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City and contractor rethinking sudden 2nd Ave bike lane closure

Photo courtesy of Doug Ollerenshaw
Photo courtesy of Doug Ollerenshaw

The moment fences went up blocking the 2nd Ave protected bike lane just south of Pike Street, I started getting tweets and emails from baffled people who, rather than having a protected bike lane were detoured mid-block into the general traffic lane:

Work has begun on a 40-story building at 2nd and Pike, and construction equipment needs to be staged in the space currently occupied by the sidewalk and protected bike lane. That’s fine, so long as a reasonable temporary option is provided.

But the solution put in place is far from reasonable.

People headed northbound in the counterflow lane are directed through a scaffolding space that is divided in half, one side for the temporary walkway and one side for the northbound bike lane. This is squished, but not horrible.

The bad part is when you’re headed southbound (see image at the top of the post). People are directed from the bike lane near the curb toward the scaffolding, then suddenly directed into the general traffic lane to share space with equally confused people driving.

A bike protected bike lane cannot simply disappear like this. It is dangerous and confusing for everyone. People choose to bike on 2nd because of the bike lane, and in a way a protected bike lane is an unspoken commitment by the city to its people that if they bike here, they’re gonna be taken care of. It cannot just disappear.

The good news is that SDOT has heard these concerns.

“I reviewed the site this morning and we are reviewing options. Our inspector is working with the contractor to reopen the bike lane,” Seattle Traffic Engineer Dongho Chang wrote in an email response to Doug Ollerenshaw, a concerned user who copied Seattle Bike Blog on a detailed email to the city.

The first priority is to find a safe solution that preserves a walkway and the protected bike lanes. The easiest way to do this is to turn the leftmost general travel lane into a temporary protected bike lane, lined with those plastic construction barriers already guarding the scaffolding. Or, depending on the construction project’s true needs for space, maybe the scaffolding and temporary bike lane can be moved closer to the curb to avoid closing a lane. That’s for the city and the contractor to figure out.

What can’t happen is for construction activity or concerns about impacting car traffic to lead us to put people biking or walking in danger. Some temporary traffic backups are an acceptable cost to help grow the city. Putting people in danger is not.

“Our public streets should not be given over to developers in this way when it compromises safety,” wrote Ollerenshaw. It seems strange that this even needs to be said, but apparently it does.

After all, the construction permit posted at the site (thanks for the tip Marley!) and approved by the city clearly states the intention of not providing a southbound protected bike lane:

“IMPACTS: Closure of NE s/w & both bike lanes along 2nd Avenue btwn Pike St & Union St. Closure of existing parking lane for staging of covered walkway and new temp N-bound bike lane”

How did this get approved? I hope the city is looking into that and will make whatever internal changes need to happen to avoid this from happening again.

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29 responses to “City and contractor rethinking sudden 2nd Ave bike lane closure”

  1. Meg

    Thanks for posting this. I had assumed that the scaffolded area was to replace both bike lanes, and was surprised this morning to see a cop directing cycle traffic into the general lane. Perhaps this is one of the items that the city is striving to avoid by creating the Office of Planning and Community Development?

  2. merlin

    This is evidence that the culture of respect for people biking and walking, which appears to be fully embraced at the upper levels of SDOT, has not completely penetrated throughout the organization. Thanks for raising a ruckus about this, Tom. It is completely unacceptable.

  3. Clark in Vancouver

    Since motor traffic has more options, they can do fine with one fewer lanes on this stretch.
    Repurpose temporarily, one general travel lane to replace the lost cycle track and things will work out fine. This should just be standard policy whenever there is any construction or event that moves into a bike lane.

    1. Chuck Ayers

      Should be!

  4. Chuck Ayers

    This is the type of thing SDOT used to discuss with Cascade to come to some reasonable detour – okay, not always so reasonable but hey, at least they reached out often to get our input. What’s happening with the outreach and input? Who are the go-to people/organizations for SDOT these days? Why do detours seem to most often completely inconvenient peds and people on bikes rather than people in cars (and yes, I do drive)?

  5. Josh

    Seems to fit well with the random, unannounced closures on the Mercer path this week, too.

    Landscaping work? Sure, that’s urgent enough we should just close the whole facility and route bikes under the overpass during morning rush hour.

  6. Ben

    Similarly, how long will the bike lane on Dexter be closed and cyclists diverted into traffic because of the construction near Hayes St? There are six street parking spaces that should be temporarily removed to shift traffic and preserve the southbound bike lane. The construction started in April.

    1. Crowplus

      Re Hayes Street construction: The contractor/SDOT have also allowed the temporary pavement patch across the southbound merged lane to deteriorate into basically a bicycle jump. Contractor employees’ stand there and watch it get worse and worse each day.

  7. David

    Worst part of this is that a 40-story building will take YEARS to construct. That’s a long time to have such a dangerous situation in place.

    1. Becky

      For real. It’s a quasi-permanent impact, really.

