City releases bike plan options for NE 65th Street + Is a compromise possible?

Despite a ton of road space, NE 65th is currently designed so dangerously that this person decided to bike on the sidewalk instead

Despite a ton of road space, NE 65th is currently designed so dangerously that this person decided to bike on the sidewalk instead

The mayor sent an email to neighbors of NE 65th Street to give them an update on the city’s research into which option should be included in the Bicycle Master Plan. SDOT came up with four options and created an online survey so people can vote on their preferred option.

You can see these options and my thoughts below. But first, let’s take a look at current conditions and give some background.

A surprisingly strong opposition formed this summer, angry about the concept of a protected NE 65th Street bikeway being included in the city’s in-process city-wide Bicycle Master Plan. This opposition prompted a series of public meetings that are ongoing. The next meeting is an open house October 16, 5:30 to 7 p.m. at the Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center.

On a community walk during rush hour in mid-August, city officials, concerned business owners and cycle track supporters got together to take a look at the current state of NE 65th Street and to discuss options for compromises. One thing became very clear: The street is very different west of 20th Ave NE than it is to the east. So let’s divide discussion about the street at 20th.

West of 20th Ave

One thing Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang pointed out was the fact that people driving on NE 65th Street west of 20th Ave NE already choose to travel single-file down the street despite the fact that during commute times there is space for two lanes. Traffic volumes on the street are relatively low (16,000 which for comparison is about 5,000 fewer than on NE 75th Street), and the number of people driving through the area already move smoothly using one lane in each direction (see video above, shot during rush hour).

IMG_1649But because of the poor road design, there is a ton of wasted space on the street. Meanwhile, there are many people walking and biking who are relegated to the edges of this popular commercial drag. With the light rail station coming in the next decade and big development projects in the works, the number of people biking and walking in the area is set to grow dramatically.

Sidewalk cycling is fairly common, and street crossings are wide and uncomfortable for people on foot, especially people who move more slowly.

There is no question that protected bike lanes of some kind are not only possible, but would be a big improvement for people walking, biking, driving and running a business. Though the city is not doing any actual design work on their plans for the street (it’s a high-level master plan), there is likely enough space to create safe bike lanes and preserve parking and emergency/drop-off access just by utilizing the wasted space more wisely.

East of 20th Ave

IMG_1655East of 20th Ave NE, however, the street narrows significantly and traffic volumes decline compared to the section west of 20th (actually, traffic levels drop east of 15th).

One of the concerned business owners on the walk, David Katz, owns the carpet store shown in the photo above. As you can see, a cycle track concerns him because it absolutely means removing parking in this small commercial corner at Ravenna Ave NE. While we can debate on-street parking policies all day long, it’s not an entirely unreasonable concern.

So now, let’s look at the options.

A: Cycle track from Green Lake to Magnuson Park

31442821-3332-4ad0-b9ae-c6b963939164In the city’s survey, you will find four options. The first is essentially the original Bike Master Plan proposal. This option — based on needs for network connectivity and on the goal of building a high-quality bike route close to every home in Seattle — envisions a protected bike lane of some kind from Green Lake to Magnuson Park.

In a part of the city where east-west bike routes are extremely rare, this is a very attractive option especially on paper. It is simple, direct and safe.

B: End the cycle track at 35th

6a8fb791-56de-46c5-a924-71440039a752I don’t yet understand this option. Basically, it would keep the cycle track in all the controversial parts, but delete it entirely (with no replacement bike facility) for the hilly parts. I don’t remember hearing many people asking for an option like this.

C: The compromise option

c8058b2f-19f2-4e80-a49c-7d1a3d649170This option is the compromise option. Instead of routing the cycle track through the skinnier and hillier parts of 65th, the bike route would transition at 20th Ave (one of my favorite streets to bike in all of northeast Seattle). A neighborhood greenway on NE 68th St would serve as the main east-west route west of 20th Ave, connecting to a proposed cycle track on 35th and the existing neighborhood greenway on 39th.

