Aurora Ave could still get a Stay Healthy Street, design documents confirm

A proposal to convert the curbside lane of northbound Aurora Ave N alongside Green Lake Park into walking, biking, and rolling space in the form of a Stay Healthy Street is still under active consideration by SDOT and WSDOT, Seattle Bike Blog has learned. This stretch of road doesn’t have any sidewalks, just a dirt path next to fast-moving traffic along Aurora. The inner loop at Green Lake Park is currently restricted to people walking in one direction, with people riding bikes currently not allowed. Repurposing a lane of this short segment of Aurora, which is underutilized, would add another accessible route around Green Lake and really the only way for people biking to get around this segment of the lake.

SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson told Seattle Bike Blog: “SDOT and WSDOT are continuing to consider the opportunity to create a larger Stay Healthy Street near Green Lake Park. Considerations include COVID-19 recovery and vaccination rates, traffic calming solutions, and funding availability.”

Dirt road with a puddle with tire tracks next to three lane Aurora with median obscuring the other three travel lanes.

Current condition of the dirt path around Green Lake along Aurora Ave.

Draft plans for the closure that were created last Summer obtained by a records request show just how far along the proposal has come to becoming reality. They show a water-filled barrier protecting the curbside lane on northbound Aurora, connecting West Green Lake Drive N with West Green Lake Way N.

Blueprint showing walk bike and rolling lane on Aurora

Barriers on Aurora protected bike walk and roll lane

Walk bike and roll lane on Aurora protected by barriers

On the south end, this lane would connect with the existing Keep Moving Street that has been in place along the southwest corner of the lake since last year. Last month, SDOT announced that they would be adjusting that street to reopen West Green Lake Way to vehicle traffic southbound to provide access to parking lots, while keeping the northbound lane for people walking, biking, and rolling. This change hasn’t been made yet, but has been promised soon.

Street closed sign in front of two lane road

The Green Lake Keep Moving Street, due to reopen to vehicle traffic in one direction.

At the north end, the barriers would end a short distance from Aurora, with the entire stretch of West Green Lake Drive between Aurora and Winona Ave N closed to through traffic like a Stay Healthy Street, with ADA access to the parking lot on that stretch still maintained.

 

Barriers stop shortly after Aurora Ave on Green Lake Drive northbound

Winona Ave and Green Lake Drive with signage blocking the south part of Green Lake Drive

If all of that’s confusing (because it is) hopefully this map can help clarify the segments depicted here. You can see the full plans from this post here.

Three segments around the lake as described in the article.

What’s being considered or actually happening along each stretch around Green Lake.

The long-anticipated protected bike lanes around the east side of Green Lake are scheduled to be completed this year. If this proposal were approved, people biking would have a nearly completely protected route around the entire lake. Whether this idea for the west side of the lake is just a pandemic experiment, or a good idea that never sees the light of day remains to be seen.

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Changes at Rainier and MLK coming in 2022, but what’s next for Accessible Mount Baker?

As the Seattle Department of Transportation moves ahead with designing a planned protected bike lane between Mount Baker light rail station and the planned Judkins Park light rail station on MLK Jr Way S, with the bike lane planned to be completed close to the station’s grand opening in 2023, we now know that pedestrian improvements at one of Seattle’s most dangerous intersections along that route are planned to go in next year.

Those improvements around Rainier Ave and MLK Way are the result of a small allocation of Move Seattle Levy dollars earmarked for Accessible Mount Baker. $6 million was reserved for “near-term improvements”, which in this case are coming during the sixth year of the levy. Two people were killed at this intersection in 2020, and one person was killed in 2019, pointing to a level of urgency at this spot.

Rainier and MLK Intersection with missing crosswalks on two legs

The biggest improvement planned is the installation of marked crosswalks along the two legs of the MLK/Rainier intersection where they are currently missing. The not-fully-accessible bike and pedestrian overpass will still be there, but crossing at-grade in any direction will become an option. Crosswalks will be wider, sidewalks extended in some areas and repaired in others. A no-right-on-red restriction will be added for vehicles turning from Rainier onto MLK northbound, which will protect people biking if it’s not counteracted by the street’s design.

Four crosswalks, new curb ramps, and green crossbike markings

Early diagram showing upgrades at MLK and Rainier, with four crosswalks and bike crossings.

Text reading Widen the Sidewalks and repair the sidewalk in sections with enlarged sidewalk on Rainier at MLK

This intersection is going to be the south end of the protected bike lane on MLK when it’s complete in 2023 and the increased pedestrian space here will help people biking transition to where they want to go next. In the future, the bike lanes may continue south on MLK. Funding to study a possible extension to S Henderson Street was included in this year’s budget.

One possible near-term improvement that SDOT eliminated from contention was the conversion of the northern traffic lanes on Mount Baker boulevard to walk and bike space. With a wide boulevard median already in place this would have been a very cost-effective way to create more space for biking. This improvement was one aspect of the larger vision for Accessible Mount Baker, so maybe it can come back at some point.

Bike lanes and a walking lane in one lane of the historic Mount Baker Boulevard

Turning part of Mount Baker Boulevard into a walk bike lane was eliminated from the project last year.

So what’s next for the Accessible Mount Baker vision? The fate of the Mount Baker Transit Center will in large part determine the answer to that question, but even a concept study on its relocation is paused due to reduced revenue. SDOT”s Ethan Bergerson told me last week that it “still a priority to start again when we have more funding”.

SDOT is applying for a grant from the Puget Sound Regional Council to use toward the MLK Protected Bike Lane project. If that grant were to come through, that could free up more money for improvements here. But nickel and diming improvements here won’t achieve the larger vision for Accessible Mount Baker, which is really a placemaking project with a lot of beneficial transportation improvements included: making the car-oriented area around Mount Baker Station more pleasant for everyone. The $24 million price tag attached to the entire project in 2015 is surely much higher now but it looks like most of the vision will have to wait for the next transportation levy.

 

The bow-tie concept that mostly separates Rainier and MLK with public space created out of street space

The Accessible Mount Baker concept: still game changing and just out of reach.

Seattle is embarking on an ambitious plan to build a lot of much-needed social housing around Mount Baker Station. Sound Transit land in the area can be combined with the UW Laundry site, now under City ownership, presenting a truly unique opportunity to create transit-oriented public housing in Seattle. These projects were not fully in view when Accessible Mount Baker was being developed, but they make the vision even more important to realize.

Map of station area with all land between the station and 25th Ave S as under consideration for housing

City owned properties that could see public housing under the plan moving forward.

The Office of Housing has a survey up through this Wednesday (March 3) on what your goals and priorities are for the sites eyed for redevelopment. If we get this right, it could be huge.

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Lower speed limits on state highways through city proposed by Seattle

Update (3/1): SDOT has confirmed speed limit changes on Aurora and other corridors is expected in 2021 pending approval from WSDOT. The post has been updated below with comment from the department.

Late last year, the Seattle Department of Transportation proposed a plan to reduce speeds on most of the highways within the city of Seattle that fall under the jurisdiction of the state of Washington. The proposal, obtained by Seattle Bike Blog via a records request, if fully implemented, would ultimately leave very few remaining stretches of highway through the city with a speed limit above 30 mile per hour.

