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Without waiting for outer loop path due this summer, Parks Department issues ‘long-term temporary’ ban on bikes at Green Lake

Photo of a sign that says "pedestrian use only, no wheels"
Photo from the Parks Department.

Without waiting for SDOT to complete its “outer loop” bike connection around Green Lake, the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation banned biking from the popular lakeside trail.

“This long-term temporary use restriction, which restricts all bicycles and other wheeled uses from the Green Lake Park inner loop (strollers and mobility devices are allowed), is intended to create more space for path users on this high use trail,” wrote the Parks Department in a blog post announcing the change. But without SDOT’s planned outer path, people biking now have no comfortable option for traveling along the west side of the lake. Regardless of whatever “long-term temporary” means, signs are now in place with icons of bikes, roller skates and scooters crossed out in red. People can submit feedback on the rule change to [email protected].

Newspaper clipping with photo of people walking and biking on the green lake path. Headline: Green Lake: No question it's crowded, but often with the nicest folk.
News clipping from the April 30, 1983 Seattle Times shows that people have been talking about crowding on the Green Lake Path for decades. Read the full article (Seattle Public Library card required).

There is a lot of history leading up to this point. People have argued off and on about banning biking on the path for decades. The Seattle P-I asked readers in 1979 (Seattle library card required) whether biking and roller skating should be banned from the path. The majority of respondents said no, but one reader said, “Ban everybody, I say. The public has enjoyed Green Lake long enough. One would think the public owned it.” In 1980, the Parks Department even surveyed users about whether something should be done about it. People at the time said to leave it alone, according a 1983 article in the Seattle Times.

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The Green Lake path was once among the most popular destinations in the city for people looking for a nice place to bike because, just like now, many people simply did not feel comfortable mixing with car traffic on city streets. Countless young Seattleites learned to ride a bike on the path. It’s an extremely pleasant place, at least when you don’t get stuck in a big summer weekend crowd. Over the decades, there have been many efforts in the past to ease congestion on the path. The longest-lasting solution was the one in place until very recently: A divided path with foot traffic on one side and “wheels” on the other. While people on foot were allowed to go either direction, wheels were only allowed counterclockwise. This never worked perfectly, but it was a compromise.

Today, there are many places to ride a bike in Seattle other than this one path. There are even bike lanes on the street not far from the path for about two thirds of the lake. But there still is no bike route on the western edge of Green Lake, leaving the lakeside path as the only obvious and direct option for people traveling there.

Public opinion about banning bikes seems to have only slightly shifted since 1980. A recent SDOT survey (PDF) for the outer loop path project asked respondents, “If the City completed a full outer loop in the right of way with a biking path all the way around the lake, how satisfied would you be with a pedestrian only policy for the inner loop adjacent to the lake?” The responses were roughly 60% in favor and 27% opposed with the rest neutral. But the key phrase in the survey question is “if the City completed a full outer loop.” The city has not done this yet.

With the outer loop project in the design process and planned for construction “as early as mid-2022,” why didn’t Parks just wait until then? They’ve waited more than 40 years already, why not wait another six months? Parks even mentioned the outer loop project in their announcement, saying the rule change “is intended to create more space for path users on this high use trail and to provide more time for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to complete their design process and coordinate the construction timeline for creating a complete outer loop around Green Lake with protected access for bikers and pedestrians.” How does banning bikes on the inner trail give the outer trail project more time? It does exactly the opposite.

This rule change puts a lot more pressure on SDOT to complete the outer loop on schedule. We need that path as soon as possible, because now there is no legal way to bike along the west side of the lake without crossing a particularly fast and dangerous stretch of Aurora.

A more sensible approach by Parks would have been to wait until the outer path opened, then observe how usage of the inner path changes. This is what happened when the city first painted a bike lane on Green Lake Drive. In the 1983, Fritz Hedges—an incredible name for a Parks Department planner—told the Times that the then-recent painting of the bike lanes on the adjacent street had relieved a lot of the pressure on the lakeside path. Maybe a complete outer loop will do the same, and no rule change would be needed.

