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City begins work on Missing Link ‘advisory bike lanes’

Photo courtesy of reader Fred.
Photo courtesy of reader Fred Young.

Wait, what are those spray painted lines on NW 45th Street at the east end of the Missing Link?

It’s the beginning of work on the city’s planned Band Aid fixes to help prevent crashes on the notoriously dangerous stretch of road just west of Fred Meyer and the abrupt end of the Burke-Gilman Trail. The city plans its first real experiment with “advisory bike lanes,” what are essentially bike lanes that people in cars are allowed to drive in after yielding to any people on bikes. They are also planning some traffic calming along the stretch and the speed limit will be reduced to 20 mph.

They should be completed in October along with two Ballard Ave intersection fixes, SDOT told us in late July. Shoulder paving work on Shilshole will be completed in 2014 to help people biking along that dangerous street.

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Advisory bike lanes are not common in the US, though they are widely used in the UK and other European countries. They are mostly used when a road simply is not wide enough for two general purpose lanes and two bike lanes, as is the case on NW 45th between Fred Meyer and Shilshole.

But on 45th, they will serve a second, likely more important role: They will provide a clear space for people on bikes to ride that steers them clear of the wheel-grabbing train tracks that have claimed so many broken bones and worse.

It is extremely common to see people biking between the railroad tracks next to the road. The tracks are easy to enter and sort of look like a trail, so it makes sense why people would think they should be there. However, the tracks are not easy to exit, and people’s wheels often get caught trying to reenter the roadway.

The city recently painted sharrows in the road to encourage people not to bike in the tracks, but they did not appear to do much to solve the problem (at least according to my anecdotal observations).

I hope these advisory bike lanes do keep people safe because I am sick of getting emails from people who break a bone simply trying to get to the Ballard Farmers’ Market. I am concerned that not everyone will understand how to use them properly since they are so unusual in Seattle, but there’s only one way to find out. Several people have suggested that the street could simply become a one-way street, and the advisory lanes could be actual bike lanes. If the advisory lanes prove to be an issue, perhaps the city could look into that.

Looking beyond NW 45th, advisory bike lanes have also been suggested as a low-budget or temporary solution to bike safety on Lake Washington Boulevard. It could have huge implications on other skinny Seattle roads if they work. Perhaps it would be a good idea to conduct a study to observe how people use them and sample user opinion (people driving and biking) on how safe they feel.

For more information on advisory bike lanes, here’s a handout created by the city of Minneapolis (ignore the bit about parked cars, since there are none on NW 45th):




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20 responses to “City begins work on Missing Link ‘advisory bike lanes’”

  1. Chuck

    I am interested to see how these work. It looks confusing and until reading what you rote I was unsure how two cars would fit in one car lane width.

    Personally, I think the city should just close NW 45th St off to car traffic until the missing link is fixed. The street does not work well for car/bike sharing and it will apply some motivation to get things moving along.

    1. Adam

      Chuck, if NW 45th is closed to cars all the businesses along that stretch, which are mainly industrial with trucks, etc., have no access. Your suggestion makes no sense.

      1. Chuck

        Very true Adam. I was trying to make an irrational change to point out the ridiculousness of the litigation against completing a trail that would solve this street’s issues. It might not have worked as intended.

        I hope the new stripping causes some improvement for people who use this street on a regular basis.

  2. lisa

    My gut instinct is that this is a terrible idea, because I like to think that everyone already has an understanding that 45th right there is a bicycle priority street. As in, if a car is driving on it they should know that they’ll encounter bikes, and if they want to go fast there are other streets to use. It reinforces the idea that bikes need their own special space on all roads, when low traffic and low speed roads are fine for sharing. But I don’t ride this stretch very often, it may work ok.

  3. Walker Lockhart

    45th Street is part of my daily commute, and I’m hopeful that this will make it clearer how bikes and cars should operate on this narrow stretch of roadway.

    My main concern is the massive puddle that forms on the south side of the street when it rains – during heavy rains, the puddle extends to the middle of the street forcing cars and bikes to veer around it.

    I’ve contacted the project manager at SDOT about the issue, but haven’t heard back on it yet.

  4. Southeasterner

    “It is extremely common to see people biking between the railroad tracks next to the road. ”

    I ride this route every day (evening commute) and have never seen a cyclist between the railroad tracks, except for a homeless guy who was collecting bottles and cans. I would be interested to see some data that supports that this is an extremely common practice.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Really? I see it all the time. Perhaps it’s more likely on weekends than commute times (since commuters have likely learned not to ride there).

      I’m not aware of any existing data. Anyone else know?

    2. Biliruben

      I ride this a few times a year, and it seems like, even though I know from past experience not to do it, it’s so “intuitive” that I often end up on the north side of the tracks. “Dang!! Not again!”

      I’m sure if it was part of my daily commute it wouldn’t be an issue.

    3. Tom B

      I ride between the tracks all the time. Bunny hops make it fairly safe when entering and exiting, plus I give plenty of room for cars to pass. Although most people will probably avoid this, it’s kinda fun for people who feel confident.

  5. Matthew

    I really wish the safety improvements included some work to the intersection of Shilshole and NW46th (i.e., just after NW 45th ends). It’s a tricky intersection because of the awkward angles and the high speed of car traffic on 46th. I’d like to see a three-way stop with more reasonable angles, or a signal, or at least some sort of traffic calming along 46th, but because 46th is an arterial, that may not be possible.

    Separately: if you’re biking westbound on the Burke-Gilman past the Fred Meyer, and you reach the dead-end of the trail where you have to continue on NW 45th, what is the legal way of merging onto the street? I usually kind of wait for my turn and then just force my way down the ramp to the right and diagonally across the intersection into my lane. But I get the sense this is not an entirely legal maneuver, and I always worry that if I get hit at this corner, I’ll be found at fault as a result. Anyone know the correct move?

