Westlake bikeway one week from opening, celebration Thurs

img_4836After years (decades?) of debate, public meetings and legal action, the Westlake Bikeway is finally ready to open.

The city and Cascade Bicycle Club are hosting an opening celebration Thursday at the south end of the bikeway in Lake Union Park. The party goes from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. with speakers and a ride at 5:30 5:15.

Once open, the bikeway will immediately become one of the most popular bike routes in the city. It will be the first flat and separated bike route connecting the Burke-Gilman Trail to the center city.

2014_0925_wct_area_mapThe project was delayed after legal action in late 2013 threatened passage of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan. An extremely extensive public outreach process was developed to go inch by inch along the route, essentially finding ways to squeeze as many parking spaces into the area as possible. In the end, 90 percent of the parking spaces were preserved, and new parking rules were implemented to make sure those spaces are optimized for Westlake business access rather than free all-day parking for center city employees.

Many compromises were made over a period of months, then that plan was sued, as well (by the Nautical Landing “superyacht” marina). But after even more compromises, the project finally moved forward and started construction earlier this year.

It’s been a long, messy road for the $3.6 million project (half of which came from grant funding). But as soon as it opens, that will all be history.

Next step: Connecting it seamlessly to and through downtown.

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43 Responses to Westlake bikeway one week from opening, celebration Thurs

  1. Gary Yngve says:

    Can we get clarification from the city on the legality of e-assist bicycles on the Westlake cycletrack? (And the sidewalks/portions of the Chesiahud that connect to Fremont Bridge and Valkey St?)
    If illegal, can we get the law changed? Or make Westlake Ave 30 mph with BMUFL signs? (Not sure which is easier)

    • Skylar says:

      I’ve often wondered of the necessity of having a 35mph arterial adjacent to a 40mph highway, although it’s worth noting that Metro’s route 40 travels Westlake and is likely the fastest part of the route.

      I’d rather just say that any vehicle with the option for full human propulsion is allowed.

    • Law Abider says:

      What do we gain by changing the law? Buy a scooter and stick to the roads. E-assist, and full electric for that matter, bikes are (based on my observation) more often than not ridden dangerously and carelessly.

      • Kirk says:

        Why should electric mopeds get a break? FFS, why not just allow all gas powered mopeds too? There are gas powered bicycles, should those be allowed?
        Trails and sidewalks are for nonmotorized use.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        If my wife decides to buy an electric assist bicycle, should she be allowed to ride on the bikeway at 15mph? Or should she be required to use either the sidewalk or Westlake ave at 15mph?

      • Gary Yngve says:

        E-assist bicycles are technically not allowed in Seattle on trails or sidewalks. Imagine you have a family bicycle weighted down with kids and groceries. How are you going to pedal it up a big hill without e-assist? Note that there are plenty of spandex boys who bike over 20 mph on trails. The problem is speed, not the mechanism of obtaining speed (as long as it is not loud or stinky)

      • Law Abider says:

        @Peri: Westlake Ave. That was easy.

        @Gary: My argument is that, if you are able to get your bike up to 20 mph, you likely have control over your bike and are likely more ‘in tune’ with your surroundings. Most e-assist or full electrical bikes, in my experience, do not appear to have control or are aware of their surroundings. Yes there are legitimate use cases, as you’ve pointed out, but the out-of-control people, who buy e-bikes because they want to avoid traffic, but are too lazy to pedal (the vast majority), ruin it for the rest. If the law is ever up for consideration, I will be there front and center to make my case to keep them banned.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Law Abider – you are welcome to ride at 15mph on Westlake with other traffic going 40mph. I find it too dangerous. A novice certainly would. Anyway, my questions are meant for thought, not anyone’s personal preference.

      • Gary Yngve says:

        @Law Abider: I am not a fan of archaic, over-chilling laws that criminalize what is the safest transportation option for some. There still exists plenty of laws regarding right of way, reckless behavior, etc. And I am sure you’ve had the four-abreast spandex boys blow by you and others on the Burke (they may be technically skilled but are not passing safely). While one could hope for prosecutorial discretion, there are civil implications, and in general, bad laws discourage a general respect for the law.

      • Skylar says:

        @Gary, I agree, the true danger is from car drivers, not from e-assist bikes. Like I said before, I have no problem with seeing e-assist bikes on trails and paths. These really are bikes (you can pedal them!), not mopeds or motorcycles. They’re not for me, but I definitely understand their utility.

