Reader hit by car under viaduct not injured, but concerned about safety on temporary bikeway

Image from Steven Greenberg

Image from Steven Greenberg

Steve Greenberg was struck by a somebody he says made an illegal right turn on red across the temporary bikeway under the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

The collision occurred Friday morning where King Street crosses under the viaduct.

He was not injured and says he is not angry at the person who struck him, who rides a bike himself and was distraught. Instead, Greenberg observed the intersection a little further and determined that it and the temporary bikeway are poorly designed. He outlines some of the issues in the image above, which he sent to city officials and Seattle Bike Blog. He is worried that as it is currently designed, similar collisions are inevitable and the next victim may not be as lucky.

Greenberg is not the first person to voice concern about the temporary bikeway. Visibility is poor, and as you can clearly see in the image above, it is difficult to tell that the bikeway is even there. This is bad for safety and makes it difficult for people on bikes trying to navigate the unfriendly construction site.

From his email:

Hello,

I was hit by a car this morning while traveling on the city’s bike lane underneath the Alaskan Way Viaduct.

I had the right of way. I was traveling south-bound on my way from my home in Capitol Hill to my job in Pioneer Square at 1st and King.

A car made an illegal right-turn-on-red and hit me. Thankfully I’m fine. The driver was mortified and very shaken. He is a cyclist himself.

Here’s a picture of the intersection. I think you’ll agree that this is an accident waiting to happen.

I’d like to here your suggestions and a plan for fixing this situation. I have a wife and a six month old child. Thank god I’ll be going home tonight without injury. I’m not sure the next cyclist will be as lucky.

Sincerely,

Steven Greenberg

The current bike routes along Alaskan Way are clearly not working. And with construction set to continue for many years longer, something must be done to make it safer for people on bikes.

Do you bike through the construction area regularly? What other issues need to be addressed?

UPDATE: For reference, here is the current construction detour routing map from the Alaskan Way Viaduct Replacement team:

bike_ped_traffic_1_large

UPDATE 2: The city does have guidelines for designing bicycle detours during construction, found here.

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40 Responses to Reader hit by car under viaduct not injured, but concerned about safety on temporary bikeway

  1. Neal says:

    When I lived in West Seattle, I rode through that area every day. One of the worst designs I’ve ever seen. I’d generally opt for taking the lane instead of using the “trail.”

  2. Davey Oil says:

    I’d ride on a temporary facility up on the viaduct.

  3. onshay says:

    I’m a West Seattle resident and, yes, this solution under the viaduct is TERRIBLE. It surely doesn’t help that drivers look south without glancing north as they move forward into the intersection and many just stop in the crosswalk as they wait to turn. Many people who do see me coming don’t even acknowledge their responsibility to yield and just keep rolling through the crosswalk.

    Also, the visibility at those corners is awful – can’t see a car /bike until you’re 5-10 feet from the intersection. Even at 10 mph that’s less than a second of reaction time. Unacceptable.

    The one bit of relief is that southbound car traffic is so bad there in the evenings that I usually feel safe in the southbound lane.

  4. Southeasterner says:

    I was hit in that exact same location. The beauty was the driver who hit me wasn’t so nice and took off…right into gridlocked traffic. I actually walked my bike up to his car window (he only made it half a block) to confront him. A few other witnesses joined me and his argument was “I had my turn signal on (he drove up besides me and turned so I had no opportunity to see his turn signal) so I had right of way.” I reported the plates to the police, more for the hit and run than for the accident itself, but never heard anything back.

  5. Rick says:

    I work down there, bike/walk that intersection a lot and it really sucks. Most drivers do not stop at all when turning right, and I doubt they even see that sign. Many even drive on the marked median, which makes it even more dangerous. Something definitely needs to be done there to prevent future accidents.

    As for the rest of the Alaskan Wy. commute, it is even worse. The multi-use path is in no way a bike lane, especially in the summer when there’s a lot more foot traffic in the area. This makes riding in the road and/or the miniscule shoulder dodging taxis, the only real option for cyclists…which obviously pisses off drivers. I think there needs to be at very least some sharrows along that route since I doubt there is enough room to install bike lanes under the viaduct unfortunately.

