Don’t stop the Broadway streetcar and bikeway now

From a June 2015 SDOT/Alta presentation to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board

From a June 2015 SDOT/Alta presentation to the Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board

Today, the First Hill Streetcar and Broadway Bikeway end unceremoniously at Denny Way just before reaching the North Broadway business district. People biking are forced to choose between merging into mixed traffic on the busy commercial street, trying to navigate using side streets with poor business access and poor crossings at busy streets like John/Olive, or riding on packed sidewalks.

Not only are all these options bad for bike access to North Broadway businesses, they also undercut the usefulness of the existing stretch of the bikeway extending south to Pike/Pine, Seattle U, First Hill medical centers and Yesler Terrace.

The Broadway Bikeway will be be an incomplete bike route until the city extends it beyond Roy, as the city has planned. The project has $14 million in grant funding, and the current plan calls for the remaining $10 million to come from a local improvement district.

But the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce pushed back on the Broadway extension plans in December, according to Capitol Hill Seattle.

“If we want to see Broadway thrive … the streetcar is actually the best way to undermine that,” the Chamber’s Executive Director Sierra Hansen told CHS. Hansen singled out the bikeway for conflicting with delivery vehicles:

The design is about 90% complete, SDOT’s transit mobility director Andrew Glass Hastings said, which also includes extending the separated Broadway bikeway. As the plan is right now, Hansen said the design would negatively impact businesses.

“It would basically gut access to businesses on Broadway,” she said.

The extension plan includes removal of another handful of left turns on Broadway, restricting mobility, Hansen said. She said access for delivery trucks is a particular concern as they are already dealing with difficulties on Broadway and at times park in the bikeway to make a delivery.

“The design is seriously flawed because it limits the access of panel trucks, which are the lifeblood of these businesses,” Hansen said.

From a 2012 customer survey

From a 2012 Seattle customer survey. Even before Capitol Hill Station, the streetcar and the Broadway Bikeway opened, biking, walking and transit were already the primary ways people accessed Capitol Hill businesses.

Context as part of the city's Bicycle Master Plan.

Context as part of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.

Of course, panel trucks are not the lifeblood of businesses. Customers are. And improving access to businesses for people biking, walking and taking transit should be seen as the most vital growth strategy for a business district where relatively few customers arrive by car to battle for parking spaces.

As a part of a bold complete streets redesign of the street, the bikeway will come with extended crosswalk bulbs and islands to make getting across Broadway safer and more comfortable. Transit islands also free up sidewalk space for people walking along Broadway by giving people waiting for the bus or streetcar a space to do so.

Conflicts between deliveries and the bikeway need to be addressed, we agree. Working together, the city can surely come up with ways to make sure the necessary loading zones are available. Because while some delivery drivers park in bike lanes because they don’t care about bike lanes, others park in them because they have a job to do and there’s nowhere else to stop. This is a problem of loading zone strategy (and porous bike lane barriers), not a reason to stop building safe bike access to your business district.

Business owners wary of the bikeway should take a zoomed-out view of the bike network. A comfortable and safe bike connection on Pike and/or Pine between downtown and Broadway is among the most needed bike investments Seattle can make. Once complete (hopefully well before the streetcar extension is finished), the Broadway Bikeway will be part of a network connecting most of the city’s dense central neighborhoods right to the front doors of businesses on North Broadway.

The Broadway Bikeway that exists today is held back by the city’s piecemeal methods for building transportation infrastructure. It’s an island of bikeability that ends abruptly before serving a major destination area. But it is a central part of the future network that safe streets advocates are working hard to connect as soon as possible.

Many more people would bike to North Broadway businesses if the way there were comfortable and safe.

As for the streetcar part of the project, that was always the least-exciting part of the Broadway remake. But it sure seems silly to build it this far only to stop before serving North Broadway businesses. Plus, it would be a shame to throw away the $14 million in Federal grants the city has lined up to help remake the street.

Below is a zoomed-out overview of the plans. You can see more granular block-by-block details in our previous post about the project.

2015-02-25-northbroadway_streetcorridorplan_final

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31 Responses to Don’t stop the Broadway streetcar and bikeway now

  1. Central Districtite says:

    Can the $14 million grant be used just for walking and biking improvements?

  2. Jonathan Mark says:

    Doesn’t the bikeway+streetcar design eliminate all bike access to businesses on the west side of the street? It seems the only safe way to get there is cross at the light and walk from the nearest corner.

    This is not a big factor in the existing Broadway bikeway section because the west side is more institutional there. Although biking south to the farmers market is annoying now and some of the lollipop bike racks in front of Seattle Central have been sawed off and removed. I submitted a “find it fix it” about the bike racks; no reply yet.

    • EPLWA says:

      Isn’t it easier and safer to use the bikeway to the appropriate cross-street, dismount and walk your bike across Broadway to the business? I don’t understand why so many other cyclists are resistant to walking their bike through crowds of people or to safely cross when there’s no other option. It’s really not that much slower.

