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The new Fairview Ave Bridge should be a nexus for major bike routes

Base map: The Bicycle Master Plan.
Base map: The Bicycle Master Plan.

The Fairview Ave N bridge is part of a major bike route hub, and major improvements and new connections on Westlake, Eastlake, 9th Ave N, Lakeview Blvd E and the 520 Bridge will only make it more important in the years ahead.

Now that Move Seattle has been approved (again, thank you Seattle voters!), the bridge replacement project is funded. If all goes according to plan, final design should be ready next summer and construction should begin in 2017.

You can learn more and have your say on the design at an open house 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. today (Tuesday) at the Cascade People’s Center (sorry for the late notice!).

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This is the last timber-supported bridge in the city, a huge earthquake hazard that is past its useful life.

It is also where Brian Fairbrother died in 2011 after he apparently missed the turn onto the trail’s makeshift path and crashed on the stairs down to the floating walking path. The city has since installed barriers and signage to prevent a similar crash, but the larger problem remains: There is no properly-designed bike route to and across the bridge.

The initial design plans include a lot more space for separated bike lanes and sidewalks:

fairview1015_existfairview1015_newThis is a fantastic start. Now we just need to make sure that the bridge is ready to connect all the bike routes noted in the Bike Master Plan. This opens a whole can of worms, but we gotta open it.

This means making some likely permanent decisions about the kinds of bike lanes we want on Fairview Ave N between South Lake Union and Eastlake (two-way on the north side or one-way lanes on each side? Or both?). We should also be ready to connect the new bike lanes on this bridge to both directions of Eastlake Ave, which means figuring out how that odd intersection is going to work and what the bike lanes on Eastlake are going to look like.

Because we need to get this bridge right the first time. It’s the single most expensive piece of this bike route hub, and it will be really hard to change later.

Design aside, replacing this bridge will also cause some serious detours. According to a project fact sheet (PDF), planners had originally hoped to keep the bridge open during construction. However, they now plan to close it entirely for 15 months. For people biking, this could mean a long, hilly detour, especially if you can’t or don’t want to shoulder your bike and take the stairs…

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24 responses to “The new Fairview Ave Bridge should be a nexus for major bike routes”

  1. Josh

    It’s good to see SDOT isn’t trying to shoehorn two directions into another 10-foot cycletrack — the move up to FHWA minimum width would make this route safe for 150+ bikes per hour, according to CROW and MassDOT figures, serving likely demand on the route for at least the next few years, though probably less than a decade.

    But why impose yet another two-way cycletrack when experience around the world shows they’re not as safe as separate one-way lanes on the standard sides of the street?

    OECD says to avoid 2-way cycletracks.

    CROW says they’re less safe.

    FHWA considers them suitable on the right side of a one-way street, and advises they can cause problems even there.

    Canadian guides warn that two-way designs increase intersection hazards.

    I don’t know of any standard that says a 12-foot 2-way path can handle the sort of volumes we should expect at this sort of route nexus.

    With the passage of Move Seattle, it’s time to draw a line in the sand and insist on safe infrastructure, not just separated infrastructure; infrastructure that’s designed to still be safe if cycling volumes increase even a fraction of what proponents suggest they will.

    1. Andres Salomon


    2. Matthew Snyder

      I agree 100%. But, Josh, where do you think this push is going to come from? Who’s going to draw the line in the sand? I don’t see much reason to expect it will come from Cascade or Seattle Neighborhood Greenways, the two bike groups that dominate the discussion around infrastructure in Seattle, although I’d love to be proven wrong.

      With the passage of Move Seattle and the (relative) boom times for bike funding in Seattle, is there now room for a more radical advocacy and/or direct-action bike organization?

      1. Kara Sweidel

        “With the passage of Move Seattle and the (relative) boom times for bike funding in Seattle, is there now room for a more radical advocacy and/or direct-action bike organization?”

        Yes. Absolutely. I’m on board. I hope whoever Josh is would also be on board, because his recent comments have been on point. There are enough middle-of-the-road, accepting of the status quo bike commenters out there. It’s high time that people start reclaiming the streets and demanding safety.

