Dexter will be closed overnight this week, will reopen with better bike lanes

Image from SDOT

Image from SDOT

How shared turn lanes will work. Image from SDOT

How shared turn lanes will work. Image from SDOT

Dexter Ave will be closed overnight Monday and Tuesday between Denny and Mercer so crews can repaint the street with a new complete streets design that includes wide parking-protected bike lanes and a center turn lane.

Construction work is not totally finished on the street, though. While work is wrapping up near Harrison, it is ongoing near Republican. And, of course, Mercer construction changes are still in place.

The new street design, which was designed by SDOT but paid for by WSDOT as part of the deep bore tunnel project, will also be the city’s first experiment in using a NACTO-approved low-budget protected bike lane design that involves shared bus stops and right turn lanes. Buses will also still pull to the curb instead of bus islands like were installed on the north section of Dexter.

The big question will be whether shared bus stops and turn lanes meet the “all ages and abilities” standard pushed by safe streets groups. And, of course, we will be watching closely to see if the left turn conflicts are solved by addition of the wider bike lanes and the new center turn lane. People making quick left turns were how Mike Wang was killed and how Brandon Blake was seriously injured on Dexter in recent years.

More details on the overnight closures, from WSDOT:

To make room for SR 99 tunnel construction, crews are currently relocating utilities along Dexter Avenue North, and Harrison and Republican streets.  Crews will close Dexter Avenue North between Denny Way and Mercer Street overnight Monday, Dec. 15 and Tuesday, Dec. 16 in order to restripe the roadway. Bicyclists and drivers will be detoured to Ninth Avenue North. This work is weather-dependent and may be rescheduled.

Look for changes beginning Dec. 17
·        Dexter Avenue North: New striping on Dexter between Denny Way and Harrison Street will include one travel lane in each direction, a center turn lane and a bicycle lane between the curb and the parking lane. For more information, please visit SDOT’s Dexter Ave N Safety Improvements Project page.
·        Harrison Street will be open between Aurora and Eighth.
·        Republican Street will be closed between Aurora and Eighth.

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49 Responses to Dexter will be closed overnight this week, will reopen with better bike lanes

  1. Andres Salomon says:

    Erm, wait, those are 12′ wide travel and turn lanes? Why?

    • Gordon says:

      If they are following NACTO, why aren’t they following NACTO’s lane width recommendations to reduce speeding? http://nacto.org/usdg/lane-width/

    • Al Dimond says:

      To burn space, because Dexter is a really wide ROW. They’re replacing two 10′ lanes with one 12′ left-turn lane. 6′ of the remaining 8 are going to bike lane width and 2′ to buffers.

      • Zach says:

        Plus, Metro prefers at least 11′ for buses.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        How about making the buffer between parked cars and the bike lane wider? People getting out of cars would probably appreciate the extra space to maneuver. Or widen the sidewalks with paint (as was done up by Maple Leaf Park). Or make some buffer islands in the middle. Traffic lanes are not the place to stick unused space..

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Metro may prefer it, but there is precedent for Seattle doing road diets with narrow lanes on bus routes:

        http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/NE75thSt_DRAFT_20130813.pdf

        Meanwhile, the bus drivers I’ve asked about 10′ lanes have no problem with them:

        https://twitter.com/VeloBusDriver/status/519522865259896832

      • Josh says:

        Advocates of 10-foot lanes like to cite the maximum body width of transit buses, 8-foot-6. But Metro, like most transit agencies, does not remove the outside mirrors from its coaches, so the actual physical width of what can hit people is up to 10-foot-6.

        Running a bus down a lane that’s not as wide as the bus is not a safe idea.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        We’re not talking about a 10’6″ bus going through a 10′ (or 10’6″) tunnel. There’s additional space on both sides for a bus to pass through, between the center turn lane and the 8′ wide parking lane. The key is to force bus drivers (and in particular, everyone else) to go a bit slower due to the space constraints.

        Do you feel our 25′ wide residential streets (not the intersections, but the streets themselves) are unsafe due to the narrowness of lanes? The lane widths are only 6′ wide, while the average car is 6’6″ wide. If you do feel that they are unsafe, do you have data to back that up?

