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Times: Innovative 5th Ave bikeway and public space in the works


Here’s an idea that’s incredibly obvious and way overdue: Shift parking on 5th Ave underneath the monorail columns, then use the skinny lane to the west to create a fully protected bikeway and expand the neighborhood space.

Right now, the set-up of 5th Ave between McGraw Square and Seattle Center makes no sense whatsoever. From the west, there’s a lane of parking, one southbound lane, then a wide no man’s land where the monorail supports are, then two more southbound lanes, then another parking lane. You are not allowed to change lanes between the monorail columns because it’s insanely dangerous, but what if you need to turn? It’s bizarre and confusing. (UPDATE: Commenters have pointed out that it may not actually be illegal to change lanes under the monorail, despite the double white lines)

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If you’re biking, it’s downright dangerous. Some people choose to bike in the single west lane, which leads impatient people driving behind them to make a dangerous lane change under the monorail to pass. Others choose the far east lane, which feels more like biking on the side of a highway than a city street. Many more people could not imagine themselves biking on 5th Ave at all.

And if you’re crossing the street on foot, you have quite a distance to cover to get from curb-to-curb. Plus you have to be careful that the monorail columns don’t hide you from someone driving.  Basically, the street doesn’t work for anyone (except maybe the monorail).

But it doesn’t need to be this way. Mike Lindblom at the Seattle Times reports on an idea floating around SDOT that would simplify the road, create a safe bikeway and expand public space. Because while this street is uncomfortable today, it could be one of the coolest streets in Belltown and one of the most unique streets in Seattle. I mean, it’s got a freaking monorail.

5th Ave could be a street that attracts people, offering space where people might actually want to hang out. The east-west Bell Street Park (despite its car problems) is nearly always full of people, who flock to its seats and tables to eat or hang out or just watch the world go by. This shows that the neighborhood is thirsty for more public space, and 5th Ave could build on that success by providing a connected and inviting public space experience north-south. And for a lot less money.

Parked cars would utilize the wasted space between the monorail columns and create a barrier to protect the new bikeway and public space. Businesses would have ample opportunities to spill out into the public realm through parklets and streateries. Imagine getting lunch at a curbside cafe next to a bikeway and monorail line, looking down the road at the Space Needle.

The distance people crossing 5th Ave need to cover would be cut by more than half, which would be especially great for people with mobility issues. And the two-way bikeway would fill a much-needed bike route connection through Belltown and between Lower Queen Anne and downtown.

Unfortunately, this idea isn’t happening tomorrow. In fact, we should see some other bike route changes in the area before the city gets to this one. But it’s an exciting, innovative concept that embraces what’s unique about Seattle and builds it into the people-focused space it should have been all along. Once complete, nobody will be able to imagine 5th Ave any other way.

More details from the Times:

“We are not very close yet,” said Chang.

Such a project would connect Seattle Center to McGraw Square Park, where the South Lake Union streetcar ends.

Neighborhood forums, City Council briefings, cost estimates, design studies and other accouterments of the Seattle Process aren’t yet scheduled, but the concept is circulating among bicycle advocates.

At least two changes are ahead of this one, Chang said: a route on Fifth connecting the new Mercer Street green lane to Denny Way; and a second phase of the new Second Avenue bike lane, linking Denny to the corner of Second and Pike Street.

Also, Amazon has agreed to fund two blocks of protected bikeway on Seventh Avenue next to its high-rise Rufus 2.0 campus.

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81 responses to “Times: Innovative 5th Ave bikeway and public space in the works”

  1. Gary Yngve

    I bicycle in the center of the lane down the middle lane, until I need to change to the left lane to turn left onto Virginia (the left lane often backs up due to people turning/parking). I’ve never been harassed there. Because southbound is slightly downhill, I have no problem keeping up. Additionally, the lights are timed that if you exceed roughly 25 mph, you’ll have to wait at a light.
    Personally, I don’t what a PBL on the right here. How am I supposed to turn left? Wait through a traffic light rotation and crosswalk it? No thank you. I will continue to ride lawfully in the lane, but now I will be subject to greater harassment from motorists who think that I belong in the PBL. SDOT refuses to put up BMUFL or centered sharrows. As they put in more PBLs to give perceived safety to the wary, they still need to beware of intersection and driveway conflicts, and still support the legal rights of the confident.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Sigh… Not sure how many more times this will need to be stated on this blog:

      Not everyone can or wants to bike 25 mph to keep up with traffic (or, more commonly, bike zero mph to sit in traffic). If you can bike in traffic, then that’s great. Keep doing your thing. There’s no law in WA that says you have to use a bike lane.

      But it’s not helpful to everyone else to have people who already feel confident biking in traffic actively working against bike lanes that would be more comfortable for more people. Like the guy KIRO interviewed here: http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/bicyclists-could-get-protected-lane-seattles-5th-a/nmNQX/

      Come on, think bigger! The question isn’t whether people who already bike feel comfortable enough biking. Of course they do, or they wouldn’t be biking! The question is: How can we make our streets more inviting so more people can feel invited and comfortable biking?

      If you are thinking narrowly of only your experience and what you need from the streets, odds are you’re leaving out a whole lot of other people.

