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Buffer space added to bike lanes on older section of Dexter

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.

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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.

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13 responses to “Buffer space added to bike lanes on older section of Dexter”

  1. Gary

    I ride this section of roadway enough to think clearly about Mr. Wangs death here, and I’ve come to the conclusion that neither a cycle track, nor a wider bike lane would have saved him from a driver in a hurry to make a left turn. In all cases, if you are in the middle of an intersection and a driver guns it to make it across, you are going to get nailed and possibly die.

    The one thing that would have saved him was a traffic light at the intersection, and a left hand turning lane for the driver. That way it would have become a controlled intersection. The thing is we can’t install lights at every intersection even if we only targeted major roads. And that the driver left the scene of the collision further points to negligence by the driver.

    It’s also possible that if the roadway was only two lanes, then the left turning driver would have been closer to Mr. Wang and either of them could have done evasive action, as the car would not have had as much time to accelerate.

    The other thing that Mr. Wang could have done, is to wear a high visibility vest, and used high visibility lights. That may also have given the driver a better chance at seeing him. Still there is the possibility is that the driver just didn’t care.

    1. mike archambault

      I disagree. I wide, empty road gives drivers a perception of “roominess” to maneuver more freely and quickly. Yes, a bad left turn may still have killed Mike Wang, but a narrower road without unnecessary lanes may have helped the driver slow down and be more attentive and deliberate in his or her actions.

      1. mike archambault

        To clarify, my disagree only applies to your first 2 paragraphs :)

      2. Gary

        So in effect you are agreeing with my poorly worded post that:

        #1 In order to make the roadway safer it needs to be narrower.


        There needs to be a traffic light for all the left hand turners.

  2. I wonder why they only stopped at 12 feet, why not 11? Post HOV-lane shoehorning on I90, some lanes will only be 11 feet wide. While not technically a “full” lane, they are manageable – even when you are driving an 8.5′ wide bus. I’m pretty sure narrower lanes would naturally slow folks down although I’m not sure about that for a 4 lane road…

  3. 1. If you want to be more visible to oncoming traffic, ride closer to the middle of the road, not closer to the edge with more “buffer”. (Also, if you want to be more visible to oncoming traffic, you don’t put parked cars between you and the oncoming traffic — that’s the whole reason we didn’t do that in the first place).

    2. We don’t need buffer from overtaking cars, we need buffer from parked cars, both because of dooring and because it makes us more visible to cross traffic waiting at two-way stop signs.

    (3. The road surface on Dexter is too wide along most of its length. We now have a super-wide, super-smooth road without much traffic and want to limit driving speeds. Good luck on that one!)

    1. rtk

      Well said. Agree on all points.

  4. Kevin

    SDOT has had my comment in awaiting moderation on their blog all day, but:

    Do you want to put buffer lines on the other side too? With the door zone the useable space really looks like this.

    I’m glad the photo pictures a cyclist riding correctly.

    1. Andreas

      They hold comments in moderation limbo until they can respond to them, which can take far longer than a day. It took them 7.5 weeks to respond to one of my comments, which is to say my comment wasn’t publicly posted for 7.5 weeks. It’s an interesting way of doing things.

      BTW their response to my comment was “Our apologies for the delay in answering your questions. This has been an incredibly busy time for our pedestrian and bicycle program staff, not to mention being short staffed. You should be receiving a direct response in 7 – 10 business/working days. Thank you for your patience!” So, you know, I wouldn’t expect a response to your comment any time soon.

      1. Maybe they shouldn’t be so obsessed with responding to every single comment before they even let it see the light of day. That’s not how blogs work.

      2. Andreas

        @Morgan: I agree completely.

  5. AiliL

    I ride Dexter every day southbound and find that *maybe* there’s a difference for drivers. I do think that some (some, not majority) of drivers are more aware of the bike lane now that the buffer lines are there and are more visible than the standard single solid white. But it hasn’t decreased my vigilance in watching for left/right turners. I agree with the person posting above that the only thing that can really help that problem is signalized intersections which present different visibility/awareness issues. Getting Dexter re-channelized entirely is the only way to really help other road users.

  6. […] late 2011, the city to added some extra buffer space to the existing skinny bike lanes on Dexter. But people continued to get hurt, and it became clear […]

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