2nd Ave bike lane extension will open southbound in early October, northbound a couple weeks later – UPDATED

The 2nd Ave bike lane will reach Denny Way next month.

Work on the street has been ongoing for quite a while as the city prepared it for bike lanes and other improvements for all modes, such as badly needed signals at several Belltown cross streets.

But now work on the two-way bike lane itself is ready to begin. Like the existing section of the bike lane, which opened three years ago, both directions will be on the east side of the street. Intersections will have separate signals for people biking and people making turns.

Crews will begin work Monday that will last two weeks, wrapping up October 2 (if all goes smoothly, of course). For the first couple weeks, the bike lane will be southbound-only as crews work on the new and upgraded traffic signals needed to activate the northbound direction. That work is scheduled for completion in October, according to SDOT spokesperson Mafara Hobson.

UPDATE 9/19: SDOT now says the opening will move more slowly, with full completion in November and December: ” To clarify, we’re working on sections at a time, so if all goes well, the 2nd Ave protected bike lane will have a soft opening to southbound bikes between Pike and Virginia in October. The contractor will still close the bike lane intermittently to get the pavement markings and signals in. Because northbound is a new movement, the signals must be in place and functional before it can be opened. We just got word that the signal pole order is being held up because of Hurricane Harvey, so the northbound direction (again between Pike and Virginia) will most likely open in November. The rest of the extension to Denny will open in increments over the following month. We’ll be in touch as all these moving pieces come together.”

This project will revolutionize bike travel in the city. You will be able to bike from the Smith Tower to the Space Needle almost entirely on a protected bike lane. For the first time, people will have a comfortable northbound bike route through Belltown.

And the city will get rid of a sorely inadequate, skinny, paint-only, left-side, door zone bike lane in the process (good riddance).

It’s hard to be too excited for this project. This is a really big deal for Belltown, Uptown, Seattle Center, Queen Anne and major bike routes headed to the Fremont Bridge, the Elliott Bay Trail and beyond.

Construction projects add up

Unfortunately, people who use 2nd Ave north of Pike Street today will face a couple weeks of mixed traffic construction detours. With construction on 7th Ave also closing that bike lane, this means there will not be a single fully open bike lane between Denny Way and Pike Street from Elliott Bay to I-5. While people who bike through Denny Triangle and Belltown regularly are already used to inadequate construction detours, I think it’s important to zoom out and realize just how thoroughly construction has blocked major bike routes that connect huge swaths of the city. Though city staff are sure to have an excuse for every single closure, the cumulative effect is that we’re closing bike lanes faster than we’re opening them. And now we’ve reached the logical conclusion of that trend: Two weeks of total bike route failure.

At least this construction project is working to fix part of the problem. 

This is one more reason why the Basic Bike Network is so important. Seattle needs a connected “grid” of bike routes to allow for flexibility and reliability. If work does need to close one route, people need to know they will either have a temporary bike lane of comparable comfort or a comfortable reroute around the work zone. Someone who does not feel comfortable biking in heavy mixed downtown traffic needs to know there will be a separated bike route for them when they get downtown. Otherwise, they aren’t going to choose to bike. And with traffic only getting worse, Seattle desperately needs more people to choose to bike. (And since all the bike lanes are now closed, you officially can’t blame the traffic on bike lanes.)

The good news is that bike lanes planned on 7th Ave and Pike/Pine are in the works to tie into the new 2nd Ave bike lane extension. If the city actually connects these lanes to existing routes heading north and east (so far, plans fall just short), major pieces of the bike network could be in operation by the end of the year.

But the city will also need to protect these routes once they are constructed so more people can rely on biking to get around.

For as much lip service and big idea planning as this city has done for biking, the fact that we will close out summer 2017 without a single open bike lane in the entire north section of the center city shows that the city has failed. (Aside from the Alaskan Way Trail, the same goes for the south section of downtown. Unfortunately, that is not due to construction impacts. The city has never built a south end connection.)

Our proposed order of operations for closing lanes to make space for construction. Sidewalks shouldn’t be an option at all. Parking goes first. Bike lanes shouldn’t be closed until the city runs out of other lanes to close.

The city needs to view a bike lane as a promise to its residents, workers and visitors. That means the city needs to keep it open in at least some comparable form. We have written before about the order of operations we think the city should require when construction projects close sections of streets. The Seattle Bicycle Advisory Board has also told the city about the importance of maintaining bike lanes of comparable comfort during construction.

With only a few notable exceptions, the city has so far disregarded this need. And that’s why we find ourselves in this situation, where there are no open bike routes into our biggest employment and civic center. I understand that the amount of construction is extraordinary right now, but SDOT must do better.

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19 Responses to 2nd Ave bike lane extension will open southbound in early October, northbound a couple weeks later – UPDATED

  1. Pedro says:

    As usual, the City and SDOT take care of bikers from the north, ignores us in the south.

    Sigh.

    • NickS says:

      No joke, Pedro. I’d like to pretend to be shocked and surprised. *clears throat*

      Oh my gosh! How totally unexpected!

      How did I do? First of all, I’m genuinely happy that the 2nd Ave bike lane is extending north to Denny. That’s great. Second of all, I’m PISSED that the current southern terminus has been left exactly where it started, with the bike lane abruptly ending and merging into a general traffic lane at Yesler (a challenging hill climb that has been closed for 18 months due to the 4th Ave S bridge replacement).

      The real east-west corridor at the south-end of downtown is S Jackson St. It’s a much more moderate hill climb, and connects Pioneer Square, the International District, Central District, Capitol Hill, Beacon Hill (via 12th and the Jose P Rizal bridge), and points further east and south.

