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While I dream of an I-5 bike facility, WSDOT cameras spot repeat I-5 cyclist

WSDOT cameras spotted someone biking on southbound I-5 before climbing over the barrier near Pike Street and disappearing. The motives of this guy and how far he rode on the freeway are unknown, but it doesn’t look like a fun time to me.

Cycling on this section of I-5 is illegal and a jailable offense. It’s also a bad idea, though not unheard of. A woman was injured while biking on I-5 near the 520 interchange in September.

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While I in no way would suggest people should bike on I-5 today, I do have a pie-in-the-sky dream of an I-5 that is bikeable. In fact, just yesterday I tweeted the following not knowing King 5 would have this report in the morning:

As one of our city and state’s biggest transportation investments, it is a shame for I-5’s uses to be so limited. With easy grades and no stop lights, a safe bicycle facility on I-5 through Seattle would be a remarkable asset for urban biking.

Obviously, this is nowhere on the WSDOT radar, and I have no idea how much it would cost to do something like, say, retrofit the express lanes to prioritize buses and create a safe space for walking and biking. But what’s the point of dreaming if you don’t dream big?

Speaking of dreaming big, check out Bike Portland’s dream for a bike-promoting State of the Union.

UPDATE: Because I’m in a silly mood, here’s an artist’s rendition of an I-5 biking/walking trail (actually, a photoshop mash-up of Google Street View with a cool filter on top to hide my lack of PS skills):

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26 responses to “While I dream of an I-5 bike facility, WSDOT cameras spot repeat I-5 cyclist”

  1. Fat Guy On A Bike

    I’ve often driven on I-5 and wished I were on my bike….would have been much faster. :-)

  2. A separate lane, a la the one crossing I-90 (which I believe is shown in the clip), could very safely provide pedestrian and bike access. It would be much more efficient for cyclists such as myself who awkwardly traverse up and down 45th -> U Bridge -> Harvard Ave. There are 12 lanes across the Ship Canal Bridge, I wonder the feasibility of modifying or adding to the Express level…

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Totally! It would make Roosevelt and Capitol Hill/downtown something like 10-15 easy (read: not sweaty) minutes apart. How cool would that be? I bet enough current drivers would switch to biking to offset a lot of the increased traffic.

      But, of course, the politics behind these issues is not about being rational. It’s hard enough to get a bus lane (or even HOV3+) on a freeway, which is an investment beyond obvious. So even if studies prove a biking and walking facility would offset motor vehicle traffic, there would be intense opposition…

  3. What a great news story to help spur some city dialog on your idea Tom! I love the way you’re thinking… But I guarantee if I reported about an idea like that we’d have lots of people immediately chime in to say they wouldn’t want to bike on I-5 due to air quality concerns. That concern comes up a lot around a path project adjacent to our I-84 so I can only imagine how people would respond about putting bike traffic actually on the freeway.

    Not wanting to be a wet blanket but I’m just saying air quality next to big freeways is terrible… and when you’re breathing hard it’s worse.

    1. Gary

      I commute daily along I-90 on the bridge and air quality isn’t all that bad. There is a constant breeze both from the cars and the land/water from the surrounding area that moves the car exhaust away.

      The water sprayed up into a mist, now that coats my bike and my clothes with a fine layer of black grit. (I suspect it’s mostly latex as it doesn’t have an oil sheen to it.)

      1. Aside from the spray and the noise, the crosswinds on the I-90 bridge can be pretty unsettling. If there’s much wind you really don’t want to be all that close to either wall. A bridge like that would be a terrible place to hit a patch of black ice (I’ve got this on my mind after my rough ride through Montlake Monday morning). And you never feel very safe when you’re stuck on a trail where there’s no way out and nobody of any use around if you’re attacked.

        Despite all this, the I-90 route gets plenty of use. And I can only guess a good I-5 bike route would, too, as it would be the most direct and flattest way to make a lot of common trips. The question is how to make a good I-5 bike route. Using the freeway surface is hard — you really don’t want cyclists interacting with merging traffic, but they have to be able to enter and exit the freeway. The I-90 trail doesn’t use the same surface as the freeway except on the bridges, where there’s a long way between exits. Elsewhere it’s either on a separate surface to the side, or on the freeway lid, with normal street intersections. I think a good I-5 bike route would probably have to involve a lot more freeway lid.

