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SDOT finalizes RapidRide J design with complete Eastlake bike lanes, plans to begin construction in summer 2024

Map of the full project with a complete bike lane marked.

Seattle has completed the design for the RapidRide J project, which includes complete and protected bike lanes on Eastlake Ave. The design even includes protected bike lanes on the block immediately south of the University Bridge, which was lacking protection in an earlier design. Thanks to many years of persistent advocacy, the project is poised to serve as a vital piece of the region’s bike network. The next steps are to put it out to bid, select a contractor, and then begin work hopefully in the summer of 2024. RapidRide bus service could begin in 2027, though the roadway and bike lane work would likely be open before then. The contractor will determine more construction timeline specifics.

This is great news for biking, walking and transit access in and through Eastlake especially but also along part of Fairview Ave N to South Lake Union and along 11th Ave NE in the U District. People have been asking for bike lanes on Eastlake Ave for decades because it is the only direct and complete route option between the University Bridge and downtown. It is also the main street for the Eastlake neighborhood, and the lack of a safe and comfortable biking space makes it difficult for people to bike to businesses there.

This news is also a clear sign that the erratic efforts by a slim majority of the Eastlake Community Council, which included ousting 40% of their board members because they supported the RapidRide project, have not been successful at changing the city’s intention to build this project as designed. They were, however, successful at destroying their organization’s reputation and legitimacy. I’m not privy to all the workings within the ECC, but it seems news of the ousting was not received well among the larger membership. Council President Detra Segar, who led the ouster, is no longer on the Board. She announced that she would not seek another term in the Fall 2023 issue of The Eastlake News (PDF) following a tepid defense of her failed efforts to oppose the RapidRide project. Meanwhile, one of the ousted members, Judy Smith, penned an op-ed in the Seattle Times that does a great job acknowledging the changes the neighborhood is being asked to accept while making the case that it will be worth it. Can you imagine kicking a thoughtful volunteer like this off your community board?

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This is a top priority bike connection that will improve bike mobility for the whole region, but it is also an improvement for the neighborhood. Most of the on-street parking will be removed along Eastlake Ave, which is a big change, but the project will also bring major benefits. Folks are being asked to make a leap of faith here and believe that a more walkable and bikeable street with better transit service will make up for the decrease in parking. Changes like these always face skepticism. But Eastlake is a neighborhood that has been severely harmed by car infrastructure built primarily for the benefit of people outside of Eastlake, and the roar of I-5 overhead is a constant reminder of this. But despite all this, Eastlake has long had a strong base of residents who get around on bike thanks to its proximity to so many major employment and destination centers. It’s long past time for an Eastlake Ave built for the people who actually live there, not just people driving in or through from somewhere else.

The project includes more than Eastlake Ave, though that is by far the most difficult section. It will build a protected bike route all the way from Lake Union Park to NE 43rd Street near U District Station. From there, the bike lane will connect to a new bike lane currently planned as part of the 11th/12th Ave NE paving project. And here’s some more great news: The plan no longer calls for an awkward diagonal bike crossing to the left side of the street. The 11th/12th project has been redesigned to keep the bike lane on the right side of the street, allowing for a seamless connection. Together, these projects will create a protected bike lane all the way from the downtown bike network to Roosevelt Station and High School. This route will also connect to Ravenna Blvd, which connects to the nexus of bike routes that converge around Green Lake. The Eastlake bike lanes will also be the final major piece needed to create a Lake Union Loop bike route. Decades of bike route work is all finally coming together.

Of course, all this will happen a few years from now when it is complete. But for the next couple years, there will be significant construction all along this corridor. But the headaches will be worth it. Too bad the city didn’t get the University Bridge project together in time to go under construction at the same time. I am very excited by the potential in that project to dramatically reimagine how the neighborhood functions to finally give the U District the 21st Century biking and walking connections it deserves rather than the strange mishmash of 1950s mistakes and defunct industrial infrastructure it has today.

The design for Eastlake Ave specifically does not prioritize people trying to use the street as a bypass for I-5, which is just a couple blocks away. The bus stops are mostly in-lane stops, for example, which means people driving will wait behind them when they are loading and unloading. The buses themselves will have on-platform payment scanners, allowing users to embark and disembark using all doors at the same time, shortening the time the bus is at a standstill. This setup also allows make it so the bus doesn’t need to waste time trying to merge back into traffic from a stop. It also keeps the road ahead clear of traffic. It’s a smart way to improve transit times and reliability without having dedicated bus lanes for the full length of the street, which is not always practical or desirable.

