KUOW feature looks at cycling in the city and the call for safe streets

KUOW’s Sara Lerner rode along with the Safe Streets Social in September and put together a feature in the lead-up to yesterday’s Road Safety Summit (more on that soon).

Give it a listen.

The report tries to address conflicts between people biking and driving. Lerner found a frustrated person who works along the Westlake parking lot that the city calls a “trail.” The worker is frustrated with people biking through the parking lot too quickly.

What is left out, of course, is that nobody likes that parking lot situation less than the people biking. It is dangerous, and people biking need to be extra cautious of cars pulling out of parking spaces. Even with the dangers, though, many people (myself included) prefer it to the street, which is full of speeding cars.

Andreas dug into the Westlake situation in an excellent comment earlier this month. Basically, the creation of a safe bicycle facility on Westlake has been in the works for decades, but nothing has happened. With the recently-renovated Dexter Ave, I suspect some of the people who had been using the Westlake parking lot will choose Dexter instead.

But because the parking lot does not have a hill, has a nice lake-side feel and connects to many businesses, residences and South Lake Union Park, it will remain a key bicycle corridor in the city. The question remains: What is the city going to do to create a lakeside that works for everyone?

Andreas’ comment:

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 alon
g 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.)

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10 Responses to KUOW feature looks at cycling in the city and the call for safe streets

  1. Charlie says:

    That’s impressive reporting from Andreas. Thank you.
    One question though: Why wasn’t something done to add bike facilities when they re-paved the entirety of Westlake a few years ago? Anyone know?

  2. AJL says:

    You are aware SDOT just added bike route markers on the sidewalk along Valley, right? SDOT’s markers route cyclists into through new southern PARKING LOT in order to avoid the Streetcar stop.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Yeah. Parking lot or streetcar stop “deli slicer”… what a choice.

      I like SLU Park a lot, but I am frustrated that no clear, wide bicycle trail was included. It could hardly have been a significant cost increase to make one of the many sidewalk-width paths 12 feet wide.

  3. Chris says:

    Could some signage help the current situation? Maybe signs for cars as the enter the parking lot to watch for bikes, and a corresponding sign for bikes to watch for cars. And a clearly marked bike lane through the lot to serve as a constant reminder to keep a look out.
    That KUOW piece caught my attention because the driver interviewed claimed that most cyclists ride over 20mph. Is this right? I always thought 20+mph was dropping the hammer, and that 10-15mph was more cruising speed. Are bikes really traveling that fast, or is it a perception? I’ve heard other drivers complain about bike speed before too.

    • Michael Snyder says:

      People have a really hard time judging speeds of cyclists.

      It depends. With a tailwind on flat ground, 20 mph is do-able with 15 mph of effort. Most of the time when I ride through there I’m doing 12-14 and that seems to be about the average. That said, 12 mph is still pretty fast for a small object in a parking lot. I’m sure the drivers trying to back out feel like I am doing 20+ because I am much smaller than a car and it is harder to see me approaching.

    • Pedals Don't Peddle says:

      I think that people who don’t regularly ride bikes don’t realize that 20mph is not a typical–or in some cases, attainable–city bike speed unless on a downward slope. 20mph seems slow in a car and it can look like bikes zoom by quickly when you’re just watching them ride down a flat surface. I can see why one would be tempted to say something about frequently seeing riders doing 20+mph. Doing 20 (or even 15) along the Westlake parking lot is probably not something that 99.9999% of cyclists do, and if there’s actually someone out there who does, they are playing a very dangerous game. I usually average 11 or 12 mph in the city, but there are plenty of places where I travel at 8mph or even slower by choice (so hills don’t count). Places like the track around Greenlake, parking lots, etc. Which of course is not to say that there isn’t a single cyclist who’ll ride fast in these situations, but they are an exception rather than the norm (and should probably stop doing that for everyone’s peace of mind…)

  4. Andrew says:

    Westlake would be the worst place in the city to put bike lanes. I ride Westlake every day to and from work as our office is on Westlake. With the trolley tracks and the pedestrian traffic it makes no sense to have bike lanes on Westlake. Especially when you realize that we have bike lanes on both Dexter and 9th (one and two blocks behind Westlake) have bike lanes on either side of the road. Dexter should be held as a model for all of Seattle’s streets, but we need to move away from suggesting that bike lanes and trolley tracks is a good idea. Too risky and depending on the trolley schedule it means you are forced to either cross the tracks and try to pass in traffic or start and stop all the way up Westlake to downtown.

    • Gary says:

      You can mix street cars and bicycles but not if the street car track is on the right side of the road. As it is, we should probably ban bicycles from that section of Westlake, as it’s a disaster for riders.

    • Andreas says:

      Chris isn’t suggesting a bike lane along the portion of Westlake where the SLUT runs. We’re talking about Westlake where it actually runs alongside Lake Union, mainly north of Aloha, where the public right-of-way is wide enough to accommodate 3 or 4 vehicle lanes, parking, a multiuse trail, and a streetcar—all completely separated—but which currently has just 4 vehicle lanes and a vast parking lot. Along this portion of Westlake, 9th Ave doesn’t exist anymore and Dexter is slightly hilly and has limited connections (usually by stairs) to Westlake.

      Adding to the mess is that for the next year or two 9th is closed between Broad & Mercer, breaking connectivity with Westlake and forcing cyclists to either take Dexter (which, if one is headed to Cap Hill would be out of one’s way) or that part of Westlake that has tracks (there are official 9th detour signs on Westlake). And if I detour onto the road with the tracks, why would I bother to detour back off it? If I keep going on it, it just runs into 9th again one block south of Denny, and detouring off it again would require crossing those tracks again.

      If a proper bike facility were installed on non-SLUT Westlake, cyclists who are continuing south of Valley would probably be routed away from the SLUT tracks, with signage directing them to Dexter for Downtown or 9th for Cap Hill. But for now it’s kind of a moot point.

  5. Gary says:

    “Lagerwey: “One thing I tell communities is, if you’re putting bike facilities from A to B so that they’re not on A. That’s a wrong reason to proceed because when you build more bike facilities, you’re going to get more bikes everywhere.”

    I love it, if you make a place for them to go, they multiply! It actually mirrors car use. If you build more roads for cars, you get more car trips, and congestion remains the same.

    It’s the “time factor” issue. I have a personal limit to the amount of driving around I’ll do. If it say it takes 30 minutes to get from my home to somewhere, I’ll go. But if it takes an hour, I just won’t go unless it’s a special trip. But 1/2 hr? the time doesn’t factor into it.

    It’s the same for bicycling. Because it’s easy to ride to work, and the time factor is within my commute time allotment I do it. If it were more dangerous, or took longer I wouldn’t ride. I see the same effect here at work. Now that we are off the main bus lines it takes longer to ride the bus, and traffic still sucks so more people are choosing to ride their bicycles.

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