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Salomon: Why construction can’t just close a neighborhood greenway without a safe detour

EDITOR’S NOTE: Andres is a family-biking father dedicated to safe streets. He’s the leader of NE Seattle Greenways and sometimes contributes to Seattle Bike Blog. I encountered this closure the other day on a ride with several people, including Madi Carlson and her two kids, who were riding a tandem with a trail-a-bike on the back. This closure was a serious obstacle for them (she’s a well-documented bad ass, so obviously they powered through it). If neighborhood greenways are really supposed to be important people-focused transportation routes, closures like this give users the impression the city doesn’t actually take that goal seriously.

greenwayclosure2-1Recently, Sound Transit closed the 12th Ave NE Greenway for tunnel-related construction. This closure will last at least three months, and was done without providing a safe, welcoming, or even ADA-compliant detour.

Not only do we need to fix this, but we also need to ensure that any future neighborhood greenway closures provide a detour that accommodates All-Ages-and-Abilities (“AAA”) users.

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The 12th Ave NE Greenway runs through the heart of the University District, two blocks west of The Ave. The northern part of it meets up with the buffered (and soon to be protected) bike lanes on NE Ravenna Blvd. This is a very desirable connection for families, as it provides a separated bike route connecting to Green Lake, Cowen Park, and Ravenna Park. Unfortunately, the street closure is just south of that connection, between NE 56th St and NE 58th St.

This closure includes the full street, as well as at least one sidewalk. On the north side of construction, there are confusing, and not very visible detour signs to direct cars and people walking in opposite directions. Following the wrong sign takes you to a parallel arterial street, which is exactly what someone using the greenway would be trying to avoid. 

Wait, which way is the detour?
Wait, which way is the detour?
If you follow the wrong sign or can't make it up over the curb, you get to take 11th Ave NE or Brooklyn.
If you follow the wrong sign or can’t make it up over the curb, you get to take 11th Ave NE or Brooklyn.

The marked detour for people walking and biking leads to a narrow, broken sidewalk. The sidewalk lacks curb ramps or driveways, which is problematic for people with disabilities, parents with strollers, cargo bikes, etc. The sidewalk certainly wouldn’t be able to handle multiple people going in opposite directions. It’s pretty clear that this detour does not take people biking into consideration.

This sidewalk detour is less than 4 feet wide, which is the required width for sidewalks.
This sidewalk detour is less than 4 feet wide, which is the required width for sidewalks.
The southern end of the detour has no curb ramps. You're SOL if you can't get off of or onto curbs.
The southern end of the detour has no curb ramps. You’re SOL if you can’t get off of or onto curbs.

I’ve complained in the past about how the city handles sidewalk and bike lane closures on arterials. It’s even worse on neighborhood streets, where the city will allow a sidewalk to be closed even when it’s the only sidewalk available. It’s going to be a problem if greenways are treated like normal residential streets for construction closure purposes. We need a policy in place for greenway construction detours.

greenwayclosure2-9Seattle has an interactive map showing planned street closures, that in theory warns the public which streets to expect closures and detours on. The map shows street, sidewalk, and parking impact for each permit location (although lacks bike lane impact, for some reason). This closure does not show up on the map, which calls into question the reliability and accuracy of the map. Perhaps it’s the case that the lack of location in the permit is confusing the map software, as well as anyone working for the city who cares about greenways?

These tweets from Carla Saulter show the value of safe neighborhood greenways for people interested in biking, but concerned about safety. If greenways close without a safe detour, this value is lost.
These tweets from Carla Saulter show the value of safe neighborhood greenways for people interested in biking, but concerned about safety. If greenways close without a safe detour, this value is lost.

The 12th Ave NE Greenway may not be Seattle’s most popular greenway (for reasons that a follow-up post will cover), but it’s still a greenway that people have come to rely upon. Just like transit needs to be reliable in order for people to find it useful, it is imperative 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 alternatives.

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12 responses to “Salomon: Why construction can’t just close a neighborhood greenway without a safe detour”

  1. Tom Fucoloro

    Thanks for the post, Andres! I hope the city can create a process to better handle future work on greenways.

  2. Merlin

    I found the whole Beacon Hill greenway closed from College to the I-90 trail a couple weekends ago. 18th had been repaved (nice!) but there was no detour and even the crossings of the side streets were blocked off to protect fresh asphalt. There is no reasonable alternative, especially once you’re coming down the hill! I ended up walking my bike gingerly over the fresh asphalt. Should not happen!

    1. Andres Salomon

      Yikes! So this closure is not an isolated incident. :(

      I’m guessing it was a short (a day or two) closure, at least?

  3. Clark in Vancouver

    As a model to develop policy, Seattle could borrow this from Vancouver, BC.

