Why no bike lanes in the Fauntleroy ‘Green Boulevard’ plans?

Concept image from a 2011 open house, via West Seattle Blog

Do you see anything missing from the image above? There are no bikes!

The city is in the design phase of a so-called “Green Boulevard” on Fauntleroy Way SW between 35th Ave SW (AKA I-35) and SW Alaska St just east of the Junction. SDOT will host an open house tomorrow (Thursday) from 4–6 p.m. at the West Seattle Senior Center.

A quick look at the project goals on the city’s website shows no mention of bicycles, despite the fact that Fauntleroy is the most direct route between Avalon Way SW (a popular bike route) and SW Alaska and, therefore the Junction. Since the Junction is the neighborhood’s commercial center, and Avalon is a key bike route to the West Seattle Bridge, creating a safe-for-everyone bicycle facility seems like an excellent opportunity to boost the bikeability of West Seattle.

SW Alaska between Fauntleroy and California is ripe for a modern street upgrade, and the city seems prepared to invest some real money into this short stretch of Fauntleroy. Any urban vision that doesn’t have bikes is living in the past. So let’s dream big. How about bike lanes between the sidewalk and the planters?

Here are the project’s stated goals via SDOT’s website:

The Fauntleroy Way SW Green Boulevard Project derives from the West Seattle Triangle Urban Design Framework that was drafted in November 2011. The design framework takes its cues from the West Seattle Junction Hub Urban Village Neighborhood Plan, which was published in 1999. Several aspects of the neighborhood plan speak directly to the future of the Triangle planning area including the following:

  • Fauntleroy Way SW: create a community gateway, enhance pedestrian safety and comfort, retain vehicle capacity while calming traffic
  • Encourage the provision of parking for shoppers and employees
  • Allow higher density mixed use residential, but not height, in the Triangle area bounded by Fauntleroy/Alaska/ 35th
  • Encourage a diversity of housing affordability levels
  • Develop opportunities for public open spaces, community gathering spaces and pedestrian/bicycle trails, including the use of unneeded portions of street rights-of-ways
  • Promote greening and beautification of the neighborhood

As part of this plan, SDOT began conceptual design on Fauntleroy Way SW between 35th Ave SW and SW Alaska Street.

The bike lanes would seem to fit with these goals. They would make the pedestrian environment even better by putting the car traffic even further from the sidewalks, and the separation from traffic would give the bike lanes a more friendly and “trail-like” experience than the standard painted bike lane.

If we are going to invest big in this area, we need to get it right. This is a huge opportunity for the heart of West Seattle to not only catch up with more bikeable parts of the city, but pass them up by creating a modern bike facility that would make Ballard, Green Lake and even Capitol Hill drool.

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25 Responses to Why no bike lanes in the Fauntleroy ‘Green Boulevard’ plans?

  1. basketlover says:

    maybe we can get better facilities if we burn a few hundred thousand on a bicycle master plan that is ignored yet has to be updated every few years.

    • Eli says:

      Could you possibly elaborate on where you see the BMP being ignored? (other than lack of funding of the large capital projects.)

      Or are you just venting? (which is just fine, too.)

  2. Kellee Bryan says:

    That is definitely an area that is used by cyclists headed to (and from) the low bridge crossing to get off “the island” and into downtown. I’m always nervous for cyclists and pedestrians in that entire triangle area. It definitely needs improvement, so I’m glad they’re doing something – but it definitely seems like the perfect opportunity to incorporate “real” bike lanes (most of the painted lanes in West Seattle appear to be mostly an afterthought, rather than an integrated part of the transportation design). There are also a number of cyclists who get off the Vashon ferry and bike Fauntleroy into the downtown, so making it more bike friendly would definitely benefit Vashon commuters as well.

  3. JAT says:

    Well,… those look a lot like multi-use paths to the outside of the treed swales (and as usual I’ll opine that multi-use paths are worse than riding on the street…)

    But in someways this is a chicken-egg problem. This boulevard proposal is for what I’ll call the Taco-Time/Trader Joe’s segment of Fauntleroy, and currently very few cyclists use that stretch: uphill motorists are passing too fast (they’ve just exited from what’s widely perceived to be a freeway) and there’s the dedicated right turn lane onto SW Oregon St. Downhill some people use it but the pavement is horrible and the side streets (including SW Alaska St) just work better. It’s a natural transistion from the sharrow / bike lane-equipped Trader Joe’s/Aaron’s Bike Repair segment. They’re less direct, though.

