Bike traffic on 2nd Ave triples after city builds protected bike lane

UPDATE: Here’s a graph from SDOT:

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IMG_3237It was clear from day one that bike use on 2nd Ave was higher than normal. But new data collected by SDOT staff shows just how much a safe bike lane can draw people. Bike trips on the street tripled.

Part of this increase is certainly the fact that the new lane is bi-directional, where formerly the street only allowed southbound trips. So it might make sense if trips doubled due to people reversing their route for the return trip. But trips tripled, showing that the bike lane has attracted a lot of new users, either from nearby streets or new bike trips entirely.

And all this happened with minimal impact to traffic flow. Traffic studies show that motor vehicles took about a minute longer to get down the street that usual, but that was during a week with an abnormally busy sports event schedule. SDOT staff predicts the actual impact on travel times will end up being even lower.

SDOT data also shows that changes in signage and the excellent educational outreach efforts by Cascade Bicycle Club volunteers and SDOT staff has all but cleared up driver confusion that was a problem the first couple days. Of 52 people trying to turn left from 2nd onto Spring Street, only two made illegal turns while the red arrow was showing. This is a dramatic turnaround from the first couple days when illegal turns were rampant. 

Of course, the biggest complaint I hear continues to be that all the streets around this new protected bike lane remain dangerous and stressful for biking. Getting to 2nd from any of the city’s neighborhood bike routes remains a daunting experience, and much of the previous dangerous 2nd Ave bike lane still remains north and south of the project area.

If this 0.7 mile stretch of protected bike lane was meant to demonstrate the potential safe bike lanes can bring to Seattle’s city center, consider it a resounding success. Now let’s get to work finishing the safe bike lane network.

Oh, and great work, SDOT! You deserve this victory lap. Here’s the press release from the city:

The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) today released data for the new Second Avenue Protected Bike Lane that shows bicycle ridership has tripled due to the new facility. With the conversion of the former one-way bike lane to a two-way, protected bike lane, an average of 1,099 bicyclists a day used the new lane on September 9, 10 and 11 according to electronic counters. This is three times the daily number of cyclists that had previously used the former one-way bike lane.

“I am pleased that the new Second Avenue bike lane is addressing Seattle’s need for a safer, more predictable route through downtown,” said Mayor Ed Murray. “These changes help enhance safety for everyone and make Seattle better prepared for the launch of Pronto! Cycle Share in October.”

Installed by SDOT, the facility opened Monday, September 8 with new pavement markings for two-way bike traffic, green pavement markings where turning cars cross the bike lane, separate traffic signals for bicyclists and motorists turning left, and plastic posts separating the bike lane from the left turn/parking lane.

SDOT and the Cascade Bicycle Club teamed up for an education/outreach campaign, and staff was positioned at left turn locations to remind motorists and bicyclists to observe the signals. Based upon feedback obtained during the initial few days, SDOT made additional changes on September 11 to reduce confusion.  “No turn on red” signs replaced “turn on green arrow only” signs and a green straight arrow replaced the solid green circle light. After these changes, an observation of 52 vehicles on Second Avenue at Spring Street revealed that only two drivers made an illegal left turn when their left turn arrow was red, a 96.2 percent compliance rate.

“A better organized Second Avenue means a more predictable roadway for cyclists, drivers and pedestrians, and makes it safer for all users,” said SDOT Direct Scott Kubly. “Signals and signs make the rules of the road more clear.”

Since the bicycle lanes opened, travel times for drivers on Second Avenue have been better than originally forecasted. On the first day of the bike lane’s operation, it took drivers approximately one minute longer to travel the 0.71 miles on Second Avenue than before the conversion. With numerous events occurring that first week, to include opening day of the National Football League season at CenturyLink Field, engineers expect travel times to decrease further as drivers become accustomed to the new roadway configuration.

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56 Responses to Bike traffic on 2nd Ave triples after city builds protected bike lane

  1. Jason says:

    Agreed – thank you SDOT! Was skeptical at first but have warmed to the changes and feel much safer on 2nd Ave than before…hope they expand it from Belltown through Main.