        Any ideas for what you want this organization to look like? End goals? Action items? Would it be like a bloc of people showing up to meetings demanding SDOT meets minimum standards? People chaining themselves to construction equipment? Where can we meet and connect with others that want to actually make Seattle streets safer?

      2. Josh

        Where the push will come from… good question.

        Personally, I’m happy to provide written input to anyone who will listen, but I’m already overcommitted in public involvement and actually looking forward to attending fewer evening and weekend meetings in the year ahead….

      3. Josh

        Also worth a thought, people who object to the hazards of two-way cycletracks are often dismissed as “strong and fearless” under that discredited Portland segmentation model. (The very name of the pigeonhole screams “othering,” it’s a category specifically designed to make people seem irrelevant.)

        I’m not fast, I’m definitely not fearless, and I don’t commute in spandex, but I’m a middle-aged white guy commuting from a single-family home to a professional job. It’s far too easy to lump me in with Foresterites.

        The demand for safe infrastructure will be more effective politically if it’s led by someone who looks and sounds like infrastructure advocates’ target audience.

      4. Tom Fucoloro

        With Move Seattle passed, I think it’s time for whole retooling of bike advocacy focus and strategies. So much has been focused on securing funding, now we are are opened up to so many other causes.

        Design best practices is absolutely a vital part of that. While two-way bikeways may sometimes make the most sense, those situations are likely the exception.

        That said, to get a high quality protected bike lane on each side of the street is definitely a bigger lift. It’s going to take an organized effort to push it through. It will cost more (especially on streets with transit, since that’s twice as many bus islands to build) and parking impacts will probably be higher.

        There is always pressure to scale back and find the easiest political path on a project. If you can make bike people happy, spend less money and piss off the fewest people possible, then you build two-way bikeways.

        I don’t think you give up on SNG or Cascade (or me!). They are aware of these problems, too. But the case for making a project more expensive and more politically upsetting will probably take a good, succinct campaign. The Better Bike Lane Coalition or something? I don’t really know the best path forward, but I’d love to hear ideas.

        The vehicular-cycling-only vs bike lanes debate is over and behind us. Work to elevate the quality of the lanes (and intersections!) Seattle builds is vital.

      5. Tom Fucoloro

        Also, that “strong and fearless” survey concept thing, I think, came from so much absolutely brutal infighting between bike lane proponents and people who bike but work to undercut that work. I get that people feel pigeonholed by it, and that’s a concern I have (though I have referenced it plenty of times myself). But I also see the other side where it’s just so hard to get around people who pop up in every bike lane conversation saying shit like, “I bike everywhere, and I don’t need this bike lane” or whatever.

        So in a post Move Seattle world, how do we heal these divides? Because being passionate about more and safer biking should be a uniting cause, right?

        And just because you think the design of 2nd Ave (or [insert neighborhood greenway here]) could be a lot safer doesn’t mean you are the enemy of biking. I get that. Now we have nine years of significant funding. Advocates have the responsibility to make sure it is invested right.

      6. Josh

        One way to help heal the divide, I suspect, is to acknowledge the central concern of many people who prefer to ride in the street: construction of separated facilities can and has encouraged many drivers to believe that bicycles don’t belong on the street.

        (See, for one example, Rebecca Roush’s encounter on 2nd Ave: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_K0GYGkbJU )

        Washington State escaped mandatory bike lane use when BAW was pushing it as part of the “mutual responsibility” bill, but there’s still a strong perception that bikes “should be” in bike lanes, and that putting a bike lane next to a street means engineers don’t have to worry about people on bikes who still use the street.

        Something as simple and inexpensive as adding sharrows on every street with a separated bike lane can fight that confusion, making it clear that bicycles are still intended and expected users of city streets, even where there are optional sidepaths or trails.

        Make it clear that we’re not trying to cram all cyclists into one facility, that providing safety and comfort for 8-80 sometimes includes keeping 18-50 from running into slower and more vulnerable riders.

        Look at the public comments on Westlake, for example — many of the riders currently using the parking lot route hate sharing that route with MAMILs and Tour de Commuters.