    IMO, the worst part is where heading Northbound, it splits left going back onto the original Alaskan Wy or right to continue under the viaduct. Most cyclists seem to continue to ride the shoulder there, which isn’t very smart because some cars are turning right to continue under the viaduct…I have seen so many close calls there, and it creates a nasty bottleneck as the cars often have to almost stop in fear of hitting the cyclists who are creeping up right next to them on the shoulder. Often where you keep left to get on to the old Alaskan Wy, drivers are so pissed at us cyclists that they speed past on the left and lay on their horns, or try cutting cyclists off. Maybe if there were sharrows, some signage, and cyclists would take the lane there, I think things would be much safer and smoother for all.

    You are absolutely right that it is clearly not working and something needs to be done, soon!

  6. Peri Hartman says:

    Don’t use that bikeway if you want to live. Aside from turning vehicles, you have to negotiate curbs, malaligned ramps, signs, meters, and other obsticals. It is “extreme sports” go through there. I ride in the traffic lane. Traffic generally doesn’t go fast through there, so you likely won’t hold cars up much if at all.

    • Ted says:

      I’ve got to second that. I ride this stretch every day that I ride to work and I took the “bike path” that parallels Alaskan Way exactly once I think. I ride on Alaskan southbound in the morn and northbound on the way home and just take the middle of the right lane all the way from Myrtle Edwards to Pioneer Squareish. I don’t think anyone has ever honked at me once…drivers on that road are really pretty good. They just take the inside lane. Much safer for everyone really.

  7. Brad B says:

    Agreed; I opt for taking the lane when I’m riding through there.

  8. josh says:

    Some thoughts:

    * “No Right On Red” on the same pillar as the right-turn construction sign, just as large as that sign.

    * Fuorescent yellow-green Bike/Ped crossing signs on the pillars before the trail crossings.

    * Sharrows, centered in the traffic lane, for all the cyclists who will still avoid the temporary deathtrap trail.

    * Special emphasis traffic enforcement in the construction zone at least one commute per week.

    * Walking tour of proposed re-routes each time construction requires a change, with experienced commuter cyclists who can provide insight on hazards *before* they’re built.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      Sorry to disagree, but as long as the sight lines are bad (i.e. cyclists can’t see approaching vehicles and vice versa), the risk of getting hit is still there. Better signs would likely help. But, unless you are going very slowly, you still have to take a leap of faith to barrel through a blind spot. Not something I’m willing to do.

      I would support the sharrows, though I don’t think they really do much.

      • Joe says:

        I was hit under the Viaduct at Marion and Alaskan Way by an SUV that ran a redlight (by an off-duty fireman, no less). Despite the blatant violation of the law, I wrote the city and the state about how poor (i.e., unsafe) the design is for bicyclists; their response has been nil – I get updates via the state about the progress of the tunnel project… Never once have I heard anything addressing cyclist safety.
        The design is awful under the Viaduct and no one heeds any attention to the “No Turn on Red” signs all along Alaskan. I have been in situations where I’ll be stopped at the light and other cars behind me will go into the marked shoulder to try to get around me to try to take a right even when I have a right turn signal on. There should be a flashing “no turn on red” sign at the corner.
        I’m glad that stretch of road is no longer part of my commute.

    • Not Serious says:

      Let’s put up corn stalks and a few hay bales and pumpkins to make the maze themed for fall festivities! If you make it through the maze without being hit you win!

  9. Al Dimond says:

    The number of weird road crossings the signed path makes is totally crazy. When I come up from the south I ride with traffic on Alaskan up to Yesler, then take Western through much of downtown. That only works up until Western turns into a crazy highway, but I’m not staying along the waterfront that long.

  10. Double D says:

    It’s a mess. I have to ride it 5 days a week and it’s my least favorite section in this city, especially traveling north after work at rush hour. And it’s not just motorists continually doing dumb shit like not looking to their right before turning. Cyclists are equally doing lame maneuvers such as riding between two lanes of stopped cars and blowing through red lights right in front of everyone. I get why motorists are very frustrated at us – at any given red light there’s one or two who stop and wait, three more blowing the light, one riding through the crosswalk thinking they are invisible, two more on the sidewalk … it’s a shit show and there’s absolutely no common theme going on between cyclists while riding. At least the autos are easy to figure out, as they travel in the lanes provided.