  2. Peri Hartman says:

    Let’s see how it looks a few months from now, after everyone has had a chance to try it out. That’s likely skewing the figures. I think it’s a great improvement but way too soon for numbers to be meaningful.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      Data is going to be weird for the next couple of months. Winter rains and darkness are coming, so I would normally anticipate descreased ridership. On the other hand, bike share is also coming. So who knows?

    • Clark in Vancouver says:

      What I’ve noticed with new cycle lanes is that it can take up to a year or more for everyone to know about it and/or to incorporate it into their routes.
      Many people don’t pay attention to media and don’t find out about new things right away.

  3. Bike Girl says:

    You’re right, Peri Hartman; those numbers are probably going to go much higher after everyone tries it out!

  4. Kirk says:

    I admit it. I am skewing the numbers. My commute doesn’t take me on Second Avenue, but I’ve now ridden the route at least a dozen times, after work, up and down a few times, just to see how awesome it is. I would love to see it extended, and a similar treatment would be perfect on Elliott Avenue to link the Elliott Bay Trail to the Pike Place Market.

  5. Andrew Squirrel says:

    Surprised you didn’t mention the normal ball green lights were upgraded to up (straight) arrows over the weekend. It’s a step in the right direction.
    See photo I took yesterday morning: http://imgur.com/o6fdTSq

    The entire light cluster is still a cluster**** though. Way too much visual noise for those encountering it for the first time.

    These really need to be moved over the intersection for a lane-by-lane simplification

  6. Cheif says:

    Now just to reduce the speed limit in town to 20 mph so people don’t have the “I’m going to fast to understand signs and lights at the same time” excuse.

  7. Lars says:

    I think we’ll have more users when it is tied in with other protected bike lanes so you can get to and thru downtown safely. A good first step. Thanks SDOT!!!

  8. bill says:

    I rode northbound today out of curiosity. Mark me a skeptic. I waited at Cherry through two complete light cycles before I got a green bike signal. I decide to run the third cycle but finally got a green bike then. I could have ridden the entire length of 2nd in the time I wasted. At an intersection farther north a car turned left in front of me despite it having a red turn arrow. I turned and looked back once I was through the intersection to make sure.

    The northbound signal timing was annoying. I got a red at every block until I slowed down enough to let the lights cycle as was riding.

    And all the criticisms about the ends of the cycletrack are spot on.

  9. dave says:

    I’ve been skewing the numbers but will continue to do so probably for years to come. I’ve now officially changed my commute route because of this great new facility.

    Also, can someone please tell all the Greg LeMond wannabes out there that it’s just not worth the stress to both you and the other cyclists in the bike lane when you pass by at 25 mph just so you can get to your job a couple minutes faster? I don’t understand the point of biking really really fast downtown. You’re probably a couple of blocks from your office. Relax and take it slow.

    • Josh says:

      When you design a facility, you don’t get to redesign the users. Any bicycle facility that isn’t designed for at least 20 mph isn’t an all ages and abilities facility, and it puts slower riders at risk.

      • asdf2 says:

        If you want to bomb down the hill at 25 mph+, you still can – just do it in one of the car lanes.

      • Al Dimond says:

        There’s no plausible design that can accommodate both people that want to bomb down the hill over 20 MPH and normal riders. Any design like that would have to give cyclists more clearance from driveways, requiring more street width on 2nd than SDOT is going to give. Many great urban bike paths aren’t reasonably usable at high speed — I’m not sure if we’ll call 2nd “great” one day, but I’m sure all the roadies will learn soon enough it’s not made for hill-bombing, any more than the Broadway cycletrack is.

        Fortunately Seattle has a lot of north-south streets downtown, and people that really want to go fast southbound can take 5th (that’s what I use when I’m in full roadie mode), or maybe 1st.

    • Ints says:

      Those people evidently are not cycling for the pleasure of it. When I am stopped at a light with these folks I often ask them why they are rushing through what to me is the best part of the morning, riding my bicycle? Who in their right mind is in a rush to get off their bike and sit at work? It’s all about priorities….

      • Josh says:

        Wait, people are bicycling for *transportation*? How awful for them. Maybe we can buy them cars so the path is free for pleasure cyclists.

