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City selects firm to lead Westlake Cycle Track project

The city has passed a milestone in the Westlake Cycle Track project, selecting a firm to lead design work on a safe connection between the heart of South Lake Union and Fremont, the Ship Canal Trail and beyond.

Here’s a completely theoretical concept image from a 2012 Cascade Bicycle Club report to get those creative juices flowing:

cascade-westlakeAnd while the project would only cover the area between the Fremont Bridge and the northern end of South Lake Union, we have suggested that it could be continued down Westlake Ave to downtown. This would solve three huge problems: Provide a fast and safe regional commuting route, fill a hole in South Lake Union’s desperately poor bike route network (or lack thereof) and fix the still-dangerous cycling environment on Westlake Ave created by the poorly-planned South Lake Union Streetcar.

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Details on project progress, from the SDOT Blog:

SDOT is excited to announce the kick-off of the Westlake Cycle Track project. This project improves safety for people biking, improves the pedestrian experience, and will be done in coordination with the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study, because Westlake is one of the possible corridors being considered for future rail.

The Toole Design Group, a planning, engineering and landscape architecture firm whose specialty is bike and pedestrian transportation, has been selected to do the planning and design of pedestrian and bicycle improvements. One element of their effort will be figuring out just how folks and freight will move safely up and down (and across) the strip between Lake Union and the eastern bluffs of Queen Anne, no matter how they travel.

The centerpiece of the study is a brand new cycle track to link the Ship Canal Trail with bike and pedestrian facilities on South Lake Union. The public right-of-way on Westlake can accommodate all modes of travel—people walking, transit, people riding bikes, vehicles and freight — and a cycle track will be a great way of helping to keep everyone safe. It improves safety for all modes of traffic and can make it easier for motorists to see people walking on bikes when entering and leaving the parking lot adjacent to Westlake.

SDOT Westlake Cycle Track staff is coordinating closely Sound Transit and other SDOT staff on the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study. This study looks at different rail options from Ballard to Downtown. While the study won’t be completed until 2014, it is looking at different design options that are important to consider as the cycle track moves forward.

Mayor McGinn is very supportive of the Westlake Cycle Track project and inclusive public engagement. He has also allocated $1.2 million in proposed funding for construction in new budget legislation, made possible by savings from the Spokane Street Viaduct project. Pending City Council approval, this funding could be enough to complete construction, depending on final design details. Previous funding exists from the Puget Sound Regional Council and the City of Seattle.

The initial focus of the study between now and this fall is to determine project needs through meeting with stakeholders. The next steps are the development of alternatives and continued public participation. Ultimately, a preferred alternative will be identified and rolled out for the public. The opportunity and challenge is to develop alternatives for the cycle track that leverage the multimodal benefits of each mode within the corridor.

Expect to see more information about the cycle track possibilities at fairs, festivals and meetings this summer. We will have information available at the upcoming Sound Transit / City of Seattle open house about the Ballard to Downtown Seattle Transit Expansion Study on Thursday, June 27th at Ballard High School Commons.

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32 responses to “City selects firm to lead Westlake Cycle Track project”

  1. Gary

    Where is there room for the cycle track on Westlake South of Lake Union? It’s 4 lanes now, no shoulder, minimal parking and tracks in the right hand side going both ways. They would have to take out a car lane to make this work. (not that I would mind but I suspect it would make a mess for the car/freight traffic.)

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      See my uneducated concept image here: http://www.seattlebikeblog.com/2012/09/18/regional-council-recommends-westlake-cycle-track-more/

      As for design issues, that’s up to people who know how to do that stuff. But yes, there will have to be fewer travel lanes. However, Westlake really isn’t all that busy. Usually backups are the result of traffic on Denny or Mercer, not because so many vehicles are trying to go up and down Westlake. Most vehicle traffic north and south is on Fairview if headed up the east side of the lake or on Aurora if on the west side of the lake. However, I don’t have #s because neither Westlake nor Fairview are on the city’s vehicle count map.

      In short: Let’s think outside the box on this and make Westlake the people-centric corridor it should be.

      1. JohnS

        The PDF Mark links to below estimates ADT of 26,000 vehicles.

    2. Mark

      They’re not planning to make any changes to the street. They’re planning on narrowing the parking lots adjacent to the street by 12ft, converting them to one-way with angled parking, and adding a 10ft bike lane with a 12ft curb between the street and the parking lots. The information’s buried in here:


      1. Mark

        Oops, missed the “South of Lake Union” part. In that case, I have no idea. Maybe take out that stupid streetcar? Nobody rides that thing anyway!

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        Well, the Westlake Cycle Track project in the works now would be designed with a streetcar extension in mind. I do think a lot of people would ride the streetcar if it went from Fremont/Ballard and U District/Eastlake to downtown.

        An alternative to the center-lanes cycle track on Westlake Ave would be a complete redesign of the street to move the tracks into the center lanes where they should have been placed from the start. However, this would very likely be much more expensive.

