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Bike expert John Pucher gives downtown Seattle a scathing review

2nd Ave concept image from Cascade Bicycle Club
An unofficial 2nd Ave concept image from Cascade Bicycle Club

Rutgers Professor and longtime bike researcher John Pucher is in town for the Bicycle Urbanism Symposium.

Pucher’s research and the book he co-authored, City Cycling, has been influential on shifting North American thinking about cycling away from fit, brave people biking in traffic or on skinny painted bike lanes toward people of all ages and abilities biking on low-stress streets and bike lanes. He has extensively studied what cities need to do to encourage more cycling, and he was not impressed with downtown Seattle.

Here’s how he described his experience cycling in downtown Seattle to KPLU:

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Pucher spent the past week in Seattle and Vancouver, and says his recent ride into downtown Seattle proved highly stressful.

The main marked bike way, a shared lane on Second Avenue, gives riders a false sense of security, says Pucher.

“I found it extremely dangerous. It’s an accident waiting to happen. We almost got doored several times; there were people trying to parallel park their cars right into the bike lane,” he said. “What is there now is more dangerous than nothing.”

While this revelation is not going to be news to anyone who has used the 2nd Ave bike lane (widely considered the worst bike lane in Seattle), it is somewhat sobering to hear such a review from a fresh and well-respected point of view. After experiencing the protected bike lanes in downtown Vancouver on a recent study trip organized by Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, Pucher returned to Seattle find our city disappointingly behind.

And he put the blame squarely on a lack of political will to do what Vancouver has accomplished.

“I think it’s a pity. There’s so much potential here in Seattle. And it’s going lost, because there doesn’t seem to be the political will to implement these things,” he said.

The city is working on a plan for protected bike lanes downtown, and Amazon has agreed to fund much of a 7th Ave protected bike lane through the Denny Triangle where they are expanding their campus. However, as Vancouver expands their protected bike lane network this year, Seattle is still in the early stages of even planning something similar.

For more on Pucher’s take on growing cycling, here’s a more than two-hour video of his Tuesday talk at UW from Seattle Neighborhood Greenways:

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23 responses to “Bike expert John Pucher gives downtown Seattle a scathing review”

  1. josh

    While the Second Avenue bike lane is clearly the most dangerous place to ride on that street, it’s not *supposed* to be a “shared lane” — it’s a bike lane, not sharrows.

    But it’s a narrow, non-standard bike lane on the wrong side of the street, suitable only for the young and fearless. Being old, slow, and breakable, I’m much too cautious of my own safety to use that bike lane when there are perfectly good travel lanes next to it.

    Bad bicycle infrastructure is, as Pucher says, worse than nothing. And Seattle seems to specialize in substandard implementation of bicycle infrastructure.

    1. Gary

      4th Ave isn’t any better. What with parking garages on the left, a 1 meter wide marked path. No parking helps with the door problem, but people get dropped off just North of the library and then the lane disappears into the parking lane. My daily fun is then to merge all the way to the bus lane on the far right to get to my office. Fortunately drivers are mostly awake and give me room to jog across.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Yeah. It’s nice when you just barely make a light, so everyone behind you has to stop and you can merge all the way over in relative comfort. Obviously, though, this is not acceptable bike infrastructure…

    2. Josh. I’m 36 years old, a racer, and made of rubber but that bike lane is still worthless. I stick to the traffic lanes because it is safer and faster. In that bike lane you either have to stop for the cars turning left across your “lane” or just using it for a parking space or get hit. Its unfortunate that if a person doesn’t feel comfortable taking the main traffic lane, there isn’t really a good option for getting through downtown.
      One thing we need to be careful of with downtown bike infrastructure: If you fully separate bike and auto lanes it needs to include the intersection. The only reason the Dexter lanes work so well is that there is very little traffic going east-west across Dexter. That wouldn’t be the case on 2nd Ave.

      1. Chris Mealy

        I’m with you on the intersections. The latest Bike Master Plan draft addresses that a little bit but the designs are still pretty bad.

