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Mercer walk/bike path switching to south side starting Thursday

2014_0702_MWest_BikePed_handoutThe biking and walking shared pathway on Mercer Street under Aurora is switching sides Thursday as construction on the Mercer West project continues.

Someday (fall 2015), there will finally be a separated and protected space for people to cross Aurora on a bike between South Lake Union and Lower Queen Anne. But until then, be ready for continued detour changes and sometimes scary temporary paths.

For people who had been using the tiny ledges that for decades were passed off as “sidewalks” on Mercer and Broad Streets as they pass under Aurora, the temporary bike/walk path created on Mercer in February was actually an improvement. But that’s a pretty low bar to jump over.

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This actual text conversation I had with a friend recently pretty much sums up the experience of crossing under Aurora today:

IMG_0164More details from SDOT:

Beginning Thursday, July 3rd, pedestrians and bicyclists will be shifted from the north side of Mercer Street to the south side of Mercer Street between Fifth Avenue N and Dexter Avenue N. Travelers can expect the following changes:
·         The new sidewalk on the south side of Mercer Street will be in place between Fifth Avenue N and Aurora Avenue N and a temporary pathway will connect pedestrians and bicyclists from Aurora Avenue N through the work zone to Dexter Avenue N.
·         No pedestrian access will be allowed on the north side of Mercer Street between Taylor Avenue N and Dexter Avenue N.
·         Travelers headed to and from South Lake Union from the Uptown neighborhood should use the south side of Mercer Street to Fifth Avenue N, rather than Taylor Avenue N.
·         When the project is complete in fall of 2015, a new sidewalk and a separated bicycle path will be in place on the north side of Mercer Street between Fifth Avenue N and Dexter Avenue N.
·         More information about pedestrian and bicycle access during construction can be found at: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/mercer_maps_detour.htm.

As a reminder, crews will not be working during the holiday weekend. For your safety, please follow detour routes and cross the roadway only at designated crossings.

More information may be found at: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/mercercorridor.htm.

On a related note, how have you noticed the bike experience change since Mercer went two-ways and Broad was shut down? Specifically, have you noticed any issues with traffic turning from Dexter to west-bound Mercer? Let us know in the comments.

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15 responses to “Mercer walk/bike path switching to south side starting Thursday”

  1. Bellinghammer

    Yep, the Mercer project is basically a “Car Sewer Beautification Project”. It’s much prettier to look at, and I do appreciate two-way travel on both Mercer and Roy (and a calmer Valley St), but the light cycles are obscenely long, bike travel through there will always be awful, and when the project is completed induced demand will fill the lanes with cars from Day 1. :/

    1. That’s not all it is. Consolidating Broad and Mercer will allow the normal street network to be connected where Broad used to cut it off. The light cycles will suck and the underpass will always be noisy and in the shadows, but it will still be a major improvement in safety, convenience, and clarity for walking and biking across Aurora (especially if you’re taking an Aurora-based bus to/from the opposite side of the highway… the old crossings were confusing and sketchy enough that I often preferred to just walk down to Denny — or take the old 16 or 30 for multi-ton steel protection, though neither route does this anymore).

      It won’t “fix the Mercer Mess” for drivers, but the fundamental problem with the Mercer Mess is the same as the messes on Northgate Way, N 85th St, and N 45th St: an enormous amount of N-S vehicle capacity that overwhelms E-W vehicle capacity. Actual solutions would include a major expansion of E-W vehicle capacity (impossible without demolishing many blocks to make room for more lanes and interchanges, which was proposed in the 60s and didn’t happen) or decreasing N-S vehicle capacity (shrinking I-5 or 99, or at least reducing vehicle capacity capable of accessing greater downtown by these roads).

      1. Gary

        ” Actual solutions would include a major expansion of E-W vehicle capacity”

        Actually, that wouldn’t fix anything, it would just move the mess around. The real reason this mess exists is that to get to the Seattle Center or Queen Anne is that a car is a reasonable alternative even with this horrible bit of traffic. To make cars not so reasonable will require more transit and bicycle infustructure. ie. To be able to get from North or South or East of the Center to the center at “crush” times at all. The Greenline Monorail would have fixed the West Seattle/Ballard problem. When East/North Link is done, it will be possible via the current Monorail to do the trip.