  2. Matthew

    Why do we need to hire an outside design group for this project? Why can’t SDOT do it? As far as I can tell, Chicago DOT planned and built the cycle tracks in the Loop without any outside consultants. There are decades of examples on how to properly design a cycle track or complete street!

    I can’t help but feel that we’re just throwing money down the drain, and on top of that, we’re not building local expertise *within SDOT* to design and execute this type of project on its own.

    1. biliruben

      After watching SDOT completely screw up the runnel at 130th and the Burke, I know exactly why they hire out for this work. With a few recent, notable exceptions, SDOT doesn’t get bikes. Brian Dougherty and Dongho Chang are those exceptions.

      1. Matthew

        I disagree with this defeatist point of view. The point is that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel. Chicago DOT didn’t “get” bikes before they installed all of those cycle tracks in the loop. Yeah, you could bike in Chicago, but it’s not like their infrastructure was any better than ours. And now, Chicago knows how to do it. New York didn’t know how to design cycle tracks any more than SDOT did — but they did it. If anything, we’re BETTER positioned that they were, since we can learn from their example.

        On top of that, our cycle tracks will never be cheap enough unless we figure out how to build them with in-house labor and in-house skills. How much of the outrageously inflated cost estimates we’re hearing are due to using consulting “design groups” for standard designs available directly from NACTO?

        I still don’t really understand what the Toole Design Group brings to the table (other than the former president of Alta, now working to TDG… sigh). If anything, they’re only half-hearted advocates for cycle tracks.

  3. BobH

    This is completely redundant to the bike lane on Dexter. Granted, Dexter is flawed (only some of the bus stops are protected) and it’s up a hill, but I don’t see why building an adjacent facility is a top priority. How is this in any way a sensible use of our very limited bicycle dollars?

    1. David

      Couldn’t agree with you more. Dexter is one of the safest (and newest) routes in the entire city. I would think that any taxpayer money would be better spent on a pike/pine cycletrack up Capitol Hill or a safer crossing of the Ballard bridge.

    2. Tom Fucoloro

      I know how you feel. However, Dexter was a complete streets project, a premier example of the city ordinance in action. Dexter needed to be repaved, and the project leaders had a responsibility to make sure the new road met the needs of all users, including the heavy bicycle traffic.

      Westlake is still a very desirable and heavily-used bicycle route, and the parking lot simply is not an adequate bicycle facility. So while I can certainly think of some equally-expensive projects I would have done first, Westlake is very much worthy of investment.

      1. BobH

        Again, how is it a top priority? We all agree it will be A Good Thing, but the prioritization process is being kept secret. How does this align with the BMP’s stated goal of equity? What other projects were considered but turned down in favor of this?

    3. Lisa

      I know you guys love Dexter, but speaking as a non-hardcore cyclist, I am REALLY excited for this project. There are tons of people out there who would never choose a hill when a flat route is available, and this will be a great connection to SLU. I don’t know about whether it should be a top priority, but you can’t argue that it’s a major connection from north Seattle.

      1. biliruben


        I’ve been arguing opening up downtown with a safe, FLAT route from the north end would potentially triple ridership. That’s a foreboding hill for the majority of potential riders, even those in good shape.

        I rode Dexter for 9 years when I first , and rode it again recently, to do a before an after of the new treatment. All that was going through my mind was “what was I thinking?” And that was the after.

      2. biliruben

        when I first… moved to Seattle…

      3. Tom Fucoloro

        I don’t doubt those numbers. Imagine if you could get from the Fremont Bridge to downtown via a flat, lakeside protected cycle track that connects to the 7th Ave cycle track, which connects to a Pike/Pine cycle track, which connects to the Broadway cycle track in one direction and a 4th/2nd Ave cycle track through downtown in the other direction…

        Throw in bike share, and you can see how the number of people cycling in Seattle could be on the verge of a huge boom, even by next year and especially by 2015.

      4. Tom Fucoloro

        Assuming they are done right, of course…

      5. @biliruben: If a Westlake cycle track would triple ridership, how much would ridership grow if we did something about downtown? I’m skeptical that twice our current number of riders is unwilling to take Dexter but willing to face the miserable downtown conditions. Lots of people are fit, fewer enjoy being cut off by two tons of steel. Unless that many people are going to bike to SLU Park and MOHAI.

        The degree to which Eastlake, SODO, downtown, and probably Ballard improvements are more important than Westlake is hard to put into words. They aren’t on the map and Westlake is because Westlake is uncontroversial. Well, if Westlake is easy and cheap (and especially if it’s opportune like 520), do it, but we have to start doing harder things to get people where they actually want to go, and we’re not even planning them. None of the recent SDOT windfall going toward even planning routes through Eastlake, SODO, downtown, or Ballard feels like a failure of prioritization to me. I might put Northgate in the same category…

      6. biliruben

        Hey Al –

        If you think a Westlake Cycle-track is uncontroversial, you haven’t been paying attention for the last decade. The marine businesses have been fighting tooth and nail to keep those free, city-owned parking spaces along Westlake. I was told as recently as a year ago by someone high up in the city council that it would never happen. This is absolutely huge, and we should all get behind it, because it could really be a tipping point.

