The city recently completed and opened a one-block section of protected bike lane on 5th Ave just south of Mercer.
Like the Mercer bike lane, the lane is glorious where it exists. It’s bright green and separated from the street, sidewalk and bus stop. Not only is the bike lane raised above street level (but below sidewalk level), but a railing protects the lane from busy 5th Avenue traffic and buses pulling to the stop.
In fact, that railing is the reason for the delay, according to SDOT Spokesperson Norm Mah:
A delay in the delivery of the Safety Railing unrelated to this project at the fabricators meant SDOT received the railing just a few days before it was installed last week.
But the most disappointing aspect of the new lane is its abrupt end. SDOT and Seattle Public Schools (“SPS”) failed to come to an agreement to extend the bike lane at least to Harrison Street, with direct access to Seattle Center.
Instead, the bike lane just dumps you confusingly into the sprawling, busy and very poorly-paved paved parking lot in front of Memorial Stadium (owned by SPS). There’s no clear path to access any of the Seattle Center destinations or bike routes in Belltown and Lower Queen Anne.
There are long-term hopes to completely remake the stadium and reconnect Republican Street (AKA “August Wilson Way”) between 5th Ave and Seattle Center. But there must be a way to complete a safe bike connection in the meantime. Two public entities failing to work together is not an acceptable excuse for maintaining an incomplete and possibly dangerous bike route.
57 responses to “5th Ave has a new protected bike lane … for one block”
Sadly this is par for the course for SPS. The city should take over Memorial Stadium from SPS which needs to focus all its attention on running its schools.
I have three kids that attend Seattle Public Schools, but it took me a while to figure out that SPS was referring to this. You might want to lay off the abbreviations!
OK, I take it back. I missed that you spelled out Seattle Public Schools before you used the abbreviations. My fault for not reading carefully.
I added the acronym definer anyway :-)
I was thinking just this very same thing the other day. I bike to Memorial Stadium all the time for Reign games (Seattle’s completely 100% amazing pro women’s soccer team – GO REIGN!) and have eagerly awaited the opening of this lane. It’s nice that it allows people on bikes to not ride on the sidewalk for that block, but it sure seems like a lot of effort for limited reward. Also, it’s not actually clear that it dumps you into the parking lot (and if it does, it dumps you in going the wrong way) – it also sort of appears that you’re supposed to jump into traffic there, which is terrifying with speeders and tourists and Duck boats and everything else. My kingdom for just one more block of bike lane.
What were the issues that they could not resolve? I would love to hear from SPS and SDOT about why they could not come to a decision around this. It seems like both of their constituencies would benefit.
Loss of Parking.
Does anyone know why SDOT insists on using bright green paint on the *entire* length of these PBLs even though they are completely separated from vehicle traffic? It’s absurd and makes it looks like the bike facilities are super special when they should blend into the streetscape. The bright yellow line and vertical separation is all pedestrians need.
I actually kind of like the green. I don’t think it’s mandatory for the whole length, but it looks kind of cool and it’s great advertising to everyone around that there’s this new bike lane they should use.
Unfortunately in this instance, that bike lane stops at least one block short of where you’re going.
My problem with the green on this lane and the one on Mercer is that the green stops at the intersections. That’s exactly where the green is needed most: Areas of potential conflict. Using green on the protected sections is optional, but the intersections should be mandatory. In that way, these lanes got it backwards.
Exactly — SDOT’s site even says green is for potential car/bike hazard areas.
Yeah, it’s weird. The green (or red or blue) is meant to indicate to someone using a different mode that there’s a crossing there. At places where it doesn’t cross any other path, you can have those just be natural asphalt. It’s not needed.
It is worrisome that whoever decided where it should go really doesn’t understand what it’s purpose is. What else don’t they understand?
Although it would be better to add green paint in the intersection, I’m glad we have it on the travel lane itself. It lets pedestrians know that the lane is not a sidewalk. Since the lane is not at the street grade, pedestrians would be confused without it.
“…what else don’t they understand?”