      1. Gary Yngve

        Tom, you mentioned a few different points. In general, I don’t dislike bike lanes — I dislike ones implemented poorly, be it for safety (doorzone, hook/cross/driveout conflicts) or for usefulness.
        A 5th Ave bike lane would be much more useful if it started all the way at Roy. The last time I rode that stretch, it was quite unpleasant. This gets at what Bob said. Make bike lanes safe and useful. Fix the Ballard Bridge and the Missing Link. Fix the pinch points around the north side of U Bridge. Stop ruining good bike routes with trolley tracks. Fix the downhill dangers on Roosevelt and Eastlake. Make lights across arterials or at 5-way intersections friendlier to bikes/peds. Lower the speed limits and get cameras to bust speeders, red light runners, and crosswalk non-yielders. Fix the car culture so that they are as calm waiting a few seconds for us to release the lane as they are waiting for a boat to go under the Fremont Bridge.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        From the story quoted above:

        “At least two changes are ahead of this one, Chang said: a route on Fifth connecting the new Mercer Street green lane to Denny Way; and a second phase of the new Second Avenue bike lane, linking Denny to the corner of Second and Pike Street.”

        Mercer to Denny would happen first. So it would basically make it to Roy.

    2. daihard

      Tom, I agree that we want to encourage more people to bike. I also agree that building protected bike lanes on arterial streets that carry a large volume of high-speed traffic. Fifth Ave is probably one of those streets.

      OTOH, it is a valid concern that people behind the wheels are more likely to harass us for riding in the general-purpose lane where a bike lane is available. I’ve never been harassed while riding on 5th, but I wonder whether the PBL in the centre lane would change that.

      As a side note, you don’t have to ride 25+ mph with traffic. I usually ride no faster than 20 MPH on 5th (and other streets in DT) and have never been honked at from behind.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I’m just not sold on this idea that people who want to bike fast in traffic are somehow hurt by the existence of protected bike lanes. People consistently bring this up in the comments. Douche bags who like to harass people on bikes are just gonna be douche bags. The bike lane isn’t doing the harassing, so don’t blame it. Fear of harassment is a terrible reason not to build a bike lane. I’ve been harassed on 5th and I’ve been harassed on 6th. I would have loved to not be put in that situation, but without a bike lane there’s no option.

        Downtown is scary as hell on a bike. I can and do deal with it, but I should not be the city’s target population when designing a safe street. I’m laboring on this point because I really want people knee-jerk hating on this 5th Ave idea to understand that this lane is trying to reach everyone, not just the brave people who already feel comfortable biking downtown. I am amazed that so many downtown employees bike to work despite how terrifying it is.

        But it doesn’t need to be terrifying, and protected bike lanes are the way to make it safer and more inviting.

        Or think about it this way: If you don’t find biking downtown terrifying, then you are a rare bird. You’re beautiful and awesome (and statistically likely to be young and male). But don’t expect many people to do what you do. The people out there today, that’s pretty much as many people as will ever feel comfortable biking downtown the way it is. There are a lot of them, but there are way, way more people biking around neighborhoods just waiting for a connection into downtown that is safe and connected.

        Big picture, folks! This is about 5th Ave, but it’s also about so much more than that.

      2. Josh

        I’m not one who rides fast in traffic. It’s been decades since I last rode in a race, and I wasn’t exactly fast then.

        I plod along in traffic on a 26″ cruiser and allow motorists to change lanes if they need to pass. I find that safer than riding the same 14-16 mph speed on constricted sidepaths with built-in intersection and driveway conflicts.

        If SDOT wants to create facilities for less-confident cyclists, and if those facilities reasonably mislead some drivers into thinking that bicycles “should be” or even “must be” ridden in separated facilities, SDOT should at least disabuse drivers of that impression.

        This is especially important when Seattle is growing with drivers moving here, often from segregated states where bike lanes or sidepaths are mandatory, even when they’re hazardous or don’t serve the cyclist’s destination.

        I suspect SDOT could eliminate much of the opposition from people on bikes if, whenever a separated path is constructed along a street, the street itself is supplemented with “bicycle may use full lane” signs and properly-centered sharrows to remind drivers that safety-conscious people on bikes, fast or slow, may choose the travel lane if that best suits their safety or destination.

      3. Andy

        I agree that adding protected bike lanes doesn’t actively hurt people who are comfortable riding in general purpose lanes.

        That being said, we live in a funding-constrained world. When funds are spent on protected bike lanes that are inherently less safe than existing infrastructure, we are hurt by not having that money prioritized to projects that can make real safety and connectivity improvements.

        Protected bike lanes have their place, but it is not on streets that have and will continue to have significant frequent uncontrolled conflicts.

  2. Peri Hartman

    Mixed feelings. The sightlines along the right lane are pretty miserable. Assuming this is a two way bike way, those going north cannot see oncoming traffic that might be turning in front of them. Even going south, it would still be difficult to prevent right hooks.

    Thirdly, if you want to go over 15 mph, you then need to ride in the regular traffic lanes. With a bikeway right next to the two auto lanes, drivers might get irritated with a cyclist in “their” lane.

    On the other hand, 5th is the flattest route in the vicinity and making it more accessible to all riders is a good thing!

  3. Richard

    It sounds cool at first, but when I think about cars right turning from left of the monorail while bikes are going straight through right of the monorail, I get really, really nervous. Maybe they’re thinking through ways to make it work, but that is going to be VERY challenging to make safe, I’d think…

    1. Clark in Vancouver

      There are ways to make it work. The engineers will need feedback though to know what concerns are and maybe given examples from Dutch websites or something to follow.

  4. Josh

    OECD safety research is clear that 2-way cycletracks are inherently hazardous and should be avoided.

    FHWA’s new guidance for separated facilities devotes just one paragraph to running a 2-way path on the right side of a one-way street, noting that it generates inherent intersection conflicts, then suggests 2-way paths should be run on the left side of one-way streets instead. Their sections on mid-block countermeasures, intersection designs, and signaling contain no illustrations or advice for 2-way paths on the right side of a one-way street. It’s a design full of built-in conflicts at every intersection and driveway, and FHWA didn’t bother creating suggestions on how to implement a bad design.

