City plans Ravenna Blvd bike lane upgrades, but shouldn’t cheap out on intersections

SDOT presented about the proposed changes at a Tuesday open house

SDOT presented about the proposed changes at a Tuesday open house

The city is planning some pretty cool upgrades to the Ravenna Boulevard bike lanes and its connections through Ravenna Park. And they’re planning to do a lot with a small budget, like adding plastic posts to keep people from using the bike lanes as passing lanes.

But they are also cutting one of the most important corners: The need to upgrade major intersections.

The $200,000 budget (including outreach and design) is not enough to significantly improve the existing “slot lane” design at busy intersections like NE 65th Street and Roosevelt/11th Ave. This is where people making left turns drive across the bike lane, leaving anyone on a bike uncomfortably squeezed between two lanes. Well, unless the bike lane is blocked entirely, as happens often:

The best solution is to get rid of the lane crossing and install new separate bike and turn signal phases. But adding signals can be pricey, especially for a super low-budget project like this that can only really afford paint, signs and plastic posts.

The Ravenna bike lanes, which were redesigned during a major repaving project just three years ago, are already of high quality by Seattle’s standards. That’s why it’s so easy to just add the plastic posts and call them “protected bike lanes” at very little cost.

But the major intersections will remain missing links in an otherwise all-ages-and-abilities bike route. This is a great opportunity to go ahead and just do it right while we’re there. If the budget absolutely can’t be found before construction this summer, the city should at least commit to a timeline for fixing the intersections rather than letting them linger on the “maybe someday” list.

Here’s a look at the full project area:

Ravenna PBL Boards-map

New connections east of Brooklyn

Ravenna PBL Boards-brookThe project is planning smart changes east of Brooklyn Ave, like moving parking across the street for a key one-block section just west of the Ave to make space for a long-needed bike lane connection.

Ravenna PBL Boards-cowenThe city also liked a NE Seattle Greenways Park(ing) Day project so much that they want to make it permanent. How cool is that? Good work, Andres Salomon!

Basically, just by using the space on Cowen Pl (a small street connecting Ravenna Blvd to the 15th Ave NE bridge across the park) better, the city can make some pretty significant bike route and walking safety improvements. Here’s a video from that awesome Park(ing) Day demonstration:

This project would create a connection between Ravenna Blvd and NE 62nd Street, which would get a low-budget neighborhood greenway upgrade along the north side of the park. 62nd is currently one-way, but the changes would allow two-way bike travel.

Ravenna/Green Lake mess

The final big piece of the project is to hopefully address the crazy intersection where Ravenna Boulevard, Green Lake Way and NE 71st come together. This area has a (surprisingly) low collision rate, but it’s not comfortable for people biking or walking. This is especially true for more vulnerable people and families with children.

The lack of comfort for all users is likely why so few collisions happen. Everyone is stressed out, moving slow and looking for each other. So the challenge to SDOT is to find a solution that is both safe AND comfortable, especially more vulnerable people or people with mobility issues. That’s no easy task.

Planners did not have a design to present at the recent community meeting, but changes would hopefully simplify the intersection and decrease crossing distances. The city expanded one of the curb bulbs a few years ago (you can see the “fresh” bright concrete in the map above), which make things a bit better. But there’s still more they can do to tighten things up. We are eager to see what they come up with.

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26 Responses to City plans Ravenna Blvd bike lane upgrades, but shouldn’t cheap out on intersections

  1. William Wilcock says:

    Given that Seattle has limited resources and plenty of quite dangerous intersections where the accident rates involving cyclists are unacceptably high, how can anyone justify prioritizing spending funds to make people feel more comfortable at an intersection that is already pretty safe?

    For example in this neighborhood it would make more sense to extend the planned protected bike lane on Roosevelt which will I believe only extends south from 65th Set NE, so that it goes as far north as 75th St NE or even Maple Leaf. Alternatively, the city could figure out how to help cyclists get from NE Seattle across I5, perhaps by extending the bike lanes on 75th Ave NE, west of 15th Ave NE.

    Also, from what I have observed the plastic posts recently installed to separate cyclists on 15th Ave NE near Cowen park are frequently missing presumably because they are a fun target for irresponsible drivers to clip. Metal posts or concrete bollards would a lot more effective.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I get that and agree there are worse streets. But at some point the city is gonna need to finish this bike lane. If they’re working on it this summer, they should just finish it then.

      • William Wilcock says:

        I am sorry Tom but cyclists who feel uncomfortable negotiating the no-you-go/no-you-go/no-let’s-all-wait-for-the-stroller Ravenna-Greenlake intersection are not going to get very far riding on Seattle’s streets. Spending money on that junction is a total waste.

