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NE 65th St is dangerous by design, and we know how to make it safer. What’s stopping us?

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story is a follow-up to yesterday’s report about Vehicular Homicide charges against Lucas McQuinn in the alleged DUI collision that killed Andy Hulslander. I suggest reading that story first.

Image from a 2013 community walk to discuss the dangers of NE 65th Street
Photo from a 2013 community walk to discuss the dangers of NE 65th Street. Taken during rush hour.
Photo of the ghost bike memorial at NE 65th Street and 15th Ave NE, from ghostbikeguy
Photo of the ghost bike memorial at NE 65th Street and 15th Ave NE

The dangers on NE 65th Street are not news.

Even without a DUI, the street is dangerous and uncomfortable, especially for people on foot or bike. In less than seven years (2007 through August 2014), there were 28 reports of collisions involving people on bikes and 27 involving people walking, according to a map by the Seattle Times. And those are just the collisions that were reported, and the numbers do not include all the car-on-car crashes.

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Collisions occur at nearly all points along the road, meaning it’s a core design problem rather than one or two tricky spots. And if you go out on a walk or bike ride on NE 65th Street, the problem becomes clear very quickly.

As you can see in the community walk photo above — taken during rush hour — the road is extremely wide. Most reasonable people driving treat it as a two-lane street (one lane in each direction), though aggressive drivers use the big open spaces to pass. And we know from traffic engineering studies that wide lanes encourage speeding, which increases both the number of collisions and the severity of those collisions.

As the Ravenna neighborhood grows — and especially with a new light rail station on the horizon — the need for modern, safe, multimodal streets grows with it. Ravenna/North University District has the highest bike commute rate in the city, with nine percent of residents biking as their primary mode for getting to work. NE 65th Street was engineered long ago when we knew less about safe streets and far fewer people lived and worked in the area.

Therefore, you would think that NE 65th — the main east-west connector and commercial street in the neighborhood — would be one of the best places in Seattle for protected bike lanes. It is slated in the city’s Bike Master Plan for a protected bike lane from Ravenna Boulevard to 20th Ave NE, including the intersection at 15th Ave NE where Andy Hulslander was struck from behind and killed June 28.

From the Bike Master Plan (blue=protected bike lane, green=neighborhood greenway)
From the Bike Master Plan (blue=protected bike lane, green=neighborhood greenway, yellow=painted bike lane)

Protected bike lanes can’t prevent people from making the choice to drive drunk. Work to prevent DUIs is vital, and we have to stay committed and try new ideas for how to stop it before someone is hurt or killed.

But protected bike lanes do create a space for people on bikes out of the path of people driving, reducing the chances that a drunk or someone making a simple driving mistake will hit them. If there were a quality protected bike lane on NE 65th Street, Andy would most likely have been waiting for the green light in that bike lane and not in the path of McQuinn’s allegedly speeding Subaru. It’s far better for a drunk to run into some curbs or a line of parked cars than a human being.

While hits from behind are relatively rare, they result in a surprising percentage of the deaths of people biking in America, according to a study by the League of American Bicyclists. There’s a perfectly rational reason people don’t feel comfortable biking in mixed traffic: You sadly can’t trust 100 percent of people driving to see you and avoid a collision. To a person killed, it doesn’t really matter if the person was drunk or just not paying attention. This type of collision is one big reason the League is urging communities across the country to build more protected bike lanes like the one slated for NE 65th Street.

But even the idea of including a NE 65th Street protected bike lane in the city’s 20-year Bicycle Master Plan drew intense opposition from some residents in the area, who in 2013 got the city to delay the entire master plan process to study the options further. In the end, the city removed bike lanes from a section east of 20th Ave NE, but kept the bike lane in the wider and busier section between Ravenna Boulevard and 20th.

Tony Provine (current candidate for City Council’s District 4) was one of the people who lead the surprisingly organized opposition as President of the Ravanna-Bryant Community Association. He authored a letter (PDF) opposing protected bike lanes anywhere on NE 65th, citing “a high volume of vehicle traffic” (65th is not exceptionally busy compared to other east-west arterials like NE 75th Street, which is working better after safety changes there) and possible loss of car parking (though no specific street redesign plan yet exists) as reasons:

NE 65th Street is the wrong site for a cycle track because: it has a heavy volume of vehicle traffic; incorporates numerous bus routes with frequent stops and strong ridership; serves as an established and busy commercial transit route; and has over 100 businesses that are located along that street. In addition to being too narrow to accommodate both cycle tracks and more than one lane of traffic in each direction for most of its length, NE 65th would be required to eliminate parking, negatively impacting businesses and the community.