      • VeloBusDriver says:

        If you look at that Tweet, I’m indicating that I split the lanes to prevent cars from traveling next to my bus in a lane that is too narrow. Metro encourages this in places where we feel it’s necessary to improve safety. 10′ lanes on sections of Aurora and the viaduct are good examples.

        This proposal looks similar to California Ave SW in West Seattle. The 12′ width would allow us and cars to stay away from parked cars to avoid hitting opening doors.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Mostly I was looking at the “creep past” portion of your tweet, which I understood to mean slowing down and squeezing through in a 10′ lane with any activity along either side (whether that’s an open car door, or a vehicle in the center turn lane).

        Can you share Metro’s official requirements on lane widths along bus routes? I understand the desire to avoid car doors, but in places without opening doors (NE 75th), with wide parking lanes, or with wide center-turn lanes it’s unclear what widths we should be advocating for. By its very nature, most bus routes in the city are going to have pedestrians crossing and other things which would encourage slower vehicle speeds (including buses).

    • Andres Salomon says:

      The reason for the 12′ lanes, according to SDOT:

      1) The measured 85th percentile speeds on the corridor are 30.7mph (speed limit is 30mph) due to existing traffic signals and grid. They will continue monitoring speeds in case they creep up.

      2) They are anticipating lots more construction in SLU, so the 12′ lanes are to accommodate this.

      No explanation what #2 entails, exactly, but I’m hoping it means extra space for things like temporary sidewalks.

  2. Ted Diamond says:

    What is the significance of the shark-tooth pattern where the car lane merges with bike lane for right-hand turn. Does it imply an obligation on the part of the driver? If so, are there any (ahem) teeth in it — ie, enforceable?

    • Chris M says:

      It indicates that drivers should yield to traffic in that lane. Effectively a yield sign

    • bill says:

      The shark teeth indicate traffic should yield. It’s relatively new in the US. Since we don’t have mandatory testing for drivers license renewal I don’t know how anyone is supposed to learn this….

    • Josh says:

      Sharks teeth by themselves have no legal teeth, they’re a pavement marking that indicates exactly where a yield sign applies, but only the sign itself has force of law. Shark’s teeth without yield signs have no legal meaning in the U.S.

      See http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009/part3/part3b.htm#section3B16
      “Yield lines may be used to indicate the point behind which vehicles are required to yield in compliance with a YIELD (R1-2) sign or a Yield Here To Pedestrians (R1-5 or R1-5a) sign.”

      In Washington, see
      http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=47.36.110

      • Josh says:

        And I see from SDOT’s progress photo that they do in fact have a “BEGIN RIGHT TURN LANE – YIELD TO BIKES” Sign (MUTCD R4-4) at the start of the sudden merge, so the shark’s teeth legally do show where motorists are required to yield when merging into the right lane.

  3. Al Dimond says:

    As it happens, with left turns moving closer to the middle of the road but bike lanes moving closer to the edge, the horizontal distance from typical biking position to typical position for turning left in the opposite direction is almost identical to the old layout. If the bike lanes had stayed inside of the parking we’d be cutting that distance significantly, which I think would improve visibility. Parking turnover on that part of Dexter is low enough that it might be preferable.

    • Rob A. says:

      Not to mention, hiding the bikes behind parked cars doesn’t exactly promote visibility…or am I missing something?

      • Andres Salomon says:

        NACTO guidelines suggest a 30-50ft space between the merge point and parked cars:
        http://nacto.org/wp-content/gallery/bikeboulevard_guidanceimages/cycletrackintersectionapproach_guidance.png
        That, plus the distance between the merge point and intersection (maybe another 50ft in the guideline picture?) should provide a fair bit of visibility. Their online plans don’t include measurements, so we’ll hope they’re following NACTO guidelines on this…

        Of course, allow cars to move fast enough, and it doesn’t matter how much visibility you allow. People will drive fast, and they will miss people walking, people on bikes, etc. That’s why I’m concerned about a 12+12+12 lane spacing provided for cars.

  4. Cheif says:

    Those merge of death right turn lanes are a tragedy waiting to happen.

    • Al Dimond says:

      Merge of death? I don’t think they’re substantially different than existing merges, which I don’t think we’re quite prepared to universally call merges-of-death!

