Murray: Seattle will build pilot protected bike lane on 2nd Ave this year

IMG_0151Seattle will build a protected bike lane on 2nd Ave downtown before Pronto Cycle Share launches later this year, Mayor Ed Murray announced during the Cascade Bicycle Club Bike to Work Breakfast Tuesday.

The pilot bike lane project will be built in part with help from the Green Lane Project and will stretch from Pike Place Market to Pioneer Square, the mayor said.

The announcement puts the city on a much faster track to start building its downtown bike lane network than was previously discussed, and the news seemed to surprise even many bike advocacy insiders.

The mayor hinted at the news during a press event Monday announcing Alaska Airlines as the major sponsor for the newly-named Pronto Cycle Share system. When Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom asked the mayor about whether he was concerned about launching bike share before there are protected bike lanes downtown, Murray said, “I may have something to say on that at the Cascade Bicycle Club breakfast.”

Alaska Airlines CEO Brad Tilden took the Bike to Work Breakfast mic after Mayor Murray and praised the news of the downtown bike lane, which should help the Alaska Airlines-sponsored bike share system.

As we reported recently, Chair of the City Council Transportation Committee Tom Rasmussen said be thought it was “very optimistic” for a protected bike lane to be in place downtown before 2016. That timeline was based on the Center City bike lane plan process, which will come up with a full route plan for a downtown bike networks and significant design work for at least a mile of protected bike lanes.

It’s not yet clear how the 2nd Ave pilot project will interact with the Center City plan, but it could be a chance for the city to get an idea of what a protected bike lane downtown can actually mean for the city. And the design successes and struggles could inform the rest of the plan.

The mayor did not mention design specifics other than to say it will be fully separated from traffic. Stay tuned for more details when we get them.

UPDATE: Speaking of the 2nd Ave bike lane, Cascade has a remarkably well-timed policy ride Thursday focused on downtown. Meet 4:30 p.m. at McGraw Square. Happy Hour at Von Trapp’s on 12th at 5:30:

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62 Responses to Murray: Seattle will build pilot protected bike lane on 2nd Ave this year

  1. Leif Espelund says:

    This makes me happy in so many ways. As a daily user of 2nd Avenue I’m looking forward to not getting nasty stares from people who don’t understand why I’m not using the bicycle death lane. As a contributor to People for Bikes I’m excited to see their work paying off directly in my city. As a McGinn supporter I’m glad to see my fears that Murray wouldn’t take cycling seriously appear to have been unfounded.

  2. JAT says:

    Downhill bike lanes are often unnecessary due to the lack of speed differential between modes of transport.

    Protected bike lanes particularly hem in cyclists and frequently subject them to needless navigation of curves built in to accommodate intersections, bus stops and so on. Two-way separated bike lanes, on a hill would essentially confine the highest speed differential users (uphill cyclists vs. downhill cyclists) in a vary narrow space.

    Color me dubious.

    • Charles B says:

      A lot of people refuse to go downtown on a bike (but would otherwise) without these lanes.

    • Allen says:

      These protected bike lanes aren’t being built for you. They’re being built for my children and my wife and my parents.

      They’re being built for people who don’t want to bomb down hills while mixed with traffic–people who want to go at a leisurely pace, physically separated from traffic, and not have to try to keep up with Metal Boxes of Death.

      • Charles B says:

        Actually its being built for a lot of people. People who want to go a little faster, people who want to go a little slower… but overall for people who do not feel safe riding next to cars or mixing with pedestrians.

        The people who still want to ride in the street can do so, but the folks who would bike downtown if there was a comfortable space for them will have it.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Yes, there is no law in Seattle that says you must use the bike lane if you don’t want to. And I will fight any such attempt to make that a law. I think people should bike where they feel safest, and it’s the city’s job to make sure that an actual safe option exists. Right now, most people find it safest to just not bike downtown, and that’s not acceptable.

      • Chefjoe says:

        Tom, no law requiring using the bike lane, but laws say to ride to the right if you can’t keep up with traffic.

        Section 11.44.040 RIDING ON ROADWAYS. Every person operating a bicycle upon a roadway at a speed slower than the normal and reasonable flow of motor vehicle traffic thereon shall ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe, except as may be appropriate while preparing to make or while making turning movements, or while overtaking and passing another bicycle or vehicle proceeding in the same direction.

