Watch: Riding the new Green Lake bike lanes

Before and after photos at Green Lake Way and Ravenna Boulevard..Crews are nearly finished upgrading one of the most important bike routes in Seattle. East Green Lake Way N may have a terribly confusing name, but it forms a hub of sorts for north end bike routes. The Interurban North regional bike route and routes from Greenwood, Northgate, Ravenna, the U District, Wallingford and Fremont all lead to Green Lake. It’s also among the few flat options in the area.

I filmed a bike tour of the new lanes that walks through many of the changes and the history behind them. Watch above.

Before the upgrade, the street had a skinny paint-only bike lane that disappeared in many places. Especially when the lake was busy, biking northbound could be a stressful experience as people would often drive across the bike lane to turn or park. And the worst was when people would swerve into the bike lane to pass a car waiting to make a left turn. The bike lane also completely or mostly disappeared at bigger intersections like Ravenna Boulevard, Green Lake Drive N and West Green Lake Way N.

So when SDOT went to repave the street, they also fully reimagined how the bike route works. Three vital intersections got major remakes, and the northbound bike lane has shifted to the west side of the street to create a two-way bikeway. Though one-way bike lanes on either side of the street are typically preferred, this is a good example of an exception to that rule. Because the lake side of the street has far fewer driveways, placing both bike lanes on that side dramatically reduces the conflict points for people biking northbound.

1983 newspaper clip about crowding at Green Lake.

From the April 30, 1983 Seattle Daily Times (PDF).

The old Green Lake bike lanes were initially created in response to overcrowding on the path around the lake. Seattle Parks even tried to ban bikes from the path entirely in the mid-1980s, but that effort drew strong opposition. At that time, about a third of path users were on bikes. Instead, the department landed on something of a compromise. People would still be able to bike on the path, but only in one direction. This is still the rule today.

But people biking for transportation bike in both directions, so the path’s rules essentially made it useless for bicycle transportation. Rather than try to pave a wide enough path through the park to allow for comfortable biking, neighbors pushed the city to add bike lanes (and on-street parking) to E Green Lake Way N, which used to have two general traffic lanes in each direction.

But the on-street lanes were never quite enough. Many people who would feel comfortable biking on the Green Lake path did not feel comfortable in the skinny bike lanes on the street. Now, a third of a century later, the city has given the street the kind of bike facility it needs.

As you can see in the video, there are many smart details in the design. It feels like one of those projects that makes so much sense, people soon won’t be able to remember it being any other way.

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24 Responses to Watch: Riding the new Green Lake bike lanes

  1. Gary Yngve says:

    I checked out the cycletrack out the other day too, riding in the general-purpose lane most of the time (no car driver give me crap about it, yay!). I liked how there were few hard curbs, so that cyclists could freely go between the two (e.g., I could release into the cycletrack, or I could merge from cycletrack into GP lane to pass a cargo bike or to go straight past the east park entrance when bike light is red.)
    I wish the south end could be less funky, like if one is trying to gain the cycletrack from the south or west. And I wish Winona east of Aurora could be traffic-calmed.
    But overall, this seems like a good implementation, and if it keeps faster cyclists off the inner Green Lake loop, that is a huge win.

  2. Gary Yngve says:

    I wish the cycletrack lanes were wider (curious how width compares to 2nd Ave, which also seems a bit narrow), but given the desire to keep parking on the outside lane and accommodate bus stops and how narrow the general-purpose lanes are, there really wasn’t any further room, unless they made the roadway wider.

  3. Sean P. says:

    Rode this last night for the first time. Fixing the Ravenna intersection (for bikes…it’s still awful for cars and pedestrians) is definitely the highlight. Expecting cyclists to wait at the 64th and Wallingford signals is more than a little optimistic so it’ll be interesting to see if there will actually be enforcement. Obviously pedestrians in the crosswalk have the right of way but this is a lazy way of handling it.

    The northern end is confusing even if you are going clockwise. It used to be pretty easy to use 77th to get across Aurora but the new configuration seem to be designed to force everyone to use 83rd. Adding signs will help.

    • Rich says:

      I live just on the other side of Aurora and frequently use 77th to get across Aurora. The 2-way PBL has complicated this a lot for me. I’ve also had problems with cars driving in the bike lane. I’m very disappointed in this facility.

    • zoom says:

      I didn’t pause to study it, but what determines when the bicycle light changes from red to green at that intersection? I noticed it turns green before the car light does.