Sharrows! Most of them are painted to the far right! Totally confusing anyone (just about everyone) who doesn’t know what they are supposed to indicate.
Also, why waste the money painting the whole protected lane green? On top of not being necessary, and probably not being desirable for a number of reasons, it inflates the cost of the protected lanes unnecessarily.
Late last year, SDOT agreed to start properly centering new sharrows in the travel lane, rather than following their prior minimum-technical-compliance approach.
But it’s going to take a long time to fix all the door-zone sharrows that were installed in the past. SDOT doesn’t have any plans to actively bring them into compliance, they’ll be replaced when they’re worn out or disrupted by construction.
Still, at least they’ve agreed to install new sharrows properly from now on.
Published research shows properly-installed sharrows increase driver expectation of bicycles and bicyclist comfort riding in traffic.
Sadly, SDOT’s years of door-zone sharrows seem to have left many cyclists convinced sharrows are worse than useless. Which is probably true of the way SDOT had been installing them.
I do not get when they use ‘sharrows’ and when they paint a bike lane. I can understand if the road is too narrow you put the useless sharrows in but when a street/road is the same from one block to another why get rid of the dedicated bike lane? Also, I’m betting that if you asked the typical motorist what those “arrow thingies” mean in the street that 98% of them won’t have a clue what it means. To me “sharrows” have always been a half-assed way to show that the SDOT is doing something when it’s really not doing anything. IMO sharrows are a waste of time and paint.
Fortunately, peer-reviewed research shows that sharrows actually do communicate to drivers that cyclists belong in the travel lane and don’t have to move over to get out of the way of drivers. Of course, that’s based on properly-installed sharrows, centered in the effective travel lane rather than hugging the door zone.
As for where sharrows go vs. bike lanes along the same corridor, one factor is slope.
Minimum-width bike lanes are quite hazardous at higher speeds, so the Bicycle Master Plan calls for bike lanes uphill but sharrows downhill where bike speeds are too fast for bike lanes to be safe.
That policy reflected strong community input from cyclists in the creation of the original BMP, reacting against SDOT’s long history of substandard-width bike lanes crowded in next to narrow parking lanes.
I don’t really like the chicane in the background; I suppose it serves the purpose of slowing bike traffic down. That is the purpose of bike specific infrastructure like this, right? Slowing (bike) traffic down?
That never causes problems for other transportation modes (Renton S-curves/520 bridge old draw-span bulge anyone?).
The bike lane moves around the bus stop there. That’s why it curves. It seemed to work well while I was there.
Note that there is also a railing behind the bus stop so that people going to and from the stop cross at one visible location. The bike lane also rises to sidewalk level at the crossing, giving people on foot clear priority. I like it.
If this is really meant to serve 8-to-80, the end of that railing needs to be brightly painted and reflectorized, it’s a collision hazard for cyclists with less than perfect vision.
Providing adequate contrast and conspicuity for obstructions isn’t just some mandate in adopted standards, it’s part of providing safe access for all ages.
A couple things. It would be nice if SDOT would settle on just what they are going to be doing with the bright green paint. On some bikeways the whole thing is painted green where in others it is only painted green in the spots where something like a driveway intersects with the bikeway.
Why even do this project if it’s only for 5 blocks? Just showing it off as a model??
A one block protected bike lane with confusing end points strikes me as worse than useless. Sorry, but I just can’t seem to drink the protected bike lane koolaid.
If there is no plan to continue and eventually link it into a bike lane network, I agree, but if there is a plan …
Agreed. Kubly and friends are doing more harm than good. You have these random chunks of great bike facilities around Seattle that don’t link into a network, therefore attract limited ridership.
So to drivers and pedestrians they say we spent all this money on bike lanes that nobody uses so why would we support more?