      • Kirk says:

        “…ride as near to the right side of the right through lane as is safe…”. The bicycle driver gets to decide how far to the right is safe. Often times due to poor pavement, narrow lanes and proper lane positioning, the center or even center left of the lane is the best position. Bicycle drivers should not feel that they need to ride in the gutter. Weaving left into the lane to avoid potholes and then back to the gutter over and again is unpredictable and unsafe. If there is consistently poor pavement on the right side of a lane, or if the lanes are too narrow for a safe automobile pass, I will always take the center.

    • Josh says:

      Two-way sidepaths are not an all-ages-and-abilities facility, and that’s a good thing.

      I hope SDOT recognizes this in implementing a Second Avenue sidepath, and explicitly encourages faster cyclists to take their place in the general travel lanes. That’s safer for the fast cyclists, *and* it’s safer for the people who want the lower design speed and lower stress of a sidepath.

      The Bike Lane of Death is the worst of both worlds — an inherently dangerous facility that’s plainly visible to motorists, with no indication that it’s an optional facility for cyclists. (Yes, motorists driving Washington streets should know that, but many don’t. We have a lot of drivers who moved here from segregated states where leaving the bike lane is illegal.)

      Let’s hope the design lives up to the City Council’s mandate in the BMP Update that going forward, all new facilities will comply with state and Federal safety standards, unlike most of Seattle’s legacy bike lanes.

      Then, to keep it a low-speed, low-stress route for those who prefer that environment, let’s hope SDOT also installs sharrows, properly centered in a general travel lane, to remind faster cyclists, and make it abundantly clear to motorists, that cyclists don’t have to use the sidepath.

  3. Charles B says:

    Great news, but I hope we can see this coming 2nd ave protected lane connected safely to existing and coming new infrastructure.

    It would be great to have a relatively seamless, connected bike lane from north to south through town connected through downtown.

  4. Ballard Biker says:

    I bet this will outlast the bike share. That’s going to be an epic fail. At least this has some value.

    • RossB says:

      I assumed you were correct until today. With both this and the bikeway on Broadway, I think there is potential there. I still think it is really stupid that they didn’t start with the Burke Gilman (from at least Fremont to the UW) but I think they have a shot at staying in business long enough to provide that line.

      • asdf2 says:

        Unfortunately, the bikeway on Broadway doesn’t help me get to Capitol Hill (from the U-district) until the last 1/4 mile. North of Denny, Broadway is exactly the same as before the construction started.

        Nevertheless, it’s a great start. Hopefully, it will provide enough momentum to generate the will to extend it to all the way to Roanoke at some point in the future.

  5. Stuart says:

    Bravo, that section of 2nd is easily one of the least comfortable areas in the city. Even if it only serves tourists (it won’t) it will still be a demonstration for what the other planned routes will be like. People who are just trying the bike share downtown will expect more. Hopefully we are going to a space where people don’t look at cyclists and think “they are crazy to do that” to “hey I can do that!”

  6. biliruben says:

    A little birdie told me this was in the works last week. My first thought was, intersections, intersections, intersections.

    If done well, this could be awesome. If the intersections are death-traps, then it will serve as a lasting example of what not to due in a high-traffic area, hopefully without the corpses.

    It really all depends on who is given the project. SDOT is hit or miss on project managers.

    • Stuart says:

      For downhill riders a rolling wave of simultaneous green would be awesome.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Yes! Would also be a great for walking and driving safety due to lower speeds.

      • Gary says:

        “rolling wave”… but it has to be timed for bicycle speeds, 20 to 25mph, otherwise the traffic speeds up to stay on the wave.

      • biliruben says:

        Definitely a well-timed wave, but what about the cars? Do bikes get there own lights , no right or left on red and a 5 second head start to avoid getting hooked?

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        The only safe option is to separate the phases. General traffic turns get a signal cycle while bikes have red, turns have red while bikes have a green. There’s really no other good way without turn-pocket-mixing-zones (boo!) or with dangerous conflicts. I could see maybe some intersections being better as walk/bike scrambles or something, but yeah, no turns across a bike green.

