A tour of Seattle’s new Broadway Bikeway + How it makes life better for people walking

It’s finally mostly open!

While the usefulness of the Broadway Bikeway is still severely limited due to bike detours at its north end, the 1.1-mile two-way protected bike lane opened Wednesday. Simply put: Broadway is the city’s most ambitious complete street project to date.

The first benefit I want to highlight really has very little to do with bikes at all. A commonly overlooked — but perhaps equally important — benefit of protected bike lanes is the immense safety and comfort increases for people walking. Here’s an example of how the bike lane makes crossing Broadway at Boren much better:

Boradway at Boren-2This safety increase is not just wishful thinking. A New York City study of similar protected bike lanes found dramatic increases in safety for all road users. That means fewer people walking, biking and driving are injured and killed while simply getting around town.

But back to bikes. The two-way bikeway on Broadway is, in a lot of ways, a testing ground for the nation. Not only did the city go all-out on the design and construction, but it is also among the first examples of such a lane with significant hills in such a dense urban setting (at least that I’ve been able to find). Hills are a common worry when discussing protected bike lanes, especially two-way lanes.

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 12.11.37 PMScreen Shot 2014-05-09 at 11.22.44 AMThe city has taken measures to slow people on the descents. One simple method is to paint the word “slow” on the pavement. Another method is to change the pavement style from asphalt to concrete and raise the bike lane to sidewalk level. This creates a gentle bike speed hump and a raised crosswalk (good for people with mobility issues who have trouble navigating curbs).

In my experience, the bike lane seems perfectly comfortable to use on the hilly sections. But only time and extensive use will tell whether my sense of safety is confirmed by data.

Driveways remain a serious concern, as people pulling in and out of garages and parking lots need to remember to look both ways before crossing. People biking also need to be aware, as it is a very active area. People tend to walk or stand in the bike lane and you cannot trust people driving to yield before turning into a driveway. Lots of these issues should be eased as more people use the bike lanes and everyone gets more used to it being there. There may also be some design improvements that could help to make the driveways safer, should they prove to be a problem.

You can see some of the major elements of the bikeway in the video we made when the city opened a small section of the project last year (note: The Denny Way connection has since changed). Notice the way the bike signals and the turn signals have separate phases to reduce conflicts. How cool is that?

Screen Shot 2014-05-09 at 11.21.43 AM Some of my favorite parts of the bikeway are super simple, tiny features: For example, you now have a comfortable, raised curb to rest your foot at stop lights. And most lights give you a tiny little head start when the light turns green so you can get rolling and well into the intersection before the rest of traffic starts moving. Much of the new space is filled with planters and greenery (especially near Seattle U).

Small details like this make the overall experience more pleasant and comfortable. It’s sort of like how people buying a car often care more about the location of the cup holders than anything else. The small things matter.

Overall use of the bikeway will likely still be diminished this year, since light rail station construction at the north end detours most people to other nearby streets. Yesler Terrace is also a crazy construction zone, and huge numbers of homes are in the process of being demolished. Yesler Terrace was such an active place before construction began, and I hope people displaced can move back into new housing soon. When they do, the bikeway will provide a fantastic connection to the rest of First Hill and Capitol Hill.

Below is an unedited video of one trip along the bikeway just hours after it opened Wednesday. Have you tried it out yet? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.

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30 Responses to A tour of Seattle’s new Broadway Bikeway + How it makes life better for people walking

  1. Bob Anderton says:

    I appreciate that SDOT is trying to make Broadway safer for everyone. This is a very different approach from that used with the SLUT, where SDOT’s planning simply assumed that bicyclists would be banned from the streets that the SLUT made not reasonably safe.

    Thank you for noting some of the improvements. Having said that, how can you write about this without your nice photo of Davey Oil riding on it?!