    To my mind the intersection conflicts of running a 2-way path on the right side of the street would be exacerbated by the physical layout of 5th — the monorail pylons significantly impair visibility from the lane to the left of the monorail, putting cyclists on a right-side path even further “out of sight, out of mind.”

    The only way this could really be made safe is entirely separated signal phases, not the partial separation like on 2nd, but entirely separate bicycle phases when no cars are allowed through the intersection in any direction. But we can’t add any seconds to the minute — every second allocated to bikes will be a second taken away from drivers. It seems unlikely SDOT would accept that reduction in throughput for the general travel lanes.

    So, as on 2nd Ave today, many safety-conscious people will choose the safety of the street over the comfort of a separate path, and face the harassment of drivers who think bicycles ought to use the “perfectly good” sidepath SDOT has built for them.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Regardless of how you feel about two-way bikeways in general, this is a special circumstance. The monorail essentially provides a unique divider already, creating a very convenient place for a bikeway. Plus, there are very few driveways on that side of 5th, and intersections can be controlled by properly-installed bike and right turn signals (2nd Ave is a bad example, as we’ve discussed previously).

      I think this is an amazing idea with huge promise. Can’t imagine why so many folks seem so eager to hate on it.

      1. Just took a look on Street View… it looks like there aren’t any driveways north of Blanchard… but south of Blanchard there are multiple driveways every block! Two between Blanchard and Lenora (for a surface lot), three between Lenora and Virginia (for a surface lot), and between Virginia and Stewart two for a surface lot and one really wide one for an Avis garage. It would be nice to get some of those consolidated, but SDOT hasn’t shown the clout or the willingness to act on that sort of thing in the past.

        My impression is that if I looked at 2nd I’d see something similar. Maybe few driveways south of University, many north of it.

        I think the right treatments under the monorail posts could make a two-way path work there, especially if entrances are consolidated. I think that’s basically true for the BGT interim path under the Ballard Bridge, too. We have to be willing to impose basic order on the road: that parking lot circulation should take place within parking lots, not on the public parts of the street!

    2. Matthew Snyder

      Josh wrote: “OECD safety research is clear that 2-way cycletracks are inherently hazardous and should be avoided.”

      I think you’re overstating this. The OECD report says:

      “According to (Elvik, Høye, et al. 2009) and (Jensen, Andersson and Herrstedt 2010) it is not possible to identify specific results for two-directional bicycle paths. Despite the absence of specific results in terms of overall safety effects, experience has shown some specific safety problems connected to two-directional bicycle paths:

      – Head-on collisions between cyclists or between cyclists and moped riders.
      – Collisions with cars from the side road in priority junctions (car drivers not paying attention to cyclists from the “wrong” direction on the bicycle track).”

      However, as far as I can tell, no actual data is provided to support these claims. What I’ve been able to find is purely anecdotal and does not control for relevant exposures. I’m not saying that two-way cycletracks are equivalent in safety to two one-way cycletracks, but before I write them off as a design failure, I’d like to see actual data. Can you point me to the relevant primary sources?

      1. Josh

        Sorry for the slow response, was looking for online references to share. FHWA has some summaries available in their literature review on separated facilities, e.g., if you scroll down to “Road factors and bicycle-motor vehicle crashes at unsignalized priority intersections” by Schepers et al, you’ll find a comparison of one-way and two-way facilities near the top of these data:


        I know somewhere I have older references hardcopy, but the current findings are consistent with decades of prior experience in both Europe and the U.S. — AASHTO’s Guide for the Development of Bicycle Facilities is a standards document, not a research paper, so it doesn’t include all the data from 1970s sidepath experimentation that led to AASHTO’s warnings against using them, but I imagine a literature search should be able to uncover them — lots of collisions back during the ’70s Bike Boom era when enthusiasm for bicycles led to hasty construction of untested designs.

  5. Bob Hall

    You’ve made a compelling case that 5th Ave could use some improvements: not everyone feels comfortable riding there, not enough public space, disagreement among cyclists on which lane to use, wasted space underneath monorail.

    Ok, great, couldn’t agree more.

    The next job you (and Dongho Chang) have is to convince me that this project deserves priority over other worthy projects. Like how about connected existing infrastructure like 2nd Ave to other major routes? A segment of PBL from McGraw Square to Seattle Center would be just another segment like 2nd Ave that ends abruptly and connects to nothing.

    One last point: This is another example that vindicates an assertion I have made here many times, which is that the Bicycle Master Plan doesn’t count for much. Many projects in previous plans have gone unimplemented and many projects that were never in the plan were implemented anyway. 5th Ave in the BMP (for most of the area referenced in this post) is slated for “in street, minor separation”. See: http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/docs/bmp/apr14/Seattle%20BMP%20Master%20Map.pdf

    Now I’m not saying whether 5th should get this treatment or not, but I’m just saying that it shows how the BMP is just a huge glossy PDF that’s nearly devoid of impact. Sooo much time was wasted by well-intentioned people showing up to meetings debating about what should or shouldn’t be in the plan….

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      They’ve said all along that the center city elements of the Bike Master Plan are contingent on what comes of the Center City bike plan process. So while I understand your concerns about not sticking to the plan, I wouldn’t put to much stock in the exact location of those lines downtown.

      1. Bob Hall

        Tom, with all due respect, you didn’t understand a single thing I wrote. Please re-read my comment. I’m not concerned that they’re deviating from the plan. I’m not worried about the blue lines on the map. I am concerned that bicycle advocates are convinced that what goes into the BMP really matters so they waste lots of time and effort trying to control what goes in / doesn’t go in. Again: just because it’s in the plan doesn’t mean it’s gonna happen, and just because it’s *not* in the plan doesn’t mean it can’t happen anyway.