  4. Drew says:

    I am pinching myself to see how well SDOT pulled this off. Kudos all around for living up to the ideals that were put in place many years ago with the complete streets ordinance. For all the criticism we often direct at the mayor and SDOT’s way over projects like 35th or the slow, halting and costly efforts to implement the BMP in general, this project deserves a lot of praise and represents a huge improvement to the bike network. Well done.

  5. Alistair Spence says:

    I’ve ridden the new Greenlake bike lanes, and also been in a vehicle in the roadway. My initial impression is that they (SDOT) packed too much into too small a width of road.

    Heading north in the bike lane I don’t like the fact that oncoming vehicles are just a few feet to the right. Yes, there are plastic bollard thingy’s separating bikes from cars, but that won’t provide much protection if an inattentive driver drifts over a few feet. This is always a danger with any bike lane of course but the fact that bikes and cars are travelling so closely together, and in opposite directions, is super sketchy (imo).

    Heading south in the bike lane is pretty good, although the lanes are a little narrow so you really need to keep an eye on northbound cyclists and make sure they’re “staying in their lane”.

    The car lanes are quite narrow. Heading north, even if a vehicle is nicely centered in their lane they end up being quite close to the cars parked on the east side of the street. They are essentially being put in the door zone. People who are in hurry to get to the lake can tend to throw open driver side doors (based on my years of experience cycling that stretch of road, before the new lanes) without looking. Northbound vehicles only option in that case would be to swerve into oncoming traffic to avoid a suddenly opening door.

    Heading southbound in a vehicle is stressful as you have to constantly shift your focus from left to right as you have oncoming automobiles on one side, and oncoming cyclists on the other.

    Not trying to be negative here, these are just my observations. In my opinion what has been created is highly optimized system ie. it will work well when everything is within expected parameters, but there’s not much room for error. Given the standard of driving that I see around town in general, this doesn’t bode well, not to mention some of the stunts I see E-bike (presumably inexperienced ones) riders pulling. Good lord…

    I will continue to use these lanes, but I will be keeping my head on a swivel (more so than usual) when I do. I know they would never do this but the solution to me would be to get rid of the parked cars on the east side of the street and have “normal” separated bikes lanes that flow with traffic.

    • William says:

      I agree regarding the lack of an adequate barrier between the north bound bikes and oncoming vehicles – it should have been a curb and the fact that it isn’s shows me that SDOT still does not quite get it, when it comes to making biking safe.

      As for the narrower lanes, short of permanent traffic enforcements which there is no prospect of getting, this is only effective way to get cars to slow down. At the arterial speed limit of 25 mph, it is not challenge for a competent driver who is paying attention. It is tougher for buses but even they can get through.

      • Alistair D Spence says:

        “At the arterial speed limit of 25 mph, it is not challenge for a competent driver who is paying attention”

        I totally agree with this, and that is the source of my concern. I drive infrequently and as a result I tend to drive a vehicle like I ride my bicycle which is to say, deliberately.

        When I follow the new lower speed limits that have been put in place on many Seattle roads (Leary Way is one example, Sand Point Way is another) I frequently experience other drivers being frustrated with me driving too slowly.

        No big deal, I won’t be bullied into breaking the speed limit, but I think it serves to illustrate that many drivers will not be driving 25mph on that new section of East Greenlake Way and because the room for error is quite small, I find that concerning.

      • William says:

        But the solution isn’t to get rid of parked cars so that drivers can get back their 40 mph lanes as your final paragraph suggests.

      • Alistair D Spence says:

        That’s not what I’m trying to say at all. I’m saying that in my brief experience of using the new set up that even driving at 25mph there isn’t a lot of leeway when it comes to drivers avoiding suddenly opened car doors, or pedestrians suddenly appearing from between parked cars in order to jaywalk over to Greenlake.

        At 25mph there isn’t much of a safety factor built into the infrastructure and at the 30-35mph that not an inconsiderable number of drivers (based on my experience) will want to drive on this section of road the safety margin even is reduced even further.

        By getting rid of parked cars we could do away with the contraflowing bike lanes, widen the lanes a tad in order to create a less optimized infrastructure, and improve sight lines.

        Along with this would need to be some way of enforcing speed limits, which is needed anyway in my opinion.

      • Peri Hartman says:

        Well, the good news is that the parked cars can be eliminated in the future if this configuration turns out to be dangerous. I think, politically, it was next to impossible to do that up front, considering the massive pushback that would have created.