None of these doomsday scenarios — whether real or imaginary — are as terrible as a friend, neighbor or father dying in an avoidable traffic collision.

I asked Provine if Andy’s death has changed his opinion about bike lanes on NE 65th Street. It hasn’t:

Mass transit, whether bus or light rail, should receive priority because of the ability to move more people. At the same time we need to ensure that our commercial vehicles and automobiles can move efficiently. While an interconnected bicycle network is necessary and desirable, it would be safer for all bicyclists if bike lanes were located on a parallel corridor rather than on a very busy and crowded arterial. We would also avoid restricting other modes of travel and/or removing critical parking spaces that residents and businesses along a corridor rely on.

People’s lives are more important than car parking (if car parking is even removed). Though obviously Provine isn’t responsible for Andy’s death, his attitude is perfectly illustrative of the type of resistance city leaders need to break through if Seattle is ever going to take the bold action on safe streets required to achieve Vision Zero.

There’s always some other place those bicyclists can be put, just not here. If Andy had been riding on some other street, this wouldn’t have happened, right? These are convenient excuses to continue ignoring the problem and keep our streets unnecessarily dangerous.

The entire philosophy behind Vision Zero is that traffic deaths and serious injuries are preventable. But they won’t be prevented by sticking our heads in the ground. We need to take action and make changes.

NE 65th Street is not a special case. People bike there for the same reasons people drive there: It’s a direct and complete route that is lined with destinations.

And we know how to make it safer: Install bike lanes, calm speeds and improve crosswalks. Just like other dangerous streets.

We might just create a more vibrant place in the process. Study after study across the nation and the globe finds that protected bike lanes actually increase business activity, while experience with transit islands right here in Seattle shows that transit and bikes can coexist just fine. Safe, comfortable multimodal streets attract customers like crazy. That doesn’t sound so scary to me.

So no more excuses. Seattle needs to take action on NE 65th Street to make it safe and comfortable for everyone. Nothing is more important. Fears of change are imaginary. But fears of a father getting smashed to death and thrown 30 yards across the Ravenna neighborhood are extremely, heartbreakingly real.

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29 responses to “NE 65th St is dangerous by design, and we know how to make it safer. What’s stopping us?”

  1. ronp

    This is a great post. Thank you so much.

    I will not be voting for Mr. Provine unless he becomes more open to changing our streets to make them safer for all users. His current attitude does not represent the future of our city.

    A lot of education is needed to turn the corner on reactionary responses to protected bike lanes, wider sidewalks, traffic calming, etc. I think real progress has been made in the years I have lived in Seattle. Here’s to hoping further change can happen and more of our best citizens can live long and prosperous lives.

    1. Matt

      Honestly, even if Mr. Provine has an eleventh hour epiphany regarding street safety, would you trust him to stick to that when confronted with the ever-present opposition to all road safety projects?

      1. ronp

        Yes, I find it unlikely the candidate will change, but I want to have an open mind, I am going to vote for the younger much more pro bike, walking, transit candidate on the ballot. Hopefully I can door knock a bit for the guy.

        We do need some people to to show up at NE District Council meetings and advocate for safer streets. They do have influence over street improvements and are more likely to promote residential street improvements — http://www.seattle.gov/Documents/Departments/Neighborhoods/Districts/Northeast/northeast-dc-current-meeting.pdf

  2. Andy

    As tragic as this accident is, it does not suddenly make NE 65th St a good candidate for protected bike lanes.
    Because of the lack of controlled intersections and frequency of alleys and driveways that would intersect the protected bike lane, the overall safety for cyclists would be dramatically worsened. A road diet is absolutely merited to calm traffic on this street, but protected bike lanes are the wrong tool for this problem.

    1. Peri Hartman

      You have a good point. However, semiprotected lanes could work, similar to those on Dexter. That gives the opportunity to move in the traffic lanes when travelling too fast for the bike lane.

      Over time, though, the driveways in the business districts will disappear, relegated to side streets. We should plan for the long term.

      1. If you install a protected bike lane it needs to be a well designed one, and most of the protected bike lanes going in right now are not at all well designed. The only reason Dexter has worked so well is that there is relatively little traffic trying to cross, with the exception of Mercer. That would certainly not be the case on 65th. A protected bike lane that separates you from cars when you least need it and then disappears and forces a sudden merge into traffic at the intersection is no good. It makes me wonder if the people designing the bike facilities actually ride their bike on them. 65th street absolutely does need a road diet like 75th St. Its criminal that these ridiculous pseudo 4 lanes streets still exist.