    On Page 28 it states:
    “Improve and enforce measures to maintain comfortable cycling access around construction zones and special events, for example by requiring contractors to establish temporary bicycle lanes, and by implementing an escalating fine structure for contractors who repeatedly break related city bylaws.”

    There has to be a detour made so that you can still cycle and walk during any construction. If a neighbourhoo cycle route has to be detoured onto an arterial then a general traffic lane should be used to provide access during the construction. Motor vehicles have many more options so won’t be affected.

    1. Breadbaker

      I’m sure I’m not alone among cyclists heading north on Sixth who take the middle lane the whole way because otherwise you’re having to go from the bike lane in front of McDonald’s over two lanes in the course of crossing one street. And the closures for construction there seem to morph bigger every day, without any accommodation for cyclists. Of course, it’s not like anyone bikes that way from downtown to Dexter, right?

  4. jay

    I don’t have a lot of experience with the 12th Ave greenway, I mostly only ride it to get to Ride Bicycles (a SBB advertiser), but on the few trips I’ve made there have been a significant number of drivers of cars blowing through stop signs (ok, only two, but out of 3 trips, and with me wearing a highvis vest, that is pretty significant). Once the driver was going a crazy high speed (for the conditions) while I was close enough that I had to brake fairly hard to avoid a collision. My point being that one needs to be a pretty confident and experienced rider to ride there in the first place, despite it nominally being a “greenway” and a little detour onto an arterial doesn’t seem like that big of deal to me.

    Shorter version: if greenways are going to be treated like normal residential streets for driving like a maniac purposes, I don’t see why ” It’s going to be a problem if greenways are treated like normal residential streets for construction closure purposes.”
    Actually, closures may reduce the number of cars using a greenway to bypass arterial congestion, which I’ve read is problem in some places.

    Now if the complaint is that Seattle Bike infrastructure and drivers is/are pretty poor in general, I won’t argue with that. Note that bar graph, even on 12th with the very low pedestrian/bicycle collision rate, there were still 50 “auto only” collisions in 3 years.

    1. Andres Salomon

      The graph shows collisions between 2010 and 2013, before the greenway had speed humps installed north of NE 50th St. In theory, the greenway has only gotten safer*, while the parallel streets have not.

      The current state of the greenway is a long, sad topic for a different post. Needless to say, what should be THE most used greenway in the city is in a sad state. Closures certainly don’t help.

      * I don’t have the data to back up that claim. However, if it’s gotten worse or stayed the same, then SDOT has some serious work to do. The lowered speed limit and speed humps (north of NE 50th) on 12th should have _some_ effect.

    2. Becka

      I too was nearly hit on the 12th ave greenway. I was turning left onto 12th at 52nd, when a truck behind me accelerated and went the wrong direction around the roundabout. I slammed to a stop inches from the side of the truck. Very scary.

  5. jet

    Hemp Fest every year closes the safest route to the city. With no safe alternative the city wants us to ride down 15th yes the speed limit is 30 but everyone drive 45 and the cops only patrol that every other month. The drivers know this and will slow down until the cop leaves and then go back to driving fast. The city should put signs up on the Dravis over pass (30 Miles Per Hour). It is time to move Hemp Fest to the Seattle Center and give us back our safe bike route or the city needs cops to do speed patrol during that event.

    Same problem going on all the time, every where. We have all got stories and the city needs to listen up. Safe Bike Routes need to be priority over construction and festivals. This needs to be written up by the Counsel and passed as a transit priority. Do not get me started with pedestrian sidewalks and construction. Shame on the city = Mayor and SDOT

  6. A guy

    Recently Dravus in Interbay had weeks of road construction not listed anywhere on seattle.gov. Traffic was funnelled to 1 lane each direction and controlled by flagmen. There are sharrows but even without construction it’s unpleasant enough that many people on bikes take the sidewalks. During the construction multiple large signs alerting motorists to the lane closure were placed on the sidewalks, obstructing pedestrians and bikes like they didn’t even matter. Proving this point they then completely closed a sidewalk for (again) unannounced, unlisted repairs. At least they improved a curb ramp. Meanwhile, the curb on the southeast corner of the Dravus bridge over 15th has been in ruins for months. It’s just begging for someone to get hurt. Attempts to notify the city seem to fall on deaf ears. It’s pretty insulting.

  7. RTK

    In the better news category the connection at the south end is now open to the BGT. All the construction barricades have come down between the two dorms. Unfortunately the stairs are very wide and the ramps are very narrow. You need to go up a couple short ramps located at the south side of the new passageway.

  8. […] recently, Rasmussen has weighed in on Sound Transit’s construction closure of the 12th Ave NE Greenway. Construction closures are a hot item right now in Seattle. […]

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