        I see little point in installing cheap plastic posts (with a half life of a year or two) on NE Ravenna Blvd because the bike lanes are pretty well respected by motorists. For motorists turning left its actually safer to maneuver slowly into the left turn lane ahead of the official entry if there are no bikes present rather than entering abruptly near the junction.

        The city could usefully paint bike only areas at the front of left turn lanes so that bikes do not have to start from the sandwiched position but that can’t be more than a few hundred dollars per intersection and would be routine if SDOT & co had a systematic approach to bike transportation rather the one-of-the-kind “community-driven” designs that it seems to like.

        Thanks to the city’s excesses we now have a fancy bike crossing of the Burke Gilman / 25th Ave NE intersection that we waited years and many accidents for when all that was needed were a few no-turn-on-red signs and a simple reprogramming of the existing lights to have an all-way pedestrian crossing interval.

        If there are only so many resources for bike infrastructure then spending money on unnecessary improvements or overly expensive solutions to real problems will cost lives and injuries relative to the disciplined approach of addressing only the biggest needs with the most economical choices of the range of effective solutions.

      • Richard says:

        William, your comment seems to imply that it is not worth addressing the needs of the less confident riders. To say I disagree is beyond understatement.
        Even if you are a confident rider, you still benefit from addressing the needs of the less confident, in that more cyclists on the road improves safety for *every* rider.

      • William Wilcock says:

        Richard

        That is not my point. To encourage people to rides bikes requires providing them with a route that makes them feel safe all the way from A to B. Riders who feel unsafe at the Ravenna/Greenlake intersection are unlikely to find many bike routes in NE Seattle that make them feel safe since that is one of the better bicycle junctions where motorists are paying attention.

        There are examples in NE seattle of short very well protected bicycle lanes that have been built at great expense and they are next to useless for encouraging nervous riders because they dump riders out at either end on scary roads. The only sensible way to improve ridership is to designate a network of bike routes that actually enable riders to get between popular locations and then to always focus funds on fixing the weakest links (the most dangerous parts) so that the network becomes progressively safer.

        Short segments of super safe bike paths that do not interconnect don’t help anybody including the less confident riders.

  2. sb says:

    I get the sense they’re doing this just to show that they can get stuff done.

    I bike on Ravenna Blvd all the time and while I guess the plastic poles may help a little in protecting me, there are hundreds of other bike-related projects in the city that I think the money should go to first.

    The bike lane between Cowen Park and Green Lake is one of the oldest bike lanes in the city. I know it perhaps isn’t the ideal way a bike lane should be built, but I’ve always been surprised at how knowledgable people are about the lanes, especially car-only people. The redesign/repainting three years ago made the lanes even safer I think. SDOT mentioned that there were 7 collisions on Ravenna Blvd between 2011 and 2014, but it hasn’t been shown that plastic poles would have prevented any of those collisions. How many were at intersections? Who knows.

    The intersections could be improved, but who knows what those will look like in any redesign. SDOT didn’t show us any of that.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      Here’s where the collisions were:
      https://twitter.com/NEGreenways/status/585623003049910273

      I’m hopeful that we will see intersection improvements (and that’s kind of the point of Tom’s post; thanks Tom!). We shall see…

      The other day I watched someone on a bike crash in the intersection of Ravenna Blvd and Green Lake. They got up and kept biking, so I think they were okay (and probably wasn’t reported to SPD), but I suspect that kind of thing happens a lot. Considering the location, and the huge number of people walking/biking, it should really be a place that people feel safe and comfortable walking or biking through.

  3. Viggen9 says:

    I really wish they would invest some improvements further east where Ravenna blvd gets close to the Burke gilman at the intersection with 55th. Lots of turning cars there and 55th is a through street coming around a corner. Even just making it an all way stop would give it a sense of feeling safer.

    • William Wilcock says:

      I totally agree. While they are at it they could fix the pedestrian crossing on 55th. It is a major pathway for families accessing the park. While plainly in sight to traffic from all directions, it seems to be ignored by motorists in part I suspect because they are so distracted by the complex intersection ahead.

  4. daihard says:

    I agree with those who say the limited resources would be better spent on other, more “needy” places in Seattle than NE Ravenna Blvd. I honestly don’t see why the “slot lane” design is such as big deal. I ride on Ravenna during the afternoon commute at least twice a week and have never had the bike lane blocked by left-turning vehicles. I’m not all that experienced, but I don’t feel uncomfortable being sandwiched between two lines of cars, either.

    In fact, I don’t like the idea of adding poles / bollards to the existing buffered bike lanes on Ravenna. I usually move over to the general purpose lane before I hit the “messy intersection” so I can smoothly ride into the right-hand-side bike lane on East Green Lake Drive N. Poles would make that move impossible.

