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  • SDOT begins work on permanent remake of 3rd/Yesler

    Top-down diagram showing the intersection design, including protected bike lanes and many curb extensions to shorten crosswalks.
    Final design from SDOT.

    After years of piloting solutions and testing how they impact transit service, SDOT is beginning work on a rebuild of the complicated intersection at 3rd Ave and Yesler Way in Pioneer Square that they hope will prevent the potentially deadly collisions that were unfortunately common there previously.

    “The intersection of 3rd and Yesler has experienced a high number of collisions for people walking and biking,” wrote SDOT on the project webpage. “In particular, drivers are prone to hitting pedestrians in the west and north crosswalks of 3rd and Yesler. ​To mitigate these collisions, we are making safety improvements that we have tested over the past two years.”

    The intersection also serves as a connection between the 2nd and 4th Avenue bike lanes, and is the primary southbound option for people using the 4th Ave lane since that unfortunately lane does not continue southbound on 4th. That could change someday since the Seattle Transportation Plan calls for a continuous bike lane on 4th all the way to Seattle Boulevard S, which then connects to the upcoming Georgetown to Downtown bike route.

    The 3rd and Yesler redesign includes new bicycle signals and hardened bike lane protection heading downhill from the intersection toward the waterfront. Later this year, SDOT is planning on a short bike lane to fill in the gap between the 2nd Ave bike lane and the new waterfront bikeway. All these small projects are coming together to create some big connections, allowing people to bike up and down the waterfront and connect into the downtown bike network without ever leaving a protected bike lane.

    More details on the 3rd and Yesler project:

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  • Endorsement: The Seattle Transportation Levy will be a massive investment in safe, efficient streets

    Chart breaking down the spending categories for the 2015 levy and 2024 levy proposal.
    I combined categories to get them to match up as well as I could. You can check my math in this spreadsheet.

    Now that Mayor Harrell and the City Council have officially sent the $1.55 billion 2024 Transportation Levy (PDF) to Seattle voters in November, we can put all the debates about expanding the levy behind us and take stock of how it ended up. With $160.5 million for Vision Zero, $193 million for sidewalks and ADA work, $151 million for transit corridors and access, $133.5 million for bicycle safety, and $66.5 million for a new people streets and public spaces budget line, the 2024 levy proposal is by far the best Seattle transportation funding measure in recent memory. It will* do more for walking, biking and transit in our city than the 2015 Move Seattle Levy, which was itself the city’s best transportation funding measure in recent memory.

    OK, yes, there is an asterisk in that last statement. The effectiveness of this levy relies on the city’s yet untested dedication to the recently-approved Seattle Transportation Plan. If Seattle really does follow this plan—prioritizing safety investments, transit access, and bike route connectivity during paving projects as noted—then the 2024 Seattle Transportation Levy will represent a significant acceleration in the city’s commitment to Vision Zero. The Seattle Transportation Plan does not include any new or expanded roads. So while the levy includes an astounding and unprecedented $403 million for paving and street maintenance work, that funding is not slated to tear down houses or buy out people’s front yards in order to widen roads as Seattle did for much of the 20th century. Instead, streets that get repaved should also be updated to meet the Seattle Transportation Plan’s ambitious vision that prioritizes safety.

    The 2024 levy includes big increases in safety funding, and it includes a good amount of somewhat loosely defined transit funding. What it lack are a lot of major signature projects like the streetcar or the many bus rapid transit corridors that the Move Seattle Levy promised. Because of how the Move Seattle defined its spending, it is difficult to directly compare transit funding levels. But transit clearly did not get the big increases other elements received, and it possibly even got cut a little when adjusted for inflation depending on how you calculate it. Unfortunately, many of those levy-funded “RapidRide+” projects have not gone well. The 2015 levy dramatically underestimated the costs while also overestimating the amount of federal grant funding Seattle would be able to leverage. In Seattle’s defense, they did not foresee Donald Trump winning office a year later, a disaster for the nation in so many ways that the decline in federal matching grants for SDOT projects barely seems notable. But as the price tags rose on those projects, Trump’s USDOT was not about to lift a finger to help Seattle, so the city had to cut back hard on what was promised.

