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Small improvements coming to Admiral Way, but protected bike lanes needed


The blue line on the Bike Master Plan notes a protected bike lane
The blue line on the Bike Master Plan notes a protected bike lane

The city will make some small improvements to the SW Admiral Way bike lane this summer, but the changes will not meet the recommendation in the Bike Master Plan, West Seattle Blog reports.

The bike plan notes Admiral Way as a key street for protected bike lanes, but the city’s proposed plan includes sharrows for white-knuckle downhill travel and a paint-only bike lane uphill that is sometimes squeezed into the parked car door zone.

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I asked SDOT why the plans are not following the Bike Master Plan recommendation, and Bicycle and Pedestrian Program head Sam Woods emailed this response:

This is an upgrade to an existing facility that we are able to make this year, and it does not preclude installing a protected bike lane in the future. We considered a parking-buffered protected up hill bike lane, but because there are typically not many vehicles parked in the greenbelt area, we didn’t want to have just a few vehicles “floating” in the buffer area, or to have people tempted to park in the bike lane.

We also considered a two-way protected bike lane on the east side of the street, but the connection to the Alki/West Seattle Bridge Trail would require all cyclists to use the stairway runnel (between 30th Ave SW and SW Admiral Wy), there would have had additional parking impacts, and we would have had to remove the pedestrian island for the crossing at SW City View St.  If we do find that people are parking in the buffer area, we could consider adding flexible delineator posts, which would make a portion of the facility a protected bike lane.

Here’s a look at the plans (green segments follow alignment from image at the top of the post):

2014-6-6-SW-Admiral-Way-Rechann-v2-42014-6-6-SW-Admiral-Way-Rechann-v2-2 2014-6-6-SW-Admiral-Way-Rechann-v2-3The city actually did propose protected and buffered bike lanes for the street way back in 2010, but those plans were scaled back amid concerns about parking loss and the loss of a downhill general traffic lane. Here’s what that plan looked like:

swadmiral_proposed-2010And the plans continue to neglect the need for bike lanes north and west of the Olga St viewpoint, where the uphill bike lane ends abruptly and sends people on bikes into a shared traffic lane on the busy four-lane street:

Image from Google Street View
Image from Google Street View

So the city still has a lot of work to do on Admiral Way. This summer will bring a few small nudges to make biking up the hill a little more comfortable, but the real solution is going to require investment in bold changes for this vital West Seattle connection.

What would you like to see happen on Admiral Way? What are the most challenging or uncomfortable spots today?

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27 responses to “Small improvements coming to Admiral Way, but protected bike lanes needed”

  1. Peri Hartman

    Frankly, I think the priorities are backwards.

    Uphill, it’s a long drag and slow. Currently, there are intermittent sidewalks. If they were improved, they could easily act as a separate uphill route. There are virtually no peds.

    Downhill, a 13′ sharrow lane is horrible. Here’s why. At 13′, there’s enough room for a vehicle to pass a cyclist with only 12″ to spare. With a 10′ lane, vehicles have to use the other lane (or part of it) to pass, usually giving more clearance to the cyclist. Much safer.

    In this case, why not move the protected lane (even if just paint) to the downhill side, like for Dexter. It would be much safer for all, even at high white-knuckle speeds.

    1. Josh

      “Downhill, a 13′ sharrow lane is horrible. Here’s why. At 13′, there’s enough room for a vehicle to pass a cyclist with only 12″ to spare.”

      Only if the cyclist chooses to ride in the gutter.


      Ride in the center of the lane as the sharrow indicates.

      12″ isn’t safe, legal passing clearance. You’re under no legal obligation to ride on the right side of a substandard-width lane. That’s why MUTCD specifically suggests combining sharrows with “Bicycle May Use Full Lane” signs.

      Motorists can change lanes to pass.

      1. Peri Hartman

        Just in case I wasn’t clear, I agree with you: don’t ride in the margin, take the center.