  2. Matt says:

    I’m very excited this bikeway is almost fully opening. The one thing I’m going to continue to stress is that in order for this to be a huge success, there needs to be a safe way to get there. As someone that does not live in Capitol Hill, I still find myself biking there all the time and it’s horrendous (I have to cut through downtown). I was very excited to also hear about 2nd ave getting a protected bike lane in the near future but we need to just as quickly implement a connector between 2nd and Broadway (Pike or Pine most likely). Building a bunch of bike islands does us little good if people can’t safely get from one to the other. Broadway NEEDS to be a huge success in the eyes of the general public and the only way to do that is if we get as many cyclists on that road as possible. It will give us the momentum to build the needed bike infrastructure in the rest of the city.

  3. Gary says:

    Riding down any sort of grade in a constricted bike lane is just asking for collisions. While I appreciate the thought that getting bikes out of traffic will help, in my own experience, I’d rather be out in traffic if I can keep up than dodging oncoming bicyclists, pedestrians, and cars entering and leaving driveways/cross streets.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      Right now is a great time for comparison because you can take the Pepsi challenge: Ride north like Ellie describes below. Once you get past the construction, you’ll be spit out on the “old” Broadway design. Sure, there’s no hill between John and Roy, but the experience of biking is night and day. I’ll trade all those close passes, bus stop conflicts and opening car doors with a protected lane that makes/lets me slow down a bit on hills.

    • Jayne says:

      I’d rather be in the bike lane avoiding the railroad tracks than proving how yoked up I am to keep up with cars.

      • Karl says:

        It’s not about being “yoked up”, some of us ride a little faster, and so would prefer to be in the road instead of penned in with nowhere to go, particularly in an area where it is extremely likely pedestrians are going to wander into/hang out in the bikeway and cars exiting driveways are going to be right on top of you right away.

      • Jayne says:

        Being yoked up is exactly what it’s about if you can’t match your speed for conditions. Have you actually ridden down Broadway since the tracks went in? Your skinny race bike tires are no match.

      • Josh says:

        It doesn’t take skinny race bike tires to go too fast for the Broadway sidepath. I can coast faster than 10mph on my 26-inch cruiser bike on that grade, and that’s too fast for the path.

      • Karl says:

        ” Have you actually ridden down Broadway since the tracks went in?”

        Only six times a week, every week, to and from work.

        ” Your skinny race bike tires are no match. ”

        You know me so well! (I ride 26 x 2.15″ tires)

    • LWC says:

      I was concerned about this too, but after riding it today I don’t think it’s an issue. Even on the downhill sections it felt comfortable and safe, and I didn’t have to brake excessively to maintain a safe speed. I used to think I’d be one of the cyclists opting out of the cycle track in favor of mixing with traffic, but now I’m not so sure…

  4. Ellie P says:

    I used it for the first time last night (headed towards Harrison from Pine) and for about three minutes I felt like I was in another world! Lovely. But then being dumped into the street when it ended wasn’t quite as fun because the traffic was at a dead stop and that made merging awkward.

  5. Southeasterner says:

    It seems like SDOT continues to struggle with how to transition riders into and out of bike lanes and trails. Too often you find yourself on a busy sidewalk (Elliot Bay Trail, Canal Trail), heading straight into car traffic (BGT end in Ballard), or dumped into heavy traffic (Broadway).

    I feel like just a little extra effort to improve transitions would go a long long ways to improving things.

    But hey I’m happy to have the trails and lanes in the first place so thank you SDOT for the hard work.

    • Josh says:

      If you want a concentrated mess of bad transitions, try riding up Jackson under I-5. In the space of a block or so, you go from sharrows to bike lane to sharrow-in-green-bike-lane to a sidewalk ramp to the middle of a bus stop platform, between the bus stop and the bench, then down a ramp that dumps you into a shared lane.

      The adopting resolution for the BMP Update mandates that new facilities comply with state and federal standards. I hope that means this is the last time we’ll see such a concentrated mish-mash of standards violations.