      2. @Bob: Your evidence that the BMP doesn’t matter is that the previous BMP had little to do with what got done, and that the “blue lines on the map” downtown didn’t match any BMP. I don’t think anyone would dispute any of those points.

        We have a new(-ish) BMP and I think most of us know it sets out an aspiration more than a commitment. We also have a 2015-19 implementation plan that sets out concrete commitments; though that document appears to have been forged in a smoky room in City Hall, if that stuff doesn’t get done we have something to hold the city’s feet to the fire over. Part of that implementation plan involved studying center-city routes in 2015. It’s 2015, and here we’re studying a center-city route. That sounds basically like the plan!

      3. Bob Hall

        Did any of you catch Cliff Mass’s post? I noticed you all have ignored my question about why this project deserves any priority, cool as it might be. I agree with Dr Mass, who said the following:

        “Many folks living north of the Ship Canal would like to commute into the city by bicycle. Amazingly, the city has not established a single route whereby a cyclist can commute without serious and dangerous contention with cars.”


        If we have some dollars to spend, how about we work on connecting 2nd Ave with Dexter + Westlake, instead of just building yet another segment that does nothing to connect existing infrastructure?

      4. Tom Fucoloro

        From the story quoted above:

        “At least two changes are ahead of this one, Chang said: a route on Fifth connecting the new Mercer Street green lane to Denny Way; and a second phase of the new Second Avenue bike lane, linking Denny to the corner of Second and Pike Street.”

        A connection on Pike Street had better be a priority, as well.

        Just because this goes to Seattle Center rather than north Seattle doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.

      5. daihard

        Bob’s reply made me wonder who the target audience of this propossed PBL on 5th is. If you commute from North or NE Seattle, you would likely not benefit much from it on your way in as you either ride down Dexter/7th or Eastlake/Stewart. Those who come in via Dexter may use the short section between Bell and Lenora if they switch to 2nd Ave, but that’s the only scenario I can think of – unless, of course, I’m missing something.

      6. Bob Hall

        That’s cool they’ve got more connections lined lined up for 5th & 2nd — although I question if those are the best choices. Those still seem to terminate at questionable locations.

        “Just because this goes to Seattle Center rather than north Seattle doesn’t mean it’s not a good idea.”

        But seriously Tom, I’m not sure how many times I have to write it before it sinks in: I’m not saying reconfiguring 5th isn’t a fine idea, but I question its *priority*. Every street in Seattle could be made better, but I don’t have to tell you that we have limited money and time. Hence, the need to prioritize and spend the money wisely where it can have greatest impact… Seems like pretty obvious stuff….

      7. I find the question of what this connects to strange. Dexter is my main route downtown and has been almost the whole time I’ve lived here, and 5th is part of that more often than not. On the way in it’s Dexter-Bell-5th. Staying on 7th means crossing Westlake and the streetcar tracks — why do that if you don’t have to? I’ve tried both 2nd and 5th through Belltown in a variety of traffic conditions and prefer 5th almost all the time. I’ll switch over to 2nd downtown when traffic is heavy, but usually not north of Pine.

        With a two-way path on 5th I’d probably use 5th on part of the way out, too. I dumped most of 4th for the 2nd Ave cycletrack northbound, and I’d dump the riding I do on 6th today for 5th if I could go north there. It might even be a good ride all the way to Mercer. By the time this was built Dexter disruptions north of Mercer would be mostly done with, but there are some buildings south of Mercer that are good bets to be replaced shortly after the Aurora work is done, meaning more disruptions south of Mercer… also it’s unclear just how much the new Mercer-area interchange or new buildings on Dexter would contribute to turning conflicts on Dexter, while the driveways along the west side of 5th Ave N are few, well-known, and unlikely to change in the short-term.

      8. Gary

        “I dumped 4th North bound for the new 2n ave cycletrack”

        Well I tried that, and I hit every dang light going North on 2nd. The less of the hill climb is nice, but for my money I’ve stayed on 4th. And yes it requires a high level of skill because after the library, the cycle lane ends in parked cars and the left lane is blocked by left turning cars. So I end up doing either the weave back to the far right lane, or taking advantage of a red light and using the cross walk to make the shift.

        There has to be another way. I ride the two way cycle path across I-90 and in the summer it’s not great trying to weave around the cyclists and pedestrians. Putting a two way cycle track on 5th that isn’t connected to the track on 2nd seems like the wrong priority. A one lane going South, sure I’m good with that.

      9. Peri Hartman

        You know, it really wouldn’t be to hard to connect 2nd to 5th. Pine street has plenty of room for bike lanes and *relatively* light traffic.

        SDOT would have to make a small change for southbound 5th – allow bikes to make right turns at Pine. Otherwise, mostly paint. (Ok, there would need to be more signals of the sort used on 2nd, as well.)

      10. Bikes can’t turn right at Pine? I mean, maybe the law says that…

        The reason they don’t let cars turn right at Pine is because waiting for the crowds of pedestrians there would block traffic and they don’t want to use road space for queueing. Bikes can get through those crowds much faster (it’s true that Seattle cyclists can be almost as obtuse about being in eachother’s way as our drivers and shoppers, but we have a huge geometric advantage here), and since the road is tilting up, we block traffic just as much going straight. Any rational person would be happy to see a bike turn onto Pine. And any police officer irrational enough to take offense would have to steer a cruiser through those same crowds to do anything about it (fat chance).

      11. Peri Hartman

        Well, for what it’s worth, I got a ticket there once. The signage needs to change.