This move follows an announcement in fall of 2019 that the City of Seattle would be moving to adjust speed limits on most arterial streets to 25 mph. As of January, the department said that nearly 75% of arterials are currently posted as 25 mph. But WSDOT corridors like Aurora Ave and former WSDOT corridors like Rainier Ave see a huge share of Seattle’s serious traffic injuries and fatalities. SDOT’s proposal to WSDOT notes there were 53 serious injuries or fatalities on Aurora Avenue resulting from collisions between 2015 and 2019 and 595 injuries that weren’t determined to be severe in the same timeframe. Aurora Ave remains a public health crisis.

The first phase of speed limit reductions would implement a 30 mph speed limit on Aurora Ave N north of Green Lake. Currently that stretch has segments where the limit is 40 mph and segments where it’s 35. The speed limit along 145th St would be lowered to match this speed, as well as the northern segment of Lake City Way. Between 115th and 130th on Lake City Way, in the heart of Lake City, the limit would drop to 25mph matching Seattle’s other arterials. Sand Point Way south of NE 65th St would drop from 35 to 30 mph; north of there SDOT has already implemented a 25 mph limit.

Map of proposed changes as described in the article

SDOT’s proposal for the first phase of lowering speed limits on WSDOT corridors on the north end of Seattle. (Click to enlarge)

South of downtown, East Marginal Way between Spokane Street and the 1st Ave S bridge would go from 35 to 30 mph and a very short segment of Highland Park Way/SR-99 over 1st Ave S would drop from 35 mph to 25 mph.

Map of proposed changes as described in the article

SDOT’s proposal for the first phase of lowering speed limits on WSDOT corridors on the south end of Seattle. (Click to enlarge)

The second phase would lower speeds on the remaining stretch of Aurora south of Green Lake from 40 mph to 35 mph. This is the stretch of Aurora that SDOT’s data shows the most people currently drive at speeds significantly above the limit. The remainder of Lake City Way south of 115th would drop from 35 to 30 mph, and Montlake Boulevard around the ship canal would drop from 30 to 25 mph.

Map of proposed changes as described in the article

SDOT’s proposal for the second phase of lowering speed limits on WSDOT corridors on the north end of Seattle. (Click to enlarge)

The remaining change south of downtown in phase 2 would be a reduction on East Marginal Way south of the 1st Ave S bridge in Georgetown from 45 to 35 mph. This is the segment where SDOT is currently planning to add a grade-separated segment of the Georgetown to South Park trail. A stretch of 1st Ave S over SR-509 in South Park without any sidewalks would drop to 30 mph.

Map of proposed changes as described in the article

SDOT’s proposal for the second phase of lowering speed limits on WSDOT corridors on the south end of Seattle. (Click to enlarge)

The chart below lays out the different limits proposed for each phase alongside the existing speed limit:

Full chart of speed limit changes as described

SDOT’s full proposal for lowering speed limits on WSDOT corridors, in two phases. (Click to enlarge)

Speed limit changes alone aren’t enough to achieve all of our desired safety outcomes, but SDOT notes that “We’re seeing that speed limit signs alone can improve public safety, even without changes in enforcement or urban design. This finding is important because enforcement disproportionately impacts Black people and other people of color”. Increased police enforcement of speed limits doesn’t appear to be on the table here, rightfully.

The proposal includes data collected on vehicle speeds on these WSDOT corridors, including the difference between posted speed and the median speed (50th percentile), the speed at which half the drivers are driving below. Below are the WSDOT corridors with the biggest difference; most of the segments at the top of the list are proposed to see lower posted speeds in phase 2 as SDOT collects more “before/after” data. This list shows segments where the street design may be playing a larger role in current vehicle speeds than posted speed limit signs.

Two segments of Aurora at the top of the chart, followed by Lake City Way and SR-509 and then Aurora again.

Difference between median speed and posted speed limit, in miles per hour, WSDOT corridors in Seattle.

The proposal does list a few engineering strategies that SDOT is moving ahead with to pair with reduced speed limits, including traffic signal timing changes to reflect the new speed limits, as well as incorporating the new speed limits into any new project designs: design speeds can influence how lane lines are painted. But the primary one listed was increased signage: SDOT’s policy would add signs at every arterial crossing as well as every 1/4 mile: if a driver is going 25 mph they would encounter a speed limit sign every 36 seconds.

Illustration showing one arterial bisected three times with a multitude of signs every 1,000 feet or so.

Illustration of SDOT’s updated speed limit sign placement policy.

SDOT did not provide answers to questions from Seattle Bike Blog about any known current implementation schedule for this proposal or details about how the proposal was received at the Washington State Department of Transportation; we hope to update the post with more information as we get it. Update: SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson tells us that “we are planning for an initial reduction in speed limits on Aurora and other state routes in 2021. We must wait for the official approval from WSDOT, which is expected in the coming months. We will continue our partnership working towards lower speed limits into the future”.

Bergerson also told us, “Setting corridor speed limits is an important part of our larger Vision Zero strategy. Posting lower speed limits and more frequent signage follows NACTO best practices and has led to lower speeds and fewer crashes in other Seattle neighborhoods. These speed limit reductions open the door for further design changes described above and will be accompanied by signal timing changes and speed limits reductions occurring throughout Seattle.  We expect this comprehensive approach to safety will influence driver behavior and lead to safer speeds.”

Initial data on Seattle’s first set of speed limit reductions, recorded before the pandemic caused traffic volumes to plummet, showed an overall reduction in crashes of 22%. These case studies were all on arterials in North Seattle, and none of them were high-crash corridors, but so far the data is promising. Implementing lower speed limits on the WSDOT-controlled corridors through the city will be key, though, and now we know just how far along the city is in proposing those changes.

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Your Voice, Your Choice program to spend 2021 catching up

For a second year in a row, the Your Voice, Your Choice participatory budgeting program that awards funds for small street and park improvement projects will not be conducting any process to fund new projects in 2021. Last week the Department of Neighborhoods, which administers the program, announced that instead the Your Voice Your Choice team will be focusing on “ensuring that we keep our promise to the community by channeling all remaining funds to Seattle Department of Transportation and Seattle Parks and Recreation to implement previously awarded projects, particularly those in our most vulnerable communities (Equity & Environment Initiative Focus Areas)”.

The Your Voice Your Choice program is one of the only avenues that exist to allow community suggestions on improvements to make streets safer or parks more accessible, in the case of streets, outside the normal SDOT prioritization process.

According to Shaquan Smith, Participatory Budget Advisor at the Department of Neighborhoods, the backlog primarily consists of 22 projects that were originally selected by community in 2019. We do know of some 2018 projects that are left to be completed, though. For example, a new crosswalk being added at 14th Ave E and E Aloha Street near Volunteer Park required coordination with Seattle City Light in 2020 and is still not in place.

Asphalt trail connecting Rainier Ave to the existing trail

This recently installed trail connection at Rainier Ave and the Mountains to Sound trail was a 2018 Your Voice Your Choice project

Per Smith, “​Due to COVID, the original $2 million that was meant to go towards the 22 awarded projects in 2019 was cut in half”, hence the city is having to use the 2021 Your Voice Your Choice budget to complete the existing backlog. Smith also cited unforeseen design and construction issues, coordination with other projects, departments, and/or agencies, and delays related to crew bandwidth which increases the costs of labor and materials as contributing to delay.

We are seeing projects get completed around the city, like the curb extensions recently installed in Queen Anne at the crosswalk at Taylor Ave N and Galer Street, tweeted by Lee Pyne-Mercier:

You can check the Your Voice Your Choice implementation page to see which projects in your neighborhood are in the backlog.