People will still bike on the Green Lake path, and they will certainly keep roller skating (there are not a lot of roller skating options in this town). Maybe they are kids (who really should be exempted from this rule), or maybe they are people looking for a friend’s picnic spot or maybe they are people who are just out for a ride who see a nice path far from cars and decide to ride on it. For much of the year (and during the night), there’s plenty of space for wheels to operate safely. It’s a public park, and people will go wherever seems nice. Sure, this may lead to moments of congestion, but is it inherently and completely a bad thing?

Parks is unnecessarily introducing friction into an otherwise carefree public space. The Green Lake Path will always be crowded, just as it has always been. Banning bikes is an extreme action that goes against how the path has been used for generations. Even if Parks were prepared to enforce the new rule, is policing people’s style of recreation really where Seattle wants them to put their resources? I doubt it.

Photo of people walking and biking on the path next to the lake.
People share the path next to the old signage explaining the rules. From Google Street View.

From the Parks Department:

If you’ve visited Green Lake Park recently, you may have noticed some new signage announcing “Pedestrian Use Only – No Wheels” on the inner loop.

This long-term temporary use restriction, which restricts all bicycles and other wheeled uses from the Green Lake Park inner loop (strollers and mobility devices are allowed), is intended to create more space for path users on this high use trail and to provide more time for the Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) to complete their design process and coordinate the construction timeline for creating a complete outer loop around Green Lake with protected access for bikers and pedestrians. More information about the Green Lake Outer Loop project is available here.

As part of its outreach on the outer loop project, SDOT launched an online survey to gather community feedback and to better understand community values, what is working, and what could be different about getting around Green Lake. Their survey included a series of questions on the inner loop (see questions 10, 11, 12). A summary of feedback from 4,534 total responses can be found here.

The Board of Park Commissioners held a public hearing and vote on this long-term temporary use restriction on October 28, 2021. The Board will revisit this topic, hear an update on SDOT’s work, and provide advice to the Superintendent about potential paths forward at an upcoming public meeting this summer, likely in June (see upcoming meeting agendas here).

Want to provide feedback?

Feedback on this issue is encouraged! Community members can send comments about the inner loop to [email protected], attend the Board of Park Commissioners meeting on this topic this summer, or attend any of our monthly Board meetings (even if Green Lake is not on the agenda) to provide feedback during the Public Comment section.

Feedback on SDOT’s outer loop project can be directed to [email protected].

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29 responses to “Without waiting for outer loop path due this summer, Parks Department issues ‘long-term temporary’ ban on bikes at Green Lake”

  1. Gary Yngve

    Thank you for covering this. This unprecedented action chills public use of the park by people who are not fit/able enough to jog around or lack the time/ability to walk around. If someone has limited ability, they still may have a good cardiovascular engine and don’t need a wheelchair or EPAMD; using a bike, trike, scooter, rollerblades, etc., may let them experience the joy of their public park. For many, including folks at low-income retirement homes, Green Lake is their closest park. People don’t want to use the outer loop for seeing the ducks, looking at the turning leaves, going to a picnic or fishing spot, etc.
    Example of someone differently abled using the park; https://youtu.be/gwMgH2Lr-qU

  2. Gary Yngve

    This rule is just plain stupid. It ignores the context of speed (joggers can go just as fast and can knock over pedestrians who don’t move out of the way) and the context of how crowded the path is. Most of the time it is not congested, and adults can use common sense to negotiate shared use of the space. Here i am cycling on the path against the rule but safely and respectfully (boring video). https://youtu.be/VDlOLbC8lO4

  3. AndyB

    Thanks for covering this. What a waste of resources if they do choose to enforce it, but the more likely outcome is that they only enforce it against marginalized people.

    Has SDOT selected a preferred alternative for the completion of the outer loop? The designs they show seem to imply a 4′ (each way) two-directional path, which is going to be *very* uncomfortable with any reasonable amount of use. There’s a reason NACTO’s desired minimum is 6′ each way.

  4. Cam

    In my opinion banning bikes something like from 10am-5:00pm on weekends makes sense. The rest of the time there’s plenty of space for everyone.

