Joint Federal/SDOT report shows RapidRide J and new bike lanes would move far more people + Town hall Thursday

Map of the project noting where bike and bus improvements will happen.It’s hard to think of many potential bike lanes in Seattle as important and fundamentally game-changing as Eastlake Ave. I would probably put it at number two behind only Rainier Ave. There is no other viable option for a quality bike route along the east side of Lake Union between the University Bridge and South Lake Union.

Not only is the route today is one of the most dangerous for people biking, but it will also some day connect to the 520 Trail once the state completes their new connection between Montlake and I-5. So if you think Eastlake Ave is important today, just wait a decade when it becomes the most direct bike route between much of the Eastside and Seattle.

But bike lanes on Eastlake are not just about people biking through the neighborhood. They are also about opening up the neighborhood to customers on bike and providing more residents with a safe way to bike to and from their homes. And this is a chance to support local businesses and build more capacity for people to get there by bus and bike.

The Eastlake Ave remake is part of the larger RapidRide J project, which would include major bus priority improvements between downtown and Roosevelt. Because the project is due to receive significant Federal funding, it is currently undergoing a Federal environmental assessment (PDF). That’s where you come in. You can voice your support for the project, especially the Eastlake bike lanes, via this online comment form and by attending an open house or town hall meeting this week. The biggest meeting is likely to be Thursday’s 6 p.m. town hall at TOPS Elementary with Councilmember Alex Pedersen. From Share the Cities:

Show up to CM Alex Pedersen’s town hall at TOPS elementary school tell your personal story and connection to Eastlake and to show support for climate friendly changes and safety improvements in Eastlake that help all of us move throughout our city.

Let’s gather at 5:50 pm in one section of seats to show support. Share The Cities will be bringing small hand held paper signs & stickers to show support.

Handmade signs are welcome.

There are also drop-in open houses about the project all week:

January 28, 5-9PM, REI
222 Yale Ave N, Seattle, WA 98109

January 29, 12-4PM, Starbucks
2344 Eastlake Ave E, Seattle, WA 98102

January 30, 9AM-12PM, Starbucks
6417 Roosevelt Way NE, Seattle, WA 98115

February 1, 9AM-12PM, University Family YMCA
5003 12th Ave NE, Seattle, WA 98105

Of course there is room for improvement in some areas, such as short sections of bike lane without a barrier or intersections that could use a higher level of protection. But the core of the Seattle/Federal preferred design is very good and worthy of support. We’ll do a block-by-block breakdown of the project in a future post.

Safety

The project would replace or improve sidewalks near the 23 new stations and would build 200 new curb ramps. Existing crosswalks along the whole route would also be “upgraded to current standards.”

The report notes that Fairview and Eastlake “experience some of the highest numbers of bicycle collisions in the corridor (40 between 2012 and 2017)” and that the project “would improve safety for all users by allowing for greater separation between bicyclists and motor vehicles/buses and reducing conflicts, providing greater predictability of people on bicycles and reducing the potential for conflicts at intersections.”

The project team conducted a ridiculously exhaustive, 100-page study of Eastlake bike route options (PDF). That’s 33 pages longer than the Seattle/Federal environmental assessment for the entire RapidRide J project. After all analyzing nine different options, the project team discovered that the preferred alternative is the best option because:

  • Fewest potential conflicts at intersections and driveways
  • Most straightforward and intuitive route – Other routes require several turns off Eastlake Ave E so people riding bikes may be confused or choose to continue on Eastlake, slowing transit speeds
  • Access to all 8 RapidRide stops and TOPS K-8 school
  • Maintains the turn lane and planted median on Eastlake Ave E

The report also cites Seattle’s new Bicycle Safety Ordinance, passed in September, noting that the bike lanes are consistent with the ordinance. If they were to remove the lanes, the ordinance would require the project to report to the Seattle City Council. But as it is, the bike lanes don’t require further Council approval. That ordinance is great, and here you can see how it flips the script and makes building the Bicycle Master Plan the logistically easier option for a project team by requiring extra Council process if they stray from the plan.

The bicycle facilities would serve the Project by providing access to the transit stations along the corridor, connect with existing bicycle facilities, and fill an existing gap in the regional bicycle network, thereby improving bicycle connections with the transit system. The PBLs would buffer the bicycle lane from the travel lanes and improve safety for bicyclists by separating them from other modes and removing them from mixed traffic. City Council Ordinance 125902 requires SDOT to construct PBLs that were identified in the Bicycle Master Plan whenever constructing a major paving project or alternatively provide a report to City Council if SDOT determines that the characteristics of the physical features or usage of a street, or financial constraints of full compliance, prevent the incorporation of PBLs with adequate directionality. The PBLs on Fairview Ave N, Eastlake Ave E, and 11th/12th Ave NE are consistent with the ordinance and therefore do not require reporting to the City Council.