      12. daihard

        As for switching from southbound 5th to 2nd (or 3rd, in my case), I use Union. I didn’t realize that we’re not allowed to turn right onto Pine. I’ve just been riding on Union out of habit – partly because I take 7th -> Union -> 3rd when I ride in from Eastlake/Stewart. Is there any notable advantage in using Pine over Union?

      13. Peri Hartman

        You’ll have to try it and make your own decision. There’s a bit less hill going via Pine and, thus, you won’t hold up traffic in those two blocks on 5th.

        If you turn right onto Pine, ride through the wheelchair ramps and use the sidewalk to go around the corner – that way you won’t be making an illegal right turn.

      14. daihard

        Peri, I rode on Pine between 7th and 3rd yesterday morning. I won’t do it again. I didn’t like the cobblestone surface, not to mention the narrowness of the street. More people seem to jaywalk on Pine, too. Riding in the left lane on Union is a lot easier and, IMO, a lot safer.

  6. daihard

    I don’t like this idea. When I ride down 5th, I always ride in the right lane (west of the monorail columns) all the way until I turn onto Union. With the new two-way bike paths, what am I supposed to do once I get to Stewart? Change lanes to the right lane? No thanks, I will continue to ride in the right lane.

    Besides, why does the SDOT keep building two-way bike paths, which are considered unsafe in Europe now? I did raise the question at a café meeting with Scott Kubly a few weeks ago. Their short answer, cost and space utilization. IOW, safety takes the back seat.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      The transition at Stewart is a design detail we can work out. Preferably, I’d say go all the way through downtown. But if that’s not in the scope of this project, at least go a couple more blocks to Pike or Union to make those connections.

    2. daihard


      Those transitions are what’s really important, at least to me. Having protected bike lanes is nice, but they aren’t very useful if scattered round without easy connections.

      Another limitation to the PBL is the turns. If I ride southbound on the 2nd Ave bike paths, I won’t be able to turn right. Since the bollards prevent me from merging into the general purpose lane, I have no choice but to stay out of the PBL to begin with. The same goes for the proposed PBL on 5th. If it extends to Stewart/Union, I will still face the same limitation.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I agree the transitions are important. But it seems early to dismiss a whole project idea just because you’re worried about transitions they haven’t designed yet. Right now it’s just a general idea.

        And sure, turning east from a two-way bikeway might be confusing or require extra signal waiting. But I think the potential pros here far, far outweigh that con. And maybe SDOT can get make those turns easier with smart deisgn. The 2nd Ave “solution” with those tiny bike boxes leaves a lot of room for improvement.

      2. daihard

        Tom, just to be clear, I’m not dismissing the whole idea of building a PBL on 5th. I just don’t see a compelling reason to support the current proposal without the details on things like transitions laid out.

  7. kommish

    I think moving parking under the monorail is a fantastic idea. But having a 2-way bike lane sounds terrrrrrrrible for the reasons others have listed above – specifically getting in and out of them. I’d much prefer just a regular old bike lane, going with the direction of traffic. I do think having *something* there is important, though. It’s a great arterial into downtown, way better than 7th or 2nd, and the times I’ve used it traffic has been so bad that even on a bike I can’t get through.

    1. Clark in Vancouver

      There have been two-way separated bike lanes in Vancouver for several years now and they’re fine. You need to pay attention at intersections but that’s not unique to this treatment. We have always needed to pay attention at intersections and likely always will need to. Therefore that criticism of two-way lanes is kind of invalid.
      Having said that, the designs of where there are connections to other cycle routes and popular arterials need to be done well. (Vancouver is just now fixing the corner of Dunsmuir and Hornby, which are both one-way generally with two-way PBLs on them.) This takes good design, money and space.
      The fact that they take up less space than two one-way PBLs on each side is a good bargaining thing. And in the future, if desired, it can be easily designated as one-way when another one is built on the other side of the street.

      To my eyes and experience, the fretting on here about two-way PBLs is greater than it needs to be.

    2. daihard

      I’ve ridden the two-way bike paths on Hornby. They are “fine,” but that’s not something I’d call great. They are pretty narrow IMO, where I had to pay attention to the oncoming bicycles all the time. Not blaming Vancouver per se. Our two-way PBLs in Seattle have the same problem. I ended up riding on Howe on my way back instead of coming back in the PBL on Hornby. I felt safer and more comfortable that way.

      1. Josh

        Worth noting, Seattle’s current separated facilities don’t meet FHWA’s new guidelines for width — a 2-way should be at least 12 feet; a 1-way should be at least 5 feet, preferably 7 feet; buffers to parked cars should be a minimum of three feet wide for door zones.

        I would hope future SDOT projects would be upgraded to at least meet FHWA’s minimum guidance. (After all, the BMP Update adopting resolution mandates that BMP facilities meet or exceed national, state, and local standards and guidance. Not just a “nice to try,” that’s officially-adopted policy from the City Council.)

      2. daihard

        Thanks for the information, Josh. That may be another “cost and space utilization” factor that the SDOT had to take into consideration when they designed the two-way bike paths in the city. Do you happen to know how wide the two-way PBL on Linden Ave N is? They feel wider than those on 2nd, but I haven’t actually measured the width of either.

      3. Josh

        The plans on Linden called for 5 feet each way, 3 foot parking buffer. I haven’t measured to see if that was what they actually built, but I suspect it is.


  8. RDPence

    A couple of quibbles with your details. I’m quite sure it’s not unlawful to change lanes between the monorail columns. I’ve done it from time to time without difficulty; there are no signs posted saying you can’t.