    1. Gary Yngve

      It would make more sense, but still is arbitrary. Why not a speed limit? Are pedestrians on the Inner Loop being seriously injured by people on wheels? Why is “yield to pedestrians, travel slowly, pass with at least 3 feet” as a rule insufficient? A collision between wheels and ped on the Inner Loop would be wheel’s fault prima facie according to pre-Covid rules.

  5. Kevin

    RCW 46.61.755(2)

    Every person riding a bicycle upon a sidewalk or crosswalk must be granted all of the rights and is subject to all of the duties applicable to a pedestrian by this chapter.

    1. Gary Yngve

      Green Lake inner loop is a multi-use path owned by Seattle Parks. It is not a sidewalk. But as far as I know, it is the only paved multi-use path in Seattle that bans wheels.

      1. Kevin

        It is a sidewalk according to the definition in RCW 46.04.540.

  6. Josh

    You mention, “Even if Parks were prepared to enforce the new rule…” — are they legally able to enforce the new rule without proper signage?

    Traffic controls are standardized for a reason – if a route is legally closed to bikes, that’s really obvious because it has, by law, an 18-inch square sign with a bicycle in a red circle and slash. (MUTCD R5-6) If a route is closed to skaters, it has an 18-inch square sign with a skater in a red circle and slash. (MUTCD R9-13)

    Those signs are mounted clearly at every legal access point, they’re standardized nationally so they’re easy to recognize, and they’re reflective so they’re readily visible even in bad weather or darkness.

    The current signs at Green Lake don’t meet any of the state and national standards ordinarily required to make a prohibition obvious to users, not to mention legally enforceable.

    1. Gary Yngve

      “The current signs at Green Lake don’t meet any of the state and national standards ordinarily required to make a prohibition obvious to users, not to mention legally enforceable.”

      But it does mean that Karens and folks on a power high because of their rank/privilege may be more likely to impose their ire on people disobeying the sign, especially if those others are lower rank/privilege.

      1. Skylar

        I don’t know that the entire loop trail meets that definition, but it certainly seems like the western part of the trail that’s adjacent to where the Aurora bike facility is proposed would be. I wonder if the city could be persuaded to speed up the construction of the Aurora facility if they thought it would make the loop trail restrictions easier to justify (i.e. reverse BGT Missing Link)?

        Nah, it’s the status quo that’s important in Seattle. I should quit being optimistic.

      2. Doug McClosky

        Why yes, Gary it is already doing that. Last week I witnessed 1/2 a dozen mothers and their children on wheels at Green Lake. There was ONE black woman and her pre-school aged child on wheels. A gray haired Caucasian woman lectured them that they were not allowed to bike at the park because it was “no wheels”. I didn’t see this happen to anyone else. She didn’t like what I said to her as I walked by…;)

  7. Skylar

    I tried biking the loop trail when first moving out (~2006) and found it too congested to be enjoyable. That said, I don’t see why cyclists should be banned from the trail as long as they’re able to cycle safely. As a pedestrian, I’ve had far more problems with dogs (especially the off-leash/extended-leash variety) and their owners than any cyclist.

    1. I agree. I used to ride the inner loop when I was getting used to biking. My biggest issues were people walking/running in the wheel lane in the opposite direction, not my “fellow cyclists.”

  8. Dave

    I’m in favor of this if an exemption is made for little kids. There’s no way I would ride it, it’s way to congested. When I walk around it I don’t want to have to worry about bikes. There should have been time for public comment.

    1. jeffrey fisher

      Yes. Elementary school age kids should be allowed to bike/trike/scooter/skate etc. They are not dangerous and very often with pedestrian adults.

      Adults and high schoolers and even many middle schoolers on bikes and powered-anything are so much faster and heavier than they get into a different injury potential, and adult skaters have a tendency to use the whole width of the trail. Either of them I can see becoming unsafe on a very busy path (a little dubious on the skaters actually). I don’t like banning them, but it may be necessary.