    I seriously want to scream at people daily but that would be very un-Seattle of me. Alaska Way sucks.

  11. Matt says:

    I used to commute everyday from my apartment in Queen Anne to the Starbucks HQ in Sodo on Alaskan Way. What makes me mad is that this is such an easy road to fix and it is one of the only flat roads in Seattle, yet nothing seems to be done to improve the situation. It connects the amazing Elliot Bay Trail to the new bikeway running parallel to the train tracks south of the Ferry Terminal. It needs to be made bike friendly. I’m not sure if this is in the Bike Master Plan or we are waiting to see what goes in once the Viaduct comes down. It just seems like there are a lot of good options.

    I’m not going to go too much into detail about what I think needs to be done, but how hard would it be to create some type of cycle track or buffered bike lane on the western side of street? It seems like the sidewalk and everything else on the eastern side of the street is useless. The “bike trail” is narrow and just horrendous and the sidewalk is always empty since all of the tourist attractions are on the other side of the street. Either remove the parking lane/1 lane of traffic on the western side or shift all the lanes East by removing the sidewalk and remaining trolley tracks.

    Maybe my idea would be a lot more difficult to implement than I think, but this is such a prime bikeway that does not get nearly enough press. It will especially be useful with the Capitol Hill Streetcar opening and people from Magnolia, Queen Anne, Ballard, etc. potentially biking down to Jackson to take it up the hill versus risking their lives biking downtown (sorry it’s horrendous and I used to live in downtown Chicago).

  12. Steve Greenberg says:

    Hey folks,

    This is Steve. I sent Tom the post and picture about the car that hit me this morning. The city called me back and told me that WSDOT is actually responsible for the bike trail underneath the viaduct, so I emailed viaduct@wsdot.wa.gov with my concerns.

    Josh’s comments are great suggestions for simple improvements that could make a big difference. Hopefully WSDOT will see this post and take some action.

    - Steve

    • GPhinney says:

      Glad you’re OK, Steve — and thanks for bringing this intersection to light. I ride the northbound direction from my work up at Jackson and Rainier to Phinney just about every day and know the spot well. Hopefully, WSDOT will fix it before something really tragic happens.

      In my opinion, the “bike path” under the viaduct is just about unusable, with a high volume of pedestrians and traffic crossing to parking and the feeder streets. I always ride the road on Alaskan now.

      Despite the sketchy left-hand turn at the sculpture park to get onto the path at Myrtle Edwards, it feels fairly safe to me compared to other parts of my commute. It’s a wide street with good sightlines, there’s usually other cyclists, and — at the risk of undercutting the central narrative of “cars-vs.-bikes” that seems to rule the discourse — I’ve only had a handful of negative encounters with drivers in several years of using that route. I’ve seen way more road rage when I’m in my car on 4th Ave. downtown. It’s always surprised me since many people down there are tourists and obviously not familiar with the area.

  13. David Blackwell says:

    I don’t ride often these days, but I used to daily in Seattle, Berkeley and San Francisco for 20-25 years. So I’m not a newbie when it comes to cycling. Nor am I new to Seattle. I’ve lived here the past thirty years. I took a ride from my East Capitol Hill home to West Seattle a few weeks ago and was astounded by how poorly designed and discombobulating this detour was. Admittedly, I misread it on my first time through and rode through an intersection against a light accidentally. I was very fortunate I wasn’t clocked by a car. It would’ve been my fault and I would’ve had to admit to it.

    Too many signs . It’s a cognitive mess. Or at least was that early September day. Several were leaning up against buildings on the corner. I couldn’t tell if they were wayfinding signs, or just resting there waiting for hauling so as to not block the sidewalk On the return trip a few hours later, I was much more careful through here. Even then, turning around afterwards and looking back, I was still amazed at how poorly this was designed. I just shook my head. I left the area almost assuming one of the construction companies was tasked to create this detour and just sent someone with time on their hands out there to place signs around.

    I’m glad the cyclist mentioned here wasn’t injured seriously. I also empathize with the driver (…I’m one of those too). I imagine this is just as confusing for drivers as well.