    And the comment about the long crossing distance and the monorail columns hiding pedestrians from oncoming motorists, you need to visit that street on foot. Just wait for the Walk light, and oncoming traffic is stopped while you cross. Fifth Avenue is no wider than most other downtown streets that pedestrians cross.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      It’s a double white line. I thought it was always illegal to merge across a double white line. But this is the whole point! Everyone’s confused by it.

      And I have visited that street. A lot. I even took that photo up top. Cutting a crossing distance in half is a huge win for walking safety. And just because I don’t have trouble making it across during the countdown signal doesn’t mean everyone can do that. There are a lot of people in the area with mobility issues or who just don’t move quickly anymore.

      1. Josh

        It’s illegal to cross median islands defined by *yellow* lines, http://app.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=468-95-160

        I can’t find anything similar for solid white lines. According to MUTCD, they discourage crossing, but don’t prohibit it.

        Maybe there’s something different in Seattle Municipal Code?

      2. RDPence

        It’s not a double white line, it’s two separate single lane-marking lines. Thanks to the commenters below who found the PI reference that I was recalling; saved me from having to look it up!

        I doubt very much that walkers, able or not, have more problems crossing 5th Avenue than on other downtown streets.

    2. Fnorder

      > there are no signs posted saying you can’t.

      Look again, there are signs. Doesn’t stop many drivers though.

      1. Josh

        As of the most recent Google Street View, I see no signs prohibiting lane changes under the monorail.

        There are signs prohibiting left turns from the right lane under the track, and prohibiting right turns from left of the track, but no signs prohibiting lane changes within the block.

        SDOT apparently agrees, as they’re quoted in the PI’s FAQ on Seattle traffic laws:

        “According to our traffic engineers, a motorist can change lanes under the elevated monorail guideway along Fifth Avenue, but that said, it must be done with extra caution making sure that there are no vehicles approaching in the lane to which the driver is moving. There is no specific language pertaining to the monorail, however, per the Seattle Municipal Code (SMC) Title 11 part 5 and Revised Code of Washington (RCW) 46.61, a motorist can change lanes unless there are signs or roadway markings indicating that such a maneuver is prohibited.”

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        OK, I’ve searched the WA traffic codes as best I can, and I haven’t found any reference to crossing double white lines always being illegal. In the context of HOV/HOT lanes where signs specifically prohibit it, it is illegal. So without signs on 5th saying not to, I guess maybe it could be legal? That seems insane to me, but I suppose that doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

        I added an update to the story linking to this thread.

      3. Peri Hartman

        Getting a bit off topic, but I have read in the Wash. RCW that crossing double lines (not sure if the color makes a difference) 18″ or more apart is illegal but less than 18″ is legal. I think there may be a qualifier that you are not allowed to hold up traffic when crossing.

  9. Mark

    I really love the idea of a parking-protected bike lane west of the monorail for all the reasons outlined by Tom. Like the majority of folks, I’m in the willing but wary category. I also often travel with my wife and kid, so a vehicular cycling option won’t get us out of our car for those trips. However, a protected lane with well-designed signals and other measures to reduce right turn conflicts gives families a better option for getting downtown than hopping in the car.

  10. ronp

    All new protected bike lanes are welcome in my book, two way, one way, elevated,

    ), poorly connected, etc. We need to take back our streets from the 4000 pound cars bit by bit. We can perfect the bike lane system later.

    Fast bike riders can still ride in the street and not in the safe biking lanes. Don’t be afraid of complaining car drivers, just talk back to them politely or ignore them.

  11. Capitol Hillian

    Not sure why so many are quick to hate on this idea.

    Yes, SDOT has done a poor job implementing protected bike lane intersections in the past.
    Yes, these columns may, or may not, create sightline issues.
    Yes, two way protected bike lanes are generally not preferred to one way protected bike lanes.

    But, these are things that can be looked at in further details and don’t categorically make this a bad idea. And there are many reasons to believe this could become one of the nicest people spaces in Belltown at a fraction the cost of other projects (cough Bell St).

    Clearly this isn’t SDOT’s top priority for implementation so I encourage everyone to take a deep breath.

    1. Joseph

      You answered your own question. Your post ably articulated many of the reasons folks are so quick to hate on this.

  12. Meg

    I like the idea of the two way bike lane and public space. I would be excited to bike through there everyday and hear the rushing of the monorail. I think the vision is fantastic and the practicalities can be worked out. It would be exciting for this proposed bikelane to connect with Pike or Pine and complete a safe bike route from 2nd Ave to Dexter.

    1. Joseph

      Perhaps where folks differ is confidence whether the practicalities *will* be worked out. Current bike infrastructure doesn’t inspire great confidence. The one PBL that I think was done well is Linden. 2nd Ave and Broadway are big disappointments (in my opinion, of course!).

  13. Geronimo

    If I were voting I’d vote against a two-way bike lane on 5th because Seattle can’t decide on what a two-way bike lane is supposed to be and either treat it as a MUP or a parking strip. Unless the city figures it out and commits to enforcement two-way bike lanes are more dangerous than regular ones.

    Since we’re not voting I’ll just question the basic premise for any kind of bike facility on 5th. Why do we think this will entice novice cyclists to ride into downtown? Does anybody really think that moms are going to load up the kids and bike to McGraw Square? Not to be a troll, but this seems kind of like the Chief Sealth trail – great PR but little real purpose.

    1. Peri Hartman

      Real purpose? Well, let’s see. Who does it serve?

      By elimination, it doesn’t serve South Lake Union or anyone east of Aurora because they have Dexter and other more eastern routes. It probably doesn’t serve anyone west of QA Ave because they will take QA all the way down to Denny and then continue on Elliot or thereabouts and vice-versa. What’s in between is most of Uptown and most of QA. That’s a lot of people. Maybe 30,000 (that’s a figure from an old census). Even a small percentage of that is a lot of cyclists.