The project will also improve the sidewalks, and the bike lanes will help shorten the effective crossing distance at every crosswalk, hopefully making them safer and more comfortable. Today, crossing Eastlake Ave can be very stressful, but this design plan aims to fix that. It will completely remove all multiple-threat scenarios created when there are two or more lanes in the same direction, which is common along the street today and vary depending on the time of day due to annoying peak-time parking restrictions. The new design will remain constant 24 hours a day with a safer one lane in each direction plus turn lanes as needed. The team released a couple video concepts to demonstrate the road design in action:

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9 responses to “SDOT finalizes RapidRide J design with complete Eastlake bike lanes, plans to begin construction in summer 2024”

  1. Dave B

    I’m curious which part of the current peak hour parking restrictions you find annoying.

    Personally I prefer riding there (southbound) during peak hours because I can take the whole right lane, which is safer IMO due to the awful state of the road surface. Taking the left lane when cars are parked in the right more often leads to unsafe passes by cars, not to mention the risk of dooring.

    On the other hand, I do see how having two full car lanes leads to faster car speeds overall, and is likely more dangerous for pedestrians.

    I guess the fact that both alternatives kinda suck is a reason to be excited about protected bike lanes!

    (Also, credit where it’s due–I’d say the majority of cars I see illegally parked during peak hours are actively in the process of being towed. If only the city were so assiduous at punishing car-driving scofflaws everywhere!)

    1. Tom Fucoloro

      I think peak hour parking is annoying for pretty much everyone, but especially for people who forget to move their cars before they get towed. It’s also annoying to have the street design change throughout the day, which makes it so crossing the street is more stressful and dangerous at different times because sometimes you have to cross three lanes while other times you have to cross four. The street should have a safe design 24 hours a day.

      I’m not typically one to bemoan people getting parking tickets or getting illegally parked cars towed, but peak hour restrictions is just the worst reason for that to happen. It’s like they’re trying to have this neighborhood street act like a highway for a few hours each day, which is not something we actually want to be happening there. We should be focusing our parking enforcement on ticketing and towing cars blocking sidewalks, crosswalks and bike lanes. Going out daily to enforce peak hour restrictions is a waste of everyone’s time and energy.

      1. Aaron

        To add to what you said, I personally find those streets difficult to navigate either on a bike or driving a car. It will often appear that the right lane is usable as a travel lane for a couple blocks and then a parked car will suddenly appear just around a corner.

        I mean, the two lanes per direction configuration isn’t safe for biking either, but I think the sometimes on, sometimes off parking lane is even worse.

  2. Carl

    Hopefully there will be a decent burke connection to the bike lane as well. This will cut a couple miles off the NE Seattle downtown bike commute which will be a great option to have.

  3. Peri Hartman

    This is great news ! Better than I had expected. I’m so glad that the majority, slim as it may be, was able to prevail and get this project going.

    I’m concerned about the bus island bypasses. The ones on Dexter work very well. However, the ones SDOT installed on Greenwood a few years ago have bad sightlines and I never use them. It’s not possible to go over about 10mph and see far enough ahead that you could stop if something is blocking the bypass on the far side of the island. If they do Eastlake the same as Greenwood, I suspect a lot of people will ride in the traffic lane instead of the bypass.

  4. Ryan

    how will the protected bike lanes be protected? plastic post? or cement barriers to keep people from parking and sense of safety

  5. Eastlake Resident

    Thanks for this thorough overview of how the Eastlake bike lanes will add to the regional bike network. It’s great too that traffic will be slowed down in Eastlake to one lane in each direction, essentially reducing what was once a highway to a neighborhood street.

  6. Lee Bruch

    And be sure to vote so that a new city council dominated by Sara Nelson cronies doesn’t cancel the project.

  7. Al Dimond

    In a funny way this project rhymes with the 4th Ave PBL. We had 2nd, then we built a parallel route through the middle of downtown on 4th, which is great for the stuff directly on 4th, but to connect out to Uptown or the International District you have to jog down to 2nd (unless you want to ride on unreformed multi-lane arterials).

    Here we have Westlake. We’re planning a parallel corridor on Eastlake/Fairview, but once you get to Valley you’re probably jogging all the way over to 9th Ave N (the Westlake corridor) to continue south. There’s sort of a Boren/Terry route but only sort-of. Any route continuing south relies on Valley Street, particularly turning off of it, which is basically unsupported by any of the infrastructure (a consistent SDOT blind-spot). It’s the disfavored route, which is a shame, because it’s connected to the only Ship Canal bridge with a good bike lane.

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