  10. Matthew says:

    I am still concerned about illegal right turns. I can look from my office down at 2nd and Spring, and it is still fairly common to see drivers turning left when they shouldn’t. Less common than the first couple days, but still fairly common. I also noticed that there is now a “No Turn on Red” sign on Madison at 2nd, which is also commonly ignored. I have ridden in the northbound direction and it works fairly well for me. The lights are timed so that I stop every other block, at the intersections with eastbound cross traffic, which makes it easier to avoid getting hit. Traveling southbound still looks sketchy unless you slow down at every cross street.

  11. Bill B. says:

    My biggest gripe is how bumpy it is. With all the paint and asphalt sealer everywhere, it felt like a MTB track!

    • Chief says:

      If you’re commuting on tires under 35 mm wide you might consider an upgrade.

    • Matthew says:

      I vote for 35 mm. Better traction, smoother ride, less chance of a flat tire. If you get a higher quality tire, with a fairly smooth tread, there is very little extra rolling resistance.

      • Gary says:

        32’s do it for me. I was on 25’s and moved to 28’s but the tubes are hard to find, and a 18-25 tube fails in a 28 and a 28-35 tube is too big to fit well.

  12. Josh says:

    Maybe I’m just too used to SDOT numbers games, but is their “before” count really only people foolish enough to ride in the old bike *lane*, as their graph says? Does the “before” count leave out the sizable number of riders who never used that substandard facility?

    • Andres Salomon says:

      Why would they count users who took the lane? I’m assuming they’re comparing bike facilities only. If the increase is coming from people who previously too the lane, that still seems like a win if the goal is to design and build inclusive bike facilities. They’re not claiming that 3x as many people are biking; just that 3x as many people are using the new facility.

      Am I missing something?

      I personally can’t wait for the safety data. I’d like to know what the collision data shows for all user modes. I’m betting ped and bike collisions go down significantly; but will car collisions also decline?

      • Josh says:

        But the city’s headline doesn’t claim traffic on the sidepath tripled traffic in the Bike Lane Of Death, their claim, verbatim, is, “New Protected Bike Lane Triples Bike Riding on Second Avenue.” If the “before” numbers are only for the old bike lane, the city’s claim is plainly false.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Yes, but if you read the first paragraph, you see that they’re comparing it to the number of people who rode in the old lane.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        I know they counted all people biking on the street at some point as part of this project (including people on sidewalks and in the traffic lanes). Perhaps you noticed the weird white poles with mysterious electronic equipment mounted on it, that was for bike counts. However, I have a question out to SDOT to make sure that is that data they are using here, since the press release does not specify.

        There are still people biking in the general traffic lanes who are not included in the bike lane counts (which are measured by tubes in the bike lane only).

        One bit of data I’m looking forward to is whether the bike lanes have reduced sidewalk riding, which has been seen in other cities.

    • Andy says:

      Big picture, this is some nice PR. Nobody rational is expecting a useful sample this early in the facility’s life.
      I’m holding off criticism of any numbers chicanery for if/when it gets used to justify future work, instead of now when it’s really just a PR soundbite with no more need for a factual basis than one of Dori Monson’s rants.

  13. Ballardite says:

    Someone in that photo is on a Pronto bike. A time traveller?

    • Andres Salomon says:

      When I visited the bike lanes on Friday, as I was sitting at the food trucks I noticed someone zoom by on a Pronto bike. I did a double take.

      Demo bikes are around and available to some. I’m guessing Pronto employees are “beta testing” them.

  14. Pingback: Bike traffic on 2nd Ave triples after city builds protected bike lane | Seattle Bike Blog | Kevin Lugo

  15. Dana says:

    I can’t believe that just left it to die after Yesler. I commute to the I-90 bike path and the bike lane just ends and dumps you into 3-4 lanes of traffic to get onto Jackson.

    The bike lane is a good start, but why not just do a complete job instead of 95%?

    • Cheif says:

      Actually when the bike lane ends at Yesler it just dumps you into the old one-way bike lane that’s always been there, which turns into sharrows on the other side of Main and requires a merge with auto traffic before the left onto Jackson, just like it’s always been.

