from Fremont a few times, so how bad can it be? (Except in my case, I’ll have to try to not be humiliated by the older folks like you passing me who are in better shape than I am)

      • doug in seattle says:

        Dexter is much less strenuous than Capitol Hill! After riding up Dexter a few times you’ll be speeding up it like no thing!

  6. Ed Zuckerman says:

    The new Dexter bike land is better for sure, especially when it comes to not having to deal with the buses. But Dexter has always been one of the best routes for bikes so now it is only marginally better. If the same had been done to Westlake then it would have been a 180 change for the better. I do find the Garfield cross street intersection heading toward downtown ( at 4:43 on the video) slightly dangerous with cars and bikes coming way too close for my comfort at times. If a car sneaks out a little too far into the bike lane then the bike will either hit the hood or be pushed into traffic.

    I also wonder if the cars that get backed up by the buses at rush hour will find new routes, leaving Dexter almost completely to bikes and buses at those times.

  7. ac6752 says:

    At 1:33 in the “Biking in Seattle’s awful Second Avenue bike lane” video, the left-side bike lane is blocked by a left-turning car.

    I was similarly blocked while biking in a right-side bike lane by a right-turning car.

    At first I was irked, but upon reflection it makes sense to me for all vehicles (car or bike) to turn left from the left-most travel lane; and turn right from the right-most travel lane (i.e. the bike lane).

    Q. Are these the rules of the road in California?

    (I was blocked by a car with California plates.)

    • Andreas says:

      A bike lane isn’t a travel lane for a car; that’s what makes it a bike lane, both in California and in Washington. On Second, based on the lane markings, it appears that vehicles are supposed to remain in the left-most vehicle lane (the one to the left of the bike lane) until they can make the turn, at which point they turn across the bike lane and the parking lane and onto the other street. But since we all know drivers can’t really be expected to look for bikes, peds, and cars all while trying to turn, this is a less than ideal arrangement.

      Compare the lane markings on 7th, which Dexter turns into south of Denny. (Publicola has a picture here.) Parking is banned within a few dozen feet of the intersection, the parking lane turns into a marked turn lane, and the bike lane markings are dashed some distance before the intersection. So if you’re in a car and turning, you cross the bike lane where it’s dashed, well before the intersection, and get into the turn lane. If you’re a cyclist and you’re turning, get into the turn lane too; if you’re going straight, stay in the bike lane.

      Seems like 2nd could use a more 7th-like arrangement (assuming we keep just bike lanes and don’t add a cycletrack). Get rid of parking for some distance before the intersection, and make the curb lane a turn lane. Unfortunately cars will still have to cross the bike lane, and they’ll still block it occasionally, but seems like giving turning vehicles a place to wait that isn’t the bike lane, and making it so they’re not trying to beat bikes, pedestrians and cross-traffic all in one move, would be an improvement.

      • Andreas says:

        Eep, sorry, “the left-most vehicle lane” (I meant vehicle travel lane) is the one to the *right* of the bike lane, not the left; the parking lane is to the left. If the left-most vehicle travel lane was to the left of the bike lane, left turning vehicles wouldn’t be a problem here :)

      • Gary says:

        I generally avoid 2nd except for the bit between Yesler and Jackson instead choosing Western which is fine for me because I can get to it easily from the North end.

        When I do ride down 2nd, I skip the bike lane completely and just take the whole left lane. I can keep up with traffic because it’s downhill and with my tail lights flashing it’s blindingly painful to tailgate me so I don’t have much problem with cars hanging there unless they are turning left.

        But in general riding up the left side of the road really sucks because cars don’t look for you there. And you can add 4th Ave to that list of stupid choices.

      • Andreas says:

        Yeah, I usually take 3rd through downtown, but if I take 2nd I actually take the center lane. It’s rarely a problem to keep up with the speed of traffic since it’s downhill, and I avoid getting stuck behind (or being hooked) by both left-turners and right-turners. But I’d love another option that doesn’t require being fearless-as-fuck. As it is, if I’m not feeling up to the stress and if I’m going all the way to the ID or beyond, I go out of my way down to Alaskan.

      • ac6752 says:

        [for Andreas/for California]

        http://www.sfbike.org/?bikelane_right_turns

        BIKE LANES & RIGHT TURNS
        how it’s supposed to be done

        How is a car supposed to make a right turn from a street with a bike lane? It’s one of the most widely misunderstood traffic rules (at least in California). Most cyclists, motorists, even cops don’t get it, and the DMV doesn’t express the concept as clearly as they should.

        A right-turning car is supposed to move into the bike lane before the intersection, anywhere from 200 to 50 feet before, first signalling the lane merge, then merging right to the curb lane, then finally making the actual turn when safe.

        The guiding principle is to always make a right turn from the right lane, and a left turn from the left lane, or left turn pocket if there is one. Turning across lanes is a big no-no, since it can (and often does) result in crashes and near-crashes, especially “right hook” collisions frequently suffered by bicyclists.