      • Josh says:

        Note if bicycle signals are used, the Seattle City Council really should get around to amending the Municipal Code so that bicycle signal faces are actually legal in the city.

        They’re already in use on Broadway, but they have no legal status — code recognizes circles, arrows, walk/don’t walk, but a green bicycle signal does not grant bicycles the right to enter an intersection, and a red bicycle signal does not require people on bikes to stop.

        (The Seattle Municipal Code equivalent to RCW 46.61.055 is in SMC Chapter 11.50 OBEDIENCE TO TRAFFIC-CONTROL DEVICES. That’s what gives legal force to traffic signals, and it does it very prescriptively by the shape as well as the color of a signal. Bicycle shaped signals simply don’t exist in the code.)

      • biliruben says:

        If that’s the case, it might make more sense to do this on third, where the buses only turn at specific intersections, and general traffic is prohibited. The long delay for cars, both parallel and crossing, with a completely separate phase for bikes is going to get some pushback from the windshield-disabled majority. This would be avoided on 3rd, as bikes could safely get a green simultaneously with the buses, except and the few intersections where the buses need to turn. There they can be phased.

      • Stuart says:

        Yeah, at the very least preventing motor vehicle lanes from turning during the bike signal phase. I don’t know whether combined pedestrian + bicycle scrambles are exactly a best practice (at least according to David Hembrow) but it would make it much easier for turning cyclists by avoiding extra stages and stops. Who knows if the timings would work and the downhill cyclists speeds could be a negative factor.

      • Leif Espelund says:

        Yeah, the turning cars is the big problem. I think that between intersections the street should look something like this: http://streetmix.net/-/130818

        Then at intersections where a left is possible (due to one way only half of them) the parking switches to a turn lane: http://streetmix.net/-/130823

        Cyclists on the cycle track and vehicles in the general purpose lane all get to go on green, with the greens timed to cycling speeds. Vehicles can turn right on green via the bus lane. Vehicles are stopped with a red arrow in the left turn lane during this phase. No turn on red signs would be needed since left to one way turns on red are legal.

        Then there is a short phase where north/south cyclists/peds are stopped and the left turn gets a green. Then all north/south traffic stops and east/west traffic and pedestrian get a green. On this phase north/south left have a flashing yellow to allow them to turn, while yielding to east/west traffic and peds.

      • Josh says:

        A rolling wave of green for cyclists would be great, but it needs to be timed to no faster than the design speed of the bicycle facility, or it will encourage cyclists to ride faster than is safe.

        While they don’t have separate speed limits posted, sidepaths often have much lower design speeds than the streets next to them.

        If you have a 15 mph design speed on a cycletrack, and you time your lights to 25 mph, you’re encouraging people on bikes to out-drive the sight distances and turning clearances of the path, which is dangerous not just for them, but for any cyclist or pedestrian entering or crossing the path.

        (Or, of course, you time the lights of the travel lanes to 25 mph, and use that as another incentive for fast cyclists to take the street so the cycletrack is a low-speed, low-stress alternative. Make the corridor as a whole an all-ages-and-abilities facility by giving fast riders speed and slow riders comfort.)

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        Stuart: You’re probably right about the all-walk/bike. I was just imaging some of the strange super intersections near Pioneer Square and trying to suggest that there might be various ways to deal with intersections.

        Josh: We definitely agree there! I don’t know what the best speed is. What does Portland use in its downtown green wave streets? It’s a fairly comfortable bike speed. 15? Maybe the speed on a downhill would be a little higher, not sure. A job for an imaginative expert!

      • Josh says:

        One other issue with a “scramble” phase, Federal regulations prohibit using bicycle signal faces to control a bicycle scramble phase, so you’d have to come up with some other way of indicating it. (All-way red, with signs for bicycles to use pedestrian signals?)

      • Stuart says:

        Tom: I’d actually be really excited to have all scramble phases used on 2nd. I wouldn’t mind as a cyclist at all. It think it would just be necessary to keep the signal phase timed for pedestrians crossing diagonally, which would be longer than an a cycling only phase.

  7. gene balk says:

    So happy about this. Looking forward to more details on the design. I’ve been waiting for this for years.

