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After pushback, city will complete Columbian Way bike lane at Beacon Ave

Top-down design concept showing the bike lane extending all the way to the intersection.
From SDOT.
Photo looking east from the newly-constructed bike lane on Columbian Way. The lane disappears for half a block before the intersection.
Photo taken May 31 shows that the bike lane ends before the intersection.

Here’s some great news for southend bike riders: SDOT has decided to complete the westbound S Columbian Way bike lane at Beacon Ave after all.

As we reported in June, neighbors of the major Columbian Way repaving project were surprised to see that the brand new protected bike lane ended about a half block early, leaving an uncomfortable uphill gap used by people driving turning right on to Beacon Ave. The bike lane, the biggest bike infrastructure improvement in southeast Seattle this year, was supposed to be a complete connection all the way to 15th Ave S, serving Mercer Middle School and Jefferson Park. There was no mention on the project website that the bike lane had been cut back half a block, and advocates were caught unaware. Even some SDOT staffers didn’t seem aware of the change.

Needless to say, people were pretty upset, yours truly included. As I wrote:

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“A bike route is only as comfortable as its least comfortable section. A missing gap like this is likely the difference between whether a family will use the lane with their kids or not, for example. This is the route from Columbia City to Jefferson Park and Mercer Middle School, for example. So eleven-year-olds are now supposed to just merge with car traffic every day while biking up a major hill to school?”

Well, SDOT listened, and they are fixing it. Right now.

SDOT Spokesperson Ethan Bergerson said the change is “in response to concerns from people who bike in this area and specifically thanks to your article highlighting the problem this summer.” So good work everyone who spoke up about it. Special shout out to Matthew Snyder, a reader and project neighbor who was very persistent in tracking down the construction plans and asking questions.

The changes also come with some significant changes to the intersection, especially for people trying to turn left. From the SDOT Blog:

“With the new left turn restrictions for drivers looking to go northbound and southbound, drivers now will need to turn right, then make 2 left turns to get to their respective northbound or southbound destinations. These are called Michigan Left Turns. Suggested turn around streets include S Alaska St and S Ferdinand St. We understand this will be a change for some drivers; however, it will improve the traffic flow in the intersection and protect cars and people that ride bikes from collisions.”

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12 responses to “After pushback, city will complete Columbian Way bike lane at Beacon Ave”

  1. I rode my bike eastbound on Columbian Way through the intersection last evening. Having the bike lane protected up to the intersection and a dedicated bike signal with no right turn on red made it feel far safer to cross in the dark and wet conditions. Time will tell how well drivers can adjust to having to perform a “Michigan left” (Wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Michigan_left), but so far it’s been a nice improvement.

    1. Breadbaker

      Having grown up and having learned to drive in Michigan, I like the Michigan left, but one thing its requires is a lot of land for roads, because they won’t work unless you can make the U-turn that follows the right turn. Seattle doesn’t have a lot of land for that. When there is room, they’re a great way to avoid the dangers of left turns.

      1. Tom Fucoloro

        Yeah, I would say this is hardly the standard “Michigan left.” That might even be misnomer here (I’m not sure how broad that term is). This is really just going right, then using the wide center median to turn around. It’s not a highway context (so no extra turning space needed for semi trucks).

  2. (Another) Tom

    Bummer for those living on S. Alaska and Ferdinand St. who will see increased traffic on their neighborhood street but this sounds like a necessary change that will significantly improve throughput and hopefully cut down on the long queues of cars on S. Columbian trying to pass through.

    Most would-be left turners will be better served to bypass the intersection all together and use S. Spokane or Orcas St. to make their East-West connection instead.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Beacon Ave has a wide center median, so people turning around won’t actually need to drive down a neighborhood street. They just need to turn into the median, then turn again.

      1. (Another) Tom

        Derp. Good point! This makes for an even better solution.

  3. Matthew W Snyder

    Thanks for bringing attention to this story, Tom!

    I wish it weren’t such a pain to get access to the construction documents (actually, I wish we didn’t need to worry about inspecting the construction documents to begin with, but this project clearly showed that we do). You have to know where to look, you have to register for an account under a company name, and you have to have the right search terms. Maddeningly, if you search for “Columbian” or “Beacon” on the procurement website, you won’t find this project. You need to know that the project is part of “2018 Arterial Asphalt and Concrete Package 3” document set, but there’s no obvious way that I’m aware of to figure that out.

  4. Patrick

    Yaay. Very excited that this was corrected. I’ll feel a lot better bringing my kids back and forth on the cargo bike down to the Columbia City library.

    And it honestly seems more legible and straightforward for cars than the weave-y left turn lanes that were squeezed in before.

  5. max

    It’s still not a complete connection to Columbia City though, as the intersection of Alaska at MLK has the same issue. That’s even worse since there’s arguably slightly more traffic there and yet the road is way too wide and could easily be narrowed to accommodate bike Lanes right up to the intersection in both east and west directions. The bike lane heading down the hill from beacon right now is downright dangerous – you’ll be getting a head of steam up only to have the bike lane disappear from you right as cars try to get right so that they can go straight thru the intersection with mlk. It’s actually better to just not use the downhill bike lane at all to avoid getting hit by a car at the bottom of the hill.

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      Yes, the intersection with MLK is terrible. Same goes for most MLK crossings in Rainier Valley. The intersections are massive, and there’s no protection. We need a total safety overhaul of the major MLK intersections for many reasons (ppl driving keep hitting trains, ppl walking keep getting hit by people driving and sometimes trains, and ppl biking are left to just fend for themselves).

    2. NickS

      Absolutely agree. This is also a huge problem with the new protected bike lanes on Othello (/Swift/Myrtle). The connection at MLK Jr Way S with both the station and people trying to cross MLK to get towards Rainier Ave, Seward Park Ave, and the Lake Washington Loop trail is terrible.

  6. NickS

    There is good signage on northbound Montlake for the u-turn for the 520 westbound onramp (not a Michigan left, but the closest thing I can think of in this area). Most drivers seem to figure out that route pretty easily. Is there anything posted prominently at the Beacon/Columbian intersection and Alaska/Ferdinand median cuts to inform drivers to initially turn right and then do a u-turn? I expect a lot of confused or irritated drivers will either make a left anyway, or will fumble their way through the median-based parking lots adjacent to the intersection instead of continuing to the next street.

    The only thing that will prevent drivers from ignoring the signs and making a left turn anyway is peer pressure from delayed vehicles honking behind them when oncoming traffic is heavy. We won’t get help from SPD as they don’t do traffic enforcement beyond off-duty gigs directing sportsball traffic.

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