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The future 15th Ave NE bike lanes won’t actually reach Lake City Way, docs show

Map of the project area.
Images from the project fact sheet (PDF).

Designs for the 15th Ave NE paving project are compete, and they include bike lanes from (almost) Lake City Way to NE 55th Street, most of which are protected bike lanes.

There’s a lot to like about the project, which will add a lot of connectivity to the area. But the bike protection disappears in key places, undercutting much of the potential for the project.

First, the good stuff. Thanks to the NE 65th St bike lanes that opened in 2019, the new 15th Ave NE bike lanes will connect to the under-construction Roosevelt Station. Construction is scheduled to begin this summer and wrap up in fall 2021.

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Lake City will also (almost) get a much better connection to the heart of the north Seattle bike network, Roosevelt High School, Ravenna Park and the U District.

For most of the distance, the bike lanes will be protected by either a paint-and-post buffer or a row of parked cars, as shown in the city’s diagram:

Diagram showing the street layout betwen Lake City Way and NE 62nd Street.However, this diagram and the city’s project map are misleading because the bike lane will not be protected for the entire distance. In fact, the bike lane will disappear entirely for the block and a half south of Lake City Way NE, the official design documents (PDF) show:

Design plan. Design plan.This means people biking north will lose all protection from traffic at the exact moment they need it most: The business district and the very busy Lake City Way crossing. The decision to end the bike lane a block and a half early also severely limits the benefit to all Lake City residents, who will still need to bike either in mixed traffic across a state highway or on sidewalks through the businesses district, neither of which are appealing options.

This is a huge missed opportunity that severely undercuts the rest of the project. It is also not made clear in the outreach materials that the bike lane will not reach Lake City Way NE. Only those willing to dive into the big, dense construction documents would know the truth.

This omission is reminiscent of the Columbian Way S bike lane debacle on Beacon Hill last year in which neighbors did not learn that bike lanes would not actually reach Beacon Ave S until they saw the paint on the ground. The lack of a bike connection was omitted from outreach materials. SDOT went back and completed the Columbian Way bike lane late last year. The Columbian Way omission was a bit more egregious than this one, since that design was changed at the last minute without telling anyone.  In this case, even the 60% design documents showed the bike lane gap near Lake City Way NE, though the outreach materials do not mention it. Residents and safe streets advocates should not need to scour dense design documents to make sure SDOT’s outreach materials are accurate. The result is that advocating for a change now is a lot harder than it would have been a year ago, since the design is now ready for construction.

The protection will also disappear at major intersections, including NE 75th St and NE 65th St, turning into skinny paint-only bike lanes. These changes are also not noted in the project map on the city’s website or in the official fact sheet. The map shows protected bike lanes as a solid line and paint-only bike lanes at a dotted line. The line is solid from Lake City Way to Cowen Pl NE without interruption, but here are the NE 75th St and NE 65th St intersections in the design document:

Design Plan. Design plan.The intersection with NE 65th St in particular feels like a missed opportunity to provide full protection for bike users, such as a protected intersection. Our city does not have many intersections where two streets with protected bike lanes cross like this, especially for two routes where a lot of turning movements are expected. The current design does as little as possible to help people make turns, basically painting little green boxes for people to maneuver into and wait.

Ultimately, there is a lot to like in this project. But a few decisions to bail on the bike protection when it is needed most undercuts the rest of the improvements. A bike route is only as comfortable as its least comfortable section, and even a single stressful intersection can make people think twice about making a trip by bike.

The decision to bail on the protection south of Lake City Way has cut off everyone who lives north of that street from reaping the benefits of the rest of the project. Lake City Way is a major barrier that divides the neighborhood, and this project could have helped people get across it.

Bike lanes, especially protected bike lanes, are also key pieces of complete streets, and their safety benefits extend to people walking and driving. So ending the bike lanes early also eliminates opportunities for other road safety improvements such as a major crosswalk improvement in the business district at Lake City Way. The very long, angled crosswalk across 15th Ave NE at Lake City Way will not be getting any shorter under the city’s plan. Shorter crosswalks are safer and more comfortable because people using them spend less time in the path of turning cars. With protected bike lanes, the city could shorten the time people spend walking in front of car traffic by almost half. That’s a big deal. Instead, the city will build four lanes for general traffic, including a right turn lane and whatever you call this pointless disappearing lane:

City concept diagram with my comments showing the long crosswalk and pointing to a lane that ends abruptly.The city budget is about to be in crisis due to the covid-19 outbreak and the unplanned West Seattle Bridge emergency. We have no idea yet what all this will mean for other transportation projects, but it’s not good. We need to be getting the most benefit possible from all our investments, especially expensive repaving projects like this one. So yes, I’m focusing on a small bad section in a longer good project. But it’s important to get these details right the first time so we get the most for our money and so we don’t spend more money later fixing them.