As we discussed above, 20th could be a good spot for a transition if there is going to be one, since the road configuration changes significantly. Katz, the carpet store owner concerned about the cycle track at 65th and Ravenna Ave, said during the community walk that he would rather work to support a neighborhood greenway than to fight a cycle track. He is likely not alone, and perhaps this compromise could help forge new community alliances behind the goal of road safety in Ravenna.

I don’t understand why this option deletes the planned cycle track between Ravenna Boulevard and Green Lake, which has rarely come up in discussions and seems unrelated to the concerns voiced by people mostly focused on the Ravenna neighborhood.

The big question is whether this option still achieves the connectivity, usability and safety goals of the bike plan. I am headed to Ravenna soon to do a little biking and observation and will have more thoughts on this in a future post. I would love if some of you would do to the same and leave your thoughts in the comments below. Is this a reasonable compromise?

D: No changes to 65th

eb546e45-bf0d-407a-9c25-c7efe9f2678dNeedless to say, this option is unacceptable. It does not improve connectivity to businesses and future transit on 65th, it doesn’t improve safety on the key crossing under I-5, and the proposed neighborhood greenway goes so far out of the way that many people will likely still use the direct, relatively flat and still dangerous 65th instead.

This option does emphasize a promising crossing of I-5 at 63rd that is a lesser note but also included in the other options. We will have more on this in our follow-up story.

It also does nothing to improve the walking environment on NE 65th Street, a goal identified by many community members.

What are your thoughts on the options? Please let us know in the comments below and, of course, in the city’s online survey.

Here’s the mayor’s full email to neighbors:

Thank you for attending the August 12th Town Hall or providing comments on the Draft Bicycle Master Plan (BMP) update. Because of the level of interest in your neighborhood, I’d like to provide an update on the developing plan and give you another opportunity to provide comment. After receiving all of the comments and reviewing them, we will finalize the plan and send it to the City Council for review and adoption.

Based on public input received to date the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) has developed four alternatives for you to consider for the final draft bicycle network map for the Northeast 65th Street corridor and surrounding streets. These alternatives include different combinations of neighborhood greenways (bicycle facilities on residential streets) and cycle tracks (bicycle facilities on arterials that are separated and protected from adjoining traffic).

It is important to emphasize that the final recommendation would only be part of the BMP’s long-range network plan map. The actual construction for any kind of project along the Northeast 65th Street corridor or other adjacent streets is a separate project development process to look at corridor needs and constraints in greater detail, and may be several years out.

You can rank your preferences for an alternative (or suggest another option) by responding to the online survey below, or it can also be taken in person at the open house. That open house will be:

October 16th, 5:30 pm to 7:00 pm
Ravenna-Eckstein Community Center
6535 Ravenna Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98115

To comment online on which of the four alternatives you prefer, please see http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PBDKX6B. This online survey will be available until 5:30 pm, October 17th.

After review of survey responses and comments received during the open house, the mayor’s office and SDOT will finalize our final draft Bicycle Master Plan, which will be transmitted to City Council for review later this fall. Council will then hold a public hearing, and will ultimately adopt an updated Bicycle Master Plan. Again, any plans for constructing bicycle improvements in this area may be some time out since this is a long-range plan. Actual construction of any subsequent would have a separate outreach and design process.

Considerations in developing these alternatives and making a final recommendation for the corridor will be based on:

Safety for all modes
Ensuring a citywide bicycle network that serves people of all ages and abilities
Integration of transit needs
Access to the new Roosevelt light rail station
Access and loading to Ida Culver House, other properties, and businesses
Public input
Thank you for your help in completing this survey. If you have any follow-up questions, please contact Kevin O’Neill, Planning Manager at SDOT at Kevin.oneill2@seattle.gov. To see what the City is doing citywide on road safety, see seattle.gov/besupersafe.

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34 Responses to City releases bike plan options for NE 65th Street + Is a compromise possible?

  1. Matt says:

    IMO, a greenway option could work if SDOT weren’t so half-assed about arterial crossings. So long as their solution is an island so you only have to frogger half as far, greenways don’t really seem adequate for a primary route.

