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Burke-Gilman Trail crossings get big upgrades near U Village

IMG_1176The city completed work on some significant upgrades to two busy Burke-Gilman Trail intersections near University Village in recent months.

As shown above, wider curb cuts and new separate bike/walk and right turn phases have dramatically improves comfort and safety at 25th Ave NE. And an awesome and very hard to miss no right turn sign was installed in addition to the red arrow just to make it even more clear that, seriously, don’t turn right. As we have learned from 2nd Ave, a red arrow is not always enough to get the message across.

The change is significant because people walking and biking now have a signal phase where they don’t have to worry about people turning in front of them or trying to inch and push through the crowd.

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Cascade Bicycle Club's Brock Howell demonstrates.
Cascade Bicycle Club’s Brock Howell demonstrates.

The city also installed two leaning rails and push buttons set back from the sidewalk. The first of their kind in Seattle, the leaning rail is partly to give people biking a comfortable place to wait and partly to reduce the number of people gathered in the sidewalk space near the corner to help keep a walking path clear.

From what I could tell in my observations and in chatting with Cascade Bicycle Club’s Brock Howell and Kelli Refer about it, the biggest problem with the rail is that it’s too short. Only a couple people can use them, and bike volumes are just too high. The westbound direction seems to work a little better than eastbound, where the rail is pretty far from the intersection.

The trail upgrades were identified in a 2008 transportation study of the area and were paid for using mitigation funds from the University Village and the University Village QFC, as well as city funds.

Raised crosswalk

The new raised crosswalk at 30th Ave NE replaced a crossing that was already pretty decent, at least compared to a lot of other trail crossings.

I observed the intersection for a while, and it seemed to work very well. I was surprised to see how many people driving stop before even entering the raised section of the crosswalk, giving people walking and biking a lot of breathing room to make their crossing. In fact, I don’t see any need for the stop signs facing the trail, which only seem to confuse people.

As a crosswalk, trail users have the right of way (and people biking must yield to people walking always, of course). The raised crosswalk only makes this more obvious.

Stop signs facing trail users are confusing because they send mixed signals, simultaneously telling people on bikes to stop and to go. It’s essentially like having a traffic cop holding one hand up to tell you to stop while waving you through with the other hand. Most people biking respond to this mixed signal by slowing down, looking around and proceeding with caution, and most people who drive stop and wait for trail users to cross. This is the safe and natural way to handle such an intersection, and it would make more sense to just sign the crossing as such.

The stop signs also confuse some people who think that a stop sign on the trail means people biking should stop and wait for people driving through the intersection. In fact, even with the stop sign people biking likely still have the right of way thanks to the crosswalk, though the stop signs make the whole situation unnecessarily confusing. Does a person at a trail stop sign count as being “upon” the roadway, the legal requirement for someone driving to stop? Even SDOT doesn’t seem to know, so how are we to expect the average person driving or biking to know?

Rather than arguing over semantics, best practice would be to just design the crossing so it is both safe and obvious to everyone how to use it. This goes for trail crossings all over the region, including several in Kenmore and on UW campus.

Do you use the new crossings regularly? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.

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30 responses to “Burke-Gilman Trail crossings get big upgrades near U Village”

  1. pascal

    I’ve been assuming that the stop sign there means stop, then go, and that I do not have right of way until I am in the crosswalk, as opposed to not yet past the stop sign. I do not always act strictly according to this assumption, but if a car has already stopped for someone ahead of me and is ready to go again, it seems a little aggressive to blow through the stop sign completely and make the car stop again.

    1. ChefJoe

      That’s probably the best way to handle it. Otherwise, you could have a fast-moving trail bike pass a group of walkers and run smack into the side of a car that has stopped and is proceeding. Best to be safe, just like bicyclists refuse to ride as far to the right as possible because they fear road debris or the possibility of a car door… in the name of “best to be safe”.

  2. I live on Blakeley right by 25th so I’m excited by these new improvements!

    But I’m confused about one small detail at each intersection.

    At Blakeley and 25th: when the bike light is activated, there’s a large and explicit no-right-turn sign for traffic facing easy on Blakeley. But it appears that traffic facing west on Blakeley can turn left when the bike light is activated. I find this a little surprising; in my experience, drivers heading in both directions have a tendency to not see pedestrians and cyclists on the Burke. This is especially true when cyclists are moving rapidly through the intersection.

