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Only 2 percent of center city curb space occupied by bike lane

The study area. The percentage outside the city center is likely even lower
The study area. The percentage outside the city center is likely even lower

For all the media attention Seattle has received for installing bike lanes in recent years, you might think these things are popping up all over the place.

But spend a little time on a bike, and that image is immediately shattered. Seattle streets are very much still focused on driving cars, and biking here with regularity requires a whole lot of sharing general traffic lanes with cars, trucks and buses or biking in skinny bike lanes squeezed too close to parked cars.

For example, an in-process effort to better understand the use of Seattle’s curb space found that most space is used for driving or parking motor vehicles. Only 2 percent of curb space in the center city study area is dedicated to bike lanes.

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You can help with the study by taking this survey on curb use and how you get around the center city.

As this SDOT image shows, a complete street can meet all needs, from safety to deliveries to parking.
As this SDOT image shows, a complete street can meet all needs, from safety to deliveries to parking.

This study further quantifies how much work the city still has before getting around town on a bike is a truly safe and easy experience. The League of American Bicyclists recently declined to upgrade Seattle’s “gold” bike friendly rating to “platinum” in large part due to how few of the city’s arterial streets have bike lanes of any kind. The League found that only 17 percent of arterial streets here have bike lanes, far below the “platinum” city average of 78 percent. And many of those existing bike lanes are skinny parked-car-door-zone lanes in need of an upgrade.

Bike lanes aligned to the curb are typically the safest and most comfortable since they are not located within the door zone of parked cars. They are even more comfortable when there is a barrier separating the lanes from the general traffic lanes, even if that separation is just a line of plastic posts. If the center city area is going to be an inviting place to bike for people of all ages and abilities, we’re gonna need a whole lot more of these protected bike lanes along curbs.

Of course, bike lanes don’t kick out other important curb uses. As seen on 2nd Ave, the lane next to the bike lane can be designed to match each block’s individual needs. Sometimes it can be a turn lane, sometimes it can be a loading zone, and sometimes it can provide short term parking. This is how the center city streets will become complete streets, focused on the needs and safety of all users, not just on the movement (or lack of movement) of cars.

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16 responses to “Only 2 percent of center city curb space occupied by bike lane”

  1. Cheif

    One immediate thing that comes to mind that could be done quickly is to move the pavement markings in the 2nd ave bike lanes that say “SLOW” over to the main travel lanes, since people speeding in cars is a far, far worse issue than the fact that valet parking attendants have to look both ways before crossing.

  2. ChefJoe

    “valet parking attendants have to look both ways before crossing”

    Just be careful. If a cyclist in a bike lane hits a pedestrian crossing the bike lane, the cyclist could be prosecuted under the vulnerable users law too.

    1. Cheif

      Worry about what you’re doing and I’ll worry about mine. The fact of the matter is that people on bikes are treated as secondary to people in autos, even on the much bragged about bikeway.

      1. Lee

        Cheif – we all need to look out for each other and particularly for vulnerable pedestrians! Bikes can and do collide on protected bike lanes when bicyclists are not careful and don’t respect each other or their surroundings.

      2. Cheif

        Go cry to your mother.

    2. Adam

      And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

      Pedestrians > Bicyclists > Motorists

    3. Megan

      @ ChefJoe:
      I understand what you are saying, and will not hit a pedestrian in the bike lane, no matter WHAT they are doing there. That said, the SLOW markings indicated to cyclists and valets alike that bikes should yield to pedestrians in that area, which is not correct, and is dangerous for everyone.

      The valets in this area model behavior for patrons of the adjacent restaurant, and currently they (and the city) behave as though the bike lane is a convenient extension of the sidewalk.

      1. Josh

        Legally, are you sure bikes shouldn’t be yielding to pedestrians in that crossing area?

        Assuming SDOT still considers the cycletrack a separate path, not a lane of the street, SMC 11.44.120 says “Every person operating a bicycle upon a sidewalk or public path shall yield the right-of-way to any pedestrian thereon, and shall give an audible signal before overtaking and passing any pedestrian.”

        If the cycletrack *is* considered part of the street, then SMC 11.58.310 says “Every operator of a vehicle shall exercise due care to avoid colliding with any pedestrian … upon any roadway and shall give warning by sounding the horn when necessary.”