        CROW has repeated coverage of a similar issue in the Netherlands: fast cyclists (over 16 mph) make cycletracks uncomfortable and hazardous for their target users. And in built-up areas with high intersection densities, those faster riders are safer and more comfortable in the street.

        Let’s learn from the Dutch, and from our own public feedback, and recognize that truly “complete streets” for 8-80 are streets where faster riders are safe in traffic and slower riders are comfortable out of traffic.

        I really think that would diffuse much of the pushback by confident and competent street riders.

      7. Andres Salomon

        Kara, I think you’d be better off utilizing existing organizations to get SDOT to comply with standards. Of course Cascade and SNG both want the city to build facilities that meet current minimum standards. Both have also been working hard for funding and to get Move Seattle passed.

        I’m not sure what you mean by “direct action”. Both orgs have been involved in pop-up bike lanes, greenways, and other safety improvements. Or did you mean permanent guerrilla projects? The latter can’t really have an official group behind it, being illegal and all. But those are happening all over, without much press. For example,

        I’m trying to work with SDOT to get pop-up projects made permanent. Otherwise, we will surely be seeing more guerrilla projects.

      8. Kara Sweidel

        Andres, the part of my post about “direct action” was a quote from someone else, which is why I was asking what that would look like. I have no idea, but some of the guerrilla projects have been pretty cool and did a lot to highlight needs. And no, we wouldn’t be better off using existing organizations like Cascade, because they’ve only got us what we already have (which, admittedly, is an improvement over nothing) and what we have is substandard. Sometimes organizations get too big for their britches. And aren’t they dialing back focus on politics, anyway? Not to mention that the only time I ever went on a Cascade ride, I had multiple near misses with riders who didn’t know how to look behind themselves or signal before swerving or pulling out from a side street. No thanks, you can keep Cascade. I’m interested in connecting with people who want to actively make changes for a better world.

        And Josh, you make a good point about the push needing to come from someone who looks like the target audience. Problem is, I don’t see many of those people at advocacy meetings, just the spandex crew (maybe they are just more obvious). I’m also not the target audience and currently overbooked on public involvement, but I do hope someone starts something. Because messages need to be focused or they get lost. And I think the main point of this message would be needing better infrastructure (Better Infrastructure Now, so there’s an easy acronym?) and complying with best practice standards rather than minimum standards. I’d happily write letters and make phone calls, attend meetings when I can. I’ll do that without a group, but the squeaky wheel…

        As a side note, I think making sure that drivers know that cyclists are not required to be in a bike lane is a huge part of this. I am trying to spread the idea that drivers need to retake the written portion of their exam every three to five years in order to renew their license. That exam will include information on new or changed laws, and how to drive safely around bikes and pedestrians.

      9. (Another) Tom

        Re: the “strong perception that bikes “should be” in bike lanes”

        I’ve been saying for awhile that one of the cheapest, easiest, and most effective things the city could do for bicycle safety is installing signs on all incoming roads into the city limits that state:

        Seattle is a bicycle friendly community. Bicycles have full rights to all lanes. Share the road.

        I really think it could make a difference. Have you ever noticed when you are riding along a road with a bike lane and a few cars are waiting to pass that the way the first car in the line passes often informs how the rest will follow? If the first driver does the aggressive, close pass everyone else is more likely to follow right behind. When the first driver waits for a safe opportunity to pass and gives a safe (and legally-required) amount of passing room the following drivers generally follow the lead. What I’m trying to say is drivers often get their cues for what is acceptable behavior not from the official rules and signage but from what others are doing around them. (The clearest example being speeding, of course; the posted limit has little effect on driver’s speed, they go as fast as they feel comfortable and if everyone else is going faster something, something, Rome.)

  2. Mark

    Cycle tracks are great…if they are 12 feet wide. Anythibg less and it’s tight

  3. asdf2

    It’s not just the bridge, how about what happens after the bridge. A protected bike lane for 100 feet is great, but if it suddenly turns into no bike lane right afterward, there’s not much point.

