Eastlake bike lanes would be boon for area businesses and regional bike transportation

There are few bike route improvements that would do more for Seattle’s bicycle network than a comfortable, safe and direct connection in the Eastlake neighborhood. A vital connection between the University Bridge and the city center, Eastlake Ave is already heavily traveled by people on bikes.

But it can be a scary experience. Between 2007 and late 2014, at least 65 people biking on Eastlake were injured just in the stretch between the U Bridge and South Lake Union, according to a map published by the Seattle Times. One person died (RIP Bryce Lewis).

The city is currently studying options for high capacity transit along Eastlake Ave and up north along the Roosevelt corridor, and that project could be a great opportunity to create a permanent, high quality bike facility. The project page does not currently mention bike facilities specifically, though it does say, “The project definition will identify and evaluate modal options and use a complete streets approach to improve safety and access for all travelers.”

There will be two open houses this week to discuss the project’s possible alternatives: 6–8 p.m. today (Monday) at the Cascade’s People Center and 6–8 p.m. tomorrow (Tuesday) at the UW Tower (Cafeteria North). More details below.

Unfortunately, the Eastlake Community Council has preemptively taken a stance against building protected bike lanes and/or transit-only lanes on Eastlake Ave, citing concerns about parking and traffic. This is unfortunate because having a safe space to bike would be a huge boon to Eastlake businesses. Protected bike lanes and complete streets often increase retail sales, even if on-street car parking is displaced. I hope the council keeps an open mind about the benefits bike lanes could bring to the neighborhood and the people who live, work, play and travel through there.

Especially in a dense area like Eastlake, supporting walking, biking and transit is the only way to grow business. After all, we can’t build new car parking spaces (well, not without tearing down homes and businesses to do so). It’s been well documented that business owners consistently and dramatically overestimate how many of their customers arrived by car. A 2012 customer intercept survey conducted by SDOT found that the vast majority of customers in business districts all around the city got there by walking, biking or taking transit. Though Eastlake was not included, you can look at this graph and make an educated guess its results would be similar:

SDOT-NBDA-Overall-PresentationSeven percent of people who live in Eastlake already ride a bike as their primary mode to get to work, and way more than that ride bikes for other trips (like shopping or going out to eat). And the city’s neighborhoods with the highest bike commute rates nearly all lie within an easy bike ride of Eastlake businesses (Ravenna, the U District, Fremont, Wallingford, Capitol Hill, the Central District, South Lake Union, etc).

Well, it would be an easy bike ride if there were safe bike lanes on Eastlake Ave.

From WSDOT

From WSDOT

But looking at an even bigger picture, businesses on Eastlake should take note of the upcoming bike trail on the new 520 and Portage Bay Bridges. That bike route will create a brand new regional connection, and neighborhood biking and walking advocates have worked hard to make sure the trail connection crosses I-5 at Roanoke, dumping people into the Eastlake neighborhood.

A bike lane on Eastlake Ave is the best way businesses can make sure they take full advantage of the potential customers using this new trail connection, and bike lanes on Eastlake would also make the most obvious connection to the city center.

The only other option people biking from the University Bridge to the city center really have is to take the fairly low-traffic Fairview Ave E. While this street is lovely, it has a key missing link in the middle of it that requires steep and confusing climbs through alleyways. We dream of a floating park/trail connecting the two little parks at each dead end inspired by Portland’s Eastbank Esplanade (can you imagine how awesome those views of Gas Works Park and downtown would be?). But we’re not holding our breath waiting for that to happen.

More details on the open houses, from the SDOT project webpage:

SDOT will be hosting two open house events in May

South Lake Union
Monday, May 18
6–8PM
Y at Cascade’s People Center
309 Pontius Ave N, Seattle WA
Roosevelt
Tuesday, May 19
6–8PM
UW Tower, Cafeteria North
4333 Brooklyn Ave NE, Seattle WA

The same content will be presented at both locations.  There will be a short presentation at 6:15.  Please join us to:

  • Learn about the results of our research and what types of high capacity transit options, road improvements, and study improvements are being considered.
  • Share your thoughts on this corridor, issues you currently see, and how things could be improved.
  • Find out how you can stay involved and share your thoughts as we move forward in this study.

For questions or more information please contact Alison Townsend, Transit Strategic Advisor, RooseveltToDowntown@Seattle.gov or (206) 233-3780.