Parking

There are currently between 4,271 and 4,589 on-street parking spaces along the whole RapidRide J projects, and the average use rate is between 72% and 85%. The preferred design would remove 471 to 699 spots (depending on peak-hour parking restrictions), which is about 11% of the parking along the route. However, the bulk of the parking removal (325 spaces) will be on Eastlake Ave where there is not room for safe bike lanes, bus priority and on-street parking. This is the biggest trade-off in the project, and will almost certainly be the focus of public debate, so let’s see what the report has to say about it:

During mid-day, on-street parking along Eastlake Ave E is well utilized with more than 90% of the on-street parking stalls on Eastlake Ave E in the Eastlake commercial district14 occupied. Additionally, approximately 25% of these vehicles parked on-street along Eastlake Ave E during the mid-day are for durations over 4 hours. Longer durations are assumed to be associated with employee or residential parking. An overnight study of parking in the Eastlake neighborhood had relatively low utilization on Eastlake Ave E (34%), likely because residents may not use available parking after businesses and restaurants close in the evenings and because of early morning parking restricted zones for the southbound curb lane.

This suggests something we saw during the Westlake remake and points to a potential solution for the business district: A lot of people are parking along Eastlake all day while they go to work, perhaps as a way to avoid paying high parking rates in South Lake Union and downtown. As a result, they are using parking that could otherwise be used for short-term stops into Eastlake businesses. It is not in Eastlake’s or the city’s best interests to use valuable road space as a commuter park and ride. So as parking spaces are removed, the city will look into converting more of the side street parking near the business district into short-term or paid parking. Expanding or modifying residential parking zones might also be part of the solution, allowing residents to park all-day while visitors are limited to 2 or 4 hours. And there are quite a few streets that limit parking to only one side of the street, so the city could allow parking on both sides where feasible.

Supporting local businesses

Public street space is very valuable, and public parking near local businesses should be designed to support those businesses. That’s also part of the focus behind the bus, bike and walking improvements in this project: Helping everyone get there more easily and safely. Sometimes public debates about on-street parking acts as though parking is all that matters to local businesses, but that mindset erases the bulk of business district shoppers who get there by walking, biking and transit.

Though Seattle did not study Eastlake in particular, they did conduct customer intercept surveys in a number of business districts around town back in 2012. Basically, surveyors stopped people on the sidewalks outside stores and asked them how they got there. The two areas closest to Eastlake showed the vast majority of customers walked there. In Fremont, only 22% of customers drove while 86% walked, biked or took transit. On nearby Capitol Hill, the result was even more dramatic. In fact, more people biked there than drove alone:

Chart showing a breakdown of how customers arrived to various business districts in Seattle.

Because these surveys were taken in 2012, they doesn’t capture the growth in ride-hailing services like Uber and Lyft. Likewise, it does not capture bike share.

The Eastlake bike lanes will support local businesses by finally making it safe for people to get there by bike. And unlike with on-street car parking, bike lanes provide a lot of headroom to grow. As more people bike, the potential for more customers also increases. And the transit improvements will increase capacity to move people along the street by 10% to 14%. Car parking, on the other hand, pretty much hits a hard customer ceiling once it is full.

Eastlake residents have long had among the highest bike commute rates in the city, with upwards of 7% of residents biking as their primary way of getting to work even nearly a decade ago (sadly, this 2013 Gene Balk piece is no longer functional on the Seattle Times website, though Curbed noted that Eastlake ranked fourth in the city for bike commuting. Yes, the 2010 Census data is getting very old, but we will have a much more granular look at commute habits by neighborhood when the 2020 data is released.).

So these bike lanes are not just about providing a high quality regional bike route connection, which they will, they are also about serving the many people who live in Eastlake and bike to get around.

Car travel time is expected to increase by about 2 minutes when the line first opens, but projections to 2040 suggest car travel times would actually be shorter than if the project was not built thanks to the reduced congestion as more people take the rapid transit line. Either way, full corridor car travel time should not be a project priority. Eastlake is right next to I-5, so people driving fully through the area should just go there. Providing spill-over capacity for people trying to shave a minute off their I-5 trip is bad for the neighborhood and should be discouraged at best or at least not a priority.

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13 Responses to Joint Federal/SDOT report shows RapidRide J and new bike lanes would move far more people + Town hall Thursday

  1. Dave says:

    Someone (Cascade maybe?) should organize bike rides to the businesses along Eastlake, like 14 Carrot Cafe. Right now those businesses are fighting the loss of parking. Studies will not change that, but customers showing up at their business on bikes may sway them.

  2. Jules James says:

    RR-J benefits bike riders. But only bike riders. Bus riders end up 4 blocks from the UW. Route 70 now allows bus riders access to and from the campus without setting foot in the roadway. Shuttles no longer will have access on Eastlake Avenue — so screw 30 years of insitutional and corporate Transportation Management Plans. Lyft and Uber will be discharging passengers into traffic lanes. Restaurants that rely on their “Eastlake Avenue” street addresses for app-based meal delivery services will be non-competitive. Those of limited mobility will be basically excluded from Eastlake. So if bicycles are the sole solution to everything urban — YES! — support the RR-J as proposed.

