As tacks return, Westlake bikeway named nation’s ‘best new bike lane’ for 2016

SDOT Director Scott Kubly and outgoing Cascade Executive Director Elizabeth Kiker officially open the Westlake Bikeway.

SDOT Director Scott Kubly and outgoing Cascade Executive Director Elizabeth Kiker officially open the Westlake Bikeway.

The Green Lane Project has named the Westlake Bikeway “the country’s best new bike lane of 2016.”

An arm of the national bike advocacy organization People for Bikes, the Green Lane Project helps and encourages cities to build bold bike infrastructure, focusing on high quality protected bike lanes. So even with its compromises (or perhaps in part due to them), Westlake managed to beat even an ambitious bike lane on Randolph Street in Chicago.

The Chicago project, which came in second, connects two major downtown bike routes, and those major bike intersections both have protected intersections designed to reduce conflicts and increase biking safety and comfort. Seattle has not yet tried this concept, perhaps because we have so few intersecting high-quality bike lanes. Connectivity is one of the biggest factors holding back Seattle’s bike network.

Here’s why the Green Lane Project gave Westlake the top spot:

The country’s best new bike lane of 2016 is a stripe of asphalt evidence that Seattle is willing to explain, over and over again, why a parallel route two blocks away sometimes isn’t good enough.

No one who’s actually ridden a bike in Seattle’s near north side would confuse Dexter Avenue, with its 300-foot climb, with the lakeside bend of Westlake Avenue just to the east.

Fortunately for Seattle, its leaders knew the lay of the land. So they soldiered through years of negotiations and lawsuit threats to finish Westlake, finding a design that preserved 90 percent of the spaces in a relevant public parking lot. The turning point: Mayor Ed Murray called all parties into a room and forced them to hear one another out.

“If you never sit down and talk to the people who are on the other side of the table, you’re going to invent reasons to disagree,” Seattle Transportation Director Scott Kubly said Tuesday. “When it gets right down to it, most people wanted the same thing.”

What they got was a world-class bikeway: the first flat, intuitive link joining downtown Seattle to the north side and a vast regional trail network.

As the accolades for Westlake hit the presses this week, several people riding in the lane started reporting flats from new tacks on the bikeway. If these tacks are indeed being set by an unhinged person attacking strangers at random, I hope that person is caught and either prosecuted or provided help. But it needs to stop. Flats are usually just annoying, but somebody could get seriously hurt if a blowout causes them to crash.

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27 Responses to As tacks return, Westlake bikeway named nation’s ‘best new bike lane’ for 2016

  1. William says:

    Not withstanding that this an important addition to cycling infrastructure in Seattle, if this really is “the country’s best new bike lane of 2016”, it is a pretty sad reflection on the state of bicycle infrastructure construction in the US.

  2. bidab says:

    The post’s title mentions the tacks are back, but there’s no information or links. Have there indeed been more tacks on the bikeway, or is this just to make the title more eye-catching?

  3. rob_kp says:

    I’ve seen at least one person walking their bike (or in one case jogging with it) each way for the last two days. Any word on if someone has gone out with a magnet to sweep?

  4. Meredith E says:

    Friend of mine has gotten two flats there in the last week, found a tack in the tire each time

  5. scott t says:

    was there no way for a bike to get from dexter to westlake between aloha and neickerson? or no easy way?

  6. SP says:

    I got a flat from a tack yesterday on the BG Trail near the UW. The tack looks just like the photos of other tacks. Has anyone else encountered tacks near the University?

    • ColinF says:

      I too had a flat caused by a tack at the UW yesterday morning (19th). Most likely in the Montlake Triangle but possibly on the BG somewhere just east of there.

  7. Andrew says:

    I had a flat this morning from a tack in the tire.

  8. Mike says:

    “the first flat, intuitive link joining downtown Seattle to the north side and a vast regional trail network.”

    Really? What link downtown? The southern end of the trail dead ends into a 4 lane thoroughfare with no good way to get into downtown.

    • William says:

      “People for Bikes” is an industry-funded advocacy (i.e., lobbying) group so for all we know Seattle won because the powers that be wanted to encourage the City of Seattle to pour money into the next iteration of bike share (Chicago already has a successful bike share program)

  9. Jort Sandwich says:

    Has anyone thought to ask this weirdo about the tacks?

    https://www.google.com/maps/@47.6430509,-122.3440564,3a,15y,295.33h,91t/data=!3m7!1e1!3m5!1sXrtvHnQOEKUbn-DILlE8iQ!2e0!5s20150801T000000!7i13312!8i6656

    What kind of sick, demented hatred do you have to possess to put out tacks on the road?