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37 Responses to Eastlake bike lanes would be boon for area businesses and regional bike transportation

  1. Gary Yngve says:

    I commute northbound on Eastlake every day (I’d commute southbound, if it weren’t for the current state of Roosevelt).
    Biggest problems now:
    – the descent past SCCA to Fairview is a bike lane that is occasionally in the doormen, occasionally disappears, and often has a car sitting in it who is trying to pull out of a driveway. So I deem it unusable, and take the lane in excess of 25mph (steep downhill), but occasionally get honked and harassed by motorists who don’t understand why.
    – the northbound blocks on Eastlake between Hamlin and Harvard: no bike lane, and traffic can often back up for many blocks. No sidewalk part of the way due to construction. Bicyclists often split the lane to filter forward.
    – The corner of Eastlake and Furman. Right hooks and left crosses. The burden is on cyclists to keep themselves safe.

  2. ronp says:

    Thanks for this post! This is my commute route and it totally needs improving. The merchants have nothing to fear about parking loss. It is a dense neighborhood/getting denser and commuters like me are extremely likely to stop and shop if there is safer and less stressful bicycle infrastructure. More and more people are riding this route too. New http://mammothseattle.com/ restaurant is great and there are others opening soon.

    Great idea on the floating bike trail option too!

  3. RossB says:

    I completely agree. There are a lot of people (myself included) that don’t like to ride a bike unless it is safe and fairly flat. That is why Fremont has such a high percentage of shoppers on bikes. To get from the UW (where huge numbers of people live) to Fremont by bike is really easy. The same could be true for Eastlake, and even more so. As South Lake Union fills in (with lots of apartments, as well as jobs) it makes sense for someone to just cruise north,to Eastlake, either on their lunch hour (maybe via Pronto) or their day off. But that will only happen if the ride is safe and pleasant. The combination of people coming from both directions suggest that there is huge potential for bike travel to this area.

    On the other hand, I don’t like parking right next to the street, and it is kind of silly to worry about it, because there are only a few spots there anyway. When I drive, I usually take the first street off of the main one, and then start trolling for parking. A really good bike path is long overdue here, especially given the huge growth that has occurred (and is still occurring) in South Lake Union.

  4. Tom says:

    Yes, yes, yes.

    Blows my mind that Seattle does not have a premiere, protected bike route circling Lake Union. Can you imagine how many tourists (and locals) would be interested in riding around Lake Union with stops at the locks, Gasworks, breweries, and restaurants if there was an easy and safe route to follow?

    A 6 mile, flat ride, with gorgeous views and unique parks all easily accessible from downtown. More Pronto stands would be useful and there would almost certainly be room in the market for a few additional bike rental businesses located in convenient locations around the lake.

    The economic impact for most businesses along the route would be overwhelmingly positive even if a few on-street parking spots are lost.

    This, more than anything else, is what I would like to see for times when I have out-of-town visitors that are interested in a bike ride but don’t have much experience riding in traffic. Relaxed, separated path that allows a stress-free ride and enables conversation en route.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      I’m hoping eventually Lake Union can supplement Greenlake a place to go for a walk or ride around the lake. It would serve a different audience as it is twice a long to go around but, as the city grows, the need will only increase.

  5. DCOX says:

    My observance of riding Eastlake both directions for over 20 years between the BGT and Downtown.
    Cars tend to travel in the outside lane for several reasons leaving inside lane as an informal bike lane during the commute peak, this is due to 1) Bikes 2) Illegally parked cars stopping the flow of traffic 3) Buses.
    I dislike riding the road outside of commute hours because of the parked cars and door zones which puts bikes into the remaining lane with the traffic.
    Bike path or not, cyclists will still use that route as it is the most direct way to the U/District and BGT from Seattle, the Eastlake Community Council must be OK with a few accidents so they can save their precious parking spots. (ps. I’m one of those little blue dots from 2012).

  6. Cheif says:

    Personally I’d rather see the furhman / boyer stretch changed so it’s no longer being used as a really long onramp for 520.

  7. Meredith says:

    Yes Yes Yes Cheif. I commute between Montlake and the Bainbridge ferry by bike, and the simplest way is Furhman/Boyer to get to Eastlake, I’ve had more close calls on that road than any other in Seattle, including Eastlake and 2nd.