        Removing the parked cars would improve sight lines (both for crossing peds and drivers), allow wider lanes, and give more separation of traffic from the bike lanes.

      • Alistair D Spence says:

        “Well, the good news is that the parked cars can be eliminated in the future if this configuration turns out to be dangerous. I think, politically, it was next to impossible to do that up front, considering the massive pushback that would have created.”

        That is a good point. The pushback against the removal of parking would have been considerable I am sure.

      • Gary Yngve says:

        Please don’t make it a curb! The lack of a curb makes it easier for cyclists to exit the cycletrack to pass cargo bikes, prepare for a left turn, etc., and faster cyclists in the general purpose lane can release into the cycletrack to let faster traffic go by. Plus making it a curb will mean it will become a debris trap.

      • asdf2 says:

        That’s my big beef about protected bike lanes in general. Once you’re in it and get stuck behind somebody slower than you, there’s no way to pass.

        At least here, the oncoming bike lane can double as a passing lane when there’s nobody coming the opposite direction.

        Agree with previous comments that separation from oncoming car traffic needs to be larger than just a few feet.

  6. zoom says:

    “Instead, the department landed on something of a compromise. People would still be able to bike on the [inner GL] path, but only in one direction. This is still the rule today.”

    While that’s the rule in general, for the past 14 months it’s been pedestrian only and one way. But in recent months this has gotten fuzzy. More and more pedestrians are going the other direction (which I think is fine) but more and more wheels are appearing, and going in both directions. And since pedestrians are using the entire width of the path, wheels people are swerving in and out to avoid them. I’ve already witnessed at least one collusion (a rollerblader kept yelling at people from behind to move over and not all did so). It doesn’t help that they stopped putting up signs, so the wheels people think everything is back to normal.

    Seattle Parks hasn’t really revealed the criteria they’ll use to put the path back to normal. Does everything revert at the end of the month when restrictions change? Who knows.

    In any case, I’ve tried out the new on-street paths and they’re generally nice. I think there’s still clunkiness at the main intersection (Ravenna Blvd, GL Drive N and West GL Way N). People crossing from the street over the little island still have 3-5 directions they may be going in.

    And I know it’s not possible for various reason, but I wish I could fully encircle GL via the street path. I recently rode on Aurora just because I did want to encircle it, but obviously that’s not the safest thing to do. It would be kinda cool if one could transition from the street path to the west side of the inner path until they could transition back to the street path on the north side. But that would screw everything else up (i.e. it would be going the wrong direction for bikes on the inner path).

  7. Peri Hartman says:

    Great progress. I’m glad Durkan’s ineptness has been overcome, to some extent. Now, let’s get a SODO – Georgetown connection. And something for Rainier.

  8. Stephen M says:

    As a predominantly West Seattle cyclist I’m SO jealous of this new infrastructure around Green Lake. Our new (still under construction) Greenway is pretty cool but nothing like what Tom illustrates in the video here.
    Enjoy! I look forward to checking it out on a weekend. And (forest for the trees perspective) with trails, lanes, Greenways and other bike facilities that can get me almost all the way from WS to Green Lake, Seattle is leagues ahead of where we were 10 or 20 years ago.

  9. Dave R says:

    Of course as soon as they complete this, SDOT announces the indefinite pause of extending south from 50th.
    http://www.seattle.gov/transportation/projects-and-programs/programs/maintenance-and-paving/current-paving-projects/green-lake-area-paving-and-safety-projects

    The completed track is in D6 (Strauss), the “paused” lane D4 (Pederson).

  10. Trip Allen says:

    I live on the route where Winona meets 77th, W Green Lake Dr N and E Green Lake Dr N. I witness dozens of near misses and increased road rage daily. It has made motorists hate cyclists more, thanks to SDOT leaving cyclists, motorists and pedestrians confused and abandoned in the intersection by Lake Realty and where the west bound of the two way lane peters out. This new configuration is insanely dangerous. I have been riding it a few times daily and am astonished by how many disconnects and unfinished details there are. People will die and SDOT will have blood on their hands before they have their July 31 celebration to pat themselves on the back. Why didn’t they learn anything after doing this format on Gilman Ave W in Magnolia. Terribly dangerous. The list of problems is too long to add here.