    As it is currently it’s a vast wasteland of buckling concrete, but once you install the grassy median and they grassy side swales and those suspiciously multi-use path-looking sidewalk thingies, there’s just not that much room left for a bike lane.

    I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a bike lane, but given current demand, i don’t think we should be surprised it wasn’t included in the plans.

    • Fat Guy On a Bike says:

      As a resident of the Trader Joes/Taco Time Corridor ( I think I’m going to use that term from here on out…heh heh), I have to agree that most cyclists use the side streets by the YMCA, etc. because of the better pavement, lower traffic volumes and slower travelling traffic. As to the comment of these side streets being less direct, I don’t know that that’s true if you look at it time-wise. The side streets don’t have those excessively long traffic lights to deal with, so you can just scoot along at your own pace rather than stop…go…stop..go…stop again.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      The plans are not complete yet. This is the time to voice your preferences. If the sidwalks pictured are, indeed, supposed to be multi-use trails of some sort, then we should voice our preference for cycling facilities that are separate from the sidewalk. That should be an easy fix.

      The city got in this awful habit of making sidewalks a tiny bit wider and calling them trails (I’m looking at you, Fairview Ave N). This trend must end. It is not particularly safe and crates animosity between people on bikes and people walking, who should not need to worry about bikes passing them on a sidewalk.

  4. meanie says:

    Clearly no one on this seattlebikeblog asked someone who rides in west seattle about if this was a good idea, sadly they are guilty of the same type of poor planning that SPD is when they come up with bike routes. I assume at SPD its a bunch of admins scanning maps and scribbling lines over what routes dont impede traffic so I expect better here.

    Fauntleroy is a terrible route between the bridge and alaska, traffic is bottled necked in both directions and its basically an on/offramp, you might be able to adjust that with policy, but after everyone is done bitching about the war on cars, you would be fighting over a route with signifigant grade, bad sight lines, traffic lights, and high volumes of cars.

    The preferred route of Avalon to 36th to Alaska, as pictured in the Seattle bike map is much better for cyclists, in both directions. http://imgur.com/l0Ir5.

    If any bike improvements were warranted I would start with a better signage for cyclists, and a better merge lane when climbing up Avalon and making the turn to 36th. Currently cyclists all vary by how comfortable they are with traffic which results in a horrible mish mash of sidewalk jumpers, mergers and right lane hugging which pisses everyone off.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I have ridden the area. I am familiar with the route on the bike map. However, what about people accessing the businesses on Fauntleroy? And, as you point out, Fauntleroy is the most direct route and many people are going to use it, anyway.

      Bike facilities are not just about getting through a place, they are about being part of a neighborhood. Neighborhood greenways (essentially, that’s what the bike map route is trying to be) are great for activating those streets, but they are not an excuse to ignore the main commercial drags. Someone biking down Fauntleroy is more likely to stop into the businesses—current and future ones—than someone in a car. And they are more likely to visit them more often. This is a fact repeated in customer studies in Seattle and around the globe.

      I agree that Fauntleroy is a terrible road to bike on. But I don’t agree that it must always be that way. If the city is going to invest in the street, let’s make it a street that encourages business development and is inviting for all people.

      • JAT says:

        This makes a lot of sense (and indeed I did once ride up Fauntleroy and stop in at a local business to look at a Pontiac) but for most people this stretch is entirely about getting through the place.

        (As a former kid from Vashon my perception of West Seattle was that the whole thing was for getting through oh, and Husky Deli – as a present West Seattlite, I now see things differently)

        The overall SDOT approach to calming traffic, bringing speeds down and resetting road user expectations about reasonable velocities on city streets, is a good one. It’s safer; it will save lives and property damage and heartache and delay, but in terms of hearts and minds there’s still a long way to go.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Exactly! And the neighborhood plan for the area envisions more businesses and life on this stretch of road. The point of the tree-lined boulevard, it seems, it to inject more life into the area and encourage this business/neighborhood activity. That’s exactly what bike lanes can help bring.

        Here’s the stated goal: “Allow higher density mixed use residential, but not height, in the Triangle area bounded by Fauntleroy/Alaska/ 35th”

        Bikes can help bring an idea like that to life. But it will NEVER happen if the street remains only a highway to the ferry terminal/West Seattle Bridge.

