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Parks banned bikes from Green Lake without public outreach, now they’re asking if they should be allowed back

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

Seattle Parks and Recreation banned all bicycling, skateboarding, roller skating and scootering from the inner loop trail around Green Lake in March despite there being no viable alternative along the west side of the lake.

The decision to restrict wheel use on the often-busy path was initially part of the department’s scattered reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic in early 2020, such as closing the playgrounds, drinking fountains and bathrooms. The idea back then was to limit crowding on the path back when we didn’t know much about how the virus spread. Outdoor activity like walking or biking around a lake has since been largely considered a low-risk for transmission, but we didn’t know that at the time.

However, instead of reverting the path rules back to how they were before, the department decided to keep the ban in place on a “long-term temporary” basis, whatever that means. They even changed all the permanent-looking signage to reflect the rule change. And as noted in a October 21, 2021, memo to the Board of Park Commissioners (PDF) that Ryan Packer uncovered through a public disclosure request, the department had “not conducted any community engagement specific to this issue” before making their recommendation.

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After some significant backlash, Parks is now hosting a series of “listening sessions” September 7–9 that are separated by mode of use. These sessions “will provide a way for the public in different user groups to share feedback on what works well and what could be improved to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience on the Green Lake Park Inner Loop,” according to the project webpage. The dates:

September 7 – Bikes

September 8 – Small Wheels

September 9 – Pedestrians

Questions may be directed to Todd Burley at [email protected].

People have been complaining about crowding on the Green Lake path for decades. But bicycling has been popular on the path ever since it was first created. For a while, people would drive their bikes to the lake just to ride around it. The city has gotten more dense and the number of biking options has expanded, so I doubt many adults are driving their bikes to Green Lake to ride around these days.

However, families do still bring kids and their bicycles to Green Lake. Countless kids have learned to ride a bike on that path because there are no cars and they can go as slow as they need to. Kids on scooters and bikes can also keep up with parents who are running, which is a wonderful use of this park. It’s hard to get time as a parent to exercise, so being able to brings kids is huge. If Parks changes nothing else, banning kids from using wheels on the path was ridiculous. Is a kid on a scooter more dangerous than an adult running?

Adults absolutely should not be bicycling quickly on this path. It is not fun to be passed by someone moving fast on a bike while out for a stroll. I can understand why someone might experience a fast pass and decide that bikes should be banned. One reason adults might be biking there is that they don’t have another option along the west side of the lake. SDOT recently built an on-street bikeway that goes about 2/3 of the way around the lake, and they are currently planning a link to complete it. Why not just remove path restrictions until the outer loop is complete and then see what happens? There’s no problem with someone riding lazily around the lake on the inner path, and anyone trying to go fast will have a much better time on the outer loop bikeway. This problem may solve itself without the need for any complicated path restrictions.

Cascade Bicycle Club seems to agree, writing, “Let’s focus efforts on how people share the trail, not the mode they choose to use it. The Green Lake inner loop is a community gem, and this safe option must be available to everyone who bikes, walks, and rolls.

Other wheeled users are also getting screwed here for no reason. Some people like to roller and inline skate, and this is an obvious place to do that. Where else are they supposed to go? Unlike bikes, skates don’t do well on hills. Green Lake is a flat and beautiful car-free loop of asphalt. Banning skates honestly feels kind of mean. Like, why bully people for wanting to roller skate around the lake? Go to Vancouver and you’ll see lots of Canadians skating on their park paths, and it’s wonderful. We just got an NHL team, and interest in inline skating may increase as more people learn to skate on and off the ice. Parks should want to encourage this increase in recreation. Isn’t that their mission?

Parks belong to the public, and limitations on use should implemented carefully and only when truly necessary for the enjoyment and safety of the public. It’s not the job of Parks to dictate how they should recreate unless they are causing harm to others. If there is harm, the goal should be to address the problem with the lightest touch necessary. With all the problems facing our city, are we really gong after people who just want to ride a bike around a lake? This rule goes too far and should be reconsidered.

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13 responses to “Parks banned bikes from Green Lake without public outreach, now they’re asking if they should be allowed back”

  1. Gary Yngve

    “With all the problems facing our city, are we really gong after people who just want to ride a bike around a lake?”

    Yes, which makes this an equity issue. If it is really not enforced, some marginalized people will not feel comfortable challenging this ridiculous rule, so they are chilled from using their park. And if the city does choose to enforce it on everyone, then they are spending resources that could be devoted to helping those with opiate addictions and reducing the number of catalytic converters stolen, which is a significant financial hit to lower-income workers.

