Loper: My favorite intersection in Seattle? Well, I’m still looking for it…

The sign on the Burke at 39th tells the story: you can go anywhere by bike!

The sign on the Burke at 39th tells the story: you can go anywhere by bike!

When Madi Carlson wrote about her least favorite intersection here on Seattle Bike Blog, it created a stir. Lots of folks — myself included — wanted to chime in and add their least favorites as well. It turned out there were a lot of candidates!

I later had the idea that it would be nice to have a more positive take on bicycling infrastructure in Seattle, and I figured at some point I should write about my most favorite intersection. Maybe at least a few folks would chime in on that one as well.

The idea has circled through the back of my head as I’ve ridden around town these last couple of months. The problem is that — after a lot of riding and a lot of thinking as well — I haven’t really come up with an intersection I could call my favorite! Or at least not one that seems significant enough to really affect the overall bikeability of Seattle.

A couple of candidates emerged. They are all essentially “backwater” intersections that don’t get that much traffic but that work reasonably well. They’re mostly notable though because they have something unique and interesting about them.

One that comes to mind is the new connection of the 39th Ave NE neighborhood greenway to the Burke-Gilman Trail. Both 39th and the Burke in that area are pretty good routes for bikes, and the connection works well. The bonus feature there is the signage at the junction. It includes directions to five destinations by bike, while also indicating you are turning onto both the Burke-Gilman Trail and the Lake Washington Loop. I can’t think of a more powerful and comprehensive bike route sign in Seattle. It provides a really tangible message that you can get anywhere you need to or want to from this location by bicycle. And that’s a message this city needs! It makes the promise of the greenway — when it is part of a fully connected network — all the more exciting.

Seattle's magical disappearing bike lanes are everywhere

Seattle’s magical disappearing bike lanes are everywhere

But if intersections like that one are among the best in town for bikers, then maybe there is a broader issue that needs to be addressed. I keep racking my brain and keeping my eyes open for an intersection on a more heavily used bike route — with trickier traffic conditions — that is truly optimized for bike use. I haven’t found one, but if you have examples please share them.

Seattle has built some pretty good bike infrastructure segments these last few years. The buffered bike lanes on Dexter come to mind. The buffered bike lanes on Roosevelt Blvd. NE as well. Certainly the new Ship Canal Trail. But most of these segments essentially dead end. There is no continuity from a reasonable bike segment through the challenging intersection at either end. And the segments don’t add up to a complete system. They often dump a cyclist out onto an arterial where they’re left to fend for themselves. Even the non-buffered bike lanes that are now considered old-tech often run for part of a route and then transition to sharrows or to nothing as they approach the trouble spots.

Another disappearing bike lane

Another disappearing bike lane

Seattle needs a fully connected system of bike infrastructure to help you get safely and efficiently from wherever you are to wherever you want to go. Ideally, with a couple of options. But for now, can you say “missing link?” The namesake one on the Burke-Gilman is notorious, but if you ride around Seattle enough you find missing links everywhere.

Consequently it’s easier to come up with a favorite road or trail segment to bike on. There are decent bike infrastructure segments all around the city. In this category I do have a favorite, and interestingly it’s not one that’s been recently constructed, or is even formally considered bike infrastructure per se. But check it out if you haven’t already: it’s the section of Interlaken from Delmar up to the 19th and Galer intersection on Capitol Hill. Interlaken is low traffic, forested, meandering, and enjoyable to ride. Sure there’s a hill to climb (or descend) but without much traffic you can take your time. A friend calls it the Golden Mile!

The route through Interlaken Park

The route through Interlaken Park

Is the route through Interlaken critical for biking to school or work? I don’t know, but it can be helpful. A few hardy kids may use it, as Seattle Hebrew Academy is halfway up the hill and Stevens Elementary is at the top. And for work or any transportation riding, it is a low traffic signed bike route, and a great way to get from Montlake up to Capitol Hill and the Central District.

Alas though — like many other bikeable segments in Seattle — at either end… you’re on your own.

Clint Loper is Seattle Bike Blog’s Bike to School Expert, and has helped start several local bike-to-school programs including walk.bike.schools. Clint’s family of four ride their bikes to work and school nearly every day, and Clint occasionally posts here on bike to school and every day biking topics.

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9 Responses to Loper: My favorite intersection in Seattle? Well, I’m still looking for it…

  1. Bill says:

    Interlaken is one of my favorite roads! I often go out of my way to ride it.

    The Ship Canal trail is great except for the double hairpin tracks crossing. It is impossible to ride a tandem or many recumbents through there. Cargo bikes are probably sketchy. If we want to see more bike commuting then trail designers need to expand their definition of ”bicycle” beyond a racing bike. The simple right-angle crossings on the Burke and Interbay trails are much better even though they are at the limit of what a non-conventional bike can negotiate.

    Unfortunately I can’t think of an intersection I like either.

  2. Al Dimond says:

    I actually have a series of favorite intersections. Fremont Ave. and 105th, 85th, and 80th. These intersections all allow cyclists following the Interurban Route to continue through on Fremont (avoiding the door-zone bike lane on Greenwood at least for a while) across busy streets while disallowing cars from turning it into a speedy bypass. The signal cycle length is pretty reasonable and the sensors always pick up my bike.

  3. Al Dimond says:

    That railroad crossing on the Ship Canal Trail takes the good idea of using road shape to encourage users to slow down and look out… and drives it off a cliff. When the trail is extended farther into Magnolia and down into Interbay as the BMP suggests, the crossing could really become a congestion point. There’s enough space around there it should be easy to design something effective and usable.

  4. Adrian Q says:

    I rode through the Roosevelt/12th & Ravenna intersections for the first time yesterday and was fairly impressed. At the very least, the big green bike lanes are extremely visible and fairly well protected.

  5. Madeleine Carlson says:

    Wonderful idea! I wish I could think of my favorite intersection. I’ll get back to you if I come up with one. I’m a sucker for directional signage so I quite like hopping on the Lake Washington Loop from UW. It’s really hard for me to get lost and I’m *great* at getting lost. But I’m sure I can come up with something more specific and remarkable…

  6. Doug says:

    Well, I managed to get my tandem through there with a wife and a week’s worth of camping gear aboard.

    But I take your meaning. It’s stupendously annoying even on a standard bike.

  7. Doug says:

    This was intended to be a response to Bill.

  8. Clint says:

    I had forgotten about those intersections on Fremont Ave. They’re good and we need more like them. And I hear you about the Greenwood door zone; eesh that can be bad. Especially if you happen to be playing leapfrog with a metro bus too.

  9. Madeleine Carlson says:

    I remembered something I like! On Greenwood at 85th the loop detector (or “pole-dancing bicycle” as my friend calls it) is in the middle of the lane (picture here). Usually they’re at one edge and put waiting bicyclists uncomfortably close to cars.

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