Big plans (and small immediate changes) planned for 7th Ave + An Amazon.com cycle track?

Remember when 7th Ave between Westlake and Denny looked like the photo to the right?

That was fun. Unfortunately, the striping is almost entirely rubbed off in many places. And compliance by car and bus drivers has never been very good.

Well, SDOT and King County Metro are splitting the cost of a new bus island just south of Denny Way to reduce the number of bike/bus conflicts. They will also clarify the merging movements for people biking and driving southbound and want to make a right turn on Bell.

Currently, buses and people biking have to cross paths three times between Denny and Bell (see below). A new bus island here will remove two of those conflicts and speed up transit.

Photo from SDOT

Here are the plans for the bus island:

Amazon cycle track

But all those plans are just the temporary fixes for the area. The real exciting stuff could come if Amazon.com expands into three towers in the Denny Triangle. City Traffic Engineer showed off preliminary plans for a proposed parking-separated cycle track concept the online retail giant would pay for if they choose to go through the move.

When you build three new towers downtown, the deal comes with a whole lot of traffic and environmental mitigation requirements from the city. And that means mitigation for bicycling, as well. Luckily, Amazon has a big bike commute population in its workforce, and the company is eager to make their new investment bike-friendly.

The preliminary plans call for protected bike lanes on both sides of 7th Ave stretching from Denny Way (where it meets Dexter) all the way to Pine St (though I highly suggest extending it one more block to Pike, unless the city has exciting plans for Pine I’m not familiar with…). The city also acknowledged the need for a bike facility on Bell St from 7th Ave into Belltown.

If this goes through, it could be the first modern bike facility to connect Dexter Ave with downtown. Now, add a protected bike facility on Pike or Pine from the Market to Capitol Hill and a protected facility on a north-south downtown street (or two), and our downtown will be the envy of the whole country. We just have to follow Vancouver’s lead.

UPDATE: I meant to add this map of the potential future cycle track area:

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32 Responses to Big plans (and small immediate changes) planned for 7th Ave + An Amazon.com cycle track?

  1. melinda says:

    OMFG I am so excited.

  2. Lee says:

    This is a great vision for biking infrastructure downtown. I work in Lower Queen Anne and I take the poorly executed 2nd Ave bike lane downtown and then take Pike Street up to 12th Ave. I am regularly exposed to danger and bad drivers. Given the large number of bicyclists traveling between downtown and Capitol Hill, I think a protected bike lane connecting the Hill to downtown would be extremely well used. A single protected north-south facility would also be a game changer for mobility.

    • Stephen says:

      I never ride on 2nd Ave because driver never look before they turn over the bike lane. I like 3rd Ave a lot better because there are fewer cars and Metro drivers are pretty good about bikes.

      • Roman says:

        While pretty awesome, I’d say our downtown would still fall waaaaaay short of being “the envy of the whole country”. I really wish the city would consider creating a legitimate bike-friendly way to travel through the downtown (and I mean the entire downtown) north-south/south-north. I do that on my commute, and I tried all of the options over the years: 2nd/4th, 3rd, western, 1st, 5th and all the possible combinations thereof. They all suck to about the same degree, albeit in different ways. Why don’t we create some sort of right-side cyclotrack on a street with no right turns and no entering motor traffic from the right (or a left-side cyclotrack on a street with no left turns and no entering motor traffic from the left). Is that too radical? Too disruptive to the existing traffic patterns? Wouldn’t that actually have a major impact on shifting more commuters from cars to bikes though?..

      • Roman says:

        Stephen: my post wasn’t meant as a response to you, rather the entire article; sorry for posting it to a wrong place.

      • Morgan Wick says:

        Tip: look for the words “cancel reply” above the text box.

  3. Kevin says:

    So are they going to make 7th Ave a two way street between Westlake and Olive? Because right now it’s SB only.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      At least for bikes. Specific design is preliminary.

      • Treebeard says:

        I remember hearing of a counterflow bike lane northbound on 7th between olive and Westlake, but that was at an sbab meeting back in 2009.

        I would be really cautious about putting a lane in front of 1700 7th. It’s a busy building and there’s lots of drop off/pickup parkers in front.

        They have a lot of cars that come out of the parking garage on Stewart and turn left (southbound) on 7th.
        Plus lots of cars turning from 7th ave left to get to the freeway on olive way.

        It just feels dangerous and I hope the city carefully thinks about it before it’s installed.

    • Morgan Wick says:

      And if it’s “protected bike lanes on both sides of 7th Ave”, is that still a cycletrack?

  4. Anonomous says:

    Amazon currently reimburses it’s employees for parking, almost to the point of covering current expenses. They do have a large number of cages, racks and showers towels and lockers for the bike community. They also hand out free Orca passes as well.

    Last I heard there were about 250 daily riders to the campus. That’s not bad considering not everyone rides every day. So I’d guess the actual total number of people who use a bicycle some days is closer to 500. It would be higher if they either dropped the parking reimbursement or did like Childrens Hospital does and hand out cash for repairs etc.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Agreed. Incentives to bike (like bonuses or even gift cards to a local bike shop or something) make a lot of sense (both financially and in general) for businesses in dense areas. Funding my bike habit is WAY cheaper than providing me a parking space downtown.