      Will it entice people? Probably.

      Will it work? That’s the question. If it feels safer but isn’t, the result will be a bad rap for bikeways.

    2. Capitol Hillian

      Well built protected bike lanes do attract families: https://twitter.com/modacitylife/status/603320006273728512

    3. daihard

      “Well built” is a big qualifier. Can you name one protected bike lane in Seattle that is well-built?

  14. Jack

    Did anyone contact the police about the chop shop at Gasworks Park? I sent a friend of mine over there this weekend after his bike got ripped off. He said the upstairs is full of bikes and parts. Clearly bikes the local inhabitants haven’t bought.

    We need to pursue this.

  15. Khori G.

    Yes, I think there should be faculties for “all ages and abilities”. Yes, and most importantly, I would love to see the end of car culture in America (or at least Seattle).

    But no way in hell should 5th Ave have a 2 way cycletrack.

    First, as it’s been mentioned in previous comments, Seattle hasn’t really given me much confidence in the ability to build a useful and safe cycletrack. I just rode the new one on Mercer this weekend to get to Folklife and it was cool… until it ended with no information about best course of action. Being a confident cyclist (do they still call it “Type A”?), I just hopped into traffic and went a little further until I could turn left to get to Seattle Center. I read above that 5th will eventually have a 2 way cycletrack that connects to this… cool, but until that happens, what should “all ages and abilities” cyclists do? Same with that terrible monstrosity on Broadway that after riding in once, I’ve committed to avoiding it forever. *side note: I do LOVE the separation of bikes/peds on Mercer as indicated by a raised curb painted yellow. Less likely that peds will aimlessly wander into the bike lane, hopefully.

    Next, what is it about 5th Ave that makes people think it should have a 2 way? Sightlines are weird with the monorail columns (as mentioned above) and it’s one of the few streets downtown that I haven’t experienced much excessive display of speed by cars. If cars were parked in the middle, it would be even weirder to see what was going on if you wanted to turn left (from whichever side the 2 way cycletrack happened to be).

    In fact, maybe I just don’t want this because 5th Ave from Bell to Pine is hands down my favorite part of my route into downtown. It’s smooth, I take the lane (west side) to avoid doors, and have actually not experienced as much driver harassment as on other streets. For transparency, I don’t work downtown, so none of this is during “regular” commute hours, but I do ride down there frequently.

    If we’re going to spend money making a street safe, my vote is making 3rd Ave only for bikes and buses. It’s relatively flat both directions, so it passes the “all ages and abilities” test.

    1. Capitol Hillian

      3rd Ave is wonderfully graded, but vehicular cycling with buses does not pass the all ages and abilities test.

      1. Khori G.

        Not even with “separated” facilities? I’m imagining something like the bus bulbs on Dexter so it would be sidewalk, bike like, separated space (maybe even a median planted with low-growing local pollinators?) then bus bulbs and bus travel lanes.

      2. Capitol Hillian

        That could be lovely. 3rd Ave is a wonderfully flat street to bike on downtown, but it’s also one of the most well used bus streets in the nation so I can’t imagine there is any space to spare. It’s only two lanes in each direction meaning one lane for buses to load and another for buses to pass. Given the current bus traffic, I can’t see how we could fit a bike lane on 3rd without significantly impacting bus reliability.

  16. Gary Yngve

    Tom, I take issue with this hyperbole. “If you’re biking, it’s downright dangerous [5th Ave]. Some people choose to bike in the single west lane, which leads impatient people driving behind them to make a dangerous lane change under the monorail to pass. Others choose the far east lane, which feels more like biking on the side of a highway than a city street.”

    I choose the middle lane. It’s faster than the far left lane (the far left lane is safe too, if you ride in the center of it, rather than edge ride). It’s safe. I haven’t ever been honked, punish passed, or harrassed there. It’s not the side of a highway — there isn’t a bunch of debris there, and it’s a real lane, where I am visible. By calling it dangerous, you are furthering the myth that bicycling with cars is hard, just as Barbie said, “Math is hard, let’s go shopping.” Stop treating bicyclists like babies. Get them educated, and get drivers educated. Enforce good behavior. Slow down the roads where the effective driving speed is 5-10 mph over the limit.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Gary, I’m very happy that you feel comfortable biking in traffic. I don’t feel comfortable, but I do it anyway. It’s true that people can learn to navigate streets safely by biking like they’re cars. Vehicular cycling is an empowering set of skills to have in a city with terrible or incomplete bike infrastructure.

      But this isn’t about you, and it’s not about me. This is about everyone who does not and never will feel comfortable or even interested in biking mixed with traffic on a multi-lane road like 5th Ave. Vehicular cycling is not a bike plan, and vehicular cycling in heavy traffic will never appeal to many more people than already do it. And it won’t appeal to many (if any) families with kids or people who can’t bike fast and straight for whatever reason (health, age, etc).

      Biking in traffic in Seattle can be terrifying. You may think it’s not scary, and that’s truly wonderful for you. But that doesn’t make people who do find it scary wrong. Everyone is not Gary Yngve just like everyone is not John Forrester.

      I will stand up for your right to not bike in bike lanes if you don’t want to. That’s your choice. But you gotta see this from other points of view. Cities are full of all kinds of people of all ages and all levels of physical ability and confidence. My vision is for a Seattle where anyone who can ride a bike has the chance to do so to get around town. Quality and connected protected bike lanes are how we make that possible.