    The lack of specific project earmarks is not necessarily a bad thing, though. SDOT is a very good transportation department staffed with some of the smartest people you will ever meet who genuinely care about our city and the people living and working here. The Move Seattle Levy set them up for failure, and the Seattle Transportation Levy seems designed to sidestep this problem by not over-promising. Instead, it defines the types of work to fund and then leaves it up to SDOT staff following the Seattle Transportation Plan to prioritize and guide that work. Perhaps the proposal underpromises, and there will be people who are uncomfortable approving so much money with so few specifics. Advocacy will be as important as ever for the next eight years, so it is a good thing we have great walking, biking and transit advocacy organizations and volunteers in our city.

    (more…)
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  • I biked 30 miles to play late night hockey in Everett, then biked another 30 home

    Photo of a kid wearing hockey gear with a blue background.
    The author as a young Affton American.

    As a kid growing up in the suburbs of St. Louis, I was obsessed with hockey. One of my earliest hockey memories was watching Brett Hull score 50 goals in 50 games when I was five years old. I spent so much time on inline skates in my driveway or nearby church parking lots that a wheel on my Roller Blades fell off and I broke my finger in the fall. I also played ice hockey from kindergarten through high school. And when I was inside, I played NHL ’95 on my SEGA. But then I went to college in small city that didn’t have a rink, and then I moved around a bit before landing in Seattle with no car, very little money and very little storage space. For 13 years, hockey was just this thing I did when I was younger.

    But then I became a dad and bought an electric cargo bike to haul the kid around. During those long days at home with an infant, I found myself needing to find excuses to get me out of the house and get my body moving. I needed something that had nothing to do with my work or being a dad or worrying about all those other adult responsibilities. I was watching a Blues game with the kid sleeping on my shoulder when I realized that with the cargo bike I could probably bike with my gear to hockey rinks. My parents shipped my old high school hockey gear to Seattle, and I signed up to play in a local beer league (though I don’t think they want us to call it that). It’s a no-hitting adult league now called that Kraken Hockey League, though I joined before the city had a team and before the rink at Northgate was built. I went to an evaluation skate, got “drafted” onto a team and have playing with them ever since. Aside from breaking another finger, it’s been great. It’s a scheduled, post-kid-bedtime physical activity where I get to lose myself for an hour and a half and then have a relaxing late night bike ride home.

    Most of our games are at rinks in Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and Northgate with the odd Kent and Everett games mixed in. I bike to nearly every game at the first three rinks, and I have biked to Kent Valley Ice Center twice. But Everett has always been the rink where I either borrow a car or carpool with a teammate. When people see me outside a rink with my gear and sticks on the bike, they always ask me, “Do you bike to every game?” And I used to answer, “Well, I’ve biked to every rink except Everett.” But not anymore.

    Selfie of the author in front of the Everett Community Ice Rink next to a bicycle with hockey sticks attached to it.
    (more…)
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  • In last-minute effort, Strauss successfully adds $20M for Burke-Gilman Trail via Leary/Market to the transportation levy proposal + The current design needs to get better

    I was all set to write up a story about the uncertain future of the Ballard Missing Link of the Burke-Gilman Trail when, in a last-minute Hail Mary minutes before official adoption, Councilmember Dan Strauss reintroduced his previously-failed amendment to fund his trail connection plan via Leary Way and Market Street and found the votes to get it passed. Councilmembers Cathy Moore and Rob Saka switched their stances from a week ago to join Joy Hollingsworth, Tammy Morales, Tanya Woo and Strauss in voting yes. The funds were shifted out of the significantly-increased paving budget line.

