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SDOT starts design work on major Beacon Hill bike route – UPDATED

UPDATE: Here’s the video of the city’s presentation:

Project map.Beacon Hill has one street that cuts across the grid to be the most direct route and is less steep than other streets nearby: Beacon Ave S.

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Even with hardly any bike infrastructure at all, Beacon Ave is a fairly well-used bike route because it’s just the most direct route. But it can also be a nerve-racking experience to mix with car traffic on a street that changes its layout constantly. Sometimes there’s room for people to pass, then there isn’t, then there’s parking, then there’s a bus stop, then there’s a turn lane. And some sections go long distances without interruptions, meaning people driving can pick up a lot of speed.

But a truly safe and protected bike lane on Beacon Ave would change everything, especially for people south of Jefferson Park. It would also greatly improve the usefulness of the recently-completed connection to Columbia City via S Columbian Way.

Thanks to major pressure from neighbors and safe streets advocates during the 2019 city budget process, the City Council restored funding that Mayor Jenny Durkan cut from the Bicycle Master Plan budget and directed SDOT to invest in a major south Seattle bike lane like Beacon Ave or MLK Way S. So this is the result of that advocacy.

SDOT is currently in the early planning phase, and they are trying to identify the basic route the project will take before getting into the finer details. Though design work is underway, the project is not scheduled for construction until 2023.

SDOT is hosting an online presentation 5 to 6 p.m. today (Wednesday) about the project:

Attend the online presentation 5 to 6 PM Wednesday, August 12
Transcripts available in English, Simplified Chinese, Spanish, Tagalog, Traditional Chinese, and Vietnamese
Click here to join via Webex | Password: BeaconHillBike

South Segment

South of S Forest Street, there really aren’t other options. The project team is pretty much set on Beacon Ave as the route, which is great. This includes the section between Jefferson Park and the golf course, which includes a mostly useless center turn lane and a huge, long parking lot. There are several options here for creating protected bike lanes. 

Photo looking down a street with a lane in each direction and a center turn lane. A golf course is to the left and a parking lot is to the right.
Looking south on Beacon Ave through Jefferson Park, from Google Street View.

South of Columbian Way, Beacon Ave already has a winding and only partially usable or accessible sidewalk that travels through the center median. It looks nice on a satelite map, but the reality on the ground is much different. Sometimes the trail disappears and turns into a parking lot, and there is rarely a quality crossing at cross-streets. When using it, you are constantly worried that someone will turn into you because they are not expecting someone to be in the median. Many people who bike this stretch choose to just bike in the street rather than deal with these issues.

Photo of a street. The sidewalk in the median turns into a parking lot.
In many places, the median path dead ends into a parking lot. From Google Street View.

The success of this median trail project will depend very heavily on how they handle these parking areas and the street crossings. The path already largely exists, which is a big head start. But there’s a ton of work left to do, and this route just won’t work unless these remaining pieces are done right. The path needs to be complete and protected with clear and safe street crossings.

The route goes all the way to where Beacon Ave S dead ends into 39th Ave S, which loops around and turns into the beautiful Carkeek Dr S, which then turns into S Henderson St through Rainier Beach. That’s the scenic route. You could also hop off Beacon Ave at S Thistle St and get to Rainier Beach via the Renton Ave S bike lanes.

North Segment

Maps showing three options for the section betweent the Jose Rizal Bridge and S McClellan Street, then two option between McClellan and S Spokane Street.The North segment has more options on the table. The flattest and most direct route is 15th Ave S, which also has no transit. 14th Ave S serves more destinations, but is also hillier and less direct. 12th Ave S is the hilliest option, including a very steep climb near the Jose Rizal Bridge, and serves the fewest destinations. Honestly, 12th Ave S might be a fine neighborhood greenway option as a local neighborhood improvement, but it feels like a totally different project. There’s no way people are going that way when they have much more gradual and direct options available.

I’d be open to hearing arguments for 14th, but it’s going to be hard to beat 15th, which is less steep and more direct. 15th already has a bike lane in one direction and is well used. 14th has some short sections of bike lane as well and directly serves Beacon Hill Elementary School. They look interchangeable on a map, but the reality on the ground is much different. The grade difference between 14th and 15th can be pretty steep in places, so people use whichever one makes the most sense for where they are going.

14th almost feels more like a Safe Routes to School project, still worthy of safety investments on its own. But I am pretty sure most people traveling through the area use 15th. And I suspect that even if the city invests to improve 14th, many people will stick to 15th anyway. Bike lanes don’t flatten hills.


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7 responses to “SDOT starts design work on major Beacon Hill bike route – UPDATED”

  1. Patrick

    For the north segment, 14th will have constant interaction with buses. The 36 is frequent and well used. That means either lots of expensive bus stop islands and pedestrian conflicts or SDOT throwing up their hands, saying it’s too hard, and calling a few sharrows a “neighborhood greenway”.

  2. NickS

    Great overview, thank you! Another vote for 15th. I used Beacon Ave a number of times as an alternate route to get from Rainier Beach to Pioneer Square. I stopped for all the reasons you listed that make Beacon Ave painful to ride on, and instead use Lake Wash. Blvd and the I-90 trail to 12th & the Jose P. Rizal bridge.