        My point is that 13′ is wasted. It’s too narrow to ride on the side, so that extra 3′ could be used elsewhere. Might as well be 10′ if you’re going to take the lane. What does 13′ buy you (or the vehicle driver)?

        I really don’t understand SDOT. They keep designing stuff that doesn’t work for bikes.

      2. Josh

        I fear it’s mutual — SDOT just doesn’t understand cyclists. They keep not using stuff SDOT builds for them ;-)

  2. JAT in Seattle (currently in Chicago…)

    I sure as hell don’t want a downhill protected lane (and that street is on my actual commute). I don’t want to do the chicane at the bottom down to Avalon – I want to continue directly, from the left downhill lane to Chelan. A protected downhill lane would prevent that.

  3. bill

    The most galling thing about the top of Admiral is that it was rebuilt with those stupid median planters just after Nickels announced the Complete Streets policy. Ditch the planters and there will be room for bike lanes. Going uphill, I like to use the ped crossing at Olga to stop the cars, then continue on Olga. It’s a bit of meander to get to California, but it’s more peaceful than contending with traffic on Admiral.

    Thumbs down on a protected downhill lane. I don’t want to be boxed in at 30 mph. Lots more speed enforcement is needed to train the drivers to respect the speed limit.

    On the uphill side along the no-parking sections there should be plastic posts to keep the cars from wandering right. The painted bike lane has been completely erased by drivers who won’t stay in the lane.

    1. Andres Salomon

      No one is saying you need to be in the protected bike lane to travel 30mph. Ride with traffic in a car lane if you’re going that fast. Do we really need to say that EVERY SINGLE TIME that there’s a bike blog post about protected facilities?

      Me, I’d prefer to not be forced to go 30mph on a downhill. *Especially* with a car tailgating me the whole time. Sharrows downhill will force me to keep up with traffic.

      I have a strong suspicion that most people who complain about being boxed in aren’t going as fast as they think they’re going. 30mph is _fast_, and it is the default (and usually lowest) speed for an arterial in Seattle. It doesn’t feel fast in a car, because you’re in an enclosed box. On a bike, 20mph feels fast. 23mph feels even faster. 25mph, super fast. I doubt you’re actually going 30mph downhill, especially if you’re watching out for potholes, turning cars, etc. And if you aren’t going 30mph, then cars are going to be pretty aggravated that they need to stay behind you.


      1. Peri Hartman

        I think I’m pretty much agreeing with you. You say that sharrows don’t work on high speed downhills. You also say that 30mph is super fast on a bike (I agree).

        The question, then, is whether there should be a protected bike lane. I say there should be a painted protected area without a physical divider. Then you can go fast in the bike lane but have the option to move into the traffic lane to pass another cyclist or simply to go traffic speed.

        Dexter is an example. Another example (though short) is the new downhill stretch on Roy St between QA Ave & Mercer St. I will add one more comment: going down Roy in the bike lane doesn’t work over about 15mph – you don’t have a broad enough sight line to see approaching cars at intersections (who may run the stop signs).

        Does this work for everyone?

      2. bill

        I have accurately calibrated computers on my bicycles. I always know how fast I am going and I am not intimidated by speed. I regularly reach the speed limit on Avalon, and on Admiral I ride the brakes to stay under the limit. Yesterday afternoon I did 45 mph on the segment of 410 west of the Mt. Rainier White River entrance.

      3. Andres Salomon

        My comment was in response to JAT and bill. I agreed with your original comment.

        I also agree that passing slower bicycles is an issue, especially with a big speed differential on a downhill. I’m not sure what the answer is there, but I could imagine it involving either a really wide protected bike lane, or gaps in the protection that allow for safe passing. I could imagine the downhill protected bike lane having the equivalent of neckdowns at intersections; on straightaways, a wider lane to allow passing, while narrowing at intersections to ensure people slow down due to turning conflicts/lights/pedestrians/etc.

