This is the second post in a series analyzing Seattle’s draft Bicycle Master Plan update, which is currently taking public comments. This post will focus on the central neighborhoods south of the Ship Canal and north of I-90. Stay tuned for future posts looking at other parts of the city.
Central Seattle is, not surprisingly, home to a huge number of people who commute, run errands and otherwise get around town on bikes. In fact, a recent customer survey found that more people bike to shop and eat on Capitol Hill than drive alone. A stunning 67 percent of customers walk there.
A strong culture of biking among residents in the dense central neighborhoods combined with the region’s biggest employment center (downtown) combine to create immense potential for safe, inviting bicycle facilities. But these factors also make bicycle facilities more difficult and, likely, more expensive to implement than in other parts of the city.
In general, the Bike Master Plan draft has focused on cycle tracks as the primary way to improve cycling options. Due to the multi-modal nature of the streets and clear evidence that conventional painted bike lanes are not adequate on busy, dense roads (see: 2nd Avenue’s failed bike lane), the plan is spot-on in calling for a network of cycle tracks to connect popular destinations to nearby neighborhoods and both city-wide and regional bike routes.
One of the biggest pieces missing in all of central Seattle is a cycle track on Pike and/or Pine Streets east of downtown. Pike Street does not have any recommended facilities east of Melrose, which is a huge oversight. Many people already choose Pike over Pine due to its easier grade and multitude of destinations.
The Pike/Pine corridor is among the most important cycling corridors in the city, and it is also among the most dangerous. As we have discussed before, there is massive potential for improvements. We recommend adding a cycle track on Pike from downtown to Madison (also potential to connect to the proposed 16th/17th/18th Ave neighborhood greenway). The exact details of an improved Pike/Pine will need to be figured out during the engineering process for such a project, but both streets need to be part of that process (Pike may very well turn out to be a better option).
The plan includes several bold choices that few people probably saw coming, such as cycle tracks on Madison St, Boren and Rainier. These are very exciting, and are great examples that the plan is pursuing a bold vision of the future of cycling in Seattle.
Central Seattle Neighborhood Greenways has pointed out that the group’s top priority route connecting Judkins and Volunteer Parks is missing a section between Alder and Columbia Streets. Otherwise, most of the group’s favorite routes are represented or at least approximated (for the sake of the master plan, it’s probably best to consider the neighborhood greenway proposals as approximate corridors. The exact streets used will be worked out during public outreach).
Another huge gap is Jackson St, which needs a cycle track or at least a buffered bike lane. This is complicated by the First Hill Streetcar plans, which did not include bike facilities in their plans for Jackson. This is a huge missed opportunity, as we have written before. There is no comparable corridor to Jackson, which is wide and carries relatively few vehicles per day (14,000, which is fewer than Broadway, though Jackson is a more important transit corridor). The Bike Master Plan should reflect the importance of this street. In fact, a part of me is still hoping a bike facility can be added to the project before it is finished in early 2014. Failure to do so would be a big mistake that will cost us more in money and scars to fix at a later date.
23rd Ave is among the Central District’s most dangerous streets, especially for people walking. Bike facilities also dramatically improve safety for people on foot and in cars. The city received about $5 million in grants to boost repaving work on the street, which is coming in the next couple years. So to see a cycle track included in the BMP for that street is a great sign, and could be an early test of how the plan’s more ambitious elements are handled in real life.
The plan also calls for the 23rd Ave cycle track to extend through Montlake all the way to the bridge. Again, most people who bike have grown so accustomed to thinking of 23rd/24th as a “car street” that it’s easy to forget that cycling there really should be not only be an option, but it should be comfortable. There is no comparable street to 23rd/24th from Montlake to Madison St.
Plans for South Lake Union are completely lacking. Westlake Ave needs improvements, as people continue to ride and fall on the tracks. The problem will not go away until we do something about it. As we have written before, there is precedent for a center-lane cycle track, which would connect well with the planned and funded Westlake Cycle track and the planned and funded 7th Ave cycle track. No bike facility on 9th Ave will ever be good enough to mitigate dangers on the flat, direct and destination-filled Westlake Ave.
Thomas St is supposed to be a “green street” from Eastlake Ave to the Elliott Bay Trail by the time the grid is reconnected to Lower Queen Anne due to the Hwy 99 deep bore tunnel. Previous plans for a reconnected SLU/Queen Anne looked at a cycle track on Thomas and bike lanes Harrison. These plans should be reflected in the Master Plan. If we are not careful, Harrison could become a mean, dangerous, car-dominated street, and bike lanes there would help ensure the street is friendly for biking and walking. Terry Ave was also once discussed as a green street option, but is missing from the plan.
Stewart and Howell Streets are listed as cycle track candidates, which is great. In fact, I would recommend accelerating the Howell St cycle track after 2011’s awful redesign that likely made the street worse for cycling.
The plan suggests connecting the Ship Canal and Elliott Bay trails via bike lanes on Gilman Ave W and a one-block trail extension from the current Ship Canal Trail terminus on W Emerson Pl to Gilman Ave. Gilman seems like an excellent candidate for a cycle track, since the road currently has bike lanes that work very poorly (for some reason, nearly every vehicle parked there is extra-wide and takes over the bike lane space). Plus, due to the tracks on the east side of the road, a two-way cycle track could work well since there are few cross-streets and driveways (this would also create a trail-like connection between the two well-loved regional trails).
And, yes, the plans call for an improved Ballard Bridge facility. It also suggests cycle tracks on W Dravis and a section of 15th Ave for a fast and safe connection to the future improved crossing.
In Sodo, the plans call for cycle tracks on Alaskan Way/E Marginal Way, 1st Ave and Airport Way, along with cycle track connections into downtown along 4th Ave and Seattle Boulevard. We’ll have more on these connections in later posts dealing with south and west Seattle.
Well, there is a lot more that I have not touched on, but this post is already exceedingly long. Are there any key routes missing from the draft map? What do you think of the recommended facilities?
You can also make route suggestions using SDOT’s online BMP update mapping tool.