After an extensive and essentially unprecedented community planning process (at least for a bikeway project), the city is moving into more detailed final design work for the Westlake Bikeway, which will connect the Fremont Bridge and Lake Union Park.
After a huge number of comments, several very large open houses and a series of Design Advisory Committee meetings spanning most of 2014, the city feels like they have a good grasp on the various needs this unique corridor has. The status quo is not working well for anyone, and it is unnecessarily dangerous and uncomfortable for people on bikes. Below is a look at some ways the city hopes to make the corridor work better for everyone.
Westlake’s endless parking lot is no place for biking, but nearly everyone prefers it to biking in the fast, four-lane roadway. So the project will aim to create a two-way bikeway separated from general traffic, cars cruising for parking and people walking. After looking at ten concepts, planners settled on a bikeway mostly aligned along the east edge of the parking lot between parked cars and the sidewalk.
Care has been given to improve interactions between people walking and biking. The city will also install stop signs and speed humps in the drive lanes to encourage people on bikes to stick to the bikeway and to calm car speeds, hopefully making the whole area safer for everyone.
In the first map, notice that there is a new traffic signal on Westlake to allow people to get to 8th Ave N. That can be a stressful maneuver today. In the third map, you can see that the tracks through Railroad Park will be turned into a sidewalk.
In the most recent presentation to the Design Advisory Committee, project planners included a map of where people who attended the project open houses came from. There has been a lot of talk throughout the process about who should or should not count as a member of the Westlake community. I think this map is a pretty good look at the community’s reach, and a good reminder that one stretch of public space can impact a much larger area.
The design for a safe biking space also comes with a smart redesign of the parking area to make sure it is better focused on businesses and residents in the area. This means expanding paid parking and hour restrictions to more of the lot so that the spaces are available for customers who need them.
The only real “losers” here are people who have gotten used to using the lot as a free all-day park-and-ride for getting to work downtown or in South Lake Union without paying city center parking prices.
And as for concerns about parking loss, the design preserves almost all parking spaces, from 85 percent in some sections to as much as 95 percent in others.
More details from SDOT:
As the New Year begins, so does a new phase of the Westlake Cycle Track Project. The Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) spent 2014 on the planning phase of the project and in 2015 we will complete the design and begin construction. Throughout the planning process we got to know the people who work, live and commute along the corridor and gained a better understanding of the unique needs of water-dependent businesses. We’ve also confirmed there is a growing need for dedicated spaces for people who walk, people who bike, and people who drive. We are grateful for the time the community has donated to working with us.
Here is a rundown of 2014’s public involvement:
- Convened the Mayor-appointed Design Advisory Committee with members representing businesses, residents, bicyclists, pedestrians, maritime industry and Lake Union Park users
- Hosted 10 Design Advisory Committee meetings plus one on-the-ground tour
- Held 2 project open houses (each with more than 450 attendees!)
- Organized 5 community and parking roundtables
- Attended dozens of briefings and one-on-one meetings with local community groups and businesses
As a result, we explored 10 community-based proposals and several alignment options. While not all of them were feasible, they gave us good insight into the priorities of stakeholders and helped form the alignment presented at the October 2014 Open House.
We have moved from the planning phase to the design phase and are proud to share the cycle track alignment that best meets the project goal to increase safety for all users, and project objectives to increase the connectivity, economic vitality and accessibility of the corridor.
The alignment locates the cycle track on the east side of the Westlake parking area adjacent to the sidewalk. It includes treatments based on research and context that best fit the needs of the corridor. It is an exciting time as we move forward into design, working to incorporate public feedback and create a more comfortable experience for all users.
Check out Design Advisory Committee meeting materials for more details on the evolution of this alignment, including the multiple options we considered over the past year. So far the project has met all of its key milestones and is on schedule for construction to begin fall 2015.
What we’ve been hearing
Here are the top five questions and concerns we heard in 2014:
1. How will pedestrians cross the cycle track?
Making sure people can move safely next to and across the cycle track is a top priority. Pedestrians will be able to cross the cycle track at any location and a buffer will help separate people walking from people biking. The design also includes formal crosswalks with the following calming elements:
- Rumble strips alerting people biking that a change is coming
- Pavement markings such as green paint and the word “SLOW”
- Stop bars to alert people riding bikes to yield to pedestrians
- Detection that turns on flashing lights to indicate when people are moving through the area in high-use zones such as Highland Drive
2. Will there be a speed limit for bicyclists?
No, there will not be a speed limit for bicyclists. Slowing treatments like the examples described above will make the cycle track attractive to all ages and abilities and are intended to manage bicycle speeds. Pedestrian crossings, curves in the design, and education on the rules of the road will also support a calm facility. Once the cycle track is installed, we will monitor it to see if additional refinements are needed.
3. How will SDOT ensure bicyclists stay on the cycle track?
Speed humps and stop signs will be installed in the drive aisle of the parking area to make bicycling in the parking area undesirable, as well as to help manage vehicle speeds. To help separate bicyclists and pedestrians, a “tactile warning strip” will serve as a buffer between the cycle track and the sidewalk. Overall, the cycle track will also be intuitive and obvious to encourage people to use it rather than ride in the parking area.
4. How is SDOT incorporating moorage tenants into the parking management changes?
We know Westlake is a unique maritime community, with a tradition of providing access for boaters and the industries that support boating. We’re working hard to accommodate boater use.
We’ve heard from some members of the community that the City of Seattle should establish a new “Lake Union Maritime District” and create a permit system to support maritime activities, such as allowing moorage tenants to park for longer than 72 hours and for free. However, the citywide 72-hour rule does not allow a vehicle to be parked in the public right-of-way for longer than 72 hours. This policy prevents long-term vehicle storage in the public right-of-way; ensures that people check their cars and move them should road construction or maintenance be required; and provides an important enforcement tool for the Seattle Police Department to address complaints about abandoned vehicles.
Implementing a new maritime district would require changes to the Seattle Municipal Code. The City would need to review the goals the policy was set up to achieve and it would ultimately require City Council action. The scope and timeframe is beyond the range of the Westlake Cycle Track Project.
We are making sure the Westlake Cycle Track project does not change current options available to boaters, including the ability to park their cars for up to 72 hours, and free parking in the evenings after 4 PM and all day on weekends. The design team is also working to incorporate short-term loading zones to give boaters space to load/unload then park elsewhere. Just as today, boaters who expect to be out for more than 72 hours need to continue exploring the option of parking their vehicles in nearby parking garages or finding alternative transportation options.
5. How will SDOT preserve and manage parking to support economic vitality?
Before developing our preferred design, our goal was to preserve up to 80% of the public parking spaces within the corridor. After listening to corridor users and residents, and holding a series of parking management roundtables, we worked hard to modify the design to preserve more parking. We currently estimate the cycle track alignment will preserve up to 95% of the existing parking spaces in some segments and 85% in other segments.
We’ve heard from many businesses and residents that parking is essential to the economic vitality of the corridor. To help us fully understand the use of available parking spaces, we conducted a parking management survey with corridor businesses and residents in December 2014. You can view a map of proposed parking management changes that we shared in December here. Based on the findings of that survey and the feedback we’ve received throughout the year, SDOT’s parking management team will begin implementing parking rate and time limit changes by the end of March. Stay tuned for more details about the final parking rate and time limit changes. Once the changes are implemented, we will continue to monitor the corridor to determine if additional changes need to be made.
Thank you to everyone who joined an open house, attended a Design Advisory Committee meeting, participated in a roundtable, called or emailed us. We appreciate your interest in the Westlake Cycle Track Project, and your feedback has helped us design a cycle track that works best for all users.