      4. Josh

        How, exactly, does telling motorists to change lanes to pass force you to ride faster?

        Poorly implemented sharrows may give a false impression that cyclists have to ride as fast as traffic, but their real meaning is exactly the opposite. Cyclists have a right to the lane. Motorists have an obligation to share the road safely, which means waiting until it’s safe to pass, then providing safe clearance while passing.

        Years ago, when I was young and fast and fearless, I’d ride at the edge of the lane, trying my best to keep up with traffic or even pass on the right in congested traffic. I thought I was agile enough to deal with opening doors, debris, frequent close passes, etc.

        Now I’m older, and slower, and things break when I fall. If a lane isn’t wide enough for motorists to give safe passing clearance within the lane, I plod along controlling the lane, and allow motorists to change lanes if they want to pass. Riding at 10-15 mph on a 35+ mph street, there’s no way I’m going to trust motorists to pass safely if I give them the choice not to.

      5. Andres Salomon

        The sharrows aren’t what gives me the impression that I should keep up with traffic. The reality of the situation is what does. If I take the lane, maybe 9 out of 10 motorists will be patient and wait until it’s safe to pass (that’s a random percentage; some days it feels like it’s only 1 out of 2). However, the 1 motorist that decides to lay on his horn, or rev his engine and then pass me with 6 inches to spare is enough to make me want to just take the sidewalk. *Especially* when I’m biking with my kid. However, in some places there isn’t even a sidewalk (*cough*, I’m looking at you NE 70th/71st across I-5, with a downhill sharrow lane, sidewalk on only 1 side, and the jerk in the pickup truck last week who honked at me as I took the lane with my cargo bike).

        The alternative is to try and keep up with traffic. When I’m on my road bike and the grade is favorable, I can sometimes do that. However, I’m under no illusion that this is safe. If something on my bike fails, if anything gets caught in my spokes, if I misjudge a pothole, if something quickly enters my path, I’m going down. And if I go down, it’s up to the impatient person behind me (who is hopefully not looking at their phone) to quickly slam on the brakes to avoid running me over.

      6. Ben P

        As with Bill, my cycle computers are well calibrated. On 75th st ne going west toward 25th ave, I generally hit a top speed of 35-40mph. Heading north on 23rd ave e I exceed 40mph from a little past Helen till Newton . These speeds actually make riding simpler because you can ride in the left lane and not worry much about doors, turners, or those pesky bus craters that mock the malleable asphalt of right lanes across the city. That’s not to say the combination of high speeds, pot holes, and the dark of night can’t create problems. One time I actually managed to break my front axle clean in half and had to ride the rest of the way home on the skewer. My point is even if you don’t ride like a maniac, others do. This is the tricky part about installing effective bike infrastructure, it needs to account for the huge diversity of riders and riding styles.

        (Entirely unrelated, it’s kinda weird how the top response in that yahoo link is from some other Ben P)

      7. JAT

        You really have to work pretty hard to stay below 30 going down that hill – 37 to 40 is my usual speed coming down Admiral. Right of ways have limited width and SDOT appears to have limited capability to implement cycle facilities competently, given those considerations I think a downhill protected lane here is a recipe for disaster.

      8. That segment of Admiral is really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really, really steep.

  4. meanie

    There are a lot of people in West Seattle who will fight any changes to Admiral. There is a general belief that its a on ramp for the bridge, and any speed control or changes are anti america and hurt orphans.

    It would be much easier to fix Avalon with a real cycle track or route to the junction to establish a clear path to and from west seattle. Rather than the mish mash of junk we have now.

    The grade on admiral is terrible, its never going to be well used path, and any fight to make it one will be wasted energy when no one uses it. A lot of people literally ride AROUND ALKI to avoid that route.

  5. Josh

    Why is SDOT illustrating multiple instances of motorists illegally passing cyclists without safe clearance in the sections with sharrows?

