Seattle, cycle tracks can be built easily and quickly

This 1.15-mile two-way cycle track through Chicago’s dense downtown Loop was painted in just hours Monday. Photo from Active Transportation Alliance

Chicago is currently installing some of the last miles of new bike lanes the city has planned for 2012: A two-way cycle track on N Dearborn Street through the incredibly dense and busy downtown Loop.

The downtown project is part of a protected bike lane push by Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was elected in early 2011.

When Emanuel took office, Seattle was working on the Dexter bike lanes. Talk of a downtown cycle track was sparse, but gaining wind. By fall of 2011, Seattle opened the Dexter buffered bike lanes to almost unanimous support. Seattle announced plans to fund an update to the Bicycle Master Plan.

Just weeks after the City Council approved the budget that included the plan update, Chicago installed its first protected bike lane on Kinzie Street. For the next year, Chicago would install about 20 miles of protected bike lanes. While Seattle is getting its first glimpses at the first draft of the Bicycle Master Plan Update, Chicago is laying down the paint for the first protected bike lane through the most active part of their downtown.

Meanwhile, Seattle has funded yet another transportation plan that will look in part at downtown cycle tracks. That funding was secured a couple weeks ago.

It does not need to take this long. It sounds doubtful there will be a cycle track downtown before 2014. Why? The Bike Master Plan will soon have clear recommendations for which streets are good candidates. Do we really need to wait until the Center City Mobility Plan is complete before we even talk about planning a cycle track downtown?

The city is also predicting that cycle tracks will cost $4-5 million per mile. This cost, based on the cost of Vancouver’s Hornby cycle track, is much higher than Chicago’s, as we reported previously:

Using an estimate from SDOT that cycle tracks could cost $4-5 million per mile, Council estimated that they could build 0.25 miles of cycle track with the included funding. However, this is by far the highest cost estimate for cycle tracks we have seen compared to other cities (Chicago has built cheapo cycle tracks for $170,000 per mile and Long Beach recently spent about $300,000 per mile, though Vancouver’s downtown cycle track on Hornby cost about 3 million Canadian dollars for a mile).

Cycle tracks are certainly more complicated than the bike lanes the city has been installing for the past several years. For example, they require bike-specific traffic signals and intersection redesigns. However, other costs relate to materials used for separation, much of which can be saved by simply using parked cars instead of curbs or planters. This would also make the streets significantly safer for people on foot, which is desperately needed downtown.

And, of course, there are Seattle’s seemingly never-ending planning and consultant costs (Chicago’s work is largely done in-house).

Seattle can’t wait longer. We’re suddenly in a place where we’re envious of Chicago‘s bike lanes. That’s crazy. We are falling behind because we are not making bold and smart investments in cycling infrastructure where we need it most. There won’t be a huge increase in the number of people cycling until we make significant improvements to the streets people need to use the most.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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27 Responses to Seattle, cycle tracks can be built easily and quickly

  1. Al Dimond says:

    I recall the Loop being actually pretty hospitable to biking when I lived in Chicago. Probably better than downtown Seattle, though it might just be a familiarity thing — I biked downtown a lot there, and not so much here. About my only complaint with cycling in Chicago was the metal-grated bridges. They just paint bike lanes right on the things! I mean, they’re perfectly usable if they’re dry and you know what you’re doing, but it’s easy to bite it if they’re wet or icy.

    I hope they banned turns on red across that cycletrack. As I recall Dearborn doesn’t have a whole lot of curb cuts, so that’s nice. FWIW, it might be really easy to put a cycletrack in DT Seattle since Seattle drivers already turn across the bike lanes as if they’re cycletracks (honestly, having to then pass these drivers on the side to which they’re turning freaks me out a lot, but at least they’re looking).

  2. daniel says:

    The Knizie CT is really great. I rode it a couple times while I was in Chicago for CCM15. The route it provides into downtown has always been well used and now is a bit safer.


  3. wave says:

    hear hear!

  4. Ints says:

    Mayor Mc Ginn will be at tonight’s SBAB meeting, the perfect place to raise this issue!