  8. Matt says:

    I really think this city could double its bikeshare if it was safe to bike over the Ballard Bridge and through Eastlake. This is a no brainer. First of all, there absolutely needs to be a safe way from the Udistrict to downtown whether it’s on Eastlake or I love the floating trail idea (Philly of all places just did this). Additionally, they need to make it safer and easier to bike along Franklin up to Boylston to get to Capitol Hill. It’s a great shortcut until you put your life in danger with the I-5 merge. I also agree with the earlier comment about a Lake Union protected bike loop being great for business. I continue to be amazed how many people bike to businesses when it’s flat and safe. Just look at Fremont Brewery…every week they are adding additional bike racks and it still doesn’t seem to be enough.

  9. James says:

    This is most of my commute from Wallingford to SLU for the last 3 years, but I don’t take Eastlake, I take Fairview/Minor/Fairview. The Fairview route is
    1) Flatter
    2) Quieter
    3) Far Safer
    4) More Scenic & Fun
    I don’t get the attraction of Eastlake. Every morning as I’m coming off the bridge and hooking a right onto Fairview at the end of the bridge I mutter to myself “What a miserable road”. I don’t like riding with cars around but if that’s your thing, have at it. The city needs to stop forcing the subject on these arterials and start looking at moving bikes off to side streets and giving them right-of-way there where possible, and this is a route with a slightly slower but far safer alternative.

    • Kirk says:

      I agree on the arterials. Leave the car arterials for the cars. I would prefer a parallel bike arterial when possible, with “Yield to Bikes” signs, 20 MPH speed limits, stop signs on every cross street, and bike signals at every major crossing. See Fremont Avenue in north Seattle for a nearly perfect bike arterial. There are a lot of extra wide former streetcar streets that would make perfect bike arterials.

    • Al Dimond says:

      I ride on Eastlake sometimes, Fairview others. If I have a basket full of cat litter weighing down my bike the sharp hills and turns on the Fairview route are a lot harder to navigate than the gentle rise-and-fall of Eastlake!

      I don’t have any regular stops on Eastlake, I just go through. If we built a decent alternative to the alleys on the Fairview route I’d use that most of the time. If we painted non-awful bike lanes on Eastlake I’d use that most of the time. If we did both I’d mix it up like today. Both routes are pretty flawed as it is, and the city doesn’t own the land it would need to fix Fairview.

      (This is a bit like Madison Park. It would be ideal to have a route along the water from Madison Park through the Arboretum toward UW, but for some stupid reason a private golf club with private streets owns the required land. That leaves Madison, which is awful in so many ways, but the city does own it. At some point we’re probably going to have to unite for a bike route on that part of Madison, or else live with nothing for another generation. The Fairview route today is better than nothing, but it isn’t good enough, and will be hard to improve; therefore Eastlake is worth fighting for.)

  10. Oscar p says:

    The Eastlake community Council doesn’t have authority over decisions. They can have whatever opinion they want.

  11. Scott Bonjukian says:

    Great post! I’ll be at the Roosevelt HCT meeting tomorrow.

    Thinking ahead to street channelizations, I came up with a couple of ideas for how Eastlake could be configured. (I used Streetmix.net, and the trains could presumably be swapped for buses).

    Option 1: http://streetmix.net/SBonjukian/13/eastlake-avenue-option-1

    Option 2: http://streetmix.net/SBonjukian/19/eastlake-avenue-option-2

    Transit stops: http://streetmix.net/SBonjukian/14/eastlake-avenue-stops

    As you say, there is ample evidence that such street reconstructions would be an enormous boom for neighborhood businesses. Along with overestimating how many customers arrive by car, people don’t realize there is a huge glut of extra parking on side streets (well, maybe not in little Eastlake) and off-street garages. Joint use of private garages is a huge opportunity.

    • Jeremy says:

      The sticky widget being that the cars on a good day can and often do at go-home time stack up both lanes from the bridge to back behind Hamlin. Nothing a market-based solution such as a congestion fee couldn’t fix, though good luck running that through the political system.

  12. LWC says:

    In my opinion, it would be far more effective to use immanent domain to connect the Fairview right-of-way between Roanoke and Hamlin. Make it bike/ped only, and it won’t hugely impact the lakefront property owners. That would result in a full flat, quiet, all ages route right along the lakeshore.

    Though I’d certainly support bike facilities on Eastlake as well…

    • bidab says:

      A route completion at Mallard Cove is surely cheaper than Eastlake, and should be the city’s first priority. Pair it with street repairs along Fairview Ave, and it’s a win for cyclists, motorists and residents alike. The City can use Parks District funds as it’s a Cheshiahud Loop improvement.

