New SDOT Director wisely adds bike signals to 2nd Ave bike lane design, could open by Sept. 8

Screen Shot 2014-08-21 at 11.30.58 AMThe 2nd Ave protected bike lane project appears to be ahead of its original ambitious schedule, and Publicola reports that the lane could open as early as Labor Day weekend (UPDATE: SDOT’s Dawn Schellenberg says their current goal date is September 8, not Labor Day weekend).

But that’s not even today’s best news about downtown Seattle’s first protected bike lane. The city has given second thoughts to its original plan to direct people on bikes to follow the existing walk signal and will install bike-specific signals at every intersection after all.

This removes my biggest worry about the city’s quick and relatively low-budget plans for the pilot project from Pike to Yesler, which the city is billing as a demonstration of the potential for more protected bike lanes in the city center. Since people on bikes are used to following general traffic lights, it might have felt a bit unnatural to ignore them in this case and follow the pedestrian signal instead. By deciding to install bike signals, the city is removing doubt about when people biking should stop to safely allow left-turning motor vehicle traffic.

Publicola reports that the choice to go with bike signals came from incoming SDOT Director Scott Kubly, a good sign that Kubly not only prioritizes implementation (as he has said many times), but he also wants to do things right the first time. The design of the 2nd Ave bike lane is similar to one installed on Chicago’s busy Dearborn Street under his watch, so he should have a good idea about what elements are vital to making the project succeed.

City workers have already completed pavement repairs needed to smooth out cracks in the bike lane space, and they have already put down spray paint markings where permanent paint will go soon.

Concept from SDOT

Concept from SDOT

Instead of using concrete curbs like much of the Broadway Bikeway, the 2nd Ave bike lane will be protected from moving traffic by a buffer space lined with reflective plastic posts. For much of the day, parked cars will also provide a protective layer, but during peak hours much of the bike lane will be adjacent to the new left turn lane. Left-turning traffic will get a new dedicated turn signal so they have time to make turns while people biking and walking are stopped. When the walk and bike signals say “go,” the left-turning traffic will have a red arrow, which should make the experience much less stressful for people walking along 2nd Ave.

With all this excitement about the new bike lane, it should not be lost that it achieves another long-desired downtown bike facility goal: These are the final days for the existing skinny, paint-only, door-zone-located “worst bike lane in Seattle.” Good riddance!

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31 Responses to New SDOT Director wisely adds bike signals to 2nd Ave bike lane design, could open by Sept. 8

  1. Ted Diamond says:

    Get out!! This is great news!

  2. Southeasterner says:

    I have to say as a cyclist, pedestrian, and driver it’s a win, win, win.

  3. David Amiton says:

    This is great news. Pronto bikes will look brilliant queued up at those signals!

  4. Kirk says:

    I’m liking Scott Kubly! “he…wants to do things right the first time.” Refreshing…

  5. Stuart says:

    I wonder what the cost of planter barriers like they have in Vancouver (like this). The plastic post style still seems too easy for a car to invade the bike lane.

  6. Josh says:

    Any chance the City Council will amend the SMC so that bicycle signals are recognized by law?

    As it stands, nothing in the law says you have to stop for a red bicycle, or that a green bicycle means you can go — both the SMC and the RCW are very prescriptive and describe driver responsibilities specific to the *shape* as well as the *color* of a signal, and bicycle shaped signals simply have no legal status.

    Get hit crossing with a green bike signal and the defendant’s lawyer will ask what code provision allowed you to be in the intersection.

    Run a red bike signal and ask what code provision you’ve violated.

    The answer to both questions, at the moment, is “none.”

    It’s a simple fix, the relevant language has already been adopted in other states, Council could probably just cut-and-paste out of the California Vehicle Code. But they need to actually do it if they want to keep using those signals.

    • Matthew Snyder says:

      Why hasn’t this amendment to the SMC been implemented already? It doesn’t really make any sense to me. There’s clearly support for cycletracks and bike signals at the Council level, there’s support from SDOT, there’s presumably support from SBAB. People (including myself) have written to SDOT and to Council members about this problem before. I realize it sounds like a low-priority issue, but it’s low-hanging fruit. Why not just make the change and be done with it?

      I think we need to keep repeating this until the change is made. Otherwise, as you suggest, the likely outcome is an unfortunate lawsuit.

      • Josh says:

        No idea why it hasn’t already been done. WSDOT acknowledged the issue back in January after FHWA interim approval for bicycle signal faces was issued, but I haven’t seen any Legislative action on it, either.

  7. kpt says:

    I would love to see those planter style barriers. Would really pretty up the street. I think I’ve read they run something like 150 – 300k per mile, far more expensive than the bollards. But, perhaps get it into next year’s budget, as an ongoing improvement. Once people start riding, there’s a constituency….

    • Peri Hartman says:

      They would look nice, in summer. However, I’d prefer not to have them. The buffer gives a bit of extra room for cyclists to pass each other. Obviously, you want to be careful riding in the buffer zone, but it is a nice option to have.

      For safer separation, a simple curb could be placed along the edge of the vehicle traffic lane.