  3. Sven Tice

    Provine isn’t being honest. I’ve lived, worked, and traveled on 65th for many years, and I cannot think of a more reasonable street for at least a clearly marked bike lane. There’s plenty of room, the traffic isn’t nearly as heavy as other streets that already have bike lanes, and it connects a lot of places that bicyclists want to go.

    1. Ravenna Lady

      He’s not only being dishonest, he’s willfully ignoring the data from 10 blocks away on 75th NE that shows improvement across travel time, safety and bike usage after the city rechanneled it a year or two ago.

      But when you don’t have your own ideas, I guess you repeat talking points of folks clutching on to their theoretical parking spaces (whether or not they actually use them).

  4. Harrison Davignon

    Other anti bicycle movement. We should not have to take away parking. Some people have to drive because of things like busy schedule or physical disability. We need protected bike lanes and bike racks all along 65th AVE. If anyone is caught driving in the future bike lane and staying in the bike lane, or parking in the bike lane, $100 fine first time, then suspended licence, third time 10 days in jail and a $300 fine, no bail either. This would keep cars out of the bike lane, except for cars accessing side streets or driveways. Lets have a balance instead of being one sided.

    1. Law Abider

      Are people driving in the bike lanes enough of a problem that it would warrant jailing them? The biggest problem I have is people waiting for pedestrians turning right sitting in the bike lane or shuttles parked in the bike lane dropping people off. In both cases, a very loud whack on the vehicle before continuing on my way is a deserving punishment. Fines are definitely warranted, but not jail time; however even fines require enforcement, which is sorely lacking in this city.

      1. AW

        A nice dent on a new BMW is especially sweet.

      2. You must have one sore hand. As far as I can tell, bike lanes are de facto loading/unloading and construction zones. What gets me is when drivers yell at me for taking the lane when there is that “bike lane” just yonder.

      3. jay

        ” The biggest problem I have is people [preparing to turn right] waiting for pedestrians [while] sitting in the bike lane”

        Talk about first world problems. Where do you ride? I want to move there.
        Drivers waiting for pedestrians??
        Perhaps you mean not literally running them down? that would make sense, since few drivers literally hit pedestrians (even if they do get close), even fewer than those who actually follow the letter of the law; ” stop and remain stopped” … “when the pedestrian or bicycle is upon or within one lane of the half of the roadway upon which the vehicle is traveling or onto which it is turning”

        As far as being in the rightmost* lane before turning right, that is what they are supposed to do. Would you rather be right hooked by someone turning from next lane over (without signaling, like as not)?

        Hypothetical question, if a cop had to make a choice between giving a ticket to a motorist who hit a pedestrian with a 2 ton automobile, or arrest a person who hit a 2 ton automobile with his fist, which will they choose?
        Another one, if a motorist ran over someone on a bicycle because they felt threatened by said person on a bicycle, would they suffer any different consequences (i.e. none) than if they “didn’t see” the person on a bicycle?

        *or, on a one way street (e.g. 2nd Ave.), the leftmost lane before turning left (e.g. onto University)

      4. ChefJoe

        So, you’re saying you’re riding too fast for conditions to respond to traffic in front of you without hitting it ? I hope you have liability insurance for when someone who cares about dents comes after you (and you’re equally smiling when pedestrians trip over your bike at crosswalks).

  5. Rob

    Thank you very much for this post, Tom.

    It is very sad that my neighbors continue to prioritize the status quo over the lives of people who choose not to drive cars 100% of the time. There is no solid information to say that removing parking along 65th would be a detriment to businesses (Tom, insert links here) nor is it clear that adding a bike lane would make it take longer to get to I-5 in a car (Tom, insert more links). Just the fear of parking and traffic effects is enough to get my neighbors up in arms. Even if the fears were a certainty, they would not be worth the injuries and loss of life.

    The bike master plan calls for a paint-only bike lane east of 20th. How about the city do a very quick demonstration just using paint from Ravenna Blvd to 40th and see how it goes? I’d like to see a Dexter-style bike lane that has a demilitarized zone between the cars and the bike lane. If it is demonstrated to hurt business or slow down traffic enough that the community would rather injure and kill some neighbors, then they can make that choice after gathering all the facts. Plus, then we could test out if a protected bike lane is truly incompatible with the driveways and alleys. I already bike as far to the right as I can on 65th (don’t want to get hit from behind!), and so I don’t understand why a PBL would be more dangerous with respect to alleys and driveways than the current situation.