    I assure you, if a cyclist was out sprinkling razor-sharp nails and screws all over the freeways, the Seattle Times would be posting daily editorials that demand the perpetrator be hung, quartered and then dissolved in a vat of acid.

    • Nick says:

      Jort – Why is a property resident “this weirdo”? Because he expresses political ideas different from your? Free speech, Jort, please show some tolerance. And please keep the tone on this positive blog positive. Thanks!

    • R says:

      The folks in that building are pretty cool with bikes according to the staff at their tenant Conduit Coffee (which does their deliveries by bike).

      • Jort Sandwich says:

        Whoever controls what’s put on that huge sign spent much of the last few years railing against the bike path. The Google Street View history for 2015 and 2014 both show anti-cycle path sentiments.

        Not a lot of people went out of their way to scream, publicly, that they hated the bike path when it was in design stage. This sign, and whoever was responsible for it, were vehemently, aggressively anti-bike path.

        And I reserve the right to think that somebody who is so obsessively against a bike path is, in fact, “a weirdo.”

      • Al Dimond says:

        @Jort: The people that own/run that business came out on one of the Westlake rides we did while the project was being designed. They appeared (by that point) to understand the importance of making a bike connection in the Westlake corridor and appeared to prefer a solution that would change the layout of Westlake Ave — not necessarily the position you’d expect for someone on that side of the street! Anyway, they seemed like people that understand the importance of free speech and public participation in democracy — not cowards that would spread tacks under cover of darkness.

        I can only guess what would have motivated them to state a preference for a bike lane option that would affect them more. Maybe their original opposition was based on opposition among the houseboat crowd (their neighbors!) and then after learning more about cyclists’ needs in the corridor tried to pick an option they thought would accommodate both groups. It’s possible they were being disingenuous, like those opponents to transit measures that will always claim some alternative is better than the standing plan, no matter what the standing plan is. It’s also possible that they saw the Cycletrack as a precursor to redevelopment and gentrification (true or not it’s a common belief that often underlies opposition to bike infra), and feared they and their neighbors would be pushed out — they might look along the BGT, for example, and say, “Along which part of this would we belong? The part that hasn’t been built!”

        Whatever the case, I don’t know anyone that’s met them that thinks they’re bad people.

  10. scott t says:

    the elaborateness of the bike lane seems odd to me. google, if correct, says there is only one small grocer on the lake section of westlake and about 8 restaraunts most at the south end. that doesnt seem like quite enough stuff to justify the price tag for bike commuters. dexter looks as if it flows pretty well. how much did the bike lane cost? was any of it privately funded?

    • Jessi says:

      Dexter is scary for a lot of riders. Not everyone obviously, but 300 ft of climbing and all of the people parked in the bike lane, turning across it? Not family friendly. Westlake is, or could be if the person laying tacks would knock it off. I rarely took Dexter, always preferring the Westlake parking lot for my route to work downtown. It is more direct, less climbing and fewer speeding cars.

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  12. Jeff says:

    I love Westlake, it’s great. Used to ride that dumb parking lot, had lots of close calls.

    But Dexter’s summit isn’t 300ft above Fremont Bridge. Maybe 100.

    Am I wrong?

    100ft is plenty to deter ‘allages aand abilities’, don’t get me wrong… Just sayin’

  13. Al Dimond says:

    Dexter is nowhere close to 300′ of climb. The highest points in Seattle are little more than 400′ above sea level; the top of Queen Anne hill is one of these and my stair-climbing legs will tell you, no question, Dexter is closer to sea-level than it is to the top of Queen Anne hill. An elevation map corroborates: the highest point on Dexter is 155′ above sea-level.

    So, what, then, a round-trip is 310′ of climbing? I’d say that would be a misleading use of the 300′ figure, but even that isn’t true. The Fremont Bridge is about 20′ above sea level (source: many discussions about the frequency of bridge openings), and most SLU and downtown destinations are significantly higher (I think the library is higher than the highest point on Dexter, for example) — you have to climb more to get to them from Westlake than you do from Dexter. The lowest point you reach on a typical Dexter route into downtown is around 55′ (no, we don’t get to count MOHAI as the destination, that would reek of parochial small-town boosterism — if we’re talking about real solutions for a real city we talk about the trips people take in large numbers). Taking Dexter from the 20′ bridge you climb about 135′ then descend to this low-point. Taking Westlake you drop down to about 10′ then climb about 45′ to a similar point on your way to higher points downtown — so taking Westlake saves you only 90′ of climbing. On the way south the extra climb is a bit steep, on the way north much less so. Anyway, you’d have to ride two round-trips to get to 300′ extra climbing compared to Westlake.