    In both the Blue Segment and the Orange Segment, the cyclist is shown cowering in the gutter while a motorist passes within the same lane. Safety and the law agree, in both of those segments, the cyclist should be centered in the lane, and motorists should change lanes to pass.

    Given Seattle’s history of poorly-implemented sharrows, their meaning has been blurred, and these illustrations suggest that’s still a problem. I’d suggest that sharrows in lanes less than 16 feet wide should be accompanied by R4-11 “Bicycle May Use Full Lane” signs as suggested in Section 9B.06 of the MUTCD, the Federal standard for traffic control devices.

    Section 9B.06 Bicycles May Use Full Lane Sign (R4-11)
    01 The Bicycles May Use Full Lane (R4-11) sign (see Figure 9B-2) may be used on roadways where no bicycle lanes or adjacent shoulders usable by bicyclists are present and where travel lanes are too narrow for bicyclists and motor vehicles to operate side by side.
    02 The Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign may be used in locations where it is important to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane.
    03 Section 9C.07 describes a Shared Lane Marking that may be used in addition to or instead of the Bicycles May Use Full Lane sign to inform road users that bicyclists might occupy the travel lane.
    04 The Uniform Vehicle Code (UVC) defines a “substandard width lane” as a “lane that is too narrow for a bicycle and a vehicle to travel safely side by side within the same lane.”

    1. Clem

      SDOT don’t bike.

    2. Karl

      “Given Seattle’s history of poorly-implemented sharrows, their meaning has been blurred, and these illustrations suggest that’s still a problem.”

      Bears repeating.

      We need some new blood in SDOT, like maybe someone who actually cycles and has a clue of what is needed.

      The above graphics and most of the Sharrows in our city being painted far to the right are proof that they are clueless and not looking out for cyclists.

  6. Josh

    The buffer is on the wrong side of the bike lane in the Blue Segment.

    When placed next to a 7-foot parking lane, the entire width of a 5-foot bike lane is within the door zone of parked cars, one of the most hazardous places to ride a bike. (Unfortunately, it also just barely meets AASHTO minimum specs for a bike lane.)

    When my old Subaru is legally parked, the tip of the driver’s door is ten feet from the curb. That means a bicycle’s right handlebar tip should be at least eleven feet from the curb, which puts the bike tires at least 12 feet from the curb.

    With a 7-foot parking lane and a 5-foot bike lane, if there are cars parked, cyclists should ride no further right than the left stripe of the bike lane.

    1. When you mention your Subaru, you mean that if it’s legally parked with the door open, the door extends out that far, right?

      1. Josh

        Right, full extension of the driver’s door from the curb when legally parked. My Subaru isn’t a big car. With many larger pickups, the door zone extends to 130 inches or beyond.

  7. On a downhill as long and uninterrupted as Admiral you can hit 30 MPH coasting on a bike and will tend to unless you’re riding your brakes pretty hard.

    On a downhill as long and uninterrupted as Admiral you can hit 40 MPH coasting in a car and will tend to unless you’re riding your brakes pretty hard. Taking the lane on Admiral at 30 will give you a speed differential just like taking the lane anywhere else (even if you’re hitting the speed limit, because most of the drivers are exceeding it), and at the greater speed both you and the driver will have poorer reaction time and braking ability. I’ve biked down Admiral in light traffic and I’m not dead, but I wouldn’t want to do it regularly. Just lake taking the lane on faster urban arterials, I think it’s a necessary skill to have today, but it won’t be the way going forward.

    What does the protected lane scenario look like? Maybe if you can get something approaching the width of the I-90 bike path, just as a one-way path going down, that’s OK. People don’t get going quite as fast on the way down from the Mount Baker tunnel as they do heading down from Admiral, but there’s a lot more bike traffic on I-90 (it’s the most direct route connecting much of the east side with much of the west, including many popular recreational cycling locales — Admiral isn’t on the way anywhere but Admiral Junction, and recreational riders have many more pleasant ways up the hill), and on a one-way path there’s a lot less passing.