      The 2nd Ave protected bike lane MUST connect with Jackson, and provide safe markings to clear the potentially fatal hazard of the streetcar tracks.** Period.

      Throwing riders out into general traffic 3 blocks short of that goal is unacceptable. Not that Jackson is some kind of bike-commuting nirvana; with the continual bus loading at the ID-Chinatown Station at 5th & Jackson, a lane-change across crash-inducing streetcar tracks or merging onto a crowded sidewalk to pass buses is required. But at least a bike lane is present east of the absurd intersection at Rainier/Jackson/Boren/14th, and for 1.5 blocks under I-5.

      ** — I’d like those who live on the north-end to consider for a moment that Jackson, literally the only viable east-west route in the south end of downtown, one that leads connections to every south-end neighborhood other than West Seattle, is a mostly bike-lane free arterial with streetcar tracks. Pop that in your missing link pipe and smoke it.

      • Al Dimond says:

        I totally agree that Jackson is, considering natural importance, uniqueness, and infra/traffic-imposed difficulty, a front-runner for the most urgently bad bike route in Seattle. And that the 2nd Ave cycletrack can in no way be considered complete until it gets riders across the streetcar tracks. Even the One Center City plan using 6th and Main, while it does technically close the gap between 2nd and Dearborn, takes a hilly route that many people will avoid. Even if we have to abandon hope on some parts of Jackson (as on Westlake through SLU), a flat route from 2nd to King (the planned “greenway”, we’ll see how that goes…) and some good way to get from King to East Jackson should be on all our minds.

        But this extension of 2nd Ave isn’t about getting to the relatively well-provisioned parts of the north end. There has never been a northbound bike lane all the way through Belltown to Lower Queen Anne. 6th drops you into a turn lane at Battery Street (heading to 99) like 2nd Ave does at its south end. 4th went to sharrows back by the library and you’ve been dodging turning cars and loading taxis ever since. Western’s sketchy bike lane drops to sharrows at Battery, one of the last steps in its transformation from city street to highway. Down by the waterfront, the occasionally usable bike path ends at Bell Street, nowhere near anything. This will be the first real bike connection these neighborhoods have ever had.

  2. asdf2 says:

    A few months ago, when half the street in front of my Copenhagen hotel was torn up, the city actually reduced the street to one way for cars to keep the protected bike path open (which still needed to be shared with pedestrians, as the sidewalk was part of the construction).

    In the US, we all know what they would have done. They would have preserved two way traffic for cars, while the bikes fend for themselves with car traffic, and all the pedestrians have to squeeze into the still functional sidewalk on the other side of the street.

  3. ragged-robin says:

    I go down 2nd every day. Drivers DO NOT care about the “no left turn on red” signal and will just roll it without checking for cyclists. Until drivers start getting penalized for doing this, it’s much safer and FASTER to take the road instead.

    • asdf2 says:

      That’s fine if you’re going down the hill. But, going up, taking the road is flat-out not an option.

    • TheDude says:

      I agree. The left turn violators are probably the #1 case for red light enforcement cameras in Seattle. How many hits and close calls are needed before this becomes a priority?

  4. Peri Hartman says:

    Tom, can you lobby SDOT for this very simple change?

    Make the stop lines for left turns about 10′ back from the crosswalk. That way, it will be more obvious is someone is going to make a left turn on red.

    Why is this important? Because, if you try to cycle more than 10mph, the current situation doesn’t give enough time to react if someone suddenly turns left on red. If a car has to travel 10′ and then turn left, you have time to make a decision.

    It’s really a no brainer and “no coster” for SDOT.

    • ragged-robin says:

      I’m not convinced having a white line further back is going to stop anyone. There’s an intersection section on 4th going north that has a stop line several feet behind the crosswalk to allow room for cars exiting the adjacent parking garage except no one ever stops at this line and always go straight up against the crosswalk regardless. There’s not many solutions for driver-focused culture in a driver-focused city/country/society.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        It won’t stop anyone. That’s not the point. The point is, if someone has crept forward, you can slow down. If, hopefully, most people wait 10′ back, you can go faster.

        I agree that, at driveways, people usually cruise through the crosswalk. That’s a very different situation from waiting at a red light.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        ok, maybe I misunderstood your point. However, there are other places where stop lines are further back and they do work. A lot depends on the message given by the design. I think it can work – most of the time.

      • Breadbaker says:

        The green box at 34th and Fremont is a serious joke. Funny how the city will do “slow down” signage for bicycles all along, say, the Linden cycle track but won’t do one drop of signage to explain what the green box is for.

  5. daihard says:

    I agree with those who say the existing 2nd Ave PBL isn’t safe. That’s why I usually ride on 3rd on my commute. That said, with this extension, people going northbound on the 2nd Ave PBL will at least be able to ride all the way to Blanchard, which is a major east-west connector to 7th (and then to Dexter / Westlake).

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  7. TheDude says:

    Having a Second Avenue bike lane is great. Having a two-way one is dangerous. The 4th Avenue NB lanes can’t come soon enough – but SDOT should make 2nd Ave SB only. The bike/pedestrian/car conflicts increase greatly as soon as somebody is allowed to travel the “wrong way” relative to driver expectations. I’m also not sure of the solution to garage entrances. Right now cars “park” on the speed humps in the bike land waiting for pedestrians to clear the sidewalks and I have had more close calls at garage entrances with oblivious drivers than at intersections, where it is more obvious if a driver is going to run the red.

    • ragged-robin says:

      Good point. I can keep an eye on cars in the left-turn lane and anticipate if they’re going to roll it or not. I can’t really do the same as easily when cars mean to enter the parking garages, though most of the time they will be forced to wait for pedestrians before entering. All the more reason to not use the bike lane and instead take the road if you’re going southbound on 2nd.

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