Each block past Republican is going to be a challenge. Down to Harrison it’s just taking out an aisle of parking in a lot that’s ultimately publicly owned… should be easy, but this is Seattle. EMP, on the other hand, goes right up to the sidewalk. The rest of the way down to Denny space for bike lanes will have to come from existing road lanes (there’s some street parking but it’s between monorail posts). There are a few interesting opportunities, too, though, for the next couple blocks that make each further one-block extension worth doing:
– Once you’re down to Harrison you’re past the Gates Foundation and can get to Taylor; Taylor should remain a low-traffic street and could be a greenway-type arrangement to get through Denny (and connect right to a 5th-Ave-under-the-monorail cycletrack).
– Once you’re to Thomas/Broad, Broad Street doesn’t see as much car traffic as it used to, and is targeted for significant ped/bike improvements in the Lake-to-Bay project.
Regular cycling commuter/big proponent of an 8-80 strategy for urban cycling infrastructure. These potshot/showcase “trophy” or “demo” efforts are a joke, somewhat insulting and, as pointed out by Rich Knox and Southeasterner above, probably counter-productive to the long term effort. I drool at the possibility of a seamless, interconnected network – let’s call it a Bicycle Master Plan ;) – that will be comfortably used by anyone who wants to try to get around the city by bicycle. And I know that we can’t tackle the project all at once. It’s going to take years. But can we not at least have a coherent plan that will get us from here to there? If there is a plan and this pretty 300′ stretch of green paint is a part of it, can someone from SDOT articulate?
As an aside request to the regular posters here, in the main articles, could you please define your abbreviations/acronyms prior to utilizing them as Tom Fucoloro did in this edited post? It is helpful to know what it stands for without having to decipher. Thanks. And thanks to all here on this site for an interesting, respectful conversation about this important but often marginilzed part of our urban life.
[…] – But the most disappointing aspect of the new lane is its abrupt end. SDOT and Seattle Public Schools… […]
I agree with most of the commentators above. The city needs to prioritize connecting things more than anything else. They need to connect 2nd ave PBL to Broadway PBL. Then they need to connected 2nd ave to the 5th ave PBL and/or Dexter. Then work on connecting all of those PBLs to the bike trails and neighborhood greenways. This isn’t a very difficult concept. Don’t start building parallel PBLs that do not connect to anything. I fear that we’ll continue to build this disconnected network that will not lead to any type of upsurge in cycling rates and it will slow down the momentum behind the implementation of the Bike Master Plan.
I’d like to weigh in on the use of green paint for bike lanes. I think this is a great idea and should be done for all bike lanes – protected and the one just painted on the road. Already this week I’ve had drivers cut in front of me and use the dedicated bike lane as their personal right turn lane and then later on a line of cars waiting for the green light while sitting in the bike lane. These were dedicated bike lanes and not sharrows.
My hope is that if those bike lanes were painted a different color then the drivers would be less likely to use them.
Drivers are actually supposed to merge into the bike lane for a turning maneuver. It is better than a right hook.
Section 11.53.190 DRIVING IN A BICYCLE LANE. The operator of a motor vehicle shall not drive in a bicycle lane except to execute a turning maneuver, yielding to all persons riding bicycles thereon.
Kirk, the driver moved into the bicycle lane and cut me off so that it could make a right turn while the 5 cars ahead of it were stopped at a red light. This was a one lane road with a bike lane on the right. (Pacific street and Boat street) Is it really legal to make your own second lane for right turns out of a bicycle lane and half the travel lane ?
And in the other situation the drivers were waiting for a red light and proceeding straight. They completely ignored the bicycle lane.
Both the Seattle Municipal Code and the RCW say that drivers must make right turns and the approach to right turns from as close as practicable to the curb or right edge of the roadway:
11.55.020 – Right turns.
The operator of a vehicle intending to turn right at an intersection shall make both the approach for a right turn and a right turn as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway. (RCW 46.61.290(1))
Combine that with
11.53.190 DRIVING IN A BICYCLE LANE. The operator of a motor vehicle shall not drive in a bicycle lane except to execute a turning maneuver, yielding to all persons riding bicycles thereon.
and it’s pretty clear that drivers are required by law to merge into a bike lane when approaching the point where they intend to make a right turn.
Because it prevents right hooks — the idea is that by merging into the right lane first, the motorist is ensuring that there are no cyclists to the right when actually making a right turn.