      • Cheif says:

        In that nobody has died on the infrastructure that doesn’t yet exist, I cede your point. However when you have a lane occupied primarily by motor vehicles that dumps into a bike lane and you tell the motor vehicle operators to yield to people bikes, the thing that happens is that they crash into bike operators instead.

      • Cheif says:

        people *on bikes that is.

      • Al Dimond says:

        Turning traffic has to cross through-going bike traffic somewhere! If it’s in a crosswalk-like setting is that a “crosswalk of death”? If it’s at a yield marker (e.g. the right turn from EB Nickerson to SB Dexter) is that a “yield of death”? Is every place where cars have to merge across a bike lane today to get to a right turn lane a “merge of death” also?

        If we actually want to get to specifics, the placement of the sharrows in the diagram above, right of the right-turn arrow, is completely wrong — if anything people biking through should be left of right-turning traffic. This calls into question whether the people designing these intersections actually understand how they’re supposed to work, which is certainly concerning! But given that people have to cross paths, we should probably figure out which sorts of crossings are really the bad ones before complaining about all of them.

      • Cheif says:

        You’re wrong but whatever.

      • bill says:

        Pray tell us how you would lay out such an intersection.

      • Al Dimond says:

        I’m wrong that right-turning cars have to cross bikes at some point? Or am I wrong about the absence of a clearly better alternative in the current range of solutions for non-signalized intersections?

      • Jonathan Mark says:

        To me that sketch looks like a very hazardous design. If the bike facility is going to disappear it should happen farther back from the intersection. This sketch looks like it takes fast cars in a wide traffic lane and forces them very quickly into a merge which bikes have no room to avoid.

        Safer designs could be imagined. How about no extra right turn lane, instead right turning cars proceed to the stop line and then turn right when safe (a well understood procedure, unlike yielding at shark teeth).

      • bill says:

        You are presuming something about this intersection would force cars to stop before proceeding. Which is unlikely to be the case. Removing the turn lane is a setup for right hooks. The merged turn lane forces drivers to realize bikes may be present.

        I think Al’s concern about being hit by left turning drivers is more pressing.

      • Jonathan Mark says:

        I see what you mean, but I was not presuming cars would have to stop at the stop line. If the road is striped so that they pull up to the line and then make a turn of almost 90 degrees, it will naturally reduce the speed at which cars make right turns. Angled right turn geometry with a rounded corner (like the picture) encourages cars to maintain a high speed around the turn.

        Right hook hazard is there at almost any intersection. In theory, the right turning car watches out for right-passing bikes and pedestrians with a Walk signal; in practice, the bikes and pedestrians also watch out for the car. It’s not super safe but I think it is better than inventions such as this picture, and maybe the situation is slightly improved if the bike and car lanes are separated by a no-go area. Painting a green path for the bikes might help too.

        This all is just my opinion of course, and I am not a traffic pro in any way, just a cyclist and sometimes car driver.

      • ODB says:

        I’m not a traffic engineer either, but I commute every weekday westbound on Yesler and the bike lane there actually features a great natural experiment involving the two designs under discussion.

        Proceeding westbound on Yesler, before you reach 12th, car traffic turning right on 12th merges with bikes before the intersection, similar to the design proposed for Dexter. Then a block later you cross Boren, which has no pre-intersection merge opportunity, just an abrupt right turn at the intersection across the bike lane.

        I *vastly* prefer the pre-intersection merge at 12th. There’s much more space and time for me to get an idea of what a car is going to do before it turns across my path. I have had near-misses at Boren with cars turning quickly in front of me, but never at 12th. That’s my two cents. Maybe others have a different opinion based on riding Yesler.

        On a separate topic, I’m curious whether the 8′ bike lanes will provide enough room to pass on what is Seattle’s de facto bike freeway out of downtown. I recognize that putting the path on the inside of parked cars has advantages, but not having the ability to use the regular traffic lanes for passing slower riders seems like a potentially significant drawback, particularly given the traffic volume.

      • Josh says:

        The main difference I see vs. traditional bike lane layout is that motorists are prevented from merging towards the curb as far back from the intersection as they should with standard bike lanes, and cyclists may be discouraged from merging left as soon as they should — it concentrates the merge zone into a car length or two, close enough to the intersection that both cyclists and motorists should already be in proper position and scanning for traffic in the intersection.