      2. Gary

        Maybe I’m just naive but I never worry about being attacked in a bike lane. As far as I can tell muggers who want money need a person who is easy to take down, likely to have something worth taking, and not be seen, and easy to get away from the site. A bike trail doesn’t fit this at all.

        1) people going by are zipping along so you don’t have much time to assess their vulnerability.

        2) a bike trail with “no place to go” doesn’t leave you the attacker with any place to go afterwards either.

        3) bikers, it’s hard to know what they’ve got. Obviously their bike can be worth a lot, but it’s easier to steal a poorly locked bike than it is to take one from a rider. And again it’s hard to see what they are riding before they pass you and it’s too late to catch them.

        4) since bikers ride pretty fast, you can’t tell how long you’ve got until someone else comes along.

        5) muggers are lazy. Otherwise they’d get a job, and mugging a cyclist is a lot of work.

        The most vulnerable places I ride are, traversing a park with too many low bushes. Judkins Park has in the past been a problem. But in the last year or two I’m noticing way more regular people walking dogs etc and no “ner-d0-wells”.

        The current terrible spot in the city is actually right downtown. Pioneer Sq when the bars let out. And Westlake during the day! Belltown has hired private cops to move the drug deals out, and they moved South to between Pike’s Place market which also has private cops and 5th, along Pine street. Regular muggings down there. (snatch and grabs.)

      3. JT

        Are there any counts for how many people use the I-90 bike lanes on a given day?

      4. Tom Fucoloro

        That’s a great question JT. I don’t know if that number exists. Bike count data has always been kinda sketchy. There are certainly morning commute counts and bike to work day counts (I’ll dig those up in a bit unless someone else beats me to it). But I have no idea if any all-day counts exist (but maybe the state does it?)

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      The air quality argument would be an interesting one, for sure. Obviously, air quality around major freeways sucks. At the same time, I-5/the Ship Canal Bridge follows a truly unique route in a way that parallel bike routes could never go. Our city’s experience with other Interstate bike trails (the I-90 Trail) is very successful. While air quality and environmental comfort is obviously diminished by the Interstate, it’s still very popular (then again, it’s the only choice).

      Another consideration is that the express lanes are on a different level from the general traffic lanes (underneath them), and car traffic on the lower level today creates an illegal amount of noise pollution in neighboring homes. The state has been spending tons of money to try to mitigate that (because they legally have to). Fewer cars on the lower level would help reduce that and the overall air quality detriment…

      Plus, other bike routes that exist today run very close to the Interstate, so the negative impacts of the air quality are already somewhat of a problem, though obviously it is worse actually on the freeway surface. Hmm… Thanks for the thoughts Jonathan!

  4. Gary

    Yep, crazy behavior!

    I’ve ridden legally on the Freeway in Idaho. I rode from Boise to Mt. Home on I-84. It was the worst ride of my life for being boring. The shoulder is plenty wide for bicyclist, but things on a freeway are spaced for cars going 60+. That means rest stops are 30 miles apart, which is 4 hrs, not 30 minutes. Crossing exits you take your life in your hands because you must cross the 20 ft of roadway while judging cars approaching from behind at 60+.

    I rode 30 miles up wind, out my way going from Wyoming to Colorado to avoid doing that again.

  5. AdmiralWinfield

    Maybe the next critical mass should cycle on the I-5. It would sure make for a lot of publicity.

    1. Anthony

      Here here! I second the motion to take over I-5 with bikes.

  6. Huh, I think I changed my mind about how hard this would be. Not hard at all, unless you think getting rid of a lane on I-5 in each direction and eliminating the totally insane NB Harvard to NB I-5 left-turn onramp is a problem :-). On the west side (heading south), use the SB entrance from 45th/5th, and then use the west side of the roadway until the Boylston exit. On the east side (heading north), replace the onramp from Harvard with a bikeway, and use the east side of the roadway until the 45th St. exit. Going farther south (through the 520 interchange) would be hard… it would be nice to be able to connect to the soon-to-be 520 bridge bike path via the western part of the surface of 520, but there’s not much roadway space, and it’s probably a challenge to get through the Montlake Blvd interchange?