  2. Al Dimond says:

    The road changes east of 20th… and then it changes back east of 25th. East of 25th it’s back to residential, with the same width and layout as the other residential sections. 25th itself is by far the most difficult arterial crossing in the corridor.

    These facts bear heavily on a 68th St. greenway route. Crossing 25th on a greenway at 68th is unacceptable without a commitment to a full traffic signal that doesn’t have unreasonable wait times; I’m not sure we’ll get that, given other signal locations along 25th. There’s also the issue of how to handle the turns required, on and off of both a major arterial (65th) and a narrow minor arterial (20th — one of the city’s more pleasant sharrow’d arterials as it is, but a challenging site for a AAA bike facility).

    There’s another place where 65th is narrow (and where it might be hard to fit a cycletrack without removing street parking that is, at the very least, heavily used on Sunday mornings), and that’s between Green Lake Way and around 1st Ave NE. That’s probably the reason some proposals skip a cycletrack there.

    I (as someone that uses this route regularly) wouldn’t mind a mere greenway west of Ravenna Blvd. — many riders going through from Green Lake to Roosevelt would rather ride around the hill (take Green Lake Way to Ravenna, then Ravenna or Weedin back to 65th) anyway. If the proposed crossing of Ravenna Blvd. and I-5 around 63rd/64th really works out, a greenway should be a fine connection there. If we can’t make something really good there, then a quality facility on 65th probably needs to extend as far west as 1st Ave NE.

    The southern all-greenway route is surprisingly good. It crosses 25th and 35th at good locations where full traffic signals would be in keeping with normal arterial signal spacing, and I think its grade characteristics are pretty decent (better, IIRC, than 65th or 68th). Additionally, it’s a really beautiful route. The downsides: it would require some non-trivial bridge work in Ravenna Park; some of the streets, especially between Ravenna Blvd. and 20th or so, are really narrow and have poor sight lines; and it would be a dark, isolated route at night.

  3. Andres Salomon says:

    I have 3 different thoughts on this:

    1) I do appreciate the alternatives (well, except for ‘B’ not connecting up with the 39th Ave Greenway; that’s just broken). However, any of these options will require a commitment from the city to actually make these routes low-stress and comfortable. We need to keep pushing for that.

    2) Sometimes I take 68th (it’s a good walking route, steep biking route), sometimes I take 65th (it’s a horrible waking route, less-steep but uncomfortable biking route), sometimes I take 60th/62nd (it’s a fantastic walking route except with a stroller, steep biking route east of 25th). If any one of them were completed to higher standards, I’d be happy. However, I’d still end up using the other routes on occasion. Hauling 100+ lbs on my bike? NE 65th it is. Walking with a toddler? 60th/62nd. Late for a meeting in Roosevelt? NE 68th. Can’t we just make them all safe and comfortable? Why is this even up for debate? I’m all for debating priority, but we’re not talking about that.

    3) I don’t care about a 20 year plan, I care about what the city can do in the next 5 years. Rather than attempting to bite off more than they can chew, I’d prefer to see them have a less ambitious plan that’s actually doable in a short time frame. Once the light rail comes up, a conversation about NE 65th will be completely different.

  4. Tory says:

    I like the idea of a compromise (Option C), but 68th street travelling east from about 26th avenue to 32nd avenue there are some serious hills. Not really family greenway material. 65th seems easier to climb up to the ridge of 35th ave NE. Al makes a good point that east of 25th avenue, 65th gets pretty wide and residential again. Maybe there is a short jog from 65th at 20th ave up to 68th, then to 25th ave and then back down to 65th? The problem then becomes the intersections. And 25th isn’t so fun to ride on either.

    Has a southern diversion been looked at? What about turning off 65th at 20th to 63rd and then Ravenna Ave down to 60th? I can’t remember exactly where the bridges/stairs are in Ravenna park but this might avoid some stairs. Could use some exploring.

    Option D is intriguing, though it will take quite some work to formalize the little paths from 63rd street to Ravenna and from the street end at 61st street down the stairs to 60th street. And arterial crossings will be a problem as well.

    Tough problem.