That logic is actually part of the AASHTO-standard design for bike lanes — if drivers weren’t required to merge right before turning right, you’d have to require cyclists to merge left if they want to continue straight, because one of the primary rules of avoiding collisions is that you never put through traffic to the right of traffic turning right, or to the left of traffic turning left.
It is confusing having the requirements split up in different parts of the code, but that’s how most of the U.S. does it. California’s legislature recognized the confusion, and combined the various requirements into a single, clear sentence:
21717. Whenever it is necessary for the driver of a motor vehicle to cross a bicycle lane that is adjacent to his lane of travel to make a turn, the driver shall drive the motor vehicle into the bicycle lane prior to making the turn and shall make the turn pursuant to Section 22100.
California’s wording is different from UVC, RCW, and SMC, but the basic logic is the same.
The other alternative is what you have on 2nd Ave — drivers are prohibited from merging left to avoid left-hook collisions, and instead, there are separate signal phases so that drivers are not allowed to turn left when bicyclists are allowed to go straight, and bicyclists are not allowed to go straight when drivers are allowed to turn left.
While separate signal phases are expensive and increase red-light time for all users, they can do a better job of protecting against collisions with large trucks.
Trucks simply can’t merge into a bike lane before making a turn, their turning radius is too wide, they’d run up onto the sidewalk. So truck drivers must turn from a position that allows right- or left-hook collisions.
With a separate signal phase, truck drivers can make their turn knowing there shouldn’t be any bicycles hidden in the huge blind spots created when the cab begins to turn. Without a separate signal phase, they yield to any cyclists they can see before the turn starts, then hope no cyclists ride up beside them once the bike lane is invisible.
Also worth repeating, drivers can’t just drive blindly into the bike lane to make a turn, they have to merge safely into the bike lane, yielding to any users already in the bike lane.
So, yes, a driver should use the bike lane when approaching a right turn.
But no, they shouldn’t cut you off to do it, if you’re close enough that there’s a potential conflict, they must yield to you when merging into the bike lane.
Josh: What are we to make of the signs on Ravenna Blvd. that suggest that cars are to turn across the bike lane to make a left turn? This contravenes the actual statutes, and leads to misunderstandings between bicyclists (who think cars shouldn’t drive in the bike land) and cars (who are encouraged to break the law.)
Good question, and I don’t have a good answer.
It’s worth noting that buffers painted in white are not legally defined as a space drivers cannot cross — the RCW is clear that a buffer or island striped in yellow marks an area that drivers cannot enter. Otherwise, white lines discourage but don’t legally prohibit, driving there.
I suspect this is yet another area where SDOT and WSDOT haven’t convinced the City Council or Legislature to update the law to match practice on the ground, just like cycletracks (not legally defined), sharrows (not legally recognized), or bicycle signal faces (they have no legal meaning in RCW or SMC — technically, riding through a red bicycle signal doesn’t violate any law).
Driving on divided highways.
Whenever any highway has been divided into two or more roadways by leaving an intervening space or by a physical barrier or clearly indicated dividing section or by a median island not less than eighteen inches wide formed either by solid yellow pavement markings or by a yellow crosshatching between two solid yellow lines so installed as to control vehicular traffic, every vehicle shall be driven only upon the right-hand roadway unless directed or permitted to use another roadway by official traffic-control devices or police officers. No vehicle shall be driven over, across or within any such dividing space, barrier or section, or median island, except through an opening in such physical barrier or dividing section or space or median island, or at a crossover or intersection established by public authority.
Speaking of the law not aligning with facts on the ground, did you know there’s not a single bike box legally-installed in the entire City of Seattle? (Actually, not in the entire State of Washington?)
According to FHWA:
“based on Washington State DOT’s IA-14.20 approval and based on the conditions in the IA-14 memorandum, the only uses of green colored pavement that are allowed are in bike lanes and bike lane extensions.
