A few weeks ago, the city added a couple feet of buffer space to the bike lanes on Dexter between Mercer and Denny Way, just south of the recently-reconfigured section complete with bus islands and a road diet.
The added buffers were the only changes made to the road, which still has four general purpose purpose lanes in addition to the wider bike lanes. The only change is that the curb lane that used to be 14 feet (!) is now 12.
The buffers were largely in response to the hit-and-run death of Mike Wang in July. The person responsible fled the scene and remains on the loose.
Wang’s death shocked many people in the city, and a ghost bike at Dexter and Thomas (since removed) served as a daily reminder of the tragedy. People started looking for solutions. Some asked whether a lower speed limit would have helped, but we argued that roadway design — in addition to gross negligence on the driver’s part — likely played a larger factor in the collision:
The solution is a change of road design. A rechannelization. A road diet. Adding a center turn lane would give people riding bikes and driving the time and space they need to comfortably turn where they need to. Adding wider bike lanes (buffered, parking-separated, whatever) would give people riding bikes on this extremely busy bicycle route more room to maneuver and increase their visibility. Removing the excess general traffic lane in each direction would reduce actual speeds to a point closer to the desired speed limit of 30 mph while also removing the stress of turning across two lanes of traffic.
And, at the city’s rate of about $100,000 per mile, it would cost about $50,000 for the entire stretch from Roy (where the current Dexter construction will end) to Denny Way.
Then, on top of having a safer street for bicycling and driving, Dexter would not be terrifying to walk across. All this for half the cost of one signal. That’s a pretty good deal.
SDOT has decided, at least for now, on a partial solution. The wider bike lanes are certainly an improvement over the former skinny lanes. People biking have more room to maneuver and can more easily ride side-by-side or pass other people biking without crossing into the general traffic lane.
However, it’s not the kind of solution that the street ultimately needs. The needs for people on foot remain unaddressed, and the road still unnecessarily encourages speeding and dangerous turning maneuvers. It remains a medium-traffic neighborhood street with a highway design (one block away from an actual highway, in fact).
Any improvements are good, and considering tight budgets, it probably makes sense to tackle other projects before returning to a street that was largely repaved just a few years ago (the safety improvements should have happened then). But if we are going to make a serious effort to prioritize safety for everybody on our city’s streets, we need to start taking more projects to the next level of modern, safe road design.