    The Burke-Gilman amendment (PDF) was the only change made Tuesday to the $1.55 billion transportation levy proposal (PDF), and it brought the total spending line for bicycle safety to $133.5 million. It may also have signaled a city policy change to shift focus from the fully-designed Shilshole trail route, which remains held up in court, to the Leary/Market route. The Leary/Market design has received lukewarm support from bicycle advocates, though Cascade Bicycle Club did put out an advocacy action alert in June supporting the Strauss amendment among others.

    Josh Brower, attorney for the appellant group that has successfully trapped the trail in an endless series of court battles, sent out a press release celebrating the news.

    “After 20 years of successfully protecting working-class Ballard, we are on the way to  a real solution to the Missing Link, together with a strong group of common-sense supporters who are truly dedicated to real transit equity and safety,” said Brower in the press release.

    While bike orgs have not been overly supportive of the Leary/Market idea, they also have not been fighting it. Cascade Bicycle Club’s stance has so far been that they support bike safety on Leary and Market, but not at the expense of the preferred and designed Shilshole trail route. Seattle Bike Blog praised parts of the very early design, especially the traffic calming elements on Leary Way, but the recently-released 30% designs show that many major issues have not been addressed.

    The biggest concern is that the trail route constantly mixes with busy commercial sidewalks in downtown Ballard rather than keeping people biking and walking separated. This design would make the pedestrian experience worse and would lead to constant conflicts between people biking and walking. Protected bike lane design best practices exist for a reason, but the current design largely ignores them. Yes, they keep calling it a “multi-use trail,” but to actual users on the ground that distinction is purely academic. In busy commercial areas, you gotta keep the modes separated, including at intersections, and the biking route needs to be continuous.

    Top-down diagram showing the trail on Leary ending beofre reaching Market and then not starting against until after it crosses 22nd Ave NW.
    The 30% design shows the trail disappearing entirely before it reaches Market Street, routing people on bikes to share the busy sidewalk with people shopping, hanging out and waiting for the walk signal so they can cross the street. Everyone will hate this if they build it.
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  • I had a Seattle traffic safety epiphany while riding Long Beach’s wonderful, legacy bike share system

    A line of blue bicycles locked to racks on a sidewalk. The walkway is clear.

    During the long train ride from Los Angeles to Long Beach, I tried to figure out whether it would be better to wait for a bus to my friend’s apartment or just walk it instead. But as I stepped off the A Line, the obvious answer was staring right at me: Long Beach Bike Share. They were right there, parked in a neat and orderly line rather than lying on their side or blocking a curb ramp. It was easy to use and cost me less than a dollar to travel a mile along a couple of the city’s very high-quality protected bike lanes. It was the most pleasant bike share experience I have had in years, and it didn’t even have electric assist.

    The experience gave me an epiphany of sorts. Seattle and King County are situated perfectly to steal a handful of great ideas from around the country and mash them together to solve several big transportation problems. And the piece at the center of it all is so simple: Street corner daylighting bike racks. The city could establish a public-private partnership between SDOT, King County and micromobility service providers to fund on-street bike and scooter parking corrals at every intersection with a crosswalk, improving crosswalk safety while also increasing the supply of bike parking to a level that could finally get scooters and bikes out of the middle of the sidewalk. The corrals would also help with bike/bus synergy by providing proper bike racks near bus stops so people don’t end up locking to the bus stop sign because it’s the only fixed pole on the block.

    Hoboken shows the power of daylighting intersections

    Aerial diagram of an intersection with a driver's visual cone highlighted to demonstrate how daylighting intersections works.
    How daylighting intersections makes them safer from the National Association of City Transportation Officials, of which SDOT is an engaged member.