“​If there are no other delays, the goal is to complete most of the backlogged projects by the end of 2021 with very few being carried over to 2022. This will allow the program to be able to restart an official new cycle of new projects that year,” Smith said.

In 2018, the program was criticized for not including a broad enough array of voices in the project selection and voting stages. In 2019, more than 6,500 people voted on projects, or less than 1% of the city’s population, after attempts to broaden participation were made, including adding more paper ballots at Seattle Public Library branches. In 2019, they also allocated an extra amount of money to be available in the City’s “Equity and Environment Initiative Focus Areas”, where they would benefit underserved populations.

The Department of Neighborhoods now says they will be spending 2021 “restructuring the YVYC program to better meet the immediate needs of Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) communities who have been most impacted by COVID-19″.

2021 is also the year that SDOT will be completing the Neighborhood Street Fund projects, which are fewer in number and larger in scope, and which you can read about here.

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After years of delay, improvements coming to 15th Ave S & S Columbian Way intersection

Later this year, the Seattle Department of Transportation is set to complete improvements that will make it easier to bike through one of Beacon Hill’s trickiest intersections. The changes planned at 15th Ave S and S Columbian Way come three years after the department was originally scheduled to implement a much bolder reconfiguration of the intersection here, but that iteration of the project was cancelled after local opposition.

SDOT is repaving a stretch of 15th Ave S, from Spokane to Angeline Streets. Most of the street here is two lanes in both directions without much street parking, and isn’t getting any additional space for bikes. This is unfortunate, as there’s plenty of room and no parking to fight over. Traffic volumes from SDOT’s last citywide volume report show similar vehicle volumes on 15th Ave S as on the segment of Rainier Ave S which has been converted to one lane in each direction with a center turn lane. It also has very similar volumes to S Spokane Street, also getting repaved here, which already has one lane in each direction with painted bike lanes.

Map of 15th Ave S from Spokane to Angeline Street as highlighted

Map of planned repaving and intersection improvements on 15th Ave S.

SDOT is currently planning an all-ages bike route across Beacon Hill for 2023, and currently plans to route people biking onto Beacon Ave in this area. But on the north end of the hill, advocates are pushing for the protected bike lane to be routed onto 15th Ave. At the south end of Beacon Hill, SDOT already installed bike facilities on Swift Ave, which is what 15th Ave turns into. 15th Ave will continue to make sense as a bike corridor and an opportunity was missed here.

One very wide curved street meeting another one going north south with vast space where they connect

Arial view of the current configuration of 15th and Columbian Way.

As for the improvements at 15th Ave and Columbian Way, the plan that would have been implemented in 2018 directed all southbound traffic onto the curve of Columbian Way, with drivers wanting to continue on 15th having to make a right turn. This would have dramatically reduced the size of the massive intersection. A second crosswalk across the intersection from the middle school was to be added. A public plaza would have been created out of the excess street space, with space for people biking to get through the intersection via the crosswalks.

Original design for the intersection described in the article.

The original design funded and scheduled to be installed in 2018.

The design now planned maintains one through lane on southbound 15th Ave S, doesn’t add any additional pedestrian crossings, and doesn’t include any space for people biking northbound from Columbian Way. But it does add a protected bike lane on southbound 15th Ave S by moving the parking in this stretch next to the travel lane. That protected bike lane starts very slightly out of frame at the top of the following image.

Improvements planned this year as described in the article

The planned 2021 improvements to 15th and Columbian. (Click to enlarge)

On the south side of Oregon on 15th Ave, people biking will share space at bus stops with people entering and exiting buses, matching similar designs seen recently on NE 65th Street and 12th Ave S. Southbound, the bike lane disappears very shortly after the bus stop, making its utility questionable. Northbound, the bike lane extends nearly two blocks down to S Angeline Street, the street where the Chief Sealth trail terminates. But at Oregon street, people riding northbound are dumped onto the sidewalk.

Two bus stops south of Oregon with loading space for buses and bike lanes existing in the same space

Bike space mixes with bus loading zones south of Oregon Street at 15th and Columbian.

Though the original redesign here was approved in 2016, improvements at this intersection date to at least 2008, when a reconfiguration very similar to the one proposed was suggested in an SDOT commissioned study, the Southeast Transportation Study.

Sketch of street redesign similar to the 2018 planned improvements described above

Proposed redesign for 15th and Columbian from 2008.

With the project going in now, after years of delay, with most of the changes proposed along the way discarded, is a testament to just how much of an uphill battle it is to redistribute essentially any current street space allocated to vehicles.

During the last full Seattle Public Schools school year (2018-2019), the southbound school zone speeding camera on 15th Ave S was the most active single camera in SDOT’s school camera arsenal. Over 800 tickets were issued on average per month during the course of the year, 8,012 in total, underlining just how much this intersection redesign is ultimately a school safety project. It’s also likely there would be zero changes happening here if not for the advocacy of groups like Beacon Hill Safe Streets, despite existing plans here on the books. The changes here are clearly hard-won, and should have an impact.

This weekend and next weekend, SDOT will be closing Columbian Way immediately south of 15th Ave S. Traffic will be detoured via Snoqualmie Street and 15th Ave S. You can read more about the planned improvements here.

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Georgetown residents push to get a downtown bike connection back into plans

A group of community leaders and residents of the Georgetown neighborhood have sent a letter this week to SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe asking the department to “re-engage” on the issue of creating a dedicated bicycle connection between the neighborhood and the rest of the city via downtown Seattle. The letter cites systemic issues facing Georgetown that are not specifically related to the closure of the West Seattle bridge in March of last year, which has led to an increase of traffic diversion through the neighborhood and an increased focus on the transportation needs of the Duwamish valley. From the letter:

Access to services outside our neighborhood remains a challenge. We do not have direct access to Rapid Ride, and our regular bus service is limited in destinations and times for essential services. Georgetown is not within a walk-shed of a light rail stop and we do not have shuttle service to the nearest station. Bike connectivity is dangerous for anyone who is not a seasoned rider outfitted with the experience and equipment to share routes with cars and freight in substandard conditions, which does not accommodate all abilities. While the bike link between Georgetown and South Park has been a very important and necessary project for which the community has advocated for years, we would like to re-engage on the crucial bike connectivity for Georgetown with the rest of the city, as funding for transit remains a challenge.

A feasibility study on a Georgetown to Downtown all-ages bike route was one of the projects that SDOT “paused” in 2020 due to budget impacts caused by the COVID-19 crisis. Funding allocated to plan for an extension to the existing multiuse trail in SoDo was also paused at the same time. Last fall, the city council restored funding for planning for the Georgetown to Downtown connection as part of the 2021 budget.

The planned trail between Georgetown and South Park is moving forward more quickly, with the city council also allocating construction funding for this project in the 2021 budget. SDOT is continuing design work on the trail so we should have more details on this in the coming months. Completing this trail will connect Georgetown to West Seattle and downtown via the Duwamish trail via South Park- if the final gap on Marginal is completed- but this route adds much more time than a direct connection via SoDo would.

Connection on Albro, Ellis, East Marginal, and 14th Ave S.

Proposed Georgetown to South Park trail route

Jon Persak, one of the signatories on the letter and a member of the West Seattle Bridge Community Taskforce, spoke on the subject of SDOT’s design to finally connect the Duwamish trail on West Marginal at a taskforce meeting last week, saying that he feels the conflict over road space on Marginal Way will “suck the air out of the room for other neighborhoods who are trying to get their needs met in terms of bike connectivity to the rest of Seattle”. Peaches Thomas of Duwamish Valley Safe Streets, another signatory, has joined West Seattle Bike Connections in supporting the trail connection.

