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N 34th Street project demonstrates the bike box’s true potential

Photo from the SDOT Blog

I have heard nothing but praise and excitement so far for the new N 34th Street bike box, which SDOT completed last month. Where other bike boxes in the city (such as the bike trapezoids on Madison) seemed to be more like experiments, the bike box on N 34th at Fremont Ave is the real deal.

I am excited to see bike boxes become another regular part of road redesigns in Seattle. They have proven to increase safety for all road users by creating more space and better visibility at intersections, and they are versatile enough to fix a wide variety of intersection issues and conditions.

In this case, having a safe way to turn from the northbound westbound bike lane on 34th to the Fremont Bridge is a huge improvement. Before, the bike lane terminated into the back of a couple parked cars and people were expected to merge into general traffic to make the turn. Now, it is very clear and straight forward how all road users should behave, which should increase safety and encourage more people to try biking.

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In our pursuit to address the long list of bicycle safety issues in the city, we sometimes forget to stop and praise projects that work well and make our city a safer and more comfortable place for everyone. So, good work SDOT! I am eager to see more like this.

What are your thoughts on the bike box? Where else would you like to see them?

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28 responses to “N 34th Street project demonstrates the bike box’s true potential”

  1. Yes, seems like its a pretty good thing so far. I had to drive through Freakymont two days ago, and these boxes are quite visible. Kudos to the city on this one.

    Plus, I see after riding the trail today the crossing near Salmon Bay Sand and Gravel has been completely re-done with reflective posts and striping. Though still not wide enough in my opinion, this is a large improvement vs. its earlier version of rubber mats and high-crashability factor.

  2. Tom

    I use this bike box every morning and love it! Now I wish the road under 15th at Nickerson would re-open so that I don’t have to go over 15th.

    1. Tom, thanks for replying, Regarding the striping and signs the city has done on the south end of the Ballard Bridge, so far these small improvements have helped tremendously. Drivers are much more aware of bikers there trying to get onto 15th, in all the motorists who ply this section along with me are really good drivers, seriously.

      Thanks again to you and the city for at least doing something, it has made a positive difference! Now I can only hope to see the bridge walkway widened someday, sigh….

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        To be clear, that’s a different Tom. But yes, widening the Ballard Bridge! Let’s make it happen. That plus the complete ship canal trail would be amazing.

  3. Todd

    I haven’t used it yet because I haven’t traveled that way. But the pavement they put along N 34th is beautiful.

  4. “safe way to turn from the northbound bike lane on 34th”

    Did you mean

    “safe way to turn from the westbound bike lane on 34th?”

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      What are you talking about? Don’t you know that forward is always north?….

      Thanks for the note. I made the correction.

      1. And here I always thought UP was north!

  5. I think it’s great that here they’ve kept the configuration for right turns onto Fremont Ave. the same (with right turns crossing to the right of the bike lane before the intersection). Some bike box designs make me nervous, because they suggest that cyclists stay right of right-turning traffic all the way through the intersection… having seen the accidents I have, that makes me nervous.

    Generally, I don’t think it’s been marked or explained very well that bike boxes only really help when you’re approaching a red light. If you’re approaching a green light and try to merge late into the bike box area instead of merging early or making a hook turn you’ll be in trouble. I really hope people don’t take them as a sign to move left too late or too casually. I also worry that in many cases they’ll encourage people to undertake a column of stopped cars more quickly than is safe. But bike boxes are pretty new, and I haven’t read anything about how they’ve worked elsewhere.

  6. Trent

    From what I’ve seen a more realistic picture would have a car stopped on top of the bike box. Then cyclists who want to turn left are positioned to the right of the cars planning to travel straight.

    Seems like the real purpose of these bicycle “improvements” is to give cyclists as little access to the road as possible and give more space to cars. Want to turn left? Don’t use the left turn lane, you might give in a driver’s way! Instead stay on the shoulder and wait an extra cycle of the light so you can use the crosswalk.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The car lanes behind the bike box can only turn left now, and through traffic uses the curb lane on the right side of the bike lane. That, of course, depends on people driving to read the lane arrows correctly (they clearly show left turns only).

      Before, the bike lane terminated into the back of a row of parked cars, so this new configuration gives bicycle users a lot more breathing room. Though some people do not mind merging with general traffic while biking, a lot of people feel more comfortable when they have dedicated space.

  7. Hopefully, as the US pulls itself slowly but steadily out of its auto-dependency things like this can help visibility of auto group think be dispelled. Sharing the road is awesome, and these road elements do help, especially here in the north west were people are more open to them.

    In Portland, there was great contention when they started the program years ago. But overall, I’m betting there is at least a few lives that have been saved by the increased visibility.