    • Michael Hooning says:

      @Tory: The bridges over the ravine are at the south end of Ravenna Ave. There isn’t a way to get to 25th from there without using stairs, as things stand now. 25th only intersects with 65th, 60th (the streets to the west dead end at the ravine) and 55th.

  5. Steve Campbell says:

    “One thing Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang pointed out was the fact that people driving on NE 65th Street west of 20th Ave NE already choose to travel single-file down the street despite the fact that during commute times there is space for two lanes.”

    Really? Because what I observe is this. Both westbound lanes east of 20th are used in the mornings on 65th until 9 am when on-street parking becomes available. Cars turning left at 15th stay in the left lane. Cars going straight through towards I-5 start to merge into the right lane going up the hill just past 20th. Since there’s no left-turn arrow at 15th during some light cycles only one left-turning car can get through. Fixable but to say no one is using both lanes isn’t accurate.

  6. Doug Bostrom says:

    Precise routing options/features aside, it’s great to see people thinking hard about this and more or less working together.

    W of 20th is the same nightmare that used to afflict 75th. Same for the grade E of 25th; no lane demarcation, aggressive drivers using the phantom lane to speed like hell so as to “win” the race home. Incredibly hazardous to everybody regardless of transportation mode.

    My own take is that while it may seem that cyclists are being forced into a ghetto, the greenway approach is highly pragmatic. There are miles of what could be bike lanes all over the city, with a little tweaking. Tweaking definitely includes that cyclists and pedestrians should not have to pay a penalty at arterial crossings; prioritize these crossings w/signals and let folks sitting on their duffs in vehicles learn just a wee bit of patience.

    • Doug Bostrom says:

      Something the city might also want to explicitly take into account are the mixed signals being sent regarding automobile usage. Street parking hours that essentially force people to position their cars ready for the next day’s commute don’t make sense, not when drivers are also being encouraged to use other modes. “Gee, I’m in my car now, may as well drive to work.” Capping the twist is that many of these parking arrangements leave the car pointed toward work at the end of the day.

      35th is a great example of that folly.

      Another commenter makes the point that some dedicated left turn signals could be great help. Particularly the E-W intersection of 65th and 25th would benefit.

      Perhaps it’s case that confusing arterial streets with parking lots is the main problem here.

  7. Steve A says:

    Do readers of this blog have actual riding experience here? I’ve ridden 60th, 62nd, and 68th for 50 years with nary a problem or regret about the second-rate choice of 65th. Thank GOD that the Yield sign remains on 68th.

    • Doug Bostrom says:

      “Do readers of this blog have actual riding experience here?”

      Let me be the first to confess that I don’t. I’m sure those alternatives are lacking in the kind of thrills most of us don’t want. :-)

    • Biliruben says:

      I’ve ridden 68th, 62nd, 20th 35th and when I can’t avoid it, 65th. The grade and traffic usually dissuade me, unless heading specifically for pizza, bagel or book. My usual choice, since I have a 6 yo I wouldn’t dare take on 65th as it is now, is to bypass the neighborhood entirely and take the ravine to Ravenna and on to Greenlake.

    • Takin' er easy says:

      What yield sign? I’ve lived within a hundred feet of 68th for 42 years and I’ve traveled the street between 8th and 35th many many times and I don’t recall seeing a yield sign. Am I having a senior moment here?

      • Steve A says:

        Google streetview 2701 NE 68St in Seattle. Thankfully the Yield sign has not yet been replaced with an infernal Stop sign. I guess you might be having a “senior” moment except the sign has been there longer than either of us. Go check and salute a rare remnant of days gone by.

      • Takin' er easy says:

        Now that you tell me where, I have a vague recollection of having seen a yield sign there. Rather than a senior moment, my excuse is that I’m always walking at that intersection, and I don’t really notice street signs when walking because I treat all intersections as yields when walking. How’s that?

    • Al Dimond says:

      I ride in this corridor regularly, all the way from Green Lake to 35th. I often have to ride during the evening rush, and I usually take 65th most of the way. When there isn’t much traffic crossing 25th on 68th isn’t a problem, but when traffic is heavy it can take a long time to find a gap.