      • Dana says:

        Right, which is terrible. Putting you across tracks behind buses and merging with cars that just hate you for being there regardless if you are being law abiding.

      • Al Dimond says:

        … the turn onto Jackson is much worse since the streetcar tracks went in, since the straightforward path for people biking on 2nd drops you in the middle of the streetcar lane!

        The best thing to do for now is to turn off onto Washington or Main.

  16. Kristina says:

    I have permanently changed my commute route as well. In the evenings, I now take 2nd Ave going north and then cut over to 3rd (despite the only buses turn sign on it) instead of 3rd the whole way. I really like the facility in this direction and will continue to use it. In the mornings, I am still taking the waterfront as I am not comfortable yet with the rate of left turners on red. I am encouraged by SDOT responding so quickly with “DO NOT TURN ON RED” signs and also the straight arrow light change. I will give it some more time and then maybe give it a go. I am not concerned that the numbers reflect cyclists changing their routes affecting the numbers. I think that shows that their is interest in better facilities and also a willingness to use them if reasonably done.

    • dave says:

      I’ve been riding it every day since it opened, and haven’t had one issue with someone illegally turning left in front of me. One of the nice things about the new arrangement is that whereas before drivers waiting to turn left would slowly inch their way further and further into the bike lane (and so you couldn’t quite tell if they were waiting for you to pass by or if they were just waiting for peds and totally ignoring the bike lane, making it feel very unsafe), now the cars in the left-turn lane must stay way back behind the stop bar. Like I said, I’ve found (after the very first day) that cars have been staying behind the stop bar when they have a red left turn arrow, making me feel quite safe, since they’re not inching their way into the bike lane while I’m riding by.

    • Matthew says:

      I did not expect to use the new track, since it is only 4 blocks heading north from my work to Pike St, where I have to cut over to 3rd, but I tried it the first evening and I have used it ever since. I can’t go fast, because of the timing of the lights, but I like being able to take it easy and not worry about trying to keep up with cars on 3rd. I can’t wait until they extend it into Belltown.

  17. Bryan Paetsch says:

    I volunteered along with lots of other folks through Cascade. The first day I was really skeptical because of the number of cyclists and cars running red lights. The second day those instances were already drastically improved. I use the cycle track every day now for my commute to work and I still see a few people going through the intersections on red, but not many. A few SPD motorcycle officers handing out tickets like they do for cars using 3rd Ave during rush hour should bring that down to nearly zero.

    While there is still plenty of room for design improvements, I’m happy with it.

    We need a connected network. I have talked to many people about commuting by bike, and the conversations are almost always the same.
    Them: “You bike to work every day?”
    Me: “Yeah, do you?”
    Them: “No. I would love to do that, but I don’t feel safe riding in traffic.”

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  19. Cheif says:

    This morning a fire truck responding to a medical emergency rolled over some of the plastic stakes while pulling on to the bike lane just north of Marion (not a bike related emergency, it was just using the bike lane to park) and now some of them are only partly attached to the pavement. I’m interested in seeing how long these things last.

    • Al Dimond says:

      Ugh… there probably should be some clarification on this (either from the city or department training) — I don’t think fire trucks shouldn’t be parking over the cycletrack except in the most extreme emergencies (sort of like sidewalks).

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Agreed. Separated bike lanes aren’t for parking or breakdowns! For emergency vehicles, there’s always reason for exception, but if the bikeway were a row of parked cars, the fire truck would have been stopped in the traffic lane. No reason for a bikeway to be treated any differently.

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  22. Gary says:

    After walking this street several days at mid day, I noticed that parking on the left (East side) is totally horked. It is not obvious where it’s legal to park. This leads to cars driving in the that lane to run up against parked cars then honk… then realize that this is a parked car, the try to merge back into the center lane to swerve left back to the lane so they can turn left.

    Maybe a tree median would help delinate the parking areas from the driving lanes. Otherwise, I’d just yank the parking on the East side of 2nd.

  23. ScottRAB says:

    Are there other pictures of the route available, because that picture with the article is of a buffered bike lane, not a protected bike lane. Separation is not protection.

  24. …and with numbers comes safety! :)

    I’m looking forward to my next trip to Seattle to ride! It’s gonna rock!

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