      • Jonathan Mark says:

        No. It is not easier, and there is nothing “safer” about riding the bikeway opposite the direction of traffic, and depending on car drivers to obey the “no left turn” and “no right on red” signs.

    • asdf2 says:

      “Doesn’t the bikeway+streetcar design eliminate all bike access to businesses on the west side of the street?”

      The lights are so frequent this stretch of Broadway that this is hardly a burden. And, under the status quo, it’s what you have to do anyway, when accessing west-side businesses from the northbound direction, or east-side businesses from the south-bound direction.

      • Jonathan Mark says:

        How much of a burden it is depends on the situation. Not everyone who bikes can walk easily. I sometimes experience foot troubles which make biking more reasonable then walking. Also, bikes may have extra people and possessions on board and it is reasonable to provide a safe mode of rolling to a destination rather than expect everyone to take everything and get off and walk.

        I think adding the streetcar mode is not worth creating new hazards for the small 2-wheel vehicle mode (bicycles and small mopeds).

    • Josh says:

      It doesn’t really eliminate access, it just makes it a bit less convenient, reducing the advantages of cycling over driving or walking.

      The Broadway path is only really useful as a last-few-block facility anyway; if you’re going further than that, it’s faster and safer to ride on 12th.

      When you get to the block of your actual destination, if it’s on the west side of the street, just ride between the streetcar rails for the length of the block — the lanes are laid out to clearly require the streetcar and drivers to slow to bicycle speed.

      • Molly says:

        “The Broadway path is only really useful as a last-few-block facility anyway; if you’re going further than that, it’s faster and safer to ride on 12th. ”

        edited for clarity

        “The Broadway path is only really useful as a last-few-block facility anyway; if you’re going further than that, it’s faster to ride on 12th. Sure, there are multiple injuries on 12th and I can’t let my children ride there, unlike the PBLs on Broadway, but we only need to go to the Broadway and Pike Pine areas 6 days a week, so yeah. Only the fit and the fast!”

  3. Joseph Singer says:

    Panel trucks automatically assume that the turn lane on Broadway E. is a permanently reserved parking spot for any and all deliveries and not fearing a citation from SPD.

    • Law Abider says:

      It’s annoying, but I don’t think there are many alternates. A lot of businesses on Broadway don’t have dedicated loading areas. It’s pretty much the de facto standard in denser cities, whether de jure or not.

      • Eric says:

        Its not as though there is anywhere for someone to turn into from the turn lane along most of Broadway anyway. The only other use for it, apart from being a loading zone, is as a two-way passing lane.

      • Chengtao says:

        No, you can’t legally pass other vehicles using the turn lane.

  4. Eli says:

    As someone who spent a fortune to buy a home to be two blocks from the Broadway bike lane, streetcar, and light rail — all I can say is — I’m glad that at least Sound Transit delivered useful infrastructure.

    Otherwise, I would have wasted a ton of money to live near a pretend protected bike lane (with unprotected intersections, where drivers turning with you in their blind spots), and a street car that’s so slow I’ll never ride it again.

    My favorite trip on the streetcar (which I rode a few times to show friends, none of whom have ever used it again) was watching an elderly man apologize to his elderly female partner for taking her on such a slow, useless train. He asked her if she would prefer getting off and walking.

    I think Sierra is 100% correct. SDOT shouldn’t get one more dime to waste on this project until after they’ve retrofitted what they’ve already built to deliver on expectations. If that’s even possible.

    The burden is entirely on them to deliver a high-quality infrastructure product — not on us to shower them with money for them to continually mismanage.

    • RossB says:

      Sound Transit also paid for the streetcar, as mitigation for losing the First Hill light rail station. So Sound Transit delivered some useful infrastructure, just not as useful as it should have been.

  5. Al Dimond says:

    The geometric problem with the streetcar extension is that when you create a route up and down Broadway you’d really like to extend it all the way to the U District. That’s true on bike, on foot, on transit, in a car, hanging from a drone, whatever. Extend the streetcar to Aloha or not, it’s still a megaproject removed from that overall vision (a vision where transit mobility isn’t improved much over the 49 bus anyway). Extend the cycletrack to Aloha and it’s only a couple blocks from existing bike lanes (even if they’re not the best ones). Add in the general skepticism among many Seattle transit advocates for streetcars and the general enthusiasm for PBLs among many Seattle bike advocates and you get a streetcar project only cyclists really want.

    Alas, the part that the Chamber really objects to is the cycletrack part. We’d be at an impasse with any design — we want a bike lane that can’t be blocked by motor vehicles, they don’t want any street space where you can’t stop a truck. It’s hard to say what a good compromise would look like there.

    • (Another) Tom says:

      “a streetcar project only cyclists really want.”

      You mean a subway?

      Seriously though, while I do think it makes sense for the streetcar to extend to the end of the business district if it is going to exist at all I do not feel it is appropriate to advocate for any new streetcar tracks which are a known, potentially deadly hazard to cyclists.