        Of course, Washington law is very weak on proper turn behavior compared to many states — e.g., California mandates merging to the curb at least 50, and as much as 200, feet before the intersection, so that the merge is safely completed before the driver’s attention turns to conflicting traffic within the intersection.

        Washington doesn’t have any minimum distance, and many drivers don’t even realize they should be merging into the bike lane before turning. But, as others have noted, that requirement is always part of having through bikes to the right of cars that could be turning right… you’d never put a through lane of cars to the right of a right turn lane.

        Standard bike lanes only work safely if motorists obey the requirement to make right turns from as close to the right curb as possible. Otherwise, they leave a gap that invites inattentive cyclists to overtake on the right, leading to right-hook collisions.

      • Josh says:

        On the lane-width and passing question, 8 feet should provide enough width for passing if it’s done carefully.

        The minimum operating width for a standard adult bike is about 40 inches, so two bikes side-by-side requires 80 inches, vs. 96 inches of bike lane.

        BUT note that the door zone buffer isn’t really wide enough, only three feet vs. a common door projection of 45 inches (see NCHRP 766 for typical parked vehicle width and door projection). So the de-facto width of the bike lane isn’t really 96 inches, it’s 87 inches. Still enough room for careful passing if the slower cyclist is careful to hold a line as far to the right as is safe and the overtaking cyclist holds a steady line as far left as is safe.

      • ODB says:

        Thanks for the clarification re bike lane widths. In that case, maybe they should put in a dashed line down the middle of the bike lane, with signs indicating that the left lane is for bicycles to pass slower bicycles.

      • ChefJoe says:

        How funny, ODB is concerned about bike lanes being too narrow to pass a slower moving motorist while the road is reduced so there’s only one through lane putting automobiles into the exact situation he wishes to avoid.

        Also odd, Josh is extra concerned about being “doored” while the bike lanes have been moved so they’re no longer next to a driver’s door and instead are next to the less frequently used passenger door and put bike traffic in a direction that would push the door closed at impact, instead of open.

      • Josh says:

        Dooring is dooring, a passenger door can still be deadly, and people getting out the passenger side of a car are even less likely to look for conflicting traffic — just watch taxi passengers getting out along 2nd, see how many of them scan the sidepath before opening their doors.

        The worst injuries from dooring require very little force on the door — when the tip of the door catches the tip of a handlebar, the front wheel is flipped sideways and the rider is launched airborn. I’m not convinced doors will effortlessly slam closed before applying a few ounces of force to a handlebar.

      • ODB says:

        I don’t think the direction of the bike traffic relative to car doors would be changed in new configuration. As far as cars passing cars versus bikes passing bikes, I’m actually in favor of letting everyone get around slower traffic, whatever kind of vehicle they are driving. That’s an additional reason why I’m skeptical about this configuration, as it seems like it will make passing more difficult/impossible for everyone. In practice, though, I have found it necessary to pass more people when biking on Dexter than when driving.

  5. Josh says:

    As illustrated by SDOT, those sharrows are in violation of MUTCD, and therefore violate the 2014 Bicycle Master Plan Update.

    The standard shared lane marking is 40 inches wide, and MUTCD says the center of the sharrow should never be less than 48 inches from the curb.

    That means the gap to the right of the sharrow should be no less than 28 inches, roughly 3/4 the width of the sharrow itself.

    NACTO does not trump MUTCD for traffic control device compliance — the sharrows, as illustrated, violate Federal law, State law, and the Bicycle Master Plan.

  6. sdv says:

    How do bicyclists turn left on these roads?

    • Lisa says:

      “copenhagen left” or “J-turn”- you head straight through the intersection you want to turn left on, slide right into the crosswalk and do a tight left turn, then wait at that light until it’s green. You end up waiting sort of behind the bike lane/in front of the crosswalk.

    • Josh says:

      Cyclist’s choice — bike lanes are optional, so you can make a two-stage left, or, if you prefer, you can merge left into the travel lanes early in the block, merge over to the left-turn lane, and make a standard left turn.