  8. Brad

    “and construction equipment needs to be staged in the space currently occupied by the sidewalk and protected bike lane.”
    This is kind of a hot button for me. What Tom states above is the standard operating procedure and has been for many years. But why? I think the correct phrasing (which none of us use and and which would cause howls from the $$$ interests who build these monstrosities), is, “and it’s so much cheaper to stage construction equipment in the public right of way…”. I’m pi$$ing in the wind here I know, but at least acknowledge you’re being allowed to inconvenience (not strong enough word) all of us an provide a reasonable work around.

  9. Joseph Singer

    I do not have a lot of faith in what SDOT will do to rectify this. Construction destroyed the northern terminus of the Broadway bikeway with little fanfare and not much done to make it better.

  10. Meanwhile in news of my pet construction disruption, eastbound Broad Street remains closed between 9th Ave N and Westlake. This is notable because it’s part of the bike route that parallels Mercer to the north; the typical detour for cars is Mercer, but there is no particularly good detour for bikes, certainly no signed detour.

  11. jay

    ” protected bike lane cannot simply disappear like this.”

    I don’t think that is really accurate, at least if “like this” is referring to what happened yesterday. The northbound protected bike lane just got “squished” for 50 yards or so before it ended anyway. Southbound the only thing that “ended” was the door zone left hook suicide lane, one should probably have been in the general lanes in the first place.
    Now if you are talking about the lack of continuity in basically all of Seattle’s bike infrastructure, you have a point, but it is not news.
    If you don’t like 2nd, Western is just a couple blocks over XD
    At least on Western, “traffic merge[es] with bikes” rather than the other way around, but that is a bit of a hollow victory since what it really means is cars drive in the bike lane. Then to add insult to injury, they have about a 6′ buffer to protect a fence, at first glance it might look like a temporary west sidewalk, but the huge “Sidewalk Closed” signs argue against that.

  12. Ben p

    Kind of a stupid plan. I think it would make most sense to pull out those silly bollards and put up a slow sign. The cyclists who want to go fast already go for car lanes.

    1. Joseph Singer

      You do not get it. It is not about slow or fast it is about putting bicycle riders in the middle of motor vehicle traffic.

      1. Ben P

        What don’t I get? Maybe I was too terse. I was pointing out how the solution was inconsistent with itself.
        Those bike lanes where designed for slow cyclists from top to bottom. They are placed between loading zones and sidewalk. They are narrow for two way traffic. One direction is even counter to a light wave, meaning you rarely get through two lights going uphill. For many riders, this provides a safe place to ride at a comfortable pace.
        The detour is clearly designed for super fast cyclists. The bollard split between peds and cyclists implies the cyclists will be going so fast that it will be dangerous for bikes and peds to mix. Even the Burke, where there is a fair share of really fast cyclists, peds and dogs are allowed. The sending of the southbound cyclists into the street is really only workable for cyclists who are not only strong, but also traffic experienced.
        So who uses the bike lanes now a days? A mix – some fast, some slow. I believe that the natural solution is to mix the sidewalk and the bike lane under the scaffold. It is a short stretch and most cyclist are willing to slow down to safe speeds for a mixed section of so little length.
        But what about those hardcore cyclists who come with oversized calves and always give the feel of being in some desperate race of life and death import? Well, being one of those myself, I feel I’m at least a little qualified to talk on the subject. If I’m heading south on 2nd at full speed, I take one look at that scaffold and merge right into the cars. Is that dangerous? A little, but I do that sort of thing all the time. What about northbound? if I’m in any sort of rush, I’m not heading north on 2nd.
        To conclude, the current detour design is ill thought out. It unnecessarily separates slow cyclists from pedestrians and it forces cyclists who are not comfortable with cars to mix with traffic. A more natural solution would be to remove the bollards and replace the cyclists go right sign with a cyclists go slow sign. This will naturally allow for fast cyclists to use the car lane and for slow cyclists to mix with pedestrians.

        Given that I’m already writing at some length, I may as well address why I think simply removing the bollards is better than using another lane. First I’ll need a small preface.
        There are many different types of users on our roads. I believe roads should accommodate all of them within reason and safely. I think that cyclists in much of this city are undeserved. In a few spots, they don’t have enough capacity for the cyclist volume, like the Fremont bridge. In most spots, the cyclist simply have no reasonable or safe way to get from A to B.
        What about 2nd ave? It used to be very dangerous. Now it is safer. But it doesn’t have a lot of volume, which is not surprising considering it lacks safe connections.
        So, do we need to take another lane? I don’t think the light bike traffic really warrants it. If the lanes where very crowded, I would agree that another lane would be necessary for safe and reasonable bike and pedestrian flow. Considering all users, I believe not using an additional lane makes most sense.

        Now, Joseph Singer, to return to the original point, what don’t I get? What is this “it” which you think I don’t get – this “it” which is not about slow or fast – this “it” which is about putting bicycle riders in the middle of motor vehicle traffic?

  13. Harrison Davignon

    I feel there is still slight war on cars and cars still rule the infrastructure. The good news is finally us cyclists and pedestrians are getting listened too and respected. City planers need to think before they act and remember not everyone has a motor vehicle.

  14. Law Abider

    Unfortunately, this shit is happening all over the city. SLU especially has become a war zone, with bike lanes and sidewalks closed all over, typically leaving one single sidewalk and no bike lanes through a multi block grid.

