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Crews are currently building Seattle’s most important new bike connection in years

Map of the south downtown bike route, which travels from 2nd Ave to 5th Ave via S Main Street and from Main to King Streets on 5th Ave.It may be short, but don’t let that fool you. The protected bike lanes currently under construction on a few blocks of S Main St and 5th Ave S between the International District and the 2nd Ave bike lane should easily be the most important improvements to bike access Seattle has completed since, well, 2nd Ave.

It doesn’t really look like a difficult connection on a map because the International District looks like it’s just part of the downtown street grid. But once you’re on the ground on a bike, you realize there is no remotely comfortable or functional option for getting between the neighborhood and the downtown core on a bike. And since a connection from the ID also unlocks bike routes from many central and southend neighborhoods, the lack of a south downtown bike connection has huge potential for a lot of people.

The problem is that the rail corridor separates the ID and Pioneer Square. And thanks to extreme grades up First Hill, the only flat street between the two neighborhoods — S Jackson St — has dangerous streetcar tracks. So people either need to ride in busy mixed traffic and hope they successfully navigate the streetcar tracks or try to ride on packed, skinny sidewalks. Both these options are bad. The only other option is to use the elevator (or stairs if you are able) next to the CenturyLink Field parking lot and cross the Weller St bridge, but this has obvious limitations (and is totally unusable if you have a family/cargo bike).

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Short of making Jackson a truly complete street (which of course we should do), the planned route is the best option. And as we reported a year ago, it has not been easy to get to this point. At the time, SDOT was proposing a ridiculously steep option via 6th Ave S, which looks similar on paper but requires an absurd climb compared to 5th Ave S. There were serious concerns that nobody would use this steeper route, which would be a waste of money and still leave this connection incomplete. It took a lot of persistent advocacy and inter-agency coordination to make this much better route happen.

The defunct waterfront streetcar platform at 5th and Jackson had to be moved, sections of old streetcar tracks had to be repaved, busy bus stops had to move and precious bus layover space was displaced. None of this was easy.

The under-construction project extends the two-way 2nd Ave bike lane another block south, then builds new two-way bike lanes on the south side of S Main Street and the west side of 5th Ave S to S King St. People can then either continue east on King into the Central District or connect to the S Dearborn St protected bike lanes via Maynard Ave S.

Map of King Street neighborhood greenway improvements.The city is also making improvements to King Street, including a new signal at Rainier Ave S. They are calling this a “neighborhood greenway,” though it doesn’t sound much like a neighborhood greenway (it’s a bustling commercial street, not a quiet residential street). But traffic is mostly slow, and it is already a popular bike route. And the new signal at Rainier should make it a truly viable alternative for people who currently have no real option other than Jackson St.

So no, bike routes to the CD and the southend are nowhere close to complete. But these are big steps in the right direction.

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29 responses to “Crews are currently building Seattle’s most important new bike connection in years”

  1. Brian

    Neato. I’ve disliked biking the 2nd Ave extension southbound owing to the oblique angle to tram tracks on Jackson. Hitting ’em perpendicular while southbound on 5th sounds like an improvement right there.

  2. kDavid

    This will be a welcome addition – long overdue!

  3. Don

    I’ve been using that route in both directions for a while now, it’s safer even without the lane. The corner of 4th and Jackson is a complete nightmare. Technically they have the buses performing illegal right turns by turning right into the left lane (you;re supposed to turn into the near lane, then proceed to signal and lane change).

    1. Don

      right turns from west bound on Jackson

  4. Eli

    Yes! It will finally directly connect my apartment to the most important bike facility, by far, in the city: King St. Station, to travel Vancouver BC, where I can (and do) actually *enjoy* riding a bike on weekends.

  5. NickS

    This really is great news for us south-enders that travel to Pioneer Square and downtown. That said, I’m uncertain about the stop-signs-every-block part of climbing King eastbound. This is a congested area, and the stop signs make for difficult hill-starts, and on-street parking means going around and dodging parallel parkers. Will there be changes to restrict parking or any kind of separated, protected bike lane on King? Businesses in the ID proved a number of years ago, when paid parking rates (temporarily) increased, that they are not shy about raising holy hell with City Hall if anything threatens car parking for visitors from the suburbs.

    While I’m excited about the addition of the 2nd to Main to 5th to King link, as you mention there are still some major missing parts of a south-end route. For example, one short, but critical item is a connection between Beacon Hill and the International District. This would also add a connection from the Mountains to Sound Trail, connecting the I-90 / Sam Smith Park / Judkins Park area of the Central District to North Beacon Hill. It’s a true, fully separated trail with no vehicle traffic, so it would be terrific to connect this to the rest of the network. Right now, your choice is to cross the Jose P. Rizal bridge on either a narrow sidewalk or into a general traffic lane with cars and buses between Beacon Hill and the Little Saigon edge of the International District.