    1. fred

      The intersection of Shilshole and 46th is marked up with paint that indicate some major reworking of motorized and bicycle traffic. It looks promising.

      Also, along 45th there are marking indicating speed humps which will slow traffic and hopefully make it a less desirable route.

      It will be interesting to see how the crossing of the tracks is handled. When I cross the tracks, I am concerned about cars approaching from behind as I maneuver to make a safe crossing of the tracks – I have had cars try to pass on the right as I am trying to make a safe crossing of the tracks. I hope that with less traffic and clearer markings the track crossing will be less dangerous.

    2. yes, Matthew, that’s always tricky when you are on a trail that is to the left of the street, and you have to merge onto the street from the “wrong” side. I find the most effective method here is to use any northbound cars as a shield. Perhaps i should explain.

      Step one is to point my bike in a northbound direction as I approach the curb-cut. If there is no northbound traffic at the stop sign–i.e., cars leaving fred meyer–it’s fairly straight forward. I just wait my turn, go out north, signal and make a left turn onto westbound 45th.

      If there is a northbound car leaving the freddy’s, I kind of sidle out, after letting the car get a little head-start, into the intersection on the right side of the car. This will protect you from the traffic on 45th as they can’t well blow through the stop sign from either direction without risking hitting the northbound car. And since the car moves through the intersection more rapidly than the bike, once he’s past, you’re already out in the intersection with your left arm up indicating a left onto 45th. (The real trick is the timing: ideally, you could hang right beside the car, letting him shield you completely, but if you enter too quickly, and that car ends up turning right onto 45th, you’re in a real pickle!) You have to give the northbound car a little headstart until you’re positive he’s going straight through–i.e., toward leary way. Then you can use him as a shield from the 45th street cars, and all you have to watch for is the southbound cars heading toward fred meyer.

      By waiting on the northbound car, you essentially reduce the number of directions from which a collision is likely. Instead of crossing “catty-corner,” exposing yourself to cars from all four directions, you narrow it down to really just the southbound cars that you have to “tangle” with. If you time it correctly, the northbound car is out of play, as you are riding north, parallel to this vehicle. and the 45th traffic can’t really move until both you and the northbound car are clear. It then just becomes the execution of a simple left turn–i.e., signal and don’t cut in front of the southbound traffic until you’re sure you’re good to go.

      Hope this helps.

      (In fact, i use the “car-as-shield” strategy at several 4-way stops in my travels. It works most effectively when there are clear turning lanes for the cars, such as at the intersection of emerson st & gilman ave just up the hill from fisherman’s terminal. When there are turning lanes, you can predict with much more confidence when the cars are heading straight through the intersection, which is ideal for the “shield.”)

  6. Drew

    Kudos to the city for taking a risk on a new, low cost method that can be implemented quickly and will encourage drivers to slow down and use road space more efficiently/ safely. In the Netherlands I cycled on a road along the Amstel River that had a similar configuration and was astonished at how well it worked, even with relatively fast cars in a narrower right of way (http://www.flickr.com/photos/13806539@N00/9566094281/). On the Dutch road, cars would drive in the center of the road unless an oncoming car forced them to take a side. Will Seattle bicyclists and drivers get along in such a configuration? My hope is that drivers will adjust and this project can show how cars and bikes can travel comfortably in a narrow right of way if we are attentive and respectful. I am excited to try it out. We can always bunny hop the tracks if it doesn’t improve the situation. I can’t deny that is pretty fun, if you can make it. ;)

  7. Ellie P.

    I think it’s great the city is taking a progressive but low cost risk. This seems like the perfect place for an experiment: we can’t really do better than this right now, but it can’t make things worse, really.

    The one thing I’m curious about is how they plan to mark the bike lanes. In every photo I’ve seen from Europe they are a different color, like red or green. If they are just doing the little bike dude symbol, I hope they sprinkle it much more liberally throughout than they tend to in other bike lanes.

    In my experience as a driver and a cyclist, many people are not attentive to the subtle meanings of even the most common, run of the mill lane striping. For example, I live on a well-marked one-way arterial that constantly sees wrong-way drivers. Even after they miss the one-way signs, you’d think they would notice thay the “center line” is white stripes, not yellow…

  8. Julian

    What a disappointment. I thought the city had come to its senses and made this stretch one-way Eastbound for motorized vehicles. There is no reason other than cluelessness to drive Westbound here, as the Shilshole left turn is shite compared to just taking 46th straight through. FFS.

  9. Julian

    And if they were serious about temporary (semi-permanent, at this pace) Missing Link solutions, they’d at least put in a 2-way cycle track on Ballard Ave from the Bell Tower to Market Street. Heading east, many cyclists take Ballard Ave eastbound from Market, wrong-way style. Lines of desire, and whatnot.

  10. Vince

    This is not cars on 45th but trucks. This is an industrial area, not residential or commercial. Do you really think that these white lines on the road are going to protect you if a truck doesn’t have the same line of site that a car does? Why does the city insist on putting bikers on the same road as 18 wheelers?

  11. Julian

    Not really, Vince. Most trucks take 46th. The businesses along 45th on that stretch don’t see much traffic.

  12. […] I didn’t stop to watch his exit at the curve.) The dotted lines mark something totally new: advisory bike lanes. I’m curious what the spray painted icon will become–it looks different than the […]

  13. […] Previously-planned advisory bike lanes on NW 45th Street have been scrapped in lieu of a two-way bikeway that the city hopes will be safer. To make space for the bike lanes, the street will become a one-way street eastbound for motor vehicles between NW 46th Street and 11th Ave NW. This is somewhat similar to an idea proposed on this blog in August 2012. […]

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