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Brooklyn Station meeting Wednesday + Is it time to tackle big bike access issues in the U District?

Concept of 45th and Brooklyn intersection during construction.

Sound Transit is holding a meeting tonight (Wednesday, sorry for the late notice) from 6-8:30 p.m. at the Neptune Theater to discuss the 60 percent design for Brooklyn Station. The plans include two station entrances (good news!), no additional car parking (yay!) and no painful fights over zoning height upgrades (yay!), says Seattle Transit Blog.

Conversation at the meeting will touch on construction mitigation routing and station access by people on foot and bike. This could be a big deal, since Brooklyn is currently a popular street for people on bikes (really, every street in the U District is a popular biking street since there are few clear bike routes, yet tons of people biking).

So if you can, definitely swing by and give your thoughts on how to preserve the bikeability of the neighborhood during construction.

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But lets take a step back and look at the whole neighborhood. The U District has some massive barriers that need to be addressed, and the ever-increasing number of people biking in the neighborhood shows that we need to address them long before Brooklyn Station even opens.

Here’s a look at existing facilities, via Seattle’s new print bike map:

By far, the biggest issue facing the University District (and Wallingford) is I-5, particularly in the heavily-trafficked NE 45th – NE 50th St corridor. Both of those two existing bridges are currently car centric and dangerous. The benefits of bold action to create a family-friendly connection between these bike-loving neighborhoods would be enormous.

There are a few ideas for how to solve this issue. One (actually mentioned in the city’s 2007 Bicycle Master Plan) is a biking and walking bridge across I-5 at NE 47th St. Clearly, this is the coolest option. And while it would be a good use of money, it would be extremely expensive (I’d rather see that kind of capital go to the Ballard Bridge before 47th, if we must choose).

Another option could be a compromise in which underused road space on the 45th St bridge is used for a separated cycle facility. 45th St is three lanes wide through Wallingford starting just a few blocks west of the I-5 bridge. But on the bridge, it is a staggering six lanes, two of which are heavily-used turn lanes onto I-5. The northern most westbound travel lane on the bridge is unnecessary. It ends just a couple blocks later, and all traffic is funneled into one general traffic lane anyway. The extra lane simply encourages speeding and dangerous right-side passing.

It’s time we pressured the city (and maybe the state, since the project could involve changes to the Interstate access) to make a bold move and connect these neighborhoods once and for all. The economic and livability benefits of making it easier for residents of these two very dense neighborhoods to move across I-5 would be huge, and we might even be able to get some road safety and bus speed enhancements out of the deal while we’re at it.

Additionally, we need a long-term plan for family-friendly cycling in the U District. Neighborhood greenway on 12th Ave NE? Cycle track on Brooklyn (which just got a few more blocks of bike lane)? Combo of the two treatments on NE 47th St?

If you want to work more on issues in the U District, be sure to connect with University Greenways.

What other issues face the neighborhood? What is your favorite solution to the I-5 problem?

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26 responses to “Brooklyn Station meeting Wednesday + Is it time to tackle big bike access issues in the U District?”

  1. David

    Many major U-District bicycle access challenges – from my perspective – actually start outside of the U-District. Eastlake, for example, delivers throngs of bicyclists to the University District, yet is a terribly uncomfortable street to bike on. How many more people would bicycle to the U-District from the Eastlake, South Lake Union, and Downtown neighborhoods if there were a cycle track on Eastlake?

    Just south of the University Bridge, the intersection of Eastlake and Harvard is plenty scary, too. How many “interested but concerned” folks could we get on bikes with a safe and elegant solution to that intersection, alone? Much of Montlake fits this description, as well.

    1. Tom Fucoloro


      I still want to see a bike trail on the I-5 express lanes. U District access at 42nd, direct to Capitol Hill and downtown…

    2. Kevin

      I agree with David. I’m one of the interested byt concerned folks. I hate biking on Eastlake on the cratered pavement past the row of parked cars.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        An immediate option is to use Fairview Ave E from Fuhrman (first street north of the U Bridge) to South Lake Union. There is a weird uphill-downhill part, and it takes a tiny bit longer than Eastlake, but I love it. One of my favorite streets in the city. There’s lot of activity, but very little anger and impatience. The closest thing to a functional woonerf we have in Seattle, I’d say. I never bike on Eastlake if I can help it.