    The DPD doesn’t care; SDOT doesn’t care. There’s been some talk from the mayor recently about coordination between adjacent construction projects to make sure that between the two they don’t completely block access.

    Ask people from Manhattan about construction closing sidewalks, bike lanes and street lanes. Construction companies are told to figure out how to build their project without daytime sidewalk/lane closures. Any sidewalk/lane closures happen in the middle of the night.

    Basically, the people of Seattle are being greatly inconvenienced, for years on end, for the profit of construction companies and it needs to stop.

  15. michael n.

    Considering the amount of time, the thought process usually given to a project, especially at this site at Second and Pike, you’d think that Urban Visions which has had this particular development project on and off again for years would have had their general contractor, Sellen, a little more into the loop for an adequate solution as to how to bring bicycle commuters south of Pike without having to merge into car lanes….it seems that mixing pedestrians and bicycles seem be the solution and before anyone gets too excited or concerned about that…..before that parking lot at Second and Pike was closed, few pedestrians actually walked on that side of Second Avenue other than those who had just parked their vehicles in that lot. The only businesses on the side of Second, below Pike?
    A Pho Restaurant and an upscale paper store at the ground floor of that very utilitarian
    ugly parking garage at Second and Union.
    I live downtown, I pass by that parking lot at Second and Pike; it any place deserved to be developed it was and is that parking lot which has gone from being ugly and poorly maintained (anchored by a hot dog vendor who could care less if another version of a shootout at the O.K.Corral happened again) to creepy and then after hours, on more than a few occasions, the address which saw violent encounters end up with the King County Medical Examiner.
    Seattle is no longer and has not been a remote near hippy enclave of low rise buildings for some time, not in the downtown core; this isn’t Eugene, Spokane, Missoula nor Bozeman but a city growing into big. High rise buildings come with that territory; the same bicyclists who have had their share of fateful encounters with careless drivers would face even more obstacles if the city were scattered with low rise buildings, needing a lot of them and more of the cars which bring workers into the city.

  16. Jen

    More of the war on pedestrians in Seattle, where construction is prioritized over public access.

  17. daihard

    I’m starting to wonder if SDOT is just pretending to care about people on foot and on bikes. The bike lane on Roosevelt is blocked in two locations between Ravenna and 45th. It has been like that for a while. The 2nd Ave PBL still abruptly ends near S Jackson, and where it used to be reasonable, it’s now blocked at Pike. Actually, I don’t use the 2nd Ave PBL any longer. Third Ave is much safer and easier to navigate, especially during commute hours (when cars are disallowed).

    1. Skylar

      I wonder the same thing. I’ve been just taking the traffic lane in places where I know I’ll have to weave in&out of the bike lane due to closures. Maybe that will get drivers motivated to complain to SDOT about the lack of contiguous/safe bike lanes as well, but probably not.

      1. Joseph Singer

        “Maybe that will get drivers motivated to complain to SDOT about the lack of contiguous/safe bike lanes as well” Hah hah. I always love a joke first thing in the morning. Seriously, you think someone in a *car* is going to complain to essdot? Remember, it’s a “war on cars” and they do not want to give any ammunition to the opposing side. Everyone knows that bicycles are just an annoyance that vehicle drivers and construction companies have to deal with. If you hit a bicyclist that’s just a risk you take putting them in a place that’s reserved for motor vehicles. [In case your sarcasm filter was turned off this is sarcasm and it is not my position at all.]

      2. Skylar

        Yup, I know it’s a futile exercise. It just galls me when we give over entire streets so drivers can avoid delays or detours (not that it costs them much, since they get to sit on their butts in AC), but cyclists and pedestrians get to risk themselves and sweat it out.

      3. daihard

        Joseph, I wouldn’t be surprised if you weren’t sarcastic, and I don’t mean in a negative way. “Drivers” so often consider roads their own, and whatever gets in the way is a major annoyance. They don’t care if a sidewalk or a bike lane is blocked by constructions. What they do care about is they don’t want people on foot or on bikes to “spill” into “their” lanes.

  18. JRD

    Thanks for posting this Tom. We really need a strong change in Seattle’s sidewalk and bike lane closure permit system. This is a particularly egregious example, but this is a city-wide problem.

    Sidewalks and bike lanes are routinely closed with dangerous detours, extremely long detours, or just no planning at all. These closures last far too long, and often don’t seem to be required to complete the work. Currently the bike lane on Roosevelt is closed, and the closed area is just being used to park the personal vehicles of workers on the site!

    Permit fees are so low as to be negligible. Fees need to encourage contractors to complete work quickly with a minimum impact on public right of way. Currently, we pretty much just give over public space for contractor convenience.

  19. JRD

    Edited for accuracy:

    “The BMP calls for a connected network that includes approximately 100 miles
    of protected bicycle lanes – 65% of which will be closed for construction.”

  20. […] that our AAA bicycle infrastructure be reliable. It’s unacceptable to just close greenways (or protected bike lanes, for that matter) without providing safe AAA […]

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