The Green Lane Project loves the Broadway Bikeway (but illegal turns a problem)

Screen Shot 2014-08-20 at 2.20.53 PMYou’ve already seen our thoughts on the Broadway Bikeway, but the lanes caught the eye of Michael Andersen at the national Green Lane Project due to the lengths the city went to work around the street’s many turning conflicts. His observations were posted at StreetsBlog USA.

The Broadway Bikeway is a two-way bike lane included as part of the First Hill Streetcar project as a way to maintain bike access and improve the safety of people on foot on this key commercial street. But it’s the way the city deals with driveways that piqued Andersen’s interest:

The resulting lanes are rare in one important way: they create a two-directional protected lane on one side of a two-way street. That’s a little-used design due to the large number of possible turning conflicts. But Seattle is showing that with enough money and care, it can be done.

Andersen also praises the way bikes are not only routed behind transit stops, but that the bike lanes rise to sidewalk level to make it clear people walking have priority:

Broadway’s bike lanes actually cut the cost of the associated streetcar project significantly, because they run on top of a water line that would have had to be displaced if the streetcar had hugged Broadway’s east curb. This put the bike lanes between the transit stop and the sidewalk, a setup that’s common in Europe, and works just fine in the United States, but requires some nuance.

Here, designers raised the bike lane to sidewalk level for cyclists as they approach the transit stop, communicating to people pedaling that (like a car on a raised crosswalk) they’re no longer in their own space and should yield to pedestrians.

But there is one big problem, and regular users of the bikeway are probably familiar with it (no, I’m actually not talking about people parking in the bikeway). People constantly miss or ignore the restriction against right turns when they have a red arrow. There may be ways to adjust the design of the signals and signage to help address the problem, like lowering the bike signal to be on a different level than the standard traffic lights. Or maybe some enforcement is needed (though if so many people are disobeying it, that could point to a design problem).

But speaking of people parking in the bikeway, Capitol Hill Seattle reports on what you should do if you see it:

Photos of cars and delivery trucks blocking the Broadway bikeway continue to be readily available on Twitter. According to SDOT, no vehicle is allowed to park in the bike lane, including delivery trucks. If you see a vehicle parked in the bikeway you can report it through the city’s Find-It-Fix-It or SPD’s non-emergency line at (206) 625-5011. An SPD spokesperson said people can always call 911 if they deem the situation to be an “in-progress hazard.”

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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26 Responses to The Green Lane Project loves the Broadway Bikeway (but illegal turns a problem)

  1. Cheif says:

    The biggest “problem” with the broadway bikeway is that there isn’t one on every major street in the city. If we want to see more people on bikes we need more infrastructure.

  2. AJL says:

    The “no right turn on red” is a problem everywhere in this city – it’s still an issue at the southbound Dexter/Mercer intersection in spite of the sign. And at Union/under the viaduct. And all along the street under the viaduct that have clearly marked “no right turns on red.” Drivers do not care and turn anyway. It’s not just a problem here.

    • Josh says:

      Not to mention that where right on red is legal, drivers routinely don’t actually STOP, as the law requires, and yield to conflicting traffic. Rolling right on red is endemic on Seattle streets.

  3. Gordon Padelford says:

    I was told SPD’s parking phone line 206-386-9012 is the one to call for illegal parking.

  4. Augsburg says:

    Only in a city of engineers and techno-geeks (I’m one myself), could we come up with such an inelegant, awkward and ugly solution for the urban landscape as the Broadway bikeway. Years ago, I lived at the north end of Broadway and I still remember the re-do they did to Broadway in the early 1980’s. At least the bronze dance-step feet inlaid in the sidewalks showed some imagination and beauty – as opposed to this brutalist approach to the “problem”.

    • LWC says:

      I’m curious what design ideas you have for this type of work: if you were in charge, how would you make roads safe for all users while appealing to your aesthetic sense?

      • Augsburg says:

        Less is more, in my view. Just visit a European city such as Amsterdam, where bicycles rule, but the facilities are decidedly understated compared to what was done on Broadway. Ranging from simple dedicated outside lanes on major arterial routes used by cyclists – down to little or nothing on more urban streets. Road features, be they for bicycles or autos, take a back seat to use of the public right of way in a manner that compliments the adjacent development and does not try to defy it with heavy handedness.

