Mercer bike lanes open, the Bike Route Wall of Uptown finally cracks

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WA Bikes' Blake Trask biked his kids to Pacific Science Center, saying he couldn't have done that without the new lanes on Mercer.

WA Bikes’ Blake Trask biked his kids to Pacific Science Center today, saying he couldn’t have done that without the new lanes on Mercer.

For the first time in a generation or more, the bicycle-repelling wall of dangerous or uncrossable streets surrounding Uptown and Seattle Center has sprung a leak.

The brand new, very green bike lanes on Mercer Street passing under Aurora Ave have finally open, at least for the month of May. This is the first time people on bikes have had a reasonable option for crossing the highway between Dexter and 5th Ave.

If it seems like I’m making a big deal about this, that’s because it is.

Uptown/Lower Queen Anne is a dense neighborhood within easy biking distance of many destinations, jobs and homes. It should be one of the bikiest neighborhoods in the entire city. But ever since Aurora was built into a freeway and Denny Way became the traffic-choked hell-street it is today, there has effectively been no easy or comfortable way to bike to or from the neighborhood.

Here’s what biking from Dexter to Seattle Center is like today:

But don’t get too used to the lanes just yet. The city says they will be open for May, but closed again for a couple weeks in June due to construction work under the bridge.

As major bike routes formed in other neighborhoods and even as nearby Dexter Ave became a bicycle thoroughfare, Uptown has remained severed from these routes. In fact, until work began on the new Mercer underpass, this was the previous option for people biking or walking to Uptown:

Image from SDOT

Image from SDOT

In 1956, leaders thought this atrocity was a good idea, in part to get ready for the never-built Bay Freeway on Mercer. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives.

In 1956, leaders thought this atrocity was a good idea, in part to get ready for the never-built (thank god) freeway where Valley St. is today. Photo: Seattle Municipal Archives.

The new bike lane is just one small part of a $237 million car-focused remake of Mercer Street between Elliott Ave and I-5. The project also removed the foolish Broad Street project built in the middle of the 20th Century. Broad was supposed to connect to a never-built elevated freeway on Valley St, which would have walled off the city center from Lake Union.

The Mercer Corridor Project is ongoing, though the finish line is finally in view after half a decade of construction.

If the state ever finishes the SR-99 deep bore tunnel project, the new highway portal design will reconnect John, Thomas and Harrison Streets between Seattle Center and South Lake Union, further reopening the neighborhood to people walking and biking.

The bike lanes

IMG_0195The new bike lanes are short, but it’s a vital connection between Dexter and 5th Ave. The bike lanes are separated from busy car traffic by several feet of planted median and are also at a different elevation than the sidewalk, which will hopefully help keep people from walking in the bike lane and vice versa.

But they are far from perfect. Tune in tomorrow for some thoughts on where this high-budget roads project fails to complete bike route connections, and how it could be better.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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23 Responses to Mercer bike lanes open, the Bike Route Wall of Uptown finally cracks

  1. Andres Salomon says:

    $237 million! That’s an awful lot of bike lanes, sidewalks, and intersection improvements that could’ve been done.

  2. Mike says:

    Sounds like you might discuss this tomorrow, but it’s disappointing that this doesn’t go all the way to Westlake. And what’s up with that single block of bike lanes on 5th Ave?

    • kptrease says:

      Yeah, connecting it all the way to Westlake would look pretty smart when the Westlake cycle track opens up in a year or so. Not only would you be able to get to SLU from Fremont, you’d also easily connect to Seattle Center. It’s only a few blocks they’d need to make this really nice.

    • Al Dimond says:

      What’s up with the single block of bike lanes on 5th Ave N is that they’re part of a larger route. Though there are two single blocks you might be talking about (the single block of normal bike lanes north of Mercer and the single cycletrack block south of Mercer) the answer is the same.

      The block of 5th south of Mercer is supposed to be part of a route from west-of-Aurora to Seattle Center. Unfortunately the parking lot in the next block south was considered too important and it wasn’t extended any farther.