    1. The BMP actually only lists sharrows between 20th and 25th. In that stretch (the Ravenna-Bryant business district) any removal of street parking would be met with literal pitchforks, and there isn’t room for both parking and any kind of bike lane. Everywhere else it’s at least plausible…

      We don’t have to theorize about alleys, driveways, and side streets. 75th is already there, climbing and descending the same hills. A parking-protected bike lane would have substantially different sight lines than 75th for some scenarios, but there isn’t room for parking, bike lanes, and a turn lane, so I don’t think a parking-protected lane is a remote possibility. Curbs and pylons don’t change sight lines and visibility much. So what does 75th tell us? It’s fine when climbing, but when descending you have to ride the brakes hard to have a chance at reacting in time to a typical pull-out conflict. Fortunately most of the traffic from the alleys, driveways, and side streets is locals that should be aware of the bike lanes. But I don’t care who’s right or wrong, there’s nowhere in the world where I’m going to ride fast in the door zone or through intersections with limited sight lines.

      1. Peri Hartman

        I second that. A protected bike lane is fine for going slow – and will provide a venue to bring the next wave of riders onto the streets – but there *must* be a way to merge into the regular traffic lane when going too fast for the designed sight distance.

  6. jay

    If they are so worried about parking, maybe they should have more of it, I notice in that first picture there as a “no stops 4-6pm” sign, maybe they should have free parking 24/7 both sides of the street, that would make the street feel less highway like. If people were free to leave their vehicles for up to three days, there would probably be a fair number parked all night, helping to reduce speeds then as well. Granted, that wouldn’t make biking much better, maybe even worse with the “door zone”, but it would reduce speeds some, in-lane transit stops would reduce speeds even more.

    Now I know some have written that marked crosswalks are dangerous because they give pedestrians a false sense of security. While it is certainly true that many drivers will ignore them, my experience is that even more ignore unmarked crosswalks, so on the whole I think they are an improvement, though pedestrians do need to use caution.
    Painting some crosswalks seems easy enough and would also make the street look a bit less like a highway. Bulb outs even more so, but not nearly so easy, and if excessive can make bicycling very unpleasant by requiring merging with much faster traffic every block.
    It’s too bad that pedestrians* are so much more terrified of people riding bicycles than of people driving (barely) two ton death machines. If there were ramps to allow more timid riders to switch to the sidewalk/crosswalk at intersections it could allow severe bulb outs that would push cars close enough to the center of the road to perhaps allow slightly wider than “door zone” paint only bike lanes to be painted, and be reasonably useful to many (but of course not all) riders. If car speeds are reasonable the cat 3 commuter can ride in the general traffic lanes. And for those who can’t do either we need more safe neighborhood greenways where they can increase their skill and confidence.
    In my opinion a “protected” bike lane that goes nowhere (and has marginal intersection treatments) is worse than a mediocre paint only lane that actual goes where one wants to go, and possibly worse than nothing at all (see marked crosswalks above). If you want to move to Denmark, that’s fine with me, but Denmark is not going to be moving here in my lifetime.

    *at least the ones who comment at the Times.

    1. I think we should try bulbs that work sort of like Dexter’s bus islands: the bike lane goes through at street level behind the bulb, and the bulb protrudes a bit past it to shorten the crossing distance.

      Having bike lanes go up to curb level for a short time is straight-up dumb. I’m glad Seattle has kept its experiments with this off of major bike routes for the most part. It’s confusing for people whether they’re walking or biking, and will provide an increasingly bumpy ride as the pavement degrades (and therefore will be a pain in the dark and rain, which are easy to forget about in the summer months).

  7. Breadbaker

    Provine has lost any chance of my vote, too. The problem is not the specifics of the case (though he’s wrong there, too), but the attitude. His attitude, as I read it (and he had every chance to write this his own way, so I take him at his word), is that there are citizens and there are bicyclists, and bicyclists can’t take anything away from citizens. Sorry, but I’m a citizen, and I live and vote in the district Provine hopes to represent. If he can’t understand that there are citizens who move around by bike (for whatever reason we do) and that we deserve just as much respect–and safety–as anyone moving any other way, then he’s forfeited any chance of being a public official.