        But you have to ask yourself, at 11pm at night am I going to wait 30 minutes for a bus which will be packed to get to another bus so I can get home? Or would I rather sit it out in my car where at least I have my friends with me, and the radio/music system for entertainment.

      2. @Gary: Haha, well, road expansion almost always moves the mess around, but I think in this case there’s so much extra north-south capacity it would actually by physically difficult to shift the mess off Mercer to a significant degree.

        The problem at Mercer isn’t just about Seattle Center, it’s about how all the barriers to moving east-west in Seattle (Green Lake, Lake Union, the steep slopes of Queen Anne, Capitol Hill, and Beacon Hill) lead people to want to do so on this little bit of regraded land just north of downtown. To solve this problem for transit, a couple things are necessary:

        1. Repairing the street network for walking and biking east-west. Aurora is right in the middle of the “mess”, within walking distance of many of its immediate destinations, and a lot of bus riders enter/leave downtown on Aurora; better and less confusing sidewalks on Mercer and the upcoming at-grade crossing at (IIRC) Thomas will allow Aurora buses to serve destinations on either side. So in a couple years this will be better than it’s been in a half-century or more.

        2. Reliable east-west transit. Bus riders from Aurora (and Ballard and Queen Anne) can walk to the Center or SLU. People coming from North Link will be able to get off directly at Capitol Hill or take the Monorail to the Center pretty easily. Others (Aurora-CH trips, North Link-SLU trips, Westlake-CH and Westlake-SC trips) are stuck with the slow ride into downtown or the slow ride skirting it on the 8. In the short term, the 8 needs the kind of project the 44 just got, except with more money and more latitude to reconfigure intersections. In the long term we need grade-separated transit on Denny.

  2. Curt

    “…have you noticed any issues with traffic turning from Dexter to west-bound Mercer?”

    Yes, many drivers southbound on Dexter use the bike lane as a turn lane to turn west on Mercer, even though it’s clearly not wide enough to be considered a driving lane.

    1. Mike

      I do have to give SDOT some credit for maintaining the bike lanes on Dexter throughout all of this. They are far from ideal, but at least they are still there.

    2. Josh

      Drivers making right turns are supposed to merge into a bike lane before turning right, rather than making a right hook across the lane. That’s what the law requires, so that cyclists won’t be overtaking to the right of right-turning vehicles.

      California law is the most rigid on this, motorists must merge into the bike lane at least 50 feet before an intersection if they’re turning right.

      Washington law is less prescriptive, using standard language from the Uniform Vehicle Code, “Right turns. Both the approach for a right turn and a right turn shall be made as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.” There’s no minimum distance stated, but it’s clear that drivers must move right for the approach for the turn, not just the turn itself.

      (Worth noting, the Bicycle Technical Committee of the NCUTCD has recommended amending the UVC language to clarify this right-hook-prevention requirement to explicitly add the requirement that motorists yield to bicycles when merging into the bike lane before a turn. The proposed revision would add, “Where there is a separate lane for bicycles at the right edge of the roadway, a driver making a right turn must merge into this bicycle lane before turning, after yielding to any traffic that may be present.”)

      1. AJL

        Well then SDOT should re-mark the bike lane paint at the corner then. Most “merge” bike lanes in the area (and city) are green with dashed lines. This is still a regular bike lane, cyclists can stack up at the light. The “edge of the roadway” means the legal travel lane for the motor vehicle, not the bike lane…it’s illegal for drivers to drive IN the bike lane – that’s the behavior seen, blocking/driving in the bike lane, not yielding to bike lane users. Unacceptable as it’s not a turn lane.

        Section 11.53.190 DRIVING IN A BICYCLE LANE. The operator of a motor vehicle shall not drive in a bicycle lane except to execute a turning maneuver, yielding to all persons riding bicycles thereon.

  3. AJL

    Agree with Curt. Ever since the lanes on south Dexter changed the block before Mercer, and the westbound Mercer lane opened up, I’ve seen drivers consistently use the bike lane as a turn lane and a waiting lane (north of Mercer) as they try to get into the traffic lineup.

