Most Broadway Bikeway ‘smurf turds’ replaced with standard posts

When the smurf turds were brand new. The orange posts were temporary and later removed.

When the smurf turds were brand new. The orange posts were temporary and later removed.

After years of damage from parallel parkers and taggers, the blue sculptures that lined the Broadway Bikeway in Capitol Hill have been removed, Capitol Hill Seattle reports. They will remain in place on First Hill, at least for now.

I, for one, really liked the Broadway Bikeway’s smurf turds, a name they were given almost immediately after being installed. Or at least I liked that they were quirky and provided more of a barrier between the parking area and the bikeway than simple paint or a few plastic posts.

But the sand-filled plastic sculptures were simply no match for imperfect parallel parkers on Capitol Hill. Though they were heavy enough for a person to have trouble moving them, a person misjudging their parking attempt could easily nudge them into the bikeway or even crack them. This caused a significant maintenance problem because it was hard to move them back into place once pushed into the bikeway.

The city tried anchoring them with metal bands, but that only slowed the inevitable displacement and damage.

The lesson here isn’t so much about public art, but more about understanding and anticipating people’s parking abilities. Without a curb to give people feedback that they’ve gone too far, anything in the buffer space between the bikeway and parked cars will get hit over and over.

A work of public art by Claudia Fitch, the blue sculptures were supposed to serve the dual purpose of keeping cars out of the bikeway and representing the way the streetcar (and it’s overhead wire) is tying together the neighborhood. They go with the needle head structures at each station.

But as with any piece of public art, the public ends up defining it. And imagining a giant smurf walking around Capitol Hill and First Hill dropping perfectly uniform deuces next to the bikeway seemed to capture the public’s imagination more than the stitching theme. Which I think is great, even if unintentional.

As Ansel Herz at The Stranger reports, even Fitch wanted them removed after so much damage.

If there had been a curb or parking stops or anything tactile to help people park, the turds probably would have worked fine. But so goes art in the unforgiving parking lane: From smurfberries to smurf turds, smurf turds to smurf dust.

About Tom Fucoloro

Founder and Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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17 Responses to Most Broadway Bikeway ‘smurf turds’ replaced with standard posts

  1. Becky says:

    I’d still like to have planters or a curb or something else meaningful added to keep bad parkers out of the lane.

    • Becka says:

      I totally agree, I wish it was standard to install planters or a planting strip for bike lanes. It visually narrows the street in a way that benefits both walkers and bikers, and provides a real curb for parallel-parking.

  2. Ford Driver says:

    It’s too bad they didn’t ‘nail’ them to the road w/ a 3-4ft piece of rebar at each end. IMO, the fact that the turds suffered so much damage from poor driving skills is a testimony as to why substantial barriers are necessary!

    • Tom Fucoloro says:

      I mean, to be fair, parallel parking is easy to mess up. Especially when you’re still learning or don’t do it often. I’m sure many were hit by people who were drunk (this is Capitol Hill we’re talking about), but many were probably honest mistakes by people having trouble getting it just right. Without a curb or some kind of tactile feedback, it may be asking a bit too much of the general public to ace their parallel parking every time.

      I also wonder if a curb or tactile guide of some kind might also help people stay out of the path of the streetcar, which can’t simply go around a poorly-parked car.

      Ultimately, the idea of having nice planters in the buffer space is awesome. But without a curb of some kind, I bet they would meet the same fate. But this is just a detail the city’s gotta figure out. I hope they keep trying things until they get it.

      • Al Dimond says:

        Curbs are fairly good at stopping parallel-parkers from going too far onto the sidewalk. But even if the driver parks perfectly against the curb, at some point, part of the car overhangs the curb. That’s the part of the car that would have hit the blue “stitch” and knocked it in.

        If we had planters instead of stitches maybe they’d be taller and thus easier to see, and they’d be made of hard material, and drivers would be wary of hitting them. But the buffer between the parking and the cycletrack in a lot of places isn’t wide enough for really substantial planters. It’s wide enough for Jersey barriers. But a substantial curb seems like it would be more effective at guiding parking with less damage and maintenance.

