After weeks of tough construction closures, the 2nd Ave bike lane — downtown’s sole sliver of low-stress bike lane — has mostly reopened. And with new raised driveways, planter boxes and traffic signals, the pilot project created in 2014 is officially here to stay.
There is still more signal work to complete, but most the physical upgrades are in place and ready just in time for the viaduct closure and Bike Month.
Parking garage driveways got the biggest upgrades. Now people driving into garages need to mount a curb before they cross the bike lane and before they cross the sidewalk. The bike lane also rises at the driveway crossings, helping to remind people biking to slow down and be prepared in case someone fails to stop for them.
Commute Seattle unveils bike counter Monday
Thanks to Commute Seattle, the 2nd Ave bike lane is also getting a bike counter with a visual display ticking away as people bike past it.
The city has already been counting bikes behind the scenes (you may have noticed the black tubes in the bike lane between Marion and Madison). The tubes will be switched to in-pavement counter technology, and you will be able to watch your trip get counted as you bike by.
Counters are a fun way to show how many people are biking, but they are also a way to collect important data about bike use. The city counted 267,301 bike trips in the 2nd Ave bike lane in 2015. That’s not too shabby for a bike lane oasis in the heart of downtown that does not connect to any other complete and comfortable bike routes.
You can be one of the first counted and score a doughnut hole at Commute Seattle’s unveiling party 7:30 to 8:30 Monday morning.
No detour during construction
As exciting as the 2nd Ave bike lane upgrades are, the weeks of closures to complete the work highlighted the need for SDOT and builders to preserve bike routes during construction by routing a temporary bike lane around all closed sections. If that means closing a parking or general purpose lane, then so be it. Safety should be the top priority during construction work, but SDOT chose vehicle throughput over bike safety during the 2nd Ave construction project.
The irony of making a bike route more dangerous in order to make a bike lane safer is pretty hard to wrap your head around.
Bike trips on 2nd Ave tripled when the new lane was installed in 2014, and all the people who have since relied on 2nd Ave as a more comfortable bike route through downtown (especially northbound) were left searching hopelessly for an alternative while it was closed for construction.
There are no other safe and comfortable ways to bike through downtown. Do you bike up car-clogged 1st Ave? That’s the fastest way, but it’s stressful as hell. Or do you try to swim with the buses on 3rd Ave? 4th Ave is a big climb, but at least once you make it under the Yesler bridge it has a bike lane. But then the bike lane disappears when you reach the library. Even Western — a lower-traffic, out-of-the-way bike route — has some nasty bike lane closures these days near Pike Place Market.
Luckily (and it really was pure luck), I have not heard of anyone being injured trying to get around the bike lane closure. But the city must either do better or stop saying that safety is its top transportation priority.
The closure pain also highlights why it’s such a terrible idea for Seattle to further delay the planned build-out of the Center City Bike Network. If we had a grid of safe and comfortable bike routes (which the city was supposed to be building at this very moment), then people could at least find a comfortable detour option when their primary bike route is closed for whatever reason (collision, construction, Bertha sinkhole, etc.).
The 2nd Ave bike lane has effectively demonstrated the potential for protected bike lanes downtown, which was its stated mission as a pilot project. But until it is connected to a network of similarly comfortable bike routes to and through downtown, it will remain an island only reachable by those willing to swim there.
Glad to see this happening. I saw them installing planters a few days ago. They look nice and should help prevent intrusions.
I’d like to mention an alternative northbound route. If you are on the water front, coming from E Marginal or just south downtown, Western is a good route. It has relatively light traffic, the traffic is slow, and the grade is moderate. Personally, I prefer it over 2nd because I don’t have to wait at traffic lights.
Nice as the planters are now there’s no doubt that they will be pushed into the bikeway from people who do not know how to parallel park. I see more and more reflective posts up on the Broadway bikeway every day from people smashing them while attempting to parallel park.
SDOT appears to have learned from the smurf turd fiasco on Broadway. Inboard of the planter boxes, you’ll find parking curbs anchored to the street, acting as cleats to keep the planter boxes from being shoved laterally into the sidepath. It will take a lot more than parking-force bumps to shove them sideways.
Planter boxes are no match for a 2,000+ pound vehicle to move them through errant parking maneuvers.
Yes those planters look kinda short-lived to me, and not guaranteed to stay out of the bike lane, but we’ll find out soon enough.
I would rather see a real concrete barrier, high enough for real stopping power, but not so high as to make the bikes harder to see. with high-visibility tops.
I’m surprised they are even allowed to put a low dark hazard in the street like that, especially adjacent to the crosswalk.