      The block of 5th north of Mercer is a part of the longer route, mostly along Roy, from the base of the counterbalance to Fairview near Fred Hutch, that, IIRC, came from the city’s “complete streets” consideration of the Mercer project. They had to consider bike access along the corridor, and decided a route mostly parallel to Mercer would be better for everyone than a route mostly on Mercer. This route overall has a lot of promise. Sadly so far it’s been a broken promise, because the closure of eastbound Broad for a private construction project has left us with no decent bike route heading east for months. Furthermore, the stupefying waits at many intersections along the parallel route have left Mercer looking like an attractive option (plying the sidewalks for the Pronto crowd, taking the lane for the vehicularists, and lane-splitting for the daredevils).

  3. Michael says:

    When I first moved to Seattle in the early 1980s, I lived on the south slope of Queen Anne. This is when I began to advocate for better bicycle access throughout the city, and the very bike-unfriendly Mercer/Broad underpasses were my initial focus. I’m glad to see that this is finally being addressed — I hope that the final product will take conflicts with automobile traffic at intersections, and with pedestrians in general, into account, and actually make the facility safe as well as more comfortable.

  4. Tom Fucoloro says:

    Apologies for the brain fart. I obviously meant Uptown, not Midtown.

  5. daihard says:

    Now that this is out of the way, I hope the SDOT finishes the constructions on Dexter N around Mercer soon so the bikes don’t have to merge with the traffic anymore.

  6. Gary says:

    If I see in the last photo correctly there appears to be a 1 to 2 inch lip between the sidewalk and the bike track. That’s going to throw some cyclists down who hit it. I know that pedestrians and cyclist should be separated, but an uneven joint is not a good way to do it.

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  8. Cheif says:

    Looks like a nightmare. I won’t be riding anywhere near that garbage.

  9. daihard says:

    Any improvements are great, but this makes me wonder why Seattle keeps adding two-way bike paths? I believe two-way bike paths are considered unsafe and not built anymore in cities like Copenhagen and Amsterdam.

    • Andres Salomon says:

      That’s my understanding as well. There are places where they make sense (like around parks and other destinations without driveways), but they’re not best practice in those countries. I think NACTO’s recommendation of them is why we’re seeing so many being created here.

    • Al Dimond says:

      There are a couple things in favor of that arrangement here:

      – The big problem with two-way sidepaths is intersections and curb-cuts. There aren’t many along this stretch of Mercer.
      – One of its major functions is as part of a longer east-west route just north of Mercer. A two-way path on the north side of Mercer means eastbound riders going through don’t have to wait to cross over Mercer twice.

      If we’d decided to put the bike route directly on Mercer instead of north of it, then maybe separating the directions and building a full set of turn boxes at each intersection might have been a good solution. Unfortunately I think it still takes special approval to install turn boxes because they aren’t in the MUTCD, and direction-separated bike lanes on a street like Mercer without turn boxes would be ridiculous.

      • daihard says:

        When you say “cross over Mercer twice,” do you mean those who ride in the bike paths on Mercer and attempt to turn left onto, say, Dexter?

      • Al Dimond says:

        Yes, the people that would have to cross Mercer twice are heading east on Roy from Lower Queen Anne, turning right on 5th, then left onto the two-way Mercer path, then probably left on Dexter and right on Roy again to keep going east. With a two-way path they get to stay north of Mercer the whole time.

        I think it’s pretty important to consider this route as a single continuous bike route (at least from the Counterbalance to Fairview, really from Lower Kinnear Park to I-5), because there isn’t another one for some distance in either direction. It makes even more sense after Aurora is finished: we’ll be able to build a decent east-west route around Thomas, and end up with something like a network.

        Using a two-way path on 5th Ave N is more questionable… especially having it make a two-way-to-one-way switch at Mercer.

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  12. Jacob says:

    Montreal redid a similar interchange about 8 years ago. They managed to add protected bike infrastructure AND completely eliminate the grade separated car crossings (fly-overs). The result is much better for walking and bicycling than the final product on Mercer Street, which still leaves a disjointed walking and cycling network.

  13. Lynn says:

    Tom, I had to laugh that you captured a couple feeling the love in the top picture. That clearly wouldn’t have happened in the “before”!

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      haha! right?

      I didn’t even notice at the time, but when I reviewed the helmet cam footage I noticed it. Too cute, so I had to use the screenshot. I mean, if people are making out on the Mercer underpass, things have really changed!

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