    Hoboken, New Jersey, garnered astonished headlines across the nation earlier this year when the city announced it had reached seven consecutive years without a traffic fatality. In a time when traffic deaths are rising at an alarming rate across the nation, Washington State, and Seattle, Hoboken’s success is a beacon of hope. And their solutions to dangerous crosswalks aren’t anything that Seattle has not also done successfully. The difference is that they have implemented them nearly everywhere. They extend the curbs to make the crosswalks shorter and, vitally, push back the on-street parking far enough so that everyone at the intersection can see each other. When rebuilding a street, use concrete. Otherwise, use temporary materials like paint, posts, parking stops or planters to create lower-cost curb extensions and on-street bike parking areas. These solutions all achieve the same end goals of calming traffic, “daylighting” the intersection so people can see each other, and shortening the crosswalk distance.

    These interventions save lives and make streets feel much more comfortable and inviting. And since it is already illegal to park within 20 feet of a crosswalk under Washington State law, the only thing we “give up” are illegal parking spaces. It’s a no-lose trade-off.

    SDOT already knows how to build all of these solutions and have done so successfully many times. But many isn’t good enough. We need these solutions everywhere. Every single crosswalk on a street with on-street parking needs these interventions. I have no idea how many we’re talking about here, but surely thousands if you count each corner. So we need to be building them at a rate many, many times faster than we are currently going.

    Bike and scooter share that doesn’t impede accessibility

    The prevalence of illegally-parking bikes and scooters is not as bad as it once was during the $1 bike days, but it’s still not good enough. A big part of the problem is that even if a user parks correctly, other people can knock them over (either on accident or on purpose), turning them into a hazard or accessibility blocker. We need a places they can be parked that are at least somewhat separate from walkways and curb ramps.

    The big problem with the idea of requiring shared bikes and scooters to be parked at bike racks has always been that there just aren’t enough bike racks. Plus, people who actually need to lock their bikes need to use those racks. The obvious solution has been staring us in the face this whole time: Build more bike racks and designated bike/scooter parking areas. Once there are enough of them, the city can require companies to either offer a credit for parking in a designated parking area or levy a fee for devices parked outside these areas. Or if bike racks really were at every intersection, the city could require bikes and scooters to be parked within designated areas only.

    In return for contributing funding and promoting the use of designated parking areas, the bike and scooter share companies would gain significant increases in the amount of public space essentially reserved for their devices. They could also perhaps get some kind of guarantee that adequate parking will be available in convenient spots at the busiest locations, including Sound Transit stations, ferry terminals, parks, and stadiums. The city has already had successful experiments with bike corrals that include some physical racks alongside some open space designated for shared bikes and scooters, so those seem like worthy templates to replicate.

    When dockless bike and scooter companies first arrived, being dockless was the primary reason they succeeded where Pronto failed. They could be used anywhere, but Pronto was limited to just 50 stations spread out across the city center and U District. But what’s old is new again, and finding a way to retain the orderliness of the docks without impeding usability may be the way of the future. Including bike/scooter corrals near crosswalks all over town seems like a perfect opportunity to achieve this goal.

    Long Beach’s unusual place in bike share history

    Selfie of the author biking in a protected bike lane.

    Long Beach Bike Share could only have been created during a very short window in bike share history, a time when the industry was shifting from smart dock systems (like New York’s CitiBike or Seattle’s old Pronto system) to smart bike systems, but had not yet been overrun by the private dockless bike share services we know so well in Seattle.

    A blue bike share bike with some electronics attached to it.
    The Lime e-bike’s great-great-great-grandparent, still living the good life in southern California.

    Long Beach’s system is a hybrid model that uses an ancient non-electric ancestor of the current Lime e-bikes. Made by a company that was then called Social Bicycles (which became JUMP then was bought by Uber and then was merged into Lime as part of a complicated Uber investment deal) the bikes are made to be locked to special bike share only bike racks that they still refer to as “docks.” But unlike traditional bike share docks, the technology to lock, unlock and pay for rides is all handled by interacting with a phone app and a computer on the bike itself. The dock is really just a metal bike rack that you’re not supposed to use with your private bike. It is essentially the same technology used by the first generation of Portland’s Biketown system, though Biketown has since moved on to a different system operated by Lyft.

