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New downtown vision includes 4th Ave bike lanes, new transit pathway on 6th Ave

Map presented to the One Center City Advisory Group.

After months of talks, agency leaders have a near-term plan for downtown streets that both builds a two-way protected bike lane on 4th Ave and creates a transit pathway to keep buses moving once they are kicked out of the transit tunnel next year.

The plan as presented to the Once Center City Advisory Group (PDF) would improve transit travel times for buses even after building a new protected bike lane on 4th Ave. This looks like a promising resolution to one of the biggest sticking points in the downtown transportation remake effort. And instead of pitting transit against biking, the new effort looks at how prioritizing both could lead to big increases in downtown street capacity.

When all the planned near-term changes are complete (including complete Pike/Pine bike lanes from 2nd to Broadway, bike lanes on 7th and 8th Avenues, a connection to Dearborn in the south end and the under-construction 2nd Ave bike lane extension in Belltown), analysis predicts a nearly 160 percent increase in daily bike trips downtown by 2023. This includes an estimated 25,000 bike share trips as both bike lane and shared bike networks grow.

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In all, the new bike connections along with new transit service will allow downtown streets to move 10,000 more people per hour of peak travel time, according to the One Center City analysis. And the travel time per person, aggregated across all modes, would improve compared to taking no action:

It is great that the agencies behind the One Center City partnership (including SDOT, King County Metro, Sound Transit and the Downtown Seattle Association) are looking at how biking and transit can work together instead of pitting them against each other.

After a bold plan to turn 5th Ave into a transit mall was taken off the table due to a combination of business opposition and fears that the plan was too ambitious to be completed in time, there were serious worries that transit service would take a big hit. Then the 4th Ave protected bike lane, a vital piece of the Basic Bike Network, was pitted against a second bus lane on 4th Ave. That was troubling, since Seattle clearly needs both transit and biking.

Questions still remain about how moving northbound bus stops up to 6th Ave affect transfers and the walkshed of bus stops (several of with will now be adjacent to I-5, which is not great). But hopefully the improvements in travel times make up for these changes.

The analysis does not seem to factor walking. We should be sure that any new traffic signal work puts walking travel times and safety at the forefront. Because as the number of jobs grows downtown and in South Lake Union, walking is absorbing an enormous amount of the added transportation load. That’s a very good thing, and a trend that will only continue to grow (unless agencies do something really unwise, like increase walk signal wait times like on Mercer Street).

But planners predict that the changes will significantly improve safety for people of all modes, including people walking.

The plan also calls for a quick follow-up to upgrade and extend the “pilot” bike lanes on Pike and Pine. SDOT has already started construction on a key downtown section of those bike lanes. The One Center City plan calls for both an upgraded level of protection and an extension all the way to Broadway.

The plan also includes a south end connection from both 2nd and 4th Ave bike lanes to Dearborn via Main St and 6th Ave. This is big step forward in that it’s the first time a potential path has been identified. 6th Ave is a good route through the ID, and Main St is much better than previous efforts to put the bike route on the much steeper Washington St.

But the short connection from 2nd and 4th to the ID is not perfect. The blocks between 4th and 6th Avenues require significant climbs, so the question is whether many people are going to bike up a hill just to come back down when there’s a much flatter option right there: Jackson St.

Ultimately, Jackson St is the only great option for a bike route. No other street is continuous from Pioneer Square to the International District, the Central District and beyond. And no other street plugs into both 2nd and 4th Avenues with relatively little change in grade. The natural flow of biking downtown to the ID is to turn on Jackson, and it’s going to take a very good bike route alternative to change that desire.

The best case would be to fund a rebuild of the stretch of Jackson that the First Hill Streetcar screwed up in order to create space for both protected bike lanes and priority for transit.

In lieu of a major Jackson Street rebuild (or a major bus purchasing effort to replace every Jackson-traveling bus with coaches that have doors on both sides so they can serve the streetcar platforms instead of the curb), we’re going to need an interim solution that works for people trying to bike this vital missing piece of the downtown bike network.

There’s no obvious easy answer. The Main-to-6th option looks great on a flat map, but as you can see in this Google Street View image, 5th Ave goes downhill at Main Street while Main goes up a significant hill to 6th Ave before coming back down into the heart of the ID (the giant retaining wall for the parking lot conveniently shows the grade change):

Also pictured: A ghost bike in memory of a man killed in a collision with a Metro bus in May 2016.

Jackson is the flattest option, but Main St to 5th Ave is the next-flattest option. Once in the ID, 6th Ave is a great option for protected bike lanes (there’s already a painted bike lane that could use a major upgrade). The question is whether people will use a connection that takes them all the way up to the 6th/Main intersection just to come back down.