    This brings up an issue I’ve long felt could use some serious attention by SDOT in Seattle proper – that is: information design, as applied to traffic and wayfinding. Cynically, often it seems to me, it is based on standards from the 1950′s around here. Realistically, I know that must not be true. I think that many of our traffic congestion, road sharing and road safety issues could be improved affordably by simplifiying, standardizing and clarfying many of the traffic and road signs in this region. Signage should be designed to enhance situational awareness, not distract from.

  14. Bill says:

    The fundamental problem here is the path put the cyclist on the wrong side of the street. Set aside the driver ignoring or not seeing the no turn on red sign, also set aside the cyclist trusting his life to a traffic signal. To the driver, the cyclist came out of the blue. This is one of the types of accidents cycletracks promote, which Jan Heine has been warning about on his blog, http://janheine.wordpress.com/2013/07/25/cyclepaths-perceived-safety-and-actual-safety. It seems the political momentum is to build two-way cycletracks all over the city, so brace for more accidents like this. Certainly the path under the viaduct is terrible, but the intersections are not really any different from so-called state-of-the-art paths like the Linden track.

    Just because a facility has been built for cyclists does not mean it is safe for cyclists.

    • Al Dimond says:

      At every intersection, in every configuration, you put your life in the hands of traffic signals or signs. If you can’t trust a driver to stop at a red light you can’t trust much. In this situation right-on-red was explicitly banned, and the driver went through it — that suggests that it needs to be more clear that right-on-red isn’t allowed here.

      • Bill says:

        Drivers make turns at right-on-red-banned intersections all over the city. You can flog this driver and all the others with this offense all you like; it does not change the fact that the path puts southbound cyclists on the wrong side of the street where drivers do not expect them to be.

      • Al Dimond says:

        I don’t want to flog anyone, though I wouldn’t complain if the driver was automatically ticketed by camera. It needs to be clearer that right-on-red isn’t allowed here, just as it isn’t at most intersections with cycletracks.

        Cycletracks put cyclists on the “wrong” side in many places without much consequence. And even when the bikes are on the “right” side, drivers making uncontrolled turns sometimes don’t see them (in Seattle and in every other city, and this goes for pedestrians, too). This street is far from ideal for a cycletrack — there are too many intersections for all to be controlled, sight lines are bad, and lighting conditions below the viaduct are poor.

        I agree that this is a really bad facility. Linden is also not as good as it should be; it has too many intersections and driveway crossings. But it has better sight lines and the light is usually better (even at night everyone’s accustomed to driving/riding in the dark and has their lights on). And it’s just much more obvious on the ground that there’s a path there.

        But the fundamental reason they’re bad facilities isn’t that the cyclists are going the wrong way. It’s that the roads have bad designs. A lot of our roads have no reasonable place to put a bike facility at all; all those wide roads with lots of driveways and uncontrolled left turns. It’s not always a matter of designing the right kind of bike facility — sometimes the road just needs to change.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        You both have said it, in so many words. There are two issues here.

        1. Sight lines – as a rider, you need to be able to see what vechicles are ahead. As said, the under-viaduct is dim, cluttered, and has many blocked sight lines. The rider cannot even know if someone is in a position to hit him. A good solution will involve giving cyclists good sight lines.

        2. Distractions – as a vehicle driver, you need to be able to put your attention on the road and traffic. The more signs, shadows, unpredictable lane markings, etc., the less time you have to watch for peds and bikes. Adding one more sign “be sure to look at the no right turn sign” would simply distract the driver even more. A good solution will involve making driving easier.

        Let me reiterate: no matter how good conditions are for the driver, my choices are in my hands. I need to see enough in front and to the sides to be able to stop and avoid a collision.

      • Al Dimond says:

        In this particular situation, cyclists certainly get better sight lines by going the same direction as other traffic — as we approach an intersection, with the pillars in the way, we have more clearance to see the far lane than the near one, so we want the far lane to be the one coming toward us. I’m not sure it’s physically possible to move the general traffic lanes enough to add bike lanes, though — IIRC the area the current bike path uses would be as bad a vehicle lane as it is a bike path.

