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New protected bike lanes in Ravenna complete smart new connections at a low cost

IMG_3191ravMap915Seattle quietly opened 1.5 miles of new or upgraded protected bike lanes in Ravenna and the U District recently. The low-budget projects cut a couple corners, but still add huge value to bike safety and mobility in some of the city’s bikiest neighborhoods.

Let’s start with Ravenna (post about Campus Parkway bike lanes coming soon, stay tuned). I swear I did not stage the super happy photo above. What you can’t see is the middle school kid biking home solo in the protected bike lane on the other side of the Ravenna Boulevard median. This stuff really does work. Create a long, connected and truly safe bike route, and the city opens up to our youth and everyone else who doesn’t feel comfortable mixing with traffic.

The physical changes to Ravenna Boulevard itself aren’t all that significant. The bike lanes were already wide with quality painted buffer space. But just adding some plastic posts every few feet does a lot. They are not as good as a curb or planter boxes, but the posts are effective at keeping people driving from using the bike lane as a passing lane. And they cost way less to install, which is how all this work was done on a $200,000 budget (that might sound like a lot, but it’s very cheap in terms of transportation infrastructure).

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Perhaps the single biggest improvement to Ravenna Boulevard itself is this new stop sign at the I-5 ramp:

IMG_3185It’s kind of crazy this stop was not already there. It used to be very stressful to get across whether on a bike or in a car, especially during busy hours when there were few breaks in ramp traffic. This is the kind of change that makes a big difference for people who aren’t as quick or brave on their bikes. It’s not perfect yet (the lane is soo wide), but it’s a huge improvement.

Another great part of the project is the new and remarkably seamless connection to Ravenna Park’s awesome unpaved trails and to the neighborhood streets on the north side of the 15th Ave NE bridge. This project would not have happened without hard work by Andres Salomon (a Seattle Bike Blog contributor) and other neighbors involved with NE Seattle Greenways. In fact, you may recognize the idea from Park(ing) Day 2014.

Cowen Pl
Cowen Place NE
Looking toward Cowen Place NE across 15th Ave NE. This redesigned intersection feels much safer for walking and biking.
Looking toward Cowen Place NE across 15th Ave NE. This redesigned intersection feels much safer for walking and biking.
15th Ave NE bridge
15th Ave NE bridge over Ravenna Park

These new bike lanes then connect to a new neighborhood greenway on NE 62nd Street, a rare comparatively flat street that connects to the well-traveled 20th Ave NE bike route and bridge (among the coolest bridges in the whole city).

Contraflow bike lane on NE 62nd Street neighborhood greenway.
The 20th Ave NE bridge over Ravenna Park, one of the greatest walk/bike bridges in the city (country?)

The biggest missing piece in the route is a safe crossing at 15th Ave NE and NE 62nd Street. Today, it’s wide and traffic moves fast.

The crossing at 15th/62nd needs some love
The crossing at 15th/62nd needs some love

Perhaps the ultimate solution here includes extending the protected bike lanes on 15th up to at least NE 65th Street, which is also slated for protected bike lanes in the Bicycle Master Plan. The intersection at 15th/65th desperately needs a safer design. Sadly, it took the tragic death of Andy Hulslander earlier this year to point out some of its dangers. It’s just too wide and has no safe space for people on bikes. Mix in some inattention or, in Andy’s case, an allegedly intoxicated person behind the wheel, and you have a recipe for disaster. If we don’t fix it, people will continue to get hurt.

Unprotected intersections

IMG_3175Unfortunately, the Ravenna Blvd bike lanes still are not completely finished. These criss-crossing turn lanes at major intersections are simply not comfortable enough to achieve the all-ages-and-abilities goal advocates and city plans strive for.

Sure, compared to challenges on other bike routes in the city these are no big deal. But Seattle can’t keep skipping the intersections when designing bike projects. These are the most stressful places in any bike trip, and they are the spots where people on bikes need protection the most. Having people in cars cross the bike lane in order to make a left turn simply isn’t good enough.

Protected intersections are not cheap and are still fairly experimental in the US. But this is the new frontier in bicycle safety, the solution to so much bike route stress. Seattle needs to start solving the intersection problem.