      • LWC says:

        Interesting. Perhaps it might work in a place where drivers already expect to see cyclists in dedicated lanes. I think such subtlety would fail horribly in Seattle… but maybe we can get there eventually.

      • LWC says:

        Although, one European design idea that I think would work along broadway is the “shared space” model. Remove auto lanes, bike lanes, and sidewalks, and make it a single shared space with no specific delineation. The lack of structure can actually make things much more pleasant and (perhaps counter-intuitively) safe.

      • Josh says:

        Copenhagen tried routing cycletracks behind bus stops, but the huge increase in bike/pedestrian accidents (>500% increase in transit passengers hit by cyclists) make this a design they now use only when nothing else will work.

      • Josh says:

        FYI, the >500% increase in transit passenger/cyclist injuries is on the low side of official Copenhagen findings for routing cycletracks behind bus stops… other official studies found accident increases over 1900%.

    • Al Dimond says:

      Brutalism has a specific meaning, and I don’t see how cycletracks or the Broadway one specifically has anything to do with it. The Broadway cycletrack is mostly driven by the streetcar, and I can’t imagine whatever brutalist architects remain appreciating streetcars much.

      Some of the criticism above ignores the challenges posed by the streetcar route — like it or not, it’s happening, and has been a driving force in the cycletrack’s design. Before even the streetcar came along, Broadway was expected to do double duty, as both a primary traffic and transit arterial and as a primary business and shopping area for Capitol Hill. SDOT is not going to turn such a street into Pike Place (and even if it did, any block where pedestrians weren’t regularly crowding the whole street would still see lots of high-speed drivers). It’s a bit late to follow older cities’ custom of expecting different streets to serve these needs.

      Painting bike routes around the back of bus stops on Jackson where there’s otherwise not even an on-street bike lane is really weird. But on Broadway there are train tracks in the street. It might be better to have something more like Dexter’s bus bulb interface — I was skeptical of that but it seems to work, at least on Dexter — where the arrangement of curbs and fences protects the bike route from wandering pedestrians more. As a University of Illinois alumnus I’ve seen lots of pedestrian-bike collisions around sidewalk-level cycletracks, though I hardly think I’d have preferred to jump into traffic on Wright Street to go the other way around bus stops…

      • Josh says:

        Just picking nits, the bike stripe through the middle of the bus stop on Jackson comes after a block that does have a bike lane, though before that it has sharrows.

        Still no idea why running bikes through the middle of the sidewalk, between the bus stop and the bus stop bench, is an acceptable routing on Jackson. Personally, I stay in the lane, there are way too many conflicts engineered into that bus stop bike stripe.

  5. andrew squirrel says:

    Is that kit on the SKUT photoshopped into that photo?

  6. Alkibkr says:

    “People constantly miss or ignore the restriction against right turns when they have a red arrow.”

    Tom, I am pretty sure it is legal to turn right on a steady red arrow (or left, if that is the direction of travel when turning onto a one-way street). After giving pedestrians and bikers crossing the intersection the right of way, of course.

    RCW 46.61.055 (3)(c)
    “…vehicle operators facing a steady red arrow indication may, after stopping proceed to make a right turn from a one-way or two-way street into a two-way street or into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the right turn; or a left turn from a one-way street or two-way street into a one-way street carrying traffic in the direction of the left turn; unless a sign posted by competent authority prohibits such movement.”

    That said, after attending the memorial walk for yet another pedestrian victim of a “right hook”, I feel we should be putting a lot of pressure on the city to implement “no right on red” on more of our intersections with a lot of pedestrian and bicycle traffic.

    • Josh says:

      Many European-derived designs are based on different legal infrastructure than the U.S., and designs can’t simply be cut-and-pasted to a U.S. street grid.

      For example, on Broadway, the Seattle Municipal Code and the RCW don’t recognize those bicycle-shaped signal faces. There’s no law against cycling through a red bicycle signal; there’s no law that says a green bicycle signal means you’re allowed to proceed.