      • kpt says:

        I would gladly give up the ability to pass (or be passed) for the assurance that even a fairly large vehicle couldn’t touch me without a lot of effort.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Sure, but we’re talking about a 3′ buffer. Even with Jersery barriers, there should be about 2′ left as a passing option. Why not have that?

  8. Ben P says:

    I hope the bike signals are a little lower than the ones on Broadway. I prefer to not be looking up at the sky while waiting at dangerous intersections.

    • Josh says:

      Per FHWA, the minimum mounting height for bicycle signal faces on the far side of the intersection is 7 feet above the ground (measured to the bottom of the fixture) *unless* the signal is hanging over a part of the roadway that motorists can use, in which case it has to be at least 15 feet above the pavement. I believe the signals on Broadway hang within the turning radius of motor vehicles at the intersections, so they have to be at least 15 feet in the air. (Don’t want trucks taking out the signals.) I would guess the same arrangement will be used on 2nd Ave, so again, minimum 15 foot elevation.

      But FHWA also allows a supplemental bicycle signal on the near side of the intersection, post-mounted on the side of the street, using smaller 4-inch bicycle signal faces mounted between 4 and 8 feet above the sidewalk. That would add cost, of course, but it would allow people riding on the sidepath to see the signal at a more comfortable height while watching the intersection for conflicts.

  9. Benjamin leis says:

    I already commute on a daily basis south on 2nd and back north on 4th. I have to admit I feel a bit weird about the northbound piece of this track. I’ll wait and see but it seems less safe doing the contra-traffic flow piece with left hand turns. I also currently move to the lane to go around cars turning when its possible (safe). If they add a physical barrier I’m not sure that’s going to improve the situation since then we’re back to playing the game of whether the cars will yield to the bikes on their left or the signalling is going to haveto be really odd to segregate the two modes.

    • ann says:

      I agree. Cars don’t pay attention to bike lanes going in the same direction. I’m extremely fearful of going in the opposite direction on 2nd.

      I’m still a little unclear on how the signaling is actually going to be for bikes and left turn lanes. will there be a red for bikes, and a protected left turn for cars? then it might feel okay. but, i agree, you’re still in the same situation of trying to assess whether or not cars will yield.

      why don’t we move the cycle track to the right side of the street. there seem to be much less turning conflicts.

      • Andy says:

        A right-hand bike lane would have just as many turning conflicts (every other street is one-way), but also conflict with bus loading zones.

        The proposed signalization is:
        Red left arrow for cars, green pedestrian walk signal and green bike signal.
        Green left arrow for cars, red pedestrian signal and red bike signal.

        You’re correct, though, that we remain, as ever, at the whims of drivers in hoping that they will a) understand that they are not supposed to turn on red and b) even be aware that there is a red arrow. This will probably take a year or two for folks to come to grips with.
        Personally, I’ll be staying on 3rd, the safest bike street downtown, until then.

      • Josh says:

        Avoiding turn conflicts is mandatory when using bicycle signals. FHWA says:

        “The use of a bicycle signal face is optional. However, if an agency opts to use bicycle signal faces under this Interim Approval, such use shall be limited to situations where bicycles moving on a green or yellow signal indication in a bicycle signal face are not in conflict with any simultaneous motor vehicle movement at the signalized location, including right (or left) turns on red.

        Turns on red that conflict with green bicycle signals must be prohibited both on the cross street and on the primary street.

        In other words, both people making turns onto 2nd Ave across the path and people making turns off of 2nd Ave across the path must be prohibited from making those turns when the path has a green signal.

        Way more detail than you’ve ever wanted at
        http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/resources/interpretations/9_09_47.htm

  10. Emily Kathrein says:

    Ahhhhhmazing! Never thought I’d say this, but I’m so excited to ride on 2nd Avenue.

  11. Cheif says:

    As a daily commuter between pioneer square and south lake union this project is probably going to save my life. Hopefully they can keep the cabs out of it.

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  15. Mark says:

    I’m skeptical that this will be better than just claiming a lane for the sort of experienced cyclists most likely to even consider using 2nd avenue (I’ve always dismissively ignored the bike lanes on either side as obvious death traps) but I’ll keep an open mind. I ride down 2nd every weekday and am often cut off by motorists who seem to speed only because they apparently think cars should always outpace bicycles, so the protected lefts might even please me. The most interesting fact of this change is that the lane will be two-way: going north on 2nd will obsolete 4th (cool) but will probably get under the skin of motorists (scary).

  16. Cheif says:

    Taking a lane will still be an option.
    But I agree and have noticed, aside from people in cars causing a hazard by simply Not Paying Attention, it seems like the biggest problem I’ve noticed from them is the Must Pass At All Costs mentality. I keep pace with traffic but cars will try to pass me approaching roundabouts and stop signs (even on neighborhood streets and signed bike routes in addition to major thoroughfares like 2nd) just because they see bike. They inevitably end up screeching to a stop or nose to nose with oncoming traffic. And for what? DOT needs to do some public outreach teaching people how to behave around others.

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  18. Todd says:

    Now if we could just ensure the cars and the bikers actually abide to the traffic signals. Tom himself has questioned why people abide by these rules to help push policy. So the bottom line is, these lights shouldn’t mean anything — just blow through them at your own discretion. :)

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