  7. Dave

    Freeway bike lanes, Portland style. That is quite dream-worthy.

  8. Realistic Rider

    What happened to the previous post by “ihatebikes”? I understand it may have been hostile, but shouldn’t they, as a citizen of Seattle (I assume) have a voice as well?

    I think bike lanes wherever possible are generally a good idea. Even though bikes are technically, “road going vehicles,” I think it is important to separate them from the general traffic as much as possible. For the most part, I think cyclist get a bad name from the few out there that don’t obey traffic laws or respect cars. However, the vast majority of cyclist out there are good people who are just trying to get from Point A to Point B in an inexpensive, efficient, and responsible way.

    I think a little understanding can go along way on both the cyclists and drivers part.

    Word to an I-5 bike lane if done properly. Look the I-90 path as an example.


  9. I. Ponder

    I’ve been told that I-5 express lanes are wonderful and fast for cycling when closed to cars.

    1. Michael

      In the 1970s they used to close the I-5 express lanes to cars 2-3 Sundays in the summer, and I rode there once. It’s a great way to get between the U-District and downtown! It would definitely encourage commuters to have bike lanes on that route.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I have heard legend of these 1970s express lane rides. I would love for the state to do something like that again.

      2. In Chicago (as of a couple years ago) they do a “Bike the Drive” event where LSD is closed to cars. It’s sponsored by Bank of America and features speakers that think cycling is carbon-neutral, but if you look past the cartoonish silliness it’s kind of fun. I wonder what it would take to get a less corporate-styled event… that is, if the reason it was a BoA sponsorship is because only BoA has the cash to blow…

  10. Mark

    Fantastic idea Tom. It may sound crazy to you now, but someone had to start the conversation. I’ve never thought of this but it’s magnificent. Go Go Go Tom!

  11. William C Bonner

    Your I5 rendition doesn’t include the massive fence that would have to be installed to keep people from committing suicide from the high bridges, similar to the Aurora Bridge fence retrofit that was done recently.

  12. I keep watching this video, and I can’t help but root for this guy. He’s the frickin’ Robin Hood of the freeway! The cops show up, and he’s disappeared into nowhere! I don’t even know where you go from there — maybe he’s jumped down, presumably onto the roof of the express lanes, dropped the bike into the weeds beside the express lanes, jumped down there, and escaped to terra firma… maybe 9th Ave?

    It makes you wonder if there’s something going on that’s actually morally wrong, like a bike theft ring using the weeds beside I-5 to stash stolen bikes?

  13. Clark in Vancouver

    I think it’s a great idea to have a bike lane on the bridge. In fact, it should just be standard on all bridges. It should be in the guidelines and regulations for any new bridge and any refurbishing of an existing bridge that they must put in a nice wide separated bike lane. People who cycle pay taxes and should not be left out of the transportation infrastructure.
    For the I-5 Bridge, it may seem hopeless right now but if you keep lobbying and requesting this of politicians and the city’s engineering department (or whoever handles these things) then eventually after hearing it enough times, something will click. There will be an opportunity when, for example, they have some money to redo the railings or whatever, and somebody at the department will remember that there were repeated requests for bike lanes on the bridge and why not include those when adding the railings.
    Also there’s the thing about evolution. Right now it may seem that politicians and those who pull the strings are against you but if you persist, at some point those in power will be of a different generation or different political bent and you’ll suddenly find receptiveness. Be prepared for that.
    Those opposed are mostly opposed because it’s a hobby for them to be against anything new. After awhile cycling infrastructure will no longer be new and they’ll stop being against it (and presumably will have moved on to be against something else.)

  14. […] despite my dreams, WSDOT is not creating a temporary biking and walking trail across the I-5 Ship Canal […]

  15. Today’s State Supreme Court decision makes an I-5 bike line all the more possible, per SLOG.

    Facilities built for highway purposes do not have to remain in highway use. Per the Supreme Court, the 18th Amendment “does not address whether highway facilities must continue to be used for highway purposes.”

    Bring on the bike lanes!

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