  5. Mondoman says:

    Sounds like Amazon is doing pretty well in embodying the “provide choices” mantra. It would be great to have an actual high-profile cycletrack so people could become familiar with the concept in practice.

  6. Breadbaker says:

    What I fervently hope is some relief on the timing of the lights from Westlake to Union (or even to Pine). Right now, regardless of your mode of transportation, you will stop at Westlake, then at Virginia (about a bicycle length of stopping room) , then at Stewart and then at Pine. Cars, pedestrians, bikes, doesn’t matter, the lights are timed so that you will stop at every single corner.

  7. Alby says:

    250 daily riders to the campus? Maybe you missed it, but Amazon wants a 3000-car underground parking garage to go with their proposed new buildings. Not 3000 bike stalls. Think about what a clusterf*** traffic is on Denny now, and imagine it with 6000 more cars trips per day. Bezos had the entire north end of Beacon Hill all to himself, but he’d rather be part of the trendy SLU cabal. Some choice he’s providing.

    • Gary says:

      3K more cars will be a traffic nightmare. If Amazon quit subsidizing parking it would easily cut that by half. Of course the city wants those jobs to stay in Seattle, and having them in downtown is the place best served by all the transit we’ve built. But Amazon has a lot of young people who are not used to riding with the great unwashed of the city and they don’t want to lose that talent to Microsoft and Google which are in the burbs.

  8. AiliL says:

    I am all for this upgrade, riding through this area every day really gets on my nerves – especially the 7th/Denny southbound. One has to really pay attention to what drivers are doing (or NOT doing) to make it through there some days. It’s like bike lanes do not exist in their little world and hey, who cares if there’s actually a cyclist there? They can move over for me or get sideswiped, because a bike lane means nothing, right?

    It’s kind of sad that it takes corporation moves/buildings to induce the city to make a better bike infrastructure. I don’t think SDOT is doing this out of the good of their hearts, but because they have to. What makes a better city for cycling are those cities that do it because *overall* they know it’s good – Portland and Minneapolis for instance.

  9. Chris M says:

    YES YES YES!

    This is great news.

    I would also offer my back of the napkin bike infrastructure idea, Ladies and Gentleman:

    The 5th Ave cycle track:

    The City of Seattle and King County Metro have plans to completely remove all buses from 5th Ave in downtown, to streamline their operations. The city would also like to make 5th ave a more pedestrian friendly environment, more conducive to street level retail. The city has talked about adding street parking on 5th through the retail core and adding some more pedestrian amenities.

    Another project the city is thinking about is making the Monorail columns along 5th in Belltown look a little nicer. Well here is my idea that can tie both projects together:

    The monorail columns already act as a natural buffer between the 2 lanes on the east side of 5th and the 1 lane on the west through Belltown.

    -Simply reduce 5th avenue to 2 lanes, as is already planned from Denny to Jackson.
    -Move street parking in Belltown from the curb, to underneath the monorail guide-way.
    - Don’t add street parking through the retail and office core
    -Add a two way cycle track along the West side of 5th ave from Denny to Jackson.

    5th Ave is the best street for our much needed bicycle path through downtown.
    -It runs continuously through Downtown (unlike 7th, which should also be built)
    -Hits all of the major activity centers and hubs (Residential Belltown, Retail core of Pike/Pine, office core, International District/Stadiums)
    -Allows for extensions to our current bike facilities. Extend a bit through Seattle Center and you connect the Lake to Shore trail (S.Lake Union, to Elliot bay.), Dexter, Mountains to Sound greenway, etc.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Sounds good to me. I feel like one that goes across the uphill part of downtown (4th or, like you suggest, 5th) and one on 2nd to Pioneer Square would serve different destinations and are both needed. Both could feasibly be two-way cycle tracks, and they could have flat, high quality connections between them at Pike/Pine and Jackson (though the streetcar might make that difficult). And at least one of them needs to connect into Seattle Center and Lower Queen Anne.

      • Chris M says:

        Yes I agree.

        I was thinking that several east/west connections would be vital to this working. One at Bell St., which the city is converting into a Park boulevard.

        Pine/Pike is also an obvious choice, but there needs to be some significant improvements along that corridor. Especially from Boren to 1st ave. Too many collisions at Boren and Pine (the westbound bike lane crossover is a fucking death trap). I used to work at Pike Place Market and commute from Capitol Hill. I’m comfortable biking in traffic through downtown, but many are not. Going east was always a pain, as Pike is a bit tricky, especially if you are trying to jog over to Pine on 7th to ride on the up hill bike lane.

        A contraflow flow cycle track up Pine from 7th to 1st might be an idea. Or better yet, make Pine two way, prioritize transit, bikes and pedestrians, and leave Pike to it’s proper role as a parking lot for I-5 :).

        Jackson, would be ideal. The Streetcar is being designed to run in the center of the roadway to avoid some of the problems encountered with the SLU Streetcar. An alternative might be Main st, which is nearly flat from the Waterfront (and the Elliot bay trail) all the way to 5th ave. It’s also a low traffic street already, making it an ideal candidate for a cycle track. Metro and the city are also thinking of using Main and Washington as a couplet for Rapid Ride C (West Seattle).