      I don’t see how a single yield sign makes a difference one way or the other. A yield sign between two side streets is not that big a deal anywhere.

  8. Steve A says:

    Thanks to Doug for honesty. Given three named alternates, one of which is the main route to Bryant (posted here recently), and not mentioning recently revised routes such as 75th or even 70th, one wonders what real cycling purpose 65th adds other than being the street my BSA Cycling Merit Badge counseler was located on very many years ago.

    Just because someone wants more bike lanes don’t make them help real people. I can’t say I have EVER seen anybody ride up 65th from 25th. As in NEVER. The closest is from 26th to 27th. The hill crown at 65th isn’t much different than 60th – or 68th. At least the latter leads to the library.

    • Steve A says:

      Taking any route to Ravenna/Greenlake is going the other way.

    • Kelly says:

      I drive 65th regularly during commute times and I *always*, without fail, every single time, see people riding a bike both directions on 65th, from Magnuson to Green Lake. Not hordes, but regular bike commuters and even (which surprises me every time) some kids going to school.

    • Doug Bostrom says:

      Well, it may be the case that we’re looking at an analogue to the Elhwa River and salmon. Up on 125th cyclists are beginning to appear in greater numbers now that there’s a lane.

      I’ve seen a few cyclists on 65th but in general the present arrangement seems a deterrent. I’m not going to further elaborate on my obsession w/the phantom travel lanes other than to say their function as an attractive nuisance is a major factor. 8-P

      • RTK says:

        Same thing has happened on 75th, people had commented that they never saw bikes there. I have seen a big increase in bike use since the bike planes were put in place.

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        75th is a dream come true, proof that just a bit of paint can end jungle law of the pavement. The reduction in stress is drastic.

  9. Takin' er easy says:

    Since August I’ve been scouring the internet for information on cycle tracks, as well as examining the 65th corridor, measuring, counting and considering. Combining that with 42 years living a block from 65th in Ravenna, walking, cycling, driving cars, motorcycles and city buses in Ravenna and Roosevelt, I have come to the conclusion that 65th has too many cross streets, alleys and driveways, and is too narrow and hilly for cycle tracks. Cycle tracks on 65th should only be considered if no other reasonable options are available. I think they do exist.

    One thing that hasn’t been mentioned in the discussion of bikes on 65th is that in the Roosevelt neighborhood rezone compromise the city council agreed to make 66th, 14th and Brooklyn Ave greenways. The 66th greenway would extend from 15th (at Roosevelt High School) past the light rail station to 8th where it could link up with a facility on Weedin Place. A greenway on 68th would extend all the way from 50th Ave to RHS where it could link up with the 66th St greenway at 15th.

    I would suggest that a 68th/66th/Weedin route would be superior to one on 65th. Certainly more comfortable than a cycle track on a busy arterial. Yes, 68th has a little more elevation gain than than 65th, but not that much. The nastiest bit of hill is between 20th and 19th – some can pedal up it, some get off and walk. The hill between 25th and 31st is nearly identical to 65th, and I see all sorts of people (adults, children, families, even a one-legged guy) ride it.

    The southerly route suggested in plan D is interesting, but has a potential problem or two. Mainly, I don’t know how the crossing of Ravenna Blvd at 64th would work. I think the freeway is in the way. A better alternative might be 62nd to the Ravenna Blvd bike lane and then double back at 65th. Or not.

    Another option east of 25th would be to create a couple more greenways connecting the 65th corridor with the Burke-Gilman Trail. Say 27th and 36th. I suspect that most cyclists would be heading for the BGT anyway, and the slope is gentler than on 65th. Also, the BGT is an alternate route to Ravenna Park and the proposed southern route. This might also eliminate the need for cycle tracks on 25th and 35th.

    • Doug Bostrom says:

      +1 on this for cogent reasoning.

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        “I think the freeway is in the way.”

        The freeway is a desperate problem for any walk/bike improvements in this town. It’s incomplete; the plan didn’t account for reconnecting the east and west halves of the bifurcation of Seattle created by I-5.