      • Karl says:

        I HATE that area so much! The “bike lane” isn’t helping! No way I’m going to try and force my way through all the people waiting for the bus in the bus stop and on the sidewalk just because the green paint tries to guide me there.

        I can’t believe someone thought that was a good idea. Between that and all the sharrows painted to the far right everywhere in this town, I’m half convinced that the people implementing these “improvements” are purposely trying to make a mess out of them.

      • Jayne says:

        Jackson is a great example of someone making a huge mistake and nobody having the authority to fix it. Go up king instead.

      • Karl says:

        It just seems silly to take a two block detour to take a steeper street to avoid a couple of blocks of madness, especially since it all could have been avoided.

      • Al Dimond says:

        That bit of Jackson is unfortunate because conceptually, and in one of the three dimensions (width), it’s sort of like the bus bulbs on Dexter, which work OK. Its other two dimensions fail it: its length, since it dumps you into the back of parked cars, and its height, as without the curb features of the bus bulb it takes you right through an active bus stop.

        The success or failure of a bike route does not hinge on its compliance with standards. Lots of good bike routes violate standards (see Seattle’s use of bike-shaped traffic signals and two-way sharrow markings on bike routes that work just fine). Lots of bad bike routes adhere to standards. I-5/SW 164th in Snohomish County is one of the worst interchanges in our region for biking and walking but adheres to state standards and the state apparently opposes any improvement that might reduce vehicle capacity. The old, horrible layout of Broadway/Williams in Portland complied with state standards, and improvements were opposed by the state until, as I understand it, PBOT came up with a solution that worked great but wasn’t exactly in the state’s manual of standard traffic fixes.

        What really matters is that a facility is designed with an understanding of the local context, and also some experience with walking, biking, and taking transit. On Jackson, the context bit means understanding that there isn’t a separated bike facility to connect to, and that the green paint is going in between a bench where people wait for the bus and the curb where they board it. And the experience bit means maybe you’ve biked across Mercer Island on the I-90 route and seen what a mess the bus stop-bike path interface is there, and on Dexter where the infrastructure mostly works as designed.

        Yesler just east of Broadway does a similar thing to Jackson by running the bike route up onto sidewalk level, but it runs it behind the shelter, so I think it works better. Is the difference about standards compliance? I really doubt it.

  6. Kirk says:

    That’s awesome that SDOT could get this work done. I wonder what their excuse is now for not finishing the work they started on the Missing Link Band Aid in Ballard. The BGT Missing Link was identified in their own poll as the worst place in the city to ride a bike, and yet it is their lowest priority.

  7. Eli says:

    I remember when the light rail opened up, STB did a series of posts on outings and destinations in south seattle (now that there was an excuse to use the light rail to go there.)

    Tom, mybe it’s worth an open thread or a post on obscure but worthwhile restaurants or anything worth doing along the protected bike lane? I admit I don’t know of any reason I would use the current bike facility, and given that I live two blocks away, it would be nice to have a few. Worst-case, if you want, I can get on Yelp, grab some friends, and offer up a guest post later this summer.

    • Eli says:

      oops, never mind. just walked it. not really nothing other than housing projects.

      I didn’t check off a block off, though.

  8. Michael Robb says:

    Seriously, what is with the horrendous blue blobs lining the bike lane? Who designs this crap? Watching the video makes me realize how horrible public space design is in Seattle. Congrats on the protected lanes, but for god sakes get some better designers or at least be consistent (white plastic poles work just fine).

  9. Davey Oil says:

    I love the new bikeway and go out of my way to ride it all the time.
    It has problems. Mainly, turning off of it across Broadway is challenging for big bikes and bikes with trailers. I have some other quibbles, but mostly I just love it. I am so excited to see similar treatments around the city.
    My four year old rode her balance bike home in the track the other day!
    We were up on top of the hill by the hospital last night, heading North and the ribbon of the track just stretched out before us and my daughter told me, “I want the track to go all the way through the city and out to the country.”
    Me, too!

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