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Oh yeah, I forgot that Main is relatively flat all the way to 5th. That’s a good idea.

        And yes, Pike and/or Pine needs a safe cycle facility. I wonder if Pike might actaully have more room to work with, since it still has a center turn lane. Both streets see almost identical traffic (east of downtown, anyway), so that would suggest the turn lane is not needed. Pine is rather land locked, and there is heavy bus traffic.

        So a parking-separated facility on Pike seems possible. Plus it’s less steep than Pine. A two-way cycle track on the south side of Pike would have relatively few turning conflicts and wouldn’t need to mess with I-5 traffic.

        Anecdotally, even during rush hour, Pike doesn’t really need 3 full lanes. Most traffic is turning left or continuing up to Capitol Hill (though many go right on 5th). So a right-side facility seems like an option (maybe separated by planters where there is no parking?). It might need bus islands to prevent transit conflicts or something, too.

      • Chris M says:

        Interesting points. I’m getting to play my favorite game of armchair transportation planner :)

        I’m not so sure about Pike though. I-5 really gums things up between Downtown and Capitol Hill. The types of traffic patterns and engineering East and West of I-5 is very different. As such, what you suggest makes perfect sense for Pike east of I-5, but west (in downtown) could be very challenging.

        Between 1st and Boren, Pike street is a collector for north and south bound traffic to I-5. I don’t know where you would fit a cycle track on Pike in this section. As is, there SHOULD be a peak time bus only lane, as traffic crawls during rush hour, but there isn’t an underutilized lane on Pike during rush hour.

        East of Boren, your idea makes a lot of sense, but there is nothing to connect it to on the other side of I-5.

        Pine on the other hand has the exact opposite problem, low volumes Eastbound from 7th to Boren (really all the way to Bellevue, and not much until you get to Broadway), but heavy volumes Westbound before Downtown, as cars que up at Boren. Urban freeways really fuck up nice gridded city traffic patterns.

        The very underused lane on the south side of Pine from 7th to Bellevue offers some room to work with. If you extended this westward all the way to 1st and ban left turns from Pine on 5th, 3rd (which will likely be Bus only in a few years), you can cut down on the biggest turning risks.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Yeah, both streets have issues. And I also love playing armchair transpo planner. I’m sure actual planners can come up with something that will work, though. We just need to fight for a solution (I don’t care which one, so long as it’s safe and efficient).

      • Al Dimond says:

        @Chris M: If we only remove general-purpose lanes that are underutilized we’ll never transform our city into one that represents our true values. If we truly value a walkable and bikeable downtown then freeway traffic cannot be an excuse for failing to achieve it. We treat the freeway and its traffic as an inevitable part of the landscape. It isn’t. It was built by the hands of people and can be as easily removed if we will it. If we value a walkable and bikeable downtown we’ll design the facilities we need for walking and biking and design the vehicle flow around these needs.

        If these aren’t our values, if walking and cycling are merely self-deceiving “progressive” window dressing, destined to be the self-sacrificing “alternative” forever, then carry on building around the freeway. But I think we should aim higher than that. It’s not that traffic management doesn’t matter at all, but it should absolutely be a subsidiary concern.

      • Mondoman says:

        Chill a bit, Al! Not every single choice in the world is a manifestation of progressive bona fides!
        Walking and cycling are important, but like it or not, they will always be the “alternative” for most, because that’s what they choose. It’s not good or bad, it just is, and the population’s decisions should be supported.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I disagree that bicycling will “always” be alternative transpo. At some point, the numbers of ppl driving, biking, walking and taking transit will just sort of mesh together as “ways to get around.” Especially if we make bold moves to provide safe and easy routes for all modes.

        Driving is a very unpleasant way to get around Seattle. With mass transit in West Seattle, Ballard and the eastside and high quality bike infrastructure where it matters most (bridges, downtown and neighborhoods), transit and biking will keep gaining popularity. Already, more people take transit to work downtown than drive alone. For downtown, transit is the dominant transportation form, at least in terms of numbers (which is why it’s crazy there are not more bus-only lanes).

      • Chris M says:

        @Al

        I don’t totally disagree, but I think you are reading into far too much from a few simple comments.

        First off, I don’t think the freeway traffic should be thought of as something akin to an act of nature. People built it, and people can dismantle it. But that is unlikely to happen within the next few years, or you know something I don’t ;).

        The discussion was how do you mitigate the effects of the freeway traffic, include facilities for biking and transit, in the here and now.

        In my perfect world, we would just do away with cars, dramatically redesign our cities to allow for biking, walking and transit being the most convenient and fast means to get about.

        But back to our current reality. I think there is a lot of low hanging fruit, so to speak, of easy and relatively cheap things that we can do to dramatically increase and encourage biking as a practical and safe alternative (or at least increase the perception of safety).

        Removing a general purpose lane on Pike St. to allow for a quality bike facility is likely a non-starter from the City’s point of view. I wish it weren’t true, but it is.

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