        As for drivers, there isn’t that much visual clutter at this intersection. There’s the big orange “right turn to Alaskan Way” sign, which probably should go, given that there’s a normal green street sign already (maybe hang an “Alaskan Way” at stop-light level, as is done at the cross street). And there’s the $12 parking sign — get that crap out of here. With those out of the way, the intersection has very little signage at it, so the really important “NO TURN ON RED” sign (given that the lane arrangement probably can’t change, it’s important that drivers obey the law here) should be blown up and lit up.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Visual clutter includes more than signage. There’s a lot of visual clutter at this location.

        Looking at the photo, there are three viaduct columns visible. There are the signs you mention. There’s the fact that you turn under the viaduct, but there are also lanes along the waterfront.

        As a driver approaches this intersection, he has a lot to contend with (what lane do I need to be in; where do I turn; which directions are other vehicles coming from, …) and might not see the no right turn signage. Even if he does see it, he may not realize the danger of turning on red.

        In my opinion, the no-right-on-red is one of the least important things to content with (excluding the parking sign), so making it more visible might simply transfer a risk to some other action).

        Anyway, it’s not a cluttered as Madison street under the viaduct, but it’s certainly not as easy to navigate as most other intersections.

      • Al Dimond says:

        I don’t buy the claim that the right-on-red restriction isn’t an important thing to see. If drivers understand they can’t turn right on red most of the danger and difficulty of the intersection is removed. They won’t be expected to yield to traffic they can’t see and they won’t be sticking their hoods out across the crosswalk trying to do it.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Well, it seems we have a different view on what constitutes safe riding. As for me, I try to avoid riding blind: if I can’t see what might be behind a corner (or column or parked van, etc.) I give myself lots of berth or slow down. Regardless of what the signage directs, sooner or later someone the other guy will make a mistake.

      • Al Dimond says:

        When I ride this street myself, I take the lane and ride with traffic — the path, as it is, is totally unusable in either direction. It would need many improvements to get my vote of ridership. I generally avoid Alaskan whenever possible.

        That said, a lot of people just aren’t going to take the lane on an arterial road, no matter what anyone says about it, and some of the routes I use to avoid Alaskan aren’t ones I’d expect a novice to think of. I doubt that shifting the general traffic lanes inward to make room for a southbound bike lane (or even a sidewalk) on the correct (west) side is feasible, based on my (possibly wrong) recollection of the layout of these blocks. In this situation people will ride bicycles on any bike path or sidewalk that’s available on the east side, and there pretty much has to be at least a sidewalk there.

        So we come to the eminently reasonable restriction on right-on-red for cross traffic. So why shouldn’t we design these intersections so it’s really clear that a red light means “STOP BEHIND THE LINE OR PAY A FINE!”, so that it’s at least somewhat safe to ride slowly on the bike path? There are many ways to signal that a right-on-red isn’t allowed, from a more prominent sign to a red arrow. Accommodating poor behavior from drivers and expecting cyclists and pedestrians to fend for themselves is wild-west thinking. In a civilized city, this should not be the general order of things.

    • benjamin says:

      You are exactly right Bill. That is all.

  15. Dan says:

    The cycle track southbound is a death trap. I see few people use it. There is shoulder for most of the southbound direction and it unofficially doubles as a bike lane. More room should be added to this and possibly made into an official bike lane. I think I’d most like to see sharrows added since I think bike lane lines would make traffic less willing to yield for a left turn, but either way most importantly six inches to a foot more of space would make it much more comfortable to bike along.

    Northbound the cycle track is less of a death trap thanks to slightly better site lines. But because the northbound direction crosses several roads, has less shoulder to no shoulder, and also has pillars very close to the road, I don’t think there is a way to fix the cycle track in that direction. The best thing to do I think would be to convert the cycle track into a sidewalk, which is actually needed for the pedestrians that have nothing to walk on there, add the southbound bike lane as previously mentioned, and then creation a northbound bicycle detour along Jackson, to 1st, to Yesler, to Western. Most of that detour route is bicycle friendly and could probably have a bike lane painted in the one direction with no road modification. There are a few sections, in particular a couple blocks along 1st where I know that wouldn’t work, but perhaps in those cases we’re only talking about a dozen parking spaces, maybe that minimal number could be removed for the couple of blocks along first. Western currently has a lot of construction and parking spaces are removed and traffic is traveling slow – so it’s fairly bike friendly at the moment. Bike lanes in those areas would be great. The Yesler/Jackson stretches are extremely short and low traffic and wouldn’t need any modification.