A connection on 2nd Ave Ext to 4th Ave S to Seattle Blvd would also connect to Dearborn. It would be very flat and direct, but it would mostly bypass the ID. And there are also some tricky spots in that option (like navigating the I-90 ramps and the bridge where Seattle Blvd meets 4th Ave S).

It’s great that we’re finally to the point where we’re discussing route options at the south end of downtown. If any readers have any other ideas for how to make this connection, let us know in the comments below.

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26 responses to “New downtown vision includes 4th Ave bike lanes, new transit pathway on 6th Ave”

  1. Clint

    I love those projections for the increase in bike trips attributed to the new facilities and bike share. Now let’s see what those numbers would be if we got rid of that damned helmet law.

    I wonder if anyone has looked at the potential impact of forbidding uber/lyft/taxi pickups on the downtown arterials. Or rather enforcing the existing no-stopping zones. Literally every time I drive or bike through downtown, I get held up by cars illegally stopped in traffic lanes. I know uber and lyft can block pickups in certain areas in their apps. For example, in Las Vegas, you can’t request a pickup on the Strip unless it’s in a hotel parking lot. Why aren’t we demanding the same here?

    1. lulea

      This happened to me twice today in pioneer square.

    2. Peri Hartman

      At first though, I hate cars stopped and blocking traffic, too. But as I think about it, the alternatives are very difficult. Unlike Vegas, there are very few places a taxi or ride share could stop for a pickup or drop-off. We would have to build more drop-off zones. That would be a challenge in terms of available space. But even more, reaching such zones might require crossing a bike lane or a bus lane.

      Maybe it’s better just to let peds (and bikes) be the priority and forgive holding up traffic for a few seconds.

      1. Clint

        I think it’s pretty simple, actually. Allow pickups/dropoffs on the east/west streets and not on the north/south streets. Most of the problems I encounter with stopped cars are on 1st, 2nd, and 5th.

        As a side benefit, perhaps if people had to walk a couple of blocks to get to a designated car pickup area, they might just decide it’s worth walking to a bus stop instead. Plenty of times I’ve had friends summon an uber because they didn’t feel like walking the extra 4 or 5 blocks to the nearest bus stop. If we put them on more even terms, usage might shift.

    3. Observant

      “Now let’s see what those numbers would be if we got rid of that damned helmet law.”

      The number would be (drumroll please): still 160% increase! Because there’s no evidence or studies that show helmet laws affect bicycle usage.

      The numbers WOULD increase if we took our strange obsession with eliminating the helmet law, that appears to be doing no harm, and focused it on building out and fixing our bicycle infrastructure instead!

      1. Literally nobody in a position of any authority over bike infrastructure is fighting (or even talking about) the helmet law. It doesn’t even come up at public meetings. It’s pretty much just fodder for Internet arguments at this point.

      2. Clint

        “Because there’s no evidence or studies that show helmet laws affect bicycle usage.”

        The problem with making declarative statements like this is that it only takes one example to prove you’re wrong. Here’s an easy one to read: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8870773

        There are plenty more, of course. If you’d actually care to educate yourself on the matter, here’s an extensive list of studies debunking helmet safety claims and showing the adverse effects of helmet laws:

        Our ill-concieved helmet law should absolutely be part of every conversation about increasing bicycle usage and absolutely has an impact on the effectiveness of any bicycle facilities we invest in.

      3. Observant


        Ah yes, the Melbourne study! Once an anti-helmet person posts the Melbourne study, I know the debate is over. The Melbourne study is the worst example of a study and posting it doesn’t help your cause. It’s a single source study that reeks of confirmation bias and strong correlation-causation fallacies. It’d be like writing a paper that proves climate change doesn’t exist, because you observed cold and snow in Minneapolis one winter.

        Your second link is to an very openly, anti-helmet law site, so I don’t even need to respond to that.

        At the very least, you could have posted the study that correlates the helmet law to the increase of morbid obesity and heart disease on Great Britain. That one’s always good for a few chuckles. The author even created a fancy equation, that he admits needs great stretches of data and the imagination to even get close to the results he wishes to portray.

        But in the end, the amount of cyclists have been on a notable increase (anecdotal evidence of course) and bike share is booming (remember when people cried about helmets killing Pronto?). These are all in spite of the existence of a helmet law. Add to the fact that Seattle has a decent public transportation system, unfriendly terrain, poor infrastructure and bad weather 8 months out of the year and it’s admirable that our cycling rate is as high as it is.

        So you’ll need more than a couple poorly written, clearly biased studies to convince people the helmet law is suppressing the bicycling rate.

      4. Clint

        Ah, so you’re aware that the studies exists, you just pretend they don’t because you don’t agree with them. Your climate denier analogy is dead on; you’re just on the wrong side of it.

        And of course the site that collected a list of studies showing the negative impact of helmet laws is an anti-helmet law site. But they didn’t do the research. Those are all independent studies, conveniently collected in one place. You can disagree with those too, but they still exist.