    • (Another) Tom says:

      Restaurants that rely on their “Eastlake Avenue” street addresses for app-based meal delivery services will be non-competitive.

      Pearls CLUTCHED.

    • Forrest says:

      I currently take a bus to UW that stops on Roosevelt. On my ride home, I catch it *8* blocks from campus. Why? It’s an express. This will absolutely benefit bus riders. Transit priority on Eastlake & Roosevelt will be fantastic!

    • RossB says:

      You can always walk those four blocks. If you can’t walk those four blocks, you can transfer to a bus that will take you right there. Detouring to serve the UW is nice, but ends up costing more money. This ends up hurting all bus riders, everywhere. Buses runs less often, because instead of spending money running them more frequently, they are spending money sending that bus into traffic, so people don’t have to walk.

      https://humantransit.org/2010/02/the-power-and-pleasure-of-grids.html

    • asdf2 says:

      Not everybody boarding a bus down Eastlake is headed to the UW campus itself. Some are headed to points north or west, or they might be staying on the bus to Roosevelt. These people get a much faster trip, by having a bus that goes in a straight line. Some people might even get off at 40th or 50th and walk across I-5 to Wallingford.

      As to Eastlake itself, if you read the proposal more carefully, there is plenty of loading and space for customers on the adjacent side streets. The reason why the parking appears full is that people are hogging the space to store their cars all day long, perhaps employees of the stores, or people riding the bus to go downtown. Allowing one person to store their car for hours at a time is a very inefficient use of space. According to the proposal, a total of 325 parking spaces will be removed. This isn’t a lot.

      Even with citywide bicycle modeshare in the low single digits, there will still be way more than 325 daily riders passing through such a key route like Eastlake. As evidence, one need look no further than the Fremont bridge on the other side of Lake Union, which has an actual bike counter, and logged just 1,000,000 bike trips last year, an average of just under 3,000 bike trips per day. A mere 1/8th of that is already enough to result in more daily bike users than displaced parking spaces.

    • eddiew says:

      JJ: yes, the transit network would be stronger with routes 70 and 67 both frequent and separate. the transfer walks between the RR Route 70 and the Brooklyn Station should be minimized. Route 70 RR would serve the heart of the U District and the UW campus. SDOT is attempting to brand deleted Route 66 as RR. this would make the project less costly as well. Link will be the transit game changer.

  3. RossB says:

    “I would probably put “Eastlake” at number two behind only Rainier Ave. I would put it at number one. Bike lanes could be added at MLK and work out just about as well. That would actually make more sense, since you don’t need bus lanes there. There is a bus that runs next to the train, but it is very minor compared to the 7.

  4. JB says:

    Just so everyone is aware what the “Save Eastlake” group is ginning up:

    Do you favor pushing aside the disabled and frail to turn 34% of the Eastlake Avenue roadway over to the exclusive use of the able-bodied? Or narrowing Eastlake sidewalks for those same arterial bike lanes? Or eliminating 100% of the parking on Eastlake Avenue? Or over 20% of all on-street parking in the neighborhood?
    Please come out for Transportation Committee chairperson Alex Petersen’s Town Hall at Seward School (2500 Franklin), Thursday January 30th, starting at 6:30 PM. Or send him an email at [email protected]

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  6. Zobia says:

    I am really excited that one of the options is a multi use trail along fairview with a new right of way through mallard cove that bypasses the rollercoaster hill on Yale terrace. I’ve ridden this route daily for years (Fairview – Minor – Fairview), I’ve never seen the appeal of eastlake, playing chicken with cars and busses. The route down by the lake is so much more peaceful and safe. The route through mallard cove would make it far more flatter than eastlake as well. Not sure why everybody is so hell bent on cramming bikes, busses, and general traffic on eastlake when the proper solution is right by the lake. See Figure 5-11. Option 6: Multi-Use Trail on Fairview Ave E in the assessment pdf.

    • Eastlaker says:

      Aside from the lovely view, it would be hard to come up with a worse option than Fairview!

      A Fairview option mixes cyclists, walkers, runners/joggers, lake access, and cars travelling in both directions – all between parked cars on both sides of a narrow two-way residential street.

      Yes, Fairview itself is fairly flat – but, you need to climb several blocks of steep hills to access anything in the Eastlake neighborhood. And if you’re just passing through, you still end up with the same net elevation gain/oss as if you’d stayed on Eastlake – but without providing any visability to any of Eastlake’s businesses (except Pete’s).

      Eastlake is an arterial; Fairview is not (at least the section we’re talking about…). Arterials should be engineered and prioritized for mobility of ALL users rather than the temporary storage of personal property (aka parking).

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