      The plastic delineators typically used for segregating these sidepaths don’t really prevent cyclists from leaving the path for the street, though they can be hazardous if you misjudge the opening and clip one with your handlebars.

  7. AJL says:

    I’ll be riding this tonight, in the dark and hopefully not in the rain, for the first time. I was thinking about it as I rode it last night before the change. There was a lot of traffic and left turning drivers already couldn’t see me approaching from the bike lane that kept to the left of the curb – but I was glad I was a little farther out into the street. I’m just hoping that this approach to intersections 1) doesn’t render me more “invisible” due to the far right push 2) drivers turning right don’t assume I am also turning right and 3) drivers understand that they have to yield to MY approach (fat chance as this rarely happens up at Denny/7th where drivers have to cross the bike lane to make a right onto Bell, I’ve been “pushed over” far too many times to count)…I’ll be riding very, very defensively here, especially since there’s a lot of impatient drivers out there already along this stretch trying to avoid Denny and Mercer.

    • Greg says:

      I’m so glad that I don’t regularly cycle this stretch. Seems that given the way that people have been getting hit and dying on Dexter that simply converting the street to a 2 + turn lane config and keeping the bike lanes where it’s hardest to right and left hook them (not hidden away from drivers until it’s too late to avoid a disaster) would have been best. I suppose if folks keep dying they can reconfigure again but this seems like an awfully reckless move on the part of SDOT.

      And I don’t understand this mania for concealing bike riders from drivers. Proper separated infrastructure is great if you control *all* the substantial interactions between drivers and cyclists. These perverse hybrids, on the other hand, seem super scary to me. I hope I’m wrong.

      • Al Dimond says:

        I really think the worst part of Dexter is its width. If this construction has proved anything, it’s that there’s no plausible need for Dexter to be so wide, and that when it’s narrowed down it’s actually way easier to account for everyone you have to account for. So scrap the parking and the turn lane entirely, just do two GP lanes, two bike lanes, two sidewalks. Maybe let the street bulge out a little for bus bulbs in a couple places. Then sell the excess land off for an extra row of buildings to the west of the street. This would have the great benefit of hiding the hideous King Broadcasting building from public view.

  8. Al Dimond says:

    Rode this bit of Dexter for the first time. Saw a car stopped in the bike lane (where it’s behind the row of parked cars) for the first time. Driver had his head in his phone. Natch. By that late in the ride I didn’t even have the heart to shout, “Nice bike!”, my standard snark at people in cars occupying bike lanes improperly. Maybe the markings will be less confusing in the future.

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  11. AJL says:

    So I’ve ridden it only 2x so far, due to holiday scheduling shenannigans, but I can say that the first night I didn’t even know the bike lane veered to the right and I ended up riding in the “parking area” as no autos were in it wondering why it looked odd and why I was heading straight for a “drivers yield to cyclists” sign…oh, I was supposed to move right…the lane markings were abysmal. The sign would have been hidden from view if autos had actually been parked in the auto strip and it is place rightat the merge point, not before so there’s no warnings to drivers PRIOR to the merge.

    The next time I rode that stretch three autos were parked smack in the bike lane so I rode the auto strip again, then into the merge point. My feeling still is that drivers are driving very fast along here, as usual, and with any backed up intersections drivers become irrationally impatient and make really stupidly fast turning movements. I am not sure I will stay on Dexter too much longer, but may revert to 9th Ave for my southerly route home.

  12. bill says:

    I rode this segment of Dexter today for the first time since the restriping. The right turn yield-merge lanes are too abrupt and parked cars obscure cyclists from drivers aiming to turn right. SDOT has not taken into account how fast northbound cyclists can travel on that downhill slope. A pickup truck merging right stopped for me. That vehicle was tall enough the driver could see me. I’m not so sure the driver of a small sedan would be able to see a bike behind the parked cars. The pickup distracted me so completely I forgot to look for left-turning cars. I do not think this bike lane enhances my safety. No way am I ever going to ride a recumbent in that lane.

    Formerly, I would take a lane. That’s not such a great option now. I can easily reach 25 mph on that bit of Dexter but the drivers want to go 35. I’ll probably stick to the Waterfront and Ship Canal trails to reach the Fremont Bridge, or risk my neck on the Ballard Bridge.

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