The primary connections between Georgetown and Downtown as envisioned on the Bicycle Master Plan are Airport Way and East Marginal Way S.

Major connections: East Marginal, Airport Way, Ellis

Georgetown’s connections and envisioned in the Bicycle Master Plan.

Completing the Georgetown to South Park trail as currently planned will create a safe place to bike along East Marginal Way, but extending this connection further north as envisioned in the Bicycle Master Plan will be a heavier lift. SDOT is moving forward with improvements that will significantly improve East Marginal north of the West Seattle bridge but further south proposed improvements are minimal. “Removing a motor vehicle lane was not recommended”, per SDOT’s website, and making the basic sidewalk improvements that are recommended is not even funded at this point.

Unfunded plans on the south end of East Marginal Way show minimal improvements.

A protected bike lane on Airport Way has appeared on ambitious bike lane plans before, most recently in 2015, but the last time it was proposed, the project did not ultimately move forward due to a concern over the need for large numbers of vehicles needing to use Airport Way as an I-5 alternative in an emergency, so this too seems like a heavy lift.

The only other streets that fully connect Georgetown to SoDo are 1st Ave S and and 4th Ave S. Both of the existing bridges over the train tracks between those neighborhoods are coming under increased scrutiny due to seismic vulnerabilities that will cost a lot (!) of money to fix. Northbound traffic on the 4th Ave S bridge has already been reduced to one lane to reduce further deterioration.

As the letter notes, “…Georgetown is historically often passed over for critical needs”. Most of the construction funding for bike facilities through the end of the Move Seattle levy in 2024 is accounted for, but if planning work was prioritized for a Georgetown to Downtown bike lane, completing this very needed connection could become a reality. It is absolutely a connection that needs to happen as soon as possible.

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King County expected to examine helmet law as Cascade Bicycle Club supports repeal UPDATED

Correction: the data compiled by Ethan Campbell of Central Seattle Greenways has been updated after further analysis of the citations issued revealed a number of duplicates. The overall summary of the information has not significantly changed.

The King County Board of Health is likely to add a review of the county’s bicycle helmet requirement to its 2021 workplan today at its monthly meeting. This move comes after the Cascade Bicycle Club, nation’s largest statewide bicycle nonprofit, formally announced earlier this month that they are in support of repealing the law requiring bike riders in the state’s largest county to wear helmets.

Cascade’s Tamar Shuhendler told me that the bicycle club sees a responsibility to reexamine its decision on the helmet law, as one of the organizations that originally had supported a King County helmet law. When I asked her about the reaction in the cycling community to the club coming out for repeal, she acknowledged the diversity of opinion on the issue, saying Cascade “welcomes as much community input as we can possibly get”, in advance of any final action on the law.

King County Councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles announced she would introduce the amendment to the workplan earlier this month. “The current helmet laws in place are clearly having a disparate and negative impact on our most vulnerable neighbors and I agree that the enforcement of this law is not being applied fairly,” Kohl-Welles wrote in an email sent to her constituents. The amendment is expected to pass. UPDATE: It passed, unanimously.

The impetus for reviewing the law now is largely driven by new information around the disproportionate impact of the law. In December, Crosscut’s David Kroman published data showing that nearly half of the helmet law citations given in the City of Seattle since 2017 went to people experiencing homelessness, a vast chasm of disproportionality that illustrates how the law is being misused.

Last November, video captured Seattle Police mockingReal Change vendor who had just been involved in a traffic collision. The person was cited for not wearing a helmet, bringing home just how this law is used as a cudgel against people experiencing homelessness.

Last year, Central Seattle Greenways convened a Helmet Law Working Group with Cascade and Real Change. CSG member Ethan C. Campbell analyzed data on 1,667 helmet citations in Seattle and found that Black people made up over 17% of the tickets issued despite making up 8% of Seattle’s population. A similar disproportionality was found with other bicycle-related infractions, not just helmet law violations, pointing to more work to be done around the issue of enforcement.

Big discrepancy between citation rates between Black, Native American and white or asian/pacific islander people

Data obtained by SPD on bicycle related infractions reveals a stark disproportionality.

Tacoma repealed its helmet law last year, stating in the text of the ordinance that it would “reduce the likelihood of unnecessary enforcement actions”, citing lessons learned during the bike and scooter share rollout there.

In 2013, the Centers for Disease Control and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration announced they would no longer promote the conclusion that bicycle helmets reduce head injury rates by 85 percent in light of meta-analyses of similar studies that found lower and inconclusive results, a fact that comes from a 1989 study that drove many municipalities around the country to pass helmet laws in the early 1990s. But advocacy organizations stayed away from advocating for full repeal of the laws on the books.

Seattle’s bike share goldrush resurfaced the issue several years ago but there was little momentum for repeal. It took an increased awareness around the issue of selective enforcement to finally push the issue back to the forefront. What’s left to be seen is whether a shift in the Public Health community around the issue has also occurred enough to affirmatively support repeal.

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What’s the deal with BIRT? A conversation

Last fall, SDOT released a report on the future of transportation in the vicinity of Interbay and Ballard. The result, the Ballard-Interbay Regional Transportation System (BIRT) report, focused on the big topics of what to do about the Magnolia and Ballard bridges, both on a timeline to replacement, but it also looked at the projects needed to better enable to get around the area without a car, of which there are many.

There are so many moving pieces around what happens next, we got a few people who have been following the topic closely together and talked about what the BIRT report means and what its impact is likely to be. The discussion ended up venturing into a larger discussion about transportation and land use in Seattle.

In the conversation:

Laura Loe is a NW Queen Anne Renter, a Magnolia P-Patch gardener, and has nervously ridden a bike less than two dozen times. 

Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking of tasks around Ballard. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with souptonuts experience in planning and law. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.

Mark Ostrow once had a long conversation with Bobby McFerrin at a brasserie in Paris. His tweets, which are legendary, can be found at @qagreenways.

The conversation has been edited for clarity and for length.

Seattle Bike Blog: So, I just want to ask this group what BIRT is, as an introductory question.

Ray: BIRT is…

Laura: A blank check for climate destruction.

Ray: Yeah, exactly.

Laura: It’s a blank check for climate destruction!

Ray: BIRT is a study that the state mandated in 2019 that took an entire year for the City of Seattle to write…

Laura: And it was seven hundred thousand dollars.

Ray: And in that year they left out parts of Interbay in order to support rebuilding two billion dollar bridges, so a total of two billion dollars worth of bridges, and not taking into account all of the other parts of the infrastructure equation that are in Interbay, such as rail, bikes, pedestrians, transit.

There are some very cute accessory things that go along with those two billion dollar bridges that they call pedestrian infrastructure. But really, it is bending pedestrian infrastructure and transit infrastructure to the service of these giant highways running through the city.

Mark: Yeah, it’s really clear that the highway is the main part of what they’re trying to build there. Anytime you look at pedestrian infrastructure or bike infrastructure, it always just winds around the car stuff like a pretzel.

Laura: So I think your readers should understand who’s in control here. The people that are in control are the BNSF [railroad], the Ports, the maritime industry and the freight industry. They have the power in this region. So it’s not a normal conversation about, like, the Roosevelt protected bike lane. We are dealing with forces way different than a Roosevelt protected bike lane situation. You’re dealing with national freight companies, national railway, ports. Ports have so much power, so much power to shape this.