    2. David Feldman

      I agree with pretty much all of your post. My cycling in downtown Seattle has been almost completely without scary situations–until I rode down that lame, ill-planned cattle chute on 2nd Ave last year! Cyclists don’t need to be babied, true, but drivers need to be forced to pay attention to other road users by fear of legal consequences.
      The plan for 5th Ave. sounds crazy–very disorienting to sandwich a bike lane between parked cars and a curb. It was tried in Vancouver, WA years ago on a wide slow moving suburban street–didn’t work, almost no cyclist used it a second time. A two-way bike lane in that position? Forget it–traffic almost could not be bad enough for me to find that appealing.

  17. Khori G.

    Another note, not specific to the 5th Ave bike lane…

    From the article: “Also, Amazon has agreed to fund two blocks of protected bikeway…”

    Two blocks?! That’s all? Amazon should be funding large portions of all SLU infrastructure since they are flooding the area with far more people that it was designed to hold. What a shitty company that has no respect for the city that houses it. Their lack of community support and involvement (in all ways) is disgusting.

    1. Gary

      Don’t be so hard on Amazon. Boeing is the company that build large plants to the North of the city in Everett, and South in Renton, Tukwilla, Kent which makes people shift jobs within Boeing clog the freeways driving between the two places.

      Amazon at least provides tons of free secure bicycle storage, free showers, towels and lockers. There are a lot of people who work there who ride bicycles, or walk to work.

    2. Josh

      Amazon isn’t making anyone drive through the area, they’re quite friendly towards dense residential development within the neighborhood that would allow people to walk, bike, or take the trolley.

      1. Ryan on Summit

        I’m sorry, but I cannot help but laugh at this. Amazon is building 3,000 parking spaces in their new tower triplex.

  18. Gary Yngve

    Tom, I think the other issue I have with this is the presentation. It feels like an engineer saying “I did all this tech mumbo jumbo that was really fancy schmancy, and I’m awesome, worship my brain” and the user saying “I don’t care; I just want it to work”. Who cares about a PBL on that short segment of 5th. Present it as “Plans to make it more accessible to travel between Seattle Center/QA and downtown,” with a holistic plan, focusing on the most painful parts, and highlight connections with SLU, Sculpture Park, etc. I want to travel by bicycle in a safe and timely manner. That’s it. I don’t care about what infra is there, as long as it is objectively safe (rather than perceived safe according to the anti-vaxxers), and I have the freedom to exercise my rights as a vehicle. If I have to slow down to 10mph to protect against hooks, crosses, and driveouts, or wait at lights to switch sides of the street, my commute is going to be too long. Much of the safety issues are behavior problems with car drivers — address those with education and enforcement — infrastructure can only go so far.

  19. Gary Yngve

    Tom, all I am asking is that when bicycle infrastructure goes in anywhere, or other conflict points occur, that there also be corresponding education and enforcement that promotes safety and courtesy in the through lanes. Anecdotally, I get harassed the most when I am traveling in the lane for safety reasons or to prepare for a left turn, and there is a bike lane printed on the pavement somewhere or perhaps nearby. Some examples: northbound on Eastlake past SCCA. On MLK or Rainier. On 3rd Ave NW where the pinch points are around 72nd. On 11th Ave NE north of 52nd. On Roosevelt. On Winona between Wallingford and Aurora. Going down the hill on Dexter to go left onto Nickerson. Many places on Lake WA Blvd. Ironically, I’ve ridden it dozens of times, but have always had drivers respect me on the slight uphill on Aurora between Mercer and Thomas where construction bottlenecks it to two narrow lanes with no shoulders. Why? Because when a lane is too wide, a driver thinks they can safely share it with you or straddle the lane line to buzz you.

  20. Admitting I did not read every comment – so many!

    But to the point of increased harassment for those riding in the general purpose lanes:

    I ride just about everywhere I go on every road, from trails and greenways to straight down Rainier Ave at any time of day (I’m that fearless young adult male stat for ya). And I am harassed on every street at some point. So the argument that PBLs might be bad because they lead to more harassment for the fearless few…that is just an argument against biking.

  21. […] to park in the unused space underneath the monorail supports. (Seattle Times version ($), and Seattle Bike Blog […]

  22. jon

    I love the idea. I just hope as part of this project SDOT will also tame 5th Avenue and make it less freeway-like. These high speed one-way streets make absolutely no sense, are oversized and are extremely dangerous in a dense heavy-pedestrian traffic location like downtown. They are an outdated relic of the 1950s. Get rid of the timed lights, add more friction and design it to get speeds way down NATURALLY to a comfortable “main street”-like speed, i.e. 20 MPH.

  23. merlin

    Tom, thank you for sticking up for all those people who are terrified of riding on city streets and are now venturing out on protected bike lanes and greenways. If it were up to me, I’d do ALL of it RIGHT NOW! Every single person in Seattle needs to be able to roll a bike out in front of their house/apartment/tent, and ride safely and comfortably with their 5-year-old and their grandma to every single part of the city. Five years ago, this wasn’t even a future dream for Seattle – the 2007 Bike Master Plan was focused on making life just a little less ghastly for the few of us already riding bikes. Now at least the vision of an all-ages, connected, bike-friendly city guides the Bike Master Plan, and SDOT is looking for opportunities – like 5th Ave – to take advantage of existing infrastructure to help separate bikes from fast-moving cars. On my SLOW Rides with Senior Ladies On Wheels, I encounter people who are just venturing out on bikes and are terrified of biking downtown. The Second Ave. protected bike lane has opened a sliver of downtown to some of these folks, but the rest of downtown is still inaccessible.

  24. […] bikeway: 5th Avenue in Belltown could get a new separated bike lane, additional green space, safer travel lanes, and better on-street […]

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