    Cheers to Seattle and to the increasing number of bike boxes and increased knowledge of why and what roads are really for – besides just shuffling cars around. :)


  8. N Dew

    Bad idea …..When you have a beginner or somebody who is unsure of themselves can and does cause problems. I use this everyday and have had several riders lined across the bike box, then the light turns green and the other riders there don’t know who is doing what. Unsure rider looking back over shoulder wondering what other riders are doing and those more sure and experienced unsure of what unsure rider is doing, is unsure rider going up on sidewalk? Or staying in the bike lane, car driver wondering who is doing what, totally confusing. It would have been better to delete bike box with green bike lane so everybody is doing single file, or even putting in a double bikelane with painted lines depositing the outside riders up onto the sidewalk and the insiders on the road next too the curb. I don’t think this was thought through as well as it could have been. It is nice with the new pavement, great improvement over the old survace.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      When Portland first started installing bike boxes, there was a period of adjustment as everyone (including people biking) figured out how to use them. They found that most users ended up simply staying to the right portion of the box where the bike lane would be.

      However, a major function of the big box in front of the general traffic lanes is to push the waiting line back a little and give more space at the intersection. This makes it easier to see and increases pedestrian safety by leaving a larger space between the stopped cars and the crosswalk. The box also gives people biking a place to stop where they are not inhaling toxic exhaust fumes (which is important).

      As for the confusion about riding on the sidewalk or in the bike lane over the bridge, I also think that could use some clearing up. That would likely be outside the scope of this project, though. Maybe some paint markings or something could help provide some direction.

    2. Trent

      How about three bike lines. One for left turns on the left, one for straight in the middle, and one for right turns on the right. You know, like how the “car” lanes are setup?

      Can you think of any other instances where traffic is supposed to randomly choose which lane position they want, with no regard to their intended direction of travel at the intersection?

      Funny how adding a bike lane turns the rest of the road into a car lane?

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        That’s one way of looking at it. But there are a huge number of people in our city who see the streets today, without bicycle facilities, as car-dominated and scary (i.e. zero lanes for bikes). They want to ride a bike, but not if it means they have to ride in general traffic. These bike lanes provide a much more comfortable and inviting place for these riders, and facilities like this are necessary if we want more people to feel comfortable biking around town.

      2. @Tom F: If the purpose of the lanes isn’t clear, they’re worse than nothing. They’ll provide the illusion of safety and make things more dangerous.

        So let’s look at this case. There’s this big green box out in front of the stop line — what does it mean? What it means is that, if you’re approaching the intersection at a red light and you’re going to make a left, you should proceed in the bike lane through to the front and move over to the left of throughgoing bicyclists and possibly in front of stopped cars to make your left, as an alternative to merging with left-turning traffic. I guess that’s OK. But I only know it because I read this blog and use the intersection regularly.

        If you’re going straight or turning right you should follow the car markings; if you use the bike lane you’ll end up merging, from the left, into a narrow lane shared with cars. But the bike lane has a frickin’ straght-ahead arrow painted in it! And no left-turn arrow at all!

        If people were afraid to bike on the streets before, and a confusing and incorrect marking causes them to have to merge from the left with through-going car traffic, how afraid will they be then? If they see a nice green lane in front of them and whiz though, undertaking a column of cars too fast, and one doesn’t see them, how afraid will they be when they get out of the hospital? I am not against facilities for bike riders — I just think that we need to demand better standards for our facilities.

  9. qwerty

    These boxes are great in theory and we will have to see how well they last through long term usage. So far I have seen quite a few cars stopped well into the green boxed area, much like many do when overtaking crosswalks at stop lights. I am afraid that as the paint fades, more and more drivers will “not see” the lines or as many drivers are conditioned to do, pull up as close to the light as possible in hopes of triggering the magnetic mechanism that will expedite a light change.

    Maybe there is a need for some sort of enforcement/education to educate drivers to respect the lines?

    Overall they are definitely a step up from sharrows and they will hopefully encourage more bicycle transportation and awareness!

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Good point. There is a sign (may not yet be installed at 34th, but if it’s not, it’s coming) that shows a diagram of the bike box and the text “Let’s get behind it.” It’s pretty good, but I’d say the percentage of people driving who use the bike box at 12th/Pine correctly is somewhere around 70 percent (anecdotally, I have not seen a study). Not too bad, but not great.

      This box is designed a little better, I think, than some of the others around town. So I’ll be interested to see how use of the box morphs as people get through the growing pains of having their route changed and this new thing introduced.

      1. I’ve only ever seen it from the sidewalk, but I don’t know how most drivers will see the sign on eastbound Madison at 12th. It’s obscured by a tree and a line of parked cars.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        Yeah. And the Madison signs also demonstrate a bike box design different from the one on the road. The sign shows a bike lane leading to the box, but we are all painfully aware that there are no bike lanes on Madison (…yet).