  5. Bob Anderton says:

    Seattle is world-class in our planning, the envy of other cities… now DOING, that’s something else entirely.

    If you’ve ever ridden or even driven in Chicago, our being envious of their efficiency and safety… well, that IS crazy.

  6. Tom B. says:

    This is an excellent blog-post Tom. Thanks for posting!

    I live in Boston (where cycle tracks are also too slow to go in) and am watching Seattle (slowly) transform and, like you, wish changes would happen faster. You’re right that the City could install plastic knock-down bollards and create cycle tracks on the cheap. That, and they should modify the signal coordination on all downtown streets so the coordinated traffic signals operate at cycling speed instead of motor vehicle speed (the way Portland does for their downtown.) That one-two punch would do wonders for cycling in Seattle.

    I’ve watched infrastructure in American cities become more European bit by bit. But they always make compromises. Hey, maybe the “Seattle Process” has value. Maybe Seattle, in their perfectionism, could put in the nation’s *best* cycle tracks. NYC made compromises by installing “mixing zones” on approach to intersections. I see the reasoning, but I think it is overkill. To mitigate Right Hook conflicts, it’s much better to install “refuge cycle tracks.” Perhaps Seattle could be the first American city to put them in. Germany does them on the cheap, and the Dutch do them with a little more foresight (though they work well in both cases.) See and for details on refuge cycle tracks.

    Hope that helps.

    • Michael says:

      most signals downtown are timed and sequenced to keep vehicle speeds around 13 mph. if you bike downtown you would know that it is fairly easy to keep up with, or out pace vehicles, on avenues particularly during peak hour. east-west streets are another story.

      • Tom B. says:

        Thanks for the comments, Michael – that’s good to hear. Do you know how long the signals have been synchronized at 13 mph? I used to bike commute through downtown Seattle. (That was several years ago. I’ve been car-free for 14 years.) Along the downhill portion of Second Avenue it was easy to keep up with the signals, but going uphill on Fourth Avenue I couldn’t keep up with them – not sure if that is changed today.

      • Tom B. says:

        Michael, I hate to disabuse you but I just spoke to a traffic signal engineer from SDOT and he said your 13 mph comment was way off. He said they synchronize the signals in downtown Seattle (at least on the north-south streets) to around 30 mph. I’m not sure where you got your information from but you should probably be more careful with your comments.

  7. Dylan says:

    Notice no driveways or intersections pictured. What is the fascination with 2-way cycle tracks anyway? Seems like mass confusion at the intersections is inevitable. Having a one-way cycletrack on either side makes a lot more sense to me. I guess we will see how it goes on Broadway.

  8. Clark in Vancouver says:

    I suspect that the reason we’re seeing two-way cycle tracks is because of a compromise. To have a one-way track on each side they would need to be wide enough for passing. This would mean taking away two motor vehicle lanes. With a two-way track the other direction is also used for passing meaning only one motor vehicle lane is repurposed.
    It’s still early on in North America to have any bicycle infrastructure at all and even minor sensible things face huge opposition so two-way tracks might all we are able to do at this point in history. Some day we might be able to have wide one-way tracks on each side.

  9. Richard says:

    The two-way bike lanes on one way streets work fine. They use less space and allow for passing. If they get too crowded, build more on a near by street. Better to have a fine grained network than all bike traffic forced onto a few streets. A finer grid means shorter cycling distances and access to more destinations.

    In the case shown, the parked cars could not protect the bike lane unless they only had one travel lane.

  10. Dave says:

    Chicago did an extensive planning process (with consultants) to identify the best candidate roadways for cycle tracks, buffered bike lanes, and neighborhood greenways. Just about all of the design is also done by consultants, although many of them sit at CDOT’s office.

    • Dylan says:

      and? Having consultants to advise on projects like this is the norm, so I am not sure what the intent of your comment is.

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  14. Paul Jr says:

    This is really cool, thanks for sharing. I wish we had this type of stuff in Utah!

  15. Brian says:

    I love the two cars parked in the CT in the picture.

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