    I was surprised by how much I loved Long Beach Bike Share. But let’s be real, it doesn’t make sense to have two different sets of bike racks taking up precious right of way. The technology Social Bicycles helped invent also sort of made the dedicated bike share dock obsolete. Sure enough, on my second ride I had trouble finding a dock without pulling over to look at the map on my phone. I passed by a lot of city bike racks on my way to an official dock. Yet I love using it, and the 80¢ bill I got for my first ride made me nostalgic for the days of super-low-cost bike share rides. Those prices are unlikely to return without public subsidy (which Seattle is not planning to provide), but still. It was nice.

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  • Council poised to send $1.55B transportation levy to voters

    Table of July 2 Councilmember votes on various amendments.
    How Councilmembers voted on proposed amendments during the July 2 committee meeting. The chair’s amendment is a large amendment that included a bunch of requests and additions from councilmembers and raised the total to $1.55 billion.

    Seattle voters will have an opportunity this November to pass the largest city investment in transportation infrastructure in recent memory.

    Assuming the Seattle City Council does not make any additional changes to their amended levy proposal (spending breakdown PDF) before final approval next week, the 2024 Seattle Transportation Levy will put $1.55 billion into repairing and improving Seattle’s streets over the next eight years, a decent increase over the expiring 9-year Move Seattle Levy even when accounting for inflation.

    Transportation advocates and labor groups pushed for a more ambitious $1.75 billion version, but only Cathy Moore (D5) and amendment sponsor Tammy Morales (D2) voted Tuesday for the additional funds. It is notable that Districts 2 and 5 are also the districts most in need of basic transportation infrastructure improvements like bike lanes, sidewalks and traffic calming.

    Now that the $1.55 billion version is very likely headed to voters, transportation advocates will need to figure out where they stand on the measure and what role they are going to play in the campaign to approve it. Seattle Subway has already signaled that their org is opposed due to a lack of guaranteed transit funding, they said via social media. This is a worrying sign for the mayor and Council since the pro-levy campaign is going to need volunteers willing to knock on doors and make phone calls, and walk/bike/transit advocates along with organized labor did a lot of that heavy lifting during the 2015 Move Seattle campaign. Any questions about the levy’s dedication to improving transit is a huge liability in transit-loving Seattle.

    On the other hand, it’s not clear that voting down this measure would lead to a better levy later, at least not with the current City Council. Seattle’s opportunity to put together the levy of advocates’ dreams passed us by in November 2023 when the voters failed to elect a Council majority promising to champion walking, biking and transit. Instead, the proposed levy largely continues the Move Seattle scope of work, though with notable increases in funding for street paving and sidewalks and the notable absence of funding for the streetcar.

    Where the Move Seattle Levy over-promised about many specific improvements, especially for transit corridors and bike lane mileage, the proposed levy is a bit light on specifics. This means advocates are going to need to fight for every single project as they come, just like they always do. The Seattle Transportation Plan, a Mayor Bruce Harrell document, lays out a fairly ambitious future for the city’s streets, and the proposed levy will fund a significant increase in the number of those streets that will be repaved. The question facing advocates is whether they think they can win those battles project-by-project over the next eight years.

    Seattle Neighborhood Greenways celebrated that the levy is better than when it was initially proposed, even if it “is only about half of what Seattle needs in the next 8 years to reach its climate goals and reach Vision Zero.” From their blog post:

    (more…)
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World Naked Bike Ride: Full Moon Ride @ Seattle Rep Parking Lot | Seattle | Washington | United States
Celebrate the Buck Moon by adorning your bicycle with blinky & twinkly lights. It’s the height of summer – warm nights and easy riding with friends. Saturday July 20 Parking Lot at Mercer St &[…]
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Point83 @ Westlake Park
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