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Contraflow bike lane installed in International District

SDOT has installed a contraflow bike lane and “cross-bike” on 6th Ave S between Dearborn and Seattle Blvd S (AKA Airport Way S). Until this project, cyclists trying to access Airport Way S or 6th Ave S from just about anywhere north of I-90 were directed down 6th Ave S in the International District, a signed bike route, only to run into a dead end at Dearborn with no clear way to access or cross Airport Way a mere block away. Some people hopped on the sidewalk, while others took the 5-lane 4th Ave S. Now there is clear, easy and seemingly safe option that closes this gap.

After this one-block contraflow lane, people on bikes can make a fairly safe and easy crossing to the southbound travel lane via a crosswalk with a concrete median cutaway.

This is an exciting project because there is a lot of promise in Seattle’s bizarre road system for contraflow bike lanes. It is also the city’s first endeavor (I’m pretty sure) into a “cross-bike” treatment of sorts. In this case, they used several sharrow markings all in a row, and I think it is very effective. It clearly shows bicyclists that the contraflow lane is for their use, alerts drivers headed south the lane is not for them and alerts northbound drivers making left turns that bicyclists may be traveling straight through the intersection. The DO NOT ENTER signs have also been amended with “Except Bicycles.”


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Do you have other ideas where contraflow lanes could solve annoying/unsafe spots in the city’s street network? What do you think of the term “cross-bike”?


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17 responses to “Contraflow bike lane installed in International District”

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  2. Adam

    There is a contraflow bike lane, along with the only bike signal I know of, in Fremont – right in front of PCC. It’s not ideal (trucks park in it, car parkers across the way can be a bit brain dead), but it is definitely one of my favorite treatments largely because of the bike stop light.

  3. Jeremy

    NE 40th Street under the University Bridge was also fairly recently (within a year?) converted into a cars-on-one-side and two-way bicycles in the former car lane. (I’ve only caught two drivers blithely heading up the now bicycle only lanes, and that was a while ago.)

  4. daisy

    So we just used sharrows instead of green paint? Our new green paint makes it much more clear that it is a seperate facility from auto traffic. Are not the purpose of sharrows to indicate that bicycles will be present in the general traffic lane?

    1. Andreas

      That green paint loses its luster pretty fast and when it’s overcast or nighttime it pretty much just looks like regular asphalt. I can’t tell if it works better in other cities (different roadway surfaces? more sun? different thermoplastic?), but I honestly don’t think they should bother with the green—especially when it costs as much as it does.

      Also, if you look closely, in the areas where it’s a separate facility, it’s a bike lane symbol not a sharrow. The sharrows are only in the intersection. Makes some sense to me, since the markings in the intersection are simply there to guide, not to designate a separate facility per se.

  5. dhs

    Some kind of treatment on Mercer between Dexter and 5th would be great. There is no good way to get to Lower Queen Anne from Dexter without going further south to Denny, due to the limited crossings of Aurora. The sidewalks on Mercer under Aurora are quite high and narrow, making them a sometimes dangerous choice for cyclists.

    1. Andreas

      Mercer Phase II includes “Widening Mercer between Dexter Avenue N and Fifth Avenue N, including the underpass at Aurora to provide three lanes in each direction, left-turn lanes, wider sidewalks, and a bicycle path”. Unfortunately construction doesn’t begin until mid-2012 and won’t end until late 2014.

    2. Looking to get downtown from Lake Union Park and the Cheshiahud Loop? At Valley/Broad and Westlake there is a sign directing bicyclers to head down Westlake if they want to get “to Downtown via 9th”. A block south, there is a similar direction sign telling bikers to turn right… at Mercer. Oops.

  6. mike archambault

    I can see 7th Ave downtown between Westlake and Olive being a great spot for a contraflow lane, especially since it would connect nicely to the buffered bike lanes north of Westlake.

    1. Kevin

      Yes, a million times yes.

      7th between Westlake and Stewart already don’t have parking on the East side of the street due to the Federal Courthouse and a really short block edge by FareStart.

      So just figure out the parking situation for that 1 small block 7th from Olive to Stewart and it’d be all set.

  7. Elaine Hickman

    I work on the east side of SODO on Airport Way. We need some bicyle lanes through that area. I gave up riding on Airport Way years ago. It never felt safe to me. I have to ride up the sidewalk on 5th to get to the bus stop in front of the jail. I ride in the bus lane from Jackson to Washington. It’s pretty unpleasant sometimes with buses and other mass transit vehicles “pushing” me from behind or dangerously passing me. I have a similar experience on northbound on 5th from Jackson to Dearborn and on 6th from Royal Brougham to Dearborn in the afternoon.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment!

  8. VeloBusDriver

    Excellent project. I’ll use this heading to the base instead of riding on the sidewalk. Can’t wait to try it out!

  9. Mark

    The term “cross-bike” could hardly be worse.
    It is unclear, sounds dumb and somewhat insulting
    doublespeak. Is it really that hard to say bicycle crossing?

  10. JAT

    Is Contraflow bike lane Transportation-planner-speak for site-specific sanctioned salmoning? (just as bike boxes are site-specific sanctioned shoaling). I don’t like it. I think, even if only subconsciously, it encourages inconsiderate dangerous and (sometimes) illegal behavior elsewhere. The roads aren’t perfect, and we should do what we can to make them more useful, but not with quirky one-off unintuitive solutions that don’t generalize to better use of the roads by all everywhere.

    This feels more like pedestrian on a bicycle to me than it feels like cyclists are legitimate road users…
    (rant off)

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      You could perhaps call it “sanctioned salmoning,” but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The design makes cyclists clearly visible where cyclists are supposed to be, and no car is going to be confused by the double yellow line.

      One-way streets are used for many different purposes. In much of downtown Seattle, one-way couplets are for moving lots of cars from the freeways to the downtown core very quickly (we can debate later whether that should be our city’s downtown traffic priority). In this case, the one-way is really just to prevent southbound drivers from making a difficult, unsignaled turn onto Seattle Blvd. It also removes the incentive to use 6th as a bypass for 4th.

      Another example would be 34th Ave N in Fremont between PCC and the Fremont Bridge. They do not want cars to access the bridge from 34th, so they made it a one-way headed west. However, it does not hurt traffic flow to allow bicycles access to the bike lane, so they installed a contraflow lane. Assuming no delivery trucks are parked illegally in the lane, it works like a charm and is intuitive for everyone.

      Often, traffic features designed to prevent certain motor vehicle movements (for better traffic flow, traffic calming, etc) don’t make sense when applied to bicycles, so a contraflow lane is a logical tool to use in the right situation. Give it a shot, and I think you will feel that it is intuitive and clear.

      Another way to look at is that salmon riding on this block of 6th (either on sidewalk or wrong-way) was very heavy because it is the most logical way for a cyclist to get to Seattle Blvd (plus the wayfinding signs point cyclists that way). This project makes movements that were already happening safer and keeps the sidewalk clear for people walking.

      1. JAT

        very well explained – thanks for taking the time.
        When I bike that intersection (quite a lot, actually) I’m always going from/to 6th Ave S to/from Dearborn east of there, and when I use Seattle Blvd (and I had no idea that was the name of that street) it’s to/from 5th or 6th Aves S – since those are the roads that heretofore were legal to use… (setting aside my occasional opportunistic shortcut through the Uwajimaya pkg lot)

        but your big picture analysis of one-way couplets and bicycle suitability is very well stated – thanks again.

  11. Thats an all around amazing post

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