      • Tom Fucoloro says:

        My goal is extending the bike lanes to the end of the commercial stretch of Broadway (starting a two-way bikeway halfway down a street the way it is today is just nonsense) and extending the complete street elements with it. The streetcar has Federal funding, and it would make sense to at least end it at Roy since we already built it this far. But if the streetcar extension has lost its supporters, I’m not here to take their place. My concerns about streetcars are well-documented.

        But if there is an organized and realistic effort to complete the walking, biking and transit island (for the 49) parts of the plan without the streetcar, I’d also support that. So far, I haven’t heard any official or organized effort to do that. If Hansen and the Chamber don’t want the streetcar, they could support a bikeway and complete streets project instead. But their current opposition called out the bikeway as the problem, which is not OK.

        Hell, maybe the Trump admin will pull the streetcar funding anyway, which would end this debate for us. His Transpo pick suggested this possibility today: https://twitter.com/schmangee/status/819219105588846593

  6. Tim says:

    Isn’t this just an argument to extend the Broadway bikeway and not the badly designed streetcar? It makes some sense to extend the bikeway, but the streetcar has been done so badly here that any plans to use a similar design get a no vote from me.

  7. Joe says:

    Bikeway extension to Aloha – then greenstreet/bikeway down Federal to the new 520 Portage Bay bridge — that would be a huge step towards having an actual bike network that people could use safely.

  8. Kimberly Kinchen says:

    There is plenty of street parking that could be converted to loading zones along Broadway. The presence of the Link station and the influx of new residents once the TOD is built above it should be plenty to offset any concerns about loss of business, which are dubious at best.

  9. Kevin says:

    Deliveries could also be time shared similar to Pike Place Market. A large amount of the on street parking could be Truck Load zones between 7:00 and 9:00 AM, then be regular metered parking for the rest of the day. Most delivery drivers prefer to get their run done as early as possible. Truckers also need to realize that a bike lane is a right of way the same as a traffic lane, also better barriers would help make the point.

    • Kevin says:

      Also +1 for Tom making the point that the lifeblood of business is customers not trucks. Without the customers there is no need for the trucks. Designing the street for optimal customer experience is the best way to drive more business.

  10. Don Brubeck says:

    I think it would help arrive at solutions that work for businesses and for people riding bikes if people riding bikes would take a more tolerant, less privileged, view of what it is like to live and run businesses in the kind of dense urban neighborhoods they claim to like. When businesses and SDOT get whiny tweets complete with pictures of every van that ever stops in or near a bike lane, what message does that send about cyclists’ appreciation for the real needs of those businesses? Is it any wonder they become adversaries instead of allies? The lifeblood of businesses is deliveries at one end, and customers at the other end. Can’t have one without the other, and some hassles on crowed streets with lots of competing needs for curb space should just be chalked up to “life in the big city”.

    • Joseph Singer says:

      So, you’re saying that it’s perfectly fine for delivery trucks to park obstructing a bike lane?

      • Al Dimond says:

        That’s sort of how it works in some European cities… but in the pictures I’ve seen the bike lane is at sidewalk-level, the delivery trucks park halfway up the curb, and bikes and pedestrians share the sidewalk for a bit. On, say, most of Dexter (a street with a popular “on-street” bike lane that’s frequently obstructed one way or another) you have to merge with car traffic, which is a little worse. On Broadway, or on newer parts of Roosevelt and Dexter, if a vehicle blocks the bike lane there’s really nowhere to go.

        On streets like Dexter I draw the line between goods and people. Delivery vehicles and garbage pickup don’t have better options on some blocks, and the workers are carrying heavy stuff all day. Downtown they’d have more loading zones and alleys available, but out in the neighborhoods the city leaves all the curb space for unrestricted parking. Taxis, carpool pickups, and shuttle vans should find somewhere else. With the exception of vans for people that really need to be picked up as close to the door as possible…

        And that’s one of the things that’s frustrating about Broadway. I’ve seen wheelchair pickup vans blocking the cycletrack. There’s no good way to bike around, but there’s also no good place for the driver to make that pickup (cross-streets are really steep, tough to navigate in a wheelchair). The solution for the UW clinic on Roosevelt was better: they made a curbside space just for these sorts of pickups and moved over the bike lane. The bike lane looks uncomfortably narrow there, but usually the loading space is empty. When it’s occupied, of course cyclists should be slowing down.

      • Eli says:

        In the Netherlands, it was not uncommon to see bike lanes obstructed by cars — when the main traffic lanes are going 18 mph max, it’s just not a big imposition.

      • Al Dimond says:

        If we aren’t trying to send through-traffic down major commercial streets then we can set up streets like Pike Place, which gets by with cars running down the middle the way lots of pre-auto-age commercial streets do.

        That’s a little less natural on Broadway than on Pike Place or even The Ave because it’s directly connected to the main route across 520. But an “everyone gets along at slow speeds” street like that would be fine if we really did a good job of diverting through-traffic that can use 15th off at Boston, and that can use 12th off at Aloha. Of course, 12th and 15th have their districts where traffic needs to slow down, too…

  11. Don_Brubeck says:

    I am saying what Eli says. Not “perfectly fine”. Just that life will not be “perfect” in a city. It will be messy. Try to make it better, but roll with it.

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