Also, I note that a solid row of planters exists only in the foreground of the photo where there is no parking. If you look in the background of the photo where there is a loading zone, there are planters with no mini-curb backing them, just brackets.
While I agree the planter boxes themselves should be more conspicuous, in the areas where parking is allowed, there are reflectorized delineator posts before and after each of the individual planter boxes.
The individual planter boxes do have the white parking curbs bolted to the pavement beside them.
Unless the curbs are improperly anchored, a car will have to hit the planter with enough force to lift it over a 6-inch lip before it could be shoved into the bike path. Between the volume of soil and the large water reservoir in each planter, that’s going to require enough impact to do $erious body damage to an ordinary passenger car or truck.
I’ve added your vote to the betting pool, Tom: a Bertha sinkhole under the 2nd Ave PBL.
I just stopped riding my bike for 2 weeks.
I use Northbound 2nd ave. To help me navigate the hills.
You raise a great point about the lack of a safe detour. I nearly got sideswiped by a bus a few weeks ago on 3rd Ave during the closure. I was able to note the coach number and made a complaint to Metro. They were incredibly responsive and after 4 phone calls (whoa customer service!), came to learn that Metro wasn’t notified of the 2nd Ave bike lane closures.
The supervisor I talked to didn’t understand why I wasn’t biking on 2nd and when I explained that the bike lanes were closed and that the signed detour took us to 3rd, he was perplexed why they hadn’t been notified. Yeah, me too buddy. Seems to me, if I was a project manager routing cyclists onto a major bus route, I might notify King County Metro.
To Metro’s credit, he was AWESOME and said he was going to send out a bulletin to all the bus drivers about the closures and try and work with SDOT in the future to see if they could get notified on this in the future.
Could they maybe remind drivers that Seattle’s “bus only” lanes officially allow bicycles, too? (It’s in fine print on the signs, small enough to be read at bicycle speed but illegible at bus speed.)
Man, that’d be great. I’ve had a couple of drivers yell at me for using the bus/bike lane on 2nd, and things are moving too fast (and I’m too angry) to properly educate them.
So, when’s the Broadway bikeway going to get visible counters?
That’s easy. May I can just scribble a “0” on a piece of paper and put them next to the bikeway? ;-)
More like 90,564 in 2015. But who’s counting? Oh, SDOT is: https://data.seattle.gov/Transportation/Broadway-Cycle-Track-North-Of-E-Union-St/j4vh-b42a
And that was with the closure at Denny and with the counter all the way down at Union, which is probably not the busiest section of the bikeway.
That’s another of the city’s “invisible” counters that don’t have a visual display. It would likely take a donation from an organization to get a counter (Cascade and other partners donated the Fremont counter, Commute Seattle donated the 2nd Ave counter).
Could be a good project for the Capitol Hill Chamber of Commerce, for example.
I’ll come out and say I think SDOT did a great job on some of the improvements, such as the humps in the bike lanes near pedestrian access points such as hotels, and with the planters…but it still doesn’t connect to anything and going northbound it just dumps you in horrible traffic.
At a minimum they need to find a way to create a seamless connection to Dexter and the Westlake trail.
Meanwhile, on Sixth, the chameleon lanes north of Westlake continue to be unpredictable, but always involve a different hazard with no notice (and NEVER any accommodation for bikes other than a “Bikes Merge with Traffic” sign right at the point of the merge, which is of course totally useless.
Saturday was the best. The entire roadway was blocked. Luckily, the sidewalk on the west side was not.
Great article. This really resonates with all my frustrations and observations bike commuting the past month, and I also feel torn knowing a lot of the closures were for bike improvements. But you manage to tie it all together with data, and you hit the right tone of a reasonable but determined advocate, something I can never manage when I’m pissed off on twitter. We’re lucky to have you. Thanks Tom!
The north end is a bit dangerous right now, due to the lanes past the construction site being shifted to the west. Southbound as you leave the construction zone you need to shift over fairly quickly as there is now one of the low pedestrian curbs you need to clear. Not very visible as it is only a couple inches high, only simple bollard device marking the north end location of the new edge.
The planters are self-watering with a 50 gallon water reservoir built into the base of the planter. Fully loaded with soil, water and plant material they weigh over 900 pounds. They will not be easily moved. The City also undertook a “crash test” on the planters before deciding on a design for implementation. They are extremely durable. You can probably find it online. Concrete will crack when hit. These planters will not crack, rust or rot.
So, I guess with the new heavy-duty planter boxes local body shops are likely to see a spike in business, eh? :)