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Green Lake bikeway would help restore the original Olmsted park plan

“The Aurora Avenue extension, if authorized by the voters, must be paid for not in money alone, but in the blood of the children who are entitled, first to safe passage to their schools and second, to safety in their parks—a thing which this speedway would absolutely deny.” — Front page editorial in The Seattle Times, November 2, 1930.

1930 map arguing against the Aurora Extension.
From a front page editorial in The Seattle Times, November 2, 1930 (PDF).

Despite the rather desperate pleas from residents in Fremont, Wallingford and Green Lake as well as the entire Seattle Park Board and The Seattle Times, King County voters in 1930 approved plans to extend Aurora Avenue through Woodland Park and along the planned pathway for Green Lake Way. The decision set in motion the creation of a pseudo-freeway that destroyed hundreds of homes, divided Woodland Park, separated neighborhoods and become the most deadly street in Seattle. We are still dealing with the negative consequences of this decision to this day.

But a small, relatively low-budget project currently in development could help fix at least one of the many problems the Aurora Extension created by reconnecting the biking and walking loop around Green Lake. The west side of Green Lake is baffling to new riders trying to navigate their way around the lake. The bike route just sort of disappears, dead-ending into a freeway. The only option is to take the very busy path around the lake, but signs say anyone with wheels can only go one-way. A one-way bike route doesn’t work. What is going on here?

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The problem is that in addition to digging a trench through Woodland Park, the Aurora Extension also demolished the west segment of Green Lake Boulevard, which was a vital part of the Olmsted Brothers’ design for the park.

1910 Olmsted map of Green Lake showing a full boulevard loop.
1910 Olmsted Brothers plan for Green Lake Boulevard.

SDOT’s Green Lake Outer Loop project, urged by a community campaign by the Green Lake and Wallingford Safe Streets group, would utilize an extra lane on Aurora to complete the two-way bike route around the lake. SDOT’s plan is to install a jersey barrier to protect the bikeway from highway traffic, then connect the bikeway to the recently-completed bikeways at the north and southwest sections of the lake.

The project team is collecting feedback on the idea via an online survey that you should definitely complete.

Below is a look at the plan for the Aurora section of the bikeway and three options for West Green Lake Drive N.

Project overview map.Concept image showing the jersey barrier and bikeway.

Option 1 for West Green Lake Drive North with two-way general traffic and a two-way bikeway.
Option 1 for West Green Lake Drive North with two-way general traffic and a two-way bikeway.
Option 2 for West Green Lake Drive North with parking, one-way general traffic and a two-way bikeway.
Option 3 for West Green Lake Drive North with two-way general traffic and one-way bike lanes in either side of the street.

Any of these options would be an enormous improvement. Having a bike connection through here would make a lot of bike trips significantly shorter and flatter for a lot of homes and businesses. It would also make it much easier for people to access the very few places where it is reasonably safe to cross Aurora.

The SDOT survey also asks whether completing the outer loop would make it OK to ban bikes from the inner path. Biking on the inner path isn’t great, and I’m sure the outer loop path would draw most people who are just trying to get around town. But the inner path goes right next to the lake, and I’m sure some people will still want to bike there. It seems worth waiting on that rule change to see how path use changes before taking such a significant action.

This little project is obviously not a complete solution to all the problems Aurora poses for the area, but it’s a low-budget solution to one of them that we can do right now. So let’s do it.

Demolished plans for Woodland Park

By the way, have you ever wondered what Seattle would have done with Woodland Park if they hadn’t cut a trench through the middle of it? Here’s an interesting map from 1930 of one plan for a massive zoo.

Concept map of a large zoo.
Note that east is up in this map. More detail in this PDF.

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5 responses to “Green Lake bikeway would help restore the original Olmsted park plan”

  1. Normally I support anything with “bike infrastructure” in the text. And, in principal, I support this one. But there are a couple significant issues that come to mine.

    1. The “extra” lane may ultimately be needed for buses. Currently they detour to winona, but that adds a bunch of time to the route and I hope they will run directly on aurora someday.

    2. Biking along that stretch of aurora is too reminiscent of walking on the waterfront when the viaduct was standing. The roar is deafining and certainly not pleasant. It wouldn’t be that bad in this case but it still would be mighty unpleasant to be biking that stretch.

    Is it not possible to create a bike way that is somewhat separated from aurora ? True it would cost more but I would push for the better solution.

  2. Would today’s Seattle Times write an editorial like that?

  3. Jon

    Taking away a lane on Aurora for a few bikes is idiotic.

    1. asdf2

      Not really. Ignoring the bus lane, Aurora is two lanes per direction, except for a few blocks around green lake, where it’s three. An extra lane for just a few blocks provides no traffic flow benefit because drivers will just have to merge back anyway. Nor can that lane be used as a bus lane there – thanks to the Linden Deviation, no bus route would be able to take advantage of it. Allowing parking there would be dangerous due to high speed travel on adjacent Lanes.

      So, there is essentially no automotive use of the space left that provides drivers any mobility benefit. So why not give the space over to bikes?

  4. Jean G Amick

    Two way bikeway important.
    I recently Got dumped onto Aurora as I biked past the RV collection. I’m for buses and safety for bikes. Need big eco block separation between auto traffic and bikes.

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