Construction on the First Hill Streetcar is set to begin in April, putting it on track to begin operation in early 2014. Planners behind the streetcar are holding two open houses to discuss construction of the project. The first is 5 – 8 p.m. today at Union Station’s Ruth Fisher Boardroom (401 S Jackson Street). The second open house will be 4 – 7 p.m. March 7 in the Broadway Room of the Silver Cloud Hotel (1100 Broadway).
The design of the streetcar contains a lot of exciting aspects for people biking, but there are some points of concern, especially on Jackson. First, let’s look at the exciting stuff: The Broadway Bikeway.
Basically, the Broadway Bikeway is a two-way separated cycle track on the east side of Broadway. It is ten feet wide and will run from Denny to Yesler. It comes with all sorts of modern design elements to help people on bikes safely make turns and prevent collisions with people walking and driving.
Here’s a concept flyover video from August (so some details may have changed):
New streetcar plazas along Broadway change the street layouts a bit, and plans will add safe crosswalks where they are sorely lacking today along the southern half of Broadway. Today, Broadway turns into a dangerous four-lane roadway between Pine and James Streets. But after the streetcar goes in, traffic will be calmed and the number of safe crossings for people biking and walking will increase significantly. Here’s a look at the redesigned Marion/Broadway intersection (note that Marion is an excellent First Hill bike route):
When Broadway meets Yesler, the cycle track needs to get people biking to the bike lanes on either side of Yesler. To do that, planners invented what I’m calling the bicycle flux capacitor. People walking and biking will mix for a small section at the end of the cycle track. Since this is at the end of a downhill, it will be important that people biking are going slow. This is one of the most unique bikeway challenges planners had to solve.
From there, the streetcar turns on Yesler, then on 14th to Jackson. At Yesler and 14th, the bike lane makes a job to the right in order to cross the turning tracks at a safer angle (planners dubbed this move a “bike sneak”)
At Jackson, plans get whole lot less exciting from a biking perspective. As we have argued all along, Jackson is a vital bicycle corridor and is one of the only east-west routes with a reasonable grade (due to extensive regrading projects). It is the only road that connects Pioneer Square with 12th Ave, the Jose Rizal Bridge and the Central District. A safe bicycle facility would change the viability of bicycling between some of the city’s most densely populated neighborhoods. On top of it all, Jackson actually sees fewer cars per day than Broadway, so a similar treatment should be expected to work.
However, Seattle Streetcar’s Ethan Melone said traffic volumes were not the only consideration for the Jackson corridor. From an email a few months ago:
Corridor-level average daily traffic volumes only tell part of the story of how the traffic operations of a corridor work and what the options might be for successfully changing those operations. Intersection operations are an important factor. Intersections like Rainier/Jackson, 12th/Jackson, 4th/Jackson have high volumes on all of the intersection approaches. Additionally, the Jackson corridor has more bus routes with more service than Broadway–the Route 49 on Broadway turns at Pine/Pike, most of the corridor is served primarily by the 9 and the 60, which have less frequent service and lower passenger volumes at stops than the routes 7, 14, and 36 operating in the Jackson corridor, all with frequent service. So, the traffic operations in the Jackson corridor are more demanding, particularly with respect to transit service. The Jackson corridor also has some transit improvements, such as peak-hour transit only lanes and in-lane transit stops, that limit the flexibility to modify traffic operations in the corridor. All of these elements were considerations in the design for the Jackson corridor.
So what we are left with is four or five lanes roadway with trolley tracks in the center lanes. This is better than the setup on Westlake, but it contains practically no improvements for walking or bicycling (though repaving the surface will do wonders). In fact, it will make left turns more difficult for people biking due to the tracks in the center lanes. Here’s a flyover of the Jackson plans (again, from August):
Another big worry is for people headed west on Jackson as they cross the Boren/Rainier/14th Ave intersection. The tracks turn, creating a potentially dangerous situation as people biking downhill cross the tracks at a potentially dangerous shallow angle. It’s also unclear how people biking east on Jackson are supposed to get to the northbound 14th Ave bike lane, since the turn lane has streetcar tracks.
In the end, the project is a mix of extremely exciting and disappointing. My hope is that, in practice, the Jackson corridor won’t be any worse than it is today (which is not great). But I can’t help feeling like it is a huge missed opportunity to dramatically improve the biking and walking environment on one of the city’s most eclectic streets.
More details on the bike plans, from an autumn presentation to the Bicycle Advisory Board:
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