      • Josh says:

        @Skylar Except Seattle doesn’t have a speed limit on the BGT, or any other trails within city limits.

      • Skylar says:

        @Josh, I could have sworn you would be wrong, but you’re right! Maybe we should fix that problem first. If someone wants to go faster than 15mph, take the bike onto the road.

      • Josh says:

        Oops, that was supposed to nest under the next comment thread down :-)

      • Law Abider says:

        @Gary: Don’t own spandex because it’s more of a lifestyle than functional clothing.

        I still stand by my belief that it’s not worth legalizing e-bikes, for the few people that would use them, and causing an atmosphere of unsafe riding. When I’m riding full bore and some body goes blasting by, out of control, with no warning and headphones in to boot, you have to question the sanity of legalizing that behavior.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        @Law – That depends on what you want to achieve in terms of number of cyclists on the road. If the goal is to make it safer for bicyclists, then I agree that e-bikes don’t belong. If the goal is to get more people to bike instead of drive for their commute or errands, then e-bikes could be the next big wave of ridership.

        In my opinion, e-bike ridership will not be a small percent but perhaps a doubling or tripling of the number of riders we have today…if we give them a safe place to ride. Not an easy solution to come up with, I admit. I hear your concerns clearly.

      • Skylar says:

        When it comes to cars, it doesn’t matter if it’s a SmartCar or a Ford F350 that goes 50mph in a 25mph zone, or passes me by 18″, it still makes me feel just as unsafe. Same goes for cyclists – it doesn’t matter the vehicle, it’s the person and their behavior that’s the problem.

    • Josh says:

      In the past, SDOT has acknowledged that state law prohibits e-assist bikes on any path closed to motorized vehicles, and on sidewalks state-wide, but that they would like to see this changed. (A few examples, it’s technically illegal to use an e-assist bike on the sidewalks of any of Seattle’s bridges, the BGT, the I-90 Trail, etc.)

      State law doesn’t currently recognize low-speed e-assist — e-bikes are all lumped together up to 20 mph. (Anything with assist over 20 mph is no longer a bicycle at all.)

      Responsible users, of course, can operate safely on sidewalks and trails by voluntarily not using that 20 mph motorized speed, but the law isn’t that nuanced, it prohibits the entire class of hardware — technically, e-bikes are banned from sidewalks even if the assist is turned off.

      To my mind, it seems that the 20 mph limit is too high for shared pedestrian environments, so if they’re going to be regulated as hardware, I don’t really see the Legislature allowing current e-bikes on sidewalks or shared-use paths.

      As for bicycle facilities, BMP supposedly requires compliance with standards and guidelines, so urban bicycle facilities “should” be designed for at least 20 mph per AASHTO and WSDOT manuals. But the design speed on Westlake is much lower than that.

      All that said, the chance of actual enforcement against a safe and responsible rider seems low. (Might still need to worry about illegal operation limiting your ability to recover in a crash that wasn’t your fault.)

    • JimH says:

      I understand both sides of the E-Bike laws (in regards to them not being on the trails). Riding them safely, hauling groceries or whatever is a mundane, non-threatening use of the valuable resource. However, I commute SRT and BGT daily, and I see E-Bike riders (usually on FAT bikes) going 25-30mph at times, passing dangerously, not slowing at crossings, etc…. Those bikes are HEAVY (50+ pounds). If they hit someone (another cyclist or a pedestrian, a child, someones pet, etc…), it’s going to leave a mark, or likely much much worse.

      The problem is, whatever the law is, and whatever it allows… how would it be policed? The law could be changed to allow safe, low speed use of a low powered electric bicycle, but who is going to stop everyone and measure the wattage of their motors? What would the penalty be? There is no drivers license to revoke, or license plate, etc…

      • Skylar says:

        @JimH, I think it would be best to police the speed of the bike, regardless of power source. The difference between a 20lb bike and a 50lb bike is small compared to the weight of the rider. I’ve seen Bothell and Kenmore police stopping people for exceeding the 15mph speed limit (along with not signaling a pass) on the BGT. It might be worth doing that in Seattle as well, particularly since Seattle has yet to expand the trail to the degree that the county has.

      • Josh says:

        If they’re actually going 25-30 mph, existing law is easy to enforce if the electric assist is visible — an electric-assist bicycle by law must not have any electric assist available at speeds over 20 mph.