        “But in the end, the amount of cyclists have been on a notable increase … in spite of the existence of a helmet law.”

        This is the most sensible thing you said. Yes, cycling is on the increase, because we’ve made other improvements. But it’s in spite of a helmet law that plenty of research shows is working to limit cycling. Getting rid of the law can only serve to amplify the impact of other improvements we make.

      5. Observant


        “And of course the site that collected a list of studies showing the negative impact of helmet laws is an anti-helmet law site. But they didn’t do the research. Those are all independent studies, conveniently collected in one place. You can disagree with those too, but they still exist.”

        Breitbart has a pretty good roundup of “independent” articles and studies claiming to show that climate change doesn’t exist. Based on your logic, we have to consider each and every one of their articles when considering the validity of climate change.

        “But it’s in spite of a helmet law that plenty of research shows is working to limit cycling.”

        But again, the only “research” is coming from organizations clearly biased against the helmet law. Can you name one person that doesn’t frequently ride a bicycle because of the helmet law? I haven’t met anyone myself and no anti-helmet apologist that I’ve encountered can either. Sure, they can point to blatantly flawed studies and even come up with very hypothetical, one-off scenarios where someone may not ride a bike because of the helmet law, but that’s where their ballyhooing ends: in hypothetical silliness.

  2. Southeasterner

    Yay! More “visions” and “plans” that look just like the bike master plan we finalized how many years ago?

    Every time the bike community starts getting annoyed by the lack of progress just put out a map with lots of lines and they will be quiet. If that doesn’t tide them over talk about how the Missing Link in Ballard is about to be completed (heck that story has been working for close to 20 years now).

    I’ll put down a bet that the current “vision,” announced at a time where we can’t even find an interim mayor, has a 1 in 10 chance of actually happening. Once our new mayor and SDOT Kubly replacements are in place it will be back to the drawing board and more delays for bike infrastructure.

    1. Andres Salomon

      This. I’m unimpressed with plans. We’ve had plans for years. I want to see actual implementation.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        I get that. But the difference here is that this is coming from a partnership of essentially all the relevant agencies affected by it. It’s also work with a quick timeline attached to it. So, you’re definitely right to be skeptical. But this is different than the Bike Master Plan.

        And we haven’t elected a new mayor yet. Advocates have time to get the candidates on board with this specific plan. Both have said they support the downtown bike network in general.

      2. Wells

        I don’t think of 4th as a decent bike route. Too many buses and traffic. OTOH, southbound 2nd Ave works somewhat because its downhill affords speedier evasive bicycling. 4th is a convenient route, but neither safest nor most effective. 3rd could work better I think. Let’s say 3rd Ave ran only modern low-floor multi-door trolleybuses. But Streetcar on 1st Ave displaces traffic to 3rd. And, a Streetcar couplet of 4th/5th Aves keeps 1st Ave at 2-lanes each direction, thus 1st and 3rd could possibly be more bike-friendly in both directions than 4th and 2nd Aves. Maybe 2nd Ave should be a 2-direction bikeway?

      3. Wells

        I gotta rethink 1st Ave again.
        You may remember I’d envisioned ETB alone on 1st,
        all curbside transit every 5 minutes. Same on 3rd Ave.
        2nd/4th Aves host express and rapid bus lines.
        4th/5th couplet streetcar, on 4th alongside bus lines.
        Which option creates most bikeway?
        Answer: the 4th/5th Streetcar Couplet.
        Oh I forgot I’m addressing Seattlers.
        So, like whatever, ya know?
        Crunican’s checkered past another mess.

  3. db79467

    Why the need for two sets of two way bike lanes on one way streets that are two blocks from each other? This seems incredibly stupid, which is par for the course for SDOT.

    1. Peri Hartman

      That is exactly my question. In fact, there’s a third partial separated bike lane on Western, fairly new.

      In my opinion, the 2nd Ave bikeway doesn’t work very well. Downhill it is dangerous because cars can suddenly make a left turn on red. Uphill is annoying because you can only go two block at a time and then have to wait for most of a light cycle. (I’ve tried 2nd a number of times and have finally completely given up.) Western is most certainly better uphill. Downhill, it depends on your riding style; there are only sharrows downhill, though traffic is light and slow.

      4th Ave uphill could work better than 2nd in that you are going with the traffic flow and will probably have better light timing. Downhill may have the same problems as 2nd except that you are going the opposite direction to traffic, so you can see them better and they can see you better.

      And, sometime in the foggy future, we’ll have a bikeway along Elliot, which may turn out to be even better than Western.

      Thus, we have the potential for a very good bike way on 4th and have an already very good bikeway uphill on western, which could be completed. And, I think both of these are well positioned in that they could serve cyclists coming and going from all directions without causing going out of one’s way.