Did I mention that passing the Move Seattle levy would help? Get involved!

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24 responses to “New protected bike lanes in Ravenna complete smart new connections at a low cost”

  1. Josh

    A minor issue in an otherwise useful upgrade, but…

    In the background of the new stop sign at the I-5 ramp, I see the bike lane is still marked with sharrows, technically inviting drivers to share it with people on bikes.

    How much would it really cost to grind off those chevrons to make it clearly a bike lane rather than a shared lane?

    I doubt too many drivers take SDOT up on the formal invitation to drive in the bike lane, but misusing sharrows like this dilutes their effectiveness where they’re used properly.

    I suspect the wild, random sprinking of sharrows in Seattle is one reason they’re widely perceived as ineffective here, while other cities get better responses by limiting sharrows to their proper place, centered in narrower travel lanes.

    A sharrow means that bikes and cars will be sharing the lane in the direction of the arrows.

    Where they were used inappropriately during SDOT’s early enthusiasm for them as a general-purpose bike marking, the chevrons should be ground off, leaving a generic bicycle marking that does not designate a lane shared with cars.

  2. sb

    The intersection at Cowen Place NE and 15th Ave NE is kinda odd now. Cyclists going north on 15th (and heading slightly downhill) now have to come to stop and make a near 90 degree turn to get onto the bike path (which isn’t fun in the rain). In reality you’ll see a number of cyclists just continue straight on 15th, biking over the painted/striped bulb and getting onto the path that way. Also, are pedestrians “allowed” to use the green bike path? I’ve noticed people using it to cross, which makes some sense since the official crosswalk is about 15 feet or more north of the bike crossing.

    Also, consider showing a photo of the 12th and Ravenna intersection. Cyclists approaching the intersection from the east and who want to make a right turn (heading north on 12th) are now directed to make a little turn to the *left*, apparently to hook onto the 12th ave path. Cyclists approaching the intersection from the south and who want to turn left (west) onto Ravenna are now directed to veer to the right a bit so that join with path right before it crosses 12th. Sorry if that description makes no sense, a photo makes it somewhat more clear, although I’m curious to see how many cyclists will actually following the new markings as some may be confused by them.

    1. sb

      Oops, I meant 11th ave above, not 12th! D’oh!

      1. Well, technically it’s both – 11th to the south and 12th to the north!

  3. Andrew Squirrel

    So what is the plan for keeping these “protected” bike lanes clean of debris including leaves?
    Are we purchasing new street cleaners that are narrow enough to fit between the bollards and the curb (or parked cars and curb)?

    I like normal bike lanes as much as the next cyclist but very skeptical of these faux protected bike lanes and how they will be maintained.
    As a cyclist that used to live on Brooklyn & Ravenna I was impressed with how deep some of the puddles would get in the fall and winter (even after repaving!). Add a nice layer of leaves on top and you are set up for a slippery and dangerous mess.
    Has anyone planned ahead for how SDOT maintenance is going to work in this area?

    1. Andres Salomon

      This is something I’d like to know the answer to as well. I reported problems with the Cowen Pl PBL (which SDOT said they’d clean), but I haven’t heard a plan from them yet. I’ve seen a LOT of debris in the NE 75th (unprotected) bike lane, with no regular cleaning, so it’s not just a protected bike lane problem. We need to step up the street cleaning!


    2. taggart

      Haha! I was thinking exactly the same thing as I used it today.
      Actually I was thinking “hmm, I wonder if there is an electrical outlet on that building I could plug my electric leaf blower into so I could clear this”.
      I didn’t look, but might next week :)

    3. Lynn

      Yes! I just biked this Saturday and it’s getting pretty full of leaves and more slippery when wet. Does anyone know who at SDOT to report this to?

  4. Gordon Padelford

    Great post Tom. And congrats to Andres of NE Seattle Greenways for inspiring this project and the SDOT team for the upgrades! Bit by bit we’re getting closer to restoring the system of Olmsted Boulevards that were historically built to connect people walking and biking to parks.