    As far as Blakeley right behind the U Village: this is a definite improvement in visibility. There’s still the unfortunate standoff quality of having the stop sign be on the trail rather than the road: drivers are rightly reticent to move through the intersection without stopping completely, because cyclists often ignore the stop signs on the Burke. I wonder why we don’t opt for the other way around?

    1. Argh. easy -> east.

    2. Simon Cooke

      I agree with you, Dave. This is confusing and potentially dangerous (IMO).

      Westbound traffic has a green light, while Eastbound traffic has a no-right-turn. So now you’re left with this situation:

      Westbound can theoretically turn left (green light), but isn’t sure if Eastbound has a green light (they’re mysteriously stopped). Not only that, but Westbound traffic turning left has a blind spot on their left, where cyclists – seeing that they have a green light – can barrel through the intersection, while a vehicle is in the middle of the left turn.

      This intersection would be much safer if there was a pedestrian/cycle-only portion of the cycle, or if the Westbound traffic had a “no-turn on red” and an arrow signal for turning left as well.

      As it stands, I’m worried that either a cyclist is going to get creamed, or cars are going to collide, or both – and that it’s just a matter of time.

  3. Becky

    I find the leaning rail on the westbound direction to make more sense. Eastbound, it’s SO far removed from the intersection that I’ve found that people just crowd to the front anyway. Also, as a left-foot-putter-downer they are not especially useful for me personally :).

    1. asdf2

      The signal timing of the Burke and 25th Ave. also seems to have improved. Before, the light would stay green for 25th Ave. traffic way too long. Now, it seems much more balanced.

      It is also nice being able to press the button a few feet back from the intersection. In many cases, just being able to get to the button a few seconds earlier is the difference between not having to wait at all and having to wait a full cycle to cross the street.

      1. Kirk

        If you’re on your bike and don’t get a walk signal, just pop out of the sidewalk and cross in the traffic lane.

  4. Richard Fuhr

    My assumption has always been that the stop signs on the Burke Gilman Trail facing bike users mean that the bicyclists are required to stop. But it seems that many bicyclists ignore the stop signs and don’t stop. The intersection of the Burke Gilman Trail with 30th Ave NE near University Village is a good example of this. I think that SDOT should make it very clear what these stop signs mean. If the stop signs don’t mean stop, then remove the signs. What else could they mean. The potential for a tragic accident at that intersection is extremely high, and I have seen some close calls where bicyclists assumed they didn’t have to stop, almost got hit by cars, and were very rude to the alert motorists who stopped.

    1. Cheif

      It makes absolutely no sense to put a stop sign leading into a crosswalk unless you look at it through the eyes of someone who has a vendetta against trail users and likes the crosswalk-yield-voiding loophole created by this contradiction. The correct thing to do would be to turn the stop signs 90 degrees, facing automobile traffic, to reinforce the intended safety of the crosswalk.

      1. Duncan Cox

        Stop sign is a nice idea but as Chief (and Tom) state it creates mass confusion. This morning is great example, heading west on BGT crossing 30th, I slow and approach stop sign, car driver southbound stops for me, clearly allowing me to cross.
        According to the stop sign, I should stop, which makes no sense and would have confused the driver.
        I looked at the NB lane, clear, and crossed with a thank you wave to the driver. We all go about our day no big deal.
        I’ve done this at every stop sign on the BGT from UW to Kenmore for 20 years with no problems, it seems obvious to me and never had a close call, so please just go back the yield signs.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        Duncan, the situation you describe is spot on. If you have already made eye contact with someone driving who has stopped for you, you also stopping is not at all helpful. In fact, it could be confusing. That’s the problem with having them there.

        Yield signs facing the trail wouldn’t work, though, because you are not supposed to yield to people driving when you are in a crosswalk. The opposite is true.

        Something like a slow or caution sign could help, as well as some tactile warning of some kind (as discussed in a previous comment). It’s not OK to just fly through and expect everyone to stop for you, people need to be alert and ready to stop.

        Stop signs facing the roadway might be even better, but maybe unnecessary.

  5. Ben P

    I love the widening of the curb cut. I wish the whole corner was ramp. The only issue is cars might cut the corner endangering or at least making uncomfortable people waiting at the light.

  6. SGG

    This is a good development. These locations have always been a source of confusion for everyone.