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5 responses to “The future 15th Ave NE bike lanes won’t actually reach Lake City Way, docs show”

  1. Andres Salomon

    I’m not there any more, but since I’m super-familiar w/ the area and advocated for these lanes, I’ll chime in.

    First, NE 75th intersection looks good enough. Because of the reservoir, no one’s parking there anyways, so paint-only bike lanes are probably good enough. There’s a left-turn bike box in the crosswalk (wtf?), but the bike lanes on NE 75th are crap anyways so – probably not a lot of AAA turning demand.

    Second, NE 65th intersection is underwhelming. There, you WILL have AAA turning demand. I saw moms with young kids biking in the NE 65th PBL. There should be proper left-turn boxes for bikes there. In addition, because Roosevelt HS is right there AND the light rail station, the intersection should be made safer from right-hooks (split phases or protected intersection or.. whatever) for people biking and walking.

    Third, the NE 80th section is hilarious. No one uses or cares about NE 80th, other than the people who live there. Few people are turning onto it, and there’s no reason for left-turn lanes (for cars) there. Heck, I’m not even sure left turns should be allowed there. Turn left onto 75th if you need to.

    Finally, that right turn lane onto LCW is garbage. That sidewalk is already too narrow, and Pagliacci’s driveway means you want some space between drivers and sidewalk users. Traffic volumes on 15th are not high; it’s not like people are lining up for blocks because they can’t turn right. Pedestrian traffic is light, so the crosswalk is not blocked during the green phase. Get rid of the left-turn lanes at 80th, scrap the extra right-turn lane onto LCW and and ban right-on-red (I’ve been hit there by a right-turning driver while walking in the crosswalk), and you have plenty of room for the PBL to continue all the way to LCW.

  2. Matt

    I’m more sad about the loss of protection at 65th and 75th than the loss of bike facilities at the intersection with LCW. The bike lane goes far enough to provide a comfortable route to the south side businesses, and that’s about as good as I would expect there. Even if they completed the lane to the intersection, then what? Is a timid rider going to ride north on 15th? Turn onto LCW? I’m not that timid and wouldn’t be excited to do either of those things. When I head north of LCW, I usually cut over at 75th to Roosevelt.

    Do we know why there is no protection at 65th & 75th? Is it a budgetary issue?

    1. RossB

      Yeah, I was thinking the same thing. The bike lanes sort of fizzle out after 80th because there is no point to go anywhere after 80th. I’m not saying people won’t, but after 80th, your choices are to head up the street on 15th (where there no bike lanes, and no businesses) or turn onto Lake City (a badass move made by people who generally avoid bike lanes).

      This is designed to get people between the commercial neighborhood there (by Pagliacci’s) and places south. This ends roughly at The Shambles. So, you would stop, get out of the bike lane, and lock up your bike. A walk to the end of the block takes about a minute (https://goo.gl/maps/F8dPKDGoSe42a3iAA). The farthest walk is probably one that involves going to Coopers, and that is only three minutes away (https://goo.gl/maps/FVREK8mH3v6gCcWv6). At that point you are biking on the sidewalk anyway — but just as likely, you are just locking up your bike, and walking the last few feet.

      I’m more concerned about the major intersections — 65th and 75th — that have lots more cars turning right. Probably the most dangerous is southbound around 65th. A biker could be moving fast (down the hill), and a car might not see them, and turn right into their path. You can see that the intersection is dangerous: https://goo.gl/maps/xoqwLH3hD9RUb19q9.

    2. Dave

      This 15th Ave NE bike lane is going to be the main safe biking connection from Maple Leaf/Lake City to the rest of the Seattle bike network. Once safely across Lake City Way, it’s just a short hop on 15th or the sidewalk to NE 82nd St, which is a low traffic street that will soon be a Neighborhood Greenway leading to Northgate Link Station and Wedgwood. To say that the portion just south of LCW is unimportant because the only destination is the business district at Lake City Way is overlooking the importance of this section of PBL from a network perspective and ignoring the needs of the many bicyclists arriving from north of Lake City Way. Lake City Way is very difficult to cross in this area, and the section immediately adjacent to Lake City Way is arguably the most important piece of this entire PBL.

      1. Matt

        I totally agree that crossing LCW is terrible.

        My point was just that, absent bike infra north of LCW, there’s really not much to connect to. If you need a bike lane to feel safe, you probably turned off at either 75th or 80th and headed over to Roosevelt. If you don’t, then a half block of missing bike lane isn’t going to make a huge difference.

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