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Yesler bridge work starts today + Will they build the right kind of bike lanes?

yeslerPreConstructionDisplayBoards-detourA $19.8 million project to rehab the historic Yesler Way bridge downtown starts today.

Yesler Way will be under construction from 6th to 3rd Avenues downtown until fall 2017. You should also expect construction and detours on 4th and 5th Avenues.

The city recently extended the 2nd Ave bike lane to S Washington St, so people biking westbound (downhill) on Yesler can make a left at the stop sign at 6th Ave, then go right on Washington to reach the bike lanes on 2nd. But note that this is pretty steep (I don’t expect too many people to head eastbound on this route).

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When the project is complete, there will be a raised seven-foot bike lane under the bridge on 4th Ave where the current bike lane is located:

Presentation_YeslerBridgeRehabProject-schemThis is great news, and integrating a bike lane now will save money later when the city builds a protected bike lane on the rest of 4th Ave.

Unfortunately, we don’t know yet if this is right kind of bike lane because the city delayed the Center City Bike Network planning work last year. Seven feet (less when you count the curb and the clear zone next to the pillar) is decent for a one-way bike lane, but it is far too skinny if the city chooses a two-way bikeway on 4th Ave like on 2nd Ave.

And what if the city chooses 5th Ave for a bike lane? This bridge rehab project currently plans no protected bike lanes there.

Had the downtown bike plan work continued, this big-budget project could have built the correct style of bike lanes in the right places for little-to-no extra cost. Now if we choose a two-way bike lane on 4th and/or bike lanes on 5th, those projects may need to reconstruct their sections under the bridge at significant cost.

I asked project planners if they had considered a two-way bike lane on 4th or if this design precludes a two-way bike lane in the future. Here is their email response:

As you point out, the proposed seven-foot bike lane will only be installed directly under the Yesler Way Bridge. This will not preclude the possibility of installing a 2nd Ave style two-way bike lane on 4th Ave in the future. However, this type of improvement was not a part of this project’s scope.

During design of the Yesler Way Rehabilitation Project we discussed options for bike improvements and the bike lane on 4th Ave under the bridge. The final design of the one-way raised lane was chosen because:

  • It would accommodate a future cycle track on the west side of 4th Ave
  • It balanced project objectives for improving bicycle safety, maximizing vehicle clearance under the bridge, and meeting the needs for motor vehicles and pedestrians
  • While the seven-foot width is a non-standard width for bike lanes, it is consistent with SDOT’s Bike Master Plan and improves safety for bicyclists beneath the bridge and in the corridor

Saving money by combining bike improvements with big projects like the Yesler rehab project is one of the biggest arguments for all this bike planning Seattle has been doing. So it’s frustrating that we somehow didn’t get far enough along in the downtown bike plan process to know what kind of bike lane to build under this $19.8 million bridge project.

Maybe there’s still time to modify the design if we choose soon enough. One more reason to stop delaying and move forward on the plan now.

The fall 2017 completion date for the Yesler project sets a pretty good deadline for building a complete 4th Ave bike lane (or bike lanes on both 4th and 5th). Imagine if the city opens the bridge and the new bike connections at the same time.

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16 responses to “Yesler bridge work starts today + Will they build the right kind of bike lanes?”

  1. jeff aken

    The other missed opportunity is that the BMP Implementation Plan lists a Protected Bike Lane on Yesler from 2nd to Broadway in 2018. It was confirmed at SBAB that the project will not build the section between 3rd and 5th (which presumably could be leveraged as part of the bridge project) and a take advantage of the existing road closure.

    1. There’s also been some road work on Yesler between Broadway and I-5 (probably related to Yesler Terrace construction). I’m not sure if SDOT has a plan for how the Yesler lane is going to look in the future, so I hope nothing being done now has to be torn up in two years.

      1. ODB

        The PBL on Yesler from Broadway to Yesler’s bridge over I-5 is poorly designed. It’s ok going uphill, but downhill it’s much too narrow for speeds that are easily achieved on any bike going down that gradient. To make matters worse, sight lines on this narrow downhill run are compromised by (1) a line of trees that screens the approach to a future driveway or any pedestrian that may emerge between them, as well as (2) a single tree perfectly placed at the merge point to hide bikes and cars from each other as bikes attempt to enter the traffic lane at the west end. These trees were evidently placed for aesthetic reasons, without any thought for the safety issues they present, not to mention future heaving of the bike lane due to tree roots. These visual obstructions would be fine if bikes could be expected to travel at little more than a walking pace on a downhill street, but this is simply not how people ride, nor should they be expected to ride this way if bikes are to be used as an efficient form of transportation.