  8. Zach Shaner says:

    I’m giddy about this temporary lane, but I also hope that a right-running track is considered for the permanent installation. Most cars turning off of 2nd are going east up the hill on Pike, University, Spring, or Marion, and even a fully-protected lane will still expose people to left hooks and conflicts, not to mention the 5 large parking lot exits just between Pine and University! The west/right side of 2nd is fundamentally more urban, with Pike Place Market, City Target, and small retail all along the blocks until about Marion. 2-way, right-running protected lanes with Dexter-style bus bulbs could work really well. Almost all bus traffic on 2nd is peak-only, and taking the left parking lane for general traffic would allow you to maintain peak throughput capacity while giving both buses and bikes new and safer facilities. Thoughts?

  9. RossB says:

    If I’m not mistaken, Seattle and King County will soon have to deal with a lot more buses on the surface streets of downtown. When light rail gets to Northgate, the buses get kicked out of the tunnel. I think it would make sense to turn second avenue into a combined bus/bike street. Something like this (http://streetmix.net/-/130869). Once you take the cars off of the street, then riders have a lot less to worry about. Buses will only make a handful of turns, and they will do so slowly. Those intersections can be well marked and regulated as well (e. g. separate right or left turn light with a stop light for bikes and pedestrians, but a turn for buses).

  10. Jayne says:

    No left turns by cars driving on 2nd. Remove all parking on the left side of the street. Anything less is giving in to the idea that death by auto is a necessary evil.

    • daihard says:

      I was going to say the same thing. I used to ride on the bike lane on 2nd Ave on my commute to downtown. I was constantly frustrated by the left-turning vehicles who wait right on the bike lane despite the green marking. I currently ride in the middle lane of 5th Ave. instead.

      • Leif Espelund says:

        Drivers should actually merge into the bike lane for turning. That is the correct way to do it. Drivers who turn out of a general purpose lane without merging first are what causes hook accidents. I can’t find info specific for Seattle or Washington, but this is a good overview from California: http://velotraffic.com/2012/10/requiring-motorists-to-merge-into-bike-lanes-prior-to-right-turns/

      • daihard says:

        Thanks for your comment, Leif.

        I understand your point. I believe the law is actually the same in Washington State. That doesn’t lessen the frustration for me. They are doing what they are supposed to do, but that prevents me from riding in the bike lane smoothly. Hence my agreement with Jayne.

      • Josh says:

        Leif is correct, in fact, cars merging into bike lanes before turning is one of the engineering assumptions behind national bike lane standards… it’s the only reason you’re allowed to have a bike lane on the edge of a street that allows turns across the bike lane. (You’d never put a through lane to the right of a right-turn lane, or to the left of a left-turn lane, the accident risk is too obvious.)

        The alternative is separate signal phases for bicycles, with no turns on red, so that through cyclists can safely pass to the right of right-turning traffic, or to the left of left-turning traffic. But adding signal phases reduces throughput and increases wait time for all modes, bikes, pedestrians, and cars.

  11. Lisa says:

    I’m crossing my fingers that this isn’t a two way cycle track, just a buffered lane. I really don’t want to be speeding downhill at 20mph and endangering bicyclists coming toward me at 5mph. I’m not sure cycle tracks are the best ideas on hills.

    • Josh says:

      Two-way cycletracks aren’t a great idea on hills, but they can be made reasonably safe if:

      1. The downhill direction has a suitable design speed for expected real-world bicycle speeds — that requires significantly more width than the 5 feet SDOT gives on level ground, along with more parking removal to permit longer sight distances, broader turning radii, etc.

      2. The downhill and uphill directions are clearly delineated, with actual enforcement of the center line.

      3. Pedestrian crossings are minimized and/or controlled… no ambling through 25-30mph bicycle traffic to get to a parked car, etc.

      Short of that, you really need to encourage faster cyclists to use a travel lane that’s designed for vehicular speeds, and enforce a lower speed limit on cyclists who use the cycletrack down hill.

  12. Patrick says:

    I take 2nd to Jackson, where the existing bike lane ends, turning left to go to the ID. Just started commuting again for Bike to Work month after taking the winter off, and now the streetcar tracks are in place. This seems like it could really use some signage and a better crossing.