And so all those forces are so big in comparison with just a little ant walking over the Emerson interchange or a little ant walking over Dravus [Street] or a little bike rider crossing the Ballard bridge and having to do this weavy-ass stupid thing to get to the other side. Like we are so minimized in the economic forces, the capitalist forces, not to make this about capitalism, but this is about the ports and the maritime industry and the freight industry wanting not one thing that will slow their economic engines.

Mark: Yeah, I mean, not just that, but the military as well. They were mandated to be major stakeholders in this entire process. So it’s kind of the capitalist military industrial complex. And we’re just trying to cross the bridge, you know, to get to a brewery. And I think that we’re way the heck down the list of priorities.

Laura: The little chicken is trying to cross the road.

Continue reading

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Green Lake Keep Moving Street to shrink by half as southbound lane reopens

As early as next week, the Keep Moving Street in place on a portion of West Green Lake Way N, allowing space for people to more comfortably walk, bike, and roll apart from vehicles, will shrink by half as the Seattle Department of Transportation reopens its southbound lane to vehicle traffic. According to SDOT, this change is being made to allow people driving to access both the parking lot at the Green Lake Park tennis court and the Lower Woodland Park off-leash area parking lot.

This Keep Moving Street was the second most utilized open street in 2020 on a per-mile basis according to SDOT’s data, second only to Beach Drive in West Seattle. SDOT will be installing barriers to separate the newly reopened travel lane from the lane devoted to walking rolling and biking, but we don’t yet know what kind of barriers those will be.

Green line connecting East Green Lake Way N with N 63rd Street between Woodland Park and Green Lake Park.

Map showing the Keep Moving Street at Green Lake.

Scaling down the Stay Healthy Street to restore access to parking will be frustrating to many who have enjoyed it, but hopefully this opens up an avenue to its conversion into a long-term facility. Later this year, SDOT will open a bike facility on the other side of Green Lake Drive/Way, between Stone Way and Densmore Ave at the very north end of the lake.

Permanently converting the lakeside lane where the Keep Moving Street exists now would continue that facility even further around Green Lake. By itself this would be nice, but it would also set up the future possibility of a safe bike route all the way around the lake that’s separate from the loop trail.

Person on bike with empty kid carrier on back on empty Keep Moving Street

Green Lake Way’s Keep Healthy Street last Summer. (Tom Fucoloro)

Along the very western edge of Green Lake Park is Aurora Ave. A substandard gravel path is the only way to navigate this stretch if you’re walking; if you’re rolling it’s pretty much inaccessible. Paired with the fast moving traffic on Aurora it’s a recipe for disaster. In 2019, a UW student, Bergen Fuglestad, was struck by a driver while jogging along this path. That collision resulted in what is likely to be permament injury to Fuglestad.

Converting the curbside lane on Aurora next to Green Lake Park could make everyone safer.

The rightmost lane of Aurora here is incredibly underutilized. Converting it into a bike facility protected by jersey barriers (as exist in the median of Aurora here) would protect the walking path and complete another segment of the full bike connection around Green Lake. It also would likely slow most drivers a bit more at that segment. Installing barriers on the south end of the lake this month will be a great way to pilot it.

SDOT says they envision the Green Lake Keep Moving Street staying in place longer than other Keep Moving Streets because of the restriction on bikes using the Green Lake path. Hopefully longer in this case means permanent.

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Report details how much catching up Seattle has to do in 2021 on bike lanes

A report completed by the Seattle Department of Transportation in December but not released until this week shows how much catching up the department is planning to do in 2021 to complete installing bike facilities that it had originally planned to install last year. This report is the most recent update on SDOT’s progress on building Seattle’s citywide bicycle network since the recalibration of the construction plan for the remainder of the Move Seattle levy through 2024 was completed in 2019.

According to the report, only 2.3 miles of protected bike lanes or neighborhood greenways were completed through the third quarter of 2020, compared to the original plan for the year of 15.2 miles set in 2019. The ones that were installed were almost all big achievements, it must be noted. These were the Avalon Way PBL in West Seattle. the first phase of the 4th Ave PBL downtown, a Yesler Way PBL between 12th and 14th Ave, and a neighborhood greenway on Capitol Hill connecting Lowell Elementary School and Meany Middle School. SDOT is also counting the Lander Street Overpass as bicycle infrastructure in the report, which certainly makes it the most expensive trail constructed in Seattle at $100 million for one quarter mile.

Another 6 miles of PBLs and greenways were scheduled to be completed by the end of the year, but the majority of those projects didn’t achieve that deadline and were pushed into 2021. One project, the completion of the Pike Street protected bike lane between 6th and 9th Ave downtown, was essentially cancelled after originally being scheduled for last year. It’s now only scheduled to be completed with the rest of the permanent Pike and Pine PBLs installed as part of the Pike/Pine Renaissance in 2023.

The first phase of the 4th Ave protected bike lane downtown was completed in 2020.

That means SDOT is planning to complete around 11 miles of neighborhood greenways or protected bike lanes this year that were originally planned for last year, on top of what was originally scheduled for 2021. In an assessment of the impact of the Covid-19 crisis on the entire department published this year, SDOT said they were on track to complete 50-55 miles of bike facilities, including painted bike lanes, by the end of the levy in 2024. This is half of what was promised to voters in 2015.

We don’t yet know what impact the delay in project delivery in 2020 will have on projects scheduled for 2021 and beyond. Traditionally, every spring the Bicycle Master Plan’s implementation schedule would be reviewed by the city council’s transportation committee, something that didn’t happen in 2020 due to the Covid emergency. It’s also not clear that reviewing the bicycle master plan’s implementation is a priority of Alex Pedersen’s transportation committee.

Below is the list of 2020 projects that are set to be (mostly) completed in 2021 or later.

Hopefully we can get a more complete picture on the status of the program before too many additional months of 2021 progress. You can read the full 2020 status report report here.

 

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Watch SDOT’s virtual tour of the Duwamish Trail connection & crossing improvements

The Seattle Department of Transportation continues outreach around its proposal to finally connect the last segment of the Duwamish Trail between the West Seattle Bridge and the separated trail that starts a half mile down West Marginal Way SW.

A Virtual Open House around all the improvements planned for the street is planned for next Thursday, February 18th at 6pm, with the fate of the protected bike lane project the most significant decision left to be made. Duwamish Valley Safe Streets and West Seattle Bike Connections have already voiced their support for connecting the trail, with the Freight Advisory Board and the Port of Seattle being the primary opponents of taking away street space for the lane.

Last week the Bicycle Advisory Board was told by SDOT’s Bradley Topol that if the proposal to convert a westernmost lane of Marginal to a two-way protected bike lane was approved, the department currently plans to separate the bike facility from the rest of Marginal with either concrete barriers or planters, not just paint and plastic posts. Prior to this, we hadn’t heard what was planned to be able to make people biking northbound, with drivers coming southbound in the next lane, more comfortable.

In advance of the virtual open house, SDOT has released an online walking tour of West Marginal that does a great job of illustrating what the improvements would entail and why they are needed. Check out the video below!

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Segment of Lake Washington Boulevard to reopen for Winter, Spring breaks UPDATED

Update: due to the anticipated snow event this weekend, the closure of Lake Washington Boulevard outlined below has been postponed to Monday February 15. It will run through Sunday the 21st as planned. 