      So, the question is why keep the 2nd ave bikeway? I realize the city has put a lot of PR and money into it. But some money and face could be salvaged. First, politically, many people see, or will see, the addition of yet another bikeway downtown as taking too much from auto and bus infrastructure. Swapping 4th for 2nd could be a political plus. As for costs, the major cost is signals. Could we save a bundle by moving the signals currently on 2nd over to 4th?

      Personally, long term, we may need even more bikeways. But, for now, having just Western and 4th would, I believe, serve us fine and I think 2nd isn’t needed.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        There is a huge, very steep elevation change between 4th and 2nd for most of downtown. They’re in no way interchangeable. They look close on a map, but in person they are very far apart.

      2. Scott

        It’s almost impossible to get between Western and Pike/Pine for us east/west travelers. 2nd Avenue is extremely convenient for reaching the south end of downtown, and soon for getting to Seattle Center. 4th Avenue will be good too because there a lot of important destinations along 4th that are uphill from 2nd, including City Hall, the library, Westlake Park, etc.

      3. Peri Hartman

        Tom: I agree 4th and 2nd are not interchangeable. My point is that Western and 2nd are interchangeable.

        Scott: I do understand why it’s hard to get from western to Pike/Pine. You either have to go through the market or go up one of the steep hills. Agreed, neither are good options. That will be somewhat improved once the viaduct comes down and the Elliot Ave crossover is built. As for the south end, though, both Western and 2nd serve the same area, with little elevation change between them.

        I still think it might be worth the city’s political capital to consider dropping 2nd.

      4. Western and 2nd aren’t interchangeable. One illustration of this is a ride all the way through from the Elliot Bay Trail (along East Marginal) to the Westlake Cycletrack. If you take Western, you’ll be faced with some extremely steep blocks climbing away from the water at some point. If you take 2nd you get a gradual climb up from Pioneer Square to Pike Street (Belltown later this year), and from there a fairly flat ride out to the ‘track.

        4th is significantly steeper in the blocks around Yesler, as it climbs to a much higher elevation in the middle of downtown much quicker. 2nd is pretty close to the ideal grade corridor for riding to Belltown, Uptown, and SLU from areas like the International District and Pioneer Square.

      5. ragged-robin

        I agree about the notion about the absurdity of using 2nd Ave is some sort of blueprint for what cyclists “need” in terms of infrastructure. Downhill/south, there’s no point in using it: it’s both slower and more dangerous (funny anecdote: this morning a driver rolled down his window to tell me I was was “required” to use the bike lane). Uphill/north, I have no problem taking 1st or Western since the traffic lights are not in my favor going up 2nd.

        If they make 4th a two-way bike lane and put it on a separate light than traffic to allow for left turns then it will suffer the same exact problems.

  4. jonglix

    I think your take on the 6th/Main climb is right on and I don’t think there any obvious solutions. Northbound very few cyclists would be willing to ride up a gratuitous 10% climb to reach Main St only to go back down. Jackson will continue be the choice for the cyclists comfortable riding downtown today but seems unworkable for all abilities improvements.

    I think a 4th or 5th ave PBL is the way to get across Jackson. The climb on 5th to Main is still noticeable but at least it is ADA compliant by my calculations. 4th is a bit of an isolated traffic sewer but a fully protected facility might work. Access to the ID would have to be via the pedestrian plaza on Weller.

  5. […] Bike Blog writes up the new One Center City proposal (our coverage […]

  6. B

    I wonder who ever had the gall to propose sending the bikes up Washington St–that’s difficult for a fit person to WALK up, I’ve never seen anyone try to bike up it!

    Putting the bikes on Main and turning on 6th is not going to work so well. I live in the area and I can tell you many bikes coming down those hills have trouble stopping at the traffic lights at the bottom of the hills. Then at the top you presumably have to merge in front of car traffic on an upslope to make the left from 6th to Main. And there are quite a lot of cars on game days.

    Of course, Jackson St. has the streetcar tracks and busses, so it’s not perfect either. Best option I can see is extending the 2nd Ave. cycle track across Jackson down to 4th and connecting to the Weller St. plaza somehow. Not sure if this can be done near term but it could at least be a long term goal.

    Now Main St. from 5th to the waterfront and the ferry docks–that would be a helpful protected bike lane connection. 6th Ave. bike lanes through Chinatown will be welcome as well–lots of bike share going on around there.

  7. yup

    Little late w/ this Southend connection comment

    SDOT can build what they want, nobody is going to ride up 6th and down Main.

    A good northbound option: West on Dearborn, bear right on Seattle, right on 4th into the bus lane (bikes permitted). Then onto 4th or 2nd.

    If you cross Jackson on 4th or 2nd, you cross straight over tracks. If you have to turn onto Jackson from the south, it’ll cause a lot more falls.

    Don’t build 6th to Main, SDOT.

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