    The biggest problem might be at the bottom of the hill. The current turn-off onto Manning is fine if you’re already taking the lane, but it’s not a very good place to merge if you’re starting from a bike lane. And taking Manning down to an two-way stop at Avalon where most cyclists will need to turn left to head toward the bridge is not ideal (the bridge is one of the few places you could be going where bombing down Admiral is significantly faster than alternatives). Heading up to Admiral from the bridge is no picnic either — 30th/City View is really steep, and the stairs aren’t any less steep. There’s not a whole ton of room on that side of the road to improve the situation, either.

    1. Josh

      BMP requires compliance with state and national safety standards. AASHTO explicitly recognizes higher design speed requirements for long downhill grades.

      AASHTO calls for an 18 mph design speed for paths on level ground, and says that “in all but the most extreme cases,” 30 mph is a safe maximum design speed down hill.

      I don’t know the grade of Admiral off the top of my head, but at 30 mph on a 10% grade, AASHTO calls for a bicycle stopping sight distance of 600 feet. That’s going to require some pretty extreme clearances if there’s a segregated facility.

      1. Then maybe AASHTO is missing the point?

        For one thing, Admiral is certainly not a 10% grade, probably no block of Admiral has such a steep grade (if you’ve ever gone up Village Park Drive on Cougar Mountain, that’s about a 10% grade for around a mile). The main grade by Google Maps distances and a topo map comes out to a steady 7% — that sounds about right by modern road-building standards and by what it feels like going up.

        Anyway, a stopping sight distance of 600 feet means you basically need to be able to see the road surface a long-city-block in front of you. The road goes nearly straight with no intersections between Olga and Manning, so I don’t see a problem along the main descent as long as the trail is wide enough.

        The problem is down where you’d have to merge with traffic, around Manning. It’s severe enough that you probably can’t actually merge with traffic there, and the angles and car speeds involved probably say you can’t just put down a stop sign and say, “Good luck.” So you’d have to design something different, but that’s not so bad. The current exit-straight-to-Manning thing is completely nutso as it is. Just make the ramp down to Avalon a one-way ramp, keep the bikes separated to the right, and disconnect it from the 30th/Manning intersection. The few houses on the slope can still be accessed from Avalon via Charlestown/30th and the viaduct can be accessed at the stoplight just north of there. There’s no need for any traffic to go up Manning from Avalon ever. Also the left turn from westbound Admiral to Manning can be closed. No shortage of ways to access that area from the viaduct.

        I’m sure there’s some other reason this is all wrong, but if AASHTO formulas would forbid us from making these changes, sink ’em in the slough with the rest of the junk…

  8. Lars

    To me, the hazardous points needing changes are getting on and off Admiral at the bottom of the hill. There are no signs to direct you from the Alki Trail to Admiral going up hill and the only road access is very narrow and dangerous for bikes. Also, the planters in the middle of the road only add to the congestion for bikers and need to go.

  9. Josh

    News flash from the Transportation Research Board, extensive research on bike lane widths and parking lane widths released in NCHRP REPORT 766 say:

    “For streets with on-street parking and where the parking lane width is between 7 and 9 ft
    and the bike lane width is between 4 and 6 ft, the effective bike lane will likely be less than
    the physical width of a typical adult bicyclist, and the majority of bicyclists will position
    themselves outside of the effective bike lane.”

    NCHRP gives the following design guidance as a result:

    “For parking lanes that are 7- to 9-ft wide, assuming the 95th-percentile parked vehicle
    displacement and an open door width of 45 in., the open door zone width of parked
    vehicles extends approximately 11 ft from the curb. Therefore, the design of the bike lane
    should encourage bicyclists to ride outside of this door zone area and account for the
    width of the bicyclist.”

    Hear that, SDOT?

    The expected door zone extends 11 feet from the curb, and bike lane designs should encourage cyclists to ride outside that door zone.


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