  5. sb

    btw, here’s one view of the 12th and Ravenna markings I mentioned above: http://i.imgur.com/TBXbQtS.jpg

    also of note is that new stop signs were put in at Brooklyn and Ravenna, which makes that intersection easier to navigate through.

    Originally the parking that was removed on the south side of Ravenna between Brooklyn and the Ave was going to be relocated to the north side. Is this no longer happening? Or have they just not gotten around to it yet? I’m just hoping cyclists aren’t blamed for the parking spots disappearing.

    1. Andrew Squirrel

      That’s 11th Ave & Ravenna

      1. sb

        Oops, you’re right! Sorry for the error!

      2. As I said before, it’s really both!

    2. I think the best thing to link to would probably be the original plans, unless what you’re referring to is a change from the original plans, in which case draw your own diagram of what’s going on.

      1. sb

        I tried to paste a link to the PDFs from the April open house but my phone isn’t pasting properly at the moment.

        The main project page has been updated to just show photos after the revisions. One has to open the earlier PDFs to see the earlier plans.

  6. Dave P

    It is surprising that the stop sign mentioned wasn’t always there. Over the years I’ve frequently seen drivers come to a stop thinking it was an all-way-stop intersection.

    This project is an awesome win.

    1. ChefJoe

      Most of the roads that cross ravenna N-S do have a set of staggered stop signs or lights. This intersection, of course, functions as both a freeway off-ramp and, in the interests of slowing travel on Ravenna, had stops for Ravenna auto traffic. Now it has stops for both directions, including the bike lane.


      I do like the inclusion of a bike helmet with the updated bike lane logo. A subtle reminder and upgrade from previous bike-only and bike+stick figure logos.

      1. ChefJoe

        Also odd that they haven’t yet removed the now-extraneous “this lane (arrow)” sign on the NE corner of Ravenna Blvd and 5th Ave.

      2. Kirk

        I think that “This Lane (arrow)” sign actually used to have a “Bicycles Only” sign above it; it wasn’t a reference to the bike lane stopping. They may be adding back that sign…

  7. Andres Salomon

    Thanks for the write-up and shout-out, Tom!

    “If we don’t fix it, people will continue to get hurt.”
    Someone’s already gotten hurt there, just a week ago:

  8. […] on the Network today: Seattle Bike Blog reports a new protected bike lane is going to provide a bike boost for the city’s overall […]

  9. NoSpin

    I like the improvements, but they need even more of those plastic posts at the “Unprotected Intersections” where there are left-turn pockets like the one in last photo.

    I was driving there a week ago last Saturday waiting to merge left at the appropriate place to go into the u-turn lane when several cars passed me on the left IN THE BIKE LANE! Apparently they’d gotten impatient and weaved between the plastic posts – or were just totally ignorant. In either case, more of those plastic post seem necessary to deter clueless and/or self-centered drivers from entering the bike lane.

    1. JAT

      Maybe they need to put more plastic posts in or maybe motorists just need to start obeying the law – impatient cyclists want to get around us too – they shouldn’t have to endure a shin-battering (or worse) from a bunch of tightly spaced plastic posts to momentarily leave the bike lane.

      Plastic posts don’t stop cars from driving over them, but they do constrain a cyclist’s ability to choose their lane position – be careful what you ask for in terms of separate (but equal) accommodation – I bet the car travel lane doesn’t have any leafy build up…

  10. Lime D. Zeze

    I’m sorry, but I find the “improvements” to Ravenna completely useless and idiotic. As someone who cycles to work 4-5 times/week on this route, it is very frustrating. As stated above, it fills up with puddles and leaves, so other cyclists ride on the right side of the lane (when they should be riding on the left, next to the curb). In order to pass, or get passed, one must venture out into the car lanes, rendering these lanes useless, and retaining the danger of yore.
    The other complaint I have is where Ravenna, heading NW, ends at Green Lake Way (next to Gregg’s Cycle). The bike lane remains on the left side, but in order to continue onto Green Lake Way, it requires crossing the car traffic to get into the right lane on Green Lake. For lack of a better word, this is retarded, and SDOT is full of uneducated, non-bicycling morons if they thought this was a good idea.

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