    I unfortunately don’t see how SDOT could create this connection without eliminating a general purposes travel lane on the bridge, something I doubt they’d be eager to do.

    1. asdf

      At least in the downhill direction, I think designating one lane for bikes and buses, the other for cars, is the best compromise. The buses have professional drivers, the bikes will be moving fast enough to not delay the bus, and riders of the 36 will appreciate the exclusive lane.

      Uphill, though, I don’t see any good solution. A shared bus/bike lane means the bus would get stuck behind bikes going 5 mph. Taking a traffic lane would subject a major bus route to more congestion.

    2. Matthew Snyder

      SDOT is planning to add a 2-way cycletrack on the east side of the Jose Rizal bridge as part of the 12th Ave S Vision Zero project. At least I think that’s the plan. They’ve switched the design from two 1-way cycletracks on either side of the bridge to a single 2-way. There’s some information on the SDOT project website.

      Who knows what will actually get built? Whatever we see at 95% design could get quietly changed when the project goes out to bid. Let’s watch those construction documents closely!

      1. Patrick

        Yeah, this one is going to need some lobbying by cyclists who use the bridge. I guarantee the businesses that DGAF about running forklifts in the general purpose lanes of 12th during rush hour aren’t going to be quiet about losing load/unload space.

      2. Wu Tang

        I agree with Patrick about the Chinese wholesale warehouse and forklift guys… although their presence does go to show that removing a lane does not effect overall traffic flow. I ride up the bridge each morning and 12th ave is the only gap in an otherwise lovely commute. I suppose that with their lobbying a east side 2 way cycle track will be the end result…. again, another another switch from side to side. an east side cycle track must connect with Yesler!

  6. Peri Hartman

    Years ago, I used to take King st. uphill, every day. It was fine at the time. Downhill it was too slow so I took Jackson. Now with the rails, Jackson is no good.

    I think the city should put stop signs on all (or most) streets crossing King st. so that it is easier to use as a through route. East of 5th, I don’t think any of the crossing streets have much traffic, except for 12th Ave, and that’s where the stoplight will go.

    With this additional touch – stop signs – it should be a nice route !

    1. Ray

      I ride uphill on King every day, and all intersections from 5th to 10th are four-way stops. There already is a light at 12th. The new one is going in at Rainier. It’s fine for riding, as traffic is sparse and generally slow, but it’s still not what I’d call a greenway at present. They did just put in new sharrows, which are now well outside the doorzone, but it would be pretty laughable if that’s all that’s planned in its conversion to a greenway.

      1. Peri Hartman

        Four-way stops are no good for a real bike route. Uphill, fine. But downhill (or uphill with an e-bike), who wants to stop every block? This is a joke of a bike route and a motivator for people to risk riding on Jackson.

      2. Tom Fucoloro

        In general, I agree about 4-way stops. King Street is somewhat unique in that it is a bustling commercial street, but not a useful through-route for cars. And the 4-way stops do seem to keep speeds slow, which is what makes it more comfortable as a bike route. I said “more comfortable,” NOT all ages and abilities. If they were to get rid of the all-way stops, they would also need aggressive traffic diverters to make sure people don’t start driving quickly all the way down the street. Right now, most motor vehicles there are accessing a business on a nearby block, which is the way it should be. Through traffic should have to stay on Jackson, otherwise any effort to get rid of the 4-way stops would likely backfire and make things worse.

      3. Ray

        OK, I get it now – you want stop signs removed in the east-west direction on King St so you can go faster downhill. No thanks – it’s the stop signs slowing down east-west traffic that make this a pretty safe uphill bike route. I just can’t see them putting in adequate traffic calming on a commercial street like this to make vehicles slow down enough for this to feel safe without the stop signs.

      4. Peri Hartman

        Ah, I see your point. But a slow greenway isn’t suitable for a major bike route. It’s good for recreation and, perhaps, young minors. But not for commuting.

        Perhaps the proposal as it stands is fine for now. If riders start using King a lot, we can always improve it in the future.

      5. dave

        I commute in the Jackson/King corridor on a bike every day. Downhill on Jackson is totally fine as long as you stay in the right lane. I don’t know why folks get so freaked out about the streetcar tracks — just stay in the curb lane! Uphill I take King and it’s very pleasant and low traffic. I think the stop signs in all directions keep the traffic low volume and slow.