  8. As to whether 65th is a two-lane or four-lane street… there are a number of streets in northeast Seattle that are two-lane streets with street parking most of the day, but turn one side of parking into an extra traffic lane during each peak period. 65th is essentially one of these, except that the lane lines aren’t striped for some reason. Maybe they aren’t wide enough. Anyway, during heavy afternoon peak traffic there are essentially two eastbound lanes (eastbound in the afternoon peak is really the only time I use 65th). I ride down the middle of where the right lane would be. The buses mostly stay right, too, and most cars stay left to pass buses and climbing cyclists, but if there’s a left-turning car they’ll move right to get around. Cars’ top speed is limited by traffic volumes and people tend to drive slower on the climb, and at these slower speeds people are able to negotiate these things reasonably well. During peak hours turns don’t gum up the whole road and buses don’t have to pull in and out of heavy traffic; off-peak people get their parking.

    This isn’t a great deal for cyclists; it works in one direction (there’s a reason I never take it westbound — on the descent to 25th it’s too wide to control the lane but too fast to stay right, and on the climb away from 25th it’s too narrow for safe passes) and really only during one time of day, the afternoon peak… and that’s for a narrow sliver of cyclists that may be deluding ourselves about the level of risk. But it’s basically true that there’s a huge tradeoff in how the street works. Part-time parking lanes are not compatible with bike facilities that work all day (not with the amount of space available on 65th, at least). Even a no-parking design like 75th would have buses pulling in and out of traffic at every stop (I’d love dexter-style islands but people would throw a fit, on top of the parking-loss fit they were already throwing).

  9. Ace Redgate

    75th Street does not have a protected bike lane.
    A protected bike lane would not have prevented the tragic DUI accident.
    A protected bike lane will clearly worsen congestion on 65th. But the painted lanes on 75th and Ravenna Blvd. could work on 65th.
    Food for thought on “saving lives”: If traffic slows noticeably, that delays the ambulances that regularly arrive at the Ida Culver House, imperiling seniors.

    1. sb

      How do you know that a protected bike lane would not have prevented the accident? That’s an impossible statement to prove.

    2. Becky

      Ambulances can make everybody (in cars and on bikes!) pull over so that the ambulance can drive down the middle of the road. It is important to understand emergency vehicle access when planning road facilities, but I don’t buy for a second that there’s so much traffic on this road that making the road safer is going to imperil those seniors at Ida Culver House.

  10. Tim

    I’ve recently been trying out the bike lanes in the Roosevelt and 11th/12th corridor so I can comment on the HCT plans (and commute from Meadowbrook to Eastlake/SLU). In the process I’ve been getting lost with respect to marked trails in this area. Though I try to avoid 65th, it’s just an obvious east-west connector (to the greenway on 38th/39th for example). Most of the mapping apps suggest routes on 65th for various trips. It’s a connector to Green Lake (via Ravenna Blvd), Wedgwood (via 25th), and Northeast Seattle (35th, 38th). The Link stop on 65th and Roosevelt will be a destination for cyclists transferring to HCT and Link. Pronto expansion would likely add a station there, making the bike/transit combination even better. The lack of bike lanes on 65th is a big hole in the map of well-marked bike routes in that area now that 75th has been improved. Bike lanes on this street would really make the North/South routes that are already in place work so much better. I also drive and bus on all of the other streets mentioned, and none of them seem to be hurting from having bicycle features. Pedestrian crossing of 65th to all of the neighborhood businesses would also be much improved by taming that street a little.

  11. sb

    Provine says: “it would be safer for all bicyclists if bike lanes were located on a parallel corridor rather than on a very busy and crowded arterial”.

    When he used the phrase “very busy and crowded” I guess he’s referring to car traffic. By a logical extension, why not get rid of the sidewalks in the area (make people walk only on parallel streets) so that there’s more room for those cars? Silly.

    The intersection should have a healthy and safe mixture of bikes, pedestrians, and cars. (Some people even want a park build on the Sisley property, doesn’t that mean more ped and bike traffic?).

    (Semi-related: If you ever want to make a Ravenna resident defensive, ask them if they use their garage for parking or for storage/projects. On-street parking is something lots of people feel entitled to.)

  12. scott t

    do other countries have proteced bikeways that pass by numerous driveways…first a sidewalk, then the bike lane?

    that work well with few driveway-exiting-cars hitting protected-bikeway-bicycles??

    a reflective bike icon painted at every driveway might help if there is a collison issue.

  13. scott t

    i see fewer cars driving up on curbs than i see crossing painted lines

  14. […] ← NE 65th St is dangerous by design, and we know how to make it safer. What’s stopping us… […]

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