        I agree that there are so many other priorities to address, including safe routes through the core, but when we start seeing 10,000 riders a day hit downtown, all by the same route, and then start saying “now what?!?!” in unison, I’m guessing there is going to be some huge pressure to make safe routes through the core happen.

        I’m with you on Eastlake as well. It’s currently horribly dangerous. I had a friend hit there last summer and he’s still recovering. Personally, I think the city missed a huge opportunity when they didn’t snag a public ROW when it permitted the Mallard Cove townhouses at Yale and Roanoke a decade ago. We could have had a safe, FLAT route off of Eastlake. Alas.

        I can’t comment on SODO, and I’m living in an area with not even any sidewalks, so I understand priorities. But Westlake is an incredible victory with city-changing possibilities if we can get it done.

  4. Andres

    I don’t suppose they’ll make any improvements to the Fremont Bridge on this project? Dexter’s pretty decent, but the connections to it.. ugh.

    1. JohnS

      Andres, there’s really not much that can be done easily with the Fremont Bridge unless we’re willing to (a) build a new bridge and (b) dedicate some of the existing roadway space to bikes and transit only.

    2. Biliruben

      STB had this great post where they outlined an idea of making Fremont bridge almost exclusively bike, ped and transit, and building a new general purpose bridge at 3rd almost exclusively with general purpose lanes, so cars could bypass Fremont if they wanted.

      Politically palletable -“look! A bridge just for cars!”

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Well, under the STB idea, the new bridge would also have quality sidewalks and bike facilities. In fact, it couldn’t happen politically without them :-)


      2. Andres

        Very interesting idea, thanks for the link.

  5. Michael

    @ Matthew
    The NACTO guide does not tell you how to do anything. It offers concepts and some considerations, but no guidance on how to actually design a cycle track. Designing a cycle track involves taking into account a lot of factors that are not addressed in NACTO, including sight triangles, assignment of right-of-way at unsignalized locations, speeds, pedestrian and auto crossings, etc. No doubt there are SDOT staff that could do this, but it comes down to staff availability and project timing more than likely.

    Also, check your facts on Toole and Alta personnel-what you stated is not the case.

    1. Matthew


      If the problem truly is staff availability and timing (and I have no way of knowing if this is the case), then it seems to me that the solution is to spend the money to hire more staff with appropriate skills, rather than to outsource. Hiring the Toole Design Group doesn’t help you solve that problem in the long run, it just punts it down the field until the next cycle track design. My point is that, if cycle tracks are at least a component of the future of bicycle infrastructure in this city, we need to learn how to build them ourselves, and to do so cheaply.

      In the end, I’m just a little skeptical that Seattle can’t do what other cities have done. If that’s truly the case, then be explicit about it — if you’re overcommitted for the next year and need to outsource this one job, but the long-term vision is to handle this in-house, then great, I get it. I want quality infrastructure quickly as much as the next guy. I’m just not convinced that cycle tracks are politically feasible in Seattle at the price point they’re being sold at (and frankly, I can’t say I blame the non-cycling public).

      As for the connection between Alison Cohen’s new position at Toole Design Group and her resignation as head of Alta immediately prior to their highest profile rollout — I have no evidence that it’s anything other than completely on the up and up. I hope it is. I do see some rather obvious synergies between control over cycle track design and construction, and the financial future of bike share in Seattle, though, and it makes me somewhat skeptical. That’s about all I’m willing to say about it, though.

    2. Lisa

      Michael- any idea where one might learn these skills? I’m currently an urban planning student at the UW but this is what I really want to learn… I can’t even seem to find any civil engineering courses on the subject.

  6. Jonathan

    I’m excited about this for selfish reasons, because I’ve been hearing my friend who has an office down on the lake complain about “those lousy careless cyclists whizzing through” his parking lot for years now. Admittedly, having biked through there it does feel rather scary knowing none of the cars can see you until they’re 3/4ths out… and I think 4 lanes of traffic is mostly overkill. The road would be better served with 2 lanes, a turn lane and a cycle track, and the only real consequence is you wouldn’t be able to drive 10 over the speed limit all the time. If they try to eliminate some of the parking there will be a huge uproar so I’m not sure the city would actually take on that war.

  7. JohnS

    I am a little confused about some of the comments here. The PDF Mark linked states quite clearly this proposal is for the parking area east of the existing street (but in the City-owned right-of-way). This is what should have been done ten years ago (but the property owners had more clout then) and I would assume SDOT is proposing this alignment to preserve space for a future streetcar line on Westlake itself.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Seems that way. The press release says the cycle track will be planned with a future streetcar in mind. I think safe crosswalks to the west-side bus stops and businesses should be a priority for any Westlake Ave project.

  8. […] was also glad to hear that plans for an actually safe bikeway on Westlake are in the […]

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