      6. NickS

        @dave: The problem with riding downhill on Jackson and staying in the right (non-rail) lane is that, depending on your timing, you may be stuck repeatedly behind a train of buses that stop just west of Rainier / Boren / 14th, just west of 12th, underneath I-5, at Maynard, at 4th,..

        If you’re patient, no problem. If you’re human, and think, gee, I’m just going to zip around the bus, you run into (hopefully not literally) two problems — one, you may encounter a car driving 45+mph downhill in the left lane (because, hey, who needs speed enforcement on 25mph streets in Seattle), and two, you may go just a hair wider than you intended to and catch your wheel in the tracks. Best case scenario, eat pavement, and worst case scenario, be thrown beneath the wheels of the bus and decorate the roadway with your internal organs.

  7. BillN

    I have had a lot of close calls on King and they all seem to relate to cars looking for parking. U turns, people backing up to parallel park and not see bikes, and cars more focused on looking for a spot than looking for bikes. Removing parking on King and putting in protected bike lanes would solve this. There is a huge parking lot under the freeway that is rarely full. This would be a cheap place to put in bike lanes because you just need paint and some planters. New stoplights are not required except maybe on 4th and 12th.

  8. eddiew

    the arterial with the current two-way cycle track is 2nd Avenue Extension South, not 2nd Avenue. South King Street is a great option. you suggest making South Jackson Street a “complete” street. what is that? was the re-striping of Broadway successful in making it move like molasses? perhaps there should be specialization between arterials: cycling priority on some and transit priority on others. the streetcars were disasters.

    1. NickS

      Sorry to “well actually” you, but — the overwhelming majority of the current two-way cycle track is on 2nd Ave. 2nd Ave Extension S. begins south of Yesler Way, and the cycle track continues on it for one short block past the Lazarus Day Center and Chief Seattle Club before abruptly ending at S. Washington St.

  9. NickS

    Awesome, thanks for sharing! It sounds like the SDOT site is out of date if your comment about single 2-way is correct; they state in the August update, “a one-way protected bike lane on either side of 12th Ave S.”

    1. Ray

      I hope it’s one-way on either side on 12th. Are riders going from the ID to Beacon Hill really going to cross 12th twice just to use a short 2-way bike lane? I’m not sure I would.

      1. (Another) Tom

        I absolutely will not so also really hoping against a two-way bike lane that won’t work for me and the motorists emboldened to punish pass because of their conveniently erroneous belief that cyclists are required to use a bike lane if it is present.

  10. Debra Kapteyn

    I would love to see a bike lane along 99. I currently ride from South Park to Wallingford every day. My commute ends up being 14th to East Marginal to 4th ave to pioneer square where i cut over to 3rd to Virginia to Westlake to 34th to Wallingford ave. The industrial roads to bus lanes is hell, but better than riding in congested bike lanes with dummies on lime bikes who don’t know how to make the bike go. Why don’t we have a dedicated south to north bike lane running along the highway without intersections and stop signs?! What a joy it would be to peddle and only stop when you have to, not at every stop light at every block.

  11. Chef Boyardee

    The portion from Main Street/5th Avenue to 2nd Avenue Extension is currently open & is now my default route through downtown – way better than taking 4th Avenue. Now I am seriously considering having my kids go on bike from the Space Needle to Chinatown, something I previously would not have.

    1. Me too, and inbound from 5th & King to 2nd and Main it seems to work, other than the temporary left. Then there’s that light which cycles to always catch me, while peds cross northbound on 3rd Ave S while I wait to cross to merge northbound onto 2nd Ave S Ext., proceed through any curbside hazards past Union Gospel, and then get caught at the long light to cross Washington and continue on the 2nd Ave PBL.
      I think I might start turning north on 3rd Ave S to go behind Union Gospel, turn left onto Washington through the lightly travelled 4-way to get to 2nd, and make a free right avoiding that light I always catch at the bottom of Main and the other long light at 2nd and Washington. But that’s just me.
      It will be nice when the two way PBL along 5th is done, the left from 5th northbound to Main is not good. A lot of opposing fast traffic and a need to take the only lane from the motorists, no fun.

  12. eddiew

    how will SDOT will allocate the ROW on 5th Avenue South between South Main and Jackson streets? Will the cycle track be next to the west curb or next to the travel lane? Today, Route 62 takes a south to west right turn. will the cycle time for bus and bicycles be different or shared? there may be a pocket issue. consider the issue on 7th Avenue nearside Stewart Street. does the southbound cycle track to the right of right turning buses of routes 7 and 36 create an issue?

  13. Sarah

    This is so exciting! I saw it for the first time today. I commute from Magnolia to the Central District and generally use this route to get around the train station. A PBL just makes it that much better!

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