    • Fat Guy On a Bike says:

      Agreed with everything meanie said. With the exception that SPD haphazardly scribbles lines for bike routes. I think they use “rock paper scissors.” What’s up with the bike lane to nowhere at the bottom of Avalon? When there was no bike lane, the issues seemed to be minimal. Most of the drivers gave us room because there is plenty of room to be had. When they put the lane in, it gave that age old perception that “bikes go here” and “cars go here,” which is fine except for the fact that it mysteriously disappears about 1/3 of the way up the hill on a blind turn. Once the bike lane disappears, it seems everyone’s common sense does as well.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        That absolutely needs to be fixed, as well. It’s just awful. How nice would a parking-separated lane be there?

        To be clear, I’m not a traffic engineer, and I’m not saying the designs I suggest are the best ones. But something of equal caliber is needed, and that’s the point I’m trying to get across.

  5. dave says:

    There’s also the city’s Complete Streets policy, which, according to my understanding, requires that they at least consider accommodating bicycles (along with all other modes) in some way when doing a road project:

    “In 2007, the Seattle City Council passed Ordinance 122386, known as the Complete Streets ordinance, which directs Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to design streets for pedestrians, bicyclists, transit riders, and persons of all abilities, while promoting safe operation for all users, including freight. This is the lens through which SDOT views our major maintenance and construction projects.”

    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/completeStreets.htm

  6. Al Dimond says:

    I think that both the city and state DOTs get really disingenuous when they propose beautification projects like this. They fail to mention that a tree-lined median hides oncoming traffic and cross traffic, which tends to cause people to drive faster. They fail to mention that the planted area, being in the middle of a fast-moving road with turning traffic, is entirely unusable to anyone. They fail to mention the additional maintenance costs, especially with trees. And they don’t show how the street will look after the trees have been allowed to overgrow, causing a risk during storms, hiding street signs and signals, etc.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      In this case, the tree planters and medians would make travel lanes a little skinnier. Right now, the curb lanes on this street are crazy wide, and wide lanes encourage lots of speeding.

      And in theory, the city has guidelines for what trees they plant so that sight lines are preserved and roots don’t destroy pavement (some older boulevards did not have these guidelines and are dangerous in the ways you suggest). However, does that mean they will make sure no blackberry buses or other sight-blocking plants ever grow there? Obviously, there is maintenance cost there. On the flip side, there’s also less pavement to (expensively) maintain, so some of those costs will come out in the wash.

      • mike archambault says:

        I’m with Al, I think an unused planted median is a waste of space and has the potential to encourage higher speeds. What if instead of having the planted median, that valuable road space was instead allocated to bike path space next to the sidewalk(s) as you proposed earlier, Tom? I wonder if the car lanes could still be as narrow as SDOT is proposing without the median? Not having a median would also provide more options for re-channelization sometime in the distant future as needs change.

  7. Nick says:

    I’m not so worried about accessing the businesses along that stretch of Fauntleroy. 37th, 38th and the cross streets all allow easy access in there. Most of the cycling traffic actually heads through the triangle on 36th. Any time I’ve wanted to deviation to Fauntleroy it’s. Been maybe a block at most. I do agree about the wasted space of a planted median. Would much rather see planted curb sides. But then I like trees I can hang.out under. Crazy, I know

  8. Toddles says:

    Alright. Mr. Skeptical and Renegade Biker is on board. This plan is incredibly retarded.

  9. AiliL says:

    I live in West Seattle and travel through this corridor almost every day by bike. SDOT gave a presentation for the Seattle Bike Board last year about this area. Good bike facilities were planned, none of which I see on this preview.

    The plan was to add a bike lane from 35th & Avalon to Avalon & Fauntleroy. At this point, moving cyclist from one side of the intersection to another is tricky. It was proposed that it is a prime location for a *gasp* Bike Box. SDOT seemed to like that idea.

    Then cyclists use 36th, which is heavily traveled both directions already to access Alaska. Alaska has some nice new bike/bus lanes that are actually nice to use. To have a route to connect with them would be great.

    At Alaska/Fauntleroy another bike box was proposed for cyclists needing to move from the bike/bus lane on the right to the left turn area to continue on the official bike route that starts there on Fauntleroy. Right now the area is a big mess of disjointed bike routes that are poorly marked and completely unsigned.