A stretch of Lake Washington Boulevard just south of Mount Baker Beach will open to people walking, biking, and rolling starting this Friday February 12 Monday February 15 through Sunday February 21, Seattle Public Schools Winter Break, as well as April 9th through the 18th, for SPS Spring Break. The street will be closed to vehicles between Stan Sayres Boat Launch and Mount Baker Beach during that time.

Map showing closure to vehicles from Mount Baker Beach to Stan Sayres Memorial Park.

A short segment of Lake Washington Boulevard south of Mount Baker Beach closes for Winter and Spring breaks.

This is the same stretch of Lake Washington Boulevard closed to people driving during the winter holidays last year, and doesn’t extend all the way south to Seward Park like the Summer 2020 closure did.

This closure sets the stage for another Summer-long open street on Lake Washington Boulevard but begs the question: if we can open it for a week at a time, why not indefinitely, at least for this year? People who use this route for transportation, given the lack of dedicated bike facilities parallel to it, don’t disappear at the end of school breaks.

The full Lake Washington Boulevard closure last Summer was the third-most-used Open Street in the city behind West Seattle’s Beach Drive and Green Lake Drive in North Seattle. The idea of permanently closing it to vehicle traffic, which we have done before with Interlaken Boulevard in north Capitol Hill (another Olmsted legacy route), remains hotly contested. Any path to a change in use would go through the Seattle Parks board, which has control over the street since it technically rests on park property.

In the meantime, we’ll enjoy every weeklong closure we can get.

Read more about the overall Keep Moving Street and Stay Healthy Street program here.

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Watch out! Speed bumps added to Roosevelt Way bike lane near 43rd. UPDATE 2/5: They’re gone

UPDATE (2/5, 1:45 p.m.): The bumps are gone.

UPDATE (2/5): The speed bumps will be removed. This morning we received an update from SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson:

I want to give you an update that we are planning to remove this speed bump. Our City Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang personally inspected the location yesterday afternoon and, while the speed bump complied with official design standards, he felt that it was still best to remove it given the concerns we were hearing from riders because we want people to feel comfortable riding on our protected bike lanes. We’re considering other possible safety measures for this location, in addition to the safety features and signage that we have already installed.

Original post: Without any advance warning, the Seattle Department of Transportation has added “speed bumps” to the Roosevelt Way NE protected bike lane around the bus stop island near N 43rd Street. The two bumps are plastic with reflective tape on them, and come up fast on people biking. Per Dongho Chang, City Traffic Engineer, the bumps were installed in reaction to at least one bad collision between someone biking at fast speed and someone using the drop-off space here for UW Medicine.

Plastic bike speed bump in front of sign labelled Bike Speed Hump

The bike speed hump was installed in the past few days

We went out to inspect the bike speed hump after a reader tip came in overnight by reader Bob Vosper who didn’t see the bumps last night until the last second and ended up flipping over his bike. Thankfully, Bob’s okay. He sent us a photo of how the bumps look at night.

Bike speed hump seen above at night

There’s an advance warning sign a bit before the sign right next to the bump, but that advance sign is a lot higher off the ground. Dongho Chang told me that’s due to MUCTD (Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices) standards for sign height. But it may end up out of the field of vision for someone biking down Roosevelt at night with a bike light aimed lower.

person biking along next to advance warning sign for Bike Speed Humps Ahead

Chang was out inspecting the speed bumps today while we were checking it out, and told us they plan to replace the plastic dome with an asphalt hump like the ones more common around town. He also thought there were some immediate tweaks they could make to the approach to give people biking more warning that they’re coming up on a hazard.

More from SDOT’s Ethan Bergerson:

“We can say that this was one of several tactics intended to improve safety near the bus stop, loading zone, and main entrance to UW Medical Center a few feet down the road. People, including many hospital patients, need to cross over the bike lane in order to reach the bus stop and loading zone. In addition to being busy King County Metro bus stop, this is also the loading zone for several forms medical transportation such as King County Metro Access, DART, Hopelink Medicaid Transportation, and UW Medicine hospital shuttles.”

Bike/pedestrian collisions are a lot more rare than vehicle/pedestrian collisions, but if there was a hotspot in Seattle for crashes like this, it would be here. SDOT’s collision database shows at least 3 recorded collisions here since 2018. However, the design here looks like it makes the protected bike lane more dangerous for people biking. It seems like the best fix here would be to remove this plastic bump, which isn’t like anything currently in a PBL in the city, until another fix can be put in place.

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4th Ave protected bike lane downtown to be extended this Spring

This week SDOT told the Bicycle Advisory Board that an extension of the 4th Avenue protected bike lane downtown, to both the north and the south, is moving forward with construction planned for this Spring. With those extensions, the entire facility will be converted to a two-way bike lane compared to the current configuration which is only two-way in central downtown.

At the meeting, SDOT provided a closer look at the planned design of the lanes. To the north, the PBL will be extended from Bell to Vine Street, adding protected left turn signals to separate people riding bikes from turning drivers. We haven’t seen what the end of the bike line looks like at Vine (probably a green bike box to make a right turn onto Vine), but the northern extension as a whole should look pretty much like it does in the rest of Belltown currently.

It’s the south end where things will get a little tricky. The lane on 4th Ave is only planned to go to Dilling Way. What’s Dilling Way? It’s just north of Yesler, the curved street that connects 4th and 3rd right next to City Hall Park. SDOT is planning a two-way PBL on the north side of Dilling Way, retaining parking on the south side of the tiny street.

Map showing planned connection on Dilling between 4th and 3rd

4th Ave will connect to the rest of the bike network via Dilling Way.

At 3rd Avenue, people riding will use a ramp to access the sidewalk to queue for the light to change. This is probably the most unfortunate element of this planned connection: routing a bike facility onto a sidewalk should be avoided at all costs. This is pretty reminiscent of the plan for the north end of the 2nd Ave PBL, except this is right in the middle of the route, not the end. SDOT said they are planning on doing some work to improve the sidewalk here, but this will particularly impact blind and low-vision pedestrians who are not expecting to be walking in a bike mixing space.

Bike lane coming from 4th ave on right side turns into yellow "mixing area" on sidewalk at 3rd and Yesler

Rendering of SDOT’s planned connection between 4th Ave and 2nd Ave on Dilling Way.

Here’s a closer look at the plans for this segment, via a draft design document presented this week. You can see in the diagram that people riding bikes will use a ramp to enter and exit the 3rd and Yesler sidewalk that is separate from the ADA ramp. The crosswalk across 3rd will be completely redone to make it wider to accommodate people walking, rolling, and biking.

Blueprints showing Dilling Way and 3rd Ave as described

Plan for the protected bike lane on Dilling Way to connect across 3rd Ave and Yesler Way. (Click to enlarge)

On the block between 3rd Ave and 2nd Ave, the two-way PBL stays on the north side of the street, connecting with the 2nd Ave PBL and the Yesler stub lane currently in place on the other side of 3rd Ave. Eventually this will connect all the way to the Waterfront bike route but funding hasn’t been secured for that short connection yet.

Blueprints showing Yesler Way between 3rd and 2nd Ave as described

Plan for Yesler Way’s protected bike lane between 2nd Ave and 3rd Ave. (Click to enlarge)

Why isn’t the 4th Ave PBL connecting with the already installed bike lanes in Pioneer Square on Main Street? SDOT contends that a bike lane between Yesler and Main isn’t feasible because of the volumes of buses that use the corridor. The connection is eventually planned, SDOT says, but not until 2023 or 2024, after both the Northgate and East Link light rail extensions convert more bus trips to light rail trips.

