The recent news that one of the centerpiece transit upgrade projects of the Move Seattle levy, the RapidRide J line- formerly known as Roosevelt BRT- would see its route shortened was another big blow to the transit segment of the levy. Roosevelt BRT will not even reach the Roosevelt light rail station, instead terminating at the U District light rail station. That news comes on the heels of the city giving up entirely on turning 3 current bus routes into RapidRide lines in 2018, and news this year of the route 7’s upgrade being put on hold. The number of broken promises in the transit component of Seattle’s largest-ever transportation levy continues to grow.
But this is unfortunate news for the hopes of completing a critical bike connection between brand new light rail stations in north Seattle as well. Since 2016, Roosevelt Way NE has had a protected bike lane between NE 65th Street and the University Bridge, just waiting for the light rail station at Roosevelt. But Roosevelt is only a southbound bike lane, and RapidRide J was set to upgrade the paint bike lane on 11th Ave NE, finally completing the couplet. Now it’s not likely that will happen anytime soon.
The RapidRide J line, including the bike lane component, will not change south of the University Bridge, meaning that a full bike connection along Eastlake Ave is still planned. This will complete a hugely critical connection that will have massive citywide benefits, despite considerable opposition to parking removal along Eastlake. Earlier this year, Mayor Durkan herself voiced clear support for installing protected bike lanes on Eastlake, hopefully indicating that another downgrade isn’t likely.
North of the bridge, the PBL was planned to go on the right side of one-way 11th Ave NE, passing one bus stop island for the RapidRide line. At 43rd Street, the bike lane was going to switch to the left side of the street, reducing conflicts with bus stops all the way north to 65th Street. That switch from left to right side will not be needed now, with the paint bike lane (such as it is) staying in place on the right side of the street north of 43rd. Having the bike lane on the right side of the street south of 43rd is still pretty important, with most riders likely either connecting to the Burke Gilman via NE 40th Street or to the light rail station and central U District via NE 43rd.
NE 43rd Street is being redesigned in front of the light rail station to include wide sidewalks, an eastbound protected bike lane, and with only one vehicle travel lane directly in front of the station for buses only. People biking westbound will be able to use this lane as well. This layout extends all the way to 15th Ave, except general purpose traffic is allowed in the westbound lane between the Ave and 15th.
One thing we’ll be watching for as the RapidRide team redesigns the new bus route is how 43rd will accommodate people riding bikes west of Brooklyn Ave, in addition to how the bike lanes interact with the bus stops between the University Bridge and 43rd Street. Next year, SDOT will resubmit its environmental assessment with the shortened bus route so we’ll get a chance to look at those details then.
As for people biking northbound, without 11th Ave NE getting an upgrade to become an all-ages-and-abilities route, the best alternative is going to be 15th Ave NE. Protected lanes in both directions are being installed there by next year. But they won’t extend south of NE 55th St, and as we noted earlier this year, will not exactly be all-ages-and-abilities at major intersections like 65th and 75th, where the protection of the bike lane will disappear and riders will be left with just paint.
There’s also the 12th Ave NE neighborhood greenway, which was not selected as a Stay Healthy Street this year despite its location in the center of an urban center neighborhood. North of 55th, the greenway tends to be pretty calm, but south of there it barely qualifies as a greenway.
No, it’s clear that the best way to make up for the cancelled bike lane upgrade on 11th Ave NE is to pedestrianize the Ave.
Of course, it’s always possible that the RapidRide line could be extended at a future date and the full connections finally realized- maybe even connecting all the way to Northgate. But with the shortened RapidRide J line’s completion now pushed out to possibly 2026, it’s hard to consider that a real possibility, particularly as other lines get cancelled and deferred entirely.
You can read more about the RapidRide J line at the project website.