        So what you’re describing isn’t an e-bike to begin with, it’s an unlicensed, non-street-legal electric motorcycle, even if it has pedals, too.

        Of course, just because it’s easy to enforce doesn’t mean enforcement is a high priority for your local police department…

  2. Davepar says:

    Woot woot! Very glad this is finally happening, although I no longer live in that neighborhood. Riding through the parking lot was super dangerous.

    Some day Seattle will finish a bike project and the first reaction won’t be “that took way longer than it should have”. I look forward to that day.

  3. Peri Hartman says:

    I’ve ridden it several times now, each progressively with fewer interruptions. It’s much better than I expected. There are a few tight areas and a couple spots where sight lines are dangerous. Other than that I find I can ride at 15+ mph safely.

    The two ends are poorly integrated. The north requires an extremely sharp turn. The south dumps you at a curb on Westlake with no place to enter or cross. A block a way is a light which takes more than 2 minutes. Both ends need to be addressed. Also extending to Roy or Mercer would help.

    • Ava says:

      Agreed with all of this. And also, going SB I have not found a great way to connect from the Fremont bridge to the path. I usually cross the Fremont bridge southbound on the west side, but then I have to wait for three different crossing signals to get to the sidewalk on the way to the Westlake Cycle Track. I tried the option of turning right immediately after the bridge and then winding down to the ship canal trail to go east & then south but that takes forever, the turn onto the SCT is impossibly sharp, and the section of Westlake by the houseboats is basically (or actually) unpaved.

      At the south end, even the audible pedestrian signal that says “Walk sign is on crossing 9th Avenue North” sounds sad and disappointed to me.

      Maybe I’m dreaming but I think someday there might be a 9th Ave PBL that connects? That’d be cool.

    • Law Abider says:

      The day they opened the first stretch was a game changer and it’s only been getting better.

      As far as exiting, I’m still using the Highland Dr. light to transition to Westlake and then 9th. They changed the light, a few months back, to take longer to change, but it’s still better than that garbage light at Westlake and 9th.

      Also see that the 34th bike striping in Fremont is well under way. There’s now an almost continuous bike route from Ballard to Downtown.

  4. Gary Anderson says:

    It would be nice if they paved or at least filled the pot holes on the road that connects the north end of the trail to the south ship canal trail (the road that fronts the houseboat moorages).

  5. Mark says:

    The track is a HUGE improvement and quite nice as far as it goes. However, the job is half-done due to the way it terminates towards the south of Lake Union.

    To be truly functional as a transportation solution, it now needs to be tied into other bike facilities that have yet to be built. The south termination point of the new track is dangerous–it ends in a place where pedestrians and bikes are funneled onto the same narrow sidewalk without any good way for bikes to get to/from Mercer Street or Westlake.

  6. Peter K Robson says:

    So many compromises made here. Blind corners, substandard design speed, card can easily overhang into the lane, keeping the trees means substandard width… Already bumpier than we would ever accept for a new vehicle facility. Already tearing up a solid 4 ft chunk without detour. I’m happy it got done but it really shows how far we have to go as a community to actually build a real bicycle facility that doesn’t compromise the safety of its users at every possible opportunity.

    • ronp says:

      I rode it home from work yesterday and I thought it was fantastic – way to go Seattle!

      There were a ton of people using it at 6 PM and when the Fremont bridge was up there were like 150 bike riders waiting to cross into Fremont. Was spectacular to see!

      That being said I would have the contractor redo the asphalt on the south end as it is too bumpy even at slower speeds, especially adjacent to tree roots.

  7. Tuck says:

    It is not perfect but it is as good as its gonna get in Seattle I’m afraid. The southern terminus is ridiculous, and all the pedestrians in this town have their heads down, headphones on and love to wander into the bike lanes. Meanwhile this city is too afraid to divorce itself from the West Coast car culture and we have too many wealthy a-holes who want to park their giant SUVs at all costs.

  8. Jonathan Scanlon says:

    As far as the southbound connection goes, what do most of you do to get over to the southbound lane on 9th?