      • Gary says:

        3rd is a pain with playing dodge a bus all the way down as they pull over to the curb, pull away and then try to run me down.

        I have an air horn which helps a lot as I pass those curb parked buses. If I see them put their signal on, or move their wheels I give 3 toots which is the signal that the buses use to look back and wait.

        So I try to leave 3rd to the buses. Which means 1st is Ok, but it has a lot of parked cars (door prizes) pedestrians wandering about and on game days is nearly impassible.

      • Andreas says:

        @ac6752: Huh. Good call. I was totally wrong. Looks like in quite a few places vehicles are explicitly required to enter the bike lane to make turns. WA/Seattle laws appear to be much more ambiguous, but the SMC allows a vehicle driver to enter the bike lane “to execute a turning maneuver”.

        Though it should be noted that even under this (apparently correct) interpretation of the law, turning from the bike lane is still illegal on 2nd, since the parking lane is the curb-most lane. The vehicle in the video would appear to have had room to get over.

        I guess this is just yet another reason why I think they need to change the lane striping on 2nd. Solid white lines indicate lane restrictions, and if drivers are not merely allowed but actually supposed to enter the bike lane to turn, the bike lane markings (and the parking lane markings, on 2nd) should be dashed or removed completely. If a vehicle can enter and remain in the lane, it shouldn’t be marked as a restricted lane.

        Either way, a minor quibble: drivers don’t right-hook cyclists simply because they’re turning across lanes, they right-hook cyclists because they’re turning across lanes without first looking and yielding to cyclists. Having drivers get into the bike lane to turn wouldn’t seem to help decrease the probability of conflicts, since it won’t do anything to increase the probability of drivers looking for cyclists before entering the lane. But it will probably turn a lot of potential hooks into sideswipes, which is probably better in terms of survivability.

  8. Eric says:

    Generally, I like the new bike lanes on Dexter, but I am concerned about the large curbs that create the bus bulbs. They are pretty mean looking and I can just imagine someone at night missing the turn to go around them. I also worry about the large amount of paint in the bike lanes. That paint can get pretty slick during the winter. As for bike visibility, I do feel as though I am more visible to drivers now, I just feel like I get stuck behind slower cyclists and need to make a choice of going in the traffic lane or just tucking in behind them, especially as I near a bike bulb.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Actually, it’s a good thing if the bus bulbs are forcing people on bikes to slow down (especially going downhill) as they approach bus stops where people may be crossing the bike lane on foot. That’s good feedback, as that was one of the small worries when installing them.

  9. AJL says:

    This should be the model for SW Avalon Way in West Seattle.

  10. Christy says:

    Thanks for posting. I am going to try this out.

  11. Al Dimond says:

    I am totally mystified by the suggestion that the buffered bike lane improves bus-bike interactions. You’re still going to average about the same speed, and the bus is going to average about the same speed, so if you were leapfrogging the bus before you’ll still be leapfrogging the bus in the new configuration.

    It’s probably better for the bus system not to have the bus pull all the way to the side, but I’m not sure how exactly it helps people on bikes. It’s just as wrong as it ever was to whiz past a stopped bus on the right, but now people will do it every day because that’s what the lane design encourages.

    The bus bulb curbs are simply a hazard if you’re going downhill. I think we’ll see plenty of people wipe out on them. Putting the bikes to the right of right-turning traffic is a hazard, and I think we’ll see accidents because of it. The answer from one crowd will always be “Go slower,” and, “More separation.” But it’s the wrong answer. Maybe going slow is the answer in a dense area with lots of pedestrians like Broadway, or 2nd Ave. downtown — you have to go slow to be safe. Dexter, a fairly long corridor with few destinations to speak of, is a through street. There’s no reason to artificially slow down people on bikes.

    • Clark in Vancouver says:

      A street with buses on them isn’t an ideal choice for a bike lane but if it has to be that way, there are good ways to design for the two.
      My answer is “more separation” without going slower. If the separated bike lane is wide enough, the faster ones can pass the slower ones.

    • Andreas says:

      “Leapfrogging” doesn’t mean what I think you think it means. It’s not merely repeatedly switching forward positions, it’s jumping over one another, switching forward positions while also trading lateral positions. Bus crosses bike lane into bus zone in front of bike, bike passes bus; bus crosses bike lane behind bike, bus passes bike; bus crosses bike lane into bus zone in front of bike, bike passes bus; etc. There’s no danger in trading the lead if the bike and bus never cross paths; the danger lies in repeatedly overtaking and crossing paths. And under the new configuration, the bus never crosses the bike lane to get to a bus zone, and so buses and bikes aren’t constantly trading lateral positions. It’s immensely safer than the previous arrangement, and allows buses to go faster through the corridor since they no longer have to wait for cyclists to pass before safely pulling into and out of zones. (They also don’t have to wait for cars to yield to pull back into the travel lane.) As someone who—like many cyclists—also uses public transit, I’m for pretty much anything which speeds up buses.