    Unlike pedestrians standing at a crosswalk, it is much more difficult for a motorist to see a moving bicyclist at trail crossings like this. Pedestrians are moving slowly enough that attentive motorists should see them and stop at the intersection accordingly. Cyclists moving about 10mph are often outside the sightlines for motorists proceeding through the crossing. When I am bicycling, I always try and keep this in mind. When I am driving, I know I pay more attention to this than most because I am also a cyclist. A moving cyclist on a trail who does not slow down at a crossing can be very hard to see. It doesn’t sound like these improvements make any progress towards clarity. Raising the crosswalk is great. Removing the stop signs may be a good idea because I never see any cyclists obeying them. A better idea would be to require/encourage cyclists to slow down to 5mph at these locations. Anyone know if there are any effective traffic calming treatments for bicycles?

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Many trails have a few strips of raised paint or a strip of raised paving a few feet before a crossing. This is intended to alert people biking that they need to pay attention and use caution before crossing. I don’t know if there is any good data on how effective this is, though. Does anyone know?

    2. Ints

      To improve safety at this and many other intersections along the BGT they can use the “staggered gate” that the city uses on the South Ship Canal Trail as it crosses the railroad tracks at the north end of Interbay. At this location the trail runs parallel to the tracks and the “gates” are used to slow riders and turn them perpendicular to the rail line. The principle still applies though.
      Set these gates 25 feet or so back from the intersection with cross streets and all cyclists will have to slow down before moving through the intersection.

      1. RTK

        Those “gates” are a mess, way over done.

      2. Lynn

        As someone who uses the South Ship Canal Trail all the time, I hate the gates and have almost collided with other bicyclists and/or the fences on multiple occasions. They are extremely dangerous. And this is from someone riding a standard bike…. I can’t imagine going through those with a tandem, cargo bike, or bike trailer (especially with kids). They are terrible.

  7. I think that soon lots of cities will be adapted to bikes.

  8. SGG

    I brought this up because I have been riding irregularly through here for more than twenty years, and I seem to observe cyclists just blasting through with great frequency. It’s important to recognize places where we are a part of the problem.

  9. Josh

    The STOP signs actually control cyclists about to enter the sidewalk, not the street.

    Look closely at their location. A few newer installations actually have a stop bar painted on the trail before the sidewalk, to clarify the control.

    A cyclist on the trail must stop before entering the sidewalk, so that they have time to look for and yield to more vulnerable users — pedestrians on the sidewalk.

    Once on the sidewalk, the cyclist is beyond the control of the STOP sign, and must follow standard crosswalk rules when moving from the sidewalk to the crosswalk.

    It’s confusing because sidewalks are very narrow facilities, so it often looks like the STOP sign controls entry to the street, rather than entry to the sidewalk.

    1. jay

      [citation needed]

      No, seriously, a citation is needed, while I am not a lawyer, I don’t see anything in the law that supports that interpretation. One has to stop for pedestrians regardless of any signs, so a sign is redundant and confusing. Well, specifically, an octagonal stop sigh, a rectangular informational sign;
      “Stop here for pedestrians (if there are any, but if not, feel free to proceed)”
      would be ok, but “SLOW” diamond would probably be better, or at least, shorter.

      One might note SMC 11.50.320 – Stop intersections;
      Every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a marked stop line, or if none, before entering a marked crosswalk on the near side of the intersection or, if none, then at the point nearest the intersecting roadway where the driver has a view of approaching traffic on the intersecting roadway, unless directed to proceed by a person duly authorized to regulate traffic.

      Before entering the intersection, and after having stopped, the driver shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which is in the intersection or which is approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard. (RCW 46.61.190(2) and 46.61.360(2)) (RCW 47.36.110)
      (Ord. 108200, § 2(11.50.320), 1979.)

      Note the “driver” and all uses of “vehicle”, and the absence of “pedestrian”(who one has to stop for regardless of a sign) , sure a bicycle is a “vehicle” when operated on the road, but unless one is driving an electric moped (not allowed on the trail to start with) “driver” is a bit of a stretch.