        The one thing curbs don’t do is guarantee people park up against them. All those bike lanes sitting inside of parking spaces with no demarcation prove that — streets like Phinney, Gilman, East Green Lake Way, 8th Ave NW…

  3. Chris Mealy says:

    Drivers generally care more about scratching their car’s paint than anything else. You have put something up that will scare them a little, like concrete bollards.

    Really the only thing to do is have bike lanes up above the curb like the sidewalk is, like they do it in the Netherlands. It makes more sense to think of cyclists as being faster pedestrians rather than slower cars.

    • Karl says:

      “Really the only thing to do is have bike lanes up above the curb like the sidewalk is, like they do it in the Netherlands.”

      But then you end up with pedestrians in the bike lane all the time, defeating the purpose of having a bike lane anyway.

      • 47hasbegun says:

        Anyone who has ever used the on-pavement two-way bike lanes here knows that pedestrians will use pretty much any kind of bike lane. It’s worse outside of downtown, too.

        Heck, joggers use the one-way, unprotected bike lanes every now and then, and go against traffic so passing them is always a bad time.

  4. Andrew Squirrel says:

    We need to have a party where we burn the smurf turds in a big bonfire at Golden Gardens and dance around in celebration.

  5. Don Brubeck says:

    Well, not all gone. They were still in place on the southernmost two blocks down to Yesler when I rode it last night. The poor things looked like they were crying, but maybe it was just the rain.

  6. Josh says:

    You’d almost think there’s a reason the city’s adopted standards say that obstructions in the roadway should be conspicuously colored and reflectorized … as if perhaps drivers need to be able to see things to avoid hitting them.

    The smurf turds were visible enough on a bright summer day, but they’re lower than a driver can see out the passenger window of many cars, and their blue color blends too easily into a gloomy northwet winter seen through an outside mirror covered in raindrops.

    • jay says:

      Geeze, victim blaming much?

      Those delineator posts SDOT likes to “protect” bike lanes with start out bright white or yellow with a reflective band, but they don’t stay that way for long because people drive over them. I imagine no one has literally driven _over_ a Smurf turd and those who drive into them probably know they hit something. Well, except maybe the drunks Tom mentioned. Even drunks aren’t going to think trying to mow down a row of Smurf turds is a good idea, well, at least not for long, one might push one or two into the bike lane but eventually one will start damaging one’s own vehicle.

      I don’t like the delineator posts because the damage to most of them makes it very obvious that they don’t stop drivers and they won’t provide any protection from a careless driver. While they may be useful in the case of a reasonably careful driver and a ninja cyclist, since I have lights and reflectors I don’t worry too much about the reasonably careful drivers.

      • 47hasbegun says:

        Those posts are terribly fragile. If they were to use concrete or steel bollards with reflective strips like the ones used to ‘protect’ multi-use trail entrances, it’d be much better. Plus, drivers would actually learn to pay attention when paint scratches and dents are punishment for ignoring them. I doubt it’d happen, though, because that’d be political suicide.

        When the posts are completely ripped out, there are bolts left sticking out of the pavement. While I haven’t experienced a puncture from them, any cyclist not paying attention risks doing just that.

  7. Britt G says:

    If they’re filled with sand now, why not fill them with concrete and see how far our apparently-incompetent parallel-parkers can push them?

    • Molly says:

      good idea. concrete makes a lot of sense.

    • Josh says:

      The city was already inviting more than enough liability putting obstacles in the roadway that don’t meet the city’s adopted safety standards. I doubt they’d accept the increased liability of turning decorative obstructions into concrete hazards.

      Concrete makes sense for permanent infrastructure, but only if the design is safe to begin with. (See for example “What do cyclists need to see to avoid single-bicycle crashes?” We should not be encouraging the city to install low-contrast, low-height obstructions beside bicycle infrastructure, period.)

      • Josh says:

        “On average, 17% of fatal injuries to cyclists are caused by SBCs. Different countries show a range of values between 5% and 30%. Between 60% and 95% of cyclists admitted to hospitals or treated at emergency departments are victims of SBCs.”

        From An international review of the frequency of single-bicycle crashes (SBCs) and their relation to bicycle modal share., in last April’s Injury Prevention

        The Dutch are quite busy identifying hazards on bicycle infrastructure created by low-contrast obstructions, removing most bollards that obstruct bicycle paths, putting contrasting colors on obstructions that remain, etc.

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