The installation of a two-way facility on most of 4th Ave this year will be a huge win, given the fact that delaying this bike lane was one of Mayor Durkan’s first acts on taking office.

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Stay Healthy Streets program may be paused if funding swap not approved

Last night the oversight committee for the Move Seattle levy was told that the popular Stay Healthy Streets program will likely have to pause if the Seattle Department of Transportation doesn’t get approval to divert funding from 2.5 miles of neighborhood greenway projects that the department says it’s unlikely to be able to fully complete in the foreseeable future.

In January, the joint Pedestrian and Bicycle Advisory Boards voted essentially unanimously not to divert funding from existing planned bike and street improvements to fund the promise that SDOT and Mayor Jenny Durkan announced last Summer to install permanent infrastructure on twenty miles of Stay Healthy Streets.

SDOT’s Director of Project Development, Jim Curtin, told the committee that the funding source that the department had originally used to stand up and maintain Stay Healthy Streets in 2020, Federal CARES Act funding, has now run out, and that any additional funds used to support the program will be coming from Bicycle Master Plan funding.

The oversight committee did not reach a consensus on whether to approve the funding swap, asking to come back to another meeting to discuss it further. Curtin told the board that if they didn’t find a source for funding, they would have to pause planning future improvements and have to look at whether the department could continue to maintain existing Stay Healthy Streets at all.

A current barrier on a Stay Healthy Street.

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Senate chair’s transportation package includes bike tax, less in multimodal investments

Senate Transportation Chair Steve Hobbs

A week after the Washington House Democrats unveiled their proposed transportation package, which would fund bike, pedestrian, and transit programs at a level never before seen from the state, the chair of the state Senate’s transportation committee, Steve Hobbs, unveiled his counterproposal last week. This package is different than the one the committee’s vice-chair Rebecca Saldaña proposed before the start of the session. The Hobbs proposal would invest billions of dollars less in multimodal transportation than the House package and billions more in statewide highway expansion.

The Senate proposal also includes a line item that shouldn’t have seen the light of day: a special sales tax increase of 1% on bicycles. This ridiculous extra bike charge would raise a grand total of 0.1% of the revenue generated by the entire package over its 16-year life. Senator Hobbs has proposed this bike tax as part of his transportation package during the last two legislative sessions as well, but there hasn’t been enough momentum to pass it in recent years and no significant counterproposal. A “symbolic” bike tax has actually been kicking around the legislature for years, including a 2013 flat $25 bike tax proposal. This bike tax would be less than that previous versions on all bikes under $2500, but the exploding e-bike market means a lot of bikes that can serve as a car replacement exist above that price point.

Currently Washington State offers a sales tax exemption on up to $25,000 on the sale of a new electric car, in addition to tax credits offered by the Federal government. This has prompted Rep. Sharon Shewmake to propose a similar sales tax exemption for e-bikes. This would add an extra cost to the purchase price of all types of bikes. This is a blow bike shops do not need right now.

The bulk of the revenue raised for the package would come from either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade proposal, both of which are being debated in other committees in the legislature right now. It would only raise the state’s gas tax by 6 cents (compared to 18 cents in the House proposal) and unlike the House proposal would not index the gas tax to keep up with inflation.

On the spending side, the package includes over $2 billion more in highway expansion projects, an amount that matches nearly exactly the reduction in multimodal transportation grants compared to the House proposal. It also invests $2 billion less in preserving and maintaining the state’s transportation infrastructure, kicking the can even further down the road and setting up more fights to secure more needed transportation funding later.

Huge freeway bridge crossing an island with interchanges and ramps everywhere

Columbia River Crossing project replacing I-5 between Washington and Oregon.

The highway expansion projects include many projects that have been on the wishlists of state legislators from all over, including $1.2 billion for the next iteration of the Columbia River Crossing, $1.4 billion for the Highway 2 trestle in Snohomish County, and dozens of other projects. While the Washington State Department of Transportation has explored prioritizing projects based on data like multimodal system development, this list comes straight from negotiations between lawmakers.

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Proposed modal integration policy would dismantle the Bicycle Master Plan

Seattle’s Complete Streets ordinance turns 14 years old this year. Since becoming one of the first major American cities to codify in city law the idea that all major transportation improvements should include accommodations for all types of street users, the city has struggled to actually put this into practice. Loopholes allowed individual projects to be exempt from the ordinance. In 2019, after SDOT made it crystal clear how toothless the ordinance was by completing a Complete Streets checklist on 35th Ave NE in Wedgwood (after the department redesigned the street to include no bike facilities at the direction of the Mayor), the City Council passed another law requiring major repaving projects to include bike facilities if they are designated on the Bicycle Master Plan.

Now, it looks like the Seattle Department of Transportation is ready to throw in the towel on the Bicycle Master Plan entirely, and along with it all of the plan’s goals and benefits, under the guise of integrating all of the City’s modal plans together.

Last Thursday SDOT held its final meeting with the Policy and Operations Advisory Group (POAG) and presented a finalized draft “modal integration policy framework”. We previewed this framework after the group’s last meeting in December. According to the department, it was developed to create policy guidance on integrating the bicycle, transit, freight, and pedestrian master plans. It focuses on areas where the right of way is “deficient”, meaning that according to SDOT’s own design standards (as laid out in its Streets Illustrated Right-of-Way improvement manual) there isn’t enough room to accommodate all modes on a specific city block. “Even with a large policy foundation, we lack comprehensive policy guidance for how accommodate these networks in places where the [street] is too narrow for all desired modes and uses,” the policy’s executive summary states.

An image of street space allocation as recommended by the Streets Illustrated manual.

That executive summary, which is the most detailed summary of the policy that we’ve seen so far, makes it even more clear that the adoption of this policy would specifically target the Bicycle Master Plan over the other modal plans. Across the three adopted modal plans (with the Pedestrian Master Plan analyzed separately), it cites 5,269 segments of bike lane, transit lane, or freight lane intended to fit within the space available from one curb to another. SDOT says 8% of them, or 440 blocks, are not wide enough to accommodate all of the modes specified as needing space in their respective plans. Amazingly, all but one of those 440 includes a planned bike facility. On half of those blocks (223), the bicycle facility is the only thing even competing for extra street space- no transit lanes or freight lanes are even conceived on those blocks.

In other words, if the Bicycle Master Plan didn’t exist, there would be one block of conflict between Seattle’s modal plans over the use of the curb-to-curb space on our streets.

In addition, there are another 1,208 street segments where a planned bike, freight, or transit lane fits in the street space only if a turn lane or a flex lane (parking, loading, peak hour travel) were removed. Again, this is almost entirely (598 of these) a bike facility all by itself. The policy states that flex lanes “in some cases, should be prioritized in right-of-way allocation decisions, and should be evaluated more consistently within concept design processes”.

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Trail Alert: 520 underpass in Montlake closed for two more weekends UPDATED

UPDATE: the closure planned for February 5-8 is no longer happening due to a change in work. The highway will be closed but the pedestrian and bike trail will remain open. The next trail closures are February 26-March 1 and March 5-8.

Aerial photo with the walking and biking path drawn on it.

This connection will be closed for four weekends.

The Washington State Department of Transportation is starting work on installing the Montlake freeway lid this weekend, the first of four weekend closures that will close the bike and pedestrian path underneath 520 from Friday at 11pm to Monday at 5am.