      For that matter, the SMC and RCW don’t actually recognize cycletracks at all. SDOT signs them as bicycle paths, which means cyclists are off-street users entering traffic at each intersection, facing an entirely different set of laws than cyclists already on the street.

      Broadway is a clear illustration of manufactured conflicts from facilities that don’t comport with the law.

      • LWC says:

        I’m no lawyer, but to my cursory reading, RCW 46.61.050 seems to be written with enough wiggle-room to allow for bike-shaped traffic signals. Part (4) in particular seems to imply that if you tried to argue your way out of a ticket with this logic, the burden would be on you to establish “competent evidence” that bike-shaped traffic signals don’t meet the requirements of the RCW: good luck with that.

      • Josh says:

        RCW 46.61.050 requires you to obey signals “placed in accordance with the requirements of this chapter.”

        RCW 46.61.055 tells you exactly what it means to obey signals placed in accordance with this chapter. It’s prescriptive by both the color and the shape of the signal face.

        RCW 46.61.055 does not define any meaning at all for signals shaped like bicycles. Bicycle signal faces are not signals “placed in accordance with the requirements of this chapter,” as specified in 46.61.050.

        It’s a simple legislative fix, suitable code has been adopted in other states, but it has to be adopted here before it’s in force here.

  7. ODB says:

    I’ve only ridden the bikeway twice, but both times I was only person on it. It felt very safe to me and also very slow. I got stopped at almost every light and had to wait for the special bike signals. Confirms my intuition that the push for “all ages and abilities” is at the expense of efficiency for people who are comfortable with more exposure to traffic. I’m willing to make the sacrifice for an increase in cycling mode share, but it would be reassuring to see actual evidence of that happening. (Maybe the evidence already exists–are there before and after data to measure the effectiveness of the bikeway in attracting more cyclists to Broadway?) For myself, next time, I’ll try the normal bike lanes on 12th, which as I recall allow for a decent rate of speed.

    • Eli says:

      I think the Broadway cycle track will be useful once the area around Yesler gets redeveloped. Right now it’s just opportunistic infrastructure that has little present value.

      I live two blocks away from the cycle track and have now ridden it several times. I have almost never seen another person on it. At least, on a bike. I have seen pedestrians treating it like extra outdoor sidewalk space in front of the Garage, and the street cleaning folks using the cycletrack as a convenient place to leave their big garbage can while they work.

      Right now, I think it offers really no tangible value for the reasons you’ve described: people like you who are comfortable riding in the street can just take 12th. And people like me who are “interested but concerned” can’t use it, because it doesn’t go from anywhere useful to anywhere useful on its own. Contrast with Vancouver where strategic cycle track placement enabled an access transformation to and around the downtown.

      I did choose a physical therapist that is a block away from the protected bike lane, so I have an excuse to use it weekly. But I just as easily could have chosen one two blocks away and walked there.

    • Josh says:

      Yes, 12th is much friendlier for bicycling through Capitol Hill.

      The Broadway path isn’t a regional facility, it’s a way to get to destinations right on Broadway itself, without having to ride across the streetcar tracks. For short hops on a bike, the delays and hazards of the path are a viable alternative to riding over flange gaps.

      Almost any other street is faster and safer if you need to go more than a couple of blocks.

  8. nullbull says:

    Agree that Right-turns-against-the-signal indicate a design problem. BUT, I have to say it is very interesting that when you read a story about a place where bikes break the law consistently, the rhetoric tends to include “scofflaw!” and “enforcement” or my favorite “they should have to have licences!” But when people in cars break the law consistently it’s “maybe the streets are designed wrong.”

    • Breadbaker says:

      In Portland, at similar intersections with bike signals, there is a huge red illuminated sign saying “No Right Turn on Red” to go along with the normal sign. You really have to be ignoring a lot to miss it. Of course, it might interfere with your texting while driving.

  9. chris isaacson says:

    I have used the Broadway cycle track on my way home from my commute from South Boeing field to Maple Leaf, but opt to use 12th Ave because it is faster, less lights to deal with, and it does end on a busy Broadway like the track does. It’s really great that this exists , but in reality it should have been done on 12th AVE instead of Broadway.

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