  2. Peri Hartman

    Whatever they decide, it’s very hard to enforce. And unenforced rules are rather useless at best. Great article, Tom, and great arguements.

  3. joebowbeer

    As sidewalks in the rest of the city are becoming more dangerous for pedestrians, I welcome adding restrictions to Greenlake in order to improve safety for pedestrians.

    1. Gary Yngve

      That doesn’t make sense. If the sidewalks in the rest of the city are becoming more dangerous (and why? from cyclists (who now have more bike lanes and greenways to use)? from fentanyl squatter zombies?), the solution should be to make those sidewalks safer. Look at Stanley Park in Vancouver, BC. Peds and cyclists and rollerbladers get along just fine there.

      1. Paul J. Ste. Marie

        Entirely too many cyclists are actively hostile to pedestrians and create extreme hazards. I’ve been sideswiped while walking on the sidewalk by bicycles going 25-30 miles weaving between the sidewalk and the street via wheelchair ramps.

        It’s it just some bad bicyclists? Yes, but without any sort of traffic enforcement or licensing you can’t sort out the problem riders from the rest

        I bicycled a 7 mile commute for years, and if I had pulled 1/10th of the things I see Seattle bicyclists do on a regular basis is be dead and buried.

    2. Rebecca

      I agree – there’s a protected bike lane around all of Green Lake that the city has invested in. As someone who has had MANY near-misses with cyclists speeding on the Burke, it’s nice that there’s a safe greenspace to enjoy as a pedestrian.

      1. Mike

        As the article notes, it’s not around the west part of the lake (yet). Bicyclists and other unpowered wheels (rollerblades and skateboards) should be able to enjoy leisurely travel on the inner loop with water view as well. Currently we still do – I just ignore the no bike restriction to ride around the lake with my child in a bike seat. No enforcement and no pedestrian has ever complained.

        The Burke Gilman from Lake W to Ballard is primarily a bike commute thoroughfare for getting from A to B; not condoning those who ride excessively fast past pedestrians on it, but it’s nothing like the Greenlake inner loop.

      2. Gary Yngve

        “As someone who has had MANY near-misses with cyclists speeding on the Burke”

        I’ve had near-misses with speeding cyclists on the Burke too. The problem is not bicycles though; it is jerks acting in a reckless manner.

  4. Gary Yngve

    When a rule is irrational, people don’t follow it. So now there is relative disorder at Green Lake, with wheels going both directions and peds walking in the wheels lane, or even a single idiot ped walking a dog on a long leash in the smack center of the path. The prior rule was rational, and most followed it (wheels in one lane in only one direction, peds in the other, unless crowded, in which peds overflow). There was more order back then.

  5. Sarah

    Keep all wheels off Greenlake. A large of people were hit by those on wheels during covid. A large number of bikers disregarded the designated path direction around Greenlake. The poster child is mot the child biker but the thug on skates, wheels or skate boards.

    1. Gary Yngve

      Green Lake already has existing rules against thuggish behavior, which includes runners clipping/shouldering peds who aren’t jumping out of the way or the jogger steamrolling a baby stroller through. Enforce jerk behaviors, not the arbitrary equipment used.
      Btw, I’ve yet to see a single article about a ped injured by a cyclist at Green Lake. Injured by car driver, yes. So should we ban cats off of all the roads around Green Lake?

    2. Mike

      Where are you getting your info that a large number of people were hit by those on wheels? Please cite/link your source. I’d also be curious whether those who were hit were walking in the ped lane or the wheels lane. In my experience, the wheels generally traveled in the correct direction and in the correct lane, whereas there were always pedestrians walking both directions in both lanes. Many of these peds were simply unaware because the signage was not great and there was never any enforcement.

      The wheels ban is, and will continue to be, unenforced, just as the older designated wheels lane and direction of travel were unenforced. There should not be any municipal resources applied towards enforcement; the general public / frequent users should make the rules and enforce them as behavioral norms, by making people aware when they are breaking them.

      In my opinion, the two lanes should be opposite directions, shared wheels+peds, using the other lane for passing when clear, with a speed limit around 5-10 mph. Leisurely travel with a lake view but if you’re running fast then use the dirt trail closer to the street, and if you’re riding fast then use the bike lane on the street.

  6. Clark in Vancouver

    So they’re at the stage where it’s time to twin the paths? They went for years with a single mixed use path but it should’ve always been known that one day they’d need to make a second path.

    I suppose it’s good to have public meetings about this but I worry that they’ll just become gripe-fests.

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