    Currently the bike lane ends and puts you on the inside of a two lane turn. If there’s a car on the outside you’re force into crossing the tracks at an oblique angle. I’ve already seen one rider go down in three days of commuting. If the new protected lane continues the entire length of the existing bike lane on 2nd I really hope it addresses this issue.

    Without getting too off topic, does anyone have suggestions on the best path through there now? The crosswalks require walking a half block first and 3rd Ave (which branches right from 2nd due to the grid change) is official right turn only when it hits Jackson.

    • Josh says:

      Crossing and signage treatments for the streetcar tracks are going in right now, bike boxes, some scary sidepath treatments, new signals for the streetcar crossings, etc. Not up to state or federal stafety standards, but better than typical legacy Seattle bike facilities.

      The “final” designs released by the First Hill Streetcar project don’t really address bicycle treatments along here, but they’ll show you the rest of the layout.

      http://www.seattlestreetcar.org/docs/FHS%20Final%20Design%20Composite-Jackson-West.pdf

    • Josh says:

      There appear to be some two-delay left turn boxes going in for some of the track crossings, and there are some warning signs at other track crossings, but some of the layout does appear to expect cyclists to make pedestrian crossings.

    • Lisa says:

      If you’re confident enough to merge into the center lane on 2nd a few blocks before Jackson, you can put yourself in the right-most left-turn lane, giving you a better angle at the tracks. That’s the route I usually take.

    • Josh says:

      There’s a crosswalk at 3rd & Jackson, you could ride straight across Jackson and pivot at the curb, a 2-stage turn without a turn box.

    • Al Dimond says:

      The specific problem Patrick and Lisa are talking about is that the 2nd Ave Extension bike lane sets you up to be in a turn lane that drops you onto the left lane of eastbound Jackson, the lane with the streetcar tracks (there are two left-turn lanes, and you’re in the leftmost one).

      As Lisa points out, if you can get over a lane to the right, that’s where you want to be. If you don’t think you’ll be able to get over, today your best bet is probably to turn left on Main Street and take 5th or 6th down to Jackson. If you miss that and are stuck far-left at Jackson, you can scoot over to 4th on the north sidewalk then use the crosswalks to get where you want to be.

      As far as future infrastructure goes, if a protected bike lane heads down the left side of the 2nd Ave Extension, it should probably either include explicit support for doing this (not too different in concept from the Union/Madison craziness but hopefully with a little more clarity and eventually more space to maneuver) or a “crossbikes” along the east face of the Extension/Jackson intersection with a signal phase different from the vehicle left (plus a bike box for cyclists that want to turn right on Jackson — protected lanes need lots of these in any case).

      • Josh says:

        I was going to suggest Main as an alternative, but Main has the old waterfront streetcar tracks that turn right onto 5th. I’ve seen people go down trying to make the Main-to-5th turn, there isn’t a heck of a lot of space to the right of the turning tracks.

        If you do want to try Main, I’d veer right just before the tracks, dodge left perpendicular to the tracks into the intersection, then make a hard right turn to the left of the tracks on 5th.

  13. Andy says:

    At the SBAB meeting today SDOT representatives announced that this was going to be just paint, and two-way.

    Hopefully a half measure like this doesn’t poison the well for the real thing. And more importantly, hopefully a facility even more unsafe than the current bike lane doesn’t result in increased accidents.

    Ride safe, everyone.

    • Stuart says:

      I really hope this isn’t the case. How could they have already determined the design with zero public input?

    • Josh says:

      “Just paint” as in not even separate signal phases? Or just no physical barrier between the sidepath and the street?

      Barrier separation is mostly for perceived comfort, there’s very little actual safety impact. But competent intersection treatments are vital, especially for the 50% of riders essentially going the wrong way down a one-way street.

      • Andy says:

        The impression they gave was that because this is to be a pilot, it would be done as cheaply as possible so that it could be re-aligned if its not working.

        I’ll reiterate my belief that if the City wants to cheap out on intersection treatments they need to just make left turns off 2nd Ave illegal. Then they don’t need to slow down all other traffic by adding new signal phases.

      • Josh says:

        I’m not sure just banning left turns off of 2nd would be enough. Coming down the hill on a one-way street, drivers can make a left on red to get onto 2nd, checking only to their right for conflicting traffic. You’d need to ban that, too.

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