        It’s good if the infrastructure minimizes the number of potential pedestrian conflicts, such as not routing bikes behind bus platforms, and not putting bikes between parked cars and pedestrian facilities. But where the infrastructure is designed to require pedestrians to cross bicycle routes, whether it’s a separate path or part of the street, bicycles DO have to slow to an appropriate speed and yield to pedestrians.

      2. jay

        Obviously, if a pedestrian is in the bike path a cyclist needs to yield, I think the point is the pedestrian should show maybe a little deference (probably not the right word, but something similar) before entering the path at other than cross walks. While the law is probably not at all clear on this point, in those “postcards” SDOT created e.g. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/SecondAvePBL_PostcardParking.pdf
        Do say: “they physically separate people riding bikes from people driving, and they are distinct from
        the sidewalk.”
        “Look both ways for people biking when crossing the protected bike lane.”

        In short, don’t be a dick, whether on foot or on a bicycle.
        If the cycle track were considered a part of the roadway, then I imagine SMC 11.40.100 would apply, but that would obviously be impractical with the parking, perhaps then 11.40.090? SDOT’s postcard seems to suggest 11.40.090
        (“A. Except as otherwise provided in this subtitle, every pedestrian crossing a roadway at a point other than at designated crosswalks or other than within an unmarked crosswalk at an intersection shall yield right-of-way to all vehicles upon the roadway. “)

      3. Megan

        I’ll add for clarity that the restaurant in this case is at the corner of the block, and the SLOW signs are directly adjacent to the crosswalk. If the pedestrians are required to yield to bikes at the crosswalk, then they should certainly do so at a point 2′-0″ south.

      4. Josh

        That’s a big “if” though — in general, bicyclists are required to yield to pedestrians at crosswalks, not the other way around.

        Pedestrians are prohibited from entering a crosswalk in front of a cyclist who is so close that they can’t stop, but if a cyclist has enough distance to stop, or to slow down enough for the pedestrian to cross, then the pedestrian has the right to step into the crosswalk, and the cyclist has the duty to yield.

        Pedestrians — Right of way.

        (1) Stopping for pedestrian. The operator of an approaching vehicle shall stop and remain stopped to allow a pedestrian to cross the roadway within a crosswalk unmarked or marked when the pedestrian is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning.

        (2) Pedestrian sudden movements. No pedestrian shall suddenly leave a curb or other place of safety and walk or run into the path of a vehicle which is so close that it is impossible for the driver to stop.

      5. Megan

        Pedestrians are ALWAYS required to yield at a crosswalk when there is a flashing or solid orange hand.

        Are you legitimately suggesting that, although pedestrians are clearly required to yield to motorized traffic proceeding through a green light, they are NOT required to yield to cyclists proceeding through the same green light at the same intersection?

        All the crosswalks along the Second Avenue Bike lane are controlled with walk/don’t walk signs. I don’t think the City of Seattle intends for cyclists to yield to pedestrians crossing against the light just outside the crosswalk, and that is what these SLOW signs suggest.

      6. Josh

        Pedestrians aren’t walking through the bike path to cross the street in the crosswalk, they’re walking to their cars. The crossings marked by these SLOW markings are outside the intersection control zone of the WALK/DON’T WALK signs.

        Whatever the design intent of the facility, the legal infrastructure is currently a very poor fit. Not to sound like a broken record, but cycletracks do not exist in City code or the RCW.

        (Neither do bicycle traffic signals — they have no legal meaning and aren’t authorized by code. They seem to work fairly well regardless, but try to find anything that says you can enter an intersection when you see a green bicycle signal, or must stop when you see a red bicycle. It doesn’t exist.)

        Engineering can try to make the infrastructure navigable, but SDOT can’t change city code, that’s up to the City Council, which so far seems content to turn a blind eye.

  3. Lee

    Cheif –

    Go to Harborview the next time you are hit by an asshole bicyclist in the the bike lane when they are speeding and not paying attention to their environment, including other bikes and pedestrians. Part of living in Seattle is understanding and respecting people around you. If you don’t like it, move to California.


  4. […] more than a penny: Only 2% of the center city curb space is occupied with bike […]

  5. […] until they form a peak that stands upright. Think Seattle Space […]

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