    Is there any reason the right-hand lane can’t remain a bike lane all the way to Valley St. It’s not like the volume of cars suddenly doubles when the Fairview Ave. bridge ends.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      We should make sure bike lanes on Fairview Ave N happen before this project is complete. In fact I think we shouldn’t wait.

  4. bidab

    This is a needed project, but until the city finds the guts to reclaim the public right-of-way at Mallard Cove, Fairview will stay a minor bike route.

    1. Is that the place in Eastlake where the Chesiahud Loop diverts uphill for a block or so? If so, *this* stretch of Fairview, near Fred Hutch, should still see sizable bike volumes from Eastlake.

      1. bidab

        That’s the one. Yes, the bridge replacement does improve life on the Eastlake route just as much as the Cheshiahud; it’s just that the Eastlake Ave route is not nearly as safe or flat as Fairview. A new Fairview bridge still leaves us with two flawed routes through this part of town — one dangerous, hilly, shared arterial, and one quiet, flat neighborhood street with a glaring missing link. If we want either route to be part of realizing our vision of a bikeable city, it’s going to take a lot more work.

      2. Tom Fucoloro


        Eastlake’s a giant fight looming on the horizon. The city wants a rapid transit connection, and that’s the time to also build a high quality bike lane. Gonna be fun times once that project gets moving…

        A floating bike/walk path through or around the Mallard Cove property would be amazing. So much potential there. I love that street, but it’s just not a complete route without that connection.

    2. Dardanelles

      I fantasize nearconstantly about a route through the Chesiahud missing link (I guess that’s called Mallard Cove?) a la the Eastbank Esplanade in Portland. The area is an awful bottleneck. It’s crazy that they put Pronto stations in the U-district with no acceptable way to get from there to anywhere else. And it’s an awful shame since the UW is the destination of so much bike traffic.

  5. The snippet of Bike Master Plan you show doesn’t show any direct connection from this intersection to Franklin or Lakeview, which would be a pretty hard uphill. For anyone taking this route across the bridge, going south to the Lakeview Overpass or north to whatever that brown thing is near the Lakeview-Boyleston transition (also a hard uphill not marked on the map) would seem to involve going pretty far out of the way. Anyone coming from SLU or points west headed for Capitol Hill would probably prefer taking some sort of east-west bike route along or south of Mercer to the Lakeview Overpass. This route is important to connect the U District, the rest of Northeast Seattle, and the Eastside to SLU and Seattle Center as well as some downtown traffic, and southern Eastlake to Westlake and Fremont, but Capitol Hill would seem to be a niche market at best.

  6. (Another) Tom

    No more two-way cycle tracks!

    They are not safe and are much less useful for commuting as you cannot ride safely with any speed. They create more dangerous intersections and place cyclists where drivers are not expecting them.

    One-way each way, plenty-wide, ideally separated by a raised barrier.

  7. Kara Sweidel

    So it seems that at least some rational people are understanding that this 2-way cycletrack craze is stupid. And now it doesn’t matter if SDOT agrees, because we’ve ruined both drivers and cyclists.

    Ever since 2-way cycletracks started popping up everywhere, I keep seeing cyclists going the wrong way in bike lanes. The worst one is the one-way bike lane on 34th, west of Fremont Ave in front of the Fremont PCC. As part of my commute route, every single day I see bikes going the wrong way in that path. What’s worse is that cars also think it’s a 2-way cycletrack. At least, that’s what the asshat driver who almost merged into me the other day said when he told me I should be in the bike lane, even though I was going the opposite direction of the bike lane. The markings for the 2-way cycletrack coming off the Burke Gilman in front of Cascade Bicycle Studio have been down for awhile now, and they are certainly not wide enough. I really hope this Fairview bridge gets built correctly, because we aren’t doing anyone any favors with the poor infrastructure being built now and lack of education around how to use it.

    So what this post needs is information on who to contact if we want to make a comment but couldn’t attend the meeting. Who is the project manager? Do we just contact SDOT, generally? I imagine info sent to the wrong person will fall on deaf ears, at least, with my experience so far in contacting the city.

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