    I agree that I don’t think it’s a good idea, or necessary to have a bike route right on Fauntleroy off the bridge. I’d much rather use the “through the triangle” route and join Alaska to Fauntleroy. Which I do now.

    Other improvements that were in the works:
    * at least two new signalized pedestrian crossings on Fauntleroy, one for sure near the new Trader Joe’s.
    * completely re-work the parking situation in the triangle. Lots of the parking is on dirt, haphazard and confusing. re-working the parking would make it safer for those on the street (removing parking chaos as people try to leave/enter the spaces) and might actually increase the parking available there.
    * create street buffering at the uncontrolled intersections and possibly add 4-way stops to at least one or two unconrolled intersections. This is especially needed at 36th & Snoqualmie – drivers move through there without any regard for cross-traffic and yielding to the ROW of people in the intersection. And this will get worse with the new apartment building, going on on the corner, traffic.

    This is an important area to watch. There is a bikeability tour of West Seattle that’s happening soon, hopefully this area will be discussed:
    “This ‘Bikeability Tour’ will take place on Thursday, July 26. We’ll start promptly at 6 p.m. on the Alki Trail, just adjacent to the Chelan Café. After a two-hour ride through West Seattle, we’ll end back at the Luna Park Café at 8 p.m. for an hour of discussion about what we saw along the way over food and drinks.”

  10. Mike Lindblom says:

    Tom Fucoloro may in fact be on the right track (literally, a cycletrack) to put bikes alongside Fauntleroy.

    Here’s why: the commonly side street route (36th SW) past Alki Lumber and the YMCA is dangerous now because of the downhill Fauntleroy traffic that comes whipping right to Avalon Way. Bicyclists go uphill on Avalon and turn left from the interior lane — as drivers are distracted by stoplights and the drive-through Starbucks. That’s a fatality waiting to happen. I prefer to use 35th to SW Snoqualmie Street uphill, and Alaska to 35th downhill. There could be more than one way to deal with the question.

  11. WSHC says:

    I attended the open house yesterday, and rode the newly installed bike lane on Alaska to get there. Although I counted 4 cars using the bus-only lanes, the trip uphill from Fauntleroy to California does feel a little safer. There is a point next to the QFC where it gets a little dodgy, as the bike lane moves out and around the parking and bus stop there.

    I agree with those who use Avalon > 36th > Alaska as their cycle route to the Junction and beyond, and I called this out to the SDOT folks who were there.

    Others voiced the need for more pedestrian crossings in the area.

    I also called out the current mess that is the intersection at 35th and Avalon. SDOT folks said that they are extending the uphill bike lane on Avalon to 35th and that this work would be done by September of this year. The trick is getting cyclists safely to the left-turn onto 36th from Avalon. SDOT is actively looking at this issue.

  12. AiliL says:

    SDOT has discussed 36th/Avalon issue already.
    They should be aware of it. The answer of “actively looking at the issue” has come to mean “we don’t want to deal with it/tick of drivers” to me. They were discussing a Bike Box there not even a year ago. It’s a simple answer. Bike Box.
    One is needed at Alaska/Fauntleroy northbound for those cyclists heading south on Fauntleroy too. Although the new bus/bike lane is nice, if traffic stacks up in the northbound travel lane (not often, but it does sometimes), it makes it really difficult to move from the bus/bike lane to the regular traffic lane to make a left turn.

  13. Casey says:

    Can’t say I agree with Fauntleroy bike lanes (1. See the bazillion other posts about the ‘interested but concerned’ cycling population, and 2. Pick your battles), but I like the discussion the post as generated. As someone with intimate knowledge of the area my feeling is that modifying Avalon with bike lanes and improving the left turn to 36th is the most important move. Please note, however, that what would need to happen is neither a bike box (unless I’m missing something, we’re talking about a dedicated left turn lane for bikes) nor a “simple solution,” as the issues that Mr. Lindblom pointed out are real. The intersection of Fauntleroy and Avalon would have to have geometric modifications that reduce the speed (and ease) of right turning vehicles, and that’s $$. This is hopefully what’s taking the extra time and attention, and what advocates should be focusing on in my opinion – not bike lanes on Fauntleroy north of Alaska.

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