    And what is the city’s plan for this eventually? I keep thinking that a bike signal would be nice at the light at Westlake & 9th. The signal could be for a diagonal crossing from the northeast corner towards the southwest to enter the southbound lane. The crossing could have some green paint to make it clear to all what’s going on.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      Part of the answer depends on where you are going. If the connection simply encourages you to continue south on Westlake, you’re set up for a disaster: the trolley tracks merge into Westlake at Roy and do so in a way that sneaks up on you. There will be disasters.

      One connection could be to 9th, but it needs to be clear that cyclists should not continue on Westlake. A warning sign for tracks ahead would also be useful.

      For those who wish to be further east, I think the best would be to connect to the bike lanes on Valley. However those bike lanes are way to narrow to be safe and I don’t currently recommend using them.

    • Law Abider says:

      I take the Highland Dr light and put up with the short stretch of Westlake. With the combination of traffic getting my red light at Highland and the upcoming lights, traffic is usually pretty calm or stopped. There’s enough room to squeeze by. Not recommended for newbies, but it works and I’ve had no issues.

  9. Southeasterner says:

    The Southern terminus is as bad as expected but the Northern terminus is even worse then I had anticipated long ago in my comments on this blog. The note on the map indicating the “North end connects to the Ship Canal Trail and Fremont Bridge” is complete BS. It dead ends into an non-surfaced street (which you are discouraged from using) and a heavily used narrow sidewalk.

    The city has once again proved their complete inability to link infrastructure and create usable transportation networks.

  10. Alistair Spence says:

    I checked out the new trail today and was surprised to find that it’s not really fully open at all. Heading south, as you get closer to Valley St., there is a stretch that detours you into the parking lot for a hundred yards or so past some construction that is happening on the trail itself (as far as I could tell).

    Heading further south, it all gets quite vague, with pedestrians and other cyclists finding a variety of solutions amongst the different pathways available amongst more detour signs and taped off construction areas. Confusing for all concerned.

    When I read this post originally I assumed that this project was finished, but it seems that it is still under construction. Is there something I’m missing here?

    • daihard says:

      I rode the Westlake trail for the first time yesterday as well. I agree with you on the weirdness of the southend connection to 9th. I would’ve been lost if I hadn’t been with a friend who knew his way around. It is also flatter than Dexter, which is nice for a lazy guy like me.

      I hope the whole trail will be fully open by next Thursday.

  11. Greg says:

    I almost had a collision with someone exiting the Boatyard Marinas. This is the sharp left/right jog (heading northbound) around the heavily landscaped railroad tracks. You can’t see peds coming out of the marina pathway. Need some paint and a ‘slow’ sign there!

  12. Gary Yngve says:

    I cannot find any logical reason to keep Westlake Ave as 35 mph. It is roughly 1.5 miles between Aloha and Fremont Bridge. At 35 mph vs 30 mph, it shaves less than 30 seconds, which would probably be absorbed at a traffic light (maybe even a light on Westlake itself!). As a ped or cyclist trying to go between the shore side of Westlake and Dexter, or even up to Queen Anne, the options are pretty limited (few ped overpasses, that aren’t even wheelchair accessible, and long light waits). The area has a chance to become lively, but it won’t with that much difficulty traversing east-west.

    • Peri Hartman says:

      Gary, I tend to agree with you. With a speed limit of 35 and vehicles traveling 40 or even sometimes 50, it is completely unsafe to cycle on Westlake. (Sure, at times, traffic is too heavy to go that fast.)

      I think the best thing is to wait and see what happens once people get used to the new bike way. If we find that it is too congested and people are spilling into the parking lot or onto Westlake, then we should determine what to change.

      The first changes might be improving the choke points in the bike way – and better connections at the two ends. Let’s make the bike way as good as possible within its general design. If that isn’t sufficient, then I think we should approach the city and demand a reduction (and enforcement) of 30 mph on Westlake.

  13. Al Dimond says:

    Speaking of cycletracks… the ‘track along Des Moines Memorial Drive is getting a pretty significant extension this year, from 156th down to Normandy Road. I guess it will probably open before the rain starts in earnest — I was in the area a couple months ago and it was under construction.

    Between this cycletrack, off-street paths parallel to the road in North SeaTac Park, and on-street lanes north of it (even shoulder conditions south of there are pretty usable — I rode it from 200th to the new Miller Creek Trail and didn’t regret it), this is a nice route through the suburbs… unfortunately connections within Seattle aren’t so great. Bike routes between Seattle and the suburbs whose worst portions are in Seattle could be a whole big rant…

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