    The worst section for me was, a little counter-intuitively, from Columbian south to Othello/Myrtle. The constant merging from the parking lane into the traffic lane was a real pain in the ass and drivers were not shy about honking or tail gating.

    Looking better to a real option but won’t hold my breath. Funds are looking very scarce over the next couple of years, and this will be an attractive piggy bank to raid.

  3. RobertK

    The median trail on beacon also needs a ton of repaving work. So many bumps and roots that have grown under the trail. It can be a very rough path, especially with a kid on the back of my bike.

  4. JLon

    I live in Beacon Hill and near Jefferson Park. Over the last 22 months, I’ve been riding my ebike quite a bit in this area. Here’s my take based on that.

    I’d prioritize the Jose Rizal Bridge and the stretch from Spokane Street to Columbian Way over everything else. At least for me, these are the two major pain points in this part of town. I also expect that the Spokane to Columbian stretch is going to be one of the more expensive aspects of this whole thing, so I’d rather spend the money on that first, as I share Nick S’s sense that given the current fiscal situation, there’s a good chance that a lot of this could get cut back.

    Therefore, I think we should be viewing this project through the following prism: if only 1.5 miles of this proposed route was completed before budget cuts delay the project indefinitely, what stretches would improve the existing network the most? To me, those stretches are the Jose Rizal Bridge to Yesler Street and Spokane to Columbian.

    I know the 18th Ave S Greenway isn’t perfect, especially riding south on a non-ebike. But especially now that it’s a Stay Healthy Street, it works pretty well as a path from Rizal to Spokane Street. It’s relatively close to transit and businesses. But I’ll concede that it doesn’t serve the Beacon Hill International School and that part of the neighborhood very well.

    Along the same lines, if you want to go to Columbia City, the existing Columbian Way bike lanes work pretty well, but getting to it from the north is less than ideal, because of the stretch from Spokane to Columbian Way.

    If you’re going to/from Hillman City, Seward Park, Othello, or Rainer Beach, then the Chief Sealth works well from Rainier Beach to almost Columbian Way. Then, you’ve got to deal with the 1-1.25 mile stretch to Spokane Street, which sucks. With that said, I’ll acknowledge that it’s a long steady climb heading north on the Chief Sealth. If there was a good path on Beacon Ave S in this stretch, it would be better i terms of being flatter and would also do a better job servicing the areas west of Beacon Ave S.

    That brings us back to the one mile stretch past Jefferson Park and the VA. Especially heading south, I really don’t find this stretch fun or safe feeling. You can detour over to 16th Ave S, west of the park and go past the Food Forest, but then you end by McPherson’s and you have to make a not super safe feeling left turn onto the new Columbian Way bike lane.

    Or you can head west on Dakota across 15th Ave S, up to the 13 Ave S greenway and then ride it to Angeline and get on the Chief Sealth trail from the beginning. This is a safer feeling ride, and not a big deal on an ebike, but there are some big hills in that stretch of the Chief Sealth Trail, and it’s certainly not a direct route.

    I guess you could also ride on the east side of the Golf Course on 24th and then up Cheasty. But that’s got a steep hill and it’s takes you pretty far out of your way.

    Anyway, I understand the desire to roll out an integrated route from north to south. But it seems like the design decisions for the Jefferson Park mile are kind of self-contained. So it’s not like doing that first would affect/constrain design choices north or south of that stretch.

    1. asdf2

      One thing I could not help but noticing is SDOT’s proposal to build a bike route through Beacon Hill that simply ends at the bridge, with no way to continue northward to the International District without mixing with traffic.

      Considering that bridges are chokepoints, getting a safe route across them has disproportionate impact, even if the number of miles isn’t that big.

      Unfortunately, assuming that tens of millions of dollars to widen the bridge is not available, building a safe bike route across is possibly only by taking a lane and enduring the wrath of the King Car lobby. Which may explain the city’s reluctance to do it, but it still needs to be done.

      1. Ryan Packer

        SDOT is doing the bridge this year, though I wouldn’t be surprised if it was delayed a bit.

    2. kdg

      Yes! Completely agree with this whole comment! I have been using 16th ave when biking with a kid to avoid the whole Beacon Ave disaster in that area, and in addition to being pretty far out of the way there is that tricky crossing at 16th and Columbian. The good news is that a completely separate paving project at 15th and Columbian will kinda improve that connection. http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/maintenance-and-paving/current-paving-projects/15th-ave-s-improvements

      And as Ryan mentioned, there will also be bike lanes on the JR bridge connecting up to this new project, but unfortunately they will only go as far north as King, leaving the very dangerous blocks between King and Yesler untouched.

      But yes, while I very badly want this whole project built, there is already a neighborhood greenway coming up to North Beacon Hill, the Columbian Way bike lanes connect to the Rainier Valley (which also needs a usable north-south bike route), the true missing link is Beacon Ave through the park/golf course/VA. It is all public land from 16th to 24th Ave- I think we can afford to set aside a few feet of that for bikes.

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