  11. Trip Allen says:

    In the spirit of Multi-modal movement/transportation, it is time to call an end to the failed experiment of the closure of W Green Lake Way N (designating it a “Keep Moving Street” during the pandemic). This is the corridor along the south end of the lake that is vital to east-west connectivity. The closure increases travel time and displaces traffic to streets where there are residences. Those residents are burdened with the increased traffic noise, emissions and road rage. Consider that not one residence is along that south corridor. That is where traffic belongs.

    ‘Keep moving’ with recreation in the park that is directly adjacent. ‘Keep traffic moving’ where it is not a bother to park activities or residential streets. It is time to restore it to how it served cars and bicycles for years. Do not reconfigure it as two-way auto with a two-way bike path on the side. Leave it AS IS. It works just fine. I feel completely safe riding my bike on either side of the one way bike lanes. Spare the expense and don’t build another two-way bike path danger zone like the north and east mess we now have. Open the road now, please. It’s overdue. It would take one day.

  12. Trip Allen says:

    Does anyone care to meet offline, actually out in Green Lake to visit the real space in real time to observe and discuss the how even we cyclists differ on the merits and deficiencies of the “Multi-Modal” plan and new street use initiatives? I would really value meeting and talking. Thanks.

  13. Al Lee says:

    The biggest failure of the Greenlake bike redesign is the two way bike path doesn’t go from Greenlake Drive N to N 77th Street, instead becoming one way west only for the last block.

    My wife almost got run over as we tried to figure out how to get from this intersection to N 77th Street as we travelled west to Ballard by bike.

    Why didn’t the two way bike lane continue one more block to the intersection of N 77th Street, Winona Ave N, and West Greenlake Drive?

    N 77th is by far the best way by bike between the Greenlake Area and North Ballard. It should be marked with sharrows all the way from Greenlake to just short of 15th Ave NW, where it arrows should direct people down to the light at 75th Street, or a bike/pedestrian light should be added at 77th to allow continued travel across to 24th Ave NW and beyond.

    • Trip Allen says:

      Al Lee,

      Spot-on comment.

      I look out my front window at the terminus of new system where you feared for the safety of your wife. I live on WInona Ave, straight across from the triangular median where W Green Lake Dr N meets the terminus. I may well have witnessed you and your wife as I have watched hundreds of people arrive at the end of the westbound two-way to find no navigation signage or signals at all for proceeding west on WInona, and over 20 years of observation, I can say that a wide majority of cyclists use WInona vs N Green Lake Dr. They use it to what’s long been an established bike route west to the Interurban and Ballard, as you stated. And many take WInona to and from mid-south Phinney Ridge. It’s unacceptable to think they should go up N Green Lake Dr to 83rd and then have to go to points south.

      Even if one does figure out it being best to come off the two-way, roll over to the west crosswalk, up the ramp to push the pedestrian signal button, one finds as they get to the other side, very little space to negotiate the turn and accelerate to the west until you find some reasonable width for a buffer at Ashworth. They has room to have striped the center of the road so it allowed 4-5 feet at the curb. It’ mind-boggling illogical. I’d been trying to point things like this out for 18 months after they released the plan, but ignored. As they were in final build stages, I requested they have some of the project team come out and reevaluate a few things, but no response. I never saw anyone that appeared to be a SDOT project inspector.

      I spoke with Chang last Friday. He admitted they blew the two-way terminus transition, acknowledging it as unresolved and a problem. It’s been a week. We see it revealed in the video as Tom in the video as Tom arrive there and is puzzled. Tom, did you report it to Chang and SDOT, or just shrug it off, thinking it would be remedied? Well, weeks have gone by, and peoples lives are at risk using the new two-way system. There are several other safety flaws that nag at me every time I ride it, walk it, drive it. Stuff that endangers people. We all need to call them and complain to get the project completed, instead of having a celebration on the 31st. TThat’s a misplace priority to me.

      Now they want to build more of this crazy two-way thing at the south end on W Green Lake Way N, which is not aching for such overbuilt hardscape infrastructure. It’s a simple 3 blocks of flat street, with 6-7 foot wide cycle/walk space on each side. Completely adequate as it is, but they are going to make auto traffic be closed and put in a two-way bike path. The once bucolic ‘moment of zen’ passage through that corridor by car or bike will now look like a Disneyland ride exit line. It is disconnecting neighborhoods and access for people to use either park, including the long-serving Small Boat Center and Pitch n Putt. This makes people hate cyclists. I feel less safe on any road because of the resentment Chang’s project has brought out of motorists.

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