The network effect: For the 1st time, 2 neighborhood greenways in Seattle have crossed

A new street park designed to make this mega intersection safer and increase public space at the same time

A new street park designed to make this mega intersection safer and increase public space at the same time

BallardMapBallard’s new 17th Ave NW neighborhood greenway officially marks an important step in the city’s all ages and abilities bike network: Two neighborhood greenways have finally crossed each other.

It’s hard to believe it took until 2016, but at least in Ballard neighborhood greenways are starting to form a functional network.

The new 17th Ave NW greenway is very long, stretching from Ballard Ave to Whitman Middle School in Crown Hill. And with the connection to the NW 58th Street neighborhood greenway, every home and destination along the way also connects to the section of the Burke-Gilman Trail leading to Golden Gardens.

The features of the new greenway are mostly familiar at this point: Speed humps, stop signs turned to face cross-streets to give the greenway priority and busy street crossing improvements. It’s an easy gradual climb heading north, setting the stage for a wonderful and flat connection to Greenwood, Green Lake and beyond.

The biggest disappointment in the route is the lack of a connection to the Burke-Gilman Trail from the south end. Instead, the greenway drops you off on Ballard Ave and leaves you navigate the notorious Missing Link on your own. This missing section of trail has been wrapped up in decades of legal wrangling and is currently going through a lengthy environmental review process. Presumably, when the trail is finally constructed, the greenway will connect to it. But that could take a while…

All-in-all, though, this is a well-executed addition to the neighborhood, something that can’t be said for some other recently-complete neighborhood greenways (stay tuned).

Here’s a photo tour of the route, starting at Ballard Ave and Dock Place:

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The new park did reduce the size of this intersection dramatically. I’m eager to see how the neighborhood chooses to activate it.

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Nearby sign shows the community process that went into the new street park. Years of community help from groups like Ballard Neighborhood Greenways went into making this route a reality.

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Dear, SDOT, I know you really really really really want simple signs to successfully divert car traffic off a designated low-traffic street, but they never work. It doesn’t work on Fremont Ave at N 105th Street, it doesn’t work on 12th Ave NE at NE 45th Street, and it sure as hell doesn’t work on the Bell Street Park for Cars in Belltown. Yet the city tried it again where the 17th Ave NW greenway crosses Market Street. And just as you expect, nobody takes the signs seriously:

IMG_4262 The stretches of the route just north and south of Market Street are among the busiest, so it’s important to divert through-cars at Market. In a perfect world, people would just obey the signs (they really aren’t very confusing). But we’ve tried this enough times to know it will not work.

Give it up and go with a physical roadway change to make sure people don’t clog up our people-focused streets and make them just as uncomfortable as all the other streets.

What kind of diverter am I talking about? This new bike pass-through island at NW 57th Street is a good start. I didn’t camp out long enough to see if people were driving around it, but it seemed pretty clear that only bikes are allowed through. Moving the mailbox to the island to provide driver’s side mail drops was a nice touch.

IMG_4266This sign packed with bike routes is awesome! This is what happens when singular routes start connecting to form a network.

IMG_4267 IMG_4268 I’m still amazed how well these rapid beacon things work, especially when used at a crossing that isn’t too wide. The bike-level push button is a great touch. I suppose the main question is whether these are truly good enough for the 8-year-old test: Would you feel safe letting an 8-year-old cross here on their own?

IMG_4271This crossing does not use a rapid flashing beacon, but it does include paint and plastic posts to create very low-cost curb bulbs. The shorter crossing distance combined with the presence of all the posts seemed to slow cars significantly, making this busy street feel much more calm and easy to get across. Again, does it pass the 8-year-old test? If not, it’s close.

With such a low price tag, can we just do this for every crosswalk?

IMG_4279 The busy 85th Street crossing got some improvements, but they could have gone further. A crossing island would have been perfect. Or even some of those paint-and-post curb bulbs…

IMG_4282 …but it’s definitely better than it was:

Screen Shot 2016-04-13 at 2.48.05 PMThe north end of the route is rather brilliant. At NW 89th Street, the route officially ends right before a new half-block Safe Routes to School path that squeezes between two houses, connecting to Soundview Playfield and Whitman Middle School.

The path is in a constricted space, so it’s not exactly built to full bike trail standards. But it gets the job done.

IMG_4286 IMG_4287 IMG_4288So there you have it. A quality connection from Crown Hill to Ballard Ave. There’s still more work to do in Ballard to create a truly complete and comfortable network of all ages and abilities streets, but this route is a big piece of it. Just good luck getting to the Burke-Gilman Trail.