Bike boxes, whether green colored pavement is used in them or not, remain experimental. A request to experiment must be submitted and approved by the FHWA before any bike box is installed. The request needs to show where the bike boxes will be installed and must include a research plan describing the data that will be collected and how the data will be analyzed.
At the current time, we have not received any requests to experiment with bike boxes from any agency in Washington State.”
So, anywhere in Seattle you’ve seen a green bike box, or green pavement used for something other than a bike lane or bike lane extension, SDOT was required by law to submit their proposal to FHWA for approval to experiment, and to collect data to help FHWA evaluate innovative treatments.
But apparently they haven’t been doing that, at least for bike boxes. That doesn’t just mean the City faces significantly higher liability at intersections with illegal installations, it also means the process for approving innovative treatments is being delayed because FHWA is not receiving the sort of data necessary to evaluate their effectiveness.
That’s disappointing to say the least.
There’s a green painted bike lane on 34th in Fremont that is CONSTANTLY full of drivers. I’d be happy to send you photos if you’d like. I don’t think painting the lane green helps in this regard.
What’s necessary is enforcement of laws, but I’d venture to guess that enforcement for this sort of thing is way way down the list of things that SPD wants to deal with. I see many many vehicle violations (turning right on a no right on red, blocking crosswalks, creeping out into an intersection to cross a street, etc. etc.
It also seems entirely plausible that SPD *can’t* enforce certain SDOT infrastructure that isn’t legally supported.
How did we get to this place where SDOT thinks this is the best use of very limited funds and planning resources? I would love to know how much this cost, and what could have been done with that money. Yes, I’ll say it again – with the money they spent on this project, they could have done SOMETHING to make crossing the Ballard Bridge by bicycle better. Or any number of much needed improvements around the city. Prioritization is clearly not working at SDOT.
This was part of the Mercer project.
… and effectively an extension or branch of the Mercer underpass cycletrack.
While one might reasonably question the way various blocks of 5th Ave N fit together, and how the overall east-west route along Roy fits together, there’s little question of the overall importance of the bike elements of the Mercer project. If they were all pitted against Ballard Bridge improvements in a prioritization study I wouldn’t be surprised if Mercer came out ahead, and of course Mercer improvements come along with a rebuild that was happening regardless of cycling considerations.
This kind of argument and confusion arises constantly with these projects. Some new bike project gets installed, then everybody rightly asks “How was this SDOT’s first priority??!!” The answer, almost always, is that some other project already received funding and as part of that other, larger, un-bike-related project, somebody said “Oh hey, we could also put in some bike infrastructure here too if you want it”.
This was the case for the PBL on Broadway, the changes to the bike lane on Dexter between Mercer & Denny, etc, etc.
So to avoid further aggravation and confusion, I propose we create a label called “take-it-or-leave-it” that we can apply to these projects. You know, like, “Hey did you hear about that new bike lane on 112th St? Yeah, nobody’s gonna ride on it but it was a take-it-or-leave-it project so there ya go”.
Gosh, in my opinion, they should put the Ballard Bridge at the bottom of the list. I never ride it, never need to, so why should they spend money on it?
That’s the problem with calls for prioritization. We all know what WE want, but the city has to work with EVERYONE’S preference, and will never not disappoint someone. I think this is the main image issue facing all government. They literally cannot do anything without passing people off.
Al + Doug: Again, to reiterate my earlier response: this has absolutely nothing to do with SDOT prioritizing this bike lane over some other project, like the Ballard bridge.
The Mercer project is a huge, expensive years-long deal. Like over $40 million. I think we’re all aware of this. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/mercer_funding.htm
As part of the project, they threw in some bike lanes. We (citizens) could have asked for a different design. Or we could have said no thanks, we don’t want bike lanes here. But we wouldn’t have gotten anything else in return. There was no option to say no thanks, but can you use the money to fix something else instead? This was a pure take-it-or-leave-it situation. Arguing about prioritization in this context is meaningless.