        This is a big problem that should be kept on the radar at all times; repairing the I-5 rift is going to take decades and a pile of money but until the job is done there are fundamental problems with making this town truly bike/walk feasible. It’s simply not practical to walk an extra dozen blocks north or south simply to travel 3 blocks e-w.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      The I-5 crossing would require building a new trail of some kind under the freeway. There is room and I think this would be possible. More on this in my follow-up post (with video!). Stay tuned.

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        Yeah, at least 65th is a sweetspot because an underpass is possible. Unfortunately that’s arrangement is a rare and precious gem in Seattle.

        My point is that we should habituate on including fixing the I-5 rift in the grand scheme of things. Take a look at Google satellite imagery and imagine you’re on Latona and 55th and you want to go to 8th and 55th. The insane outcome of that simple desire is the rule, not the exception.

        What -were- they thinking, when “planners” did this? Not planning, that’s for sure.

      • Morgan Wick says:

        Oh, they were planning all right. They were planning for cars and not people and using suburban assumptions about traffic patterns, but they WERE planning.

        Are you implying tearing up I-5 entirely in the long term? Because that’s the only way I see connecting 55th across I-5.

      • Doug Bostrom says:

        No, I-5 is here to stay. Eventually maybe we’ll see the long-promised hovercars gliding along the pavement.

        In the meantime, we should commit to doing something along the lines of producing a new overpass reconnecting severed streets and bifurcated Seattle roughly every couple of years. In only 100 years almost half the damage done to the city would be repaired.

        Those overpasses could be a mixture; say 2/3rd ped/bike, 1/3rd light traffic.

        Some proportion of truncated connections would be nearly impossible to heal; bridges need approaches, etc. But let’s not allow perfect to be the enemy of better than nothing, eh?

        Sorry about all this off-topic.

      • biliruben says:

        This exactly why I was pretty frustrated when they repaved 125th/130th this summer. There are serious problems with the approach to I-5 that a simple redesign, creating left-turn lanes and bike lanes would have solved, making it better for all users to cross at this relatively low-volume I-5 crossing.

        But SDOT is so internally screwed up that they don’t bother with redesign before a once in a decade or two repaving.

    • Sean says:

      Here here to Takin’ er easy’s post. The downhill segments of cycle tracks on 65th eastern segments would create many, many high(er) speed sight line issues that cycle tracks are ill equipped to deal with–that is, without going painfully slow on the downhills (the only way I can see cycling downhill in a cattle chute working at all), or exiting the cycle track entirely at the top of each downhill to get dished with the ire of every passing motorist screaming “get in your cycle track and off the street” nearly side swiping you. Vancouver style cycle tracks on relatively flat areas of Seattle’s downtown, sure, but steep grades… I’m not on board for safety considerations of safe egress.

      I also agree with Kelly, I try to avoid 65th, but if I’m late to a meeting at NOAA and want a bit of a workout, I hit 65th for a fast route to Sandpoint from Ballard not infrequently. I would prefer to see buffered bike lanes* here (I can see surviving going downhill at 20mph in a buffered bike lane and someone backing out of a driveway without looking–not so on a jersey barrier chute without riding the brakes hard), and the greenways that Takin ‘er Easy suggests to allow for facilities for all (and facilities for a more leisurely, “no huffing diesel exhaust” ride, or a “make time” ride for any individual’s needs, as the case may be).

      *Where overall street width /parking needs are a big factor, buffered bike lane up, sharrow down for the hills*

  10. Morgan Wick says:

    If you’re going to put a greenway on 68th I’d love to extend it to 15th and RHS even if the cycle track continues on 65th. I like the notion of a 66th/68th greenway.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      A greenway on NE 66th is in the Roosevelt Neighborhood Plan, and also in the upcoming Bike Master Plan. It’s looking pretty likely, given enough funding and labor.

  11. Pingback: A closer look at the proposed NE 65th St options | Seattle Bike Blog

  12. Scott Taylor says:

    Option C – the proposed NE 68th St provides the east-west connection cyclists want. If a more direct cycling route is wanted, NE75th St bike lanes and signalized intersections is the ticket. The NE 68th greenway needs to connect up with the 39th Ave NE greenway. No missing links.

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