With all of the progress the city has made in recent years making streets safer and easier for biking, there is a clear lack of changes at intersections. Sometimes the city is afraid of removing current dedicated right turn lanes for fear that traffic will back-up. Sometimes there are safety fears associated with putting people on bikes to the right of right-turning cars. Sometimes it seems the city just doesn’t know what to do, so they slap some sharrows on the right-turn lane and call it a day.
But it’s time to get over our fear of bike facilities through intersections. The city is taking a few small steps to do so, but we need to do more. These are the moments when people need safe facilities the most, and there are far better ways we could be using our intersection space so that it works better for everybody (including people driving and walking).
The relatively new NACTO Urban Bikeway Design Guide suggests having right-turning cars cross the bike lane before the intersection, thus removing the intersection conflicts. Seattle has a small handful of intersections like these, including Dexter near Mercer and Denny and N 34th St near Fremont Ave.
In Seattle, busy intersections with this NACTO-approved design are some of the best, especially if the goal is to allow as many right turns on red as possible (and we love right turns on red in America, despite the fact that almost no other nations allow them).
However, as the video above — by A view from the cycle path — points out, right-turning cars cross the bike lane at a less-than-ideal angle, and drivers need to look over their shoulders to see any people on bikes coming up on their right. They suggest designing intersections like the Dutch do.
I would love to see something like this tried here. It might make right turns on red a little more difficult, but the advantages to safety for all users is huge. Cars would not be able to fly around corners (dangerous for other motorists as well as people walking and biking) because the corner would be more squared-off. People walking will effectively have a shorter distance to cross because of the added protection from the extended curb. And, of course, many conflicts for people biking are avoided.
The 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 regular part of Seattle street design. And if the green paint is cost-prohibitive, then maybe we should just skip it:
I would rather have lots of unpainted bike boxes (basically just advance stop lines) than just a couple green ones. By having cars stop a few feet further back from the intersection, visibility for people walking and biking increases significantly. Of course, this would sometimes require banning right turns on red (like on Pine at 12th on Capitol Hill).
If we want more people to take up cycling, we will need to make sure our streets (especially our bike routes) are safe from start to finish. Skipping every difficult intersection simply does not cut it. We can’t keep leaving people hanging at the exact moments when they need safe facilities the most.