        I have a feeling those boxes were an experiment on SDOT’s part. They don’t seem particularly helpful to bicycle users, but I bet they help greatly with pedestrian safety by restricting right turns on red and providing more space between cars and the crosswalk. That intersection has seen more than its fair share of people struck by cars, and I wonder if that’s the main problem SDOT was trying to solve there (and I would love to see how that’s working out).

  10. Breadbaker

    I first encountered bike boxes in London about four years ago. Biking in an unfamiliar city on the other side of the road it took me about five seconds to figure out how to use them and what they were for. And drivers, whether of cars, buses or lorries, all understood and accommodated them. I have no idea what kind of driver education, if any, was done when they were installed there, but they just simply worked great. How they’ll work with our road-raged drivers, of course, is still to be seen, but in theory at least a half dozen bicycles in front of you rather than creeping up on the right are more visible and easier to accommodate when driving. If you don’t think that you have a God-given right to accelerate from 0 to 60 while making a left turn across the Fremont Bridge, that is.

    1. Jake Jackson

      The bicycle markings on city streets are frequently mysterious, and therefore pointless. Sometimes they are downright dangerous, such as when a bike lake is marked just to the left of a right-turn lane, forcing a driver to cross over a bike lane.

      Fortunately, the weather and the hills limit the insanity around here.

      1. As far as right-turn lanes go, drivers *always* have to cross over the bike lane at some point. The question is whether they do it before the intersection or in it.

        It’s actually better to get through-going bicycles left of right-turning traffic before the intersection. By the time the cars are in the intersection they’re going slow enough for us to pass them. We’ll want to do that on the left, not the right, so as to not T-bone them. Therefore, the drivers should cross over before the intersection, while they’re still going fast enough to make a normal lane change.

        More concretely: every bike-car accident I’ve seen but one (the one involving a 10-year old kid in a small town going too fast down a hill and rear-ending a car at a stop sign) involved a bike in a bike lane or crosswalk passing a right-turning car on the right. Cyclists that position themselves to the right of a right-turn lane and proceed any faster than pedestrians are fools waiting to be injured.

  11. as one who has traversed this stretch of road many times–before, during, and after construction–and by car, bike, and on foot–i must say, the new configuration is a big improvement. both visibility and signage are much better now. (not to mention that gloriously smooth new pavement!)

    that said, there is one caveat–and “N Dew” hit the nail on the head: i don’t like the actual bike “box.” it encourages one to move over to the left when you reach the intersection, thus putting you directly in front of the cars. this is not only potentially hazardous to the cyclist, but can also lead to frustration for drivers who may have already been sitting at the red light and now are “stuck” behind a bike trying to get up to speed from a dead stop. what’s worse, is that with the car lane being “left only” and the fact that southbound fremont ave has it’s own bike lane, this conflict between bike and car is totally unnecessary here.

    when i approach this intersection, i stay to the right (as in the photo above.) also, i don’t go clear to the front of the box. i like to keep back a little ways–usually near, or just in front of, the fat white “stop line” for cars. e.g., back to the photo above: if i were to approach behind this cyclist, i would stay single-file behind him, lined up approximately with that SUV’s front bumper–in a position where the driver can clearly see me, but far enough back so that he/she can also see that i don’t intend to jump out in front of him/her when the light turns green.

    so, when there are multiple bikes, just stay single file rather than ganging up in the box. seeing as how the cars to your left must turn left, as long as you stay to the right of these cars, both bikes and cars can proceed with their turns to southbound fremont ave simultaneously, without ever crossing paths. now, mr. jeep cherokee and i can cruise through there side-by-side, in harmony. :-)

    once through the intersection, you have the option of bike lane or sidewalk on fremont–which means you can now, with proper foresight and navigation, take this entire intersection (a very busy one) without ever having to “share” a lane with an automobile–which in my book is win-win.

    and i must agree with N Dew on another point: having multiple bikes abreast in the “box” just confuses the heck out everyone around–i’ve seen it happen on multiple occasions at this very intersection. unless said cyclists are riding as a group, no one knows where the other is headed, leading to uncertainty at best, collision at worst.

  12. Charlie

    My two cents:
    I rode down this stretch of road for the first time since the new box was installed this weekend. I came from the East on the BG trail. At Stone I used the crosswalk to get to intersection where I waited for a red light to change. There were markings for where bike wheels go to trigger the sensor (the little t’s), but there was one in each lane and it was hard to tell which one they wanted me in to go straight. The far right or the center?

    All in all, the bike box for a left onto the bridge is great. But getting there from the BG trail is not as easy as it could be.

  13. […] city has also been experimenting with bike boxes, and the N 34th St bike box has been extremely successful and is popular. It would be great if bike boxes simply became a […]

  14. […] all the way to the left lane to turn (the best example of this working successfully in Seattle is at N 34th and Fremont). This is a critical function that allows designs like the upcoming two-way cycle track on Broadway […]

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