        It’s time for SDOT and Seattle bike advocates to stop focusing their exclusive attention and concern on slow bicyclists who want maximum protection and to recognize that facilities of this kind are actually unusable by anyone who wants to ride at a normal speed. Until SDOT builds facilities that reflect an understanding of the fact that (1) bicycles are vehicles that operate at both high and low speeds, depending on the gradient, and (2) just like any other vehicle, bicycles require facilities designed with consideration of sight lines and stopping distances in order to be operated safely, I will continue to avoid these deficient facilities and ride in the street for my own safety.

        This deficient Yesler downhill lane marks a second recent instance, following the connection from the BGT to the UW link station, where aesthetics were prioritized over safety and functionality for bikes. This will only stop when bike advocates decide to make these things a priority.

      2. Huh. I haven’t been there in a while, since I moved back north. Maybe I’ll take a run that way tomorrow to witness the latest folly myself (for all the bad things about Rainier Vista, at least everyone can see eachother). It sounds like the Yesler Hillclimb is open now, too! But that’s probably not a folly.

      3. Andy

        Yep, this has been a consistent issue for SDOT – failing to use the correct stopping sight distances for higher downhill speeds.

        It’s *very* noticeable when my wife and I try to use any of the protected facilities on our tandem.

      4. Josh

        Tried that westbound sidepath on Yesler for the first time last month, and it will definitely be the last time I ride it. Narrow, no shy distance to obstacles or landscaping, poor sight distances, capped off with a sudden diagonal merge back into traffic hidden behind a bus stop and trees.

        At adult coasting speeds I’d rather take the street, and riding with kids there are too many places they’d be hidden until they’re hit.

  2. Josh

    If the current project is an impediment to a 2-way sidepath, all the better! Let’s not encourage SDOT to plan ahead for second-class facilities.

    There’s good reason OECD safety research says not to build 2-way sidepaths, why Copenhagen thinks they’re a last resort, why FHWA says that if you have to build a 2-way path on a one-way street, it should be on the left.

    1. Andy

      Hear, hear!

  3. Scott

    Great post Tom. I wonder if that huge west sidewalk in an area with relatively little foot traffic could accommodate a two-way facility in the future. I have an upcoming post on what the 4th Avenue two-way PBL could look like and will incorporate this information.

  4. Gary

    As a regular rider of 4th going North and 5th going South, I would oppose 2 way cycle paths on those streets. Cars are not looking for bicycles going in the opposite directions. There are many side turns into garages etc, if they have to add the delayed lights on 4th and 5th, we are going to see a revolt among car drivers due to the increased backup traffic.

    To put a two way cycle path on 5th between Pine and Columbia is going to cost the street one car lane. The traffic going South at 5pm is stacked up trying to get onto the freeway. I almost never ride in traffic, because riding at a walking pace on the sidewalk is faster. And feels less dangerous. I’m not even sure that there is room for a single 4ft wide path now.

    I am glad that the cycle path will be wider under that bridge. At the moment it feels barely wide enough when the cars are all stopped nevermind when trucks cut the corner and close that gap off. It’s righteous dangerous. I use my air horn here regularly.

  5. (Another) Tom

    I ride up 4th and down 5th daily on my commute. Like Gary I would oppose a 2-way bike lane on 4th. Drivers routinely cut me off while they are making lefts at intersections and into parking garages. Drivers cannot be counted on to remember passing a cyclist 3 seconds prior to making their turn. I’ve avoided these collisions thus far because I’m moving relatively slowly climbing the hill and I anticipate the worst. I imagine cyclists moving at a higher speed, against traffic would fare much worse.

    A wider lane under the bridge would be very nice however. Due to the curve of the road as it passes underneath larger vehicles routinely take up more than half of the bike lane as they cut the inside of the curve too sharp. Usually the traffic is barely moving when I pass through but it would be very dangerous and intimidating at higher speeds. It was especially bad a few months ago as the tents started taking up the entire sidewalk under the bridge forcing pedestrians into the bike lane and adding significantly to the trash and debris to dodge in a very narrow space.

  6. Elias

    I’m all for PBLs if SDOT could build a safe PBL.

    The two-way bike lanes are ridiculously dangerous as well.

  7. dave

    I like the two-bike lane on 2nd just fine and would love to see one one 4th.

    1. Gary

      Oh god, the uphill lane on 2nd only feels safe because there is hardly any traffic on it going downhill. Otherwise it’s way too close for comfort for me.

      I don’t use 2nd going North even though it’s flatter than going up 4th because the lights are timed so badly for a bicycle and the oncoming downhill bicycles wizzing by me.

      1. dave

        That’s fine — works for some but not for others. I just felt I needed to put in a plug for it since there seemed to be so many folks on this comment thread saying how horrible it is. I see plenty of people using two-way cycle track on a daily basis, in both directions. They don’t look terrified or miserable to me.

  8. […] the south is a more interesting issue. Seattle Bike Blog has noted that the Yesler Bridge project will widen the existing unprotected bike lane below the […]

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