After conducting exhaustive parking studies and some preliminary feasibility work, planners have come up with two rough concepts for the Westlake bikeway.
The plans are general concepts that planners brought before the Westlake Design Advisory Committee earlier this week to gather feedback and give those involved in the design process information to take back to their communities.
There will also be a public open house to discuss the options the evening of May 21 (location TBD).
In essence, one option would stick mostly to the Lake Union side of the city-owned parking area and the other option would stick mostly to the Westlake Avenue side of the parking area. A third option on the west side of Westlake Avenue was taken out of the running because early study suggested it would be far outside the project “scope and budget,” planners said.
Both options would increase safety and meet the project’s primary goals, as stated by a presentation to the advisory committee:
- Safety: Provide a facility comfortable for bicyclists of all ages and abilities
- Safety: Provides separation from motor vehicles and pedestrians
- Safety: Provides predictability within parking lot
- Connectivity: Provides connection to existing biking and walking facilities
- Accessibility: Flat, low-stress facility
Beyond the primary goals, there are other project concerns to consider. Here’s how the two options compare on a short list of other concerns:
It’s worth noting that even though Concept B has “more” mixing zones with people walking than Concept A, both are much better than the status quo. Today, people on bikes pretty much invent their own ways through the lot since there is no clear good option. This creates a stressful and unpredictable environment for everyone. So while more people on foot will cross the Concept B bikeway vs Concept A (since B is between the parking lot and the businesses/homes), at least people will know to expect people on bikes and the crossings can be designed to modern standards.
As plans develop further, some hybrid of these two options could be possible. Exact routing is not yet determined, though planners do have a concept route of each (click for larger versions):
By far, the biggest concern voiced about the project is how the creation of a dedicated space for biking will impact the number of parking spaces available in the area.
The quick and simple answer is that Concept B will have a much lighter impact on parking. Many segments will lose zero parking spaces, and many will lose between 5 and 35 percent. The area just north of the small park with the preserved train tracks (and a wonderful bench to chill out and feel a million miles from everywhere) could lose the most parking, at most 50 percent.
But extensive parking studies show that Westlake already has more parking available than is needed. The total comes out to a stunning 1,712 parking spaces along the project area. Of those, 1,271 are publicly-owned and within city right-of-way. The Westlake bikeway project will not affect the private spaces.
Much of the existing parking stalls go unused, and areas with high use can be improved by smarter parking rules so that city-owned parking prioritizes businesses and residents along the corridor.
First, here’s a look at peak parking use. Note that the orange areas represent the city’s preferred usage level (the parking sweet spot), since it indicates heavy use but with enough spaces open that people can usually park near their destinations. Red, yellow and green are not optimal and suggest that a change is needed to get the most value from the city’s space:
At first glance, Concept B already seems like a great fit. It would have minimal impact on parking where use is currently the highest, and areas where it would impact parking have enough unused inventory to spare.
But if you dig deeper, it becomes clear that a lot of the high-use parking areas have inefficient parking rules. For example, 62 percent of parking spaces (that’s 783 spaces) are free to use and have no time limit. These spaces are distributed evenly along the corridor regardless of how heavy use is. It’s probably no surprise that use of these free-to-use spaces is far higher than the metered spaces:
Having so many free-to-use spaces without time limits leads people to use the lot for all kinds of reasons that do not support area businesses or the city’s parking goals. For example, people can (and do) use the lot as a free park-and-ride (or -walk or -bike) so they can avoid paying for parking in expensive downtown and South Lake Union lots (AKA “hide-and-ride”). This does not help businesses and residents on Westlake, and providing a free park-and-ride so close to the dense downtown core is simply bad policy for the city.
So with a some smart reworking of the parking rules, the city could make the parking much more efficient and focused on providing access to businesses and residences (mostly floating homes and liveaboards).
Here’s a look at current parking rules. Once reworked, the new Westlake could be a boon to businesses that currently face parking crunches due to sub-optimal use of the spaces today. Add the new business-focused parking plans to the fact that bike access along Westlake will improve dramatically, and the Westlake bikeway project is shaping up to be a win-win investment.
Of course, not everyone is going to be happy about the plans. There are still people organizing to fight the plans after dropping a lawsuit that delayed the Bike Master Plan. But all this data points out that there is a lot of room for compromises so long as people work together and keep an open mind.
There are still a lot of details left to work out. If Concept B is chosen, there are some complicated driveways, loading zones and boat-launching areas to figure out. And, of course, the parking rule changes would need lots of public input. But that’s what the design process is all about, working through the unique elements of every area to find a solution that best works for everyone.
Below is way more information about parking on Westlake than you ever wanted to know. SDOT really went above and beyond in gathering and analyzing all this. You can find more documents on the project website.