      A bike lane on Eastlake is a half-solution that preserves the stroad-ness of that arterial. It would take a full redesign, with a cycletrack, to make an Eastlake project worth it.

  13. Scott B. says:

    Great post! I’ll be at the Roosevelt HCT meeting tomorrow.

    Thinking ahead to street channelizations, I came up with a couple of ideas for how Eastlake could be configured. (I used Streetmix.net, and the trains could presumably be swapped for buses).

    Option 1: http://streetmix.net/SBonjukian/13/eastlake-avenue-option-1

    Option 2: http://streetmix.net/SBonjukian/19/eastlake-avenue-option-2

    Transit stops: http://streetmix.net/SBonjukian/14/eastlake-avenue-stops

    As you say, there is ample evidence that such street reconstructions would be an enormous boom for neighborhood businesses. Along with overestimating how many customers arrive by car, people don’t realize there is a huge glut of extra parking on side streets (well, maybe not in little Eastlake) and off-street garages. Joint use of private garages is a huge opportunity.

  14. biliruben says:

    I’ve been musing about a safe, flat Fairview route for well over a decade. The easiest way would have been for the city to have some backbone when they permitted Mallard Cove at the turn from Fairview to Roanoke. This is below high-tension powerlines, so very likely was public right-of-way that the city or county very likely simply gave away for a song. Water under the bridge, so to speak.

    While I like the circuitous esplanade idea, just simply taking back the right-of-way, either via bridge or along the shore would be simpler and probably less upsetting to the residents, both because it would preserve their view, as well as continue to allow water access to their property. Just go in there and bribe every impacted owner with $50,000, and get it done.

    I don’t think you can over-estimate the massive impact this would have for biking in Seattle. It would suddenly open up a safe, flat, beautiful, calm, wonderful way to get downtown. It would be transformative, and quickly choked with wonderful bike and ped traffic. The investment is so absurdly worth it, it frustrates me to ponder the “Seattle Process” that stops it from happening.

  15. Peri Hartman says:

    I, too, would like to see Fairview completed into a usable bike route. But we still need a bike route on Eastlake. Fairview isn’t safe over about 15 mph. There are too many obstacles and bad sight lines. Some riders or riders-some-of-the-time will take Eastlake.

    On the other hand, I haven’t seen a bike lane yet that’s safe over 15-20mph. Even if there aren’t any car doors, you’re too close to driveways and other poor visibility occurrences. I’m not saying it can’t be done – in fact, I hope it can. But the best I’ve seen for high speed riding is a shared vehicle lane with a center turn lane that vehicles can use for passing.

    Parts of Eastlake are that way. If the rest could be “fixed”, along with improving Fairview, I think that would be a good solution.

  16. Andy says:

    Protected bike lanes on Eastlake would be dangerously unsafe, and would contribute to exactly the kind of right hooks that caused Bryce Lewis’s death: a cyclist riding in a marked bike lane that was negligently designed and put cyclists who used it at risk.

    Eastlake from the bridge to Louisa has an average of 5.25 driveways and uncontrolled intersections per 1,000 feet, southbound; 4.75/1,000 northbound.
    With that frequency of interruption there is no way that a protected bike lane could be implemented in a way that would even feel safe, much less actually be safe.

    Advocacy efforts should be aimed at getting a robust and safe implementation of a comfortable parallel route for cyclists who aren’t comfortable riding with traffic.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      Yes, I completely agree with you. I just want to add that just because one chooses to ride in traffic, though, doesn’t mean they should be relegated to a bike-unfriendly street. While bike lanes may not be the right solution, there must be a way for faster vehicles to safely pass bikes.

      • Andy says:

        You’re absolutely right.

        I think the most productive feedback that we could give to SDOT in light of what they’re actually considering is that they should *not* choose to put a streetcar on Eastlake, because rails will make the street even less bike-friendly than it is now. Bus lanes that are open to bikes (and a full repaving!) would make Eastlake downright nice to ride on, and would provide better transit service than a streetcar, too.
        Additionally, on the southbound hill, from Edgar to Louisa, there is only one driveway. The center turnlane there is unnecessary, and could be removed to provide a curb lane so that cyclists climbing the hill don’t unreasonably slow buses. Alternatively it could be used to preserve parking spaces.
        On the Northbound hill from Blaine to Boston it would be harder to do the same – the street is narrower and there are more driveways. Might be possible by making downhill one lane only and uphill two lanes + buffer, but would require significant in-street work to remove the center islands.