    Traffic backs up along Dexter every day, starting north of Roy. Drivers pay almost no attention to the signal there, running red and yellow lights to stack up IN the intersection, blocking left turning vehicles (those turning from Roy onto south Dexter), including bicyclists. They also consistently park in the crosswalks, blocking pedestrians and making it quite iffy to get through there – I pay very close attention to all modes of travel here while I am crossing (legally) in order to get across safely (have had some close calls due to drivers making illegal moves).

    Drivers traveling eastbound on Mercer block the crosswalk for those crossing Mercer using the west crosswalk. Often drivers are partway into the intersection, blocking bicycle travel too.

    There’s a complete disregard by drivers in the area of any other mode of travel. Cyclists and bicyclists have to be on alert constantly here as drivers don’t give a damn about anyone but themselves.

  4. Lisa

    I started taking Dexter a bit more because the construction on 9th (if I take Westlake) deleted the bike lane for a while, and I get stressed out and ride faster than I want to be riding if I don’t have my own lane. I do really like that they maintained the bike lane, I like cruising past everyone stuck in traffic. I think there would be a lot more dangerous maneuvers happening if they hadn’t kept the bike lanes.

  5. This last week, in the evening around 7:30 pm on my way home northbound on Dexter there is a detour just before Mercer. It sends you one block east, to attempt a crossing of Mercer without a signal and across all manner of construction debris. Not very nice at all.

    1. Breadbaker

      I think that detour starts at 7 pm each night. It’s not fun on the 26/28 either.

    2. Matthew

      I go over to 9th Ave, which makes it easier to cross Mercer, but there is construction for most of the way. The lane and sidewalk closures seem to change every few days, so I never know what will be open. And I can’t find anything on the SDOT website that even mentions the Dexter closure.

  6. Brad Hawkins

    Pedestrian and bicycle “mitigation” has been horrid on this project. The sidewalks have been left to languish for months on end with nothing more than construction netting and “sidewalk closed” signs which pedestrians rightly ignore.

    The big brains at SDOT made a very nice and rather quiet west bound Mercer Street with a little more capacity than was needed so it’s not too bad biking westbound to take Mercer all the way from Dexter to Mercer Place. Mercer street drops down to 1 lane each direction through the Uptown business district and that seems to be a result of the local business community panicking over lost “business”.

    In general, east bound Mercer is now a parking lot from 2nd Ave N to Dexter and often all the way to 5th Ave W. I’m not sure if this will ever be fixed but will remain a feature as not enough capacity is available eastbound. This is not so bad from my bicycle perspective. Roy sort of works, but cars cue up in the bike lane approaching 5th Ave N as many want to turn south onto 5th and then snake all the cars on Mercer, using Roy as a bypass around Mercer.

    Pedestrian crossing at Taylor was designed by someone who has no idea that pedestrians exist. Just closing the crosswalk at Taylor and Mercer just causes people to tear down the signs. It’s an affront to pedestrians.

    Now here’s the thing that really gets me: the lights are still set for 30mph on Roy, so a cyclist can’t make them. For a “cycling route” a green wave light timing would have been better as well as shorter light cycles. For Mercer, the lights from 3rd West to Fairview are actually timed for 44mph. Since this can only be accomplished for a few hours per day, but the result is that cars are obliged to drive as fast as they can because they recognize how the lights are timed. In driving faster, they take up much more space, and lower throughput is effected. Much the same problem exists in the downtown core where 1st, 2nd, 4th, and 5th are set to 25mph, a speed that is only attainable in low traffic conditions and is a speed that is dangerous to pedestrians. (drivers routinely break the speed limit in order to “catch up” to light cycles).

    So Seattle wanted to put in a freeway on Mercer but all they got was a 7 lane expressway. They timed the lights like an expressway, but there is too much traffic for those speeds. This whole project was also executed by suburbanites. I’ll let you know how the south side underpass works when I get back in town on Sunday. It will probably convince me to bike on Mercer Eastbound again……..

  7. […] the fiscal cliff for transportation in the US, and it looks really bad. Mercer Street made a switch for walking and biking to south side of the street on Thursday. And the Seattle Transit Blog goes in depth about transit-oriented infrastructure […]

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