      Well, I thought it was a stretch, but further research found: in RCW 46.04.370 “Operator” or “driver” means every person who drives or is in actual physical control of a vehicle. ” which does kind of dump on my point. But still… , RCW 46.61.261 does say; “… The rider. of a bicycle shall yield the right-of-way to a pedestrian on a sidewalk or crosswalk." note they did not call her a "driver" in that case.
      And anyway, The Supreme Court of Washington, in PUDMAROFF v. ALLEN No. 66769-1. said:
      "Nor does amendment of the “vehicle” definition to include bicycles change the rights and duties of bicyclists.   Since 1965, RCW 46.61.755 has subjected bicyclists using a  roadway to the rights and duties of vehicle drivers.   But bicyclists are widely permitted to travel on sidewalks, and presumably must use crosswalks at intersections.   Obviously here, the marked crosswalk was intended for users of the bike trail.   The rules of the road cannot logically apply in crosswalks, nor does it make sense to permit use of a crosswalk by bicyclists and yet require them to yield to motorists as if in a vehicle."

      While a bit old now, the decision is interesting reading even for a non-lawyer (though I suppose there is a risk a non-lawyer may misinterpret some of it)

      1. SGG

        If someone has to read all that to figure out how to proceed at a crosswalk, we’re all screwed.

        Get the design right the first time.

      2. Josh

        You’ve got exactly the citation you need, “Every driver of a vehicle approaching a stop sign shall stop at a marked stop line,” now just look at the AASHTO standard plan for a STOP-controlled trail crossing.

        The marked STOP line is before the trail intersects the sidewalk, not the crosswalk.

        That’s where the sign, line, and law require the bicycle to stop, at the STOP line, before the sidewalk.

        This is entirely compatible with Pudmaroff, precisely because the STOP sign is not in the crosswalk and does not require the bicyclist to stop before entering the crosswalk.

        The stop sign is on the trail, and requires the cyclist to stop before entering the sidewalk. Once the cyclist is on the sidewalk, they’re past the STOP sign and follow the usual rules for crosswalks. If the STOP sign controlled bicycles entering the crosswalk, it would be in violation of the Court’s reasoning in Pudmaroff.

        All that said, yes, a STOP sign before a sidewalk should be redundant if sight distances are adequate — the cyclist should see pedestrians and should know that bicycles must yield to pedestrians on sidewalks. Routine use of STOP signs in this situation encourages cyclists to ignore STOP signs in general — they should only be used where sight distances are too constrained for cyclists to see pedestrians before hitting the sidewalk.

        That’s why a much better solution is to use a YIELD control on the street, rather than a STOP control on the trail. (Not just my opinion, it’s in the same AASHTO guide that says the STOP bar goes before the sidewalk, not before the crosswalk.)

        Annotated AASHTO illustration of trail STOP control:

        Annotated AASHTO illustration of street YIELD control:

      3. Josh

        One additional note on the AASHTO design for yield control on the street, Washington is actually a “STOP” state for crosswalks, not a “YIELD” state. Drivers approaching a crosswalk occupied by a pedestrian or bicycle must “stop and remain stopped,” not simply yield.

        There’s an approved sign for that, but it only refers to pedestrians, not bicycles. (Pudmaroff is only Washington law; few states are as explicit in allowing bicycles to use crosswalks, and many states explicitly prohibit bicycles from using crosswalks, so the national standard signs for crosswalks only include pedestrians.) See http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/htm/2009/part2/fig2b_02_longdesc.htm for approved signs.

        So the “YIELD” layout is approved by AASHTO but technically incorrect in Washington.

        The “stop for crosswalks” sign is approved, but many drivers who learned to drive elsewhere think bicycles aren’t covered by crosswalks.

        That leaves a Trail Crossing assembly, which doesn’t reference crosswalks or the requirement to stop and remain stopped, but does illustrate both bikes and pedestrians.


        I suppose, if sign clutter weren’t an issue, you’d want to use a “trail crossing” assembly with an “AHEAD” supplemental plaque before the crosswalk, then a “stop for crosswalk” at the actual crosswalk. That gives drivers advanced warning, lets them know that it applies to both bikes and pedestrians, and reminds them that they’re required to actually stop.

        Either that, or get FHWA permission to experiment and create a bike-and-ped version of the “stop for crosswalk” sign, but FHWA approval takes a long time.

      4. Josh

        Finally, on Pudmaroff, the trail in that case does have a STOP sign before the road shoulder, the cyclist stopped for it before entering the shoulder, then proceeded carefully into the crosswalk.
        Neither the bicyclist nor the motorist questioned the STOP sign.

        After Pudmaroff, the Legislature amended the laws in question to explicitly include bicycles in the crosswalk statute, but STOP signs on trails are still legally valid, see RCW 46.61.750 (2), “These regulations applicable to bicycles apply whenever a bicycle is operated upon any highway or upon any bicycle path,” and RCW 46.61.755 (2) “Every person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian”

        As long as you’re on the trail, the rules of the road apply. Pedestrian rules apply only once you’re actually “upon a sidewalk or crosswalk.”