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31 Responses to The network effect: For the 1st time, 2 neighborhood greenways in Seattle have crossed

  1. Gary Yngve says:

    Last summer I walked from Ballard to Swansons Nursery a bunch for stroller nap, and I had to be rather aggressive crossing 65th, 75th, and 80th on 17th. Then I had to zig back to 15th Ave north of 85th St (busy and loud). These improvements are awesome!

  2. Mike H says:

    Is the signal at Dock and Leary on yet? Last time I went through it wasn’t on yet.

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      It was not on yet when I went through a week ago or so. Last I heard, it’s in City Light’s hands to switch it on.

      • Mike H says:

        Thanks, Tom! We have the same situation down south on the Delridge-Highland Park greenway.

    • sdv says:

      Not as of this morning.

    • Law Abider says:

      The funny part is that even when they turn it on, most cyclists will continue to/from Leary on 17th. That light will be good for the 2 or 3 people a day that want to bike to Card Kingdom or Ballard Loft and is generally necessary to keep Leary from being a freeway.

      However, the 99.9% of cyclists that have, do and will continue to cross at 17th were sold up the river, just because the City didn’t want to put any effort into a safe crossing, just throw money at it.

      • AW says:

        I do not normally go down 17th but instead use Ballard Ave all the way from 20th. But there is construction on Ballard Ave now and if the light were working, I would use 17th and also take the detour to dock to have a safe crossing with the light. I don’t think I am the only person who would go a block out of they way for a sae crossing. Crossing Leary at 17th really bad and I won’t do it anymore.

      • sdv says:

        I thought this until I used the greenway a few times and have found that the extra 20 seconds it takes to go down Dock is worth the cost of a more manageable intersection.

  3. Brad M says:

    This is so great, but it reminds me of how much work it is for community groups to get the word out about these sorts of developments. I live on 4th NW and use 58th route all the time to get down to the locks and then over to Interbay and downtown (although I do wonder at times who decided 58th — easily the steepest way up Phinney ridge heading east to Greenwood — was the preferred bike route to Greenwood and Greenlake. But I digress). The other day my wife and I crossed 17th where 58th meets it, and both of us said, ‘look, a new greenway!’ I try to be up on cycling stuff and this is in my neighborhood so I’m a little embarassed I missed knowing this was in the works. But it’s a great n-s route .

    • Andres Salomon says:

      That’s one of the many reasons why it’s so nice to have intersection greenways. You could spend years taking a route that’s parallel to a greenway without ever discovering the greenway. When you’ve got something resembling a grid, though, you will happen upon those greenways naturally..

  4. Groundswell NW has been bringing the community together to design and activate the new parklet at 17th and Dock. We have received $86,800 from Seattle Neighborhood Parks and Street Fund to create a public space from the right of way at 17th and Dock that is loved and cared for by the community. Learn more on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/17thandDock or contact me at groundswellnw@gmail.com if you’d like to be part of the stakeholder committee.

    • Law Abider says:

      I bike that every day and I (any many others) would love if you would keep a cut through for the 99% of cyclists that will continue to use northbound 17th from Leary!

  5. William says:

    “Two neighborhood greenways have finally crossed each other”. – Somebody in SDOT must have really dropped the ball to let this happen.

  6. RTK says:

    Nice to see, but SEA has signs, PDX has physical diverters. The volumes of motor vehicle traffic and feel of the roads is completely different. Let’s hope the city comes back soon to install diverters.

  7. asdf2 says:

    Part of the problem with the “no thru car traffic” signs is that the road databases aren’t always aware of them. For instance, in the case of Fremont/105th, any driver that is blindly following his/her gps is going to do this:

    https://www.google.com/maps/dir/47.7008371,-122.3500913/47.710685,-122.350263/@47.6985698,-122.3564857,15z

    • Josh says:

      If you know of problems like that in your area, it’s often easy to solve them if you’re a volunteer editor for Waze. Map edits made there often get picked up by Google fairly quickly.

  8. sdv says:

    Can we get rid of the speed bumps? Or at least create a cut-out for bicycles to ride through?

    • Law Abider says:

      I take those speed bumps at a pretty high speed going downhill (~15 MPH) and don’t have an issue.

      • sdv says:

        I don’t like them and avoid cycling on the greenways because of them. I don’t understand the city’s obsession with speed bumps for cycling infrastructure.

  9. scott t says:

    does any city paint bike infrastructure and create signage in a specific color to for bike traffilc…like all arrows and bike icons in fluorescent green or similar??

    • Josh says:

      There are national standards so that a driver from Tampa doesn’t need to be re-educated to drive in Tacoma. Colors for street markings are all regulated by FHWA through MUTCD.

      SDOT routinely flouts MUTCD requirements in some areas, e.g. the double-ended pseudo-sharrows used on greenways are specifically prohibited by FHWA ( http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/knowledge/faqs/faq_part9.htm#mkgsq6 ), and bike boxes are an experimental marking that cities are supposed to get prior approval for before installing (http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/environment/bicycle_pedestrian/guidance/mutcd/bicycle_box.cfm ).