    But again, ideally, or complementary to the suggestion above, extending the current north-south bike tunnel through the construction, restoring the original path, would be a huge boon.

  16. Keven Ruf says:

    I suggest riding on First Avenue when traveling north or South. Greater visibility for cyclists and motorists and you can take the lane. The dead zone under the viaduct is hazardous (as documented and recounted above).

  17. ODB says:

    I agree with the earlier comments suggesting Western and 1st Ave. as alternatives (if that works in terms of where you need to go). Going south along the waterfront from the Elliot Bay Trail, I jog inland to Western at University (at the Harbor Steps), continue south on Western. I make another jog uphill at Marion to 1st Ave, then proceed south on 1st Ave.

    When I was experimenting with different routes, I found the path under the viaduct to be inefficient, confusing and unsafe. Western will be great when/if it ever gets repaved. Car traffic volumes and speeds are low–it’s perfect for biking with traffic. The only problem is the horrendous pavement.

  18. Jeff Mack says:

    I recently moved to West Seattle and ride to work at the top of the hill on Dexter Ave N, so I ride along here pretty much every day during the week. The first time I rode to work, I tried winding my way downtown and it was horrible. So the next day I used the trail underneath the viaduct and decided it was horrible as well for reasons already discussed here (cars can’t see people riding, crowded with pedestrians, etc.). Since then I just take the lane the whole way along Alaskan Way, until I cut up the hill to make my way over to Dexter. It can be a bit stressful, but the traffic usually isn’t very fast through there and once the road moves out from underneath the viaduct there are two lanes. If cars want to pass me to hurry up and wait at the next red light they can do so in the left lane. The route and infrastructure are certainly not inviting to cyclists but as a fairly assertive, yet cautious cyclist I’ve found this option to yield the best combination of “safety” and efficiency when trying to get from the south end of downtown to the north end of downtown. If I was a member of the oft mentioned “interested but concerned” group of people looking to ride a bike more I really can’t think of a good route through this area. From the mess in South Lake Union all down through Sodo downtown pretty much just seems to be a terrible place to ride. I miss my old routes through NE Seattle.

    • Jake says:

      If you’re heading to Dexter, you might consider taking 1st Ave instead. That’s been my favorite route to Dexter for the last five years. There’s no bike lane (It’s the main business district of Seattle… why would there be a bike lane?) but in my experience taking the lane on 1st is much friendlier than taking the lane on Alaskan. As a bonus, the climb up the hill is much more gradual. I usually cut over from Alaskan on Yesler or Marion, turn north on 1st, and then take Virginia->6th->Blanchard->7th->Dexter.

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  20. mjd says:

    The Myrtle Edwards bike trail lets you out right on Alaskan – it’s a classic sign of our disconnected bikeway system here. There’s really no way to 1st from here without a big hill climb. Even taking the lane on Alaskan is dangerous – in the morning if you’re headed South you have to contend with the right lane being full of taxis and delivery trucks. And headed North you now have to deal with all the angled parking they’ve added right off the right lane. Only a matter of time until someone backs out directly into a cyclist. And that’s all before you get to the disaster underneath the viaduct.

    • Matt says:

      Exactly what I referring to above. I’ve never seen traffic headed southbound. How hard would it be to remove One SB lane and create a buffered bike lane with the parking spaces? It’s not ideal but would be a million times better than what we current have. This would also permit cyclist to move through the million traffic lights that are quite frankly useless if you are headed SB. The area under the viaduct is a different story…but at least fix the northern part!

      • Jake says:

        This is the plan for the re-worked waterfront, I believe: a dedicated bike-only path, which I believe will stretch from Myrtle Edwards to the stadiums on the West side of Alaskan way. It’s just too bad we’ll have to wait until 2018 for it to be built!

  21. Kirk from Ballard says:

    For the record, this intersection is South Jackson, not King. I always take the lane through there both directions.

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