    Numbers on the Fremont Bridge bike counter might help answer the question of Westlake’s impact. I thought it was plausible that the presence of a flatter and (maybe) safer route would cause a year-over-year increase in usage, even in the winter, as not having to deal with (overtaking) traffic in the dark and rain could help get part-time riders out more often. My alternate theory was that Westlake wouldn’t help much at all, for a couple reasons. First, riders that wanted the flatter (or in some cases more direct) route were already taking one of Westlake’s three bad options. Second, safety-conscious riders were scared off by parts of their route outside the scope of the cycletrack. What is a rider that would be scared off by Dexter (or one of the previous Westlake options) going to do at either end of the cycletrack? Without going into the laundry list of possibilities, a rider is confronted with worse traffic conflicts than on Dexter almost immediately on either side, going almost any direction. In many cases tougher climbs, too. It’s hard to draw conclusions from year-over-year bike counts in a year with so much weird weather. But even after trying to adjust for the big, obvious weather events I don’t see huge year-over-year increases. I’d guess that we would have had more impact improving the massively deficient segments through the hearts of Fremont, SLU, and downtown that are the true bane of many Seattle bike commutes.

    That doesn’t mean Westlake is a bad project. Even if it’s not the most critical segment in town, even if it’s not the most critical segment in the routes of people that use it, sometimes you have to build what you can when you can, and this is something that could be built in 2016 thanks to the ludicrously wide city-owned strip along Westlake. And it does at least get used a lot, providing some benefit to all the people that do use it. It just can’t reach its potential yet in terms of growing cycling here. No matter how many “best bike lanes” we build, if we don’t focus on important endpoints (not arbitrary ones like the endpoints of so many SDOT bike projects) and commit to improving the worst spots between them our lanes will amount to far less than the sum of their lengths.

    • Breadbaker says:

      Amen. If, like me, you work between Sixth and Seventh, once you cross Denny you’re basically in construction hell for the rest of your commute, whether you took Westlake or Dexter.

    • Pedro says:

      Right on, Al, perfectly stated.

      WL certainly will have a somewhat positive effect on ridership over time, but moving the needle ‘bigly’ requires making occasional cyclists feel safe to ride downtown. Period.

      WL is beautiful and complete until it isn’t. It ends abruptly, then you’re back in Blade Runner territory.

      All that said, the approaches from the north are getting pretty close to all-ages and abilities.

      If the goal is connecting hoods w downtown, nothing of the sort is happening down south. The extension of SoDo trail to Spokane falls 3 miles short of Georgetown and S Park (though it will be nice for W Seattle.

      And the ridiculous crap SeaDOT continues to build in Rainier Valley is tragicly useless. New projects include a 200ft climb up Columbia to Beacon (not downtown) and a 230ft climb up Cheasty to Beacon just 2 miles away. You can also climb to beacon up Chief Stealth and Othello Ave. But nobody does because what’s on Beacon?

      One vital thoroughfare that would change everything: Rainier North of Mt Baker Station.

      I’m pretty certain that sdot’s contunual construction of worthless crap in Rainier Valley means that Rainier has been designated for cars and trucks and will never get bike infrastructure.

      I don’t know how else to explain why SDOT’s brilliant engineers can continually build such worthless infrastructure in RV.

      • Pedro says:

        PS: I would love to see a bike counter on the new Renton Ave S bike lane. Southbound, it features 400ft+ elevation gain over two major climbs, all to arrive… nowhere – Skyway’s pot shops and a Casino.

        If 20 bikers a day complete the whole new section, I’d be very surprised.

  14. Ballard Biker says:

    Does the city do their social justice study or whatever they call it for bike lanes? I can’t imagine this section serves much more than rich white people leaving Ballard to get to downtown.

  15. Artfunk says:

    More like bike trail with a helmet and tacks.

    I love doing the circle jerk, with out the parking.

    South on Dexter in the morning from the bridge.
    Afternoon ride north down 9 nth and jump on Westlake bike trail.

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