      But most cities, even Seattle, are usually pretty good about the basics of paint colors. Green pavement has interim FHWA approval for specific bicycle facilities, but not for others — it’s not allowed for bicycle boxes, or two-stage turn boxes other than at jughandle intersections, for example. And cities are very inconsistent on where they use green — some cities use it only where bicycles are separated from traffic, others (including Seattle) use it to highlight conflict areas in a facility.

  10. Doug says:

    There is a rapid flash crossing signal on 1st Ave. where it crosses 80th. I use it pretty frequently on my way to Fred Meyer.

    And it’s amazing. People stop for me every time, even when I’m a solo adult male on a road bike (it also works when you have a toddler on a family bike). I love it. I want more of them.

  11. Law Abider says:

    I can tell you that a good amount of cars drive around the diverter at 57th. I kinda don’t blame them, as the diverter is blocking the wrong direction. If you live on the few blocks north of 57th and drive, your options are to either take a dangerous, unprotected left turn off 15th or drive down Market and turn up 20th, which can add 5 minutes due to congestion.

    The diverter SHOULD have blocked SB 17th, diverting SB cars to 15th, where they can make a MUCH less dangerous right turn. Going home, you would make a right off Market onto 17th. You would then go through three consecutive stop signs, so not really any chance to speed there.

    The City shoved the diverter down our throats claiming it was to eliminate cut-throughs. Anyone that lives near 17th could tell you that cut-throughs happen SB. Even looking at a map, you can see that a NB cut-through doesn’t make any sense, as it entails a left turn off 15th and another left turn on to 15th, plus the triplet of stop signs from 56th – 58th and the speed bumps. Of course, telling this to the City at all phases of the project just kept getting the response “this is what the community” wants. Uh huh.

    And then you have the intersection at Dock St, which got a worthless and dangerous redesign. They take cyclists, going due south and make them turn directly into an intersection. I have conflicts almost everyday with cars, due to terrible sightlines because the approaches are now so terribly convoluted and twisted leading up to the intersection. They should have had Dock St and Russell Ave merge and then hit 17th at a 90 degree angle. Of course, this suggestion also fell on deaf ears.

    Long rant, but I take ride 17th everyday and was extremely disappointed that the City essentially shoved through “improvements” despite better and safer design and copped out when it came to the most important part of 17th: the future connection to the BGT.

    But I understand how these things work. They get a small amount of money to do quick designs and chunk to build, but no money or time to do studies. If there’s something that will take actual thought, like a 17th/Leary crossing, they are more apt to take the path of least resistance, even though it doesn’t serve the purpose of the Greenway or its users.

  12. Kirk says:

    I’ve switched to taking 17th northbound on my way home but still take 20th southbound on my way downtown each morning. 17th southbound works great for the slow and timid, but 20th is much easier and faster.
    I still use my old commute route to get to 17th northbound from the bridge, looping down the sidewalk by Mike’s Chili and under the bridge and over to Dock Street. The crossing of Leary is still pretty dicey though without the light being activated as people driving cars rarely stop for the occupied crosswalk. I’ve ridden a few times through the light and left on Leary by the Peddler over to 17th, but the pavement is really, really bad there and it doesn’t feel very safe.

  13. Damon says:

    I took my 5-year-old down the 17th Ave Greenway, southbound, on Friday. She felt pretty safe, I think… they’ve done a very good job of making it *feel* safe. I’m a big fan of the speed bumps; I think they actually slow drivers down, and even my 5yo has no problem with them on a bike.

    But we ran into the issues that have been discussed above. Drivers going straight across the intersection at Market, ignoring the signs and pressing close to us to squeeze around legitimate left-turners. Greenway or not, 17th south of Market is still a fairly high-traffic route. The not-yet-active light at Leary made for a frustrating crossing. And thank goodness we weren’t headed any farther south than Card Kingdom.

    It’s a good route. Maybe by the time my 5yo is done with grade school it’ll be a great route.

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  15. scott t says:

    how does seattle designate a greenway? greenways in other places i have been were bike only trails althought were paved. 58 th st just looks like a street with icons painted on it and a few green signs.

  16. scott t says:

    iow i didnt see any bikecyle greenway alongside 58th st dedicated only to bicycles.

  17. scott t says:

    The Capital Area Greenway System is a network of public open spaces and recreational trails which provides for activities such as walking, jogging, hiking, bird watching, nature study, fishing, picnicking and outdoor fun. The trails connect many of Raleigh’s parks

    https://www.raleighnc.gov/parks/content/PRecDesignDevelop/Articles/CapitalAreaGreenwayTrailSystem.html

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