      2. @Tom: I used to run on that part of Fairview every now and then when I lived in the U District and ran more. It’s a pretty cool little stretch, a space that’s definitely public yet feels hidden from plain view.

    3. RTK

      Anyone else been around riding to remember Eastlake before they updated it with the center plantings? Cycling actually got worse when the update happened. We’ve come a long way since then, I couldn’t image the same type of work being considered today.

      1. another mother on a bike

        Yes. Center plantings that could be bike facilities. Eastlake was a big loss back then. We’ve got this great north-south corridor that has spotty, stressful facilities. I agree it isn’t the kind of thing we’d see today, and I would love to see it redone.

        Fairview is OK, but don’t we deserve to have more proper connected routes that don’t have weird uphill-downhill parts and alley cut-throughs? Plus, getting to as a northbound rider is tricky. I find it pretty but not very practical.

      2. Michael

        I was on the Bike Advisory Board when this was done on Eastlake, and we objected strongly to Pete Lagerwey that this design would impact cycling negatively, but we couldn’t get any modifications to accommodate cyclists. It would be great to fix the problems here.

    4. Lisa

      I like to take Eastlake across the bridge and then up Harvard to get to Capitol Hill. Coming off the bridge and then making the left onto Harvard is a disaster. The first few times I took the sidewalk but it’s so roundabout and takes so long to get across the busy streets that I just suck it up and merge into traffic. I would LOVE a better solution here.

    5. Yeah, a year or two ago Seattle added these great-looking bike lanes on Roosevelt and 11th/12th all the way up to 75th, carrying bikes all the way across the University Bridge… and then they just end. They pick up again after Fairview, but that’s after some of the traffic has turned off. There are bike lanes (or at least a climbing lane) on Harvard, but there’s no obvious way to get from the west side of Eastlake into the turn lane to get onto Harvard. If I was a road-running cyclist I’d almost rather take the non-existent Cheshiahud Loop on Fairview, if there were an obvious way to get to the resumption of the Eastlake bike lanes rather than look for a good bike route through SLU.

  2. Andrew Squirrel

    Speaking to the short new bike lane on Brooklyn:
    What a great idea except that they almost immediately dead-ended it with one of those brand new corner sidewalk bulges (what is their technical name?). This is especially tragic since they were created at almost the same exact time with positive intent but are ultimately at odds with each other.

    1. David

      Andrew – I was thinking the same thing until I went out today and tool those photos. In actuality, when they installed the bike lane they also shifted the centerline west so that the bike pane clears the curb extension rather than dead-ending.

      1. Andrew Squirrel

        oh good! I think I had only seen it before they put down paint and found myself boxed-in when cars came to a stop almost directly next to the curb/stop sign.

      2. RTK

        Yeah that re-striping of the road was just completed. It is amazing how far west they squeezed the car lanes. Very generous clearance to get past the bulb as you head north.

  3. Sam Kemmis

    Bike crossing at N 45th would be huge, especially as it would enhance the 44th st. greenway in Wallingford.

    While we’re speaking of Wallingford – N 40th st could be another great route connecting the U District to the rest of North Seattle. Unfortunately, the hill up 40th st. is basically unrideable.

    1. The hill is tough because you have pressure from traffic coming up behind you. The fast traffic in the narrow lanes of 40th makes it a really unpleasant road to ride. I’ve used 42nd for this (to get through Wallingford on my way from the U District or the U Bridge to the 41st St. pedestrian bridge and to Fremont) and it’s reasonably rideable.

      But I think most people will prefer to stay on lower ground — when biking here, often the best route is to drop off whatever hill you’re on, ride along a body of water to the hill you’re going to, and then find the least steep way up that hill. I live in Fremont around 42nd, and when biking home from the southern part of the U District I usually take the BGT rather than 42nd through Wallingford (well, I get off the BGT at 36th to avoid the lousy section around Gas Works and take 36th to Wallingford Ave then 35th to Fremont Ave, to be specific). I’ve never timed out which way is fastest at max effort, but I can get away with a lot less effort on a flatter route. And I’m no slouch on the hills…

      1. David

        There’s another E-W option that I think could potentially have some legs…if only because it would be easier to implement than anything on 45th or 40th. At the intersection of Pasadena Place and NE 40th St, there’s actually a gravel service road that goes underneath I-5, travels north along the west side of I-5, then terminates at the intersection of 5th Ave NE & N 42nd St (http://g.co/maps/jsfgt). It’s a bit tricky to ride directly under I-5 because it’s gravel and quite steep, but if ODOT (assuming that’s the landowner) could be convinced to pave a section it would be a pretty easy ride. It’s probably not a great alternative to 45th for folks coming from the north, but if you’re looking for an E-W alternative to 40th it certainly fits the bill and doesn’t require nearly as much out of direction travel as taking the Burke to Latona/Thackery.