      5. jay

        Josh wrote:
        “As long as you’re on the trail, the rules of the road apply. Pedestrian rules apply only once you’re actually “upon a sidewalk or crosswalk.””

        Well, “you can’t get there from here”. If the rules of the road apply, you can’t get to the crosswalk unless there is an opening in traffic.

        I think you missed the second part:
        Before entering the intersection, and after having stopped [at the stop line] , the driver shall yield the right-of-way to any vehicle which is in the intersection or which is approaching on another roadway so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard.”

        While I understand you are arguing that the intersection in question is that between the trail and the side walk, and the immediately adjacent street is not included, I don’t see how the wording of the local (city and State) law supports that (as you mention, AASHTO may not be entirely compatible with local law) I read it as you stay at the stop line until the cars are out of the way, but with the fancy new crosswalk, the cars slow down/stop and they don’t get out of the way!.
        I do wonder about the interpretation of “immediate hazard”, I suppose if a car is stopped (even though they don’t have to stop for the cyclist who is way back at the stop line), then they don’t present an “immediate hazard” and thus presumably the cyclist doesn’t have to yield to them. However, if another car approaching in another lane has not stopped, then the cyclist must still yield to them, or wait until they too stop, and hope that the driver of the first car to stop hasn’t got tired of waiting and started moving again (remember, in this scenario the person on the bicycle is still stopped at the stop line and is not in the crosswalk). Also, even if a stopped car does not present an “immediate hazard” since this is a stop, not a yield, any people riding bicycles who arrive while cars are stopped for someone else, still have to come to a full stop, confusing and delaying drivers who are already stopped.

        At first blush a Yield also seems questionable too as it may seem to require people riding bicycles/pedestrians to yield to cars, but I think a plausible reading of RCW 46.61.190 may make a Yield not totally horrible (though it is a pretty nuanced reading);
        ” (3) The driver of a vehicle approaching a yield sign shall in obedience to such sign slow down to a speed reasonable for the existing conditions and if required for safety to stop,…”

        Now, since drivers are required to stop for users of a crosswalk, it would often not be “required for safety” for the person walking/riding a bicycle to actually come to a full Stop, except of course as required by RCW 46.61.235 (2) (and asshats driving cars, did I really write “often not”? what was I thinking?!)
        The “if” is in stark contrast to the Stop sign case where the “driver” shall stop and, then, shall yield. But the yield signs’ “speed reasonable for the existing conditions” is, well, reasonable. Still, a “Slow” sign would be much less confusing.

        It is not really my intention to argue the law, and since IANAL it is somewhat silly for me to do so, I’m just trying to bolster the position that it is patently obvious that the stop signs on the trail are a bad idea. Even more than here, are the places where the stop sign protects what is essentially a parking lot with limited auto traffic and no sidewalks (negating your point).
        While I’m well aware of Hanlon’s razor, I tend to think “Chief” (above) might possibly be right (cf. “speed limit 5” on the Elliot Bay Trail in Centennial park).

    2. Larry

      I don’t know about that interpretation. Where the trail crosses Pend-Oreille Road on the UW campus, there are stop signs for the trail, but not the road. And on top of that, there are some new signs on the trail saying things like “Because you stopped, think how many extra calories you just burned.” To me, the implication is that all cyclists are expected to stop, hence yield to traffic. Counter-intuitive yes, but implied by the signage.

      1. Josh

        The BGT at Pend Orielle has STOP signs and a STOP line behind the bollards, well before the trail intersects the sidewalks.

        Bicycles on the Trail are supposed to obey STOP signs as vehicles, and stop before entering the sidewalk.

        After stopping at the STOP sign, bicycles proceed onto the sidewalk. Once on the sidewalk, beyond the STOP sign, bicycles enter the crosswalk with the same rights and obligation as pedestrians — you don’t have to stop, you just can’t ride out in front of a car that is too close to safely stop.

      2. Josh

        Yes, it’s confusing, and those STOP signs should be redundant.

        Bicycles always have to yield for pedestrians on sidewalks, whether there’s a sign or not. And the sight distances at that intersection are adequate for spotting possible pedestrian conflicts.

        The intersection would be more intuitive with crosswalk control on the street, rather than STOP control on the Trail.

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