Seattle’s trail network does a lot of heavy lifting for human-powered transportation around town. The Burke-Gilman Trail, for example, carries as many people during rush hour as a lane of a major freeway.
But the condition of trail sections has declined over the decades. Some sections haven’t been paved since the 70s.
To make things worse, many sections were paved without a strong base layer to prevent tree roots from pushing through, which can be especially dangerous in the dark. Other sections keep losing inches off the sides, making the trail width skinnier and skinnier as they deteriorate due to time, weather and landslides.
All this is happening as usage grows and grows with no signs of slowing. Increased use use on skinnier and bumpier trails is a recipe for problems.
How bad is the problem? Well, we don’t really know. That’s why the city is developing a Trails Upgrade Plan.
You can help out by taking this online survey.
Yes, yes, I know. Another plan? Didn’t we just spend a couple years writing a Bike Master Plan? Well, the Trails Plan is specifically focused on assessing real-world conditions of existing trails and identifying design and condition upgrades that are needed most. The Master Plan is more about identifying where new or extended trails are needed over the next 20 years.
Staff are in the process of evaluating trail conditions now. Outreach has begun (with a couple odd hiccups) and will go through the fall to gather feedback on what is needed most. There will be a community workshop in the next month or so, so stay tuned.
A handful of improvements will even get design work, setting them up for implementation once there is funding (you’re gonna help pass Move Seattle, right?). The whole plan should be finished by the end of the year.
SDOT is preparing a Trails Upgrade Plan for the city’s multi- use trail network to improve the trails and encourage their use. Work includes:
- Assessing existing trail conditions
- Updating maintenance plan
- Evaluating trail expansion needs
- Updating to design guidelines and policies
- Designing concepts for three to five locations
- Determining prioritization at trail crossings (e.g. who goes first?)
The Seattle Trails Upgrade Plan builds from the Seattle Pedestrian and Bicycle Master Plans and supports safety, social equity, economic productivity, sustainability and livable communities. Maintenance and improvement of the trails will increase the use of the network by making them safer and reducing barriers to use.
No more STOP-GO signs?
In addition to assessing trail conditions, the study will also look at street crossings. This includes “determining prioritization at trail crossings (e.g. who goes first?),” according to outreach materials (PDF). This is great news because, as we have written previously, many trail crossings are confusing to everyone because it isn’t clear who should go first.
The Burke-Gilman crossing at 30th Ave NE is a great example. The trail crossing is a crosswalk, so people driving must stop for anyone walking or biking. But there are also stop signs facing trail users, so people biking are also required to stop. So who goes first?
The signs facing the trail are effectively STOP-GO signs, the equivalent of a traffic cop waving you through and holding up their palm at the same time. Or a traffic signal with both red and green lights illuminated. If the intersection were a computer program, it would crash because there’s no logical order.
Almost every person driving naturally lets people biking go first. After all, it’s a crosswalk, and you have to stop for people in crosswalks. The safest and most natural behavior for people biking, therefore, is just to proceed with caution, so that’s what most people do. Almost nobody biking stops at these stop sign because that would just slow everyone down. As you can see in the video below, this system is perfectly safe, which is why we suggested the city remove those stop signs or point them at the road instead:
— Seattle Bike Blog (@seabikeblog) February 24, 2015
The problem is that sometimes overzealous police officers ticket people who run these stop signs. These are completely pointless tickets that do nothing to increase anyone’s safety. The signs also make people driving angry because, “Look, those scofflaw bicyclists never stop at stop signs!”
But the worst case is that someone driving might wrongly think that the trail-facing stop sign gives them the right-of-way. That’s how people get hurt.
Most trail crossings in Seattle don’t have stop signs. They just operate like normal crosswalks. And when signage and sightlines are clear and crossings are not too wide, this is safe and easy-to-use for everyone.
In our coverage of the newest section of the E Lake Sammamish Trail, we praised King County’s well-designed driveway and street crossings. People on the trail have the clear right of way, and good sightlines allows people driving to see and stop for people on the trail. If sightlines aren’t great, then the roadway gets stop signs, not the trail.
Basically, there are lots of better ways to make trail crossings safer. Hopefully the Trails Upgrade Plan is the way to finally identify and fix these confusing designs.