      2. Breadbaker

        The real problem on 40th is the buses. Basically, the eastbound lane is a bus wide and there are five bus routes that use that street all day long. Frankly, I never even consider cycling on 40th, even though I’ve lived on it since 1984. It’s far easier to take any of the side streets such as 41st, which has no traffic and is as wide as 40th.

      3. @Breadbaker: The cars are as much a problem — if a bus can’t get around you without venturing into the opposing lane there’s a good chance a car can’t do it safely either. Certainly on 40th if you’re riding clear of the door zone there’s not room for a standard car to pass you within the lane safely. You could get rid of all the buses and it would still be a tough ride.

        Fortunately there are better routes for almost any trip you might want to make.

    2. “Bike crossing at N 45th would be huge, especially as it would enhance the 44th st. greenway in Wallingford.”

      If you can get to it. Unless there’s a bike-only contraflow lane on 5th that would have to cross the I-5 traffic, the best solution might be Latona/Thackeray. I said before that I didn’t think a 44th greenway was very practical, especially compared to 47th.

      40th crosses I-5 right at the Burke-Gilman Trail, and I think the bike facilities it crosses (Stone Way, Wallingford Ave, Latona/Thackeray) all extend to the Burke, though Latona-Thackeray do so iffily. Something that could serve as a Burke-Gilman bypass of the core of Fremont (like a 36th greenway, or bike lanes on Bridge/38th/Fremont Way?) could be interesting.

  4. Thinking big for bikes in the UD might mean a Broadway-style road redesign. But that would probably take us down to a single road lane in each direction, which would bring traffic to a dead halt, and the 44 (and 43 and 49) with it. SDOT is about to make a bunch of improvements for the 44 in Wallingford and Fremont but not changing much in the UD… really getting the buses moving through the UD would probably require a bus lane on 45th and 15th. If we got a good bike facility across I-5 and then a good connection to 47th we could focus on 47th as a biking street, maybe?

    1. What sort of barriers are there to bike facilities on the 50th overpass?

      1. I’m not sure if there are any, but I don’t think 50th has good bike connections on either side of I-5 anyway. West of I-5 there’s a really steep hill for about a block, and then beyond there it’s sort of like 40th, with lots of fast-moving through traffic.

        50th east of I-5 is, to me, a textbook case for a road diet. It’s four lanes with no turning lanes, so through traffic swerves from lane to lane trying to get around people waiting to turn. I avoid it whether I’m biking, driving, or running. Even if a road diet didn’t produce a bike lane it would produce turning areas and save lots of swerving, which would improve cycling conditions considerably. I’d guess that people think they really need all those traffic lanes on the bridge.

  5. ScottA

    Having the two westbound vehicle lanes taper to one after the 45th Street/I-5 intersection allows the cars to be “stored” during a red light and then gets a lot more cars through the intersection during green as they accelerate at varying rates and merge into one lane. Losing one vehicle lane before the light would make the intersection and whole corridor even more congested and I’m generally a fan of recent rechannelizations around the city. A whole new bridge at 47th sounds like a great idea. I could even justify deleting some street parking between the freeway and 21st Ave NE to leverage this investment and make a much better east-west route.

  6. Doug Bostrom

    A bridge at 47th would be terrific.

    It’s a shame I-5 was allowed to slice the city in half and then was never finished; a completed I-5 project would have included sufficient bridges, wouldn’t have become a permanent, aggravating handicap for residents of Seattle. If adding a tiny handful of bridges is more than we can afford then we couldn’t afford the dratted thing at all.

    1. Naturally, we’d never build a massive highway project that wasn’t fully funded again, certainly not one, say, tunneling directly underneath downtown Seattle with unknown risks to the buildings above that can’t be stopped once started until it’s finished.

      Oh wait…

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