      As for putting bikes to the right of right-turning traffic, well, this arrangement does this no more than the previous bike lanes did. And the lane + buffer means there’s more room to maneuver should a driver do something stupid.

  12. Clark in Vancouver says:

    This is a really great step. Use it and tell folks at City Hall that you appreciate it.
    Also take note of what’s working for you and others and what isn’t. Research what is done elsewhere and see what from it can be applied in Seattle.

    From what I see there are a few tweaks that would be very simple to do and make it much nicer. One would be to have the cycle path paving rise up a ramp at the bus stops to the same height as the sidewalk and then down again after it. This both lets the bus patrons not have to step down and up but also informs people cycling that they’re entering a shared zone. Here’s one in Vancouver, BC:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/pwkrueger/5133808625/in/set-72157625160007617/
    You can see how the pavement goes uphill with triangle markings, and signs about yielding to pedestrians.

    The other thing that could be easily done is where there is car parking to have the bike lane be between the parking and the sidewalk. This prevents you from being in the door zone. Ideally there should be some sort of raised concrete barrier or the bike path could be slightly higher than the road to prevent cars from parking in the bike lane but if there isn’t the money then paint will do to indicate where to park.

    A one-way bike lane should be at least 1.5 Metres wide according to the CROW standards from the Netherlands:
    http://wiki.coe.neu.edu/groups/nl2011transpo/wiki/39fd0/1_Bicycle_Lanes.html

    • Gary says:

      I too am worried about that marked bike lane as most of it is right in the door zone.

    • Andreas says:

      1.5 m is just under 5′. According to the plans, the Dexter lanes are 6′ wide with 2′ buffers. Honestly they don’t seem 6′ wide to me having ridden on them a few times, but on the video it does appear they meet those measurements, e.g. at 4:14 where the bike lane and buffer appear equal in width to the 8′ parking lane. The Dexter lanes appear to exceed the Dutch standards.

      As for the door zone, I believe the buffer gives ample room for avoiding doors without going into the general purpose lane. If the bike lane were between the parking and the curb, however, in addition to the problems with passing, there’d be no way to escape an errant door. Given SOV rates in this city, far more driver-side doors are opened than passenger-side doors, but it seems to me passengers are far less likely to check their mirrors before opening their doors on the curb-side than drivers opening theirs, which in the end might make for just as many doorings. My two cents, at least.

      Agreed they could do more to indicate the shared zone. Wonder if some yellow pavement (a la the green bike lanes) from curb cut to curb cut (yellow to match the “truncated domes”) would do the trick, since obviously it’s too late to raise the pavement. (Raising pavement would also probably lead to drainage issues.)

  13. TN says:

    For the most part, it’s just paint. An eight year old cannot safely ride with his or her mom in this painted cycle lane. Until Seattle creates real bike infrastructure (ie, not just painted lanes) that makes all-age cycling a reality, it’s all just for show. These changes will make the die-hard bikers happy, but it won’t attract new riders, IMO.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I think it will once it safely connects to people’s homes and destinations. Right now, Dexter is a through-street. For people who live on it and are going to destinations on Dexter, it will work how you suggest. But the connection to the Fremont Bridge and into downtown are not of nearly the same caliber, so you’re right that this one change is not going to suddenly gets tons of people biking.

      However, if this connects to a safe downtown protected bikeway, then we’ll see those numbers go through the roof.

    • Clark in Vancouver says:

      Likely. It’s a good start for sure and useful for some. Also useful for car drivers to get used to such things being around and being a normal part of streets.
      It’s good to push for some separated lanes somewhere in Seattle so that people can know what they are and how nice they are to use.
      If Dexter doesn’t get them then maybe you can get one on Westlake someday.

  14. Casey says:

    Thanks for posting!

    While it’s great and quite necessary to keep pushing for even better bike lanes or cycletracks, some of the commentators need to lighten up a bit (and/or try to actually design a facility) before knocking Dexter. The road was dieted, buses no longer pull to the curb at bus stops, and from what I can tell none of the car culture warriors are losing their shit over this project. This is quite a feat, especially considering that it did not bust the bike program’s budget (it was mostly paid for by the paving program and transit program).

    FYI – The one-way cycletrack was looked at in great detail. The problem with it was there are too many driveways, such that the mandatory setbacks and gaps left little room for actual parking spots. The cycletrack would have felt like a buffered bike lane anyway, if not worse, and would have come with the heartburn of many more parking spaces removed.

    I agree Seattle screwed the pooch with Westlake a long time ago, and 2nd Ave is a great place for something special…but Dexter is about as good as it can be and SDOT should be given nothing but kudos for a job well done.

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