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SDOT’s emergency bike lanes are glorious

A truck passes a line of cones. Downtown Seattle is in the background.

I’m pecking this post out on my phone from beneath the West Seattle Bridge after biking SDOT’s temporary, emergency bike lanes on 1st Ave S and on W Marginal Way, and I’m just beaming. It’s so good. Everyone involved should be commended.

Like, I just biked through Georgetown to the start of the Alki Trail, and it felt comfortable, easy and fun. It’s such a powerful experience to have a part of the city you’ve lived in for so long suddenly become available to you. There are so many businesses along 1st Ave I have never even seen before. And Georgetown has never felt closer and more connected to the center of the city.

It’s wild to witness a sea of orange traffic cones on 1st Ave, but they are absolutely working. Crews were still out making adjustments Thursday, but it felt fully operational. And traffic was moving just fine. I didn’t notice any backups at all midday when industrial businesses rely on lots of truck movements. Aside from the glaring orange everywhere, it felt right.

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I’ll update this post with more photos and a walkthrough later today, so stay tuned. But for now, I suggest heading down to SoDo to go for a bike ride, a sentence I’ve never written before.

UPDATE: Below is the updated detour map and some more photos and a walkthrough of some of the detour elements.

Detour route map.
From SDOT.

Heading to Georgetown from Spokane Street, 1,700 traffic cones line both sides of the street. The cones are aligned in such a way that there is also a significant buffer area between the general traffic lanes and the bike lane. During midday on a Thursday, I did not observe any traffic backups, which makes sense considering this stretch of 1st Ave S carries fewer than 18,000 vehicles per day according to SDOT’s count from 2019. A street with a lane in each direction plus a center turn lane can comfortably carry that many vehicles, and it can do so more safely as well. W Nickerson Street is a great example of an industrial street with such a design, and it carries a few hundred more vehicles per day than this part of 1st Ave S. After the city redesigned Nickerson in 2010, the number of people driving more than 10 mph over the speed limit dropped by more than 90%.

A sign says "turning vehicles stop for pedestrians and bicyclists."The trickiest part of the whole detour route is getting from the end of 1st Ave S to the 1st Ave S Bridge, which has two not-so-great options.

The end of the bike lane at a major intersection.

One option is to use the crosswalk and then bike for a couple blocks on a skinny sidewalk along the east side of E Marginal Way. requires merging onto E Marginal Way (SR-99) for about half a block.

A sidewalk with a utility pole in the middle of it.The other option is to bike through the intersection with the green light and turn left onto E Marginal Way, which is not particularly comfortable. But it’s a short distance, and thanks to the bike lane there should not be any vehicles behind you. Go the block using the rightmost lane, then follow the green bike route sign pointing to a side street. From there, finding the start of the trail to cross the 1st Ave Bridge is always kind of weird. It’s sort of hidden in a largely deserted area under the highway. Keep your eyes peeled for signs and little yellow markings on the pavement and you’ll get there.

A wide highway with ramps. A sign points people biking to a turn onto a side street.

SDOT also created a temporary Duwamish Trail connection from the Alki Trail near the closed Spokane Street Bridge all the way to the Duwamish Longhouse and Cultural Center. From there, you can cross to the trail and follow signs for the 1st Ave Bridge.

A truck passes next to some round barrels marking off the bike path.

In a previous post, I was worried about the plan to use a sidewalk connection between 1st Ave and the E Marginal Way bike lanes, but it actually works very well. My only real note for crews is that I ran into a couple people at the detour sign posted at E Marginal Way, and they didn’t realize that there were temporary bike lanes on 1st. They seemed to disregard the detour sign, perhaps because they know 1st Ave S is not typically a good bike route option. So maybe there should be some info or big letters reading: TEMPORARY BIKE LANES so people know they are there.

A wide sidewalk under the West Seattle Bridge.This was not an easy project to pull off. A lot of people at SDOT worked hard, including during the holidays, to make this happen. I tried to yell thank you to all the workers I passed.

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12 responses to “SDOT’s emergency bike lanes are glorious”

  1. Skylar

    This is great news, since SoDo is a big barrier for biking in the city. Is there any reason why this couldn’t have been done years ago, or why it couldn’t be made permanent?

  2. The Fred

    I hope the cones remain undisturbed for as long as they are needed

  3. Jenna Chavez, DVM

    This is amazing! Great job catering to people, not cars, SDOT 🙌🏼

  4. Eric

    Great to hear! I’m excited to see additional photos when you get to posting. Happy riding 🚲

  5. What a waste it would be to not make these permanent. Can we mount a campaign to pressure SDOT to keep and expand this route?

  6. Christopher dolan

    When the good of the few outweigh the good of the many.

    1. Death of the few is not in the interest of the many.

    2. The Fred

      When the mortal peril of the few outweighs the inconvenience of the many, you remove the mortal peril, which causes many to become comfortable trying a bike commute, and then it is for the good of all.

    3. Jort

      Yeah, shoot, I guess the car drivers will have to use the other …. *checks notes* …. 99.99999999% percent of the roads designed almost exclusively for them.

      Thanks for the regular reminder that even the smallest, tiniest, even temporary restructing of public space to benefit cyclists causes an almost preternaturally reflexive defensiveness, as though there is an existential threat to automobile supremacy that must be eliminated.

  7. keven

    Who knew there were that many orange cones!

  8. Al Dimond

    Here’s my testimonial about the glory of the 1st Ave S emergency bike lanes.

    I haven’t biked that part of 1st Ave S in several years, just because it’s not usually on the way where I’m going. Back when I did it occasionally I was in much better shape and had a much nicer and lighter bike than I have now. What I vividly remember is … riding through that part of town felt long and hard. The climb up to the viaduct over the railyard felt like some kind of real climb.

    But when I rode it today, in the rain, in godawful shape, on my crappy old mountain bike with balloon tires on, I was surprised what a short distance it was from Spokane Street to the 1st Ave S Bridge, and what an inconsequential little rise it was to get up over the railyard. When I’m not riding as hard as I can to get down the road and up the hill as fast as possible, to deal with as few overtaking cars as possible, it’s just a nice roll.

  9. afotina

    this is nice!

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