Doug, clearly there needs to be prioritization on projects, or we will end up with a disconnected array of facilities. I think it is safe to say that’s where we are now. To prioritize, perhaps the city should poll the citizens to see what the citizenship would like to see done. SDOT did exactly that, and the Ballard Bridge was the top priority for the majority of the citizens of Seattle. But SDOT continues to do nothing. No plans, nothing…
And then you weigh people’s desire for Ballard Bridge improvements against the cost and complication of the work (particularly considering the limited bike connections to the bridge on both sides). Of all the stuff we’re planning to implement in the next few years (check the 2015-2019 implementation plan), it’s all simple and cheap stuff (usually with an eye toward connecting existing routes) or it’s opportunistic improvements like the Mercer stuff. There’s nothing that’s cut ahead of the Ballard Bridge.
Al, there are plenty of simple and cheap stuff that SDOT could to to make the Ballard Bridge crossing better. Like fixing the heaved crosswalks and huge bone jarring, tube popping, rider ejecting potholes on the sidewalks. SDOT could reconfigure the intersections for safety.
People tend to focus on the too narrow sidewalks and throw up their hands and say it’s just too hard to fix. There are many other cheap things that could be done. SDOT just doesn’t have the will.
Part of the issue is that a renovation of broken infrastructure above a certain degree will trigger a code requirement to improve the whole structure to current code. Some intersections have terrible potholes but are so far gone that repairing them would mean repaving the entire street, thus triggering the replacement of all corners with ADA ramps etc. Suddenly a pothole filling repair requires a substantial intersection upgrade. It seems there are a lot of intersections and places like the Ballard bridge that SDOT is avoiding because any attempt at a small repair would trigger a required expensive upgrade. We end up having to live with ratty pavement and horrible connections because it is too expensive to modernize every intersection.
Regarding the green paint– is it legal for cars to pull forward over green bike boxes at intersections? There’s a tricky intersection in west Seattle towards downtown where the bike route requires you to turn left, but often when I roll up there’s a car over the box making it tougher to get from the right side of the lane back into the line of traffic to turn left…
Installed properly, there should be a wide white stripe before the bike box, defining the stop line for the travel lane. Cars should be stopping behind that line and not pulling forward until it’s clear to go.
But considering how little outreach there has been to drivers about how bike boxes are supposed to work (they’re not on the driver’s license test or in the driver’s manual, there was little fanfare when they first launched and essentially nothing since) it’s naive to expect drivers to understand or obey rules they’ve never been taught.
Lots of stuff is illegal but unless a SPD officer sees it and unless the SPD officer even feels like writing a citation it does not matter. Dozens of times a week I see motorists ‘park’ in the pedestrian crosswalk waiting to make a right on a red. This is absolutely illegal and if cited the driver will get a $47 ticket. Have I ever seen one of these drivers cited? Nope. Never. As for the “box” motor vehicle drivers are supposed to be “in back” of the box. This also would be a $47 or $124 (depending on how an officer sees the infraction) fine.
The police don’t care. I pulled up at the stop line for a stop light at 22nd and Market in Ballard on a busy summer evening. There was a car stopped fully over the stop line completely blocking the very busy crosswalk. No turn on red is allowed. A police cruiser pulled up right next to me with his windows down. I took the opportunity to point out that the car’s position. He said “so what?”
Seattle Police don’t care about enforcing traffic laws. What I wonder is how do they get the authority to NOT enforce the laws? Do their supervisors give them the OK?
Also worth noting, bike boxes are still officially experimental, cities can’t legally install them unless they’re part of an approved FHWA experiment, although SDOT is as scrupulous about complying with FHWA requirements as drivers are about not blocking crosswalks.
The Bike Lane to No Where. Did you see the small curb ramp that both pedestrian and bikes share. The other side is a wide curb ramp to accommodate both uses. Who ever designed that missed the mark and will cost a substantial amount to fix it. I think the light post was put in the wrong place too so it might never get fixed. What a waste of money. I do not know anyone who will use that bike lane along the 5th Ave next to KCTS unless your riding with your kids. Last I heard the city is bowing to the businesses to not put a bike lane on 5th. Ave. under the Monorail. Time will tell maybe with a new mayor.