  5. Law Abider says:

    The Ravenna/Greenlake/71st intersection seems like a prime candidate for a single lane, low speed, roundabout. There appears to be plenty of space and a single lane roundabout could be bike friendly.

    Other than that, I think the only option would be a intersection realignment, to be more aligned to 90° angles, with a traffic light, which wouldn’t be optimal for pedestrians.

    • asdf2 says:

      Definitely, so traffic light at 71st. That would accomplish nothing except to make everyone (including pedestrians) wait…and wait…and wait. See Green Lake Way and 50th St. for what a traffic light looks like at a 5-way intersection with lots of people turning.

      I also agree that plastic posts may be counter-productive. It would have cars turning left onto 68th cutting across the bike lane, and bikers turning right onto 68th cutting across the car lane. It would also make it difficult for faster cyclists to use the car lane to pass slower-moving cyclists.

      I’m also a bit skeptical about adding yet another signal phase to Ravenna and 65th. You already have to wait long enough as it is to get across that intersection, and I don’t like the idea of making things worse.

      • Morgan Wick says:

        It wouldn’t have to be a five-way like the 50th/Green Lake/Stone mess, especially since the Ravenna median dwindles away to nothing at that intersection. You could require vehicles “turn” to “stay” on Green Lake.

    • William Wilcock says:

      Roundabouts are not particularly bike friendly because unlike an all way stop they do not require approaching vehicles to stop, they involve lots of merging into and out of the roundabout, they allow multiple vehicles going in different directions in the junction at the same time and they place an onus on vehicles paying attention to other road users intentions.

      • Law Abider says:

        I think a low speed roundabout and some flashing pedestrian crossing signs would do enough to make the roundabout safe.

  6. We’ve known for a while now that bike infrastructure is only as family friendly as it’s most dangerous and uncomfortable intersection. Quickly putting in some protection on the segments is fantastic, but we need plans (even if there isn’t currently funding) for making the intersections comfortable for people of all ages and abilities.

    The standard needs to be whether parents feel comfortable biking with their kids to the Hazel Wolf K-8 elementary school (Ravenna and 68th). If not, we aren’t reaching the demographics desired with this protected bike lane.

  7. Todd J says:

    I commute through this area everyday and yesterdays do this morning I noticed that a construction company has started to have cars merge into the bike lane going towards Green Lake right before you get to Greggs. Does anybody else feel that it’s a excessive for this construction company to need the full sidewalk, the parking lane and the car travel lane to build what will probably be a four or five story building?

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  9. ODB says:

    Regarding new separate bike and turn signal phases, in addition to the expensive equipment, additional signal phases means additional delay for everyone, which wastes time and causes additional pollution. So the question is whether these drawbacks are offset by the benefit of not having to deal with cars merging across the bike lane. For me, the answer is no, but are there lots of people out there who would start bicycling or feel better about it if they didn’t have to worry about cars merging across the bike lane–I don’t know the answer. Would the benefits to that unknown population sufficiently offset the drawbacks to everyone else? Is the city willing to burden the grid with this kind of treatment city-wide, or would this be a kind of one-off recreational/”destination” route to encourage families or tourists to, for example, ride from Cowen Park to Green Lake? If this is going to be an unusual, fancy treatment, is it consistent with the city’s social justice goals to make this investment in a relatively prosperous area? In other words, would gold-plating this particular facility be the best use of limited funds?

    On a separate topic, I think plastic bollards are only a good idea to the extent the city is willing to commit in perpetuity to having special narrow street sweepers come in and regularly clean the bike lanes. This ongoing cost needs to be included in the “cost” of the posts.

  10. Gary Yngve says:

    Please do NOT put plastic posts on a bike lane on Ravenna! The NW-bound bike lane on Ravenna routinely floods with water, forcing riders to go nearly into the buffer zone to stay out of puddle. And some cyclists are not comfortable letting faster cyclists pass in that lane, meaning that cyclists need to have the option to change lanes to pass.

    • daihard says:

      Totally agreed. Let me add that I switch to the general purpose lane before I get to the Gregg’s intersection while riding NW-bound on Ravenna, in order to be able to merge smoothly into the right-hand side bike lane after the intersection. Plastic posts / bollards would make that move impossible.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      The drainage issues were brought up at the meeting. Hopefully SDOT adddresses them, as they’re an issue even without the posts.

  11. Andrew squirrel says:

    As someone that has lived and biked daily on Ravenna for the past 4 years I think i can officially say that these half-ass “protected” bike lanes have officially jumped the shark. Such a waste of time and precious resources when there are so many other critical projects at hand. This is embarrassing and really fuels the opponents arguments.

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