      1. Gary Yngve

        A fast jogger pushing a jogging stroller is perhaps even more dangerous than a slow cyclist.
        Would banning be necessary? I haven’t seen any evidence to justify it. We have dozens of cyclists injured per year on the Missing Link and action is at glacial pace, but the only wheels-on-ped injury that I’m aware of on Green Lake in the past few years was from someone driving a car off of the road.

  9. The real issue is the lack of scenic and relatively flat places to ride. Green Lake is stunning and you lose the sense of direction as you meander around the perimeter. I think people are riding here not for setting speed records but for getting a leisure, out of city experience.

    Can the city create new places equivalently attractive ?

    The Alki strip is very good. How about a 3 mile loop through Discovery Park ? Same for Jefferson (well, maybe 1.5 miles). Magnuson Park ? Could Lake Wash Blvd be made more attractive and consistent ? What about using the perimeters of some of the golf courses ?

    I don’t know if these are good suggestions. But my point is rather than trying to accommodate the whole local population of close to 800,000 in one park, can we encourage dispersion ?

    1. Gary Yngve

      Yes to more places to ride bikes! Dispersion is good. And for many people, Green Lake is their local park, so they should be able to ride there without needing to travel elsewhere first.

  10. Alex

    Thanks so much for this post. While I find it a bit congested for cycling, the path is absolutely perfect and one of the only places in the city for low-speed rollerblading – flat, enough space to move around people, good visibility, free of debris, and away from faster wheels (cars, cyclists going at greater speeds). My neighbors also take their kids there to learn how to rollerskate.

    I really don’t think the outer loop path addresses all of the community needs. It would work for transportation uses (getting somewhere fast), but isn’t safe for recreational uses like the inner loop traditionally serves.

  11. asdf2

    While the Green Lake path is obviously not a place for fast cycling, banning all bikes feels over the top.

    For example, the inner path is perfect for small children just learning how to ride, and at the speed they’re going, they’re not doing anybody any harm. Even the outer loop path is too close to cars for it to be safe jogging alongside a 4-year-old in training wheels.

    Just keep it the way it was – limit bikes on the inner loop to one direction only with a 10 mph speed limit. Faster cyclists can use the nearby streets.

  12. Luke Gardner

    I’m new to Seattle and have been trying out the weirdly incomplete “bike lanes” and this one was totally baffling! It just ends out of nowhere! I was just trying to go around the lake and it shot me out onto another street without any warning. Really weird design! There’s no “network” here, the conditions vary wildly, but cycling is STILL super fast and easy

    It’s fine if this path is shared use. Just institute a bike speed limit of 10 miles an hour or so. No Strava KOMs on Green Lake, please! Walking on Burke-Gilman is almost impossible because of the close-passing cyclists. Have a little courtesy!

  13. LS

    As a daily cyclist and occasional walker around Green Lake, about time. The existing system maximizes conflict. Currently people on e bikes ride the trail. City made some bad design decisions maximizing bike and car conflicts at several of the on street facility entry points, but getting bikes, skates, e scooters and such of of the footpath is the right call.

    1. Gary Yngve

      I agree, give faster cyclists a good alternative to the Inner Loop. But if someone wants to roll around the Inner Loop to look at the ducks or haul kids slowly on a family bike to a picnic spot at the lake edge, especially if it is not crowded, why stop them?

  14. S.E.H

    Thanks to all the commentators for the ideas. The simplest most realistic, inexpensive short-term compromise would be to limit wheels to certain low traffic hours: No wheels after 8am ! Like so many time-dependent no-turn and lane use restrictions for automobiles that we already have.

    1. The loop should be open to wheels on the weekend, when small children can laern to enjoy biking with their walking/biking/rolling parents.

    2. Jim MacConnell

      Can’t say I agree. Late afternoon (after school) use needs to fine. Lots of people use the park during the day. Time restrictions are difficult to enforce and don’t really address the underlying issues. It’s still a ban on use and that is wrong.

  15. IPCC 729


  16. David Kiemel

    Before the pandemic I purchased a no gear fat tire bike just to ride around green lake…now it just sits and another enjoyment of life in Seattle is most likely gone…

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