  17. Alicia says:

    I live at Eastlake and Hamlin and commute up to the UW everyday, and I often go south on Eastlake down to Garfield where my boyfriend lives. I’ve taken Fairview along the lake, Minor Ave. (just a block up from the lake) and Eastlake.

    Eastlake is easiest because of its gentle slope, but I always feel like I’m about to be doored, and I’ve had a few negative interactions with drivers yelling at me or honking. During peak hours it can be really congested, in which case I usually ride slowly on the sidewalk (I don’t want to make peds uncomfortable the same way cars make me uncomfortable!)

    Fairview is okay, but I’ve had just as many negative interactions with drivers on that street. It’s full of potholes and gravel, and when you’re headed north you have to go up a pretty large hill at the end.

    Minor isn’t bad, it’s a quiet neighborhood street. If you can deal with the number of driveways, it isn’t too busy and doesn’t have potholes like Fairview. It still faces the problem of hills, but it’s a quiet, smooth ride.

    I went to an Eastlake Council meeting once, but it was full of curmudgeonly anti-everything types. They want light rail but they hate density. They’re entitled to their parking and they hate all of us who live in apartments (ESPECIALLY apodments, and even those new modern looking townhomes!) It wasn’t a welcoming environment, so I haven’t gone back.

    • Adam says:

      Is there a neighborhood council in the city that’s not just a bunch of grumpy old curmudgeons?

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Yes. http://wedgwoodcc.org/about/trustees

        The president (Brianna) is working to get Seattle to implement 10-15mph “Home Zones”.

        One of the former presidents (Per) worked to get 35th Ave NE upzoned for a more dense, walkable business district.

        If you want your local community council to be similarly awesome, you should start showing up to their meetings!

    • Andres Salomon says:

      That’s how they win. :(

      Join them. Become the voice of reason in their discussions. Maybe that will attract other new people as well..

  18. RDPence says:

    I expect that groups like the Eastlake Community Council would be less likely to respond negatively to plans and proposals that examine negative as well as positive impacts. Plans with a holistic perspective.

    Count up the number of parking spaces lost, and document where those displaced automobiles could park nearby, in available spaces on side streets or in off-street parking lots. Don’t wait for people to start complaining; do your homework up front.

    • Oscar p says:

      Yeah right. Plus the side streets are all full. One could draw a conclusion from your approach that parking trumps safety.

    • Bruce Nourish says:

      I expect to the contrary. In my experience, most “neighborhood groups” in Seattle exist to bellyache about any significant change to their neighborhood, especially a change that might make their neighborhood more urban and less car-convenient. SDOT should do their homework, yes, but the reason to do it is so you can have a narrative to shout down the “concerned neighbors” when they complain to the media.

      • Andres Salomon says:

        Ditto, what Bruce said. My presentation to the NEDC (a group made of other other community council groups) was about a grant application to fund a road diet. I focused equally on both safety (collisions) and parking. I explained that parking was completely underutilized on stretch A, and while heavily utilized on stretch B, could be easily replaced by adding back both-side street parking on perpendicular side streets.

        The message of safety and improving the street got completely lost over questions of where people will park on stretch B. They voted against the grant, and I’m convinced that it was because of the parking concerns. If I had to do it again (and I might, next year), I would only mention the underutilized parking, and let others bring up any negative points about parking loss if they have them.

  19. Ben Leis says:

    I take Eastlake every day in both directions between the University bridge and where Fairview branches off. If I were going to rank my concerns.

    1. Pavement quality is spotty. The city has been somewhat better recently near the bridge but there are a lot of awful potholes on the edge still.

    2. I’m extremely concerned that it doesn’t get rails installed on the outside lane ala Westlake.

    3. The worst segment for me is the northern approach to the bridge which sometimes under heavy traffic leaves little space for bikes to weave between.

    4. In practice just switching the no-park times from 4-6 to maybe 4-7 would be a marked improvement.

    5. The intersection at the end between Valley and Fairview is a death trap. I’m continually amazed some pedestrian or cyclist hasn’t died there yet. Cars start tens of yards prior to the intersection to take a right on valley with poor sightlines. They often are going fairly quickly by the time they hit the intersection. At the same time foot traffic is rising and I see increasing numbers of people cross against the signalling.

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