These closures will be:
January 29-Feb 1, 11pm to 5am
February 26-March 1, 11pm to 5am
March 5-8, 11pm to 5am

Montlake Boulevard will be the primary choice for people biking to get between the Montlake Neighborhood and the Montlake bridge during the closure, though the Bill Dawson trail on the west side of Montlake Boulevard connecting to Montlake Playfield remains open. The pedestrian and bike trail across the lake adjacent to 520 will not close.

You can watch a video from WSDOT explaining the work they are doing to create a lid over 520 at Montlake.

 

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Seattle continues to stagnate on preventing traffic deaths even as total collisions plummet

Preliminary data on traffic collisions from last year shows that the total number of collisions involving people on bikes in Seattle was down by more than 50% compared to the average of the three previous years. This follows the trend in overall traffic crashes, which SDOT says went from 230 per week to 115 in 2020.

One big footnote here is that this data is always unreliable; absolutely more so in 2020 as the number of people who would be hesitant to file a report with the Seattle police increased and the police side was more likely to deem something else a higher priority. But it’s the best we have to get a snapshot into what happened on our city’s streets last year.

Even as traffic collisions fell, the overall number of people who lost their lives in traffic last year did not decline as well. Preliminary numbers show 24 people were killed in the year, as noted by the Seattle Times earlier this week, a number only matched in recent years by 26 fatalities in 2019.

Zig zagging line starting at 23 in 2013 and ending at 24 in 2020

Fourteen of the twenty-four people who were killed on Seattle’s streets last year were using our streets for walking or biking. This is a continuing trend, where a larger and larger percentage of fatalities are people using active transportation.

The citywide reduction in speed limits on arterials that was put into high gear in the fall of 2019 is being cited as a success story by SDOT: they note a “20-40% drop in the number of crashes in locations with new 25 mph signs”, which they say was observed before the drop in traffic volumes seen last March. But that report only looked at North Seattle locations, and few high-crash corridors.

At Rainier Ave and S Holly, where the Mayor unveiled the initial 25 mph sign at her 2019 press conference, an October 2020 speed study showed 91% of drivers in either direction were going above the speed limit, with 61% of drivers going over 30 mph on the street.

Mayor Durkan pointing at a new speed limit sign

Mayor Durkan unveils a 25 mph speed limit sign on Rainier Ave in 2019

That lines up with data from another very frequent crash corridor, Aurora Ave N, which hasn’t seen speed limit changes recently but where data shows that drivers are frequently exceeding the speed limits. Both Rainier Avenue and Aurora Avenue saw traffic fatalities in 2020. All signs to point to more robust traffic design overhauls needed on Seattle’s busiest corridors, even if speed limit signs may have an impact on the less busy corridors.

Statewide Washington saw higher traffic fatalities than it did in all but one year in the past decade: 560 people across the state died in traffic violence, or one approximately every sixteen hours in 2020. WSDOT Secretary Roger Millar has attributed this trend to people speeding, citing an individual driver going way over the speed limit in Snohomish County on I-5. But simply using one explanation ignores all of the areas of opportunity, including the ones laid out by WSDOT itself in its Active Transportation plan.

Blue bars leading up since 2008 with 560 fatalities in 2020

Year over year traffic fatalities were up 4.1% in Washington as a whole last year.

Next month will mark six years since Seattle’s Vision Zero pledge, with not much to show for it. Washington State as a whole has been signed on to that pledge since 2000. We are heading the wrong direction, and it’s going to take real investment to change the dynamic.

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Local groups speak up in favor of protected bike lane on West Marginal Way

The plan to finally connect the Duwamish Trail by installing a protected bike lane along the west side of West Marginal Way SW continues to face an uncertain future, as SDOT continues to conduct outreach before a final decision is expected later this Spring.

Last week’s city Freight Advisory Board meeting devoted a considerable amount of time to the topic, after that board had sent a letter to the City in November that asked West Marginal Way “be restored as a five-lane facility”. In order to make that happen, the protected bike lane would have to not be installed, and the 2019 safety improvement that directs traffic into one lane southbound outside the Duwamish Long House would also need to be removed. At the meeting, the SDOT presentation showed exactly why removing that improvement- even after SDOT installs the planned pedestrian crossing signal at the Long House- is a bad idea. The curve in West Marginal at that point creates significant impediments to seeing traffic (often traveling around 40 mph) coming. So far we’ve seen no indication that the City is prepared to listen to the Freight Advisory Board and remove the lane reduction at any point in the future.

Image showing side by side of sight lines at Alaska Street next to the Duwamish Longhouse, much better with the lane reduction

During that meeting, we also got a look at the different options SDOT studied for extending the trail. The most discussed was Option A, which would have expanded the sidewalk that currently serves as the trail connection. This option would be much more expensive, not be as wide as a normal trail facility, require multiple trees to be removed, and also have sightline issues due to the driveways along the corridor. Option D, in the planter strip next to the railroad tracks on the east side of the street, also would be very expensive and require a new traffic signal to allow people to get back to the west side of the street. That’s true for option C as well, though that would utilize the entire easternmost lane, creating the same issues the freight board is concerned about. Option B, the one SDOT is still proposing, is the best option.

Google maps view of Marginal with lanes marked with letters on them. West sidewalk A, west curb lane B, east curb lane C, east sidewalk D

SDOT told the freight advisory board that the Duwamish Trail connection is expected to increase southbound travel times during peak hours by…ten seconds. Yet the board didn’t seem entirely placated by the data provided, with Chair Jeanne Acutanza calling the project an example of “death by a thousand cuts”.

SDOT's preferred concept of the Duwamish connection, a PBL in the western lane of Marginal Way

Last Friday, Duwamish Valley Safe Streets, West Seattle Bike Connections, and the West Duwamish Greenbelt Trails Group wrote a joint letter to SDOT Director Sam Zimbabwe expressing their support for the project as the department has designed it. In the letter, they push back on the arguments like those made by Freight Advisory Board members that removing a traffic lane for the protected bike lane would impact traffic on the corridor negatively. From the letter:

“A significant benefit of the protected bike lane will be to improve traffic safety for all road users by slowing down speeding southbound traffic on West Marginal Way SW. Crashes are frequent and severe. Median speeds were in the mid-40’s and did not come down after speed limits were lowered to 30. Now speed radar signs are up, resulting in only about a 5 mph reduction. There is no congestion problem southbound due to lane capacity. There is a speeding and reckless driving problem, causing crashes and making it treacherous to cross on foot. Traffic congestion only occurs at the south end at the Highland Park Way intersection, where the backup from the First Avenue South Bridge begins. Along most of West Marginal Way SW, frantic drivers are rushing to get into the traffic jam as fast as they can. To hurry up and wait. Making more of the north end consistently one lane will allow drivers who travel at or near the speed limit to control the speed of all traffic, without any effect on throughput across the bridges. The bridges are the choke points, not the street.

At the West Seattle Bridge Community Taskforce meeting earlier this month, Jolene Haas representing the Duwamish Tribe spoke in favor of the trail connection, saying, “It dovetails into the traffic revisions [at the Long House]…I don’t think it’s going to be a concern, it shouldn’t be.”

SDOT is planning more outreach in February, including a mailer to West Seattle residents happening around now, as well as an online open house currently scheduled for the middle of next month. It’s a lot of engagement around a traffic lane that SDOT’s data shows is incredibly underutilized right now and providing little public benefit, but our eyes will be peeled for the next chance to speak up in favor of it.

Calendar timeline stretching from Early January to Late March with decision point in April

SDOT expects to make a final decision on the Duwamish trail connection by April.

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