Advocates ask SDOT to examine different options for Beacon Ave bike route

Late last year SDOT released early designs for the safe bike route being planned to run nearly the entire length of Beacon Hill, currently scheduled to start construction in 2023. While the route on the northern end of the hill is still being decided by SDOT, we got a pretty clear picture what the department was planning for Beacon Ave south of Jefferson Park golf course. The sidewalk path that winds around the wide median in the center of the street, would be widened by four feet to better accommodate people traveling in both directions.

Four foot added to center path, rest of the street kept the same

Latest designs for the center median on Beacon Ave from late 2020. (Click to enlarge)

On a segment of roadway that’s nearly 100 feet, only four additional feet would be provided to allow Beacon Ave to become a primary north-south bike route for people traveling through a large swath of the city.

Narrow path that winds around the median

When this design was presented to the Bicycle Advisory Board last year, several members expressed concern that routing relatively fast-moving bicycle traffic down this center median would not work well, with no separation between people walking and people biking. In January, the board wrote a letter to SDOT. From the letter:

Adding bikes to the Center Median Path crowds a trail that already has a wide variety of users, which has the potential to take this asset away from community members or make it more dangerous for community members. In addition, routing bikes onto this Center Median Path does not facilitate biking as a mode of transportation, for reasons we outline below. The current design prioritizes vehicular traffic and parking. SBAB would like to encourage SDOT to be forward thinking and creative.

The board has asked SDOT to “Analyze the option of adding protected bike lanes to the street and maintaining the Center Median Path for walkers/runners/families”, or, if that’s not feasible, to “explore all creative possibilities for enabling ALL users to share the Center Median Path in a safe, comfortable, intuitive way”.

Now Beacon Hill Safe Streets, the Seattle Neighborhood Greenways affiliate in Beacon Hill, has written a letter to SDOT raising similar issues.

We’re concerned that widening the Beacon Avenue median walking path to accommodate more bicycles will lead to increased conflict between relatively fast bicycles and those walking, jogging, and rolling on the trail, especially on the sections that will have the most use and/or that have a steep grade. When we picture bicycles on this winding, park-like trail, we think of children learning to bike or adults out for a leisurely ride.

The letter asks the department to study an in-street bike lane option.

The design for this section should explore placing a bike lane on either side of the median in the existing street and have the cars move along closer the cars parked there, as has been done on Ravenna Boulevard. The roadway is already wide enough to allow this and also has the advantage of slowing vehicular traffic. This is a design that has already proven to be feasible in North Seattle, avoids conflicts with driveways, and would be less expensive than widening the median. We also would like SDOT to conduct a parking study of the project area. There are long stretches of Beacon Avenue in which the on-street parking is only lightly used. We question whether private property storage is really the best use of three miles of one of our primary arterials in Southeast Seattle.

Both groups are asking SDOT to conduct a parking study to determine how utilized the current parking lanes that run along the outer curb on Beacon Ave. There are also parking spots in the center median in numerous spots that SDOT has previously said would not be reduced.

Narrow sidewalk with planting on one side and parked cars on the other

The Beacon Hill bike route is one of three major bike routes currently moving forward after years of advocacy by the Bicycle Advisory Board and other Seattle bike advocates to improve connections between Southeast Seattle and the rest of the city. Making sure the connections are well-designed is also pretty important.

About Ryan Packer

Ryan Packer is Temporary Editor of Seattle Bike Blog.
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6 Responses to Advocates ask SDOT to examine different options for Beacon Ave bike route

  1. Peri Hartman says:

    I agree. Asking cyclists to use what is essentially a sidewalk is not something amenable to commuters. It’s pointless to build a bike lane that will be mostly ignored.

    Further, if cyclists are using the street instead of a bike lane, drivers get frustrated. They often don’t understand why a cyclist isn’t using the “$20 million bike lane made for them.”

    This is yet another case where SDOT does not understand biking.

  2. Lee Bruch says:

    Currently Seattle Schools has under design a revision to Van Asselt/Rising Star School at the SW corner of S.Myrtle Street and Beacon Ave S. Currently there is a parking lot in the median at that site. Has anyone proposed a resolution about hor a bike trail would be past there?

  3. Brett says:

    This entire route through Beacon Hill is an amazing opportunity to provide a safe, continuous, high-quality connection from Southeast Seattle to points north. This is already a highly-used route for many cyclists and really deserves to be upgraded to enable more people to feel safe to get around on bikes. It also has widespread community support and very few sections which are remotely controversial. I really hope SDOT steps up and builds a world class facility on Beacon Hill.

  4. NickS says:

    On the one hand, I’d love to see a grade separated bike trail here, one that’s truly all ages, all abilities; a Burke Gilman for the south end. On the other hand, I think kids and new riders could ride slowly on the existing trail with some improvements, and higher speed commuters and recreational riders could benefit from a bike lane separated from slower walkers and other users.

    I agree with Brett that this is an amazing opportunity. If this links up with the new bike lanes on Othello / Myrtle / Swift as well as Columbian Way, and a further connection can be made to MLK, Renton Ave S., Rainier Beach, and Seward Park Ave S, this would really start to provide a much more complete bike network in SE Seattle.

    Currently, riding on Beacon Ave S. sucks in a major way. Spokane to Columbian through the Jefferson Park and the golf course is terrifying; a huge amount of road space is given over to a barely used center turn lane that runs nearly the entire stretch, despite a total lack of turns for most of it. South of Columbian Way, cars pressure you to ride in the parking lane, which is just frequently enough used that you have many perilous merges in and out of the traffic lane. People tailgate, lean on the horn, and pass aggressively. Meanwhile, the center trail is bumpy, curving, and has enough elderly walkers and folks with dogs on extendable leashes that you don’t want to use that either. I gave up on taking the Chief Sealth Trail to Beacon Ave S. to downtown after a few scary rides, and stick to Seward Park Ave S / Lake Washington Blvd / the I-90 trail / Mountains to Sound greenway to get from Rainier Beach to North Beacon Hill, the ID and Pioneer Square.

    I honestly would really love to get every city councilperson, the mayor, and leadership of SDOT, put them on a bike in front of my house in Rainier Beach, and ask them to ride to 1)the nearest library branch, 2)the nearest supermarket, 3)their work downtown. Bonus — they can take along a child on a bike on the first two. I’m not quite cruel enough to subject a child to the third set of routes. I’m certain that not one of 10 would make any of the three trips without walking the bike part of the way and being completely terrified.

  5. btwn says:

    A trail in the median seems okay to me, *if* it’s constructed like the burke-gilman is near UW – clearly demarcated zones with adequate width and grade separation for cyclists and pedestrians. Otherwise, with the curves, it seems like a half-assed effort that will just create conflict between cyclists and pedestrians and be unusable for commuting.

    The city has to get over this fiction that cycling is a 5mph recreational activity, and dispense with fictional rules that are widely ignored – to wit, the 5mph signs on the Elliott bay trail…

  6. gm says:

    I’m always surprised how few cars park along Beacon Ave. south of Jefferson Park. Most of the cars that are parked seem to park next to an empty driveway. This road is perfect for doing what they did along Ravenna Blvd.: A bike lane in the center and general car/bus traffic on the right hand side.

    I’d like to see a parking study justifying why they feel it’s necessary to keep a parking lane in both directions. I used to drive commute along this road and it always frustrated me that cyclists didn’t have their own lane when there was plenty of space on the road.

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