      2. Josh

        It would be possible to make safe cycletracks downtown. You’d need to deal with intersections, which is easier with one-way streets, and you’d need separate bicycle signal phases to avoid the turning conflicts manufactures by putting bikes to the right of right-turning vehicles, or to the left of left-turning vehicles. And you’d need to deal with driveways and garage entrances. It’s all possible, but I fear Seattle lacks the will to do it right, and we’ll end up with another awful installation like what’s going in on Capitol Hill.

  2. no traffic lights

    I agree, downtown is dangerous but since I’m sure most of us try to spend the least amount of time down there as possible, we should be focusing less on our destination and more on our connection routes.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      That’s one aspect of the downtown protected bike lanes that should be front and center: This will make downtown a more pleasant place to be.

      It be safer and more comfortable for walking and driving, and significant evidence in other cities shows an increase in retail sales after they go in.

  3. Southeasterner

    It is bizarre that Seattle, a city with some of the widest streets I have ever seen, has some of the worst cycle infrastructure.

    Far too often Seattle gets away with painting a few sharrows or some white lines next to parked cars and calling them “bike lanes.” Of course just doing that they still manage to fail as most of the cheap paint they use fades after a year.

    1. A

      Not sure what planet you’re from, seattle has tiny narrow streets and lanes.

      1. Eli

        I’m in the U-District, and I think I’m from the same planet as Southeasterner.

      2. Becka

        Seattle streets are wide compared to cities of comparable size – Portland, Melbourne – and huuuge compared to larger east coast cities – Boston, NYC.

    2. Josh

      Dearborn is a great example — a bike lane that isn’t even as wide as the bike lane symbol itself, with pavement seams and grates in the bike lane, next to multiple general-purpose lanes that could easily give up six inches or a foot each to allow a bike lane that at least meets minimum AASHTO requirements.

      1. I can tell you that if you bike with a trailer on Dearborn you end up well outside that skinny painted line.

  4. Chris Mealy

    Back in the 1990s I lived in Lower Queen Anne and worked on 2nd between Pike and Pine, so 2nd was a natural for me. I had one close call after another. I’d get to work everyday worked up and angry. This is before bike blogs and videos from the Netherlands, so I didn’t know any better. Here was this nice bike lane and I basically hated cycling in it, so I quit cycling. Bad infra is even worse than no infra because it makes people blame themselves for being scared.

  5. I like this guy. He is like the Cisco Morris of biking, high energy. The whole video is about slowing down traffic, not just painting lanes and making it look friendly. 2nd Ave is a problem and downtown is weird. I have biked there during non-peek hours, taking the lane with no problem but during commute time, rather walk on the sidewalk with my bike.

  6. What we want? Protected biked lanes!
    When we want them? Now!

    No biker should endager his/her life because of the lack of courageous politicians!

  7. Andy

    This is no joke! I live here and it’s like taking my life in my hands everyday. I have to leave here to enjoy riding, but a means to an end to get where I am going in town. I am headed out to RAGBRAI, tons of space there, got my copy of Brian Bruns’ Rumble Yell, http://www.briandavidbruns.com/BDB/Rumble.html, he should come write a book about Seattle…if he can make it alive on these streets!

  8. […] on the heels of last week’s Bicycle Urbanism Symposium and the mixed reviews bike expert John Pucher gave Seattle streets, it will be interesting to hear how the candidates respond. Pucher praised the […]

  9. […] among U.S. cities, according to a draft update of the city’s bicycle master plan. However visiting experts and more than a few locals have observed that Seatle’s current emphasis on unprotected […]

  10. […] and watched most of the bicyclists on 2nd Avenue take the right lane, though a couple braved the 2nd Avenue Bike Lane of Death. And then one minute before our bus was due, both kids declared they needed the restroom *now*. So […]

  11. […] a delivery truck driver while biking in the 2nd Avenue bike lane. I hate 2nd Avenue. Everyone does. Bike expert John Pucher gave it a scathing review. I used it for the first time two years ago. Brad and I were both in Cascade Bicycle Club’s […]

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